I’m going to share with you an action, or a series of actions, that I did a few years ago that brought me some recognition, success, and friendships with regards to my music.
Back in 2007 there wasn’t much happening for me music-wise. I was getting over the death of my father and hadn’t really focused on much to do with my music. I was still writing of course, but a lot of it didn’t really seem to matter that much at the time. One evening, I was invited out by my friend Vince to go and see some DJs at a club in Glasgow. Vince was already recognized worldwide as a top DJ and “techno” producer. He had played all over the world and had released many records. But more importantly, he was my friend. He had been so since I was twelve years old. Despite his worldwide “superstardom” (that’s a joke by the way!) within the scene, he was still just Vince.
Now before I go any further I feel that it’s important to point a few things out with regards to electronic music genres.
Imagine that you’re a guitar player and that you play a little jazz, or some folk music, blues etc, but everyone assumes that because you “play guitar” it means that you only play death metal!
It would get a little frustrating having to keep explaining to people that you don’t play as loud as to burst eardrums, nor do you drink two bottles of Jack Daniels before going on stage, nor are you particularly fond of biting the heads off bats! I’m sure you get the idea. What I’m trying to communicate is that quite often when I mention terms like “techno” or “dance music” it is assumed that I’m referring to promiscuous people off their heads on drugs dancing to painfully loud, bass heavy music.
Techno is not that. It is not “EDM”, or is it “Trance” or “Hardcore”. It’s a style of electronic music which draws heavily from sci-fi ideologies, technology, futurism, and environmental soundscapes. It is often repetitive in nature but not always. The repetition makes it good to dance to and because of its subjectivity, techno tracks often find themselves in little parallel universes and being associated with some seemingly unrelated styles of music! (For example, I once got a fantastic review in “Blues and Soul” magazine for what was very much a techno track.)
It is not “drug music” either, although unfortunately, and like every other style of music, drugs often find their way into the scene. It’s important to point out though that many of the world’s most successful techno DJs and producers are very spiritual people and many don’t even drink alcohol never mind take drugs. I guess it’s the same for many “out of the box” thinking artists. I mean, to create other worlds and other universes with their art, they HAVE to be on drugs. Right?
It’s likely that their aversion to such substances keeps those “creative juices” flowing and keeps them from finding themselves IN the box.
Anyway, I thought that I’d clear that up. You don’t have to like the style but it helps to knock off some of the negative preconceptions, and to understand the art a little more.
Right, back to the story! So Vince and I were at some club in Glasgow listening to a few DJs from Italy, and from The Netherlands. After the show I was introduced to the two Dutch DJs. They were introduced to me as Stefan and Esther. Both were quite soft spoken and kind of reserved. They were friendly though and we chatted about music, Glasgow, The Netherlands, and the record label that they ran. We spoke for about 45 minutes and then, before going our separate ways, Esther handed me a cd of her music.
I played the cd in the car the following day and enjoyed what I was listening to. Nothing overly dramatic or particularly “out there”. The tracks were quite simple in a way but they had just the right blend of rhythm, melody, and groove. The tracks had my hand gently tapping on the steering wheel – always a good indicator.
A few months passed when I received an invite from yet another “music buddy” to sign up to a new music platform online. The platform would allow producers, artists, and DJs to keep in touch, collaborate and listen to new music. “Soundcloud” was pretty new when I signed up and the first thing that I did was to look up all my music contacts and start following them. I included my two new contacts, Stefan and Esther. I then uploaded some of my music, you know, just to get a little feedback on what I was doing.
I would log on every other day and listen to a lot of different styles of electronic music. Some artists I noticed were more prolific in uploading music than others. I also saw that my own music was getting quite a few listens. The comments left were pretty positive. It’s always nice to get encouragement and although I had written a lot of new material over those past few months, I hadn’t really found a record label who would release the tracks. To be honest, I wasn’t looking that hard.
Then one day, Esther uploaded one of her tracks. This one I really liked, in particular I loved the percussion she had used. How did she create those sounds? What instruments, what software was she using? I thought I may as well ask her. I complimented her on her track and explained what I loved about it. I then asked her about her production techniques, inspiration etc. Her reply was not what I expected. She was so pleased that someone took the time to not only compliment her music, but to explain to her what it was that they liked about it. She was already quite an established DJ around the scene in Europe and like my friend Vince, she had played in many places and had released a lot of music but she pointed out something to me. Although she got a lot of people saying that they loved what she did, her music, her DJ sets, almost no one ever explained what it was that they liked about the music! And she was right. I looked at the comments on Soundcloud relating to her tracks. I then looked at the comments relating to my tracks. “Nice!”, “Great track”, “Love this”, “Love the vibe” etc etc.
I had honestly never noticed it before. I found it both kind of strange and amusing. Esther never did explain how she got those percussion sounds. I think that she was too caught up with the first part of my email. But she did ask if I wanted on the mailing list to her’s and Stefan’s record label. It meant that I would get these great tunes before the general public providing that I give “a little feedback” on the tracks. So I said “sure! Sign me up!”.
Every other week I’d receive a message in my inbox to click on a link to listen to the music. On doing so, I would be presented with the feedback form to fill out while I listened. Once I had submitted the form, another link opened for me to download the track. It was quite fun to do. As I had done before, instead of commenting with something like “great track” or “nice one!”, I chose to give a more in-depth insight to why I liked it. Even on the tracks that I wasn’t so keen on, I always focused on something that I did like about that particular piece of music and gave my feedback on that. I figured that these artists on the label rota put their heart and soul into their music as I did when writing mine, and I wanted to validate them for doing so.
A few days after submitting the form and downloading the track, I’d receive another email. This time it would be the promo for the release. I’d read through it and then look at the comments from the other reviewers’ forms that were copied and pasted onto the promo. My comments stood out like a book in a bowl of post-it notes!
“Definitely on my playlist.”
“The deep subterranean bassline throbs beneath one’s feet while reverb soaked percussion clatter in the background like distant locomotives pulling through rain.”.
“Love this track.”
“Gonna play in my next DJ set”
Can you guess which comment was mine?
It wasn’t long before Esther emailed me again, “Dear Colin. Myself and Stefan absolutely love reading your comments on our feedback forms. As you can see we always include them in our promo. We were wondering if you would like to work for us in writing the text for our future promo? We will pay you of course. Also, we listened to some of your tracks on Soundcloud and would very much like to release some of your music.”
Now I was getting PAID to listen to music, and I had found my record label. This was amazing!
Amazing that by simply explaining what it was that I liked about a piece (and being a little creative in my explanations) I had created a little sideline job for myself, and that my music was now being played all over Europe.
There seemed to be a kind of flow to it – admire, but not just “admire”. Take time to admire. Why are you admiring? Let the artists know what it is, then receive admiration and opportunity in return.
The next time you feel that you “like” something, ask yourself why. And if it’s a work of art, a story, a sculpture, a piece of music, and if you can, let the artist know what it is that you love about their work!