A while ago, I had the pleasure to interview Tom Price, the winner of the Tomorrowland Festival Creative Invite. He had mentioned that he went to the festival with his good friend and musician, Luke Leighfield. Curious, I looked him up and discovered an incredibly talented artist. Tom introduced us virtually (as he’s in Europe and I’m in the US) and we were able to chat some over email.
Not only is he talented, he’s very unique in his approach to his career and music. Having style reminiscent of Ben Folds, Luke writes songs that are very clever and self-aware. He is also a self-made musician and a Do-It-Yourselfer, finding his success navigating the new paradigm of social media and self-publishing and promotion with aplomb. He’s made it out to tour in China, Russia and Europe and produces any merch associated with his label as ethically as he can.
Not only is he super approachable and down-to-earth, he’s got some great insight for folks trying to set out on that creative path.
TH: So, are there any things that you’ve done that you would advise fellow DIY’ers about starting a career in music?
Luke: Ha, there are plenty! I slogged it out playing loads and loads of shows everywhere I could in the early days (in 2007 I played around 250 shows!), taking every opportunity, and releasing lots of music very quickly. It worked okay and I had a lot of fun, but my humble advice to people starting out in music would be quality over quantity. By that I mean focusing on writing the best songs you can possibly write and rehearsing them with the best band you can put together before embarking on playing shows. Each show could be the only time that someone there hears you and you want to leave them with the best possible impression of your music.
In the same way, I recorded my first two albums at home with my drummer and my latter two albums in a proper studio with a producer. It was great to do those first two records (and it saved me a huge amount of money!), and they did help to get me touring and get my name out to people, but now I find those records unlistenable. I'm proud of them in that they represent that time in my life, but not really as musical creations.
[blockquote]You learn by doing and you can't start improving until you start doing.[/blockquote]
That said, it's also important to know when to just do it. I know a few artists who are total perfectionists, which is great, but there comes a point when you have to just release that record or play that show. You learn by doing and you can't start improving until you start doing.
I realise that those two points are utterly contradictory but there's something to be said for holding those two things in tension - knowing when to keep honing and perfecting, and knowing when to just release your creation to the world.
TH: You have self published a lot of your own work. This seems to be the paradigm shift of this generation, taking the PR, word-of-mouth, marketing, etc. out of the hands of large firms and handing it to artists. Was that just natural for you or was it a learning curve?
Luke: I never really wanted to be known as a DIY guy - it was just borne out of necessity. I couldn't find a label to release my records or a booking agent to book my shows, so I just did it myself. At that point you can either just keep emailing people and trying to make the connections to help you, or you can suck it up and do it yourself. Thankfully it's a lot easier now thanks to sites like Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc. If I'd started making music in 2000 rather than 2005 I would never have been able to do any of the stuff that I've done. The Internet and social media is a huge blessing for artists nowadays!
The Internet and social media is a huge blessing for artists nowadays!
And yes, it's all a learning curve. I'm still learning now! You have to make so many decisions about how you project your image on all of these different platforms, how much content you put out, even which platforms to be on. You don't necessarily need to be on Twitter to make it nowadays, and the time you spend tweeting is time you could spend writing songs! There are so many tools available but I think we're all still working out how best to use them.
Luke: To be honest, I still play to around the same amount of people now as when I started out. I guess on average I play to twenty to fifty people whether it's a living room show or a regular show. I've played way bigger shows, but those are mostly support slots or festivals. In terms of what I prefer, I love both! But I think the showman side of me loves playing to a big crowd. It brings the best out of me!
TH: Those kinds of tours are obviously more intimate than a typical performance venue. What are the plusses and minuses of conducting this type of "living room" tour?
Luke: Living room shows are amazing. You're invited into someone's house, you eat with the host and their friends and family, and you get to hang out all night and really get to know the people you're in a room with. It's totally different to a regular show! In terms of minuses, I guess I've played a few odd house shows where I've felt a bit uncomfortable, but that's all part of the joy of playing house shows - you never know what it's going to be like until you turn up, and there's a lot of fun in that.
TH: How did you do a tour in China? Were you enough of a celebrity that you were able to make it there?
Luke: A booking agent said that he wanted to book a tour for me back in 2008 so I went and did it! I'm not a celebrity there at all, but I played to as many people as I would back home and it was awesome! I ate incredible food, got to see loads of different cities and met some lovely people. I also mastered eating with chopsticks finally.
TH: I was pleasantly surprised to hear songs that had an element of faith but not "in-your-face" like a lot of religious music has become. How big a part do your beliefs inform your decisions as an artist or performer?
Luke: In terms of my songwriting, my faith is super important. My songs are just about my life and being a Christian is a huge part of my life. Every song on my latest record, New Season, is about my faith in some way, but I've tried to write the songs so that that content is there if you're listening for it and that's what you want to hear, but it's not super in-your-face and inescapable. Faith is a real turn-off for some people and I don't want to put up barriers that prevent people from enjoying my songs! In the same way, I don't like it when Christian bands write lyrics about faith that are so abstract that they could be about anything. So I hope I've managed to tread that line okay!
TH: It says on your bio you try to get ethically sourced goods and I saw that the church you are a part of tries to do the same. Was your choice born of this community involvment or is this a personal belief that also happens to align with your faith?
Luke: Yep, my merchandise is all ethically traded and I try to use small DIY printers to make the t-shirts so that everything is produced in a fair way that supports good people. Also, £1 from every sale of my latest record is donated to Christian Aid, which is just my way of trying to give something back from the modicum of success I have!
I've been passionate about issues like this since I was a teenager and the nice thing about doing what I do is that I have a chance to make a big decision in the way that I produce something. Most people never get to make a load of t-shirts, and therefore have the decision about whether to make them Fair Trade, but that's one thing that I'm able to do through my music. Hopefully when people buy one, it then becomes an issue that they start thinking about. I'd love it if more bands could start producing ethical merchandise!