Ryan Vail and Ruth McGinley on Chrysalism single artwork.
Intro >>View Video>>
My name is Ryan Vail, I live in Derry, I’m based here my whole life. I’ve a lot of strings to my bow but I mainly go under the producer hat when it comes to music. Music would be my main source of income, it’s how I support my family and I’ve been doing it for… it feels like forever now… about 10 years probably.
My family is made up of three children: I have a two month old, a two year old, and a 13 year old. My wife Katie – a lot of people would know Katie because we used to tour together and she used to play in the band.
At the start of the year
At the start of the year, we actually lost our manager of eight years, Lyndon Stevens, to a sudden cancer essentially. The first four weeks of the year was a difficult time, mentally he was a good friend to me and gave me my career so we were dealing with that. Then COVID hit and there were a couple of personal things – my parents got divorced within a couple of weeks of Lyndon dying, so there were a lot of personal things I was trying to deal with.
Beginning of the pandemic
Elma Orkestra is the collaborative artist I was working with at the beginning of the pandemic. We had just come off a UK tour, we were back home for about three weeks and we were about to go into the States and start at SXSW, work our way up to Canada, and onto a pile of other countries.
SXSW >>View Video>>
SXSW for anyone who doesn’t know is an international festival, it’s been running for 34 years, people come from all around the world, it’s the big kind of industry trade where all the record deals are done and a lot of tech deals so it’s quite a big deal to be playing it, and it’s quite a big deal when something of that size is cancelled – it says a lot about what’s happening.
The start of lockdown for us was trying to figure out how much money we were losing and how fast we were losing it. Within the SXSW thing, it was probably two and a half grand each out of our own pockets of our own money that was lost quite quickly and everything was very unclear of how we were getting it back… would we get it back? Are companies going to fold? So the start of lockdown for us was six weeks of chasing the guts of 16 different flights and companies to see if we could get refunded. We were neck-deep in debt. The industry really showed its flaws at that point because there was no leading voice and there was no clarity on anything – it was just a mad mess, nobody had any answers.
An outlet >>View Video>>
When I first met my wife, we used to surf together and I was always quite healthy, quite aware of the environment and really loved where I lived and spent a lot of time at the coast. In between all this mess she says to me, maybe it’s a good time to revisit your love for water and the ocean and maybe use that as an outlet.
Sometimes it’s not always about talking about it, sometimes it’s more of a personal journey you have to go through to make sense of it in your own head and to heal yourself essentially.
The first refunded bit of money I got back, I bought a surfboard and a wet suit and got back into the water as soon as I could. What happened then was I could sweat it out and battle it out.
Within weeks of having these solo sessions in the water I was able to start writing again and start getting my mind focused. It was more of a natural remedy. For me, it was about looking after my body as much as my mind.
So I’ll try and make a point of getting in the water once a week and if I’ve nothing on really, I’ll go as much as I can. I ended up making a new set of friends from it as well because I met people at the beach; it was nice to have a group of friends that weren’t solely music industry related -there were different conversations, more family talk and surfing and not always talking about how bad Spotify pays.
I think it’s important to separate yourself from the industry that you live in day-in-day-out… it’s definitely worked for me.
Chrysalism >>View Video>>
About three months into lockdown when everything started settling and I got really creative again I started reaching out to people who I wanted to collaborate with over the years or who had reached out to me and one of them was Ruth McGinley; she is the classical pianist for the Ulster orchestra.
Ruth was always looking to get into the scoring scene and film writing so I found myself helping her set up her own home studio and then once she got confident recording I thought, “Well why don’t we do something together to break the ice and see if it works?”
We had produced a track which was recorded in lockdown; we were both seperated in each other’s houses. We named it Chrysalism, the meaning of it is to sit in your house looking out at the storm which we thought was very fitting for the COVID pandemic.
I ended up basically teaching myself how to film, fly drones and edit – basically training myself to get to a certain standard where I could shoot music videos.
It felt like I got quite good quite fast so I decided to take it even further and started teaching myself animation and CGI, so we’ve put out the Chrysalism single and it’s gonna have the video that I kind of taught myself filming techniques on.
TV work >>View Video>>
Quite early on my collaborator Eoin (also known as Elma Orkestra) and I discussed the fact that it looks like the TV work’s gonna dry up because all of the studios are in lockdown. We always work nine months before something is aired on TV so within three months we already noticed that the TV stuff was slowing down because the productions had closed. We couldn’t work in the studio because people weren’t allowed in the studios with us so we realised, “OK, so maybe music isn’t gonna make us money this year” and it’s quite a hard thing to stomach.
When I was teaching myself camera techniques, Eoin was already really good with camera techniques so we decided to start pitching ideas for festivals. We asked them, “Would you ever think of doing it all online and we would be the film crew that would do that”.
Bigger and bigger
We were quite lucky, landed a couple of festivals – they’d be all localised to Derry, but they were well paid jobs and we started doing those. All of a sudden it got bigger and bigger to the point we were buying more gear and hiring people. We actually ended up going from small, really independent festivals to actually quite big contracts quite quickly. It meant our bills were paid and we could relax a bit.
We were kind of thinking that we’ll get back touring, March onwards. We were like, “This is great, we’ve enough video work that should hold us until that time and then we’d quite happily walk away from that side of things because we’re musicians, that’s what we do. But we quickly got the emails that the tours were being pushed ‘to September and that’s quite a big thing to stomach because that’s essentially wiping out the seasonal income, which is the festivals that we heavily rely on.
You tend to find quite a lot of artists have a lot of skillsets and they don’t realise the worth of some of those skillsets – whether it be making artwork for your music or video content… these things are all transferable skills to other realms of work and it’s just trying to figure out what are you willing to go through to do that. That’s not going to work for everyone but I think it’s important that people investigate avenues like that.
The worst thing >>View Video>>
The worst thing that could come out of this is bands giving up rather than adapting. We need to adapt, not quit. My biggest fear when music returns is that a lot of people will have given up on music.
MySpace >>View Video>>
When I started off as an artist the main focus for everybody’s profile and existing was MySpace so we had invested loads of advertising and started building our MySpace and a year later it was gone and everything was Soundcloud.
We had this huge fanbase on MySpace that didn’t transfer to Soundcloud and it was a really a difficult transaction and even in that timeframe of that transfer, I knew a lot of bands that gave up because of it, because they just hated the whole movement and flash forward three years after that Spotify comes on and all of a sudden Soundcloud’s irrelevant.
I think there’s always these challenging shifts anyway within music, obviously not as big as the COVID one because it’s really challenging our existence.
Stronger >>View Video>>
We have to just put things on hold, it doesn’t mean we’re giving up. Even before I was an artist, I always had jobs and the jobs always funded my art. I couldn’t be an artist without money, the art wasn’t making money so I had to go and get a job to fund my passion for art until the point of it being self-sustainable.
For me it feels like I’m going back a couple of steps but I’ve done it before I can do it again. The world’s changed, it’s not the same, we just need to adapt. To be honest I think it will make everybody stronger if they adapt.
Blow everybody’s mind >>View Video>>
I’ve actually been extremely creative – I wrote a full album and I’m shooting a huge visual show so when this pandemic finally disappears I can blow everybody’s mind.
During this pandemic the financial thing’s difficult and it’s difficult for everyone but when you find a way to make that work, it’s the most time any of us have ever had to work on a project.
For me, I’ve always been manic busy so all of a sudden it’s like, “OK, what project do I want to do now that I’ve never had the time to make before?” and that’s the way I’m approaching it. So the scale of what I’ll probably release next year will be like there was some massive, huge budget behind it but there wasn’t – it’s just I have way too many hours to make this project. It’s kinda like, aim for the stars because there’s enough time to do that.
Weird environment >>View Video>>
When you’re an artist at my level, and I’m not at the big level yet but I’m not a new artist, I’m flying all the time and I’m living out of a suitcase. I just go to random countries and I’m looked after and you kind of get to this point where you forget the importance of just looking after your health and having normal conversations about how you’re feeling because you’re always meeting new people; they’re not the people you confide in or actually talk to properly so you just end up in this weird environment. It’s not that it’s not pleasant but you probably put a lot of things to the back of your mind and then once you’re in this position when that’s stopped, you find that things start to surface.
Approach everything differently >>View Video>>
I’ll approach everything differently to be honest. Having that time to myself was really important, and was spending time with the family. I’m 36 now and when you’re in your late twenties, for me everything was very fast-paced, I was just moving at a million miles an hour – I was getting married, getting a mortgage and I just felt like every decision was based on earning money to pay bills whereas now it’s more life over work – that’s what it feels like, and I think when I tour I will probably be trying to make it work more for me rather than work for the music. I still think everything’s achievable doing it that way, it’s just approaching it with that mindset. I think it’s probably a healthier way to approach it for the longevity of it and the future.
Remember, if you’re a member of the Irish music industry, you can talk to a counsellor free of charge at any time of the day or night. Simply call the phone number below.