What we learned at the AMP conference

‘I wanted to create discussions that I really wanted to hear, involving voices that I really want to hear from,’ says BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac.

Bekki Bemrose
  • By Bekki Bemrose
  • 5 Apr 2019
  • min read
‘I wanted to create discussions that I really wanted to hear, involving voices that I really want to hear from,’ says BBC Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac.

Under her Annie Mac Presents (AMP) banner the DJ brought a two-day music industry conference to Hackney’s Moth Club.

The event featured a host of experts from across the industry, including Glastonbury’s Emily Eavis, Girls I Rate founder Carla Marie Williams and London rapper Ms Banks.

Over the two-day conference the panels covered a wide range of pertinent subjects from playlists and harnessing social media, to how the female voice will impact rap music in 2019 and whether the industry should play judge and jury in cancelling artists.

Annie Mac says: ‘The themes are all subjects I was personally keen to explore, and we have meticulously chosen people in the industry who we think will bring a unique perspective to those discussions. I love that the conference will take place at Moth Club, which is essentially an old working man’s club, with big booths and a bar. It makes for a more informal, fun atmosphere.’

M went along for the ride, and this is what we learnt…

Unsurprisingly, women are still facing discrimination in the music industry (even in positions of power)…

Charlotte Gunn, editor, NME: ‘I’ve had things like I’m not tough enough to be editor, I’m not ballsy enough to be editor. These are all very masculine words. I just wanted to prove that there is another way to be, and you don’t have to conform to those stereotypes.’

Carla Marie Williams, songwriter and founder of Girls I Rate: ‘I feel like where I have been discriminated against for being a woman, and sometimes specifically a black woman, is sometimes where I step into business and assert myself for what I need and what I want. That’s where I feel that then it becomes a problem, more than in the creative bit.’

Dance music is making headway for gender parity on festival bills, but even the big league events are struggling to hit that mark…

Annie Mac: ‘I know in dance music it’s really changed quite seismically in the last five years. There’s been a really big surge of young women coming through, and that’s why, the festival we do in Malta, we did sign up [to PRS Foundation's Keychange initiative]. We signed up in confidence we could do the 50/50 thing because there is so much female talent. We didn’t really have to think about it, it just happened that way.’

Emily Eavis, co-organiser, Glastonbury Festival: ‘There aren’t that many headlining bands, so we need to make an extra conscious double effort to push the women through and push them a bit harder so you can get to that point. We love taking, not smaller, but less obvious headliners and putting them on the Pyramid Stage, that’s the most fun.’

The music industry has a long way to go in the #MeToo era…

Laura Snapes, deputy music editor, The Guardian: ‘What the record industry needs to do is stop using NDAs to silence women who come forward with allegations of sexual abuse at the record labels they work at. I’ve been pursuing some of these stories as well and loads of women can’t talk because their silence has been bought. Stop putting your bottom line above peoples’ wellbeing.’

Ben Homewood, senior staff writer, Music Week: ‘We’ve been trying to cover these stories too, obviously from a business angle, but it’s been a dead end so far.’

Laura Snapes: ‘This concept of male genius, because so many of our musicians form Jimmy Page to David Bowie, they made great music, but they were also alleged to have done awful things. Nobody wants to cancel those artists. So, bad behaviour seems part-and-parcel of a man’s complex genius in a way that a woman would never ever get away with.’

Data is power (but humans are still important too)…

Paul Trueman, general manager, AWAL: ‘I think you can’t get away from data now. The number of channels we’re operating on and the amount of data we’re getting back gives a huge amount of power that we’ve never been able to have before.’

Austin Daboh, head of shows and editorial, Spotify: ‘Quite often people talk about data like it’s a dirty word and actually data’s always been around, from the earliest days of DJ spinning a record in a club and looking around and seeing the half the crowd are leaving the dancefloor and going to the bar. That’s data.’

Mark Stipple, head of content commissioning, BBC: ‘Our strength over time has been that qualitative approach, that human action. I trust that and put faith in that. We’re getting to a state where we have a marriage of the two, to that all round 360. Qualitative human connection needs real-time data. Sometimes you can just feel stuff, you have a gut instinct.’

Playing the playlist game isn’t as hard as it might first appear…

Austin Daboh: ‘We’ve made it really easy to have a level playing field with major label artists. My team of editors in the UK and other editors around the world will listen to your record on the backend system. They can filter that music by genre and artist location etc. Our aim is to listen to 100 percent of submissions that come in. We get thousands of submissions a week in each territory, so sometimes we don’t always get to 100 percent, but we aim to. And that’s how you get playlisted.’

Tom March, co-president, Polydor: ‘What you’re doing off-platform is really important, because what you’re trying to do is drive people to your record. Whatever you’re creating, the content, the visual story, the music you’re putting out, you’re driving people to discover you on Spotify, who’ll then start to stream it, which means it will then start to show more algorithmically. If you’re building your streams naturally, there’s a higher level of discovery on the platforms.’

Black British Artists are still facing barriers…

Alex Boateng, president of Urban Division, Island Records: ‘There’re still barriers in society. About a year-and-a-half ago we went up to Newcastle and I got in a taxi and the guy wouldn’t drive because I was black. Amazingly, creativity levels the playing field, but those people still exist. We live in a pretty tolerant country but we’re also in a country that doesn’t even want to be in Europe because they’re scared of people taking their jobs, that’s how people voted.’

Andy Musgrave, founder of Supernature and artists manager, AJ Tracey: ‘We (AJ Tracey) just did a 15 date UK tour and we had to remove the Norwich date, this was two weeks ago, because the Fredo concert a couple of weeks prior, there’d been some trouble at it. Because it’s another black artist playing.’

Parris Oh, senior urban artists manager, RCA Records: ‘Mental health in the black community is always a bit of a skirted around subject, in general, whether you’re in entertainment or not. We can’t ignore it anymore and we do have to address the things that bring more detriment to people’s mental health, like being given a large sum of money and not knowing what to do with it. There is that responsibility on us to educate and protect artists at all times.’

Black British music needs a cash injection if it’s going to go global…

Claire, founder, Your Green Room: ‘The great thing about grime, and you’ve just said it, you make stuff in your bedroom and someone can have a hit. But sonically, it’s not good enough. It doesn’t sit next to, when say Jay-Z makes a record he’s on the phone to Timbaland, he’s gets Jimmy Douglas to mix it. I mean, these are guys are fucking unbelievable producers. He’s got teams of people, and we rely on sample packs that cost £9, and everyone’s using the same sample. Actually, this is partly because the government don’t invest in kids leaning any instruments – we should be making our own samples instead of sharing the same fucking ones. If you’ve got a great British grime act, let’s put them in Air Studios and put money behind it.’

To be the boss of social media, you can’t let those pesky algorithms get the better of you…

Jack Caldwell, head of digital, Dirty Hit: ‘Algorithms change. Something that happened in the last couple of years is that Facebook and Instagram don’t really like content that has a lot of text in it. If you’ve got text heavy content, they effectively push that further down people’s feeds.

‘A great way to combat that, that is effectively cheating the system is, for both video and an image, if you have text in that what you can do is create a single frame, or a couple of frames within that video, that don’t contain the text.’

Ed Blow, general manager, Dirty Hit: ‘And make sure the thumbnail doesn’t have any text in it.’

‘It’s about being genuine and building stuff that people have an emotional connection with.’

‘Frequency really helps. It’s hard to beat an algorithm, you have to work with the algorithm rather than find a shortcut.’

The 1975 are savvy social media players…

Jack Caldwell: ‘It’s hard to describe but if you look at their Instagram, there’s a certain vibe that you get. It’s very artistic, it’s very colourful.’

‘It’s always been distinctive to that campaign. The first campaign, the EPs and the albums, all black and white.’

Ed Blow: ‘The stage set itself is vertical rather than landscape, and the whole idea of it was is that when people are looking through their phones [it matches up].’

Jack Caldwell: ‘When you know that’s what people are going to be doing at a concert, utilise that so it looks amazing when people are pointing their phones at it.’

Ed Blow: ‘When the 1975 stepped back from it, it really confused everybody and actually drove a huge amount of conversation. The principle of the idea was that between the second and the third album, was you’ve got this process of always being on, you’ve got this tour, then you come off tour and you go to the studio and you’re sharing and documenting your time in the studio and then when the album’s ready you’re posting everyday about the record. To act as a full stop, like a bookend between two campaigns, they deactivated their accounts, and there was 25 hours were the band didn’t really exist on social media.’

A lack of women in the music industry is making it twice as hard for female rappers to break…

Caroline Simionescu-Marin, A&R manager, XL Recordings: ‘There’s a lack of women in every single role across music. Same thing with producers, where are the female producers? I actually do not know one female producer.’

Ms Banks, rapper: ‘I try to take on criticism, but I feel like a lot of the time women are more judged than the guys. I can out-bar a lot of the men. The numbers may not say it, but I feel like I can.

It’s crazy that I have to find so many other ways to gain fanbases and grow what I’m doing. I’m tryin’ to make songs, I’m tryin’ to ensure I still rap, I’m tryin’ to make sure I look good, I’m tryin’ make sure my message is clear. I have to make sure everything is on point.’

But, the future looks promising…

Caroline Simionescu-Marin: ‘The female vocal is so much more consumable.’

Dion Sincere Lizzy, entrepreneur, Young Entrepreneurs: ‘If you look at Missy Elliot, they can rap and use melody much more, which is always going to help your records travel well.’

Caroline Simionescu-Marin: ‘[Little] Simz’s thing is really niche. She was very early. It’s sometimes bad to be too early and its bad to be too late. Being just on time is the only time that seems to make sense. Simz, if she came out now as a new artist, people would be so much more respectful because she’s so super talented. Because the market wasn’t even ready, it wasn’t ready for rap, let alone Little Simz.’

Miss Banks: ‘I do genuinely believe with the right push it can happen. I feel there’s a space for UK female rap internationally.’