Friday, 23 March 2012
The making of an album
One of my favourite blogs is The Pop Cop and he recently wrote an excellent piece about the costs to musicians as they attempt to push forward with their music and their creativity to raise the money required to do just that.
Being in a band costs money; the equipment – guitars, bass, drums, keys, synths, amps, mics, strings, skins. And that is what you need before you even start. Then you need to rehearse so there is the costs of travel and the cost of rehearsal space in a practice room. Then there are gigs, at the start you’ll be lucky to get a few beers and some money towards travel. Then what about recording some songs? You could use Garage Band or something, but if you are a live band with drums then you probably want to go into a studio – more money.
You could release your recordings and sell them, but it also costs money to print up CD’s, even more to print up some vinyl. Pushing ahead with merch you could design and print some t-shirts, get some tote bags…..more outlay in the hope that you will recoup some money. So it isn’t easy.
Record companies have been fast to recognise the importance of the live circuit as record sales diminish – unless you are Adele or Lady Gaga. Young bands are not far behind. Putting on your own gig is a great way to make some money that can finance some of the above – equipment, rehearsal time, studio time, printing cd’s. I’ll talk about this further below.
It all takes time….and money.
I am currently very excited about one of the acts I co-manage, Sonny Marvello, getting close to completing their album. It has been a long road, you wouldn’t believe some of the things that have happened to the band in their personal lives during that time, never mind the band stuff.
Introducing the band
I started working with Sonny in May 2009 having first seen them in November 2008 in Sloans Ballroom at an aftershow party for Glasgow versus Cancer. They were the most exciting band I had seen in ages, tight as f**k on stage and off, a real chemistry, songs that made me want to dance, guitar pop with melodies and choruses that stuck in my head immediately.
I sat down with the singer and songwriter Stephen for 4 or 5 pints of Stella in the 13th Note and learned about the history of the band. We talked about the aim and it was clear that Stephen wanted to get into a proper studio to record the songs that he had building up. The very next week the bass player Craig gave me 2 cd’s of demos of varying quality in terms of sound – some live round a mic, some at a cheap studio, some on to a laptop. There were a lot of songs. I immediately suggested putting out an album of demos as there was some cracking stuff.
In the basement of Oxfam Music, Byres Road, summer 2009
What I have learned is that talented people don’t like to put out something that is unfinished or a product that doesn’t show their skills to full effect. There is a saying that a songwriter/producer never truly finishes something, they just get to the stage where they let it go. I understand that now.
Anyway, back to the story. I wanted to demonstrate my faith in the band and also some managerial skills, so I promptly booked Stereo for June to get some money in. There was a great crowd and after paying support acts and the hire/sound engineer we cleared £400. We booked Stereo again for August and cleared a similar amount, so we booked 2-days at Cava Studios in Glasgow, a top class studio favoured by Belle and Sebastian amongst others.
Sonny Marvello, Stereo, Summer 2009
More lessons were to be learned – we went in to smash 2 songs in 2 days. No problem in terms of the bands musicianship, they would nail them. However there is a lot of time spent on production after that and we were kind of relying on a little bit of extra work being out in by the lovely producer Brian McNeil. The two songs recorded were the incredibly catchy ‘Easy Boys’ and the epic ‘We’re All Cruel’, the idea being to show off two sides to the band – the ear for pop (that is evident in all Sonny songs really) and the ability to soar where other bands can only dream of. Sorted.
We then found out that the Bluesbunny blog would be interested in putting out a single on vinyl – magic. And he would get the songs mastered at Abbey Road – FAB! As Beatles nuts this was a bit of a dream.
The cover of the debut single, released on glorious red heavyweight vinyl
More lessons to be learned – the masters didn’t sound as good as we had hoped. We really should have got them mastered at Cava. Also, we should probably have found the cash and booked another day at Cava just to tweak a few things.
However we wanted to get a single out, so we went for it.
Another lesson learned – it is great if someone who has a little record company as a hobby offers to put something out and getting that delivery of heavyweight red vinyl 7-inches put a huge smile on my face, however you kind of expect them to do some promo around the release. That didn’t happen and I wish I had been a bit more thorough in finding that out. I could have done it myself – sent some promo copies out etc etc.
Being in a band is like being in a dream a lot of the time, as is having your own little record company, or being a band manager for that matter. Sometimes real life gets in the way – illness, death, money matters, love, the loss of love, weddings, births…..
So no promo was done for the single.
We pushed on with plans to get an album together. I think we played Stereo twice again in 2010 and decided we didn’t have enough money to get the time required to record an EP at Cava. Thankfully a friend and fan of the band – Ross Hamilton, had set up his own studio, Rocket Science, above the Stand Comedy Club with his friend Michael Bannister. Ross and Michael love their pop music and the immediately ‘got’ Sonny Marvello and what they wanted to achieve.
The resulting ‘Pull Me Up’ EP featured – Pull Me Up, Made of Magic, My Lover and a reworked We’re All Cruel. We released it ourselves and got a bit of promo with some blog reviews and an excellent Daily Record review;
"What a joyous, glorious tune. Like The Monkees doing ELO, Pull Me Up is just perfect to banish the winter blues. The five-strong group from Castlemilk, Glasgow, are ones to watch in 2011. Every track on their debut EP is a sure-fire winner. Made Of Magic has the joy of Beatle-era Paul McCartney, stuffed with harmonies. Then it's all change with the rock-out of My Lover. Finally, the electro-pop of We're All Cruel has the melodic catchiness that has deserted Brandon Flowers of late. A truly exciting prospect." Daily Record review of the Pull Me Up EP, Nov 2010
The cover of the Pull Me Up EP
All good stuff. What was the next plan? Well we had a big meeting in early 2011 to discuss ideas for more money to get more recording time. Sonny Marvello like to be a little different and I love a bit of a gimmick myself. We didn’t want to so Stereo again, that was the easy option. So I suggested forming a fanclub and came up with the idea of the 100 Club after the famous punk venue in London. 100 members paying £10 to join the club; they would get a mini-album, access to an exclusive show, a badge, chance to appear in a video, name on the website and a free download of the early Sonny Marvello favourite ‘Who Needs Somebody’ – Not bad for a tenner!
We sold out 70 memberships within a week and then over the course of 4-5 weeks we got to the magic 100. With a little bit of spare cash we booked into Rocket Science for 1-day and the band recorded the 100 club mini-acoustic album featuring; Welcome to the 100 Club, Invisible Girl, Hold Me Sway, Charlie Sheen (You’re Living My Dream) and the glorious Fire Went Out. Despite saying that these songs would never be released elsewhere we knew immediately that ‘Fire Went Out’ would be on the album proper. It was pretty much written and recorded in a day and it sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.
In May the band played and spoke at the Apple Store in Buchanan Street and we decided to have the 100 Club party afterwards in the vintage clothes store Ruby Tuesdays on Bath Street (now closed sadly). It was a riot of a night, we bought beer, wine and cider in for everyone, someone brought Sambuca and the changing room ended up being ‘the sambuca room’. The band played a brilliant set with everyone singing along and trying on vintage hats.
It was one of the best nights out I have ever had. Thankfully I had booked the Friday off work!
The mini-album is brilliant and I know the band favour that method of recording, just going in and getting it down.
With the 100 Club money and some money made from a King Tuts support slot to Florrie, the band went back into Rocket Science to record a new song ‘Tiny Little Sparks’ that they had played for the first time at King Tuts. It is f**king epic and I forwarded it round a few people as soon as it was mastered. Craig McGee decided to play it on BBC Radio 1 Introducing during his slot with Ally McCrae and it sounded brilliant coming out of the radio with Ally declaring 'I can see that (Tiny Little Sparks) in a festival field with people bouncing and bouncing.'
Other songs were recorded during the summer with quite a lot of goodwill being shown by Ross and Michael, who as fans of the band were now spending their own spare time in the studio with the band. ‘Land of the Lost Cause’, ‘Wishlist’ and ‘Whispering Song’ and ‘Paint The Sky’ were knocked out quickly with Ross and Michael then spending considerable time on the production.
The band and I had become friends with Kevin Harper – a songwriter, singer, guitarist, producer, walking encyclopedia of music and film and all round good guy. Kev asked to record Sonny Marvello for free at his studio. Stephen had a new song called ‘Young Offender’ written after hearing a story about a young girl his wife Hayley worked with. So the band went down to Kev’s studio and produced a glorious piece of guitar pop.
We decided to release another EP (Tiny Little Sparks) in October as work continued on the album and the band played Stirling, Perth, Inverness and Skye to promote it. We wanted to do something different again and after being overlooked by festivals, something I find quite incredible considering how talented the band are and how festival friendly their songs are, we decided to put on our own festival. I looked at campsites, but wanting to keep things simple and in the event of rain I booked Roawardennan Youth Hostel on the banks of Loch Lomond.
With 75 beds we kept 15 back for the band, girlfriends and wife, sound engineer, a magician, photographer, me and Kev. We then sold out the rest and had an amazing day and night.
There was then a bit of a dip, as I think happens with most bands and people of an artistic nature. Energy can sap, especially after being involved in so many things – the 100 club, writing and recording, the mini-tour, putting on our own festival…After so many highs it was back to the reality of having no money and still needing to complete the album.
With the little money we had from the tour and EP sales we went into Rocket Science to record another new song called ‘Automatic’ – pop music in its purest form.
We then downed tools for a couple of months, skint and exhausted and emotionally drained after some terrible news suffered by two members of the band as loved ones were snatched from them in two very different ways.
I booked an over-14’s show for February, keen to get the band back on track. The band are genuinely loved by kids in Castlemilk and there had been a growing demand for them to play a show they could get into. At times I wondered (as did the band) if the show would take place due to everything that was going on outwith the band.
A first rehearsal since October and a few beers brought back the magic and the kids loved the show.
And after some bad luck came some good luck. ‘Wishlist’ was going to be used by the RBS in an advert, giving us (alongside the over-14’s money) a good chunk of cash to go back to Rocket Science and tidy things up and complete the album.
So there you have it – it has taken quite a while to get this album together and I am going off to Rocket Science studios tonight to listen to it with a few beers with 5 people who I have become very good friends with – sharing the trials and tribulations of being in a band, helping them with ideas and motivation to get to this stage.
I can’t wait to hear it. I wonder if we will come up with a title tonight...or if Stephen has one up his sleeve.
Then the next episode will be trying to get someone to release it, or going down the DIY route.