He explained that much of the “success” any artist achieves is down to three things; working hard, staying grounded and a little bit of luck.
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.
Jovel Walker is a 25(+)-year-old singer / songwriter from London. Involved in the music scene for several years, he is about to embark on the next stage of his musical career, offering a very different contemporary feel.
During his music journey he has released music, worked with many artists, toured and appeared at Glastonbury.
We caught up with Jovel to talk about the thorny subject of money and music and how he has approached this.
SL: “Jovel Walker may be a new name to some but he has an impressive CV; working with the likes of Wretch 32, Tinie Tempah, Professor Green, Ed Sheeran to name just a few. His route to music was not a direct path. I started the interview by asking Jovel to explain his musical journey to date?”
JW: Jovel started by explaining that a lot of what has been written and published is a slight misrepresentation. Much of it refers to his previous project “Random Impulse”.
He was signed to a division of Universal Records. When they split from Universal he had a choice to stay with them or go out on his own. Jovel decided to take back his master tapes and “disappeared” from the music scene.
Through encouragement of his close friends (Ed Sheeran, Newton Faulkner and Ryan Keen) he has been working over the last year on a new project which is totally different to “Random Impulse” and the big launch is set for January.
Jovel was introduced to Ed by Guy Chambers and shared a flat with him for a couple of years. Ed introduced him to Ryan and through Ryan he met Newton. I was intrigued as to whether he had turned to them for help over this new project. He explained that they are friends foremost and he hadn’t really considered this because he feels he can do it on his own (but equally as friends he knows they are there for him).
I asked him how long he has been working in the music industry and Jovel explained that professionally it has been five years. Prior to that he was working in genetic engineering! I asked him what made him change career paths. He explained that he produced a mixtape which he added is a combination of his own music over the music of others. This was produced independently and picked up by the likes of Radio 1. The album sold over 10,000 copies within a few weeks and this was the catalyst to change.
His other break came through his You Tube channel where he was doing “Refix” tracks (taking other people’s songs and putting his own spin on them). This came to the attention of the media and record labels.
SL: “For those who are new to his music, I asked Jovel to describe his musical style and which musicians influence him the most?”
JW: Jovel started by explaining that it is all about the live show. Fundamentally he is a singer / songwriter with rap influences. He feels there is a real contemporary twist which brings his culture into the sound.
I asked him to expand on the contemporary feel and he explained the culture he brings in is “Urban London with a grime esk feel”. This he feels is what makes his music different to anything else currently out there.
When we talked about influences Jovel explained that there are many very diverse influences and he listens to many different genres from hip hop to folk (Fink). But the two influences he feels strongly about are Jay Z and Jack White.
As he explained Jay Z came from a difficult background and worked hard to achieve what he has. Also he was a rapper who really understood the power of storytelling. Jack White has described his music as an art you should be prepared to suffer for, which he feels is immensely powerful.
SL: “Jovel has been signed to music labels, and so been through the highs and lows. I asked him to explain what experiences he has taken from this (how can they help in the promotion of music and what are the plus / negative points), and how important does he feel it is to be signed (and why)?”
JW: Jovel started by explaining that the first thing he took away from being signed was simply “all that glitters is not gold”! He also added that you have to be careful about what you believe because truth can be twisted. Coming out of being signed was someone who was that bit wiser. I asked him how he knows what is right now and he explained that it is down to a gut instinct and experience from the past.
He is about to be signed to a new record label and I asked him how important being signed is. He explained that it depends on the type of music you make. He just happens to write story esk songs which hook people in. It is these types of artists who can work with labels because it is not a question of changing the art.
However, there are grime artists like Skepta and JME who have never signed to a label (they might use a licence which is different). For them to do this would destroy their art.
Jovel explained he knows many artists who make a very good living who are not signed but for him being signed is really important because it takes him forward to a bigger audience.
I asked him whether there was a danger when signed that artists end up compromising their music to fit the label. He explained that if your music is not structured for the mass market then why sign because you are likely to have to compromise.
He also added that he wasn’t actively looking to be signed and he feels this has helped. He explained that much of the “success” any artist achieves is down to three things; working hard, staying grounded and a little bit of luck.
SL: “Jovel has picked up plenty of praise from the likes of the Guardian (“We repeat: we haven’t got any money, but if we did, here’s the man we’d put it on.”) to Music OMH (“Jimi Hendrix on a grime ting”). I asked him to describe how he has promoted himself to a wider audience (which includes the Radio), and how he keeps the momentum going?”
JW: Jovel explained much of this came through his previous project “Random Impulse”. He spent a lot of time thinking about what makes him different and marketing his image to reflect this. He commented that press can pigeon hole you based on who you are. (As he explained he is less like Jimi Hendrix but more like Joe Strummer from the Clash but for the press this wouldn’t work!)
As he explained you can fight it or play along with it. Turning back to Jack White, he spent his time building his character which people focused on allowing him to leave his music untouched.
People tend to be careful and “PC”. He just wants to be play along with it so that when he stands up and plays people will say “I wasn’t expecting that”.
SL: “In the next question I asked Jovel to describe his experience of how the market for promoting music has evolved? In particular, I asked how important were distributors, streaming services and social media in promoting music and how has this evolved over time?”
JW: Jovel started by saying this was really important.
For a talented artist to be successful you have to work hard at your trade but more than that you need to understand how social media can work for you and you have to almost be a marketing specialist to get the most from it.
You also have to understand that there is a much lower value on music. At the moment all anyone can talk about is Adele; in a few months the hype will be gone and people will have moved on. She will still sell and tour.
In the past people would buy an album and relish it and spend time listening. Now people move on in a very short period of time. As an artist you can grumble or you work with it.
I asked whether it makes it hard to have a sustainable career in this environment. Jovel didn’t feel this was the case. He explained you have to go out more because the live shows are where people want to see you. If you have to go out ten times more now than you did thirty years ago to promote and play your music then so bit it. Music will always evolve and change.
For Jovel live shows are what it is about. It is way that you can really express yourself musically.
SL: “Jovel has released a mixtape and EPs. I asked him how he has approached the funding of his music, and what has been the best source of revenue for him?”
JW: Jovel explained that when producing anything you have to approach it as a start-up business. You need some seed capital to start, this enables you to produce and press a small amount of CDs. Once you sell those and you make a profit you can press more and so on. Don’t expand quickly, just slowly build your business.
The best sources of revenue have always been the live shows and “merch”.
SL: “Jovel has built a loyal fan base. I asked him how he has approached this, and what has he learn’t over his career?”
JW: He explained it is about getting out to people. The tendency is to look at what everyone else is doing and assume it is repeatable when in many cases it isn’t. For Jovel the “Refix” videos were his way of connecting with an audience and building from there.
With the new project he explained that it is like starting all over again. He has changed his name and is now producing a different genre of music. He has gone from punk rock to singer / songwriter and no artist can presume the old fan base will follow across.
Encouraged by his friends he has gone out and done some smaller shows to see what people think and the feedback to date has been amazing.
SL: “With a declining physical album market, I asked how important are physical albums for him compared to downloads? I added is it harder to produce a whole album where people tend to just download a few songs, and how is he approaching this?”
JW: Jovel started by saying the production of albums hasn’t changed. It’s always about making the best album you can.
What has changed is how people consume your music and how they do that is not up to you. If people want to download one or two tracks then you should celebrate the fact that they are enjoying your music.
Ultimately for Jovel an album should tell a story and if people want to break it up that is fine. Turning to illegal downloads, Jovel explained you just accept it as part of the journey. One the most illegally downloaded artists is also one of the biggest selling artists.
Knowing that people are prepared to listen to your music in whatever form should make an artist happy.
SL: “In my penultimate question I asked Jovel what is next on his musical journey, and where would he like to be in five years’ time?”
JW: Jovel explained that in five years’ time he would like to be doing arena tours, perhaps on his second or third album, still writing songs and seeing his career getting bigger and better.
Throughout the interview Jovel comes across as a very humble, grounded person and I asked him about this. Jovel said he preferred to turn this around: – “why are other people so arrogant?” When he was a teenager he completed a university degree in genetic engineering and then worked for a pharmaceutical company. He explained he worked with someone in his fifties who thought he had found a cure for cancer. One day he came in to find the person crying because the cure hadn’t worked. There was no arrogance. Music doesn’t save lives. What right do people who make music have to be arrogant compared to people who change lives! You should appreciate and respect people who are prepared to pay to listen to your music and come to your live shows.
SL: “And finally, I asked Jovel to describe his favourite venue (or venues) to date, and where he would like to play in the future?”
JW: Jovel turned to three shows; Glastonbury this year which he said was crazy with lots of well-known artists dancing to his music and Shepherds Bush which he described as a “crazy show”. The third show was a festival called Wakestock.
He explained he has done Wakestock a couple of times and he was running late due to heavy rain. Filled with adrenaline he ran onto stage and started playing, the crowd went wild and he said it was such an amazing show. In all the excitement he threw his guitar in the air and it just so happened he was seen by Huw Stephens who has been a strong supporter ever since.
And for the future, arenas and Glastonbury!
I was lucky to see Jovel support Ryan Keen in Bristol. Talking to him there are points which he makes which I can really see in him.
The moment he stood up on stage and started to play my first reaction was “I wasn’t expecting that”. Foremost he is a singer / songwriter with a “real” contemporary edge. You also feel that although there are many “similar” artists out there Jovel brings something fresh and different.
But in all of this Jovel comes across as a very intelligent, hardworking individual who takes nothing for granted. His friends and family seem an integral part of who he is and provide the support network he needs.
We are looking forward to the launch of his new project in January and the tour next year. I have already pre-booked tickets to see him Bristol, even though the date and venue have not been announced!!!