Industry Insider: Electronic Music Conference Director Jane Slingo On Mistakes Made Approaching Asia-Pacific Region, EMC, Sydney Lockouts

We chat with longtime industry veteran Jane Slingo about how to best put on a music conference and what is happening with the lockouts.
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Jane Slingo

It is music conference season and they are happening all over the world. Between ADE, London Music Conference and WMC coming up next year, there is a lot to get ready for if you work in the dance music biz. The Electronic Music Conference takes the conference schedule down under to Sydney for a focus on the Asia Pacific dance music scene. Jane Slingo is a longtime electronic music veteran, cutting her teeth in writing and the club scene, before getting into artist management, which she still does now with Set Mo and Sampology. She has been working with EMC for the past six years, starting as the conference programmer, then the executive producer and Director roles. We connected with Slingo to learn about winding her career, the conference, what it takes to put one together and potential movement on the Sydney lockouts.

How did you get into the electronic music business?

I've had a pretty colorful career path in electronic music. I've worked in this industry for almost 25 years (Wow, who feels old?). My first "gig" was as a podium dancer at raves in the very early 90s in a city in Australia called Brisbane. I then promoted my first "dance party" (as they were called then) in 1994. I then produced and choreographed dance and fashion shows at large scale raves and dance parties, in addition to weekly club nights throughout the mid 90s. Then I tried my hand at writing for a dance music magazine called The Scene. I had an editor’s role there for about a year. Then I moved to Sydney in the late 90s.

I had a talented young DJ called Kid Kenobi get me on my feet one night for hours, met him a few weeks later and complimented his skills as a DJ. I would go on to manage him for a decade. During that time he released seven Ministry of Sound compilations and was voted the #1 DJ in Australia for three years running. From this first artist signing I opened a booking agency and management company, which I still run today. Now that business only offers management services. Today, I manage Set Mo and Sampology.

I started working with EMC back in 2012. I was living in Asia at the time doing a Music Directors contract for a luxury hotel group with beach clubs in a few locations in Asia. So the founders of EMC (Junkee Media) asked me to curate and host a delegation from Asia to attend EMC. From this role I was given the reigns of Conference Programmer, which I did for a couple of years. Then I took over the Executive Producer's role. I invested in EMC last year. Aside EMC I also sit on the management board of MusicNSW, the Club Music Advisory Group for APRA AMCOS and the Advisory Panel for the Australian Music Vault. So here I am. What a fun, wonderful couple of decades or so it has been.

What would you recommend for anyone who wants to start their own music conference?

Be clear on why you are doing it. If you think conferences make a ton of money, you're wrong. They cost a lot to produce, both in terms of financial and human resources. Be clear on the vision, and what the conference is going to deliver that other conferences don't. Conferences are also a significant investment for the attendees so remain focused on how you're always delivering value to your attendees.

Why did you start the conference?

EMC was created to provide an annual gathering of people and businesses that are either working within electronic music culture of simply passionate about it. It has since its very early years had a commitment to strengthening the relationship between the various markets across the Asia Pacific region. That commitment has not changed in the past seven years.

What should attendees and artists come away from it?

International attendees will leave EMC with a first hand, up close insight into the Australian and Asia Pacific electronic music industry, and a newly formed network of incredible people in this region doing amazing things. They will also be exposed to the most exciting new artists emerging from the Australian market. Dave Ruby Howe our EMCPLAY programmer has a very special knack of identifying the emerging artists who always go onto very bright futures. His selection of artists is pretty much "ones to watch" in the coming 12 - 24 months. Over the years, we've had some amazing young artists perform at EMCPLAY who've gone onto thriving careers in Australia and internationally - Slumberjack, Motez, KLP, Set Mo are just a few of the artists who performed at EMCPLAY in the emerging stage of their careers.

Domestic attendees will have their annual human connection with the colleagues they deal with electronically throughout the year, and will also be exposed to the hottest new artists to book for the following year. They'll also make new relationships with their international counterparts in numerous overseas markets including USA, Europe, UK, Asia Pacific.

Artists showcasing will have the chance to open up opportunities on a national level as well as international markets. Aside the showcasing opportunity, artists and their teams also get the rare chance to meet with the key influencers and buyers from international regions to be able to share their strategies and plans for the coming two years. We've seen some fantastic outcomes for artists showcasing at EMCPLAY over the years.

All attendees will gain insights from the various sessions and speakers we have in our various content streams which are tech & digital, our artists and managers hub, events & touring and of course our keynotes which are a mixture of industry reports and insights and inspirational In Conversations with leading figures and artists.

What is something this conference has that others don’t?

A focus on the growth of electronic music in the Asia Pacific region, covering multiple markets in this region. We couldn't be more excited being a part of a time when this region is developing so quickly - the future is so bright and exciting in this region.

How did you pick the speakers and topics for each panel? Were the specific ideas or topics you wanted covered when putting this together?

We convene an annual programming committee which is made up of thought and business leaders from the worlds of tech, digital, publishing, recordings, festivals, clubs, social responsibility and government relations. This annual brains trust informs the framework of the content and topics the conference will explore, then we have lead programmers who fine tune the program and book the speakers.

How do you balance the work and play for the conference?

The daytime program is conference focused. And we don't start our programming for the conference until noon. This allows our attendees to have the mornings to either plough through their emails or have meetings prior to the conference commencement. The midweek nights are EMCPLAY LIVE, which focus on the showcases of the live acts and wraps up around 1am on Wednesday and Thursday nights. The weekend is all about EMCPLAY. There are over 100 artists performing across 15 events from Friday to Sunday. We've also got some great films showing at Golden Age Cinema as a part of our EMC FILMS program this year.

The theme is the future of yesterday. How can the past inform our experiences in music trying to navigate constantly evolving technology and shifting consumer behaviors?

Musically, I love that this theme nods back to the history of electronic music, honing in on some golden years in electronic music. (1988, 1998, 2008) I think there's a genuine interest from new artists and new people discovering their passion for electronic music today to dig back into the history of the genre. Once you start to get a sense of the rich tapestry of electronic music over these decades, it's easy to see how this culture, which was born from sampling, is still in many ways doing this today. We're constantly seeing throwbacks to past eras in electronic music refurnished in new ways for audiences today. And I think that's wonderful.

In a business sense, in my opinion I think with the data and digital rich world we live in its about striking a balance between making use of the insights and tools we're given today and combining that with good old human connection and instinct. The magic is lost and the point of this culture is lost without the human community vibe - and I think we're very lucky to work in an industry today where we can reinforce gut instinct with real insights to map out the best way forward for our own business / artist / project.

What is a big mistake many DJs are making approaching the Asian market?

I'm not sure that this applies to just the Asian market but any market in general. I see a lot of artists and their teams going in for the short wins - cash in, get in and get out. I personally feel with any new market time and care must be taken to research the market properly, weigh up the long term potential of the market and identify whether the long game approach is smarter. Sometimes a new market may not pay well in the very beginning, but by investing in it long term, you're not only generating a long term income stream for your business / your artist - you're also contributing to the overall cultural health of the region in a positive way.

Two headline grabbing issues in Australia right now are the Sydney lockout laws and drug-testing or lack thereof in NSW. How do you see these issues playing out in the future and how will they be covered at the conference?

One of EMC's verticals is a one-day forum called Global Cities After Dark. It's focused on nighttime economy and culture, looking at this topic from a global perspective. This forum is on day one of EMC (Tuesday, November 13). We host this forum in partnership with Mirik Milan from Amsterdam, who's a Global Night Mayor Advocate and was previously Night Mayor of Amsterdam and is basically an all round legend and champion of nightlife around the world. The attendees of this forum are a mixture of creative drivers in nightlife space with government, police, urban planners and health and safety figures. So yes, we definitely cover all the issues around nightlife and health and safety.

There is currently some movement on the lockouts. Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore has for a long time been a strong and powerful voice that is anti-lockouts and there is currently discussion and exploration around incentivizing good nightlife operators with a repeal of the restrictions lockouts place on so many venues. The NSW Deputy Premier has recently called for the lockouts to be repealed by the end of 2018. This week, MP Robert Borsack presented a bill to the NSW Parliament to repeal the laws. A decision on this bill will be made by November 15. So who knows? Perhaps we will close EMC this year with much reason to celebrate. Generally, I have belief that these idiotic laws will be repealed. If not this year, then certainly in the coming 12 months or so. We have a state election in NSW in March 2019 and there is very low confidence in the current state government for so many reasons, lockouts being one of them. March next year can't come soon enough if you ask me!

Regarding the recent drug-related deaths at a festival in NSW, the NSW state government convened a "Safety at music festivals expert panel" earlier this month. This panel was made up of three people – the NSW Police Commissioner, NSW Chief Medical Officer and the Chair of the Office of Liquor and Gaming. It made sense of course to have the NSW Police Commissioner and a health expert of course. But what was concerning was:

a) Having the office of liquor and gaming on this panel immediately indicated that it would focus on regulation rather than focusing on this as a health issue;

b) The Chief Health officer, whilst an accomplished woman with a respected career her specialty in NSW health was not on drug use;

c) Most importantly, not one festival representative was invited to be on this panel.

There was a very swift alignment of the organizations and businesses in NSW that make up the festival sector. MusicNSW, our state music body drafted an open letter to the Premier requesting that this sector be effectively consulted in the process of this panel. Within 48 hours, over 70 organizations co-signed this letter. This included every major festival held in NSW, the health and safety services teams what work on the frontline at these festivals and numerous drug experts and academics including the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

Whilst there is not an unwavering belief that pill testing is the magic solution, it is a great shame that this government are not even willing to explore the outcomes of pilot tests that have occurred around the world. It seems close-minded and downright stupid to not be willing and open to literally explore every single option on the table right now. If an option can result in a saved life - isn't that worth it?

The government this week released their “Expert Panel Report,” which you can find here:

I personally don't agree with their recommendations. Issuing on the spot fines will not prevent people from taking substances, it will do exactly what the sniffer dog approach has done - it will influence people to take substances before they've even left for the festival. And this is one of the key health risks in my opinion. Undoubtedly, there will be a lot more to unfold on this issue over the course of the forthcoming summer down here.

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