“I had grown up with my parents telling me that I absolutely should not go into music because there’s no security. They would tell me horror stories of people they knew who had not made it in music and then had nothing. They never thought it was a career, and I kind of took that to heart, and I believed them,” beatboxer and producer Beardyman shared when asked about the path leading into his now successful music career. Despite the warnings, however, he continued to follow his passion, ultimately finding sustainability through fans who supported his unique set of abilities.
Beardyman, born Darren Alexander Foreman, picked up the skill of beatboxing as a child, making music in whatever format and with whatever resources he had. “I was a weird kid that made noises — from the age of three I was making noises and I was always imitating things,” Foreman explained. “The first time I ever got any recognition of any sort, really, was beatboxing. And it was an all-consuming passion for years. I’ve always wanted to make music any way that I can, and that’s always interested me more than the purism of sticking to one particular technique, methodology, or instrument.”
Even though he always wanted to make music, it took pursuing other career paths to make him realize he couldn’t avoid being creative. “I had some shit jobs,” he shared. “I worked in a bank. I worked in cafes, and I worked in a computer game shop. I worked in call centers. All of that only served to show me that I wasn’t really cut out for the working world, or that I would struggle if I did it because my mind just keeps wandering and generating things, poetry and music, and art. I just couldn’t stop.”
That inability to stifle his creative drive pushed him to compete in the U.K. beatbox championship in his early twenties. His unique capacity for implementing humor into his sets resonated with judges. He became the first beatboxer to win the title of UK Beatbox Champion two years in a row.
“I was like okay because this is beatbox and it’s new and beatbox was quite en vogue and becoming mainstream and I was part of it becoming mainstream at the time, I saw that I could have a place in it,” he shared. “So I won the UK beatbox championship twice in a row, and I really tried hard to do that because I knew that that was as close as I could get to like, a qualification that would actually be worth a damn in music.”
After proving to himself that he was more than qualified to make it in music, Beardyman found success playing smaller shows in Brighton. Then, he came across the opportunity to share his rhythmic mouth-mimicking on a larger stage: BBC One’s talent show When Will I Be Famous, which ultimately landed him national notoriety.
“The exposure that it got me was perfect,” he explained. “I got bookings all over the place. I got booked to play at this massive drum and bass night where all the people that I’d respected for years in the drum and bass scene were all doing their thing and then there’s me, with a little looper, beatboxing. A year before that I’d not been known at all, just playing in a cafe and working in a bank.”
After national competitions pushed Beardyman into the spotlight, he had a decision to make. How would he continue to make music, and who would he make music with? He had worked with both major and independent labels but ultimately felt more at home running everything on his own, even if that meant not pursuing a typical path to success.
“I’ve only ever had brief flirtations with the mainstream,” he said. “When I worked with other bigger artists who have been more focused on the mainstream and its needs, that’s been an illuminating experience because it’s clear to me that it doesn’t suit me. You really feel that friction of having to rub up against this huge machine and the sort of populace at large that they’re trying to satisfy. When you’re part of a big machine, you feel it.”
Beardyman’s various talents don’t fall squarely into a specific niche so, like many artists, traditional revenue sources were never a good fit for him. Patreon made it possible for him to connect directly with fans who already followed his work and loved him for his versatility, no big machine required.
“If you make stuff which doesn’t fit into the very narrowly prescribed criteria of any of these mainstream platforms, then you’re going to need a way of getting paid that doesn’t rely on those platforms at all,” he shared. “Patreon is the best way of doing that.”
Although the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the creative community, making it impossible for musicians to generate income from typical revenue streams such as in-person shows, Beardyman can still see the silver lining. Now, he’s offering more live streams, behind-the-scenes content, and crowdsourced material for his patrons; projects he already had in the works, but fast-tracked with the advent of COVID-19.
“With Patreon, you get to have a direct relationship with the people who love your work for the same reasons you do,” he shared. “And those are the people that you’re trying to satisfy. The people who like your work for its own sake. You don’t need to compromise what your art is for the sake of people’s tastes who would never want to listen to it anyway. You don’t need to adapt yourself to someone else’s vision of what your art should be.”
Because of his connection with his audience, Beardyman is hopeful and optimistic about the future, both for his own career and for the art world in general. To him, the benefits of the internet —allowing artists to sidestep the industry's gatekeepers and reach their fans directly—far outweigh the downsides.
“It’s now possible to make any kind of art you want on a tiny budget,” he said. “The equipment that’s needed to make incredible art is now affordable for the majority of people, so there are more people than ever making art. And because everyone can see each other’s art, the standard is raising and raising all the time. I wouldn’t be able to name an art form that isn’t dramatically improving at the moment. Creativity has been completely democratized and those barriers to entry are gone. What has been lacking is the ability to remunerate those creators for the things that they’re doing — and that’s where Patreon is amazing.”