Ireland isn’t only known for leprechauns and spuds, it’s also recognised as having a rich music culture. So why do Irish Bands and Artists have to be exported before being recognised as truly talented.

Irish Music SceneFrom the auld fiddly-aye-ooh of the trad act down your local to U2’s trademark cash register ching, Ireland is renowned the world over as great producer of exceptional musicians. Can you think of a major Irish label? No! We didn’t think so. Certainly, you’re more likely to come across an amazingly talented busker in Temple Bar than a commercial home grown record label.

Despite there being tax breaks for those in the creative arts, there are no incentives for those involved in discovering new talent and promoting it. Which is very odd when you realise that Irish artists account for more than 2% of all worldwide sales of CDs. So what does that say about the music industry? Not much, although it does demonstrate that the record industry we do have is terrified to take chances on innovative talent. Instead, we get the likes of Claddagh Records and Emerald Music playing it safe with traditional Irish music they know will do well enough overseas to keep the business in the black.

The DIY Music Scene

More and more Irish bands and artists are doing it for themselves. Whether this means relocating to the UK or running their own label from a band’s rehearsal space, real talent backed by determination and a little bit of luck always pulls through. Record companies often overlook real talent because of the financial risk or because the act doesn’t fit their profile. And yet we know that fans of music will travel to see an Act, buy the merchandise, pick up the homemade CD and spread the word. By the time an Act comes to the label’s attention, it’s too late. The band is already doing very well on its own and enjoying the freedom of managing their own efforts. 

Take the example of Cruachan. Who? Exactly! Cruachan is a Dublin-based act mixing traditional Irish music with black metal. Not particularly commercially appealing, but the band are signed one of the world’s biggest metal labels (in Austria) and sell thousands of records all over the world, notably in Eastern Europe, Russia and South America. The group is one of the few Irish bands to have toured Russia and have just come back from a spate of South American gigs. No one in the Irish music industry wanted to know.

A more well known example is Damien Rice. Previously a member of the band that went on to become Bell X1, he was forced to record his debut album in his bedroom over the course of two years. Of course, every Irish industry mogul wants a piece of the action now that he’s gone platinum and is on course for cracking the US. The labels only have themselves to blame. As most fans know, record companies are notorious for ripping off artists, making obscene profits from CD sales while the bands rarely see a cent. Not exactly an incentive to support the industry, especially when it isn’t difficult to download your favourite music for free these days.

The labels, or the lack of them, are only part of the problem. Whereas festivals are a regular occurrence in every country in mainland Europe, financially, it’s made as difficult as possible by the powers that be to do anything similar in Ireland. As a result, the likes of Slane and Oxegen are hugely expensive for gig-goers who could easily afford to fly to a European festival, and spend less on drinks and food when they get there, for less than the price of admission to an Irish festival.

A Missed Opportunity?

The government hasn’t helped, only recently applying VAT to gig tickets. Cheers lads! Here’s a little piece of trivia for you. The music industry in Ireland as part of GDP is equal in value to the newspaper and magazine publishing industry, with no incentive or support, financial or otherwise. Imagine how much of a bigger part it could play in our economy with a little stimulation. Sure, being a musician has never been the most lucrative career, but in Ireland, where booking a band means pay-to-play, making a living from it is virtually impossible. You can listen to the latest demos in our Unsigned Irish Bands section and even contact the bands directly for gigs.

by Liam Carey @Bandpages