These are a few interview style questions that we put to Leo Aram-Downs about his battle with work life balance as he breaks into a the music industry with his blend of acoustic music and witty lyrics. We first met Leo at Ella Guru (You can read about that here).
Start-up projects and going it alone are a big talking point right now with a move away from faceless corporate jobs towards the dream of ‘making your stamp on your industry’. But what is it really like for a young adult trying to make their way in an ever-condensing market of musicians and singer song writers? Read Leo’s answers to find out.
How would you describe your style of music and who are some of your main inspirations?
I’d describe the music I make as pop music with a bit of a progressive edge. Musicians I enjoy are the ones who are bringing all kinds of elements together into whatever field they’re in. I love artists like Animals As Leaders, Hiatus Kaiyote, Bon Iver, Imogen Heap, Jon Gomm, Kaki King, Chris Thile, Little Tybee, Snarky Puppy, Kendrick Lamar, Lianne Le Havas, and loads more. I feel like this is just a tiny cross-section of some of the people who are doing incredible work. They all bring something new to their given genre and I always gravitate towards musicians like that. I guess that’s kind of what I want to eventually end up becoming as an artist.
How long have you been doing this for and what did you do before?
I think I’m kind of cheating on this question because I’m still a student. I’m graduating in the summer so lord knows what I’ll end up doing after that but as it is my main focus is just wrapping up the end of my degree and trying to simultaneously stay busy as a musician. So in a work sense this is technically what I do although it’s not currently what I make a living off. Generally though, I’ve been playing guitar and songwriting for about 13 years now.
Can you think of any key challenges you had to overcome and how did you battle them to get to where you are?
I think the one thing that I always come up against is my neverending internal debate about whether what I make is good or engaging enough. I’m finishing up a pretty big project currently and whenever I sit down to do mixing or recording or writing I catch myself having doubts about the material itself. After a good few months of exposure to some of these songs (especially when they’re in their most primitive state) you can very easily doubt the quality of what you’re eventually putting out there. For me the best way to counter that feeling is to have a group of people who I trust to totally deconstruct and critique my work before it goes out as a means of more objective quality control. That, and it’s always helpful for me to keep in mind that the world doesn’t need what I’m producing. At the end of the day what we’re putting out most likely won’t result in the giant impact that we all love to fantasize about. With that in mind you have to remember that, ultimately, if you’re not connecting with and enjoying the work you’re making, there’s a large chance that whoever’s listening will tell that as well. So essentially, taking time to get it right and always having someone there for a serious reality check is a useful thing.
What is the dream, or where would you like to see yourself in five or ten years?
My Mum once said that the best thing one can have in life is options, and I really do believe that to be the case. I think the “dream” as it were would get to a point not only where I can live off my playing, whether that be session work or my stuff or whatever it ends up being, but also be able to have the option where I can go out and try different things creatively or in a totally different field of work should I want to.
How do you find balancing lifestyle and downtime with your music?
Downtime is an interesting one because I usually like to have at least part of my brain reserved for thinking about music stuff at any given time. Either I’m thinking about chord shapes and progressions or I’m mentally ironing out the kinks in lyrics I’m trying to finish. It’s the same with listening to music, I like to be quite active as a listener to get some information out of what I’m listening to. The only time I’m not really thinking about it is when I’m doing some urgent work for uni, listening to podcasts or playing a video game that’s mentally intense.
As for lifestyle, exercise (and because of that, my overall health) tends to get neglected quite a lot for various reasons. Either I’m pretty busy throughout the day or I’m just plain lazy, and as a result I’m pretty inconsistent to say the least with fitness.
If you could give one piece of advice to a young spark looking to start in the music industry, what would that be?
In honesty I feel highly under qualified answering this but nevertheless I’ll give it a go!
My main real piece of advice for anyone really is to know their medium as fluently as they can. It doesn’t matter what instrument you play or how you want to communicate your music, the more you know about your instrument and how it works, the more flexibility you’ll have when it comes to realising your ideas and supporting your lyrical ideas (assuming you’re a singer/songwriter)
Another thing I would say is to utilise the power of the internet not as a promoting tool but as a networking tool. There’s an incredible wealth of information and opportunities on sites like Showcase, Gumtree and also certain Facebook groups that will really help you find the right people.
Be open to influence from literally anywhere. If a piece of art or literature or an event compells you to make something as a response, always run with those ideas. Related to that, let yourself have as many random ideas as you can. Even if you end up following bad ideas, a fraction of those are guaranteed to turn into something you can call on later. The amount of times I’ve lifted lyrics from songs I haven’t liked to finish a song I like is incredibly high.
Also my one golden rule for people looking to get shows in London: Never ever play shows promoted by Absent Kelly. They are the worst thing to happen to the London music scene full-stop. Never play with them.
What has been your favourite event you have attended this month? If not month, this year?
One of my favourite gigs to go to is London Guitar Night, a monthly night at The Troubadour dedicated mainly to Fingerstyle Guitar. It brings out so many amazing artists in the genre from all over the place everyone there is generally super lovely. First Sunday of every month so you you should totally get down there. Speaking of monthly shows, EllaGuru is an amazing example as well. Always a bunch of vibrant, interesting acts and everything goes to Charity which is brilliant. Monday nights at the Bedford are always great too. Basically any small gig night where the audience are as keen to hear music as the acts are to play it is always enjoyable from whatever angle you enjoy it from.
As for big gigs, I haven’t been to as many as I’d have hoped recently but the ones that have really stood out over the past year or so have been Adam Ben Ezra, Watsky, Meshuggah and Public Service Broadcasting. I also have Avishai Cohen, Jon Gomm and Periphery lined up so it’s gonna be a great year for gigs! 🙂
And finally, what do you think is the best part about being an upcoming musician right now?
My personal favourite part is what a lot of other people might consider the worst part of being a musician right now, which is the sheer amount of music out there. I love finding new musicians who are doing things I would never consider doing otherwise. It challenges me to work on areas of my technique and songwriting and that’s what I really get out of music. Having access to so many unique musicians that have, against most odds, made a unique niche for themselves in the world and that’s one of things that helps keep me going.
Check out some of Leo’s music here:
Thank you so much for talking to us and telling us about your experiences! We love your music and well definitely be headed out to some of your upcoming gigs!
Do you have any tips or advice on how to overcome challenges in the working world? Let us know by talking to us on Twitter!
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