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From Academy of Pop Music to Pinkpop

  • Music

Is it your dream to play at Pinkpop? As a student in the Bachelor programme at the Academy of Pop Music (Popacademie) part of the ArtEZ Academy of Music in Enschede, it was also one of Alex Freise’s dreams to play his own rock music at the best festivals around. On June 17, this dream came true for him when he got the chance to play at Pinkpop with his band Ten Times A Million, the members of which all met during their studies at ArtEZ. So, Alex is definitely the person to ask: what does the path from ArtEZ student to Pinkpop look like?

Alex Freise, guitarist of the band Ten Times A Million and former student at the ArtEZ Academy of Music in Enschede

The band’s origins at the Academy of Pop Music

“We all studied at the Academy of Pop Music in Enschede,” Alex recalls, a guitarist himself, talking about the band, which also includes singer Martin Duve, guitarist Peter Muller, bassist Sem Christoffel and drummer Mart Nijen Es. “If you already have a penchant for rock music, you’ll end up bumping into each other a lot within a course like this. You end up working on the same projects more often, getting to know each other, and playing together a lot. The band officially started once we had all graduated, but its real foundation was all the time we spent playing together during the course, which prepared us.”

The Ten Times A Million band members, all of whom are alumni from the Academy of Pop Music at the ArtEZ Academy of Music in Enschede. Photo: Tjeerd Derkink

This foundation wasn’t only a musical click. “We all became best friends during our studies,” Alex says. “The singer, drummer and I lived together in Enschede, as did the guitarist and bassist. We became a family - and that’s still the case now, even though we don’t live together anymore. I think that people can see when we’re onstage that we are our own unit.”

Put the gear in the van and go

“Right after we graduated in 2012, we threw all our equipment into Martin’s camper van and decided to go around a little bit,” Alex recalls. “We all had this mindset of; alright, we’re on vacation now, the weather’s nice, let’s go play a few shows, then we’ll come back and just see what happens. We already had two or three of our own songs at the time, the rest were covers. We came to understand a lot from that short tour. It was the moment when we all realized; wow, this is something special. Because it had been about three weeks all together in a small RV. If you’re still having fun with the five of you after that... you’re a good mix.”

Rebranding ourselves made things a lot easier for our booking agent to get us into a festival like Pinkpop.

“We went to Poland and the Czech Republic for a few informal shows. Quite a few unexpected things happened. For example, in Warsaw, we were playing at a university quad and it became flooded with people listening to us. It was a bizarre tour; nothing was planned but it became a success. On a small scale, of course, but for us personally, it really was a success. When we all came back when the trip was over, we each had that feeling of; this is The Band and we need to get serious about it.”

Getting into the Pinkpop line-up

The band was originally called Mandrake’s Monster, but the name changed to Ten Times A Million in 2018. Alex: “This was a really important step for us that also helped us get to Pinkpop. We used the name change to rebrand ourselves a bit. A different style, different band photos, different songs... when we were travelling around in the camper, we played hard rock and wore bandanas. That, alongside the fact that we had the word monster in the name, gave people the idea that this was really something hard. In time we realised that we didn’t want to be stuck only playing hard rock. We wanted to be able to experiment with other genres and songs, and do more than just play heavy guitar music. So we decided to choose a name that you couldn’t readily associate any style with, which made it easier for our booking agent to get us into the Pinkpop line-up.”

The road to Pinkpop

But what does the path look like before you actually get to Pinkpop? Alex: “The main goal is always to write high-quality songs, since without that none of it works. In 2018, after we had become Ten Times A Million, we signed a deal with the label JuiceJunk Records. Aside from the music itself, something essential for this kind of thing to work is the team around the band. You need people like a booking agent that gets you to Pinkpop, a label that believes and invests in you, a good management that attracts partners for you, and a distribution party like Suburban that helps make sure your track is available everywhere. Of course, there is no how-to guide to finding these kinds of people. Some are already in your network, but you can also simply approach people. It can be as straightforward as making a good EPK (Electronic Press Kit) and just writing to people and asking if they are interested in collaborating. That's where many things can start."

If someone called us tomorrow, asking if we wanted to come and play a song on 3FM's morning show or Radio 2, everyone would be there. You have to have that kind of flexibility and priority if you want to succeed in this business.

“As a bandmember, you also have to prioritise the band, and not be doing ten million other things. All of us are involved in things outside of the band, too -- but if someone called us tomorrow, asking if we wanted to come and play a song on 3FM's morning show or Radio 2, everyone would be there. You have to have that kind of flexibility and priority if you want to succeed in this business."

Ten Times A Million was originally booked for Pinkpop 2020. We all know the reason why this edition (and the 2021 edition) was cancelled, but how did the band ensure that it would still make it to the next line-up the following year? "We tried to stay relevant within the framework of what is possible during a pandemic," Alex says, looking back on the things the band did, which included: "providing livestreams, continuing with song writing, keeping on releasing singles.... Props to our booker; our booker was the main reason that we were asked to perform at Pinkpop in 2020 and why that invitation was still extended this year. All we could do was making sure we kept up with the times and stayed relevant.”

Right before going onstage, I do a standing meditation. This helps to remind myself: I am going to give it my best and enjoy what I’m doing.

Nailing it

Finally, the performance at Pinkpop at Megaland in Landgraaf was scheduled for 17 June 2022. We spoke to Alex a few days before the big moment. "During the few days beforehand, you do as little unrelated things as possible so that you can focus," he explained. "This is a very important show for us; there are going to be many eyes on it. We really have to nail it. But you can't put too much pressure on it either, because then things will definitely go wrong. You have to make it as fun as possible for yourself, because it is so unique. It's a balance between feeling the pressure and enjoying it. Personally, I deal with it through meditation. For example, right before I go on stage, I take a moment to be with myself. It might look a bit strange, since I close my eyes and do a standing meditation. It helps me tune into the moment, be really present, and say to myself, 'I'm going to give it my best and enjoy what I’m doing.'”

On the day of the Pinkpop gig, Alex recorded a vlog- check it out below (in Dutch)!


Absorbing info like a sponge

What’s the best tip that Alex can offer to current ArtEZ students to get to where he and his friends have gotten? “Do what is interesting for you with a clear vision and (ideally) with the right people. If something just feels 'right', for example, if you end up always feeling positive while you’re working in the studio, then you’re on the right track. Specifically for those at the Academy of Pop Music, try to be like a sponge in your first two years, soaking up everything, so that your own inner compass will be clear and strong during your next steps. You have a lot more flexibility in years three and four of the programme, so you can make the most of that to suit your own interests. Be sure to ask yourself: what exactly do I want to do and where do I want to go? I liked that I could choose which teachers I wanted to work with, both from inside and outside the school. If you just follow your own compass, you will find the right teachers for you – and they will find you.”

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