Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Living by Numbers



The current plan is to release the After School Video Club album in January.  Exciting isn't it?  An album.... WOW!  It'll be on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon MP3, So On and So Forth.

Well, I'm excited.  But maths - as maths does - does its best to keep the excitement in check.

As much as I've been able to work out, in February 2013 the iTunes store had 26 million songs available.  As I type this, it now has 43 million songs.   That means, assuming a linear progression (which it might not be), 894,736 new songs are made available every month, or 29,824 new songs every single day.



The album is probably going to have 16 - yes, SIXTEEN - tracks on it.  Wowzers - that gets the probability up a bit, eh?  Yes it does - what that means, is that on the very day it is released, a whopping 0.053% of all the new music released will be by After School Video Club.

Double wow with knobs on.

The democratisation of music is a wonderful thing.  The fact I, you, anyone, can release a record at any time that can be bought instantly by billions of people all over the world is simply extraordinary, coming from an era when even buying music could be tough, and releasing it even tougher.  Streaming now makes it even easier, bypassing that whole thought process about whether any particular song is worth it (oh the effort).  But the obvious downside is that we are all now drowning in a sea - an ocean - of stuff.  Much of it is doubtless terrible, but again I'm struck by the inescapable thought that this can't entirely be the case.  Lost Songs is all about the hidden gems of the past, but how many great songs are released every single day that will be heard pretty much only by the artists themselves, their best mates and their mums?  Of those 30,000 songs per day, even if only one percent are any good at all, that's still 300 good brand new songs, every single day, 110,000 per year, all the artists hoping against hope that someone outside their Christmas Card list may actually notice they exist.

Well count me and my fatalism in.  By arming myself with maths and facts and confidently expecting nothing, I have reason on my side.  But maths and reason never stopped anyone did it?  I've just read that 32,000,000 people in the UK buy a lottery ticket every week, armed with the knowledge that they have a 1 in 14,000,000 chance of winning that jackpot.



Who looks daft now, eh?



Monday, 2 November 2015

Where was I?

Well, after a few months I have a fantastic, if slender, selection of Lost Song videos.  Some real gems, some really terrific artists that are criminally forgotten and ignored, and all of them labours of love.  Yet sadly… there’s not quite enough videos to do what I was setting out to do.  I simply ran out of ways to say “does anyone have any old band videos kicking around #abitpatheticbynow #retweetmyarse”.  Fitting perhaps, that my love song to failure was itself failing.  Well how bleedin’ poetic.



Mildly gloomy about this, I needed a bit of space so I could get that most elusive of things – perspective.  Much of the album has been recorded very quickly.  The day job (or one of them) is music for TV, a world of impossible deadlines where too much has to be achieved in too little time.  As a result, I have studio where I can work incredibly quickly – from first germ of an idea to a form that sounds really pretty decent can take only a few hours.  When at it, I feverishly swap between guitar, drums, synths and vocals in a giddy haze – everything already set up ready to go and a gazillion sounds available at the click of a button.  And I love working that way – as the track takes shape, I resent every millisecond spent attending to boring technical things, swearing profusely at all this badly designed tech preventing me getting ideas out of my head at anything slower than the speed of light squared.

Which is all very well.  But of course when creating a masterpiece out of thin air that sounds like the greatest work ever recorded in the history of mankind in 6 hours flat, there comes the hangover the next morning.  Could it possibly be that this isn’t actually a sublime masterpiece, but is in fact just a teensy bit crap?  Or in fact a lotsy bit crap?  And at best if it reveals itself to still have potential, it usually it takes me longer just to tidy up the mess I left the night before than it did to record it in the first place.



So the album being thrown together in a haze was one thing.  My voice was another – both literal and metaphorical.  The greatest thing about my voice is that it’s always available when I am.  Co-singer Lucy on the other hand is pretty experienced and rather good at this whole singing lark.  How did my vocals work next to Lucy’s?  And then there was the whole issue of what on earth a long-in-the-tooth TV composer / sound designer / writer was thinking in writing original material in an industry where being over 30 ensures the same fate as the characters in Logan’s Run – instant death.  I needed a few months away to figure it out, metaphorically packing my things and heading to the hills for deep contemplation (whilst in reality just packing my things, walking back up to the house and flopping in front of the TV).  Itching to press play daily, I kept resisting.  I was gripped with the idea that every week that passed without succumbing to listening was another crumb of perspective eventually won.  And growing was the feeling that when I finally did, I’d discover I’d made aural ricin, fit only for declaring a biohazard and reporting to the appropriate authorities for safe disposal.

After 3 months or so, the day finally came.  Eyes shut, face grimaced… I pressed play.

Eeek.

The eyes peeked open.

The grimace relaxed.

I liked it.  I genuinely really liked it.  Pretty much all of it.  And promptly wrote another song in celebration, just to prove it wasn’t a quirk of history.  And immediately declared the new one the best of all.



So, as Ian Fletcher would say, that’s all good then.  Or is it?  Really?  What if I’m a minority of one about it being any cop, with my delusion merely being deeper rooted than anything a flimsy three months can expose?  What about that absurdity of doing it in the first place?  What, in the end, is the point of After School Video Club, exactly?  How many times have I watched this episode of the Big Bang Theory and will Penny ever go back to long hair again?



Then it just clicked… I’m indulging in my second favourite hobby - overthinking things.  For here is the revelation – drum roll please - After School Video Club is…

is…

is…

is what I do when I’m not doing anything else.




I write TV music, I do TV sound, I write scripts from time to time, I have friends (really I do) and family.  But then there’s what I do purely for fun, playtime with all those lovely toys I own to do stuff that pays the mortgage.  Some people make pots – well bully for them, I do this and so there.  It’s absurd that at 40-something I might actually record an album and ask anyone to actually listen to the damn thing, but context is everything.  This isn't about going on a Pyramid-Stage-Or-Die quest, this is about throwing all my musical loves into a big musical pot, baking it for 45 minutes under a moderate heat, letting it stand for a while and then shoving my face right in it.

Alright, but an album isn't really meant to just sit on one computer in the whole world now, is it?  Of course not Guy no it isn't, and so yes yes if anyone else in the world – literally, ANYONE – likes it too, then what a lovely joy that would be.  And if they don’t… well boo sucks.  Cos it’s just playtime.  It’s what I'm doing for fun.  Other musicians might have an RnB band they play in on Friday nights at 9pm down the Frog and Radiator, or at Jazz Club at 2am.  Me, ever the life and soul of the party, I sing songs in me shed.  And as mid-life crises’ go, compared to all the usual embarrassing clich├ęs, it’s as safe as houses.  Or sheds.

It’s as safe as sheds.

(not my actual shed)
So now you know the plan, and can no doubt instantly see through my paper-thin self-protection mechanism activated to deal with the insurmountable odds of it getting anywhere near double-digit sales.  Get ready world… a remarkably insignificant album has just passed quality control, and is destined for release.

Probably.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Seriously - what is wrong with the world?

Yesterday I met a simply lovely couple who used to be in a failed band.  Needless to say, my ears pricked up immediately.  Ooberman were right at the upper end of failure, mind - in the late 90s / early 00s actually had a Top 40 single (though they were at pains to point out that one week at #39 is about as unsuccessful as you can be while still technically being a Top 40 artist).  A typical story of terrible record company support, some bad luck and so on.  Nevertheless, it's a band you've never heard of that you might just have heard of.


So I got home late and thought I'd take a look at Ooberman.  Quickly found this, one of their first singles, Shorley Wall:


What on earth is wrong with the world?  Why do we elect old Etonians whose only mission in life is to make themselves richer and everyone else poorer?  Why does Malaria still kill half a million people every year when its easily preventable? How can we have the intellect as a species to diagnose climate change and yet not have the will to do anything about it?  And how is Shorley Wall cast aside while so much mediocrity is celebrated?

One of the ideas behind Lost Songs is the notion that there are real gems out there.  Actually discovering one par excellence is a rather strange experience - it actually makes me as angry as it does delighted that I now have this new brilliant piece of music in my life.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

From the 1992 vaults

Now this is what I'm talking about.  A clearout of the loft revealed this little gem, a band competition I videoed at London's Mean Fiddler in 1992.  6 disparate bands who all acquitted themselves well, at a prestigious London venue, none of whom have been heard of ever since.  Yes, I even tried googling - nada.

There's so much to enjoy here - the VHS tracking errors, the state of the art graphics and video effects, the inexplicable voiceovers at the start (for which I really should take responsibility - no, I don't know what I was thinking either, but they do have a certain charm).  And then there's the bands, a pleasingly varied and fun lot I'm sure you'll agree.

 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Dontcha think?

In 2009, 134,000 music CDs were released in the USA. Of those, over 50,000 never sold more than 100 copies. In a SINGLE YEAR. In ONE COUNTRY. As the mighty Mythbusters always say:



This, of course, is the very theme, the very soul of Lost Songs.  And in a clever ironic twist on this theme, we're failing to find just a tiny handful of those hundreds of thousands - probably millions - of lost songs.

The first half of the video is looking spectacular.  And then... black.  So this is a call for help - anyone out there got any other good pointers of places to try / forums to join / hashtags to tweet?  We need just 10 more links to youtube videos or similar of ex-bands who are up for it.  Please do leave a comment here or send an email if you have any ideas of things we haven't thought of.

In the meantime, the album is coming along very nicely.  A few more vocal sessions to go, and its pretty much there, ready for it's own virtually inevitable brush with indifference.  THIS, Alanis, is ironic dontcha think?

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Coming along nicely...

...well, mostly....

A couple of days ago I edited together the material we have, and if I do say so myself it's absolutely storming.  The videos we have are terrific, far better than I expected actually, and it's gonna be such a bittersweet blast seeing all this diversity lost to history put together in one place.  Neil McCormick (see Loving Neil) has graciously let us use his fantastic old Shook Up! material, which is a personal thrill.

So up to the end of the first chorus it's all going fabulously.  And then... black.  Need more videos!  And not too many either - I reckon a dozen more in total will cover it.  But where to find them?  Thus far Twitter / Facebook hasn't taken off, its all come through more direct contact.  The problem is - where do old ex-band members hang out?  Answer - everywhere and nowhere, hidden in plain sight all around us.  But they don't congregate together anywhere, so there's no specific place to target them.  It's frustrating knowing that right now on YouTube there are probably tens of thousands of videos which would be perfect - all essentially invisible.  By their vary nature, they'll likely have attracted little support.

Videos perhaps like this one, from e 4 echo, a relatively recent folk / punk band from Oxford.  Cracking video, and a glorious (and I'm told entirely intentional) two fingers up to AutoTune:



So to anyone stumbling upon this blog - rack your brains!  You will know ex-band members - send them a link and see if they fancy being part of the fun.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

What is a lost song, exactly?

Good question.  The defining two words I guess would be "commercial failure".  And when you think about it, that accounts for a pretty broad range of artists.

First you have what must be the largest group - those who played, gigged perhaps, made demos (uploaded to Soundcloud if its in the last decade), but never really released anything officially.  They have to number in the millions across the world. But then there's the high-achievers too - those who got further up the ladder by getting a record deal.  Shook Up! in the previous post were high achievers, as were the Thrashing Doves:



Two record deals and a support tour with Duran Duran, major success nevertheless always eluded them.  To me they share crucial DNA with our first group, in that they wrote songs that never fully found their audience.

I guess Thrashing Doves represent the upper echelons of success.  Plenty of bands sign up for record deals and never even got as far as a single record.  In my own past, our entire debut album stock went up in flames one night in a warehouse fire - in the resultant uninsured chaos we and the other new artists were all dropped from the small label and that, as they say, was that.

As the years have past, failure continues to fascinate and enchant me.  For every lost song lies a human story of struggle and often despair that no amount of "just believe in yourself" platitudes could ever really assuage.  Whenever Famous Singer is asked for advice to struggling artists, she will probably say to keep believing in yourself and not to give up, because in the end blah blah blah yeah yeah yeah.  I've never really bought it.

But then there's the T word.  Come on - isn't it all just down to talent?  Well of course a lousy song is a lousy song.  But I have my own cherished lost songs - not my own - from bands that just got passed over.  Talking Drums were a Glasgow synth band who released Reassembly in 1985, and I've played it ever since.  Even Radio 1 playlisted the album's first track Pretend A Stranger, but it inexplicably sunk without trace.  World, you were wrong - shoulda been a no1.

Talking Drums were high achievers.  Not so - as far as I know - with another band we played support to once in London (when I was in a different band to the warehouse fire one), Martin Amsell (Ansell?) and Absolutely Everything I believe they were called.  They had a song called "Looking for the Girl in the Red T Shirt" that I only ever heard that one night, and to me is a joyous classic - I can still just about remember it, still fun and infectious.  I can't even find him on Google now.  How many others are out there?

The loss of a good song is obviously a greater tragedy to the wider world than the loss of a bad one.  But frankly I even mourn the loss of the bad ones a little bit.  A crushed dream is a crushed dream....

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Loving Neil

Well, at the end of day one in this strange old venture, some tentative excitements out there. I've had a few solid offers... with a prevailing wind we might be a quarter of the way there already.

Was rather chuffed to get a retweet from Neil McCormick. The Telegraph music journo is something of a hero of mine - he wrote the book Killing Bono about his disastrous band experiences growing up as classmates of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. Shook Up! never quite reached the same level of commercial success as U2, with Lady Luck consistently giving them a good (and consistently inventive) kicking at every turn. As such, it's required and hugely entertaining reading for all those like me whose bands never quite made it - at least, unlike Neil, our own rivals didn't go on to be The Biggest Band In The World (whose members all come over as thoroughly decent chaps one and all incidentally).



Reading Killing Bono last year probably sowed the seeds of Lost Songs in my subconscious. It's like getting a warm hug to realise that there's others who've gone before you and failed probably even more spectacularly than you did.  Mind you, it helps anyway knowing that just as Neil found his own niche in a slightly different if related career, I did too. But I identified with the sheer passion of it all - Neil was always driven by a belief that their stuff was good. It's fun to laugh at terrible songs I guess, but it's much more poignant if the songs were actually decent.

(Incidentally, the film adaptation of Killing Bono sadly lacked the authenticity of the book, inventing silly gangster subplots and contrived rivalries to get it into a more conventional structure. Shame they couldn't find a way to have told the true story - stick to the book).

So anyway, cheers for the retweet Neil, and who knows - if I beg and plead enough maybe Shook Up! might feature in the Lost Songs video too. They're the most famous non-famous band out there.

Here we go...



The video is up, the trawl for fellow failurees (yes of course its a real word) begins.  Will anyone think of chartered accountant Trevor who used to be in bluegrass/punk iconoclasts Crusting Skinfight and link it to him?  Will Bob like the idea and upload for us?

All my usual self-loathing and pessimism is in place that accompanies anything new I do, so that's comforting.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Mighty Cliff-Face of Indifference

Let''s get the formalities out of the way first. Ahem.  Welcome to www.afterschoolvideoclub.com.  This is a blog to track the rise (if there is one) and fall (almost certain, unless of course there's no rise to fall from in the first place) of The Club.

Plan is for the debut, Lost Songs, to go up on YouTube next week along with a video.  Well, I say "video"... it's a bit confusing knowing what to call it actually.   It's a video-about-a-video, a call to crowd-source the real video, actually.  The aim here is to weave together old videos and pictures from about 20 different unknown ex-artists, from as far and wide as possible, who all disprove Warhol since they never really got to have their 15 minutes of fame.  They probably got about 4.  At best.

I reckon for every band anyone has ever heard of, there are another 37 that didn't get that far.  But each one of these had all the same hopes and dreams, and amid the deluded chancers a fair number of them had the talent to go with it.  Will talent always out?  Nope, I really don't think so.  Life has this astonishing way of finding endlessly inventive new ways to throw spanners into works, with callous disregard for collateral damage.  Yup, there will be as many different break up stories as there are lost bands.  I've little doubt that there are some undiscovered rough diamond songs in lofts and cupboards all over the world, with owners who to this day look back with fondness at their demos and sadness / bitterness / simmering rage that their efforts went undiscovered.

I'm still at it.  Old enough to know better, in the past 6 months I've written over a dozen songs, pretty good ones too.  Great fun to do, terrific therapy after a seemingly-endless other side-project, and I'm secure in the knowledge that soon they too will be lost among countless others around the world.   Well c'mon - I'm not 18 any more, so who's interested, really?

I've been moping around like this for months, on the one hand enjoying the sheer HURRAH of creation for its own sake while simultaneously harrumphing at the utter pointlessness of it all, gazing up at the mighty cliff-face of indifference carved from a media-saturated world.  Then with these bipolar voices in my head, before I knew it I'd written a 13th song.  Lost Songs - a self-referential headrush of a track.  And then as soon as it was written and recorded, I quickly realised what it really needed were more people just like me, the despondent army of millions, at least some of whom will have old pictures and videos of their glory days.  Just a couple of dozen of them will be more than enough to fill a bittersweet sub-4 minute music video I reasoned... names, places, dates of band death.  Glimpses into lost lives, in a giddy celebration of failure.  A cheap psychological trick?  Perhaps, but that never got in the way of comfort food now, did it?

Well, the song is sounding good, anyway.  Added some vocals today from the awfully talented Lucy Athey, which buffed it all up in no time.  Made it all sound more like a thing.  That's good, I hope.

So.  Feels eerie, typing this into an unlinked blog a week before everything gets fired off into the twittersphere.  The calm before... what, the storm?  Really?  Ha, I know better than that.  I'll no doubt get two retweets, half a dozen likes and a few heavy sighs from long suffering friends, culminating int the offer of a Polo mint and a firm clasp on the shoulder.  Or will it... could it... get Out There, reaching that disaffected slumbering army of loser soulmates?

I keep telling myself - I only need 20.  20.... can't be impossible... right?