With her EP New Kinda New out last month and a tour on the horizon, Bethan Leadley has gone from strength to strength in 2014. TenEighty caught up with her to find out more about her new direction, her dabbling in presenting – which has seen her interview Ellie Goulding, Union J and James Arthur – and where she thinks the YouTube community is going.
“I guess the kick up the ass I needed was when I got my new manager and he said ‘I think you should focus on the music’,” says Bethan.
Becoming a vlogging personality distracted her from her first passion is something she admits. But she also believes it can be hard to establish yourself as a musician on YouTube without compromising your artistic integrity. “Most musicians end up just doing covers to keep them going,” she explains.
“Obviously there are good cover songs out there, but that’s only if you have the patience to cover something the day after it comes out. But I’m really bad at that,” she says.
Bethan came to realise that caring about the YouTube numbers game was her biggest vice, and as soon as she stopped caring about it she became happier. “My content has grown so much more because I’ve stopped caring about what I make as much,” she says. “I just have to do whatever I want to do.”
“Why was I so scared to do anything other than vlogging?”
But what is it about YouTubers and their medium that sometimes mentally blocks them from creating the content they want to? “It’s the whole idea that you have to brand yourself,” says Bethan.
“You’ve decided what your channel is. ‘I’m a beauty guru!’, ‘I’m a musician!’, ‘I’m a vlogger!’, and to be honest, it doesn’t matter what you decide because the rest of the world just puts us all into the vlogging category anyway.”
For Bethan, breaking the cycle has been fundamental in moving her channel forward. “I was uploading less because I was caring so much about keeping to my brand,” she explains. “Why was I so scared to do anything other than vlogging? Why was I so scared to upload a rough version of an original song? I’m a musician for god’s sake! It’s in my username!
“Allowing myself to do whatever the hell I want on my channel may not have been the wisest move for me, but it certainly is the thing that’s made me happiest,” she continues. “And if you’re not happy doing it, then you shouldn’t be doing it at all.”
This new-found sense of freedom, along with the push from her manager, allowed Bethan to really explore where she was musically. Deciding early in the year that she wanted to get an EP out in 2014, Bethan was approached by LAB Records.
“The thing that convinced me is that they didn’t want to sign me as an artist, they only wanted to sign me for an EP. It meant it wasn’t as big of a commitment,” she says. “And I knew I wouldn’t be able to fund everything I wanted on my own. This opportunity meant that I didn’t have to worry about all that, I could just focus on the music.”
Recording New Kinda New took seven studio sessions spread over a few months, the last of which took place just after Summer in the City 2014. Looking back on those sessions Bethan has nothing but good words to say about the producers Andé D’Mello and Jon Gaskin from the band Fort Hope.
“I was still kind of creating the music as it was being produced in front of me, so to have these two guys there going ‘oh yeah, and then we can do this with it,’ made it feel like I wasn’t doing it on my own,” she says. “Finally I had people there to bounce off.”
“It wouldn’t have sounded nearly as good as it does if it wasn’t for them being such brilliant producers with such great ideas,” affirms Bethan.
“Standing behind a guitar immediately sets a barrier…”
While still recording the EP, Bethan performed at Summer in the City 2014. In TenEighty’s review of the main stage Sunday acts we praised her for going full band. We always enjoyed Bethan’s petite acoustic performances, but suddenly we were seeing a different side to her that really showed off her on-stage presence and powerful vocal abilities.
“Standing behind a guitar immediately sets a barrier,” comments Bethan. “I still love playing acoustically; it can be really intimate and timid. But for the first time that barrier was gone for me. Having a band means I can truly be a performer.”
Explaining how she got the band together, she reveals that they only had one rehearsal together. “It was about three or four hours long, before which everyone had been rehearsing at home,” she says.
“I was surprised that I could get them all. For me it couldn’t have gone any better. It was amazing what they were able to do. I was bloody lucky,” she adds.
But how much of the performance was down to her natural flair or the band? “90% the band,” she laughs modestly. “I am proud of what I write and how I do things. I think I’m a better songwriter than anything else. But that band is what makes the atmosphere,” she explains.
“We have so much energy on stage that it just delivers everything else,” she adds. “And energy gives me energy. It makes me want to jump around.”
Bethan must have been doing something right, because as a result of that performance she was offered the tour. ”KiliLive, who help run Summer in the City, saw me play and offered me a tour. So it was just a coincidence that I had the EP going on at the same time,” she reveals.
The six date tour kicks off in January, with Dodie Clark and TenEighty’s April cover star Helen Anderson and band Box of Light supporting. Dates confirmed are for Bristol, Birmingham, London, Nottingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
“Those songs don’t reflect me as an artist, they reflect me as a 15 year old girl”
“I’ve got the same band as I did at Summer in the City, but of course we will do a lot more rehearsing for this one,” she says, poking fun at herself. “Obviously I’ve got quite a long set to fill and I’ve only got five songs in my repertoire, so it better be bloody good!
“I’m gunna write some new stuff and I will be playing a few covers,” continues Bethan. “We’re gunna go back to the 90s. Yeah, we’ve already decided on a few 90s songs so we’ll have to see how that goes down.”
She groans at the thought of playing some of her old songs from her 2011 album Unrequited Love, which she released when she was 15. “Looking back on it there were a few songs I liked on it, but most of it I really hated,” she explains.
Bethan mentions that she had to contact her ex-boyfriend Luke Cutforth, who initially helped her upload the album to iTunes, to get it removed. “Even he was like ‘why are you doing this?’” she says. “It was an impulse decision but one I don’t regret. Those songs don’t reflect me as an artist, they reflect me as a 15 year old girl.”
Having made videos since she was 13, Bethan practically grew up on YouTube in front of us, and many people still remember her for her relationship with Luke. “When Luke and I first started dating we didn’t have many subscribers and we were quite young,” she recalls.
“We didn’t really think much of publishing stuff about our relationship online. We were in love and we wanted everyone to know,” she explains.
While Bethan has gained a large following in her own right, there are still those who dismiss her for the initial leg-up Luke gave her. “It did help, of course, but in all fairness I think we helped each other,” she remembers.
“I think people who feel that way about me haven’t really looked at the numbers and how much they were worth then versus how much they are worth now,” continues Bethan. “At the time we both wanted each other to share success, and we both had a very shared audience. But I don’t think we have a shared audience anymore and if we do it’s a coincidence.”
“Sometimes I didn’t feel comfortable doing something as simple as holding my boyfriends hand…”
She acknowledges that the break-up was handled in a very public and messy way, but believes they both learned from the experience. For example, when Bethan first got together with Dean Dobbs she was careful about what she allowed fans of YouTube know.
“In 2013, Dean and I hadn’t told our audiences that we were in a relationship yet, and I remember people taking photos of us holding hands even at the train station,” she says. “It’s difficult, because I get why they’re doing it, but it’s still a very personal thing and it meant that sometimes I didn’t feel comfortable doing something as simple as holding my boyfriends hand.”
Bethan thinks it’s important for couples that are in the limelight to maintain a boundary between what they share online and what they don’t. “I think it’s really interesting and clever that Zoe [Sugg] and Alfie [Deyes] have never shared a video of them kissing. They’ve kept it personal to them,” she observes.
“Nonetheless, the fans found a clip of Zoe and Alfie having a peck on the cheek in the background of one of the Saccone-Jolys‘ videos and it went frickin’ viral,” exclaims Bethan. “It was the tiniest of pecks. That’s crazy!
“Either way, as long as there is communication between the couple and you’re both OK with everything you put out, then it’ll be fine,” she concludes.
It’s good to see that Bethan has really found herself. She has a strong understanding of what she is about, what she wants to represent and the things in her past that have brought her to this point in her career. And it’s this self-assured strength that has afforded her a lot of the opportunities that have come her way this year, including a few presenting jobs.
After working with James Arthur through Simon Cowell’s YouGeneration project, she ended up working with 4music’s YouNews. “They weren’t paying me for YouNews, so they asked me what I would consider payment for the job,” she explains.
Bethan suggested that they could give her access to someone who she could make a video with. In return, they suggested Ellie Goulding. “I’m gunna be honest, Ellie Goulding was quite boring to interview,” she says. “Great musician, but bloody boring to interview!”
Since then she’s also interviewed Union J for Transmitter and lets us know there are more interviews to come. “It was all per chance, but because I’ve now built up a bit of a backlog of celebrity interviews, I’m getting more and more,” Bethan adds.
While she doesn’t see a career in presenting, it is something she’s interested in carrying on. Bethan speculates over why media outlets are choosing her and other YouTubers to host their online content. “Every artist or company has a YouTube channel these days, but they don’t do it like we do and I guess they need us to show them how,” she says.
“I think also my age helps make some people feel comfortable. For example, the Union J boys are all my age,” she continues. “I think people can sense that I’m quite a real person and that’s unlike the usual media types that interview them. I’m quite chill.”
“I will never treat anyone in my audience as if I’m better than them…”
This down-to-earth realness that Bethan speaks of has always been present in her videos. She’s never been afraid of making a fool out of herself, or showing sides to herself that are quite personal. Recently we’ve seen her videos cover topics such as insecurities, becoming sexually active, the effects of bullying, her push to become healthy and much more.
“I think it’s good to be honest with your audience,” says Bethan. “I believe the whole point of being on YouTube is that you are just a normal person doing what you love.
“You can act like you’re this big important person online but you’re basically just trying to come across like a celebrity,” she continues. “The point of YouTube is that you’re communicating with people just like you.”
“A lot of people now see their fans as money”
This is an ethos that Bethan carries through to how she treats her audience at gatherings and meet-ups. “I will never treat anyone in my audience as if I’m better than them, because I’m really not,” she says.
“I think a lot of people forget that they were once in that position too,” observes Bethan. “Just go back into your old emails. Take a look at some of the comments you left on other people’s videos. That’s when you’ll realise who you were.”
We talk a little bit about the YouTube culture debate, and whether or not there is a divide between the audience and content creators. She believes there is one, but that there shouldn’t be and it’s only perpetuated by how content creators treat their fans.
“Back in the day everyone was so excited to meet their fans but now we do it so often that many treat it like a chore,” she affirms. “I hate to say it, but I think a lot of people now see their fans as money.”
Using Tom Ridgewell as an example of someone who gets it right, she praises him for the time he puts in meeting his fans. “He treats them like human beings. He shows them that they are important to him,” she says. “Because for all he knows these guys could turn out to be these amazing creators who have been inspired by him. I like that mentality.”
“All this stuff that’s happened will help the community move forward…”
We also touch on the current state of the YouTube community as a result of the on-going sexual abuse cases. Bethan, like the majority of us, is shocked and appalled by everything that has happened, but believes we are moving in the right direction.
“All this stuff that’s happened will help the community move forward because it’s identifying the people who shouldn’t be a part of it,” she says. “And it’s not just about casting out the people who have done horrible things, but also identifying the people who still support those YouTubers.
“Back in 2012 there was a lot less of us. We were a lot more enclosed and we all kind of knew that we were all a bunch of nerds just chilling,” she continues. “But now everyone’s making videos, even the popular kids from your high school.”
While this is a bad thing in Bethan’s opinion, she still feels there is a strong underlining community there that is pulling together, not pulling apart. “I recently did a lyric video for Left the Broken and I think that’s a very good representation of the YouTube community coming together,” she explains.
“There’s a lot of YouTubers there. From 100 subscribers to a million. But it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the community,” she affirms. “We are the people who want to create and engage, and for me, that is what YouTube is all about.”
Photos by Rebecca Need-Menear.
Looking for more Bethan Leadley?
Check out our report on Bethan’s tour announcement or our review of the main stage at Summer in the City 2014 on Sunday which she performed at.
To see the full Bethan Leadley: Proving Her Worth magazine cover, check out our Tumblr.
For exclusive photo-sets, follow TenEighty UK on Tumblr:
- Bethan Leadley TenEighty 2014 cover shoot Set 01
- Bethan Leadley TenEighty 2014 cover shoot Set 02
- Bethan Leadley Live at Summer in the City 2014