I’m not looking for sudden success like you see on X Factor. This is about slow organic growth and I feel the longer it takes to build the more sustainable it is for the future
Shininglights has been talking to artists about the interaction between music and money. The aim is to understand how different artists approach and apply this to their own circumstances.
In this interview we talk to Matthew Shepherd, a singer/songwriter based in Essex. He has released two EPs (Sunny on the Southbank and The Sea) and his debut album was released in 2015.
His album entered the top 100 of the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Chart and he has toured the UK and Europe. Currently unsigned, he manages his music career alongside working as a barrister’s clerk by day.
We caught up with Matthew to talk about the thorny subject of money and music to understand how he has approached this.
SL: “Can you start by giving is a potted history of your career to date?”
MS: When I was growing up I didn’t know I wanted to go into music and it was only when I went to secondary school that I started singing in a choir. It really progressed from there, singing solos, having music lessons and then when I was 14 I bought my first guitar. I taught myself, learning chords, writing songs and singing/playing to CDs.
I took music at GCSE and A’Level where I continued with singing lessons and tours with the choir to places like Italy. After my A’Levels I decided not to go to university and spent a year being a waiter. During this time, I did some open mic evenings which went down well and met Roy Tyzack. He encouraged me to play more and helped in getting gigs. Being a waiter didn’t give me much time to play all the gigs I wanted so I found a job as an office junior.
From there I recorded my first EP ‘Sunny on the Southbank’ and sent that around to venues to get more gigs. The album followed and that quickly went into the iTunes top 100 which gave me a real buzz. It achieved some radio play and opened up more gigging opportunities.
At the start of this year I began to put together my second EP which I feel is more true to who I am. It has just been released and so far, the response has been really good.
SL “Describe your musical style and how this has developed over time?”
MS: I am classically trained, from having singing lessons at School, but I feel I lean more towards the folk/country side. I see my music as mellow and for anyone to relax to. It’s really important to keep the message simple and clear. But as I grow musically I am also still discovering my sound.
SL “I’d be interested to know who influences you musically?”
MS: One of the biggest influences is American Singer/Songwriter Joshua Radin. He creates songs which are deeply personal to him as does Mike Rosenberg (Passenger).
But I also like Kate Rusby and the whole feel behind her music which is a real family run unit. My dad was also influential growing up in the nineties with music like Oasis, The Corrs etc.
SL “What are the biggest challenges financially from making a career in music?”
MS: I want to make music a full time career but there is no-one to finance you! With a job you have financial stability. It also enables you to be able to be pickier with choosing the right gigs and paid a fair fee. Often venues expect you to bring people and will only pay if a certain amount of people come.
With musicians it seems the amount we are paid isn’t reflective of the time we put into the performance (both before and during). If I was a carpenter, there would no such discussion and yet one gets paid a fair wage and one doesn’t.
SL “What would be the trigger for you to make a full time career in music?”
MS: It has to be the point where the paid gigs are such that they become almost the equivalent to a salary. The challenge is that the summer is always busy with gigs and festivals but it gets quiet over the winter months. It is therefore a very fine balance as to when that trigger happens.
I know there are lots of ways to make money in music including session work and good paid gigs but there is the other side which includes cruise ship work, functions etc. For me it has to be about good paid work as I want to focus on playing my songs rather than someone else’s. I would consider session work as well.
SL: “What do you consider as success within the career path you have taken?”
MS: Success in my eyes is to be able to play every night of the week. I would love to be playing in the 02 or a folk club, big or small it doesn’t really matter as long as I can build a career.
I’m not looking for sudden success like you see on X Factor. This is about slow organic growth and I feel the longer it takes to build the more sustainable it is for the future.
Importantly it is about enjoying it. There is the business side which is a natural part but it can take over your time. I do enjoy the interviews although I do find the emails stressful. But it does pay off. I have been played on local radio and the new EP was recently reviewed for Acoustic magazine.
SL “You have released your debut Album (Top of the Tree) and two EPs (Sunny on the Southbank and The Sea); how have you approached the funding of your music, and what are you plans going forward?”
MS: I have always self-funded the albums/EPs. I save as much money as possible from selling CDs, and gigs and it helps living at home! My sister is a fantastic illustrator and has helped with artwork. Ultimately I try to justify every expense.
It costs a lot to go onto iTunes but it looks more professional so it is always worth spending money on, but there are ways you can save money. The artwork is really important because it makes the CD stand out.
I have recently invested in a video which is great for promotion but all of this means there are sacrifices. I would love to get a new guitar but that has to wait. I have considered crowd funding but it needs a bigger fan base and I am still building that. There is no set pattern. With this latest EP I spent more money on time in the studio.
I am looking at PR to get the music out to a wider audience but there is a cost and it is about finding the right firm.
SL “Whether signed or not do you feel there are natural compromises/sacrifices when forging a career in music?”
MS: Whether its music, art or sport there are always sacrifices. For me this is my social time. I would love to be relaxing with friends but I have to be practising. I do feel I have two jobs and am working non-stop.
Ultimately I want to get that balance right, I like to help people where I can and I am always working hard but I would also like some time to relax. My view is that the hard work is now and at some point I will get this back.
SL “What would you like to achieve over the next 12 months, and over the next five years?”
MS: My target is to get my music heard and out to a wider audience. I have already doubled the number of gigs I did last year. My aim is to play better venues and good support slots. Support slots are great because they get you in front of a bigger audience which just increases my exposure. At the moment I am soaking up every moment and know that I am lucky to be playing music and being able to take opportunities as they come up.
I would like to play more festivals, I’ve played at the Rickmansorth Festival and would like to play at more Folk Festivals like Underneath the Stars as well as Glastonbury and V Festival.
SL “What are your favourite venues and where would you like to play in the future?”
MS: In London I like the Troubadour, where the likes of Bob Dylan, and Paolo Nutini have played. Spice of Life is another venue and I am playing Ronnie Scott in the summer. I would like to play venues like Union Chapel, Albert Hall and Koko’s. I am also enjoying touring and will be travelling to the Isle of Wight for three days during August.
When I first heard Matthew’s music it reminded me of Lewis Watson and although I haven’t seen Matthew play live I can imagine it being perfect festival music.
The discussion around the trigger to moving full time was interesting, in terms of finding the right time. It is also interesting to see that success is not measured by money alone but by the ability to do what he loves.
How musicians are valued has been come up in other interviews. It seems a recurring theme that the amount of time put in to deliver the end product is never really appreciated financially (certainly when musicians are starting out).
I am looking forward to seeing how Matthew progresses and how this new EP will be received. Certainly recent reviews have been very positive.