Calum Jones is a Scottish singer/songwriter, based near Inverness. He’s 19yr but has already released his 3rd album, ‘Mirror Glass’.
What makes Calum stand out is that he lives the dream of most musicians – he makes his living from music. Here he explains how he does it and some great advice for other aspiring artists.
The Small Shows Are Important
A vital part of Calum’s career is his live show. He doesn’t have a booking agent and learnt some great tips for bands who want to play festivals.
I know a few people who promote me around bars and pubs. The pub gigs keep me ticking over because the big gigs don’t pay as well. As for festivals, we just send emails out and build relationships with festivals organisers. Or, with the stage crews! You know what the best way to get into festivals is? Make friends with the sound team or the guys that run a specific stage. I feel at home in the festival world. As soon as summer comes around I don’t live in the house anymore. I live in a tent, in a field, with a bunch of other people around and playing music.
Venue shows and other gigs can just come out of nowhere. I get emails from people saying, we’ve got a show, do you want to play, or do you want to support this band? I’ve made really good pals with some of the bands I met at festivals. Some of the bigger bands, I’ve been lucky enough that they’ve just asked me to come and support them on some shows, which is amazing.
Location Isn’t Important
Calum is a full-time musician. However, when he describes where he lives, it highlights how the Internet makes it possible to work in creative arts regardless of location.
I’ve been playing in bars and stuff since I was 13. So this is my job. I’ve never done anything else. I’m really lucky. I still live at home (when Calum says this, remember he’s still only 19!) and we live out in the middle of nowhere. There’s four houses in my village. We’re surrounded by fields. But, it doesn’t make it any harder to be a musician. The only difference is, I’ve got to drive everywhere, but I love driving
I released my first album when I was 16 and that was simply because I had a bunch of songs and I was like, well, let’s do an album. On the second album I lost my way a bit. I tried to go a little bit rockier than I had previously.
Music Is A Lifelong Passion
Like many musicians, he has been immersed in music his whole life. This is a recurring theme when I research the personal history of musicians and Calum’s story is common.
I was a drummer before I was a singer. I started playing drums when I was 8. Up here, it’s all Scottish traditional music and fiddle music. So I played in a bunch of Cèilidh bands and trad. bands before I wrote my own songs. I picked up the guitar and started singing, really shyly. I went to a couple of open mic nights and I’d try to get through them as fast as possible. But then a community built up around the open mic nights and they kept pushing me to keep going. And somehow, I ended up here.
Keep The Costs Down – Play All The Instruments Yourself
Despite his young age, Calum has self-released 3 albums. Bearing in mind the difficulty most artists have recording just one, I think this is a huge achievement. It helps, I guess, that Calum is a talented multi-instrumentalist who played everything on the album!
For Mirror Glass, I recorded it in Essex, with a guy called Mike Curtis. Music Gateway connected us. It was just me and him. He asked me, ‘what’d you want it to sound like?’, and I said, “Big. I want it to sound massive”.
I laid down the drum parts first. We must’ve spent four hours just tuning up the drum kit on the first day. I’d never had to tune a drum before. It was really cool to actually go in and really think about the production. We spent three or four weeks recording the tunes. I learned a whole bunch about how to make guitars sound nice and how to tune stuff.
Drums, man. You can tune drums so many different ways and we’d make them sound amazing. But then, we’d do the next song and Mike would be like, nah, that snare doesn’t fit, let’s tune it! So yeah, it was a fun one.
The Latest Marketing Advise Isn’t Always Right
The finished album was released as a series of singles throughout 2020. This method of releasing single after single is encouraged by many as a way of keeping people’s attention. However, Calum has a word of warning for artists.
The album was ready for about a year. I released a single every month for the entirety of 2020. It was single after single, which at the time felt like a great idea. But in reality it meant working 12 times as hard. I’m never going to do that again. It’s just way too much. I’d start one campaign, then finish and be straight onto the next campaign. On the other hand, with the pandemic, it meant I had something to post about throughout the year after all the gigs were over!
Creating a Brand Takes Time
Branding is an area that concerns a lot of developing acts. Although he’s released three albums Calum doesn’t feel like he’s settled on a specific “brand” or genre.
I don’t feel I’ve found my thing yet. And I feel like that’s okay, I’m still writing country tunes, country and blues tunes and then heavy, heavy rock tunes and some ballads or pop tracks, because I don’t feel like I need to box myself in yet. And that’s the fun of it. I’m still in my bedroom, writing songs. And then I look on Spotify and it weirds me out that 40,000 people have listened to one of my songs and it’s still strange.
There Are Alternatives To Social Media
Another cause of stress amongst many of the musicians I talk to is Social Media. Calum has a good take on it – if you can play live then it becomes less important. It simply means you build your audience the ‘old fashioned way’ – building up your audience one person at a time.
I don’t like social media at all. Some people are really good at sticking their face in front of a camera and talking all day but I’m not, I’m really bad at it. Influencers are doing dances and stuff and racking up millions of views. I don’t know how they’re doing that. I can’t dance so I won’t be on Tik Tok anytime soon.
Calum gives one of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in years.
The best way to be a live musician is to play live.
If you can play a show and just one person likes your music, they’ll come back and listen to it again. That’s the cool thing. I’m not worried about how many people click a like button on Facebook or how many people follow me on Instagram. If there’s three people in a bar singing along to the cover I play, then at least they’re singing along. And if you get to do it as a job, then that’s wicked. I don’t feel like you should try to be famous. I don’t feel that you should have this massive team behind you, always taking photos and videos, telling you, you need to be here to do this thing or you need to be there to do this thing because that’s how you’ll be huge. If you’re able to play music for a living, that’s a step in the right direction.
Is a Manager Important?
Calum doesn’t have a manager, although like many artists, he gets help from family members. In his case, it’s from his mum who manages him day-to-day (Paul Weller has been managed by his dad throughout his career).
However, many artists I chat with on Reddit seem to get stuck at various points in their early career. Invariably, after the music is on Spotify, a lot of artists ask, “What do I do next”? Calum spent a year on Music Gateway’s “Artist Development” program. He had an interesting experience that I’m sure other artists could benefit from.
My manager (mum) and I had been managing me from the get-go. We’d got to a point where we, kind of, ran out of contacts. We’d gotten to the end of us being able to do it ourselves because we didn’t know what to do next. The artist development program helped us figure out the next stage.
It was pretty sick. It was quite intense and a hands-on thing. I paid them monthly. They introduced me to a guy called Mark, who was literally there all the time. I could send him a message and I’d get an answer. We’d have meetings every week. He was in London and I was up here, so we met virtually. We’d talk about my ‘brand’. He introduced to me how to do social media. We’d talk about clothes and how to dress the way I wanted to look.
He hooked me up with videographers to do music videos and photographers to do photo shoots. And he was there when I got them done. He also introduced me to Mike, the engineer who recorded this album. And, he helped me figure out my music community.
Finally, Calum has some great advice to share with other musicians.
Don’t be scared to email people. Don’t be scared to just call someone and say hi, I’m me. Do you want to work together?
- Calum has been playing music since the age of 8. He’s released 3 albums by the time he was 19.
- On his albums he plays all the instruments himself. When Calum plays live he currently plays solo.
- Make friends with the stage crew at festivals – they give you insider info when applying.
- Network at festivals. Get to know people and be friendly. They will call you and offer you shows.
- The small pub gigs pay more than the ‘big’ shows at festivals or supporting larger artists. These are the shows you need to build a career.
- Invest money made through gigs into recording albums.
- When you reach a point in your career where you’ve exhausted all your contacts, consider hiring an experienced manager, a music consultant or joining a development program.
- Social media is less important if you’re out playing gigs and building an audience the ‘traditional’ way. It still works!
- A manager can help guide you but you should already have a good idea of what you want to sound like and who your audience is.