IMS College Malta delivered a quintessential 2-day crash course in electronic music

IMS College Malta was back for a third successful year on the 14-15th September at the InterContinental Hotel, St Julians Bay. The keynote speakers and moderators were all from a varied background within the electronic dance music industry including some of Malta’s very own home-grown artists and labels including Carl Bee (Artist, Malta), Cheryl Falzon (Alleanza/Revolt, Label Manager, Malta), Tenishia (Artist, Malta) and Ziggy (Artist, Malta). Over a 2-day crash course in electronic music which was curated around the four pillars performance, production, promotion & publishing, figureheads from their respective backgrounds came together to offer their invaluable advice and guidance to attendees with a passion for building their presence in the industry. A multitude of experience was carefully selected including label representatives from Alleanza/Revolt, Warner Bros. Records and Toolroom, Marketing advice from Matt Digby (Beatport, Marketing & Communications Manager, Germany) and Myradh Cormican (Myradh Music Marketing, Director, UK) who manages the marketing and social media for the likes of Eats Everything, Patrice Bäumel and Sasha. Publishing was excellently represented by Mark Lawrence (AFEM/Black Rock Publishing, Advisor/Director, UK) and Paul Arnold (Ultra Music Publishing & Records, A&R, UK) and not to mention the fun filled production workshops with Nacho Marco (Berklee College of Music, Professor, Spain) and Tenishia (Artist, Malta).

As you can see from a short introduction there is a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, I won’t be covering it all in as much detail as I’d like to however, I’ll talk you through a few of the keynotes, workshops and seminars I personally found interesting and would be beneficial to hear about if you were unable to attend.

Four Pillars Keynote

Nacho Marco (Berklee College of Music, Professor, Spain), Mark Lawrence (AFEM/Black Rock Publishing, Advisor/Director, UK), Paul Arnold (Ultra Music Publishing & Records, A&R, UK) and the Mambo Brothers (Artists, Spain)

The opening keynote of IMS Malta was an insightful discussion covering performance, production, promotion & publishing which were to be discussed throughout the 2-day schedule. All aspiring DJ’s and producers now know that just being a competent DJ and/or music producer are no longer enough. You have to be a package to be seen as a marketable commodity in today’s industry. The advice here was simply to invest in yourself. If as a producer you have the foundations of a great track but are struggling to reach a polished final version the advise was to consider using an engineer to help make your track sound as polished as it can be before sending it out to prospective labels to sign. This isn’t encouraging ghost producing. Work on your own original material. Even if you only get 95% done yourself. That extra 5% from the help of an engineer could be the difference in your track standing out.

Tips on what defines a good DJ Performance was plentiful. Along with having fun the most important thing to remember is to consider the time slot you are booked to play and understand your crowd. If you are new to the game and trying to make a name for yourself it’s important to be selective with what gigs you accept. Make sure the music you play and the style of DJ you are suits the event. Be true to your sound and build your following with the correct promoters who will invest in you. Investment is a key word here as the panel went onto discuss the best ways to invest in yourself as a DJ or producer with a budget of 100 euros. Advice included professional press shots and USB sticks loaded with promotional material such as your latest demo mix and productions to personally give to promoter’s or label managers/A&R hand in hand. Giving something physical goes a long way and will most likely be listened to over a random email link cc’ed to 150 labels from somebody they have never met before – Be personal. Most importantly which all the panel agreed on was always be around people who will critique you. Don’t be sucked in by your own self-praise. The feedback of our closest friends or peers can be paramount in you taking the next step in your personal development. If you haven’t read our interview on Decoded Magazine with B-Traits recently this is exactly what she is so thankful for amongst her friends.

Last but no means least was some extremely valuable advice from Mark Lawrence (AFEM/Black Rock Publishing, Advisor/Director, UK). To all producers who are tunnel vision focused on getting your material signed to labels do not rule out starting to manage copyrights for your music. Invest in a good publisher who can help you get royalties from your music as well as relying on sales from the record label (should you be in the fortunate position to have your music signed). Publishing your music is high up on what to do first. Mark spoke about this and PRS in more detail in a separate keynote ‘Publishing 101’ later that day.

Publishing 101

Paul Arnold (Ultra Music Publishing & Records, A&R, UK), Mark Lawrence (AFEM/Black Rock Publishing, Advisor/Director, UK)

So, what can a publishing deal do for you? Publishers are there to help you create revenue, chase royalties and push where your music can be used. You will not get royalties for your music if you don’t have a publishing deal in place. Each person involved in the track is entitled to a percentage of money owed. Mark and Paul went onto explain the Sync process where publishers match your music with film, adverts, tv, apps etc. stating “A publisher can help inspire the producer to change their track slightly for sync purposes, giving feedback on what can make it more interesting for brands.” Why leave it sitting on your laptop never seeing the light of day. The right publisher can help find a place for your music and in return bring you revenue, you don’t always have to rely on record deals. The importance of having a publishing deal early on is to maximise your lifetime royalty income value and that artists can often earn more money from publishing than record sales.

With this in mind a top tip from this seminar was to be mindful when signing with labels that the deal does/doesn’t include publishing rights too. You are within your rights as an artist to seek your own publishing deals where any royalties owed will come directly to you and not to the label. For more information I highly recommend you contact Mark Lawrence. His first publishing deal was signing Felix Da Housecat and his company AFEM now offer a 28-day contract service.

Making Your Mark – How To Stand Out On Your Local Scene

Manu Gonzalez (Artist, Spain), The Mambo Brothers (Artists Spain), Carl Bee (Artist, Malta), Tenishia (Artist, Malta), Ziggy (Artist, Malta). Moderated by Mark Netto (IMS Partner/Co-Founder, SA)

For me this seminar highlighted some interesting points when trying to make your mark on your local scene. What stuck in my head was surprisingly the panel were in agreement that making a name for themselves away from their local scene made it easier to secure bookings closer to home. Establishing their name further afield they become more promotable in their home town. Sounds backwards, right? Let’s look at some key points which stuck with me from this discussion.

Starting your own local event is the best way to help build a local following. Unfortunately, this does mean putting on the promoter cap and taking on the responsibilities, pitfalls and time required which comes with it. However, it will bring a local fan base for you to build from. Next, was to find your gap in the market and make it your own. Be different. It’s so easy to copy success and do what everyone else does but does it necessarily make you stand out and any more relevant? Carl Bee stated “to get noticed you need to be different from what others are doing, there’s a lot of competition being on a small island.” Don’t undervalue your potential. If you are serious about breaking down doors in this industry producing is key to help maximise exposure and give you an international signature. Manu Gonzalez stated “It’s all about having artists playing your music and not you playing theirs.” Starting a monthly radio show was another key suggestion as an outlet for fans to follow your music and build an online fan base. Lastly, there was a strong emphasis on the importance of having a competent management team with Manu stating “my mind was in a box, management helped unlock that to take me to the next level.

elrow – How To Build A Global Brand

Victor de la Serna (elrow Family, Music Director, Spain). Moderated by Mark Netto (IMS Partner/Co-Founder, SA)

Mark Netto sat down with Victor de la Serna to discuss the global touring brand phenom that is elrow. It was a fascinating insight into how the global brand has built from its roots as a club in Barcelona to assembling a team which at current is able to produce 5 events on 5 different continents in the same day. You would be surprised to know that Row14 in Barcelona was once close to becoming no more. Row14 wasn’t working despite the bookings elrow were bringing in and was about to close their doors. So, they thought fuck it, let’s have some fun until we do. Out came the inflatables, confetti and entertainers then it all turned…..

Victor explained the origins of the elrow name – Obviously the club was named Row14, clubbers would say are you going to ‘the Row’ which in Spanish is el Row. The venue did close for a brief period but was then reopened. Victor explained elrow were approached by the local authorities to continue their parties at the club as they knew everything would be run correctly but the club was only given a daytime licence. elrow is run once a month on Sundays 11am-11pm and has 14 resident DJs who are integral to the brands music policy. In fact, it’s mostly the residents who play the closing sets. The residents are also staggered amongst the headline guests who are booked for each show. The music policy was explained as keeping it fun and Victor gave special mention to Eats Everything who is the most regular guest they book stating Dan is practically part of the family. The rise of the elrow brand has soared over the last 4 years with Victor explaining 4 years ago elrow only sold 350 tickets for a show at Village Underground in London which was a 700 capacity venue. Now, in 2018 this summer elrow town in London sold out with 15000 each day over a 2-day event.

The emphasis is always on the consumer experience Victor stated “the production budget is much bigger than the booking budget.” The core team is fiercely protective of the strong brand image they have cultivated – “we’re very protective about our brand and all our partner promoters have very specific brand guidelines about what they can and can’t do.” Victor explained.

Staying Sane in the Game

Christine Brown (Help Musicians, Director of External Affairs, UK), Jenni Cochrane (AEI Group, Director Of Culture And Partnerships, UK), Mark Lawrence (AFEM/Black Rock Publishing, Advisor,/Director, UK), Tristan Hunt (Association For Electronic Music (AFEM), Regional Manager, UK). Moderated by Greg Marshall (Association For Electronic Music (AFEM), General Manager, UK)

This is a subject Decoded Magazine have always been vocal about from our early beginnings. It was a slightly more serious discussion from the panel but extremely relevant to the music industry in general as they spoke out about raising awareness of mental health and depression and the common challenges artists and professionals can face working in music. Long nights, lonely travel, lack of sleep, drugs & alcohol are all factors which leads to developing mental health issues. Christine Brown (Help Musicians, Director of External Affairs, UK) noted “people who work in music are three times more likely to have some type of mental health issue or challenge.” Christine also offers free therapies and counselling to those who are affected with mental health and depression. Music Minds Matter is her mental health support line and service for the music industry and can be contacted 24hrs a day 7 days a week on 0808 8028008.

Mental health is a society issue and doesn’t necessarily reflect the level you are at in your music career. Whether you are a lesser known artist breaking through or the peak of your career touring the globe you can be affected in the same way. Tristan Hunt (Association For Electronic Music (AFEM), Regional Manager, UK) stated “20 years ago we were not having this conversation, hedonism was the dominant approach in our industry. For once mental health is top of the agenda.” The panel spoke about some of difficulties producers face – Being a music producer can place you in a very introverted environment being locked inside a studio and from that environment being forced to be extroverted and perform in front of thousands of people and clubs, festivals and stadiums can have an effect on you.

Other panellists including AEI Group’s Jenni Cochrane (AEI Group, Director Of Culture And Partnerships, UK), provided some practical tips to help protect your mental health: Don’t suffer in silence, reach out for help and make regular time to disconnect. A good example here is staying off your electronic devices and social media first thing in the morning and before you go to bed. Disconnect and reconnect was her message. If you have not seen it already check out the mini documentary Why We DJ – Slave To The Rhythm.

Keynote Interview: Dubfire

IMS College closed with a rare intimate Q&A with Grammy award winning artist Dubfire (Artist, USA), who revealed he owes his success to having a strong team behind him, also advising the audience “The main thing is to take yourself seriously.” He arrived with his tour manager Tim and advised us he was slightly hungover from the previous night’s show in Madrid. They both joked about how their relationship is just like a married couple. If you didn’t know where Dubfire had taken his name from it was from a Lee Scratch Perry album called ‘Dub Fire’ released 1998. He also swiftly went onto explain where the Deep Dish alias came from with Sharam. Both Ali and Sharam used to order deep pan Dominoes’ pizzas to the studio when they were working. I promise you, I heard the words leave his mouth. He filled us in with some exciting news of a new live project out next year called ‘Evolve’ and spoke about some of his personal interests including Sake. He is in fact awaiting his level 3 results. He spoke about his challenges to re-brand himself after the split from Deep Dish and the worries he had from gaining commercial success and still holding credibility as an underground techno artist. He then went onto explain how he sees Romania as a hotbed for upcoming techno artists and spoke about his approach to playing sets and his view of social media.

As you have already read there was so much going on and there is still so much to talk about. How To Set Up and Run An Independent Record Label which was curated by Beatport spoke about brand investment, collaborative work, consistency with releases, how to build campaigns, creating artist charts in Beatport (which is a big way in which music buyers shop on Beatport). It was interesting to learn that 97% of Beatport is made up of independent record labels so these labels are their main focus to promote. In a landscape where 25,000 new tracks are uploaded to Beatport each week, emerging labels were advised to build a brand, not just a label, stay true to your sound and understand your market. Jamie Kent (Toolroom, Head of Sales, UK) stated “when we align ourselves back to what we believe in, everything goes well and works. If you’re dedicated to a sound, why deviate from it?” Advise was also given on sourcing distribution services with good relationships to Beatport, Spotify, Soundcloud etc. The panel touched on press campaigns with the emphasis on video content being a big asset. It was a really interesting talk mapping out the processes and challenges behind record label mechanics from conception to content delivery and production.

Point Blank Music School hosted two informative and engaging sessions on day one; Ski Oakenfull (Point Blank Music School, Head of Curriculum, UK) presented a detailed track deconstruction masterclass in Ableton Live, breaking down the musical sounds and techniques in Calvin Harris’s ‘One Kiss’. Tenishia (Artist, Malta) joined Point Blank’s DJ Ravine (Point Blank Music School, Content Creator, UK) in a production masterclass, using an unreleased track to illustrate how he works in the studio and his essential tips and tricks.

And, finally Play Safe Now – Hear Tomorrow was highlighting the awareness of music induced hearing loss with Jono Heale (ACS, Director of Communications, Education and Strategic Partnerships, UK) and Joost Toast (ACS, Distributor, Spain) and founder of Ibiza Loves Ears. The guys gave a lighthearted approach to a very serious subject outlining some shocking facts about the noise levels we are subjected to in club environments. I’ll run through a few scary facts – Research shows that musicians and DJs are more than 3.5 times more likely to suffer from noise induced hearing loss and almost 1.5 times more likely to develop tinnitus than the general population. Sound scary? The next fact stating that noise levels at 100dB your safe exposure time is approx 15 mins. So, what is the damage? A temporary threshold shift leading to muffled hearing. The mid-high frequencies are the first to lose and this is all caused by damage to the sensory hair cells in the inner ear.  Other signs of damage are temporary tinnitus (ringing in ears), a permanent threshold shift, chronic or permanent tinnitus or at worst permanent noise induced hearing loss. ACS had a stand at IMS College where you could discuss any concerns and order your pair of ACS custom earplugs.

I apologise I didn’t cover every seminar however I’d like to take this opportunity to thank IMS College partners Mark Netto and Danny Whittle for an insightful and very well organised learning experience and an extended thank you to all the speakers and moderators involved. 2019 will be bigger and better, I’m sure!

About the Author

UK based former DJ and promoter, co-owner, director, writer & creative at Decoded Magazine. Studied at the University of Wolverhampton graduating in Graphic Communication & Typography (BA Hons). In house video editor and avid MMA follower with a keen ear for dark, twisted, hypnotic, tribal progressive house and techno.