My dear friend and music associate Linton Beckles, interviewed by Andy Griffiths . I highly recommend this article to both new and established creative people

Industry Talk

Andy Griffiths – Sostenuto LLP Interview with Linton Beckles

1 – Please describe your main work in the music industry at the moment
I work as a Music Industry Consultant primarily, however my borders have recently expanded to delivering workshops not only to the music industry but also to the creative industries as a whole via the FEU (Federation of Entertainment Unions). My workshop covers courses for musicians, artists, writers, authors, script writers, film producers, directors etc. My workshops are based on three courses that I have developed, normally carried out as a one-day series of workshops per course. The courses are: Copyright for Creatives, Legal and Contractual Matters for Creatives and Arts Management for Creatives. I also have a small clientele of industry people, companies and artists that I provide consultancy services for.

2 – Have you always been doing this kind of work or has it changed over the years?
In some respects I have always been in preparation and shaped for this work for as far back as I can remember. During my early band days as a member of Central Line as a lead singer/percussionist, I was the guy who wanted to know how everything worked, whether it was creative, technical or legal. It was when my music business lawyer told me that I should start my own consultancy in the late eighties that it dawned on me that I must have learned the business of the music industry to a large extent. Mind you, I don’t know if his suggestion had anything to do with me coming into his office with my own pre-drafted contracts. In the years that followed, I evolved despite taking a long break from the music business all together. Teaching music business arts management at Hackney College in 2004 was a major turning point for me because it gave me the opportunity to transfer everything I had learned and experienced in the music business into a 30-week accredited course, which in late 2006 became a 12-part workbook course piloted for the Musicians Union, which also opened up the door for me to be doing those regional workshops and panel sessions on Copyright and Music Publishing. Today it has all synergised into three Courses for Creatives as stated earlier. I still have a growing customer base which I look to servicing through my new website.

3 – There has been a move from physical product to digital in the last few years. How has this affected your way of doing business?
It has had a major impact; sometimes I wonder if I am still in business because weeks can go by before you actually see a person you are dealing with. I think digital medium technology is great, because I don’t have the overheads of an office, staff, storage, filing, postage, faxing, freighting etc. In fact I look forward to picking out those nice cosy restaurants and café bars to meet clients and new customers, and what’s more I don’t even need to carry my lap top, just my blackberry.

4 – Apparently there is a resurgence in live music opportunities. Would you agree/disagree and how are you capitalising on this?
I like what’s happening with the resurgence of live music in the fact that it’s happening for music. Musicians can get work if they are good and they use the tools available to them in the way of new technology.
I have a plan to capitalise on some opportunities to meet and offer my services online to a whole host of musicians, but I must admit I am a little slow off the mark in this area.

5 – The Licensing Act introduced in 2005 has changed how small live music venues are licensed. There has been a wide range of responses both positive and negative. What is your experience or opinion and what would you like to see change in the future?
Well firstly, there was a need for the Act to be modernised and reformed, then there was the necessity to tidy up volumes of previous legislation and case law dating back centuries, and most importantly to have a law that would not fall flat on a local level through licensing authorise, policing and magistrate courts. For music, musicians and music venues it’s a mixed bag, hence why some welcome the Act with open arms while others are not too sure. Personally, I think in any change shift there will always be plus and minuses. It is now commonplace to find everything we are doing and engaging with in society to be riddled with measures of political correctness, human rights agendas, public order, environment, health and safety and child protection. Licensing under the new Acts looks simpler and makes it more affordable to stage live music. For many it will increase opportunities for work and for venue owners, no additional cost to provide musical entertainment. I think all round it’s good because the aim is for live music to be put on more easily whilst protecting the rights of local residents. In the future it’s possible that ‘professional musicians’ themselves may need to have a licence, as in the case of street/underground buskers. In theory it should make it easier to wade through the application and licensing process once they are in the system with their respective unions, performing rights societies etc. It sounds a bit ‘big brother’ and tying up musicians with more ‘red tape’ but it’s heading that way.

6 – There are many graduate and post graduate courses teaching different aspects of the music business from performance and writing to marketing and promotion. What is your opinion on them and do you think the industry has capacity for the graduates to find work?
As the music business is a business, albeit unlike any other, it is short-sighted for educational institutions to drum up a curriculum to teach all music as simply as an academic or even as a cultural art. Learning music as an art form and as a cultural thing is not the same a becoming a hit writing, magnetic hot performing star. They are different worlds, each has their place and must be respected as such. Just look at music history and ask any pop or rock n’ roll icon; where did you graduate from to become this world famous super star? And you’ll get a blank stare. I think in ‘rock n’ roll’ some things in life can’t be taught, they have to be caught. By the same token there is high respect for those who have to labour for years to graduate in music to be able to play in the best bands and orchestras. As for the business, operational and technical end of the industry, there is lots of room for graduate entry although that was not always the case. As is again common, most of our famous record producers evolved from being tape ops, musicians, and A&R people. But the business has grown highly intricate and now demands highly skilled people to run it, which narrows it down to a small corridor of qualifications over aptitude or even sometimes experience. Hence we are seeing a now less creative industry because once upon a time even the guy in the executive suite on the top floor was creative.

7 – What is the single most useful or unhelpful piece of advice you were given and what would you like to pass on to others hoping for a career in the music industry?
Get it in writing is the single most useful piece of advice that I have taken in the music business and it’s still the single most useful piece of advice that I pass on to newcomers seeking a career in the music industry. Why? Because it has a way of sifting out the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys etc. People that are serious are not afraid of doing what’s proper and professional, the minute you meet someone who is afraid of doing either of the two; you are warned. The worst piece of advice that I know of in the music industry having fallen prey to it is ‘don’t worry, we’ll sort it out later’. This is always the case when someone is seeking to out-manoeuvre any would-be players out of a project to take the lion’s share and eat it all by themselves. You find yourself naively rendering good will, trust, and sweat on the basis that some ‘bod’ has given you his word that he has full intentions of paying you, crediting you and getting you in the door, then you get nothing, hear nothing, see nothing, when suddenly, presto! you see it all on ‘Top of the Pops’. At least, that’s how it was for me.
The best piece of advice I can give to newcomers is: ‘trust what you know is right to do’ and that usually means not trusting yourself if you don’t know enough yet. Ask the right questions to the right people, make use of the internet, don’t fall prey to any money-making scams and align yourself with reputable people and organisations.

8 – Copyright in sound recordings is a very active debate across the music industry with some advocating giving music away under a ‘creative commons’ licence and others a status quo policy. Where do you stand?
There are several arguments facing ‘traditional copyright’ mainly brought on by technology and innovations, each with its multiplicity of tentacles that affect other areas of copyright, so to me the ‘creative commons’ (CC) in my view is using these same new technologies and innovation as a catalyst to move copyright to the ‘left’. Great in philosophy but a little too simplistic a way forward for copyright in general. For instance copyright holders who submit their work to creative commons while opening up their work for ‘free use’ and ‘free sharing’ leave little to be copyrighted in the standard copyright domain, which is interesting because it seems to want the best of both worlds.
Creative commons is in danger of undermining the whole point of traditional copyright which, although shrouded in law, is what gives protection to the rights not only of the copyright work but also to the rights of the owner of the work.
At best creative commons would work great for those industries that need to have such ‘freedom’ to use other people’s copyright to makes their’s work; e.g. software companies. As for music and films, new users will want it but not so the traditional establishment. With that having been said, there is the unfolding complication of copyright overlapping when works are rendered in a variety of derivatives. e.g. book to play, to film, to sound recordings, to video game and merchandising. On the up-side, creative commons is a good way to exercise ‘human rights in copyright’ and perfect for those who wish to enter their work into the public domain and still have some degree of copyright benefit before the work actually enters into the public domain properly. The question is how do you get all parties or holders of their distinct copyright to agree to creative commons and traditional copyright? Creative commons as an organisation and movement seem to think they have the answers, meanwhile we’ll watch this space.
Status quo is also unrealistic to a point because of the shifting landscape of copyright usage and issues. There has to be a broader understanding of copyright in the universal sense where manufacturers, intellectual property owners and users of copyright work in the music industry see a common basis with regards to the implications and impact they are having on copyright.

9 – What do you think makes a good music industry ‘expert’ or ‘consultant’?
Expertise comes from amassing and combining knowledge and skills, which amounts to a qualification not necessarily recognised academically but a valuable qualification nonetheless. The most valuable assets for the music industry expert are first passion and love for their industry, secondly they must be willing to grow, learn and move with the times, thirdly having a heart for people as well as being a people person. Empowering and equipping people to make better decisions is very rewarding. The would-be expert or consultant has to do both: be knowledgeable in his or her field, work at being a specialist, and be able to give sound reliable and up-to-date advice. From my own personal experience I have found that people really appreciate people who have “been there and done it” so to speak and actually lived what they are talking about to a greater rather than lesser degree. I have been fortunate to have journeyed through the music industry with stories good, bad and ugly, which no doubt carved my pathway to do what I do now.

10 – What do you think is going to happen in the next 5 years of the music industry?
It might be obvious to some yet a mystery to a good majority of people, because the industry is no longer driven by music but technology. It could only take one of two turns in the fork in the road; one turn says to do what the music industry has always done with technology and innovation; after grumbling and complaining to finally stop and grab control of these technologies and so move the industry forward at their pace. What’s happening today is no different from the advent of the gramophone record, the cassette tape, the CD etc. It’s just an industry that does very little on its own R&D and is slow off the mark of innovations, therefore it is always playing catch-up with the very innovations that will help it to move forward, broaden its scope and make it an exciting place to be in.

The other turn in the road is panic stations; passing legislation that is half-baked, putting more restrictions on music users. Penalising music users with paying licensing fees for their mobile phones and internet usage, some may well use this as the answer for the so-called free music downloads campaign. As we all know in the real world nothing is free. Ultimately music companies, service providers, telecommunications networks, digital distributors and copyright legislators will all have to get around the same table to arrive at a ‘one fix’ solution.
Interview available as PDF

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