This is the penultimate post on the JB blog and was published as the op-ed in last week's UK Record of the Day...on music industry and leadership...enjoy and I will be back with the last ever post soonish...thanks for reading!
Music’s future might not be black & white but we need to be more adaptable Penguins...In John Kotter’s management ‘fable’, “Our Iceberg is Melting”, a small but visionary team of penguins club together to figure out a future for their colony.
In the fable, the central problem is the threat to the colony’s future (that their environment is slowly melting around them) is hard to spot, harder to define and measure, and even harder to describe in a way the rest of the colony understands. The leader penguins have to put together a compelling story and plan such that the whole colony is spurred into collective action.
Effectively what the penguin leaders did was take a melting iceberg, and turn it into a burning platform. If ever we – the collective ‘music industry' – needed such a trick it would be now.
Ten years into our digital revolution we have been both the misfortunate lab rats of the content world but also to some extent, the lucky ones. Despite the doom mongers, music has actually done better than expected over the past decade. Yes, all the traditional commercial markers have steadily been reduced, but the industry is still intact. There’s a melting iceberg for certain, but no one has set the platform on fire, yet.
In the policy-making arena, music is such a central plank in our creative industries that its collective voice – better filtered and louder now than I can remember – is still listened to and hopefully, being heard. But the competition is bigger, slicker and richer. Tech is even giving music a run for its money in the celebrity superstar stakes these days. Has technology actually become ‘sexier’ than music and entertainment? How did we let that happen?
Commercially the mainstream industry – both the creators and it’s ‘majors’ rights-holders - have been lucky to have been surrounded by so many smart and willing small innovators. But, at the same time, there’s a sense of the ants eating away at the picnic as these small scale, ‘DIY’ operators and maverick start-ups build businesses (sometimes on the central assumption of music value-meter set to zero) that can function on skinny cost bases and ludicrously challenging business models – like free.
Just what future does a commercial music sector have in this kind of environment? While the problem definition for the commercial music business is more visible and widely recognised than than Kotter’s penguin colony – there’s still a sense of entrenchment – a lack of adaptation or ability to transform.
Just how can leaders make the difference to music’s future?
The Music Leader’s Development Network (MLDN) was put together by UK Music in July 2010 and was funded by the Cultural Leadership Programme. We have met regularly to discuss leadership, networking and skills issues in the industry, under topic headings including ‘collaboration’, ‘leading in dramatically changing markets’ and ‘Leadership learning and sustainability’. These sessions (which have been professionally facilitated by leadership coaches) have been supported by individual leadership coaching which all the participants have found highly valuable.
During the course of our discussions we identified a number of specific areas in which our industry has a clear need for more structured leadership, learning and skills development including:
• Commercial partnerships - greater links between large and small commerce – between licensors and innovators/entrepreneurs – and between the publicly funded and commercial sectors - to help bring on the next generation of music services
• Regional and national links - greater collaboration between regional music networks and initiatives and the music industry hub of London
• Mentoring – establishing more formal and informal opportunities for young and middle-manager high potential leaders to meet and receive mentoring from senior industry leaders
• Collaboration - more collaborative working and communication between the various music business sectors such as live, recording, publishing and media - so that artist projects can be maximised across the piece
We identified and acknowledged both existing and new initiatives being run in these areas – the BPI’s Innovation Panel in commercial partnerships, the range of projects being run by regional music development agencies Bristol Music Foundation, Generator and others. Also, the grass roots genre driven initiatives being run by Urban Development and PRS Foundation and new initiatives more specifically focused on education and skills such as the Creative Industries Council.
There’s more leadership and skills development in this industry than meets the eye – but much of it needs to be better networked and maximised – something UK Music wants to lend its support to in the future.
It’s not so easy to answer how directly influential leaders can be in an industry that is shifting so fast. The music industry’s leaders are perhaps more capable than they are sometimes given credit. They have been staunch protectors of the core of the business – artists, copyright and distribution (defensive yes, but vital also), savvy commercial operators and ultimately more successful than any new entrants at sourcing and marketing talent – with the current creative crop as good as I can remember at any time in my ten years working in the music industry.
But, can these and the next generation of industry leaders get better at collaboration, partnership, openness, transparency and clarity of vision? How will music’s leaders share a stage with the current crop of superstar executives running tech? What should our ground-breaking innovative story be on TED this week?
It might be that we can focus our leadership beyond protection and crisis management to a more confident and visionary position where the music industry tears up the ground. For example, can we build business inspiration on our understanding of risk-taking and hit-making (skills most digital industries especially consumer technology, now desperately need)? Can we take advantage of the changing environment better like current music innovators Radiohead have done?
In the end Kotter’s penguin colony didn’t just find another iceberg but realised they had to cope with an ever-changing environment and so they became nomadic – always prepared to up sticks and move on. Some of the industries more innovative artists are beginning to behave this way – shifting between formats and projects, even between different bands and creative disciplines – in order to express themselves and keep their audiences engaged. It’s a habit industry leaders must somehow learn to develop and also scale on an industry level.