The ideal dream is to go as far as possible, and experience that feeling of standing in front of thousands and thousands at the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury
Shininglights has been talking to artists about the interaction between music and money. The aim is to understand how different artists approach this and how individuals can apply this to their own circumstances (whether as a musician or any other profession).
In this interview we talk to Michael Vickers; since completing a degree in song writing at BIMM he spreads his time between Bristol and Leicester, playing gigs and writing music.
We caught up with Michael after seeing him support Sam Brockington to see what his plans are for the future.
And he plays the piano!
SL: “Can you start by giving us a potted history of your career to date?”
MV: I grew up in a household surrounded by music. Both my brother and sister played the guitar and music was in my blood from the Irish side of my family. School was also a big influence with the Head teacher offering to teach me himself. With this initial help I continued to teach myself in a very short period of time. I was ten and needed the focus and encouragement it gave me. Good behavior, which was not something I had been particularly known for, was rewarded with playing at the school assemblies, which introduced me to playing in front of audiences.
At secondary school I continued to play the guitar. During this time I became known as “the person who played the guitar” and started playing in bands. I stayed on at school to do A ‘Level Music but left after a year and went to do a general music course at Leicester College. At the time I discovered the song-writing course at BIMM but funding was tricky so after college I spent a year working in bars and playing gigs to raise money.
Coming to BIMM helped me to develop my song writing. My early songs were more “angst teenage” in sound and being at BIMM made me focus more on how to develop both my image and the songs. I started to study what others were doing and taking in the different influences and genres in order to develop my sound.
During my first year it was about taking the songs I had and making them more commercial and doing gigs around Bristol. By the second year I was spending more time with different artists learning new instruments and sounds. By my final year, encouraged by a tutor who felt I had “something”, I started to re-write songs and re-release them with a new style.
Since qualifying I have focused more on this and started to replace the old songs with the newly recorded songs.
SL: “Describe your musical style and who inspires/influences you musically?”
MV: The likes of the Beatles and Oasis have a massive influence on what I do, as does Brian Wilson. But also there are Jeff Buckley and Radiohead who write music with a much darker side. The strength of the voice from the likes of Alex Turner and Kelly Jones are really important as well as good well written songs from Pulp, Blur and the Stone Roses. All of these influence/inspire what I do.
If there is something I have learned from all of these bands is that I want to write awesome songs. Although I might be labeled as folk I wouldn’t label myself as that:- perhaps more alternative pop/rock/indie. It includes rap influenced by Eminem who writes clever lyrics.
If I was to place the style it would be guitar led with passionate vocals and clever lyrics with a focus on being commercially accessible. Fundamentally I just want to get my music out there and bring the lyrics alive through what I play.
SL: “What are the biggest challenges financially from making a career in music?”
MV: One of the biggest challenges is that some gigs can go unpaid and that can be difficult. It also seems that sometimes you can be really well paid and other times not so well! For example, playing local pubs is very lucrative but you can’t do it every night and there are only so many places you can play.
Also I find that in some places I have to play only covers so don’t get a chance to play my own music. Over time I have learnt from “mistakes” and used these to be better in selecting places to play and prices to charge. I do accept that I would benefit from management behind me because this is not my strongest side but currently it is difficult as I am at an early stage of my career, and so I am forced to manage myself.
Financially I have turned to different things to bring in an income. Outside of music I have done labouring, carpet fitting, working in bars and currently helping with social media.
I have worked on a new music prototype, which paid well, paid gigs and selling CDs. I have produced an EP, which I sold for £5 each on average. That side has really stopped, as currently my music is free! I have also run open mic nights close to home, and currently have started running guitar lessons.
SL “What would be the trigger for you to make a full time career in music?”
MV: I want to be a full time musician. I get more excited about hearing my songs on the radio than doing the day-to-day management. I find that a lot of my time is spent networking, applying for festivals, gigs etc. but I would like to spend more time focusing on the music.
Having a manager who would look after me and take a lot of the day-to-day admin away would be a big step to making a full time career in music. But it is very hard to find someone. The reality is that they find you rather than the other way round. So to get found is about playing more and being independently endorsed through comments on social media that will ultimately lead to being noticed and getting a manager.
There has been interest but at the moment it hasn’t moved forward, but I feel with each step it is getting closer.
SL “You have released a physical EP and album, how have you approached the funding of your music?”
MV: I was able to keep the costs of producing the EP very low. I worked with a friend to produce it and he took a fixed fee from the copies I sold. On the recording itself I recorded the tracks in different places from a studio to a friend’s house as well recording and playing the different instruments myself. I have friends who produced the artwork and printed the covers so the cost was low.
Having an EP is really important as it shows where you are but with the development of my sound I want to get the right tracks together before producing a new one. I have produced an album (“Weekend to the Weekend”) but again this was before the development of my current sound.
Before producing the next EP, I want to do more gigs, support bigger bands and get played more on BBC Introducing. As the buzz around my music grows the right time will come to produce the next EP.
Image is all part of this and it has became more of a conscious thing for me. I am just an average lad who plays guitar and likes belting out songs. I’m honest, I don’t like to swear in my songs needlessly anymore and the set list has to be just right. If I can get this right and be out there more, then everything should come together.
SL: “Is it important for you to be signed?”
MV: I have always wanted to be signed. My aim is to be known for my music and to do that really needs the support of a label, whether a major or independent. A label can take away a lot of the day-to-day pressures and enable me to focus on the songs.
I could do it on my own, but the labels have the contacts and know who to speak to.
SL: “Whether signed or not do you feel there are natural compromises/sacrifices when forging a career in music?”
MV: Music is never really yours as you are naturally influenced by those around you. I would hope I was being signed for my song writing and that would be part of the package. Naturally there might be “compromises” in that I might be asked to work alongside a co-writer or asked to re-work some of the music. At university the tutors would guide and advise the students music and really it would be no different to that.
Not being signed means that I am having to find work that fits around the music and not having the time to do what I enjoy (i.e. writing music and playing songs), because of the time I need to set aside for admin. So down both routes there are natural compromises.
SL: “What would you like to achieve over the next 12 months, and over the next five years?”
MV: Over the next 12 months I want to be playing the right gigs, get good reviews and focus on a management deal. Part of this is about developing good songs, introducing new videos and getting interviews out into the wider world. I really feel I am on a roll at the moment and I want to capitalise on that.
In five years I want to be known for the right reasons, whether that is for chart success, the solid fan base or the music I write or a combination of all of this. The ideal dream is to go as far as possible, and experience that feeling of standing in front of thousands and thousands at the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Ha, but at the end of the day, if I can be playing to big audiences and making a living, on whatever level, things could be a lot worse than that.
SL: “What are your favourite venues and where would you like to play in the future?”
MV: I loved playing at Glastonbury last year at the Bandstand I played on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The audience were massively receptive and it was a brilliant experience. I love the O2 venues and would like to play at places like the O2 Leicester and Bristol but also the Colston Hall in Bristol. I like the Fleece in Bristol when it is full.
Another fantastic event I played was at Abbey Park in Leicester in front of 2000 people. Obviously I would like to play on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, but if you can sort it so I can play Bristol Harbourside Festival, I can hold off another year for that!
I saw Michael support Sam Brockington and there is a natural rawness in his act which makes him standout in a market awash with singers. The track which I have listened to a number of times and really sticks out is “When I’m Back Home”.
Turning to the interview it is clear that his passion is about the music and without the support of his teachers, tutors and family he would not be where he is today. Like many people he doesn’t have a natural business head but is being forced to focus on this to ensure he gets the right gigs and income. As part of this he has plans which focus both on the short and long term, which is invaluable.
It will be fascinating to see the development of his act and sound over the coming months. Hopefully an EP will follow.