Taking Yourself Seriously as an Artist with Sepia

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From the top to the bottom of the bill, Sepia can be found stealing the show all across the UK, Europe, America, and Australia. Theo Bennett’s journey started by creating music on a laptop with a broken sound card in his dad’s front room to playing anywhere he could in the UK to now travelling the world with the songs written on the same dejected laptop. Throughout lockdown, he stayed afloat with Bandcamp’s “Bandcamp Fridays” where the online audio distribution platform we’ve waived our revenue share to help support the many artists who have seen their livelihoods disrupted by the pandemic. We chatted with Theo about his growth as a musician, the moments that made him decide to take himself seriously, paying the rent with your music, and touring the states.

What’s Inside?

  1. Two Members, One Flat and a Band
  2. Writing & Releasing Music During a Pandemic
  3. Recording Your First Full Length LP
  4. The Eye Opener

Transitioning From Acoustic Guitar to Decks

My first gig was as a teenager playing an acoustic guitar down on an Isle of Wight beach with Max Edermaniger with other teenagers watching whilst swigging stolen parents vodka in Subway cups. All I remember was getting that “I wanna do this all the time” feeling.

The first time I made electronic computer stuff was when I recorded some acoustic EPs and I tried doing little simple electronic bits around the acoustic guitar. I recorded everything on Fruity Loops, which is the same programme I use today.

As I got older I hung out a lot of friends who were into electronic music and that inspired me to buy a pair of decks which I started using at house parties and I told myself “I’m a DJ now I should probably try start making some tunes”.

Taking Yourself Seriously as an Artist

As I started DJing at these club nights on the Isle of Wight that were known as the 333 parties, I needed a name for the flyer advertising the event, so I picked the name Brown Noise inspired by a South Park episode. When I was 19 I got a really big gig supporting Skream and when I saw Brown Noise on the poster a lightbulb moment happened and I decided it was time to take myself more seriously. So I adapted my style a little and changed my name, I’m glad I did because I don’t know if I would of got very far as Brown Noise in hindsight.

Creating Momentum by Giggin’

When lived on Isle of Wight I travelled back and forth to London, did some radio and gigs but when I moved to Brighton was when I really found momentum because there is so much more of a night life there.

Playing shows definitely started the buzz and I when I got moderately better at writing tracks and bigger DJs started to play them. I’d get emails from well know DJs asking if I had any tunes and I’d be like “what? hell yeah have everything I have ever made” (which in hindsight I should have just sent the best ones so they didn’t have to sift through so much of the bad stuff).

One best things about DJ culture is everyone shares great tunes, (Well, most people did until stuff started getting leaked but yeah) I still share now especially if people are thinking about promoting it and taking it somewhere a bit better to help each other. I’d hate to have an elitist attitude not share great tunes, music is a thing that is meant to be shared with everyone, so why are you gatekeeping and just holding on to stuff.

Paying Rent With Your Music

When I was living in London I was playing with a some big names and was on as main support for the headliner a few times but I only got paid with a couple of beers and 50 quid.  At the time I was like “this is sick” but that’s not even 10% of my rent, so I would play a show and go back to the kitchens where I worked to pay rent. Doing kitchen work and trying to make it in music meant I wasn’t putting 100% into either job. I was just bouncing from kitchens to gigs and kitchen to gigs. After a couple of years of that I thought “screw this Im going to try and do music full time properly”.

After that I decided to hide away in the studio for a couple months and that’s when the first records got signed. From then on I upped my fee, played loads more events in the month and then it got more sustainable after that.

I think taking yourself more seriously as an artist definitely helps in the long run. I know people who are really good but they’re still just saying yes to any gig even if it’s unpaid. That means if one promoter hears you play for free, why the hell will another promoter pay you for their show? It’s hard to get out of that cycle and I did thankfully. I love playing gigs, but you can’t live off the free ones. You can’t pay rent in social media likes and exposure.

Good Equipment Makes Good Music Is a Myth

Having the equipment has definitely helped but it was only last year I got it all thanks to the Arts Council Grant. I only got my first pair of monitors a few years ago, from 2007 until 2015 I was making tunes with headphones on broken windows down the laptop. There was no volume bar and it always said there’s “no sound device” but if you plugged headphones in it worked. All my first records were made on that very laptop…

Good equipment makes good music is a myth. It’s like the punk scene back in the day, all the best bands just recorded on a little four track, all live at the same time. No studio, just press record and all thrash it out of the room. It can be the same with electronic. You just need an idea, a laptop, headphones and that’s all you need. You see a lot of rich uni students with their parents buying 10 grands worth of equipment but they don’t even know how to turn the synth on.

If you haven’t got an idea of any musicality but all the equipment, you aren’t going to produce anything good. You have to have a vibe otherwise it becomes too robotic, if they’re literally surrounded by loads of synths and no passion you’re not going to make good music because you’re doing it to make a product but not catch a vibe on it.

Home Recording vs The Studio

Writing at home is great because if you’ve got an idea you can just kind of lay it down instantly or when you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and plus you’ve got your own home comforts Studios can be a great environment because the rooms sound treated, so it sounds way better than your bedroom.

Youtube Tutorials vs Learning Hands On Vs Friends

When I started there was no tutorial on YouTube, it was literally me sat at my laptop making the worst noises until it started to sound good. I learned a lot from hanging around people who knew what they were doing and were kind enough to share what they knew.

Fruit Loops Forever

I’ve only ever used FL Studio. I’ve tried to use other software before but I’ve just never gotten comfortable with them. I’d get there at the end but nowhere near as fast as I am with FL. They give you free lifetime updates if you buy at once. So I’ve just always had the upgraded version each year it comes out and it’s definitely gotten way better. They’ve changed a lot over the years. Before it was mainly loop based and like a little sequencer but now they have everything.

Soundcloud VS Bandcamp

My Soundcloud used to get so many plays and follows and stuff but because there’s always pro versions and people pay for views you get so many bots and its hard to judge the statistics. Bandcamp is way better because all the money goes directly to you as well. They’re purely about underground music as well as it is nice and integrated. Bandcamp Fridays was the reason I was able to pay my rent the first year of lockdown. So many people I knew had to go back to their jobs at supermarkets but I was determined to not do that. Just had to find a way to survive for the couple of months I thought the pandemic would go on for, two years later, I’m still not allowed on tour…

Seeing The World with Your Music

Before lockdown I was about to do America again, then New Zealand and Australia and then come back and do the UK festival circuit. Obviously none of that happened… Since we’ve reopened in the UK, it’s been really good to have loads of shows here and it’s been nice. Currently in the process of sorting out visas to go back to America at the end of the year then hopefully, depending on the situation, we’re trying to reschedule New Zealand. But, the UK is definitely good for now.

My first US tour was in 2016 or 17, I did it on a whim as well and I didn’t have an agent (I’ve only just got a UK agent now for the first time ever). One of the labels I was on was American and I thought “you know what? I could do an American tour.” I emailed the promoters “I’m coming to America, can we do a show?” 9 shows booked later, it was like “alright I’m gonna go to America”.

The first time was insane. I didn’t really think anyone one of heard of me. I thought the promoters just booked me because I was in the UK and that was a novelty. There were lot of the people at the shows that knew the tunes asked me to sign their records (which I found really weird). I just fell in love with the states and kept going and been eight times now, I think.

I feel lucky to have been able to see this many places in the world. I never thought when I was making tunes in my dads front room that I would be able to go to other countries playing music.

This year, I have UK shows coming up, a couple of festivals, doing Boomtown this year, which would be nice to have quite a few years that Outlook. I have some shows in Eastern Europe, Romania, Bulgaria, and once visas through hopefully around Septemberish. We’ll go back to America for the first since 2019

The Eye Opener

For anyone wanting to start DJing, I would advise not to worry too much about equipment and not spend too much money before you even play your first live set. Tutorials are great but try talking to anyone you know already doing it for advice and remember to just play about on everything, experimenting is a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t.

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