The music industry in Northern Ireland is made up of a host of wonderful individuals and companies that use their talents and enthusiasm to champion and promote our artists. We tasked nine of those individuals to think about the last ten years and tell us their favourite releases, their favourite gigs, their ones to watch for the future and what we need to do to ensure our scene continues to flourish.
Investing in the Future
Cross border collaboration
Over the next ten years I hope there’s a substantial increase in creative and commercial activity between the north and the Republic. In the noughties I thought both “scenes,” if you will, were starting to work really well together co-promoting shows and collaborating, but the following decade I think has seen us take a few steps backward and in my view NI has isolated itself a little bit (there are of course some heroes still fighting the good fight). I have a variety of theories as to why that’s happened, but we’ll leave that for another day. In the meantime, here’s to the ‘20s being the musical equivalent of a big bowl filled with Nordie and Free State Tayto.
Government Support & Fair Pricing
More than most industries, the music industry has been pulverised by the double-whammy of Brexit and Covid both of which have disproportionately affected musicians and those who make music happen. This is unprecedented and needs an unprecedented response from government to ensure that this industry can find a sustainable way forward. I’d like to see a proper price put on music, from streaming fees to gigs including a new initiative to ensure that bands keep 100% of their merch sales at live shows.
Music has always signposted the future. It was the punk scene in Northern Ireland in the late 70s that blazed a trail away from sectarianism. Music still has that power and, while good work has been done in recent years to improve inclusivity in music, more should be done in order to send a clear message out to wider society. Finally, I hope that someone reading this realises that the next big thing could be them, and starts to make music. Today.
Safe & Sustainable Working Conditions
Music is an essential component to life, whether people realize it yet or not. Music benefits communities, culture, perceptions of place and it brings in money. Without safe and sustainable conditions for musicians to work, there would be no music so we need to protect and value our musicians – at all stages, not just big stage artists. I’d like to see that value reflected in future policy including fair pay policies, zero commissions on merchandise, enhanced support for artist development initiatives and a basic income pilot scheme for musicians.
Investment & Training in Infrastructure & Services
I think there is a big gap in the professional services & infrastructure to support artist development in NI; namely experienced managers, agents, publicists etc. I believe if this developed, we would see more development of talent. The industry doesn’t really nurture the supporting services to develop, which in turn develops the talent. I think there is a real need for this and equally this is a great opportunity.
More Support & Development Opportunities For Artists & Industry
In the simplest terms I want to us to be a better place for musicians to live, create and work, to be able to make a living. Here in NI we can work on having more accessible and affordable spaces for artists, support and better equip live music venues, advocate and push for better pay for artists, create more residencies and allow space for taking creative risks, support, encourage, enable collaboration. There needs to be long term investment and we really need to celebrate and retain existing talent, as well as develop and support new talent. We need to attract more talent from outside NI, become a place that is known to be open, inclusive and diverse, artists being allowed to work together with their peers on an international level. Be closer and work more with the music scenes in the south of Ireland, build a solid touring circuit for the whole island of Ireland.
I’d also love to see a better and deeper appreciation for music made by our artists, stop patronising ‘local’ and ‘wee’ bands, we need to develop and widen local audiences’ awareness of great music from NI. Some of that could come from commercial radio being more open to playing music from here, instead of the same 10 tracks from the biggest names in the pop world, take some risks, support new music. Also the recent UNESCO win is a brilliant opportunity to implement some of these ideas for the whole of NI not just Belfast. I am looking forward to seeing how that develops.
Regular Local Music Nights
While I appreciate promoters and venues are under no obligation to do anything other than keep their business alive, I do think many are missing a trick by not supporting local music a little bit more. Given we’ve undoubtedly more talent breaking through than ever before – it’s ironic there hasn’t been a proper, established local music showcase night in Belfast for years. And there used to be loads – some of them extremely popular. Any respected live music venue in Belfast could host a weekly – even a monthly local band night and – if they were clever – I think it would do well.
Three four acts on the bill playing short sets – and finishing at a respectable, local transport friendly hour. Yes it would require low door cost (to match low overheads), decent drink promos and clever marketing – but there’s bound to be hungry young promoters out there willing to have a go. Also – the bands would see the venue and/or promoter right when they go on to bigger and better things!
Commercial Radio Support
Definitely much more airplay on Commercial radio for artists from here in Northern Ireland/ Ireland. I really believe that Commercial Radio should have to play a quota of artists from here like they do in the Republic of Ireland. There it is part of the radio licensing agreement with stations. I think this makes musicians feel valued and appreciated, and there really is no reason why any musician should be struggling to get airplay on radio here. We have some of the most incredibly talented creatives within our music industry here in Northern Ireland let alone the world.
All ages shows
The one BIG thing that needs to change is the ability to bring music to the kids. Want to stage an all-ages gig in NI? Forget it! It’s virtually impossible. The legislation needs to change. As does the mindset of promoters and venues. Covid hit the business harder than any other sector and has taught us that we need to refocus to survive and rebuild. We need to engage new audiences – and the obvious one is the fans of the future. They can listen to music online, but nothing beats the experience of seeing a band live. We need to put live music in their lives.
Education, Investment & Government Support
Education, investment, and better government support are just a few of the things that I’d like to see improve over the next decade. We have such an incredible and varied array of talent here in NI, but we still don’t have the correct infrastructure to really support artists at all levels and beyond a certain point. That’s not to say there aren’t examples of acts who have had huge international success but building our industry at home, including better care for managers, labels, booking agents & independent venues will only help strengthen our music scene, for everyone. Also ensuring that any support is seen across the whole of NI and not just Belfast is vital, because, well, we all know that Derry is the real centre of the universe… ( not entirely true, but you get my drift)