Kevin Buckle: £500k for Scottish music may go to waste

Honeyblood's Stina Tweeddale and Cat Myers
Honeyblood's Stina Tweeddale and Cat Myers
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In all the fuss over who did and didn’t get regular funding from Creative Scotland it went without comment that the SMIA (Scottish Music Industry Association) was given a cool half a million pounds.

I couldn’t imagine what they intended to do with all that money and a quick phone call to Creative Scotland revealed it would be for core overheads which left me none the wiser as I wasn’t aware of any expensive core activities apart from the SAY award which was financed separately..

Always Ascending, Franz Ferdinand's new album, is a triumph. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Always Ascending, Franz Ferdinand's new album, is a triumph. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

The SMIA are of course responsible for running the SAY award which despite much bravado about its importance is privately considered by many to be of little help in promoting Scottish artists and has seen a decline both in support from shops and in online interest. As somebody who can access the figures I have seen sales of literally zero for an album when it is featured and whereas albums in earlier times would be given physical releases and distribution if they were originally download only that has now been abandoned.

Last year when a substantial number of shortlisted albums did not have distribution I was told that labels and/or artists were simply given a pack to help them distribute themselves. Media coverage outwith Scotland is never great and I rarely came cross a customer who had heard of the awards.

A project I was aware of was that “in partnership with the University of Glasgow, we are running a post-graduate student-driven research project to begin building a comprehensive directory of music industry businesses and practitioners throughout Scotland.” An alternative as one veteran music industry insider said to me would be just to collate members’ contact books on their phones.

Their other project was in partnership with the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities – “we are running a PhD student-driven research project to identify the skills gaps, training needs and development priorities for the Scottish music industry.”

READ MORE: Kevin Buckle: Scots pop exhibition to benefit new bands

Given half a million pounds I wondered what fantastic research they would come up with next and their chair Dougal Perman was quick to thank Creative Scotland and announce their plans in a facebook video. Everything it appears will be OK if only Scotland has its own music infrastructure and those pesky London based companies don’t get the work.

Dougal knows his business speak and with the SMIA having demonstrated “key value” he now wants to “conduct more business in the music supply chain in Scotland.”

The SMIA similar to the Scottish Music Centre is a membership organisation and I’ve never understood how serving the needs of a small membership is extrapolated to cover the best interests of Scotland’s music industry as a whole. Should you wish to join the SMIA by the way they aren’t currently accepting applications while they “review how the company works and restructure it”.

When Creative Scotland directed me to the last report they commissioned I was surprised to see that the weaknesses that were highlighted were to a large extent the very same things I had been saying needed tackled. Music was being created just fine but it wasn’t reaching the public and the report recommended that both distribution and retail in Scotland needed support to achieve this. Unaware of any action taken by Creative Scotland after this report I phoned the author to see what he knew and he said he too was unaware of any initiatives that had been implemented in response.

READ MORE: Kevin Buckle: The things I could tell you about Scottish pop …

When I asked at Creative Scotland I was told that the very report they had told me to read was out of date and it was “all about streaming now”. Of course it has been very well documented that streaming is only relevant to major artists and at the level Creative Scotland are working this is a dangerously inaccurate comment to make.

Strangely retail and distribution play no part in this new infrastructure that the Scottish Music Innovation Agency (see what they did there) will develop. “The problem is many musical creatives in Scotland are represented by managers, agents, publicists, record labels, publishers, lawyers and accountants outwith Scotland (mostly in London)”. Of course most musicians are not represented by anybody at all. I’ve not heard anything so delusional since the Hit the Road people had tour buses to give young people a realistic idea of what it was like being on the road.

It really doesn’t matter where the publishers, lawyers and accountants are based and good managers and agents based down south will always be able do a good job for Scottish artists which leaves us with publicists and labels. Creative Scotland wastes many thousands of pounds each year giving bands money for promotion which they then give to some English PR company. However the reason this is wasted is not based on location but simply that paying any PR company to say you have a great song or album out is a pointless exercise.

There is a place for PR but again at the level Creative Scotland are funding it is money down the drain. A very small Scottish based social media team that supported all those funded and hopefully others too would certainly help as artists generally are not good at keeping on top of social media but beyond that the Scottish scene is so small that is just a case of who your friends are.

Make no mistake strong Scottish labels with an international reach would be good for Scottish artists but currently the model is very much a not-for-profit, give all the money to the artists scenario and laudable as that may seem it is also not the way to run a proper record label at the level that would be useful.

Furthermore it is by no means essential as no label has done more to break Scottish artists other than probably Chemikal Underground than FatCat Records and they are based in Brighton! Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks, PAWS, Honeyblood and C Duncan all spring to mind.

Mogwai’s label Rock Action do a great job of course and were able to support Sacred Paws after their SAY award win while Chemikal Underground have sensibly downsized to match the current market where sales are a fraction of what they used to be. Therein lies the problem. Small labels are already doing a good job at the level they are at but unlike before growth can only be in having more artists rather than selling more. Furthermore, if anything, the business speak of the SMIA announcement should be an anathema to small DIY labels.

So taken aback was I by the video that I asked a few others to look at it and they were actually even more horrified than myself. I am I admit used to business jargon but a couple of folk commented they had to watch it several times just to understand what was being proposed and that was with subtitles provided!

The whole Scottish Music Innovation Agency idea though completely flawed is couched in words Creative Scotland like to hear and they have been awarded the sort of money that spent wisely could make an enormous difference but now may possibly make no difference at all.

Franz Ferdinand’s return doesn’t disappoint
Franz Ferdinand return this week with a new album called Always Ascending. Another example of a Scottish band well supported by an English label in Domino Records, who are huge fans of Scottish music both old and new. Labelmates King Creosote and James Yorkston have also flourished with Domino as did Sons and Daughters in their day and, of course, not only does the label play host to the Pastels but they also support Stephen Pastel’s label Geographic. Their back catalogue boasts reissues by Orange Juice and Josef K. The new Franz album, available in all good record shops, certainly doesn’t disappoint.