In this digital age it's hard to keep a persons attention span for greater than 20 seconds, everyone is so busy, we are constantly bombarded by social media updates and our mobile phones are notifying us every 5 seconds! I have tried to keep this biography as short as possible for that reason but compressing 21 years of my life into a few paragraphs was hard to achieve. To make this site unique, I have included pictures that you cannot see anywhere else online and audio clips you cannot steam anywhere else online.
I have tried to be very honest, you will get an insight into my time in musical theatre, what it was like to win a reality TV show alongside being signed to the biggest record label on the planet. I will discuss the highs and lows and talk about my future and how online streaming saved my music career, how I went from zero to 25 million streams. If you want to read my journey, make yourself a drink, turn off your social media and get to know the real Matt Johnson. (Click on any image to enlarge)
The early years
I was born in The Countess of Chester Hospital (United Kingdom) on the 10th September 1985. I spent the early part of my life growing up on a tourist attraction in North East Wales which was owned by my parents John & Hilary Johnson called 'Greenacres Animal Park'. Surrounded by the general public from such an early age I quickly learnt the art of keeping people entertained. We had many animals on the farm including monkeys, llamas and all the usual traditional farm animals such as chickens and cows, the park also had a caravan park and small fairground on site.
My parents employed freelance childrens entertainers from clowns to magicians and this is where I first got the bug for performing. I was fascinated by magic and clowns and making people laugh. After watching the kids shows for a few years I asked one of the entertainers if I could join his show as a little clown. I got myself a costume and that’s when it all began, I was about 7 years old and my name was 'tea-bag the clown'. I performed on the park for a few years and got increasingly involved in entertainment and I even started helping the DJ in the caravan park club house at night.
When I reached 10 years old I attended an audition for a local theatre group. I had never sang before but I knew I loved entertaining so when they asked me to sing at the audition it just sort of came out. I was very lucky and I managed to get a part in the show. The experience of performing in that musical changed my life completely. I became obsessed with music, I joined a local stage school, took piano lessons, dance lessons, acting lessons and began to develop my vocal technique. Over the next year I continued to build a reputation performing in local amateur musical theatre shows.
My First Break
I got my first professional break in 1997 when I auditioned for a musical called ‘The Famous Five’ based on the books by author Enid Blyton. This was a national audition and from hundreds of auditionees I was lucky enough to land one of the four main character parts.
This was a major break for me and I appeared on regional and national TV and I performed to over 100,000 people in some of the UK's most prestigious theatres. I also got to meet Gillian Blyton, the daughter of Enid Blyton which was a great honour.
I continued to perform in musical theatre throughout my teen years. Some of my highlights included playing the 'Artful Dodger' in the West End production of Oliver Twist produced by Cameron Mackintosh. I got to work alongside established names such as Russ Abbott and Gary Willmot. I played the role of Gaverouch in the worlds most successful musical 'Les Miserables' also produced by Cameron Mackintosh.
My teen years were jam packed with music, I did all sorts of different things including Michael Barrymore's 'My Kind Of Music' to singing solo for Queen Elizabeth. I continued performing in musical theatre until my voice finally broke when I turned 15 years old and I could no longer play a childs role.
Pubs, Clubs & Holiday Parks
When I turned 15 years old I was studying for my final year in high school. I always planned to return to musical theatre when I became old enough to play an adult role. One night I saw a singer perform in the local pub. I thought it would be a great idea to start trying to get some local gigs at the weekends to keep up my singing, develop my stage presence and confidence whilst studying for my exams at school. It was also a bonus that I would be able to earn money for something I loved doing.
In the year of 2001 there wasn't any online platforms to promote yourself as a singer like YouTube, Facebook, Myspace, iTunes etc. The 'internet boom' had not begun so the only way to connect with people was to get out there and perform and sell CD's. It wasn't easy to begin with trying to convince venues to hire me at 15 years old. But after some showcases and some haggling with venue bookers I quickly developed a good network of gigs.
After only 12 months on the circuit I was performing at over 12 gigs a month including hotels, clubs, holiday parks to private birthdays. I started to gain a small fanbase across the North West of England & North Wales. I really enjoyed this experience and I think it helped me develop stage craft and it exposed me to a wide selection of music. It was during this time I started becoming interested in pop music.
Life changing audition
"I never thought when I auditioned for Popstars The Rivals it would change my life"
In 2002, ITV1 created a TV talent show called 'Popstars The Rivals' the shows concept was to form a boyband and a girlband. The show was judged by Pete Waterman, Geri Halliwell & Louis Walsh and hosted by Davina McCall. It was a TV talent show where the public were able to vote the winner and in 2002 this was still a relatively new concept. The show was on prime time TV for 6 months and was supported by national and regional newspapers and magazines.
after 6 months
The public votes Me In the boyband
ONE TRUE VOICE
One True Voice became the first boyband in UK history to be formed entirely by public vote. I honestly thought my dreams had come true. Winning a show like that and hearing your name being called out is an unbelievable feeling.
One True Voice were signed to Pete Waterman's record label alongside Jive Records UK. The group had a number two hit with 'Sacred Trust' and 'After You're Gone (I'll Still Be Loving You) and another top 10 chart entry with 'Shakespeares Way With Words' written by Rick Astley. Below are the music videos from One True Voice during 2002/2003. Looking back now I can't believe how young I was!
In the space of just 6 months I had appeared on the front cover of most high street magazines and national newspapers, I got to appear on TV shows such as Des & Mel, This Morning, GMTV, CDUK, Top Of The Pops, Graham Norton and many more. It really was an amazing experience.
The break up of one true voice
Unfortunately, One True Voice were not destined to have a long career as a group. One True Voice split up officially on the 14th June 2003 this was also the same day that our second single was released. The break up was not smooth with tension between band member Daniel Pearce and the rest of the group. Daniel did not inform the band he was leaving and the remaining members only found out in the Sun newspaper which I thought this was really disrespectful.
Daniel blamed the music direction of the group for his departure. One True Voice had the potential to be a great band and sing great songs but we were let down by the A&R process alongside Pete Waterman who got the music direction completely wrong! Daniel Pearce should never have been in One True Voice and he was a major factor in the group ending. The rest of the lads Jamie, Keith and Anton were all amazing guys with the right attitude.
Being signed to a major record label means you have little say in your music and it was widely accepted in the music and media industry that Pete Waterman did not pick the right songs for the band. I do not regret entering Popstars The Rivals as I got to experience and fulfill childhood dreams such as playing Top Of The Pops. It really was an experience of a life time and it changed me and the way I look at things and situations even to this day.
Solo Deal & Fix Factor
After One True Voice split I was offered a solo record deal by Pete Waterman. I was 3 months away from my 18th birthday and there really was no other options available to me at the time, I had no idea of what else to do this was still before the internet boom so the option of selling music independently online was not possible so I signed the deal.
The record deal did not go to plan and Pete Waterman failed to offer any musical direction and he did not give me any studio time. After 12 months of being signed to Pete Waterman and receiving zero support I was at a real low point, I had a phone conversation with Louis Walsh to see if he could offer any help or advice. Louis told me about a new talent show called X Factor and recommended I go along to gain exposure and build up some publicity and create press for myself. I agreed to his idea and a private auditioned was arranged.
This was maybe one of the worst mistakes I've ever made in my career and something I really regret. When I auditioned for X Factor Series 1 in 2004, I was still signed to a record contract with Pete Waterman which was against the show rules. Myself and the X Factor show received a media backlash with one headline in The Sun reading 'The Fix Factor' the whole situation completely backfired on me. I spoke to the shows producers and after only one round I left.
In 2004 with the help of a music lawyer I managed to leave my record deal and cut ties with Pete Waterman. It was becoming really hard and expensive living in London on my own and I decided to move back home to North East Wales to try and figure out what to do with my future as retiring at 18 years old was not an option!
time for a change
I really missed performing on stage and because of my record deal complications and restrictions I had not performed any live shows for over 12 months which I really missed. I decided to change my image and music style as I'd had enough of pop music so I formed a rock/indie band called State Warning. I wanted to distance myself from pop music or anything to do with boybands!
The band stayed together for over 3 years, we achieved moderate success with a sell out Academy tour. We had support slots for Mcfly, and on one occasion opened up for rock legends 'The Who'. Listen below to an early recording of State Warning, you can hear how much my voice has changed over the years. State Warning broke up in 2008, all the members were ready to move on to new things in their music careers, the split was very mutual and we all remain friends to this day.
Matt Becomes A Solo Artist
I continued to do TV shows such as 'Celebrity Fear Factor' for Sky 1 and 'Celebrity Soccer Six'. I think if you search hard enough there may even be the odd clip on YouTube.
I continued to gig relentlessly across the UK. Performing at over 250 gigs per year I was making a full time living as a singer performing at holiday parks, hotels, private events and I even supported Westlife and The Sugababes. The thoughts of releasing my own music again seemed unlikely.
In 2009, I was asked to sing at a friends wedding. This was like no other gig I had performed at before. I could see a potential future for myself singing at weddings instead of holiday parks and hotels. I reached a point in my life where I was sick of touring around holiday parks and staying away from home, the money was not great and I was just looking for a new venture. I set up a website and started singing at weddings and corporate events to try and promote my services, the internet was growing fast and I used that to my advantage to reach potential clients. Within the first 12 months I had performed at over 100 weddings. I was singing in beautiful venues across the UK, my clients included celebrities and premiership footballers, the crowd were always happy and my income had increased considerably. In 2010 I finally discontinued my holiday park work to focus on Wedding & Corporate events.
I continued to build an entertainment business over the next few years and things got so busy that I started booking out other singers as an agent. I moved into hiring out staging, lighting, dancefloors and DJ's as well as booking myself out as a singer. I started to think that singing at events and running my entertainment business would be what I did for the rest of my life, releasing my own music still seemed impossible, little did I know this was about to change in 2012.
Matt Decides to record again
In 2012 I decided that I wanted to build a recording studio of my own, somewhere I can create and write music without the pressures of expensive studio time or trying to work to deadlines. I used my entertainment business to help finance the project, I took a small bank loan and invested £50,000 into a state of the art sound proof studio kitted out with some amazing equipment. It really was a massive project and I used over 500 sheets of construction plasterboards, it took months to complete!!
I still missed being an artist in my own right and releasing my own music. The experience of reality TV had knocked my confidence as an original artist and 9 years had passed since releasing an original commercial single of my own. Some of my compositions over the years have been published by Sony/ATV and have been recorded by other artists including X Factor finalists and featured in various TV shows worldwide.
The Internet changes my life
In November 2013 I released an acoustic cover of 'La La La' by 'Naughty Boy and uploaded it to Spotify & YouTube, I never realised that doing this one cover would change my career path and create such opportunities I thought would never be possible without a record company. Below you can hear my first acoustic cover that I uploaded to Spotify in 2013, it now has over 1.5 million streams on Spotify. You can watch the video on YouTube or listen on Apple music too.
I could now see the massive potential in releasing music online that I never realised existed. I decided to keep uploading music every week covering the latest chart hits. After 4 months I had surpassed a million streams without the help of any record label or promotion it was all down to online sharing. I had a sudden epiphany and suddenly all my previous self doubt about releasing my own music disappeared over night!
Hear the second song I uploaded to Spotify, 'Avicii' 'cover of 'Wake Me Up' which now has over 1,600,000 streams.
I started sharing original song ideas and demos online so everyone could hear them, below is one of the very first original songs I uploaded on Spotify & YouTube back in 2013. The song is called 'Complete'. I wanted to get peoples reactions and involve them in the journey, instead of developing a sound behind closed doors I wanted to involve people online.
Work On My First Album Begins
Writing an album is really hard, trying to figure out who you are as a musician, what is 'your sound', who do you appeal to, there are so many questions you need to answer. The first thing I wanted to do was to find a producer who could help bring my songs and ideas to life, someone who would understand me, my past and where I wanted to go.
I have always been a massive fan of Robbie Williams so I decided to track down a producer called Steve Power. I wrote a letter to him introducing myself and my experiences and asked him if he would meet me, after reading my letter he agreed.. Steve is extemely successful, he has sold over 50 million physical albums worldwide so to get his time and attention was a massive break for me. Steve has worked with the likes of Robbie Williams, Gary Barlow, Kylie, Busted, Elton John, Tom Jones, Mcfly, Joe Cocker & many more.
The meeting with Steve Power went really well, he agreed to record with me and I felt like things were heading in the right direction for the first time in a long time. Steve was extremely busy and I waited 12 months for some studio time to become free. Finally in November 2015 it was my turn to record and I began work on my first original album 'Chaplin Road' with Steve in London.
The experience of recording in London was amazing. It was great to be surrounded by professionals right at the top of their game. Steve has a large list of musicians who have played on countless hit records at his disposal and this helps to produce great music. The studio is on Chaplin Road in London and that inspired the album name. It just felt like the right decision, I felt like that was where I became an original artist again. Steve had given me a chance when a lot of other guys with half his track record might not even take my call, for that reason I am very grateful to him and his engineer Rohan. It was great to have my music mastered at Abbey Road in London, the studio has so much history and just being there makes you feel successful.
Over the past 3 years I have continued to release my acoustic covers online. Things have grown so much in such a small space of time. I remember getting 1000 streams in one week on Spotify when I first started and now it's over 1 million each month! My acoustic covers have charted over 200 times in the iTunes top 200 in over 60 different countries in 3 years and I have received messages from people all over the world who listen to my music and want to support me. The internet has really changed my life. I still love to perform live and I used to book about 150 private gigs a year and now I do about 50 per year as I am so busy with my online music.
get over you
I finally released my first single 'Get Over You' from the album 'Chaplin Road' in August 2016. I visited over 40 radio stations up and down the UK and I started to get some press coverage that I had not had for over a decade, It felt amazing to be back on the road again. The song sold really well online and went to number 18 on iTunes on the day of release, it continues to generate over 1000 streams a day on Spotify and the positive reaction from people has been amazing. The song is available on all good digital platforms worldwide, watch the video below.
Hear the song on Spotify
It's amazing to be in a position to be able to release music the way I want without the stress and pressure that comes with a record deal. I'm not saying I would not want a record deal ever again but at the moment things are going great without having one, so who knows what the future holds for me. Here are some recent press cuttings and articles and photos from my first PR campaign (Summer 2016).
The PR campaign was really exciting, I have been out of the main stream media for a while and I was shocked to see how much people got onboard. The response to the first single was fantastic and things are off to a great start. Running a campaign to lead up to an album is a long process and getting press and exposure from the very first single release is a great sign.
STILL IN LOVE WITH YOU
My second single from my album 'Chaplin Road' is called 'Still In Love With You'. You can hear the single online now by clicking here. Watch the official video below. Don't forget to add the track to your Spotify playlists.
I'm really enjoying music at the moment and I am in a better position now than I've ever been. I love uploading acoustic covers online and I want to continue doing that for as long as possible. I continue to book gigs and I'm excited about doing my own tour in 2017 alongside releasing my album Chaplin Road. One thing I've learned over the last two decades is music in not my job, it's not my hobby, it's part of me and it's who I am.