Rich, you’ve had a very interesting journey, so my first question is how did it all start?
Having grown up with a piano and guitars in the house, I never really played either until a little later on in life. On a rainy day, I remember asking my brother to teach me a song out of boredom and it was then that I got ‘the bug’. Ironically, I started playing guitar more and writing songs at a time when I was wondering what to do with my life. I was 17, not enjoying college, and on a quest to find something fulfilling. I began to write songs to help me through the turbulence of life. However, it was how other people responded to my music that made me think, “maybe this is it?”. With the exception of a few chords from friends and family, I’m a self taught guitarist, pianist, singer and songwriter – something I’m incredibly proud of. This has also allowed me to find a form of purity in music. Really, it’s the music that showed me the way!
You’ve been the support act for Boyzone and Joan Armatrading, what was that like? Did you get chosen by them? How did that happen?
I had stumbled across a competition that Joan Armatrading held for local artists to support her on her tour on all of her 52 dates. I simply entered one of my songs at the time and I was soon chosen out of thousands of applicants to support her in Hastings at The White Rock Theatre. It was quite ironic really, as I was also working there, so it was nice to perform to a sold out crowd and my colleagues on a very familiar, homely stage.
Following this date, Joan had then chosen her favourite artists to support her on her final worldwide tour and I was lucky enough to be one of these artists. She then whittled down her favourites of her favourites and I was invited to support her on a further 10 dates round the country. It was amazing playing in cities such as Bristol, Cardiff, Essex, Bournemouth and many more to over 10,000 people and not only that, to have my music so warmly appreciated by her audience. It’s been an incredible journey and I’ll always be thankful for Joan’s continued support.
The boyzone gig came about through a similar story. The organisers of the show ran a competition to find a support act and I learned about it through working at the theatre. I entered the competition and had to collect the most votes from my fans, which luckily they all came together for and won me the slot! This is probably my most fondest gigging memory so far. I played to 3,000 people on Hastings Pier with the sun setting in the distance on a warm Summer’s day and had thousands of people giving me a warm reception. I sold a ton of CD’s after the show too! Backstage, it was an honour to talk to the band and swap some CD’s with Ronan Keating! I grew up listening to a couple of his songs, so it was great to have a one to one chat with him.
You have the voice of someone that wants to soothe a broken heart and it’s true you really do have a ‘British John Mayer’ vibe. Being involved in song-writing is your strength, so as an artist, do you think you could sing someone else’s song and be equally as emotionally involved without having written the songs yourself?
One of the most important aspects of my own songwriting is to make my songs as relatable for others as possible. If people can take comfort from my words and relate to it with their own experiences, then that’s the biggest reward for me. I have had a lot of messages from people over the years that have said how important a song of mine is to them and how it’s helped them through difficult times or helped them relax. It’s moments like those that make me realise why I do what I do and it pushes me to keep going. With that said, I don’t get the same enjoyment out of singing covers, simply because it’s less personal. When I gig, I tend to play at an 80/20 split of originals to covers. Of course, people want to listen to music they’re familiar with at times so it’s good to throw in a cover or two to get their attention, but I also want to introduce people to my own music because that’s where my heart and talent lies. I also feel you can give it that extra 10% of passion and feeling from the heart if I’m singing a song that I wrote from scratch.
During the pandemic we’ve had a number of industries suffer and of course the music industry has been one of those, what have you been up to during the past year? Have you done something that wasn’t exactly music related to just keep going?
My life has actually had a complete revamp since the start of the pandemic. With my working background primarily in theatre and music marketing alongside my music for over 8 years, I had a spell within the first 5 months of lockdown where I was jobless and went through a really difficult time. I then decided to apply for jobs in Bournemouth and I’m now working and living over here! It’s been a massive rollercoaster, but I’m happy to be living this new chapter and feel like I’ve grown a lot from it all.
In terms of music – as a creative and a musician, I felt like I had a duty to do something when the pandemic first took over. This lead me to writing a song called ‘This Song Is For You’ which was written in the eyes of those who were facing the worst of the pandemic, whether that be working frontline or losing someone close to them. It was a song that triggered a series of stripped back piano songs and covers that gave me a huge focus during lockdown and i’ve loved releasing them. I released three covers by Hanson, Bush and Sister Hazel as well as some laid back versions of my previously released songs. The Hanson cover was actually picked up by the band themselves and shared across their social media which lead to growing my fan base even further. Hanson were a huge influence to me growing up, so getting a message off them on Instagram definitely made my year!
You are releasing a song Friday 19th February which is so exciting, can you tell us a bit about this?
So, continuing the theme of my laid back piano songs – I actually always wanted to have a female vocalist sing on my song ‘How’d You Let Go’ ever since I first recorded it three years ago.
I wrote the song three years ago which was loosely inspired by a break up. Often when I go through these situations, I’m able to channel the emotions into a song which actually helps me in a therapeutic manner by leaving it behind, but also with the thought in the back of my mind that other people will be able to relate to the same things and not feel alone if they go through the same kind of thing.
On recording an acoustic piano version of the song ‘How’d You Let Go’, I discussed with my producer Olli Daffarn the idea of turning it into a collaboration. Olli then recommended another client of his Frannie B, and on listening to her voice and having a chat with her, she was super excited to sing on the song with me. It turned out amazingly! Frannie is awesome and has shared the stage with Jessie J, so I knew she would come up with some great harmonies. I’m super excited to get the full song out there for both our fans to listen to!
What’s your plan for the rest of the year?
I’m quite enjoying releasing lots of individual tracks at the moment and feel like my piano writing is getting better and better. I think, at least until lockdown has finished, I’ll continue doing these. Once I’m able to gig again, I can’t wait to get back out there and start gigging locally in Dorset and surrounding areas. I also have a lot of postponed wedding gigs that will hopefully take place later in the year. I’d like to collaborate a lot more too. If any other artists are reading this, then drop me a line! I would love to start co-writing a bit more often.
When it comes to other musicians out there wanting to showcase their voice, songs and overall talent, what advice would you give them?
If I could give anyone any musical advice from my experience, it would be to never stop believing in yourself and always stay true to your talent. First and foremost, I do what I do because I love it and it means a lot to me. Any success that comes after that through gigs, music sales or anything at all, is just an added bonus. I think if you go into it with that attitude, you simply cannot fail. It’s also vitally important to stay true to yourself and ‘find your voice’. Don’t let managers or labels try and turn you into a product and a money making asset, because when this happened to me – I lost who I was and lost my love for my music. Now that I have let go of any pressure I used to put on myself to ‘be the next big thing’ and trying to gain validation from others, I’m much much happier with my music. Never lose your heart!
In this day where we have so many music platforms from Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Soundcloud etc, and let’s not forget Youtube, Instagram and other social media platforms, what’s the best way for individuals like us to support you?
Unfortunately, since the introduction of streaming services, digital outlets such as Spotify and Apple music have made it virtually impossible for independent artists to make any good money from their music. When I first started, I used to duplicate CD’s and earn money from iTunes sales. People would buy a CD for £10 and download on iTunes for similar and you would get a fair amount. Nowadays, streaming services pay artists £0.00318 per play which means you make 30p from someone streaming your songs 100 times. It’s daylight robbery if I’m honest. While it’s great to have access to unlimited music in the palm of your hand as a listener, it really really kills us musicians.
The best way to support independent artists like myself and even cover the costs of recording the music in the first place, is to either buy a physical copy of their CD’s or download on iTunes. This way, the artist gets the full 79p per song.
How do you mentally get ready to perform?
I actually grew up being the youngest of three and being more of a listener than a storyteller. I think this part of my personality had actually made performing and standing on stage in front of audiences extremely challenging for me and I used to feel very vulnerable. It took me a very long time to be able to learn how to come across confident and calm, even if in my head I wasn’t. I think the key to this though is to just keep doing it. The more you gig, the more you feel confident in what you’re saying and how you come across. In my early days, I used to be shaking with stage fright and it would affect how well I sing and play, but now I’m a bit more experienced and older, I just reassure myself that I’ve been there and done it before. I also fully believe in my talent and ability and know that I have earned the right to be on that stage during my journey.
I highly recommend ‘Vocalzones’ for any nervous singers out there as it helps clear your throat and relax your vocal chords. Breathing exercises are great too!
Where can we follow you?
Firstly, you can find my music on all digital platforms and streaming services. While I don’t make as much money from these services compared to others, it’s still important as an artist to have a strong presence on these platforms as it’s the modern day music industry. Please follow me on all social media channels @richlown (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) and add my music to your playlists/share among your friends. Also, if you share any of my music on your Instagram stories, I will always re-share and might even give you a free CD 😉.