Interview: Lee Parsons, Ditto Music

ditto music

Independent music distributor and label services company Ditto Music represents around 200,000 artists worldwide, assisting on releases from the likes of Chance the Rapper, Stormzy, Dave and Yxng Bane.

Aimed squarely at DIY musicians, it allows them to release their sounds onto the world’s biggest digital music platforms, and also lends its nous to PR and social media campaigns.

Now the fourth biggest provider of content to Apple Music in the UK, the company was named one of the Top 40 fastest growing companies in Europe by The Sunday Times.

Alongside its label and distribution services, the Liverpool-based innovator also runs publishing and management arms, plus Ditto X, a conference for independent music-makers.

This year’s event has grown to include cities across the UK and the world, offering panel sessions, keynotes and one-on-one advice on developments, opportunities and challenges in music communities around the world.

Ahead of the first instalment next week (Monday), we grab some time with Ditto founder and chief executive Lee Parsons to get the skinny on the international music landscape and learn why more needs to be done to support artists working outside the ‘London bubble’…

Can you tell us a little about what makes Ditto Music different from other distributors and label services out there?

Ever since we started Ditto back in 2006, the motive was never about money. It was all about giving artists control over their careers.

We started off as musicians ourselves, playing in bands looking for a break. Once we realised how hard it was out there in the industry, we felt like something had to be done to help artists take their music further on their own, without any major label backing, so we launched Ditto from our bedroom. We are a bigger company now, but those values haven’t changed.

Ditto is also one of the only music companies that is still 100% independently owned. That means we don’t have shareholders dictating our decisions and we can make long term choices ourselves.

I think the Ditto X events – where I’m personally going to 30 different locations across 15 countries just to meet our artists face to face – is a pretty good example of how Ditto is doing things differently.

You’re expanding Ditto X this year – what’s the thinking behind that?

There is so much talk of diversity and inclusivity when it comes to music conferences, and that should always be the case, but then I see the same line-ups over and over again. They’re always based in London and I don’t see my friends or colleagues represented properly.

I grew up playing in a band in Birmingham and it was just taken for granted that if you wanted to make it, you needed to move to London. And look at Birmingham now. It has its own scene, away from the London-centric industry that used to be so important.

I want to bring out those local success stories and show the young kids coming through that anything’s possible wherever and whoever they are.

We have people like Maxsta, Tremz, Katie Mac and lots of other artists who, despite doing great things, never get asked to speak at these events. They’ll be coming out and sharing their stories. I can’t wait to be honest, I’ll be taking notes myself!

From your perspective, is there enough of a support network for independent artists outside the London bubble?

The simple answer is no. And London people are definitely guilty of not looking past their own city. Ditto has a big office in London and I’m there several times a week when I’m back in the UK but asking someone from London to come to Liverpool never goes down well, which is such a shame. They have to get out of London more.

Local hip-hop scenes are so important to UK music, and we’re seeing more scenes, that London A&Rs didn’t notice, coming through and blowing up. And this will be every town in the UK at some point.

I still see artists in the smaller towns signing bad deals that would just never happen in London, so we need to provide more education make sure they don’t get taken advantage of. That’s another thing Ditto X is going to help with.

How are you tapping into that?

We’re bringing out incredible speakers with great success stories. We’ve lined up managers of big artists like AJ Tracy, Dave, Jaykae, along with local industry experts.

I want the artists who come to Ditto X to have the chance to listen to these established industry figures, learn from them and above all else – see what is possible. I never had that as an artist myself. That’s why this tour is so important to me.

How did you decide which international cities you would hit? For example, Mexico City, Mumbai, Madrid may seem like less obvious choices for a company headquartered in the UK…

We have offices, artists and staff in all of those parts of the world, and I spend time in all of our offices at some point through the year.

I want young Mexican, Indian and Spanish artists to see how local musicians are finding success. I want to go and meet people who have supported Ditto and do something unique and special for them.

It’s a long tour. I’m taking three months out to do this and I still have Ditto and all of my other responsibilities to take care of as well. But I’ll have met thousands of Ditto artists, so it’s definitely worth it. We owe our artists so much.

What international trends are you seeing in music at the moment?

Content is becoming increasingly expensive. Also, local hip-hop is growing massively all over the world and will be the number one genre in every country soon, from India to Brazil.

I still hear people moaning about the music industry being dead, which is sad because in reality it’s thriving. Goldman Sachs have predicted the music business will be a $110bn (£89bn) per year industry by 2030. That’s over four times where we are now.

In 2019, any artist can create a song, release it everywhere, own their copyright and make good money. Coming from someone who started Ditto after failing to get my CD into stores like HMV, artists need to understand the huge opportunity they have right now. And it’s only going to get bigger, better and more lucrative for independent artists in the future.

Where are the real growth areas?

Some of the biggest growth areas at the moment are India and Africa. I am particularly excited by Africa right now because there’s so much amazing music coming out of the continent, which is really leading the market in a lot of areas.

You’re going to see huge African artists like Sarkodie – who we work with at Ditto – move into the international arena and blow up worldwide. It’s a very exciting time.

Where do you think the music industry is heading?

The music industry’s revenue is exploding. And with that, come the opportunists. Venture capitalists posing as music companies are pumping millions into the market to acquire users but they don’t have any long term plan apart from trying to sell for profit as soon as possible.

You need to think long term and get into the industry for the right reasons. Ditto have proved that point for over a decade and we will continue to fight for independent artists by providing more and more useful services for them and offering a real, viable choice away from the major labels. Some of these newer companies who are only working for their own interests will simply disappear.

Ditto X kicks off in London on 16 September, before heading out on tour. Tickets are £10 per UK event, and can be ordered at https://www.dittomusic.com/x#locations

UK dates 
16 September: London, JuJus Bar & Stage, 6-9pm
17 September: Manchester, Ditto Coffee / Access Creative College, 6-9pm
18 September: Leeds; Seven Leeds, 6-9pm
24 September: Bristol, Creative Access College, 6-9pm
25 September: Birmingham, Custard Factory, Creative Access College, 6-9pm
26 September: Norwich, Creative Access College, 6-9pm
30 September: Liverpool, Phase ONE / Ditto Coffee, 6-9pm
1 October: Newcastle, Toffee Factory, 1 – 5pm
7 November: Belfast, Sound of Belfast Festival / Oh Yeah Centre, 9.30 – 12.30pm