Business News Editor's Letter

Editor’s Letter: I’d be the new Scooter Braun if it wasn’t for my bank manager

By | Published on Thursday 6 February 2014

Music Inc

This week I built a brand new artist up to the very verge of stardom, only to have it all ripped from my fingers at the last moment by my short-sighted bank manager. He forced my music company – CDs Are Our Future – into administration for failing to pay back my overdraft on time, just as I was about to make us all very rich indeed. Fool.

I mean, my artist had just recorded a five star song with a big name producer, and I was about to get together enough money from touring to give that hit-in-the-making a proper release. It would have been huge, I guarantee it. Now, instead, I’m back to my day job, telling you all about it.

There is, it has to be said, a lot of admin to deal with in Music Inc, the new artist management simulator app officially released by UK Music and the Intellectual Property Office yesterday, all lovingly designed by Aardman Animations.

The aim of the game is to provide young people with an insight into the realities of what goes into making music. Basically, that’s it’s not all rock n roll (in fact there isn’t really very much rock n roll at all), instead it’s a rather lonely and boring existence with endless, endless admin. Oh, and all that pesky piracy to deal with. And I keep having to pay to get my artist on festival bills, while said artist mainly moans on about how I should be suing the people who are sharing her music online. Even though she hardly has any fans yet.

When we did have some success, and we got a single into the bottom end of the chart, my only celebratory option was to send a tweet out into the real world to inform my actual Twitter followers that the song ‘Eggs’ had just reached number 38. I decided against it and got the singer another haircut instead. It cost £500.

Says UK Music’s Jo Dipple: “Music Inc is an extremely exciting project for UK Music as we join forces for the first time with the IPO and Aardman Animations. Our goal is to give young music lovers a taste of what it’s like to work in the music industry and convey a message about the value of creativity in a fun and interactive way. Players of Music Inc will see how vital every stage in the music-making process is”.

While Music Inc supporter Oritse Williams off of JLS added: “Having experienced both sides of the business, as an artist and manager, I believe it’s important to educate budding creatives about what it takes to build a career in the music industry”.

How successful the app really is in conveying these messages remains to be seen.

There are some useful lessons for real-life budding artist and label managers (it’s not entirely clear whether you’re manager or label in the game, presumably to avoid having to explain the difference). It certainly conveys the importance of touring for new bands trying to build a fanbase – though not necessarily that gigging at this level sometimes costs you more money than it generates – even a poorly attended tour in the Music Inc world will make some profit. It does, however, introduce you to the fact that PRS and PPL royalties are rather useful at this stage, and that there’s always an irritating bill or two waiting to take all that income away.

And then there’s the song creation part of the game, where you send your artist away to write some songs and record some tracks. This is possibly the best bit, as you get to choose whether your artist works alone, or collaborates with other songwriters and producers. My downfall was caused by hiring another act to feature on the single for a rather extravagant £25,000. The resulting track was actually pretty good – or so the game told me – but then it was massively pirated so I hardly sold any records, and the bank loan that paid that mega guest fee needed repaying. A sync deal did bring in a little cash but lost the artist a third of her fanbase because she’d “sold out”. Basically it was game over.

A reality check moment then. And there are plenty more of them to enjoy, like when you send your wannabe star into the studio and the recordings they turn out are a bit shit. All things that can and do happen when you’re trying to launch the rock n roll career of a new artist. So, world educated then.

Except the two core messages that this game is clearly trying to communicate – that it’s expensive being a new artist and piracy kills – get a little tiresome.

For starters, the enforced minimum costs often seem rather pricey for a new manager in charge of a new band (£1000 to play a festival, that £500 hair cut, £100 a day to get the artist to manage their own Facebook account), which doesn’t do much for the music industry’s reputation for wasting money. And how many brand new bands ever made much from record sales at the very start of their careers? Shouldn’t new managers be looking to other direct-to-fan revenues these days anyway?

Then – presumably in a bid to keep things simple – some of the wording gets a bit confusing. I make a record, and get to choose if it’s released physically, digitally and/or via streaming platforms. Fair enough. Though when I choose just the latter I’m told how many ‘record sales’ I just achieved. I can also chart – even though the main singles chart doesn’t count streams – and piracy is still a problem (YouTube audio ripping perhaps?).

Don’t get me wrong, this venture has its merits, and budding artist managers and label bosses clearly aren’t really the target audience, this is about educating music consumers. To that end, getting Aardman on board to design the whole thing was a clever move, if only to distract people from the fact this game has been created by the music industry’s lobby group and a government department called the Intellectual Property Office. And maybe young (probably file-sharing) music fans will now better understand the challenges new artists and the companies who support them face, and will stop stealing their content as a result. Maybe.

Though I do worry that Music Inc perhaps does too good a job of communicating the monotonous side of artist management. Maybe as you get deeper into the game it all becomes more rewarding, but before you get to that point there are years (in the game’s timeframe) of clicking the button to send your artist back out on tour again. And while that may be realistic, it’s not much fun. Part of the reason I went bankrupt was because, while I knew more touring was likely required, I got tired of the whole thing and said “fuck it, let’s blow everything on a new single”. A bit like working for a major label circa 1996, perhaps.

But the thing is, while it may persuade players who stick with it that new artists and their managers deserve some sympathy (and therefore “buy their bloody music, OK?”), it doesn’t do such a good job of encouraging ambitious young people to enter the business. And one of the problems the music industry currently faces is that there aren’t enough entrepreneurial new managers focused on helping new artists capitalise on the potential of direct-to-fan and other opportunities presented by the digital age.

Too many entrepreneurial music fans have gone the tech start-up route in recent years, when we could really do with some of those people helping to hone this new artist-business-led music industry. And I’m not sure Music Inc is going to persuade said entrepreneurs to come and join the party in real life.

Meanwhile, back in the Music Inc world, my latest tactic is to just make the artist write and release endless singles, regardless of quality, and wait for a big sync deal to come in. Which it will do, as the game seemingly applies this at random. Then at the end of our eight song contract (yep, that’s the thing that makes this more label than management), I refuse to re-sign them and keep all the money for myself. It’s people like me we really want to keep out of this business.

Still, have a play. You can download the game for yourself for iOS here and Android here.