3rd album – What I’ve Learned This Time Around
By Victor Pender
When Head Above Music asked me to do an article on my experiences for the 3rd album it got me thinking. The biggest thing I noticed about producing a 3rd album is that you learn more to play to your strengths instead of trying to be all things to all people. I write all the songs, play piano and sing. The first 2 albums teach you where your strengths are. It’s like an apprenticeship. Sometimes you can lose confidence doing something a little beyond you and you realize that’s not necessarily your thing. You should focus on your core strengths. For me it’s my writing, my piano and putting it all together. I can’t necessarily sing everything I write. I find my voice and delivery adequate within a certain range. It’s definitely is a strong point when I’m in my comfort zone, but outside of that I’m happy to bring in people with better voices. You have to do what is best for the track. I love the texture of girls and guys voices, especially with harmony.
If you continue with the same team, you build on the relationships you developed, and you become more efficient in the studio because you know how each other works. Same for the musicians you bring in to team on the recording. You bounce off each other better and the chemistry is more intense.
As a writer you learn more about what works, what to look for in a great song, about intelligent song construction, and for me to write even beyond my ability as a performer. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. You become a better song writer. This time around I was a lot more prepared to explore new territory, styles and genres, because I have now connected with a broader range of talent able to bring my music to life.
If you’re into theory and technique, you get better at speaking and communicating the language of music just by doing it with others.
We explored everything from rock to pop, to orchestral, old and new school, hip hop, R&B, piano ballads, contemporary dance, piano solo, so on this album you’re going to get one with the lot from all of our combined experiences.
This album also reflects the journey of all of us in the band and engineers in the studio, and how we’ve all grown as musicians over the past 6 years of working together live and in the studio, from personal ability to trying on new things. I had grown up as a piano player who learned how to sing by copying other performers. I was a typical hairbrush and mirror kinda guy. My style was kind of piano man meets Robbie Williams meets Frankie Valley meets me. For this album I branched out and tried styles I would never have previously even dreamed of like R&B and hip hop, with the help of players like Michael ‘Z’ Zammit, Caroline ‘CJ’ Hawke, Elethea Sartorelli, Sarah ‘Mil’ C’ Capodicasa, Judy Stolfo, Rosie Kalber, Troy ‘Tribal’ Lourens, Gary Thackrah, Sam Tabone, Hayley Anderson, Daniel Agius, Alyssa Comito, Mauricio Ochoa Lemos, & Master rap – MC J Waters. Live performers who help shape my sound include Dana ‘db’ Beckett, Scotty Ingram, Joe Torres, Claire ‘WIAD’ Cross, Dave ‘Robbie’ Gidis, Justin ‘Casper’ Healy, Grant ‘Slice of Heaven’ Weinstein, Bri Croft, Lisssa Dawson, Tim Agius, Broden Ford, Mary McPherson, Lauren Gorman, and Phil Rogers.
You also get the benefit of developing in front of the people you are trying to impress. I have only just signed an iTunes and a distribution deal because it takes a while to sort. People see you are in it for the long hall and they begin to see the level of your dedication and commitment. You develop relationships with venues which makes it easier to get gigs.
Even when it comes to making videos, the first time is really strange and requires a whole other discipline in order to look good. You get better at knowing what you want. You get better at story boarding, planning and being directed; now having a knowledge of final outcomes and the possibilities to create the visual vibe of the song.
From the point of view of equipment, when you first start out you get really hung up on gear and you think you need everything and can easily waste a whole bunch of money. The more I do this, the more I realize you don’t need most of it. These days I can write on a Casiotone if I want. It really doesn’t matter a whole deal. Don’t get me wrong I love my beta 58 and my Kurzweil piano for live, but you just need the bits that focus on your core strengths. A lot of musos spend a lot on recording gear. Digital notepads are cool, but if you want releasable to radio quality, 999 times out of 1000 you won’t be able to do it yourself no matter what the brochure says. Being an engineer is a whole other discipline and can take 5-10 years to get your head around the tech and to get really good. Not to mention the amount of money you would have to spend on gear and education. To think you’ll save money is just a lie. Hire a pro. Research people on myspace and ask them who they used. Being a great muso maketh not the great producer.
The more we rehearse for the new album shows, the more I notice a lot of musos buy sophisticated PA gear they may or may not use. Again you only need what you are going to use. These days speakers can come with integrated matching amps. Mixers come with onboard fx and eq’s. To have this stuff in separate boxes only adds to the set up and pack up time and adds to the amount of things that can go wrong. And MOST of the time, the audience will never know the difference. Only buy what you need, and simplify wherever you can. I really like Lexicon and TC reverb. I tried it live housed in it a rack, then compared it to the built in verb on my Beringer, and there would be very few people in the crowd who would know the difference. Truly. The subtle beauty of the Lexicon generally won’t translate live. Obviously it is different for large scale shows. For these every time you will hire a sound guy. So in the end you don’t need to buy high end stuff. ‘I could be famous if I had all the right gear if my parents weren’t poor.’ It’s just not true. You can write if you have pen, paper, a Casio or a Kmart guitar. Truly. If you want to perform, there is always someone around with a mike and an amp. You just have to be creative, resourceful and motivated.
By this stage I have connected with more like-minded people and your world becomes more like that which you are seeking. You relate to each others’ stories of triumph and tribulation. You meet lots of other bands. You learn patience and humility during which time you keep working hard, you treat it as an opportunity to improve, and then you get better. In my mind I should have been famous long ago (in my dreams – lol!) but all this has done is spurned me on to work even harder. To keep writing, to keep recording, to keep playing live, to keep improving. If you write, write your head off. If you play or sing rehearse your head off. Regular lessons never go astray. Commit to being the best you can be.
The life that comes with being a musician or any performer for that matter, you wouldn’t want on anyone. It is truly tough compared to people who have regular jobs. It requires juggling and major sacrifices. I am hoping the reward will be greater than the price I paid. They say you don’t chose this business, it chooses you. I know this to be true.
Details and 3rd album song samples can be heard here: http://www.myspace.com/victorpender
1. One book I would recommend. Warren Beatty’s Biography
2. My favorite piece of gear - Essex Steinway Grand my Mum bought me. At shows it’s my Kurzweil piano
3. One thing I can’t live on the road without – 2 minute noodles