A Song In A Day

The other week, I had the privilege of working with an amazing group of teenage women. The challenge was to make and record a song in a day. The group had been working on issues to of gender-stereotyping, self-image, the representation of women in the media, esteem and looking at the strength of these rather fantastic individuals, and together as a group.

Now, I have self-identified as an often failing – but trying, feminist for a number of years now and whether it’s simply that or that I’m additionally invested now through the addition of my wonderful daughter to our family, I felt a real burden of responsibility on this one. I barely felt the right to be part of it, as a white thirty-something man, coming into a girls’ group to make a song about their issues.

That said, I hope we made a good thing. A song in a day from a standing start. Here’s the results.

(Full lyrics below – why not hit play and read on?!)

A bit about “The Process”

The girls had been working on a bunch of resources before my arrival, discussing issues that impacted on them individually and as women in a wider sense. For the first two hours I asked the young women to explain all the brainstorming sheets they’d generated, go through the words, the meanings behind them and the issues. We did some further brainstorming, fleshed out the ideas a bit then moved onto making some actual music.

We talked about how when making art, we should all feel able to express our thoughts and pitch ideas. All ideas are valid and useful, and we agreed to try all ideas with gusto and without prejudice. I asked if anyone could pitch me a tiny bit of melody – anything they might find themselves whistling whilst walking down a street or sing to themselves. Understandably, this is quite a leap for many people. You’re really putting yourself out there when you pitch a bit of art – what if no-one likes it? So we tried again. I asked for a bit of rhythm – anything beaten out on the desk in front of us would be fine. Nothing… until one girl said “I can’t do it”. I paused, then tapped the beat of her syllables back to the group…
” – – – – – ”
… and that became the rhythm for the first lyric line of the first verse…
“I won’t be changed”

The next few hours were a flurry of activity, flitting between developing the lyrics, working on the melody (should it go up, go down, do up and then down, or down and then up?), the chords, the dynamics and the structure of the song. At 3-30 I ran the song for the 1st time, singing back the girls’ work to them. They applauded, and I asked if they liked it. A resounding yes. Then came my favourite part of the day, being able to say “well, be proud because every decision in the making of this song is yours; from the rhythm you created at the very start, every word, the key and style of the song, the melodies… you’ve made all those choices… and they’re really good.”

We spent the last hour of the day warming up vocally and getting this one take of the song recorded. I hope the people who’ve made this are as proud of it as I am privileged to have worked them.

Here’s the rest of the lyrics to mull over as you listen.

The Lyrics
How To Be Me

I won’t be changed, won’t be rearranged
I won’t be re-touched, or have my face betrayed
I won’t be made-up, won’t let you edit me
This isn’t dress-up, it’s my identity
And I will grow.

I won’t be fake, in my heart I feel
I see beauty when I see me
Don’t be so mean, just let me be me
You may not like me, but others will
And that’s okay.

And I will trust that I will bloom
I’ll do my best to be true I know I must.
Don’t have to prove myself to you.

So don’t be left out, sad, angry
Isolated or lonely.
You cannot tease me, make me feel small.
Your lies are wasted, they mean nothing at all,
Because I have grown

Follow me, bully me, make me change my body
Chase me through the back-streets
You post it, blog it, I flag it block it
I won’t apologise for being me

For I will trust that I will bloom
I’ll do my best to be true I know I must.
Don’t have to prove myself to you.

Let’s be kind ’cause I have faith
The good in people I see in your face
We can be proud of our dignity,
Strength and honesty and loyalty
To our friends.

Follow me, bully me, make me change my body
Chase me through the back-streets
You post it, blog it, I flag it block it
I won’t apologise for being me

For I will trust that I will bloom
I’ll do my best to be true I know I must.
Don’t have to prove myself to you.
And I will trust that I will bloom
I’ll do my best to be true I know I must.
Don’t have to prove myself to you, myself to you, myself to you, myself to you.

Wish You Were Here

Writing Songs Rooted in Places

Over the past couple of months I’ve been privileged to work on a number of songwriting projects rooted in Yorkshire towns. One is the Creative Residencies project, an Arts Council funded project based in North Yorkshire Libraries (I’ll be writing more about that shortly, promise!), and last week I was in Grassington (a village I already have a relationship with) working on Wish You Were Here, another interesting project co-ordinated by NYMAZ, and facilitated by Grassington Festival.

What is it?

“Wish You Were Here” is a music as culture project; a songwriting relay in villages and towns across Yorkshire. (more…)

Accounting for the Uncounted

Or “We Are the long tail, and We are mighty

I’m now well into the last taught term of my MA Music Industries at BCU, and am preparing to write my dissertation. If you know me and/or my writing, you’ll probably already have an inkling that my dissertation is going to be around policy, it’s going to be to do with the representation of musicians’ interests in the digital age, and around Adding Up The Music Industries (in reference to the title of the annual PRS document “Adding Up The Music Industry“).

There are some key organisations who position themselves as the voice of the UK music industry, UK Music, PRS, The Musician’s Union and AIM

>> “This document sets out to define what “the music industry” actually is in 2010, and what we want to achieve.” Fergal Sharkey in Liberating Creativity, AIM (2010)

… who use their research findings to lobby and influence government in the interests of their members, and I’m interested in how they can best represent the interests of their members.

>> Copyright is the currency of creativity. We recommend that Government ensures it has in place a robust copyright framework fit for the digital age. As a priority, Government should swiftly implement the proposals laid out in the Digital Economy Bill which address digital copyright infringement… Liberating Creativity, AIM (2010)

Interestingly the prevailing discourse, the policy influencing voice in these documents (and one can presume the same applies when lobbying our government) tends to be anti-sharing, pro Digital Economy Act, protectionist. This conflicts with my experience as a musician in a band and as a music business in the digital age, who has seen significant economic benefits to the openness of the internet, and to a Pay What You Want approach to music sales. So when the MU magazine drops through my letterbox (I’m a fully paid up member), there’s a feeling of trepidation as I thumb through; a worry that there’ll be something that hinders my career as a musician. Whether it’s an Open Letter To Ed Sheeran telling him that he shouldn’t have said that he’s OK with fans illegally sharing his music, a call for a clampdown, an article supporting the DE Act, or the MU professing that the protection of copyright material should be managed by ISPs to avoid the loss of thousands of jobs…

>> “Our creative industries are facing unsustainable revenue losses due to weak or unenforced copyright laws. This means one thing and one thing only: millions of jobs lost and young talent ignored… While our industry has collapsed […] the ISP industry has more than doubled […] due in large part to infringement of our artistic works. We demand our indisputable right to copyright protection be no longer ignored. ‘Free’ should not come at such a terrible cost.” Musicians’ Union (2011b) The Artists’ Charter

… I’m left asking “Are these people using a different internet to me?” and “If I’m surrounded by music businesses who can see that the internet has contributed to the sustainability of their careers, why is the discourse from our voice, our representatives so far from what we know to have worked?”. It may be more the case that they’re representing the loudest voices, the biggest voices, or as William Glodman wrote, “follow the money“. As an artist who could be said to make up part of “The Long Tail“, that’s a concern, as that’s where most artists live.

In 2011 when I spoke with the MU’s Rachel Brine she confirmed to me that of over 30,000 members, over 23,000 members were paying the lower membership rate; a rate you paid if you were a musician earning under £20,000 per annum. Going by these figures, the majority of musicians (and I suspect, music businesses) fit into this category. Similarly, AIM confirm that…

>> “The UK industry is hugely diverse – 81% of music companies employ less than 5 people.” AIM/UK Music (2010)

If the PRS, UK Music, the MU and the DCMS (The Department of Culture Media and Sport won’t count my earnings, all earned through music/the making of music/music industry consultancy and music education, in their figures because the businesses I work in aren’t grossing more than £79k per annum and therefore aren’t hitting the compulsory VAT threshold.) fail to include me, and the majority of the musicians I know and work with in their figures, then they are less likely to be able to best represent our interests in their policy making.

The experience of the music businesses I work in, and that of the artists and businesses I come into contact with is that the openness of the internet is one of the things that’s enabled the sustainability and growth of the businesses we run. That we’re able to offer our music on a Pay What You Want basis, that the free distribution of digital downloads saves us money on pressing CDs for review, and that a direct to fan relationship has returned more revenue than ever we could have hoped for through the traditional label > distributor > shop model all add up to the open internet being a good thing for music, music businesses and for culture. This view is supported by David Blackburn’s (2004) research paper On-line Piracy and Recorded Music Sales which goes further than this to argue that illegal file sharing has a positive impact on three quarters of artists in bald sales terms.

>> “By percentile (with 1% being lowest selling, 100% the highest selling) we have the break even point at the 75th percentile: that is the bottom 3/4 of artists gain from file-sharing while the top 1/4 lose” Blackburn (2004)

So this brings me to the big question. What I’m I’m trying to address here… what I’m looking to hone into a thesis proposal is:

How can the institutions who are tasked with representing the interests of Musicians in the UK best represent the body of their membership?

Or perhaps it’s more to do with how do we account for the uncounted? Those of us in the long tail are many. How can policy be influenced based on the interests of the many rather than the interests of the few at the top of the tree.

We need YOU!

I’m now researching the literature around this subject and this’s is where I’m looking for help. If you can help me focus my thesis proposal, great. If you know some academic writing I should be including in my literature review, know of organisations who campaign of the side of the enterprising musician who embraces the internet or know someone smart I should talk with, then please do comment below. You can find me on twitter too, @thehuxcapacitor, though I have a feeling that 140 characters may not be the easiest form for discussion on this.

I’m already looking at some of Dr. Martin Cloonan’s writing on policy, David Hesmonghalgh, Mark Deuze… if you know any great, peer-reviewed articles that intersect with the subject, please don’t hesitate to comment below. Or if prefer, you can contact me at rich [at] hope and social [dot] com.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Gary Stewart at The Bedford – Live Stream: 16/9/12

Gary Stewart Band at The Bedford: Live Stream

This evening, Gary Stewart, happily (I was going to put “ably” but I thought that a tad presumptuous) accompanied by James Warrender (Ellen and The Escapades), Adam “Legend” Richards (Spirit of John), Sam Lawrence (Wilful Missing) and I, are playing at The (gorgeous) Bedford, a venue I’ve wanted to play at for years.

We’re very happy to be supporting Feldspar, who tonight, are releasing their new EP “The Flat and Paper Sky Vol. 1”. Additionally, they’re also putting a bunch of videos out, including “Let The Time Run”, a happily skipping ditty with the playful and rambunctious lyric “You were too ugly for sadness and I was too ugly for sex”. Lovely.

There’ a rather nifty live stream of to the night’s sets below, and set times for tothe night are…
7.15pm – NED
8.00pm: Gary Stewart
8.45pm: Feldspar

and you can find the Gary Stewart set at about 42 minutes in.

So, if you can’t be in the room… see you on the internetz. Comments verrry welcome below too ;)

Ancient Sunlight

Ed Waring and I are in Exeter this week working on “Ancient Sunlight“, a project initiated by Kaleider. As you’d perhaps expect, Kaleider, based in Exeter, specialise in bringing together people of different expertise to make art together. There’s a twitter list of Kaleider’s Ancient Sunlight team over here. Some great people… well worth a follow… or 12. ;)

One of the initial questions posed by Kalieder for Ancient Sunlight is “What would we do with the world’s last barrel of oil?”; oil of course being stored energy… which comes from the sun. This led to conversations about Peak Oil, Climate Change and made me think back to the Tipping Point event in Newcastle; The Artistic Response to Climate Change (where I worked with Amplified).

Tipping Point NewcastleTipping Point NewcastleImages from TippingPoint Newcastle #TPNewcastle

It’s a new and challenging experience for Ed and I, essentially we’re part of a team creating a piece of devised theatre to play out across a whole city. It’s a very large project.

We’re not quite sure exactly what the output and outcomes of Ancient Sunlight will be, though it will culminate in a four day, large scale performance in Exeter. This morning, Emily Williams, Bee Watson and I have been talking about ways to engage with people who aren’t in the room with us here at Exeter University… and on twitter I’ve just asked this question:

What images & sounds would you find in a “post-oil” world?

We’d love to get some responses from outside the room. Do you feel positive or negative about an oil-less world? What are the questions/issues that need addressing? How would you engage communities about an issue so overwhelmingly huge that we perhaps push it to the backs of our minds?

I was surprised at how I felt about it yesterday after collecting some sounds and images in “Picle” Original Picle Story here, and exported to youtube for easy embedding below.

If that’s made you have a think about this in any way, then please do get involved, comment here, tweet me, tag tweets, pictures, audio or anything else with #ancientsunlight. It’s a particular challenge for us to not only engage with the outside world on this, but we feel a great responsibility to make this relevant to the people of Exeter and beyond.

Over to you!