Dougal Perman was SMIA Chair from April 2016 to March 2023. He reflects on his time as chair, how the organisation has changed and how he found the role.
“Music, maths and love — the three universal languages.’’ So said great family friend, John, to me when his wife was tutoring me in maths for my Standard Grades. Like many of us I use all three languages daily; his comment really resonated with me.
How important is music? After you’ve satisfied the essential elements of food, warmth and shelter, culture is, I think, fundamental to human life. And I would put music in the heart of culture as the art-form that brings us together, helps us connect with ourselves and each other, and makes the world a better place. That said, it’s a tough time to work in music. The music industry has faced an especially unfair amount of turmoil, disruption and destruction over the past few years. There are opportunities, though, and there’s definitely a need for collaboration, open mindedness and innovation. And there’s very much a place for trade bodies like the SMIA. I was chair of Scotland’s trade body for music business for seven years. I stood down in March 2023 and Robert and Daria invited me to reflect on my time with the company.
Credit: Euan Robertson
“We’re going to have to ditch one of the hexagons. It won’t fit on the stage!” It’s fortunate that many involved were adept problem solvers, because the first Scottish Album of the Year Award Ceremony presented multiple opportunities to solve problems. Film City Glasgow was a dynamic, slightly chaotic, exciting hive of activity on that day in June 2012. Would the event production come together? Would the nominated artists make it on time? Would Fiona Hyslop, the recently appointed Cab Sec for Culture, turn up to present the inaugural award? What would the industry audience make of the event? What if people got too drunk? Where would we have the after party? Would we pull this off and be able to do it again?*
*Answers: yes, yes, yes, they liked it, they didn’t (those I saw, anyway), Sleazy’s, hell yeah.
From an idea first mooted by Stuart Braithwaite in 2011, at a board meeting one evening over coffee in the old Glasgow Jazz Festival office, which became an idea developed by a small group of us — over phone calls and emails, in cafes and pubs — pitching it to then Creative Scotland director Caroline Parkinson, to our then chair Stewart Henderson persuading Fiona Hyslop to fund the first SAY Award campaign, the project that soon became established, and internationally recognised as, Scotland’s national music prize was an inspiring thing to be part of. Fellow long-serving board member Greg Kane and I have reminisced about how a small group of us came together to do something great. The SAY Award, and indeed the SMIA as a whole, has attracted its share of criticism over the years — bring it on, we’re always listening — and while some of my colleagues took that to heart, I was of the opinion that it meant we were being constructively disruptive and making a difference.
My involvement with the Scottish Music Industry Association has been eventful throughout my time with the company. I got involved as a director, became vice chair and then chair, helped the organisation achieve quite a lot, learned even more in the process and made some great friends along the way.
I have enjoyed playing music with people from other countries and cultures, regardless of language barriers; jamming blues with Norwegians, playing jazz with Danes, rock with Mexicans, techno with French and Germans and DJing with people in Spain, Indonesia and Brazil. I think music transcends most things and is innate in the way people think, feel and communicate. Music does make the world a better place (as written on an old PPL tote bag). So when I got the chance to work for an organisation trying to play its part in helping further opportunities for the Scottish industry, I got stuck right in.
Music has always played a big part in my life. Growing up in Edinburgh with joint passions for music and media (inescapable as the son of two journalists and huge music fans), I was drawn to entertainment media. Working as a writer for magazines and newspapers including The List and The Herald, I fell in love with radio while studying at University of Glasgow; immersing myself in the student station SubCity. That led to my friend Tom Lousada and I co-founding our production company Inner Ear when we graduated in 2000. We launched our internet radio station Radio Magnetic in 2001 (back when that was a new thing).
My involvement in the music industry has mostly been through music media, creating content, licensing, commissioning and soundtracking music for audio, video, radio and TV and interactive programmes, producing live streamed coverage of gigs, clubs, concerts, festivals and showcases and promoting music content through digital channels (I often joke that I know more than I wish I did about music rights). I’ve also promoted gigs and club nights, performed in ensembles and bands (albeit not in a professional capacity) and DJ’d in many clubs and festivals. I was drawn into life with the SMIA in 2009 by the editor of The Skinny at the time. I joined the board that October and became enveloped in a small company that was trying to do big things.
My predecessors as chairs — Tam Coyle, Caroline Winn and Stewart Henderson — inspired and motivated me. In 2010 I devised a membership system for the SMIA. We launched free membership and attracted hundreds of members who joined us and started an open dialogue. When Stewart became chair, I was his vice chair. I look back on those days fondly. I really liked working with Stewart; we achieved a lot together. We didn’t agree on everything but we had a great dialogue and we learned a lot from each other. I keep using the word inspire, but it definitely applies to how I think of Stewart. Anyway, with the support of our fellow directors, executive staff and a close group of active members, we started the SAY Award. It’s well worth noting that while I was a co-founder of the project and was intimately involved with it during its first ten years, and there has been a big team, and wider network of people who have worked tirelessly to develop it, there are really two people I cite as titanic champions of its cause. Without the monumental efforts of first Stewart Henderson and then Robert Kilpatrick there would be no SAY Award. (More of the latter later.)
That project would have been enough to consume more than the modest time and resources we had, but it wasn’t enough to sustain the company so we tried to strike a balance between building the profile and bringing money into the SAY Award and fundraising for the SMIA’s industry information and development work. Small arts bodies, especially sector development organisations, often strive to achieve as much as they think is possible, doing much more work than they are paid for in the process. The SMIA (or rather the team that runs it) has found itself in that position many times. Former board colleague and great source of support, Claire Mackay, referred to the extra work that our general manager Robert Kilpatrick, and several of us on the board (especially Claire and I) put in as a “sticking plaster” to the SMIA’s wounds caused by lack of human and financial resources.
We lived hand to mouth; many arts bodies do. Numerous creative industries companies do too. I know that first hand from running both the SMIA and my own company. In terms of company finances I’ve gone from rags to riches and back again several times. It’s an exhausting position to be in, and one in which so many of us find ourselves. The SMIA was in this position from when it began in 2008 for ten years. But from 2012 we managed to raise a lot of money each year to run the SAY Award and curate industry events, run workshops and do some hands-on work with businesses and individuals working in the industry.
I took over as chair in April 2016. Before Stewart left, the board at the time voted me in. I tried to build on what we had done together, inspired (that word again) by his leadership. Then our administrator Caroline Cooper left for another job. We recruited a young man who had interned for Stewart and Caroline, Robert Kilpatrick. Robert and I didn’t know each other that well but got on instantly. Although the relationship was different in that I was a director and chair of the board and Robert was then our sole employee (who seemed to do the work of ten people), I think Robert and I worked together just as well as Stewart and I had. I could write a book about all the things we did together, but in the first year or so there are several significant episodes that defined the future of the SMIA, and impacted on the music industry in Scotland and how it has been perceived by its peers, contemporaries outwith Scotland and government.
Still working hand-to-mouth, we applied for project funding from Creative Scotland and several other sources, and sold sponsorship packages for the SAY Award. I was invited to join Fiona Hyslop’s Creative Industries Advisory Group, which was co-chaired by post-punk pioneer-turned film producer Bob Last, who I already knew quite well (as Inner Ear’s first client) and really looked up to. As I have regularly in my time at SMIA, I experienced quite a bit of imposter syndrome. But I’m reasonably good at putting that aside and giving it a go anyway. The group was really interesting and helped me learn a lot about the challenges, problems, opportunities and successes of other businesses and industry sectors.
Trying to find ways to finance the SMIA, Robert and I were approached by a lovely woman called Lynn who ran a rehearsal studio and was very entrepreneurial and even more hard working. We got involved in a music education project run by Global Radio. The budget was significant enough to interest us, and it enabled us to try out some of our ideas around pathways into employment. Through my own company, Inner Ear, I also won a Scottish Enterprise tender to do a piece of research and consultancy on growing the potential for music tourism development in Glasgow. I already had a keen interest in that subject, having done some interesting work with Olaf Furniss on the topic. Those two projects gave us a focus throughout 2017. But we also had an interesting trip to Aberdeen.
We were invited by John Anderson of 57° North in Aberdeen to what we thought was a networking event. Pushed for time, Robert and I arrived somewhat flustered, having dispatched my partner Anny and son Errol (aged two at the time) to the hotel. I asked John what the format of the event was and he looked at me slightly concerned and said, “er, it’s a panel discussion which I hoped you would chair.” So I did. With two minutes notice. It went quite well (luckily I knew my fellow panellists well) and we had a productive evening. The following morning Robert brought up the subject that former Creative Scotland staffer turned consultant Jennifer McGlone put him up to: we should apply to be a regularly funded organisation.
I’ve told this story quite often but I’ve never put it out there publicly. Robert and I both knew we had a strong case. But there were only two weeks left until the deadline. Inner Ear’s clients are in music, theatre, dance, heritage and many forms of culture. I knew how much work companies put into their RFO applications. I was very reluctant to attempt the application. The form itself was actually quite simple, mostly because it depended on having a strong business plan. We were overdue reworking ours and had been gathering material for it for the past year, drawing on everything we had done and were doing. But we hadn’t written it yet.
The day after the rush to the Anatomy Rooms in Aberdeen, we were co-promoting a rights workshop with PRS and 57° North. Once it was up and running Robert and I sat down in a back room with a large pad of paper. I sat for a while, thought for a bit, then started sketching. Robert will tell you better than me how it went, I think, but I basically drew a mind map for how the SMIA could work with individuals and businesses in the music industry in Scotland and run largely commercially-funded projects like the SAY Award. We came up with a lot of ideas that day and then refined them on the way home. I brainstormed a lot of it with Anny and Robert in the car. Anny had worked on the SAY Award in digital media and marketing capacities in the early days and knew the SMIA well. Robert and Anny listened to me rant about how we could restructure the company to work to represent and develop the Scottish industry. And then when we got back I wrote most of the business plan, with Robert’s input and support, and we wrote the application together.
Our application was successful. We created a plan that reshaped the SMIA and set a course that had a significant impact on our lives, work and what we did with all the industry practitioners we worked with. I don’t tell this story to boast about how you can write a winning application in two weeks. Partly because I think that’s a ludicrous notion and partly because we didn’t do that. As a writer, content producer and strategist I think I’m like many creative people in that most of my work is done in my head, processing everything I experience. In all my time at SMIA, with everyone I met, through all the board meetings I participated in and chaired, in debates with politicians and associates, conversations with government officials and negotiations with sponsors, I had absorbed a large amount of ideas and data which I parsed, processed, analysed and distilled into the plan on which we based our application. I’d say it was the culmination of about six-to-nine months worth of work. I read slowly and write quickly. But that is only possible because of the large amount of time I’ve spent doing, learning and thinking beforehand.
We wrote the application, and the business plan upon which it was based, submitted it and then got on with the projects we had to deliver, including the 2017 SAY Award — taking place that year in Paisley, our wonderful home for three years. While we were waiting to find out the results of our RFO application my Glasgow music tourism report for Scottish Enterprise was concluded (I remember finishing the first draft and sending it from Paisley Town Hall during the lunch break while we were setting up for the SAY Award, but don’t tell anyone that). We then went on to host several events based upon the report, and got Industry feedback which fed into further work. The following year several MSPs were motivated to hold a debate in Holyrood based upon our report’s recommendations, which I was very proud of (thank you MSPs Adam Tompkins, Tom Arthur, Claire Baker and Sandra White).
I’ve always kept detailed budgets, spending records and cash flow forecasts. Robert and I knew the SMIA’s reserves were dwindling and we couldn’t raise enough to keep the company running properly. He made the difficult decision to leave and went to London to work for PPL. The next few months were tough. I had some very open and honest conversations with people across the industry and in government about our position. Then one morning in early January, we got an email from Creative Scotland informing us that we were successful in becoming a Regularly Funded Organisation. When the results were published, Stewart Henderson texted me and said, “congratulations on the RFO! You should try to tempt Robert back. That boy’s a fucking marvel!” Robert was the first person I called. We were both delighted, of course, if a little daunted.
Robert did come back from London, leaving PPL on good terms, strengthening our relationship with them. We got our first instalment of RFO money in April 2018 which enabled our restructuring of the company to deliver our plan to represent and develop the industry in Scotland. I became part time Executive Chair — running Inner Ear for the rest of my time. Robert was our General Manager. We recruited new board members in 2016 and 2019. We activated several strands of our plan, delivering business skills workshops, industry advice sessions and partnering with trade bodies, sector development organisations and conventions to help develop the business people behind the artists. We piloted a high-level consultancy project called Music Business Innovation (I took the name from an event Inner Ear produced for Scottish Enterprise in 2010 in which I involved the SMIA) and did some additional ad hoc business advice sessions for music businesses on financial planning, project management and marketing. I devised several research projects including a PhD in collaboration with University of Glasgow on Mapping And Measuring The Music Industry In Scotland, conducted by Robert Allan (of Glasvegas fame). And, of course, we went for it with the SAY Award, continuing in Paisley then moving to Edinburgh before its current home in Stirling — all excellent hosts.
Since we became an RFO, we delivered a lot of projects and assessed their effectiveness and benefit; keeping what worked and revamping those which weren’t as effective. Over the last few years we recruited and worked with some interesting, talented people such as Blue Kirkhope, Hilary Goodfellow (to run the SAY Award events), Tommy McCormack, Charys Newton, Ronnie Gurr and Daria Jaszcz. In 2021 I moved back from being Executive Chair to non-exec Chair, to focus on chairing the board and driving vision and strategy, although I never really felt less busy than when I had been working day to day running the company.
The COVID-19 pandemic turned everything upside down for the music industry. It was like the realisation of a horrific thought experiment: what if you took the major source of revenue for musicians, freelancers and music businesses — live performance — and prevented it from being able to operate? How would the industry cope? The SMIA moved to doing everything online and tried to keep our development activities moving while figuring out how best to handle industry representation, which we had never been fully resourced to do justice to. In early lockdown I remember being asked by government civil servants for a comment on how the pandemic would affect venues. I misread the email and thought they wanted figures so I used some of the methodology we had employed for our music tourism research (itself based on Oxford Economics’ work for UK Music’s excellent Wish You Were Here reports), contacted a cross section of independent venues around Scotland, gathered data and produced a reasonable estimate that the enforced closure of venues would cost the industry £18M during the first lockdown. When a journalist got hold of this piece of quickfire research a while later and pressed me on it, I couldn’t figure out how they knew about what I’d done, but it was quite a useful basis on which to hold important conversations with government ministers and their aides.
A group of successful business people across the live music sector got together to form the Scottish Commercial Music Industry Taskforce in June 2020; a campaign group to lobby for the collective rights of their sector. I was a founding member and over the next year developed a good relationship with them. We conducted research collectively which I then analysed and produced reports which formed a significant part of the lobbying we all did on behalf of freelancers and businesses throughout the music industry. Creative Scotland went into overdrive. I was very impressed by the dedication of their staff, thrown from being investors in artistic development into providers of emergency funding. I worked with Creative Scotland closely and often spoke with the Enterprise agencies (HIE, SE and SOSE), EventScotland/VisitScotland and Skills Development Scotland. Through the Creative Industries Leadership Group (as CIAG had become known), I was asked to chair a working group researching how to increase resilience in the Creative Industries in Scotland. Though all of this activity I spoke regularly with other trade bodies, creative unions (especially the MU), our contemporaries in other art forms across the Scottish sector development organisations, and steered some valuable research work on the impact of Brexit and potential for the formation of a Scottish Music Export Office to drive international trade opportunities.
The pandemic was almost certainly the most challenging and difficult time in my life. Robert and I both suffered personally during that time. I learnt a lot about resilience and I think we eventually came through it with a much deeper understanding of the dangers of overwhelm, importance of boundaries and work-life balance. Mental health has been a recurring topic in the creative industries. There’s been some great work done on it in the music industry by bodies like Help Musicians, SWIM and the Musician’s Union. I could write a book on the importance of self care, resilience and how to avoid overwhelm, especially amongst the constant demands of endless video meetings (tip: turn off your camera and do them as audio meetings, ideally while going for a walk).
Opportunities present themselves during difficult times. In overcoming challenges, you can find openings if you have a positive mindset, think laterally and work hard. Anyone can do that, I think, but it isn’t easy. I’ve seen too many companies and individuals go out of business as a result of the pandemic. I was very fortunate to be able to keep working throughout, kept very busy through the SMIA and Inner Ear. I was often too busy, which weighed me down, but ultimately I appreciate that was a good problem to have. It felt like a kick in the teeth to the creative industries, and the music industry in particular, that we emerged from a period of lockdowns into the cost of living crisis; made much worse by the nightmare flash in the pan premiere-ship of Liz Truss and her best efforts to trash the UK economy. But the show must go on, we just have to find the right tune.
Some of the positives that came out of the pandemic include the move to more digital ways of doing business and researching audiences. I’ve watched, and participated in, the enthusiasm for live streaming and other forms of remote participation with interest. As a pioneer of the medium since 2001, I regarded people leaping on the live streaming bandwagon — as if it were something new — with a mixture of amusement and annoyance. But it has helped grow the market significantly and provided potential for artists and promoters to reach new audiences. Lockdown also really helped shift the “everything is free” mindset for fans and audiences who had to appreciate the cost of production and need to pay for live and on demand content. In August, Inner Ear helped two cultural organisations raise tens of thousands in additional revenue through live streaming music and performing arts projects. Artists can do even more for themselves now in terms of deepening their relationship with fans, and also in ways to collaborate and create internationally.
Export is never more important, despite the challenges presented by Brexit (which, whatever you think of the decision to leave the EU, has been handled badly and presented far more challenges than opportunities). Live music showcases are very valuable; I’m a big fan of initiatives like Showcase Scotland and Wide Days which bring the buyers to the marketplace. Exploiting the potential for international live performance and securing concert bookings, festival slots and tours can be lucrative for artists, and their associated business infrastructure of managers, agents, PR, legal, etc. But IP licensing, especially in sync, is a big opportunity that isn’t exploited nearly enough in Scotland, although XpoNorth have done some great work in that field in the Highlands and Islands, which, as a region, is a hotbed for artist talent, especially in composition. There’s a lot of room for music publishing in Scotland. And much promotional and commercial opportunity to engage with big social media channels (be they “influencers” or media organisations). If you want to talk about how to use content, especially live programmes, to drive your business forward, look out for me at creative industries events and buy me a coffee or a pint.
In leaving the SMIA, I have left behind some great friends (with whom I will, of course, keep in touch). My last task was to help recruit new board members. We were bowled over by the talent of the applicants. I want to thank everyone I worked with but especially the last iteration of the board I chaired — Nick Stewart, Fiona Ellis, Jonathan Tait, James Bruce and Alan Clarke — my former vice chair Sharon Mair, our CEO at the time Ronnie Gurr, the executive team Charys Newton, Daria Jaszcz, Beth O’Connor and everyone at Creative Scotland, especially Alan Morrison and Jamie Houtson, and, most of all, Robert Kilpatrick. That boy is indeed a marvel and my time at the SMIA wouldn’t have been the same without Robert as a close collaborator, source of support and good friend.
I’m delighted to see Robert become CEO of the SMIA. I know he will work extremely hard to keep pushing the company forward to support the evolution of Scotland’s music industry. And I’m equally pleased that Jennifer Hunter has been appointed as the new chair. I honestly can’t think of a better person to succeed me in the role. Credit to Nick Stewart and then Sarah Johnson for their interim chair work too. I’ve known Jennifer for a long time and really respected and valued the work we did together when she was at Culture Counts, especially during the pandemic. With Robert as CEO and Jennifer as chair, the SMIA is in good hands.
Since leaving the SMIA, I have considered other board director positions but mostly focused on my client work and creative projects with Inner Ear, especially our traditional music web TV brand TRADtv. I’m currently writing a book about live streaming. I also have ambitions around our other creative projects Radio Magnetic and Walking Heads and some music-based data and AI ideas to explore. I remain active in the CILG, working with other members to put pressure on the Scottish Government and I continue to participate in cross party groups.
I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the Scottish music scene, and the business behind it. It is one of the best music scenes in the world. I think we should all do our bit to help keep Scottish music at the heart of our culture, and enrich everyone’s lives with every beat.