A couple of weeks ago one of my favourite YouTubers released a video titled, Musical Things I Wish I Worked Out Sooner and it got me thinking, which Musical Things do I wish I worked out sooner. So this week I decided I would share some of my own musical mistakes and things that I wish I had worked out sooner, I also advise that you go and watch the original video that inspired this blog post by Steve San-Ontaria on his YouTube Channel samuraiguitarist. So without further ado, I give you the Musical things I Wish I Worked out Sooner.
You don’t need to know a lot to be a Jazz Improviser
I used to think that be a jazz improviser, you needed to be the king of playing arpeggios over chord changes, to always be using altered scales and diminished licks, to be constantly looking to add substitutions over the changes and I could not have been more wrong. Sure a lot of great Jazz improvisers use these techniques to help spice up their solos but honestly all you need to start improvising over any forms music including in jazz are a couple of scales: The Major and Minor Pentatonic. These are at often at the centre of a lot of Jazz Improvisations. The real kings and queens of jazz improvisation may spice up their solos with a lot of the techniques I talked about but many will often use basic pentatonic scales to inform a wide breadth of their playing. I wish I started trying to get the hang of improvising using these scales sooner whilst I tried to master the other techniques on the side, in fact I would have mastered the more advanced techniques sooner if had just simply started with the basics.
Speed is not everything
I used to believe that to be a great player, you needed to be a speed demon and though speed can certainly add an extra dimension to your playing, it is only one of many possible dimensions and you certainly do not need to play fast to be a great musician. Think of all the greats that play slow and are still regarded as greats, think of your David Gilmore’s, Eric Clapton’s, Miles Davis’s and Ludovico Einaudi’s; these are all players who emphasise note choice and rhythmic phrasing over note speed which, whether you play slow or fast, is the most important aspect of your playing.
Gear will not make you a better player
It is something we hear all the time and yet it took me a long time to take this to heart and maybe this is not that surprising when we have a variety of companies trying to capture our attention claiming that they alone can make us sound the way we want to. Now I am not one to say that gear is totally unimportant; Gear can really help you get the tone you aspire to create, in can be the final piece of the jigsaw in your sound, but it is far from the most important aspect of your music. The most important aspect of your music is your playing itself and no piece of gear will fix that, only practice can. I wish I understood this sooner, fawned less over gear and started putting the hours in the shed that I needed to.
Regular practice is more important that mammoth practice sessions
I used to rarely practice and when I did I would put in these long mammoth sessions where I would play for hours. Though I am not going to say that these sessions were totally fruitless as they certainly did lead to me improving they did not result in me making the progress that I wanted to make. Due to the way our brains work we benefit much more from regular practice than we do from irregular long practice sessions. I wish I had developed a regular practice routine sooner because if I had I would be a much better player than I am now. However regular practice is only one side of the equation what I also wish I had worked out sooner was the art of…
Too often as a young player I would find that my practice routines were sporadic, unplanned and would vary massively from session to session. Once again this approach to my practice sessions meant that my progress was slow and in some areas I lacked any progress at all. Though effective practice is a whole area of playing that requires quite a bit more than a few sentences to explain (comment below if you would like a blog post on effective practice) essentially you need to make sure that you work out specific areas of your playing that you would like to work on and break them down into small manageable chunks and make sure you focus on these chunks every single practice session until you master it. If I had worked this out sooner I would have saved myself a lot of time and developed at a much faster rate.
You need to play slow to play fast, no slower, no slower, NO SLOWER!
As soon as I knew I wanted to play fast I went through the typical mistake of playing way too fast before discovering that a) using a metronome is essential and b) that playing very slowly is essential. So I started using these tools, what it took me way too long to realise was just how slow you needed to play. The point of slowing down your playing is to enable your conscious brain to isolate the individual movements that you need to make with a given technique and master them effectively. This means slowing yourself down to a pace where you can achieve this, often as slow as 40-60bpm, sometimes even slower. It may seem extreme but by doing so you will master speed quicker and better than you would using any other approach.
Chords are important
With my early playing days being very focused on Hard Rock and Metal I came to think that power chords were all I really needed and that all these chords with the weird array of numbers attached to them were not important and boy was I wrong. What I failed to realise was that even though these chords seemed to rarely turn up in rock and metal, they in fact were turning up all the time, whether in full or reduced forms, in clean chord based sections or in their arpeggiated form; these chords were there, they were just hidden. Understanding these chords and their sound is just as important to rock and metal as it is to Jazz and R&B. Now if I wanted to be nothing more than a punk rocker then maybe I would have been right, but I wanted to be a proficient guitar player and to be that you need to understand chords.
So those are some of the musical things that I had wished that I had worked out much sooner, what about you guys out there? What are the musical things you wish you had worked out sooner and if you are not a musician what things in general do you wish you had worked out sooner? I am sure it will make for some funny comments. So let me know below.
It is a story that makes headlines regularly, music venues are disappearing. According to the first UK Live Music Censes in 2017, a third of small music venues outside of London are fighting to survive (1) while a 2015 report found that 35% of music venues had gone out of business since 2007 (2). Though it is hard to confirm the the accuracy of these stats due to the fact that it is hard to define what a music venue is, as many venues are also bars, pubs, clubs, theatres and community centres, if these stats are anywhere near accurate it is worrying for the music industry as a whole. The music industry relies on music venues at all levels to produce talent; small venues particularly act as a playground for young up and coming bands to develop. So what is causing the decline of music venues and what can we do about it?
The first key problem is quite simple on the surface: Money. Music venues face large overhead costs and increasing business rates. They often require a large amount of expensive equipment such as microphones, Speakers, Mixing Desks, Amplifiers and Drum Kits and addition to this they require a sound engineer to run it. All of this is needed just to ensure that a venue can put on shows. Many venues also pay for someone to help organise and run the shows for them which is another overhead. On top of this, various business rates are increasing with the north London venue the Lexington saying that their business rates had increased by 118% (10). When you take factors like these into account it becomes easy to see why 40% small venues in the UK Live Music Census said that increasing business rates were having an impact on their business in the last 12 months (1).
Then you have to remember that venues are often run as pubs or bars which is an industry facing its own set of problems. 4 in 5 people have had a pub close down within 5 miles of them and an average 18 pubs across the country are closing their doors each week (4). We are currently living in an age where people are buying less alcohol in pubs and clubs and are buying more to drink at home. Younger people are also drinking less than previous generations (5). These factors are likely resulting in many places loosing sorely needed income. Venue licences can also often result in venues having to close their doors just when their business is peaking. Andre Joyzi the ex manager of the Soho Rocks spoke of how the license prevented the bar from becoming a ‘profitable business’ in an article for louder sound (2).
Decreasing revenues and increasing costs are not the only thing causing problems for venues, the big headliner that we have all heard about is noise complaints. 27% of venues said that noise complaints had, had a negative effect on their business in the last 12 months. For a long while there was not much that venues could do to deal with complaints as legally residents had the upper-hand placing the onus on venues to fix the problem rather than the developer, homeowner or landlord. This in itself resulted in growing money issues for venues who then had to pay legal fees, sound proofing, fines and then had to comply with restrictions on when they could have live music resulting in decreased revenues due to lack of events for customers to go to. In the end many venues simply could not keep up with these costs and had to close their doors. Fortunately, this problem seems to have been fixed with the ‘Agent of Change’ Principle in the amendments to the National Planning & Policy Framework. However, considering this change only came in 2018 it is still to be seen how much a positive effect this will have on music venues.
The final problem is redevelopment. We live in a time where we are short of housing with the Charity Shelter claiming that 1.2 million homes need to be built and the Government funding the development 250,000 homes by 2022 (6). This unfortunately often results in music venues being pushed out the areas they once inhabited. 12 bar, a London music venue, is the perfect example of a venue that was pushed out of its area due to redevelopment (2). The bar was once one of the key small music venues in Soho at the heart of London’s music scene on Denmark Street. However, the development of the Crossrail in the area resulted in the venue having to close in 2015 (2).
So what can we do about these problems and ensure music venues survive on into the future. One of the key things a venue can do is to change their business structure and model. By changing from a private business to a community interest company, venues can become open to various forms of funding previously not available to them such grants from the arts council (2) (7). On top of this venues should look towards other ways to generate income. Most venues are way too reliant on a few income streams, these often being revenue made over the bar, ticket sales and payments made by promoters. This leaves venues vulnerable to changes in demand, particularly in a time where people are drinking less whilst out (5) (6). Many venues need to start looking to diversify their income by offering other products and services such as band rehearsals on off nights, coffee during the day, food, a small record shop, a film shooting location, live audio and video recording, there are loads of options on the tables for venues to diversify and to start thinking outside of the box. In Louder than Sounds Article, promoter of Leicester’s Firebug points out that ‘All of Leicester’s successful venues are ones that have diversified’ (2).
In my research what is scarily talked about is the role social media is both having on music venues and music nights in general as well as the role it can play in the future. In seoNo’s article ‘Is Social Media ‘Destroying’ Local Live Music?’ (8) John Simm, a drummer for Coroner for the Police pointed out that Promotion is one of the key aspects of a successful night. In a world where we are living more of our lives online, social media is a key aspect to this. Venues can use this as an opportunity to further their connections with their regular attendees and attract the attention of more people. Showing videos of live performances, interviews with Bands, behind the scenes and much more could be great tools in building that connection and getting more customers in the door (8).
The government can also enact changes in public policy that will be beneficial to the growth of music venues; this will allow communities to gain from the economic and cultural benefits that live music offers. The results from the 2017 Live Music Census suggests that 1 in 5 music venues are not open to under 18s (1). This is a problem for two reasons: Firstly, it fails to capture the interest of young music lover’s potential resulting in a lack of new ears in the next generation and secondly, it results in a whole section of society not paying to see live music which is revenue these venues desperately need. This challenge can be addressed through both businesses restructuring their business to allow younger music lovers to watch music in their venues and through changes in licensing laws so venues are allowed to let younger fans into their venues. This change could include allowing a special license for music venues allowing them to let those between 14 and 18 in their venues. Pubs are able to let families with young children into their pubs, so why not extend the same opportunities to music venues.
Fortunately, I can finish this blog on a high note. In 2018 the UK Parliament passed an amendment to the National Planning & Policy Framework including the Agent of Change Principle (9). This essentially ensures that new developers have to take into account the noise from other premises in the area and ensure that steps are taken to mitigate the impacts of the noise. This is a great step in the right direction and is great news for the live industry in the UK. Is it the cure to all the problems venues face? No, and there are still problems with Agent of Change, namely the fact that the current laws only apply to England as Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are yet to ratify the amendment and the fact that we are yet to see how effective agent of change will be; none the less this is one sore that the venues will hopefully have worry little about into the future (9).
In short, live music venues are under threat and facing many challenges. The challenges it faces could be devastating for music in this country in the long term however, these are not unsolvable problems; there are solutions. If certain changes to our funding our laws can become key topics within our parliament and if venues can get creative and look to reinvented themselves, in the new musical landscape that we live in then live venues might not only survive but thrive.
1. Uk’s First Live Music Census Finds Small Venues Struggling
2. What’s Happening to all our music venues
3. Live Music Census
4.Pubs closing at rate of 18 a week as people stay at home
5. Pubs in danger: Six charts on how the British drink
6. England needs Millions of homes to solve housing crisis
7. Government Guide to Community Interest Companies
8. Is social media destroying live music
9. Uk Planning System finally recognises the Agent of change Principle So What Now?https://www.citymetric.com/business/uk-planning-system-finally-recognises-agent-change-principle-so-now-what-4301
10. Music industry hits out after grassroots venues are denied small business rates cut
So you have written a song or a number of songs. Maybe you are in a band that has spent months in the practice room crafting the perfect EP or album or you are a singer songwriter who has written a song in your bedroom that you would love to record as a single. Either way you need to start thinking about the production of your song.
So what do I mean by production? It is a term that it is often used synonymously to refer to recording, studio engineering, mixing and mastering. In this post when I refer to production I am referring to the specific decisions made by either you or a producer in the process of arranging and recording your song. I will not be using it to refer to the mixing and mastering of your track. So what can you do to get the best out of the production of your track. This week I am offering a few tips and ideas to help you make your track sound amazing.
Be aware of the genre you are working in
I know as artists we really hate to be put into boxes and we like to think that our music stands out from the crowd and by giving our music a specific genre we are ignoring all the quirks and individual touches we have put into our music and honestly I agree with that sentiment. However, placing your music within a genre can help a lot with the decision making process during production. Doing so does not mean that your music lacks what makes it sound unique, but ensures that you make the right production decisions to get the best out of your music. If you really want to, you can even pick a genre that is completely different to your music but has a sound you would love to emulate. This can help to add to the uniqueness of your music’s sound. A great example of this is the album Screamadelica by Primal Scream which is essentially a classic rock album with an approach in its production similar to that of 90s Dance Music.
Use Reference Tracks
Now that you are aware of what genre you would like to help inform your production, you can pick some references tracks. Sometimes one is enough, other times you may take inspiration from a few. Listen out for elements that you would like to emulate in your track: Maybe you want your instruments to sound a certain way, maybe you like the balance of a certain song, you might want to emulate some synthesiser sounds or maybe you love the reverb or delay found on a certain track. By looking out for the elements you would like to emulate you can pick out a number of reference tracks and use them to help inform your production decisions.
Do some Research
Research can be essential for helping you to make the right choices in your production. Find out what was used to record your reference tracks: what were pre-amps, microphones, microphone techniques, mixing desk, recording room size, drums, guitars, amps, and other instruments used. By knowing these you can make decisions on what you are going to use on your recording. Even if you cannot get the exact set up used in a track, knowing which elements were used can help you to work out how your going to emulate those sounds effectively. For example, you may not be able to get an original Roland TR-808, but you can certainly find a loop library containing all the 808 drum sounds without too much hassle. Be aware that you do not have to use the elements you have discovered in your research, you are more than welcome to use something else entirely, but it does not hurt to know what has gone into the production of your chosen reference tracks so you may pick and choose accordingly.
Be aware the the frequency space each instrument occupies
One of the biggest problems beginner producers and artists make when recording a track is not being aware what space each instrument occupies within the frequency spectrum. Too often we end up with instrumentation clashing with one another in a similar frequency range resulting in us being unable to hear the music clearly. Now this does not mean that different instruments cannot occupy the same space, sometimes you want some instrumentation to work together; For example, multiple horns may play around the same area in the frequency spectrum for a big sounding brass or you may have guitars, synths and piano playing similar chords, notes and rhythm in a verse. But if you want a single instrument to stand out on its own like a vocal or an instrumental solo then you will want to make sure that no other instrument is covering up that sound.
Plan in advance
Using the information mentioned previously you can now begin to put together a plan. This plan will include things like how you are going to schedule the recording, whether you are going to record track by track or live and what microphones and microphone techniques you are going use. The plan is not set in stone, sometimes during the recording process you may realise another decision is in fact the better one but having a plan can ensure what direction your want to take in recording and streamline your recording process.
Attempt to justify all your decisions
Do not make decisions blindly. By making sure that you can justify all your decisions you can be more certain that your track will come out the way you envisioned. If you make decisions arbitrarily this will not be the case for example, if you want a live improvised feel for some kind of jazz ensemble you would not want to record each individual musician track by track, you would want to record them live all within sight of one another so those musicians can react and vibe off one another.
Introduce new ideas throughout your track
It is something that we often do not even realise but as listeners we often require new elements to be introduced to the music throughout a track. Doing so helps to keep our ear interested. When you get a chance, listen to some of your favourite music and see if you can hear this happening. Now it does not always happen with all music so if you cannot hear it in the music you like go and listen to a few top 40 hits, even if you hate top 40 like me I will guarantee you will learn a lot. By adding extra melodies, harmony, percussion, instrumentation, samples and audio effects throughout your track you can help to keep life in your music from start to finish. This is not something you have to do as there are many great pieces of music that do not do this, but it is a really easy trick to really bolster the production of your songs.
Pitch Correction and Audio-warping are great tools and not be feared
Pitch-Correction (Sometimes called auto-tune) and Audio-Warping (Used to change the timing of audio) often get a bad wrap but they can be really useful tools in tidying up your recordings. I talked a little bit about this in a previous post in which I talk about auto-tune, auto-tune can be a great way to save the best take and make music production a hell of a lot easier. That being said I would advise people use it with caution and use your chosen genre and reference tracks to inform your decisions when it comes to the use of these tools. If you are creating a high-level production pop track, then using a lot of auto-tune and audio warping can be essential for getting that really perfect and polished sound, styles like Funk, Rock and Metal would require it to be used sparingly so as to keep the raw feel that informs these styles whilst correcting minor mistakes on the best takes. In styles like Folk or Punk you may want to avoid using these tools completely and allow the mistakes to shine through. Of course these are just guidelines but having these thoughts in mind can really help to inform you decision to use or not use these production tools.
Guitar is an instrument that is at the centre of my life, I adore playing and have found it has opened up a number of opportunities both inside and outside of my career. But despite this, there are still a number of things I wish I knew before I started playing. In todays blog I will try and shed light on some of those things and tell you some of things I wish I knew before I started playing guitar.
It is hard
Though guitar is one of the most accessible instruments out there it does not mean that it is easy. I have lost count of the number of times I have had pupils say to me ‘I want to learn c within a weeks’ when in reality c can takes a lot longer than a to learn. Guitar is hard, our hands are not used to holding the guitar the right way and our fingers neither have the dexterity or strength to hold chords right out of the bat. Playing guitar…
…Requires a lot of time and dedication
To get to a point where you can play the basics proficiently can take months and for it to happen that quickly you really need to be picking up and playing the guitar for a significant amount of time most days. I often advise pupils to make sure that they are playing 6 out of the 7 days in the week for at least 20 minutes if not 30 minutes to ensure that they make sufficient progress. Those who are impatient and do not make such a dedication in time and effort to the instrument often end up losing interest due to lack of progress whilst those who make a habit out of practice and are patient in their progress often end up progressing a lot quicker than anticipated. If you are going to learn to play time and dedication are an absolute must.
It is not always fun
Though we play because it is fun and because we enjoy playing, learning to play is not always fun. In fact, it can sometimes be downright boring. To get to a point where we can use a certain skill to play for fun often requires hours or mind numbing exercises. But to be able to play well and to be able to do the fun stuff requires us to spend that time being bored to get there.
It will hurt to begin with but in time your fingers will adjust
We are not used to putting our arms, hands and fingers into the positions required to play the guitar. You will find practicing will hurt sometimes, particular after long periods as you are yet to develop the strength and stamina to play but do not worry as in time your hands and fingers will adjust and having a guitar in your hands will begin to feel comfortable. Now I do need to make a clear distinction between good pain and bad pain. It is ok if after a while practicing your hands and fingers ache a little like kind of pain you would feel after exercising, however if you feel any sharp pain stop playing immediately! I repeat stop playing immediately! You may well be causing damage and could potentially be causing injury. To avoid this happening I advise that you find a guitar tutor. A good tutor will ensure that you avoid the mistakes that will likely cause you injury and can guide you through the process of slowly increasing the strength, stamina and dexterity of your hands and fingers. If you are interested feel free to look into my own guitar lessons or feel free to read up on my blog post offering advice on how to find the right tutor for you.
You will need to trim your finger nails all the time!
As a guitarist you will find it is very easy for your finger nails to become an impedance. If they get too long they can get in the way of you playing melodies, holding notes and strumming chords. You will therefore find that to prevent this from happening you will have to cut your finger nails, a lot! I cut mine at least once a week. Sorry ladies, I am afraid you are not going to be able to grow your finger nails if you want to play, maybe settle for the temporary option of fake nails for nights out and special occasions because the rest of the time you are going to need to keep your nails short and trim. Now if you are someone who likes to finger pick using your nails, like a many classical guitarists, then you have a whole load of other care to worry about including filing, creams and supplementation. In short, nail care is surprisingly important to guitar players. Who would have thought?
It can be expensive
Playing guitar can become quite an expensive hobby. Good quality guitars, amplifiers and effects are not cheap with their prices easily able to exceed thousands of dollars, euros or pounds. On top of that is paying for the accessories such as strings, cables, straps, capos and plectrums. Some of these such as strings and plectrums need to be replaced regularly due to wear or loss (you will be surprised how many and how easily plectrums are lost). Now of course you do not necessarily need all this gear to play guitar, for many one instrument is enough and investing in other gear is excessive. However, if you want to become a serious player and perform gigs and record then you are going to need to invest in some gear equipment. If I were you apologise to your bank balance in advance.
There are many different specialisms
I used to have this idea that a great guitar player was someone who could play anything that was put in front of them and though some highly skilled players are able to adapt to multiple situations, to be able to excel in the intricacies of certain specialisms can take years to master. There is no single type of guitar player. Those who are a great at styles like Rock often face difficulty trying to adapt to styles like Jazz and vice versa. On top of genres, other musical skills require a lot of study and dedication in and of themselves. A really talented songwriter may not be technically proficient in playing guitar but their ability to play with words, rhythm, melody and chords can take years to develop. In short, do not expect to become a player who is great at everything. You will find one or a number of niche’s that fit what you want to do and become good at it whilst other areas of your playing will not receive as much focus.
There will always be someone better than you
When I started playing, I started with a mission to be the best guitar player the earth had ever seen. The only problem with this idea is that there is no such thing as the best guitar player ever. After all, playing guitar is about producing something that is very much subjective: Music; and even though there is some consensus on who are truly great guitar players no single one of them could ever claim to be the greatest guitar player ever. If you looked to players like BB King, who many say was the greatest blues guitar player ever, many would say he is not anywhere close to the standard of Jimmy Hendrix when it comes to playing 60s classic rock. So play with the acknowledgement that there will always be some area of your playing that someone else will be better at no matter how long you play for, and instead aim to better yourself as a player rather than someone else.
In the past I have talked about ‘Why having a teacher is better than self-teaching' but this of course is really no good if we do not find the right tutor. Often when looking for a tutor to teach us how to sing or play a musical instrument we go for the quickest, closest and cheapest option but, by doing so we might really be short changing ourselves in terms our our learning, development and enjoyment of the instrument. So in this weeks blog I will be looking at helping you to find the right tutor.
1)The right tutor v the best tutor
Now there are certainly good tutors and bad tutors out there and the experience and ability of a tutor is certainly important however, what is arguably more important is finding the right tutor for you. But what do I mean by the right tutor? We all, having been through school, may remember an occasion where we loved a teacher that our peers did not or where our peers loved a teacher that we were not huge fans of ourselves. This happens not because either our peers or ourselves are wrong in our opinion of the teacher’s ability but because as individuals we all respond and connect differently to different kinds of people, teaching styles and teaching materials. It is therefore worth considering a number of things to be able to find the right tutor. These are: What do you need? Cost, Specialisms, Experience and Locality.
2)Work out what you need
The first key consideration to finding the right tutor is working out your needs. By working out your needs it is much easier to find a tutor that fits you best. So what are you needs? Well there are three key things that I would definitely consider when it comes to your needs and they are as follows…
First is your ability. If you are a beginner, then finding a tutor who specialises in beginner instrumentalists. If you are an intermediate or advanced player, then you will need someone who is higher than your current ability and is used to teaching higher ability players.
The next area to consider are your aspirations. The importance of this can vary depending on your ability, a beginner might not need to worry as much about having a tutor who specialises in the area they aspire to develop in but for intermediate and advanced players having a specialist is vital. For example, if you want to become a free flowing jazz trumpet player, then it is no use having a trumpet tutor who specialises in classical music. So work out what your goals and aspirations are as a musician and look out for tutors who can help you attain those goals and aspirations.
Age and Gender
Most tutors are used to teaching a wide range of age and gender groups however, that is not to say this is not worth considering especially for those who are parents of teenagers and children. You may want to consider if the tutor has a full DBS (Criminal Record Check), Safeguarding training and experience teaching children at the age of your child. For women as well it can help bring peace of mind to be taught by another woman so it is something that is worth considering.
Admittedly in an ideal world this would not be a factor and for some lucky folks out there it is not however, for many of us budgets can be a huge constraining factor that has to be considered. Now it maybe tempting to go out and find the cheapest tutor that your money can buy, after all the costs of a tutor can add up very quickly and it can be very tempting to aim to keep those costs down. However, it is worth considering that finding a good tutor will always be worth more than any single piece of gear you will ever buy. After all, an instrument is no good if it does not have a player to play it and as a player it is important that you get the most out of yourself and to do that you need a good tutor and good tutors often require a considerable investment.
The first thing I will say is try to stretch out your budget and pay as much as you possibly can, the next thing to consider is other plausible ways to help stretch and increase your budget further. Maybe you would benefit more from shorter lessons that are about half an hour in length, or maybe instead of having one lesson a week think of having a lesson once every 2 weeks. I myself do this by having only one highly intense guitar lesson a month and one vocal lesson every two weeks so that I can afford more expensive lessons from more specialist tutors. By using these tips, you can limit the effect of this somewhat annoying constraining factor in paying for decent tuition.
Different tutors will specialise in different areas and it is definitely key to make sure their specialism meet up with your personal aspirations. So in your research and discussions with tutors find out if the tutor can meet your personal goals and needs and do not limit the specialism to solely genre’s and musical styles; also consider what you want to do with the instrument, would you like to play live, do you want to learn how to read music, how to improvise, write songs, record and produce music, maybe you want to even go as far as learning multiple instruments, all these are specialisms that are worth considering and looking out for in prospective tutors.
The experience of a tutor is not to be undervalued. There are two areas of experience to consider: firstly, their experience with the instrument itself: Have they played what you want to play? if you want to write have they written music? have they played shows? How long have they played for and what is their professional experience? These areas will allow you to see if the tutor matches your current ability and your aspirations. The next area of experience to consider is their teaching experience. Teaching experience is arguably more important than instrumental experience. Many say that ‘those who cannot do, teach’; What makes this saying completely inaccurate is that teaching in and of itself is a specialist skill. It is all well and good that a tutor has played all the styles under the sun, has written hundreds of tunes and has toured the world, these aspects cannot be underestimated, but teaching is a completely different skill that requires a lot of time, dedication and trial and error to develop. A tutor’s ability to adapt to, create materials for and to troubleshoot the problems for each pupil is largely down to the teaching experience of the tutor itself.
Locality of the tutor is also important. Firstly, consider whether you want to learn with a tutor in person or whether you are willing to learn over the internet via video chats such as skype. There are benefits to learning in person that just cannot be replicated over a skype such as having the ability for a tutor physical move around in 3D space to show you different things or to analyse your playing. However, learning in person can have its problems to, namely travel. Sometime it is a case of weighing up the other factors over their locality. If you can find someone who you can meet in person that meets your other needs, then that is great but sometimes the better option is skyping with a specialist simply because they are the only ones available to offer the knowledge you need.
Now that you worked out what your needs, the next step is finding that holy grail: the right tutor. It is well worth taking the time to dig deep and research properly. Sometimes the right tutor may not be on the first page of google and sometimes exploring other sites can turn up better options. So when researching search everywhere. Look up your local tutors on Google and do not just look at the first page, dig a little deep and see what options turn up on page 2, 3, 4 and maybe even 5. Find websites geared towards tutors; in the UK sites like First Tutors, Music Teachers, Gumtree, Music Singing Lessons, tutorful, superprof and Yell can turn out a number of options that you may not have come across with an initial google search. Also go and visit your local music shop and see what they have to offer; many music shops have their own in house tutors that are worth looking into. Ask your friends and family both in person and on social media to see if word of mouth can turn out any suggestions. And finally do not be afraid to email, message, text or call prospective tutors to see what information they can offer you. By spending a little extra time gaining as much information as possible and whittling down your options to one or a few possible tutors you stand a much better chance of finding the right tutor.
6)Don’t be afraid to try a few tutors
Finally, do you not feel that because you have had one lesson you will have to stick with them. If the tutor does not meet your standards or seem to click with you are after a few lessons, then try another. Maybe, if you have a few different tutors that have stood out to you from your research then give them all a go and see which one stands out to you. After all, research can certainly help you find possible tutors, but nothing is like an actual lesson to find out if the tutor is right for you. Now it is worth considering that one lesson on its own might not be enough to evaluate a tutor, after all it takes a little time for a tutor to get to know you to and adjust their teaching style accordingly so be willing to accept that it might take a few a lessons for you to find out that tutor really is not for you, but I would say the key thing is to trust your gut.
Hopefully by considering all the thoughts, ideas and steps in this guide you can find the tutor that is the perfect fit for you and even if you cannot quite find the right fit you can manage to find a tutor that is much better equipped to fit your needs and goals than if you just picked the first tutor you found on google. By taking a little bit of extra time and following the steps laid out I am sure you will find the perfect tutor to help you either begin or guide you in the next steps of your musical journey.
For many normal people, art is seen as a leisure activity. Whether it is taking photographs on the weekend or playing a musical instrument in the evenings, artistic pursuits are seen as something people do for fun and this is broadly true. A huge problem with this viewpoint comes when it is applied those who work in artistic fields. People boldly assume that the job they do must be fun all the time and with this assumption comes the idea that the work of professional artists must easy and yet nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, full-time artists usually love their work and of course many of them do their work because they find it fun and because they receive huge amounts of joy from their work. But to assume that this means that they find their work fun for every second of every minute of every day would be wildly inaccurate and to then assume that this work is easy ranges even further into the realms of fantasy.
The first key difference to distinguish is between the joy that someone gets from their work and from the fun people have doing their work. I can tell you from my own experience that I have spent hours working hard whilst bored out of my mind trying to achieve a task. But just because I am not having fun does not mean I am not receiving joy from the work I am doing. Some might ask: ‘how can this be the case?’. Well imagine a musician spending hours going over the same few notes, trying to nail the timing, pitch, rhythm and articulation of a particular musical phrase, or a photographer spending hours with the same photograph trying to get the right balance of colour to make the photo pop the way they picture it in their head. Such tasks can become boring and monotonous very quickly and can honestly drive you crazy: the complete opposite of fun, but when the musician finally nails that musical phrase or the photographer gets the photo to look just the right way, the joy one receives is one of the most complete feelings of satisfaction that one will ever feel.
What many do not realise about art is that it is a struggle and a compulsion; even artists who create art for leisure know this. Art it is not always fun, in fact for the most part it is a challenge and a compulsive itch that needs to be scratched. As described before artists may spend hours trying the get the details of their work just right and many may wonder why people would do this to themselves, what drives them to spend hours of their life splitting hairs over extremely small details to the point where the task at hand becomes blindingly boring. Well many artists including myself will talk about how we do not do these things is search of excitement, we do not do it simply for the potential joy that comes when we achieve the set task, we do it because not doing it bothers us, because something deep inside us drives us mad with the thought of not achieving what we set out to do, we do it to feed a compulsion.
Of course another aspect that differs professional artists from those of artists who peruse their work solely for leisure is that professional artists have little choice about how and when they can do their work. If we wish to ensure that we can pay our bills, cover our costs, gain a reputation of someone who meets deadlines set by clients and survive then we need to work even when we do not feel like it. Compare this to those who do art solely for leisure. If they are not feeling like sitting down and painting, or do not want to go out and take photographs or are no mood to practice today then they there is nothing to force them to do so; they have no other commitments except to themselves. With such a stark contrast you can begin to see why the work of a professional artist is not always fun and how sometimes it can be a grind like any other job.
Now do not get me wrong, I am not complaining about the struggles and strife’s that we have face as artists. At the end of the day I would not have it any other way, I love my work, I realise how lucky I am to be able to do it and I would not change a thing about it. I only raise these struggles and hardships to point out to others that being a professional artist is not all fun and games, that our work faces hardships and struggles like any other job and that working in the arts is not as easy as it might seem.
Last week I laid out a guide for those who wish to teach themselves guitar, laying out the steps required to master all the necessary fundamentals of the instrument. As someone who was for many years a self-taught guitar player, I understand the value of having a path to follow to help guide you through your playing as I myself struggled for many years without one. I also understand the importance of having a teacher to help guide you through the learning process. Of course music tuition is expensive and for many is out of reach; however, if you can afford it, it is worth every penny and in this weeks blog I will layout the reasons why.
Now, before I begin it is worth understanding the value of having the right tutor. What is the right tutor you may ask? This topic alone could be the subject of entire blog post, however, I will cover two key aspects that should be considered. One, is the tutor any good? Like any profession there are tutors who are excellent at their job, some who are mediocre and others who are terrible. To ensure you find a good tutor it is worth asking around amongst friends about their tutors, reading up on reviews and maybe even trying a few different tutors to see who fits your needs best. Two, does the tutor specialise in what you want to learn? If you want to learn classical, it is no use having a tutor who only plays rock, if you wish to learn rock, it is no use having a tutor who only plays Jazz; Find a tutor who shares the expertise in your desired field. Though price may be part of your consideration, a good tutor is worth the investment. Do not skimp out on a tutor if you feel they are the best fit for you.
Now that you understand the importance of the right tutor we can ask: Why should we have a tutor in the first place? The first is the simple fact that a tutor will be able to act as your guide. Learning a musical instrument is a journey that can follow a lot of different roads and paths, some of those paths can prove fruitful in your development, whilst others will result in you going round in circles with little to no progress. A good tutor has already walked these; they may have got lost in some of those circles themselves while others may have had their own guide to show them the way. The important thing is that you have someone who can guide you step by step through the trials and tribulations of playing, someone who can ensure that every detail of your playing is worked through and developed effectively, with little to no time spent getting lost.
The next thing a tutor can do is to help identify and correct your mistakes. Mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of, they are part of the journey of learning, however, it is important to have them pointed out and corrected before they become habits. When teaching yourself, while you will be able to notice some mistakes, you are unlikely to spot them all. A tutor can spot every mistake, likely because they or other students they have taught have made them, and they will be able to give advice and encouragement to help address and correct your mistakes.
Not only can tutors identify your mistakes but they will help you correct those mistakes by giving you a wide range of exercises and techniques tailor made to you. Imagine two people who are ill, one person attempts to identify their illness online and tries to treat it themselves whilst the other goes to a doctor who prescribes a suitable treatment. The person who researches the illness themselves may well find a suitable treatment, but they are more likely to make a mistake than a doctor who possess the necessary expertise to prescribe the correct treatment. Now take into account that there are numerous types of illnesses and ailments, each requires a different course of treatment which can again vary depending on if the person suffering the illness is a man or a woman, old or young, healthy or unhealthy. Like different patients require different treatments for different illnesses no two players are alike and whilst one player will require one set of exercises and practice routines to address their problems another player will require completely different set. A good tutor, like a doctor, possesses the necessary knowledge and expertise to prescribe the correct exercises and practice routines depending on the player.
The next biggest advantage of having a tutor is the companionship they can offer. Though many accept and know that learning a musical instrument is hard and requires a lot of time and dedication, no one can know the experience like a person who has gone through it themselves. There will be times when learning can be a real struggle, when you will hate your instrument, where you feel like you fighting the instrument, sometimes there will be times where you have spent so long trying to learn something you will wonder if you will ever manage to play it. A tutor knows exactly what that experience is like, they themselves will have gone through those feelings on many occasions and they will know how to get through that experience and out the other side. Sometimes just knowing that can be enough to help you through the struggle, sometimes they can offer advice to guide you through the struggle and sometimes they will just remind you that if you keep at it, you will achieve what you set out for.
In short, whilst teaching yourself a musical instrument is perfectly possible, investing in a good tutor can help guide you through the process, shape your learning to your specific needs and can ensure that you will develop much quicker than if you go it alone. Whilst for some, like myself in my early days of playing, will have no choice but to go it alone, it is always better to have a tutor to guide you. If you can invest in them, they can do more for your sound than any single piece of gear could.
Teaching yourself guitar can be a daunting task, without someone to guide you through the instruments necessary skills and techniques it is very easy to get lost. The easiest way to avoid this is by getting a guitar tutor; you will not only get guidance on what to learn next but will have someone to point out your mistakes and help you in correcting those mistakes. However, guitar tuition is not cheap and being one of those people who could not afford lessons I had to circumnavigate the world of guitar with little more than a variety of different online learning materials and books. What I wish I had then was a simple guide to point towards which basics I should have learnt to become a guitar player instead of two years of experimentation and mistakes. So this week I have done just that, what follows are the essential steps required to pick up the basics of guitar. Some of the steps will take little more than a few minutes to learn, some will take weeks to accomplish but, these steps can serve as a good guide through the basics of playing guitar.
1: Learn the parts of the guitar
A simple and easy step but none the less important. By learning the different parts of the guitar you can become familiar with how it works and can therefore understand how to play it. A guitar has three sections…
-Headstock: The is the top of the guitar where you will find the tuning pegs and nut
-Neck: This is the part the guitar which right handed players hold with there left hand
-Body: This is the part of the guitar which on an electric houses the pick ups and controls and on the acoustic allows the sound from the strings to resonate.
Each section of the guitar has different parts that do different jobs…
-Strings: You will find the thickest and lowest pitched string at the top of the guitar and the thinnest and highest pitched strings on the bottom of the guitar. Going from the top string to the bottom the strings are the following notes.
E A D G B E
This can remembered using the following Acronym…
Eat All Day Get Big Easy
-Tuning Pegs: Here is where you tighten or loosen the guitar so each string can achieve the correct pitch. To increase the pitch of the string turn the tuning peg anti-clockwise, to lower the pitch of the string turn the tuning peg clockwise. To help you do this properly use a guitar tuner, you will find many are available on your phone’s app store.
-Nut: This is where the strings rest over at the headstock and helps keep the strings at the correct height.
-Frets: These are the metal bars you will find running across the top of the neck. By pushing the string down onto these you will change the pitch of the string.
-Sound hole: This allows the sound produced from a vibrating string to enter, resonate, amplify and escape the body of an acoustic guitar.
-Pickups: Found on an electric guitar, they turn the vibration of the strings into an electric signal which can travel down a cable and be amplified.
-Bridge: This is where the strings rest over the body and helps keep the strings at the correct height.
-Volume and Tone Controls: From here you can change the tone or loudness of the electric signal by turning the knobs.
-Pickup Selector: This is a switch on electric guitars where you can pick which pickup or combination of pickups you are going to use to get slightly different tones and timbre’s from your instrument.
2: How to hold a plectrum and guitar
To many this would seem like the simplest step and in many ways it is however, not learning and mastering this step correctly can have serious consequences for your playing and can result in injury in the long run. To get a basic guide on how to hold the guitar follow this link. Despite this step being simple many people still do it incorrectly. This is probably due to their being multiple ways to hold the instrument however, there are some very clear things that you should avoid when learning how to hold a guitar…
1. Do not grip the neck of a guitar like you would a sword. You want to hold the neck lightly, just enough to support its weight, with you thumb in the middle of the neck.
2. You do not want to bend the wrist of the hand that is on the neck too much. This can result in a lot of tension and potentially cause injury.
3. You will want to hold the plectrum between you thumb and index finger, firmly enough that you are unlikely to drop it but lightly enough that it gives slightly when you hit a string or strum.
4.You want to be very relaxed when holding the instrument. If you feel any tension or you are having to strain to achieve something you are either need to relax or you are holding the instrument incorrectly. If you feel any pain, stop playing immediately; I repeat…
IF YOU FEEL ANY PAIN STOP PLAYING IMMEDIATELY…
Stop, do some research and diagnose what you are doing wrong so you can correct your mistakes.
3: Learn how to read tab and practice tabs
Learning tab can serve as a useful tool for learning riffs, solos, unusual chord patterns and are great for beginners as they will allow you to become familiar with the sound and layout of the guitar. Tabs are made up of 6 lines. The lowest line is the thickest string at the top of the Guitar, the low E string, the line next to that is the A string and so on until we reach the top line representing the thinnest string on the bottom of the Guitar, the high E.
We read the tab from left to right and whenever we see a number on one of the lines we play that number fret on that string on the guitar, 0 represents open strings. So if we saw a 3 on the third line from the top we would know that the tab is telling us to push down on the third fret of the G string and to pluck it.
Tab does not depict rhythm so you will have to make sure you pick tablature that is representing songs that you can find recordings of. For further information on how to read tab follow this link. And for some easy tabs to get you started click here.
4: Learn the notes of the chromatic scale and apply it to the fretboard
This is the first step in understanding the underlying theory that forms music. By knowing the notes of the chromatic scale you will know all the notes and you will be able to communicate more easily with other musicians should you choose to perform with other players. The chromatic scale is made up of 12 notes in a given octave (what is an octave? read on, you will find out). The Chromatic Scale is read like so…
C C#/D♭ D D#/E♭ E F F#/G♭ G G#/A♭ A A#/B♭ B C
As you can see the scale goes from C to C. After it has reached the next C the scale repeats itself, however when you hear the scale repeat you will hear that the notes are much higher in pitch; this is because you are playing the same notes but an octave above. As you can see some of the notes have either # or ♭ symbol next to them. # represents sharp notes and can be found on the note above a normal letter, for example the note above C is C#. ♭ represent flat notes can be found on the note below a normal letter, for example the note below D is D♭. Now it is worth noting that the notes between the normal letters are exactly the same, we just happen to have two names for it, for example the note between C and D could be called C# or D♭. You will find these sharps and flats between all the notes except for B and C, and E and F.
So how do these notes apply to the fretboard of the guitar. Well every time we climb up one note on the Chromatic scale we go up the scale by what is known as a semitone. Every fret you climb on the guitar also climbs a semitone. Knowing this, we can start with the notes of the open strings and with every fret ascend up the neck, we climb one note (or one semitone) up the chromatic scale.
5: Learn G, Em, C and D chords and song using these chords
Chords are when you play three or more strings on the guitar at the same time. By learning chords you can begin to play songs. You may have heard that most songs in popular music rely on 4 simple chords. By learning these chords, you will be able to play a large range of songs. The chords are…
G, Em, C and D.
You can find a guide to these chords here. These chords are known as open chords; they are known as such because the chords have open strings in them. Now the key to learning and getting good at changing these chords is patience, chords will seem very hard at first but if you practice them everyday making sure that each note rings out nicely and then you can practice changing between chords.
You will find that some songs are in a different to these chords despite instructions saying that these are the chords you use. This is likely because the same chords are being used however, they are being played in a different key. This is where a Capo comes in. A Capo essentially acts as a moveable nut raising the tuning of your guitar by a set amount depending on what fret you place it on. You should see an instruction telling you which fret to place the Capo on and then you treat where the Capo is as an open string, the fret one up from the Capo as the 1st fret as so on.
6: Learn Am, A, E Dm and songs using these chords
So now that you have learnt these basic open chords it is time to learn the other basic major and minor open chords. By learning these you will have opened a number of other songs that use these. Again like the previous chords you can change their key by using a Capo. Once again these will be challenging and will require patience and dedication. Here are the shapes of these chords and here is a long list of songs that use these chords.
7: Learn sus chords and songs using these chords
Sus stands for Suspension. These can be used to help spice up your chord progressions by adding a small amount of tension to a simple Minor or Major chord. So for example if you are playing A you could play an Asus4 before moving to the A. You will find many basic songs will use Sus chords in this way. So what Sus chords should you learn…
Csus4, Dsus4, Dsus2, Esus4, Esus2, Gsus4, Asus4, Asus2
You can find a link to the shapes of these chords here.
8: 7th chords
The final set of open chords you should open your eyes to are 7th chords. These are slightly different to the previous chords you have learnt so far. Where as the previous chords only use 3 notes, 7th chords use 4. This add a little extra spice and timbre to the ordinary chord. The three 7th chord types that you should learn as a beginner are the Major 7th chord, the Minor 7th Chord and the Dominant 7th chord. The Major and Minor 7th chords are very similar to their smaller brothers the Major and Minor chord however they sound a little lusher, bright and full. The Dominant 7th is a very different beast. The Dominant 7 chord is at its heart a Major chord however, the new note added to creates a feeling of tension, this makes the new chord great for adding tension to chord progressions.
-For a link to open Major 7 chords click here
-For a link to open Minor 7 chords click here
-For a link to open Dominant 7 chords click here
9: The Major, Minor and Pentatonic Scales
Now that you can play a few tabs and are familiar with all the basic chords it is time to learn some scales. Scales are the building blocks from which we base music, create melodies and makes chords, believe it not you are probably already familiar with one already. The major scale is often sung like so…
Do, Ray, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do
By learning these scales, you can begin to see how some of the tabs you have played were formed and can start to come up with your own melodies and play your own solos. Start by learning the scale shapes and then try finding different ways to practice these scales: Try singing the scales as you play them to ingrain them into your mind, try ascending the scales in sets of threes, fours, try ascending by skipping notes, there are endless way to practice them. By doing this you will ingrain the scale and its sound into your brain and this is very useful for later in your playing.
-To learn basic scales click here
-For different ways to practice these scales click here
10: Learn barre chords
This for many beginners is a mark of their move onto intermediate playing techniques. By learning barre chords you begin to open up the entire fretboard for your playing, you will be able to play the basic chords to the vast majority of songs in popular music and you will have mastered a technique used in across a lot of different playing styles. A barre essentially allows you to play some basic open chord shapes across such as E, Em, A and Am anywhere on the fretboard. By placing one finger across all the strings you can essentially create a moveable nut and change root of the said chord. It will also open up the ability to play a bunch chords which may have seemed elusive up until now such as F, Gm, B, and Bmin. So how do you learn to play these chords. They essentially require two stages, the first is learning to barre across all the strings. You will want to practice barring the all the strings from the high E to the low E across any fret of choice and have every note ring out. Once you have mastered this you can try mastering the E barre chord shape at the first fret for an F chord and the A barre chord shape at the second fret for a B chord. Again like chords this will require a lot patience, dedication and diligent practice but with that you can master these shapes. To learn these shapes click here.
Most professional artists whether they be musicians, graphic designers, videographers or one of the many other artistic professionals have faced some clients or friends expecting the fruits of our labour for free or for a discount either because they believe our work is not worth the investment or they believe that they can offer something of non-financial value in exchange. I am sure to most individuals, the fact that people like this exist can seem unbelievable but they do, in fact it is common enough that the idea of clients asking for work in exchange for ‘exposure’ has become a meme amongst working artists. So why does this attitude exist and for the few of you who wonder what artists are complaining about, why is our work valuable?
The first problem is down to how we view work in society. Work is seen as something that we would not do in our spare time. Sure some people enjoy their work and find it fulfilling but our society holds onto the idea that jobs should not be seen as a hobby. For many, work is seen as a dull necessity; we work for 8 hours before coming home and trying our best to forget how miserable we are from the hours dealing with customers, filling in spreadsheets or making phone calls. In short work is somewhere to sacrifice our time and energy in exchange for money. The problem with this view of work is that activities that are seen as hobbies like creating a piece of art or music do not fit this idea of work. People believe that work is not meant to be fun, it is meant to be a sacrifice, how can someone who does their hobby for work make any sacrifices?
This idea is rooted in the major misunderstanding that creativity is fun and work should not be. The first major misunderstanding here is the idea that working in the creative arts is always fun, if you ask any creative professional if they love their work 99% will say yes, if you ask any creative professional if they always find their work fun then you will probably find 1% giving the same answer. Yes, we love our work, yes sometimes it is fun, but the two are not one and the same. Musicians have to learn songs they hate, graphic designers have to make designs they detest, photographers have to stand around for hours waiting for the right moment for the perfect shot. The second misunderstanding is that work and fun are polar opposites. In my experience this anything but the case, plenty of people find their work fun and there is nothing wrong with that.
Another problem is the capitalistic view of work. The idea that work fits within the structure of supply and demand. Lots of people play musical instruments so why should someone pay for a band when your next door neighbour has a cover band that played at your barbeque last year. This demonstrates the huge misunderstanding of what it means to be a professional artist. Sure there nothing stopping you from using your next door neighbours band for your event, it will definitely save you money, there is no doubt about that; but if you want a band with tried and tested experience, a large set list of 100+ songs, who are perfectly in synch with one another, sound amazing and know how to whip up the crowd then you are going to want professionals with the skills, knowledge and equipment to do it.
There is a big misunderstanding about what goes on behind the scenes and the time it takes to produce an artistic work. People see what is often many hours of work and assume it took a lot less time. Photography is the perfect example of this. Many assume that a photograph is made in second with a click of a button but this is far from the case. A photographer will often have to scout the location they are shooting to get an idea of the best places from which to take photos. On the day of the shoot they will have to run and direct others involved to get the shots required and after the shoot they will have go through and organise all the shots before picking and editing a number of the photos. This mismatch between people’s perception of the work involved and the actual amount of work involved does not only apply to photography but to some extent applies to all creative arts.
People tend to forget that artists usually do not work for companies but are freelancers who run and operate as a sole trading business. When you pay an artist you are not just paying for their time, you are paying for all the other overhead costs associated with their work. The equipment, software, studio space, travel costs, association membership, insurance, professional development and venue costs are all overheads that have to be taken into account when running any business. So before scoffing at the price offered by a professional artist bare this in mind.
Many also forget to take into account the skill involved in creative arts. We think that what these people do is a lot easier than it actually is. To get to a level where you are doing a creative art professionally requires thousands of hours of practice and study, many creative professionals possess university degrees and there are a considerable number who also possess a post-graduate education. They have spent hours toiling over their craft, rarely make mistakes because they have made them all and have learnt from them, they have had other masters of the art form show them the advanced skills and have worked on countless projects. Remember, when you pay a professional you are paying someone for their unique skillset, a skillset that cannot be attained within the space of an afternoon.
In short, yes many of the skills that professional artists have are hobbies, yes we love our art form, yes if you really wanted you could get a friend to do it for free. But realise if you want someone who has the expertise, the experience, the skills and the equipment to do work for you then do not expect that work to be free, you pay a good price and in return you will get a good product.
The album, for decades, was the cornerstone of recorded music. Often when people talk about great music, they will often talk about it in the context of the album. Think of the likes of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Club Hearts Band, the Darkside of the Moon, Rumours and Rio. We not only appreciate the artistry of each individual song on those albums but the artistry and harmoniousness of the album as a whole. However, with the drop in music sales over the years and more and more people consuming single tracks through streaming playlists the question is beginning to be asked: Is the Album Dead and what does this mean for Artists?
If you ask most people what an album is, they are likely to reply with an answer something to akin to, ‘a CD, Vinyl or Cassette containing around 50-60 minutes or 8-12 songs of music’ but how did this become the standard length of an album. The album came to be in 1948 when Columbia Records began producing 12-inch vinyl discs referred to as LPs (for Long Play). Each side could hold 23 minutes of music. This gave artists and labels the chance to sell multiple songs, or songs of much longer length than before all on one disc. Artists used to only be able to record songs up to 3 minutes in length as this was roughly the amount of time available on one side of the 10-inch discs that pre-dated the LP. It was the length of the LP that resulted in the album as we know it.
Artists sold albums for the second half of the 20th century, its use evolved over time with some artists using them as a way to collate a number of singles, whilst some used it to record performances too long to fit on a single and others even began to tie the music together with a core concept giving rise to the concept album. The album played a huge roll with the growth of the music industry in the 20th century with consistent growth in album based sales from $1.3 billion in 1973 to the all time high of $13.9 billion in 2000 (1). However, that is where the strength of the album began to wane, sales of albums have since fallen to $1.6 billion in 2018 (1), some may argue that focusing on such figures does not tell the whole story and they would not be wrong after all singles on traditional formats like Vinyl, Cassette and CD have also seen a huge drop in revenue from their peak of $441.8 million in 1997 to $5.5 million in 2018 (1); however this ignores the huge growth of singles when you take into account downloads which peaked in 2012 at $1.6 billion (1) and the movement of consumers towards streaming services with streaming accounting for 74.9% of industry revenue in 2018 (1) and most consumers who stream, stream playlists and singles as shown in a 2016 Music Biz consumer report that found that 77% of listeners preferred to listen to playlists or singles (3).
So is the Album dead? I certainly would not say so, it is much more like an old person who despite everyone expecting their demise some time in the near future simply clings on to life and that may not be all that surprising, albums are still a great way for artists to assemble a collection of songs and the album in itself has become a unique creative artform which I do not think will ever fully disappear. There is also growth in the sales of more traditional formats such Vinyl and Cassettes with Vinyl Sales up by 12% in 2018 and Cassettes growing by 19% in the same year (4) (5) suggesting that these formats are becoming valued collectors items. However, we do have to accept that albums will unlikely hold the same place they once did in our everyday lives.
For many, myself included, the fact that the Album is not as important as it once was may be disappointing. This is the case both as musicians and consumers. As musicians, we have grown up with the Album as a mark and milestone of success and though in many ways the Album still represents this, its lack of effectiveness in promoting us as artists means creating a single album for release can in the end be a very large waste of time and money with an album unlikely to create that much more buzz around an artist than a single would. So instead of creating that buzz for one album only for interest to wane after a short period, take each song on the album and release a song a month. As a result, the buzz of each song can build on the buzz of the previous releases helping to create momentum for you as an artist. You can then even re-release the songs on an album after the release of all your songs.
As consumers, there is something nice and tangible about owning a physical album. Having music in your hands can give you a connection with an artist, sitting with a CD, Cassette or Vinyl, listening to the music whilst scanning over every feature in the artwork can be a highly unique experience that does seem to be going to way of the dodo. Add onto this what an album can add musically that a single cannot and you can really begin to understand the disappointment of some consumers that the album is not what it once was. However, it is not all doom and gloom. The album may no longer be the bastion of the music industry but physical formats are still available and there are bands out there still making music with the album in mind. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard are a perfect example having created numerous albums that utilize the strength of the format as well as Kevin Parker of Tame Impala who has evolved his sound uniquely for each album.
So the album may not be what it once was and that is ok, it does not have to be and just because it is not what is once was, does not mean it will disappear fully or that it will not continue to evolve, you will just have to hunt a little harder to find them.
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