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Music industry Q&A with Jungle’s Tom McFarland

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In November 2020, Tom McFarland, co-founder of Jungle, stopped by for a Q&A with young people from YouPress, to answer their questions about music, and working in the industry. Watch the video, and read the article for tips and advice Tom shared.

When you formed the band Jungle, how did you know this was it, that this was your sound?

“When we started creating for Jungle it was like ‘wow, this is actually the most honest expression of myself as an artist right now in this moment in time.

“When you make something for the first time that you truly love, you recognise that moment. As soon as you try and put yourself in someone’s else’s box because you think that’s what the world wants, you end up going backwards. People can hear honesty in music, people can hear an honest idea, or an original thought.”

Did you ever come to a place where you’ve had to compromise yourself just to please the audience?

“There have been moments where we've gone there. And we've gone to the edge of that cliff. And we've pulled ourselves back from it purposefully. Because, ultimately if you, if you put yourself in a position creatively where you're trying to please somebody else, you can't then honestly sit down and listen to that thing that you've created and love it as much as you would otherwise.” 

On the back of that, how do you deal with times you’ve disagreed creatively with band members?

“Ultimately it's about picking your fights, you know if you know that that idea is worth beating the door down for being really stubborn about, then like go for it.”

“But make sure that's the right idea to do that on. You can only play that card a few times, so you do have to be bold and you do have to be bullish in your commitment and convinced about your idea in that moment.

“Ultimately the test then comes when you're both listening to it and you're like, ‘yeah we made a good decision to leave that in’ or ‘we made a great decision to leave that moment out’, even though you're personally attached to a certain melody, you do realise that maybe you've got to let it go for the track to be what it’s meant to be.”

What’s your producing process?

“We don't really have a solid process. It can be a drumbeat, it can be lyrical hook, it can be a set of chords that start an idea. Wherever the inspiration comes from as long as you're there ready with the tools available to you to like act on that inspiration. And I think that's the most important thing.”

“The craft of writing a song is very different to the craft of producing a song, and those processes can get mixed and lost at the same time. You spend like seven hours trying to find a good hi hat sound, but actually you haven't even got a chorus yet. So, it's important to be aware that there is a difference between creation and editing and not to try and like, mix those two things up at the same time.

“Just like make, make, make, make, make, as much as you can.” 

In the era of Spotify and other streaming services, do bodies of work like albums and EP’s still have value?

“The idea of an album from start to finish is something that we just really wanted to be a part of. So that's something that we definitely go towards…I honestly think I would need to be 16 to answer that question because I just don't know how the younger generations view it. So I'm asking myself the same question.

“But I do believe that if you say to your fans, ‘I want to make complete bodies of work that have a story that have a through line’, then people will respect that and understand that, and yeah, they can still connect with some of the more commercial songs on that record.”

How do you choose your singles?

“They tend to be the simplest ideas, and the ideas that we think are going to connect the most immediately with our audience.

“So that either is a very strong message or a strong hook, or just like something that sounds great and that you believe is a good representation of the whole body of work in one little nugget.”

Has social media made it easier or more difficult to get your music out there?

“We didn't have Twitter; we didn't have an Instagram. We didn’t want people to judge us on a statistic. People have got Facebook pages for their bands before they've even written a song. And for us, we just wanted to really take a step back from that.

“In hindsight, maybe not such a good idea because it’s this massive platform for promoting yourself and we were sort of one step behind everybody else of our generation of artists.

“It’s a difficult one because, obviously, it's incredibly useful, but people get so obsessed with the public perception of them, and actually the most important obsession you need to have is with yourself and with your art, and with your fans in in an emotional way.”

Any tips for working with other artists?

“The hardest thing [about making music] is like finishing it and being proud of it and putting it to bed.

“When you're working with other artists, you tend to have a more limited time with them. So I think what I've learned the most from working with other artists, is get it done quickly because if you don't finish it within the first day or two it gets stale. Just get in the room, you’ve got a day, finish it.”

As someone who earns their bread and butter from music, how do you feel about the impact the pandemic’s had on the sector?

“I do believe that culture is sort of indestructible. I think music, arts, theatre, visual art, it’s all so deeply connected to human nature and people’s desire to connect and to be informed.

I can see smaller venues, struggling, and that's obviously a real shame for grassroots music culture because those are the places where you go and play your first gig or you do your first open mic competition.

“So, yeah, I think in that respect, there's gonna be a little bit of work that needs to be done by community leaders and by established artists and established promotion companies and record labels to lift those smaller venues up and give the grass roots back what it’s had taken away from it.”

Who are you listening to right now, who’s inspiring you?

“So right now I've actually got this amazing record called ‘24 hours in a disco’. And that's actually one of the hardest disco records I've ever listened to, so go and check that out.”

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