O’Messy Life Say “Just Do It”

David Littlefair's sneakers

TR writes: I’ve often thought that forming a band with a view to “making it” is like setting out in a car with the objective of “getting there” –  yet that’s exactly how most of us start our musical careers. As a result, the rapid shrinking of the traditional Music Industry has been matched by an equally rapid expansion of an Unsigned Music industry, that feeds on people’s dreams of greatness.

Since 2008 North East cult heroes O’Messy Life have been crafting their own brand of wilfully maverick music that has featured a number of times on my radio shows and mixtapes. Their upcoming Challenger EP is, in my opinion, their finest work to date. David  from the band has written the guest post below, reminding us of the real reason why most musicians make music: writing good tunes and playing them to people is actually fun. Don’t wait for the breaks or blindly accept conventional wisdom, he advises. Just team up with fellow artists around the country and get on with doing what you do best…

The Unsigned Music Indudstry

There exists an accepted way to be an aspiring band today, with the envelope of the traditional music industry reaching further and further into the lives of obscure, deluded hopefuls like myself. Various consultants, speaking over tables at events aimed at schmoes like me, can tell me every different way to promote my band through social media, or tell that I ought to get a manager and a booking agent, or how I should consider trying music on an advert. Despite these suggestions, this has never happened for me. It doesn’t happen for most.

Something that isn’t often acknowledged, because it’s nobody’s job to consult on, is that writing good tunes is still the funnest part of making music; that, and playing gigs to people with said songs. Also, you don’t need a manager or booking agent or brand-synch campaign to do this- the important part. If you’re a schmoe like me and nobody wants to be your manager, you dress too badly for a synchronous publicity agreement with a clothing brand, nobody wants to be your booking agent, rest assured; you can still have a huge amount of fun being in a band.

Firstly, you can develop your songwriting, like my band has, just through learning, practice and consistent application. When you churn a set of songs out that are undeniably better than your previous songs, the feeling of pride is incredible. It confirms for itself the fact that ‘this’ is worth doing. Plenty of other people feel that way too, in spite of their lack of endorsement from the rest of the music industry. People that you can play gigs with, in other towns, thereby fulfilling the crucial second part of the fun aspect of playing in a band.

These are people that could plausibly remain untouched by music managers and booking agents because they are ugly worthless humans, not worth your hearing time, driven by some arrogant, pugnacious bitterness to inflict themselves and their mediocre creative capabilities upon others by booking their own gigs.

Or! They could simply be keen to the knowledge that very few artists are picked up by genuinely useful management agencies or booking agencies, and that there’s no definitive way to get these folks on your side. I don’t speak for BBC Introducing (which gives tons of good advice I wish I had known years ago in my first band as a teenager) in any capacity other than opinion, and as I’ve hinted at, I’m not successful at all. But, I have had tons of fun. To me, there’s no point in waiting out the industry indifference, some commentators will tell you don’t play out of town until ‘there’s a buzz’ , until you have a set twitter follower numbers, until you have a manager; as though the acquisition of the above were anything simpler than predicting the weather on a given day, months ahead.


My advice is to do your best to play out of your own town because it’s (usually) fun to. We do this by the time honoured method of finding bands that are class, and sound like us, and having them play here in Newcastle in return for playing with them. In doing so we have played or will play to hundreds of people in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, London, Wakefield, York, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Brighton with our buddies in bands like Withered Hand, Piskie Sits, Fawn Spots, 100th Anniversary, Tyrannosaurus Dead, Collider and Rhodes. We’ve played for promoters we just asked, like Long Division Festival’s Rhubarb Bomb, and Manchester’s Carefully Planned Festival…and they took us on. They never said ‘you have no manager, booking agent, ‘buzz’, innovative PR campaign, brand-synchronized clothing-sponsorship-advertisement-music-deal’, they’d just heard us on BBC Introducing or when Introducing passed us on to a DJ at 6 Music. It happens, dudes!

The two ambitions aren’t mutually exclusive, you can play gigs alone and still court the music biz. I just get dismayed at the emphasis placed on the industry aspect, when the people of ‘the music industry’ and the music buying public are notoriously fickle and undependable. You might not be passed over because you’re in a crap band, it could be that the emissaries of the industry couldn’t fit you into a current trend snugly enough. I think that even though I’ve had nothing from ‘biz’, I’ve still had tons of fun, played all over, and I’d hate to think the other unlikelies in my position would forfeit that opportunity.

Instead, trawl those small labels you like (mine, Tiny Lights Recordings has plenty of bands that’d like to host you here in turn for a gig at yours) and those programmes on BBC Intro, Amazing Radio etc. that deal with small-timers like me and you. Set it up yourself. The DIY ethic remains in rude health. It remains to the point that many will find reading this smug and patronizing, because you’re already DIY till you die. I apologize. E-mail me at sickestriffs@gmail.com and we’ll play some gigs together.

David Littlefair

O’Messy Life‘s new EP “Challenger”  will be released on July 29, 2013 by Tiny Lights Recordings. For details of upcoming shows around the release, follow them on FacebookTwitter or  Tumblr

O' Messy Life

Tom Robinson

London-based broadcaster & songwriter, born 1950. His best known songs are 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay and War Baby; he has also co-written songs with Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. Read More...


  1. i remember when i started,all i wanted was to ‘make it’.. somewhere on the road it turned into a terrible uphill struggle ..half a dozen major record deals before i hit a meltdown…but once that meltdown happened,and i gave up on ‘making it’ everything lit up like a christmas tree …and even though i don’t gig,80% of my days are spent with my head buried between two speakers writing songs.i am so grateful for this one aspect of my life,and it’s interesting how the idea of ‘making it’ stood in the way of that crucial joy…once i walked away from all of that,the music snapped into greater focus.
    i was taken out to see neil young by an eccentric man in his 70’s last week..he’s made all his lolly,has everything money can buy,and he was telling me how rough his mornings are sometimes… his business now runs itself,and it leaves him feeling lost…..as we left the O2 arena,he turned to me and gently grabbed both my shoulders with either hand and told me head on how lucky i was to have my music…something meaningful to give my days purpose…it felt like quite a thing coming from him…so yes…just cause there’s all the gatekeepers surrounding the business of music,it never needs to stop a committed player or writer or performer from simply moving forward..you just get on and joyfully do it….and the end of a year is measured by the development of the work,no matter what may or may not happen in the horse and pony show…what will be ,will be.

  2. That is a terrific post, hats off to you Sir for your wisdom and honesty. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the promotion, emails, Tweets etc. and forget the main reason that most of us do this….a plain and simple love of music.

    Mary, your response also hit the nail firmly on the head 🙂

    Here’s to having fun and making music.

    Cheers x

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