If you were to imagine a spectacled, long-haired, forty-something man that looks more like he’s twenty-something, loves 70s progressive rock bands like King Crimson, XTC, and Yes, and continues to write and perform prog-rock today, what do you think he would look like?
Well, you don’t have to imagine, because his name is Steven Wilson, formerly of Porcupine Tree, and he was performing at MacEwan Hall at the University of Calgary, yesterday, on June 23, 2015.
I will be the first to admit that I am not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to Steven Wilson or the progressive rock genre. My friend Patrick Zelinski invited me to check out his show in Calgary, and after hearing a few samples, I knew that it was something I would be interested in.
As an aside, I knew a little bit about guitarist Guthrie Govan who had a hand in Wilson’s latest album Hand. Cannot. Erase., and that probably played a part in my willingness to stretch my music muscle, though Govan was notably absent from this show (more on that later).
As for prog-rock, I am a fan of bands like Rush, Saga, Yes, and on a local level Diatessaron among others. In short, I didn’t think I would feel terribly out of place at a concert whose audience was sure to be made up primarily of musicians.
Standing in Line
Patrick and I arrived at the venue around 6:30 PM, a full half-hour before the doors were to be opened. People were already standing in line, eating last-minute suppers, watching the monitor displays that rotated upcoming performances at Mac Hall, and discussing all things music.
Patrick managed to snag our tickets early, which meant that we were offered priority seating. As it turns out, there were separate lines for those who had earlier versions of the tickets, and those who got their tickets later.
In due course, we figured out that we needed to move over to the other line, where they called out attendees row by row. I think they could have done a better job of announcing these things, but that’s just a Japanese-grown Canadian talking. I generally take issue with North Americia’s utter lack of direction, training, instructions, and so on.
In any case, Pat and I were not too late to the game, and our row was called in fairly short order. We went into the venue and found some great seats facing stage right – which would be occupied by bassist Nick Beggs – not too close to the front, but not too far from it either.
On the digital displays outside of the venues, the ad had us thinking that there would be an opening act. However, as we took our seats, it became pretty apparent that nobody besides the band and their tech would be going anywhere near the abundance of gear onstage.
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The Concert Begins
Sure enough, the band went on at 8:00 PM, preceded by a video showing… apartment buildings. Video plays a significant role in Wilson’s live show – a fact long-time concertgoers would probably be familiar with – and though the intro video didn’t exactly wow anyone, it started to take form as the band took stage and started building up to the first song in the set.
At first, Pat and I were not aware of the member changes. Evidently, guitarist Guthrie Govan and drummer Marco Minnemann left at the end of the European tour to fulfill their commitments to their own band, The Aristocrats. Govan was replaced by Dave Kliminster (who played in the Roger Waters band), and Minnemann by Craig Blundell.
Both Kilminster and Blundell performed admirably. In fact, I don’t think Govan’s absence was that significant. Felt, a little, but not sorely missed.
The same cannot be said for Minnemann. It’s not that Blundell did a bad job by any means; he definitely kept the beat in check. However, he did not display the same technical comfort and prowess Minnemann is known for.
Prior to this leg of the tour, there were rumors that Chad Wackerman would be filling in for Minnemann, and that would have been something to see, but alas, no.
Despite these changes in personnel, every band member held their own and seemed comfortable in their roles. Some of the best moments came courtesy of keyboardist Adam Holzman and the incredible solos he played throughout the set.
Story Through Music
Wilson’s stage presence was surprisingly comfortable and polished. He might strike you as someone that keeps a serious, business-first approach, but he cracked a few jokes throughout the show (there might have been a little condescension at work here, but we still had a laugh), moved around during songs, and signaled musical changes to his band mates through various gestures.
The overall sentiment appears to be that Wilson is a conductor and orchestrator onstage. By his own admission, he’s not as talented as his band members, though that sentiment probably isn’t held by his audience. During performance, his talent is clearly on display as a songwriter, a composer, a singer, and even as an instrumentalist, where his band mates might have a proclivity to outshine him at times.
Wilson’s set list was fairly diverse, pulling material from earlier solo albums as well as Porcupine Tree favorites. Since Hand. Cannot. Erase. was fairly conceptual in nature, some surmised that he might stick to playing material exclusively from his new album to retain an authentic feel, but fortunately he took some wonderful detours along the way.
The concert didn’t seem to suffer any. The videos still held conceptual relevance, and the variety of material kept the concert engaging. Variety isn’t always a given with the prog-rock genre, but the scope of the show spanned from outright dissonance (which was still enjoyable in its own way), to absolute melodic bliss, which meant that our interest was held.
“In general, dark, sad songs make me happy, and cause me to see beauty. Happy songs cause me to see the dark and the sad”, was Wilson’s own comment.
Admittedly, neither storytelling through music nor synchronizing your performance to video footage is easy to do, but that’s what makes the band’s comfort level all the more commendable. It really came together.
Yes, even a musician like me – who would rather be onstage than watching someone perform – derived some enjoyment from this concert.
Not to harp on the same points, but it would have been great to see this band with Minnemann or Wackerman. Blundell did great, and doubtless he has more to offer than we can see on the surface, but I didn’t feel like we were getting the same Steven Wilson experience that other worldwide audiences were getting.
At the end of the day, however, this concert is still worth it. If you’re a musician, or if you just like Steven Wilson, this show will undoubtedly satiate your prog-rock appetite for a while.
Look, just be willing to admit that so-and-so may have actually put forth more time, more effort, more money, more something than you may have. Hard work doesn’t always show up on the surface. It’s oftentimes the result of all the work that goes on below the surface. Just think of a duck.
All the work happens beneath the surface.
Don’t compare. Celebrate the victory of others, knowing that if they can achieve, so can you. By allowing others to find their platform and be in the spotlight, you are preparing yourself for the same desired result.
2. “I just want to make a living doing what I love to do.”
Ah, yes, the good old “this is my passion and I will never work a day in my life if I work at what I love to do” routine. I’ve talked about this before.
The issue is not that you have this desire. Your goal is totally justified. The issue is more that you’re setting yourself up for failure.
How, you may ask? By setting it as a goal that you will achieve in the future. Really take a close look at the language being used: “I just want to make a living doing what I love to do.”
Do we get things we want, or do we get things we earn? For all intents and purposes, please start saying “I am making a living doing what I love to do” immediately! That will free you from the shackles of perpetually trying to reach a point you could already choose to be at.
You’ll also start dreaming bigger, and that’s the key to achieving the smaller milestones along the way.
If that still isn’t enough, then you need to get clear on your priorities, and stop spending time on projects and people that drain you and waste your time. I know, it sounds harsh, but if you’re serious about your music career goals, you have to be willing to sacrifice.
Moreover, you need to learn to work – and cooperate – with others. This leads nicely into…
4. “I can just do it myself.”
If you think that you as a musician are constantly being devalued, consider how photographers, graphic designers, bloggers, artists, and other creatives feel.
There’s a symbiotic relationship between all forms of art. The musician doesn’t want to pay the photographer. The photographer can’t hire a model. The model doesn’t have any work.
There isn’t always a direct line of connection between every profession, but I think you can see that every piece of the puzzle is important. Artists all offer value to the world in one way or another.
But it isn’t just the fact that we need to create an economy of support among creatives. It’s also that we need to be willing to humble ourselves to ask for help, and even pay for it when necessary.
5. “I just want to be thinking about the creative side and not the business side of music.”
This statement fails at grasping the age we now live in. The information age requires us to choose ourselves, and not wait to be chosen.
Does a musician need to know everything there is to know about business? Absolutely not. However, a music career is a business, and it’s really like any other business.
Businesses have clients, profits, expenses, employees, the works. Creativity can be applied to a variety of areas of business, but that doesn’t mean that you can forego the business side of things altogether.
As your music career progresses, you may have the opportunity to divvy up and delegate tasks, or bring on a team. However, until then, you need to be the captain of your ship.
In your efforts to create a successful music career – however you define success – it’s important to be aware of your limited thinking. As you begin to take the unnecessary filters off of your mind, you’ll begin to achieve clarity like never before.
What are your thoughts? What are some other things musicians often say that defeat them?
Releasing your music on iTunes is relatively simple, even as an independent musician.
However, it is necessary to go through a distribution service such as CD Baby, TuneCore, or others.
In general, I recommend CD Baby, which is the original online CD store. However, if you want to explore other options, they also get the job done just fine.
When you go through a music distribution service, you can choose which music outlets, platforms and streaming sites you want your music to appear on, including Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, among many, many others.
Choice is the keyword here, since some musicians may not want their music on streaming sites where the income earning potential is particularly low. Others may opt in just for the exposure. Neither option is right nor wrong; it mostly comes down to preference.
Since not all music sites are accessible to worldwide users, if you want to encourage global sales, it is a good idea to distribute your music to as many outlets as possible.
The cost of distribution is incredibly low. These days, it goes for about $60 for your first release. Considering how expensive it can be to distribute an eBook (about $300 – $400), this is an incredible deal.
There used to be a bit of a delay between when you submitted your music and when it actually got released on the iTunes music store. These days, CD Baby can get it done in a matter of hours after you’ve gone through the approval process.
Alternative: Create a Podcast
There is one outside-the-box and free alternative for getting your music into iTunes, and that involves creating your own podcast.
Assuming you have the rights to your music, you can feature it on your own show.
However, as with digital distribution, there is an approval process for getting your podcast listed in iTunes. The good news is that it’s never been easier to set up a podcast, either by using WordPress and the Blubrry PowerPress Podcasting plugin, or by using a website management platform like Squarespace.
In order to be approved, it will be necessary to provide all of the details for your podcast (including your podcast artwork), but if you’re using one of the previously mentioned tools, it should just be a matter of filling out forms. Also, you should publish five to 10 episodes before submitting your podcast to iTunes, as they will need to review your content before they can approve or reject it.
Of course, podcasts are offered completely for free on iTunes, so you won’t necessarily make any money with your podcast. However, it can lead to additional music sales depending on the following you cultivate.
The best time to start marketing is not the moment your music is released, but rather before. Create a promotional strategy well in advance of your release for best effect. Tease your fans and followers, show up in their social streams daily, and build up excitement for your release.
Then, don’t stop promoting until you’re ready to move onto the next project. The music scene is competitive enough as it is. You might as well create a wave of momentum and ride it for as long as you can.
It may be possible to get your music on iTunes without the help of a distributor. However, you can almost guarantee that going through trusted channels (like CD Baby) will be quicker and easier.
Album releases can cost you quite a bit, especially if you choose to get CDs pressed. Since CDs are still the standard for radio stations and many reviewers, it may be necessary to have at least a small supply of CDs on hand.
Make sure to budget well. The ability to distribute your release to dozens of platforms at a rate of $60 is definitely worth the money, but it can add up when you pool all of your costs together (such as replication and printing).
Have you used any distribution services in the past? If so, how was your experience?
My friend, Michael 8 (aka Michael Hill) of Septembryo, asked me to do something a little unusual. In addition to reviewing his album (forthcoming), he wanted me to review his new music video as well.
The video in question is for the self-titled track, “Septembryo”, which I’ve become intimately familiar with, because I’ve had the new Septembryo album on repeat while I’ve been working at home.
Because I will be talking more about the music in the upcoming album review, I’ll try to steer clear of commenting on the musical side of things for now.
With that out of the way, here are my thoughts on the “Septembryo” music video (which you can check out below).
The quality of the video is high. In my opinion, this doesn’t necessarily add to, or take away from, the validity or appeal of a music video. However, Michael’s initiative was clearly to make sure his video wasn’t just lumped in with a myriad of other home-made, low-fi indie videos, and this gives it a chance at cutting through the noise. Good on him.
In addition to that, I don’t sense any (or at least very little) of the amateur awkwardness many inexperienced artists tend to project while on camera. And this goes not just for Michael, but also for the others making an appearance in the video.
If there’s anything else I could add here, it would be that the entire video has a blue filter on it. “Septembryo” was clearly shot during the day, but the video is supposed to have a little bit of a darker, eerier feel to it, so I can see why they did it.
I don’t hate the effect, and it does seem the right artistic choice in this instance, but it doesn’t work in every situation. Even so, I have long said that The Matrix is my favorite movie, and it had a green filter on every shot taking place within The Matrix, so I guess I’m going to have to go easy on this too.
One final note about the production: the set location looks oddly familiar (see below)…
A photo posted by David Andrew Wiebe (@davidandrewwiebe) on
Michael’s fascination with numbers, omens, and the world beyond are definitely on play here, and I am compelled to make comparisons to The X-Files, which I’m sure are welcome. And, further to the point, it seems like a fitting choice based on the lyrical content.
Michael is a character all his own in this video, though exactly what character is the question. He could be real or in a dreamlike state, but either way, he’s a man in search of something. In the midst of that, we also have secret agents conducting their own investigation, presumably tracking down “The Kraken Queen”, who comes face to face with Michael at the end of the video.
Speaking of the world beyond, it could be that the video is depicting different planes of reality and existence; one where the secret agents are trying to track down their lead, and one where Michael and the alien creature exist. Or maybe there’s a time gap between the two events. It could even be a commentary on the duplicity of human existence. It’s clearly open to interpretation and whatever meaning you derive from it.
But without getting too intellectual, I will say this: this video engages you from the beginning and compels you to watch to the very end, because you want to find out what’s going to happen next. It’s like a condensed X-Files episode backed by passionate, melodic music.
This being my first ever music video review, I’m not sure how well I did, or what I could have done better. I hope that I have done the video justice, and I’m not the least bit apologetic about plugging Septembryo, because the music is certainly deserving of more attention.
What are your thoughts? What do you think this video is about? What did you think about the production and premise of “Septembryo”?
Let us know in the comments below!
(P.S. Talk about strange numbers… when I finished writing this post, the original word count came out to exactly 666).
The Leading Artist Coach
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