Next week, some of us here at UMA are flying out (for the second year in a row) to one of the most relevant music conferences the industry has on offer, FastForward; but before we pack our toothpaste, I met up with conference organiser, Chris Carey. Who better to give us the lowdown on the second iteration of FastForward than the conference organiser himself?
With just one week to go before we all touch down in Amsterdam, Carey, who also heads up research firm Media Insight Consulting, tells us what he’s looking forward to most about the event and discusses a topic that’s sparked plenty of discussion over the last year — diversity in the music industry.
FastForward has a 50/50 gender balance within its speaker line-up, and Carey and team have also made efforts to aim for ethnic diversity too. Read on to hear about the difficulties in achieving that, and what to expect next week.
Hello Chris! Congratulations on successfully organising your second conference. Why did you launch FastForward initially?
I’m a big fan of other conferences like SXSW and The Great Escape – and I encourage other people to keep going to those – but I felt there was an opportunity to do something new, aimed at people who don’t normally go to those conferences because their bosses are there. The objective – by aiming at those under 35 – was to get bright like-minded people in the room to talk about the future they want to see for an industry they are going to be in for another 25-30 years, and meet those at a similar life stage while they are establishing themselves and building their network.
What are the most difficult and satisfying elements of launching a conference?
For the debut FastForward event last year, we managed to put on an international conference for 150 people in about three and a half months! Logistics, international delivery, and making sure health and safety laws were covered was particularly challenging. Another hurdle we’ve been proud to overcome is making sure we’ve got a good balance of male and female speakers and good ethnic diversity. In terms of wins, the positive press around year one with Forbes being the first people to write about it as well as widespread coverage across the trade press was particularly satisfying. Also, everyone had a great time, friendships and business deals were made, and there is genuine excitement about year two.
How does FastForward tie into what you do at Media Insight Consulting?
We work with some top tier clients and must stay on top of key movements in the market. We enjoy using our contacts and expertise from Media Insight Consulting in pulling together a really stellar line up of speakers and learning from the people we bring together. It’s fascinating for us to discuss what the key topics are for the year ahead and what it is that people are excited about, which ensures we deliver a high-quality event – and that our research doesn’t just exist in a bubble, but matches with the business needs for our clients.
You mentioned your diverse line-up of speakers there and it reminded me of this article by the Association of Independent Music’s Marketing and Events Director, Lara Baker, talking about how difficult it was to achieve a 50/50 gender balance for Indie Con. How hard was it for you?
I have to be honest, I’m really proud of what we have achieved but it has taken a lot deliberate energy and effort to achieve that balance. One of the things we hope FastForward can do is to highlight talent so that when other conferences are looking for someone who is really good at marketing, management, music tech, or in the gaming space, our line up can be a point for people to call upon and to showcase some of the excellent talent that is out there.
Lara said she got a lot turned down by a lot of female speakers who then passed on the opportunity to a male colleague. Do you share that experience?
Yes, we have had occasions when excellent female speakers have passed on their invitation to a male colleague. Also, in our experience these last 2 years, female speakers had many more questions before they said yes compared to male speakers. A guy was more likely to jump in and say, ‘Yeah I can do that,’ whereas females were less likely to do so. We have told some of our female speakers, ‘We don’t want your male colleague, we want you’ and there are speakers who are coming out for that reason. The best way to get good at public speaking is practice and one of the things we see FastForward doing is providing a platform for that exposure so when speakers get their next request, we hope they answer yes straight away.
Why is diversity important to you?
Different backgrounds bring different points of view, and that enriches the conversation. By bringing a diverse crowd together we’re trying to expand the conversation because we want diversity, it’s because we have been missing stuff for ages, we haven’t been hearing these voices, and we are poorer for it.
Last year at FastForward, Catherine Lückhoff from Nichestreem asked, ‘How do African artists who are currently recording onto tape get into the blockchain? This is going to become a barrier to entry for emerging markets, rather than an enabler.’ It’s a perspective that would never have been on my radar had we not had someone who works across Africa sat in the room to share that perspective with us.
Tell us what’s new about FastForward this year.
The event is a little longer, starting Thursday morning and doing two full conference days rather than a day and a half. We’ve got a wider speaker line-up so there are 49 people speaking this year across two days. We’ve kept our FastFifteen format that features experts on a specialist topic talking from an intermediate level through to an expert level very quickly, which worked well last year and was one of the big things we did differently to other conferences.
Continuing our theme of learning from outside music we have added a gaming panel, we’ve got a few VR speakers and a Twitch streamer (like a YouTuber but in gaming) and added a music and tech panel.
The other big change is the addition of a demo zone. It’s one thing talking about VR or MQA’s high quality sound , it’s quite another to see and hear it. We’ve also got StubHub talking about and demoing chat bots. If we are going to talk about the future, we should understand it. The demo zone will bring to life some of the things we are talking about and we are really pleased to be able to deliver that.
What are you looking forward to the most about next week?
I’m really looking forward to the speakers. We’ve got Emmy Lovell from Warner, she’s excellent, Emily Scoggins from The O2, and Bosun Adu coming over to talk about the Nigerian market. We’ve got Fabio Martinelli flying in from Serbia to talk about the challenges of working in eastern Europe, and a ticketing panel discussion focusing on whether the growth of live can continue, as well as the music, tech and gaming side. There is a lot to be excited about! I’m also looking forward to growing the FastForward community, seeing more deals done and more friendships made.
Last question. Ambitions for FastForward as a brand?
I can’t say too much. We have big ambitions. All I can say for now is watch this space!Visit FastForward Website