Remember the days when MTV used to play music videos all day? A time of having to waiting for the world premiere of an artist's new song, VHS and other things which seem to have disappeared? Enter: JuiceVCR. An online platform which draws inspiration from MTV and showcases a continuous playback of music videos by independent artists. I got to sit and chat with the woman behind it: Jess. Have a read below.
Now we met at the Gal-Dem Event: Bridging The Gap for Women in Music - how important do you think it is to have such events like that to help women break into the industry?
I think it’s really valuable because it’s one thing I didn’t see when I was trying to start something. Especially in terms of women of colour. Moving around and trying to infiltrate music, the only spaces you saw women of colour were behind the scenes as radio presenters or on the stage; there wasn’t really anyone to reach for and look to see how do you navigate this. Because there are more nuances to trying to navigate it as a black woman, especially as a young black woman. Just navigating an office environment on its own. So yeah, I think it was very good that they did that. It was a really good opportunity and I would like to see more people talking about what they’re doing because it seems when people get good or successful, they don’t like to tell the story. I don’t know if they wanna just keep that mirage or something. They’ll say “I worked hard” yeah, but explain. So people who are feeling shit or feel like they’re just about to give up, can know that that’s what the other person felt.
You were invited to speak at the event because of your Platform “Juice VCR” - tell me more about what that is and what you want to achieve with it?
Juice is an online music discovery platform; it’s a bit like a TV channel, a visual radio station. It was spawned from me getting to a point where I was applying for a lot of jobs, I was getting interviews but getting dismissed and being given very weird feedback like “oh you’ll be okay” or like “you’re very good” but but but…. (laughs). I was getting very frustrated and feeling like if someone would just hire me, then I could show them what I can do. And so it [Juice VCR] came from wanting to broadcast and help people who were feeling the same.
The Artists I was listening to and was bumping into were also on the road to get somewhere. There were all sorts of creatives, there were directors, animators, journalists, musicians, producers like all sorts of people that you just meet when you’re on a night out. And slowly you just gather these people who are all trying to do something. And it was like, how could I help tell all of their stories and take what I learned from Advertising and re-create it? The thing with online advertising is that it is very out-dated. With banners, skipping ads and really trying to force advertising down your throat, instead of making it a bit more of a 2-way street. Maybe if a brand could help an artist to be able to access their target audience and vice versa. That was my thought process. I just had to start it. So I thought, let’s just get one space where I can just showcase everything and get people seeing the different types of people I was meeting on the industry side. Which I might not have had the chance to plug if I was in a different setting like an office or at a networking event; I couldn’t just pull out my iPod and be like “oooh listen to this person”. But if I made it a bit more natural with a website then they could skim through and it really started to work. I had labels and industry people really help push me along so it was good.
Okay cool, so where did the name come from?
In college, my friends used to run a club night and they asked me to create a logo for the it and it was called Juice. I was doing the Graphic Design and I made the logo out of straws (I wrote the word “Juice” out of straws and scanned it and photoshopped it). They didn’t end up having their club night but I was like actually, I think this is kinda cool so I kept the logo and it stayed with me throughout. For a while, I used it on my tumblr blog. VCR stands for Visual Creative Radio and that harps back to old VHS and not having things on demand like Spotify. I liked the play on words and brought them together.
Do you think in terms of streaming like Spotify and Soundcloud, that there is too much out there music-wise for people to really focus in on?
I don’t think there’s too much, there’s always been a lot. I think now we just have access to more of it. The problem I find with on-demand is you can get stuck in the bubble with algorithms and data-collection in that way, even if you’re being showcased new music or it looks like you’re being introduced to new music, it might not actually be as organic as you think. Especially, when you look at what the major labels are doing with Spotify and how they have gotten hold of curated playlists. It’s the same as it was on radio, it all drips down from majors. You do get anomalies, that’s one thing I found annoying about Spotify (no I can’t say that, I love Spotify really haha).
(Let me start again) I did use to use Spotify but for the past few years I stopped because I thought I need to get back to having my own collection. I wanted to start DJ’ing and thought, "you don’t have anything." Or you get an opportunity and you realised how much of your music isn’t your own. Because you’re paying every month to have access to it but it’s not really yours. If I don’t have an internet connection, then I don’t have that music. But the one thing I will say about on-demand is that like for example with Youtube, you can slip into a vortex of this stuff. Like late one night, I found this scene (I think I’d call it that), with anime dolls dancing to R’n’B. And it had a big following and I’d never heard of it. I thought, there’s stuff like this out there and I’d like to show it. There’s so much going on like I don’t know what they’re doing in India (musically, for example). There’s all this stuff going on and you’re just in your bubble and when you stumble onto this, you should go to bed but there’s so much more to the world.
Also, when it comes to video content, there are younger people than us who will never experience playing actual videos; who will never experience waiting for a world premiere of Britney Spears to come on, then waiting for it to come on again like 6 hours later. And there was something nice in that. It is coming back with NTS and Radar; people do want that.
But yeah, going back to Juice, how do you choose which artists/videos go on the site? The videos can be very different from each other. You watch one and then it completely shifts to something else after. What made you decide to have such an eclectic vibe?
Well, the idea came from trying to expose artists to new audiences. And so, as I was just saying about On-Demand where you can just be in your little bubble, and then you can stumble across a whole new scene and like it; like your algorithm would never have suggested that to you because, why would you like Anime Hip-Hop? So there is a running theme that they are all independent. And if you’re coming to the site, you’re doing it so that you can find independent music. You can move past it if you don’t like it, but we’re just an eclectic generation as well. So with the collection of music, it started off very biased when it was just me. It was just Youtube Videos I liked and I got some labels to start putting up all of their collections and then had a girl in LA who posts on it regularly now. There’s also this other guy who posts South American music. So as eclectic as my music taste is, at least I’ve got my friends also posting so that there is a nice mix of everything. Now even I can look at it and think eh, what’s that?
I don’t put any pressure on people to upload and it’s very ad-hoc. So you might get someone having a burst at like 11am one morning and they’ll upload a whole load at once. Maybe it’ll be dry for ages and then a label might put up one song. Initially, when it was just me I had a call for artists to submit as well. So that was cool.
It must have been a cool way to meet independent or unsigned artists. Now, with that do you think the tide is changing and independent artists are getting more powerful? I mean, you look at Chance The Rapper, he’s completely flipped things on its head and is not signed to a major label. Do you think that there is anything to gain now from being signed to a major?
I read a great article which was talking about Frank Ocean and how he slipped away from the major he signed to. There was one great sentence in there “The only thing Majors can really offer is building the brand and getting you out there on a bigger scale.” but beyond that, you can do everything yourself. I guess Apple Music is finding a way to connect directly with these artists with exclusives. I think in every industry you don’t really need these old handles. Independent is better, it is good to know exactly how everything can be done at least to an intermediate level. There are so many ways to be independent. I have no time for major labels or corporations (n.b. we were sitting in Starbucks for this interview sipping on some Chai Lattes at the time of this interview…)
Now I was reading a little blurb for Juice VCR, and you spoke a bit about MTV. Do you think it can still call itself MTV being that it doesn’t really have a link to music any more? i.e. it is more about Pop Culture.
Well from a brand perspective, I think that’s why they removed Music Television from the logo. As much as it seems like Juice is pissing on MTV, I do love MTV. I have read up a lot about it; I love where it came from and what it has done for music. Obviously, it’s lost its way; it’s lost its soul and all founding board members. But rightly so, like you made MTV go sit on the beach. It’s turned into a very commercial space, I guess they still have the soundtracks for the shows they have and they are trying to bring back MTV Jams which does have some independent artists so I will give them props for that. But what I do know is that, it’s not all their fault, with MTV it was once again major labels that killed them. It cost about £30,000 to have access to the whole library at a major label for 3 months to put on rotation. The same thing that’s happening with Spotify is what happened with MTV. And people need to take a step back and blame the entity that was bringing the music rather than MTV. They got away with it that time. People are trying to dirty Spotify and Soundcloud a little bit. The recurring theme is Majors which is why I don’t have time for them. I think that’s why we all need to get as independent as possible.
Now you and your team upload videos you like, has there ever been someone’s video or music that you didn’t like and you had to say no to?
I try not to say no, when I wrote a statement when I was building Juice, I was like nothing will be removed; as long as it is independent and it's their own music. That’s the one thing I saw with a lot of magazines and blogs, they try and make it seem like they are very into new culture. When I did music PR this is when I realised it. I was doing social media for them; PR is a very strange world where it’s just basically you go out to gigs, you go out to places, make friends and you get drunk. And depending on the friends you make, they are more likely to open up your email when you email them. It’s about schmoozing and there is nothing wrong with that. It is something that, if you’re independent, you have to do yourself i.e. networking. I realised even though it seemed like some of these blogs were very open to having that rough new person, when you got to them, they were like no they have to be at a certain level or they have to at least have PR which is £3,000 a campaign. So it’s like, if you’re at that stage already, you can still be emerging at that point. But there is a lot of rough talent that just can’t penetrate that. And it was frustrating, that was one thing that was in my mind like I don’t want to add to that. So if there is something that looks really poor budget or the lyrics aren’t completely polished, I’m not gonna stop that because there will be people who see something there. I’m sure you’ve stumbled across something on Soundcloud and it has still taken you. So that was the idea behind it. You can get someone on a big independent label to someone in their bedroom. It was just the fun of stumbling through like that.
Going back a bit, when you were younger, did you collect CDs?
I didn’t collect them myself, my Auntie had a very big collection. My grandad had a lot. My mum was a dancer so she had a lot of music as well. So someone was always playing something. A lot of my memories of music was just sitting in cars, going to different places, grooving with different adults to different sorts of music. Even friends, giving out mixtapes and making CD mixes for each other. I just loved it, I loved music. I used to play the drums and the saxophone and I do like to be a performer. But I’ve never had the drive to make my own music. I wanted to be an Entrepreneur and make things and see my ideas come to life.
What kind of music do you listen to at the moment? Who’s on your Spotify playlists?
The last albums I listened to were Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun's Tirade, Blonde (Frank Ocean) of course. I have been listening to a Korean K-Pop artist called G-Soul who’s got a song called Crazy for You - listen to this here.
You mentioned briefly that you wanted to become a DJ, tell me more about that.
I’ve always loved choosing songs when we’re at a gathering or relaxing with friends. I like to see how people are reacting to things; so I got the opportunity to do a radio show a few months ago and that was really cool. And that’s when I realised I didn't have any music on my new computer. It’s just an extension of wanting to share new music just not only online. Because I’ve got a lot of artists who have new music but no videos yet so that can’t be showcased on Juice.
In your mind, who are 3 independent artists that people should start paying attention to?
Lord Apex he’s got this slow, gravelly hip-hop. I’d say also say Eyedress who is in the Philippines. That’s the one thing about Independent music is there are a lot of guys so I’m gonna say some ladies too. Princess Nokia - just have to love her realness; she has a very New York “I don’t give a shit” type attitude. She does a lot for women of colour, she has a collective called Smart Girl’s club which brings together the Afro and Latino communities and just offer them support. Another great female artist is Abir - check out an interview with Hypebae here
My final question is: what does success mean to you?
I’ve been trying to move away from being Success Driven as it can really mess with your mind. I feel it’s more about happiness and contentment. Being content with doing the right thing even when things don’t go the way you pictured them in your mind. Sometimes I sit there with Juice and think, what am I really doing to help the world, there’s so much going on and me showing videos isn’t really helping. So getting out of that bad thinking and saying “I’m okay, I’m doing well”. Helping anyone around you and being good. Especially in this era of Instagram and Celebrity-ism, it’s not the be all and end all.
Shout out to Jess for her honest words. Be sure to check out all the artists Jess spoke about above and also, follow the relevant socials below:
JUICE VCR - TWITTER
JUICE VCR - INSTAGRAM
JESS - TWITTER