The face behind Barstool Music

For those of us based in the UK, Barstool Music UK has become a multi-media force hard to ignore. It’s been a year since the platform has been around which felt like the perfect time to have a chat with founder Luke Knowles!

Could you briefly introduce yourself and Barstool Music?

My name is Luke Knowles. I am 32 and was born and raised in Birmingham, West Midlands. I spent most of my early childhood around music as my dad Robert was a member of a local covers band that performed at a handful of venues across Birmingham. I myself started learning the guitar at the age of 13 after losing the majority of my sight. Since then I have performed solo and as part of several bands (that never really did anything) mostly for fun. I performed regularly at a small Members Club in Erdington called Hollywood Social Club whenever they held open mic nights or put on their Sunday Sessions events.

After becoming known to the committee of the club as a lover of music and especially of finding new talent, I was asked along with my father to kick start a new performance night fortnightly. Many attempts had been made previously however enthusiasm would fizzle and they came to a halt due to a low attendance rate. So when I was tasked with launching this event I decided to create a name and try to form a sort of notable identity via branding (with absolutely no management/marketing experience whatsoever, apart from organising the line up for a charity festival that was organised by my father and his friends each summer, but that’s another story). So when creating a poster for the first official event that would see two brand new artists perform at the club I stood in my kitchen and rapidly combed my imagination for a name.

This was when I struck on Barstool Sessions. Mostly as it sounded quite basic but also, retrospectively, most of the acts that would perform were all performers on open mic circuits and so could be seen from a barstool position at the bar (sounds better when spoken in person). So with the name settled I began recruiting artists to perform and despite another low to mid turn out I kept going as the artists who performed would remark how great it was to do so and how much they would love to return, despite the low turn out some nights. So I kept it up as a place for artists to come and feel safe and relaxed.

As we entered 2019 we hit our one year mark was looking forward to celebrating two years but sadly, pandemic, you know the rest as far as live shows go. So locked down and with live shows suspended till god knows when I decided, well my wife got fed up and told me to, start a podcast. I had had conversations with local station Switch Radio about becoming a member of the team but due to covid that got put on the back burner so I had music but no place to share it. So after the tenth time of asking my wife if she thought it was a good idea I finally bit the bullet and went for it.

The first episode dropped in May and featured an interview with a Brummie band, By Devices. Sadly however, as I was getting used to Zoom and its recording features as a blind user….I failed to correctly record the whole interview, resulting in the actual recording being only twenty seconds where I said thank you to the band for talking to me for over thirty minutes. A mistake I’m happy to say has only been repeated once more (in this instance I rearranged the interview so all ended nicely).

With the podcast I felt it needed a name so named it Barstool Airplay, now I had two elements plus a blog that I had started called Barstool Green Room. It was with these elements I decided to create one umbrella brand and thus Barstool Music UK was born. It did help to separate us from an American open mic event that was called Barstool Sessions too. Now with everything under one umbrella I pressed forwards and so far have had an overwhelming, yet modest, positive response to all the material I have put out so far. I am glad I stuck with it though as I have met some incredible people and heard some incredible music that deserves all the help it can get to be head by as many people as possible.

I also have a simple edict… I do this for the love I have and passion I have for music and so do not charge for my services in promoting, whether it’s articles, podcast play, interviews, or live sessions. Basically it has become a sort of non profit showcase platform for unsigned and independent artists (which is the main focus of the podcast, probably should have mentioned this sooner).

You must have met some amazing artists the past year, could you highlight three of those artists and why they stood out to you? 

Three artists that have stood out, hard to decide really as a lot of them have something special about them, but there are a few that I can give special mention to.

in earnest – in earnest are a three piece acoustic/piano based band from Southend-on-Sea. They are Tobey, Tom and Sarah and stand out for me as they create gentle sounds that pull on my nostalgia of Damien Rice and easy listen artists like that. Plus from their first release I knew themes a band that poured heart and soul into their music and are the type of band who get fans for life. They also have used their tracks to raise awareness for mental health during this lockdown and do great work with local mental health charities in their area of the UK. So all round just brilliant people as well as amazing song creators.

Artio – Artio are a three piece electro/rock band from Leeds way. I first listened to their release before they dropped their second EP and instantly loved their mash up of electro with a hard rock edge. Couple that with the vocal and attitude of lead singer Hol Brazil it just captured something for me akin to the days of Pendulum. So again it kindled a nostalgic feel and reached out personally to me. Also their songs again tackle in equality and justice which are things I have experienced and also feel passionate about.

Nanuk – Nanuk is a seasoned singer songwriter from Nottingham in the East Midlands. I’m not ashamed to say what captured when hearing his debut track was his vocal resemblance to Colin Hay and Peter Gabrielle. Colin Hay was a musician I became obsessed with after hearing his music on Scrubs and so when I heard Nanuk, I again felt a personal pull and even my wife enjoyed listening to his music, which is quite rare. He writes gentle songs that sound both humble and sincere and like in earnest he is a type of artist that would get fans for life and also both aren’t the type of artist to get much coverage due to the quiet nature of their music.

What is most important to you when you listen to music and artists get in touch with you?

When I choose music to play I listen for character, I listen for something that is either slightly different from the mainstream, or a band that rub their own personality into the mainstream. Though a lot of music is really good, some of it is just copy cats of previous bands in their fields and though it is competent and well produced, it doesn’t quite pop for me, however this doesn’t mean I don’t like it, it’s just that I feel it is the type of track that will find a level of success even if I don’t promote it. I’m a fan of the more fringe type stuff in my personal listening so again I drift towards these artists when choosing my playlists.

With reviews I look for the message in the song rather than the style. If I can personally connect with the message and feel they have explored it in a clear and passionate way I will aphylly write fit hundred words easily on it. Sometimes it is harder to find these elements so then I look at production and even playing style, have they tried something new, have they used the music as an extension to the lyrics etc.

What three tips would you give artists when it comes to them trying to get their music out there?

This question is something I can answer, however it might not be something that many artists might connect with as it kind of goes against a lot of the adverts I even receive about Spotify campaigns etc, its more an old school, idealistic answer, so I answer solely from my own opinion and how I perceive what I receive from PR companies and bands.

Firstly: Be passionate about what you do. If you don’t love it and are going through the motions, it will be heard in the music you create and the way in which you promote it.

Secondly: Don’t be afraid to follow up and fire emails to everyone. Worst people can do is say no. As part of this as well, don’t ever think a no means its rubbish. It may just be that your music is one of several similar artists and they just happened to be above you in the mailing list, so keep following up and be sure to be personable when connecting with people.

Three: Always remember that music is subjective. This is an obvious one, however is something that can be forgotten admits negative reviews and lack of response. You will be one of hundreds of artists contacting the bigger shows/blogs, maybe even thousands. Then the personal taste of the writer/presenter will always play a part in the choice. So try researching blogs etc a bit first and maybe hit up the smaller blogs as well as the usual suspects as they are more likely to have the time and space to expand and cover a more eclectic range of music.

Oh and as a bonus tactic, don’t get hung up on the statistics. Numbers can be bought nowadays so don’t get hung up if a similar band are seemingly doing better, if you can get a consistent return, no matter how small you consider it, remember they keep coming back for your music, they don’t have to, but they choose to. Plus with the sheer amount of music now at our fingertips there is more pressure on artists to try and gather a sustained audience, even the larger artists can suffer because of this fluid movement of what’s hot etc. So in short appreciate each listen and as long as your ;enjoying playing it, don’t stop.

What tip would you give other people that would like to launch their own podcast? 

In regards to creating a podcast. Honestly it’s pretty simple. Make sure the topic you are talking about or promoting is something that interests you just as much as it might interest others. If you’ve got no passion or care for your subject it’ll sound hollow. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, plan, plan everything. Give yourself a loose guideline for the running of your podcast and try to get at least three weeks ahead before publishing, otherwise you spend the next year playing catch up each week. Also, try and leave in some of the things that you might consider mistakes, it brings personality into it and for me some of my favourite podcasts to listen to feel raw and almost off the cuff in places.

What’s next in store for Barstool Music UK? 

The future I’m hoping will see the return of the live session with audiences, more face to face video interviews to explore other areas of the music scene i.e. the more backstage elements. I will start to develop a gig guide for our website that artists can submit to. But my biggest change, and it’s pretty big, will be the merging of Barstool Music UK with my fathers charity festival to create an annual summer one day festival to raise money for local charities. I’m not to sure on name yet, but will decide soon. Finally, I’m just hoping to keep developing the relationships I’ve started forming now with bands and other aspects of the music community and eventually just become a hub for unsigned and independent music in the UK, lofty but what’s planning for the future if you don’t go big.

For more info and to follow Barstool Music, click here!

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