There are many discussions in the music industry regarding Spotify’s impact, on whether it is making it harder or easier for music artists to make a good living from their craft. So the questions are, is it possible as an independent artist/acts, to make a decent income from Spotify and if so, how?
As an independent act, the Daydream Club is showing what is possible, having amassed over 100 million streams and generating a solid income. And with this, the duo have been able to take 2 years from gigs, and focus on their music and nurture their online presence.
In the lead up to performing at the up and coming Takeover Festival, I spoke to Adam and Paula Pickering over a Google Hangout whilst we were all in Covid19 lockdown. We could have continued our discussions for the whole day, but we managed to focus on a few key questions that could give us all some words of wisdom.
Q: Where does the inspiration come from for your songs?
Paula: We’re quite fortunate to never be short of inspiration. We developed an approach of working in more of a project basis, meaning each release has its own sound or genre which brings different methods of approach for inspiration.
Adam: If we’re working on an indie-folk guitar based song then I would find some riff on the guitar that we like and then we’ll start hashing out lyrics and melodies together. With our ambient stuff that’s more of a production approach to writing, finding sounds and then contorting them into something that inspires ideas. Our piano projects are often based around improvisation; My personal approach is to try to establish a motif early, remember it, develop it and then return to the original motif, this can really make an improv feel like a planned song.
Paula: To sum up, most of our work is inspired by the sound or tool it’s being created on.
Q: Tell us a bit more on how an Open Mic changed your directions with music?
Adam: When we first started out we were doing electronic, synth-based music. Around this time we happened to do an open mic night at The Musician (in Leicester, UK) with just an acoustic guitar and our vocal harmonies. The warm response was so encouraging that we decided to write and release an entire acoustic album.
Paula: It helped us make the decision to have our first official release be a bare bones and honest representation of us; a no frills account. I think it was quite brave of us really but there’s something about the sound of stripped back acoustic music that worked in our favour for our debut album.
Q: How do you know when an arrangement/production is finished.
Adam: That’s a difficult one because there’s so many ways to arrange around the bare bones of a song. On our deluxe album ‘Lux’ we actually released the original indie-folk tracks alongside electronic remixes of each original track. I know a lot of people struggle with knowing when something is finished or when to stop playing around with the production, our advice is just commit and release it so that you can move onto the next project.
Paula: It’s also good to run it by another ear. I know some artists that do a kind of soft release with Soundcloud to gauge the public response. Ultimately you’ve got to be proud of it first and foremost though.
Q: Describe your different recording processes
Paula: Our most successful record is our album ‘Piano Project’ which was actually the most simple recording process. We booked a church hall for 4 hours, set up 2 SE1a Condenser Mics on the piano with a laptop, started recording into Logic and improvised on the piano for 2 hours straight.
Adam: At the same time Paula filmed everything on our DSLR, recording the moment the album was being created. Those ten tracks were the only takes. We managed to capture something quite special with that album. ‘Ambient Project // Sound Asleep’ was completely different. It was a very production heavy process which involved hours of playing around with sounds and twisting them until they’re unrecognisable from the preset. I’m a huge fan of Native Instruments, all of their plug-ins are very inspiring.
Paula: On that record we wanted all of the vocals to sound other worldly and to blend as part of the music so we reversed them all, the tricky part of this was trying to write the part one way but ensuring it will work as intended when it’s reversed.
Q: With your current level of success, what can you attribute to the success & what are some key learnings?
Paula: I don’t think it’s down to just one thing we’ve done but a whole number of things. Research is a massive part of our success, we spend hours researching potential opportunities, suitable blogs for features, platforms that will be useful and things like that. As an example, around the release of our debut album ‘Overgrown’, we were big fans of a live music video series called Burberry Acoustic on Youtube which were all beautifully filmed by WLT’s Dave Tree (who we also loved) and we really wanted to do a session with them so we set about researching, managed to find an email and put a lot of effort into constructing the perfect message. Luckily Christopher Bailey (the CEO at the time) liked it and invited us to do a track. From there we managed to build an ongoing relationship with them. I think that’s a really good example of how we’ve managed to get to where we are now, it’s lots of moments like that. It’s been a long road (10 years in the making) and a lot of hard work but we’re still here making a living from music.
Adam: In our time we’ve also experimented with paying for a team of PR, Radio Pluggers, booking agents etc and that didn’t go well for us at all. It cost us a fortune, there were never any guarantees for coverage and we actually found that we got less opportunities than when we worked on our own. It almost pushed us to quit entirely because we were miserable. There are a lot of people out there who are all too happy and able to take advantage of musicians so in our experience the more you can do on your own the better. No one knows your music better or will care more about it than you do.
Paula: We’re big on DIY. Why spend £2,000 on PR and radio pluggers who can’t guarantee coverage when you can research and contact people directly? You could probably put the money to better use elsewhere, like on some new instruments or plugins. It can take some time before you’re able to earn any money from music so don’t be in such a hurry to give it away. If DIY really isn’t for you though and you do decide to use external agents, do your research and contact bands you know and trust for recommendations of people they’ve enjoyed working with and have a good track record.
Q: What are some key events or tipping points for you?
Adam: The Burberry Acoustic opportunity was quite a big tipping point for us. It gave us some great exposure globally which led to more collaborations, a front page feature on YouTube and put us to the top of the charts on Myspace (yeh, we’ve been around that long).
Paula: We also ran a really successful Fan Funding campaign around the release of our album ‘Found’ which involved us doing dedication pictures for everyone who pledged. The organic success of that boosted our Spotify streams up another level with the inclusion on some editorial playlists.
Adam: The decision to create an instrumental piano album that was a complete side step from our existing sound was another big turning point because it opened up another market for us.
Q: Who are your audience? Are they active or passive fans?
Adam: Our fans are kind-hearted, open-minded people, with diverse tastes in music. They’re all really lovely folks that you would be happy to have a drink with. Over the years our interactions have evolved. As we mentioned earlier we did really well on Myspace when that was relevant, then Facebook became the place to be which is when we did our fan funding campaign. Facebook has now made it almost impossible to reach the right people as a page (without having to pay to promote posts) so currently our fans mostly reside as followers within Spotify… I have no doubt that this will change again.
Paula: We’ve always had a Mailing List which is a good, solid method of keeping updated and we have a lot of nice interactions on our YouTube videos which for me has the same feel as when you meet fans at gigs.
Q: Spotify is your good ‘channel’ for your audience and your income, and you are one of the pioneers getting Spotify to ‘work for you’, what have been the key ingredients to your success with Spotify?
Paula: I think a key element is to look for opportunities outside of Spotify, the greater the activity around an artist, the more likely you are to get included on the all important playlists.
Adam: Another crucial factor is utilising the Spotify for Artists platform. This is a brilliant feature for artists that helps bridge the gap between major labels and independent artists. With this you can make sure your profile looks the business with all the right links to your various sites, access to stats for your music and most importantly the ability to pitch new releases to curators for consideration for playlists and for the inclusion on release radar which goes out to all of your followers automatically.
Q: How could you see Spotify (or any other streaming service) improve your reach and connection with listeners and an audience?
Adam: The personlised playlists are a great tool for tapping into new audiences that you might not have reached otherwise. These are playlists that are built algorithmically based on the genre, the mood and instrumentation of your music which is then matched to the tastes of each individual listener.
Q:How have other social networks, online sites & tools helped you guys?
Paula: YouTube is great for providing a place to have a conversation with fans although I wish their payout scheme was fairer per play.
Adam: Sites like Wix or Squarespace are brilliant for taking control of your website yourself, I remember trying to wrap my head around html coding in the early days, I don’t miss that! A good mailing list is always a handy tool, we do ours through Wix and (shameless plug) you can join our mailing through our website.
Q: How has gigging been a part of your journey? And what are your future plans with Gigging?
Paula: We’ve had a love hate relationship with gigging. We enjoy performing but the travelling can take its toll. And it did! That’s one of the reasons we made the decision to stop gigging two years ago. This gave us the time and the energy again to just write and release music which is my favourite part. Adam is a natural performer though so he may disagree with me.
Adam: We were actually getting ready again to tour and we were planning on booking some dates to promote our new album ‘Piano Project // Duets’ when the pandemic hit. I think if the right gigs came along we would consider them but we’re past the days of taking every gig we’re offered.
Quick Facts about the Daydream Club
|Number of songs released||21 Releases, 101 songs|
|Members||Adam Pickering & Paula Pickering|
|Genre(s)||Indie Folk – Ambient – Classical Crossover – Electronic|
|Recommended playlist||On Spotify|
Instruments commonly used
Avalon Acoustic Guitar, Ibanez Electric Guitar,
Korg SV-1, Korg MS2000B, Fender Rhodes Mark 1, Fender Jazz Bass.
|Microphones||SE Electronics SE2200a Dynamic Mic, SE Electronics SE1a|
|DAW||Logic Pro X|
|Studios/Mastering facilities||Home Studio / Self Mastered with iZotope Ozone 7|
|Other technology used||Native Instruments, iLoud Micro Monitors, |
Focusrite Saffire Pro 26 Audio Interface,
ATH-M70x Audio-Technica Headphones.
- Making a living from Spotify: A Talk with the DayDream Club - 19th April 2020
- Music Producers Forum – Supporting the Takeover Music Festival - 5th April 2020
- Producer: Ken Calliat talks about Colbie – Artist Development with ‘little nudges’ - 15th March 2020