The Acme Motown D.I. WB-3

My terrific bass player Fergus Quill told me about the Acme Motown D.I. WB-3 which I had never heard of. Not only had I never heard of it, but my fellow tech enthusiasts had never seen or tried one. I started to investigate and immediately found that there were none second hand which is one of the signs of great gear.

Acme Motown D.I. WB-3

I was originally going to travel to New York where I could try one out, but the global pandemic made that impossible. My wife then managed to get one for my birthday from the excellent folks at KMR in London.

I’ve been playing with it for the last 24 hours and can I can see why studios and players are so impressed with this unit. The price will put a few folks off and my producer commented “What? A DI box at that price? Then he heard a clip, and admitted that it sounded great.

I had a similar reaction to the Fire Eye Red DI’s that I have blogged on previously, but the Acme Motown D.I. WB-3 is a different beast. I’ve used it as a straight DI into a desk and it 100% gives the natural sound of the instrument. Its one of those pieces of gear that gives that elusive extra 20% for those wanting great sound.

It also sounds fantastic when plugged into a simple fender small combo. The sound is smoother and more musical. I’ll be spending more time with this simple unit that is built like a tank and sounds terrific. I can see why many studios love this box and I’m super pleased to have one.

Time for a reset?

Its clear that we are in very uncertain times with music events cancelled globally. There’s endless chatter online about this and all kinds of lamentations and comments like “You must be heartbroken cancelling festival” Yes, its not great news but lets remember, human life and well being is way more important than a weekend event or a gig.

New thinking, new projects

Since setting up Music for the Head and Heart I’ve been increasingly aware that many artists “have their egg in one basket” and are over reliant on a single source of income from live work. The income stream from products changed long ago and now with the global pandemic, live events have been wiped out. As soon as SXSW was pulled, I thought, “Wow we have a BIG problem” This means artists need to think differently about how to generate predictable income streams for a sustainable way of living.

700 tea bags and a home studio…

We are in new territory and my view is that life will literally never be the same again. The good news is that this creates new opportunities…. I’m working on a new aspect of Music for the Head and Heart with some terrific like minds. This will unfold in the near future and in my very will be pretty inspiring.

I also have a home studio, 700 tea bags and 39 instruments to use for some new recordings. No excuses now, as I have the time to do all those things I have been meaning to do. Stay well, stay safe

Nick Cody

The importance of photos in music promotion

Since my first band The Small Change Diaries in 2015, I have increasingly become aware of the importance of using great photos in music promotion. The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is so true and of course many great albums were also remembered for their classic photos. The Clash’s “London Calling” Springsteen’s “Born to Run” and Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira” are a few of many examples.

I was lucky to come across Karen Turner five years ago and we have done a number of photo shoots with her, both in the UK and overseas. I have come across many photographers who have great gear, but the key to taking great photographs is someone who has the eye to know how to really capture the subject. Karen Turner’s photos have been a key factor in all our band promotions along with video clips.

Here are some of the superb photos she has taken to date and I’m currently waiting to see the latest photo shoot with the new Caravan of Dreams quartet.

All photos by Karen Turner.

Caravan of Dreams Updates

This has been an excellent week for The Caravan of Dreams. Florence Rutherford Jones joins the new quartet line up and we just completed our second full band rehearsal, photo shoot and recording session. Flo will be playing violin as well as contributing on vocals. She is a great addition to the ensemple.

On April 4th we’ll be playing our first new gig as a quartet with Laurent Zeller as a a guest at the Music for the Head and Heart showcase in Leeds. The evening with also involve The Caravan of Dreams backing up the superb Captain of the Lost Waves

The price you pay for “free music”

In doing interviews for Music for The Head and Heart I’m increasingly finding that artists have a real challenge in generating predictable income and many are asked to play charity events, fundraisers and similar live gigs for no remuneration. I have absolutely no problem with charitable events, but one good friend pointed out that perhaps a charity event to support the working artists might be a good plan? This raises the whole question of the price we pay for “free music”

Here are some thoughts

The value from “trades”

With the advent of Spotify and many other music trends the performing artists are increasingly disadvantaged financially. Hobbyists as opposed to professional performers are often favoured by local pub venues and open mic type situations meaning less financial outlay for business owners. Its all sounds great doesn’t it? Free music for the masses? Well any smart person knows, there is always a cost involved in any relationship and this is no different…

” I’m not a fan of artists paying for “exposure” as often its a means for promoters to get free entertainment and in many cases the artists don’t even receive expenses for their work. Every year I have one promoter asking my 5 piece band to play for a charity gig where the artists don’t even receive the most basic of expenses. I think such expenses should always be on offer and then its up to the artists to accept or refuse on a case by case basis. When entertainment is increasingly presented as being available for no financial cost, then people start to devalue what is on offer.

I set up the Music for The Head and Heart Platform to give especially independent artists a voice and a means to connect to a wider public. Artists are invited to appear on the platform and the “trade” is that they get to be interviewed and play some songs which are then professionally edited and promoted to the wider public. The “trade” is mostly in time and for around an hour’s meet up, and with no financial outlay, many performers can have some really excellent footage produced and in some cases be part of one of the live paid showcases. Trades are not always financial trades, BUT ultimately professional performers need to earn a living and that means figuring out how to balance time and money.

Pricing and expectations

“As for the music business itself, the key things have not changed that much. It operates like any business and money still keeps things moving.”
Tom Jones

I’m a big fan of collaboration and reciprocation. I have built up a business reputation over many years that allows me to fund my love of music. I literally put my money where my mouth is and always ensure that artist’s work is valued. This means funding support acts and shows irrespective of whether I receive any income. The reason for this is that if we fail to value creative work then ultimately the quality of what is on offer will diminish as performers can’t maintain a time/money balance.

I’ve previously blogged about how many performers return to paid salaried work as they can’t earn a reasonable living from music alone. This inevitably means that the quality and diversity of what is available is increasingly reduced and I have often joked that all will remain will be open mics and giant stadium gigs with nothing in between.

So what next?

In my view, the best way forward is for performers of like minds to support each other and to create exceptional entertainment for the wider public. Its down to the artists to entertain and to ensure that they don’t give away their skills without factoring in the bigger picture. This is a tricky balance but many music enthusiasts can unwittingly become complicit in devaluing musical entertainment by being to ready to give away their art. This creates an understandable expectation from the public that music “should be free” and that’s IMO a real problem. Promoters and festivals also have IMO a responsibility to ensure artists receive fair pay for their entertainment skills.

I even recall one festival asking what “contribution” an artist might “need” if they are accepted to play one of the stages. I can’t imagine a top chef being asked such a question and in my view its disrespectful to performing artists. As a lover of music, I want to see more great live music and that means artists need supporting in their creative work. Imagine people then decided that they wouldn’t pay to see films at cinemas, the cinema industry would soon start to deteriorate and ultimately disappear. Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? All feedback welcome as IMO its an important discussion

The first of two new recording projects

Yesterday was my first studio outing in 2020 recording in Leeds. I have a bunch of tracks to record and have decided to work on two separate projects, one with the full band and one stripped down project.

Yesterday was spent recording “All Kinds of Crazy” with Ella Playford guesting on vocals. This will be the title track for the album of duets and we’ll record all the material using my superb Ear Trumpet mics. On “All Kinds of Crazy” we started the day with me putting down the basic guitar part with my Collings Waterloo. I forget how much focus you need even to get a perfect rhythm part in play when in the studio. Fortunately I have a superb producer who keeps everything on track and this will be the 41st track I have recorded with him to date.

Once I had the main guitar part down, I started added my vocal parts. We decided to try out a combination of a great ribbon mic and the Ear Trumpet Edwina and Myrtle mics. This is the first time I’ve done a recording with the Ear Trumpets and I now appreciate why so many artists love them for acoustic work. They are perfectly suited for these duo vocal/stripped back recordings.

Ella Playford arrived at 1.30 to start putting down her verses and harmony parts. I have seen Ella perform previously and was blown away by her voice. At 17 she is a remarkable singer with a great ear for harmonies. In just over two hours she had completed all her parts, job done! I’m inviting her back for some more recordings in May as she is a true professional.

One of the great things of being in a familiar studio is when ideas start to spark in an unexpected fashion. As well as using the Collings Waterloo, I brought in my Sobell Model 0. I added some minimal Ry Cooder style phrases that sound great in the mix.

Now we had all the key parts down, the next few hours are dedicated to mixing and mastering. Carl is quite brilliant and I’m amazed at the amount of precision needed for this and how a track begins to really take shape. In forthcoming months I’ll be doing more duo work as well as getting the full band in the studio. Its a fascinating process which requires a huge amount of concentration, but I absolutely love the fact we can work effectively and with so much precision.

Artist work ethic

There’s an old music saying

“It takes ten years to become am overnight success”

In creating the Music for Head and Heart platform I have had the privilege to talk to a wide range of musicians from enthusiastic beginners to seasoned professional artists. What has really struck me is that for any artist to achieve any kind of success (this will mean very different things to different people, the musician needs to have a good work ethic and be prepared to put in the time needed to develop skills as well as music promotion.

I remember listening to a Robert Fripp audiobook where he talked about his early days in music where he was still working as an estate agent during the day and would then travel to a gig in London, arrive back in the early hours and then start his day job that paid the bills! Tom Verlaine the brilliant guitarist who fronted the band Television, was still working part time in a book shop even when his classic album “Marquee Moon” was released. Both these artists were invested in their work and appreciated that there was no magic wand that would take them to the next level.

Balancing time and money

I’ve blogged about this before, but I’m increasingly aware that balancing time and money is crucial from most performers. I remember one niche festival that would pay a band 100 pounds to play a 20 minute set on the main stage. In contrast I had the same band paid 1800 plus flights and hotels to pay similar sized festival stage overseas. I’m currently offering my thoughts to a festival that is truly seeking to break the mold and create an experience for the public and artists alike that is not just a recycling of the same “safe formula” but is genuinely exploring new territory.

Many artists will fall into the “playing for exposure” trap and discover that its really tough to earn any kind of living. Of course everyone has to start somewhere and its highly optimistic to expect people to pay for entertainment that is not of a high standard. I’ve witnessed some superb performers playing to very small audiences and when I book artists I always do my very best to look after them.

Its very easy to be extremely busy, but non productive. The key is to have a strategy that focuses on the best use of time and money and to really pay attention to what works best. Overexposure is as much a problem as underexposure. The most successful artists find a balance that works best for them. I interviewed a world famous singer once who commented about how crucial it was to remain on the radar. Releasing a single every few years without other exposure isn’t going to cut it. Its like having your egg in one basket! Any music promotion requires focus, time and money.

This means ongoing work and “playing the long game” with exceptional attention to detail and a great work ethic. Many people from what I see and hear, don’t have the stamina for such a task

Attention to detail

Some artists are very focused and keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities. Others spectacularly snatch failure from the jaws of success! This often occurs when they are not looking at a wider picture. I’m recently booking for a major festival and approached some artists who didn’t seize an opportunity in case they got an offer to play at a smaller festival they were familiar with. Of course its 100% their right, but what amazes me is that they don’t explore to see what’s on offer and miss a trick.

Building social media online is also essential to reaching a wider audience. A performer recently mentioned releasing some material and was understandably excited about the prospect. I’ve been keeping an eye out online expecting a social media crank up, but a week away from a single launch there is NOTHING! No online increase in presence, no gigs planned and all social media followers are totally static.

Any kind of promotion in business requires time and money. The key is to know what to invest in and how to invest. Its really easy to burn money and time if you are not careful. These days there are all manner of outlets for music promotion and music promotion options that are affordable. More than ever its about perception. Whether we like it or not, festival/gig bookers and the media look at numbers of YouTube views, social media followers and Twitter stats. I wish this was not the case, but that’s the reality we live in. One thing is certain, a strong work ethic is essential to create any kind of success in whatever way you define it.

Time and Money in Creating Music

One of the biggest challenges in creating and promoting music is to be able to fund the time needed to make this happen Unless you have a wealthy patron or other financial support, it can become a real issue. Here are some thoughts and observations on this.

Predictable income challenges

In recent months I know three musicians who have returned to full time employment as they can’t earn enough predictable income fr om music alone. I’ve blogged extensively about how paid work is tougher to find for artists and its no surprise that ecomonic consideraions ultimately prevail. I remember reading that Tom Verlaine from the iconic band Television was still working part time in a book store in New York even when his classic Marquee Moon album was released.

In 1980s my friends in the band James in the early days were volunteering for drug trials in Manchester to generate income and for years lived on a shoe string. Even when signed by Sire, it was hard work and only 30+ years on are those in the band capitalising on decades of work.

Image v working reality in music

Many artists don’t in my view fully appreciate that if they want to connect to a wider audience, image is important. I’ve seen many posts on social media which to put it politely are in my opinion ill advised. Examples include begging for accomodation in a city at short notice from anyone online and other photos of being very drunk online. Yes, this is part of daily life for many folks, but as the old saying goes “You never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression”

Its not just individual artists who are unaware. I saw a festival once try and position themselves as the next Glastonbury for a niche music concern. The ad copy online was as impressive as the claims for what they said they were going to achieve. I then saw a photo of the headliner and thought it must have been during a soundcheck. The reason I thought this was that there was a small group of people huddled under umbrellas which suggested a very different image, but yes this was the final audience…

Funding Time for recording & Gigs

I just finished my third album and I have realised that in order to work up material for the studio and live tracks means a lot of rehearsal time. My policy is to pay the band for all their time and I fund this from my other work. This means working very hard to make this possible. I also pay all band members for gigs, irrespective of whether we get paid by the promoter. These costs can really accumulate, but its an effective way to get the work completed without resorting to Kickstarter style operations. Such operations work well for some people but I’ve steered clear to date.

Regarless of finance, simply being able to get a band to all meet is a challenge. I joke that “thank god, we are not a 12 piece band!” I have learned that the best model for my ensemble is to have a core trio and then hire in other musicians. I have an inner FB group for all those involved in musical projects and that allows for good communication.

Reciprocation & Shared Values

I’m a big fan of reciprocation and shared values. I’ve run music events where some artists have been brilliant in their cooperation and involvement. In contrast I’ve had artists want to bring a crazy number of people as guests, many of who disappear after their friends have performed! Neeedless to say, such folks will not get future opportunites from me. Fortunately these individuals are in a minority and are often seriously unaware of opportunities. With one artist I offered them all manner of possible commercial opportunities and they simply didn’t respond. Yes, its for each artist to determine what works for them, but to not even check out an opportunity seems seriously daft to me…

I’ve learned to pick and choose who I involve in projects and as band members. There are some really nice folks out there, but it can be a massive amount of working organizing them. This inevitably leads to a lot of frustration so now I’m super careful about who I involve in work. Another issue is that many artists can’t work in an organized manner and that is essential if you want to build and release a body of work. My advice to all band leaders is to work with people who are like minds and who have shared values.

Music for The Head and Heart Platform

I set up the Music for The Head and Heart platform to bring together artists and work in collaboration. To date we have run a terrific launch party and the second live event is Jan 25th and we still have a few tickets here. To date we have interviewed 35 artists from all over the globe and its been fascinating. This means allocating a great deal of time and some financial investment. I fund this to date from other work and by year two my plan is that at least the live events break even. The main investment is time in organising artists and planning video and audio. People who attend actual events often don’t appreciate the crazy amount of time and goodwill involved in many these showcases happen.

All this time has to be funded in some way and that means thinking smart and working with people who have shared values. In terms of the platform I have a policy of inviting people and then sending a reminder if I don’t hear anything. Many such artists simply don’t have the momentum and stamina to create a body of work and to reach a wider public. Often they are by nature too insular and inevitably never create and release a body of work.

Time to think and plan

Personally I need chunks of time to plan and to create new music. I don’t work with a regimented work schedule for writing, but I like to always have instruments to hand and free time to play around. Its also invaluable to be able to step back from projects and take a second view on how to proceed. I think its also invaluable to have a variety of interests in life which can inspire the creative process. That means using time in a particular way to not just get stuck in one medium of musical creation and to embrace working with all manner of other people. As Nick Cave would say

“A rock musician’s career is short-lived. To extend it, you need to do other things to keep yourself fresh.|
Nick Cave

Final Thoughts

Collaboration and sharing skills and resources are the best way to being about any vision. Many performers can be tunnel visioned in how they work. That’s fine for them, but IMO its not smart business. A better way is genuine cooperation and collaboration to bring great music to a much wider public.

Magic goes wrong, especially with bomb alert

I just got back from London having travelled down yesterday to see “Magic goes wrong” at the Vaudeville theatre in London. The theatre ensemble are well know for farce style plays where there are all manner of mishaps. Its excellent entertainment and I’ve seen two of their shows, one in New York and one in the UK. I was therefore looking forward to the latest how which was co written by Penn and Teller.

magic goes wrong

We arrived early and as usual before the show various members of the cast move among the audience and start interacting, provoking all manner of amused responses. The key to this style of theatre is unpredictability and the cast are really excellent performers.

At exactly 7.30 the evening performance was due to start. Suddenly a guy appeared on stage proclaiming the show was cancelled and everyone needed to leave the theatre. “Brilliant” I thought, a superb creative way to get audience attention and both myself and half the audience remained in the theatre. Then the safety curtain came down and the guy on stage started to insist we all leave. “Wow, they are really pushing this I thought” and began to shuffle to the entrance as I knew we’d all be back in a few minutes.

Outside it was pretty confused and a woman dressed as a policewoman insisted we move behind the police line “Fantastic” I thought “She looks like the real deal” Me and the wife thought “Ok we’ll play along but I started to wonder about the practicalities of getting people back into the show. Anyway they would have thought of that wouldn’t they?

Magic goes wrong

A guy then dressed as a policeman insisted we move further back and I thought “Wow even the police cars look genuine, they have really gone all out with this, BRAVO!”

There was just one issue to consider 10 minutes later. These were real police and it was not part of the show. Performance cancelled due to “suspect device” located. At least I got a programme, but will need to rebook. The fact that none of this made national news (it did make online newswires” shows how common such things are in these times…