Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
returned to my spiritual home recently, a proper recording studio. It
has a full-size mixing desk, FX racks and an engineer to sort out the
sound for me, so that I can get on with being a pretentious tart.
There's an engraving by Hogarth, dated 1741. It's called The Enraged
Musician. Here, a violinist attempting to rehearse is disturbed by a
cacophony in the street below. All manner of street traders shout
out their wares. While they do so, a man sounds his horn, a busker
plays a hautboy and a child thrashes a drum. It's a picture which I
very much relate to.
of the time when I'm not writing, I'm either recording or composing
music. The archway above which I work stands on a busyish sidestreet.
The cars and supermarket delivery vans go back and forth. The two
cheery young families living either side of me come and go
downstairs. When school ends, the young mums and their children,
often halt at a point just across the road from me, for a pavement
chat Passing boys bounce their footballs loudly on the road outside
my window or rumble past on skateboards. Lastly, commuters returning
from London, trundle wearily by dragging their wheelie-bags. How are
they to know that I'm at work on something so brilliant, that one day
it might eclipse Penny Lane? I mustn't complain. They're only
civilians. They too have lives. The working world cannot attend my
fragile genius. It's my cross, and I'll bear it, okay?
I've found ways around some of the noise problems. At the busiest
times of day, I'll work in headphones, recording electric guitars
and basses directly into the desk. I mainly leave the vocals for
early afternoon, which is a quieter time. Provided that nobody's
sanding a floor, hammering, or road-drilling, which they often do, a
bit of extraneous noise can be passed off as ambience.
technology is marvellous these days. Long gone are the times of
sound-proofing half a garage with eggboxes, building a chipboard drum
booth and promising your mum or the neighbours that you'd be done by
my upright piano however, has been a constant problem. In addition to
the 'natural street ambience' my floorboards creak. Every chair in
the house creaks, the piano keys themselves click and squeak -- often
in untraceable places. Oh and certain bass chords sometimes set up a
sympathetic rattle in other instruments. It drives me nuts. Then I
solved the problem when I discovered a large professional recording
studio only a few miles away from my home. It has a good grand piano.
I have to hire it of course, but it's well worth it. In two or three
hours, I can now record my piano parts cleanly, put them onto a
memory stick and add them to the master recording at home.
earlier times I'd spent months of my life in studios. How I loved it,
locked away from the world, not even knowing what time of day it
was. All of this in the company of sterling fellows just like
me:selfish, obsessed studio rats, only interested in getting the song
the 1990s, as home-recording technology improved and became cheaper,
the golden age of the studio rat waned. Access to digital
technology, for many hard-up musicians, was a godsend, enabling them
to have multi-tracking facilities in their own homes.
the technology soon superseded the artform. This made many
songwriters lazy. Creativity itself gradually began to boil down to
how many presets you had on your new electronic toys. Since the
digital cut'n'paste revolution has happened, few stars of the
Auto-tune age now walk into a studio with a batch of fully-formed
songs. They tend instead to get a few half-mast ideas, then expect
the producer and the studio to weld it all up into something vaguely
chartworthy. Songwriting, as it once was, as Rodgers & Hart,
Lennon/McCartney, Carole King and the Gershwins knew it, has largely
degenerated into a Preset Pie, topped with cliche and nursery rhyme.
The megastar singer Adele may be an exception. Okay, she's not Amy
Winehouse, but she can write a song. The song, A Million Years,
from her current smash album is a case in point. However, I do
mischievously urge you all to also listen to a 1966 Charles Aznavour
song called, Yesterday When I Was Young. Please don't write in.
let's move on to how it all worked, yesterday when I, your
correspondent, was young. The tunesmith and wordsmith wrote the song. The
agent took the song to a publisher. The publisher ran it round the
record company. The A&R man matched the song to an artiste. An
arranger sorted out the backing, while a producer told the musicians
and singer how to perform it. The recording engineer got it down on
tape, the record company mastered, pressed and promoted it and
finally, in a best-case scenario, the public bought it. Sometimes,
almost as an afterthought, the songwriters were paid. The difference
nowadays? The Internet has eaten everything. Most of the jobs I've
mentioned no longer exist, while songwriting has become a curious old
pastime, like sedan-chair upholstery or gibbet-building. Popular
songs are probably the worst-crafted and least memorable they'e been
in sixty years. Never have so many listened to so much, so cheaply
and got so little back. If you don't want to know the score, don't
pay anyone to write it.