Following a year of musical development and modification, young songwriter Marika Hackman is returning in 2017 with a firey new album.
I’m Not Your Man, released via Transgressive and Sub Pop, is an electrifying step forward from the more acoustic, folky offerings of her 2015 debut, We Slept At Last.
It was this growth that a session at The Great Escape, presented by PRS for Music, the PRS Foundation and PPL, aimed to explore.
With a panel featuring key members of Marika’s team including Transgressive Records founder Tim Dellow, producer Charlie Andrew and radio plugger Claire Collins, we picked out the top tips for new artists from the event…
Strong songwriting is at the heart of artist longevity
Marika Hackman (MH) – With that first record, it was just me on my own with a guitar. So I felt I needed songs that were strong enough to just be played on the guitar and still hold the room. That was the starting part for all those songs. When I was writing it, it was just me. That’s how it came into the world. I can always go back and play it like that.
If you’re a ‘genius’, then you don’t necessarily need a plan
Tim Dellow (TD): If you’re a genius, then idiots find you and I’ve tried to make a career out of that. Marika made these demos full of incredibly dark, incredibly great songs. We were convinced that we had found the new Leonard Cohen.
Marika Hackman (MH): I just did music at home on my own to start off with. I had a MySpace page so it was some time ago. I was playing gigs, met some people and it all just fell into place. There was no defining moment.
Producers should be collaborative, not imposing
Charlie Andrew (CA): I’ve never been one to impose my sound on an artist. Most artists have a vision in their mind, even if it is quite vague. Part of my job as the producer is to get into the artist’s mindset to help them realise what they’re doing.
Get radio on board early if you’ve got strong songs
Claire Collins (CC): Marika’s early radio champions have stuck with her all the way. It shows that many people are intrigued by her and her music.
We started with her five years ago but back then it was about single, then a single, then another single. Back then, the streaming world had not taken off. Now it’s changed, it’s all about drip feeding content to press and media.
Artists shouldn’t be afraid to grow their sound
TD: Marika changed her sound for this latest record, but even though the first was successful, things get boring quickly if you are making the same album again and again. I listen to David Bowie, PJ Harvey and Nick Cave – all their records are different but that’s what keeps it exciting.
MH: I knew I didn’t want to release the same sounding record when I started. I liked the challenge of pushing myself to write music I could potentially have more fun with on the road. It was exciting to have the songs, arrange them and think about the band dynamic.
Keep the humanity in the recordings
CA: Mistakes are beautiful things to hear. When a record is too perfect, it can become too boring. There are a lot of perfect records out there. So I crave those mistakes, little noises when someone is tuning up their guitar. It all helps to bring the listener into the room where it was made.
Radio and streaming are both equally important when promoting an artist’s music
CC: Is streaming going to kill radio is a key question for pluggers? It’s one of these hot topics at the moment. But I think you need both. The magic of radio is still potent. I hear something on radio played by Huw Stephens, get excited and then go and stream that music.
You can build a team around a passionate artist
TD: This team have been long-term around Marika. I just value the benefit of being able to build a team around an artist who really cares. And although we don’t have that many people working for her, you’ve got people working who are really passionate.
Live performances are a good barometer of success
MH – I was playing gigs without having released any music. I was 16, I wasn’t even supposed to be in the bar. I started building a small presence without any available music, then it started to grow when I began putting music out.
For me, the most interesting part is having a real visual on how things are progressing from seeing how the live shows grow. Playing to a full room really shows that people give a shit.
Try and write songs every day
MH – I find it really hard to write when I’m touring. But I try to write every day when I have free time and obviously when there’s a deadline coming, I do work a bit harder.
Read our previous interview with Marika on the forthcoming new album.