Wednesday, 24 July 2013

While On Maternity Leave


Just a quick update...

It's been a great privilege to be involved with Polly on the Roots Of Empathy course being piloted here in Cardiff since November last year, here's a link with more info http://bigblogwales.org.uk/2013/07/04/the-tiny-teacher-making-a-big-difference/

Pleased to say that I'm almost fully recovered from fall injuries (see Italy blog a few posts ago) and birth complications- a couple of things still sorting but we are confident that these will continue to improve with time (and a bit more physio!!)

Looking forward to beginning work on new album in the next fortnight here at Hushland HQ!
Will post more on this in the weeks to follow!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

New Hushland EP

http://hushlandnews.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/hushland-live-ep.html




Live Ep from Sir Silence and Rachel Taylor-Beales BBC Radio Wales sessions now available to download for free on band camp!

Monday, 30 July 2012

NEW LIVE ALBUM RELEASED ON BANDCAMP (From August 1st 2012)!


Rachel Taylor-Beales And Her Extraordinary Collective Live At Newport University 2012


Hi Folks,
Hope you’re all managing to track down some sun during this um ‘Great British Summer?!’

It’s been an eventful year full of change and challenges in the Taylor-Beales camp. Both Bill and I have experienced several months of limited mobility since May, me due to injury after falling from stage during a sound check while on tour in Italy and Bill from major reconstructive surgery in his right hand.
All this during second and third trimester pregnancy for me! We are thrilled at the prospect of the somewhat imminent arrival of Baby Taylor-Beales and are hopeful (with the help of our medical teams) that both Bill and I will also be much more physically able post birth in these coming weeks and months!

Anyway in light of all this and the various projects that I’ve had to postpone and rearrange this year I’ve decided to release an 8 track 'Live Album' of songs that I performed at a gig in Newport University earlier this year.  The songs feature members of my ‘extraordinary collective’ Catrin Angharad (aka Angharad Evans), Rosy Robinson and Dylan Fowler.

I’m actually really pleased to have captured these moments live as the arrangements of the songs including additional welsh lyrics and harmonies are very much reflective of my live performances in the last 12 months.  I plan to take official maternity leave from now until May, but will be back with a brand new studio album to release in 2013 as well as my Counting The Waves collaborative project!

In the meantime please do download this offering from Bandcamp, and yes it is free! (Well almost- I’m collecting your emails in return to create a new database after my previous one crashed and burned with my old computer!) So please do go forth and download it and pass on and spread de word etc…

I’ll be checking into my twitter and face-book pages and emails (and no doubt posting a picture or two of baby T-B) sporadically so do feel free to drop a line if you are ever inclined these next months…
Huge thanks to you all for your ongoing support of my music,
See you sometime in 2013!


Rachel

visit the the Hushland News Blog for the Official Press Release
http://hushlandnews.blogspot.co.uk/

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Everything Is Free Now (more reflections on David Lowry's letter to Emily White)

(For the letter that originally sparked these thoughts please follow the link below)
http://thetrichordist.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/letter-to-emily-white-at-npr-all-songs-considered/

Back in 2001 alt-country/americana artist Gillian Welch released a song on her 3rd album Time (The Revelator) album called 'Everything Is Free' with the lines 'Someone hit the big score they figured it out, that we're gonna do it anyway, even if it doesn't pay' 
Sadly this is all too true and has been the case for artists for centuries really (the whole artist starving in the garret scenario is because for so many artists the need to create art is so much more than a whim or hobby but a vital and essential part of living, breathing and being part of the planet )

In his response to NPR DJ Emily White stating that of her 11,000 strong catalogue of music she actually only bought 15 of them David Lowry made the point that this ever growing demand to access 'Music for Free' culture is a moral and ethical issue that needs to be addressed...

As a self employed musician and singer songer-songwriter with my own label imprint Hushland I feel compelled to add my own thoughts here as this is an issue that is not in the least bit theoretical but current and relevant to me on a daily basis.

I've spent the last week or so trawling through many responses to this debate from both sides.
Many folks make the point that there is nothing new about Emily having music for free as she's a DJ and for as long as the music industry has been operating DJ's have been recipients of music for free as part of an overall promotional campaign to get the music heard. Folks have also been saying that David Lowry needs to 'Get with the Program' that he's talking about days gone by and not focussing on the fact that internet has made music accessible and directly available to so many more folks than it ever could have reached. That the internet gives power directly back to the artists to create and market in ways that bypass traditional routes and is an empowering resource in favour of the artist in comparison to the old style record label calling all the shots and dictating creative strategies etc... These are things I agree with. I love the internet and the entrepreneurial and innovative ways to market and create products and involve fans in ways that both refreshing and exciting. None of these things are the main issues of the debate as far as I'm concerned. There are both good and bad working practices in both the new and old systems, and the fact that artists have so often been exploited by major labels and at the raw end of a bad deal is not news at all...

To me the crux of the debate is the financial value of a music and whether it is acceptable that artists be required and expected to make their products 'free' and just accept and put up with the fact that folks will be able to access it without paying for it regardless of whether this is what the artist has intended for their product.

These are the questions that I want to raise here...


What does being a copyright owner of something you have created actually mean today?


Does the consumer based demand that products be at available for free mean loss of excellence?


How does it effect the artist on a day to day basis? 

You don't walk into a restaurant and eat a freshly prepared meal and expect to get it for free
You don't go to a shop to get an ornament you like for your home and expect it to be free
You don't go to a designer clothing label (or any clothes label) and expect to walk out and wear their product for free

I could go on and on... of those 3 examples in order to create the products lots of expenses have been incurred to make them and usually more than one person involved in realising the finished product. Farmers are required to grow food for our meals, factory workers to create materials and fabrics for clothes/ ornaments, then staff are employed to sell the products. No one in this picture will be doing it as a favour or at mates rates, at the lowest acceptable rate they will be doing it for minimum wages. It would be immoral and ethically wrong not to pay a fee for these things...

So here's the parallels to that picture and more regarding my own creating of a music product.

I have self funded and released 3 of my own full length albums as well as being involved in the releasing of more. I have called in many favours and mates rates to do all this and still have had huge outgoings, all of this has been done in my own unpaid time...

Here's a breakdown of how I've made and created my trilogy of albums so far...
There are many ways to create products, I'm not saying this is the best way etc but this is how I've done it...
I am not including time that it took to rehearse and write and create the songs in the first place.
I'm creating a lowest type rate budget for this example...

STUDIO TIME
Personally the longest I've ever booked a studio for recording is 7 days... usually 4 - 5 days recording and 2- 3 days mixing. These are always decisions based on budget.

The average day in the studio with and engineer costs a minimum of £200.00 so for one weeks recording/mixing you're looking at looking at a minimum of approx. £1400.00

SESSION MUSICIANS
Minimum Wage for a session musician at musicians union rates (and I've spent much more on session musicians rates than this!) is £40 per hour with £120 for a minimum 3 hour session.
So for the sake of argument say I use 3 other musicians for a days 7.5 (basically 1 days recording) hours recording time each thats £300 per day for them... so an extra £900
(just for the record I have paid a single session musician the sum of £350 for a 3 hour session on one of my albums- and rightly so as they are a top class musician with huge amounts of training and expertise and I would not expect to pay an expert at the top of their field a minimum wage for their time anyway)

MASTERING
Mastering (the thing you do after mixing an album getting it ready to be pressed) can sometimes be done in same studio you record in or can send it off to a specialist- this can be anything from £150- £500...

PRODUCER
Working with a producer- an agreed daily rate minimum (could be anything from £100- £350) per day though mainstream producers can charge 10x that much per day etc!!)
nb: You don't need to work with a producer to create an album, personally its something that I've found incredibly helpful as they have brought an objectivity and further ideas to the overall product that I've been creating and helped me realise my own artistic vision in ways I couldn't have achieved on my own. Again if I'm employing someone who is an expert I don't expect to pay a minimum wage for them!!

Thats just recording part of an album...

SLEEVE DESIGN
Then there's artwork for the album, design and layout paying somebody to do that could be anything from 1- 5 days work minimum, £200 per day is again a low wage for a self employed graphic designer daily rate... so for arguments sake lets say a budget of 2.5 days a further £500

PRINTING/PRESSING
Printing and pressing 1000 physical copies of a product- with jewel cases (the plastic cases) costs around £800- digi- packs £1200- £1500/ usually recycled materials cost more so that could be up to £ 2000 if you want to do it ethically.... 1000 copies is a standard minimum print/press run

PR
Then there's PR and marketing for the product...
over the years I've done it myself/ I've spent £500 using a good local PR person and I've spent £3000 (at a discounted rate from £5000 for a national agency as I was still going to do a fair bit of my own PR) Despite the payment all PR its still a huge gamble as there is zero guarantee that you will actually be reviewed or get the television/ radio time you pay the PR person to pitch on your behalf...
(There are of course further advertising costs if you wish to place an advert for the product in a any magazine... mainstream mags can cost in the £1000's )

So looking at just recording a physical album without any PR- looking at a bare minimum of between £2000- £5000

Then there's website and webpage maintenance and design which you of course can do yourself or pay someone else to do for you.... I haven't included budgets for official photo shoots or making music video either...

So in order to make and market an album these costs can easily add up to around £10,000 on expenses and believe me this an extremely modest budget!! (So many artists have to scrape, scrimp call on favours from friends not pay other musicians/ artists a fair wage for being involved in creating a album)

So lets say I am have my shiny new product and I'm now in debt somewhere between £5000- £10,000
I need to start selling my product to begin get myself out of debt and here's where the issue begins...

Doing the math: if I have pressed 1000 copies and I'm £5000.00 in debt I need to sell 500 at £10 each before I can think of making a profit. Now in the past that was an incredibly viable option.

Traditional means of selling CDs was in shops and at gigs and more recently through a website...
The problem is that free culture is demanding I release my product of free or at least let the fans name the price, and if I use any sort of digital distribution within in days of my product release the technology is available to make it downloadable for free from other sites...

Any touring artist will tell you that physical CD sales at gigs are down due to products now being more available and cheaper online and aside from the fact that logistics and finances from petrol costs to paying musicians to what you can get from a venue re any form of payment in order to actually tour often requires making a further loss as Chris TT has eloquently put in his blog) http://christt.com/songwriting/an-under-priced-industry/

Back in 2004 I could pretty much guarantee that I would sell CD's to at least 10% of what ever audience I had.
At my level of touring that can mean performing in venues with audience numbers averaging anything between 10 people in a bar to 200 in a club or theatre (sometimes at festivals /on tour support slots etc its many more but this is an average). So depending on the night that could mean sales of 1- 20 CD's. So in theory if I put together 3x 10-14 day tours a year I could pretty much guarantee that I would have at least broken even on album costs within 12 months. 
(Not making a loss on tour is completely different scenario!)

Nowadays people just don't buy CD's at gigs like they used to. I often get emails from folks telling me how much they enjoyed my live set and that they've just got my album, but they haven't bought it from me though and so I see much, much less of an income from CD sales yet get far more feed back and response on all my music than ever before... Also folks see £10 as too expensive for a CD even if they are going to pay for one, so are now looking at paying under that price for a CD more like £7.50 or less...  

There are other ways to make a product sure... and more and more artists are choosing to release entirely digital products. 


One of the problems for an indie artist such as myself at this time is being caught in the middle. The new guard and ways are not yet fully established and the old guard and ways still hold a lot of power.
Mainstream and Major labels and industry folks still demand that in order to be taken seriously you have to release both physical and digital copies of your music with a push for vinyl releases becoming more and more popular as well. I'm not a fan of any mainstream music awards etc but just as an example a prize like Britain's Mercury music prize requires that in order to enter an artist has to be on a label, have a physical distribution deal (not just digital) and pay a fee of £500- thats just to submit your music.

I could record a digital only release product (and many artists are forced to) I could just record this product myself in my own home studio (and have done- though expenses for mic and computers and programs are still incurred in order to do this)
I can do all the artwork/ press promotion etc myself and be completely self contained unit (and there are lots of talented artists who do this successfully and I take my hat off to them for doing so! I am glad that the technology is available for them to do this also!) It is a model that works very well for some folks and I'm glad it does.

However why should I be limited to this?

I believe in the pursuit of creative excellence and diversity in the art that I make and therefore employ folks around me who can help to deliver this.
My personal skills are in my own songwriting and musicianship. I am not a wonderful recording engineer. I am not brilliant at computer tech. I am not a whizz at PR. Though I am  multi-instrumentalist there are times when I would rather employ a session musician who will run rings round me both technically and creatively.
I try to diversify and am continually adding to my skill set but there are plenty of people out there who will do a far better job on the various tasks than me and personally I believe my product is better for it etc...

So why should I now be under pressure to give my music away when I have personally invested time and hired experts to work with me on it?  Or not to mind if folks download it illegally as to quote a phrase I've heard frequently "at least its getting it out there" 
Please explain to me why is it a problem for folks to buy the product if they like it and would like to own it for themselves and listen to it?
Many companies and buisnesses use freebies as a marketing tool and it can be a helpful one, but that is always in order ultimately to sell something. Why should a music products be any different why should the products all be free? Does this not devalue both the artists and the work and the material?

In all other vocational trades, training, experience and expertise is reflected in wages.
Not so for musicians. Gig fees are minimal and usually at rates that were acceptable in the 80's or 90's no pay rise with the cost of inflation etc... Recession has effected festivals who were once open to taking risks on lesser known artists which once meant festivals were a great way to gain exposure (even though most wouldn't offer any fee to a lesser know artist to play) Now festival organisers have to ensure that they will sell tickets and so are pretty much booking the name drawing acts- with a few offering a competition to unknown acts in order to play them. Festivals and gig venues are also using submission sites like Sonic Bids for their applications a site which requires a subscription membership fee as well as fees to submit an application to each event. Arts grants and funding are being cut across the UK. It is a tricky time to work in the creative industries and be self employed.

Fair trade is an issue here.

So why not use crowd funding to source the funds for the product?

I'm actually a big fan of crowd funding and think it a great innovative idea however it has proven most successful for folks with an already big existing network of fans, in order to generate those fans touring etc has to be a viable option and for a band just starting out it is a huge catch 22, without the gigs you can't get the product out there to generate fans etc and so it becomes yet another loss leader...
I may well try this in the future and am open push all sorts of doors to create music...

But ultimately regardless of where the funds to make the product come from the question is still "does artist themselves not deserve to be paid for what they have created?"

The internet does have many ways to get music out there and distributed, youtube, CD Baby, Bandcamp  and more etc... These are all wonderful, helpful tools and do a great job at putting the power back into artists hands- however in my mind that still doesn't mean that an artist shouldn't be paid if folks want to own the product they have created!

Ultimately as a musician I need a wage as it is my job. My wages are broken up into various factors. There's gig/ performance/ session fees.
Any royalty I can gain from air play, performance and licensing from being a member of PRS/ MCPS and Revenue from any product I have released.
In order to scrape a living I need each of these avenues of revenue to be working for me and at present each one is undergoing major cuts and losses due to the changing times and culture.
I have bills to pay and very soon with the birth of my first child, mouths other than my own to feed. I have personally invested in my career and this is what I know and am most qualified to do.
I have a been a working musician for 17 years and I can honestly say that the impact of download free culture is huge on me as an individual. I have seen a dramatic loss as to the income that I was able to make from sales of my product even just 5 years ago. It doesn't seem to make sense alongside the upward trajectory that my exposure, radio play, mainstream positive reviews/ features in press and venues that I am playing that I should be struggling more now to make a living as a musician than I ever have been! I know I am not alone in my experience of this.
I want to pay the musicians in my band and folks who are involved in making and marketing my products a fair wage for their time. I want to be able to continue in the job that I'm most suited and qualified to do and not have to push it out to hobby status.

So to round up, personally as a self employed an indie artist, who is passionate and committed to continuing to try and create works of quality, I would ask that if you'd like to own it and listen to it please pay the small one off fee that comes with either the download or CD or vinyl that is being sold.

If you value something or someone, treat it/them with respect. Models and modes of communication and technology change all the time and rightly so. However principals are entirely transferable.

If I have made something it belongs to me. This is a basic principle.
If someone else would like to have that product for themselves they need to have my permission to take/use it. Sometimes that will be for a fee, sometimes I will be happy to give it to them for free and say yes pass it on to whoever... The less stressed and struggling to make ends meet the more likely I am to be able to generate more free products and fan led payment of products.

As an independent artist in these changing times I want to say that yes lets shape a future that finally favours the artist. Lets challenge the growing apathy among consumers and try and inform folks that what they do does have direct impact on the individual independent labels and musicians at grass roots level. I have never been willing to go along with anything just because of popular opinion. I believe a worker is worth their pay.

Rant over and out!!!




Everything is free now
That's what they say
Everything I ever done
Gonna give it away.
Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we're gonna do it anyway
Even if doesn't pay.

I can get a tip jar
Gas up the car
Try to make a little change
Down at the bar.
Or I can get a straight job
I've done it before
Never minded working hard
It's who I'm working for.

Everything is free now
That's what they say
Everything I ever done
Gotta give it away.
Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we're gonna do it anyway
Even if doesn't pay.

Every day I wake up
Humming a song
But I don't need to run around
I just stay home.
Sing a little love song
My love and myself
If there's something that you want to hear
You can sing it yourself.

'Cause everything is free now
That's what I said
No one's got to listen to
The words in my head.
Someone hit the big score
And I figured it out
That I'm gonna do it anyway
Even if doesn't pay.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Fall (or how I took a 24 weeks pregnant stage dive in Italy!!)


As most of you will know I am currently 25 weeks pregnant with my first child. Last weekend I was on tour with gig dates in Italy and unfortunately on the Sunday eve I had a nasty fall from stage. The stage was 1.5 meters and the floor surface I fell onto was tiled with no give. I'd just climbed the stairs onto it ready for my sound check and a combination of my big baby bump and not seeing my feet and the lights in my eyes not seeing anything beyond just totally misjudged my footing and stepped out over the edge. I managed to twist as I fell and landed on my hip and back but fortunately not the baby bump, pins and needles through my legs instantly I knew it was a bad fall, and the terror that something had happened to the baby was immense. As I looked up at the various faces that surrounded me as they discussed calling for the ambulance, the first words that I spoke were in Italian and simply Bambino- amazing the way the survival instincts kick in and the brain choosing Italian rather than English in the desire to communicate the most important thing at that moment- the welfare of the baby… During the wait for the ambulance sensation came back into my legs and I found that though I could barely walk I could at least move them…

Rushed to hospital the Italians looked after me brilliantly. The relief when the paramedics found the baby’s heart beat on the way was indescribable. I was seen straight away by a obstetrician, then catheterized (as I couldn’t walk anywhere) then wheeled in to see a neurologist and both were able to confirm after thorough tests that the baby was fine and that my spine was also OK, however they were still keen to X-ray and for me to be seen by orthopedics as they possible suspected fractures to the hip and or back. A motorcycle accident however prevented me from having X-rays at that time and so I was taken to a small room in the maternity ward to spend the night.
During that time I’d had the moral support of my Welsh touring companion and good friend Dylan Fowler as well as Italian musician Stefano Giacconne who was hosting and performing with us as well as the lovely Sonia Ponzo a local photographer who had been on hand to document the gig. Stefano and Sonia translating everything for me was very reassuring and Dylan had the awful job of phoning Bill back in Cardiff to let him know what was happening.
The hospital staff brought me pain killers and told me that they were keen for me to stay with them a further 3 or 4 days. Here was a dilemma. I was due to fly back to Cardiff the following day with Dylan, who himself had to be in Germany 2days after. Further complicated was that my poor husband Bill in Cardiff is about to undergo major reconstruction surgery after and injury in his right had and is unable to drive distances at present making travel arrangements a little more tricky (though of course he was willing to do everything in his power to get there ASAP!) 

As I lay in my bed wondering what the best options were, relieved that the baby was fine but in lots of pain. I decided that if in the morning the Drs could again confirm that travelling wouldn't harm the baby and that any injury to me was orthopaedic and not neurological then I would discharge myself and get back to Cardiff and go straight to hospital there for the continued treatment, as it would mean that I wouldn't be on my own in a foreign land (even though everyone was so kind and good and supportive) , but in an English speaking environment and most importantly with my husband as soon as I could be. Decision made I reached for my iPod scrolled through the A’s and put on Abigail Washburn’s City of Refuge album. It was just what I needed to hear! The music transported me to another place that was beautiful uplifting and comforting and welcome distraction indeed! As track 3 'Bring Me My Queen' began to play the tears rolled down my face- it felt so affirming and spiritual, like a prayer, calling to the deep parts of myself, to awaken and just bring me my own queen and I'll be able to do what I need to do and find the strength to travel and make it back home the next day… the morning came with the words of the final track "Day Is A Breaking In My Soul' . As music is my job I am a strong believer in the power that it has to connect and inspire and transcend and heal, and the experience of those songs at that moment of crisis has been a very real reminder to me of those qualities that the moments of a song can bring.

Morning came, I managed to sit up in bed and eat the breakfast brought in and was then wheeled for more checks. Dylan and Stefano arrived and I told hem my thoughts re discharging myself. We didn’t have much time- the journey from the hospital to the airport was 3 hours and we had to be there by 12.00 if we were going to make it in time for the flight. At this stage it hadn’t occurred to me that I hadn’t actually walked since the ambulance had arrived after the accident. I just knew I could move my legs and that my spine didn’t have any neurological damage so assumed that meant I could walk. Wheeled in to see the Obstetrician The Dr and staff confirmed again that the baby was fine, said from their perspective that they would like me stay but understood my desire to get back asap- gave me pain killers and I discharged myself. The moment of truth. I tried to stand up to dress myself and found the pain shooting through my legs and managed a tiny step feeling like the pain was going to make me throw up. The kindly lady who was sharing the room with me offered help (she was attached to a drip and looked very unwell herself!) I realized if I couldn’t manage to get my jeans back on then how was I going to travel home and suddenly I wondered if I could do it at all. My room mate called Dylan and Stefano back into the room and I said something along the lines of this is really bad, I’m not sure if I can do this… The clock was ticking to get to the airport though and recalling the strength and peace I’d felt the night before made the split decision to just do it. So sent Stefano for the car while Dylan re packed my bag and then barely able to walk apart from a slow weak shuffle held up by Dylan began the journey…

It was difficult. The baby kept on kicking which was very re-assuring. We sorted wheelchairs for the airports either side made the 3 hour drive from hospital to Milan, then the 3 hour drive from Gatwick to Cardiff (Easy-jet had in the meantime left my bag behind- it was an inevitability really! But at least it wasn’t my guitar which we took on board) Then in Cardiff I was met by Bill and our good friend Becky who was being driver due to Bills hand injury and went straight to our local hospital, where we spent the next 12 hours in the hands of many other Drs and finally arrived home on Tuesday. (Verdict being severe muscle spasms in legs and a likely small fracture in hip but they decided against X-rays as they would be harmful to the baby)
In those 48 hours between the fall at 5pm on Sunday eve and getting home at 9am Tuesday morning I had amassed the grand total of 1 hours sleep!!

It was quite an experience… I am sincerely thankful for the selfless support and kindness of all the lovely Italian hospital staff and musicians, the beautiful Sonia Ponzo, the fantastic Stefano Giaccone and my rock solid and brilliant friend Dylan Fowler.

10 days later…. 
It has been such a relief to be home with Bill! The baby continues to be well however I’ve had a few more complications as am now in the care of the Maternity physiotherapy unit at the hospital who have identified further problems with my hip. So many lovely folks have been in touch asking for updates and offering support so below is the copy of my latest email update about it all…

Bill and I are both well in spirit but rather rubbish in body at the moment!! (Though the baby is fine and well)

I've just returned from the physio and have a whole new paradigm to get my head round. My general mobility has improved from being unable to walk to hobbling on crutches and the bruising and swelling are progressing as they should while most muscle spasms have eased however there are further complications that the physio has identified that need to be addressed...
The fall in Italy has resulted in my left hip being out of line and higher than the right one. Muscle tightness and inflammation are pushing it up- so I begin hydro-therapy for general muscle work to try and loosen it every wednesday from now on in the pool at the Heath Hospital- I won't start my actual physio treatment until I am a little more mobile as it will get worse before it gets better etc…
Because of pregnancy and the fact that the area most effected by the fall is my pelvic area, I will now be unable to do things like push a shopping trolley, lift, hoover or mop, drive, walk the dog etc… until 2 months after having given birth (they treat it like if you've had a caesarian) Though I may be able to drive sooner but will need ok from dr in order to be covered by any insurance…
This all further complicated by the fact that Bill is due for his hand surgery on the 30th May and will also be unable to lift/ walk dog/ drive/ etc… 

In the light of this we have decided that its best to cancel and postpone upcoming gig on 26th May/ as well as recording my EP from the 3-7 June and my new Counting The Waves show for its premier date July 6th… The physio seemed to think that the overall physicality of performing would be too much and we would hate to create setbacks that hinder recovery and health for giving birth...
There are also a lot of unknowns- as we don't know the impact that the baby will have on my now weakened pelvis/ back and hips as she grows, which may hinder my recovery- … we also don't know how Bill will respond to surgery- the healing and rehabilitation for him is very dependent on how his body responds to the metal wiring and pins and whether it rejects it or not… 

I am currently looking in to getting cleaners and dog walkers and friends on board to help us manage these next weeks… and lots of folks have been very kind in offering etc.. which is great ( I guess we have the pathetic sympathy vote- crippled husband with his pregnant wife of crutches!!)

Huge thanks for all your messages of support and concern
Rachel x

Bring Me My Queen By Abigail Washburn

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Freelance Survival As A Musician


Freelance Survival as a Musician: Notes and Thoughts based on Panel session at Cult Cymru Creative Industries Fair March 2012

My thoughts and notes compiled here… (warning another very long post!)

The Thin Line
Wire-Walker, Phillipe Petit broke into the twin towers and set up a wire between them, for him to walk on…  (see Man On Wire documentary film or read his book,'To Reach the Clouds' for more info)…
This required: vision, risk, self belief, training, strategic planning, skill, focus, single-mindedness, long hours, years of work, sense of a bigger picture, out sourcing team members, networking, luck and overcoming of many obstacles…
The image of the wire-walker stepping out onto this thin line without guarantees other than personal belief, skill and vision you will get to the other side, resonates with my own journey as a freelancer… it was the lack of safety nets that first made me think of this. No sick pay, no pension scheme, no holiday, etc... and thats just for starters. No guarantees of any revenue or return for the hours that you put in. Yet in order to go free-lance you have to take that first step onto the rope take the risk that you'll be able to keep on walking... one step at a time...
The actual tightrope to me represents something both positive and negative... The negative is the obvious, its a mighty thin line that you walk on and to stay focussed and balanced against the elements, wind, rain, heat, noise, distractions and external pressures etc... takes an awful lot of practice, skill and single-mindedness... However to me that need for practice, skill and single-mindedness is also the positive as it is this that enables you to journey in a way that others don't dare to tread, there is a liberation and freedom in the act of each step defying fear and choosing the line and the direction you want to move forward in...
All sounds a bit extreme, but in so many ways being freelance is. There are no guarantees that the work will come as and when you need it to. As an artist in the freelance world you stick at it because for you personally all other options and choices are more of a death sentence than the choice not to try! To be actively pursuing your art as a vocation is both a passion and the only way you can stay true to yourself, well this is how it is for me at any rate...  .


One The Wire: The Balancing Act : Artist versus Business versus Life
Being Freelance in the arts requires sometimes seemly opposed mindsets.
On the one hand you need to create, and develop your art and in order to do this you must maintain a focused and professional approach to your artistic discipline. You need time to create, experiment, practice, challenge yourself…
You need to be good and keep on getting better at what you do in order for you to build a reputation and get work in the first place…

But you also need an understanding of some basic business and management principles in order to create and maintain viable employment opportunities.
This is a continual balancing act with time and energy as both pursuits are potentially full time endeavours!
Management of time, finance, administration and artistic vision can seem over whelming and often at odds with each other.

Identify weak areas and put in place strategies to over come these.
Seek advice.
Be prepared to change.
Be prepared to work very hard.
Decide how you measure success and what your own value systems are…
ie; will you consider yourself successful if your work means your have no time to maintain healthy relationships with your friends and loved ones? What are your limits? (These may well change over time)

Be prepared to examine and re- examine how best to approach each stage and
Know that you are able to be flexible and where you want to draw the line. As much as you can, try and anticipate the cost and consequences of your life style choices. There are no right ways to any of this. It is entirely up to you how you find that balance and what works best. Be prepared to diversify if necessary and be flexible while maintaining a sense of vision…. Keep taking risks, in the full understanding that there are no guarantees of anything working the way you wanted… but try anyway, as they just might work out even better!

Different Stages Of The Journey…

Stage 1, Building from scratch, say yes to everything!
Start with your own vision and goals but be prepared to saying yes to everything! You need to gain experience, build a reputation, create networks and business relationships and get what ever you can that pays at this stage! This often means diversifying what you do as well as doing favours/mates rates/ loss leaders. Expect lots of hard work for little reward, and keep focused! It can also be fun and exciting stepping out and taking risks and finding your feet as you go…
Sometimes it’s helpful to hold down a part time job along side the freelance work, especially if you have bills to pay…

Stage 2 Developing: upping your game
Use the reputation that you are building to your advantage…
Set more realistic boundaries, Learn to say no.
Become more focused on what you do and stop doing too many things for free.
Begin to out source a little more, decide a pay scale that you will ask (even if its just expenses covered plus donation) You need to begin to up your own expectations and this also helps folks take you more seriously…
Keep on creating the opportunities/ events you want…
Look at branding/re branding
Web presence/
Join PRS. MCPS.

Stage 3, Fine Tuning
You still need to generate and keep developing your material, but at this stage you notice that more invitations begin to come your way… 
You can become a little more choosey in what you say yes to and have more creative and artistic overall control over what you do.
This doesn’t necessarily mean your work load is less, often when the game is upped there is a lot more at stake and success often brings new obstacles and pressures with it.
Continue to be strategic this could mean a higher investment… re pr, look at new league of PR out sourcing while maintaining the relationships you already have with venues, promoters, journalists… keeping an eye on new gate keepers, changing industry, maintain established data base, networks and web presence…
Continue to create the opportunities / events /products you want to make…

Success in one area does not always equal more work, there may be times when the external situations ie: venue closure or key person who has been championing you changes job or change in current trends, recession etc… can all hit and cause havoc! Learning to keep on adapting and rolling with the punches as they come is an on going lifelong process…


And sometimes its just all a matter of being that right person in the right place at the right time!

Ongoing Survival Tactics (in no particular order of relevance!)

Health and Stress Management
Financial insecurity, long hours, being your own boss, continually generating new work and creative products etc… can be incredibly stressful. Stress leads to bad health and that in turn creates more stress as if you don’t work you don’t get paid etc… it can all end up being one overwhelming vicious circle… Stress also drains you so that you have no energy left to be creative…
Finding ways to relax, and as much as possible keep on top of health can be an essential part of surviving as a freelancer, as well as an Artist. It doesn't need to be anything more than just going out for a walk- but its making sure you do that! As a friend has just reminded me- I walk the dog, essential down time away from everything and also forcing me to exercise and get out in the fresh air!

Working for yourself can also be a lonely experience, especially if you are an extrovert who needs to process ideas with other people. If this is the case gather a few folk around you that you can meet up with to chat things through and bounce ideas off, you can make this a formal or informal occasion… This will force you to think outside of your own perspective and may help to clarify goals or just get stuff off your chest! If you are an introvert the challenge may be actually building in down time stopping work and allowing yourself to reconnect back into everyday... this can be difficult as a creative zone is a hard place to leave once you've entered... Also making time for solitude after a heavy week of networking, admin etc... may well be essential to restore creative and personal energy for both extravert or introvert types...

Put down times/ holiday/ days  or at least hours off into the diary and then as far as is possible stick to them! keep the work phone/ emails off during these times!! 

Networking, researching, knowing where and who the ‘Gate keepers’ are…
Understand the nature of the industry and begin to choose how you play.
Learn how to network effectively, ask questions, be interested in the people you want to meet, don’t just pitch and talk about your self.
Data base, emails, names and follow up on any contacts you felt there was a connection with directly…
Maintain healthy relationships with those you network with, this is a key part of survival as you need folks to recommend you or think of you when a potential job offer comes your way

Find Ways of dealing with Criticism… (Essential for survival for the rest creative life) 
How to keep going after bad reviews?!…
When to take on board criticism- don’t invite it when you are too raw straight after a show/ gig… if possible choose a time when you have a bit of distance and clear head. Learn to differentiate between negative blanket statement pointless feedback and constructive criticism. Choose to take constructive criticism on board and work with it ultimately it will only improve your art…

Effective Marketing...
Flyers Posters/Viral Marketing/Email data-base/ Social Networking Sites
PR, and press releases (employ someone or learn how to write one)
Radio/ Listings/ Adverts/ Magazine/ Papers
Promo videos/ trailers/ demos
Gimmicks/ Give Away /Publicity stunts
Accessing  and utilizing other networks
Be strategic, know the difference between spamming and being effective

Keep on honing your craft... getting better at it and challenging yourself…
Open mics (are often pretty soul destroying, but can be good places to try out new material and get time in front of an audience) Writers circles, safe places to look at the craft of what you’re doing. Jam session with other musicians… etc… Filming/ recording live performances can be a great way to critic your own performance when you watch back and see what works and what needs to be worked on! Just putting in the practice and continually setting aside time to work on new material can help also...

Overcoming obstacles...
Anticipate potential problems, at this stage you’ve probably had your fair share already of nightmare gigs and dodgy promoters etc… bring spare technical equipment with you. Turn up to venue in plenty of time. Know what you want in technical terms for your sound and email promoter, engineer in advance.
Contracts… written confirmation of all details discussed with venue or promoter
colleague, outsourcing agent…
Sometimes you do everything in your power to make things work and something out of your control will sabotage it. You might have everything in place to do a great show, reviewers and guests are invited and your sound engineer turns up to the venue, drunk or stoned, gives you a rubbish mix on and off stage… Gutting… Try and make the very best of it that you can and pull out a professional and slick performance regardless- you come off looking professional and ultimately any discerning audience will say great show- pity about the sound, knowing the difference that lies there in…

Create the opportunities/ product you want...
Hire a venue and put on as close to an ideal version of how you would like your art to be seen as you can manage.
Film/ record/ photograph the event,
Be in control of as much of the environment as you can.
Set the bar high, but work within realistic budgets, a small space packed with 30 people creates far more buzz and energy than an empty hall with 30 people!
Book a studio and record, hire top quality producers, session musicians to work with you, (get an extra job to pay for it if needs be!)
Buy a good microphone and invest in technology to record your own product…
If you have a fan base, utilising their support can also be a good way to go about this, check out the Pledge http://www.pledgemusic.com/ website or Kickstarter http://www.kickstarter.com/ for more info on how to go about this...

Continually Seek Help and Inspiration...
Keep filling the well to try and prevent your creative self and ideas from drying up. Go and see stuff live, keep researching listening to, seeking out new material. Read blogs, watch TED talks…don’t get stuck in a rut… Be inspired by other artists and creative folk around you, this can be like a flint keeping you edgy and sharp…
Make use the your union, for advice / training etc its what its there for...
Don’t be afraid to ask advice from folks who you perceive as further down the road that you want to be…

Reading: entrepreneurs/ creative thinkers
Often providing insights and principles that can be transferred to both business and creative practice…
Below re a list of various folks whose ideas I’ve found helpful

Derek Sivers- Blog and you-tube… http://sivers.org/ How to create a movement leadership lessons from dancing guy!



Malcolm Gladwell- The Tipping Point http://www.gladwell.com/tippingpoint/index.html

Other Indie models and folks doing good things worth checking out...
Bandcamp…/Jon Gomm/Amanda Palmer/Tom Robinson Freshnet blog/Chris TT 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Life is Fight : A Tribute To Jackie Leven


The Spiral Earth website invited me to write a tribute to the great singer songwriter Jackie Leven
Jackie was a highly talented and respected singer songwriter, whose commercial success sadly did not reflect his widespread critical acclaim... he will be much missed! Below are the thoughts that I wrote.... www.spiralearth.co.uk

Yesterday (Tuesday 15th Nov) at 2pm I was sitting by a wood-burning stove in the open plan kitchen of Gill Stevens, a dear friend and current musical collaborator. We’d spent the morning working on pieces for our new project and had just stopped for a well over-due lunch break. I was in the middle of a discussion with Gill’s partner Dylan Fowler about rock n roll and the state of punk music and the parts it did and didn’t play in politics, when out of nowhere there was an almighty crash from outside. We looked out to discover that a pigeon had fatally flown head-on into a window and broken its neck- not a pretty sight. Moments later (after a cowardly ‘bagsy not cleaning it up‘ comment ) I stepped inside to check my phone messages and casually switched to scan the news feed of my face-book pages in typical voyeuristic- social media addicted style.  The words hit me with a force somewhat similar to the crash sound the pigeon had just made seconds before, high impact and head on. Jackie Leven was dead.

I didn’t know Jackie Leven well. This morning as Spiral Earth editor Dave Kushar invited me to write this piece my first instincts were to say ‘but how can I, who am I to comment on the life of this person who my path crossed with so fleetingly?’ But I find myself typing regardless.

I was first introduced to Jackie’s music from the cosy hospitality of Barton and Humber’s MTM music promoters Mark and Jan. Being good friends with Jackie and genuine fans of his work they offered up many entertaining anecdotal stories of their recent encounters with him and urged me to check out his music. I did so and in doing so I was not disappointed. Personally I’ve been a long time fan of the music of Kevin Coyne, and found that Jackie’s songs filled with portraits of struggling, eccentric under-dog type characters resonated with me in a similar way to those of Kevin’s music. It came as no surprise when I finally met Jackie to discover that he was also a Kevin Coyne fan.

When an opportunity arrived of sharing a gig with him on the stale beer scented stage of what was then Barfly in Cardiff a few years back I seized it. Watching Jackie play his barfly set, I remember looking around the room that was two thirds full and thinking it a crime that a performer of his calibre was not filling much larger venues. At the same time however, the grotty, sweaty grime of the venue didn’t detract but served, as a fitting backdrop to the gritty content of his songs and stories.  Engaged from the word go, Jackie and his music took me on a journey and I left a different person to the one I’d arrived as. First things first, the obvious one, Jackie Leven was a big man, filling the stage with his larger than life stories. But it seemed to me that he was also a man engaged with the tiny details. He had the ability of inhabiting a moment completely, reinterpreting a full spectrum of emotion inside a sentence or two. He was authentic. Very much aware of his own failings he didn’t pretend and had no time for anyone who did, taking the what you see is what you get approach.  A skilled guitar player with his own trademark blues style and a wordsmith who knew his craft. An engaging storyteller who could reel you in and hold you captivated with a self-deprecating humour and sharp, sometimes sardonic tongue that could as likely rip you to shreds as build you up. A performer and artist engaged with the ongoing battle of ‘eeking out a living as a musician and keeping on keeping on regardless of the outcome. Stating the obvious again here I know, but I guess it comes down to the power and gift of music and song, the transforming connection that it makes with an individual. Jackie and his music stirred me. Entertained me. Moved me. Amused me. Uplifted me. Challenged me. Stayed with me and travelled beyond the initial first listening and took root (as all good art does,) in some part of me.
After the gig we chatted about our common love of Kevin Coyne, and Jackie recommended that I go check out the music of Judee Sill and Karen Dalton (I’m guessing he may have suggested this to most female singer songwriters he met on the road!) Which I dutifully did and was rewarded by what I discovered in both of them!

I was recently involved in a songwriting project with Roma (gypsy) teenagers.
And one of the phrases that we used was the Romany saying  “Zivot Je Boj” meaning, ‘Life is fight.’  Thinking of Jackie Leven as an artist and a man, I find myself reminded of this phrase (not least of all as Jackie’s own mother was Romany.) And though there are countless stories that I’ve heard about Jackie and his temper and his crazy punk rock ‘n’ ways, I mean this fight in the most positive way it can be interpreted. It seems to me with my very limited knowledge of Jackie as a person, that whatever the circumstances he just kept on fighting. From the outset, having to leave his Glasgow estate for fear of his life due to gang threats. Fighting literally for his own life after being mugged and left for dead in London. Fighting to overcome the heroin addiction that followed. Fighting on behalf of others to setting up the CORE TRUST a holistic treatment centre for alcoholics and drug addicts. Fighting on as a solo performer all these years.

But the impression that is foremost in the front of my mind as I type is that of a person engaged in the struggle, the fight that is this thing called life and for myself as an artist I’m deeply grateful for the impact that both he and his music have made on me.