Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Lana Del Dilemma

Have you heard that 'Video Games' track by Lana Del Rey?

Yes, unfortunately.

Why 'unfortunately'? It's a great piece of brooding pop if you ask me.

That may be so but have you seen the girl's lips?

What's that got to do with her music?

But they're huge!

I don't think they're big enough to affect her singing voice though, do you?

That's not the point. The point is they're fake, like she is.

That's a bit of a leap to make. But you still haven't answered why her enhanced lips make her music any less worthy?

Look, her videos are all made up of gritty cine film footage and her songs seem to be more authentic than your average pop songs but the fact she sings them through huge Botoxed lips shows that really she's just as fake as the rest of the pop industry. And she's got a false name.

A stage name you mean? Nothing new there is there?

No, but her management made it up for her.

Like many famous people's agents over the years? A stage name is hardly a new concept now is it?

Well, no, but with the lips as well, how can anyone take her seriously? Anyway, she came out of nowhere, it all seems so staged.

You mean she got millions of YouTube hits in a very short amount of time?


Like Keyboard Cat


Does that mean it's only OK to have a viral YouTube hit if you haven't had Botox? 

Well, no.

And you happen to be a cat? 

Look, you're being ridiculous now. All I mean is that it's very suspicious that she's just appeared on the scene from nothing.

So you think she faked her YouTube hits as well? Or perhaps her management sit there on YouTube every day bumping up the figures?!

Look, I'm not saying that.

What are you saying then?

I just don't like her.

And her music?

No. Well, I liked her music until I found out the whole back story.

What, that an American singer has had Botox, had the gall to come up with a stage name like thousands before her and happens to have had a huge viral YouTube hit?

It doesn't sound as bad when you put it like that. But the lips annoy me.

So surely you're the one being superficial and fake? Like anyone else it's surely her choice to do what she wants with her body? But you believe the fact she's done so makes her music invalid?

Well, yes.

So why don't people seem to hate Dolly Parton or Cher as much?

I don't know. There's always Michael Jackson.

Let's not go there. He had slightly more than a lip job.


So what about Lana Del Rey's music? You said you liked it but you were put off by her image or your perception of her personality?

Well, yeah.

Are Liam Gallagher, Van Morrison, Kanye West or Elton John nice people?

Not from what I've read in the media.

And does your perception of their personalities affect your enjoyment of their music?

That's different.



So would you say 'Video Games' is no longer a good song?

That's not what I said.

So what did you say?

That... Oh, I give up.

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 22 November 2011.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Chemical Brothers working on 1920s film soundtrack?

A bit of a scoop for this blog entry. I recently interviewed Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall, the duo behind the Chemical Brothers’ live visual sets which blew away Glastonbury and the Big Chill this summer.

When speaking to long-term Chems visuals collaborator, Adam, (who is also known as Flat Nose George and also directs Doctor Who), told me about a fantastic-sounding film project he’s currently working on with the ‘Brothers, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons.

“Something we’ve been talking for years, long before they did Hanna, is I’ve got a film called Dope Girls which is all set in the twenties and I’ve got in development with Film 4,” he said. “I’m going to get them to do the soundtrack and record it in the way they record it but then we’re going to get a jazz band in and transpose it all to that. So you’ll have like a ‘Chemical Beats’-type tune done in a 1920s jazz style, so it’ll feel contemporary yet it’ll feel right for the time. It won’t stick out like when people do Marie Antoinette. When people put modern music on period stuff it’s sometimes a bit funny. It’ll be right yet it’ll be like, ‘Whoa,’ because it’s a very hedonistic scene. This film is all about the nightclub scene in the twenties. So they’ll be putting some music together to my pictures for that.”

So, if you find yourself flapping to the Chemical Brothers in the near future, remember you heard it here first!

In other Chemical Brothers-related news, Adam and Marcus revealed the idea they had when working on the 'Further' album of getting Tom and Ed to create music to their visuals; the complete inverse of the usual process.

Adam: “The first idea that Tom had for ‘Further’ was to give him visuals and he was going to make music to that but that didn’t happen in the end. It was something we talked about when they were making that album. It was like, ‘Why don’t you go and make some stuff and I’ll make some music.’ But it didn’t happen. It was a nice idea.”

Marcus: “I think it’s going to start happening, maybe with them, maybe with someone else; that whole idea that it’s not just an accompaniment [to the music] but the two things are absolutely interlinked.”

NOTE: I own the copyright to all of the above quotations, which were related to me directly during interviews. You must therefore request permission if you wish to use any of the above text or quotations. Contact: ian[at]ianroullier[dot]com

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 19 August 2011.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Where’s my money? What to do if you’re not being paid on time

The magazine I wrote about in my previous blog has now gone into administration leaving me over £600 out of pocket. This is of course hugely disappointing and something that I can ill afford financially. On top of this is the loss of what was a fantastic music magazine, contained well-informed, hype-free articles that, while being aware of trends, didn’t pander to them and had fantastic, professional staff.

Barring the Managing Director of course who I’m still yet to hear one nice word said about (most people warrant a ‘Nah, he’s alright’ from someone but not this bloke). Had he cared even five per cent as much as his staff, this may not have happened. Now they’re all out of jobs and there is a huge gaggle of unpaid freelances, who have helped him sell his magazine, out of work and out of pocket.

And just to reinforce what a one-sided ass UK company law is, he’s already set up another company (having saved one of his three magazines) which should buy him another few years of being an MD and not paying his writers. So he’s fine thankyouverymuch.

So, yes, I should have seen this coming from the lack of response to emails, the mounting unpaid invoices and ignored red statements I sent. And, yes, I should have acted sooner to take the matter to the small claims court. But I didn’t and now I’m poorer for it so what can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

How to get the money you’re owed:

1. Call, call and call again. Emails are easily ignored so get on the phone to the person responsible for paying you. Yes, you may come across as a pain in the arse to the accounts department but this is work that you have done and have not been paid for. If you were in a full-time position would you accept your boss not paying you your monthly salary? Of course not, and let’s not forget that the ebb and flow of money as a freelance makes your finances uncertain enough. Even if you’re only owed the money for a single invoice, chase it as soon as payment becomes overdue.

2. Speak to the editor. You may be locked away in your bedroom-based freelance ‘office’ but more often than not the person that commissions you shares the same office as, and hopefully commands some respect from, the person responsible for paying you. A word from them could speed up payment of your hard-earned fee and ensure you can pay the bills that month.

3. Stick religiously to payment terms. Under UK law you are entitled to payment within 30 days. Stay on top of this as you don’t want to create the impression that you’re one of the writers that’s happy to wait for payment. You did the work, you want your money! Email a statement of outstanding fees immediately (attaching relevant invoices) and follow up with a phone call. Most clients you work for will respect this nudge and pay immediately. Under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act 1998, you can also charge 12 per cent PA on any invoices that are not paid within the 30 day period.

4. Withhold copy. You may fear that this will upset the editor of the magazine you are writing for but any editor worth their salt should understand that you work hard and deserve to be paid on time for your efforts. Without copy, there is no magazine; a fact that should resonate with the person responsible for paying your wages as the magazine also pays theirs. Call the editor to let them know that this is what you have been forced to do – some editors have little or no idea that their writers are not being paid so if you fail to tell them why you’re not sending your copy through, you’ll just look tardy and unprofessional.

5. Send a Letter Before Action (LBA). The clue is in the name. This is the first step towards starting court action to get the money you’re owed. The letter gives the company a fixed amount of time (usually 14 days) to respond before court action is instigated. See the links below for template letters or how to get a solicitor to send the letter for you on headed paper (this carries more weight and can cost as little as £2). 6. Court action*:
  • Small claims court – once the LBA period has passed, then you can proceed with taking the company to court. This will initially cost you the court fees (which vary depending on the amount you’re claiming) but the defending company is liable to pay these if the case is settled in your favour. You are also able to charge the defending company interest on the money you are owed and claim this back.
  • Winding up petition – any court action is risky if you want to keep the client but the chances are if you have to go to these lengths you’re probably just interested in getting your money back. You can apply for a winding up petition against a company which basically involves saying that if the company cannot pay its debts then it should no longer be trading. More information on winding up can be found here: http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?itemId=1073791109&type=RESOURCES

*IMPORTANT: Before taking court action, check to see if the company has already been placed in administration (see Companies House). If you begin court action while the company is going through this process, you may end up being liable for the court fees that you would normally reclaim as part of the settlement.

7. Contact the administrators. If the worst comes to worst and the company has been placed in administration (you can check this on the Companies House website) then you should contact the administrator (details also on Companies House) so that they can list you as one of the creditors. Be aware that your claim will come quite near the bottom of the list below those with larger claims such as suppliers. You may end up getting a token percentage of what you’re owed (say a penny for every pound you’re owed) and may well end up with nothing but if the administrator doesn’t know you are owed money then they cannot account for you when it comes to handing out the money raised from selling the company’s assets.

Related links:

Companies House: http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/

How To Get Paid On Time article on journalism.co.uk: http://www.journalism.co.uk/news-freelance/how-to-get-paid-on-time/s12/a51656/

Template letters and advice: http://www.justclaim.co.uk/index.php?file=/procedures/index.page

Thomas Higgins solicitors: http://www.thomashiggins.com/

Winding up petitions explained: http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?itemId=1073791109&type=RESOURCES

NOTE: I AM NOT A SOLICITOR and have no legal training. The above guidelines relate to the UK and are just that: guidelines that should not be taken as legal advice. If you have any queries about any of the above or are considering taking a company to court, please contact a solicitor. This need not be expensive and there are companies, such as Thomas Higgins, that specialise in this area and can complete the whole process relatively inexpensively.

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 13 August 2011.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Writing for free: experience or exploitation? (Part two)

So, I stopped writing for the non-paying indie music magazine, whose cover stars became increasingly A-list as the ads became increasingly numerous. I decided that I deserved to be paid for the time and trouble I was taking interviewing, transcribing, writing, re-writing, editing, subbing and submitting (on time) my copy, so focussed my efforts and energies instead on magazines that rewarded their writers with something more tangible than prestige and pride (which are nice but don’t pay the rent).

Having built a portfolio by writing for a variety of websites – yes, for free, but magazines still retain a much better and more profitable business model than websites – I was extremely happy when I got my first offer of paid work from another magazine. It was only £20 for a short review, which I probably more than spent that night on travel to the event and alcohol, but it was a paid job – better than nothing, which is what the other magazine were offering for my labour.

This in-turn eventually led to being commissioned to write short interviews and then, a dream of mine for many years, full-blown features. I have to say I was ecstatic to finally receive payment for all of the hard work I was putting in. The problem was, it wasn’t that straightforward.

I interviewed musicians and wrote and submitted copy but getting paid for it was hard to say the least. The terms of each commission, which I naïvely accepted, were that payment would be made within 30 days of the issue going OFF sale. With lead times on magazines being around five weeks anyway, plus the four weeks the issue is ON sale, this equated to not being paid until over three months after the copy had been submitted.

Unfair? Yes. And, as I’ve since discovered, also illegal. Under UK law invoices must be paid within 30 days of being issued, otherwise interest is due (see here for more information from journalism.co.uk). More unfair though was the fact that even this three month rule was not respected by the owner of the magazine. The unpaid invoices mounted up until I was owed around £500 and then, the magazine folded. When I say folded, the magazine didn’t miss an issue, just merely carried on with the same name with the same Managing Director but under a different publishing house name – a bizarre, somewhat unfair quirk of British law. I lost the money but was assured by the MD that I would be recompensed by the editor giving me more work.

After much thought, and legal advice (there was no way I could get the money owed to me) I decided I would continue to write for them and the editor did put more work my way to make up for what I had lost.

The close working relationship I shared with the editor once more came into play when, once again, the publishing company went under (again, not an issue missed) and I was one of the few writers that the magazine paid in full to keep me on board. Lucky for me, my hard work and professionalism had been recognised enough by the editor to want to keep me. (Incidentally, the editor was always professional and produced a fantastic magazine - how do so many poor MDs get such great staff?!)

But once again, invoices have gradually piled up, the amount owed has spiralled upwards and my countless emails to the MD have gone unanswered. Now I find myself in the position of having to take one of my clients to court for unpaid invoices. And it is this that inspired my change of heart: the indie magazine I once wrote for were open about their non-payment of writers, which, while unfair for a popular, well-known publication, is surely more honourable than offering money and then not paying it?

I noticed recently that the indie magazine had placed (no doubt very expensive) ads above every urinal in men’s toilets at major train stations across London. But while they may still be taking the piss, at least they’re being honest about it.

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 22 July 2011.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Writing for free: experience or exploitation?

This was going to be a blog entry criticising a particular indie music magazine. One that doesn't, and has never, paid any of its writers. But then something happened that gave me a change of heart. First of all though, allow me to explain some of the background.

At the start the full-time editorial staff of this magazine, which you can find at WH Smith and 'all good newsagents', were earning next to nothing and had to fund themselves through other jobs. So if they weren't in a position to pay themselves, they certainly wouldn't be able to pay anyone else. With this in mind, I happily kept writing for the magazine, content in the knowledge that they needed to increase their brand and circulation etc.

But as the big company ads from companies like Top Man, Firetrap and L'Oreal pushed the front cover and contents page further and further apart and the sponsorship deals, branding stages at festivals and an endless stream of gigs and club nights, increased, I became certain that they must now have some money coming in. I asked repeatedly when writers were going to be paid but as those requests for payment were met with, 'Not yet', I realised I was now being taken for a ride.

What the magazine's owners were relying on was the fact that there would always be a pool of up and coming, inexperienced music journalists that they could draw upon; writers that would write for pride and prestige and to increase their portfolio rather than for money (see the recent UK launch of the Huffington Post for a vaguely similar scenario). As a start-up magazine, this was acceptable but as a successful, ad-filled, glossy and, it must be said, well-respected and recognised publication, I felt their business model was built purely upon exploitation so I stopped writing for them.

But while this blog entry was going to be an acerbic rant against the magazine in question – who I must add are not alone in filling their pages with unpaid copy from hard-working journalists – I realised that perhaps they weren't that bad after all.

So, why the change of heart? I'll explain tomorrow.

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 21 July 2011.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The work experience boy - day four: decision time

Day four: I arrive at Assault & Battery studios and, as is now customary, Drew buzzes me into the reception door. It transpires that once again he hasn’t been home so that’s at least four nights he’s spent in the studio – his girlfriend must be understanding.

With the Big Pink sessions finished, Alan Moulder and his two assistants aren’t in A&B1 today (a day off?!) and maintenance man Barney leaves in the morning to complete the studio fitting he’s doing on the south coast. At lunchtime, Drew – finally! – leaves the studio. He’s going to London Bridge to meet his girlfriend (I hope she recognises him) and even has the next week off to go to Disneyland Paris with her and her family. It’s reassuring to know that he does actually get to take time off, and Disneyland is probably removed enough from the real world to be manageable after so long being holed-up in the alternate reality of the studio. He kindly leaves a couple of beers behind then leaves. I imagine him emerging through the security gates, blinking back the harsh sunlight that he’s grown unaccustomed to: a free man at last.

So, all in all the studio is pretty quiet today. Paloma Faith and her (severely hungover) songwriter/co-writer Ed come in to see Dimitri (who is similarly hungover) once again. As I did yesterday, I offer her tea but she just asks for a hot water as she’s brought her own teabags in. Is this yet another indictment of my hot drink making skills? I decide it’s best not to dwell on it.

Being a music journalist I don’t tend to get overly nervous when speaking to musicians any more (just a few pre-interview nerves that keep me on my toes). But as it’s still my first week in the studio and the fact that – unlike most of the electronic artists I usually interview – these people have the aura of ‘stars’ (which is of course a load of old bollocks), I fear I have the appearance of some fawning teenage sycophant. It’s one of those circular paranoid feedback loops where I know the worst thing I can do is be a red-faced, bumbling buffoon around these people (as that’s all they are after all) so that’s exactly what I become. Whatever the reason, it’s bizarre to feel like a novice when speaking to musicians in a different context. It’s a good job I only have to offer them hot drinks and fetch their lunch eh?

With not much to do but browse Sound On Sound online (brownie points if I get caught), follow Andy Murray’s progress at the French Open and play Scrabble on Facebook, I offer help as often as I can. Steve Rhodes (the 'writer' from upstairs whose name does nothing to help me place his accent) finally takes me up on the offer and gets me to carry some old tapes (the huge reels, not cassettes) down from his studio to place in storage. In a bid to prove myself indispensably helpful I take a few too many than my normally sedentary arms can handle but, in spite of a slight slip at the end, I manage to transfer them to the storeroom successfully.

Having not spoken much to him during the week, Steve comes across as a humble and quiet – perhaps even shy – person but he seems like a genuine person free of the ego many producers may develop after continued exposure to working in the studio with the stars. Shortly after my odd-job is complete he places some cake on reception, which I’m grateful for and have a good munch on.

A few minutes later he asks me how long I’ll be in the studio. I say three weeks but that I don’t know which Miloco studio I’ll be based in the week after. Steve says he’s got some work moving his studio to do in July and asks if I’d like to come in with a friend to help out. He says he’ll pay us £80 each for a day’s work – the rate he normally pays his assistants. So, after a week of gaining an insight into studio life but with little to show for it as far as future prospects go, here was a chink of light. Perhaps I’ll only be training to be a removal man rather than a producer but other opportunities may arise through this.

When I told him I would be working for another fortnight, I wasn’t being entirely truthful though. I’d already decided that this would be my last day. The people were welcoming and friendly and the work, while menial, was exactly what I’d been expecting. But I soon realised that it would take far more than three weeks to earn myself a genuine opening with one of the producers in the studio, and even longer if I insisted on retaining my life outside the studio and not effectively becoming a live-in tea boy.

Besides, even if I was given an opportunity, I lacked the studio knowledge to be able to grasp it. Other people who had done work experience placements at the studio included award-winning Australian heavy metal producers or had at least been plying their trade as producers with local bands for the past few years. I decided that my time would be better spent getting myself up to speed so that I could grasp such an opportunity if it came my way.

Besides, work experience is unpaid and completing the three weeks would have meant turning down paid journalism work. Being a poor student I desperately need to earn some money so surely it would have been stupid to stay? But one opportunity has already come my way after only four days work so have I cut off my nose to spite my face? Have I let fear take over rather than rationally thinking things through? Should I have stayed and worked until the early hours to show my worth or have I made an intelligent decision? What do you think?

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 16 June 2011.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The work experience boy - day three: trying to keep the Faith

Day three: Once again I wake up feeling nervous and feel slightly reluctant on my way into the Assault & Battery studios – I know this is normal when starting a new job but the prospect feels even more daunting than it should somehow. Surely it can’t be down to the fear of making the tea badly or loading the dishwasher incorrectly?

I arrive in the office and Drew still hasn't made it home, making it at least three nights he’s slept in the studio to my knowledge. Out of interest, and also to see if I am really putting myself in the frame to be Alan Moulder or Flood’s next full-time tea-boy, I ask him if he tended to stay till everyone else went home when he was doing work experience. His reply is an unsurprising yes. So does that mean I should be staying in A&B2 with the unknown female singer and her band until their session ends at midnight then sleeping on a couch that has seen some of rock music’s most famous arses (I would say arseholes but that has other connotations!)? Do I really want to be using the shower in the gents’ toilet then eating my Crunchy Nut Cornflakes in reception every morning before the whole process starts all over again? I have my doubts. Besides, I still have freelance journalism work to do that happens to be paid (when the cheques are finally coughed up following the usual pleading and legal threats that is).

French producer Dimitri Tikovoi, who I haven’t shared more than about 15 words with all week so far (perhaps he’s either shy or aloof or both?), has Paloma Faith in his studio for the day. I offer her a hot drink and she asks for herbal tea, 'But no berries, something more grown up than berries!' she giggles. So green tea it is. Who knows, perhaps mixing her tea could one day lead to mixing her album? Doubtful I know but you have to be blindly optimistic in a situation like this.

Alan leaves early having tied up the loose ends and burned a stack of CDs/DVDs for the Big Pink session, that’s not before he and his assistants have indulged in the vegetarian curries I’ve been sent out to buy them. I indulge in one at my reception desk as well, it smelt and looked too good in the takeaway to miss out on yet I realise this is lacking the restraint I would need to show if I ever became one of the impoverished ‘chosen ones’ and ended up with a full-time assistant’s job. Drew’s mystery singer and her gang settle for kebabs on the other hand – which would again be way out of my financial reach.

There’s really not much happening on reception, nobody seems to want to indulge my tea-making expertise as often as I would like and the dishwasher is fully loaded so I ask Barney, the maintenance guy, if he’d like any help. Shortly after I’m scrubbing a fridge outside with warm soapy water and emptying the outdoor ashtray but I did ask for work and I realise you can't consider anything beneath you if you really want to get in there.

Having picked out the congealed, tar-covered cigarette butts and shoved them into a binbag, I go into A&B1 to see if Alan’s assistants would like a drink, an offer that they accept. Chief assistant John says I can sit in on the project they’re currently working on if I'm bored so I find myself a seat next to one of the huge floor-to-ceiling racks of hardware and listen to him preparing and tweaking the rough mix of a track by Chairlift (biggest hit ‘Bruises’ can be seen here) for Alan to pick up later.

John's attention to detail is understandably amazing. I wonder to myself if I’ll ever be in a position – i.e. have the technical skill and the finely tuned hearing – to fine-tune six kick drums and tiny, seemingly inaudible effects and get the balance of a mix right for a world-renowned producer? I decide that while I'm not there yet, if I apply myself I could get there. However, I am still the same person who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown just a few months ago when it came to recording a band made up of Bachelors students. Although that went OK in the end, I still have a fear of looking stupid and looking like I don't know what to do in the studio. I realise that only I can change this and I have a year to do so before my MA ends.

Anyway, work experience is all about taking every opportunity that presents itself and I fear that, by leaving at 6ish rather than staying in A&B1 until the Chairlift prep work is finished, I may have missed that opportunity. The problem is, I have some of that paid journalism work to do at home so leave I do to review the albums I've been commissioned to write instead – even falling asleep at my computer in the middle of the final review.

Would becoming a full-time studio assistant mean forsaking all other aspects of life? I was quickly realising that was probably the case.

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 11 June 2011.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The work experience boy - day two: the real coffee challenge.

Day two: Having screwed up yesterday and getting lost in Hammersmith, I could feel a bit of dread and fear in the pit of my stomach travelling in for my second day at Assault & Battery studios. I arrive in reception to find Drew eating Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, having spent another night in the studio. Again, I feel a mix of admiration and fear – is this what it really takes to make it as a producer?

It’s clear – and completely expected – that I spend much of my time sitting on reception, grabbing every solitary cup and plate from the sink and putting it into the dishwasher almost before the owner has fully released it from their grasp, offering tea either too often or too infrequently (why do the studio assistants keep making it – that’s MY job!) and even gluing down the carpeted skirting boards which are hanging off due to being kicked by irate indie frontmen (well, perhaps). Being asked to go out and fetch lunch again – takeaway English breakfasts for the unnamed American singer upstairs and her band – makes for some sort of highlight.

The day is genuinely brightened up by the affable Howie B, however, who is in the mastering suite playing what sounds like a brilliant piece of dirty electronica. I ask if it's one of his own tracks and he says yes. Apparently the album is due out in September and if the track is a fair reflection of the album it'll definitely be worth getting hold of. Howie (whose production credits include Bjork, U2 and Tricky), has a laugh that’s not so much infectious but viral and says it’s taken him four hours to do the one hour journey into the studio because it’s such a beautiful day and he kept having to stop off to go to the pub and soak up the sun. Yes, nice work if you can get it you may think, but you can bet that he’s had to spend years making tea in the warren-like, sun-impoverished environs of the studio to earn the right to take such so-called liberties now.

In A&B1, Big Pink finish their six-week stint with Alan Moulder and his two assistants make it clear that they’re relieved it's over - not because the band were particularly hard to work with but because it's been quite a laborious process getting the right sound that the band are happy with.

The only other point of note is making my first ever ‘real’ coffee in a cafetiere (good job I Googled it the day before). This may strike you as a bizarre admission for a 33-year-old man but as a staunch tea drinker who’s not allowed near a coffee bean any more, this is quite a moment – especially as it’s for Alan Moulder who I’ve been told is quite particular about his coffee. Having accidentally taken credit for the coffee his assistant made him in the morning, I say, ‘I hope it’s to your liking,’ as I place it shakily on the table next to a few thousand pounds worth of hardware in the studio. Alan replies, ‘I’m sure it’s fine. It was earlier on,’ and I cringe a bit inside as I walk out. It’s not just the first time Alan asks me to make him coffee, it’s also the last.

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 7 June 2011.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The work experience boy - day one: learning the ropes and getting lost

I have to admit, I felt like I was a 16-year-old boy again, which was about the age I last did work experience. Having spent the past nine months studying an MA in Audio Production at the University of Westminster my first year of the two year part-time course had come to an end so I felt I should get some industry experience somehow. Steve Dub, who was one of the guest speakers that came in to speak to us and has worked with the Chemical Brothers almost since day one, said that there were work placements available at the Miloco group of studios so I felt I should make the most of the opportunity. I got in touch and ended up having a three-week work experience placement confirmed, starting the week after my course finished in May.

I was placed in Assault & Battery in Willesden, London which houses two world-class producers in Alan Moulder and Flood. As I travelled in on my first day, I went through the usual mix of neuroses, paranoia and nerves that you get when starting any job (or is that just me?!). This was amplified by the fact that I was going to be sharing an environment with producers who have album credits including U2, Smashing Pumpkins, Arctic Monkeys etc. and that they could potentially offer an opening into their world – if I could make the tea and coffee to a sufficient standard of course.

Today’s award-winning producers had to be prepared to make tea and empty the bins as well. Indeed, Flood reportedly earned his nickname from being a particularly good teaboy/runner. I imagine his fellow runner at the time – nicknamed Drought due to his ineptitude and can't-do attitude – probably didn’t get to mix any million selling albums! So I knew I couldn’t afford to be too proud. Most potential producers also start out not being able to afford to live, or indeed be able to conduct a relationship for large chunks of the week. But that's the way most producers start their careers, at the bottom, making tea for the people sitting in the chair they one day want to inhabit behind the truck-sized mixing desk.

I imagined that meeting bands and artists wouldn’t be a problem as I’m used to doing it when I interview them for features so I felt fairly comfortable on that front. Offering drinks to bands and artists you may or may not recognise/admire would surely be easy? If you can handle that then it’s at least a start I thought.

So how did I get on?

Day one: I arrive outside the huge metal gates of Assault & Battery and ring nearly every button to get in (aside from the one marked ‘Flood’ – I don’t want to upset him on day one by interrupting a session now do I?). Eventually I send a text to the person who had arranged the placement and she assures me there is somebody there and will call and get them to let me in.

Flood’s assistant, Drew, opens the gate and tells me he didn’t hear the buzzer as he was having a shower – he’d slept in the studio that night. This is apparently par for the course and his record of not going home stood at a month. I admire his commitment but it also scares me a bit – does he ever get to go out or form meaningful relationships? He says he has a very understanding girlfriend.

Drew gives me a quick tour and shows me the ropes and tells me it’s down to me to show initiative and commitment and to make myself busy. So tea making is done for anyone coming in the door, the TV is put on a music channel (MTV Classic as I hoped it would show vaguely rock related videos) and I monitor the kitchen area to make sure anything left in the sink is transferred to the dishwasher.

So, I end up making drinks for quiet but friendly duo Big Pink, who are in Assault & Battery 1 (A&B1) with Alan Moulder working on their latest album, and a female solo artist (unknown to me) and fellow musicians upstairs in A&B2 (Flood’s studio but he’s not in). I also meet other studio residents, the enigmatic French producer Dimitri Tikovoi (credits Placebo, The Horrors, Sophie Ellis-Bextor) and Steve Rhodes, who’s says he’s a writer when I ask him what he’s working on at the moment. When reception is really crowded and Alan is there, Ricky Martin starts blaring out of the TV – I wait for the area to clear (which unsurprisingly happens quite quickly) and switch the TV off. Damn you MTV Classic.

I go out to get lunches for Alan, his two assistants and Big Pink – jacket spuds and Chinese soups all round if you're really interested - and get myself an exciting Sainsburys sandwich. I chat with one of Alan’s assistants and he tells me he has just been taken on having done two work experience stints and won Alan over by cooking for him (being a former sous chef). I wonder what hidden talent I can offer to get myself noticed but draw a blank – unless Alan wants his biography written by me which I doubt.

After lunch I get sent to pick up an iLok (a USB license key) so that a certain software plug-in will work for the female solo singer and her musicians upstairs. I look up the address of where I have to go to buy the iLok on Google Maps and it says it’s in 'Hammersmith'. I do wonder why they don’t have a supplier based somewhere closer to the studio but think no more of it.

I head to Hammersmith on the tube having got my wife (who has an internal tube map hardwired into her brain) to check which route is best. When I get there, I realise that Drew told me to get the bus TOWARDS Hammersmith, not TO Hammersmith and that Google Maps has sold me short (or are both Willesden and Hammersmith in erm Hammersmith which must surely make it the biggest borough in London?). By this point I am convinced I've ruined the band's session in A&B2 and decide I shouldn't come back in tomorrow as even if I stick around for the full three weeks I will need to stick around a damn sight longer (with no pay) to get any meaningful studio experience. I knew this at the start to an extent – but studying an MA and getting into thousands of pounds of debt means I need to get money as soon as I can when I complete the course.

Anyway, I return to the studio having taken two-and-a-half hours to do a half-hour job but while Drew is miffed at how I could get so lost he says they continued working on ideas while I was AWOL and that it didn’t cause a major issue.

I leave the studio at 6.30pm vowing to make tomorrow a better day and to be less of a klutz. Commitment and long-hours are the catchphrases of the day and the mantra that you won't get anywhere unless you prove through personal sacrifice that you desperately want this. Do I? Perhaps I’ll have a better idea by the end of tomorrow.

Originally posted on http://blog.ianroullier.com on 4 June 2011.