Left Hand Red and going it alone

Left Hand Red, Music 1 Comment »

I don’t know why I haven’t taken the idea seriously before.

I feel like Left Hand Red have always had the semi-silent aim of getting signed by a conventional record label, and this was our lowest measure of “success”. Anything before that is just preparation.

However, recently, Dan decided that we needed a long-term aim (i.e. the next year or so), and that aim should be to release our own album.

The final straw

The stimulus that led to this decision was a competition that we took part in recently. It was a relatively high-profile competition (at least, in the Brighton area) for unsigned local bands. The competition promised some good prizes for the eventual winner, so we decided to enter. The initial stage involved voting on a website, during which we placed in the top ten and earned a place in the final, which took part at Brighton’s well-known Concorde 2 venue.

The final had a slightly clunky format — each of twelve, stylistically very diverse bands performed just one song, which was then appraised by a trio of judges who had varying degrees of involvement with music. Six bands were chosen to take part in a second stage where they would perform two further songs each, and then three of those bands would make a final stage where they played three songs each.

The logistics of such a format meant that it took seven hours for us to play one song. Following the lead of TV talent shows, we were given feedback on our performance. We provided an energetic, interesting, convincing performance, which they ackowledged, but they then turned to criticize the arrangement of the song we performed, as they had also done for most of the bands that had played.

Never mind that the judges contradicted each other when giving feedback. Never mind the fact that the song follows a tried and tested rock song structure. Never mind that some of the feedback didn’t even seem to be about our song!

What frustrated us was that we didn’t need or want any external validation of what we were doing. This was our song. It is our expression. It is not about trying to write a “perfect”, radio-friendly pop song for the short of attention-span. It is our art and it is what we want it to be. Just as the other bands all had different styles to us, they are making the music that they want to be making and there’s nothing wrong with that.

We were not willing to have our songwriting skills criticised by some random strangers, one of whom had probably never written a song in their life. Even if they had been an experienced songwriter, we would still probably not change how we do things, because we are making music that we enjoy. The fact that many other people get enjoyment from it is a big bonus, but a bonus all the same.

We did not make it past the first round, which was disappointing as of the six bands that did make it through, most had seemed to have received worse feedback than we had. They were generally very derivative or pleased the judges through some sort of gimmick or novelty.

I worry that this might sound a bit like sour grapes because we didn’t win the competition, but the point is that it really summed up for us the state of the British music industry. It is exactly that — an industry focussed on what will ultimately shift units above all else.

The Masterplan

When Dan brought up his idea, I admit I was sceptical. I thought that releasing an album on our own might not be the ideal way to attract record label attention, suggesting that shorter, more frequent releases was the more traditional way to go.

Then Dan sent a link to an article on Wired by former-Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne, written at the end of 2007: David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars.

I read the article, and everything clicked. I had taken Dan’s point the wrong way. I assumed that we were still looking to attract labels — that the album was a means to an end. Instead, the album was to be just that, not a glorified, quadruple-length demo.

We are no longer waiting for “the right time” for our music and are certainly not going to change what we do for the sake of fitting in with labels’ expectations of what people want. We are going to go it alone.

In short, our plan is to record a full-length album, which we will release for download. Currently, other than that, there is no plan. We will have complete control over what we do with the recordings, as there are no third-parties invested in it, and that is the most exciting bit. The whole thing should cost us no more than a few hundred pounds.

In the Old World, before cheap computers and the Web changed everyone’s lives, musicians needed record companies as they could not afford to make or distribute recordings themselves. Now, anyone with a computer can record, distribute and publicise their music around the World.

There is no pressure to make millions, or to get your CD in the shops, or even to put your music on CD in the first place. What you do with it is up to the musician. You decide what is “successful”. Music goes back from being a product, to being art.

I’ve discussed digital distribution and new models for art sales with Paul so many times in the past. Concerning Left Hand Red, I really am surprised I never took the idea more seriously before.

Left Hand Red demo finished… and website!

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Not only have we finished the new demo, but I’ve also managed to get the new site up and running in time for its launch!

I took a different approach to my previous attempts, and came up with a design first before converting that to a WordPress theme rather than trying to build a design as a theme. It’s a little minimal at the moment, but the plan is to work in some odd details and do some tweaking as and when I feel inspired to! I’m not exactly a ‘that’ll do’ sort of person, but the most important thing was to get something I was happy with together, and go for perfection after the launch. :)

The design is a fixed-width, single column layout, with a horizontal navigation at the very top of the page and a large banner for the demo underneath. I removed the banner for anything but the home page, although this leaves the other pages looking a bit sparse, which is something I’ll have to work on. Also, I plan on implementing some archives sorted by month and category.

I’m also trying out Google Checkout for selling copies of the CD online (£1 + P&P!). As the service didn’t launch that long ago, Google are waiving the fees (which are still cheaper than PayPal) for the rest of 2007, which is quite nice. It makes it very easy to set up a ‘Buy it now’ button — this simply links through to Google Checkout to handle the rest, which is all we need since we’re only selling a single item. We’re also giving the CDs away to people who come along to our gigs — it’ll be interesting to see what the demand is, both at gigs and through the website.

Third demo nearly finished!

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Left Hand Red‘s new three-track demo, Voyeur (named after the first track), should be ready very soon. Dan is going to record an extra vocal, and after that it just needs a few tweaks to the mix.

We’ll be selling the CD through the website (I really, really better get cracking on that redesign) for a paltry £1, but it will also be available free to anyone who comes along to one of our gigs (while stocks last!).

We’ve agreed to charge for the CD to recoup costs, but to give them away at gigs, as anyone who comes to see us deserves something for their time (and hopefully it will encourage people down). No-one’s mentioned downloads, but as they don’t have any overheads, I will sneak them up on the site free of charge. :)

WordPress theme update #2

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It’s been aaaaages since my last update on the development of the new Left Hand Red WordPress theme, and that’s because there hasn’t been much developing. Last week, however, I pushed myself to plow on.

The dark grey scheme wasn’t inspiring me much, so I’ve replaced it with a white/light grey scheme with red highlights, and ditched the single-column format with the addition of a second column for secondary navigation and blurb. I’ve only really been blocking things out, and it’s very much still ‘bare bones’, but once I’ve settled on a colour scheme and layout I will start introducing some graphics and styling touches.

Screenshot of the top of the homepage

I’m currently using a red background for hovered links (see below), which looks quite striking on the simple, monotone background.

Screenshot of the bottom of the homepage

I’m probably still going to use a single-column layout for single posts and pages. I’m also going to implement Gravatars for comments, which I have more recently added to the existing site.

Screenshot of a single post

Brighton Rock vs. London Calling

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Last night, Left Hand Red played an opening slot at the Hope & Anchor in Islington, London. The venue has quite a punk pedigree, with appearances by loads of famous bands dating back to the ‘Seventies, and it also serves as a ‘feeder’ venue for the Dublin Castle, so we were naturally quite excited to be playing there. Unfortunately, the reality didn’t really live up to the expectation.

Things didn’t get off to the best start when Russell, Jane and I ended up getting ourselves lost in East London, but in the end we were only about 15 minutes later than our prescribed sound-check time of 19:30. Being late for sound-check never creates a great impression, so we were relieved to see that the other bands were still sound-checking themselves when we arrived.

When our turn to sound-check came, we were told that we only had 10 minutes, so we hurriedly went about setting up. Disaster! My bass failed to produce any output at all! I tried a different lead, just in case, but going in to two amps and my tuner showed that I was in trouble. Fortunately, we were able to borrow a bass from another band, and did a rushed and very ropey sound-check through a couple of verses and choruses.

By the end of our sound-check, it was already time to start our set, so we didn’t even bother leaving the stage. We played through half-an-hour or so of our most gig-friendly stuff, and of course, gave it the usual gusto. The whole thing felt like a bit of an effort though. The monitoring made it difficult to hear what we were doing, and the tiny stage (and we’re only a four-piece) was cramped and difficult to move around. It wasn’t the ideal environment for getting in to a performance. The unfamiliar bass and an unusually mobile drum kit didn’t help matters, either!

In the end, I think we put in a reasonable performance, and there were some positive comments on how everything sounded. We’ve learned not to let setbacks get us down, and to put as much effort as possible whatever the venue, crowd or situation, and hopefully that helped the impression we left.

Russell had an exam the next morning, and Jane and I had to be up early for work, so we left shortly after finishing our set and speaking to some of the people who’d made the trip up from Sussex. It might have been nice to stay for the other bands, but I didn’t feel particularly compelled to hang around, either. So, after two-and-a-half hours of travelling, and just an hour-and-a-half in the venue, we were off!

We’re often told that we need to look outside of Brighton if we’re going to go further as a band, but I have to say that I’m not sure we’ve got much from our travels to the capital, either. The venues we’ve played in just don’t seem to match up to those in Brighton, and it doesn’t feel like we’ve achieved much extra exposure (but it’s always great to play to those who come to check us out or make the journey with us).

Maybe we’re spoiled for choice in Brighton, or maybe there’s so much competition in London that it’s hard to get in to the good venues. We are going to be looking outside of Brighton for future gigs, particularly in big Uni towns and cities like Southampton and Reading, and I’m sure we’ll keep trying London, too.

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