Back for round two & twice as nice. SB.Shottaz return to the Dub Den to continue their quest into the sub-realms of Jamaican Bass. Two MC’s, Max & Hlats of The Shottaz, alongside Sandy Bay’s own, Ed G, in the mix.
Greetings to all! If you’re reading this post, I trust you made it safely through the festive period and are geared up for a colossal 2019 like me. I can’t start this post without acknowledging the monster year that was 2018. For the Shottaz, last year was significant because we made some significant strides and laid a solid foundation for this year and beyond. On a personal level, I was able to seamlessly navigate a change in environment, moving from Auckland to Melbourne, and managed to make a few minor improvements in my life. That said, I’m never one to make a big deal about the festive season. Growing up in a devout Pentecostal christian family, Christmas was always a big deal in our household. However, my parents made it a point not to buy into the commercial side of the holiday, i.e. we never did gifts etc. My parents wanted to keep their focus on Christ, who’s birthday is being celebrated on the day. I took this into my adult life, and though I utilize the opportunity to catch up with friends and family, Christmas gradually became just another day to me. New Year’s Eve on the other hand is my kind of holiday, simply because I like a good party and NYE generally has the best events. What I never did get into, though, is the idea of setting resolutions for each incoming year. That was until a few years ago when I realized a point I had been missing all along.
A timely reminder to reevaluate things in life
The main reason I shunned the practice of setting resolutions was that I saw them as a waste of time. We all know the drill, December 31st arrives, you set a bunch of resolutions you intend to implement in the coming year, and start with a hiss and a roar. Less than a month into the year all those grand changes will have already fallen to the wayside, I’ve seen it time and again. I was of the thinking that you don’t need a special day set by society to implement changes in your life. I would argue with mates that when a person is ready to make changes in their life things will run their course naturally, why wait for the end of a year to make improvements in your life? Whilst this is very true, I was missing a certain point. New year isn’t necessarily a time when people HAVE to set resolutions, rather a good opportunity to evaluate where things are at in one’s life. Think of it as a reminder in your calendar to perform a certain task, in this case that task is self evaluation.
Bite sized changes – The art of not doing too much
When I finally decided to start participating in the practice of setting resolutions, I made an age old error. In the first year I set myself close to 10 extremely lofty goals that never got off the ground. It was immediately clear to me that I had bitten off much more than I could chew and I paid the price. I found it very demoralising to see every single resolution I set for myself that year end in epic failure. Lucky for me, I did not let that deter me from setting resolutions the following year. When I set my resolutions for that year, I decided to take on much less and made sure my expectations were not as grandiose. Unsurprisingly, that year was much better when it came to following through on the things I had given myself to work on. I realised that there was still much room for improvement, and have continued to simplify my resolutions each year until I found my sweet spot. I found that breaking down my resolutions into small achievable goals was the best approach for me, and have suggested the same to people i have had this conversation with since then.
Looking forward to 2019, and beyond
Given the huge year we have just seen off, I am anticipating a much bigger year in 2019. From a Shottaz perspective, we have quite a few big things on the horizon from big tunes to massive shows. It’s really encouraging that we achieved most of the big goals we set for ourselves last year. I’m excited when looking forward to the next phase of our journey. We have a number of amazing collaborations lined up, and we keep exploring different sounds that you can look forward to hearing this year. With regards to our live performances, we have started upgrading our live set by adding a few elements that we haven’t utilised as of yet. I can confidently say things are really looking up for us on the music side of things. Before I sign off, I just want to acknowledge everyone that has taken the time to engage with my posts on a weekly basis. I have witnessed a slow and steady growth in readership and that’s beyond humbling. I wish you all the very best in 2019, I hope you achieve all your goals.
As the year that is 2018 comes to a close, I personally have a lot to reflect on. From starting a new chapter in a different environment, to continuing on a musical path that was set 2 years prior, it has been an action packed year to say the least. Like any other year, it had its highs, lows, ups, downs, and everything in between. I can safely say that I have learned a lot, over the last 12 months, that I will be implementing in both my personal and professional life moving forward. Most importantly, though, I am grateful to have another solid 12 months in the bag and I’m extremely hopeful when looking forward to the next 365 day block that is twenty nineteen. In this post, I will look back at the year gone by and identify some key moments that helped shape the journey. I will also highlight some key learnings that can be taken away and applied in many other scenarios. Before I press on, I would like to acknowledge the few people that actually engage with this blog, I can’t express how much I appreciate you taking the time to read my musings. And to the very few that have gone the extra mile by giving me feedback and providing assistance when needed, you are the absolute best. I can literally go on, but I must proceed with the task on hand.
Fast Start – Setting the Pace
This year (2018) started off with a hiss and a roar for the Shottaz. We quite literally hit the ground running, getting active on the Melbourne scene from the moment I arrived. I have to credit Hlats, who moved this side a year prior to me making the leap, for planting the necessary seeds to ensure we had a great starting point. Our first Melbourne gig as the Shottaz was only a week after I arrived, and it was a big one. Another element that contributed to the great opening stanza of 2018 was the release of our debut single. Working with a superbly talented production crew for the music video, we were able to start creating a solid foundation in our adopted home. At this point I feel I should point out that we had a completely different plan for the first quarter of this year, though we missed the mark rather spectacularly. In deviating from the plan, we ended up in a better position because we were forced to take a step back and properly analyse a lot of things before acting. This resulted in us planting much stronger roots, though only time will attest to their true strength, which should prove to be beneficial to us further down the road.
Making Gains – Growth Can Be Strenuous
As we navigate our new environment, we have been confronted with a few uncomfortable truths. One of these so called truths is the fact that when you change your scene like we did, it is important to remember that you are starting from square one. I came to Melbourne with a chip on my shoulder having experienced a great 2017 in Auckland. Add that to the fact that we as the Shottaz have been doing what we do for over a decade now, I thought we would easily navigate through the scene this side. What I was quickly reminded is that people don’t care about your past achievements when getting acquainted to what you do. In a new environment, you have to win every ear, which is quite a challenging proposition. This realisation forced me to reevaluate my approach when spreading the Shottaz gospel, making me more effective when selling our brand. On the bright side, the connections that were made in 2018 alone have doubled our network, which leaves us in a great position. We’ve been able to meet a few “champions”, who have been consistently working to put us on great platforms. This has allowed us to access certain avenues that would normally be closed to us. Apart from the aforementioned reality check and network growth, this year has been great for us on the musical front. We have been able to polish our sound and find another creative gear in the process. I can guarantee that the music will be flowing hard and fast in twenty nineteen as a result, exciting times ahead.
Without an ounce of doubt, I can proclaim this year gone as a raging success. From a musical perspective, we have made some great strides towards our ultimate goals. We managed to release 3 official singles, and 4 music videos. We’ve connected with more amazing professionals the world over, increasing our confidence as we proceed down our path. Can’t forget playing on some amazing stages and platforms that belie our newcomer status on the Melbourne scene. Most importantly though, we have thoroughly enjoyed the process. In the learnings box, we now know that at times we need to exercise a higher level of restraint than we are accustomed to. We have also been reminded about the importance of tapping into our network when possible, I discussed this to an extent in my last post. Above all, we have seen the importance on having a solid plan and sticking to it as much as possible. I have to say, there was much more to the year that has been twenty eighteen, but I have to leave it here.
Even though there will be one more post before the new year, I would like to wish you all a blessed holiday season. Stay safe out there, and please make sure you have a blast.
Growing up, my mother used to always use the well known phrase “No man is an island” and from early on I grasped the essence of this statement. In life, we sometimes fall into a trap of trying to take on too much without seeking assistance. Unfortunately for me, I am not an exception when it comes to this drawback. I call it a drawback because anytime you find yourself trying to bite of more than you can chew, especially when there are people that can assist, pride is most certainly at play. Last week I wrote about the necessity of wearing multiple hats as an independent artist, and I feel I must stress that we only do that due to a lack of options. However, if there are people that can help do some heavy lifting, or can give you access to people that are able to help, it is imperative that you make use of these connections. I often get intrigued when someone comes to me complaining about being burnt out as a result of having too much on their plate, and yet the stress can easily be alleviated if they tap into their personal network. In the music world, the term networking is tossed around with reckless abandon, and at times people assume they have made a solid connection by virtue of just meeting someone that can help them in one way or the other. However there is more to the concept of networking, allow me to explore this notion.
Feed the Beast – Nurturing the Relationship
Like any relationship, I have found it very important to invest a significant amount of time in strengthening connections I have made in the music industry. It requires genuine effort to consolidate links to ensure they can be utilised further down the road. I feel I must put emphasis on the word GENUINE, because it shouldn’t be about you using the other party to gain yourself an advantage. Instead, it is an exercise of give and take which sees you investing in the other party in equal measure. What this does is create a true bond with a person, which may even go beyond a professional capacity. Over the years I have met amazing individuals who I connected with on a musical level, and a personal relationship has developed as we’ve grown together. Developing these strong bonds with said connections has created other opportunities, a result of trust that will have been built over time. New opportunities also come out of the other party genuinely wanting to see you succeed.
Connecting the dots
Having a solid network of individuals that you can tap into is one thing, but making the network function effectively is another proposition altogether. Having a clear picture of the various members in your network, and their respective capabilities, will allow you to get the best outcomes. One thing I often do when I meet new people is make a mental note of what they have in their arsenal that could be utilised in my own pursuits, be it in music or otherwise. I will usually have a clear idea of where a person fits in the greater scheme of things after the first 2 or 3 encounters. The next thing I make note of is how I can be of service to that person. This goes beyond what I myself can do for that individual, at times I have met people that could benefit from linking with other people within my network. This circles back to the idea of give and take that I highlighted early on. I can’t stress enough how important it is to add value where you can because it’s part of what makes any relationship meaningful. Once a strong network is in place, it becomes an exercise of calling on the right people at the right time.
No Man Stands Alone – An Important Truth
Like my beloved mother used to always say, no man is an island because indeed we need others to provide assistance regardless of the endeavour. As an independent musician, I have needed others to open doors that I didn’t know even existed. One thing for sure is that I wouldn’t be sitting here sharing yarns about my experience as an independent artist, if I hadn’t built myself a functional network. A piece of advice I always give younger artists is to put themselves out there. You don’t build a network by being the awkward guy hiding in a corner when in unfamiliar settings, and you most definitely don’t build vibes with people by leaving certain events early. A few times I have discouraged younger acts from leaving a gig soon after they get off stage, because there is value in working a crowd after being on stage, especially when you’re still new on the scene. I often remind them that you never know who’s in that crowd, and that alone should be enough to keep them around for a reasonable amount of time. This notion is true in different scenarios, not just the music business, so regardless who you are I encourage you to seriously review your networks and identify ways to improve your connections with people in those networks. Your success depends on it.
It’s been a crazy few weeks for me hence the radio silence on this blog. It’s been pretty challenging for me to stay on top of things, because we’ve been on the grind, working on some exciting content. I had an in-depth conversation with one of my peers recently, and he highlighted something that never really occurred to me until that point. We were having a conversation about having to wear multiple hats when you’re an independent artist. It’s crazy how we take for granted the fact that we cover a ridiculous amount of ground, usually single handedly. Often, you find yourself having to do various unrelated tasks during the course of a day. My day can involve emailing various stakeholders, writing/recording music, drafting and developing content ideas etc. Many times I find myself doing tasks that I’m not very strong at, like shooting/editing video footage and drafting proposals, which would normally be handled by professionals in a label setting. I would love to be able to hire professionals to handle things like video editing, but unfortunately their services don’t come cheap. I have tried approaching students to utilise their skills etc but I’m yet to find someone willing to develop our content without any significant compensation. That said the main takeaway from the conversation with my friend was that sometimes it is important to look at the glaring positives in such situations.
Developing different skills
What I have realised is that I have been forced to learn a few things that I otherwise would never be exposed to. I always try to avoid being a jack of all trades, because that takes away from the things that I’m truly passionate for. That said, being in a position where I have been practically forced into picking up new skills has actually been beneficial. With regards to video editing, I have found it easier to communicate what I need from production teams when we have worked on our music videos, this is because I have a working knowledge of the process. It has made the process of filming the videos so much easier. I have learnt a lot of the lingo used in the filmmaking world and that helps when communicating with the directors/production teams. The same can be said when looking at the process of writing proposals. Even though I thoroughly hated writing proposal documents when we started this journey, I have developed a healthy appreciation for the process. This is actually a transferable skill which can be applied in many different situations and it is something great to have in the arsenal.
Don’t stop learning
Something that I have done recently is push really hard to expand my knowledge base on all fronts. From a music perspective, I have found myself in various studios with vastly different engineers controlling the sessions. What this has afforded me is the opportunity to observe their workflows and see what works well and can be incorporated in our own process. It has also allowed me to ask questions regarding concepts that I’m not fully comfortable with. I have seen some remarkable improvements in some of the tunes we have worked on recently. When we shot our last music video, Body/Full Up, I was a pest to the production team asking a million questions without flinching. I remember the director of photography (DOP) saying at one point that he was going to start giving me false answers because he was now fearing for his job. Let me get it on record that I am very happy being a musician and have very little passion for filmmaking, so the DOP can breathe easy. That said, I learnt a lot during that video shoot which I have implemented in my process when editing some of the new visual content which is in production.
Making it work
Picking up different skills out of necessity is one thing, but implementing them correctly is another beast altogether. I can’t tell you the amount of practice material I have worked on in the process of honing these new skills. The reason I take great care when breaking new ground is because the whole point of picking up the skills is to further an agenda. In my case I want to push the Shottaz brand as far as possible, but different people will have their own unique reasons. The last thing I ever want to do is spend countless hours creating content that misses the mark because it is poorly executed.
Recently I had the pleasure of catching up with a bunch of kiwis at a mate’s birthday party. It’s crazy how simple things like using certain slang words and phrases without having to explain yourself can be quite gratifying. Needless to say, it was an enjoyable evening. What made it more interesting was the fact that a number of people in attendance were somehow involved in the music industry. I got to chat with some pretty established musicians, which allowed me to gain some insights that will be implemented in our future endeavours. I left this party with elevated confidence levels and that is saying a lot given the couple of weeks that lie ahead. One conversation in particular really resonated with me and I decided to use it as the basis of this post. At some point during the party I found myself on the mic entertaining the few people in attendance. After this impromptu performance I had a chat with one of the industry peeps in the building and he complimented my breath control on the mic. We went on to have a conversation about the art of vocal performance which was quite intriguing. What stayed with me from the entire exchange, though, was the topic of breath control and how that is a big part of performing live and yet I never have to think about it, at least not anymore.
Practice makes perfect – The rinse and repeat method
I keep circling back to this post, which I wrote earlier in the year about the importance of rehearsing. It’s important to note that this concept is the first step to the equation, i.e. to be good at anything you need to prepare adequately. With regards to something as subtle as breath control, it goes deeper than having regular rehearsals. For those of you not familiar with the concept, what I’m talking about is having the ability to enunciate lyrics clearly without muffling words as a result of taking a breath. I must say, when we have our highly energetic sets, I find myself running out of breath at times but this is a result of me being grossly unfit. The ability to control one’s breath comes from an intimate knowledge of the lyrics and countless repetitions, which is achieved by going beyond rehearsals. When getting ready to perform new songs live, I obsess over my lyrics and will recite my verses repeatedly for days on end. This sets markers in my mind as to which gaps in each verse are suitable for me to come up for air. By the time we get to rehearsals, I am usually very comfortable delivering my verses and hooks that we get to focus on more important things like chemistry and song/set arrangements.
Experience is Key – Tapping into the memory bank
Even though I wholeheartedly believe in relentless practice when gearing up for live performances, there are some intangibles that come with time. Having performed on various stages throughout my career, I have learnt a few tricks that come in handy when on stage. I once had a heated debate with a fellow musician about live performances. He was of the belief that an artist need not rush into doing live performances, rather they rehearse relentlessly until they are solid at performing before they start booking gigs. I couldn’t disagree more. I feel there’s only one way to get really good at performing live, and that’s by performing live constantly. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve bombed on stage, check this post about a recent occasion I stunk up the joint. Each performance I have done from the beginning of time is saved in my memory bank, and I reference these past performances whenever I hit the stage. There are simple tricks that I picked up over the years that allow me to breathe easier when on stage. A good example is skipping unnecessary words like conjunctions, or lyrics that don’t necessary contribute to the narrative, can give a performer time to catch a breath. This is easier when you are in a crew, or if you perform with a hype man, as your co-performer can fill in the blanks if necessary. That said, most tricks can only be applied once the performer is fully dialled into their lyrics.
Making it memorable – A bit of flair never hurts
Breath control is a very subtle aspect to live performances, but once it is mastered it can open a world of possibilities. There are a whole range of bits and pieces that can then be incorporated into the show to make it more interesting. I didn’t intend to make this post part of a series, but I think I will cover other elements of live performing in future posts so watch this space.
I recently finished a series of posts about the necessary steps for achieving, and defining, success. These posts were informed by the last 2 years of my career in music, which have been quite illuminating. In this short period, we have made progress in leaps and bounds, ticking off boxes like it’s going out of style. A lot of these achievements have been behind the scenes, though some of these have started appearing in the foreground recently. It’s crazy to think that a lot of ground has been covered and yet on the surface it still feels like we’re an up and coming music group. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not incorrect for us to be perceived that way, regardless of the decade of work we’ve put in already. That said if I was to tell you that we’ve put in a significant amount of time into our craft in the last 2 years, you would be forgiven if you called us liars. I mean think about it, 2 years of tireless work and we’ve only got a mixtape, and one official single released?
Trust the Process – I’ve said this before but it never gets old
Back in the Yung Shottaz days we had this tendency of shooting from the hip. We released a lot of content on a whim and we rarely put much planning into our releases. This continued until we linked up with Tiopira and Simon of High Stakes Records. I always give thanks that the bros saw something in us and decided to work with us on a project, because that’s when a significant change of perspective took place for me. The process of putting together “The Premiere EP” with High Stakes taught me a lot about releasing musical projects. We started working with High Stakes circa August 2008 and by December of that same year they had committed to working with us on our second EP. At the moment we decided to do the EP together, we already had about 5 songs that eventually made the EP. If we had done the project ourselves, I can guarantee that we would have released it much earlier than its eventual November 2009 date. Instead of just blindly releasing the EP, the High Stakes crew tasked us with building hype around the project. As a result we released, and toured, a couple of mixtapes. We worked hard, with the help of the bros, to raise the Yung Shottaz’ profile within the NZ music landscape. Only when the bros felt that our profile was at a good level did they agree to set a release date for the project. Even though we had been sitting on some top quality music for almost a year, the bros knew not to rush the process and the outcome was a good one.
Whatever you do – Don’t cut any corners
Having been involved in a well planned and executed project, we have tried to follow the same approach in all our subsequent releases. We learned not to cut corners when executing any plans we had in place. This is the key behind the slow and measured approach we have been following, not cutting corners. Many a time we have been tempted to break our plans and just do things on a whim, but I’m glad that we have stuck to the process. A good example of this is a situation which occurred quite recently. We found a really dope instrumental online, which we promptly purchased and wrote a demo for. The demo came out sounding quite awesome to us and when we played it to our inner circle the verdict was the same. I can’t stress how much we love this tune, and we started discussing moving this tune not only to the top of our release plan, but we wanted to release the song as early as possible. Having a process helped us identify that we were looking to act on a whim and I must say that if we had forced this tune up the release schedule it most likely wouldn’t reach its potential. I can say this because we have seen a significant increase in engagement with each release we have done so far. Though I think this song would have done well if we released it around the time we cut the first demo, I’m confident that we have found the right slot for it and it will perform so much better when we do release it. I must say I can’t wait to see how this song goes.
A long journey nonetheless
Trusting the process and staying the course without cutting any corners results in projects requiring longer time frames. Without patience you will no doubt find yourself violating these 2 principles to the potential detriment of said projects. I have seen it happen first hand in my own experiences, and though it’s not guaranteed to be the same case in other people’s situations, chances are high that some value is foregone by rushing things. My suggestion to any independent musicians/creatives out there is to take your time. I’m not saying you should procrastinate, far from it. What I’m saying is you should carefully plan each project and diligently work through the plan ticking each box as you go along. The idea is to avoid cutting corners and before you know it things will be looking up.
I started a series of posts earlier this year about the ingredients of success, and before I could tie off the series life happened. Check out the previous posts about preparation, patience, and hard work to add more context to this article. I was having a conversation with a fellow musician the other day and we ended up discussing our musical goals and each other’s measure of success. This reminded me about the aforementioned series and I vowed that I would make time to tie it all off.
Being in a competitive environment like the music industry, it’s often hard to stay motivated when the chips are down. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been at the verge of packing it in because it felt like I was banging my head into a brick wall. For the most part, unless you’re the exception, the returns you get early on never match the amount of effort you invest. Because of this, a lot of people don’t correctly account for progress they make which causes them to quit prematurely. This is why you should have a realistic measure of success, and it is necessary to appropriately manage your expectations.
Aim for the moon, yes, but first you must learn to fly
As I was speaking to my musician friend it was quite encouraging to hear what his personal goals were. His 2 year plan consists of building a strong catalog of music, releasing a couple of big budget singles, and putting together a timeless body of work. These are lofty ambitions, but what makes them realistic is that the success of each of these goals is entirely down to his actions. If he chooses to apply himself and he works diligently throughout this time frame, the chances of him being successful are quite high. I asked him what success looks like in relation to these goals, he said ticking two out of the three boxes would be good enough for him. The point I’m trying to make is this; having lofty ambitions is great, I highly encourage that everyone sets high goals, but ensuring that the goals that define you are entirely in your control is essential. It is also very important to initially cut yourself some slack when it comes to defining a success criteria, because setting the standard too high too soon can be detrimental.
A lonely, yet fulfilling endeavor
Setting manageable expectations is great when you’re finding your feet, but as you grow it’s also important to keep raising the bar. Once you find your flow and you settle into a groove, I personally think it’s important to keep pushing your limits further to ensure growth. I guess the idea of envisioning success requires a certain balance. You need to be stretched enough to be uncomfortable, but not too much to the point of breaking. Another important aspect of setting goals, and defining success, is avoiding the trap of comparing yourself to others. I have been guilty of this on many occasions, and I can attest to the fact that it’s one big motivation killer. Though it’s good to stay aware of what others are doing, it is very dangerous to set your own goals based on other people’s achievements. You live your own truth, your values are unique to you, what drives you is undoubtedly different from the next person, and ultimately your motivation will be drawn from sources that are exclusive to you. We each travel our own path, so we must create our own definition of success that falls in line with who we are. Once you are able to set goals and define success based on your own values, you find your purpose. Oftentimes you’ll find yourself travelling alone on this path, and this can be really confronting, but it is often extremely rewarding. When you reach your goals, chances are that you’ll truly be happy because your achievements have value to you.
All together now
Once you have a comprehensive list of goals, that match your values, and you have a clear measure of success in place, the fun can truly start. You will find it easier to get yourself motivated to pursue your goals. The concept of hard work and dedication will become less alien, and it will become more bearable to stay patient in the moments when things seem to be moving at a slow pace. Mix these ingredients together and you’ll find yourself knocking on the doors of success much earlier than you may imagine. Whatever you do, don’t cut corners, more on that in an upcoming post.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” — Proverbs 27v17
The proverb of iron sharpening iron has been slung around for centuries, and for centuries the crux of the statement has remained true. Over the last 2 years the proverb has rung true for me as I have witnessed exponential growth in my musical journey. Why the proverb resonates so much is because I have been working closely a few collaborators, Hlats (Shottaz), Blacq Alex, Triplelan, Jafa Mafia (Kwinton and Tobi), and of course DJ Skarob, and as we have put in work I have witnessed growth on all fronts. –Sidenote: I write this piece as I’m banging a tune I have just recorded on a Skarob riddim, mark my words this tune is a hit.
I corner during a late night session with Hlats that afforded me growth. We were working on a song from our mixtape, Focus, and Hlats was not happy with my lyrics. He pointed out his concern in typical Hlats style, without pulling punches. Instead of being stubborn about it, I took his feedback into account. I listened carefully, processed the information, and we had a constructive discussion regarding his suggestions. Needless to say, the result was a verse which was significantly better.
I have developed trust in my collaborators, which is essential when looking to produce polished music. As good as my ideas and concepts may be, they will always require refinement. I reached a point where I am open to constructive criticism from trusted sources. I have recorded a lot with Kwinton Jafa, and he pulled me aside after I had finished recording a tune to make a few suggestions]. I’m sure at the time he felt I was being apprehensive, but I trusted him enough to send him my lyrics for review. From that point, I am glad to take input from Kwinton as it’s clear we’re pushing in the same direction.
The same is true for live performances. I’ve had one rehearsal with DJ Skarob to date, and in that session he gave me a few tips to make my vocal delivery better when performing live. Again, I could have rejected his advice outright given that I have done various live performances for over 10 years. I listened to what he had to say, we had a constructive discussion, and I took on board what he had to say because it was quality input. I can confidently say that the next gig I play alongside Skarob will be better, and the next one will be even better.
Another way I have learnt from my peers is through observation. Being surrounded by superbly talented musicians is a blessing. Emperor Blacq is a lyrical beast, if you didn’t already know, and just listening to his new material has forced me on to raise my bar. What I really like about Alex’s approach is that he has punchlines, but he doesn’t chase punchlines when writing his verses. The verses have a clear story and punchlines are used to compliment each verse, as opposed to writing bars that lack cohesion. On the other hand, Triplelan is a perfectionist in every sense of the word. He takes great care when delivering his verses and hooks, and if he’s not happy with anything, it will be reworke until it sounds good to him. We have a tune in the pipeline, with Triplelan and Blacq Alex, and only now can we release it after Triplelan redid his verse and hook twice. The song is much better as a result of that diligence.
If I was to give advice to anyone out there putting in work it would be this; Surround yourself with people that push you to be better. It always pays to have people around you that don’t stroke your ego. You need people you can trust to have your best interests at heart when they offer criticism. I have a solid group of music people in life right now, and I swear it’s paying dividends. You will be seeing some tangible results in the very near future, you don’t have to take my word for it.
Sometime last year, the brother Hlats hit me up on a random Thursday afternoon and asked me to accompany him to a studio session. After requesting more details regarding this “session”, with no luck in terms of clarification, I agreed to tag along for the ride. Unbeknownst to me, this would be my first foray into the wild world of session vocal work. In a nutshell, session vocalists are hired guns that record vocals for a fee, usually doing cover songs for a variety of purposes. That day, Hlats relicked a Keznamdi tune which was an intriguing experience.
Fast forward a few months and the same studio booked for me for a vocal session to record a Sean Paul cover. This was an exciting to work with a professional engineer for the first time in a long while, but anxiety around the impending session soon took grip on me. I had a little over 3 days to learn a new song, which consisted of various segments including harmonies. I must confess that I’m not the best when it comes to singing harmonies and the song is plastered with them. In a bid to deliver the goods for the session I practiced tirelessly, putting in at least 4 hours on the first night alone. In the ensuing days the Sean Paul song was the centre of my existed, listening to it at every possible moment. I thoroughly obsessed over this tune and when my session time arrived I was more than prepared.
The first session went seamlessly, and the engineer was quite happy with the amount of time it took us to complete the session. The energy in the control room after I finished recording the vocals was positive because we finished working with time to spare, giving said engineer a well deserved smoke break. This experience taught me a valuable lesson which I carried into all the sessions I have had to date. Being prepared not saves time, but it ensures you stay on good terms with people that invest their time in you.
Incidentally, I bumped into the engineer a few weeks later on a night out and we caught up over a drink. After exchanging some pleasantries he mentioned having taken time off from engineering for session vocalists. After a bit of probing, he told me he had recently had a rather difficult session where the vocalist was unprepared and difficult to deal with in general. Imagine, this vocalist was so ill prepared and frustrating that the engineer needed 5 days off work to get back into a good place. If you are a budding vocalist, and this is not tied to session work only, make sure you are always prepared. Remember the old adage, practice makes perfect? It’s kinda true…