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Wide Days 2020: Online from 22-25 July

Like any other festival and event scheduled over the last few months, the ace Wide Days music convention – which has taken place every year in Edinburgh since 2010 – is going online this week, having succeeded in preserving most of its panel, speaker and showcase content.

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We asked three regular attendees – Beverley Whitrick, the strategic director of the Music Venue Trust, Nicky Carder, the membership manager of the Ivors Academy, and music manager extraordinaire Keith Harris, who has worked with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Diana Ross in his career – what they liked about Wide Days. Short answer: the socialising.

But first we hear from Olaf Furniss, the founder of Wide Days and a great friend and supporter of Glasgow Music City Tours, about the pros and cons of converting a convention where networking is a key component into an online event:

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Photo by Jannica Honey

When I set up Wide Days I basically set up the type of convention that I would like to attend myself. The idea was to move the music industry conversation on. Back at that point, you could go to pretty much any event and it would be five old geezers moaning about the fact that people weren’t buying CDs anymore. The content was pretty samey and most Scottish events wouldn’t look further than a Glasgow postcode for their speakers.

We could never compete with the big events on resources, so what we needed to do was show people a really good time. You’d have the head of MTV Europe coming up to DJ and he’d be having a drink with one of my old school friends. I like that leveller element of it and that’s created a lot of friendships and relationships.

I’m a fatalist so we were already talking in early February this year about what to do if the coronavirus really takes off. We had a month where each week we were making a new plan and then having to revise it. I think people expected us to cancel but there’s an ecosystem of twenty odd people, not counting volunteers, who even in a virtual one are going to be paid by the event. These are people who have grown with us and it was really important to ensure that they got some work as well.

We are going to try to recreate everything from the main physical event or as much as can be recreated. There are certain things in the physical world we think should apply in the virtual world and that’s been at the front of my mind to ensure it’s a better user experience.

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Billy Got Waves & Joell will be streaming live: Photo by Jannica Honey

In terms of putting together a speaker programme, it’s easier. The main challenge with this is time difference. If you are catering for a predominantly European audience it’s okay to be running it from 10am-midday for networking and have the afternoon dedicated to panels but with the North Americans the smallest time difference is five hours so some people might get up at 7 in the morning to check out panels. The showcase will be streamed live on Thursday and Friday this coming week and will be free to the public.

I’m going to miss hanging out with people, taking people around my city, having a beer with someone during the shows and generally that hosting instinct that I have. But that’s not happening so there’s no point getting bothered about it. You just have to look at what else we can do.

Not to minimise the tremendous upheaval that a lot of people are facing in the industry but at the same time there’s so many cool imaginative things going on so from the outset we said let’s make this programme about being pro-active. We should be looking at practical stuff that could be emulated.

I’m not under any illusion that we’re going to get back to “normal” in the next year. The industry as a whole has to look at how it can do things and keep active while gigs and live entertainment is severely curtailed. That does need state support and assistance but at the same time lots of people, including us, are looking at how you adapt, what you can be doing in the meantime.

There’s a view that we need a bailout but I think it should be broader than that. The government should be thinking ‘how can music be part of the recovery?’ It’s a subtle but important distinction. Look at what they did in the Great Depression in the States, where they put musicians on the state payroll to go out and play music in communities and teach kids music, something like what the Feisean movement already does. This is an amazing model, people should know about it.

Music is not a charity case, it’s part of the fabric of society and plays a very important role. What could it look like in two years time, what should it look like in two years time?

And what are we in the business of doing? We’re in the business of bringing people together. Meeting people is super important and I think we’ve always done that better than nearly any other event. There’s opportunities there.

KEITH HARRIS, music manager

I have been a regular attendee at Wide Days, because I believe that Scotland deserves its own music convention, and Wide Days has been building up over the years to be exactly that. It provides useful information and networking opportunities to beginners in the industry, but also has some very high level speakers. I think the thing that sets Wide Days apart though is the sense of fun that runs through the whole event. I am sure that even though it is online this time that won’t be lacking.

BEVERLEY WHITRICK, Music Venue Trust

Wide Days will always be important to me because it was the first event at which I spoke publicly about Music Venue Trust in April 2014. What makes the convention really special though is the community around it, the atmosphere, the passion for music, the people. Over the last few years I have missed only one Wide Days, usually arranging other business in Scotland specifically around the convention dates so I can make the most of the networking on offer inside and outside the event.

Not only is this an incredibly well organised event with a perennially strong programme, but it has been championing young and non-male speakers since before that was a fashionable thing to do. As you can tell, I’m a big fan.

NICKY CARDER, the Ivors Academy

Edinburgh is an incredibly creative city and Wide Days provides the vital link between the craft of music and the music industry. Through sharing invaluable knowledge, expertise and networking opportunities, Wide Days helps music creators and aspiring music business professionals to develop their careers and enhance their understanding of the music industry.

Wide Days doesn’t only benefit music creators. Over the years I have benefitted from being a stage manager, a conference assistant and most recently, speaking on panels, which has allowed me to learn and develop new skills.

My favourite part of Wide Days is the community, it’s a very friendly and supportive group of people. You always leave with new industry contacts – as well as new friends.

Wide Days takes place online from 22-25 July. Check out more info at www.widedays.com

 

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