Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Egads, e-god are good…

Been meaning to get this written for a while and so now, with the latest deadline out the way, almost as much work done on my website as can be done and a free hour to go over some of the songs again, I want to tell you about e-god.

Dancetastic, mates – this is a band that, for three rather middle-class looking, middle aged fellas, can really get stuck into a groove and take it off to places that will surprise some, alarm others and delight the rest.

I have to come clean and mention that the drummer, Phil Escott, is an old pal and back in the days when I could barely count to four, Phil was easing through 13/8 without really thinking too much about it, but this is rather by the by. If I didn’t like e-god, I wouldn’t write about them. The thing is, I do…

With Escott on V-drums, the band is essentially a trio, with Drew Dolan on guitar and Dominic Smith on bass, keyboards, MIDI pedals and the all important trigger finger.

I say essentially because the band’s first offerings to the world were paired behind a set of excellent videos that showed nothing of the distinctly un-rock star look of the players – for exactly that reason (I am assuming here). In a live set-up, however, our lumpy threesome are the musicians to those same videos, which means that the ‘front man’ is the screen at the back.

This would be cool enough, if it weren’t for the fact that the synchronisation the band achieves with said videos is nothing short of flawless. It’s a slick act.

The songs swing from predominantly funky to downright danceable, via dollops of reggae and rock and a lot of accompanying and unexpected noises. With all this going on, the band doesn’t really need to do much other than get the notes right – although there are a lot of them. In fact, when I first started going through e-god’s material, I thought that they were a bit ‘serious’, you know, on a bit of a downer.

Closer examination proves this to be wrong. These guys are actually having a whale of a time, it’s just that, with the focus taken away from them by the back screen, they are happy to get things right. Yes, of course, as I have alluded to, they are middle-aged Englishmen, which means, by default, inklings of OCD have managed to creep into their beings. Watching the videos playing alone to the studio recordings and your feet start tapping and your head nodding.

The solution to this dilemma (which I admit, could be mine and mine alone) might be to put the projection screen front of stage, but then we would miss the opportunity of seeing some fine musicians doing what they do best. Ignore me, I’m blathering.

You have to have your wits about you listening to e-god. There is a lot going on – but this is where, I think, the band comes into its own. Yes, you have three excellent musicians, with triggered sounds and accompaniments, so there is a lot of opportunity to stumble into a flat cacophony of too much going on. The trio never does this. There is a lot of colour, a lot of light and shade and, most interestingly for me, even live, there is a lot of space, regardless of how much is going on.

This points towards careful composition and cautious arranging and it all works splendidly well.

A personal favourite of mine at the moment is Lay Down GI, but the blend of styles and displays of dexterity are such that tomorrow could well throw another song my way and I’ll wonder why I missed that the first time round. It's happened before... Yesterday.

Good work, lads – keep on doing.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Top five tips for music bloggers

Just finished reading Brenna Ehrlich’s music blog about writing music blogs. As a blogger myself – albeit a retarded, late-starting, somewhat aimless and elitist blogger – as soon as I saw the link on NAMM’s daily news email, I clicked on it…

Actually, that is completely untrue. I saw it and I thought, ‘yeah, right, thanks very much. I really need someone to tell me what a fart in a hurricane’s chance I stand of ever attracting anyone’s attention’.

But then I thought, ‘hold on, what if it tells me that I have more than a fart’s chance in a hurricane?’

My cursor moved slowly away and then...

Ehrlich has five top tips: 1) know what you’re talking about; 2) be prepared to work for nothing; 3) get your own URL and start your own blog; 4) be aware of the social networking and other dissemination websites and services out there (ie, ‘tweet’ and ‘facebook’ your blogs – at the very least); and 5) don’t just dis everything. Be as positive as the music you are writing about deserves.

How did I do? Well, number one, although I would claim to know what I am talking about in certain areas, you can bet your favourite pet I don’t know much about anything. As Jeremy Hardy put it in his recent Radio Four show: “I don’t read blogs. I don’t want to read the opinions of the uninformed. I have Radio Five Live for that.” (UK-centric gag, that one – apologies everyone else.)

The whole purpose of blogs is to get stuff off your chest, let the world know you have an opinion and get that opinion out there. If you’re lucky, someone will be right on your case telling you what a clod you are, but most of the time, your opinion will float about in the ether arousing precisely no feelings whatsoever… But you’ll still pop back to read it from time to time, just to see if you still agree with yourself – and wonder why no-one has made any comments.

Second: goes without saying. I’m actually lucky enough to earn a living from writing, but that means squat to the wider blogosphere. I earn money writing what people want to hear (or read). My opinion rarely, if ever, comes into it and when it does it tends to be just as ignored as this blog. Of course the aspirant is going to blog for nothing. If the blogger wants to be a writer, having a blog won’t hurt, but it probably won’t help, either. Best advice is to tout your skills as a writer – and be sure you have some sort of qualification or experience to back it up or you’re on a hiding to a nowhere that is a long and painful journey away.

Number three – same as above, really. A blog spot such as this is free. So are facebook, myspace and twitter accounts (to name but three). Get on them, sure, but don’t expect anyone other than your friends and family to actually pay any attention.

Getting your own website costs money – and quite a lot of money, actually. Can you afford it? If you can, do you have the resources and the nouse to keep it up to date and functioning. Nothing disappears in the chaos of the information superhighway than an unkempt website. An unkempt garden attracts more response.

Four: Er, see three – although this is actually something I do need to learn – how to make the absolute most out of the interconnectivity that the internet offers. There are a lot of links and ways of broadcasting yourself and I haven’t even begun to get a handle on all of it, yet.

Five: Couldn’t agree more (although this blog might not lead you to think I was a particularly positive thinker). Actually, one of the driving forces for me starting these blog pages was to act as a counter to a lot of the negative journalism that exists out there concerning music. I find it somewhat rich that a handful of journos and axe hacks comment on Ehrlich’s blog by saying ‘don’t be too negative’, when it is precisely the journos and axe hacks that make a living (of sorts) out of doing exactly that.

But, yes, unless you are castigating the narrow minded, please do try to be positive. I honestly do. There is more than enough negativity around – it’s easy and cheap. I tend not to like easy or cheap options.

For me, the two most important elements necessary to write a good blog were covered by Ehrlich in a couple of passing sentences with little emphasis on them. These are (were): 1) Be able to write.

I know this is a tricky one – much like if you want to be a singer, you probably need to be able to sing, although the pop idol and x-factor auditions show us repeatedly that many (not Simon Cowell, it should be pointed out) see this is a mere detail. But honestly, even if you have the ability to link your blogs to every website on the world and have it psychicly capable of linking through to video accompaniment as you read each key word, if the writing is drab, the reader will go elsewhere.

2) Have an angle. One of the other thrusts of my blog is (perhaps a little paradoxically, considering the previous point), while there is a world of great talent out there, don’t be discouraged if you are not part of that pool of talent. Rejoice in your mediocrity.

That said, you still need to strive, you need to be realistic about what you are doing – and you need to be able to make a point and get it across.

If you can write and you have something to say, all well and good. Go for it – and good luck. But if you want to be a music journalist (which, it strikes me is what Ehrlich is really hinting at) then you’re going to have to jump through a lot of hoops, accept a (limited, if you’re any good) future filled with rejection and if you do make it, you’ll have a cool job that will probably earn you next to nothing for the rest of your life.

Blogging is a fun hobby. Writing for a living is another question altogether. Just ask Brenna Ehrlich… In fact, yes, do. After all, she is a music journalist and a blogger and I have read her blog and subsequently written a thousand words on it.

She obviously knows better than I do…

Ignore this blog.


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Fighting Fire

It’s something of a dilemma for many musicians – particularly those just starting out and hoping to be able to make a living at making music. The biggest dilemma, of course, is that it looks as though anyone hoping to make a living with music will do exactly that – make a living. Nothing more and very probably a lot less.

I come from a generation when the pop and rock heroes didn’t simply make a living, they became mega-rich, they signed deals that tied them up for ten albums (and how they complained) and could be a law unto themselves, spending months and hundreds of thousands in the studio.

After the teasing weeks of waiting after the new album was announced as imminent until it was actually available in the shops (remember record shops?) there was then the delight in watching the record slowly climb the charts… Would it make the top 20? Top ten? Top five? Number two? Number one?

And to reach number one in the album charts you used to have to sell thousands, tens of thousands – even hundreds of thousands.

For us, the prospect of becoming a rock star was an ambition to be rich beyond our dreams and recognised everywhere we went… And the music? Oh, yeah, well, that would look after itself… Hmmm…

No, today’s aspiring musos have the prospect of being signed up for a single if they’re lucky, an album if they’re unbelievably lucky and then, if they are staggeringly talented and hard-working after the luck has run out, carving out a career in the pubs and clubs around the country.

What is happening, of course, is that, with the rise of the peer-to-peer, file-sharing prevalence the record companies are selling fewer and fewer CDs and making less and less money from any sales they do achieve – online or physical – leaving them to go down the route of the book publishers: only those already famous are worthwhile signing up. Ergo Simon Cowell’s staggering success (make ‘em famous through humanity’s innate voyeurism, then make a record with ‘em. Number one for Christmas and ‘so long and thanks for all the cash’.

The hope of the aspiring musician is gigs and a website. The beauty of the website, of course, is that the artists or bands can release their own material, get it up online and hopefully create a groundswell of interest (boosted by the gigs). If the P2Ps and file-sharers take a liberty, then so much the better. Their name is getting out there and success is round the corner…

But of course, it isn’t. By feeding the expectation that music should be free, the muso that goes along with P2P file-sharing is slowly destroying his or her own hope of earning that living. The only hope that remains is that a following can be achieved and the muso can earn from gigging.

Yes, you can earn from gigging, but almost every musician that has gigged non-stop for decades will soon tell you how much they look forward to spending time in the studio – or even at home (heaven forbid).

For me, my gigging days are over, unless I can scoop up the odd performance making swooshy electronic noises or singing covers for an evening at a local pub. I don’t much care for the idea of living out of a suitcase again. But I love making music and I love recording it.

Because of this, I’m in the process of building a website and I’m going to try to sell my music through it. If I could one day cover the costs of that project alone, I would be pretty happy – I’m not so stupid as to think I’m going to be a rock star, but I am still finding myself balking at the thought of some twonk paying 50p for a song and then distributing it to the world for free.

I hope people will like the music I will be putting up online, but I also, equally strongly, hope that they don’t fuck about with what is ultimately mine.