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Retro.Again.Tomorrow.

“Somedays i think to myself, damn you Daft Punk. Look what you went and did.”

R Bell – Something id come up with.

The current fervour and passion for all things retro and vintage has blossomed into this killer triffid looming around music genres and casting its old school spell upon the masses.
I hear generic sayings like ‘music is all cyclic, and things come up again and again’
Well yeah they do, but i dont personally think its all rehashing for the sake of it.
Its something that has happened a lot further back than just harking to the 60s or the pioneering of the 80s. Its been happening all around us in all forms of expressive art for hundreds of years.
A generation absorbs and then creates its interpretation and the next one comes along, maybe misreads some of the content and adds on its own interpretation of that musical form or a mood swimming around a catchy track.Its hardly a new phenomenon but its always surprising to see how many think its a unique event happening right now.

The resurgence of using synths more prominently in our creative hub has been rebirthed ever since we had our very first soft synths. Those original never been done before pieces of code placed into a DAW still in its transition from a 90’s relic to a modern studio tool.
It changed our desire and methods of creating.
From a room full of time consuming and expensive equipment, to a simple box and a bunch of hard drives later…..
In the box became the buzz word.
Its a clutch of words that almost makes me wretch as hard as “total game changer” in modern over used ways to pigeon hole a simple evolution.
We are finding ourselves positively spoilt for choice and at a price so much kinder than the tags of the 70s and 80s. Yet it shall not quell our voices of disdain that we have to pay for actual hardware!?!?
I think some of the generation coming up have tasted too many instances of torrent sites and freebies, the sheer proposition of buying real instruments scares the living day lights out of some.
Their is just no limit on how you find your musical voice. It can be nourished with just a few simple instruments and tools, it can be found with a laptop and a pair of cans.
Its their among an ocean of complex modular units, or simply nestling in your head not yet affected or compromised by choices.
When Tron legacy arrived, something a bit stealthy happened and i dont think anyone saw it coming in the manner it did.

Someone else made synths relevant again, albeit fairly subtly.

Artists of decades past are then suddenly name dropped in every conversation and a healthy boost in Tangerine Dream albums sales ensued.
Those who mocked and proclaimed it wouldn’t pan out, it will never last, are now just forgotten mumblings of several years disproved. All the while posting pics of a hardware synth they told you 5 years ago you’d be stupid to invest in.
I adore the fact their is such a high passion for it, and i dare not say ‘again’ as its so dismissive and it dilutes the legitimate ownership synths and samplers have in musical culture and the landscape.
They are all as deeply relevant and valuable to me as scores of treasured guitars from the last 60 years.Just as important, just as vocally unique in their delivery.
The one thing i do wish is, everyone would embrace the research into music in this arena as passionately or as detailed as they do for other more traditional forms.
I wouldn’t propose we all go music concrete and Pierre Shaeffer on it, but just brush up a little wouldn’t hurt.

Their are a treasure trove of film scores made almost entirely of synths, samplers and tape edits. And equally a mountain of tv shows and themes, scores from the last 30 or so years.
It really didnt just pop up from nowhere because of Stranger Things.
Some of us plainly forgot, others have never heard music like this at all, hence some really random name drops of who they think it sounds like to them.
Im glad its not a phase of any kind. case in point, from the hey day of the 80s, it has by no means peeled back, you just didnt see it hidden behind sax solos and guitar chugs and horn melodies.
Admittedly, during the 90s, for me personally, it was a very confused and wounded bird.
All areas of synth genre and the way the industry was pushing the workflow and ease of use side of the development, it was only going to go one way.
It was due a collision and i think that took place in the late 90’s into the noughties.

Im a big fan of these cycles we speak of. I do love hearing re interpretations and fresh excitement for something familiar to you and i, but less so to someone else.
I think its safe to say i am very much a passionate ambassador for synthetic rights!!ha.
The impact made by synths and samplers in the last 30 years has sent ripples into music and those ripples will never, ever thin out. The pool is richer for its arrival and constant evolution.

cow

Milking Cows For Bacon.

I love the interwebs. It connects me to fun sayings like ‘Love, peace n chicken grease‘ and shows me short videos of ‘cats doing funny shit’ on an unavoidable basis.
I love it because it allows a steady free flow of useful and not so productive information and although im quietly celebrating that fact, Wiki searching who was in what, and how well the currency rate is actually fantastic for me post Brexit, it also means their is no limit to learning and finding out workable solutions for daily work issues.
The other benefit is of course you wonderful people. Warts an all.
From the deeply cynical, micro FB celebrity to hugging all the trees and sipping green tea.

We all arrive at the table with our questions. The interweb is the finest round table known to us now and finding what we need from the right person is also part of that challenge.
It shouldn’t be should it? I mean i dont go to a car mechanic and think hes my goto guy for plumbing problems.

Nor do i head for a small tea room and ask for a large beer and a porterhouse.
So thats kinda where im at in full head scratching glory this wonderful Autumn afternoon.

Why do we make the job of finding out something so much harder than it needs to be?
We aren’t asking the right questions in the right location, and we def aren’t asking the right people.
In practice, it has meant ive been asked for a huge amount of things i couldn’t possibly answer or assist with.
Im not a game score composer, so def not the goto guy for breaking into that industry tips.
Im not a label owner or a publisher, so their is only a certain amount of info i can give.

It frustrates me purely because i cannot fathom how that helps anyone?
And i honestly from the heart, do want to see all my friends and colleagues succeed.
But its hard going sometimes cos despite not being one of those guys who says, ‘you’re eating into my valuable time’, i really dont think that at all btw. Its frustrating because we are running around like headless chickens some days and ALL of us are losing time and headway when we could be doing one of two very valuable things.

1: Making a good product – Wonderful music suitable and fit for purpose.
2: Spending time with family and any form of amusement/happiness that isn’t work related.

Im not saying we are all clueless buffoons floundering  around like gormless village idiots, but we sure arent making it easy for ourselves.
Their are just a few select trusted people i do readily ask for career advice, and some ill entrust my music to and i know that despite the heavy critique and brutal honesty, once i have wiped away the tears of mediocrity from my cheek, they will give me perfect guidance.
When i need technical expertise, their are obvious channels to go down and advice that is tailored more for me cos i know the people i ask are also in the same kinda field, cutting down the same corn and heading to market much like myself.
It is imperative to get good advice from those who have a track record. Not because its in any way elitist, its because it makes good common sense. If i spend time asking people i really like how to perfect something im trying to do in my work or career, it will be far less insightful than someone who has tried a 100 ways and failed, learned to get it done right and lived to tell the tale.

Ask each other the right questions. Stop looking for all the short cuts or compliments.
If you need your crumpets buttered and the jam inserted into your doughnuts, goto your family.
They will listen to any crap you make and insist you are an unsung, undiscovered Jerry Goldsmith waiting to happen., but for reality checks and things you need to hear, ask people who know.
And those who aren’t afraid to break it down. Dont go running away tale between your legs slagging off the critique.

Embrace all the brutal truths. The more it pains to hear it, the better the 180 flipside when you go and fix them all.
This counts for technical help, musical guidance, business advice, social networking, just about any facet  of your career and passion.
Sometimes during this little journey we are undertaking, you will hit lots and lots of cross road moments. Now the really big ones need no introduction or fuss, their are times in life when the wife gets a big promotion and you need to move 500 miles.
Or something big is changing your life direction, but the fact remains all the accumulative
smaller decisions amount to something equally ground shifting.
You just dont see life coming to the same degree if you make 20 good or bad mistakes, but the end accumulation is something of your own construction.

Their are colleagues out in the ether ive watched with total glee as they declared some big mighty goals that seemed airy and beyond grasp, only to clutch them in their fists some 2-3 years later, because they DID ask the right people, in the right places and took all the beatings required along the way.
In equal amounts, you will have many who fall by the wayside, ‘i dont know how you do it? why are you making money and im not? why doesnt anyone want my music but they want your shit? ‘All i wanna write is trailer music………..
Its not a smug declaration of my view versus the world, i have to say having spent countless years and years thinking i knew all the answers, it is with a big slice of humble pie id had to be honest with myself and say, a lot of this wont work unless i just ask.

Ive had convos with lots and lots of really lovely people who have fought their way to the top. And not a single one of them, despite big massive hollywood success and hit tv shows, have started out with a clean sheet.
Every one of them will tell you tales of misguided adventure and enthusiasm, being fired many many times, opening as many wrong doors as the ones we need to walk through.
Its a process. All of it. From a mid level hack like myself, to big advertising guys, sound design geniuses, score composers who are the next big thing. It is all a process but just try your very best to at least head directly to the people you need to be around.

Open the doors to rooms that at least make sense.

"The Beginning" Road Sign with dramatic blue sky and clouds.

5 years on, new location, new beginning.

It has been a long and diverse road one has been on and i can say hand on heart, i never expected things to work out. Im not a pessimist, maybe an ardent realistic with a hint of what if and im guilty of trying to cover all my bases, but it has been a ride and im not ready to jump off just yet.

Writing music for a sector of the industry is no mean feat. Its even tougher making some returns to pay for the investment you make in terms of time and effort.
Your time is after all worth a lot more than you realise.
Having survived professionally for these past few years has taught me what feels like a lifetime of lessons. About people, the market place, the value of relationships and the need to forge ahead with new ones and expanding the network.

But its not a professional lifetime, it was some 20+ years of “hobbyist” at best and im the first to pay respects to that fact and what that period also delivered back to me.
When their is no pressure on you to come up with something, you spend all this time taking really wild and indulgent risks. My childhood mentor used to say to me with frequency, i was massively guilty of indulgent flights of fancy and writing and producing work that seemed to go in all directions but never walked a straight road.
But that was a good thing as it saturated the bank of tricks and broadened my colour pallet to such an extent, you have this enormous flood wealth of ideas and ways to interpret the same thing in a 1000 different ways.
Being the lifelong hobbyist has most certainly been the luggage i brought with me to delve into, not sling along as a weighty back pack of bad habits.

About 4 weeks ago from this blog date, we moved into our first house. Having lived in a cramped apartment, all 3 of us for 15 years, it was a test for sure! and it has enabled me to feel a 100 times more grateful for this new space and indeed location.

In previous blogs of old, and not just from me, you will no doubt read the importance of work breaks and getting away from the slog. I cannot stress enough how very true that is now. Probably more so than ever as we have a location we had dreamed of for so many years.But the time spent away from working enables you to be so much more productive when you return.
Its a weird time paradox, but investing in family, and even any form of reflection away from the grind, gives you double the hours back in return. Those work hours are enriched and overflowing with ideas and stamina. When you go away for breaks and walks, even a good nights sleep ,the amount of processing your brain is doing is just off the chart.
The problem solving, tweaking and hunting your busy mind does is just like setting a full staffed room off to work in your absence.
I have come back to work and found instead of the empty screen, within a couple of hours, twice or triple the work i can do comes flooding out and at great speed.

During the madness of waiting for this very house to come about, i realised an ambition of mine and i think a chunk of that kept me sane and willing and got me through what was a marathon like mission to be rehomed.
I decided id write that synth album i wanted to do since i was 15. Instead of the long drawn out mega opus ala tangerine dream i had planned way back then, or some colourful Jean Michel Jarre rip off fest id have blurted out in those years, i had this mix of 80’s pop songs and tv title show ideas. More like a blender at full speed with all the ingredients and sounds poured in, and hopefully what came out was the right portions of nostalgia and reference for a decade of my life i adore.
I honestly believe it was the perfect mix of sheer pressure on us all, the worry and panic that allowed me to tap into, with full access that undertaking. The end result was something i am for once, actually happy with. And writing anything with the “artist” side of your persona isn’t something that came easy to me.

I had put it off for 20 years afraid that anyone who heard it, might hear a piece of me and therefore judge you accordingly. Crazy isnt it? the way we perceive our own work.

But the catalyst for it was this new freedom. Not just the home big enough to house all our collective crap, or the wonderful location, it might be a nice chunk of middle aged crisis creeping in, but feeling free and less worried about life.
Having exhausted all my worries fighting to get homed, i dont think their is too much worry and panic left in the tank. Thankfully it seems one can out worry the reserves and leave you with either one of two choices.

A:Breakdown. Like a jallopy car that has had all its best miles and asked to run a race circuit for a year flat out, and just say i cant.

B: Smile at the lunacy with your best Arkham inmate expression and say, well ive had my time bitching about it, whats next?

I elected choice B.
At one point, i can declare it could have gone either way. Maybe a lifetime of our usual ups and downs has thickened enough outer skin i guess.
I feel like this is a new beginning and opportunity to prove to myself and others, that i have so much more to say. I feel ambitious about my career again. I feel full of reasons to succeed over reasons why it could fail.
Its a lot “what ifs” and as i said at the top, i was never a pessimist. But too may whats ifs can have the same energy depleting effect.

Not everyone can just up sticks and move house. Not everyone can say, yeah ok today we reinvent ourselves and change a lifetime of habits, but thats the crutch, thats the thing.
Never try and change the entire world you live in or replace things so you lose yourself.

But adapt and fix some stuff. Invest in some time away from the work.
Its NOTHING like procrastinating in front of a screen in avoidance. It bears no relation to it at all. Actually remove yourself from the responsibility and escape.

I found old life ambitions in the middle of that process and realised how much more you can get done and how much more you can be by accepting time away from things.
If its the workstation, town, typical crowd your always with, break from it and replace it with a new way to escape.

Those work hours you do put to use will be twice the impact, twice the creative realm in which to harvest. What we spend elsewhere, comes back to us.

Yeah ok, easy to say huh….Typing it doesn’t make it so, and preaching less so.
But i honestly think most people fight more with themselves than the time table they convince wont budge. The new film their scoring has no compromise, reels need to be delivered, i need parts edited for this show, and final masters run off for that one.
Im writing comedy on one gig and hiphop cues for another, on it goes.
Now that i walk away from it, almost with a “your not the boss of me glance over my shoulder”, i return more powerful and willing.

Just try it once. For kicks. You have enough work ahead to sink a ship and you are faced with whats seems an immovable mountain. Say screw it for a few hours and escape, see what happens when you fire it all back on when you return.

“One day, ill totally get found out”

I speak with a ton of creative lads and lasses from all over the world, and from all walks of life loving all kinds of music. The one thing that does unite us all im sure you’d agree, is the desire to say something in the language of music and tone, colours etc, and to convey.

The side of music which is divisive perhaps, can be the thorny area of how earnest the journey. What do i mean by that exactly? Well their are certainly layers to us all. We are all great big onions with many layers and we all have our base line of what we expect from a fellow creative spark. We are predisposed to judge or label before we do much else.

When we think of musician just as a noun, we are conjuring images immediately of someone playing a Violin, Piano, classical guitar, singing rather Operatically, enthusiastic and sometimes unlistenable folk instruments…..Thats how the mind works in the generalised sense.

When someone says composer, again you are conjuring up immediate images and forms.For me that one word makes me think of a frantic conductor, or a guy who just sits their grey haired and on the verge of a messy divorce, pen and pad, piano and lofty dreams.
So i guess i certainly feel a bit of a fraud so far so good!! And ive had some brilliantly funny exchanges with good friends who compose who will commonly use this saying in a chat,

“One day ill totally get found out”

I actually love that saying a lot, i honestly do.Perception is everything it really is. What you think you are to the outside world, the music, is often nothing like what it actually is.

The sheer amount of people who will often regard themselves with a low view, willingly sitting in the shadows of their colleagues and peers, idols even.The perception is often personally attained or you apply your own scars and cat tail lashes as required, thinking you aren’t as good as the next guy or the music isn’t very good and ….”one day ill totally get found out”…brilliant.

You have to wonder how and why we go through life thinking that way dont you?
What would make so many truly brilliant composers believe they are terrible and just a walking talking half baked entity on the verge of being exposed.
Is it the amount of education we have, or think we need? Is it the tormented and twisted path of disappointment a musician is supposed to go through which earns us our stripes?
How many times have you read the bios or soaked up someones hype and thought, “oh crap, ive literally switched on a computer and laid down some ideas”?

Everyone has their own story. Life as brutal and wild as it is, is unique for you, and the musical journey is just as relevant. The way you relate to picking up that instrument or connecting to a sound you heard, the way you patched a modular synth and leapt into the air realising no one will ever recreate that again.

Self belief is really the anchor for all we strive to do and i know i can say hand on heart, with my own journey, i have more often than not descended into  a spiral of doubt and bashed away my confidence. But i do know that i can and will succeed in everything i put my mind to. I always feel that in the deepest part of me, but the half dozen other layers which lie on top, always conspire to get in the way. They are the motivation absorbers.

Like shock absorbers on your car, soaking up the bumps and lumps in the road, their are parts of you, that react instantly to protect you and defend your castle. To the point of not letting in anything positive on occasion. Its a heightened defence mechanism that is in all of us, but perhaps we could argue, its more prevalent in a outwardly creative soul.
I most certainly think that is the case.

Nothing else for me, can explain why all manner of composers, from chancers like me, to guy and girls smashing very successful tv and film score, all feel brutally exposed and that one day we will most definitely get found out!

The music credentials police will eventually storm your bedroom, studio, facility and demand to see your papers. Your music degrees and your accolades, check you have assistants and at least 12 computers, can read the Rite of Spring through 1980’s 3D specs, and that you can proficiently quote at least 25 classical composers steeped in liquor.

The reality is, no one really has to explain how they got to where they are.You wont need a degree and you wont need to perform tests or produce shiny awards to validate who you are.The only way you get “found out”, is when you stop. When you listen to much to the critics, mostly yourself. When you are looking for a way out, you will find it if you dont dig a touch deeper.

Using technology, has been a dirtiest of words long before many composers were born. Many years before. As far back as i can recall, noses were upturned, you receive all kinds comments based on how much easier you had made the process. That you havent strived and some key short cuts have been taken. Even today, or maybe that should be, especially today, the critique can be as harsh as ever.
We have usable samples that can sound like anything you can dream of, opposed to the 8 bit crunchy cornflake word of 2 second grabs that you’ll lift from someone else and paste into a record. You can drop in phrases and loops, you can mix and master to such a level, that at some point in the process, someone out there will be wagging a finger of judgement because you failed to tick a crucial box.
Something you do will not please one person. Bare minimum, one person.

Ive heard so many versions of what is acceptable when doing all the work yourself. From those who will give you boundaries for how much work you need to be doing all the way to those who score for a movie, hire in orchestrators, arrangers, copyists, and a raft of project staff, who all have a lot of influence over the music to the point where it has certainly evolved and in some cases drastically changed from the original pen and paper grey haired guy stooping over the piano keys.
So this guy has worked hard but the end result has now morphed, albeit brilliantly so, into a lovely perfect piece of art. All because you have to embrace the collaboration of such a big project and process.
One could then ask, does hard work cancel itself out simply because you had so much help getting there? Are you more legit to do it yourself, or do we need to prove their has been an arduous journey to achieve the same things?

No of course not.

Its all self inflicted. 99.999% its just your good self who has so much doubt and questions about the legit side of what you say. From loading up synths patches, to creating custom sound banks and atmospheres, field recordings,experimental torture of a junk shop cello.
Its all good. On all levels. Ipad music apps, remixing tools, eBay circuit bent tech, your nans two tier home organ. Humming into your iphone, singing in the shower, picking up chop sticks and improvising a Steve Gadd drum solo before the number 47 arrives at the table.
One day, you will get totally found out, but for all the right reasons. Because you allowed yourself to be you.

 

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Life A Vs Life B

Ive decided to mark an occasion with a blogging tale. Well its a ‘nearly’ occasion and i spent all night just throwing it all around my head.
It dawned on me that, come October, that somehow I’ve managed to sustain this career in music full time, against the odds, and actually build something really tangible.

Whether that shocks you as much as it does me, is anyones guess but i for one am pleasantly stunned i made it out in one piece.

The reason im so shocked is because of how unlikely it felt getting to this point, and clouds of self doubt which had been a co – partner for a good 20 years prior to that.

My previous job was one id held for 5 years too. So i felt inevitably drawn to make comparison about how life had changed so much since those brave change over days.
The  career itself was born from necessity as is most job related trajectories for a good portion of us. I wasn’t especially well educated, that is to say, i did fully attend school, but failed to grasp any meaning or hunger for it as we approached those last few critical years.

Id decided, like so many, that i could just do whatever i wanted and somehow, it would all fall into place. Well it didn’t.

For some 20 years, i bounced from one job to another. Working in freight, it wasn’t very hard to find new work or new ways to do the same job, albeit with different people and new complaints.

My record for straight out employment had been 5 years. At that point, that magic number it seemed, i begun to itch. Its an almost ‘7 year itch’ of sorts and i never could shake it off despite any pay rises, or willing myself to see how important having a full time job is.

I dont want to paint a picture that makes me appear to be a lazy git who didn’t like commitment, far from it, id go to work and do the best i could, work as hard as i could and if possible, stay as long as i could to earn the overtime and pay some more bills.
And no, i was never fired or rebelled in any way. I just got stir crazy and had to make changes.
But their is only so many times you can change the wallpaper or paint, before it dawns on you its still the same room, the same place to do your thing.That you might need a hammer over a wallpaper scraper…..

5 years is a long time.

It can give you opportunity or lock you into something like a straight jacket and institutionalise you as so many of my work mates seemed to be under that spell.
Not for one minute do i judge or blame them for doing so, but it wasn’t what i wanted.

I did do something much different in the previous job which hadn’t happened before.
This time i wanted to advance and do better. Much better. So using every opportunity and  making my own luck, i did advance. Twice. In the same year in fact. Good solid pay rises and a position i really should have been in many many years prior, but the itch to change transformed into a feeling of ambition and thats not a sensation i had felt at anytime.

Well a bit of a white lie.

Having been in many working bands, written music from a very young age, i definitely knew a life of music was for me. But for so many of us, that ambition is cured from your bones and growing up in the 80’s, the typical fait accompli was to trudge your way to GSCE or O level, chose a solid trade or career and crack on for 30-40 years.You simply weren’t allowed to embrace any form of the arts or creativity and pursue that for any worth.

I was actually heavily berated in career talks at school for saying more or less, no im good thanks, i don’t wanna join the army or sit in an office, i want to be a pop star.
Well you do don’t you?.When i was 15, i was already rehearsing with a band twice a week, drinking like the best of them, and playing in front of a good packed club and then returning to school Monday morning to be told to aim for mock exams etc.

So where was i? oh yes, that 5 year thing.

Starting out in a new job is one thing, but a new vocation that is as alien as it can be compared to the last one, that feeling of complete discovery coupled with intense feeling of ‘what ifs’ and ‘i cant afford to fail’, had driven me like never before.
Its all new territory and i was just not equipped for that transition in my head, although in reality, like so many on the spot gun to the head moments, you just get on with it and the best parts of you come pouring out. And so they did and i guess its still happening as i type.
Its not easy writing for an industry that your peers will tell you in fair warning, it can and will consume you and spit you out leaving you disillusioned and accompanied by debt.
Its even harder when you are doing ok and you are told what you do isn’t important or what you bring isn’t changing the face of music as we know it. It did get bad at one point where id be fearful of expressing some ideas, or sitting alongside others in their domain, playing alongside Lions with only the same amount of Buffalo.

I think the first 2-3 years alone made me feel quite judged and i allowed all self doubt to creep in but thankfully not take hold. Id chase the gigs, the briefs and deliver over and over, with the client happy, but myself wondering if id let the critics in for too long.

When you embark on a big vocation change, you really are learning from day one and assessing where the land lies, who to speak to, who to avoid, what isn’t good for you and what is etc.
Its like first day at school feeling x 100.

This last year has been a turning point. I feel like it is my career, my vocation and its perfectly ok to say what you do for a living and not feel like a pretender or a hack.
Ive started to lift my chin higher and feel accomplished. Not in a ‘look at me’ way, but a ‘look in the mirror and see a successful chap’ and not groan wondering if ill get found out!

5 years is still a long time…..

But thankfully my curse of 5 years feels over.My itch to upsticks and change isn’t the same this time. My longing for new and exciting projects takes its place. You feel all kinds of hunger to succeed.When you do start to realise your doing ok, the foot doesn’t come off the gas, it lifts to shift the next gear.
To that end, i have simply not a single clue what will become of this journey if i can report back in 5 more years. All i can say with confidence is, hindsight is a bloody wonderful thing.
Im not so much a ‘if only i had’ kinda guy, but it feels more obvious now, that when i was kicking with both feet in my teens, thats the road i should have stayed on.
It sometimes just takes a big big chunk of ‘life’ to make you see their isn’t anything you cannot do, or the person you yearn to be. It can be a simple road, or one where you hitch hike all the way to the rest stop and sit for long enough to reassess and say you’ll head back off in other right direction this time.

Career Templates and why they just dont work….

This is a topic which has haunted me for ages now. Well maybe not quite that level of drama, but it is still among one of those top reoccurring convo starters that drifts forwards and back, ebbing and flowing. Its not hard to imagine a scenario where you see someone on tv or the radio, web, whatever.. and you say to yourself, this is exactly what i want to do.

From that point onwards, you maybe use their music or genre as a “study” of sorts. Try and glean as much about them as you can. Eat,drink and think like someone who has trod a path you crave to emulate. But its not just the world of childhood hero worshipping, its far far greater a thing than that ever was. In retrospect, i did spend years (much like millions of others), air guitaring on anything that you could fashion into a guitar, addressing an imaginary stadium, and fondly picturing a life of sex, drugs and rock n roll.

If their was a desire template, that would at least sum up a high ratio of 13 year old boys.
It was most certainly me!!

But in the years that roll by, nothing changes.Maybe the medium in which you soak up your heros and the way we now interact with all manner of media, thus making it impossible not to latch onto something out there,abeit drowning in overloaded input.Like your breaking your own server in the process.

The area which fascinates me is professional career emulation. Their is a huge divide between watching a million online courses, attending shows and talks, listening to whatever the latest interweb preacher has to say putting his and your world to rights, and soaking up some healthy influence. Adding some fuel to the tank.
Its what we do isnt it? We are supposedly a vessel of all we listen to and like gigantic sponges of youthful enthusiasm, we regurgitate all our best recorded chops and tricks through the channels of our own creative juices.

We siphon and are left with the pulp that along with our musical decision making, our raw emotions on that day, we craft something that hopefully becomes our own voice.
Our own version of ourselves filtered through millions of moments we live and breath, through endless memories and reactions. Impulses and the moments the hairs stood up on the back of our necks.
But being told to and preached to about how to do this, does this not feel like a degree of separation too far?

Can you truly be moulded by others who have either carved out their own path or emulated others on the basis of their complex life decisions and experience?
But i say this as someone who has fell into that trap. I was lured in and on so many occasions did i feel empty in the process. It came and went in many forms too.
From listening and learning from mentors around me, to believing imbittered rants of loony tunes musicians who have lived so many colossal ups and downs in their lives, surely they know exactly what they are talking about? surely……

I guess you could look at this in so many ways covering so many facets.
Do we all need to walk down the road of a solid college education, a conservatoire,a scholarship blah blah?
Are we more pure and capable of finding identity through the school of hard knocks with all the will in the world but no direction or study?
For my own sanity, i love learning about my heroes but only up to a point. That point of realisation must come quick too before the gravity of its black hole convinces you the path only has a handful of choices.
Ive swapped out my career path now so many times, im positive that no amount of blogs(just like this one), or pod casts, live panel talks, listening to every single opinion their is out there,will help form me or what i need to do. I appreciate the effort, i always do.But in truth i always come away thinking, well parts of that were entertaining, some of that had some nuggets of truth in there and one most not be ignorant to some stone cold truths when you embark on any journey into an industry that will gleefully consume you where you stand, leaving a pair of smoking boots and a life experience that might just guide you somewhere in earnest.

By typing this, im so aware that im also part of that symptom.When i do spend time mentoring others, trying to offer some advice, its still only my advice based on what worked for me and at best, a mere 10% of whatever i have said must be taken as something highly useful.
I have no beef with admitting that at all. It simply has to be the way. You can preach and rant as hard as you like and through in some name drops, career highlights and all the scars you have on a given day, BUT….crucially, we must all be fully able to say, look thats great for you, but im feeling its bollocks for what i need. Do you even know anything about me and what i need in my life?

No and neither does anyone else. Just you, and only you. (cue a dozen songs about now)

The allure of career emulation shows itself more readily now, as i mentioned above, the sheer amount of opportunity we have to glean from a million sources, is something that pre 1995, we perhaps just didnt function or operate like that.
Begs the question, are we better off now soaking up the entire net, or were we naively ok with a limited absorption of VHS tapes, TDK recordings of the top 40 charts and aspirations to wear all the things Duran Duran wear around the mean streets of Essex not being guided by the sense of the interwebs?

Among a 101 role models and heroes i have, i know i spent most of my teens wishing i was Tears for Fears. To the point nothing else seemed quite right. Whether lyrically or musically, the fashion, the perception, i just plain wanted to be those guys end of story.
Professionally, i aspire to so many artist like Cliff Martinez, Paul Haslinger, Bear McCreary etc, but do i want to end up only sounding like them, and do i need to have trodden all the same paths as them, do i need to make sure all my work flow emulates theirs?

do i need the same mac and pc slave setup, do i need to move to LA and shmooze like my life depended on it……

Well since you put it like that, of course not. How utterly ridiculous would that be?
It just fascinates me to the umpteenth degree that we have had to evolve how we grow as creative folk. We went from a few sources of interaction and absorption and just drown in it nowdays.

I want my limitations back damn it!! i loved how cutting off too many choices led to more focused singular path and series of decisions that seemed to have logical progression.
Its hard to moan too much about having myriad of choices isnt it?

In convos with extremely talented friends, i have learned so much from them as a by product of good old fashioned honest friendship. I truly think the same came be said in reverse. minus intentions and prattling on at people about what you think is best for them, in a relaxed setting, when you are just being yourself, thats the only time you can ever find out who you bloody are and how that will bleed into your creative output.

The only thing i always urge, whether its directed inwards or to someone asking for advice is, just be very cautious and brisk when listening to a universe of opinion and advice.
Dont be arrogant, no need to stick fingers in ones ears thinking you always know better, but surely just learn to skim info than to try and grab the pizza slice from that composers hand and emulate them and what they have built.

Interpret that last part however you like😉

 

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The synthesizer Evolution Part 1

The Synthesizer, in todays vernacular, is simply that thing that still doesn’t belong to any ‘proper’ family, funnelled into a slot where budding composers reach for a free or relatively cheap VST emulation. It has carried scars of many debates and conflicts on its first arrival, which in itself predates most people’s preconceptions by at least a 100 years, and survives from one generation into the next, from sugary modern pop to experimental music concrete.

It has morphed many times over from the 200 ton steam powered contraption of 1897 by Thaddeus Cahill, Leon Theremin’s body snatchers inducing Theremin or ‘Etherphone’, Robert Moog’s MiniMoog and a deluge before, during and since.

But the resounding and continual shirking from the establishment, would still happily see all said contraptions as blueprints at best, and ideas to be mocked over a large brandy, a waxed moustache with a firm finger wag and a shaking of one’s head.

They are the science that crept into music form. For many decades in some manner, whether it was the usage in horror, sci-fi and avant garde, the presence of the unnatural new comer wasn’t (and to a degree, still isn’t) welcome. I have heard some real classic tales of the uproar at the usage of a synth in film score, musician unions both this side and stateside up in arms over its infringement into the traditional landscape, effectively stealing good jobs with its bleeps and thips and brash impersonations of established classical instruments.

It is very much ‘The littlest Hobo’ of instruments looking longingly for a family heritage, a warm studio to nestle in and some acceptance. Per chance even an old dog basket to sidle up into.

The very first usage of the word synthesizer, albeit in a passing reference, was made by Edouard Coupleux and Joseph Givelet in order to maybe best describe those vacuum tube oscillators housed in what would outwardly appear as an industrial loom to the casual passer by, and quite possibly sound as appealing.

Then by 1956 the term was officially pushed to accompany the RCA EMS with its 12 tuning forks ‘electro magnetically stimulated’ and again, as with the Coupleux Givelet, utilising punch paper roll to play or perform. Oh, how the cold winter nights must have flown by!

The synthesizer has endured the sideshow circus freak allocation for nearly its entire linespan. Even whilst in more flourishing times where every studio owned a DX7, D50 or Korg M1, and perhaps some classic polysynth, they have lacked the love and adoration of the masses. Only in the most accepted manner possible, can they be allowed to be rock and roll, but just not for too long….let’s always keep them in a place of acceptable context. It has always been well received when pushed as niche, played by a niche band, in a very niche genre. Or an occasional allowance made for special ‘one offs’ like the opening to ‘Won’t get fooled again’ by the WHO, programmed on a ARP2500 by the guitarist….

But the synthesizer has indeed a very long history and heritage and most certainly has (as you can tell from my cack handed history lesson above), a legitimate family tree and genus.

What I personally loved at my first exposure to synthesizer music was the complete other worldly detachment, which I found just enveloped my bourgeoning imagination as a pre teen. I was never a huge fan of classical instrument emulation, and only in the advent of sampling technology do we now completely accept sampling as a friendly companion, often completely dismissing that tree branch of heritage too.

But use its merry wares we do, in abandon. Through gritted teeth when it suits to do so….

The synth in its rarest, honest form, is a crude and flat sounding annoyance (that’s a little bit of the 1920’s me slipping through there!), but honestly, yes, it can sound dead, flat as a pancake and lacking any nourishment at all. But then placing that statement into context more broadly, all musical instruments have the capacity to sound like military warfare until you can coax some human interaction and life from them.

I think this is still where the divide lies. A performer is somehow restricted to express, despite velocity, aftertouch, wind controllers, pedals, real time switches, pots and sliders, ribbon controllers, pads, violently kicking and banging on them in true Emerson style, with unlimited modulation routing possibilities, unlimited ways to layer, tweak and create. But it’s not a traditional schooled instrument is it?

So why do so many of us still undervalue them? Why still the bum deal?

I do still think it’s a combination of the emulation issue, the mass market creation of a bazillion of them covering pre school kids, wanna be DJ EDM producers and even ‘your Nan’, with her two tier home organ and warm renditions (nay, private concerts!) of war time classics.

Does the synth lack class in any form because of its mass appeal? Surely that in itself is a paradox. How can something so very popular and accessible become so unpopular and derisible? Has the synth endured a reoccurring Bieber syndrome?
Should we all still be wearing lab technician coats with bakelite glasses and a top pocket full of ball point pens? It’s not my current wardrobe, I’m glad to say!

In 1983, Yamaha released the DX7. A synth that went on to sell in a record numbers, surviving several revisions in its product line till 1989. By that time, the writing was on the wall for the FM based synth, as a new breed of s&s (sample and synth) machines breathed realism and a little more simplicity into the fold. The DX, as distinctive as it was and still is, was famously horrible to program. It was also comparably colder and starker a sound than the previous army of analog machines heard on 100’s of records and numerous film scores. Its very new sound was to be heard on practically every album that year and the following years in its 80’s heyday.

The DX though, for all its momentary and long forgotten glory, was an important synth. In fact its legacy absolutely lives on, and never died out after the DX line was halted. It went on to see better days in the SY line coupled with the then warmly embraced s&s synthesis meld. Even today it lives again in the Reface family launched a year or so ago at NAMM to a warm reception.

Sometime into the early 90’s, we really did go full on digital. Roland, who had given us some truly music shaping analog tools for many years with possibly the most solid and untouchably revered line of releases, had led the way along with Korg, Ensoniq, and Kawai to deliver greater realism, packaged more slickly and with this the boom period for module based rack synths, but at the great cost of accessible programming.

This was a wrong that wasn’t fully righted, despite the JD800 and a few moments where it looked like we had that element in our sights. It was brief and it didn’t happen. Through most of the 90’s, what we see as classic analog synths, were nothing more than fart producing boxes and fiddly for their lack of the new midi protocol.
They seemed flat again, antiquated and well, old. They sounded like public information school music or a small pile of old trousers at the back of your loft in a torn up bin bag.

Yes, that unloved. But the lucky unswayed few who were loyal and remained adorned in the odd tank top, coated with Lynx Musk, they kept the flag flying and promptly scooped up things like the Jupiter 8 for 300 quid. I do remember an offer like that many years ago for around 600 pounds I think it was. Then you look at the latest resurgence for all things analog, a quick eBay check and its around 7500 for a Jupiter 8 complete with scratches and knocks. I was more a ‘Lynx Africa’ guy so that speaks volumes for my decisions around 1994.

Long before we had to tolerate the EDM tag, we actually had all manner of electronic music. Whether you could actually dance to it or not is kinda dependent on stages of drug usage, consumption of alcohol or to be fair, too much sugar on a good day.

But a lineage and well groomed history of electro music we certainly did have.
From Stockhausen to Shultz, Kraftwerk to Depeche Mode, Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Yello, OMD, Isao Tomita, Wendy Carlos, Devo, Gary Numan – the list is legion. Electronic music and synthesizers have shaped and tweaked the direction of modern music in such a way that there is no going back. Love or hate them, use them on a Macbook, or devote a corner of the studio to marriage splitting CS80’s and JP8’s, the influence, the symbiotic blend into so many genres you hear in all mediums is here to stay.

To ever suggest 4 feet of plastic and knobs has no big significance or impact on musical culture, its language, its bare bones, is pure ignorance.

The seaboard range of performance keyboards by ROLI, is testament to the constant pursuit of expression and I think no less so for its ability to connect players with synths. I see this as its overall big plus. Not that you cannot coax completely perfect acoustic like impersonations of acoustic guitar playing, why on earth would you want to do that anyway outside of ‘ooh that was cool’. But I don’t hear “ooh that was cool’ on a film score if I can’t see your ROLI seaboard can I?

I believe performer instruments like this are crucial to ringing out more and expression and performance to synths and samplers. In fact all the ways we control synths now are really just harking back to the beginning of synths where there were no agreed methods of playing one anyway. It was totally a unique thing at the time.
The various incarnations, long before the east coast ‘keys and synth’ pairing, these machines were activated rather than traditionally played.
Impulses were sequenced and abused. Parts warmed up to become tuning stable and new and weird modules were crudely hand built in basements

That last sentence actually echoes where we are now. I’m so thankful for it. The hands on invention, the personal industry. All the dozens of guys working in their lofts, sheds, basements forging ahead with the booming modular market. Moog and Buchla would be sitting there over a coffee nodding with approval.
For such a musical leper as the synth is, it came full on circle and was finally given a big warm hug from very nearly every one. I’m pretty sure the folk music sector has remained steadfast though.

It’s not the first time I have rambled aimlessly with a synth fueled blog and I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last. I do have a lot to say on the matter, on the ‘thing’ that divides the room so often but can just as often just bring all the shit together in the mix.
I do have an unhealthy bias but for some, it was watching their dad play acoustic guitar badly as a kid, for others it might be sneaking out to watch a new band that was just rehearsing 3 weeks prior in their parents garage that got them into music and their path.
For me it was borrowing my brothers LP’s and tuning the little radio I borrowed to weird and wonderful stations, giving me exposure to a more exotic blend of aural income at such a young age. I’m not ashamed to say it, but Human League, Eurythmics, Duran Duran, they all meant so much to my young ears ‘because ‘ they didn’t sound like my brother’s other records. Or my friend’s, for that matter.

Synth music was almost some kind of revolution on its own, albeit not remotely as antagonistic and aggressive as punk. I think synth pop helped on a good day, and set it all back a few years on a bad one, whereas a naff rock song was always just a naff rock song.
Until another Sunday, I shall leave you either as a lover, hater or always undecided about the world of knobs and sliders!
Until part 2