Having a side-project like music production or a startup means finding time and space to get lots of extra stuff done, often around a full time job. If you happen to be a parent like me then this is even more essential. What was once a peaceful abode is now as quiet as the front row of a One Direction concert.
Escaping to an oasis of calm and creative stimulation is one of life’s small pleasures. Even if you’re lucky enough to work from home already, sitting about in your pants all day will send you insane quicker than you can say Richard & Judy.
Since starting to write music and run a business I’ve been searching out the best and most interesting laptop havens I could escape to. In each edition of Hotdesk I’ll be sharing a different laptop location, scored by these criteria:
How good are the cakes & snacks?
Can you sneak in your lunch and freeload for the price of a coffee?
What’s the ambience like and will it inspire those creative juices?
How good is the wi-fi?
Café W at Waterstones
Cafe W - not for creatives on a diet
Just when bookshops were dead and buried, it turns out someone has had the bright idea of inserting Cafe’s in branches of Waterstones - genius. Waterstone’s describe these as:
...a haven from the high street where you can relax and read a book, meet friends, or catch up on emails using our Free Wi-Fi, all while enjoying top quality food sourced from local producers and great coffee served by our bookseller-baristas.
Having recently undertaken a freelance design contract with some days based in exotic Sutton I was overjoyed to find somewhere that could provide relief from the client’s soul destroying offices.
So how does it fair up ?
More cakes than you can shake a stick at, which is top news unless you’re on Weight Watchers / 5:2 Fasting / Atkins. The gamut includes fresh gateaux, home-made cookies, flapjacks - the works. Coffee is also tasty, with complimentary cucumber or lemon water. Very middle class.
It’s DEAD quiet, which is particularly apt as many of the clientele are collecting their pensions and knocking on heavens door. But If you need to concentrate, think or make music then this is a positive.
As you would expect from a bookshop, it smells like real books which is nice. And it’s top notch for finding ideas. Having a swan around the various sections of the shop before starting work will give you plenty to think about, from the latest Harry Potter to The Hungry Caterpillar, it’s all here.
On the flip side you may leave feeling middle-aged or even retired, at least at this particular branch where indoor pot plants are dotted around the place and the furniture is straight out of a retirement home. Nonetheless this makes it feel strangely cozy, a bit like your grans house.
Note that Cafe W branches nearer to civilisation do appear to be more hipster.
Comfy seats and the smell of books, just like your gran’s house
Like many places Cafe W has the good old ‘Cloud’ service. Pop in a fake email address and you’re off.
You can quite easily buy a coffee and spent the best part of a day camped out here if you want. Sneaking in your own lunch might be pushing things too far but the food is reasonably priced and they do toasties. Be warned though that it’s tough to escape without a literary purchase or two.
Overall pretty solid marks for Cafe W. Be warned you may end up writing an Elton John track rather than a Skrillex banger, but you will get piece of quiet, more robust love handles and some holiday reading to takeaway.
I recently delved in to Spotify’s ‘Your Year in Music’ which surfaces the tracks, artists and genres you’ve been listening to the most. I highly recommend checking this out as it’s a real eye opener on your listening habits.
The album I listened to the most was Pacific Standard Time by Poolside. Although this album was released in 2012, I didn’t discover it until last year via Spotify’s ‘similar artists’ feature but I’m very glad I did.
Poolside are two guys from LA who create daytime disco, music to be listened to whilst sitting by a pool. It’s pretty damn hard to beat a raison d’etre like that in my book and hats off to them for being able to explain their work so succinctly. Something that many aspiring producers struggle with.
The album has a laidback chillwave-meets-disco vibe with plenty of horizontal feel good action. Digging around to find some info on Poolside’s production I found this cool video of Filip’s studio where he explains some of his process.
Geek Alert I have to confess that after watching this video I smashed in a casio CZ-1000 off ebay for about £40 :)
Diving into his workflow, Filip talks about moving quickly and just going with what sounds good to get tracks written. In an inspiring interview with Pitchfork, they explain that album was actually written in a month. This is great advice for anyone making music.
Poolside also only play daytime gigs and pool parties which sounds like my idea of heaven. Especially if followed up with a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake :)
If you don’t use Spotify or fancy a digital download then Poolside have self-released their album for $5 which quite frankly is a steal. Nice to see artists going down the self-publishing route and I’d love to know how this has been working out for them.
Kicking off 2015 with some positive sunny vibes to fend off the shitty British winter. This cover of Bob Marley’s classic fits snugly in to the emerging trend for ‘Tropical’ house music coming from artists like Matoma and Kygo who are incidentally both from Norway.
In fact an interesting piece about Tropical House on blog lessthan3.com succinctly points out:
"It's interesting that all the Tropical House producers are from places that are cold as fuck. You think it'd be some dude from Jamaica making all this stuff, but instead it's a bunch of nordic and northern Europeans..."
Nonetheless definitely loving this antidote to the full on sounds of EDM and chilly winter blues.
The Creative Class is a series of interviews with renowned creatives about their take on digital technology - interesting stuff.
I particularly like the video with Fred Deakin (of Lemon Jelly fame) where he talks about the possibilities for innovation but also the distractions that come with digital tools. Ironically whilst watching this video I was completely distracted by Fred’s totally amazing record collection, Clavia Nord synth and stunning workspace!
I’ve actually been listening back to the old Lemon Jelly album ‘Lost Horizons’ and reading up on their production so I was doubly chuffed to come across this. They were a big inspiration for the track Village Green I wrote recently.
The Creative Class also features a video with Damon Albarn where he talks about using loops and video…
The initiative appears to be funded by WeTransfer and it’s very nice to see mature advertising in this inspirational form rather than having a pre-roll or banner jammed in your face. You can watch all the other videos right here.
Most of the time, my day job in the music industry feels like a regular job. Then I get to do something totally mind-blowing like listening to a remastering of The Beatles at Abbey Road!
This listening session was for the release of the new Beatles in Mono boxset. Abbey Road have recreated the very first mono vinyls which were released by the band in the ’60s. Stereo was around in the ’60s but it wasn’t widespread and because recording was limited to 4-tracks then Stereo mixes often just had the original master tracks hard-panned. You can spot this on old recordings where you can hear the drums coming out of one speaker and vocals from the other.
The playback took place in Studio 3 which is where the band originally recorded and the equipment used was a super high-end $85k McIntosh hi-fi. Suffice it to say that it sounded amazing. All the different musical parts sounded really alive and seemed to fit so well into the sonic space, without a stereo soundstage.
I left the session realising that this is something which is easy to forget when mixing tracks in a modern DAW. There are so many stereo tools available to us that it’s easy to get bogged down and forget that great music can sound completely awesome and make you dance or cry without a stereo mix.
At the end of last year my wife and I made the decision to quit the big smoke and move out of London to leafy Hertfordshire. As my current job is based in town, I was pretty freaked out about becoming a commuter and living out in the sticks.
As is frequently the case, it turns out our worst fears are often nothing more than just that.
The commute is not one I plan on doing forever, but it turns out that getting off the train at the end of a long day and stepping into the English countryside is literally like a breath of fresh air. Taking in the trees, birds and beautiful scenery on the walk between home and the station has become a daily dose of inspiration.
Spending all day at the office responding to emails without any time to make music can feel like emptying the sink and watching your soul disappear down the plughole. Fortunately I find it’s always possible to carve out a slice of creative time somewhere….
My latest tactic involves taking advantage of the lobby of the local Hilton during lunch.
The great things about this are:
I get an hour of undisrupted creative time to produce music.
Comfy sofas and all year round tropical style climate.
Prohibitively expensive Wi-Fi keeps me offline and focussed on making tracks.
Much quieter than a Cafe so I always get a seat.
I can take in sandwiches from anywhere of my choosing and nobody bats an eyelid.
Producing ad-hoc like this means having a lean portable setup and a good pair of headphones to combat any random hotel muzak. I make better music and have more fun when I have a controller to play on so I also keep a Maschine Mikro in my bag.
I love this drawing from one of my favourite cartoonists @GapingVoid. It sums up exactly why I left the banking industry many years ago and ended up making tea in a recording studio. As John Hegarty says:
Creativity isn't an occupation; it's a preoccupation.
After many years of plugging away at making music I’ve finally had a remix released on a major label. This is really exciting news for me, however what’s been a real insight is that it took about a year from when I submitted it to when it actually got signed.
The remix opportunity came about through a chance meeting with someone from DECCA. We were geeking out about music production and they suggested I could have a go at a remix of a new artist. There was no guarantee that it would be released but I didn’t have to think too hard about giving this a shot!
I completed the remix and like numerous other tracks I’ve submitted to labels, I didn’t hear a peep of feedback. I got a little disheartened, assumed that nothing was going to happen and went back about my business.
Then out of the blue, a year later, I heard back from the label. The remixes were finally being listened to and sent over to the artists management. A few days later they said it had been approved and was going to be put out - I couldn’t believe it!
This experience and my day-to-day working in the music industry has revealed how busy label people are. They are sent gazillions of tracks and release schedules can be planned months ahead. If you’re sending your tracks out then you definitely shouldn’t give up hope or stop sending just because you don’t hear anything. There are so many reasons why you might not have heard back and it’s certainly no guarantee that they don’t like your music.
Technology has always had a big impact on music. From how it sounds, the processes through which it’s made and performed, and also how its distributed. Once thing I really like about having a laptop is that it’s now possible to take your studio anywhere. This is really useful when fitting production in around a full-time job.
[blockquote]Building a body of work is all about the slow accumulation of a day’s worth of effort over time. Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel.[/blockquote]
Having a portable DAW and some headphones means I can fit in 15-20 minutes of production on my commute as well as on my lunch breaks. With technology like Solid State Drives it’s even easier. If Im sitting on a platform with 10 minutes to spare then I can pop my laptop open straight away and kill a bit of time with some productivity.
Personally I still find I write the best melodies when Im jumping around behind my MIDI keyboard at home, but train time is great for things like arranging, editing and sound design. If you don’t already take advantage of these snippets of time then I’d really recommend it.
Unfortunately producing music isn’t quite as location friendly as writing a novel because there is background noise all around us.
This isn’t the end of the world, especially for tasks like arranging but because Im at it everyday I do like to use some Etymotic earphones which have earplug style tips. They can be a bit of a pain to put in but they do block everything out for sure. Alternatively there’s a wealth of noise-cancelling headphones around which Im sure would do as good a job if this was something which bothers you.
I’ve always been inspired by the use of sampling in music especially folk like The Avalanches and DJ Shadow. It’s not always obvious that plenty of dance music is heavily built around samples, but a quick shufty on WhoSampled is amazingly enlightening.
I love the notion of digging around dusty crates however, because I spend a lot of time producing on trains and in hotel lobbies I’ve started to use Spotify instead. It’s like having a whole word of record shops at your fingertips! I have a playlist setup especially for sampling, and I keep it available offline so I can dig through and record samples wherever I’m working.
I started a new track today and flicked through my library of samples for some inspiration. Im loving lots of 80’s influences at the moment and a vocal loop from Force M.D.’s Tender Love proved perfect to get the party started….