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Long Read: In Conversation with Chris Cooke

UD’s new Talent House and the Industry Takeover series are connecting artists with the knowledge they need to succeed. Ahead of our week-long series of events for #IT2023, we chat to our regular go-to host, CMU founder, Chris Cooke…

Last summer (remember it?), Complete Music Update (CMU) and UD’s season of expert seminars cracked the lid on the industry secrets that artists, songwriters and business hopefuls need to succeed, via the Industry Takeover Seminar series.

The discussions featured experts from across a range of disciplines, including label work, live promotions, publishing and more, and all hosted by CMU founder, Chris Cooke.

Chris describes himself as a journalist by trade, writing mostly about the music industry, media, and copyright. When he set up CMU in 1998, things looked very different: the web was still in its infancy, and there was a disconnect between the big record companies, promoters, and media, and those working at the grassroots – people putting on gigs, playing in bands, and producing fanzines. The aim with CMU, Chris says, “was to try and connect everybody.”

Over the years, CMU has evolved from a print magazine into an online daily bulletin, podcast, and training and educational arm. Chris and his team work with grassroots music organisations (like UD) as well as industry-wide entities like the BPI, tech companies like Soundcloud, and major labels.

“It was always part of our mission to reach out to the grassroots music community, and that’s bigger and more proactive today than it ever has been,” says Chris. “We’re always asking, ‘How can we share this information with people early on in their careers in music,whether that’s as an artist or a songwriter, or behind the scenes.

“But we’re a small company – so we don’t have the sort of the resource or the infrastructure to offer that directly to artists ourselves. That’s why we have relationships with music colleges around the country, and work in partnership with places like UD.”

A new keystone in UD’s offering is Talent House – a state-of-the-art building, shared with East London Dance, at 3 Sugar House Lane in Stratford.

Talent House features (deep breath): five music recording studios, a live room, two vocal booths, rehearsal space, a fully kitted-out lab with 20 workstations for music education, two dance studios, a flexible seminar space, canteen and hot-desking space, and an open reception space that can be used for informal gigs and dance jams.

“Obviously Talent House will be a great facility for early-career music-makers, providing a space to create, collaborate and learn,” says Chris. “It will also allow those music-makers to start building their own personal professional networks, both with their own peers and collaborators, and also with established players in the music industry. Building networks in that way is key to pursuing a career in music and Talent House – combined with UD’s wider programme of support, including the Industry Takeover Seminar – is uniquely positioned to facilitate that process.”

UD caught up with Chris to find out more about what people can expect from his panel – and others – at Industry Takeover 2023…

UD: Tell us about the Industry Takeover seminars – how do they work when you host?

CC: In essence, I cover the theory and then we get a panel of industry people from UD’s network and from our network to offer their expertise.

The music industry has a lot of jargon. Especially when it comes to things like copyright and licensing, things don’t necessarily happen in a particularly logical way. So it’s really useful before we get into the conversation, just to say, “OK, here’s a bunch of facts that you should be aware of.” And then everything that the experts are talking about, is not going to make much more sense.

I do 15 minutes at the start, where I pull some elements out of our training courses and make the topic super relevant to DIY artists – quickly explaining how copyright works, or what mechanical rights and neighbouring rights are, for instance –so then when the industry panel is on stage, they can immediately start talking about the areas in which they are experts because by that point you already understand the basics. The experts will flesh out what I said, and give examples from artists and songwriters that they work with.

I really like the format, it works really well.

UD: What topics do the Industry Takeover seminars cover?

CC: The music business is, essentially, a load of people and companies who work with artists and songwriters to turn what they do into money, so that they can give up the day job and focus on their music full time. So I guess the aim of the Industry Takeover programme is to say, “OK, you’ve made this great music, here’s what you can do with it, and here’s how to make money from it.”

When I did the seminar series in 2022, the first session was very much about the big picture: these are all the different ways you can make money, and here are all the different business partners and what each of them do.

The second session was focussed on copyrights specifically, and how the copyright side of the business works. What does a publisher do? What do collecting societies like PPL and PRS do? How do you make sure you’re collecting all the money you’ve earned? This is what I’ll be covering on Tuesday 28th March for #IT2023.

Another session was focussed specifically on recordings, and how, once you’ve made your recordings, you can work with a distributor to get them out there – and what the different options are.

Then we had a session on growing and monetising a fanbase, and finally we pulled it all together into a sort of a practical to-do list of what people should be doing right now, as an artist or as someone working with an artist.

Today, you have to be a bit entrepreneurial or, at the very least, you have to build a team around you to be entrepreneurial and understand, as things progress, which business partners – labels, publishers, agents, promoters – you might want to work with.

For the people who attended all the sessions, we took them on a journey, with each session following on from the last – making it a bit like a basic music business course you’d do at college.

Hopefully, by the end of it, everyone has an understanding of how to make a living out of music.

UD: Why are events like these important for early career artists?

CC: There will be people who post something on TikTok and it goes crazy, and that’s how they get started; or there’ll be people who happen to, you know, get on stage or appear at the right events and find somebody that wants to manage them. But in most cases, that’s not what happens.

Really, the music industry doesn’t usually get involved in an artist’s career from the start – and that it is more true today than ever.

The industry expects an artist to get some music out there to have some traction on Spotify, and be finding an initial audience on social media or by doing a few live shows first.

Once the artist gets a little bit of momentum, and they find that initial audience, and start connecting with that audience and growing that audience, that’s when the industry is going to want to get involved. The industry can then escalate what the artist has already achieved.

I think it’s very important for anybody who wants to make a go of it to have the opportunity to do that, and there’s a chunk of knowledge and information which you need in order to do that. You don’t necessarily get that knowledge and information from traditional music education. You can probably find it online with a Google search, but you don’t necessarily know which is the right knowledge and information, and which is the wrong knowledge or information.

The music industry has a long history of ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ – it’s about finding the right people who can tell you stuff. What’s brilliant about UD is that they have that existing network of people who can tell you stuff. You don’t need to just happen to know somebody.

That network building is a two-way thing. The music industry is powered by new music and new talent, which means people and companies in the music sector need to be connected to early-career music-makers and creators, so to identify the artists, entrepreneurs and innovators who they should be supporting, signing, learning from and working with. I see Talent House as a key bridge between the grassroots music-making community and the more established music industry.

“I see Talent House as a key bridge between the grassroots music-making community and the more established music industry.”

Chris Cooke, CMU

Events like the Industry Takeover seminars are a way of bringing people together too. I always say that, at events like these, people get as much from the people they meet who are also early in their career as they do from the industry experts on stage. These are people you need to connect with, and they actually then become your little music industry network – and as their careers grow, your career grows too.

“Events like the Industry Takeover seminars are a way of bringing people together too. I always say that, at events like these, people get as much from the people they meet who are also early in their career as they do from the industry experts on stage.”

Chris Cooke, CMU

UD: What’s the biggest challenges facing artists and songwriters taking their first steps in the industry today?

CC: What’s brilliant about today, compared to 20 years ago, is that it’s so much easier to record music. Lots of tools exist to help with that process. The tools exist that have really helped that process. It’s also so much easier to get your music out there on a global basis, and it’s so much easier to have a presence, a place where people can connect with you directly – whether that’s through Instagram, or TikTok, a website or whatever.

The fact that all those tools exist is brilliant: there has never been a better time to be an aspiring musician.

The problem is, everybody has those tools. So it’s never been more competitive, and there have never been so many people putting music out there. You’re also now competing with a 70-year-old record industry catalogue – on Spotify – in a way that you never used to be. You’re competing with the YouTubers, TikTok creators, podcasters, and Twitch users for an audience. It’s very competitive. That’s the challenge.

In a music business that increasingly has entrepreneurial artist-led businesses at its heart, everyone benefits if those embarking on their music careers are fully informed on the workings of the music industry, and are linked into the sector’s digital and data infrastructure from the start. Where CMU and organisations like UD come in, is providing people with the knowledge and networks they need to reach that goal. Knowledge is key, and Talent House and the UD programmes facilitate an exchange of knowledge, so new talent understands how the industry works, and the industry understands how young people are making, sharing and consuming music.

“Where CMU and organisations like UD come in, is providing people with the knowledge and networks they need to reach that goal. Knowledge is key, and Talent House and the UD programmes facilitate an exchange of knowledge, so new talent understands how the industry works, and the industry understands how young people are making, sharing and consuming music.”

Chris Cooke, CMU

UD: As well as the daily email bulletin, where else can people access more info from CMU?

CC: We’re covering what’s happening in the music business all the time, and it’s constantly changing – so the daily bulletin is an easy way for you to stay on top of what’s happening in the world.

We also have a podcast. I know, for a lot of artists, having a daily bulletin by email is too much information, so with the podcast we always pick the two big developments of the week and cover them in more detail. Listening each week is a relatively easy way to know about and understand whatever the big music business stories are at any one moment.

We also have some specific resources, some of which are aimed at early career artists. For example, we have a guide called Music Copyright Explained, which is available at musiccopyrightexplained.com and explains what is by far one of the most complicated parts of the music business.

For everything else, it’s completemusicupdate.com

Chris Cooke will host the Down To Business with PRS, PPL & friends on Tuesday 18th March. Register for a free place at UDtickets.com

This panel session focuses on knowing your rights with our expert friends, including representatives from PRS, PPL and Sheridans.  

Jacqueline Pelham Leigh (JPL), Relationship Manager, Black Music at PRS For Music 

Kwame Kwaten, Manager, music consultant, musician and record producer 

Leo O’Brien, Membership Development Manager at PPL 

Wale Kalejaiye, Associate Lawyer (Music Group) at Sheridans 

Host: Chris Cooke (Co-Founder and MD at CMU)

By: Will Pritchard @wf_pritchard

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