About Meeting With Music Makers

Welcome to MeetingWithMusicMakers.com. Here is an introduction that lets you know how it came about and why I write it.  I always find getting insight into a project from the creator is helpful, especially for anyone who is interested in creating their own projects.  

A piece of writing doesn't just appear into the world in the form that you read.  Rather, most pieces of writing go through a long creative period to get to the point where they are ready to be unleashed on the public.  Being given a small insight into that process may be helpful to any other aspiring writers out there.

In 2008 I was lucky enough to gain a position writing for the now defunct music webzine, Unpeeled.net.  I was asked to write reviews of albums.  I had never written reviews before so it was a steep learning curve.  Luckily for me, the editor, Shane O'Leary, let me write whatever the hell I wanted.

Shane had a philosophy that came from working at NME in the early eighties.  He wrote reviews, and when he was handed music the tapes/vinyl sported red stickers and green stickers.  The green stickers were to be positively reviewed, the red stickers negatively.  Apparently, too much advertising revenue was at stake.  It was basically a system where a label could buy a good review.  Shane was not a fan of this method.  When I started writing for him, he made it clear that my opinion was what counted.

Every month or so, Shane gave me a big stack of CDs and download links, and each one had a press release attached.  I had never seen a press release before.  In my experience, having a press release in your hand for a release and then reading reviews for the same release will destroy your innocence.  I found that the majority of reviewers out there were repeating the marketing material that came with the album, allowing themselves to be advertisers rather than critics.

With Shane's story about NME and my own research made me wonder who the hell was actually giving a personal opinion?  It was a question that bugged me.  I had grown up reading reviews of music.  I had even been swayed by their arguments.  I felt foolish.  I felt lied to.  I decided that I would never, ever lie in my reviews.  I wanted to make sure my reviews reflected a true emotional response to the music I was given.  This, in part, is why MeetingWithMusicMAkers.com exists, but it isn't the only decision, or even the most important.

In 2008 digital downloads were pretty big news.  While the music industry was in free-fall trying to deal with what they saw as a menace to their profit margins, I saw it as a positive for the listening public.  At the same time, I questioned my role as reviewer.  What did my opinion matter when the music was right there to listen to?

After a lot of thought I realised that reviewers opinions weren't important. What was important was to build awareness and provide context.

I told Shane that I wanted to write reviews that reflected my opinions, that ignored the press release and took into account the fact that the music was right there to listen to.  He shrugged and went, cool.  You do you.  Just get the reviews to me on time and don't trust my proofreading to catch any errors you are stupid enough to leave in the text.

My first reviews weren't by me.  I was young, creative and wanted to keep friends in the PR and music industry.  So, I created Sid Celery and Trevor Terrant.  Sid Celery was a nice, fey, folksy, feely kind of guy. Trevor Terrant was an obnoxious, visceral, sexually depraved moron kind of guy.  Sid was a muso and would use the language of music reviews and actually knew about music and how it was produced. Trevor liked loud, stupid stuff.  To show you how that worked, here is(embarrassingly) one of their earliest reviews:

SHIRLEY LEE: "Shirley Lee"
RELEASED? 16th February
TREVOR TERRANT SAYS- I am known for my honesty, and honestly, I hate this shit.  Indie karaoke by any other fucking name.
SID CELERY SAYS- Shirley Lee has been around for a while now after being the front man for those almost, maybe, never-quite-made-it's Spearmint, and back when they started they were right on the money, back in good ole 1995.  So they never made it, but good on them for carrying on touring, putting in the brittle back work and nun-chuk hard graft and getting their mid-nineties Brit pop inspired songs out to those who never gave up on their talent and graft.
TT SAYS- Yeah, congrats, but Shirley, how about you either get off your one trick pony or fuck off, yeah?
SC SAYS- You really aren't very constructive at all, are you Trev?  Here I am trying to build a backstory, show that this guy is a bit of a legend in his own time and worthy of respect from all us johnny-come-lately's, and there you go being no better than the kids who hang around outside the local Co-Op looking to shank anyone you can for a miserable 10p.  This is pure, DIY Brit-rock, from the heart, from the soul.
TT SAYS- I'm right though, aren't I?
SC SAYS- Well...Yeah.
TT SAYS- Right then.  Next! 
WHERE IS IT? www.shirleylee.co.uk

As juvenile and offensive as most of these reviews were, I enjoyed writing the conversations.  The characters of Trevor and Sid grew and changed.  Over the year that I used them, they developed arcs. Sid became more cynical and began hating everything for sounding the same, while Trevor fell madly in love with indie-darlings The Lovely Eggs, which made him softer, more tolerant.  When The Lovely Eggs released their full length album after a year of EPs and guest spots, I used it as an excuse to kill Trevor and Sid.

Sid and Trevor often told stories about where the music had taken them or places they'd heard the music, and I wanted to develop that without them.  The format for my Unpeeled reviews was turned into two halves.  The first half was 'Sounds Like', where I described what the music sounded like, and the other half was 'Is It Any Good?' where I gave an opinion on the music.  I often used the 'Sounds Like' section as my place to write these aurally inspired stories.  Here is one of my first from late 2009(i'll leave out the other half of the review as it is standard review stuff):

RICH EVANS "Circus" (Studiophonics)
RELEASED? Out now.
SOUNDS LIKE? It's the soundtrack to a cowboys suicide in a roadside hotel in Nashville, but he’s missed the vein and won’t die. He’s weak from blood loss when he sees a sunrise he never planned for, and it makes him want to give life another go, maybe driving a truck, definitely still wearing a Stetson and jeans.

I feel that story alone gives a good sense of what the music will sound like. I hadn't fully broken from giving my opinion on the music and I felt I still needed to show I understood how the music was put together and snippets of history of the groups or their labels or their producers so that the audience trusted me.  After  all, our audience was the type of muso who took their music seriously in that really geeky way where they can tell you every instrument on an album, where it was recorded, who was in the room, how far away the kick drum is positioned from the snare and what the singer's breath smells like.

It wasn't until the October 2010 edition that I went full narrative.  Every review for that month was a short, short story.  The following two are my favourites from that weird little batch of eight:

Hige Club ‘Charlotte Forever’
Sounds like: It was a dark night and a shadow sat in a doorway. He exhaled cigarette smoke like a broken steam train, wisps trailing up his nose and billowing under the peak of his fedora. He was waiting for her. She sang for the club and they crowded around her like bugs to a buzzing light, falling burnt at her feet. Her gaze could wither roses and freeze the vodka in your glass. He knew she would come this way, alone, her heels a clattering rhythm that echoed off the walls like a nervous cup in a saucer. Her dress clung to her hips and her hair billowed like a curtain in the wind, blond, her skin pale, lips redder than a communist march. He hugged the doorway and held his breath. She stopped close to him, paused as if listening, her head cocked picking out the distant sounds of the insomniac city kicking the blanket of the night sky. She exhaled the last lungful of smoke from her cigarette, removed it from her holder and crushed it beneath her heel. As she went to walk on, his hand unfurled from the darkness, grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. Too cold to scream, she sighed with shock and saw his face picked out in the dim lamp light, then she smiled. “Come back” he said. She shrugged his hand from her shoulder. She let it drop like a bad habit to his side and smiled a smile that was all teeth and didn’t meet her eyes. She went for her bag. Before she could reach inside he offered her a cigarette, which she accepted without a word, screwing it into her holder before placing it between her lips, holding his gaze, expectant. He cupped his hand around the end of her cigarette and lit it, the flame holding them in a flickering halo, the two of them a scene from a film. The lighter snapped closed and she exhaled smoke into his face. He coughed. “Forget me” she whispered, turning on her heel to click-clack out of his life forever.
Is it any good? Yes.

Sad Day For Puppets “Pale Silver and Shiny Gold”
Sounds like: He grinned like a grand spent on sweets. Looking down, the people looked like he could pinch them up between his thumb and forefinger. The metal glinted at his feet. He sat down, legs straight out. He could feel the cold of the slide seeping through his jeans. He was the first customer of the day, the first paying bum to look down at the chute of pale silver rubbed smooth with years of excited whoops and wails. He held the handles at either side sticky with the residue of years of candy floss and excited perspiration. The slide dropped down where his feet touched the sky. The anticipation of speed and freedom filled his lungs with short breaths as he heaved back and forth. With one final lunge he threw his body forward and laid his head back. The wind whipped at his open mouth. He looked at the sky, the clouds blurred by the tears in his eyes, the sun a shiny gold arcade token waiting to be spent.
Is it any good? It feels right.

Even reading now, years later, I feel good about these stories.  Shane and most of the PR people who gave me feedback were mildly bemused.  But, true to his word, Shane was fully supportive of my creative whims, backing me up even when he might have thought I was wrong.  After all, it was him that received the complaints, and the praise, I might add.  There were quite a number of press releases that were changed based on my reviews, which I always took as the highest form of praise, even higher than all the free t-shirts I received from grateful bands. 

I wrote for Unpeeled for another two years.  I wrote in the traditional format, I also wrote long, vitriolic rants, but it was the narratives that I always had the most fun with, and I wrote quite a few.  In 2013 I stopped a lot of my creative work to focus on university and, if I'm honest, playing computer games.  But, I never forgot that creative breakthrough.

Now, back to the present, and I've been writing solidly for the last year.  I have most of a novel written, I've done a few commissions and I felt it was time to get some creative work out there to the world.  Because of Unpeeled, I came to love writing about music and music makers.  I spent five years experimenting, trying to figure out what writing about music looks like when I write it.  I  always had in the back of my head that narrative formula, where I wrote stories inspired by the music.

That is how MeetingWithMusicMakers.com came to exist.  An idea incubated through years of writing for one of the mist supportive editors I have ever had.  I ditched the malicious posturing of all my negative reviews and decided to write only about music I like, to bring attention to artists I feel are worth being shouted about.

I know that I have a tendency to go off on a whim with my writing and, if I do not have constraints, I go all over the shop when I need to be focused.  With that in mind, I created five rules for myself to write with:

1) Each story must start with a variation of, "I first met [artist/group name] while..."

2) Each story must end with, "... and we've been friends ever since."

3) The story must contain the name of one of the artist's songs, preferably my favourite song by them, or their first song I heard.  This song name must be hyperlinked to a video of the song.

4) I must include the name of the album that the song comes from, as well as the year it was published.

5) The story must be about how I met the artist/group and not go beyond that meeting.

I hope that you enjoy MeetingWithMusicMAkers.com as much as I enjoy writing for it.  I have already had a number of people asking, what the hell is this?

Writing for Unpeeled was a real education, and it helped me develop as a writer.  Below you can find links to some of the my favourites saved from those days.  Have fun reading them.  I'm pretty sure I had fun writing them.

You can find twenty of my personal favourite reviews for Unpeeled HERE

You can find an interview with the band Itch I did for Unpeeled HERE

You can find an interview I did with The Levellers for Unpeeled HERE

You can find an interview/gig review of Beardyman and The Heritage Orchestra HERE

You can find an interview with the band Kong I did for Unpeeled HERE

You can find an interview I did with Iranian metal band Ahoora for Unpeeled HERE 

You can find an interview I did with Anais Mitchell for Unpeeled HERE

You can find an interview I did with Daniel Johnston for Unpeeled HERE