Category Archives: Music

Posts about music, music technology, performing techniques and the like

10 Things that I have learnt from watching Tattoo Fixers

I love Channel 4’s Tattoo Fixers… I mean love it.

The show has been given some criticism lately, and to be fair, it’s not a genuine representation of how a tattoo parlour runs, or the sometimes lengthy process involved in a good cover-up (as far as I can tell – I am definitely not an expert!), but it does make for good telly.

Anyway, putting aside the controversy, here is a list of things that the show has taught me through the totally reliable medium of reality TV (ok, I admit it – some of these are just common sense really):

  1. DO NOT let your friends tattoo you (unless said friend is actually a tattoo artist in a studio and not a random person with a tattoo machine)
  2. DO NOT tattoo yourself – I mean really, why would anyone do this?!
  3. DO NOT let your ‘friends’ influence your decision to get a tattoo – see point below
  4. DO NOT get a tattoo when drunk (especially when on holiday in Magaluff, or wherever, where there are, apparently, heaps of tattoo shops who’ll do any ridiculous design for really drunk tourists)
  5. Getting an ‘edgy’ or ‘funny’ rude tattoo is a bad plan – the joke will wear thin and you’re left with a permanent design that you’re ashamed to get out in front of the children…
  6. Never get a partner’s name/portrait tattooed – relationships change unexpectedly; sad but true
  7. A tattoo can reflect who you are, but sometimes things can change and said tattoo can become a reminder of who you once were – luckily, there is something you can do about it #PutASkullOnIt
  8. Get your tattoo done in a proper parlour where hygiene is taken seriously
  9. Before you choose a tattooist, check out their previous work – look at quality of the lines and shading, check out their style to make sure you like it. Hopefully that way you won’t end up with a disaster on your skin.
  10. and finally, in at number 10… think before you ink!

 

 

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When is a bad gig not a bad gig?

As musicians, we all have our share of bad gigs – myself included. It’s worth remembering though, that regardless of how you felt a performance went, the audience doesn’t necessarily share your feelings.

I’ll give you an example: I played at a venue a while back where I really struggled to hear what my percussionist and I were playing due to inadequate sound separation between where we were playing and another room where a rock band had been booked. As an acoustic act, there was no way we were going to win that battle! I came off stage thinking ‘well that one was a write-off’ – despite trying to keep a professional front on things, I felt that my performance really suffered. I hadn’t played as well as I know I can, and I beat myself up for letting the situation get on top of me.

That ‘awful’ gig got a glowing review from one of the audience members, which he kindly shared on my Facebook site.

An even more poignant example is described in the post below from Rennie Sparks on the DIY Musician blog:

DIY Musician – How Good Things Can Come From the Worst Gigs

I’ll leave you with a quote from Rennie’s post, as it’s a nice summing up:

“…every chance you’re given to offer your art to the world is a chance for adding meaning to life (yours and other people’s). You may not know how meaningful your work is for some time. You may never know. Have faith, though, that what you’ve put your heart into will speak to the heart of another… It adds up.

There have been many other “horrible shows” along the path of my musical career, but the amazing thing is this: There have also been just as many times when fans have told me that they first saw us play and fell in love with our music at a show I remember distinctly as being god-awful, ignored, meaningless.”

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Filed under Opinionated, Randomness and Musings, Techniques, Tips and Advice for Musicians

5 Most Common Reasons You Didn’t Blog

Seeing as I haven’t posted on my blog since February, I thought this was probably an appropriate thing to share…

Enjoy!

Peas and Cougars

blog 1blog 2 blog 3blog 4blog 5

Btw, in that first frame I’m supposed to be filing my nails, but in retrospect it looks like I’m confused by a strange joint. Feel free to use whatever interpretation works best for you.

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Two Thousand Trees 2013 – A Review

This review is a touch late (by about 6 months), but here goes anyway.

It’s now February, and, after one of the wettest starts to the year on record, my memories of 2000Trees Festival last summer have faded into a happy, hazy blur.

2012’s festival was defined by mud. Mud, mud, mud. Mud in rivers throughout the site. Oh, and rain. That’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, but the weather made most things a struggle. Last year, however, was like some mystical force had decided – for the first time in the festival’s history – that it was about time that Trees didn’t have any rain at all. In blazing Gloucestershire sunshine; 2013 would be defined by heat.

But the weather isn’t the main reason you go to a festival; Two Thousand Trees prides itself on lining up the best underground UK bands, and that pride is not misplaced. Over the years I’ve seen a few bands play here who have gone on to enjoy greater success, Frank Turner being the obvious example.

The line-up this year included two sets from Frank on the Thursday Early Entry and Friday nights, but as a firm favourite here, he popped up unofficially too and for each performance was greeted like a returning hero. Thursday night’s solo performance was a personal highlight for me, especially as I missed his ‘secret’ set* over at Camp Reuben on Friday. There was a good reason for this though – wandering round the site, we’d bumped into Dave McPherson trying to find his way up to the new secret garden area, accompanied him up there and stuck around to watch him play his own secret set. Which was awesome.

Other weekend music highlights included InMe in the Cave (which left me with moshpit bruises, but was so much fun – and loud… really loud!), Stealing Sheep’s impressive and innovative set headlining the Leaf Lounge, which ended in an outdoor un-amplified performance with their marching band (a joyous thing indeed), Stornoway on the main stage (despite sound issues that delayed the start of their set) and an emotional Ben Marwood playing to an adoring crowd at the Treehouse.

Ben Marwood at 2000Trees 2013

Ben Marwood at 2000Trees 2013

And let’s not forget eating icecream from the Split Screen Icecream Company, basking in the shade of the tree with cider, playing on the busk stops scattered through the site, and the delicious freshly-made pizza.

There were one or two negatives – the heat over the weekend was intense (the temperature in our tent was 50°C at one point! Phew) and hard to cope with at times (not that I am knocking the sunshine, just not being able to take a break from it), the sound on the main stage had a few more issues than it has in previous years, and a few people that we spoke to reported problems with security.

For me though, 2000Trees is still a fim favourite festival and I am definitely going to return again this year for more of the same – great line-up, great food and great times.

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*I seem to have a habit of missing Frank’s unofficial appearances at Trees – the first year we went, hubby and I woke up to singing in the middle of the night, thinking ‘that sounds like Frank Turner…’. Too tired to get up and investigate, we discovered in the morning that it was indeed Mr Turner, resulting in a now-legendary campsite sing-along, which we missed.

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Filed under It's My Life, Music Reviews

Album Review: Bateleurs, A Travelling Band

Bateleurs Album Cover

A Travelling Band is the second album from stalwarts of the Swindon music scene, Bateleurs. Formed around the songwriting talents of Daryl Ball and Sean Amor, this new album sees a more settled line-up for the band with drummer  Chris McCormack joined by Nick Wall on bass and the addition of Anna Wall on fiddle and backing vocals.

It’s clear that this is a band that have developed their sound from their début All in the Past, released in 2011. The overall sound is more coherent, and the songs, although still tinged with pop influence, are more clearly focused on Americana and folk. It’s a successful blend, as the songs are instantly accessible and will have you singing along in no time.

Strong harmonies and foot tapping rhythms drive the album along at a bouncy pace, starting with opener Temptation and moving through up-beat numbers such as Firecracker (Ryan Adams cover), while the catchy melodies and well thought out arrangements will keep your head nodding throughout. The track list is rounded off nicely with the slower paced tones of Timelines.

This is a really strong album – quality songwriting, well performed and well produced. Stand-out tracks are the aforementioned Temptation, Barriers, and Wayfarers Daughter.  Highly recommended.

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In Defense of Autotune (Kind of)

Autotune – the very word conjures images of young pop-stars cavorting around mid dance routine, glitz, glamour and studio magic, and is about as far removed from the ‘authentic’ singer-songwriter image as you can get (by the way, if you’re interested you can see my earlier post for more on authenticity).

But more on that later… first off let’s look at what Autotune actually is, and how it works.

Autotune is designed to correct the pitch of a singer’s voice when a performance is off-key. It does this by ‘pulling’ the recorded note to the designated pitch set by the user. This is similar to a technique used in sampling and recording, which has been around for a while and is essentially playing back the sample at a different speed to change the frequency (or pitch) of the sound. Autotune is a bit (well, a lot) more sophisticated than this, but it does still have limitations. The further you need to pull the note to get it in tune, the more you lose the natural quality of the singing voice.

Auto-tune can be used to make an out of tune performance good, but there are limits to its effectiveness if you want the vocal to sound natural – especially if the original recording is way off-key.

So, this brings me to my main point – Autotune is just another tool. Studio tools such as effects (like reverb and delay) and compression (used to increase loudness and smooth out dynamic range) have been used for years to get a particular vocal sound; yet these are not demonised in the same way that Auto-tune is.

And as with most tools, Auto-tune can be (in my opinion, is) overused. I put this down to fashion – for many years, producers of pop music have been after ‘the sound’. In the 80s, it was fashionable for vocals to be drenched in reverb, in the 90s vocals are generally further forward in the mix and given quite a lot of ‘punch’ with compression. These days, we have become used to hearing tuned vocals because they are everywhere – it is the current fashionable sound.

Autotune can also be used creatively though – for example, there have been many recent YouTube video hits of spoken interviews turned into songs using Autotune. Perhaps it’s not exactly high-brow art, but it has caused people to re-think what the technology can and can’t be used for.

Personally, I don’t use Autotune on my vocals. This is a deliberate choice, and one that I’ve made for a couple of reasons: I want people to hear the natural quality of my voice – the real me, so to speak. I can usually hear the effect of Autotune, and to me it sounds ‘too perfect’ and a little forced. And, as someone who records at home, budget is a big constraint. Why spend extra cash on something that I don’t really like or need for the sake of fashion? I wouldn’t do that with clothes, so I certainly wouldn’t do that with something as important as my music.

At the end of the day, it’s mostly about the sound that you’re going for. If you want your vocals to sound polished, perfect and up-to-date, Autotune is a tool that can help you do that. But, if you want to record vocals that sound natural and ‘real’, I’d steer away from it. The choice is up to you.

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What Is ‘Real’ Music Anyway?

There’s a lot of discussion among music fans about what is ‘real music’ and what’s not. Usually, it’s more a question of ‘manufactured’ versus ‘proper musician’, which can lead to some frank and pretty derogatory discussions. It is, however, a difficult question answer when you really think about it, but for what it’s worth – here’s my twopence…

When we think about ‘real’ music, what we’re really talking about is how authentic the artist appears to be. Authenticity is about two things; how the artist portrays themselves, and the strength of their musical connection with the listener. When an artist makes a positive connection through their music, they create a relationship with the listener and this is the basis of fandom; the listener begins to buy in to the music and to the artist.

When an artist is fully involved with the production of their music, and are seen to have creative control over it, the connection between fan and artist seems more direct, and thus more powerful. The artist is able to communicate effectively through their songs and through their media image exactly what they wish to portray, whatever genre or style they are working within.

‘Manufactured’ music that appears to be controlled heavily by outside influences (such as producers, additional songwriters and industry professionals) can, arguably, be less effective at creating these same strong relationships with music fans. The  relationships are more transient and changeable, often with the fans quickly moving on to the next big thing.

But the question is, does this make the music any less ‘real’? It may not have been written by the artist who is performing it, it may have snazzy production and Auto-tuned* vocals, but this is nothing new. All music has to be created by someone, be that a producer or the artist themselves. Someone has put their time and energy into writing, playing and recording the songs that you’re listening to. You might not like it, but then that’s your perogative.

So when the latest hit by whomever is topping the charts comes on the radio for the millionth time it’s very easy to dismiss it as manufactured, even when you understand the work that goes into making it. But the truth is, what’s happening there is simply the listener not connecting with the music that they are hearing. Even a self-confessed music snob like me can find examples of pop productions that I enjoy.

In the end, I think, it boils down to two types of music – that which you as a listener can find a connection with, and that which you can’t. You could call this ‘good’ and ‘bad’ if you like (and yes, we all often do!), but really it’s about music you like and music you don’t. It’s all down to taste.

*More on Auto-tune in a future post me-thinks

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