Tuneage: As It Is

I was initially reluctant to focus too much on music in this blog because I think there are enough music blogs already, and my goal was for the blog to focus on broader topics for the late 20-something / early 30-something male…but then I also wanted to have something as authentic as possible and music is what I know best.

Music has been the subject of all my career bar one year, but I still remained active in the scene.  I have played in bands (Keeping Scores and Home Advantage), promoted and DJed on the side of content managing online stores and therefore am very interested in both the business and art side of the industry.  With that in mind, Tunage posts will simply be about bands I love, have some sort of relationship with and am super stoked on.

As It Is 

Brighton’s As It Is are the first on this list because of all the close pals I have making waves in the world of music – they’re doing it on a global scale.  They’ve just toured Japan and Australia, have a US tour and UK tour on the way and quite simply it couldn’t happen to a sweeter bunch of guys.

Sound-wise, they’re firmly in the pop-punk realm of things, but leaning more towards the pop end of the spectrum.  As such, perhaps the 30-something male demographic isn’t really for them – their audience is firmly the 15-24 camp but hey, I’m 30 and love em to pieces.

It’s saccharine sweet in a lot of places but equally so irresistably charming you can’t help but sing along.  Rocket science it might not be… but right now pop-punk, particularly British pop-punk, is painfully oversaturated with both lookaline and soundalike acts attempting tough guy hardcore posturing and it’s refreshing to have an act so unashamedly sugar-sweet pop with more melodies than an ice cream van.  The likes of ‘Dial Tones’ and ‘Cheap Shots and Setbacks’ hail back to an early 2000s era Drive-Thru records pop punk era, and the transatlantic tones of vocalist Patty Walters (originally from Minneapolis) is juxtaposed quite well with Ben Biss’s gritter British backing co-vocals.

They won’t necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea as a result – if you’re into Meshuggah you might even struggle to see the difference between this lot and 5 Seconds Of Summer, but one thing that’s indisputable is the honesty and integrity of the band.

They’re young, poppy and appeal to an audience in the way many boybands do, but they’ve been up and down the country doing it independently for several years now.  I first met them when my band were playing with American superstars The Wonder Years and they approached us about playing shows together and since then we’ve played London venues, house parties, rural pubs and many more venues together until my band broke up.

What’s great about these lot is that nothing has changed in the way they act with people.  Patty has always treated opening slots at the Dog & Duck in Trowbridge the same as he would Reading Festival – the energy and commitment he put in was always commendable.  The time they put to their fans – who can be a bit obsessive, is second to none and with guitarist, drummer and bassist Andy, Foley and Ali all equally integral to the band’s likeability, you’ve ultimately got a band you can’t help but root for.    memorable In short, it’s just damn great to see the good guys succeed for a change.

Check the video below as a good first step

Hold Tight – Posts back on the way

I

Too often I see people commit to blogging and it falls by the wayside and I promised myself it wouldn’t happen this year.

In my defence, I have had issues with my laptop, and I cannot do writing on a phone or tablet, nor do I want to use my work laptop for blogging.  Possibly a lame excuse but a bit of a reason – I have had plenty of thoughts in my head on what would make good blog posts, from the potential pitfalls of native video in Facebook to certain social media craziness to the general election and dating, amongst other stuff like football, the wonder of Dusseldorf and travelling with friends.  But committing to write them down wasn’t fulfilled and I apologise.

I will get back into this.  A friend spoke of how much enjoyment he gets out of the blog, and I hadn’t heard anyone say it for a while and it reminded me of how nice it felt to hear kind words about it.  Seeing random people from Iceland, China, and Norway reading my content via organic search is exactly what I wanted to be doing, and I’ve failed myself by slack off.

Watch this space, lots of exciting things to be blogging about

Double Denim – Case For The Defense

Barca-1

I’ve never really got the hate for double denim personally.  Okay, the above picture looks a bit daft and the lighter shades from the 1980s were hideous but generally, I find so long as you stick to darker shades of denim, even matching shades of denim can look alright.  I think if it ends up looking dumb its probably because one of the items is dumb in itself – but that’s just my opinion.

Stick it with a crisp white t shirt (of course) or a grey hoody underneath and you’ve got yourself a pretty good outfit.  The only real criticism is how comfy it may or may not be – I find a denim shirt all day not too comfy unless it’s over a t shirt…and then you’re worried about it being too hot or too cold as it can make you feel sweaty in a club but not warm enough outside.

Why do I think double denim is undeserving of its occasional stick?  Well, for the likes of myself, if you can’t match the jacket to your trouser material, it makes the choice of summer jacket much more limited.

I don’t get chinos.  I just don’t.  I tried them and I looked a total moron.  I think some people can pull them off – namely 21 year olds wanting to be in The Wanted and One Direction…but that’s pretty much why the first thing that comes into my (and I’m sure many others heads) is ‘chino wanker’ when I think of them.  And of course, one of the archetypal accompanying pieces for chinos is a denim shirt.

Maybe I’m being unfair – I certainly don’t mean to say any fella wearing chinos is making a fashion faux-pas… it’s just for me every time I’ve attempted to wear chinos they either haven’t had the same good fit as a nice pair of stretch skinny jeans, or I’ve looked like I’m trying to be in Stereo Kicks and for a 30 year old embarrassing.  I often wish I could pull off chinos because it would give me more options – particularly at work, but I have made peace with the fact that I just cannot pull them off.

What about dark jeans Alex?  Yes, I’ll admit that’s basically the one.  A denim jacket with black jeans is the most suitable option.  But for whatever reason I can’t pull off dark jeans.  Perhaps it’s my general summer vibe – dark jeans just don’t agree with me or suit my skin tone.

This means my trouser options are pretty much just blue denim.  And I’m fine with that –  I have no real desire to stray away from blue denim unless I’m wearing my comfort lounge camo sweatpants purchased from Wal-Mart, and I only wear them round the house, going to the shop hungover or if I want to pretend I’m in Hatebreed and roll them into shorts (which is often).

Now for summer jackets, denim is the best.  Leather and faux-leather jackets are also very good but have a few risks – namely they can seem too rock/metal and sometimes you don’t necessarily want to go for that style.  Also, for guys like myself with shaved heads…there’s a legitimate fear that I’ll look like Judas Priest unless I wear a hat.

That’s not a concern in the autumn or winter – a beany with a leather jacket is great.  But in summertime?  Notsomuch – beany hats in summer are obviously a bit absurd unless it’s the evening, and a cap with a leather jacket looks daft unless you’re Ne-Yo.

Denim doesn’t have that problem.  It goes with beany hats.  It goes with caps.  It goes with bald folk.  It goes with short hair.  It even goes with mullets.  It just suits every facial type and every hairstyle, whereas leather looks absolutely brilliant with long hair and medium hair bit gets a bit limited after that, which is a shame because I have a faux-leather jacket I adore (£30 from H&M in the sale) that I don’t get to wear as much as I’d like.

So what’s my option?  Yep – the Canadian Tuxedo.

And that’s the other reason I think it gets a bad rap – namely Canada is awesome.  Wearing double denim just makes me think of picturesque mountains, lumberjacks, maple syrup, Labatt Ice Lager, Propagandhi, Comeback Kid and Carly Rae Jepsen and gives me options for a lighter jacket in the summertime.

So go forth and embrace double denim.  So long as it’s a darker shade and well fitted, you’ll be able to pull it off and you’ll look like the kind of person that doesn’t really give a shit about conventional fashion and wears what you want – which is basically the most stylish thing you can do in my eyes and another reason I’m so keen to embrace it.

Here’s me in double denim sipping a fruity cocktail – proof that skinheads and follically challenged folk can pull it off

cocktail

And here are some other fellas that can pull it off even better

I rest my case.

Tidal: Have the goalposts changed?

*Note* Huge thanks for the kind words people posted around the last post.  I’m so glad it brought people some comfort in what has been a difficult time for many.  I wanted to wait a bit before the next post – hence this one seeming like a bit of a delayed reaction…

As I alluded in a previous post, the music industry is in a very interesting place right now and in the last couple of weeks Norwegian service Tidal has been hitting the headlines with an enormous amount of buzz and hype.

I won’t go into the details around the launch, you’ll have no doubt seen and read about it.  The live (and pretty awkward) PR event was an interesting one that divided opinions and generated quite a bit of cynicism.   I wasn’t able to follow but have seen clips and read about it since and formulated my own opinion around it and whether it’s going to be a game changer.

Of course it’s worth noting Tidal is nothing new.  The company WiMP has been around for some time and the Tidal rebranding happened not too long ago too, with the high-res audio option being its chief selling point.  However, the big announcement and #TIDALforALL event has arguably been one of the biggest product launches in the industry for years, putting them right at the forefront of everyones minds’ and generated the sort of buzz the likes of Deezer, Xbox Music, Rdio, Blinkbox and the others would dream of.

However, does that mean it’s going to topple Spotify or overshadow Apple and YouTube’s ventures in the music streaming world?  It’s far too early to tell.  I do think they have some way to go but am excited to see another major player in the game.

If someone was to ask me to summarise Tidal in a quick sentence, and highlight the its differentiating features, it would be:  A-list artist-owned platform with high-res audio option and videos.  That’s basically it – until they reveal exactly what artists recieve you can’t say to what extent it will definitely offer a bigger cut to artists, which could be another point.  The potential for exclusive content is another point – Rihanna and Beyonce have started putting exclusives on Tidal, and Jay-Z has removed his content from Spotify.  However,  it’s early to say if that’s going to be a regular thing but if so, it’s massive.

So if you look at it in three main points, there’s the artist owned bit, the high res bit and exclusivity bit – let’s divide these up.

Artist Owned.

The thing that really inspired me to write this, and something that I believe generated the cynicism, was the manner of the launch.  As a marketer, I firmly believe you have to start with the customer and work backwards – react to what consumers do and what they need, rather than what you think, or want them to.  One of the reasons the industry went into a bad place was the manner in which it reacted to piracy – rather than adapting to what customers were doing, record labels and influential figures simply tried to tell them what to do (i.e. sue downloaders and shut down filesharing sites).  This didn’t work.

Tidal’s launch reminded me of this in places – the main point they stressed was that artists would get a bigger cut from the £20 and £10 business models because people should pay for music.  Sure, a noble point I suppose – but the fact is a lot of consumers don’t want to pay to listen to music.  Whether one believe’s that’s right or wrong is irrelevant – people want music for free, people will get music for free and shouting about how that’s wrong won’t get you anywhere.

Would a 18 year old student who listens to rock/ metal or dance cancel their freemium Spotify account just because Jay-Z and Madonna says they wants people to pay to music?  Probably not.   Equally, why would a paying subscriber to Spotify, Google Play or Deezer move to Tidal and rebuild their saved music from scratch just because already-rich artists want them to?  I think the only way artists can really influence in such a manner via Direct-To-Fan models from the likes of Pledgemusic etc. (an interesting topic for another piece) where you are paying for experiences, rather than tangible objects – meetups, signed personal things, private gigs etc.  Simply telling people to use another service because they want more money does come across a little bit like rich kids throwing their toys out of the pram.  Consumers are smart and it’s increasingly easy to call out cynical tactics like this.  There needs to be another reason for people to migrate to Tidal, which leads too…

High Res Audio

I definitely believe high-res has a good future here and has the potential to appeal to demographics beyond audiophiles.  People opt for cameras with higher megapixels without being professional photographers or completely understanding the technology behind it just because, and I believe (and I must stress this is my own speculation) there will be some who want high-res audio without necessarily understanding the science behind it.  People like to own the flashiest, best things and if you have disposable income, opting for a higher sound quality is something I’m sure people will do.

However, I’ve always felt the benefits of high-res, and the motivation behind opting for it, goes hand-in-hand with ownership.  I’d be happy to pay a bit extra for a physical album if I know it will sound better.  Potentially the same for an mp3 where I know I’ll have permanent access to it across devices and stored in the cloud.  Would I do so for an access model?  Am I comfortable paying £240 a year and not owning a thing out of it?  II can’t answer that – I don’t have a good enough home speaker system to notice the benefits anyway.  However, and again this feels like speculation, £20 a month for an access model feels like a lot compared to Netflix.  It might not be for others, and I believe this debate will continue.

Exclusivity

Here’s the big bit.  The most influential factor in my music consumption choice is the quality of the content and the editorial curation.  Of course, many consumers can simply hit ‘search’ and get what they’re looking for, but for me personally I think the editorial and curation piece is going to increase in importance as streaming grows, and up to now none of the biggest players have nailed it. I think iTunes offers the most accurate categorisation but hasn’t perfected the art.  Regarding the content – quantity does not always beat quality because there’s a whole host of useless karaoke and covers that could easily make up millions of tracks.  That said, you need to ensure niches are covered – and for the big services most of them are and, to most consumers, all services would pretty much have the same unless artists specifically withhold releases.

Exclusivity is an interesting one – Beyonce and U2 did it with iTunes, Take That did it with Google, Lady Gaga did it with O2, Jay-Z did it with Samsung.  There have been more and will be many more.

Does it work?  It can do – they’re great PR pieces and as such can be a useful tool to migrate users to trial a service… but equally it can piss consumers off.  Did Lady Gaga’s audience appreciate that the album was essentially held back from them unless they had O2 contracts?  I’m sure we know the answer to that.

The exclusive content on Tidal I mentioned earlier has already been ripped and put onto YouTube.  This is something Lily Allen predicted and a strategy Mumford and Sons have called out.   Objectively speaking – do we really want artists to align with services so that if we want artist X we have to use Spotify, Y for Tidal and Z for Apple?  It’ll be a nightmare for consumers – the only real way for it to work is for one service to get it all…and nobody wants a monopoly.  That said, it would be one way for a service to win – if they end up getting all the big releases before anyone else, naturally consumers will end up feeling like they have no choice.   But it’s hard to determine whether this will happen – can labels afford to put all their eggs in one basket for an artist and risk other services / retailers not promoting them?  Hard to conclude and all too early to tell – but if we find the big names continue to give Tidal exclusivity, and crucially withhold from Spotify, Google et al, this will be a big move.

Ultimately for me at this moment in time, ensuring a good old fashioned user experience is the biggest factor.  Is it easy to sync my music across devices?  Is it easy to flick from one album or playlist for another?  Is the service curated well – does it promote genres I’m actively interested in and keep up-to-date with the top releases and good curation?  To me, that’s the important thing.  For every service I merchandised I made a point of it being very noticable that is was curated by music fans, for music fans.  Equally, working with technical teams to eliminate bugs and make the process of users saving their music as effortless as possible was always a top priority.

To go back to my earlier question, will an 18 year old student student who listens to rock and metal cancel their Spotify account because Madonna and Jay-Z want to?  Probably not.  Would they do so if they migrated to a service that catered to their tastes with good editorial, regular content they can’t get elsewhere and an frequently refreshed rock / metal or dance domain that helps them discover new artists they’re interested in?  This seems more likely.

In this respect – Tidal is fine.  The playlists seem decent enough, the genres are reasonably accurate (props for giving Hit The Lights huge visibility in the alternative genre, though odd to see a pop-punk band placed alongside Laura Marling…) and there is some pretty interesting exclusive content should you be a fan of the artists they’re promoting.

Is any of it game changing?  No.  There’s nothing there that’s leaps and bounds ahead of Spotify, Google Play, Deezer and the others except for the high-res option, which I’m sure all the others are working on in the background.

Could it be in the future?  Yes.  There is huge potential here and it’s great to see a serious new player in the market that’s going to keep Spotify, Apple et al further on their toes.

Nick Mann – A Tribute

I had a few posts drafted that followed the usual tone of this blog but all I have been able to think about the last two days is my friend Nick, who passed away on Sunday in a tragic accident.  Picking up the Evening Standard and other national publications and seeing his smile beam at you on the front page whilst he’s immortalised as a hero is a very surreal feeling.  Devastating, but there’s some solace in the fact that he is being remembered nationwide as a hero – because that is exactly what he was, every single day.  The way he passed, selflessly risking his life to save his brother, epitomises this.

It’s rare in life that you meet someone universally adored.  And I mean literally, 100% loved by every single person you could think of.   Nick Mann was somebody that every single person had time for, because Nick Mann had time for every single person.  Not once did I hear him utter a mean thing about anybody, and there was never any occasion where he fell out with anyone because he was simply one of the most friendly, kind-hearted and gentle-spirited people you could ever meet.   There aren’t many people in the world with absolutely no negative traits, or even just slightly irritating habits that irk you a bit… but Nick was one of those very few people.   Quite simply, he was a guy that every single person liked, respected and admired, even those who barely knew him.  You didn’t need to spend that much time with him to realise that – it was just so apparent.  I met him in around 2008 and his approachability just instantly gave this impression of ‘man, what a nice guy’.  It was exactly the same when you’d introduce him to your other friends – they’d be taken aback by how easy he was to speak to, how unassuming he was.

It sounds a bit cheesy, but he was one of the purest people you could hope to meet and, particularly around 2009-2011 when I attended North London and Kingston hardcore gigs more regularly , I always knew he’d be there and I’d be excited to catch up with him over a beer.   We weren’t at the level of closeness where we knew each others family, confided in extremely personal issues or where I was a guest at his wedding, but I considered him a good mate and someone I would always look forward to meeting and would always be willing to help and drop things for if he needed a favour.  He was someone I liked, immensely, and I am so proud and so grateful to have been friends with him.  

I’ve seen a lot of tributes where he has been described as inspiring and I couldn’t agree more.  At 35, Nick was a settled adult who knew what he wanted and had achieved great things, but still had a youthful exuberance about everything he did.  The punk rock and hardcore scene, particularly in London, can be quite cynical and image obsessed – not necessarily aesthetically but moreso the way people can put on a front of being tough, cool, indifferent, underground or whatever, and sometimes the punk rock crowd and heavier hardcore crowd dont mix that much.  Particularly as you reach your late 20s and 30s, it’s not uncommon to have this mindset of ‘I like what I like and that’s it‘ and not bother with new bands because you can’t be bothered to put the effort in.

Not Nick.  Nick still had that enthusiasm to discover new bands that you usually lose once you hit your mid-twenties.  Nick still had that enthusiasm to pay full entry on the door (and I’m sure he wouldn’t have needed to) and watch every single support band, whilst many of us would drink elsewhere and wait for the one or two bands we specifically intended to see.  Nick still had that enthusiasm to give up an entire evening and take a chance on some bands in his local scene that he may or may not like, when many of us would have stopped bothering.  The fact that, in an age when printed media is diminishing ever so rapidly, he still put everything into his fanzine A Short Fanzine About Rocking, with just as much heart to the very end of the zines cycle as when he started, speaks volumes.  This isn’t a kid still in that youthful naivity of discovering a new subculture and immersing themselves, this is a man in his mid-30s who has been in this scene two decades showing the same amount of love, effort and commitment as when he began.  That’s inspiring and is something that goes beyond alternative music and is applicable to any hobby or passion.

Personally speaking, he was so supportive of my bands.  I don’t want to make this about me, it’s just worth highlighting that he gave every band a chance.  He would come and watch a new band play one of their first shows and would inevitably struggle as they’re still finding their feet…but in his feedback he would say exactly how it was – new band with promise and looks forward to seeing them develop.  And he would.  When others would dismiss a band on a one performance (something I would do, and be on the receiving end of), he’d see the positives and give them another chance.  Another two chances.  Another three.  I don’t know what the word for it is…but it’s something I wish I had in me and it’s something I was really grateful for because his opinion on my music was one that I truly valued.

Another of Nick’s passions was football.  This blog recieved a bit of attention due to my post around the joys of supporting Ipswich but Nick put most football supporters to shame with his commitment to Shrewsbury Town.  No matter where they were in the table, no matter what their current form was, he’d be there – home and away.  I loved hearing his stories about watching them play the likes of Dagenham, Bradford or whoever, and hearing different things about the towns and clubs he would visit. They’re now my 2nd team and I’m desperate for them to secure promotion and definitely want to attend a few games and bring his stories to life.

Even little things like an instagram picture of a of beer (often a craft beer or a more obscure ale in a can on a train) or a picture of the football stadium he visited – something that any one of us could post about quite often….there was something about the way Nick did it that had such charm and likeability.  I’ve been looking back at his Twitter feed and Instagram feed and it had an overwhelming warmth.  It’s easy to take little things like that for granted but, and I’m not just saying this, for whatever reason Nick’s posts of these things were always something I genuinely enjoyed and appreciated, rather than just glossed over and thought ‘yeah, cool’.   That’s special. Inspiring really is the most apt way to describe him.

My friend Paul Cooke (who I met via Nick among others) put it perfectly when he said “If I can emulate just a tiny slice of the dedication he had to what he loved I will be incredibly proud. I feel devastated I’ll never see him again – it’s hard to compute that right now – but I feel so lucky to have spent time with him. He introduced me to some amazing music, great people, and good times, and he showed me what it is to be dedicated to what you love.

One of the many things that has gone through my head these last couple of days is how I aspired to be more like Nick.  To show the same sort of 100% commitment to what he loved.  To not put on any sort of pretence or attempt to portray yourself in any sort of way to impress people.  To give everyone, even total strangers, the kind of openness, attention and friendliness you would to your nearest and dearest.  I need to do this.  We all need to do this.  The world would be an infinitely better place with more people like Nick Mann and it is a much more empty place without him.  

I had lost touch with hardcore to an extent as work and other things got in the way – I had said to Nick to let me know of gigs coming up and I’ll come with him, as I had missed those evenings. Listening to Rise Of The Northstar, Terror, The Ghost Inside and similarly heavy bands since Sunday has had a strange effect on me where I feel sad but also determined to reconnect with the scene, for Nick.

I did, thankfully, bump into him at a pop-punk gig, somewhat unexpectedly, only last week.  I’m so glad and grateful that I did because we had a wonderful, lengthy chat about, you guessed it, music and football.  It was his enthusiasm and warmth that made a simple conversation that could be quite banal and standard with most people a truly memorable one with him. It meant that the last thing I ever said to him was that ‘it was so good to see you‘ .  It might have been followed by something like ‘I’ll catch you in a bit‘ (or something along those lines) but I really am thankful that I can say my lost moment with him was one where we both (well I hope he felt it) felt genuine delight at seeing each other and got to share one last hug before I headed to the back of the venue for an early exit.  I do wish I’d have gone back towards the front, stayed a little bit later and shared a few more moments with him.  I wish he was still here with his lovely wife and family.  I’m heartbroken for them and I’m heartbroken for all his other friends – many will have known him much longer than I, shared many more personal moments with him and must be going through absolute hell right now.

I’ve said it on my Facebook page and I’ll say it again – life is frighteningly short.

Now is the time to say Rest In Peace … but I’m not so sure he’d want peace.  I imagine Nick is up there in a wonderfully noisy venue moshing his heart out to groovy hardcore and positive, uplifting, unifying punk rock as we speak – not peace and quiet but peace and noise.  I think it’s also in his character that he’d be embarrassed by all the attention because he is the least egotistical person I’ve ever known.  But it is just so right that everyone is unanimous in their absolute adulation for a brilliant man.

There’s nothing more that can be said.  I vow to live my life more like Nick.  To show the selflessness he had.  To show the passion, love and commitment he had.  I know he knew I was very fond of him but I wish he knew just how much I admired him and how much I wanted to be more like him.

I’ll spend the rest of my life attempting to do so.  I’ll miss you mate.

5 Unwritten Rules for DJing Clubnights

Before we start – I am not a DJ.  Calvin Harris is a DJ.  Steve Aoki is a DJ.  Joel Zimmerman is a DJ.  I’m a guy that plays songs in different club nights and bars on occasion.

They’re generally more down the rock / alternative spectrum but occasionally I do general party or “anything goes” type of night, but still geared towards a less mainstream (I don’t want to use the word hipster).  I cannot mix vinyl or do dance music or anything flashy like that, but general feedback whenever I play music at club nights is I do a damn good job at it.  Without wanting to sound full of myself, I’m inclined to agree – it just so happens that getting the dancefloor moving at a clubnight is something I’m relatively good at.

Some clubs I do include What Ever Happened To P-Rock and ad-hoc sets at places such as The Stillery and The Macbeth.  I used to DJ at quite a big club called Hot Damn and I even DJed the very first Slam Dunk Festival (a highlight).  I have no career aspirations doing this – it’s basically a way to get free entry to nights I’d probably want to go to myself, try and do what I can to make them as enjoyable as possible and get some free drinks in the process.

As such, I have a fair bit of experience (possibly too much – is 30 too old to be doing this??).  What’s interesting is at clubs a lot of people offer their thoughts and increasingly I see armchair DJs saying how they would do things and what they expect from a club night.  Therefore I thought I’d write something for those thinking about starting their own night / offering their services to an existing ones, so here are 5 golden rules:

1. Timing Is Everything…And Know Your Role

Club nights will generally go from 8-10pm until 2-4am.  That’s quite a bit of time and as a result you’ll usually share shifts with other DJs.  I’ve very rarely done an entire night and quite often it’s a case of you get a slot at a particular time and do your thing.  If you are lucky enough to get the whole night or the majority of it – equally important to plan your set meticulously.

It’s vital you play the appropriate music for that slot.  It’s completely daft to play a lesser known but hyped up and coming credible band at 1am in order to make yourself look like a tastemaker because that’s the time people are pissed up and want to dance to hits.  It’s equally stupid to play the biggest singles from your respective genre during the evening’s opening pre 11pm when people are still entering the club, getting cheap drinks and talking to their friends.  If anything, you’ve made yourself look a bit of a dick because that song can no longer be used at the appropriate time unless you / a colleague plays the same song twice.

If you’re handet a slot before 11pm you might feel like you’ve drawn the short straw compared to the later slots, as people aren’t inebriated enough to get dancing.  There’s some truth to it but you’re better off appreciating that you have to earn the right for prime time positioning, and the early slot is a great opportunity to showcase your music knowledge, take risks and play niche songs that will appeal to the die-hards which could earn yourself a following.   That’s exactly what I did when I started getting regular slots during the opening of club nights – I played songs that other DJs did not know and established credibility by playing songs that die hard fans and aficionados turned up early to hear, as well as introducing other folk to their new favourite bands.   If you can get a dancefloor moving at a difficult time, you’re definitely doing something right, and it gives you a great opportunity to form new friendships over smaller, niche acts as appreciative punters thank you.   Trying to play a cool, up-and-coming niche act at 2am will not make you look super cool and credible – it’ll simply clear the dancefloor as the majority of more passive nightclub goers are now simply wanting to hear the chart bangers and do more shots.

2. It’s Not About You

The clubnight and its atmosphere relies on the audience generating it.  You’re there to do everything you can to be the catalyst of this and being an attention seeker won’t work.   Equally, shying away in the corner isn’t ideal because if you’re not dancing around and loving the music being played, who else will?

That’s where a balance must be struck.  Jump around, be a bit of a hype guy/girl and hope the enthusiasm spreads…but don’t be someone who constantly hogs the microphone to talk about yourself or your night.  Strike a balance and ensure you have a presence that isn’t overwhelming.  I won’t lie – DJing will give you a lot of nice attention from people which is exceptionally flattering, but that can’t be your primary motivation.  Your motivation should be to do a good job and please people.  Ultimately, in doing this you’ll get the positive attention that your ego might crave.

By equal measures, whilst you are playing music from your collection…it isn’t about playing what you want to hear – it’s about playing what the audience want to hear and what is appropriate for the night.   Mixing songs together is obviously a great skill to have an integral to the art of being a great DJ in dance music…but too often I’ve seen people mix songs together in a club where it’s completely out of context (i.e. rock nights or cheese nights).  Does anyone really want to hear Papa Roach mixed with Rihanna?  Why not just play Papa Roach and Rihanna separately?  Might be my personal taste but I just don’t see the point and it seems to be showboating rather than trying to play a song to get people dancing and singing along (unless it’s a really, totally out there crazy mix that actually works, or it’s two connected songs from the same genre that, again, works).

3. Be Honest With Requests

Somewhat of a continuation from the last point here.  I generally always try to be as transparent with peoples’ requests as possible.  If someone asks for a track that I simply don’t have. there’s no point in me nodding, saying yep and leaving it unplayed.  Most often than not, the request is something I know but haven’t brought because it didn’t fit the night – and I explain it.  If I’m asked to DJ a rock night that’s focused around Green Day, Blink-182 and Sum 41, the likelihood is, despite loving the band, I won’t have brought a Fugazi CD with me.  If I get a request, I’ll explain how 13 Songs is one of my favourite records of all time (ok ok I know it isn’t technically an album) but I just didn’t think it was worth bringing along because it didn’t fit the event description.  Screw it – if I hate the band, I explain they’re not my cup of tea and therefore don’t have it on CD.

However, regardless of my personal taste, if requests something on repeat, I’ll try and bring it next time.  Some friends ran a club where they refused to play more mainstream music or anything that wasn’t their specific niche taste.   In a sense I respected them for it, particularly as it was a style that no other club dared to go near.  But by equal measures, it frustrated me that a club night that was a superb idea rarely got more than 15 people attending because people just didn’t know any of the songs beyond their immediate circle of friends.

4. Get A Flow Going & Be Ready For Plan B

It’s rare that you’ll be asked to DJ a set that’s SOLELY restricted to one specific sub-genre all night.  Even if you are, there are ways you can keep a feeling of variation without switching genres – it could be time period (90s classics to early 2000s etc.) or geographical scene (West Coast to East Coast etc.).  I find that a set flows a lot better if you ensure every song has relevance or suitability to the one that precedes it.  Let’s take an example (not a real life one, this is the purpose of illustrating a point)- it would be somewhat odd playing The Descendents, Five Seconds Of Summer, Millencolin and New Found Glory.  However, it might seem more tangible to go Descendents, Millencolin, New Found Glory then 5SOS…because you’re generally going on a journey from old school punk to new school pop rock.

It’s hard to explain in a broader blog without getting specific but if my set does change in direction – let’s say from skate punk to emo, or hip-hop to rap-tinged r&b, it’s usually done gradually so the songs have some connection that lead to one another.  There are times you can break the rule – I generally play a few nuggets of cheesy chart pop gold in a rock set, and it’s usually better to make it happen at the more unexpected moments, but generally if you’re changing direction without it being novel, this way works best.

However, it might not work out, and you’ll find the dancefloor starts to clear.  If you have cleared the dancefloor, you might think it’s easy to go from Song type B immediately back to A.  What will make your set seem more consistent (and will appease the few who did enjoy song Type B) is play a song that sits inbetween type A and B.  Basically, ensure that you’re prepared for a song to ease people back if you’ve found a change in tone to the set has backfired.

5. Don’t Be a Dick With Other DJs

As mentioned above, I’m usually sharing the privilege of DJing with a number of others and made good friends out of doing so (and the funnest sets I’ve done have usually been tag teaming with a friend).  However, it amazes me how many repeatedly grind my gears with their selfishness and bad manners.

If you have an hour’s set, you should be wrapping up with your final song by 5 minutes to the finish (unless every song is a 2 minute one).  This allows the DJ following you to cue up their first song, and for you to gather your bits and get out of their way and allow them to start planning their set out and spreading their equipment.

Equally, you should not arrive at the booth any earlier than 5 minutes before.  There is nothing more off putting than at quarter or ten to, when you’ve still got a good 4 songs to go, have some dickhead whack out their laptop and start moving your stuff around, invading your personal space and risking drink spillage.

No DJ is more important than anyone else.  Sure, you might think the prime 1:30am slot is more important than the earlier ones, but the money made at the bar remains the same.  If anything, doing a good job early on and bringing punters in and spending at the bar then is arguably more valuable than the prime slots which almost speak for themselves.  It’s not an important debate really – the point is treat your colleagues with the respect you would want to receive.  Don’t attempt to cut their set short by dragging yours over or making them rush to finish, it’s just not cool.

***

There you have it, more 5 golden rules.  Again – I’m not a DJ.  But if I can establish a successful track record of playing tunes at clubs and being good at it, anyone can.

It’s not rocket science – it definitely requires skill and an advanced knowledge and enthusiasm for music – but it’s something that can be really enjoyable and rewarding if you can do it well.

I do find myself at less clubs than my early to mid twenties, and notably friends older than me do it a lot, lot less.  However, there’s an increasing amount of nostalgia themed nights for our generation who want to dance to music from the late 90s / early 00s when we were in our golden years and find the biggest clubs just a bit too young.  Perhaps that’s a topic for another time, as it is quite evident that Londoners definitely remain young that bit longer than in other cities where it seems more normal to opt down the settle down with partner and mortgage route meaning demand for club nights not aimed at students is less.

Let me know your thoughts on what you look for in a DJ, and what club nights are missing from your town.

Why Supporting Ipswich Town Isn’t So Bad…

I follow Piers Morgan on Twitter.  I don’t know why, but I do.  Everyone knows he’s a disgruntled Arsenal fan unhappy with the current regime and that they haven’t won the Premier League in over a decade.  They have been playing well, had good seasons but the league title has eluded them, hence the dissatisfaction.  Whether he’s right or wrong to want Wenger out I don’t really know (or care) but when the subject arose someone accused him of being a disloyal ‘glory hunter’ and his response was ‘don’t we all want glory‘?

He has a point.  Competitive sport is about winning.  Sure, the old saying is ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ and generally whilst the primary objective is to have fun, the point of a match is to win. You want to win when you personally participate and you want your team to win.  That makes it somewhat difficult, if yo’re asked to explain to an alien with no concept of football, why you would bother supporting a club with smaller resources than the likes of Chelsea Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool etc.

Traditionally, football folklore dictates you support your local club, the club your mother / father supports and have passed down to you and to a lesser extent the club of your birthplace.  My parents didn’t make much effort in passing down West Brom or Fulham to me, and whilst I did eagerly follow Nottingham Forest for a while, growing up in Suffolk with a hugely likeable team nearby made it a relatively straightforward choice to support Ipswich Town FC.  I won’t bore you with the details of our history – Champions of England in 1962, in the 1980s we punched above our weight as one of the top clubs in the country, then became a club generally fluxing between Lower Premiership / Upper 2nd tier.  Since around 2005 however, we’ve been mid-table 2nd tier with little to play for (beyond brief flirtation of the top 8) due to financial difficulties.  This has been one of underachievement…until this season where somehow we’re in the mix.

I watch them as often as I can, but it’s expensive, so I usually go when I visit my parents for a weekend but generally I focus more on going to away matches in or around London.  Away matches are ten times more fun than home games.  With home games you generally expect your team to win (meaning anything less is a big disappointment), you have more passive support meaning it is hard to generate a good atmosphere and you don’t have the novelty of taking in a new town/city.  At away games, anything other than a defeat feels like an achievement, there’s a smaller pocket of more enthusiastic fans and half the fun is generating a party atmosphere with songs to support your team and make as much noise – or more so, than the opposition fans.

The thing is, we’ve been through a lot of pain…but I just love supporting Ipswich so much.  Despite being one of many 2nd tier clubs with Premier League ambitions, I’m exceptionally proud to support the club and enjoy it so much, particularly when I’m living in a city with no real connection to Ipswich and many bigger clubs in the area (I can see Arsenal’s stadium from my bedroom).

But why?  So what is it about Ipswich Town that makes it so special?  It can’t just be the local team element – if I grew up in Bermondsey there’d be absolutely no way in hell I’d support Millwall.  We’re not a football superpower but equally we’re not truly lower league (where the true underdog romance is at its highest.  In truth it’s really hard to put into coherent words.  There’s just something about our club.  And that something might be the fact that its ours.  It’s a real community club where everyone – the fans, the staff, the players, all feel together as one.

I imagine it’s similar for supporters of similar-sized clubs with similar history (i.e. 25-32,000 stadium, generally between Premier League and Championship, provincial club with some trophy success).  We’re a friendly, family club but one that still generates a hell of an atmosphere and can turn our stadium into a fortress.  We have a superb away following with imaginative chants that get rowdy and party with the best of them. We’re a club that invests time in its community, with players visiting the local schools and hospitals.  And that’s where it clicks.

Supporting Ipswich, or a club like Ipswich, is a bit like being part of a really cool, DIY music scene, outside of the mainstream.   Much like an independent music scene where there is a community of bands, artists and promoters with a close knit feel, following a club of Ipswich’s size has that feeling.  When you spot a fellow supporter of your club (particularly outside of the region the team is based), you instantly connect with a feeling of sister/brotherhood much like when you spot someone from the same niche subculture in an otherwise mainstream environment.

I’m not here to bait the big clubs, but I just can’t imagine the same feeling if I supported Manchester United or Chelsea and met a fellow fan, because there are so many.  It would be just like seeing someone, one of thousands, at the supermarket.    However, when you’re living up in a huge city and  you’re in a pub watching Ipswich are on tv and you spot someone else cheering them on with you…it’s special.  You become mates.  You share the collective pain and indulge in the feeling of being part of a fairly exclusive club.  The big clubs do have fantastic support – watching Liverpool or Celtic is always quite inspiring with their atmosphere, so I’m definitely not here to claim supporters of smaller clubs are superior or anything.  It’s just more my cuppa tea.

It has been a dreadful last few seasons whereby we all but lost our identity.  After sacking club legend Jim Magilton, two abysmal managers ripped the club apart.  We stopped developing academy players and recruited aging journeymen – no player seemed to stick around for longer than 2-3 seasons and we had many loanees.  Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor came in when the club was at its lowest – with legitimate probability of relegation to the third tier, and they turned it around.  The club feels ours again.

The fact that the team are challenging for promotion again isn’t even the main point – we have a squad of players who all live and breathe blue and white.  They share our joy and they share our disappointment.  They feel like players you could sit and have a beer with.  Heck, they give away match tickets and give out free shirts.  It’s a hell of a lot easier to cheer on players who you genuinely like and respect irrespective of the shirt they’re wearing.  You can’t always say that about the top Premier League sides with international superstars earning a lifetime’s salary in a matter of weeks.

Whether Ipswich make it to the Premier League or not this season I’m so proud of the side.  The entire squad has been assembled for £110k (for perspective, Fulham signed one player for £11 million).  It’s been an exceptionally fun season watching us home and away and whilst it’s always more fun supporting a team when they’re winning, the fun is in the songs about players we love.  Given we’re not so used to winning, those victories feel so much more special.   Yesterday, we played Watford away – traditionally our bogey side, who are top of the table as we’d hit a rough patch of form.  I anticipated a 3-0 defeat but instead the team played heroically and scored a goal 5 minutes into injury time to get an unexpected win.  These were the scenes that followed.

I doubt that community spirit feeling is just an Ipswich thing.  There are many provincial clubs of a similar size to us with a bit of past success and heartbreak who will probably relate to this.  The victories are that bit sweeter.  Your support base isn’t as big as Barcelona’s but you’re all in it together.   You feel more active and part of the club and less of a spectator.

But equally, this is an exceptionally unique club.  With the exception of Norwich City and Colchester United, not many other clubs dislike us in the long-term beyond competitive rivalry over league positions.   Sometimes it works against us as nice little Ipswich from sleepy Suffolk, but that’s when it becomes all the more satisfying when we humble the big boys.

Do I think we’ll get promoted this season?  Probably not.  But it has been an exceptionally fun season and whilst it has cost a small fortune, I regret nothing.  I’ve made new friends by following Ipswich away from home and joining the pre match rituals.   The elation of unexpected, last minute victories cannot be beaten, and even though I’ve also had to endure 6 hour round trips to see us get beaten convincingly by our fierce rivals…it’s those moments that make you appreciate the moments of glory all the more.

I’m sure fans of big teams enjoy it, and this definitely isn’t intended to be a put-down for those.  The whole goading of Manchester United fans from the south of England is just a bit boring really – it’s up to them really.  But it just wouldn’t be for me.  It’s influenced the way I enjoy other sports – I opted for the smaller New York franchise of New York Jets over their more successful New York Giants because I find it more fun that way.

I’m off to Berlin in 2 weeks, and Ipswich are live on TV.  It’ll be interesting to see if any bars will show the game when I’m there.