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siliconchipsuperstar

January 1, 2016

It happened !  The Circuit3 album ‘siliconchipsuperstar‘ released !

 

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In the 2-3 weeks approaching the Xmas Holiday I made several trips to the post office to ship the packages with addresses across Europe (mostly Germany, UK and Sweden) the USA and as far away as Australia. The rollercoaster is taking a breather over the Xmas holiday and I get a chance to pause and reflect on what has just happened.

I have a family and they come first – enough said.   I have a busy day job with really cool people. We don’t save lives but we help people get the most out of technology so it’s somewhat useful. That takes time and involves frequent travel.

Then I make time for making music. The Circuit3 album I’ve been working on for about a year was finally released in early December a month ahead of schedule. In the first 2 weeks of release it has come within 20 copies of breaking even. For a vinyl and CD package that’s one hell of an achievement.  But: I made the album for me, not for money.

What exactly is involved in making an album and getting it out on vinyl? I learned a bunch this year so maybe this insight will be an interesting read.

Write and Record

First stage is to write some songs. Actually… hold up a second. First step is to relax and decide to have fun again. During the writing of each song I sat with synths and a drum machine while vocalizing.  Creating “work tapes”, that weren’t actually on tape but let’s not nit-pick, I was able to build verses choruses and middle sections.  I took advice from a friend and just vocalized words that work with synth. Words like “reverberate” are great fun to sing so I decided to write a song with that title.

The only song on the album that is really about something is “In Your Shoes” which I wrote in the days after Robin Williams died. I was affected deeply by this and saw his quote:

spark-of-madness-robin-williams

While writing it I discovered how much fun using step sequencers can be when writing. I really don’t know what the notes or chords are on this song. I just know the notes work well together.

I’ve had conversations with friends and co-workers wondering “how do you get the time ?” and the answer is usually the same: I make the time. If you want to do this badly enough you’ll make time. I don’t ‘do’ television and don’t take as much exercise as I should (though I do like cycling). Having technology that allows you to pause and save while taking away a ‘work-in-progress’ mix really helps. I used the business flights at work to listen to all the demos and rough mixes to take mental notes.  Back home and in the studio I was able to jump back in exactly where I was and took up the track again. Not having to remember and replay “what I did in the demo” is great: if it sounded good when writing the song then copy-and-paste was good !  No need to figure out what the notes were or why I played it like that. I’ve played it once so why bother?

Making an album requires you to be a monster of many heads. You flip from writing music, writing lyrics, forming songs, making a demo, thinking about how it should ‘sound’ (edging into production) and then the hours spent getting each part right. While all the time trying not to over-cook it.

I’d describe it as hard work but I’ve done hard work and it’s nothing like this.  Initially writing the song I think it’s going nowhere but have to remind myself that I’ve done this before and finished songs: just keep going and lose yourself in the moment.  The loneliness of the long-distance songwriter?

Some days feel like ‘writing’ days and other days feel like ‘engineer and produce’ days. Sometimes I walk into the studio , turn on the synths and play along to a track to see what will happen. 10960277_10205779484036994_8510834655857769251_oThe most fun of all was using my Arturia MiniBrute SE (the one Vince Clarke signed … so it of course sounds better) in real time. I set the clock to lock to the multitrack and played the filters in realtime. No two notes the same. The fun at each stage is the source of energy for an album project.  Then you reach a point where there are enough songs and some of them hang together in the way an album should. Time to think about the ‘look’ of the album and all the visual pieces I have no training in.

The Plan

I decided that I was going to do some things with this album:  it was going to be pure synthpop and I was going to love each track, it was going to be on vinyl only (though I relented late on and added a CD of the album in every LP), the sleeve design was for 12″ LP size and not that tiny CD or miniscule download icon, it was going to have 3 videos for 3 singles, there would be some cool synthy photos, the brand is pure synthpop influenced by the great acts of 1978-82 (or thereabouts !).  Circuit3 Logo

I enlisted help from my eldest who is studying visual communications. Alison put together the entire visual package: photography, sleeve design, layout and the Circuit3 ‘brand’. This is why the images all “work” together. We looked at old LP sleeves and noticed that white space was effective. The photo on the sleeve needs to look like the music.

 

 

It was a more satisfying design process than a CD. The inner sleeve needed photography and text… words to write. The outersleeve needed to hit the right spot between information and style. Even the labels needed thought and attention. Plus of course the obligatory text etched into the runout groove on the vinyl had to be considered (did you spot it?).

Realising I was digging a bad hole for myself I relented and decided to include a CD of the album in the package. Even this needed some design attention.

Singles & Remixing

Most of the albums I listened to had three singles. There was always one single to preview the album and then another shortly before the album came out and then a third when the album had released. This is as close to marketing as I know. Making the videos was a whole bunch of fun. Our next kid Oscar (studying theatre & drama) was pressganged into service.  The first shoot was a 1 hour slot in a local theatre. You can read all about that day right here.  We got half of ‘New Man’ completed that day and all of ‘Darkroom’.

Early in the summer I contacted a few electronic music artists I knew and asked if they’d consider remixing one or more of the 3 songs I’d selected to be singles.  It’s a time consuming process and I really appreciated the effort & time given by these electro-friends. The results were put into a package with each of the singles that I released as free downloads. As a bonus for the album package I also included a CD of these remixes (plus a bonus ‘New Man’ remix not previously available).

Mastering and Manufacturing

Each track is mixed in the studio and considered “done”. The lesser known but critical art of mastering is that stage when the finished songs are aligned in their running order and varying levels of equalization, compression, limiting and “secret sauce” are applied. 11884050_10207333802533985_931045257534218834_oI chose a well known engineer here in Ireland (Richard Dowling) and travelled down to Limerick for the day. I had no idea Richard was a synth head ! We spent almost as much time chatting about Numan as we did discussing the mastering.  Hearing the master over the speakers in his studio was wonderful: I would never hear the album so well again !  Listening at home I realised that there were problems with 2 of the mixes. I remixed and Richard re-mastered (so that CD in the photo is a bit of a collectable as it has the un-fixed mixes).  He delivered files for both vinyl and CD/Digital. The difference being that when vinyl is cut it is important to leave room for the cutting engineer to control the overall volume. If we limited and brickwalled the sound it would have been a challenge to cut and a disappointing pressing. The CD was mastered much hotter (louder) so it should jump out of your speakers.

Making the physical product is a whole project in itself. The broker who I chose to make the vinyl LP package sent proofs and we made some adjustments to the font sizes.

The test pressings arrived.  This was an interesting experience: what would I think of the sound off vinyl?   test pressingI made the foolish mistake of A-B’ing the vinyl with the CD. A pointless exercise because of the physics involved. I put away the CD and then listened to the vinyl and smiled. There was only 1 single sound in the entire LP that I thought “hmmm… would change that one” so I think that’s not bad going!

Radio and Reviews

Reviews are a necessary evil. In order to get in front of an audience I had to be ready to send out the LP for review and consideration.
Once the album was out there I wondered what the feedback/response would be. I made this album for me so it had already ‘passed the test’. If the response had been silence, apathy or downright scorn it might have put a bit of a damper on it all….
I shouldn’t have worried. The reviews have been great and I include the unsolicited postings on Facebook and Twitter by fans who bought the album.
I knew there was an online community of sorts around electronic music and some online radio shows as well as local radio stations that play my kind of music. A good friend suggested some shows and sites and I focused only on sites & shows which have an interest in synthpop.
It’s always risky making a list because I’ll forget someone. In no particular order:

Rob Harvey over at Phoenix FM in Essex, UK, has been a great supporter from the first single (New Man).  All of his shows are available on mixcloud: https://www.mixcloud.com/ROBRV/

Johnny Normal https://www.mixcloud.com/johnnynormal  has played the singles & album tracks and was kind enough to invite me to play a UK festival in 2016 ( more on that later ).

Derek Williams and the team over at  Doncaster Electronic Foundation: https://www.mixcloud.com/DEFsynthradio/    and  http://defsynth.com/ play a great selection of music and I was pleased to offer up a cover version for their Halloween Charity CD

 

Dean Clarke and the gang at Bluetown Electronica have great fun in online chat during the shows. ttps://www.mixcloud.com/Bluetown_Electronica/  (is it time yet??)

I wasn’t sure if synthpop had any place in Irish radio. I’ve tried getting airplay before with other music and found it soul destroying. I chose one presenter who I noticed was playing some of my contemporaries. Figured it wouldn’t hurt to send a promo in when Ghost Machine was released. Dan Hegarty played the track a couple of times and featured the video on the RTE website12195785_10207792809928883_4587286457157318007_n

Then this happened on twitter:

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There’ll be more coming via Dan in 2016.

So what’s next?

The album ‘officially’ releases January 11th 2016 and I’m going to spend a few weeks pushing it online. It has gone for more reviews across the internet and beyond.

I’m preparing a live show and will be playing at Electro London Festival in September 2016 alongside these very cool artists.. and a certain former member of Kraftwerk

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Discussions are underway to get onto the bill for some Irish and UK festivals in 2016 (if you know anyone looking for a synthpop artist please put them in touch).

Oh… and

today I started writing the next album

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