I have recently read the first three posts of the article titled “The Road To Revenue” posted by Musik and Film, and I now eagerly await the next five parts. This is a well thought out and informative set of articles aimed at explaining how musicians have to learn to behave like business people if they are to succeed, and it really does help focus on what needs to be done. One of the stumbling blocks that many musicians face is that on receiving this kind of advice, there is a tendency to think “Yes, that makes sense, but it doesn’t really apply to me”. We are all different. The task is to take the general truths, and be creative in making them fit the circumstance. The basic truths will almost certainly be constant.
I’d like to share my thoughts in three parts.
- The birth of the brand/product/identity
- The back-story
- Looking forward
1. The Birth Of The Brand.
It is only now that I am learning to think of my music in terms of being a ‘brand’, and of the need to have brand identity etc. I wrote a bunch of songs in January 2011 (after a long period of almost total writer’s block). There were about half a dozen of them, and they were mostly kind of folky songs, but one was a blues. That one struck a chord and the rest fell by the way side. I played that song over and over, and more blues based songs came along. After about six months I had a couple of dozen, and at least half of them I thought were reasonably credible compositions. You will note from my use of the word ‘reasonably’ that my belief in my work was far from solid. I found it hard to think that other people might think they were quite good, and I certainly didn’t particularly rate my performance of the songs; but I enjoyed them, and when I ventured to play the odd song in a folk club, it seemed to go down reasonably well.
I had always had a dream of making a solo album. With my head full of these new songs, I increasingly thought, “Now’s the time.” I really didn’t know where to start. I knew I needed a rhythm section, and I thought a brass section might be nice on a few songs. I also thought piano would be good, so my first step was to talk to an old friend Paul Millns who is a successful piano playing singer-songwriter with a dozen or so wonderful albums to his credit.
Paul agreed to help, and also gave me contact details for drummer Richard Hudson and sax player Nick Pentelow. In turn, Richard introduced me to bassist Nigel Portman-Smith, and Nick agreed to score the brass parts and play on sessions with trumpet playing friend Matt Winch. I looked at a few recording studios in Reading, and chose The Whitehouse for three very good reasons.
Firstly, the sound room was a good size so could accommodate many musicians working at once, as well as a couple of friends (Badger Music Media) who agreed to video the whole thing for me. Secondly; they had their own car park – that may seem silly, but with a number of serious musicians driving from London for sessions, it was a consideration. Finally, and most importantly, at our first meeting, they seemed keen on the project, we arranged a planning meeting, their approach was very professional and they seemed to like the music.
Skipping the rest of the planning and looking at the sessions; I had a lot to learn: I had no producer, so I was the default producer. I had to give instructions to all these wonderful musicians and expect them to respond positively. And guess what – they did. The biggest lesson for me came from the fact that everyone was taking my music seriously. This was new to me. Some of them even asked me if I was going to ‘Tour the Album’. WHAT? I don’t have a band; I don’t even have a p.a. How do you do that?
The big lesson was that my project, which was largely for me, was credible in the wider sense. The songs stood up. I had to get used to this and learn to believe in them, and believe in myself.
With the thought that you only do this sort of thing once, I allowed the costs to rise, so apart from the 16 musicians, I had a great graphic artist work with me on a 6-side digipack and 20-page booklet, and I mastered the album at Air Studios. We all had an enjoyable time at every stage of the process. I had such a great time. And yes – I am proud of the result.
I got a web site up, and two of the musicians from the album joined me for four songs to launch the album at a social club in May 2013.
I still didn’t really think it was all sufficiently credible to take it any further, and to be honest, I didn’t know how to, but the feedback was good, and I thought that if those two musicians, Mike Baker on Guitar and Howard Birchmore on Harmonica, were up for it, well maybe we could try and do a few gigs – somehow.
We did a few unpaid spots after that – a little charity music day in June, a kind of open mic spot in August as well as an internet radio spot; and a couple more charity spots in October. The more we did, the more the sound and balance between the three of us seemed to gel and mould into the music.
I had created the persona of John Cee Stannard for the album, but we didn’t have one for the trio. After much soul searching I settled on John Cee Stannard and Blue Horizon. So now we have a brand identity.
I had contacted our local BBC Radio Berks a little earlier, and got myself an invitation to join Mike Read one afternoon to chat about the album ‘and stuff’. This chat led to an introduction which resulted in our first proper paid gigs in November 2013 as part of a new festival in Henley, the ‘Henley Jazz and Blues Week’.
They were my first every proper paid gigs in my own right and people actually seemed to quite enjoy them.
2. The Back Story.
After playing keyboard in a local pop group in the 60’s, the length and breadth of Reading, sometimes for as much as £10 (but usually a lot less), I discovered folk clubs. I teamed up with Reading musician Roger Strevens and formed Tudor Lodge. Roger was a very competent musician and a great entertainer so a few months of floor spots resulted in about half a dozen bookings. Roger quit before the first one and at the Windsor folk club I met Lyndon Green who agreed to help fulfil the obligations. We stayed together and were joined by American flute player and vocalist Annie Steuart. We played as many floor sets as we could and got some good local gigs. Then we met Karl Blore who offered to be our manager.
Having a manager shifted the whole thing into a higher gear. He knew people, and made a point of getting to know other people he needed to know. Without a manager, we would have continued to play local floor spots and do a few local gigs. With a manager, we got a record deal in less than a year on the Vertigo label and released an album in 1971. In the same year we played Cambridge folk festival, and the famous, or infamous Weeley festival in front of 150,000 people. There was a TV spot on Welsh TV and a trip to Morocco and a tour of Holland. For various reasons, it fell apart in January of 1972 after a year of having made really good progress which was only possible because we had someone working for us. A dedicated manager. I had written a little over half of the album, and wrote a few more songs that year before the creativity seemed to dry up.
So I got a job – I went back to my career as an accountant – occasionally playing a couple of songs at a club. In 1980 Tudor Lodge reformed for a gig, and then Annie left and Lynne Whiteland joined. Lyndon left in 1985 and Lynne and I continue to the present day as Tudor Lodge. I was still unable to write anything of merit, but luckily Lynne’s writing skills blossomed, so there was no shortage of material for the five albums that we have recorded during the past 20 years or so. I have thoroughly enjoyed all those years, and the music has been a great stress buster and support, but has been largely a hobby, although we would have been very pleased if greater success had knocked on our door. Tudor Lodge is still very important to me. Although I contribute to the arrangements, and have co-written a few songs, and am a part of the performance, it is largely Lynne’s music, and she is the focal point of the duo. Perhaps it was the acceptance of this writer’s block, and my inability to produce anything of value for Tudor Lodge, that made it hard, at first to take my new writing seriously when it started in 2011. But now I am beginning to think that there is no reason why, alongside my Tudor Lodge work, I should not pursue this new venture – or adventure, into the blues.
3. Looking Forward
Having now fully retired from full time employment, at the age of 67 I am thinking it is time for a change in career. Surely I am not too old to have a dream? I do still feel I am being a little big headed and self centred when I think my songs might be good enough to be ‘out there’ but I’m working on that. I do believe the songs are coverable.
2014 has started well with three paid gigs in February and another three in March. They seem to be going well, so we are planning another album which will be representative of the trio, rather than the full orchestra of ‘The Doob Doo Album’, and we are trying to focus on the idea that: festivals are possible; more gigs are possible; even a small tour might be possible. And this can only be achieved be approaching those goals in a business like way. This includes learning the business and collecting tips and advice from wherever possible, including this excellent series of articles in Musik and Film.
As a musician, it is not natural to be self promotional – you worry that people might think “Who does he think he is?” So I guess it’s all about balance; A certain amount of humility with the confidence that what you have to offer has a place in the world.
Since thinking that I might take the John Cee Stannard and Blue Horizon experience more seriously, as far as it will take me, I have been lucky to have the help and support of Angie, my wife, who has been doing much of the internet searching and researching necessary to apply to pubs, clubs and festivals, asking for the opportunity to appear.
Later this year I plan to publish my first novel, and I have been studying and reading up on how to be successful at that, and the advice again is that you have to work, really work, at spreading the word. Having the right web site and internet presence; learning to blog; write articles; join chat groups; develop e-mail lists. It’s not about shouting “Look at me I’m great”, it’s about recognising that no matter how good you or you book, or music might be, if you don’t tell people you are there, they don’t have the opportunity to hear you. It could be said that by not promoting yourself, you are denying them the opportunity of enjoying your work. It’s a big learning curve, a huge shift of attitude.
I have sometimes hidden my dream under a cloak of realism and fear of failure. Now I’m beginning to acknowledge and even enjoy the dream.
You can buy my CD “The Doob Doo Album” from my website www.johnceestannard.co.uk
You can also find me – with a few more clips – at www.reverbnation.com/johnceestannard
There’s more of my musical history at www.tudorlodge.com
You can also e-mail me at [email protected]
Badger Music Media at www.badgermusicmedia.com
The Whitehouse studio at www.whitehouse-studios.co.uk
One of the videos from the album http://www.youtu.be/UDgkp_NM43U