Establishing a music career in North America is hard enough when you’re a North American. Now imagine you are in a very small country, far away, where English is not the first language, there are a few travel markets, and yes, the whole country is still in a devastating economic crisis.
These were the obstacles when Athens, Greece-based artist Stella Cronopolu started publishing music like this – Tela In 2012. As an English-singer synth-pop musician in a country where folk, traditional themed Greek music still reigns supreme, Ateler’s chances for a long-term career are slim. Yet almost eight years later, he has amassed a collection of millions of Spotify streams and he recently received an international release for his stellar third album, Break, Medium Arbutas Records (Montreal label that introduced fellow electro-pop outsiders Grimes, Magical Clouds, And Doldrum For the world) and a publishing deal with Seattle Sub Pop Records. Here, Atella explains how she has been able to expand her reach even while living in a country that exists within the perimeter of the global indie-music landscape.
Spotify for Artists: When you started, what kind of music scene existed around you?
Table: There was a kind of scene here, but it was mostly like a rock scene. Some people were doing pop music, but I don’t think there are many [pop artists] Greece. I’m starting to do what I love to do – something I’ve heard all my life. I didn’t think about what I was doing – I didn’t want to fit anywhere. I uploaded three songs and left them for free download. That’s how it all started.
What was your method of noticing?
In the beginning, this independent label from Greece saw me. We made a deal for two records. I didn’t want a deal for two records then, but that’s what they wanted. I sing in English, and a lot of people in Greece just listen to Greek music – like, traditional folk music – so I thought I had no future here; I knew it from the beginning. I’ve always been sending my music to labels in the United States or England, all over the world. But I was not as determined as I had been in the last two years.
How would you describe the Greek music industry?
A musician in Greece can do just a few things and you can count them on your hands. There are people out there who listen to me, but that’s a small amount. Greece is a country of 100 million people, and most of these people listen to Greek folk music, as I said. I’ve played all the big cities, I’ve done rounds – and it’s a small round. I wanted my music to be part of an international conversation.
You played festivals like South by Southwest. Many European countries, such as Norway and Denmark, have funding programs to help their artists perform around the world – does it exist in Greece?
Forget it! There is nothing here. We are very poor. We’re just coming out of this insane crisis where people didn’t have food to eat – so, it doesn’t. I love my country, but that part is bad. For South by South West, I just applied – I didn’t have a booking agent then. I didn’t have the money to go, so this radio station sponsored me and I also got some money from my previous label – instead of shooting a music video, they gave me that money to buy tickets. Minor things like this would happen, so I held on to it – I thought either I would sign my favorite label, or I was going to die. [laughs] I felt strong about it.
How did you go about connecting with an international label?
My second Album Came out in 2017, and since then, I’ve been looking for an international label. I was emailing a label that you can imagine every day, like, 10 hours a day the same people, three or four times, over and over again. I was really determined to get to hell from here! In December 2017, I started talking to Sebastian [Cowan] From Arbutus, and before we talked for about a year he asked me if I wanted to work with them.
What attracted you to Arbutas?
I love their artists so much:Shawn Nicholas Savage One of my favorites. And I thought I would fit in with their words. Of all these people, Sebastian was probably the only one I was talking to who was very present. I’ve never met him – and still haven’t, because I’m in Athens and he’s in Montreal – but I’ve felt from the beginning, talking via email, that he’s very There, You know what I mean? It really made an impression. Interestingly, just a few months before I agreed to sign with Arbutas, I sent my album to Sub Pop A&R, and he replied to me two months later, “Sorry, I hope you didn’t leave it to me. – I really like the record, can I share it with people around the office? Gareth Smith, then head of sub-pop publishing, wrote back to me, “I can’t stop listening to your album, I really like it – are you working with a publisher?” And I said, “No! I have no one, I have no publisher, I have no label, I have nothing! So then he was,” We need you to find a label, because I have a label to work with. Needed. “So two months later, I signed with Arbutas to get it resolved. It’s funny: first I got a publisher, and then I found a label, which was weird.
A lot of people think that you need to have all these connections to get ahead in this industry, but you’re basically saying that constant cold-calling can stop.
You have to push. This is what I learned. You have to push constantly. Even if you go to work with the people you want to work with, you have to push.
To any artist who is reading this who comes from a small country, what would you say is the most important thing for building an international career?
I hate to give advice, but I’m going to say something that isn’t actually advice. The only thing that matters is to really concentrate and feel really strongly about what you want to do. That’s all I can say. Whether you come from Greece or Guatemala – if you really, really, really want to do something, you’re going to do it. At some point, something is going to happen. There’s no way you’re trying, like, 10 years and nothing’s going to happen. There are no more roads. It’s just insisting, and believing in what you do.
– Stuart Berman