“My whole life went upside down” – a new song competition is breaking the barriers of the music world

Paul Lappin - photography by Jennifer Berry

“I was using a salt shaker, and I was playing drums on pillows”

I have passed up so many opportunities and whether that’s because I didn’t have the confidence, or thought I hadn’t got what it takes, it always led me to the same conclusion that ‘those things don’t happen to me’ – and it’s a subject I discussed at length with Paul Lappin and Jon Buckett.

As a music producer, and the owner of Earthworm Recording Studio, Jon Buckett has worked with musicians of all ages, backgrounds and abilities – many of which are, or have been, unsigned. He says it’s “bizarre” having witnessed the amount of talent walk into his studio not knowing what they’re capable of – or getting the backing they need. It was with this that last year Jon launched a free competition, For the Song, aimed at giving unsigned artists and bands the opportunity to record and release an original song they’ve written. It was in January, whilst on his way to an open mic night in Bristol, that Paul Lappin got the call to say that his song Life Was Good won the judges over.

“My mum saw the ad, cut it out and posted it to me in France. She said, ‘What have you got to lose?’ My whole life went upside down,” says Paul. And, as we’re sat chatting over a pint, it soon became clear why.

Claire Dukes and Paul Lappin at The Tuppenny – photography by Jennifer Berry

Paul, 48, bought his first instrument – an electric guitar – just five years ago. Although having been a self-taught musician since his early years Paul’s life went off in a series of other directions from Bristol, – as a graphic designer – then Canada, – hitting the slopes as a snowboard instructor for eight years – to living in the South of France as an artist for the last three years.

Until now Paul had never stepped foot inside a recording studio, and since February he and Jon have been in the studio working with the likes of Simple Minds’ Rob Brian, getting ready to officially release Life Was Good in July. Paul tells me, “I never owned an instrument until five years ago. I didn’t have a tambourine, so I was using a salt shaker, and I was playing drums on pillows. It sounds ridiculous now [laughs]! I sent the demo off and I didn’t really think anything of it. It’s a confidence thing, isn’t it? You don’t want to push your songs on people.

“The great thing about living in France is that I’ve been so focused on song-writing, walking through the hills, and it’s been nice to have that isolation because it means I’ve been so focused on doing what I want. But, the one thing I’ve missed is collaborating, – it’s nice to have other opinions – and since working with Jon at Earthworm that’s been on tap. We’ve had amazing musicians come in and say, ‘Why don’t you try this?’ I’ve absolutely loved that.

“It’s been a really nice working relationship – Jon gets where I’m coming from, he understands the tone and feel of the song and he’s able to take it in a direction sympathetic to that. It still feels like very much my song, but Jon’s given it the push that it needed. Also, he’s got access to some absolutely fantastic musicians – all these people, who are way beyond anything that I could do, are suddenly able to give the song some really good edge. The whole thing has been brilliant, and it’s just gone up and up ever since.”

Top left: Lee Alder, bottom left: Lee Moulding, centre bottom: Paul Lappin, right bottom: Andre Clifford Maggs, top right Jon Buckett

Paul always had it in his mind that he would one day record and release his music but never had the technology or support system around him to make it happen. Much to his own surprise the singer-songwriter is now ready to release his first single. He tells me, “It was one of the first songs I ever wrote – I’m so excited for people to hear it! As it’s gone on, I’ve become more excited because you hear it being built professionally and suddenly this little idea that I had in my living room is sounding amazing. I’ve always wanted this song to sound big, – I like that big sound that many bands are able to get – and I could never do it at home so I couldn’t quite get the idea I had in my head out. 

“It’s got quite a catchy chorus, I think [laughs]! It’s a nice uplifting and positive song – a summery song that people can sing-along to. I think it’s an instantly accessible pop song, so I hope that people latch onto that and get it on their playlist – or buy a CD!”

Jon adds, “Musically, it’s not something that’s doing well at the moment. There are comparable things around that are there to make people feel good, but Paul’s music doesn’t ask anything of you – his music is very generous in that way.”

It’s both extraordinary and uplifting listening to Paul and Jon – a few months ago they were complete strangers, and Paul was sauntering around Saint-Chinian not knowing that a song he wrote more than a decade ago would be something remarkable to the ears of a music producer. Jon says, “It feels like it’s part of something bigger. I’m really excited about it – I think it’s a great song. You can spend years hunting for the right song, and it turns out it was the first one.”

The music industry, or any industry for that matter, can often feel so inaccessible, – you don’t have the right connections, the right technology or the confidence – and it took 48 years for Paul to get his break. Unfortunately, this is the reason some people will stop pursuing their aspirations – some people think ‘those things don’t happen to me’. “You don’t have to be a virtuoso to do something cool,” Jon says.

Rob Brian, of Simple Minds, and Jon Buckett – photography by Jennifer Berry

“People think that they’ve missed their opportunity to explore creative outlets, – like learning an instrument – but some people write their first novels in their 70s. If you feel like you want to do something, and you feel like you’ve got something to say just do it!”

Since hitting Earthworm Recording Studio Paul has moved back to his hometown, Swindon, and is now working on two albums. Next month, thanks to For the Song, Paul will be releasing his debut single Life Was Good.

About For the Song

For the Song was launched in October last year by music producer Jon Buckett. His intentions were simple: unearth a genuinely brilliant, new and original song and give it the treatment it deserves. After submission the songs are judged by a panel of industry experts – last year included Jon Buckett, Gaz Brookfield, Lee Alder and Marland Music Management.

The winning song will then be recorded and produced at Earthworm Recording Studio for free. The winner of the competition will also receive professional photo shots, a video, a live show date, an interview, and a review of the song.

Earthworm Recording Studio – photography by Jennifer Berry

As well as supporting unsigned artists Jon also had the aim to bring together a collective of creatives to not only support the winner but to also pull in a network of talent to build relationships between industries including photography, filmmaking, music promotion and journalism. And, so far, his vision for the project is panning out quite nicely.

The next date for entries is yet to be set but anyone wanting to enter For the Song are simply required to send a demo of an original song to Earthworm – that’s it!


Paul Lappin:

Earthworm Recording Studio: