On the 25th October I am planning to release my second album ‘Entangled‘. In the run up to the release I’m going to try and write blogs about the process, how things are going and what needs to be done. I’m thinking of this as a practical example of my Rough Guide to Self Releasing Classical Music.
My initial Rough Guide and my slightly ranty post on Classical Music and Streaming were mainly based on my experiences of releasing Dichroic Light. So it will be interesting to look back at the end of this process to see if I’ve done anything differently from before or if there are any additions I need to make to my Rough Guide. Especially considering I’m thinking streaming and digital first now rather than sales.
The idea of a second album has been bouncing around my head for a bit but didn’t have anything to hang it off. I’ve released singles but an album still feels like a hefty piece of work and quite a milestone. Even though the music industry seems to be questioning the point of an album and claiming that it is dead or at very least in deep trouble I still wanted to do another one.
A lot of my thinking around the music industry is coloured by ‘pop’ music release strategies but with an understanding that these don’t really work for classical music. In my eyes an album is a good event to build to, to hang marketing off, give to radio producers and is a great object to give (or more commonly link) to people both in the industry and outside. It is a calling card as much as a way to package music and disseminate it.
I wasn’t until my Quartet No. 4 (Entangled) that I felt I had a thing to build an album around. The piece was commissioned by the Institute of Physics for the 2018 NI Science Festival to be performed as part of a yearly lecture dedicated to my Great Uncle John Stewart Bell and linked in some way to his work or developed from his research. It was premièred by the Aurea Quartet in the Sonic Arts Research Centre in Queen’s University Belfast as part of an event which included a lecture on quantum computing by Professor Winfried Hensinger.
The piece ended up being about 17 mins long for string quartet, electronics and a film responding to the music by Marisa Zanotti. The three movements are entitled Waves, Spooky Action and Spinning. Each a reference to different quantum physics and using a similar visual language to our first collaboration.
With one piece written and premièred successfully I remembered how much I enjoy writing string quartets and thought I had a hook for an album – one of string quartets featuring Quartet No. 4, a new one Quartet No. 5 along with either my Quartet No. 1 or No. 2. No. 3 was already recorded and released on Dichroic Light.
So I had an idea and wrote an application to Creative Scotland for Open Project funding to record the album featuring a new piece to be premièred in a concert in Scotland. This was submitted with enthusiasm and was declined. Demoralising as it always is to be told no, I asked for feedback and on the second attempt received confirmation of funding in June 2018. I was also successful with another application in to Help Musicians for some workshopping time with the Aurea Quartet but was unsuccessful with an application (it might have been two, I can’t remember) to PRS Foundation.
The original timescale I’d planned for the album was a release by May 2019. Once I started trying to nail down dates for a workshop with the quartet it was obvious this wasn’t going to happen so I had to ask Creative Scotland for a project extension to October 2019. In my experience Creative Scotland are pretty flexible as long as you keep them in the loop and thankfully this was the case so granted the extension.
Between June and December I spent time writing Quartet No. 5 with an aim of workshopping it in Manchester in December. At the same time have a read through of some of my previous quartets to help decide on what to include on the album. I remember being really pleased with how No. 5 was sounding, there were tweaks to made, yes, but it mostly seemed to work how I imaged it. During the day I remember saying ‘it took me a lot of guts to write something this slow’. Gives you a bit of a hint about the piece…
Was also good to hear my Quartet No. 1 (2009) and Quartet No. 2 (2010) again. Both feel like they sound like me, but younger versions of me. It is what you would hope but just pleasing to hear. At the workshop we also spent time working out dates for the recording itself which after (quite) a bit of diary checking we nailed down for 4x 3h sessions on 18th and 19th July in Airtight Studios. This gave me until end of May to finalise what I want to record an a total of 60 mins of music I could record in the time.
We also talked about potential dates for concerts to tie in with the release around October/November. For some reason finding a venue around that time in Scotland with the capacity for the electronics and film for Entangled along with the dates we could all do proved impossible so another plan had to be put in place. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland were interested in the concert proposal but involved going back to the quartet to find more dates…
As is often the way with anything deadline driven, I used as much of the time as possible to finalise Quartet No.5. I’m glad I did though because it allowed an idea for another piece to develop.
I spent most of April and May traveling for various things but in May spent a week in Tallinn at World Music Days (thanks to a travel grant from Arts Council NI). A lot of the music I heard I found questionable (orchestrated body percussion film sync?!) but in the midst of that, and probably helped by the view from my Air BnB, I wrote the basis of a new quartet. I’m awful at naming pieces so at the moment the quartet is still called TBC… but hopefully a better name will appear soon.
Once I got back to Glasgow I finished it off before sending it, along with Quartet No. 5, over to the Aureas. There were some changes still to make to both pieces (double stops, which are technically possible but not actually doable anyone?), but they seemed good and ready to record.
The initial idea for TBC was c.10min piece made up of 30 to 60 sec movements partially to explore the miniature form of composition (something I haven’t done since composition lessons) but also how shorter pieces might translate into more streaming friendly music. The medium has always influenced the art so why should it be any different now? However, it has ended up being just a one movement piece around 10 minutes long. I might just call it Quartet No. 6 but it still feels like it needs a subtitle if I do. The book of miniatures is still in my head but thats for something different now, not for this project.
During my travels in April and May I attended Classical Next to lead a mentoring session on life as a composer and concert producer. While there I had meetings with Sam McShane, Head of Artistic Planning at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to confirm the concert to promote the album in January 2020, and Olivia Brown from Wildkat PR to discuss a broad PR plan for the release with a more detailed one to follow.
The concert in January meant going back to Creative Scotland to ask for another extension. I felt confident it would be given because I had a letter of support from Sam but I didn’t like going back a second time. Thankfully they were happy to extend again.
At the moment the broad plan for the release is:
- End of July – receive unmixed music (for WK ears only) to develop strategy
- 1 August – receive final mixes digitally and share with long-lead magazines
- 23 August – single release
- 20 September – single release
- 25 October – album release
- 15 November – pr campaign ends
- 10th January – concert in RCS
You’ll notice that this blog is being written at the start of July and the recording is the middle of July. Its not going to be much time to pull everything together but it will be do-able. I hope… I just might not have much sleep between the 20th July and 1st August :). Deadlines, wonderful things!
I’m also still to decide the full makeup of the album. At the moment I’m thinking of Quartet. 4, Quartet 5 and TBC with electroacoustic responses composed between the pieces. This might not work but I’m working on the EA pieces at the moment anyway to have them ready. If they don’t make it onto the album they will be released as singles or an EP at a later date. I’ve also got to work out which movements to release as singles but will wait for that until I have the recordings.
The idea of releasing movements as singles seems odd but is something I’ve noticed more classical releases doing recently and it seems to have had some success. It has worked for pop music so lets see if it works for me.
Even though there are still a lot of things to decide I have decided what the album artwork will be – stills from the film for Entangled which Marisa has thankfully allowed me to use and I’ve got my usual designer, Hlavi, working on it at the moment.
So that is where I’m sitting as of 2nd July. All the springs are coiled and ready to go for the album, the release and the marketing campaign. Just need to record some music! Oh I’ll also be releasing this while running The Night With…‘s 2019 season… wish me luck!