Making the most of technology: Gavin James talks Spotify

Many musicians moan about Spotify, but Gavin James sings its praises for getting his music to audiences all over the world, writes Ed Power.

Gavin James has breezed his way to the top of Irish music. The young Dublin songwriter is hardworking and serious about his craft – and seemingly immune to the stresses that derail many artists.

He’s currently composing material for his long awaited second studio LP – but if he is feeling the traditional pressure to outdo his earlier success he is keeping it remarkably well hidden.

“I’m pretty chill about the whole thing,” he says, ahead of his gig at Live at the Marquee in Cork on Friday July 7.

“The whole process is very organic. I’ve been playing the new songs live. In a way you’re letting the audience write the song for you. As soon as you go out there and perform it, you get a sense what does and doesn’t work.”

James – whose real name is Gavin Wigglesworth – is a phenomenon. Having started busking around Dublin, through sheer toil and ambition he has ascended to the highest echelons. He headlined the 14,000 capacity 3Arena last December and has enjoyed considerable success in the UK and the Netherlands.

And he’s had a fair crack at the United States, appearing on James Corden and Jimmy Kimmel’s late night shows and selling out the prestigious El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles and Highline Ballroom in New York.

“Doing The Book Of Love on James Corden was massive. It definitely moved the needle. You could tell there was a big response. I’ve always taking it one step at the time. My career has been a case of trial and error and of grinding away. The first time I played Whelan’s I got ten people. The next time I was 20 – and so on.”

Twenty years ago, James probably wouldn’t have had the career he has today. His songs are earnest and emotive – a cousin once removed from the music of Ed Sheeran and Mumford and Sons. So while it is popular with the public it isn’t especially “cool”.

Back when “tastemakers” such as the music press decided which acts received coverage and which didn’t, that would have been a problem. However, with the rise of streaming services such as Spotify, nobody gets to tell people what to listen to anymore. That has proved huge beneficial to heart-on-sleeve strummers such as James.

“If you put a song on Spotify, it’s everywhere,” he says. “We went over to Singapore – I’d never been before and 400 people turned up at the gig. Afterwards I asked how they had heard of me. It was all “Spotify, Spotify, Spotify”. When streaming first came along, I thought it was going to be YouTube all over again, in that you’d see people getting millions of hits but nobody was coming to the gigs. It’s actually really cool – and it does seem to draw people in.”

To be a top-selling artist in 2017 means being a canny business person. Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift are known to closely monitor their streaming metrics in various markets. If there’s a dip in Germany or France, they’ll call their management in and try to figure out why they are lagging.

Though not quite at that level, James has much the same outlook. He’d love to break America, for instance. However, a country that vast and diverse can become a morass if you’re not careful – and a distraction from other, equally important audiences.

“I want to be playing venues like 3Arena. What I’ve been doing for the past five or six years is working at building an audience. The thing is, you can spend too long trying to break a place. You could easily spent two years in America. Then you come back to Ireland and the arse has dropped out of it and you’re beginning from scratch. So you have to be mind how you go.”

So far so good for the man himself.

Gavin James plays Live at the Marquee in Cork on Friday, July 7


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