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SensoriaPro: Sheffield scores again

by DJ Tat
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SensoriaPro 2019. Photo by Ian Spooner.

Sensoria has firmly established itself as one of Sheffield's premier festivals, and over the last decade or so it has become a must-attend event in the UK's music and arts calendar. With thoughtfully curated events - which this year have included Bo Ningen's live soundtrack to the surreal cult movie The Holy Mountain and the hosting of cool supergroup Creep Show - it packs a mighty punch for a small venture. The critical mass of Sensoria is the popular day-long happenings that are Synthfest and SensoriaPro. The latter was an opportunity to listen to talks and panel discussions from some of the film and music industry's movers and shakers.

The conference-style event was hosted in the grand setting of Sheffield Town Hall. Wood panelled walls decorated with dozens of framed photographs of past Lord Mayors contrasted heavily with talks on film soundtracking, running record labels and composition in a digital age.

Working as a solo artist free from a record label contract may have merits, but ultimately you get what you pay for

The morning started with an engaging panel discussion bringing together experts from notable independent record labels. It was an opportunity for delegates to hear what it's like to run a label, from a small digital-only imprint to a major international business. From the embryonic side of things came Gribs, who co-runs TT (formerly Tobago Tracks), and representing South Yorkshire was Chris Smith from CPU Records. At the other end of the spectrum, James Burton gave up his time from being label manager of electronic music behemoth Warp Records.

All three were in agreement that digital and streaming was now incredibly important, with Burton stating that 60% of Warp's revenue came from digital sales. Spotify often came into focus, with Smith stating that independent artists did not care about Spotify, that what matters to them was having a physical product that could result in gigs.

All three were in agreement that artists working with labels was very valuable and worthwhile, with Gribs saying that it really helps new and emerging artists, especially if the label is right for them. Burton highlighted the issues around starting your own label from scratch, especially if you want to start scaling it up. Working as a solo artist free from a record label contract may have merits, but ultimately you get what you pay for. Without a label it becomes more problematic to deal with your own distribution and legal issues.

CPU's clear visual identity is underpinned by Smith's drive and commitment to nurturing that vision. Part of that comes from creating something that's different from the norm. Gribs added that it was important for label owners not to get too over-ambitious and that planning for the future was key to running a successful label.

Following the panel discussion there was an interview with Kevin Bacon. No, not the actor, but the ex-bass player for the Comsat Angels, who's now working on the legal side of things to ensure artists get paid what they're owed. His interview started with him sharing that he wanted to be Peter Tork from The Monkees and at times had pretended to be him. Bacon showcased the digital platform Original Works, for which he is the chief product officer. It's an impressive and simple app that employs Blockchain to fairly distribute money from radio airplay and other outputs to artists directly.

No doubt the highlight for many of the musicians and composers in the audience was the discussion with Nainita Desai. An experienced composer of several decades, Desai talked about the process of being commissioned, composing and recording music. This covered both being a solo artist and recruiting musicians to undertake a piece of work for film, TV or games. We were able to hear and see one of Desai's stunning compositions played over a trailer for Untamed Romania.

Brexit and freedom of movement raised its nervous head

Another panel discussion followed that included artist management and booking agents from the UK music and festival scene. Ami Lord, from the popular boutique festival Standon Calling, talked about the importance of booking local talent, while Emma Zillmann from Bluedot and Kendal Calling highlighted the 3,500 artist applications they receive each year.

Brexit and freedom of movement raised its nervous head, as the issue of moving across countries and transporting merchandise with problematic tariffs arose. Lord felt that fewer overseas acts were currently willing to tour in the UK. The issue was touched on by Paul Reed from the Association of Independent Festivals, who said that the industry was not ready for a no-deal Brexit. Some on the panel touched on the same discussion earlier in the day, when they said that some artists were now kicking back against Spotify and actively trying to create their own underground buzz to generate gigs and merchandise sales.

The day ended with the annual scoring contest, where seven composers attempted to score the soundtrack to the British Playstation game Blood & Truth. Entries ranged from Chemical Brothers-style breakbeats to grimey, cinematic James Bond movie music. It was the latter that won thanks to a universal agreement from the three judges. All seven entrants were amateurs, but potentially showcased future talent to perform at this most brilliant of Sheffield festivals.

Andy Tattersall

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