Submitting music to the show: dos and don'ts #2
This is the second in a series of blogs offering advice on submitting music to my BBC Radio Wales, Welsh music show. You can read the first instalment here.
I've decided to do this as a series of dos and don'ts, in the dictatorial style of a poster at the municipal swimming pool. So, assuming you're not smoking or heavy petting, here is the second DO.
DO be yourselves.
What makes music exciting and interesting to someone like me, who listens to thousands of new tracks every year, is a fresh viewpoint, a twist, something that transforms the familiar into a thrilling new territory. All musicians, without exception, learn by copying those that most influence and inspire them. It's entirely natural. It's how we learn to speak, to play, to feed and dress ourselves. Imitation is a form of flattery, but as musicians it will rarely flatter you.
Why, for example, would anyone want to hear a poor man's Lostprophets?
I can understand why impressionable bands get drawn into the slipstream of a local band made good. This was most apparent in the aftermath of Stereophonics' success. For a good few years every demo (seemingly without exception) that arrived from the Valleys was in thrall to the boys from Cwmaman. I don't know if anyone has ever done a sociological/psychological study on this effect, but it would make for a good one.
What factors are at play? Well, Stereophonics were a good band, so their music would have been an influence, but it extends beyond that. If you watch some lads from the village down the road sign a major label record deal, if there are few employment opportunities, if knee-jerk record labels are sniffing round the locale seeking to snap up their own Stereophonics, it's inevitable that some bands will morph into what the situation seems to expect of them. And this brings us to a fundamental point: bands/artists who do that aren't interesting. They fill a void, but they don't escape it.
The most over-represented genre of music I receive is pop punk, aka 'alternative' punk (I assume it's the alternative to good punk). There are fewer leaves on your average oak tree than there are pop punk bands in Wales. And just like those leaves, it's impossible for these bands to distinguish themselves. That troubled me for a long while. Why bother making music if it's nothing more than paint-by-numbers Blink 182? Well, some people like to do paint-by-numbers, don't they? But please - please - don't expect me to hang it in my gallery.
Having your own sound doesn't mean designing a whole, new sonic architecture with strange scales and bizarre instrumentation. (But if that appeals to you, fill your boots, sounds fascinating.) Subtle elements can elevate the familiar to something more original and interesting. For example, a singer with a unique voice can transform an otherwise moribund band. Stereophonics are a prime example. Musically, they were simple and rather pedestrian, but add Kelly's voice and lyrical nous and you have a more interesting proposition.
So, my advice is: find your own sound. The easiest way to do that is to be yourselves. If you're a rapper from Mold, rap about Mold: celebrate the differences between you and your influences. I hear many Welsh hip hop artists every year whose lexicon, style and philosophy is lifted by rote from American artists. There's nothing thrilling to be heard in that. Be courageous enough to steal the tropes for your own. Break them. Mess with them. Twist them to your own design.
It's why a seemingly anomalous band like Tystion (Welsh language rap) still sound thrilling and earned recognition and airplay across Europe. Who'd have thought Caernarfon and Compton could have had a symbiotic cultural relationship? It's also why Cardiff's hip hop label, Associated Minds, is one of Wales' most celebrated.
As I write this, I'm in a car on the way to Aberystwyth (I'm not driving, don't worry), and we're listening to Chloe Leavers' All These Things EP. It's a perfect example of 'being yourself.' Chloe's music isn't, by any means, a radical re-imagining of music as we know it. It's a woman with a transcendent voice, surrounded by warm, folkish instrumentation. So, you may be thinking of Laura Marlin or Paper Aeroplanes... but there's something brooding that sets the mood of these songs apart. They're mysterious and wonderful and I can't wait to play them on my show.
More grandiose pontificating from up here on my high horse tomorrow.
If you have any questions or comments about these blogs, feel free to leave them below. I'll answer them at the first opportunity.