By Ellie O’Neill
Cloud Sounds started out as a one man radio show ran by a local Withington lad, mainly from the comfort of his own home. In spite of apparently modelling himself on Oscar The Grouch, once one gets over his provocative sense of humour, (which leaves you shoving your fist in your mouth to keep from laughing as you wag your finger disapprovingly) Cloud Sounds is really just a six foot two inch teddy bear with a face better suited for TV than radio and one gets the feeling, if he abandoned the grumpy act, the ladies would be queuing up to talk music after every show. Even though occasionally coming across as a bit of a cross-patch, he is a savvy businessman when it comes to promotion. By making use of every social media platform available, he has ensured an admirable listener-ship and a respectable following none of whom could be bored by his bone tickling tweets.
Although the name Cloud Sounds has no air head attributes, his business sense and willingness to work hard to gain and keep followers means he has survived for four years in a market saturated by pod-casts. Part of the reason is his recognition of the importance of keeping his listeners keen, by treating them mean and teasing them with just one show a week. But perhaps the main reason for his success, is his refusal to compromise his taste and his carefully nurtured relationships with some of the UK’s most popular and talented unsigned bands.
Whereas other pod-casts usually only last a few months, after producers realise sourcing music is harder than it sounds, Cloud Sounds has continued with his weekly radio show. He manages to fit in working towards an MA in Arts Management, releasing the music of bands he likes through his own record label and even running a successful gig night at fuel once a month.
As the night is approaching its second birthday, I catch up with Ted to see how he enjoyed Christmas, what his thoughts are on Manchester’s music scene and his vision of a future for downloading music upon the guidance of respected gatekeepers.
E.O: As an impoverished student, how is it you have been able to keep the monthly Cloud Sounds Present nights going?
CS: We get to use Fuel for free and as a venue they have their own PA. They often give you some money for the bands which comes in use, especially if they have come from a long way away. It’s not much, but it’s enough to cover the petrol money. We don’t charge entry for the nights so we don’t make any kind of return, but they’ll give us a couple of free beers and help out with promotion.
E.O: How do you go about promoting the Cloud Sounds night; do you have a team that can help out?
CS: We don’t have a huge amount of money, so we don’t print very many posters. Those that we do print, we put up around Piccadilly Records and Fopp and the Northern Quarter. What we tend to find is that because we are far outside of town, it is difficult to convince people based centrally to leave where they have started their night, this is why you will see most of our promotional material down here at Fuel and around Withington.
E.O: Have you considered starting up a new gig night in town to cater for the lazier lovers of unsigned bands?
CS: I’ve got lots of plans and ideas of which way we can be taking things. One of the plans is to take it in the direction of getting individual bands to play, bigger names than we can afford to pay at the moment. In order to get these, we might unfortunately have to start charging entry and that’s something we have been able to avoid doing at the Cloud Sounds Presents night so far.
E.O: You seem to be getting a lot of bands on from Wales of late. Is there any particular reason for this?
CS: I have focused a lot more on Wales of late, as that is where the music I like is coming out of. I think people appreciate the time and effort that we put into searching out bands. For me, the bands who have come from Wales are delighted to be getting played here, having never really gigged anywhere outside of Wales. They have travelled a long way and because of this they are usually well up for putting on a great show. For the end of the year Christmas special we put on a Welsh band called Y Niwl and they went down really well. They are Wales’ finest (and possibly only) surf band super-group and they were playing their first ever gig in England. They have ex-members in their make up of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Eitha Tal Ffranco of Cate Le Bon’s band and Alun Tan Lan.
E.O: Does putting a lot of Welsh bands on, mean a lot of your fan base for the radio show are now stemming from Wales.
CS: We do get quite a lot of listeners from Wales. But then to be fair, at the moment if you look at where people are accessing the site from, we are getting people downloading the podcast from all over the world. It’s hard to see a pattern of where they are coming from especially, but we will see a couple of listeners from lots of different obscure places who have stumbled upon the site and then coming back to listen in to other shows too.
E.O: How do you manage to jiggle around studying for a masters in Arts Management with running the gig nights?
CS: There are three people who I would say together make keeping the show going, myself and two others. One is in charge of designing my website, he is a friend so is happy to help out free of charge. As we are re-designing the whole site at the moment, it’s a good way for him to showcase his talents and is a great help for me. The other person who helps particularly with the gig nights at Fuel is Tim from The Generalissimos. He does my sound on the night and has a hand in helping me decide which bands to put on, as I run a lot of stuff we get sent from various bands past him to get another perspective. His band have also played the unsigned night at Fuel on multiple occasions over the years.
E.O: What are the patterns of your listeners? Are a lot of them rather fickle in their habits?
CS: A lot of my listeners tend to just listen in for the Christmas special, so I try to put a lot of work into creating a good show. When I get back from Christmas, I usually have a lot more listeners as a result of the break and people just making New Years Resolutions to make more of an effort to listen in. There are some shows where we have done hardly any promotion, but for whatever reason we will just get a huge listener-ship. Then there are other times when you try and repeat the formula which you think may have made the previous show a success and the numbers go down again. You just can’t really tell what makes one show more popular than another.
E.O: What promotion do you put in place prior to the gig nights?
CS: There are some nights for which we do lots of promotion, but fail to get much of a mention in the press. We were plugged in The Guide by The Guardian just after Christmas which was pretty special. They did get the wrong date and were a little late on the information about the Christmas special (they listed it in The Guide in early January), but they said some really nice things about the show and it was great to get a mention.
E.O: How long ago did you start putting out the podcast?
CS: It was nearly four years ago now I started putting out and back then for a while I was doing a daily show on Unity Radio. We switched over to weekly slots and unfortunately, although they are doing really well, I had some difficulties with putting the show together. Unity were pretty small and I would turn up to record, having told my regular listeners when to listen out for me. I would have trouble getting into the studio as there would be nobody around to let me in. Now I do it from home it works out quite nicely. As it now gets released as a pod-cast, it means people are able to listen at their leisure once they have downloaded it for free.
E.O: The gig night coming up in March, what’s it for?
CS: As we cannot decide upon a fixed date from when the radio shows began, we have chosen to celebrate the anniversary of the Cloud Sounds Presents nights at Fuel. Although it is difficult to choose a birthday for the radio show due to all the stops and starts, it’s important as it is the root of everything else we are doing. When I started doing the pod-casts there weren’t many people out there doing what I was doing. At first I was just playing stuff I liked, often bands who I’d gotten to know and then I started moving more towards the unsigned stuff. There are hundreds of people now who put out pod-casts, but many seem to stop after a couple of months. I don’t think they really understand when they first start, the amount of work that goes into sourcing bands. It takes an awful lot of time and effort, but still there are a lot of people in Manchester who want to put out the tunes they like to listen to, stuff that isn’t necessarily available through Spotify or I-tunes.
E.O: How do you source new music for your shows?
CS: Back during the Myspace boom, everyone was doing Myspace and being really active about getting their music out there . It has tailed off a bit now, but I managed to form some good relationships with a lot of bands whose music I like and as a result I get a lot of their new stuff through to use on the show. I also get a lot through from PR companies and the Red Deer Club are especially good, the best I would say in Manchester. Sometimes I can get bands to email me individual MP3s of bits I want to play on the show, but you tend to find the better a band are, the more reluctant they are to send you stuff through. It’s the bands which are rubbish which usually do the most promotional work. What I do tend to find is we get a lot more through from bands who are interested in playing the gig night rather than sending in their stuff for the show, as you can reach a lot of people through the gig night and of course that means I will be mentioning them on the show in the run up to the gig, but it’s still good to get new material sent through.
E.O: What gig night’s do you particularly rate in Manchester?
CS: After a painfully long silence and some gentle encouragement: I guess they put some good stuff on at the Academy but I have been a bit busy of late to get out to many nights. Seems to be a lot of nights in Manchester who don’t really put on bands that I like to listen to, I feel as though the bands I play at the unsigned night are really very good and don’t understand why they aren’t getting as much of a chance to gig in more venues throughout the city.
I have never played a band that has gone on to become really huge. Wave Machine are obviously doing pretty well now, but even they haven’t yet become as big as I thought they would be. I haven’t yet seen any of the bands I have played over the years appear on the front cover of The NME. When I started doing the show the top two bands I was playing a lot of were Onions and The Loungs and I really thought they were very good at what they were doing. It was a few years ago now but I remember when I was listening to their stuff that I thought they were soon going to be two of the biggest bands in the country.
There are a lot of people out there, obviously not people who listen to Cloud Sounds, who just listen to what they are told to listen to and don’t put too much thought into trying to find new bands due to lack of time or inclination maybe. People tend to listen to what has been already validated and I have no doubt that if Onions were being plugged on Radio One and other more popular shows with all the power of the NME and their DJs putting them on their playlist, they would be huge by now and be featured in the NME but none of them are going to do that, perhaps because it’s the way they look or the way they don’t look.
E.O: How do you fit the show in around the masters?
CS: I usually have Christmas time off after the gig night and the end of year special, but this year due to deadlines I ended up taking six weeks off so it’s been great getting back to it. I do think it’s good to take a bit of time off as it does give people time to start to miss it and make New Year’s resolutions about listening to the show on a more regular basis, plus it gives people time to catch up on pod-casts and the special which is usually a good few hours of thirty tracks and the all important banter.
E.O: Have you ever considered doing live interviews on the show?
CS: This is something which has been on my mind now for quite a while. The difficulty is with doing the show from my house, is that they would have to come in through our home which isn’t really practical at the moment, also I only have one microphone for the time being. I say every year that I am going to find a way of doing it, so hopefully we will be doing them soon as it would be a good addition to the Cloud Sounds label.
E.O: Would you ever consider filming the show?
CS: Not really, for the same practical reasons, but it’s not something I would rule out. At the moment I am more interested in the idea of filming the gigs, as I am conscious of the fact that we have listeners from all over the world who I am frequently telling about fantastic upcoming gigs they aren’t able to attend unless they are really hardcore, so it would be good to share them on the show though I am not sure how difficult that might be.
E.O: What has been the best gig you have ever seen at Cloud Sounds Presents?
CS: This month it will be two years since we started putting on the gig night and I think the best nights I have seen are the ones where the bands really seem to be enjoying themselves. Sometimes you will see bands that have to play in front of ten people and I get very embarrassed when this happens. If a band is playing a gig to a big crowd of people it really makes a night, especially when you have the bands coming up to you afterwards to tell you how much they have enjoyed it. At Christmas time we had a band come up from Wales called Y Niwl which was put together by a lot of people in Wales interested in creating surf music. This surf band played for us at the special at Christmas and the bassist who plays with Cate Le Bon is a part of them. He came over at the end of the night and asked about Cate getting a slot on the night; now she is far too big to be playing here but it was really nice that he asked and although she is on tour at the moment if we could get here playing here it really would be very special.
E.O: What do you look out for in a band who you give air time too or who you like to put on at the gig nights?
CS: Of all the things I look out for in bands, the one theme that runs through both the bands I play on the show and those who get a slot on at the gig night is the fun factor. There has to be a level of enjoyment running through their music. Cate Le Bon who writes some really very dark stuff and even Sweet Baboo write heart breaking songs, but they then dust it through with an element of humour. If a band does not have this streak they end up being over the top, they would end up being Razor Light.
E.O: Have you ever considered increasing the amount of shows you play?
CS: I am happy enough at the moment with the amount of shows and I think the listeners are as well. I have tried myself to keep up with other pod-casts that run more frequently than once a week and although I try to download it and make an effort to listen through before you know it, another week has gone and all of a sudden you have a massive backlog to get through and that isn’t terribly appealing. Obviously it would be great to be doing a weekly show but without being paid for it is an awful lot of work, especially at a time when I am studying for the MA.
EO: Do you ever consider charging for the gig nights?
CS: No not really because it doesn’t cost that much to run, other than the small amount of money I pay for air time and initial heavy costs such as buying a microphone. I guess for the sake of the show there has to come a point where you are prepared to put more of one’s own money in and take a risk on losing it but it is difficult to know when this point has come.
Releasing the 7” with Onions and Generalissimos was a bit of a risk and to be fair we all knew that due to the cost of putting it together, we were going to make a loss no matter what. But we didn’t really put it together for money, we just had some good songs we wanted to get out there and we were really pleased with ourselves as we recorded, mastered, promoted and even designed the record sleeves without having to go to any outside companies. It is pretty cool to produce something you have made from scratch and though we are not making profit on them, they are selling well and more than half of the limited edition CDs are now gone. We wanted to break even if possible, but it was released more out of mutual respect and a love for the music these guys are playing at the moment; what was eventually produced was really worth something to all of us.
A lot of people always advise you to get into music for the love of it, not because you want to get famous or be paid for it. There are bands however who are getting the money, there has to be as great an idea as it is we can all keep going for free. At some point bands have to be recognised for their contribution as records can’t keep being released at a loss there has to be some kind of reward financially so they can continue without becoming so submerged in their day jobs they don’t have time to record, gig or create new songs.
E.O: Do you feel the government or the arts departments are supportive enough of musicians at the moment?
CS: Not really, I think popular music tens to receive a lack of funding because people still see it as a corporate venture where a lot of people are making a lot of money. It’s a nice idea but so few bands get signed and even those who do don’t necessarily make large amounts of money from it. A lot of bands are recording their music themselves and trying to get it out there in that way but there is an awful lot of music on the internet now and jus because its there doesn’t necessarily mean people will buy it or even listen to it.
Perhaps the internet emerges we will start to get gate keepers who advise people on where to go for good new music. They would be tested sources and if a music lover liked a started genre he would follow a particular gate keeper who would put him/her in the direction of new music so they wouldn’t have to filter through a huge amount of information which few people have time to do these days. Perhaps Cloud Sounds will in time become one of these gate keepers directing people to decent music. If his happens I think we will see an increasing divide between the god stuff and the X-Factor dominated pop charts. Some stuff will leak through to the charts and vice-versa but at the moment I honestly can’t tell you of any band I like in the top 10 chart.
E O: I see you have recently become a tweeter, how has this helped the show?
CS: I only started with the twitter account in the last few months and like the way you can get your personality across to your followers. Perhaps social media makes the show seem a bit redundant as I guess I could post links but I think people still like listening to the show and its the banter they enjoy in-between as much as the songs otherwise they could just download a playlist or some of the pod-casts out there which are just a DJs listing of his favourite tracks without any talking bits which are of course the part of the show I enjoy doing.
E.O: Any plans for putting another album out there?
CS: I was reading an article the other day about the best bands in Manchester and it got me a bit annoyed as I didn’t like any of them and I started to think I should perhaps put a pod-cast of bands in Manchester that myself and my listeners have enjoyed, bands which perhaps are often overlooked on the scene. It is too much of a financial risk at the moment to put it out during the next six months whilst I’m still studying.
E.O: Albums and bands people should look out for in 2010?
CS: Well Onions have been keeping quite hush hush about their latest project so it will be interesting to see what they end up producing. Then there is the latest album from The Loungs and I swear you would struggle to find a better album this year. Finally there is a guy called the Voluntary Butler Scheme; I played him on the show last year and since then he has got really big. So it’s those three really that people should be keeping an eye out for.
Cloud Sounds Presents will be at Fuel in Withington from 7.30pm onwards this Saturday 6th Feb). You can find more details of the pod-casts and the CD release here.