Kris Halpin’s Adventures In Music, Technology & Disability.

Studio Diary #5

Day Five! It’s strange but still familiar to be this deep into a recording project; I haven’t recorded anything of my own in the last couple of years. I know, right. I’ve been really focused on glove performances, and I’d lost my mojo with recording. I’d tried getting something off the ground several times, but nothing would stick. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my “genreless” ambition had, ironically enough, become massively restrictive. Without a place to land in sight, I circled aimlessly in a nondescript airspace.

The song I’ve been working on has really come into shape. It’s a complex, dynamic beast, so it’s taken me a few days to shape the track, but I’ve arrived there now. It’s also been a learning curve, so hopefully the next track will come together quicker. My plan at the moment is to get tracks minus vocals into shape first, cementing the feel and sound of the songs. I’m really keen to have consistency across tracks; finishing one then moving onto the next feels like an inconsistent way of working. Also, I want to tackle the vocals in one body of sessions, so I need all the tracks in order. I’ve got a decent amount of songs to work through, so I’m trying to work out the quickest route through all this.

So tomorrow, I’ll start laying foundations for the next song. It’s all a clear path to the end in my mind; just got to keep my eyes on the prize…

Studio Diary #4

My struggle with guitars is well documented. My guitar playing took a dive as my hand cramps worsened, and I contemplated a musical future without guitars. ICYMI, this is the full story:

All caught up? Good. So the glove thing took off, but behind the scenes, I missed guitars. I still struggled with the acoustic guitar parts, but my earliest Metal influences helped me make sense of my hand issues. Heavy riffing is physically a totally different approach compared to acoustic fingerstyle. So for the last year, I privately toned my rhythm guitar riffing chops. It’s paid off. Today I recorded new guitar parts, specifically a part that I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to manage without serious editing. I’ve regained some dexterity, strength and speed over the last year. My playing has improved, albeit in a different style to where I left off. Thankfully, it’s exactly the place I want to be right now. There’s still pain and tightness to work through, but I played tight and heavy today. And now I’m getting excited about this new music going out into the wild…

Music People Of Birmingham; Don’t Miss This!

Tomorrow, music people of Birmingham, is your lucky night. My dear friend and occasional colleague is delivering a workshop on music publishing. I can personally guarantee that it’s going to be great.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have John Mostyn on my side as a friend and mentor for many years. Having been on several training programmes lead by him, I’ve had a front row seat to one of the most engaging and knowledgeable minds in the music business. I’ve also worked with and for him, and learned a great deal that way. His ability to unbox and explain complex music industry concepts that go over my head is unmatched. John is a master at gently steering artists towards solutions; I’ve had more than my fair share of good advice to career obstacles.

A gifted raconteur, John demystifies the Music Business in a uplifting and naturally humorous style. John’s solutions are always so simple, so elegant. I’m enjoying a rich and rewarding career as a touring and recording artist. Doing business on a large scale at international level, I’m confident in how I build relationships and do business. And that confidence is born out of what John Mostyn has taught me over the years – I often find myself thinking “what would John do?” That’s because he has a certain style of doing business and bringing creative professionals together. In much the same my songwriting is influenced by what my favourite songwriters do, John has been a huge influence on how I approach business with those songs.

So go, learn, enjoy!

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Studio Diary #3.

When you start out, you love every minute. You’ll sit up for hours; tweaking, listening, refining. But by the time you’ve turned that passion into the thing that puts food on the table, the landscape is very different. There is an expectant audience. There are the connections you’ve been meaning to follow up for this eventual release. There’s the money you spent getting the gear and/or people together to make it good enough to get to this point. You might have a family too. It’s a lot of stuff that shifts that perspective, and if you let it, it can all zap that inspiration you were flinging about the place carefree only a few years ago.

But that’s the test. Can you sustain it? I used to be daunted by the prospect of committing to dates to record. What if I’m not feeling it? What if I’ve got nothing?

Of course, waiting for inspiration makes for a poor and thin career. It may sound trite, but you just have to get shit done. You’re only as good as you are when you’re getting shit done, those thrice-yearly-best-song-evers don’t pay the rent. Blimey. This is nothing like I imagined it.

Except, it is. Because all that stuff about being in the headspace, about culturing and capturing this special other, it’s a big lie. It’s a lie that helps us all feel better about procrastination. We can dream BIG, but can we get it on tape? Can we have that elusive thing ready, when our schedule requires it?

That, to me, is the whole game. Inspiration when it strikes is not what makes you a great artist. A great artist is someone who turns up on time every day and just works at it, whether they’re ‘feeling’ it or not.

So I turn up every day that I can get to the studio. And I’m not waiting for inspiration to strike. I feel inspired to be there. The turning up, the getting on with it, that inspires. Reigning creativity in is healthy. Give it boundaries, put it on the clock, and it will blossom. Honestly, I’m coming up with the best stuff right now, and it’s not because I feel some magical inspiration. It’s because I’m cultivating it, disciplining it. That’s what great art really needs.

It’s spinning round and round, Falling away from me.

I’ve not listened to this for ages. So long in fact, that I was scared it would have dated. I listened to it all the time circa 2002, it was one of the best things I’d ever heard.

Listening now, I’m relieved to say it does not disappoint. It’s absolutely brutally heavy when it needs to be, and is exploding with melody and musical invention from start to finish. To my ears, they never sounded better than this – it still sounds like nothing they or anyone else has done. Need a primer/refresher? Start here:

Mycelia: January 2018 Workshop – Creative Passports

Today was massive. Lots of little Eureka moments. Some context: Mycelia is Imogen Heap’s ambitious vision for a better music industry future. It incorporates a few different approaches and concepts. The most talked about of these is the use of blockchain technology. Blockchain acts as a kind of ledger system, preserving unique transactions, and decentralising that data. From Wikipedia:

A blockchain,[1][2][3] originally block chain,[4][5] is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography.[1][6] Each block typically contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block,[6] a timestamp and transaction data.[7] By design, a blockchain is inherently resistant to modification of the data. It is “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”.[8] For use as a distributed ledger, a blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority.

Like almost everyone I speak to, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what blockchain technology actually means in this context. I’ve found it useful to think in terms of use cases and specific problems:

    Getting Paid: Getting royalty payments for music usage actually into your bank account can take months, even years. The process of managing this through collection agencies feels very old fashioned, blockchain would allow almost instantaneous transactions.
    Smart Contracts: My understanding of Smart Contracts came into focus when I envisaged them in the context of how I make a living. A Smart Contract has software capabilities to carry out financial instructions. A common reality for me as a live performer is unfortunately having to chase venues and promoters for fees. There’s no real safety net, the whole thing relies on trust, which leaves things wide open to error, delays and even complete disregard. A Smart Contract could escrow any performance fees, meaning that if both parties agree that the contract was fulfilled (I turned up, I played the show) the funds are released via the blockchain.
    Managing Data: One of the most exciting concepts for me is Imogen’s vision for all the data that surrounds songs and artists. There is a huge wealth of potentially useful information that surrounds everything we do, and most of it never materialises in a useful. Imogen has a bold ambition for this, which today’s workshop is all about: the Creative Passport.

There’s a huge wealth of information that surrounds a song. Some examples:

  • – The location of the recording session(s).
  • – Personnel beyond the artist themselves (engineers/producers/video directors).
  • – Equipment used in the making of the song.
  • – New technologies embraced through the release of the song.
  • …I could think of many more, you get the idea. This data seems pretty obviously useful in a business-to-business context. I have good relationships with various technology brands who have supported my work to better understand a new context for their products. Those relationships make a difference; imagine if a brand could see centralised data relating to their product’s usage, and actually connect the dots to the artists? Imagine if someone could quickly hire a mastering engineer based on something they heard and connected to? Data could be used to quickly open up and democratise sync opportunities, with agencies able to navigate through ‘spores’ of data relating to genre,tempo or other musical qualities.

    Imogen has a devised a robust concept to put all this in, and she calls it the Creative Passport. This would be a verified, secure collection of all your data as an artist, allowing for lateral navigation of aspects of your work and career that are usually lost. A parallel has been drawn with the historical concept of liner notes, although I think that’s an over simplification. Imogen’s concept opens up into areas of data that could levy meaningful relationships and transactions in directions google alone cannot take us easily. It also opens up to add weight and credibility to an artist’s digital presence. I’ve done some pretty bucket-list-cool-shit in my career, but those events aren’t robustly centralised in a way that can assist potential partnerships. It’s worth noting; this is not lavish editorial, filtered through hyperbole to ‘sell’ the artist: this is about robust, credible (and where necessary unbiased) data. Just like a real passport, parents could initiate the start of their child’s creative passport, recording their earliest steps into music making.

    A small thing, but I propose another ‘spore’ of data, that I’m (for now) calling Emotional Currency. I’ve made a life’s work of tackling issues that could be regarded as complex. By way of example: perhaps my best known song, Hand At Emotion, deals very directly with domestic violence. In the world of Mycelia, that too is important data. Songs are routinely organised by things like genre, tempo, even key signature, but rarely by what they actually say. There is enormous B2B opportunity here. Imagine a charity, looking for an on-point song for a campaign. Or a sync opportunity in today’s climate of cutting edge, hard hitting TV drama. Beyond that, there is potential to bring hope to every potential fan: the listener has an opportunity to explore their own life experience through music that reflects their circumstance. Artists as varied as R.E.M., Linkin Park and Tori Amos (to name a handful from hundreds) have moved and reframed my thinking on the big issues in my life, by creating emotional thinking tools in the form of emotionally realised songs. This data concept, to me, feels very Mycelia-like: a portal to an emotional journey through one of the most powerful emotive artforms, in a way that can be anonymous and decentralised. It feels like a very living concept within this technology.

    Returning to Imogen’s vision, there’s one area that people have understandable got a bit stuck on: managing exhaustive back catalogue in this new system. How do we get all of Tom Waits’ decades of data in? Imogen’s vision shifts this perspective with a very neat point: this is about a better music business future. As I scribbled in my notes: this is not legacy. This will from many perspectives represent a Year Zero. Legacy artists need not be excluded, but serving the pre-Mycelia history of Coldplay is not a problem that explicitly needs tackling. This is about a robust future, in a way that’s akin to the promises of cryptocurrency. In my biggest ambitions for this, this presents a before-and-after ecosystem, that will feel like a shift we haven’t experience since the earliest rumblings of the digital age.

    I’ve kept up with Mycelia from the earliest opportunity essentially for the simple reason that it’s lead by one of my favourite artists, whom I trust to envisage something genuinely groundbreaking and forward-thinking. That’s not to say I got it from the beginning. It has come slowly into focus through several workshops over the last year. Today was very much the day when that view became clear for me; it’s a beautiful, living, breathing concept, and one that I’m sure is going to bring a smarter, fairer and more engaging future to the music industry.

    Studio Diary #2.

    Today I burrowed deeper into the rabbit hole of the old/new song I started earlier this week. As the saying goes, talking about music is like dancing about architecture… so what do I say here? I remember Richard Thompson saying that you shouldn’t talk to much about songs you’re working on because you could talk them into the bin; seems like sensible advice. What if I describe something in a way that resonates with you, but the song underdelivers based on what you imagine for it? Or is that stuff actually too interesting to pass up on? Hmmmm.

    I can say that there is zero lag in my process right now. Working towards this sound, this place that shares common ancestry with modern metal (time will tell if it’ll be judged as truly METTUL) I know exactly where everything goes. I know what the pallette is; I know what won’t work. I used to open all the toy boxes every time, striving towards some vague notion of post-genre music making. Eclectic juxtapositions can work, but my feeling now is that without direction there is no form. I’m not spending any time trying this or that and maybe it’s a drum n bass song maybe it’s a folky song… I know *exactly* what Dyskinetic sounds like, and it sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard. The best success would that that becomes true for you too; now that, that would be making it…

    Studio Diary #1

    Wow. I finally started tracking today. The new studio sounds great; mixes sound crisper and clearer, and it’s a much nicer vibe. I started working on one of the Legacy songs, reimagined in a heavier arrangement that really works.

    Back up. Legacy?

    So there’s a decent pile of songs that date back to the mid naughties. Strong songs that due to the limitations of my production skills (and equipment) never got recorded properly. Revisiting them, they reveal themselves to really robust and still completely relevant. I just had the bad luck of writing them at a time when my recording options were severely limited. So, for future reference, these lost songs are being rebooted, and I’ll be referring to them as Legacy songs. Not sure if they’ll all stand up to being recorded, but the songs are:

    • That You’ll Never Know
    • Country Gothic
    • She Sings Your Songs
    • Ghostships (okay, that was recorded and released, but it never lived up to ambition for it)
    • Two Hours
    • Hold Your Kiss

    There’s something really interesting about revisiting songs that I’ve had for years. Little charms reveal themselves, and themes resonate with the now. In a sense I’m stripping them back; the demos of these I did years ago were crude yet complex; far too many sounds clambering for the listener’s attention. I’m rebuilding them to be heavier, more muscular, more direct.

    There’s loads of new songs on the way; there won’t just be old material. It’s just that this small handful of songs have never left me, and my abilities and the technology have caught up.

    It’s also the first day I’ve tracked heavy guitars live for this project. I’ll dedicate a separate post to what that entails for me now, but I’m pleased with how it sounded today. Pain and discomfort were thankfully mostly at bay, and I played my longest serving, most well worn in guitar. It don’t look like much, but it sure is something; it feels like an extension of me. And today, it sounded like me too. I’ve missed that. 🙂

    Catching A Break?

    I just can’t. Can’t seem to catch a break from health issues at the minute. Today, tennis elbow! I’m scheduled to lay down some guitar parts tomorrow, haven’t tried playing yet so I guess I’ll find out if this is a setback.

    It’s another episode in a long series of health setbacks. An extended period of cold symptoms over Christmas, a few days of sickness bug earlier this week and what feels like months of being swallowed up by pain and fatigue. Imagine how prolific I’d be if my body actually worked…

    c

    Studio Diary #1

    Just a quick dip in to test out some sounds for a new version of an old song. It’s sounding really good, with a bit more muscle on it’s bones.

    It’d be nice to say that I made a big event about starting, but it’s pretty gentle. I’ve been really ill over the weekend, and so things aren’t getting off to an explosive start.

    Nevertheless, it hasn’t taken long to get something workable. I’m Playing around with a bit of a different feel – can you guess what the bass sounds like?