You know the spiel. Write that novel! Make that album! Learn that language!
Like many people, I expect, I wanted to believe that I was going to make the best of this time. But it’s going stale. Becoming toxic. The idea that all this extra time is an opportunity feels horribly flawed.
This isn’t normal. These aren’t the conditions to be creative. There aren’t any right conditions of course, but when there’s so much BIG stuff hanging over us, it can feel incredibly futile, trying to make something. Uncertainty is everywhere. From a distance, with the right amount of equanimity, that can be inspiring. When it’s hanging over you, less so.
But of course, so many people are making interesting work, which only makes the lack of inspiration worse. People are getting on with it. Why can’t we all?
So, no, I don’t feel like I’ve done anything of note with this time. And I’m wondering if I will. And I’m wondering if I should even worry about it.
The alternative narrative is emerging. In articles, in memes, in tweets. It’s okay if you’re not doing your best work now. We still have to survive this thing.
I’ve got songs all over the place. Ideas for videos/blogs/whatever. But I don’t have the mindset to make sense of it. I’ve also got three kids at home, and we’re trying to homeschool those. We’re struggling to buy food. I don’t know where the next pay cheque is coming from. And I’m going to make my best music in all this?
I’m looking for the threads to pull, the right ones. To find something exciting and inspiring. And manageable.
I love Getgood drums’ Modern & Massive. I love Ableton live. Using the two together is almost perfection. The one feature I always wanted was to have Drum Rack style note naming when programming M and M. And now… I have it! I’ll explain how this was done in another post if people are interested in tweaking it, but for now I’ve provided a template that is set up for Modern and Massive.
I’m starting a new studio diary! Yes. I am so in the zone right now; I’ve been making music every single day for long enough to feel like I found my thing again. I’ve been super withdrawn from recording in recent years. There is loads of reasons for that. Before the gloves came along I was like getting really super frustrated with recording anyway; and then the live thing happened and I didn’t really feel like I needed to worry about it. Live music was really exciting, and paid quite well. But i’m back in the headspace to record songs. I’ve got really excited about keeping things quite low-key; I don’t really worry about where I record nowadays. I’ve put together a really ramshackle studio set up in my garage which is not much more than an SM7B plugged into my MacBook. I’ve got a really nice chair as well. You need a nice chair. More on that later. #Chair.
Last week I released a version of Stay Frosty. It’s been floating around in various states of completion for awhile; I finally decided to dig in and get it into some kind of shape a couple of weeks ago. There’s been loads of bits and bobs of it from different sessions dating back to the flesh and dust sessions in 2015. I don’t think there’s anything that old that made the final cut, but this is from the batch of songs that I was working on when I got the gloves.
I put this version out, and I was happy with it when it went out. Less so now. One of the great reliefs of the digital age is how easy it is to release, review, and refine a piece of work. So few people have heard this version of state for a state that there is really no consequences to changing it.
The version I put out the had vocals recorded quite awhile ago, I’m not even sure when. And it’s, fine. But it’s not great. Actually, that doesn’t mean anything. Great is not a thing. It’s not authentic. That’s the problem. It’s just the words in tune and in time; it lacks any real conviction.
My voice has changed so much in the last few months. That’s very deliberate: I’ve done a lot of work to improve it, it’s probably the best it’s ever been and probably the best it ever will be. So I decided to have another go at recording it. I’m really happy with the new vocals. I think they will probably seem quite different to some people – I really do feel like my voice is quite different now. It’s certainly stronger, and I feel like I can put a lot more into it because it’s in much better shape. No other instrument is so dependent on your health to sound good.I’m working on choreography with Ayaka tomorrow morning but then hopefully I’ll have chance to mix the new vocals. I’ve got some new toys to play with; I bought the Waves Aural Exciter today which really does seem to add some vintage shine to my voice. Mmmmm.
I don’t think I’d ever have had the confidence to just be so blatant about revising something before. But I really feel so excited about the process at the moment that I don’t wanna really hide anything that I’m doing. It’s a really valid and necessary thing to refine and improve work, but sometimes it feels like music is something that gets set in stone, and isn’t a changing, transient thing. I think of recorded music more like software nowadays; versions of an idea with the luxury of pushing out updates when necessary. Songs have rich and varied lives, and I’m less and less convinced that anything has a definitive version. With that, Stay Frosty version 2.0 will be with you soon!
As always thank you for listening, reading and caring xx
Almost 5 years to the day since I got my first pair, my new MiMu Gloves arrived. These are the production models, and they are BEAUTIFUL. There’s a lot to say, but for now, here are some pics… MUCH more soon.
Last night I posted about the possibility of turning down a European date due to Brexit. Lots of “Don’t be silly! Go for it!” type comments, which suggests a misunderstanding about how careers like mine work. If I don’t play, it won’t be up to me. So here’s a quick explanation of what I mean that addresses some misconceptions:
1) Yes, it seems fancy. But for me, overseas gig offers aren’t lottery wins; they are my day job. Performing with the gloves is what puts food on the table for my kids. I’m just trying to do a day’s work, like anyone else.
2) We don’t know how we’re leaving yet. It’s likely there will be costs such as visas and Carnets. Carnets are fees that can apply to the equipment a business needs to do the work. That can include laptops, instruments and is based on the value of the equipment. I’m not chucking a Baby Taylor in a gig bag. My show rig is complex. And expensive.
3) Hiring equipment isn’t possible for the most part. The rig is completely bespoke – I certainly can’t hire gloves.
4) My last tour was profitable because I could say yes to European events with no hassle. Just negotiate a fee and hop on a plane.
5) I’m a one man operation, with a very small following. I can play for fairly modest fees and make a decent living, because my overheads are low. I want to keep it that way.
6) “Just factor the costs into your fee and pass on the expenses!” A LOT of my bookings come via charities and NPOs. Adding all these extra costs without bringing anything new to the table (I’m likely to be more expensive than last time round just because Brexit) will likely result in loosing gigs.
7) The visibility of disabled musicians is already dire. Less gigs for me is less visibility for an entire demographic. I’ve performed to tens of thousands of people in the last few years. It’s had a massive impact on the conversation around disability and music. This is important.
8) None of this is comparable to going on holiday in Europe. I’m running a business.
9) I love Europe. It’s been good to me. Brexit could fundamentally change how I make a living. I’m glad it’s a wonderful opportunity for you. Try to recognise that it’s not an opportunity for everyone.
PLEASE – sign this petition. The MU has been on this campaign for a while, and this petition at least puts it more clearly out there beyond MU members.
So please, and especially if you’re for this thing, get behind artists like me and let this government know that musicians are being hit hard by Brexit. Let’s keep music live, and keep it global. It’s a beautiful, important thing xx
So. I posted this video on social media a couple of days ago. It’s about the awkwardness that surrounds being a wheelchair user who can stand and walk (a bit). It’s gained quite a bit of traction for me; over 100 views within a few hours of being posted, which is a lot for me – I have songs that haven’t got close to that in years.
I’ve had some great feedback, but more importantly I’ve seen comments from people who were shocked at themselves; they hadn’t considered this sort of thing, and maybe thought people like me were “faking” in some way. I don’t want to berate people; if I can change one person’s mind…
Clearly I have a lot to say on disability, and although I was unsure about talking about it on YouTube, it seems to be a good thing. So I’ll do more of it. So please, share this if you find it useful, and like and subscribe to stay up to date with the next ones. There’s plenty more on the subject, that’s for sure. x
This. So much this. See the thread, Steve always has great stuff to say on this sort of thing (read: having a sustainable music career). My take on it is a little long for a tweet, so here it is.
I’m in a very privileged position, I know that. Making my music is very much the day job, in the sense that it’s where most of my income comes from, and I get to prioritise it over anything else. I have to be quite business-like about it; I’ve had success framing my music making in a way that has allowed me to pursue funding. There’s enough interest, enough newness, in what I do to keep doing it. That has meant I’ve paid the bills with my music for several years now, and I’ve enjoyed the post tour bubbles of not having to do anything for a little while.
And yet, that’s not the only thing I do. I still find myself in much more job-like settings, at least compared to touring and creating music with MiMu Gloves. Some of these jobs include:
Teaching music one-on-one.
Teaching music in SEN/D schools (usually with Drake Music).
Delivering training on Disability Equality & The Social Model Of Disability to workforces.
Writing and speaking about my experiences as a disabled person.
I don’t necessarily need to do these things, no. And on the occasions where I find myself in a school at 9:30am after a 2-hour drive, I may wonder why. Sometimes I have to say no to them, especially before a run of gigs. So if it’s not a pressing financial necessity at the moment, why do it? Because there are many more ways to measure value than in monetary terms.
Just to be clear, I’m not raking it in on tour or anything. Our household cost of living is fairly low, for various boring reasons. I didn’t really want these extra jobs when they started coming my way, but pretty soon the lightbulb came on.
These settings, this stepping out of my art and facilitating something, it felt important. It felt useful. I started to see the streak of triviality in my own ambitions to get famous and sell records. Yes, my music matters to me, but if all that comes of what I have to offer the world is my own success, that seems a bit… irrelevant. There’s already enough music, right? I’m not curing cancer.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit flippant. There’s a baked in diversity issue with anything I do. The music industry is an ableist mess, so my presence in it, however small, will always be more than just another singer/songwriter having a go. That’s not a good thing though, is it? My being disabled matters a lot to people, because disabled people are so poorly represented in music.
My point! Work outside of your own art – day jobs, side hustles, whatever you call them – they don’t have to be a compromise, and they don’t need to contradict your art. Quite the opposite. They can enrich it massively. Working with young people, especially young disabled people, is making me a better musician. It feels useful and worthwhile, but I can also be completely selfish about it; it makes my music measurably better.
So don’t give up the day-job/side hustle, and if you don’t have one, I can highly recommend finding one. For me, there’s been so much more value to it than money.
I started writing songs in an era dominated by cassette tapes. My little Sanyo tape recorder had a built in microphone, and my earliest songs were committed to tape (real tape) that way. It looked something like this:
That worked perfectly well to get the ideas out of my head; chords, melodies, lyrics. But to imagine something more like a record, that would require multitrack recording. Fortunately, I had access to one of these:
And with that, I could make that most hallowed of things when you’re 14 in 1996; a Demo Tape.
There was never any illusions of finish with a demo tape. It was a demonstration of the song. I remember a cassette, given away free with the NME, doing the rounds at school. It included the demo of Oasis’ Live Forever. It was like hearing a sacred artefact. The difference between the demo and the hit, it revealed so much of the process. I knew I couldn’t make a record on 4 track, but I could get my vision across 4 whole tracks. 4 tracks! You don’t know you’re born etc etc.
Fast forward to this digital age of software instruments and final master quality sounds within a laptop, and the concept of a demonstration recording seems to have fallen away. In this part of the timeline, many of us just make the track. With so many great sounds available, why not? Even heavy guitars, traditionally a challenge to record well, can be direct injected straight into a laptop and into incredibly realistic amp simulations. It’s all possible; even the most ambitious ideas can be created this way, and it’s possible to start work with as through vision to a final master.
So why demo? Well, I think there’s a few things that get lost for me in the digital age. Art needs restriction to thrive, and the endlessness of opening a blank DAW session and working right through to a release lacks a certain boundary. Demos were restricted by all sorts of factors; time, format, resources. And in amongst those limitations is the excitement that feeds a song in it’s early stages.
I say this after testing the theory. Earlier this week, while working with one of my regular studio collaborators, I found myself needing to turn something around fast. We were working on a cover version, and the arrangement we had wasn’t landing for me. I had exactly 1 hour to fight my case and come up with something better. No time to A/B amp sims, no time to program drums in detail, I just had to throw stuff at the wall. I haven’t worked that way in a long time, and it was a revelation. Using Logic Pro X’s Drummer track, smashing the nearest guitar down via the first amp sim patch that was vaguely appropriate, we pulled a track together in an hour. It’s not the final thing, but it had a ton of energy.
Repeating the exercise the next day, I sat down and demoed one of my new songs. I gave myself the afternoon; if I didn’t have something reasonably listenable by the end of the day, the song was to be binned. No time to tweak, no time to even go to the studio. I sat in my living room and threw things down. Now at the end of the week, I’m listening to 4 demos. All too rough for public consumption, but full of energy and quick thinking. The first song had some structural issues that I just couldn’t find the inspiration to fix. I solved the problem in the final 20 minutes of my demo session, and the changes are some of my favourite things about the song now. Fresh music.
So I’m making demos again, and listening back to them in the evening, like I’m 15 again. Some simple ground rules guide this approach:
Limited time. An afternoon is enough.
A very “light” set-up: guitars DI’d, a dynamic mic to track vocals.
Use loops and/or MIDI packs to quickly sketch drums.
Feel the pressure! Solving problems is easier under pressure.
It’s important that these are not “good” recordings. There’s lots of holes, holes to be filled with imagination. There’s a greater sense of continuity across multiple songs too. For me, finishing one song, moving on to the next, it lacks consistency. Having rough demos to listen to side-by-side reveals narrative clues about how songs sit together. One song at a time in isolation, I lose that perspective.
As with anything, it’s a bespoke solution. This may be dreadful for you. Seeing a master recording through from a blank session may be the joy you get from the process. But for me, quick and rough snapshots, especially when dealing with a pile of songs, really helps. It feels familiar, and that’s part of it’s charm. Maybe that’s more the clue; tapping into the enthusiasm of my early, limited attempts at recording. Certainly, there was a magic to staying late after school to work on a Portastudio with one microphone that doesn’t come from opening Logic on my MacBook.
What about you? What parts of your early process could be worth tapping into? Let me know!