Ramblings | November 23, 2014

Patchwork Studios Refit

Patchwork Studios has been my — and Fusion Orchestra 2’s — creative home for about a decade. It’s at the same time invigorating and distinctly unsettling to see it in pieces, being rebuilt in a different shape.
old-patch-panel
In amongst the cobwebs there are actually cable runs and bits of equipment in here that were wired up for things to do with Spinedance (the band that Col and I were in before we started FO2). I found a set list for one of our gigs amongst the wiring diagrams while I was clearing out, with songs like Billy Jean and Can’t Get You Out Of My Head on the set list (though needless to say, they were quite “alternative” in their arrangement). One of the two computers running the studio has a floppy drive in it. It might be working but I have no idea where to buy disks to check that.

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News | Ramblings | November 14, 2014

Patchwork Cacophony updates

After along, long wait, the release date is in sight for my debut album Patchwork Cacophony. All being well, it will be available to buy on the 8th December, though pre-orders will open before then. You can read the publicity material and blurb about the album elsewhere on the ‘net, but here I’m just going to talk a bit about it from a personal perspective as an experience.

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Gear | August 15, 2014

Review: Gear4Music 12 String Electro-Acoustic

One of the things about being a multi-instrumentalist is you end up with an awful lot of instruments and equipment. Leaving aside the question of where you store all of this stuff, the next obvious problem is the cost. While a professional musician might expect to buy an expensive instrument or two if it was the tool of his trade, it gets more difficult to justify and afford when you surround yourself with quite so many tools. As such, I spend quite a lot of time trying to find usable instruments at the budget end of the scale.

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Ramblings | March 8, 2014

Reading Music

I can’t read music. Well, actually that’s not quite true. I’ve passed my sight-reading in my piano exams and I do occasionally work through a score when I want to learn something specific note for note, so obviously I must be able to read to some extent. Perhaps it’s fairer to say that normally I choose to believe that I can’t really read music.

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March 1, 2014

Album of the Year: 1972 – Close To The Edge

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February 15, 2014

Album of the Year: 1971 – Uriah Heep, Salisbury

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February 1, 2014

Album of the Year: 1970 – Deep Purple In Rock

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Ramblings | February 1, 2014

Album Of The Year

I’ve often been tempted to join in with the game of posting lists of Top Ten albums or the like, but every time I’ve tried to construct one I’ve found it too difficult. There are too many albums that I love to pick so few, and yet to pick a top fifty would seem a bit pointless. My picks would also change dramatically with mood.

Recently I had the idea that I would, instead, pick an Album Of The Year for every year since I was born. That rapidly got extended to “since 1970″ because too many of my major influences date from before I was born.

Having made my list, I’ve realised I’m going to need to allow myself a little latitude as there are a few years where several really important albums were released. Oh, and needless to say this is an exercise in self-indulgence: these are the albums that matter to me, that I listen to regularly now or that marked some musical milestone for me. They are not the ones that I necessarily think should be universally acknowledged as the highlight of everyone’s year.

In any case, I will try to list one every couple of weeks. And so we begin

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Ramblings | January 27, 2014

Thinking Outside The Album

Being an inveterate devil’s advocate I could hardly write a post on the Art of the Album without commenting from the other side of the fence. Having posted at length about how the album is still a relevant form today, I now want to talk about how it is also an unnecessary straitjacket in the world of digital music.

Going back to my earlier post, a key point in the reasons for the development of albums was to do with commercial realities. There is a great deal of overhead in releasing music. To a large extent, the physical costs are pretty much flat whether you are releasing 1 minute or 1 hour, and even when you start thinking about double albums, the costs only go up marginally for that extra piece of plastic. This means that it makes sense to package several tracks up and release them all in one go, because those expenses get spread further.

In the digital world, the exact opposite is the case, at least as far as sales go. The costs involved are primarily bandwidth for delivering the files, and that is directly proportional to the amount of music you’re buying. A one hour release costs sixty times more to deliver than a one minute release. Of course, distribution is not the only factor and the actual production costs of the music in the first place need considering, but aside from this the main cost is typically marketing in all its forms.

 

Given all of this, why do we still release music in albums? Despite my previous blog arguing the case for the album, I wouldn’t claim that it’s always the right format for a release and indeed, waiting until you have enough music of similar character to make a cohesive album can be very counter-productive. While I have a strong idea in mind for an album of mostly instrumental prog-rock, I also have a growing collection of songs which I don’t feel need to be packaged up as a whole. They are for the most part stand-alone tracks, but until I have an hour’s worth of similar material, they won’t see general release.

This is exactly the sort of thing that digital distribution should be ideal for but my recent interaction with various online digital distribution channels has shown a surprising focus on releasing music in units of whole albums even if it is being sold most commonly as pick-and-mix singles. Almost everywhere I’ve looked wants you to upload a whole album at once, rather than the free form “as and when their ready” stream of tracks.

I don’t tend to write music 12 songs at a time, I write it here and there as the inspiration strikes me. It seems to me therefore that a much more sensible way for me to be releasing songs would be one by one as I feel they are ready. Not as artificial snapshots of a moment in time when the sufficient-material-ometer reaches the top of the scale, but as an ongoing stream of activity. Rather than needing a big advertising campaign on release of an album to re-engage the fan base (“The long-awaited follow up album to 2009’s hit release, We’ve Got Enough Music Here“) it would be more of an continuous conversation, with more scope for a dialogue with the listener (“The feedback on last month’s Fifty Notes On A Mellotron was really positive so I’ve been exploring the idea a bit more with Fifty Notes On A Fender Rhodes“). It’s also an approach that would work well with micro-payments.

To some extent I suppose the main argument against this approach is that the music industry is simply not set up this way. Record companies, marketing departments, charts and even listeners are used to working a certain way and things which don’t quite fit the norm end up facing a bit of an uphill struggle trying to fit a system not designed to accommodate them.

But the point as a small, independent artist is this: you already don’t fit the system, or more to the point the system doesn’t fit you. Its focus is on the mass appeal money-spinners, not the small independent artist. Why not embrace the fact that you’re different and think about engaging with your listeners in a way that suits you, whatever that is, rather than the just the way it suits the rest of the industry? Personally I will be looking into practical ways of releasing music on a more ongoing basis at some point, but more generally I think we as musicians should be finding ways that work for each us and for our listeners rather than all following the herd.

Ramblings | January 20, 2014

The Art of the Album

The Art of the Album

With the prevalence of play lists, random shuffles and digital “singles” downloads of individual tracks, the album can look more and more like an anachronism. Conceived in an era when putting a single on a record player took almost as long as listening to it, and with a long playing record having a fixed manufacturing cost no matter how much music it contained (up to the limits of medium), the album was a product of convenience. As long as the record companies did a reasonable job of filling enough of those minutes the album seemed like good value, and you could listen to 22 minutes of music without having to intervene between every song.

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