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In conversation with musician Tom Speight

Isobel Lawrance 19th Apr 2022 No Comments

Reading Time: 12 minutes

In this instalment of the How to be a MoneyMagpie podcast, our founder Jasmine Birtles is joined by singer-songwriter Tom Speight. Tom discusses being a full-time musician and the pros and cons of touring and making music.

You can listen to and watch the full podcast here, or read the transcription below!

The podcast

Jasmine Birtles: Well, hello and welcome to the MoneyMagpie podcast. If you’re watching this podcast don’t forget to share and like and just tell everyone how fabulous it is because hey, you know it is. I’m Jasmine Birtles, and I’m the founder of money magpie.com and today I’m joined by the wonderful singer songwriter Tom Speight.

If you haven’t heard Tom’s music go to his website, which is tomspeightmusic.com. And hopefully we’ll be allowed to play a bit a bit later in the podcast. Is that alright, Tom?

Tom Speight: Yeah. Sounds good to me. Yeah.

Jasmine Birtles: Oh, great. Well, now, Tom, let’s get straight into it. Because you and I met on on telly or on a programme and we were talking at the time about the business of music, now you’re doing what so many others would give their right arm to do you’re making money making music. But is it as glamorous as it looks?

Tom Speight: Yeah, it’s, it’s a weird thing, isn’t it? Because I imagine a lot of people’s perception of, you know, musicians these days comes via social media. And I think obviously, with social media, they kind of you get the, you know, the highlight reel of someone’s life. But I you know, is it as glamorous as it looks, I feel very, very lucky to do music as a full time job. Because, you know, for me, it isn’t a job. So that, that that’s the biggest, you know, reward.

There is really and as the glam, there’s, yeah, there’s definitely parts that isn’t glamorous, you know, touring isn’t particularly glamorous, staying in, you know, not very nice hotels, and getting in late and, you know, missing home and all that kind of stuff, but it’s just it’s such a privilege to kind of have music as your full time job. I think that’s that is to me that, you know, so that’s the biggest win.

Jasmine Birtles: True, but as a job, you’re not 100% sure what money you’re going to get, of course, because you can get amazing money. You know, we all see the big ones the big glamorous musicians who make millions, literally millions. But how do you make sure that you can pay the bills that you can pay your mortgage that you can you can eat etc, when your your your business’s music?

Tom Speight: I think you can never too, you can never be too sure, obviously, with music and it is you know, I think that’s probably one of my biggest worries is like, I suppose to staying in the game of being a full time musician, really. But you know, I’ve been doing music kind of as like as a full time recording artists for nearly seven years now. And I’m on my coming up to my I’ve just about to write and record my third album. And I think it’s, it’s just, you know, I’m constantly trying to grow the project, be ambitious with it, but not, you know, my, my kind of my goal isn’t to be Ed Sheeran, you know, because there’s only really one Ed Sheeran.

My goal was just to have longevity and, you know, you know, hopefully produce 10, 15 albums, you know, and it’s just about staying in the game. And I think, if you constantly work hard, and you, you know, I think one of my, my strongest thing is, is I’m like, I have a very loyal connection with my fans. I like to think those my fans will stay with me which in it, they, they’re kind of, you know, they’re the reason I have a career. So, yeah, it’s very worrying to kind of stay in the game, but I think you you kind of, you know, you live within your means.

So obviously, you know, I have, you know, as my career has grown, I’ve recorded in like fancier studios, that Abbey Road, or, you know, in America and stuff like that, but I certainly didn’t start off like that, you know, I was recording and, you know, smaller studios with a tighter budget. And as the project’s grown, that’s when I’ve increased to kind of, you know, take it to the next stage, really, but I think you just got to keep working hard and not take it for granted.

Jasmine Birtles: Yeah, and obviously, there are different things. I mean, you’ve mentioned albums, there are different elements to being a musician that will make money so what what do you think because I’m approaching it from as a business here.

Tom Speight: Yeah, sure.

Jasmine Birtles: So, I mean, you’ve mentioned albums, I’m guessing those sell you make some money off those the Spotify and streaming, there’s actual gigging. Are there other elements or other places to make?

Tom Speight: So I make predominantly most of my money from streaming platforms, which a lot of people are I think always kind of a bit shocked about because, you know, streaming in the papers and media is kind of perceived as a like, you know, they don’t really pay very much and all this kind of stuff, but for me, personally, I set up my own record label and then I licence my record so I was kind of like the biggest stakeholder in my mind music, which is, is an amazing thing.

And I feel very lucky that I was in that position where I could release music. Then people kind of, I don’t know, reacted well to it. And then I was in a position where I could licence it and grow it from that point of view. But other platforms were make, my I suppose just continued to, to make a living out of music is I had like six or seven plays that records on radio too. So you get the royalties from that.

I was one of the most played artists on Love Island, so you’ve got TV aspect. And then gigs, festivals, you know, I earn a bit of money from festivals, you know, when you came to, you came to see me in February, that I wouldn’t, you know, people would have thought oh, sold out gig in London, I actually made loss on that gig, because I try and put on a great show for my fans, which would have been, you know, a five, six piece band, and you know, I like to treat them well look after them. So, there’s definitely different ways you can, you know, you can make a living out of a musician, I write for other people.

So that’s another thing you know, and, and during lockdown, when obviously, things dried up a little bit with the live performance, I was teaching, I went back to teaching guitar, you know, which is still for me music. And I finally, I find that, you know, highly rewarding as well. So I always just try and keep busy and make sure that I’ve got, you know, constantly writing gigging and, you know, writing for other people, and then hopefully, something will pay off. I have also, I did a few, like cover versions of songs, which have kind of almost like, you know, helped me make another record, which is kind of crazy, you know. But yeah, there’s definitely other avenues.

But you know, I’ve been doing musics for 15/20 years. And I would say, you know, if you said to someone, you know, if you’re doing saying a business, you’re not going to make money for the first 10 years, people would be like, I’m not, I’m not signing up for that. So you’ve got to, you know, you’ve got to really, really love it. And, you know, as I said earlier, in your first question, I am, you know, extremely lucky. And I think, because I love it so much.

I, you know, it’s a lot of people switch off after work, you know, I, you know, I’m constantly thinking about song writing ideas at midnight, all this kind of stuff. So it is kind of like it’s very consuming, but in a in a really great way. Because I do love it.

Everything’s waiting for you – tom speight

Jasmine Birtles: Well, you you say that you’re lucky. But honestly, from what you’ve just said, it sounds to me that you work, you really do work.

Tom Speight: Yeah, it’s you know, it’s it is it’s a job in itself. But it’s a great job, you know, so

Jasmine Birtles: Yeah, but then you’ve got lots of different streams, is it right, that if you, if you write the music, you’re more likely to make the money? Is that where a lot of the cash comes from?

Tom Speight: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I remember when I was growing up, and people would say, oh, you know, make sure you write the songs and stuff. And I do obviously write my songs. But I think the way the world is going now, I think it you know, if you read the papers, or like Taylor Swift, I think it’s mainly about owning as much of your music as possible, because that’s where, you know, you can make most of the money.

And I think the amazing thing about like, you know, the internet and things like that is, you’re not so reliant on major labels to, you know, put your album in HMV, for example, you can read it online, you know, you can listen to it at home, within, like, you know, an hour of me putting up online or something, you know, so it’s, I think it’s very liberating. And I think, you know, everything’s kind of, you know, you can get to your audience a lot quicker.

So you don’t need that big push, shove, you know, getting a big distribution deal. So you can get into HMV, Tesco, all that kind of stuff to reach an audience. But I think the main thing is just yeah, if you can own as much of your music as possible, like any product, I imagine, you know, I watch Dragon’s Den, and they say, give up 30-50% of your business. And it’s like, you know, if you can be, you know, I own the most of it, that is, you know, the way you’re gonna see the rewards.

Jasmine Birtles: Well, yes, because you mentioned setting up your own record label, because, you know, I think I listened to that. And I think, Wow, you can set up your own record label that surely that’s, that’s a huge thing, but you’re saying it, like, it’s not so difficult to do. Is that right?

Tom Speight: No, it’s, you know, obviously, you know, it’s a similar thing of registering as a company and all that kind of stuff, the boring admin stuff, but you just work with like an online distributor, you set up a record label, you have to have obviously a pool of contacts, if you want to get a TV plug or radio plug, a booking agent, all of that kind of stuff. But, you know, I, but you know, with music, it wasn’t again, it wasn’t an overnight success. So I learned a lot along the way to get to that point where it’s releasing my music. And it’s been a very like, gradual thing.

Like when I started my first, when I first released on the label, it was just me and my manager, and I think maybe a press person. And then we kind of gradually built this bandwagon of just, you know, recruiting more and more people to the project. Um, so yeah, I think it’s it’s always about just taking baby steps, but steps but you know, knowing you, you have a goal to reach.

Jasmine Birtles: It does sound as you say you, you really have to love it to be doing this because if you didn’t make any money for the first 10 years, that’s that’s tough. I mean, well, now the business is building up which do you think it had its own momentum once once you’ve got some good stuff out there and enough people going, “Oh, yeah, like Tom Speight” whatever, it kind of creates its own momentum?

Tom Speight: Yeah, I think we were, you know, we, when I first released music, I came at a time when Spotify things was really kind of, I suppose, reaching like the mainstream. And they were incredibly supportive of my music. That was the big launchpad to kind of, you know, for me to have a career really, you know, it’s if I think back to when I first started, you know, the only way people could have my music as if they came to my gig, and I would sell out my rucksack kind of thing. And now, it’s like, you know, I’m less like a door to door salesman in that respect.

And, you know, we, we played Brazil, you know, which was the only way people listen to my music over there was things like Spotify, and we had like five or 600 people queuing up for my gig from Brazil. So that is kind of crazy. You know, am I also my, my album isn’t physically available over there. So it’s purely on streaming. So I think we were very, very lucky with the time that I released my first single, it was when Spotify was growing and I kind of, I suppose kind of grew with it, really.

Jasmine Birtles: That’s excellent. I’ve heard that the Rolling Stones gig a lot and I mean, they’re still gigging because they can control the merchandise, the income and all that, do you find that with gigging?

Tom Speight: Yeah. You know, I’m gonna have a gripe with that as well, because I’ve obviously I started gigging up again recently, obviously, since the pandemic. And I, there’s, you know, I don’t think a lot of people know this, but when you sell at a venue, the venue takes 25% of your merchandise.

Jasmine Birtles: Ah, hmm.

Tom Speight: That’s like, that kind of winds me up a little bit, because I’m selling my own physical merchandise myself, which I have to you know, it’s very, like costly process being on the road. So I think 25% seems like quite extortionate. So, I don’t know what the Rolling Stones do. I hope it you know, they’re in a position where they can get a better contract. And then I would but yeah.

Jasmine Birtles: Yeah, it’s possible. Yeah. So they go, you know, we’re not coming unless we negotiate this down.

Tom Speight: Yeah, it seems a bit. Yeah, by, you know, merchandise you’ve got, if you’re, if you’re a fan of someone, please, you know, go to their gig and buy something off the merchandise because it really like it can make or break and artists on a tour you can come away, are going to lose money in the store, you can go and so it’s a load of t-shirtx, CDs, etc. And you can come away actually, this tour made money, you know, which is a huge difference.

Jasmine Birtles: So, for somebody watching this thinking, I would really like to be a singer songwriter, I would like to be a drummer, I’d like to I’d like to have my own band, etc. What would your advice be in order to help them succeed in that as a business?

Tom Speight: I think, you know, everyone’s path is different, you know, my path took a long time, but I think it was, you know, it was, you know, when I think the songs were getting better and better as I was growing, you know, with my, with my, I suppose, my craft really, but I would suggest, you know, gigs, get, you know, get used to playing live I think a lot of people just think go on TikTok and, you know, play a 30 seconds bit of song and then become a pop star.

I think it’s highly like, you know, like, the, you know, the importance of gigging is so important, you know, you have got to get out there. And then I also think what I think my biggest strength is surrounded myself by good people. Like my, my, the guy that mixes my music calls me The Avengers, because he like he thinks I recruit, you know, like the superheroes by like, you know, Lydia, who’s an amazing vocalist, or having a drummer or having a great TV plug all of those things I think you can surround yourself by good people that you like as well they get onwards because you don’t have to spend a lot of time with these people.

Yeah, and I think also just be with the financial element is trying to live within your means you know, don’t spend too much money if you actually realistically you know, not gonna make it back and take it as it comes. You know, if you see more money and money coming in, then you think okay, I can invest more into the project.

But otherwise, you know, my my dad used to say like, you know, I was becoming like a busy fool, because I was doing all these gigs and losing money. And in a in it, it kind of you can get a bit you know, you can kind of grow to think about falling out of love with music and that part so I wouldn’t want that to happen to anyone, but I do think you need to be gigging as much as possible, but in a like viable way financially.

Jasmine Birtles: Absolutely. What’s your next big, big event or you know, where are your big events? Where can we see you next?

Tom Speight: I suppose will be the festival season. So we’re announcing a few. We’ve announced a couple we’re doing with some gigs in Texas.

Jasmine Birtles: Oh, great.

Tom Speight: Fun. Yeah. But we’re announcing most of them actually, next couple weeks. So let’s stay tuned on socials. But as for that we’ve got, you know, I’m going to be releasing music from next month, which is kind of like a very acoustic EP, which is exciting. And hopefully, yeah, I was keeping busy. You know, my, my aim in 2019 was to do 100 gigs.

And we did that we did that in 22 countries, I think, obviously, you know, I have to kind of my goal is going to be slightly less because of the fact that we can’t tour as much because you know, places with the, they haven’t quite got back to normal yet. So I’m hoping 2023 I’ll be gigging again, and you know, more overseas and stuff like that. That’d be fun.

Jasmine Birtles: Find out more, there’s tomspeightmusic.com. And which socials and what are the names?

Tom Speight: So if you just go on Instagram, or Facebook or Twitter, any of those just put Tom Speight Music, and it’s all there really. I’m not the most exciting person to follow, you know, but I’m sure I’m trying to get better with that kind of thing, you know, but, uh, no, there’s no TikTok dances or anything like that going on. Yeah.

Jasmine Birtles: It’s probably a good thing. It’s a slow burn, it’s, you know, whatever comes out is real. So that’s, that’s really good to know. What What’s your new record? And can we play it or what? What music can we play here? Now?

Tom Speight: I would, I’m gonna suggest playing the title track of my second album, which is called Everything’s Waiting For You.

Jasmine Birtles: Excellent. Well, we’ll play that. Well. Thank you so much, Tom, thank you so much for being on and explaining to us the business of music.

Tom Speight: Yeah, hopefully, hopefully, it’s not too depressing. And, you know, honestly, you know, it can happen to anyone. You know, so think as long as you work hard, and just, you know, just enjoy it. And, you know, yeah, that’s the main thing. That’s what life’s about, isn’t it?

Jasmine Birtles: It is absolutely, enjoy it. Enjoy what you do, and just try and do it as well as possible to make some cash out of it. So keep doing it basically.

Tom Speight: Yeah.

Jasmine Birtles: Well, thank you so much, Tom. I’ve been talking to singer songwriter Tom Speight, and you can find out more at tomspeightmusic.com and thanks for joining us on the MoneyMagpie Podcast don’t forget to share and like and generally gush about us – you know you want to.

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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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