Interview with Music Industry’s Head of Label DEFDISCO- Barry Gilbey

The current state of affairs globally on a variety of platforms is in a state of disarray, it would seem this is the lay of the land so to speak at this current juncture.  The world is trying to find  its way in the land of 21st Century technology and how to make it work for them. As in any great period of time where a transition from one form of thought and procedure occurs, a society may find itself in a disruptive state of  chaos. When uncertainty and unrest collide in an explosive moment of time with the acceptance of innovative ideas, and dreams, the ‘Big Bang’ commences and from there that forward motion of progress begins.

Progress is something that cannot and will not be silenced, it is the inevitable tick of the human timeline. In this grand shift of  time it has been duly noted that within the music industry there is a measure of chaos as well, just as these changes have affected the world, they certainly have touched the music industry and all of its components. 

Perhaps, though we are all closer to the end run of the chaos as we are embracing our propelling motion into this century. Certainly with innovative thinkers and creators in the music industry such as Barry Gilbey and many others we are standing on the edge of something grander than we ever imagined possible.  

Vents: Barry thank you so much for taking a few moments of you time in this busy season. Looking over your directive a bit, I’m curious as to how you feel about this nomination and voting process for the BPI Council?

Hi! I’m very grateful and feel pretty humble to be nominated to be one of the representatives of Indie labels on the BPI Council. I do feel that I can bring a different positive perspective to the council not just because of my background but also because of DEFDISCO’s unique business model.

Vents: Taking into account your years spent in this industry, what have been some of the major game changers you’ve witnessed among the independent structures?

I think the key moments were probably the move away from vinyl and CD to digital and then equally as important was the move away from downloading to the current streaming model. I ran a specialist dance music record label from 1998 to 2005 and saw in the space of a few weeks our sales collapse and distributor after distributor go bankrupt. The entire house of cards collapsed because file sharing had made vinyl or CD’s completely unappealing compared to simply having the music on your computer or burnt onto a CD. Now we’ve moved away from even downloading the track (who needs to when you can have access to whatever you want via YouTube, Spotify etc.?) There is, of course, a value in owning a physical object a CD, a piece of vinyl but in terms of just listening and discovering new music it’s been a constant shift away from any idea of owning the music. It’s hard to get excited about owning a download when all it is, is a series of 0s and 1s on your computer’s hard drive.

Vents: Do you see it being more of a challenge for independent bands/musicians to make it and get noticed or has the advent of 21st century tech breathed new found freedoms?

I feel there are a lot of opportunities for new artists to be noticed but a huge amount miss opportunities by being held back thinking in terms of the old model for the industry. The days of “get a manager, sign a record deal and you are sorted” are gone. There are some amazing music industry managers but the industry is blighted by awful managers ruining peoples’ careers through poor advice and out of date thinking. Bands and musicians need to embrace technology and social media and use every tool at their disposal to get them noticed.

Vents: As you observe this industry globally, what are some of the ways you would like to direct change?

Simply for the music industry and specifically artists and labels to embrace technology and innovation and direct the way in which the industry moves forward, not just be willing to be reduced to “content” for technology companies. This hasn’t happened in the games industry or film industry, yet it’s been allowed to happen in the music industry.

Vents: Now break down the changes you are observing into their own local compartments. What is it you see overall?

Currently, I see the technology companies calling all the shots and the music industry lagging behind all the time, lowering the perceived value of music. The industry should be working with technology companies and true innovators, not just playing along and accepting scraps from the table.

Vents: How much responsibility is on the bands themselves? How about the fans? Let’s take it to the managers, the publicists, the labels… 

Everyone connected to that artist has a role to play. It’s not enough for artists to say “oh I don’t like posting on twitter” or “I don’t understand how publishing works”. If you want to be successful now, you need to connect with your fans, build your fan base and understand where the money is going to come from. It’s not enough to just leave it to someone else to sort. I think it’s vital for artists that they spend the time and energy understanding the industry and how it works, as well as constantly looking at new ways and new models of getting themselves noticed. That goes for everyone else involved in someone’s career, be it a manager, publisher or label, to stay relevant to an artist’s career they need to be constantly looking for new opportunities from technology, innovation and brand partnerships.  The industry is constantly changing and evolving, it’s no good drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘ok this much change I’ll accept, but no more’. I feel the key mistake people make is to cling onto the old models for the music industry.

Theres a quote from a Brian Eno interview that I love “I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out. I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you’d be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history’s moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.”
― Brian Eno

Vents: How did we get here and are we stuck for the time being or are things starting shake themselves loose?

It’s just been a constant state of evolution if not revolution of the industry as it’s evolved away from physical product being the main way people bought music. Technology has driven the change, CD’s impacted upon vinyl sales, file sharing and then legal downloads impacted on CD’s and now streaming has asked “why do you need to need to own it at all?”

Are things beginning to shake themselves loose? Well, all three majors are out of contract with Spotify and are on rolling month by month contracts, so a huge change could happen overnight. Things will change; this is by no means the end game. The industry is in chaos but sadly the people currently faring the worst out of it are the small indie labels and artists.

Vents: Is the industry overall in the UK in the same state as it is in the US?

I believe it’s in a very similar condition.

When you consider the huge amount of music in the UK that’s generated outside of London in the UK, I think it’s vital that the BPI, which is supposed to represent the whole of the UK have people from different areas who can give different voices to the council. Just as the US isn’t all like LA or New York, the UK isn’t just London.

Vents: How would you go about expanding this thought process to the other regions in the UK?

I feel the key thing is to show the relevance of the BPI to the rest of the UK and be truly inclusive. The BPI should be leading the way, promoting British music and it’s my belief that not only should we be working with technology companies and looking at opportunities for the music we should be including everyone in that, from the label set up in a bedroom to the multinational major, everyone needs to be included.

Vents: Do you think that this issue will affect music in the UK, Europe as a whole, and even the rest of the global market?

I think it can only have a positive impact on the way British music is viewed if we are more inclusive of labels which aren’t just based in the London.

Vents: What is your political positioning during this election? Everything has its ladders and chains of command, back rubbing, etc.

Ah… great question. There’s an amazing book called “Appetite for Self-Destruction” by Steve Knopper which is one of my favourite books about the industry and its true history. There are of course, chains of command and politics but this is where I think being inclusive of every label from wherever they are based is as important as that’s how you undermine those existing power structures and give everyone a voice.

Vents: What has the election process meant to you? Talk about the before, during and after to some degree what has it meant to you personally?

Regardless of the outcome I’ve really enjoyed the process; I’ve learned a huge amount.

Vents: Your background led you here, today. Where do you see yourself tomorrow? 

Still learning, growing and obviously still in the music industry!!! It’s got me hooked forever.

Vents: What tips would you give to bands?

Oh wow, there are so many to choose from. I think general advice for artists and bands when approaching a label might be to keep it “short and sweet.” We don’t need to know your life story and your best 25 tracks. Just send us a link to a few tracks and a little bit of information, maybe a couple of paragraphs. We signed Jeremy Chi from EXACTLY with that approach. He sent us an unsolicited email and his first release is out on DEFDISCO on September 30th.

I don’t want to embarrass any particular artist but sometimes we get press kits that are just someone’s life story and please never ever send mp3s in an email ever or anything you have to log into to download. People will just delete it.

I do feel very proud of what we’ve done with DEFDISCO so far, but this is only just the beginning for us. I feel really proud that we constantly look for opportunities for our artists and seek new perspectives in order to find ways to promote them and get their music noticed.

Massively, in the UK we are in a period of huge transition both in terms of our relationship with the rest of Europe and also internally, and that is having an effect on the sound coming out of the UK. Social deprivation and dysfunctional cultural elite make for an interesting breeding ground for incredible new music. There’s no way Grime would have come about without it for instance

Vents: On your personal time, where do you find yourself? Any particular books or authors you are drawn to? What channel do you find yourself most drawn to in listening and owning music?

I still write original music and am working on my own album but in truly quiet times I’ll listen to Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm on Spotify or Prodigy maybe, it depends on my mood!

As for authors, if I had to pick one I’d say Tim Ferris. I’m constantly reading and re-reading his books and listening to his podcasts.

by Song River

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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