Mesmera: The freedom of independence

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Album 3, And All Is As It Should Be, Distant Activity, Distinctive, General, Icarus, Lightfields, Mesmera, Music, Obscurer, Pieces, Reason

Mesmera is, much like every one of my solo releases since 2014, an independent release. For most of my solo musical career I’ve written and released music independently, and I figured I was overdue talking about why that’s been the case.

When I first started out I, as I imagine a lot of musicians do, had this idea in my mind that getting signed and releasing an album through a label was kind of the “big goal”, this nebulous idea that somehow being signed to a label would validate my musical output up until that point. I had already released a bunch of music for free on-line, and in retrospect I don’t think I fully appreciated the following I’d acquired by doing so. While this seems to be less of a big deal nowadays, releasing music independently to an international audience in the late 00s was a bit of a daunting prospect – especially to someone who had never put out a “proper” release before, and had no idea of what to expect or even what to do. It wasn’t my initial intention to release my first album independently, but that’s how things worked out.

Album #1: Distant Activity

In 2008 I released my first album, Distant Activity. This album was comprised of tunes written between 2006 – 2008, and I’m still incredibly happy with how it turned out. It was written and produced in a variety of bedrooms and student houses in totally inappropriate acoustic conditions using a laptop, Reason, a microphone, a guitar, and a Behringer audio interface. Once I had a mostly-finished version of the album to hand, I set about sending out demos and copies of the album to as many labels and individuals as I could think of. I must admit, I’m still pretty atrocious at the whole “blatant self-promotion” aspect of releasing music independently, and I can only surmise that I was probably worse at it in 2008. I received a lovely response from the good folks at Magnatune, but outside of that – nothing. Nada. Not a “thanks, but we’re not interested”, not a “good lord this is awful, go away”. Not a thing. This was initially a little dis-heartening.

A little time passed and I had a completed version of Distant Activity ready to go. The record was mastered, the artwork was ready, and I was just sitting on it. Rough around the edges, very much a product of its environment, but I was really pleased with how it turned out. One day I started thinking “you know what? I’m really happy with this, why haven’t I released it already?”. It was done, and I was sick of sending e-mail messages and CDs out to a seemingly ambivalent world… so I started taking steps to get it out there myself. I had a small run of CDs duplicated, I signed up for digital distribution through CDBaby, and because independent digital outlets weren’t much of a thing back then (to my knowledge) I decided to start selling it through my own website.

I had no idea what I was doing back then (some things never change!) – I hadn’t even figured out a proper release date for the album beforehand, it just came out when it came out. All that said, I was thrilled to see that people were buying CDs and checking out the album through Magnatune / CDBaby / iTunes / whatever. I was getting frequent feedback both directly and on forums, people were leaving messages on Myspace (yes, this was still a thing), it was an absolute blast. All of this was going on when I probably should have been paying more attention to my final year of studies at university, but I loved the experience. All of this was also going on while I was still getting my toes wet with the world of music licensing, which would prove to be a much smarter direction to go in.

This was a pattern I repeated somewhat with Lightfields, which I initially released independently in 2010… albeit this time I actually had a release date in mind before I released the damned thing!

And All Is As It Should Be

Fast forward to 2014, and I’d had a few label releases by this point (a topic I may delve further into in the future!). Distant Activity and Lightfields were re-distributed by Distinctive Records, And All Is As It Should Be was released through Lost Language, and my follow up Icarus was released through Distinctive Records. All of these are albums that I am incredibly happy with, and in retrospect I feel a large part of my experience in producing Icarus comes down to my own personal attitude towards it rather than anything on Distinctive’s end.

Icarus was a slog to complete. Distant Activity and Lightfields were two totally different albums stylistically, and rather than writing whatever felt natural I spent too much time thinking about audience and label expectations. Should I lean more towards the style I established with the former? Should it sound more polished? What if people are expecting something more like Lightfields? Why do all of my mixes sound awful? I ended up going through a multitude of album revisions, with the first rough cut being completed in 2011. I couldn’t bring myself to move on from it, and it was drove me nuts.

Following the release of Icarus I realised I needed to try a different approach, and I remembered how much fun I’d had releasing music independently – at this point, it had been over three years since I had done so. I also figured that if I was going to do that, I wanted to take the opportunity to try out new ideas. I had come to love the idea of rewarding fans for purchasing my music rather than punishing people for having the audacity to seek it out. I also loved the idea of working on a release that didn’t have an over-arching concept, that didn’t impose any kind of expectations on myself, and that felt completely natural to write. That release was Pieces, and I absolutely thoroughly loved working on and releasing it. People responded really well to the pay-what-you-want approach. As such, I decided to adopt a pay-what-you-want model for all of my independent releases, and rewarding fans while encouraging listeners became my go-to model for releases. This is a model I adopted for subsequent releases Obscurer and The Broken Divide and now Mesmera (whew, at last – bringing this back around to the album at hand!).

Mesmera continues in this tradition. In many ways I consider it a bit of a spiritual successor to And All Is As It Should Be (which I considered a spiritual successor to The Dawn EP at the time…), but it’s what I wanted to write. It came together naturally because it scratched an itch I’d had for quite a while, and that’s why I was able to bring in ideas from 2016 despite having only “properly” started working on it in 2017. It was wonderful to be so hands-on with every single aspect of the creation process, as in many ways creating the music is only one step (albeit a large one) towards completing an album. I went through several artwork revisions (with my incredibly patient buddy Tom Pritchard), track-list orders, mix approaches… but it never became obsessive or manic, and it never felt like a slog. It always felt like I was working toward something I wanted to create at the time, and that’s something I feel I lost sight of while working on Icarus. Again – can’t stress this enough – I am 100% totally and absolutely thrilled and happy with how Icarus turned out, but I’d rather not repeat that creative process again if I can help it!

Mesmera is available NOW through Bandcamp. You can listen to it in its entirety and download it from my Bandcamp page. Bandcamp subscribers also get access to an exclusive audiophile master, along with a beatless arrangement of the album. It’s also available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

Mesmera: The blank canvas

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Geekery, General, Mesmera, Music, Obscurer, Patch design, Pieces, Reason, The Broken Divide, Tom Pritchard

Starting a new personal project is frequently a rather daunting prospect, and in my case is something I tend to fall into rather than something I tend to sit down and consciously decide upon. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I may have written Mesmera’s formative tracks in late 2017, but I certainly didn’t set out with the initial end-goal of creating an album. Sometimes it works to carefully consider everything beforehand, and that’s how I generally approach my production music – but when it comes to solo material, I like to see where it takes me.

…oh boy

So where on earth do you start with that approach? Well – as long time listeners/followers may have noticed, I have a bit of a habit of rotating which instruments and sounds I use on any given project, and how I approach the process of composing and arranging the tracks themselves.

In some instances, these decisions are carefully considered beforehand and are directly informed by the type of music I’m attempting to create. In other instances, these decisions happen quite naturally and, by contrast, directly inform the music I have yet to create. The former approach is generally the one I adopt when I’m working on a particular project to a specific set of guidelines – for example, if someone’s asking for a collection of epic cinematic production tunes then I’m probably not about to bust out my collection of time-stretched wind-chime samples (which totally isn’t a thing but I feel it should be). The latter approach is frequently the one I adopt when I’m staring at a blank canvas and need a place to start – frequently, but not always (see also: Obscurer, where the choice of instrumentation was very deliberate and directly affected the sound and style of the album). Mesmera definitely falls into the latter category.

Following the metaphor of approaching a blank canvas, this selection of instruments and sounds is something I frequently refer to as my “palette” and, while there may be shared elements between projects, they tend to shift about from project-to-project. In the case of Mesmera, I can break down the palette into a selection of very specific elements – some of which I’ll go into here.

Europa in Reason 10

Europa. Lots and lots of Europa: more specifically, Europa patches from Europa Relay. I created this sound-bank shortly after the release of Reason 10, and my heavy use of it had a very direct impact on how my ideas sounded right from the start.

Polysix. This has become a staple of my music since around 2014 or so, and I use it way more than is healthy for things like synth arps and bass drones. It’s straight-forward and always sits nicely with whatever I’m working on. I’ve been considering rotating this out of my palette for bloody years and it still hasn’t happened.

– Acoustic guitars. In this instance, I ended up re-visiting the idea of using lots of simple plucked arps in a similar manner to how I ended up sprinkling acoustic guitar parts all over And All Is As It Should Be. There are a couple of parts where I strum out a few chords, but I really liked adding an extra sense of rhythm with guitar arps, sometimes layered up with other acoustic instruments to vary things up a bit.

– Acoustic percussion. This was something I naturally gravitated towards while working on Mesmera, and is something I used in tandem with the drum sounds from DrumSpillage (below). I realised that I had a habit of relying primarily on electronic kits and traditional acoustic drums in a lot of my music, so I decided to broaden my horizons a bit for Mesmera and ended up bringing in a lot of ensemble percussive elements. This is particularly evident on tracks 1 and 3 (Standing On The Precipice and Everything Felt New, respectively), and runs throughout the album.

DrumSpillage

DrumSpillage. I’ve been using DrumSpillage to roll my own electronic drum hits since I first picked it up a few years ago. I had always struggled to find a really shit-hot drum soft-synth for solid drum hits, and while I have a few favourites that I still use for percussion (namely MicroTonic, love that drum synth!), DrumSpillage was the first where I really thought “woah, this is EXACTLY what I’m after!”. I tend to rotate this into and out of my palette purely because sometimes I just want to drop a sample into a track that I know is going to work without going through the process of rolling my own sounds – but that’s entirely on me and has nothing to do with the instrument.

This is by no means a comprehensive selection of everything I used on Mesmera, but a lot of these particular instruments and sounds find their way across a multitude of tracks. The fun thing about this is that I tend to naturally gravitate toward different instruments and rotate different elements out of my palette almost immediately upon completing a project. Right now I seem to be gravitating towards a different set of sounds, and I have no doubt that this will somehow inform the next personal project I inevitably end up working on.

One thing I like to strive toward when creating an album is a sense of cohesiveness throughout, and gravitating towards a palette in this manner is one way of accomplishing this, even if it tends to happen almost by accident in some cases. Another good example of this is how I ended up creating a lot of the tunes on Pieces – because I was so utterly reliant on the sound-banks of Tom Pritchard Sound Design at the time, the tracks sounded somewhat connected despite some of them being written years apart.

But it’s not necessarily just the sounds that reflect how an album shapes up, but how I get those initial ideas down and arrange them into something resembling a complete song. Going back to Pieces, I ended up using Reason’s Blocks functionality an awful lot to get a semi-complete 8-16 bar loop going, and then work backwards from that. This is a nice approach to take because it means you already have a destination to work toward – from there you can decide how to build towards the destination and, upon reaching it, decide where you want to progress from there. This is also an approach I tend to adopt for a lot of my production music, and it’s an approach I adopted when working on my live-stream music making sessions.

In the case of Mesmera (and The Broken Divide before it), I took a much more linear approach to arrangement – starting from the beginning and going from there. This approach tends to lend itself to a more “progressive” arrangement (in the sense of “things progressing”, not “15-minute prog epic”) in that the journey informs the direction you’re going to take. I tend to follow this approach when working on a lot of my own personal projects because it means I’m less informed by pre-conceived ideas, and it gives me a little more flexibility to go off on a tangent if I decide to explore a different direction.

Mesmera is available NOW through Bandcamp. You can listen to it in its entirety and download it from my Bandcamp page. Bandcamp subscribers also get access to an exclusive audiophile master, along with a beatless arrangement of the album. It’s also available to stream & download from a wide variety of digital distribution outlets.

The Broken Divide: Fragments

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Music, Neffle, Obscurer, Pieces, The Broken Divide

I started writing what would eventually become The Broken Divide towards the latter half of 2013. This was coming off of the back of the release of Icarus (which was released in April 2013) and a couple of other production albums. For the first time in a long time, I was working with a completely blank slate. Being in a similar situation right now (although, as of writing, I’m currently working on another project which is keeping me very busy and sounds amazing), that particular feeling of starting fresh and working on something completely new is both incredibly exciting and daunting.

Generally speaking, when I’m working on a production album or doing some other kind of freelance work, I’ll be working to a very particular specification or purpose. That’s sort of the whole point. Over the past several years I’ve taught myself to be flexible in the face of stringent specifications, and nowadays I actually find having a place to start to be hugely beneficial. I’ve never experienced a creative block while working on a job, and I think having that initial direction is a huge part of why that’s the case.

This was definitely not the case with The Broken Divide.

In a strangely similar fashion to Pieces, a lot of the writing process for The Broken Divide was fragmented into clusters of tracks. Over the course of writing the album, I stuck to the same general source of inspiration (which I detailed in a previous post) that drove me to write the title track way back in 2013, but it was a tough process.

When the ideas were coming, it felt completely natural to want to express these ideas and emotions. It’s also worth bearing in mind that I was working on a lot of other audio-related stuff during the creation of The Broken Divide… I knew I wasn’t tied to a particular deadline, so I wanted to let it all happen naturally. I experimented a lot with different ideas during the creation of the album, which is why I ended up with releases like Pieces and Obscurer. It was a real reminder of why I enjoyed releasing music independently so much – when you’re working with audio for a living, there’s a wonderful sense of freedom in having a completely open creative outlet.

When the ideas weren’t coming, it was frustrating. I knew I was onto something that I wanted to release and put my name on, and after writing what I would consider to be the second “cluster” of tracks, it was particularly frustrating because I knew for sure that, with what I’d already hit, there was at least an album’s worth of further exploration in the source material. The clusters were almost forming their own narratives, and that was something that really excited me.

Having a clear idea of what you want to do and knowing that you’ll get there eventually is fantastic from the point of view of having something to strive toward, but it’s creatively frustrating in the sense that you just want it all to be out there. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely adore the creative process of writing music. I love it to bits, and when I’m really into it… I’m really, really, really into it. That’s why I do it! But there’s something incredibly satisfying about getting these ideas out, taking a step back and realising “yeah, that’s exactly what I wanted – and I made that”.

After completing this second “cluster” (which was around mid-late 2014 or so), things slowed down

This was nearly a thing.
This was nearly a thing.

for The Broken Divide. I did some more production work, was busy with sound design work, released Pieces, worked on the Neffle material… it was a fantastic time creatively, but during this break from The Broken Divide I started to doubt whether I would be able to complete it as an album. I started thinking about alternative release methods and, towards the end of 2014, gave serious consideration to releasing what I had as a series of EPs.

“So why didn’t you, then?”, you may be wondering. Well… for the past few years, I had an annual tradition of writing a load of music in October. I called these sessions “October Sessions” – original name, right? The idea was to write a load of sketches, and just see where it took me. It’s how I got started with Pieces, and in 2014 I had another really good burst of creativity during October. I started experimenting with the idea of mixing some of the ideas from these sessions into what I already had for The Broken Divide, and I liked the results… initially. I even sent this weird mish-mash of an album to a few people and said “hey guys, this is my album!”.

After a couple of months had passed and the new year had settled in, I realised this was a terrible idea. I love what I already had for The Broken Divide, and I loved what I already had for my October Sessions – but the two were not supposed to completely co-mingle, and it was tonally jarring to listen to it like that. But! It made me realise that I knew for sure that I could finish The Broken Divide, and that the parts that worked as an album worked really, really well for me from the point of view of continuity and narrative. It just needed one final push. Knowing that I wasn’t in a rush to release it, I made the decision to hang onto it until it was a complete album. As far as I’m concerned, that was a good idea. As a whole album, there was a really solid sense of coherence and progression that would have been missing from a series of EPs. That said, I still like the idea of releasing EPs while working on an album – I’m glad I held off this time around, but next time around it might be cool to release a series of EPs in advance of an album… as it transpires, albums take a really bloody long time to write!

In any case – the final push came in 2015. I ended up with a mixture of vocal and instrumental tracks during this final push, and once I slotted those into the existing collection of tracks it just brought everything together in a ridiculously satisfying way. I started sending out this pre-mastered version to a few friends, and I knew this was it. At the end of the year, I set myself a release date that would give me plenty of time to get things finalised – after all, I still needed to sort out mastering, artwork, bonus materials…

The Broken Divide is available NOW through Bandcamp. You can listen to it in its entirety and download it from my Bandcamp page. Bandcamp subscribers also get access to an exclusive audiophile master, along with bonus tracks and instrumentals.

Bandcamp subscriptions

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in AdFi, Distant Activity, From Out Of Nowhere, General, Lightfields, Music, Obscurer, Pieces, Production music, Subscribers

So… I realise it’s been quite a while since I last posted a proper update here.

To be perfectly honest, I had been planning on waiting until I gave this site a complete overhaul, but I figured it had been such a long time since my last update that I should probably elucidate some of the ideas I’ve got for next year. So – here goes!

2015-12-17 17.03.21

Starting in 2016, I’m going to be using Bandcamp subscriptions. Basically, what this means is that – for an annual flat fee – you’ll have access to the following.

  • Immediate access to my entire Bandcamp back catalogue, including all bonus extras. This means that you’ll get access to my independent solo albums (including Distant Activity, Lightfields, Pieces, and Obscurer), along with all the tasty bonuses – i.e. for now, the audiophile & extended versions of Pieces.
  • Full access to all future Bandcamp releases (including all extra bonuses) while your subscription is active. As soon as I release anything, you’ll be notified and will receive full and immediate access to the music in your format of choice.

“But Adam!”, I hear you say. “All of your Bandcamp music is Pay-What-You-Want! Why would I pay for an annual subscription when I can already download your music for free?“.

That’s a fair question – and I guess besides the obvious “I like money and I need your support to sustain my extravagant Fabergé egg addiction“, I should probably throw in something extra… which leads me nicely onto:

  • Access to an ongoing series of SUBSCRIBER EXCLUSIVE releases.

“But Adam!”, I hear you say. “What the hell. Why are you going to lock future releases behind a paywall?”.

That’s another fair question – again, I guess besides the obvious “I like money and I need your support to sustain the lifestyle to which my cat has become accustomed”, I should probably explain what sort of thing I have in mind for these exclusive releases, and what that means for my future album releases.

First up: All of my future “main” albums/EPs will still be available as PWYW releases to all non-subscribers. The extra content (bonus tracks, alt. masters, instrumentals, etc.) will be subscriber only, but the main meat of the albums/EPs will still be available in the exact same manner as before.

The reason for making this bonus content subscriber-exclusive is two-fold: obviously, there’s the aforementioned “I like money” angle. Also, my current process of manually e-mailing out codes to people is pretty archaic, and it’s only going to get worse as I release more bonus content (which I absolutely assuredly will be doing). By doing this, it’ll automate the entire process. For anyone who’s received a dodgy code or couldn’t get the bonus content to download properly, this will probably come as a welcome relief.

Secondly: I should probably explain what sort of thing I have in mind for “subscriber exclusive” releases. Here are some of the ideas I’m working on:

  • Previously unreleased production music
  • Unreleased, re-mixed/re-mastered archive material
  • Music from my “October sessions”
  • Hardware jams and extended sessions

…and so on. Basically – music that I’m really, really, really happy with, but wouldn’t fit into a “standard” release.

I understand that, right now, it sounds like this requires a bit like a leap of faith as there is no guarantee of the kind of material I’m going to be releasing as exclusive content. That’s totally fair. What I will say is that I have at least three releases planned for next year, two of which are going to be subscriber exclusive. As soon as I release some sort of exclusive content, I’ll make it available for non-subscribers to stream so you can at least get a taste of what to expect.

Onto the pricing: Annual subscriptions are going to be set at £15, but until the first exclusive release I’m going to enable early-bird annual subscriptions at £10. The first exclusive release will be coming in January. So.., right now, grab yourself a nice Christmas treat 😉

On a personal note, this is all a bit of an experiment for me – much like the unorthodox release of Pieces, I want to try something new out. I want to make sure I’m not standing in the way of people who want to listen to my music, but I want to say “thank you” to people who choose to support me. For most people, the appeal of Bandcamp subscriptions is in gaining access to a musician’s entire back catalogue – and I guess that’s still the case here… but I really like the idea of sharing my less heavily publicised output with people who really want to check it out. So, that’s the plan.

You can check out my Bandcamp subscription page here.

October compositions

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in And All Is As It Should Be, General, Music, Pieces, Production music

Wow. I’m still quite overwhelmed by the response to Pieces. Thank you so much to everyone who has checked it out over the past couple of months, it really means a lot that it’s been such a popular release… especially given the experimental nature of it’s release! So far it looks like the audiophile master hasn’t been a massively popular choice (though, I must admit, I suspected that would probably be the case), but I’ve been overwhelmed at the response to choosing to release it as a PWYW compilation. Thank you so much to everyone who has bought it through Bandcamp, and I hope you’re enjoying the bonus tracks!

Anyway, I thought it’d be a good idea to let you know what I’m planning on doing this month. October has been a pretty special month for me over the past few years, and I plan on continuing this semi-tradition this year. But first, a little background.

In October 2011, I started working on a few ambient re-workings of existing tracks. I continued working on new tracks in a similar style once I’d re-worked three tracks. These tracks became And All Is As It Should Be, which was then released in 2012.

In October 2012, I wrote a large collection of songs that would later form the backbone of Pieces. A lot of these tracks were picked up for production use, and a lot of these tracks were used on Pieces. Two of these remain unreleased (last time I counted!), and I’m sure they’ll make an appearance at some point.

In October 2013, I wrote a few songs that… erm… I’m keeping to myself for now. I don’t want to sound cryptic, but I will say that they formed the foundation of what I’m hoping will be a future release. I also wrote some more tracks for Pieces.

And this year, I plan on writing lots of short ideas, similar to what I did back in 2012. I have no idea what I’m going to do with them, and I have no idea what style they’ll take. So far, it’s going in a direction I hadn’t anticipated… which is great! Who knows where this idea will take me.

Pieces: Out Now!

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Music, Pieces, Reason

Pieces it out now! Did I mention that it’s free? Grab it now, you fool! 😀

“Pieces” is a compilation of previously unreleased works by UK-based musician & producer Adam Fielding, written & recorded during 2012-2014, and released in August 2014.

The main free release of “Pieces” is available to all to download in the format of their choice.

Following directly on from both “Icarus” and his work for TV, film, and commercial use, “Pieces” is an exploration of Fielding’s eclectic range of influences and inspirations. While maintaining a consistent aesthetic throughout, “Pieces” retains an incredibly earnest and varied impression of Fielding’s writing & production styles, resulting in a collection of music that is as honest as it is diverse.

From the euphoric, post-rock tinged opening of “A Call To Action” through to the moody, introspective electronic workings of “Sleepless”, organic instrumentation combines with precise electronics to offer listeners a memorable melodic experience combined with lush atmospheric production on a truly epic scale.

Pieces is available to download now in your format of choice. Everything that you could possibly want to know about this release has been covered already, but I’m still open to the idea of writing more articles related to its creation.

And with that… I would like to take this opportunity to say a HUGE thank you to every one who pre-ordered Pieces! Thank you so much, and I hope you enjoy it!

Next stop… album 4. Ho ho ho ;]

Pieces: Everyone likes free stuff

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Distant Activity, General, Icarus, Lightfields, Pieces

So, Pieces is out in just over a couple of weeks, and you’ll be able to download it for free. I’d just like to take this quick opportunity to say a huge thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered the extended/audiophile versions so far – your support genuinely means a great deal to me, and I’m looking forward to sharing the extra goodies with you all.

Name Your Price, eh?
Name Your Price, eh?

So – on to the topic at hand: all of my larger independent releases so far have been paid-for releases, so why the sudden change with Pieces? And, for that matter, why on earth am I now offering my previously paid-for albums as pay-what-you-want offerings? Yes, I’ve released free EPs and singles before now, but not albums. Why the sudden change of heart?

Well, there are actually a few different reasons as to why I’m doing this – but I’d like to preface this by saying that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with releasing albums with a price attached, or for free, or however an artist wants to release an album.

Pieces is my first independent release in about four years and, frankly, I thought it’d be fun to try something new! I’ve released free EPs and singles in the past, but I’ve always been a bit wary of releasing what is, essentially, a free album. In some regards, the very nature of Pieces is a bit of an experiment because it’s not what I would typically classify as a normal album (as I’ve detailed previously), so I felt a little safer in the knowledge that it could all blow up in my face. I have attached a monetary value of zero to this project, and I am going into it with every expectation that I won’t make anything from it. Before now, I’ve seen artists and content creators release material using a pay-what-you-want model, only to turn around and get pissy at customers because they aren’t paying enough for their material. As far as I’m concerned, that is an absurd stance to take, and if you expect everyone to pay for a release then you should damn well attach a monetary value to it! In essence, by putting out Pieces as a PWYW release I am removing any financial expectations from it. I fully expect to make nothing off of this release, and the fact that people have pre-ordered the extended version so far has already surpassed my expectations, and I am hugely grateful to anyone who has chosen to support me despite there being absolutely no obligation to do so. That’s amazing, and – in a way – has already validated this experiment, in my eyes.

Secondly – and this relates directly to my re-pricing of Distant Activity and Lightfields as PWYW releases – I want people to listen to my music! I don’t want to get in the way of that. If people want to listen to an album, then you’d better believe that they’re going to find a way to do so, regardless of whether they want to pay for it or not. I could talk about the ethics behind content piracy until the cows come home, but my number one aim is for people to listen to and enjoy my music. I’ve never made a lot of money off of album sales, and I’ve never released an album in the hopes of making a quick buck. In a sense, re-pricing my earlier output is my way of putting my money where my mouth is – obviously I’d love it if people would continue to choose to support my work financially, but I don’t live in a fantasy land where I expect to live off of album sales alone. There are plenty of people out there who manage to do just that, and I applaud those individuals. It’s bloody hard. I just want to make my music available to as many people as possible, so it’s my job to let people download it easily and in their format of choice. Conversely, my releasing my music essentially for free is not a declarative statement that I believe people should feel entitled to have whatever they want (content wise) for free. I don’t agree with that. But, with regards to my own music – it’s my personal decision, not some kind of bold statement.

Thirdly – it’s a digital-only release. As I said before, I don’t expect to make anything off of this, and it costs nothing to release an album on Bandcamp. That’s awesome. I have zero overheads in that regard, and while Pieces took a hell of a lot of effort and time to put together (as every one of my releases has), I’m in a pretty financially neutral position from the get-go. I decided to release Pieces through iTunes, Amazon, Spotify et al because, once again, I don’t want to impose any kind of barrier to people who want to listen. Because my option in terms of releasing a free album via those services is restricted, I’ve decided to release the extended version through those services. Obviously, I’d much rather people choose to support me via Bandcamp but, again, I don’t want to get in the way of people listening to my music. Unfortunately, releasing music through iTunes costs money, but it’s really not a huge amount, and that’s a cost I’m happy to swallow.

I know it sounds like a giant cliché, but I am not putting out albums to make money. I release music and work in other fields related to audio to that end, and it’s incredibly rewarding to be able to release solo material without having to make any compromises. I do, however, feel that this was compromised slightly with my most recent label releases, but that had more to do with personal psychological issues than anything else – I wasn’t working to a deadline, and I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted.

With all this talk of separating music from financial value, though, I feel as though it would be remiss of me to suggest that I think my music has no value. If that were the case I would have stopped writing music a long time ago! As you’ve read, there are lots of little reasons as to why I thought this would be an interesting move, and none of those bear any relation to my own personal views on my musical output.

Ultimately, I stand by every single one of my releases and, though there are always things I would change about them in retrospect, they represent very specific periods in my life… and that’s something I would never want to interfere with, and it’s something I feel incredibly grateful to be able to share with people… well, not only that, I feel incredibly grateful that there are people out there who would want to share in that.

Regardless of whether you choose to support Pieces financially or not, I sincerely hope that some of you out there enjoy it and connect with it in one way or another. That’d be neat.

Pieces: What’s in a name?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in And All Is As It Should Be, Civil Protection, General, Pieces

Pieces is a strange collection of songs. You may have noticed that I haven’t really been referring to it as an “album” over the past couple of weeks wherever possible (though, it’s always easier to label a collection of songs as an “album”, so now and then I take the easy route!), and there’s a very deliberate reason for that.

"Pieces v1.0"
“Pieces v1.0”

In my eyes, an album is something that was written & arranged to take the listener on a very deliberate journey – a collection of songs that follow a specific theme, or a deliberate series of themes, designed to complement each other. Where some people may refer to certain album tracks as “filler”, in my view it’s much more important whether such tracks work in the context of an album taken in its entirety than as stand-alone tracks. It’s along this way of thinking that I didn’t refer to And All Is As It Should Be as an album for a very long time; AAIAISB was more of a collection of selected ambient works, and while I can now say with absolute certainty that it has a strong journey-esque feel to it, it was certainly never written with a particular goal in mind. AAIAISB started life as a series of ambient re-works of existing tracks because I thought it’d be an interesting exercise, and it was something I found myself completely absorbed in once I got going. The aesthetic came as a natural extension of what I was doing, but it wasn’t a deliberate choice from the offset… but as a result of that naturally evolving aesthetic I feel, in retrospect, as though it’s earned the right to be called an album.

Pieces, on the other hand, was written over a much longer period of time than And All Is As It Should Be, and it certainly wasn’t written with any particular aesthetic in mind. I started working on Pieces one night back in August 2012, and it all came about from not being able to sleep one night. You get no bonus points for guessing which track I started writing that night (spoiler alert: Sleepless), but I wrote it and realised that I had no home for it. I was putting the finishing touches on Icarus, and it didn’t fit in with the rest of those tracks… so I held onto it. That was the start of a pattern of holding onto disparate tracks that wouldn’t fit in anywhere else, with one big exception.

In October 2012 I decided I was going to go to town and just write as much music as I possibly could. Regardless of whether I thought an idea worked or not, I was going to write loads of music and deal with it later. I ended up with 17 tracks at the end of the month, and I was incredibly happy with how the experiment turned out. In the months leading up to that (and somewhat thanks to my experience with writing Sleepless) I’d been working on refining my workflow in Reason. I had a very particular palette of sounds to work from (a lot of my own patches & techniques, and a lot of sounds by Tom Pritchard), and I found the chilly late-Autumn atmosphere particularly inspiring. I was experimenting with Blocks in Reason, and my Propellerhead Artist Feature was filmed around the time I was working on these tracks. Of those 17 tracks, only 5 made it onto the final version of Pieces, but two of them made it into my Artist Feature (if you’re interested in hearing those, they’re still on my Soundcloud page, and can be listened to using the player below). The rest found their way into the hands of various production agencies & music libraries, so all of them found a home. I was worried about breaking up that collection of songs for a long time, but it was definitely the right call. While they still stand as a lovely personal time-capsule in a similar vein to AAIAISB, I am much happier with the finished version of Pieces than I was with those tracks in isolation. The title of the project comes from this particular run of tracks, but feels much more relevant in the context of the finished article than the original 17 tracks.

(june 2015 edit: sorry, this playlist doesn’t exist any more as the tracks found a new home)

That said, I continued writing odd songs over the course of the next year and a half, and it was only in late 2013 that I realised that I had a pretty hefty selection of songs without a home. I listened to them all, and I was surprised at how well they all sat together. A few songs had originally been written with album 4 in mind, so those sat well together. I’d written a few tracks around Sleepless, and I wrote a chunk of material during that particular October. I’d also written a couple of more post-rock inspired tracks after putting out the debut Civil Protection album. Here were four disparate collections of tracks that were all written to sit together in small groups, all thrown together to see what would happen… needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised!

So, while I might not refer to it as an album in the strictest sense, that doesn’t mean I’m not happy with it as a complete work… and, for all I know, I’ll probably change my mind somewhere down the line. I’m already starting to feel that it has a pretty solid aesthetic quality to it, and it seems strange that these totally unconnected works would fit together like they were always supposed to. In that sense, I can’t think of a more fitting title for this particular project.

I guess the pieces came together, but I guess it’s up to the listener to decide whether they fit or not.

Pieces: Where’s the CD version?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in And All Is As It Should Be, Distant Activity, General, Icarus, Lightfields, Music, Pieces, Site

After my last posting about the audiophile master, it might seem a little strange to some that I’m not releasing any kind of physical version of Pieces. Surely, if there’s a version of the complete work that’s catered towards people who want to listen in a dedicated listening environment, it would make sense to put out some kind of physical release?

A fond memory
A fond memory

First up, I know there are plenty of people out there who prefer physical media over digital releases. I totally get that, especially in the case of vinyl – doubly so given that vinyl masters often offer the best way to listen to an album in an environment designed for listening. However, as I pointed out in my last post, this point in particular has nothing to do with the release medium whatsoever. I’m not a vinyl aficionado, but I still buy a lot of CDs. There’s something about the first listen ritual and checking out the artwork and any liner notes (if there are any).

Having said that, if I can’t get my hands on a CD copy of an album I particularly want, I have no qualms with downloading a digital copy… and that’s something I’ve found myself doing more and more recently. Strangely though, more than a few CD releases are comparable in price to their digital download counterparts (especially when you factor in additional costs for lossless versions – a practice I’m not particularly keen on), so for the marginal extra expense in cases like that I’m much more likely to go for a CD if possible. From a completely vain point of view, I also like to keep my music on a shelf so people can see what I’m into. To me, having that kind of thing on display is much more aesthetically pleasing than a bunch of files on my computer.

In short, I’m neither for nor against physical media at this point. Like I said, I’m not a vinyl aficionado, but if everyone were to suddenly stop selling CDs tomorrow and instead offered lossless digital versions of all of their music at a reasonable price instead, I don’t think I’d lose a whole lot of sleep.

None of this really explains why I’m not releasing a physical version of Pieces though and, predictably enough, it all comes down to numbers. Well, two sets of numbers, at least.

Firstly, I only had a pretty small run of CDs of both Distant Activity and Lightfields made in the first place. Icarus and And All Is As It Should Be were completely out of my control as both were distributed exclusively by Distinctive Records & Lost Language Recordings. I still have a few Distant Activity discs kicking about, and I have more than a few Lightfields discs still. The sales of downloads vs. CDs in the case of these two albums is incredibly one-sided in the favour of downloads, outside of pre-orders. I don’t have a huge amount of marketing clout (read: I have no marketing clout), and I have never been under any illusion that my music is going to suddenly become a cross-over best-seller. That’s not why I write music and put out albums, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I’m able to write music and make noise for a living without being entirely dependent on album sales. CD sales have declined massively for me over the past three years or so, and now it’s at the point where I feel like getting a CD run put together would be a complete financial waste of my time. Unless there’s a sudden run on physical versions of my existing releases, I don’t see myself putting out another CD release again. Anybody who is able to read this article is probably more than likely to have a sufficient internet connection to be able to download my music. The important thing for me is to put out my music at a comparable standard of quality to a CD release wherever possible, which is why – when possible – I’ll always try to make my music available in lossless formats as well as lossy formats. The financial incentive is gone, and I’m no longer as bothered by the need to have a physical release as I once was. Been there, done that.

Secondly, there are three versions of Pieces. Which version would I even put out? I could put out a physical version of the main album itself, which would be kind of pointless as you can download it for free. I could put out a physical version of the extended edition, but then what about the audiophile version? I could include that as an extra disc, but then it’d be at a lower quality than the actual downloadable release version (the downloadable version is released as 48khz/24-bit files). And even then, why would you want an extra disc with the exact same music on it? I don’t think I’ve ever bought a double-album that featured the exact same music on both discs – I’ve bought a couple of albums with instrumental versions available on a separate disc (which is something I took on board with the digital releases of instrumental versions of Distant Activity & Lightfields, and is a trend I plan on continuing with future vocal works), but never with the exact same material on both discs. I’m sure that such a thing exists, and if anyone has come across a good example of such a release then let me know!

From the point of view of my own vanity, I’d love to keep putting out physical releases. I still remember holding my first Distant Activity CD, and holding something that I’d put so much work into in my own hands. But I’ve got to be realistic, and – especially with Pieces – I don’t think it’s the right call.

That’s my take on things. Maybe in the future I’ll think about putting out a vinyl release of my next album or whatever I do, but honestly I just don’t see it being either financially viable or practically relevant any more. If I started taking my solo music live, I’d think about it (but that’s a topic for another time). As it is, though, I’d much rather put that effort into writing music, and releasing it in a variety of formats and versions to suit the actual listening experience. There are things I can experiment with in the world of digital distribution that would be much more costly to try out with physical media, and that seems like it should take a much higher priority over my own brief personal satisfaction.