Jo Harman - 7 tips from inside the music industry

Jo Harman has been described as “The finest female soul blues singer in the UK” (Daily Mirror) and her debut album, Dirt On My Tongue has been called “A landmark album” (9 stars)” by Country Music Magazine. Having recently recorded her new album in Nashville (due for release in January 2017) Jo, along with her Manager Mark Ede, took some time out from her relentless touring to come and speak with some of our Performance and Production students at dBs Music Bristol FE about their experiences and offer useful industry insight.

1. Find your own way

“Always challenge the status quo. If you can’t find a path, then build a path. I’m not very comfortable singing other people's songs or being told what to do, so by being honest and sincere in how you write can gain you longevity. We’ve just done our own thing and not chased after anything by building a solid fan base from the ground up and by working hard. Where we haven’t chased, we’ve had people come to us. You need to understand yourself as an artist, allow people to guide you when you need it but knowing when to trust your instincts.”

2. The Industry has changed

“Everything we do is independent, we keep the rights to our own music as the industry has changed so much in recent years. I think as a Manager it may be less about trying to get signed, get on Radio 2 etc, it’s more about having a 20/30 year lifetime career where you ARE in control of it. It’s also just as important to build the right team around you. For a lot of artists, they get signed, have maybe 2 years where they play big venues but unfortunately record labels don’t really stay with artists in the way they used to, so when they get dropped they find themselves without any gigs or exposure. For us, it’s about being running under the radar but achieving continual momentum. We do it all ourselves as it’s a DIY industry nowadays but partner with publishers, labels, agents but on our terms, not theirs, as it used to be.”

3. Cure performance anxiety

“The way to get over nerves is to do it as often as you possibly can. Take as many gigs as you can, force yourself to do it, even if you’re ‘Oh I don’t wanna do this one’ get out there and do it. It’s OK to feel that way and you never really stop getting nervous in some way, but if you did it’s probably time to quit as nerves mean that you care. Try and relax and have fun, you can sing in the studio or at home all you want but you need to get on stage as much as you can and visualise it going really well, really positive and at the end of a good gig and you’ll be a pro!”


"You have to be confident, be true to yourself, compelling..."


4. Own your music and be independent

“You have to have a strategy. It costs thousands of pounds to even try to get airplay on Radio 2 through promotion and pluggers, whereas if you sell a CD at a gig for £10 that IS your own, that £10 is yours, not the labels. You can also maintain integrity over your music, write your own songs and be successful and profitable by touring whereas with it costs a lot of money to pitch for TV appearances, radio plays, and, understandably, the label, PR etc will take a lot of money for trying to do that. It’s not an ‘us and them’ situation, but ideally it's about us getting our music direct to and from the fans where you get more substance.”

5. The writing process

“I tend to sit at the piano, or with my guitar, find nice chords that I like and sing a bit above them to find melodies and the shapes of the sounds. If you’re writing a melody it’s about finding the shapes of the words that will work in that melody. I really like to take my time over writing lyrics, they always tend to come from personal experience and I always encourage others to do it that way. I also write with some very good friends of mine but keeping it small where we may come up with ideas for me then to take away and work on. There a couple of writers in the world, such as Foy Vance, that can express something that I like and every now and then there will be something they’ve written that I will take on and interpret. Collaborating with a lot of people, even if it’s one person at a time will take you out of your comfort zone.”

6. Working with others

“You could be an incredible musician but if you are a right old miserable so­-and­-so, you won’t get any work, ever. Being a nice person to be around is really important as we spend so much time with each other on the tours bus and rehearsing. I had to choose a new producer for my new album in Nashville and I had a few options. The one that really struck me was the guy that didn’t blow smoke up my arse. He absolutely said it how it was, how he saw the record, how he saw me, what he could do for me and he was incredibly honest with me. He picked all 14 of the musicians who were all exceptional as most of the songs on my new record are first or second takes. The thing to do is to do a couple of tracks with someone before committing to a whole album as I did in Nashville because you need to have chemistry. I knew the sound for the album I wanted and being able to find someone who was challenging, supportive but also got how I wanted the album to sound was really cool. It was like being welcomed into a family the whole 3 weeks I was there and it’s also about learning and getting as much as you can from these incredible people but knowing what you want from them to play and do.”

7. How to get noticed

“We kind of got known for being this blues singer when I’m really not but it helped us gain fans and finance other ventures. My music is quite diverse, and on my first album I really liked going against the grain with 3 ballads at the start. We thought the audience is going to hate this, but they didn’t. The lesson there is to stick to your guns and do what makes you happy and not stick to the rules. The worse thing you can do as an artist is make bland music and if there are people who really don’t like you, that means there are also people who really do like you. You have to be confident, be true to yourself, compelling and stand out somehow. Either love me or hate me, indifference has no place here.”