Guest Lecture – Katia Isakoff

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Katia Isakoff is a composer, record producer (Add N to (X)), mix engineer, studio owner, academic and member of JAMES, and she recently came to Lincoln to talk to students about her experiences in the music industry.

Katia put to use her wealth of experience and advised students about studio etiquette and how to get the best performance from an artist, and the importance of understanding the basics of music business in order to deal with contractual and financial matters. She also discussed the issues of how she navigates the often male-oriented world of music production and the music industry in general.

The link between academic theory and music production practice is something that concerns this course greatly and it was very interesting to hear how Katia brings these two areas together with her work at JAMES and the Art Of Record Production conferences and publications.

Composing LA

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Young British Composer Tarik O’ Regan tells the story of how the tradition of Western classical music, its composers and maestros, underpinned the golden age of Hollywood film score.

More or less the entire Hollywood music scene, as it blossomed in the 1930s, looked to serious European and Russian composers for film score composition. Stravinsky, Schoenberg, two of the greatest composers of ‘serious’ 20th century music, both lived and worked in LA – much to the consternation of the European classical music establishment.

Many composers on the run from Europe in the 1930s would arrive in New York and, failing to make inroads into the concert scene or Broadway (as Kurt Weil had done), continued their journey West. Even as early cinema flourished, America was still struggling to find its own authentic ‘classical’ music – one that strived to be equal to the European symphonic sound but that had its own voice too. The film score was precisely that.

Meanwhile most of the Hollywood film orchestras were filled with British and European émigré musicians who taught American musicians the European symphonic style that became the hallmark of Hollywood film music. This programme also explores how some of the most successful soundtrack composers today – John Williams and others – are completely caught up in that sound-world.

Presented by Tarik O’Regan, an émigré composer himself who moved to the US, with contributors including Andre Previn, Larry Schoenberg, conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen and music writer Alex Ross.

Produced by Simon Hollis
A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4.

Guest Lecture – John Williams – Record Producer

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As well as highly successful careers in A&R and songwriting John Williams has produced records by The Housemartins, The Proclaimers, Petula Clark and Michael Nyman and Radio 1 sessions by The Cure and Killing Joke to name but a few. This week he came to Lincoln and talked to our Audio Production students about his latest production; Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott’s What Have We Become album.

John’s fascinating and insightful talk took us through the entire process of making the record – from budgets, to arranging rehearsals, to booking the studio, to tracking and overdubs, through to the mixing and mastering stage. Full of excellent advice and suggestions, John demystified the whole process, stressing the importance of keeping things simple and always focussing on the song and the performance. Rehearsal time is absolutely key to this along with not getting too caught up in the technology of recording and unnecessary audio processing.

For our budding record producers, this was a hugely valuable lecture which gave some great insights, not only into the technical and organisational aspects of recording an album but also highlighted the people skills needed to manage groups of musicians and performers whose (often fragile) egos of can at times be a bit of a handful!

Listen to John speaking about the role of A&R on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 programme here (20/01/15):

Stevie’s Wonder Men

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You may not have heard of Malcolm Cecil or Robert Margouleff but you’ll certainly be familiar with their work. These two electronic music boffins helped transform Little Stevie Wonder in to one of the greatest song writers in pop music. They produced and engineered four albums that are widely regarded as “Stevie’s classic period.” Four albums that featured his most enduring songs such as Living For the City, Superstition, Higher Ground and You Are the Sunshine of My Life. Stevie was at the height of his creative powers but Margouleff and Cecil were his sonic architects, steering him away from the bubble gum pop sound of Motown.
Central to Margouleff and Cecil’s production style was their creation, TONTO. The Original New Timbral Orchestra was a huge, room-sized super-synthesiser developed with the express purpose of making this new, intimidating technology work together as a giant electronic ensemble. Margouleff and Cecil manipulated its futuristic controls, while Stevie played its keyboards. The results turned out to be timeless. Their pioneering electronic developments in sound and production proved hugely influential to black popular music in the 1970s.
As well as Stevie Wonder, Margouleff and Cecil have worked with a whole host of big name artists such as The Isley Brothers, Gil Scott-Heron, George Harrison and Devo. So why have you never heard of them? Broadcaster and fan Stuart Maconie investigates their story and argues we should be celebrating these forgotten men of pop instead of consigning them to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s backroom staff.
Contributors include Robert Margouleff, Malcolm Cecil, Pete Townshend, Michael Sembello, Steve Hillage and music historian Mark Sinker.

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 program here:

Animation/Audio Festival Screenings in the USA and UK

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Blog post by RW.

Animation student Daniel Escobar’s Luma St. with music and sound by 2014 Audio Production Graduate Nathan Lewis has been selected for Festimation – an International Animation & New Media Arts Festival, which is on this month in Montana, USA. Festimation is an event for screening and showcasing ‘up-and-coming independent, narrative, documentary and experimental animated films.’ Luma St. is summed up as a short that “revolves around the idea of people missing the beauty in everyday life.” LSFM Senior Lecturer Sultan Efe: It’s great to see that the organisers used snapshots from Luma St. as part of their poster for the festival. Daniel has sent the film to several animation competitions and festivals and I am sure we will be hearing good news in the next 12 months.”

Luma St. will be screened at Lincoln Shorts film festival along with a hugely diverse, eclectic and entertaining mix of locally-made short films at Lincoln Drill Hall on 18th October at 7pm. Admission’s £5 and you can book tickets online.

Also, Audio Production alumna Danielle Crooks created the soundtrack for animation project, Lullaby, which was led by Lucy Clay and Amy Fairclough. Lullaby was nominated in the Student Competition at Animasyros 7.0 International Animation Festival this month.

Sultan said: We have yet to hear results of both competitions but so far it has been great to see our student films have had exposure in China, Greece, UK and US.

Watch Luma St here.

Guest Lecture – Danny Roberts (A&R Decca Records)

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This week’s guest lecture for level 2 and 3 Music Production students was by Danny Roberts – A&R at Decca Records.

Danny did a brilliant job of unravelling the mysterious world of A&R and gave the students a great insight into the role of A&R in these challenging times for the recorded music industry.

Decca sits within the structure of Universal Music Group – one of the ‘big three’ major labels and Danny explained his day-to-day duties, including liaison with managers, agents, lawyers, producers and publishers. He travels a lot and he stressed the importance of networking, communication skills, and making decisions – sometimes risky ones. Studying statistics, nurturing and developing artists, and keeping up morale, also feature heavily in his role. Surprisingly, going to gigs was not particularly high on the list.

The stakes and budgets are high in the world of the major labels and I could sense that Danny’s job comes with a lot of pressure. He looks like he can handle it though 🙂 and he gave us a fascinating talk, which particularly highlighted to me how many roles there are in the music industries, and how many people are involved to support the career of a successful artist.

In Search Of The Ideal Music Venue

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Trevor Cox Professor of Acoustics from Salford University goes in search of the best venues for different types of music. Trevor is fascinated by the effect that the acoustics have on the enjoyment of different types of live music. He visits various music venues and tries out their acoustics by playing his saxophone. He talks to musicians, sound engineers and experts in acoustics about the venues and the effect that their design has on the audience’s enjoyment of music. He asks whether the size and shape of venues has had an effect on the way music is composed. And he travels to Finland to meet Professor Tappio Lokki who can replicate the sound of famous concert halls in his laboratory.

With contributions from acousticians Adrian James, Rob Harris and Niels Adelman-Larsen, sound engineer Derrick Zieba, and musicians Jessica Cottis and Trish Clowes.

Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme here:

Music & Video Games

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Games Designer Paul Bennun explores the growing popularity and ambition of music composed for video games.

Video games now have the resources to match that of the big Hollywood orchestral film scores. But it’s not just commercially that video game soundtracks are taken seriously. Composers are becoming more interested in it artistically and BAFTA and the Ivor Novellos have recently recognised the form with their own award categories.

Bennun traces the development of this new genre and finds out how it is changing the way music is made and consumed. Has it now left behind bleeps and bloops and arrived at the brink of artistic respectability?

Producer: Russell Finch

Listen to The BBC Radio 4 programme here:

Lincoln Soundscape

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Blog post by Alex O’Brien – Level 3 Audio Production.

For one of my final year projects I created a soundscape of Lincoln, which was showcased in The Little Red Gallery in the Bailgate. The concept behind this soundscape was to construct a sonic interpretation of 24 hours in Lincoln.
The piece is made up of 3 sections, Cathedral, Town and Evenings. Each section presents the listener with a different part of Lincoln. The recording process was very enjoyable but incredibly time consuming. For the Evening recordings I would often find myself sat in the cold recording traffic and such for hours on end or I would be in the Cathedral for hours at a time, listening closely for interesting sounds as they echoed around the Cathedral walls. I wanted to make sure I had every recording I needed to piece this 25 minute project together so I could layer these sounds up and paint an audio picture of Lincoln.
Having my piece showcased in a gallery was fantastic. Seeing people walk around the space, listening to my piece made me feel as if I had really accomplished something. But also working for a client was a great experience and it has definitely given me confidence in knowing that I can go out and get my work showcased.
Overall, the project process was a great learning curve and I’d love to do another sometime soon.

Listen to Alex’s Soundscape here: