How to enjoy music when you do it for a living

Like many young musicians and creatives, I always dreamed of being able to play my instrument for a living one day. Well two years ago, this dream came to fruition. I started playing keys for various different bands, writing scores for some indie films and also teaching keyboard to a few students.

This has now steadily progressed to turning into a semi full time job alongside my university studies. I have had great experiences and performed alongside some pretty prestigious artists and don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret a single second, however, there has also been times when I’ve wanted to flat out quit. This has been down to purely not enjoying Music, I’m sure some of you can relate to this, thankfully, I’ve found various ways of being able to do what I love for work and also get pleasure out of it. I am going to share these ways with you today:

1) Play music that you enjoy

We all know what its like having to play music that we hate in order to make ends meet. I’ve done it more times than I can count and its really not beneficial to you or the artist you’re working with/for. So if you can afford to, make sure to say yes to projects that excite you on a musical and personal level, that way your client will always get the best out of you and you will always enjoy going to work.

2) Try and play as many different genres of music as you can

As a session musician, I’m lucky to be able to be involved in several different musical genres. This includes: general covers, acoustic singer-songwriter, Folk rock and progressive rock. I have always felt that being in a singular band playing the same genre every weekend can get rather stale pretty quickly, thus causing you to fall out of love with it, something every musician wanting a long-lasting career should avoid.

3) Get along to some local jam nights!

This is one thing I never have done enough of and definitely something I’m glad to be doing more of! I’ve recently started attending a jam night at The Bull in Colchester every Tuesday night after uni and its definitely one of the best things I’ve done! I think that giving yourself the chance to play freely with other musicians without the constraint of charts or a click track in your ears is a brilliant way to not only meet and network with different instrumentalists but also a chance to play whatever you want for a change!

4) Go to some gigs!

Us musicians spend so much of our time on stage that we sometimes forget how much fun it is being a member of the audience! I’ve always done my best to go out on my nights off and support my friends in local bands, this is the only way to keep local music and local venues alive after all!

Follow these four pieces of advice and I can pretty much promise you that you will all enjoy your music a lot more!

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The State of the British Music Education system – an open letter to the government

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Anyone that knows me will be aware of how much I value Music and how integral I feel it is that Music Education is part of the UK national curriculum.

It has been proven that Music and “The Arts” help children develop confidence, discipline, interpersonal skills, self-awareness and other key skills they need to progress in life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying for one second that the kids that are playing for football teams or part of the chess club don’t develop these skills or indeed that are lesser people than their musical peers, but what I am saying is that, i wouldn’t be the person I am without music/ Music Education.

However, unfortunately, the current UK government fail to see the importance of the arts (namely Music). I, along with many of my fellow Musicians, find this disgusting. Across the country, Music departments at all levels (KS2 & KS3) are having their funding cut and therefore having to either cut costs, thus leaving them short staffed or (to my heartbreak) shut down altogether.

This now means that children at key stages of their development, at the ages in which they begin to discover who they are as individuals, are not being given the opportunities to either unlock or develop their talent.

Can you imagine being in school seeing all your friends being GOOD or even GREAT at something like poetry or football and having the ability to go to a club dedicated to those talents and then there’s you. You know you’re good at music but you also see that your school doesn’t have a music department or any clubs or 1-1 lessons. I for sure would’ve been lost without my school’s Music department, lord knows I’d be lost without Music full stop.

So, on that note – this was an open letter to the Uk government from a musician and aspiring Music Educator who lays here at 2:30 in the morning, not being able to sleep out of his disgust and heartache at the lack of respect and value that his profession is being shown by his countries leaders.

Theresa May, and colleagues… please STOP and see what you’re doing, you are suffocating something amazing and soon, there is going to be nothing left, please, I beg you, stop…

Signed

A distraught musician.

Floor wedges vs In Ear Monitors: The Pros and cons of both

One of the most important things for a musician when they are on stage is the need to be able to hear themselves clearly, if they can’t, they are going to produce a sub-standard performance.  There used to be only one way of doing this and that was through what is known as a floor wedge or floor monitor, this is simply a speaker that is placed in front of the musicians so that they can hear themselves. As you can imagine, these speakers would be quite bulky and take up a lot of space on stage, especially if there is a large amount of musicians on stage, all requiring monitors.

This issue has now been solved with the invention of in ear monitors or I.E.M’s. The clue is in the name as t how these work, just like a floor monitor but rather than having a massive speaker on stage, each performer has a set of in ear headphones in which they can hear themselves and whatever else they require, for example, a click track if the performer is a drummer.

The debate about which monitoring method is best has been going on for years and there are pros and cons to both forms of monitoring, let’s start with the pros and cons of floor monitors:

Pros

  • Less expensive – A fully functioning in ear system can cost hundreds of pounds)
  • No sound blocked ( having in ears can sometimes block out the noise of the crowd etc.
  • Freedom of movement – if a performer isn’t on wireless I.E.M’s, they are attached to a cable.
  • Shared mixes – If time is not on a bands side, the engineer can arrange to have various band members using one wedge, not ideal, but time efficient.

Cons

  • More noise on stage – If you combine the front of house speakers, guitar amps and several monitors on stage, it sure is gonna get very loud, very quickly.
  • Less space on stage – Again, combining the amps, instruments and people with more bulky monitors doesn’t create the most comfortable stage plan.
  • more chance of feedback  – Because of the amount of things blasting out at you and the audience.
  • No chance of a custom mix – for some musicians, having a custom mix is essential, such as the drummer needing a click track at times, you can’t put a click through a floor monitor or the audience will hear it, not good.

As you can see, having a floor wedge has its advantages and disadvantages, now onto in ears. If you’re gigging week in week out like me, I would suggest investing in some in ear monitors, we’ll go through the pros and cons of these now:

Pros

  • Hearing protection – In ear monitors are designed to block out as much noise as possible to protect the hearing of the wearer, with in ears, the harsh frequencies like that produced from the crash of drum cymbals are either blocked out completely or blocked to a certain extent so you can still hear them but just not as loudly.
  • Custom mixes – With in ears, you can have a mix that is custom made for you, this take quite a lot of time during soundcheck but is well worth it. The quality of a mix can make or break a performance for a lot of musicians, if you can’t hear yourself or can hear too much of yourself, things could go horribly wrong. Thankfully with in ears, the sound levels can be adjusted without affecting anybody else in the band.
  • You can hear more clearly – Because your monitor is literally in your ear, you can hear everything more precisely and be really locked into the rest of your band members, this helps your performance a great deal.
  • They look cool  – I know, probably not the reason anybody chooses in ears, but I must say, I like the fact that I’m wearing what the pros wear, it makes me feel cool, okay? Try not to judge me!

Cons

  • Expensive – A good quality in ear system can burn a rather large hole in your wallet, we’re talking £500 + if you want the high end stuff. For your first set, I wouldn’t recommend going out and spending that much, get something quality but within your price range!
  • If they break, you’re done – This doesn’t happen too often if you look after them, but if they do break and you don’t have a spare set, then your kinda stuck, musically and financially. Especially if they break on stage and you don’t have a wedge running too, which is not likely.
  • Could cause hearing damage – If your sound guy isn’t responsible or experienced, they could send a massively hot feed to your ears, this could potentially damage your hearing if it keeps happening, before you switch to in ears, you have to be sure that the engineers your working with know how to handle their desks properly.
  • They can’t always be used – I’ve had experiences of going to a venue, telling the sound guy that I run in ears, and having them freak and not know what to do with these foreign objects.. dude… just run an XLR cable from your desk to mine.. oh well.

These are my personal pros and cons, added to the extensive argument as to which way works best. Personally, once I switched to in ears, using a wedge was never the same, I just couldn’t do it, and I’d imagine its the same for many people that have made the switch. A fellow session musician friend of mine described using in ears as “hearing in HD” and I have to say, his right.

SIDE NOTE: I wrote a little review of my Moxpad X6 in ears, take a read!: https://garycunninghammusic.wordpress.com/category/reviews/page/2/

 

 

 

 

The Unfinished Record

The Unfinished Record

The music industry and the sound of unsigned music seems to be going through another evolution as of late.

I’ve reviewed various bands for my unsigned music blog recently, and they all had one thing in common. Their finished releases didn’t sound.. finished. That’s a bad thing, right? WRONG. The evolution that the unsigned music world is going through right now, is that many unsigned bands (dependent on genre) are releasing records to the world without having them perfect.

For example, the vocals aren’t smothered in auto-tune (everyone knows how much I hate auto-tune, if you don’t, READ THIS) and sometimes they aren’t even at the front of the mix, they’re buried deep behind the lead guitarist. I’m not going to lie to you, this did get on my nerves at first because I was so used to hearing that perfected, fixed up, radio perfect release for so long. Becoming a regular music blogger opened up my eyes to the dark, under-belly of unsigned material. It took me a while to appreciate it, but now? I love it!

It works so well, you can really feel and appreciate the amount of effort and heart that has been put into these sorts of releases, the imperfect product has a certain charm to it that you’ll never hear when listening to mainstream radio. The amount of chaos that I’ve heard within these records is astonishing, it sounds as if these sorts of bands have just hired a studio, plugged in their instruments, hit record and just started playing random notes! I’ll tell you now, to the commercial labels, that is their idea of a recurring nightmare.

BUT it’s an ever-growing trend to push out, raw, un-edited music! It really works in my opinion, but you need to have a certain character about you to sit down and enjoy it.

Is the unfinished record going to be the new way of doing things in the future? who knows? What I will say is this: listening to music that is raw has helped me discover a new side to the industry I fell in love with at the age of 9 (yes, 9), it has shown me that you don’t have to rely on expensive equipment to produce something of high quality, and it’s shown me that no matter what, don’t give a damn what people think, release what makes you happy and proud to be an artist, and eventually, people (like me) will catch on and appreciate right along with you!

My thoughts on episode one of The Voice UK

My thoughts on episode one of The Voice UK

Popular TV talent show “The Voice” returned to our screens this weekend, bringing with it some new rules and new coaches as well as the return of fan favourites Will I Am and Sir Tom Jones.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this season so I sat down with an open mind. I have to be honest, I was very very underwhelmed with the standard of contestants within this first episode. None of them really got my attention or got me excited, and to be frank, some of them were awful!

There was one contestant that got my attention and made me excited and that was the final contestant “Mo” performing “Iron Sky”. I could just tell that he really wanted a turn and he really deserved it, his passion during his audition was like nothing I’d seen in a while and certainly blew the other contestants out of the water, I predict a bright future for him on the show.

The same can definitely not be said for his friend Max Vickers who performed “You Can Call Me Al”. I use the term performed very loosely.. It sounds harsh but he just couldn’t get ahold of himself or his vocal technique during this performance, he genuinely sounded and looked like he was having a fit on stage! Remarkably, he got a chair turn from of the new coaches Gavin Rossdale.

Over the last few years, the standard of performances on The Voice UK has been shocking, the American’s, Australian’s and all the other countries are blowing the UK out of the water, we don’t have a leg to stand on at the moment and we haven’t for quite some time. The shows should be about showcasing genuine talent, not about sticking someone diabolical in front of millions of people to make good TV, they’ll only end up showing themselves up in the end.

Overall, I am completely disappointed and underwhelmed by the first show, even the coaches performance (bar Jennifer Hudson) was mediocre. I hope that in episode two, things improve drastically.

My biggest issue with The X Factor

XFactor-logo.jpgThe X Factor is probably one of most well known reality TV shows in the world these days. For those of you that don’t know, it is a televised singing competition produced by music mogul Simon Cowell. The aim is of course, to win and then go on to receive a record deal from Simon’s label “SYCO”. Some of the most successful UK X Factor contestants are: Olly Murs, One Direction, Little Mix and recently Louisa Johnson and James Arthur.

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Recent X Factor Winner Lousia Johnson Credit: WENN.com

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with this show in particular if I’m honest. I’ve had friends that have competed on the show (and won it) so naturally, I can’t argue that the show doesn’t create that leap to fame that most musicians crave . However, there is one huge thing about the show that I absolutely cannot stand.

That thing, is that the show allows bogus acts through above actual talented people, and it is all in the name of “entertainment”. This is especially the case in this years X Factor. Take “Honey G” for example,  a supposed “rapper” who can’t sing for toffee but is being allowed through to the live shows above actual singers.

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Honey G on X Factor live shows  Credit: Metro.co.uk

Some news sites are saying that Honey G is always being put through because her gimmick is “saving The X Factor”. It’s no secret that the ratings for the long running talent show have been at an all time low in recent years, with the possibility of it being cut from our airwaves completely, it is possible that Mr Cowell has decided to go to extreme lengths to give the British public a reason to tune in.

Many industry stars, including Little Mix, have dubbed Honey G a fake and an actress, could this be true? If so, I wonder how much Simon is paying her to make a fool of herself in front of millions? After her Linkedin profile (holding multiple degree qualifications) was un-earthed, the authenticity of the rapper from “South Weezy” has been truly called into question.

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Anna Gilford A.KA Honey G on Linkedin Credit: Thesun.co.uk

However, I do believe that if the show focused on actual talent, that people would tune in for that too. I personally would rather watch an hour of exceptional musicians give it their all for a record deal than watch people like Honey G try to rap ( and therefore make me struggle not to scream at the top of my lungs)

As a musician, it really does sicken me to the core that untalented people are being given airtime whilst I know singers that have auditioned this year and got turned away that are on another level, it makes no sense and to me, ruining dreams of hard grafting musicians in favour of bogus acts in order to apparently “keep ratings up” defeats the object of a TALENT competition.

I really hope that Cowell starts to realise that he doesn’t need fake acts in order to create a successful show, before it’s too late and acts like “Honey G” leave a black mark all over his hard work.

 

Auto-tune Culture And How It Has Ruined The Music Industry

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Auto-Tune, the revolutionary invention of recent times, it’s saved many an artist from complete vocal embarrassment and dubbed the worst performers “talented.” This is until, they begin to sing live, of course.

Being one of the dying breed of ACTUAL musicians who don’t use auto-tune to create their stardom, my opinion on it’s use is VERY strong. To be honest, I think using auto-tune is so disrespectful to the artists who can actually sing, and it’s also disrespectful to the unsigned talent that put hours and hours of work into their music, just to be ignored by industry brass in favour of an artist who has no talent whatsoever. It makes me sick to the core knowing that I have friends that have more talent in their little fingers than most of the “stars” do, yet they’re still having to post covers on Youtube and release their singles/albums on a tiny budget and get limited success.

Let’s be frank for a second and cut the bullshit. Today’s music industry is more focused on wether an artist has sex appeal, that classic line “sex sells” has never been more true. So true in fact, that as long as you’ve either got big boobs or a six pack, it doesn’t matter if you can sing or not, because they’ll just auto-tune your stuff and you can mime your set when live.

What’s happened to the authenticity of this industry? I’ll tell you what, it’s died along with the many great artists we’ve lost in recent years, and I’ll bet my career that they’re turning in their graves, I know I would be! Don’t get me wrong, there are some brilliant modern artists that can sing up a storm without the aid of auto-tune but the majority of today’s stars are sounding more robot-like than human, and that is what makes me so angry.

Not only that, but many artists actually have the audacity to deny using auto-tune. This one really makes me laugh because it’s so blatant a deaf person could spot it! (before anyone gets offended, it’s sarcasm, obviously) The point I’m trying to make is this, if famous muso’s are going to use it, they may as well face up to the fact that they can’t sing and either admit to their shortfalls and face the backlash, or quit, because they don’t deserve any of the music awards they’ve received throughout their career of lies.

I’m going to wrap this article up with a huge, heartfelt, tearful plea to the music industry to just wake up! Open their eyes and realise what this apparent “revolution” is doing to what was one of the greatest industries in the world. Just stop using technology, ditch all the talentless dead-weight, stop being concerned about an artist’s “sex appeal” and within a few years, you’ll have some of the most (genuinely) talented musicians at your beck and call, therefore, you’ll have a crazy amount of money! It’s a win win, so please, for crying out loud, wake up and act before this industry becomes an even bigger shit-pit than it already is.