We are happy with the decisions we’ve made, overwhelmed every day by the amazing people we meet and at the moment, we feel proud of the fact that our first album is one we created totally by ourselves – warts and all!
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.
Mia and the Moon are two sisters, Laura and Mary-Anne Ratcliffe, from Leicester who formed the band in 2012. They are no strangers to the music industry with both parents having a deep connection with it. Mary-Anne saw her music remixed by Marco V and achieving top ten single dance chart success in 2009.
They have enjoyed performances on ITV, BBC Introducing, Radio 1, and Ministry of Sound to name a few. In 2012 they appeared on X-Factor but left the show to maintain their artistic integrity.
Currently unsigned they released their first album, Fall Awake, in May 2015.
They are currently touring the country to promote their album. I came across them busking in Bristol before they headed off to Cardiff for their next gig. It was the voice as much as the music that struck me and sent me on a journey of discovery.
We spoke to Laura and Mary-Anne to understand more about their journey as artists and the financial side which they have to embrace.
Visit their website: miaandthemoon.com
Purchase their music: miaandthemoon.com
Follow them on Facebook: facebook.com/miaandthemoon
Q: “The band was formed in 2012, can you talk through your musical journey to date? Do you feel you have had to compromise artistically to get where you are?”
Mia and the moon: It was more a meeting of minds in 2012. Prior to us forming ‘mia and the moon’ Mary-Anne was heavily into Rock, Indie, and even working on hard house collaborations, whereas I was off on cruises singing Jazz and blues!
We really couldn’t have followed different tracks through our teens but the music we make together is a natural merging of our styles and you can hear the different influences coming through. For instance, title track ‘Fall Awake’ has a steady rock anthem under tone, whereas ‘Mr Sophisticated’ was recorded analogue with a live jazz trio and could have been written in the 30’s!
We both feel an urge to go off and do solo work now and again and I think we will throughout our career but right now the moon train is chugging along nicely and we feel happy riding it.
Q: “You are no strangers to the music industry with X Factor and Chart Success. Describe what you learnt from these experiences?”
Mia and the moon: This perhaps serves as more of an appropriate answer to the first question but to stay part of the show we felt we would have had to sacrifice much of who we were and certainly compromise our beliefs so that’s why we left.
We encountered incredible vocalists along the way but when ‘Rylan Clarke’ walked in the room at boot camp, he dominated every-one (including the crew and producers) not with his musicianship but with his huge personality. On the last night, he stripped completely naked and ran around the hotel leading all the contestants on a phone recording conga through the hotel restaurant. I think it was a dare for a slice of pizza. He will probably have the longest TV career out of all of us!
Ha I think any of these events in your career serve as a beautiful memory, but there is no set upward curve in this business. There will be times of success and times of feeling a failure. I love living day-to-day and not having a clue what lies around the corner, so it kind of suits me fine but ‘stability’ rarely comes in to things.
We are happy with the decisions we’ve made, overwhelmed every day by the amazing people we meet and at the moment, we feel proud of the fact that our first album is one we created totally by ourselves – warts and all! It is our own signature on the art and maybe the price we had to pay was not having a major label backing, but when everything else is gone, the music will remain, and we will know, we gave our best.
Shininglights: Picking up on X-Factor we asked why they joined the show and whether they choose to leave. Laura explained that initially on her birthday she decided to audition for the X-Factor as a solo artist and went to Liverpool. The queue for solo artists was really long and there was no-one for the bands. So she called her sister Mary-Anne and she agreed to come to a groups audition in Manchester. Although they had sung together before they had not done it as mia and the moon.
They got through to boot camp and Laura explained they were catapulted into this world of super stardom. They felt that they had to make a decision whether to stay or go, and they choose to go. Although there was no pressure to stay some of the crew did say it would be the biggest mistake they would make by walking away. Laura feels it was the right thing to do because even appearing on X-Factor provides no guarantee of longevity and therefore although the experience was fantastic it was better that they headed off in their own direction.
I asked about Mary-Anne’s collaboration with Dutch Producer Marco V. Laura explained that this was a fabulous experience – she went to the launch of the song at the Ministry of Sound, and it went to the top ten of the dance chart. However, although there was instant fame there was no longevity. In fact the royalty cheque from this was less than £1,000 which taught both of them a lot about contracts.
Q: “For those artists signed to record labels do you feel there is a danger that artists 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?”
Mia and the moon: Paloma Faith said recently that she has had to do ‘appease’ the label for the last 5 years, to earn an artistic freedom which is on the horizon. I don’t know if this is word for word her statement, but it figures that’s that how it goes. In which case, it would be like buying a career on high interest.
You can only comment with certain authenticity, on areas you have experienced, therefore ‘label’ interaction is still something for our future perhaps. To be honest though, you have to have something incredibly unique and precious for a decent label to want you. So at the heart of what the artist has done to create that pull is something the label will surely want to develop and nurture – I assume there are some compromises to be met along the way though!
Shininglights: Picking up from the contract on the dance record Laura explained that they have been offered a publishing contract. This would give them exposure to adverts and films which is a great way to get their music out into the market. However, learning from experience this has gone to their lawyers and they are still working on a contract that works for both parties.
We talked about working with a label and Laura said this is difficult because it would depend on many different factors. Ultimately they would consider it if it worked for both parties.
Q: “Bands / singers have become more creative in the production of records, using the likes of Kickstarter and Pledge Music to fund the release of music.
Do you feel the different ways of producing records is a reflection of a changing industry?”
Mia and the moon: Of course. I am sad sometimes that it is so easy to put music out that the industry is too saturated now and we are scrambling to get to the top with too many bands now.
I have a romantic view of the past when a manager chose an artist and they smoked while doing live recordings for ‘Motown Records’ or something; just a few artists that became huge. We may never have another legend like ‘Michael Jackson’ or ‘James brown’. A name that is talked about for years to come, because there is just too much on Spotify to scroll through.
Then again if the tools available weren’t in existence nowadays – we may have not been a lucky artist to be picked up, and thus unable to record anything at all! So life always seems to be swings and roundabouts, freedom and independence compromising status and fame.
“How did you fund the release of your first album?”
Mia and the moon: Mary-Anne washes cars twice a week, I teach singing and any gig money goes towards recording. We had a few session musicians on bits and bobs – but we have so much fun adding instruments ourselves. I did the whistling and drum on seldom, Mary-Anne added percussion to River, we played all the guitar and piano and backing vocals and our producer Neil did all arrangements, bass lines and electric guitar so we managed to do an entire studio album with over 20 instruments on a shoe string! Some-one probably even played a shoe string on one of the tracks. If not we will do that on the second album.
How will we fund the second album I hear you ask? Money raised from the first one of course… so get buying kids! It’s great!
Shininglights: We talked funding the second album and whether they would consider crowdfunding. Laura explained that they don’t oppose crowdfunding as a route to financing albums but for them they wouldn’t look to use it. They like the process of creating the album and keeping that separate from the fans, and then they have something to give them when the process is done.
Q: “Securing million pound record deals seems to be a thing of the past (not that much of this went to the artist). For those lucky enough to secure deals the promotion aspect of their music is taken on by the label, and even then the hard work is only just beginning.
You have been able to produce an album, tour and effectively promote yourself without a major record label.
How can artists fund and promote themselves to a wider audience?”
Mia and the moon: Every person has a different situation, view and path so a general answer would prove impossible but for us – I think it has come down to the music being at the core of our entire life.
Every day some work is done. We fit recording days in around work and gigs (which is partly why the album took nearly two years!). All the time we were recording, we were gigging so that a small but lovely fan base was building and so by the time the album launched this May, the event was a sell-out.
We took 10 days off to tour and I have been so overwhelmed by how much activity this tour has spawned. It’s been bloody hard work mind you – by the last night in Cardiff, I was sleeping in the van up until 10 minutes before going on stage. I’ve forgotten my point now hang on. Oh yes, funding.
Mary-Anne is a star and knows soooo many songs we take bookings for ‘covers’ gigs and enjoy doing our own spin on covers – look at the success of Radio 1’s ‘live lounge’. We end up getting requests for our original songs at these gigs and at the end of the night have CD’s on sale while getting email addresses for our mailing list. We’ve realised that not a lot of the admin side is rocket science and we end up running similar circuits to those with management but it just takes so much time that I guess it’s great the more people you have working on you as a ‘product’.
I would highly recommend touring – it’s been so much fun! Just take a portable amp, busk in places, make a little banner, home-made CD’s and have a Facebook page or somewhere people can go after they’ve seen you. Playing in different places IS AMAAZING. I’m bored already and I’ve only been home two days. meh.
Shininglights: I asked whether doing covers was a compromise to getting their music out there. Laura explained that there is so much good music out there, and they love doing their own spin on tracks. The ‘live lounge’ has made it cool to do this and therefore they don’t believe there is any compromise. The album is their own music and they are happy to do a mixture of their music and covers at gigs.
“How have you approached this, how has this changed over time, where do you find the best sources of revenue (merch, gigs / tours, busking, festivals, streaming or record sales) and do you feel the financial aspect of music gets in the way of artistic creativity?”
Mia and the moon: Erm yes the financial aspect gets in the way as far as I will sit at the laptop all day doing admin bits, when we could be rehearsing parts, recording videos etc. But at the same time, there’s no point making song after song if no-one will hear it. So I guess the best thing to find is balance. I love talking to self-employed creatives who cut their time between making art, and doing all of the admin side.
Over time we have evolved our roles within the duo, Mary-Anne is the key writer and works on collaborations, finding musicians, and she also paints, writes and does some modelling. I am like the booking and PR agent and we have a shared online calendar for bookings and events! (Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to book us) ha.
OK sources of revenue. Worst by far is downloads/ iTunes/ Spotify etc. Streaming is so rubbish we’ve decided to only release the album on CD for now. People can get it from us at gigs or directly from our website. The best revenue can be gigs and surprisingly – busking!
Having a proper album in a jewel case is proving exciting for gigs so I think that will be a nice edition. Especially at festivals where we don’t get a huge fee, but they are really fun so having the CD on sale will be good! We could be a lot more creative with merch and I love it when I see bands that have unusual things so maybe that will be a focus this year. We are having a roller banner made too so whenever we are onstage there is a visual for our band name as people sometimes miss when we say it and we want to have as many prospective new connections as possible when we’re out and about!
Shininglights: I asked about streaming and whether this was a necessary evil to promote the band to a wider audience. Laura said this was a dilemma because they get no money for streaming. They are really proud of the album they have produced and they want their fans to have an exclusive feel for a while.
In time Laura sees the album appearing on streaming sites and other online distributors but for now they are happy with the way it is being distributed.
Q: “The outlets for getting your music out to the market appears much more diversified than it did ten to fifteen years ago; radio (on-line and digital), streaming, downloads etc.
You have had experience of getting your music heard, how best is it for an artist to do this? How have you approached this and has your approached changed over time?”
Mia and the moon: Erm, yes going on said above – streaming is a bit rubbish for us. I think tune core have sent us $210.00 since 2012 or something silly. So that’s why we made the album exclusively CD only for now. You can pay for pluggers etc, but there are just so many phoney ones taking advantage of artists nowadays, we haven’t delved too deeply into this yet. I think to be honest, our album has only been out a few weeks at this point and we want people who’ve bought a CD to feel special. We will surely add the tracks to online streaming things eventually so will have a better idea then!
Shininglights: We talked about pluggers and Laura explained that these are people who get your music onto the radio. It is hard without this to get heard and even harder to get on playlists. We talked about getting on radio and they have used BBC Introducing and were picked up by Mark Forrest who broadcasts across all local radio shows and their song was the last one played in 2014.
Q: “At the start of the musical journey, it is about getting the music out to listeners. The temptation is to focus on some stand out tracks and then mould an album around this. Especially now that people tend to download songs rather than albums.
Do you feel that this pressure exists to get yourself heard, and therefore it is becoming harder to create a whole album?”
Mia and the moon: Nope. That never occurred to us really. Mary-Anne writes so much stuff. There are some elements that we’ve almost crafted with intention like publicity things, competitions, marketing – but never the content of records.
During the early sessions, we’d arrive at Neil (producers) studio, play some demos and he picked the strongest or said – “go away and work on that structure, or this change etc” and that’s how the songs were picked! He didn’t really like a song called ‘burn it’ which fans absolutely love (it’s a favourite), so we were sad it wasn’t on the first album – but actually it wouldn’t have fitted that well with the other tracks and it can go on the follow up so all good!
Q: “Although the physical album is still there, do you feel this could diminish further and therefore has the danger of compromising artistic talent?”
Mia and the moon: Erm do you mean physical CD verses download? If so a little, but the strongest connection we have is when people see us live and they want to take something home that has been signed! Also, look at the comeback vinyl is having! Something goes out of fashion and then becomes ‘vintage’ and cool again – so physical may become more collectable but still precious. I’m not a fan of ‘kindle’ electronic books any more than I am of downloads. I want to feel something in my hand and smell it. Ha
Shininglights: I asked if they would consider vinyl and this is something they have thought about but it is expensive. Laura went on to say that merchandise is something they will look at as artists are using lots of different ways of promoting themselves.
Q: “You clearly have a loyal fan base and have taken time to develop this. How do you build that up from being local to national? Have you considered other markets and how would you approach this? Are festivals a good way of showcasing your music to a wider audience?”
Mia and the moon: Yes festivals are great. People are having a good time, the weather’s normally good. People are open to hearing new music. However there will be many bands on and ears tire, whereas ‘busking’ you are there smack bang, the only thing in focus and it can be just as good – we’ve had so many gig offers, promotors, new fans come from busking- it’s awesome!
This was our first tour and some of the nights were quiet – others busier but a lovely response everywhere so I think our intention is to go out again in August and keep a momentum going – each time we tour there will be more people.
It would be so amazing to do something like a TV appearance – getting to connect with so many people ahead of the next one – watch this space!
Q: “For those who don’t know your music describe your style, what people should expect to hear and what musicians influence you the most?”
Mia and the moon: We are two sisters singing in harmony with a guitar, and a piano. Some of the tracks are quite pop, rock, some dreamy folk, erm a jazz one in there for good measure. Over all this album is quite melancholy and apparently good for a Sunday chill, beach, driving!
We love Fleetwood Mac, Eva Cassidy, Pink Floyd, but also Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin for me and Mary-Anne is into Placebo, Portishead, and Chilli Peppers. Have no idea what our music is like as we made it so to us it’s unique?! So any suggestions please send on a postcard to email@example.com.
Shininglights: I asked whether Laura felt the merging of styles was a reflection of where we are today and perhaps more exciting for artists. Laura felt that music is like fashion; with clothes there is a natural blend and creation of hybrid styles and this is true of music today. If you take Mumford and Sons who have introduced Bluegrass Music it reflects this ever changing cycle of music and fashion. As a band there is no set path, they create what they want to create and if that mixes their styles than that is natural.
Q: “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, how do you measure success and where would you like to be in five years’ time?”
Mia and the moon: Good question. For Mary-Anne it might be different but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that people liking what we do kind validates it for me. I believe in our music before it’s released but only songs I think people will enjoy and make me happy. I couldn’t be part of something I didn’t believe in as I wouldn’t expect and audience too either. My dream would be for us to carry on touring and not necessarily doing bigger venues but packing out the ones we already are doing over time and to keep improving the stage show all the time.
Shininglights: I asked about having a sustainable career and this is really important to Laura and Mary-Anne. Laura citied those with the right business ethos like Fairground Attraction and the Beautiful South who are still touring and doing what they enjoy. With instant fame you get the hype then nothing. With the route they are going they are building a fan base and they hope they will grow with them which in turn means that they enjoy a sustainable career which they love and enjoy.
Q: “And finally, there a few bands / singers who combine this approach of playing at venues with busking (Passenger, Coco and the Butterfields are two). Describe your favourite venue and where you would like to play in the future?”
Mia and the moon: Favourite venues we’ve ever played have either been Togfest in Milton Keynes or for a Royal wedding in Lebanon – both last summer.
We were the penultimate act and all the audience were singing along with us at Togfest – gosh, it felt amazing, the atmosphere was electric! On the contrary, we may have well been snails on a washing line at the wedding. No-one really cared or listened but the backdrop of Beirut overlooking the ocean was absolutely stunning so we sang to the sunset over the waves and then enjoyed an all-expenses paid mini holiday. Perks of the job.
In the future I’d like to tour performing in churches or caves for the acoustics and then more weddings in hot beautiful countries please! Or a festival in Milton Keynes. It’s all about diversity! Ha
Shininglights: I asked about the wedding and Laura explained this came about because of an agency they are on. She said it was an amazing experience and they love playing at weddings. The whole vintage theme at weddings is back in fashion so it is an additional source of revenue for them. They are finding that as people get to know them it is not just about playing covers but also their own music so it is an exciting development for them.