Taking the Pledge

The multi award-winning Gemma Hayes. Photo: Mike Prior

By David Hennessy

Hot Press and Meteor Music Award winning singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes had already taken the bold step of severing ties with record labels and publishing companies in order to have more control over her music. Now in partnership with PledgeMusic, the performer from Ballyporeen, Tipperary is giving her fans the opportunity to get involved with her forthcoming fifth album ahead of the recording process. Winner of MTV Ireland’s Best Female Live Artist 2012, anyone who has seen Gemma in concert will know that she shares a special bond with her fans, telling humorous stories between songs and chatting at length afterwards. Like her earlier decision to go independent, Gemma’s PledgeMusic partnership is designed to bring her audience another step closer.

“Around two years ago, I kind of went independent and decided: I’m gonna stay this way. It’s amazing just the amount of middle men that you get rid of which brings you closer to your audience but still not there. There’s that gap. So the idea this time around was that it would be purely myself and the audience and it would be an exchange and an interaction pretty much from the get go which is terrifying in one sense because I’ve never done this before and in another way, it’s really exciting because it really becomes about me and the people who listen to my music. That’s what it is about for me and a lot of times, especially when you’re signed, there’s this mystique, there’s this gap and you never really feel that tangible connection with the audience.

“It feels really comfortable, it feels like a natural progression and it seems like I started off with a record deal and very far away from my audience and the longer I do this, the closer I get to them and I like that because at the end of the day each person, each artist gets into this business for their own reasons and my personal reason is to make a connection so this just allows me to do that on a grander scale.”

PledgeMusic is the leading direct-to-fan platform which allows the audience to pre-order albums and access exclusive content by pledging money to their favourite artists’ projects. Artists to have worked with them include Slash, Bring Me The Horizon, Ginger Wildheart, Ben Folds Five, Killing Joke, Emmy The Great and Rachel Yamagata as well as Irish performers such as Janet Devlin and Mary Byrne.

With her new campaign, Gemma is offering fans a range of exclusive “goodies” including a made to order limited edition vinyl live album, updates from the studio, behind the scenes photo shoots, handwritten lyrics, even a unique opportunity for a limited number of fans to join her in the studio and play on the new album.  Also on offer is the chance to own the Fender Telecaster guitar Hayes played on her debut album, 2002’s Night On My Side and its subsequent tour.

Gemma at work on tracks for her forthcoming album in the French studio

“It’s basically a place where they can pre-order the album and when they do, they get stuff that they wouldn’t get if they just walked into a shop. With each album that is sent out, you get a few goodies and that’s the basic, basic thing. And then it goes up from there: Signed lyrics, we’ll be doing the reverse auction of one of my guitars and we even have an opportunity for a limited amount of people to come and join us in the studio and actually get involved in the album in a very basic way. You don’t have to know how to play an instrument, we don’t want to alienate people so anybody can get involved. If you can play an instrument, then we might even try to incorporate that. If I had the opportunity to do that on the music of somebody I listen to, I would be pretty excited so it’s novel things that you’re not going to get walking into a shop and buying the album.

“We’re going to do private shows but that’s not going to be the norm. There will only be maybe ten of those.”

There was a time when any aspiring band or musician had to impress the suits at a record company in order to get their music out there but now with PledgeMusic’s help, they are increasingly looking towards the general public: “Record deals take a huge percentage. It’s sort of unfair. I had never heard of Pledge before and then someone told me about them and it seemed really fair and it was more practical for me to make an album because I didn’t have to deal with that side of the machine as well. It’s basically getting rid of the record label machine and it just being about the music and the exchange between me and the audience.

“I see record labels doing this in the future or they change the whole system where they nearly become like PledgeMusic to try to bring artists in. Even big names like Slash have worked with Pledge, a lot of people are hearing about it and it’s something that makes sense and once it makes sense and it’s fair, I think there’s a future in it.”

Gemma burst onto the scene in 2002 with the Night on my Side album that, boasting hits like Back of my Hand and Hanging Around, earned her Best Female Artist at the Hot Press Awards and a nomination for the Mercrury Prize. Gemma took the Meteor Music Prize for Best Irish Female in 2006 for her sophomore album The Roads Don’t Love You, an award she earned another nomination for in 2009 after releasing her third collection, The Hollow of Morning. Gemma’s latest album Let it Break was released in the UK last year.

The Tipperary songstress has co-written the song Hazy with Adam Duritz as well as touring with his band, Counting Crows. Her relationship with American rockers behind Big Yellow Taxi Cab and Mr Jones is so strong that they even mention Hayes’ hometown of Ballyporeen in the song Washington Square.

Last year Gemma joined artists such as Eleanor McEvoy, Sharon Shannon and Mary Coughlan for the 20th anniversary of the A Woman’s Heart album which she describes as an honour.

The multi-award winning singer has also seen her music in demand for film and television soundtracks, with Gemma recording a smouldering cover of Chris Isaacs’ Wicked Game which featured on Pretty Little Liars. Her music has also been heard on Grey’s Anatomy and the new American drama, Do No Harm while Gemma wrote the score for forthcoming Hollywood film Quad which stars big names like Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels and Tom Sizemore.

Performing live at Royal Albert Hall, Gemma is known for her live show and took MTV Ireland’s Best Female Live Artist 2012.

Pop Svengali Louis Walsh has recently announced his decision to leave his post as a judge on The X Factor to concentrate on management. During her live shows, Gemma likes to tell a funny story about when the former Boyzone and Westlife manager said he could help to promote Gemma’s act as long as she stopped writing songs and started getting herself into tabloid papers. Of course her answer was a firm no but just for fun, The Irish World asks Gemma if she imagines the offer could still be open? “Oh God, I’d say because he knows I’ve told this story at every single gig, I would imagine that door is firmly closed,” she laughs. “I’ve totally worn the bejaysus out of it, I got a lot of mileage out of that story at his expense so I wouldn’t work with me if I was him. I would be very surprised if that door was open but saying that, he’s actually a lovely guy.”

Has there been a slightly awkward meeting with Louis for Gemma? “Not yet actually, I’m looking forward to that because again he’s got a great sense of humour and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think it’s probably something we would have a laugh about.”

For the full interview, see the August 24 print edition of The Irish World.

Gemma’s new album will be out early next year and first launched in the UK with a tour.

To pre-order the album and avail of goodies on offer, you can go to: http://www.pledgemusic.com/artists/gemmahayes.

For more information on Gemma, go to: http://www.gemmahayes.com/.


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