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Introducing Patch Project

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WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln

UPLOADED: 18th Jan 2022

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We are excited to bring you an introduction to our new endeavour, Patch Project. Further down you will find the full backstory. No, it’s not hardware: we are building a music community like no other. A source of knowledge and collaborative inspiration, for anyone in – or interested in – the world of music and gear/tech. A safe, online space – by creators for creators.

Our first mini Patch Live is on Wednesday Feb 16th at 6pm UK time – I’m in conversation with Adrian Utley (Portishead) and James Walker and Peanut (Kaiser Chiefs) introduce their new show ‘It’s A Synth!’ – we have some free tickets available via the Patch website (use the code PRODUCE102)

 

Read on, or watch this handy video introduction:

The Short Version

We have been working towards this for some years now and I’m excited to finally be able to share more details below. This is still very fresh – the website is not yet live [at the time of writing – it is now] – so you are amongst the first to know.

Patch is a safe place for the music community to hang out, communicate, collaborate and share knowledge. Whether you’re an artist, tech, music industry professional or music obsessive, Patch is for you. We wanted to create a trusted online space away from the data mining and algorithms of Facebook/YouTube/Twitter etc.

At the heart of why we’re doing this is a desire to give back; to support and mentor artists/techs/crew and to be a source of reliable information, mentoring and knowledge sharing.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on touring and live events (as has Brexit for UK/EU musicians) and a major consideration when building Patch Project was that we offer our artists, creators and founder members new revenue possibilities. There are options to earn both as a content creator and by recommendations to audience/fans.

We have partnered up with Wolf & White who bring extensive experience and technical expertise in running international live and online events which is essential to develop and manage the community and platform.

In addition to a growing library of exclusive content with new weekly additions, Patch offers real time interaction, safe monitored community discussions and monthly live events for performances and workshops/panels. We will be running two larger festival style events featuring exclusive performances, workshops and panel discussions every year.

Our three pillars are Produce, Promote, Prosper – the latter encompasses personal health and wellness as well as business advice.

We are looking to work with a limited number of creators to begin with and are putting together an advisory panel of experienced artists and techs to help shape and guide the future of Patch. If you can spare some time and expertise, we want to hear from you.

We have already laid the foundations, but to grow and develop will require investment from within our music community. Patch is created by and for creative minds, and it should be owned by and benefit those it serves. There are details below regarding investment opportunities (as a young company we have secured SEIS/EIS investment status from the HMRC in the UK which offers legitimate and significant tax advantages to investors).

I am excited to see what the future holds for Patch Project: we have an opportunity to build something together that is truly by and for our community. Whether you are interested in becoming a member, creator/contributor, or wish to know more about investing, or wish to comment or offer feedback, I look forward to hearing from you. Sign up to receive updates here. Or contact me direct – my Patch email is [email protected]

The website is now live at patch-project.com

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Are You Sitting Comfortably?

A longer introduction and back story to Patch:

It was a visit to Soundgas in early spring of 2017 by Ed O’Brien and Flood that initially sparked our mission to train more techs. I remember Flood describing a jaw dropping bucket list of his synths, and then ending with ‘…and those are just the ones that need fixing!’ This was a revelation: I thought to myself if Flood can’t find anyone to fix his synths, we are heading towards Vintage Gearmageddon (not so much with a bang, more a whimper of dying oscillators…).

Something had to be done: experienced techs were retiring or dying and nobody was training new ones to replace them. We had recently employed the finest technician I’d been fortunate ​​to encounter (thank you, Adrian Utley). Dr Huw had retired from life on tour tech duties with the likes of Portishead, Massive Attack and Robert Plant and had already transformed the quality of the echoes we were selling. I’d been a tape echo nut for years and here was BBC-trained Dr Huw making all my echo dreams come true: from Echoplex to Space Echoes and even Binsons. He was keen to share his knowledge and we cooked up a plan to begin training new techs.

As an aside, I’ve just found an email from June 2017 from Max Dawson with his application to be the first Soundgas Tech Apprentice. Max trained under Dr Huw and progressed rapidly: he is now Senior Repair Tech and is passing on his knowledge by training the next generation of Soundgas techs. The synth legend, James Walker, had been my friend and synth guru for a very long time and we eventually persuaded him to give up a solitary existence in a cold warehouse in Stoke and join us full time to begin to pass his knowledge on also.

Training techs is a far from trivial undertaking for an SME with limited resources. A senior technician’s time is extremely valuable as only they can service/fix the rarer/trickier gear that is our lifeblood. But while they are training, we must forgo cashflow from those sales while covering both the senior and junior techs’ salaries/overheads. Training a new generation of techs is a significant commitment of time, money and resources, but it is a vital part of our mission and something Soundgas customers support every time they order from us. We are beginning to see the results of this investment: our tech team now totals eight which includes three ex-apprentices who have gained exceptional skills for life.

Opportunity Doesn’t Knock

In 2018 ‘BC’ (Before Covid) Jo and I were investigating how we could make a difference in the industry and discussing the environmental impact of touring. Could ticketed online events reduce established artists’ dependence on touring (and also help new artists – or those with families – break through to a global audience)? We heard ‘why would people pay for something that’s free on YouTube?’ but met with people who had already made online events work. 

By late 2019 we were investigating larger premises to house Soundgas and to incorporate a dedicated tech training facility, as well as a larger studio/live/filming space (we wanted to develop an alternative to touring – live streaming). It was a significant stretch financially to even consider such a venture and we were beginning to talk about whether to partner with an educational institution. We very much wanted to develop online knowledge sharing and streaming, but had little experience, beyond filming our idiosyncratic low tech Instagram demos.

We clearly needed help, but then came the tsunami of Covid-19 and almost overnight streaming became de rigueur: just at the point when our ideas gained currency, we had to step back and rein in our aspirations to focus on keeping our team afloat. It was indeed fortunate that we hadn’t stretched ourselves to take on bigger premises as we might not have survived the maelstrom of 2020.

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The Seed Has Legs

A chance conversation with fellow synth obsessive, Marc Lewis, when he visited to collect a System 100, was revelatory: I described our aspirations to move into training and online events and he told me that his design team worked with a company called Wolf And White who, prior to Coronavirus, had run very successful international events. Almost overnight they had to pivot their business to running high quality online events, which had been a great success. We began discussing whether we could partner to create a platform for musicians, techs and music creatives that might offer something new in the post pandemic world.

Our founder partner in Patch Project, Wolf And White’s CEO, Lex Butler, has extensive business experience, not to mention her company’s all important tech know-how to deliver this vision. She is also extremely passionate about music and giving back to our community and industry.

Patch’s Executive Producer, Gemma Fletcher, is something of a one woman whirlwind: she has worked tirelessly over the past year to help organise our ideas and bring our vision together. A varied career in entertainment logistics, production and touring management means Gemma is comfortable working with artists and techs alike: she speaks our language.

We’re Not “Anti-Social”, But…

What had begun as a desire to make difference via online knowledge sharing and tech training, grew to incorporate regular live events and a platform that would enable artists and music creators to replace revenue lost as a consequence of the pandemic. As we discussed what we might offer, I highlighted a growing sense of frustration and unease that so much of our community was based on platforms that were not aligned with our values. A chance remark by Frank Wiedemann, lamenting the lack of somewhere offering a ‘record store hang’ online, combined with an increasing number of our peers abandoning social media entirely inspired us to put interaction and community at the heart of the Patch Project.

While I greatly enjoy the community that contributes to and interacts with the Soundgas Instagram channel, it is tempered by the knowledge that we are hosted by a company that distributes misinformation and thrives by dividing and polarising. This came to a head for me after England’s 2020 Euro Final defeat when three of our fine young players, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were racially abused on social media.

Given that the merest mention of anything vaguely Coronavirus related on Instagram results in a tag being immediately added to the post, it is clear that Facebook/Meta (who own Instagram) already have technology to identify certain words, phrases or topics and could deal with racism and hate on their platforms had they the inclination. But confrontation = engagement = advertising = money. (Don’t get me started on the part Facebook’s laissez faire attitude to misinformation has played in the US election and Brexit here in the UK.) It claims to be an impartial platform, yet its role is increasingly as news media, editor and censor, while eschewing any sense of propriety and responsibility. Facebook pockets cash while promoting (or ignoring) hate, abuse and division. It should not, perhaps, come as a surprise that what began as FaceMash – for Harvard boys to compare/rate the attractiveness of pictures of female students – has ugliness at its core.

That our inclusive creative community exists under the aegis of such an organisation is like a low level dull throbbing headache – a constant red flashing warning light. I long ago stopped using Facebook personally and want to build a new space where we can safely share knowledge, collaborate and inspire each other or just hang out together – away from machinations of Socialmediacorp. Safety and inclusivity are keywords in our discussions: Patch is about bringing people together and making positive changes.

“Inclusion” is What You Do

Soundgas’ audience on social media remains very male-orientated – maybe that partially reflects that obsessing over old gear is a traditionally male fascination – or possibly that Gid and I are yet another pair of blokes of a certain age making odd noises – but it does not reflect the diversity within the music making community. Nor does it reflect the pioneering role that women have played in electronic music. It is a travesty that many unsung heroes remain just that (I read the amazing story of Janet Beat in Electronic Sound recently – only now being recognised for her work in her 80s).

Daphne Oram’s astonishingly prescient composition, ‘Still Point’ – written in 1948 for two orchestras, turntables and echo chambers – was only finally performed in full at the BBC Proms in 2018, fifteen years after her passing. I only became aware of its existence when we were asked to supply five Roland Space Echoes for the performance of “Still Point” at the Royal Albert Hall. As someone who’d earned my living at the turntables for twenty plus years, I was blown away to discover this piece. Why was the work of this astonishing pioneer and innovator not more widely known? The simple answer is because she was a woman: the patriarchy at the BBC belittled her avant garde composition and it remained lost for decades.

Patch exists to be part of this essential levelling of the playing field and to provide a safe and inclusive environment for all to participate in.

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Here Comes a Giant Spanner

At the beginning of 2021, as artists and venues were beginning to dare to rebuild what they could from the devastation of 2019/20, came Brexit (Britain’s exit from the European Union). This had a massive impact on Soundgas – not only was a third of our business transacted within the EU, we had many long time friends and loyal customers who overnight were unable to rely on us. The initial turmoil of parcels being returned or people being incorrectly charged fees on goods returned lasted nearly all year and has been a huge drain on our resources. While we have since learned to work around these obstacles and look after our customers in Europe, as I write this in January 2021 it remains clear that the handling of Brexit has been an epic omnishambles combining incompetence with plain ignorance of the realities of international business.

Meanwhile the damage to artists and those whose income relied on regular touring/gigging in the EU is yet to be fully felt. Gone are the days when UK musicians could freely pass through EU borders without permits or carnets – the increase in bureaucracy and costs make European touring a far from trivial undertaking. Important orchestras are moving from the UK to the EU, and some artists we speak to are literally changing the music they make in order to make it easier to tour with fewer people. The double whammy of Covid and Brexit have hit the UK music industry hard. Yet out of adversity and chaos blossoms innovation and change and we look forward to Patch Project playing a role in building a new model for artists and the music community.

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Photo above taken during filming in Leeds this year. L-R: Peanut, Tony, Jo and Gemma

You Don’t Have to be Nuts to Work Here

Nick ‘Peanut’ Baines – founder member and keyboardist extraordinaire with Kaiser Chiefs – and almost as obsessive about old gear as I am – has been a friend ever since we met via James Walker. Over the years we’ve discussed the implications and difficulties that vintage synth nerds like us increasingly encounter as access to reliable experienced techs dwindles, and what might be done about it. Wanting to put something back, as well as see more techs in the world, Peanut originally asked if he could sponsor a trainee tech at Soundgas, but this wasn’t economically viable – we’d need that bigger space, and to free up more of our senior techs’ time.

When I told him about our plans to build Patch Project, he was full of enthusiasm and offered us a musicians’ eye viewpoint, swiftly becoming a key part of the development process. His support as a seed investor has enabled us to secure SEIS/EIS investment approval from HMRC which offers tax relief for investors in start up companies. (See below for more info).

As a young company, we have secured SEIS and EIS investment status from HMRC and welcome modest investments from the music community first and foremost: we want our people to share in our future success.

The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) dramatically reduces the risk of investment in young companies and is a legitimate tax efficient route to support UK enterprise and entrepreneurship.

UK tax payers investing in an SEIS company get 50% back as a tax credit (e.g. put in £1000 and receive a £500 reduction in your tax bill – so a £1k investment has only cost £500). There is no capital gains tax payable on future gains; any future loss would be deducted from gross income saving personal tax. The scheme is limited to just the first £150,000 raised.

The Enterprise Incentive Scheme (EIS) operates on a similar basis to SEIS but investors get 30% of their initial investment back as a tax credit.

Read more about these schemes on the UK Government site.

Over To You!

I am excited to see what the future holds for Patch Project: we have an opportunity to build something together that is truly by and for our community. Whether you are interested in becoming a member, creator/contributor, wish to know more about investing, or would like to comment or offer feedback, I look forward to hearing from you. Sign up to receive updates here, or contact me direct – my Patch email is [email protected]

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