THE ART OF A&R

One of my most regular and popular Master Classes that I deliver to early career music industry professionals is ‘The Art of A&R’. A&R spelt out is Artist and Repertoire. The A&R department of a record company is responsible for:

A. working with the talent who are already under contract, and:

B. finding new talent; that is seeking out new material and acts to sign in an attempt to develop a roster of artists for the company.

The A&R department’s staff are frequently involved in all aspects of an artists’ relationship with the record company, including the initial negotiations and the signing of the recording contract, the rehearsal arrangements and production, and promotion divisions of the record company. The training of new creative, entrepreneurial forward thinking and business savvy A&R managers is, I would argue, central to the very survival of the music industry.

In a time of crisis and collapsing sales of recorded music in the music industry, creative and entrepreneurial A&R workers are more important than ever. Only by continuing to create new products and value can record companies compete in this rapidly changing market. The reorientation of A&R instruments and strategies are critical to meeting the consumer’s needs in the present climate. The relationship between the product/artist and the fan has to become closer through the use of new marketing and production instruments and strategies. New tools like. for example, fan community contests, new gatekeeping functions, new financial opportunities and new technologies afford record labels the chance to rally against falling turnovers. Even if record companies concentrate on buying and selling copyrights and catalogues in the future, A&R departments will be important as a gatekeeper to maintain the company’s A&R guiding principles and policies. In other words, A&R managers and departments are there to ensure the quality of artists and content associated with the record company.

To be able to survive this crisis new challenges have to be conquered, new requirements fulfilled and new opportunities seized. As a result of collapsing sales in the music industry, recording labels have less capital at their disposal. Production and artist development budgets have been dramatically reduced. When I worked in A&R we had at our disposal lavish budgets. That said nothing stifles creativity more than wealth. As such, it has become harder for labels to invest in new artists and to develop their careers. However, the business of finding and recruiting new artists still operates as it has done for decades. There is no shortage of hard working, talented artists who want to become stars but it seems to have become harder for labels to earn money with the music they are producing, and as a result they have less budget for their development.

To withstand the drop in sales, new income streams have to be found to ensure the development of, and investment in, the careers of new artists. As long as record companies are developing, releasing and selling new artists, a turnover is guaranteed. A&R management not only involves the process of scouting for and finding new talent, but also acts as a gatekeeping tool allowing record labels to meet the company’s A&R guiding principles and policies, even if finished products are being signed to the label. Even if labels decide to concentrate more on buying, selling and monetizing copyrights rather than developing and producing new artists and/or products in the future, A&R management will remain one of the most important instruments. To be able to conquer the current crisis and to compete economically, record labels have to recalibrate the instruments of their A&R policy.

I recently gave my ‘The Art of A&R’ Master Class in Sydney, Australia at the Australian Institute of Music (AIM) to a bunch of highly creative and motivated undergraduate students. During this session I realized that I was lacking some ‘takeaways’, so in order to re-address this gap, here are some possibilities and ideas:

  1. Closer artist/fan relationship. Major labels in particular still have a very impersonal system of information distribution for fans and end-consumers. It has become more and more important to show ‘the person behind the star’. by revealing to fans and consumers the real lives of their idols and stars with all their strengths, weaknesses and mistakes, The product can gain an emotional value This personalisation evokes compassion (a Dalton Koss HQ key word). The fan feels bound to the star, both emotionally and personally. By being transparent about the recording process through daily or weekly updates, pictures and videos of the work in the studio on the artist’s website, blog, You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts it is possible to show the fan how a record is made. Fans learn to appreciate the intrinsic value of music by seeing the intensive work required before a final product can be bought in the store. Its time to fully exploit social media and turn it into a powerful marketing tool.
  2. Product development process. Fans could be actively engaged in the production and development process of artists via demo listening, remix contests and artwork contests. Demo listening
 would allow various versions of song demos that had been uploaded to the artist’s Bandcamp or SoundCloud accounts and fans could vote which songs should be produced as part of the next album. Modern young audiences are familiar with this format because of the numerous TV talent shows that exist. Remix contests are already a very popular means of creating a more personal relationship between artist and fan. Fans could download the audio stems of a song for free, or even for a fee, allowing them to create their own version of their favorite artist’s new song. By selling these audio stems another source of income could be generated. Their creators could upload these finished remixes and the fan community could vote for their favorites. Within the scope of a digital or physical release the most popular remixes could be sold guaranteeing a further income stream. For the re-release of the 1976 David Bowie single ‘Golden Years’ an iPhone app was created which allowed fans to create their own remix. The app was made available the same day that the EP ‘Golden Days’ was released, with remixes by well-known producers. For artwork contests
, the fan community could be asked to upload pictures or graphics they associate with the artist or with the artist’s song. After a vote by the fan community, the most popular ones are then included in the booklet artwork or even as the cover.
  3. Improvement of product policy. With the introduction of the compact disc (CD) from 1986 onwards, sonic quality reached a new high with the added bonus that CDs had more ‘space’ than a 12” vinyl record. To boost the income of successful singles, subsequent albums were often filled with inferior songs, of live or rehearsal versions, just to fill the empty space. Some of this material was of rather dubious quality and I’ve heard a number of my own live mixing board recordings end up as a ‘bonus track’ on records. It is important that the quality of the whole product is high and sadly this just hasn’t being the case. My main problem with digital dissemination is the poor sonic quality of MP3 and MP4 files; they sound awful. All the other creative media have moved into High Definition (HD) or Ultra High Definition (UHD) e.g. TV, Cinema, photography, yet music’s sonic quality has gone down the quantity over quality route. If music production moved into HD or UHD mode then the process of developing the product may take a little longer and be more costly but the product would be greatly improved and have more customer appeal. Who knows there may be an end consumer who is willing to pay a premium for an album of near perfect production and of a super high sonic quality?
  4. A&R competence of imprints. To cover a lot of different music genres, major labels are forced to depend on the A&R competence of their imprints. Through imprints, which specialise in non-mainstream and niche music markets, major labels get the opportunity to uncover underground trends earlier and to develop them. As such, imprints are talent pools, experimental research and development laboratories for their parent companies. Not only do they develop the performing talent they also develop A&R management talent too. For this reason niche imprints need fostering and developing.
  5. New strategies of market cultivation. According to record company marketing guru, Marcel Engh, A&R policy has to be the basic element of modern music marketing because it provides and produces the value of the value chain in the recording industry, the content is the strategic factor of success. As the developer of true value, A&R policy has to remain the foundation of record labels. A company’s turnover has to grow not only through artist copyright but also through comprehensive use of the 360-degree contract. Very controversial but worth considering?
  6. The use of new technologies as instruments of A&R policy. With the rapid growth of the Internet, it has become easy for unknown artists and musicians to share their music over the World Wide Web. With Web 2.0 artists can present themselves with their biography, pictures, videos and their music. The challenge of using the Internet as an A&R instrument to find new talent is the access to vast numbers of new and unknown artists. Fan communities can act as gatekeepers to show A&R departments which artists are likely to appeal to potential customers. Relevant indications include the number of plays of uploaded songs, the number of profile views and the comments written on an artist’s wall, all very useful metrics. The popularity and media presence of casting shows helps record labels increase their income. But developing long-term careers with the winners doesn’t appear to work all the time. It is hard for the artists to compete against the following season’s participants and often the winners of one year disappear from the screen when the next show begins.
  7. Public Subsidy. During the global financial and economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, automobile companies had recourse to financial support in several countries in order to be able to survive and avoid bankruptcy. Keeping these unprofitable automobile companies afloat translated into decreased job loss and maintaining industry activity until post-financial crisis. It’s very controversial but maybe something similar could also occur in the music industry? In a postindustrial service based economy, the creative industries, in which the music industry resides, employs significant numbers of people. Increasingly, governments are recognising that public subsidy may be part of the business model for the the creative industries.

Through the reorientation of instruments and strategies of A&R policy, record companies can overcome the recent sales collapse. However, the industry needs fresh ideas and creativity when it comes to selling new products and artists. The days of sitting back and waiting for the big money to roll in are long gone. It has become difficult for record companies and artists to promote and sell their music. Only with good ideas, extraordinary marketing tools and instruments can companies maintain the consumer’s interest in buying music. Major labels, in particular, need to return to developing long-term artist careers instead of relying on one-hit wonders and TV talent shows, even if these do provide some short-term increases in turnover. Successful long-term careers are the key here; the re-imagination of past business models, such, as the three or five album deal is probably the solution. Sign talent with a view of developing and growing it along with its audience over a significant period of time. In order to do that we need new, creative, entrepreneurial and media savvy A&R managers and workers.

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Octocorals

The title of this week’s DKHQ Marine Fact sounds like a sci-fi animal; the visual being half coral, half octopus. Although not a sci-fi creature, this animal is a coral.

When I use the word coral in conversation it often elicits responses such as, “Oh, you mean the coral in the Great Barrier Reef?” Yes, the Great Barrier Reef does have a diversity of beautiful corals, but you don’t have to travel to the tropics to see corals. The corals I am discussing today are found in the cooler temperate waters of Southern Australia. You may need to put on a thicker wetsuit to view them, but they are just as beautiful and colourful as their tropical cousins.

Here are some incredibly interesting facts about octocorals:

Fact 1: The ‘octo’ in octocoral represents the eight feathery tentacles found on each polyp that form the coral. The feathery tentacles are attached to the stomach.

Octocorals are beautifully colourful.
Octocorals are beautifully colourful.

Fact 2: Octocorals are filter feeders, meaning they eat microscopic organisms floating in the water column. The feathery tentacles, as described above, act like fingers swaying in the water current, capturing organisms such as plankton (microscopic animals) and phytoplankton (microscopic algae). Each tentacle is hollow, allowing the organisms to travel from the feathery tips down to the stomach.

Fact 3: Octocorals form colonies that are attached to the seabed or other hard structures such as large rocks.

Fact 4: To see octocorals you will need to SCUBA as they prefer to live at depths between 4-50m.

Fact 5: Octocorals are in the scientific Order Alcyonacea and consist of soft corals, gorgonians and sea whips.

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ALBUM RESCUE SERIES: THE CLASH ‘GIVE ‘EM ENOUGH ROPE’

Some albums are born classics while others need a more revisionist approach. The Clash’s second album ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ is definitely in the latter category. If any album was in need of a critical rescue 37 years after its release then it’s this one. Back when this album was released I was 15, just about to turn 16, and I’d played their eponymous 1977 debut album, The Clash, to death. Every single track on the first album, according to my young ears, was amazing. At the time I’d worked hard to earn the money to buy this album by having two paper rounds, one early morning and another one in the evening. In compete contrast to today; music back then was an expensive commodity. I worked hard, saved my money and rushed out to my local record store to buy this record. When I got it home and first played this record I was pretty disappointed. Where was the anger, where was the aggression and where was the confrontation? In fact, where was the punk rock? This record sounded like some mid Atlantic over-produced pro-rock band?

Retrospectively there seems to be some social and economic parallels between the UK today and the late seventies. It was a time of economic depression, the working class were still down trodden by the conscienceless political rulers and moneyed elite, racial tensions simmered and a generation of disenfranchised young people with no future prospects were ready to lash out a wave of destruction in the form of riots in protest at the injustices of the world they find themselves in. We’re not quite there with the youth riots yet, Brixton and Toxteth style, but they are definitely on the horizon if things don’t change.

It was during this period that The Clash released their second eagerly awaited album ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’ on 10th November 1978. When all the other major British punk bands died in 1978 and were replaced by tepid New Wave acts, CBS (the Clash’s label) tried to push the band into the US market whether they liked it or not. In preparation for the recording of this album the band undertook a ‘secret’ mini tour of the UK Midlands. Bernie Rhodes, the band’s manager, and the record company had settled on Sandy Pearlman, a heavy metal producer with a commercial track record with bands like Blue Öyster Cult, to produce their second album. He was described as the “Hunter S. Thompson of rock, a gonzo producer of searing intellect and vast vision” in the Billboard Producer Directory.

Between 24th and 26th January 1978 The Clash played in Birmingham (Barbarellas), Luton (Queensway Hall) and Coventry (Lanchester Polytechnic). According to Paul Simonon (2008) “The record company had this idea that they wanted a big name American producer for the second album”. The record company felt that the band’s first album was just too raw and not radio friendly enough for American audience’s refined taste. Pearlman attended all three shows to audition the proposed material for the album. At the last show at Lanchester Polytechnic in Coventry (26/1/78) Perlman tried to get backstage just before the show to meet the band. Mick Jones’s old school friend, Robin Crocker (AKA Robin Banks), was taking care of backstage security and he didn’t know who Pearlman was. Crocker wasn’t a man you messed with. Some heavy duty manners were employed to keep Pearlman from going backstage resulting in the longhaired American record producer lying prostrate on the floor blood pouring from his nose as the band stepped over him to take to the stage. As normal The Clash don’t play by the rules, what a great introduction to your new record producer. Pearlman must have been keen because this incident did not dampen his enthusiasm to make their second record.

As 1978 wore on an exasperated record company desperately wanted a follow up album to capitalize on the quick and cheap first album. CBS did not release the first album in the USA; it was only available via import, as they thought the quality was not high enough for American audiences. To compound matters, the once wholly supportive music press where also starting to view The Clash with suspicion amid claims that they were lazy and not pulling their weight. Strummer and Jones de-camped to Jamaica for two weeks to write new material prior to recording. The whole band reconvened and undertook an initial multi-track recording at Wessex Sound Studios, and Basing Street Studios in London.

Wessex Sound Studios would become The Clash’s studio of choice for future recordings while Basing Street would see Mick Jones return there with Big Audio Dynamite. The Clash, Sandy Pearlman and engineer Corky Stasiak spent many weeks recording the tracks for Rope. This was in complete contrast to the first album, which was recorded and mixed in CBS’s own basic Whitfield Street Studios, London. The first album had urgency to it; it was recorded and mixed over a three-week period working Thursday to Sunday each week. The band, and in particular drummer Nicky ‘Topper’ Headon and bass player Paul Simonon, complained about the nick picking way that Perlman recorded. Both complained bitterly about the lack of spontaneity during these recording sessions. Once recording was complete Mick Jones and Joe Strummer claimed to have been virtually kidnapped and taken to San Francisco for overdubs and mixing. Jones and Strummer probably went to San Francisco without Headon and Simonon quite willingly but their claims aid the myth and legend of The Clash. What is known is that Headon and Simonon where very pissed off about not being involved in the USA overdub and mixing sessions.

CBS Records, The Clash’s record company, initially owned The Automatt studios in San Francisco but by 1978 it was sub leased to ex-CBS employee David Rubinson. The studio complex was known for its top-notch equipment and for the radio friendly hit records it produced. Between September and October 1978, singer Joe Strummer and guitarist Mick Jones worked with Pearlman at The Automatt to record overdubs for the album. Flying in from the UK, Jones and Strummer stayed at the Holiday Inn in Chinatown, and almost every night they went to see punk bands play at the Mabuhay Gardens, known locally in the punk scene as ‘The Mab’. Between takes at The Automatt, Strummer and Jones listened for the first time to the Bobby Fuller Four version of I Fought the Law on one of Rubinson’s studio lobby jukeboxes. When they returned to England this song was re-made into a Clash classic which would make its first appearance in March 1979 on their short, five date, London Calling Tour. Then in May 1976 it would become the stand out track on The Cost Of Living.

The results of the Rope are not nearly as good as they could have been and there are perceived to be three major flaws. First of all, Pearlman hated Strummer’s voice and buried it disastrously low in the mix. Secondly, he packed the sound with distortion, booming drums, and overdubbing, making all the songs sound similar and muddying the impact of The Clash’s considerable guitar fury. Thirdly, the lyrics Strummer wrote came under attack because they were considered histrionic, esoteric and soaked in melodrama: they look unkindly on British punk. What the public didn’t understand was that Strummer’s lyrics were self critical of the band, his own career and the world at large.

Mixing the drums so loud on this record is probably a testament to the abilities of Topper Headon. This is one of the few albums in the DKHQ Album Rescue Series where I largely blame the production on the album needing a rescue. In this instance I would opinion that Pearlman was a bad choice as producer for this record. It could have been much worse though. At the time there was no digital audio workstations (DAW) or software, which allows for the manipulation of audio. If this DAW software and technology had been around at the time of recording, and had Pearlman used it as un-compassionately as he did of analogue recording technology available at the time, then this album would probably be un-savable.

The Clash were not in a pleasant situation during 1978. They were being accused by the music press of selling out, of being phonies and being pushed by their record company for a more commercial, clean, mainstream, sound which they apparently loathed. The music falls apart under the war between producer and band; commerciality and creativity never sit well together. In abstract form the songs written by Joe Strummer are fantastic, and would have been truly world-class had a more sympathetic production been employed. Safe European Home is a great mixed paean to Kingston Jamaica, Tommy Gun is a chilling take on terrorism, Drug Stabbing Time has an undeniable rock groove. Stay Free is a world-class romantic history of the band, written in true Mott The Hoople style by Mick Jones about his childhood mate Robin ‘Banks’ Crocker (he of the Pearlman punching incident pre recording of Rope). I would agree that these songs aren’t punk songs; correct they aren’t. This is Strummer developing as a lyricist, in the same way that Jones was developing as a superb studio arranger. This is the sound of The Clash leaving punk behind and moving into much more interesting territory. Rope is a transitional album. These facts should be celebrated because without Rope we would not have the undeniable classic London Calling or the equally impressive Sandinista. Rope is The Clash and in particular the creative talent of Strummer/Jones developing and serving notice on what’s to come.

The album cover features a painting in stark flat colors of a Chinese horseman looking down at an American cowboy’s body being picked at by vultures. The album art was designed by Gene Greif and is based on a 1953 postcard titled End of the Trail. The original postcard was photographed by Adrian Atwater, and featured the dead cowboy Wallace Irving Robertson. Joe Strummer and Mick Jones had come across a painting titled End of the Trail for Capitalism by Berkeley artist Hugh Brown that was on display at San Francisco’s punk rock hangout the Mabuhay Gardens. Strummer and Jones would have seen this picture many times during their three-week stay in San Francisco while attending gigs at ‘The Mab’. It obviously made a lasting impression as the album cover and picture have a striking resemblance.

The original postcard titled End of the Trail (1953) by Adrian Atwater depicts the dead cowboy Wallace Irving Robertson.
The original postcard titled End of the Trail (1953) by Adrian Atwater depicts the dead cowboy Wallace Irving Robertson.

Maybe 37 years is enough time for us to re-evaluate this largely ignored album and accept it into the cannon of The Clash’s work? In many ways this album is like a set of rough sketches of ideas and concepts, which would be employed on further work. On the first album, The Clash stuck to their guns and insisted on Mickey Foote mixing it despite opposition from the record company. On Rope they caved in to CBS and their decision led them to having Sandy Pearlman as producer. In actual fact this gave them a good position to bargain from, insisting that Guy Stevens produce London Calling. The other noticeable fact is that the last gang in town were split into two factions, Strummer/Jones and Simonon/Headon, during the writing, recording and mixing of Rope. Strummer/Jones are probably the beating creative heart of the band but they needed the Simonon/Headon lungs to function. I’d love to hear a Mick Jones re-mixed and re-mastered version of this album from the original multi track tapes (if they still exist). Maybe we should think of this album not for what it is but for what it could have been? Despite the inappropriate and unsympathetic production, this is a great album and is well worthy of rescuing.

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Warren Kennaugh Helps Others Find the Right Fit

Warren Kennaugh is a Behavioural Strategist with WK Global and works closely with senior executives, elite athletes and sporting organisations to develop and further enhance their capability. Warren’s leadership in behavioural change has seen him deliver development programs that include: Senior Executive Coaching & Development, Advanced Leadership, Human Capital Due Diligence, Strategic Planning, Team Building, Sales Strategy Development, BPR and Generation Y.

Warren discusses with Dalton Koss HQ the importance of understanding your values and behaviours to ensure best fit within your chosen career.

I started my career as a mechanical engineer. Arguably it served me the most compared to other work I have done over my career. I take an engineering approach to understand people. For example, when building a bridge you need to understand its construction from the detail to the big picture. It is the same with people. You need to understand their underlying values, motivations and expectations to the bigger picture of what they want to achieve in life. After a few years in the engineering sector, I decided that I wanted to expand my knowledge and opportunities beyond practical engineering application.

I made a move into the banking and finance sector by taking up a sales role. I was in this industry for 5-6 years and worked my way up into leadership roles. During 1995, my organisation went through a restructure and I saw it as an opportunity to start my own coaching and facilitation company. On reflection 25 years later, I was happy that I made this choice when I did.

Since 1995, I have worked with 50-60 major organisations, specifically with senior executives. In early 2006, I was approached to work with elite athletes in national sporting teams. I was asked to build their emotional and behavioural capabilities. My first role was working with the Wallabies in the lead up to the 2007 World Cup. This experience created further opportunities in the sports industry. I have now worked with ARU, SANZAR, World Rugby Referees, World Rugby Teams, Cricket Teams, Australian and International Umpires, Elite Equestrians and World Golfers.

These experiences taught me that there isn’t a lot of difference between elite athletes and high-level professionals. There are many similarities in the skills they value or undervalue, judgements that are made, and their goal oriented drive. I seek to understand these polarities and how they are applied in daily approaches to work. These two major groups of professionals also face similar dilemmas, for example, where and what are their blind spots and how will these cost them? For five years, I served on the Board of a NRL Team and held a number of advisory roles on banking and financing boards and financial services.

One key word that I use to describe successful and effective leadership is fit. You need to find a role that fits your values and behaviours. This role needs to be in an organisation where the team and other leaders value what you value otherwise you will not engage and will feel disconnected. You need to understand how you operate. Those who are technically good at what they do will often move to other organisations until they find a better fit based on their values. By not discovering our values the daily bump and grind of our role is more articulated compared to the enjoyment of a role when our values and skills are the right fit. As a consequence of not understanding these values there is lot of wasted energy in the workplace. Philosophically, I understand the need to earn money in a role that is not satisfying to ensure personal financial responsibilities are met. However, there comes a point in time when this lack of satisfaction becomes too hard and it will be apparent whether you are the employer or the employee.

The key to my success is to always follow my nose. I believe in myself even in the face of detractors. I tend to be a little on the edge, different and so far it has worked for me. I push my boundaries and find my own path. Often, I had wished that I had done things faster. I see this as my failure; I wasn’t quick enough to take action. These situations were always associated with self-doubt. There were opportunities I missed because of my self-doubt and this is how I learnt to always believe in myself.

A professional life is not simple anymore; the rate of thinking has changed. We are more connected and the lines of authority are somewhat blurred. There is whole series of disruptors in our world that creates complexities where as 30-40 years ago professional life was a lot clearer. There were direct lines of professional responsibility. Now there are more options, which can be viewed positively but it comes as a cost due to increased complexities.

My success is attributed to the combination of having an idea and running with it. I work hard and I am very blessed to bump into the right people at the right time. There seems to be a general aligning of the planets. I am strongly supported by my family, which is critically important for me. I am lucky that I can follow any train of thought across any occupation, which is important in my role. I am easy to get along with and I am humble. No matter what I do, I always apply integrity and honesty. It is important to work out what you are good at and how to grow in this area so you can become the best you can be.

Live life and be observant is the number one rule to learning about yourself. Build yourself a strong support network and have trusted advisors who can be honest with you and you with them. Take nothing personally and challenge yourself. Take on a big project, we don’t learn in our comfort zones. If you are not drowning at times, you are probably not where you want to be. Learn and practice the art of self-reflection and self-awareness.

I use the McKenzie Three Horizon model to plan ahead. This approach allows me to identify what I need to be doing to be effective for the next 12-18 months, what opportunities can manifest in the next 3-5 years and what wild and crazy ideas can I seed for fruition in 5 years and beyond. It is important that I think creatively and I am innovative in my approach. It is important for me to be continuously learning so that I can assist people across all their challenges. I am lucky that I am ambitious and inquisitive about how things work. I am curious. These personal attributes are critical for my success. I think we are in an age where we need to think like a consultant no matter your role. Unless you are better than the next person, you get passed over. To be a good leader it requires emotional intelligence to understand yourself and others. Some people are too self aware and others are not aware at all.

It is important to find a good mentor. Learn from the best in the world. This person has most likely covered the majority of the territory you are interested in, even looking under and between the rocks. Find a philosophy or a person you align with. If it is a person, contact them, if it is a philosophy apply it to all that you do.

To learn more about Warren and his work as a Behavioural Strategist, please click on the links below:

Website: http://www.warrenkennaugh.com

Connect with Warren on Linked In: https://au.linkedin.com/in/warrenkennaugh

Follow Warren on Twitter: @Warren_Kennaugh and @WKGlobal

Seaweeds

Seaweeds are the plants of our oceans. Similar to land plants, seaweeds play an important role in absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide and turning it into oxygen we all need in order to live.

Most of us view seaweed as that smelly stuff that washes up on the shore, frequently thrown around by rowdy kids and teenagers. A storm or human extractive activities are the root cause for seaweeds to be washed up on the shore. When washed up, seaweeds are dead and decomposing which is why you crinkle your nose to that funny smell.

Dalton Koss HQ Partner, Rebecca Koss, doing underwater monitoring and surrounded by the brown seaweed Cystophora subfarcinata.
Dalton Koss HQ Partner, Rebecca Koss, doing underwater monitoring and surrounded by the brown seaweed Cystophora subfarcinata.

Seaweeds are beautiful and come in a range of colours, shapes and sizes. They provide homes and protection for many ocean animals. Some seaweeds provide food for animals and are the basis for many food webs. Even humans harvest seaweed for food and other products. Here are some more interesting facts about seaweeds.

Fact 1: Seaweeds are plants, scientifically termed macro(large) algae. They are simple plants without roots, stems, leaves or flowers.

Fact 2: Seaweeds grow on the intertidal shore and in subtidal areas. Like land-based plants, seaweeds harvest sunlight for photosynthesis and will only grow at depths where sunlight can penetrate the water column.

Fact 3: There are three major seaweed groups and they are based on their colour: red seaweeds (Rhodophyta), brown seaweeds (Phaeophyta) and green seaweeds (Chlorophyta).

Fact 4: There is a fourth group of seaweed that is often contested to being a true seaweed amongst marine algae biologists (scientists who study seaweeds). This is the blue-green algae (Cyanophyta).

Fact 5: Some seaweeds are very small and grow on other seaweeds when environmental conditions are opportune. These seaweeds are known as epiphytes.

Fact 6: Some seaweeds have long fronds and can grow up to 10 meters in height creating underwater forests, for example, the large brown kelp Macrocystis angustifolia that grows in southern Australia. Other seaweeds are small, encrust hard structures and often look like lichen.

Red seaweed encrusting a snail's shell.
In the above picture, there are different growth formations of red seaweed. One growth form encrusts the snail’s shell (middle of the photo) while another growth form has fronds (top of the picture).

Fact 7: Seaweeds attach themselves to solid structures such as rock and wood pylons using their holdfasts. Holdfasts are like a whole bunch of fingers tightly gripping onto a solid item. However, seaweeds  are smart and go one step further. Holdfasts secrete a chemical that is similar to superglue to ensure the seaweed is permanently stuck to that structure. This allows the seaweed to withstand strong currents, tides, swells and stormy conditions. This super glue like chemical is being researched by chemists as a natural product to be used in human products, e.g. glues that can be used for building houses.

Fact 8: Some seaweeds are harvested globally as food, medicine and as a product for other applications such as toothpaste, ice-cream, soil fertiliser and shampoo.

Fact 9: Port Phillip Bay located in Victoria, Australia has over 200 different types of seaweeds and is one of the most diverse seaweed locations in the world.

While seaweeds might be pretty stinky while decomposing on the shoreline, without them our oceans would be pretty dull and devoid of life.

The brown seaweed Hormosira banksii growing on the rocky intertidal shore.
The brown seaweed Hormosira banksii growing on the rocky intertidal shore.

Why Study For A Music Degree?

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” (Confucius)

Over the last couple of months I’ve spoken at a number of careers fairs around Australia, where I’m described as a “music industry veteran”. This is actually quite an accurate description because over the last 36 years I’ve had a number of different international roles in the music industry ranging from stage hand, live sound engineer, studio engineer, record producer, tour manager, artist manager, entrepreneur,  music company owner and operator, A&R consultant and record company executive. As well as all this hands-on international industry experience I’ve spent a lot of time as an academic studying and teaching about the music industry. So I must be some kind of expert?

At these careers fairs I’ve really enjoyed talking to potential degree students and their parents. It’s an interesting conversation because there are two completely different narratives being discussed simultaneously. Firstly, there’s the conversation with the potential teenage student and secondly there’s the conversation with the accompanying parent(s). In most cases it’s the teenager that’s desperate to work in the music industry and it’s the parent putting on the brakes. The big problem here is that many parents would prefer their offspring to have a “real job”. A degree in any music industry subject e.g. audio production, performance, music business, etc. is probably going to be the second most expensive item bought during anyone’s life time, second only to property. At around +$40,000 (Aus) it’s a tough decision on how best to invest this money so early on in a career.

The music industry is a viable career option for many people, but only for those that are educated and trained to work in the industry. The modern music industry is a complex and multi-faceted operation with a need for a wide variety of skill-sets. For example, the Australian venue based live music industry entertains over 41 million patrons, contributes $1.21 billion to the national economy and employs almost 15,000 full time jobs (Music Victoria and City of Melbourne, Live Music Censure, 2012). On top of the live music venue-based industry there are other very vibrant sectors within the cultural industries such as audio production, events management, theatre, arts management, broadcasting management, content management and intellectual property management. As with any modern industry the correct education and training is vital if you want a career within these sectors. Various educational institutions provide high-quality, professional arts and entertainment education combined with training in an integrated, socially inclusive environment that allows for a diversity of voices and collaboration between individuals. Students should be encouraged to pursue excellence and innovation through creativity, critical reflection, individual endeavour, exploration and experimentation, unconstrained by style or genre and informed by scholarship and best practice. Any worthwhile educational institution should value its artistic and academic integrity, as well as its engagement with the entertainment industry to ensure currency of its programs. My advice would be to undertake some research and visit the institutions that appeal on open days. All their programs differ; as do their campuses and their staff.

Tim Dalton backstage and on stage with students at 5 Seconds of Summer.
Tim Dalton backstage and on stage with students and industry practioners learning about tour logistics, audio and lighting for 5 Seconds of Summer.

There are two educational routes that can be taken here. The traditional ‘sandstone’ universities and TAFEs where initially uptake was fairly slow but now a significant number of three-year degrees are on offer. The other route is via the plethora of private institutions. The private institutions tend to condense a degree into two years and are slightly more expensive than the traditional institutions. I’ve worked in both types of institutions and there are pros and cons to both. Whatever institution is chosen the teaching staff involved in the delivery of music industry degrees should ideally be a combination of industry practitioners, professional qualified educators and to a certain extent academics.

While traditional manufacturing industries in Australia and throughout the western world are in rapid decline, the music industry is a viable career choice. The job description may include activities that might seem like social occasions e.g. going to shows, visits to the studio, riding on a tour bus, but being involved in these activities from a work perspective is very different from hanging out with your mates. The music industry is first and foremost a business and a very serious financially focused one at that. Whether you end up working in the independent music world or for a major international music label, you will be expected to work long hours in a highly competitive work environment to achieve measurable successes often under difficult circumstances. You may get to wear skinny black jeans and Converse to work, but this doesn’t mean that you are working any less then your friends who have to wear a suit and tie to their office.

Music industry degrees, as we know them today, have only being available for the past 20 years. Prior to this, particularly in the UK, education in the music industry came indirectly from various art school degrees. This non-direct form of music industry education worked very well if we look at the evidence; The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Cream, The Clash, etc. Simon Frith in his 1988 book Art Into Pop tells the intriguing and culturally complex story of the art school influence on post-war British popular music. Art Into Pop tells the story of how artists went from life drawing classes to the recording studio and to the top of the charts all over the world. It’s a story of how rock and blues infected youth music with Bohemian dreams. The late 1970’s was a unique time when punk musicians emerged from graphic design, fine art courses and fashion departments to disrupt what were, by then, art-rock routines. I know because I was there. The other way into the music industry was by accident e.g. brother of drummer becomes drum tech etc. In the very early stage of the developing music industry this route was viable, but definitely not any more.

Tim Dalton teaching music students how to create fantastic mixes.
Tim Dalton teaching music students how to create fantastic mixes.

Much of my work is what I call ‘stakeholder engagement’, ‘knowledge brokering’ and ‘thought architecture’. This involves engaging in active dialogue with music industry employers and connecting them to the higher education institutions where I work. The industry tells me what type of people they want and I tell industry what types of people we are outputting. Ideally we meet in the middle somewhere. This can be difficult as it takes 2 to 3 years for institutions to educate a student. On top of this we need to be mindful that the students we are currently producing will be in the job pool until 2065 and onwards. With this type of time frame it’s virtually impossible to guess what skills will be needed in the music industry 30 or 40 years from now. What is known is that students that have developed skills such as: Learning to Learn (L2L), independent research and critical analysis, oral and written communication, time management and are creatively entrepreneurial will always be in demand. These are pretty much the skills that the music industry has always wanted and are the skills of those traditionally exiting from the art into pop route.

A number of employers are sceptical of degrees in this field and I’m often confronted by CEO’s telling me that they don’t have a degree and that they don’t see the need for them. This happened to me at one of Europe’s largest audio hire companies. The managing director told me that he thought the best route into the industry was through mentoring and working your way up through the ranks “just like we did”. I did point out to him that 90% of his employees had degrees and that while I had worked my way through the ranks I also had a good first degree and a number of postgraduate degrees. I made my point by walking around his very large warehouse with him pointing out the ex-students that I had taught. A degree is a starting point to an accelerated career in any given field.

The above-mentioned audio company starts all of their new employees on the bottom rung of the ladder, but their assent is much more rapid than those without degrees. I once popped into this same company after a Glastonbury festival to find all the ‘newbies’ in the car park with buckets of hot soapy water and sponges cleaning the mud off 100 metre long multi-cores. One ex-student made it clear to me his disdain for this type of job stating “I didn’t spend three years at university to end up doing this”. A few years later I met the same ex-student mixing front of house sound for an international mega star band playing at the local enormo-dome gig in Melbourne. I reminded him of how his BA Honours Audio Technology and his practical experience had landed him this top job. He rather bashfully agreed.

Music students jamming in a creative and supported music environment.
Music students jamming in a creative and supported music environment.

One issue confronting high school students contemplating undertaking a degree in the music industry is their perception of the music industry. Often this is solely grounded in media representations of the music industry and as such is an inaccurate one. The music industry does a clever smoke and mirrors trick where it tries to make itself appear all revolutionary and anti-establishment. In reality the music industry is probably the worlds most compliant, conservative and least revolutionary art form on the planet. If you want to be cutting edge and revolutionary then try fine art, fashion or architecture as an art form.

To help re-align perceptions of both employers and students, Dalton Koss HQ has organised a number speed dating events with industry in the UK and Australia. At these very popular events students get to meet music industry managers and owners and speak to them one-on-one. Results are always positive from both sides of the table. Students start to realize that the product may be music, but ultimately, they will experience a very similar working life to everyone else. They’ll have long hours, with the potential for advancement if they perform well, the potential for dismissal if you don’t, good bosses, bad bosses, troublesome clients, all the standard workplace related experiences. There will definitely be some cool perks, but trust my 36 years of experience when I state that they’ll definitely be earned. Anyone who is hard working, creative, passionate and motivated will fair very well in a music industry career.

Working in the music industry is not a job, it’s probably not a career, rather it’s a lifestyle and as such you can’t measure it with the standard metrics. Many of the young adults I meet at career fairs aren’t sure what they want to do. Indeed I’d be very skeptical of any 15 year old that has a clear life and career plan. If you are planning to spend/invest a heap of money on a degree then my advice would be “Do what you love and love what you do”. It doesn’t really matter if that degree doesn’t become your final career. Use the time to indulge your passion; it’s probably the only time in your life when you can do this. How many English literature students become famous poets? Not many but any degree is always going to open doors in the future. Over the course of your professional life that investment/spend will be repaid many times over.

Album Rescue Series: Vinny Peculiar ‘Ironing The Soul’

From mid 2003 until early 2012 I was employed as a lecturer in Popular Music Studies at a very large metropolitan university in Liverpool in the UK. I was based in the Art and Design Academy where we had the part-time musician, full-time beat poet and world-renowned wordsmith Roger McGough as our Honorary Fellow. McGough was very stately and walked around the building with an aloof air, as you would expect from a much decorated (OBE & CBE), 70-year ‘national treasure’ poet. He’d studied for a French degree in my hometown at the University of Hull. This is the very same university where poet Philip Larkin worked as a librarian. Obviously there is something about Hull that brings out the poet in people. One day I walked into the staff print room to find McGough on his hands and knees at the base of a large Hewlett Packard printer, as if praying. Jammed in the printer was large A3 piece of paper: I’m guessing this piece of jammed paper contained his latest poem? He was bright red in the face, swearing profusely, it didn’t rhyme, while pulling with all his might at the jammed page. I was incredibly impressed with how many percussive expletives he was able to shout out; he was not fazed at all by my entrance. McGough rose majestically to his feet, regained his composure, pushed his glasses back up onto this bridge of his nose shouted one last “FUCK YOU”, kicked the printer, slowly turned and left the room sans le papier. It was kind of surreal.

Another UK based, but much lessor known poet and musician, is Vinny Peculiar (aka Alan Wilkes). Although his poetry and music are nowhere near as well known as Roger McGough’s work I still regard him as an under sung national treasure. In 2014 the Irish Times newspaper described Vinny as “the missing link between Roger McGough and Jarvis Cocker but with the wittiest lyrics this side of Wreckless Eric”. Being a huge fan of all three artists this is very high praise indeed. He’s released eleven albums over the years but it’s the 2002 release, on Ugly Man Records, Ironing The Soul that I’m rescuing.

Ironing The Soul is a beautiful album of kitchen sink confessional outsider pop, which is dedicated to his dead brother Melvin Wilkes (1961-2001). The other ten albums are definitely worth a listen but Ironing The Soul is his magnum opus. This album is a rare beast because the arbiters of style and taste (reviewers) all hailed it as a masterpiece, yet the general public completely ignored it. Vinny didn’t get the attention he so rightly deserved with this album and I bet he loved that. The music on this album is considered problematic because it doesn’t neatly fit into a genre rather it straddles a few. At 50 odd year’s old the cool kids don’t dig him, his music is too odd for the mainstream and his wit is way too intellectual for most people. This album has limited appeal abroad because it’s too quintessentially English. Over the last decade and a half he’s managed to release an original album every few years for a very small but highly appreciative audience who recognize his awkward brilliance. He’s a kind of warm hearted but much more likeable Morrissey of The Smiths.

If you want his full life story then listen to track one (Flatter and Deceive) on Ironing The Soul, it’s all there. In brief, before his re-location to rainy Manchester in the north west of England, Vinny was born and raised in the Worcestershire village of Catshill. The music of his local church, he endured a Methodist upbringing, was his first love but 70’s Glam Rock soon put an end to all that. After flunking formal education and spending an eternity on the dole he trained as a mental health nurse and worked in long stay psychiatric hospitals with some challenging patients. He ended his long-standing relationship with the NHS some years ago in order that he might go and search of everything he’s still looking for. Much of Vinny’s work is autobiographical, the songs are remarkably candid, honest, witty and with a laugh out loud absurdity while at the same time they are poignant and self effacing. Ironing The Soul is a pretty unique album, the songs make you laugh then cry and think all at the same time, you really do need to hear it.

Ironing The Soul is of personal interest to me as I was present during its recording at Hug Studios in Liverpool. I was working with Liverpool management and record company Hug who at the time managed the bands Space and Sizer Barker. We all shared the same manager, offices and studio complex. Sizer Barker and I were located in the downstairs studio at Hug while Vinny was recording in the upstairs studio. Over the period of a few months during 2001, I watched and listened as Vinny’s music was transformed from rough vocal and acoustic guitar demos to a fully finished album. Instrumental in this transformation was producer/engineer Rob Ferrier. Ferrier’s official title does not reflect his true role on this record. He opened the creative gates allowing Vinny to come crashing through. The true beauty of this album is that it fully captures his world of oblique, tortured punk poetry nostalgia. This album gives a deep insight into his strange world because every song is stuffed to the gills with melody and eccentricity. All the songs on this album are clever, funny and wonderfully weird. As album producer, Ferrier channels all of Vinny’s eccentricity and barbed wit into something strangely compelling, and in turn transforms him into some sort of unlikely, heroic pop star, the type they just don’t seem to make anymore.

During the 2001 recording sessions at Hug Studios it was a very interesting to observe the creative process. The technical production on this album is the old fashioned analogue type, which perfectly suites the material being captured. Vinny’s guitar playing and songwriting are second to none mixing Americana chord changes and instrumentation with the ear for a good tune. Through a lens of guitars, mandolin, lap-steel, cheap synths, glockenspiel, egg whisk, spoons, handclaps, immaculate arrangements and compassionate production, Vinny’s music is brought to life. Throughout this album Vinny is complemented with the addition of various musicians included ex members of The Smiths, Oasis, Aztec Camera and The Fall. Ferrier’s production and arrangements complements the material perfectly. Effects are subtle; the album expands across the full audio spectrum and is beautifully dynamic in a pre-MP3 way. Production isn’t laid on with a trowel; it’s understated and acts in the same way as light seasoning is added to a recipe to bring out the true taste of a great meal.

Track four, One Great Artist, is a fantastic example of how Vinny takes the ordinary mundane everyday events of the world and twists them into something magical and unique. I distinctly remember being in Hug’s shared kitchen area when some kind of semi-joke argument broke out about how the studio kitchen was only big enough for one great artist. Of course Vinny took this and constructed some ridiculously bizarre lyrics about great painters, “There’s only enough room in this kitchen, for one great artist and that is me”. With existential angst he also states, “I’m not afraid of dying in obscurity”, which is both very scary and totally accurate. The other band in the kitchen that day, Sizer Barker, where invited into the studio to add “art school chorus” backing vocals on this track. Standing in the recording studio with Sizer Barker that day repeatedly shouting “One great artist” into a microphone is a memory I’ll forever cherish.

There’s a fabulous anarchic elegance to Vinny Peculiar’s music, which is both thrilling and faintly unsettling. Uncut Magazine hits the nail on the head when they wrote, “If Tony Hancock had made pop records they’d have sounded like this”. The ten songs on Ironing The Soul are a beautiful blend of Americana, indie-pop and busker-punk, they create an almost George Formby like world of oddity and human frailty, and the self-deprecating veracity of his lyrics never fails to hit the intended spot. Ironing The Soul is a triumph of creativity over commerciality; the general public’s loss is our gain. This album takes an obscure view of the world and makes it a much better place and I think that that’s a good enough reason to rescue this album.

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