"Let's start at the very beginning..."
Once upon a time there was this little boy with big dreams........
" I want to be like ......Elvis"
and they all said....
"Well.... how do you do it?"
Firstly we shall use the New York band Kid Creole and the Coconuts as a model. August Darnell as he called himself was the vocalist and main man. But me thinks that he was also one Joseph Smith to his family. So when he went to the music business office he became the wheeler dealer, the very august...August Darnell; he put on his "business" hat, necessary for survival in such a world. Then when it came to showtime he put on his "vocalist" hat and became "Kid Creole". So you get the idea.....3 levels of identity.... in order that you protect what is most treasured...your Soul!! And Mr Creole has a Masters Degree in Psychology so who are we to argue??
Now you can understand why I call myself Funk Van Gogh when I create CG(computer generated) Music, and Johnny Toubab when I am working with Tata Dindin and immersed in African Rhythm. The negative response to my "computer jazz" was actually quite uplifting! Never have so many been proven so wrong by so few!! And had it been Paul Hill taking the critics revenge, I might have been a little upset! You have to understand that what was once avante-garde and radical will one day become conservative, traditional and even mainstream middle-of-the-road! It is then destined to be usurped by the next cultural wave with us folks feeling "old" and the kids taking over the world. That's life! That is the cycle that cultural evolution follows. Ask Scott Joplin who died penniless and reviled. Gaugin and Van Gogh (Funk's uncle.....Vincent) had it pretty tough too! One should always bow to what is inevitable, and with grace. I have no idea at all how this new project, a fusion of Western European music and West African music, is going to turn out. You become a chef with a whole range of new ingredients and "cook" up a little Hors D'Oeuvre. If it tastes good, then you enhance the flavours with a wider range of instruments. Curiously enough, the French for " manager of rock and roll band" is Le Chef! Tata Dindin has complete faith in me, which is a great help, and I have absolute trust in him. Calling myself Johnny Toubab allows me to step back from it all and review our progress with a critical eye. I can look at the Production needs from a different perspective! It allows me to step back from the creative process, and go to work as a completely independent Producer called Paul Hill! Understanding this is as important as understanding the parameters for each style of music that you are called upon to produce!!
We must also include the computer in this discourse! In the space of 20 years it has completely changed the way musicians do business. I trained as an Analyst in 1980/81 when the guys at Apple were still in their garage in California...and Mainframes used Registers... and Coding was in Low Level Assembler and Hexadecimal. Nowadays a computer language instruction such as "go sub" unpacks into about 4000 instructions in a low level one-for-one language. The shift to cognitive psychology from here is straightforward. Make those lumps of plastic and metal into a robotic vehicle and then write the software to make them behave like the local traffic cop. Yeah right! Oh and he must be able to sing! 25 years later we have arrived!! It is happening! Software is now coded to allow for learning! Have you noticed how your laptop changes it's behaviour in response to your usage. We can "grow" a cognitive experience into computer coding; we can sign a conversation with a 23 year old Orang-Utang; we can clone DNA tissue and human embryos. When my dad was born in 1921, the horse and cart was as good as it got! The Model T Ford was a small black square thing with 4 large rotating round things!
Production...Publishing...Performance Musicman 1
So what exactly is Production??
The production of sound is basic physics; the original speaker and microphone were built from the same principle...the diaphragm. It responded to voice pressure and produced electric current, or it turned electric current into a pressure wave of sound. We then followed the development of records, played with needles on those famous HMV players that wound up and used an ear trumpet for a speaker, the transistor radio that miniaturised everything including the experience, and of course the television. All needed sound of very differing proportions and the production techniques varied enormously. So we arrived at a situation in the 1950s where the explosion of popular music required an expert and overall conductor of the studio to evolve. Ecco!! The Music Producer! You had to know your music, you had to know your gadgets, and you had to know what the other guy wanted without him being able to tell you what it was; " you know... it sort of sounds like I am singing in my mothers washing machine...!" By the 1960s we had seen the arrival of George Martin.......... www.georgemartinmusic.com and perhaps the most creative bad boy of them all, Phil Spector............ www.philspector.com These guys are good role models for what a Music Producer does. Not the man who puts the money up like a Hollywood movie producer, this guy takes a sense of what the artist wants to achieve, gets him/her in the studio, and extracts the most innovative creative work, while dealing with anything from orchestral parts to computer samples to lunch demands and laundry.
With the advent of so many kinds of "new" music, House, Hip-Hop, Garage, Rap etc., you can see how important it is to understand your styles. What is the difference between the rhythm guitar style of Bob Marley and that of Keith Richard? Discuss! Rhythmic and Tonal implications please! Could you play this? Could you explain it to an 18 year old in the studio...so he/she could play it? Now you begin to get a glimpse of the sort of knowledge and experience that you need! "The Tutu Horses" on the Funk Van Gogh album Tentacles Bop is a sleigh ride of 15 trumpets, all generated in the computer using music software and quartal harmony. The horns are written in a particular "be-bop" style. This is very different to the way in which Quincy Jones www.quincyjonesmusic.com would produce a horn section for a "Philadelphia" funk outfit . The Tutu Horses is named after Miles Davis album "Tutu" and is in fact a pastiche of his 1960s album "On the Corner." It is dedicated to Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. You don't need to know any of this to listen to the music, but to be there Producing it requires a range of skills and additional background information! Here we must include Marcus Miller.. www.marcusmiller.com He played every instrument except Trumpet on the track "Tutu" and while still only in his 20s, worked with Miles Davis to produce the album. His knowledge of Instrumentation and Computer Software is second to none! Music software only arrived in 1996 so we all have a lot of learning and re-learning to do. I feel nostalgic for the days when we used to practice our scales rather than simply assign an instrument to a track number and press a button! Charlie Parker is reputed to have blown his scales on the Alto Saxaphone for 10,000 hours in 3 years !! Yeah..I know!
Let us now switch to working on a live band feel for Johnny Toubab and Tata Dinding. I change hats and styles and return to all of the skills that I learned as a youngster at Island Records and Wave Studios where there were no computers and we didn't use the word Analogue because that is all there was. The first Digital recordings that I know about were done with a Sony Digital/Analogue converter and a VHS video machine in 1984. We all got totally impressed by the cleanness of the sound and signal source. Now we spend half of our time putting the dirty bits back in and call it Ambient Sound!
The Producer's role has become much less interesting, but more straightforward for the modern machine oriented musical process. Let us look at a few of the techniques that we used to use. From the time of the first multi-tracking on The Beatles Sergeant Pepper when the 4 track machines were linked, to bounce mix-downs across and keep up the signal level, George Martin led the way in using innovative techniques. He was a pipe smoking no nonsense shirt and tie man, yet he worked with the greatest talent in Europe and encouraged each artist to expand his/her musical horizons. Multi-tracking was the favoured tool. This produced the huge wall of sound that Phil Spector came up with for Ike and Tina Turner's classic "River Deep Mountain High" and the depth of The Righteous Brothers "You've Lost that Lovin Feelin." The same instrument parts were recorded on 2 or more tracks and blended together. It was post Phil Spector that we learned to leave things out!! He taught everybody how to throw in the kitchen sink. Curiously enough he learned his trade as an 18 year old apprentice to Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, the genius behind The Drifters "Stand by Me." Nobody has ever created a percussive opening like it! These guys hired Carole King, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and many more as youngsters, and taught them an astonishing array of techniques. Producers were often the Songwriters who showed the Artist how to achieve a certain "feel". Others such as Tony Visconti www.tonyvisconti.com would walk into the studio and simply set-up the recording desk for the "David Bowie" sound. The values were the same at every session. He and Bowie excelled at bringing in players and innovative musical ideas, but the Production was completely straightforward. Another well used technique was to assign values to EQ settings to produce compression on each channel. There were no Compressors, Noise-Gates, Echo Units, Phlangers or Chorus. The first echo unit was a WEM tape loop circa 1967.
One of the most innovative of producers during the 1980s and 1990s was Trevor Horn www.trevorhorn.com His work with Frankie Goes To Hollywood and then Seal revealed some interesting techniques. He aquired that big voice sound, particularly on Seal's Batman soundtrack "Kissed by a Rose," by recording the vocal track as many as 18 times. Each subtle difference added to the overall sound when blended together. This is very different from multi-tracking the same part!
So we begin to understand the link from Production to the Creative process; the Song and it's writing. A good tune can be arranged in many different styles. Jimi Hendrix re-worked Bob Dylans' "All Along the Watchtower" to produce a serious interpretation. The tune was transformed from Folk tradition to Blues and Rock! It could also easily be arranged as a Jazz ballad. Imagine the haunting pathos to be found in a massive Nelson Riddle orchestral arrangement. And that perhaps is one of the keys to understanding West African music. The principle of "jazzing " up a tune began in the 1920s and 30s. American artists re-worked the songs of Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin and many more. This practice of re-working a style to suit the instruments available is the essence of West African music and is a technique that is used widely here today!
This in turn leads to the notion of Publishing, for that is the end result! The Creative process and the Production give rise to a Published work.
Production...Publishing...Performance Musicman 1
Now we shall take a look at Publishing. City Walls Music Publishing was established in 1999 to cover the legal side of my output as an Artist. I have never been interested in "the deal," and have walked away from a number of offers for a number of reasons. Primarily, if you consider yourself to be creative and can feel the juices flow, and enjoy the process, here is the bad news! The most damage gets done just as you arrive at that place where the new song is about to incarnate, and the phone rings! The Manager or Promoter is insistent on discussing a particular deal. By the time the conversation ends, you have not only lost all desire to be creative, but also the will to live! So it is a mood, a way of being, an alternative use of the physical body!! Many songwriters will tell you of their nightmare scenario. The Well is dry! Last nights' idea is rumpty dumpty! The rhythm is like a 3 legged horse! The tune is a jingle at best! So the idea is again to protect and nurture! Treat yourself like an athlete. Get yourself into the best possible condition in order to go to work! By controlling the publishing of my work, I can relax and enjoy it! The internet has finally given us the freedom to be creative, go to market and effect sales all in one format!
To publish a work, the original concept was that it must be a written copy and sent through the mail! How quaint! Nowadays of course we have The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) and The Performing Rights Society (PRS)... www.mcps.co.uk Every Publishing Company simply registers with these 2 organisations. Every work is registered to the artist who created it, by name and title. Its usage is then controlled by the PRS who makes sure that they collect royalties. Every time a royalty is collected on behalf of a registered artist, it is disbursed within the year. The Publishing House usually takes another year to make payment to the artist. The manuafacture of all sound related media (CDs, Videos, DVDs, Radio shows, Jingles etc.) now requires a licence from PRS which is in fact a payment for permission to use an artists' work. PRS are in constant touch with the Copyright Bureau of countries worldwide to make sure that all due income is collected. With the advent of Copyright Law in The Gambia, we shall soon be able to register each and every Gambian artist in his own country. For now, all work featured at this site is protected by City Walls Music Publishing. We would ask you to help us to build the future of West African music.
Production...Publishing...Performance Musicman 1
Everything is going to change....if you study in West Africa! Let me tell you about a musical encounter to illustrate this. My long time colleague Steven Skaith sang with a band called Latin Quarter and developed his own songwriting career... www.mexile.com He co-wrote a beautiful melody called "Radio Africa." www.radioafrica.co.uk This was re-mixed and released by the Bhundu Boys. Steven worked with these guys and asked them if they got nervous before they played? The response was that they did not understand the question. Here in Africa, song and dance are such an integral part of daily life that the idea of stage and performance are anathema to the people. The biggest of "stars" play here as if they were your neighbour. There is no glam, glitz, or pzzazz!! We could wax lyrically for hours about the need for applause and approval being a symptom of a very deep neurosis in Western society. But boy do the musicians out here know how to play through the gears! The degree of precision will either satisfy you completely, or disturb you greatly, or both!
I trust that all of this has given you a reason!!