I recently watched Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl - an honest, frank, no-frills documentary that gives an interesting insight into the harsh realities of the music industry. The documentary features DIY footage documenting Kate’s music career. It shows her songwriting, recording, on the road touring and portrays her various struggles as a musician.
As a musician, it was both inspiring, yet, also somewhat depressing. At certain points, it made me want to turn my back on any dream of ever “making it” in the cut-throat music industry. I had similar feelings when I watched the ‘Avicci: True Stories’ documentary. He, too, was totally content when creating music, but was pushed in ways he was not comfortable with by his own management. The mental and physical impact of touring excessively whilst suffering alcoholism and various medical problems were tragic, ultimately leading to his death in 2018 at the age of just 28.
The two documentaries showed that the music industry can change your life in a second. Kate’s debut album, Brick by Brick, was a hit. She won Best Newcomer at the NME Awards and her single Foundations charted at #2 in the UK for five weeks - every 2007 teen remembers the words to that song! However, she was dropped in a heartbeat by her label after releasing her follow-up album, 'My Best Friend Is You', which was a million miles away from Brick by Brick, with a punk-rock sound.
During the time where she had to literally rebuild her career brick by brick, she also suffered thousands of pounds worth of fraud and theft from her ex-manager, which resulted in a court case, which she fortunately won.
What particular resonated with me was her outspoken criticism of the music industry and in particular its (mis)treatment of women. This line, delivered so nonchalantly by Nash, really stood out: “As a woman you can’t even scream on an album, but as a man you can talk about raping bitches”. She was referring to one of her own songs, which she was told to tone down vocally.
It’s hard for artists, but particularly women, to play the exact kind of music they want in the world and not get spat out by the music industry. After watching Miley Cyrus cover Metallica, Led Zeppelin and Amy Winehouse at Glastonbury, it seemed that perhaps she, too, wants to break away from her poppy good-girl-gone-bad persona and delve into more rocky territories.
Thankfully Kate’s career is back on track from a monetary perspective. She’s releasing more music and has again stepped in a new direction, demonstrating that she’s fearless about changing up her sound. She’s also following her dream of acting and landed a role in GLOW. She showed true grit, determination and strength. Although there were moments of real vulnerability and frustration, she never lost her spirit, and that’s why I think she’s an inspiration to artists today, particularly women artists.
The documentary also echoed the idea that one does not pursue a career in music for money. To make substantial money from music, you have to be prepared to make many sacrifices. Going into the music industry has to be motivated by pure passion for your craft. Let’s face it, the nine to five is a comfier, more reliable and safer option (albeit mundane in comparison).
The music industry seems incredibly difficult to navigate. In the past, it was more clear cut - you needed the support of a label to get you off the ground and they would take a sizeable chunk of your profits. They had a lot of control over you but putting out an album was near impossible without them.
Today, you can record an album in your bedroom. This has prompted an increase in artists forgoing labels altogether and simply doing things themselves, us included. It's challenging, but you keep 100% creative control of your music and no one will take a huge cut.
The documentary demonstrated the challenges faced as a DIY artist. Your career must be about more than music. You must be a marketer, a solid songwriter (be prepared to write for commercials, TV etc.), promoter and an all-round musician. Furthermore, you must realise the music industry is a people industry and whether friends, or enemies, you need people to be successful. In our case, we’ve been lucky to have friends who have been able to help us record our music and assist with our marketing.
For now, we thoroughly enjoy being DIY artists and are both working part-time in order to give music enough time. Currently we’re back in the drawing room working on new material in the hope of releasing a new EP next year. We'll be documenting this in a blog soon, so watch this space.
Read our gigging guide for musicians.
You can listen to our latest single, Wake Up America (Ban The Gun), here.