Author: Lewis Sharpe
After over 35 years working in the retail and marketing industry, Michael Kennedy could not have imagined the success he would have when returning to his musical roots.
Kennedy has started up a successful music magazine called SWND, his own record label and has huge plans to expand further.
His success began when he decided to leave his retail job.
‘’I think you get to a certain age where you get fed up of working for other people and saying ‘yes sir, no sir,’ claimed Kennedy. ‘’After 30-odd years of doing that, I sort of had an epiphany, plus I’d always planned to retire at 50 and then the government changed the rules, and I can’t access my pension until I’m 55. I thought it was time for a change, so I took that step.’’
‘’I went down the traditional road of getting a job, getting a mortgage, following the career which I did successfully but you get to a certain age where you think ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to do my own thing.’ I really wish I’d done it a lot sooner, but, in saying that, if I had, I might not have had the skills to do what I’m doing now – technical skills and people skills, they’re both very important.’’
Kennedy has always been involved in the local music industry, having played the drums in multiple bands.
‘’I was approached by a station called Oystermouth Radio, just outside Swansea in Mumbles. I knew a couple of the guys who were putting it together and they said, ‘do you fancy hosting a show?’. I played in a lot of local bands, got a big interest in local music and I said no because I’ve always been a drummer and I like being safe behind my kit and the thought of talking to even a few people was scary.
‘’They convinced me to record a show saying that somebody else would present it and they lied; they recorded it and put it out. We had loads of feedback saying how much people enjoyed it and it just went on from there. I got bored in the studio on my own doing a weekly show, so I invited some guests to join me – people I’d played with in bands – and that’s when it really started taking off and the listeners grew.’’
Frustrated with the lack of interest given to local bands, Kennedy began a Facebook page called Welsh Connections, which has gained mass popularity and is continuing to grow in figures.
‘’One thing I’d learned is that the bands are great at making music but rubbish at promoting themselves. Once that album or single is made, they don’t know what to do with it. To have people to shout out about it and publicise and promote it was something they had not had before. That still goes on today; bands are absolutely rubbish at promoting themselves and there are very few-and-far-between exceptions of that, so that’s where we stepped in.
‘’As soon as that Facebook page was launched, it went crazy – we had 1000 followers within a week. I think we’re sitting on something like six and a half thousand at the moment and we reach about 100,000 people a week with hits.
‘’It only needs that one right person to hear something and all of a sudden, a band has taken off or signed. We’ve found that happens. We’ve had guy signed from being on the show.’’
Kennedy’s passion for music led to the creation of the hard-copy magazine SWND, available across South-West and Mid Wales.
‘’It promotes all things Welsh – culture, arts, music, literature, film. If it’s got a Welsh connection, then it’ll go in there. It’s taken off really well and that’s surprised me. Everyone was saying, ‘don’t do hard copies just sell it online. Nobody buys magazines anymore,’ and that is absolute rubbish.
‘’People love picking up the magazine; it’s like vinyl, something tactile, something you can hold, something you can have, something you can return to, you can leave it on your coffee table or the side of your armchair and pick it up and read it. There’s a big resurgence in having something you can actually hold and keep.’’
Alongside the former Barracuda frontman Jeremy Gluck, Kennedy began SWND record label.
‘’There’s great Welsh music but nobody’s playing it. Unless you’re in that clique of a certain age or a certain genre, then you might get played on BBC Radio Wales. We’re not like that, if somebody’s made a good piece of music, we’ll play it.
‘’It can’t get played on the radio? Okay, I’ll start a radio show. Can’t get anything in print about a band? Okay, we’ll start a magazine. Can’t get a record deal? Okay, we’ll start a label. That’s the way it’s gone. There’s still room for the little guys.’’
Kennedy was approached about the possibility of working with Australian media organisation Madcap Global. The company is owned by Welshman Stephen Morris, who played in an Australian band called Two Can Play in the 90s.
‘’I think the more we link up with other companies across the world, the better it’s going to be.’’
‘’He [Morris] diversified his business but kept an eye on entertainment and he was following Welsh Connections. He came back to Wales to visit some relatives and he asked if we could meet up, so we met down in the studio in Mumbles and it was like a meeting of minds actually, it was like being brothers from another mother, I guess. I always remember him saying ‘if you need any support, help or advice, just reach out and let me know.’’
‘’What’s coming up next is a merge of SWND and Madcap Global on the entertainment side of things, so we’ll be pushing Welsh culture and arts out across offices in Australia and LA. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Welsh musicians, artists, authors, filmmakers to really get noticed on the global stage.’’
Last month, the record label received their first number one.
‘’Feverjaw are a great band. If we can get the PR right, get the reviews, then really you’re halfway there to nailing it. What caught us by surprise was that it got into the Qatar Top 40 charts in the Middle East, which we couldn’t quite understand. I think it’s at number five at present in the Top 40 over there which is amazing.
‘’We did 50 deluxe box sets of the release, as well as the standard release and downloads. Those deluxe box sets sold out two weeks ahead of the initial release date, which sort of gave us an indication then what was going to happen. It caught us by surprise; we hit about a dozen charts. We got number one on the Amazon’s Indie and Movers charts. A little bit of a surprise if I’m honest, but a nice surprise.’’
The future is looking bright for SWND, with expanding to a worldwide audience hopefully giving the platform for local artists to receive more publicity.
‘’Coming up this year, we’re launching a radio station which will be over the internet and over all the smart devices. That will give a platform to musicians and new presenters. We’ll be expanding the magazine so that it’s online as well, but it’ll have more of a global feel with contributors from Australia, LA, Europe, India, Ireland. It’ll still maintain that Welsh identity, but it’ll have a much broader spectrum of interest as well. There’ll be a lot of live and interactive stuff going on the website that’ll promote it. Hopefully, we’ll capitalise and grow what we already have.’’
(Featured image: SWND)