Who knows my freshest and newest song written, called “AMAZING” might just be the next one. You have been warned
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.
In 1986 Owen’s second single ‘My Favourite Waste of Time’ climbed to no 3 in the UK charts. Although other singles followed he walked away from his record label within 12 months. In 2002 he released his second album ‘About Time’ and in 2014 his third album ‘About Time II’. He regularly tours either as a solo artist or as part of XSM (Ex Simple Minds).
With over 30 years in the music industry we spoke to Owen to understand more about his approach to music and financing his career.
To buy ‘About Time II’: itunes.apple.com/gb/artist/owen-paul
SL: “You signed to Sony Records in 1985 and released your first album in 1986. Can you describe your experiences of working with a major record label?”
OP: “I was signed to Sony records at the age of 23 in 1985. I had been in bands and a solo performer since I was fifteen so I was far from the overnight sensation that I appeared to be when things started to sell in 1986. I had plenty of experience and even had learned a lot from my brother who was in Simple Minds and their relationship with records labels etc. But still nothing prepared me for my label CBS / Sony and their determination to make me fit into their plans and requirements regardless of what type of act / artist I was.
In short they signed me as a rock act after hearing my demos and then when I stupidly made a cracking pop record that the world loved, from that moment that was all they wanted to know about, so in effect my rock career was over.”
SL: “Throughout the history of music many artists appear to have made little money at the height of their fame, can you describe your experiences?”
OP: “The budgets for videos, photo shoots, recordings, promotion and the rest was virtually off the scale in the 80’s and I don’t recall ever sanctioning such costs so in that regard I was naïve but yes you are right, even though I sold near a million records in one way or another, the costs to do so far outweighed the return. I don’t think I broke even till way after I had left the label. I am not alone in this.”
SL: “You walked away from your record label within a year. Why did you do this, and what happened next?”
OP: “As I alluded to somewhat in my last answers there was a clash of opinion on how my career should go. I was and am a rock performer (anyone who has seen me live would testify to that) and CBS / Sony wanted me to be a pop act. I told them at the time to let label mates Bros or even Patsy Kensit do the pop and I will do the rock but alas they would not promote or fund or indeed release the material that I wanted to. This seemed to be the norm at that time as I’m sure George Michael would agree, hence his rather public court case against the same label. I did not have the budget or resources to go to court like George, so I went on strike and gave them no new material till they fired me.
As far as to what I did next. I wasn’t allowed to record as Owen Paul for a while, so I did many other things as a record producer and arranger. Most did really well including a multi-million selling album in Japan so I was more than happy to be much less in the public eye and got on with the work. That is not to say there was not periodic difficult and way too many quiet times.”
SL: “You mentioned about a multi-million selling album in Japan, can you expand on this?”
OP: “I was approached by a small indie type band in Japan called Buck Tick in 1989. They were doing well but couldn’t get mainstream airplay to go to the next level and I presume they thought I might help in that area as a producer. They were not wrong. Although the recording process with them was stressful a) they couldn’t play that much b) I needed a translator at all times c) they had no songs and d) we had three weeks maximum to complete…mixes and all.
Suffice to say; somehow, we collaborated well to box it all together in three weeks. I never heard from them again for almost a year. The record label boss called me saying “Mr Paul, we are at number one in Japanese charts” I said, “great with what song?“ He said “no album TABOO is number one”.
The record went multi-platinum in three weeks and the band has never looked back. They now play in stadiums all over the Far East and I am very happy with that.”
SL: “You have released two albums over the last few years – ‘About Time’ and ‘About Time II’. Can you describe your view of crowdfunding and explain how you have funded the production of your music?”
OP: “I am not a fan of asking fans or supporters to fund music they have never heard as yet but for sure you can be creative in how you get your music made. One very simple way that technology has changed the landscape is that you can do months of pre-production at home on very high end software therefore keeping your pro studio time and cost down to a minimum. This is what I have done and the results are more than adequate if I say so myself lol. To date I have had no complaints.”
SL: “The means of promoting music has evolved significantly over the last thirty years. How do you view streaming and distribution outlets?”
OP: “Don’t start me on the subject of Spotify or You Tube where you can easily download almost any track, despite an artist’s best attempts to prevent this. The argument is and has always been from the industry is that it’s good to get your stuff out there regardless of return to begin with. I don’t hold to that view at all. As for iTunes, Amazon and Google Play, they all work perfectly well should you have customers coming your way, but of course that is the issue right there.”
SL: “You don’t have the luxury of a big label to promote your music. Effectively you have to fund and promote yourself. How have you approached this, and what are the best sources of revenue for you?”
OP: “Funding I have explained a little already. As for “luxury of a major label” as you describe it, believe me it was far from a luxury in my case as explained earlier and worse still because the industry is so fleeting in its interest and its attention span and add to that its requirement for quick returns, this makes someone like me almost a pariah to the so called “system”. With promotion, Facebook and twitter have been a godsend to artists like me. I do have the “luxury” of being known somewhat so starting a following on twitter and Facebook was relatively easy. Newer acts I worry about regardless of how good they are.
On revenue everyone will tell you, sales are virtually dead because they can be got for free so live performance is the way forward.”
SL: “At the start of your musical journey did you feel that you were pressurised into compromising your artistic talent? Do you feel artists signed to major labels face the same pressure?”
OP: “I think I’ve covered the pressure to compromise early on in my career in previous answers but I will add this. Muff Winwood (former head of Sony and bother of Steve) would often say to me “Owen just go with the flow and later you can do what you want”. I didn’t believe him then and more so even now. George Michael was the biggest act that Sony had at the time, and even after his worldwide success with the album Faith, the record company refused to promote and sell his much better album “Listen without Prejudice” because it was not what THEY wanted. I’ll say no more.”
SL: “Your last album was available purely as a download. How important are physical copies of albums and why did you go down this route?”
OP: “Physical copies on CD are really important to me, although I still think vinyl 33rpm were even better as hard copies, it is a great sadness to me that these versions were not possible this time round because of financial constraints but if the public grab stuff for free and think that is ok then that is the result.”
SL: “Many successful bands / artists have a loyal fan base built up over time. With the eighties festivals this provides you with exposure but not necessarily as a base to show case your new music. How have you approached this?”
OP: “Surprisingly this has worked well for me, without really trying, people google you after watching a performance, find you on iTunes amazon etc. and away you go. Better still only this last month I performed a brand new track at two very different 80’s events in Holland and Blackpool and the song was received really really well, and it’s not even available to download till next year, so a bit of a chance missed but I’ll recover.”
SL: “Is it hard to showcase your new music? Do people expect the old music?”
OP: “Yes indeed it is, and of course yes they do. You have to be respectful to what the audience wants and to what you are being booked for so you MUST deliver that, no question. However, as explained you can stick a new track in there periodically. A good song is a good song and an audience will get it, but don’t push your luck by playing a brand new 10 minute song that no one’s heard in front of an 80’s audience. That will never work.”
SL: “Just touching on the new music do you get opportunities to play this to audiences on its own?”
OP “Yes I do, but as you can imagine the audiences are no way near the size that I can command at an 80’s event, but I will persevere. As I know only too well myself, you are never more than a few moments away from a worldwide smash hit at any time, but you better be ready. Who knows my freshest and newest song written, called “AMAZING” might just be the next one. You have been warned.”
SL: “You seem busier than ever as a solo artist, as part of XSM and in the past other bands. What motivates you, do you ever feel there is a compromise to what you are doing and where would you like to be in five years’ time.”
OP: “I love what I do, always have and strangely and paradoxically I feel no compromise whatsoever now. Maybe I’ve got over myself lol and I’m sure it’s true of Nick Kershaw, Tony Hadley, Howard Jones and so on that I get to catch up with on these big 80’s shows, we have a great time.”
SL: “For those who don’t know your music, what should they expect to hear and what musicians influence you the most.”
OP: “Many influences from punk to U2 to Barry Manilow (yes true) but most of all Bowie who I was introduced to musically as a teenager. He defines the term there are no rules and unbelievably though it might often feel otherwise, there aren’t. But you got to be brave. My music generally lands in rock, acoustic rock, and pop but almost always without question, passionate. I’m not doing it if I can’t be that.”
SL: “And finally describe your favourite venue, and where you would like to play in the future?”
OP: “I’ve played stadiums with Mike and the Mechanics and many outdoor huge 80s events but give me a rammed full small rock club with the walls sweating (yes they do, I’ve seen it many times) then I’m there!!!!”
I have ‘My Favourite Waste of Time’ on vinyl and remember Owen Paul from that time, I have since seen him perform at an eighties festival.
What has always interested me is what happened next.
Owen comes across as a genuinely nice and honest person. For an artist wishing to be signed to a label there is lots of things they can take away from this interview. I was fascinated by the fact that foremost Owen is a rock singer and this comes across in the album “About Time II”.
It is one of those hidden gems with lots of great tracks. Listening to it, you feel there is a timeless sound and the album could equally be a debut album for a fresh new act.
There is a good mix of songs from ‘Soon’ which has a gravelly rock voice through to catchy songs like ‘The One’ and ‘All About You’.
Although Paul is happy to play his old stuff it would be great for him to tour more with his new stuff as well. Perhaps the song ‘AMAZING’ will give him that opportunity.