Few of the musicians I’ve written about in my articles have been so compelling as Leicester folk virtuoso Matt Steady. A lot of my interest in the past came from his diversity of genres and instruments, spanning blues-rock guitar, folk fiddle, and the Celtic uilleann pipes (an Irish cousin of the bagpipes). All this I’ve discussed in greater detail with my reviews of his first two albums, Blood is Thicker than Gold and Feels Like Coming Home, as well as our previous interview last year. Ordinarily, that much information would probably be sufficient to give a taste of how much Matt is doing in his recording. With his latest album in the works, however, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to what he’s working on for one simple reason: he’s sharing the entire process with his followers on Facebook. This Monday, he took an hour out of his evening to Skype with me from across the Atlantic and explained all this in more detail.
I immediately recognized the room he was sitting in as the background in all his recent Facebook videos: his home recording studio. Directly behind him were two guitars on the wall, so I inquired about how many instruments he actually owns. For a moment, he had to sit there and do the math – fourteen, including seven guitars, two resonators, mandolin, violin, harmonica, “a stick, like a bass guitar that you play with both hands,” and the aforementioned uilleann pipes. These he continues to learn in Skype lessons from Martin Nolan, the piper of the now-disbanded group Iona. The pipes were a bit of an exception these days. Although he had “lessons for years and years at school” to learn the violin and piano, learning the guitar at age 13 was “a conscious decision to learn by ear versus a tutor.” He reflected that parts of his technique aren’t perfect as a result, but that guitar allows for more variety in playing styles than rigorous classical violin.
Soon we were discussing his recording career, something he had begun at age 39, just a few short years ago. A coworker who played electronic music showed him “the basics of how to record, produce, and mix.” Driven by a love of learning, he moved from covers to original compositions. Even with his prodigious talent and a successful first album, “becoming a full-time musician didn’t occur to me until about a year ago.” Of course, this meant making the serious decision to risk his financial stability, but his new career is finally starting to turn a profit. A lot of his time is still spent on live gigs like this one where his daughter Indigo adds her vocal talents. Although he expressed the wish to be part of a full band one day, his conversational and laid back tone with his audience are a taste of how he’s making his way as a solo artist.
As it turns out, he rarely leaves the radius of where he can travel to in one hour for his gigs. In face, “95% of the people who have listened to [his] music [he hasn’t] gigged anywhere near!” This comes down to several factors, but he especially credited Twitter for enabling him to reach a whole niche community overseas. Leveraging this online fandom into support for his crowdfunded past work, he found that half of the money he raised on PledgeMusic came from around the world.
As I mentioned, he’s taking his fans on Facebook through the entire recording process with his latest album. He writes during the day and puts out a video in the evening, explaining everything from songwriting techniques to how he pieces the lyrics together. He’s surprised at how quickly this has motivated him to compose track after track, fourteen in the space of about a month so far.
Now Matt is trying to inspire other musicians to follow his example. “It’s about you and your character and the process,” he remarks during our conversation about how the music industry has changed in the past decade. The idealized method of playing gigs, becoming famous, and signing a record deal has fallen into fantasy; Matt wants to see artists building communities of fans piece by piece, connecting with them and sharing the album-making process from beginning to end. In total, he spent only a few hundred quid (though a bit more in dollars) on his studio setup, not including his numerous instruments. He firmly believes that anyone dedicated to the idea of making music for others to enjoy can reproduce the right conditions in their own bedroom; “it is amazing what you can do with very little money,” he reminds me.
Matt may be on the forefront of a wave of artists who prefer conversation and relationships over the old industrial model of mass-producing CDs to push onto audience’s hands. It is not enough that he’s got ability; he’s sharing the techniques that let him use those abilities successfully. What’s more, he’s reaping the benefits of an accelerated and rewarding video log.
Between his incredible ability to bend genres with his dozens of instruments, his commitment to his fans, and his innovative use of social sharing, Matt embodies the Appetizer’s own mission to bring people together around the common love of great music and the desire to seek it out. In his third album, we can look forward to a growing discography from one of the most promising musicians I’ve had the great fortune of getting to know.
All photos used in this article are courtesy of Matt Steady, who owns the rights to them.