We always love chatting with artists and learning about their experiences as they strive to break through the noise of the music industry.
The road to your aspirations in music will always be riddled with challenges and some tough decisions.
The wild thing about some of these decisions is that you may not even know how important they might be until later in your career when you're about to hit the stage in front of millions.
For one artist, the decision to submit a song for a contest opened a ton of doors for his career and set the course for more fulfillment through his passion for music.
However, this also exposed him to new experiences and challenges that taught him more than he could imagine.
Not to mention, there is so much that can be drawn from how he proactively navigated the situation that all aspiring musicians can learn from.
The artist I am referring to goes by the name of JOWST who we had the pleasure of sitting down with for a long and candid two part interview about his journey and some of the amazing experiences he’s had.
The numbers and accolades JOWST has accumulated over such a short period of time is quite astonishing but you can tell it came from a ton of hard work in the beginning perfecting his craft which has ultimately led to his current success.
As great as all his accomplishments are, JOWST is very humble about it all and drops a ton of gems for any aspiring artist trying to navigate this ever changing industry.
Key Takeaways From Part 1 of our Interview With JOWST
*If you’re short on time here are some of the major gems that JOWST provided throughout Part 1 of the interview:
- Never be afraid to confidently say “NO” no matter how big or small the opportunity is especially if it’s not right for you and your situation.
- Know the purpose behind your music, if you want it to be a commercial hit, the genre of people you’re making it for, the response you want to invoke in people when they hear it, etc.
- You have to do the same type of work for each song for it to be successful and to help it continue to keep growing. You can't rely on previous success alone to carry your future releases.
- One goal of your music should be to get people to stay on the platform they are using to listen to music for as long as possible because of how addicting your music is. Companies and their algorithms will love you the more you can do this.
- Getting on every playlist possible isn’t exactly the best situation to be in. Not every playlist placement is created equal and getting on a playlist that doesn’t suit your music can hurt your numbers.
- When you release a song and it does well, landing on a ton of playlists, you should try to continue making similar music to appeal to that same audience.
- Find and lean on mentors who can help you with contracts, negotiations and tough decisions.
We hope you enjoy Part 1 of the interview and if you haven't already be sure to check out JOWST here on Spotify!
“Tell us about yourself and how you were introduced to music”
I started off playing guitar when I was 16, playing songs like Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple and Stairway to Heaven. Eventually I started a rock band, and although It wasn't necessarily rock, we had guitars, drums and a singer that couldn't really sing.
Then eventually, we decided to do something that sounded a bit more like punk. I continued doing that until I turned 19 which was when I started attending a private school, where I studied music production. There I learned things like Cubase, and what compressors did, and equalizers, etc.
I didn't know what to do with my life at that point but I understood that I should do something with music, I just didn't know what. I can't sing myself, so it wasn't natural for me to just do an ‘artist project' at the time because that's what a vocalist would do.
So instead I started a music recording studio and charged a really low price for younger people. I live in Oslo, the capital of Norway, and I remember at the time when I started, we had all the metal bands in Oslo coming into the studio and recording.
I was so tired of metal but I just had to say yes to anything that came my way in order to make the business work. I didn't do metal bands all the time, as I sometimes did pop, country, and score music for videos.
“Tell us about the big opportunities you landed that lead you to where you are at today”
I ended up running the studio for six years which led me to a number of different opportunities. I saw this thing online, called Eurovision and before Eurovision, there's a national final called Melodi Grand Prix.
In order to take part in that you have to submit a song, which I did, called “Grab The Moment” and it was supposed to be an EDM slash commercial pop song. Now when I made the song, I was focused on making something that could become a hit. Something that could be streamed and played on radio a lot.
So I submitted the song, and it was selected four months later.
Between that period, from submitting the song until those four months had passed, I worked a lot more on the song.
I approached different types of labels like Warner, Universal, Sony, and any others I could send emails to.
Warner came back to me and told me that they were interested, and then I made a record label deal with them for 23 songs.
At the time, the TV station was deciding who would be attending the Melodi Grand Prix.
They contacted me and said that they wanted to have me and the song at the show and I actually said no, as I had other plans for that song by that time. Personally, I only submitted the song because I just wanted them to say yes, because that would be confirmation that it's a hit.
To give a little background, these song contests can be considered a bit of a strange thing to do sometimes. Even the vocalist, (the songwriter who made the song with me) didn't want to do Eurovision at the time. Essentially you have to provide a new song that has never been performed before and you have to participate in this really big show which is like the biggest in the world.
You have the Super Bowl in America, which has a little bit more than hundred million people watching. But Eurovision has about 200 million people watching.
After further discussions, I came to the conclusion that I could do both releasing the song with a major label, and still do the contest. I’d just have to work around different dates, so I did that and said yes to the show.
The vocalist had to be swapped for the contest and for the song in general but after that the song became a bit of a success in Norway and was the 18th most played on radio that year in Norway. It also rose to number six on Spotify and it was on the top 50 in seven countries around that time.
“Did you ever think that it was going to get to that point, or were you just like, I know I have something here but just put it out and see what happens”
I wasn't sure about that happening, but I was focused on getting it to that point. I was working towards the goal of having success with the song but not just personal success.
People make music and say that they do it for themselves, and they feel great, but I wanted to have it feel good for other people as well. And of course, if you have a song that does well, you’ll also earn money which is always a plus. Most people in Norway who do music, and probably in America as well, have a job on the side. After that song, I luckily didn't need to have another job.
“So what happened after the success of the contest”
So ever since that contest, I've only been doing music full time and just have like a smaller teacher job on the side, every now and then. Before that I was working in the studio with anything that came into my inbox, as well as working in a clothing store, and in a different studio that wasn't my studio. So, I did three different jobs at that time.
The success made it possible to really focus on music as we did a lot of TV shows with that song locally in Norway. We did some live shows around the country during the summer of 2017.
But after that, I had to release new music and I released a song called “That Feeling”, which I thought did badly at first.
The thing is with “Grab The Moment”, the song that did the best, it had like 390,000 streams in one day.
So, when I saw that my new release had like 600,000 streams within the first three weeks, I felt it was bad at first.
But now, when I think about it, I know that it was good and that was mainly because it was promoted by the label.
After Grab The Moment, I felt things were just going to get better and better, and when the new song came, I thought, “Oh, this is just going to take off as well.”
But it didn't, because it doesn't work like that. You have to do the same type of work for each song for it to be successful and to help it continue to keep growing.
“Would you say that streaming is your main focus when you're releasing a song, or what are you more focused on when it comes to promotion and getting a song out there?”
My main focus has been streaming and radio. 50/50. I've understood that radio works very differently from country to country, regarding getting on it. In Norway, it's pretty easy, I think, compared to America. I'm not sure about Canada, but in the US I believe there's something called a radio plugger.
We don't have radio pluggers in Norway. There's no need for radio pluggers. Well, maybe there's like, five. I don't know. But you could be the artist yourself. You don't even need to release it on Spotify, you can just send it to the radio once you have your release day and say, “hey here's my song. I'm releasing it with this person, and it has this backstory, you can listen to it here or you can download it here, etc.”
Then there's the person at the radio station who will listen to the song and if they like it, they will put it on the radio, and then they will see if that song works well.
If people just turn off the radio when the song comes on, or change the station, then that decides if it gets to be there for a longer period of time.
So, I have been focusing on that, not to make sure that one person at the radio station likes it, but in order to make people stay on the radio's station when the song comes on. That it doesn't have any part that is boring, where you have to switch the channel.
It works the same for streaming, but in streaming it has become so much more playlist-based.
Like, each playlist has a mood, or a purpose. So, the purpose might be a workout. So, there's a workout playlist.
So, if the song has the right type of sound to push you through your workout then it works. And if it has some kind of motivational words, that's also good.
There's also the bass-heavy trap car playlists. Those are working well as I had one song called “Better Place“ that I released last year that was more like a trap, EDM song, and I was amazed at those playlists and how the most streams from that song are from car focused playlists.
“I actually remember a post you made on Instagram. I don't know if you were releasing a song, but I think you mentioned something about being on the wrong playlist and how that can negatively impact you. Is that something that you’ve experienced?”
Yes. That is. That was with the one song that I released through Sony Sweden, through a licensing deal. So, on a licence deal, the label just doesn't do as much because they are expecting you as the master owner to do the important work and then give them the result.
They will use their channels in order to make the song successful and promote it when they licence it but the thing I saw is that when they promoted the song, they used their channels, and that's good, because in their channels they have playlists as well, which they made sure that they posted the song to.
The playlist with the most followers was called Deep House and that playlist had, like, 1 million followers. So, there's a lot of people listening to that playlist and my song was placed on the second spot at the top of the playlist.
So everybody who went to the playlist would listen to that song but the thing was that it wasn’t a deep house song. It was a pop song. It was just a normal pop song with pieces of future bass and stuff inside it, so it sounded fresh and new.
I understand now that people listening to the Deep House playlist want to hear deep house, so whenever they heard my song, they skipped it and went on to the next one, because it wasn’t deep house.
Maybe, they were pleasantly surprised and said “Oh, this is fun, this isn’t deep house, but I like it. I'm going to share it with all my friends.” But that's, like, one in 1000 that might do that.
When this happens, Spotify thinks – well, if Spotify has a mind that is…that people don't like this song, because everybody skips it. The majority of people starting this song skipped it after three seconds or 12 seconds or 30 seconds.
So then the Spotify algorithm doesn't take it to the next level, or place it on other new playlists based on the information that they have. So at that time, with that song, it was on that playlist with 1 million followers and, like 100 other playlists with a million followers in total.
That’s 2 million followers on all playlists combined. On those other playlists, they were suitable playlists that fit the song, but that just didn't match the numbers for the biggest one (Grab The Moment).
And you know, people who create Spotify playlists, they could decide on their own if they want to add a song or not. But people who do it thoroughly, they wouldn't put a pop song in a deep house playlist.
Yeah, so if you want to ruin the Spotify success of an artist, you could do exactly that. It would be maybe hard to do it with Justin Bieber perhaps.
Although, if somebody threw a lot of money into making sure that the brand new Justin Bieber single was placed on all the experimental techno playlists, and all the Deep House playlists, then this could create an interesting scenario.
This is because at the moment the single was released, Spotify wouldn't understand what to do with that song, because it doesn't have those nice, solid streams that get shared and played all the way through.
“Would you say that your mindset as a musician has changed going from Eurovision and just trying to put something out, to now, where you're talking about licensing deals, and the inner workings of Spotify?”
I have a different mindset now than before, but it has taken a while to get here. It's almost four years since I started on that song (Grab The Moment) that was successful.
At that time, I had a different world. I didn't have a daughter, but now I do and after having a child, your time becomes limited. While I have less time than before to do stuff, I'm also more efficient when I work…. Sometimes.
Also, things like Spotify have changed since then. Social media has changed since then as well. Back then, there weren't any stories on Instagram to share stuff from day to day. You had to make official posts with a nice caption.
Everything has just been a huge learning curve like dealing with a label and going into my first deal, I had no clue what was normal. When they said that they were taking 80% of the song, I was like, “Huh, is that normal? Is that a lot? Or is that not a lot?”
I had to talk to my friends that had record label deals to see what was normal. And I understood that 80% was actually normal. Also at that time, I went out and got a manager who was really just an artist that I used to work with that has been around for a while.
He knew what to do and helped me out with a lot of those things. Later on though, like one year ago, or a little bit more, I stopped working with that management and did things on my own, because now I understand how things work. But I see that it's still changing.
I spoke with another newly signed artist a few weeks ago, and he told me about the deal that they had given him and it looks a lot different than what I had. Typically, when you have a normal label deal with a bigger label, there's a buyout for the song.
They buy the mastering rights, and then they get to own it. I believe, many years ago, that the amount paid by the labels would be quite large, but now, that amount is the same as, like, a plugin to use in Cubase.
Before, that money was supposed to cover the expenses of a mixing engineer and then a producer and then mastering everything in between that needed to be done in order to create a song or an album.
Today, that amount is made to just…I'm not sure what it's meant for. It seems like there just has to be an amount in order to make people agree on selling the master to the label. But anyways, the major amount of money you would receive from a label would not be the amount you get from the buyout of the song, It would be from the success of the song.
And around that time, when I had released a couple songs, I didn't feel like the label deserved that big of a percentage which is why I went out and did things on my own. I did that for three songs and I was so surprised that those songs didn't do as well as the previous releases.
You know, I had that first song that made like 15 million streams within months, and then I had that second song that had like 600,000 streams in three months, and I thought “okay, that song flopped.”
Then I did those three songs on my own, and on the first of those songs, I thought that there was something wrong, because Spotify didn't place them on playlists like they did before. I'm not sure what to tell you but there's a lot of information in the world of streaming that I have seen and thought I would have figured out, but then I came to realize that I didn't understand it.
Before releasing music on my own, my thought process was that the music I’m going to release has to be really good. The songs have to be something that nobody has ever heard before.
That was my mindset back then. But now, after the contest, and after playing live and seeing other artists play live, I noticed certain things. Things that made me say “Hmm, that song has done really well, but it's not that special. That's a normal song. I've heard that type of song many times before.” And that made me think, “maybe people want to hear stuff that they have already heard before, but just a new version.”
As I started thinking about this more I began to analyze myself and came to the realization that I also like songs that sound like other songs. With this in mind, I began making more songs that sounded a bit more like the other songs I've made before, in order to potentially release those.
Now both my label and the people listening to these songs, told me that they just seem like generic songs, like nothing original.
I was expecting, from what I was seeing, that a song that isn't exactly original and mind blowing would still be able to do well, because it's the type of songs that people like.
For instance, now you see on all the charts that there's those cover songs from songs that are like five to 15 years old, with an EDM/pop crossover, bass-heavy drop type of thing going on.
It's like a Spotify streaming recipe right now. Doing that genre of music with an older vocal through this altar boy thing that gets those darker or brighter voices. If you want streams, then you got to do that now, if you're an EDM producer.
“Do you feel like you have to appeal to these trends or do you stick to making the type of music you like and enjoy?”
One of my biggest obstacles is that I have a very big variety of things that I like, and so people have been telling me to “just create whatever I like, and people will resonate with that.”
But then I think to myself and feel like I'm kind of schizophrenic regarding my music taste. If I really make the things that I like to listen to, then maybe nobody will like it and you can kind of see that when looking through my songs on Spotify and listening to all of them.
You will notice that there's almost a different genre between each song, because I like all of those genres and I have been making stuff like that for a while now. But when people listen to all of the songs, they might think that I haven't found my sound. But my sound is that I don't have a sound. That's my personality.
The biggest problem with this is that a really important part of the Spotify algorithms is also the Release Radar. So when you gain followers on Spotify, then your songs will appear in their Release Radar. So, for instance, now I have roughly 7000 followers on Spotify.
Now whenever I release a song, 7000 people get that song in their Release Radar. When I first started making 100 BPM EDM songs, I gained an audience that like 100 BPM type songs.
Then suddenly I'm releasing a trap/EDM crossover song that is 145 BPM. So people who like 100 BPM EDM songs don't necessarily like that type of music. Even the people on my Release Radar might not like my music.
So that's also a thing to have in mind, that when people really like one of your songs, then you would make another similar song that those same people will like. It should be the same genre if you want to be successful with your already existing audience. If not, your existing audience is also schizophrenic.
Now even if a song is not that successful, then there's always a few people who really liked it anyway, and that always means a lot. At that point you just have to be like “okay, that's good enough for me. A few people liked it at least.”
For example my last single was called “Kiss The Ring”. It was released the same day as the pandemic started. So that song has been super hard to promote. Well, it was super hard to promote the song while it was new and I also feel like you have to do that when you are releasing music, because the labels also do that.
If you notice, they only market and promote new songs. There's no label who is still promoting a Metallica song or Queen song or an old Jay-Z song. They are only promoting new stuff. Even though people might like the old stuff.
But that's also a part of the Spotify algorithm thing, that you need a big amount of streams, good streams, within a short amount of time, not through a big window.
If a song is not successful within the first three weeks, labels will just leave that and go on to the next one. Of course, it's different for artists that release music in order to play that music live.
That's a different genre for releasing music. But for people who are focusing on mainstream music and Spotify and stuff like that, then they need a lot to happen in the beginning. And also, the main playlist that gets the biggest amount of streams is the top 50 charts.
Now if you want a song to truly be successful, you have to make it appear in the top 50 charts. Because if it's on the top 50 charts, the day after, it will still be in the top 50 charts, only based on the streams already coming from the top 50 charts.
So a label needs to make stuff happen with a song within a short amount of time, like within (one day) amount of time, in order to make that song appear in the top 50 charts, which already has songs that were charting from the day before.
You’ll see labels mainly doing hard promotion, like, one week. And that's it. More if it's something new with a song, like if a song was released in February, then maybe there's more promotion in March when the music video is out. However they won’t do a big promotion, like a month or two later, if there's nothing new to promote there.
We hope you've enjoyed Part 1 of our interview with JOWST. You won't want to miss Part 2 of our interview where he covers his thoughts on working with labels, the importance of collaborations and what to do as an artist just starting out. You can check out Part 2 of the interview Here.