Influences

After hearing Lisa Gerrard talk last month, I’ve been thinking a bit about the people who have influenced my music. I’m not unique in saying that everything in my life influences me to some extent, so it is often hard to pin down.  But then at critical moments, such as when you have a chance to hear someone speak, or when someone dies, it becomes crystal clear what their contribution has been to your growth as a musician and artist. Here are some of my such moments.

My mum, while not musically skilled herself, loved music and always had music playing while I was growing up. I would sing along to various records for children, and then later, middle of the road popular music. My parents encouraged me to buy a recorder as my first instrument.  They bought me a book on how to play it, and I proceeded to teach myself to read music and play the recorder.

My first music teacher Mrs Willis taught me the piano and music theory. She stopped me from tapping my foot while playing by doing a caricature of a blues musician with fag hanging out of their mouth.  I was very anti-smoking, so was sufficiently horrified to stop tapping my foot.

My brief attendance of Baptist Sunday school led to a sudden understanding of vocal harmony lines, as I heard one of the Sunday school teachers singing a descant a third above the melody line for the song “I am redeemed”.  I joined in, and became aware of harmonising forever after that.

My brother was not so much a musical influence, but an enabler, by including me in his garage band, going halves on buying our first electric piano, giving me my first multi-tracker and synthesizer. My partner has also been an enabler in that respect, by buying me my Ensoniq TS-10, which became an important part of my sound for my first two albums.

Some artists that influenced my sound early on included Eurhythmics (for showing me how to do pop music without guitars), Ginger Baker of Cream (how to do a drum part), Enya (broadening possibilities for my music), DeadcanDance (showing me that it is possible to have both songs and pieces on an album), an obscure UK band called The In Ovo who demonstrated the kind of thing I wanted to do with world pop. Before all that I absorbed a lot about song craft from bands like the Beatles, and a passion for variety in my music from Queen.

Later music teachers have included my singing teacher Elizabeth van Rompaey, who took me from knowing nothing about my voice to knowing how to sing well.  Also importantly, she taught me that you work at your singing technique (and song interpretation) “all your life”. It’s not really a case of getting the technique and you’re finished.

For performance, in addition to Elizabeth, I learnt much about tuning from Ian Harrison, who conducted the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic choir during my first year of singing in that choir. I continue to learn about tuning in practice, with some specific memories from Sarah Chan, and also from much stairwell singing with my duet partner Din.

For writing sheet music that reflects popular music’s syncopated rhythms I credit Kirby Shaw, who I had the chance to meet last year. His choral jazz arrangements taught me a lot.

I continue to learn more about music.  Currently I’m picking up a few useful tips via some interviews on The Music Prosperity Summit.  Maybe they’ll be useful for you too.  There’s a time limit on them though, so check them quickly.

 

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Money for Nothing or Nothing for Something

A friend of mine recently blogged about preferring to give away her music, and not supporting current copyright laws, as it favours record companies over artists.  She gets lots of performances of her compositions worldwide as a result.  That’s great, and everyone has a right to make their own decisions about their intellectual property.  My personal view is different.

For quite a few centuries of Western history, there have been people employed as artists and musicians.  For the majority of that time they were employed by nobility to compose and perform.  Painters and sculptors were commissioned to paint portraits, create sculptures and so on.  The money wasn’t great, but it was possible to live on the income of an artist.   Later artists had to support themselves as best they could.  I’d like to highlight a couple of examples.

Bach is known to have neglected the duties of his day job in order to complete his great works.  Imagine what additional wonderful works we could have had if he didn’t need to balance his composition time with other duties.  The balance between composition and other duties is far worse for modern composers, some of whom I dearly wish had more composition time in their lives.

Mozart died fairly young as a pauper, with intermittent support from patrons and commissions during his short life.  Imagine what he could have produced in a longer life.

Schubert supported himself with teaching (and from what I recall, his heart wasn’t really in it).  He was already prolific and accomplished.  What else would he have produced?

There is a movement amongst musicians to establish a “musical middle class”, and I support this trend.  This refers to musicians who are not top of the charts or amateurs being able to earn a decent living, sufficient to have a home, vehicle/transport and raise a child.  Usually this involves having a combination of income sources from gigs, album sales, sheet music sales, merchandise, downloads, sync licensing and teaching.  My own music income has come from the following in descending order:

* music lessons

* sheet music sales
* album sales

* gigs
* live performance returns

* singing competition prizes

* downloads

* busking

* streaming income
If I were more active, then gigs, busking and conducting/teaching would probably be a larger portion of that.
A new trend that is worthwhile is what I would call the micro-patron, made possible via the internet on such sites as Patreon.  Historically a patron would support an artist completely.  Now, we have a system where many people can support an artist a little bit, allowing the artist to continue to provide new content for general consumption.
I’ve written about streaming income before.  I was amused at dafuq’s recent article on living on your spotify income.  It reminds me of those poverty awareness campaigns where you try to live on $2 a day.
Other ways I’ve known artists to survive and still be artists is through the dole.  I recall artist acquaintances referring to it as “government arts grants”.  It is certainly the easiest type of grant to get, particularly given the huge reduction in government spending on the arts in recent years.
Some people say that artists need to suffer in order to produce great work.  The “starving artist” is a much stated cliché.  While I agree that suffering can be inspiring, the suffering doesn’t need to be of a financial nature.  In my case it is more to do with my inner life, and I’m sure that’s the case for other artists who use their suffering as input to their artistic expression.
For now I’m not giving up my day job  (which has its own intellectual rewards), but I’m also not giving up the dream of earning enough from my artistic endeavours to cover my costs and labour.

Streaming Income

I was thinking about how most music discovery is via streaming services rather than radio these days, and how that compares for the indie musician.  For commercial radio or television, the royalties to composers is in the hundreds of dollars, but this is usually broadcast to a mass audience.  The streaming situation is different in that people can choose which tracks to listen to and the audience is one person.

Current streaming services pay copyright owners up to 2 cents per play, with many sites paying a tiny fraction of a cent.  The lower end of these rates is definitely too low, and the upper end is a rate that I consider to be reasonable.  If you imagine the purchase of a typical track for a dollar, if it is a favourite, it will be listened to hundreds of times, whereas a track that was purchased but not really liked may only get a couple of plays.  The majority of tracks would be somewhere between those extremes, so maybe at 100 plays, making it 1c per play.  So any pricing scheme that is at about 1c per play is fair.  This is only a rough estimate, but I think it’s a reasonable one.

Striking While the Iron’s Hot

I’ve often scribbled down ideas for songs, compositions and other creations, only to leave them languishing for years, possibly never to be finished.  About seven years ago I decided that I would try to actually finish the things that I started when inspiration strikes, since I wanted to capture the experiences behind the inspiration before they disappeared.  The result was many of the songs on my current album On the Rocks, as well as many other creations.

Having recently come back from Japan, I was full of memories and feelings that I wanted to process through song, text and imagery.  I have gone some way towards that goal, but find that I’m about to travel again without having finished processing my Japan memories.  I have a tight deadline, as my next trip, while it is only to Sydney, will again overwhelm me due to the intense experience that is being part of an intervarsity choral festival.  I don’t want to lose the Japan experience from my mind so soon.

On the other hand, if there is a creation that has been stalled, I can easily start it again when a matching mood hits me.  The meanings and stories may change but the mood remains the same.  Let’s see what happens when I return from my next trip.

Album Launch

My album launch has been scheduled to occur on Saturday 25th October at 7pm at Hares and Hyenas bookstore in Fitzroy.

This gig is a joint gig with RMIT Occasional Choral Society (ROCS) and Queermance Writers Festival, and promises to be a very entertaining variety show.

I’ll be performing a couple of the ballads from my album at the electric piano, a few of my a cappella compositions using a looper, plus a few things that aren’t on my albums.  In particular, to suit the cabaret style event and the general theme of “impeccably questionable taste”, it is a rare chance to hear several of my catches in one night.  These are rounds with hidden messages that are revealed when all parts are heard together and certain syllables are emphasised.  I’ve also written a song on the Queermance theme especially for the gig.

When I’m not doing my solo stuff I’ll be singing with (and occasionally accompanying) various ensemble groups doing songs from musicals as well as a couple of madrigals.  Listen out for the surprise madrigal!

A selection of songs from my albums that I won’t be performing on the night will be heard during the intervals.

There will be a raffle on the night with some amazing prizes, including a $300 corset.

I hope you can make it!

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More info available at the Facebook event.

On the Rocks album is a reality

After nearly 7 years in the making, my third album is finally a physical reality.  It contains 20 tracks that are my usual range of diversity: a cappella to electronic, with quite a few ballads this time.  This is the first album to use acoustic instruments.  On two tracks I play the recorder, in one case multi-tracked to about 6 tracks (My Anchor).  In another I have a saxaphone solo by Trent Howard in the song Scared. Samples of some of his takes are used in two other songs: Too Far and Tiny Blade.  Katherine Sivieng features as a vocalist in one of the bonus tracks (Song for Ben).  The wonderful album cover was designed by Brenden James.  Some of his photography can be seen on YouTubeDarren McKinty (aka Xaeja, aka Dags) gave lots of help sprucing up the audio quality.  If you want to hire a sound engineer “up Upwey way”, then I heartily recommend him.  Mastered by Crystal Mastering.

I don’t have digital distribution yet, but if you want to hear some of the album drafts, you can find them on SoundCloud.  Some have changed dramatically for the album – particularly Drowning.  The Too Far album draft is used in my video.

The first CD sale was on Sunday.  So it begins…