Short rant on the unhelpful use of superlatives when describing music

This is a short rant about one of my pet hates which I started to notice during the invasion of music talent shows, is where music and artists are described as “awesome” “amazing” and in other superlative terms. I appreciate that many promoters, PR agencies and artists want to write copy to get attention, but the overuse of superlatives in my view is self defeating as it ultimately kills any sensible critical evaluation. Terms like “awesome” “genius” brilliant” “ground breaking” should in my view be reserved for the very best of the best and not trotted out without any real consideration.

One of the main culprits are “talent shows” Talent show judges often would feedback to aspiring artists after a 90 second performance comments like “you are a real star” and “that was awesome” Yes, its probably well meaning and encouraging, but I would respectfully suggest that these are well meaning optimistic statements at best. Such shows are mostly about packaging an artist to a specific image and sonic template and unfortunately in my opinion this makes for never endling bland production line music that all sounds very similar to my ears.

I should at this point declare that in my non musical persona I teach communication skills internationally in Asia, USA and Europe so that background will make me far more aware of these patterns than the average person. One of the problems I have with the excessive overuse of superlatives is that they make everything very black and white or as we say in the communication world create “digital thinking” where we are left with adjectives that only express thinking in extreme terms.

Superlatives on social media and ad copy

Social media is full of superlatives where posters get carried away in their praise and lose any kind of objectivity in how they are describing what they hear and see. Lazy advertising copy also tends to default to the overuse of superlatives and ultimately this is in my view not a great strategy if you want to engage and maintain customer interest.

At this point you may respond “Don’t be so negative, you miserable git!’ but my central point is that the over use of superlatives means that all descriptions become essentially meaningless and lazy writing when everything is “awesome” and “brilliant”

Its like describing all food as Michelin star level cuisine, and makes any critical evaluation totally meaningless.

I totally admit that this is a personal view and the trend is likely to continue and probably get much worse in future times as more people scrabble to become stars, especially with the absence of live opportunities in the last 12 months.

Downturn in music sales = more hyped marketing copy?

I have been aware for a while that the music industry is in decline, but even I was surprised by this recent news

This week’s No1 album is set to be one of the lowest-selling ever, with Mogwai’s As The Love Continues expected to top the chart with sales of just 7,379.

Two decades ago, sales would often top 100,000.

Meanwhile last week’s No1, Slow-Thai’s Tyron, has tumbled to No22, behind greatest hits records from Sir Elton John and Fleetwood Mac.

Chart figures are based on sales from physical formats including vinyl and CD, plus downloads and streams.

This week’s Top 40 albums combined have sold just 11 per cent of what Adele’s last album, 25, managed during just its first week in 2015.

Even new artists like Celeste — winner of the Rising Star award at last year’s Brits, who had millions put behind her debut album Not Your Muse — have achieved underwhelming sales.

Full article here

In my view this trend is part of the reason for more hyped ad copy which inevitably means the increased use of superlatives in marketing. Another set of culprit are many music colleges also are complicit in selling “the musical dream” where artists don’t get the best advice and are given quite delusional expectations about what is possible in “the music business” Yes, its useful to encourage artists, but the over use of superlatives actually kills creative aspirations as once you start to believe you are “brilliant” or “a genius” there really is nowhere else to go.

Some music examples (in my biased opinion) that actually are “brilliant”

I would decribe the following artists and albums as “awesome” but then what do I know, I’m a ranting old blogger and music lover that laments the lack of great songrwiting where songs were usually written by one or two people, not a team of writers seeking to fulfill the record company’s sonic brief for Spotify positioning

Albums that I would describe as “brilliant”

Tapestry by Carol King – a superb pop album brilliantly written

Sign of the times by Prince – hugely diverse album bursting with creativity

Remain in Light by The Talking Heads – great work by the band with Eno, terrific african grooves

Hoodoo man blues by Junior Wells – 60s album brilliantly played and recorded, stripped down superb songs

Miss America by Mary Margaret O Hara – great album of unpredictable provocative songs, one album and she disappeared

Blood on the tracks by Bob Dylan – superb well written songs after a break up

Of course these are just my opinion, everyone will have their own preferences

Final thoughts

Many people will think ‘So what, its all subjective anyway!” but when we engage in the excessive use of superlatives, we run the risk of dumbing down how we evaluate music. I’ve know promoters who endlessley use the term “awesome” in almost every conversational exchange. In my world few artists, songs or experiences “fill me with awe” and I think that’s only a good thing. Many will of course disagree and I leave it up to you as to whether you find this article “awesome” “life changing” or just plain “old guy ranting” All such views are fine by me as we all collectively learn and develop skills through critical evaluation and discussion.

“These are my thoughts, if you don’t like them, I have others” (apologies to Groucho)

“All kinds of crazy” collaborations album

Work on the “All kinds of crazy” collaborations album is going really well. In total twelve tracks are planned with guest artists across the globe, including Towse from the USA, Emily Mercer from the UK, Laurent Zeller from France and Captain of the Lost Waves, Sharon Cannings and Ella Playford from the UK. There will be black and white videos for each track created by Nick Bloomfield, with four videos already “in the vault”

This a very different album, very stripped back and unlike anything else I have done to date. Its a very reflective piece of work and I’m extremely pleased with how its turning out. The instrumentation is also very different with a lot more piano than has appeared in the other albums to date.

The combination of artists is quite fascinating and I am truly grateful to be working with so many talented artists across the globe. Each of them bring something really special to this project. Carl Rosamond is doing sound production and the release date is planned for the end of the year.

The 3 albums planned for 2021/2022

There are 3 albums planned for 2021/2022.

The first will be a selection of tracks from the code-E1 project

These tracks are currently “in the vault”

  1. All is fine till the world goes pop 4.19
  2. Gather round 6.57
  3. Nothing here sounds good 3.21
  4. All Kinds of Crazy 5.24
  5. Your chosen one is coming 4.12
  6. Maybe 5.04
  7. You gotta move 5.04
  8. Please take this time 4.24
  9. 321 Lockdown 3.41
  10. Hold that thought 3.30
  11. Sticks and stones 3.40
  12. The world is burning 3.39
  13. That gals as cool as fuck 3.25
  14. All about her lies 3.29
  15. Come on down 3.51
  16. Let it flow 5.17
  17. Bring this strength 5.56
  18. Wait until the pain is gone 4.04
  19. Wild Hair and cocaine eyes 3.50
  20. What you gonna do? 4.17
  21. Slow time 4.08
  22. They don’t mind 4.01
  23. Take Heart 3.22
  24. Go now 4.00
  25. We made it 3.32
  26. This Way 4.06
  27. Next up 3.47
  28. Luxembourg 4.51
  29. Thinking in circles 4.03
  30. You don’t know 3.51

The second album “All kinds of crazy” with be an album of collaborations with guest artists across the globe and will be very different to anything I have done to date. The third album with be under the name “Nick Cody and the heartache” and will be an all electric album. The band will include Rich Ferdi and Fergus Quill who have played in previous ensembles.

Recording during lockdown for Nick Cody Music projects

I have been doing a ton of recording over the last 10 months, for three different projects, the code-e1 electronic project with Black Star Liner, material for “Nick Cody and the Heartache” which is all electric guitar based music and a collaborations/duet album with some amazing musicians from all over the globe. I’m working with my long time producer Carl Rosamond and Black Star Liner for remixes on the Code E1 project.

The Recording process

The recording process has been very different from what I have previously been used to in laying down tracks from my first three albums. Firstly I am doing all the recording in my home studio in the UK and unusually using DI’s into the excellent UAD Arrow and then into the Reaper DAW. Seeing as I have a stack of terrific amps and preamps from Soldano, Two Rock, Fender and Mashall, this may seem to be a strange way to go, but its working brilliantly. The UAD is superb sonically and crucially allows me to use their unique unison preamp options.

The other difference with the recording process is that I’m using all electric guitars, the Collings I25 Deluxe, Moses necked/ Warmoth strat and the Ranson Tom Holmes equipped Telecaster. This allows for a terrific range of guitar tones. I’m also using a number of different pedals including the Zen Drive 2 as favoured by Eric Johnson and in recent times a number of Supro pedals.

Once I get basic guitar parts down, Carl will lock these into a template and then I can start on doing vocal takes with my good friend Agi, who also does BVs on tracks. Agi and I have worked on over 34 tracks to date including most of the new songs across these three projects. She is an outstanding singer and the best harmony singer I have ever come across. Carl will send the projects we record in Reaper to her as Logic files and she will add BVs. The versions that come back then go to Black Star Liner for the Code E1 project as well as being kept for the other two projects.

I’m super pleased with the results to date and its become clear to me that one of the keys to creating great music is to have a really good team of people involved in the project, who all bring something special to the table. We are fast approaching 30 finished tracks for Code E1 and a similar number for the other two projects. This material will be released throughout 2021 and 2022

Finally special thanks to Andy Coote for radio plays at Source FM, Daz in the Hat for plays on his show and Darren Poyzer for radio plays.

The Power of Artist Collaboration

I am increasingly convinced that the best hope for the future of great music is through artist collaboration. With setting up Music for the Head and Heart I have been fortunate to meet and interview many extraordinary artists from all over the globe. I’ve previously blobbed about how streaming has essentially killed online earning opportunities for many artists and of course covid 19 has also killed live gigs.

On a brighter note its given me the opportunity to focus on music creation at a whole new level and 2021 and 2022 will see the release of at least three new albums, very different in style, with some crossover material. One of the albums will centre around collaborations with some really extraordinary artists from USA and Europe as well as the UK. These will be revealed in due course and I am honoured and flattered with their enthusiasm for being involved in what will be titled the “All kinds of crazy” album.

The process of artist involvement

Since March 2020, I have written 30 new songs and 27 of these have already been recorded for one of the three projects. There will be alternative versions of some of these songs and I have approached a number of artists to take vocal parts and/or to add new musical contributions. To date the best results have come from simply giving the artists total free reign in their contributions instead of micro managing them. I’m blown away by the material we have received that is going to make for some excellent album releases. Special thanks to all those who have made contributions to date and the two producers who have done a brilliant job in mastering and remixing the material.

Whats the value of Spotify for artists?

spotify for artists

I’m a big fan of physical products and long ago abandoned ITunes when Apple started telling me which devices I could listen to purchased tunes on and it became clear that their position was that you are essentially ‘borrowing the music” like a lending library and you don’t own it. The Bruce Willis case highlighted this difference. I’ve been aware of Spotify for some time and recently see a lot of social media buzz about Spotify for artists, with artists complaining about the lack of financial return from the platform. Tunecore describes Spotify in this way

“Spotify has over 40 million users worldwide with 10 million of those users paying a monthly subscription fee. Over 3 million of those paying subscribers are in the U.S. alone. Spotify launched in Sweden and Norway in October of 2008, but didn’t launch in the U.S. in July 2011. The population in Sweden is about 10 million people, Norway is 5.1 million, and in the U.S. about 319 million people! Just imagine the amount of money Spotify and other streaming services will generate for artists and labels once streaming becomes the norm in the U.S. and other highly populated countries around the world. We are talking billions of dollars folks! And Spotify is still a relatively small service when compared to YouTube who have 1B users and iTunes who now have about 800 million accounts. As Spotify and other streaming services continue to grow so will its artist payouts.”

Call me naive, but Spotify can only function and prosper with artist support, without content, nobody is going to visit the platform. Artists who sign up for the platform and then complain about the poor financial return, remind me of those people complaining that Facebook ‘should support their music” not appreciating that FB is a business and most artists are “users” and not customers as they are not paying for the service in the first place. Both platforms give the artist “reach” in terms of a potentially bigger audience, but from what I see no real direct financial benefit.

Artists who left or refuse to be on spotify

There are a number of very sucessful artists who refuse to be on Spotify. In 2014, Taylor Swift pulled all of her music off Spotify. “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for,”  In 2015 Prince removed all his music from Spotify and Neil Young pulled his music off Spotify and other streaming services because he found the sound quality to be sub-standard.

“I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution,” 

I don’t feel right allowing this to be sold to my fans. It’s bad for my music.”

Neil has championed high resolution audio and is steadily releasing his back catalogue in this way. Personally I’m a fan of high resolution audio that is superior to the quality found on CDs and vastly better than mp3 quality.

Pete Townshend didn’t hold back on his thoughts regarding Spotify for artists

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Pete Townshend said, “I’m a user of Spotify, so I feel like a complete hypocrite when I say: I think the guy that runs it is probably a f*cking crook.

In a Guardian article David Byrne commented

In future, if artists have to rely almost exclusively on the income from these services, they’ll be out of work within a year. Some of us have other sources of income, such as live concerts, and some of us have reached the point where we can play to decent numbers of people because a record label believed in us at some point in the past. I can’t deny that label-support gave me a leg up – though not every successful artist needs it. So, yes, I could conceivably survive, as I don’t rely on the pittance that comes my way from music streaming, as could Yorke and some of the others. But up-and-coming artists don’t have that advantage – some haven’t got to the point where they can make a living on live performances and licensing, so what do they think of these services?

In researching this article I’m increasingly discovering that many of my favourate artists are not fans of Spotify including Jason Isbell

who in 2014 commented that “streaming services don’t add to my income in any way.”

STOP PRESS

Since writing this, it seems that Taylor Swift , Pete Townesend and Prince are now on Spotify! I’m note sure why they changed their minds but its 1 for big tech 0 for creative artists, in my humble opinion of course

Backlash against Spotify for artists?

I recently read an interesting article in Wired magazine about this very subject, citing Tom Gray

During lockdown Tom Gray started tweeting with the hashtag #BrokenRecord. A lot. As a working musician (and 1998 Mercury Prize winner with his band, Gomez) and a director at music royalties collection society PRS, he found himself uniquely placed to advocate for change.

The subject of Gray’s ire was the apparent discrepancy between major labels banking upwards of $1 million every hour from streaming, and middle-tier or smaller artists who receive tiny amounts in comparison for their millions of streams. Concert violinist Tasmin Little was paid £12.34 for millions of streams over six months, for example, and anonymous tipsters report similarly meagre payouts. Now, Gray is part of a growing number in the industry advocating for a change to the way payouts from streaming platforms are handled.

The Wired article points out

T”he biggest beneficiaries of the pro rata model are the major labels, who own the vast majority of recorded music in existence via deals favourable to them. Currently, if you sign with a major label, taking home 30 per cent of the streaming royalties earned by your music is considered about as good as it gets. And streaming, by narrowing how music is consumed, essentially exaggerates and exacerbates the age-old imbalance between the majors and the rest of the industry. For these reasons, Gray’s campaign is ultimately aimed at root-and-branch reform of how the music industry serves musicians – streaming is simply the most visible way into the issue.

Full article HERE

Other non financial benefits for artists on Spotify or head to pastures new?

The argument for non financial benefits for appearing on Spotify remind me of the “pay to play” argument and “playing for exposure” arguments presented to artists. It reminds me of some niche music festivals that promote the idea of ” Remuneration for playing” rather than a fee for playing. This in my view can be the slippery slope where the artist is always disadvantaged in favour of the business owner. Yes, there is a case for artists starting out to seek new opportunities and seek out new opportunities, but the danger is that there is an increasing perception that music/entertainment has not value and/or should be free.

My own thoughts are that the platform works well for the company, but devalues the artist’s creative content. One artist did have one solution which rather amused me (see below)

Another view on spotify for artists

Here is another view from a professional artist. He also makes some very valid observations about how tough it is for musicians to make music professionally. Two take aways from this excellent clip are that the artist needed to stream 7 miliion streams to make $25,000 and that Spotify is a tech business.

The creative writing process

The last nine months have been unusual to say the least with the covid 19 lockdowns and travel restrictions. Fortunately, just before all this happened I was smart enough to upgrade my home studio, not knowing how long this period would last for. Usually I would by now have travelled to Europe, USA and Asia, but of course none of this has been posible.

Recording strategies in the studio

One of the benefits of having a home recording studio is that it can be permanently set up for work. I record on a daily basis, often to sketch out initial ideas. I’ve realised the value of letting ideas develop and not to engage in editing too soon. Sometimes some musical ideas will appear and the key is just to get these sketches down as soon as possible. This is one of the tips I learned from my good friend Tim Booth the lead singer in the band James who talked about his writing and recording strategy in the studio. As a signed artist he would have to deliver material to deadlines set by the record company. If I ever had any aspirations to be a signed artist, these soon disappeared when hearing about record company demands!

Sometimes a song will develop from a set of lyrics that inspire a melody. Since March most of the material has been inspired by musical sketches that often come from just letting ideas appear. In the great songwriting tradition I look for a main verse, a chorus and a middle eight. I never really know what will appear, during this sonic explorations. The Dr Rhythm unit has been invaluable in setting up percussion loops that can be developed into full fledged songs.

The sonic tool kit, guitars and pedals

I’m a massive fan of UAD equipment and plugins. I initially bought a UAD Arrow unit which has been terrific. I recently added a UAD quad satellite which has massively increased the processing power available during the recording process. I have found the UAD plugins to be of the highest quality and the unison plugins which are unique to UAD are described as

Unison technology is an audio processing breakthrough that starts right at the source — the input stage — allowing UA audio interface mic preamps to sound and behave like the world’s most sought-after tube and solid-state designs.”

These plugins used in combination with the ear trumpet mics are really excellent sonically.

One of the benefits of having more time than usual is that I have time to explore instrument and pedal options in some detail. I’ve already blogged about the superb Zen Drive 2 pedal that I have used on many tracks. I have recently added two Jetter pedals to my go to units and am especially pleased with the Jetter 124 Gold unit which is one of the best sounding overdrives I have heard to date. There are hundreds of guitar pedals on the market, but in my experience only a very few really excellent ones.

In terms of guitars I am using my Dan Ranson custom telecaster with Tom Holmes pickups, my Warmoth strat with a Moses carbon fiber neck and my Collings I35 deluxe which is also fitted with Tom Holmes paf pickups. Tom’s pickups are in my view the very best and he’s now at the age of 72 doing his last run. These are all made by hand and are hugely in demand by many guitarists with a nine month back order! Its been quite an experience switching from mostly acoustic instruments in recent years to all electric instruments.

This material will be released across four different projects, each with a different style of music

Working with Emily Mercer

During Covid 19, I’ve been writing and recording at a furious rate across four projects. I started out with working on material for ‘The Caravan of Dreams” and then handed of some tracks which started the Code-E1 remix project. I also began to experiment in the studio with material that didn’t really fit either of these projects. One writing “wait until the pain is gone” I had the idea to ask Emily Mercer to add some vocals. I’ve known Emily for a while and invited her to be part of Music for the Head and Heart after she agreed to do some support slots for The Caravan of Dreams. I’ve always been impressed by her musicality and songwriting, but had no idea if a collaboration would pan out.

After we received the first track, it became obvious that there was some real potential here to create some great material and I’ve now had 4 tracks back, all of which sound terrific. This is a departure from what I have done to date and most tracks are really stripped back mostly to just piano and vocals. What I really like about Emily Mercer’s work is that she has a great musical instinct. I also forget that as well as being a superb vocalist, she is one excellent keyboard player. I’m going to continue to sent over tracks as what we have already recorded sounds fantastic to my ears.

Emily Mercer

Also check https://emilymercermusic.co.uk/

All is fine until the world goes pop Oct 26th release

Tomorrow sees the release of a series of tracks I am recording with Emily Mercer and a host of other excellent artists. I’ve known Emily for a couple of years when we booked her as a support for The Caravan of Dreams ensemble as well as featuring as an artist for Music for the Head and Heart. Emily Mercer is an excellent singer songwriter in her own right and I was lucky to catch her EP launch and see her in action. This is one of five songs I’ve sent over for collaboration, the first being “Wait until the pain is gone” which is currently unreleased. Both myself and my producer Carl Rosamond were so impressed we sent over additional tracks.

“All is fine until the world goes pop” has already been recorded three times, including a brilliant remix by Black Star Liner with a superb video by Nick Bloomfield, which is a terrific but very different interpretation of the track to the Emily Mercer collaboration

The new video tomorrow is also by Nick Bloomfield and will premiere at 9am here

Collaborations with 13 musicians on current 25 tracks

My producer and I spent 2 hours yesterday on creating a spread sheet to track progress of the work on 25 different songs currently in play in addition to 19 songs that have already been mixed. We currently have 13 different musicians involved in this work which will result in three very different sounding albums. This project requires a great deal of organisation and coordination as there are many moving parts. We are delighted to have a number of great vocalists and musicians involved in creating some really unique material. Some songs are going to appear in very different styles. “All is fine, until the world goes pop” has already been recorded and mastered in three very different styles.

Radio Plays

During covid 19 I see little point in releasing entire albums, but we will put out a few tracks for radio play and on my sites. Special thanks to Andy Coote at Source FM for the latest in a series of radio plays here

The recording process

All work starts in my home studio in the UK. Unusually for me, I’m doing everything on electric guitar with my Henriksen amps, Motown Acme DI box, Zen Drive 2 and other pedals, with all vocals through the superb Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic. All tracks are recorded via a UAD Arrow into the Reaper DAW. Its a very stripped down setup that works brilliantly. Once I have worked up basic ideas, they can go out to other musicians and producers working with the material. Its a fascinating process to bring together so much excellent talent and I’m grateful to all those who are involved.

Release dates and video

Full albums are planned for mid 2021, depending on the covid 19 situation. In the meantime Nick Bloomfield is doing a great job creating video for existing and future releases.