Halina Rifai: Edinburgh’s close-knit music scene a revelation

A RESURGENT Edinburgh music scene and the importance of investing in communities were just two things Halina Rifai took away from taking part in an industry seminar in the capital
Born To Be Wide hosted a music seminar last week with some of Edinburgh's most prominent industry figures. Picture: Jannica HoneyBorn To Be Wide hosted a music seminar last week with some of Edinburgh's most prominent industry figures. Picture: Jannica Honey
Born To Be Wide hosted a music seminar last week with some of Edinburgh's most prominent industry figures. Picture: Jannica Honey

Last week on Thursday evening I was invited to take part in a discussion, hosted by Scottish music industry body Born To Be Wide, on Edinburgh’s music scene at the city’s Electric Circus venue.

I joined Born To Be Wide co-founder Olaf Furniss, Neu Reekie! co-founder Kevin Williamson, LuckyMe co-founder Martyn Flyn, and Creative Edinburgh’s Janine Matheson. The idea behind the panel discussion was to look at different approaches to building audiences and how to sustain them within the music community.

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A bugbear for many in Scottish music is the negativity directed towards Edinburgh’s music scene. Many feel that it does not have a thriving music platform, which, if I’m honest, is something I used to agree with. Born To Be Wide was sold out on Thursday night, and it was encouraging to listen to my fellow panellists (my Edinburgh peers, in particular) discuss their passion for music and building networks. It was clear that the city has a driven creative community.

Edinburgh's Electric Circus. Picture: Dan PhillipsEdinburgh's Electric Circus. Picture: Dan Phillips
Edinburgh's Electric Circus. Picture: Dan Phillips

I think we take things for granted in Glasgow; we are saturated with music venues and DIY promoters. We have one of the healthiest music scenes in the country. Organisations like Born To Be Wide are vital to getting the word out about Edinburgh’s plethora of exciting musicians, both new and established. This doesn’t only cover music from a performance point of view – it also includes promotion, record labels, blogging, journalism and much more.

Thursday’s panel brought us together from different areas of the industry and, no matter what level we were at, the same themes kept reemerging. The strongest one I came away with was that it is fundamental to connect with as many people as possible. “Following” or “liking” something online doesn’t do this, nor does having one conversation and expecting a miracle to happen. It is by genuinely caring about what another person does, learning about their skill or creative talent, and investing in it. When these exchanges are treated as marketing exercises, it can be easy to lose sight of why you started in the music industry in the first place.

One point that I did raise concerned financial awareness. It is difficult starting out as a musician. Only the blessed have a pot of money to spend on their love, and a tiny percentage will receive funding from the likes of Creative Scotland. It is important to remember that without original and exciting ideas, money means absolutely nothing. Also, to be completely blunt, if music is not up to the mark, then gig attendances will be low and music sales will follow suit.

With music and gig promotion, it’s vital to think outside the box. You are creating an experience for the public, and as a consumer and a regular gig-goer, I want to be made to feel part of something. At TYCI, for example - a Glasgow-based female collective I’m proud to be part of - we have facets to our community. Zines, podcasts, radio shows, live shows and more. I’ve heard people say that they feel it has opened a door for them. It has created a platform where people can express themselves in different ways. Music has always been central to the collective and our live shows have always been a focal point. It gives musicians promotion and a podium to use to advertise themselves. Furthermore, if people have discovered TYCI based on one element, once they delve deeper, they find there is so much more.

There is no magic formula to this. If some artists are completely honest, they could probably work a lot harder. It is clear, though, that Born To Be Wide are helping to provide Scottish musicians with the tools to further their careers. This in itself is invaluable.

• Halina Rifai is a Glasgow-based writer for Scottish music blog Podcart, http://podcart.co/