Music Industry Musings

How to build a fanbase and make it pay

This article originally appeared on the website of digital music distributor iMusician. I write two articles for them a month on advice for artists, new trends and the inner goings-on of the music business.

The music industry used to be controlled by a small number of very rich players. Universal Records, Sony, Warner, the now defunct EMI (merged into Universal in 2012) were the gatekeepers to a world of fast cars, fast sales and screaming fans. Thanks to the internet, that’s no longer the case. While those three major labels still have the ability to turn a nobody into a somebody, if you’re talented, savvy, prepared to work hard and be patient, there’s a way of making money by building a fanbase on your own terms – and without having to kiss goodbye to 85% of your royalties.

US rapper Spose has experienced both sides of the coin. He launched his career back in 2007 by self-releasing his debut album Preposterously Dank. It sold around 500 copies. Spose was broke, waiting tables and providing for a newborn daughter but still reinvested every spare dollar he had into his career. “If I had $300 in my bank account. I spent it on T-Shirts to sell at my concerts,” he explains.

Then the big break came. His first official single I’m Awesome got picked up by local radio (due to Spose keeping regular contact with the DJ) and “took on a life of it’s own”. It was doing well on iTunes too and suddenly Universal were on the phone. The label sent Spose a $35,000 cheque and he signed on the dotted line.

However, the deal was short-lived and ended after 11 months and 60 revisions of that elusive second single that was never released. So is his career over? Is he back to waiting tables and telling everyone who’ll listen that he once had a record deal with the biggest label in the world? No. He’s succeeding on his own terms.

While with Universal, the “crazy exposure” definitely grew the amount of people who wanted to check him out, but it didn’t help him recruit die-hard fans – the people who are willing to pay proper cash to help you sustain a living. Those people are the ones he appealed to before his record deal – “kids in local colleges that were like, ‘Damn, somebody is rapping about our life.’”

He might have near 70,000 Facebook fans, but only around 2,000 of those are willing to part with their cash, he says. And it’s enough. His latest album The Audacity came out in 2012 and sold at $10. After iTunes took a small chunk, and the cost of making the album was deducted, he made a profit of $70,000. That’s before royalties from Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube come in quarterly – his last statement was $4,200. Using a digital distributor like iMusician, he was able to get his music up on all the digital platforms for a small one-off fee. Those platforms provide around 30-40% of his income.

The model is championed by expert advisor to the creative industries Nicholas Lovell. For 15 years, Lovell has been involved in technology, media and finance. Titled The Curve, his business model is inspired by the games industry and Lovell presented the idea during a session at by:Larm festival in Oslo in February. Read on to find out how you too could sustain a long-term living from a small number of high spenders.

Earn the right to be paid for your work

Just because you’ve played a few gigs and your mum thinks you’re going to be the next Ronnie Wood/Madonna doesn’t mean you’ve earned the right to be paid for your work. It takes graft. Hard graft. Says Spose: “You have to be willing to risk just about everything and sacrifice everything – including your job – to make it. If you really want to succeed in music but work 60 hours a week and go home and go to bed, that’s not going to work.”

New and emerging acts need to accept that they must first give their work away for free, spend time making sure people are hearing it and start the slow process of building an audience online, says Lovell. “The more people that listen to your music, the more people will listen to your music. Resulting in a greater chance of converting more people to superfans,” he explains.

Give your fans a reason to return

After that relationship has been built, and a fanbase established, give them a reason to return. Give them enough free quality material that they want to come back again and again and then end up paying. Ask for an email address, not to send out endless update emails (“no-one wants a newsletter”), but to send them things they want: be it music or behind the scenes content, creating a mechanism to talk to them again on your own terms. Lovell explains: “Find that 20% in your fanbase that have the potential to turn into superfans, and take them up The Curve. Take them out of a retailer’s database, and into your own.” Spose released his first two albums for free “as a taster”. By the time the third was ready, he could charge for it and be sure his fans were willing to pay – because he’d built that trust.

Enable superfans

Test what your superfans want. In 2012, Spose started a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to raise $25,000 to help fund his rapping career. 700 people contributed and paid $35 on average. Contribution options ranged from $5 for 20 unreleased songs, a signed poster for $20 and T-Shirts for $30. Pay $1,000 and Spose would write the fan a song about whatever they wanted, $1,500 would get them a private concert. “I put those things out there as Hail Marys and things I didn’t think would happen. Someone paid $1,500 and another gave me $1,000,” he says. While the campaign didn’t make him rich (note: always factor in postage costs), it gave him enough money to get his albums and T-Shirts re-printed.

And the final piece of advice?Work harder than you could ever imagine,” says Spose. “When I got a record deal, people were like, ‘Oh you made it,’ no I didn’t make it, I’m not set for life, there’s so much more work to do. And going independent I have to work even harder. People think music is this magical thing but it takes work and sacrifice. I try to work incessantly. Today, for example, I have a million things I’ve got to do in my personal life but I’m still going to put three or four hours in writing music. My fans might be expecting one album a year, but I want to be able to give them more.” Exceed your fans’ expectations and they’ll exceed yours. 

Musicians: how to build a portfolio career

This article originally appeared on the website of digital music distributor iMusician. I write two articles for them a month on advice for artists, new trends and the inner goings-on of the music business.

The internet is a double-edged sword for aspiring musicians. While the digital revolution has made it easier and cheaper than ever before for bands to get their music out to a large audience, it’s hard to get heard amongst the wealth of other people doing the same. So how do you stand out from the crowd? Whether you want to build a following and release music on your own terms or get noticed by an A&R exec you need to do a lot of legwork. It’s no longer enough to think about the music only; you’ve got to be your own marketing team, PR guru and art department.

Indie label 4AD has a rich history of signing interesting bands with a strong identity. Canadian musician Grimes and European rock three piece Daughter have been notable additions to its roster in recent years. Discussing what he looks for in new artists, the label’s boss Simon Halliday says a DIY ethic is important. “I’m always impressed when the artist has already done some work, they need to want it more than the label. They shouldn’t care about me and what I think,” he explains.

Head of Business & Creative Affairs/A&R at RCA Label Group Peter McGaughrin agrees. He signed Danish artist Mø to Sony after watching a self-made video she posted online of her in her bedroom with headphones on singing away intercut with footage of animations and artwork. They fell in love with the self-conceived and executed video, flew out to New York to see her play live and then chased her around Scandinavia persuading her they were the best people to work with. “I don’t think we’d have done all that without being able to see her creative vision and her self-determination that came through her making and then putting her video up on YouTube,” says McGaughrin.

What’s your USP?

First things first: your audience needs to understand what you’re about in order to form an opinion on what you do. What makes you stand out from the rest? What makes you, or your band, you? What are your passions? What don’t you like? Are you a political band? Or tongue-in-cheek bubblegum pop? Whatever it is, this is your starting point. Rizzle Kicks, for example, are a niche rap act from Brighton with their tongues firmly in their cheeks. Mariah Carey is a US RnB pop princess known for her diva attitude and belting voice. Grimes is a genre-defying vegetarian rebel who once sailed down the Mississippi River on a DIY houseboat loaded with live chickens and 20 pounds of potatoes. But you can’t be any of these – they are already taken. Dig deep and you’ll discover your own story. It doesn’t have to be ‘out there’; it just has to be true. Once you’ve done this:

Think about your audience, who are they likely to be? Are they part of the YouTube generation or vinyl luvvies? This will determine how you connect to them – Twitter, Facebook, old school record store gigs, YouTube videos, Soundcloud…the options are endless and it’s up to you to decide what will work best.

– If you haven’t already, you need to choose a name. Make sure it’s easily Google-able and that it hasn’t been taken by five other bands already. You can do something quirky to ensure search engine optimisation. If Scottish band Chvrches hadn’t replaced the U with a V in their moniker, fans would forever be looking at pictures of religious buildings instead of discovering more about their favourite band. Don’t name yourself after something well known/famous, or, if you do, make it different somehow.

Building an online presence

Your online presence needs to be easy to access and clear. It’s not hard to build your own website and even better if you’ve got an art whiz friend who can help you out with design skills in return for a few beers. Moonfruit.com is a good option and URL’s cost around £12 a year. Alternatively, Tumblr and WordPress are great free options and very easy to manage. Or you can just have a Soundcloud profile. Make sure your website/Soundcloud is clearly linked in your Twitter biography. Check out London-based up and coming singer Max Marshall’s for inspiration.

After you’ve mastered your websites, now you need to build a following. This is where the ‘knowing your audience’ thing comes into play. If you think you’re making music for young 20-somethings who also like [insert any artist name here], follow their followers on Twitter, in the hope that they’ll notice and check out your music from your profile. Make sure you communicate regularly; no one is going to be interested in something that doesn’t look alive. Post updates, tracks, videos, lyrics and/or blog posts regularly and engage with people. Are people talking to you? Talk back. Your fans are your friends.

Demos and YouTube videos

Thanks to reasonably priced and good quality recording equipment, you don’t need to book studio time to record your first demo. iMusician have done a great guide on how to build a budget home studio. You’ve got no excuse to upload bad quality live recordings. BBC Radio One’s Jen Long, who presents the Introducing show alongside Ally McCrae that premiers unsigned, undiscovered and under the radar music, each week choses a playlist for her show. When it comes to listening to the demos she knows nothing about the band – there’s no picture, no background information and no name – so the quality of the music is integral.

“Within about 20 seconds you can tell whether something has caught your attention. Does it sound different from other things we’ve played before? What’s the quality like? What is its identity? The vocal is really important too – that can kill it or make it,” she explains. BBC Radio One – one of the biggest stations in the UK with 10.97 million listeners, according to the latest Rajar figures – has a policy of not playing live recordings that haven’t been recorded by the station’s department. “Putting a microphone next to the stage and recording everything playing at once generally sounds incredibly crap,” says Long.

Sending in a decent demo was how Liverpool quartet Circa Waves were discovered, and are now signed to Virgin EMI and getting plenty of airplay from respected BBC tastemaker Zane Lowe. The band sent Long a demo on Facebook that they’d recorded in their bedroom. “It was a really rough demo but there was something about the song and the chorus that hooked and I loved it,” she explains.

With over 1 billion unique visitors every month, YouTube is now more important than ever as a platform for breaking bands. Island Records Director of A&R Nick Huggett says he spends around 50-75% of his weekly pitching discussions on YouTube. “That’s probably the first time we hear or see something”, he explains. “YouTube is very useful because you get a sense of the artists visually as well as musically.”

It’s how Huggett discovered Rizzle Kicks who were signed to Island after they posted covers of tracks by Lily Allen, White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys and M.I.A online. “The way that they came across and the fact that they’d done it themselves, it had a homemade aesthetic to it but still gave a really clear picture of what they were all about. It was the first time I saw a video that made we want to sign something instantly,” he says. Having a visual aspect to the music shows that artists have a sense of their own direction and are authentic – both things that are likely to connect with a record buying public and making labels more willing to invest.

So there you have it, a world wide web full of tools that you can use to get your music career off the ground. You hold the keys to the door, what are you waiting for?

Haim album review: Days Are Gone

You could put the hype around Haim down to a few things: major label backing, friends in high press places and the marketability of three girls with guitars. Or, you could put it down to originality, talent and really good songs. A listen to their debut album Days Are Gone firmly suggests you should do the latter.

The eleven tracks comprise catchy choruses, stripped down instrumentals and the best things that were happening in music circa 1970. With every song written by Este, Danielle and Alana themselves – and thanks to producer polish from Ariel Rechtshaid and James Ford – Haim’s signature dreamy alt/rock/pop sound arrives fully formed.

Opening with toe-tapper Falling, Este’s Joni Mitchell-esque vocals and perfectly placed harmonies are alternative enough to be considered cool, yet with super-slick production it’s got a pinch of Wilson Phillips (not a bad thing).

Break-up song and first single Forever runs straight after, another A* combination followed by newest release karaoke-yet-credible The Wire. Fifth track Honey & I dances a down-temp drum beat around a simple love song and second single Don’t Save Me is as perfect as it was when it catapulted the girl group to public consciousness late last year.

My Song 5 is all about betrayal and bass line, and Go Slow is the ultimate ballad. Closing track Running If You Call My Name has a tinge of Jessie Ware with Stevie Nicks, rounding off the record with an uplifting yet subdued bow. Haim have arrived and are here to stay. Believe the hype.

haim

Rizzle Kicks, Hip-Hop and Cultural Significance

Rizzle Kicks are a laugh aren’t they? A bit dumb, but fun, clappy and happy: the perfect kids party soundtrack. Singing and rapping about such inane nonsense as ‘Mama doing the hump‘ and ‘getting down with the trumpets‘ they’re not going to be nominated for the Mercury Music prize any time soon – but who cares, they serve a purpose right? And despite calling themselves a hip-hop duo, we know they’re not really hip-hop. Not real culturally significant hip-hop anyway. Not like The Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Lion [previously Dogg], Kanye West or Dre who write about proper stuff like murder, money and sex with women.

The duo that is Jordan Stephens and Harvey Alexander-Sule found their sound while attending rap and performance workshops with Brighton charity AudioActive in 2006. After graduating from the Brit School and gaining a YouTube following with their covers of tracks by Lily Allen, White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys and M.I.A., they signed a record deal and released their debut album Stereo Typical in 2011. The album was the second most illegally downloaded in the UK last year (only behind Ed Sheeran’s +), has since been certified platinum and sold over 350,000 copies.

Anyway, back to hip-hop. Snoop Lion is cool isn’t he? Like real cool. He’s one of those artists who can say whatever he wants because he’s a proper musical legend. Penning lyrics like ‘you’ve got to put that bitch in her place/even if it’s slapping her in her face,’ from that song Can You Control Yo Hoe? aren’t supposed to be taken seriously! And how about Mr. West? Some of his words are admittedly a little risque. ‘I was fucking parts of your pussy I’d never fucked before,’ it says in Blame Game. Christ alive! Proper gangster rap.

Rizzle’s are different though, they don’t talk about serious stuff like that. However, songs from their second album Roaring 20s (out today) do centre on life for twenty-year-olds – popular culture, love and social commentary, but it’s still generally positive and upbeat. There are some excellent messages in there too. Lines like: ‘I don’t want a bad bitch, I want a girl that will slap up a guy that calls her a bad bitch’, ‘bright and brilliant – kind of like I like my women’ and ‘what’s wrong if a girl likes sex? It’s only wrong if it’s not with you son so maybe you should get better in bed,’ are probably quite good for the young popular music consumer to hear.

Still not hip-hop though. See, according to Urban Dictionary, “today hip-hop, (defined as a style of popular music of US black and Hispanic origin, featuring rap with an electronic backing) is considered to be dead in the mainstream. The stuff on MTV and the radio can’t be called hip-hop because the lyrics don’t have any meaning or self expression.” Fellow artist and ‘Godfather of grime’ 34-year-old Wiley knows it. The duo’s “jokes are stupid” and they “could sell 10 million in a week and would not be accepted in credible urban life,” he said on Twitter recently.

Anyway, I did an interview for Music Week magazine with Rizzle Kicks. We talk about misogyny, credibility and why the Mercury Prize judges could have listened to their debut a little more closely. You can read it here.

Angel Haze: why she is just really cool

Angel Haze just played her second ever London gig. I went and it was amazing. Apart from smashing every single song, making a violin the most street thing ever and rapping the hell out of Otis with Iggy Azalea (in real life, she was there), there is another reason why it was amazing. Here it is:

Something hugely important has started to happen in recent years. Women are talking. And not about shoes, hand bags, make up and clothes. We’re talking about violence, self hate and disrespect. We’re talking about everyday sexism, a false sense of equality and the ever present glass ceiling. For years, women have been told to shut up and we’ve had enough.

So when Angel Haze comes along and speaks extremely candidly about her history of sexual abuse (she did this track live for the first time tonight), it’s a massive cultural milestone. Yes it’s shocking, at times it’s even a little bit disgusting. But what’s disgusting and shocking isn’t her, it’s the person that took advantage of a child. The person that abused their power to get their own way. The person who treated another human being without an ounce of respect. What’s even worse, is the reason we all find it so hard to hear is because the victims have suffered alone for so long.

And while all the journalists in the world can write about the wrongs of abuse, a young teenager is far more likely to be sat in their room listening to music than reading The Times. So what happens when a young girl who’s been taken advantage of, abused or disrespected hears Haze’s words? She realises that it’s wrong, it’s okay to talk and she’s not alone. And suddenly there’s a chance of life being all right. Because Angel Haze survived and is excellent, brilliant and talented.

The Jimmy Savile scandal was kept under wraps because the victims – young girls – were afraid to speak out. So he carried on. He carried on and on and on, abusing his power while maintaining a squeaky clean public image. He lived the lifestyle of a king, yet underneath it all he was lower than dirt. And what did that teach those young girls? That men can do what they want and get away with it. That girls are there to keep quiet and never make a fuss. That they are to be seen and not heard.

But thanks to the likes of Angel Haze there is a new generation being taught to shout out loud. And in ten years time, they will be the ones in charge. So make this mark the beginning of the end of years and years and years of silence. Not just for the horrific ordeals, also the everyday. Let’s make this ‘new wave of feminism’ one of the last.

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Frank Turner album review – Tape Deck Heart

I fear Frank Turner has lost his mojo. That thing that makes him different to every other yawn-inducing front man. That edge, that bit that’s rough around the edges, that gravelly rock and roll. His fifth album Tape Deck Heart is lacking some lust.

It all starts off fairly well. Slightly predictable, Turner is again at a trendy party in “some flat in East London” contemplating life’s big questions. Despite this, the opening track Recovery is catchy and sounds nice. Losing Days also sounds nice. The same goes for the following track (The Way I Tend To Be). And No.5 (Good & Gone), No.6 (Tell Tale Signs) and No.8 (Polaroid Picture). All of them tick every signature Turner box, acoustic-y/folk-y, sometimes a shout-y bit is thrown in for good measure. Lyrics generally focus on lost loves, London landmarks and troubled youth.

However, fourth track Plain Sailing Weather with its anthem of a chorus, heavy guitar and lyrics you can’t help but believe turns it up a notch. Then seventh track Four Simple Words is incredible. A properly punk anthem it’s Turner at his best. The last four tracks are down-tempo and nothing to write home about.

It’s a good album, Turner can still write good songs. But there’s nothing risqué, there’s nothing new and it’s lacking a bit of punch.

But, all hope is not yet lost. After watching Turner play the new tracks live, sweaty, sweary and loud, whilst backed by his band The Sleeping Souls that punch is there. The just-about-to-lose-my-voice thing, the rough around the edges sound of the live stage makes it all punk rock again. And his mojo returns.

Ultimately, Tape Deck Heart is a bit cliché, a bit too safe and probably just a bit over produced. Three stars out of five. But the live show? A full five.

Is streaming killing the music industry?

Who remembers the good old days of spending money on music? That simple transaction between artist and consumer, of capital in exchange for labour – the formula that kept our favourite industry buoyant. But nowadays there’s no need for all that faff, as a click of a mouse lands the majority of music straight into your lap for either a tiny bit of money (£5-10 a month), or (if you don’t mind a few adverts) no money at all.

Spotify is a service made in heaven for the consumer, easy, fast, cheap and with minimal effort required. How on earth did we survive without it? And why did those bloody pop stars make us pay so much for music before? Well, it’s not quite as simple as that of course. Because the reason why record labels give Spotify et al. rights to their artist’s music so cheaply is because they’ve sort of been backed into a corner. Piracy came first you see, so if they didn’t, most people would go and (illegally) download the latest Rihanna album for free anyway.

Streaming services make music legally available for the fraction that it would cost from somewhere like iTunes or HMV. They generate profit from advertisers on their free service, and from users who pay for the tiered subscription services. Around 70% of all the revenues that Spotify makes go directly to record labels, publishers and collecting societies. These rights holders then pay the artists according to the deals they have in place.

Spotify pays royalties in relation to an artist’s popularity on the service. For example, they pay out approximately 2% of their gross royalties for an artist whose music represents approximately 2% of what users stream. This means that a popular song or album could generate more revenue for an artist over time, than it historically would have from upfront unit sales. But in general, the rate artists are getting paid is pretty low and Spotify’s founder Daniek Ek has recently said you’d have to stream one song 200 times in order to generate the equivalent of a paid for download.

The rate of income is a big issue because the less money artists earn from selling music, the less money goes into the industry as a whole. This means there’s less to spend on nurturing new acts, who don’t get a No.1 record first of all (by being on a TV show like the X Factor), but with a bit of time and cash might just be the next Nirvana/Madonna/Adele/James Brown. Secondly, it might be all well and good for major labels with a lot of big commercial acts on their roster (David Guetta (EMI) and Rihanna (Def Jam – Universal) were the most streamed artists of 2012), but for small independent labels it doesn’t make as much sense.

Taylor Swift recently withheld her new album Red from Spotify, Deezer and Rhapsody. For her label Big Machine Records, the minimal income stream is negligible. And having her album available for free could potentially stop people buying the record. Although of course, the LP did turn up on piracy sites Grooveshark and BitTorrent and was also up on YouTube.

However, it’s not all bad and as a discovery and exposure platform, Spotify is hard to beat. Think of it like a radio station that plays all music released on demand, not just the tracks that are lucky enough to get playlisted. And an ever increasing amount of apps and social media partnerships make it very easy for users to share new music. Mumford & Sons’ latest release through Glassnote Records got a huge amount of streams on Spotify, but was also one of the biggest debut sales weeks for an album last year. So it could be argued that people found the Mumford album on the service, and loved it enough to go and buy it properly. But, this is a rare example. So what are we going to do? Where is the money going to come from? Will only rich people be able to be pop stars? Will our charts be dressed head to toe in ever more commercial garbage? Will music disappear?

Well, no-one knows for sure, and that’s one of the reasons why the music industry is probably the most happening industry at the moment. In the meantime artists are lending their faces to advertising (Cheryl Cole & L’Oreal, Katy Perry & Pop Chips), expanding their income options (Lady Gaga’s Eau Du Parfum) and doing synch deals (like Paloma Faith’s song on the John Lewis advert), to fund their next album/tour.

Traditionally, people would use reviews, recommendations or radio play to decide whether to exchange pocket money for music, nowadays we get to hear an entire album in full before measuring its worth. But unless someone decides to banish the internet from the face of the earth, the days of making serious money from recorded music are a long and distant memory.

However, that’s not the end of the story and if labels get it right, there’s still some serious cash to be made. In fact, instead of dying a slow and painful death, the music industry is actually a major contributor to the UK economy. It contributes nearly £5 billion, of which £1.3bn comes from exports earnings and employs around 130,000 people. In real terms, Adele’s record label XL records made a cool £41.7m profit in 2011. Sony Music UK revenues tipped £191m in the 12 months to March 31 2012 and the company’s highest paid director made £952,508. And Universal Music Group (worldwide) made over £2.5bn in the first nine months of 2012.

Yes, things have changed since the glory days of yore. Employees no longer fly First Class, labels don’t expense ‘fruit and flowers’ (read: drugs and hookers) or frequent The Ivy at lunchtime. Revenues have gone down, salaries have halved, belts have got tighter and employees work harder. But in general – as long as you’re good – there’s enough to make a fair living from. And that’s all anyone really needs isn’t it?

Masculinity, mental health and Kerrang! magazine

Masculinity and mental health are not issues usually found within the pages of veteran RAWK music magazine Kerrang! but an excellent feature this week bucked that trend. Written by editor James McMahon, a Biffy Clyro interview ticked all the relevant feature boxes (album, tour, inspiration) and then a huge amount (of ground-breaking) more.

The ground-breaking part came as front man Simon Neil talks on the bands journey, and a “bad patch” sheds light on his state of mind “always a huge thinker, always a huge worrier”. McMahon recalls listening to their 2007 album Puzzle and finding “the secret depression club’s code words” in the songs, “where my songs come from is probably that part of my brain that isn’t quite working right” explains Neil.

Now depression is no secret, but due to stigmas attached to said illness (abnormal, weak, to name a few) it’s not a usual feature of interviews where the subject’s livelihood doesn’t depend on a convincing sob story. Couple that with the testosterone fuelled job title of ‘Rock Star of Big Guitar Rock Band’ and you could be left with a potentially damaging change in public perception of said Rock Star (weak). Biffy Clyro don’t want to be known as that band with the depressed lead singer, they want to be known as that band that make right good music. Secondly, they don’t want to be accused of using a sob story to peddle their new album.

Despite this, Neil still agreed to publishing that part of the conversation. And McMahon backs him up with lines alluding to his own issues. Both doing so in order to help other people who might be fellow sufferers.

Suicide is the second most common way for a man between the ages of 15 and 34 to die (only just outstripped by road deaths). About 900 young men take their own lives each year, and they account for around 75% of all suicides in this age group. Yet according to sources, less than 20% of young men who commit suicide have had any contact with either their GP or mental health services in the previous year.  Typically, men don’t seek help when they have mental health problems. But the NHS says research shows that talking can help people recover from depression and cope better with stress. The feature concludes with Neil saying that meeting his wife who accepts “the way he is (a high and low kind of guy)” has helped him feel better.

The most important thing about the Kerrang! article is that it’s printed in a magazine generally aimed at teenagers – male teens in particular. And the important words are said by someone who teenagers deem as normal, masculine and look up to and respect. Suddenly, being honest about your worries becomes cool. And talking about it can stop feelings of isolation and helplessness – things which when coupled with depression, can have a potentially fateful ending.

Says the NHS: “some people still think that depression is trivial and not a genuine health condition. They’re wrong. Depression is a real illness with real symptoms, and it’s not a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”.” Yet with the right treatment and support, most people can make a full recovery. Says Neil: “I do want people to know that it’s fine to talk about your worries and don’t be afraid to ask for help”.

On the same line, female rapper Angel Haze has this year been tipped for big things in 2013 after releasing her dark rhymes about a childhood stock full of abuse. Speaking so candidly about what she went through, and how she’s come out the other side can (and will) inspire others that there’s light at the end of a tunnel, that it’s wrong and perhaps most importantly that it’s okay to talk about it.

Since the Biffy feature has been printed, Twitter has been inundated with compliments, blog posts and readers sharing their own personal experiences. A lot of people have started talking about depression in a very public forum, because a very cool man, music magazine and band have said it’s okay to. If respected people in the public eye did this more often, it starts breeding a generation who know it’s fine to talk about their worries and who are far more likely to listen and refrain from judging others who might want to talk about theirs. And that’s where journalism, fame and music achieve their greatest potential.

All hail to James McMahon, Simon Neil and Kerrang! magazine for an excellent piece of writing. You’ve got until Tuesday until the issue leaves the shelves, go buy!

My Top Ten Music Moments of 2012

Over the past year I’ve seen some gigs, been to a few award ceremonies and met a lot of clever people who know about good music. So in the spirit of the holidays, the following list is a top ten of the best performances, discoveries and tracks that have been found as a result of all the above (in no particular order). Enjoy.

First up, track of the year – XL Record’s Jai Paul – Jasmine. A religious experience.


In appropriate XL succession, award of the year – Richard Russell for Outstanding Contribution at the Music Week Awards. This is why:

Festival performance of the year – Jay-Z at Hackney. Yeah. No words.

Frank Ocean. Artist of the year for this. Album of the year for this:

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/46008281″>Frank Ocean – Super Rich Kids</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user3362050″>dustin sussman</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

New discovery of the year – Angel Haze. Courageous, clever and hugely talented.

Lianne La Havas performing Gone at the Mercury Music Prize Ceremony. The video is here. The track is below. Amazing.

The Weeknd on Jools Holland. But also, The Weeknd at home, The Weeknd at work, The Weeknd in bed…you get the idea.

Video (and another track) of the year – M.I.A. – Bad Girls. Incredible.

Ones to watch for 2013 – Clean Bandit. Just really fucking cool.

And last but by no means least: DVD release of the year – Amy Winehouse – The Day She Came To Dingle. Breathtaking, intimate performances and a lovely, honest and interesting interview with the legend herself.

The James Arthur Band

Last night saw 24-year-old singer James Arthur crowned The King of the X Factor 2012. Winning the country over with his working class tattoos, a right good singing voice and a few sob stories chucked in for good measure, his victory was rejoiced amongst fellow contestants, judges and England alike. Now a contractually obliged member of the Syco production line, Arthur’s future lies in the hands of the big Simon Cowell himself.

Now this is all well and good if you are a Leona Lewis or One Direction but – and correct me if I’m wrong – Arthur is pretty rock and roll. Like Frank Turner rock and roll, not Frankie Cocozza ‘rock and roll’. He can play guitar, he has a nice gravelly voice and dresses like the fourth member of Blink 182. Basically, he’s pretty cool. And he’s already got himself a band and with them, written a load of good and original music.

Now if that band (pre X-Factor) had entered lots of battle of the bands and new music competitions (like BBC Introducing) after a lot of hard graft and knock-backs they’d be likely to get an indie deal. They’d probably get a Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record accolade, some big support slots, then after a few albums, when they’d had time to work on their craft, they’d have made a fair few sales and enlisted a fairly large following. Then – all going well – on their fourth(ish) album they’d have major labels knocking down their door to sign on the dotted line (a la Lost Prophets or Bring Me The Horizon).

And because they already have success, they would have had the power to tailor the contract to their needs (rather than be victims of a Syco straightjacket). Then they’d have the cash behind them to try and break the US and the rest of the world. And they’d probably earn enough to carry on doing what they loved for the majority of their careers.

But instead, that bands lead singer has opted for fast success. He’s now going to be marketed as a ‘dark and doomy’ (do you remember Aiden Grimshaw? No? Exactly.) solo singer. He’ll get a couple of charted singles probably. His first album might even do quite well – if they release it quickly and ride the wave of the X Factor hype – but ultimately, he won’t be enjoying a long and credible career, and he’ll fall fail of misplaced marketing because well…the X Factor isn’t exactly the brand we all associate with punk rock and all its ideals.

HOWEVER, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Said light is Charlie Simpson. Do you remember him? Bushy eyebrowed one out of pop ‘punk’ trio Busted. The band all the music kids in the playground HATED because they were so obviously like the STUPIDIST BAND EVER for stealing their guitars and skate-style while singing some (admittedly brilliant) pop songs, because of course, pop music isn’t ‘real’…man.

Well, Busted are no more and Simpson is now the front man of a proper, real rock and roll band – Fightstar. And guess what? All the music kids LOVE him because the band is pretty good and he’s obviously excellent. Despite the fact that he used to be that ABSOLUTE FOOL from BUSTED.

So basically, the James Arthur Band ideal isn’t doomed. He hasn’t sold his soul just yet. He can probably come back in another musical life – after his short lived fill of cars, girls and cash – as long as he does it right next time. It will be like the return of the prodigal son, WE’RE STILL HERE FOR YOU JAMES.

[UPDATE: Talking to me, bass player of the James Arthur Band Rich Doney has said: “We have no idea what the future holds at this point, I think James may well get sent in the right direction, so hopefully he’ll avoid the dreaded winners curse and all that, but we have of course spoke and we will certainly carry on, in what way and when we don’t know right now…crazy times” Interesting]