Introduction & Collaborations
I successfully set out to write, record and produce a seven song EP, released by the record label I have established named Orphan No More. The project consisted of both the production of the EP as well as the marketing, promotion and visual design and also building the profile, opportunities and sustainability for the label itself.
My sophomore EP, Your Beauty, was written over the last two years and approaches various issues around self-worth, comparison and ultimately the subject of true beauty. I am a Performance Poet who has found a great freedom of expression in Hip Hop and Folk music. The EP showcases these various different influences and styles as well guest appearances from other artists and producers. The project was recorded in my spare bedroom “recording studio” using budget and often second hand equipment (Bedroom Studio). Although the product is a high quality recording I believe the raw, vulnerable environment in which it was recorded captures the heart and message of the EP itself. The EP features various different contributors and musicians. The main features included my wife, Kara Ann Marie who sang on most of the songs (Kara recording Vocals), Pete Senne who played keys (Pete Recording Keys), Scott Barnett who recorded some guitar parts (Scot recording Guitar) and finally Dave Walker AKA “Imperial” who produced the song “All is Grace” (Imperial producing).
I designed the EP cover based around the image of a lion with arrows penetrating its skin (Initial Illustration). The concept came out of the idea that beauty is not that which necessarily looks beautiful or attractive but it is the wounds that slowly heal into scars, displaying our stories. The lion represents the majestic, powerful reality of who we are, despite our experiences, wounds and pain (Final Design). The back of the CD cover features one of the key quotes from the EP:
“Come as you are, not as you should. Don’t cover up those scars, they are your glory, your story, your beauty”
I gave the line such a prominent position on the cover as I really wanted the message of that phrase to stand above everything else I said on the EP. Being a spoken word/hiphop artist, my music ends up having a very large word count! (Initial Sketch). I wanted to use handwritten text rather than a professional font, I found that the very human strokes and curves of hand drawn typography was more consistent with the message of the EP, rather than the locked, grid like format of digital fonts. (Final back cover design). Simply put, the cover art depicts the one who has found healing for their wounds, taken ownership over their experiences and found the story in their scars, free to live in their unique, majestic beauty.
Lead Single – “All Is Grace”
I decided to release a promotional, lead single from the EP in February to begin to raise awareness and build anticipation for the finished project. My collaboration song “All Is Grace” with renewed Hip Hop producer Imperial (credits include: De La Soul, Jurassic Five) was the obvious choice for a number of reasons. Firstly, I felt it was the most “catchy” in terms of having a memorable hook and feel to the whole song. I was also able to release it as a collaborative song with Imperial meaning all those who were following him would find out about my work and the upcoming project. We decided to release a video with the single, to offer more opportunity for the song to circulate.
The idea for the video was built around filming inside a large, impressive Catholic church building. The song talks about the idea of Grace being that which unites us all; in that every human is broken, has fallen short and in need of Grace. The church conveyed the impressive stature we so often try to achieve, all the while even in the greatest surroundings with the most powerful people, there still remains a brokenness and a need for Grace.
“Been repenting in confession to a priest who failed to mention, he was living east of Eden and south of Heaven”
Father David of St John’s church in Bath was kind enough to let us use their beautiful church after an email correspondence between the two of us (Image: Email correspondence). The front cover also featured the same concept, consistent with the video (All is Grace front cover).
The video was directed and produced by myself and James Green (image: Filming inside the church). To promote the video I individually wrote to numerous different blog and online music magazines, from small independent ones to larger, more established sites. I made sure each subject line was individually crafted for the blog I was writing to, featuring the name of my contact as well as an opening line commenting on one of their recent posts. See this image for some the emails sent out (image: Sent Blog/Press emails). The video went out to receive 2,500 views in its first month Watch the video. The single went on to gain countless features, radio play and reviews across the internet, raising my profile as an artist and broadening my fan base.
The features included:
Sphere of Hip Hop – (US based Blog with over 1.5 Million views per month) feature and review.
DJ Booth – (US based Blog with over 800,000 views per month) feature and review.
RapZilla – (US based Hip Hop Blog with over 500,000 views per month) feature and review.
Stamp The Wax – (London, Brighton & Bristol based blog) feature and review.
‘Imperial produces a jazzy, horn-heavy beat for Joshua Luke Smith to go all early Talib Kweli-flow on “All Is Grace.” Smith crams a lot of words into each bar, but packs a powerful punch with what he’s saying. On the hook, Smith even sings a solemn stanza that rounds out the track perfectly.’ HipHop SpeakEasy
Record Label Establishment
Throughout the process of production it was also important that I made sure the record label, Orphan No More was being continually established in terms of professionalism and relevance in the industry. Although they may sound mundane, two significant elements of this establishment was getting the label set up as registered company (image: certificate of company establishment) as well as opening up a business account (image: Business Account welcome letter). We also have begun registration with AIM (Association of Independent Music) as well as with the Musician’s Union and PRS.
Chrysalis Grant Application
In January we were given the opportunity to apply for a £5,000 grant awarded by the Chrysalis Trust. A large part of what we do as a record label involves mentioning young artists and hosting free creative community events each month around the city. In the application it was important to clearly define what it is we do as a label, how we believe our efforts are impacting individuals and the city we live in, as well as the ways in which we plan to spend and invest the grant money. The application (PDF) can be viewed here – Chrysalis Trust Application.
I am delighted to say that the grant was approved and awarded to us! (Image: Grant Approval Notification).
As well as putting the money into our mentoring/artist development programme and our community events, I will be investing into areas that can create regular income so that we are able to keep other elements free of cost. After running our costings and viewing our previous efforts in this area I have decided that the sales of physical CDs and clothing create the greatest opportunity for profit, securing the label’s sustainability over the years to come. The label now has a growing mailing list of 2,000 people as well as over 12,000 followers on Facebook, twitter and Instagram from which our products will be launched and sold.
A large part of the EP promotional campaign has been built upon creating high quality visuals for the songs. As well as shooting a video for “All is Grace” I performed and produced two spoken word videos as well as a feature video for my song “Jack of Spades”. I decided to strip two of the songs down to their poetic form, absent of instruments and production, I also decided to create a short series titled “Beneath the Beautiful” for them to feature from. The series name is in sync with the rest of the EP campaign in terms of exploring what true beauty really is. Each video was also accompanied by a short blog with the aim of giving the viewer a deeper insight into the story and concept behind the poem. The blog and video for “Nine to Five” can be viewed here VIEW VIDEO. The blog and video for “Becoming Human” can be viewed here VIEW VIDEO.
The video created for “Jack of Spades” (although not officially released yet) is available for previewing. The video was shot during February in the forests near Warminster. Featuring professional dancer Ruth Horsfall and a crew of 6, the filming began at 5AM (image: behind the scenes) and captures the concept of a “face off” with fear (image: face off behind the scenes). The entire shoot and edit took nine, eight hour days to complete. The short film is available for viewing using the password “orphannomore” at this location – Jack of Spades Video
Now that the EP has been mixed and mastered, I am making it available for pre release previews. Over the last year (since my debut EP) I received various requests from record label and publishers (image: email from Universal Music Publishing scout), blogs and other media outlets to have the opportunity to have exclusive listening opportunities. In light of these requests I have created a page on my website for certain people to hear the entire project before its official release. The showcase page is available here “Your Beauty EP”.