As someone who has always seen the world controlled by money, consumerism, social networks, power, greed, vanity, beauty, love, hate, advertising, expression or no expression, enthusiasm or no enthusiasm, I found myself spending a long time on the sidelines, looking in and not acting for myself. Possibly being too negative, or lacking enthusiasm and belief in what I loved and could do.
For a long time, my dream was to live in a tree. Eating fruit, and finding peace and tranquility. Contentment. No anxiety, no rules, no conforming, and just being as one. Kind to the tree, thinking kind thoughts, and being kind to myself. But I couldn’t get away from the music. I couldn’t get away from the thrill and the journey on which music takes one. The ideal, not to mention complete, feeling that certain music has given me and so many others. So the time came, later than for most, to start my own band, project, film, art, whatever you want to call it. All of a sudden, I had no fear. Certain traumas and personal struggles took me to a place where fear didn’t exist.
I thought that to survive, to do what I needed to make art and music, I had to take on a whole repertoire of jobs. Jobs that include writing music, mastering my instruments, singing, writing lyrics, music production, music marketing, directing films, acting, filming, photography, web design, graphic design, social media, art direction – and still all the while eating and sleeping, being a father to my daughter, and continuing work with Gary Numan and Pop Will Eat Itself.
With the tree existence in tow, somewhere in my fantasies, I started my own business in 2005. It was a guitar shop in Northampton, England. This was going to be a ticket to tree land one day in the future when I could afford endless fruit and tree hire. It was a specialist shop; we really cared about our customers and the shop was more like a sitcom than a retail outlet. At times, it was just how I wanted it – a place for musicians to hang out, talk music, and buy some guitars. We had an open door for characters and friends to hang out and speak easy.
However, things didn’t go to plan. Three things affected the business that I put my heart and soul into; the recession in 2008, the Internet, and the decline of the area where my shop was situated, which got tired and worn in the space of just over a year. At times it was heart breaking.
But it is the Internet I want to concentrate on. Not the recession, or my personal struggle, or my warped, sometimes stupid view of the world and its inhabitants. That’s too dark.
Around the time my business declined, the Internet started to become popular across all ages. Before my eyes, I saw dramatic changes in people’s education, life habits, and social interactions. I saw how younger generations were interacting, which was different to how I grew up, with only a landline for company. The Internet negatively changed my business into something of which I didn’t want to be a part.
At the same time, I was touring the world as a musician with Gary Numan. I started to have the time of my life as an artist and musician, but when I returned home, life was increasingly becoming a box-shifting existence. Not a path to said tree. Not a fulfilling, creative world. And the speak-easy vibe of my shop had gone; there was stress, and every day was an uphill climb. Sales dropped dramatically but the bills stayed the same.
To sustain the business, I had to make the decision to change the functions of day-to-day life. Very quickly there was little customer contact apart from emails, and we had to get used to parcel tape, courier numbers, and extremely small profit margins. Needless to say, there was no time to listen to music, and the social side and the actual fun of having an open door to musicians and people from far and wide vanished very quickly; it was as if everyone had disappeared. It was sad for me, and it was also sad for many of my friends who owned small businesses. The town declined quickly, the streets became empty.
So in 2010, I decided to sell my business for 99p. I had to concentrate on my art. The desire to live as a free-thinking artist was burning in me every day and guiding me to make decisions. I knew that I had to have the fulfilled feeling that only creativity and expression can give.
I went from surviving pretty well to being broke and living in a one-bedroom flat with my daughter. The living area was my studio, and I got to work mastering what I’d always wanted to do when I was still too scared to join this imaginary life for fear of becoming a patron to a gang or cult of musicians. I started working 15 hours a day. It was so difficult at first to abolish social situations, abolish distractions, and concentrate on still being a Dad when my daughter was with me. But the long hours of complete solitude proved that I’d made the right decision. Slowly I started to feel more whole than ever before. Small victories among a thousand failures were worth a million failures.
Fast-forward six years, and although my hearing is struggling, sometimes I’m still a full-time musician and that is never going to change. I’m still pretty broke, but over the last few years I’ve self-released three singles, run two PledgeMusic campaigns, produced an album for Pop Will Eat Itself, written music for EMI/KPM, designed a band from the production and aesthetic point of view until they had major airplay on Radio 1, and continued to work with Gary Numan.
Now that my debut album is ready, I’m pretty proud of myself for coming so far in actually finishing my own work and producing 70% of it myself. This wasn’t the plan in 2010 – to write my album, I mean – it was just to sustain life as a musician and freethinker. I’ve written everything myself, and got a couple of mates in here and there to help with production and tried to include my live band as well.
I live out of a bag at my Mum’s house or sleep in the studio still, and I’ve been close to living in my car a few times. But that would be okay – as long as I am still writing, progressing, and expressing more. It’s all part of my journey to the tree.
After studying the Internet since opening my hotmail.com account in 1996 and going through the trends of Myspace, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I have realised that interacting with people is way more interesting than joining a system that’s ruled by money, genres, and power. None of these spell freedom to me. Interaction does – like it did when my shop was doing well.
The Internet has created a direct route to anyone who’s interested in what an artist is doing. Artists don’t have to rely on genre-ruled mainstream radio stations, the most popular current trends, or a catchy pop song. Social media has made it possible for artists to interact on a daily basis and share what the hell they are up to. That involvement with the public has brought artists down to earth. It’s fun, and it’s in everyone’s pocket. My long relationship with Gary Numan and always updating my Facebook page over the years meant that I started to attract a following by sharing music, films, and artists that I love and tour photos, as well as just generally chatting. I’ve always admired ‘DIY’ artists, film makers, and musicians – the punk movement, early dance music, and the dub scene back in the day to name a few. I’ve figured that the age of the independent artist is here.
To fund my album, I got in touch with PledgeMusic. People who get involved get regular updates on the process and really become part of the journey as you create and shape the whole thing. I didn’t sell “inspiring shopping trips” or “an insightful Skype chat” like some people do, but I explained what it was that I was doing with both campaigns, and people showed interest. The support was actually overwhelming at times, and I reached out to people all over the world. There would be no way of me doing that without the Internet. I am aware that there is some negative stigma to crowdfunding campaigns, but I honestly just couldn’t see it myself; as both campaigns rolled on, the power of people’s enthusiasm and encouragement meant that I wasn’t alone anymore. I had actual humans involved in what I was doing in real time, and they were waiting and expressing enjoyment about what I was doing. This helped my confidence and not wanting to let these people down added greatly to my motivation.
Some people believe that interacting on social media is a false world. I feel very differently about that. I’d rather speak to people in Mexico or Australia or wherever online and to write music continually than go to the pub or watch a game of football. Just my choice, I guess. However, interacting with genuine music and art fans has made it possible for me to run two successful PledgeMusic campaigns, and fund the manufacturing and production of the final product.
So now the album is finished, and I’ve sent it off to a few record labels. As expected, I was ignored by most, declined by some, and had a few meetings where I was offered record deals that filled me with horror. It reminded me of taping up boxes again, joining a system ran by non-artists. It made me feel low, and the whole point of creativity for me seemed insignificant. The freedom would have gone; I would be in major debt and have very little control over my releases – where and how my music, art and life were directed. It felt like I’d be throwing all the dedication and solitude to the wind so I have decided, for now, to stay independent.
And so here I am. I have an album finished and ready to go, but no real money to pay for a massive PR campaign or a radio plugger. But what I do have is freedom. Freedom to explore and create whatever music I want, to please no-one but my growing fan base and myself – and with no delusional avenues to walk down to find success. I’m not typecast by genre. I’m also not against trends of radio stations or unit shifting – I have signed a few publishing deals in the UK and the US, and I’m excited to see how that goes, but I’m not hanging around – I’m getting on with the next album.
The digital age has opened up paths for interaction and built communities that the decline of independent retailers took away. The big corporate world has little power over human interaction if individuals don’t subscribe. I don’t subscribe and neither do my good friends.
The journey has only just begun, but the world is opening up via social media. It’s breaking down barriers of race, vanity, and geography, and is unifying us humans to a degree. It also allows people to view different worlds through pictures. Photography has always been a love, and the access to apps like Instagram has given everyone a choice to create great photography. I love that.
Despite the Internet causing me problems at times in the past, I actually love it. People have an option to like or not like, get involved or not get involved, but I think there is a lot to be said for furthering education with these information tablets in our hands. You only have to look on the tube/metro/underground/streets etc., where everybody’s reading. Social media is still in its infancy, and with the freedom of choice over what you watch and see and read, I have faith that the Internet will give people back the power that governments and huge corporations take away from society. I believe that confidence is growing worldwide.
More information about Tim's music and artisitc endeavours can be found here.