On the 14th February it is Valentine’s day making February, for many, the month of Love, Romance and Passion. For others the absence of a companion in their life can get them asking all sorts of questions. One such question may well be ‘What can I do to make myself more attractive to other people?’. For a teenage me the answer to that question was to pick up a guitar; after all my heroes like Jimi Hendrix, Slash and Jimmy Page had no problem getting the ladies. Popular wisdom would assume that it was not a bad move for increasing my attractiveness to the opposite sex and while I associated being sexy with being a Guitarist or a Vocalist all sorts of musicians including the likes of Classical Pianists Franz Liszt and Violin player Paganini also had a rock star reputation before the rock stars did. But does being a musician really make you sexier? In this month’s Blog I will be trying to answer that question in an attempt to find out if being a musician can really increase your attractiveness and if so how, why and in what way.
The literature on the subject is certainly limited however there are some recent studies that support this idea. An Israeli study that found Facebook friend requests sent from a profile with a Man holding a Guitar in the picture received 28% positive response rate compared to only 10% from a profile without a Guitar (Tifferet et al., 2012). This idea is further supported by a 2013 Study by French Researchers that found that men who solicited women for phone numbers on the street whilst holding a guitar case resulted in 31% compliance compared to only 9% compliance when the man was holding a sports bag and 14% when holding no bag (Guéguen et al., 2014).
Such data suggests that I may have been right about this all along and that picking up Guitar really can make you sexy however, do not be fooled. These are only two studies from research I could find to support the Theory none the less the results are interesting and it leaves the question, why? What is about being a musician that can make you sexier?
Charles Darwin (1871) himself had a theory about this. He suggested that music is all about boosting the chances of men reproducing, and that music acts much in the same way as bird song does in the mating behaviours of various species of birds with male birds using song to display their fitness to potential mates (Darwin, 1871). This Theory has been elaborated on further over the years to form what is known as the Sexual Selection Theory of Music. This Theory suggests that being a Male Musician can act as a signal for many desirable traits to women including Dedication, Intelligence and Creativity.
A 2014 study claims to support this idea, with Women finding the Composers of more complex melodies more attractive during Ovulation (Charlton, 2014). He also prefaces the study by pointing out how anthropological evidence supports the idea as multiple cultures use music within courtship rituals. That being said how can we be sure that complexity of the music is really the feature that is being looked at for the desirability of partners even assuming that being musical is a positive mating signal. An argument could be made that the study is not valid as it assumes the evidence fits the premise of the research without taking into account other factors such as other features of the music that could be key signals is sexual attraction.
So it must be quite clear, being a musician does make you more attractive right? Well before you go running to your local music shop and buying up a load of lessons (preferably with me here: https://www.rawlinsmusic.co.uk/guitarbasslessons.html go on you know you want to) take a second to read on. As stated before there is a serious lack of peer reviewed literature on this topic making jumping to any concrete conclusions impossible. In fact there are even studies which suggest that being a musician has no effect on attractiveness (Bongard et al., 2019). Add onto this the fact that pretty much all of the these experiments looked solely at Men’s perceived attractiveness in Straight interactions with Women; you realise that not only is research limited but it barely scratches the surface of human psychology, sociology and sexuality.
In short will being a Musician make you sexier? Possibly. But here is the thing, being more attractive to the opposite sex may have been the reason I picked up the Guitar, but it is not the reason I kept playing. Don’t play to be more attractive, play because you love it! What’s the point otherwise. Most different people get excited by different passions, so don’t let your pre-collections about romance decide yours.
Bongard, S., Schulz, I., Studenroth, K. and Frankenberg, E. (2019). Attractiveness Ratings for Musicians and Non-musicians: An Evolutionary-Psychology Perspective. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.
Charlton, B. (2014). Menstrual cycle phase alters women's sexual preferences for composers of more complex music. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1784), p.20140403.
Darwin, C. (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (2). London: John Murray.
Guéguen, N., Meineri, S., and Fischer-Lokou, J. (2014). Men’s music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context. Psychol. Music 42, 545–549.
Tifferet, Sigal & Gaziel, Ofir & Baram, Yoav. (2012). Guitar Increases Male Facebook Attractiveness: Preliminary Support for the Sexual Selection Theory of Music. Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science. 4. 4-6. 10.5178/lebs.2012.18.
We often only imagine famous musicians with a record label, an album or a world wide tour when it comes to making money in the music industry. Either that or you think of working roles that help to facilitate artists such as management, A&R or publishers. But the truth is anything but. The music industry is not called an industry for nothing after all and there is a wide variety of talent in a wide variety of roles throughout the industry. With that in mind, we look at the some of the jobs and opportunities open to musician’s that do not fit the peoples expectations of musicians in the music industry and explain some of the potential benefits so aspiring musicians out there can choose their role.
One of the most common starting careers for young musicians is teaching. Learning to play an instrument or sing is a skill that all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds wish to acquire and as such there is always a demand for instrumental and singing tutors. There are many ways to approach this, you can either apply for tutoring jobs working with a company that provides pupils for you or you can work independently and run a tutoring business off your own back. There are also opportunities for musicians with a large amount of experience or a degree to teach in colleges and universities in a wide variety of subjects.
Many teachers speak of how rewarding it is to be able to pass on the knowledge that they have acquired to other people and to see their pupils develop. Tutoring offers the opportunity to be able to work off your own back as tutors generally work on a self-employed basis allowing them to have other forms of income which makes consolidating taxes easier. Teachers can often get the opportunity to be employed by colleges and universities opening up benefits such as pension and holiday pay.
Function Bands and Solo Performers
In this day and age there seems to be a growing popularity for function bands and solo performers. Whether on a Cruise Ship, Playing Weddings or in your local bar, there is a demand for musicians who can play a wide variety of material. They often have a very large repertoire and some gigs require the musician to be able to sight-read though this is not necessary for all gigs. This will give some performers the opportunity to travel though do bare in mind that your chance to experience a place may be quite limited. It also allows you to work on a self-employed basis making it perfect to do in conjunction with other forms of income such as playing sessions or teaching.
Highly talented instrumentalists and singers who have virtuosic abilities on there instrument are perfectly suited to be session players. Session players need to be able to meet the expectations of the people they work for in a timely professional manner and as such need to be experts in their chosen instrument and possess ability to sight-read and aurally transcribe. Top musicians often have highly impressive discographies with some of the biggest names in the industry and to see that you only need to check out the Wikipedia page of any of the members of Toto. These musicians will work for whatever period of time they are needed whether that is for a few hours in the studio or for a few months on tour. As such these musicians will tend to be employed on a job by job basis and as such generally are self-employed.
Music Composition, Songwriting and Production
For musicians with skills in music production, studio engineering, writing or composing, Music Composition, Songwriting and Production maybe an option. The opportunities and payment structures in which to do this can be as wide and varied as that of session musicians. Some create music, jingles and sound effects from home for stock music libraries, these producers are paid every time a licence for their track is bought. Some write or co-write songs for artists and are paid royalties for the use of their songs. Some are employed on a commission basis often being asked to compose music for a variety of media including film, TV, radio and games. Some are even employed on a more consistent basis for production companies which opens up potential employment benefits. The scale of these productions can vary from bedroom producers and performers to producers and composers with full studios and production facilities. Once again the scope of options for musicians here is broad on its own.
Live Sound Technician
Live venues up and down the country offer loads of opportunities to work on live sound. Some venues are small and only require technicians for a few hours a few days a week whilst others expect them to work for them fulltime. Really talented live technicians may even end up on tour with artists doing their front of house or monitors. As such the payment options for this career path can be wide varying from fulltime employment to being self-employed.
Similarly, studio engineering also gives people with studio and production experience the chance to dig their hands into the music tech world. Studios again will hire engineers with a variety of different payment options, contracts and hours. There are chances for potential development with some engineers going on to own their studios or become producers in their own right.
Of course the list of roles for musicians could go on forever with their being many other opportunities in education, academia, technology, writing and performance but for those of you a little wet behind the ears on potential jobs in the music industry I hope it has opened your eyes up to other jobs in the music industry outside of the sphere famous artists.
Songwriting can be a real challenge. Whether you are an experienced songwriter or only just starting out, coming up with ideas and putting them together in a coherent satisfying way can sometimes feel impossible. Though Songwriting is not my profession it is something I have done since I started playing music and prior to that I was regularly writing stories and poems. In today’s blog I will be sharing some of my tips and secrets that I have learnt and used over the years; I hope you can use them to dig yourself out of that creative rut you may sometimes find yourself in.
Record all of your ideas
It is the tip you hear from every songwriter; it is the most common tip for a reason. For me it is the most powerful tool in my arsenal and I reckon that a lot of songwriters would agree. Ideas can come to us at any time and with little warning, as such we need to be constantly ready to take note of them. I personally do this on my phone recording all of my musical ideas onto a recording app and noting of my lyrical ideas in a notepad app. By making this a habit you end up building a wealth of ideas which you can refer to when you sit down for a writing session and they in turn can produce a wealth of further ideas on their own. In turn actively recording ideas will increase your creativity and will find yourself able to come up with more ideas. So if you have not done it already, get started!
Limit your choices
Songwriting is essentially a process involving a series of choices; what chords am I going to use? What is the melody going to be? What topic am I going to write about? What time signature should it be in? What mood am I trying to create? With so many choices involved in writing a song it is easy to see how it can quickly become overwhelming. So limit your choices. Ask one question at a time and answer it. For example, if you are starting absolutely dry with no ideas simply pick the key of the song, forget about all other decisions until you have made that one choice; after that you can go on a pick the first chord or the chord progression you are going to use, continue this process making one decision at a time and your song will quickly start to form.
Make a decision
Sometimes as writers we know the question but we cannot seem to settle on the answer. This can very quickly become the death of creativity and the birth of writer’s block. So, make a decision, it does not have to be the right one, if you are really stuck you can even leave the decision entirely up to chance. Brian Eno, who has produced albums for David Bowie, Genesis, U2 and Coldplay, is known for having a deck of cards that he uses to make creative decisions for him and he has been key to producing some of most critically acclaimed albums on the planet.
Write without fear, you can always go back
Fear is often what holds us back in all aspects of life, including Songwriting. However, unlike many other areas of life, making a wrong decision whilst writing is not going to result in financial instability, injury or death. So why fear making mistakes? Write without fear! Let the mistakes happen! Get things wrong! It is not the end of the world if you do; you can always go back and when you do, you will go back with a better idea of what to do. It is all part of the process so do not let fear stop that process.
Be and editor, not a writer
This ties in nicely with my previous point. Songs are rarely written perfectly on the first try. The vast majority of songs out there are really developed in the editing process and it is therefore important to think like an editor. By doing this an implementing the previous points, you can get through the initial draft of a song fairly quickly. You may have bits that you feel do not work, lyrical lines that you used as a place keep for a better line that you have yet to work out and a structure that is all over place and that is fine. You can develop and fix these problems in the edit so don’t get stuck in the draft, get it done!
Good artists copy, Great artists steal
This famous line supposedly originated from the artist Pablo Picasso. This has since gone through many iterations such as ‘Bad artists Imitate, Great Artists Steal’ and has had many meanings drawn from it. How I have used the line is as a reminder that creativity does not live in a vacuum. All of our creative decisions, conscious or unconscious, are informed by the creative choices of the artists before us, it is therefore not inherently bad to lift ideas from other artists to use. We do not always have to come up with unique ideas from our mind. Feel free to lift chords progressions, melodies and lyrical ideas from other artists to use as the basis for a new song or to add to a song already in development. As long as you do not copy a song note for note you should be fine, though where the line is a cannot say and that is certainly a big topic for another time.
I hope these tips are more than useful, what tips have you used in the past to help you out of creative ruts?
As musicians we all have different players that shape who we are musically and stylistically; some may have inspired us to keep going when we were struggling whilst others may have inspired us to pick up the instrument in the first place. These players deserve as much appreciation as we can give them after all, they gave us their amazing music and influenced us to pick our instruments. So without further ado here are my top 10 guitar players and why!
10. Joe Pass
I believed the guitar to have many things going for it, it has attitude, it is expressive, it can be bright and hopeful or dark and sombre, I even believed it could sound beautiful but I never believed that it could sound as beautiful as instruments like the piano, harp and harpsichord, until I heard Joe Pass play ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’. Hearing that piece was a life changing moment for me and made me decide to explore a completely different style of playing that I had had little awareness of beforehand. I also like to listen to him when I am sad so I guess, that at bare minimum, he has to make it to the number 10 spot on this list.
9. Eddie Van Halen
There are many guitar players that have drastically changed how people play the instrument and whilst players like Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix are arguable more influential, none of them can claim to have triggered an arms race in the way that Eddie Van Halen did. Eddie made players get out their metronomes with the aim of mastering complicated techniques like alternative picking, legato and of course tapping. Without Eddie we wouldn’t have Randy Rhoads, Steve Vai, Steve Lukather, Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen (amongst others). He also single-handily made Guitar Manufacturers completely rethink Guitars, Amps and Pedals triggering the creation and rise in popularity of Super-strats and High gain Amplifiers. But why do I love this player? Well it is quite simple, I love speed, I love Van Halen and I love players who owe so much to Eddie and with that, there was no way I was leaving him off this list.
8. Robert Johnson
I enjoy playing blues, I even enjoying listening to Blues on occasion, but Blues can and always has been able to bore me very quickly. Despite its beautiful expressiveness I can find it quite repetitive and as such I cannot really enjoy much more than 3 or 4 blues songs in any one given time. There are only two guitarists who have defied this distaste for the blues, the first to do this was the amazing Robert Johnson. He made the Blues sound anything but repetitive and made it feel so fun and exciting. I also see him as much of a kindred spirit due to one of the many legends surrounding the man. The story goes that he was an awful guitar player before disappearing for a year and wowing everyone on his return with his new found ability. Though I am not sure if I have ever wowed anyone with my playing, I can certainly say that I to went through a dramatic transformation and as such he makes it to number 8 on my list.
7. David Gilmour
As a young player I was absolutely obsessed with speed. I wanted to shred as fast as Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Synyster Gates and Steve Vai. Gilmour showed me that speed was not everything and that in fact slow, well thought out, beautiful, expressive melodies could be more powerful than lightning fast fingers. He also showed me that just because playing these pieces was technically easier it did not mean that coming up with such ideas and expressing them with the right touch and feel was easier. Because of this Gilmour makes it to 7 on my list.
6. Jimmy Page
There are a number of words I like to use to describe myself…
One of the most recognisable and distinctive guitar players on the planet, Slash (born Saul Hudson) is nothing special when it comes to his playing. His playing relies on many simple blues licks, pentatonic scales, simple chords and the occasional use of harmonic minor, he has not even had a dramatic impact on how people approached or played the guitar. So why is so he high on my list? For me Slash demonstrated that a Guitar player can have a unique voice. He is the first player to have a sound that stood out to me and as such he made me want to do that myself. Without this realisation I doubt I would be playing today and as such Slash makes in to number 5 on my list.
4. Pat Metheny
I honestly did not get Jazz in the slightest for many years. It seemed way too dissonant, way too disorganised, way too all over the place. Pat Metheny’s album Bright Size Life single completely changed my entire perspective on Jazz; not only did it make me love Jazz music in its many forms, it made me want to play it. A player who can influence how you play is one thing, but a player who influences what you listen to, now that is special and that is why Pat makes it onto the top half of the list.
3. Randy Rhoads
Randy Rhoads is, in my honest opinion, one of the most underrated guitar players of all time. Eddie Van Halen may have started the shred guitar revolution but I honestly feel that Randy was one of the players who really set the bar for where it could go. Tragically his life was cut short in a plane crash in 1982 and as such he never got to show the world his true potential. He makes it to number 3 of my list but I really believe that if he had not passed on, he would be number 1 today.
2. Chuck Berry
Now I cannot say I am hugely influenced by this player, I have learnt a few of his songs and enjoy putting his records on every now and again, but I am neither crazy about his music or his playing style. So how did someone I have so little interest in end up at number 2 on my list. Simple, this was the man that made me want to pick up guitar. More specifically it was Marty McFly playing Johnny B. Goode in Back to the Future that made me want to play guitar and for that reason Chuck Berry makes it to number 2 on my list.
I could wax lyrical forever on the amazing guitar players that influenced me so I am going to mention a few that did not make this list but definitely deserve a shout out…
-Stevie Ray Vaughan
1. Jimi Hendrix
Now, of course, it seems that no guitarists’ list is complete without this man somewhere on it. It is so common to the point of cliché but you can see why. This man changed how guitar was played forever, no individual has had as much impact of how guitarists approach the instrument as him and that alone will get him on any list. But this list is not about technical influence or historical impact, this list is about my favourite players, so why does Jimi deserve to be at the top of it? Simple! Much of my playing style and approach is rooted in Jimi’s approach to the guitar, he has allowed me to begin to merge lead and rhythmic lines together in a way I had not before and it is the favourite part of my playing and for this reason alone, Jimi tops the list!
So that is that! Who are your favourite guitar players and why? Let me know in the comments.
A year ago I finished my BA honours in Contemporary Music Performance (I got a First!) and was released onto the world. Unfortunately, this is the music industry where one simply does not walk into a job out of University, you have to find your own way and in doing that I have made many mistakes. Here is what I learnt from my first year on the road to becoming a fulltime, working musician. Feel free to read and learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to.
1.Do not overload yourself
The music industry presents so many options for the aspiring working musician. From education, to studio work, performing, writing and producing, amongst many other options, you can end up feeling a bit like a kid in a candy store. In my case I chose to pursue way too much way too early. Whilst attempting to set up a tutoring business in my home town I was learning the standard function set list, trying to create content for my socials and website, running the business, rehearsing with my band, writing music for stock music libraries, as well as producing and trying to get work mixing and mastering. In short I had spread myself way too thin. I now am solely focusing on the business, my function band, tutoring, my own creative project and my online content. Since I have done this I have found it much easier to stay on top of the work and as a result, it is all a lot more enjoyable.
Top tip: Work out what you need to do most and what you want to do most and prioritise those. You can always come back to the other stuff later when you are settled into the initial areas of work you have chosen.
2) Network like crazy
It is something I wish I did a lot more of in university and I am having to make up for it now. If you are in University now NETWORK!!! Trust me it is the best time to do it. Work will often come through your friends and colleagues in the music industry and it is probably one of the biggest contributing factors as to why I did not have any work waiting for me out of University. I have since tried to make up for this by interacting with any musician I meet and forming integral connections and friendships with them and since doing so opportunities have begun to appear more frequently.
Top tip: Whenever you meet musicians do not be afraid to tell them what you are doing and what you aspire to do and be interested, ask what has been going on with them. You never know, you may end up having a mutual interest or goal that you can assist each other on.
3) Social Media, Website administration and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) are skills definitely worth learning
In the modern world you cannot get away without using these. Now for me, this was not mistake I have necessarily made this year but since picking up the pace on my socials, website and SEO I realised how my lack of use of these tools was holding me back in University. Social Media is a great way to interact with the other working musicians you meet, see what they are up to and to show them what you are currently doing. Do not forget to sign up to groups where Bands often look for professional musicians to fill gigs last minute. Your website is your portfolio to show the world and it is therefore imperative that you get as much out of it as possible. Personally, I use it to tell the reader what I do, and to post these blogs and cover videos. Search Engine Optimisation or, as it is more commonly referred to, SEO is not something I had even considered when I began, however in the modern world it is a tool that is well worth learning to use. This is particularly important if you are advertising services to the general public; whether you’re a tutor, producer, studio or function band you cannot go wrong with learning the ins and outs of SEO.
Top tip: Ask friends, other musicians and creative professionals for their experiences and tips on these areas. I learnt a lot on Social Media, Website Administration and SEO just from listening to others and you can to.
4) You’re a business, run yourself like one
As a musician, the last thing I ever wanted to think about were Excel spreadsheets, accounting, planning, scheduling, advertising and the many aspects of being involved in business. In fact, it was even hard to think of myself as running a small business, after all I have been a musician for years and the idea of merging that with entrepreneurial spirit felt odd to say the least. But here is the thing, as a professional musician you are a business, so it important that you behave like one. It may be boring but it could be the difference between you sinking or floating as a working musician.
Top tip: Do not be afraid to invest in people and services to help you in the running of this. For example, I have an accountant to assist me with my tax returns, pay for advertising of my tutoring business and soon will be looking for a company to help run my SEO … and it really makes all the difference.
5) There will be times you want to give up, do not!
I knew that becoming a working musician was going to be hard, but no matter how hard you think it will, be it will always be harder. I have come close to giving up multiple times this year. There will be moments where you doubt yourself, moments when things do not quite go to plan, moments where you really ask yourself how badly you want this. This is normal, it is part of the process of succeeding and it is tough but if you can get through it, it is really worth it.
Top tip: In moments where I question myself I will often tell myself that what I am feeling in this moment will make the moment I achieve my goals that much sweeter.
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.
There is no doubt that learning to play and continually developing new skills on a musical instrument is hard. It requires hours of dedication and diligent practice, however despite this many musicians, including myself, have fallen into the trap of practicing in a very ineffective way. In this weeks blog I try and address those ineffective methods and provide useful tips that I personal wish I had heard a lot earlier.
One of the biggest mistakes that musicians make when it comes to practicing is practicing without purpose. They decide to practice whatever they feel like in the moment, they learn half a song one day and then try developing technique the next. This approach will lead to little development and will result in the player having a large number of half learnt skills. This is why it is important to have specific goals in mind to inform your practice routines. It is well worth using the acronym SMART to help inform your goal setting.
Create a Structured Practice Routine
Setting yourself goals is certainly important when it comes to developing effective practice, however setting goals is no good if you then practice aimlessly. It is therefore important that you come up with a set number of tasks and exercises that you will do in your practice session that will work you towards your goal.
For example, if one of your goals is to play a certain lick or sequence faster you would create an exercise such as playing the sequence to a metronome at a very slow speed and over a number of practice sessions you will gradually increase the speed of the metronome. You will come up with a number of these for each of your goals. Some goals may only require one exercise whilst others may require a few different exercises. Once you have laid out your exercises you can then look at how long you would like to practice for each day and then divide the practice session into set periods to tackle each area. So if you had a 1-hour practice session and 4 different exercises, you would divide up the practice session into 15 minute chunks. The key now is to stick to that plan until you have achieved your desired goal.
A common mistake many musicians make when it comes to practice is not practicing regularly enough. Some aspiring musicians will believe that if they do one marathon 4-hour practice session a week that they will improve quickly. This is far from the case. We learn new skills through our brain’s ability to create neural pathways, once a neural pathway is created it can be fired to allow the quick and unconscious execution of the skill. These pathways develop much quicker from more regular shorter practice sessions. Doing a marathon practice session only once a week may result in you seeing gains within the practice session but by the next practice session the skills you will have learnt will likely be forgotten. It is much better to practice every day for 10 minutes than to do long irregular sessions, so if you have not already, start building the habit with a regular short practice session; If you want to do longer practice sessions, slowly increase the length of your practice session over time to help maintain the habit.
Practicing music can be a very intensive task that requires high levels of concentration for long periods. However, our ability to focus on tasks can diminish over a period of time and can therefore effect our ability to make sufficient gains in our playing. This is due to to an effect called Vigilance Decrement where over time the brain dedicates less cerebral resources to a particular task (more information here). This effect is particularly true for those who are doing very long practice sessions that are well over an hour in length. Taking breaks can help offset Vigilance Decrement whilst allowing our brains to absorb the information from the exercises you have been working on. After a short break you can start practicing again fully refreshed with your full attention.
When we play we often find that we a focussing on a lot of things, the movement of our bodies, what we are about to play, what is going on with the music, staying in time and many more. With that in mind it is not surprising that some of the finer details of the sound and technique of our playing might go unnoticed.
So what is the best way to get around this problem? Record yourself playing. Buy doing this you will be able to hear any problems with pitch, rhythm and tone without the distractions that comes with playing. It is even better if you can record yourself with a video as being able to see you’re the elements you use to play your instrument such your hands, arms, feet and face can help you to diagnose problems with your technique that might be holding you back.
Once you have identified problems with your playing you can then make adjustments to your goals and practice to help address these problems.
Use a Metronome
For a tool that many proficient musicians see as vital to one’s ability to play well it surprising just how often some musicians completely forget to use of even avoid the use of a metronome. Some musicians hold the false belief that metronomes will result in a lack of feel, and though a metronome has a boring, lifeless and a somewhat annoying sound this could not be further from the truth. Music relies the musicians being in synch with one another whilst playing with a regular time and a consistent groove and as simple as it is, a metronome is the best way to develop this skill. Metronomes are also a vital tool for helping instrumentalists develop speed. It is important to use a metronome wherever possible; there are of course occasions where using a metronome is not important, say for example you are playing to a backing track or you are trying to nail the fingering to a particular piece without having to be tied to a rhythm, but for the most part a metronome is your best friend and an amazing tool.
Degrees are a qualification held highly by society. Often seen as the ticket to a good life with a good salary, a degree requires a lot of hard work and dedication creating a qualification with a lot of respect and prestige. However, in recent years a number of elements have lead many to ask ‘Is a degree really worth it’. This question is even more prevalent in creative fields such as music. With large increases in tuition fees and the increased availability of other education tools through the internet it is easy to see why such a question is being posed now more than ever.
The main argument that comes up against degrees is due to their increased cost. In the UK degrees used to be free with living costs being supported through grants. This meant that degrees used to present little to no financial risk but those days are now long gone. In 1998 the Labour Government introduced tuition fees charging £1000 per year for tuition; this has since increased under the Conservatives in 2012 to £9000 and later £9250. Across the pond, in the USA, the story is even grimmer with the top Universities charging as much $59,000 in tuition. With such high costs with what is often seen as little return, it is easy to see why many would see degrees as overpriced and not worth the financial risk. Add this in with the fact that the Music Industry itself rarely requires, looks at or even bothers worrying about a person’s level of formal education then the costs begin to look even more exorbitant.
The Music industry looks at number of key aspects when it comes to the employability of an individual, for example: can the person play/perform/produce/mix to the standard required, is the person reliable and does the person have equipment needed. Other factors that play a role in someone getting a gig include the people the person knows and other areas of value that the person can bring to the gig, for example if the individual owns a PA system that a band can use for their shows. Very quickly you begin to see that access into the music industry has very little to do with the piece of paper a degree offers and more to do with who you know, what you know and the other areas of value an individual can bring to the gig. The only area within the music industry where this does not apply is within education where a degree can be useful, however, even then it is not required for all teaching work.
Another main problem is simply due to the fact that in the modern day we do not require a university to learn a lot of the skills required to become a professional musician. Universities once used to offer fairly exclusive centres of learning. If you wanted to learn the broad range of knowledge and skills required to work in the music industry you either needed access to high level one on one tutor and a rich and varied music scene or a University. This is no longer the case; we now have access to wealth of music to transcribe as well numerous tutorials, lessons and learning tools all through the tap of a keyboard and a touch of a button. If we want to learn from a teacher on top of what we learn from online resources then we are no longer restricted to the best teacher in our local area, we can get lessons from which ever master we wish to learn from through the power of Skype. With such availability of tools then why pay large sums of money to learn the same things when you could use that money for arguably more effective online lessons?
With all this in mind is there really any point in bothering with a University education? I honestly believe there is, but what they can offer does not fit what we traditionally value from degrees and the unique advantages they have may not be obvious to those looking from the outside. Before contemporary music degrees became common place, getting into the industry relied very heavily on who you know and as a result you either got into the music industry through a teacher/tutor, a band member or from getting know people at local jam nights. Now in many ways very little has changed. Getting into the music industry still relies very heavily on who you know, however, what Universities have done is expand the space for us to network and opened up other gates of entry for future musicians. The people who you learn and play with, as well the teachers who teach you at University can be the people that will get you the paid gigs that you are after in the future.
University also offer the chance for someone to completely immerse themselves in music. From classes, to the social interactions, having people exposing each other to music they otherwise would have never have heard of, getting the chance to play a variety of styles and genres, to having living costs covered freeing up time for practice, jamming, attending gigs, to the chance to experiment and try new ideas and concepts. It is an opportunity and experience you will not get anywhere else quite as easily as you can get it at University.
A side of University that cannot be underestimated is the social opportunities it offers. Music is for the most part a social art form, it often relies on collaboration for its production and learning the skills required to interact and collaborate with other musicians and artists is not something that can be taught on an online forum. They are skills crafted through hours in practice rooms with others. There are also plenty of opportunities to learn through the social connections formed with a Universities faculty, it is only really in places of higher education that you can end up having a good conversation with your tutors outside of class on a whole range of topics and in those conversations you sometimes learn a lot more than you do in the class room.
University will also introduce you to many new ideas, concepts, approaches, artists and musical styles that you otherwise would not have tried. Before I personally went to University I was only really interested in Rock and Metal, I only played Guitar and I only wrote the music to songs, by the time I had completed my degree I had developed a passion for Blues, Jazz and Funk as well as a taste for Soul and R&B, I was writing both music and lyrics, I had become a fairly well developed producer and I was even experimenting with vocals, keys and bass. I had also become familiar with many other musical genres, tried my hand at percussion and even composed a few pieces for a variety of ensembles. In my years of study, I learnt and tried so much more than I ever could have done on my own, in my bedroom, taking a guitar lesson once a week.
It is also worth noting that there are some weaknesses from learning and developing solely from one on one tuition and online materials. As already covered these include the social elements, the exposure to other genres, musical ideas and approaches and the exposure to other areas of music making. Typically, when learning from a single tutor we are only able to be exposed to the ideas of that particular tutor. Even if the tutor is a highly proficient musician, this is still only one set of ideas about how to approach music. Within a University, you will be exposed to many highly proficient tutors, across a number of disciplines, all with different areas of expertise and all with different ideas on how to approach music. Many of the most important lessons I learnt came from tutors who played instruments different from mine. This is something you are unlikely to come across outside of centres of formal education such as University.
Though the power of the piece of paper that is a music degree is arguably severely diminished when compared to other more formal degrees, it still holds power. It can be used to get the all important teaching job that can pay the bills for you as a musician and can open up options for you to explore other career paths. You can use them to gain access to higher level roles in other industries, jobs in the music business at labels, publishing houses, promoters, management companies and booking agents, you can qualify as a school teacher, go into post graduate education and develop a career in academia or even requalify at Masters level in a different field all together, the options are endless. A degree can still open many doors, but maybe not the ones you would expect.
In short, you do not need the piece of paper a degree is written on to become a successful musician, writer or producer in the industry, and at no point in time was a degree ever needed. But that does not mean that they are worthless, the value of any degree is not in piece of paper at the end, it is the skills, abilities, ideas, concepts and acquaintances you make along the way. Now that does not mean choosing to do a degree is a decision to be taken lightly: for many a degree is not the right choice, maybe you already have the insights, values, ideas, concepts, skills and connections required to craft a successful career in the music industry without it; however, do not assume that it is worthless and weigh up the decision of doing a degree on the strengths and weaknesses it offers you as an individual.
Creativity: it is something some people believe they do not possess and could never do; to others it is something that they are so full of they can barely contain it within the bounds of there own bodies, to them creativity is something that shines constantly and brightly within them. We all have different experiences with creativity but I feel that we too often look at creativity in completely the wrong way. We often look on it as skill that someone simply possesses, they either have it or they do not. Some will even argue that those who do possess such talent, for the most part, are only able to apply this skill to one or two areas in which they are gifted. I personally do not believe this to be the case. I believe that creativity is a muscle and to get good at it, it is a muscle that requires exercising and it is a muscle that anyone and everyone can develop.
So why do people believe they are unable to create? I believe this mainly down to individuals having unrealistic expectations around what they can do and what they should be able to do. What we often forget is those who have become talented creative individuals, whether they are artists, writers, film makers, actors or musicians, have often been creating for many years whether entirely in their chosen discipline or even across others. We forget that they may well have started that spark as children or young adolescents. These people were not simply just formed that way. They would have spent many years creating bad pieces of art to get where they are and yet I feel too often, people who do not see themselves as creative often expect themselves to suddenly be able to create great pieces of work. With such unrealistic expectations you can see why people may find themselves unable to create.
Childhood is a time of endless creativity: Colouring books, arts and crafts, inventing games, playing, drawing and painting, creativity is everywhere in a child’s life and yet we forget that compared the work of creative professionals the creative results often made by Children are objectively awful in comparison. Why do we forget that? Because we do not hold children to the same rigorous standards of adults and yet we hold adults who may have not created anything since childhood to the same standards when in reality we should be freeing those people of judgement and be encouraging through a period of experimentation and self-discovery whilst making sure that we let them know not to hold themselves to such standards. Only true freedom and experimentation can give rise to the development of taste and by doing so the creative muscle can be exercised.
Another problem that people face when it comes to creativity is around pre-conceived notions that some forms of creativity are more legitimate than others. It is in many ways unsurprising that we have these notions, after all we hold the masters of certain creative forms such as musicians, songwriters, authors, poets, painters and sculptors, among others, up as people to admire and of high social status. But there are loads of ways to be creative outside of that, dressmaking, tailoring, patchwork, knitting, house crafts, carpentry, gardening, just to name a few, just because you find joy in developing your creativity outside of the usual art forms does not make your form of creativity inferior. One of the most important aspects of creativity is finding the creative form that you identify with most and through which you feel you can express yourself. Try not get tied up in more traditional art-forms simply because you think that is what you have to be to be creative when in reality you may prefer and enjoy something unconventional much more.
Another notion I wish to challenge is the idea that we are only able develop our creativity within one or two art forms. Now this idea may hold true if you wish to actually become a master of one art form, after all time is precious and to become highly exceptional in one form of art takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours of work and practice. However, most people who take part in a creative art are not looking to become masters, so why restrict yourself to one skill if you want to learn a number of them. Each art form will develop different skills and ways of thinking that can compliment the other forms. I personally spend most of my time crafting my skills in my primary creative area which is music, however, I do not limit myself solely to this. Part of the reason I write this Blog is to help develop my writing, I have recently started to explore film making and in the past I have drawn, painted and written poetry and short stories. I do not expect to become as good at writing and film making as I am at playing guitar, song writing and music production but I enjoy it and am learning numerous new ways of approaching art and thinking that I have already seen have an impact in how I approach problems both in my music and my life.
So why am I placing so much emphasis of developing one’s creativity? Well the ability to think and approach life creatively is a skill that is vitally important to so many roles and yet it is one of the most undervalued skills. Albert Einstein once said ‘The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination’. Knowledge can only tell what is already known, it is imagination and creative thinking that helps us find and discover the new. Art has many roles in society but it can be argued that one of its most important is to act as the Gym in which we develop our creativity. So do not undervalue Creativity and do not leave it as an un-flexed muscle. Your ability to think creatively and outside the box will stand you in good stead in all other areas of your life.
So many people when they start playing guitar approach it believing a number of ideas that are simply not true. They may have heard these rumours from friends or family who have never played guitar before, or they may have heard these ideas from people who have played guitar for years, they may have even just assumed some of these myths were the case. Myths however can be damaging; they can put new players in a position that makes the guitar less exciting, enjoyable and engaging. They can be discouraging or act as unsubstantiated excuses when the learning gets tough and at their worst they can threaten to cause injury. That is why in this weeks blog I am challenging the ‘Common Myths Beginner Guitarists Believe’ and in its place I am offering the best advice I can give.
Myth 1: You must start on an Acoustic Guitar
There are number of reasons why people buy into this idea. Some believe that you need the higher tension strings to help build up strength whilst others believe that you master the skills needed for all Guitar playing on Acoustic before transferring it to an electric. This could not be more false; in fact, I will often advise pupils to start on an Electric or Classical guitar.
Though you can certainly start learning on an Acoustic there is one key problem it causes many new players: the increased likelihood of injury. Imagine if you went to the gym to start lifting weights, you would not start on the heaviest weights possible, you would find it really difficult to lift them with good form and if you could lift them at all you would be putting yourself at risk of injury. Instead you would start with a light weight and over time and number of training sessions build yourself up to the heavier weights. Guitar is very similar and though a beginner guitarist could start on an Acoustic, if they have the correct instruction to ensure they maintain good form, it is not always the best approach.
Another problem is due to the simple fact that you cannot learn all the techniques to master all kinds of guitar playing on a single type instrument. You cannot learn techniques used on electric guitars such as bending and vibrato on an acoustic and likewise you cannot use percussion techniques on an electric.
So what is my advice for beginner guitarist? Start on the type of guitar that inspired you to play. If your heroes include the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Slash, John Petrucci or Kurt Cobain start on an Electric. If you are more into Ed Sheeran, Mike Dawes or Bob Dylan then start on Acoustic or if you possess weaker fingers maybe a classical. By doing this you not only ensure that you decrease the chance of injury but you also gain the added motivation from being able to play what you wanted to play all along, after all there will be times that you are going to need that motivation.
Myth 2: I’m not Talented enough to Play
In a way I addressed this myth in my Blog: ‘I’m not talented, I just work hard’ but I think the point needs to be reiterated: Playing guitar is hard work and only a small amount can be owed to talent if any! Why am I reiterating this point? Well I have often come across people who try guitar for a few weeks and give up early because they could not play the chords to an entire song in that amount of time or pupils who have only tried the instrument for a few weeks and were somehow expecting to play like Ed Sheeren in that time. What were these people’s response to their predicament? “I’m not talented enough to play guitar”. I can tell you these people could not be more wrong.
Since the article, I have come up with a new theory as why people say such a statement. I believe it is statement that helps to protect an individual’s Ego; it is much easier for them suggest that their inability to play is down to some innate thing that they cannot change and not down to lack of hard work. So let me say this once and for all, Playing guitar is hard, it takes time and consistent, diligent practice; if you find out that you do not want to spend your time and effort learning guitar, that is fine, I have no problem with that, you do you the best you can, but do not blame your unwillingness to learn on lack of talent when in reality it is lack of time practiced.
Myth 3: The amount of time you have been playing dictates your skill level
This in many ways links back to my previous point that somehow the time someone has spent playing directly correlates with a player’s skill level. Now there is a grain of truth to this, sure if you are practicing regularly the more time you spend playing the better you will be however it is far from a direct correlation. There are some people who have played guitar for two years that are much better than those who have played for five and there are people who have played for five years that better than those who have played for fifteen years and vice versa. At the end of the day, it comes down to how often and how dedicated you are to practice that will dictate your progress, not the amount of time you have been playing.
Myth 4: You should start on a cheap guitar
To a certain extent there is some sound logic behind this thinking. After all, if you want to see if the guitar is for you but you are not yet one hundred percent dedicated to playing, why invest a large amount of money if you are only going to end giving up the instrument a little further down the line. The problem is, is that most very cheap guitars come in a state that makes them very difficult to play and you will either need to shell out money for a good set-up or risk being put off playing guitar by the instrument itself and not necessarily your actual interest.
Now of course there are ways to get around the investment risk. First, ask a friend if you can borrow their guitar while you try a few lessons, or ask a tutor if you can take lessons using one of their guitars. Most tutors will happily let you use their instruments whilst they teach you and many close friends will happily let you borrow a spare instrument for practice. Doing this means you can get a feel for the guitar and decide if learning to play is something you want to dedicate you time a money to and when you do you can spend a bit more money on a decent lower-mid priced instrument.
The second option is to spend more money on a higher grade instrument. As a general rule, the more you spend on an instrument, the less value it looses over time, in fact vintage and limited edition Gibson and Fender guitars will often show an increase in worth over time. Of course the problem with this is that it requires a much larger upfront investment that may not be available to everyone and therefore makes this a limited option.
In short starting on a cheap guitar will result in you investing in an instrument that is going to be difficult to play and will not last you very long if you choose to continue to play as at some point you will want to invest in a more playable instrument.
Myth 5: You must have an Amplifier to play Electric guitar
This is a myth I used to personally buy into as a younger player, the idea being that if you want to know if you sounded any good you had to hear yourself through an amplifier and if you wanted to play through distortion you definitely had to play through an amplifier. The truth however, is that many new players play for a long period of time before they play through an amp. You can still hear yourself clearly whilst unplugged and in fact in some ways you can hear yourself more clearly.
Sure playing through an amp has a different feel and requires some adaption like making sure you are not hitting the strings too hard as well as changes to your technique to reduce unwanted noise from distorted amplifiers, but playing unplugged has benefits to. Distortion can often cover up the mistakes in your playing, whilst developing techniques such as legato and use of hammer-ons and pull-offs can often be helped by playing unplugged rather than through a clean amplifier. So can an amp be useful? Yes, but it can also be a hindrance, you do not have to have one to begin to play and if it is something you cannot afford at the moment, be happy in the knowledge that it is an investment that you can pass further down the road and even when you do possess one know it is a good habit to play unplugged once in a while.
Myth 6: Your Fingers are too big/too small to play guitar
This statement is often made in response to person’s inability to play something as quickly as they would like to. Now there is certainly truth is saying that an individual’s fingers are too big or too for a certain guitar, those with big fingers may find themselves unable to hold a single string without touching the strings next to it on guitars with a small neck whilst those with small fingers and hands may never be able to play an 8 string. However, this is down to the guitar and guitars like people come in many shapes and sizes. Your ability to play comes down these three things ranked from least importance to most importance…
As you can see though you can make choices informed by your finger and hand size to help aid your playing but your finger size, big or small, does not determine whether you are able to play guitar. You only need to look at players like Jimi Hendrix who had giant hands or on the opposite end of the spectrum Randy Rhoades who had small hands to see that hand size does not and never will determine your ability to play guitar.
Myth 7: You must learn Classical/Jazz to be a good Guitar Player
This comes from the idea that Classical and Jazz are superior musical styles and by learning these styles you will somehow be able to master all musical styles in the process. This is far from true, each and every musical genre has their own challenges. Yes, Classical music may be great for learning how to sight-read guitar as it is a skill core to Classical music and Jazz music may be great for becoming a master of improvisation, however, every genre has its own unique challenges, Metal emphasises highly technical playing, whilst funk emphasises Groove, many people will say that Blues has a much higher emphasis on feel, whilst Country emphasises twang. The simple truth is there is no single style able to make you a well rounded guitar player. So if you want to become a well-rounded guitar player take the time to learn as many styles as possible, or if you are not interested in learning all those styles, you do not have to; Learn the styles you love and enjoy yourself; there are many guitar players who are masters of just one style and nothing else and that is ok. Play what makes you love guitar and do not just play something because that is what people expect, you should be playing and loving guitar for you, not for others.
Myth 8: If you don’t start young there is no point in starting at all
There is this idea that to become a great musician you have to start young. Well this many ways depends on what you define as great, is great becoming famous? In which case Slash and Eric Clapton some of the most famous Guitarists of all time started playing the instrument comparatively late to many at the age of 15, maybe you are referring to virtuosic talent in which case Wes Montgomery, one of the most revered Jazz Guitarists of all time only picked up the instrument at 20. Either way there are examples of people who started playing the guitar later than the usually expected 5-13 age that you expect great players to start. However, there is one huge screaming problem with this view point, the assumption being is that people who learn the guitar should learn it with the aspiration of becoming great. That honestly is complete rubbish and I can guarantee that most of the greats would agree with that sentiment; People should learn the guitar for one key reason, to bring joy into the lives of themselves and others, or in a less pretentious way of saying it, too have fun.
Much like your favourite meals, you may love the musicians and artists you listen to, but sometimes listening to the same musical diet can get bland and you may find yourself craving something new to satisfy your musical palate. But where do you start? Most people do not go out of their way to spend their time finding new music, often settling for the music they happen to come across from friends and family, or from entertainment such as Radio or Film. Therefore, going out of your way to find new music, particularly when you have certain style, genre or sound in mind, can often be a lot harder than it initially seems due to us not possessing the skills and techniques to discover new music. Well do not worry any longer; Below I have compiled a series of tips and techniques for finding new artists to reinvigorate your musical listening.
It is so simple that it might be easy to forget but Google and other search engines can be your friend when you are exploring for new artists to blow your mind. There are so many keywords and search terms that can be used to help you in your search for new sounds. You can ask the search engine to find music similar to a band or artist that you love, or to find music within a certain genre or scene, maybe you are curious as to what the hottest new singles, EP’s and album releases are at the moment; the options are endless. From the results you can follow the links on the search results page to blogs, videos and articles that can answer your query with more information. You will be surprised how quickly you will find new music using this method.
Using streaming services
Streaming services are something that is still fairly new to the world and yet, in such a short space of the time their use has become fully ingrained into our day to day lives and with its many advantages it is easy to understand why. We no longer need to dedicate large amounts of space in our homes to our music collections, we can carry whatever music we want with us in our pockets and have an endless library of music to explore. There are a number of ways you can find musicians on streaming services like Spotify. First are playlists curated by both real people and algorithms. You can use them to follow specific musical styles, the top releases and popular songs on the platform. Spotify’s algorithms will also curate playlists (What are called Daily Mixes) with a mix of artists you already love, along with new artists that are yet to listen to.
Another option is to go the sites such as last.fm. Last.fm will analyse your listening habits across multiple platforms and then make suggestions for new music you should listen to.
Follow Niche Blogs
As music fans we are probably familiar with the big online music blogs such as Pitchfork, NME, NPR and Stereogum, if you are not they are definitely worth checking out and are a useful tools for finding new music. However, they do come with their own problems. The big blogs tend to focus on bigger acts that can pull large amounts of traffic to their websites and therefore finding underground acts through these sites can be difficult. They also tend cast a wider net in terms of the musical genre’s and style’s that they represent. This can be great for eclectic music lovers who will listen to anything and everything and are looking for something to surprise them, but for those of us who have a more refined and specific music taste, such blogs are pretty inefficient for finding new artists to satisfy out interests. So why not look for smaller blogs with smaller followings and a more specific taste of music. There are so many advantages to this. Firstly, small communities of people can build up around these blogs for you to interact and share artists with. Secondly you can guarantee a lot of the music that you hear from such blogs will fit your personal tastes as opposed to the hit and miss nature of the big blogs.
Social Media sites and forums such as Facebook, Twitter and Reddit provide a number of options to help you find new music. On Facebook and Twitter, you can make a post to your friends or followers asking for music recommendations and you may be surprised just how many replies you receive; people love to share what they think is amazing music. You can also follow pages and other users who are likely to post new music regularly on places like Facebook and Twitter for example: music bloggers, magazines and reviewers who you have discovered and like. Facebook and Reddit also gives you the opportunity to join forums (Groups in Facebook or Subreddits in Reddit) dedicated to a particular music scenes or genres giving you the opportunity to share and discuss with folks who have a like minded music taste.
Music Podcasts and Radio
One of people’s regular complaints about radio stations is that they tend to play the same music over and over again and more often these songs do not fit our personal musical tastes. Sure, the music played on the radio might be entertaining enough for your drive to work, but it will rarely introduce you to new musical flavours. So what things can you listen to that will introduce you to new music or music that fits your specific tastes. Well first: actually do a read up of the schedules of your favourite radio stations; You maybe surprised to find that there are specific radio programs that either target new and unknown music or that target specific genres that fit your tastes. Also do not hesitate to find new radio stations, again some stations such as Kerrang! target certain scenes and genres whilst others like BBC Radio 6 target new and underground music. Second: hunt around for some podcasts, there are often podcasts that specialise in certain genres and musical topics, and the best thing about podcasts is you can listen to them any time you want. Many radio stations will offer their shows as podcasts but there are also podcasts available that are set up by as little as one or two individuals and as such will introduce you to artists far outside of the mainstream. Third, there are a number of online radio stations that are not available on standard frequencies or even DAB radio. Many of these online stations will specialise in a particular scene or genre and as such you are bound to find one that fits your personal music tastes. College and University radio is also great as they will often look to play new and unheard music that would no usually appear on underground radio.
Look up touring acts
Looking up tour posters can be great if you are looking to find when your favourite artists are going to be playing in a city near you, but they can also be great for finding music from artists that you have never heard of. To do this simply keep an eye out for when your favourite artists announce new tour dates anywhere in the world and then research who the supporting acts are. Most bands will have 1-3 acts who will open the show and warm up the crowd for them. These acts tend to have a few things in common. They tend to have a smaller audience than the headliner and are not as well known and they tend to play music from sam or another similar style of music. By doing this you will quickly find your list of artists to check out will start getting very long very quickly.
Music Identification Apps
How often do you find yourself hearing a piece of music that you fall head over heels for only for there to be no chance for you to find out the name of the tune that your ears cannot help but crave more of. Maybe you hear it in a film and cannot track down the music online, or on the radio and the announcer forgets to tell you what the song was, or maybe you were just in your local coffee shop or record store when you heard the song. We have all been there and it can be absolutely infuriating. What you really need is someone with you who has the largest knowledge of music known to man who can hear and track and tell you what it is within seconds. While there may not be such a person in existence, there are apps that are able to achieve this. Apps like Shazam, TrackID and Soundhound listens to the music that is being played and compares it to a cloud database before retrieving the information and showing it to you on your phone. With one of these apps in your pocket you will no longer have to miss a single track and wonder if you will ever come across it again, just take your phone out and find out in seconds.
Record shops maybe few and far between these days and may seem much more like a novelty than they once where but they can still be a great place to find music and can provide a unique fun experience that the other methods of searching for new music just do not have. Do not be afraid to go and have a look, talk to people working and visiting the shop and ask what they recommend; Go flicking through the CD’s, Vinyl’s and Cassettes to see if there are any covers that catch your eye, look in the sections containing the genre’s you love most and see if there are any recordings that you do not recognise the name of and if the record shop has a listening booth and use it; it might also be worth bringing a friend along and showing each other what you find and share your ideas and thoughts together whilst hunting. Exploring record shops can not only help you find new music but can ensure you have the most fun whilst doing it.
Auto-tune, it is everywhere, from its overt use for its distinctive sound by artists like Drake to artists who have used it less obviously to tidy up vocal lines that they sang slightly out of tune. It also sparks hot debates and makes many individuals furious claiming it symbolises everything wrong with the modern music industry. Some hate the sound that the overt use of auto-tune creates, while others find the use of it to correct vocal lines dishonest and believe that it is used to make talentless individuals sound like amazing singers and some musicians even refuse to use the technology on principle. However, many believe it is a useful tool either helping to tidy up great takes or for its use as a creative tool both for transcribing or adjusting the melody of recorded takes after the fact and even for adding a unique sound that other forms of audio processing do not possess. So that leaves the question: Is Auto-tune a useful creative tool or a form of musical cheating?
In the analogue world of music, before the development of auto-tune, you could only use takes that had been produced by the artist, and though takes could be manipulated with certain outboard gear and the pitch of a take could be changed through the speeding up or slowing down of the tape the recording was on, very little could be done to change the pitch of a single note on a vocal or instrument. This meant to get recordings with all the best performances from various takes required the cutting and splicing of multiple-takes to get the desired effect. However, the destructive nature of cutting and splicing tape meant that the technology could not be used excessively without ruining the natural sound of a recording, as such many pre-digital recordings feature vocals and instrumentation that was out of tune. Many argue that the imperfections found in these older recordings adds character and a feel to the music that is often lost in todays world where every second of music is polished to perfection.
Auto-tune, is widely recognised to have first appeared on Cher’s 1998 track ‘Believe’ where it was used to distort the vocals in an interesting and unique way. Though this is truly the first use of actual auto-tune, there is a huge gap between what auto-tune actually is and what what the general public believes auto-tune to be. Auto-tune is a form of what is more broadly known as pitch-correction and there are devices that have been used to correct the pitch of vocals and instrumentation since the 1970s. But much like how brands such as Hoover have become synonymous with vacuum cleaners, the name auto-tune has become synonymous with all types of pitch correction whether done automatically like the actual auto-tune by Antares Audio Technologies or done through a more manual method like the Eventide H910 Harmonizer.
Here in lies the problem, many people hear the name auto-tune and automatically assume that the term is being used to describe the correction of the pitch of a poor vocal performance when in reality auto-tune is used to describe a wide-range of methods and techniques to affect the tuning of audio in numerous ways and for numerous reasons. There are examples of how pitch correction has been used to tidy up vocals in a way that may make sense to many. For example, as a producer there are many elements you are looking for in a performance; tuning and timing are a couple of those elements but there are others; the timbre, emotion, power and dynamics of a performance are just a few examples and if as a producer you have to choose between a performance that is in tune but does not have the power and emotion that the song requires or a performance that is slightly out of tune but carries the weight and emotion that you want from that part of the song, you may forgive the producer for picking out the slightly out of tune vocal and correcting a mild mistake.
Pitch correction can also be used in a creative way that creates a unique sound, instrumentalists utilise systems such as talk-boxes and vocoders to create interesting sounds that you just cannot achieve with any other method, and auto-tune is often used in this way as well. We often hear these uses in a lot of modern pop music from artists like Kanye West who uses it in many tracks including ‘Love Lockdown’ and Bruno Mars who uses a vocoder in the introduction of ‘24k Magic’. But plenty of artists have used these techniques in the past, Kraftwerk used vocoders in a lot of their work including their 1978 song ‘The Robots’ and even the The Beatles manipulated the pitch of their songs by speeding up and slowing down tape; the perfect example of this is ‘Strawberry Fields’ where the speeding up and raising of the pitch of the track can be heard at around the 1 minute mark.
That being said, where does auto-tunes bad reputation come from? As I have just explained, much of it comes down to the difference between peoples’ expectations of what auto-tune is used for and what it is actually used for. With such expectations it is no wonder that people feel auto-tune is being used as a way to cheat talent. This coupled with a number of on stage performers such as Britany Spears and Katy Perry being caught lip synching vocals live and certain talent shows such as the X-Factor admitting to using auto-tune on their contestants then you begin to see why people may feel cheated and mislead when it comes to modern pop music.
So are there plausible uses for this technology? I would say yes, to an extent. Of course I have explained how it can be used in really cool creative ways that have changed how music sounds forever, it has also been used to make the most of the best takes to ensure a track can sound the best it possibly can. And though it may seem that its use in a live setting is cheating, the reality is that auto-tune cannot turn a bad singer into a great one. The technology itself only goes so far when being used live, as it can only be used to bring a note that is within a semi-tone of the desired pitch in tune, and to sing that close in tune consistently requires a strong and confident vocal ability. In such a setting in can be argued that is no difference between auto-tune and other audio-processing that is used in Live performances. No matter who the performer is, auto-tune or no auto-tune, other processes are used to bring the best out of a vocal performance with EQ being a bare minimum and the use of reverb, delay and compression also being perfectly normal processes to improve the sound of a vocal, how is the slight use of auto-tune any different?
Now this is not to say that the technology gets off the hook completely. Many people argue that the music of today has lost much of the feel that music used to gain from its imperfections. What used to be an art-form that relied entirely on imperfect human beings who, no matter how good, would always play slightly out of time and out of pitch when recording themselves to tape, a medium with limited editing ability, has now been replaced by computers and algorithms that can ensure that music recordings can be edited to produce perfectly timed and pitched music in a way no one could have ever imagined. Now it is important to realise that auto-tune is not the only culprit in this problem with modern music as there are loads of different modern recording techniques such as midi and audio-quantisation that helps in the creation of super-clean and super-perfect music of the modern era, but perhaps auto-tune is part of a trend in music that has seen the thing that made music so human disappear: imperfection.
What's is you opinion on auto-tune? Do not hesitate to comment below and start of a discussion on auto-tune and whether it is cheating or a useful creative tool?
Being creative and can be one of most joyful experiences a person can have. It can act as therapy, it can occupy the mind in a meditative way that blocks out the other stressors in your life and there is nothing quite like seeing other people enjoy your art.
That being said, making things is not always smooth sailing. From writer’s block to not feeling good enough at your craft and sometimes failing to get the joy you were hoping out of something you are making, being a creative, can actually be downright infuriating. So with that in mind I have created a list of my top ten tips to help reduce these problems as a creative individual.
1. Create without Judgement To often when trying to create something the biggest obstacle we come across is our own minds. People often feel they cannot come up with ideas, and while sometimes this may be true, in my experience the reality is not that people cannot come up with ideas but that they are too quick to dismiss the ideas they initially come up with. Putting ideas on the rubbish heap before you even start can be a killer to creativity. An idea does not have to be fully formed or even good when you start, in fact some of the best pieces of work started as really rubbish ideas that were crafted into good ones. The best way to tackle this problem is to create, at least in the starting phases of creation, without judgement. Make something and do not judge it, just create, save the judgement until later down the creative process when you can become an Editor which leads me onto…
2. Being an Editor, not a Artist So if we are initially creating ideas without judgement we are going to end up with our first draft. Now is the time to judge. Some of the elements of your creation may impress you and make your proud, whilst others will disappoint and will not be up to your standards. This is where editing is vital. We can identify what works and what does not, adapt, change, cut and add, recreate and develop our initial idea a piece we can truly be proud of.
3. Mistakes are to be sought out, not hidden from To often in life we fear mistakes and failure. Such fears are dangerous, particularly in the creation of art. Why is this the case? A couple of reasons. First, we often learn much more from mistakes than we do from success. With that in mind it is easy to see how we can improve as artists from mistakes. Second, mistakes can actually sometimes be the cause of great creative decisions. A mistake will often produce something we could not have imagined from out heads alone and can push the boundaries of your artistic expression. So do not fear mistakes, instead, seek them out and welcome them as part of the creative process.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice Creativity is a muscle. For it to be improved it needs to be exercised regularly and have its boundaries pushed. The more you exercise this muscle the more you will improve as an artist and the easier you will find creating things.
5. Create in other Styles and Mediums Whether a musical genre, an artistic style or medium, a form of writing or a genre of fiction, creative people will often pigeonhole their way into one particular specialism. This within itself is not necessarily a bad thing. As artists we often strive for our work to stand out from the crowd and be recognisable and one of the most effective methods for doing this is to dedicate our art towards a particular medium or genre. However, there is a lot to be gained from writing and mastering other mediums and genres. It can improve our technical ability, give us new methods and techniques for approaching our art form and even give us ideas to try when we go back to creating in our main medium or style.
6. Learn new skills Just by creating in other styles and mediums you will be learning new skills but you do not have to stop there. Mastering new skills and techniques can really help expand the possible creative choices available to you as well as help you to complete projects much more efficiently. If you’re an instrumentalist, learn to sing so you can see how your songs sound with a good a voice to them, if you’re a writer why not learn a certain type of meter or poetry that you have never tried, if your film maker why not take some acting classes so you are better able to communicate with your cast on set. The options are endless and they will improve your ability to do your craft.
7. Be open to Criticism It can be hard to takes criticism for our art. After all, the creation of art can require us to be venerable and when someone criticises the product of that vulnerability it can feel like the criticism is very personal. However, if we want to be better artists we need to realise that criticism is one of the most useful tools for helping for progression. So, first make sure that you get your artwork in front of people so they can criticise it; work cannot be criticised if it is hidden away. Second when people tell you what they like and do not like about your work, listen. Realise the critique is not a critique of you personally but a critique of the work itself and listen to the criticism carefully, even if in the end you decide you do not agree with that persons conclusions. You will find that due to the help of others that you will identify problems with your work quicker and your work will improve greatly.
8. Complete your projects Not completing creative work can be a real crux for many artists. I myself used to start and develop songs, drawings, poems and stories only for them to end up hidden away in a draw in my room or in folder deep in my computer documents. Now you do not have to complete every idea you start, it is good to either realise an idea is not worth any more energy and should be placed on the scrap heap or that maybe the idea should be shelved for a while for you to come back to later and complete with a fresh perspective. However, it is vital that you do not let this become a habit you see happening to the majority of your ideas for one key reason. Firstly, each particular phase in the development of a piece has unique features and skills, for example in a painting there is the inception of the idea, the drafting process, maybe a research phase, there is the drawing of the outline, the mixing of paints, the base layer, the shading, the highlights and so on. With each phase in the development of the painting is the use of a number of different skills and techniques. How can you develop as an artist if you only ever get good at coming up with an idea, sketching and drafting but never actually seeing an idea through to completion? By completing projects, you can ensure you become well versed and practiced in all the key areas of the creative process.
9. The 90% Rule Hank Green, for those who do not know, is an American entrepreneur, musician, educator, producer, vlogger, and author who is probably most well known for the YouTube channel he and his Brother (John Green) post to regularly: Vlogbrothers. In a video he says the key to his productivity is the 80% rule. This means he aims to get his work ‘80% of the way to as good as’ he ‘can make it, and no further’. His reasoning for this is because…
Hank then goes on to describe how you will never know if you are going to hit ‘the bullseye… that is what the 80% is about’ but ‘you will never really know where you are going to hit until you actually throw the dart and if you spend a tone of time thinking about how you’re going to throw the dart and you never throw it, you might be doing a whole lot of work that isn’t actually helping’
Now, personally I do not believe for creative work that the 80% rule is high enough and therefore I prefer to use a 90% rule and yes on some pieces of work, I do I aim for 100%, however, it is important that you do not let that target of 100% get in the way of you producing more creative pieces. You learn a lot more from creating multiple pieces that are not 10% than you do trying to get one piece to 100%.
10. Do it for the Love Too often I see people get so wrapped up in their creative work that they have completely forgot why they decided to become a musician, artist or writer in the first place and what is the point in doing creative work if we do not love. So always try to remember whenever you are trying to apply these tips, Love you work, Love being a creative and Love your art.
There is a compliment that many musicians with any level of skill have heard and secretly cringed at. It is a compliment which to many may not seem that problematic and in fact is often said with kindness and born from inspiration. But to many a musician it can feel minimising at best and demeaning at worst. So what are the fateful words that have such a rift between their intention and reception. That fateful phrase is…
‘Oh, you are so talented!’
While non-musicians may be sat their slightly bemused by such a statement I can guarantee the musicians that have read this have just turned a mild shade of purple, possibly with steam coming out their ears.
Ok so maybe I exaggerate; I am sure plenty of musicians see these words as the kind compliment they are intended to be, and even those who find those words frustrating like myself will admit that hearing such words is hardly a reason to go insane. None the less, what is it about the praise of talent that causes musicians and creatives such annoyance?
Simply it comes down to what talent means both in its definition and how society views it.
In understanding its definition, we can quickly see how a term such as talent could cause certain musicians to foam at the mouth. I can certainly tell you I did not come out my mother’s womb holding and electric guitar playing Van Halen’s ‘Eruption’. I myself didn’t actually touch an instrument until I was 15, and I would never say I had some natural inclination towards music; In fact I was told by my neighbours, friends and even my family that I sounded awful on a regular basis for the first three years of playing, but that did not stop me practicing every day, that did not stop me learning songs, mastering chords and moving repetitively up and down scale shapes day in, day out.
And that is what gets us to the crux of what makes the praise of talent feel so demeaning. It ignores the hours of hard work, the constant practice and development despite criticism from those around us, the pure effort and the blood, sweat and tears poured into our craft.
There is however something a little more insidious and damaging about the assumption that creative ability is innate that many do not consider. Those who praise talent will often wax lyrical about how they wish they could do what creative people do and how they wish that they possessed the natural ability to play, sing, write or draw. What they do not seem to realise is they are perfectly able to. If they are prepared to work hard nothing can stop them from mastering creative skills. The dangerous thing is that by perpetuating the myth that creative abilities come from some inbuilt genetic code or divine blessing and not from many hours of hard work, we could well be putting off a whole group of people, young and old, from taking up a creative craft because they truly believe that they do not possess ‘the talent’.
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