On Wednesday, the 29th of July I had the absolute pleasure of hosting the first ever regional FAC artist session at the View Two Gallery in Liverpool in association with award winning promoters, Liverpool Acoustic. Fran Healy (Travis) joined us for an informal chat with a group of local songwriters and musicians
I strongly believe that there’s never been a better time to make music. The industry as was may be struggling, having failed to adapt to the ever-changing digital landscape, but that is not the problem of the next generation of artists. If you are dedicated to your music and willing to make things happen for yourself, without middle men and old-school structures, it’s possible to create a sustainable, long-term career in music by finding the people who enjoy and support what you do and building real and direct relationships with them, off- and online.
There’s a lingering myth from a bygone era that artists are in competition to one-another. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt so far, it’s that having a strong network of like-minded musicians is vital. Being a singer songwriter, especially when you’re a solo artist, can be a very lonely endeavour. The more we exchange experiences and expertise, regardless of where we are in our careers, the better. That’s why I think the FAC drop-in sessions are great. We started them this year in London and I’ve found that having a chat with a very successful, established artist, be it about the creative process or details of management and label contracts, is inspiring and empowering and mutually beneficial for all involved.
Knowing so many great musicians up in Liverpool, I was very excited to bring this event into town. I teamed up with one of my favourite people in the music world, the very lovely Graham Holland of Liverpool Acoustic to make it happen. The View Two Gallery kindly offered us their beautiful space and Fran Healy offered to join us.
On the day, 28 of Liverpool’s best musicians joined us at the Gallery on Matthew Street. Fran kicked off the debate by talking about the early days with the band, recording demos and finding management. The conversation moved onto the difficulty of making business decisions regarding your team, i.e. having to part ways with business relations that aren’t working out or even with band members along the way, finding the right people to work with and pursuing every possible opportunity offered to you, for you never know which one might lead to that “atom of luck” required to get your break.
The music industry may be a very different place now to when Travis started out, however, one thing that is universal and never changes it the ever illusive creative process of writing songs.
Fran shared some great nuggets of wisdom, nuanced with some lovely songwriting metaphors. He referred to himself as lazy and admitted to finding songwriting a struggle at times, but concluded that it was always worth it for that one special song you manage to pick out of the ether every now and then – a feeling shared by many in the room, judging by the knowing smiles and nods as he said this, miming plucking out a single thread out of thin air.
“You need to write 50 songs to get to that one great one”.
As a songwriting tip, Fran suggests sitting at the piano, playing two nice chords over and over with the sustain pedal pushed down until you start hearing the top line melody. If you’re in the zone and play the chords for a long enough period of time, that melody will come to you and, if you’re lucky, it’s a melody that no-one has ever heard before.
Fran stressed how important it was to him personally as a songwriter to find unique melodies that feel new (“I mean, there are a finite number of melodies out there, right?”). Lyrics, Fran confessed, are not the most important thing in his songwriting equation: “The melody is like a mantlepiece and the lyrics should lie easily, like dust, on top of it”. A feeling of a song, he said, has to translate in spite of language.
The conversation moved on towards the balance between staying true to yourself as an artist, yet being adventurous and not too precious about yourself and your music, before moving onto struggles faced by of musicians starting out today and concluding in a musing on the state and future of the music industry.
Fran was endearing and obviously spoke straight from the heart throughout. When I reluctantly interrupted him after the scheduled hour was up, he said ”Oh really? Already? Fuck it, I’ll catch a later train, it’s fine, let’s keep on talking”.
Some fantastic questions were asked, which really helped steer the conversation in interesting directions and I hope everybody in attendance got something out of it.
The night concluded in three live sets from Fabia Anderson, Thom Morecroft and Jez Wing (Echo and the Bunnymen). There was something overwhelmingly powerful about moving from theory to practice – we’d had such a great time talking about music, but when I leaned back to listen to it being created right in front of me, I felt overcome with emotion. Thank you to all three of you, Fabia, Thom and Jez, for sharing your music with us, it was a truly special moment for me and for everybody present.
The FAC (Featured Artist Coalition) aims to give artists a united voice. The FAC host a wide range of events and are a great point of call for info and advice. It’s free to become a member. Established musicians are welcome to become patrons. More info here: www.thefac.org