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What COVID19 means for the emerging alternative music scene - an interview with the Howlers.
Covid19 and the containment strategies that have rightfully been introduced to combat its spread, have hit the music industry like a tidal wave. Major festivals like Glastonbury, Wide Awake and All Points East have been cancelled, hundreds of gigs postponed, venues temporarily closed and major music events like SXSW shelved, resulting in many losing their jobs. The cancellation/postponement of sporting events, often an active channel for music artists to gain exposure, has also been a major blow for emerging musical talent.
What does this mean for those bands that are just at the beginning of their careers? On the eve of the release of their third single ‘Badlands’, we asked Adam Young, singer/guitarist in the Howlers to quantify how Covid19 has impacted their burgeoning career and find out what can be done to keep what was a buoyant music scene alive.
The Howlers released their debut single ‘La Dolce Vita’ just under a year ago, with the single gaining widespread exposure in established music press such as Clash Magazine, Line of Best Fit and Gigslutz as well as across several blogs and zines, including this one. The single also got 12 weeks of airplay on Jack Saunders Next Wave show on Radio 1, Radio X and BBC Introducing. Their second single Matador followed in November and gained broader exposure via Soccer AM, BT Goals of the week, this weeks Rugby, World Darts Championship, British Airways Inflight Playlist, and was even played during the Champions League Semi Final and Europa League Final.
Under normal circumstances, the band would naturally be expecting Badlands to further springboard their career but have had to come to terms with the impacts of social distancing and the lockdown: ‘Because of the current Covid 19 outbreak, overnight a third of campaign was sunk and another third became uncertain. We are self-releasing and funding this record, but our publisher has been great the whole way through the campaign so far. Unfortunately, all the sync we would usually get has gone out the window, so we’ve had to find other ways to fill the gap that has been left’.
Despite this all Adam remains upbeat; ‘In all honesty, because we are very switched on as a band and we are lucky enough to have a good team around us we’ve managed to soften the blow to us as a band in recent weeks, but it has still had a huge effect on us. We had to postpone our April tour which had shows already sold out or almost sold out so that was a real kick in the teeth. The silver lining is that we upgraded them and were able to reschedule them for a tour in September. We’ve been really fortunate as a band to have support from major radio from day 1, and press such as Clash, and Badlands is already lined up for airplay on Radio 1 which makes all 3 of our releases to debut on the station within 10 months which is incredible for an unsigned band’.
There are however other broader pressures that face the band; ‘Our main income comes from our day jobs which is mainly in service-industry roles, so we’ve had to struggle with that, and right at a time we were committed to this upcoming single, so it’s been a real struggle. Charities like Help Musicians have really helped us though, so we’ve got to give them a big thank you’.
With the live circuit shut off and event coverage eliminated, another channel available to artists to gain exposure is radio. Radio has historically been very supportive of the emerging music scene, but could it do anymore in the current circumstances? Radio has always been kind to us, and we’ve always shown our appreciation and love for the people that have got behind us from Day 1. I don’t think radio can do much more than they are, maybe offering up more live sessions to bands but that’s about it. They’re on tight schedules and there’s a lot of unspoken rules on what makes a track ‘radio worthy’, but Jack Saunders has always fought our corner, John Kennedy as well, even Lammo and Cheryl Waters got behind us recently which was really cool to see. Radio and presenters are actually some of the nicest people in the industry.
There also clearly a great opportunity for the Music Press to support. But what about us, the normal people that consume the music, can we help? It’s a funny old world - people don’t release the power they have as a consumer. Following a bands Spotify, pre-saving and saving their tracks, or adding them to a playlist of yours goes miles. It’s the equivalent of going down to HMV and buying all the copies of the shelf - not financially of course but the principle is the same. The music world is run by computers and tech heads on Mac books – it’s all about streams, likes, saves whatever it may be. The algorithms don’t pick up on it otherwise. You know you could release Live forever or Hey Jude now, but if only 1 or 2 people liked it and saved it, it’s almost as if that track never existed. That’s the power consumers have.
While we all pray for the pandemic to be controlled, it’s unlikely that this will happen quickly and the long terms impact of COVID19 on the music industry are largely unknown at this stage. As you can see by Adam’s comments, there is however a lot of opportunity to make a difference and try to keep the industry alive, whether you work in radio, the music press, or are simply a consumer like me.
Badlands, the new single by The Howlers is out now. You can hear it and save it here
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