Making music is not about the money
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.
Sam Brockington is a 22 year old singer / songwriter currently studying Management at BIMM in Bristol. At 18 he moved to London where he played regular weekly gigs in venues across the city before moving to Melbourne, Australia where he continued his musical journey before moving back to the UK.
Drawing influences from the worlds of blues and soul, he has already drawn acclaim from movers and shakers of the music industry. This year saw him being interview by BBC Introducing and appearing at the Dot to Dot Festival. In the summer he is set to play at the Ethos Festival, Glastonbury and Y Not Festival.
Sam is yet to be signed to a record label, and release an album. We met Sam and his manager, David Brown, to understand more about how he is approaching music and financing his career.
To buy “Follow”: itunes.apple.com/gb/album/follow-single/
SL: “Sam moved to London and then Australia before coming back to the UK to study in Bristol. I started by asking Sam about his musical journey to date and how he had approached the funding of this (especially in London and Australia).”
SB: Sam is originally from Plymouth (Devon) and moved to London to do a music course. In London he was part of a band and the funding came from a mixture of student money and gigs (around £60 / £90 a gig). Between four there was not much money left at the end of the night. Once the course finished the band disbanded and Sam moved back to Devon.
Over the next few months he spent time working as a barman, playing gigs and busking and saved nearly £4,000. He went to Australia to see his sister who lived near Brisbane. This was supposed to be a two week stay which ended up as a yearlong stay! Sam found busking he could earn £40 an hour compared to £5 in the UK! He moved down to Melbourne which was the hub of new music in Australia (the Bristol of Australia!)
Whilst there Sam had many positive experiences and spoke about the annual busking festival over a week where buskers lined the streets about 20 to 30 yards apart. He played his first gig at the hostel he was staying at where he was paid $50, from there he got a weekly gig at the Vineyard paying $100. He was also able to support touring bands who came through Melbourne. We talked about a fan base across the continents and Sam felt that it was more of a friend base than a fan base.
A lot of the money whilst in Australia came from busking and the music at that stage was a mix of covers and his own music. There were a number of reasons to return to the UK, partly after 12 months he would have had to apply for Australian citizenship which would have included working on a farm for 3 months but also although he was making enough money to live it was not enough to make a career.
He therefore returned to the UK to take up a management course at BIMM, which he has just completed.
SL: “I then asked Sam to describe his experience of how the market for promoting music his evolved. In particular I was interested in how important distributors, streaming services and social media are in promoting his music.”
SB: Sam explained that he feels these avenues are really important as a means of showcasing your music. The traditional media is not as important now. He uses social media to promote live and acoustic sessions.
15 years ago this route was not available; now streaming opens up his music to a wider audience. He knows that he needs to give his music away for free in the early days because he is building a fan base, and people are less likely to pay for something they haven’t heard.
A lot of the time at BIMM Sam was focusing on the course which was Management and it is only in the last nine months that he has started to play his music around Bristol. The investment so far has been around making sure his performances are shown online in a professional way.
Having a manager helps to give a professional feel but fundamentally what you write and how you perform is crucial because it is that that will be picked up. Social media, streaming etc are all things they embrace as a means of showcasing Sam’s music.
SL: “I talked to Sam about how artists have become more creative in the production of records, using crowdfunding to fund the release of music. In particular I was interested in how he had approached the funding of his music and what the best sources of revenue are.”
SB: At this stage of his career Sam hasn’t turned to crowdfunding. His view is that it is a good idea. He also said that established artists might use it as a means of moving away from their record labels to doing it themselves. The downside is the all or nothing approach. You can put a lot of effort into it but not get much back.
Turning to the funding for what he is doing, Sam said that they haven’t put too much into it but this will change. Sam knows it is important that they are clever with the money and they have to get the best return.
He is putting together an EP and rather than spending all the money on recording they are spending part of it on recording, and about half on marketing. The aim is to get a PR team involved to help them get in-front of the right people. We talked about the online side and Sam said this is really important and hard to tap into, so getting someone to do it for you is important.
I asked whether the EP would be physical or download. Sam explained that it will be as a download but they may press some vinyl. The challenge is cost (funding) and how many they can sell.
On revenue at the moment the money comes from gigging but Sam knows that now he has finished his course he needs to get a part time or full time job to fund his career. In a perfect world and as he gets established he can focus on his music career full time but to start with he needs to do other work.
SL: “Sam has already received positive acclaim from the likes of Andy Rea (2000 Trees Festival), Jacob Rickard (BBC Radio 1 Producer) and Sam Bonham (BBC Introducing). In this part of the interview I asked Sam how he had approached the funding and promotion of his music to a wider audience where there is not the luxury of a record label to take this on.”
SB: Sam would like to be signed to a major label. He admits that signing to a major label means that he may have to give more away but he feels you get a lot more in return. Two important aspects are the funding, and the better touring opportunities.
Getting the music to radio is important and he feels that if you have strong enough material that will help. Sam has done sessions for BCFM, through this he has been introduced to BBC Introducing. The power of networking is crucial to getting noticed and heard.
Sam’s management pointed out that talent is really important, you want an artist that when you hear them they stick. His management believe he has that talent, it is now for them to get that noticed.
SL: “I talked to Sam about getting music heard and the temptation (pressure) to focus on stand out tracks. I asked Sam whether he believed this pressure exists. I also asked whether it is becoming harder to create an album.”
SB: Sam explained he has two styles; ambient and blues. Mixing the two styles can be tricky and this is the same of an album.
The pressure is therefore less about making an album but more about getting the album to flow and have a feel. He feels that the first album is likely to have an ambient feel, and the second more of a blues feel.
SL: “I asked Sam whether when artists sign to record labels there is a danger that they are pressurised into compromising artistic talent (i.e. artists are sometimes placed into a position where they write for sales / popularity) or can they keep their artistic talent intact.”
SB: For Sam he believes you can retain artistic talent especially if you already have your own music.
SL: “Sam has a growing (and loyal) fan base. I asked him how he had approached this. Sam is also playing at Glastonbury this year and I asked how important festivals were for any artist to display their music to a wider audience.”
SB: Sam has only recently started playing in Bristol so it is important for him to build that fan base in Bristol. He believes it cannot be rushed and it is important not to over saturate an area. Again Sam and his manager explained that if you are good opportunities will come up.
They try to avoid opening slots as the audience doesn’t tend to be there but at the moment they are taking the opportunities as they come. Sam talked about a headline slot in London he did recently and how this may open up opportunities at other venues and record labels. To get the fan base it is all about networking – it is linking with other artists, word of mouth and emailing people to get Sam out there and in front of people.
As word gets around this will open up other opportunities.
Glastonbury and other festivals this year are less about the money (there isn’t really any money) and building the fan base but about the experience.
SL: “For those reading the interview who have not heard Sam’s music I asked him to describe his musical style.”
SB: Sam explained that he comes from the iPod generation where people have different music tastes and it is no long tribal – seventies with mods or punks etc. This mix of genre can really help an artist but ultimately you need to be fresh and have something new. They used the example of the Arctic Monkeys were the albums are different and they believe it pays to be different.
For Sam he said it is a mix of soul and blues but fans can expect something different from the albums he produces.
SL: “In the penultimate question I wanted to understand what motivates him and where he would like to be in five years’ time.”
SB: Making music is not about the money Sam explained. He loves singing and making music and if he can make a living from it then that is what he wants to do. He did a management degree so he had something to fall back on as so few people make money in music.
If he can make enough money to buy a house, have a secure life and enjoy what he loves then that is what motivates him. It is early days and Sam is happy to see how it goes.
SL: “In my last question I asked Sam to describe his favourite venue and where he would like to play in the future.”
SB: Sam described a venue in London called the Village Underground in Shoreditch which has a bohemian feel and has had many well-known artists play. This is where he would like to play as a solo artist in the future.
I was fortunate to see Sam play on the same day as the interview. He has an amazing talent and you can see the opportunities for Sam to be picked up by a record label. What struck me about Sam and his management is how grounded they are; they have a plan and they are sticking to this.
We are excited about his potential. We look forward to hearing his first EP and seeing how his career develops over the next few years.