AFEM (Association for Electronic Music) is the trade body for the entire ecosystem of Electronic Music, from Labels to Live, Managers to Media, Technology to Talent. They connect their worldwide membership to develop business opportunities and drive change in the industry where needed.
The idea to form AFEM started at IMS Ibiza in 2012 when the conference ran a survey in real time on the last day, asking the audience to vote on pertinent questions. Ben Turner, IMS partner, asked the audience whether electronic music needed a global voice. Everyone clicked ‘yes’ and Ben just said ‘anyone who’s interested, let’s meet in the lobby afterwards and make something happen.’ Prior to this, there really wasn’t an organisation that you could turn to as a temperature check for electronic music as a whole. Ben had identified the need for a body to represent the interests and ensure the longevity of the genre.
With the close help of industry lawyer Kurosh Nasseri, formerly attorney to Deep Dish and later Paul van Dyk and Traxsource, things started to move quickly and that first group who met up in the hotel lobby became an embryonic board of around 13 advisors when the project officially launched at MIDEM music conference at Cannes in 2013. By IMS 2013 in May, the number of advisors had grown to 40 including some of the most influential figures in the electronic music industry, and AFEM was formally born. In 2015 the first democratically elected AFEM Executive Board was put in place following a formal membership vote - (details of our Board of Advisor and Executive Board can be found here.) Moving forward to 2019, our membership has grown to 165 companies across 20 countries ranging from key industry leaders such as Mixmag, Beatport, WME, CAA, Toolroom, Soundcloud, Pioneer DJ, !K7, FUGA through to brand new start-ups.
What is AFEM’s ultimate mission and who do you benefit?
AFEM is the global trade association for electronic music businesses, representing our culture, commerce and community. Our members operate across every sector of the industry - we have publishers, labels, artist managers, agents, retailers, distributors, streaming platforms, tech services, lawyers and many others. All types of businesses operating within electronic music. We work to connect this ecosystem of members to develop business opportunities and drive change in the industry where needed. Ultimately we endeavour to ensure a sustainable creative, cultural and commercial future for the genre in tandem with a focus on health, harm reduction and diversity. Our members benefit from networking opportunities and ‘business to business’ introductions across sectors and territories. We hold regular sessions around the world providing cross-industry insights and an opportunity to raise/feedback on the key issues. By getting involved in our Working Groups, members can directly influence and add their voice to our initiatives and campaigns.
Although our members get the most direct benefits from AFEM, the positive impact of our initiatives on the industry resonate far beyond our membership.
What effect do you think AFEM has on the electronic music community?
It provides the electronic music community with a platform to discuss and work towards solving industry problems, to share knowledge and make new connections. It is the effect we have on the wider industry that is also key. Through uniting as a trade body we provide a collective voice and lobbying power where necessary for all legislative, commercial and industry issues as they relate to the genre.
How do you think AFEM’s initiatives differ than others?
Whereas other industry bodies represent only one specific sector - like the MPA is for publishers, AIM and A2IM are for independent labels, MMF is for managers etc, our initiatives are set up to have broader benefits cross-industry for all those involved electronic music commerce and culture. For example, AFEM’s Get Played Get Paid campaign has a simple objective - when electronic music is played in clubs or at festivals by DJs, the artists, writers, publishers and labels of the music actually played should receive the royalties due. Clubs and festivals all over the world pay license fees to Collective Rights Management Organisations (CMOs) for the music played at events, but obtaining accurate DJ setlist information has, historically, proved a challenge for these organisation.
Our campaign advocates for music recognition technology deployment at these events and has gained significant traction. In the 4 years since the campaign launched, we have seen a shift of CMOs in only 3 territories deploying tech options in clubs and at festivals to capture DJ setlist information, to the current status of CMOs in 18 territories committing to use these technologies. In contrast to this commercially focused initiative, our Safe In Sound initiative, which is driven by our Health Working Group, is focused on protecting mental and physical health of fans and professionals. Their recent activity has been to raise awareness of key issues relating to mental health and tinnitus at numerous conferences globally. Work will continue with the publication of a new mental health guide, tailored for our industry and scheduled for launch later this year.
These are just two examples of our initiatives but our working groups are tackling many more issues and topics like diversity & inclusion, anti-piracy, metadata best practice, defining sustainable ecosystem models for electronic music growth in developing markets. So essentially the main difference between our initiatives and those of other trade bodies is that ours have a global focus and a genre-focus rather than being single industry sector-focused.
How do some of the specific initiatives, like the green initiative, affect the music community as a whole?
AFEM's newly formed Green Initiative working group aims to partner with existing professionals who are already experts in this field. The idea is to utilise their expertise to help address five key issues which have been identified as being particularly relevant to electronic music events worldwide. These include:
1. Addressing pollution from single-use plastics (like straws, cups, glitter etc and which are now banned in the EU).
2. The provision of clean, cold, free drinking water at all clubs and events to further reduce single-use plastics and enhance consumer safety.
3. Making events carbon neutral and putting in place carbon offsetting measures wherever possible.
4. The ending of using diesel to power festivals.
5. The move for all clubs, festivals, industry workers and businesses to use green, clean sustainable energy to power their work.
By working with experts across these areas, AFEM hopes to amplify their work in the electronic music industry. By encouraging leaders in our industry to adopt best practice in safeguarding our environment we hope that others will follow suit. There will come a time when it just won't be cool to attend events which are not trying their best to look after the environment. Commercial pressure from consumers (clubbers and festival goers) is often a key persuading factor in helping businesses and individuals adopt greener practices. AFEM aims to show thought leadership in this area and make a positive contribution towards protecting our planet and industry so that future generations can enjoy environmentally sustainable festival and club experiences.
How do you decide which companies to partner with?
The criteria to join AFEM is quite simple - membership is offered to any company who are active within electronic music. An annual membership fee is charged which is based on each company’s annual turnover. We look to make it fair so larger and growing companies who can afford to pay a higher or mid-level fee do so, while smaller companies and startups pay less.
How does AFEM plan to be more present internationally?
Although there are plans to expand, I’d say we had a significant international presence in 2018, running a mixture of AFEM events, panels or membership meetings in 12 territories: Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Malta, Netherlands, Spain, UK, USA.
We hope to build on this in a number of ways. There are early stage plans to develop AFEM local chapters in South America and China where a locally managed arm of the organisation would look to connect the key players and build a local agenda per territory. We are also looking to deploy Regional Managers in a broader set of territories as the membership grows.
What advice do you have for independent artists trying to make a career in the music industry?
My advice would be, as well as focusing hard on making original and inspiring music, take some time to understand how the wider industry works. This will provide you with the basic tools to make good decisions when choosing the industry partners you may wish to work with - whether that is choosing a manager, publisher, label or agent. I’d also suggest never to sign a contract unless you fully understand what you are signing or have had proper legal advice. Finally, be persistent in your creative pursuits, be patient, be nice to people and look after your health.
How is spreading knowledge through conferences, panels, etc important to the AFEM mission?
Conferences provide a platform for AFEM to change the narrative in the industry through panels which focus the conversation on the most important topics of the time. We have numerous conference partners worldwide and these events gather the key players as well as the industry disruptors of tomorrow so they are ideal education and connection opportunities.
How do you think the music industry has changed for artists/songwriters in the last 10 years, and what do you think still needs to change that can ultimately benefit artists?
On the positive side, the number of digital creative tools available for composing, recording and producing music has expanded and access to these tool has become much cheaper over the past 10 years. It has never been less costly to record, mix and master a releasable quality recording than it is today. This, however, also presents a challenge because with more music being made and released than ever before, it means that greater attention to detail and originality is required in both the music and the marketing for both new and established artists’ work to stand out. It has certainly become more challenging for many artists and songwriters to make a living solely from recordings sales / streams, with most now also needing to tour or DJ to generate sufficient income.
However, there are still income opportunities for the non-touring songwriter/producer in composing music for media, production libraries and ghost production which can be explored. As for what needs to change that can ultimately benefit artists - top of my list is increasing transparency and accuracy of how artists / writers are paid for the usage of their music, whether that be accuracy of royalties to artists for the music that DJs play at events, music streamed, sold online or broadcast. This will require greater cross-industry collaboration - adoption of music recognition technologies for music reporting, PROs / NROs linking recordings and song publishing metadata to ensure all music usages are correctly matched and paid, and the adoption of metadata best practice by labels, publishers, managers and artists (AFEM & CI Metadata Best Practice Guide can be found here).
What does 2019 look like for AFEM?
It looks bright and busy! Our global meetings and conference calendar can be found here. For anyone interested in learning more about AFEM or joining, please visit https://www.associationforelectronicmusic.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org