Shawn James

Outtake: Shawn James

Web: ShawnJamesMusic.com
Contact: Ilka Erren Pardinas, [email protected]
Most Recent: On the Shoulders of Giants

It might seem like a counterintuitive choice if you want to make it as a professional musician, but six years ago, folk, blues and soul songwriter and instrumentalist Shawn James moved to Arkansas, where the low cost of living and centralized location allowed him to fully dedicate himself to writing music and touring. Since releasing his first album in 2012, he’s toured internationally, and his songs have appeared on television commercials and video games. The latter, to some purists, is “selling out,” yet James says song placement in film and other media helped him become and remain a successful, independent artist. And sometimes a song can be even more powerful when properly placed––like when PlayStation paired James’ “Through the Valley” with its post-apocalyptic game, The Last of Us 2.

“The first time my song was placed was for a Harley-Davidson commercial. After that, opportunities just came straight to my email,” he says. “The main goal, obviously, is to make good music. And I have to agree to how they’re going to use the song. But being unsigned, I have to take opportunities as they come. It’s helped me progress with my music. Four years ago, I didn’t think I would tour Europe. Placement is a piece of the puzzle. You have to make compromises and use different tools to your advantage.”

When it comes to music distribution, James says he succeeded by giving away a lot upfront to build his following: “When I first released my music, I would put it up online as a ‘pay what you want’ thing to just get it out there. In the beginning, you have to convince people you’re worth anything,” he says. By doing so, and working from the ground up, James managed to reach a rare and coveted place in the music business: a place of simultaneous success and independence.

“If you just want to put your music out there and tour, you don’t need a label, and I’m a prime example of that,” he says. “I achieved everything by hard work and being smart about the concept of things. You can hire a team where you’re the head of it all. You can get your music all over the world at a low cost.”