Matt Johnson – IndieView #9
In this ninth Episode of IndieViews, we are going to chat with the great Singer Songwriter from Chester, United Kingdom.
Ladies and Gentlemen
- More than 130 Releases
- Number two in the charts with a song called ‘Sacred Trust’ and ‘Long After Your Gone’ December 2002.
- Reaching 1 million listeners on Spotify.
- Winning MTV cover of the month 2017.
- Playing The Artful Dodger in London West End version of Oliver Twist the musical.
If we cast your mind back to when you were a kid and a teenager: what are your earliest musical memories?
I joined a theatre group when I was 11, they asked me to sing. I had never sang before! I had no idea what would happen but something just came out and I guess it wasn’t to bad as they offered me a part in the show.
Which was the first album you ever bought?
I can’t remember but it would have been a compilation of pop songs.
Which musicians do you particularly admire and which one do you think influenced your music?
I know this might sound funny but I don’t listen to much music. I like to make music and I’m a big fan of creating stuff. I don’t really have idols and I’ve never been influenced by anyone. The closest thing to an Idol would be Robbie Williams. I like listening to all types music when I get chance especially musicals. I spend so much time making music that I don’t get time to listen. I’ve never been a big fan of any artist.
Which is the best concert that you have been to?
I don’t really like concerts or gigs and I’ve never been to a festival. I find it frustrating, I don’t belong in the audience, my job is to entertain people and not be entertained. I love watching musicians.
What does music mean to you?
Music is who I am, it’s part of me. It’s not a job, not an option or choice.
When did you decide to be a full time musician?
I’ve never had any other job. Never been employed by anyone. Music was just the path I naturally fell on when I was 11 years old and I never tried anything else. It’s all I’ve ever known. Every object I’ve brought and everything I’ve ever paid for has been provided to me by music.
Are you still in love with your profession as musician? How do you keep your enthusiasm always live?
I just wake up everyday and think what can I create to share with the world. I’ll be in music till the day I die so there will be ups and downs, so I try not to worry. I never try to be perfect and just get on with it. There’s no such thing as 100%. When you stop trying to please the music industry gate keepers, doors will open! The public are all that matters.
How do you manage your music life with your “common” life? What is your typical day like?
They’re are the same thing! I literally never stop. I wake up, check emails, head to the studio. I now manage content for 20 other artists with collective stream counts of over 100 million so my day doesn’t have enough hours. I try to take a Sunday off with the family. Go for a walk or just sit together. I listen to a lot of podcasts (so many).
Tell us more about your latest works (album, live tour, new projects).
I never have projects, albums. I just try to release something new around every two weeks. I think the album has gone. Everything I do it just another song, a piece of content. Things don’t last long online and fresh news becomes old very quick. I have goals more so than projects. Such as, get 1 million listeners in 2018, make sure I release at least 30 tracks. Try to collaborate with ‘X’, try to make good business choices and find new ways to monetise my music.
Are you self-taught or have you studied music? You think is important studying music to be a Pro?
Music is about feel, you can be taught to play but you can’t teach creativity. I think some lessons are good to learn basics, chord progressions and some theory. You either have it or you don’t.
Did you keep on studying?
I’m grade 4 on Acoustic guitar (London Collage Of Music RGT) learning grade 5 at the moment. I took grade 1 piano when I was 11 years old. Self taught on piano. Keys are my strongest instrument.
Speaking of culture, which is the last book that you read?
I’ve never read a book. I listen and like audio books. The last book I heard was called ‘The Pumpkin Plan‘.
While you are on the road did you find the time to improve your technical skills on your instruments/vocals? Do you think is it important?
I have not really done a tour yet, I have done tons and tons of paid gig work but nothing of my own for over 10 years. I just can’t be bothered driving up and down the country playing to half empty rooms for nothing, you don’t even need to anymore. I prefer to build my audience online, Facebook Ads, Twitter, Spotify, Apple. When the time is right I will tour but it will only be when the demand is there and I can make a profit and have the budget to deliver a great show.
Can you describe the process you go through when you are writing a song? What inspires you to write?
I struggle with inspiration, I think everyone does. I hate writing music for myself, I only want to write music if people will hear it or I’ll write stuff for my audience, what I think they want to hear from me. My focus has only been to build an audience online and then release original stuff. I have done some original music in the last few years that has been streamed over 1 million times on Spotify but it’s not been my focus over the last few years. I see so many musicians releasing music to no one and I just can’t do that. I wanted to hit 1 million monthly Spotify listeners before I considered releasing my own stuff, I’m just about there so an original EP is on the cards for 2019. It also takes a large cash investment to be heard. Marketing music is just like a tin of beans in a shop, if the PR and packaging isn’t right, no 1 will ever taste the goods.
Album/Ep/Singles any favorite way to release your music? and why?
I release music via my own label Tristar Records and I have direct deals with all the DSP services so I’m sort of my own aggregator!
How do you plan an album production and his release?
I never plan much, I find the best plan is no plan. Just make something, get it out, correct as you go along! Songs find there own audiences and lives. The biggest set back to any artist is just trying to actually put something out, finish a mix! It’s all about 80%, aim for 80% and you’ll get a lot further, much faster. You can never choose what your famous for. I can guarantee that the song you love most will not be liked by your fans and the one song you hate that makes you feel sick with embarrassment will be your biggest hit! I use an outside mixer and mastering engineer now. This helps to speed up productivity and stops me chasing my arse with mix 1, mix 2, mix 3, mix 4 and so on. Get it done, finish it and get it out! Everyday it stays on your hard drive another fan is lost and the internet just got that little bit more saturated!
When you release an album how much is important for you the tracklist? And the time between the tracks?
I would not care. I would never release an album, it’s completely pointless. The algorithms of music services won’t support this. Who wants to listen to 12 tracks by one person in a row? I target the mass not the hard core music fan. I would just release one song at a time then release all 12 tracks at the end as a compilation. People are short on time now and have busy lives being distracted by apps on their phones. I consider playlist order, placement more than track order on an album.
Do you produce your records by yourself or do you prefer to have some extra ears or a producer to guide you?
I do it myself. To many opinions are distracting and get in the way. I know exactly what I want and what my audience wants to hear. I like to have an external mixer and mastering only.
How did you choose the musicians for your album?
I love musicians…..I chose people based on how fast they can deliver my files. Turnaround time is priority. I edit the tracks so much and move stuff all over the place. I have a bunch of reliable amazing players so I just go to whoever is quickest.
Did you mix and master your album/tracks in different ways for digital and physical releases?
I don’t release physical music. I want people to go to Spotify or Apple. This is best for my career. The more contraction I get on Spotify the more Spotify will promote me.
Are your records only digital or also physically distributed?
What types of promotion and marketing have you found to work best for an independent artist?
Facebook ads, make music people want. Make music for people to use in their lives for a wedding or funeral or party, a message to their loved ones. I don’t market much, I just release a lot of content.
There are some music industry analysts who argue that the CD is dying. What percentage of your sales are physical CDs and what percentage of your sales are in other forms (e.g. online)? Do you see that changing significantly in the future?
I don’t sell any physical products so I’m 100% digital. Whatever your opinion is I’m sure we can agree that digital is the future so I’m concentrating on that.
How do you normally promote your latest releases? Do you use only social networks or also other ways?
I just keep announcing stuff on socials. I release so much that I can’t really have a plan for each release. I find that my music promotes it’s self as my reach is really good. I also get supported a lot by Spotify and Apple.
Do you use Facebook/twitter/instagram sponsored post for promotion? You think could be they helpful?
Sometimes but not much. They can help but you need to be accurate with your targeting. If you think of your music as a can of beans and ask yourself how would you get people to pick it on the shelf in a supermarket? Branding is important. I do find that artists expect everything for free sometimes, I think people should invest money in to their career. I was born with nothing, I have funded everything I do from music, you need to take risks. When I first started I spent thousands on Facebooks ads to get it going. Everyone can do it. Just get a job or do some cover gigs and spend that money on PR. Most people are to scared to actually invest their own money constantly moaning about spending money without guarantees….welcome to the music business.
Have you a mailing list? You think is a “must have” as most people in music business said?
I do have one but I don’t really use it. It’s good to have but most people get their news online. I’m on the fence about this one.
Have you a favorite way to distribute your album?
Yes, I use myself haha. This way I make sure the job is done properly as all aggregators have issues and often get things wrong.
Do you think that, with all the digital alternatives, radio airplay still has an effect on the success of a release? And how does an independent artist get radio airplay?
Radio is very good. It can still break an act. It can influence the Spotify and Apple editorial teams and vice versa. Independent artists stand no chance on UK radio. We don’t even have regional radio stations anymore except local BBC stations. Will radio be here in 10 years??? Not so sure. I think the future of radio is more talk shows like LBC in the UK. A UK radio DJ cannot even play the songs he or she wants. Things will need to change if it stands a chance of lasting.
What do you think about streaming services like Spotify and Pandora?
Amazing. They have completely changed my life. I owe everything to Spotify.
Did you work with booking agencies or you manage your own gigs?
I do my own.
How do you promote a gig in a new town/country/region?
Not at that point yet but it will be online PR. Facebook ads most likely.
Organizing a tour could be really expensive especially if you travel with a band far away from your country, how do you manage everything to earn and don’t loose money?
A calculator is always good. If you’r very worried about touring and losing money then you’re most likely not ready to tour or have no fans. 5 people in a band could all work a job and use that money. Money is not that hard to find, people just need to get motivated, risk money and make it your priority. Fuel is cheap, accommodation can be cheap. Playing a wedding can earn a band $1000 even more for a night. Do 10 weddings = $10,0000 in a band pot. Use your talent to make money. Don’t be too proud or think you’r too good for something. I’ve done whatever it takes to make money, I’ve played every gig you can imagine. I once played a Christmas party in a prison!!! Invest in yourself.
Every time you play your music you are giving a big part of you to your crowd, do you feel tension before a concert? If yes how do you manage it?
I’ve never really felt tension. Maybe I’m lucky like that. Being rehearsed is always a positive.
Which is for you the difference between a big audience or a small one?
Small is intimate and most likely more fun, not as profitable. Big crowds can be more distant. It depends on the venue, style of music. Big venues can be more profitable.
Each of us has some expectations before a show, which are yours? What would you love to “have back” during a concert or what you already receive?
If the audience say ‘that was great, I’ll go again’ that means I’m happy! A good sound man, lighting guy would be a bonus.
Have you a daily business routine? Checking/writing E-mail, phone calls, create new connections?
This is half my day. I’m always answering emails, calls.
Which percentage of your time is dedicated to: “Creating Music”, “Promotion”, “Organizing gigs/tour”, “Studying”, “Reading”, “Listening Music”
I would say it’s 50% music 50% business.
Do you think that the Artist status is compatible with the entrepreneurship? Do you think that an Indie artist needs to be also an Entrepreneur?
If you’re an artist that isn’t on social media, learning about business then just forget it or you need a manager and must be prepared to give a % away. Social media is not a choice for any music person, brand or business of any type.
As an artist, which are the biggest differences between being represented by a major label or being representing by yourself?
Major labels can help provide an infrastructure, they can fund things you are unable to or to scared to. They are a bank that lends money based on talent and not your weekly salary. You will only make money on a major if you blow up big time. I think you’re best making noise first on your own. Build up to a major. You may get so far that you won’t even want or need a major. A label is not your answer to success. Indie artists are making 7 figures online now without a label. Platforms like Spotify, Apple and YouTube love indie artists more than label acts in my opinion.
Which PRO (Performing Rights Organization) are you affiliate with and why did you choose that?
PRS, PPL, BMI
Did you use any other service to collect your royalties?
As a full time musician I immediately realized that I can’t only work as musician and I should extend my expertise in different fields. So, I became a Sound Engineer, composer, producer too. Did you also develop different fields? Which one? What do you like and do not like about each one?
Everything you’ve mentioned involves music. If you’re involved in any part of the music chain then you’re in music, it’s not about what you like or what you don’t like. It’s simply something you must do as part of your music career. The definition of ‘Musician’ I think has changed. The only field is ‘Music’. This could be anything from playing a guitar to editing a photo for your twitter profile. This is what the music business is now.
You own some successful Spotify playlists, do you have any suggestion for an independent artist about this new way of promotion?
Don’t pretend to like or listen to a playlist you want to get on, I get 25 emails a day all saying the same thing. Why would someone like me playlist a song I don’t know? My priority is the people who listen to the playlist not the artist. I don’t want them to be bored listening to things they don’t know. My job is not to break acts. That’s what record labels do and that’s what I do for the people I work with. I discover music via Shazam, I might hear something on a Facebook feed or hear something on radio and ad it. My playlists are not there to break unknown acts. You, the artist needs to do that for yourself. Where is your VEVO video and marketing plan? How much are you investing in your music? Musician are always searching for someone to provide a platform, the answer to all their dreams. You are you’re own boss. Sign up to Facebook ads and get going, stop dreaming and make the needle move! All I hear is people want to ‘Make it’ be ‘successful’ what does that even mean???? Define your goals.
Listen to Matt’s Music and the other IndieViews Artists on our Spotify Playlist:
Do you have any suggestions for a young musician that is thinking to start with his carrer?
Yes, stop thinking and get on with it. Stop trying to be perfect. Whatever you do now you will think is rubbish in ten years. An artists biggest barrier is themselves.
DISCOVER MORE ABOUT MATT:
- Website: www.mjofficial.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mattjohnsonofficial
- Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/mjofficial