Let me introduce you to Andy Jordan: ex-Made in Chelsea star, artist under his own record label with three sell out tours and Co-founder of Jam Industries, a fashion line for city surfers. I met Andy this week in The Piano Bar, Soho’s private members club and jazz venue. We chatted about everything from digital music platforms to starting your own business and getting headspace when you need it most. Andy played me some of his new music before we ventured into local music stores in and around Soho. Here’s everything you need to know about his music journey, his take on the industry and his advice to others trying to make it happen…
Getting to know Andy
How did you first get into music?
It’s a funny story actually; I hadn’t picked up a guitar until I went travelling with a friend of mine at the age of 18. We didn’t have any money so surfing and music were a great source of fun at no cost. When we played music together, it would be him on the guitar and me singing. When it came to the end of our travels he gave me his guitar, which I took to uni and spent a couple of years teaching myself how to play… it was a great excuse for escaping uni work.
Are your family particularly musical?
I’m one of five kids but actually the only one who plays music. My family still loves music though and are very much the kitchen-disco kind; we’ll have lively meal times which often end with the whole family dancing around the kitchen. I also grew up spending a lot of summers in the Caribbean which you might be able to pick up on from the influence in a couple of my songs including ‘We Are’, which has the rhythm and flow of reggae music. It can be a battle in the studio sometimes as producers try to move away from the reggae style and more towards a ‘pop’ style, but it certainly doesn’t stop me when I’m playing live – you’ll often hear the reggae influence in its strongest form then.
What have you had to rebel against to get to where you are today?
I’ve had to rebel against London. I recently went on a music trip to Nashville for a couple of weeks to get some creative space and commit my days to writing music. I went alone because the art in music comes from letting your brain have a conversation with itself. Every night I put pen to paper and wrote page after page [Andy pulls out writing book from his bag and flicks through a multitude of song ideas]. By the time I came back I had a bank of around 25 – 30 songs. Here in London it’s great because you create all the stories but when it comes to writing about them it’s difficult to escape; every day there’s an invite to something new, people are telling you what you should do and where you should be. I’d love to get to a point where I can take my team away somewhere similar for three weeks just to get headspace in the studio. It could be Jamaica or even Wales, I wouldn’t really care, just a place where no one can interrupt us.
“the art in music comes from letting your brain have a conversation with itself.”
Nashville as a city was also amazing; it’s full of musicians where people sit in coffee shops writing songs. Whilst I was out there I was completely unknown to my audience which was a whole new performance experience. I was recognised as a singer-song writer because that’s all they knew me as. This is how I want to be recognised going forward, hence why I left television behind.
What would you like to be doing when you’re 60?
Writing for other people. I’ve already been asked to write for other people and it’s such a blessing because that’s the part that I love. Whenever I hear a song I like I’ll always Google who wrote it. It’s so intriguing to find out whether the singer also wrote the track.
How far do you represent yourself as an artist?
I’ve had representation before where management has jumped on me from an early stage whereas I’ve now stripped back from that and am doing a lot more myself. I’ve learnt that people don’t really work for you unless you make loads of money, which I don’t. You have to work for yourself; you are the engine. Unless you take ownership it’s just not going to happen. So now I’m taking a shit load more ownership.
“You have to work for yourself; you are the engine. Unless you take ownership it’s just not going to happen.”
Why did you decide to set up your own record label, AMJ?
I had a couple of sceptical record deals put in front of me. None of them seemed to add up as the contracts meant I’d be making less money than I would be under my own label. I’ve seen a few of my friends sign into deals with major labels and have been taken off the map as a result of contract constraints. I’ve watched their pain and don’t want to get caught in that trap. Thankfully we live in the digital age where releasing music under your own label isn’t that difficult anymore, you don’t need a huge amount of money behind you to be able to do it. You have a lot of online publishing platforms like TuneCore which can be accessed by anyone. You just upload your music and can get it straight on iTunes. Under my own label I enjoy the autonomy and control over when my music in terms of when it’s released and when I go on tour.
I won’t lie though, it is tough work doing everything under your own label – when I tour I drive the bus myself and sleep in it; it’s not comfortable by any means and monetising things when you’re starting a music career is always going to be hard. But on the flip side, since I’m doing lots on my own I keep what I earn, rather than allowing a label to take a huge chunk.
How did your first EP come about?
There was a booking agent I was working with before Made in Chelsea who had a few people asking if I wanted to perform. At the time I’d only just started writing songs so I had to start working on it more. He offered me some co-writing sessions to help with the process of getting songs together. This worked really well and completely inspired me. I then started getting support in underground production world of music.
Who was the first producer you worked with?
Stuart Epps, a guy who I met after paddling the length of the Thames on a surfboard for charity. My Mum invited a load of friends to come watch and he came along too. He produced ‘Rocket Man’ for Elton John, has worked with Oasis and produced for loads more hugely successful artists. I spoke to him and he piped up with “you’re a good looking chap – don’t suppose you do anything creative like music?” When I told him I did he said “great, we can do something with that”. So at this point I’d written ‘A Whole Lot of Water’ whilst at home, potentially drunk and it ended up being the song Stuart Epps produced with me. I went in warning him I wasn’t very good. I didn’t even have a decent guitar that plugged in, so he rigged up a mic then told me to listen with the headphones and play the whole song. I was so focused I was sweating but I managed both vocals and guitar first time around. When I finished he said “you’re really good! Now, leave it with me.” And that was that.
What challenges do you currently face?
The hardest thing is shaking my TV background as most people got to know of me through Made in Chelsea first. I’m now working harder to establish myself as a music artist rather than TV star and it’s great when I get recognised as exactly that. Most of my followers are actually within the music scene so that’s a very positive sign!
It’s also a huge challenge trying to figure out the best way into radio without being connected to people in that space. The major labels do act as connectors for their artists which makes it easier for them to get on the radio, whereas as an artist under your own record label it’s up to you to make those connections. There’s definitely a time where radio becomes essential. I’ve by no means achieved what I want to achieve yet and it’s really important people know that. My challenge now is crossing the stepping stones that lie ahead. That’s why I’m still going strong.
“I’ve by no means achieved what I want to achieve yet and it’s really important people know that.”
What challenges do you think the industry currently faces?
They change every day. We live in a world of technology that is moving so fast the big labels have no option but to keep up with it. The guys at the top of the major labels will have faced the challenge of going from vinyl to CD to MP3 and now online. They also have to figure out how to deal with artists like me. Any artist selling records poses a problem – major labels used to be able to monopolise the market whereas now they can’t so they have to be good at what they do.
“major labels used to monopolise the market whereas now they can’t”
What scares you the most?
I used to love going on stage but now when I go up I get so nervous and it’s the smaller gigs that are the most nerve-racking. Twenty thousand people wouldn’t scare me, but playing in front of ten or twenty is petrifying, it’s like standing outside naked. I’ve been pushing myself lately to try and overcome this by doing a couple of dinner table gigs which I’ve ended up really enjoying. People will have dinner and wine, I’ll perform and then there’ll be a Q&A where people can ask me anything they want about the music. The song journey from bedroom to radio is huge, which is why playing at dinner parties like this is nice. The music is in its raw state again; people get to hear the original arrangement before the track went through the production process.
What keeps you moving forward when you face setbacks?
Winning. And knocking down doors… my mum always uses this analogy. Realistically every door is shut. You just have to kick and kick and kick and if you keep kicking eventually the door will break.
You just have to kick and kick and kick and if you keep kicking eventually the door will break.
What is your personal idea of success?
Support from fans, it means everything. Every time someone buys a ticket to come and see me play it’s like buying me another day on the circuit and for every day I’m on the circuit then I’m still happy. I use music like therapy. If something upsetting happens I almost run to the guitar; it’s my safety blanket. When I can’t put words to the way I’m feeling I go ahead and write music. I’ll often write music in the bathroom, where the acoustics are actually great!
” I use music like therapy. If something upsetting happens I almost run to the guitar; it’s my safety blanket. “
How do artists eventually get well established?
By working hard, executing their vision and staying true to their own style. There are a million incredible singers out there. Are they all spending each hour they have on their songs, trying to get in the studio? Do they all grab every performance possible with both hands and perform it with an incredible level of emotion? Probably not. A lot of people can also be over trained. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve had is to avoid vocal coaching and keep my own style. When you hear Rhianna, Jay Z or Ed Sheeran on a track, you recognise their voice not because they’re better but because they’re unique.
What’s your view on talent in terms of success?
I don’t actually think I’m that talented; I don’t play guitar well and I’m not the best singer so when it comes to pulling everything together I have to offer everything I’ve got. I’ve worked with some of the best musicians in the world but their brains are so in tune with one instrument they fail to see the bigger picture. What I can offer is the ability to visualise how all instruments are working together and carry that vision through to the performance. So when it comes to talent, I’m probably more talented at pulling all the pieces together.
How have you managed to take your music as far as you have?
It obviously helped a bit that I was quite well known from Made in Chelsea, but after that I did a few songs with some young producers who were willing to take a chance on me. They opened the door for me and it was up to me to make it happen, so I did. I came out at the end of it and they’d called my agent to say they wanted me back to do more. And that’s how it started.
Rebel Wrap Up
What advice would you give anyone listening to this?
Just do it. We live in such a cool word where you can do so much for so little online, you don’t need to have a recording studio, a car, assets or an office. Your laptop can be your office and that’s enough to make things happen. I have my record label, AMJ, but I also Founded Jam Industries, a fashion line for city surfers, with my brother. We started this without any money. There are so many people who will tell you how to run your business but you just can’t write the script for these things. Sure, we made a lot of mistakes but we learnt from them all. My step father works in aviation and went to a talk the other day by Sir Stelios Haji-laonnou who set up Easy Jet aged 28; a journalist asked him “what kind of cockiness did you have to think you knew enough about the aviation industry to set up your own an airline company?” He replied by saying “If I knew everything about aviation when I was 28 I wouldn’t have started an airline”, which was a brilliant response.
“We live in such a cool word where you can do so much for so little online, you don’t need to have a recording studio, a car, assets or an office.”