In January 2012 Elton John’s Rocket Picture’s picked up the rights to make a film based on Lotte’s blog about her experiences of the corporate machine that is the music Business. Lotte now happily runs her own machine but you can read about some of her misadventures below.
Plain Jane - diary of a wannabe pop star
My Name is Lotte Mullan and I am an average looking 26 year old girl with brown hair trying to make it in the world of ‘Beyonce’s Booty’ and ‘Britney’ headlines. I can play guitar, have recorded an album and the newspapers rave about me, saying I sound like Joni Mitchell.
In the quest for the big-time I’ve had my teeth whitened, dyed my hair a hundred times and hung out with the music industry ‘in’ crowd; but all I really want to do is play my songs to the people that love them and pay my ever increasing bills. My main ambition is for my Mum to hear my song on the radio as she’s driving to work. After that, being able to buy Heinz baked beans instead of own brand would be good, and if we’re thinking really big I’d like a ranch next door to a Country star in Nashville, Tennessee. This is where the trouble starts, you set your sights on anything other than being able to eat and things spiral out of control.
I got my music publishing deal while I was still at college and I thought I’d “made it “ – I threw my apron at the manager of the restaurant I’d been waitressing in for 3 years and ran down High St Kensington to spend my fortune. Restraint has never been my strong point. Since I spent my publishing advance I’ve been working as a booking agent and tour manager to various acts signed to major labels, I’ve driven tour buses through the night while everyone else is wasted and living out their own rock ‘n roll dream, I’ve counseled whining divas who have more tits than talent and I have given thin-lipped smiles to record label execs who ask me to research where it’s cool to be seen eating lunch.
I’ve written hundreds of songs, played a thousand gigs and lost my dignity more than I care for you to know. The world of music and its business is populated by some of the vilest people I’ve ever met – it’s a breeding ground for egos and assholes and yet there’s really nothing better. Once you struggle through the sea of shit there’s that moment when you stand with your guitar, singing your heart and soul out to a room/theatre/stadium full of strangers and they listen to you and clap their hands in celebration, and you know that for a tiny moment you’ve made their life - and yours - just a little bit better.
This is an account of my adventures chasing that dream. It’s the broken down cars, the discarded gel bras and the Primark heels sticking to the dressing room floor. It’s the bits they don’t show you on the X-factor. This is what really happens when you choose to do something you love for a living.
1.“The side boob hug”
May 12th 2008
Apparently Madonna never hugs anyone – it’s a firm handshake or nothing. Unfortunately when you’re an aspiring nobody you have to be a bit more compliant otherwise people think you’re a cold bitch. There’s a bizarre over familiarity in this business – I wouldn’t hug or kiss my bank manager. It all seems to be part of the “we’re ‘friends therefore we do business” culture – designed to lure you into a false sense of security. I’ve often tried to be business-like and go in for the handshake but guys nearly always disregard it and pull me in for an awkward sweaty hug. The new breed of pervy hugger seems to have it sussed that this is a potential groping opportunity and that if he (it’s always a he) extends both hands towards your armpits he’s likely to get a fingerful of tit. Prime suspects are middle aged record label executives chancing their luck, or the lone fan that turns up to the gig 2 hours early hoping to catch you at sound check and ‘hang out’ for 3 hours while you wait to go onstage. They know where you are – Myspace and Facebook have told them.
2. “The Meet and Greet”
5th July 2007
Gino takes me to meet various Lawyers, accountants and record label executives. All these guys have girls who answer the phone for them and make you tea while you wait (you always wait) and they’re so nice to me it’s embarrassing. Everyone’s dolled up like they’re going on a night out – it’s as though they’re on display as soon as they leave their front doors. They’re all heavily tanned with glossy pink lips and huge hair. I feel so plain with my pasty legs and chipped toenails in flat sandals. I had felt like I was making a real effort with my favourite green tie up dress and brushed hair but it seems I’ve got a lot to learn.
3. “Girl power”
August 1st 2010
Every time a new female solo artist emerges my heart sinks. I used to buy every music magazine and cut out sections from the newspaper that were to do with woman in music – it fed my appetite and I felt part of a sisterhood who were living the dream and singing their stories to the world. But as each year passes and the ladder to the stars grows longer I no longer feel this same joy. It’s like each new girl has taken my place and I just want to shout “pick me!” When I have meetings with music executives they explain to me “it’s a very crowded market, there’re a lot of girls with guitars at the moment”. Men with guitars seem to be regarded differently; they are cool and can be marketed as a band, whereas there’re hardly any woman fronted bands. Women are nearly always solo artists with anonymous session musicians backing them. My Mum persists in calling me up with the latest news. She must think it spurs me on to hear that Katie Melua has a new single out that Terry Wogan is playing on Radio two. I haven’t the heart to tell her that this news makes me want to cut off my own ears.
4. Plugging ‘Plain Jane’ to the music press
1st August 2010
Still no reply from anyone. I’ve posted out over 100 CDs, and sent over 500 emails in hope of someone reviewing the album and not a whisper.
2nd August 2010
3rd August 2010
Heard back from Dave Simpson from the Guardian! He wrote me a really lovely email saying he’d try and put it in the Film and Music playlist!! Made my day.
6th August 2010
Heard back from a few press people now and it’s looking pretty good, though nothing is concrete until it’s in print. Had a few good online reviews, all saying very nice things except one that said my album was “so middle of the road it could be a traffic island’, which is actually quite funny though it stung. It’s funny how just one bad word can ruin your day, even if it is from a nobody on a website no one ever goes on.
8th August 2010
4 **** review in Q magazine! I can’t believe it! Q has been my music bible since I was 13 years old! It was a really great review saying I had an ‘English sound’, instead of copying the Americans like most people do. They also put my song “I’m Alright with Me” in their top 50 and said I was “Suffolk’s answer to Joni Mitchell”! I’m so fucking happy!!!!!
5 “Kissing frogs”
July 25th 2007
I don’t really want a manager. I’ve only just started playing some open mic nights and meeting other people on the scene. It was just a chance meeting I had with Gino and now he goes wherever I go – to gigs, meetings, rehearsals. It feels weird, like having an over protective boyfriend. My Mum comes down to a gig one night from Suffolk and I introduce her to him and there’s an awkward moment where he tried to kiss her and she goes in for the handshake. His Italian charm doesn’t work on her and she takes an instant dislike to him “no man of 40 should be chewing gum” is her appraisal of the situation. The trouble is he has connections I may be able to use at some point so I don’t want to lose him altogether, but he’s the first industry person I’ve met and I’ve surely got to kiss a few frogs before I find my prince?
6.“Which me should I be?
August 10th 2007
Where is the line drawn between ‘serious’ artist and prancing pop star? I don’t know if I have a ‘thing’; “Just look a bit vacant and fucked up” they tell me. Sometimes I feel like it wouldn’t be so hard; but a lot of the time I don’t look messed up, and anyway it depends on the song. I don’t want to be a shoe gazing introverted performer. I remember the first gig I ever did; I was so nervous I couldn’t even bring myself to look up - all I could focus on was my nose so I looked like a cross eyed freak.
I feel sick before performing. It generally starts the morning of a gig; I can barely swallow my food and spend most of the day on the toilet in between hours of pointless practice. Everyone seems to want to chat to me before gigs but I just want to be nervous on my own so I end up really over compensating and talking loads in an enthusiastic high pitched voice (there’s always loud music and speaking higher is supposed to save your voice) which makes me sound like a chipmunk. I suppose someone like Madonna has her personal Pilate’s trainer backstage to sort her out or Courtney Love would have something stronger to hand but I have neither. There is no backstage at this level.
I’ve been losing weight recently because I just can’t hold anything in. People have been telling me how great I look; I’m skinny and pasty and look like shit..
7. “Being seen and not heard: I learn the truth at 23 “
28th May 2008
I must have been walking around with my eyes shut. I always thought it was only models and actresses who had to look good. Call me naïve, but I thought my music would be enough to ‘make it’ and everything else would just fall into place. The woman I grew up admiring; Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Rickie lee Jones – none of them look like beauty queens. They had a charm of their own and most importantly they are Rock n’ Roll; free spirited individuals who sing their stories to the world and ride around with the boys on the road playing guitars. Fast track from my teenage 60’s hippy fantasy to 2008 in a cold, damp piss stained bedsit in West London staring into the mirror and wondering what the fuck I’m doing with my life.
I’ve been told I have to have my nicotine stained teeth whitened. I’d stopped being self-conscious about them a few years ago but apparently they’re not up to scratch. If you want people to buy your music you have to get on TV and no one on TV has anything less than a shiny white fake smile. I’m being plucked, pumped and primed; I spend more time these days trying to squeeze my tits together than playing music. Why am I doing this? Shouldn’t I be out touring venues up and down the country, even if they are tiny, just for the love – take the grass roots approach?
“Oh I wish I wish I wish I was born a man
So I could learn how to stand up for myself
Like those guys with guitars
I’ve been watching in bars
Who’ve been stamping their feet to a different beat.”
Men have it easy, they just have to run a bit of wax through their hair to look rough, ready and carefree and they’re sorted. Jeans and a battered looking shirt with a leather jacket normally do the trick. It rarely gets more interesting than this unless you’re a flamboyant pop star and then you have to wear a white suit and maybe have a few highlights. It’s almost easier to be fucked up and turn into a cartoon. It’s encouraged. I can see the appeal of having an extreme image like Amy Winehouse – it makes a good mask to hide behind and as no one knows what she’s really like, they just like to think they do.
An A&R man from Sony who was old enough to be my father told me I should “show my body off more”. It’s astounding that these are the kind of twats you have to get through in order for your record to be released. I know entire meetings are conducted where these guys sit around and consider how ‘attractive’ I am; they are all geeky posh boys from private schools with their effected cockney accents wearing converse in an attempt at cool. It would be hilarious were my career not in their hands.
8. “Where do all the pretty people go?”
October 15th 2008
Hugh has a face to fall in love with. He has that wide eyed, full mouthed beauty that graces gorgeous people and ensures that everyone will be nice to him for his whole life. The Hugh’s of this world don’t get bullied at school; all women want to sleep with him, all men want to be his best mate and everyone else is happy just to be near him. Hugh has a glow that you just want to bask in. His voice has that other worldly gravitas you hear on introductions to epic films that change your life and when he speaks to you he looks straight into your eyes and you feel like the only girl in the room.
I’ve been assigned as Hugh’s tour manager which involves me making sure his life as a gigging musician runs smoothly and that he gets to places on time and is happy. Everyone has a foible and Hugh’s is that he’s extremely clumsy. He’s like Bambi, not yet grown into his long legs and he knocks everything over. People find this charming. He also has a bladder problem - slightly less charming. A 3 hour journey to Wales took 5 hours as we stopped at every service station and most lay-by’s. I drew the line at him relieving himself in a bottle next to me. He needed to piss twice on a half hour drive across London, the second time we were at a traffic lights and could see the venue 2 minutes in the distance; but he couldn’t hold it and jumped from the van, marginally missing a bus, to find a pub loo. I see my main mission as keeping him alive and not sleeping with him.
Despite having the god given talent of a beautiful singing voice, Hugh lacks confidence on stage and unfortunately looks like he’s shitting himself while he’s singing. He was signed to a massive record deal before he’d even done a gig, written a song or had his heart broken (unlikely but still…). The music industry goes creams itself over singers like Hugh - “He’s like a white Marvin Gaye/Bill Withers/Otis Reading” they coo. He’s really not but he does have ‘something’ – it’s just that no one, himself included, knows what to do with it. To begin, he was instructed to make a Michael Buble type crooner album but it didn’t meet with the record company boss’s approval so they changed tack and suggested he try something that was ‘Rickey Martin meets Nickleback’. So he put his efforts into that and then they dropped him before any release took place. Sadly he’s just another in a long line of music business casualties. Last I heard from Hugh he needed a floor to sleep on and was trying to flog homemade cakes to the restaurants he used to eat in.
9. living the rock n’ roll dream
8th December 2010
We were massively late to the gig in Hull as I lost the car keys in the snow and it took hours to find them. After driving for 6 hours I played to two people including the sound engineer and set out on a treacherous drive back to London through a blizzard. Every hotel was booked up so I ended up pulling over and sleeping on the side of the road. I woke up it was so cold I had icicles on my eye lashes. Is this living the rock n’ roll dream? In the last 2 months I’ve played over 50 gigs, driven over 7000 miles I’m completely exhausted.
Dreams don’t always looks as good up close
Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted a ‘record deal’. Without even knowing what it really was I wanted one. I thought the record deal was a stepping stone to great things; sold out stadiums, a tour bus with tinted windows and an endless rider of spring rolls and champagne. Even when my expectations were lowered to a splitter van, a few cans of larger and 20 people barely listening in a working men’s club I still held onto the dream of ‘making it’ with the help of a record deal. What I’ve realised is that sometimes dreams don’t look as good up close.
It’s like wanting to go out with the best looking guy at school and pining after him for years only to be asked out on that elusive date to discover that he’s mildly racist, really boring and a terrible kisser.
So when a couple of weeks ago I received a contract in writing from Warner Bros (my first record deal offer in print) my heart did flutter for a moment. I thought about it. And then I thought about countless friends who’ve signed exiting deals only to have it all taken out of their hands and be dropped before their record is released; a lot of them are now not even playing music. I thought about how much I’ve achieved without a record deal; I’ve made an album, toured around the UK several times, filmed videos, done photo shoots and I work with a lovely team of people whose names I all know. I really wouldn’t want this to change so I turned it down. Some people think I’m mad but I’ve decided to stay independent for now and see how far I get being captain of my own ship. I’ll keep you all posted on my quest to stay afloat!