ELDR from the 'Friends' music video, directed by Philip James McGoldrick, shot by Miles Ridgway.
Marina Elderton is busy. An award-winning composer for film, TV, theatre and other media, her original soundtrack credits include Poly Styrene: I AM A CLICHE (Sky Arts/ Modern Films), Sudden Death: My Sister’s Silent Killer (BBC), Such Small Hands (Film4), and forthcoming feature ZERO (BBC Films/ BFI Films).
She’s worked on Royal Television Society Award winning documentaries, and internationally acclaimed animations and shorts, as well as composing commercially for the likes of Vodafone, Rimmel, Cadburys, and Tesco.
But she also has a need for artistic expression free from the restrictions that come with every client-first composer’s career. Previously a co-founder of ethereal-psych duo KULL, electronic project White Russia (which featured on BBC Introducing), and the woman sound artist collective Erinyes, today she channels her artistic expression through a solo project as EDLR, supported the PRS Women Make Music Foundation. In fact, she’s just released a new ELDR EP, HÖLY STRANGER, the launch show for which is coming up at London’s Servant Jazz Quarters on June 8.
And, while she’s signed to BDi Music for publishing, and makes use of PR reps when the time is right, she is orchestrating these parallel careers completely independently.
We spoke to Elderton about her new EP, and how independent artists manage to juggle increasingly complex careers alongside everything else that life demands…
Tell us about the new EP…
It’s been brewing for a long time. I wanted to release it a year ago but, with the virus, I had to wait and allow it to happen naturally. The songs began as a collection of eight or nine tracks. The way I do it is to record the ideas myself and then bring them to a collaborator called Knut Jonas Sellevold. Together we bring them to the final crystallisation.
With this collection, the aim was to bring a much more live, visceral energy and not get bogged down with too much production. When you’re in the studio you have the luxury of infinite layers. I wanted to get away from that and have it feel a bit more raw.
We included a drummer called Kiran Bhatt, who was involved right at the start, and that really affected the rhythms in a nice way. This stuff feels like it has movement and a pulse to it.
How do you define success from one project to the next?
I feel like just being able to release music is in itself an achievement. That’s really lowering the bar isn’t it! But I don’t think people see the psychological process that artists have to go through. Especially when you’re independent, you’re battling psychological fires, time and having to survive doing something vaguely creative. A lot of it is fighting those demons, pressures and restrictions, and forcing yourself to do it.
I’m trying to build a genuine tribe of listeners, like a community. So, with each release, if I feel that expanding, that’s very satisfying – finding real people to connect with, not this massive vanity data/metric pursuit. It’s about sharing stories, experiences and traumas through lyrics. It’s really nice when people message and tell me how they connected to a meaning in my songs.
Measuring success is an impossible pursuit because how do you define it? It’s so personal and probably steeped in illusion. Half the time, when you achieve the thing you’ve dreamed about, your mind goes to the next glass ceiling.
Being able to capture a moment honestly and connect with people is what I’m after.
Marina Elderton with her publisher, BDi Music founder Sarah Liversedge.
You have two sides to your career as a commercial artist and a media composer. How do balance them and how are they different?
They’re totally different. You’re exercising two different parts of your brain when you write your own music vs composing to a visual. But they rebound off each other really nicely. When I graduated, all I was doing was commission work and adverts. There was a part of my soul that was dying. I realised how much I needed to do my own music. But then I think, when you don’t have any shape and you’re setting your own deadlines, it can be quite empty and you can get lost in that. If a composition job comes my way, I’ll allocate my creative energy to that for two weeks and then I’m really looking forward to getting back to my own music whenever the space emerges.
Would you recommend it to other artists? Can any artist do the composition side?
I think most people could do it. If they have a love for film, it’s a no brainer for me. So many artists are coming up with concepts for music videos, for example, and it’s a very similar thing.
If you want to do it, the challenge is getting your head around the production side of things. Most musicians record their own stuff these days, so it isn’t too much of a stretch, but the difference is someone else is the master. You’re bringing someone else’s vision to life. You’re presenting your children and they’ll tell you they hate its hair. You have to be open to criticism. If you’re very precious about your music it won’t work. It’s very humbling and useful in that sense. Your artistic ego has to go out of the window. It doesn’t always serve your learning if you don’t get challenged. Maybe a record label does that but if you’re independent you don’t get that feedback.
Tell us about the team that’s around you…
I’m very DIY. I work with a producer, PR companies, and I’m with BDi Music for publishing, of course. I think it’s really essential to have people around you because, if you have to do everything yourself, it can be psychologically overwhelming. The team at BDi and [MD] Sarah are a really great support. On the composing side, Sarah brings me pitching opportunities and helps with contracts, as well as supporting me as a songwriter – advising on venues, PR companies, connecting me with the right people… all kinds of things.
A lot of people that are as independent as me see the pros and cons. It’s down to you. You have to be obsessed to get there without a really big team around you. That’s not to say I’m not open to the right people. I think I’m at a stage now where I’m looking to galvanise my independent music more and am looking for booking agents and managers.
Do you think there has been a change in the degree to which independent operators are empowered?
One hundred percent. We’ve got all the tools we need. With the internet you have the potential for a practically infinite audience. The slight red herring that we’re facing, however, is that we’re becoming commodified by social media outlets. Visibility is commodified. Artists are having to pay to get that visibility. It can be really effective, but you have to teach yourself digital marketing and a mindset that I used to avidly resist because I saw it as evil. But you have to embrace it otherwise you’ll just be shouting to your mates.
Do you worry that artists increasingly have to be content creators and social media personalities now to succeed? There’s more and more being asked of them. Is that sustainable?
I don’t think it is sustainable. I think it’s a choice of lifestyle and it whittles out the people who aren’t obsessed, because you can’t live like this if you’re not. So, it’s not sustainable in that sense. At some point, independent artists have to be supported. That’s why a lot of musicians are also doing other things out of necessity, and I think there’s a danger of it becoming a bourgeois pursuit.
Everything comes for free now. That’s why I was interested in the likes of Patreon and the idea of an exchange economy as a future model. That’s one way we can do it: relying on that community of supporters that voluntarily give you something back. I don’t need to buy someone’s album because I can listen on somewhere like Bandcamp, but there can be an active choice to give an artist something back, which is a beautiful thing.
I think there needs to be a level of education because we’ve gotten so used to getting things for free, and then you’re never going to pay for it. I think audiences have to be educated about the processes involved. There’s a lot of pressure on artists to perpetuate a narrative of success – someone’s written about me, I’ve been playlisted and so on – but we never talk about the struggles and the failures. Maybe we should talk about that more.
You’re doing all this while also being a mother. There might be a similar demand on many artists, but we don’t really talk about that either. How do you balance that?
Oh man, it’s really challenging. I have to say I think it’s focused me much more than when I had all the time in the world. I’m much more aware of the sanctity of my spare time. I don’t really feel like I ever have time off because, when I do have spare time, I want to be doing music. So, there’s something about finding space and not feeling guilty if I watch a film in the evening.
I always feel that you should do something that your future self is going to thank you for – in the future you’ll forget that you had a good night’s sleep but you’ll have that track you finished. But that’s a bit nihilistic.