In another interview with some of our most influential users, we get to know Jolyon Checketts, purveyor of all things new music and part of the Charm Factory PR team. Joining the HumanHuman community two years ago, Checketts quickly gained a reputation as one of our most passionate discoverers with some of his best finds being Pinegrove, Starling, Hein Cooper and PARTYBABY.
Speaking with this new music enthusiast over a coffee at The Great Escape festival, he talks about his less-than-unusual route into the music industry, the trends and artists we should be looking out for this year and how his dissertation led him to create something called the ‘triangle of discovery’.
First question, for the readers of HumanHuman, tell me who are you and what do you do?
I’m Joly Checketts, I work for Charm Factory which is an online PR, digital marketing and social media company based in London. I’m essentially an online publicist, but I also occasionally do a bit of writing here and there.
Ah cool, who have you written for recently?
How did you first get started in the music industry?
I’ve been in bands since I was about sixteen, none of which were very good, and I got to a point where I was like “okay, this isn’t going anywhere, so maybe I’ll start helping other people.” Then I studied Marketing and Advertising at university, and after my second year, they gave me the option to do a work placement and I was looking for advertising internships, but that was really difficult. Eventually, I stumbled upon a week long work experience at the BBC in their marketing department for Radio 2 and 6Music. I was there for a week, and then they invited me back for another week, and another week, and another week! So I was there for a month in the end, which was great. It was really fun, like in my first week I was invited to see Fleet Foxes at the Radio Theatre, which was amazing. I kept being invited to the 6Music Live Lounge, so I saw Tom Vek and Wild Beasts. It was all a dream come true for me. After that I got an internship at Vice for a month, which got extended to three months, and I got offered a full-time position at Vice in their marketing and PR team - or what was called then the “activation team”. Vice was awesome, and then I moved onto the Noisey side of things. When I joined Noisey, it was pretty much non-existent, it was a really small part of what they were doing. We were doing documentaries of unheard of bands, following them around their local town. Halfway through my time at Noisey they got the funding from Google, who really started pushing their YouTube. Then we started premiering videos - the first thing we did was an A$AP Rocky video and I was thrown into this high-pressure PR situation where you have to ensure loads of coverage. My time at Vice and Noisey finished and I came back to uni and by then I had pretty much decided that I was going to be in the music industry in some shape or form. I ended up writing my dissertation on digital PR and about how people find new music.
Wow, so you are the expert!
Well… I wouldn’t quite go as far as expert. I probably shouldn’t have done a dissertation on Music PR when I was studying Marketing and Advertising, but they let me have it! I did a case study on Peace, and how they went from pretty much nothing, they were just this Birmingham band doing quite well and local blogs were writing about them, but then it snowballed and went massive. After that I finished uni, I went looking for a job, which was really tricky despite having a year's experience, but then I found myself at Charm Factory and I’ve loved every minute of it since. It’s an incredibly exciting place to work.
That’s a good biography there! So, when did you first hear about HumanHuman?
It was actually when I was writing for Gold Flake Paint. I saw Jarri from Disco Naïveté posting about it on Twitter and I checked the website out and thought “this looks really cool!” At the time I was still writing for Gold Flake Paint quite a lot, and I think Senne messaged me like, “we love Gold Flake Paint!” [laughs] I’ve seen it grow over the past year and a half, maybe two years now, and it’s been so nice seeing the community grow and people getting more involved. It’s such an awesome community! I love the fact that PRs, bloggers and A&Rs alike can all feed into this hub of incredible new music.
“I love the fact that PRs, bloggers and A&Rs alike can all feed into this hub of incredible new music”
Of course, the community is all about discovering, so which discovery are you most proud of to date?
I’m conscious that you probably already know the answer to this, but probably Pinegrove. For anyone who hasn’t listened to them yet, their latest album is the best one I’ve heard this year by quite a way - it’s awesome. Equally, there’s a band called TUSKA, who are really great and kind of sound like Tame Impala. There’s also a band called Great News, who are signed to Propeller Recordings, a Norwegian label who are doing great things. There’s also a great guy called Rodney Tenor, who is part of the rap collective Brockhampton, he’s like Brockhampton’s Frank Ocean! His track “Prognosis Hypnosis” is awesome, and I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.
Obviously, you’re really excited by discovering new bands and artists, but why do you think people are drawn to the idea of finding new talent and being able to say “I found that”?
I don’t know, it’s a weird one… My entry into enjoying music is a weird one. I was always really into sports when I was younger, I would play rugby, cricket, football, the lot, and I had a relatively limited interest in music. Then I got in with a different crowd at secondary school and I started playing in a band, because I’d been a singer since I was young, you know in choirs and some musical things. I’d always liked singing, and these friends of mine caught onto the fact I was a singer and invited me to join their covers band. We were doing covers of Green Day, Blink 182, Metallica, all of which I had never listened to before because I was completely naive to the whole of music. Then my intrigue of music rapidly went mental! When I was in these bands, I was the one always looking for shows and booking them. We did alright in the end. One band who changed the way I listen to music is a band called Tellison, they released their album Contact Contact eight or nine years ago, and that’s when my love for new music really took off. I got into bands that they were touring with, like Sam Isaac and Tall Ships, and then the record label Big Scary Monsters, that was a big moment in my new music discovery… I’ve actually forgotten the question now! [we laugh]
I was simply asking about why people are so interested in discovering new music, and it’s interesting that you said you were a latecomer to it, which is something that Jarri from Disco Naïveté said in his interview too. Maybe, there’s something to that?
Maybe, but I know so many people who really don’t care about new music, they’re just happy to consume it. I always use my sister as a reference point, so everytime I go home I ask her “what are you listening to lately? how are you listening to it?” and it’s usually Radio 1 or a Spotify playlist. That’s basically how 95% of people consume music. Going back to your question, I think the thrill of finding new music isn’t necessarily being the first one to find it, it’s the pleasure of being able to tell people about it via places like HumanHuman or down the pub with your mates.
Most people will know you from your work with Charm Factory, what has been your proudest moment as a publicist?
I’ve had a few really good moments. I looked after Raye, and seeing her go from nothing to releasing her first track “Need Me” back in September 2014. Since then, she’s been doing some really great things and signed to Polydor - I’m really proud of that. Dagny is one of my more recent clients, she’s done exceptionally well off the back of one track, which went completely insane. She’s so humble and nice about it, and she’s such a talented singer. Dagny has got a huge year ahead of her and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved with her so far. There’s been a few things, I worked on Fictonian’s debut album, which is brilliant. There’s some of the newer things like Joy Crookes, we just started on her, and Mhairi, another really exciting artist with only one track released but there’s plenty more to come.
Essentially, you’re proud of all of them!
[laughs] I’m proud of most things! Sign of a good publicist.
While you’ve been working on all of these things, what do you think has been the most significant change to the music industry, in particular the way we receive the music and share it?
One of the most obvious changes is how reliant the music industry is on Spotify now. When I began, it used to be quite one dimensional. It was like get as much online coverage as you can and try to feed that into what the radio pluggers were doing, and Spotify was more of an afterthought. If you could get some of the external Spotify playlisters to put it in there then great, that used to have a real impact, but now they’ve changed things so you can’t contact anyone within the company, unless they’re following you. That seems like a move to help the majors out, so they can really handpick who they support. Recently, in the past month or so I’ve been having more conversations with managers and labels where SoundCloud is perhaps not as high on the agenda as it once was. Whether that’s because of SoundCloud Go or because of the Spotify success, and it’s now seen as a direct competitor. If the Spotify editorial team see that you’re giving SoundCloud a week-long exclusive, which is essentially what it is, then they’re like “why should we support it?” It’s such a Catch 22 because you need SoundCloud to get the recognition of the track. Yeah… it’s a tricky one.
Streaming services are definitely one of the most complicated things going on in the music industry at the moment, I’d be interested to see where we’re all at in ten years time. You spoke there about how when you started it was about getting that online coverage, but why do you think blogs still have so much influence over what we all listen to?
Again, I think this is quite an interesting topic. In my dissertation, I actually created a diagram and I think I called it the ‘triangle of discovery’ - I was really proud of it! If you think of a normal triangle, and at the bottom you have people who just consume music from various different points whether that be Radio 1 or Spotify or their friends. If you go up a level, that will perhaps be people who are listening to specialist radio shows or looking at blogs occasionally. Above that will be people who are adamantly reading new music blogs, whether that be the smaller HypeMachine blogs or completely unheard of ones. Right at the top are people who are discovering things on HumanHuman, and they feed music to people who go right down to the bottom. It kind of makes more sense when you can actually see this triangle! [we laugh]
The triangle of discovery - I love it! It’s going to change the way I look at HumanHuman. That argument concentrates on the digital music world, so why do you think the industry is moving online?
I think it’s just… ease. It’s the ease of consumption from digital platforms. For example, I overheard someone talking about how the older music publications perhaps haven’t had their site enabled for mobile yet, and from my perspective that’s incredibly stupid because people don’t always have their laptops with them. I think the likes of The NME could have such a wider circulation out of it, I used to be able to buy that magazine at my local newsagents in Hitchin, but now I can’t. It’s only sold in the big cities, so if someone from a small town like Hitchin wanted to read it they either have to trek to London or read it online. It’s purely the ease of consumption. It’s also the way that everything is interconnected, so you can read an article on DIY Magazine and see a Spotify embed included in the piece, and have that linked directly to the Spotify app in your phone. Everything makes sense online, whereas there’s a disconnect with print publications and music consumption. I mean, they are still important in my eyes. I think you still really need support from print publications to make it in the music industry, that goes without saying really. Online coverage is the most important now though, especially for the younger generations, people who have grown up being able to read articles and listen to music on their phone.
“Online coverage is the most important now though, especially for the younger generations”
Yeah, that’s going to be second nature for them, although print publications do still have precedence as a physical format. Obviously, a festival like The Great Escape is also an in-life experience, but do you think festivals have as much prominence in the music industry?
I think so! Especially events like this, because in online PR, you’re kind of this faceless person who emails random people all the time, but you build up strong relationships and it’s so nice to be able to meet them and have a real life conversation. You wouldn’t get a chance to at any other time, because everyone is so busy, probably not getting paid enough and don’t have time to go waltzing around London meeting people. It’s weekends like this where it’s so nice to catch up with people, talk about music and…
Meet people in the same world as you.
This festival is really dedicated to new music and small artists, so who is your recommended must-see act?
Well, I’ve seen some great stuff already this weekend. The nature of being a PR at The Great Escape is that you’re probably going to have to see your own acts and spend a lot of time with them, so Dagny has played and Strong Asian Mothers blew the roof off Green Door Store on Thursday night! I saw Seramic yesterday, and he was incredible, probably the highlight of the whole festival so far. I also saw a girl called Tusks on Friday, she was brilliant. Today, I want to try to see Smerz, who are from Norway, and a band called Few Bits. There’s a few more… but the highlight was definitely Seramic, without a doubt. Unbelievable show!
Agreed! So, a lot of these smaller artists try to stay away from genre labels or indeed invent one of their own, for example Astronomyy came up with Lunar Surf. Where do you think this trend has come from?
We’re in a world where online publications want to stand out from the pack as a site that’s doing interesting things and listening to interesting music, so bands and artists feel that it’s beneficial to them to try and publicise themselves as something a bit different. Whether that be throwing a strange genre into their description section on Facebook. If you look at a band like Flamingods, I mean I don’t know how they describe themselves, but they are doing something different, they truly are. They probably warrant giving themselves a crazy description. Basically, I think it’s routed in trying to separate themselves from the pack. That’s half the problem, there’s so much music, there’s too much music! Even if you look at New Music Fridays, sometimes four or five great albums are released on one day, and how is anyone meant to consume that much music? That’s not even one percent of it. There’s so much good music released every single day, so you just have to find a way of making yourself stand out and the easiest way to do that is to describe yourself as something different, even if you’re not!
That’s just one current trend, but do you think there will be a focal trend this year?
I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed Scandinavian-pop, and I’m working with a lot of Danish artists at the moment who are doing some really great things. I can sense a little bit of blues and soul coming up at the moment. I went to see Tom Misch last night, he’s a great guitarist playing blues solos with hip-hop influences in the instrumentals. Another example is Seramic, he’s an insane guitarist and you can hear elements of Prince and D’Angelo in his music.
Oh yeah, he was wearing a Prince t-shirt, wasn’t he?
He was! Dedication. Even his backing vocalists had so much soul. I think you can get across real passion in your music when you go back to the routes of soul and blues. I used to be in a blues-funk band, and it gave me an outlet to really use my voice in the most passionate way possible. I’m beginning to see a lot more of that, and I’m really enjoying it.