Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Gigs and Clubs Schemers

Today is PRS day for many musicians, i.e. the hard grafted royalty payment for the songs that they have written and played live finally comes through for the previous three months. As an unsigned artist yet to play the big venues of the country (the Barrowlands, Carling Academys etc), this usually means that for every 30 minute slot in a venue deemed a pub or a club by the PRS you will earn roughly a fiver.

How this works is that after you have played a minimum of 10 'gigs' (I'll get on to that in a minute), you submit a spreadsheet containing these 10 venues you played in and a 'standard setlist'. PRS then collate all this information and then send out the cash a few months later. Easy, simple, and fair. Or is it?

The 'standard setlist' is the part that really pisses me off. I have a great irritation for those bands that I'll pay money to go and see who have a stale, static setlist (say Green Day 1995-2004), and as a result I always push for any gig that I play to have an interesting and dynamic set list. Thus, if you saw me in June at The 13th Note (30 minute stage time), the show would be completely different to August at The Vale (1hr 15 minute stage time). Not in the eyes of the PRS it wouldn't.

For all the PRS know I could have registered. say 8 songs (content, lyrics, music, existence not important) listed them alphabetically and then submitted a list of the venues I played in and happily received my fiver per gig.

What about when I put in a spur of the moment cover of Chris T-T's The Huntsman, or Springsteen's No Surrender? PRS would love to show that they care about collecting the royalties for each performance of each members works, however, due to the 'standard setlist' the gigs and clubs scheme doesn't have scope for this. Extend this idea to where someone played one of my songs at their gigs (say El Bastardos or Roscoe Vacant, or after just a lawsuit about Peter, Jimmy Richards), would I get what I was due as a songwriter?

This isn't to mention the fact that the PRS don't seem to have any fact checking on the list of venues that is submitted to this scheme. I could, with my list of 8 songs, go through the local gig guide, find out venues that have gigs running (or open mic nights, hell that's where original work can be performed), sit in my underpants and compile spreadsheet upon spreadsheet of 10 gigs that I hypothetically played.

A few months later, a fiver would come in for each of these and I could do my Christmas shopping. I guess, if I did it well enough, I could probably give up my job and have the life of a struggling musician, with the PRS paying the bills (step further, I could possibly get the council to pay for this as I wouldn't have a real job anymore).

You may have read this and thought, well Dave, why are you complaining? If it is how you say it is, then the PRS are giving out free money and you'd be a fool to reject it.

 The main thing that pisses me off with this system is that, yes the PRS are giving out free money to those who claim to have written music, but without the validation checks, it devalues the idea of being a songwriter. This isn't me saying that to be a songwriter you need to make money out of it. I'm coming from the same lines as the arguments about TV music competitions and the like. It creates a devalued and simplified notion of what it is to be an artist who writes music, plays proper shows, travels the country and puts in hard work.

Is this all worth a fiver?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A challenge!

My wife just said that the problem with my blog is that I called it Itchy and Irritated, and thus can't write about happy things. I see this as a challenge.

Work has been pretty damn good recently, I've been working on a cell tracking algorithm for tracing the movements of cells under stimulus. It seems to be working pretty well, which is strange since the code below it is very simple. My boss says we may even get a paper out of it, which would be ace as I've only been in the job three months.

Outside of work, life has been enjoyable. This weekend was spent traveling around the UK being paid to play music, to people who were actually listening and singing along. An upshot of the mini-tour is that I may have a split record (on a cassette format) coming out early next year on a proper record label. That would be pretty sweet, but I can't say much more at the moment.

This weekend has a busy schedule ahead. My mother is visiting tomorrow, which is the first family member we'll have had visit us in Dundee. Then, on Saturday I'm playing with the band at The Vale in Glasgow, which we're also recording for a live CD. Sunday will contain a flying visit to Greenock for lunch with the parentals, and then home to Dundee.

Although, do you know what's been irritating me this week? The fact that I've noticed how much FUCKING LOUDER the adverts on E4 are compared to the program I'm watching. That is fucking annoying.

Damn, almost made it. Now, a new episode of Scrubs is on, and that in itself is fucking irritating.

Monday, 16 November 2009


This weekend was a whole bunch of fun. Friday night was band practice where we learnt a new song called Tacitus, the idea in my head was for it to sound like Warning era Green Day, and I'm pretty sure we've nailed that. I can't wait to play it at next few shows as I think it is a face rocker.

Saturday night included a short night out with some old friends before heading home with a tight chest but I survived. Found a dirt cheap taxi company that got us from Glasgow to Paisley for only £11 which was awesome! Sunday was a day of rest, mainly tidying the house for the valuer to visit on Friday and then a trip to see my mum before driving back up to Dundee.

This coming weekend includes a gig in Cardiff that I had booked a few months ago. The idea was to tour the few days before hand in order to break up the journey. The gig itself is with a singer songwriter called Ben Marwood who is very very good (and currently being championed by Frank Turner), so I'm trying my best to not have to cancel it due to funds. A gig on Friday is currently proving to be elusive, but hopefully things will work out in the end.

Hopefully the hypothetical tour with Adam Boucher in March will be much easier to book. I think we'll be calling in quite a few favours from bands I've put on before.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Punching kittens

Apologies for not posting yesterday, I'm sure you'll survive though. The weekend was pretty fun all round. Saturday night contained a party at my bosses house, which was the first social engagement of my new job. It was pretty nerve wracking on the build up, but in the end it turned out just fine. Had a few drinks, amazing seafood (including oysters which I fucking love). Sunday involved a trip to Greenock and Glasgow to visit parents and then play a gig in the evening.

Roscoe Vacant was playing as well which is always fun to see. There were also a few folk who turned up to see me play which is always nice, even more so when it's a pretty impromptu gig with very little time to promote properly.

Anyways, I'm not going to have a full scale rant as I'm in a pretty good mood today. Instead, here's the first (probably of many) list of things that are too easy to rant about.

  • Local bands singing in American Accents - You're from Barrhead/Castlemilk/etc for fucks sake
  • Homeopathy - The feeling you get when you are standing in a room of people is just that, feelings, it's not fucking energy. You keep your diluted to buggery herbs, I'll keep my "unimaginative" but empirical facts and proof.
  • The Sun newspaper, doesn't need that much more to be said. She's mourning, and as a result nothing will ever be enough, but you already know that and as a result are milking it for more sales of you're shite-wipe-rag.
  • Bad pop-music
  • Early morning starts

Thursday, 5 November 2009

May I suggest you become Fanatical?

Tonight I had planned on unleashing the mother of all rants. Aimed squarely at the barrage of "Fan Requests" on Facebook for bands coming my way recently. On an aside, my wife had said that producing such a rant may look hypocritical as I had just recently sent out a number of similar invites to people from the Dave Hughes Music Facebook page (TM).

However, in my defense, I did not merely do a 'select all' send invitation. Oh no, I had a logic diagram! Well, I didn't at the time, I made the image up purely for tonights festivities.

Basically, I went through the list of my friends and colleagues on Facebook and made a rough assessment of if they had shown any kind of positive interest in my music, and then sent them a request. The net result being a targeted audience to the page that they may not have otherwise found. Thus, friends and workmates who have came to see the band a couple of times have the option to mark themselves as 'fan's, those who haven't, or negatively discuss the band and I, are none the wiser and move on with their lives. Conscience cleared.

I hate the whole "You're a friend of mine, therefore you must be a fan of my musical output". Umm, no. I've got plenty of friends who make the most god-awful noise. And of course, there's plenty of people I would consider as friends who can't stand what I do when I hit the record button or get on stage.

The main problem is that too many bands and artists it seems use Facebook in a totally un-targeted fashion. Take for example the events function of Facebook. Is there really any point to creating an Event item for a gig, then inviting absolutely everyone regardless of geography? Do you really think that BBC radio journalist from London is going to make their way up to a pub in Glasgow for a gig on a Tuesday? Probably even less so that school teacher from the Midlands.

The net result of such Select All actions is that you have around ten times the number of folk marked as Declined as are attending, which when advertising the event does not look that enticing. Not too mention the effect of when you finally are putting on an event in London, but said radio Journalist is so used to automatically clicking Decline to any events from your email address.

While I am being very negative on Facebook's ease at which it allows bands to interact with those marked as showing an interest, I think that a well known cliche should be remembered. To paraphrase, "while you can reach so many people with the click of a mouse button, should you?".

Have I just opened myself up for more scrutiny any time my activity feed on facebook contains the words "Dave Hughes has just became a fan of...."?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Recording while on the move

The other day I upgraded my netbook from my trusty EEE 701 to a nice shiny Samsung NC10. One gripe I had when buying was the lack of being able to buy netbooks running Linux any more. Apparently too many people had returned their netbooks when they realised that they were to moronic to embrace the change that Linux brings.

Anyways, I took it home, stripped it of anything Microsoft manufactured and installed Ubuntu Karmic Koala. It's fucking awesome. One thing I noticed while waiting on Karmic to download was how little functionality a clean install of Windows actually has, beyond writing a simple RTF document, playing minesweeper and browsing the net in an unprotected fashion.

Today however I realised how cool my setup was when I decided to try and install Ardour on the machine with a view to having a portable system that I can record demo's on. Ardour is a fully featured Pro-tools like multitrack hardware recording studio, it's what I record everything on with my main PC. After a simple "sudo apt-get install ardour", I clicked it's icon, and this is what I got:

A full featured portable music studio! Hell yes.I tested it out by recording a simple demo of a new song I've been working on, and the quality is great. Input comes from my Novation X-station connected via USB, with a condenser microphone and DI for the guitar. This will come in very useful when on tour and I want to do small demo's, or just mix some older stuff at quiet times.

Apologies if you were expecting a rant.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Sales pitch

Today was pretty exciting at work. Well, as I'll explain in a minute, the morning wasn't, but the afternoon was pretty cool. Without going in to much detail, but the device that I've been employed to work on at the university showed its first signs of working today. I recorded lots of videos of the cells doing cool stuff under the influence of the device. Not bad for only two months in the new job.

Why was the morning not exciting? Well, I had to go to a course about a piece of software called LabView. Anyone who has worked closely with me over the last, oh, I don't know, perhaps 8 years now will know that when I want a computer to do something, LabView is second from the bottom (only to a fucking hammer and nails) in my choice to achieve my goal.

For those who haven't had to experience Labview in all it's glory, it's a graphical programming language. You create programs, namely scientific data capture and analysis programs by dragging and dropping Virtual Instruments from a tool box on to your canvas so as to build up a picture of your house with your pet cat outside that you can show to your supervisor so they can see what a clever five year old you really are.

The people who were hosting the class were very much sales persons, with the main 'tutor' getting right on my nerves for a couple of reason. Reason number one, he introduced himself as an engineer who had never really been a fan of computer programming and so Labview was perfect for him since he had no experience of using "C-basic or whatever". Direct Quote. Heya, I've only ever drank coca-cola so I'm going to tell you exactly why it's the best drink out there.

The second reason he irritated me was that he continuously made reference to the fact that in "C-basic" if you were to miss out a semi-colon, you would have to spend hours looking through your code to find the error. Where as with Labview, this doesn't happen since Labview shows you exactly where your mistakes are. Erm, sorry, but anyone who's using a programming language as part of their job would more than likely be using an editor with syntax highlighting, that after compilation would, going by the compiler errors, highlight the offending line of code. Perhaps even give a line number.

Labview on the other hand doesn't even have a zoom out feature so that when your pretty picture, I mean code, gets so large you can't trace what the hell it's actually doing. I asked the presenter why the new version still doesn't have a zoom out feature, to which the answer was "we usually just recommend people buy a bigger monitor".

I could go on all night about this, but I won't. I haven't even mentioned the boasting of "multithreading", which was just a rebranding of the "multi-tasking" introduced in every operating system with the POSIX standard. You did not invent it, you merely made use of the fork functions available on your target platform. I could do that in C, and the program wouldn't need to be restarted every time I want to open a word processor on the same fucking computer.

Thank you, and good night.

Monday, 2 November 2009

I'm not needy, I'm determined

Today was rather uneventful, woke up early, dropped the wife off at the bus station and then went to work. Played around with some dictyostelium cells and electricity, then came home. The makings of a great day.

I sorted out my drummer conundrum in that we have a new drummer now, and the old one is happy to stand in any time the new can't make it. If that makes sense? I think it will work out for the best for everyone involved, and we've got our first full band practice in a couple weeks.

The new drummer, Woody, fell in my lap which was nice. For some reason I seem to have garnered a reputation for asking anyone I find who plays an instrument in to playing in the band, to the point in which people I would consider friends warn others about speaking about their musical abilities in front of me.

This couldn't really be further from the truth. The band I am playing with came together after I placed a post up on a popular internet forum looking for a bassist, which was replied to by one person (this person became the bassist). I had a mate who was learning mandolin and expressed and interest in playing some folk music with me, I said we'd give it a go and before I knew it he was my mandolin player.

The singers came about in much the same way, an interest was expressed in my stuff and I thought I've got nothing to lose. My original drummer has played with me for over 6 years, starting after my first band lost a drummer. And finally, my guitarist is someone I've known for around 3 years now through playing music and this is the first time we've actually done stuff together.

Hardly me poaching people at the first mention of their musical capabilities. In fact, even when I had the instrument I am most desperate to have (violin), that came about after the violinist and I met at a few punk rock gigs, and then through some very coy statements about her playing violin did I get the hint. Well, in fact, I didn't get the hint, she had to explicitly tell me she was intentionally being coy so as to not look desperate.

This isn't to mention my sister who plays euphonium, the friend of my wife who played cello at my wedding (her present to us), and many more wonderful people I know who play music but have never been approached to play in my band.

And anyways, at seven members, band practices are difficult enough to organise!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Rainy Sunday

Decided to try and write something here every day, otherwise I'd lose interest very quickly and this would end up the same way as the Live Journal account I opened about a year ago.

The weather is utterly horrible today, chucking it down with grey skies and freezing winds. The wife needs to go to ASDA to get passport photographs taken, but since we've both got a bit of a cold, procrastination is the topic of the day. Well, it's my topic, she's doing her best to convince me that the weather isn't going to get any better and we might as well go and get drenched now rather than later.

The week ahead isn't looking too busy, the boss is away till Thursday so I've been left a list of things that I should try before then. On Saturday we're having a work function at his house since a member of the lab is leaving after around 8 years of working there, that should be fun. I'm also going to try and get a journal club up and running since I've always wanted to be part of one.

Music wise, there's nothing really going on. I'm still weighing up the pro's and con's of changing drummers on a more permanent basis. While one is the more natural drummer with a more open calendar to do gigs, the other is the old friend who can keep a beat, and I enjoy him being part of the band. It's not a trivial matter.

I'm currently trying to finish a new song called Tacitus which I expect to be ready for our show at the end of November. This show is going to be properly recorded for some kind of live release. Ah fuck it, I just fell in to the mode of "local rockstar" that I fucking hate. It's not a fucking "release", it'll be either a CD that I burn in my own bedroom under the banner of a record label that I created, or it will be packaged as a ZIP file for download on the website. Either way people will get to hear it if they choose to, but it won't be "released".

However, I identify myself as a DIY musician (a well known music website once described me as DIYtastic), so perhaps its just the word "release" that I take humbridge to? I prefer "put out", as in to put out a new EP. Release has the connotations to me of keeping the music secret to only an inner circle of managers, A&R, laywers under lock and key until, the, very, last, minute, when, it's, ready, to, burst, andthenallofasuddeneveryonewillrunoutandbuyacopyinahypedupohmygawdthisiswin type way.

So, aye, we'll be recording the gig and it will be put out there in some fashion.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Intro, verse, chorus.

I've decided to start up a proper blog thing to use for my thoughts. I currently have a wordpress blog over at my website, but it acts as more of a news feed over there. It's not really suited for rants, reviews or general stuff I want to say.

Anyways, for those who don't know who I am, which I make the safe assumption is the majority, I am Dave. I work at the University of Dundee as a Research Assistant, working in the Cell Biology Department. I have a Physics degree, and hopefully, soon I'll be examined for my thesis in Engineering. I also play punk rock political folk music around the country under the name Dave Hughes (see what I did there). I play this solo and also with a band, which I love very much. I'm married and currently stay in Dundee, but travel to Glasgow every other week for gigs and band practices.

Politically, I identify with the left, but not so left as that I am coming full circle. I think that's a dangerous place to be. My ideal world would have a socialist form of government, built on the principles of respect for each other, and helping those who aren't as able as the rest.

I am a massive Springsteen, Clash, and Mischief Brew fan. I love Steinbeck books, and my favourite films do not have the word "Movie" in the title.

I did have something to write about this evening, but I'll leave it till next time I log in and have more thoughts to put to it.