The Business of Music with Liam Sturgess
Liam is the type of person you wish you'd been able to call a friend your whole life. His personality is an amalgamation of pep, serious music knowledge and a happy-go-lucky approach to life.
Born and raised in Vancouver, he dares to dress impeccably for concerts, even in a city that defines fashion as sport-luxe and leggings. The inspiration for the coloured suits and bow ties originally came from a character Liam based his on-stage personality on. Having grown out of the character and into himself, the suits have stayed but the person you see on stage is all Sturgess.
In his earlier years Liam had been set on becoming an actor. The draw to acting came from pretending to be various characters, like the ones he admired on screen. “I think a big part of that, is it sounded like a really cool job. I’m really good at just starting to do things, so in my life I would act as an actor and then at one point my favourite thing to do was pretend I'd been shot.”
Phasing out of the dramatic childhood propensity for playing dead, he found his true passion in music after working with an inspiring music teacher in the sixth grade. “We started doing acoustic guitar in music class and I had a really awesome teacher named Mr. Virag. He was just awesome and I really got into guitar. Then a year later in grade seven my other music teacher/maestro was Mr. Michael Toth, he got me into trumpet and later on guided me through my initial steps into experimenting with singing and drums. It was all in a really academic environment. My exploration of music went just like dominos, one by one. In grade eight I got into musical theatre which lasted all throughout high school.”
Cafe Des Reves
Having recently released his latest offering Cafe Des Reves, Liam has always had an intention for where he sees his music career headed. “I've always had a plan, one that spans seven albums starting with the very first song I ever recorded, called After Midnight. Everything I've done and wrote in the core albums falls into this plan.”
The album is the third instillation in his album series and small part of a bigger catalogue on Spotify. For someone so young he's already achieved more than most seasoned musicians. His sound suits his personality to a tee. Consisting of warm guitar riffs and upbeat pop beats Liam's lyrical talent creates a storyline to follow through the album.
Writing a song doesn't always take shape using the same avenue. “It starts with an idea, whether its a theme, an idea, a lyric or a melody. It almost always becomes a voice memo. If I can hear it back, it will re-inspire me. It's like smelling something and remembering your time in Paris. Then I have a whole reservoir of ideas to sit down and play back and pull from. Then I have to tap into a secondary wave of inspiration, where I can hear the first idea but I'm detached enough from it that I'm inspired by four or five things I haven't previously considered and then I'll wind up finishing the song.”
Once the writing and recording process is over, Sturgess takes to the streets to gauge the reaction from the public. He's hardworking and willing to accept criticism in the face of creating something better and stronger. “I go out and busk to see what people's reactions are. If I mess up a part or forget a line I'll practice and really focus on that part for next time.”
Finding the influences for his music come predominantly from one source – romance. “In terms of the content of the music, relationships is a big theme – it's easy to relate to. It's crazy how much of an impact heartbreak and love can have on you. The majority of my personal growth has been from the ups and downs of romantic relationships. I am who I am now because of those particular experiences and they find their way into the songs a lot.”
Art is Never Finished, it's Only Abandoned
Letting go of a song for release is possibly one of the hardest things for an artist. From its inception to the final moments before releasing an EP or album, a lot goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes it's blood sweat and tears, other times it can come easy, but one thing stays the same for every artist I've interviewed – they all feel like the project is never perfect. Liam shares this feeling, but has learned to appreciate the music for what it is and where he's at. “The way it works for me is I'll record it and then sit on it, sometimes that's a week or a year, however long it needs to be. Once its kind of bulletproof you say, ok we're not going to touch it anymore. You let it go.”
Not only is the whole process for creating a song tough, but there's also work that unfolds in the aftermath in the form of promotion. Sturgess is no stranger to self promotion and gigging. “I'm about to record a music video that will be out sometime in the fall. It's for my song Tuesday Afternoon, and its kind of the next feature single. I'm excited to film it. I've already done the song. Now I get to focus on the visual part of it. I'm excited to record this song in a visual performance.”
The Time Is Now
Now has become the era for the “self” artist. Never has there been a better or more accessible way to produce, record and publish music. The internet and myriad of programs available to the layman have made it possible to share creations with the click of a button. However, all of this comes at a cost. The artist usually has to input far more money in the initial outlay than what they see in return from streaming views or listens – and all of this includes advertisements that make the hosting sites richer, while the artists are often lost in a sea of noise.
Liam is looking to shake up the industry for the better by creating a space where people are able to hone their skills, from toddlers to adults and beyond. He started his studio Four Destinations Records, in the hopes of being a one-stop shop school and studio for musicians. It's something that's lacking in an industry where the top 1% earn 77% of all the recorded music income. While there are creative schools that cater to other fields in the arts, music has been one of the last frontiers to break. Sturgess' idea began out of necessity for his own career. hen he saw a serious lack of options available to musicians to build and work their craft, he set about creating Four Destinations.
“I have a really incredible team with me. Four Destinations Records is an artist development studio. The whole premise of the studio is to help everyone at every skill level and path, providing opportunities for them. Our mission is to make it really easy for you to take advantage of these opportunities and then hop over to other pathways.”
Four Destinations Records came after studying business at university, and through his love for music. It offers more than just a standard recording studio, creating a place for artists to come together and meet as well as learn new skills. Music classes in many different instruments are on offer, as well as a choir aptly named ‘The Totally Awesome Choir’ that sings and records for charity. Their single Take Your Time gives all of its proceeds to The BC Children’s Hospital.
The company also books performers on numerous paid gigs. Meaning if you're talented, determined and involved with the studio, Four Destinations will to ensure you're going to have a busy career ahead of you.
“My approach is this: I have my solo musical path, but along the way as I establish things for myself, I'm establishing them for the Four Destinations community. It's the company I started to basically allow myself to make music and help everyone around me make music. It's been like that every step of the way. Every open door and opportunity that's come has not just been for me, it's been for my entire circle.”
The Millenial Work Ethic
You would be forgiven for thinking Sturgess is a thirty-something year old with a sated view on the world. Instead he's a spritely twenty two year old who brings all of his passion and enthusiasm into everything he does.
These days, millenials get a bad rap for everything from living too much in the now, to not planning to invest in material things. Corporations are scrambling to understand the psyche of this new generation, but Liam has a firm grasp on what matters most to him and his ilk. “I believe that no matter what you do that's worthwhile, whether it be artistic, professional, social, it's not supposed to be easy, but it should be rewarding. Meaning as long as you're getting reward out of the stress and the hard work and the challenge, then that's the point.”
There was a time early on in his career where he felt stagnant, things weren't going the way he had planned out and it felt like other careers were taking off around him. “It was a real humbling moment. I was starting to get into a place of artistic jealousy, people around me were getting positive feedback and attention that I wasn't getting, and I felt like I was owed that attention. It's a young thing and an inexperienced thing. You can choose what rules you play by and I eventually chose not to play by that way of thinking because there's nothing positive about that.”
At the same time his debut album had been featured in a review. “I had my first album reviewed in the Georgia Strait which was a really cool opportunity, but the review was awful. The title was, Liam Sturgess borders on parody with Hit The Stage. Now I look back at it and can see that this was a really important moment of honesty from someone with something to say.”
By choosing to take negativity and turn it into a learning moment, Liam has managed to turn around negative opinions and create a successful career and company. “The combination of those two things made me realise I was at a turning point. Things weren't as I thought they were, but I still wanted them to be where they would go eventually. It was really simple, I chose to stick it out. You've gotta question yourself sometimes, you've gotta check in and say, is what I'm doing still what I want? And if the answer's yes, then perfect. Sometimes it becomes a little more difficult to answer that question, but that just means life is becoming a little more complicated, which also means more opportunities, luckily.”
With much more on the horizon for Sturgess, there's little doubt that his efforts will see him living out the goals he's set for himself. “I check in with myself so much more than I used to because things are becoming so much more real, heavy and risky.”
While failure can be a teacher, success is much sweeter and Liam looks to be on the long path to success.