Blood, Sweat, Tears

What does it take to break through? It’s the big music industry question, the one for which there are no easy answers. I would always say it is a combination of factors – hard work, perseverance, great songs, ability, luck and timing/fashionability. Of course you can add any number of others – being naturally photogenic never hurts in this image-conscious world for example. So, good looks, great talent, bloody mindedness plus blood, sweat and tears and not necessarily in that order.

Naturally there are exceptions, I recently read TraceyThorn’s autobiography and she made the early years sound pretty easy, perhaps it was rose-tinted reflection or maybe that’s how it was for her, others seldom find it that simple.

A good example of this is Biffy Clyro who probably only stepped into most people’s consciousness in the last four years – even mine only slightly prior to that. They’ve actually been together since 1995 which means it took them twelve years and three albums to build enough of a following to break through, with another two albums and years to become mainstream or big enough to sell out arenas. If that sounds like a long-haul then perhaps you’re not as committed as they were?

They are the epitome of the general belief that the songs will out as even their earlier, more ragged albums contain some real gems. The one that stood out for me during the LG Arena gig last month was from the 2007 ‘breakthrough’ album Puzzle.

Take the pieces and build them skywards indeed. I doubt I’ll ever tire of hearing that track.
A familiar way of getting a leg-up in the past has always been by either having a manager who already has successful acts – they have the ear of the labels – or by being regularly touted yourself by a famous act. Rappers & RnB stars have been good at the latter, hyping their mates and giving them guest roles on tracks and the like.
In this vein Passenger has the patronage of Ed Sheeran which is possibly invaluable at this point, although not always a guarantee of success (what is?). Let Her Go is simple but effective and has 17 million views on YouTube. It looks unstoppable.

Sticking with the singer-songwriter vibe a couple of others look worthy of recognition. Luke Sital-Singh was described by the Guardian as 'a British Bon Iver' which is a nice pigeonhole but one he’ll want to escape if he wants to cross-over. Bottled Up Tight builds nicely to an anthem of significant proportions.

Keaton Henson is a recent find for me via the familiar route of the ‘sync’. A couple of his tracks were featured on the BBC series, In The Flesh. Their haunting nature certainly matched the theme of the programme and prompted me to use shazam to find out what I was hearing.

He’s another artist who has been slowly chipping away and picking up plaudits as he goes. The long tail is the creative and credible route to success, minor or major. He may have been initially hampered by stage-fright and shyness but he has been getting out and about of late, including possibly a Birmingham show that I’m sure I saw listed somewhere but now cannot find – leading me to imagine that I’ve dreamt it. 
Comparisons have been made to Josh T. Pearson whom I saw at The Glee in 2011 and subsequently wandering up Oxford Street in London (he does stand-out from the crowd) but Henson is even more dour and introspective it seems. Whether this is a recipe for success remains to be seen, it’s absolutely certain that no-one knows for sure.