These fingers make
During 2009, Billy was interviewed by Newcastle based musician and academic Andrew Simmons for a research project Mr Simmons is writing for his B.Mus.(Hons) degree.
Reproduced with kind
approval of Mr Simmons, it offers a fascinating and honest
insight into the challenges facing musicians, composers and
Was performance of original material always your career plan?
suppose teaching oneself to play guitar and improvising on the
piano naturally led to composing
Do you - or did you feel it was compulsory to - have some form of formal musical training to get you to the level you are today?
elementary classical lesson and only got as far as Grade 1
distinction on violin & Grade 3 viola. But in hindsight I
had a superb choir master, Michael Bailey, at the local parish
church aged 10-12 years old.
Did you require some form of start-up funding? i.e. savings, arts council funding, etc.
didn’t exist for a 14 year old in 1970…..
What obstacles did you face in getting to the stage in your career you are today? How did you solve them?
There are always obstacles. Right now some of them are:
limitations of downloaded sound
* Overcrowded profession in all ways
* Lack of Arts Council funding
* Reduction in numbers of venues - art centre closing through fund withdrawal, having to promote ‘safe’ events to ensure modicum income; licensed venues shutting - a knock on effect from 2003 Entertainment & Licensing Bill and then smoking ban in public places
* Too many music graduates chasing too few opportunities.....
Does live performance of original material account for your entire earnings or do you have other sources of income? (if possible please state percentages/figures)
record industry is dying. So I have gone where the smart money
is and I am conducting Humanist funerals. An absolute avant
garde gig……. 37 years a bandleader has worn me out. There is
just not the venues that can pay enough to pay musicians a
just fee…..£75 a bed in a hotel x 5 = £375 for
starters…. petrol…. even just £100 a man - you need £1,000 a
show minimum…..flights are b*****ks - prompters pay for cheap
airlines but you end up either paying almost as much for
‘excess baggage’ or instruments or they refuse to let you take
hand luggage small instruments on board. It’s worn me out…..
How do you currently book gigs? e.g. self-promotion, agency, etc.
one or two associates that try and help (promoters who try and
help get back to back shows) - otherwise just me - but I’m
tired of knocking on doors and I can’t phone as it takes
energy away from the music talking-talking-talking…
Has that always been the case?
much. I had management in the 1970’s but it all ended in two
years of litigation and I got quite ill…
Where and how do you advertise your act? Which do you consider to be the most effective medium?
afford to and it’s too time consuming to address the fast
diluting effects of web based commerce.
[How] do you use Internet technologies to promote your act or keep your fan base up-to-date?
do email shots as we all get too much shite thrown at us. Too
much time in front of PC hurts my hands (I have mild carpal
tunnel), neck, eyes and brain. Social network sites too time
consuming but I do have a MySpace and here at
What do you do to stay ahead of your competition (similar acts)? How important do you consider having a unique selling point?
unique selling point is being unique. And being fantastic. And
that takes years of serious study and experiences. I’ve had
about 40 albums released. Tons of critical praise and media
soundbites. Those who stay ahead of competition invest heavily
in PR and promo. When Jamie Cullum was doing the business, he
had two people working fulltime on his MySpace site…….
Are you set up as a sole trader or limited company?
unemployed sole trader….
How is your revenue budgeted to pay expenses? i.e. travel, accommodation, hiring musicians, etc.
No pay -
My last album cost about £2,500 to record - paying musicians & studio costs. This was in 2007. It has not been released. WHAT IS THE POINT!? We could all listen to 12 hours of recorded music every day until we die and every track would be one we like……
I’ve been trying to pay tax for years….I WANT to pay tax. To feel that I am contributing to the infrastructure of our country.
Do you take care of your own admin? i.e. tax rebates, PAT testing, public liability insurance, etc.
my wife does my books.
Is it difficult to find time to expand your repertoire/practice on your instrument?
- it hurts my hands anyway - I can only do half an hour at a
time and why expand if there is no one who wants to hear what
you do? Too much time on admin and addressing ever changing
and complex copyright laws.
What led you to the genre you are in? e.g. prospective profits, artist license, etc.
Muse…..The joy of making music with other people…….
In what ways do you copyright your material? How much does it cost to do so? Have you had to deal with copyright issues?
PRS/MCPS. Obviously copyright protection is vital and with
over 350 works registered with PRS since 1975 (I think) I have
to protect my meagre returns for my children’s benefit…..It’s
an amazing situation now. You can download some of my albums
in USA for free - and I’m just a diddly-squat artist in the
grand scheme…. Spotify - Ha! I just took a line out the
headphone socket and recorded straight onto Mini disc……my
children’s generation have decided recorded music is for
free….we are all DOOMMMEDDD! But at least we ALL are…!
Artistically, is your line of work fulfilling?
I’ve ever done and it is what I am. Conducting Humanist
funerals is a natural extension of performance, spontaneity,
writing words, creating emphatic verses and phrases,
oratory…..and it’s one step on from the blues….
Do you charge a blanket fee for all performances/venues or does it vary accordingly?
did that, you would never work. All festivals, for example,
have a budget cap. If you can help them - they can help you
and a few more folks might get a gig too. Jazz clubs - all run
on a non profit basis (well most of them). You can’t charge
more than each gig can offer…..
Is it the case that performance is, particularly nowadays, more profitable than CD sales?
frank, for the serious musician, neither are profitable. I can
tell you that my last CD release ‘Songs of Praise LIVE!’
released Nov 2007 had superb press and ok national airplay.
LAST YEAR I SOLD 25 ALBUMS ONLINE via my site……There are
either door money low paid gigs or 500 seat venues. 100 - 200
seat theatres and arts centres are in decline due to reasons
Have technology advances helped or hindered your practice with regards to composing techniques, promotion, performance or sales?
Yes and no. I need to devote serious study to addressing the ‘new way’. But it is not what I do. I’m sure there’s a young whizz kid out there who I could employ on a one off basis to address things - but I’ve not started looking, nor have the time or wherewithal to source. But, as a composer, my ears aren’t happy with MP3 - THERE IS NO RETARDATION OF NOTES - IN OTHER WORDS, THE VERY BREATH OF A MUSICAL SOUND IS IGNORED. This works fine for machine made music - but for acoustic , the COMPRESSION reduces the impact.
a medium I WANT to compose for - as I’ve often used the sound
carrier as part of the composition (deliberate surface noise
with wide grooves on the vinyl LP ‘Motorway At Night DCM 1988;
‘Music For Two Cassette Machines’ 1992 - using the fact
that no cassette machines runs at the same speed. Did you know
that!? Composing music especially for cassettes
‘Uncommerciality Vol 1 -3’ 1984 - 91’
What are the biggest rewards in this line of work?
honest, open and just being Billy. And going where the Muse
What are the drawbacks, if any?
mental and physical collapse in my late 30’s….I still have to
My body clock was totally busted….even now a long drive and late home takes me two days to re-stablise ......Several associates dying in car crashes on the road….we were even sued for non appearance after our road crew crashed en route to concert in Nottingham. Our sound engineer died, two others seriously injured. All our gear twatted…..Problems with neck and arms due to configuration of different types of guitar (from semi-acoustic to classical to steel strung) all affect my back, arms, hands and neck in different ways....Getting electrocuted on stage, being thrown into audience and they laughed so much I just kept going.....Haemorrhoids from long distance driving and anxiety that only a bandleader understands…. Adrenaline rushes lead to periods of depression and inertia.....And my nerves can’t tolerate loud noises - especially if the music is not ‘organic’ i.e. looped/samples......
If you knew before you started what you know now, would you have done anything differently?
Do you have any advice you could share with composer hoping to perform original material of their own?
Make sure you fall mutually in love with someone with a disposable income…..
©2009 Andrew Simmons/Billy Jenkins