Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Gizza job

Me: Good afternoon Space Studios
Voice: Hi, yeah, what it is see is I was wondering if you had any jobs going there like?
Me: Well, I could use someone to answer the phone, or maybe clean the toilets
Voice: No man, I mean producing like
Me: No, I’m afraid we’ve got everyone we need for that at the moment
Voice: Well, can I send you my shit like, so you can hear it and see what you think of my beats?
Me: Do they clean the toilets?

This is an all too common phone call, probably heard in studios across the country. Despite having plastered over our website that we did not have any vacancies, we got upwards of twenty of these kinds of approaches a month. Or, they’d be pitiful approaches from kids with impressive sounding degrees from various universities around the country. It is heart rending sometimes, it really is. Speaking as someone with an entirely unrelated degree, but which holds as much use unfortunately as a chocolate teapot, I honestly sympathise.

I really do wonder what these kids are being told before they get saddled with insane debts and a degree in a subject (along with goodness knows how many other graduates) in an industry that basically consists of dead mans shoes. I should be clear though – if music tech / sound recording degrees had been more available back in the mists of time when I was going through UCAS, I’d have jumped on a course, no doubt, instead of worrying about how you say “good morning” and what the bleeding felicity conditions of such an approach are…

I am not going to knock the degrees – I believe in Socratic learning (especially now people have to pay for it!), but really, what do the poor graduates expect? Are they told how difficult it is to get a job? Or that their degree may not be looked at in the best of lights?

Sure, a degree does bring some rigour to it, and I assume the graduates have to do some kind of reading, research and assignment writing. These are of course good skills to have, along with the oft-quoted myth of time management and self starting skills (yes, I have used those two lies on a CV before). But is such a degree really worth the paper it is written on?

How much time do the students get in the studios? How much time do they get practising and listening with mic placement? Or coaching singers through difficult spells to really nail that take? In my experience, I’ve found that on different courses in different Unis, undergrads haven’t been allowed near the sexy desks that are in the prospectus. I’ve been told of undergrads only being allowed to use Behringer boards while SSLs sit gathering dust. Granted, if you can get a good sound with a Behringer desk, then excellent, you have some kind of skillset going on! But the kids are drawn there on the promise of using the good gear, but never really getting near it.

Then there've been lecturers visiting our place and enjoying actually being in “real” studios, rather than jerry built plasterboard studios provided for the students. Again, these are probably good enough to highlight a point, but is it good enough for someone being saddled with £20k of debt?

I would never want to tell anyone not to go to Uni, it’s a blast and they really are fantastic days. But I would recommend perhaps an alternative degree (music, physics, hell anything except Language and Communication!) – and then either buy a small recording rig and a subscription to Sound on Sound and just get out there and record as much as you can. Get as much extracurricular experience (behave yourself) as you can. Actually I’d say that to anyone doing any degree – join in with as much student society action as you can, it’s where the fun is at.
Or you could even get some work experience in a studio. But that’s a story for another blog…

Christian Thomas is Production Director at Space Studios. He hated his degree in Language and Communication and doesn’t see why anyone else should have enjoyed theirs.

Friday, 8 March 2013

My admiration for those who do it

Yet again, it's another late blog. My excuse this week is not that the dog ate my homework. But I was in the process of moving half a garage full of stuff to our new place, part of which was our big Pro Tools rig. Oh it is so nice to have it back, so it can sit there, whirring expensively at me as I fight to overcome the hideous self-doubt that is manifest whenever I try and write something..

I've wondered aloud before about why the hell we bother trying to make music these days, but one thing that I really should make clear is I love working with the people who make music. Not only that, I have enormous respect for those that do, and then go out and play their own songs.

First and foremost, I respect the fact that they have taken the time to write the songs, and they've gone through the self doubt processes. These I understand can be fatal for a songwriter's career. I’ve often wondered if this is something like the yips that golfers get when all of a sudden they are unable to make a seemingly simple putt, or for cricketers and baseball players, an inability to bowl accurately or even let go of the ball at the right time.
Although this is possibly a neurological condition (focal dystonia), some experts have postulated it is caused by momentous events in the athletes life, but it tends to hit golfers more if they have been playing for 25 years and upwards. It could also be brought on through excessive use of the muscles involved and intense demands of concentration. 

Thinking too much. Overthinking things, weighed down by the need to win, or perhaps in our case, the need to be creative, or even the overwhelming expectation that you *must* create something. 

Similar to this is that hideous songwriting block, which can affect anyone, but must be incredibly hard (and possibly even more like the yips) for someone who has been writing proficiently for years. Whatever, the fact that the songwriters manage to get beyond even the initial self doubt is an incredible feat as far as I'm concerned.

Then they'll put the track together, jam it a few times, and then maybe perform it at an open mic. This for me is possibly the most incredible thing ever. How anyone has the brass balls to stand up with only a guitar or a keyboard and their voice and sing their own songs is beyond me. I have nightmares about this. The Exorcist, The Omen, Paranormal Activity and any future horror film combined could not touch the utmost dread that doing this would instil in me.

The point is, it seems at every stage of being a singer songwriter you are holding your heart out for anyone to take a stab at. The initial writing process, where you bare your soul. Jamming it, making the melody (the melody that you came up with, that could be as personal to you as the lyrics) work with a chord structure. Fine tuning, self editing, but not letting the self editing destroy your creativity or your desire to carry on making music. Then, and only then, it is played to an audience, and you have no idea of how the song will go down.

If you're lucky, you'll pick up reviews which again must be a nerve shredding thing. Even a bad review from a no-mark "journalist" in a free 'zine must be a hard thing to bear. But then I guess you have to understand that their only creativity comes from destroying other people's creativity!

I still wonder why we bother making music. But you guys out there, writing and performing your own stuff. You rule, I love working with you, and I love watching you perform. So keep going and don't give up, and don't let your computer / notepad / manuscript paper mock you with its incessant blankness!