Having just released ‘Inside Your Mind’, the first taste of their upcoming third album, we had a chat to Lionel of indie dream-pop duo Gypsy & The Cat to see what tips he could give emerging artists in the music industry.
From originally wanting to be a classical pianist to pulling out of Coachella for financial reasons, this article reveals some surprising facts, challenges faced and lessons learned!
- Who was your first musical inspiration? Why?
My first musical inspiration came as a four year old listening to Russian composer Prokofiev. My dad had a large record collection full of music from the 60’s and classical music. I remember putting Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ on in his shop and being drawn to this. Somehow this must’ve translated a little later in life when I began Piano lessons at 7 and had a natural inclination towards Russian classical music. This love of Prokofiev went right through high school when I began learning his Piano Sonata’s and Concerto’s. I would still very much like to tick the 2nd Piano Concerto off my bucket list, but given that it is arguably the hardest work ever written for piano and my chops aren’t quite up to it these days, it may be a while before this gets ticked off.
- How did you get started in music, and did you ever even think you’d get this far?
I began piano lessons at 8 years of age and focused on becoming a concert pianist right through high school. When I finished high school, I began hitting the Melbourne club scene and discovered DJing. This led to music production. A good friend of mine mentored me in this. Eventually, I met Xavier and we started experimenting in the studio together. The rest is history.
I always knew we’d eventually get some sort of audience for our music, but I never knew to what degree music would take us. It still feels like we are at the very early stages of something greater. Nonetheless, we take nothing for granted.
- What has been one of your most defining moments in your career?
Getting a gold record on our first record was certainly a milestone but some of the shows we have been fortunate to perform at have been defining moments. Playing Big Day Out back in 2010 and Splendour in The Grass in 2012 were highlights, and we had some epic audiences. Summer Sonic Festival in Japan in 2011 was also a highlight and a time we will never forget.
- How has your music practice changed over time?
We have always tried to push our musical boundaries from the very beginning. We feel like with each new song, we learn something new both musically and in terms of our production. Introducing new production techniques, new forms of singing, coming up with new sounds, playing on our strengths and discovering our weaknesses are things we come across every day. In terms of our ‘music practice’ as a business, we were signed to a Major Label in the UK until 2012 and were fortunate enough to leave that contract and form our own record label Alsatian Music that year. Since then, we have self released and had complete control over our musical ‘assets’.
- My top business tip for new artists is…
Do not jump into a business relationship too quickly. Whether it is with a record label or management, try to do as much as you can on your own and retain as much control as you can over how your music is presented to the world. In 2016, it is fair to say that most artists are discovered after their music is already successful and they have organically built up a fan base. At this point it is often pointless to give away the rights to your music unless you need the muscle and capital these entities can give you to take your music to the next level. This being said, look for champions of your music and experienced people in the industry to give you advice and help guide you in the right direction.
- My biggest career mistake has been…
There have been a few mistakes made in our career, and it is hard to say which was the biggest. One that comes to mind immediately is when we were booked for Coachella and on the lineup to play in 2011, but it was too costly at the time for us to do it, and we ended up cancelling. In hindsight, we should have applied for grants/loans to get over there and play, as this is a very important festival for any indie band to perform at. Moving to London and blowing our first record advance on hiring an expensive English band for our live shows was another thing that was unnecessary. I guess the biggest mistakes were financial ones in the beginning that we ended up fixing as soon as Xavier’s father came on board as our financial manager.
- In my opinion, the most important issue facing the music industry is…
Royalties from streaming are extraordinarily low, and somehow streaming platforms need find a way to justify higher disbursement of payments to artists. If you are a signed artist, you can pretty much kiss goodbye any income received from any of the available streaming services. Fortunately, if you own the rights to your music, the royalty rates are a little better, but still not enough to quit your day job. Fortunately for Gypsy & The Cat, we have had some financial wins over the years in terms of touring and publishing that have kept us afloat without needing to supplement our income. But with the expanding world of streaming, the powers that be need to find ways so that artists can be fairly remunerated. Now, in an age where music is largely digital, the value is no longer there, and somehow there needs to be a way to put value back into even a digital piece of art.
A big thanks to Lionel!
Gypsy and the Cat are touring this month, dates below.