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Indie Tastemaker Alex Rainbird

“To find myself absolutely loving at least two-thirds of the artists on your Provo Spotify playlist was insane. There must be something in the water over there!”

By Zach Collier

Alex Rainbird is one of the most influential indie music tastemakers on YouTube. Since launching his YouTube channel in 2008, it has steadily grown into a force to be reckoned with. Regularly reaching millions of listeners, Rainbird has helped indie musicians – including a few locals – expand their core audiences and win fans all over the globe. On top of being incredibly successful, he’s also super nice. We got to talk with him about how he got his start, what it’s like to run such a large channel, and his opinion of Provo’s music scene.

Alex Rainbird, man! Thanks so much for agreeing to an interview.

You are welcome! It’s really nice to be able to have this chance to get my story out there. A lot of people – including my viewers – know next to nothing about me, so this a great opportunity to change that. Thanks for having me!

Tell us a little bit about yourself personally. Where are you from? What are your hobbies and interests? Educational/professional background? Stuff like that.

So, the basics: I am 22 years old and I live in the United Kingdom, near a little seaside town called Bournemouth. Aside from YouTube/music etc., I love watching movies, TV shows and reading. Comic books are a personal favourite! I’m also very keen on travelling and I’m planning to visit the US for the first time – including Utah of course! – in 2017.

In terms of education, I graduated from university last month with a First-class honours degree (the highest you can get in the UK) in Computer Science. Over the last four years of studying though, I’ve began to realise that music, band promotion, and A&R is my true calling and it’s what I want to do for the foreseeable future. Currently I’m working part-time at a nearby beach cafĂ© while I continue to develop my YouTube channel, alexrainbirdMusic.

The alexrainbirdMusic logo.

alexrainbirdMusic has over 100,000 subscribers and has earned 21 million views since 2008. Describe what alexrainbirdMusic is. What’s the YouTube channel’s purpose? What does it do, and what’s your mission with the channel?

I include a little bio in the description of my videos which sums this up pretty well: “To provide a platform for underrated musicians to be heard and for viewers to find their new favourite band.” It sounds pretty simple, but nowadays when the internet is so saturated with bands trying to make it big, it can be very hard for people to find good new music. My mission is to make this process easier by showcasing talented artists who deserve a bigger fanbase with thousands of people across the world looking for an awesome new discovery. This model helps out both the artist and the music fans, so it’s a win-win! It’s all about bringing good music to light, helping out the bands and giving people something great to listen to.

Those stats you mentioned are so insane and something I’m very proud of – it shows that the idea behind my channel is working and I’m now in the incredible position to really make a difference. Some of my videos have received upwards of 500,000 (and even three million) views which can massively help an independent artist. That sort of exposure is usually only limited to bands on major labels, and it’s amazing to be able to offer that to people making music in their bedrooms and basements.

So how did you get started in the YouTube world? What inspired you to format your channel the way you have, and how have you come to have so much success? 

Well, way back in 2008 (where did those eight years go?) I was 14 and just starting to really get into music. I quickly began to notice that none of my friends or family had ever heard of the relatively-unknown bands I was listening to at the time. So in an effort to change all that, I began uploading tracks to a little website called YouTube every couple of months. Over the next five years, my subscriber base grew slowly but surely and I began to post more regularly to satisfy the demands of my viewers. It was a really fun hobby but not my focus at that point.

I don’t remember the exact reasoning behind it, but in December 2013, when I was just about to reach 1,000 subscribers, I uploaded my first compilation video – essentially a collection of songs from various underrated artists all in the same video. This saw instant success unlike anything I had posted before and quickly shot to many tens of thousands of views. I could see I was onto something, so I decided to make the compilations a monthly thing. And since then, I have uploaded at least one compilation every month! 30 days is a long time for an audience to wait for a video, so I also post single tracks to my channel multiple times a week. I’ve been using this compilation/single song format for the last three years now, and it’s been working great so far!

Although I can’t put my finger on exactly why my compilations and the channel in general has been so successful, I do think a lot of it comes down my regular compilation cycle that people can rely on and get excited for. My family and my girlfriend Beth in particular are incredibly supportive of my work and always push me to do my best, which is vital for keeping on top of my workload. Beth is well-known to fans of my channel as she regular features in the live streams I put together. She also helps out a lot with backgrounds for my videos and I regularly ask her for advice. She is my second-in-command and I would never have got this far without her!

Alex Rainbird and Beth Paterson.

Did you ever imagine you would have so many listeners?

No way did I ever expect alexrainbirdMusic to get this big! I started off the channel on the premise that no one I knew had the same music taste as me, and I was pleasantly shocked to reach 100 subscribers! So to keep hitting these massive milestones and now be sitting above 100,000 is something I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around. But of course I hugely appreciate it!

What’s the process like to get featured on your channel? Do you normally feature music that has been submitted to you or do you go searching for new finds on your own and then contact bands?

I’d say it’s currently about 50/50. Half the artists come to me, the rest I find and contact myself. Back in 2008 and all the way up to 2012, I had to track down every band that I wanted to feature. But as my subscriber base and view count increased, so did the number of bands that got in touch with me first. Artists contact me over email, via Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter, Instagram and even sometimes in the comments of my videos. I listen to EVERYTHING that is submitted, and although I don’t have to time to reply to everyone, nothing is ignored!

When I do find new stuff myself, a lot of it comes from Soundcloud (where I discover 90% of my music), and to a lesser extent, YouTube and Spotify.

A lot of people out there – musicians, actors, filmmakers, writers – dream of launching a successful career on YouTube. Do you have any suggestions for growing a channel and maintaining an audience?

The number one most important thing for gaining and maintaining an audience on YouTube is consistency. If you can produce regular, quality content that people want to watch/listen to, you willbe successful. It’s taken me several years to get to where I am now, but consistency is what has got me here! It sounds straightforward but it usually really is that easy! Other things I suggest are an eye-catching video thumbnail (the small image you see before you click on a video), to-the-point yet descriptive video titles, and a friendly online presence. Take time to interact with your viewers by replying to comments on your videos etc. After all, you would be nowhere without them!

Very good advice! Well, we got in contact with you through Cinders, who you recently featured on your channel with a dedicated upload of their debut album. How did you first get in contact with them? What struck you about their music? What’s your relationship with the band like?

Cinders are amazing! They actually first made contact with me last October via Facebook, where they recommended I check out their debut EP. I receive lots of music submissions every day and when I listen through them, I always hope something will catch my ear and stick in my mind, and Cinders certainly did that. I usually promote indie rock, pop, and folk bands on alexrainbirdMusic and Cinders somehow managed to roll all those genres together into an upbeat, optimistic and downright catchy-as-hell package that I simply fell in love with! Our relationship grew from there, really. I uploaded a few of their tracks at the end of 2015 and we remained in contact through the winter as they worked on and later polished off their debut album. The band even sent me a few rough demo versions of their songs “Hope You Do” and “Like A Holiday” so I could hear how it was all coming together!

A few months passed and “Hope You Do” was finally finished, and soon after that I featured it as the first track in my April indie/pop/folk compilation video – which has since become one of my most popular uploads with over 500,000 views – no doubt largely down to Cinders! This really cemented them as not only one of my top bands, but as a favourite with my viewers too.

As you mentioned, I then uploaded the entirety of their incredible debut album back in June and I have also included one of the songs from the record in each monthly compilation since then. Cinders are my lucky charm, and I’m kind of their unofficial promoter!

I still talk to the band members on a weekly basis and me and Beth plan to travel to Utah next year to finally meet them all in person and catch a show or three.

Beth and Alex with their Cinders merch and a copy of their debut album.

Can’t wait to have you in the states with us. That’ll be a great time. Speaking of Utah, you told me in an earlier conversation that you were impressed by Reach Provo’s Provo Music August ’16 Spotify Playlist. You said “there seems to be a lot of really awesome stuff in your area.” What was your overall impression of the Provo music scene based on that playlist?

To sum it up: I was blown away! The indie music scene is pretty non-existent where I live and you really have to be in London or much further North to find good bands in close proximity -in the UK at least. So to find myself absolutely loving at least two-thirds of the artists on your Provo Spotify playlist was insane. There must be something in the water over there! It was also really interesting to me that two bands, Foreign Figures and The Strike, that I’d featured in the past on alexrainbirdMusic were also in the playlist. I didn’t even realise these guys were from the Provo area, too! So yes, I was very impressed, and I can’t wait for your next Spotify list to see what other hidden talents you have.

Were there any artists that stuck out to you? Maybe some who have become Rainbird favs? 

Certainly! Besides the bands I mentioned before and Cinders (who were also on the Spotify playlist), six really stood out for me: The National Parks, Red Sleeves, Brickson, Paul Travis, LoveStrange, and Westward the Tide. I’ve added all of these artists to my ‘Bands To Contact For Future Videos’ list, and they will be receiving an email from me in the near future! Look out for them on my channel in the coming months!

That’s amazing. Looking forward to it! Getting a little personal here, what does music mean to you? Why has it had such a huge impact on you and what you do?

ClichĂ© as it may sound, music means everything to me. My parents tell me that as a child, I always asked to have music playing in the car whenever we went anywhere. As I grew up my tastes varied a lot. In my early teens I got into rock/punk bands and that’s all I listened to for a while. I then had a brief classical music phase before dipping into electronic and house stuff at the beginning of university, before finally settling on the pop/rock/folk genres a few years ago. So my tastes have been pretty eclectic to say the least!

I’ve also written some of my own songs, to varying success. Throughout my life, I’ve thought up many lyrics and melodies but never put them to paper, so in late 2013 I bought an acoustic guitar and began to teach myself. I didn’t get very far and only learned a couple of chords, but I finished two tracks, which I recorded using the microphone on an old iPod! One of which I was quite proud of. I actually uploaded that one to Soundcloud where it received something like 10,000 plays. However, my voice isn’t incredible and I’ve since found that I’m better suited to promoting other artists, so my own music has kind of fallen by the wayside. I have no plans to release the two songs or pick up the guitar again for now, but never say never!

Answering exactly why music has had such an impact on me is an impossibly hard and complex question for me to answer, but I think it’s down to the way music makes me feel. A good song can elate you or break you, make you think, laugh, and cry all at the same time. A single track can capture that moment and the emotions you’re going through forever, and I think that’s incredible. This journey of music discovery that is alexrainbirdMusic allows me to find and listen to incredible stuff every day. And to then upload it and see others across the world falling in love with the same track that I discovered is an amazingly rewarding experience, and one I want to continue doing for as long as possible!

If you had any advice for the indie artists in Provo to leave as parting words of wisdom, what would it be?

Never give up on your dream! If you believe in your music and what you’re doing, you will get there! Over the years, I’ve seen many bands break apart and witnessed extremely talented artists stop making music to focus on a ‘normal’ job. Times are tough right now to be an independent musician since the market is so over-saturated and it is very hard to get your tracks out there where there’s many thousands of others trying to do the same, but with persistence – and maybe a bit of luck – you will make it! Keep writing, keep bettering yourself, and take every opportunity you can. Never underestimate your fans or take them for granted, as they are the reason that you’ve got to where you are now. Most importantly though, enjoy yourself! It’s unlikely you’re ever going to get this chance again so make the most it. And don’t forget: if you ever need any free online promotion, I’m always here for you!

Make sure to like alexrainbirdMusic on Facebook and subscribe to his YouTube channel. You can check out his May 2016 Indie/Pop/Folk Compilation, featuring Cinders, below!

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