What is the best thing about making music?
It’s expressing your soul and that is a basic need for all human beings. Making music is creating and that’s what we are here for. So music connects to us on a really deep level whether we overanalyse that or not. It brings people together and making music is the fruit to the seeds of learning the skills.
What is the hardest thing about making music?
Usually it’s an internal conflict that artists seem to experience. One wants their music to be successful but they don’t want to “sell out”. They might be desperate to get their music out, which is a sincerity in their passion to their art, but that desperation turns off the professionals who could help their career. For myself, a band that sold millions of records inspired me and made me want to be a musician. It is only now, after years and years of pushing, that I’ve realised I had an expectation to do that too, otherwise in my mind I would think of myself as a failure. Only now after all these years have I clicked that I would not be happy with that types of pressure on myself. So now I adjusted my thinking and realised that being successful is a state of mind in yourself. There are lots of things that are hard about being a musician. I’ve had unfair expectations for myself, substance abuse issues, friends that are musicians die, girlfriends try and break up the band, companies try and rip me off, major promoters wreck my plans for a show and cost me thousands of dollars, other bands try and rip me off, played to empty rooms on tour, band members let me down numerous times, had bad debt, had opening bands cancel on the day of the show, faced prejudice on my appearance… you name it. But in the end we do it because we can’t not do it.
From strumming / humming / creating the first notes of a song through to a completed mastered recording, on average how long does it take you to write and record a song?
If I’m inspired I write on the spot, so two minutes max. Other than that it varies. There are songs I have written when I was 15 that are good songs but I still don’t have a great recording of them. When I have recorded my singles I make sure the band has them down before we record so it should take 3 separate days max if you are an independent artist. My ‘Little Green Dragon’ EP was recorded in a couple of weeks, but my ‘Yesterday’s Gone’ album was recorded and mastered in two days because it’s just vocals and guitar so it depends on the situation.
All costs considered, on average how much does it cost you to write and record a song?
It only costs energy to write it, but it might give you more energy than you spent.
To record a song depends on what it’s for. For some of the old Sun Records blues tracks, the engineer would just set up one mic in a room and away they went. It captured the feel though. For my singles like ‘Round Her Little Finger’ it was between $1000 to $2000 to record, mix and master in a professional studio. That covered drums, bass, vocals and guitars. The more prepared you are, the less you have to spend fixing mistakes and that will save you money. Also if you can get the studio on a weekday that isn’t busy you can usually negotiate a better price too.
Over and above money you make from music (public performance royalties, live performance, licensing and CD / digital sales), do you have to supplement the cost of writing and recording music with money you make from other sources?
I teach guitar and have done since I was 15, although I have limited that now due to being busy with a book that I have just released called ‘Use Your Buzz to Play the Guitar’. I also coach bands. In the near future I will be doing more work overseas but I continue to accept limited private music students because I like teaching and helping people be musicians too!
Why do you do what you do – why do you make music?
Because I can’t not do it
What is the most helpful songwriting tip you’ve learnt?
I went to a seminar a while back that was given by Clare McLeod from CMC Productions. The guest speaker was Beth Neilson Chapman who wrote the hit ‘This Kiss’. She had some very good advice for attendees and she simply said “turn up each day”. You can read all the books you want (and I recommend doing that) and get all the tips and advice in the world, but you gotta do it.
What are three artists / bands you are excited about at the moment?
There are a lot of US bands I’m excited about but I’m pretty disappointed at how many of our great Kiwi bands are not getting recognised enough by the industry. I’d like to list more but here are 3: The Blue Grizzly Band, His Masters Voice, El Schlong.
What are you working on at the moment / tell us about your latest release / project?
At the moment I am using my book ‘Use Your Buzz to Play the Guitar’ to help musicians across the country and would like to be more involved with speaking at seminars and industry events. I am looking to do a show with some of my musician friends from years past and am releasing a podcast series called ‘Music Talks’ to get the honest perspectives of those that work in the NZ Music Industry and try and bridge the gap a little between the industry itself and musicians that have the passion and drive but aren’t aware of the other sides to a music career