Wide Days: Scotland’s Music Convention is back

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Olaf Furniss, left, leads a panel discussion at Wide Days PIC: Jannica Honey

First, let’s go back to the beginning… how did Wide Days start, and what was the thinking behind it?

Wide Days grew out of the Born To Be Wide nights in Edinburgh, which combined music industry talks with guest DJs invited to play whatever they wanted, as long as it wasn’t The Smiths, Morrisey or Joy Division. When I launched Wide Days in 2010 I was still working for several international music business conferences and showcases. I took mental notes, and then created the type of event I would like to attend myself. For example, we only showcase a small number of acts, delegates get fed beforehand so they don’t miss the shows and I have always taken a guided tour because I like people to get a sense of my city, as well as the event.

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Obviously a lot has changed in the music industry since 2010 – how have those changes been reflected at Wide Days?

‘The Vinyl Frontier’, a Wide Days panel discussion from 2017

When we launched in 2010 every industry event seemed to have a panel with old blokes moaning because people weren’t buying as many CDs as before. The demise of record shops was being lamented and lots of big artists refused to license their music to streaming services. Now streaming dominates and new record shops have been opening up for the past few years. Demand for vinyl is so high that a new pressing plant recently opened in Teeside. These days it is rare to see male-only panels at industry events and it reflects both a growing consciousness and more women working in music industry roles which were almost exclusively male, such as sound production. In 2017 we were the first international music conference in the UK to have a gender-balanced speaker line up and it has been encouraging to see how things have changed in the last five years.

Have there been any particular panel discussions or other events at Wide Days where participants have really nailed a particular issue, or made prescient predictions?

From the outset I wanted to introduce fresh perspectives, which involved inviting a broader range of speakers and taking a different approach to industry topics. Scott Cohen, who was an early supporter of Wide Days, is now the chief innovation officer at Warner Music Group, and he has always been incredibly prescient in his analysis of him. And in 2013 we programmed a strand with digital music expert Andy Zondervan and Spotify. Everything presented became mainstream several years later and that conference led to a Scottish company, EmuBands, being one of only five digital music distributors endorsed by the streaming service. I have always been interested in the opportunities which can arise from the music industry collaborating with other sectors. Ten years ago we had sessions focusing on working with sport and hospitality and this led to me hosting the world’s first music tourism conference in 2016. It is a theme we will return to this year in a round table, and we will also be looking at the potential export benefits from collaborations between music and gaming.

Looking back, an appearance at a Wide Days live showcase seems to be a pretty good predictor of future success – please could you give us a quick run-down of a few featured acts who have gone on to do great things?

Swiss Portrait: on the Wide Days bill for 2022

We tend to showcase acts early on, so our aim is to give them as much support as possible and encourage them to use the event to connect with people and get some valuable insights. It doesn’t always work out, but it is really encouraging when you see acts you featured going on to have a career. Kathryn Joseph, Fatherson and C Duncan all showcased and Honeyblood got their record deal on the strength of their Wide Days show. Acts such as Kapil Seshasayee, MEMES, Hamish Hawk and Contant Follower, who we presented in 2020/21, have all booked international shows in recent months.

There’s always been a big emphasis on connecting people at Wide Days, can you talk a bit about how you’re going the extra mile to facilitate that this year?

We try to encourage everyone to connect, regardless of their level of experience or background. Wide Days has a strand dedicated to one-to-one meetings which anyone with a delegate pass can book. Every speaker and event partner is asked to make themselves available and it is an invaluable way for people to connect. Among those taking part will be artist managers, booking agents, promoters, collection societies and a representative from the British Association of Performing Arts medicine, to help with health questions. In addition to the formal meeting program there are plenty of informal opportunities to meet people at showcases and in the event. And platinum pass holders can also take part in a range of tours and a very special whiskey tasting we are hosting in partnership with the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society.

You are the first music industry event in the UK to offer a grant for childcare for delegates, how did this come about?

Rapper Bemz will be appearing at Wide Days 2022

I knew parents who wanted to come to Wide Days but struggled with childcare, and although we can’t provide a creche this year, we thought a financial contribution might help. It’s worth mentioning that this is supported by access funding from Creative Scotland, which has been really helpful. We also have a whole strand dedicated to making the music industry more accommodating for disabled music professionals, musicians and audiences. We are working with the charity Attitude Is Everything to highlight some great practical initiatives to encourage the industry to be much more proactive. According to UK government figures, 19 per cent of working age adults are disabled but that is definitely not reflected in the music sector.

It seems more and more common for early-career artists to have had their music used either on TV adverts or on movie soundtracks, and I see there are round-table discussions on collaborating with the tourism and games sectors at Wide Days this year. How important is it for artists to tap into these alternative revenue streams now?

The pandemic highlighted that depending on one revenue stream, in particular live income, can leave musicians and industry professionals extremely vulnerable. Twenty years ago we saw something similar when online piracy caused a huge drop in CD sales. Wide Days has always encouraged people to think differently about how they make a living from music, both through the conference sessions and the through creating an environment where they can make great connections.

In 2019 you expanded from one to three nights of music and introduced something called the Festival Takeover. Will these shows be open to the public?

Savage Mansion, one of the acts appearing at Wide Days 2022 PIC: Mihaela Bodlovic

All the live shows are open to the public this year. We have four acts who have previously played Wide Days performing at the opening reception, which is a fundraiser for the Music Venue Trust, which does great work lobbying for grassroots venues. On Friday we present the seven diverse acts on our Talent Development program and you can register for a free ticket. Scotland on Sunday readers will recognize most artists from the Under The Radar column including Swiss Portrait, BEMZ, Calum Bowie, Katherine Aly, Savage Mansion and Cyrano, and they should look out for a column on rapper Chef soon. The Festival Takeover takes place on the Saturday and we have invited Focus Wales and Canadian Festival Breakout West to guest program a bill.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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