Posts Tagged 'music'

Four Nights of Late Night Sounds

The plan:

“They say that deadlines focus the mind; foster creativity. Well, let’s see. I get home from work after 7, eat, do the chores that need doing, then it’s time for music. At 6.00 am the next morning, the alarm goes off and we start again.

For four nights in March 2013, I will try to start and finish a song each night and compile it as an EP. I might use this opportunity to head out of my usual style a bit, but there are sure to be some deeper grooves in there somewhere.

So, a few nights of little sleep, but hopefully four completed tracks, but expect some rough edges; let’s say that those are caused by all the soul. Catch you on the flip side…”

Two days into things so far, and two tracks up on Amazing Tunes, two more to go and still just about awake…


Looking for singer/poet/MC/chanteuse

After really enjoying my -albeit brief- live set of more jazzy, downtempo, beat-poetry electronica this week, I’d like to spend some more time with this style and get a project underway. If you are or know anyone in the Edinburgh area who has something to say and can say it in a cool and hip-cat way and you think Monday’s sound has potential, get in touch through Facebook or Twitter. It would be nice to get a few regular gigs going…

The DJ Collector

I am a big fan of 7” singles. For me, they represent the perfect meeting of form and function and are the greatest ever format for singles. I have too many of the things cluttering up the place in an assortment of random boxes; most of them from bands of whom I’d never heard, picked up on a whim from indie websites, car boot sales and charity shops. I’ve discovered a lot of great bands this way, and some that probably shouldn’t give up the day job.

The one thing I would say about the 7” format though, is that I’m not overly ‘precious’ about it: it, like many other media, is simply a device for transporting music. If I’m out somewhere and hear a great early 70s funk tune, I’m not going to go up and check that the dj is playing an original pressing, it’s the song that counts.

My first residency was playing soul and funk at a Northern night. I was, comfortably, the youngest dj there: being born many years after the Wigan Casino earned its reputation. The combination of my age, my fondness for many genres and my limited student income meant that I wanted access to the most tunes possible, for the smallest outlay, and it seems I committed a terrible sin: I bought compilations.

It didn’t matter that the compilations were on vinyl themselves, it didn’t matter that the compilers had tracked down rarities that were virtually impossible to afford, or even find, on 7” that the other djs hadn’t heard of. All that mattered was that I wasn’t playing original pressings, so I was second-rate.

All I know is that I loved the music, and so it seemed did the people who’d paid their money to get in and skate on talcum powder around their handbags. For the record, I do have a reasonable collection of 45s: original pressings, limited coloured vinyl etc, but they don’t leave the house. They certainly don’t get played on club 1210s set up with so much down-pressure on the stylus that each play eats halfway through the disc.

I’ve said this in previous articles, but for me it’s all about the music, it can be CD, mp3, vinyl, if you play good music I’ll hang around. And if you can find some of those rarities on a compilation that the hard-core collectors don’t have, more power to you. The irony of the situation for me is that it seems I bought some good compilations that, given what they’re going for used these days, seems like they’re becoming collectable themselves…

Bring The People To Your Music

Fynn Callum & Carolyn Bowick

The online music revolution has, undoubtedly, been a revelation for today’s producers wanting to be heard. Gone are the days of optimistically sending demo tapes, or spending a small fortune on getting a first run of vinyl pressed to try to build a following. Now, sites like Soundcloud make it easy to make your music available, and aggregators such as Tunecore and Rebeat allow you to go down the do it yourself route and get your music into digital stores.

Unfortunately, opening the industry up in this way has in some ways just moved the goalposts. Now, instead of the bottleneck for new entrants being recording and production, it’s the marketing; it’s far easier to get your music to the people, but with millions of others doing the same, it’s quite another to get them to listen.

It seems we’ve gone full circle: far from being liberated from the label system, artists now need to get signed, not only to benefit from the label’s promotional budget, but, as anyone can get a track on iTunes these days, to use the brand to add an air of ‘legitimacy’ to their product. Fortunately, hand in hand with the revolution of digital music distribution has come the age of social media, which offers the chance to pull your audience to your creations, rather than simply relying on pushing content out into the world and hoping for the best.

So, how can you use social media to build a following and start to get word of mouth working for you so that, when your release drops, there are people waiting to hear it?

1. Use SoundCloud and get a pro account. Soundcloud is perhaps the most popular forum for producers, djs and labels, combining cloud storage, streaming and download services, as well as the chance to interact and comment with other users. A pro account costs from 29 Euros a year and shows that you take what you do seriously, as well as giving you more music time and better analytics on your listeners and downloaders.

2. Use social media as a home for your news, and keep your name visible, but don’t sign up for every social media outlet that’s out there; keep it manageable so that you can keep each one regularly updated with good content. The big three are Twitter, Facebook and a blog: Twitter for regular ‘drip feed’ exposure, and Facebook or a blog for more developed, less transient, content. Also think about linking accounts where possible so that new Soundcloud uploads and favouritings and blog posts etc are announced through Twitter and updated on your other profiles. Just be careful that you don’t end up either spamming by accident, and don’t use this as an excuse to be lazy – it’s not enough to use links to save you putting the work into each one separately.

3. Keep it relevant. Don’t start following 5000 people who aren’t likely to be interested in you just to try and get a crowd of followers; keep things related to what you do, even if it’s just tangential, such as people in the same city etc. Investigate using Twitter lists to manage those you’re following, and check out the lists of people you follow to find new contacts.

4. Support your fellow emerging artists. Don’t ignore your peers and only follow big name artists: they represent a large demographic and if you respect them, they’ll respect you. Plus, rising stars who like what you do are more likely to share it. But do look for people with lots of relevant connections, what network analysis would call ‘hubs’ – if they share something you’ve done, it reaches a much larger group of people. But social media etiquette suggests that genuine relationship building and reciprocal sharing is better than begging for retweets.

5. Soundcloud groups provide a good way of identifying people with similar tastes and are often visited by major signed artists and labels. Join groups, follow people whose work you like, and contribute.

6. Be visible on Soundcloud, release free-to-download tracks occasionally (and not just the stuff you don’t think is good enough to send to labels) and add them to the relevant groups. Make sure and comment regularly on other tracks, and try to avoid asking people to listen to your latest in the comment!

7. Run some remix contests. Upload the stems or some sample packs of one of your tracks and give people the chance to remix them. Joining and posting on some of the music production forums can help here. You never know, you might get some submissions that allow you to get a good release together, and all the contributors will also be promoting it themselves…

8. Interaction is the key to social media. In order to be successful you have to give as well as take. Look for any opportunity to get your name seen, but without crossing the line into spamming or trolling. Join forums, post, comment, follow music blogs, post reviews of products on music store sites, enter remix competitions and generally keep your eye out for opportunities to increase your visibility. Investing the time in interacting with people also positions you as someone with a genuine interest and certain level of knowledge/expertise, and that’s important if you want to be taken seriously.

It seems as though, after spending hours playing with arrangements, and adjusting level, eq and compression settings, when you finally have that final render down and master, that the hard work should be done. These days though, it might only be just beginning; but, if you put the time in early, it might pay off in the long run. Just remember that you can only harvest what you sow.

Carolyn Bowick has applied her marketing experience in a number of fields from academia to industry, specialising in digital marketing and social media; you can follow her marketing blog at:

Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro Headphones Review

DT-880 Pros are pretty well reviewed already –they’ve been around for a while, after all- so why should you read this one? Well, first of all it’s another opinion and, secondly, as far as I can find, no-one has talked about their suitability for house music production on the road using an Apogee One as an interface. I’ll assume that you’ve read some other reviews and product descriptions, so I’ll not repeat all of the basics and just concentrate on my experience with these headphones.

DT 880 Pro: Build Quality, Comfort and Appearance

Let’s start with comfort. Despite being a bit heavier than its main competitors, the Sennheiser HD650s and the AKG K701s, these are comfortable ‘phones. There isn’t too much downward pressure on the top of your head; the inward pressure feels reassuring, with a feeling of closeness without causing any discomfort, even after long listening sessions. The material used for the padding is smooth and soft, and doesn’t make your head too sweaty, which is always a bonus.

Appearance is pretty good too. The ‘phones come in a nice foam-lined zip up case and look the part. If I have any complaints, it’s that the cradles that support the cups look like a bit of a design afterthought, and the exposed cabling looks thin and fragile, but then, these headphones are cheaper than both the AKGs and the Sennheisers.

Build quality and potential long-term functionality is where I start to have issues. First off, the cable is non-detachable, being moulded into the bottom of one of the cups, so any wiring issues are going to be complicated to resolve, with higher repair bills, as described in this review. If I’m being honest, I don’t think any phones at this price point should have moulded cables, particularly those with ‘Pro’ in the name.

I’m also not sure about running that thin little cable from one cup to the other by tucking it under the detachable headband. Those cables seem very delicate, and I’m genuinely quite concerned about them snagging on something at somepoint, having them pulling out of the cups, and expensive repair bills resulting. Not sure that this feeling of breakability inspires confidence in a pair of working headphones. Compared with my Sennheiser HD555s, which were a third of the price, this cup to cup cabling arrangement seems poor.

The size adjustment is also a bit clunky, with the cup, brackets sliding back and forth in not a particularly smooth way. This is something I expect to be doing a lot of, as, with the ‘phones fitted to my head, putting them back in the case means that the moulded cable is at quite an extreme angle, and under a lot of stress, due to the snug fit in the case, so, to minimise that, I have to push the brackets back in again. Then, every time I resize, I’m concerned I’m going to catch the cables with my fingers.

DT 880 Pro: Sound

The sound performance is where the DT 880 Pros redeem themselves. These are the best ‘phones, from an accuracy perspective, that I’ve heard. The HD650s are perhaps more exciting to listen to, with the more ‘hyped’ bass response, but for critical mix decisions, I’d feel more comfortable trusting these; everything just seems more flat, and ‘egalitarian’ in the mix. Bass is low and extended, but feels well controlled. These are exceptionally good sounding headphones for the money.

Listening through an Apogee One after allowing a good length of burn in time, playing a variety of tracks showed this to be a good, reliable performer, from Alison Krauss to Maya Jane Coles, via KT Tunstall, Teenage Fanclub, Jacqueline du Pre and The Pretenders. I enjoyed the level of detail, accurate soundstage and the depth of the mix that was presented. Great performers.

DT 880 Pro: Deep House Production

So, the real reason for using these ‘phones, those late night deep house production sessions when using monitors is out of the question. After firing up Ableton Live 8, plugin 112 dB’s excellent Redline Monitor plugin into the master effects, I got to work. I can’t remember the last time I found it this easy to dial in a good kick sound. I usually layer two or three, and filter and eq to get them working together, then compress. I had a sound I was happy with in next to no time. Balancing and eqing my layered clap and snare hits was a breeze, and before I knew where I was, I had the bass sitting comfortably in a hole and, to me at least, a reasonably complete groove going on.

As I’ve discussed in a previous post, I would rather mix on good headphones than cheap monitors in an untreated room; these ‘phones have raised the bar as to what good monitors in a good room are. I can see myself spending a lot more time mixing on these, the level of detail available to make those critical decisions and hear those little distortions is fantastic. Combined with the Redline plugin, I really do have the confidence to make mix decisions on these.

DT 880 Pro: Summary

Well, the sound is spectacular, I feel happy mixing on these, and would much rather mix on these than speakers that are getting to a less than modest price point. The issue for me really is that feeling of delicacy, and, if there is a problem, a large repair bill. Despite the protective case, I can’t picture myself travelling with these ‘phones, which is a shame as it would be fantastic not to have to waste hours remixing everything when I get back to the studio. Unfortunately, I think I’ll stick to my K271 mkIIs for the road, even with their lack of bass response, purely as they feel more robust and have a detachable cable. Oh, and their closed back so I’ll annoy fewer people in coffee shops!

Rambla (Original Mix)- Hobonuts

Released last month on Gastspiel on the Deep Down in Paris vol. 5 sampler, this tune beings with a shaker-driven intro supporting the techy, plucked chord stab, this is a slowish building track. We add a new synth and bring the kick back in at 1.01, but we don’t get the bass dropping until 1.33, but when it does, it’s sparse simplicity allows plenty of space for the percussion and the interplay of the synths to breathe.

The arrangement of the track is fairly straightforward, continuing without too much variation other than some heavily ‘verbed vocals until a simple breakdown at 3.05 until we drop again and continue as before. We get to the main break at 5.09; we then get the introduction of the top line fading in to add some variation. When the drop hits at 6.11 things stay pretty much as they are until the track wraps up.

This is perfect bar culture deep house: might not fill the floor, but the involuntary head-nodding that you get from the groove, coupled with the repetitive, simple arrangement makes this the perfect soundtrack for those upmarket brushed-steel bar sets.

If only more deep house could be like this.

More about the music…

I think, up until now, I’ve been guilty of trying to make each post a wonderful technical resource, as such, I’ve mostly completely overlooked the most important aspect: the music. So from now on, I will post regular, short reviews and opinions on the deep house tracks I like. Or don’t.

Let’s start straight away with Juan Lombardo‘s Deep Track (Original Mix). Released on Deep Nota Records -a label on which I always keep an eye- this, as I’m sure you can tell from the title, is a deep track. Some of the synth sound design comes from the more techy end of the spectrum, but the arrangement and the production mean that this is rooted firmly in deep house territory.

A percussion-led intro builds as the synth opens up, before the bass kicks in just after a minute. This, for me, is where the track sounds it’s weakest, with the bass not quite sitting happily and gelling with the drums and percussion for me. All changes though at 2.03 where, after a breakdown, the track drops and really kicks things off: the additional elements really tying everything together.

After that, the rest of the track rolls along, with several more brief breakdowns keeping everything moving. If anything, I would love an extended version, with a few more bars between the breakdowns, such is my love for this groove as it rolls along. Straight into my set list and definitely worth a listen.

Update- For the Price of Cheap Monitors

After writing the aforementioned blog, I came across a post in the IDMf site, which reminded me of an article I had seen in Sound on Sound magazine (my go to source for all things audio tech). While looking searching for the article I was sure I had seen and not just imagined, I came across these two articles:

Should I mix on high-end headphones or low-end monitors?

Mixing on headphones

And thought that, given my recent blog, that it made sense to advertise their sage advice here. I have to say, you rarely go wrong with SoS!

A Classical Electronic Rivalry?

I’ll admit this up front: I do have a little bit of the music snob in me, there are certain things that I just can’t stand to listen to. That said, I think those songs are in the significant minority, and I wouldn’t say that there were any entire genres I look down upon. I’m not a big fan of a lot of modern chart pop or RnB, but, even then, I still think Kylie’s Koocachoo is an absolutely superb tune, be it bubblegum pop or not.

If you’re a downer on all popular music though, where do you stand on The Beatles? Or Motown? Will people in forty years be looking back at S Club 7 the way we look at Martha Reeves now? Actually, I’m not 100% on that… What I like to think though, is that, even if I don’t like to listen to the music, I can still appreciate the effort that’s gone into making it. Celine Dion for example, I would never voluntarily listen to one of her songs, but you can’t deny she’s got a good pair of lungs on her…

Before I bought my Maschine Mikro, I was checking out some of the demos on YouTube, and came across one by finger-drumming maestro Jeremy Ellis. This guy is good. When I checked out the comments, I found one from someone who was asking if this is what music had come to, with people thinking that pressing buttons quickly makes someone talented, before going on to say that cellists, pianists etc spend time mastering their instrument and that real music died some time ago. I think this is pretty unfair.

I think his thought seemed to be that hitting those buttons quickly didn’t require any practice or training. Perhaps the originator of this comment would like to pick up a sampler, make some hits and loops, program his groups and play something for us to show us how easy it is. These arguments are nothing new, the attitudes to jazz when it was breaking through had the same sort of ring to them, and some people still look down on anything other than ‘classical’, orchestral music.

Me, I think some classical music is incredible. Listen to Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D minor and try not to be moved by it. However, I find a lot of classical music dull and uninteresting. I think you can perhaps make a good argument that the only real originality and experimentation in music comes from electronic music these days. Modern ‘classical’ composers seem to be trying to be more dissonant and avant-garde, but are they doing anything that hasn’t already been released on Warp?

This post first appeared as a news item on NowThenRecords.

Beauty in Music’s Physical Form

I’m not a neophile, I’ll quite happily admit that; I do not immediately jump on board the latest craze or gadget just because it’s new. However, I wouldn’t say I was especially big on nostalgia either. I don’t automatically think that something is better just because they don’t make it anymore. I just like things to work and I don’t see the point of change for change’s sake. For example, I like TVs with buttons on them so I can use them when I’ve lost the remote, but I like being able to take thousands of pictures on holiday, store them on one tiny card and only print out the ones that aren’t of my thumb.

All of which brings me somewhat inelegantly onto the subject of digital music downloads.

Digital music delivery is huge, I don’t think you can deny that, but is it an improvement over where we were before? It has certainly made music more available, it’s now incredibly straightforward for a new unsigned artist to get tracks out to people, but I think that’s a subject for another post. I’m more interested in the concept of buying something that doesn’t really exist in a physical form. In order to discuss the present case of music downloads though, I think it’s best to start with the past…

With each new format of sound delivery, there has traditionally been an increase in quality, from wax cylinders, to vinyl discs, to the cassette to the CD. Now, I know that vinyl is actually better in terms of certain specifications than the digital constraints of CD, but that’s a whole other post again… Generally though, each successive format has improved our listening experience. Then, in 1999, along came the super-audio CD (SACD). Using a 1-bit high frequency technology, the SACD offered audio specifications approximately equivalent to 24 bit 96 kHz recording, with better frequency response and dynamic range than the original CD. An excellent review on the science behind the quality of SACD can be found in Hugh Robjohns’ interesting Sound on Sound article.

While some hi-fi audiophiles picked up SACD players, it just didn’t catch on the same way CD did; the same for DVD-Audio. It appears that the CD is the plateau of consumer quality, a point above which it wasn’t worthwhile climbing. And it makes sense. What percentage of the world’s music listeners even own a hi-fi separates system these days, let alone have their chair neatly positioned in the stereo sweet spot and some acoustic treatment in their listening room?

So, the next step beyond the CD: a step backwards in quality. Limited bandwidth compressed audio: the all-conquering mp3. Now, this brings me back to the first paragraph, I think the mp3 is a wonderful thing. I can carry thousands of songs in my pocket (I sometimes miss my CD Walkman days though, but that’s also another post…) and I don’t really notice the loss of quality as I’m stood in a bus shelter, next to a main road, when it’s raining and listening through ear buds.

The thing is though: I rarely buy mp3s. There are the occasional tracks, maybe a random tune from an album where I don’t want to buy the full thing, but that’s really it. Virtually all my mp3s are ripped from the CDs I buy. The reason (apart from the whole quality thing): I like the physical interaction you get when you buy a record. Be it CD or vinyl, it’s a wonderful thing to look at the cover art, read the liner notes, it becomes more of a ritual, like grinding the beans for your morning coffee. Taking the record from the sleeve, sitting it on the platter, the thunk, hssssss, as the needle finds its groove… wonderful. And to come back to the visual art of vinyl and CDs, some of it is superb purely on that level, from beautiful to iconic and back again, records can be very pretty things… and I’m not just talking about my 12” Kylie Minogue Slow picture disc.

Back in my teenage years of limited pocket money, as opposed to now with limited disposable income but the benefits of credit, I could perhaps afford a CD every two to three weeks. I would end up knowing that album inside and out, I could draw the cover from memory (not very well, art was never really my thing), tell you who produced and engineered it, where it was recorded and even give you a potted list of the people in the thank you list.

I still get that same buzz today when the post delivers that tell-tale cardboard sleeve containing the latest vinyl purchase. The Hidden Orchestra limited double 12” on the clear/marbled vinyl and my signed Jo Mango 10” (she says I’m a wee star!) remain wondrous things to behold before you even listen to them, along with my complete set of the Journal of Popular Noise 7”s, an original 45 of The Velvelettes Needle in a Haystack and my early Amy Winehouse CD promos, the list goes on, but I love them all dearly. I just don’t get that same feeling with a mouse click and a little download progress bar somehow…

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