Howard Massey, author of The Great British Recording Studios, sat down for an interview with on the Producer Crosstalk segment of Music Connection to discuss his career from a musician to now an author. The Great British Recording Studios tells the story of the iconic British facilities where many of the most important recordings of all time were made. Check out the excerpt below.
Engineer, music journalist and newly minted novelist Howard Massey came to the business as many do: as a musician. After a move to London and an inked publishing deal, he logged hours at Pathway Studios. When the engineer there told him he was leaving, he asked Massey to fill the vacancy. As his repertoire broadened, he found that he was something of an expert on the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. So good, in fact, that a friend suggested he write a book on it. He’s since scribed Behind the Glass and co-authored Geoff Emerick’s 2006 acclaimed Here, There, and Everywhere. Recently he has branched into fiction.
Howard Massey’s career has been shaped by a series of “left turns,” as he calls them. “I started out wanting to be a rock & roll star,” the writer explains. “I discovered that I had good ears. When I returned to New York, I was offered a job at Electric Lady Studios and when the [Yamaha] DX7 came out, I got one of the early ones. I found that no one really knew how to use it, including the people at Yamaha, surprisingly. So I locked myself in a room and learned to program it. A friend said I should teach other people. Later, someone else suggested I write a book.” In 1986, The Complete DX7 was published and his literary career thereby drew its first breaths.
With such a level of studio acquaintance––37 featured in Behind the Glass––Massey has thoughts on what signifies a space with staying power. “If people are flocking to book a studio, there’s something they’re doing right,” he observes. “Of course these days any studio that’s still in business, by definition, is successful because everything’s changed dramatically. Clients demanded more and record companies insisted on lower hourly rates. Studios got caught in the cash crunch. Of the 36 discussed in my book The Great British Recording Studios, only three are still in business.
“People today don’t feel the need to go into a professional studio,” he continues. “That’s a bit misguided. There are few artists in history who’ve had the ability to produce themselves well and view their work objectively. You can probably count [them] on one hand. If nothing else, having an objective third set of ears is invaluable. These days everybody thinks they can be a musician, songwriter, engineer and producer wrapped into one. It’s not that easy to be good at different things. I’m not saying nobody can do it. I’m saying few can. It’s hard to master several crafts at the same time and exceptionally hard to be objective about your work.”
Read the full interview here.
Norman Harris, co-author of Confessions of a Vintage Guitar Dealer, sat down with Music Connection to discuss his latest book and adventures. Confessions of a Vintage Guitar Dealer is an intriguing memoir from a man who has spent a lifetime getting extraordinary instruments into the hands of extraordinary artists.
The thrill never goes away. There’s always something, a rare custom guitar or a hard-to-find model, that still excites me.
Why write a book?
Well, I published a book about 10 years ago, Norman’s Rare Guitars, but it was a picture book. I could have included stories, but I didn’t think anyone cared. Then I discovered that people liked to hear the stories and even asked about them. So, I decided to tell my story and the stories behind the guitars.
You came to Los Angeles to be a musician.
Little Richard brought my band out here and we were signed to a small deal. Plan A was to become a professional musician. Plan B was selling guitars for extra money. Although I did well as a player, Plan B took off and became Plan A.
You got a shout-out in the movie This is Spinal Tap. How did that happen?
Christopher Guest (who played Nigel) is a regular customer. He told me about the film and wanted to use the store in a few scenes. He also wore one of my T-shirts in the movie. I watched them shoot and it was total fun.
Do you get involved with a lot of films?
It never occurred to me to do that, but then I was asked to and it was great PR and brought in additional income. The first film I did was Bound for Glory. David Carradine (who played Woody Guthrie) wanted a period correct guitar. Now, I supply guitars and accessories for films and videos whenever needed.
Why aren’t you located in Hollywood where all the action is?
I didn’t want to be in the middle of all the craziness. Besides, the store is close to my house and it’s a place where professional musicians, rock stars and celebrities can browse without being bothered by paparazzi.
In your book you describe guitars, ones that you had never seen, in exquisite detail. How did you acquire that knowledge years before the Internet?
A lot of it was word-of-mouth. I established friendships with old players and picked their brains. I also nurtured relationships with people who worked at guitar companies. I just talked, listened and learned.
Read the rest of the interview here.
Beating Songwriter’s Block is specifically designed to address the devastating phenomenon that every songwriter faces at one time or another. This book helps the reader develop a songwriting schedule, set songwriting targets that make sense, and deal with debilitating fear. Check out an excerpt from Music Connection Magazine!
Improve Your Audio for Video!
As a musical exercise, nothing beats improvising. It doesn’t just improve your playing chops – it’s a great generator of songwriting ideas. While it’s often thought of as a group activity, there are ways to improvise on your own––just you and your instrumen––that can provide you with great material for your next song. Many of the ideas listed below come from Chapter 3 of Gary Ewer’s new book, Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music. The first five activities will help you create melodies, and the next five pertain to creating lyrics. Some involve singing, others will use guitar or keyboards. Most of them work as solo activities, but are fun to try with a fellow songwriter. Feel free to modify them to suit your purposes.
1. Play the following 4-chord turn-around: C F Dm G, or invent your own. Now… start singing––anything. Keep in mind that most good song melodies are comprised of repeating ideas, so try singing the same short fragment repeatedly as you change chords. The key to generating ideas is to keep things simple.
2. Detune your guitar to something other than the standard E-A-D-G-B-E. Move your B up to C, your G down to F#… that sort of thing. Now start improvising chords and melodic shapes as if you were playing a standard tuning. Why? The odd tuning will give you melodic and harmonic ideas you’d probably not have found otherwise. The best results happen when you detune your guitar randomly. Be prepared for weird sounds, but you’ll probably stumble on something that’ll get the creative juices flowing.
3. Dial up a short rhythmic/chord loop on your synthesizer and sing or play improvised melodies. Handing over part of the musical job to a synth frees you up to create ideas, both vocal and instrumental.
4. Sing a note that works. A song like Jack Johnson’s “Don’t Believe a Thing I Say,” or the verse of Maroon 5’s “One More Night” show us that melodies can do quite well sitting in and around one pitch. So give it a try: invent a short 3- or 4-chord progression (Am F G C, for example). Play it several times to get it in your ear. Now, start by scat singing rhythmically on one note that works with the first chord. As much as possible, keep that note as you cycle through the chords. When a chord doesn’t support the note, switch to singing a note that works.
5. Create new melodies by borrowing from old ones. Take an old hit (“Hound Dog”, for example), and write down the all the notes used in that melody. (“Hound Dog” uses G-A-C-D-D#-E, listed from low to high.) Now put “Hound Dog” completely out of your mind and use that tone set to create an entirely new melody. As with our first idea, use lots of repeating patterns, but use only those six notes.
6. Choose a book from your bookshelf or from a blog or online news site. Open randomly to any page, or scroll to any random spot on a website, and point to the first word you see. With that word in your mind, point to a second word. Quickly invent a short line of lyric within five seconds that starts with your first chosen word and ends with the second one. Repeat. Example: You open a book and point to the word, “that,” and then you point to “more.” Possible lyric: “That is how I know I love you more.”
7. The best lyrics are not necessarily poems; they’re made of simple words whose main job is to stimulate the imagination of the listener. Take the following list of words and paraphrase them in as many different ways as you can that might work in a descriptive lyric. Work quickly. (The first one has been done to demonstrate.):
• Fog: The grey murkiness; through the misty haze; in the cloudy haze; the soup; etc.
• Held on
8. Lyrical clichés will kill a song faster than you can say Jack Robinson. (See what I did there?) “What goes around, comes around” is a cliché that’s not very interesting. But “What comes around is gone again” has potential. Or you might change “A friend in need is a friend indeed” to “A friend indeed, but what do I need?” Both of those examples turn the original expression around backwards, giving you something that’s a bit more creative. So for a fun improvising activity, Google “The Phrase Finder” website, have a songwriting partner read one of the sayings to a rhythmic beat, and try creating something spontaneously by reversing the order of some of the words. Another example: “Every cloud has a silver lining” might become “My silver lining turned a little cloudy.”
9. Bounce lyrical ideas off a songwriting partner. Sit facing each other, keep a beat by tapping your foot or dialing up a loop. Then one of you speaks out a line, and the other one has to immediately answer it with a line of their own. “I got you, and you got me”… “Anywhere I’m with you is where I wanna be…”
10. Try brainstorming titles. Work as quickly as you can. Don’t worry about clichés, just get a list of titles written that you can consider later. Some titles may just pop into your head with no story behind them at all: “That’s the Way To Do It.” Others may be a bit silly: “George is Going Crazy, and His World’s a Little Hazy.” Later, look through your list, strum a chord, and say the titles with a considerable amount of melodrama and vocal expression. See if melodic ideas pop into your mind.