I recently had the opportunity to talk via Skype with England’s Alex Day. At 23-years-old, Day has conquered the UK Top 20 charts with his single “Forever Yours,” reaching #4, and follow-up hit “Lady Godiva,” charting at #15. Most commendable of Day’s accomplishments is that he has managed to promote and distribute his music strictly on his own through his YouTube channel, nerimon. With three new singles released this summer and over half a million YouTube subscribers, Alex Day and I talked inspiration, business, and staying power.
Do you consider yourself a musician, comedian, or social critic? What is your most pressing aspiration, or would you like to be known as all of those?
Musician. I define myself as a musician first and foremost. If I run into someone and they ask what I do, I say musician. I just use YouTube as the distribution. Like, some people will play gigs in pubs to get their music heard. I upload music to the Internet, that’s my method.
So, you don’t like to play live that much, do you?
I do like playing live when I do. But, I just don’t that much because YouTube obviously reaches a worldwide audience. So, if I say, “I’m doing a show in London,” all of the comments are filled up with people just like, “Well, why can’t you come to my city.” I feel like it excludes more people than it brings in. Yeah, I’d only want to do a live show if I could go around to loads of places at once and cover half the world or live stream it all. I found I could reach more people online than I can playing a show.
You have this ability, because of YouTube, to create an intimacy between yourself and your fans. You seem very accessible to your fans. It’s like you are having a regular conversation with them – they are looking you dead in the eye and you’re talking about topics that an average Joe would talk about with anyone. How important do you think this is to your success, your fan base, and the popularity of your music?
I find it weird that more people don’t do it, to be honest. With YouTube, people sort of fall into different categories. Like if you are a comedian then you tend to do sketches or funny videos, and if you are a musician than you make music videos or acoustic covers of songs. I feel like your music is only one part of who you are and people want to get to know you as a person. I’m proud of the fact that a lot of the videos I make aren’t about music because I just feel it makes it more – if you find a musician online and you don’t really like their songs, then you are not going to go to that channel again. Whereas on my channel, you still might like other videos I make even if you don’t like the music. But then, because you are sticking around, the next time I upload a music video, you might give it a chance and be like, “Oh, actually I do like this song.” That’s great. It makes sense to me.
Why don’t you think anyone else in the music industry has used YouTube as a medium to connect with their fans? Why isn’t anyone else doing what you’re doing?
I don’t know. I mean, I guess people are used to using Facebook and Twitter. Those are the ways you reach people and YouTube is where you showcase content I suppose. When people do upload videos to YouTube, they tend to be unedited and kind of like, “Thanks a lot for watching, we’ll have updates soon,” or whatever, and they are just not that interesting to watch. It is making that more effort to be engaging. It helps that I am in charge of everything myself. It’s not like a label ringing you up and saying, “You should make a video thanking your fans.” I don’t have any of that. I just make videos because I want to and I think it’s fun.
How did you get to be so funny?
[Laughs] I just like it. It’s the sort of stories and thoughts that I have that normally you just share with friends. I just make a note of them and then tell the Internet as well. Standup comedians will exaggerate stories, but with me, these are all things that actually happen. They’re almost funnier because you know they’re true. So, maybe that’s part of it.
Where do you draw inspiration from musically?
I really like the Beatles. I really like their songwriting style. The way they use chords and stuff is really exciting too. It sort of depends from song to song. “Moves Like Jagger” is a song I heard and I was like, “Aw man, I really like the way that they use the riff.” The riff comes in at the start, and then it comes in sort of in between lines in the verse, then the chorus is the melody of the riff, and then it plays over it. I was like, “ I want to write a song that does that.” I kind of take little bits. I have a song that has drums that sound like the drums in “Fix Up, Look Sharp” by Dizzee Rascal. Then, I’ve got this drumbeat idea, this idea for riff structure, this chord change and it all sort of mashes together until a song comes out.
Your music style is very playful, as reflected by your music videos, but do you ever see yourself in the future taking a different route with your music and maybe talking about more serious subjects?
I’m quite a happy person. My friend Charlie said that he likes my songs because they sound like I’m having the most fun. The songs are usually about having lots of fun and nice things like friendship and following your dreams and stuff. That is the sort of thing I like to write about. It’s what I identify with. They are still quite serious topics even though they are uplifting.
You’ve become extremely successful without a record label. What has neglecting record label deals allowed you to accomplish?
I’m kind of skeptical. I feel that if I were in a label deal, I wouldn’t have released any music this year because I would have been in some sort of development, which usually lasts a year or two while they figure out what sort of artist you should be. So, I wouldn’t have released any music, which would have been a bummer. I wouldn’t have made nearly as much money. I’m not making huge amounts of money, but it’s more because I’m keeping it all. I don’t have to pay anyone else because I do everything myself. I also feel that on a satisfaction level, I wouldn’t feel as proud. Like when “Forever Yours” was played on the radio, when it was announced on the charts and we had just beat Coldplay by 1,000 sales, we thought we were going to be number five and then my family and I were listening to the radio and Coldplay was announced at number five. I can’t imagine Chris Martin was sitting, listening to the radio like, “We’re number five, woooh!” because he didn’t have as much of an involvement in that process as me. Not that I’m better than Chris Martin. They have other people to do that stuff, so I think it might detach me a bit if I was doing that. I can feel like me and the 50,000 people that bought it, without which I would have been nothing, got that song to number four. I was able to motivate those people to buy it, get them interested, speak to the radio stations myself, newspapers, so I just felt a lot more proud than I would be if I had someone else doing it for me.
Do you think not being with a record label has hindered you in any way?
No, not at all. I used to think you could go the record label route, but now you can also just go the independent route. And, you weren’t really losing out by being with a record label, but you weren’t really gaining much either. Now, I think you actually would be losing out. Not only are they not very good at helping you quickly and in the modern world of the Internet, but also I think they can stifle you sometimes if you are not a priority act. Labels obviously have the acts they are working on the most and want to push to radio more than any others. If you are just signed but they don’t really care about you, you’re just going to be kind of forgotten.
What do you have in the works?
I want to release another song by the end of the year. I’m going into studio Monday to work on it. By the end of Monday it should be done and then I’ll start the crazy, madness time that happens when I email everyone in the world to tell them about it.
Are you going to try to beat out the number four spot that your song “Forever Yours” reached last year with this single?
I’d like to. One of my goals – I have three goals at a time to keep me focused – is to have the number one by the end of the year. If I am only releasing one more song this year, it has to be this one, so I am going to do my best.
What are your other two of the three goals?
To get a million subscribers on YouTube by the end of next year. My third goal was to finish making thank you videos for my audience, and I have done that now so I need to pick a new goal. When I released one of my songs, I said that if you send me iTunes receipts I will send you a video back saying thanks. I really wanted to encourage people to buy the song and I wanted to show people that I appreciate it. And, I got 10,000 receipts! I don’t know why I didn’t think that would happen [laughs]. I set myself a deadline, which was the middle of August, and by the end I was doing 300-400 thank you videos a day.
If there were a song that played anytime you walked into a room, for instance at a bar or a party, just for you when you walked in that room, what would it be? Kind of like your theme song.
I’d probably do “Who Wants to Live Forever” by Queen, but I’d start it when all the crashes come in.