FastForward is going places. The international music biz summit started life in Amsterdam five years ago, the brainchild of Chris Carey, the British-born and bred music sector analyst and former industry insider with Universal Music Group and EMI.

Today, FFWD reaches into the the U.K. with a flagship London conference, and Australia, which recently hosted its second annual event in April, a two-day summit in Sydney featuring guest speakers Alex Zaccaria (Bolster), Beth Appleton (Warner Music), Cathy Oates (Original Matters) and many others.

There’s change in the air. Carey, founder of data consulting business Media Insight Consulting, spoke exclusively with TIO on the next phase for FFWD. One chapter is about to close, others could open. Australia, he says, is about to become a top priority.

FFWD Sydney was three months ago. How did it go?

I really enjoyed the Sydney event.  There was something nice about coming back for year two, with a lot of great friends already on the ground and with high expectations following a strong debut event in 2018.  We were working with Van Picken (CEO, Comes with Fries) again, and that was a really enjoyable team to be a part of.

The quality of conversation was really high again.  I particularly enjoyed Heidi Lenffer sharing her FEAT programme with us.  The work she is doing with artists to impact on climate change is outstanding.  And most importantly, there was a friendly and welcoming vibe in the room.  That’s something we cultivate, and I was delighted that it felt that way again for year two.

roger field lars brandle
Roger Field and Lars Brandle

Taking a step back, you’re in year five of running this.  How did it get started?  What’s the story of FFWD so far?

It started — like many entrepreneurial ventures — with a hint of frustration.  I was frustrated that many talented friends were not getting a chance to speak at conferences, and I felt that there was space for a more provocative conversation at conferences.

At the same time, I had artist friends of mine asking me for career help, but I didn’t have the capacity.  I was new to running my consulting business and that was taking up all my time.  So rather than stay frustrated, I set up the conference to get great people on stage — often for their first time — and to fill the room with people who wanted to learn from real experts.

At the time, the gender equality across conference events was not strong, so we also took it as an opportunity to reach out to the talented new execs who were coming through the labels and live companies and to give them a platform, shining a spotlight on some fantastic speakers that other events could reach out to.

I wanted to take the “I didn’t know who to ask” excuse away from people running conferences, but to do it in a positive way.  And it’s great to see that all conferences are much sharper now on gender equality, but also on ethnic diversity and inclusion more widely.

We started in Amsterdam, because the London market was so congested, and Amsterdam looked like fun. In year three we added London, as a cheaper option for those who couldn’t afford Amsterdam, and that has grown a life of its own.

We’ve done eight events now (four Amsterdam in Feb, two London in September, two Sydney in April) and the third London edition is coming up on September 23.  That’s c250 speakers booked over the last four years.  Its fair to say it got a bit out of control.

FastForward Amsterdam, 2017
FastForward Amsterdam, 2017

What plans for FastForward 2020?

2020 is going to be a big year for FastForward.  For a start, there will be no FFWD:Amsterdam event.  We’re taking a year off from our flagship event, that usually happens in February, in order to allow me more time to focus on the Australia event in early April 2020.

I love our Amsterdam event, but almost singlehandedly running two, two-day international conferences within two months of each other is a little hectic, to say the least. And I wouldn’t want to risk the quality of either event.  As such, I had to pick a favourite.  And who’d choose to fly 30 minutes to run an event when you can fly for a whole day.

Joking aside, I really enjoy being in Australia.  I love the people in the market as well as the talent coming out just now, and so Sydney is top priority for 2020.

The London event could potentially grow, to two days, but it might well just stay as one.  There are so many great events already, I don’t think we need to change what we do.

FastFoward started with the strapline “building a sustainable career in the music industry”, which I very much stand by.  I think 2020 will be the year that FastForward becomes sustainable in its own right, and potentially build a platform for further expansion in 2021.

Do you have plans to expand into any other countries? Germany, perhaps? After all, Popkomm no longer exists. 

It’s always tempting.  I love Barcelona, but a friend already runs a great conference there.  Germany is an interesting one.  I’ve been to Popkomm, and Berlin Music Week.  Both interesting events, and well supported but didn’t stay.  I wonder whether that’s a warning sign, as well as an opportunity.  If we expand again, I think it will be outside of Europe.

I’ve had two or three conversations about taking FastForward to Africa.  Now that would be an adventure.  Africa is a fascinating market, underserved by streaming currently, with infrastructure challenges thrown in, but with some powerhouse economies and large scope for growth.

For me, expanding in to Africa raises questions about whether the FastForward format continues to work.  Do we need showcases, which FastFoward has never done?  Whatever happens, I wouldn’t want to force a format that works in the west in to a very different culture.  If we take FastForward to Africa, it’s going to be very much an African affair, serving that market in the best way possible, not trying to make them fit the current mould.

By contrast, I think the current approach, structure and style could work very nicely within a North American setting.  New York, L.A., Nashville, Miami, Toronto and Vancouver are all really interesting propositions.   Asia also feels like a potential opportunity.

Expanding internationally is risky, and time consuming.  But its also extremely exciting.  My challenge is to keep the quality of conversations at all our events exceptionally high, and for 2020 that means two events, not three.  By 2021… after a year of consolidation, I’m almost certainly going to have itchy feet.  But it’s a question of balancing priorities.

Because you have another gig?

Yep, FastForward is meant to be a part-time job.  Most of the time I’m an economist / data analyst / strategist for hire though the catchily named Media Insight Consulting.

I was Global Insight Director at EMI and Universal before setting up my consultancy five years ago, and an economist specialising in music for three years before that.  As such I find myself with a pretty unusual range of skills, from big picture market understanding and forecasting, to “Big Data” analytics, looking at the billions of rows of data created by Spotify and the rest, and also doing market research, focus groups and surveys for clients.

I’ve worked for Spotify, Sony Music, The O2 Arena in London, as well as PRS for Music, the Music Publishers Association, Sony ATV, BMG Rights Management and many more.  Most recently I was out in Melbourne presenting research I carried out for the Victorian Music Development Office at the excellent CHANGES music conference.

The two business work together nicely.  Addressing the challenges businesses are facing as a consultant are usually great topics for FastForward, so the consulting keeps me on top of current trends and helps me meet interesting people who are potential future speakers.

FFWD
FFWD

So, I understand you’ve made nine trips to Australia in four years.  Are you planning to move here for good?

I love it over here.  Great people, great scene, great weather, great food.  And I have so many friends here that it gets harder and harder to leave.

I’m hoping that taking a year off Amsterdam to focus on Sydney would let me spend two-three months in Aus before FFWD Sydney 2020, mixing consulting with FFWD preparations.

That’ll be the toe in the water — make sure I don’t get burned to a crisp — and then I’ll probably be hooked.