Power Of Press With Marcus Osborne – On The House

Image credit: OTH

We chat to Owner and Founder of On The House, one of the many blogs taking over music press.

The music press world is changing and the old guard are losing their influence. This is true for traditional press across the board but it’s particularly evident in music press. The 80’s and 90’s saw a boom of music publications, such as Q Magazine and NME, both of which now don’t exist (in print). Although, NME has adapted and remained relevant through its website, others are lining up to follow in the footsteps of Q Magazine.

This is where the change is happening, online, a place that is filled to the brim with music blogs and indie publications. Each one teamed by hard working, dedicated and passionate people (a lot of the time one or two people). They’re often working the same hours as a full time publisher house, handling content, maintenance, emails, social media and most of the time (if not all) they’re doing it for free or for very small amount.

Yet arguably their content is just as good as other, more established outlets. In fact, not being bound to a ethos or company sway they are reporting the most honest and truthful music journalism out there. It’s looking more and more likely that blogs are the future of music press and the industry is changing to adapt to that. PR now emails the same high profile bands to bloggers, traditional and new media now have the same access and in some cases the same reach. It’s an exciting development that signifies a wave of change.

With all this in mind we wanted to chat to various blog editors and owners to get their insight, chat about how it works and how it helps artists. Kicking things off is the ever hard working and passionate Marcus Osborne, Founder of On The House. A community reviewing site that boasts 70+ curators that review music from all around the world and in a wide variety if genres.

Thanks again for taking the time to chat Marcus, how have you been?

Marcus: It’s a pleasure, thank you for giving me the opportunity! I’ve been good, although I think I’ve worked harder in the last year than I have in my entire life rebuilding OTH & working full time, alongside this pandemic going on in the background – it’s a weird time for me haha. All good stuff though!

So, explain to us what On The House is and how it works? 

Marcus: To put it simply, we are a “Community Music Reviewing” website. This a concept we created around 4 years ago after rebuilding the On The House brand from a traditional music reviewing website and started asking all of our cool new industry friends to guest review for us. We had the idea of a light-touch social media style website, where artists can create and manage their own profiles independently and reviewers, who are music industry professionals, would review the artists and give feedback that can be used in their EPKs & for general artist development. We host weekly prize giveaways for any reviewers who contribute that week and put on a little live streamed party for everyone as we draw the names!

In the first 3 years, we amassed over 70+ guest reviewers and 650+ artists just from self-promotion alone. But now we have a new website, launched in early February, that functions exactly how we intended from the start. Which includes the option for artists to ‘reveal’ a reviewers contact details, to get in touch via a ‘reviewer reply’ system and even review & connect with other artists on the website!

On The House Music CIC is devoted to supporting grassroots artists, so by having a free profile on our website, artists are in the firing line for multiple music reviews from reputable sources that they can use to build their credibility. Artists also have the chance to have their first ever physical pressings released by On The House Records (selected by our reviewers and all releases are hand-signed), to play Attitude Festival, or one of our showcase & networking events (also selected by our reviewers) or even feature in our print based mag On The House Magazine which is distributed to social music spaces across the UK!

I could go on for much longer, but it’d probably be easier to post a link now, wouldn’t it?


How and why did you decide to start OTH? 

Marcus: So we actually started as a normal reviewing platform, but only reviewed music that was up for free download – this was back in 2013 and I was just getting to grips with local music in general and wanted to be more involved. Obviously, this died hard and fast when Spotify became popular and led me to stop for a year around 2015/2016 to rethink what I wanted to do with the brand. In the same time, I had toured loads in my own bands and met more people who showed an active interest to support their music scene further but just didn’t know where to start.

Then I had a lightbulb moment and started working on the new concept – I haven’t stopped since!

Marcus in flight at a local gig

How does OTH help artists? 

Marcus: On the surface, any artist can get a free profile on our website and have their music reviewed by the people who are building the music industry itself as we speak – there’s no more valuable advice than that!

Oh, and we also release local music records, magazines, put on events and curate stages at other events. The only catch is that you need to have an On The House artist profile to be selected for any of our projects! But when it takes just 2 minutes to sign up, who wouldn’t?!

Why do you feel blogs are becoming more popular and being viewed as legit as traditional music press? 

Marcus: I think it comes from something that has been the core premise for how & why On The House has the capability to succeed if approached correctly. Our motto has always been; “A review is just an opinion, it’s only valid if you respect the source” and I think this applies to this scenario. 

“With traditional large music press becoming watered down and samey, the only thing they are good for is promotion these days – not honest critique”

Marcus Osborne – On The House

With traditional large music press becoming watered down and samey, the only thing they are good for is promotion these days – not honest critique. People are turning to smaller blogs for some transparency, because small blogs don’t pander to the artists because they have no reason to, and tend not to have hundreds of writers with conflicting musical opinions. Once you get to know the writer’s tastes and interests, you can actively use their opinion to help gauge if you think you’ll like something. After all, that’s the whole point of a review, isn’t it?

What separates music blogs from magazines such as NME and Classic Rock?

Marcus: Engagement, passion and practice. Paid writers will write what you pay them to write and don’t really have a lot of say if their boss tells them to cater an article a certain way. On the other hand, bloggers and music enthusiasts will write what they genuinely feel with no outside influence because they are the boss. When you are a smaller artist, bloggers are so important to help you whilst honing your craft. Don’t blow your load on your first release, small bloggers are there for you to learn how to interact with these types of publications, so you are prepared for bigger interactions in the future. Some chances can be lost and can be incredibly hard to recover, I’m still paying for mistakes I made 10 years ago in some ways haha!

Why do you feel that traditional print music journalism has been failing in recent years?

Marcus: I think it’s just not as easy to access or convenient for the consumer. Why pay for a magazine for every month when you could just read it online for free? The only thing that sells nowadays is exclusivity, so magazines that are still thriving tend to have something exclusive about the purchase that makes buying the physical edition more worthwhile. That’s why we catered On The House Magazine strictly to artist advice and support which is exclusive to the magazine itself and cannot be found anywhere online. Not to mention, our magazine has pull out posters, vouchers, discounts on local businesses and also a free gift with each issue, so there’s plenty of reasons to grab a copy! 

There’s also the ecological concerns of effectively ‘wasting paper’, alongside the financial costs of print magazines compared to online media, which can’t be churned out as quickly or as detailed as they would like it to be due to printing restrictions. 

Do you feel the quality of writing has decreased?

Marcus: I think writing has gotten so mind-numbingly boring for writers that they don’t put their full effort in anymore. Or they are restricted in some form either by quotas, timeframes or even linguistic boundaries that decreases their writing quality.

Of course, we all need to study the English Language to be able to understand and write it. But the way we are taught how to write doesn’t reflect how we are as individuals or how we speak – not like it used to. Readers need to connect with a piece of writing, but if you’re following every rule in the book, you’ll be coming across like a Google Translate robot that just ate a thesaurus and readers can’t relate to that. Unfortunately, a lot of reviewers fall into this perfectionist trap which ultimately ruins the fluidity of the piece. People get so caught up in making sure something ‘sounds correct’ because of social pressures that they can’t express themselves in their own tone of voice, which then makes the writer focus on minor details that don’t matter to the average reader rather than just saying what they want to say.

“Also, transparency is desired in today’s culture more than anything, which is why being a ‘faceless’ writer doesn’t really cut it anymore”

Marcus Osborne – On The House

Also, transparency is desired in today’s culture more than anything, which is why being a ‘faceless’ writer doesn’t really cut it anymore. They literally created a whole genre of rap music that celebrates crimes committed by rappers because it’s genuine, albeit graphic and unlawful. These are murderers singing about how they want to murder people, but the public are lapping it up because they just want to see something authentic for once. The fake news era has made everyone a sceptic of everything, so when something genuine comes along they latch to it before its tainted like everything else.

In the age of text-based conversation, we have started to attribute a ‘tone of voice’ to our friends status updates, online conversations and posts across the web. Some people may write in all capitals because they are an intense person, or in all lower case lettering, without any punctuation for a satirical effect. So when you are exposed to this meta-evolution of language, but then are expecting writers to try and connect with an audience using a written language that they don’t ever use or see unless its for professional piece (as well as expecting them to use words they don’t really understand to impress readers who also don’t understand them) just makes everyone confused and uninterested.

Do you feel a music blog can exist online as well as in print? 

Marcus: I do, but again that comes back to exclusivity. People want to feel special. So if you are an online blog planning to release a physical magazine, you need to do something to make those customers feel valued. Otherwise there’s no real point in releasing something physical, unless of course it’s an anniversary, special or limited run of something specific, which then can be marketed differently. 

Can blogs compete with established music magazines? 

Marcus: They are and they will most likely win for all the reasons stated in my last few answers. A faceless journalist for a big outlet may get you national coverage, but if that outlet’s readers are growing up in a culture that values authenticity, writing paid articles that have been handed to you by a PR company doesn’t really scream ‘honest opinion’.

What is the attraction of blogs for writers and the artists themselves? 

Marcus: For writers, it’s a chance to openly and freely express their opinions without manipulation. For artists, they provide an honest critique that is easily accessible.

Lastly, how do you feel blogs will develop as time goes on and do you think there is a next step?

Marcus: I have this feeling we will see worlds collide very soon. Take everything I’ve said into account and then mix that with the fame-hungry influencer and the susceptible young supporters that idolise them. It’s only a matter of time until traditional media is pushed aside to make way for these new, relevant and more charismatic writers who write using their own style that is digestible for a their audience – not an English teacher.

Photographer Highlight | Brian Robinson

Image credit: Brian Robinson Photography

Brian Robinson is one of Cornwall’s leading music and wedding photographers. He is a regular at festivals across the county and is Cornwall Live’s go to man.

In part three of our ‘Photographer Highlight’ we caught up with the prolific Cornish based photographer Brian Robinson. Brian is Cornwall Live‘s go to music photographer, he’s photographed most of the Eden Sessions (where he has photographed Liam Gallagher, Kylie Minogue and Fontaines D.C to name a few). He is also known to flutter around the local music scene snapping Cornish artists such as The Rezner, The Velvet Hands, and Tinnedfruit.

His work has been viewed worldwide and locally he an known figure, with this in mind we wanted to know more about his work, why he chose music photography and much more!

Thanks for taking the time to have a chat with us, how are you doing and what have you been up to?

Brian: Hi Kieran, always good to speak with you! I’m good thanks, surviving and adapting. I was in the process of taking my photography full-time last year when the world changed, so it’s fair to say that the last 12 months didn’t go to plan. But I’m still here and the bookings are starting to come in again.

So, how did you first get into photography and what was the draw to music photography specifically? 

Brian: Music & photography have always gone hand in hand for me and I have loved both since my early teens. (I went to my first gig in 1990, Tina Turner at the Birmingham NEC). 

I got my first camera when I was 11 (a little film auto) and always had a camera with me. This was long before camera phones so everything was on film.  

But it wasn’t until I got a DSLR in 2007 that I started taking a bigger interest in photography. The interest in music and wedding photography pretty much happened at the same time. Wanting to experiment more I began taking pictures of bands around the Newquay scene, and lots of friends were getting married so I’d take pictures there. 

A crowd shot at a local gig by Brian Robinson

Was there a particular photographer’s work that inspired you or perhaps an artist?

Brian: In my early days of stepping up my SLR game, one of my friends back in Birmingham, Steve Gerrard had started making quite an impact with his photography. And I was inspired by his work and approach. I attended one of his photography workshops and have assisted him on a few weddings over the years.

It’s important to be inspired, especially when finding your creative style. Even to this day, I’m constantly inspired by other photographers work, and will sometimes draw from these influences. But only if I can make them my own. Especially as there’s always that controversy of plagiarism. If I am feeling inspired by an image I’ll try to work out how it was shot and play about with it, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  That’s the fun of learning.

I suppose when comparing it to music, how many songs have been written with the same three chords, but all sound unique and individual to the artist.

Another photographer whose work I love is Andy Ford. He’s photographed some amazing live shows and portraits over the year. His shot of Mogwai is one of my favourites:  Andy Ford – Mogwai Portrait.  

You’ve had the pleasure of photographing some of the worlds largest bands, such as QOTSA but are there any shows that you’ve photographed that have stood out for you? 

Brian: Probably the first big gig that I got to shoot will always be a milestone moment, and that was Cancer Bats. One of my friends was mates with the band and he got me a pass. I felt way out of my depth, but the experience was incredible and left me on such a high and wanting more. The band loved the pictures and I shot them twice more over the years.

The first Boardmasters that I shot also stood out, it was my first huge gig. I’d spend years shooting smaller gigs (many at the Pavilions and Mono in Falmouth) and felt like all the hard work had paid off. It also felt quite surreal as one of the artists on was Primal Scream and I’d been a fan since the 90’s. A real pinch yourself moment, especially looking out over the huge crowd.

And you mentioned, the QOTSA show. This stands out for another reason as it was one of the hardest show I’ve ever shot. It was heavily backlit, with a lot of smoke and strobe lighting. Every photographer’s nightmare (red light aside). That, and we were limited on where we could shoot from, with not much room to move. I remember after the second song, I heard one of the photographer shouting ‘fuck this’ and he walked out. But patience paid off as during the 3rd song the lighting all changed and we were able to get some killer shots!

Did you ever see yourself photographing such high profile artists?

Brian: I’d always hoped so, but in the early days, I was just happy to be shooting. But as my style started to evolve and my confidence grew I wanted to shoot the bigger & well know names & gigs. And as the years have gone on I’ve got to shoot some of my favourite artists.

Your photography is often featured in local Newspapers, how do you make this happen and how did it feel the first time you saw your work in print? 

Brian: I kind of knew Lee Trewhela who was the Editor of the old What’s On section of the West Briton. I got in contact and pretty much asked if there was any chance of shooting a more high profile gig. He gave me the chance to shoot the Wedding Present who were playing the Princess Pavilions in Falmouth and that was it. It was a buzz to see my work in print and still have copies of the paper now.  

It was a buzz to see my work in print and still have copies of the paper now” 

Brian Robinson

I’ll be forever grateful to Lee for that opportunity because without him I’d never have had the chance for the Boardmasters & Eden sized gigs. Plus I’ve made a lot of good friends over the year through shooting the shows.

When it comes to your music photography it’s safe to say you’re more of a live photographer as opposed to portraits, what was it that drew you to this form? 

Brian: Definitely, it’s a bit of a photography cliche, but I love shooting the moment. You’ve no control over what’s happening on stage (both band and the lighting) and you have to react to the challenge. And with the 3 song rule, it always feels like you’ve a deadline to work to and get that shot.

I do enjoy shooting portraits, but with weddings and having two young children I’ve had to prioritise my time. I will always do them if I’m asked, but I don’t seek them out like the live work.

Do you feel the intensity and pressure of wedding photography helps your music photography?

Brian: It does, I work better under pressure and as I mentioned above, reacting to what’s happening.  

Although complete opposites, weddings & live music compliment each other with the approach to shooting them.. The wedding ceremony is quite similar to shooting a live show in terms of pressure as you’ve got to get those shots. It’s not like you can asked the band or the registrar to stop and repeat what just happened.

When you go to shoot a show what’s your process and how do you prepare? 

Brian: Be a show or a wedding I’ll always have my equipment prepped and ready. With regards to the show, I may check out past shows online. You can usually find setlists and fan video’s of recent shows so that’s always a good way to be ready for the shoot. Especially if you’ve only got the first three songs, you can have a good idea of what the setup is, and what the lighting is like. Most accreditations will tell you how many songs you have and if there are any restrictions. I’ve had a few Eden Sessions shows where you can only shoot from the mixing desk so I’ve hired a 400mm lens.

Why do you feel photographers are important to the industry and artists alike?  

Brian: As covid has proved in the last year, everyone in the music industry is important. It doesn’t matter if they’re a million selling artist or the person working behind the bar at the venue. We’re all the parts that make up this wonderful industry.  

With online presence being so important these days, having professional images, either live or portrait is hugely important. It reflects the artist and any of the media outlets where the images are used.  

What’s the importance of live photography by a professional? 

Brian: From the live show perspective we are documenting the artist in that moment (there’s that cliche again) and it’s a definite art to making people feel like they were there when they look at the picture.

Lastly, how did you get the opportunities that you have and what advice would you give any budding music photographers? 

Brian: Most of the opportunities have been through chasing what I want, but with having the confidence that I can deliver. The years of putting the time in shooting, learning and improving has got me to where I am. But you never stop learning with photography and I’m always striving to improve.

As for advice, don’t be afraid of failure. You will have those bad days and knockbacks but don’t let it stop you.  

Behind The Events | Jon Grant

Image credit: Jonny Noakes Photographer

We caught up with Jon Grant, owner of one of Newquay’s most popular music venues to chat about the future of live music, the hard work that goes into events and much more.

There’s lots of talks about events, live music and festivals going around at the moment, particularly in the UK. The Covid-19 pandemic and all its wonderful variations has caused havoc on the industry and there is a real concern that live music may not return in 2021, at the very least we may get some social distanced shows at low capacity.

We may not know when the events sector will return to its full strength but what we do know is how hard the industry works. We want to shine a light on the various roles and hard work that goes into creating, organising and running an event.

Through this article series we’ll be chatting to venue owners, booking agents, music techs, artist managers and many more. Kicking things off is Jon Grant, the owner and booker for Whiskers based in the party town Newquay, Cornwall.

Hey Jon, thanks very much for taking the time to chat with us, how have you been?

Jon: Hey Kieran, thanks for getting in touch. I’ve been missing being involved in the music scene. It’s been a great year for me personally, as I had a daughter in Oct 2019, I’ve had all the time in the world to figure out this whole being a Dad thing. Definitely a silver lining! 

So, you’re the owner of one of Newquay’s most popular venues/bars, how did this happen and was it something you’ve always wanted to do?

Jon: Whiskers came about as a live music venue quite organically….literally we started as an organic wine and tapas bar which morphed into what it is today. I’ve always been obsessed with music but the idea of owning a venue wasn’t a goal until our original Manager James Luck AKA Lucky arranged the initial gig. 

How did you go about putting on your first show and do you remember how it went? 

Jon: Cosmo Jarvis was in the area and the bar was empty so he asked if they could jam inside, 10 minutes later the bar was buzzing! Lucky is quite a lovable persuasive chap and got Cosmo to agree to a proper gig the next night. The town was buzzing with the news and the gig was a hot, sweaty banger. 

Can you explain to us the process of booking and running a show? 

Jon: It’s a relentless task of sifting through the 100’s of band emails asking if they can come and play Celine Dion covers to find that original diamond of a band…like Mother Vulture. Then comes the 10-20 email replies regarding agreeing a date, fee, food, accommodation, and gigs in the days around the booking to make it worth their while to come all the way to Cornwall, when most bands stop at Bristol. Then we attempt to coordinate a series of social media posts with links to the event page to drive interest to an original band night with music they’ve never heard before. Once the promotions have run their course, then comes the big gig night when we hope all the band members turn up and play their agreed 2 x 45 min sets plus a 30 min break. More often than not a group of super talented musicians gets booked and give epic performances leaving the crowd begging me to stay open past my licence for more music! (Which sadly I decline!)

What is your main goal when drafting up events for Whiskers?

Jon: In the past we’ve always tried to keep as many events free entry, so I’d look for smaller bands (so everyone gets a decent chunk of the fee) who get the crowd whipped into a frenzy and put a good chunk over the bar. Going forward in 2021 with the government imposed social distancing and reduced capacity I’ll be expanding the genres as gigs will need to be ticketed to account for the loss in bar revenue due to reduced capacity. It will be hard to stay seated with a band like The Big Sets but we will find a way to make it work and still be fun. 

What are some challenges that you’ve faced whilst working in the industry? 

Jon: Definitely difficult to get ticketed gigs packed as we’ve often been viewed as more a bar then venue, some premadonna green room lists and the geographic location of Newquay making it out of the way if the tour doesn’t get several Cornish gigs. 

Do you have a memorable show or one that stands out?

Jon: Newton Faulkner is a stand out for sure! I remember reading the email from SW1 promotions and couldn’t believe we’d have the opportunity to host! It was a free entry special and people were queueing at the door 6 hrs before opening to get a space inside, it was insane! 

A particularly wild night at Whiskers (CLUNK Magazine) by Kieran Webber

Obviously the pandemic has affected the live music and events industries in a negative way but how is it specifically affected you?

Jon: As a grassroots venue we have had the most support from the government through their cultural recovery fund, I feel most for the musicians, sound engineers and stage hands who many have fallen through the cracks. As we lean into the spring and summer season it’s looking less likely that large scale events and festivals will be going ahead.

How optimistic are you for live music and events returning on a smaller scale?

Jon: I feel fairly certain reduced capacity events will go ahead this Summer. I followed the virus patterns very closely, especially considering Newquay was at capacity last Summer and there were near zero cases. I think we can expect a similar pattern to the cold and flu season, leaving us free to enjoy music again this Summer.

“As we lean into the spring and summer season it’s looking less likely that large scale events and festivals will be going ahead”

Jon Grant – Whiskers

Will Brexit affect your events and if so how and why?

Jon: Although I’m completely against the ridiculous, avoidable visa situation for Europe, this will likely encourage bands to develop their domestic audiences and may prove beneficial for a small Cornish venue like Whiskers.

How do you feel the Government has treated this sector and what could the Government do to support you?

Jon: The Cultural Recovery Fund put together by the gov’t has been exceptional for us and we are in the process of using our grant to completely overhaul the venue to have a much larger stage, epic sound system, better toilets and a longer bar. That said I really feel for the promoters, agents, musicians, and stage hands who haven’t had any support and many told to go on universal income. I can’t wait to help get them working again as soon as we can.

Do you think the live music industry can bounce back from this?

Jon: Definitely! People will always crave the social bond of enjoying live music together. It unites people in such a positive way! Now it’s up to us to control its rebirth into sustainable careers for all those who make an event for a touring band possible.

Lastly, what can people do in the meantime to support the live music and events industry? 

Jon: Buy merchandise! Buy records. Follow, like, tag and share your favourite grassroots bands! And most importantly when venues reopen, spend! Buy tickets, buy drinks, buy merchandise! Then share how incredible the gig was on all your socials!

Three artists who saw over 100k monthly listeners from their first year on Spotify

Image Credit: Spotify for Artists

Spotify for Artists interviewed breakthrough artists Jenevieve, glaive and Emanuel about the success from their first year on the streaming platform.

While much of the music industry suffered through 2020, with live shows around the world cancelled, music streaming saw its most successful year yet as millions turned to services such as Spotify to soundtrack their new working-from-home lifestyle.

With this, more artists than ever saw tremendous success on the platform. Spotify reported over 60,000 artists crossed the 100,000 monthly listeners threshold at some point in 2020. 6,500 of these artists had never released music prior to 2020. Among these newbies were R&B artists Jenevieve and Emanuel, as well as teenage hyperpop singer-producer glaive. Spotify for Artists caught up with these three successful artists to discuss reaching the 100k milestone, the songs that helped put them on the map and the most surprising stat from their 2020 Wrapped.

Click here to read “Three Breakthrough Artists Reflect on Their First Year on Spotify”.

Image Credit: Spotify for Artists

Click here to find out how to upload your own music to Spotify for free.

How to get your music discovered by a major record label in 2021

Image Credit: Volodymyr Hryshchenko

How do major labels discover their artists? Check out this chat with Head of A&R at Warner Music about how record labels really work.

Dreaming of getting signed to a major record label? Curious about how record labels find the next big music artists? A fascinating YouTube interview features music marketing agency Burstimo talking to Joe Kentish, head of A&R at Warner Music UK.

The chat covers everything from the basics of what A&R means, to how to get noticed as an artist; social media and working on your own brand; and the inner workings of record labels. The routes to success in different genres of music are touched on, and how TikTok is used as a discovery tool.

If you’re interested in getting your music heard by major record labels, have a listen below.

Just one perspective of how to find success in the music industry. Getting signed isn’t everything… focusing on having amazing music to send out into the world is key!

If you’d prefer to stay independent and keep 100% control over your music, start sharing with RouteNote today.

DIY Till We Die: Beth Shalom Records

Image credit: Beth Shalom Records

After getting an artists perspective on the DIY ethos we wanted to chat to some DIY labels, kicking things off is the London based Beth Shalom Records.

For the first half of this article series we spoke to a wide array of independent and DIY artists from around globe. It provided an interesting insight into how these artists operate, the advantages and disadvantages and to as why a lot more artists are going down the DIY path. Each artist had their own experience and story to tell, each one as captivating as the last. It highlighted just how hard musicians work in the modern age, especially if they’re independent. A lot of artists are their own managers, PR and social media manager, whilst also creating, writing and playing music. It’s incredibly impressive. 

After chatting to the artists we wanted to know more about the many DIY scenes across the country and expanded this article series to chat to DIY labels. In the past few years there has been somewhat of an explosion of small, independent labels coming to fruition. Whom, like their artists, carry the same DIY ethos and aim to support them as much as possible. As mentioned in previous articles, in any good DIY scene there is a flurry of fans, labels, photographers, bookers and much more all operating to create unique and special scene. 

Kicking off the second half of this article series is the London based label Beth Shalom Records. The label was born in 2014 when musician Joe Booley wanted to release his friends’ music and since then he has worked with 40 artists across 100+ releases. Working with artists such as Rosehip Teahouse, Death By Shotgun and many more! Since then the label has grown exponentially and now offers artist management, tour booking and show promotions in the south of the UK. 

We caught up with label owner Joe Booley to chat about his experience running a DIY label, it’s advantages and disadvantages and much more!

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! How have you been and what have you been up to in lockdown 3.0? 

Joe: I’ve been good thanks. I’ve been on and off furlough since March so pretty used to being in lockdown now. But this lockdown I’ve been planning a lot of our releases for this first half of the year which is extremely excited. We’ve had one LP on the back burner for a while so will finally get to start on that campaign soon. 

When did you create Beth Shalom Records and what was the inspiration?

Joe: I started Beth Shalom Records when I was 18 in 2014. I’d been performing and releasing music as a solo artist since 2012 and in college had started producing friends’ music too. So it got to a point where I had considered pitching my music to some labels I knew as I’d had some interest already but with deals I wasn’t interested in. Then my lecturer suggested me setting up my own label as I was already producing my music, distributing it and also securing small press coverage too. So BSR started solely for my own music and expanded as I started releasing music of friends I was producing at that time. 

How has running a DIY label been during the pandemic and how has it affected you?

Joe: Running a label in this period of time has been a lot of fun to be honest. It’s been great to be able to have a lot more time to spend on it day to day, which in turn has helped me to fine tune my time management so whenever I am back at work I’m now a lot better at working on the label and keeping on top of everything. Obviously, like a lot of people, we’ve lost income from not being able to run shows (as part of our live arm, Let’s Stop Hanging Out DIY) but the amount of support we’ve had through the pandemic is amazing, and has allowed us to have a lot of fun with it plus starting some awesome new partnerships in 2020. 

Was the idea to always go DIY? 

Joe: It’s tricky. As an artist I’ve always been DIY and there has only ever been one campaign where I let someone else take care of my bookings for example, so I think I carried that mentality over into running the label. I personally don’t see that changing anytime in the future, and while we’re taking steps to make it easier that other labels might not at this stage i.e. working with a fulfilment partner, which ultimately just allows me to spend more time working on the label as opposed to spending days on end packaging up orders. 

“The amount of support we’ve had through the pandemic is amazing, and has allowed us to have a lot of fun with it plus starting some awesome new partnerships in 2020”

Joe Booley – Founder and Label Manager (Beth Shalom)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of running the label DIY? 

Joe: The obvious advantage is control. Being able to work on every aspect of a release and see it through to the end is incredibly rewarding but it can be incredibly draining, which is one of the main reasons we’ve started to outsource certain aspects of the label but all with the core aim to allow the label to run in a smoother way. A huge disadvantage is not having the same financial backing that either bigger labels have or could have available through funding and partners, but even without that we’ve managed to do a lot of fun releases over the years!!

Has the internet made it easier/possible for Beth Shalom to operate and exist? 

Joe: Oh definitely. We certainly wouldn’t have worked with some of the bands that we have in the past or even be able to have the customers we have which are stretched across the globe. So having the internet definitely makes it easier to operate the label and I’d struggle to know how to run it without it I think. 

Check out Beth Shalom artist Bryony Williams’ track ‘Knockin” here:

How does Beth Shalom remain carbon neutral and Eco-Friendly? 

Joe: In terms of remaining carbon neutral we work with an amazing trust that allow us to offset by supporting small hold macadamia tree farmers in Malawi, which doesn’t just allow more trees to be planted but to actually support workers and create jobs in the process. Along the eco-friendly side of things there are a few different strands to think about. The first being how we package our products; we no longer sell any products that are shrink-wrapped, and while we do have vinyl for example in plastic sleeves, they are for lifetime use and protection of that product. And we use all recyclable and biodegradable mailers for our store which our fulfilment partners has kind facilitated too.

Then we have the products themselves and where we get them. For vinyl, we do a lot of eco-vinyl pressings (eco-vinyl uses all the cuttings from previous presses and recycles them to make these gorgeous random and unique records) which we will incorporate into every vinyl release we put out after the Lastelle release next month. And we also make sure we work with suppliers with either offset or dispose of their waste in a sustainable way i.e. one plant we work with send their cuttings to shoe factories to be reused in shoe soles which I think is awesome. And when it comes to merch we are very specific about what brands we use to make sure they are ethically sourced and sustainably produced. 

Why do you feel more artists are wanting to be signed to an independent label?

Joe: I think the main thing nowadays is that artists are able to hold as much control of their music as they want which I think is amazing!! You hear horror stories of artists signing with majors or bigger labels which pump a load of money into a record and get dropped, and by the end of that the label still own all the copyrights to that recording etc. But living in a day and age where artists can record themselves and distribute themselves is amazing, so working with smaller, independent labels makes the most sense to that type of artist. At BSR we hold no mechanical rights to any of artists’ music, their music belongs solely to them. 

What does Beth Shalom do to help artists and how do you work with them? 

Joe: We cover a wide range of services. Our main role across all campaigns is distribution, manufacturing and press, but we also offer tour bookings/promotions (when possible), some artists we work with on a management levels, and look to secure as many opportunities for our artists as possible. If there are certain things that maybe we can’t offer at that point, a lot of the time we know people we can either outsource it to, or even looking moving into that field ourselves. 

An example of a Beth Shalom show

Do you have a specific criteria as to what artists you work with? 

Joe: We call ourselves a Genre-Fluid Label, so we don’t have any set criteria in terms of genres we like to work in etc, obviously there are fields we’re maybe not a clued up on but it’s great to learn about how new genres operate too. We always love to see drive in artists and a passion for what they do, we have goals for the label that might stretch over a few years and we’d love to see similar thinking in artists we’re working with. 

Do you approach artists to sign or do they approach you?

Joe: More often than not we will approach people or mutually seek each other out. We’re in a lovely position where newer artists we work with are friends of another roster band and so we’re already aware of each other worked together in some way whether it be on the live side of things or something else. 

What have been some success stories of Beth Shalom? 

Joe: There a lot of projects that we’re proud of but a few moments that stand out would be seeing reviews and features in Kerrang for the likes of Petlib., The Yacht Club, Parachute For Gordo and Death By Shotgun. Selling out of our copies of Bryony Williams’ latest EP shortly after it’s release. Seeing bands like itoldyouiwouldeatyou playing the Underworld in Camden. Going to Maida Vale with Rosehip Teahouse. Seeing bands like Marigolds, Rosehip Teahouse and PETSEMATARY played on Radio 1. There are so many more I do mention but that list would be way too long.

Why do you feel there are so many DIY scenes popping up? 

Joe: I think a lot of it is due to the technology and resources that are available to artists these days. I’ve always been a part of DIY communities and even in that decade things have changed drastically for example, home recording quality is incredible at the moment, little things like that make it possible for people like me and the bands I work with to exist for sure. 

What makes a good DIY scene? 

Joe: Community and respect. It’s amazing to see the kind of community that has grown around the label and a lot of that is because so many artists are friends of each other, support each other and fans of each other. I’ve seen some scenes and communities disappear because of certain individuals who might think they’re better than everyone else and alienate others, having that lack of respect in such a close knit community is toxic in my opinion. 

Lastly, what advice do you have for DIY artists and those looking to start their own label?

Joe: If you want to, just do it. It’s so easy to set up and my emails are always open if you have questions (joe@bethshalomrecords.com). Yes, it will be tricky at times but it’s really important to realise you are always learning, even 2, 5 or 10 years down the road. Be prepared to learn and I guess just have fun with it. 

Beth Shalom‘s Current Roster: MarigoldsParachute For GordoPETSEMATARYamericansignlanguageacab brik,  Human Head,  Our Nameless BoyitoldyouiwouldeatyouJoe BooleyTreehouseBryony WilliamsKern ParksFloods In Japan

Interview with Nubiyan Twist – Teaching music in lockdown

Image Credit: Nubiyan Twist

What’s it like to start again as a music teacher when you’re used to life on tour? We asked two members of the band Nubiyan Twist how they’ve coped.

Musicians worldwide have found themselves looking for alternative income as the pandemic’s stranglehold on live music continues. Are you a musician whose life has been put on hold? Passing your wisdom on to eager students and watching them progress as a result can be very satisfying. But how does teaching online actually work?

We spoke to Jonny Enser and Denis Scully of band Nubiyan Twist about the frustrations and rewards of teaching music in the brave new post-Covid world. Usually they’d be bringing the noise as trumpeter and tenor sax player in the nine-piece afro-jazz band but they’re currently both focused on work as music educators. We chat to the pair just as Nubiyan Twist are gearing up for the release of their third album Freedom Fables. The sprawling, magnetic collective’s latest single ‘If I Know’ featuring K.O.G., is taken from the album – an exhilarating Afrobeat stomper with energy barely contained by speakers. You can imagine the heat from the stage – but that’s not something that’s possible right now, as we discuss.

Read on for what to expect as an online music student, advice for new teachers, Zoom tips, how to stay switched on in lockdown as both student and teacher, and what the future holds for Nubiyan Twist, one of the most exciting live bands creating music in the UK at the moment. Turns out there’s plenty of rewards from music teaching, when you least expect it.

Thanks for taking the time to talk! We’ve all had to adapt to this crazy new world we’ve found ourselves in, and musicians have been hit especially hard. How did you find the adjustment when the first lockdowns kicked in? 

Jonny: Impossible. It honestly felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my life. I had never planned for teaching to be my primary career and before 2020 it only made up about 30% of my income. So… the financial adjustment was severe.

Denis: Yeah, it’s been tough. I actually wasn’t doing any teaching before. I was just gigging, and then Covid hit and kind of forced my hand. So all the students I have now I’ve picked up since the start of lockdown.

Jonny: For me, in an average year teaching is part of my expression as an artist. It also helps provide financial consistency when gigs are slim, and for emotional and inspirational consistency when touring is intense.

Denis: It’s really just kind of helping me to supplement a crappy income right now, so I’m not purely surviving off it. But it definitely helps.

Jonny: Routine is how I’m getting through this time. I’m trying to be kind to myself.

What about your existing students, Jonny, how did they find the switch to online learning?

Jonny: Some have completely fallen by the wayside. Others have really engaged with it. The first lockdown saw all of my peripatetic teaching disappear for months so now it’s mostly online or resource based.

You’re both multi-instrumentalists. Which instruments do you teach?

Jonny: Trumpet, trombone, tuba, music theory and jazz harmony.

Denis: Mainly saxophone, piano and improvisation. I do a bit of flute and clarinet, and harmony as well.

…And what platform do you use to teach online?

Denis: I’ve been using Zoom since the start of the lockdowns.

Jonny: I find Zoom has the most adaptable interface for sharing resources. But whatever the student prefers… Facebook, Google Meets, Zoom, or Skype.

Can you think of any surprising upsides to remote learning? It must be hard to keep the same level of engagement as with lessons in person.

Denis: There’s quite a few upsides! You don’t have to worry about hiring a space – whereas before you might have paid a tenner an hour to hire a practise room, you’re now at home. You’re also not restricted by time like those places, so you’re not leaking over the time of spaces you’ve hired.

Oftentimes students don’t play their best in the lesson – because there’s other factors, you’re nervous or whatever. Whereas with people at home practising, they can record a couple of takes of something they like, send something they’re confident with over to me, then I’m getting their best product as well as hearing what they’re like in the lesson.


Jonny: Online is great for sharing resources and making sure all students have what they need for homework. It’s much easier to keep everything accessible rather than on pieces of paper that students will eventually lose…

Denis: I’ve had more time to analyse my students’ playing. Due to the restrictions of Zoom – the internet’s not always the best for reliably playing along with each other – I’ve been forced to get my students to send over a lot more recordings and videos of themselves playing. It also means they can send stuff when they’re feeling a bit more comfortable rather than in a lesson setting. That means I’m a bit more focused in the lesson, too, because I’m getting the chance to analyse all these recordings throughout the week.

So it’s a different experience, but not necessarily in a bad way. How about new students? Lots of people looking for a project in lockdown are considering trying a new instrument – or perhaps they’re complete newcomers to music looking to start learning an instrument. What are your top practical tips for anyone taking music lessons in lockdown?

Denis: I’d encourage any new student to take a big bulk of lessons. People can get disheartened after the first one or two weeks when they’re looking for immediate results. Give it a good trial. Both you and your teacher get a better opportunity to focus on the long game and there’s more chance of you improving properly.

Jonny: Be prepared for your lesson, have everything you need to succeed ready. Listen and be patient.

Denis: Find the best place in your house with good internet, making sure you’re there ready to go with five or ten minutes before your lesson; have your cup of tea sitting there, have your instrument set up. That counts for both the student and teacher, in case of problems with Zoom, someone’s password’s not working, or whatever.

Education is an incredible social phenomenon, hugely undervalued by many. Enjoy chatting with a specialist who has made the time to offer you support and inspiration. Do your best – ambition and determination are some of the greatest forms of self-love.


Jonny: With school lessons, there isn’t really that much space for individual attention and feedback, as the lessons are short with up to four students at a time. It feels a bit more like I’m making instructional videos than interacting live with students.

Denis: Yeah, and with Zoom lessons there’s always going to be some sort of delay when playing with each other, so there’s going to be a lot more talking involved than in a normal one-on-one lesson in person. Just be wary that sometimes it might come across more as like a lecture that you’re watching, with a few little demos.

Jonny: Anyone using online video software should invest in a LAN internet cable. WIFI doesn’t cut it and leads to too many frustrating circumstances. 

Denis: I would also say: ask your teacher to record the lesson or be really strict with your notetaking. Then you can spend the week going back over your lesson, not being worried about forgetting everything that was said. There’s not going to be as many times as normal for the teacher to demonstrate whatever you’re working on during the lesson.

I guess one good thing about our mass switch to online living is how it’s made us more appreciative of how easily we can interact with people, no matter where they’re based. Have you gained new students you wouldn’t have before, because of online teaching?

Denis: I definitely had a load of new people I wouldn’t have reached otherwise. I had two students in Australia, one in America and then a load in England, so it was quite nice to teach people from all over the place.

Jonny: Yes! I have a student in Bristol, and before he would only have lessons with me when he was in London or I’d go there.

Take up music, you won’t regret it. It’s the perfect time and it’s such a good thing for your soul.


You’re used to playing with Nubiyan Twist, touring, booking gigs and recording as a band. It’s a whole different mindset when teaching. Any tips for musicians like yourselves who are looking to start teaching right now?

Jonny: Good luck, be prepared, be consistent, go the extra mile and keep in touch with your students regularly. I always have quite close friendships with my students and we have a lot of respect for each other.

Denis: Think of the long game. As I was saying before, I would strongly recommend musicians looking to teach now during Covid to encourage any new students to take on a package, four to 10 lessons or something similar. One, to secure a longer period of income for the teacher. But also, when I’m teaching anyway, I like to know that I’m going to have a chance to develop the student.

If you have four private students a week that is your rent… so definitely worth doing! Teaching in schools is even more consistent most of the time, so worth investigating your local music hubs.


Denis: It’s true that during a period like this there’s a lot of people looking to start up new instruments and take up music for the first time, but sadly there’s also lots of people who are going to do it once and you won’t hear from them again. If someone’s saying ‘oh, I’ll take a lesson now and I might take another in a month or two’, they’ll end up having to repeat the previous lesson – obviously that’s dependent on how much people practice and stuff like that!

Jonny: Remember that life is teaching us patience whether we like it or not. I learnt how to teach on the job, but now have 10 years’ experience. I’ve made most of the mistakes I needed to make along the way, whether that be getting too invested or burning out.

What are Nubiyan Twist’s plans for 2021, pandemic or no pandemic?

Jonny: We’re releasing our third studio album Freedom Fables in March on Strut Records, which has been pushed back from September 2020. Along with the tour that has been rescheduled four times so far…

Denis: They’re trying to schedule some stuff, it keeps getting cancelled… I think I wouldn’t worry too much about the live shows and stuff this year, just focus on getting our album out.

Jonny: This album has been a mad journey, contouring different collaborations about their life stories. I’m really excited for it to be released. I also have two solos on this record which is new for me! I used to be content playing my parts the best I could, but I’m learning to step into the limelight and enjoy the opportunity to express myself. I am in great company in this project and love the brotherhood it’s brought.  

Denis: You have a better idea of the longer picture during Covid because you kind of know you’re not going to have gigs and you’re not going to be rehearsing or jamming with other musicians for a longer period… so there’s not as much pressure to be focused on immediate results. We can think ‘OK we can do this now, but what’s this going to sound like in six months?’ When we’re gigging every week, we’re looking at repertoire all the time, we’re looking at new tunes, whereas now everyone’s kind of got the ability to focus more on a long game I suppose.

I wonder if the challenges of the year have changed the way you teach… do you think you’ll keep teaching online after the pandemic? 

Jonny: I’ve learnt to be kind to myself! Whilst I am an ambassador of my instrument, it’s not the be-all and end-all whether a student keeps it up, as long I impart a love for music and they enjoy the session. Yes, I had online lessons before the pandemic, and will continue to after it’s over.

Denis: Yeah, there’s been plenty of challenges, but I probably will still do a bit of teaching after the pandemic. Like I said, I don’t normally do a lot of it, so when I do teach I would rather take on slightly more advanced students, or have a student for a good six months a year and really focus on their development.

And how about your own plans as musicians outside of the band and working in education?

Denis: Plans for 2021? (laughs) The plan is to have no plan. Everyone has been trying to for the last year, rescheduling gigs and all that, and I’ve just completely ignored all of it! I think it’s stupid trying to plan right now. So I’m literally taking it day by day. I’ve started doing a bit of writing but I’m just kind of flat out practising. Hopefully when this all blows over we’ll all have a chance to show off the stuff we’ve been working on!

If we keep thinking ‘oh we’ll have a tour next month’, then that gets cancelled, ‘oh we’ll have another one the following month’, then that gets cancelled… you’re just going to go on ups and downs, and the downs are going to be much harder than the ups, because you’re never getting the ups.

I think especially for people in the arts, your plan this year should be not to plan. I think if musicians take that approach, we’ll be a bit more sane.


Jonny: I’ve started my own journey with my project ‘Matters’ which embodies all my favourite influences in a way that I can really take charge of. I’m the driving force in the project through developing my own voice from collaborative composition, and I’ll be releasing a six track EP in April – so keep a look out for that on my Instagram. ‘Matters’ brings together my beatmaking, brass band and spiritual jazz.

Denis: I’d just like to say, if anyone is thinking of taking up an instrument – whether you’re brilliant or whether you’re muck at it, you will find a bit of pleasure out of it! It’s the same with people starting baking, golf, whatever you’re trying out this year. Just do it!

Some of the best and brightest musicians now have the time to pass on their expertise to eager students. It’s heartening to know that musicians who are unable to play live are finding their own inspiration through turning to teaching during the pandemic.

About Jonny Enser:

Jonny is a vibrant and exciting trumpeter who has been working as a session musician, educator and live performer for over 10 years. He studied with Neil Yates at Salford University and graduated from Leeds College of Music with an honours degree in Jazz Performance in 2013. He has performed in Cuba and lived in New Orleans, playing regularly in every major bar. Through working with the behemoth project Nubiyan Twist he has collaborated with artists such as Pat Thomas, Mulatu Astatke and Soweto Kinch. For the past 5 years he has been working to deliver peripatetic and workshop-based courses in jazz, brass band and classical music with educational hubs like Hackney Music Service. 

Whilst hailing from rural stock, he has vastly diverse interests and has been a motivated band leader and featured soloist in various ensembles appearing globally, and has accrued the versatility, performance experience and virtuosic knowledge to help guide any audience and student alike.

About Denis Scully:

Denis’s musical journey started at the age of five. He studied classical piano at the Royal Irish Academy of Music under a full scholarship, and at age 13 was accepted on another scholarship to study saxophone. He studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music until he was 18, before moving to the UK to study BA (Hons) Jazz at Leeds College of Music. Since graduating he has played and toured all over the UK and Europe, performing on main stages at Glastonbury Festival, Electric Picnic in Ireland, Istanbul Jazz Festival, Fusion in Germany, and Bahrain Jazz Festival.

While Denis performs a lot of neo-soul, hip-hop and reggae, his focus has always been jazz and improvisation. Denis’s influences are musicians such as Chris Potter, Troy Roberts, Seamus Blake and Dexter Gordon.

Photographer Highlight | Aaron Parsons

Image Credit: Aaron Parsons

We caught up with the incredibly talented but brilliantly humble Aaron Parsons to talk about the importance of music photography, his experiences and much more.

When looking at the music industry it is easy to boil it down to labels and artists but there are wide variety of roles that are important to the industry as a whole. Between the artists and labels there are a variety of roles that help create the vibrant music scene we have today. From content creators to managers and what were focusing on this article series, photographers.

It is my firm belief that photographers are the unsung heroes of the music industry and they’re often overlooked. However, if it wasn’t for our snappy friends then the visual direction of most artists wouldn’t exist. It’s not just live photos but portraits, album covers, single covers, inner sleeve artwork all of which at some point has been touched by a photographer. In an ever visual age, in a time where social media reigns a band having striking imagery has never been more important.

In this article series we will be talking to a variety of amazing photographers who work within the music industry. Taking a deep dive into their lives as music photographers, how they operate, their influences and much more. We want to highlight just what an important and vital role they play in the music industry as a whole.

Kicking things off is Cornish born but London based photographer Aaron Parsons. A dedicated, incredibly hard working and insanely talented photographer who recently had his work used by Arctic Monkeys for their recent ‘Live At The Albert Hall’ live album.

Firstly, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, how are you doing? 

Aaron: No worries! It’s my pleasure, thank you for showing an interest in my work. I’m good overall, although a fresh January lockdown isn’t too much fun, but I think most are in agreement with that. Hoping we can kick the back of this thing soon so we can enjoy a resemblance of normality and specifically live music again. It’s certainly left a gaping hole in lots of lives, including mine. 

So, when did you first get into photography and at what point did you get into music photography specifically? 

Aaron: I took photography at A-Level and it grew from there really. Camera phones were just coming out and it was something that felt quite natural to me and I got a lot of enjoyment from photographing the Cornish coast where I lived. I ended up doing a degree in photography which only inspired me further, learning about the medium, its history and all the wonderful artists gave me the impetus to take it further still.

Music photography came a little later. And as I’m sure you know, like many photographers, it all began shooting any gig I could for nothing. It evolved into my work quite naturally as I was such a lover of live music. I think my first gig was one of my favourite local bands, Mad Dog Mcrea, which actually for me, was jumping in at the deep end as they were my absolute heroes. It went relatively well though and I recently found the shots from that gig funnily enough. I like some of them, but you can see how I struggled with such low light and what was probably quite an average camera at the time. 

What was the draw to music photography for you? 

Aaron: There’s so much that comes to mind. The thrill of a live gig in general is something else. When you walk into that room and see the misty stage and sound tech guys. What a feeling. I remember as a kid not quite believing that my idol was metres away on stage and I could actually hear their voice or instrument with my own ears. In fact, it didn’t even have to be my idol, I remember watching Sum 41 and feeling like that. No offence Sum 41. Live music is just a joy to behold and there’s something pretty magical about it.

“The thrill of a live gig in general is something else”

Aaron Parsons – Photographer

There’s always part of me that dreamt of being in a band myself but I just knew I didn’t have that gift to pull it off. So early on, I guess photographing music was in a way, the next best thing. If I lacked talent to produce from the stage, I felt that I had talent to encapsulate what I and so many people experienced in the crowd.

Being a part of the music industry was certainly a big draw in itself. I felt inspired and just wanted to be close to it, or part of it in some way. There’s always that dream that your image will be used by a band, an album cover being the pinnacle of that. 

Was there a particular photographer’s work that inspired you or perhaps a certain artist? 

Aaron: I am trying to rack my brain in terms of a music photographer that inspired me specifically in the early days, but it was more the portraiture of Annie Leibovitz, David Bailey, and Eve Arnold that struck a chord. Their work within the music world is beautiful. 

Today there are so many amazing photographers that pop in and out of my feeds, although it was a local photographer and friend Lewis Pinder whose work I liked shortly after uni. We ended up photographing a similar music and festival scene in Cornwall and his work felt fresh, unique and always caught my eye. He’s doing wicked things now too. I should also mention you Kieran! Your photograph of The Flaming Lips is easily one of my favourite live shots. Vivid and rich, it’s a banger. A band I would love to shoot too. 

Oh Charlie Sarsfield just sprung to mind. Pretty cool contemporary music photographer! 

Are there any particular artists or gigs you’ve photographed that stand out for you? If so why?

Aaron: Oh boy yes. I feel that I’ve been so lucky over the last few years. Firstly, I have been obsessed with an Australian band since I was a teenager called The Cat Empire. My sister introduced me to them after her travels to Aus where she actually met and got to know them. This band are the very definition of light and love. They bring the party to any gig like you wouldn’t believe. I know people say it a lot, but this band really are the best live act I’ve seen. They get the crowd swaying and flailing in every which way. 

To cut a very long story slightly short, I was lucky enough to get a photo pass via a magazine to photograph TCE in London five or so years ago. It turned out to be one of their best gigs I had seen but this wasn’t “THE ONE”, little did I know at the time. I photographed them once or twice again and things gathered a bit of momentum with the band’s management. A few months before Glastonbury 2019, I get an email from the manager. “We want you to photograph the band’s two performances at Glastonbury, opening The Other Stage and headlining The Avalon on the same day”. Mic drop, my dreams really did come true at that moment. It was off the hook.

The Cat Empire By Aaron Parsons (Glastonbury Festival)

I remember standing at the side of The Other Stage looking out at the typical Worthy Farm masses just not believing it. The sound from the stage is unreal too, well it’s actually incredibly real. It sounds immense. 

That really would take some topping. It was hard work though, I remember being pretty stressed out on the day as they required photos from both sets straight away and I was camping on a farm in a heatwave. After the first set, I was frantically editing backstage and when done, watched on as management and band crowded around a laptop looking through the shots. That was nerve-racking! It was amazing to meet the band who were lovely (not one of those ruined meeting your hero moments) and have welcomed me back to future gigs since then. It’s a shame they are based in Australia as I guess it could have proved more regular, I’ve always wanted to tour with a band documentary style. 

I’ve photographed some really special performances over the years and can’t list them all. I’ve worked with Nick Mulvey quite a lot, he’s awesome to shoot. Such a mesmerising performer and for some reason, certain bands/artists are just so photogenic and he’s one of them. Lighting is important, so important and my word do I owe thanks to light and tech teams. The Cat Empire’s lighting lady I think was called Paula, without lighting, photos don’t sing.

I nearly forgot Paul McCartney! This is awful, I am totally name dropping now but this was another fantasy. I photographed him perform in Liverpool exclusively for The Guardian. Only drawback which I didn’t know until I arrived was that photographers could only shoot from the sound desk. Bummer. In my opinion, all emotion and atmosphere is captured from the pit or stage or even from the crowd… not so much from the sound desk 50 feet away. But still, it was Paul McCartney, who am I to complain?

And then there’s your next question… 

Recently your photography of Arctic Monkeys at the Royal Albert Hall was used for their promo of the live album, how did that feel? What was it like seeing your work used by one the world’s largest rock bands? 

Aaron: This one is yet to sink in. Lost for words. Arctic Monkeys were an entirely different ball game. The Cat Empire was somewhat fathomable but this was another level. The night itself was insane. The gig was 2 years ago and by that point, I had photographed a lot of gigs. You never get used to music photography, it rarely goes right! But I was certainly experienced at this point. This meant absolutely nothing by the time I was standing in the pit waiting for my all-time idols to walk out on stage. There’s not many bands that give me that in awe, star struck feeling, but these guys do. To say I was nervous would be underselling it, I was shaking. Adrenalin soon kicked me into gear though and I captured my favourite band in one of the most beautiful venues and it will go down as one of the most special nights of my career. 

Arctic Monkeys By Aaron Parsons (Live the o2)

So when the band’s management decided they wanted to use my imagery for promotion of the upcoming album – Live At The Royal Albert Hall, I didn’t know what to say and I still don’t really. It was all so surreal. I had to keep it secret of course and I just wanted to tell people, especially my family. I’ve learnt over the years that things can fall through at the very last second so I had to keep my cool the entire time, almost expecting it not to happen. Then it happened. There was lots of ‘toing’ and ‘froing’ before the release and management during one of the latter stages even emailed saying the band were now reviewing my images, choosing which ones they wanted to use, if they wanted to use them at all. Haha, it’s ridiculous really. 

“When the band’s management decided they wanted to use my imagery for promotion of the upcoming album – Live At The Royal Albert Hall, I didn’t know what to say and I still don’t really”

Aaron Parsons – Photographer

Arctic Monkeys are donating all album proceeds to the charity War Child which is an amazing cause by the way. I will soon be releasing some limited edition prints from that night, donating proceeds as well.  

Did you ever expect your work to be featured by such high profile artists? 

Aaron: No. This was the ultimate. Someone commented on Instagram “This will take some beating” and I don’t think this will be beaten, I might as well stop now! Someone within the industry also emailed saying “the band and management are notoriously protective of how they’re represented visually so its testament to your amazing pictures that they are the ones they have chosen to use.” So stoked.

When you go for a shoot how do you prepare? Talk us through your process? 

Aaron: So many cliches spring to mind. But you can’t be too prepared and when you are busy it’s very easy to forget this simple rule. I once drove straight from a shoot in Cornwall to a gig in Shepherds Bush, not ideal. 

Charge everything, clear everything and clean everything. If I’ve not shot at the venue before, I do a bit of research and get there early. Things change so easily on the night and as I have mentioned, rarely go to plan. Bring spares! It’s one of the most unpredictable styles of work and you often only have 3 songs to get it right, just 2 sometimes. From busy pits with bolshy press photographers to hardly any light, you have to be prepared for anything and try your best not to panic. I’ve had SD cards jam, lens changes and last minute moves to a sound desk. It’s madness. Two cameras is a game changer. 

How did you get the opportunities that you have and what advice would you give any budding music photographers? 

Aaron: I worked really hard and had a lot of “downs” before these massive “ups”. And I still do. It really is amazing to write it all down on paper, it hits home a bit. But I guess it’s a constant battle in some ways. It sounds so glamorous but the reality is that those things aren’t regular. They can be for some photographers, but not many in the grand scheme of things. It’s about learning to balance your work/career with things that make you passionate and things that pay the bills. I know I’m not a key worker and my job on the surface can appear quite easy, but I do a lot of crap jobs that can often be pretty stressful and sometimes I’m treated quite poorly. People forget you have to generate all this work, run the business side of things and then produce the product you are selling too. I still enjoy an artistic element within most shoots, but sometimes the commercial stuff can feel a little bit compromising. I feel very fortunate to make money doing photography though, even if every now and then I want to give it up! Having breaks can recharge those creative batteries. 

At the beginning I contacted endless people, offered to work for free whilst juggling other work and simply just said yes. Saying yes was scary at first, but say it and find a way of getting there after. Then there’s the continuous chasing via email which I still do today! I am undoubtedly annoying at times but it works. You have to keep in people’s minds as everyone is so busy. I have endless lists, endless reminders and there’s always thinking about who you can contact, researching, looking for opportunities. I did all I could really, although you can always do more. 

It’s hard to get in with a band. So many have a trusted “go too” photographer, so the chances are slim. Take a punt with up and coming bands and then of course find other ways in, through magazines or blogs for example.

I don’t want this to sound like some spiel from an Apprentice candidate! There’s a huge sprinkle of luck that you can find if you just put yourself out there. It’s not all about work, it’s about energy and finding the right leads and avenues to go down. 

Why do you feel music photographers are so important to the industry and artists alike? 

Aaron: We are in a visual age more than ever before. The music industry doesn’t make the same kind of money as it used to, solely on being successful anyway. I think artists have to sell themselves more, promote more and engage with their fans more. Media is vital for that. 

On an artistic level, photography has always come hand in hand with gigs. There’s endless elements that bring a gig to life. There’s so much atmosphere, emotion and creativity on stage and if that’s not captured, it’s almost a waste. Insane amounts of time go into that performance from the crew to the band, it’s a momentous effort that deserves being archived in beautiful ways. 

Do you feel that visual aid to an artist is extremely important, particularly in this internet age?

Aaron: Totally. As I touched upon above, it’s as important as it’s ever been. I think you can see more artists accepting that too. Even the biggies… maybe not all of them. The Cure and Radiohead still standing strong in some ways haha. But in all seriousness, you can’t just be gifted or successful anymore. It’s not enough. Connectivity is massive and it might sometimes suck the life and magic out of it, but it’s also amazing to feel close to your heroes and get an insight into their lives. 

Beans On Toast By Aaron Parsons (At home)

Why do you feel it is important for bands to work with professional photographers?  

Aaron: I think both can support each other. I find photographers can sometimes get a bit left behind or forgotten and I have experienced both sides of it. I’ve had amazing feedback and gratitude and then felt quite used through lack of accreditation, payment and appreciation in general. Without music photographers you can’t sell the band and without the band, music photographers don’t exist. I am aware that these people are stars, they possess a unique gift and egos can run high but photographers are skilled creatives too and that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

It’s not an easy form of photography as I’ve said. It can be so tricky and demanding technically and increasingly competitive too. I personally love it because it’s off the cuff, spontaneous and intuitive. Artists will ultimately notice the difference between an experienced photographer and an amateur I think. That’s not to say amateurs can’t be good music photographers! It’s more the whole – getting your mate with a camera to shoot the gig or wedding rather than paying a professional I’m not as keen on. That ethos of “they’ve got a good camera, save money” doesn’t sit well. Photography technically is a lot more accessible than it used to be, so the person behind the lens has to demonstrate why they are a professional which thankfully in live music is easier than other aspects of the medium. 

“Without music photographers you can’t sell the band and without the band, music photographers don’t exist”

Aaron Parsons – Photographer

There’s so many different types of photographer. Quite early on I felt that lots of music photographers were fairly press driven, primarily because that was their job. Lots of publications just want to see Alex Turner’s face perfectly lit, they’re not too fussed by atmospheric shots or a creative license per se. I didn’t want to go down this road though and wanted my music photography to be artistic and I guess this is something that bands can benefit from when choosing between photographers. 

In the pit or at events I actually see a lot of unhappy faces, most of whom work for press agencies. I think there’s a big difference between a press photographer and a music photographer but I’m not saying the two can’t cross over. However, some if not most of the press photographers I see in London, certainly don’t approach the work in a similar vein to me, nor do they seem to get the same buzz. These photographers seem tough but stretched, fed up and this is potentially down to poor pay in return for slogging their guts out for years. Maybe the love has been zapped a bit which can happen. I worked at some pretty big festivals in London a few years ago and some of the press photographers said how hard it was to sell work as it’s so competitive these days. Budgets are smaller and people are being undercut left, right and centre. It can be tough, especially if that’s your niche. It was odd to get their take on the industry. It’s very much bread and butter stuff, get in and get out and for me, that’s not what music is about. With that said, some of the world’s most inspiring and significant art has been captured by photojournalists. Maybe I’ve just not come across that romantic documentary photographer in my circles. 

I think agencies in general can sometimes undermine the individuals out there and close doors on the artistic side of things or at least undervalue it. Not just in music but I’ve had experiences with companies who have contracts with the likes of Getty and therefore aren’t interested at all.

I hope that more bands get vocal about phones. I feel sad watching old festival footage or memorable shows and everyone in the crowd is so captivated, so in the moment. Where as, I was watching Beyonce’s Coachella performance the other day (Glasto one way better I think) and the crowd was 99% absorbed by screens, held high in some strange dystopian collective. My point is that, photographers are there, let them get the memorable moments, promote work, sell art and make a living from it. Maybe every gig should have one song where you can use your phone for social media and memories but holding a device aloft the entire time watching through a screen is ludicrous to me. We have a wider problem with phones I think, but that’s a conversation for another day!

What advice would you give to bands looking to work with photographers on live shows, artwork and releases? 

Aaron: To be respectful and be aware that photography can be that person’s primary form of income, that they’ve saved and saved for the equipment and that they possess a talent too. “Be humble” as Kendrick says. 

Budgets aren’t often high in the music industry and I understand that. I work within many areas of photography so I can pay the bills and I know that making a living solely on music photography is unlikely. But I would implore artists and bands to pay something, even if it is little and always credit. Big up musician Beans On Toast here… 

Oh and instead of just a camera emoji in the post text, maybe say something like “amazing photos by David Bailey”. That would be cool. 

Communication is key, nice band managers go a long way and I’ve worked with some really lovely people. I myself need to remember lots of these people get hundreds of emails daily, but at the same time it’s not hard to write those few extra words, never forget your please and thank you’s. I get a lot of one word responses. I get called Adam and Andy a lot too haha.

Give someone a chance, even if they’re fresh out of uni, pay them and tag them. It might just make their year. 

DIY Till We Die: Tempesst

Image Credit: Tempesst

We caught up with Psychedelic outfit Tempesst to discuss their DIY approach to their debut album, life as an independent artist and much more

Tempesst is a project founded by twin brothers Toma and Andy Banjanin, starting in their coastal hometown of Noosa, Australia. Since it’s beginning they have travelled the world, integrating in DIY scenes in New York City and (where they are located now) Hackney, London. It was from their new London home where they released their debut album ‘Must Be A Dream’, a totally DIY project, from artwork through to recording. In fact they recorded the album in their very own Pony Studios in Hackney. 

With this in mind we chatted to Andy to find out more about their DIY approach and processes, why they started their own label and much more! 

What was the thought process behind operating as a DIY band?

For the most part, creating things is DIY – You write songs and take photos because you are interested in spending your time that way so I don’t think there was much of a thought process behind it. More that it just blooms in a certain direction the more energy you put in.

What have been the advantages and disadvantages of acting independently?

We like having the freedom to create and release music whenever we like, so being independent really works for us. The disadvantages are that you need to build a whole world around your art  which isn’t easy (especially if you are solo) but there are five of us so we work together. I think most artists would choose to be independent if it was a feasible and effective option.

“I think most new or alternative artists will need to develop themselves independently or with the help of an independent label”

Andy Banjanin, Tempesst

Was it something you planned to do from the get go or was it something that naturally happened?

We didn’t consciously set out to be independent but have always been really involved in every single aspect of Tempesst. As time passed, it presented itself as the most logical path for us and I think it is a trend that will continue to grow.

How has starting your own label and studio affected you as artists?

Well it removes any barriers to releasing your music which is the most important thing. It also gives you the time and environment to create freely which isn’t necessarily available in London so that is cool.

Listen/watch ‘Mushroom Cloud’ here:

Why was it you decided to start your own label and studio?

A friend gave us a PA system so we were actually just looking for a rehearsal space so we could use it LOL. One thing led to another and we found ourselves converting a warehouse in Hackney into a studio so that’s how that happened. For the label, I had always been interested in starting a label aside from Tempesst and Blake had a distribution deal lined up so it made sense to join forces.

You’re pretty well traveled as artists and have been integrated in many scenes across the globe, is the increase of DIY scenes worldwide or unique to the UK?

The US and Europe have incredible DIY scenes.

Do you feel it is possible to remain DIY but be signed to a major label?

With the changes to the music industry in the last while, it seems as though major labels are more suited to either mainstream or established artists. There needs to be enough fuel to power the machine so to speak. I think most new or alternative artists will need to develop themselves independently or with the help of an independent label and from that position it would be most likely to remain DIY whilst signed to a major.

How do you feel Brexit will affect DIY scenes in the UK? 

Naturally it is a major bummer for touring around Europe with more hoops to jump through but that might help develop things here in the UK.

Lastly, what advice would you give someone looking to start as a DIY artist or looking to get involved in a DIY scene?

Start with what you have and don’t stop!

DIY Till We Die: Jack Swing

Image Credit: Shauna Miller

We caught up with Isaiah Ross of Jack Swing to discuss his experiences as an independent artist, DIY scenes and much more

Jack Swing are three friends Isaiah, Rowdy and Nelson who hail from Pittsburgh, USA. The American band is a delightful mixing pot of genres, all of which they master. Ranging from classic rock elements through to funk and disco, it’s an incredibly infectious sound that is retrospective yet brilliantly fresh. Imagine Vulfpeck but fronted by Hendrix or Clapton.

With the new year coming in (you will not be missed 2020) the American band are now looking to get funding for their next full release. They’ve started a campaign on indiegogo and it’s already amassed a fair few backers. It goes to show that even with streaming success, live shows and merch that independent artists, although in charge of their creativity have massive hurdles to overcome, especially during this strange time. With this in mind we wanted to know more about their experiences with operating as a DIY band, the advantages and disadvantages and much more.

So when your band Jack Swing formed did you always plan to go DIY or was it something that happened naturally?

Isaiah: I’d say it was a natural process. When I was coming up a lot of the bands that truly inspired me were local bands. To me these bands were on par with the greats and they were just normal people that I’d run into walking around the city. It was less of a decision and more just made sense to me as how to truly start a band.

What was the attraction of going DIY for you? 

Isaiah: It was more the natural progression of things more than anything. As me and those around me grew and honed our talents, we realized that we were capable of handling a lot of the things that people outsource. It took a long time to do things the right way but now that we are comfortable handling most things ourselves, it both allows us to do more as well as make sure that we get things done the way that we truly envision. 

Do you feel DIY is more tailored towards rock music or is it open to other genres? 

Isaiah: Perhaps at a point. Now I’d certainly say it’s much less genre specific. There definitely was and still is the DIY rock band in a basement association. But over the last decade or so in at least my area I’ve seen a huge explosion of numerous genres embracing this approach to artistry. As a whole the industry has shifted towards artists finding their following on their own, which without a doubt encourages the DIY mindset and pursuit. 

What have been the advantages and disadvantages of acting as an independent artist?

Isaiah: The main advantage is definitely being in complete creative control. By operating independently we can make sure that things get done exactly the way we want the want them to, on our timeline, with no interference. The biggest disadvantage is definitely funding and connections. Being in a band professionally is quite expensive. Having any portion of that handled goes a long way. When operating independently you’re also constantly expanding your network, If you’re booking your own tour, you want to be able to reach out to people that you trust and have worked with. Developing that level of trusted contacts takes serious time and effort. When represented it could be as easy getting a list of dates and showing up, playing, and leaving. Two completely different worlds.  

What difficulties have you come up against as a DIY band? 

Isaiah: When you’re paying for everything out of pocket things add up quickly. There’s a constant balance of working separate jobs to fund the band, while still making the music and art absolute top priority. Most musicians find themselves in this boat and it’s definitely exhausting. It’s crucial to find a balance so that you don’t burn yourself out. 

Listen/watch latest release ‘Get What’s Mine For You’ here:

Have you found that taking a DIY approach has allowed you to be more creative? 

Isaiah: Absolutely. While working independently we get to decide completely how we want to present ourselves. This allows for us to make every piece of our content the exact piece of art that we want it to be. Whether it’s a photo on Instagram or a video that we create for promotion each is an opportunity to create a unique piece of art exactly the way we envision. 

Do you feel the internet has made it more of a viable option to act independently?

Isaiah: The internet has completely changed the landscape of music. It has made it almost imperative to act independently because on one level everyone has access to the same tools. Because of the internet without the help of major labels artists can put out music, find and engage with their fans, run full marketing campaigns (almost identical to those on major labels), and book tours completely on their own. Before the internet many of these things were reserved for artists with serious representation. The internet has put significantly more power in the hands of the artist. 

Why do you feel more artists are opting for a DIY approach?

Isaiah: It’s the only approach that makes sense starting out, at least to me. Like I was saying the internet has completely changed the musical landscape. Since musicians can release music, find their audience, and book tours completely on their own they now are expected to. I feel that it is less “artists opting for a DIY approach” and more that the industry has shifted towards a DIY approach as a whole. In many cases even when a band gets large scale representation it’s after years and years of what we would consider a DIY approach. 

Why do you feel there are DIY scenes popping up across the globe? 

Isaiah: Because more and more people are realizing that you can create this without necessarily moving to a “music city.” All across the world there are people who love music and who want to create a shared space for it. Choosing to create these spaces plants serious seeds in a community. People now have the opportunity to engage in music on whatever level they feel comfortable, whether it is moving to a music city with high hopes or starting a band locally just for fun. 

“The internet has put significantly more power in the hands of the artist.”

Isaiah Ross, Jack Swing

What makes a good DIY scene and how do you get involved in one? 

Isaiah: A good scene is upheld by the community. Something that people from all sorts of different backgrounds, interests, and influences come together and put a bit of themselves in. That’s what makes it the most sustainable as well. So many of my formative music experiences were seeing local bands give it 100% under any and every circumstance. People coming together for no other reason than to experience and create something special together, connecting, and giving it everything they have. 

Do you feel you can remain DIY if you’re signed to a major label? 

Isaiah: To an extent. I believe it all depends on a bands intention. For example if a band is signed to a major label but still is completely present in all business dealings and retain complete creative control then they could hold on to the DIY mentality. I feel like many bands once they get to this point are relieved to not have to deal with so much and outsource too much of the work to the label, when I believe that true authenticity is much more beneficial in connecting with an audience. 

Lastly, what advice would you give to an artist looking to start their own scene or get involved with their local DIY scene? 

Isaiah: You just have to dive in. If there are shows happening, go to them (when the pandemic is over of course), find local bands that you love and tell people about them, if you want to start a band, start a band! Have a blast. If you’re not seeing the type of shows that you want to be seeing then create them. I’m certain there are plenty of people in your area who are looking for exactly what you are.