After attending the inaugural FastForward:London music conference last year and quickly getting drawn in by the forward-thinking and positive attitudes of the panels, attendees and organisers alike, we thought we’d send a few of our crew over to Amsterdam to check out what their two-day flagship conference was all about. Sam and Tom, oldest surviving DMS member and newest recruit respectively, and both musicians and designers in their own rights, were quick to take up the offer. What could possibly go wrong? We pass over to Tom from here on out to report on their European adventure…
So our morning started much like most at DMS HQ, fingers tapping away furiously, the seemingly non-stop ringing of the phone, a cacophonic soundclash battling it out in the hallway between our various soundsystems. This morning was different however, in that next to each of our desks our rucksacks were packed, and as the rest of the team started peeling off to take lunch, Sam and I set our out-of-office messages and headed for Exeter airport. After the friendliest Devonshire security check and the shortest walk to the departure gate in aviation history, we boarded the archaic twin prop plane and rose to the skies, blinked once, and touched down in Amsterdam.
That night was the first of the FastForward networking events. Finding the venue was a challenge in observation, and perhaps sobriety. That is to say, anyone who rocked up the Dam and immediately indulged in the local traditions would likely have had their work cut out navigating closed bridges and rerouted roads around construction sites. Conveniently though, Sam and I are model citizens, so after a small amount of staring at maps apps like confused tourists, we stumbled down a small set of unmarked steps that seemingly led straight into the water, and into the warmth of the appropriately-named Delirium Café.
We arrived in a similar fashion at the revered Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ the next morning, a beautifully contemporary music hall, innovative by both design and practise and set to be our daytime home for the next two days. Unlike other conferences we’ve attended in the past, walking into a FastForward event feels more like arriving at a bar to meet your new girlfriend’s mates for the first time and feeling instantly welcome and comfortable by the fact they’re all really nice. The man with the vision, co-founder Chris Carey, is always on hand to encourage that ethos. This is someone whose company Media Insight Consulting have provided data interpretation and strategy to some of the biggest music companies out there right now, yet who will still remember your name and the entirety of your last conversation.
The first day kicked off with the first of many keynotes, Artist Entrepreneurship with the man of a thousand talents, ShaoDow. A veritable Elon Musk of the musical world, ShaoDow is a multi-linguist, winner of AIM’s most recent ‘Hardest Working Artist’ award and clearly a rewriter of the rule book. He seems to effortlessly juggle running his company DIY Gang, his self-created merch lines and a manga comic, while ever-expanding his linguistic horizons and most likely dabbling in a multitude of other such projects that he failed to even mention. An inspirational start, if ever there was one. Following this the first panel kicked into action, with speakers including Catherine Lückhoff of South African NicheStreem, and Jeremy Pritchard of Everything Everything.
More insightful panels followed after lunch, with a ‘Future of Merch’ session focusing on the shift in how artists now generate their income with the growth of streaming services that notoriously don’t pay emerging artists properly, and how using data is ultimately key to understanding what your fans really want. Renowned performer Dan le Sac, who built his reputation in a DIY fashion many moons ago, spoke at length around the issues that face artists choosing similar paths today; battling the ever-growing online saturation of self-releasing artists and the struggle to carve out a niche in which to ride Facebook’s algorithms to victory. The ‘Importance of Music in Shaping Culture’ panel that ensued discussed the boom of grime artists from often-impoverished inner city areas, how their culture and their music are intrinsically one and the same, and how a widespread social connection to what grime artists stand for built this sub-genre from garage to Glastonbury.
The first day of FastFifteen sessions – a chance for leading professionals well-versed in the fringe topics relating to the music industry to pass on their knowledge – were packed with valuable information. From a crash course in data privacy built around the upcoming changes in data protection laws, to an insightful look at the music industry’s future-favourite technological advance, blockchain, and how the potential applications for the music industry are beyond comprehension, if setup properly. Admittedly, after three different talks on blockchain we still weren’t convinced we knew what it was, so clearly setting it up properly may pose a substantial challenge to some. The day ended with a panel on the future of advertising, moderated by Liz Stokes of Record of the Day, and an hour ‘Meet the Speakers’ networking event as the sun set over the waterways of Amsterdam.
After an evening sampling the delights of the famous JD William’s Whisky Bar, which to Sam’s dismay didn’t stock a single tot of rum, the second day of FastForward 2018 began bright and early with another round of FastFifteen presentations from the likes of Soundcloud and The Orchard. The first keynote of the morning was a look into the ‘Future of News’, where we learned that the way we consume news in the 21st century – ever-more via social media which gives weight to soundbites and sensationalist headlines – risks distorting the real issues at hand and watering down debate. On the topic of his change of professional direction, speaker Owen Braben, a former ITV and Sky News journalist, satirically admitted that with the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote for Brexit, it seemed an appropriate time for him to move into comedy.
After another exquisite lunch at the Delirium Café, we got stuck in to the afternoon’s panels, which began with a complex dive into the world of secondary ticketing. This is a field in which the vast majority of gig-goers know very little about, yet which can have massive effects on their ability to attend shows. After much debate, it was confessed that short of only selling tickets at the door on the night, which clearly would create its own problems for promoters, venues and punters alike, there aren’t yet any clear solutions out there to categorically prevent touts from reselling tickets at vastly inflated price. That said, much work is being done. The UK Government has banned the use of bots to purchase tickets and decreed that all tickets resold must advertise the original retail price, and major festivals like Boomtown and Glastonbury now require registration and photo ID and offer their own buy back and resale options.
The title of the final panel really sums up what FastForward is all about, the Future of the Music Industry. Bringing together young musicians and entrepreneurs from all aspects of the melting pot that is the music business, and calling upon them to be as much as part of the debate as the people up on the stage is a method that clearly works. Now in their third year and spanning three continents, Chris and Michael are fast creating a valuable network that reaches the very outer echelons of the music industry while maintaining a focused, balanced and inclusive vision for the future.