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Well, we’ve been around the block a few times…, By Sarah

At the risk of sounding like a bunch of hoary old geezers (although why fight the inevitable?) we’re often approached by young bands asking for advice on all sorts of subjects (how to get gigs, how to do effective publicity, how babies are made etc) so we thought we’d start putting some of this stuff together in small, easy-to-digest packages and make it public on a new page on the shiny new website for anyone to access.

As usual, the Americans have been doing this sort of thing for donkeys’ years, but you don’t find very many of us reticent Brits talking about the methods behind our particular brands of madness. And whilst the Americans have some extremely useful things to say (we’ve learnt a lot over the years from listening to podcasts and reading blogs from people like Ariel Hyatt, Music Think Tank, Bob Baker and the good folks at CD Baby) not all of it is applicable to the British market, and there are lots of things we’ve had to find out the hard way. So by way of a starter, here are:

FIVE BIG IMPORTANT THINGS WE’VE LEARNT TO DO:

1. Spend time on the business side: It’s really tempting to think that as musicians you should spend every minute you have together writing and rehearsing the music, and whilst this is obviously fundamentally important (it is your product after all), there is a LOT more to running a successful band than that. After all, it’s no use to you if you’ve got the most fantastic music in the world if noone is ever going to hear it because you don’t have any gigs lined up, or if noone knows about the gigs you do have lined up, or if you don’t have any CDs recorded, or demos on YouTube, or samples to download from your website, or the fans you won at the gig last week have already forgotten about you. Keeping on top of these things takes time and effort; in an average week we spend half a day writing and rehearsing together and another half day working together in the office, then each of us separately puts in another day or two on our individual areas (website stuff, poster design and other artwork, publicity, corresponding with venues and fans on the phone, by email and on Facebook and Twitter, editing and mixing recordings, writing newsletters and blogs, maintaining equipment, etc).

2. Cultivate discipline: Doing all of the above takes some organisation and discipline, especially when you’d far rather be drinking tea and talking about your next big idea. It IS important to drink tea and talk about your next big idea, but it is then REALLY important actually to make the big idea happen. We all keep lists of things to do, good ideas to make happen, and other things we’ve thought of along the way and compare notes at the beginning of each week. The photo below shows the Whalebone office, note it has 3 computers in it... one for each member of the band. Unless you are actually living our fantasy and sharing a giant house with roadies to cook your meals and look after your children then your time together each week is limited and precious, so find ways to use it as effectively as you can.

 

Whalebone Office

3. Entertain people: well d’uh, I hear you say. But it’s not as obvious as you’d think. We know lots of bands who were a bit shy at the beginning, and thought that they didn’t really have to talk to the audience, just let the astonishing and brilliant music speak for itself. We were a bit like that too. But an audience will soon stop listening if you don’t engage with them, tell them about the music, tell them about you, tell them a story. And if you’re not doing the talking at the time, look interested in the person who is doing the talking, smile at the audience and make eye contact. As for the music itself, make sure you’re presenting a balanced and varied set list; even the flashiest stuff will soon sound boring if you don’t contrast it with some slower tunes. Indeed (and speaking as a fiddler I found this particularly hard to get to grips with) sometimes audiences actually prefer the slow stuff. Really.

4. Have a merchandise table: Bands cannot live by gig fees alone. Unless they eat dust and live under a hedge. Selling CDs is a really important income stream, and your biggest opportunity to do this is at gigs. Make sure that at every gig there is a small table in a prominent place where people can buy CDs, and make sure you are sitting by this table in the interval and after the gig to chat to people. Making personal connections is really important, and finding out about your fans can often lead to lasting friendships and people who come back to see you time and time again. And even if you don’t yet have CDs to sell, make sure that your table has cards for people to take, a mailing list to sign up to, and flyers for forthcoming gigs etc.

5. Be professional and courteous: it’s a small world, and people talk. We’ve known bands get themselves a very unhelpful reputation by simply not being as nice as they should be to venues, fans, sound technicians at festivals, and other bands. Even if a gig hasn’t turned out quite the way you wanted it it’s really REALLY important to be professional and courteous. And calm. And on time.

6. How babies are made: just kidding. Sarah knows, but she’s not telling.

Next time: FIVE BIG IMPORTANT THINGS WE’VE LEARNT NEVER TO DO. Oh yes.

Guitars and Guitar Nerds...., By Char

Those of you who have seen us perform recently will have heard Sarah bemoan the concept of 'Guitar Nerds' on the the introduction to Steve's Taylor 8 string baritone guitar, questioning the need for so many different guitars when you can only play one at a time. The other night she asked us how many we own.... 'errmm... off the top of our heads...' it turned out to be combined total of 19. I thought about this the day after and remembered I had forgotten to include my Martin Backpacker and a Hagstrom (with a nickname of Odin) guitar that has been permanently loaned to me to look after, so my count actually went up by 2. I said this to Steve and he had also forgotten to include his backpacker in the count, so the actual combined total is in fact 22.

I mention this as a couple of weeks ago we attended a Taylor Roadshow in Birmingham, where a couple of representatives from Taylor Guitars presented an evening dedicated to showcasing the full range of guitars they produce and talked about the different models and wood variations, demonstrating them so people could hear the differences a design and wood choice makes to a guitar sound. I first became aware of how a certain type of wood affects the tone of a guitar when I looked into upgrading my main 'workhorse' acoustic about 4 years ago. As so often happens with me, I had a make and model that I had my heart set on and went on a mission to find a shop that stocked it so I could BUY IT! After a lot of research I located one at a shop not too far from us, so both Steve and I drove over to go and have a play... I ran in and excitedly grabbed it off the shelf and sat down and played it... and was utterly disappointed. The sound didn't match up with what I had in my head. I wanted a big warm full sound, but inadvertently I had managed to single out a physically large bodied instrument made out of maple, which turns out is a very bright and brittle sounding wood. Not what I had in my head. I went home feeling quite dejected and massively disappointed. Back to the drawing board.

A couple of weeks later, out of the blue, my dad phoned quite late at night and asked me to collect him from his friend's house after arriving back from holiday... so I drove over and was invited in for a cup of tea. The chap who owned the house kept some very nice guitars in his wall cavities for security (as you do!) and handed me an Eric Clapton Martin Signature model to try. I had been a bit apprehensive about Martins as I had read they were difficult to play and needed to be 'played in', but as soon as I played it, I knew it was what I wanted. It was instant. This made me reassess things, so Steve and I set a day aside, drove up to Leicester to a guitar shop called Sheehans and spent the day there trying different guitars, made from all sorts of different woods, and really listening. It was a revelation to us how different materials affected the tone of a guitar. I came back with a Martin made from Rosewood and extremely happy! My role in the band a large proportion of the the time, is to provide quite a lot of the backing. My sound needs to be full and big and meaty, to try and compensate for not having bass, drums or keyboards, and my Martin does that really well.

Going back to the Taylor Roadshow, it was really interesting to hear the different models and relate it back to my experience, The Taylor guy said 'the guitar more often than not chooses you', and I really agree with that. The reason guitarists often have a collection of different guitars is to get different sounds and to play different styles of music. But, yes, admittedly it is also that guitarists generally love guitars, to me they are works of art and I'm proud to be a nerd! Incidentally, the Taylor Roadshow was staged at 'Guitar Guitar' in Birmingham. It was the first time Steve and I had visited this shop and we were both really impressed with the range of guitars stocked and the helpfulness of the staff, I am going back to purchase a GS Mini Taylor in a bit. It's my birthday coming up soon.... and I want one to add to my collection. 'My name is Charlotte Elizabeth Watson, and I'm proud to be a guitar nerd.'

Taylor Roadshow @ Guitar Guitar in Birmingham

Taylor Roadshow @ Guitar Guitar in Birmingham


Taylor Roadshow @ Guitar Guitar in Birmingham Taylor Roadshow @ Guitar Guitar in Birmingham

Justifying the Taylor Baritone 8 string - the video! By Steve

When I first heard the Taylor 8-string Baritone guitar around a year and a half ago, what immediately attracted me to it was the 'otherworldliness' of the sound it made, with its deep rumbling bass notes and shimmering, haunting double strings. The tone seemed to be almost primeval, hinting at hidden depths and half-forgotten memories, and I instantly fell in love with it.

We now use it on several tunes, including a solo piece called 'Justify', which is in two parts, a slow ethereal section followed by a faster reel. We thought it would be fun to make a short video to accompany the first part, so the start of May saw us filming in the depths of Shropshire, trying to produce images to match the music (and making ourselves dizzy in the process!) You can view the results below:

 

Let us know what you think!

8 String Baritone Tune to listen to, by Steve

For me, one of the more challenging aspects of Whalebone's Origins Tour has been getting to grips with the new 8 string Baritone guitar. It's a bit of a beautiful but strange beast, with two bass strings, two pairs of strings in the middle which jangle like a twelve string guitar and a couple of high ones. It's tuned somewhere in between a guitar and a bass, and is physically bigger than my usual acoustic guitar. It sounds quite unlike any instrument I've ever come across, and as soon as I heard it I knew it'd really suit Whalebone's music, and bought it on the spot.

The unique nature of the baritone meant that we couldn't just fit it into existing tunes, and so we've written some new arrangements around it. One in particular was written as a solo piece in an attempt to show what the baritone could do, and on its first performance I announced that the as-then-untitled tune was invented to justify the purchase of the guitar. One of our friends, John Perry, came up afterwards and said 'You'd better call that tune Justify then!' and so we did. It's in two halves, and the first half can be heard by following the link here. Hope you like it!

Justify Part 1 MP3 Listen

Fergus and the Whale, by Sarah

In the last couple of weeks we’ve been absolutely blown away by some of our fans who, entirely independently of each other (it must be the spring!), have been inspired to create amazing things for us. Firstly there was the lovely Emma Baker who (appropriately enough) made foot-high gingerbread effigies of the three of us, individually decorated and complete with instruments. (We should also mention in this connection Claire Glover who brilliantly dubbed them ‘doppelgingers’; clearly some crossword experts in that family…).

Whalebone Dopplegingers

And THEN this weekend one of our newest fans, bluegrass-enthusiast and expert hare-dancer Fergus, turned up at a gig with a whale skeleton bigger than himself, which he’d painstakingly crafted from cardboard tubes and gaffer tape and spray-painted. Completely astonishing, and brilliantly mad!

Fergus and the Whale

As you can imagine, the doppelgingers were somewhat easier to get in the car post-gig than the whale (and very easy, it subsequently turned out, to get into our tummies…). Now many of you might know that, by an impressive feat of tessellation and a system of packing which not even I’m privy to after five years in the band, we get all our gear plus the three of us into an Astra estate and a Nissan Micra. After several unsuccessful attempts to squeeze the whale into the Astra, it eventually made it (somewhat improbably) into the Micra, with the only downside being the inaccessibility of the handbrake for the rest of the journey home. As a result, we’ve concluded that the proper home for the whale is in the new studio at Whalebone Towers, and we hope that’s OK with Fergus (who really wanted it to become part of our touring stage set). So thank you brilliant people! We’re in awe. And slightly nervous at the prospect of anyone trying to one-up the whale…

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