Friday, 6 July 2012

The business about music

A London music agent and Southampton musician discuss the struggle of making it in the music industry.

One trip to a local open mic night will reaffirm that for some aspiring musicians, life means anything but their name in bright city lights. Hotdog and hamburger parades flood into the venues for ice cold beer and deep-fried food, emitting smiles and sighs of appreciation. Yet not one of those is directed to the poor souls pouring their hearts into music for the hope that one day, they'll get noticed.

Picture: Courtesy Burn the Fleet
Regretfully, it's not a rare circumstance for amazing musicians to let their dreams pass them by without having put their utmost into achieving them. Getting caught up in a modern life of office work and the classic 'nine to five' is far easier than what can sometimes seem an endless struggle.

Without a doubt, becoming a musical phenomenon, let alone working out how to get noticed, is no easy ride. Nevertheless, it sure is possible.

But don't take our word for it. Take it from the professionals. William Aspden is an agent for Coda, London's famous music agency which represents artists such as Example, Katy B and Emile Sandé. "I work with artists, managers and promoters to plan future strategies for our artists," he explains.

Also here to help is James Swabey, guitarist of Southampton's very own rock and alternative band, Burn the Fleet. They've gained recognition from Last FM, Radio 1 and Kerrang, and have toured overseas in Germany to crowds of foreigners singing their lyrics back to them. James is not blind, however, to the struggles of a musical career.

It's not to say you shouldn't aim for the sky, but you can't expect success to land on your doorstep. "When we started writing and recording our music we had no idea we would gain the fan base we have now," explains James.

Whilst occasionally playing to crowds of people that couldn't care less can make you feel your music is undervalued, it is the proven good place to start. "You have to be prepared to do anything that you can to be involved in the industry - and expect to do it for little or no money," says William. "It's a slow process."

However, getting your name out there and fastening a few venues to your belt can eventually lead to success. It certainly worked for Burn the Fleet. "We started by playing a lot of hometown shows," says James. "It definitely helped us win over the Southampton scene."

Next thing you know, you could be playing elsewhere with an ever growing fan base. "It's about taking a chance on what you love. We've had to get several jobs to pay the rent," says James. "It can be a tricky situation."

"We've always aimed to succeed by taking risks, working hard and trying something different. Others will succeed just through who they know," James adds.

So what about TV talent shows; what's the deal with them? Out of thousands of people who enter, there is only one act which gets summersaulted into fame each series. Are they worth a try?

"At the end of the day talent shows are a massive industry which in themselves create millions of pounds for TV companies," William asserts. "I don't have a problem with them or anything, but in the line of work at Coda, we don't always aim for the mainstream. We take pride in musicians who are prepared to be a little different from what's out there."

"It keeps things fresh and the industry rolling," he continues. "Otherwise people will inevitably get bored."

William believes honesty and self-belief are the crux of a successful career: "You have to be confident in yourself and who you are as a musician. Be sure of what you like and don't succumb to other people's opinions."

James too, says: "I think it's crucial that every member in the band has a passion for the music they write. If passion isn't there, it wont show in the music."

The general public, on the other hand, are a different matter. Not everyone is going to like your music. The Beatles had haters back in the day, for crying out loud.

"Some of the hottest artists on my roster were not liked by my friends when I first started working with them," says William. "There is so much out there nowadays and so many different opinions. Good music is impossible to define."

"Just do something interesting," says William. "Then get people on board using social media sites. Facebook likes, YouTube views and Twitter followers are increasingly important now."

Of course, it is far from unheard of that the music industry has incurred significant changes since the boom of online media. "People are much less concerned with albums than they used to be," explains William. "It's more about that big tune. It's very online-driven."

James vouches for that too, adding: "Our YouTube video for River Song - which was released last year with Rock Sound Magazine - definitely expanded our fan base." Above all else, James' best advice is to: "Be enthusiastic and go into the industry with an open mind. Remember that anything is possible." Amen to that!

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