Roo Panes: 'There's more opportunity than ever for artists to go direct, to get their music heard, and for independents to make an impact'
Three albums and more than 20 singles and EPs into his musical career, Roo Panes has almost 185,000 followers and more than 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. He recently signed a publishing deal with BDi Music but already has a number of high profile, song-boosting syncs to his name...
Roo Panes’ route to success can perhaps be characterised by the cross-media appeal of his work.
A model as well as a singer/songwriter, Panes first broke into the public consciousness in 2012 when he took part in a Burberry campaign that included recording music for Burberry Acoustic.
His debut album, Little Giant, was released in 2014 and gained a significant boost from one of the tracks being used on the end credits of a Christmas special of BBC comedy Cuckoo.
Indeed, Panes is something of a sync regular, having more recently scored placements on two US primetime shows in Grey’s Anatomy and This Is Us.
Three albums and more than 20 singles and EPs into his musical career, it’s all contributed to a dedicated and sizable audience for Panes, with almost 185,000 followers and more than 2 million monthly listeners on Spotify alone, where he has seen more than 350 million plays.
Panes signed to BDi Music for publishing in November last year and released his latest singles Daydreamer and Big Wide World in 2022, with an EP to come.
We caught up with Panes to talk about his journey to date, his creative process and his take on the music business…
Tell us a bit about the new EP. What did you hope to achieve?
Well, much of the EP was written during the strange period we’ve all been through and, in a sense, the spirit of it is “back to basics”. A lot of the songs are exploring simple childlike themes, such as the tracks Childhood, Daydreamer and I Just Love You. I wanted to create a relaxed collection, that in some way encouraged the listener to see the beauty of the ordinary – since there wasn’t a lot going on during those months. Part of that was revisiting the nostalgia of my upbringing: the everyday anecdotes, images of my home town and the nearby woods… At first, I wanted to use the EP to experiment with some new “sounds” I had in mind, but I found myself really enjoying letting the folk and acoustic elements create that simple world I was after. And, in the end, I settled into that earthy approach for the record.
Tell us a bit about your songwriting and recording process…
It’s so varied. Taking the EP for instance – Childhood was a poem I wrote the night before a demo day with a friend. It had no melody. The next day, I sat at the mic and improvised the guitar and melody on the spot, which was a first! The take you hear is the first and only take we did, so that one kind of wrote and recorded itself!
Remember Fall In Montreal was recorded remotely with Thomas Bartlett who’d worked on some of my favourite records – Carrie And Lowell by Sufjan Stevens being one. So that was an entirely different recording process, was a lot more cerebral, and the first remote one I’ve done to date.
Ultimately, when it comes to songs, my greatest desire is that they behave the way they’re meant to. As soon as I write them, I have a vision for what they are and I love the process of realising that – whether I work with friends or a producer. Each song is like a little evocative world, full of balance and nuance, and I want it to communicate as itself.
I try to keep my songwriting process as natural as I can, so I don’t usually sit down and try to force a song out. I like to wait for a little hint to arrive – like a sentence, a sentiment, or melody – and then I live in it for a while. Sometimes I’ll give it a nudge by picking up a guitar or sitting at the piano to see if anything comes, but my favourites are often the ones that come of their own accord. I do agree with the idea you have to be by the water to catch the fish, though!
How do you define success from one project to the next?
For me, when it comes to success, it’s more about feeling fulfilled. Of course, it’s always great when things go well! But, I guess that’s kind of out of your control, and sometimes my favourite tracks are the ones that take years to make their way out to people, like Little Giant.
I just love getting songs written and feeling like my music is growing artistically in some way. With each record, I try a new adventure and like to feel like I’ve learned something. But most of all it feels successful if the songs have managed to connect in a deep way personally with a listener. When I get messages from people who the songs have really spoken to in a positive way, that’s when I’m most happy and that’s what keeps me going.
"It seems like there's a lot of pressure on young musicians nowadays to fit someone's mould. But we're all unique and that's what makes us interesting."
You signed to BDi Music for publishing in November last year. What made you choose BDi?
I really liked meeting Sarah [Liversedge, BDi founder] and the team first and foremost. I’ve always wanted to feel my music is in safe hands, and one of the things highlighted to me was the family ethos at BDi, and the fact it’s also a family business. I was really attracted to that, and definitely felt like BDI made me feel at home as a writer and creative.
Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the team around you?
I’m releasing this EP with a label called Leafy Outlook, which has been great. They’ve worked with some great artists and friends of mine like Blanco White and Wovoka Gentle, and it’s been a lot of fun so far. I also have a longstanding booking agent in Playbook Artists, and feel like I get to work with a great bunch of people.
How involved are you with the business side of things?
I’ve always worked with independents, which has been nice and has, in my experience, meant I was able to be involved in the processes. But, ultimately, I like to try and keep my mind on making music. Right at the beginning, when I started out as a musician, I was kind of handling it all for a year or so and have always thought it’d be quite fun to start a label or something with friends.
How much impact do you think independents can have today compared to say 10 years ago?
I think it’s an interesting time. In many ways, it seems like there’s more opportunity than ever for artists to go direct, to get their music heard, and for independents to make an impact, which is all really exciting, in my opinion. Because of streaming and social media, it feels like it’s more and more possible to get your music listened to. At the same time, it makes for a very crowded space, but a greater variety of artists are emerging as a result.
Your music recently featured on two US primetime shows Grey’s Anatomy and This Is Us, and you had a prominent BBC sync early on in your musical career. What kind of impact is there when that happens?
I love it because I grew up listening to soundtracks, and it feels great to see a song chosen for a particular moment or scene. It’s surreal but also really interesting as the writer. It’s interesting to see how they’ve understood the song. I always found my favourite artists that way – bands like Sigur Ros. For my style of music, it feels quite a natural place to be found and allows me an outlet for that kind of song, which I love to write. It definitely makes a big impact. The two songs you mentioned – There’s A Place for Grey’s Anatomy, and My Sweet Refuge for This Is Us – really got their moment with those syncs. I got a lot of excited messages from friends and listeners, and new fans. But what’s cool is that people will always watch those episodes and hear those songs.
Roo Panes' There's A Place on Grey's Anatomy
You released your debut album in 2014. How has the music industry changed since then, from your perspective?
Thinking back, it feels like I arrived just when the whole release model was changing. Streaming was picking up and people were wondering how things would look. At that time, people seemed to be a little unsure where the balance between physical and digital lay. Since then, it’s been on a bit of a journey but seems to have settled down. What’s nice is I feel like people are starting to find room for both, and listeners have become more personally engaged with the best way to support artists.
I guess I’d also say, as a writer, that it’s become quite hook heavy, and there’s an increasing call for songs that sound “immediate”. That may have always been the case, and hooks are great of course, but there’s a certain type of song that is harder and harder to find nowadays – like a good old 10-minute epic album track. It feels like maybe the lyrical art of songs is becoming a bit less valued in the trade off but, in my mind, that makes it the best time to be focusing on lyrics!
What advice would you give to an emerging artist in 2022?
Honestly, I think I’d just encourage them to be themselves. It seems like there’s a lot of pressure on young musicians nowadays to fit someone’s mould. But we’re all unique and that’s what makes us interesting. So I’d probably say that. I guess I’d also say that if you love what you make then you’ll always have something to be happy about, however it goes.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I guess I’ve become more and more aware of mental health concerns among artists over recent years. I think it’s important to get to the roots of that. It’s so multifaceted. I also think it’s become pretty difficult to make a simple living as a recording artist, and many can have a lot of listens/streams of their music yet struggle to get by. It would be great to solve that. Some artists are writers more than performers, and the recording side is therefore fundamental. Honestly, if an artist could make a little more per stream, then it would give a lot of artists, especially emerging or less mainstream artists, more opportunity to make a living and make beautiful music.
Founded in 2004 and celebrating 15 years, BDi has established itself as a Grammy award winning independent music publishing business representing songwriters, composers and TV production companies with deals tailor-made for individual creative talent.
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