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Surveying 2020: Guest blog by Martin Hummel of the Ubuntu jazz record label

As we all struggle to make sense of a pandemic that has ravaged the planet, many have asked the question concerning how to deal with COVID-19 while keeping businesses and careers solvent. We’ve seen the grim statistics regarding the effects of …

Published: 31 Dec 2020. Updated: 17 days.

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As we all struggle to make sense of a pandemic that has ravaged the planet, many have asked the question concerning how to deal with COVID-19 while keeping businesses and careers solvent.

We’ve seen the grim statistics regarding the effects of COVID-19 on the music industry and, in particular, the UK:

• In 2020, up to 85% of live revenue will be lost by musicians.

• An estimated 65% of music creators’ income will be wiped out.

• Up to 64% of musicians may be forced to leave the music industry.

This is real and the return to normal is yet to be confirmed with any level of confidence.

And the recorded music business was expected to mirror the downward trend of live performances, with some notable exceptions.

In the early stages of COVID-19, the general trend of consumer music purchasing and streaming was diminished, as people sought refuge with other forms of entertainment such as movies (thank you Amazon, Apple and Netflix), reading and a voracious appetite for the news, naively hoping that COVID-19 would depart just as quickly as it arrived. How wrong we were to assume so. Where there seemed to be a sign of green music shoots rising to the surface was with a return to listening to old favourites and standards, as something of a comfort blanket to reassure us that things would be alright (or at least we wouldn’t feel so bad for the moment).

While the situation initially appeared as Armageddon to new artists and new releases, this was soon to be proved otherwise.

Ubuntu Music embraced the old adage of, “when the world zigs… zag”, believing that the market for new releases would return quickly, and with a vengeance.

As founder and director of Ubuntu Music (a young, independent jazz record label, based in London), I was interviewed mid-year by Hi-Fi News & Record Review Magazine, where I shared my thoughts: “We can take the current situation in two ways. ‘doom and gloom’, or the potential for creating opportunity. The artists who are the most clever and creative in dealing with the situation are the ones who will come out of this that much stronger.”

Ubuntu Music defied the short-term trends of the industry, by increasing its number of releases in 2020 and applying innovative strategies to bring new music to the masses, while a number of other jazz artists and their record labels delayed their releases in anticipation of things being brighter, just around the corner.

The results speak for themselves:

• Worldwide recorded music revenues topped $20bn in 2020, rising for the fifth straight year.

• Ubuntu Music is about to register its best trading year in its short history.

• Most all artists on the label have had the greatest level of business success with their releases this year.

And all of this happened in a period of virtually no live shows in venues with physical audiences present, which was historically seen as absolutely essential for the success of an album release.

Denis Ladegaillerie, CEO of Believe (a digital music distributor and services provider), echoed our sentiments: “With fewer new big releases, artists who release music during a quiet time benefit. If they have strong and engaged fan bases, they benefit even more.”

So true.

However, one principle remained sacrosanct, with or without COVID-19 amongst us… the quality of the music is and always will be the non-negotiable, absolutely essential, ingredient to guide and inform the success of any album release.

With this as the first step on the critical path, bespoke release strategies and targeted audience engagement combine together with music quality to deliver the knock-out punch which allows Ubuntu Music to truly zag in the face of this crippling pandemic, while some chose to simply zig.

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US pianist Frank Kimbrough, known for his longstanding work with Maria Schneider, has died

Media in the US have reported the death of pianist and composer Frank Kimbrough. He was 64 and the cause of death was due to a heart attack. A pianist with the Maria Schneider Orchestra for a quarter of a century a span that included his having …

Published: 31 Dec 2020. Updated: 5 months.

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Media in the US have reported the death of pianist and composer Frank Kimbrough. He was 64 and the cause of death was due to a heart attack. A pianist with the Maria Schneider Orchestra for a quarter of a century a span that included his having appeared on the recently acclaimed album Data Lords, Kimbrough also stacked up a lengthy discography of well received records under his own name. His monumental take on Monk titled Monk's Dreams for instance generated a lot of interest when it came out in 2018.

Kimbrough's fellow pianist Ethan Iverson has paid tribute on his blog Do the Math: ''Frank was part of the Jazz Composers Collective, a group with Ben Allison, Ted Nash, and others. They programmed original music at a series held at the Greenwich House Music School. One of the best sets of the many I heard there in the 90s was a trio with Frank, Ben Allison, and Jeff Ballard. The opening piece was unforgettable, where Frank offered some bluesy triadic piano riffs before the bass and drums came in with controlled chaos.

''After Paul Bley died, I organized a memorial concert on the Greenwich House Music School stage. Frank was the Paul Bley expert, and he showed up with a stack of Annette Peacock music. In a way I wish I had made the concert more about playing those Peacock and Carla Bley melodies; some of the best stuff that night was simply Frank reading through 'Nothing Ever Matters, Anyway' and 'Butterflies' at the soundcheck.''