How did super-talented, but (let’s be honest) not yet household names, Neil Cowley Trio win a popular vote to beat international singing star Jamie Cullum and lift the UK Jazz Artist title last month? Well, maybe social media played a part. Neil himself shared his thoughts with us.
The inaugural Jazz FM Awards, held in London, in January were chosen by a panel of experts – except the UK Jazz Artist of the Year, which was down to a public vote.
The three candidates were Troyka, Neil Cowley Trio, and a certain Jamie Cullum. It seemed like a foregone conclusion, but the voting actually went the way of the Trio – much to their surprise and everyone else’s.
Part of the reason, we’re sure, was due to Neil’s long-standing commitment to social media and engaging with fans online (as well as on stage). Last year, singer-songwriter Brigitte Zarie spoke to us about her successful use of social media, and we were delighted when Neil agreed to share his thoughts on the subject.
Firstly, it’s worth clarifying that there was no organised social media campaign to drum up votes. “Obviously when the voting opened I gave it a good mention and followed up on this a few times throughout the month,” Neil told us. “It’s difficult to strike a balance between self-promotion and general thoughts and opinions. People can get very quickly bored of ‘vote for me’ ‘aren’t we great’ so I try and keep it to a minimum. Irresistible though it is!”
As with most successful uses of social media, it was more about long-term relationships. “I actually started using social media back in the ancient days of myspace, when it was flourishing and was regarded as an exciting new way of engaging with other musicians and music fans,” he explained.
“One of the main reasons I started is that the band had just been born and we couldn’t at that time afford a website. Myspace provided a short cut for presenting your gig diary, thoughts and music on an easy to use page. Even before people got all clever with HTML code, the pages looked kind of cool. Everyone at the time thought that would be the end of stand-alone websites but I think we’ve moved through that phase. Facebook and Twitter do not cover all the angles for bands that myspace did, but of course now dominate the market.”
Furthermore, fans who chat to Neil Cowley on Twitter and Facebook are doing just that, because he manages all the accounts himself. “It’s very obvious when a site is being run by other members of the team and I don’t think it does anyone any favours,” he told us. “Rightly or wrongly we live in an age where people demand direct contact with their artists. I have witnessed many music industry debates on the subject of whether it is a wise thing to remove the veneer of mystery around a band or artist. Both myself and the wider world of music will discover in time I suppose!”
If you’ve been lucky enough to see the Trio perform live, you will know that Neil is keen to chat to fans during a gig – so does social media provide a logical extension of that?
“I do indeed enjoy engaging with the audience. I’ve always been very aware of how they are feeling – in the early days, perhaps to the detriment of my gig enjoyment. So too with social media. When a band is vying for attention, every comment or rating seems to represent a step in its development. Things have relaxed on that front from my part, I’m glad to say, as we have settled into our skin.
“I feel social media is still very important, but less critical to the band’s progress as I once thought. There’s not much that can be said within the realms of social media that will change people’s opinion of your music. Unless of course you are an extremely unlikable soul!
“So I treat Facebook and Twitter much in the same way as I treat chatting to audiences between numbers. As a step once removed from the music. Just a way of keeping connected. And when the time does come to highlight a gig or a release, hopefully people are still connected enough to get involved. ”
The other members of the trio, Evan Jenkins (drums) and Rex Horan (double bass) use Facebook and Rex has a Twitter account for a close circle of family and friends. On tour, all three chip in to update the band’s Facebook page with pictures and posts.
And what about that award? How did it feel to win? “I was pondering as to whether it is better to win an award by panel or public vote,” Neil confessed. “A panel would suggest a group of experts commending you on your level of excellence, whereas a public vote of course is just down to how many people like what you do.
“In Jazz, ironically, being popular can very quickly make you unpopular. That’s possibly why it gets stuck in certain areas of public image. Regardless, coming in front of the stadium-filling Jamie Cullum in a public vote makes me feel pretty euphoric about how far we’ve come and where we find ourselves right now.”
If you need help with social media, maybe we can help. You don’t even have to be an award winnng band.