Music Industry Experts Tell Us: How Do You 'Make It'?
James Gilmore talks to teen pop sensation Elyar Fox and leading music PR Emma Van Duyts about what it takes to 'make it'...
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No matter how hard it has been in the past to 'make it' in music, it has never been more difficult than it is now. We live in a world where millions of budding musicians, who may have never been heard, are posting new music online regularly. Whilst this has made it easier to get your music out there, it also means that the landscape is seriously over-crowded.
In October, Teenage Cancer Trust hosted an event at the Gibson Showrooms in London, called 'Listen Learn: Music' where a panel of the industry experts advised young people on how the ever-changing industry, is changing more than ever. Hosted by pop artist Elyar Fox, he was joined by singer-songwriter Nicola Roberts, legendary music executive Alan McGee, music manager Charli Scott, live events promoter Steve Tilley and music PR Emma Van Duyts.
Before the event, we had the opportunity to speak to leading music PR Emma Van Duyts and teen pop sensation Elyar Fox about what it takes to 'make it' in the 21st century.
Emma Van Duyts is the Queen Bee at Public City PR. You may have never heard of the company, but you definitely know many of the acts they represent. Alternative, rock and metal bands such as Baby Metal, Deaf Havana, Enter Shikari, Lower Than Atlantis, Mallory Knox and Slaves are just a few of the names on their varied, and impressive roster. Before becoming Head Honcho, she worked at Warner Bros Records promoting bands including Green Day and Linkin Park.
PR has never been more important to break a band. Emma tells me that a "the quality of music needs to come first and foremost, great music speaks for itself. If you really love what you do and hone in on your craft, that will speak loudest". That seems to make sense, but our music catalogues have never been more diverse, "Certainly in the last 10 or 15 years, with the emergence of technology, it's easier to get access to various different types of music whereas back then, you couldn't just go on your phone and find any band you want to listen to or have your Apple Music where you listen to a band and it recommends other similar music.".
"The music landscape is more wide open and, for younger people, there is more of a conversation about the different types of music you listen to. People are no longer defined by one genre (both fans and artists). You can like both 5 Seconds of Summer and The Cure, for example. It makes sense like it never has before." For music fans she has one big tip, "Keep your eyes open and always listen out for new music. You never know what you're going to find, it's impossible to predict nowadays. You're spoilt for choice."
It's Emma's job to ensure that potential fans are discovering the bands that she is representing. "A lot of music discovery is happening through word of mouth. Someone will find a band on the internet (by hearing a song or watching a video) and they'll go and find their online profile and tell their friends. I think it's still at that grassroots level, where people discover bands through recommendation. Don't get me wrong, radio and playlists, etc... are still very important - but not every band is going to get on the A List on Radio 1, it's just not going to happen."
The Radio 1 A-List is often seen, in the industry, as the holy grail of getting your big break. One of the most listened-to radio stations in the UK, they actively support new talent and people go to them for that. Many an artist can credit their careers to the Radio 1 A-List. On the importance of radio, she says that it's still a vital platform for music discovery. "People are listening to the radio all the time, whether it's in their cars or on their phones, etc... When you hear that song and it just clicks, that's really important. There are some bands who do it without getting on radio playlists, but to really break into a big audience - there's nothing better than having a big DJ on a major station telling listeners why they should love your music".
Finally, I had to ask her the ultimate question: What is the most important thing to 'make it'? "Respect your team. You can make a great record but if you don't have the respect of the people working with you trying to make it become successful, that will always put a glitch in the matrix. But, as I said before, that needs to be in line with making great music that you love".
It all seems like a bit of peace, love and rock n' roll. From her perspective.
If sales from live music were ever important for record labels, it's now never been more important. With streaming outlets paying less-than-pennies for individual track plays (Spotify pays out between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream), an artist can make their million in a single night performing live - take Ed Sheeran for example, who made £13m on Spotify this year, compared to the £6.2m (source: The Guardian) he earned from the first part of his 'X' World Tour alone. If there's anybody who is going to know about that struggle, it will be Elyar Fox.
20-year-old pop artist Elyar Fox got into music when he got a guitar at 10 years old. From there he started to write music before fronting the band 'Just Me Again' (which supported You Me at Six on their UK tour, including a performance at the O2 Arena) whilst completing his GCSE's. 5 years ago he decided to go solo and posted cover videos onto YouTube where he was discovered by Ryan Seacrest. In 2012 he signed to Polydor before jumping ship to the Sony-owned RCA Records, also home to the likes of Miley Cyrus and Usher. Since then he's been dropped by RCA (after a series of successful singles, peaking at Number 5 on the UK charts) and is now going at it solo.
One of the things Elyar spoke best to me about was different ways of finding music. "Spotify is important for me - I use the Spotify Discover playlists a lot to find new music. YouTube is also really good, but personally I've seen a shift onto YouTube. Saying that, there are also some really good blogs online..." It's interesting how he mentions compiled playlists as being important to him. This form of tastemaking (when somebody who has a good eye on music recommends bands and songs to fans - such as Zane Lowe on Beats 1, the ultimate tastemaker, or many of the presenters on W!ZARD Radio Station) is considered to be the reason why radio listenership has risen in line with a rise in the use of streaming services. People want other people's opinions and look for people with good taste to recommend them music - even if you're listening in London and the other person is in LA. It's another reason why NME traditionally did well (and still has large readership online), as well as why websites such as HypeMachine are looked at as a quality source of music discovery.
However, not everybody can get on the Spotify Discover playlist or be shouted out by Zane Lowe. Elyar has the opinion that if your music is good enough and you put yourself out there, people will discover you for themselves, "Being on YouTube is important and having all of the main social media platforms. People WILL come to you". Whilst that may not be the key to a a large fan base (which would likely require more of a push), it could definitely be a way to start things off.
Constantly being debated in the music industry is the importance of that holy major label contract. Can you become a major success without the aid of the Universal, Sony and Warner's of the world? Artists such as Oh Wonder and even Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have seen major success recently whilst being unsigned, but they seem to be in the minority. "I don't think the major label is that important anymore. Now there are a lot more opportunities to have success and a strong fanbase without needing a recording contract. You can do it all from your bedroom. You see a lot on YouTube now, people have long careers in music without having a record label or much money behind it."
There's a lot of truth behind what he says. If you look at musicians such as our friends The Lottery Winners, they recently funded their entire album in less than a week using crowd funding, and YouTubers such as Tyler Ward are funding much of their careers on websites such as Patreon. However, there is a reason why almost all of the major artists that are staples in our playlists today are from major labels and the labels are becoming better at spotting trends and being apart of breaking more 'modern' acts - with artists such as YouTubers Shawn Mendes and KSI being signed to Universal Music to launch their music careers.
It would seem like the key to making it in the music industry is variety - you need to have a healthy mixture of a lot of different things in order to make the perfect cake.
For Emma, it's the quality of the music - and Elyar agrees, "You need to be true to yourself. As a musician or an artist you're basing your career around your passion. Your heart needs to be heavily involved in it." But, at the same time, connectivity and being there to talk to your fans is also vital. As Elyar says, "It's very important to be connected with your audience. Nowadays you have the opportunity to do that through social media no matter what type of artist you are". After all, if you look at One Direction, The Vamps, 5 Seconds of Summer, etc... they are always interacting with fans on social media. It's reciprocation - fans spend a lot of money on being fans (and that price is growing year-by-year), the least you could do is thank them.
There has never, and will never, be a one-stop solution as to how to 'make it', especially when the landscape is diversifying and more platforms are being developed constantly. But, setting yourself up for success comes in the form of multiple eggs in multiple baskets. Radio, blogs, streaming, social media, live music and quality music would seem to make a large part of that. But, then again, this is all likely to have changed by the time you've finished reading this.