Farah Nanji 0:00
Ben, thank you so much for joining us on Mission makers. We're delighted to have you here today. As we're speaking, we're halfway through ADE! What have been some of your goals going into this year's conference?
Ben Turner 0:15
I think it's strange to be back post-COVID. Just reconnecting with all these people in person, feels really different. We've just not been used to that way of working and doing meetings every 30 minutes. And it just feels very different. But it’s overwhelmingly positive that there are half a million people here in Amsterdam, you can barely walk down the street. People are here for this culture that we've all helped cultivate and build, and that we're so passionate about, from talks and panels to workshops to parties, it's just everywhere you go. It's a huge celebration of everything that this culture has become. And when you see the scale of what it is now, it's pretty mind-blowing.
Farah Nanji 1:14
Absolutely. It’s great to be back and reconnect with the industry. So what have been some of the key takeaways that you've observed? And also the critical messages that you've wanted to share this week?
Ben Turner 1:23
Well if you think pre-pandemic, Web3, Metaverse, NFTs and so on weren’t even in our vocabulary or our work. A little bit before, we were starting to look at how gaming and music could converge. But no one could have seen what came. And I think the pandemic really allowed the NFT world to cultivate. But we're only now beginning to see the results of all the experiments that artists are doing, whether it's Dixon or Richie Hawtin, there's so many amazing people who've gone very deep on this. And I do think, overwhelmingly, that has been what's come out of ADE this week. There's so many talks and experiments and ideas creativity, but monetization, is where I get excited about NFT's. There are so many cracks in our industry that we have felt. I’ve been in this business for 30 years and it's always frustrated me why people don't get paid for their work or why collecting societies monopolize all the music and don't distribute it fairly.
So Web3 to me was a promise, a belief that actually with the help of blockchain, we could finally make sure money went into the right places. We are in an early phase stage of that, so there are no guarantees it can achieve what we hope, but it's heading in the right direction. And these last few days have been full of new companies showcasing innovation around how to resolve these issues. I feel there's a willingness and and an understanding now within this industry that this is priority number one. 10 years ago, when I was pushing this message of get played, get paid, most people weren't listenin. And now I feel everyone understands the urgency of this topic. The DJs are nothing without the music. And the people who are making the music are suffering. They're not earning money because of streaming. And so I think it's upon our whole industry to listen, learn, innovate and fill these cracks. And whether its through Web3 that the cracks can be filled, or whether it's about starting a new model somewhere in between, are all the conversations I've left, very inspired by this week.
Farah Nanji 4:08
Exactly, it's the fact that as collective society, we want to see that change happen. And we're in a moment where we can build a better and safer and more trusted online world.
Ben Turner 4:31
I agree, and I think there's an older generation who have just accepted that it's broken, and it will never get fixed. But when I look at the younger generation, they're like, that's not right. How did you guys allow this to happen for 25 years and you didn't try to fix it? And I don't want that on my conscience. That's why I created IMS. That's why I created a trade body with the Association For Electronic Music, and the work that AFEM has been doing for 10 years is to shine a light on this huge, immoral situation. We didn't know how to fix it, we just knew that it had to be exposed. And now people are starting to come out of the woodworks to get to this middle point where people are getting what they deserve. And although you see it in other genres of music, there's something about electronic music that's so DIY and independent That's what inspired us about this music. That's why we loved it. That's why we all became successful at what we did, because, it was an open landscape to create your own ventures, but somehow, we're suffering more than I think many other genres of music.
Farah Nanji 6:00
Sometimes things have to get so broken before a new model is born out of necessity. Hopefully the pandemic has acted as an opportunity to gather virtually and reset.
Ben Turner 6:10
I think you're right. It was a huge watershed moment of realization. Suddenly the pandemic hit, and everyone's collecting every bit of money that was out there that they didn’t have the time to collect for the last 5 years. And hopefully, in that year, they learn that the money may not be important in the grand scheme of what you earn. But it's your money, so you should claim it, and you should have a system that automatically collects it. And, yeah, so I think it's a very exciting time especially for a lot of artists who can now find a way to express themselves through the visual format of what the metaverse offers, and what NFT's are offering.
Farah Nanji 7:48
I agree. As an artist, when you create music, it actually unlocks so much creativity in different areas. And although it shouldn’t, it acts as a crucial pivot away from the reliance on things like streaming. I don't know if you believe whether the mindset shift can ever be regained back for consumers to pay fairly for music because of things like Spotify and YouTube. Not many industries operate where the payment system is so appalling, where so many don’t know when their next paycheck is coming in.
Ben Turner 8:23
I think in what you said there, that’s what I’ve always felt the promise of NFT's was. For example, to bring you back to what it used to be like to own an album. I bought an album because I love the music, or quite often fell in love with the artwork, and the packaging. An album just felt like it was part of my life - it was an emotional relationship with that piece of music. And the creative that was often done with album artwork or, and the campaign's around it and the videos and the photography, centred around this relationship. Quite a mainstream reference, but I remember U2’s Joshua Tree album when I was very young. I The music, the art was beautiful. The documentary, the singles, the whole thing just connected. And I felt like I was in that world. And I understood why the record sounded like it did because it introduced me to America, the desert, the politics. And I think what we're trying to do with some of the projects we're involved in is, how can you bring that back? How can you make a record that isn't just about the audio, it has a visual message, it has a narrative as a political message, and visualize that through digital art moving up? To me, it brings it back to that thought process of don't just make the record and stick it on Spotify. Think about the whole creative campaign. Think about the visualization of it, the storytelling and narrative. Then you engage with people on a much deeper level, and they understand a bit more about the artist. Whereas right now, just from Spotify, what you get is a little picture that’s as small as my little finger and you're supposed to have an emotional resonance with that. I've come here this year, and what’s being discussed is transformational.
Farah Nanji 10:27
Which is exciting! You've touched on a lot. I read on your LinkedIn recently that aged 23, you moderated a panel here at ADE in it’s second year of the conference, and as your first time moderating. You said on your LinkedIn that you felt you're completely out of your depth. Since then you've gone on to achieve remarkable things for this industry; to protect, to preserve, to promote electronic music. And of course, one of those things most notably is founding IMS, which is dubbed as the TED of our industry. So I'm curious, what have you learned about moderating over these years?
Ben Turner 11:08
I've learned that I don't like doing it. And even though I run my own Conference, I think somehow when you're younger, you're a bit more fearless. I remember interviewing people I looked up to massively at the time. I felt I wasn't qualified enough being from a younger generation. People in the industry made you feel like that it’s a sort of London clique that you had to be a part of from the beginning. I’ve evolved a lot since then and now, running my own conference, I really think twice about agreeing to interview anybody and having the time to do it justice.
Farah Nanji 12:36
You have to give it your best self otherwise it doesn't do justice to the conversation and the audience. I noticed at ADE you've only had one thing, which was with Jaguar, right? So going back to earlier and the shelf life of music, and that it's important to create these different touchpoints, to give us a more timeless experience with music. Let’s touch upon the artists that you're involved with. You manage several groundbreaking artists, Richie Hawtin, ANNA, Sama’ Abdulhadi, they're all from such different walks of life. They all come from different countries, different cultures, different experiences. I'm very curious about the kind of management principles that have guided your leadership to these artists that are so different and unique in and of themselves.
Ben Turner 13:26
I'm just drawn to people with purpose. People who have a mission, who have an obstacle and they’ve owned it. With Richie it’s technology and innovation. With Sama’ its resilience, it's what she grew up with, and how she lives her life day to day and wants to help the Middle East Movement. With ANNA it’s this incredible purpose around wellness and well being and how that it can relate to her music and so they've all got their journeys and their vision. And I love that. There's so many amazing producers who just make great music. But there's not much to say about them. And they don't have much to say. Whereas I think I've just always been drawn to those kinds of artists who have a story and that's what I look for. You could make the best music in the world. And I could think you're going to be as big as Calvin Harris. But if you've got nothing to say, I don't know what I could do with you. I think because I come from a very strong media content background as a journalist in the first 10 years of my life, and then created, produced, and directed TV shows and documentaries, about our culture. I've always been focused on the story, the narrative and the meaning, you and that's just what's always driven me.
Farah Nanji 14:50
It's all about purpose. If you don't have that clarity, you can spend 20 years in this industry in a haze and you will will still come out of it asking the same question about what it truly is that drives you.
Ben Turner 15:01
And I think in a way that’s what I tried to translate through IMS, you know? IMS is a reflection of what I'm feeling and experiencing in the music business, my frustrations, my challenges, monetization, what are the issues of the day, mental health became a massive thing for IMS, through my own experiences of losing countless of people through suicide in the music industry. And why aren't we talking about this? And then suddenly after Avicii passed away everyone wanted to talk about it? And so everything has got to be purpose-drivenfor me to be inspired, interested and engaged.
Farah Nanji 15:45
Absolutely. Thank you for sharing that. Touching upon these hats, whether it's being on the advisory board for Plus Eight Equity, running IMS, the countless documentaries you’ve produced, the artists you manage, it's phenomenal. What would be your advice to fellow artists who are also similarly passionate about pursuing many things, but they're also extremely passionate about their creative art?
Ben Turner 16:32
I'm not proud of wearing so many hats, it's a bad thing. Friends say, “why don't you just focus on one thing”, but I just can’t. I've always loved connecting people, and relationships and opportunities. And I do that as a manager because that's my job is to see an opportunity and connect it. I see that through how I care about where this music goes. And so I've always had that sort of instinctive and inbuilt desire to make great connections and make things happen sometimes to my benefit and many times not. So I don't think it's a fault. I think I've created an ecosystem of people I trust, who helped me in my projects, or business partners, or managers, whatever that might be. And together, we understand my strengths and their strengths. And you can't do all of those things you just described fully. You’re half in some, and often others. So for me, it's always just been about connecting the dots. I think if you're an artist, going back to your question a little bit is, one thing I've always tried to educate my artists is that I've seen very many very famous DJs reach the age of 50. And realize that they own nothing monetarily or asset wise. If you actually haven't built a brand, or built a record label, or created tech and so on you need to ask yourself “what do I actually own?” And that doesn't mean that people shouldn't just live in the moment and just be free. I see many DJs do that. And they have a great life. They've got no stress. I see someone like Richie who works so hard because of all of his projects and his companies. But I do think building an asset base and being educated and from experience, for example probably one of the most famous things I ever did was a magazine called Muzik. At 21 years of age, someone offered a million pounds to launch a magazine. But no one ever came to me about ownership. I didn't have a lawyer at that time. My parents didn't know about that stuff. I was just like, “Yeah, great. Pay me 40 grand a year,” and it was 25 years ago. It was a lot of money. I'll work my ass off for this magazine, I'll give my entire life to that magazine and to dance music. And then I came out of it after five years and I was like, wow, I don't own anything. The magazines own this. That's when I became an entrepreneur, because I started to realize all the energy and time you put in, you need to own something of that. So I do think the more younger people understand that the better. Because it is important.
Farah Nanji 20:11
Well, we're moving into this creators economy. It’s important to learn from a company so you understand how an industry works. But then you go and create a vision yourself. And you bring different aspects of your passions into those both those industries,
Ben Turner 20:50
That’s exactly how I looked at it. I definitely take on too much. That's a fault. But you learn over time, and now I'm at a point in my life, where boundaries are everything, I'm a father now and a husband, they have a different kind of responsibility, which is not too different to managing your talent, but ultimately, it's about that connection, you have got to give yourself that time.
Farah Nanji 21:14
Tallking about boundaries, the way that music gets done, the business part of it, your team becomes a family. And of course the boundaries can get slightly blurred, you're working with people that will become or are already close friends. And, this is not just unique to the music industry. This topic is topical amongst many industries, but I'm just wondering how you see the evolvement of professionalism, in our industry, and advice on working with friends?
Ben Turner 21:42
You should only get into business ventures with people you trust and many times, you can't choose because partners come with situations. And I've been in many ventures with people where I just can't believe I'm in business with. But they came because they are representing an artist, and those are the partners that came on the other side, they're funding it. When you're taking money, you can't necessarily choose that person. So it’s really difficult. I've generally had good experiences working with people who I call friends. Probably more so than people who I didn't call friends. So I don't think there's a problem with that. As long as you again, are clear on boundaries. I've built very strong relationships in business, through friendships, I think being a good judge of character is absolutely critical. It's a bit like a relationship with someone. Only when you live with them, do you really see how they are as people. And it's the same with businesses, sometimes you can be way too deep in before you realize, wow, that guy is actually not that trustworthy, or I don't like how he conducts himself. And so I think it's one of the hardest things in life to choose the right business partners. And then if it's not going right, how the hell do you get out of that situation?
Farah Nanji 23:28
Yeah, but also I think true friends want you to win, right?
Ben Turner 23:34
Exactly. And to me that is centred around trust. The number one thing in an artist manager relationship is trust, if you don't trust that person, don't be in that relationship. And I think I've prided myself on that trust and being honourable.
Farah Nanji 23:53
Absolutely and intuition as well. So last few questions for you, Ben. I know that you are extremely passionate about championing change, and you have been doing that for so many decades. The facts still remain though that only 2% of producers in the electronic music industry today are female. Yet this is an industry that prides itself on being innovative and forward-thinking. I’m sure we can talk about this for hours but how can the industry take the right steps?
Ben Turner 24:33
I think we’ve gotten in right with DJs right, there are as many young female artists coming through as men. When it comes to producers though, I agree it's less and it’s a huge issue. Still, I've done so much work with AFEM and with IMS to try to create that balance, working closely with movements like Shesaid.so and Andrea to fully embrace how they think and how they work to make it work for my ventures, but ultimately I think it's about change at the top. It's about changing the people who really are seen to control the industry, that needs a changing of the guard. And I think that takes time.
Farah Nanji 25:52
Yes and also it's change from the grassroots level, right? And that obviously takes time to implement. Fiinal question, talking about timelines here, what in your opinion is the single most important change that needs to happen one year from now, five years from now and 10 years from now in the music industry?
Ben Turner 26:18
My God, that's a question. Well, I think the royalty system is massive. That won't take one year, that's 10 years. And I think we're making steps in that direction, I think Web3 will have a strong impact especially on those who don’t do their job properly. I think the most urgent thing is the toxicity around bullying, around gender, and sexual harassment. I don't know what process we need to go through to flush out everyone's grievances, and their issues. But the mindset needs to shift. There are people running companies in our culture, who are not aligned. There's loads of people who come into this business for the money. So for those reasons they're the ones who seem to get it wrong when it comes to inspiring change in their companies. And that, to me, is not easy to fix that. But there are people trying, and organisations fighting very hard to make people look at things differently. I think we achieved gender balance on talent lineups. I very rarely now look at a lineup that's all male. I don't even need to say to my agents, there needs to be a female on that lineup. They know not to present that to me, or Richie, or otherwise I work with without that. That's a massive achievement. But it's not enough. And so now it's about diversity. And then it's about companies. This was a beautiful industry when I got into it, it was a beautiful industry for most of it. Somehow I feel right now it’s in a really negative corner. And it's being backed into a corner. Some of these companies have existed for 25 years, and they've been run by five different people in 10 years. Change comes from the top list. It comes from the top and the bottom, and it meets in the middle. And so I think there's a long way to go.
Farah Nanji 29:38
I think COVID flushed out a few of the bad players too, so hopefully that's a good step. Ben, thank you so much, it’s been an absolute honour. Andnthank you so much for your honest and unfiltered insights. All the best.