There was only one reason I bought my first computer in 1999 and that was as an upgrade to my Tascam Porta-studio four-track tape recorder. It was the most frustrating purchase I ever made; trying to get sound into Cubase from a microphone took me about two weeks of head scratching, trawling the internet on my half meg dial-up and calling everyone I knew who had a computer.
Even then, when I finally worked it out I only had 1 mini jack input so I had to buy a sound card: Then, when I had the soundcard all working I noticed that the inputs were really quiet. Apparently I needed something called a preamp that makes it louder, why didn't the soundcard have these? Preamps cost as much the soundcard itself. I obviously needed to do a course or something; I needed to consult an expert.
The music industry is full of experts: Managers, A&R men, producers, engineers, booking agents, promoters, accountants, radio pluggers, press pluggers, TV pluggers, digital marketing experts, distributors, merchandising manufacturers, lawyers. The list goes on and on and without any of these people you are fucked.
The trouble with this model is that everyone needs paying and records don't, on the whole make any money. Also we have often not been able to work out what we are actually getting for our money. That's not to say that you don't need help to be a musician, you definitely do and the experts are not ALL trying to rip you off. In fact none of them think they are trying to rip you off, it's just that some of them have forgotten why they like music and that the best music is often born of free minds and experimentation. Don't get me wrong; I also think that 80% of musicians forget this 90% of the time, including your narrator. So that's why in the new year of 2012 the Young Knives sat down to discuss all the mistakes we had made over the last 10 years of our careers and what we were going to do about it.
We realised after a very short discussion that we were disillusioned with the industry model that we kept getting thrust into, we thought that we knew better and that we should grow some swingers and do it our own way; DIY. Our two biggest complaints were the amount of people taking a cut of our meagre profits and the fact that all our records to date had cost between £40,000 and £60,000 to make. With current music sales declining rapidly and artists being squeezed neither of these make financial sense, a new approach was needed.
A prime example of money spunked away in the name of Young Knives include the cover shoot for our sophomore record Superabundance which cost £20,000 (something we found out afterwards), you really should be able to make a couple of records for that much money.
So we sacked everyone and bought a mixing desk off eBay for £1,000 (with 48 preamps in it) and a laptop and Soundcard on HP.
Of course our past records do sound good (I think I am allowed to say that sonically they are well recorded, produced and mixed as we worked with some amazing people on them and it shows) but for us our records often lacked the soul and energy of the demos we had originally recorded. So recording our demos with slightly better equipment seemed to make sense. But could we make it sound even vaguely professional? I mean, I never did take that course. Our past home recordings have always been hit and miss.
I started to read loads of posts on forums about how to make fat snare sounds and what mics to use, but then everyone on those things disagree and none of them seem to give a crap about music, only 'things you can buy', so I gave up on that. We figured the best thing was just to start. We had a pretty strong idea of what we wanted to make and we had 3 or 4 songs ready to go so we just set up a studio at my house and started.
The first thing we wanted to do was just bash out some tracks that had been kicking around for a while which had trouble finishing. So we made an EP. The premise of this was not to give a damn about how we made it as long as it sounded good. The lead track is Maureen, it's a song we have recorded six times now and it has always been really stupid apart from our first demo which was great but just made with a preset on a software drum machine and finished in about a day. I would have used the demo but I somehow lost all the bits so we had to make it again.
It still took a while to get it right but we just went back to the idea of a drum machine. It suddenly hit me that I had always meant it to be a dark song and it always ended up being chirpy because we had being trying to fit it into other peoples ideas of what a pop song should be, so I sat down and started again and did it exactly the way I had imagined it. The beauty of this moment was that it wouldn't have happened in a studio with everyone watching, you just can't think in the same way.
My analogy is a horse giving birth in a stable: If you leave them alone in the dark 90% of the time they just get on with it and have a baby, if you turn on the lights then labour automatically stops because they have to think about stuff going on around them and dangers and their adrenaline levels shoot up - you see, that's a good analogy right?
And here it is, the EP we made. It's called Oh Happiness and it's out on 26 June.
So apart from learning how to solder properly, how to use a multimeter and how to use a few overly complicated pieces of software what else did we do to make a DIY record? Well we are still doing it, we have found some good people to take our music to radio, TV and the internet (they got me the opportunity to write this) and we signed up with a distributor who will help us do the physical manufacturing and sending out of stuff. How can we afford it? We ran a Kickstarter campaign to get our fans to help us by preordering the album a few months in advance. It also means that we could get someone to mix our record and get it mastered.
All in all it has been the most satisfying and fun record to make since we did our first self released CDR in about 2002. And the great thing is that I really think you can hear that in the music. Even if it's a complete flop at least we tried and had a good time trying. We don't have the weight of the machine behind us and that will inevitably mean that our music reaches less people but then the whole thing is not about collecting fans, it's about making something that we think is good, it's a lot more edifying even if we have to make the move to own brand beer to survive.
There is definitely hope for the music industry but you can no longer rely on other people to make it happen for you, they would only do a mediocre job of it anyway.
Oh Happiness EP is out on 26 June and full length album Sick Octave is out in September on Young Knives' own label, Gadzook.