I’ve always enjoyed songs about the darker things. Songs about characters in extremis, pushed to the edge and pushing back. Songs about murder, and killing and weirdness. Nick Cave, Tom Waits, the darker traditional folk songs.
I couldn’t pinpoint exactly when I started to love songs like that. I’ve always liked heavy metal, which has its fair share of horror songs. As a very young child I liked musicals, and that’s stayed with me, even though a great many musicals suffer from not being Sweeney Todd.
But wherever it started, I like music that’s melodramatic and macabre. Here some inspirations:
Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads
Where the Wild Rose Grow by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue is one of a great many Nick Cave songs I could have picked. The juxtaposition of a pop princess and a raving madman stoving her character’s head in then putting a rose between her teeth works beautifully. What I particularly love about this is that if you were listening with half an ear you could be forgiven for thinking this was a cheesy love song, rather than a murder ballad.
It’s also unforgiving and bleak. Apparently the older, more traditional murder ballad folks songs would contain verses where the murderers get a proper comeuppance. The law, or at least justice, would find them. Not so this song. The tradition changed, particularly over in America and murder ballads just focused on the dastardly doings of the antihero. This Nick Cave song is definitely in that tradition. There is no light. He just kills her. And yet musically it is a straight ahead, simple song.
What’s he building in there?
The same cannot be said of Waits’ What’s He Building in There. That ain’t no normal song. This is character, through and through.
What I love about the video in the link above is the melodrama. It is dark, but the audience are happy to laugh as well. What’s often missing from more experimental stuff on record is the audience reaction. Laughing is okay. If it’s weird, it’s weird.
Waits’ songs aren’t always about murderers, but so many of them are populated with these weird, over the top characters who get up to all sorts of strange things. I know people always focus on the unique character of his voice, and rightly so, but for me what stands out are the protagonists of his songs.
I couldn’t write about the music that has influenced me without mentioning this show. Sweeney Todd has a special place in my dark little heart. I’ve never seen a live show so blood soaked and gleefully, messily, violent. And Sondheim is a genius, isn’t he? The words are genius, the accompaniment grotesque and perfect. And there are moments of real beauty in the melody, but every one of them is undercut with an air of menace.
In short, I like ’em dark.
What about you? What dark, storytelling songs would you add to my list?
I am very pleased to announce my new ep of murder ballads Spirit Box is now open for pre-orders.
It’s a noisy collection of acoustic songs about murder and mayhem.
The first song ‘Butcher Boy’ tells the story of a butcher who practises his craft on customers he doesn’t like.
’Ashes’ is about a man who, having murdered his wife, decides he isn’t happy with the urn full of ashes he got in return. So he uses a ‘spirit box’ ghost hunting device to try to find her again.
’August and Whiteface’ tells the tale of a pair of murderous clowns, and the finale ’And The Voices Sang’ returns to the murderous ghost hunter just as he is giving up hope of ever contacting his wife again
You can pre-order the download, or the CD digipack that has two extra songs ‘Here Love Dies’ and ‘Paper Scissors Stone’.
Or you could just join the Immoral Supporters club which includes all of the digital stuff I’ve released, plus a discount on the CD.
The tournament continues. The second contest is between Blue Autumn Breeze and Ropes Around The Sun.
The eventual winning song will be recorded ‘properly’. Votes can be cast in the comments or over on facebook.
I have written quite a lot of songs. There are plenty already recorded and released, but lots more just exist as rough demos.
Lots of those just aren’t good enough to bother recording properly, but plenty are actually pretty good songs that just haven’t found a place on an album.
I want to record some as singles, but there are lots to choose from. Therefore it seems sensible to have a demo song tournament to decide which I will record ‘properly’ and release as a single.
Introducing Tom Slatter’s Tournament Of Perfectly Adequate Demo Songs.
Here are the rules:
- There are 8 songs. Loser in each bout will be eliminated. Most votes wins.
- Anyone can vote and you do so by commenting under this post, or the facebook post, or the bandcamp post.
- Votes from the members of the Immoral Supporters Club on bandcamp are worth twice anyone elses. I know who they are.
- I can’t be bothered setting up a proper poll – I’ll just count the comments manually. Any mistakes I make are irrelevant – this is my competition. I am the referee. I reserve the right to make arbitrary and unfair decisions.
The eventual winner will become a properly recorded single, rather than a rough demo.
Want a double vote? You need to be an immoral subscriber then. Here’s a link for that.
First up: ‘Mysteries and Monsters’, a very old song lamenting the death of magic, and ‘Anything to Make you Mine’, an extremely creepy ‘love’ song.
Of course they are demos, not the finished article, so don’t expect perfect recordings or performances.
Have a listen to the video and let me know which you prefer.
There’s a fictional band in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy called Disaster Area. Douglas Adams wrote that ‘Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.’
I obviously took that idea to heart, at least subconsciously because I’ve got several songs that follow a similar story. Set Light to the Sky is one of them, so is Satellites – Love songs set to a backdrop of apocalyptic goings on.
My new song Run is similar.
It’s a love song about two people holding each other’s hands and running from the end of the world.
It is also a pretty straight ahead rock song – verse chorus verse chorus, singalong bits, nothing complicated and nerdy.
Or is it?
Run was written in about twenty minutes when I was attempting to complete February Album Writing Month in 2017. I started at 9 o’ clock with the intention of having an entirely new song. Some time before ten I had recorded this:
The verses are in 7/8, the verses 4/4 and the verse has an augmented chord in it: F#minor D Bb Augmented, C#minor – so there are enough unusual elements in there to keep the nerdy muso side of me happy.
Did I decide at the start to use funny time signatures? No, not at all. These things are just part my palette now, I find them as natural as more common rhythms.
The song was pretty much an improvisation and it hasn’t changed a whole lot between demo and the finished version, except that it is now well played and has the guitars turned up.
It is part of a ‘double a-side’ because I don’t have an album for it to go on. You can have the two songs for whatever price you want, including free.
Thanks for listening!
I am rather excited to announce that I’ve just opened up subscriptions on bandcamp. I have christened (and was that word ever used more inaccurately?) the group ‘The Immoral Supporters Club‘.
As I blathered on about in my last blog post, “Musicians haven’t done a good enough job of communicating the costs involved and making listeners feel like patrons. I firmly believe it is our job to do that.” And you know what? I really do. This music that I make isn’t a business. Art doesn’t make sense from a business point of view. It doesn’t need customers, it needs patrons.
And that’s just a slightly pretentious way of saying if you like it and would like to hear more, why not bung me a few quid a join a club where you get lots of my silly songs for relatively little money? It means I’m more likely to have the time and resources to make more.
Here’s my sales pitch from the bandcamp site:
Do you want to provide immoral support to my mad songwriting schemes? Do you think the world needs more songs about death, alien outbreaks, death, replacing one’s own body parts with mechanical alternatives and death?
Well if you do this is the best way to make it happen.
Their are two tiers.
£10 a year:
-A download of the subscriber only EP ‘Still Happy’.
-My digital back catalogue of 5 solo albums, one instrumental album and two eps.
-All the new music I release in digital form, ready to pipe straight into your ears. This will include at a minimum, another 2 EPs this year and the next full length album which will be released in Spring 2019. It will. Honest. On time and everything*.
-Immoral-Supporter-exclusive releases. This will include some obscure back catalogue stuff and live bootlegs of significant gigs, acoustic demos of new songs.
-“Back stage” whitterings. Want to know what evil record label boss David Elephant’s latest threatening missive says? Want to know what I’m planning for the next full length album? Want to hear some of the demos as I work on that.
All this will be yours.
£15 a year:
All of the above, plus the Tom Slatter Indoctrination Kit, which includes:
– A physical CD of Still Happy, the Immoral Supporters Exclusive EP
– The Tom Slatter Indoctrination Guide, a booklet full of lies
-A badge and sticker. Cos badges and stickers are cool
Also, no matter which tier you pick, you get a 40% discounts on physical stuff: cds and what have you. Cos you’re only really interested in saving money aren’t you? You materialistic scum.
Sorry, I didn’t type that. I love you really. Thank you for reading so far. It would be great if you subscribed, honest it would. This is the best way to help support my music.
*’On time’ is a relative concept. Can anything really be said to be on time? Is time real, or just an illusion? And anyway, from a geological perspective any time in the next 10,000 years would be ‘one time’.
As Spotify has been making the news of late, I thought I’d have a look at streaming revenue and my music revenue in general.
Music is not the way I make a living. At present my music pretty much covers costs, which is great. However, that’s with lots of favours being pulled in and mates helping out. I’d rather be able to pay those lovely people who help out, and maybe be able to afford to put more time in than I can at the moment.
Most of the money I have made from music has been via Bandcamp. Bandcamp allows streaming, as well as the sale of downloads and physical merch. The streaming is free – it’s the shop window that gets people in and encourages them to buy – but the paid stuff is right there next to it.
I also have some of my music on Spotify which is just about streaming and nothing else.
How do Bandcamp and Spotify compare?
Spotify pays 0.004 dollars per play.
If I divide the amount of streaming plays I’ve had on bandcamp by the amount of money I’ve made from it, what is the equivalent per stream rate?
0.166 dollars per play.
0.004 dollars compared to 0.166 dollars.
Bandcamp is better financially, by a long, long way.
Bandcamp doesn’t actually pay per stream. The figures are a comparison. What it shows is that the bandcamp model of allowing streams for free right next to the downloads and physical merch is a better bet for an artist like me than Spotify’s micro-payments per stream.
Is this what every musician should do?
I don’t know! I’m not an expert. The musicians I’ve read about doing well out of Spotify are either those with mass appeal or those writing what seems essentially to be library music designed to get on to soundtrack playlists.
If that’s your thing and you think you’re likely to get the sort of figures that make it worthwhile go for it.
But Spotify isn’t for music fans is it? Spotify is the radio. It’s the soundtrack, the background. Spotify is the sound equivalent of wallpaper. You can’t pore over the album art, see the pictures, read the credits, buy the merch, make a donation, show your support for your favourite artist.
If you have a Spotify subscription, no matter what you listen to some of your money is going to Ed Sheeran.
My music doesn’t really work that way. You have to pay attention if you want to get the most out of it. And I’d much rather cater to a smaller band of nutters who are properly into it than try and build an audience of hundreds of thousands. I don’t think that’s realistic for me, but Bandcamp has made it so that I don’t need to worry.
Sticking with bandcamp then?
Yes. In fact I’ll be experimenting with their subscription model soon to see if there are some nutters out there who want to support in that way.
It makes me ponder the wider issues though. I’ve heard some say that people don’t value music as much as they used to. I think the people who say that have mistaken having to pay a certain price for wanting to pay it. As soon as music could be acquired cheaper and more conveniently lots of listeners took advantage of that.
In previous eras people had no choice. They had to buy. They couldn’t choose what value to give your music. As soon as they had the choice they switched.
Musicians haven’t done a good enough job of communicating the costs involved and making listeners feel like patrons. I firmly believe it is our job to do that. People who listen to our music are our allies, the recording industry – as exemplified by Spotify – is at best indifferent to music, and at worst actively hostile.
So for the time being I’ll be sticking to Bandcamp. There isn’t an audience of hundreds of thousands for my music, but there probably are a couple of thousand people out there who might like it, and it looks like Bandcamp is still the best way to share it with the world.