There’s an old saying “Buy cheap, by twice” and this is especially true for musicians wanting to create and perform music.
Recording music has never been so affordable and its entirely possible to get some really excellent equiptment even when on a strict budget. There are in my view essential items needed for any artist wanting to create and promote music. These include a good recording setup and musical gear that will create a great live sound.
Those people who know me, appreciate my enthusiasm for Reaper as a DAW. Reaper is both super stable and extremely affordable for any artist. In my view its far more flexible than Logic or other software often favoured by artists on a budget. Crucially for a fixed fee, there are numerous updates and the online support is excellent. I found I could set it up in five minutes and its been a joy to use.
UAD hardware and plugins
Many artists on a budget will look at saving money with audio interfaces, but in my view the UAD Apollo interfaces blow the competition away and are well worth the investment. I started with a basic Apollo and have now invested in a twin version with a lot more processing power. The plugins are first class and at certain times of the year, there are massive discounts on these. My two favorite plugins are Dreamverb and the LA 3 compressor. My homestudio is set up for a vocal and a line in option and that serves all my needs.
Great mics are essential for studio recording and especially for vocals. I massively favour Austrian Audio mics and especially the OC18 and the OC818. I’m so impressed with these, that I don’t use anything else in my studio. I’ve used all manner of mics over the years at different price points and these are truly exceptional. The OCI8 can be bought for under 700 sterling and its well worth saving up for. Yes, you can buy cheaper mics, but the sound source especially for vocals is really important. The OC818 costs more but its in my view the best of all studio mics regadless of price for vocals.
I’ve many different types of headphones with all manner of price points. To my absolute amazement the ones I love the most for working in the studio are also some of the most inexpensive. These are the own brand studio spares M1000 headphones. These were recommended to me by my producer, otherwise I would have dismissed them for being too cheap! I’ve also used a number of AKG headphones at twice the price, but these are my go to units.
All of the above recommendations are in my view both excellent and quite affordable. Its more important than ever to ensure that all music releases are recorded to the very best sonic standards and these items will really help with making that possible. That said, as my producer always says “Its all about the songs” You can have the best gear in the world but are the songs really well constructed and performed?
I’ve noticed in recent times an increasing number of tantrums and whining online on social media. Of course there will always be people complaining and moaning, but this seems to have reached an all time high. A lot of the clashes online exist where some artists believe they have a god given right for social media and the wider public to support their music, not appreciating that firstly social media platforms are not charities to support artists and secondly people have all manner of tastes in music. Its often a case of
“Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up!”
Infamy, infamy, they all have it in for me!
There are many recent examples of persecution complexes where aspiring artists insist that anyone who may have a different view, is out to get them. This of course presupposes a level of importance that anyone would spnd the time and energy in such a scenario and in most instances these individuals are unknown as artists.
One of the reasons why they are mostly unknown is that they don’t have the communication and listening skills to realise that outside the echo chamber of a small group of super fans, they may learn something useful from engaging with the wider world and especially with other professionals. I am reminded of this classic Carry On 1960s clip seen below.
The poorly framed social media request
I fully appreciate that artists starting out need assistance and money can be tight, but how we frame requests for help can and will make a massive difference in the responses we get. Here is a classic case of how not to seek assistance and then to through a tantrum because others may disagree with you! The same artist has a number of services and products and describes themselves as “music producer, video director, composer, lyricist, multi-faceted musician,visionary artist” offering everything from badges to mediumship services! A cynical person might suggest that anyone with “second sight” may have spotted the car crash they were heading to online with such daft postings…
This aspiring artist posted on a number of social media forums that they wanted a roadie for a day’s work, but this would be unpaid, except perhaps for expenses that the artist may able to pay in a few week’s time. Unsurprisingly many online pointed out that it would be standard to at least pay minimum wage, especially as the artist also added a number of stipulations to the request. The ad was framed as “artist hiring” which would have got a few people’s backs up as “hiring” normally means some form of payment, even at a basic level…
Somebody commented that its not reasonable to expect somebody to work for a full day with no pay whatsoever and the artist threw a tantrum at such a suggestion. The thread was then picked up and posted on Reddit as seen below with a huge amount of replies, none in the artist’s favour!
The problem with super fan echo chambers
I don’t doubt the good intentions of the person making the request, and appreciate that they are financially struggling to the extent that they are also pleading for contributions for a new speaker to replace one that is broken.
The problem here in my view is that they don’t appreciate that their tone and skills in communications is really dreadful and it creates a terrible (I assume unintentional) image that would not encourage financial or create assistance.
The idea that people have the enthusiasm, motivation and time to “destroy” this person’s career is in my view a bit of a stretch on so many levels. The same person also called challenges to their posts online “hate speech” which should be reported to the police. Of course this is another example of artist tantrums with little or no awareness about what they are actually saying as “hate speech” as defined by the CPS is
Of course there was no “hate speech” in this instance just a person throwing a tantrum because they didn’t like the feedback they received to a very poorly framed post. One of the big problems with social media is that some artist super fans create an echo chamber that is not helpful to the artist and can create delusional beliefs.
I doubt if there would be a queue of individuals wanting to spend the day carrying musical equiptment for such a person and I would be surprised if the PayPay requests for financial assistance will be streaming in either. The admin person for the FB group where this all kicked off, politely pointed out that nobody had engaged in any harassment and the fact that this artist happened to be a woman had no bearing on what ensued. I am reminded of what an old boss of mind used to say about such characters who are always complaining
“They are well balenced, a chip on both shoulders”
The Streisand effect and final thoughts
Check here to read about “The Streisand effect” where an individual’s complaining only fans the flames and creates more of an issue. Of course in this instance Streisand is an established artist not somebody on the local pub circuit! In this situation threatening people on Reddit cranked the posts to over 400 in just 48 hours! A classic case of ‘stop digging” in such situations and insisting that you are being attacked or defamed! In the big scheme of things such behaviours always ensure that artists are not going to reach a wider audience as they don’t have the skills to connect with a wider public. There is in such instances always a hugely inflated sense of self importance that is often totally delusional. I fully applaud any artist trying to make a living especially in these tougher economic times, BUT some good manners and less aggressive tone will go a long way towards building supporters above and beyond the fans in the echo chamber.
I set up Green Eyed Records to encourage creativity through collaboration. That’s really how artists can best reach a wider audience, not by throwing tantrums online and insisting they are right on all matters.
Over the years I’ve become a collector of musical instruments, many of which have inspired a great deal of my songwriting. To my total amazement with my first band The Small Change Diaries, the ukulele was the spark that generated writing a host of early songs.
In later ensembles, including “The Caravan of Dreams” and “Nick Cody & The Heartache” my writing and performing was mostly around acoustic and electric guitsrs. I have an ever expanding collection of great instruments I have collected from all over the globe. Below is a video that is a brief snapshot of how many of those instruments have been used in the creative process.
I am a big fan of Takahiro Shimos work and own a number of his acoustic instruments as well as an electric tenor guitar. All of these are fantastic in how they sound and how they look. I’m also a big Collings fan and was lucky enough to meet Bill Collings before he passed. I own a bunch of his guitars and ukuleles, all of which are fantastic.
Below are some of my ever expanding instrument family
A grassroots venue is described as “a venue with less than 350 capacity.”
Such venues are traditionally for entry level musicians, some limited activity in established acts. Many such acts develop their craft in such places, before moving onto playing to larger audiences. Some of my most memorable and most loved music evenings have been at grassroots venues. These include seeing Joss Stone early in her career in Manchester and The Notting Hillbillies at The Astoria in Leeds which had a capacity of just 150 attendees.
67 grassroots venues closed this year already
“The UK is set to lose 10 per cent of its grassroots music venues in 2023 – with calls growing for the “major leagues” of the music industry and larger venues to do more to pay into the ecosystem and save them.
The Music Venue Trust have revealed to NME that 67 venues have closed so far this year, with 90 currently working with MVT’s Emergency Response. Roughly half of those are likely to close in 2023 – giving a total of around 100 grassroots music being lost from the UK in 2023; that’s 10 per cent of the number of independent gig spaces in the country.”
The increasing gap between stadiums and grassroots venues
My own observations are that in this post covid and tougher economic era, its harder than ever for grassroots venues to get capacity audiences. I noticed that one local arts centre that used to have regular events, had huge gaps in the diary. This is a well located venue and has a tradition of regular acoustic nights, currently all under threat. Many major artists from the Leeds area started out in local grassroots venues and the ongoing decline of such venues will in my view massively affect the future of bringing great music to the public. These kinds of venues are the life blood for new music and their loss will create a big gap for audiences wanting new creative content, as opposed to tribute bands and open mics. Both of those are welcome, but without the emmergence of new music, we may all be left with a world with far less creativity and joy.
I’m also noticing that in these tougher economic times, there is a trend towards nostalgia and the major acts from 70s, 80s and 90s are in many instances doing really well. Other more recent mainstream artists like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran are attracting massive crowds. Of course its personal choice but when I watched the most recent Glastonbury, I was really underwhelmed by what I saw and heard. To my ears it was all pretty predictable and dull. When I see a performed on a main stage at that festival performing to backing tapes in my 100% biased opinion I think its not a great sign of new creativity. Of course many may and are welcome to disagree.
I set up Green Eyed Records to encourage discussion about bring music to a wider audience and to support creative artist development. This continues to be a fascinating project and has given me a new insight into “the music business” and how a lot of what happens in this industry is in my opinion pretty crazy. Artists find it harded and harder to make any kind of living out of music, especially with the advent of streaming that’s killed a lot of income from products.
Is there public apathy towards supporting live music?
Joni Mitchell once commented “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone…” Ultimately if people don’t go out to see live music, such music will increasingly disappear. Of course its up to the promoters and artists to work together to keep live music viable. I have massive respect for any music promoter as its a ton of work, often with not a great deal of thanks and not the best financial reward. The phrases any promoter hates to hear include – “Will it be on video to watch later?” and “I can’t make this one, but can you keep me posted about future events?” Of course sometimes the second question is genuine, but often the suggested intention never translates into any actual action.
My observations are that post covid, people are less motivated to go out to local events. Some of this is for health concerns and a lot of this behaviour is due to economic considerations. As one seasoned tour promoter commented recently – “People are skint Nick, they literally have no money for such outings”
Price is simply a filter
I’ve been watching great artists for five decades, from the original Pink Floyd Dark side of the moon tour to much smaller gigs. The size of the venue and audience numbers are a big factor in determining the audience experience. Pricing is also a filter for attracting audiences. Some of the best music I have ever seen has been at the NYC Village Vanguard with 125 capacity and $35 a ticket. Doors are at 7.30 pm, arrive 7pm and you can be assured to be in the first two rows! Another great venue is The Beacon theatre also in New York with a 2600 capacity. For many years I saw The Allman Brothers play there. Over the years they played there 230 times with terrific guests. Tickets were massively in demand and I’d expect to pay around $160 for a ticket for an amazing 3 hour show and it was worth every dollar. It was a great seated venue and the sound was always excellent. I saw them play with Eric Clapton for $97 in the middle range seats.
Of course in the UK prices will massively vary from local venues to arenas and its all down to personal preferences. If I am hosting artists, the range is usually 12 – 20 pounds for a ticket. Often the pricing can make no difference to audience turnout for known artists, but my philosophy is to always make music affordable for music lovers. This is why I will always agree fees with artists and band members ahead of live events and everyone is assured of being paid regardless of audience numbers. I have massive respect for any artistic promoters as you need nerves of steel when it can be tough to get past that break even point.
How on the ball is the music venue?
Sometimes the actual venue where the music takes place is not really on the ball. I’ve many instances of thinking “WTF are they doing?” in terms of making really basic business mistakes. These include having broken links for people trying to book tickets, not replying to e-mails and phone calls and generally presenting a “the customer is bothering me” attitude. In recent times after an event I contacted a venue to book another evening, only to be told “Person X is too busy to talk to you!” I mentioned that I only wanted 5 minutes of this person’s time but was told that the admin person wasn’t taking any calls all day long! This was the third time I had booked space with them and most of the events had sold out previously. When a business ignores core customers, its not going to last long.
This specific venue is mostly run by volunteers and already has massively fewer live events than in years gone by. No surprises why…
Time to develop a new model of working?
I’m currently exploring a new way of running live events that rewards those who take the time to support live artists.In my view those who vote with their feet should get the best access and the best value from artists. I’m genuinely concerned that in this streaming era, artists have less earning opportunities which translates into less ability to fund creative creation. When this is coupled with a downturn in grassroot venues and the effect of brexit on reducing artist earning opportunities, its looking like a pretty bleak future for music.
The new model will roll out for Music for the head and heart/GER events in 2024. Those who have attended and supported events to date will find that they are going to get the best opportunities for future events. I think our world is a better place for music and if we all invest just a small amount of time and energy in support grassroots venues and emerging artists, life will be a lot rosier.
I recently did a stock take of all my instruments and had to check valuations fro insurance purposes. I was amazed at how many of them have massively increased in value. The USA made instruments in particular have become great investments. Notable examples of these inlcude by Bronze and Spanish Parker Flys as well as my Collings instruments, especially the I35
All of these have increased in value by 300%. Some photos below.
Next week we’ll be signing off on the audio and artwork for the first part of the “Covering these tracks” project. This is a new departure for me as previously I’ve only recorded and released original music, five albums to date, through three different ensembles and a remix project.
Choosing material to record
This project has surprised me in many ways. Previously I’ve been an avid “no covers” individual, not because I don’t like or appreciate covers, but because I want something new. One of the big surprises is how much I have enjoyed recording these tracks and its given me the opportunity to explore many songs that inspired me over the decades. The first single will be released on September 1st, a classic Fleetwood Mac track “Dreams” written by Stevie Nicks. I’m mindful that I want to create new versions of these tracks and avoid “Nick does karoke!”, and I’m pleased to say we have achieved that goal.
Come up to the house/I don’t wanna grow up (Tom Waits) 7.18
The “Covering these tracks” ensemble
I’m delighted to once again be working with Towse aka Grace Fellows and Corwin Zekley. These are extraordinary professional musicians who continue to inspire great creativity. Even when engaged in an extensive tour across the USA they still find time to submit their parts to many tracks on this project. They are joined by the terrific Harry Orme, which was recommended to me by Fergus Quill. Harry is a superb musician and will be contributing almost all the guitar parts on this project. I say “almost all” as on “Dreams” I recorded the guitar part with the Larry Pogreba reso guitar. We also have great artwork for this project from Silka Guy.
The next part of the project in 2024
The second release of songs will appear in March/April 2024 and we are already working on some of the material that will include covers of Steve Earle and Nick Cave. This project has given me a fascinating insight into how other songwriters write and perform material. We’ll be showcasing some of this material in 2023 at the Music for Head & Heart showcase in the UK. There will be more live events in 2024 to showcase the “Covering these tracks” material.
During covid I realised how much I missed live music both as a player and also as an audience member. I also realised as a band leader that there is a huge variation in the quality of live venues. My good friend and fellow artist in my first band Jessica Bowie once wonderfully commented “Nick, there atr lots of shitty little gig opportunities out there…” Only later did I come to truly appreciate the wisdom of these words and that lead me to running my own events. This means a lot more investment in time and money, BUT it means that I can create an experience which is for music lovers, with great sound and facilities and where artists receive fair payment for their work.
Selecting the right artists and venues
I live in Leeds which has a music college, so there must surely be a ton of great music venues for artists? Well, not really in my opinion… I’ve asked to help out with filming and photos for some album launches which have been beyond terrible in terms of a listening experience. Two memorable ones were where the lighting was so bad it was impossible to get any decent video and another time where the sound was terrible as the venue wasn’t right for any kind of musical entertainment. In my Small Change Diaries and Caravan of Dreams ensembles, we’ve played many of the local venues and now have a great idea of what makes for a good night out.
I’ve seen many excellent artists play such local venues (often for free or a minimal fee) to have to battle against an unattentive audience, who are not really there for the music. Its in my view pretty soul destroying and these days I’m super picky about where I go to for live music. I’ve seen endless examples of artists playing half empty venues with no actual stage or proper PA or capable sound technician, so the whole experience is pretty poor.
Working with true professionals
A few years ago I started to host Music for The Head and Heart showcases where we would feature evenings of music from 2 – 4 artists. These were different to standard gigs and many attendees only knew one of the artists. To date they have all sold out and we’ve had great feedback. This means really thinking about the whole experience for an audience and making sure the audience and the artists get the best value for money. It also means being really selective about who is involved in any events, so that we are on the same page. I’m pleased to say that to date nearly all those involved have been brilliant and of course this means building long term relationships where everyone benefits.
I’ve always capped numbers for these live events at around 200, which in my view is a great sized audience. To date I’ve mostly used two venues, one which holds 80 people and another which holds around 200 seated. The above video shows some of the artists to date that have provided great entertainment.
In the last year I have decided to expand the MHH/Green Eyed Records showcases and bring in more established artists like Jon Gomm and Martin Simpson. I need to plan 12 – 15 months ahead if I want the best venues on a weekend rather than mid week which is less attractive for audiences. Special thanks to all those who have embraced the spirit of Green Eyed Records and who have made this live showcases so special.
These are true professionals and the increased investment in securing such entertainers has been more than worthwhile. Both have been very generous in assiting with promoting events and I’ll certainly be working with both in the future. In 2024 I’ll be running more GER/MHH showcases, and of course next month we still have a terrific 2023 event with Towse from USA, Harry Orme from the UK, and my ensemble “The Heartache” appearing on Sept 23rd and HEART in Leeds. Tickets available HERE
In recent times the subject of people losing confidence in attending live events has come up in many conversations. A well established local artist commented that since covid, many people are wary about events being cancelled and so wait until the last minute to book, which creates a nightmare for promoters. I also notice a number of festivals struggling and pleas going out for people to book tickets early as they had failed Arts funding bids. I’m a longterm lover of music and in recent years started to explore “the music business” and how best to promote my own work and other superb artists. No one person has the answers, but here are my latest thoughts and observations.
Factors creating a loss of confidence
Covid is just one of the factors that have created a hesitation in booking on live events. With many gigs and festivals being cancelled, many people are wary about buying tickets in these tougher economic times. One friend and colleague was not best pleased in hearing that a niche music festival had indicated that one of the main international headliners announced last October, now would not not be playing. She can’t get a refund and the festival still has not announced the artist line up for an event that is just a month away. Such actions don’t inspire confidence in future bookings and in my view its not smart business. Yes, there can be situations where a change of artist has to take place, but the same event approached another international artist and wouldn’t confirm the booking, so they kept their options open, which is in my view pretty disrespectful for the artists as the festival approached them in the first instance…
In recent years I’ve noticed that a number of niche festivals have had a heavy reliance on obtaining arts funding. The key word here is “reliance” The challenge for any promoter is surely to market the event in a manner where they can cover all costs. Idealisma classic risk/reward situation in business. Lets remember that “the music business” is like any other business in that its a case of supply and demand. Promoters take the risk on funding and event, but also have the chance to financially benefit from the event being a success. I’ve run numerous music events and always taken the view that the buck stops with me personally in terms of the funding. All artists will be paid as promised regardless of how many tickets are sold. At times this can be a reasonable financial outlay, but that’s what’s needed to maintain confidence from both artists and attendees. I have massive respect for any promoter, it takes real nerves of steel to engage in such activity.
Idealism v reality checks
I come from a business background and this is invaluable in figuring out how to run events. As previously mentioned its a case of risk v reward. In the theatre business its generally accepted that you need to sell 80% of tickets to make a profit. When running music evenings and signing contracts for known artists, I’m aware of exactly how many tickets we need to sell to break even and always ensure that the marketing is on target to make any event successful. I don’t claim to know everything about promotions, but all events to date on the Music for Head and Heart and Green Eyed Records have sold out.
Not everyone appreciates the benefits of sustained momentum in marketing. I agreed a few years ago to run support for a local artist and to fund half the cost of the venue and let him have 100% of the door, even though I was paying my band out of my personal finances. I also ran a good online marketing campaign again at my cost. I started to notice that with 6 weeks out from the event, the headliner wasn’t really pushing the event and although all his superfans had booked, we could still generate another 50% in attendance and reach a wider audience which he’d always complained about not having. When I voiced my opinion on this and pointed out it would also be a big financial bump for him as well as bringing in new interest, I met with massive resistance. Some people just don’t understand the basics of promotion and are so stuck in their own idealism that they will never reach a wider public. The tragedy is that they will endlessly complain about the lack of public interest in their work, even though their own limited thinking is the cause of the problem!
Collaboration is the key
When I set up Green Eyed Records, I realised that the best results come from collaboration. I’m massively grateful to established artists like Martin Simpson and Jon Gomm to be hosted at the Music for Head & Heart showcases. I’m also grateful to music heavyweights like Tim Booth and Jim Glennie as well as world class journalist Sylvie Simmons for discussions and advice. To quote a classic Japanese proverb – “No one of us is smarter than all of us”
Over the years I’ve played all kinds of instruments and have become a collector as well as an avid player. I’m lucky to have travelled the world over and have some amazing acoustic instruments from Japan, Austria and the USA. With electric instruments I tend to veer towards custom instruments and have two hardtail strats with Moses graphite necks as well as an amazing Collings I35 which is fitted with Tom Holmes PAFs. There’s very little that surprises me these days, but Larry Pogreba’s work is really leftfield and quite exceptional. I now have two of his instruments, both made from aluminum and great sounding. I call them “The Pogreba sisters”
These sound like nothing else I have ever played, a great electric roots sound that fits brilliantly with some of the music I am working on at the moment. We just finished one track with the Beth with the guitar massively tuned down so it sounds even more different to any recognizable guitar sound. I plan to release some of this material later this year with some other fine musicians.
I recently received a music magazine quote on my last album “All is fine ’til the world goes pop” stating
“The Leonard Cohen vibe, is maybe too bleak for some”
Personally I can think of no better compliment, as I am a massive fan of Leonard Cohen, bleak music and sad songs.
I’m 100% delighted with having any of my music described as having “A Leonard Cohen vibe” as he was a titan in terms of songwriting and his material really resonated with me on so many levels
I mentioned this to brilliant writer and journalist Sylvie Simmons who wonderfully commented about such a description in the following way –
“Too bleak for some” means “Just right for those who aren’t afraid of art that goes deep” and I think there’s more of the lattter buying records.”
I could not agree more and many of my absolute all time favorite artists and songs write sad songs which would for many be considered “bleak” Here’s a few of the very best examples of what I consider to be classic songs that truly resonate with the human condition. I have more Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave albums than any other artist and all of these artists would probably be considered as creating bleak music!
I’m not of course advocating loving only sad and bleak songs, but in my opinion the world is far better with such material and I can think of not better evening of entertainment listening to and watching such artists.
Hopefully the following are not “too bleak” for those reading this article!