Category Archives: Uncategorised

New Single – The Devil Makes Work

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are times in everyone’s life when you hardly notice that tiles are falling off the roof and things are spinning out of control. You’ve been careless about the way you’ve been living and now all the chickens are coming home to roost. So what can you do?  I recommend writing a jazz-tinged blues with a moody chorus. Somehow it’s all rather cheering.

The Devil Makes Work - my new digital single. – Click on the image to Save on Spotify or stream on Apple Music. Have fun.  

https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/trevorclawson/c1Y9

Your Spotify Stats and the Story They Tell

Spotify isn’t the only game in town when it comes to music streaming, but it is the biggest player in the market,  so if you have music that you want to share (commercially) with the world, it’s probably the one you want to focus on.

These days it’s not difficult to get your music onto Spotify. As an independent musician, all you have to do is track down one of the numerous intermediaries – such as Distrokid, Ditto, CD Baby and Tunecore – and in exchange for a relatively small sum of money, they will upload your songs onto all the major streaming and download platforms, including Spotify itself.

The Official Artists Page

And once you’ve got yourself onto Spotify, it’s a really good idea to register an official artist’s page. This use to be quite difficult for the non-famous  as it required you to have 250 followers (which is quite a lot) but that hurdle has been removed.   An approved artist page – this is mine – has a tick circled in blue.

Why An Artists Page?

With a  Spotify-approved  artist’s page, you can not only upload pictures and details about yourself, you can also access statistics about the performance of your songs. And those statistics tell a story.

Do Listener’s Like What You’re Doing

The stats tell you who is listening to your music (male/female, age, location) but perhaps more importantly, they let you know if those listeners really like what you’re doing.

Because when you break it down to each individual song, the stats will tell you a) how many times it has been streamed b) how many people have been listening to it and c) how many times has the song been saved.

The Engagement Game

So let’s say,  a  song has been streamed 2,000 times by 2,000 people. What does that say? Well if you’re an unknown artist, it probably says you’ve done a great job of promoting it, but people aren’t coming back to hear it a second or third time. It’s 2,000 individuals and 2,000 streams.

So what about 2,000 streams and 500 listeners. That means you’ve got a smaller listener base, but some or perhaps all are listening to the song over and over again. That’s actually great. You’re engaging with genuine fans who love what you’re doing.  And if 250 save it, then  that particular  subset really, really like what you do.

In a third scenario, you might have 2,000 streams and 20 plays. Fine, that means you have a few super fans – possibly relatives and friends – but your following is too concentrated.

Honing Your Marketing

So why does this matter. Well, I’m at the start of my Spotify journey but I’ve written about online marketing for many years. In my view to this info on a song-by-song level helps you understand which of your songs are performing best, not only in terms of plays but in repeat engagement.  If nothing else, that will help you understand, which are genuinely most popular. Those are the ones that you might choose to highlight and promote, either in playlists (within spotify) or on social media or contacts with bookers, labels, bloggers, radio stations etc.

Meanwhile, the headline numbers – how many plays, show you how successful (or not) your promotional efforts have been.

The story told by the stats will need a bit of interpretation, but knowledge is power.

That’s the end of the sermon. If you’ve made it this far, here is my new song for light relief.  Hope you enjoy.

Home Turf – Grass Roots Music is Great And Here’s The Proof

Not so long ago I wrote a blog extolling the virtues of going out to see live music locally – not  in concert halls but in clubs and bars, places where you’re sitting up-close-and-personal to the action. I’ve seen some great acts in small venues – not just local heroes but genuine music legends. I still recall the thrill of seeing post-Fleetwood Mac Peter Green play in a pub in Southampton and I sat in front of inspirational acoustic guitarist, Bert Jansch on many occasions in small folk clubs. More recently a visiting US act, namely Ray Bonneville, totally blew me away . I mentally filed it away as one of the best gigs I’d seen. The venue was a tiny back room in a village pub snuggled close to the South Downs National Park.

My Home Turf

But what about the locals. Well, I live in Sussex , and like most areas with any population at all, it has a dynamic grass-roots music scene, of which I’m a small part. Some of the acts on the local circuit are content to play live , but others – myself included – make records that deserve to heard. So to put my money where my mouth is, I’ve compiled this Spotify playlist showcasing some pretty wonderful songwriters and performers from my area.

Lay back, listen , enjoy and follow those you like.

Five Ways That A Home Studio Will Drive You Insane

I grew up in the pre-Internet era, but the funny thing is that I now can’t really remember what life was like before email and the World Wide Web.

It was also the pre-digital era. When I started to write songs, having a home studio entailed investing large amounts of money on a multi-track reel-to-reel recorder, another machine to mix down onto, outboard effects and mixing desk. Not to mention, mics, mic stands and cables.  I couldn’t afford all that, so I saved my pennies and hired studio time, even for demos.

 

And to be honest, I can’t really remember that time very well either. Today, I have recording software (including effects) on my laptop and with a small mixer and a few mics, I’m in business. The studio is no longer a luxury, it’s a tool.  I’ve recorded four albums at home, and because I have had  time to get things right, I’m generally happy with the results.

But…if you have the budget, there may be a case for spending on pro studio time for the bigger projects. And it’s not simply because the professional operation will have better equipment. Working in a dedicated studio may help you solve some of the issues that can drive you mad when you’re working at home.

Here are five issues that can blight your home recording outcomes.

1) You Never Finish

2015. “I’m making an album at home,” says a friend of a friend. 2018. “How  did the album project go,? you ask. “I’m still working on it,” the friend of friend replies.

And here’s the problem.  Having a home studio means  you never have to watch the clock. That’s great…it really is. But the downside is that you can just keep on tweaking things in search of the perfect guitar sound, vocal or solo that you never quite achieve. Without the constraints of a budget,  there is a danger that you simply won’t know when to stop. And if you’re working on your own, you may lack the objectivity to know what a good take actually is. The album never gets made.

Solution: Set a timetable and stick to it.

2) It’s Impossible to Judge Your Own Performance

This can be a particular problem when it comes to vocals.  The prerequisite for a vocal is that it should be in tune. In theory, and assuming you have a half decent ear, that should be easy to assess, but other factors can cloud your judgment, Maybe, it just doesn’t sound right because you don’t like the vocal tone, or the phrasing doesn’t quite work. Other people tell you, don’t worry, it’s fine and in tune, but it doesn’t sound right to you. Eventually, you lose all ability to judge the vocal line and possibly also mislay the will to live.

Solution: Work with someone you trust. Someone who can tell you if it’s a good performance or not. If that’s not possible, forget about it for a day or two. If the vocal still doesn’t sound right when you come back to it, do it again.

3) Live Sound is a No No. 

Unless your studio is an isolated farmhouse or enjoys state of the art soundproofing, a home rig probably won’t be ideal for recording a band, complete with live drums.  My own setup lends itself to building songs one track at a time. That gives me a lot of control, but I miss the live ‘band’ sound that is achievable in pro studios.

Solution: If you need a live sound and you can’t do it at home, invest in some studio time

4) You’ll be Learning on the Job 

My first attempt to record an album on my own equipment was a disaster. So much so, that I quietly binned it and started again. Performances were partly to blame, but mainly, I was learning some fairly basic technical skills. Skills that I would have taken for granted had I been working with an experienced engineer.

Solution: Experiment, read, take advice and don’t expect brilliant results immediately

5) Lack of Interaction

There is a temptation – which I’ve fallen victim to – to do everything yourself – guitar, bass, keyboards, drum programming etc. Actually, it’s a bit of thrill to do that. But…..you arguably lose the studio magic that comes from collaboration.

: Bring in other musicians

Why I Love Country Music

“British country music – there’s no excuse for it”

As pithy soundbites go, they don’t come much better.  In the space of just nine well-chosen  words,  the author managed to drive a soon to be bloodied knife into the heart of anyone foolish enough to enjoy playing or (God forbid) writing country music, while also being a resident of the United Kingdom.

And there is a part of me that agrees with the sentiment – which incidentally was expressed by a doyen of the English folk scene. Country music and its trendier spinoff, Americana may have some roots in the traditional music of Ireland, Scotland and England, but lyrically and musically they speak to an American experience.

Aspiring to Pastiche

So if you’re based in London, Aberdeen or Swansea and you happen to play in a Country or Americana band, all you can really aspire to is pastiche, or at the very best a heartfelt tribute that sits somewhere to the left of the real thing.

One  problem with Country is that the lyrical tropes are pretty specific to America.  Words that conjure up visions of endless roads, roadside bars and trains that take fifteen minutes to roll by, don’t sit well on the tongues of Brits. Even ‘cheatin’ songs – certainly a universal experience –  exist in Country music as an almost heroic, if often tragic, counterpart to the the constricted  morality of the Bible Belt. ‘Cheatin’ isn’t just ‘cheatin’  in country music. Cheatin is the plot McGuffin that allows writers to explore sin, salvation and redemption. The same stories have a different resonance in the context of an increasingly Godless UK.

The Case for the Defence

So-case closed. UK country – there’s no excuse for it.

But there is a case for the defence.  As a writer, I’ve learned a lot from Americana. In particular,  Americana has taught me that telling stories that illuminate the lives of ordinary people  is an incredibly rewarding thing to do.

So I put my hand up. The lyrical structures that underpin much of Americana lie at the heart of an awful lot of my songs too. That’s not to say that I’m writing about American themes – most of my songs are set firmly in the UK.  But they are stories that often – as is the case with Americana – explore some of the more awkward corners of the human heart.

So file under Anglo-Irish Americana. Or better still  file under songwriter that draws on elements of folk, roots, Americana, Blues and Jazz in service of narrative lyrics.  See below for an example


 

 

Travel and songwriting #2 Coming Home With The Blues

In a previous blog, I wrote about the beneficial effect that travel can have on the songwriting mind.

I was thinking about that again,  when reviewing my last album, Love & Pride, which has been available for about a year and is about to be re-released with additional tracks.

Every album is – or at least should be – a reflection of a particular time and set of circumstances. A kind of diary of a time and place, albeit coded within songs.

In the case of Love & Pride, I began to pull together a collection of new and (some) old songs in the period immediately following a working trip to Chicago. It was my first time in a city that has nurtured some of the giants of jazz, blues, rock and dance music. I was determined to absorb some of that heritage, so I spent my free time in jazz and blues clubs while also finding time to watch a free gospel concert in beside the lake.

And then, as you do, I came home and began to think about making an album and at some level the trip to Chicago rubbed off. But that wasn’t all that was going on. In England, we’d just had the Brexit vote. A month or two later, Trump was elected in the US. Times were uncertain, and I was facing my own personal crisis. I began to think about hbard times past and hard times ahead.

Love& Pride isn’t a blues album – not even close – but it is ‘blue’ in spirit, I think. Hope you enjoy.

The Art Of The Story Song – The Key To Narrative Songwriting

At  4.00 o’clock on a December morning, the narrator of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat begins to tell the heart rending tale of a triangular relationship between two men and one woman.

IOK let’s face it, it’s a subject that that is a staple of popular song, drama, fiction and just about any other art form you can mention.  But Cohen –  like all good writers – take this most over-worked scenarios  and turns it into what might be called nowadays, a fully immersive experience that leaves you shaken and stirred.

Famous Blue Raincoat is a song you can come back to again and again,  perhaps because Cohen doesn’t reveal the whole picture. The arc of the narrative is clear.  The narrator is writing a letter to a friend who has betrayed him by sleeping with his wife (or partner), Jane. The couple stay together but the relationship has changed.

But it’s the detail that intrigues. Prior to the betrayal,  the one time friend goes to a station to meet a train, but return alone with his raincoat ‘torn’ at the shoulder. Cohen gives no further detail. You’re left to fill in the details yourself.  Similarly, the betrayer is no said to be living in the desert. At one stage, he intended to ‘go clear.’ Again no further details. What this means is that every time the listener returns to the song, the imagination  builds a bigger world around these carefully crafted pointers.

Cut to Tangled up in Blue, my favourite Dylan song. The first verse references a marriage and relationship breakdown. From there we go on a disjointed journey, where each verse seems to shine a torch into another period of the narrator’s life (it may even be multiple narrators).  Each scene is vivid. You see the faces, feel the pain and joy,  but Dylan doesn’t join the narrative dots.   He leaves that up to the listener.

Compare and contrast with Springsteen, who often writes with the precision of a screenwriter.  It’s all laid out. But here’s the trick. Every time you come back,  you rebuild the scenes a new, because the writer puts a projector and screen into your mind.

I am fascinated by the narrative song – from traditional ballads to today’s rock, rap, folk and/or Americana.   And there is more than one way to  tell a story

Arguably the real test of a story song is whether or not the listener feels inclined to hear it more than once. Give away too much, the song could be like a joke that isn’t funny second time round.

Here some songs – on a spotify playlist – that I feel have stood the test of time – along with a couple of mine.

 

Enjoy

Heroes Next Door – Support Your Local Music Legends

Chicago 2017. I’m standing at a bar in Buddy Guy’s Blues Legends club.  It’s jam night and I’m watching a local singer – the imperious and rather wonderful Holle Thee Maxwell –  wow a crowd that is largely comprised of tourists, such as my good self.

At one point, Holle plugs an upcoming concert, at which she will be playing with members of blues legend,  Willie Dixon’s band.  As it turns out, several members of that band are in the  room, all of them  pointed out by Holle.

For a music obsessed traveler, it is a wonderful moment. This is the America of my dreams.  A place where you can walk a few blocks, pay a $5 cover charge and find yourself standing at the bar with men and women who are an acknowledged part of musical history. And let’s not forget Holle, herself.  A blues, soul an opera singer, she is also part of Chicago’s heritage.

Bert’s Blues

But I live in England, so let’s jump back further in time. I first saw  saw Bert Jansch play in the cellar bar of a pub in North West London and a few weeks later in the upstairs room of a another bar in Clapham.  On both occasions he played inspiring sets that made me a) want to practice harder and b) encouraged me to buy a Yamaha LD10, just like Bert’s.

Bert was, of course, a musical  legend. One of the key figures in the UK folk revival of the 1960s,  he was a master musician who has, by now, influenced several generations of musicians.  But like many on the folk/blues scene, you might find playing a pub folk club on Wednesday and the Albert Hall on Saturday.  He was, in short, not only a guitar genius but also an accessible, jobbing musician. The same could be said for others of his generation, such as Martin Carthy or Steve Tilston.

Close to the Action

The great thing about small pub gigs is that – from the point of view of a guitarist  – you can really see what’s going on – or to put it another way, you are close to the action and can clearly see every piece of left hand fingering and right hand technique.

And if you’re lucky, you might also see a real legend at work. To drop another name, I was once luck enough to see former Fleetwood Mac guitarist at a bar in Southampton.

So what am I saying here. Musicians start off in small pubs and club and in some cases that’s where they stay or return to.   We live in an age of stadium rock, but small venues are where new music is made and where it can often be seen and heard at its best.   So support the heroes next door – the ones that have already earned their place in history and the ones taking their first step in that direction.

Will Playlists Kill The Album?

If you write songs and post them online as albums , you probably spend a lot of time playing around with the sequence of songs.  I certainly do.

Back in the day – when vinyl and then the CD ruled the roost – sequencing was something of an art form.  There was the opening track – the one with which you hoped to wow your audience – and from there you took listeners on a journey that culminated in the album closer. And very often the closing song would be one of the best on the album.  A good final number was like the closing chapter a novel. Whether an out and out rocker or an atmospheric dying fall, it was the climax of the experience.   Sadly in the age of streaming, a lot of listeners won’t make it to the closer.

But hey. Today we still have albums, but we also have playlists.  Now I’m a great believer in albums as entities in themselves, but I have to say there’s something to be said for creating playlists of your own material as well. Songs from different albums that seem to go well together.

And it’s not just me. As reported this week in the Guardian newspaper, increasing numbers of artists are eschewing the album concept and instead creating rolling and ever-changing playlists for the streaming community. Will this destroy the album?  I hope not, but what it will do is provide musicians with another way to package the songs they write and produce.

With that in mind, I’ve just created a little four track mini-list bringing together some bluesy tracks (see below)on Soundcloud and will be doing something similar on Spotify. Hope you enjoy.

 

First Songs – Don’t Throw Them Away

If you’ve found your way to this blog because you  too write words and music for fun or profit, then you probably remember your first song.  This is mine.

What’s more, you can probably remember the circumstances in which you wrote it.  Maybe it was inspired by your first serious love affair – or less sweetly, your first meaningful breakup.  Whatever, the inspiration, I bet you found it easy to write. You were (probably) young and  unencumbered by any sense of your own limitations. You just sat down and let the words and music flow out.

Rediscovery

The reason, I’m talking about this is because I recently rediscovered my own first song after many many years.  The discovery came through playing it for fun and thinking: “you know what, I would like to record this.”  Why? Because it had a strong melody and pushed my voice to places it rarely goes these days. The words were those of an 18 year old – but I could live with them.

So why hadn’t I recorded it before? Well, it was an acoustic song and in 1997, punk happened. I set aside my acoustic, bought an electric guitar and amp, and for a few years, I rocked out. When I returned to being an acoustic troubadour, Come Tomorrow was forgotten.

And now it’s on my new album – Love & Pride, because it seems to fit and I like it. In the words of English songwriter Ralph McTell: “You were my first song and I still love you.”

Let me know what you think. And post your first songs.