You might be familiar with Stephen Archibald from his guest article Spotlight on Scotland’s Emerging Artists, and so you’ll know that this influential user who joined HumanHuman a year ago is always keeping his ear to the ground for the best unheard sounds. We caught up on Brighton’s famous beach at The Great Escape festival to discuss how and why he set up his own publicity company, Jumping the Shark PR, what the Glaswegian music scene is like and why he loves discovering and giving a voice to new bands and artists.
For the readers of HumanHuman, tell me who are you and what do you do?
Speaking of new music stuff, when did you first hear about HumanHuman?
Which HumanHuman discoveries have you been keeping an eye on?
Oh, you discovered them?
No, I haven’t discovered anything that good! This is more ones that I’ve agreed on. I’m too slow to the game unfortunately. Everyone else is better than me [laughs]. There’s also Rudi Zygadlo, a really good guy from Glasgow, although he’s gone dark recently. There’s also The Bellybuttons, a cool wee band from Glasgow, but they’re not a Promising Artist yet.
You’re obviously really passionate about getting to know these new bands and artists, but what do you think the appeal is for being one of the first to find new music?
If you’re working in music, half of your job is being… for lack of a better word, a tastemaker. Your job is to find people and to sign up cool new stuff, so I don’t think it’s totally a pride thing. It’s not like, “oh I was the first person to discover this, so I’ve got the kudos”, it’s more about working with new artists for me. A lot of the people I’ve worked with I’ve got to know really personally, they’ve become my friends and it’s really great especially when you love their music. For me, it’s about discovering them, getting to know them and pushing their music out as a publicist. It’s not so much about being the first person to find new music, it’s more about taking something that I genuinely really like and thinking that it’s got a place in the world and pushing it out there. That’s the buzz I get out of it.
That’s really great! You’ve mentioned a few of these artists already, but let’s talk about the guest article you wrote with The Indie Curator about Scottish music - who’s your current favourite Scottish act?
Well, Scottish music has always been good and a lot of bands in Scotland become huge, especially in Glasgow, but no one really knows about them outside of the country, even though they’ll sell out huge venues around the city. People literally get obsessed with bands in Scotland. There was this band called The Amazing Snakeheads, they were signed to Domino Records. They were three guys, two of them from Glasgow and one from New Zealand, they all met in the city and had proper, full-time jobs, but when they came together they created this absolute noise and madness! The first time I saw them was in a ninety-seater basement and they were passing Buckfast out into the crowd, people were pushing the bouncer out of the door as he was trying to throw people out. It was this whole crazy thing and me and my friends were standing there, watching and thinking no one else knows this is happening on a regular basis in Glasgow. The Amazing Snakeheads broke up unfortunately. They were supposed to play Jools Holland at one point, but the drummer fell off a roof and broke his leg, so they couldn’t play it! They were genuinely one of my favourite bands ever, but they’ve only got one album. Right now, Kloe is obviously getting a lot of buzz, which is great. There’s also White and Baby Strange. Edinburgh have got Man of Moon right now, they’re playing The Great Escape and are doing really well. There’s loads of things bubbling under the surface, which is the great thing about places like Glasgow, because even if the world doesn’t see it, there’s always stuff happening. It might not come to fruition and their music might not be officially released, but all the bands know each other, they hang out and collaborate. It’s a really nice community of people.
You’ve literally led me onto my next question, which is what is the live scene like in Glasgow? You’re saying it’s really vibrant and there’s gigs happening all the time?
Yeah, it’s a really big city, but a lot of the music scene is centered around the same areas. All the venues are all next to each other, and there’s newer venues that are dedicated to new music. Then there’s the big institutions like Barrowland. Metallica actually said that one of their favourite gigs ever was at the Glasgow Barrowland. You’ve got the Hydro that recently opened up, which is the third busiest arena in the world. There’s this huge music scene where people can go see their favourite big bands, but there’s also these tiny fifty-capacity basements. There’s a lot of shows in flats and apartments going on too. A lot of DIY gigs. There’s also lots of little record labels starting up now, because even though Glasgow has always had loads of music, it’s not always had many people working the industry to try and push that music. Just now though there’s Fuzzkill Records, Dead Beat Records, and loads of different promoters putting on good stuff. There’s no a lot of bloggers in Glasgow, that’s the only thing.
That’s all about the live music scene, but the music industry does seem to be moving more and more to the online world. What do you think about that migration?
It’s a natural progression. It was always going to happen, and streaming isn’t the death of the music industry, we just have to accept it and get on with it. There’s no point fighting it, because people aren’t going to pay for music if they can stream it for free or pay a small subscription. It has opened up the music industry a lot as well. I would never have been able to start what I do without the Internet, because the industry was a lot more closed off. It’s used to be much more of a boy’s club exclusivity, but now people in Manchester and Glasgow, where it’s not the hub of music, can start something and push tunes they like. They can express their musical tastes, whether that’s via blogging or whatever. It’s a good thing, but I will say that there’s too many bands, too much music. You don’t need a budget to release songs anymore, which is great, because people who don’t have label backing can release music. That also means that there’s a lot of stuff that isn’t very good.
“Streaming isn’t the death of the music industry, we just have to accept it and get on with it.”
Yeah, there was that quote from the Island Records President, saying that the Internet has opened up “a sea of mediocrity”, which is harsh, but in some ways it’s…
It’s true. I would rather have a bunch of shitty music, but also people who are great and wouldn’t have had the platform otherwise. There’s bands making amazing music who can use the Internet to get it out there, and I would take that at the expense of having a bunch of rubbish stuff as well. There’s always been loads of music, but it’s just curated in a different way now. The industry also doesn’t have to have people in every city going to live shows. You can live in Glasgow where you don’t have any major or big independent labels around you, but you can still get your music heard.
A little earlier you mentioned blogging, and that’s how you started out, so why were you drawn to the music blogosphere?
The first place that I wrote for was Crack in the Road, and I’d been reading that for ages, it was the first blog I followed without really knowing that it was well regarded. I was in Glasgow thinking that I needed to move to L.A. or London because I was in this place far away from music, but then I started to get into blogging and checking out new music. I thought, “although I don’t know what is going on in my life right now, I might as well get involved in music in any way I can.” I was always checking out random new bands, so I had to give myself a platform for that. I’ve met some cool people in the process and it did work out and it did help me turn my love for music into a job. I was always looking for new music anyway, and there’s loads of Glasgow artists that I loved and really believed, so I thought that if I could blog then I could give a voice to these people who I really enjoy. It was as easy as sending the editor a message and saying, “I’ve never done this before, but can I do it?” Then they went “okay, as long as you can spell and construct a sentence!” [we laugh]
That’s pretty much all it takes! Is there anything in particular that you look for in an artist or a band before you write about them?
No, not really. I don’t really have preferences. I’d write about a hip-hop artist or a folk artist or traditional roots music - I don’t really care! It’s has to kind of catch me… it’s not a tangible thing, so I couldn’t say what would make me like it. It has to make me say, “aye, that’s a beast, that’s a belter!” It has to have an impact or just be a wee bit different from the norm. If a band is doing something interesting, I respect that as well.
Since starting out in the world of music blogging, you’ve set up your own publicity company, which is Jumping The Shark PR. Why did you decide to start that?
I’d always thought about it, because I’ve always wanted to work in music, so I thought “how can I get to know these big companies? How do I get jobs when I’m all the way out here in Glasgow?” Then I noticed all these other PR companies starting up, and publicity had always seemed like this really closed thing before when it was more about print media, but now that it’s online so anyone can do it. The first band I ever worked with The Wild Curve, who are no more unfortunately, I saw on a local music blog and thought it was really cool, so first I thought I could write about it, but then I thought maybe this is the thing that could actually make me give PR a go. I made an email address that day and a Facebook page, and I emailed another band at the same time and told them I had done this before to get my foot in the door, but that was a lie! It worked out, and it went well with those first couple of bands. From there, I was bumping into other artists around Glasgow who were saying and I got to know them, which is how I met White. After that I started looking outwards from Glasgow into other cities and trawling about blogs and SoundCloud for tunes I liked and emailing them in hope for the best. There wasn’t really any planning. It was more about trying to blag my way through it! [laughs] I think I almost know what I’m doing now, but at the start I really didn’t. That’s a good thing though, that you don’t really need to know exactly what you’re doing, you just need to throw yourself into it. You’ll figure it out!
For anyone out there thinking of starting their own PR company, would you have a piece of advice for them?
Just do it! If you find a band that you like, then set up an email address and pretend that you’re a company. It’s a very easy thing to start up, as opposed to starting up another business where you’re selling clothes or craft beer, you need money to do these things, but you don’t need to have a budget to start up a PR company. People aren’t paying for your assets, they’re paying for your knowledge of how things in music work. It’s a very easy thing to get going, because there’s no fixed costs, there’s no big investment. As long as you’ve got a laptop and a smartphone, then you can do it. There aren’t as many barriers to enter to music industry as you’d think. It will take a while to plug away and start getting good work, but to start out, you just have to do it. Have confidence in yourself and go for it.
“There aren’t as many barriers to enter to music industry as you’d think. It will take a while to plug away and start getting good work, but to start out, you just have to do it.”
Exactly! Since we’re at The Great Escape, which is a festival dedicated to new music, I wanted to ask you what do you think the appeal of going to see these small artists is?
It’s always cool to have a bunch of music around each other. Brighton is already quite a nice place and we’re sitting on the beach just now. There’s three hundred bands playing over the weekend, so for one it’s great to see a band you’ve been listening to online and supporting, and secondly, live music is where the money is, you have to have a good live show to do well. It’s also great for meeting other people in music, not just networking and schmoozing, but meeting other like-minded people. Britain is seen as quite an influential country in music, and The Great Escape seems to be a tangible collection of that happening all at once. Even though London is the epicentre of Britain in general, but also for music, there’s stuff going on all over the country. There was a Creative Scotland showcase yesterday with five or six different Scottish bands and it was rammed to the gunnels with Scottish people and otherwise. It’s great because it shows that other parts of the country have music to give. Bands come from all over to play this and it’s a cool thing for everybody who like tunes, who wants to hang out, have a beer and watch bands.
For my last question, who is your recommended must-see act at The Great Escape festival?
I tried to see Seramic, but I couldn’t get in, so I would have recommended that. Also Muna, and Man of Moon. Anna of the North, which is something that’s been bubbling around for a while now, but hasn’t made that jump yet, so it will be cool to see her live and hear more of her songs. You know, a lot of bands and artists will have one or two amazing songs online, that hundreds and thousands of people will check out, but if they don’t have the well-oiled machine of live shows, then you wonder if they can become a career artist. It will be interesting to see people like that who you’ve listened to so many times online, but seeing them in person is a way to justify it.