Category Archives: Blog

The terrible torrent

If you’re a young musician, it’s a lot easier to gain some exposure thanks to the great strides in digital technology. In just over 10 years the rise in social media and the ability to stream your music to the masses has given anyone with some talent and internet access the ability to reach a world of new fans in a matter of seconds.

However, with the benefits of digital there is a downside. Writing in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson explored the death of music sales, in his research Thompson noted that “nearly every number in Nielsen’s 2014 annual review of the music industry is preceded by a negative sign, including chain store sales (-20%), total new album sales (-14%), and sales of new songs online (-10.3%). Two things are up: streaming music and vinyl album sales”. The latter Quite Great has spoken about before.

Type in the word “torrent” into any search engine and you are sure to find a plethora of links to proxies of Pirate Bay and a smorgasbord of other sites that allow you to download every single piece of entertainment out there today. Music, films, software programs, if you have some simple bittorrent software installed, it’s all for the taking.

Many of us would not shed a tear over downloading something like Photoshop for example, with the usual thoughts of taking from big soulless conglomerates like Adobe and Microsoft a good thing, but in our growing obsession with getting something for nothing, the impact is starting to show on new artists, who are feeling an added pressure.

Just prior to the great leap forward the digital world took, journalists were singing the praises of a legal download boom. In 2004, The Independent remarked that C.D sales had risen exponentially over a five year period and that legal downloads were now leading the way. Today it is a completely different story.

File download screen

Marcus, an acoustic guitarist and bass player from Brighton, who has worked as a session musician for the past five years, has seen the topic of illegal downloads become an ever more prominent feature in his conversations with other musicians. “I used to use torrents a lot in the early days” he says “I got a real buzz from downloading the latest Hollywood blockbuster for free, and God forgive me, also the latest albums and such. But after a while I began to get this nagging feeling in the back of my head, I felt like I was stealing from my family, if that makes sense? The conversations with many musicians I’ve had has been the same, it all felt fantastic for them at first, but they then, after having experienced first hand the struggles of being a fulltime musician, felt like they were depriving others of some hard earned cash.”

Musicians and many ordinary music fans alike have gone through or are going through this moment of guilt in downloading artists work for nothing. Yet the issue remains, and isn’t likely to disappear anytime in the near future. However, with digital technology forever on the march, it’s hopeful that musicians will find a way of solving the problem. Finally, with more people discussing illegal downloads and how they affect the livelihood of artists who often live on the margins to achieve their dreams, the public conscience will surely shift away from the terrible torrent.

Spaceman: The marriage of music and sci-fi

Musicians have always had a love of Sci-Fi, since the 1960’s we’ve seen song after song influenced by man’s curiosity about space and what lies beyond the stars. From David Bowie’s haunting ‘Space Oddity’ to Babylon Zoo’s not so subtle ‘Spaceman’, we’ve had the good, the bad and the ugly from artists throughout the decades. As a whole, pop culture has rekindled its love affair with space in recent years. With movies like ‘Moonwalkers’, ‘The Last Man on the Moon’ and ‘400 Days’ arriving in cinemas this year alone, Sci-Fi is more buoyant than it has ever been. So, here are the top 5 songs inspired by all things space.

  1. David Bowie – ‘Space Oddity’

1969 was not all about free love, girls with flowers in their hair and hippie music circles. The summer of ‘69 was the year the world first encountered David Bowie, or more specifically, the first time the world encountered the mysterious Major Tom, who would later make a number of appearances in Bowie’s songs through to the 1980’s. In the eerie and melodic ‘Space Oddity’ Bowie tells the story of Major Tom’s launch into the great unknown. Released just 5 days before the Apollo moon landings, it was a song of pure genius. In 2014, ‘Space Oddity’ was taken to new heights (literally and figuratively) when Commander Chris Hadfield performed a rendition of the song in orbit.

  1. Muse – ‘Supermassive Black Hole’

With typical power and fury, Muse broke new ground with their anthem ‘Supermassive Black Hole’, an elaborate, theatrical and evocative song, featuring a flurry of angry guitars and Matt Bellamy’s distinctive voice, with its operatic extravagance and unapologetic undertones of eroticism. ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ remains one of Muse’ biggest crowd pleasers.

A galaxy

  1. Babylon Zoo – ‘Spaceman’

Babylon Zoo may have had a short lived career, with success coming and then disappearing in the blink of an eye, but their 1996 anthem ‘Spaceman’ was an over the top slice of pop magic, fondly remembered by those who encountered the song in clubs and at school discos. Its swirling guitars and robotic vocals were a welcome change from the Spice Girls and Oasis during the summer of that year.

  1. Elton John – ‘Rocket Man’

Elton John made no secret of the fact ‘Rocket Man’ was inspired by David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. No apologies were made when it came to the songs blatant references to drug use. Released in 1972, ‘Rocket Man’ is the finest example of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s professional relationship, with the idea for the song coming after John and Taupin saw a shooting star in the night sky.

  1. Beastie Boys – ‘Intergalactic’

Forever irreverent and in familiar comic style, the Beastie Boys ‘Intergalactic’ has made its way into a variety of comic sci-fi shows, including Matt Groening’s ‘Futurama’, since its release. The boys showed us that Sci-Fi can be both snarling and funny at the same time. Most memorably, the video featured a giant robot, looking as if it were lifted from a 1950’s b-movie.

Working with self doubt

As a musician, self doubt can be the biggest hurdle to get through. It often manifests as that nagging little voice in the corner of your mind, forever there, chipping away at your confidence. So many musicians give up, not through what other people have said, but through what their own mind has been telling them. Self doubt is the toughest criticism you are ever going to face, not just as a musician, but in any creative field. We’re always going to think other people can do the same thing a lot better than us, and that by putting ourselves out there for all to see, we’re just going to make a fool of ourselves.

Every musician behaves differently when handling self doubt. Julian Graham, a Blues Rock artist who is currently studying at UWL in Ealing, took the route of honing his confidence and self-determination in order to beat it. “When people say  it’s not going to be easy, they were more right than you would have ever thought” he says “so self-doubt comes with that. I think you just have to be so self-determined and confident in your artwork, that everyone else thinks you’re a bit insane. Sometimes people take it too far and get arrogant, whereas there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is saying “I’m a good musician,” where arrogance is, “I’m the best musician ever.”

Before heading to Ealing, Julian took himself to Florence, where he played in the many pubs and bars across Italy to get himself heard and throw himself in at the deep end. Hearing of Julian’s backstory and foray into the world music which started at a young age, it feels like this initial experience is what also helped him to gain the confidence to pursue music as a career, conquering the demon of self doubt. “Like many people in school, I found it really hard to find a group. I wasn’t the most popular kid and the only people I really connected with were in music groups. I played trumpet, marimbas, steel band, etc. I found that everyone was just enjoying life, it made total sense to me! They were creating art out of thin air! I also realised that songs, more than anything, have the ability to last in people’s minds. Who wouldn’t want to live forever?”

Even during the toughest moments of creating music, where self doubt can be at most virulent, Julian values the difficulty and embraces the hard work that goes into it. “It involves a lot of waiting” he explains, “A lot of pen-finding and a lot of swear words. It’s hard work! It’s the craziness of what I imagine a Michelin star restaurant goes through. The only difference is I’m Gordon Ramsay and the food is my guitar and pen.”

Julian imparts simple, yet worthy advice to anyone looking to throw themselves into making music their career. “Sometimes you’ll be the only one who believes in yourself. That’s part of it all. The difference between other people and us is that we can write a song about it – and that song can change everything.”

Living and learning as a music producer

The music industry is truly rich and varied. Quite Great has worked with so many different artists over the years from far reaching and diverse musical arenas. With a swathe of styles and genres that keep expanding as time goes by, achieving success is only possible by pursuing a well thought out strategy, crafting your talent and, above all else, committing yourself to hard work. Phase 2 Pro, a music producer and artist of Polish origin, now based in London, knows this. He has worked tirelessly to gain recognition and tells us about his musical journey and artistic methods.

His love affair with music began, like most artists, at an early age. “Being born in Poland and moving to the UK at the age of 7 without knowing the language has caused difficulties with communication. At the age of 18 I still felt like an outsider spending majority of my time alone due to my background, mostly. Around that point I was introduced to FL studio, a digital audio workstation. One day I woke up and I just knew this is something I needed to get into as I felt a sense of connection and belonging like I never had before.”

A musical magician who creates complex and otherworldly sounds, Phase 2 Pro has learned to refine and articulate his methodology, trying new styles and if they failed, trying something else. “I used to over complicate my tracks by throwing too many melodies on top of each other” he explains. “Once I began learning about mixing I realised I have too much going on and sonically everything clashed. I made my tracks without taking in mind any room for a vocalist on top of what was going on, also at the same time muddling up and covering beautiful melodies that have no breathing room of their own. Now I make complex music that is simple enough for a listener to digest everything that is going on in the track.”

Headphones in a music production studio

As a music producer, Phase 2 Pro imparts some healthy advice to anyone wishing to get their foot in the door: “In terms of music production, don’t copy or sound like anyone else. At first no artists wanted to work with me as my music was too different. Honestly looking back at it, it was different but not in a good way because I lacked knowledge and experience to bring it to its best. Since then I have stuck to my own sound, developed it through acquiring the tools and knowledge to execute the ideas I had in my head. Now I’m incomparable to any other producer in the world, with my own sound and style I’m confident I can step into any genre and add a new edge that hasn’t been heard of before. I’m just still in the process of building up my hard drive with more tracks before I begin to put them out there.”

On the minutiae of gaining success, he says: “Saying all that, set a goal, try to block out negativity around you and spend time on your craft everyday, moving towards that goal. The way I see it is you have only one chance to make a first impression. Most people want to “blow up” asap. I believe it’s about timing and structuring the moves so there is always a follow up, we see too many artists reach a peak in their career, go quiet for a long time and the comeback doesn’t always put them back to where they left off. Hope you as the reader have picked up useful knowledge and got the gist of this overview.”

Phase 2 Pro’s story is one of constant learning and articulation. He is on an endless journey of artistic discovery.

Olympics and classical music in perfect harmony

The guys at Quite Great love doing promotion and PR for classical musicians. We have worked with hugely talented classical artists, composers, and musical innovators – from Brian Eno and Michael Nyman to Jean Michel Jarre and Pavarotti.

In terms of redefining the parameters of classical music and changing the public’s views and perceptions of traditional musical thinking, no-one comes close to Kristjan Järvi. We were thrilled when we were chosen by Kristjan to help with his release of Wagner’s The Ring, his Duets project with Steve Reich, as well as his tour.

With a timely nod to the Rio Olympics, this is a wonderful story about music and sport coming together. Check out the release and spread the word as Kristjan is a true innovator within the music world.

Estonian Olympic Committee appoint classical music innovator to inspire a new generation of sportsmen and women

The Estonian Olympic Committee have created history by appointing the first non-sports person to hold a senior position as a standing member, with the announcement that the innovative classical composer Kristjan Järvi will be using music to help inspire Estonian sporting success in the future.

Kristjan is already a major force across the Baltic states through his work in creating ‘Sound Estonia’. Now, he is looking at ways to bring all types of music together – from classical to hip hop – in order to encourage people of all ages to get involved in sport and hopefully bring Olympic success to Estonia for years to come.

“It is an honour,” explains Kristjan, “to be part of the Olympic movement in some small way and to be the first non-sports person to become a standing member of the national committee. Music is an inspirational force. It helps people to fulfil their potential, and in sport, this is vital. Every sportsman and woman tends to use music in some way to inspire, whether it is in the gym or prior to them starting a race. It’s a natural next step to see how this can be expanded upon and how we can scientifically draw in the power of music through training regimes and add to the mental side of sports too.”

It is not widely understood how much training and fitness are involved in becoming a renowned member of a leading orchestra, although both are fundamental components of success. Kristjan Järvi not only understands the physical side, but also the spiritual side, which again can play a vital role in an athlete’s success. Bringing the two together could be an inspiring move by the Estonian Olympic Committee. Perhaps, in years to come, we may be seeing more and more Estonian athletes bringing home gold medals thanks in part to Kristjan’s groundbreaking ideas – not to mention hours and hours of hard work on the part of the athletes.

Kristjan Järvi has “earned a reputation as one of the canniest, and most innovative, programmers on the classical scene.” [Reuters]

Curating and conducting his original, genre-fusing projects with individual approach and style, his concerts have been proclaimed a “life-enhancing experience.” [Herald Scotland]

He realises his pioneering ideas with his four ensembles: as Music Director of the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Gstaad Festival Orchestra; as Founder-Conductor of his New York-based classical-hip-hop-jazz group, Absolute Ensemble; and as Founder and Music Director of the Baltic Sea Philharmonic, the cornerstone of the Baltic Sea Music Education System. An entrepreneur by nature and a passionate educator, Kristjan Järvi leads both the oldest Radio Orchestra in Europe and the newest young musician Orchestra.

Ongoing guest conducting engagements include: London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Orchestre de Paris, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Rome, National Symphony Orchestra (Washington D.C), the Minnesota Orchestra and NHK Symphony Japan. In 2012, he also made his debut with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

As a recording artist, Järvi has more than 60 albums to his credit, from Hollywood soundtracks such as Cloud Atlas and award-winning albums on Sony and Chandos, to his eponymous series the ‘Kristjan Järvi Sound Project.’ Launched in 2014, the series features projects across all of Järvi’s ensembles and is characterised by the conductor’s unmistakable approach in taking a fresh look at the old, with concepts and presentation that transcend the borders and boundaries of music.

Järvi continues to work with some of today’s brightest minds, from film directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis, to composers and artists Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Tan Dun, Hauschka, Dhafer Youssef, Anoushka Shankar and Esa-Pekka Salonen (with whom he started his career as Assistant Conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic).

Born in Estonia, Kristjan Järvi emigrated to the United States as a child and grew up in New York City.  He is an accomplished pianist and graduated from Manhattan School of Music followed by conducting studies at the University of Michigan.

[Photo of Kristjan courtesy of Peter Adamik]