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By Disc Makers’ Author Keith Hatschek and Robert Bassett
In “The creative genius of Paul McCartney’s bass lines,” we documented Paul McCartney’s bass playing and its development during his years with The Beatles. We explored his humble beginnings as a traditional bass player mostly concerned with keeping time and outlining chords, and listened as he fully realized the power he wielded with his instrument. As the group evolved, McCartney became renowned for crafting bass lines that would come to define the sound of The Beatles’ later years. Now let’s take a look at his post-Beatles years and follow McCartney’s bass playing trajectory through his later career.
The previous article left off discussing selections from The Beatles’ Abbey Road, the final album on which the group collaborated in a manner similar to their earlier records. They would break up less than a year later, an event that would end one of the most brilliant chapters of pop music history. The breakup certainly had an effect on Paul. McCartney and Lennon had shared a yin-yang relationship as creative partners since the mid-’50s when they met and started to write songs together. McCartney had grown into an upbeat, meticulous songsmith, whose melodies were instantly hummable; while Lennon pondered the deeper meanings of life, addressing drugs, loss, depression, and loneliness, while favoring wild experimentation in the studio.
Still, the artistic tensions between them resulted in the creative spark that drove for The Beatles to seemingly greater and greater creative heights throughout the 1960s.
As inter-band squabbling grew after their landmark Sgt. Peppers LP, and the band no longer toured, the members began to write and record individually. Not surprisingly, each member’s writing style evolved further without the influence of their band mates. Lennon began to see his role primarily as an agent for social change through his music and political actions, whereas McCartney focused on writing memorable pop songs. After the release of Let It Be, each of The Beatles embarked on a solo career. In the cases of Lennon and McCartney, without the other to pull them closer to a perceived artistic center point, each gravitated towards their most natural songwriting comfort zone.
For most, Paul McCartney is remembered as a singer/songwriter first, and a bassist second. The post-breakup change in his songwriting approach is reflected in his bass playing as well. In examining his post-Beatles bass work, it is clear that he saw himself similarly, and focused his efforts accordingly. From here on out, his bass lines would serve the song and its vocals, not the other way around. In many ways this is how he had mainly approached the bass, but we would see no more songs like “Come Together,” a song basically built around a unique bass line. Instead, we would see a return to McCartney’s original approach to his bass playing, which is more aligned with the traditional role of bass in a song: keep time, and outline the chords.
This approach is evident on McCartney’s first two albums released after the public announcement of the breakup: McCartney (1970) and Ram (1971). Without Lennon to ground him, both albums have a much lighter feeling than later-era Beatles recordings, due to their predominantly major-key tonalities and straightforward, airy melodies.
Lyrically, both albums also focus mostly on optimistic themes: domestic life, love, and contentedness. And while casual fans may have been surprised that Paul played virtually every note on his first solo album, (his wife, Linda, sang a few background vocals), Beatles insiders knew of his multi-instrumental abilities – the singular guitar solo on George Harrison’s “Taxman” and the wonderfully inventive drums on “Dear Prudence” as just two examples of his one-man band abilities.
Immediately after The Beatles’ break up, Paul’s bass lines, like the songs themselves, are fairly simple. There are no strong counter-melodies, and little in the way of rhythmic variation. “Teddy Boy,” from McCartney, is an exception. The tune was originally written for Let it Be but didn’t make the album. He recorded the vocal, guitar, and bass at his home on a 4-track machine, and then brought it to the studio for additional tracks and mixing. The bass line he plays on it navigates the unusual chord changes with a walking bass line. Let’s take a look. Green notes represent Paul playing the root of the chord in that measure, red notes represent him playing a third, and blue notes denote the fifth being played. Black notes are the “in-between” passing tones.
In these four bars of the first verse, McCartney plays a line spanning nearly the entire range of the bass, navigating the chord changes with a unique arpeggiating pattern. He includes a couple tricks that add to its brilliance. First is the way he handles the change from A to A minor by playing only the root and fifth in the second half of the measure, making for a harmonically unsteady moment when the underlying chord shifts to minor. Adding to this bit of tension is his second trick: the way he lands on the third of the E minor chord in the next measure.
On the next album, Ram, credited to Paul and Linda McCartney, and recorded at New York City’s A&R Recording, he brought in session drummer Denny Seiwell and studio guitarists Hugh McCracken and Dave Spinoza. More than half of the songs also feature a steady walking bass line of some sort. The other half feature either a root-fifth bass line, such as on “Monkberry Moon Delight,” or a meandering bass line similar to what can be heard on “A Day in the Life,” such as he played on the album’s final track, “The Back Seat of My Car.” It’s no surprise that there is still a clear Beatles influence on both of these albums, echoes of which follow McCartney throughout his post-Beatles career, albeit taking various shapes and forms.
The experience of making Ram and collaborating with other musicians led McCartney to form a proper band in 1971, which was dubbed Wings. Joining him were his wife Linda on keyboard and vocals, guitarist Denny Laine, and drummer Denny Seiwell. Wings would be his creative outlet for the next 10 years. It was with Wings that he wrote six post-Beatles million-selling songs, including two of his most well-known works, both released in 1973: “Live and Let Die,” penned for the James Bond movie mega-hit of the same title, and “Band On the Run.” It was also with this band that he wrote his disco-inspired bass line to the hit song, “Silly Love Songs.” Featured on the 1976 album Wings At the Speed of Sound, the part is possibly his busiest bass line ever. The groove propels the song through each verse and chorus with a funkiness that is entirely new in McCartney’s recorded canon up until that time. Below is a transcription of the line.
The groove created on this track is entirely due to this four-bar bassline. The main vocal hook only consists of three long whole notes, so Paul’s steady staccato eighth notes in the first measure keeps the otherwise slower song moving forward. In the next two measures, he sets up a groove emphasizing beats one and three by playing chord tones on beats one and three, and passing tones leading up to them on the weaker beats. The last measure and a half adds an interesting twist by flipping the groove around and emphasizing beats two and four, while also leaving out the root note and instead focusing on the fifth.
This funkier, disco-inspired side of McCartney would resurface three years later in a single entitled “Goodnight Tonight.” In addition to a busy disco bass line, the song also features Paul playing chords on his bass. At this point in his career, however, bass lines like this are definitely the exception and not the rule. As he moved away from songs written during his Beatles days, and albums became entirely made up of new material, his bass lines became simpler and simpler, moving more and more towards the traditional bass role.
As his time with Wings was coming to an end, he released his second “true” solo album in 1980, McCartney II, 10 years and one month after the arrival of the McCartney album. On the entire LP, there is only one song with a more composed bass line, a repeating one bar phrase in the second half of “Darkroom.” Experimental in nature, some songs on this album feature synth bass in place of his traditional Hofner, demonstrating that McCartney was keeping up with the latest developments in music and recording. Reportedly, he recorded the entire album at his home, without a mixing console, by plugging microphones directly into the Studer multichannel tape recorder.
After John Lennon’s tragic death in December 1980, came Tug of War (1982), which was started in 1980 as another McCartney solo project with members of Wings and other musicians contributing, including Stevie Wonder. However, the album took nearly two years to finish and during its production, Wings formally disbanded. Pipes of Peace, which followed in 1983, was mostly recorded during the Tug of War sessions, with five new songs recorded in fall 1982 to fill out the LP. These two albums represented an important reunion in McCartney’s recording career as the so-called “fifth Beatle,” producer George Martin, helmed both efforts. They included much more refined work than had been heard on McCartney II.
Although the songs are better developed, the bass playing still sticks to the basics, working to support the song rather than add a new composed part. Now and then we do get glimpses of some inspired playing, such as can be found on Pipes of Peace tracks “Sweetest Little Show” and “Average Person.” Both up-tempo tunes owe much of their energy to Paul’s driving bass lines.
His next albums would follow similar paths in terms of bass playing, until the 1995 release of The Beatles Anthology, Volumes 1, 2 and 3. This comprehensive documentary project, complete with a 10-part TV series, set of three double albums, and a book, involved McCartney reuniting over a five-year period (1990-1995) with George Harrison and Ringo Starr to recount the history of the group. This resulted in also producing two new recordings with the permission of Yoko Ono, based on demos that John Lennon had started, “Free as a Bird,” and “Real Love,” and hours of interviews running through the history of the band for fans around the world.
The Anthology experience moved McCartney and inspired his next album release, Flaming Pie, in many ways a return to more Beatle-esque songwriting and production techniques. McCartney himself said in the liner notes for that album, “The Beatles Anthology was very good for me because it reminded me of The Beatles standards and the standards that we reached with the songs. So in a way it was a refresher that set the course for this album.” The Beatles’ influence is much stronger on this album than anything he put out in the ’80s. “Souvenir” sounds very much like what one might imagine The Beatles would have sounded like had they existed into the ’90s. You’ll even hear Paul play some of those iconic octave runs up the neck during fills he plays on bass.
Moving into the 21st century, McCartney continued his return to form, giving us more glimpses of what The Beatles would have become had they stuck together. In 2001, Driving Rain was released, produced by David Kahne, an American producer best known for his work with The Strokes, Fishbone, Sublime, Sugar Ray, and the Bangles. The 2001 release was recorded in just a few weeks’ time at Henson Studios in LA, with a group of young session musicians who McCartney had literally just met, hired by Kahne. Two of them, Abe Laboriel, Jr., and Rusty Anderson, would become mainstays of McCartney’s touring ensemble for years. There was not one single rehearsal before album recording commenced.
In an interview on The Beatles Bible, McCartney is quoted as saying, “We’d come in on Monday morning, I’d show them a song and we’d start doing it. We didn’t know what was going to happen and it was a little bit into the unknown for all of us.” The spontaneity and new energy that resulted was palpable in the finished recordings. Driving Rain included several songs that brought back the melodic bass lines most associated with Paul’s Beatles-era playing. The song “Magic” in particular contains a line during the verses that can justifiably be called a melody in its own right.
This melodic bass line harkens back to the days of “Something” and “A Day in the Life” in the way that it outlines the chord changes with a variety of rhythms and harmonic emphases. Though for the most part it’s just arpeggiating the chord, there are a few tricks afoot here as well. In three different instances, Paul creates a bit of harmonic unsteadiness by playing the fifth of the chord, instead of the root. In the fifth and seventh measures, by doing this he also anticipates the next chords. It creates a bit of uneasiness that adds to the nostalgic appeal of the song’s story, his bass wandering around the changes like his mind wanders through his memories. The recording also has the bass clearly placed at a higher volume in the mix than his previous solo recordings, further confirming McCartney’s intention to revisit using the bass as a melodic tool rather than simply a harmonic necessity.
Chaos and Creation in The Backyard, released in 2005, is another return to form, both in songwriting and bass playing. “How Kind of You” includes the kind of lazy meandering bass lines in its intro and outro that Paul uses to give songs a dreamy characteristic reminiscent of “A Day in the Life.” Both this album and McCartney’s most recent 2013 solo album, New, include contemporary stylings of classic McCartney approaches to songwriting. His light melodic hooks are there, with the bass bouncing along and supplying no more than necessary, yet there are also clear influences of ’90s and 2000s alternative rock, in part due to his collaboration with producers such as Nigel Godrich, Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth, and Giles Martin.
So what do we ultimately make of Paul McCartney’s development as a bass player throughout his solo career? One thing is clear from a compositional standpoint, his bass-playing on Abbey Road was the apex of his bass playing career. The bass lines he gave us on “Something” and “Come Together” were the culmination of his development with The Beatles, and in his nearly fifty year solo career, his bass lines never quite reached the peak of those recordings in terms of creativity and melodic function.
Does that mean his bass playing declined as his solo career went on? Not at all; he simply changed his focus.
Paul has never been what one might call a flashy bass player. He never took bass solos on record, never pushed the limits of bass technique, and consequently is not often thought of as a technically advanced bassist. What he does have is innate musical creativity and the ability to create memorable vocal melodies and, when inspired, bass lines that were unique. His partnership with John Lennon allowed him more time to focus on using that talent to develop bass lines that perfectly complemented and enhanced each Beatles song.
When he embarked on a solo career, nearly all of his focus shifted to songwriting and managing his own career. Even during his decade with Wings, most of the songs were written or co-written by Paul, and fans and critics often considered his band mates as his sidemen. Ultimately, we would argue that crafting each song into a complete finished work was simply more important to him than bass virtuosity, and his post-Beatles bass playing reflects this philosophy.
His technique did not decline either, as clearly shown in the excerpts displayed above. The bass playing in his solo songs may be a bit more reserved than during the heyday of The Beatles, but everything he plays is rock solid. His ability to lock in a groove has never wavered, and any experienced bassist will tell you that is what matters the most. His bass parts also serve to complement each song throughout his career. If the focus of a pop song is on the vocals, then every other part should serve to support the vocals. Paul McCartney understood that, and that may be the defining characteristic of his post-Beatles bass lines.
This is also the biggest take-away for songwriters and producers hoping to learn from his treatment of the bass: a bass line should first and foremost keep time and establish a harmonic base, but it should also serve the song and not play anything unnecessary. Even with those restraints, a myriad of options exists. Just listen to the differences between these three excerpts of McCartney’s playing. Each does its job, keeping time and establishing a harmonic base, but the way each line goes about doing that significantly changes the feel of the song, without ever overplaying.
Keith Hatschek is a regular contributor to Disc Makers Echoes blog and directs the Music Management Program at University of the Pacific. He has also written two music industry books, How to Get a Job in the Music Industry, which just came out in its third edition, and The Golden Moment: Recording Secrets from the Pros.
Robert Bassett is a freelance engineer, producer, and bassist living in Northern California. He teaches music and plays regularly around the region with a variety of groups.
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By Disc Makers’ Author Andre Calilhanna
One day, perhaps you’ll be touring as an indie or signed artist – getting on a bus while a tour manager handles logistics, accommodations, and meals. Our guide to gigging focuses on getting your indie band on the road, maybe for your first gig ever. Or you may be searching for a strategy to help build your band’s reach by playing gigs in new towns. Or perhaps it’s time to hit the road for a multi-gig tour that spans hundreds of miles.
Whether you’ve brought 75 people to a 150-seat club, 300 to a 600-seat theater, or sold 1,500 tickets for a 3,000-capacity arena, those vacant chairs can weigh on you. A concert promoter is not going to pat you on the back for bringing in enough fans to fill half a venue. Conversely, “SOLD OUT” has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?
Even if you’ve only sold out a coffee shop that holds 30 people, the venue will want to have you back, and word will spread that you packed the place. Maybe it sounds counterintuitive when you want to build a fan base and make money, but some well-placed sold-out shows in smaller clubs can go a long way.
Want to graduate to a premier club in your territory? Finding your way in might take a little creativity.
1. Get familiar with the venue’s calendar. Look for clues. Do they have a standard number of bands on the bill every night? Is there a night where they tend to give new bands a shot?
2. Look for holes. Once you pick up on a club’s booking patterns, you can find holes in their schedule where they need an act.
3. Make sure your music is a match. Once you’ve identified the shows where the venue is possibly looking for bands, narrow it down to the show where you music is a true fit.
4. Target that specific show in your email/phone pitch. Now you are prepared to approach the club’s booker in a way that potentially helps them out. Put the show name and date in the subject line of your email and let them know you would be a good fit to round out that bill. Your chances of getting a response – and a gig – just went way up!
Before you book the big show at the dream club out of town, consider Martin Atkins’ (author or Tour Smart and Break the Band) five-pointed star strategy. Before you book your big show, book five shows in smaller cities/towns surrounding your big gig, all within manageable driving distance. Do everything you can to make fans and friends at these shows, and get email addresses everywhere you go. Maybe this process takes two or three attempts before you’ve got enough legitimate fans, but once you do, you’re ready to book that big club and use your newfound fan base from all five points as a draw.
A house concert is just what the name implies: a concert in someone’s home. Typically, a house concert is an invitation-only event presented by a host, with all the proceeds going to the artist. As a general rule, house concerts are:
Sprinkling house concerts in between club dates can be a great way to fill out your itinerary. It does take coordination to connect with a host and organize the event, and you are relying on your host’s ability to get enough people in the door to make it a success. But house concerts can be an excellent way to personally connect with fans, sell merch, and make decent money.
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By Eugene Foley
By Disc Makers’ Author Eugene Foley
There are numerous music conferences and seminars held across the United States each year. These events offer the opportunity to learn more about the music industry while marketing your project to industry executives and fans, all under the same roof. You must remember that the music business is all about people and personal relationships. Attending a music conference allows you to meet top music industry representatives and personally give them your music. Some of the relationships you build at these events will last for many years.
Most conferences are non-stop action, so well before the event starts, create a plan of which events you want to attend and which speakers you would like to meet and network with. Here are some key pointers to help you get the most out of attending music conferences and educational seminars.
Review the conference’s agenda online and choose which panels and lectures you plan on attending each day. Read the bios of each panelist on the conference’s website. That may help you determine the lectures to attend based on your areas of interest. You may even consider sending an email to select speakers to introduce yourself. Let them know you admire their work and look forward to hearing their presentation. Be sure to personally introduce yourself after their panel or presentation ends.
With so many sessions, how do you choose which ones to attend? My method is a simple two-question test. Will I learn something new about a topic that is important to me? Will I meet someone who could help my career? If the answers are both yes, then that’s a lecture I want to attend.
You never know how many executives you’re going to meet. While most people focus 100% on meeting new people who could help their career, don’t neglect your preexisting contacts. Be sure to make time to say hello to the booking agent or local radio personality you’ve known for years.
If you attend a music conference with a few of your bandmates, split up and attend several different sessions, as that will be more helpful to your group. Take good notes and once you return home, each member can share what they’ve learned and whom they’ve met during their solo mission.
Odds are, many other attendees have the same question you do, but they’re too shy to ask. Speakers appreciate an engaged audience, so ask away! Speaking of being engaged… don’t spend every free moment with your face buried in your phone. Look around the room, make eye contact, talk to other attendees or to a speaker who’s hanging around the lecture hall. Make the most out of this valuable opportunity.
The most common mistake I see musicians making at music conferences is not taking the daytime educational events seriously. Some artists don’t even bother attending the seminars, workshops and mentoring sessions. For those artists, the whole focus is on their showcase performance. While it’s wonderful to have that gig opportunity – and you should embrace it – make sure you remember to get the most you can out of the conference and don’t ignore the morning and afternoon educational events. Partying all night after the show and sleeping in your hotel room all day is not doing your career much good.
Once you get home, wait a day or two and start following up with everyone you met at the conference. Determine if there are any ways you can do business with some of your newly minted contacts.
I encourage you to attend music conferences and educational seminars whenever possible. The music business is constantly changing and evolving. It’s important for you to keep up on important trends, new marketing techniques, emerging technology, and to find out who the top executives are.
When you get to the event, do your best to make the most out of this wonderful opportunity for your career. It’s one of the rare times that artists, industry executives, media reps, corporate sponsors, and fans are all under the same roof and everyone is eager to network and learn.
Good luck in your quest for new contacts and knowledge!
Eugene Foley is the president of Foley Entertainment, a music biz consulting firm and licensed entertainment agency. Foley represents songwriters, artists, labels, managers, producers, and other industry participants. His clients have earned nearly 40 Gold and Platinum records and three GRAMMY® Awards. He’s a frequent guest on television and radio and lectures extensively on artist development, marketing, music publishing, and intellectual property. Foley offers a free music and career evaluation to all unsigned artists.
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By Lucy Briggs
By Disc Makers’ Author Lucy Briggs
Join the Disc Makers Twitter Chat at 4 pm ET on Tuesday, July 19th to learn more about how to make your music the best it can be, with insights from Brian and others in our extensive music community. You are invited to add your voice, questions, opinions, and experience to the conversation! Check out Brian’s blog post, “Mastering Gear and The SoundLAB at Disc Makers,” as a primer for our conversation.
RSVP to our Facebook event page to receive a reminder and share your thoughts with us.
If you have any topic ideas you would like to see us cover in the future, please let us know in the comment section below.
We look forward to hosting more of these events in the future and welcome your ongoing participation!
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By Billy Bones
By Disc Makers’ Author Billy Bones
A big part of getting exposure for your music, as well as building your fan base, is to get more gigs. The more shows you play, the more opportunities will arise. But getting booked for shows isn’t a “one size fits all” process. It’s beneficial to incorporate different methods for getting shows to your routine, as they can lead to different opportunities. As with anything, there are best practices and nuances, including the tips I’ve compiled for you here.
If you’re lucky enough to get a “yes” when contacting promoters and venues directly, you still might be part of an under-promoted night or lineup, especially if it’s an out-of-town spot. But there’s a better way than cold-calling venues as shots in the dark, and it’s also a way to collaborate with some awesome musicians in the meantime. I’m talking about gig swapping, and you’d be amazed at where it can get you, and the fan base it will build.
A gig swap is when you bring an out-of-town band to play with you at your local venue on a night that draws the largest crowds. They play their music to your fans and expand their audience. Then, they return the favor and bring you to their town, in venues where they’ve already networked, and a fan base they’ve already built.
This kind of exchange is a win-win situation for everyone involved, including the audience, who gets to widen their music tastes and potentially find a new artist to follow.
In addition to the marketing reach it gives you, swapping gigs also establishes strong connections between you and other bands in the industry, and builds your fan base exponentially within the span of one performance. This type of networking is a great way to get more gigs and form relationships with other bands – relationships that could turn into tours together and mutual promotional support.
Facebook has some highly effective marketing tools available for bands looking for ways to promote their music. It’s more than just a social media platform – it’s a highly detailed analytics tool that can tell you important information about your fan base and what they like. You can see the cities and states where most of your followers are located and compare that with similar groups in your genre. Use your Facebook fan page to find out which market most of your followers are in, and the fan base that would most likely want to follow you and hear you live.
Facebook has a section in the back end for each artist page called Insights, which can be used to look at your artist page’s engagement and reach for the prior two-week period. This simple tool will help you get a bird’s-eye view of where most of your followers are. From engagement to the number of fans talking about your page, you can also see more detailed metrics, such as how your band’s social media marketing strategy compares with other pages for bands similar to yours.
In addition to helping your marketing strategy mature, you’ll be ready to leverage these metrics to venues and promoters in the area. The strength of your pitch is how much of it you can show on paper. That same data can be used as evidence in your printed and electronic press kits.
There are private groups on Facebook that cater specifically to musicians and are used to get shows, so be sure to take advantage of these highly useful ways of networking. In these private groups, people post show openings when they either need an opener or they can’t attend a show, so many post to these groups looking for other musicians to fill empty slots.
Another great thing about these Facebook musician groups is that they are frequented by promoters and venues looking for new talent, or someone to fill in as a show opener. They tend to post these openings in musician groups at both national and local levels.
Curious where the good Facebook musician groups are? A great way to figure this out is to look for bands in your genre and location that have a significant presence on Facebook through a band page, and see what Facebook musician groups they have joined.
There are different ways of doing this. You could go the route of training somebody to cold-call venues to get gigs. The other route is reaching out to an experienced agency and try to get them to sign you on as a client.
It’s important that you already have some traction before looking for an experienced booking agent. They’re doing what they’re doing to make a living, just like you, so it needs to be worth their time. You can get an experienced booking agent’s attention by getting a following on social media and also inviting them to shows – mainly, just getting on their radar.
This is also a great way to use the data you’ve gathered from analytics of your Facebook fan page. Being able to show a booking agent some impressive numbers and a growing fan base will help boost the agent’s excitement and willingness to work with you. First, show them you have a crowd of audience members following you, and they’ll be far more interested in what you have to say afterwards.
Keep in mind that booking agents typically are the ones searching for the artists, not the other way around. It may be a good idea to consider working with middle agents, who are more focused on representing the client (event planner, promoter, venue) that is booking the gig.
Offer to help promoters with promotion in order to build a relationship with them. Promoters are often willing to help local artists and will provide opening opportunities for them, if they are able to sell enough tickets for an event.
The key to building great relationships with local promoters is “always give before you ask.” The point is – you are offering something before you ask for something, and this immediately puts your relationship with local promoters in a positive light. The more you offer to help, the better the relationship will be.
Billy Bones is the marketing director at Booking Agent Info, a celebrity contact database that provides the official contact info for the agents, managers, and publicists of artists and celebrities. He also writes articles about music and event marketing. You can follow him on Twitter @billybonestx.
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By Chris Huff
By Disc Makers’ Author Chris Huff
Just as a word of preface: if you’re familiar with the life, career, and music of David Bowie and he still does nothing for you, this brief article won’t be convincing. These “lessons” are not hard and fast rules, and the main lesson from his life and work is to forge and follow your own path, and not make your “thing” just a pale imitation of someone else! Much can be learned from studying a great artist and from using his/her ethos and methodology as inspiration for creating one’s own work. That’s something Bowie did, repeatedly, and to great success.
Like so many others, I was shocked and stunned when David Bowie passed away in January of this year. I had the privilege of seeing his last work, the stage play Lazarus, which in retrospect served as an explanation and goodbye letter to his inner circle of fans and friends. Bowie has been a major influence on my life and music. I was lucky to have grown up in the era where he was a major pop star and thus his music, movies, and information on his activities were always readily available. But for younger music professionals out there who may not have had that exposure to him (or older folks who may not have “gotten it” the first time around), I’d like to offer a few words about why Bowie is important to me and things I believe we can all learn from his multi-faceted career and body of work.
A polymath is a person who possesses wide-ranging knowledge in multiple fields, and this certainly describes David Bowie. A voracious reader who never went to college, he educated himself in art, music, literature, theatre, mime, fashion, spirituality, philosophy, and technology. This informed his work and made it deeper and richer than it would have been otherwise. The depth of some of his earlier lyrics may seem pretentious now to some modern ears, but it’s worth noting that in the late ’60s poetic lyrics were very much in fashion.
On the album Hunky Dory alone, he quotes Nietzsche and name drops Aleister Crowley, Andy Warhol, Greta Garbo, Winston Churchill, John Lennon, and Mickey Mouse (among others). He was aware of pop culture and pop art, and he translated these influences through a musical aesthetic based on a hybrid of British pop singers Anthony Newley and Scott Walker, and American poet-rockers Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. And that’s all just for that one particular record!
There were elements of Kabuki theatre, Bertolt Brecht, and mime in his live shows. (What other rock singer was a trained mime?) His interest in theatrical presentation informed the different costumes he wore and the different stage personas he adopted throughout his career: from the flashy androgynous glam of Ziggy Stardust to the minimalism of the Thin White Duke, the suited pop star of Serious Moonlight to the post-grunge drum and bass look of Earthling. Every detail of his live show, records, and videos was meticulously attended to (even if it was “planned sloppiness”) and had a source in his vast sphere of knowledge, sometimes obvious to the listener, sometimes not.
The lesson: David Bowie’s music derives much of its power from the knowledge and depth of imagination of its creator. Read. Listen. Experience art. Study non-musical areas that interest you. Draw and incorporate ideas from these non-musical sources. Continue learning your whole life. These things will make you a richer person and a richer content creator, be you a musician, artist, writer, or audio professional.
David Bowie was an innovator in many areas of music composition and production. From the instrumental “blast-off” section in Space Oddity to the use of a live jazz band to replicate EDM arrangements and sounds on his last album, Blackstar, he was always stretching and reaching out for new and undiscovered territory. Bowie is universally acknowledged as the first rock songwriter to use William Burroughs’ cut-up technique for creating lyrics; the most common way of using cut-up technique is to take a linear page of text, physically cut it up into words and phrases with scissors, then rearrange the words and phrases to create something new. Musically, he threw jazz chords into rock songs, hopped musical genres inside the same record, changed sounds, genres, and visual styles from record to record, and did so with a rooted authenticity, so he always came from a place of authority. It was clear, for example, with the album Young Americans that he wasn’t just embracing the trappings of soul music; he had deeply studied and educated himself in the genre and was coming from a place of admiration and love.
He was among the first rock artists to embrace synthesizers, and consistently adopted and was fascinated by new technology in music and elsewhere. In the studio, he and lifelong collaborator Tony Visconti were always exploring new ways of miking different instruments, the most dramatic being the series of triggered microphones used to record the vocals for “Heroes.” But not only did Bowie embrace this technology, he also endeavored to approach and use it in his own way. The Stylophone was a kids’ toy that ended up on the recording of “Space Oddity.” Bowie has a famous interview about synthesizers where he talks about getting the latest synths and then throwing away the manuals to find sounds on his own; the preset sounds being made in those days mostly by non-musicians. He was also very active in the early phase of the Internet, offering a dial-up ISP in the days where this was the province of only a few major companies and being the first major artist to release a download-only single.
The lesson: Stay open to new things. Learn new technology. When creating something new, throw away old ways of doing things. Follow your crazy ideas into new territory. While many of us won’t ever have the major budgets that Bowie had, it’s worth noting that much of his innovation didn’t involve expensive gear at all (Visconti’s recent breakdown of “Heroes” on the BBC show Music Moguls reveals that one of the percussion instruments was Bowie banging on an empty tape reel.)
Like most solo artists, David Bowie could not do what he did alone. In fact, some of the greatest contributions to the musical history of rock music occurred by the other players on albums under his name. There’s too many to list but briefly:
All of Bowie’s musicians shared two traits in common: he chose them for their ability to make particular sounds he wanted, and he trusted their creative input. This allowed him to let them bring their creativity to the table without much interference from him. Many of Bowie’s collaborators did the best work of their careers on his records. It takes a particular kind of genius to not only get the best from yourself but to be able to bring that out in other people. But the first part of his equation was to have a player with a sound that he didn’t have to micromanage; there was no learning curve, they were already there. He chose great players and he trusted them to make great music, to surprise him, and to bring something to the creative process he couldn’t bring himself. This was a very artistically successful strategy, and often commercially successful for Bowie and the musicians as well.
However, Bowie was not coming to the table himself empty-handed. Many of his collaborators talk about his strong sense of vision, even if he didn’t necessarily know what that vision was going to sound like in the final product. For him, that was part of the fun. But he did demo almost all (if not all) of his songs at home or by himself first before inviting in the collaboration, and would refer the players to those demos as a starting point if the musician was having trouble finding a direction.
Bowie also had some historic collaborations where he was not the center of attention. His production on Lou Reed’s Transformer created Lou Reed’s biggest hit “Walk on the Wild Side.” He also produced Mott The Hoople’s All The Young Dudes, writing their biggest hit of the same title. He worked with pal Iggy Pop, producing two of his records, mixing the last Stooges record, and playing piano on his 1977 tour. And of course, the historic collaboration with Queen resulting in the song, “Under Pressure.”
For Bowie, collaboration was not an opportunity to flex his ego. Although there are a few instances of conflict in his production history, almost all of the musicians talk about what a joy he was to work with and be around. He fostered an environment of freedom and creativity that most musicians crave. And he let people do their thing, and gently encouraged them to the best of their abilities. The widespread grief at his passing and heartfelt tributes from all of the musicians who worked with him really indicates more than anything what a great guy, inspirational bandleader, and creative force David Bowie was.
The lesson: Get your ego out of the way and enjoy the creativity of your collaborators. Have a strong vision and choose to work with musicians who support that vision sonically. Give other musicians the freedom to bring their best work to the table.
Chris Huff has been a professional singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer for over 20 years. He has worked as a sideman with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul, and Mary), Echo and the Bunnymen, Chuck Hammer (David Bowie, Lou Reed), and Tom Kitt (Broadway composer of Next To Normal). Chris also wrote liner notes for David Bowie’s Live And Well CD, and has two full-length albums of original music available on iTunes.
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By Brian Lipski
By Disc Makers’ Author Brian Lipski
Mastering is the final step in the recording process. Mastering takes place after the mixing process (post-production) with specialized mastering gear designed to optimize and add the final touches to your recordings. When you send your master to a professional mastering studio like The SoundLAB at Disc Makers, your overall program level is set, as well as the song-to-song (relative) levels. EQ, compression, and other digital processing is also used to make your recorded material sound as good as possible when played in the various listening environments of your listeners.
Once optimized through mastering, we transfer the recorded material to a “production master” for our manufacturing plant to make the actual copies. In all, the team of engineers in The SoundLAB at Disc Makers master over 2,000 albums and singles each year!
Here’s an introduction and overview of the mastering gear we use at The SoundLAB when preparing your mixes to help ensure you get the best results.
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Focusrite Blue 330 compressor
This is a stereo compressor designed specifically for mastering engineers. It allows us to control the dynamic range of a mix, smooth out elements that may be sticking out too much – like vocals – and glue everything together for a consistent sound. Adding some mild compression to a mix also allows us to begin raising the overall volume of the recording.
Lavry Blue D/A and A/D convertors
When mixing a combination of analog and digital mastering gear, it’s important to use high quality convertors at each stage to preserve the resolution of the audio. In our case, we typically play back a hi-resolution digital source file in our workstation and then convert it to an analog signal using our Lavry Blue convertors. We then pass the signal through our analog EQ and compressor, re-converting to a digital signal (again through the Lavry), and then run it through any digital tools we need for the session and capture that digital output back in our workstations. The Lavry units are sonically transparent, low noise convertors that can capture the subtle EQ and detail of the mastered audio.
GML 9500 analog mastering EQ
An equalizer allows a mastering engineer to boost or cut frequencies in a mix. An engineer may decide to roll off low frequency information in a mix that is boomy and bass heavy, boost midrange frequencies to enhance the vocal range, or add some subtle detail to the top end to bring out ambience and clarity. The GML 9500 analog EQ from George Massenburg Labs is a stereo mastering EQ featuring five bands of parametric EQ, detented pots for accurate recall of session settings, and extremely low noise and distortion to keep the signal clean. This is the main EQ in our Blue mastering room.
Weiss EQ-1 digital EQ
The Weiss EQ-1 is a seven-band digital EQ designed specifically for mastering studios. Much like the GML EQ, this piece of mastering gear gives the engineer very precise control when cutting to boosting different frequencies to correct issues in a mix or enhance certain elements. Being an all-digital unit, it is extremely clean, quiet, and sonically neutral.
Weiss DS-1 Compressor, limiter, de-esser
The Weiss DS-1 unit allows the mastering engineer to compress, limit, or de-ess a mix. Limiting a mix reduces the level of transients or spikes in the recording, and allows the overall volume to be increased, sometimes dramatically. The Weiss unit is extremely transparent when used as a stereo limiter, allowing the engineer to increase the overall volume of a recording while not imparting a harsh or “squashed” sound to the master. When used in split-band mode, it allows the engineer to compress a certain frequency range, which is very useful for controlling the low end of a recording and can be used to add punch to the bass/kick in a recording.
Dynaudio M3 monitors
The Blue room features a pair of Dynaudio M3 passive monitors. These are full range monitors that contain (2) 12” woofers, (2) 6” mid-range drivers, and a 1” tweeter. They are extremely detailed monitors and are able to handle high volumes without breaking up. Featuring a very flat response, particularly in the low frequencies, they allow a mastering engineer to hear any low frequency rumble or boominess that may be missed when mixing on smaller monitors. That’s essential if those issues are to be corrected with EQ cuts during the session.
Brian Lipski is the manager of The SoundLAB at Disc Makers, and has been a mastering engineer there for over 20 years. He has personally mastered thousands of releases in his time at The SoundLAB.
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By Disc Makers’ Author Adrienne Branson
This post originally appeared on The Design School Blog at Canva. Reposted with permission.
Facebook wasn’t the first social network, but it has been around since 2004, which makes it fairly ancient by Internet standards. As such, Facebook has been through changes and growth and has become one of the more complicated social networks, and it doesn’t offer much by way of automation.
But there’s no doubt that Facebook marketing can help you build your band’s brand and reach, so keep reading to learn about the many components that go into a successful Facebook marketing campaign — from A to Z!
For over five years now, Facebook hasn’t shown its newsfeed to users in chronological order. Instead, Facebook has been perfecting an algorithm for selecting the updates that appear in the newsfeed.
This is important because every time you log on to Facebook, between 1,500 and 15,000 new updates have been created by your friends and pages you follow. You can’t possibly scroll through all those updates every time you log in, so Facebook uses key factors like engagement to determine what is shown to each user.
After you post an update to your personal or artist page, you have the option to boost it. Boosts can be an effective means to reach and grow your audience when used correctly. Sometimes, if an update is particularly successful, Facebook will prompt you to boost it to reach a broader audience.
Your call-to-action button is among the series of buttons at the bottom of your page’s cover photo (left of the Like button). It won’t be there by default, you need to set it when you are configuring your page. You can drive your Facebook page visitors to purchase your latest CD, download a single, sign up for your newsletter, or perform whatever action you are promoting.
It is important to engage and encourage discussion in your community, either by asking questions or making statements that incite commentary. Indeed, comments can be one of the most enthralling parts of a Facebook update. You can even be provocative and create a bit of healthy controversy just to get people talking.
As mentioned in the discussion section above, engagement is king on Facebook. While the algorithm function helps, it will only show your update to a subset of your total fans. You have to earn a greater organic reach by proving that your updates are engaging, inciting likes and other reactions, comments, shares, and clicks. Put simply, the more your fans engage with your updates, the more people will see them.
Frequency is an important and largely underappreciated statistic that you can find in Ad Manager. It tells you how many times, on average, the users you’ve targeted have seen your ads.
You don’t want it to be too low, as people might miss your ad the first or second time they get an ad impression. On the other hand, you don’t want your frequency to be too high, because that means same people are repeatedly seeing your ads. AdEspresso recommends making changes to your campaigns when your frequency hits 5, and never letting it go above 10.
If your fans are taking the time to engage with you — commenting on your posts, writing on your page, or sending you messages — you should acknowledge the time they took to write to you and respond in some way. Facebook actually puts a visible metric on your response rate. If you have a response rate over 90% and an average response time of 15 minutes, you will earn the coveted green “very responsive to messages” badge.
Humor is a great unifier. Don’t you want to be the brand that puts a smile on someone’s face? Not every update ought to be a joke, but memes, funny quotes, and hilarious videos are something we all appreciate from time to time. These types of updates, used with moderation and focusing on a type of humor your particular audience can appreciate, are great for earning engagement and shares.
Insights are Facebook’s version of analytics. Learn from your successes and failures by analyzing how your updates performed after the fact. You can access Insights by clicking the tab for them at the top of your page.
Pay special attention to your recent updates that earned especially high reach and engagement. When did you post them? What kind of posts were they? Use this information to inform future posts.
Use your best judgment to determine what is and is not appropriate for your audience. Be cautious of being labeled a copycat, as over-using holiday themes, current events, and passing trends for your marketing campaigns can backfire. Be choosey about which bandwagons you jump onto, and be willing to blaze your own trail from time to time.
Key Performance Indicator (KPI)
KPI stands for Key Performance Indicator, which are the metrics that tell you how your Facebook page is performing, and it goes beyond just your number of likes. How big of a reach are you managing on the average post? How much and what kind of engagement are you getting? How much traffic is Facebook sending to your website? These are important numbers to understand if you are relying on Facebook marketing to build your brand.
This is perhaps the most predictable statement in this entire post: likes are important. Likes are the social currency of Facebook. Don’t dilute your numbers with fake fans: it’s disrespectful to your true fans, and it will likely backfire. By filling your roster with fake fans, your reach and engagement will drop because the supply of people who will actually see and interact with your updates will be smaller. Earn your likes and fans by posting valuable content.
Close to half of Facebook’s users only ever use Facebook from a mobile device – a phone or tablet versus a computer. This is why it is increasingly important to have a mobile-friendly website, phone-friendly updates, and embrace newsfeed ads which can actually reach users on mobile devices.
The newsfeed is the primary location from which most of your fans will interact with your posts. It is so easy for a Facebook user to find themselves just mindlessly scrolling down the newsfeed. The Facebook algorithm determines what is shown a newsfeed, balancing all the posts from a user’s network of friends with the occasional post from a page or ad. If you are earning more engagement with your updates, they are more likely to appear here.
Open graph meta tags help you control how your website content appears when shared on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. You can get as granular as setting a default photo to load in when someone shares your URL, as well as an article title and description specific to Facebook. If you are running your site on WordPress, the free plugin Yoast SEO has a tab for setting Facebook’s open graph meta tags built in.
Share the most eye-catching, unique, and relevant images you can. Original imagery is more likely to garner attention than the same stock photos everyone else is using, but you want to make sure those photos are high quality. Whenever possible, always post an image with the updates you make as they will increase the screen real estate your update occupies in the newsfeed, making it more likely to be seen. If you don’t like the default image that is being pulled in from the URLs you share, you can replace them by clicking the plus icon and uploading a new image.
Quality vs. Quantity
Posting on Facebook is a balance of quality versus quantity. On one hand, your updates do not reach a very large subset of your followers, so posting more often should conceivably help you connect with more of your fans on a regular basis. However, when you constantly post content, it is difficult to maintain the quality you want associated with your brand. Strike a balance early on, and while you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment, when you find something that works, stay consistent.
Organic reach is the number of people your updates are shown to for free. It is surprisingly small, and getting smaller all the time; one study puts it at 2.6% on average in 2015. Paid reach is the audience you pay for with ads or boosted posts. To increase your reach, post engaging updates that people are more likely to react to, click on, comment on, or share.
Inspiring your fans to share your posts is one of the fastest ways to get an update to reach a larger audience. If your fans share your update, some of their friends will see it, and those friends may in turn pass it on to their own fans. But it isn’t as simple as just asking your audience to share, you need to post something that people want to share with their friends. That could be something useful, something unbelievable, something funny – it varies with every audience. Again, you need to experiment, there’s no exact science to it.
Facebook has some of the most sophisticated targeting options in the marketing world. Choosing your audience properly can be difficult, but it is of vital importance. Go too broad, and you may reach people who are not interested in your message, which is a waste of your money. Go too narrow, and you will pay more than necessary, or miss your ideal audience entirely.
Your updates need to be user-centric. Don’t post something self-promotional every time you update. Whether it’s inspiring images, interesting videos, or the latest news in your industry, your fans want to see more than just links to your website. Whatever you post, make sure that first and foremost, you are thinking about what your fans will get out of it.
Thanks to the fact that videos on Facebook auto-play, videos are perhaps the most engaging type of update. Videos regularly reach a greater percentage of fans on the pages I manage than other types of posts, like photos or links. In 2015, Facebook users watched over 100 million hours of video on Facebook.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is one of the best ways to grow an audience naturally. People trust the opinions of their friends. You can benefit from this social proof by targeting some of your ads to your fan’s friends. These ads will stay front and center, and indicate which of their friends like the page, which is a really powerful motivator.
X Marks the Spot
No, there is no secret treasure map that will tell you exactly how to target your ads, or when to post your updates to catch most of your fans online. It will take careful analysis of your Insights, and experimentation, to discover what works. One of the best things you can do to chart your course is to take notes on your most successful updates and ads, and see if you can replicate them in the future.
Your updates should always address the “you,” not the “me.” Use second person, not first person, to make a stronger connection with your audience. This is just good copywriting!
Where your Facebook marketing is concerned, you absolutely want a fanatical following of brand zealots who comment positively on your updates, share your posts, and spread the good word to their friends. These are your SuperFans. Do your best to cultivate your fans, turning them into raving fans. They are some of the best assets a brand can have.
Adrienne Branson is a freelance writer who contributes to The Design School Blog at Canva. She grew up enthralled by the Internet and social media. She loves a well-organized Pinterest board, walking her dogs, and following the music scene in her city.
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By Disc Makers’ Author Michael Gallant
For many indie musicians, having a career in music means being a business person one minute and an artist the next. It can be a challenging duality — especially if all you want to do is focus on your music — but in many cases, it’s a necessary one. Luckily, there are a variety of tools available that can make the business of music significantly less painful.
Don’t have time to craft thoughtful and engaging tweets to engage your fan base on a daily basis? Tools exist to make the whole process easier.
With the help of utilities like HootSuite, TweetDeck, and Sprout Social, you can write and schedule all of your social media posts for the next week, month, or longer in a single sitting. Got an off day on the road? Spend a couple hours in a coffee shop composing tweets and status updates and your social media promotion could be done for the rest of your tour.
To get started, check out the following articles, which detail some of the top social media management tools:
The Best Social Media Management Tools
The 17 Best Social Media Management Tools
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Whether you’re launching a new single or spreading word on a last-minute show, email blasts to your fans can be a great tool to get downloads flowing and audience members in the door. That said, pasting hundreds of email addresses into the “bcc” field of your email program can be a time-consuming and headache-inducing pain. Luckily there are other ways to get your announcements where they need to be.
Programs like MailChimp and Constant Contact allow you to group your fans into different lists — fans in Alabama, fans in the entire southern United States, and fans across the entire country, for example — and build and send emails only to the lists you want to target at any given point. Plus, you can schedule emails far in advance, so you don’t have stay up until dawn after a show on tour, prepping your email reminder for the next day’s performance.
Consider the following scenarios:
1.You’re getting ready to tour and want to fill every venue you’re playing with fans. To that end, you want to send personalized invitations to everyone who saw you in concert the last time you played in Phoenix, Arizona and other cities you’ll be visiting.
2. You’re getting ready to release a new album and want to send hand-written pre-sale offers only to people who purchased your last album within the first week it came out.
In both situations, and many others, investing the time to get a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system working for you can pay you back in dividends.
CRMs are normally used by corporations, sales professionals, and small companies to keep track of their customers in detail. When used correctly and diligently, CRMs can be of great value to indie musicians as well.
The concept is simple: Every time you meet a new fan or friend, enter that person’s info your CRM software, along with any pertinent and interesting info — what shows they attended, which albums they bought, what songs they told you they liked, and so on. Later on, when it comes time for the next album or visit to your fans’ city, that information can help you reach out in just the right way to continue building the relationship.
If the thought of using a CRM makes your eyes glaze over, you’re not alone. But before you rule it out completely, understand that CRMs need not be complicated, time consuming, or expensive. In fact there are many basic CRMs that are free to download and intuitive to learn and use. Check out the following lists for starters and see if you can find a CRM that feels good to you:
If you’re an active musician, chances are you’ve had situations where you felt like your head was going to explode with “to dos.” Whether it’s organizing gear, transportation, gig listings, bookings for an extended tour, or lining up the players and engineers for a session in the studio, taking your music out of your head and putting it into the ears of your fans can be a complicated, multi-step process.
If piles of post-It notes or mental checklists leave you feeling confused and disorganized, consider using a task manager program. Lots of free and easy-to-use programs exist that let you get the lists out of your brain, and onto your laptop and smartphone in a quick and painless way.
As a personal note, I’ve started using MeisterTask to help me get organized for gigs and sessions and have been very happy with the results. Below are lists to help you investigate further and see if there’s a task manager that’s right for you. As with any sort of tool mentioned in this article, trial and error is key — spend a few minutes or hours playing around with different task managers and find the one that feels the smoothest, easiest, and most intuitive for you. There are no right answers here, just options that can hopefully help you clear your mind of business details and make space for more brilliant musical ideas.
If you’re like many musicians, you want to make your art and not worry about the finances. Unfortunately, money is something artists nearly always have to think about. Again, there are tools that can make such tasks smoother and less painful with a few button clicks.
Check out the links below for suggestions for free and simple-to-use accounting apps. With tools like these, you can easily track your expenses so you’re not left high and dry come tax time, scrambling through piles of receipts. Tools like these can also help you track budgets for big projects like recording sessions and tours — and help you keep track of who owes you money as well.
Do you have any favorite software tools that help you spend less time on business details and more time making music? Tell us in the comments below!
Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant‘s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, jam along with the new JamBandit app, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.
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