10 Questions – 2009

Mark Badger of Iron Man Records questioned by Andy Derrick of Sostenuto LLP November 23rd 2009

1 – Please describe your main work in the music industry at the moment

My main work is spread across running a Record Label, Tour Management, The Music Network and Music PR and Promotion. I am a musician too so when I’m not doing any of the above I can be found rehearsing or out playing shows with my own band.

I run a Birmingham based Independent Record Label called Iron Man Records and  I am currently working on preparing release schedules for 2010. To date I have released about 12 albums by a number of different bands and hope to see two or three more releases in the next 12 months.

I set up The Music Network in 2000 to provide a basic framework for those working in and around music. The idea was to encourage people to meet, network, swap ideas, contacts, resources and share knowledge of best practice while maintaining an active discussion on the nature and development of Music Business in the local area. The Music Network itself has evolved from what started out as The Discordian discussion group in 1996.

As a Tour Manager I work with new independent bands, who may have only sold a few hundred records, right up to more established acts who have sold hundreds of thousands of records and have an international profile.

In terms of Music PR and Promotion I regularly work with bands of all shapes and sizes who ask for my help establishing an effective promotion strategy both online and off. I spend much of my time assembling press packs, updating websites and testing out all sorts of ideas to help bands get their music out on a budget you can stick under a glass. On occasion I teach the basics to University Students or young people interested in work experience and where possible i try to contribute to seminars and workshops on the subject.

2 – Have you always been doing this kind of work or has it changed over the years?

I’ve had many different roles in some way connected to music but the underlying constant has always been a love of good live music. I’ve never had money to employ more experienced people than myself so I’ve had to teach myself a number of roles including music manager, producer, accountant, legal advisor, press officer, researcher, tour manager, driver, merchandiser, artist, graphic designer, online strategist, writer and musician. I’ve also made a lot of cups of tea for a lot of people who have taught me pretty much everything else I couldn’t teach myself along the way.

I started my own band around the age of about 14 but seeing as no one was going to offer my band a gig I soon started trying to work out how to do it all myself. I had to learn how to organise my own shows and over the years I have organised gigs of all shapes and sizes and for almost ten years i didn’t really do much else. I booked bands of all shapes and sizes from all over the world to play at venues i operated from. I had no real idea what I was doing so I made it up as I went along.

While sat at the Job Centre in 1996, waiting my turn, and with a bad hangover from the gig the night before, I decided to start a record label. It all started as an experiment to see if you could start a record label from a giro cheque and with no previous experience. I was inspired to do it after finally tracking down a copy of “The Manual” by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. I assumed i was making a terrible mistake but committed myself to enjoying the experiment in the knowledge that no one else would be stupid enough try anything similar. Or at least I think thats what it was all about. I can’t remember. I wrote to Bill Drummond and asked if he could offer any words of wisdom as I was about to take the leap of faith and make a start. After all, it’s always good to have someone to blame, if not yourself. He wrote back and suggested that my insanity would do…. so I’ve been working with that ever since. I admit I didn’t get very far on the first few giros but I managed to track down someone who was willing to lend me some money, i reduced my administration costs to the absolute minimum by finding an office and a phone i could use for free and I tracked a couple of really good bands down who wanted to take a risk and release records with me. And so it began, years of beans on toast and “borrowing” my housemates food while the rest of my limited operating budget went into music.

The first release on Iron Man Records (Named after the song Iron Man by Black Sabbath) appeared in 1999 and I continued working on the record label and released a couple of records a year every year from that point on. I had to stop organising regular shows in 2004 as the record label was taking more and more of my time and I was starting to go a bit mad with the repetition of regular gigs.

Having given up the Music Promoter / Gig Organiser role, I soon found myself dragged back into venues, but this time in another role as Tour Manager. I had stopped organising shows after ten years as I felt I had earnt my stripes and it was time to try something different. However, the phone kept ringing and when the bands couldn’t get me to fix them a show in Birmingham, the next question was “do you know where we can get a cheap van for the tour?” and “can you pick us up at the airport?” and that soon changed into “can you come out with us on tour, can you drive us, can you help us with the next tour as our booking agent isn’t any good…”

So That brings me to the present day. The record label is still consuming money faster than it generates it but thats fine by me, the label is not about money, it’s about music. I can still confirm that the musical and cultural impact of all the releases so far has outstripped any monetary value anyone could choose to attach. I currently derive most of my income from looking after bands on the road and any leftovers are reinvested in the label and its roster of bands. I still live in hope that one day the label will be able to support itself and all those involved but that point may still be some way off in the future.

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?

I have found digital to be a useful addition to the labels sphere of operation in many ways but it hasn’t replaced anything yet. Iron Man Records offers digital downloads as well as physical product but sales of physical product are currently still way above sales of digital. I suspect that the digital downloads have actually increased the ease of accessibility for every release and I believe that digital downloading both legal and illegal have actually increased sales of physical product. This may change in future but for now, digital appears to me to be acting as a “try before you buy.” I have loaded every release up on last.fm for free so people can try out any of the releases for free and they can download all albums in full. I have also loaded some of the more recent releases up as pay to download on a number of other sites and all of them have generated new sales despite the same titles being available for free elsewhere. I have also noticed that since each release has been available in a digital format as well as a physical format the sales of physical product has also increased. I think what has been happening is something like this: people are finding mp3 for free either by filesharing or through downloads on last.fm or other sites like myspace or facebook and they are downloading or streaming them for free. People will keep the tracks they like and delete the ones they don’t. After a while, if the bands are touring the same person who has taken the free download is more likely to consider buying a ticket and going to see the band live. If the band are on good form, then the ticket buyer is more likely to buy a physical record or cd and most often, if they’ve already drunk their money at the bar, they will order a copy of the album online when they get home. For those who are unable to get to see the band they will buy a copy of the album online or even buy the whole album as a pay for download if they haven’t got all the tracks for free already.

I was in the Czech Republic in 2008 and i found that many people i met there who were into their music were searching for mp3 for free to try out new music. If the free mp3 were any good, they would be happy buying tickets for the show and if they enjoyed the band live they would buy the album on vinyl. I wondered why they wanted the album on vinyl and not cd and it was put very simply by one kind person who put the band I was travelling with up at their house. “If you collect records and you already have the mp3 on your computer, the last thing you want is more cds of digital files. If you are a serious record collector then you will buy the album on vinyl to add to your collection and you can play it on your turntable as any good recording should be.” It was also noted that people are looking to spend money on a quality record. If someone has the MP3 already, the album has to be worth buying so things like packaging, lyrics, photos and of course good quality vinyl are all important.

4 – Apparently there is a resurgence in live music opportunities.  Would you agree/disagree and how are you capitalising on this?

Yes I think there is a resurgence in live music, I think it is driven by the simple idea that the internet has made so much more music accessible at the push of a button. You no longer have to spend hours looking through racks of dusty old record sleeves on a rainy saturday afternoon in the hope of finding some hidden gem you have been searching for for years. You can find what you want by whoever you want pretty much at the click of a few links after a search on google or wikipedia.

Easy access and low cost of access to all this music has lead a resurgence, in my view, in different types of music, particluraly new music and music in niche markets, genres or whatever you choose to call it. I think the opportunities to market, promote and distribute your music in so many ways across the internet has removed the barrier of distribution for many bands and it is no longer the etsablished bands, big budget new acts or major label bands that have a chance to compete. Any band with access to the internet can now make a start in accessing new audiences worldwide. However, if the internet has opened up opportunities to play live, so the internet has also added thousands of competitors for every stage, cd payer, ipod, turntable or wherever you enjoy your favourite music.

With every band that is competing for attention on the internet, the bands and acts that want to be successful or perhaps more successful than the rest can’t remain  exclusively online, they must get out and play live, tour and exercise all the usual “other” channels of making their music accessible to all. While a good online strategy can prove useful in many cases, some bands have no idea what a good offline strategy consists of and a careful balance of the two can be critical for new acts.

As a record label I still spend far too much time trying to work with distributors who seem wholly unable or in some cases unwilling to capitalise on the opportunities that the internet presents. I still seem to sell more cds and downloads myself through a myriad of smaller channels across the net than through a single distributor using more traditional methods. The result in recent years has been that many of the bands that i work with have managed to get their music to people in places that some distributors would not be willing to cover initially. Consequently people in those territories who cannot buy the record in the shop but can access it easily online are more likely to think about buying a ticket or travelling a distance to go and see a band play live. New bands always struggle for money, and their press and marketing and promotion opportunities are often limited by budget or profile. Touring has been made easier though distributing music both physically and digitally online with a basic online strategy to make it easy for people to find your music.

I think filesharing and free downloads have played an important role in allowing new music to access new audiences. People are willing to take a chance on listening to music that has cost them nothing. If they like what they hear they’ll find more of it, they may even buy a physical copy or pay for a full album download. But if they have all the music for free already and the band is touring most people i’ve spoken to would think nothing of paying £5 or £10 or £12 or more to go and see a good band play in their local area. In some cases free downloads and filesharing has acted in a way that in the days before the internet a flyer or a promotional poster would have acted in promoting an event. If people like what they see on the flyer they may come to the show, with digital downloads I think it is very similar.

In recent months the British Pound has collapsed against the Euro so many bands are finding european tours more useful. They can hire crew, equipment and vehicles in the UK and pay in pounds and then go to Europe and earn fees in Euros.

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?

The licensing act in my view is just another form of control. Pay us to know who you are where you are and what you do. Your licence will tell you what you can and cant do and if you do anything the local authorities don’t like you’ll lose your licence. If you would like to hear an interesting opinion on the licensing law speak to Paul Jackson at The New Adelphi in Hull. They refuse to have a licence and the local authrorities continue to threaten to close the place down. I’m sure Paul could give you a far better and more informed opinion on this.

In short the licence law will only restrict live performance of music in pubs, any pub or venue that wants live music will have to have a licence first and that will cost time and money and criteria will have to be satisfied before the licence is granted. Smaller venues that put must on once a week or a few times each month may stop altogether or continue without a licence and risk prosecution. Music venues that do not generate money from Live Music may also consider stopping as the licence will cost money and some changes to the venue itself and how it is run may be demanded. Small pubs and music venues are the starting point for most musicians or people who want to start a career in the music industry, the small venues are an inspiration to many and often from such small beginnings, musicians can rise up all the way to earning a serious living from music. The smaller venues are also important as making music and performance doesn’t always have to be about making money or taking it seriously, it can also be about encouraging people to make their own fun and sharing the enjoyment of play and listening to music. Licence laws could put a stop to some activities of this kind. I find it sickening that the unlicensed provision, for example in small pubs, clubs or venues, of just one musician can be considered a criminal offence while in places of public religious worship, royal palaces or moving vehicles the same provision is exempt. The maximum penalty is £20,000 and 6 months in prison. This is enough to end any small independent business.

As I understand it is to prevent crime, noise pollution, ensure public safety and the protection of children from harm but broadcast entertainment including sport is exempt no matter where and no matter how loud. The law also means that private performances raising money for charity are licensable, school performances open to friends and family are licensable and in general, I oppose the law and all it stands for. Music is about fun and the freedom to share it, not laws and licenses. I also oppose the concept of form 696 but i’ll leave that for another day.

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?

I think that many of the courses offer a valuable insight into the music industry but I don’t believe any of them really prepare any individual for what is to come next. I think that the theory or academic side of learning about the music industry is barely the tip of the iceberg. Practical Experience at all levels is more valuable than anything else in my view and that is not the easiest thing to access, and certainly not easy for young people. Every job within the music industry is specialised and relies on the individual in that role having an understanding of all the other specialised jobs that interact with that role. It helps me in my work as a record label knowing what it is like to be a musician, to be a music promoter, to be a producer, to be a press officer, to be a driver, to be a tour manager, to be a music manager, to work online, to work offline, to be a fan of a band, to have no budget, and vice versa. I’m no expert at any of it but i have a little bit of experience and understanding of all of it. I find my work easier now because I have tried to do all those things myself. I learnt a little about it all from other people, from books, magazines, interviews, biographies and from many other sources, but I had to pull it together and then go out and do it myself to really get an understanding of how it all works. In many ways the music industry has always been the same to me….write, rehearse, record, promote, perform and everything else connected to that but in other ways it is constantly changing, new formats, new methods, new markets, new networks, new technology, new opportunities. I think any student on a course in the west midlands needs to understand that the course is just a starting point, from the moment they start learning, the subject matter they are learning about will be changing and by the time they finish a three year course, the music industry and everything connected with it will have evolved and changed again. Students must be aware that research is always ongoing and that they will have to keep learning and keep changing and adapting to a very fast moving industry but at the same time they will have to deal with people and companies that are still stuck in the old habits of 30 years ago. They will also meet a lot of so called experts, but only a few of them will have anything constructive to say or offer, the individual will have to develop skills in weeding out the jokers from the professionals if they want to make any real progress.

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?

Useful advice: Do It Yourself or don’t bother.

Advice I’d like to pass on: Never make any assumptions. Check everything yourself.  Listen to what others have to say but always make your own decisions, not everyone is right all the time and you won’t be either. It is not about making money, it is about taking risks and dealing with the consequences. Do your research, work out a strategy based on your research, and when you put your strategy into action, set yourself a series of achievable goals to demonstrate your level of success ie numbers of records sold over given period of time, number of shows played, number of tickets sold, number of downloads and so on. Evaluate your work and if you choose to do it again, do it better.

8 – Copyright in sound recordings is a very active debate across the music industry with some advocating giving music away under a ‘creative commons’ license and others a status quo policy.  Where do you stand?

I’m still undecided on this issue. Copyright is important but I think that the various creative commons licences give individuals a chance to provide alternatives. Unfortunately I can find examples on all sides of the discussion that demonstrate the short comings of both the present situation and the potential alternatives. I don’t think Governments should use illegal Filesharing as an excuse to remove civil rights or criminalise the sharing of music. However, while i think the creative commons licences provide many alternatives, the licences rely heavily on the individuals involved to show self regulation and sometimes companies can use content irresponsibly but get away with it as no one individual can be held to account.

I think if you are a writer or musician or a creative who produces a series of works then copyright will always be important to protect what you have worked so hard to create. If you choose to allow people to infringe your copyright then thats up to you but copyright can be useful sometimes if you want to stop unsuitable use of your work. It is also important to protect individuals moral rights and copyright can make that easier to ensure. However, if you are unable to create your own original work, the creative commons licences allow individuals to beg borrow and steal to make new works that in their own right may be original but derive their constituent parts from a number of different sources. I think where individuals are using the work of others and giving full credit to the original artist or musician that is all good for all involved, but I’m not so sure anyone truly benefits as the lines become muddled as to who made the work or who should take the real credit for the work when it is finished.

Copyright is known as the authors rights for copies to be made only by the author or with his or her authorization in the form of a licence. In short that all sounds pretty good but some argue that copyright needs to be adapted to work more suitably with modern technology and some people feel that human society derives a net benefit from the freedom to share knowledge, music, and culture. Here are some examples that outline some of the issues as I see them.

Intellectual monopoly: “In the case of both patents and copyright, from the point of view of economics, there are two ingredients in the law: the right to buy and sell copies of ideas, and the right to control how other people make use of their copies. The first right is not controversial. The second opens a can of worms.

Rights: In copyright law, when applied to the creator this right is sometimes called the “right of first sale.” However, it extends also to the legitimate rights of others to sell their copies. It is the second right, enabling the owner to control the use of intellectual property after sale, that is controversial. This right produces a monopoly – enforced by the obligation of the government to act against individuals or organizations that use the idea in ways prohibited by the copyright or patent holder.”

Legal fiction or theft? Some people argue that copyright is invalid because, unlike physical property, intellectual property is not scarce and is, they claim, a legal fiction created by the state. That is, infringing on copyright, unlike theft, does not deprive the victim of the original item, and so enforcement of copyright law constitutes aggression on the part of the state.

Unaware Copyright Infringement: Web 2.0 “users” often do not realise that they are engaging in copyright infringements. For example, blogging and the associated passing around of articles and images may not be recognised as copyright infringement by the blogger, and/or not intended as such.
Some rights reserved: Creative Commons states that it is not anti-copyright per se, but argues for copyright to be managed in a more flexible and open way. Creative Commons takes the position that there is an unmet demand for “copyright” that allows the copyright owner to copyright work as “Some rights reserved” or even “No rights reserved.” This is a useful alternative if you want your work, like a photo, an mp3, an article, or a piece of artwork to be shared for example across the internet.

Freedom of knowledge: Some people argue that knowledge should be “shared in solidarity” and that freedom of knowledge is fundamental in realising the right to education, which is an internationally recognised human right, as well as the right to a free culture and the right to free communication.

Authorship: Current copyright is based on a too narrow definition of “author”, which is assumed to be clear and undisputed. Some authors in my view are not the “originators” of their work. Some authors will research a topic, for example using google, to find similar articles on the subject they wish to write about. When they publish their work it can often be lifted whole or in part from someone else’s published work and it can be hard to track down where the “Author’s” work has been lifted from. The author can pass the work off as original and either declare original copyright or even use creative commons licences to allow others to use as they see fit. This is often how Bloggers mistakenly present themselves as Authors and then declare authorship of the work when in fact they are just republishing the works of others with or without the “originator’s” permission.

I’m still not fuly in favour of copyright as it stands nor creative commons as an alternative. I think the law does need to be looked at but a mixture may be the way forward. Whatever point of view you take I still think that copyright essentially seeks to protect income for the individual or company that owns or controls it, whereas creative commons licences seeks to share potential income amongst the community and generate new forms of income that may not always benefit the originator of the work. The view of the copyright arguement that you take may be influenced by your desire to protect the individual or benefit the community as a whole. But don’t ask me anymore, I seem to change my mind with every situation. I’m still undecided on the issues involved.

9 – What do you think makes a good music industry ‘expert’ or ‘consultant’?

An expert or consultant may be someone who is currently earning the majority of their income from work within the Music Industry. They may have worked in the music industry in a similar way in the past and will probably have a good chance of passing on some experience and understanding to newcomers.

The Music Industry is full of advisors but you are the person who has to work it out for yourself. If someone derives their income from government funding or funding of any other nature I would always advise to proceed with caution. They are probably a joker.

Don’t go looking for advice from someone who earns a living giving advice, get your advice from someone who doesn’t often give advice, someone who earns their living from music.

Everyone I’ve met connected with music has a unique story to tell and there are a million opinions on how it all works. In the same way that Accountants should never run hospitals, so called Business Experts, Social Media Gurus, Music Industry Consultants and other Sales and Marketing people should never be allowed anywhere near the Music Industry and should be avoided wherever possible.

However, if you are someone who has to deal with these types then here’s what to do. Understand that if a music industry ‘expert’ or ‘consultant’ has never had anything to do with Music themselves, if they are making a living giving advice as opposed to  earning money from music then they are probably just Sales and Marketing people in disguise. Ask them plenty of questions and do with the information they give you as you see fit. Who knows, you may learn something or it may be the same old tired out rubbish about profits and losses. If they clearly struggle to even come up with some useful practical words of wisdom other than sign this form or come back next week or if they just plough the usual sales and marketing pitch then they should be dealt with in the way that Bill Hicks requested. Ask them to kill themselves.

10 – What do you think is going to happen in the next 5 years of the music industry?

Big Business or whatever it is called these days will continue to dominate. Smaller independents will sell up to larger firms or face bankruptcy in competition. There is certainly a lot of change going on but i fear its is more shuffling of money from one area of the business to another rather than any great break through in particular areas. Downloads have changed the way many companies operate and until the internet is fully utilised as an addition to any campaign, low risk, mediocre acts will continue to be the order of the day. The larger companies must limit their investments in the same old same old tried and tested techniques and invest in new ideas, new artists and new music of all shapes and sizes. The game of risk taking must continue as the low risk money spinners that some of the large companies are investing in will ultimately fail in my view.

It has never been a better time to do it yourself and anyone involved in music should make good use of the opportunities the internet presents but be warned, the next 5 years will see many changes across the board so people will have to adapt and overcome at every stage. It may be easier than ever to start a project but it is harder than ever to keep it growing year on year. The short run of excitement that many small independents have felt in recent years working on new band projects may soon turn to despair as the internet becomes filled with like minded and ever diversifying, creative competition. The net also exists under the oncoming shadow of new laws and the so called FREE internet may become just a revenue stream for only the largest companies. The independents will find themselves almost back where they started if the laws are not opposed from the outset.

I still share and endorse the view that Youth from Killing Joke holds, a point that many people have forgotten. Let me paraphrase “Good music will always shine through in the end so don’t worry about anything else, if the music is good, the people will find it”

About Iron Man Records:

Started in 1997, Iron Man Records is an independent record label based in Birmingham, England.
Iron Man Records works with bands and acts who are committed to producing interesting new music on their own terms and has released recordings by:

P.A.I.N, Dufus, Nightingales, Sensa Yuma, Last under the Sun, I.O.D, G.O.R.G.E.O.U.S, Pigfish, Less, and many more

The label offers a number of music related services from Tour Management, Vehicle and Driver hire, and Legal Advice or Representation to Work Experience for people interested in working with music full time, Music Licensing, simple online strategy and The Music Network.

The label also runs an online shop selling everything from cds to t-shirts, vinyl, dvds and video.

The Label is run by Mark Badger and Kevan Tidy.

website: https://ironmanrecords.net

About Mark Badger:

Mark, runs Iron Man Records, which is based in Birmingham England. The record label has been running since 1996 and in 2000 he set up the Birmingham Music Network which is also known as just The Music Network.

Mark has organised more than 1000 gigs in and around Birmingham since 1994 using many different identities but most of them used the name Badger Promotions until 2002. Since then he has continued to put on shows, but they have been few, and far between, and usually under an assumed name.

Mark plays in a band called Last Under The Sun and at present he’s also playing guitar in another band called Police Bastard.

Mark offers tour management and driving to help bands out, he write and maintain several music related blogs, and has assembled simple online strategies for established bands, like the The Orb, and countless other bands who have asked for help.

Mark has done some lecturing at Birmingham City University as part of their Music Business degree course, bits and pieces for the Musicians Union, worked on projects for Birmingham City Council, Learning and Skills Council and Advantage West Midlands and currently runs a shop on ebay selling all sorts of good alternative music on cd or vinyl.

Mark enjoys a good game of mental chess with local government and funding organisations who sometimes try and pocket too much of the money intended for struggling local musicians and creatives. He also argues a lot with people who think the “arts” should be funded.