Music has more opportunities to create than any other industry

Music

When Ben Street’s fledgling football career was ended by injury, he turned to his first love – music. Now he gets a kick out of performing, promoting and mentoring other artists and running the Wild Paths and Wild Fields festivals. This is his story.

It was my grandad on my mum’s side who got me into music. He loved jazz and was a drummer as well. My first experience of music was listening to Miles Davis and Count Basie. I wish he’d seen [me make a career out of music] but he got cancer. He saw me play in the first bands I was in around Norwich.

We [rock band Coasts] headlined the Camden Roundhouse, sold it out. It was a big moment. My mum came and said: “Your grandfather would’ve loved this” and I was in floods. I’m not a religious man but I’m sure he’s looking down at me. I know that’s exactly what he intended, he’d have been real proud.

It drove me, his passion for music. He was also a pianist and flirted all over the place but he never really settled on one instrument. But he consumed music in the best way.

I go down these crazy rabbit holes with different genres, that’s from him as well. If he’d been around today, he’d have been on Spotify, spending his days listening to jazz, sending me links.

I was taken to concerts and gigs but playing music didn’t really come into my life until later. I was one of those kids who played recorder and I think I had a little student violin, but I was always too heavy-handed for those. When I was about 14-15 football was everything.

I was playing for Norwich Academy, so playing at a high standard. I fractured my foot playing in the Catch Up Cup for my school. I was on contract so shouldn’t have been playing. I got dropped and had a bitter reaction to that. A couple of close friends at the time were like: “Let’s start a band.”

One played the bass, the other played guitar so by default I became the drummer and I absolutely loved it. The drums are quite a distinct instrument. The music’s different. Each note is like an instrument of its own rather than a tuned pitch so that just made more sense to me.

I’ve always been into sport so liked the physical element of it. It’s almost meditative and very calming to me like sport was. When I listen to music rhythm always leaps out, that hooks me in a song.

Drummers are always in short demand, so I played in a lot of different bands around Norwich and East Anglia… I was lucky that I just fell into all these different little pocket music communities. They each fed my hunger to make music an essential part of my life.

I moved away from Norwich when I was about 18-19 and went to university in Bath where I was doing journalism. To be honest, music faltered for a little bit in that first year.

Then I met the singer from the band that I’d go on to be in for the next few years – Coasts.

It was a chance meeting while working at Wagamama in Bath to supplement my course and whatnot. I fell back in love with music. I bought myself a cheap drumkit again. We started gigging all over Bath and then extended to buying cheap people carriers and run them into the ground driving all over the south and south west.

We started to make an impression and moved to Bristol together when it was really alive. It still has a great music scene and culture but about 10-12 years ago it was just a hub for liberal and progressive thinking in music. 

We ended up promoting music at local venues and finding spaces all over Bristol.

We used to practice at a church crypt in Southall and put on DIY events there [including] stuff with Joe Talbot [now lead singer of Idles]. We used to have beat generation poetry excerpts between our songs, projections all over the place and local artists would come and put stuff up.

It was a cool melting pot of different artistic formats. We got picked up by our future manager, bought a van that time and started to do DIY tours.

We had one single that got some BBC Radio 1 love, ended up being on FIFA 2017 and that propelled us. We signed a publishing deal with Warner and the rest was history. For about six-seven years we toured the world, it was an amazing experience.

It only came to an end when our guitarist was like: “I want to start a family and I don’t know if I can tour much”. Our second album charted top 20 and I always say I’m really happy we called it a day when we did.

We walked away as friends and with the project in a strong place. We played one final world tour, finished at Shepherd’s Bush Empire and I moved back to Norwich where everything else started to happen.

It’s very opportunistic the music industry. There was a new venue in Norwich and the guys running it wanted to do something proper and progressive, so I came on board. I quickly made the leap to doing the whole booking management.

You have to seize your chances and that’s what led to me meeting all the other venue directors and promoters and eventually conceiving the idea of doing multi-venue festivals like Wild which continues to blossom and change year on year.

Music, especially for an artist, is a very lusted after job and to make it sustainable is a dream. I was young and idealistic so me and the guitarist from Coasts, we’d sit down and say: “We’ll tour the world.” We were so certain of it and that level of persistence and arrogance maybe helped.

We didn’t just fall into a deal with Warner and that dream scenario of being paid to make music. It was four-five years of working two or three jobs. Every time a band came through the venue I was promoting it was like: “Coasts have got to play so we get the exposure.”

There were times where it was fragile. The band almost collapsed, or we couldn’t afford to pay for a broken wheel arch that’s fallen off the van, literal Gaffer tape jobs, sticking bumpers back on, coming back from a gig where you’d spent more on petrol than your fee. This real DIY stuff people didn’t get to see.

The thing with [TV talent] competitions, it’s like the lottery, that get rich quick thing. People’s perspective – and this is a very general thing – especially with the music industry, needs to be shifted towards the struggle.

Putting on your own shows, driving to London to play a little basement show to 20 people, sleeping on floors or in the van or a YMCA – that’s part of the magic. I know in the moment there are periods where you think: “I don’t know if I can do this.”

But there are also moments that are amazing, fulfilling and so gratifying.

People need to see the complexity of how you can obtain a sustainable career through music. Young people need to appreciate how special that time is when they’re all living together in their hometown, with their mates, at their parents’ house.

Because you’ve got this support there and you can focus on just music and not have to worry about all the other nonsense that comes with it. At that point you should be going to your practice space and really honing your craft because that’s when you’re going to get the most work done.

This why the courses The Garage runs, especially Unsigned alongside Millie [Manders] Is so important. What I love about having that opportunity with Unsigned artists is that it’s a holistic approach.

If you can understand the business aspects of what you’re doing, the marketing, all the digital platforms and these new DIY tools you have; the infrastructure that’s needed and available now to help acts gain a footing then you’re head and shoulders above other bands.

You’re going to find little tangents and find loads of pleasure from promoting and providing platforms for events or managing and helping others – and you’re always surrounded by music and always involved with creative pursuit in some way.

Music’s always been there [for me] – as an artist, a booking manager, being part of a venue’s direction team, a promoter, community management stuff, a festival director… There’s something contagious about it and now there’s the tutorship and education [side of things]. It’s all part of the same coin.

As an artist you may make it, you may not. The music industry, more than any other, because it’s elusive in the way it operates and the product itself is able to change all the time, has more space for creating a role than any other industry.

The biggest advice I could pass down is keep your eyes open and be receptive to other opportunities and you could end up working for Warner as an A+R scout or so many other things.

I wouldn’t change one thing. Maybe bring more Gaffer tape.

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