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Conference and music festival preview – Beyond the Music, Manchester UK 11-14 October 2023

Billed as a “change making conference and new music festival”, and a “global event”, Beyond the Music takes place in Manchester between 11th and 14th October.

Manchester is one of the ‘homes’ of music in the UK (some would argue the home on account of its history, global impact and the diversity of its venues, which range from converted textile industry ‘sweat shops’, to tasteful adaptations of abandoned churches, to acoustically peerless auditoriums, to – from early next year – the two largest indoor arenas in Europe) and it is the only UK member of the international Music Cities Network.

Manchester has put on combined music festivals and conferences in the recent past but perhaps not at the level required to challenge the established European ones such as Reeperbahn, Eurosonic, By: Larm, Iceland Airwaves and the homespun Great Escape in their degree of gravitas.

Beyond the Music promises both to put that right and to be different “as a place to gather artists, entrepreneurs, creatives and music industry professionals with funders, businesses and organisations whilst putting the spotlight back on live and new music discovery alongside world class artists.”

There is a comprehensive conference schedule, organised sequentially day by day under the banners ‘Past’, ‘Present’, ‘Future’ and ‘Inspire’, which will tackle many of the issues affecting the business head on, including panel discussions on Re-Thinking the Economics of Music; What A Modern Music Company Should Look Like In 2023; The Music Industry’s Duty Of Care When It Comes To Artists’ Mental Health; Is Britain’s Talent Pipeline Blocked?; and Does the Future of the Music Business Lie Outside London?

And that’s just on Day 1. On the second day topics include Creating A UK Parliament For the Music Industry; The Evolution Of Independent Venues – Reinvigorating the UK’s Cultural Health;; Does UK Politics Place Enough Value On Music?; Rage With the Machines – Taking Charge Of The AI Evolution; and Beyond Streaming: Future Planning For The Next Technology Revolution.

Many of these topics are essential to delegates from beyond the UK’s shores as well of course.

Beyond The Music says it “aims to explore, define and tackle those issues to shape the future of the music industry and turn the challenges into opportunities to overhaul and advance to shine a light on exciting new talent and groundbreaking artists from across the world.”

The event concludes with a full day event ‘Beyond The Music: Inspire’, “a free to attend day of workshops and panels in the ‘New Islington’ area of the city (yes, Manchester has an Islington too) for everyone and anyone wanting to join the music industry; be it as artists, producers, managers, agents or label bosses.”

Other locations for the event include the historic and iconic Midland Hotel, which once refused entrance to its French restaurant to The Beatles for being “inappropriately dressed”, and Aviva Studios, the home of Factory International, Manchester’s newest and groundbreaking venue for the arts generally and which formally opens while Beyond the Music is in progress.

Most of the conference sessions will take place at Versa Studios, Manchester’s biggest city centre TV and film studio facility, formerly the Old Granada Studios and close to Factory International.

With respect to the artists and bands there is a big programme of them, 122 in all if I’ve counted correctly, across 15 venues, many of them in the bohemian ‘Northern Quarter’ of the city centre and including legendary ones like Night and Day, which started life as a ‘Fish and Chip’ shop; the Castle Hotel, whose history dates back to 1776 and which was the scene of a famous interview by celebrated BBC Radio DJ John Peel of Ian Curtis of Joy Division; and Band on the Wall where in the early 20th Century house musicians literally played on a stage halfway up the back wall to make room in what was then a busy pub.

What is intended to become a global-level annual event will seek not only to solve the issues being faced today but to produce innovative models for the future. In order to do this with meaningful effect Beyond the Music is set up as a co-operative – the first festival and conference to have an integrated decision-making structure to create actions, and exist as more than just a talking shop.

By participating in Beyond the Music, the organisers insist “everyone will have a stake and a say.”

Can this event elevate Manchester to a position it should have held many years ago? I think so.

The fact that the SXSW Festival will act as a curator and seems to be developing lasting ties with Beyond the Music is an excellent indicator of future prospects.

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