worriedaboutsatan are Gavin Miller and Tom Ragsdale, 2006 / 2007 Leeds College of Music Production Alumni and not-so-easily-labelled experimental duo; a band who despite finding success in their music, have often found that they don’t “fit” within the traditional confines of the industry.
The issues borne of not fitting neatly in a box have certainly raised some challenges for the band in terms of label support, good PR advice and finding management who are on the same page. So in the absence of support from the machine, worriedaboutsatan decided to forge their own path, instead cultivating a DIY approach at the very heart of everything they do.
Their path has led to some sage wisdom about the music industry. Here we speak to Gavin Miller about doing things your own way, and key lessons for survival in the business…
Be nice to people
It’s refreshing to hear that someone from any industry’s key piece of advice to succeed is –be nice to people. Sounds simple, right? Well it’s the most effective thing, according to Gavin:
“Tom and I have worked really hard - it’s taken us years to build a base of contacts in the industry, from bloggers and journalists to promoters, agents and labels. The key really is to show up to things. Go to gigs and shake hands with promoters. Take a CD to give out. Put a big smile on your face, and just be nice - that’s all it takes. I think we’re known as two, down to earth, normal guys in a band – we’ll work on projects with other people, lend a hand.”
Being nice, down to earth and likeable certainly doesn’t mean being a pushover though. “Some people take advantage of niceness – but if someone is being unreasonable, tell them. If that doesn’t work – just go your own way. You don’t need to slag them off, and you don’t need to keep going back to them asking for help either. Just shake hands, keep your dignity and part ways.”
Get your business head on
As simple as Gavin might make it sound, there are definite pros and cons to the DIY approach. There’s time and effort involved – it’s a slow-burner, a labour of love. There are certain costs to bear too, so it’s vital you approach each decision with your best business head on;
“We always have fans of the band asking ‘will that be coming out on vinyl?’ and we usually reply –‘no it’s too expensive! I can show you my bank balance - it’s off!’ With anything like that you’ve got to consider who will buy it. You have to strap your business head on.”
On the subject of who is buying the music, Gavin has some strong opinions; “You can’t give stuff away for free. Yes you’ve got to entice people into the band, give away little freebies, but it’s important to know where the line is without de-valuing your music. You can charge a little bit without taking liberties. Your music is worth something. Not everyone is going to like it, but the people who do will want to chip in and help you.”
Don’t work with people who don’t get it
Whilst it’s fantastic to have proper management in place who understands you as an artist, it’s not always the way of things. worriedaboutsatan have had more than their fair share of navigating through advice that just didn’t work for them;
“We’ve had managers in the past who we had to stop working with because they wanted us to be something we were not. They wanted us to go down that route of being “flavour of the month” and get on Hype Machine and similar blogs. That would have been great but we just knew that we weren’t that kind of band – it wasn’t the right thing for us.”
Despite being hammered to go down a specific route, worriedaboutsatan were resolute in the approach they wanted to take and had to cut ties – but in their trademark polite manner; “If it turns out that we can’t work with someone we just shake hands and walk away.”
If in doubt, do it yourself
Feeling like the “odd ones out” in Leeds, worriedaboutsatan took matters into their own hands and started their own promotions company, ‘This Is It Forever’. Gavin explains that this was borne out of frustration as much as entrepreneurship; “As far as scenes went, it was either indie/post-rock or dance/techno and there was nothing in the middle. We fit neither really. For labels, you’re either a post-rock band or you’re electronica, or a techno DJ. You can’t blur the lines,” sighs Gavin. “I thought it was really weird, but it’s just the way it goes I suppose.”
With the shortcomings of label support at the forefront of their minds, they decided to evolve the promotions company into a label for their own projects and those of friends, too; “We had actually started another project at that point called Ghosting Season, which was a bit more techno based, and that was the first thing we released on the new label. We both had solo stuff so we thought that might be a good avenue to keep it all in house. From there it grew; some of our friends came on board and then it kept growing and growing.
For our latest record, we got distribution for the CD and proper distribution for the digital, so it gets out there a bit more. We didn’t pay a PR agency as we had done in the past, so it took a lot of work. In hindsight it was a lot harder than we were expecting! It’s slow-going, but it is nice to push things that little bit further.”
Don’t be afraid to reach out
Gavin was recently involved in curating music for HyperNormalisation – an exciting film created by the BBC, which depicts the inexplicable nature of current events. Gavin became part of it by reaching out to the director, Adam Curtis; “Whilst writing for Drowned in Sound, I pitched an idea to the editor that I’d like to interview Adam Curtis about how he curates music for his documentaries, which is always really interesting.”
After some avid searching, Gavin made contact with Curtis – and was delighted when he agreed to be interviewed. Obviously, Gavin’s interest and affinity with Curtis’ music choices for the film must have made an impact – as Curtis got back in touch a couple of months later asking for some help curating music.
“Adam is really interested and up on his music, but I think no one had quizzed him on it like that before so he wanted to explore it. I sent him a big .zip file of tunes that I thought he might like.”
What started as an interview pitch turned into a relationship which saw Gavin and Adam working together for years. “At this stage he’d done a few smaller films, like Charlie Brooker’s end of year show - 2014 Wipe that had some of our music on it. Then one day he emailed me saying he was doing HyperNormalisation, and asked if he could use some of our tracks – to which we said ‘Definitely!’”
A fortuitous suggestion has led to worriedaboutsatan being renowned as the ‘Adam-Curtis-HyperNormalisation-band’ – certainly not the worst moniker, and one that definitely gained them some new fans and some unbeatable, self-made PR; “The film came out in October 2016, and as we released our latest album in November the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Because we were doing the press ourselves it ended up being the greatest bit of PR we’d ever had.”
So there you have it – worriedaboutsatan have clearly learned some vital lessons by taking the DIY approach. It definitely isn’t the easy quick-fix to success, but it’s certainly one that is satisfying, and could be one of the secrets to their longevity in this industry…
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