novembre 4, 2015

Une entrevue avec Gerald Seligman

entrevue en anglais seulement

Avant son panel (présenté en collaboration avec Music Manager’s Forum Canada) à Mundial Montréal #5 intitulé UN ARTISTE, UNE HISTOIRE, SA MARQUE, nous avons parlé avec l’ancien directeur exécutif de WOMEX et fondateur de EMI Hemisphère, Gerald Seligman. Notre directeur artistique, Derek Andrews, lui a demandé de discuter d’EMI et de partager ses pensées sur le développement des nouveaux marchés pour la musique du monde.

À travers son travail à Caravan Arts, il fait de la consultation avec des foires de musique partout dans le monde, ainsi qu’avec des gouvernements, ONG et ministères de culture. Il a aussi une compréhension unique de la direction dans laquelle s’oriente l’industrie. Cette courte entrevue est un aperçu fascinant pour le futur. De plus, ce sera la première fois que Gerald participera à Mundial Montréal.

(please note, the session will be conducted in english)

When you look back at your years with EMI Hemishpheres in London, what is your essential take away?  Were those the golden years of world music?  How do you feel about your role?

emi hemisphere - andesI began creating the Hemisphere albums while still working in EMI Brazil, back in 1993. It was the first world music compilation label of its kind in a major label, even before some independent efforts like Putumayo and the Rough Guides. With the international catalogues of EMI, this meant a veritable treasure to work from. It was a gift, really, and the company backed my efforts, making sure it (and I) would outlast the endless reorganizations and mass lay-offs of the era. It was a golden age for sureemi reggae and I had complete autonomy, if not much help. I did production and repertoire selection, the liner notes, art direction, marketing… It was a one-man show. 76 titles overall.  Average sales for a title clocked between 35-75,000, staggering when compared to today’s sales for such titles in the 3-6,000 unit range. Some titles did up to 150K. Eventually I used the profits from the compilations to then sign artists (Njava, others) and fund new work.

In my years in Universal and EMI, and in my previous work that appeared on Globestyle, Rounder and elsewhere, I also got to do more mainstream projects, always contending that one could approach the commercial mainstream with the same integrity one approached the niches. So I got to work with my friend Robert Palmer on a project called “Woke Up Laughing” and with Donal Lunny on an album, “Common Ground: Voices of Modern Irish Music”, which featured appearances from Elvis common groundCostello, Kate Bush, Bono and Adam Clayton, Sinead O’Connor, Paul Brady, Christy Moore, Neil and Tim Finn and others. Beyond being the best studio experience of my life, this was by far my best-selling production with nearly 300,000 units. I still produce now and again and relish getting back into the studio.

Funny, though, these days I hear in my head the albums I never got to do rather than the ones I got done.


WOMEX has grown from a boutique world music meeting to a worldwide network of events.  When you see this growth, do you feel it is a result of a good business plan or a healthy strategy of diversification?  Are there distinguishing characteristics that WOMEX has, or has had that have helped it survive and provide a platform for the international world music community?

There is a reason WOMEX has flourished when other music industry events like Midem have declined, and that is that it caters most to the live sector, while MIDEM and Popkomm, for instance, relied on the recorded music industry. Add to it that governments around the world recognize music and culture as a crucial aid in establishing an international identity and increasingly that creative economies are a successful form of economic development. Given that, so many countries fund ‘umbrella stands’ where they bring their artists and professionals to expos like
WOMEX. And, most importantly, it relies upon the good will and good work of a remarkable, committed community of cultural activists who have dedicated their lives to diversity and the music of many cultures. By its nature, the ‘healthy strategy of diversification’ you mention is what defines it and keeps it fresh. The very fact that there is not a lot of money to be made means that there is a lot of weeding out of the kinds of rapacious business types who flourish in other areas, now most of all in the tech sector. It leaves a far greater proportion of what I think of as some of the finest people it has been my good fortune to know.

WOMEX has succeeded for so many reasons, but despite its not having the business plan it needs. As a womex4former director, I think a lot about what it could and should be, the development projects WOMEX should be undertaking, the not-for-profit it still needs to become to take advantage of foundation and EC funds that would be available to it, and the precarious nature of its finances due to management decisions that prompted me to move onto more development-oriented projects with various governments around the world. These have been in Malaysia, La Reunion, Poland, Colombia, Brazil and South Africa. But at the same time, I value the service WOMEX continues to offer the community, the role it plays, the dedication and talent of its hard-working staff and, most of all, its international family of delegates.

You are consulting to a variety of worldwide fairs and meetings.  Is there a limitless number on the horizon?  Do you feel the growth of trade fairs is linked to the realization in various governments that the economic impact of music export is a vital new reality?  Any predictions on where this will be going in the future?

womex1The need for the one, big event — WOMEX — where everyone can meet remains. Long may it reign. But as the market has matured, the need arose for regional events. Three main reasons prompt this. First, economic. More often than not artists must fund their own trips to showcase at events like WOMEX, SXSW and Babel Med, which means there is a certain weeding out of many who deserve the chance but simply can’t afford the trip. Regional events make it easier for them. It’s also cheaper for governments to bring programmers to an event than artists to expos. Second is the chance for delegates and concert promoters to be able to focus and get a deeper look through a more generous sampling of local talent. Third is context. Hearing the music in the environment it comes from, mixing with local artists and professionals, lends perspective that is hard to get any other way. The more regional events the better, in my view.

As your talk at Mundial Montreal is designed for delegates to appreciate the need for a coherent and connected « narrative », what can they expect you to address? 

People love stories. We think of our lives in terms of narratives not random chaotic events and even the earliest ancestors we know of told stories to entertain, inform and communicate identity. Folk, blues, country, regional, ethnic — all these musics by their very nature have unique stories to tell. Musicians can tap into this human impulse by developing their own stories, a biography that says who they are and what they do — one that can be communicated succinctly, creatively, informatively. It is this that I call the artist’s ‘story’, and the story should remain consistent through interviews, press kits, photo shoots, ads and album covers, logos, email bursts, in short, every aspect of communication. We’ll be looking at successful (and comically unsuccessful) examples through examinations of press photos, CD covers and press kits. The whole process of storytelling presents a fascinating creative challenge: How to translate sound and art in music into other media like biographical text and imagery.

Gerald speaks on Wednesday, November 18 at 1:30 PM. Tickets are available at the door, or you can get a festival passport (access to shows and panels) here.