Posts Tagged ‘music’

So I have a big gig tomorrow. Not Wembley, though I will play it as though it is. It’s big because it’s an entire evening of just me. I’m not the support, I’m the ONLY.

It’s a little intimidating, if I’m honest. I have a modest opinion of my own ability, and the thought that my random musical musings might entertain a room full of people for nearly three hours is a little too outlandish for me to believe. But someone believes I can, or they would not have asked me. I must believe I can, deep down inside, or I would not have agreed to it!

As I have sweated over set lists during the last few weeks, it led me to ponder about writing them. What makes a set list good, bad, effective, or just downright boring. Some artists don’t bother with them at all. I have seen a number of people wing it based on the mood of the crowd, or their own particular whimsy. I don’t even wing it for an open mic! I approach set lists the way I used to approach compiling mix tapes – with care, consideration and a lot of listening to beginnings and endings of songs to make sure they work in sequence.

I have concluded it’s a dark art, for a variety of reasons:

Every crowd is unique

I still remember, with crawling, cold horror, a gig I played at a local rugby club. The friend who had booked me (and knew full well that at that time, my repertoire was limited to sad, navel-gazey songs about death and breakups) swore blind that I’d be adored. The reality was a Friday night crowd who wanted a living jukebox. My friend and my wife both applauded each song but they were the only ones. The crowning moment for me was the gentleman who approached me at the end and said “You’ve a lovely voice but you made me want to slit my wrists”

Then there have been the crowds who have loudly applauded my originals but sat stonily through covers, even though I thought it would definitely be a “covers” crowd. You can’t always predict. Very experienced artists can adjust the set on the fly (see “winging it”, above) but I have never been one of those…

The length of the gig matters.

Long gigs can be hard on the voice, so it starts to matter where the more vocally challenging material goes in the set. Short gigs give you less time to make an impression, so you need to pull out your showstoppers. Decisions, decisions… My ideal length is probably 40-60 minutes, so I can really go for it without having to worry too much about stamina.

Variety is the spice of gigs…

A set will rapidly become boring if you group songs with similar themes, keys, chord progressions and styles. Because I have a bad habit of writing sad songs, I try to sandwich them between happier songs and mix up the keys and styles to keep the set interesting. I also have an unfortunate habit of writing songs using arpeggios. More of my set writing is about keeping songs apart than putting them together!

Banter – the bane of my life

Some people can play a 30 minute set and only do 5 songs, filling the remaining time with witticisms, wry observations, audience participation and stand up comic action. That is not me. I lack the gift of the gab. I try not to be averse to one liners and small talk, but on me it just tends to look like I’m trying too hard. If I’m very comfortable with the crowd, it might spontaneously happen that I tell a joke, or engage in some light banter (cautiously, and only under appropriate circumstances and wearing suitable safety apparel), but it doesn’t happen often enough for me to depend on it, so I allow a straight 4 minutes per song and do more songs per set than other people seem to. No-one has ever accused me of being boring though, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.

set list planning

Set list planning

So what’s the secret? I try to follow the old rule about writing a story. I have a opening song (usually a really easy one to play and sing that acts as a warm up) followed by a faster, happier one to wake people up. I make sure I know how the set is ending – generally with a vocally powerful, climactic number. Then I fill in the middle with songs, keeping them varied in terms of key/progression/style. Sprinkle a few covers in if appropriate (or vice versa if doing a mainly covers set) Allow an extra song as en encore, just in case. And then I throw it all into an iTunes playlist and check it works.

That’s my method. And although I nearly packed it in and put all my songs into a hat to draw out randomly at tomorrow’s gig, I’m not brave enough for that yet. Maybe next time…

(If you find yourself passing along High Petergate, York, tomorrow evening from 8pm, do call in to the Eagle and Child for an acoustic evening with me and the aforementioned set list! Entry is free and they go a fabulous selection of gins! *hic* )

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“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined”

That is the text on a kitsch little wooden sign that dangles from my work PC monitor. Presumably I bought it to remind myself that there is more to life than the nine to five (or in my case, 8:30 – 4:30) but it did start me thinking about balance and how bad I am at it.

Facebook helpfully reminded me recently that my fans hadn’t heard from me in eight days. It likes to do that. It likes to point out my inadequacies just in case I had forgotten to lie awake until 3am worrying about them. My own self-loathing couldn’t possibly be sufficient, now the internet has to pitch in as well.

Here is the unglamorous truth about being an unsigned, unheard of musician. You can only do music full time with money. Without money you need a job. But a job will sap every last ounce of energy out of you and make it very VERY hard to keep making music. And on it’s own, that’s already a challenge. Now add in self-promotion. Keeping fans up to date and building a following is another full time job. It’s ok if you have money, you can hire someone to do this bit for you. But without the money, you need a job. Circles and circles.

What happened to my optimistic plans of regular blogs, mailing everyone like a boss, free downloads, new content every week and all the things that I need to actually be doing?

In short, life. And life does this to everyone. In my case, my partner had surgery, and my new permanent daylighting project (aka my job which puts food on the table and keeps a roof over me and my keyboard) went stratospheric with intensity and busy-ness. I PA for two directors and do financial admin support, so my day is pretty busy. In the midst of all this, I simply ran out of spoons for anything else. I spent Mon-Thur, May-July coming home, eating dinner, going to bed, rinse and repeat. By the time I got to my dedicated Music day (Fridays) I was so worn out I was just sleeping and reading and trying to regroup so that my mental health did not become a casualty to the impending burnout.

So yes, it’s true. My fans on facebook have not heard from me in eight days. I haven’t blogged since April. I opened an instagram account which has remained unused. My mailing list is still languishing unused. I’m a terrible TERRIBLE promoter.

OK, well, I must have made some music right? Well, yes. I have written two things since FAWM in February. You can find those here.

Things are slowly starting to improve. My partner can now walk again, and pull weight around the house so I am not also doing all the cooking and cleaning. My workload is starting to settle down (either that or I’m getting used to it). I even spoke to PRS yesterday to sort out my tunecodes so I can claim on my live gigs from the start of the year (yes, that’s how behind I am).

I don’t really know why I’m writing this, other than I really want people to understand that when someone goes quiet for a long period of time, it’s not personal. That I still really appreciate the support of my friends and fans and that I haven’t fallen off the earth, I just got buried for a while and had to dig myself out. That this arrangement of having to daylight to pay the bills is not ideal but is one that so many musicians face because people have started to believe that music should be free, or that people should create art out of love and not want financial recompense. That I really, passionately believe that music has value and should be accorded respect, because no matter what you think of it, someone has poured their heart and soul into it, very probably after a long day of financial reporting, filing, street sweeping, serving in a restaurant, scanning items in a supermarket or cleaning toilets.

This isn’t the life I imagined. I have a way to go to get there. Thanks for your patience while I work on it.




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On Sunday evening I did one of my favourite things. I went to a little pub on the outskirts of York, and I played music to a small but very appreciative audience. They were the best kind of audience – the active listening variety – rarely found in most pubs these days, but this was no ordinary event – this was Vale Radio’s FAB Folk and Blues Club.

FAB gig1

The event is young, it started only a couple of months ago, as a result of the radio studio for Vale Radio being too small to accommodate a full band. At best, on a Monday night, the FAB Folk and Blues show might be able to fit a trio into the studio, but that was all. So the idea was born to have a night in a local pub, in the function room, where larger bands could be recorded live for the show.

It was to one such night I found myself invited, and it was marvellous. The pub in question, the Cottage Inn, has a large and acoustically beautiful function room that they kindly allow Vale Radio to have for no charge on a Sunday night. The audience, briefed on what to expect, are quiet, supportive and attentive. In short, it’s the ideal gig environment for folk/blues/country/singer-songwriter artists. In addition to the main attraction (this time it was Itchy Fingers, a 5 piece from Lincolnshire) a variety of local artists are invited to play acoustic short sets of 3-4 songs a piece. There’s also generally a raffle for the prize of a CD or two donated by the artists.

Here’s the thing. The audience was painfully, pitifully small. Will the night survive? This was the third time the event had run (it runs every other week) and yes, it might get bigger, but to survive, it needs to get bigger at a drastically increased pace. The room is free because the pub uses takings on the bar, but if there are fewer punters, there are less takings.

I have found myself pondering this more and more of late. Local live music is such a brilliant thing, so why does it struggle? I have some theories:

Firstly – and I am guilty of this too – musicians rarely go out to watch other musicians perform. We’ll watch people on at the same gig as us (although in some cases even that doesn’t happen, I have seen bands arrive in time for their slot, play and then leave) but rarely do we go out for an evening for someone else’s gig. It’s the old adage about how a carpenter never has shelves. It’s something I’m trying hard to remedy (I plan to be at the Flora Greysteel album launch later this month for example), but it needs to be part of every musician’s schedule. We learn so much from watching others perform. We see what works, what doesn’t work, what makes us respond as members of the audience. So it’s a win-win; supporting local events and musicians while also helping us to develop our own skills. If you are a musician who doesn’t go out to watch others perform, I highly urge you to fix this.

Secondly, people want to hear stuff they know. Pubs will pay an absolute premium for a band to come and do two hours of covers. Show me a pub that’ll pay anyone for two hours of original material and I’ll dig out my collection of rocking-horse poop for you. People coming out for a drink on a Friday or Saturday night tend to have their interests limited to: drinking, talking, trying to pull, singing along with the jukebox/band, more drinking. If this seems jaded, well, I’ve seen it night after night in pubs around York. Yes, there are audiences for good quality live acts doing originals, but there are bigger (and thus more lucrative) audiences for human jukeboxes.

Lastly, for many people, even people who are passionate about live music, sometimes the allure of a night in with Netflix, a duvet, and those famous brothers Ben and Jerry, is just too much to resist. Yes, you could go to see a live act perform, but it’s raining, you have your slippers on and look, the cat has gone to sleep on your knees, so you couldn’t possibly go anywhere just now.

Here’s the thing. Use it or lose it. Live music is good for the soul. It gives you something to talk about (that anecdote about the folk singer who treated us all to a 25 verse epic about a violinist and his sweetheart,and the subsequent death, calamity, fairy infestation, jealous violence, romance etc that went on until the venue owners flashed the lights and cut the power is still going strong in our household…). You may discover an artist whose work really speaks (sings) to you. Your support in turning up to that gig may be the spur that causes the artist to write their next album, or book their next gig. Because let’s face it, we write and perform for you.

This is our life blood. Help us keep live music alive.

Thanks for reading, I’d love your thoughts on this!

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We Could Be Heroes

Ordinarily, I’d have posted yesterday, this being the New Year and the time of Remembering to Post Weekly On a Monday (TM) but I made a conscious decision not to. I was feeling a little too dumbstruck at the news that David Bowie has left the planet.

Clearly if you ask me what I remember about Bowie, I’ll have nothing in the realm of personal anecdotes. I did not know the man. Like so many of us, I only know the face he presented to us through his musical and theatrical creativity. I remember hearing China Girl on the radio when I was 6 or 7 perhaps? I remember being spellbound, seeing David playing Jareth in Labyrinth (and thinking if that’s what the Goblin King looked like, he wasn’t so bad after all!) He’s just always been there, in the backdrop of my life, and like others have said, I always just assumed he was immortal.

Yesterday was a stark reminder that he wasn’t, that none of us are.

But yesterday was also a reminder of another thing. In all the sadness around his passing, in the loss his family are experiencing, in the gut-wrenching grief of his loss, we have been reminded of the potential within us all. The news is full of how he wrote the last album as a parting gift for his fans. Of how, faced with the end, he continued to create, to express and to communicate through music, so that we’d have one last album, the swan song of an extraordinary life.

If he can do it, any of us can. David was human, like the rest of us. He struggled, and failed, and lost, probably thousands more times than he won, we just never saw it. He kept on persevering, that weird little London kid, embracing his own oddity and daring the rest of us to say anything about it. And in the end, he emerged a hero.

So that is the lesson I’m taking from this. The bright spark in the world’s loss. If he could do it, so can I. So can you. And you. And you. We can all find our passion and make it shine. We can all stand up, embracing ourselves, refusing to conform and be loved for who we are.

We can be heroes.




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It’s a little late, being already the 4th January, but to try to make up for a rather lackluster year in blogging, I thought I’d take this opportunity to whiffle on about what I managed to do in 2015 that meant I was too busy/lazy to blog!

On a personal front, it was a pretty quiet year. I mooched from one short term dayjob role to another, ending up somewhere where hopefully I shall now be staying, I achieved my coaching level 1 in Aikido, I celebrated my 5 year wedding anniversary, built a lot of Lego,  watched a lot of Netflix and generally did Stuff. Oh, and I took up archery. That one definitely merits a mention. My inner Hawkeye/Katniss/Legolas* (delete as applicable) is definitely having a whale of a time going “pew! pew!”. I recommend it. Especially if you’d like one arm to become noticeably bigger than the other in a short space of time… Erm…

OK. Well. moving on.

Musically it was a crazy, busy year.

In February, I did my usual romp through 14 new songs that we call FAWM. I didn’t blog about it much at the time, mostly because I was busy doing it. It went well, I dinged 14 without too much trauma, and ended up with several songs I could basically gig with immediately. I made a vague promise to myself to put out another album before the end of the year, and to include some of the songs written as part of FAWM, then shoved it on a back burner and forgot about it.

Spring and early summer saw a lot of gigging, including a fabulous slot supporting Everlate at their album launch at the Basement, City Screen (review here). Really enjoyed that – I think this has been the year I’ve finally started to feel like I have a handle on playing live, rather than just feeling like a random imposter who gets away with it because I smile a lot, or something…

In July I started 50/90, and made it to 5 songs, (so a tenth of the way, which isn’t to be sniffed at!) and suddenly realised I actually had a whole album ready to go. By the end of August, I had decided I was going to crowdfund the album, and in the space of an afternoon, I had set up the crowdfunding page on Kickstarter.

When I launched it, the day before going to Alnwick for a long weekend, I thought “well, I have a month to get to £800, there’s pretty good odds on that”. But, by the time I had returned from Alnwick, 5 days after launch, the campaign target had been reached, and I was looking at stretch goals. It was incredible. It totally made my birthday too, which was not long after!

And so, Here At A Distance came to life. I asked Ros Dando, a local artist, to do the artwork, and amazingly, she said yes, and did a beautiful, beautiful album cover. I mixed and mastered everything, and nearly gave myself a nervous breakdown trying to get it all to the pressing house in plenty of time. Launch night was 30th October, and we booked out the Bay Horse in York, and got Flora Greysteel, Bleeding Hearts and Artists, and Helen Robertson to come and play.

album cover

It’s done well since release. FATEA Magazine reviewed it, as did Soundsphere and Planet London.  It’s certainly my biggest achievement in 2015, and I’m immensely pleased that I got it out there. I couldn’t have done it without my supporters on Kickstarter though, and for me one of the biggest things about achieving it was the reminder that people DO believe in me, and they DO support what I do, and even when it feels like I’m throwing music into the void, someone, somewhere has noticed. That’s been a massive thing for me to bring into 2016.

So what’s next for 2016?

At the moment, I’m undecided. Obviously I’ll do FAWM, although I’d like to get back into the more electronica side of things. I have a gig in April at the Duchess, York, which I’m really excited about, I’m playing at Coventry Pride in June, and I’m also going to be on the Fox’s Den Show on the 29th January, playing live and talking about the album. I’m at one of those quiet points just now, where I’m waiting to see where the tide pulls me..

Meanwhile, if you aren’t bored of Christmas songs, I finished up the year by recording a silly cover of Fairytale of New York, with Jon from The Bleeding Hearts and Artists. 

And if you feel like you want to hear my dulcet tones talking nonsense about music and other things, check out these:

Appearance on FAB Folk and Blues with Tony Haynes on Vale Radio

Interview on The Cultural Review with Tom Mallow

Happy New Year!


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Good afternoon strangers..

Yes, I know it’s been months since I last posted. Yes, I know I’m a terrible blogger, and no, I won’t be offended if y’all buggered off and found a younger, prettier, more regular blog than mine…

For those of you still left, this is me returning to Monday blogging. My current time management situation allows for it, which is awesome 🙂

On to today’s point of interest. I’ve been hanging out on a couple of Facebook groups where people discuss their releases, and one of the questions which seems to pop up pretty regularly is how to organise distribution of a release so that it ends up on iTunes, Spotify, and other cool places like that.

Here’s my guide to distribution. I’m going to assume that the album is written, recorded, mixed and mastered, and essentially ready to go.

The first step is to acquire an ISRC. Many mainstream distributors will not process your release without one, and although for some you can bypass the process entirely, it’s recommended to bite the bullet and get it done, because at some point, it will allow your track to be identified, and may result in some royalties heading your way.

The easiest way to get an ISRC code if you are in the UK is to contact PPL and register with them.  You’ll be given a unique 5 character/digit code which always starts off your ISRC code, and from this you can generate all the ISRCs you’ll ever need for the remainder of your career. If you aren’t in the UK, your local music licencing body can assist you in this process.

Next up, decide on a distributor. I have personal experience with three, Emubands, CD Baby and Ditto. I ended up pulling my release from Ditto after technical problems and release delays but your mileage may vary – some people have had good experiences with them. My experiences with CD Baby and Emubands have been nothing short of excellent.



 FEES  ONCE OFF/YEARLY?  Other Information
 Emubands £24.95 Single
£34.95 EP
£49.95 Album
 0%  Once off  Digital only
 CD Baby $9.95 Single
$49 Album
Option to go Pro for additional features
 0%  Once off  Digital and physical
 AWAL £0 unlimited  15% of sales  n/a  Digital only
 Distrokid $19.99 unlimited  0%  Yearly  Digital only
 Ditto £6 single
£20 Album
£49 unlimited
extra cost for add-ons
 0%  Yearly  Digital and physical
 Tunecore $9.99 single
$29.99 album (first year)
£49.99 album (following years)
 0%  yearly  Digital only

It’s also worth considering whether there are any particular relationships you’d like to exploit. For example, CD Baby work in partnership with Rumblefish, meaning that you can opt in for YouTube monetization if anyone wants to use a track of yours in their wedding video.

My advice is to work out what you want to achieve with your release, do your reading, and choose a distributor based on the one which most suits your needs. Contact your chosen distributor, pay your monies, upload your tracks and artwork, and let them do the rest 🙂 Always allow plenty of time between submitting your release and the release date, and you should be golden. Most importantly, enjoy it!


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You know how sometimes you fail to reply to an email, or a letter, and then time passes, with you meaning to respond, and then more time, and more time, until suddenly you realise that it’ll now be weird when you reply, and you’ve left it way too long and don’t even know where to start?


I didn’t mean for four months to fly by with nary a post from me to let you all know I still had a pulse, I really didn’t. But one thing led to another and as the days crept guiltily by I just couldn’t think of what to write.

So what has kept me from you all this time?

My writer’s block hasn’t extended to music, not one bit. I completed FAWM comfortably with 14 solid songs, many of which are keepers. I’ve continued writing since the end of February, and even have a crazy plan to attempt 50/90 – another songwriting challenge. Where FAWM is a sprint, this one is a marathon. 50 songs in 90 days, or an ambitious 16.333333333 (recurring ad nauseum) songs per month (ish). It starts on the 4th July, and promises to be an interesting diversion. Or obsession. Tomato, tomato.

You know, I’ve only just realised this: “Tomato, tomato.” That’s one of the few phrases that simply doesn’t work in text. Crazy. Anyway, I digress.

What else have I been up to?

Well, amongst the writing, I created a brand new song in an afternoon, along with a video. The demo was basically recorded while I filmed, which was interesting, and the most complex thing I’ve attempted so far.

Videos have always seemed to me to be a dark art, and the one aspect of musical creativity I really don’t understand how to do. I go on Youtube, and I see these amazing videos, done by up and coming artists, who all seem to have tame camera operators and film editors to call on. They are also invariably gorgeous, own long flowing dresses and at least one grand piano, and live near a mystical forest, or a scenic beach, or an empty church… I try to do the same thing, and it looks like the cat got hold of the video camera, dragged it around a bit and accidentally turned it on. Given that an untrained chimp could produce a better video than me without really trying, I was actually pretty thrilled with this attempt:

It was both harder and easier than I expected. I’d like to try the picture in picture thing again, this time for something like Scarlet Casanova, because the harmonies kick in from the beginning. At this rate of video creation, I expect to be halfway competent before I’m sixty!

Anyway, sarcasm aside, if anyone out there feels like it would be fun to make a video for any of my songs, shout out. I have zero budget, but I do a good line in cake and gratitude, and perhaps worldwide fame one day! I’d love to collaborate!

What else? Well, I’ve been working part time at the University in a continued, misguided attempt to make my millions (aka pay the rent). It’s been hard this year, work seems to be thin on the ground, but I do have a good number of singing students, which is helping, and also I enjoy teaching. It’s hard to have a bad time singing duets or showing people how to stretch range and build power in their voices, it’s a learning process I’m immensely proud to be part of.

Musically, I have a few other bits and bats in the pipeline. I’ve started the process of editing and mixing the tracks for the new album. I don’t yet have a title, but I do know that it’s being released in September, and I also have an artist lined up who I’m thrilled to have on board for the artwork. I am so lucky to have the friends I do – I am surrounded by a very multitalented and generous group of individuals and I’m grateful every day for them.

York has a new radio station starting, 2 Rivers Radio, and I’m pleased to say that Vinnie Whitehead is going to be interviewing me and playing some songs from the new album for it. We’re doing a live In Session recording next Tuesday and I’m very excited about it.

To my abject astonishment and without any bribery on my part (either financial or in the form of baked goods) I have also been nominated, for the second year running, for a Yorkshire Gig Guide Grassroots Award, in the category of Outstanding Band/Artist. This is amazing and I’m thrilled to bits! This is where some audience participation can occur, if you feel so inclined, you can vote for me to reach the next stage.

So, I could say at this stage that I promise not to leave it so long before writing again. But you know, and I know, that that is simply a challenge to my subconscious to really fall off the wagon and not write another word until 2016, so let’s not, eh?

Until next time.


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