Emberhoney: Ben King, John ‘The Baron’ Kent and Taylor Madison Damion
There are many parallels to be drawn between the music industry and the publishing world. Musicians and writers alike chase their dreams of being taken on by a record label or a publishing house, and the digital revolution has changed everything, in good ways and bad.
As part of the indie-noir band, Emberhoney, Taylor Madison Damion and John Baron Kent have been working towards a recording contract for several years. They’re talented, make beautiful music and have come close to realising their dream on several occasions – and yet remain without that elusive deal. I asked singer, songwriter and musician Taylor how they’ve managed to keep going and not lose sight of their goals.
It’s been about eight years since I first met you, and I remember thinking Emberhoney were on the brink of something wonderful happening, ie a recording contract. What happened?
There was a lot of excitement around our band at the time with radio play and very positive feedback from record companies etc, but we had no manager or backing of any kind and didn’t know how to capitalise on all of this. We gigged ourselves to exhaustion and literally went bankrupt funding rehearsals, studio costs, gig expenses and promotion. John and I were also working as decorators, our days filled with manual labour. We simply couldn’t earn enough. We burnt out at every level without any support and became utterly demoralised after making endless trips to play in London for the benefit of reps who didn’t bother to turn up.
You could say that the timing of our emergence on the scene was unfortunate because this was when the industry was starting to change dramatically towards its present state – where record companies can’t afford to invest in artists like they used to due to the revolution in music downloading that undermined the usual channels for their revenue. I was also very young and naive and like most artists, lacked business acumen. This version of the band ended after two years and we didn’t play together again for four years. But two years ago we decided to try again and formed a new Emberhoney project with our present bass player. We recently released our latest EP “Smoke” and are now gigging regularly.
How many times did you come close to being taken on by a record label?
There was never any contract on the table, but certainly enough feedback from record labels making us feel that Emberhoney was producing some great music. John talked with 4AD records (who had produced acts such as the Cocteau Twins and the Pixies) and their MD said, ‘Emberhoney were in the top 10% of music received by unsigned acts’. Likewise, ex-Cocteau Twin bass player Simon Raymonde who now runs the Bella Union record label, stated the ‘the songs are well arranged and performances excellent….it won’t be long before you find a suitable label’. However, at the time, Bella Union were not taking on any more artists. There were many others, including some small labels like Words On Music in the USA, that showed great interest in Emberhoney.
What triggered you to set up Honeytone Recordings? Is this your own independent label?
When we first started playing shows as Emberhoney, some bands had mentioned that they were taken more seriously if they presented themselves with an associated ‘label’, a name often thought up by the band themselves. Honeytone Recordings was one such idea during the release of our second EP. However, on reflection I don’t think it was a good idea. If you genuinely want to attract the interest of a record company then there’s no point in making yourselves look like you’re already ‘signed’ to another label. And if you’re trying to be a label, you need to create a marketing department and develop business skills. Without these, the name is merely a self-publication imprint.
These days Honeytone Recordings is more appropriately the name of our studio where we rehearse and record. We simply couldn’t find time to write, rehearse, record and gig as well as develop marketing skills – until recently. Now we divide the labour. I act as a pathfinder for the band by playing a lot of open mics and solo shows. In doing so, I’ve connected with other musicians who are open to promoting each other, and several local promoters who are impressed enough to ask me back – often with the whole band. Meanwhile, John doesn’t touch his guitar but instead spends the time at Honeytone HQ handling the business side; research, marketing, networking, securing more gigs. This approach is working as our Facebook numbers have increased dramatically in recent weeks and opportunities to play more shows are coming in. This measure has given the Honeytone Recordings imprint a marketing department, but it’s untenable in the long term because John will be forced to pick up his guitar in order to rehearse, gig and record. But we’re hoping it’ll raise our profile sufficiently to attract a manager.
The biggest obstacle self-published writers face is getting publicity for their books. I’m guessing it’s the same for musicians?
Yes it is. The marketing and publicising of your work is a full-time job and an art in itself. There is endless praise for the power of the Internet and how musicians no longer need a record company, but without serious marketing skills and time commitment, this exciting “anyone can do it” theory does not translate into reality. Our EP’s free on several music-based platforms (see links below) but the challenge is driving traffic to our sites and raising our profile enough to even get people to listen to it. The most effective tool so far has been performing live as often as possible and directing enthusiastic audience members to the websites. This might be the hard way but it works. I think that combining forces with other artists in the same situation to create a movement greater than any individual artist is an even better way forward.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time? Have your ambitions and outlook changed?
Yes, my ambitions and outlook have changed. I spent those four years of hiatus studying metaphysics, esoteric philosophy and art. It was very therapeutic and I cultivated a completely different attitude to myself and music. I had painfully concluded that the lack of professional recognition and success was a sign that I was not meant to follow my dreams. I was devastated and utterly lost. It’s now clear to me that no matter how little external success I’ve had, I am still a singer and songwriter. I now am trying to perceive the marketing side as an application of my creativity! I no longer imagine being saved from obscurity by a record company. I can see that our own efforts to raise the profile of our band through every means at our disposal including social media and networking as well as gigs, will likely attract investment and free us at some point to focus more on being musicians. We still intend to sign to a label because the division of labour between artist and marketing will always allow you more time to do what you love to do…make music! But we know we’ll have to do much more work than musicians ever had to do before in order to get this sort of investment. In 10 years’ time I hope to have recorded and released at least the three albums’ worth of material I’ve already written, toured the world with my band and have a thriving relationship with a record label. By then, I’ll probably be so addicted to Twitter and Facebook and obsessed with generating an endless stream of “content” and blogging that I’ll never have time to write another song!