Do you believe that some things happen for a reason? Is it fate, pure coincidence or that we make our own choices? A particular music artist and I keep crossing each other’s paths as we develop into our careers, at times making it feel as if the universe wants us to work together.
I first met the California-born British musician Bo Keeney whilst he was gigging in a dimly lit smoky jazz club in Manchester, playing for Oxjam. My producer urged me to interview the man behind such a hybrid of music, one that combines funky vocals with eclectic beats. I interviewed the musician for Fuse TV Manchester, enticed by his foreign accent and unique sound. Years flew by, and as I began to write for music magazines, I contacted Bo once again to see how he had progressed, then we bumped into each other at the Independent Record Label Market at the Public Pressure stall. I thought it was about time I caught up with him once again. After all, as an artist who has been banging beats (from drums to electronic sounds on his laptop) for many years, Bo has seen some massive changes within the industry, as well as made some fundamental changes within himself to benefit his future as a musician.
As Bieber storms the charts and his followers swarm the clubs, individual bespoke venues are being demolished and regenerated into Jamie Oliver restaurants and chain department stores all around the UK, not just in London. Bo reflects on the changes in a sad and melancholic way, as the main route for artists to showcase themselves and their work is through these personal and intimate venues. With such a large gap between “elite and small time artists”, as well as fewer venues for artists to perform in and develop their craft, independent artists find building up their repertoire of performances increasingly difficult. Bo’s lifeline for paving the way for his work is a club, the Caipirinha bar in Camden, because it still hosts “a lot of real warm-blooded musicians that wouldn’t find a home elsewhere in London.” Although the music industry feels like a money churning machine, he comments “I want it to feel less like an industry”, but recognises that the technological advances and influx of social media have impacted on the modern generation, allowing more independent artists “to be creative: completely new forms of music can be created, musicians can take ownership of technology, learn to code and understand it” and to release their music individually on their own platform, rather than through a cooperate giant.
So how has the journey been for Bo through our interviews together? For someone who has always known that music is their path but not what the end goal might be or the route to take to reach that goal, it has been a rough ride at times: “I’ve always been sure what to do, just not always sure how to do it. Any time I listen to music I love, or make music that feels alive, it makes all the anxieties and doubts go away”. Being labelled as a “solo artist” and “singer” from the start has embarrassed and frustrated him, defining his talents as limited to one spectrum. Bo left behind a major label because he had “become like a fish in a huge ocean of musicians signed to the label, not being listened to”. Leaving a major label that can transform a musician’s life in one quick heartbeat has been challenging, but fighting the system has also been the most freeing experience for him. Learning not to compare his work to others has encouraged his freedom, helped him regain his independence and allowed him to start from scratch, creatively and emotionally. Connecting with others and improvising his work has allowed him to flourish in what he loves to do best: make music in the ways he wants to.
Although Bo seems to have got his career where he wants it to be, he remembers the dangers that face new artists, artists like him three years ago, back at our first interview. His message to them is simple: “Remember what you’re good at, and why you started. Don’t spend any time ticking boxes and trying to do things correctly. Know your audience, and speak to them directly.” The music industry has split itself into two, those that are moulded and those that mould, Bo’s relationship with the music industry highlights that true creativity is key to individuality and originality.
I’ll let you know in another three years how Bo Keeney is doing, no doubt.
Find out more about Bo Keeney: