Mosaic.

Today my band ‘Gravity Dave’ have made available an early mix of one of our original songs, ‘Mosaic’.

Now, I can sit here and tell you why you should listen to it, that it ‘rocks’ and suchlike (it does), but that’s not really what I’ve got this blog for.

So instead, I’m going to use this particular chunk of cyber space to look at the lyrics, do a bit of a self-critique and explanation of the process by which I get lyrics together. Of course this changes from song to song, but some elements remain constant throughout the process.

This may seem a little self-indulgent, but we all listen to and absorb song lyrics every day without giving them too much thought (unless they are particularly strong or controversial) and I would wager that a whole host of music lovers wouldn’t give much heed to poetry while still being able to recite the words to hundreds of their favourite songs. So today is an exploration of the lyric. And to top it all, you can listen to the song afterwards, if you like.

Ever remember school assemblies where the teacher would take the Lord’s Prayer line by line, examining the nuance and meaning of each word? Well, we did, every term. It was interesting (the first time around) and stopped it being a drone of syllables we all strung together in a lazy drawl every morning. Whatever your beliefs, whatever text you are studying are hearing, conscious awareness of the moment, the content and the context is much better than an apathetic wave of indistinct noises passing through you, passing by you.

Funnily enough, that scene, sitting cross-legged in a cold school hall, listening and learning, putting your hand up to be spoken to, taking it all in, forms the basis of ‘Mosaic’, as you can see in the first verse:

Dusty floors, cross legged and cold. Rusted doors, criss-cross windows. You clap and fall down.

                The ‘criss-cross’ windows are those safety glass door windows you get in public places, schools, hospitals and such like, where within the glass pane there is a black metal grid. Clapping and falling down, well, as I remember, there used to be several games like that.

Raise your hand, and comply. Understand, we’re all trying to not let you down my friends.

                Here we start to get the theme of the piece. This song started as an idea about conformity, the lack of critical thinking, the architects of our personalities from cradle to grave, concentrating on the most malleable time of our lives, school. In this case, primary school. Now I’m not saying I had a bad time at primary school, I didn’t, but I want to contrast the very ‘English’ Methodist school upbringing I had against the anxiety I often feel now, the world being as it is. It may have been okay for me, but education was very rigid, very set-in-its-ways, very, well English, I’ll say again.

On a technical note, when you hear the song, you’ll hear that the word ‘trying’ both forms the end of the line and the start of the next, split in half by the syllable’s. I like doing this, it’s fun.

So that’s the first verse. I’ve built on the theme I have in mind with the imagery of my school days. Onto the chorus.

We’d never say it but you are Mosaic, please stand far way and you’ll get the full picture.

                Now we get the first mention of the title, Mosaic. If memory serves me well, this was a natural progression from the preceding ‘we’d never say it’. It’s cool when you can get one word to rhyme with two or more others. Of course ‘say-it’ and ‘Mosaic’ are not true rhymes, rhyming as they do on the vowel sounds of the ‘a’ and ‘i’, but  it’s not tenuous and passes by the ear well I think.

Once I found the word ‘Mosaic’ (a great word, don’t you think?), the rest of the chorus can start to be constructed around it. Obviously, standing away to get the full picture is a feature of mosaic’s – close up they are just a senseless amalgam of shapes and colours.

We’d never risk it a broken statistic, we’ll stick to the past and the pain and the scripture.

You may have noticed that the voice changes in this section too. I’m now speaking as ‘the man’, as it were (such a hippy). This is not to blame anyone specifically, but our education system was provided to us at the whim and prudence of the wealthy and utilitarian. Although there are some great people doing great things to recognise and nurture individuality and critical reasoning, it is hardly the main aim of the system. No, let’s face it, the main aim of the system is to compartmentalise us into an economic unit and classification to enable statistics to be drawn and activities planned on a global scale. That’s just the truth of it, not even hidden. Now more than ever our kids are being ear-marked for their future demographic from the moment they walk into school. That’s why ‘we’d never say’ that you are a complex picture of many aspects, and not ‘risk’ producing a broken statistic (one that breaks out of the prescribed parameters), and we will stick to traditional teaching. The use of the word scripture here is just to reflect the lack of choice we had in our spiritual/religious teachings at school (or exploration of the alternatives). The ‘pain’ is a lyrical liberty, but can mean the net-effect of all these considerations.

We’re trying to reach you, to reach you, to reach you… etc..

This is the hook line of the chorus that I ‘ramp up’ from a chant to a high-scream! It is a mantra of education I think, I hear it a lot in interviews with various ministers. Simultaneously trying to ‘reach’ through and connect with the individual while trying to fit them into a starched curriculum. Onto verse two.

                Afternoon’s, bruised knees and fights, silver spoons, stay out of sight from playground kings.

Break-time! Everyone loved break-time right? Unless you were being bullied or what-not, and then it was shit. I went through patches of this. It’s not nice. When I moved to Stoke with my family aged 9, my accent was different. I was sometimes accused of being ‘posh’, which was funny seeing as I had moved further South from Scarborough, my parents were originally from Middleborough and Essex and from a ‘proper’ working class background. But kids are kids. This is just a hark back to the ‘rule of the playground’ where the kids who liked to taunt and bully roamed free, and the rest of us just tried to get on with it. Thankfully, the vast majority of us.

Broken bones, shattered by words, sticks & stones, don’t even hurt, don’t even sting, here comes the break…

Having said all that about ‘kids will be kids’, I’m sure some of you experienced the old ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ line when trying to tell an adult about some nasty piece of work giving you a hard time? I always thought it was a cop-out, I think I still do. Words are one of, if not the, most powerful weapon in our arsenal. They may not have the immediacy of weapons, but without them, there would be no weapons. I can hardly see us grunting our way to the discovery of combustion and ballistics. Language, words, as has been well described before by much greater minds than mine, just chip, chip away, constantly being  rearranged, altered, strung together and stored. Surges of meaning and revelation build over centuries, generations, and sometimes can spark in a moment and change everything. If you think that words can’t hurt, you are not giving them the reverence and respect they deserve. As for the ending line, that’s a little joke, it is both the ‘break’ of bones, and literally signalling the ‘break’ before the chorus.

Which brings us back to the chorus that in true rock/pop style, is a repeat of the first without deviation. This leads nicely into a musical outro that strips back the themes from the song and then builds them back up again into a climactic progression, underpinned by our drummers excellent tribal tom-tom backing.

Well, I enjoyed delving into that. Of course, when I wrote these words, I didn’t sit here and think of all this for each line. Generally, I start with either the theme or an interesting combination of words and then build it up from a mixture of ad-libbing at practice and good old graft with the pen and paper. My words are almost always led by rhyme, set within a context. That’s the challenge. Trying to find a word that fits without distorting the theme. On other occasions the song may be totally led by the sound of the words, purely for aural-aesthetic purposes. This leads to lyrics akin to Lennon’s ‘I am the Walrus’ and ‘Come together’. They are celebrations of words, loosely held together, but more for their own sake. I like this but you can’t do it all the time, not if you want to convey any coherent association of ideas at least occasionally in your art-form. It would be like only ever writing stream-of-conscious monologues forever, which although fun, lack poignancy and depth.

If you read this and enjoyed it, please, please take a listen to the track which all being well, should be posted below here. I am lucky to have such a talented group of guys working on these songs to set my words to. Musically I love this piece but am only responsible for the melody, my guitar parts and maybe the chords of the chorus… (can’t remember right now!) I could write a whole other blog on the musical construct of this song, but maybe I’ll save that for another piece, another time. Also, if you like it, give us a ‘like’ on Facebook (linked below) & reverbnation, there are plenty more songs coming and we gig regularly. Thank you.

Listen here:

http://www.reverbnation.com/gravitydave/song/18135122-mosaic-studio-demo

Like us here:

www.facebook.com/gravitydave

We have such faith in you that we want your money.

Last week my band ‘Gravity Dave’ was approached by yet another ‘Artist Development’ company through our Facebook page. Up popped a message from ‘Sweet Home’* music in our inbox telling us that:

“I listened to your tunes and I really like them! What are your plans this year? – Bob.*”

At last! Thought we. This seems like a music company taking interest in what we do after all the hard work we put into writing, rehearsing and performing our original songs, at our own expense, regardless of the overwhelming odds against us. So with excited fingers, we thank the mysterious yet tantalising admirer, and tell them that naturally (being a band and all) our plan is to record and have more gigs, you know that kind of thing, the thing that bands do. He replies (ever so quickly and efficiently):

“We might be able to help you with that guys, you should come up for a chat.”

A chat! A chat! With a real life music company! A chat? Us? Why, dreams really do come true. We knew it was only a matter of time, and faithfully, time has delivered to us the prize we sought.

But hang on, we say, steadying ourselves and desperately trying to suppress the bubbling excitement that has us wide eyed and gripped with anticipation; maybe we should just check, and be sure, as we don’t really know who these guys are yet. It’s just a precaution of course, sure it won’t make a difference. They’ve already told us how much they like our tunes and that they want to ‘chat’, but just in case…

“Can you let us know what you can offer us?” we ask cautiously, not wanting to put our heads so far down this gift horse’s mouth that they may be bitten off. But it was ok (phew!), Bob was obviously keen not to let us wander down the path of uncertainty, and obligingly and quickly answered our query:

“We can help you match up to industry expectations! Every band wants better gigs and more exposure, but there is a way of doing it…”

He’s right you know! This guy must know his stuff. Every band does want better gigs and a wider audience. Damn those industry expectations, even though he thinks we are good, we obviously mustn’t be the right kind of ‘good’ for the industry. Thank the God of Rock that these people got to us in time to tell us this. Only one more little question to ask and then we can start down the path to enlightenment, leaving fear and uncertainty behind.

“Will it cost us anything?” we ask, almost jokingly, because by this point we’ve checked out the website, and the ‘artist development’ spiel doesn’t mention costs or services, it is a selective process that only the acts they want to work with are offered. They solicit acts to ‘send in’ mp3s for consideration. But in our case (cos we’re special) – they’ve come to us. A Brucey bonus of epic scale. We eagerly await Bob’s reply, a mere formality of prudence we are sure, but still. And then he tells us, with dream shattering clarity:

“Ha ha ha! Lol. We’re not a charity for musicians! But we make bands what they need to be at an affordable rate.”

At this point, I will drop the sarcastic appraisal of this conversation. We never really expected anything different, having had our time wasted by a similar company in the past who ‘liked our tunes’ and ‘wanted to chat about being on their exclusive development label’. We wasted a whole afternoon travelling to their studio and being told that they could produce our music, from the bottom up, reworking our songs, adding production, making them ‘fit’ the industry and then promoting them to all the ‘right’ people and radio stations (BBC Nottingham no less! How could we refuse?). They paid us vague compliments which didn’t specify any particular tune they liked or anything about it. They looked and sounded like they were making this speech for the hundredth time that week. In short, they finished their pitch, and at the end, when they asked us if we had any questions, we asked the same thing… “Will it cost us anything?”.

Guess what? It would have. I can’t quite remember now, but it was around £1000. That included the recording of three songs (with massively intrusive production methods to re-work them and add ‘strings’ and ‘horns’) and then some vague talk of promotion, of which only BBC Nottingham Radio was actually mentioned. As we drove back, having thanked them for their time and promising to let them know what we thought of the ‘deal’, it dawned on us that they weren’t really a well-known promotion/recording company. That they didn’t really like (or probably even listen) to our tunes… they were just after our money! The charlatans! They were basically just a recording studio trying to find ways of getting clients!

You might find this hard to believe, but we found that day, as we did again last week, that there are people in the music-business who will basically lie and deceive to get your money from you! Who would have thought it? In such a happy and creative industry! So when Bob from ‘Sweet Home’ music was giving us the same pitch and tried to laugh off our genuine question regarding costs… Something inside me flipped. (this is my response verbatim…)

                “Why does your website not make it clear when asking acts to contact you with their tunes for consideration that they will end up paying? It’s not really ‘consideration’ when you are charging bands… It is just basically a recording studio under a different name trying to make out that they are offering an ‘exclusive’ service, rather than presenting costs up front. We’ve had this before from other such studios that tried to convince us they heard something ‘special’ in our music and then wanted £500-£1000 to develop it. It’s a shame that this sector of the industry is turning in on itself for revenue, rather than looking to audiences. We are okay thanks. If you really felt we were worth it, you would take some risk with the costs and negotiate a share of the resulting revenue. If you want to not seem like you are fleecing people, maybe mention the costs in the first approach rather than wasting time calling meetings and making it out like the acts has been chosen, when really it is just another potential customer. Good luck, but I don’t think your business model will be the one that cuts it in the new digital age.”

He didn’t like that. This is an interpretation of his response:

“Thanks but your attitude is wrong. Everyone needs to put food on the table.”

Food on the table? Food on the table?! He wants to dupe us into using his companies recording studio under the guise of some vague promotional activities, as if it was exclusive, and he thinks that putting ‘food on the table’ is a valid excuse? These guys own a recording studio. We know that if we want to record in such a facility it will costs us money. That is a service. A service is a service, end of. It is not an exclusive offer or opportunity. It is money changing hands for an agreed itemised service. Why all the cloak and dagger, vague compliments, offer of chats, no mention of money on the website?!! I retort:

“Just be up front with the fact that you charge people and it wouldn’t be an issue. It’s like someone saying ‘You’re a really good guitarist and I’m a talent scout – all you need to do is pay me £500 and I’ll make you even better!” – it doesn’t make sense. It’s a pitch. And as a pitch, I think it’s a bit of a sneaky one. – I’m a self-employed composer and writer outside of this band, so I know about ‘having to eat’ but I still have to go after genuine projects and am constantly dodging people who want money from you to achieve ‘success’ so I believe my attitude is one of logical self-preservation and I will be advising everyone I can not to get wound up in these dubious schemes. Golden rule – if someone is asking you for money while promising success, it is they who have the wrong attitude. Been the same for time immemorial. You’re not the first to make almost exactly the same pitch to us so we’ve already been burned by the ‘come along for a chat – we think you’re good and we want you on our label’ – and then finding out they also want £1000 for it! Appalling. Watchdog beckons, say hello to Anne Robinson for me.”

He liked this even less. His response, again interpreted, was:

How dare you accuse us of not running a legitimate business? We are selective with our clients but we earn enough to live on and are very good at what we do.”

That alas was where I terminated the conversation for the sake of my own sanity and constraint (the next things I said would not have been the prettiest of words). Apparently the people who ‘need to put food on the table’ were actually earning a good living. They are, they say, selective with their clients. But why would you be? If you believe that you know what the industry wants, why wouldn’t you produce the hell out of anything that comes your way if you are getting paid for it?

My regret is that I did not calm my rage and string Bob along for a while, but I was overcome by the same feeling you get when a cold-caller rings you up and starts asking you questions about your life before telling you who they are, what they are selling, and how much it costs. To summarise the thorny:

  • If you liked our tunes so much, why do you think we need ‘re-shaping’ into something the industry wants?
  • Why would we want to be ‘re-shaped’ into something the industry wants? The industry is in flux. We are the industry if we choose to be. There’s this thing called the internet, look it up.
  • Even as a pitch it is lazy. Just adding the name of one of our songs to the opening gambit may have helped. Let alone some qualification as to why they ‘liked our tunes’.
  • The website of said company is sparse, makes no mention of costs and gives a strong impression of exclusive deals being brokered if you are chosen. This is just plain misleading, if not criminally so. (I’ve emailed the OFT about the general status of these companies – if they reply, no doubt that will be another blog).
  • It’s  just a really, really shitty way to do business. They may not have known that the average age of my band is around 38, but for young bands, they really would have felt that surge of excitement and joy with an approach such as this. They would have gone to the meeting and been easy targets. Their parents would have picked up the bill and at the end of it, they would be just another band, with a handful of recordings and songs that have been ripped apart and rebuilt by some meddling middle men who think they know what the world wants to hear. The only difference is that they (or their parents) would be several hundred, if not thousands, pounds lighter and tensions would be high.

I researched this phenomenon a little and found that as the music industry has contracted over the last decade or so (due to the internet), the first to go were often the ‘A&R’ men. A lot of these A&R men set up recording studios with the added dimension of an attached ‘promotions company’ that could draw on their experience of the industry. The general warning is to avoid at all costs. These are the people who were first out when the traditional industry collapsed… why would you pay them to try and shape you into something that they are no longer part of? These were the bull-shitters, and they now reside in small recording studios up and down the land, ready to exploit as many musicians as possible. They’re not after success for their acts, why would they when they have no incentive? They are paid upfront for their services that are limited and temporary. They aren’t willing to risk anything on anyone, they just want your money, our money, the money from the musicians who don’t have any to start with.

And I’m sure that there are those companies out there (this may have been one) that if you pay them enough, will accordingly promote you as much as they can and may even help you to move a notch or two up the ladder of notoriety. But this is a service, and one that other companies legitimately advertise as so. If the opening message had been something along the lines of:

“Hey guys! I am from a music promotion company. We can offer you a competitive package to record and promote your music. We have listened to some of your music (I especially like the driving hooks of ‘Here we are’ and ‘Clearly Wrong’ by the way!) and think that what we offer is something that can really help just polish it up to the standard that some parts of the industry want to hear. For a full list of our services and basic costs, please visit our website or feel free to ask me anything you want. Good luck with the band, we hope you would like to work with us as we would like to work with you.”

… then at least we could have had the courtesy of saying ‘no thanks’ with full knowledge of just what the hell they were talking about. And even so, this kind of practice is attempting to re-align a failing industry to one that makes its money primarily from the artists, rather than the audience. It is negative practice, and I am aware of bands out there who have ‘paid their way’ to success of sorts, literally having hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on them to get onto TV and radio, and still aren’t that well known. It is the death throes of a dying practice that needs to disappear. So I would urge you if you are in a band yourself, or know others who are, and come across this kind of offer, to walk away with two fingers held firmly and defiantly aloft. If you must spend money, spend it on yourselves or use those companies that don’t present as one thing when they are really another. If you want to spend money on promotion, there are plenty of people lined up to take your money without pretending that you are ‘special’ and that it is ‘exclusive’ – they will simply take your money and do what they do, without the confidence tricks to get your business.

Anyway, there is surprisingly little out there on the net about such companies, and obviously I’m not going to cite the one’s mentioned, so here is a little to go on (below). Thanks for reading and please share your experiences of this with me (if you have them) in the comments below!

A good blog on some red-flags to look out for:

http://campbeit.com/blog/how-to-avoid-music-business-scams/

Another blog, read the ‘Artist Development’ section. It also does a lot to define what is and isn’t a ‘scam’, which legally, can be quite important! (I’m not saying that these companies are scammers – they are just unethical and treading a blurry line between scam and legit)

http://www.idnmusic.com/education/indie_alert_are_these_people_really_scammers.html

Of course, my band was mentioned so…

www.facebook.com/gravitydave

* The company name and contact have been changed. If there is a real company called this with a ‘Bob’ working for them, that is a coincidence and quite accidental!

Live music is alive in Leek

This bank holiday I had the pleasure of attending and performing at ‘The Situation’s Big May Birthday’ event held at the Foxlowe arts centre in Leek.

For those not local or aware of those words what I have just said, ‘The Situation’ is a live music promotion group based in Leek, spearheaded by Simon Edwards and Steve Hamersley. The ‘Foxlowe’ is a beautiful 18th Century manor-house type thing (note the precise architectural analysis here…?) which was remodelled in the early 20th Century and is a grade II listed building. Leek is a small market town in the Staffordshire Moorlands at the foot of the peak district.

So, now you know what I’m talking about, I can take each in turn. ‘The Situation’ have been going for several years now, hosting regular events at various venues, always pushing to get live and original music back into people’s social schedule. I first played one of their nights around four years ago at the now closed ‘White Swan’ (a beautiful old building with a great function hall, which has alas been sold to Wetherspoons so they can come in and leech as much character and personality from the building and surrounding area as possible, but that’s another story) with my former band ‘sMelt’, and as I remember, it was well attended and a great night was had by all. Since then, like all ventures, they have had their fair share of challenges, from poor attendance, to sound set-up, to venues being closed etc… but they have relentlessly continued building up their name and reputation, seeking out new bands and civilizations, and going boldly where no local promotion company has gone before. Excuse me, went a bit Trek then.

Well last Sunday’s ‘birthday bash’, featuring 19 acts in 12 hours over three stages, I think, was their defining moment so far. The culmination of their persistence and passion to get things moving, the day was well ran, well attended, showcased a dazzling array of local, national and even international  bands (some Canadians in the form of Fist City added this element) and the sound was spot on. I will briefly mention that the weather was also beautiful, which is fortuitous, but I don’t think Simon and Steve can take credit for that unless they have fostered some secret mad shamanistic skills I’m not aware of. They had the excellent idea of setting up two stages at each end of the main hall so that as one band played, the other set up, keeping the day on schedule, punchy and joined up throughout. In the early stages they kept it to acoustic acts set up outside on the Foxlowe’s beautiful exterior patio and grounds which gave the early audience chance to settle in, relax, and break themselves into a day that picked up pace from about 4pm onwards with the onset of the ‘ping pong’ bands in the main room stages.

So yes, this was a good day for live music and a good day for Leek. I’m unqualified really to review the acts, I’m a musician not a reviewer, but it was an eclectic mix, ranging from the angelic tones of acoustic act Dominic Morgan (a young local lad who plays everywhere he can – he has an amazing work ethic and voice, he will go far) to the femme punk catchy-bastard sounds of ‘Hooker’, the excellent and raucous ‘Fist City’ (with their army of tiny supporters), the prog-folk Strauss & Strauss ( I think I just invented that genre?), and of course, my band Gravity Dave. Not to mention the excellent Gasoline Thrills, The Downloads, Vertigo Fish, Health Junkies and all the other brilliant bands that dominated the day with new, live and original music.

In a Kevin Costner moment, Steve & Simon told me, “If you build it, they will come”, which has been their philosophy from the outset and is now paying dividends. All I could see was happy faces, all I could hear was new and exciting music, and they had a good few titanic real-ales on to boot, which is always a good thing. So well done one and all. It can be done and it has been.

It makes sense because in Leek there seems to be a disproportionate amount of bands and artists for the size of the place, and thankfully, a similarly disproportionate number of pubs, several of which are capable of hosting live music. However, the scourge of cover bands tends to make up the larger part of local music, and there is a whole section of Leek (the Market place) which at night is turned over to a weird kind of mini city-centre bar/club life, inhabited by many fighty and shouty people, shepherded and watched over by the best part of the moorlands police force each Friday and Saturday night. I should add here, that the ‘Foxlowe’ used to be one such venue under the guise ‘The V Bar’ – which was noted for its sticky carpets, crap music and fighting. Since then, it has been bought by a community group who have turned it into the most excellent arts centre, cafe and venue, demonstrating that it can be done, communities can reclaim their culture from the lowest common denominator. Which is why it needs the rest of us (I would argue, the vast majority of) none shouty-fighty people to organise and attend nights like this. Unfortunately, venues are being lost and Leek suffers from a lack of transport links and accommodation to open it up as a regular night-spot for live music lovers. Some of the accommodation may soon be answered by the development of  a Premier Inn, unfortunately at the loss of yet another old, vast and interesting building (The Talbot), but at least it could make Leek a weekend destination, and if it does, I think live music should be at the forefront of its tourism trade, along with its excellent artisan and independent shops, markets and real ale pubs. There is even talk of the train lines re-opening, linking it to Stoke station, and therefore the rest of the country, which economically would put Leek back on the map. Fingers crossed the council don’t  mess it up.

I’ve also had the pleasure of being involved in an annual music-festival in Leek, ‘Leek Summer Jam’ which has ran for four years and played host to thousands of guests, hundreds of acts and generated income for dozens of local businesses. We’re having a year off this year while we decide what to do next, but it makes me breathe easy knowing that that there are guys like ‘The Situation’ still keeping the flag flying for live music and arts in Leek, and the country – many of the bands playing on Sunday were from all over the country, including Manchester and London, so as the words gets out, the ethos of Leek’s love for live music should spread across the UK, and who knows, maybe the world! (well there was that Canadian band… and an Irish chap…)

So I’ll sign off now after having the pleasure of writing a positive article about something well conceived, well executed, and of real value to the culture of Staffordshire and the country in general.

Links:

The Situation FB Page. You should find all the info you need about the bands mentioned and links:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Situation/113561162062815

The Foxlowe website:

http://www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk/

Leek arts festival website (ongoing throughout May – but this kind of event would have happened either way, still, check out what’s on):

http://leekartsfestival.co.uk/

And of course, my band’s website:

www.facebook.com/gravitydave

All the acts:

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