Wide Days: Scotland’s musical convention is back

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 all?

Wide Days grew out of Born To Be Wide parties 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 started Wide Days in 2010, I was still working for several international music industry conferences and showcases. I took mental notes and then created the type of event I would like to attend myself. For example, we only show a small number of acts, delegates are fed ahead of time so they don’t miss the shows and I’ve always done a guided tour because I like people to get an idea of my city, as well as of the event.

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

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

When we launched in 2010, every industry event seemed to have a panel of old guys complaining because people weren’t buying CDs as much as they used to. The demise of record stores has been lamented and many major artists have refused to license their music to streaming services. From now on, streaming dominates and new record stores have been opening for a few years. Demand for vinyl is so high that a new pressing plant has recently opened on Teeside. It’s rare to see all-male panels at industry events these days and that reflects both a growing awareness and more women working in music industry roles that used to be almost exclusively male, such as sound production. In 2017 we were the first international music conference in the UK to have a gender-balanced list of speakers and it has been encouraging to see how things have changed over the past five years.

Were there any particular round tables or other events at wide days where participants really identified a particular problem or made prescient predictions?

From the start, I wanted to introduce new perspectives, which meant bringing in a wider range of speakers and taking a different approach to industry topics. Scott Cohen, who was an early supporter of Wide Days, is now the director of innovation at Warner Music Group, and he’s always been incredibly prescient in his analysis. And in 2013, we programmed a section with digital music expert Andy Zondervan and Spotify. Everything featured became mainstream several years later and this conference resulted in a Scottish company, EmuBands, being one of five digital music distributors approved by the streaming service. I have always been interested in the opportunities that can arise from the collaboration of the music industry with other sectors. Ten years ago we had sessions focused on working with sport and hospitality and that led to me hosting the first global conference on music tourism in 2016. This is a theme we will return to this year in a roundtable, and we’ll also look at the potential export benefits of music and gaming collaborations.

Looking back, an appearance in a Wide Days live showcase seems like a pretty good predictor of future success. Could you give us a brief overview of some star artists who have gone on to do great things?

Swiss Portrait: on the bill of the Wide Days for 2022

We tend to feature acts early on, so our goal is to give them as much support as possible and encourage them to use the event to connect with people and gain valuable insights. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s really encouraging to see the acts you’ve featured continue their careers. Kathryn Joseph, Fatherson and C Duncan all presented and Honeyblood secured their record deal through their show Wide Days. Artists such as Kapil Seshasayee, MEMES, Hamish Hawk and Contant Follower, who we featured in 2020/21, have all booked international shows in recent months.

The focus has always been on connecting people at Wide Days, can you tell us how you’re going the extra mile to facilitate that this year?

We try to encourage everyone to connect, regardless of experience level or background. Wide Days has a dedicated one-on-one meeting tier that anyone with a delegate pass can book. Every speaker and event partner is asked to make themselves available and it’s an invaluable way for people to connect. Attendees will include artist managers, booking agents, promoters, collecting societies and a representative from the British Association of Performing Arts Medicine, to answer health questions. In addition to the formal meeting program, there are plenty of informal opportunities to meet people at showcases and at the event. And platinum pass holders can also take part in a range of tours and a very special whiskey tasting that we run in partnership with the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society.

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

Rapper Bemz will be present at Wide Days 2022

I knew parents who wanted to come to Wide Days but were struggling to get their children looked after, and although we couldn’t provide crèche this year, we thought a financial contribution might help. It is worth mentioning that this is supported by access funding from Creative Scotland, which has been very helpful. We also have a whole section dedicated to making the music industry more accommodating for music professionals, musicians and audiences with disabilities. We are working with the charity Attitude Is Everything to highlight great practical initiatives to encourage the industry to be much more proactive. According to UK government figures, 19% of working age adults are disabled, but this is certainly not reflected in the music sector.

It seems more and more common for artists at the start of their career to see their music used either in television commercials or in film soundtracks, and I see that there are round tables on working with the tourism and games at Wide Days this year. How important is it for artists to tap into these alternative sources of income now?

The pandemic has highlighted that relying on a single source of income, especially 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 experience music, both through conference sessions and through creating an environment where they can build good relationships.

In 2019, you went from one to three nights of music and introduced something called 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 live shows are open to the public this year. We have four artists who have already played Wide Days at the opening reception, which is a fundraiser for the Music Venue Trust, which does a great job of lobbying for popular venues. On Friday we feature the seven diverse acts of our talent development program and you can register for a free ticket. Readers of Scotland on Sunday will recognize most of the artists in the Under The Radar column, including Swiss Portrait, BEMZ, Calum Bowie, Katherine Aly, Savage Mansion and Cyrano, and they should be looking for a column on rapper Chef soon. Festival Takeover takes place on Saturdays and we have invited Focus Wales and Canadian Festival Breakout West to program a bill.