Posts from the ‘Education’ Category

Covers vs Originals … ?

Many of us start life as creative, professional musicians with an absolute aversion to playing anyone elses music ever at all. No way! We want to tell our own stories and have something original and unique to say that no-one else has. For others, it’s the opposite – not everyone is a natural at songwriting and composing and there is a fine career to be had just playing and interpreting what’s already been written.

I prioritise my own material 95% – confident to call myself in general terms a ‘jazz musician’ as the idiomatic jazz references in my work are unmistakable. Over the years I’ve found an increasingly interesting (and sometimes rocky) relationship between covers and original music and getting known for doing both.

Here’s my Top Ten (and somewhat random) Tips and crazy notions to navigate and have fun with the covers/originals balance.

  1. Never forget that what lies in your own brain, imagination and invention is your gift to the world. You have a duty to bring it forth. Original art is everything. You’ll know if you have something to say with your songs as they will write you – you won’t have a choice. Never block the flow, you will make yourself ill if you do. Trust that you have something to say and get out of the way of creation speaking through you!

  2. As a child, I was told off, (in a grudgingly admiring way) by my piano tutor for using our lessons to show her my own compositions. She wanted me to focus on the Purcell (yuk …) and Mozart (yawn …) that we had to study. In her head, this was clearly the concert pianist path. I was more interested in making up my own chord sequences, although I felt guilty for including a hooky progression from a current TV show.

  3.  It was at this point that she was more helpful and told me not to worry about little steals and derivations and that the famous composers quoted from each other all the time – both deliberately and unconsciously.

  4. One huge and obvious advantage of sticking to your own work is that the royalties and rights are yours. No need to negotiate or buy access or clear it with anyone before you record. If original work is your default process then you find yourself wanting to record a cover and then sell the resulting album, it can feel (and is) somewhat more complicated.

  5. An advantage of doing covers is that (for me) there is a blissful and much needed buffer zone of objectivity. What a relief to leave my own stories behind and put something less risky on the line! If the audience rejects it, (either the storyline or the melody) it’s so much less personal.

  6. Approaching and arranging  great popular standards can and will make you a better player and composer for your own stuff. Tackle John Coltranes ‘Giant Steps’ just for fun – it’s such a good theory lesson and can be treated and redone in endless ways. (A repertoire of classic covers also serves as ready teaching material.) Program your set so that you hit a new audience with 4 originals, then a really popular standard that shows off your skills but continues the theme. Like dominos, make sure they’re connected by something – subject matter/mood/tempo/key. If you can get your original songs mistaken for classics then this is a good thing and means you’re writing the standards of the future! I had a (not very pleasant but certainly interesting) post gig scenario once at the Isle of Wight jazz festival. A well known festival director accused me of plagiarising my own songs. He was drunk and out of order and quite aggressive. Horrible – but it was proof that my songs are strong!

  7. Unless the fee is really good, (weddings!) only choose covers that you genuinely love and will stand the test of time and endless repetition as part of your set. Be steadfast in refusing requests (to perform/arrange/prepare/record/deliver) popular songs that you honestly don’t like – it will erode your soul.

  8. Check out other musicians who’ve covered songs maybe more or less successfully than the original songwriter. What makes a great song? One that can be endlessly reinterpreted or one that is untouchable? I fell in love with Carmen McCraes version of ‘New York State of Mind’, then Oleta Adams version – long before I realised that Billy Joel wrote it. It’s a truly solid song, great melody, feel, structure and storytelling. Removed enough from the author that it can live an independent life. In my own set, I include a few K pop songs – which have been translated (into Japanese) for the (huge) Japanese market. One of these, ‘Juliette’ started off as ‘Deal With It’ released by ‘High School Musical’ singer, Corbin Bleu. Then K pop giants Seoul Media bought the rights and transformed it utterly for their top boy band ShinEE – but kept the melody and structure. (Geeks and enthusiasts, listen to the original HERE. The Korean cover/transformation HERE and the Japanese translation HERE.)

  9. Choose wisely – though if you fall on your face, that’s half the fun. I refuse to do Joni Mitchell covers, despite being asked. To ‘superfans’, she is an immortal (rightly so!) and only Joni can do Joni. Likewise Prince – if you attempt it, better do it right! When choosing a cover, have fun taking it as far away from its original incarnation as you can. Mess with the tempo and instrumentation. Strip everything back to the song. See if you can take an industrial metal number and redo it for acoustic jazz guitar. Check out Amy Winehouses version of The Beatles ‘All My Loving’ – which in my opinion is better than the original.

  10. In these days of social media and Youtube – well placed (and non copyright infringing) cover versions and treatments of other artists songs can really work in your favour by drawing fans into your world, your website, your mailing list. The next generation of music lovers is always growing up in waves, discovering the great artists for the first time – they may be led to your version first – or next – through search engines, key words and hash tags.

No one has covered my work to my knowledge. How would I feel … I think I would hate it! I want to be the unique legend that non-one else can do! (But one day I guess it might happen.)

 

Here’s a clip of me singing ‘Feeling Good’ (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newly) in Trafalgar Square, with my own pre-recorded piano arrangement. (I like this song so much, I later did a different version for guitar.)

Lastly, find out what you need to know to protect your work (copyright – there’s more than one way to do it) and tread respectfully and honestly around others. If your songs are out there, live, recorded or online – there are multiple royalty avenues that you can and should access. Be clear (onstage and everywhere else) about the intellectual ownership of your own work and seek advice before recording others.

 

Resources:

 

Musicians Union – Benefits, protection, legal advice, community.

 

BASCA – British Academy of Songwriters, composers and authors.

 

Performing Rights Society – Music copyright, royalties and licensing.

 


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Collaborate! Er…or not? …

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”If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.”

(Generic truism attributed to just about everyone from Al Gore to Richard Branson. Likely to crop up in entrepreneurial self-help or business speak – oft quoted as traditional African folklore. But … is it true?)

 

I was inspired to think and write a bit about this when reading a random tweet from a jazz enthusiast. She said she sometimes felt tired of seeing musicians cropping up in each others bands all the time and felt the sound and vibe would be too samey and predictable. I thought about times in my life when collaborating felt like the right path and when it didn’t. I think both ways – solo artist and team member on others projects are great and necessary – at different times.

 

Here’s 5 advantages of each. Thoughts that might be of use to beginners and learners, (read it here my Middlesex students, since you never show up to class!) and seasoned (even jaded) semi or full professionals.

 

COLLABORATION PROS – Music is life, is communication. The more we live, breathe and play music, it becomes one more way of being. It should be as natural as breathing and creative projects should feel as organic as any other conversation. Our fellow musicians are closer than family and what we do is in some ways more intimate than partners. Even if we ARE partners. Creating art and community together, is pure strength and joy. It’s about the ‘we’ not just the ‘I’ and everyone benefits.

 

  1. Do something as a team and your other members get to shoulder some of the work. Putting on a night with a group of co-promoters? You can get to delegate roles and responsibilities and portion out tasks according to genuine areas of strength and enthusiasm.

  2. In these days of pressure to get bums on seats, a shared project means a shared demographic and shared crowd. In this way you can bring in a lot of audience through the door and hopefully keep them via a shared mailing list/data base. Funders seem to like group projects and collectives. And since funding applications are such hard work – a team environment can really help. You can pool your all your skills, labour and industry contacts and move forward as a whole.

  3. Doing things together is fun – less loneliness, more camaraderie, shared anecdotes and laughter. Including when things are going wrong or getting discouraging or where an extra viewpoint is needed. Writing songs together is joyful and playful and sharing dreams and ambitions for the future is energising. Approaching the industry together lessens some of the pressure provides a buffer – especially when the doors are slamming.

  4.  If you put in the hours, pay your dues and earn your keep as a session player or singer in other peoples bands, choirs, recordings or gigs, you will certainly improve. Nothing like instrumental session playing to get your chops (and your reputation) to the next level. Also it’s worth being that indispensably reliable person in someones teaching deputy Rolodex.

  5. Ever notice how playing other peoples music has that emotional distance that can be liberating? It’s the vulnerability of someone elses story and history on the line. All you have to do is enhance it and get the notes right. The session player can often appreciate something new and fresh that the songwriter can’t hear. Plus doing something for someone else (for wages or not) often behooves us to work in a way that it’s harder to do for ourselves.

And ….

 

COLLABORATION CONS – I’m a bandleader. I don’t share power easily and I get uncomfortable when someone mentions ‘co-creating’ or ‘community’. I don’t welcome suggestions or feedback on my songs. I can’t help the lone wolf tendency. I have a need for and a simultaneous fear of artistic intimacy. I don’t delegate well. I like defined roles. I’ll follow, (playing/composing/arranging – for a fee) or I’ll lead. Lead the band, write the songs, book the gigs, promote the gigs, pay my players, liaise with venues/media/competitions/festivals and deal with the endless run arounds and rejections. In return for shouldering those responsibilities, it’s my name on the poster and me who owns the copyright.

 

 

  1. Writing music ‘together’ can tie you together more surely than marriage and for longer, if a dispute occurs. Personally I avoid it. It’s my song or it’s your song. I don’t share. It can get too delicate with copyright and royalty issues.

  2. Time is a factor. Just as it’s a good thing to want to do your best contributing to someone elses event – imagine if you put that great, selfless, unconditional energy into your own work and creativity. Food for thought. When is it going to be time for you? Especially if the group project starts to gain momentum. You could be tied up for a while. Which is the whole point, but don’t get spread too thin with conflicting interests.

  3. Some people are just loners. We emerge and submerge and re-emerge but do most of our creative work privately. If you’re the kind of artist who doesn’t like to share the process or keeps things secret until they’re finished – group collaborations can feel weird and forming collectives can feel too much like commitment.

  4. Even in an ideal world, it’s hard to get reciprocity and know that your fellow collaborators are truly as reliable as you. Is their definition of hard work the same as yours? Is their concept of an ‘early start’ or a ‘thorough’ job, the same as yours? Do they take too long to do stuff and are you just carrying them because they’re scared (and unable) to work alone?

  5. The necessary evil that is money and that weird boundary between work and play. If I’m being paid, then I have the energy (literally the fuel) and therefore the liberty to do the job. If I’m paying someone I can expect that they’ll deliver. It comes down again to rock solid roles and responsibilities. If something is freeform play and maybe it’s professional maybe it isn’t, then the boundary is elastic – literally. Exciting and creative for sure. Potentially draining and dissipating too.

My final analysis is that creative intimacy (like other kinds of  love relationships) has an on/off rhythm to it. Too far into ‘solo artist mode’ and it’s time to play on someone elses tunes, or work as an accompanist. Time spent giving ones all in another band inevitably has to give way to going back and prioritising the individual career. The one helps the other, for sure. I come out of ‘session player’ mode burning to get back into my own stuff and often with better technique and faster memorisation. But if I don’t have my time alone in the woodshed, (days, months, years) I have nothing to give. The magic happens in the dance between the two.

 


 

 

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Social media – Ruining Your Life?

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In the last few years I’ve noticed something very concerning in my life. It crept up on me and surprised me even more given that I’m not of the iphone generation. I grew up with radio, then black and white TV, (rationed, regulated viewing) books, music practice, drawing, cassette tape, creative writing, sports and board games.

 

I noticed recently, that I had become addicted to my computer – that I was logging into my social media stream as a comfort blanket (despite the anxiety generated by seeing news and current events) and was checking messages and micro managing all my music business related communications in a way that I never associated with myself. In the cold weather, I even liked the warmth of the laptop and the cheery screen saver! I have a long attention span, single-minded focus, an ability to really enter the zone – or so I thought. But I have found my mind wandering whilst doing things that I usually concentrate on fully and have found myself breaking up the day with social media check-ins. For obvious reasons this has been heightened at the time of Brexit and now the current emergencies in the USA which do require than one stays informed. It’s also a side effect of having  to promote and self-publicise my work as a musician. Sometimes it feels like 90% online promotion/admin and 10% rehearsing/ performance energy. A problematic equation!

 

I fully appreciate all the amazing things that super fast computers and interactive media platforms give us. Free education, endless archives, search engines, alternative news reports, social activism, (‘clicktivism’) international messenger services, entertainment at the drop of a hat. Used wisely, all these things can make us more informed, more intelligent, and more empathetic.

 

Or they can make us more and more passive and unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.

 

Let’s take back our lives!

 

Top Ten Tips to master social media/computer addiction:

 

1. Make a commitment to watch and ration the time you spend on your computer – which these days probably means your smart phone. When you log or switch on, know where you are going and why. Do your errands (emails, research, skype call, Facebook message to transatlantic friend, or promotional twitter fest for your forthcoming gig) then put it away.

 

2. For every hour spent on a computer, looking at that screen – spend 2 hours doing something organic, such as playing a musical instrument, interacting with children, animals, or a meaningful conversation with a friend, exercise out-of-doors, reading or just being. Try writing a letter (made your hand ache did it?) or drawing or painting as a way to relax, process information or think up new ideas.

 

3. Time is an artificial concept anyway – so whilst you time the necessary evil of your computer tasks – when you are away from it – don’t look at the clock and experiment with discarding clocks and watches. Let your time be elastic – there is so much more of it than you think. Modern physics has shown us that the physical, phenomenal natural world is mostly empty space. Enjoy this miracle and focus on the content of what you do in your time – not the time itself. That means not checking your phone clock.

 

4. Still using a relatively old fashioned non-smart phone? Good! Well meaning friends or colleagues still trying to give you phones so you can stay in touch/not miss opportunities etc? Don’t apologise for not having a mobile phone or for not using social media much. Think about where coltan, the mineral in all our devices comes from and the human cost of mining it. With this in mind, think twice about upgrading and buying new devices all the time.

 

5. Try going for 2 days at a time without logging on. Deal with that initial feeling of panic. Especially in these recent times, we want daily news immediately – just to know the likely level of catastrophe, as things change rapidly. But deal with it. Ever consider that the real catastrophe is that speed for speeds sake is taking over our lives?

 

6. Invest in and experiment with some protective devices or practices that balance the radiation coming off your computer and phone. I wear and recommend sacred geometry devices from The Template.

 

7. No phones in bed at night. Ever. Best way to ruin your relationship.

 

8. Enjoy all the silly fun clips, memes, mash-ups, twitter trends and entertainment that is on offer – but regulate yourself. If you catch yourself surfing, idly, late at night, make a plan to go to bed and get proper sleep and proper dreams before that threshold. We only do that when we are too tired to resist – and if that makes you worried – it should.

 

9. Following on from that, be very discerning as to what images you let in. Some things can’t be unseen or unknown once encountered, and if you view stuff late at night, it will go into your dreams. Nothing wrong with that, so long as you are choosing what.

 

10. Without getting into a paranoid mess – please consider the fact that your computer may be watching you. Those ads are popping up because someone, somewhere tracks your internet searches and your status and value as a consumer. Doesn’t that worry you?

 

Still reading? Stop it! Go away. Log off and go and do something that matters. Create the life of your dreams in actual reality! So many worthwhile things: friendship, sex, cooking, being in nature, laughing and joking with others, writing a song, perfecting a martial arts sequence, traveling, walking, watching, listening, thinking, dreaming or shouting in the streets at the injustices of the world. You, yourself, your mind, body and spirit – this is the most miraculous of technologies. Let the computer be your servant – not your master.

 

Resources:

 

The Template Sacred geometry and more.

 

Minerals for computer processors and how we get them. Who really pays for our ‘free’ technologies.

 

Cell phone addiction amongst the youth in South Korea.

 

Possible solution! South Korean Space out contests!

 


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A Woman’s Worth…

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(The picture is of Norma Jean Wofford, also known as ‘The Duchess’ – lead guitarist with Bo Diddley from ’62-’66. She doesn’t appear in the book I’m talking about here, but this image goes very well with my blog post title. There were dozens of artists that I could have envisaged in the project. Would I like to see Giving Birth to Sound volume II and III and beyond? Yes.  Also a CD compilation and a dedicated music festival? You bet. I’m dreaming big…)

This post is about the worth and significance of musicians – female ones in particular – our capacity as story-tellers, mediums, healers, visionaries, agitators, collaborators entertainers and communicators. Every week, I am still riding the wave of momentum generated by ‘Giving Birth To Sound’ – the new book by Cologne jazz publisher Buddy’s Knife. With a foreword by legendary jazz pianist Amina Claudine Myers and featuring 48 female musicians – including myself. Over a year ago, I was approached by the editor, Renate da Rin. Would I like to be interviewed for a book about female musicians in jazz and creative music? I was up for it of course, and now suddenly the book has arrived and it’s an absolute dream. I am honoured and happy to be sitting side by side with some of my influences and industry legends. A rich collection of personal histories and records of incredible achievement. The contributions have all been translated into English but each artist tells of a very personal relationship to sound, with a diverse range of nationalities, cultures, languages and instrumentation.

All the artists in the book are receiving our copies at different times and reading the final creation at different paces. Needless to say, with a sense of unfolding wonder and high hopes for further contact and projects. This feels unstoppable! For my part, I feel determined to draw attention to what has been achieved here and why it’s important. Despite distinct differences in age, race, language, education and geography, attitude to music, society and concepts of ‘womanhood’, there are common themes amongst the participants – which speak volumes about the times we are living in. An awareness of injustice, a recognition of global inequality and an economic climate where poverty is being demonised and money worshipped, the natural world being destroyed. A recognition that things are in some ways worse not better. A proud, fearless independence, but love of collaboration. An almost mystical, ecstatic reverie that comes from the creative process. Early exposure not just to musical stimulus, but to the worlds of the imagination. A generous passion and hope for the music above all – often expressed in words that are non-linear, poetic, idiomatic and rhapsodic. The book actually reads like a piece of music itself.

Women and girls have been told so many times that we can’t do stuff – either that we’re weak, incompetent and decorative … or in other periods of history and geography, that we are only good for sex, childcare, menial labour and social scapegoating, physical/emotional punchbags, with no access to self-improvement. I don’t say that lightly. In some areas, women have lower status than a domestic animal. Though happily, neither extreme is my own personal experience – the reality of worldwide abuse of women and girls is now so widely known about, that the concept of  female emancipation can no longer be ridiculed as some special interest feminist minority issue. It’s affecting the gender which is actually the majority. So it brings me joy when I see initiatives that really celebrate women. Our stories need to be heard. Some of them are shocking.

 (Here’s what I wrote to the editors:)

”The more I read of the book, the more I am blown away, with love and inspiration, heart quakes and shakes, tears of solidarity and empathy and also a fair bit of socio-political outrage. Today, reading the story of the musician who was accused as a child of being a liar – (TWICE) as her work was so advanced they didn’t believe it was hers… (this happened to me at school, with a play I wrote.)”  * I remember too, after a performance at the Isle of Wight Jazz festival, being approached by the (drunk) director of another prominent UK jazz festival. He accused me of not being the author of my own songs, which he threatened to  research and expose as classic standards which I had in fact plagiarised. Talk about a compliment and insult at the same time. I later received an apology …

 (I also wrote this to the editors:)

”I have to say, a book, (so much more than just a ‘book’) of this nature could not have happened at this time in the UK. We’re beset here with a governmental drive towards austerity that is unbelievable. But there are valiant pockets of rebellion and creativity resourcefulness, generosity and people-power all the more amazing, as we are operating against the odds here. A common theme amongst some of the contributors seems to be the increasing punishment of the poor and of poverty by government and media, affecting all artists – so maybe this economic trend is worldwide. BUT I am so thankful to you creative jazz loving folks at Buddys Knife – for your intellectual courage, determination and artistic integrity in doing this project.
Each one of these 48 contributors is not just a musical creator, but leader, visionary and dare I say it – shaman/sorcerer/witch/wizard/world-bridger and changer of epic proportions. Each with her own networks of international creativity. There are some global possibilities here. As with all creations – a mixture of strong desire/intent and a trust and ALLOWING… the inevitability and momentum of dreams coming to fruit : ) Thinking big. Loving large. Powering the imagination. Women are rising again.”

Here is the intro on the back cover, which says it beautifully. Here’s why you need to read this book! Please order it and buy copies for your friends, libraries, schools, jazz cafes. By doing so you will be helping to support the next stage of our journey – you too will be ‘giving birth to sound!’

”Giving Birth to Sound is about Her-story as told by some of the most brilliant and creative women musicians in the world. Individual thinkers and movers who have been brave enough to devote their lives to the making of music the way they hear it. They were not afraid to sing and speak in the name of sound, showing us that they are a family of unique individuals, separate but united. Read their words and listen to their music whenever you can – it will take you even closer to the great mystery called life.”
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   How to buy the book:
   http://www.buddysknife.de/our-titles/
   info@buddysknife.de
   Available on amazon.com and amazon.de.
Thank you for reading!