Thursday, December 29, 2011

Don't Think, Just Do - New Year's Resolution

A very good friend of mine has become fond of saying, "Don't think, just do," and it made me think. Perhaps I'm missing the point. ;) But seriously, if you think about it, it's very powerful stuff. Rather than getting bogged down with over thinking and over planning, just get moving. That's how things will get done. I'm no different than anyone else. I'm guilty of becoming overwhelmed with extraneous details too and at the end of the day, I know it's just wasted time and it can be paralyzing.

Quite often if we spend so much time thinking about what we should be doing, or have to be doing, or how we're going to do it, we invariably find reasons why it's not such a great idea, or why it won't work, or other things pop up that are seemingly urgent and take our attention away from what's truly important. In short, we come up with excuses.

Seth Godin talks a lot about the lizard brain and how it is largely responsible for holding us back from doing and achieving the things we really want to do and achieve. Here's a little video that introduces you to the lizard brain if you're not already familiar. And do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of Seth Godin's book, Linchpin.

If you have some music projects you want to start, then just start before the lizard brain swings into action and takes the wind out of your sails. Put a band together, write some songs, seek out songwriters to work with, start recording a demo, EP or full-length album, begin the necessary research to book your own tour, start a blog, build your website, whatever it is you really want to be doing. If you need help in a particular area, find someone who's knowledgable and experienced to help you get things rolling. Believe that there are plenty of people out there that would be delighted to help you, because that's the truth.

And make sure it's something that you truly want to be doing. Don't start taking action on literally every thought that passes through your mind. Just act on the ones that really resonate with you. The ones that excite you and keep you awake at night filled with enthusiasm. The way you feel about different endeavours is the key to knowing what to do. Check in with yourself and always be honest and that will keep you on the right path.

Don't get all worried about failing. Failure is good. Embrace it and learn from it. That's the only way to get where you're going. Like Godin always says, the most important thing is to ship. If you never ship, then it's just an idea in your head and that isn't worth much more than no idea at all.

In 2012, I will resolve to do more and think less. What are some of the things you want to do and experience in the new year? Please share!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Interview With Frankie Whyte of FRANKIE WHYTE AND THE DEAD IDOLS

Every once in a while a band comes along that really grabs my attention and stands above the crowd as something really special. I remember walking into Lee's Palace in Toronto one night back in 2008 and seeing Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols ripping it up on stage and from that moment on they've had my undivided attention.

They are rock and roll... period! In fact, if aliens were to come down from another planet and ask me, "What is rock and roll?", I'd take them to see a FWDI show. They live, breathe, eat and sleep rock and roll and they work very hard at what they do. They're big thinkers and they've accomplished some big things since their inception.

Frankie Whyte took some time to answer some questions for me and I'm pleased to share this interview with you. If you're not familiar with FWDI, please check out their website and if possible, go see them live. I think you'll be glad you did.

Enough chatter... on with the interview.

DR S: When did FWDI form and how did it all come about?

FW: Our project came together in 2008, through connecting with like-minded individuals that identified with what I wanted to do. I’ve always had a clear vision as to the message, the steps and the goals I’ve wanted (and still want) to set for this project. Those individuals turned into what is now my family, my band: Dan Cavalcante, Monti and Rio Nicolle, with our phantom fifth member Duncan Coutts. We’ve expanded our team over the years- from our media team with Cut Cartel, to the co-writing team I’ve created with Andre Kaden Black. A band is bigger than just the sum of what you would see on a stage, these are people that relate to and support what we musically stand for. Our band, this project at this point, is a community of creatively fearless people that share similar ambitions to myself, which is why I think it works.

DR S: What do you think sets FWDI apart from other bands?

FW: We have something to say. We want to create a meaningful moment for our fans in 3 minute vignettes. It was said to me recently “you can’t change the world, you can only change yourself”. I remember thinking “how can we not even try to make a contribution or a connection outside of ourselves…”. Perhaps it’s an incredibly na├»ve notion – but I do believe that music changes people, we all notice those changes within ourselves when we hear the right song or the right words, right. Music brings us together through hope or whatever the common thread is-- and when people unite through their similarities and dissimilarities, that’s when change becomes a possibility.

DR S: You've played quite a wide spectrum of gigs since the band's inception. What are some of the most memorable and why?

FW: Getting banned from Sauble Beach this summer by the Chamber Council was probably the most memorable gig to date. I haven’t heard of that happening to a band for over 30 years. Doing our first tour with KISS… opening for Bon Jovi. It’s hard to put into words what those shows mean to us as fans of the music.

DR S: You've done a fair bit of work with Our Lady Peace bassist, Duncan Coutts. How did you hook up with him and what was the experience like?

FW: Duncan and I have worked together nearly every day for 4 years – writing and recording songs in a rehearsal space. Financial Times columnist Tim Harford wrote a book called “Why Success Always Starts With Failure.” How we deal with our mistakes and failures, how we grow and learn from them, can determine and enable our future successes. In music, young performers--perhaps if you’re a new singer--you’re afraid to go for certain notes, as you might be embarrassed of sounding bad in front of someone else; so you never go for that note, and you never build your range. Duncan gave me the opportunity to fail in front of him over and over and over again, as a songwriter/singer/performer in a safe non-judgemental environment. That kind of learning curve and experience is invaluable. I’m so thankful to him for giving me the chance to develop my skills.

DR S: Lately you've been involved in songwriting with many different songwriters. With whom have you been working and what have you learned from the overall experience?

FW: I went from writing with Duncan to working with over 40 different songwriters across North America in the past two years of my own accord. If there’s something to be learned from someone, I will find a way to that person and I will ask them a million questions about what I want to know. Since then I’ve come back around to working primarily with one person--my main co-writer Andre Kaden Black. Co-writing has been a real education. I could talk about forms and prosody, etc. I love the "craft;" I’m obsessed with songs. But above all, with everyone I’ve worked with, the commonality has been to just keep it real.

DR S: You've obviously had a positive experience writing with outside writers. What would you say to other bands who may be hesitant or averse to looking outside themselves for song ideas?

FW: Pushing a band or an artist into a situation where they feel artistically at risk isn’t right. For me, I love co-writing and I love making as much music as I can, with as many people as I can, for a variety of projects. But, that’s me. You like Milk Chocolate, I like Dark Chocolate. All good.

That being said, I do feel there is a common public misperception surrounding co-writing that is very negative; that the artist is no longer being real or true, or perhaps isn’t contributing to the process at all. Not everyone is so lucky as to have Lennon AND McCartney in the same band. Bon Jovi, Kiss, Desmond Child. Bryan Adams, Jim Vallance, and on and on. These are musical marriages that come together to create something bigger than the individual. The joining of super powers, if you will. Andre Kaden Black is the Black to my White… er, Whyte. And I’m the white to his black, you know what I mean? Together we’re just better, to the point where we’re now writing with/for other artists together. I would really like to encourage bands to be unafraid of experimenting with co-writing--you could be missing out on making some great music. And like anything in life, you get what you put in.

DR S: Please take a moment to introduce us to the musicians that make up Frankie Whyte and The Dead Idols.

- Danny C – guitars, background vocals, richie sambora.
- Monti – bass, background vocals, bad ass.
- Rio Nicolle – drums, gang vocals, machine.
- Frankie Whyte – lead vocals, lead guitar… you’d have to ask a Dead Idol as to how to describe me.

DR S: Many musicians have said that being in a band is like a four-way marriage. What is your take on this and what challenges have you faced as a band unit?

FW: Being in a band is definitely a four-way marriage, and relationships take a lot of commitment, care and time. Communication is key, having fun is also key. We laugh a lot.

DR S: What are the long term and short term plans for FWDI?

FW: We’re currently writing for a new album that we will begin to record in 2012. Look out for it. Shows/Tours to follow. See you out there!

Check out FWDI's video for their track, "Keep Walkin'."

Monday, November 7, 2011

How Much Does It Cost To Record?

When a new potential client comes along and inquires about working with me on a recording project, one of the first concerns they have is how much it will cost. And understandably so, as recording can be a rather expensive endeavor.

The problem is, when an artist asks me something like, "Hey, how much do you charge to record three songs?" I can't answer that question until I have more information.

Imagine someone who's in the market to purchase a new car and she walks onto the car lot to have a look around. The salesman greets her and she promptly asks, "How much does it cost to buy a car?" In a scenario like this, the answer to the customer's question would be another question. "What kind of car do you want, a Ferrari or a Ford Focus?"

You have to be specific about what you want when you're looking to record your songs. Here are a couple questions you should ask yourself before you pick up the phone or sit down at your computer to send an email to contact your producer/engineer of choice:

What are the recordings going to be used for?

Will these sessions be pre production sessions to help you pick the songs that will eventually make the cut on your EP or full-length release?

Is it supposed to be a low budget off-the-floor recording so you can get something out there to help you get gigs and give away free music to engage new fans?

Is it a demo for you ears only to help develop your sound?

Are you hoping to enlist the services of a professional radio tracker in hopes of getting your song(s) on mainstream radio?

Do you want your recordings to stand up next to the biggest of the big in your genre?

You need to be clear about this because the cost of recording a three song demo off-the-floor is very different from the cost of producing three songs that are ready for mainstream radio. We're talking a few hundred dollars verses thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars depending on the studio and/or producer you're hiring.

The next question you want ask yourself is:

What is my budget for this recording project?

Determine what you can afford to spend on the recording and make sure you look ahead at other expenses that you'll need money for such as graphic art, web development, touring, merch, marketing & promotion, radio tracking, videos, etc. If you don't have any money for the things that follow the recording process, then there's not much sense in laying down tracks in the first place.

I can't stress enough, if this is something you're trying to make a living at, you have to treat it like a business. If a brand new burger joint put all their resources into creating the world's tastiest burger, but they had nothing left to advertise and get the word out, it won't matter how good it is because no one will ever know about it.

Having said that, it is important to put as much as you can into your recordings because your songs are your most important assests. If your intention is to have your music stand up to the Bon Jovis and Lady Gagas of the world, then your investment is going to have to reflect that, otherwise your music will likely be rejected by the very people within the music industry that can help make that happen for you.

I'm not saying you have to spend a million dollars as an indie artist to compete with the majors, but you do have to spend a reasonable amount to bring some validity to what you're doing. Who is going to want to invest anything into your music if you haven't put much into it yourself?

Here's an article where artist manager Ray Daniels (Rush, Tea Party, Van Halen) breaks down the costs of making a hit song from writing and recording all the way to marketing and promoting.


If you read the above mentioned article, you learned that it can cost about $78,000 to have one song written, recorded and produced. So, in order to put together a ten-song album, you're looking at $780,000 before you've even done an ounce of promo. For those of you who are writing your own material and therefore do not need to pay for songwriting camps, etc, the average cost of recording an album in the big leagues is still about $250,000. Again, lucky for indie artists, there are much cheaper alternatives, but you'll still have to come up with a considerable chunk of change to make anything happen.

Outside of attracting investors with deep pockets who love and believe in your music and brand, you're going to have to have some way of generating cash flow to support the necessary expenses of running your business. There are some very real costs that come with growing your music career and if there's nothing there to work with, nothing will get done. Be careful with your money too. Make sure you're getting good value for your dollar wherever you're spending it. Don't always look for the cheapest option though, because remember: Good work isn't cheap and cheap work isn't good.


So sit down with your band mates and figure out how you can generate income to finance your career. Don't negate ways you can make money with your music; after all, the idea is to make a living at it. And also, take a very close look at your spending habits and see if there's some waste that you can cut down on or eliminate altogehter. Remember the example of the band from my last blog?

It doesn't take much to find a few extra dollars a day to put toward something that's imporotant to you. If every member of a four-piece band put aside only $7 a day instead of buying frappuccino lattes at Starbucks, at the end of a year they'd have over $10,000 to invest in themselves. An extra $10,000 on top of the cash flow generated by day jobs, offering music lessons and selling your music and merch. Not bad!

Here's a great exercise to help you get a handle on your spending: Simply write down absolutely everything you purchase throughout your day. Do this every day for a week and then tally up the results. I've done this and it was an eye opener! After doing this exercise I cut my frivolous spending significantly and started saving hundreds of dollars every month.

See if you can find some creative ways of coming up with some extra cash, whether it's offering some kind of service or just plain old saving. Please share your ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Is Music Your Life?

"Music is my life" is one of the most common statements I hear from people these days; however, most of the time I'm not entirely convinced. Usually when I hear this statement, my first thought is, "Yeah, I know what you mean, me too." I take it seriously because music is my life and has been for three decades now.

I've been completely consumed by music as far back as I can remember. I know music is a big part of most peoples' lives, but I'm not talking about a casual enjoyment of music where there are a few artists or songs that bring back fond memories of days gone by or being in a band and recording some songs and playing a few gigs here and there, I'm talking about being completely consumed by the desire to create music for a living and doing whatever it takes to make that happen. And I'm proud to say that's exactly what I've done.

I started playing when I was about 11 years old and I absolutely loved it! Since the beginning of my infatuation, I played in bands, wrote songs, recorded, taught, signed record deals, licensing deals, publishing deals, toured with my own bands and other signed artists and opened up my own recording studio so I could help new bands share in the joy of making music and building something from nothing.

When I look back at my career from the beginning to the present, I can honestly say, music is my life. I make my living doing it and a very large portion of every day is dedicated to it.

What's Important To You?

Every day when we get out of bed, we automatically go to work on the things that are most important to us. Or at least the things we've been conditioned to believe are most important to us. These are the activities that take up our time and dominate our focus. Whether or not it's truly what we want to be doing is irrelevant, it's what we've become programmed to do.

So, if you think music is your life, then here's a couple questions you can ask yourself to find out for sure:

1. How much of your time every day is spent on your music career?

Once you determine this, take a moment to compare it to how much time you spend on other activities. Be really honest with yourself here and be careful not to blur the lines between recreational internet use and business use (networking with fans or industry professionals, booking a tour, booking studio time, etc.) or doodling on an acoustic guitar verses time spent on actual songwriting. You may be surprised to find that you're not putting forth as much effort as you thought you were. There may be some other things that are consuming more of your time than your music.

I'm not talking about your day job or raising your children if you have them. Of course your kids will demand a lot of your time and your job is necessary for now so you can generate cash flow to put toward your career. Plus I'm sure that just like me, you've probably become fond of things like food and shelter. Barring your kids and your job though, there should be nothing else that you spend more time doing than working on your music. If you don't have the responsibility of child or a job then I would expect that you'd be putting in the same number of hours towards music that would otherwise go toward your job and children. And even if you do have a job and kids, don't let those things become an excuse for why you're not producing results. An excuse is a lie you tell to absolve yourself of any responsibility for the actions you take or don't take. Remember, where there's a will, there's a way.

2. How much of your financial resources do you put toward your music career?

Again, it's a matter of becoming aware of where your priorities lie based on how you've been conditioned. Take a look at your spending habits. How much money do you put toward your music business expenses verses other items and activities? If you find that there's a lot of money going elsewhere that could be going toward your music career, you must ask yourself what's more important to you. I'm sure if most of us really looked at our spending, we'd see a lot of waste.

And don't forget, being in a band is basically just like a small business start-up and the idea is to eventually make a profit, but for the first few years you're likely going to be running at a loss. To keep things rolling, you'll have to put forth a sizeable chunk of your own dough on rehearsing, recording, touring, marketing and promotion, etc to see things through.

True Story

I once worked with a band that insisted music was their life. They came in with a very low budget to do some recording and over the course of the project I couldn't help but notice how much all of them smoked. I figured all four band members were smoking at least a pack and a half a day because they were out for a smoke or two every half hour or 45 minutes. If a pack of smokes is $8, then it's $12 for one and half packs. Multiply that by 30 and it comes to $360 per month. Multiply that by 4 band members and that equals $1,440 per month that they're spending on cigarettes.

This story isn't done yet! Through our conversations I found out a couple of them spent between $50 and $75 a week on dope. Let's find a middle ground of $62.50 and multiply that by 4 weeks in a month and the total is $250 per month. Multiply that by 2 band members and there's another $500 per month that's NOT going toward their music career.

This story still isn't done! I also estimated that these guys were collectively spending somewhere between $500 and $700 per month on alcohol. When you do the math, all of this adds up to over $30,000 per year that they're spending on cigarettes, drugs and alcohol. Do you think music is their life? Me neither.

I know that's a pretty extreme example, but I kid you not, this was their reality. Imagine what you could accomplish with $30,000 at your disposal. You'd have more money to put into pro recordings, marketing, radio trackers and essentially build a team of professionals around your band and your brand.

Only you can decide for yourself what's truly important in your life. It can be easy for us to get distracted by other things that take us away from what we really want to be doing, so I think it's important to sit down every now and again and be brutally honest with yourself. I hope this has helped you spot some areas in your day-to-day life choices that could be improved upon and help get you on track to what you really want to be doing with your life. If you have any stories or anything else you'd like to share, I'd love to hear it. To your success!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Great Records Aren't Created In The Studio

I was having a conversation with my good friend and colleague Bryan Crouch (lead singer of Hail The Villain) about making records and he said that, in a big way, a lot of the good stuff that goes into recording an album comes from places outside of the studio, like coffee shops and pubs. I had to agree. When you think about recording an album, you think about being in a studio with a producer, an engineer and lots of gear--and certainly this is where the actual recording takes place--but a lot of the ideas and the general approach comes from the conversations and communication that takes place outside of the studio. The studio is the place where you execute those ideas and bring them to life.

First Things First

I think it's really important for a band to sit down together, and with their producer as well, to hammer out all the details of exactly how things are going to go down so that when you're actually in the studio, there's a high level of focus and things are getting accomplished in an effective manner. This kind of preparation cuts down on the indecision and meandering that can really slow the process, lead to over thinking and kill the magic.

Most bands are on a tight budget, so figuring out these details will be essential to getting the most out of the recording process. I recommend determining what kind of overall sound you're going for. Is it going to be really produced and polished, or raw and dirty? Are you going to play together off-the-floor or record tracks separately? Do you want it to sound open and wet with lots of reverb and effects or dry and tight sounding? Discuss this with your producer so he/she can offer insights and suggestions to get you where you're going.

Who's In Charge of What?

Make sure you discuss what's expected of everyone during the course of the recording, so everyone knows what their responsibilities are. Figure out who needs to be present for which sessions. It's not necessary for everyone to be there for every session. In fact, it's usually better that only those who need to be there are there. When there's too many people hanging around, it can be distracting for those who are trying to perform their parts. Especially if they're being told by five different people with five different opinions how they should do it.

So, if you think you're ready to record your next album or EP, give me a shout and we'll meet at the local pub for a pint and start the creation process.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

EMBER SWIFT'S New Album "11:11"

I remember the very first time I met Ember Swift (and in case you're wondering, yes, that is her real name). If I remember correctly, it was in the fall of 1997 when I went to a little club in Toronto at the corner of Queen and Bathurst called Holy Joes with the intent of attracting her as a client. I was blown away with her talent as a singer and a musician and I can honestly say that I knew right away that there was something very special about this young woman. She was on a mission and I could tell that she had the drive and determination to do big things with her music career. And in hindsight, I'd say I was bang on.


She's released ten CDs with her eleventh just around the corner and sold almost 60,000 units independently. She's toured all around the world playing thousands of shows in numerous countries and has been running her own independent record label Few'll Ignite Sound all the while. The truth is, I'm barely scratching the surface here, believe me, I could go on and on about all she's done during the course of her career, but then this blog/interview would become a book.

Before we begin though, I'd like everyone in and around the Toronto area to know that she's going to be performing at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas Street West) in support of her new album on September 14, 2011. Come out and enjoy the show with me, it'll be a great one!

And now... on with the interview. :)


Dr Sean: You’ve been working really hard at your music career for almost two decades now. What is it about writing and performing music all over the world that keeps you going on your journey?

Ember: Well, I suppose in 2016, I’ll officially be at two decades ;-) I did start playing live as a teenager on the Ottawa scene in 1993, but didn’t release my first record until 1996. Still, I guess it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Reading “almost two decades” made me sit back in my chair there for a second!

What keeps me going? I love writing songs. They’re the ultimate artistic riddle. It’s such a joyful challenge to bring melody and meter and rhythm and lyrics (etc.) together to create a unique concoction of sound that will hopefully move people when they hear it. I’ve always been passionate about the craft of songwriting and always want to improve. It’s a lifetime pursuit.

I also love performing. I love bringing songs and ideas into new geographies and I think I have the extensive travel throughout my life to thank for bringing me so much diversity of knowledge about the world. I feel really grateful for the opportunities music has given me. I also count many people I have met through touring as some of my best friends in the world.

So, what keeps me going? The joy of it all, really. There’s no other reason to do anything unless it brings joy, I say!

Dr Sean: When you set out to do this album, you sought financial assistance from your fans, peers and anyone else who was willing to contribute to its creation. Where did the donation idea come from and how did things go for you?

Ember: The industry has changed so dramatically over the past five years and now record sales are not really relevant to an artist’s ability or inability to survive in the industry. Without knowing that your album will be received by open ears, there’s no guarantees anymore that an artist will not suffer more doubt and wasted resources by creating a physical copy of their new songs in CD form. This kind of business risk is no longer a smart one for an independent artist like myself who is doing less touring but taking more international flights!

I decided that after ten albums and a solid following over the years that consists of really loyal and wonderful supporters, that I could ask them if they’d be willing to pre-purchase the new album. If they were, I could then rely on the community of supporters to bring the project to fruition and I could deliver it with a lighter financial burdern. It’s a new concept called “Fan-Funding” and many artists are turning to it these days. The response was overwhelming.

This fan-funded project, to me, is like community-supported agriculture. The supporters are supporting the art-maker (in this case, me) and then they reap the harvest of ‘song seeds’ that grow and bloom into a recording. In exchange, they get bonuses for their “Ambassador” status and it creates a sustainability model that keeps the artist (or song farmer!) alive.

Dr Sean: This is the 11th album of your career. Is there anything that you’d say is unique about this record compared to your previous releases?

Ember: It’s my 11th album that will be released in 2011. I feel it has a degree of auspiciousness about it, so the official release month is November. I have been making music for many years and there’s something about reaching the 11th project that feels like a pinnacle of sorts.

It’s also been a labour of language love. There are two linguistic releases: Mandarin (Chinese) and English. I’ve created a product that can be sold both separately and in the “box set” form, almost like old LPs had a side A and a side B. Most of the songs have their “twin” language versions with a few exceptions on each side. I’ve wanted to create and release this sort of project ever since I came to China and I feel really proud of finally accomplishing it!

Dr Sean: During the making of this album there were a couple unexpected challenges that came along the way. Can you tell us a little about that?

Ember: The project has taken a few turns with production crew. I imagined that my Montreal-based producer Tim Rideout, who was the producer on my 2009 release “Lentic”, would produce it. Tim, however, had to pull out of the project for personal reasons. I then turned to a production team here in Beijing. For mysterious (and culturally cloudly) reasons, they also pulled out. In the end, I went back to my roots in all ways (not just musically) and self-produced this record. After working with producers for my 2006 and my 2009 album, I had almost forgotten that I had the skills to self-produce a record. At this point, happy with the album results, I’m almost grateful for all of the production confusion! It restored a bit of self-confidence that I hadn’t realized I’d lost!

Dr Sean: For those who may not know, you're currently living in Beijing, China. How long have you been living there and how did it all come about?

Ember: Well, the shortened version is that I had always wanted to come to China and thought of it as my “dream destination.” I have a degree in East Asian Studies from UofT and assumed it would be my destination after my music career had fizzled out. In spring 2007, I was exhausted from touring at a hectic pace of @200 shows per year and I made the decision to “live the dream” rather than having it tucked away for “later.” I then booked a three-month journey to Beijing as a break, a vacation, and a retreat. My career hadn’t fizzled out, but I was afraid that I soon would if I didn’t do something for my spirit.

I wasn’t prepared for the love affair that I would fall into for China and Chinese culture, as a whole. I was so taken with the experience that I returned again for two months in late 2007, at which point I met my current partner who is also a musician here in China. When we fell in love, I knew that I had some sort of destiny to pursue in Beijing. I resolved to keep my heart open. After several more repeat visits, I moved here in late 2008 (part-time, that is, considering I still tour overseas). While I still retain my official status as a Canadian residet, living here has been a true adventure.

Dr Sean: How has this cultural shift affected your music and lyrics?

Ember: I’ve learned a lot about myself through this experience, on the whole, which has opened me up to a lot of different styles of music and artist expression. Learning a new language (Mandarin) has also influenced my ears and my tonal awareness. The instrumentation of China fascinates me, too, and I have enjoyed working with musicians who play traditional instruments here. All in all, immersing in a new culture is bound to have an impact on what we write about and how we express ourselves, musically and lyrically. I think I’ve only just begun to explore what those influences are.

Dr Sean: As I understand it, on this new album you've gone back to a more signature 'Ember Swift' sound whereas on your last release, “Lentic”, you experimented with some programming and synth sounds. What prompted you to experiment on “Lentic” and subsequently to come back to your roots with “11:11?”

Ember: “Lentic” was a departure record. I wanted to walk a new style path that was in-line with walking a new life path here in China. I really enjoyed the “folktronica” exploration that “Lentic” provided and it was a joy to write all the parts and build songs from just raw ideas into sonic landscapes, all with the help of a computer. I had always wanted to do this and I was thrilled to have the break from my touring career as well as the new surroundings of Beijing in which to explore in this way, musically.

That being said, sometimes departures lead us home.

“11:11” represents the founding of a new band (in Beijing) and the development of a sound in the way that I have always done it throughout my career—with great players and repeated live performance. I wrote and tested the songs on audiences and enjoyed the challenge of having to communicate in both languages (lyrically and through on-stage banter) depending on what side of the globe I was performing on. It became a lot like my pre-“Lentic” typical swirl of different styles and messages and humour.

In a way “11:11” is a homecoming, of sorts, where I have discovered that the core of what I am as a musician and a songwriter really hasn’t changed no matter how much my life and environment has.

Dr Sean: Tell us about the musicians who performed on this new record. Who are they and will they be touring with you as well?

Ember: The band won’t be touring with me in North America this time, sadly. They are Zac Courtney on drums (from Australia), Paplus Ntahombaye on bass (from Burundi, Africa) and Wang Ya Qi on erhu (from China). I’m on guitar and voice. Together, we represent four countries and we all live here in Beijing—a city that is incredibly diverse and home to people from all over the world.


Dr Sean: How many tour dates do have scheduled currently?

Ember: There are 24 dates in North America and there’s one big release show here in Beijing on the 2nd of September.

Dr Sean: Again, for those who may not already know, you're expecting your first baby very soon. How are you balancing this huge event with everything else that comes along with supporting a new release?

Ember: Yes, I’m so excited!! In a way, I’m expecting two babies this year: my new album and our new family member! I’m not sure how I’m balancing the two “projects” to tell you the truth, because pregnancy is truly a full-time project! But, I do know that I am ready to move into a new phase of Motherhood in my life and it is something that I have wanted for as long as I can remember. People often say, with almost a warning tone, “Your life is going to change forever, you know. After the baby, it will never be as it was.” My response is, “Bring it on! What makes you think I wanted it to stay the same?”

Dr Sean: I'm wishing you all the best with your new album, the tour and the newest addition to your family! Is there anything you'd like to say in closing?

Ember: Thank you so much, Sean.

I suppose the only thing that I might add is that I am returning to North America to spread these songs that represent a cross-cultural communication, a new global reality, a convergence with East and West (etc) and, in so doing, I am often confronted with the misconceptions that many Westerners have about what is truly happening in China. I know the media and political propaganda is to blame, for the most part, but as a result, I now continue to return to North America with even more fervor and conviction that music can make a difference in how people live their lives and see the world. I feel a sense of responsibility to deliver “witnessed truth,” or, shall we say, a less concocted perception through a glimpse into the realities that I have seen. I come with stories about people. Real lives. Real life.

As an activist and an artist—one who has combined my activism with my art for many years—I am often challenged by my fans as to how I can live in a country that has such a terrible human rights record, for instance, or live in a city that is struggling with such considerable air pollution. My response is that I am living in a place in progress, an imperfect world, in which there is so much in the way of cultural richness and pure humanity that I am convinced progress on all levels—not just in the building of highways, but in terms of quality of life and social infrastructure—will continue in China at a rate that no one can predict. Being a witness to a culture in high-speed transition and development, as an outsider, is a privileged place to be in. I’m an onlooker at a time of great historical change.

I’m returning with my new album “11:11” that contains songs about topics such as water conservation in urban settings, anarchy and youth, empowerment to women (and all those struggling for self-realization), cultural acceptance and diversity, and the greatest activist message of all: love. Because, after all, our capacity to love is the greatest power we have as human beings. Perhaps after coming to one of my concerts, people will walk away thinking differently about a country on the other side of the world, questioning the hype, and keeping their hearts open.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Album Productions I Love - Def Leppard's "HYSTERIA"

I thought it would be cool to talk about certain records that, in my opinion, have exceptional production quality. The first of this potential series is going to be about Def Leppard's "Hysteria."


Released in 1987, this album was such an important record for the band and it proved to live up to everyones' expectations and beyond. Since its release it has sold well over 20 million copies world wide and I'm sure that number is climbing every day seeing as it's such a classic album. Literally. You can check out the Classic Albums DVD for Hysteria here.

As a producer/engineer, this is the kind of record that I love to listen to, analyze and dissect to try and understand what exactly is so amazing about it. Ultimately, the songs are what it's all about and the songs on Hysteria are as strong as they come and I think it can be attributed to the magic and the chemistry between the band and the producer, Mutt Lange. As a team, they had a tremendous amount of success with their previous releases, particularly Pyromania which had mega hits like "Photograph", "Rock of Ages", and "Foolin", but with Hysteria, they really hit their stride. There was still a real hunger within the band because although they had sold over six million copies of Pyromania, they still hadn't really broken through in the U.K. which is Def Leppard's homeland.

Sonically, it's such a huge sounding album and I think the drums play an extremely important role to that end. After drummer Rick Allen's unfortunate car accident which left him without his left arm, they were forced to approach the drum tracks from a very different angle. The electronic drum sounds laid a very solid foundation from which to build on and it has become such a signature part of the band's overall sound.

I also love the brilliant layering of guitar parts which guitarists Steve Clark and Phil Collen were so good at writing together. This is also one of the key factors with regard to the album's BIG sound. All the guitar overdubs served to create such a lush tone and they work together with the vocal melodies to elevate the impact of the songs. Rick Savage's bass playing is simple, but extremely effective in terms of creating a solid groove with the drums for the rest of band to sit on top of.

Mutt Lange would always say that when you're laying your tracks in the studio, you always want to think in terms of playing parts that will translate in the context of an arena rock show. If a part is too complicated, it gets lost in that type of setting and, therefore, becomes much less effective if not totally pointless. This is precisely why songs like AC/DC's "Back In Black" and Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me" are such monster songs when it comes to live performance.

I'd say Joe Elliott is one of those really unique vocalists that doesn't sound like anyone else. Arguably one of rock's best voices. His performances are filled with energy and conviction on Hysteria and his sense of melody and hooks is unsurpassed. It goes without saying that a weak vocal performance will kill a song, but there's no worries here, Joe delivers.

This blog wouldn't be complete if I didn't take the time to shine a bright light on the absolute genius that producer Mutt Lange contributed to, not only this particular record, but the band's career as a whole. What would songs like "Pour Some Sugar On Me" and "Love Bites" (or any of the songs for that matter) be without those incredibly HUGE backing vocals? Not to mention his impact on the songwriting and the tireless hours of work he put into all the little details and ear candy you hear throughout the record. In the Classic Albums DVD for Hysteria, Mutt confesses that he spent approximately four months just mixing the album. That seems excessive, but when you look at the results, not only creatively, but monetarily as well, I'd say it was well worth it.

To end this one off, I thought I'd slip in a short video clip from the Classic Albums DVD for Hysteria. And if this record affected you in a similar way, please share your thoughts here. Cheers and enjoy the video!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Some Social Media Advice From ARIEL HYATT

Every now and again I like to rummage through youtube in search of video content that may be helpful to an artist and their career. Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity is someone who has a lot of great advice to offer and I've posted below an interview she did in the not-too-distant past.


In this video she offers some tips on how to effectively use social media to get the word out on your music and your brand. Please take a few minutes to hear what she has to say and hopefully it will inspire some new ideas and actions to take.

I'd also love to hear from you on what you've been doing with your social media music marketing. What's been working and what hasn't been working. Any info you have to share is welcome.

Hope everyone's having an awesome week so far. Enjoy the video!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I just read a compelling (and extremely short) blog by Seth Godin entitled, "A Definition of A Leader..." and here it is:

Leaders lead.

Is that too simple?

Writers write. If you want to be a writer, write. And be sure to have people read what you write.

And leaders? Leaders lead.

If you want to be a leader, go lead.

So simple. And I think it applies to all the bands and musicians out there who are trying to get noticed and utlimately 'make it.' If you want to be a good band, then just be good.

I think we all know deep down when we're putting forth a half-assed effort. Make a committment right now to be good.

I know Seth's blog gave me a kick in the ass and I hope it did for you too. Here's to our success!! *raises coffee mug*

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Real Scoop On Managers For Bands & Artists

Wouldn’t it be great to have a manager to look after all the tedious tasks necessary to sustain a career in the music business? Here’s a few things to consider before you dive into your search for the right manager.

Where Do I Begin?

First of all you can expect to come across managers who are at different levels in the biz. Here’s some examples of what you might find in your search:

A friend of the band:
This is a person you probably know pretty well and he has a lot of passion and a real genuine interest in what you’re doing musically and believes enough in the potential you have to make it big that he is willing to devote his time to helping you make it happen for very little (if anything) in the beginning. If you choose this option make sure you have a lot of patience because just as it takes time for a band to build up a good reputation it’ll also take a newbie manager a lot of time to do the same. Just make sure they understand how much work is involved and they’re committed to it or you may wind up with someone who’s just helping you drink the free beer in the dressing room at gigs. :)

A veteran musician with a lot of experience in the music business:
This can be a great option because you can benefit from all the knowledge he’s gained from making mistakes throughout his career and wind up saving yourself a lot of time and headache. A person like this will understand you better too and will probably have some sympathy for your plight.

A person who works or interns for a reputable manager:
The advantage in this situation is that he’ll be right in the thick of things as he’s working in a professional office and will be very aware of the realities of the biz. He will also have access to the expertise and advice of his boss and will have countless other great connections available that would be much harder to acquire from the outside. This person will likely be very hungry for success as well.

A mid-level manager:
This is someone who’s been through it all and has achieved a certain degree of success, but is still waiting for the big breakthrough in the form of a gold or platinum record. There’s still a lot of hunger here and a wealth of experience and resources to boot. Not a bad choice at all!

A big-time manager:
The benefits here are obvious. This is a manager who’s at the top of the ladder with several gold and platinum records to his credit. Even with a manager of this magnitude there are no guarantees of mega success but your chances at having a serious shot at the big-time would be greatly increased.

Are You Ready?

So now that you’ve determined what your options are, here comes the BIG question: Are you ready for a manager?? Before you begin soliciting managers you need to look at the reality of your current situation and determine what the answer is to this question. Are you doing everything you can to further your career? Here’s a little check list to go through and please be brutally honest with yourself.

  1. Do you have a professional press kit?

  2. Do you have an EPK (Electronic Press Kit)?

  3. Have you put a lot of effort into creating an image and a solid live show?

  4. Do you have a professional recording of your songs?

  5. Do you have a professional website?

  6. Are you taking advantage of Facebook, Twitter, BandCamp, Email, etc. to network and engage with your fans?

  7. Are you booking shows in your home town?

  8. Are you building a favourable reputation with club owners and booking agents?

  9. Are you getting press in print magazines and online?

  10. Do you have a street team?

  11. Do you have a promo video people can view online?

  12. Have you put together a tour to help expand your fan base and sell more CDs and merch?

  13. Have you and your band sat down together and come to a unanimous agreement regarding musical direction and career goals?

The last question is the most important one and should definitely be addressed first. You can’t bring a manager into the fold if your mission as a band is unclear. You’re manager is supposed to help you achieve your goals and dreams, so if you’re not clear on exactly what that is, you’re going to have some serious problems before you even begin. Do yourself a huge favour and sit down with your band mates and get this all worked out. It’s a much better alternative than wasting years of your precious time with someone who doesn’t share the same vision.

I’ve witnessed first-hand a very tragic ending to a great band that ignored this point. They wrote songs, recorded and played live for years and then finally they had a huge deal on the table with a major U.S. record company back in 2002. At the last minute the singer announced that going to university was more important than pursuing his music career with his band mates. Ouch! In a situation like that, you’re not just making a life decision for yourself, you’re making a life decision for the entire band, not to mention the time and money the label had invested into doing the deal up to that point.

We Are Ready!

Okay, so your whole band is on the same page and you’re doing absolutely everything you can at this point and you’ve determined that you do need a manager. You’ve searched high and low and you finally found the perfect manager for you band. Cool! Now you can relax and get back to just doing music, right? Wrong! Just because you have a manager doesn’t mean it’s going to be champagne and limo rides from now on. You’re going to have to do your part to keep things on track and unfortunately it won’t be all music related. This is also the reality even when you sign with a record label. With the extra resources and connections you’ll have with a manager on board, you’ll find there’s simply more work to do and it is absolutely in your best interest to be involved in that process. Please read the following sentence out loud: No one cares more about the success of my band than I do. Good, now repeat this to yourself everyday as a reminder.

Don’t forget, in many cases you’ll be one of several artists on your manager’s roster and if those other artists are generating more revenue from which he can pull a commission, then that’s where his efforts will be focused. Managers get a paid a percentage of your income, anywhere from 15%-30% or higher depending on many variables. Always remember that 15%-30% of nothing is nothing. I’m certainly not saying that you should do all the work and just cut your manager in for a piece of the pie because he’s a cool guy, but in order for everything to work in your favour you have to be pro-active and work as part of a team.

The End

A manager can be a very valuable addition to a band that has all its ducks in a row. You have to take what you’re doing seriously and show that you really believe in it. How people on the outside treat your band will be a reflection of how YOU treat your band. Running a band is kind of like running a big company and the company will only be as good as the CEO that’s running it. You’re the CEO and it all starts at the top.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Before You Worry About Anything, Worry About Being Good

There's no shortage of advice from every corner of the net on how to promote and market your music, use social media tools, set up a successful tour, create a professional press kit/EPK, distribute your music, and so on. And if you're looking in the right places, there's a great deal of relevant content to learn from; however, the most important element--and the one that seems to get the least amount of emphasis--is to make sure that you've really got something GOOD to offer. Something that people will really want.

Having all the infrastructure in place is great, but unfortunately it's all pretty useless if you're selling something that no one is really interested in. I understand that it's important to have artistic integrity, but it's also smart business to study the market you're selling to and make sure you've created something that will be well received if not by the masses, at least by a solid niche market.

In business, it makes very little sense to create a product and then search for a market after the fact. Your likelihood of success will be much higher if you determine where there's a need and then fill it. Lucky for you, people always need more good music and entertainment. Without it, life would be pretty blah, don't ya think?

And by 'good', I mean good in every area. Good musicianship, good songs, good live show, good image, good chemistry among band members, good work ethic, good organizational skills and a good attitude. Take a long, hard look at your band and your music in all the above mentioned areas and be honest with yourself about where you can improve, so you can get yourself to the required level of 'good.'

Maybe you're all very proficient players, but your songs are lacking. Or perhaps your image and branding are inconsistent. To figure all this out, sit down individually and as a band and brainstorm some ideas that will tighten things up for you. And don't be afraid to look outside of your band for help in some of these areas. Any band or artist that ever created anything good, didn't do it on their own. There's always a team of people contributing to the greater good. If you need lessons, seek out a good teacher. If your songwriting needs work, hook up with a good songwriter.

Keep this process positive too. It's important to keep the inner core of your band solid because there will always be plenty of people and circumstances on the outside that will present challenges for you. Cheer each other on and focus on your strengths as individuals and as a band unit. Assign tasks to each member that coincide with his or her talents and check in with each other on a regular basis to ensure things are getting done and to motivate each other. How you deal with your band mates throughout this process is of huge importance. Remember, getting upset and tearing a strip off one of your partners is not conducive to positive growth and productivity.

Once you're confident that you've really got something special to put out there, then you should plan your attack on the masses. You only get to make one first impression, so be sure that you're putting your best foot forward and leave everyone speechless. Always put a great deal of creativity, enthusiasm and care into every step of the process and you'll be sure to meet with success.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Interview With Drummer Extraordinaire RANDY COOKE

I'd say I'm quite blessed to be surrounded by and connected to so many extremely talented people. I assure you, today's interviewee, Randy Cooke, is no exception.

I could bore you with a long bio on his entire life story, but rather than do that, I thought I'd just make it really simple and share what it says on his Twitter account in 160 characters or less:

"I hit the crap outta drums for some pretty awesomely awesome singers/songwriters/bands."

So who are these 'awesomely awesome' people he speaks of? Well, I'll mention a few so you get the idea: Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Alanis Morissette, Hilary Duff, Kelly Clarkson, Smash Mouth, Ian Gillan, Dave Stewart, Alannah Myles, Kim Mitchell, Five For Fighting and many, many more.

So, without any further ado, let's begin!


Dr Sean: How long have you been playing drums?

Randy: Got my first drum kit for Xmas when I was 15 years old. So, from then till now. (Or many, many, many years).

Dr Sean: Were you in any original independent bands before you started playing for major artists?

Randy: Indeed I was! My first 'true musical love' was a band called Phase IV. We were an old school funk/reggae band comprising seven members all around the age of 15. The singer and bass player were brothers, the keyboard player and percussionist were brothers, one of our guitarists was a cousin to those four, and those five as well as myself. At the age of ten years old we were in a Cub Scout troop led by my parents. We had one more guitarist making up the complete seven. (he wasn't a brother, cousin OR Cub Scout - but he was awesome). :) Guess you could say it was a family affair.

Dr Sean: What was your first gig playing as a hired gun for a major artist in the realm of live performance and as a studio session player?

Randy: For live touring, that would've been with an incredible British blues artist who resided in Canada named Long John Baldry. I was lucky enough to get a recommendation from my drum teacher at the time (incredible drummer/human Rick Gratton) who at the time was his main drummer and needed a sub.
I was around 19 or 20 at the time.

For studio stuff, my first main full CD recording session was with a band called The Jitters. A couple of their songs got on the radio and were quite popular in Canada at the time. It was my first time hearing myself on the radio. Such a rush! :)

Dr Sean: Do you have a preference for live or studio?

Randy: I definitely don't have a preference. It's apples and oranges.
There's nothing like a group of people applauding your efforts during a live performance. It's so very gratifying, humbling and exhilarating.

In the studio - knowing that someone or some band has entrusted you with the task/honour of providing the drums for recordings that will be etched in stone (vinyl? digitally?) forever is incredible, nerve racking, and well, more nerve racking. It comes with a certain amount of responsibility to the project as well as yourself. It's a portrait of a musical moment that (hopefully) will be heard for many years to come.

Dr Sean: What particular skills and abilities do you think give you that edge when it comes to landing a gig?

Randy: I think it's a combination of things and definitely more than any one thing in particular. Rounded musical abilities, solid technique, the ability to play to a click track well, having good gear, and being an all around nice chap, all play a part in securing 'that' gig.

Dr Sean: How would someone go about breaking into the arena of live and studio work?

Randy: I wanna answer this one in two parts. They apply to both being a sought-after touring musician or session musician.

The first part, although somewhat frustrating at times, is the reality of breaking into the session scene. Session work isn't something that you 'go and get' per se. It's sort of a rite of passage that comes 'to' you. It comes to you because eventually enough people see you play, hear you play, hear about you and meet you and they wanna call you to play live with them, or play on their recordings.

The second part, which is my guide to being a more in-demand live player, absolutely applies to getting session work because most of the time one is a result of the other and it goes both ways. You can end up getting live work as a result of a session you did or vice versa.

Here are some things to consider (of course I'm coming from the 'drummer' angle, but most of this could apply to any instrumentalist).

Have great gear! You wanna do a country session? You wanna do a funk gig? You wanna jam a hard rock thing? Every genre needs its own 'sound' - that's half the battle.
So, it's important to have as many musical options as possible (different snares, kick drum sizes, cymbals, etc.)

Be able to comfortably play all of those genres and try and study with as many different teachers as You can (or college etc). Regardless of the music you dig the most, you gotta round your playing if you wanna work - especially in the studio - because generally speaking, there's way less of that than live work so why narrow your options by only comfortably playing one genre?

A lot of guys 'think' they can convincingly play a lot of genres, but in reality they can't. They think so, their friends think so, their girlfriends think so, but the people who matter know better (producers/other schooled musicians etc). So take a hard look at yourself and be honest. The quicker you do that, the faster you'll be on the road to bringing your playing level up a notch. Be realistic about your strengths and 'really' work on your weaknesses. Or just turn down jazz gigs like myself because who's kidding who - I'm lousy at jazz.

This next point's probably the most important, believe it or not. Play with everyone, everywhere at anytime for whatever money is offered, IF ANY.
If that means you need to sell Girl Guide cookies to pay your rent in order to be able to do gigs for nothing... do it!

Remember, you don't have to be a massively huge fan of the music you're playing. Just do a great job at playing it and you'll always find the joy in being a part of something great musically. Bottom line? EXPOSURE! People need to see and hear you playing as many different types of gigs possible. This has always played a key role in the popularity and demand for any successful musician.

Be able to play to a click track GREAT! Make sure your feel is comfortable and it doesn't stiffen your playing cause you're concentrating on being in time. People can tell. This in itself can be a huge learning curve.

Dr Sean: For those who aspire to get out there and attract the kind of work you're enjoying these days, what advice do you have to offer?

Randy: Be a nice guy, be on time, don't complain and don't have an attitude. Play what someone wants you to play, not what you wanna play. Leave your musical ego at the door. They may be paying you, so the bottom line is give'm what they want/need.
And of course, re-read the answer to the last question. ;-)

Dr Sean: Please tell us about some of the live and studio gigs you've been involved in recently.

Randy: I just spent a month touring in brazil with Colin Hay (singer from Men At Work) and I'm also on some of his tracks on his latest solo CD. I've been touring with Smash Mouth and recently recorded their new cd due out this fall. I'm still doing live dates with Five for Fighting with whom I've been playing since 2006 and I'm on a live DVD of theirs. I'm also doing live dates with a new Hollywood Records band called Red Light King and I recorded the drums their debut cd as well.

Dr Sean: And for all the drummers out there, tell us about all the gear you're using while on the road or in the studio.

Randy: Yay drummers! For a very long time now, I've been proudly playing/endorsing Yamaha drums, Zildjian cymbals, Remo drum heads and have my own signature stick with Regal Tip sticks. :)

As far as the configuration of shell size, cymbal selection and snare preference I'm using currently, it varies with every single session/gig I do. I can, however, tell you in my studio at home in Los Angeles, I have the Yamaha Phoenix kit set up and mic'd 24/7!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Learn From The Bands Who Are Succeeding... Today

There's so many bands out there and so much choice for music to listen to. There's more music available now than ever before and so it has become even more challenging to get your music noticed as an indie artist and even if you have a major label behind you.

One thing I always suggest when it comes to getting your music heard is to take a look at what the most successful bands of our time are doing to achieve these results. It is always great to learn from those that are succeeding in a big way; however, you must be careful when it comes to the U2s and the ACDCs of the music world because they're playing on a whole different level and they began in a different time. I'm certainly not saying you shouldn't pay close attention to those artists. You absolutely should, but the music industry has changed so much that modeling exactly what many of these artists have done and are currently doing will not always catapult you toward the success you're seeking.

Who's Become Successful In Today's Music Industry?

It's probably a good idea to have a look around at some of the newcomers who've been making a big noise. Although most of the newer acts (if not all) haven't come anywhere close the level of success of the aforementioned U2 and ACDC, what they're doing is a lot more likely to be of use to you when it comes to implementing new strategies with regard to your music career simply because it's a much more sensible comparison. Wouldn't it be nice if an indie act could come up with $100,000,000 to put together a tour, just like that?

Arcade Fire is definitely a band worth having a look at. They and the team around them have obviously done a few things right and maybe there's something there that you can capitalize on for your own musical endeavours. I'm sure there are many artists out there from whom you could learn a thing or two. The trick is to recognize what is working for others and then determine which of those things resonates with you the most and makes sense in the context of your music and your brand.

Listen To The Fan In You

Spend a great deal of time thinking about this type of thing from a music fan's perspective as well. I'm guessing that 100% of people who get into a band are probably big music fans and so you can check in with yourself to find out what you'd appreciate as a fan from the artists you love. Maybe write a list of marketing strategies that have succeeded in prompting you to part with a few dollars for an item or an experience. And also, write a list of things that put you off, so you know not to repeat those strategies with your fans.

Take some time with this one. You may find that you're not consciously aware of why you follow certain bands with such a great degree of loyalty. If you do some critical thinking though, I'm sure you'll come up with the answers and that will put you in a much stronger position than those who don't do the work.

I'd love to hear what it is about certain bands that either pull you in or turn you off. You don't have to mention names, but I'd love to know which marketing strategies are effective and which are not. As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Interview With Hit Songwriter ANGELO "LEVI" THEMELKOS

A very talented friend of mine, Angelo "Levi" Themelkos is here to shed some light on the subject of songwriting, particularily in the realm of mainstream pop. He's easily one of the best I've ever met and it'll be very much worth your time to have a look at the interview and hopefully learn a little about how to improve your game.


Who Is Levi?

Levi has written songs all around the world, from Swedan to Los Angeles and right here in Toronto Canada, his home base. He's written with some of the best producers around including Anthony M. Jones (R. Kelly, Mary J. Blige, Day 26, JoJo), Printsz Board (Black Eyed Peas) and Hit-Boy (Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg).

Levi has been nominated for two JUNO Awards ("Talk To Me" by George and "Test Drive" by Keshia Chante) and has had two Much Music number-one hits ("About Us" by Neverest and "Talk To Me" by George) and Eight Top-40 singles, two of which were Top-ten hits.
He's currently working on projects with Neverest, Dan Talevski, Keshia Chante, Massari and many more.

So now that everyone is acquainted, let's get down to it.

Dr. Sean: How long have you been writing songs and when did you realize you were good at it?

Levi: I've been writing songs for a long while. It only took me ten years to get a number one on Much. lol I knew I had a knack for songwriting because I'm a dreamer--artistic with an imagination. I also hear melodies very easily to instrumentals. It's like a sixth sense.

Dr. Sean: Describe the writing method that has been successful for you.

Levi: My method to writing a song is... I see it first... I see the video move from scene to scene, then I write. I write about true experiences 90% of the time. The lyrics come easier that way, I find.

Dr. Sean: If someone has written a song they believe has hit potential, how do they get it out there?

Levi: When you "service your song to radio" you must do it right. You must hire a radio tracker, you must visit the top radio stations in the country and meet the Program Directors. Shake hands and blow them away with your performance. You must have talent. Having a team behind you is crucial, and you must have financial backing. Without it, you will fail.

Dr. Sean: Can you give us a breakdown of the main elements that you believe are essential when it comes to writing hits?

Levi: Writing a 'hit' must have a formula. Try to write three catchy or hooky sections--verse, pre chorus, chorus. Keep your chorus simple and repetitive. While your verses can show your feeling, talent, heartache, etc., having a witty punchline and a catchy melody helps. And lastly, believe in it!

Dr. Sean: What do you say to people who think it's easy to write a hit?

Levi: I say, write one.

Dr. Sean: What steps would an artist take if they'd like to record one of your songs or write a song with you?

Levi: Contact me via Twitter (@levisingit). You must be passionate, hard working and believe in yourself.

Dr. Sean: How do song-splits work in terms of the ownership of a song?

Levi: Splits are 50% production and 50% lyrics and melodies. Splits can be tricky... I usually chop the song evenly amongst the writers and producers. This way, you get the best song--no egos, just one common goal: help each other, better each other, push each other. This only applies if you're starting from scratch. If your song is written, you own 50% of the 100%.

Dr. Sean: How do writers get paid for their songs?

Levi: We get paid through SOCAN and the CMRRA everytime a song is played on the radio or television, and we get mechanical royalties everytime a CD is manufactured and purchased. Good songwriters also get paid for writing good songs.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why You Should Record Off-The-Floor?

All the major bands that make those amazing records that we love to listen to spend hundreds of hours (sometimes 17 years, like with Axel Rose and The Chinese Democracy) in the studio recording and perfecting their songs and performances. If you're going to play ball with the big boys, you're going to have to spend a similar amount time putting your tracks together. I'm not really suggesting that you need to spend 17 years, I just had to mention that because it's so ridiculous.

Recording your album off-the-floor in a few days, on the other hand, isn't going to yield the necessary results if it's something you're planning on releasing on a serious level. I know Van Halen made many of their early records in a matter of days, but it's not 1979 anymore.

Recording off-the-floor may not be the way to go if you want produce a slick-sounding recording that will stand up to other pro bands in your genre; however, there are a few reasons why it can be something worth doing under the right circumstances.

1. If you've just put your band together and you're in the early stages of writing songs and finding your 'sound,' it can be great way to put your ideas down in a tangible form in order to become more clear about your current direction. This will allow you to listen to your music more objectively so you can tweak the arrangement, parts of each individual instrument, the melody and so on until you have a cohesive, hard-hitting song that's ready to knock your audience out of their seats!

2. It can also be a great exercise to help improve the level of musicianship within the band. Nothing's more humbling than hearing what you really sound like in the sterile studio environment. When you listen back to your tracks on studio monitors you hear everything.

When you're rehearsing with your band in a typical rehearsal space, it's usually too loud (probably around 105-110 dB) to hear what's really going on. In fact, when the music is above 95 decibles, you're simply unable to discern things such as timing and pitch. You're perception of what you're hearing is distorted and therefore, inaccurate. This is why live music (which is up in the 115-120 dB range) tends to sound so awesome when you're there, but, in many cases, not so awesome when you play back the video footage of that same performance. At a lower volume level, you can hear all the mistakes. Ouch!

Don't be afraid of finding out that you're not as tight as you thought you were. This will just serve to make you tighter when you become aware of what you need to work on. Be open to feedback from your engineer and/or producer too. This kind of constructive feedback can help you improve leaps and bounds if you let it. If you continue to hide behind the security that volume provides, you'll continue to make the same old mistakes everytime you perform your songs.

3. Getting the whole band used to playing together with a click track is great practise and something that not only offers valuable experience in the studio environment, but also gives you more options with your live show should you decide you'd like to incorporate backing tracks or loops from your computer. My bands, Emerald Rain and Pain, used to run tapes for our vocals because we had a million harmonies on our recordings like Def Leppard and there were only four of us. We would sing live and feed the tape track in a bit to thicken the sound. All of our songs were mapped out to a tee with the tape vocals happening exactly where they were supposed to and we had to be right on that click or else it would've been disasterous. :)

So there's a few reasons why I think off-the-floor recording can be a great experience. Maybe you can think of more and if you do, please share them here. Or if you've had good or bad experiences with this kind of thing, please tell me all about it. If you've never recorded off-the-floor, give me a shout and we'll do it up!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Where Will You Be Two Years From Now?

Think back two years ago. Where was your band? Where was your music career? How much has changed since then?

Are you still playing the same local venues to the same general audience or have you extended your reach to other provinces, states or countries? Does your set list consist largely of the same songs you were playing two years ago or are you constantly writing and performing new material? Is your live show evolving into something that would stand up next to major artists in you genre or is it stagnant? How current is your latest release?

When was the last time you updated your website, your facebook and other social networking sites? Are you effectively engaging with your fans on a consistent basis? How many fans do you have on your email list now verses two years ago?

If you were as productive at your day job as you are moving your music career forward would you still have a job? Would you be fired or promoted?

Where will your music career be two years from now?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

It's Not Who You Know, It's What You Do

We've all heard the old saying, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." I think this is one of those tired old sayings that allows people to shift any responsibility off of themselves for not succeeding at something. If you're not moving forward in your field, you can just throw your arms up and assert that there's no one to help you and you don't have that integral connection that would elevate you to new heights.

This sort of mindset implies that if someone in a position of power would just come along and give you that push you need, the rest would just fall into place and success would be inevitable. I don't really believe that's how it works. Think about all the artists out there that do have serious resources behind them and fail anyway. Whether they have a major label contract in place, or a close friend or family member who is extremely connected in the music business constantly offering great opportunities, most of the time nothing really happens.

Initially, I was thinking that the reverse of the above saying was true: "It's not who you know it's what you know." But as I thought about it, that didn't seem to ring true either because even if you do know a lot in terms of being a tremendous talent at your craft, being business savvy and having a solid grasp on the business you're in, it still doesn't guarantee success. So I think the title of this blog is what it's all about. "It's not who you know, it's what you do!"

When you take control of your career and get real comfortable actively doing things to move you toward your goals, you'll attract other professionals within the music industry who can and will help you. But you have to do the work first. No one wants to get into business with a boat anchor. Music business professionals want to work with people who will contribute to staying above the water line and beyond and there's no better way to display this than to do the required work. Take big steps and make big statements and help will come in myriad ways.

If there was any truth in, "it's who you know", then the success rate of major labels would be 100% instead of 10% and Sting's son's band would be a screaming success. What's that? You didn't know Sting's son was in a band? Just having an endless pool of financial resources to pull from simply isn't enough. The A&R reps at record companies can only take their best guess at what will fly and what won't. After that, it's up to us. We decide with our wallets what is good and what is not. And as I've said before, it's not just about the music, there's a whole entertainment package involved in breaking an artist.

So if there's an artist out there whose music you don't particularily like, don't just dismiss it with, "Oh, they must know someone who handed them their success." Take a closer look to see what it is they've done to get where they are.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Money Isn't Everything

In my last blog I talked about bands/artists looking into the possibility of getting some financial assistance from investors and I just wanted to clarify that my intention was not to say that having a lot of money to throw at a business venture is the cure-all. It isn't.

I really don't believe that an abundance of money is the answer much of the time. So many of us have a great deal of opportunity all around us all the time, yet we don't take advantage of all that is already there. The most important assests you can have are the desire to do what it is you want to do, the skills and talent to do it, a high level of commitment to see it through and the ability to adapt as you go. Without these things you probably won't go very far no matter how much money you have.

There's a great quote from Bill Gates with regard to applying automation to companies to increase efficiency:

"The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency."

I think the same could be said about pumping money into a business whether it's a band or otherwise. Putting big dollars into a band that's a complete mess will just reveal what a mess it is because the stakes are higher. And conversely, putting money behind a band that has all its ducks in a row will reveal the greatness that has always been there on a much grander scale.

Just look at the track record of the major lables over the past four or five decades. They fail about 90% of the time, but when they win, they win big. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row and that your desire, skills and commitment are all in check. And if that's truly the case, you're increasing your chances of success tenfold.

So don't sit around making excuses about not having enough money or not having the same opportunities that others are enjoying. Get out there and start taking advantage of all the great tools (many of which are very cheap or even free) like social networking sites, music delivery services, blogging sites and so on. I think it really boils down to the fact that you have to look within for the answers you need to move forward, not outside yourself. The ability to be creative is priceless, so tap into your creative side and turn the tables so other people will be seeking the opportunity to work with you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Do You Need Help From Investors To Finance Your Music Career?

With record labels being a lot more selective regarding which artists they sign and how many they sign, it has become a lot harder for artists to secure a recording contract with the finacial resources that can be essential to getting their music to the masses. The internet has obviously leveled the playing field in many areas; however, I don't know that it's easier for indie artists to make a living doing what they love.

A level playing field sounds wonderful, but it also means that everyone has the same advantages that you do. This is where it's so incredibly important to tap into your creativity and deliver your strengths as an artist and entertainer to the world in your own unique way.


If you've tried to entice the major and indie labels out there with your music and you've come up short, there are still other avenues that you could look into as viable alternatives. It's really just the money you're after, so why not look into enticing an invester with deep pockets to invest in your music career. With the proper financial backing, you could afford to hire all the resources that labels usually provide such as marketers, lawyers, publicists, radio trackers, etc. In short, you could build a team of professionals around your band that will be integral to your success.


Whether it's good, bad or indifferent, money is what gets things done and helps any business advance significantly toward its goals. If you're spending nickels and dimes on your career, you're not likely to advance very far at all, so looking into ways to attract the financial support necessary is a great first step.

Here's a great blog on this very subject by Moses Avalon entitled, "Why Your Music Career Needs A Music Business Plan." One of the most important points he makes is that by going through the process of putting together a proper business plan to present to potential investers, it gives you a much greater understanding of what exactly you are trying to accomplish for yourself and thus puts you in a much stronger position.

Please take the time to click on the link and read this blog as there's very important info here that any career-minded musician should be aware of and can benefit from.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Do Less and Accomplish More

The road to success in the music business is a long, slow road and it's important to make sure that you're doing little things every day to move yourself further along on your journey. Are you doing something every day toward your music career? Make sure that you are.

Don't feel that you have to make huge waves every day. You don't have to write and record an entire album and plan a cross country tour. Just do a little bit at a time. Write one song that you can present to your band mates and read some articles about what to expect when you do plan that tour. Show up to a show of an artist you respect and introduce yourself and start building that relationship. And stay on top of your social networking duties.

There's a great book by Timothy Ferriss entitled "The Four Hour Work Week" that I read when it came out about four years ago. It really doesn't have much to do with the music business per se, but regardless of what field you're in, I believe it's recommended reading for all. Throughout the book Tim offers many great tools and life-changing advice to significantly increase your chances of success in whatever it is you do.

One thing that he suggests is to write your to-do list for tomorrow no later than tonight. And he insists that your list should never include more than two mission-critical tasks. By putting too much on your plate, it creates indecision and confusion and you wind up accomplishing less.

I feel this is great advice for DIY musicians because when you're traveling down the independent road, slow and steady wins the race. If you don't have major label backing, you're not going to move a mountain in a day, so don't stress yourself out trying. There are certainly a ton of little things that can be done every day and you should not neglect doing them, just make sure that you do the high priority stuff first.

If you have any stories about how you've accomplished a lot by doing a little, I'd love to hear about it. Or conversely if you took on too much and burned yourself out, please share your experience.

Oh, and as I write this I'm sipping on some rye and celebrating that the world is till intact. Whew!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why Hire A Producer?

I think the answer to this question is really pretty simple. Most bands that I know want to be taken seriously and want to act in a professional manner, so what's the best way to do that? Do what professional artists do.

Q: What's the first thing a pro act does before they enter the recording studio to begin recording their album?

A: Hire a producer.

They know that it's essential if they want to produce a product that has commercial success potential. I know there are exceptions to the rule, but if you plan on being one of the exceptions, just know that you're making an already difficult task pretty near impossible.

Look at the liner notes of the CDs in your collection. Ninety-nine percent of these albums have no doubt been produced by a producer outside of the band. There are many reasons for this and here are a few:

1. A producer will help you organize your ideas into a cohesive collection of songs with each song being a succinct and impactful weapon to hit your listeners with. Bands will usually have a lot of great ideas kicking around whether it's a full song or just a cool verse or a catchy chorus hook and it's a producer's job to come in with a fresh and impartial perspective and bring all the good stuff to the surface.

Producers also keep everyone involved focused on the taks at hand. Sometimes the musicians can be too caught up in their own individual part whereas the producer is looking at the bigger picture. He/she will have a strong vision for what the overall vibe and energy for the track is supposed to be.

Conflict Resolution
2. A producer can be a great person to help resolve conflicts among band members. Many times the forward movement of a project can be seriously stifled when two or more members don't see eye to eye on a particular point. The musicians in the band are usually too attached to the music to be objective and do what's truly best for the song and the album as a whole. The producer can more easily see what needs to be done to move forward.

This is where the whole 'Dr. Sean' thing comes in. Years ago, one of my recording clients started calling me Dr. Gregory and it made sense to me. Quite often I'd find myself in the role of a therapist--helping musicians sort through issues relating to their personal lives as well as their music. Not to mention the 'surgery' I was performing on their audio files.

3. Good producers will have way more experience producing recordings than the members of the band. Even if it's not the bands first time producing an album on their own, you can likely count on one hand the number of times they have.

Making a record can be broken down into many different parts; songwriting, arranging, producing, engineering, performing, editing, mixing, mastering, teching, etc. and they're all very different and important jobs. The more responsibilities one person takes on, the more divided their attention will be and that's never a good thing as people are designed to focus on one task at a time.

Once again, look at the number of people listed in the credits on a major album. It's never just a few people putting together a hit record.

Be Dependent

I love reading Seth Godin's blogs. I find them to be very thought provoking and powerful. I really can't remember where I read this particular clip--whether it was in a blog or one of his books--but he was talking about how it's unfortunate that there's so much emphasis on being independent and going it alone nowadays because it's so important now more than ever to be dependent. I totally agree with his point here. He says:

Self sufficiency appears to be a worthy goal, but it's now impossible if you want to actually get anything done.
All our productivity, leverage and insight comes from being part of a community, not apart from it.
The goal, I think, is to figure out how to become more dependent, not less.

Frasier Has Left The Building

So there you have a few solid reasons why it's important to hire a producer to record your music. I'm sure I've left out many other points, so please feel free to add on to it or even to challenge what's there. When it comes to music, nothing is ever 'right' or 'wrong,' it's all just a matter of perspective.