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!

Living and learning as a music producer

The music industry is truly rich and varied. Quite Great has worked with so many different artists over the years from far reaching and diverse musical arenas. With a swathe of styles and genres that keep expanding as time goes by, achieving success is only possible by pursuing a well thought out strategy, crafting your talent and, above all else, committing yourself to hard work. Phase 2 Pro, a music producer and artist of Polish origin, now based in London, knows this. He has worked tirelessly to gain recognition and tells us about his musical journey and artistic methods.

His love affair with music began, like most artists, at an early age. “Being born in Poland and moving to the UK at the age of 7 without knowing the language has caused difficulties with communication. At the age of 18 I still felt like an outsider spending majority of my time alone due to my background, mostly. Around that point I was introduced to FL studio, a digital audio workstation. One day I woke up and I just knew this is something I needed to get into as I felt a sense of connection and belonging like I never had before.”

A musical magician who creates complex and otherworldly sounds, Phase 2 Pro has learned to refine and articulate his methodology, trying new styles and if they failed, trying something else. “I used to over complicate my tracks by throwing too many melodies on top of each other” he explains. “Once I began learning about mixing I realised I have too much going on and sonically everything clashed. I made my tracks without taking in mind any room for a vocalist on top of what was going on, also at the same time muddling up and covering beautiful melodies that have no breathing room of their own. Now I make complex music that is simple enough for a listener to digest everything that is going on in the track.”

Headphones in a music production studio

As a music producer, Phase 2 Pro imparts some healthy advice to anyone wishing to get their foot in the door: “In terms of music production, don’t copy or sound like anyone else. At first no artists wanted to work with me as my music was too different. Honestly looking back at it, it was different but not in a good way because I lacked knowledge and experience to bring it to its best. Since then I have stuck to my own sound, developed it through acquiring the tools and knowledge to execute the ideas I had in my head. Now I’m incomparable to any other producer in the world, with my own sound and style I’m confident I can step into any genre and add a new edge that hasn’t been heard of before. I’m just still in the process of building up my hard drive with more tracks before I begin to put them out there.”

On the minutiae of gaining success, he says: “Saying all that, set a goal, try to block out negativity around you and spend time on your craft everyday, moving towards that goal. The way I see it is you have only one chance to make a first impression. Most people want to “blow up” asap. I believe it’s about timing and structuring the moves so there is always a follow up, we see too many artists reach a peak in their career, go quiet for a long time and the comeback doesn’t always put them back to where they left off. Hope you as the reader have picked up useful knowledge and got the gist of this overview.”

Phase 2 Pro’s story is one of constant learning and articulation. He is on an endless journey of artistic discovery.

Olympics and classical music in perfect harmony

The guys at Quite Great love doing promotion and PR for classical musicians. We have worked with hugely talented classical artists, composers, and musical innovators – from Brian Eno and Michael Nyman to Jean Michel Jarre and Pavarotti.

In terms of redefining the parameters of classical music and changing the public’s views and perceptions of traditional musical thinking, no-one comes close to Kristjan Järvi. We were thrilled when we were chosen by Kristjan to help with his release of Wagner’s The Ring, his Duets project with Steve Reich, as well as his tour.

With a timely nod to the Rio Olympics, this is a wonderful story about music and sport coming together. Check out the release and spread the word as Kristjan is a true innovator within the music world.

Estonian Olympic Committee appoint classical music innovator to inspire a new generation of sportsmen and women

The Estonian Olympic Committee have created history by appointing the first non-sports person to hold a senior position as a standing member, with the announcement that the innovative classical composer Kristjan Järvi will be using music to help inspire Estonian sporting success in the future.

Kristjan is already a major force across the Baltic states through his work in creating ‘Sound Estonia’. Now, he is looking at ways to bring all types of music together – from classical to hip hop – in order to encourage people of all ages to get involved in sport and hopefully bring Olympic success to Estonia for years to come.

“It is an honour,” explains Kristjan, “to be part of the Olympic movement in some small way and to be the first non-sports person to become a standing member of the national committee. Music is an inspirational force. It helps people to fulfil their potential, and in sport, this is vital. Every sportsman and woman tends to use music in some way to inspire, whether it is in the gym or prior to them starting a race. It’s a natural next step to see how this can be expanded upon and how we can scientifically draw in the power of music through training regimes and add to the mental side of sports too.”

It is not widely understood how much training and fitness are involved in becoming a renowned member of a leading orchestra, although both are fundamental components of success. Kristjan Järvi not only understands the physical side, but also the spiritual side, which again can play a vital role in an athlete’s success. Bringing the two together could be an inspiring move by the Estonian Olympic Committee. Perhaps, in years to come, we may be seeing more and more Estonian athletes bringing home gold medals thanks in part to Kristjan’s groundbreaking ideas – not to mention hours and hours of hard work on the part of the athletes.

Kristjan Järvi has “earned a reputation as one of the canniest, and most innovative, programmers on the classical scene.” [Reuters]

Curating and conducting his original, genre-fusing projects with individual approach and style, his concerts have been proclaimed a “life-enhancing experience.” [Herald Scotland]

He realises his pioneering ideas with his four ensembles: as Music Director of the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Gstaad Festival Orchestra; as Founder-Conductor of his New York-based classical-hip-hop-jazz group, Absolute Ensemble; and as Founder and Music Director of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, the cornerstone of the Baltic Sea Music Education System. An entrepreneur by nature and a passionate educator, Kristjan Järvi leads both the oldest Radio Orchestra in Europe and the newest young musician Orchestra.

Ongoing guest conducting engagements include: London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre de Paris, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Rome, National Symphony Orchestra (Washington D.C), the Minnesota Orchestra and NHK Symphony Japan. In 2012, he also made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

As a recording artist, Järvi has more than 60 albums to his credit, from Hollywood soundtracks such as Cloud Atlas and award-winning albums on Sony and Chandos, to his eponymous series the ‘Kristjan Järvi Sound Project.’ Launched in 2014, the series features projects across all of Järvi’s ensembles and is characterised by the conductor’s unmistakable approach in taking a fresh look at the old, with concepts and presentation that transcend the borders and boundaries of music.

Järvi continues to work with some of today’s brightest minds, from film directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, to composers and artists Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Tan Dun, Hauschka, Dhafer Youssef, Anoushka Shankar and Esa-Pekka Salonen (with whom he started his career as Assistant Conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic).

Born in Estonia, Kristjan Järvi emigrated to the United States as a child and grew up in New York City.  He is an accomplished pianist and graduated from Manhattan School of Music followed by conducting studies at the University of Michigan.

[Photo of Kristjan courtesy of Peter Adamik]


The benefits of short form video

The music video has been a staple of the music industry since the early 1980’s. With the rise of MTV, we saw artists from Duran Duran to Madonna start to pay a great deal of attention to crafting elaborate, eye-catching gems, that in some cases catapulted artists to global fame in an instant. With the advent of the digital revolution came the further evolution of the music video. With content sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, artists are able to have a no holds barred policy on video creation, from giving their fans mini movies that can sometimes be 20 minutes long, to little teaser videos.

However, as Quite Great has noticed, today fans are after something more intimate, something that has individuality yet doesn’t overshadow the music itself. Many big stars don’t seem to understand this, but for many indie artists out there today, they are acutely aware that fans just want something aesthetically pleasing, but nothing too over the top that devalues the power of the song. That is why short-form video is an indie artist’s best friend, and moreover it’s where they are leading the way, compared to the big music industry establishment, who are finding it hard to understand.

A double bass being played

Leading where others are failing

In her article for Midem Blog, Claire Mas writes: “Short-form video continues to grow in importance and the music industry is still struggling to effectively tap into this trend. I continue to badger artists, managers and agents to use short-form video for any announcement: whether it is an album release (with a teaser video), a tour (with an artist shouting out about it) or a music video (using a cut down 20 seconds version for socials). An interesting development in this space is that Facebook may become much more than just the largest marketing funnel, but actually a potential video destination (with their new video search platform) and source of income (the launch of their Rights Manager must mean monetisation is imminent).”

With a number of short-form video additions to the myriad social media sites and other platforms out there, now is the time for artists to take the bull by the horns and continue galvanising this tool. Marketed correctly, your presence online will explode. On specific musicians that have seen the potential in this new and exciting medium, the Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros showed everyone how it’s done. Anish Patel, writing on the storytelling aspects of short-form video, in Venture Beat, mentioned how Instagram’s new Periscope-style video feature, that allows users to view a curated collection of video clips from major events, captured the interest of the band, resulting in an innovative curated video. “Sigur Rós took advantage of this” he writes “by launching an “ever-evolving” video, which collated their fans’ Instagram photos and videos for a continually updated music video. Fans simply tag their content with a designated hashtag to join in and their content gets added to the video. This interactive concept could be duplicated by any brand with a large following, continuously updated, and then shared on Instagram with a branded hashtag.”

With such a vast variety of video making tools, that range from free to costing just a few pounds, there really has been no better time for artists to just go forth and create, becoming short-form video masters. Furthermore, with the big honchos of the music industry lagging behind, it’s time for indie artists to take the baton and launch a new movement where both artists and fans can benefit exponentially.

Images by Hol & Black

How to use SoundCloud

Like most content sharing sites, SoundCloud has garnered many users over the years, so there are numerous skills you need to employ in order to gain a sufficient amount of fans. It’s advisable to use your SoundCloud profile to show the world that you and your band are a professional outfit. Then there are those more complex nuances; those little marketing tricks that can often seem insignificant, but when executed, ultimately put you head and shoulders above the rest.

So, let’s start with mistakes to avoid. All of us are prone to overdoing it sometimes, promoting our work in what we think is a fiendishly brilliant manner, but to the rest of the world just looks a tad desperate, or doing something that seems out of the ordinary, but is in fact fairly humdrum, and would have worked far better if we stuck to the tried and tested methods.

In Music Marketing Budi Voogt, an artist manager and label owner, pin points 13 mistakes to avoid when using SoundCloud. Each point is useful for any musician, whether a newbie or seasoned professional, to take heed of. For example Voogt writes how uploading every single recording you’ve ever done seems like a good idea, but more often than not puts people off. “For people that are new to your band, and music, you only have a single shot at impressing them.” He says: “You know how it goes: if you discover a new artist, you’ll give one track, maybe two, a shot, and if those aren’t to your liking, you’ll move on. Therefore, it’s essential that you don’t place everything you make on your Soundcloud account. Sure, a Soundcloud upload is less definitive than a track distributed to iTunes or Beatport, however it’s still in the public domain, and fans you win on Soundcloud can certainly become paying customers for gigs and actual releases.  Ideally, your profile should become a showcase of all the amazing finished work you’ve made and released, so that every potential visitor can be amazed and impressed by your prowess.”

A record and sleeve

Be A Social Butterfly

One major key to success with SoundCloud, and one that can never be underestimated, is the aspect of simply being sociable. The entire digital sphere is all about sociability, and it’s the same door to success on other platforms like Twitter, YouTube et al. SoundCloud is structured in a way where the more positivity you give out, the more positivity you get back, so along with promoting your work, be a curator and share other artist’s work you like on your profile too, they will more than likely do the same in return.

DIY Musician has given 10 simple but extremely effective ways to promote yourself, and the majority involves being an active member of the SoundCloud community that really cares about what they’re offering and who they’re promoting. Essentially, creating an awesome vibe of approachability. One idea from DIY Musician is to join the myriad groups featured on SoundCloud: “There are all kinds of genre and location-based “groups”. Pick out a few that you think your music would be right for, join ’em, and submit your tracks. It’s a great way to build a little online community that could lead to sales and gigs down the line.” Further in this vein of creating your own community is hosting a remix contest of your work – “Check out SoundCloud’s advice on hosting a remix competition. Then post all your song’s individual tracks and enlist your fans to make some killer remixes.”

SoundCloud is one of the many arenas in which an artist’s identity is formed, and you must look at your online identity in terms of a brand, without removing any of the fun or artistry that goes with being a musician.

Photos by Mishin & ugalde