The Howling Bells Guide To Surviving In The Music Industry

Despite releasing critically feted albums and touring with some of the world's biggest bands, the band have had a difficult relationship with the hand that feeds them. Therefore, no-one is better placed to offer advice to the would-be musicians out there...
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Words by Juanita Stein

10 years in, 4 albums deep, a million gigs proud and a healthy range of emotional highs and lows to boast . This, in my opinion, gives me license to be somewhat generous with my words of industry wisdom; whether that be treading the ancient paths of major record label territory, or trying earnestly to have those first demos heard. This highly emotional roller coaster is not without cost- emotionally and quite literally. You’d best be genuinely, honestly, obsessively, deeply and quite frankly irrationally connected to your music, in order to survive as a functioning musician in the modern day music industry.

NAIVETY: Don’t underestimate the power of naivety; it’s absolutely detrimental to your introduction into the music business. It’s what will launch you blindfolded into the sea of musical vastness. It’s what will lead you to pen your signature along that dotted line which will years later place mind numbing limitations upon your delicate musical soul. It’s also what will lead you to completely ignore your ancient wisdom and listen to the ill advice of those you naively hired to lead you deeper into the industry Bermuda Triangle. Then again, having made these stupid decisions initially you wouldn’t have the experience to then pen an article years later advising those less experienced, of what not to do.

MANAGEMENT: Be weary of whom you choose to wear the captain’s hat. They will steer your ship, and if savvy they’ll avoid approaching tidal waves. If conniving, they’ll steal your life jackets and swim back to shore without you. Dramatic, I know. But then so is the desire to reign musical territories and be greater than those who influenced you.

A decent manager should be able to do a few things for you in particular

1 - Manage the day to day business trivialities you, as a liberal minded, artistic weirdo, simply cannot manage
2 - Attract the right kind of attention.
3 - Not encourage you to sign up for a cash rich record deal, in order to cash in on their 20% commission and then fuck off.
4 - Be cool, be supportive, and most importantly be HONEST. Tell the artist if you think they’re making a grave mistake, you’re the captain.
5 - Don’t fuck bandmember's mothers. BAD form.

 RECORD LABELS: We’ve had some cool labels, supportive and genuinely music obsessed; they’re the ones you want to work with. If your label boss has never heard of Nick Drake then leave the building immediately. Whatever the budget or set up, a music obsessed label manager will give you the support and love, you as a young, up’n’coming, raw musician desperately needs. At the end of the day, this is the MUSIC industry; we’re dealing with MUSIC. The naivety which I referenced earlier may well and truly be melting off your young ice caps by now, so you’re hopefully fine tuning that bullshit radar you’re gonna desperately need from here on in. For example, the time we had a label guy jump up onto his fine mahogany desk in a swanky New York office, and declare for all the world to hear, that Matisyahu was the future of music. It was an even shorter Tom Cruise on Oprah, in front of our very assaulted eyes. I’ll never be able to erase that moment. And that my friends, right there, should have pointed to a musical tsunami.

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We’ve played some very large and intimidating venues off the back of some of the world's most successful artists, including The Killers and Coldplay.

The catering’s great.

FANS: Fans, be it, family, friends or genuinely adoring strangers, will get you through it. Full stop. Being in a band is akin to being a heroin addict, it’s an absolutely irrational, ecstatic, highly addiction-forming endeavor.  At low points you’ve an inkling it’s gonna be the death of you, at high points, you’re more than convinced you could rule the world. But the support of the good folk around you, will see you through the dark days and still be holding your hands when emerging through the rainbow.

Like anything artistic, you’re taking an extraordinary risk in leaning solely on the virtues of the music industry. I do believe with all my heart, that if you’re good, if you’re unique, if you’ve something different to express, you’ll eventually be heard. However, there’s no guarantee as to how loudly you’ll be heard or how effortlessly you’ll glide through that musical enterprise. As I said earlier, you’d best be genuinely, honestly, obsessively, deeply and quite frankly irrationally connected to your music, in order to survive as a functioning musician in the modern day music industry.

Howling Bells' new album 'Heartstrings' is out on the 2nd June.  The first single from it, 'Slowburn', is out on 4th April. Have a listen to it below.