I downloaded an interesting document last week which I have been reading slowly over the past few days. Itâ€™s a book from 1988, written by the guys from the 80â€™s house/hip-hop group the KLF. Itâ€™s called then manual, and what it sets out to be is a manual for how to get a number one single.
They wrote it from experience, as it came out just after their big hit â€œDoctorinâ€™ the Tardisâ€ went to number one. It is a fascinating, tongue in cheek humorous look at the music business, but with a serious cynical insightful side that offers up some great truths and strategies for having a number one.
All through reading it I kept being reminded of how different things were in the late eighties, early nineties to today in the way of music production, and in general what you can do at home. There is a whole section of the book that deals with booking a studio etc that could be avoided with the right computer equipment these days, and the internet has revolutionised the last third of the book that discusses distribution and promotion.
Here are a few passages that I found memorable.
The basic Golden Rules as far as they apply to writing a debut single that can go to Number One in the U.K. Charts are as follows:
Do not attempt the impossible by trying to work the whole thing out before you go into the studio. Working in a studio has to be a fluid and
creative venture but at all times remember at the end of it you are going to have to have a 7? version that fulfils all the criteria
perfectly. Do not try and sit down and write a complete song.
Songs that have been written in such a way and reached Number One can only be done by the true song writing genius and be delivered by artists with such forceful convincing passion that the world HAS TO listen. You know the sort of thing, â€œSailingâ€ by Rod Stewart, â€œWithout Youâ€ by Nilsson What the Golden Rules can provide you with is a framework that you can slot the component parts into.
The basic process that they outline in the book is as follows :
1. Listen to as much top 40 music as you can, and as much up coming dance music as you can
2. Hire a studio, an engineer and a programmer
3. Loan $20,000 from the bank, tell them that you are a small business owner starting a label
4. Pick some grooves (drum and bass riffs) from the albums, give them to the engineer and programmer, say you want to have something just like that
5. Manage the engineer and programmer through the creation of the track, if they are any good they will take the component parts and mash them together.
6. No matter how cheesy , gimmicky or hook laden the Frankenstein beast you create, just go with it. Push through it and go there.
7. Professionally master the finished product
Thatâ€™s all I am up to at the moment. Interesting how with the advent of better digital audio workstations and software, the engineer and programmer parts are now the musician. We really do live in a golden age of music if you are into the process that goes into making it. The next stage deals with getting promotional and distribution support for your work.
I will keep you posted on what they have to sayâ€¦
By the way if you have the time read the wikipedia entry on the KLF. Interesting characters, did some crazy blatant sampling which made them have to burn the whole pressing of one of their early singles. And they also dumped a dead sheep at an awards ceremony onceâ€¦ classy.