“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.

 

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

Organising My Chaos

So just a few days ago, we ventured out and kitted my partner in crime out with a new Macbook Pro to take on more admin duties and alleviate some of the areas and backlog that I’m clearly not dealing with as efficiently as I’d like.

I mean the reality is, writing huge amounts of production music, working on projects as they come and go, dealing with a house move, family bereavement, working up ideas for a new website, going through mixes, admin and all manner of things in and outside of my work life, it has become a bit of a mess.

How do you juggle all the balls and what are we missing?

I feel very much like 2016 still has a lot to give, and I’m prepared to put in the hours and get it done. My social media presence needs attention and focus. I had to pull my previous website as it just smacked of amateur hour to me, and my weekly plan isn’t remotely refined. I certainly cannot tell you with any confidence what I’m supposed to be doing this time next week.

Planning is a huge part of what we do. It’s a big part of anyones life and I cannot abide loose ends and uncertainty. It drives me crazy!

On the flip side of that rant is the fact I’m not very good at setting out regimented schemes and schedules designed to pull me into a structured day or week. I also like to work quite odd hours so I have found. Over the last 2-3 years especially, my work hours have darted around furiously and solely depend on my creative moods.

So having said all this, giving you a picture of how random my work life truly is, I’m exploring ways to fix it and remedy the grey areas.

Lisa, my partner in work crime and life, is going to be helping me hit more points that I’m not dealing with very well. Social media and website maintenance being just a couple, but also giving me a more solid base with things I just need to deal with.

That’s half the battle no question, just knowing what the order of importance is. The biggest thing I find a problem with inside all things social media, is regularity. This kind of untamed online beast hates being neglected. You cannot grow interest or any form of crowd if you just don’t give a monkeys. It shows. People pick up on your lack of interest and in the same way you click past dull random news, so do I and everyone else. But in respect, I’m not one for daily dull-as-dishwater vid blogs preaching to the devotees either.

Must rectify 2016!

I’m also going to spend more time analysing incoming data. From royalty statements and cue sheet listings. What exactly is bringing me back my investment? I know I have spoken about this before elsewhere, but it cannot be under estimated. You would perform these analytics in any other industry, so why not here too?

Know what’s strong for you. The genres, time taken on a project, knowing what your outgoing investments are in regards to physical and intellectual (virtual) purchasing, such as sound resources, cloud, subscriptions etc.

You cannot begin to get hold of the wheel if you don’t know what you are. Now I know, again, being seen as anything other than a hub of creativity is a sin word. But the reality is, a lot of us are awful in business and that’s a massive failing.

I know it’s quite enough to balance being a mini rock star, schmoozing with the right people, being opportunist, but none of that really matters if you or someone around you, isn’t holding the wheel as you pull through the gears. Yup, I’m calling Lisa in as my wing man! Someone to ride shot gun and make sure you aren’t dropping the ball.

I’m not a fan of random out sourcing. Call me a man with trust issues, or too much of a control freak, but I cannot just hand over a lot of responsibility to a stranger 6000 miles away for a few dollars a day. I won’t even broach the morality of that one, but let’s just say, from the outset, it isn’t ‘for me’. But each to their own.

When we do complete a house move, sometime this century, I’m definitely going to sharpen up in all areas. It literally has to happen. I’m knocking on nearly 41 and frankly as much as I feel like a mid twenties chap all over again, I’d still like to accomplish more in the next couple of years than say just amble along, plodding, ticking boxes.

Business isn’t a dirty word. Whether you’re self employed, a Ltd company etc, you need to stop thinking that a few cracking musical cues will save the day and jobs will pour in despite your complete invisibility and silence. All so you can tell your friends how artistic and devoted to the medium you are.

The Upload Hyposthesis

upload pic

A very good friend, and very talented composer colleague posed this to me just the other day. He said quite simply, “why do we even upload our music?”

And you know what?, what a great question.

Why bother. What is it you are trying to achieve when you upload a bunch of new songs or cues to a set on Sound Cloud or Hear his? What is that objective and do you really even possess a goal?

It did make me walk in a few circles weighing up the goodness versus the repercussions, so i have broken it down into sections and it is food for thought. Whether you see yourself as a recording artist, or a beat maker, producer, film or game composer, session player. Their are without doubt a myriad of avenues to have come from but we all arrive in the same places so what are the ups and downs of showing the world your wares?

Archiving and retrospective:

This is foremost for me personally, something i truly cherish and adore. Anyone whos familiar with my sonic ramblings  will attest to the fact i love love to write music and maybe fair to say on a prolific basis. Its something ive done since my early teens when i was learning to play and compose.Id collect dozens of tapes, then CD’s of work. Collect EVERYTHING. Every idea, every experimental afternoon, every weird and wonderful new direction you attempted.

Archiving your work is for me, a big big must. Some will say looking back isn’t healthy, but i strongly disagree with that. I See it as an opportunity to reboot and re discover things you once did that you simply stopped doing. Some of the experimental risk “takes” from years back, herald some long forgotten gems.

The retrospective aspect is a big deal. It shows a line of growth in your choice of sound, identifying how your creative voice is blossoming and understanding how your engineering and production techniques are shaping. Sometimes you actually sub develop into a person you didn’t realise you could be, sometimes you have shed ideas and techniques personal to you like a skin. Not all growth is beneficial so its always good to look back say 6 months or a couple of years and sift through some tracks.

Vanity and Ego:

When you speak of this little combo, you are always going to incite feelings from creatives. Its the natural state of play to accept that with a passionate voice, their follows a few steps behind, your ego in some shape or form. To simply state you dont have one, is perhaps not only completely ridiculous but possibly points to the fact you know you do and its not in check. Or put it another way, you haven’t found a comfortable way to meter compliments versus critique.

Everyone, and i dont care who you are, from a successful film composer to the guy or girl bedroom producing and pencil sketching, has an emotional attachment to what they create and what you are trying to say. No amount of big production samples and boom and whooshes, cliche mechanisms and cop outs will cover a good composer from a not so good one. We upload our music because we also appreciate the power of connection.

The critique, but lets be honest, when its actually constructive, you’re all ears, when its from a source that just wants to beat you down, its not only unreliable, but fueled by something that isnt a concern for your growth as a composer, we find it hard to listen.

But it is a wonderful feeling when someone out there loves what you do. For us to sit and say, it bothers me not a single jot whether you like it or not, i think is a bare faced lie.

When you have spent a life loving music, and a life expressing it yourself, the thing you crave is a personal connection.

Being Discovered:

I know a fair few people out their who, when they have submitted their music to the universe, their has been a reaction. A positive and rewarding series of events from, “i just listened to a track you posted, we have a project we are gearing into for a new season, i think this is exactly what the tone of that show is, id like to ask if you would be interested in writing with me”

That exact paraphrased sentence is something ive received in my inbox a few times over the last 4-5 years now. It happens. And it is a wonderful thing to see happen. You are sending out tracks showing the world at large what you can do, and among the critique, the back slapping, their is some fantastic moments where your work now has purpose.

From a promotional point of view, would you prefer to be aloof and post nothing, or show your best work? Use a reel, or a very nicely built site to invite people to your front door and check out who you are?

Online promotion is now a very hard thing to get right. So many very clever marketing types, smaller labels and entrepreneurial upstarts have reined in the power of media promotion, cascading links to generate traffic and interest. Harvesting followers from one medium to exploit the other, other followers sub traffic flows into yours. Its a constant maelstrom of interest if you get it right, if what you have to say hits the right notes.

The saturation effect is what is now making it harder and harder to be heard. Right now, all platforms are at bursting point with play lists upon playlists, urging you for ‘likes’, a passing generic comment on a track you wrote that they didnt play so they can simply say “wicked track, some visit my page and like me”.

Its like all the dJ’s on the planet agreed to do this……..

Being Exposed:

Their are so many drawbacks of being an online chatty presence.If you send out a lot of chatter, music, comments, opinions, you are inherently exposed to someones mood that day and not all of it will be rational or ‘fair’.

The one thing the internet doesn’t care too much about, is fairness and equality .Ive had some serious reactions to some of my blogs via email or private message. Musically i do post a lot of tracks so by sheer volume, the ratio between music and ‘getting a strongly worded email’, is a high and unsettling number.

When i had failed to link up a couple of people via FB to my contacts in the industry, the heavens opened up and i was public enemy number 1, albeit for a day or so and then im pretty sure they got bored of me and found someone else to blame for their awful music, attitude and passive aggressive ‘im safe behind my computer’ warfare.

The simple fact is, the more of you their is out their in the 1’s and 0’s, the more you have to be very mindful of that content. The replies in music groups and forums, if you actually use them at all. You are always under scrutiny. Far from painting a 1984 Orwellian world, no it isnt that bad at all. But what you do, how you act, your offerings in any form to the world, will always receive judgement for better or worse, so being ‘seen’ is sometimes a fulltime occupational hazzard.

Just think on occasion, when you giving your god given rightful rant(much like this one), anyone can see it. A future client, your peers, people you might be working with right now, and if they think your an arsehole, thats not great is it?

Collaboration: 

This is maybe a bit left field in the scheme of things but community is a huge deal now.In the space of say 10 years, the inter linked community at large knows everyone. If you live in a genre or part of an industry, you get to know pretty much everyone out there. Having your music online has been a wonderful and deeply rewarding exercise when you hook up with like minded people. It spurns new ideas, you dont feel so isolated as someone walking into a room you call the studio, firing it all up “on your own”< coffee in hand and facebook fueled procrastinations abound. Being able to speak to anyone, anywhere and exchange ideas, is the biggest most relevant development in the online world.

For collabs, it means you can effortlessly send over stems of your tracks, have remote session work halfway across the globe, revise, rinse and repeat until you forge this new brilliant piece of music.

 

Its hard to imagine the way things were. Perhaps its not a concern at all if you were born in the last 18 years and dont know any different. We forget the world is brimming with people who haven’t suffered dial up and AOL online. Not everyone remembers sending out unsolicited tapes and promo packs to labels, arriving unannounced to leap upon an exec to listen to your work, hassling for airplay on a small local station spot, only reaching people via an endless stream of pay to play gigs in grotty venues and selling half a dozen CD’s at the door for giveaway money.

What we have now is an unprecedented open source, no rules platform. And its funny to then say, those who weren’t around for the hardships have embraced this freedom better than most . They simply see the opportunity in getting it right. Being seen and heard.

It makes me wonder, dropping some history to one side, the hang ups and fears, could we be using all of this more intelligently? Do our old habits and fears die hard?

 

Single Systems – Yes they work too

I have been an avid single PC system user in my setup for years now. I have adopted this for quite a few reasons but i wanted to break into this as, with many reoccurring convos on builds, i wanted to reassure at least a slice of the composer market, its not law to have a huge Mac and 2-3 slave pc’s and a small server room to write and produce your music.

It certainly sells itself glamorously when every Hollywood composer you admire has a room full of the best gear and maps their rig in such a fashion. But its handy to take into account someone elses huge operational budget might not sit side by side with your daily needs. Sure id love a huge network of rooms and studios, server rooms and “staff” helping me accomplish my tasks, but personally id find this all overkill.

Dont get me wrong, if i was scoring some truly huge work for a block buster movie and insisted in having a working template that takes 15 mins of scrolling to see it top to bottom, id agree.

But thats not how i work, and perhaps for some of you, just a few, it might not be how you work either. Im absolutely not trying to take a swipe at anyones working practice or belittle peoples choices. Thats never going to work, and frankly what someone else does or doesnt do, has nothing to do with me. Im not paying their bills so i def do not get a say.

But bearing in mind most of us arent cavorting over a duvet made by 50 pound notes or 100 dollar bills, you have to be mindful of your realistic budgets and a system in place that actually tailors itself around you.

Ok so things i dont do:

I actually dont run a big template of any kind. It annoys the crap out of everyone i speak to, perplexes my chums and yes it makes me billy no mates in the usual, ‘so how do you arrange all your sub groups on a 1000 piece template’ conversation.

But for me, it works and efficiently so.

I dont run a Mac and never have done. Despite having used them from time to time, i have just found a complete symbiotic understanding of PC’s. I love the fact its open architecture form allows me to piece together something really special for my needs, it doesn’t break the bank coming in at least half the cost of a Mac build. It actually doesn’t crash or go wrong. Windows pcs arent the old fumbling relics of 1996, they are like the Macs of say, a few years ago which i was told in a preachy way, “just work”.
Well i have no desire to constantly update an OS every so many months and spend weeks crying about all the things that dont work anymore.

Simple fact is, PC’s arent the troll under the bridge and haven’t been for a few years, you just assumed the status quo and followed the pitch fork wielding locals chasing it out the village.

Im an alien visiting your planet clearly as i have never used or wish to use VE pro.
Strike me down and cast me to the river of shame and wash my naive face in the water or righteousness,…or something like that. But i dont have that need right now.Ive been told a few times why apparently i do need it, but for the lack of its presence, no one lost their life and all my music was delivered on time and sounded marvelous.

Im currently more than happy with 64gb ram and an all SSD system. Its quick, it doesn’t stall, crash or randomly yank the steering wheel at 90mph and dump me in a ditch.It actually “just works”.
I tend to use a few small blank templates with common instances loaded in that i will def use. Some effects routings im typically always happy to see,some of those short templates have my external syths mapped, some are for comedic writing, some tension, organic hybrid stuff etc and on and on….

The very closest to a multi system setup id get, would be to just buy all this over and again and have a sister clone setup. But im not going to do that.

The reason i advise single systems to others ,is many fold and ive certainly got my shit in a twist above, so with a calmer less nerdy driven simmering fury, ill just say, dont make yourself broke cos you really didn’t want to feel the odd one out.You dont need to go Hollywood or go home on this one.

Another perfectly good reason i use these practices on a single system is, the highly changeable styles and genres i need to adapt to and respond to. I find it so much easier having a basic rough template which still demands i engage some thought, some practical choice making when firing up sounds and devices.
I dont really relish when everything is preset, when all the functionality and decision making has been made super efficient and rigid. It feels like some of that ‘fun panic’ as i call it, has evaporated in favour of work flow enhancements.

It all feels very corporate and machine like to me. On one hand we sob over some advancements which steal our musician soul, and then we happily embrace the process of relinquishing our creative control over to a bunch of boards, plastic and flashy led’s. Mind boggles….

It is all relative and i fully understand that before you erect a cross and nail me to it, i get it that you have composers who work in a much more orchestral environment these days, and dont crave long biblical loading times, starting from scratch, and running out of resources. But their are many exceptions and thats all im saying. Kinda……