'Floating to the Fringe' inspires quirky music promotion

Blog by Louise Dodgson under Artist Managers, Live, Selling & Distributing Your Music

Promoting your music can require thinking outside of the box in order to stand out from every other band and artist doing the same, so we were extremely interested to hear more from Paul Thompson, a singer songwriter who has come up with a very unique way of spreading the word about his music.

He has converted a milk float to take him on his travels across the UK, performing along the way with support from a selection of emerging artists, and winding up at the Edinburgh Fringe for a 2 week residency which will also see him putting on workshops for other songwriters. This inspiring idea, which Paul has managed to gain Arts Council funding for, picqued our attention so we caught up with him to find out more…

What inspired the milk float tour?
I had the idea of travelling Britain in a milk float a long time ago, after reading a book called 'Round Ireland with a Fridge' by Tony Hawkes. I wanted to think of an original way to promote my new CD 'Lost in the Land of Midnight Sun', which I wrote following my last tour of Alaska and Canada, and the milk float idea resurfaced and just felt right. I'm also interested in sustainability, and liked the fact that travelling at 10mph would give me time to appreciate the places I'd be touring and hopefully inspire new writing and songs.
What will be happening during the tour?
The milk float has been specially adapted so that I can use it as both tour bus and performance space. Solar panels will be powering my music gear, which means I can perform outdoors and off-grid. I wanted to play at places that reflected the sustainability theme of the tour, and that would inspire people through spending time in beautiful surroundings. This led me to approaching places like the Green Britain Centre in Norfolk, where my tour launch is on 5th June, and Northumberland National Park, where I'll be performing next to Hadrian's Wall on Midsummer's Eve.
Travelling about 30 miles per day, I'm on the road for 12 weeks, starting in Norfolk and travelling as far as the Outer Hebrides, finishing with 2 weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe, where I've been booked to perform on George Street at the heart of the festival happenings. Workshops will take place on the days of the performance, and will focus on using the senses to write song lyrics. In the first half of the workshop we go outdoors to do some observation, and then in the second half the group do some senses based writing exercises and start structuring these into song lyrics. I'm also running a competition for the best song lyrics to win a free day's music recording, which will take place after the tour with my mobile recording business Travelling Studio.
What made you decide to approach the Arts Council for support?
It was partly for financial reasons as the costs of converting the milk float were much higher than I'd originally anticipated. I felt it was an idea that would appeal to the Arts Council because of the sustainability element, and also because of running the workshops which encourage creativity and audience development. 
How much has the initial idea developed since their involvement?
The idea was pretty much fully developed by the time I put in my application to the Arts Council as you really need to think through every aspect of your project to answer the questions on the application form. Once the application is approved the Arts Council don't input any ideas, but you can go to them for advice if you need it.
Any tips on the process for other artists with ideas they would like funding?
This was the first time I'd applied to the Arts Council, so I decided to attend a workshop on grant funding that was run by a former Arts Council officer, which I would definitely recommend to anyone thinking of applying. One important thing to show in the application is that you've developed partnerships with other people and organisations. This could be sponsors, venues, or music industry connections (I enlisted the help of Helen Meissner from Folkstock Arts Foundation to do publicity for the tour, which helped to show that it would be well promoted). 
You also need to read the application guidelines really carefully as there are a lot of rules about what can and cannot be funded. If your application isn't successful first time round (luckily mine was!), you can ask to speak with an Arts Council officer to find out the reasons why, and then re-apply, which is definitely worth doing.
How did you select the other artists to be involved with Floating to the Fringe?
My criteria for the other artists were firstly that they were 'emerging', which meant not signed to a major record label. I advertised the support slots on the Arts Council jobs website, and asked interested acts to email me a short biography, links to their music and to say why they'd like to play on the tour.
Most of the selected acts have had airplay on local BBC radio, which to me shows they've reached a certain standard and that they have enough belief in themselves to put their music forward for other people to listen to. I'd also consider their attitude, and whether I felt it would fit with the ethos of the tour - emails that looked like the band or artist had just pasted in some information and not bothered finding anything out about me or the tour went straight to the trash. Finally, though, I just went with the music that I liked.
Have you got any other quirky plans for the future?
I've got plans for the milk float over the next 2 or 3 years, including turning it into a mobile music recording studio, and doing community music events in my home county of Norfolk. I'd also like to do a European tour 'a la milk float', and have another idea for a national tour using another form of unusual transport that at this moment in time remains top secret as I will either be declared insane or somebody else will steal the idea!


floating to the fringe, paul thompson, arts council funding, music funding, edinburgh festival, edinburgh fringe


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