An Observation Of Some (Not All) Questionable Attitudes Of Unsigned Acts

A Question Of Attitude

 

Coming into a local music scene by accident rather than design and seeing hundreds of acts, it never ceases to amaze me how big some of the egos are out there from musicians who at this point in their career have achieved very little, this doesn’t mean that I don’t think that they are talented, some clearly are and I’ve happily put this in writing elsewhere, it’s just that the minimum qualification to act like a star is that you must at least be a star in the first place and being a star in your own mind is nowhere near this.

Before this voyage of discovery into local scenes and characters I listened to massive amounts of music across most genres and I considered myself a music explorer but looking back, even the most obscure of my music tastes were of bands that had at least been signed by somebody, even if they went on to sell virtually nothing, unsigned artists need to recognise that they haven’t even got over the early hurdle of signing a record contract.

I recently witnessed an ageing band performing folky covers of contemporary pop in a jokey manner, it was funny for a couple of songs but the joke was wearing thin after the half an hour set was over, at this point I was fairly warm about them, it had been pleasant enough, the two older members of the band came through the audience giving praise and encouragement to some of the other younger acts who’d performed earlier and I warmed to them more, then the middle aged lead singer came through, clearly believing she was some kind of superstar in the waiting with an attitude of she was too good for this place (she wasn’t, she was a poor singer at best) and any good will I had for this band was gone.

I could repeat scenarios like this on many occasions across age groups and genres.

At the unsigned stage, music should be about creating stuff you truly believe in and discovering your own identity and gigs should be about honing your craft of performing your music live and getting feedback from neutrals in the audience and if you’re lucky, making contacts that can get your music to bigger audiences and further afield.

The phoney star thing starts with the younger bands when they always play for their mates, who are duty bound to clap and cheer and call for encores and then the band believe their own hype. Even worse, if they get more of their own mates in a venue than another act, then they believe they are BIG because they ‘blew ‘em away’, notice the question about whether the music is any good or not has not even come into the equation, record companies will not give two hoots about your mates reaction, they will look for musical and song writing ability and/or whether there is a market for your stuff.

This also brings in this strange phoney local competition where nobodies (in record company terms) compete with other nobodies and waste precious time and effort on this. Let’s take the ‘we are the biggest band in Nowhereville’, well do you know the biggest act in Carlisle, Merthyr Tydfil or the Isle Of Wight and in Carlisle do they know about your act in Nowhereville, no, so why are you so wound up about the other local bands and what they are doing, if you are going to be a success you have to aim to be the biggest band or most artistically acclaimed in Britain, America and the world, you have to make better or different music than them not better music than the act on at the Rose and Crown next Friday.

 

Nobodies come in many shapes and forms, strangely, there are loads of acts out there in cyber space with millions of you tube plays, check out some of the hip hop artists, one had 11 million plays, they are still unsigned, the music was poor and they are still nobodies, deservedly so, do they think that record companies don’t trust their own ears over bogus statistics?

So you’re a big star, well lets do a bit of imaginary market research here to test whether you are a big hitter even on your home turf, canvass a hundred houses on any non descript part of your own town and ask:

Have you heard of the Beatles? Probably 99% yes

Have you heard of Lady Gaga? Probably 75% yes

Have you heard of Radiohead? Probably 40% yes

Have you heard of The Vaccines? Probably 15% (if you’re lucky)

Have you heard of your band? Maybe 1% at best even with your ‘web presence’ and that one is probably involved in the local music scene themselves!

The chances are that your act will not be big, will never be discovered, what you are messing with is your future reputation and respect among your fellow local musicians, if you alienate your friends and comrades right at the beginning they will take great delight in watching you fail miserably. If, on the other hand you created great music, supported, encouraged and even gave practical help to those around you, even if you didn’t make it you will always have earned the love and respect of those around you.

Record contracts might be the dream but that dream so often becomes the nightmare if you actually achieve it, musical obscurity could be your nightmare right now but the everlasting respect of your friends could be a dream worth having and it’s so easily achievable.

The Dying Art Of Listening To Music?

The Dying Art Of Listening To Music?

I was discussing with a friend, the other day, about how even something as simple as just listening to music is changing so quickly.
What strikes me is how many distractions there are and that they are actually welcomed into the listening experience. I have witnessed this everywhere; the music goes on, there will be chats about whether it’s any good, or a classic, laptops will be on and fingers distractedly tapping away on them, books and magazines being read, endless talking amongst whoever is there. Music is now a watching experience via videos and all the deliberate distractions that they install into these.
I still remember and cherish dearly, the times in my past, when my best friends (ok they were a bit hippyish or just plain weird) would come over to listen to some music either before we would go out or even better after. The music would go on, often something we had picked up second hand, that no-one had heard of, and it would be listened to in almost complete silence as if the record and the artist had respect right there in the room and it was a communal decision, not an order from anyone, and the discussion about the track/album we had listened to would come later while we were out.
I have tried to figure out why this was the case then, and there are a number of reasons from my point of view.
It was the birth of Hi-Fi for the masses, in the 70s, so music and the system playing it was being assessed for quality (much like HDTV today), the music and the means of which it was being reproduced were being studied as a work of art.
Hi-Fi was a massive influence on the classic status of pieces like Dark Side of the Moon and Tubular Bells, as these were the ultimate demonstration records for Hi-Fis going into every home. Of course, there was not a lot of competition from other sources of entertainment. There was only TV (only 3 channels and that finished at 11pm). The other competition for our attention came from football and drinking.
Music was the creative culture, and it was taken very seriously indeed. Good bands and artists of the period, knew that their music was going to be listened to extremely carefully, and if they made the effort to put subtle nuances into their albums or singles, then it would be picked up by an enthusiastic public, and of course the journalists of this era, because music writing also flourished at this time.
With this sense of high quality control and artistic integrity at the heart of music, it meant bands that we thought of as great at that time, have been awarded classic status today.
From the communal to the solitary, I used to get utterly lost inside some of the music (and still do) and whether anybody else cares for them or not, Yes and Genesis, in particular, used to do this for me. But to get there was an odd combination of discipline and control to create a place where I could relax to a whole new level, and the only agenda was, ‘I’m going to play some music and I’m going to hear everything.’
I would go into a kind of Japanese Tea Ceremony kind of ritual. First, I would tell myself to forget whatever is in my mind at that moment because I am going to play some music, and that was now the most important thing.
I would take in the album (the artwork was important for setting the scene) and maybe re-read the sleeve, before the music would be played, especially the magical liner notes, like those about the source of inspiration on the inside cover of Tales From Topographic Oceans, for example.
I would carefully clean the record and the stylus, then take my seat ensuring that it was carefully positioned, so my head was at speaker height, and myself and the speakers formed an equilateral triangle (the perfect stereo separation) Then, I would set the record to play, and turn the lights off for no visual distraction at all.
I was set to receive every colour that the musicians could give me, and I would be absolutely gone to an altered timeless state.
Alone or with friends, does anyone actually listen as carefully now?
Is it possible for people to be completely silent for 22 minutes (the usual length of 1 LP side) without a comment from someone, or a text coming through, or 101 other intrusions?
I don’t think so anymore but I would be happy to be proved wrong!
I know this can all seem either nerdy or perhaps, very old fashioned, but I prefer to see it as keeping my freak flag flying! 😀

Inspirational Leaders, It Could Be You!

Inspirational Leaders, It Could Be You!


All walks of life, the Arts, business, sport, war and peace have leaders coming to the fore and the job gets done, however inspirational leaders do so much more, as they truly move people to exceed all expectations causing a complete transformation of someone’s life or work.


Only trouble is, a lot of people inspire others and they don’t even know they are doing it as they are so wrapped up in whatever project they are working on, so here I will go through the 4 main types of inspirational leader, what is it about these people that makes people WANT to follow them, the type of things they are typically in to and finally when inspirational leaders go wrong!

Can you think of times when you know you truly inspired someone else to do something they can be proud of…I bet you can!

It’s meant to be light hearted, prompt some thinking and I can only come up with one leader from fact or fiction who strongly encompasses all four of these traits, who can you come up with?


Ps Don’t let the gender fool you, women can be Warriors and men can be Medicine Women!


1) WARRIOR

Fearless, brave, nothing can stand in their way and will always put their plans into action.

Very competitive, strong desire to win and to remain a winner.

This leader will fight to the death for their cause, think Braveheart and the effect that he has on his army and the way he inspires them.


Places you most commonly find them: Armed Forces, sport, retail, business, sales.


Examples from fiction or the real world: Alex Ferguson, Brian Clough, Gladiator


Soundtrack to their lives: Rock, Punk, Metal, Stirring Soundtracks.


When Warriors Go Bad!

It’s all action and no thought, they will keep fighting even when it’s heading to certain suicide, they will bully their followers when the inspiration has gone.


2) Good Kings

These people have loads of charm and charisma and this attracts people around them.

They come into their own in times of crisis as they are serene, calm and dignified when all about them are losing their heads.

They are also visionaries as they look into the future with an excellent sense of good judgment and proven track record of being right.


Places you most commonly find them: Religion, politics, cults


Examples from fiction or the real world: Jesus Christ, Aragorn, Barrack Obama, Arsene Wenger


Soundtrack to their lives: Classical, traditional music ie folk, blues etc


When Good Kings Go Bad!

When the charisma dies and their trappings of success are threatened they cling to power through being cunning and deviousness and refuse to let the next generation of leaders gain access to the means of power.

3) Medicine Women.

Fantastic ideas, brilliant solutions, new ways of looking at familiar situations, they are left field, thinking outside the box types of leaders.

They inspire people with visions of the future be it through music, art, literature. In combat and crisis situations they emerge with unique strategies that outwit their opponents.

Places you most commonly find them: The Arts, Marketing, Advertising, Media


Examples from fiction or the real world: Rinus Michels (inventor of total football), Einstein, Dyson, Richard Branson, Ghandi


Soundtrack to their lives: Jazz, Avant Garde, Prog, Psychedelia, world music.



When Medicine Women Go Bad!

At times of deep stress they never actually go into action they just keep coming up with more and more ideas, none of them get physically off the ground leading to chaos and disorder and reclusiveness.

4) Great Mother


They will do anything for you, they love you, care for you and make you feel warm and secure.

They believe in you and will go to extraordinary lengths to help you achieve yours and the teams goals.

When they ask you to work or fight for them you know you owe them big time and you will do anything not to let them down.

Places you most commonly find them: Nursing, Teaching, Social Care, training, human resources (they probably hate that term)


Examples from fiction or the real world: Bobby Robson, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, Brian Epstein

Soundtrack to their lives: Easy Listening, pop, soul, light classical, ambient


When Great Mothers Go Bad!

They over nurture, over protect and stifle, don’t let those they care for grow and develop fully, keeping their charges from exploring and finding their own ideas about the world and how it works.

 

Musicians: Reasons To Be Cheerful!

Musicians: Reasons To Be Cheerful!

 

Musicians: Reasons To Be Cheerful!


Aside from a lifelong collector of records, I also devour a garage full of music magazines and biographies, I love music and admire great musicians and artists.

Music has always gone through cycles from the invention of the phonograph to the download, admittedly, though, this downturn in the industry has probably been one of the toughest yet.


I read recently that there are 450,000 unsigned artists on the many and varied social and music platforms worldwide at the moment, so making it big in the music business can feel like you have to buy a winning Lotto ticket.

I think, faced with such odds, musicians are being overly distracted by marketing strategies, chasing numbers, chart positions, gathering cyber-friends believing that this ‘weight of evidence’ will somehow mean the A & R people must come running and sign them.

I think, instead, you may underestimate the music industry movers and shakers, they are fighting for their jobs, their homes and kids as much as anybody out there making the music and what their careers stand or fall by is the quality of their decision making.

They will be looking for some key things and they are unsurprisingly important to them and will include stuff like, can I get the public to buy this? What demographic is still buying music in big numbers? Is the music of a really high quality? Have they got a great image? Are they doing something that hasn’t been done before? Are they at the front of a new movement or scene, they will not be fooled by, in their eyes, superficial bits and pieces.

On the biggest picture, the industry knows that after it has cut every available unnecessary cost from it’s business model, there will still be potentially billions of dollars to be made and they will be putting their best brains on working out how to bypass the pirates either through legislation but far more likely through technological innovation or a brilliant marketing strategy.

They haven’t come up with it yet but they will and a new boom in music will then undoubtedly follow, it always does.

The movie industry was facing very similar issues and finally 3D has, for now at least, given it a much brighter future and 3D has been around for decades but they’ve adapted it to seem very new and more importantly desirable to the buying public.

So my advice to musicians would be the old acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) Write Songs and get on the road.

When concentrating on the writing and performing, it’s important to state the obvious, that this is a precious and unique skill you possess and the people who work on the business side absolutely do not have this themselves or they’d make their own records and cut out, you, the middle man or woman!

When you’re writing always aim to beat whatever your best was before.

Choose your gigs carefully, to always reach some more new people every time, so that when the good times return, you’ll have loads of great material and a name that a lot of people already know and respect.

 

What Needs To Happen To Make Unsigned Artists Desirable Again?

What Needs To Happen To Make Unsigned Artists Desirable Again?

 

What Needs To Happen To Make Unsigned Acts A Desirable Product Again?

This is a part thinking aloud, part stepping back to look about what’s happening at the moment with the music business and a little light hearted look into the future fantasy.

So What’s happening now?

I love and collect music but even I am now reaching saturation point on the old stuff that is constantly repackaged for me to collect.

Also, I still find it bizarre that covers bands who paint by numbers are making far more money on the live circuit than the ‘Originals’ artists that are coming up with occasional masterpieces.

It can’t be just down to the assumption that yesteryears music was better anymore, I used to think that but at that point, that was the only music I was buying or listening to, to say I wasn’t giving new music a look in was an understatement!

There are more people out there making music than ever before and with better technology to boot.

The music industry has stopped taking chances and that is unlikely to change unless they are forced to by customer demand.

My First Attempt At A Scenario That Could Make New Acts Marketable Again!

Unfortunately it’s not the music at the moment as it’s already there and not very marketable, doesn’t mean it’s not good though, or even occasionally fantastic, it’s just damned hard to attract buyers.

I believe that it will have to begin with the way we enjoy sound and the developments may well come from outside the music industry, as they are not investing anymore.

Let’s say the Computer Games, TV or Cinema businesses develop something called, say 3D sound where it uses focussed sound that feels like you are listening to something with a far more solid and substantial sound than ever before and it’s recognised as a huge technological leap.

It will be the geeks and the early adopters that will start the new craze and it may well have been first developed to improve sound effects rather than have had any thoughts of music applications.

What will help new artists at this stage, is if the creation of these effects needs a whole new recording studio technology and that old recordings cannot be made into the new format, in the same way that old mono recordings sounded terrible when they tried to make them into ‘reprocessed for stereo’

This last bit would be the crucial because if this new sound is so dramatically superior to what we currently have and could be backdated, then the music industry would bypass new music again and go for another round of Beatles, Stones and Floyd reissues (can you imagine in ten years time when they roll out Keith Richards in his wheelchair selling us Exile On Main Street again!), it would have to only work with brand new recordings in the new studios.

This also shows why it will be another industry that will drive it, as the music industry will only look for ways of exploiting it’s catalogue, they would only invest heavily in new acts to sell this new sound if they had no other choice.

If something like this scenario was in place there would be an almighty scramble to get the acts on their books that could do something really exciting with this new technology, it would start with the experimental bands and artists and then filter it’s way down to the mainstream, another reversal of the usual patterns.

Can you imagine gigs if this technology did the same thing to the live arena as well!

If nothing happens and music continues on it’s current path, then it will become a niche product or a hobby for new musicians, there certainly won’t be any careers or fame to be had.

P.S. I did used to read a lot of fantasy novels in my youth, so forgive me if I sound like I’ve gone off my head 🙂

 

Why can’t I hear the singer!

Why can’t I hear the singer!

This is a genuine question as I really don’t know the answer!


I am not technically minded, I’m not a sound engineer, I have never been in a band, so I really would like to know why so many bands make the most common of errors and that is ‘I can’t hear the singer, I can’t make out the lyrics, I don’t know what atmosphere you’re trying to create, if your telling me a story then you’re wasting my time’ 


I’ve been to some of the loudest gigs ever staged on the planet, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Ozzy, Pink Floyd, so it’s not power as trust me you hear every word that Robert Plant is saying, so I know the sound engineering is possible.

Of course it might be the quality of their equipment and Lord knows the aforementioned acts can afford the very best, though some excellent local bands seem to get over this.

I’m cautious about saying that cover bands seem to do a better job of this but of course my familiarity with the material may be playing tricks with my mind and my head may be filling in the blanks that are reaching my ears.

Is it the personality of the musicians in the group making sure their instruments are wound up to volume 11 leaving no bandwidth for the vocals.

I know it must be harder to play an instrument than sing but I fear that these musicians must consider the audience needs when listening to a complete song and not just a part or two of it’s construction.

Maybe it’s the singers fault, maybe on the sound check they sing with confidence and then when the action begins then the nerves make them quieter or hold the microphone in a different way or position.

It would not be fair to name the acts I have seen that have this issue, all I can say is that it is the majority of them and I believe this problem will really hold back some terrific acts.

Trust me, those bands that get this right come across as more professional and serious than those that don’t.

It’s not even a question of value for money as a lot of the bands I see give their time and considerable efforts for free, it is that I want to see a band show me the very best of what they can do and in turn, like all audience members, I want to tell anyone I know who’s interested in music what a great show you’ve put on and they must go and see them! 





Spare Me The Stones Exile Hype!!

Spare Me The Stones Exile Hype!!

 

I have lots of Rolling Stones albums in my collection and LPs like Let It Bleed and Beggars Banquet are rightly regarded as classics, however the recent hype about yet another re-issue of Exile On Main Street is just taking the biscuit!


Press coverage, (just about every monthly music mag), TV advertising and even Alan Yentob showing some appalling bad taste for him (I usually respect his taste) in the fawning BBC documentary.

The Stones themselves admit that the sessions were lazy and unfocussed and that’s precisely what we get, lazy, muddled and unfocussed music, I wouldn’t have minded if it had been different or avant garde or just noise but this effort (and that’s misleading) just about reaches the standard of any 3rd rate blues band on too much dope.

I will give it high marks for the excellent packaging and that’s the main reason my original vinyl copy stays in my collection.

In a few years time are we going to get an anniversary programme stating that Steel Wheels was a touch stone of a generation…purleeeze!