You know how it works: pretty female singer gets signed by a big record company, marketing men crank into gear, playlists are secured, key territories identified, support slots booked, budgets are spent and, with a bit of luck and a prevailing wind, you've got a hit. That's how the record business works.
Or... you could do it Tina Dico's way. That the 27-year-old has beaten Coldplay and U2 to Number One in her native Denmark is impressive. That she has won the Best Songwriter Grammy and been voted Best Composer at the Danish Music Critics Awards is no mean feat. But the fact she did all this by putting out her music herself – without recourse to the marketing muscles of A Big Record Company – makes her unique. In an age of gimmicks and payola, text-in talent contests and image-first/music-second rock posturing, Tina Dico did it the other way: on the strength of her songs.
"I guess it is quite unusual to start your own label when you're 23 and release your own album in the States when you're 27," she says. "It goes to show you what you can achieve."
Tina Dico was born in Arhus, the second largest city in Denmark, which, with a population of half a million, she points out, "isn't very large". Her upbringing was trauma-free. Mum was a nurse, dad was a carpenter. Dad was also a hi-fi nut. He built speakers and a music room in the basement, and filled the house full of records. It didn't matter what these records were, so long as they sounded good. Tina remembers the Russian opera singers and the German classical concerts and, although her ear was turned by the works of Leonard Cohen and Donovan, there was no musical epiphany. Not just yet.
If you've ever wondered what music lessons for a 12-year-old in a Danish school are like, Tina reveals they're not much to write home about. "We would sing traditional boring Danish songs, from traditional boring Danish songbooks," she says. One day, though, a relief music teacher broke with convention and allowed the class to play whatever instruments they liked. Tina, who wasn't backwards in coming forwards with her appetite for learning, attempted to master the lot: from drums to guitar.
Back at home, she locked herself in dad's music room and started writing songs on an old family piano. Except, they weren't really songs. "It was more like my diary," she says. "Adding verse after verse about what was going on in my teenage life. It got more and more personal. It was my way of dealing with things." Dad, the hi-fi nut, was encouraged. He gave Tina an old reel-to-reel tape machine. Then he built her a microphone. Still, as far as Tina was concerned, none of this was really leading anywhere. "I never imagined I was going to be a musician," she says. "It was way too personal. It was more like a secret sort of meditation."
What Tina needed, of course, was an audience. Aged 15, she got one: friends asked her to sing in their band. "It was an amazing revelation," she says. "To get that reaction. It made me realise how music could make me live in the moment. When you perform music you can't think of anything else. You just exist. You let it flow through you." This was her musical epiphany.
Still, a career in music still seemed unthinkable, and given Tina's love of learning (great grades at school; a silver medal in the Danish basketball championships) she promptly went off to college to study religion. "I was very much into philosophy and western civilisation, so religion seemed a good place to catch both," she explains.
And yet, the music bug had bitten: Tina was drafting lyrics in her religious texts and her mind wasn't really on the classes. Where others might have dropped out, formed a group and toured Europe by Transit, Tina did something else – she enrolled in the Danish Royal College of Music. "I wanted to do music properly," she says. "I got completely sucked into it."
From here, things happened fast. Tina assembled a band. Two of the first gigs she played were talent contests. One was on TV and one was the chance to release a single. She won both. A song "Your Waste Of Time" became a hit and she gigged constantly. Record companies came knocking and Tina signed with a couple, before growing bored with their less-than-speedy operating pace and deciding to go it alone. Since her dad had always ran his own companies, she figured it was in the blood, anyway.
So it came to pass that Tina's company, Finest Gramophone, put out Tina's first album. It sold well. Still only 23, she acquired a publishing deal and moved to England. While she beavered away on her own music, Tina met new people, did some co-writing and became something of a songwriting pen for hire.
Back in Denmark, a second album of Tina's tunes, this time stripped-back and paired-down, was released: Notes. "And it exploded in my face," she says. Notes won the Grammy for Best Songwriter and the highly coveted Danish Music Critics Award for Best Composer. "It wasn't a mainstream album," she says. "It was without promo, without radio airplay. It suceeded through people recommending it to each other."
Meanwhile, in England, Tina had put down vocals on two tracks on Zero 7's acclaimed second album When It Falls – 'Home' and 'The Space Between' – both hailed as modern reboots of Joni Mitchell's sunshine folk. That done, she set off round the world with the electronic duo, playing the enormo-domes of the UK and the US. "What a dream," she says. "To be able to tour for the first time at that level and play the biggest venues, sold out gigs everywhere... amazing."