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.
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