Interview with Jack Cookson, singer / songwriter

As an aside as we were talking about this it reminded him of a song on his first EP which is about his dad sailing away, and it reminds us all that there is a very human side to music.

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.

Jack Cookson is a 21 year old singer / songwriter originally from Birmingham, before moving to Plymouth when he was eleven, and then Bristol a couple of years ago. He has built up a reputation as an up and coming singer especially around Plymouth, and now Bristol. He is currently studying at UWE in Bristol and has released two EPs. He released his first album, Revolt and Resolve, in 2015.

He regularly plays in music venues across Bristol. We met Jack to understand the artist and financial side which they have to embrace.

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Or to purchase his music:

Picture courtesy of Amy Stopporton –



Q: “I started the interview by asking Jack to describe his experience of how the market for promoting music has evolved. In particular I was interested in how important distributors, streaming services and social media are in promoting his music and whether the likes of, for example, Spotify and band camp are a good thing, or a necessary evil.”

Jack explained that for those artists starting out, and wanting to be taken seriously, then being on the likes of iTunes and Spotify is important. He went on to say that the cost of being on iTunes and Spotify is not expensive but the amount that he receives is fairly small.

We touched on this further and he explained that Spotify pays per minute of airplay, so the amount that he tends to receive is tiny. On iTunes the artist can choose the level of royalties they want to receive; the more you pay the more you receive. For artists like Jack, the cost of starting out means that he has opted for a cheaper option which means more of the royalties go across to iTunes.

We touched on Bandcamp where his physical album is being promoted and he explained this is much more independent. He went onto to explain that with the likes of google play and iTunes they control the price of the album whereas with Bandcamp he is in control of the album price and receives a much greater percentage of the sale of that album.

I asked him about how he chooses where to go, he explained that the best route is via an aggregator who distribute the music to different places so he doesn’t need to go to each place. He explained the importance of royalty codes which means that any stations that play his music use that code and that code then feeds to him in terms of royalties. And this comes as part of the package.

He added that Bandcamp is not part of this.

So for any artists who want to get noticed it is a necessary evil to be part of these different outlet sources to get noticed, even if the payments tend to not favour the artist.

Q: “I talked to Jack about how artists have become more creative in the production of records, using crowdfunding to fund the release of music. In particular I was interested to understand whether Jack felt this was  a reflection of a changing industry, and how he approached the funding of new music?”

Jack explained that he feels this is the future for independent artists. Record labels are now not the only way for artists to promote and distribute music, and many artists seem to be developing their own labels.

The important thing with both Kickstarter and Pledge Music is to have a loyal fan base; those that like the music and are prepared to fund and pay for it. So for any artist it is about building that base and then using Pledge Music and Kickstarter as a means of funding and distributing music.

We touched on funding his album.

He explained that this has been a project he has worked on for two years. He went on to say that most of the recording was done in his room, and although you don’t get the pure acoustics of a recording studio you still get a good sound (almost raw which might be better). The expensive part was the CD production and mastering.

He funded the production of 200 CDs, of which he has now sold 100 and has broken even.

Q: “In this part of the interview I asked Jack how artists approach the funding and promotion of their music to a wider audience where there is not the luxury of a record label to take this on.”

We talked about record labels and being signed; he explained that you need something very special to be signed to a big label. He talked about Jake Bugg as an ambassador to young male singer / songwriters like himself, and it is people like him who will secure the record deals.

He went on to say that for larger bands / singers he can see the importance of record labels who also help promote the artist. However, he explained that there are artists signed to record labels who do all the promotion themselves so he questions why a label is there in the first place.

We touched on how artists grow, and clearly it seems that it is about building the fan base. He talked about Biffy Clyro as an example of a band who spent ten years building up something, before they received the commercial success they deserved. It goes back to building the fan base and growing with them.

He explained that at the moment for him it is all about building a network of people. He used the example of another Bristol Band (Foreign Affairs) who are launching their new EP shortly and he will be supporting them at the Louisiana. It is about being nice to people (including the soundman), talking to other bands and enjoying the social side because it is this that opens up opportunities to get in front of a wider audience.

Q: “We talked about how many artists are both artist and promoter. I went on to ask Jack what were the best sources of revenue and whether he felt the financial aspect of music got in the way of artistic creativity.”

Jack explained that at the moment as a student the financial side is not such an issue for him; but once he qualifies and needs to earn money then it may be different. Ultimately the money and artistic creativity will clash but it is about getting the right balance between the two.

I loved this example that Jack used about money. He explained that his Dad is a carpenter and he gets paid to, for example, hang doors in people’s houses but actually the work he loves is building boats. But he has to hang doors because that pays the day to day bills whereas building boats doesn’t (at the moment)! Likewise for Jack he gets paid to do 40 minutes of covers but rarely to play his own music. So he has to ‘hang doors’ to get the money, but what he loves is playing his music.

Being signed up to the DHP mailing list enables him to apply to support bands across Bristol and although he doesn’t get paid for these, it gets him in front of people who like music and hopefully increases his fan base. More importantly he can play his music, rather than playing covers. He explained further that it is about getting listeners rather than customers!

As an aside as we were talking about this it reminded him of a song on his first EP which is about his dad sailing away, and it reminds us all that there is a very human side to music.

We talked about festivals as a means to making money and he explained that for smaller artists again there is a little or no money. There are places at Glastonbury where you can be paid but it is about knowing the right people. However, similar to supporting bands getting exposure at festivals is about getting the listeners.

We talked about streaming and record production, clearly to make money you need the fan base and therefore you need to be prepared to compromise financially to build that base. He is about to do his first London gig, and has one in Bath and he said it is about putting yourself out there and being prepared to push yourself forward. He added that having the CD helps because it builds credibility and he has something to sell at gigs.

Q: “In this part of the interview we talked about how artists put their creativity into the production of their albums. However, with the advent of downloads often people download a few songs. I asked Jack that where it appears that the pressure is to develop a handful of standout tracks does it make it hard to create a whole album.”

Jack explained that this can be a challenge but in writing an album you can almost accidentally stumble upon a hit. The way he looks at it is that making the album is the bit he enjoys. It is about self-worth and particularly for him the knowing that he made it himself, and although others have been involved it is his project.

He also explained that there is this tug between whether you are writing for yourself or someone else, for him it is about trying to imagine how the live audience will react to his songs which is important. So yes there can be a pressure to write a standout track but he feels that writing a whole album can in itself develop that track without building pressure to just focus on one song.

Q: “We talked around the fact that more and more artists are only producing their music via downloads. Jack has experience of both download and physical and I was interested to know if it is cheaper (and therefore more financially rewarding) to produce as downloads.”

Jack funded the physical album himself. Therefore there is naturally a higher cost of producing a physical album compared to a download. But Jack explained that having this means he can sell something at his gigs and that is hard cash. People hear him at a gig, and very few will then go home and download a song or album.

So he feels certainly for him having something tangible is necessary, especially when you are starting out because it brings credibility and money!

Q: “We then turned to ‘success’ and how with so many different outlets for music it is becoming increasingly hard to measure. I asked Jack how he measures success and how does he promote his music to a wider audience.”

Jack agreed that this is becoming harder but again he feels it is about building up that fan base, and building up from the ground. It seems that where judging record sales as success can no longer be a means of judgement people are turning to other means. Jack explained that he has seen when applying to play at festivals you are asked about the number of likes you have on Facebook, or followers on twitter. As this is very superficial clearly it is much harder to judge success (especially as you can buy followers!)

Clearly it goes back to the underlining theme which came across throughout the interview and that is building that fan base, and being prepared to put yourself out there in front of as many people as possible.

Q: “Jack has a growing (and loyal) fan base. I asked Jack how he had approached this. In particular I was interested to know how he goes from localised, to being national and even international and whether you can be regionally successful? I also asked whether he felt that festivals were a good route to expanding his fan base to a more national audience.”

Going back to the constant theme that Jack mentioned, being out there and being prepared to travel opens up opportunities. He is doing his first gigs in London and Bath, and hopes to do some smaller festivals. All of these gain that wider national base of fans.

He did explain that you can make money as an underground artist. He explained about an artist in Plymouth (Vince Lee) who is an amazing blues guitarist and has never received the recognition he deserves. However, he plays regularly around the region, at weddings and festivals. So you can make money but it just depends how you value success.

Q: “I asked Jack whether when artists sign to record labels there is a danger that they are pressurised into compromising artistic talent (i.e. artists are sometimes placed into a position where they write for sales / popularity) or can they keep their artistic talent intact.”

He explained that this can be a problem; those bands who have worked their way up and have a legion of die-hard fans and then suddenly sign for a major record label.

You can sometimes see a more commercial shift in their music which appears to be influenced by the label, this can alienate those fans who have grown up with them, so it is down to the artist and whether they are prepared to allow this to happen.

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

Jack explained his music is mixture of roots, folk, and fingerstyle influenced by American and British artists including the likes of Johnny Cash, Andy McKee, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

Q: “In this question I wanted to understand what motivates him and where he would like to be in five years’ time.”

Clearly it is the making of music and being involved with this that motivates him. In five years’ time he would like to be playing across Europe as well as good UK and European festivals with a band. He knows the challenges of setting up a band but he feels strongly that if he can put together a strong band and be prepared to share things equally that is the best way forward.

Q: “In the penultimate question I asked Jack how being part of the Bristol music scene helps him develop as an artist and promote his music to a wider audience.”

For Jack this goes back to networking and he feels that Bristol is perfectly placed to do this. There are so many gigs and it gives him exposure to different artists and promoters which helps him to get his music out to that wider audience. He explained that he will be playing at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta this year which has come out of his network of contacts.

Q: “In my last question I asked Jack to describe his favourite venue and where he would like to play in the future.”

In Bristol the venues he likes are Kingsdown Wine Vaults and the Stag and Hounds and until it was shut the Birdcage was another venue he liked. He would like to play further afield and in particular London.

Interviewers comment

I saw Jack support Coco and the Butterfields, and again at the launch of Foreign Affairs’ EP. Jack has a raw talent which is reflected in a brilliant debut album.

Jack is fully aware that to turn music into a career he needs to be out there whether playing or networking (sometimes the two interact). I am sure over the coming years we will see more of Jack and as our first interview it was a pleasure to do as he is a genuinely nice guy!

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