Finding humanity in the cold digital age of music, with Mr Smith frontman Gav
Not too long ago, we reviewed a band that had a very unique way of delivering their music. While most musicians want to make a living from their art and so they sell it, the delightfully British Mr Smith don’t believe that music is a commodity to be sold. As such, they release all their tracks free through a (also free) mobile app.
It’s a novel approach, but who are the band behind the novelty? We speak to Mr Smith frontman Gav on who they are and how the app was formed.
So, where did the band begin?
“I’ve been doing music stuff with Tom since we were literally kids at school. Tom managed to get a band together and we just did the usual really; played covers and jammed on some 12-bar blues. Eventually we wrote a few tunes and recorded them but we didn’t really know what we were doing. Dirk then came along and brought a more creative aspect, and he is/was a wunderkind who managed to put his own studio set-up together way before it was easy! We’re from the era of 4-track tape recorders, my friend!
“Fast forward a few years and many gigs we hit upon the Mr Smith idea and ideals. Making quirky British music and, most importantly, giving it away for free!”
“Record companies aren’t throwing around million dollar contracts anymore, and A&R executives aren’t finishing a day of work to listen to a random band in an empty bar.”
Do you consider yourselves a studio band, or a live band?
“Right now we’re definitely studio and online. The plan is to start gigging at some point next year, but we’re so busy making new songs and getting them ‘out there’ that we find pure rehearsal time hard to come by. That’s fine by me, but there’s definitely a feeling that we’re missing out on gigs. We used to be a ‘live band’ but then found we didn’t have the time to make new stuff. Somewhere there must be a balance, but I expect that won’t be any time soon!”
What’s the songwriting process like for you?
“Usually someone will come to band camp with an idea that tends to consist of a verse and a chorus played along to guitar. Then if we’re inspired we’ll work on it for a bit to see where it goes. You know, we’ll create a middle-8 together and then work on a structure. Lyrics are usually the last thing. Some ideas develop very quickly, some take a bit of work, and sometimes we flog a horse until we’re brave enough to pronounce it dead.”
“We’ve always given our songs away for free. We’re firmly of the opinion that the actual songs are just the advert for the band. We could sell the tracks on iTunes and have them on Spotify (they’re on there, but we tend not to mention it… except for just then) but we know that we’d have to sell something like 30,000 tracks every month to make minimum wage. We don’t plan to be homeless, so we all work and we make music for fun in our spare time.
“We have always embraced new technologies. We used to have people stream music from our website and we’re talking 10 years ago we were doing that. The natural progression from there seemed to be using an app. Everyone has them, everyone is used to using them, and everyone listens to music that way these days.
“The free music idea came from Tom, his brother, and Dirk… who got drunk and had a curry. The app… I think that was a collective thing. Dirk’s the genius who can make apps and you might as well make use of the talent you have, right?”
Do you think it’s important for new artists to find new and innovative ways, like this, to deliver their music to their audience?
“I do think it’s important because how else do you stand out from the crowd? Look, record companies aren’t throwing around million dollar contracts anymore, and A&R executives aren’t finishing a day of work in an office then going and listening to a random band in an empty bar, just in case they hit on something. The industry has changed beyond all recognition and not one record company is being innovative. They’re frightened that people download music for free because that’s their revenue stream, and it wasn’t long ago that they were trying to criminalise folk sharing their music with each other. It’s out of their control now, and we need people to innovate to liberate music from these companies. Once we as artists have control, music as an art form will benefit and we can educate and mobilise fans of music.”
What’s next for you?
“A new version of the app actually. We’re working on a redesign, and more content. So the plan is that we’ll be releasing ‘something’ every week. That might be a cover version of something we like, a work in progress, or an acoustic version of our tunes.
“Also, we’re going to make the app more interactive so that we can build a community of fans on there, and so that we can talk to people that want to talk to us. One idea is that if someone Tweets with the hashtag #SmithApp then that Tweet will appear on the app and you’d be able to respond through the app too. That’s taking up our time at the moment, and we’re always working on new songs.”
If there’s anything superbly special about Mr Smith, it’s that the people – the audience – form the backbone and the heart of what they do. Free music delivered through cold digital formats, but with the humanity of engagement to make it rewarding. Mr Smith are musical geniuses.