I said a while ago I was going to start writing articles about how to start off as a musician/songwriter/performer/whatever you wish to call yourself and I think the time is right to kick things off.
Before reading all this, please bear in mind it’s based entirely on my own experience and opinion so I don’t recommend taking any of this as gospel. I’m explaining the way I went about things in the hope it’ll help people but bear in mind other people have done things scores of different ways, some of them with a damn sight more success than I have. I don’t know everything and I probably don’t even know much but I know a damn sight more than when I started trying to do this back in 2004 and I know I’d have appreciated something like this information then so hopefully you will too.
To start from the very beginning I started writing lyrics aged about fourteen and for the next few years would write out loads and loads of song lyrics (by the time I got eighteen I had enough for about five hundred different songs). Often I’d have vague melodies too but I couldn’t play any kind of instrument and always saw forming a band and performing as some kind of pipe dream. Occasionally I tried performance poetry and once I sent some lyrics off to one of these scam adverts you used to get in the NME that promises you a contract as a professional songwriter in exchange for “admin fees” (best not to do that – luckily I realised it was a scam pretty quickly and didn’t lose much more than a tenner. Even so I don’t recommend it!). At sixteen I started learning the guitar and by seventeen or eighteen was writing my first songs proper. Predictably they weren’t great!
I made a couple of vague attempts at forming bands but grew up in a small village near Bristol and there wasn’t really anyone who fitted in with what I wanted to do so I’d inevitably find myself in a room with people who’d start off talking about creating this great alternative band but then quickly move onto wanting to do Bryan Adams covers. To be honest even if there had been I was nowhere near ready. At Uni I again tried unsuccessfully to form bands and did a couple of solo gigs over the three years but I still never really expected to ever do it properly, much as I wanted to it felt like something other people did. In fact it wasn’t until I was 22 and coming towards the end of MA course I started going to open mics and started on any kind of path to become a musician.
Looking back the fact I waited was a good thing. I think it’s pretty normal to start off by writing inferior versions of your hero’s songs and the years of writing songs on my own got most of the bad Suede, Pulp, Manic Street Preachers and Belle & Sebastian songs out of my system before I played live.
But nonetheless starting at 22 was daunting. I’d only played 2 gigs, I’d never been in any kind of band and I was living in London on my own. I didn’t know anyone except my flatmate and the people on my MA course (who I was already gradually losing touch with and none of whom were musicians to my knowledge) and had no contacts, no experience and – a few trips to the Astoria and the Academy aside – no real knowledge of the London gig scene. I was basically starting completely from scratch.
What’s more, whilst I had a feeling my songs had something about them, I also knew my guitar playing wasn’t great and my voice was even worse.
So how exactly do you go from there to being in a band that plays festivals, gets on the radio, does sessions, releases albums and does all those other things I always wanted to do?
That’s a question I hope this series of blogs is going to answer…