This year I am planning to drastically improve the tidiness of my guitar playing. I often find within South Hours that I am hitting a lot of bum and wrong notes because I am not thinking about what I am playing and more focusing on staying in time. Although this is a good thing to do in a live setting when I am gigging outside of college where no one will notice the occasional slip out of key, in college hours and in front of my peers the mistakes shine through. A way in which I am improving this is to really focus on economy picking. Many of the compositions within South Hours include intricate picking sections and string skipping and if I limit the amount of times I am picking and using hammer ons and pull offs more I am therefore reducing the chance that I will hit a wrong note. economy picking also allows me to develop my fingering and strength of my fingers to allow for more adept techniques to use and will will teach me to be conservative in what I’m playing.
I have found from the last few months of studying music that it is always better, with regards to songwriting, to keep things conservative and more simple. The masses want music that is easy listening and if I overload the songs I write with complicated music theory and obscure scales, then my career stands an even smaller chance of taking off. My future will be in playing live to huge crowds of people who sing along to my songs because they are catchy and re listenable every day, not because I used the dorian scale as oppose to the classic pentatonic. The biggest technique I plan to work on with regards to my compositions and songwriting is to keep it easy listening. I don’t care about being the most technically gifted guitar player or having the world of music theory in my head, I just want people to enjoy my music and connect with it. Personally, I find technically brilliant music incredibly hard to connect to and whilst I can appreciate the skill of the musicians and the time they have invested in to getting where they are, it is not for me and it is not for a lot of people. The music to me has no feel and no passion, everything is far too perfect and a gig where people are standing round a smoky jazz bar in tuxedos, commenting on how the F#m7 fits perfectly around the bass line is a nightmare to me – I would much rather have people screaming my songs where I am playing 4 chords over and over and having the time of my life and getting mobbed by fans outside Brixton afterwards. You only get this from being commercial and putting on an unreal show which is what I am progressing towards. (add research)
You can play God’s plan by Drake using only a C and a D chord and this song has 1.2 billion streams on Spotify. When you compare this to someone like Vulfpeck who have 23 million streams, you can see the difference that a catchy melody and simple beat have. Drake kept this song as sell out and sellable as possible and used his image and high status of the industry to achieve such a feat of 1.2 billion streams. That is 1/7 of the world have listened to Drake’s song. Without studying a music course, I would now even know who Vulfpeck are, and while they may be big time in their genre they are not big time in the overall industry. Drake has dominated with his simple techniques of catchy, relatable melodies and classic beats and he is reaping the rewards as a result. This is evidence, in my opinion, that commerciality is the key to success in the music business and can make you a household name.
Sometimes it can be useful to have the knowledge and ability to throw in a more obscure chord or scale, however this is on the rare occasion and it is not something I can see myself utilising day to day in the industry.
I have absolutely no intention of being a session musician so I am not focusing on music theory. It would make me a better musician, however it would not make me a better song writer as you can be the best guitar player in the world and know all the scales possible but still not write a hit song. I am focusing on making my music commercial and making a career out of it. Session work will not be for me, sure it would get you more money than writing original works and trying to sell them but ultimately I would rather earn less and love my job than know everything and read books on music theory every night to just learn other people’s songs. In my eyes the music theory is not relevant to my progress in the industry as music is such an open area that it is impossible to define exactly what you do and don’t need. I have identified keeping thing simple as a discipline and I do not need a wealth of music theory to do this.
Another discipline I am going to focus on is training my ear a little bit more. I am getting better at identifying exactly when I’m out of tune and I am also trying to get better at identifying when the chords I am playing fit. For example I ma writing a lot of heavier music in drop D lately and I am getting better at finding chords that fit together and when the chord sequence ends, there is satisfaction for the listener. A way I am doing this is just practicing it a lot. The more I play the chords the more familiar I am with them and know what sounds and feels right in my playing – this then allows me to instinctively know what sounds best in the song I am writing as oppose to just messing around for hours to only come up with the bridge of a song.
Research in to disciplines:
One piece of research I conducted was by accident. The bands I model my playing style on are The 1975 and Pale Waves, and these bands use extremely simple guitar parts and use guitar as more of a layer instrument as oppose to being a huge chunk of the song. I have tried to incorporate this as they are very particular about the guitar parts that they use – for example you can play all the lead lines from Pale Waves’ first album using the major scale. This has influenced me as it always sounds good. The major scale is one that is so easy listening and there isn’t too much you can do with it, forcing you to be more creative with how you play it and how you voice the notes you’re playing. The simplicity of this is key to me as when listening to Pale Waves the guitar riffs are all perfect fits for the ambient, indie vibe that they go for.
The way I accidentally found this out was just from messing around in South Hours trying to make up a lead line and I used the E Major scale and played the riff from There’s A Honey, and then noticed I could play 3 more songs using the exact same position. Pale Waves have seen massive success over the last year and prove that you do not need to be super complicated to make it in the industry.
The research I have done in to training my ear has simply come from listening to lots of music. Listening to a lot of music you then understand how your brain reacts to what comes next, for example the resolve at the end of a chord sequence needs to release all the tension built up in the previous few chords. Achieving this satisfaction is key to a song and is what makes it listenable so the more I listen, the more I learn. I have used this in my songwriting as I now understand what makes your brain tick when it comes to music and can adapt that and (for lack of a better term) manipulate the music to make it re listenable and satisfying.
The 1975 video on song writing
The 1975 discuss how most of their music is mostly written on a computer and then guitars are used more as a layer instrument. This draws a parallel to South Hours as we often sit at home on Garage band, get a drum track down and some effects which we like the sound of (mostly synth keyboard) and then begin writing guitar over the top when we have a nice synth background. Ben’s lyrics are sometimes already written and ready to go, however most of the time he has one or two lines ready and then the rest of the song and the melody comes when the instrumental elements of the song are completed. This is yet another parallel with the 1975 and they way they create their musi
In this short video Tom Morello talks about his home studio which is where he writes almost all of his music. He has made 3 albums in this studio alone, which is in a way a direct parallel to us. We write all of our music in Ben’s loft / dining room, all in the comfort of a home with very little pressure and just a Macbook Pro and a 2 channel guitar interface. We like to do it this way as there is no time limit for us to finish. We don’t have a set 3 hour time frame to finish writing or rehearsing our songs as we would if we hired out a studio space and it gives us much more creative freedom as we have so much more time.
Tom Morello is a big inspiration to my guitar playing. He has such a unique sound that a lot of the time his guitar doesn’t even sound like a guitar and i find this fascinating and i like to try and make the most obscure sounds i can when i play. He is also a very clever player – he is extremely talented and knows a lot about guitar, however still only uses simple scales, such as the blues and major scale, to make the majority of his songs. For example Bombtrack by Rage Against the Machine is entirely made using the blues scale. This has inspired my playing as Tom Morello has clearly found that the best riffs he writes come from the simple things people love hearing. There is no complex string skipping and tapping in Bombtrack and it is easily one of the most recognisable songs ever written. The simplicity of the riff is only brought to life by his guitar tone. Something i try to focus on when i am playing through a dirty amp is to not over do the gain as it can become saturated, cringey and lost in the mix very quickly. Tom Morello masters this tone – his guitar cuts through every mix perfectly and he balances the gain with such precision that he can get away with being the only guitar player in most of his band and still sound massive. This is something i have really taken on board in my playing as i believe it is crucial to keep your guitar listenable and keep your tone mind blowing every time.
My tutors have given me a mixed bag of responses when it comes to songwriting and the music industry.
The main points from are tutors are these:
– To make a career in the industry you need to know everything
I disagree with this point. It is impossible to know everything about music and know everything about the industry as it is constantly changing. Nothing is the same as it was last year and everything will be different in a years time – who knows if we will even have record labels in a years time? it is very difficult to predict where the industry is going and therefore it is very difficult to know everything about what is happening. Musically I don’t think it is vital to know everything. You need to be able to play your instrument to a high level and know basic things such as what you’re playing and where you are playing it, however you do not need to know multiple aspects of multiple genres to achieve a good sound and success in the music industry. As long as you can make your music catchy and commercial, you will have some success. it is so much more than just the music and no one is going to care about what you’re playing, they just care that it is in tune, in time and catchy.
– Image is half the battle in being successful
I agree with this point as your image is vital. Whether people like it or not, how you look can determine how you sell. Look at the way Kayne West is not only a musical icon, however he has become a fashion icon too. His shoe brand, Yeezy, is massive with big ticket celebrities and are some of the most expensive shoes around and very popular with young audiences. He pioneered this brand and has made a real stamp of the urban fashion world with the way he dresses and people want to be like Kanye and dress like him. It is the same story with earlier Hip Hop artists like Run DMC who wore Adidas everything and this craze took over which made Adidas a massive fashion statement. It is not only music which can make you successful, your merchandise and looks can generate you more money than any song, for example if you become endorsed by Adidas and get paid to wear their clothes when you perform, you can make big money.
2.2 – how the knowledge I have gained has helped my song writing
The knowledge i have gained so far this year has helped my songwriting a lot as our music is now much more commercial. We tried to become a bit more complex towards the end of last year, using unfamiliar chord shapes and time signatures but the songs just didn’t click so we made the decision to scrap them and re write them with more simple chords and focus on making a good hook and catchy lead line. Our songs are now get stuck in everyone’s head and with the addition of Owen on guitar with his abundance of pedals, the sound is now much more full and allows me more freedom with what i can play as a lead. The new and more full sound has forced me to change the tone i use on the guitar in order to cut through the mix more, which has developed how i write my lead lines as i can just noodle and make a new solo up every time i play – I have to think much more carefully about what notes i am playing and when i am playing as to not get lost behind the bass and rhythm guitar.
Field recordings are recordings made outside of a studio setting. These pieces of work can feature natural and human made sound to add ambience and atmosphere to a given track. Artists could do field recordings to have something different and interesting for their listeners to experience and the song they record is often tailored to their surroundings – for example if the song is very ambient and emotional then the artist will choose somewhere like a church or large hall to create the natural reverb. The location of the recording often makes or breaks it as if you choose a busy high street for an acoustic folk song, you will not get the sound you want and it will be a mess.
Obviously field recordings aren’t quite as well mixed and mastered as classic studio works, however the field recordings capture a more natural sound and, while often accompanied by a music video, they allow you to picture the setting and atmosphere of the place they were recorded in which adds a new level of depth to the composition which a normal studio cannot offer.
The concept of my project was to keep things simple and this is why we have chosen to do a stripped back version of one of our songs called Change My Mind Again. Field recordings are stripped back equipment wise and we are making a conscious effort with regards to this – our song will just be guitar and vocals. The idea of field recordings is that they are something completely different and interesting for the listener and this is why we have chosen to just do it with Ben and I – listeners will hear the full band version later on in the year when we have done it in our recording session with Jim Read and this will highlight how different the field recordings are to a studio and we don’t think we need the full band when doing one. The ambience of the location we have picked will add a lot more feel to the song than any drums or bass will so we are thinking about being as reserved as possible in this composition. During my research I have found that the location and your surroundings can add numerous elements to the composition that a studio cannot offer, so Ben and I have chosen a river bank with large open marsh lands surrounding it. This will give us the gentle wind and sound of the water hitting the banks to add some background noise to the otherwise very empty version of the songs. Our location is also opposite Wivenhoe town’s waterfront which is home to many pubs and dog walkers. We are hoping to catch the vibe of this more urban area in conjunction with the peaceful tranquility of the river to create an extremely ambient atmosphere which will lend itself perfectly to the song.