Organizing your own convention is a massive task, but Ruth Daniel from Fat Northern Records in Manchester, England, seeing a gap in the market and looking to build connections in the local independent music community, threw caution to the wind and set about planning a music conference - UnConvention. Here, she discusses the planning the first UnConvention, what she learned and her plans for future events.
First could you let me know a little about your career in the music industry so far?
My huge passion for music comes from being a musician and playing keyboards with The Fall on their greatest hits tour and playing in various bands since I was 12 years old. In 2003, I founded Fat Northerner Records - the bands on the label are diverse in their sounds, from urban blues to Americana to electro, the output is varied – keeping the Factory-style crossover alive.
One innovative project I developed was with label band, The Ironweed Project, who pushed the boundaries of contemporary digital music, if not for their unique musical style – a fusion of urban electronic blues, but for the innovative way the project changes the album making process by inviting collaborators from around the globe to download any part of the record - vocal tracks, drum parts or guitar licks and transform them into their own unique piece of music, the best of these collaborations were released on a remix album.
Having been involved in the industry for over 10 years, both as an artist and at an independent label, I am particularly interested in how the music industry is currently changing with the increase in digital music and technologies and how this affects the way new music is made, marketed, consumed and sustained. I also run the monthly label club night in Manchester, Fry-Up, which features a mix of established and up-and-coming DJs and bands such as The Whip, The Real Dolls and The Ironweed Project. The successful and growing event has just moved its residency to Contact Theatre in Manchester.
How did the idea of Un-Convention come about? What was the idea behind it?
Ever since beginning Fat Northerner Records in 2003 it has always been a goal of the label to work with, share knowledge and support as much of the local music community as possible. However, for much of the last five years it had become apparent that this was not necessarily a commonly held ambition, particularly in Manchester.
For much of our time working as a record label we have been members of the trade association AIM, a London based entity which represents the interests of many hundreds of Independent record labels, from the large household names through to small DIY companies. We have always had a lot of admiration for the work they do, offering support, and attempting to help with any enquiry, using the combined knowledge and experience of their staff and members. They also regularly hold industry-based events, either as seminars, or for networking. Over the years we have attended as many of these as has been feasible, and have always found them to be invaluable. The opportunity alone to meet others facing the same problems as ourselves, and to discuss common ground has inspired us in many ways.
We have often criticised AIM for the fact that much of their activity is London focused. Of course the vast majority of the music industry is based in the capital, but we have always felt that we are missing out on opportunities to have events in the regions, to allow us to build our own community. AIM have countered our criticism by pointing out that previous attempts to engage the industry outside of London has been met with a poor response, and lack of enthusiasm, and from our own experience we can take their point.
A couple of years ago, we set out to try and arrange a get together of local labels and industry people, on an informal basis, to try and develop some lines of communication, and a bit of a community network. The idea barely got off the drawing board, as the initial round of invites we sent where almost unanimously met with either indifference or abject horror at the thought of it. There was no desire for communication, despite what we thought would be obvious benefits all round.
In April 2008, we started discussing the idea of approaching the In The City music conference, which is held in Manchester in October, with ideas that would engage our particular level of the music industry. There are several major music conferences held throughout the year, all over Europe and the US, and as a label we have attended several, with varying degrees of success. However, in almost every instance, the conferences are there to facilitate the business of the larger companies. Often, expensive to attend, they generally cater to international trade, allowing the major institutions of different countries to do deals on licensing across territories. There are often seminars running alongside these conferences, but again these are very much pitched at the bigger players. Having said that, of the conferences we have attended, more often than not we have achieved a degree of success, either in learning about new ideas, or meeting new contacts. However, this has usually been the result of simply attending a conference, which draws like-minded people to ourselves; the content of the programme and so on has been largely irrelevant, but because of a lack of alternative, people at all levels of the industry turn up. Although successful to a degree, it is an expensive and cumbersome method of networking.
We wanted to somehow introduce some kind of panel, or seminar that would specifically engage the small independent and DIY level of the music industry, so our initial idea was to see if this is something we could integrate into the already existing In The City programme.