Live review: Amplify, ExCel London (6-8 Oct 2017)
I enjoyed a very busy time attending BBC Music Introducing’s Amplify event at ExCel in London. Promoted as an essential weekend for musicians to break into the industry, there were panels, industry sessions, DJ’s, artists and industry experts all offering advice on how to make a living from making music.
During Saturday and Sunday I caught some really insightful panels in the Journey Theatre including Steve Lamacq’s Demo Bag where he, Radio 1‘s Huw Stephens and Hannah Overton of independent label The Secretly Group, an influential US label group that has recently released albums by Bon Iver and War on Drugs, provided advice on how to present your music to radio. Steve began the session by playing a demo received at a previous BBC Introducing masterclass at Abbey Road studios and then revealed it was an early demo from Jake Bugg. Just hearing his voice and acoustic guitar which, although not the best recording, clearly captured his style, it was evident that this was a unique sound, different from what else was around in the UK at that time. This was what the panel emphasised throughout; they are looking for something that stands out from all the rest.
Regarding how many tracks to send to radio, Huw recommended two, ensuring that you put your best track first, the one you feel will make the most impact. They also talked about the benefits of gaining trust with your local DJs, Huw revealing he plays a selection each week from songs championed by local BBC Introducing shows. During the session, Steve played a selection of demos from the audience and the panel were very honest with their immediate critiques and if a track would be genuinely considered for airplay on their radio shows and Hannah’s label. Huw recommended engaging when sending e-mails, including an interesting story. Also ensuring the DJ’s show is right for your style of music is important and never sending generic emails without knowing the DJ’s name, a pet hate of Steve’s.
Women In Music
Following straight after, Radio 1’s Adele Roberts hosted a women in music panel with artists Rae Morris, JONES and Becca McIntyre, from rock band The Marmozets, giving their interesting perspectives on being female artists in the industry. Each reflecting on their different journeys, singer-songwriter Rae, with her major label experience, felt under pressure at the very beginning to already know her vision. JONES, who is on independent label 37 Adventures Records, prefers the family environment there which has always allowed her to have the courage to be who she is as an artist.
Discussing the industry for women at the moment, JONES felt we were in a great place, social media allowing female artists to be out there unfiltered, Rae adding that fans can now gain a real sense of the character of their female role models. When MySpace emerged, JONES says it really enabled artists and producers to connect.
Moving on to the representation of women at festivals and if there is enough visibility, all felt that times are changing for the better. The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance (ICMP) are seeing more and more female musicians which is encouraging, Becca herself formed The Marmozets at school. Rae felt it was important for her to work with other women and many in her team, Caroline Elleray who signed Coldplay and Bryony Turner, helps her with getting a female perspective.
Regarding their songwriting, for JONES and Rae it was originally an introverted solitary process but they’re now enjoying the process of working with other writers and producers. Collaboration, and forming a community, is really important to them. In her experience JONES has not encountered as many female producers but knows there are lots of great women topline writers out there. Concluding with their advice to others, Jones said not to compare yourself to others, and be persistent. Becca reiterated this, it is so important to be yourself, then when you succeed it’s more exciting. She also talked about how those around you determine your life so it is essential to surround yourself with people who won’t let you down. For Rae, performing live really boosted her confidence and gave her a good grounding, especially playing to small audiences. And the best way to promote their music? all agreed that Instagram and YouTube are the best social media platforms for illustrating their creativity.
Bob Harris Country Music Takeover
The panel on Sunday was the one I was most interested in attending, legendary broadcaster Bob Harris discussing the changing UK country scene, and how upcoming artists within the genre can make their mark. Joining Bob on the panel were charismatic Tennessean DJ Baylen Leonard who is currently on Chris Country with his excellent The Front Porch show and is also involved with the Nashville Meets London Festival, Stevie Freeman from the Americana Music Association UK (AMAUK) which I am a member of, and Milly Olykan from AEG Europe who created the annual Country 2 Country (C2C) festival at The O2. I have really enjoyed playing the pop-up stages during its busy weekend and it has become the biggest European country music festival.
Bob began the session by sharing his own involvement and journey through country music, starting in the 1950‘s when he would buy records he loved by the likes of Ricky Nelson and Buddy Holly, and then illustrating how Elvis Presley straddled the fence, combining R&B and bluegrass on first single That’s All Right (Mama), and The Everly Brothers, brought country music into rock and roll.
Bob talked of his love for Nashville, his “spiritual home”, how it’s a real music town with a strong sense of mutual support and community and had a long history of influential artists recording there, for example: Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline (1969) and The Byrds Sweetheart Of The Rodeo (1968). Through the seminal country rock of The Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons, he became aware of Emmylou Harris who appeared on The Old Grey Whistle Test in the 1970’s. Moving on to the 1990s, he had US singer/songwriters Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin on his Radio 1 show and then later embraced Alt Country artists such as Lucinda Williams and The Jayhawks. In 1998 he took over the Radio 2 country show which plays an eclectic blend of country, roots and Americana music.
Moving on to their advice for artists wanting to break into the current country scene, Baylen’s was simply to keep writing and performing, collaborate with other artists, and build a community around you as at the heart of Country 2 Country and country radio there are people willing to listen. DJ’s such as himself are always on the look out for new music and follow what artists are up to via their social media. The AMA UK offers opportunities to its members and provides showcase slots at various UK festivals throughout the year, including Maverick Festival. Since it started in 2012, it now has 700 members and is a place for artists to have a home. I was at the very first AMA conference and it is great to see how it has grown, even hosting its own Americana Awards in February. Milly oversees Country 2 Country and also sees the festival as bringing the country music community together. She added that networking is a key part in getting your name out there, in addition to performing. Country Music Week is also running this month, so it’s crucial to meet people and make the most of all the events happening. All the panel agreed that a sense of community is key to the development of country music in the UK. Stevie stated that country currently is the coolest style of music and has this unique ability to connect.
Bob’s Under the Apple Tree sessions have grown in its short three-and-a-half years. I have recorded my own UTAT; live music sessions filmed in Bob’s studio at the back of his garden. It shines through how proud he is of helping new artists and also those more established ones. His son Miles, who also hosts a show on Chris Country, does it all, and new music is the engine of what they do. UTAT has also grown to include gigs in prestigious venues, they recently hosted concerts at Bush Hall and Exeter Cathedral, and The Whispering Bob TV website, has become an important hub for all of their exciting activities.
The panel gave further advice on progressing with your career. Milly looks for artists who have developed a strong online presence for the C2C festival submission process. She recommended artists get fans attention by booking lots of gigs and having creative ideas to grow your audience. All advised writing great songs, Nashville writers really develop and hone their song writing craft and gift for storytelling. Baylen stated that “everything else is forgivable” if it’s a great song. Bob’s advice was simply to be yourself and not compromise. He gave an example of when Lucinda Williams released her seminal album, 1998’s brilliant ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’. Prior to the album’s release, she was involved in a stand off with her label Mercury Records. They didn’t want the photo of her in a country hat which featured on the CD. She didn’t back down, the album became widely celebrated for its authenticity and a universally acclaimed Grammy Award winner.
I had a lovely chat with Bob after the panel. We talked about the UK’s huge interest in country music right now. He feels that the reason for this is a couple of things coming together: firstly The Civil Wars, the critically acclaimed Grammy Award winning duo really influenced duos such as The Shires, Ward Thomas and Lewis and Leigh, and secondly, Taylor Swift – “she put the idea of country in young people’s heads” – which all combined to “create a perfect storm”. Sharing more of his wisdom on honing your craft, he suggested attending a songwriting retreat, notably Chris Difford’s which matches lesser known writers with established ones, “exchanging ideas” and being open to co-writing can be very inspiring. He also added how BBC Introducing is “a vital network”. He receives a few tracks a week to consider for airplay. Like the community and support he has witnessed in Nashville, he suggests immersing yourself in the scene here, doing your research and making contacts.
Amplify Introducing was an exciting event for bringing the artist and industry together and it is inspiring and encouraging that Steve Lamacq dedicated an hour of his BBC 6 Music show solely to music he discovered there. Chatting to people representing various music organisations and brands inside the ExCel who reported a really busy weekend with lots of interest and engagement. Here’s to the next one!