A2D was a fantastic event and the good people of Exeter should buy Jim and Maria a drink. By the way, Jim has a record out.
One of my fellow panelists was John Leckie, veteran producer of many a fine record, including, with some probability, a few in your record collection if you’ve been into good music over the past 40 years.
Afterwards I had a very nice chat with John and his mate Dennis Smith who runs Sawmills, the legendary residential studio in Devon. We spoke about skill and professionalism. John said of making records that you should be able to cut a record in a week. You cut a track in the morning. Break for lunch. Then you cut another one in the afternoon. Have another break. In the evening you cut a third track. Have dinner, get some shut eye and start all over again. In a week the album is recorded.
To do this those involved must be skilful and professional. The band must be able to play. The technical staff must be competent.
The panel was asked a question about what they would do if they were given £5000. Would they buy gear or spend it in a recording studio? Many opted for the latest Protools widgetry. John’s opinion, with which I concur, is that buying the gear is all very well, but learning how to use it will take you years. How long have you got?
I have a camera on my phone. A good one. Still, I’m no photographer.
Most recordings polluting our social media airwaves are made by hapless amateurs in make shift studios in bedrooms. Think about it. Something called quality exists. It’s hard to define, but you can bet your ass that the unskilled won’t get anywhere near it.
Recording studios are special places. In them congregate knowledge, expertise and professional equipment. Past successes. Having been there and done it. Vibes. However, studios don’t make records. People do. John has made great records at Sawmills. But let a bunch of day jobbing amateurs in and out comes not a lot.
Many things have to combine to make great art. It starts with the artist’s vision and their skill as musicians. You have to marry the artist’s vision and skill with other equally vital components like great A&R, great engineering, producers and studios to come up with something remarkable. Of course, you may not want to be remarkable. You may want to be a hobbyist.
That’s cool. But you’re not in the music business. There is a difference.
On one of the panels it was said that in the “new music business” the job of an artist is to write music, play gigs, update Facebook, do the accounts, promote shows, design flyers, produce records and blah blah blah. You get the idea.
Make no mistake: an artist’s job is to create art.
A plausible mission for an artist is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit.
I told John a story about a songwriter I’d met via a networking forum for professional songwriters. She said she was looking for a co-writer to work with. I said I do that and offered to work with her. She came to our studios and was in awe of our set up, saying that what with people running around the office and with two studios etc. our expenses must be sky high. I sort of shrugged and said yeah it’s what we do for a living, it’s our business.
It transpired that she was a school teacher for a living. The songwriting was just a hobby.
Now, we had a perfectly fine session and wrote a perfectly good song. But I felt strangely betrayed. Why did she pass herself off as something she clearly wasn’t? I spoke to our interns about it and they felt I was being petulant and stupid. Their view was that if she writes songs then she is a songwriter.
I would like to refer to the point I made earlier about me and my phone and the camera in it.
These days it’s hard to escape news articles about the 1% versus the 99% as it pertains to income levels. I think that redistribution of wealth is a good idea. But you can’t redistribute talent and skill. You’re born with the former and you develop the latter through hard work.
The fact is that no matter how much we engage with people on Facebook and get them to like photos of dogs picking their butts with their noses, 99% of us have no business doing for a living what only 1% of us are capable of doing.
Attending conferences like A2D to chat with people desperate to find a way into the business that has fed and clothed my brother Mat and I for over 20 years is a very humbling experience. We’re lucky buggers.
PS. People always ask for advice. Mine is this: if making music is something you love and nothing else will do, then dedicate your life to it. Immerse yourself in the art form. Study it. Be humble. Work hard. Work smart. Work with pros. Get out and push. Be patient. Don’t give up.
PSS. Having given this advice I look into their eyes and realise that they listened but didn’t hear. They’d rather I told them a fairytale.