“the best chapter in their story so far”
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.
To quote “Sound of the Sirens is a foot-stomping, crowd-engaging folk / rock duo whose strengths lie in their passion and chemistry.” The duo are Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood. They have been building a loyal fan base over the last five years and are currently embarking on a UK tour.
They play both nationally and internationally across festivals, bars and music venues, and in 2013 they were awarded Best Acoustic Act for the South West Music Awards. They have received regular airplay on Radio 6, Radio Devon and BBC Introducing.
2015 saw them appear at Glastonbury, Carfest North and South and TFI Friday. Chris Evans is another one of their ever growing fan base, describing them “…as tight as a drum, it doesn’t get much better than this.”
They have released two EPs (“Under the Stars” and “All We have is Time”) and one album; “A Long Way to Fall”.
We caught up with Abbe and Hannah in between gigs to talk about the thorny subject of money and music and how they have approached this.
SL: “I started by asking if they could provide a potted history of their career to date, and how the name came about?”
SOTS: Abbe explained that the band was formed seven years ago with a friend Lisa Eyre when they worked together in a club in Exeter. There was no deep significance to the name; it was Lisa’s boyfriend who suggested it, the thought was simply 3 woman drawing people in!
Initially they were a “functions-band” playing music for weddings and other events. However, they didn’t always want to play at other people’s parties and so branched out to play their own gigs. They were offered a slot at the Timepiece nightclub in Exeter where they played mainly covers but snuck in a couple of their own songs. As Abbe added “people were still moving to their songs”.
In 2013 they became a duo after Lisa moved to London and rehearsals became few and far between.
Living in Exeter there were plenty of opportunities to play pub gigs and the money was good but they had to play covers rather than their own songs. Ironically to gig and play their own music paid less money but they were prepared to make that sacrifice to play what they wanted.
I asked them about Chris Evans and they explained it was luck that they met. As they explained you can work really hard, you can do all the right things but you can’t always do it on your own. Chris Evans has helped them gain credibility and be noticed.
Abbe went on to explain that they have a passion and desire and are keen to get out there and play as much as possible because this can open doors (as can be seen with Chris Evans). This year has been really important for them with Glastonbury, Carfest and TFI Friday.
I asked whether they currently work and Abbe said that Hannah runs her own vocal coaching business and she runs a drama school for young kids. Because they are self-employed they can work gigs around this but it is becoming increasingly harder to do so.
SL: “Turning to their music I asked them to describe their musical style and which musicians influence them the most?”
SOTS: They felt their music was closest to Folk Rock. From an influence side it is an eclectic mix, including The Carpenters, Hanson, Alanis Morissette, Laura Marling, Frank Turner, and Coldplay. Abbe added that she feels closest to Mumford and Sons and explained how she saw them as a support act at the Cavern in Exeter, and a few months later…well the rest is history.
SL: “I asked Abbe and Hannah to describe their 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?”
SOTS: Abbe started by explaining that social media was massively important to them especially Facebook. For them it is a way to connect with their fans. The fans have invested their time to see the band and get to know them and therefore it is a great to interact with them.
The fans are also important in the promotion of their gigs. Abbe explained there is so much promotion for cover bands who get paid more than someone doing original music, and so their fans are so important because they can recommend and promote them for free. They do use twitter but feel they are more old school.
Distributors, like iTunes, are really important to them. TFI Friday gave them exposure and as a result of that saw them appear in the download charts. We touched briefly on download vs physical and Abbe is very much of the physical camp having never downloaded music whereas Hannah was a download person but has moved across to physical.
Finally, we talked about streaming and they just see this as another means of promotion. Fans can listen for free and get a taste for their music. As a result, hopefully they will come to a gig or buy some music.
SL: “Artists have become more creative in the production of records; Sound of the Sirens have released two EPs and one album. I asked them how they had approached the funding of their music?”
SOTS: Abbe explained that they have no problem with crowdfunding but they worry that fans get bombarded with endless emails and it can deter them. They have opted to gig and save every penny to pay for the production of their music. Where they can they turn to friends to help with packaging and artwork.
I asked whether this approach gets in the way of producing music and Abbe said that it does. They can only produce when the money is there, but again luck can play a part. They won a competition of a day’s studio time when they were producing “A Long Way to Fall” with Grammy award winning producer Terry Britten. The session went so well that they were offered another day for free!
They are constantly writing and yes money does stop them producing but the more they play the more money they make and the more they can produce EPs / albums.
SL: “I asked them about their fan base and how they approached the building of this and how hard it is to do?”
SOTS: Abbe explained it is about getting out there and mixing with the right people and bands. For example, they have supported Mad Dog Mcrea which gets them in front of a ready-made supportive crowd. They are in regular contact with them and other bands. They believe supporting bands is a great way to increase your fanbase.
Opportunities can and do come from this. They recently played a London Acoustic Show and via that Freshman Guitars sponsored them to play in Germany.
SL: “It doesn’t appear that Sound of the Sirens are “signed” but they appear to have a management company. I asked them how they have approached the promotion side of Sound of the Sirens (thinking about Radio airplay (Radio 6, Radio 2, Chris Evans), gigs, festivals etc), how they have funded it and how important it is for them to be “signed”?”
SOTS: Abbe explained that in the last month they have taken on a booking agent rather than a management company. She explained that Johnny Wood (Hannah’s dad) has been their key support over the years. Acting as chauffeur, changing guitar strings in gigs and emailing venues and festivals to get slots. When they talk about Johnny (and seeing him at a gig) you can see how important his support for the band is.
The booking agent takes them up to a next level by getting them gigs in the right places for better money and they also have the contacts for festivals. It is clearly an important step for them.
Turning to radio play Tom Robinson has picked them up via “fresh on the net” and once they are in there it is easier to be picked up again. Abbe explained that Radio 1 and 2 are much harder with playlists and I asked whether the likes of Chris Evans could play their music. Abbe thought not but equally having someone rooting for them helps. They also feel Radio 2 is a natural home for their music and it is something they are looking at.
Turning to being signed they have heard horror stories of bands being signed and the management being poor. At the moment there is a lot they can do by themselves (they got into the download charts) but equally they are not averse to being signed.
SL: “There is an argument that when bands are signed they have to make compromises. I asked Hannah and Abbe what their views are and how they would approach this?”
SOTS: They are very open for suggestions on their music and welcome them; as Abbe added if it’s about help and guidance then that’s exciting and not a compromise. This they would be happy to do. However, being asked to sing someone else’s songs is a compromise they wouldn’t be happy with and equally being asked to change their style!
SL: “Revenue comes from many sources – busking, gigs, festivals, “merch” etc. I asked them what they find are the best sources of revenue and how has this changed over time?”
SOTS: They have done busking but it doesn’t really work with their style of music. Pub gigs have paid well but festivals and playing their own music hasn’t been as rewarding. Everything they have made they put back into the band.
They have had to sacrifice the “covers work” to play their own music but seven years on it has worked out and this year is the first time that they have started to make money. Having CDs, and other “merch”, to sell at gigs also helps.
SL: “With a declining physical album market, I asked how important are physical albums for them compared to downloads? I also asked whether it is harder to produce a whole album where people tend to just download a few songs, and how have they have approached this?”
SOTS: Abbe explained that the physical market is very important to them; having something tangible which people can take away at the end of the gig is so important for them.
Turning to downloads it is not something they have ever really considered. They like writing songs and putting them together as EPs or albums. It is about getting the music out there but equally they don’t want to rush music by adding “fillers”, hence the EP route.
Following TFI Friday they did offer the song they played as a free download on their website and in fact many people downloaded the whole EP. I asked them about TFI Friday and they explained that it can only be a good thing; people suddenly take you more seriously and for them it was a massive confidence boast. In their words, “the best chapter in their story so far”.
SL: “In my penultimate question I asked what was next on their musical journey, what motivates them and where would they like to be in five years’ time?”
SOTS: (I think this summed up the humour you get from them and which comes across in their gigs). Abbe started by saying they will be on their own private island, eating golden grapes and riding unicorns after been flown out on their own private jet piloted by Richard Branson!
On a more serious note they would be happy if they could be doing this full time. It would be great to be waking up each morning knowing this was their job and that they were being paid to do what they love.
SL: “And finally, I asked them to describe their favourite venue (or venues) to date, and where they would like to play in the future?”
SOTS: Some of their favourite places include Carnglaze in Cornwall which is a cave with a stage and hidden lakes, the Convent in Stroud which is an old Convent with amazing acoustics and the Old Bookshop in Bristol which is small and personal. All very different and unique places.
And the future would be the “other stage” at Glastonbury.
We came across Sound of Sirens whilst watching TFI Friday and instantly made a decision to go and see them play. We were lucky to see them in the small and personal setting which is the Old Bookshop in Bristol.
There is a natural musical chemistry between the two and they quickly draw in the crowd with funny and engaging talk between songs. It is very obvious how important Johnny is to the two of them as he rushed onto the stage to change guitar strings.
The music is beautiful and enchanting and it is fantastic to watch them play live (so much so that I bought tickets to see them again!) Perhaps a private island is far-fetched but appearing on the “other stage” at Glastonbury may not be so.