Thursday 30 May 2013

The RP round table at the Church Studios with 7 leading producers

We recently recorded a discussion with seven leading British producers about how the industry has changed and how they have evolved to stay busy and in-demand.  Many other topics are discussed in the video that runs for 1 hour.

CLICK HERE to watch the video.

Sunday 28 April 2013

How Music Works - Eccentric's observations

How Music Works

Well, it’s spring and that means snow…oh, and the return of Pop Pornography in the shape of prime time Karaoke, The Voice.

As (both) my regular readers will know, I made my views on this glitzy garbage known first time round and I have little to add now.

I’ve just started reading an extraordinary book by David Byrne called ‘How Music Works’. And when I say extraordinary, I mean it.

I can’t recommend this collection of essays highly enough to all of you – all of us – involved in the creative process. Although it’s an easy read – the ten chapters are really stand-alone essays covering different aspects of music – the content is so thought provoking that the ideas stay with you, feed your mind and plant seeds that grow and grow and grow. This truly is ‘baby bio’ for any musician’s brain.

Whether you like Byrne and/or Talking Heads or not, the man is a great communicator and paints such a graphic picture about music, technology, the creative process and the music business that everyone involved in our industry, from absolute beginners to grizzled old cynics like me, can learn a huge amount.

For those involved in recording and production, chapters such as…

Technology Shapes Music; Analogue
Technology Shapes Music; Digital
In The Recording Studio
And Business and Finances

Should be essential reading,. Indeed, the thousands of music technology and recording courses up and down the country should put How Music Works on the curriculum immediately. They won’t because most don’t know their recording arse from their musical elbow… but therein lies another bugbear of mine.

The contrast between the creativity of Byrne and the bland manufactured vacuum that is ‘The Voice’ could not be starker; it is the difference between a musician and a mimic. Although not a biographical work, Byrne’s enthusiasm for all forms of music shines through as he describes his lifelong love of and search for emotion through sound from every continent and culture. And his explanation of his personal creative process is enlightening. Never satisfied with a conventional approach to writing – music or lyrics – recording or even releasing his work, Byrne strives constantly to push his art to the limit, to find new ways of expressing himself and explore the possibilities of technology. Standing in front of a microphone and singing has as much to do with his music as lacing up boots has for a mountaineer; both are essential but tiny parts of a larger process.

Although only part way into the book, I’ve already learned a lot. For example, like most of you I assumed that the classic Talking Heads albums were children of their time (the late 1970s/early 1980s), recorded at huge cost over months in top class studios. Not a bit of it. Indeed, Byrne, his fellow band members and Brian Eno, the producer, worked in a way that anticipated many of today’s artists, demoing material on Tascam portastudios or Teac four track machines, then rehearsing and laying down backing tracks in bass player Tina Weymouth’s loft apartment before mixing in the studio. Even where the band did record in a conventional studio, they worked quickly and, at Brian Eno’s suggestion, played together in the live room rather than relying upon acoustic separation, isolation and overdubs as was the production vogue back then. But there was more…

Talking Heads ‘Remain In Light’ changed the way I heard and made music. It was, and is, a quite extraordinary album that shattered convention when it was released. It was the first rock album I heard that relied upon groove to define the songs in a way that even the great Funk projects of the time didn’t quite manage. I guess I’d always taken the album for granted, as a natural progression from a talented and adventurous band. But Byrne’s description of the process that led to the tracks has made me reassess my assumptions.

The band set out quite deliberately to redefine song structure and work in a unique way, starting with a collection of rhythmic grooves without chord changes or conventional structures and then adding textures and finally Byrne’s incredible melodies and lyrics. What is of relevance to my present waffle is the fact that these songs could not have existed without recording technology – the songs relied upon tracking and overdubbing , chopping and editing (on tape of course – it’s easier now) and then sophisticated texturing and mixing in the studio. But this was not an expensive process. As I said earlier, the grooves were cut in the bass player’s loft apartment, Byrne then worked with a stereo recording to experiment with melodies, structures, textures and lyrics and modest studio costs only really kicked in during the later stages of dubbing and mixing. The greatness of what is, to me, one of the seminal albums of the last thirty years lay in the talent and creativity of those involved, not big budgets and glitzy production values.

If I’m trying to make a point, it’s that today’s musicians, producers and record companies appear to have lost the desire to experiment and push creative boundaries. We seem to live in an age where the ‘artist’ requires (or demands?) expensive equipment, production teams and sophisticated technology to express him or herself. It is almost as if there is an assumption that without such trappings, recordings cannot exist. And the result? A decade of bland recorded sterility, lacking or maybe even overwhelming the creative spirit.

Are The Voice and X Factor a cause or a symptom of the stifling of talent? Well, maybe both. Because firstly they present ‘music’ as a soulless, homogenised product – the result of a carefully contrived and expensive production manipulated by show business spivs - and secondly they promise a short cut to popular acclaim. These shows suggest that the route to making a recording career can be from warbling in the bath via a television talent show to massive budget recording sessions and international promotion over the course of a few months – your milkman can easily become the next Elvis Presley overnight.

Do we get what we deserve? Maybe. Maybe we don’t search hard enough for that rare, true talent that still exists and if we glimpse it, perhaps we don’t appreciate it sufficiently and support it through the trials and tribulations of the early years of development. Indeed, we offer loud and usually false praise for every vague talent that comes along rather than allowing it to mature and develop a unique identity before shivering in the spotlight of critical appraisal. Everybody wants to cash in quick – ‘Money, money, money’ (to quote one of the ‘mentors’ on The Voice) – rather than nurture and allow the creative buds to slowly bloom.

But all is not doom and gloom. It never is. There will always be truly talented musicians ploughing an individual furrow in bedrooms, private studios, backroom bars or sweaty gigs around the country. I know many young engineers and producers pushing their limited technology to unexpected limits and digging new furrows in the tired fields of our industry. But what do they do with the results? Again, Byrne offers answers by examining different ways to release and distribute music, and invaluable advice about retaining rights and licensing where appropriate.

Look – if you haven’t ever bought or read a book in your life, break the habit and pick up a copy of ‘How Music Works’ by David Byrne. If you are in any way involved with recording, writing or making music, you’ll not merely enjoy it, but you’ll learn so much; this book will stay with you forever. And for the cost of a couple of takeaway Pizzas, you can feed your soul for years.

Oh, and if possible, please order it from your local bookshop rather than those tax-dodging scumbags at Amazon.

David Byrne – How Music Works…published by McSweeney’s

The Eccentric Blog… reproduced in conjunction with

Friday 12 April 2013

Fairlight CMI Demo in London 17-19th April

Funky Junk in conjunction with Peter Vogel Instruments and SNAP! Studios will be showing the CMI-30Afor the first time ever in the UK at Snap! Studios this April.  Industry professionals will have an opportunity to book an extended one-on-one demonstration session with the spiritual successor of one of the most influential electronic musical instruments of all time.

PVI General Manager, Graeme Renaud, will be conducting the sessions and will demonstrate all aspects of the system, from the classic retro inspired Page R sequencer, through the revolutionary Soundry with its convolution and additive harmonic synthesis, to the amazing CMI sample libraries.

There will be four, 2-hour sessions per day, running between 9am and 6pm from Wednesday the 17th to Friday the 19th of April.  Book now to avoid disappointment as the schedule is filling up fast.
Attendance is open to all by appointment so contact Funky Junk now to book a slot.
Please follow the details in the email body and delete as appropriate.

Also on display will be the NEW Mellotron M4000D digital version of the classic Mellotron.

SNAP! Studios is located in North London close to Manor House tube station.

Off street garage parking with direct private access to the studio is available by request and yummy refreshments and endless fresh tea and coffee will be laid on.

Funky Junk LtdUnit 10, 407-409 Hornsey Road - London - UK
telephone: +44 (0)207 281 4478

Sunday 31 March 2013

Romesh Dodangoda - New video interview

Longwave Romesh is one of the hottest metal and rock producers out there and we are delighted to feature an exclusive 30 minute interview shot at his studio in Cardiff with ace interviewer George Shilling asking the questions.

Click here to watch the video!

Romesh Dodangoda

Saturday 23 March 2013

Grosvenor Road Studios

Our latest music studio video tour is of Birmingham's very 'off the radar' SSL studio: Grosvenor Road Studios.  We had recording engineer Mikey Godfrey take us around to check out this amazing 60 year old recording studio!

Mikey Godfrey at the SSL - Grosvenor Road Studios

Saturday 9 March 2013

Fran Ashcroft Waxes Lyrical

Waxing Lyrical

By Fran Ashcroft

It's been coming for a while - yes folks, as predicted in these very pages, vinyl is back. Not in a mainstream way, but an interesting one, and an international phenomenon at that.

The surge really got underway last year, with new indie micro labels springing up all over the place, issuing  releases as vinyl only, limited editions; and selling out fast. It's a perfect alternative to our digital, disposable, corporatised industry; imbued with a punk, DIY ethic, it's a gift to the burgeoning underground from the dept. of the bleeding obvious. 

There's always been an appeal to the physicality of vinyl, from taking the record from its sleeve to putting the needle onto the grooves, which makes it a participatory, ritualised kind of experience. There's something that goes far beyond the sonic - and I don't mean coloured vinyl or gatefold sleeves - and a sense of ownership that remains special and unique. I think perhaps vinyl captures the memories that music evokes in a more permanent way than any other storage device, and that's part of the magic.

Most of the releases I worked on last year went out on vinyl, yet the majority of the tracks were digitally recorded - and some would actually have come off better if kept in the digital domain. But that isn't the point. The vinyl comeback is to do with trying to put a sense of value and meaning back into music, and you can't argue with that. 

Of course, there's no money in it - manufacturing costs are high, and on typically short run releases, the margins are paper thin. But it has cred for the bands, adds brand loyalty for a label, and promises to build a dedicated, loyal fan base for both. So much so that a smattering of past their sell by date pop stars are falling over each other and jumping on the bandwagon as fast as they can to start their own vanity vinyl operations, and some of the smarter industry guys are sniffing around to see what the next trend might be to come out of it all (don't hold your breath for the next big thing 'garage psych blues' band to be touted and tarted up by a major). 

You might think this amounts to nothing more than harking back to the days of selling records out of the back of a pick up truck. But with a bit of luck, this little vinyl renaissance will foster a new generation of indie labels and artists - so don't throw away your Dansette just yet.

Fran Ashcroft on