5 years ago today, I posted this image on Instagram with a single word caption:
I now think it needs more of an explanation than just "Boom".
What you are looking at is a contract between myself and an "artist development" agency called Downtown Artists to record an EP in exchange for £2,950. Paid from me to them, to clarify.
The story starts a few months earlier, when my then-girlfriend released a single which she had recorded with this company. I felt like I wasn't going anywhere with my music career and I was a little jealous that I didn't have this opportunity. She broke up with me around a month later. She didn't state this as a reason for the breakup but it definitely didn't help.
Releasing a song, as I now know, doesn't guarantee that people will listen to it or that you'll make money from it but at the time I was secretly hoping that her single wouldn't get in the charts, which I thought was a real possibility.
A lot of things went relatively badly in my life around that time and I had to temporarily withdraw from university. As I sat in my room feeling depressed, I searched for Downtown Artists and applied for an audition. The application form only wanted a name, music genre and contact details. I received a call 2 days later offering me an audition in London that Sunday. I was excited that they were giving me this opportunity, despite the fact that they didn't reference any of the songs on my YouTube channel or Soundcloud which I included in the free text part of the application.
Sunday came and I travelled to London for what I thought would be a make-or-break weekend - I also planned to try to win my ex back at Comic Con by buying a morphsuit and winning her over again without her seeing my face or, failing that, letting her see how bad I was feeling without her. I was neglecting eating, reaching the lowest weight I had been in several years, I had slept very little that week and I still had that facial hair that she didn't like. It made sense at the time. Depression and desperation don't mix well.
I got to the studio at 11:50 for my 12:00 audition. They turned me away and told me to wait until 12. At 12, they let me in, sat me down in their reception area and gave me a form to fill in. They wanted me to fill in my name, contact details, music genre and to name 3 artists who influence me. Why I couldn't have done this before 12 I don't know.
I was then led to Studio 1 - a big room with a big mixing desk and a mic set up in the middle. Not in a vocal booth, just in the middle of the room. The guy in the room shook my hand before reading something from a piece of paper so fast that I couldn't properly hear what he was saying. I heard the words "contribution" and 4 digits but wasn't completely sure what that meant. Either way, I was too starry-eyed to think about it. A company with a recording studio this fancy wanted to hear me perform! It was starting to happen!
They wanted me to sing one song into the mic, which they would record and make a final decision on with the producers at the company. Apparently 200 people were auditioning for 4-5 spots this weekend, so the pressure was on. They were expecting me to sing a capella but I asked if I could play my mandolin as backing, which the guy allowed. He didn't set up another mic for it though, which was odd.
I sang my song and he started to listen back to it, saying it was good and that they would be in touch with me soon.
I went to Comic Con straight after. Things were awkward between me and my ex but I got the closure I felt I needed and in a showing-off sort of way said "I'm in London because I had an audition with Downtown". I don't think she gave much reaction to that.
I went back to Coventry the following day and got a call on the Tuesday. It was Downtown:
Downtown Guy: Hey, I'm calling about your audition, do you think you've got it?
Me: I'm not sure, you tell me
DG: Well, we had a lot of auditionees for only 4 spaces... And we'd like to offer you one!
I was ecstatic, if you can imagine that. They wanted me to come back to the studio on the following day, hear some more of my songs and discuss our next steps.
So the 19 year old hopeful headed to London holding just a mandolin and an iPod with a home made backing track to meet with a studio executive. I played and sang 3 more songs in their office on the top floor with enthusiasm. The exec seemed to enjoy it.
We then got down to business. He asked me how many songs I had ready to record. I said I could put together up to 15. He suggested that I pick my best 4 and record a 4 track EP because the albums they record here are 9 tracks. I was confused, but agreed.
He then dropped the bomb. Recording this EP would cost me £2,950, with the first non-refundable instalment of £480 to be paid at the end of the meeting to formally reserve the "place" I had been awarded.
In a classic bait-and-switch manoeuvre, the bait had been switched. My mouth dried up and my pulse quickened. I asked if there was a cheaper option and he said that recording 2 singles would be £1,800 but it wouldn't be a product that they could market.
Sitting back and thinking, I realised that I had £3,000 saved. It was just sitting there. I could trade it for the only way I knew to fulfil my dream.
And so an impulse purchase was made.
I signed the contract.
I asked the admin person who took my payment if this was a scam and she said no.
I posted the picture of my signature on Instagram but omitted everything leading up to it. My friends, none the wiser, congratulated me. It felt hollow.
When my first recording session came around, I met my producer and he said he hadn't heard my audition. I asked him about if everyone paid here or if there were tiers of artists and I happened to be in the tier that they didn't want to take a financial risk on and he said that everyone paid there.
The recording itself went very well. I learned a lot about recording processes from my producer and we both enjoyed the experimental nature of a lot of the song ideas I brought with me. Quote from him: "I like working on your songs because it's a chance to just mess stuff up".
Outside of my work with the producer, I'm not sure exactly what development I got as an artist.
Recording finished in September 2015. A long process of promotional preparations and track mix revisions followed. I covered this in a video I made.
After my suspicions that this company, twice rebranded, was funded mostly by package purchases from clients rather than the percentages of sales and deals made, I decided to completely detach myself from them.
Another decision I had to make was naming the EP. My placeholder name was The Incredible Falling Boy after a short video I made when I was 12 but at some point I decided that I, in contrast to the company I worked with, wanted to be transparent about the things I've done because the truth is always so much more spectacular than anything you could make up.
And so the EP, released by my self-owned label Tolerable Music on 22nd June, will be called Impulse Purchase.
(I could say "Boom" here but I feel like the moment has already passed)