For Highland music fans, XpoNorth is one of the biggest events of the year.
Originally known as goNORTH up until a 2015 rebrand, the two day creative industries festival comes to Inverness next Wednesday and Thursday (June 7 and 8), offering seminars, workshops and showcases in the full range of cultural arts – from film and television, to craft and fashion.
Yet music remains its jewel in the crown – goNORTH originally began life as an exclusively musical event – with artists and industry experts from all over the world descending on Inverness each year.
And the biggest part of it all is the music showcase – a chance to see local, national and international talent showcase their tunes across city venues.
This year sees almost 80 bands play over the two day festival – but spare a thought for the man who has to make the tough calls on who gets to play.
Alex Smith, the head of XpoNorth’s music programme, is the mind behind the seminars and showcase for audiophiles coming to the capital – and it’s a task he relishes.
“I think XpoNorth continues to be viewed as an important platform for new artists to connect with industry and wider audiences, so we receive a significant number of applications – well in excess of 1000,” he said.
“As opposed to identifying a particular trend, the process always highlights the sheer diversity of great new music being made in the Highlands and Islands, the rest of Scotland and the UK more widely.
“We also work with a range of international partners to bring a small selection of acts from outside the UK to XpoNorth each year.”
In addition to the showcase, Alex is responsible for putting together seminars and workshops that he hopes will help aspiring musicians to make a success of their art.
In particular, this year’s keynote address will come from Andrew Gould – record label BMG’s co-head of A&R.
“Andrew Gould is an incredible executive,” Alex explained, “and when myself and A&R Worldwide founder Sat Bisla started discussing who we might approach this year, we both felt he would be the perfect keynote.
“I think he will offer a hugely inspiring, forward-thinking insight into the current A&R landscape and we’re delighted he was able to accept our invitation.”
And looking past the keynote address to the rest of the programme, there are a few seminars in particular that catch the music maestro’s eye. “I’m particularly looking forward to the SMIA’s focus on Scotland’s Independent Label Sector as it’s great to be able to use this platform to shine a spotlight on the successes and challenges that particular area faces.
“I’m also really looking forward to the seminar we’ve programmed with PRS For Music called The Song Always Comes First. Much of the content we cover quite rightly focuses heavily on the strategic elements of the industry, but it’s worth remembering that without really strong material, often little else is possible for artists.
“It’s great to bring together such a range of perspectives to really drill down into how artists can develop their craft.”
XpoNorth comes to Inverness on Wednesday and Thursday (June 7 and 8). For a full list of seminars, workshops and artists performing, go to www.xponorth.co.uk