Monday, 24 December 2012

New Software = All the fun of Christmas for adults.

It's been a bit longer getting this blog live, due to travelling back from the States, jetlag and then travelling around the UK. 

Being a studio geek is great nearly all of the time. You get to sit in a dark room, and if you’re lucky enough to have windows, you get to have the curtains closed during the day. You get to play music all day and call it work. Unlimited coffee and tea breaks are almost mandatory. Technically you get to choose the hours you work, and technically you get to choose the work you do. Although this often turns out to be biting people’s hands off if they offer you work!

Some bits are exceptionally cool. You get to buy awesome sexy gear. I remember getting my first Pro Tools rig and installing it over the space of a couple of days – optimising the computer, then installing and registering all the software. That was only a small rig with a small yet powerful interface (M-Audio FW1814). Days like these followed, with new bits of hardware arriving as our empire developed. The best one I have ever seen was when our first HD rig arrived, and everything was loaded off the back of a lorry (not like that) on a couple of pallets. Loads and loads of boxes to be unwrapped and opened. It looked like Christmas Day in the Thomas household all those years ago!

As we’ve adapted and updated the studio, the big purchases are fewer and further between these days, but this morning was a nice change. Komplete 8 arrived, and the excitement I felt took me back to the day when I unwrapped my first Scalextric in the early 80s. I suspect that I had a bit of the apprehension my dad must have felt as well. I was all keyed up by the excitement of it all, but he probably had that little nag in the back of his mind – “ok, which bit of track will be dead? Will the power controllers work?” I suspect he knew that he’d have to put it all together whilst I hopped from foot to foot wanting to drive those little Walter Wolf WR5 F1 cars around (yeah, that reallyshows how old I am). Even then, I held up the same principles of today, as I was always the black car – Never Red. 
Now I don’t know how well Scalextric works these days, but it seemed that part of the fun back then was the game not described in the users manual, called finding-the –faulty-bit-of-track-and-fixing –it-before-The-Queen-at-three. It might be that this game is no longer needed and everything works fine straight out of the box. (If Hornby wish to send me a set to verify this, I’d be delighted to report back...)

Which leads me to the point of this. There’s always that thought that you’ve spent however long installing the software and then you go to run it up and there’s a problem somewhere. I started installing an hour ago and I’ve still got 8 discs to go! But I want to hear it running now...Then there’s the next bit of having to learn how to use it. I suspect the old Scalextric was a bit easier to learn:

Ensure all track works. Check.

Align contact braids (carefully removing carpet fluff from previous death-dive over the banked curveinto the no-man’s land between telly and coffee table). Check.

Squeeze trigger, not too much but enough to get the car moving. Check

Get all excited and send car through crash barriers and hurtling through space into potted Yukka.Check.

Repeat ad nauseum till dad walks off in disgust.

So I could have some tortured analogy about still having to check if all the tracks work, and I guess you could at a push suggest putting the car in the slot is akin to using a preset sound or effect (I said it was tortured). But maybe dusting off previously crashed melodies and songs and coaxing a bit more out of them with the new toys? Yeah, that works, and potentially having a new track spiralling out of control metaphorically into a household plant could be the overuse of presets, too much instant gratification.

It always seems to be the case though, you get your system running properly, then something new comes along, or a new version is released, or a new OS update comes out and you spend the next few weeks running around trying to get everything working again. Repeat ad nauseum. 
I remember being taught that once you get your system working, leave it. Do not upgrade until it is utterly necessary. But I guess these days we seem to be in public beta mode for all of the software manufacturers and upgrading / installing new customer service packs etc is almost a prerequisite. But then we should expect all of this thanks to Moore’s Law and the doubling of computer speeds yearly.

Hornby never did this to you. And you never had to register Scalextric using a challenge and response either…

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He *really* used to wind his dad up with the Scalextric.

Monday, 10 December 2012

I used to be METAL

My mate at school, Chris Warne, once gave me a tape of a really exciting band. This was way back in 87 or 88. The band was Guns n' Roses, the album of course was Appetite for Destruction. GNR became a gateway band, and it wasn't long before I was into the Mighty Maiden, Anthrax, Metallica and Slayer. Then things got really heavy, and I got into death metal. I went to uni, joined a thrashy/death band and never looked back.

We went on the compulsory ill-fated tours, we got signed, our label went bust, we travelled hundreds of miles to play to two people, we played in Europe where the punters turned out in droves and knew the words to our songs (we didn't do it twice though...).

And it slowly fizzled out. We used to laugh at the guys who cut their hair, or those who joined acid jazz bands. After a few years I joined a more numetal type band and we had a lot of fun and a bit of interest from the press. Then came the day, the fateful day. I started working with Mary Hopkin on her archive albums. Nothing brings you up short like hearing beautifully played and recorded folk music. I couldn't believe what was happening to me. I was walking around, voluntarily singing folk tunes.

There's the scene in More Bad News where Den ribs Vim for singing "Mary Hopkins" songs. Oh how we laughed. Oh how we thought metal and folk could never mix.

Oh how I laughed at the guys who cut their hair and joined and joined acid jazz bands.

Oh how I cut my hair. Oh how I stopped listening to metal.

At the same time we employed Gerwyn as an engineer, and he came along with a huge knowledge of acoustic acts. He was insidious. He'd leave CDs around. He'd leave track suggestions. He was intent on turning me to the light side. This was compounded by recording bass for Jessica Lee Morgan on her album.

And so, I did my first gig in NYC this week, at the world famous Arlene’s Grocery. It was a lot of fun. I’ve seen Jess do a couple of gigs here, and we’ve seen friends' gigs – Jamie Hartman at Rockwood, Mike MacAllister in the Alphabet Lounge. We’ve been around music most of the trip, as you’d expect. One thing that has really struck me is the professionalism with which these things happen. I’m talking about the way that the clubs actually run the nights. You have to have something under your belt before they’ll even consider you. As a rule, the sound guys are solid and they are both approachable and knowledgeable, which is a shock when you consider some of the stuff we’ve all had to put up with in the past.

Then there’s the professionalism of the bands – because the venues demand you have some kind of heritage, it seems to ensure the bands are good and do their thing. I think it’s a really exciting scene here, you have these very hip places in Manhattan, and a really vibrant scene for songwriters over in Brooklyn, and they’re all put through - if you’ll pardon the pomposity - some kind of peer review.

And finally, there’s the professionalism of the punters. Yep. That’s what I said. Generally, people turn up at the right time, and they are attentive. They join in when they’re told to. They tend to be quiet when it’s necessary – like if Jess is playing “Your Girl”. But they also know to actually put their hands in their pockets and part with some hard-earned. It feels like there is a mutual expectation between the performer, the punter and the venue. The venues will only put on good bands, or bands that can pull a crowd. The punters will only turn up if the band is good, thus the band has to be good.

The punters are what makes it. I hope that we’re going to go that way in the UK with appreciative and attentive audiences backing great musicians, and perhaps even, you know, paying them for playing. Because it makes it a lot easier to keep schlepping your gear around when you know that someone’s going to put some money your way.

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He goes around singing "Shamarack" a little too often.