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Review: Off The Record – Music Conference

Words by Russell Hope and Mia Abeyawardene.

For the second year in a row, Off The Record hosts a showcase of music industry speakers at Central Methodist Hall in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Artists, PR, events, tech startups, digital experts, Marketing and the all important artists gathered for an afternoon of networking and learning opportunities ahead of an evening of gigs and music around different venues across the Northern Quarter.

First to the stage is Matt Parsons, CEO of label “Ditto Music” (‘The home of DIY musicians’). He uses examples from his career like getting Ed Sheeran his first break to get the audience fired up and encourages them to “choose life”. The relevance of this is perfect to all DIY musicians and more notes were taken as Matt broke down a DIY Musician’s week.

Later I found myself sat with Artistic Echoes wordsmith and Promoter of North West Finest Acts, Mike Chisholm and Lexi Frances, Radio Professional. Unlike everyone else Mike takes his notes in the form of poetry which he’s shares with me immediately afterwards; a true representation of how inspiration can come from anywhere. It’s the mix of anticipation to getting the right connections at OTR and the love of growing businesses like Ditto music which can make a career in the music industry a reality. “Nobody starts off in the music industry thinking they are going to make a million pounds in year 1!” muses Matt from Ditto. And the reality is it’s harder than ever to make money in music and that’s why working smart is so much more essential.

Despa Robinson - Interview - Off The Record Music Conference - Manchester Gigs and Events - OTR Festival - MCR Live Blog

Despa Robinson and Vital took the stage later that day to discuss the increasing popularity of  grime music which originated in the UK. Robinson mentions the pivotal moment of having grime music featured in the show ‘Power’, which led to an immense spike in popularity online. He adds that being signed to a label is not necessary, but having a good PR team or partner is important.

Hosted in the Lincoln room, Katie Chatburn leads a discussion on addressing gender imbalance within the music industry with Stealing Sheep, Lucy Wood (Festival Republic) and Grace Banks (studio producer). The all-female panel mention the benefits of the Riot Grrl Movement, drawing on their legacy of ‘grrls to the front’. Banks describes internalised misogyny as a broad cultural phenomenon, having noticed that women in the music industry are constantly having to prove themselves. Wood talks about her experience in booking lineups for festivals, saying that “it is a shame that there aren’t more women to pick from.” Some argue that there are cases of women making assumptions about other women’s abilities, and so their is a sense of collective responsibility amongst men and women.

Riot Grrrl Conference - Off The Record Music Conference - Manchester Gigs and Events - MCR Live Blog

A following Off The Record session targeted the topic of promotion, self-promotion and ‘Sales’. The panel is steered by BBC 6 Music’s Elizabeth Alker and has a mix of Andy Kettle – Steaming Kettle PR, Shakuntla Joshi – Marketing consultant to the music industry, Vistoria Turnbull from MCR Live’s Silent Radio and Sarah Jamieson from DIY. ‘Perception is Everything’ is the title of the panel and this follows on perfectly from Matt Parsons welcome session. The question “What can we be doing to help sell ourselves?” was followed by one stand out recommendation – “Know the answer to ‘Who are you and what do you do’ like it’s your only language. Use it a lift when you meet someone in a bar, late at night and if you know it well enough it will be polished every time”.

Cabbage Interview - Off The Record Music Conference - Manchester Gigs and Events - OTR Festival - MCR Live Blog

Later on in the afternoon, the main hall is packed for the most anticipated event of the day – an interview with Joe Martin and Asa Morley of the punk rock band Cabbage. As well as discussing their local Manchester musical influences, they assert that their aim is to “create music that is cathartic” while maintaining authenticity. Martin and Morley reminisce on their first gig at Aatma, putting up posters using wallpaper paste to promote the show. Their recent work inspires political change, with a single about the Saudi Arabian arms trade, and an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery in collaboration with musicians against homelessness.

Across town the Charlatans popped up to do a secret gig as part of their App launch that day, a special addition for those lucky enough to get tickets. As the Off The Record Conference draws to a close, everyone moves on to the various gigs spread out across Northern Quarter. The 7 venues include Soup Kitchen, Aatma and Jimmys, treating everyone to a night of live music, with artists specially chosen by the daytime speakers.