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Is ‘the album’ dead?

As a musician I have read with interest over the last couple of years about the demise of any music artists’ ‘bread & butter’…. THE ALBUM.

Is it dying and what changes can artists make, if any, when releasing music to their fans?

The concept of ‘an album’ gives bands, solo artists and indeed fans the chance to enjoy a body of work detailing the current mind set of the songwriters. As an artist it gives a focus… “I’m working on the album”, for the PR people it gives them a philosophy to promote and for the record companies it gives them a saleable ‘product’.

But over the last decade album sales have fallen through the floor and the very existence of the format is under serious debate. Last week in the US, album sales fell to an all-time low and this despite much hyped releases from Katy Perry & Miley Cyrus on the chart. Now you may argue that the cause of the collapse is summed up in my last sentence – “releases from Katy Perry & Miley Cyrus on the chart” – but that would be somewhat cruel and lacking in objectivity. I may be inclined to agree that Record Labels have hardly done themselves any favours in the artists they have chosen to ‘sign’ over the last decade and signing for short term gain does in the long term tend to backfire – but the poor sales of last week included critically acclaimed artists such as Pearl Jam and traditional big hitter Elton John. What is more confusing is that these artists are getting huge amounts of media coverage and work off massive promotional budgets…. and I mean massive –the type of money that in the past virtually guaranteed sales, even if the product was somewhat lack lustre.

So what’s gone wrong?

Obviously one of the key factors is the new digital world in which we live; one which allows people to stream music direct to their laptop. It’s immediate and instant. It doesn’t require you to purchase an album and it usually means people listen to ‘the single’ and move on to the next track in the Q – there is no commitment to a lovingly crafted collection of songs, the musical piece – no desire in a hectic, butterfly schedule to take the time to indulge and submerge oneself in a whole album. We live in a quick hit, easy gratification society and there is no time for slow cars, in depth art or long playing albums. Most people struggle to find time to buy ingredients to cook proper meals – in fact most people don’t even know how to cook a proper meal – some would argue people no longer appreciate what proper music is – preferring instead to be told by some Saturday night TV panel judge what it sounds like…. this absolves them of a responsibility in the same way fast food, and microwave dinners free us from the need to lovingly cook a decent meal.

Downloads are down 4% on I-Tunes – the first fall in a decade and supermarkets are simply stocking a small selection of discounted artists …. in the UK Supermarkets you’d be forgiven for thinking that only Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams and One Direction actually made albums to sell…. Oh and of course Michael Buble’s Christmas Album – you know, the one he sold last year and the year before.

So what’s the answer?

Well, maybe  artists need to connect with their audience in a personalized way – special offers and bespoke marketing. And in turn the audience will need to show the artists they enjoy a degree of loyalty and support by actually buying music rather than streaming it, by going to gigs rather than by watching YouTube clips and by spreading the word about their favourite bands and artists on social media… sharing the content and growing the artist’s fan base. For me this will not only benefit the artist but also the audience, because if we as music fans are not careful the music business will become just one huge mediocre TV talent show devoid of creativity and originality.

Finally I think artists may have to go back to the old 60s model of releasing music more frequently in the same way The Beatles often released two albums a year. Joe Bonnamassa has made this business model work in recent years and in this way the artist can feed modern society’s need for ‘more’. Nowadays a band puts out an album and the public moves on in a matter of weeks, wanting something new. Some buy it, others catch it online and the thirst is quenched. If we are lucky the public like it and are quickly shouting “More!!’ So maybe the way forward is to release ‘little & often’. Maybe a four track EP two or three times a year rather than a 12 track album every two or three years…. It’s a concept I’m certainly going to consider for the future.

Maybe ‘the album’ is dying as a vehicle for mass market corporations but I do hope it lives on and I’m sure it will survive if only in the world of true music lovers and collectors on CD and vinyl.

Obviously in the meantime buy my album  🙂


Summer Songs….

It’s been a long hot summer here in the UK and it’s not been one conducive to spending time holed up inside a sweltering recording studio. However, time spent in the garden with an acoustic guitar has very much been part of my summer agenda (along with a cold Guinness) and as a result I have a collection of new songs waiting in the wings. The plan is to take the material into the studio this Autumn/Fall and Winter to see what I have.

After writing “The Last Box of Bullets” (LBB) my intention was to move in a different direction and I was intent on exploring a more narrative theme to my song writing. LBB is packed with radio friendly arrangements and hooky chorus sections such as “Just  One Day” and “Suddenly I Can’t Find You”, which is something I was brought up with as a teenager listening to the radio. In fact it’s been a style of song writing I’ve come to know well.

But for this new work I felt the need to tell more stories – but what stories? I understood that my new found fascination with narrative simply alluded to the fact that I wanted to write from a different perspective. As Picasso said, ”I’m always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it”…. as a writer/musician that’s what drives me forward – finding new avenues to explore, new chords, new ways to construct a melody.

But I also wanted to keep my signature style – familiar to my audience and I needed to continue to write songs of emotion and honesty that told stories from my world experience and hopefully yours too. To that end I’ve kept the writing process as simple and as naked as possible. Perhaps the hot summer days played a part and as a result the new songs are just written on acoustic guitar and piano – I’ve not to this point added any additional instrumentation or arrangement. Lyrically I’ve delved into some new corners of my mind and written about things that have been rattling around inside my head for years but subjects that I had never found a voice or character for…. this could be an exciting new project. The songs currently have working titles such as ‘Zoo Song’ and ‘Lonely Song’ – just scribbled phrases on a piece of paper – I guess these will develop as the project moves on.

Moving forward the question is do I leave these songs raw and naked? Part of me thinks this has a touch of purity – and that appeals to me, but I also understand that some of the songs are going to burst into life with other instruments as part of the equation. There are one or two that immediately feel to me like singles, others are more confessional – perhaps that will be where I define the line.

I promise to keep you informed over the next few months and maybe we’ll see some of the new material released in 2014.

The Last Box of Bullets…..

When I started playing in bands many moons ago there was one thing that motivated me above anything else and it was the craft of ‘song writing’. I was fascinated by the art and in love with the fabulous songs of the 1960s, 70s & 80s. I was driven by a desire to understand how to craft something beautiful enough to capture attention, strong enough to stand the test of time and intelligent enough to show a depth and an understanding of the human condition.

I have written dark, thoughtful albums such as “The Thief Who Stole The Truth”, I have written albums for my own amusement, I have written on piano and on guitar, I have written about birth & death and I have had songs played on the TV and the radio – but I guess over the years what I have actually learnt is how to write the songs I like to write. They may be no better than anyone who today sits down to write their first song and indeed this is a business where you can strike gold on your first dig – but I do feel more comfortable now I am familiar with the fault lines in the land and the seam in which I mine for my ideas – effectively, with time behind me as a writer. I think the greatest thing you can bring to any art form is ‘the truth’ and I now know that experience gives you the tools to search for meaning in things.  I try to write songs with emotion and honesty that tell stories from my life and hopefully that means yours too.

Let’s turn the clock forward to today and the new album “The Last Box of Bullets”. In some ways it was intended to be just that…. the last….. but only the last of its kind. It’s a collection of accessible songs – radio friendly but hopefully with something to say too. It includes the singles “The First Time Again”, Just One Day and Suddenly I Can’t Find You and it also includes my obligatory ‘green’ song in “All of the World”, while “When Red Blood Flows” is borne out of too much 24 Hour News and too many years watching politicians/people/corporations lying to us all….for the record I no longer watch 24 Hour News or read newspapers –it seems to me that  it’s all largely a fiction designed to distract you from what’s really going on anyway.  On the whole it’s an album you can stick on the car stereo, something you can enjoy with a glass of wine, something to blast out on a relaxing Sunday morning in the sunshine.  It is in some ways the fruits of my years as a writer – it’s everything I have learnt about writing an accessible album and lyrically too, it’s full of the poems I use to express how I feel about the world and our relationships.

I’d love for you to BUY a copy either as a download (I-Tunes) or even better the CD version with its beautiful artwork and 8-page lyric booklet – CDs from ROJOR.COM have free postage.

In the end I guess the whole point to writing songs is to share them with others. Hopefully you see buying a copy is an investment in the value of music and it’s the support of people like you who actually buy CDs etc that keeps the independent songwriter alive in the face of corporate greed and TV reality music shows with their huge marketing budgets – it’s as important for you as for the musicians/writers. BUY CD

Track listing

  1. Vagabond Hearts
  2. Just One Day
  3. When Red Blood Flows
  4. Run To The End of the World
  5. The First Time Again
  6. Raindrops & Teardrops
  7. Suddenly I Can’t Find You
  8. The Last Box of Bullets
  9. Soaked To The Skin
  10. All of the World
  11. Satellite

If you want to find out more, join the mailing list and check out the live shows – please visit the official website.

DOWNLOAD “The Last Box of Bullets”

CD Cover

End of the World Blog

Some say the earth goes around the sun and others believe in Planet X but where ever you stand you can’t escape the current chatter about the forthcoming, indeed imminent, demise of the human race – yeah 21 December 2012 and the Mayan Calendar long count hits zero…. the end of the world.

To the best of my knowledge – and this is not extensive – a rouge planet ‘Nibiru’ enters the solar system every 3,600 years passing close to the Earth and causing mayhem with gravity, electromagnetic fields, etc. – not something you need in the run up to Christmas.

My best advice is not to buy any Christmas Presents until 22nd December. I know it’s going to be a busy shopping day but you really don’t want to be wasting money on gifts when you’ll need to buy materials to build a survival shelter and supplies to keep you going in the aftermath of the apocalypse. That said if the predicted cataclysm doesn’t materialise you’ll be short of cash and will wake up on Saturday 22nd with a huge hangover and a Christmas shopping list as long as your arm – on the plus side at least you’ll have plenty of tinned food in the garage.

Of course the whole thing could be complete rubbish and hopefully we’ll make it through to the other side of 21 December 2012 and we’ll be looking forward to a fabulous Christmas.

Now is the time to thank you all for your support and interest in my musical endeavours in 2012 – I really do appreciate you taking the time to read my blogs and Facebook posts, put up with my tweets, watch my videos and dare I say it ….. even buy my CDs and download songs from I-Tunes.

And here’s looking forward to the new album “The Last Box of Bullets”, which will be released worldwide in early 2013 and hopefully you’ll be getting tickets for the live shows so I’ll see you on the road somewhere….. please come over and say hello.

Have a great Christmas don’t worry about the end of the world and see you in 2013.

Sailing Ships & Dancing Horses

On Monday 12 November 2012 I re-released “Sail Away with Me” having re-mastered the original and updated the artwork by using one of my own original oil paintings.

The release is not part of some grand plan it was simply born out of a desire to share the song once more with you having heard the re-mastered version as part of a ‘Best of….’ project – which may or may not see the light of day in the future.

In 2005 & 2006 I had been completely absorbed in researching my family history – collecting old photographs from family members, speaking to elderly relatives and looking up records on the internet. I hadn’t intended for the journey to inspire a musical venture but ghosts have a way of drifting into view. In the middle of all this my Father died suddenly on a beautiful spring day, driving his beloved MG motorcar and with his love by his side. The car he was driving quietly wandered to the side of the road on a country lane and stopped without a bump or scratch…. and in that moment he was gone.

Later that summer I released an album “Faint Signal”, which brought forth two radio singles – “In the Shoes of the Fisherman” and “Sail Away with Me”; the second of which hit No.2 in the UK Sounds download chart. I hope this BLOG will act as a doorway into, what will always be a very special album to me with all its Celtic leanings and echoes of the past with its sounds of Northern England, the Borders of Scotland and the Irish Sea.

Essentially, I had uncovered the fact that my ancestors on one side of the family were fisherman with their wives and children, making a living from the seas around Holy Island in Northumberland, England at a time before factory ships and over-fishing. They battled the elements and risked all to feed their families in wooden ships with white sails on icy seas in banks of fog.

I was drawn to the symbolism and imagery of the sea and as is my way – the romanticism. The ocean and the wild carefree abandon. Perhaps the main example of this approach is in the track “In the Shoes of the Fisherman”, where love across ‘the oceans of time’ is celebrated with an acoustic guitar.  The VIDEO was shot between rising tides on the Causeway at Holy Island and it has a bleak beauty, which marries perfectly with the song.

“Sail Away with Me”, like many of the songs on the album, has a seafaring theme, the idea of escape and embarking on a journey – telling the story of a troubled soul adrift on life’s stormy seas but kept afloat by love.

“Dancing Horses” is another ode to the sea ….. “Sailors dive beneath the waves and dolphins dance on whaler’s graves”,  and again in “Spittal Song”  the narrative tells the tale of a sea voyage as a symbol for life’s journey where all our experiences only lead us to this one moment in time and this space where everything collides in the ‘now’.

Northumbrian Pipes, fiddles and mandolin work with the acoustic guitars and pianos to evoke the ghosts of the past, which at the same moment is the here and now. I hope you’re getting a flavour of the album.

I won’t embellish much more but I will mention my favourite song from the album – “Hollow” …. it’s a broken obsession, a shipwrecked heart, a pirate waiting to kidnap your heart – a fragile soul.

I hope you’re intrigued to find out more.

You can check out the full track listing and all the lyrics for “FAINT SIGNAL” via the DISCOGRAPHY page at ROJOR.COM – well worth a read if you have a few minutes.

You can BUY the CD album from ROJOR.COM, which includes some great photographs of the Holy Island causeway…. or if you prefer you can download the songs from I-Tunes.

As a taster download “Sail Away with Me” (re-mastered) from I-Tunes.

Recording Sessions Completed

The recording process for the new album is finished and I am looking at a release date in 2013 – I don’t want to commit myself to specifics at this moment but you can be assured the new songs will be out early next year. The album will feature eleven tracks including singles “The First Time Again” and “Just One Day” as well as others such as “Run to the End of the World”, “Satellite”, “When Red Blood Flows” and “Raindrops & Teardrops”.  A ‘new’ radio single will be released around the time of the album launch and I am mulling over two possibilities in this regard….  “Vagabond Hearts” or “Suddenly I Can’t Find You”. The first is a celtic influenced number whilst the second is more narrative and ballad like…… choices and dilemmas indeed.

Now the recording sessions are completed there are two other processes which need to be finished before the album goes for pressing/manufacture.

Firstly, the artwork and as I discussed in last month’s blog I do think the images and art are a great part of any album release. The artwork for the album is currently at the design stage and I’m expecting to see the proof in the next week or so.

There is also the issue of ‘mastering’ where basically the sonic quality of the recording is checked. It’s a form of audio post production, the process of preparing the recorded audio and final mixes to one MASTER from which pressing/manufacturing will take place. Remember, I have been working on this album for the last year so this process ensures levels from recordings in January match those done in October. It is also at this stage that the digital copyright information is assigned to the track so it registers with broadcasters etc. when played on the radio or TV for example.

I know that when I embarked on this album I had hoped to release it by autumn 2012 but as usual these creative endeavours tend to take on a life of their own, guiding you down paths not previously envisaged and they certainly don’t operate to a timeframe…. Lol.

Anyway I hope it will be worth the wait and you can be assured that in early 2013 I’ll be blogging about the NEW ALBUM…… I may even give it a name!!

Walking Through the Rain to Buy “The Clash”

As I draw to the end of the recording process on another album it’s got me thinking about how we as lovers of music gather music around us and place it in our lives – how do we like to consume music and what I as a songwriter/musician as well as a consumer feel about the choices we make and how we can best enjoy the world of music available to us.

Currently the major formats are CD and download; and let’s not discount vinyl.

Popular music has always to some extent been a disposable product, here today gone tomorrow but for most of us our music collection is something to keep and treasure. So how does this circle square itself in today’s world of the download? The instant access and easy availability is on the face of it appealing, but for me we have lost something crucial in our race for speed and our ‘must have now’ 24 hour society – in fact we have given away a little of ourselves. We have lost the art of ‘waiting’, of anticipating what musical treat is in store for us. I remember waking on the morning of a new release I couldn’t wait to buy. I remember the journey into town to the ‘record shop’, I remember walking cold through the rain, I remember the smell of racks of CDs/Vinyl albums, fingering through the sleeves and I loved the artwork – bold and beautiful. Perhaps the best feeling was finally getting your hands on the ‘new album’, something tangible, solid, real – something to collect and worship – something to own – something of my own. The journey back home would be filled with excitement, maybe I’d read a review and was looking forward to hearing certain tracks or maybe I was jumping in blind, exploring the undiscovered. But whatever it was it was ceremony, it was a journey and an effort to acquire something of value.

The CD offers a physical product to own and collect – a product with an artwork booklet, possibly with lyrics to learn and glossy photographs to admire. A CD, like the vinyl album before it, is something that requires we set aside some of our own personal space to share our lives with these items. We invite them into the family home  – we buy a bookcase or a specialist piece of furniture to keep them safe and display our artistic and musical leanings. We invest in the wellbeing of these objects.  Since man lived in caves he has had a primitive need to collect artefacts and to place art on a pedestal.  For me as a musician interested in recording work for posterity CD is the natural successor to the vinyl album. It isn’t quite as sexy and the big 12” artwork sleeves of the vinyl are irreplaceable but technically the sound quality is expanded and clear, and more than capable of carrying the full width and aspect of the modern recording…. gone are the scratches and crackles. Some would say the digital sound isn’t as warm as the analogue recordings of the 1950s, 60s, 70s & 80s, ‘the vinyl years’, but in a close run race I’d say CD pips, vinyl at the post by offering us improved sound whilst still allowing us to own something physical we can share with our friends.

Surely with the download all we have previously discussed is lost. This is of course replaced with the download’s  best  feature – instant accessibility – and I can store my whole record collection on an I-Pod or MP3 Player. I can take the whole collection on holiday or on the train with me.  But I don’t really own anything – I sort of access the ether to hear it but I never touch it or store it on the bookcase. The artwork exists but again it’s a binary code and not something to take up space in the house, to display and pass to my friends. There is no effort undertaken to gain the prize, no journey from the sofa, no weather to negotiate on my trip into town, no people to see along the way. You can see whose side of the argument I’m on for better or for worse.

I am going to finish off with a technical point that may be of importance to artists, engineers and the listener – sound quality. In these days when sound recording is without past compare, the artist can be heard in fantastic quality – you can almost be in the room with your favourite artist, guitars can stretch across horizons and drums can pound with such resonance that you can see the skins vibrate in your mind. Yet with the vastness of this acoustic spectrum we choose to download a file so small it has to be compressed to within an inch of its life and we lose all that the technical advances in recording have brought us in the last few decades. It’s crazy – it’s like seeing a beautiful painting hanging in a gallery and taking home a small black and white postcard of the art for the same price as the full colour original.

For me CD is still the best format – I get the sound quality to document my songwriting, I get the artwork to touch with pages to turn, I get to hold in my hand that which I collect and get to store it on the shelf and worship it 😉

But the choice is yours to make when buying music – choose wisely.

You can visit ROJOR.COM to buy my CDs – you know it makes sense ….  🙂

Forthcoming Album – Progress So Far

Just thought I’d update you on ‘progress so far’ regarding my forthcoming  album. Most of the writing was completed last summer, autumn & winter with hours sat at the piano or playing the acoustic guitar. Scores were scribbled on papers, notes were etched in my ‘little black book’ and numerous bottles of wine were consumed.  It was now time to begin the recording process proper with the ‘rough demos’ in the bag and Producer Mike Frankland was brought on board for the project.

I started the process at the back end of last year with “The First Time Again”, which was not only a blueprint for the album’s general direction but also to be the first single from the long player. As some of you may know this was released worldwide on 06 February 2012 and it’s not only received airplay on national BBC Radio 2 here in the UK but also across Europe & the USA.

As I mentioned “The First Time Again” was a trail blazer for the album with its basic instrumentation – drums, bass, acoustic guitar & piano…. and there is the extra flavour added with the ukulele. Did you spot it in the song? The track itself was written on the piano with several other songs including the second track recorded for the album – “Suddenly I Can’t Find U”, which was recorded over a cold January having recovered from the flu and the excesses of the Festive Season.

Next up was a song I wrote many moons ago but had never actually recorded, despite rave reviews from friends and when played live…. “All of the World”. The arrangement for this song takes a slightly different turn with a key brass section melody. March saw the recording of what turned out to be the second radio single – “Just One Day” – check out the VIDEO . Next up was a brand new song in that it was written just weeks before recording – “Vagabond Hearts”. I think as you progress with an album project your sub-conscience fills in the spaces, the missing pieces of the jigsaw and even though you have written 90% of the material you have to leave the door open for new arrivals.

The summer has seen further songs recorded but I’ll discuss them next time around.

I’ll keep you up to date via TWITTER & Facebook