Brit Beat: Pete Tong talks about the post-Covid comeback of Dance Music
London’s awards season is in full swing – but one event is set to get more praise than any other this year. That’s because the Music Industry Trusts Award (MITS) for Outstanding Contribution to the UK Music Industry goes to dance music legend Pete Tong.
At the November 1 ceremony in London, Tong will join a list of previous winners that includes Sir Lucian Grainge, Rob Stringer and Elton John and Bernie Taupin, while New Order, Becky Hill and Norman Jay will perform live to celebrate 40 years. of Tong. career in the sector.
He started as a club DJ and later pioneered dance music coverage on UK national radio network BBC Radio 1, as well as working as an A&R man; founder of iconic dance label FFRR; helping to launch the dance music industry conference, the International Music Summit (IMS) in Ibiza; and leading a series of hugely successful compilations of orchestrated versions of dance anthems (the latest edition, Ibiza Classics, will be released on December 3). Even his name has entered the language – the phrase “It’s all gone Pete Tong” has long been a slang rhyme for “It’s all gone wrong”.
Official industry honors have been a long time coming, but now that all is well, Tong says he sees the MITS Award as recognition of the entire dance music scene.
“I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t appointed as some sort of ambassador for what’s happened over the last 30 to 40 years,” he said. Variety. “Dance music has had a small chip on its shoulder since the days of disco, when it was valued and celebrated on a cultural level but shunned on an industry recognition level. And that has long been a driving force for me in gaining recognition for our industry. What was once dismissed as “It’s just a party” isn’t really that.
It has been a difficult pandemic for the sector, with many clubs around the world closed for 18 months. According to a 2021 report by IMS, the global dance music industry lost a staggering $3.9 billion in value last year. It was still worth $3.4 billion, although that was its lowest level in a decade.
“For the most part, people fought their way through and survived,” Tong says. “Let’s see what happens when we come out the other side. It’s too early to tell what type of reset we’ll see.
“But before the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about nightclubs suffering and closing because they were blown out of the water by big one-off events,” he adds. “So maybe the pandemic is allowing smaller situations to start to bloom again. A lot of creative things can come out of these little pieces.
And Tong, who has seen the genre’s ups and downs from the DJ booth over the decades, remains optimistic about the future.
“Creatively, dance music is in a very strong position,” he says. “The baton has been passed to another new generation, who are super excited about all aspects of dance and electronic music. There is a new and fresh entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of great artists are coming. I am very optimistic for the next few years we will see another golden age.
Meanwhile, Tong’s former boss at Radio 1 is determined to take over streaming services in his new role.
Ben Cooper, the BBC’s hugely influential former network controller, is now director of content and music at British commercial radio group Bauer Media Audio. It oversees dozens of stations which, according to the latest figures from Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR) – back after an 18-month absence caused by the pandemic – have reached a record 20.6 million combined listeners in the UK. United during the third trimester.
Cooper says he plans to leverage the size of the group to face growing competition from streaming companies in the radio/audio world. The first fruits of the new approach appeared when Bauer hosted Coldplay’s return concert in London on October 15 across 13 of its stations in eight different European countries, reaching a potential audience of 40 million.
“Bauer is Europe’s leading commercial radio operator, but it’s never used its scale like this before,” says Cooper, who booked Coldplay for its very first Live Lounge appearance on the BBC in 2000. ‘ve never used that collective, creative force.. Coldplay loved the idea of doing something that hadn’t been done before – they’re always looking to innovate and change.
Cooper says he’s been approached by several high-profile artists and managers looking to do something similar since the broadcast, but says Bauer’s network of stations can also provide pan-European opportunities for other types of content. , documentaries to viral video features.
“We can use our scale as a European broadcaster to reach out to the biggest artists in the world and work with them in a new way,” he says. “We can broadcast to America and the world via social media, and if we can get creative ideas, they will pass. This will allow us to get up there with bands like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Late Late Show with James Corden” and get a seat at the table.
Bauer has also taken a leaf out of the streaming playbook by introducing ad-free subscription services for some of its more niche genre stations — a drastic move for a commercial broadcaster that depends on advertising for most of its revenue.
“There are corporate antibodies that you have to overcome,” laughs Cooper, who says viewing hours among subscribers have increased dramatically. “But I like Bauer’s ambition to be able to say, ‘No, let’s try that’.”
And Cooper says his commercial radio revolution is just beginning.
“The main thing is that we are open for business,” he says. “We have a new attitude and a new creative ambition. We want to work with artists, managers and labels in new ways and seek out those firsts.
Meanwhile, the fallout from the recent inquiry by the House of Commons Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport into music streaming continues.
In its official response to the Committee’s damning report, the UK government asked the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) to decide whether market research should be carried out in the music streaming sector. And the CMA has now come forward to say it would prioritize such a study.
This was welcomed by all sides of the debate, even the BPI labels. But, while the committee’s original request was that the CMA examine what the report called the “market dominance” of the majors, CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said the study would examine whether the streaming industry “is competitive, successful and works in the interests of music lovers.
Indeed, CMA market studies generally examine “why particular markets may not be performing well for consumers” – an issue that was actually not raised much in the DCMS committee’s investigation (9, £99 a month for all the music in the world being a bargain for the fans, after all). Instead, much of the focus has been on whether artists and songwriters are being paid fairly under current conditions, with the Committee recommending “a complete reset” of how the sector operates.
This means that the first battleground will likely arise when the AMC establishes the exact scope of its study. This work should begin shortly with sources telling me that the study will be launched “as soon as possible”.
Once the areas to be examined have been determined, Variety understands that submissions will be invited from a wide range of interested stakeholders. CMA studies typically take about a year to report and could ultimately make recommendations to government on changes in policy and legislation; encourage companies in the sector to self-regulate; launch a more serious market investigation; take enforcement action against companies; or simply give the sector a clean bill of health. Which means at least another year of lobbying and campaigning looms for the industry before anything concrete emerges.
Another of the government’s recommendations was that a “music industry contact group” be established to discuss the Committee’s recommendations.
The first meeting of this group took place earlier this month, with sources saying Variety the first session was productive, despite tensions between the opposing sides that meant it was the first time they had sat around the same table since the great streaming debate began.
However, some key players were absent. Sources say Variety the government decided that only recognized industry trade bodies, rather than individuals or companies, should participate in the group. This meant that no major labels were present (although they were represented by the BPI), and the #BrokenRecord campaign, led by musician Tom Gray, was also absent (although Musicians Union and Ivors Academy, who run the #FixStreaming side campaign, are part of the group). Other interested parties who are not members of trade bodies – such as Hipgnosis and Apple Music – will not be represented.
This first meeting was largely about areas the group should discuss in the future, but the next session should prove more lively as the debate begins in earnest. Stay tuned…
Politics of another kind has been blamed for the UK’s dismal performance in the Eurovision Song Contest in recent years.
But for the 2022 contest – to be held in Turin, Italy, next May – post-Brexit Britain is doing everything it can to avoid another ‘zero points’ horror show. It has been announced that the management company behind Dua Lipa, Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding, Tap Music, will lead the search for this year’s entry.
Tap co-founder Ben Mawson pledges to “use Eurovision to authentically reflect and celebrate the rich, diverse and world-class musical talent for which the UK is world famous”, while the co-founder Ed Millett says Tap is “incredibly focused on finding a real special act that creates excitement for the UK – both in the run up to the final and beyond.
Tap’s offer has already been backed by Dua Lipa and Elton John – although whether they are able to persuade a superstar of similar magnitude to risk their reputation by flying the flag in 2022 remains to be seen.