Interview: Rob Town of Lightning in a Bottle

A year ago today, a press release dropped into our inbox about a new company called Lightning in a Bottle, set up by Toby Jepson of Little Angels/Wayward Sons, and Rob Town of Panic Cell/Stampede Press. In his capacity of running Stampede Press, Rob sends us a lot of great music for us to check out and subsequently tell you all about. With a year under their belts of launching Lightning in a Bottle, I decided to ask Rob about the progress of the company, why they decided to set it up in the first place and what they can offer bands and naturally, it puts the music industry of 2019 under the microscope.

Lighting in a Bottle turns a year old this month, how has the journey been with it so far?

It is incredible to think that it has been a year already! It’s been really inspiring all round. The people that we’ve met, the support we’ve received, the positive reactions from artists we’ve worked with, and continue to work with, has been nothing short of amazing.

What prompted you and Toby Jepson to create it in the first place? How long did it take from its initial concept to officially launching it?

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a fair while now. Ever since my venture with Panic Cell and the advent of social media and the evolution of digital, self production, promotion, and distribution; I’ve always had this desire for more transparency in the music industry for musicians looking to go beyond music being a hobby and essentially becoming their own music business. It’s not enough to just want to “be in a band”, especially these days when competition is fierce and opportunities staggered and ultimately limited, especially in the rock/metal sectors which are niche markets compared to popular music.

When I met Toby in 2013, we both shared similar views as we’d both gone through the “do it yourself” process and had our own experiences of the common pitfalls in the music industry that artists and bands fall into very easily, and unfortunately this leads to a range of challenging issues that can take the passion out of creativity. The genesis of the idea took a fair while to fully form before we decided to launch, and with that, a fair chunk of graft to get things set up so we were confident Lightning In A Bottle was offering a unique and valuable experience to musicians. Though we have our core services in place, as the music business is frequently evolving, we adapt to the changes.

For those who don’t know what a music management consultancy agency is, what services can Lightning in a Bottle offer bands?

It’s an opportunity for music artists and bands to get professional advice from seasoned musicians and music business people that have over 60 years’ experience in the music industry, without getting tied into long term contracts. If you take someone like Toby who has been through the major label system, myself who progressed independently because of the innovation of digital, then take everything in-between up to now; we have a broad but focused handle on where things are, where they’ve come from, and where they’re going in the near future. Keeping up to date with the daily changes is a challenge in itself and for any musicians that are juggling their careers with jobs not affiliated with the music industry that is a challenge. Our core services involve online consultations, music workshops, mentoring, song writing and production opportunities, plus education and keynote speeches.

Does a band need to be at a certain point of their career before they can work with yourselves? Or do they need to meet certain criteria?

We encourage bands at any level to get involved, where possible. The music business is moving so fast and can be a challenging arena for creative mindsets, but spending even just an hour with Toby and I, we can give artists a realistic checkpoint and routes forward when situations seem impossible.

You and Toby both come from rock and metal backgrounds, do bands need to be operating in these genres or are you willing to go outside that realm, such as blues or acoustic acts?

Ultimately even though our expertise resides within the rock and metal genres, we’ve worked with all sorts of music artists. Whilst the landscape of the industry will differ in some places, ultimately the take home message “the art is the heart” exists everywhere. Once artists have that as their foundation and know how to keep a hold on to that, everything else follows through consultation, workshops and education.

Have you ever approached bands in offering them Lightning in a Bottle’s services or is it only bands approaching yourselves?

Generally, we are approached by artists. It’s a very personal thing to have your music discussed in such an honest, rational way as Toby and I do. Ultimately, our goal is to inspire musicians and everything we do falls in line with that. But as music artists, you do need to be prepared for reality checks and be resilient enough not to take anything discussed personally. We appreciate the need for dreams and challenges, it’s an ethos we utilise every day. But the music business is just that, a business, and with that comes a huge set of terms and conditions. If an artist approaches us, it’s because they’re looking for answers to help them understand the music industry better. We do always have our ear to the ground through our other ventures like Stampede Press and Toby’s work as a producer and if an artist/band pique our interest, now and again we reach out. But as I said, that artist really needs to want to go through the process of what’s involved with Lightning In A Bottle.

As you also run Stampede Press, if you work with a band and you feel a press campaign is their next logical step, do you recommend yourself if you feel it would be the right fit for both parties whilst advising them to do their own research and due diligence with other PR companies?

It’s got to be the right fit for everyone, including me. If I feel there’s a connection and that it makes sense for Stampede and the artist to work together on a music promotion campaign, I’ll suggest it. Ultimately, it’s got to be right for the artist/band. I pass on any work where I feel I am not the right person for the job and offer reliable alternatives who might be more suitable. Taking a pay day simply for the money when you know it’s not right is wrong in my book. I need to sleep at night.

You often say there is no “magic bullet” to success in the music industry. Speaking specifically on PR, would you say that’s even more true?

Bear with me here: There are more musicians and artists/bands than ever. A recent research report by Youth Music states that music is now a favourite hobby equal to gaming and ahead of sport, drama and dance. 67% of the children and young people surveyed reported they engaged in some form of music-making activities. Spotify claim they have nearly 40,000 songs added every 24 hours. There is an estimated 576,000 hours of videos added to YouTube every day. In 2006, at its peak, MySpace had 100 million active users, in 2019 Facebook is closing in on 3 billion users and that’s continuing to grow.

My point? On one hand, there is an amazing plethora of tools for music artists to profile their music and for music businesses like Stampede Press to profile music to the industry. On the other hand, there is a huge amount of content regularly digested by the populous and this needs to be taken into account but without it disrupting an artist’s passion for creativity and drive. Making great art that engages music fans has never been more important than it is now. PR is only as good as the music and the artist’s strategies. There is no magic bullet, whatever level you are at… there are always challenges. The more an artist can be prepared mentally and physically, the better. The music industry is not for the faint-hearted.

We work with hundreds of PR companies and more are constantly set up. Do you think more music consultancy agencies are going to follow suit?

Possibly, if they are done for the right reasons. As with any music business, if an artist is unsure, do research. Reputable people should have proven track records and be spoken well of in the musician / industry community. There are plenty of sites, Facebook groups that can help music artists find the good people in the music industry.

You’ve recently finished your Master’s degree with WaterBear, how did studying inform Lightning in a Bottle and vice versa?

They both went hand in hand, even if it was mentally challenging. Even with the experience I have got to date, there was a wealth of learning to be had that’s helped me to bring something new to Lightning In A Bottle and Stampede. I’m already looking at new innovative ventures based around what I do with both companies thanks to WaterBear and what I have gained from doing the Master’s Degree.

What do you think the future holds for Lightning in a Bottle?

Exciting music artists, bands and incredible songs and bodies of work that inspire listeners and musicians alike. Music changes lives and should never be taken for granted. We want to continue to be at the coalface of new music and help aspiring artists realise their true potential when it comes to creating art that emotionally connects with music listeners.

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