Monday, 22 February 2010

Guide to Music Performance: The Professional Musician's Toolkit

This is the first part in a series looking at the Professional Musician's Toolkit. Here we will look at the practical side of being a musician: playing well.

There are 5 main areas of music performance:
  1. Music Theory - transferable
  2. Technique - instrument specific
  3. Musicianship - transferable
  4. Teamwork - transferable
  5. Stage Presence - transferable
Mastering each section to equivalent standards creates the best platform for development as a musician, for example, a brilliant technique with clever chordal progressions and crisp phrasing will amount to nothing without good teamwork with other musicians and understanding your audience.

One mistake I hear many musicians complain about is to focus too much on one of these core areas. Ever heard someone moan:

'I'm so much better than them but I don't make any money'

This response is prompted by someone who takes great pride in their technique, theory and possibly musicianship, but neglects the humility required for successful teamwork and the experience required for dynamic audience reading and stage presence - don't forget in order to master your performance you have to make sure everything you do 'looks easy' (read fluent), no matter how hard it is!

Music Theory

These are the building blocks for music. It is the way you structure your thoughts about music over time - not necessarily knowing how to read staves, transpose parts for horn in F or write out manuscript in the style of Bach. Music Theory is the grammar of the language that is music and as with any language it helps to form a structure on which to base your ideas.

Without theory you will find all other areas struggle or are only able to progress to a certain point in time as you begin to find it harder to communicate your ideas to your fellow musicians - imagine a novel written only in present first singular tense; yes, you would tell a story: I do this, I do that, I do that, I do this, but it would be no match for even the next level of grammatical comprehension, let alone a novel or Shakespeare's works!


This is all about how you play your individual instrument. It includes scales, arpeggios, chordal progressions, harmonics, pitch bending, fine tuning, maintenance and even posture and breathing. Technique is the muscle memory required to play notes. It is the ability to get sound out of your instrument and the better the technique, the more sounds and the more range you are capable of at more varying speeds.

This is the area that causes the most controversy as it is what most musicians will value the most - fair enough, as it is what will take the longest investment of time and money to achieve and so pride becomes inevitable for this particular skill. It is not the only requirement of a musician.


This is the way in which you combine both music theory and technique to create your sound. It includes dynamics, articulation and phrasing. In improvisation it also includes choice of notes and chordal progressions relative to other music (but this is a crossover with teamwork, which we will see later).

So, you know what the notes you could play are, you know how to play them on your instrument, now we look at Ways of varying your delivery:
  1. How loud or quiet, or how much of a change in dynamic through what period of time
  2. How short or long the note, how abruptly it begins or finishes
  3. The timbre of the note - how much weight or bright or dark the sound along with other effects or processes - most obvious with electric guitarists
  4. Phrasing is best described as imagining a particular melody or line of music as a sentence, it begins, flows together coherently, (even iambic pentameter flows to the end) and comes to a finish. There should be a logical flow to how a line is presented, or, artistically, there should deliberately not be any flow.]
  5. Music should be contextualised. It is not typically appropriate to play a Metallica's Kirk Hammett-esque ripped up solo for a twelve-bar blues solo at your local jazz club. I am not suggesting it isn't allowed - or hasn't been tried!
Most of this is done without thinking because it is the 'soul' of your music. Interestingly the contextualisation of music happens automatically through cultural influence where we see different genres of music as localised organic developments.

The sociologist in me would speculate that music is a carbon copy of current affairs, politics and civil mentality and that through studying it and its cultures you can piece together how people felt about different circumstances and see how situations developed or were dealt with - but that's another rant.


This is an interesting one, as it is not considered paramount importance straight away, but I would suggest that this is the lifeline of any aspiring musician. The ability to get on with people you meet as well as being reasonable and upholding professional integrity, and above all, working with others in an unselfish way.

Music will become convoluted and incoherent if members cannot understand each other or if one member chooses to solo or take the lime light all the time. The classic rock guitar solos would be terrible if you went to 5 hours of just Angus Young tearing it up all the time, non-stop, back-to-back, relentlessly. Similarly Oasis, famed for the utter resentment in the band, was not muddied in performance by one member jumping up and down trying to grab attention (in both examples, the whole band did it, to great effect.)

In summary, to have the wisdom to know where you lie in the band's overall sound and to blend (or stand out) appropriately is a key skill.

Stage Presence

Referring to live performance, this is the ability to choose an appropriate set, lineup, volume, banter between songs/commentary between pieces in order to make the audience feel at ease and have an entertaining (priority one) and fulfilling (priority two) time.

You must aim to be entertaining and engaging first and foremost. This will encourage repeat bookings. This will improve your performance and access to resources which will enable you to create your masterpiece. Very few achieve abstract messaging straight out of the can, it requires long-term development, an interesting back story (more on this in future marketing posts) and an understanding of what you are involved with/how to deal with different situations.

The seriousness aside, this is the most fun section - having done over 300+ gigs, I've done gigs where people have jumped on stage and thrown up all over the place, one where a sober man stripped naked in the middle of a town, others where everything you could imagine has been free to take as much as you choose, others that have been very prim and formal, many that have been full to bursting with very, very drunk nutters, and a couple with riots, death circles, world class professionals, local startups, celebrities, people who wish they were celebrities, playing with drunk people, playing with drugged people, playing with some of the most intelligent minds I've ever seen, playing in some of the most legendary places in contemporary music (100 club, for example) or some of the biggest venues (MEN Arena, Manchester) or some of the most unknown (someone's living room that fitted 2 grand pianos a full pa system and a 6 piece band as well as guests), some of the most expensive (Cambridge University Graduation Balls) and some of the simplest or most charitable.

Once you develop all the skill sets required to respond to different situations, you are able to achieve many interesting things and see many different places (and things! eek)

Theo Smith is a session musician from London, UK. He studies Music Management at University of East London.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Poppadom Paradox

"This is taking from a book by Julian Baggini called 'The pig that wants to be eaten'. I think it is an interesting observation in the persuit of globalisation, the 'glocal' promotions and in seeing into conflicts in today's society:

The Poppadom Paradox:

Im interested to know what we, as a planet, are trying to achieve in our global social cohesion as it seems a better understanding of our goals would help to unite humanity outside of war.

'As Life-transforming events go, the arrival of poppadoms at the table hardly counts as the most dramatic. But it gave Saskia the kind of mental jolt that would profoundly alter the way she thought.
The problem was that the waiter who delivered the poppadoms was not of Indian descent, but was a white Anglo-sSaxon. This bothered Saskia becaus, for her, one of the pleasures of going out for a curry was the feeling that you were tasting a foreign culture. Had the waiter served her a steak and kidney pie it would have been no more incongruous than his skin colour.
The more she thought about it, however, the less sense it made. Saskia thought of herself as a multiculturralist. That is to say, she positively enjoyed the variety of cultures an ethnically diverse society sustains. But her enjoyment depended upon other people remaining ethnically distinct. She could enjoy a life flitting betweeen many different cultures only if others remained firmly rooted in one. For her to be a multiculturalist, others needed to be monoculturalists. Where did that leave her ideal of a multicultural society?'

His commentary:
'Saskia is right to feel uncomfortable. There is a problem at the heart of liberal multiculturalism. It advocates respect for other cultures but what it values above all is the ability to transcend one culture and value many. This places a major constraint on the extent of its respect. Te ideal person is the multiculturalist who can visit a mosque, read Hindu srciptures and practise Buddhist meditation. Those who remain within one tradition do not embody these ideas, and so, despite the talk of 'respect', they can be seen onlyt as inferior to the open-minded multiculturalist.

There is something of the zoo mentality in this. The multiculturalist wants to go around admiring different ways of living but can do this only if various forms of life are kept more or less intct. Different subcultures in society are thus like cages, and if too many people move in or out of them, they become less interesting for the multiculturalist to point and smile at. If everyone were as culturally promiscuous as they were, there would be less genuine diversity to revel in. And so the multiculturalists must remain an elite, parasitic on internally homogenous monocultures.

It may be argued that it is possible to be both a multiculturalist and a committed to one particular culture. The paradigm here is of the devout Muslim or Christian who nonetheless has a profound respect for other religiions and belief systems and is always prepared to learn from them.

However, tolerane and respect for other cultures are notht esame and valuing all cultures more or less equally. For the multiculturalist, the best point of view is the one which sees merit in all. But one cannot be a committed Christian, Muslim, Jew or even atheist and sincerely believe this. There may be tolerance, or even respect, for other cultures, but if a Christian really believed that Islam is as valuable as Christianity, why would they be a Christian?

This is the multiculturalist's dilemma. You can have a society of many cultures which respect each other. Call that multiculturalism if you want. But if you want to champion a multiculturalism which values diversity itself and sees all cultures as of equal merit, then you either have to accept that those who live within just one culture have an inferior form of life -which seems to go against the idea of respect for all cultures - or you have to argue for erosion of divisions between distinct cultures, so that people value more and more in the cultures of others - which will lead to a decrease in the kind of diversity you claim to value.

In this concrete example, for Saskia to continue to enjoy a diversity of cultures, she must hope that others do not embrace multiculturalism as fully as she has."

Interesting paradox.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Creating a world for your customers to live in - Marketing and its direction in the modern environment

Theo Smith

Looking at BMW as an example of cutting-edge marketing tactics, we can see how the emphasis in consumer interaction has shifted from sales orientation into a dynamic, package deal. Today we want to buy into an experience, not just a physical product. We look at different options and think about aspects such as

· What is the environmental impact of the product I am buying?

· What is the company’s approach to business? (a prime example is Apple’s modern youth vs. Microsoft’s cumbersome heritage)

· What do other consumers think?

· How is the product being developed over time to match my needs?

Amongst other things, these aspects of how a company presents itself and its products to its sector are indicative of the change of focus. A brief history of how marketing has come about can help to put into context how some companies work, and more importantly can show us where to place our marketing focus in future projects:

The Production Concept – 1800’s – 1930s

The industrial revolution was retaliation to the lack of supply verses demand present in almost all sectors. Products were hand-made and took time to produce. The factories then made products on a large scale and the demand was catered for. There was no need for anything beyond having the stock ready to sell, because everything was in short supply.

The Product Orientation – c.1920s – 1964

Then because everything was produced to such a large scale, we achieved a surplus. There were too many factories producing the same products and this homogenisation was countered by product differentiation. Now we had an economy of many different products, but the focus for innovation was from the managers and owners themselves; the products were not always relevant to the market, their main remit was to be different, not necessarily functional or relevant.

The Sales Orientation – 1957 – 1998

This is when the clever stuff started happening and marketing as we know it today was invented. Managers began to choose which of the masses of stock they had access to (as a result of the product orientation and varied products) based on what their customers wanted. A good example here is how supermarkets began to develop, basing their stock on what was bought, letting the consumer decide what should be stocked. This rapidly streamlined all the legacy strategies that had been used (production, product concepts) and paved the way for modern retail with extensive consumer data collection. The Tesco Clubcard epitomises this marketing strategy, taking information on where you shop, what you buy, what combinations of items you buy, what you buy based on where things have been placed in the shop, how much you spend, your demographic profile, and many more. This clubcard also marked the beginning of the new era of marketing strategy where consumers are invited to care about the business and be personally involved. Tesco very simply offered clubcard points to tie consumers in, then offered further discounts on alternative services to create a working long-term relationship between business and customer:

The New Era: Marketing Orientation – 1988 – now

Now companies fight to make you care about them. Their PR reflects an interesting back story you can associate with, and they sell you experiences, not products. Using the internet and further data analysis, companies can target their demographics specifically in creating this experience: Disney Land does not sell a stay in a hotel and a trip to a patch of land with some metal frames that throw you around and some pretty scenery, it sells you an experience. Apple does not sell you a small, low-quality sound output versatile playback device, it sells you the iPod brand, it sells you a whole world of iTunes, the new apple library store and the AppStore, it tells you it is cool and you can be part of its club. This is backed up by economic theory, such as Rostow’s Take off Model, and Daniel Bell’s Post-Industrial Society.

Remembering the basics (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) along with the music-industry-specific Hear-Like-Buy mantra, you can work towards creating a world for your customers to live in.

In summary, a successful promotional effort tying in with a marketing effort to target your specific demographic for business is to focus on developing your service aspect of product delivery. Ask yourself the question:

How can my customer-contact be improved so that the customer experience of my service when delivering my product is best in my field?

In the music industry, this will be a compelling back story along with clear aspirations and good quality music, that is delivered professionally and consistently, matching the expectations your target demographic has.

Theo Smith is an occasional contractor to Wood Wind & Reed and a studio musician. He is currently studying Music Industry Management at University of East London, focussing on how the industry is changing and the development of new talent to embrace its ever-changing structures. The views expressed here are personal and do not represent the views of Wood Wind & Reed or its subsidiaries.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Your Guide to understanding the Music Industries today.

Theo Smith

First, I would like to let you know the music industries are the largest they have ever been. Contrary to the doom and gloom predicted by the press, it is only the plastic jewel cases for CDs that are declining in numbers and some very public copyright lawsuits that reflect some archaic business structures in the industries.

Secondly, it might be good news to you that now is the easiest time to enter the music industries as an artist as due to new technologies introduced at exponential rates over the last decade, we have a plethora of mediums through which to present our art.

We have seen some apocalyptic predictions for the recording industry, with articles such as this BBC speculation, ‘Rock Profits and Boogie Woogie Blues’, which suggests that the ‘music industry’ will never be as it was in 1996. This is a misrepresentation of the truth and a misunderstanding of the distinction between ‘music industry’ and ‘recording industry’.

The Recording Industry

The recording industry has seen a change in economic structure from Oligopolistic competition (The 4 big labels) into monopolistic competition, where there are many, much more equal, lower turnover recording labels, studios and artists. This means that the barriers to entry (that elusive record deal we all used to strive for) are lowered and the audience (consumer) decides based on exposure. The music industry is an exception to typical economic structures as there are no substitute goods – if you like one band and another band that you don’t like is cheaper to buy, you will not buy the lower priced band instead. We have seen that audiences instead find cheaper ways of attaining the same product such as the well publicised Napster or more recently Pirate Bay. It is the development of the artist’s fan base that is key in creating any income stream and the consideration of the economics of abundance – use the .mp3s and illegal downloads purely as a marketing sunk cost in the development of a fanbase in order that brand recognition can focus your audience on scarce resources you can then charge for: live events, merch, publishing, etc. More about income streams for artists can be found at Dave Kusek’s Income Streams for Musicians.

Startups and Early Career Development for Artists

There is no longer a lottery as to who will be the next big name, instead it is much more of a focus on the individual musician and their business prowess. The age of the rock star throwing things through hotel windows has finished, in order to survive in the industry today you need a strong marketing mind, good pr outlets, a concrete internet presence and the following formula represents the effective combination of required skills:

In summary, the music industry today has a lower barrier to entry, but is still focussed on the artist’s fan base. Because of new technologies such as social networking, mobile devices and other internet portals, along with the traditional marketing and PR techniques, artists are given a more equal chance of beginning their careers and a much more quantifiable way of measuring their impact through page views, fans and interactions. The new chart shows for each country’s top 40 are shifting from the amount of CDs bought (or even the much reduced .mp3 industry’s statistics) towards who makes the largest impact online which is reflected in live performances long term.

The Recording industry has declined whilst it reforms, but all other areas of music industries are increasing and taking over the focus of success for an artist in today’s climate.

Theo Smith is an occasional contractor to Wood Wind & Reed and a studio musician. He is currently studying Music Industry Management at University of East London, focussing on how the industry is changing and the development of new talent to embrace its ever-changing structures. The views expressed here are personal and do not represent the views of Wood Wind & Reed or its subsidiaries..