Today’s Music Business vs. Artistic Vision

I just read the Bob Lefsetz article on Today’s Music Business.

The short of it is that data on social media dictates the business above any of the music. Record labels capitalise on that which already gains traction.

And usually what gains traction needs that viral train wreck, shock value so it’s instantly shareable and can catch fire.

That’s not music anywhere near in it’s full art form.

But labels, don’t care about that, they care about money.

So, if you are keen on garnering as much attention as possible, getting mindshare and being talked about so much it leads to a major deal and beaucoup bucks, get cracking on with your short hooks on Tik Tok.

Otherwise, the better approach is to accept the reality of the situation, then ignore the business trends of today and steer your own path with your own vision.

You might not make any money at all, but you’ll be fulfilled knowing that you’ve made that which you want to make without pandering to any of the lower common denominator nonsense.

You might build an audience, a small viable audience that appreciates you for who you are and respect your integrity and willingness to dance on the edge. And if Kevin Kelly is right, 1000 true fans is all you need to get somewhere.

Dancing on the edge of failure.

There’s a common thread with records I regard as my favourite releases of the year.

And it is that they take risks.

Take ‘Pang’ by Caroline Polachek, where the album is full of wild production choices, insane use of vocals both in lead and accompaniment and unique sound worlds.

Or ‘Sawayama’ by Rina Sawayama that sounds as equally influenced by Nu Metal as it does Britney Spears and unapologetically tackles themes of dysfunctional families.

Nothing makes my eyes roll quite like music that plays it safe. Predictable choices through and through with structure, sounds, and performance.

That’s what the radio seems to lap up, and the majors for the most part. There’s a refusal by many to take risks and choices made to cater for what people think other people like.

But what I’m interested in is bold, courageous creativity that doesn’t pander for anything else. Uncompromising artistic vision made with integrity.

That means it might not work, most of the time it won’t, but when it does, that’s where the real magic happens!

Coming Soon…Live at Ratio Studios

One of the most frustrating things for musicians during this whole era has been the inability to get out and play in front of audiences.

Restrictions where we live have even made it hard for us to get rehearsals together.

After months of planning, myself, Miff and Jiff recorded a full live Kinky Wizzards set comprising of our last two albums.

We had an absolute ball making it and was in an incredible space, and we look forward to sharing it with you soon.

To the wire

My mind always boggles at the fact that Peter Jackson didn’t see the final cut of Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King until the premier, simply because they were still doing a few final edits.

The difference between work and art is that when you work you want to do the bare minimum, when you do art, you want to do everything possible.

The latter is an amazing bug, but the amount of times I’ve agonised over a piece of music, bounced, rebounced and then still finding things to tweak!

It’s sometimes good having a deadline imposed upon you. The pressure, the adrenaline and the need to get it done all sets you off on a relentless mission to get everything done in the precious amount of time you have.

Finding something that you can commit to, give your all and spend a phenomenal amount of energy on…is a blessing.

How I organise my sessions

I think I’ve recovered from last week’s adrenaline rush of a recording session.

This is my sixth album, and producing them are always an enormous undertaking, especially the ones I do on my own so I have to have a system in place to which I can organise everything because otherwise, I’m drowning in hundreds, maybe even thousands of audio files! I thought I’d share some of the administrative processes I have in place.

Here goes.

1. Title everything properly

Give each song a working title that’s clear and distinct. It’ll save you time as you won’t be trying to remember what the name of the demo is when you’re trying to open it up!

2. Mark all arrangements

Write in where your intros end, your verses, your choruses etc. Visualising the arrangement of your song makes it so much easier to get a macro view of everything!

3. Colour code everything

This is another essential visual aide. You’ll be able to see your drums, guitars and vocals etc. much more clearly. Also use different shades for different things of the same instrument, for e.g. clean and distorted guitars. Also colour code your files! Mine are red.

4. Write up documentation on track progress

Track what progress you’ve made and outline what you need to do next. This could be a tick system. I like using tables these days. It is an aide to helping you see how far you’ve come along on your creative journey and what’s to be done next!

5. Journal conceptualisation

Lyrics, track titles, orders, artwork, additional personnel. Keep it in a handwritten journal and document all your thoughts. It’s a great way to gather your ideas and make concrete choices moving forward.

6. Have a ‘Finals’ folder

Final mixes, final masters, final artwork, final liner notes. Move it all to a designated and clear folder to which you can scrutinise every detail with a fine tooth comb and declare that it is all ready to launch!

7. Back everything up!

The much needed contingency for accidental deletion or computer malfunction. Back it up on an external hard drive and back it up on the cloud. It’s an act of kindness for your future self!

Vision comes to life

This has been a wonderful week for me. A lot of which is to do with the title, a vision coming to life.

Musical ideas I’ve been working on for a year came together in the studio. I also helped other musicians achieve their visions in the studio. I am honoured to be involved with so many projects and I’ll be sharing them as soon as I can!

Finally, I managed to attend a rehearsal of a string quartet who agreed to work on my piece. I cannot tell you how I elated I was to hear human performers playing a piece I wrote after months dealing with Sibelius midi and sample libraries.

It was a week where hard work from many people resulted in magical moments.

These heightened moments don’t happen every week. Many times, you have to thrash, grind and merely do the work and sometimes, it’s very hard to keep motivated.

But the moments I experienced this week are why I keep persisting through the tougher moments.

Lean into it

Recording vocals is an enormously challenging task.

Not only is the post production process a real challenge in terms of balance, automation, EQ, compression and making a voice sit in the mix, it’s also getting the right take, in the right space and at the right time.

Frustratingly, some people are born with an innate ability to just sing and that is that.

The rest of us have to work hard and then some.

The perceptions of a good performance can become murky quite quickly. Forget X factor culture, (which I could easily provide a extended rant about), Judi Dench’s performance of ‘Send in the Clowns’ is a fascinating case study for me because it’s out of tune, technically on a vocal level, somewhat wrong, but despite all that, it’s so right!

The reason I think it worked is because she found the soul and the narrative of the song.

I was producing a singer today who has a lovely voice but for whatever reason, her voice just wasn’t capturing what I knew it could. I then realised, she was too self aware, too unrelaxed and I needed to find little ways I could support, encourage her and help her find that spark.

I turned the studio lights off, I then turned the control room and then asked her to tell me what the song was about. It was one that required vulnerability and a sense of pathos and as soon as that became the focus, the performance changed, words were sung more softly, things were held back, a phrase changed naturally and…magic!

I knew there was more though, so I told her she was there and just needed to lean in a little more.

We got the take.

It was a hugely enriching moment for the three of us (there was an additional band member) in the studio and I was proud of what we had achieved.

I like the whole idea of leaning into something.

And whilst it happened today in this scenario, I think it is possible to lean in elsewhere.

Recording ‘real’ instruments

I was reading Slipperman’s guide to recording distorted guitars from hell.

Besides being irreverent, grumpy, shouty, sweary and quite frankly hilarious, it is also highly informative and you learn a lot about the painstaking hours that goes into the craft of recording distorted guitars. It’s an EQ mind field with so many possibilities for things to go horrendously wrong.

He took a real stab at people who record using digital amps, to which I wanted to stand up and applause!

Because if you get a killer sound with killer gear though, you are onto something.

And people do not appreciate the effort of this enough these days!

Don’t get me wrong, I think the emancipation of recorded music is a good thing and everyone can put themselves out there but whilst the whole notion that you can make some things sparkle in quality with a small interface and a laptop is somewhat applicable, it ain’t got nothing on the real deal!

Listen to the opening two tracks of ‘Dirt’ by Alice in Chains, (and then the whole album for that matter). A painstaking amount of hours of thought and effort went into that record and Jerry Cantrell’s guitars sound is UNBELIEVABLY gnarly…heads and shoulders above so many guitar sounds from records today.

I don’t like the fact that so many records that are released today are artificial. I wish there were more records with real guitar and amp set ups, real drums and more mic’ed up stuff in general.

I think it is a gateway that makes it more likelier to make something unique and innovative. I’m not saying this can’t be achieved without it, but nevertheless I crave for more of this aesthetic.

And it’s why I’m proud that I’ve gone out of my way to record in a studio with all of this going on. This last weekend, we spent hours setting up…HOURS before actually pressing the record button. Moving mics, choosing cabs, pedals, guitars, moving knobs and making some informed decisions about what it actually is we are after sound wise.

Either way, what you get in is what you get out, and I applaud effort put into a record and dismiss laziness when I hear it.

From the player, to the gear, to the environment to the actual music itself, there are so many facets which make this whole process endlessly fascinating to me!

It’s worth considering all the options, possibilities and where your voice is in all of it.

Back in the studio

Over the last few days, myself, Aled Lloyd and Andrew Bishop travelled to mid Wales and recorded drums and guitars for my second album.

The studio we are in is Giant Wafer, and it’s an absolutely beautiful environment to create music in.

The direction I have taken with this new record is very different to anything I have done before and I look forward to sharing more details with you.

In the meantime, here are some photos of us in action.

Recording a live performance.

We are in an age where recording devices are aplenty. As is the ability to manipulate the recording to make something appear to be a full take when it’s not.

I take pride when I can do a full performance of something, but sometimes things need editing.

Some people have the privilege and means to record in an environment with endless time to make their craft.

A lot more of us if we do have that space have a precious amount of time in there.

Adrenaline kicks in and we are aware of every error. A 4 minute performance is marred in our head because of an error that took place in a second.

Though, for all this pressure, it’s easy to underestimate a quality that is important.

We are humans, making mistakes and errors is part of the process of making something. When so much has gone well in a take, is it really worth discrediting because of one minuscule discrepancy that only you (or the real analytical snobs) can discern?

There’s also a charm in the imperfection of a note as well.

There’s a subjectivity here, a need for careful judgement, but I know for a fact that aiming for perfection alone sets up a trap for ourselves.