The UK music industry’s trade body has a new CEO - well, almost. Dr Jo Twist is set to take on the role at the BPI in July.
Formerly chief executive at gaming trade body Ukie, her appointment underlines the growing importance of the metaverse and video games to the future of the music industry.
“This will prove invaluable to the BPI and to UK recorded music as we navigate great changes in our industry,” noted BPI chair YolanDa Brown.
As well as bringing outside experience to the role, Twist looks set to have a different style to Geoff Taylor, the former lawyer who ran the BPI for 15 years.
Twist is a former BBC reporter covering tech, including a spell on Newsround, and her analysis of industry issues for conference audiences is often leavened with a freewheeling sense of humour. She’s active on social media and was even interviewed by NME last year, in recognition of her role supporting the booming gaming industry (worth almost three times as much as music at retail) and initiatives for the sector.
Here, Music Week outlines some of the key issues that will be facing Dr Jo Twist in her BPI in-tray…
Licensing new platforms and the metaverse
With the music industry focusing on Web3, Twist’s appointment at the BPI couldn’t be more timely. The gaming sector is clearly some years ahead of music when it comes to tech developments. “I’m not going to say ‘metaverse’,” she joked at the Brighton Develop conference in 2021, which suggests the concept has already become a bit passé for those at the front line of immersive tech.
Nevertheless, her background in gaming will be hugely beneficial in terms of supporting labels - including the independent sector - to navigate this new world. The UK recorded its eighth year of growth in 2022, but as a maturing streaming market, more of the same won’t be enough for the world’s third largest music market to continue powering ahead. Major labels have made various Web3 announcements, including partnerships in Fortnite and Roblox. But the metaverse is an area where many are still finding their way and, indeed, may not want to rush headlong into an unproven model.
Twist has described the metaverse as the “next generation of the internet”, which suggests it’s high on her agenda. She even presented Fortnite developer Epic Games’ founder and CEO Tim Sweeney with a special BAFTA award at a Hollywood event in 2019.
In terms of music, though, she’s previously spoken of perceived “barriers to entry for artists” for performances in gaming platforms.
“I’ve had so many conversations with the music industry, people saying, ‘How do I get into Fortnite? How do I get into these virtual realms,” said Twist. “It is a really exciting area and what Fortnite is doing, with the Rift Tour [featuring Ariana Grande] for instance, is absolutely phenomenal. But I want to see more of this.”
Exports and tax breaks
Supporting UK artists in a highly competitive global streaming environment will be a key priority for Twist in her new role. In his exit interview for Music Week, former BPI CEO Geoff Taylor said that the UK music industry needs the kind of support that South Korea provides to its cultural sector.
“I’ve just got back from South Korea, where the government invests £25 million a year in supporting local companies to grow internationally," he said. "We should be at that kind of scale. I met with a senior official from the Korean DCMS, the MCST [Ministry Of Culture, Sports & Tourism], and it’s really interesting because they have backed their content industries, and not just in music – look at Squid Game and Korean successes in film. They have just taken a strategic decision to back their creative industries.”
A reorganised DCMS could be an opportunity for Twist - alongside UK Music and newly-appointed AIM CEO Silvia Montello, perhaps - to push for that kind of support. However, the distractions of Brexit continue to make it difficult for music industry concerns to be recognised by the government. In the long term, building bridges between the Labour shadow team will likely pay dividends in the years ahead.
For UK independents, expanding on the MEGS export initiative will be vital, while international major labels will want to see the BPI ensure there’s no extra regulation specific to the UK that will potentially impact their A&R investment.
In terms of tax breaks, the UK music industry has long hoped to see the sector get the kind of treatment enjoyed by other creative industries. In fact, Ukie secured Video Games Tax Relief for development studios. Perhaps Twist can bring her lobbying skills to the fore and pitch it as an export opportunity for a government that needs to be seen to reduce the tax burden, support business and seize on growth initiatives.
Suddenly the No.1 issue for music, AI is something that the industry has to get to grips with in 2023.The question of whether it’s an opportunity or threat was addressed by Warner Music CEO Robert Kyncl on his first earnings call. He welcomed the possibilities to aid creativity, but stressed that platforms needed to protect copyrighted content that might be modified.
David Guetta also hit the headlines with his AI version of Eminem, while stressing it would not be commercially released.
One immediate threat is off the table with the government confirming that they would not be going ahead with proposals set out last summer to amend copyright law that would enable developers of artificial intelligence to exploit copyright protected works without the permission of creators and rights-holders.
That shows how music industry campaigning with a united voice can pay off.
Speaking late last year about the proposals before they were dropped, Geoff Taylor told Music Week: “It is a very concerning return to a simplistic belief that somehow you can put technology ahead of the creative industries and generate growth. All the lessons from the past show us that when technology and creativity work in partnership through licensing, that's what generates value.”
It’s an issue that Twist will need to navigate, alongside fellow trade body executives and industry leaders.
Tim Sweeney and Jo Twist at the BAFTA Presents Special Award to Epic Games in West Hollywood, June 2019
Diversity and inclusion
The BPI has done plenty of work on diversity and inclusion, from its apprenticeship scheme and formation of the Equality & Justice Advisory Committee, to the evolving membership of the BPI Council and the reform of the BRITs voting academy.
Labels continue to pursue initiatives in the UK, with trade bodies including the BPI, AIM and UK Music helping to provide the industry-wide agenda and framework.
Twist will be taking on the issue following initiatives in the gaming industry.
“We just published the second census of the games industry, which is incredibly important when you’re trying to benchmark and see where changes are happening or where you need to be – specifically targeting areas like the representation of Black and ethnic minorities in the industry,” Twist told NME last year. “Different perspectives, different experiences, and lived experiences of life are critical to bring to any creative product, particularly if you’re telling stories. We want to see more diverse stories, more powerful characters who come from different backgrounds and have different abilities.”
Whether it’s artists or executive talent, the music industry needs fresh blood.
One key industry move has been the establishment of EMI North, as an initiative to expand opportunities and support talent outside of London.
The BPI has unveiled plans for a new specialist creative school in Bradford - BRIT School North - to widen the talent pipeline and expand opportunity across the UK. With the school lined up to open in 2026, Twist should be on hand as head of the BPI when the ribbon is cut.
“We look forward to building upon the proven success of this model to give a greater number of young people from across the North of England an opportunity to pursue a career in the creative industries – both on stage and behind the scenes,” said YolanDa Brown.
“We are very excited about the benefits of this partnership and how we can contribute to Bradford’s ambitions, but also how this school can continue our work to diversify our talent pipeline by ‘levelling-up’ opportunity, both geographically and socio-economically.”
On a more immediate industry level, the BPI Insight Sessions have become a useful educational resource on the new developments and disruptive challenges, including on-demand access of highlights for those who are not yet members of the trade body. Perhaps Jo Twist will lend her expertise and insights to a gaming/metaverse discussion later this year…
Click here to read our Geoff Taylor interview.
PHOTOS: Rachel Luna/Getty Images