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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

New CSMA album

Yeah, you wait for ages for an album then three come along at once.

I’m joking of course, literally nobody is waiting for albums from me.

But I do have 3 main music projects and they all seem to have reached fruition at nearly the same time, so maybe I should apologise for the bunching of releases at least.

To clarify. my projects divide up as follows:

Helicopter Quartet: violin & synths (me) and Guitar (mike)

CSMA: Synths (me) and Synths (Stuart)

Chrissie: anything I feel like playing, but mostly violin & synths (me)

So, anyway, this came out today from Stuart & me, and has a large collection of synths on it. If you like synth music, you will hopefully find something to enjoy here. Some of it has been previewed on YouTube, but all the tracks have been carefully mixed and mastered so will be better than what you’ve already seen.

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New solo album

Just after lockdown in the UK I decided to get on with making another solo album. I put down around 8 tracks in total and then realised they were all terrible. Well, maybe not actually terrible, but no different from anything I’d done before, and all a bit ‘static’. They didn’t GO anywhere. So I deleted them all and decided to start again with a different idea.

I saw lots of people releasing ‘lockdown’ or ‘isolation’ music in response to the pandemic – all isolated drones or dour themes and decided I didn’t want any more misery in my life at this time. Music can do many things and I’ve often used it as a release from bad situations – orchestra rehearsals have often provided an escape from reality for me, but these are not possible at the moment. My last couple of albums have built on bad personal situations, of course. But this time I wanted a release.

So “Diversions” is what it says it is, a diversion from the current isolations; music for it’s own sake. As such there a few slightly different styles here, there are a couple of ‘techno-type’ tracks and some with definite rock drum beats. I’m not claiming to be actually producing real techno or real rock music here, just appropriating styles for my own purposes really.

The worry with this sort of approach is that is not ‘what I normally do’ so the (few) people who actually like what I normally do won’t like this, and that it’s not sufficiently good techno or rock to be liked by afficionados of those genres. But that’s not really the point. I did this for me more than for anyone else, but if someone else does also like it then that’s lovely.

Of course, I’m not really thinking that this is so far different from anything I’ve done before that it’s TOTALLY new, it’s not. There are steps leading up to ideas I’ve used here all over the place, even in those last two or three albums of mine, and certainly on the CSMA albums (though I had to do my own rhythmic work on this one), so in a way it’s really just another step on the ladder of musical progression. The next album will probably build on things I did here. Probably.

So, here is “Diversions” – see what you think.

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It still takes us a year to record a Helicopter Quartet album, even when half of it was done in lockdown. Three tracks on this album were recorded as normal – at Rock & Roll Circus in Leeds with both of us together, reacting to each other as if playing live – and three were recorded at home.

Recording at home is difficult for a band like us, we play together, constantly reacting to what the other is doing. Even though the tracks were ‘written’ before lockdown so we had a good idea what were were going to do, there is still so much that we do when playing that informs the final track. So doing this in isolation was always going to be difficult.

We did manage it, in a slow, iterative manner, one of us laying down a base track to start with then gradually adding the layers independently. Still reacting to each other but in an extremely slow way!

But we got there in the end and here are our six tracks for 2020. I’m not going to tell you which 3 were recorded normally and which in isolation – I’ll leave that for you to speculate.

As we are still unable to meet I’m not sure when the next album will appear, I suspect that one will take much longer, so enjoy this one.

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New EP / album / whatever

Speaking of being ‘too shit for the mainstream’, here’s some more of it.

It’s only four tracks this time so feel free to call it an EP or album or anything else. This is all I had to say. Well, I did record 5½ tracks but only these four made it into the release.

I’ve not put any notes up with this album, things are getting too personal to document in public, suffice to say it’s not been a good year and I react to that by making dark music and hope it won’t disturb people too much.

I’m quite impressed how consistent I was with the timings on these tracks, they’re all around 4-5 minutes – almost ‘song length’ if you will. Some of them started out at 7,8 or 9 minutes and got cut down because I found them too rambling or boring. 4-5 minutes seems like an optimum amount of time to convey one ‘thing’ – whatever that thing may be. And I’m not telling.

It’s available on the usual Free/Pay What You Want deal, of course, and I suspect the cover sets the tone. Read into that what you will…

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You know what it’s like, you get a small following on bandcamp for your music and wonder what the next step in building in audience might be. You see people posting Spotify playlists on social media and think – we really should be on Spotify, then we can take part in these things and get more people  to hear about our music.

So I signed up for DistroKid. They offer a service to upload your music to all the major players – Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, and all the others that I’ve never head of but other people seem to have. It seems reasonable – for a small fee you can upload an unlimited number of tracks from one or two artists. It sounded good and they have been recommended by others so it seemed the thing to do.

I uploaded Onward Travel by my synth band CSMA and it all seemed to go OK. I got lots of messages saying that the tracks and the artwork has been Sucessfully Processed.

The next day I got the first rejection. They didn’t like the artwork. Apparently the blue letterboxing around the picture  is “not allowed” by ‘The Stores’ (remember that phrase ‘The Stores’, it’s key).

*sigh*. OK, so they have rules about these things, that particular one seemed a little arbitrary, but I’ll go with it. I asked Stuart to redesign the artwork for the album without the border.

While he was doing this I thought I’d use my other slot to upload the latest Helicopter Quartet album. This one doesn’t have a border around the cover so it might be OK.

The next morning I got this email from DistroKid:

We’ve been notified that this release has been rejected due to editorial discretion.There are a few reasons why this may have happened. Some possible reasons are:

  1. “Businesses” such as beat libraries, sample packs, karaoke collections and sound effects
  2. Similar content already in stores (ex: “rain sounds” and that sort of thing)
  3. Poor quality sound recording
  4. Poor quality artwork
  5. Too many similar releases from same artist (flooding)

Sorry about this.While the vast majority of releases are approved for distribution, stores do occasionally curate content. This is to ensure that end-users have a high-quality experience. This doesn’t mean your music is bad. It just means that stores don’t need this release at the moment.

I don’t know which (if any) of those reasons was why ‘The Stores’ rejected that album but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t 1,2 or 5.

There is no appeal against this decision and no more explanation. All you can do is delete the album and forget about it. “The Stores” are all-powerful gatekeepers. I did consider trying an earlier HQ album but it seemed pointless, if they won’t take the latest then why go back in time?

A couple of days later Stuart came back with the ‘fixed’ artwork for Onward Travel so I uploaded that and instructed DIstroKid to get on with distributing the updated album. I got the email saying the new artwork had been accepted (by DistroKid) and waited. It can take “a few days” to complete distribution to “The Stores”.

No more messages

a week passed

No more messages

another week passed

No more messages

I tried to find a contact email for DistroKid. Their website doesn’t seem to have the information – or if it does they’ve hidden it very well. I googled “distrokid support” and that brings up a copy of their twitter page that has a contact form URL on it. So I use that to ask what’s happening with the CSMA album.

I won’t post the reply verbatim here as it wasn’t an automatic reply, I think an actual human had responded (plus points to DistroKid for that), but basically it said that because the Helicopter Quartet album had been rejected by “The Stores”, anything I now try to upload will now automatically be rejected.

I’m on a blacklist!

I have no reason to disbelieve DistroKid when they say this is not their fault and this is not meant to be a diatribe against them – people I respect have used them to good effect, but if ever you wonder why there is no Helicopter Quartet anywhere other than bandcamp (you were having sleepless nights about this, I can tell), then that is why.

I hear people saying that there are “no gatekeepers” any more or that they are losing their power. But it seems like they still exist and still wield SOME power at least.

VIVA BANDCAMP!

As for CSMA, I might try again when I’ve stopped fuming, or Stuart might have a go. But no promises. I don’t really care enough any more after all that.

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Documentary film

Here’s something a little different from me – though there is a musical element. Some friends of mine have been writing and putting on plays around the country and at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe festivals so I decided to follow them around with a video camera while they did their latest one “Death and the Dominatrix”

It’s a great play, just one hour long (to fit in the festival schedules), and very funny as well as making you think so if it comes up anywhere near you, go and see it – or whatever else they’re putting on!

The play uses lots of music by Eurythmics but I didn’t want to get my YouTube channel hit with copyright claims and adverts so I did my own “Eurythmics-y” music to go under the narration.

This is my third attempt at documentaries. The first was on the local railway line and the second about the rehearsal studios we use. I need another project now!

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This is actually based on an email I wrote to an orchestra colleague who wanted advice on getting into amplified violin, but I thought it might be generally useful to people.

There are two main considerations when considering an amplified violin. The sound you want and the volume you’ll be playing it at (which depends on the band usually).

If you want a sound like a good acoustic violin then there’s nothing quite like a good acoustic violin – with a good pickup. I’d recommend staying away from mounted microphones as they’re awkward to set up and pick up too much extra sound.

You can either get a separate pickup for an existing violin (depending on how keen you are to have extra thing bolted onto your lovely instrument, or if you have a spare) or get an ‘electro-acoustic’ violin – which is basically a normal acoustic violin with a built-in pickup. These work really well, and are generally a lot less hassle than adding a pickup to an existing violin – but more expensive of course, because you’re buying a new instrument. Bridge are one good maker of this type of violin.

I’m not much of an expert on pickups as I tend to prefer electric / electro-acoustic violins, but as general advice, pay as much as you can from a major maker. Cheap pickups can easily ruin a good violin sound.

Acoustic and electro-acoustic violins don’t handle loud playing very well (as you might have seen in my feedback video) so if you’re playing in small or loud venues then an electric is definitely better.

Full electric violins sound different from acoustic violins though. They tend to have a softer, darker sound, often more nasal which might not work too well for some types of music. They do work better when played through guitar effects though, mainly down to the reduced harmonics in the sound which can make guitar effects do odd things. And they do resist feedback much better. Solid body ones especially so.

The one exception to the ’soft’ electric sound is the new Violorama ‘Sycorax’ instrument which is nice a compromise between an acoustic and an electric in that it has a soundpost and bassbar but no resonant body. That makes it light, with a reasonable sound and decent resistance to feedback.

For weddings (which I was asked about in the email), I would probably recommend an electro-acoustic instrument or the Sycorax. They’ll work straight out of the case and will sound decent if you get a good one. But bear in mind that cheap electric (or electro-acoustic) violins sound as bad, or worse, than cheap acoustic violins. Imagine a £20 chinese factory instrument amplified loudly, and badly – not nice!

For amplification you need to get a good ‘clean’ amp. Generally NOT a guitar amp unless you have specific requirements. Guitar amps are mostly designed to overdrive and are usually very treble heavy which makes violins sound horribly harsh. Especially acoustic/electro-acoustic violins. The AERs are possibly the best of the bunch for this use. The ’60’ is small, powerful and will sit on top of microphone stand so it’s nearer your ears. If that looks too expensive then bass guitar amps or keyboard amps are also good choices. Acoustic guitar amps also tend to be quite clean, but can be big and heavy.

If you’re always playing in venues with a PA system and using an electro-acoustic instrument then you might be able to get away without an amp. The instrument will be loud enough under your left ear and hopefully (if you’re playing acoustic) the rest of the band not so loud that you might not need any extra monitoring. That’s a decision you need to make for yourself. Personally I always like to have an amp but some folk players seem quite happy to do without.

Another word on pickups. Most pickups need some sort of power to amplify the sound to a level that can go into an amplifier or PA system. That power can come from a battery in the unit or from the PA system or amplifier itself. My personal preference is for a battery in the pickup/violin and a guitar jack, but having the power external can reduce the weight if that’s an issue. Some electric violins, especially solid body ones, can be quite heavy.

If you want to play with effects then I strongly recommend a good electric. They will work better with the effects than an acoustic, there is less sound under your left ear that’s NOT got the effect on it so you can concentrate on what’s coming out of the amp and they will allow you to play louder and with distortions & compressors. For this you will, of course, need a self-powered instrument with a jack socket on it.

Think about getting a 5 string instrument. If you’re playing amplified there is really not much point in sticking with 4 strings unless you have a specific reason to do so. The flexibility of that extra 5th in the range is very well worth it in my opinion. More than that (6 & 7 string instruments are available) is very much down to personal preference and what sort of music you’ll be playing.

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I often observe (and sometimes get involved in) this discussion on twitter: “Musicians should be paid for what they do, it’s a trade that requires huge skill, lots of practice and expensive instruments. Plumbers don’t plumb for free”, and I agree. Yet I still give away my music on bandcamp, why?

Before I get into detail let me just say this applies to ME and ME ONLY. If you recognise this then fine. If your experience is totally different, then that’s fine too – in which case please ignore this, don’t rant at me, this isn’t about you. also. PWYW means “Pay what you want” which in my case, includes nothing.

Right, that’s out of the way, lets get going.

Firstly, music for me is a hobby (see my “about” page) and I don’t expect to get paid for my hobbies. I pay to play in Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra, I pay to volunteer at a heritage railway, I buy my own books to read and my own DVDs to watch (yep, old school). I’m having fun here, why should expect (and the key word here is expect) people to pay for me to have fun? Of course plumbers and electricians – and professional musicians naturally – expect to be paid, it’s their job! Music is not my job, and never will be. I have another one.

It doesn’t much defray the cost of making music. Have you seen the price of violin strings?? And they last a year. Granted those are the posh strings that go on my orchestra violin, but most of my other violins have 5 or more strings so the total per instrument isn’t much less. Also bear in mind I have quite a few violins – and bows need rehairing too. At least the synths have minimal running costs. I suppose I should be grateful we no longer need to record to tape! So, while lovely to get, (see below), 2 or 3 quid doesn’t go very far on any putative balance sheet for musical activities.

In my humble experience, putting a minimum price on a album means that nobody downloads it at all. Having an option of ‘free’ perversely seems to let people pay for it. Now, I am a very niche artiste, I know that. I often say that I’m not even ‘a nobody’. My latest album has (at time of writing) 11 downloads, and that’s excellent for me. So this may not apply to you if you have a wider audience base.

I have experimented with this over time. Helicopter Quartet albums are also free/PWYW and get reasonable (see above) download figures. The one time I put a minimum price – of £3 – on an album … nothing. The same with CSMA albums (which all have a minimum price), they all have the minimum number of downloads – zero. We do sell quite a few at gigs though.

This doesn’t mean I don’t want you to pay for music, even mine. It all helps. A download will buy me a coffee, pay for a train fare to somewhere I can film another video for a track or help me to pay for someone else’s music (bandcamp – it’s the same fiver going round in circles sometimes I think) And of course there’s that lovely warm fuzzy feeling that people really like what you do, enough to put actual cold hard cash into your hand (well, paypal account) for the privilege of owning it. I love that feeling. But I’m not going to force you to give it to me.

Of course, other people have different experiences, even in similar genres, and choose to do different things, and I respect that. One thing that we can be sure of, people are fickle and nobody has all the answers. We can only speak from our own experiences.

This is about downloads of my own music of course. If you want me to session on your future gold-selling album, then I will expect to get paid at least a session fee – I’m not mad.

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New solo album

As promised I have done an album this year, and I did spend longer than a month making it – I also forgot to mention it here!

Anyway, here it is. It’s a very personal album, I’ve been suffering from quite severe (for me) depression this year and the music on the album takes the events and coping strategies I used (and am using) to get me out of that. The process is not yet finished, but the album is. I hope the next one will be a little lighter!

As such, the album is pretty intense in places. But the beauty of doing instrumental music is that it can be intense and also vague – I’m not giving away too much detail of my life that might be the case had I put lyrics to these tracks (this will never happen by the way – I don’t “do” lyrics or singing). The titles contain some description but should not be take as literally as they might seem. The actually make more sense (if they ever make any sense) after listening to the music, and not on their own. On their own they are probably just misleading 😉

Musically the album is another step up from “It’s not a Game” and is in a style I’m still developing. I’m not where I want to be yet but it’s definitely getting nearer.

Unusually I got a review for this album, and a good one it is too, so I’ll give you the link to that first, then you can decide that you like it before having heard it.

https://yeahiknowitsucks.wordpress.com/2019/05/20/chrissie-the-way-through/

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Zero RPM

It’s about this time of year I start thinking about the RPM challenge (make an album of 35 minutes or 10 tracks in the month of February). I’ve been doing this since 2012 and it’s become a staple part of the year for me.

But not this year.

RPM has become a habit – a good habit of course – but it is just a habit and it’s not compulsory.

My main reason for not doing RPM this year is simply that I’m not well enough. I’m not giving out details here but I just don’t have the capacity to write*, record, mix and master an album at the moment. I’ve thought about this long and hard and my time is best spent on getting myself better.

I also have other music projects on the go that need my attention and that have actual audiences to satisfy. There’s the usual orchestra concert on the 16th February, a solo gig in early March and a CSMA one at the end of March. That’s more than enough to be getting on with.

I will do an album this year, but I’ll take my time over it and try and make it as good as “It’s not a game” – which I am immensely proud of. It’s just not going to all happen in February.

*OK, I often improvise my RPM albums, but not always!

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