News at Zen

Return To The Sun on XFM

If this isn’t nice, what is?

Posted in News at Zen | Leave a comment | Back To Top ↑

Tech Crew v Music Crew

A late night drink at the hotel bar in Groningen during Eurosonic got me chatting to two chaps who were in town to sell their new app Dice, a ticketing platform. They’d both been in the music business and could drop seriously impressive names of artists they had worked with.

While the other guy was reeling off the list of names, I was not commenting on any of them, as to say “wow, cool”, because, actually, I was listening intently. It freaked him out, he said later, because he thought that I was unimpressed by his exploits. At that point we had a nice laugh.

Anyway, back to the story.

They said that to them the music business seemed a bit dead in comparison with tech which seems super exciting. They reckoned that the music business might have been as exciting in the 60s or 70s when you could do so many cool ventures and the money just rolled in.

I thought for a moment before saying that, fair enough, it’s great to be excited about something, but I’ve never been that excited about business. I’m excited by music.

The thought of being in a room making chords, words and melodies work together makes me excited. I’m a music guy. Through and through.

If that isn’t nice, what is?

Posted in News at Zen | Leave a comment | Back To Top ↑

The Difference Between Ready, Not Quite and Nowhere Near

At Eurosonic, the theme for this week’s blogging, I got something of an epiphany about the different levels there are between artists doing their thing in the public domain. I was reminded of what my friend, a long serving a&r guy, said about turning up at yet another gig in Camden, where “you arrive full of hope, stay a while to find disappointment and leave angry that your time was, again, wasted”.

The gigs at Eurosonic were really good. Bands came on stage looking like Artists. They had style and substance visually and sonically. Not everything was for me, but it was for the most part, and for lack of a better word, professional. People looked like stars.

In contrast, most emerging talent in the bars and pubs across London is not quite ready yet. What’s lacking is a sense of purpose and finishing. You ask yourself: who’s the star?

Go down a peg where tens of thousands of DIY bands make music for different reasons. Some are out for a giggle. Some are delusional. None are anywhere near, though some are serious.

I would like urge the serious folk to stick with it. Evolve. Innovate. Try things out. Be different. Set yourself up for a fall. Fall. Get up. Try again. Repeat until success finds you.

Posted in News at Zen | Leave a comment | Back To Top ↑

Keep Putting On Gigs And Making Records

At Eurosonic I had a nice meeting with an established central European concert promoter. The guy had been doing his job for many years and we had a meeting of minds. He said that what you do as a promoter is “you put on a gig, make sure people know about it and then you wait to see if anyone turns up”. I said it’s a similar story with making records. You make one, play it to people and see if anyone likes it.

We both agreed that the only route to success was to keep putting on gigs and making records.

Posted in News at Zen | Leave a comment | Back To Top ↑

UK Music v The Rest Of The World

Music that pushes culture forward

I’ve been going to international music conferences for a few years now, mainly in Europe. On all my trips I’ve never seen anything that I wouldn’t already have seen in London two years earlier. My recent very enjoyable visit to Eurosonic did little to change it.

I deduce, therefore, that the UK is undoubtedly still the global engine driving popular music culture forward.

When my brother Mat and I moved here 20 odd years ago we felt a strong urge to discover what it is in the water that makes British music so good. What is it about UK acts that makes them just that much edgier and cooler than their European counterparts?

The social psychology around this issue is an interesting debate. Getting to know a little about the different cultures helps you understand why a nice, soft place might produce another kind of music to what a competitive, hard nosed environment would.

Another thing I can point to immediately is language. When you “translate” your thoughts from, say, Dutch to English there is a barrier that hinders expression. When you create in your mother tongue out comes the real deal.

It’s easy for anyone to bitch about the state of affairs in music. It’s practically a favourite past time for some. I would say, to paraphrase Harold Macmillan, that we’ve never had it so good.

Posted in News at Zen | Leave a comment | Back To Top ↑

Change Or Shortchange

Managing artists is not unlike being a sports coach. I have some experience of both from my day gig in music, obviously, and from my other passion, squash, which I coach at my club.

A few seasons ago a keen squashist came to me for lessons to improve his game. Having seen him play I could see what he was doing well and what was preventing him from doing it even better. To my surprise, he didn’t return after the first lesson. He told me that he wasn’t really interested in the drills and practice play I had him do. Instead, he wanted a “boost” to transform his game.

Many keen artists share this mind set, as if getting to the next level was an extrinsic thing, dependant on contacts, exposure and better gigs.

It stands to reason that if they were already doing their thing really well, they’d be having success at the next level: music professionals would flock to work with them, media outlets would want to feature them and they would attract large audiences to their performances.

If it’s not happening, all a manager can do – as with the squash player – is to urge the band to tinker, innovate and change. Incremental change brings results. Looking for a boost is just a feel good route to shortchanging yourself.

Posted in News at Zen | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments | Back To Top ↑

Happy New Year 2015

With another new year in music to look forward to I want to use a paragraph or few to remind the likely reader of this blog – a writer or a band looking for a career in music – of some home truths.

If you want to make music for a living you have to put everything you have into it. Everything means everything. All your time, money and energy need to go towards actions that support your stated aims.

Music is also a great hobby. If you’re willing to give a little bit from within your comfort zone and do it until high summer, keep it as such. You won’t waste anyone’s time trying to achieve what you’re unwilling to achieve.

The thing is to enjoy what you do. Some people enjoy doing what it takes. Nothing else will do. They’re the lifers, the artists. Others enjoy going on holiday and making music on the side. They’re the hobbyists. One isn’t better than the other and life will become more enjoyable when you figure out which one you are.

********

A pop writer confided at a xmas party that he’d had 18 cuts the preceding year. That means that his songs were recorded and released 18 times by recording artists in a year. It’s a lot of cuts, if you didn’t know. He still can’t make a living.

We are more and more in the era of “is it a hit or is it shit?”. In other words, cool album tracks don’t make any money. If you write hits, you’re in the game. If not, well, that’s just a shame.

********

Globalisation in music means that every track released competes against every other track released everywhere in the world. In a global market, if your recording sounds ropey, don’t blame others when they opt to listen to something that sounds like a proper record.

Every song demo sent to an a&r guy is up against incredibly strong competition.

Invest in your recordings.

********

Imagine, for a moment, rock legends KISS, Freddie Mercury, Pink, Nirvana, Green Day, Bob Dylan, Spice Girls and just about any really successful artist ever. What do you see when you close your eyes?

It’s called an image. Having one will make a big difference to your chances of success. Isn’t it about time you, too, had one?

********

People often say that there’s a lot of great music out there, but it’s just not getting heard because of the way music companies and the media dominate the market with shit that no one likes.

Really? I mean, really, really? As the owner of a small music company that does business with companies big and small here and abroad I promise you that when stuff is great it gets reactions. If it doesn’t get reactions, maybe it needs more work. The absence of reactions is NOT because there is a conspiracy to sign shit. The absence of reactions is a consequence of the absence of anything exciting worth reacting to.

********

Take a moment to reflect. Turn off your mobile device and disconnect from Facebook. Forget the big announcement about the big news yada yada yada…

********

Instead, grab hold of your chosen instrument and write a song. Better still, make it happy hour from here til February. Write a song every day. What’s the worst that could happen? You might come across a hit.

********

Practice every day. Work out the stuff that’s giving you problems. Learn new stuff. Develop your talent. Invest in yourself. The worst that could happen is that you might become better.

********

Talk with your band mates and figure out how the hell you could look different. What’s the worst that could happen? You might end up looking like you’re actually applying for the job you want: that of a rock star.

********

The solution to creating something that really connects with other people?

Write. Practice. Innovate.

Posted in News at Zen | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment | Back To Top ↑

An Encyclopedia Of Lyrics, Guitar Riffs And Liner Notes

I was at Young Sportsperson Of The Year awards the other day, courtesy of my friend James, who plays professional squash and won the award as a kid. It was very interesting to get a glimpse into the world of sport.

Twelve regional winners from different sports like tennis, gymnastics, different athletics events, as well as disabled versions of the same, were introduced in short videos and interviews. The award includes financial support to help them with the cost of doing their sport. One overall winner, Young Sportsperson Of The Year, was announced.

I couldn’t believe the amount of work these kids put in. 27 hours a week for some of them. That’s on top of school work. They are near enough full time from very early on, with an unreal dedication to making it in their field. It was inspiring. A little sad, as well, in some ways.

At the drinks reception afterwards I got to meet previous winners who had progressed to professional careers in sport. Olympic medalists’ and world number ones’ stories of grit and determination, sacrifice and relentless work made me feel wholly inadequate as a human being.

One of them said that surely I would have had to put in many hours for a very long time to learn to play and to gain the skills that enabled me to have a career in music.

I did. And that’s why my brain is an encyclopedia of lyrics, guitar riffs and liner notes, useless trivia about bands and of their twisted histories and the pointless arguments me and my mates had over every aspect of their music, image and so on. I spent countless hours on it, as well as on playing, but none of it qualifies as hard work. ;-)

When you really love something, it doesn’t feel like a chore.

Posted in News at Zen | Leave a comment | Back To Top ↑