The terrible torrent

If you’re a young musician, it’s a lot easier to gain some exposure thanks to the great strides in digital technology. In just over 10 years the rise in social media and the ability to stream your music to the masses has given anyone with some talent and internet access the ability to reach a world of new fans in a matter of seconds.

However, with the benefits of digital there is a downside. Writing in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson explored the death of music sales, in his research Thompson noted that “nearly every number in Nielsen’s 2014 annual review of the music industry is preceded by a negative sign, including chain store sales (-20%), total new album sales (-14%), and sales of new songs online (-10.3%). Two things are up: streaming music and vinyl album sales”. The latter Quite Great has spoken about before.

Type in the word “torrent” into any search engine and you are sure to find a plethora of links to proxies of Pirate Bay and a smorgasbord of other sites that allow you to download every single piece of entertainment out there today. Music, films, software programs, if you have some simple bittorrent software installed, it’s all for the taking.

Many of us would not shed a tear over downloading something like Photoshop for example, with the usual thoughts of taking from big soulless conglomerates like Adobe and Microsoft a good thing, but in our growing obsession with getting something for nothing, the impact is starting to show on new artists, who are feeling an added pressure.

Just prior to the great leap forward the digital world took, journalists were singing the praises of a legal download boom. In 2004, The Independent remarked that C.D sales had risen exponentially over a five year period and that legal downloads were now leading the way. Today it is a completely different story.

File download screen

Marcus, an acoustic guitarist and bass player from Brighton, who has worked as a session musician for the past five years, has seen the topic of illegal downloads become an ever more prominent feature in his conversations with other musicians. “I used to use torrents a lot in the early days” he says “I got a real buzz from downloading the latest Hollywood blockbuster for free, and God forgive me, also the latest albums and such. But after a while I began to get this nagging feeling in the back of my head, I felt like I was stealing from my family, if that makes sense? The conversations with many musicians I’ve had has been the same, it all felt fantastic for them at first, but they then, after having experienced first hand the struggles of being a fulltime musician, felt like they were depriving others of some hard earned cash.”

Musicians and many ordinary music fans alike have gone through or are going through this moment of guilt in downloading artists work for nothing. Yet the issue remains, and isn’t likely to disappear anytime in the near future. However, with digital technology forever on the march, it’s hopeful that musicians will find a way of solving the problem. Finally, with more people discussing illegal downloads and how they affect the livelihood of artists who often live on the margins to achieve their dreams, the public conscience will surely shift away from the terrible torrent.

Spaceman: The marriage of music and sci-fi

Musicians have always had a love of Sci-Fi, since the 1960’s we’ve seen song after song influenced by man’s curiosity about space and what lies beyond the stars. From David Bowie’s haunting ‘Space Oddity’ to Babylon Zoo’s not so subtle ‘Spaceman’, we’ve had the good, the bad and the ugly from artists throughout the decades. As a whole, pop culture has rekindled its love affair with space in recent years. With movies like ‘Moonwalkers’, ‘The Last Man on the Moon’ and ‘400 Days’ arriving in cinemas this year alone, Sci-Fi is more buoyant than it has ever been. So, here are the top 5 songs inspired by all things space.

  1. David Bowie – ‘Space Oddity’

1969 was not all about free love, girls with flowers in their hair and hippie music circles. The summer of ‘69 was the year the world first encountered David Bowie, or more specifically, the first time the world encountered the mysterious Major Tom, who would later make a number of appearances in Bowie’s songs through to the 1980’s. In the eerie and melodic ‘Space Oddity’ Bowie tells the story of Major Tom’s launch into the great unknown. Released just 5 days before the Apollo moon landings, it was a song of pure genius. In 2014, ‘Space Oddity’ was taken to new heights (literally and figuratively) when Commander Chris Hadfield performed a rendition of the song in orbit.

  1. Muse – ‘Supermassive Black Hole’

With typical power and fury, Muse broke new ground with their anthem ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, an elaborate, theatrical and evocative song, featuring a flurry of angry guitars and Matt Bellamy’s distinctive voice, with its operatic extravagance and unapologetic undertones of eroticism. ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ remains one of Muse’ biggest crowd pleasers.

A galaxy

  1. Babylon Zoo – ‘Spaceman’

Babylon Zoo may have had a short lived career, with success coming and then disappearing in the blink of an eye, but their 1996 anthem ‘Spaceman’ was an over the top slice of pop magic, fondly remembered by those who encountered the song in clubs and at school discos. Its swirling guitars and robotic vocals were a welcome change from the Spice Girls and Oasis during the summer of that year.

  1. Elton John – ‘Rocket Man’

Elton John made no secret of the fact ‘Rocket Man’ was inspired by David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. No apologies were made when it came to the songs blatant references to drug use. Released in 1972, ‘Rocket Man’ is the finest example of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s professional relationship, with the idea for the song coming after John and Taupin saw a shooting star in the night sky.

  1. Beastie Boys – ‘Intergalactic’

Forever irreverent and in familiar comic style, the Beastie Boys ‘Intergalactic’ has made its way into a variety of comic sci-fi shows, including Matt Groening’s ‘Futurama’, since its release. The boys showed us that Sci-Fi can be both snarling and funny at the same time. Most memorably, the video featured a giant robot, looking as if it were lifted from a 1950’s b-movie.

Marketing yourself

At Quite Great, our philosophy has always been about being professional, tailoring our services in music marketing to suit each client, creating a special bond with artists and companies, and last but not least, getting results that are truly beneficial to everyone involved. We have over 15 years of experience in the industry working with a diverse array of talent, including Newton Faulkner, Sandi Thom, Russell Watson and Jamie Cullum. We’re always willing to share little tidbits of knowledge that help emerging artists get the attention they deserve, allowing them to understand this very tough industry.

Exposure, or more specifically the lack of it, is the main problem that even the most talented artists worry about. You can have the guitar skills of Keith Richards or the voice of Adele, yet find only dead ends in terms of having your talent appreciated. The main cause for this is often a misunderstanding of music marketing. Don’t feel too bad, it’s impossible for one person to have the knowledge of a whole team of people, but there are many ways a solo artist or band can understand the mechanics of music marketing and get their creations heard.

Music Think Tank gives some handy tips on getting to grips with marketing yourself, as Shaun Letang explains: “A lot of musicians when starting out feel like if they make their music good enough, they will get noticed – that all they have to do is record a good album, make it available to people in stores (or somewhere online) and their music will start making sales and getting downloads. While I can see why people would think this, it’s far from the truth! Anyone who’s tried this tactic before will know that this isn’t the case. All that happens is you make zero or very few sales. Being talented and letting people know about your talent are two very different things. As well as making music that people actually want to listen to, you need to get them to give you a listen in the first place. After all, how will people know you’re talented if they don’t give you that initial chance?”

Being good at music marketing is simple really. You just need to really focus on putting yourself out there, both in traditional and innovative ways, as Shaun says. Simply putting your music online will not do the trick, as we have said before, you need to galvanise the whole spectrum of the digital sphere, as well as those avenues where you get to interact with potential fans in real life.

On the latter subject, Green Buzz gives a quality word of advice, focusing on quality over quantity, in their article 8 Rules: Marketing in the Music Industry, saying: “prioritise connecting with fans one by one over applications that “autobot” fans onto your social networking sites. This will inspire loyalty in your fan base and will ultimately be the most effective way in turning potential fans into super fans.”

Always remember, finding a modicum of success in this the music industry is tough for even the most seasoned artist, but taking time to really think about marketing yourself will help exponentially.

Working with self doubt

As a musician, self doubt can be the biggest hurdle to get through. It often manifests as that nagging little voice in the corner of your mind, forever there, chipping away at your confidence. So many musicians give up, not through what other people have said, but through what their own mind has been telling them. Self doubt is the toughest criticism you are ever going to face, not just as a musician, but in any creative field. We’re always going to think other people can do the same thing a lot better than us, and that by putting ourselves out there for all to see, we’re just going to make a fool of ourselves.

Every musician behaves differently when handling self doubt. Julian Graham, a Blues Rock artist who is currently studying at UWL in Ealing, took the route of honing his confidence and self-determination in order to beat it. “When people say  it’s not going to be easy, they were more right than you would have ever thought” he says “so self-doubt comes with that. I think you just have to be so self-determined and confident in your artwork, that everyone else thinks you’re a bit insane. Sometimes people take it too far and get arrogant, whereas there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is saying “I’m a good musician,” where arrogance is, “I’m the best musician ever.”

Before heading to Ealing, Julian took himself to Florence, where he played in the many pubs and bars across Italy to get himself heard and throw himself in at the deep end. Hearing of Julian’s backstory and foray into the world music which started at a young age, it feels like this initial experience is what also helped him to gain the confidence to pursue music as a career, conquering the demon of self doubt. “Like many people in school, I found it really hard to find a group. I wasn’t the most popular kid and the only people I really connected with were in music groups. I played trumpet, marimbas, steel band, etc. I found that everyone was just enjoying life, it made total sense to me! They were creating art out of thin air! I also realised that songs, more than anything, have the ability to last in people’s minds. Who wouldn’t want to live forever?”

Even during the toughest moments of creating music, where self doubt can be at most virulent, Julian values the difficulty and embraces the hard work that goes into it. “It involves a lot of waiting” he explains, “A lot of pen-finding and a lot of swear words. It’s hard work! It’s the craziness of what I imagine a Michelin star restaurant goes through. The only difference is I’m Gordon Ramsay and the food is my guitar and pen.”

Julian imparts simple, yet worthy advice to anyone looking to throw themselves into making music their career. “Sometimes you’ll be the only one who believes in yourself. That’s part of it all. The difference between other people and us is that we can write a song about it – and that song can change everything.”

Steve Hampton: advice from a life in music

Quite Great has been an industry establishment for some years, forging a niche as the go-to for marketing in a tough and cutthroat environment. There are certain individuals we encounter that have been in the industry far longer, Steve Hampton being one. Having been a jobbing musician for some 30 years, Steve has an intimate knowledge of the scene, seeing first hand how musician’s methods of promoting themselves and interacting with fans has changed over the years. He speaks about his current musical project and gives some advice to younger artists.

A singer and lead guitarist, he is the frontman of numerous bands. Steve’s success is due to his variety and ability to take his guitar and simply learn different styles, understanding exactly what his audience want to hear. A favourite of local festivals and music venues in Hampshire is Dead Crow Road, a self-proclaimed redneck rock and roll outfit that creates music which is wild and vicious. Steve explains: “the Dead Crow Road style is raw, real americana flavour, we use a pedal steel and mandolin to get it just right.” The band was formed with the soul idea to exemplify the true grit and power of country music, banishing any twee and syrup soaked notions. “Our first gig was in Portsmouth, a favourite spot for me and my band mates, at the Eastney Cellars, a small, spit and sawdust venue that really appreciates live music. The response was a positive one, and we have been going ever since.”

Dead Crow Road is made up of musicians who have an undying love and passion for playing music, with Nick Evans on guitar and mandolin, George Allen on bass, Dave Gilgannon on guitar, and finally the band’s youngest member Chris Dennison on drums. Collectively they have many years of experience, both within and on the periphery of the industry. In his conversation with me, Steve openly admits that the industry is not what it used to be. “I don’t want to sound like some old curmudgeon” he says, “but there’s not really much these days, in more ways than one, to make. You have any specific game plan for a band, the wider industry is less about talent now and more about promoting a certain product.” The band have found success by their independent means, finding ways to promote themselves via social media and secure gigs by word of mouth.

As a fixture of venues at a county level, Steve has noticed a change in the mindset of venue managers, and a change that can prove detrimental for up and coming musicians desperate to play to an audience: apathy. “They’ve been inundated with mediocre bands for so long, so when you approach them for gigs you automatically get tarred with the same brush.”

Steve’s primary advice for an aspiring artist is simple: “be true to what you are, this is the most important thing of all” he says, “if you’re constantly unsure and pretending to be something you’re  not, you’re going to fail before you’ve even begun. It’s such a distinct and obvious thing, but for many musicians I’ve met over the years, some just don’t get it”. Finally, he says, “remember your own self worth, the musician is the top of the food chain. Without musicians there would be no music on films, no radio, no record companies, no publishers, no venues, no promoters.”

Steve Hampton is living proof that you can be a fulltime musician – it just takes self confidence and a lot of hard work and determination!