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Does The Irish Music Industry Exist?

“Ireland doesn’t have a music industry in the real sense, but rather the musical equivalent of a comptoir, the colonial term for a trading post that facilitates the outflow of raw materials to foreign factories and the import of products back in.”[1]

The above quote is taken from an article by Gareth Murphy in the Journal of Music. Murphy explains that although Ireland has a wealth of raw talent, some of the key music industry components that are missing in Ireland’s music scene are financial reinvestment in the sector and entrepreneur record producers with media support.  He goes on to assert that Ireland’s music scene has a skewed socioeconomic structure with “absentee rock lords and starving buskers, and no musical middle class in between”.

You wouldn’t have to throw a stone too far to hit someone who holds similar opinions. Eleanor McEvoy composed and performed the title track of A Woman’s Heart, the best selling Irish album in Irish music history[2]. When McEvoy finished her contract with Columbia Records she found herself in a situation where she  had to remortgage her house in order to finance her next move.

“You can’t go into the bank and like for my last album, you can’t say ‘can I get a bank loan to do my album’ – they’d laugh at you. So you have to find some way of financing it yourself.”[3]

McEvoy is an honours music graduate from Trinity College Dublin, and upon graduating she spent five years as a violinist with the National Symphony Orchestra. She left the orchestra to focus on songwriting and performing which led her to be signed by Geffen Records first and subsequently by Columbia. She’s released 13 albums and fifty singles. Her songs have been performed by a host of international artists and have been featured on television and in films around the world.  In 2016 she was appointed to the board of The National Concert Hall and in 2017 she was appointed Chairperson of IMRO (the Irish Music Rights Organisation)[4]. If she can’t get a loan to make music, the rest of us are f@€ked!

As well as her own career, it seems that McEvoy keeps an eye on things that are happening for other artists in Ireland. She described Fight Like Apes as “the band that were forced to disband because they couldn’t do it any more not making any money.”[5] She said that seeing a successful band, with a good fanbase and great music having to break up, broke her heart. Hopefully as Chairperson of IMRO she had some leverage to create changes that will help similar bands in the future.

Max Zanga is one half of alt hip-hop duo Tebi Rex. They’ve been featured by RTE’s Other Voices and they’ve collaborated with Bressie and The Blizzards on the single I Need a Win. After Electric Picnic 2018, Max had a very simple question that was liked by hundreds but was never fully addressed…

In 2015 Deloitte were commissioned by IMRO to carry out an analysis of the annual contribution made by the music industry to Ireland’s economy. The original report was published in 2015 and an updated version called the “The Socio-Economic Value of Music to Ireland 2017” was subsequently released. some of the headline findings from that report were that the Irish music sector supported 13,131 full time jobs and contributed €703 million to the economy.[6]

Those figures can be broken down a little bit. The €703 million includes ticket sales for concerts, the physical sale of media, recording studio expenses and other revenue streams that could be generated by concerns not actually based in Ireland. The “core music industry” share of that total is €445.4 million, and the total made by artists and song writers, as well as their agents, managers, publishers and crew from touring sales and royalties amounts to €224.8 million, less than a third of the total. This figure is the most important one in relation to the Irish music industry and is referred to as accruing from “creative works”. U2, Hozier and The Script, along with other high profile Irish artists had significant releases and tours in this period, and revenues from these are included in that “creative works” total.[7]

The 13,131 full time jobs are calculated form “full time equivalents”, which means that it includes part time hours that are added together to make one full time job. Michael McMahon from Deloitte said that “The nature of the music sector lends itself to quite a bit of part-time employment. We know that many musicians and songwriters will not make a living solely from their creative talents.” According to the 2011 census, 2,200 people listed their primary employment as “professional musician”. Based on interviews for the TIMI podcasts, some artists subsidise their careers by other music related employment e.g. Marlene Enright is a booker for a venue in Cork and RSAG is teaching drums while also working on his latest album.

This would seem to suggest that there are many people making money from music in Ireland, but outside the top 500 grossing artists, many artists need other employment in order to sustain themselves. Difficulty in meeting the cost of living was highlighted by David Kitt when he gained media attention in the middle of 2018 for posting the following: “I’m being forced to leave the country I love as I can’t afford to live in my hometown any more.”[8] Views expressed by Kitt and others involve issues outside the music sector, they address the topic of rising rents, government policy and cost of living expenses for people in all areas of the country, no matter what their employment.

It’s difficult to align the figures supplied by Deloitte with the feedback being supplied by musicians performing at every level within the Irish music sector. Steve Wall from The Stunning was given the job of “Report Ambassador” when IMRO released that report from Deloitte 2017 and in interviews promoting the report he outlined the difficulties himself and his band have making ends meet.

“I was doing acting before The Stunning, and I’ve gone back to that,” he said, adding that he also does voiceovers. “All the lads in the band are doing different things, they’re teaching, one of the lads plays with Christy Moore, another guy works with Tommy Tiernan, the drummer teaches and plays with some wedding bands. There’s no way at the moment you could just do an original band full-time here. You can’t.”[9]

Some of the interviews carried out for the Irish Music Industry Podcast point towards it actually being possible to create original music and make a full time living from it. Dermot from Hermitage Green made it his full time job for a while, as did some of the other lads from the band. Daithi manages to make it his fulltime job, but being a solo artist certainly helps. The norm does seem to be that original acts will usually need to supplement their income with some other form of employment, and this has been echoed several times in the TIMI Podcast interviews, but there are some artists making their living solely from the Irish music sector. There are also a host of music industry professionals making a living solely within the sector. Manager and agent Una Molloy, accountant and business manager Dominic Kelly and solicitor Willy Ryan are all making a living from the sector and you can hear their stories in upcoming podcasts. 

There are millions of euros being generated, but there are lots of struggling musicians. What’s the story with that? One of the reasons for beginning the TIMI Podcast was in an effort to try and explain to myself how things work in the Irish music sector, having seen how things happened for our band, King Kong Company. In 2017 we generated more than €100,000 in performance fees. If you’d told any of us in the band that we’d ever be getting paid that much in a year for gigs, we wouldn’t have believed you. We didn’t even believe it when we added up the fees at the end of that year. Part of the reason we found it so difficult to believe is because none of the band got paid that year. Twenty percent of that was paid to management and booking agents, the next biggest slice went on production costs, touring in the UK and Europe ate into another chunk of it and there were numerous other expenses including music production, video production, crew, PR, rates, transport and the list goes on. We’re certainly not complaining, 2017 was probably our most successful year ever, we achieved every target we set for ourselves. Getting paid was not one of those targets, and it hadn’t been for the five years we’d been operating before that either.

At his workshop at Music Minds Festival Doolin in January 2019, Rónán Ó’Snodaigh, frontman with Kíla, asked the assembled musicians and industry heads “Did you hear about the folk musician who won the lottery? He’s decided to keep touring until the money runs out.” There were knowing laughs and wry smiles all round. 

One of the lads in our band who’s self employed asked why do bands differ from other businesses when it comes to trying to make profits. The best answer I could come up with is that it’s because making money isn’t usually high on the list of priorities for many bands when they start out; emulating their heroes, playing places like Glastonbury and scratching their own particular creative itches are more important than turning a coin. When businesses fold in the free market, other similar businesses take it as a warning to avoid that market, this doesn’t happen in the music industry. It’s possible that some of the bands that achieve longevity are the ones that are conscious of economic necessities and how they relate to survival.

According to Victor Finn, CEO of IMRO, for every one euro that is invested into the music industry, its value gets multiplied by two. Following that logic, KKC were worth more than €200,000 to the Irish economy in 2017, but received no payment or financial support. God only knows how many bands were active in Ireland that year, quite a few turning over even more than we did. Taking this into consideration, the figures reached by Deloitte start to make some sense, as does the assertion by Michael McMahon from Deloitte that “many musicians and songwriters will not make a living solely from their creative talents”.  All of the members of our band have full time jobs.

Frustration is often expressed by those within the music sector that there aren’t enough supports and reliefs provided by government to help artists as they start out in their careers. Keith Johnson of IMRO says that “They’re not seen as businesses. They forget there’s an industry around an artist. All artists are SMEs too – they hire designers, purchase stock in CDs, merchandise, hire an accountant. They have to be viewed in that fashion too.”[10] This is a sentiment that is echoed and partially explained by Professor Andrew Burke, Dean of Business Studies at Trinity College, who believes that part of the reason that the entertainment sector gets overlooked by government is because of a lack of hard economic data.

“There is a saying in economics that, ‘if it is not measurable then it does not exist’. Economists need numbers and as a result, industries without data just get ignored. It is like they don’t exist or are not important. This has been the main reason why live performances in music and the arts have been so overlooked when it comes to industries that count – or can be counted.”[11]

Plenty of data and figures from the music sector do exist though, Revenue make sure of that. Might part of the reason that music industry professionals get overlooked by government be explained by the fact that many artists will continue to create music while operating at a loss, and most other businesses couldn’t continue to operate under those conditions? Back to Keith Johnson from IMRO who maintains that “Music isn’t seen as a career by those with influence in government. They often just see it as a hobby. When are you going to grow up and get a real job? They forget that there’s people surrounding the art, not just the people out front.” It may be true to say that music isn’t seen as a career by quite a few musicians too, especially those who have to find other jobs in order to supplement their music creation. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to remortgage their home in order to fund an album, which is probably just as well, that’s quite a gamble. The music sector will always generate revenue and add to the creative and economic value of Ireland Inc., but if artists aren’t supported in real and meaningful ways it’s likely that many will never reach their full creative and economic potential. If there is a music industry in Ireland, it doesn’t seem to pay a great deal of attention to sustainability. 

Industry can be defined as people and activities involved in making a particular product or providing a particular service[12], and that certainly fits in this context, but it’s probably not as simple as that. One of the above quotes from Keith Johnson is interesting in helping to look at the bigger picture. He says “There’s an industry around an artist”, and he also says “there’s people surrounding the art, not just the people out front”, which could be interpreted as separating the artist from the industry. It is true to say that boy bands come and boy bands go, but Louis Walsh endures. If the Irish Music Industry does exist, does it sometimes exist separately to the artists that provide much of it’s life blood?

The following infographic is useful in getting an overview of the Irish Music sector, although live performance isn’t covered fully by it, and there are many jobs occupied by music professionals beyond it’s scope e.g. sound engineers, lighting technicians, journalists, photographers etc.



For the time being let’s work on the presumption that the Irish Music Industry does exist in the form outlined above, with some skewed revenue distribution and supports. The link between PPI and RAAP is somewhat broken and is the subject of an ongoing court case. RAAP maintain that there are outstanding royalty payments owed to it’s members by PPI. The case was referred to the European Court of Justice in January 2019. One thing that stands out when looking at the infographic is how small a part of the music industry is occupied by performers and songwriters. On the evidence supplied by Deloitte and the 2011 census, full-time employment within the industry is not common, and the majority of people working in the sector are working part-time and freelance, subject to the vagaries of market trends. Although many artists need to supplement their income, there are some fulltime jobs with regular salaries available within the sector e.g. booking agencies, production/entertainment companies, arts organisations, production houses and other supporting agencies, organisations and companies. The infographic above does indicate places where employment is available within the music sector outside performing and songwriting. Over the course of the TIMI Podcast many of the jobs outlined in this illustration will be discussed and explored.

One of the components that Gareth Murphy believes to be missing in Ireland, something needed to elevate our music sector from the status of Comptoir to Industry, is vibrant native record companies. He asserts that a music industry is built on finding, signing and developing musical talent, bringing it to global audiences and using some of the profits to repeat the process. The supporting structures of promoters, publishers, managers, journalists and audiences can’t thrive without this. It’s the absence of thriving domestic record labels that Murphy sees as being the main missing structure. Some of the most successful Irish artists have catalogues that are copyright owned by foreign record labels, so the bulk of revenue never makes it back to these shores to be reinvested, hence his assertion that Ireland is a music industry outpost.

It is a good point. He makes another good point when he says that Rubyworks are an exception to the situation as he sees it. This is a record label based in Ireland who’ve managed to retain copyright on Hozier’s work, licensing it to Columbia and Island. Two of the co-directors of Rubyworks are Denis Desmond and Caroline Downey, co-owners of Ireland’s biggest concert promoters MCD and directors of Gaeity Investments (owners of The Gaeity Theatre, The Olympia Theatre and The Academy). Downey is also Hozier’s manager. MCD in partnership with Live Nation are the parent company of Festival Republic. Festival Republic run some of the biggest festivals in the UK and Electric Picnic here in Ireland. Live Nation Entertainment is the world’s largest entertainment company, they own and operate venues around the globe, including the 3 Arena and Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin.[13] Ticketmaster and Live Nation merged to form Live Nation Entertainment, despite the Competition Commission in the UK initially ruling against the merger. In another strand of this tangled spiders web, in January 2019 the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in Ireland announced that it was investigating the sale of MCD to Live Nation. Desmond and Downey owned 100% of MCD, which they sold to Live Nation. As they both have a stake in Live Nation, they effectively sold MCD to themselves and the other Live Nation owners, so they retained a 50% stake in MCD.[14] The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission are investigating if the sale will lead to a substantial lessening of competition in the live music sector in Ireland. The fact that they’ve launched an investigation at all should be of some concern to artists working in Ireland. 

Having the backing of Desmond & Downey gives Rubyworks financial clout and helps make it a viable and robust record label, bringing the Irish Music Industry closer to becoming a self sustaining entity. Alarm bells do begin to ring though when you consider an artist that is managed by interests that are also running the venues and festivals where the artist performs, that also have links to the company that sells tickets for the artist’s events, and that also have interests in the record label the artist is signed to. When management sit down to make deals, who are they fighting for? When management sit down to make deals, who do they actually sit down with!? I’m sure it makes perfect financial sense for Messrs. Downey and Desmond, but conflict of interest anyone? Mind you, as of yet, Hozier certainly isn’t complaining.

Given all that’s been laid out here so far, I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to say that Ireland does have a music Industry (and I’m not just saying this to avoid killing off the TIMI Podcast before it even begins). There are thousands of people creating, promoting, managing, distributing and facilitating music in Ireland. Some of the lucky ones even manage to make it their career. There are artists interviewed over the course of this podcast who are no longer reliant on financial support from major labels, and some even flourished after they lost the support of major labels. Patreon and crowd funding has circumnavigated the record contract for some artists. Is the music industry choked by the tyranny of metrics and bottom lines? Not all music industry professionals measure their success in terms of sales, streams and revenues, an alternative measurement of industry buoyancy for an artistic endeavour like music might be worth exploring, even if it doesn’t meet with the approval of Professor Andrew Burke. Factor in Canada and The New Zealand Music Commission provide some examples of how alternative measures of success can be translated in support and these will be discussed in future podcasts and articles. Even Gareth Murphy would have to concede that there is something of an indigenous music industry here, even if it’s one that’s partially reliant on Rubyworks and the incestuous Hozier effect. If there is any lingering doubt, or further suggestions that the Irish Music Industry is a chimera or figment of some collective imagination are to be entertained, Post Punk Podge’s (frontman with Limerick band Post Punk Podge & The Technohippies) succinct and colourful interpretation is certainly worth mulling over…

“The Irish music industry is a con, it doesn’t really exist. It’s literally just a few c*^ts in Dublin circle jerking each other” – Post Punk Podge




[1]Murphy, Gareth, “The Truth About Ireland’s Music Business”,,, (07/01/2019)

[2]”U2 and Snow Patrol on UK’s Biggest Selling album List”,,, (07/01/2019)

[3]Barry, Aoife, “The Truth About Being A Musician”,,, (07/01/2019)

[4]”Eleanor McEvoy Appointed New Chairperson of IMRO”,,, (07/01/2019)

[5]Barry, Aoife, “The Truth About Being A Musician”,,, (07/01/2019)

[6]”The Socio-Economic Value of Music to Ireland 2017″,,, (07/01/2019)

[7]Maleney, Ian, “Streaming Music: Why Royalties are still only a trickle”,,, (07/01/2019)

[8]Hanratty, Dave, “Musician David Kitt Addresses Backlash After Comments on “Sickening” Rental Costs in Dublin,,, (07/01/2019)

[9]Barry, Aoife, “The Truth About Being A Musician”,,, (07/01/2019)

[10]Byrne, Niall, “How Music Works: Why The Irish Music industry is Failing”,,, (08/01/2019)

[11]Rowe, Simon, “Ireland’s Live Entertainment Scene is One of The Most Vibrant in Europe”,, (08/01/2019)

[12]”Industry”,,, (08/01/2019)

[13]Carroll, Jim, “Live Nation move into two Dublin Venues”,, (09/01/2019)

[14] Paul, Mark, “Competition watchdog to investigate MCD deal with Live Nation”,, (17/02/2019)

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