Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Pushing it forward: The Musgraves and George Barnett And The Ninth Wave take different paths

Two local bands have scored terrific national airplay this year. Here's how they did it. 
The Musgraves (top) and George Barnett
A while back, after a particularly good month of action, I wrote about national airplay figures for local acts. Lots of great bands got BBC network love, including The Musgraves, favoured in daytime shows by Radio 2. More recently, another West Midlands outfit, George Barnett And The Ninth Wave, has scored significant action at Radio 1.

It set me thinking. It would be lovely to be able to draw up some sort of ‘success index’ that suits and reflects the web-based environment bands work in these days: a concrete way to show the creative and economic potential of our local music scene. Some sort of yardstick would be very useful. But, this being the web, there’s no structure, and there are tons of places to track, legal and otherwise. I’m sure something reasonably effective could be cooked up though, and if anyone’s up for developing it with me, let’s talk. 

Back on topic. In the spring, I dug into YouTube views for a while. Strange patterns: some wonderful bands, who I have all the time in the world for, have racked up relatively small numbers, while others, like George Barnett, can boast six-figure views for their material from a standing start this year. 

Clearly some people are doing something right. But what, exactly, are they doing to get these results? I got in touch with Matthew Bennett, who leads  The Musgraves, and manager Eamonn England of Redhouse Management. I also talked with Rich Shakespeare, who has managed George Barnett And The Ninth Wave for less than a year, to see what buttons they pushed. Two different approaches, both with measurable success. Of course The Musgraves are a little further down the road...

Some common threads emerged, despite the fact that both bands operate very differently. There’s evident determination and focus. There’s a sense of detachment and strategy, and an informed take on how the music industry works. And BBC Introducing has played a significant role in both bands’ progress.   

You’ve scored a lot of very gratifying national airplay action recently. How? Did you use a plugger, or just send your stuff in? Or are there any direct contacts you have?
Matthew Bennett, The MusgravesIt’s taken a long time to get to that stage. I suppose the first thing we did, after doing demos, was to get a management company on board. Our drummer sent a CD off to some industry people in London, and after a few weeks we got a call back.
Eamonn England, The Musgraves Management : The Musgraves sent us a demo CD. It was pretty raw but there were some good ideas and we felt that with development we could achieve something together.
A very early 2011 The Musgraves home-produced video
Matthew Bennett: The company got involved and helped us develop our sound and live show and we began to get gigs before going back in to the studio to start work on an album. Via our management we signed our publishing to Imagem Music on the back of the songs we recorded towards our album. Through this deal we were able to fund an EP release and get a marketing team on board. Initially it was a regional focus and we managed to step up a level before going national. Tom Robinson on 6Music gave us some BBC Introducing spot plays and we then began working with a national marketing team and released an independent single through Lookout Mountain Records. It went crazy then!
Rich Shakespeare: We didn’t use a plugger. One has, very kindly, offered to work for us for free, temporarily, but it’s us (myself and George) who spend most of our day researching people to contact, and making that contact. It’s all about linking up with people. Lots of research. I went to a BBC Introducing live night in Hereford
- they had recorded George at a festival in Worcester, and updated Andrew Marston. He put one of George’s songs forward for Radio 1. It went to a committee, and they picked it ahead of many others. We’ve also had a lot of help and advice from a major label, who seem to want to nurture us and show some early commitment.
It’s great to get that sort of reaction. Some people seem to get it effortlessly, while others plug away for years and years. 
MBWe managed to secure a great national radio plugger and Graham Norton got behind us and began playing our single on Radio 2. 
 The video of the single that went national...
We were then invited on to his BBC 1 show, the first unsigned band to do so. Then we got on the Radio 2 playlist. Really happy now it’s all happening. We’re playing bigger shows now, we have more radio play, and more TV is coming together. It’s difficult but we want music to be our full time job and we’re getting closer.  
RS. It’s all about effort. You have to be really focused. Everything you do has to push it forward.
What about novelty value? Lots of media people like to be the first to spot something – which is of course terribly unfair, but it is human nature…
MBYou’re only going to be new once. You’ve got to keep it fresh from there on, almost re-inventing yourself. It’s up to the artist to develop, to produce new stuff.
RS: Not a problem. George is pretty much a chameleon. He changes. If you look at the artists who’ve lasted a long time, they change and evolve. 
and he’s still only 18...
RS: Yes. I’m also using my experience of seeing people I’ve worked with in the past. The best survive, adapt and grow. That’s my model, I guess. 
What is fascinating to me, Rich, is that this is your first managerial role...
RS: But I’ve done tour managing, and been around the industry, so that’s given me a grounding. George asked me to be his manager. 
What about building a fanbase? What sort of tricks would you recommend?
MBTwitter, YouTube and Facebook really do work. Before, you could play a show and not be able to follow it up. Now, all the fans are there at your fingertips; you can interact with them, and it makes that relationship go further. They feel more involved; we can get information out quicker. Everyone in the band interacts with the fans online and we make a real effort to be as personal as possible, to keep it ‘real’. When a band starts out, the internet is a really good tool for promo and interaction. We make our own videos and really get the fans involved in what we do. 
RS: Difficult. So many ways. We decided we were going to build ours online, at least at first. That’s why the videos are of decent quality. The idea is to keep it fresh and keep it interesting, so that more people watch these videos.  Lone Rose was the first one – it’s only been out for months and it’s got 120,000 views on YouTube. If you compare that to other bands on the same level, we’re doing well.  
Huge viewing figures...after using Pirate Bay
Interestingly, when you go to that Youtube page and scroll down the comments, free downloads via the Pirate Bay get a mention. A strategic decision? I saw you plugged this offer on Facebook as well. 
RS: The Pirate Bay offered a great promo opportunity after liking ‘College Kids’. We had a 3 day front page promo there that went worldwide. Then we decided to allow free downloads. In return many people decided to go back and pay for the album via iTunes/Amazon or Bandcamp, which worked out perfectly for us.   The fans talk to us through all the usual social media sites. We talk right back, but with respect. It’s about perception.
Can we talk finances? Are you making any money? Did you expect to?
MBWe’re making a little money. Not too much. We’re in the middle stage, where we know things are growing. We sold 3500 copies of our debut single but that doesn’t really equate to income, what with recoupment etc. Our management and publisher have been very supportive and there is a third party financer involved too now.
How does that work? 
Eamonn England: There are lots of 'new model' deals going on within the music industry at the moment. Through our production company, which The Musgraves are signed to, we have managed to secure a marketing and distribution deal which lets us release The Musgraves debut album on our own label. This enables us to keep everything in house and provide them with a far better and fairer return from sales than a major record deal would.
RS: We’re not making any money at the moment. George has sold a little over 1000 albums in a few months. We only had 100 cds made up - we’ve ordered a thousand now. The others were online, so we haven’t had to do too much. He’s used that money to reinvest in better equipment. It’s probably costing us more than we’re getting. 
Is there a grand plan? What is your timescale to push on further?
MBAll we’re focused on is the album right now – it should be out in September along with another single and the promo campaign is starting to kick in now. We’re planning a few videos and cover videos too to keep things moving online. We’re touring the UK in October, and then another single in 2013. 
RS: 2013 is starting to be mapped out. We’re probably planning on getting another album out by March. The plan is to make sure there’s enough material to do another album six months after the last one.  George is constantly writing. We’re planning on a video every two to three months, so that keeps going. We’re also doing 30 second video adverts for major gigs…and that helps the sales.
It looks like you’ve had a charmed life…
MB: (Laughs) We’ve done gigs where there’s no-one there; 400 miles and nobody’s at the gig…Three or four years of that….
RS: I think it’s just… knowledge. As a photographer, you pick up all this knowledge. You’re studying and watching all the time, and you meet so many people. You link with more people as a photographer than you do as a musician, and you move through more genres of music.. 
Who has/have been particularly helpful?
MBArthur Tapp from The Catapult Club who promotes at the Birmingham Ballroom. It’s important to get a promoter that believes in you at the start, and he’s been there right from the beginning. When you’re just starting, mostly they (the promoters) are bothered about are how many people you’re going to bring to a show but with Arthur, it’s more about building something. Graham Norton has also made a huge difference.
RS: Too many to mention!
The Musgraves
George Barnett

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