“If you can self finance a good recording, good publicity, good distribution and good aesthetics then there is no reason you shouldn’t do it yourself,” notes Tim Hyland, lead singer of English band Real Life Charm.
The music industry has changed. Long gone are the days when a successful musical career was wholly defined by which musical label you were signed to. Far from being “employed” musicians, there is now a stark rise in DIY records, as artists rely on their own creativity, skills and the power of the internet to build and promote their work, often completely self financed.
A recent study by John Oszajca, one of the front runners looking at independent music production, highlighted that from his sample of over 10,000 musicians, 82% of these artists were unsigned, with only 2% signed to a major label. This is not to say artists do not want to be signed by labels; it is just becoming increasingly difficult. It illustrates the reality of the music industry today as many artists struggle to get by, having to run different lives on the side of their music to keep their passion alive.
Real Life Charm are one of these bands, though far from being restricted by their current lack of a label, they are embracing it, allowing the freedom it enables to fuel a whirlpool of creativity. Lead singer Tim Hyland gave us an insight into life as an unsigned band.
So who makes up Real Life Charm?
RLC is made up of 8 artists who all contribute to the final product in one way or another. We like to describe ourselves as a collective, as we hope to bring in other art forms and talents as we progress and popularise. So, I sing, write songs, play guitar, conceptualise the records and make films. Adam Avery is my creative soulmate and so conceptualises with me and illustrates our “aesthetics”. Narayan O’Hanlon plays every instrument under the sun (mainly violin on the first record), helps with the concepts, the technical aspects of the live show, the animation and uses a lot of electronic influences which helps define our sound. Jason Naylor and George Welsh are our percussionists. Jason uses organic sounding drums, where as George builds his via an electronic sound. Frank Walker plays piano and is our producer. He’s our “in house” engineer and producer and creates everything you hear. Scott plays bass and builds the websites, and finally Dan Fretwell is our last splash of bright paint on our otherwise busy canvas. He plays lead guitar and writes the songs with me and is very much my musical soul mate. So, there’s a lot going on.
When did you form and how did it come about?
We were all in previous projects and they all began breaking up around the same time. I was so shell shocked and disappointed about the last project coming to an end that the next day, me, Jason and Dan began building a new band of old friends to join us for a practice that weekend; Jason’s friends George and Frank with my friends Scott and Narayan. We all clicked and thought we could really venture out on something special. I always had the idea of being a band with no particular “image” and instead, much like Gorillaz, have a whole false identity all together. Adam is my best friend and the best illustrator I know, so it was a no brainier to get him to be involved.
In terms of production, all of your work is self produced yes? You are not signed to any musical label?
We currently self produce absolutely everything “in house”. Even down to organising our own events and shows. We have yet to sign to a label, despite a few sniffs here and there.
How does that work and why did you take this decision to produce it all yourself?
It’s partly because we had no other choice, but it’s also incredibly satisfying to know that when you’re being played on the radio or having front page spotlight features that it is all YOUR own doing. I’ve been in bands before where we had gone out for dinner with labels and were promised the world and walked away with only a bit of dirt under the finger nails. It’s a confusing, incestuous industry. My step dad introduced me to all these DIY punk bands from when he was younger, like Crass, who essentially done it all themselves in the most extreme way. So, I’m aware of the pros and cons of the DIY ethics and probably subconsciously influenced by that period of my life where I did nothing but listen to those bands. However, if we were offered something which made us financially secure and allowed us to continue doing what we are doing, then I would happily oblige.
Saying that, I think as we’ve got so much talent in our collective it would be stupid to consider asking anyone else to record us, or film us, or illustrate for us. We also have social networking and technology on our side, as self distributing is now a fairly cheap, easy process. We publish all of our music online and it allows us to gain a fan base otherwise unreachable in other circumstances.
A lot of bands seem to be adopting this DIY approach these days. Do you think this is becoming a more common trait in the music industry?
I do, but I’m not one of these guys who think labels are the devil and if you sign on the dotted line then you deserve to be hung and quartered. I do think labels have lost a little bit of power now music has become more accessible and widespread. The DIY ethics have been strife ever since someone realised you could make and distribute your own record. It’s an incredibly useful and boastful asset to a lot of different bands and works well for most who undertake it. I think it gives the artist more confidence knowing that there are success stories in that category and if labels never reach out, that they can still find success – which was pretty unheard of before the internet became so massively popular. I think a lot the DIY attitude comes down to the labels not wanting to reach out and develop artists as much as they used to. Bands and artists are either rushed or not considered “the right package” and so a lot of label flops have occurred. In turn, this makes labels cautious and more inclined to sign a “quick buck” hyped artist and so a lot of actual, genuine, wonderful talent falls under the radar. If said artist has the gall, the passion and the drive to do it themselves – then usually a success story is bred. The only thing is finance. If you can self finance a good recording, good publicity, good distribution and good aesthetics then there is no reason you shouldn’t do it yourself. If they continue this, then you can find a self sustaining living – if you get popular enough, then the likeliness is you could probably sign a record contract anyway.
How have you supported yourself thus far if you are not “employed” so to speak? Do you run other jobs on the side in order to fund the things you actually want to do?
A lot of us have our own jobs on the side to finance certain aspects of the band, as well as ourselves. So far, we haven’t had to finance an awful lot – except self distribution, props for music videos and driving to and from the studio. But, it’s about progression and taking steps with each EP/album, so with the next record there will be more to finance. We hope with each single, we are taking an extra step towards becoming financed by our collective, but it’ll be a long road. On the side, Adam and I do freelance work in illustration and film respectively. So, whilst working on our own personal projects we will also undertake others. It allows us to grow and practice our crafts and it’s hard to complain when you’re doing something you love. Frank is a studio technician, which again, is in his field. Narayan works for an interactive media company in London, which again, helps his craft. So, most of us do get financial gain from our own craft, it is just about wanting to continue that and exclusively make our own product to be able to make a living.
What success so far has the band received?
In terms of what we want to achieve, minimal – but for a project which has only been about for 5 months, a good amount. We have had mass blog exposure, which has been very nice. Big blogs such as indie shuffle and a music blog yea from Toronto have all featured us, which led to our first single “Freud” reaching 7000 plays. Then ‘amazing radio’ discovered us, who played us and then spotlight featured us on their homepage. BBC introducing are big fans and we hope to blossom that relationship in the near future. All in all, we’ve had good exposure for a band who haven’t tried to get good exposure.
And what are the future plans?
Well, we are currently conceptualising and writing our next record/project. It’s 10x more ambitious than our last and we are hoping for it to coincide with our first live performance. We are going to put on our own shows in art galleries and empty spaces. I’m currently writing a film, which will hopefully coincide with the release of our next record. It’ll be a larger version of what we’ve just done with our last record – hopefully, our exposure will extend further than blog exposure and we get more radio play. There’s a lot of big plans in the making, it’s just about executing them well and ensuring we can self finance it all ourselves.