Regular readers of scandipop may already be aware of Jonas Oakland. ‘Beat Of My Heart’, ‘Stay’, and ‘Where I Belong’ – three singles in twelve months, and we’ve loved each one of them. Pop music merged with dance music. Heavy in synths, strings, piano, bass, and drama! They wouldn’t sound out of place on albums by BWO, Danny Saucedo, or Mans Zelmerlow. But what impresses us even more about his music is that unlike those three acts, Jonas doesn’t have a record label, a team of songwriters, or expensive producers behind him. It’s just him. He writes and records his own songs and then pays for them to be produced to a higher standard. And they’re good songs! On top of this, he’s managed to get them played on Swedish radio (A-List rotation on certain stations), and got them on sale on iTunes all around the world so that if any new fan wants to buy them – they can just buy them there and then, rather than having to hope and wait for a label to potentially license them for that territory one day in the future. As a fan of Scandinavian pop music, there’s nothing more frustrating than not being allowed to buy it – and often having to resort to illegally downloading it.
This is all fascinating stuff to us, so we wanted to know more. We asked if we could interview him, in a frank, direct fashion. Asking him exactly how he does what he does, what he gets out of it, how difficult it is to get his music out there without the aid of ANY form of record label, and what sort of money he’s making from it, if any at all. And thanks to his open attitude and honesty, we got one our most interesting interviews ever! We think it gives a great insight into the other end of the spectrum of something that we all love, but rarely get to see behind the scenes of.
And here it is, kicked off with the song that first got us into Jonas Oakland’s music;
scandipop: Hello Jonas! What are you up to at the moment?
Jonas: At the moment, well I’ve just come back home after being out running. I’ve been in for the last half hour and just had dinner, supper. Just chilling at home.
scandipop: And whereabouts is home?
Jonas: It’s in Stockholm. I’ve been here for a year now, a year and a half. Before that I moved around. I lived in Gothenburg while studying, I lived there for seven years. And I’ve also lived in Malmo in the south of Sweden, for almost three years. And that’s where I also started recording music more professionally.
scandipop: Ok. And so in Stockholm, do you have your own home studio where you record all of your own music?
Jonas: At home I do all the demos on my laptop. But those demos are not the versions that are released in the end. I have a producer down in Malmo that I work together with. So he helps me. He’s got a studio where he puts all the instruments in, so we work together with that.
scandipop: Ah ok. So you write and record all your own music, and then you have a producer to help you out with the finished product?
Jonas: That’s correct, yes. I write the music and come up with the ideas, and then I go down to Malmo to see my producer, and we play around in the studio for a while. I show him my ideas and then he, he’s reallygood with instruments and everything, so he takes my ideas and makes them even better. He does something which I would never be able to produce on my home equipment.
scandipop: You’ve chosen to go down the independent route, without using a record label. How have you managed to fund your music career? Do you have a full time job as well?
Jonas: Yeah, I haven’t quit my daytime job, (laughs). So that’s what I do, and I have a deal with the producer too. Obviously I pay him to do his job, but also he really enjoys working with me as well, so he gives me some discount. The independent road has been a strategy for me, for proving myself. I think that in the beginning I showed that my music has potential, and has some listeners out there. So it’s something that can help me when I’m ready to be signed to a label.
scandipop: And how close are you to being able to live off your music, from touring and sales etc. Do you think it’s getting there, or would you say it’s still a long while off?
Jonas: I think that the next step to be able to do that, I think I would….one of my dreams is of course to release a whole album. But to do that, I think that I would need a label backing me up, because it’s quite costly to do that. Especially at the quality that I would like it to be. And with a label of course you have all the contacts, and all the distribution channels and so on. It’s a lot of work getting to that level by yourself that you can actually live off your music, I think.
scandipop: So you’ve had three singles so far and you’ve managed to get all of them played on radio. How do you manage to get radio play without having a record label? Do you employ a plugger or do you just get in touch with them yourself?
Jonas: I actually most of the time, I just email them. That’s the easiest way to get to as many channels as possible. And then there is also a great service for independent artists in Sweden. They offer a service for independent artists to get out to the radio channels. They have radio channels signed up to their service so that they can download the music for free, from the service. So that’s another way to get to radio. The thing is, today there are so many ways to live out your dream without the help of a record label. I can record my own music myself, get a producer, get it out on the internet, distribute it via iTunes, get it on the radio etc. So yes, there are ways – I think it’s easier today to do it than say ten years ago.
scandipop: Oh of course, yes. So have you approaced Rix FM, the biggest pop radio station in Sweden?!
Jonas: Yes, I emailed them. I did it a couple of times when I released my previous singles. But this time I haven’t done it.
scandipop: Did you ever get a response from them?
scandipop: Aww, that’s a shame.
Jonas: (laughs). And also, do you know P3? They have a programme now that’s exclusively for unsigned artists and my plan is now to send my songs there and to write a story for them and to see if they’re interested.
scandipop: Yeah you should. And so have you registered with STIM to make sure that you get paid royalties every time your records are played on radio?
scandipop: And have you seen much money from it yet?
Jonas: (laughs) No. The radio stations that have played my songs so far are quite small, local radio stations. So even if the song has been on A-List rotation on those channels, it’s not enough to make any money from. You have to get onto more and bigger channels for that.
scandipop: Oh well, at least you’re registered anyway, in the event of something taking off big time. Ok, so another thing we love about you is the fact that you’ve put all your music on sale all around the world straight away. With a lot of international acts that are signed only in their own country, if you don’t live in that country, then you can’t buy their music. And often you have to resort to obtaining it illegally. But with you, you’ve ensured that your songs are available to buy everywhere in the world, so as soon as someone hears about you, or hears your music – they can buy it there and then. That benefits your fans and of course it benefits you too. So, has it been easy or difficult to get your music on iTunes all around the world as an independent artist?
Jonas: It’s rather easy I think, because there are many agents on the internet today that help you to distribute your music online without the help of a record label. And I have a contract with a distribution company on the web, and they help me to get my music onto iTunes worldwide. And I think that going worldwide, even if it costs more money, I think it’s still very important to do, so that as many people as possible can get it. All the people that write to me and contact me, they’re not just from Sweden. They’re from the UK, France, the US, even people from Russia. So I think that it’s really important for me to get my music out worldwide.
scandipop: Exactly. And so have you seen any sales reports from iTunes yet?
Jonas: Yeah. I sell some! (laughs). At this point we’re talking hundreds of singles though, not thousands.
scandipop: But still, it’s there for people to get. And as more people find out who you are, and as your presence grows, if they like your music, it’ll be there for them to buy.
Jonas: Exactly. I think that at this stage, it’s not very important for me to make money from it or to sell records. Because I want people to get to know my music. When people write to me and tell me they like what I do, and when I first see articles written about my music, and when I heard that my first single was on a-rotation on radio, that’s a feeling I really can’t describe. And that’s what’s keeping me going. At this stage I’m not doing it for the money, but more because I love doing it.
scandipop: That’s great. scandipop first wrote about you this time last year, when we heard your debut single ‘Beat Of My Heart’. And then we nominated you in the scandipop 2009 awards in the ‘Brightest New Hope for 2009′ category. And you haven’t disappointed us, because you’ve produced two more great songs; ‘Stay’ and ‘Where I Belong’. But how would you describe your music to people who are hearing about you for the first time?
Jonas: Oh that’s always a difficult question! I have many influences. Obviously growing up with Swedish music, I think that all Swedish artists are in some way influenced by Abba, (laughs) even if they don’t want to admit it. And also Alexander Bard who does BWO, he has also written a lot of music since the eighties, and been one of the people who has created this Europop sound that’s big in Swedish music. The Europop sound is definitely something specific for my music but I also try to refine it or to try to take different angles on it. For the song ‘Where I Belong’, I wanted to achieve an eighties Euro techno sound, by using those sounds. So yeah, I think that describing it as Europop is a good description. But steering more towards dance sounds.
scandipop: Ok, so with ‘Where I Belong’ you took it in the dance music direction. So what will you do for the next single? Which direction will you take it in, or will you stay quite faithful to what you’ve done so far?
Jonas: I’m not sure, I think that somehow all these three singles have similarity in the tempo and the melody and so on. I have a bunch of songs waiting to be produced though, and I’m choosing between two which are more mid-tempo. And my vision for both songs are similar in many ways. I think that they will be heavy in bass….
scandipop: Oh wonderful!
Jonas: (laughs)…a bit of an eighties sound maybe. I’ve been listening a lot to, for instance, Yazoo from the early eighties. And a lot of German pop acts too like Modern Talking. And so it reflects in my music. It’s really a goldmine out there if you want inspiration. So yeah, I think for my next song that I’m planning to do, you’ll still recognise Jonas Oakland but I think that it’ll be different from these first three singles.
scandipop: Ok. And those first three singles have all had similar results – they’ve gone down well with your fans, they’ve been played on Swedish radio, they’ve increased awareness of you. But are you going to do something different this time around, with regards to promoting them? What can you do to take it to the next level with the next single? Getting it out there more?
Jonas: Well (laughs) that’s a tricky question! For the latest single ‘Where I Belong’, I did a promotion with a French music website that’s called hallmusique, where their readers got to download the song for free over a 24 hour period. So that was a way for me to get it out there, to a more broad audience. That way people could download the song to see if they like it or not. But I think that you have to be smart and see if you can find ways to get a new audience. There are a lot of ways you know, using the internet of course, to do it. But it takes a lot of hard work.
scandipop: So you’ll carry on using your imagination.
Jonas. Yes. And of course like I said before – I could keep producing one single after another, but one of my dreams is to do a full album. And I would need a label backing me up then. (laughs). So that could be the next step.
scandipop: Well that was my next question actually! When can we expect the next single, and when can we expect a full album?!
Jonas: The fourth single I think you can expect in Spring. And the album? I’m not sure. That depends on many variables….
scandipop: So at this stage do you think you’re definitely gonna look for a record label in order to do the album?
Jonas: I think that I’ll have to do that because producing a whole album with ten songs – that would go hard on my economy (laughs). So that’s what’s holding me back at the moment.
scandipop: Oh well if it gets to the point where there’s no record label forthcoming then I think we’ll have to do something, raise some funds or something….
scandipop: …..because we definitely wanna hear a Jonas Oakland album! Ok, so one year ago you released your first ever single and now a year later you’re a recording artist on sale all around the world. So how does that feel, and has your life changed much?
Jonas: Well it’s changed in that, I have this job that I joke with a friend of mine that it’s like Hannah Montana! (laughs) You know, by day she’s a normal person and then at night she’s a big star!!! (laughs)
scandipop: Ha ha, that’s a really funny analogy actually!
Jonas: But no, I don’t think that my day to day life has chaged so much. Not really.
scandipop: Ok, so finally – would you have any advice for anybody doing what you do? If anybody wants to start writing, recording, and releasing their music, what advice would you give them?
Jonas: Erm. Well…..what should I say? I think that I would try to get help from as many friends around you as possible. Because it takes a lot of time to do all of this. Everything like writing music, producing it, distributing it, sending it out to radio stations and so on. And also even if you fully believe in what you’re doing, you should also always listen to other people’s opinions. Because one wierd thing about being an independent artist is that yes, you have your artistic freedom, but if you live in your own bubble and don’t listen to feedback, then you stop evolving. And being an artist, I think sometimes you should put your artistic freedom aside and listen to other people.
scandipop: Ok. Well thank you very much for your time Jonas. And best of luck with everything. We’re already looking forward to hearing more from you.
Jonas: Thank you. And thank you so much for all of your support.