Where would we like to play – anywhere where there are people who want to hear us is the simple answer. If there is a crowd, then no stage is to small. Every gig is an opportunity to meet new friends.
Artists want to create music and promote it to as many people as they can, but there is the financial element that has to be embraced. To an extent money gets in the way of what artists enjoy the most, making music. These interviews are aimed at understanding how different artists approach this challenge.
Downfall are a four-piece rock band from Devon taking their influences from classic rock but fusing new rock and metal into their sound. The band comprises of brothers Jake and Mack Hodgson, Nathan Bostock and Karl Little.
Formed in 2013 the band have performed over 100 shows including festivals and gigs around the South West. They have had success in local Battle of the Bands competitions and have self released two EPs, “Filthy Rich and Dirty Minded” and “The Fallen”.
They have recently won a nationwide competition, ‘Brand New Artist for Christmas 2015’, and have signed to Negart Records. They are currently working on their first single which will be released on 4th December 2015.
All of this from a band where the band members ages range from 16 to 25. We spoke to the band, their manager and had input from their record label to understand more about their journey and what they want to achieve in the future.
To buy their EP: downfallrocks.co.uk/downfallstore.html
SL: “As a band you have achieved a lot in a relatively short period of time. Can you provide you a potted history of the band to date?”
DF: “As a band Downfall are very driven and motivated. The band came together through a chance meeting in a local music shop and after a couple of “jam sessions” it became apparent that something different was very possible.
From the onset the band focused primarily on original material and within a month of meeting they played their first show at a local beer festival.
From that point on the band were determined to play live as often as possible. This allowed them to develop a show rather than just being four musicians stood nervously on a stage.
2013 was a very hectic year and between May and Xmas the band performed well over 40 shows including winning a local Battle of the Bands competition. They also created enough original material to record their first EP, “Filthy Rich and Dirty Minded”, which they released in December 2013.
In 2014 Downfall continued to play more live shows including some bigger gigs. Playing with known tribute acts took their music to a new audience as they played shows with Ozzbest, The Guns and Roses Experience, Knotslip and High On Maiden.
Internet Radio also really helped to get the Downfall music out there and in particular Dr Johns Unsigned Rock Surgery, TBFM and NeueRegal Radio.”
SL: “How difficult has it been with the wide range of ages?”
DF: “To be honest, it hasn’t proved difficult. The band is well managed and they are very focused. The band have proved that young people can be creative and can produce really good quality music.”
SL: “Do you feel you have had to compromise artistically to get where you are today?”
DF “This is a question still to be answered as the Downfall journey is really only just starting.
Downfall certainly play to the heavier end of the rock spectrum and to start with it was a little difficult to get venues to take a group of young people seriously. That being said the Downfall live show is uncompromising and the band play to please themselves as well as the audience.
The new part of the Downfall journey with Negart Records is just beginning and the aim is to break into the mainstream. There may need to be a little compromise but we know that there will always be a little Downfall twist in there somewhere.”
SL: “Describe your experience of how the market for promoting music has evolved?”
DF: “People don’t seem to be able to function without their smart phones now and so without the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (and so on and so on) a band would also struggle to function.
However, if you are just relying on social media then any advertising campaign you have will fail. Downfall have worked with the radio stations that are regularly playing their music and have recorded soundbytes for those stations. We are also great believers in “old skool”; posters, flyers and leaflets and this proved really successful during our Brand New Artist Campaign. We also have a good relationship with our local newspapers.
Best bit of advice – interact with real people rather than virtual people whenever and wherever you can.”
SL: “How important are the likes of iTunes, streaming services (like Spotify) and social media?”
DF: “Social media is really important as you can interact on a world-wide level with a simple touch of a button, however social media restrictions, (thank you Facebook) can be really annoying.
Spotify and iTunes are great for making your music available to the masses BUT as an up and coming musician you start to become more and more aware that these same services can ruin music due to illegal downloading.”
SL: “You have recently won a nationwide competition to be the brand new artist for Christmas 2015, securing a record deal in the process. Part of the competition meant that you had to promote yourself, do gigs and secure votes across different platforms. Describe why this competition was important to you and what you did to win it?”
DF: “We were made aware of the Brand New Artist for Xmas competition through a friend, we applied and were accepted.
The competition was based on finding a completely unknown artist and seeing if they had the drive and support to manage a successful promotional campaign over a three-month period, the prize, a Xmas single release along with a video and a whole package of other stuff valued at £100k.
As a band we built our campaign strategy around the principle of opportunity. We recognised that winning the competition could provide the band with a fantastic opportunity to do something that we may not otherwise have been able to do and so we took every available opportunity to play and to promote.
The first thing that we did was to engage with social media and to let people know what we were doing and what the competition was about. We contacted our local newspaper, engaged with the local Chamber of Trade and the local College to secure community involvement and we also made contact with radio stations that were regularly playing our tracks and arranged for interviews and for messages to be put out. This included interviews with the Mike James Rock Show and with Dr Johns Rock Surgery and we also got support from James Santer at BBC Radio Devon Introducing.
A big part of the competition was about voting. This was weekly and in three formats, landline and text votes plus free email voting. We concentrated on the email voting medium and wrote an “app” so that all votes automatically cc’ed our email address. This meant that we could profile the timing of the votes and also, with a bit of digging around Facebook and twitter you could also profile age groups and location.
Most importantly though we generated a database of voters so at the end of each week we could email everyone saying thanks and giving them an update on our progress in the competition, and also sending them the voting link and asking them to please vote again. This strategy played a huge part in us winning the competition. We could see how many votes were coming in and we could send mid-week reminders etc etc. It also meant we could give something back to the people voting by sending them tracks or randomly picking a name and sending them some merchandise.
We also did a lot of leaflet distribution around our town and the surrounding area. Throughout the course of the competition we letter dropped every house in our town three times. We also spent around four hours per day reviewing the votes received and looking at our own social media and the other competitors to make sure we were doing everything that we could.
In addition to all this, the band played shows. During the three months of the competition Downfall played 11 shows across the South West, (Plymouth to Bristol), including two shows with tribute band Hi-On Maiden and a show supporting Ashes to Angels and Calabrese.
Downfall have had the strap line of “sometimes things happen for a reason” since the band formed and this sentiment seems particularly relevant now.”
SL: “Without the money of a record label how have you funded this, and what have been the main sources of income?”
DF: “Most of the work that Downfall have done so far has been self-funded.
Karl and Jake both work and for Mack and Nathan they do what they can. In addition, the band has great parental support plus some support from a couple of local businesses.
Okehampton Glass kept the band on the road for the first 18 months by loaning us vans to transport equipment to shows and we are very grateful to Andy and his team. Now we have our own mini bus and advertise local businesses on the bus. We also have sponsorship from Balsdons Vehicle Services, which keeps the van on the road.
At the moment the band self-manage all its own social media including their website.
Local shows are all self-promoted. For shows outside of Devon we work with promoters.
We were also very lucky in that two local grant sources recently got involved with the band and funded our video for our track “Lost My Mind”.
We do get some income from shows, although this income is limited by the time you allow for diesel, drum sticks and guitar strings. The first EP was totally self funded. Sales from the first EP plus tee shirts and other merch sales paid for most of the second EP plus we have done a small crowd funder campaign.
As a new band we have certainly invested more at the moment than we have gotten back, however if you have the belief that you can do something then you should take every opportunity of trying to make that something happen.
By engaging with the local community it is amazing how much support we have gotten. We also make sure that we set up a professional merch table at every show and take time after the gig to man the stall and to talk to people.”
SL: “How important is it to have a record label, and what can the label bring to the mix?”
DF: “The record label is important to us at this stage because of what it stands for at this stage of our journey – opportunity, guidance and industry knowledge.
We hope that, with the help of Negart Records, we will write and produce better music and that our music will find its way onto mainstream radio and into high street shops as well as on to iTunes etc.
We also hope that record label backing will also lead to other opportunities, perhaps bigger festivals and shows with bigger known artists?”
SL: “At the start of the band, how did you fund and promote yourself to a wider audience?”
DF: “As you know, Downfall are a young band. When they played their first show two of the band were just 13.
To start with funding was from parental support but it is surprising what you can do for very little money.
Social media is free so Facebook, twitter and YouTube are an obvious starting place. Soundcloud and Reverbnation are also great tools.
At the very start of the band our manager worked with a local pub to set up live music in the venue. In exchange for establishing the pub as a live music venue, Downfall were given support slots so that they could practice their stage craft.
If you have good quality recordings, then make use of internet radio. There are a few stations that are really good and that have good listening figures. We are very grateful to Radio Rock Bandom, to TBFM, to Rockers Dive and to The Mike James Rock Show, (amongst many others) BBC Introducing is another good platform to load your music onto.”
SL: “Do you feel the financial aspect of music gets in the way of artistic creativity?”
DF: “Musicians will always be musicians and artists first and foremost and money doesn’t and shouldn’t get in the way of creativity. The start of any young bands journey is about developing the skills you need to achieve what it is that you want to achieve, that is your ability to play, then your ability to perform and also your ability to communicate at all levels and in all mediums.”
SL: “You have produced two EPs and are in the process of producing your first album. In an age of downloads often people pick one or two songs rather than buying a whole album. Do you think there is a pressure for artists to develop standout tracks and therefore is it harder to create a whole album? And how have you approached this?”
DF: “We firmly believe in only putting the right tracks on our EPs and this is definitely true for the album.
The first EP “Filthy Rich and Dirty Minded” was a showcase / demo EP. It is still an EP that we are proud of and we have revisited some of those tracks and have redeveloped them for new recording projects.
“The Fallen” was put together to show the new direction that the band were taking. More technical song writing and using a very good studio, Momentum Studios in Plymouth. This EP was the start of our album, Heaven’s Gain which is dedicated to the memory of our good friend Jamie Fleming.
Heaven’s Gain will be released in the next few weeks and features 10 great songs including the single, “With You”.”
SL: “In the UK there is about a 50 / 50 split between physical and downloads. Do you feel that the physical market could be squeezed? For you as a band what is more important to you?”
DF: “Download is always going to be the key market for an up and coming band, but we do always keep a supply of CDs for sale at gigs.
We are also lucky in that there is going to be a very limited run of vinyl for the single.
The thing with download is that it is available to everyone, so if you get your marketing strategy right then you can make sales.
Unless you have a good friend in an independent record shop, getting physical CDs etc. in front of the buying public is a bit more difficult.”
SL: “The market for distributing and hearing music is changing rapidly making it much harder to measure success. How do you measure success, and with so many outlets to getting your music heard how have you approached this?”
DF: “I don’t know that we are yet really at a stage where we can measure success or failure but it is becoming easier to attract good audiences to local shows and people are always happy to work with us on more than one occasion so I guess that this is a measure of success.
If people come up to you after a show and say they enjoyed it, or even better buy some merch, then you can chalk that up as another small success.
What we do work hard on is independent radio coverage, but only those that are signed up to PRS. That way there is some royalty payments for getting your music played. If you are serious about your music, then get it registered with PRS and PPL.”
SL: “Many successful bands / artists have been built up from the ground with a loyal fan base. How do you go about building that base from being localised, to being national and even international? Do you feel that festivals are a good route to expanding your fan base to a more national audience?”
DF: “The opportunity to get onto the festival circuit has to be recognised as a great stepping stone. It is your opportunity to get your show and your music to larger audiences. This, along with extending the area that we play in, is our plan for 2016.”
SL: “For those artists signed to record labels do you feel there is a danger that they are pressurised into compromising artistic talent, i.e. are artists sometimes placed into a position where they write for sales / popularity or can they keep their artistic talent intact?”
DF: “We have currently licenced to Negart Records rather than signed. Negart like what we do and like our sound but at the moment there is so much development going on within the band that the band members do not want to be constrained creatively.
If you do sign to a label you have to realise that it is a business deal and that the label has to make money out of what you do – the obvious conclusion is that there has to be a danger about having to compromise. If you are trying to go mainstream then you have to have a commercial product.”
SL: “For those who don’t know your music describe your style and what people should expect to hear?”
DF: “To quote our website:
Downfall are one of the most exciting up-and-coming independent new bands on the South West UK scene. They work hard and play harder, delivering “in-your-face rock and roll” with swagger and style.
Fusing old skool rock with modern rock and metal, DownFall deliver original material with powerhouse drumming, blistering guitars, gritty vocals and thumping bass lines, Downfall are an eclectic mix of personalities and ages that gel into an energised musical fireball exploding onto stages and assulting the senses.
Think Black Stone Cherry meets Stone Sour meets Black Label Society down a dark alley on a darker night. Throw in a bit of Bullet and a little sleaze metal bite and you have DownFall.
“Sometimes things happen for a reason and then there was Downfall””
SL: “Although it is easy to pinpoint a few multi-million selling artists, there are many more selling considerable less but still making some money. Like any job it is hard. What motivates you and where would you like to be in five years’ time?”
DF: “The motivation is that we are young enough to enjoy what we have the opportunity to do and that we believe our music and live shows are good enough to make people stop and listen. We are not afraid to work hard and for as long as we keep breaking even then we will keep trying.
In five years’ time we would like to be in a position where the name Downfall is at least known in the general music domain and that we will be getting good shows supporting better known artists. It is to easy to say we want to be doing this and playing there etc. but in reality we just want to be still playing and getting better known for what we do.”
SL: “And finally describe your favourite venue, and where you would like to play in the future?”
DF: “Our favourite local venue is The Junction at Mutley in Plymouth. Run by Dan James, this is a traditional spit and sawdust music venue. A great stage, a great sound and a great crowd.
The Junction has been supporting local music for years and it also puts on some great shows with up and coming acts (and the odd bigger name) from all over the Country. Without venues like this there would be no local music scene and then no nationwide music scene.
Where would we like to play – anywhere where there are people who want to hear us is the simple answer. If there is a crowd, then no stage is to small. Every gig is an opportunity to meet new friends.”
Our interviews aim to cover all genres of music, and it is some time since I have listened to heavy rock.
One thing that comes across in this interview is the energy and hard work that the band put in to make themselves a success. At the same time, they seem to have their feet firmly fixed on the ground, the ambitions over the next five years seem modest and this I think reflects a band who are prepared to build slowly.
Listening to their tracks and in particular “Lost my Mind” you forget about the ages of the band and are presented with an extremely talented group of individuals. At a time when the likes of Royal Blood, the Slaves etc. are deservedly gaining mainstream recognition you feel that Downfall can be part of that shift.
Who knows a BBC Introducing Slot at Glastonbury or like Royal Blood in 2014 a packed John Peel tent? With sensible heads, good music and a sound management team anything can be possible.