Knocking on soundproofed doors

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

When I first started making music, I could never have dreamed of releasing my own record. But now I have done just that. The first single, Gratitude, tottered into the world like a newborn and very drunk giraffe calf and somehow found welcoming arms. It quickly reached No.4 on the Irish iTunes chart and has racked up more than 16 thousand Spotify streams. It even found itself played numerous times on Canadian radio. I am very grateful. Hashtag Gratitude, as t’were.

Doing things so independently means that I have to do everything that a label would otherwise do. Everything from studio bookings and A&R to sleeve design and marketing. I’ve actually enjoyed it, despite having been frustrated and disheartened by some of it. I learn from each step – and each misstep – and hope I can do better when it comes to the next release.

One basic truth is that I am entitled to nothing. All I can do is ask. Some of it is finding out what, when thrown, will stick to the wall. While I have somehow stumbled upon the door handle for Canadian radio, I’m still knocking fruitlessly on Irish radio’s soundproofed door.

To reiterate: I'm entitled to nothing and I won't forget that. I’m not the only hopeful releasing new music. Expectations must be managed. There's no ready support to be had, for instance, from LGBTQ media. Our community magazine, GCN, has undergone an extensive editorial overhaul that lifts it away from the kinds of music reviews and features it used to carry. The scene has changed to such an extent over the past decade that anything I used to know has utterly changed. My age certainly doesn’t help either, but life moves on. Suck it up, babes, and try not to crack a hip.

In a way, that levels the playing field. While I'm out there among every other Irish hopeful vying for attention, I'm insured against accusations of gay nepotism. And of course, the other thing I have to remember is that not everyone is going to like what I do. But I still have to believe in what I do. It helps that I've had some objective external (and exclusively international) validation. There’s the unexpected support of those lovely Canuck broadcasters for starters. The incredible endorsement of the very respected New York producer/songwriter/music historian/label executive, Vinny Vero, was so uplifting. In fact, he loved the track so much, that he invited Hometime (more Seán than me, in fairness) to remix a track by a client band who has enjoyed global success (sorry: we’re sworn to secrecy beyond that). Not forgetting, of course, the sweet words of Alison actual Moyet, who has been an idol since 1982.

So why has Irish media been such a hard nut to crack? The shows that play unsigned Irish acts seem to focus on alternative music – and Gratitude is unapologetically poppy. Mainstream pop is for the mainstream shows… but those shows have the Top 40 to play if they’re to appease advertisers.

Irish sites and social media are alight with (mostly) green-hued logos fronting promises of unwavering support for Irish music. Yet, those preferences for alternative music still seem dominant. I got a nicely worded rejection from a heavily Irish branded station telling me that my track “doesn’t fit our radio format and would be more suitable for another station.” While that could simply mean "we don't like the song," their very Irish playlist is all label-signed guitar-based acts. The search for “another station” to which I might be “more suitable” continues. All tips this way please!

One bright green bulb burns at the end of the tunnel. An organisation that numbers heavy hitters like RTE and a major international entertainment company among its partners promises to professionally deliver one track instantly to the decision makers for review and/or airplay. For the fee (not small: hundreds of euro), you get an email template to fill with your blurb. That will be the first of three emails sent on your behalf by the organisation instantly to the inboxes of those who matter. That doesn't mean it will be listened to and there can certainly be no promises that the emails will translate into airplay or reviews.

Understandably, the organisation won’t share their email list with clients: they wouldn’t have a business otherwise. When the fee expires with the third email, they urge the client to follow up directly by phone with any of the people who might have listened to your track (if any of them did, that is). Friends' experience suggests it's most likely to be the smaller regional stations rather than the national big hitters. Again, the "alternative" preference prevails.

One musician friend who has been releasing music internationally for more than 20 years tells me that chasing radio play is a fool’s game. If you’re not signed to a big label, you'll be lucky to get one or two plays at non-peak hours, but that won't translate into sales or help much in raising your profile. Spotify streams, he tells me, are the way forward. And guess what? As with radio, there are services willing to take your money to generate streams… Sigh.

So you'll forgive me if I start to wish for a casting couch whose owner has daddy issues. But I’ll soldier bravely on, intrepid old trouper that I am. My social media will get noisy again soon, as The Sound Of Heartbreak will soon be zipped into its best frock and sent to knock on all the same doors.

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