How to create a unique sound and show with Public Service Broadcasting

We were at The Great Escape in Brighton to learn from Public Service Broadcasting’s J.Willgoose Esquire on how they created their unique sound and show…

Jim Ottewill
  • By Jim Ottewill
  • 23 May 2016
  • min read
Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) are one of the more unique British musical success stories of recent years, an act born out of main songwriter J. Willgoose Esq’s love for archive film footage balanced with live guitars and electronics.

It’s a recipe which has helped the band enjoy two top 40 records in the form of Inform-Educate-Entertain and last year’s The Race for Space.

As such J Willgoose Esq and his music were at the centre of a discussion at The Great Escape on how they have achieved so much. PPL’s Keith Harris quizzed the likes of Ritu Morton (Six07 Press), A&R expert James Endeacott (JE) and Liquid Management’s David Manders (DM), alongside J. Willgoose, Esq (JW) on PSB and their music.

We were on hand to find out more from the panel and learn what a band needs to have in place to grow from an initial idea to the top of festival bills. Check out these tips for musical success below...  

Find your sound

JW - I was trying to sound like DJ Shadow or Massive Attack. The samples are from different eras and we were trying to create this juxtaposition between the older clips and modern sounding music, rather than evoking a specific era.

Radio is important

JW - A lot of people like to talk about the internet. But it was almost entirely radio. It’s played a hugely important role in finding us an audience.

Where we don’t get played on the radio, we don’t do very well. People forget that music is the closest thing we have to an international language. We sold out 350 seater venues in Portland and Seattle and that was because our music was played to people. It’s not about being on an unplayed Spotify playlist.

Think further than social media

JW - We’ve been doing it the old fashioned way. It’s never really been about cultivating an online presence. We’d be at the bottom of the pile if you compared our social media presence with similar bands playing similar sized gigs.

Build a team

JE - I’m lucky to work with bands who succeeded at a bigger label. It’s about getting a team around you. From management to band members, once you’ve got a team it’s an attack on all fronts. You need to orchestrate all these things together.

Manage those income streams

JW - I don’t know many bands who make much money from playing live at our level. It’s really tough. All these costs mount up. What has helped us to do this full time has been selling records.

DM - Doing it ourselves means we’ve had 360 degree income streams. It’s meant we’ve been able to move money around when needed. I've also gone out of the way to build good relationships with PRS for Music and PPL.

Be prepared to work two jobs to achieve success

JW - I balanced music with another job during those early stages of PSB. It wasn’t until three months before the release of the album that I jumped into music full time. It meant we built it up slowly and it didn’t influence the way I was writing music. I didn’t have to write a single song to help me leave my job.

Put down musical roots

JE – Bands like PSB are now are like ‘we can do this ourselves’. It means that it has these roots and base. When you get catapulted into the limelight and sign a big five-figure deal, you're elevated into a position and the only way is down. There's a lot of people lacking in long-term vision. It’s having these roots which is important.

Be as good as you can when playing live

JE - You’ve also got to be good live. You’ve got to engage. These indie rock bands come on stage like they’ve just walked off the street. That’s okay but we’re working in the entertainment world. You want to take people out of their minds for an hour.

Play places that other people don’t

JW - We played all over the place. Before the album came out we did regional gigs all the time. We played 150 shows the year the album came out.

JE - When I was working with the Libertines we were organising a tour and we wanted to play all those places no one ever plays. It's all about the roots and the foundations.