Fatea-Award-winning Liverpool-based musician Jo Bywater invites us to this her garden to pick the secret ingredients of her personal recipe for success.
About when I knew I was going to make music professionally… I realised when I was in school that I wanted to play guitar, lead electric guitar specifically because I loved Nirvana and The Breeders and spent a lot of time learning riffs. After going through Uni and experiencing post-graduation years as a guitarist in various working covers bands I got to a point where I needed to reinvest in my creativity and I also felt like I had something to say lyrically and had something a bit different to offer. Hence I began to slowly write my first songs and one by one aired them at an open mic night I was part of the house band in. I got great responses and although it was early days I had enough encouragement to carry on. I had only just started singing in public, and playing guitar and singing at the same time was a whole other coordination issue I’m still fairly slow at that now! Anyway., I got on a roll and after playing guitar for another singer on tour I learned that I could do this myself and that it was possible to tour and get paid for my own music credibly! So that was a real eye-opening moment and very inspiring. I basically started doing a lot of research and writing, gigging and travelling like crazy… and now its 2014. The occupation aspect came to me as a development of what I was already doing but I did used to harbour dreams of being a musician when I was a lot younger. It took a few years before it all tied up but here I am. I also found music really cathartic when I was growing up and I felt like creating music was a really noble, helpful inspiring thing to do., flying the flag and helping others….
The best thing (in music) since the singing slice bread is… The variety. You do what you want, how you want, if you choose to do it that way and as long as you are good at what you do you get to experiment. I find it very productive.
What making music means to me… I enjoy the creativity and variety of experiences being a songwriter brings. I want a credible career and income I can live off so I can invest in being a songwriter most of each day. Although I do believe that being a songwriter is a frame of mind Anything else that comes with it is great.
‘Music school’ trained or ‘auto-didact’ and which one is best? I went through music school. I think ‘best’ depends on the person. For me it was best. I’m quite driven and always learning so I’m happy with my music school education and also know how not to be restricted by it. It gave me a lot of awareness of business and competition so I already had those brain cells working when I graduated, that’s important!
My unique selling point (USP)… You do need a USP because there are so many singer songwriters out there. That’s is, if you want to be remembered/stand out/have longevity and make a career. For me I don’t know of other female songwriters that have the same guitar style as me, that is something that people pick up on. I also offer a less mainstream sounds (melodies/vocals) and songwriting structures. I’m fitting into a Blues/Folk/Americana genre with interesting guitar skills. I also pretty much do my own thing. I’m also quite patient so willing to take the time to build my career the way I want to.
A unique name for your music would be… Blues/Folk/Americana is about as good as I can get… I’m not very good at naming things!
When people get excited over my music, it feels… Amazing and it reminds me that I’m doing the right thing. Its good to see people getting excited about things I’ve laboured over. I’ve become a lot more ‘other person’ focussed in my music in the last year or so but still retaining me and it seems to be gaining a bit more attention. That’s really nice for me. I’ve worked hard and I love music and I think I have something to offer….so I like seeing the progress.
I listen to… all sorts of music, and my influences are changing and expanding constantly. Especially at the moment I’m eating new music up! It began with rock and grunge (Hole, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Guns n Roses) then it grew to songwriters (Ani DiFranco, Neil Young, Jeff Buckley) and more recently it became very blues and guitar – based (Kelly Joe Phelps) I also really like Laura Marling’s latest album. At the moment I’m big into Blues guitar and harmonica. I can see all of those things in my music. It seems to be that I may like different qualities of each and they become mashed together into my creations.
The most undervalued music artist is… Ani DiFranco as a guitarist. Really, really interesting guitar playing. She is known for that to a degree but you rarely see her name coming up in guitar magazines..
Preparing for the performance: Daily practice or ad-hoc rehearsal? It depends. What else is going on and what demand the gig brings. If I’ve not gigged for a few weeks I will do days of practise. I definitely rehearse on the day and days before a gig. I’m also at the moment introducing things like stompbox and harmonica into my set so I have more work to do to make it sound consistent. I do rehearse though. That’s really important. In between playing my songs I will also learn new guitar techniques in order to develop my playing.
Generally guitar ideas or lyrics in poetry from come first. But to be honest all my songs were writtern very differently. I guess mainly it’s important to honour whatever comes as it does so…
I find performing songs very energizing. I’m happy to be in the emotions that my songs bring up and I don’t tend to get attached to them or carry them around once I’ve finished.
Listening to music: I pay attention to the lyrics… Yes….but I firstly listen to guitar and voice quality, textures and production before the lyrics hit me. Mostly. Hopefully when the lyrics hit they will be special. I like poignant lyrics that keep growing.
What most helped me in my career is… My parents being supportive in the beginning and all the way through. After that, having the ability to stay open, be productive and soak up what is going on around me in music/life in order to get the best out of my environment and have a good stab at a career. Getting out and gigging is important. I learnt a lot just getting stuck in.
Having such great accolades (e.g. best EP 2013 Fatea Awards, being played on BBC Liverpool…) feels… Amazing. Signs that my developing investments in my music have been right for me. I know I have what it takes, I’m learning to communicate it I guess. But all this feedback is perfect
What ignites my song writing flow is Doing it when I feel inspired. Listening to other songwriters talk about songwriting and the creative process. Listening to other music and peoples stories sometimes draws my own out, but clearer.
I have to generally do it isolated. I get distracted from my thoughts otherwise. I record bits of riffs and the song on my phone as it develops. Just the act of doing this will help me to make decisions about a songs progress.
Why song writing and perform and if not what?
I would’ve gone into an art avenue most likely, i did that long before music.
My other creative avenues….art/graphic design/painting mainly.. I really enjoy drawing and creating pictures….in face I’d say that comes quicker to me than writing a song.
Success to me is… Earning a living and having credible respect as a musician and creative person. Offering something unique and people listening in order to get something to take away for themselves.
What do you wish you have been told when you started and that you think would help anyone who starts out?
Nothing happens quickly, keep working, don’t pay for anything like advertising until you have something to sell.
A question for you Tiki… How are you navigating the music business and what is your definition of success?
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