This Wednesday Tips is a sneaky one. Yesterday, I printed out the artwork for the upcoming CD and the coffee table book, and I really wanted to share (without giving away the cover yet). So how do I disguise this in the format of the blog? Simple.
Print out your artwork in a copyshop before you finalize your album. This way, you get to check everything beforehand: colors, if you can read all the text, how it looks when you open the CD case itself, et cetera. This is the case for me as well: I checked and double checked everything before I printed it, but I still noticed some things I have to change. (For example: one of the band members’ photos (above right) wasn’t placed as well as it should.)
Who? Indie duo that’s relatively new to the scene. They’re both graduates from Berklee College of Music, but moved to LA in 2012. They’re on Tumblr, too. Downside: I’m into them too soon. They only released a couple of singles so far. But you can download their latest on their website.
It kinda sounds like… The Postal Service. Jep, that good.
With my new album coming up (‘Love, Et Cetera’, out probably-after-the-summer-though-a-single-will-be-released-earlier), the first thing to be made is a video. I released three videos with my debut album. First, a video for ‘This Better Be For Real’, directed by Koen Zoontjes, followed by ‘Suzannah’, also made by Koen.
The third video, for ‘Ember’, was made using videos we shot during the Popronde, on our phones, mixed with shots made by a local tv station. The result is pretty sweet.
These three are a good example of budget vs. low budget. The first two cost quite some money, the third one not at all. Don’t get me wrong: I love the first two videos, but from a marketing standpoint, it’s not a smart move to spend a lot of money and not get anything in return. (And yes, I understand I can accept YouTube’s offer to run ads with my videos, and therefor make a few bucks.)
So, when thinking about the videos for the new album, I wanted two things: videos that don’t cost that much, and videos that are a bit more ‘arts-y’. That would fit the music better: out with the American High School-vibe, since that doesn’t really work anymore.
As always, I do research, and I’d like to share that research. There are a lot of examples of cool music videos with a low/no budget, and I’ve divided them into a couple of categories.
1. Shoot a band video (deluxe) Requirements: the band, a cool space (second hand rehearsal spaces are a no-no), one director, either one camera and a whole day’s worth of shots or five cameras and an hour’s work, a make-up artist, maybe some lighting, some money for editing.
Why it looks cool: the band doesn’t have to act, the people watching the video see their band do their favorite thing and you don’t need any preproduction.
Example: Elbow - Lippy Kids
2. Shoot a band video (cheap) Requirements: the band, an okay space (second hand rehearsal spaces are good enough), no director, three cameras and an hour’s work, no make-up artist, no lighting, DIY editing.
Why it looks cool: it has to fit your music, of course, but the cheapness of it all makes it look gritty, which is good for your image.
Example: Arctic Monkeys - I Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor
3. Go weird (with a little help) Requirements: cool locations, props, a director that’s a friend of the band, the band that’s willing to do crazy stuff (there’s always one band member…), editing time.
Why it looks cool: most of these videos start out as very simple, but end up costing more as the ideas keep coming. The craziness is why it looks cool, btw.
Example: Vampire Weekend - Cousins
4. Go weird (one location) Requirements: a cool location, a story, a little help from creative people, a director with a vision, editing time.
Why it looks cool: you basically tell a short story at a very low budget, which is great if you really want to explain the story behind the song. (Or: an extension of the story behind the song.)
Example: Death Cab for Cutie: I Will Follow You Into The Dark
5. Go funny Requirements: the band, humor, one camera, and - depending on the humor - no lighting or anything professional
Why it looks cool: humor is great (when executed properly) and it repeats viewing. Which is great for your YouTube counter.
Example: OK Go - Here It Goes Again
6. Go arts-y Requirements: it has to fit the music, creative people, a director with a good vision, the ability to strip naked for your music.
Why it looks cool: it shows you care for your art. Plus there’s a greater chance of being reblogged on other blogs because of the artiness.
Example: Gotye - Somebody That I Used To Know
7. Go very artsy (extra time edition) Requirements: combine with humor, creative people, a director with a good vision, the ability to spend a lot of time for your video, some extra hands, a lot of editing work.
Why it looks cool: it REALLY shows you care for your art. Plus there’s a greater chance of being reblogged on other blogs because of the amazing work you’ve put into it.
Example: Coldplay - Strawberry Swing
8. Go lyric video Requirements: day or nighttime shots of your city, patience with getting the lyrics on the exact same second you sing them, a lot of editing time, no director.
Why it looks cool: it doesn’t, really, but it beats having to see some YouTuber posting your song and the lyrics in a video made with iMovie, complete with a handwritten font and ugly colors.
Example: Matt Nathanson - Mission Bells
Other tips I found some tips online at mygigs.com that I didn’t cover above, so here goes:
Choose the Right Crew - Use people you are close to (friends, family). These are the people you can trust the most and they will probably help without asking you for money. - If you hire people, make sure that they are always on time, so it won’t cost you money - Use a small amount of people – it is easier to travel around and there are less people you have to pay for. - Find people who are volunteers. They want to gain experiences, work for less and give the most effort.
Choose the Right Equipment - Make use of cheaper lighting resources such as natural light if it is possible. - Try to find different package deals. There are some private parties who own their own lighting and generator equipment. This will be much cheaper. Though in some cases, buying your own equipment is going to be cheaper than paying for rental costs. If you are going to use such an item over and over again, it may be useful to buy it.
Choose the Right Place - Always look for several places. You might have forgotten that your friend or a relative may have access to a property that you could use. - Try to find a place which is quiet and private. - Parks are also a great choice, as they have a lot of space and you don’t have to pay for the space you are going to use.
Do your own casting - Ask the actors to use their own clothes. It saves you money and time. - If you need new items or clothes, it´s better to rent them. - You can find people for your video from the Internet.
Post and Editing - While others use professional programs like Avid or Premier, you can use simple freeware software. Or use the one that already exists on your computer. - Rent a video camera or buy it used from eBay.
Other Useful Tips - Research your ideas thoroughly before accomplishing them, because there are always other ways to get your equipment, shooting place or crew with less money. - You don’t need people to do different small things – do them yourself. - Always watch out for hidden costs (setup time, overtime, equipment fees etc).
A question interviewers ask me a lot: “So how do you write your songs?” A great question. But a not-so-easily-answered one, too.
For me, there are roughly three ways I write my songs: either I get a lyric in my head, and go over to my guitar to see if I can find some chords that will fit. Second, I’m playing around on my guitar and come up with a melody (not words: melody) on the spot. Third, I get a lyric AND melody in my head, and I grab my guitar to find the accompanying chords.
But there’s also a secret fourth option. Sworn to be never revealed by the Worldwide Songwriters Association. But I’m going to divulge it anyways. Ready? Here goes: find a song you like, write down the chords, and create your own melody.
Now, I’m not talking about ripping off a song. You can do that as well. But that’s tricky. There’s the Noel Gallagher way, who just copied the chorus of Stevie Wonder ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’ for his song ‘Step Out’, which he boldly admitted right off the bat. (I like the Oasis’ one better, but I’m biased.) There’s also the John Mayer way, who admitted that, before he wrote his song ‘Heartbreak Warfare’, he was listening to U2’s ‘Bad’ and said to himself “I want one of those”.
Most people have seen the video of Axis of Awesome, where the band play 40 songs, all consisting of the same four chords. It’s funny, and somewhat true, though they’re cheating a little by throwing all songs in the same key and only playing a part of the songs. But it’s true: most pop songs are dreadfully similar when it comes to chord progression. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create something original of your own.
Take Radiohead, for example. A famous example of ‘borrowing’ chords and creating your own melody: they took the chords from ‘The Air That I Breathe’ by The Hollies (G/B/C/Cm) and wrote a new melody for their breakout song ‘Creep’. Noel Gallagher (again) is no stranger to reusing chords: even within his own songs. Example: ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘D’You Know What I Mean?’ (Chords in question: Em9/G/Dsus4/A7sus4.)
So, when I’m completely stumped, and options one, two and three don’t work, I go for option four. Look up the chords to a song, play them, and try to come up with a (new) melody. It’s actually harder than you think, because for the first ten minutes, all you hear is the original melody. But, as with so many other things, practice makes perfect. Because I bet you didn’t know that the choruses of ‘Connecticut’ and ‘Let Go’ had the same chords.
Who? Quartet from Leeds, England, who released their debut album ‘Borderland’ late last year. They’re bigger in the US than in the UK, which allowed them to play Letterman and a gig at The White House, which is quite a feat. Think big rock anthems, topped off with a great vocalist.
It kinda sounds like… Early U2, Editors, The Killers, Muse.
There are a lot of great blogs on Tumblr. You know this. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. But since it’s Friday, and a little inspiration goes a long way, here are five Tumblr blogs I find to be very inspirational.
The idea behind Dear Meat is simple: write a letter and send it in. Mostly, the blog posts letters of people who don’t want/dare to send the letter to the actual person, as it contains their innermost thoughts. On occasion, there might be a funny one posted, but mostly is people’s honest, raw opinion. Which is like looking inside someone’s mind. I may or may not have ‘borrowed’ an idea or two from the letters on the blog.
With a sub-title of ‘Fuck You is the new Thank You’, you pretty much know what you’re in for. Made by two Danish bloggers called Sine and Kristoffer, they have a strict format and blog just about every day. The idea behind the blog is simple: find an image on the internet, add their thoughts (‘We are addicted’ beneath a photo of Emily Clarke from Game of Thrones, or ‘We explore’ beneath a photo of the Grand Canyon) and voilà. The reason I find it so inspirational, is because it often makes me laugh, but also forces me to look at something differently (like the screenshot above).
I only started following photographer Chris Ozer a short while back, and I just love his photos. Now, there are a lot of photographers on Tumblr, so why include him in my list? I follow a lot of them, but Chris’ look on New York makes me long for the city. I’ve live in the US, in Connecticut, and I really miss it when I see his photos in my dashboard. He captures the beauty of the city (and state) really, really well.
The title really says it all: every week, one band (or artist) gets the spotlight on the blog, posting stories, music and videos. Every week the blog has a new blogger, who’s a fan of the artist/band. Which is great, because you get the stories and music you don’t normally know, even if you’re somewhat of a fan. Though the quality of the bands varies (The Velvet Underground one week, Silver Jews the next), as does the writing, I’ve never once thought of unfollowing.
No one ever told me about humidity when I got my first guitar. Nor when I bought the second one. That one, a b-brand I can’t even name, suddenly cut open my lowest digit when I played it. Turns out that the wood in the neck had shrunk, making the frets stick out. And they’re made of metal, hence the attack on my fingers.
That guitar hang on my wall, which was an outside wall. Meaning it was very susceptible to changes in climate. And that’s just not smart when it comes to guitars.
Guitars are made at 45-45% humidity. If the humidity lowers, the wood in the guitar will share that humidity with the air, and shrink. In most cases, it will lead to the problem I described above, but it can also lead to a tear in the body. If the humidity in a room is below 35%, the guitar is at risk. This is usually in winter.
So, how to prevent your guitar from becoming a dangerous weapon? Look after the humidity. There are four ways.
1. Buy a guitar humidifier For just under 20 dollars/euros, you can buy a guitar humidifier. A simple solution, and pretty cheap, but still too much trouble (and money).
2. Lock up your guitar with a lot of desiccant packs You know these things. Don’t eat them. I know they’re supposed to work, but somehow I’m not convinced of locking up your guitar with a lot of these.
3. Get a hygrometer Somewhat in conjuncture with #1 and #2: a small hygrometer in your guitar case will tell you exactly what you need to know. Only you don’t really need to know.
4. Make tea in your guitar room If you’ve got a couple guitars in one room, humidity is important. A simple tip I picked up from a local guitar shop: have a water heater in the room to make tea. When the water’s cooking, the escaping steam will humidify your guitars.
5. But the best one… … is to keep your guitar in its case (a good one), and place it in a warm place. Not in the attic, not in the garage, but somewhere in your bedroom or living room. Not in storage. And, of course, take it out a lot and play it.
Who? Dutch indie rock band from Zwolle. This track, from their upcoming album (I hope) is one of the most amazing songs to have come our of this country of mine in a long, long time. The video’s pretty cool too.
John Cleese is, besides a very, very funny man, one of the most creative people in the world. In this lecture - given in 1991 - he talks about creativity and what five factors there are to make your life more creative:
1. Space 2. Time 3. Time 4. Confidence 5. Lord Jeffrey Archer
He also lists three factors with which you can ‘weed out’ creativity in the workplace:
1. Don’t allow humor for your subordinates 2. Undermine everyone’s confidence by criticizing everything they do 3. Demand that people will always be ‘doing things’ instead of thinking, which most likely will lead to new ideas
So yes, in typical John Cleese style, a great lecture. Try to ignore the subtitles. They’re from one of the Scandinavian countries, and really push you out of the video from time to time.
It happened - again - at my last acoustic gig. In the middle of strumming a chord, my guitar strap and my guitar parted ways. I caught my guitar, but the moment (and the song) were lost.
I’ve got strap locks for my electric guitar, but not for my acoustic ones. That has a reason: the strap button for my acoustic guitars are also the outlet for the cable.
I came across a simple solution through a friend of mine, and I thought I’d share. It’s simple: get one of those special beer bottles. Remove the elastic band. Put the band on the button after your strap is on, and press to make sure it’s on (it’s elastic, so it can bounce right back off).
Got any tips of your own that you want to share? Let me know!
Who? Nineteen-year-old singer songwriter from Blackpool, England, Rae Morris just released a new EP on April 23. Above video is the lead single off of that EP, and the song is just magical. The chorus is amazing. She’s signed to Atlantic, and you’ll understand why. Press play and be amazed.
It kinda sounds like… Birdy, Lucy Rose… and every female singer who ever touched your heart with her voice.
(This article was first posted on EHPO.net - I’ve translated it into English for my own blog)
Last year, Sidewalk was picked to be one of a hundred bands for the Popronde: a festival that visits 30-ish cities. In every city, local pub/club owners can pick bands out of that hundred to play their venue.
When the bookings came rolling in, I decided to try some things, marketing-wise, to see if we could draw more people to the shows and get them do download our music. I’ve had some promotion - mostly by airplay on Radio 2 - but a lot of the other bands in the Popronde had tv-promotion, so I had my work cut out for me.
We did pretty well: we had eleven gigs, one in-store performance and had to cancel two more because of other gigs we had planned. All in all: not bad for a reasonable unknown band.
What worked: a promo person Hands down the best thing that we did. Jeroen, a friend of bass player Bryan, came to our gigs. He put a Sidewalk shirt on and stood at the door to give people who were leaving one of our business cards (see #2) and ask them what they thought of our gig.
This way, we not only got feedback on the set, the songs and our image (oh yes), but everyone who left got a direct link to my debut album.
What worked: business cards Very simple: 250 business cards with the Sidewalk logo and the link to our website, where (on the homepage) a big link to the debut album is waiting for them. Not only did we let Jeroen hand them out, I threw a couple on every table before we started playing. That works great, especially if you point it out after the second song.
A lot of people took the cards, and I had 97 downloads of the album at the end of the Popronde.
What worked: personal invites Although Facebook Events don’t really work (see below), personal invites work really well. We knew at least one person in every town, so a quick email, Facebook message, WhatsApp of text to them made them show up.
What didn’t work: our own posters The Popronde posters aren’t the best posters in the world. There are two different versions: a poster with all the bands that play one city (very unclear), or one where the bands that play a certain location are featured (where the band names are very small).
I wanted to make my own. Not to out-show the Popronde with my graphic design skills, but one where I could feature all the gigs in one month (to show we were doing pretty well), and have some quotes of radio stations on it.
Did it work? Not really. Well, when we asked why people showed up, none of them said it was because of the posters. So that was a bummer. No one mentioned the Popronde posters either: everyone was there because of the Popronde booklets, because they happen to walk by, and through people who already knew us.
What didn’t work: creating Facebook events I’m a big fan of Facebook, but Events are mostly annoying. If I had created a Facebook event for every Popronde gig, there would have been zero response, or people saying that they’re coming and not showing up (I’ve learned this through trial and error). Mostly, it’s just annoying for your Facebook friends: they are going to get spammed like crazy.
You could, in theory, check to see which friends live where, and then invite them to said gig, but that would mean you would still invite the same people to a gig in Amersfoort, Hilversum and Utrecht. So: spam.
What didn’t work: play cheap Everyone (everyone!) says you need to maintain a low price at the Popronde, so that you might get more gigs. But don’t be fooled. If you ask too little (like we did: € 100,-) you might be playing a lot, but if the gig is in the outskirts of town, you’ll end up generating more cost than profit (though, to be fair, that’s easy to do when all you ask is € 100,-). Gas, parking, musicians, equipment, time, et cetera: it all costs money. And what you sell in cd’s and merchandise won’t cover the cost. Like every other gig: it’s great to get experience, but don’t say ‘yes’ to everything.
Who? Six-piece band from LA. Released their debut album in 2008, and threw this song online at the end of last year, followed by their second album last February. It’s a great, catchy feelgood song, perfect for the start of summer.
It kinda sounds like… The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Shins. In short: everything that made 60’s pop music so good.
In regards to books of music, bands and albums, this is my most prized possession:
I’m a big fan of Oasis. And this Special Edition of music mag Q is great. Not so much because of the interviews and the photos, but of the stories behind the albums.
You see, every one of Oasis’ albums (up until that point) is featured with stories behind the recording of the album, the meaning of songs, and detailed analyses of the album art. Like so:
As a fan, it’s great to read about the recording, what happened when and why certain choices were made in the process. I think fans always want to know such details. It’s one of the reasons that Classic Albums are such popular documentaries.
So when recording my new album, I felt that there were stories to tell, and that maybe, just maybe, there would be an audience that would like to hear those stories. So what to do? Create a documentary of my own? Too arrogant. Make a magazine? I wouldn’t be able to fill 100+ pages. Then I stumbled upon this:
Keane released their latest album as a coffee table book. It’s a great format. A hardcover, but with less pages than a magazine. I remember thinking: “This is amazing.”
There are no details on the recording or the songs in the Keane book, though. Just a short story, great photos and the lyrics. A bit minimal, info-wise. But it gave me new ideas: elements I can use as well. The lyrics, for example, look amazing in combination with the photos:
And another thing that’s beautiful, are photos of band members in the studio:
Mixing all the above elements, I decided that I would create a coffe table book, about 50 pages, with the stories behind every song, the recording process, song lyrics, photos of everyone involved, and an analysis of the album cover. And we’re almost done, too. The text is at an editor now, and the photos have been selected. What will the book look like? Well, here’s a sneak peek of four pages:
So, do you think anyone will be interested? Let me know in the comments. (And don’t worry: I’ll release Love, et cetera on CD and mp3 as well!)