FOR the 20 acts nominated for the Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award, Thursday, May 30 will be firmly circled in their calendars.

That is when a panel of 12 judges gather to decide which are worthy of making the final shortlist.

Those who are chosen can then look forward to several weeks of being paraded like gala queens through record shops and the media in the run-up to the award ceremony at the Glasgow Barrowlands on June 20.

Only the most determined curmudgeon could not be impressed by the variety of talent on display for what is only the award's second year. This year's nominees include everyone from pop superstars like Calvin Harris and Emeli Sandé to electro hopefuls, Errors, to the serene solo debut from former Blue Nile frontman, Paul Buchanan. There is a jazz collaboration from saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and pianist Euan Stevenson, folk-rock from Meursault and even hip hop from Stanley Odd.

The eventual winner will receive a prize of £20,000, but that is not really the point. From the Oscars to the Booker to the Mercury Music Prize, such arts accolades are ultimately about raising profile and boosting unit and ticket sales.

According to Creative and Cultural Skills, the industry in Scotland employs about 11,600 people in everything from running festivals to teaching people to play instruments. Harris and Sandé are proof that modern acts can still sell millions of records, but you find a very mixed picture once you scratch the surface.


The country may be strewn with concert halls and venues, but there are only a handful of record labels. The biggest is Chemikal Underground, based in Glasgow, which employs just two full-time staff and releases about seven albums a year. Various other labels, such as Edinburgh's Song, By Toad and Glasgow's Olive Grove, are run by part-timers. All the big labels are still concentrated in London.

But what has changed is the way in which music is distributed. The rise of the internet has turned everything upside down, and more disruption looks likely.

CD album sales fell 20% to below 70 million in the UK in 2012, according to the British Phonographic Industry, having peaked back in 2004 at 163 million. Album downloads rose 15% to 30.5 million, but it still means that the total number of albums sold is falling. Single track downloads jumped 6% to almost 189 million, but this is not where the money is.

While you can imagine the impact on the Scottish figures, the industry's statistics are so poorly collated that it is hard to say anything conclusive. In 2003, Scottish artists turned over £106 million, according to Scottish Enterprise. Creative Scotland reckons this figure now stands at around £50m, including £20m from knock-on boosts to other industries.

However, this number almost certainly understates reality because it only refers to VAT-registered businesses and also overlooks some that use different tax codes. Either way, it indicates that music is well behind the leading creative sectors: writing and publishing (£2.7 billion), software (£2bn), broadcasting (£1.3bn) and fashion/textiles (£1.2bn).

"Take The Phantom Band as an example," says Stewart Henderson, one of the founders of Chemikal Underground and chairman of the Scottish Music Industry Association. "Their first album sold 8000 or 9000 copies in the UK alone. Fifteen years ago, it would have been maybe three or four times that much."

He says the industry is virtually unrecognisable from the days when he started out as bassist of Motherwell indie rockers, The Delgados. That was not long after Oasis were discovered in Glasgow's King Tut's by Creation records boss Alan McGee – something that would be virtually impossible today.

The A&R men that used to decamp en masse to the provinces have more or less thrown away their car keys. The majors sign far fewer bands than before. The days when they would give a band an advance while they wrote an album and developed their style are over. In 1989, there were 45 Scottish acts signed to major labels. Now you would barely need two hands to count them. Of the 20 nominees on the 2013 Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) longlist, only Calvin Harris and Emeli Sandé are with major labels.

Sandy McLean, head of Glasgow's Love Music independent store, says: "The majors are so conservative now that they are scared to sign anyone. Nobody wants to stick their necks out."

His store has gone from five staff to two in recent years, while the emphasis has shifted towards second-hand product. Where in the 1990s he relied on students for the majority of sales, now it is about nostalgic middle-agers.

"We don't do anything like the same volume of releases as we used to," he says. "We wait to see what we are asked for and then order more of it, because it means that HMV isn't selling it."

HMV itself went into administration at the start of this year, casting a dark shadow over 2013 until about one-third of its stores, including the nine Fopp shops, were rescued by turnaround specialist Hilco last month. The fact that the last big name in record retailing has survived was seen as a boost for the industry – albeit that the likes of McLean think it will collapse again soon enough.

Keith Harris, director of performer affairs at the UK's other performing rights group, PPL, says that the reining back of the majors has meant several things for artists. They have had to rely much more heavily on all possible income streams, including performing rights, while they have had to become much more self-reliant.

"It used to be that the record companies would give advances to support artists, but they can't take a flier on someone these days," he says. "Now artists are expected to develop themselves to a much higher level before a record company gets interested. No doubt the companies look at artists' Facebook and YouTube followings before they get involved."

Henderson, whose label employed six staff a decade ago, says the rise of digital means that you need to sell great volumes of downloads to make a decent return. For labels like Chemikal that focus on relatively underground acts, this is not easy, especially when sales are being undermined by streaming sites such as Spotify.

Instead, Chemikal has started specialising in collectibles, such as a deluxe triple vinyl version of last year's SAY-winning Everything's Getting Older by Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells. Henderson says: "They cost us about £10 or £11 per unit to make, but we can retail them for £35 to £40. When you think that we sold 1200, those numbers start to make sense."

Having dispensed with the old complex royalty deals of the past, Chemikal goes in for a straight 50-50 between label and artist on album sales. This split is sometimes shifted in the artist's favour for records sold on tour, since getting the artists on the road is such a vital part of making sales these days.

Over in the Fife's East Neuk, Fence Records has a different battle strategy. Having grown its print runs from handfuls of copies in the 1990s to runs of 1000 now, sometimes with two or three repeats for good sellers, the label has always seen its records as a means of making just enough to pay for themselves and support the operation.

Label manager Johnny Lynch, who also performs as indie folk act The Pictish Trail, says: "We are a springboard label. People like James Yorkston, KT Tunstall and Lone Pigeon have all flown the flag for us once they've gone on to other things. Most of our income is from putting on events where we involve acts from the past and present."

The label's renowned Home Game and Away Game mini-festivals are known for selling out minutes after tickets go on sale, but are deliberately kept small, in line with the Fence ethos.

Fence refuses to make its output available on streaming sites and only grudgingly agreed to start offering downloads a year ago for fear of devaluing the music. It has also ditched singles in favour of postcards priced at £1 or £1.50 which include access codes to downloads or things like secret videos.

"We have got bigger each year," says Lynch. "In a post-MySpace world, everyone has got a Sound Cloud, everyone is in a band. There are less acts signed to major labels, but there are more festivals than ever. There definitely hasn't been a decline in making music."

The fact that the judges of the Scottish Album of the Year had to sift through more than 300 records to create this year's long list testifies to that.

Keith Harris of PPL says that this is due to one of Scotland's key strengths, which is music education. He believes that the industry is still adjusting to the change, and has not yet fully come to terms with the fact that you can now develop a following anywhere and London is far less important.

"Reaching people has become so much more important. It's only a matter of time before there's a really successful Scottish label, and that will change everything."


If ever you needed confirmation that this country's enthusiasm for music has not gone the same way as record sales, you need to look at the live side of the industry.

No-one publishes Scotland-only figures, but UK figures from the Performing Rights Society are encouraging. Live sales in 2011, the most recent figures available, rose 15% to £1.6 billion. Admittedly, this was artificially boosted by the Take That juggernaut hitting the road, but it was both the highest in years and higher than the £1.1bn from recorded music.

Scotland appears to punch above its weight in everything from club gigs to stadiums, not least with the 12,000 capacity Hydro arena due to open in Glasgow later this year. It also hosts one of the UK's premier festivals in T in the Park.

The festival, which this year includes Scottish act Biffy Clyro among its headliners, provides a big payday to scores of Perthshire businesses which sell food, drink and other services at the site, not to mention local accommodation.

Geoff Ellis, chief executive of DF Concerts, the country's biggest promoter, says that while the live business has definitely been hit by the recession, "it's not as bad as you would expect it to be". His company's pre-tax profits were £4.8 million in 2012 compared to £5.2m the year before.

"The live industry is very healthy," he says. "People are still going to concerts in their tens of thousands."

The difference in his view is that audiences are more discerning about what they will go and see. Bands that might have toured twice in a year are now finding there is only demand for one show. Events such as Eminem's upcoming show at Glasgow's Bellahouston Park in August, on the other hand, are seeing strong demand. He is playing as part of DF's Summer Sessions, a five-night extravaganza at the park. And the Stone Roses at Glasgow Green, a 50,000-person gig, sold out in 45 minutes.

Ellis says the live business has been affected by the major labels' current reluctance to support upcoming artists, which makes it harder for them to get to the level where they can fill the sort of 2000-capacity venues where they and the promoters make decent money.

It also makes it harder for artists to reach arena capability, which has meant that those already in that category have taken advantage.

"We've had to increase our talent budget for T in the Park by seven figures for this year," Ellis says. "There aren't lots of acts coming through that can headline.

"Mumford and Sons are the last ones to have come through. People like The Parma Violets, the Imagine Dragons and Jake Bugg are all capable of it in future, but it doesn't happen like it once did. If they do, that's when prices will come down."

Live Music 2



fter T in the Park’s Balado home, the area to benefit most from live music is probably the Highlands. More than 10,000 “music tourists” come to Rock Ness on the shores of Loch Ness and thousands more travel to smaller events such as Belladrum (near Inverness), Loopallu (Ullapool) and HebCelt (Lewis).

“When it’s the weekend of Rock Ness, you get long queues of traffic heading into the city, coming to spend money. All the supermarkets’ shelves are cleaned out,” says Iain Hamilton, head of creative industries at Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

“When they go home, they’re telling their friends about what the area is like. And if you want folk to stay in the Highlands, or people to choose to come and live and work here, you need to have things that show it’s a vibrant kind of place.”

Now in its seventh year, Rock Ness has always done just well enough to justify another year without ever selling out. Next month’s event features Basement Jaxx, Madness and Plan B. No doubt the organisers will be feeling the pressure to get the overall numbers up towards 30,000 for this year’s event on June 7-9.

A DJ's story

Brian D'Souza, aka Auntie Flo, gatecrashed the Scottish Album of the Year long list with a debut several miles from most of the guitar-based competition. Future Rhythm Machine, a house record steeped in Afro and Latino influences, is the culmination of a 12-year apprenticeship DJing and organising club nights on the Glasgow underground dance circuit.

"I did it all at my place in Pollokshields in the space of about two or three weeks in 2010 using a small sound palette, trying to explore different moods, tempos and textures," he says.

He sent his demos to his friend Andy Thomson, who was behind the nomadic Huntley & Palmers Audio Club nights in Glasgow and was looking to set up a record label. The pair agreed a deal where the new label would handle everything from mastering to management in exchange for the proceeds.

"We printed 1000 copies of the album, about 500 CD and 500 vinyl, which have sold alright, with still a few left, but with all the digital downloads on top," D'Souza, 31, says. "We did music videos on YouTube, slowly building up a network of people who were familiar with the music. We also spent money on a PR company, who got us global exposure.

"But I don't think I have made a single penny from the album. The label might have made some money, but the agreement I have is that they provide the management and that's their fee. For me the album is promotion."

The release has transformed him from a well-known face on the Glasgow scene involved purely "for the love of it" to a "name" DJ who can command between £500 and £1000 for a gig. He's averaging about two gigs a week, playing all over the UK and Europe. This week he heads out to Australia, with dates lined up in Africa in September.

"There's a really strong clubbing community - If you are good enough and you surround yourself with the right people, you can do well," he says.

He moved to London several months ago, but more to follow his girlfriend than to further his music career. "A lot of gigs in various places outside the UK didn't happen because the promoters didn't want to pay for the extra flight from Glasgow to London, so moving will help with that.

"But I could easily do Auntie Flo from Glasgow. Other people that I look up to, like the Optimo guys, have proved that it's possible."