Interview: Those Willows

Posted on 10 Sep 2013 |

Hannah Boothby, Soundreef

Those Willows are Jack and Melissa, a duo from Portland, Oregon. They started working with Soundreef in October 2012 and have been a runaway success, with our clients playing their songs over and over again. They’re an unsigned band, but the quality of their music shines out and makes them a hot tip for future stardom.

Jack and Melissa have been writing songs together for about five years. ‘We started out as an acoustic duo just doing coffee shops,’ Jack explains, ‘And it kinda turned into a band and then back to a duo, then into a band again…’

When they met, Jack liked Feeder and was into rock bands, but they soon realised how much people could be affected by more basic, stripped-down songwriting. They talk about how they were inspired by musicians at a folk festival in Michigan: ‘There was this band that we saw,’ Jack recalls, ‘And they just played on two [tree] stumps… There was a ‘cello player and acoustic guitar player, but they just had such an amazing presence.’

‘They enchanted everyone,’ Melissa adds.

The band used to hire studios to record their material, but have recently installed recording equipment in their apartment and started laying down new material with the help of a friend. ‘It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and we can get out more of what we actually want to hear,’ Melissa says.

The new set-up has also changed the way they write. ‘Working with a friend has helped us shape the songs and has been a good learning experience for us,’ Jack comments.

Despite the band doing so well out of Soundreef, they don’t actually write with background music in mind. ‘It must be in the back of our heads somewhere,’ Melissa says, ‘But I think it’s more what we’re feeling at the time and it’s really self expression.’

Jack laughs. ‘We tried at some point to write background stuff,’ he adds, ‘But it failed!’

The band first heard about Soundreef when Jack was researching a college project on music licensing. ‘I went to school for creative advertising,’ he explains. ‘I wanted to do something that tied in with what I was doing musically, but also have the business end of it, because a lot of people don’t know the business end of music.’ His project ended up being quite useful: ‘It’s my quick and easy guide to how to get your music out there! I’ve given it to a couple of friends here to help them out.’ (Read Jack's project here.)

Soon, with the help of his father, he was trying to make his own music available for licensing. ‘It takes so much time to first get your songs looked at,’ he says. ‘And then from there, starting to get them circulated, and then from there seeing any of the profit that you’re actually made… I think what I actually say in my book is, “Patience is the key to licensing music, ‘cos it just takes a while!”’

Jack’s father, David, says: ‘I was pretty impressed with their songwriting ability and thought that maybe I could find a revenue stream for them, some kind of income to help them out as they continue to try to make it in the music industry with their performance.’

So he started researching: ‘I ended up finding out about the term “music licensing”.’ The results were a bit daunting: ‘There were hundreds, literally maybe hundreds and hundreds of music licensing companies… I looked at all of them, and I first came across your sister company, Beatpick, and so we’ve been a member of that for a few years. And through Beatpick, I was seeing things about Soundreef.’

David thought that Soundreef seemed different to the others: ‘I was really fascinated with the concept of the technology-driven company. It was transparent, which I like, so you always knew what was going on. I had a very, very positive experience with Beatpick in the past, so I felt good about it and I was also reading a few years ago where in Europe, where there was no longer a monopoly for the performing rights organisations out there to basically paying the royalties for the composers and so now it’s opened up to competition, and Soundreef was basically the first one, maybe the only one, that really perceived the opportunity and went after the marketplace in Europe. So I was very, very intrigued by the concept.’

He also found the terms of the Soundreef membership agreement appealing: ‘I was never interested in exclusive agreements, where a music licensing would try to license your song exclusively, because you never know what they’re going to do with them – they may do nothing and then you’ve basically lost the opportunity to market the song. So I like the idea of non-exclusivity, transparency, and also I felt that in the past when I dealt with Beatpick, your sister company, they were very, very responsive. They responded to me very, very quickly. And the same with Soundreef, too. I like that. I like the idea of people being very responsive.’

He didn’t have the same experience with some other licensing companies. ‘I researched hundreds of them; the people are well-intentioned, but some of them are just composers that really don’t have a business background… and I’ve basically had to discontinue some of them because they’re just so poorly managed. And our songs are being played on TV stations or TV shows and they just weren’t keeping track of things. And so you have to be very careful who you sign up with. You have to really try to understand the agreement and what the risks are from both sides. With Soundreef, I thought it was very easy to join. And it would be very easy to discontinue – I wouldn’t want to, but they make it very band friendly and it’s very easy to load the songs up on the player. You have to add a few things on the metadata, describing the type of song. It’s a very, very easy process. And you’ve usually loaded up the song and in a matter of just a few days, they’re active.

David agrees that it’s difficult for independent musicians to collect international royalties. ‘We’re in the States, and it’s very, very difficult – you never know what’s out there! You don’t know who’s using their music, and you don’t know if the performing rights organisations, the PROs, who we currently have a reciprocal agreement with, with our PROs here in the United States, you don’t know what they’re doing. You really don’t. With Soundreef, you know where songs are playing, you know what songs are playing, how many times the songs are playing, so there’s transparency. I could not tell you today if any of the songs are being played that were licensed to the PROs out there. I have no idea. I’ve never received a royalty, I can tell you that!’

David handles the royalites websites, while Jack and Melissa take care of the social media work, though David makes sure that Jack and Melissa understand how everything works. ‘I don’t want to be naïve about it,’ Jack says. ‘I want to know what’s going to happen!’

What advice would Those Willows give artists who want to follow in their footsteps?

The band suggest that artists should create an instrumental version of each of their songs. ‘We’ve had the most success with instrumental versions,’ Melissa says. They recommend some websites: ‘Sonicbids has gotten us quite a few of the bigger shows, so it’s nice to have a profile up there,’ Melissa says. Jack points out that it has a start-up cost, but thinks it’s worth the money. Melissa also likes Reverb Nation: ‘That’s been a really good way to network and meet other musicians.’ The band are currently featured in the Reverb Nation folk charts. They also suggest Bandcamp, their album is available for download.

At the moment, the band says, it’s just about being heard – but even though they’re earning from Soundreef, are they happy about having to give their songs away for free on other sites? ‘I think it bothered me at the start of this all,’ Jack says, ‘But now… You have to go with the times, you have to get moving. And a lot of people do buy CDs at shows – it’s just that there’s a lot of people who don’t!’

Melissa agrees. ‘Once you come to terms with it, giving your music away is a good move because really what you want to do is get your music out there. So if you’re playing enough shows then I guess that’s where you have to expect the income from. If they’re downloading our CD then you can hope they support us in separate ways. We just want people to listen!’

The band want to carry on getting their music heard – perhaps by a wider range of people. ‘We would like to be able to not only play shows in our general area but in a broader arena. We’d love to travel, to tour,’ Melissa says.

David agrees: ‘We want to have the group continuing to grow their fanbase and hopefully get more and more exposure. They’ve had their songs being played on TV shows here in the United States. Maybe at some point a record label will be interested in them; maybe they’ll just get enough of a following that they can play bigger and bigger shows.’ But he finds it hard to tell what the future might hold when the technology is changing so quickly. ‘It’s hard to navigate it because there’s just uncertainty out there. But they are excellent songwriters and I’m hoping that that will catch someone’s attention.’

For the moment, though, they have work to finish off: they’re currently recording an EP and will soon be thinking about another album. ‘We write a lot of music!’ Jack says. Hear it soon on Soundreef!

Are you an independent artist wanting to get your tracks heard, and get paid for what you do? Register your music with Soundreef for free and collect royalties when your music is played in the background in stores.