Interview with Phoebe Warden, Singer / Songwriter

Phoebe doesn’t want to be a massive super star, just to have the ability to enjoy what she loves doing.

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.

Phoebe Warden is a 20-year-old singer / songwriter from Canterbury, South-East England. She has built up a strong following close to home, and over the past twelve months has been building a new following whilst based in Chicago.

She has released two EPs; “Small, important things” her most recent EP was released in September 2014. Whilst in the UK she gigs regularly and has supported both local and national acts.

We caught up with Phoebe to talk about the thorny subject of money and music and how she has approached this.

W: phoebewarden.com

F: facebook.com/phoebe.warden.music

SL: “Phoebe has been in the US for the last 12-months. I started by asking her why she went to the US and to provide a potted history of her musical journey to-date?”

PW: Phoebe started by explaining that her reason for traveling to the US was to gain “life experience” by working in another country. Whilst in the US she was working as an Au Pair but was also able to play music travelling to Chicago, Nashville and New Orleans.

I asked her how she had approached finding venues to play in and she explained it was similar to the UK. She joined Facebook groups, and emailed venues. Being an English singer helped as did word of mouth.

In a couple of weeks, she is heading to the Alps for two months playing venues with Coco and the Butterfields.

Going back to where it started Phoebe said she started writing music when she was 16 but didn’t start playing the guitar until she was 17. From 17 she started performing mainly around Canterbury (her home town) but also in Bristol, Brighton and Liverpool.

She released her first EP in 2013, and her second EP in 2014. She is currently looking to release her third EP.

SL: “Turning to her music I asked Phoebe to describe her musical style and which musicians influence her the most?”

PW: Phoebe explained it is very difficult to pin point one genre and music is much more fluid now. But if she was to channel it down it would likely be a mix of modern folk, country and blues.

She explained she is more inspired than influenced by music liking Motown and Blues. Her favourite band is Fleetwood Mac and she added that a major inspiration / influence is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

SL: “I asked Phoebe to describe her experience of how the market for promoting music has evolved; in particular, how important were distributors, streaming services and social media in promoting music and how has this evolved over time?”

PW: Phoebe explained that social media is really important. As she explained the scouts don’t come to gigs anymore they search out artists online and therefore to have a presence is really important. Phoebe uses Facebook more and is comfortable with this. With Twitter she finds it harder to engage with people.

Turning to distributors, Phoebe feels this is a great way to get music out there and there are many to choose from. With the likes of iTunes, it is much harder to be noticed as there are so many artists all fighting for the same space. Phoebe prefers cdbaby.com which sells and promotes music giving the artists a home page of their own.

With streaming services Phoebe sees it as another way to get her music out there. She used the example of some fans in the US who said they liked her EP via streaming. Her view is that if at this point of her career people are listening to her music that is great. It is just another means of getting heard.

SL: “Artists have become more creative in the production of records; Phoebe has released two EPs. I asked her how she had approached the funding of her music?”

PW: Phoebe explained that without an income it is almost impossible to fund music on your own and therefore she has a part time job. One of the advantages of the demise of the big record label is that there are smaller independent recording studios and with so many people trying to get their music heard it means they are fighting for your trade.

Phoebe added you can get deals when looking to record music in studios, especially where there is a last minute cancelation. I asked her what the best sources of revenue are for her. Phoebe explained that gigging is great and she now feels confident to set her fee for playing. Obviously playing locally keeps the costs down. Weddings are another source of revenue.

With the first EP she made sure that for every £5 she made she put £5 aside to pay for the next EP. Busking helps too. She added that she is a “fair weather” busker, and I asked whether it pays to busk. Phoebe explained that it is dependent on the day. She has played for two hours for £15 which can be discouraging.

SL: “Phoebe has built a loyal fan base in the UK (particularly around her home town but also further afield) and she is also building a loyal fan base in the US. I asked her about her fan base and how she has approached the building of it and how hard it is to do?”

PW: Phoebe explained it is very difficult as an up and coming musician and with so many people out there trying to do the same. Social media is really important and the interaction with fans via that route.

SL: “In the next question I asked Phoebe about the advantages / disadvantages of being signed and how important it is for her?”

PW: Phoebe explained that at the age of 17 she signed to a small record label but jumped in too soon. She added that there are benefits of being signed including taking the strain of promotion, and helping to develop your musical direction. But she added that it is important that the fit is right.

Phoebe finds it hard as a solo artist to engage with the self-promotion side and at this stage she might consider taking on elements of a record label. Sourcing a promoter and manager would be the first step.

SL: “With a declining physical album market, I also asked whether it is harder to produce a whole album where people tend to just download a few songs, and how Phoebe has approached this?”

PW: Phoebe explained it is really hard to produce an album especially when you have a small fan base and are trying to get heard. Rather than focusing her money, time and energy into an album it is “easier” to focus on singles and EPs and get these out more regularly.

She knows artists who have turned to crowdfunding but feels this could decline in popularity. I asked whether it is difficult when people “cherry pick” songs. Phoebe explained that she puts the same energy into each song on the EP so it is hard when some are more popular than others.

I asked what her plans were and she explained she is looking to release a single next year. I asked how she plans to promote and she explained her strategy will be to contact local radio stations, blogs and magazines. She will also turn to social media but a lot of energy will be about finding a good venue where she can host a launch party.

SL: “In my penultimate question I asked what was next on her musical journey, what motivates her and where she would like to be in five years’ time?”

PW: In the short term the focus is on the single and EP and getting out and gigging more. In five years’ time Phoebe would like to be still making music and in a perfect world not having to rely on a part time job.

The reality is that without taking a big risk she will have to find a happy medium between the two. Phoebe doesn’t want to be a massive super star, just to have the ability to enjoy what she loves doing. She knows many musicians who make a living as session musicians and gigging and she is happy with this.

SL: “And finally, I asked her to describe her favourite venue (or venues) to date?”

PW: Phoebe said playing at Margate Gardens in 2014 in front of 1,200 people was by far the grandest venue and largest audience she has played to. In the US, the Douglas Corner Café stood out for her.

I asked whether she has plans to return to the US and she explained that at the moment she wants to focus on the UK but in a couple of years she might return. She feels she has got contacts and good friends and would love to go back.

Interviewers comments

We first saw Phoebe support Coco and the Butterfields in Bristol.

She stood out as an amazingly talented singer / songwriter. We have her second EP “Small, important things” with the beautiful song “Blue Cars” and look forward to her next release in 2016.

In this interview Phoebe comes across as a genuinely hard working artist working in a difficult industry, and at the same time she is very realistic in her expectations.

We look forward to following her career over the coming months and years.

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