Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Irish Music Industry : Challenges & Opportunities

Ireland now attracts every major international music act and is regarded as a major market for bands. This is obviously fantastic for music fans as there's a massive range of high quality concerts happening every week. For instance, if I was in Ireland in May I'd be going to see Iron & Wine on the 11th, Dinosaur Jr. on the 12th, The Hold Steady on the 13th and The National on the 14th. Also playing on the 13th are Yeasayer and Black Mountain. The following week you've got Broken Social Scene and then it's the weekend of Springsteen with him playing three nights in the RDS. That's a hell of a line-up and would be difficult to match anywhere in the world.

So that would add up to 8 concerts in 14 days. That's a lot of music and not much else for two weeks. Granted, not every week is quite so loaded but it's clear from looking through Ticketmaster it wouldn't be too difficult to find a good concert to go to during the week if you wanted. What is key from the list of concerts I've listed is the lack of any Irish acts. I'm not saying that they're not playing but that it is very difficult for new Irish bands to find a venue for a gig and attract people to it.

Especially if one of the major markets that they need to be attracting (me, the typical music obsessive) are already going to see 8 bands in 14 days. I'd like to think I have some semblance of a social life that would prohibit me from extending that run of concerts any further so the idea of going to another concert of a band I don't really know is not going to be very tempting. Especially if I have to pay because those concerts are going to hit the wallet pretty hard.

So ignoring the music obsessives for now, look at the rest of the concert-goers. If they were fans of all the bands listed, they might pick out the ones they really want to see and go to maybe 2 or 3. If they're going to turn down a band that they know and like because it would be too many concerts, again how are new Irish bands going to attract them. At the moment, they're not.

The reason for this is that at the moment there is no organised Irish independent music scene. The focus is so international now that people are probably more likely to hear of a band from Ohio than Kilkenny. But the independent/underground scene is the most important scene worldwide. By independent/underground I mean not the mainstream so it includes all of the bands that I listed above, probably excluding Springsteen. So it's clear that these are the concerts that will sell out and that attract the regular concert goer. The mainstream is becoming such a negative place for most music fans who are sick of the manufactured acts that inhabit it. If you look at it, nowadays most bands get known by their live shows and online buzz. It's clearly not beyond the reach of the Irish music industry to do this when there is such talent in the country. There are some amazing bands and musicians in the country who I will continue to feature on this blog. The people are there, they're going to all these international concerts which is brilliant but they'd be just as willing to go to see Irish bands if they were given a push in the right direction.

For me, there is a clear gap for a record label or another organisation to come along and position themselves as the leaders of the Irish independent music scene. People say that record companies are dead and in a lot of cases they are. But I think that people want to be part of a scene, they want to be part of a community of music fans. In my opinion, the key word for the music industry in the future is 'community'. If a record label can create a community around it's bands and come up with some new and innovative ways of getting music to the people then they will be successful. Ireland isn't that big and word of mouth is king. It's probably this more than anything that is bringing any new bands to the attention of the general Irish public. This should be harnessed and centred around one organisation or label and allow people to say that that is the place to go to hear the best of Irish music. Play free concerts in colleges but get them to sign up to the website for tickets beforehand so they are linked in, have an exciting website, give away music in some of the record shops around the country. If a label is doing this for all it's bands and the bands are talented enough and willing to work hard enough, I think that people will go to the concerts and buy the cds. The international and the local music scenes can co-exist in a far more balanced manner than is currently the case.

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