With more and more acts taking a DIY approach to getting their music out there, setting up their own labels and managing themselves, we thought we’d have a little chat with someone who’s done just this - Daniel Pearson. Not only is he a musician but he runs his own record label, offers PR services and dabbles in video production. Here he talks to us about how it all started and offers up some great advice for anyone looking to remain independent and make it on their own.
You run your own label ‘Saint In The City’, how did that come about?
I just got bored of trying to get labels to get involved with what I was doing – you can spend a lot of time and energy that way and to be honest, it’s time better spent working at getting your music out there. I shopped the album around, but labels aren’t really into taking risks at the moment. They looked at the music I make as being pretty niche, and the majors would rather spend their money on boy bands, dance music or Adele-type singers. That’s what’s selling at the moment and will make them the most money in the short term, so they make decisions based on that. So I set up my own label to release the first album and decided to do things for myself rather than chase a golden ticket. I try to be involved in things with integrity and honesty so I chose Saint In The City Records as the label name – it’s a nod to a Bruce Springsteen song, and you don’t get many more honest artists than him!
You put out your own records via the label, what would you say are the biggest advantages and disadvantages of doing it yourself?
The advantages are that you learn an incredible amount about the industry as a whole very quickly, and are much better equipped to make the right decisions for yourself. You really get a great understanding of how important marketing and promotion is in the success of a release, and how every penny counts – it puts a rapid stop to all that TVs-out-of-hotel-windows-type thinking! The downside is that it gets very hard to fit in anything creative amongst all the business related tasks you have to take care of. I work all day, then come home and do label stuff all night and at weekends on top of all the usual musician and regular everyday things - so it can be hard to keep going in the long term with other demands on your time and focus. But it’s a great feeling knowing that any success or recognition that does come your way was earned by you.
You also offer PR services, how do you go about trying to secure airplay and coverage for your acts?
That side of things came out of working on the promotion of my own records. I’d had a lot of experience in getting radio producers and the music press to hear my music, so thought it would be a good idea to help out other acts who might not have that experience. I just worked on online PR and radio for the debut album by a great Scottish band called Stanley, and managed to get them airplay on Radio 2 and a string of great reviews with various websites, blogs and magazines. I’ve found that two things are key – having really good music to work with and persistence. Total persistence! Most journalists get hundreds (maybe thousands) of emails every week, so keeping going when it feels like nothing is happening is really important , so long as you’re targeting the right people. That’s where something like The Unsigned Guide can come in very handy. The huge database of contacts is a fantastic starting point and having all that info in one place is invaluable.
Your last album Satellites was released on all major digital outlets in the UK, Europe, USA, Australia and New Zealand, that’s no mean feat. Do you manage the distribution side of things yourself too?
I use a great digital distributor called Tunecore, who make it very easy to release your music into iTunes, Amazon and EMusic stores around the world. I wanted to have a physical product too, so set up an online shop via my website. Those sold out pretty quickly, which is always good! It’s easy for anyone to have a record released ‘worldwide’, the hard part comes with standing out from the crowd and putting in the promotional work to make sure your release isn’t lost in the flood. I set up staggered release dates for Satellites in UK/Europe, USA and Australasia, then worked on the promotion in staged chunks. It seemed to work, I had reviews in national magazines and street press and national radio airplay in Australia and New Zealand, and have done lots of interviews over in the US. It all comes down to putting the hours in. If you want to be successful as an independent artist having good songs isn’t enough. You need to be focused on the business and promotional side of things too. You become your own manager, your own booking agent, your own accountant – everything. I’m pretty lucky in that I can make a decent job of most of those things as well as producing music that some people seem to like.
You shoot and edit your own videos too, how difficult a process is that in reality?
I’ve made a couple of DIY videos now. If you’ve got the ideas and a basic grasp of the technological skills then anyone can do it. I’ve got a cheap video camera, a working laptop, and iMovie or Movie Maker can go a long way if you’ve got some decent visual ideas and good music. The video for Waves In The Sea was supposed to be a set of memories from a relationship and the patchwork, choppy nature of the shots worked well for that. I tried something different for One For Conversation, that’s a more ironic pastiche of those brilliantly bad 1950s instructional videos. Editing is the hardest part and takes the most time to get right. But again, if you have the ideas and the energy you can make a useful promo tool that will cost you next to nothing, aside from your own time of course!
Any advice for fellow musicians looking to do the same type of thing as you? What resources would you recommend to emerging acts looking to maintain their independence and do things themselves?
Look at what you do as your own business. If you want it to grow, you’ve got to put the work in to make that happen. You see a lot of musicians who are in bands to play gigs in front of their friends, or win a competition or whatever. That’s fine if you’re looking at it as something purely for fun - it’s a great hobby and there’s nothing wrong with that if that’s all you want to get out of it. But we’re living in the X Factor culture now and everyone thinks they can be famous and rich and it’ll come easy. It won’t, for the vast majority of us! If you’re serious about making music with value over the long term then you need to be really organised and really focused. Create an easy to use website with all the info in one place, make sure you have SoundCloud and YouTube pages set up, and use Twitter and Facebook to interact with people – don’t just try to sell them tickets or downloads. I use Twitter a lot and it’s great to get feedback from people on there, or just talk about stuff! Think about your budget for your next release – can you afford to spend money on PR services? If not, do it yourselves. Do you want to play outside of your own town or city? Then find some other bands in those places and organise some gig swaps. Learn how people like promoters, writers and DJ’s work, it’ll benefit you in the long run if you can see things from their perspective. Be nice to people: the era of Liam Gallagher or Axl Rose rock gods is over! And get hold of The Unsigned Guide, it’s a fantastic resource that you’ll use a lot if you’re doing things right.
You can check out Daniel’s video for ‘Waves In The Sea’ and while you’re at it have a listen to his album sampler