Interview with Hattie Briggs, singer / songwriter

She is under no illusions that she couldn’t have done all this without the support of her parents, who by paying things like car insurance and living costs have enabled her to put her own money into forwarding her career.

Artists want to create music and promote it to as many people as they can, but there is a 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.

Hattie Briggs is a 22 year old singer / songwriter from Gloucestershire. She left university to focus full time on her music career in January 2014. In 2014 she was a Radio 2 Young Folk Award Nominee and her music has been played on TV, BBC Radio 1, 2 and 6.

She has released an EP and an album, ‘Red & Gold’. The album was released via Wise Dog Records. She gigs regularly, completed a UK support tour in the spring and plays on the festival circuit.

We caught up with Hattie to talk about the thorny subject of money and music and how she has approached this.



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Q: “I started the interview by asking Hattie what the trigger was for leaving university and focusing full time on a career in music (including a potted history of her career to date).”

Hattie explained that she started writing music at the age of 17 really as a bit of fun and no more than this. She reflected on her journey of leaving school and going to University to study a Russian Degree, and her enjoyment of her first year of the course. It was only in the second year, when she found she was more and more distracted with musical creativity, that she felt she had a ‘eureka’ moment, believing that she wanted to focus full time on developing her career in music which lead her to leaving university in January 2014.

Going back a step I was interested to know how something that started as a bit of fun turned into a full time career. Hattie explained that she used to play at school concerts but was a nervous performer. It was a family friend who encouraged her to record her music after hearing it for the first time. At university she played some open mic sessions but still her focus was on her course and playing hockey. Towards the end of her first year she met Henry Fraser who is a Sydney born Singer / Songwriter based in London.

It was clear in the interview that Henry has been an influence in Hattie’s career. Henry was already doing gigs in London and knew some promoters. In 2013 they started to play gigs together, and though he’s not a full time musician, Henry has been a key member of the band ever since.

I asked about the Young Folk Awards and she explained that she heard about it on the radio and sent in a track. She heard nothing for two months and had assumed nothing more would happen. She then heard she had been whittled down to the final ten acts. From there she was invited to a weekend of music and concerts in September 2013. The weekend was a mixture of workshops, talks and song writing but also they had to play their music in front of judges who would select the final four acts.

She was selected as one of the final nominees and invited to play live at the Albert Hall for the awards ceremony in February 2014. This also gave her radio exposure.

Around the same time in 2013 she was putting together her first EP with Henry Fraser. She explained that all of this was a distraction from her course and in January 2014 she made the decision to leave university. When talking to Hattie it is clear that she has the support of her parents and her decision did not come as a surprise to them. When she came home she had already written a basic plan of what she needed to do.

The same day she came home she had an email from Pete Waterman (not of eighties fame) who offered to produce her album. She also put in place a manager (Louise Scott) and between the three of them they work closely as a team to manage her career.

Hattie’s first single ‘Pull me Down’ was released in February to capitalise on the Young Folk Awards and reached number 19 in the iTunes Singer / Songwriter charts.

From there the focus was taking the music she had written, developing it and creating an album. Much of the recording was done in April / May 2014. Over the coming months some songs were remastered and re-recorded. The decision was made to release the album in April 2015 due to a growing fan base and sufficient media coverage to promote the album. Since then much of Hattie’s time has been spent touring and promoting the album.

Q: “I asked Hattie to describe her experience of how the market for promoting music has evolved. In particular I was interested in understanding how important distributors, streaming services and social media are in promoting her music and how this has evolved over time.”

Hattie started by explaining that all of this is massively important to her and something that she has grown up with so it seems a natural means of promotion. Initially she signed up to Tunecore who are an online distributor to digital stores (iTunes, Amazon, Google + etc). The cost was fairly minimal for the service but a percentage of sales is taken by the digital stores for all sales.

At the folk awards she was introduced to the founder of AWAL who not only acts as distributor to digital stores but also help with advertising.

I talked about the importance of being on these sites and she explained that it is crucial, since many people only buy music digitally and she’d miss out on sales if she was reliant on her website and on purchases at gigs. We also touched on streaming services and she explained that she doesn’t mind these services as it’s just another outlet for people to hear her music.

Touching on social media Hattie explained that this is really important in connecting with fans. Instagram is a fairly new media for her, it tends to get more notice and it is quick and easy to use but Facebook is equally important because she can show gigs, have downloads and use sponsored posts. Twitter is another means of promotion. She also stressed that many of her fans aren’t on Facebook, Twitter etc., which is why her website and mailing list are also key platforms. She gets hundreds of hits a day from people looking at her gigs list, reading her blog, listening to her tracks and ordering merch (CDs, vinyl, tote bags etc.).

Q: “I talked to Hattie about how bands have become more creative in the production of records, using crowdfunding to fund the release of their music. In particular I was interested in how Hattie had approached the funding of her first album, why she had set up Wise Dog Records (her own record label) and whether she had considered using her record label to promote other artists in the future.”

Hattie explained that they did look to crowd funding as a means of developing the first album and felt that rather than using the likes of Pledge Music it was something they could do themselves. They did the whole exercise privately via her website using all social media platforms to get the word out to her fans. Through this they raised about a quarter of the costs of producing the album. The rest of the money came in the form of family backing, Hattie’s savings, and lots of gigs and busking.

As part of this Hattie set up her own record label, Wise Dog Records, to ensure the album had a more professional feel which would help with the promotion aspect. We talked about Wise Dog Records and whether she would widen it out to other artists. Hattie saw no reason why in the future this might not be an option but at the moment the focus is on her career.

Q: “In the next part of the interview we covered how Hattie and her team have effectively created their own promotion business and record label. I asked Hattie why she went down this route and whether she has had to make any artistic compromises. We also talked about how she has been able to fund this, what the best sources of revenue are and whether she would consider some form of partnership with a label (particularly to promote the album internationally).”

Throughout the interview the topic of record labels came up. Clearly the team Hattie works with are influential in what she is doing. A good example was when we were talking and her manager happened to be around, who was in discussion with a potential concert organiser. The organiser wanted to be paid up front and Louise was doing the ground work because it appeared this might be a scam. Having this support network is obviously very important to Hattie.

The advice she has been given is to hold onto what she owns (the rights to her songs etc.) for as long as she can. As she explained, at this stage of her career why should she give away 50% of everything when she and her team can do most of the things themselves?

Hattie went on to say that a lot of this is a learning process and she is picking up new skills as she goes along. Understanding how a record label works is important because effectively the Hattie Briggs team has lots of people doing different aspects of the management and promotion, and some of these people are only employed for a few months at a time. She feels that at the moment, when she needs extra people to help with things like press, radio plugging etc., it is better to find and employ individuals and/or small companies herself, rather than signing to a label. She accepts that there may come a time where there is too much for her small team to deal with. When and if the right deal comes along she might well take it.

If she does sign to a label then she wants to be in control and not be faced with a position where she has to compromise to fit the label as she feels some artists may have done.

We talked about whether she felt she had had to compromise musically in what she was doing at the moment and she said she doesn’t feel that at all. In fact she now has the time and freedom to write all kinds of songs, which is what she loves doing. This isn’t to say that she spends all day in a songwriting bubble. She does a lot of admin and gig booking herself, working closely with her management in deciding and planning what the next step will be.

Hattie explained that her job is not a normal one and it does require discipline and motivation, especially at the moment with the forthcoming tours (UK and Holland) and the release of “Tilly’s Song”.

We touched briefly on funding and Hattie explained that at the moment her income mainly comes in the form of gigs and selling CDs. Royalty statements and busking also help, and the fact that she lives as home so isn’t shelling out on huge amounts of rent every month. She is under no illusions that she couldn’t have done all this without the support of her parents, who by paying things like car insurance and living costs have enabled her to put her own money into forwarding her career. She went on to explain that she is in a fortunate position where she no longer has to play gigs for nothing and can be selective as to where she performs. Also for those gigs that are not as well paid she can choose not to take the band and keep costs relatively low.

Q: “Hattie has a growing (and loyal) fan base. I asked Hattie how she had approached this. In particular I wanted to understand how important festivals were to that growth, how she has been able to open her music up to the European market and whether she has ambitions to tackle the US market.”

Hattie started by explaining that the Folk Awards were a catalyst for increasing her fan base, doubling it within a couple of weeks. She also believes that committing full time to her career helps because people take her much more seriously. Other means of increasing the fan base include gigs, social media, PR and Radio.

Turning to festivals Hattie sees these as any other gig. This year she will have done nearly 10 festivals. She explained that it is about choosing the right ones. So, for example, at the Cambridge Folk Festival she was playing in front of 200 plus people but she did a session for Sky Arts TV, Radio Interviews and Interviews for magazines so the exposure from that one festival was very strong. Another festival which worked well for her was the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, where she performed a full band showcase in the main arena.

The European Tour is as a direct result of advertising on Facebook. She was contacted by a promoter in Holland who said they could put together some gigs. She has arranged 16 dates in Holland some of which are “living room gigs”, some music cafes, in-stores and folk clubs.

We touched briefly on “living room gigs” and she explained that this is literally turning up at someone’s house and playing for an hour. She sees a lot of benefit in these types of gigs as they are much more intimate and she gets a chance to engage with the audience even more than at other gigs. She sometimes sells more albums at these small audience gigs (20 – 30 people) than she does at larger venue gigs because people “really connect with you as an individual as well as with the music”. Often when she is in a particular place she can also tie in radio interviews and busking.

We talked about a wider tour of Europe and this is very much on the agenda. I asked how she gets out there to promote the tour and she explained that it is a mixture of things. In Holland she has “super fans” as she calls them who have promoted the album via blogs, reviews etc. and from this the word has spread and more people want to hear her. The aim is to tour the likes of Italy, Germany, France and Holland next June.

Currently she is working with her manager, talking to people and getting the tour promoted. She sends out regular newsletters and blogs and does as much on social media as she can without putting up things that are “too random and irrelevant”. There appears to be no magic formula, it often comes down to picking up the phone and calling people, as well as networking as much as possible at gigs and festivals.

Beyond Europe she wants to tour Australia next year and America is on her agenda. She explained that Australia is much easier to approach as with America she will need a working visa as well as sponsors which she won’t need in Australia. It doesn’t mean America is not in her sights it just means that it might be further down the line because of the extra work and funding that will be needed to make it work.

Q: “Hattie has been successful in having her music played across Radio 1, 2 and 6. I asked Hattie how she had approached this and why she had taken on a radio plugger.”

Hattie explained that one of her first successes in Radio was sending her track to Claire Carter at BBC Radio Gloucestershire. Claire picked this up, interviewed Hattie and played her track.

The BBC Folk Awards has also given her exposure and she has had success via BBC Introducing, being played on Radio 1, 2 and 6. With the release of her first album she employed a radio plugger to get more exposure and work alongside the PR Company she had chosen. It cost a lot to add these people to the team but “there’s no point making an album you’re really proud of if nobody ends up hearing it”.

We talked about Radio 1 and 2. Hattie believes her first album is more Radio 2 friendly but she feels the second album will be more of a crossover with both Radio 1 and Radio 2. She explained that getting exposure through Radio is tricky with the pop tunes and then the indie charts and not much room in between. However, the likes of Jake Bugg and Passenger show that cross-genre singer-songwriters can gain exposure and Hattie is keen to do this.

Q: “I talked to Hattie about getting music heard and the temptation (pressure) to focus on stand out tracks. I asked Hattie how she had approached this and whether she felt this pressure exists (in particular where a record label is involved).”

Hattie explained that when producing her first album this wasn’t really something she was thinking about. She was recording tracks that she wanted to record, in a way that she and her producer felt would get the best out of them. However, with input from her team and what she has learnt from the release of Red & Gold, she now has a better idea of what radio stations are looking for, and may well focus a little more on making songs more radio friendly as she moves forward.

She doesn’t feel this is too much of a compromise. For example she has re-recorded “Tilly’s Song” which is due to be released in September. Most of the change here is in and around the production, but in other songs might include getting to the chorus quicker as well as making songs more upbeat. Producing the second album she feels she will have this in mind but ultimately she writes songs she likes and hopes her fans will connect with them.

We talked about second albums (or third!) and she explained that it is natural for an artist to do something different for future albums as part of a natural evolution of music. The danger is repeating the same format each time.

I asked her about the pressures of being with a label and she said that she knows of artists who have been forced into writing a winning formula based on what they did before. Effectively the label doesn’t allow the artist the chance to grow and develop. She explained how important it is to find a label that understands who you are, what you want and where you want to be before you sign up.

Q: “For those reading the interview who have not heard Hattie’s music I asked her to describe her musical style, and which musicians influence her the most.”

I don’t think Hattie’s response was dissimilar to many artists we have spoken to. Foremost she sees herself as a singer / songwriter. Hattie feels you can pull a number genres out of her music whether it’s for example folk, pop, jazz, blues or soul. As she mentioned “where would you place Simon and Garfunkel?”

She also explained that her influences are hugely varied from James Taylor, Eva Cassidy (the album includes a cover of Eva Cassidy’s version of ‘Fields of Gold’, produced by Eva’s brother, Dan Cassidy, who also plays a violin solo on the record) and Joni Mitchell, to Queen, Abba, Elton John, through to Hozier, Coldplay, James Blake and Adele, to name a few.

Q: “In the penultimate question I wanted to come back to Hattie’s approach to her career in music and her decision to focus on this full time. I asked Hattie how important it is to have a plan, whether it is wrong to mix business with music (and whether this compromises her love of music), her motivation and where she would like to be in five years.”

Having a plan is really important Hattie explained. From the moment she left university she has been constantly making plans. Each day she works closely with her team with a list of things to do. Planning is also vital because things have to be booked in so far ahead. While still promoting the album and starting a UK tour shortly, she is off to Holland in October/November and is already booking her tour to Europe in June 2016 while thinking beyond that Australia. Equally Hattie hugely values her friends and is keen to ensure she has time for them, which she feels at the moment she is just about able to do though it is tricky because she works different hours to all her friends.

Hattie really enjoys mixing business and music. She sees song writing as an obsession and she is driven to make a success of it. Being accepted is a great motivator. Looking five years ahead is perhaps difficult to imagine at this stage for Hattie but she wants to feel that she is progressing and therefore she doesn’t want to place a timeline on things. She has a plan and she wants to take things as they come.

Although she is making money, all of it goes straight back into the business to promote and develop her career. She is currently working on the second album and has applied for outside funding. Beyond that she wants to move to London because she feels it is a good place for a developing/emerging artist to be, but also because many of her friends are based in London. She has a desire to play larger venues in the future and the Royal Albert Hall is an ambition for her, but things can change so quickly that she tries not to give each goal a deadline.

Q: “In my last question I asked Hattie to describe her favourite venue and where she would like to play in the future.”

Clearly the target is the Royal Albert Hall and beyond, but as for a favourite venue Hattie explained she doesn’t really have one place. She really enjoyed the Cambridge Folk Festival and Cheltenham Jazz Festival. In the next few weeks she is playing West Street Loft in Shoreham by Sea, which she explained is one of her favourite venues because it’s really cozy and intimate. Another venue she loves is the Drawing Room (Chesham) which boasts a homemade wooden stage outside in the summer.

But Hattie explained that every gig is different and often it depends on the audience and how they interact and connect with the songs rather than the venue itself.

Interviewers comment

There is something special about Hattie’s debut album reflecting that she is foremost a singer / songwriter. The cover version of ‘Fields of Gold’ is one song that stands out for me; the song is produced by Eva Cassidy’s brother, Dan, who also plays the violin.

Music is much more accessible than ever before and Hattie shows that it is possible to make a career from music but it requires commitment, a supportive team and a plan.

We are hoping to see Hattie play soon, and look forward the release of ‘Tilly’s Song’ as well as seeing her career develop over the next few years.

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