This book, “The Manual: How to Have a Number One Hit the Easy Way” (The cover actually drops the word “Hit”, making an lovely double entendre), changed my life. It was written by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty (aka The Timelords, aka The KLF) back in 1988, hot on the heels of their doing precisely what the title says: producing a number one hit in the UK, a cheeky little song called Doctorin’ the Tardis.[audio:the_timelords_doctorin_the_tardis.mp3]
Before I go any further, if you are the person I lent this book to years ago, please return it to me!
There, that’s out of the way. Now, as for the book, it’s a sweeping and cynical look at the recording industry, and on the surface it’s quite literally exactly what the title says: a step-by-step guide to writing, producing, recording, and releasing a hit song that will reach Number One on the UK’s Top of the Pops. But beneath all of that, the book is a no-nonsense analysis of the nature of creativity itself in a world where almost everything creative is also in some way commercial. “The Manual” came to me today after reading Liz Danzico’s own hand-wringing over being inspired by the work of others.
My favorite parts deal directly with this question, with the origins of originality and the ethics of allowing yourself to be steeped in influence and inspiration.
Every Number One song ever written is only made up from bits from other songs. There is no lost chord. No changes untried. No extra notes to the scale or hidden beats to the bar. There is no point in searching for originality. In the past, most writers of songs spent months in their lonely rooms strumming their guitars or bands in rehearsals have ground their way through endless riffs before arriving at the song that takes them to the very top. Of course, most of them would be mortally upset to be told that all they were doing was leaving it to chance before they stumbled across the tried and tested. They have to believe it is through this sojourn they arrive at the grail; the great and original song that the world will be unable to resist.
So why don’t all songs sound the same? Why are some artists great, write dozens of classics that move you to tears, say it like it’s never been said before, make you laugh, dance, blow your mind, fall in love, take to the streets and riot? Well, it’s because although the chords, notes, harmonies, beats and words have all been used before their own soul shines through; their personality demands attention. This doesn’t just come via the great vocalist or virtuoso instrumentalist. The Techno sound of Detroit, the most totally linear programmed music ever, lacking any human musicianship in its execution reeks of sweat, sex and desire. The creators of that music just press a few buttons and out comes – a million years of pain and lust.
I couldn’t agree more. Sure it sounds incredibly cynical, but please also note the deep sense of hope and optimism in the artist’s ability to produce original work despite the fact that we are all drowning in influences. We do not need to suffer (and suffer is the right word) from Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence if we simply have faith in our own voices.
In fact, this anxiety about producing work free from the influence of other artists and styles actually suffocates creativity. “The Manual” goes on to say:
Creators of music who desperately search originality usually end up with music that has none because no room for their spirit has been left to get through. The complete history of the blues is based on one chord structure, hundreds of thousands of songs using the same three basic chords in the same pattern. Through this seemingly rigid formula has come some of the twentieth century’s greatest music.
I love this book (and I wish I had my copy back!). You should love it too. And since it’s no longer available in print, and since “KLF” stands for “Kopyright Liberation Front”, I have posted the full plaintext of the book below the jump for your reading enjoyment. Enjoy!
(The text below was copied from here, and was originally transcribed anonymously)
(HOW TO HAVE A NUMBER ONE THE EASY WAY)
THE JUSTIFIED ANCIENTS OF MU MU
REVEAL THEIR ZENARCHISTIC METHOD USED
IN MAKING THE UNTHINKABLE HAPPEN.
1988 (YOU KNOW WHAT’S GONE)
(HOW TO HAVE A NUMBER ONE – THE EASY WAY)
LORD ROCK AND TIME BOY
A.K.A. THE TIMELORDS
A.K.A. ROCKMAN ROCK AND KINGBOY D.
A.K.A. THE JUSTIFIED ANCIENTS OF MU MU
A.K.A. THE JAMS
A.K.A. THE KLF
A.K.A. THE FALL
A.K.A. THE FOREVER ANCIENTS LIBERATION LOOPHOLE
KLF PUBLICATIONS 1988
KLF PUBLICATIONS, BOX 283, HP22 5BW
KLF PUBLICATIONS IS A KLF COMMUNlCATIONS COMPANY
KLF COMMUNICATIONS 1988
FIRST PUBUSHED 1988
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS PUBLICATION MAY BE REPRODUCED, STORED IN A RETRIEVAL SYSTEM OR TRANSMITTED IN ANY FORM OR BY ANY MEANS ELECTRONIC, MECHANICAL, PHOTOCOPYING, RECORDING OR OTHERWISE WITHOUT THE PRIOR CONSENT OF KLF PUBLICATIONS.
THIS BOOK IS SOLD SUBJECT TO THE CONDITION THAT IT SHALL NOT BY WAY OF TRADE OR OTHERWISE BE LENT, RESOLD, HIRED OUT OR OTHERWISE CIRCULATED WITHOUT THE PUBLISHER’S PRIOR CONSENT IN ANY FORM OF BINDING OR COVER OTHER THAN THAT IN WHICH IT lS PUBLISHED AND WITHOUT A SIMILAR CONDITION INCLUDING THIS CONDITION BEING IMPOSED IN THE SUBSEOUENT PUBLISHER.
GUARANTEE – HOW TO OBTAIN IT
WE GUARANTEE THAT WE WILL REFUND THE COMPLETE PRICE OF THIS MANUAL IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ACHIEVE A NUMBER ONE SINGLE IN THE OFFICIAL (GALLUP) U.K. CHARTS WITHIN THREE MONTHS OF THE PURCHASE OF THIS MANUAL AND ON CONDITION THAT YOU HAVE FULFILLED OUR INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER. TO RECEIVE THIS GUARANTEE PLEASE WRITE TO KLF PUBLICATIONS, BOX 283, HP21 7HG, U.K. WITH YOUR NAME, ADDRESS AND A PHOTOCOPY OF YOUR PURCHASE RECEIPT AND AN S.A.E. YOU WlLL RECEIVE YOUR GUARANTEE WITHIN TWENTY EIGHT DAYS.
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF DON LUCKNOW.
WE WOULD LIKE TO THANK MARIE O’FLAHERTY FOR HER DEDICATION AND HARD WORK ABOVE AND BEYOND THE CALL OF DUTY AND WITHOUT WHOM WE WOULD NOT HAVE COMPLETED THIS MANUAL.
“HOW TO HAVE A NUMBER ONE – THE EASY WAY”
Be ready to ride the big dipper of the mixed metaphor. Be ready to dip
your hands in the lucky bag of life, gather the storm clouds of
fantasy and anoint your own genius. Because it is only by following
the clear and concise instructions contained in this book that you can
realise your childish fantasies of having a Number One hit single in
the official U.K. Top 40 thus guaranteeing you a place forever in the
sacred annals of Pop History.
Other than achieving a Number One hit single we offer you nothing
else. There will be no endless wealth. Fame will flicker and fade and
sex will still be a problem. What was once yours for a few days will
now enter the public domain.
In parts of this manual we will patronise you. In others we will cheat
you. We will lie to you but we will lie to ourselves as well. You
will, however, see through our lies and grasp the shining truth
within. We will trap ourselves in our own pretensions. Our insights
will be shot through with distort rays and we will revel in our own
inconsistencies. If parts get too boring just fast forward – all the
way to the end if need be.
Now, we all know that pop music is not going to save the world but it
does, undeniably, create a filing system for the memory banks. In
years to come people will stagger home down lonely streets singing
your song to the strains of regurgitated vindaloo, all memory of who
was behind the song lost. It is you, though, who will be responsible
for bringing back those lost tastes, smells, tears, pangs, forgotten
years and missed chances. So enjoy what you can while at Number One.
People equate a Number One with fame, endless wealth and easy sex – a
myth that they want to believe and one that the popular press want to
see continued. Along with the soap stars, sporting heroes and selected
(however distant) members of the Royal Family, pop stars belong to a
glittering world of showbiz parties, at one end of the scale, to
illicit liaisons, at the other, where their lives are dragged up,
dressed up, made up and ultimately destroyed. The celebrated, of
course, are apt to fall into a world of drugs, drink, broken marriages
and bankruptcy but even this is given the glamour treatment instead of
the squalid misery that it is in reality.
Basically, a Number One is seen as the ultimate accolade in pop music.
Winning the Gold Medal. The crowning glory.
The majority of Number One’s are achieved early on in the artist’s
public career and before they have been able to establish reputations
and build a solid fan base. Most artists are never able to recover
from having one and it becomes the millstone around their necks to
which all subsequent releases are compared. The fact that a record is
Number One automatically means the track is in a very short period of
time going to become over exposed and as worthless as last month’s
Once or twice a decade an act will burst through with a Number One
that hits a national nerve and the public’s appetite for the sound and
packaging will not be satisfied with the one record. The formula will
be untampered with and the success will be repeated a second, a third
and sometimes even a fourth time. The prison is then complete; either
the artist will be destroyed in their attempt to prove to the world
that there are other facets to their creativity or they succumb
willingly and spend the rest of their lives as a travelling freak
show, peddling a nostalgia for those now far off, carefree days. These
are the lucky few. Most never have the chance of a repeat performance
and slide ungracefully into years of unpaid tax, desperately delaying
all attempts to come to terms with the only rational thing to do – get
a nine to five job.
Even if the unsuspecting artiste doesn’t know the above, rest assured
most of the record business does but for some lemming-like reason
refuses to acknowledge it. They continue to view the act’s cheaply
recorded, debut blockbuster as striking gold and will spend the next
few years pumping fortunes into studio time, video budgets and tour
support whilst praying for a repeat of the miracle and the volume
album sales that bring in the real money.
Of course there are those artists that have worked long and hard
building personal artistic confidence, critical acclaim, a loyal
following (all strong foundations) and then have a Number One, that is
that crowning glory. But even then the disgruntled purists amongst the
loyal following desert in disgust at having to share their private
club with the unwashed masses.
So what’s left? What’s the point? What can be achieved when no great
financial rewards or long term career prospects allowing for creative
freedom can be hoped for, let alone guaranteed? We don’t know.
If this book succeeds in becoming Bert Weedon’s “Play In A Day” for
some lost month in the late eighties we will be happy. If anybody
actually gets a Number One by following our instructions we promise
them a night out with The JAMS in Madagascar. We will arrange
everything. For those that might be offended please read all “he’s”,
“hims” and “his”‘ as “she’s”, “hers” and “hers”‘. Being blokes it was
easier writing it the way we did.
So how do you go about achieving a U.K. Number One? Follow this simple
step by step guide:
Firstly, you must be skint and on the dole. Anybody with a proper job
or tied up with full time education will not have the time to devote
to see it through. Also, being on the dole gives you a clearer
perspective on how much of society is run. If you are already a
musician stop playing your instrument. Even better, sell the junk. It
will become clearer later on but just take our word for it for the
time being. Sitting around tinkering with the Portastudio or musical
gear (either ancient or modern) just complicates and distracts you
from the main objective. Even worse than being a musician is being a
musician in a band. Real bands never get to Number One – unless they
If you are in a band you will undoubtedly be aware of the petty
squabbles and bitching that develops within them. This only festers
and grows proportionately as the band gets bigger and no band ever
grows out of it. All bands end in tantrums, tears and bitter acrimony.
The myth of a band being gang of lads out “against” the world (read as
“to change”, “to shag” or “to save the world”) is pure wishful
thinking to keep us all buying the records and reading the journals.
Mind you, it’s a myth that many band members want to believe
So if in a band, quit. Get out. Now.
That said, it can be very helpful to have a partner, someone who you
can bounce ideas off and vice versa. Any more than two of you and
factions develop and you may as well be in politics. There is no place
for the nostalgia of the four lads who shook the world or the last
gang in town.
Watch Top of the Pops religiously every week and learn from it. When
the time comes it is through T.O.T.P. that you will convince the
largest cross section of the British public to go out and buy your
record. Remember, Top of the Pops is all powerful and has outlasted
all the greats (Cliff being the exception to the rule). Taking the
angst-ridden, “I’m above all this!” outsider stance only gets you so
far and even then takes sodden years and ends up with you alienating
vast chunks of the Great British public who don’t want to be
confronted with Jim Reid’s skin problem on a Thursday evening. I
repeat, take Top of the Pops to your bosom and learn to love the
platform that matters the most.
YOU CAN BEGIN ANY SUNDAY EVENING
You can begin any Sunday evening by listening to Bruno Brookes
introducing the Top 40 Show between 4pm and 7pm. You don’t have to sit
down and dissect and study it, just have it on and make the tea. After
that do whatever you do on a Sunday evening but before you go to sleep
that night you are going to have to come up with a name for your
record company. Nothing too clever or inspired. Something that sounds
solid. You just want something that’s not going to be offensive and
people are going to be happy doing business with.
Monday morning. Check that the company name that you have chosen is
still sound. Be up, dressed and out by 9am. You are going to have to
get used to getting up earlier; no lying in until noon now. From now
on every time you telephone someone on business remember to give them
your name and the company you are from (even though it’s only you).
Don’t bother getting headed note paper. People waste a lot of time,
effort and money having stationery produced when getting a new
business off the ground. People in the late eighties can see through
the smart graphics.
Spend the remainder of the morning amassing the rest of the tools you
will need for the job in hand. These are:
1. A record player (the crappier the better as long as it actually
works). Mass appeal records can always transcend any apparatus they
are played on; the exp ensive set up is only for judging coffee table
2. Copies of the latest in the series of “Now That’s What I Call
Music” and “Hits” LPs.
3. A couple of the most recent dance compilation LPs (“The Techno
Sounds of Dagenham Volume Vl”, etc.).
4. All the 7″ singles in your house that ever made the Top 5. (If
there are any other records you want to add to the pile make sure
there is a very good reason why they should be there and make sure
they were never released as indie records or had any punky
5. A copy of the latest edition of the Guinness Book of British Hit
6. A copy of the Music Week Directory. This you will have to send off
for. Address your envelope to: Sylvia Calver, Morgan Grampian Plc,
Royal Sovereign House, 40 Beresford Street, London SE18 6BQ (telephone
01-854-2200) with a cheque or postal order for Â£15.00. It will take
about ten days to get to you.
7. A hard back note book and a fine point, black ball Pentel.
If you do not already have any of the above, or are unable to borrow
them, then we are afraid you are going to have to spend some real
cash. Hopefully, this will be the last time in the whole project that
you will have to use up some of your Giro, other than the odd bus fare
and phone call.
If you have a telephone where you live and it hasn’t been disconnected
yet, great. If not, buy a phone card, the more expensive the better.
Using coin operated telephones is crap for the obvious reasons: there
are usually queues, are often vandalised and the money runs out thus
making you look like an inefficient dick head and not a future Number
One. Another useful phone hint: never leave somebody else’s flat,
house or office without first having made and received at least one
call thus spreading your overheads on to some of the people who will
enjoy basking in the reflected glory once you are at Number One.
If you have all that done and it’s not yet one o’clock, start
listening to the “Hits” and “Now” compilation LPs from end to end. Of
course, your conditioned brain will tell you it’s all a pile of shite
and pale into insignificance compared to the Golden Era in Pop, when
you were on the cusp of your adolescent years. Dig deeper into your
heart and you will know that you are just lying to yourself. All eras
in pop music are golden ages, or will be looked upon as such by the
only generation that matters at any given time. Not only are all ages
in chart pop equal, chart pop never changes, it only appears to change
on its surface level.
Unwrap pop’s layers and what we are left with is the same old plate of
meat and two veg that have kept generations of pop pickers well
satisfied. The emotional appetite that chart pop satisfies is
constant. The hunger is forever. What does change is the technology
this is always on the march. At some point in the future science will
develop a commodity that will satisfy this emotional need in a more
efficient way. There was a period in our own prehistory when Top Tens
and Number Ones didn’t exist, when tea time on Sunday wasn’t
synonymous with the brand new chart run down. For the time being we
have our Top Tens and Number Ones and while science marches to the
beat that will finally destroy it all, it also comes up with the goods
that will satisfy our other endless appetite, that of apparent change.
All records in the Top Ten (especially those that get to Number One)
have far more in common with each other than with whatever genre they
have developed from or sprung out of.
The “cool cats” and hipsters of the early sixties might have thought
modern jazz was going to finally break through when “Take Five” made
the Hit Parade. The blue rinse brigade feared the downfall of decent
society when The Pistols made Number One with “God Save The Queen” or
the musos predicted real music was about to die because of the 1988
rash of DJ records. Had you played some free jazz to ninety five per
cent of the people who had made “Take Five” a smash, they would have
run for cover behind the latest release by Pat Boone. The Pistols
might have been swearing on T.V. inciting a generation of kids to “Get
pissed! Destroy!” but if “God Save The Queen” had not stuck rigidly to
The Golden Rules* (*THESE WILL BE EXPLAINED LATER), The Pistols would
never have seen the inside of the Top Ten.
In certain clubs across our nation in 1988, DJs were playing the
latest 12″ acid tracks to packed houses of the drugged and delirious.
If any of these DJs had any ambitions of following in the paths of Tim
Simenon and Mark Moore to the top of the charts they have to
acknowledge the fact that what they have learned out there behind
their Technics can only provide them with the fashionable icing when
it comes to the real action inside the Top Ten and the battle for the
Number One slot is on. They must also follow The Golden Rules.
In our lifetime Great Britain has been pretty good at coming up with
or reinterpreting a constant flow of entertaining subcults that young
people can either lose or find themselves in. With most of these
subcults comes some kind of music. Our cult-hungry media grabs
whatever it is and splatters it all over the place. Whatever music
makers follow in its wake are bid for by the more desperate sections
of the music industry. Once signed, a process will begin in an attempt
to transform whatever noise that was made by the ensembles into
something that will fit The Golden Rules of chart pop. The process
involves plenty of trial and error and huge sums of never seen cash.
So, if one of these ensembles find themselves in the higher regions of
the charts and their sights are set on the Top Spot, their fellow
subcult members interpret this as the Walls of Jericho finally
crumbling, or at the very least, their boys working as moles from the
inside. All that in actual fact has happened is, unwittingly or not,
the Golden Rules have been adhered to and the nouvelle subcult has
attained maximum media exposure. Although the latest subculture might
be useful to give each potential chart record its attitude gloss, it
must be remembered that this particular attitude might put as many
people off the otherwise perfectly acceptable pop record, as be
attracted to it. Another useful hint when it comes to subcult attitude
gloss: it often helps not to be purists. Water it down. Sugar it up.
Some of the above Tony James understood. Some he most definitely did
Of course, there is another argument; “demands are created and
appetites stimulated. Pop music is the worst example of this. There
are wicked music moguls cynically manipulating the hearts and minds of
young teenagers so as to get them to part with their pocket money.”
This is a worthless argument pursued by those unlucky ones who have
never really been moved by the glories of pop music. They may as well
have never been teenagers.
THE RECORDING STUDIO
DON’T BE TEMPTED TO SKIP THIS SECTION ON STUDIOS.
IT MUST BE READ OVER LUNCH – BEFORE BOOKING YOUR STUDIO.
The recording studio is the place where you will record your Number
One hit single. There are hundreds of recording studios scattered
across the country, from the north of Scotland to deepest Cornwall.
THE STUDIO OWNER
The majority of studios are privately owned by someone who is actively
involved in the running of the place on a daily basis. Very few are
owned by the major record companies. These owners are usually very
enthusiastic and encouraging types who have a long, broad and deep
love of all things musical; often they have been musicians themselves
but have decided to knock their days on the road on the head and get
into what they hoped would be the more lucrative and stable business
of owning a studio. Unfortunately for them, this is usually not the
case and they will have to spend the rest of their lives seriously in
The studio owner will often have a very realistic and pragmatic view
of the musical business. He will have been through the mill, r idden
the rough ride, seen spotty oiks come into his studio hardly able to
roll their own and, within what seems a matter of months, become
internationally reknowned and respected musicians whose opinions are
eagerly sought on anything from the destruction of the Amazon Rain
Forests to the continued subsidy of the local bus service, whilst
developing an unhealthy appetite for cocaine.
A fact that is continually on the studio owner’s mind is that there
are far more studios flogging studio time than there are clients
willing to pay for it. This creates a desperate competition between
studios to encourage YOU the client to use them. One outcome of this
competition is for the studios to continually get themselves as far
into hock as their banks will let them go, enabling them to invest in
the latest recording studio hardware. This hardware they hope will act
as the bait to get YOU the client to book the studio. It also fulfils
a secondary role, that of keeping the studio’s eager, young, upwardly
mobile engineer loyal to the studio and prevent him defecting to a
better equipped rival. We will go further into the intriguing subject
of the recording studio engineer later on in this book.
THE STUDIO MANAGER
The studio manager (as opposed to the studio owner) is the person who
looks after all aspects of the smooth and efficient running of the
studio. In smaller studios this is often the owner or he has a
personal assistant (P.A.) who handles most of the job for him. In
large studios these are usually a breed of highly efficient women
whose matriarchal presence can be felt in all areas and at all times.
There will also be a small posse of recording studio engineers on
call, from the tea boy who started last Monday and hasn’t been sacked
yet, to the senior engineer. All engineers start life as tea boys and
are officially called “tape ops” (the person who switches the tape
recorders on and off). To put it simply, the recording studio
engineer’s job is to put the noise that musicians create on tape.
Large studios will have a maintenance engineer. If any malfunction
occurs with the studio hardware it is his job to get it working again
– fast. Smaller studios usually have one on call.
Studios are in the most unlikeliest of buildings and the most
unlikeliest of settings. Although all studios want to attract as much
business as possible, they do not want to advertise their presence to
local thugs who might fancy breaking in and getting their hands on a
few thousand pounds worth of gear.
The simplest classification given to studios is the amount of tracks
their tape machines have. This can be either four, eight, sixteen,
twenty four, thirty two or forty eight track studios. Four, eight and
sixteen track are only used for making demos these days and demos are
a thing of the past. You will find engineers everywhere trying to
impress you with the fact that “Sergeant Pepper” was recorded on a
four track. This is of course is as relevant as the fact that no JCB’s
were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid.
A twenty four track is what you will need for the initial recording,
thirty two tracks are still pretty rare. Forty eight tracks are where
two twenty four track machines are synchronised together. You might
need one of these when it comes to the final mixing stages of your
future Number One.
A twenty four track means that your engineer will be working with a
multi-track tape recorder that has twenty four separate tracks on
which he can have twenty four individual sounds recorded at any one
time. At the mixing stage these twenty four separate sounds will be
simultaneously channelled through the mixing desk where all these
separate sounds are tampered with and (hopefully) enhanced before
being channelled out again and recorded for posterity by a two track
(stereo) tape machine. This is THE MASTER TAPE.
The other common way that recording studios are classified is whether
the desk is computer assisted or not. For the initial recording you
will only need a manually operated desk. A computer assisted desk is
used when the recording reaches the mixing stage and the engineer is
having to juggle with a minimum of twenty four tracks simultaneously.
The computer will assist by giving the engineer at least an extra
twenty two hands and twenty four perfect memories – an obvious added
bonus in these techno days.
SSL (Solid State Logic) is still the most common computer assisted
make of desk and still the only one to insist upon. But all that could
change in the fast moving world of studio hardware. From now on, we
will refer to all computer desks as SSL (it’s a bit of a Hoover/
A traditional recording studio comprises of: THE CONTROL ROOM which
houses the mixing desk, tape machines, outboard gear, engineers and
producers and THE RECORDING ROOM, full of all sorts of strange things
to either deaden the live sound or liven the dead sound. This is where
the traditional musician performs. There will also be a recreation
room with a television, pool table and computer games to keep
musicians amused whilst the traditional producer casts his spells
without being hindered by the traditional musicians’ paranoid
In your case all the action will be taking place in the control room.
The above scenario is almost quaint, but more of all that later in the
“Five Days In A Twenty Four Track Studio” chapter.
Many of the more successful studios have expanded their complexes so
as to contain more than one studio. They might have a number of
studios offering a range of services, from four track to forty eight
track, SSL and manual and, more than likely nowadays, a programming
suite replacing the need for a four/eight/sixteen track demo studio.
The way that recording studios base their rates (what they want you to
pay them) can vary from studio to studio. The standard quoted by each
studio is their hourly rate; for twenty four track this can range from
Â£20 per hour to Â£150 per hour.
If it were only that simple. The studio manager’s only way of proving
his worth to the world is by transforming all the great tracts of
space on his wall chart calendar pinned to the board above his desk
into something that is crammed with blue, yellow, red and green little
bits of sticky back paper, each signifying another session booked.
(Studio managers will hike round a last year’s crowded wall chart
calendar as a C.V. when looking for a new job.) This is all good news
for you. That studio manager will be willing to offer you all sorts of
favourable deals just to prevent a day slipping by without the
corresponding box on the calendar not having a coloured sticker on it.
Deals can be based on:-
1. INTRODUCTORY OFFER. This will be an obvious one for
2. DOWN TIME. This is usually the time between when the
official client finishes (usually 2am) and starts again (usually 10am).
3. BLOCK BOOKING. This would only happen if a client wanted
a month or more to record an LP.
4. CANCELLATION TIME. This is when a client has cancelled
studio time at the very last minute and the studio is desperate to sell it
5. REGULAR CUSTOMER RATE. Not applicable to you but just
for reference. By the time you use the same studio for the third time you
should be trying to pull this one.
6. LOCK OUT. This is when, although you may be working in a
studio for ten hours a day, the studio cannot sell off the remaining
fourteen hours as down time to another client. Most lock out deals are
based on them being the equivalent of twelve hours. So, if you were to
work for a sixteen hour stretch you would be getting yourself four free
The more expensive the hourly rate a studio charges the better
equipped and flash it will be. You won’t need an expensive studio.
Expensive studios are for major record companies to put their major
(or would-be major) artists in, where they can spend as long as it
takes to make their internationally-sounding master work, while the
decor and amenities of the place neither challenges their ego or
standing in the market place. These establishments and the engineers
who work in them are only ever interested in the LP that costs at
least Â£150,000 to make, not a cheeky little record like yours
that’s going to surprise everybody by getting to Number One. What you
want is the moderately priced studio whose gear is intact and where
all concerned are as hungry and enthusiastic as you are to prove that
they can do it.
Although a Number One single cannot sound like an indie trash record,
they do not have to sound like they have cost a million to make,
unlike a Number One LP.
(BOOK THE STUDIO NOW)
You are going to need to book five consecutive days lock out in a
manual operated (non SSL) desk, twenty four track studio hopefully
starting from the following Monday. Your local studios can be tracked
down in the Yellow Pages under the “Recording Services/Sound” heading.
It should be apparent from the way they list themselves whether they
are twenty four track or not. If by chance there are none in your
area, get straight down to the local reference library where they will
have Yellow Pages covering the whole country. Check the neighbouring
regions for studios and get some names down in your note book. If the
studio you end up using is further than you can travel to on a daily
basis, this will be no problem; all studios are only too willing to
organise accommodation as part of the over all deal.
Before you start dialling make a few notes:-
1. Pay no more than Â£40 per hour (exclusive of VAT) for the basic
2. Ensure it includes fees for the best available engineer.
3. Be aware that you will also be charged for the tape you use
and extra gear that is hired in specially for your session. Remember to
get the rates for these.
If you smoke it’s time to light up, then pick up the telephone and
dial. Ask for the studio manager. Just remember, the studio manager is
going to be out to impress YOU the potential client. They won’t be
thinking: “Who’s this dick head calling up who doesn’t know what
they’re talking about?” They will be too worried that you are thinking
they are the total dick head and on that basis will book a rival
studio. Give him your name and the company you are from and with the
information we have already given you start doing your first deal.
First checking to see they have the facilities you require, the studio
will then try to flog you down time or odd days here and there. Hold
firm. You have got to have five clear consecutive days and you want to
start the following Monday with their best in-house engineer. If they
have not got, or are unable to shift any of their other clients to fit
you in, tell them you will have to look elsewhere. They will be
getting nervous now, as they might be just about to lose anything from
Â£1,000 to Â£100,000 worth or business. So, when he says they do
have the five consecutive days but not starting until the tenth (or
whatever date they quote) tell him to pencil it in (“pencil” means
provisionally booked) and you will get back to him in a couple of days
to let him know either way. It might be worth having a bit of a chat
with him about what other clients they have had in lately. Ask if they
have had any hits come out of the studio, that sort of thing. This
helps you build up a bit of a vibe where the studio’s at. Then call
the next studio on your list and repeat the process.
Once you have got through your list of studios in your local(ish) area
go and put the kettle on, take a leak and make yourself a cup of tea
(coffee if you have to) as the next move you have to make has no
simple ABC answer.
Between you sipping this cup of tea and getting to Number One you are
going to be involved with a lot of people along the way and from all
these people you can learn a lot. Whether they are just a tea boy or
an international super star you bump into down at TV. Centre while
doing Top of the Pops, everybody involved in this music game has some
sort of insight or angle on it all. Listen to what they all have to
say but take nothing as gospel; you are going to have to start
building up your own picture of how it all moves.
When you do meet people that have had some sort of success it will be
natural for you to feel impressed and give a lot more credence to what
they have to say, rather than to what the tea boy says. Just remember
that they in reality will have very little genuine idea of how they
arrived at their success or what they should be doing next in their
career to prevent it from crashing to the ground. Under what might
seem their confident exterior will be lurking a severe paranoia that
they will be found out for what they are, a charlatan with a series of
lucky breaks. With all these people you meet you must make them feel
involved and that you respect their opinion and help. Everybody likes
to feel part of a success and you must let them feel that. In doing
this we are not trying to encourage you into becoming an obsequious
slimey toad, but to make you aware that the enthusiasm and goodwill of
all these people is vital to the success of your project. They deserve
At times you will be told things, given advice that goes against the
grain of the way you have already been thinking. Your gut reaction
might be “Sod that! I know what I’m doing!” So before blurting out
your condemnation of their ideas, let it filter through you; don’t try
and over rationalise or look for the logical answer. Let it simmer for
a bit and then go with your now more balanced gut reaction.
Don’t hide behind any naive “no compromise” shields, the only thing
you must not compromise on is your final goal: that Olympian slot on
Top of the Pops.
Only YOU can make each decision along the way. Don’t look for others
to make them for you. If something goes wrong remember you are the
only one who is ultimately responsible.
When you have drunk your tea and had a look out the window (just to
check the world is still there) you are going to have to decide which
of the possible studios you are going to commit to. That decision
should not just be based on the studio that can offer you the five
consecutive days the earliest and at the best rate. All that should be
balanced with something in the tone of the studio manager’s voice.
The one that sounds understanding. The one that you feel could be on
YOUR side. Then make your telephone call and confirm your booking. If
it is now after 3pm and you have your studio booked, switch on Radio
One and listen to “Steve Wright In The Afternoon”. Viewed from a
certain angle the man is a genius. Find that angle and view. He is the
most popular DJ in the country. He has been the heartbeat of the
British psyche since 1985. You don’t even have to like him to be awed
This above paragraph is not an attempt at obvious irony, it is for
real. If you can’t find that angle then I am afraid you have wasted
your money in buying this manual.
Spend the rest of the afternoon doing whatever you do that gets your
mind rolling: a bus ride into town, a stride across the moors, a burn
up on the freeway, two hours on the circle line, (whatever it is) and
let your mind ponder on two topics: MONEY and A GROUP NAME.
There will be a group name that will be the obvious one for you.
Nothing too long winded or desperately clever, but at the same time
one that is just right for the times we live in. Don’t try too hard,
just let it float up. The other topic, MONEY, we have dedicated the
next chapter to.
Money is a very strange concept. There will be points in the
forthcoming months when you might not have the change in your pockets
to get the bus into town at the same time as you are talking to people
on the telephone in terms of tens of thousands of pounds. Some of the
following might seem contradictory but in matters of money they often
are. We spoke earlier of how being on the dole gives you a clearer
vision of how society works. What it doesn’t do is give you a clear
idea of how money works.
After you spend any time on the dole you either resign yourself to the
economic level your life is at and cope – or things start to slide.
The rent gets into the arrears. The electricity goes unpaid. The gas
board threatens to cut you off. When this starts happening a paranoia
begins creeping in telling you modern society is geared to working
against the individual and YOU in particular. The late eighties
reaction to this is invariably to realise that the only way out is for
you to become suddenly very rich and none of this will matter any
more. You will start to fantasise about becoming very wealthy and how
very shortly it will happen to you. You only have to make the smart
move, find the right key, make the right contact, be discovered for
what you are. Your fantasy will be fuelled by everything.
Nobody wins the pools. There is no such thing as a fast buck. Nobody
gets rich quick. El Dorado will never be found. Wealth is a slow
build, an attitude to life. I’m afraid the old adage that if you look
after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves is always
true. That said, you must be willing to risk everything – that’s
everything you haven’t got as well as you have got – or nothing will
The reason we say all that stuff above about “there is no such thing
as a fast buck” is because we are bombarded with information about
eternally adolescent pop stars who have just done deals worth “this
much” or have just grossed “that much” on their last U.S. tour.
Firstly, the figures quoted (if true) are always the gross sums, not
what’s left after all the necessary expenses have been taken into
account. Secondly they will be encouraged – even pressurised – into
adopting life-styles that will eat through whatever is left of the
vast sums that have been quoted at us in no time at all. Unless they
are able to sustain or repeat at regular intervals their quoted
financial luck they will soon be back to a no money situation. We are
afraid those on the dole who have let their rent go into arrears,
their electricity go unpaid and with the creeping paranoia about this
evil society, will be the same ones who if they were to achieve sudden
wealth would in no time at all be owing insurmountable back debts to
the tax man, have managers demand their percentage long after the
money was spent and swapping their paranoia about society for paranoia
peppered with bitterness that they had been “ripped off” all the way
along the line. Money, as often quoted, is not the root of all evil.
We do know WHAT the root of all evil is. That is to be explained in
one of our future manuals and if we were to tell you the answer now
you would not bother trying to have a Number One.
We do not expect this chapter on money to have fulfilled in any
direct, practical way in making the Number One slot but it might have
helped dispel any illusions you might have had.
BANKS AND THEIR DIRECT AND
Our age will be remembered in the future as a period in history when
banks went to ridiculous and unparalleled lengths to compete with each
other to win the allegiances of the young and account free. If future
historians were to base their research on what young Britain was like
in the late eighties solely on the substance of bank adverts, you
would definitely be rated as the most despicable types since we were
kicked out of the Garden.
So please, if you do take any notice of the bank and money ads –
forget it. That said, we are afraid you are going to need a bank
account and the better the relationship you can develop with your bank
the easier things will be. Our relationships with banks have always
been fraught with difficulties.
Banks are in the business of making money by lending it. The more they
lend the more they make. They want us, the punter, to become addicted
for life to the false sense of security it gives us. Banks will go to
extremes thinking up new and ingenious ways of getting us to borrow
money from them. First and foremost they want us to get into property:
“Buy a house,” because with your property as security they can always
lend you more and more money. If things were to go badly wrong and you
weren’t able to keep up the interest payments they can always force
you out of house and home and get their money back that way.
Of course, it would be bad for the banks if they were seen to be
throwing too many families onto the street or forcing business’ to the
wall in order to redeem their loans. They would always prefer to lend
more money so as to help pay off the interest on the earlier loans.
Banks have spent millions over the past few years trying to destroy
the public’s old impression of the bank manager in bowler, brolly and
pinstripe, to the approachable and amiable sort of chap who will
attempt at all times to say “Yes!”. They have only done this, not
because they like being nicer, but to seduce you into coming in and
borrowing more money. Remember, when you are going in to see a bank
manager you’re going to see a pusher; a pusher dealing in one of the
purest, most addictive drugs – money.
If for some reason you already have some property (or have a family
who are foolish enough to indulge your wilder whims and provide you
with collateral) you will be at a disadvantage. As you sit there in
the sucker’s seat in the manager’s office he will smell the scent of
securities. He will be checking your wrist veins to sink his syringe
in and all the time he will be telling you about the Genesis CD he has
just bought or how you would never guess it, but he used to be a punk
and stills treasures his copy of “Neat Neat Neat” by the Damned.
So it is best to go in there skint and with no securities. Of course
there is no point in asking to borrow any money. Just put yourself in
the bank manager’s position; some unlikely youth comes in, looking
like nothing in their ad campaigns and makes some outrageous request
for a Â£20,000 unguaranteed loan to finance the making of a Number
One hit single. Would you let them have the money? If this lad were to
start brandishing a copy of this publication by The Timelords, you
would advise him that he had been had and should get a refund on the
book instantly before going out to look for an available vacancy on a
youth training scheme.
As we said in the introductory chapter having no money sharpens the
wits. Forces you never to make the wrong decision. There is no safety
net to catch you when you fall.
If you already have an account with a bank make the appointment with
the manger or his assistant. If not, get into any branch (the nearest
to where you live will do as long as it’s one of the big five). Open a
current account and make that appointment. Do this on Monday afternoon
while you’re out and about. The appointment should be for some time
that week. Just tell them you are setting up a small, independent
record label – no big plans yet, just aiming to put out the one single
and see how it goes. Tell him there will be a couple of times when you
will have to issue cheques before others have come in. No big stuff.
You will let him know beforehand. The most important thing is to get a
rapport going with him; attempt to keep him in touch with what is
happening over the next few weeks.
As well as having the pusher’s instincts, the bank manager has the
instincts of the old mother hen. The small business accounts are his
baby chicks and he loves to watch them grow. If you were to go in and
try and convince him of world domination plans he could only be
disappointed with whatever results you had. It is necessary that he
should feel part of it all when everything starts to take off. It will
be then that you will need his serious help. It will be then that you
will have to find Â£17,000 by the end of the week and there is no
sight of anything coming in until the beginning of the next month.
Spend Monday evening around at some mate’s house. See if he has any
records worth borrowing. More importantly, tell him what you are up to
and see if he has any great ideas worth using. It is a little known
fact but when it comes to creative ideas the majority of people are
creative geniuses. Your mate is bound to be one of them. It’s just
that all these folks never dare to translate their creative brilliance
into reality. We guess a couple of libraries could be filled with the
reasons why they never attempt it. Something to do with mother and
when she first said, “No!”
That night, don’t forget to set the alarm for 8am the next morning.
Before you do whatever it is you do before you go to sleep, see what
group names are beginning to float up (mates are also a great source
of group names).
The history of pop music has been littered with all sorts of unlikely
people plucked from obscurity and chucked on top of the heap. Pop
music would be thrown out of the Showbiz Ball if it could not provide
its full quota of rags-to-riches stories. We have all heard the old
tale about how it was the downtrodden working class background that
provided the true grit passion in the artist’s work that won the
hearts and minds of the masses. The other side of the same coin is
that it is because of the down trodden and working class background
that the smart middle class machine was able to unwittingly, maybe,
but ruthlessly all the same exploit these raw and gullible talents to
the full. With each new generation in pop music there comes along some
sort of revolution where supposedly the kids are able to get up and do
it for themselves: skiffle bands, protest singers, beat groups, punk
rockers, U2 and Casio kids. Of course, the kids do very little for
themselves. They might believe they are. Their public are encouraged
to believe they are. All that is happening is that the new young,
waving fields of corn are allowed to grow full and ripe before a very
strange combined harvester will come along and pick the few lucky ears
of corn while the rest of the field cheer, whither and die. A new
harvest is always needed. 1988 saw the latest wou~d-be revolution
happen in pop music.
The DJ, with his pair of Technics and box of records can make it to
the top with a little help from a sample machine, squiggly bass line
and beat box. Yet again this was interpreted as the masses finally
liberating the means of making music from all the undesirables and now
terminally unhip. These records were reportedly made for very little
money. The common ingredient these records had that was far more
important than the icing of “Now” style that covers the age old Golden
Rules of Pop, is that they are being made by complete unknowns. No
hype. No massive record company advances. No front covers in the rock
papers. No loyal following built up over months of solid touring.
They have all been released by what is commonly known as Indie record
labels (however, this is not the place to define indie). Since the
rise of the indie label in the days of post-punk they have provided a
healthy means for no hopers, outsiders and terminally angry types to
unload their angst. They have also proved rich hunting grounds for the
major record companies looking for fresh meat.
The indie record companies were cottage industries fuelled by
enthusiasm, passion and belief. Some grew, became strong and
established international links, whilst others withered and died. The
strong ones were able to provide plafforms for the artists who were
able to build up large and loyal followings to develop and prosper,
even have moderate hit single success. The Smiths and New Order on
Rough Trade and Factory respectively were the obvious champions in
It was always understood that it was only the major record companies
that had the infrastructure, the money, the efficiency, the might, the
power and the means of persuasion to take singles all the way to THE
TOP. Like the giants of Fleet Street weighed down by ancient union
agreements and strapped to out of date means of production, the major
record companies are beginning to look like lumbering dinosaurs.
Over the past ten years anybody with overtly commercial material would
never have considered using the indie network. Everybody with an eye
on the Top Spot knew that the indie scene was for the spotty and
marginal and people who celebrated the glories of being spotty and
marginal. The majors were secure in their knowledge of this.
All through these years, alongside the scratchy and austere indie
labels, has grown what might be termed the independent service
industries, providing services that previously only the majors could
command: numerous pluggers, publicists, sales forces and, most
important of all, reliable and comprehensive distribution. All of
these independent service industries are now highly organised and
competing to cut deals with YOU the much sought after client. Each of
these individual services will have a section dedicated to their own
However efficient and organised these service industries became, they
could only do so much with the spotty and marginal. But it was only a
matter of time before something came along from within the indie scene
that was neither “spotty” nor “marginal” and had definite mass appeal.
That record was “Pump Up The Volume” by MARRS. It was a turning point.
That record not only became Number One in the UK it became an
The “indie scene” in this country since then has been filled with a
new found confidence: everything can be achieved. It was as if having
a Number One single was the last bastion of the majors. Certain
cynics will point fingers and whinge that the indies of today will be
just the majors of tomorrow. Wasn’t Richard Branson and his Virgin
Records the ultimate hippy ideal in the early seventies? We won’t deny
that behind the majority of indie labels is a would-be Branson, whose
stunted megalomania will undoubtedly be reflected on the way he brings
up his children.
From now on, whether or not the technology makes the traditional
musician’s craft redundant, the young creative type will become more
aware that he is able to control more areas of the way his music is
communicated to the masses. The manipulation of this control will
become a very important creative form of expression in itself.
Of course there is a place for the major record company in the future
as there is still a place for brass bands, large national orchestras
and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. The precise function the major
record companies will play in the music business as we turn the corner
into the 21 st century is something we are not going to bother
guessing at. One thing they and we suppose all major international
companies are good at is moving the goal posts; probably because they
owned them in the first place.
As more and more creators of music begin to realise that it is
possible to make records themselves and steer those records in
whatever direction they want, at the same time as retaining all the
copyright in the product thus a bigger chunk of the action, the
attractiveness of signing your soul and its products away from now to
eternity (well at least fifty years after the day you die) will become
to look rather silly. Nothing to do with ideology, just straight
forward business sense.
Twenty five years ago no unknown artist signing to a major record
company would dare demand the right to only record their own material.
The success of the Beatles changed that. In the past ten years it has
become the trend for the writer (of songs) to retain the copyright of
their work and either just get the publishers to administrate it, or
have their own accountants do the lot.
If the rise of the UK indie label can be seen as a positive offspring
of punk sensibilities, a very negative one was the cult of the very
big advance. This can be traced back to the supposed situationalist
shenanigans of Malcolm McClaren. The idea that the major record
companies were some how being ripped off and some clever scam was
being pulled was totally false. There was no Great Rock ‘n’ Roll
Swindle. The four living ex-members of the band have nothing left
except fading memories of their glory days, like fuddled old soldiers;
a front man trapped by his own cynicism and a corpse forever young.
While the record companies and publishers involved are still getting
bigger and stronger and the employees are busy negotiating their next
rise over the expense account lunch. It’s as if Malcolm never
Another point that we can throw in at this juncture is that down
through the history of pop music the cult of the svengali figure has
often risen. Svengalis might be very interesting characters but
invariably make bad businessmen. They spend too much of their time
cultivating their own image and coping with their own creative urges.
We repeat, it has only been possible since the beginning of 1988 to
single-handedly achieve what this manual is all about. The myth of the
major label deal is totally blown. Their might and power is too slow
moving. Their seduction techniques threadbare and dated. The barn
door cannot be closed. While the new technology might be the downfall
of any kinds of standards in the world of television, in both printing
and music the future is ours.
JUST AFTER 1 PM TUESDAY
Just after 1 pm Tuesday telephone the studio that you have booked and
tell them you are going to need someone who can programme, ideally a
programmer who can play the keyboards. Every studio can get one for
you. This programmer is going to be the person who will provide
sample, originate, compute, even play all the music you will need on
your record. They usually have a boffin’s mentality mixed with the
talent of a musical wizard. We are afraid they will not be included in
the price of the studio, but the studio manager should be able to sort
out the going rate for you and cut the deal with him. Get him booked
for the full five days.
Have a spot of lunch and read the following chapter. It will allay any
doubts you might have in your talents as a hit song writer and
explains the Golden Rules. Between now and next Monday morning you are
going to have to come up with the goods. Those goods are out there
waiting for you to find before the others get there.
THE GOLDEN RULES
Leiber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Berry Gordy, Chinn and Chapman
and Peter Waterman have all understood the Golden Rules thoroughly.
The reason why Waterman will not continue churning out Number Ones
from now until the end of the century and the others had only limited
reigns, was not because lady luck’s hand strayed elsewhere or that
fashion moved on, it is because after you have had a run of success
and your coffers are full, keeping strictly to the G.R.’s is boring.
It all becomes empty and meaningless. Some have become emotionally or
business wise embroiled with artists whose own ambitions now lie
elsewhere and far from merely having Number One’s. Lieber and Stoller
could walk into a studio tomorrow and have a world wide Number One in
three months if they were so motivated.
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, “Sailing” by Rod Stewart, “Without You” by
Nilsson What the Golden Rules can provide you with is a framework that
you can slot the component parts into.
Firstly, it has to have a dance groove that will run all the way
through the record and that the current 7″ buying generation will find
irresistible. Secondly, it must be no longer than three minutes and
thirty seconds (just under 3’20 is preferable). If they are any longer
Radio One daytime DJs will start fading early or talking over the end,
when the chorus is finally being hammered home – the most important
part of any record. Thirdly, it must consist of an intro, a verse, a
chorus, second verse, a second chorus, a breakdown section, back into
a double length chorus and outro. Fourthly, lyrics. You will need
some, but not many.
CAUSALITY PLUS A PINCH OF MYSTICISM
It is going to be a construction job, fitting bits together. You will
have to find the Frankenstein in you to make it work. Your magpie
instincts must come to the fore. If you think this just sounds like a
recipe for some horrific monster, be reassured by us, all music can
only be the sum or part total of what has gone before. Every Number
One song ever written is only made up from bits from other songs.
There is no lost chord. No changes untried. No extra notes to the
scale or hidden beats to the bar. There is no point in searching for
originality. In the past, most writers of songs spent months in their
lonely rooms strumming their guitars or bands in rehearsals have
ground their way through endless riffs before arriving at the song
that takes them to the very top. Of course, most of them would be
mortally upset to be told that all they were doing was leaving it to
chance before they stumbled across the tried and tested. They have to
believe it is through this sojourn they arrive at the grail; the great
and original song that the world will be unable to resist.
So why don’t all songs sound the same? Why are some artists great,
write dozens of classics that move you to tears, say it like it’s
never been said before, make you laugh, dance, blow your mind, fall in
love, take to the streets and riot? Well, it’s because although the
chords, notes, harmonies, beats and words have all been used before
their own soul shines through; their personality demands attention.
This doesn’t just come via the great vocalist or virtuoso
instrumentalist. The Techno sound of Detroit, the most totally linear
programmed music ever, lacking any human musicianship in its execution
reeks of sweat, sex and desire. The creators of that music just press
a few buttons and out comes – a million years of pain and lust.
We await the day with relish that somebody dares to make a dance
record that consists of nothing more than an electronically programmed
bass drum beat that continues playing the fours monotonously for eight
minutes. Then, when somebody else brings one out using exactly the
same bass drum sound and at the same beats per minute (B.P.M.), we
will all be able to tell which is the best, which inspires the dance
floor to fill the fastest, which has the most sex and the most soul.
There is no doubt, one will be better than the other. What we are
basically saying is, if you have anything in you, anything unique,
what others might term as originality, it will come through whatever
the component parts used in your future Number One are made up from.
Creators of music who desperately search originality usually end up
with music that has none because no room for their spirit has been
left to get through. The complete history of the blues is based on one
chord structure, hundreds of thousands of songs using the same three
basic chords in the same pattern. Through this seemingly rigid formula
has come some of the twentieth century’s greatest music. In our case
we used parts from thrcc very famous songs, Gary Glitter’s “Rock ‘n’
Roll”, “The Doctor Who Theme” and the Sweet’s “Blockbuster” and pasted
them together, neither of us playing a note on the record. We know
that the finished record contains as much of us in it as if we had
spent three months locked away somewhere trying to create our
master-work. The people who bought the record and who probably do not
give a blot about the inner souls of Rockman Rock or King Boy D knew
they were getting a record of supreme originality.
Don’t worry about being accused of being a thief. Even if you were to,
you have not got the time to take the trial and error route.
The simplest thing to do would be to flick through your copy of the
Guinness Book of Hits, find a smash from a previous era and do a cover
of it, dressing it up in the clothes of today. Every year there is at
least a couple of artists who get their debut Number One this way.
From the eighties we have already had:
Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin “It’s My Party”
Roxy Music “Jealous Guy”
Soft Cell “Tainted Love”
Paul Young “Wherever I Lay My Hat”
Captain Sensible “Happy Talk”
Neil “Hole In My Shoe”
Tiffany “I Think We’re Alone Now”
Wet Wet Wet “With A Little Help”
Yazz “The Only Way Is Up”
There are, however, the negative facts in taking this route. Using an
already proven song can give you a false sense of security when you
are in the studio recording. You can end up under the illusion that
the song is such a classic that whatever you do, the song itself will
be able to carry it through. You tend to loose your objectivity in the
production of your version. The all important radio producers hate
nothing more than a classic song covered badly.
The classic oldy, while fulfilling all the Golden Rules in pop,
might have a lyrical content that may only ever relate to one period in
pop history. There have been numerous past Number One’s where
this has been the case:
Scott McKenzie “San Francisco”
The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”
The Beatles “All You Need Is Love”
Mott The Hoople “All The Young Dudes”
MARRS “Pump Up the Volume”
Unless there is a revival of the zeitgeist of times past where the
lyric in some way makes sense again, these songs should be stayed well
Sometimes, almost the opposite can happen. By covering a cleverly
picked old song it can be re-recorded in such a way that it is now
more relevant to today’s new record buyers, both lyrically and
musically, than the original was to the past generations of hit
makers. Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” and Yazz’s “The Only Way
Is Up” are both perfect examples of this in 1988. The original of “I
Think We’re Alone Now” by Tommy Roe and the late seventies cover by
The Rubinoos were classics for the discerning but could not compete in
the U.K. market place of their day.
The other negative in doing a cover version is you loose all the
writing credit. That means you will earn no publishing money on the
record, however many it sells. We will explain later the mysteries of
publishing, but for now just take it from us that having a Number One
with a cover, as opposed to your own song, is the equivalent of
throwing away a minimum of Â£10,000.
There is no denying that in picking the right smash from the past and
recording it well will result in a sure fire success. The producers of
the day time shows at Radio One will have to only hear 30 the opening
bars of your record to know that there will be a few slots in their
shows for it; “the housewives at home and the husbands on the building
site” will be singing along with it immediately. It’s not going to
take them three or four listens before they decide whether they like
the song. That decision was made long before you ever thought of
having a Number One. As for the current 7″ single buying generation
who might have never heard the song before, they will automatically be
given the chance to hear the record three or four times on the radio.
If there is not a cover that takes your fancy the trick is to
construct your song out of disguised, modified and enhanced parts of
previous smashes, so that when those Radio One producers, T.V. youth
programme researchers and multiple-chain-record-store stock buyers
will subliminally warm to your track and feel at ease with it.
We obviously took the middle route in not doing a straight cover, but
in doing the above so blatantly that we had to give away the majority
of our publishing thus losing a sizeable chunk of the readies.
The first of the component parts you are going to need to find is the
irresistible dance floor groove.
Before we go any further we had better define “groove”. It is
basically the drum and bass patterns and all the other musical sounds
on the record that are neither hummable or singalongable to. Groove is
the underlying sex element of the record and we are afraid for U.K.
Number Ones this can never be left too rabidly raw on the 7″ format.
It upsets our subliminal national moral code. We can cope with smut
but not grind. Of course, there are the odd exceptions.
In the same way that our sexual fantasies change and develop,
sometimes double back over a period of months, so do our dance floor
tastes in groove. It is always on the move, searching for the ultimate
turn on and when you are almost there it’s off again and you’re left
looking for a new direction.
Black American records have always been the most reliable source of
dance groove. These records down through the years have inevitably
laid so much emphasis on the altar of groove and so very little into
fulfilling the other Golden Rules that they very rarely break through
into the U.K. Top Ten, let alone making the Number One spot. A
by-product of this situation is that gangsters of the groove from Bo
Diddley on down believe they have been ripped off, not only by the
business but by all the artists that have followed on from them. This
is because the copyright laws that have grown over the past one
hundred years have all been developed by whites of European descent
and these laws state that fifty per cent of the copyright of any song
should be for the lyrics, the other fifty per cent for the top line
(sung) melody; groove doesn’t even get a look in. If the copyright
laws had been in the hands of blacks of African descent, at least
eighty per cent would have gone to the creators of the groove, the
remainder split between the lyrics and the melody. If perchance you
are reading this and you are both black and a lawyer, make a name for
yourself. Right the wrongs.
The best place to find the groove that 7″ single buyers will want to
be tapping their toes to in three months time is to get down to the
hippest club in your part of the country that is playing import
American black dance records. The unknown track the DJ plays that gets
both the biggest response on the floor and has you joining the throng
will have the groove you are looking for. Either try and get the name
of the track that night, or at least remember some stand out feature
of the record. If you are lucky to have a specialist dance shop near
you they should have this record you are after.
If there is neither a suitable club or specialist dance shop in your
part of the country don’t throw in the towel as this is where the
dance music compilations we have instructed you to buy on Monday
morning come in. Stick them on the record player, turn it up loud and
get lost in the groove, leave your mind on the bookshelf where it
belongs, feel yourself if need be but keep going until you “feel the
force” and you are “lost in music”, when the only answer to the
question “can you feel it” is “yes”.
Pure dance music, if it has any lyrical content at all, will only deal
in the emotions experienced within the four walls of a club late at
night; basically desire and, more importantly, that area which is
beyond desire at the very centre of the Human Psyche. Everything else
is meaningless. Any creator of pure dance music that is attempting to
communicate any other subject should be treated with deep suspicion.
With a danger of getting too carried away on our own pretensions we
state that it is through dance music and dancing we are able to get
momentarily back to the Garden. Of course, in the clear light of day
this is all very silly.
At the time of writing it is the Summer of Love 1988 and we would
seriously advise anybody in search of the Groove to spend the night at
the ubiquitous acid house event, drink very little alcohol, loose your
mind on the dance floor and shake your hands in the air ’till you feel
it. Of course drugs are something we cannot be seen to advocate, but
we understand that a certain very expensive narcotic makes this a lot
“Can you feel it?”. Of course you do.
By the time you read this acid house will already be history but it is
always easy to find out what’s happening. There is an army of eager,
young media types out there doing the research for you and writing it
all up in any one of the competing youth-orientated journals.
We of course used the Glitter beat, which was more by accident than
design. It being the most clubfooted white beat going, it goes against
the grain of what we are advising above. We think the British
love/hate relationship with that said beat can only be tried once a
decade. They won’t take it any more than that.
On a far less metaphysical level, groove has to be understood in the
practical terms of beats, bars and BPM’s. Except on very rare
occasions all pop music is rhythmically based on having four beats to
the bar. You naturally tap your toe to the beat and every time you tap
your toe four times is one bar, you naturally clap your hands or snap
your fingers on every second beat (twice every bar).
The speed of modern records is measured by the amount of beats per
minute (BPM) there are in any given record. Using BPM’s as a
measurement has only come into existence since the early eighties,
since which time nearly all records have been made with the use of a
click track (electronic metronome). This enables any musicians who may
play on a track to keep in perfect time. In bygone times records might
have speeded up and slowed down throughout the performance thus an
accurate BPM could not be quoted. Knowing the BPM of each record in
his collection is all important to a club DJ. So that he can be sure
that when he is programming each section of the night he won’t jolt
the dancers on the floor by suddenly dropping from a 124 BPM record
down to an 87 BPM record, then back up to one that is 114 BPM. Heavy
acid sessions the exception.
The different styles in modern club records are usually clustered
around certain BPM’s: 120 is the classic BPM for House music and its
various variants, although it is beginning to creep up. Hi NRG is
always above 125 but very rarely has it reached the dizzy heights of
140 BPM’s. Rap records traditionally vary between 90 and 110, but in
an attempt to stay with the current (Summer 88) domination of House,
are speeding up. In doing this rap has lost some of its slow, mean and
cool strut feel. LL Cool J or Rakim would never be seen dead trying to
rap at 120 BPM but those whose commercial instincts are more important
than their home boy cool may attempt it to keep their hit single
The classic rare groove track that found favour throughout 1987 and
into early ’88 were all recorded in the early seventies before click
tracks and drum machines held sway to bay and are all oozing around
and below 90 BPM’s, guaranteeing plenty of slippery grunt and grind.
In this day and age no song with a BPM over 135 will ever have a
chance of getting to Number One. The vast majority of regular club
goers will not be able to dance to it and still look cool. The vast
majority of indie bands, however large their cult following is, who
play what various music journalists often describe as “perfect,
classic pop” will never see the inside of the Top Five for one reason
alone: they perform all their songs above the 135 BPM ceiling. Their
love traumas and balls of confusion of hate and bile all rush by at
some immeasurable blur of a BPM.
As we have already mentioned, the Golden Rule for a classic Number One
single is intro, verse one, chorus one, verse two, chorus two,
breakdown section, double chorus, outro.
Each of these sections will be made up of bars in groupings of
multiples of four. So you might have an intro containing four bars, a
verse sixteen bars and a chorus eight bars. At times the first verses
can be double length verses, or the second chorus a double length.
These sort of decisions are not going to have to be finally made until
you reach the mixing stage of the record, when the engineer will have
to start editing the whole track to make it work in the most concise
and exciting way possible within three minutes and thirty seconds.
Hopefully, at sometime over the remaining days of the week, you will
have been able to get out to a club and found the groove you need,
been able to buy it on vinyl and get it home. It has to be the 12″
version as this will have whole great tracts of raw groove where each
of the component parts of the groove are broken down and left exposed
for your engineer and programmer to study and imitate when it comes to
recording your record. Do not make the mistake of “going clubbing” a
habit; it is a way of life that people can get trapped in. They begin
to believe if they are not continually going to clubs they will miss
out on something. The only thing that they do miss out on is
themselves. Once in a club you have to leave your mind outside.
CHORUS AND TITLE
The next thing you have got to have is a chorus. The chorus is the bit
in the song that you can’t help but sing along with. It is the most
important element in a hit single because it is the part that most
people carry around with them in their head, when there is no radio to
be heard, no video on TV. and they are far from the dance floor. It’s
the part that nags you while day dreaming in the classroom or at work
or as you walk down the street to sign on. It’s the part that finally
convinces the punters to make that trip down to the record shop and
buy it. So, slip on the 12″ or your dance compilation and sing along
with the breakdc~wn sections; any old words will do, just whatever
comes out of your mouth. If you have difficulty in forming a tune in
your head or you feel a bit inhibited, flick through your copy of the
Guinness Book of Hits and pick any Top Five record that takes your
fancy and see if you can sing the chorus of it along to the track.
Take for example:
“That’s the way a-ha, a-ha
I like it a-ha, a-ha
That’s the way a-ha, a-ha
I like it a-ha, a-ha”
by K.C. and the Sunshine Band. That one usually works and should get
you going in the right direction but there are hundreds to choose
The lyrics for the chorus must never deal with anything but the most
basic of human emotions. This is not us trying to be cynical in a
clever sort of way when we say “stick to the cliches”. The cliches are
the cliches because they deal with the emotional topics we all feel.
No records are bought in vast quantities because the lyrics are
intellectually clever or deal in strange and new ideas. In fact, the
lyrics can be quite meaningless in a literal sense but still have a
great emotional pull. An obvious example of this was the chorus of our
“Doctor Who, hey Doctor Who
Doctor Who, in the Tardis
Doctor Who, hey Doctor Who
Doctor Who, Doc, Doctor Who
Doctor Who, Doc, Doctor Who”
Gibberish of course, but every lad in the country under a certain age
related instinctively to what it was about. The ones slightly older
needed a couple of pints inside them to clear away the mind debris
left by the passing years before it made sense. As for girls and our
chorus, we think they must have seen it as pure crap. A fact that must
have limited to zero our chances of staying at The Top for more than
Stock, Aitkin and Waterman, however, are kings of writing chorus
lyrics that go straight to the emotional heart of the 7″ single buying
girls in this country. Their most successful records will kick into
the chorus with a line which encapsulates the entire emotional meaning
of the song. This will obviously be used as the title. As soon as
Rick Astley hit the first line of the chorus on his debut single it
was all over – the Number One position was guaranteed:
“I’m never going to give you up”
It says it all. It’s what every girl in the land whatever her age
wants to hear her dream man tell her. Then to follow that line with:
“I’m never gonna let you down
I’m never going to fool around or upset you”
As soon as they had those lyrics written they must have known they
could have taken out a block booking on the Number One slot. Then
within the next twelve months to have written the chorus:
“I should be so lucky
Luck, lucky, lucky
I should be so lucky in love”
Out of context, as meaningless to lads as our own Doctor Who chorus
was to girls but in those three lines there are for many more meaning
than in the complete collected works of Morrisey. Stock Aitkin and
Waterman are able to spot a phrase, not actually a catchphrase, but a
line that the nation will know exactly what is been talked about and
then use it perfectly:
“Fun Love and Money”
“Got To Be Certain”
“Cross My Broken Heart”
They are ridiculed by much of the media and only have their royalty
statements for comfort. History will put them up there with Spectre
and the boys. Waterman might be a loud mouthed, arrogant, narrow
minded, self publicist, but the man has never outgrown his true, deep
and genuine love of “Now” pop music.
The year that the pair of us spent working with Stock Aitkin and
Waterman pulled into focus what we had learned about pop music
throughout the rest of our lives.
Michael Jackson may be the biggest singing star in the world. Sold
more L.P.s than any other artist at any time in the history of pop but
he has had very few U.K. Number Ones. If he would like to make amends
on this front he should start co-writing with the SAW team or read
this manual. He has quite a bit to learn about the opening line of a
We have just taken a coffee break from writing this lot and while in
the cafe have come up with the ultimate Stock Aitkin and Waterman
chorus never written. It’s called “Live In Lover”, either performed by
Sinitta or ideally by a Dagenham blonde called Sharon:
“Live in lover I want you to be
My live in lover for eternity”
Either use it for yourselves or we will go and blow what last vestiges
of credibility we have and do it ourselves. We can see it now: we’d
call the act “Sharon Meets the KLF” and of course the b-side would
have to be “Sharon Joins The JAMS”. If there are any good looking
Sharons out there that want to be pop stars please don’t hesitate to
We are afraid you can’t just go down to the local supermarket and
listen to the check-out girls’ talk and hope you can pick up the right
line before Waterman gets to it. The line has to come to you and when
it does you’ve got to grab it. Mindlessly singing along to the 12″
groove track you have is the best way.
Morrisey has undoubtedly come up with some of the wittiest titles of
the decade. “Shakespeare’s Sister”, “Girlfriend In A Coma” or “William
It Was Really Nothing” are classic. However, with titles like these he
will always be guaranteed a non Top Five placing.
We made the mistake of calling our Number One “Doctorin’ The Tardis”.
Obviously, we thought it a clever play on Coldcut’s “Doctorin the
House”. We had the title before we made the record. If we had had our
wits about us we should have changed it to plain “Doctor Who” or at
least “Hey! Doctor Who”. Us trying to be witty- clever must have lost
us a-few all important sales.
Do not attempt writing chorus lyrics that deal in regret, jealousy,
hatred or any other negative emotions. These require a vocal performer
of great depth to put it over well: the epic Euro balladeers or the
kings of Country, the great soul men or the crown prince of hate –
Johnny Rotten. You should stick to nonsense, pleasure, good times, “I
wanna dance all night long, love you forever, or at least until the
morning comes”, but nothing too sensual; that too requires too much
performance talent. Just remember there is a difference between bland
cliche and cliche and only you can tell the difference in the context
of the song you are constructing.
So make sure you find a title that can be used as the opening line in
your chorus and that the chorus is no longer than eight bars.
SINGING AND SINGERS
(TO SING OR NOT TO SING)
You must be worrying by now how you, or if not you, who on earth is
going to front this record! If you already think you are a great
singer and a well happening front person, then we have a problem. It
means you will have the sort of ego that will render it totally
impossible for you to be objective about everything else that has got
to be done. Singers have historically made the worst producers of
their own work. The reason for this is simply that singers have to
become so emotionally involved in their performance it cancels out any
sort of over view. At the very least they need a musical partner that
can give them some direction. If a singer was able to have this
calculated view of their own work the end product would undoubtedly
come over as cold and empty.
So if you do see yourself as a singer, find a partner fast before
going any further.
If you do not have ambitions to sing it looks like you are in luck, as
we have entered a period of pop history where singing as a focal point
to communicate the emotional content of a Number One hit single is not
necessary. The potential of this is something that seems to have been
forgotten since the Beatles took their place on the world stage back
in 1963. Yet again we have to thank the advent of DJ style records for
helping rediscover this fact.
The club D.J. (like his forerunner the dance band leader of the
thirties, forties and fifties) realises that the most important thing
is keeping the dance floor full and the thing that keeps the dancers
dancing now (as it was then) is the music with its underpinning groove
factor. Singing throughout has always just provided a distraction from
the main event – what is happening on the dance floor and not on the
The balance is to have a vocal chorus with instrumental verses. This
will be the form that a sizeable percentage of chart music will take
for some time to come, long after the novelty of scratching and
blatant sampling has worn off.
With debut records that become big hits it will be even more
noticeable. A debut record on becoming a hit relies totally on its
novelty quality. There is no fan base rushing out to buy it. Instant
voice recognition of the artist doesn’t exist. People don’t get into
the quality of a singer’s voice until they have heard at least three
tracks by him or her.
A quality singer might sell platinum albums and go on to have an
incredibly successful long term career but the sound of their voice
would have never got their debut single to Number One. Benny Hill had
more of a chance getting to Number One with “Ernie” than Aretha
Franklin ever has.
The only way a singer’s voice can help it get to Number One is if it
has such a distinctive quality the world can’t help but react to it
instantly, almost to the point of inspiring ridicule: Kevin Rowland’s
performance of “Geno”, “Save Your Love” by Rene and Renate and “With A
Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker are three examples that
spring to mind. We are sure if you check your Guinness Book of Hits
you will find dozens more.
So unless you know of somebody down your way who has got a
ridiculously outrageous voice that’s going to grab the punters’
attention with one hearing and work in the context or your record,
forget it. The world is full of competent singers that don’t get to
The vocals for the chorus of your record are going to be easy enough
to sort out. They need no individual distinctive qualities whatsoever.
When you get into the studio they will be able to book a couple of
backing singers for you. All studios are in touch with numerous local
singers desperate to do any sessions they can; you only have to decide
whether to have male, female or a mixture of both. Of course, if you
want an “all lads together” type chorus like we had with “Doctorin’
The Tardis” you just rope in whoever’s hanging around the studio at
the time and record it. That cuts out having to pay proper session
singers. Nobody would dare ask to be paid for having a laugh, acting
the lad – buy them a pint and they will be well happy.
Singers – good or bad – are invariably a problem. They not only make
incredibly bad time keepers which can lead to disasterous consequences
when you are facing a jam-packed schedule during the period when your
record has entered the Top 30 but not yet made Number One, they also
tend to confuse their role as singer of songs with that of would-be
For the majority of people the sound of the vocals and the words that
are being sung throughout the verses just merge into the over all
sound of the track. The words that are being sung could be any old
gibberish, only the words to the chorus have any real importance. Of
course there are the exceptions when the classic narrative song breaks
through and storms the Number One slot These can never be planned and
I’m sure the performers of these freak hits are as surprised as
anybody when it happens. So unless you want to risk everything on some
bizarre tale you have to tell, stick with us.
When it comes to TV. performances singers make obvious focal points
for the cameraman thus the viewers at home are forced to watch. This
is not because what is coming out of their mouths is of any great
importance, it is just the easy option tradition of the medium. In
fact most singers on Top of the Pops make complete prats of
themselves. The viewers at home amuse themselves discussing this
pratishness, either the size of the singer’s nose, his taste in
shirts, the dickhead state of his haircut or their shagable qualities.
This last example is usually done in such a disparaging and sexist way
that it hardly inspires any real admiration. That said, you will need
an act to go on TV. with. People will need some sort of human focal
point to relate to. When you get your three minutes of prime time TV.
exposure you are going to have to grab the nation’s attention in
whatever way possible and at the same time keep the programme’s
director happy. The first half of 1988 saw numerous D.J.s standing
motionless behind their pair of Technics desperately holding onto
their cool. Its novelty value soon wore off.
We will sort out the problem of getting a nation-grabbing act together
in a later chapter, once you have the track written and recorded.
The type of devotion inspired amongst pubescent teenage girls for a
certain singer or band takes effect on the second or third single.
The hype machine is usually only smelling the scent by the second
single and can then only shift into top gear on the third one. The
chapter’s precis is the quality of a singer’s voice and their
attractiveness is only of any real importance in terms of a follow up
THE VERSE (THE BASS RIFF FACTOR)
So now you can tackle the construction of the verse without worrying
Using the basic groove you have decided upon you are now going to have
to choose a bass line that will work as the basis for the whole song,
or at least the verse sections. We take it there is no point in us
trying to describe what the bass line is in any great detail, but it’s
the bit in the record that throbs and keeps the flow going. In days
gone by it was provided by the bass guitar player, now it is all
played by the programmed keyboards. Even if you want it to sound like
a real bass guitar, a sampled sound of a bass guitar will be used,
then programmed. It’s easier than getting some thumb-slapping dick
The groove might already have a killer bass line in there, making the
whole thing happen and to remove it and exchange it for another might
destroy what you have already got. There are plenty of monster bass
lines out there to try. You will know them, they are the ones that you
can almost hum. The great thing about bass lines is that they are in
public domain. Nobody, even if they do recognise it, will seriously
accuse you of ripping somebody else’s bass line off.
Michael Jackson, who we cited earlier on for not being that adept at
coming up with the killer Number One hit choruses, CAN come up with
the bass lines. “Billy Jean” was the turning point in Jackson’s
career. That song, on his own admission, took him into the mega
strataspheres where his myth now reigns. The fact is, “Billy Jean”
would be nothing without that lynx-on-the-prowl bass line; but he
wasn’t the first to use it. It had been featured in numerous dance
tracks by various artists before him. Jackson and Quincy must have
been hanging out around the pool table in their air conditioned dimmed
light atmosphere, L.A. studio one evening wondering: “What next?” when
one of them came up with the idea of using the old lynx- on-the-prowl
standby. Without making that decision back in 1981 there would have
been no Pepsi Cola sponsored jamboree in 1988.
We are not trying to deny any of the very real talent that Jackson
has, just trying to emphasise the possible importance of the killer
Serious groove merchants hate it when a song has a dynamite bass line
for the verse and then when the chorus comes the chords change,
dragging the bass away from its “bad self” into having to follow those
limp wristed chords. For them the whole movement of the song is
destroyed for the sake of some nursery rhyme element they would rather
Somehow these two important elements are going to have to be made to
work together without the power of the chorus or the propulsion of
verse bass riff being destroyed. Ideally, when a song hits its chorus
it should feel it’s the natural thing to happen, a release from the
tension of the verse. By the end of the chorus you must feel like
nothing is desired more than to slide back down into the vice-like
grip of the bass line.
Some groove merchants have a talent for getting it all their own way
by coming up with a bass riff that never shifts from the beginning of
the song until the end: intro, choruses, verses, breakdowns, outro all
fitting around the same bass riff. For a song to sound like this and
work away from the confines of the dance floor, it is going to have to
be a real mutha of a riff. There must be some pretty insistent action
going on on top of it to keep the casual radio listener interested.
Even on “Billy Jean” they moved off the bass riff for the chorus.
For the time being the only decision you are going to need to make
about the verse is going to be making this decision on which bass riff
is to be used with the other elements in the groove track.
This is simple. The classic thing to do is have an instrumental
version of the chorus. Sometimes a record might have a full blown
vocal chorus in the intro, but this is usually considered giving it
all away too soon. The other regular intro used is created at the
mixing stage of the record, where different elements can be thrown in
until the whole track is happening. This is something you can leave to
the engineer who is doing your mixing; they are usually full of
creative ideas on how to start a record off. They usually like to hear
a bit of atmospherics – they tend to think it denotes class. If he
comes up with anything good, use it. This is a route that we
originally took but at a later stage, on the advice of our radio
plugger, we stuck a weirded out version of the chorus on the intro.
Don’t even think about them. They are for the more musically mature.
If one happens it will happen in the studio. Your programmer might
come up with an idea for one that helps take the song from the bass
riff of the verse up into the celebration of the chorus. As always, if
it’s any good, use it.
Just remember that if somebody else who is directly involved in the
making of your record provides you with chords for a bridge he has
every right to expect a cut in the publishing. Not that giving away
some of the action should deter you from using whatever is going to
turn your recording into a Number one.
THE BREAKDOWN SECTION
Yet again you don’t have to concern yourself with this at the pre-
studio stage. Just account for its length in bars when you map out the
structure of the song. Use the bass riff from the verse or some
enticing variant on it that the programmer can come up with.
When mixing, the engineer should strip the track right back and then
start piling in with the studio wizardry and gimmicks before hammering
into the final chorus’.
In years gone by this was the part of the song that would feature a
solo. Nowadays, solos either get in the way or have to be fabulously
stunning at the same time as being able to fit in with the studio
sculpting that is going on around it. Having some guitarist give you
his interpretation of what a really good guitar solo should sound like
is totally out of the question. Guitar solos only work in modern pop
records when they are over the top things full of hideous histrionics
and lacking in any emotional depth whatsoever. This type of guitar
solo is one of the very few things that heavy metal has given back to
Top Ten chart music. Yet again, Jackson’s name comes in here. It all
started when he used Eddie Van Halen on the “Thriller” L.P. So unless
you have a mate that can play just like Eddie – forget it.
The only other reason for having a meaningless solo on your track is
to give the record some instant profile upon the record’s release by
making it known in the media that it features a boring but sainted
muso, thus giving it some fake cred. The tried and tested guest
soloists of the late eighties are: Miles Davis on trumpet, Courtney
Pine on saxophone and Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Untried
possibilities that might create some interest would be Jimmy Page or
Junior Walker. But really we would recommend you don’t bother – unless
you can get Jimi Hendrix to do it.
The last time the guest solo really helped on a Number One record was
Stevie Wonder on Chakka Kahn’s “I Feel For You”. In the end it only
provides the D.J. on Radio One with a bit of a talking point or at
best a clincher angle in getting a Newsbeat interview.
When song writers were craftsmen that sat in front of their pianos,
heads filled with melodies and hands searching for chords and long
before multi-tracked recording studios became a vital aid in modern
song construction, they would call this part of the song the “middle
eight” (it had eight bars). They would entertain themselves by
introducing a different chord structure at this point with a
refreshing new melody. This technique still has its charms but you can
leave it to the people who take a pride in writing songs for the sake
of their craft. Even Elton John doesn’t bother with them these days.
It’s the sort of thing that Green from Scritti has a go at.
Back when whole bands went into a studio to record their songs they
would pride themselves in their tight, well rehearsed, snappy endings.
Either you end on fading over repeated choruses or have a couple of
choruses and sink back into the moody atmospherics that started the
song. Yet again your mix engineer is going to come up with the answer
In some records there will be one or two bars stuck in between two of
the sections where most of the music stops and a few bits are left
hanging in the air before the whole track comes crashing back into the
next section. We do not know if it has an official name but it serves
the purpose of adding dramatic effect to the song. It is a bit
sophisticated for ourselves but your programmer might recommend it –
give it a go if he does.
That’s it. There are no other parts that can possibly exist in Number
One hit records. Relisten to your copies of “Now That’s What I Call
Music” or “Hits” and practice picking out the different sections,
counting the bars as you go.
KEYS, NOTES AND CHORDS
There are twelve different Major keys and twelve different Minor keys.
In each key there is a scale of eight notes, the eighth note being the
same as the first but an octave above. A chord is where two or more
notes are played together. There are three basic Major chords and
three basic Minor chords in each key.
You do not need to know the above but if you do want to, that’s it.
Each song is recorded in a particular key. You can get the programmer
to decide what key your song should be in by telling him that you want
it to be the same as the basic groove you have picked. Some Number
Ones change key towards the end. The reason for this is an attempt to
add dramatic effect into a song which is beginning to flag.
Zager and Evans in their staggering “In The Year 2525″, a Number One
in 1969, took the unprecedented decision of moving their song up a key
for every new verse. This added to the stunning qualities of the
record. Something that today’s 7″ single buyers could not handle.
Friday morning. Phone the studio. Check that everything is OK
for starting at 11 am on Monday morning and that the programmer will
be there on time. By Friday night you will have to have got yourself a
title, a groove, a bass line, lyrics and melody for a chorus that you
can sing at the top of your voice in the bath on Sunday evening. Write
down the basic structure of the 7″ version in your notebook.
Take it easy over the weekend. Start fantasising about videos and Top
of the Pops performances, things you will say in interviews and what
your old teachers would think if they knew you had got a Number One.
Have some wild ideas for record sleeves or silly sadistic or sexy
sounds to sample that can be used in the 12” mix. See what crazy ideas
your friends come up with. Don’t be proud, use them. They will love
Basically, have a good time Friday night, Saturday and Sunday because
the following week is going to feel like the most dreadful few days in
your life. You are going to wish you had never seen this manual and
rue the day you ever thought you could ever put it into practice. At
times suicide will seem like the only way out. Years of financial
disaster will stretch out ahead. The debtors’ gaol your only home.
Up until now you might have felt these chapters have been riddled with
Cynicism is a terrible, disfiguring character trait if used by the
individual who is forced to carry a bitter chip. He will use his
cynicism to cope with the weight of life and all its trials. But
cynicism harnessed to your advantage can help debunk fraudulent
mysteries that prevent us from sharing in what is possible and what is
ours. At all times cynicism must be balanced with a belief and faith
in the intrinsic goodness of our fellow man. Nobody really wants to be
bad, even when they are pulling the trigger or handing out the towels
for the non existent showers.
You are not going to be able to cheat your way to the top. It is only
by nurturing the goodness that everybody wants to express are the
doors going to be held open for you.
We all have the capacity for unlimited fantasy, it is the fuel of
genius. Do not be afraid to turn on the tap and let it flow. As we
discussed before, a record will automatically equal more than the sum
of its parts. However coldly we calculate the making of each part, our
personality will be there on the record for the world to feel.
Fantasy can be a dangerous area to delve into, an unreal place to
escape into. Fantasy is also the place where everything starts from.
The place where a personality can grow. Where “The best-laid schemes
o’ Mice an’ Men” have all bred before climbing onto the drawing board
and long before the ploughshare has had a chance to lay it all to
ruin. Do not be afraid of your fantasies. Dive into them. Swim far out
and see what other strange fish are swimming with you. Bring what you
can back. It will be these discoveries that you will be able to
channel through the strict Golden Rules of the 7″ single.
Without fantasy there would be nothing; man would have stayed up the
trees, never ventured into the cave, Einstein would have foregone his
relativity, Christ his ascension, Leonardo his Mona Lisa, Hitler his
Third Reich and Betty Ford her clinic.
Sunday night. Remember to listen to Bruno Brookes’ Top 40 Show again.
Have a bath; it’s the last chance you’ll have of one until the end of
the week. Remember to sing your chorus while you scrub your back.
FIVE DAYS IN A TWENTY FOUR TRACK STUDIO
Monday morning. There is no turning back now. If you did you would
look like a complete wimp to your mates who although might be telling
you you are a total crackpot ejit for attempting it, will be
harbouring a deep admiration for your gall. Not only that but you will
face a cancellation fee from the studio, which will amount to at least
half the full costs for the week’s hire.
Using your chosen mode of transport get there for about quarter to
eleven. Don’t forget to bring your records, Guinness Book, note book
and black Pentel.
Don’t bring a brief case or a filofax, you would be in danger of
looking like a minor league group manager.
On arriving at the studio introduce yourself to the studio manager,
find out where the kitchen is and put on the kettle. A day’s work in
the studio cannot start without first having a cup of tea.
On entering a recording studio for the first time you will naturally
be impressed with all the gear. Do not be intimidated – it is all
there ready to work for you. There will be thousands of dials, knobs
and faders at the engineer’s finger tips and he will know what every
one of them does. This might over awe you but just remember he was
most probably reading in Studio Wcekly, only moments before you walked
in, about some new piece of studio hardware that’s just come on the
market and that every studio should now have, if if they are to stay
in the race. That studio engineer is going to be worried that you will
notice that they haven’t already got it in this backwater of audio
The programmer should already have arrived and have his gear set up.
Sit down with them both. Get another cup of tea if need be and then be
totally frank with them. Don’t try and bluff your way at all. Tell
them that the game plan is to make a future Number One single. Play
them the groove track you want to rip off, sing them your chorus lines
and show them your chart of how the 7″ record should be structured.
Get the engineer to give you a quick tour of the studio and a rough
idea of what everything does. Have the programmer explain what his
computer/keyboard/sample linked together can achieve, revel in the
MIDI revolution of it all and then ask the engineer to either turn up
or turn down the air conditioning.
Tell the programmer that he should stretch your 7″ calculation up to
about six minutes to allow for the 12″ mix then leave the two of them
to get on with it; they will know what to do and you have already
given them enough to keep them busy for the rest of the day. If you
are technically minded feel free to watch them and learn all you can
or just sit back and answer their questions when they ask you. If
something sounds wrong, tell them. If something sounds great, tell
them. At all times encourage them.
If the studio has a tape op he will already be attempting to ply you
with tea. If not, offer to get the engineer and programmer as many
cups of tea as they can possibly consume. To begin with they will look
to you for direction and you can tell them that A, B and C should
sound like X, Y and Z record. Learning the language of making modern
records is learning the language of talking about component parts and
atmospheres of other people’s records.
From now on in you will begin to feel the inevitable pull of the
unseen life force of the record you have allowed to be created. It
will be as if you are in a sailing boat and suddenly from nowhere a
wisp of wind fills the sails. Your job is to hold onto the rudder and
at all times never lose sight of the harbour lights. Let the crew bail
out the water. Let the crew trim the sails. Let the crew man the
galley. Remember, if you ever leave go of the rudder to help the crew
all hands may be lost – along with any chance of ever hearing your
record being played at five minutes to seven on Radio One on a Sunday
From now on in nearly everybody you will be dealing with has the
possibility of becoming a millionaire by what they do. The success of
your record is going to help them get there, even if they don’t share
directly in the profits of your little enterprise. It is because of
this that you will not come across any “job’s worths”. Quite the
opposite; nothing will be too much trouble.
Engineers are a rare breed. They all assume they are the greatest
engincers in the world – or at least the greatest undiscovered
engineers in the world – or at the very least, given the right gear to
work with and a project like the next Sting or Peter Gabriel album,
would soon become the greatest.
The plus side of this is he will work his guts out to prove this is
the case. The down side is that since Sting started making records of
the sound quality the engineer aspires to, he has stopped having U.K.
Number One singles. Those early eighties Police records had a lot more
in there that the Great British singles buying public wanted than on
any of his mature stuff, whatever the calibre of the guest jazz
In five days you are not going to make something that is going to be
able to compete with the latest album engineered by Bob Clearmountain
or produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Once the engineer is on your
wavelength and sees that you are dedicated to your cause, he will go
In their own world, studio engineers can become superstars demanding
points (a percentage of the gross takings) on the mega selling
platinum albums they work on. They can become very rich men. The
great thing about them is they very rarely become openly arrogant; if
one were to he would never get on. The years of making endless cups of
tea for the client has knocked it out of him. Also the successful
engineer knows he doesn’t have to be arrogant. His craftmanship on the
records he has worked on does all the talking. Whereas the successful
artist suffers from a continual paranoia that his bluff might be
called and will be seen to be a fake. He needs his arrogance to hide
behind. He will also convince himself that his public expects a
certain amount of arrogance from him. The trouble is, the suckers do.
Your programmer can also become very successful; he will be able to
demand a considerably higher rate once he has been associated with a
hit or two. He will also have the opportunity of getting a cut in the
publishing of the songs where his creative input has been above and
beyond the call of a session fee. They seem to develop the uncanny
knack of suggesting alternative or additional chord structures
guaranteeing them, in law, their fare share of the publishing action.
We would like to take this opportunity to tell you about the studio,
the engineer and the programmer whom we use.
The studio is called The Village and it is stuck on an industrial
estate in Dagenham between a printers and a carpenter’s shop.
Whatever we say about Dagenham would do a disservice to the people who
live there. As there are no entertaining distractions in the place it
inspires hard work. Dagenham seems to breed a variety of dope smoking
soul boys addicted to putting highlights in their badly cut hair. The
older males have a constant need to be funny and talk about the price
of second hand cars.
Our engineer, Ian Richardson, is probably a genius. Is probably very
funny. Will take down his trousers at the minimum of provocation. Has
blonde highlights in his hair and has an earring in the wrong ear.
Finds it impossible to talk to girls without at least proposing
marriage. He is a vegetarian and a violent anti- smoker. He drives
second hand Jags and is always rereading a book about the Kray Twins.
He plays drums in the Rubettes.
Our programmer, Nick Coler, is a genius. He can play on the piano
every piece of music ever written, his left hand a blur of fumbled
bass notes, while his spectacles slide down his perspiring nose. His
cathedral choir boy sense of fun has never left him and he sports a
line of strange hand knitted jumpers. Is continually trying out new
haircuts. Drives second hand Audi’s. He plays keyboards with the
Without them, these two would like to think we would be nowhere. We
like to think, not only would we not have to suffer the A13 Daganese
and twenty four hour joke sessions, but we would have not seen our
career take such turns for the dire.
Tony Atkins, who owns the studio, means well. He is lost somewhere
between forty and fifty but is fitter than all of us. Had a minor hit
in the sixties with a band called Spectrum. Made a living out of
producing Euro Disco. Has to talk to his bank manager a lot. Is very
understanding when we haven’t got the cash. Drives a second hand Jag
and knows all the members of the Rubettes. The other regular clients
at The Village are Chris Barber and Freddie Starr.
We would like to go on record as saying if you live “out East” and you
want a smash, get down to The Village. If that doesn’t get us some
free time, the rest will have to be told.
While the engineer and programmer are hard at it (and make sure they
constantly are) you have to get acclimatised to the fact that you now
have an office for a week. There will be phones you can use, possibly
a fax, telex and photocopying machines and hopefully a pool table to
practice your shot and relieve studio fatigue. If it’s a studio that
makes you pay for every game don’t forget to stuff up the holes with
newspaper. If your Music Week directory has not arrived yet you will
be able to use theirs. As well as having your record recorded between
Monday and Friday you have to make all the arrangements and
appointments for your visit to London the following week.
You are going to have to get yourself a plugger, an accountant, a
solicitor, a manufacturer and a distributor for your record. The
solicitor comes first. Get talking to the studio owner or manager.
Tell him what you are up to and seek their advice. They should be able
to recommend a solicitor and an accountant for you. They have to be
ones that specialise in the music business; it’s no good using some
local chappie, no matter how confident they might seem. Get the owner
or manager talking about independent pluggers and publicists; they
might know nothing but they might know loads. Every studio in the land
has tried their hand at putting out records on their own little
labels. Most fail dismally. A strange fact that we do not fully
understand is, although local studios are in the best position
possible to become aware of young, raw local talent and have them tied
up in a maze of legally binding contracts before they have recorded
their first Peel session, for some reason they always miss the boat.
We suppose this must be a good thing. There have to be hundreds of
studio owners in the country kicking themselves at the memory of the
impressionable would-be megastars willing to sign their names to
anything on the off-chance it may give them a bite of the apple. The
owner somehow lets them slip through his net on their way to fame,
fortune and back tax payments. But that’s not your problem.
Your problem is getting some mate or relative that is now living in
London (that’s if you don’t already live thereabouts) to put you up
for a few days. Telephone the solicitor and the accountant and make
appointments. Tell them on the phone what your situation is, that you
have got this “hot” track, but have no money and you need
Music business solicitors and accountants are in a very competitive
game. They will be willing to listen to you and give you advice. Not
so much free of charge but on the understanding that if things begin
to happen and money comes in, they start to get paid. They don’t want
to miss out on what could be a future mega account earning their
practice hundreds of thousands a year. It’s a well acknowledged fact
that every aspiring superstar needs legal representation before they
earn a bean.
Manufacturing and distribution. Without these two you will not have
records made (finished product) or an organisation to get them out to
the record counters across the land. There are a number of independent
manufacturers of records in the south east. If you went directly to
them they would want money you have not got up front before they do a
thing. Then treat you like crap. Manufacturers deal with hundreds of
small time, one-off labels, local bands wanting to press up five
hundred copies of their records to impress their unimpressed
girlfriends or schools pressing up limited quantity L.P.s of their
choir or brass band. They will see you as one of these. The only
people that have any clout with these manufacturers are the major
record companies, who will use independent record manufacturers when
their own plants are working to over capacity and they need to farm
out work. Or the larger established indie labels that provide a steady
flow of reliable business. Even then the pressing plants will lie to
them and generally screw up and pass the buck. The reason for this is
not because they attract the worst kinds of mankind to work for them
but because there are not enough pressing plants to meet the demand. A
ludicrous situation that we are surprised that some enterprising
moneyed individuals have not put to right. A pressing plant somewhere
in the north of England would clean up. This situation has been
arrived at because WEA centralised their European operations sometime
in the early eighties at the height of the recession and closed down
their British pressing plant. The Polygram group of companies did the
same last year. Now both of these companies have begun farming out
much of their work to the remaining independent manufacturers.
What you are going to need is a distributor that will handle your
manufacturing as well. The three main independent distributors in the
U.K. at the time of writing are Pinnacle, Spartan and the Cartel. Both
Pinnacle and Spartan are based in the south east and both have a
healthy C.V. of numerous past hits. The Cartel is, as the name
implies, a group of independent distributors across the country who
work in conjunction with each other providing a solid network of
distribution without stepping on each other’s toes. We are distributed
by the Cartel.
One thing that the Cartel has that might be favourable for yourselves,
is that each of the separate distributors that make up the Cartel are
able to take on a record or label to manufacture and distribute
themselves and the rest of the Cartel is obliged to distribute it. If
there are one of these members of the Cartel near where you live you
should make an appointment to see them first. If they were to handle
your manufacturing and distribution you would be able to keep in far
closer contact with what’s going on. Also, Rough Trade distribution,
who are the south east’s member of the Cartel, are over loaded. In the
first seven months of 1988 they alone had four Number One’s. All the
other members of the Cartel are hungry to prove they can do just as
well. The companies that make up the Cartel are:
Fast Forward, Edinburgh
Red Rhino, York
Nine Mile, Warwick
Rough Trade, London
As always, you can get their telephone numbers from the Music Week
Have a chat with the people at the studio about it; see if they can
make any introductions for you. Go out and put the kettle on, make
some tea and go and see how they are getting on in the control room.
Try not to spend too much of your time actually in the control room as
you need to be able to hear things afresh every time you go in. If you
get too sucked into the actual crafting of the sounds you will lose
the vital objective over view of what is going on.
Don’t smoke any dope or drink more than two pints in any one day all
week. If the engineer or programmer starts smoking dope or drinking
you are in serious trouble and will have to have it stamped out
immediately. The vast majority of engineers are very professional and
conscientious about this and do not indulge themselves on the job.
The same goes for any other narcotics stronger than coffee.
Be ready for vast depression on Tuesday. Black clouds will gather and
there is nothing you can do about it. After what seemed a promising
start on Monday, when you first got over your nerves and realised
things could be done, people in fact took you seriously and carried
out your suggestions. Tuesday will be Big Doubt City and nothing’s
going to change that. What stuff you have got down is sounding like
total crap. It’s not just your paranoia that’s telling you its crap.
It is crap.
There is no way out and you will have to plough on.
The cynic in you must, by now, be thinking, “What are these dick head
Timelords on about? They haven’t told us one concrete thing to do
since we’ve been in the studio other than, ‘Leave it to the engineer
and programmer!’ If it was that easy, everybody would be having
sodding Number Ones. This manual is a con. Just like all those ‘get
rich quick’ and ‘keep young and beautiful’ books. Just another part of
the late eighties sham. The fag end of Thatcherism. Full of
patronising prose and cheap metaphors. I mean, for God’s sake, The
Timelords! They’ve only had the one hit and that was pure fluke. A
pair of ageing fakers and now they’re trying to take the piss by
writing this load of crap.”
We don’t think we could argue our way out of the above other than to
say that some time between mid-Tuesday evening and late Wednesday
afternoon something will happen and everything will start to make
sense again. The track will begin coming together. By Wednesday
evening you will know you are on to a winner. There is nothing more
that we can tell you, even if we were there with you in the studio.
Just hold on to your fantasy. Roll around on the floor and scream if
need be, because it’s all too late now. Ideas will come out of you
that you never thought were there, just let them flow. Don’t get too
ahead of the game. Don’t get carried away thinking your record is
going to change the face of pop music.
Watch desperation bear fruit and keep making cups of tea for the team.
Every second of the track has got to grab your attention and never let
go. Always go for the hookiest hook, the lowest common denominator,
the one you can’t believe you’re using. Take it and shake it and cry
when you hear it.
“It’s going to be a monster!” somebody will say. It could be you, but
whoever said it, you know they are speaking the truth. A week ago
there was nothing: just you, the dole and the rent in the arrears –
and now this.
Don’t work later than midnight, however well the track is going.
Everybody’s brain begins to work on half capacity even though at the
time it is telling you different. You will just end up paying for a
lot of studio time that was badly used. Obviously, this temptation
might not arise if you are having to use public transport to get home.
Thursday morning. Everybody at the studio will be becoming aware of
the track’s possibilities. Have a talk with them all about mixing on
an SSL desk. If the studio complex you are using has not got SSL
facilities they will tend to think they are not really necessary. They
are. If they have got SSL, fine, you will be able to mix it there. If
not, take their advice on choosing another studio that has. See if you
can get them to book the other studio for you. They should be able to
cut a better deal with them than you can. You will need to book two
days: one for the 7″ and one for the 12″ mix. It will seem to be a
phenomenal amount of money to be shelling out for something that
others might be advising you you don’t need. Make sure you give
yourself at least a week between finishing the recording and starting
the mixing. A lot has to be done in that time. Your mind has to settle
before going in for the final mix.
The sticky subject of money – and the lack of it – should be dealt
with about now. As we said earlier in the bit about booking studios
they will want you to pay up before taking the tapes away. See if you
can talk to the studio owner directly – preferably alone. Tell him how
you are obviously working on a very limited budget and now that it
would seem that everybody is in agreement you have the makings of a
smash it would be totally stupid not to take the logical steps and
have the tracks properly mixed. He is bound to agree with you. Tell
him if you were to pay them their bill at the end of the week you
would not have the finances to take the project any further and ask to
be given a twenty eight day invoice to settle up. If he doesn’t agree
to this he will be a total sponge brain. If need be, remind him how
major record companies take at least three months to settle their
accounts, but as he will now be wanting your record to happen as much
as you do, we are convinced that he will see sense in granting your
request. Another problem might arise here where you are going to have
to use all your tact to tiptoe through and get out of with every body
still on your side; the studio owner might come up with some ideas in
the way of help he can offer you. Naturally, as a business man he is
going to want to see if there is any way that he can get involved with
what you are doing that could profitably be turned to his advantage.
His instincts will already be telling him you are somebody on the way
up. He won’t be too sure in what way, but he would like to be there
when the cake gets cut.
The three possibilities he could offer you are: one, assign the
copyright to his publishing company. Two, let them put the track out
on their own indie label. Three, let him shop the track around the
majors for you. He will indicate that he knows a few A&R men and drop
names with whom he has contact with at the various companies. It could
also be some concoction of the three.
On the first one, publishing, this is the one area that you might be
able to make some real money from the whole venture. To give that away
now for nothing when your hand is at its weakest is at the very least
To put the record out on the studio’s own label would be to assign
yourself to the terminally unhip. Now we know being unhip has nothing
to do with chart potential, but the hackneyed graphics and the memory
of previous releases on the label will all count against you when your
record is out there needing all the bonus points it can get.
The third suggestion that he shop the track around for you. The reason
why this route is definitely not got to be taken is although he does
undoubtedly know the said A&R men, it will never happen. Your track
will just become one of a thousand cassettes lost somewhere between
telephone calls, lunches, meetings and gigs in the expense account
world of the successful A&R man. Even if he were able to get a deal
for the track worth a couple of grand advance, that money would
instantly be swallowed up in the recording costs incurred. Your track
would also be way down the priority list of the major record company,
whose main job is establishing and sustaining their international mega
acts. Your record would be seen as some cheap acquisition; if it
happens, all well and groovy for them, but nothing more than “better
than a poke in the eye”.
The trouble is, any one of these propositions could be the instant
answer to all your prayers. Your burdens transferred in exchange for
one of these three, the studio will waive its fee or at least put it
down as a recoupable cost to be accounted for at some unstated date in
the future. Your ego will be flattered that somebody “in authority” is
taking what you are doing as a serious proposition. But please, we
beseech you to hold out on all three counts. Giving in on the second
or third will definitely consign you to never making Number One. The
first could certainly lessen the chances and, as we stated above,
doesn’t make financial sense. Remember at all times, even if the
studio owner has no direct stake in your record, he will want to see
it do well for the sake of the studio’s credibility.
The one late eighties exception to the above that we can think of is
the Fon set up in Sheffield. Through that studio have come two of the
big hits in the previous twelve months (from writing): “House Arrest”
and “Funky Worm”, with groovy graphics and sounds that are hip to the
beat in the very month of release. Both of which the Fon boss, Amrik,
has licensed to majors.
Tell the studio boss you want to get the track finished before you
make any decisions and then you would not do anything without first
seeking the advice of your solicitor. It might not be what he would
like to hear from you, but will respect you all the more for it.
Now that’s sorted out, back into the studio. Backing singers, wild and
weird samples, events you never planned, whole new directions, these
sort of things will be happening now.
Friday. Daytime. This is your last chance to make whatever
arrangements will have to be made for your week in London. Friday
evening. Get a 7″ rough mix of the track done. Leave the building that
night with at least half a dozen cassettes of it.
You will feel good.
At home over the weekend you will play the track constantly. You will
be beside yourself with confidence.
Monday morning. A rain drenched hitch, an Intercity Saver, motorway
mayhem with the added bonus of contraflow hold-ups. Whatever way you
get there, London is still a big city. The pavements paved with gold
are heavily disguised and the legions of winos prick your conscience,
outrage your sense of social justice and remind you of what the future
has in store for you. You pass them by on the other side and go for
coffee in some Italian cafe. You buy a copy of the Face, just in case.
Solicitors. We spoke a little of them earlier on. The quote: “Don’t
move without first checking with your solicitor is the fastest way of
making him a very rich man. But definitely do not go a block without
first giving him a call”, is true.
From now on in you will be asked to sign various agreements, side
letters and amendments. Don’t sign any of them without your solicitor
first reading it through and taking account of his advice. The trouble
is, solicitors become addictive. He will be the one person in London
who will always be on your side and see your point of view. Talking
to him will give you a sense of warmth and comfort – just like heroin.
But remember, his services will cost you at least Â£50 per hour,
even if it’s on the pay later scheme.
Things to watch out for with solicitors. Young ones are often eager
and angry men. They were wimps at school and now with all their
learning behind them, they are out to show the world what they knew
all along. They will hint at the fortunes to be had. They will throw
their hands up in horror at the undotted “i’s” and uncrossed “t’s” in
proposed contracts. “Whoever drew up this contract hasn’t got a clue!”
is a favourite expression. This young, eager, go-getting type might
seem to be the one you feel you can relate to in some way. Be warned.
He is as likely to lead you into deep water or scare off potential
offers. Our advice would be to go with the slightly more mature
solicitor. The wiser one. The one who knows how people’s hearts and
minds work, not just the sub clauses and bottom lines. No matter if he
isn’t concerned about hearing your track, as long as he will listen to
the way you want to do things.
Ask him to explain what the following things mean: points,
percentages, copyright, publishing, on ninety, PRS, MCPS, PPL, VPL,
BPI, MU and territories. Ask him to sort out your membership of what
you (or your record label) needs to become a member of. Tell him the
name of the accountant that the studio owner has recommended. See if
he knows him. Who would he recommend?
The accountant should be your next appointment. Much of what has been
said about solicitors applies to accountants.
He will recommend you register for VAT. He will tell you to keep your
receipts (even those you get when you buy a newspaper or a cup of
coffee). Listen and learn. It will make no sense. He will show you
petty cash books with empty columns waiting for figures. His world
will seem incredibly important to him. To you it will look meaningless
and have little to do with the reality of people going into shops in
their thousands to buy your record. If you are not willing to accept
that his world IS important you could find yourself in five months
time, after all the glory of having a Number One single has blown away
down the gutter with the MacDonalds wrappers and squashed Diet Coke
cans, left owing what seems like the whole world hundreds of thousands
of pounds that you never saw in the first place. Judge neither the
solicitor or the accountant by the cut of their suits or the decor of
their offices and don’t ne embarrassed by the framed photos of their
families that they will have about the place.
Time to move on.
Other things to be done this week. Get your distribution and
manufacturing sorted out. You should have made your appointment when
you were at the studio. If it was a localish distributor you were
going to try (one of the members of the Cartel) you should have gone
to see them before you headed down/up to London.
Distributors, if they are interested (after they hear your rough mix
they cannot afford not to be) will want you to sign a contract giving
them exclusive rights to distribute your label’s product for a minimum
of one year. They will also want to take about thirty per cent
commission from what they get for selling the records to the
retailers. Try and get that figure reduced to below thirty per cent.
Don’t let them have any more than that.
To get them to handle the manufacturing as well might take a little
more persuasion, but they will see the logic if the track is to stand
any chance of being a hit. In no way could you alone have the clout
with the pressing plants and it is in their interest that the record
does as well as possible. Of course they will have accounts with the
pressing plants and you will not have to front the money to have your
record pressed. This will be deducted from your royalties along with
their distribution percentage and further small percentage for
organising the manufacturing.
Our experience was with Rough Trade. When we went to them with our
first record on KLF they didn’t want to know. They saw it as something
that might sell five hundred copies, the bulk of those going to
unsuspecting export accounts. This record then received good reviews
in the rock press so they agreed to distribute it. It was not until we
were about to record our second LP that they considered it worth their
while to handle the manufacturing as well. In your situation time
cannot be wasted like this. You have got to get in there and have them
committed. The thing that you have in your favour that we didn’t when
we started back in early 1987, is that then nobody was expecting hits
to be coming from nowhere. Now they can come from anywhere. They are
on their guard and waiting. Get them to send their proposed agreement
to your solicitor.
The other things you can talk to them about are pluggers, release
schedules, sleeves, sales forces and club promotion. On all these
topics they will have useful things to say and will actively be very
Although you want to get your record out as soon as possible, to
release it at the wrong time of year can totally destroy its chart
potential. No point in releasing it in November or December; it would
be lost in the deluge of the heavy weight and seasonal releases.
Distributors also have to take account of what other releases they
will have coming up. You will want to make sure it has their full
force and support behind it. There is no point in competing with their
other priority releases.
Artwork, sleeves and labels. We are sure you have a lot of ideas about
that already. It will be no good getting some mate to do it because
he’s good at drawing. Both artwork for the sleeves and labels must be
set out professionally for the printers to make any sense of it and do
the job properly. The distributor should recommend a graphic artist
for you to meet up with. Use their phones and make an appointment to
see him as soon as you can.
Pluggers. They should be able to recommend at least one for you.
Angela, who became our label manager at Rough Trade, recommended we
talk to a strange American man called Scott Piering, who runs the
ouffit “Appearing Music & Media Management”. It might have been a
mistake but we took him on. You must have a meeting with at least one
plugger by the end of this week.
Sales forces. Both tricky and very expensive but you won’t have to
talk to any until you have your track completed. We will tell you all
about them later.
The same goes for club promotion.
Who knows what difference a sleeve for a single makes? Go into a
record shop, look at what the Top Twenty has for sleeves – pretty much
of a nothing when you see them all in their racks. People worry over
graphics. They bleed over them. They devote their lives to them. The
graphics that a band use go a long way into building up the “attitude”
their would-be following can relate to.
You don’t need any of that. Just make sure that it’s bright and
colourful and that the name of the song and the act jumps out of the
front cover. No great concepts. Just good, clean, clear graphics. On
the back cover you can stick in more in-depth information: credits,
attempts at wit, that sort of thing. The label artwork should contain
all the technical blurb that you can find on any record label. It
might be worthwhile checking with your solicitor if you are unsure
about any of it.
Don’t bother using a photograph. They just mean trouble and involve
expensive, time wasting photo sessions. Mind you, we used one to
supposedly great effect but it cost us a fortune.
Ninety nine per cent of graphic artists are good blokes, even if you
don’t like the way they dress or the glasses that they wear. They will
care about your sleeve, listen to what you have to say and get the job
done properly. Ask them to liaise with whoever is handling the
manufacturing at your distributors about flap sizes and where
camera-ready artwork should be delivered. We are afraid this can cost
you as much as Â£400 for a seven and twelve inch sleeve. Tell them
to keep the budget as tight as possible. His invoice, when he gets
round to sending it to you, will be one that allows for twenty eight
days to pay.
Next. Your plugger. The man responsible for getting the nation to hear
your record. From now on in this man will undoubtedly be the most
important person in the jigsaw. Without his faith, vision and
understanding of the fastest lane in this particular rat race, you
will be nowhere.
There are no more than half a dozen independent pluggers in London who
are worth using at any one time. There is no point in us recommending
any one or more of them as the plugger league table is always in a
state of flux.
We went with Scott without talking to anyone else. We would like to
refute what we said about him on the previous page; it was not a
mistake. It was one of the great moves we made.
So go with the plugger that’s got the faith, vision and understanding –
indefinable qualities – but you will know within five minutes of
meeting them if they have it. Top grade bull is something else they
should have. The plugger will try and explain what his job is. Each
of them view their role differently but all must be able to deliver
1. Concrete advice on what has to be brought out on your record for
him to be able to do his job.
2. Appointments with Radio One producers where he is able to get them
to listen to your record under the most favourable light.
3. Advice and help in putting together a video that will be
acceptable for children’s television and a lead on some of the hungry
young video makers who are out there.
4. Willing to work twenty four hours a day and be willing to be
contactable in any one of those hours that you choose.
Nobody can make a person like a record that they would otherwise hate,
but it is not good enough for a plugger to think he has completed his
task in just getting a Radio One producer to hear your record. The
plugger has to understand everything that goes to make up a Radio One
producer’s personality. Understand the pressure and the
responsibilities he has within Broadcasting House and to the nation’s
listeners. Understand why he loathes the whole concept of pluggers,
but at the same time find certain ones likeable, even lovable. The
larger record companies are able to spend fortunes on producers
picking up restaurant tabs, taking them horse riding, power boat
racing, hang gliding, jet packing and getting involved in all other
kinds of pranks and japes. All this buying of favours (even when
engineered very subtly) generates a self loathing within the producer
which will in turn find self expression in being redirected back at
The law of diminishing returns always rules.OB
Being a plugger or a Radio One producer is a dangerous game to be in.
It is one of the fastest ways of loosing contact with what ever finer
qualities your soul might have had. The sight of embarrassingly
dressed, middle aged men racing around clutching seven inch pieces of
plastic desperately trying to convince each other that they contain
something of historical importance, something that the Great British
public need to hear, can be very sad.
Please. Listen to everything your plugger has to say. No matter what
he looks like he should be the one person who should understand what
is actually going on in the heart of the beast. Years of reading the
NME, Smash Hits and Thrasher will never ever give you an insight into
the sickness of the human soul and the ways of pop that this man will
have. If he doesn’t have that insight – dump him.
Our man, Scott Piering, had all these qualities and more. He lives
life on the edge of complete mental and physical breakdown. This finds
expression in some strange ways: his car does most of the actual
breaking down for him, thus enabling him to use mindless physical
violence against it in an attempt to get it going again. Of course, it
does not, but it is better than if he were to collapse in the middle
of the road himself and proceed to beat his body with a lump hammer.
Scott has, what we would call, a cow’s lick; a piece of hair at the
front that refuses to be combed in any sensible direction. When
reaching any points of nervous excitement Scott will find it necessary
to attempt to quell the lick’s wayward ways by constantly twiddling it
and patting it down, in a most desperate manner.
Next there is his bright purple jumper. His alternative flag to
tastelessness. It makes Mark E. Smith’s shirts look like pure Paul
Smith. But strangest of all is the chain. This chain is worn tightly
around his thick set neck and there is some sort of implement attached
to it that digs incessantly into his flesh. Although there are no
visible running sores or flesh wounds, this indulgence in open and
unashamed masochism must serve some purpose. We never dared to ask. He
also indulges himself in a temperament that would shame the best prima
Without him this book would have to be retitled “How To Get To Number
47 – With A Certain Amount of Difficulty”.
The man is a true star.
Money and pluggers. They will want a lot and when your record starts
happening pluggers will want more. Scott wanted a thousand pounds to
start working the record and then all sorts of bonuses related to our
record reaching certain positions on the charts. We had to pay him
five grand altogether once it had made Number One. He had a lot of
costs and his team worked flat out for it, but we had to give him the
first thousand the day of release. We had a couple of months to pay
the other four. Anybody who can do it much cheaper won’t be much good.
Like the blokes who own the studios pluggers often have their fingers
in other pies. They might want to get their sticky fingers in yours –
so watch it.
Without having some sort of video a plugger will be pretty restricted
in what he can do for you as far as television goes. Even if videos
don’t get used for transmission they are very good for pluggers to
send out to people and get them interested in your track. But more of
videos when you have done the final mix.
Within their set-up independent pluggers usually have someone who
handles press: A PRESS OFFICER. The up market title for this person is
A PUBLICIST. To put it bluntly, their job is to get as much acreage in
all forms of printed media. Publicists have to understand journalists
and editors in the way the plugger understands radio producers. The
publicist’s role in the success of this operation is secondary.
Turning a well-planned strategy into a reality through the press can
be the best way to build a career – but this is done over months and
years. For the sort of runaway success you will be after, reviews in
the music papers – bad or good – are meaningless; your vanity will be
the only thing affected by them. Not appearing in certain publications
is as important as appearing in others.
What you will need a publicist for is feeding the tabloids and teen
mags with pictures, titbits and the odd silly quote once the record is
zooming. He will also help in organising photo sessions and cutting
deals with photographers and photographic studios.
Pluggers and publicists usually view each other with a certain amount
of contempt. The publicist can represent an act who regularly makes
the front covers of the rock press while the plugger for the same act
will not be able to get a sniff down at Radio One outside of the
confines of the evening shows. The publicist will think the plugger is
Or the reversal. Where a plugger has a client who has just had their
second Number One while the publicist can get no more than a half page
in the Melody Maker. The plugger thinks the publicist is useless.
There are countless of obvious examples: Dinosaur Junior will never
make the Breakfast Show and Rick Astley never make the cover of
One of us has been involved with one publicist for nine years. It is
this publicist who handles our stuff. His name is Mick Houghton
(pronounced How-ton). He is a reformed drug fiend, a would-be crime
writer, a cricket fanatic and he also awaits the day the Grateful Dead
will deliver a half decent LP. He is a realist. Gives no bullshit.
Represents a lot of acts who get loads of front covers but never get
on the A List down at Radio One.
We know sod all about other publicists or how to judge them on first
meeting them. So ask your plugger to recommend one if he hasn’t
already got one on the pay roll.
Publicists want money as well. We paid Mick Houghton Â£1,000 for
doing our single. He will hate us saying this but he gets a lot less
than the plugger because he had a lot less overheads and had to put in
a lot less man hours.
The tools of a publicist’s trade are a telephone, a photocoping
machine and a capacity to lie.
Friday. Take the weekend off and worry about all the wheels you have
set in motion and all the invoices that will be winging their way to
you over the next few weeks.
By the end of this, the third week, you should now have had meetings
with solicitors, accountants, distributors, designers, pluggers and
publicists. You should have confirmed and put into motion your
relationship with each of them. Your solicitor should already be
looking over the proposed agreement from your distributor, getting
your membership of various organisations organised and clearances
gained for whatever samples you have used in your track. The
accountant should be applying for VAT registration and contacting your
bank manager. You should be shagged out.
Friday afternoon. Contact the studio you have booked to mix your track
and confirm everything is O.K. for the Monday and Tuesday of the
following week. Make sure that the multi-track is going to be there on
time. Have a chat with the engineer and make sure he has ordered any
bits of outboard gear that he will be wanting to play with.
THE FOURTH WEEK
Monday morning. Mixing. It’s one of those words that you hear all over
the place from people who don’t know what it means. If we have not
told you before, mixing is taking what is on the multi-track tape,
deciding which bits and in what order you want to use them while
enhancing all the sounds and making a load of decisions, then
recording what’s left on to a two-track, stereo master tape. This is
what the record is cut from. This is almost what the world will hear.
“It’s all in the mix!”
“It will be alright at the mix!”
is the sort of crap you will hear people saying. Mix Fear is a big
thing with a lot of people; the final moment of truth. This is where,
if you don’t get it right first time, you have wasted two thousand
Spend the first day doing the twelve inch. Leave most of it to the
engineer, throw in some ideas, play some records to him that give him
some idea of where you think it should be going. Get back to boiling
the kettle and brewing the tea.
When he gets the drum tracks up and and has done some work on their
sound it has to be the most mind numbing, danceable thing you have
ever heard. These drums alone should sound like they could go on all
night in a club and the floor would never be less than a writhing mess
Take risks. Have him drop all sorts of things out and stick repeat
echoes on everything. Don’t stop the beat. Don’t loose the beat. Don’t
mistreat the beat. If you have time to do a another mix that is
radically different, do it. Don’t be afraid to have next to nothing in
it. Worship at the feet of the primeval goddess of Groove.
Edits. Get the engineer to try weird and wonderful edits with his
razors. A good mixing engineer likes nothing better than to get
lengths of tape stuck all over the place waiting to be edited back
together again in some unlikely but glorious reincarnation.
The next day. Tuesday. The seven inch mix. The attitude to mixing the
seven inch l1as to be a lot more controlled. We are afraid there is
not the room for the wild creative gestures of the 12″ mix, where the
only constraints are that the physical and sexual elements of the
track are left naked and the dancer should never be let free from the
grip of the groove.
The seven inch should very definitely be mixed using the small
speakers in the studio. Don’t get lost in the illusion of power that
the big studio monitors will give any track. At all points hooks must
be there screaming at the casual listeners. Some ideas might have come
up in the twelve inch mix that could be tried out in the seven inch,
especially for the breakdown section. Never forget, by the end of the
day it has to all work in less than three minutes and thirty seconds.
If your track has vocals on it, make sure you do an identical
instrumental version. This might be needed for overseas television
shows. Make sure the studio keeps safety copies of each mix you do.
Have half a dozen cassettes copied, each containing all the mixes.
They will be needed.
Wednesday. Take it easy. Have a lie-in. Check the post. Sign on if you
have to. Take a stroll down to the shops and get some provisions in.
The day will be overcast and grey; probably a spot of rain. If there
is a test match going on England will be doing moderately well. A
minor tragedy will have happened somewhere in the world: Metro crash
in Paris, a fairground disaster at the Tivali Gardens in Copenhagen,
that sort of thing.
It’s time to play old records and reflect on the strangeness of life
and wonder if that one-night-stand still remembers you. In the
afternoon make some telephone calls. Chase up the artwork, check in
with your solicitor and do your laundry. Telephone the distributors
and get them to book some cutting time for you at the cutting room of
your mix engineer’s choice. Go outside and watch a plane cross the
sky. Wonder where it’s going and about the lives of the people on
board and why doesn’t the plane just drop out of the sky and what you
would do if it did.
Let Thursday be a similar sort of day to Wednesday (bar the minor
tragedy). You will have to package and post cassettes of your record
to your plugger, publicist and key person at the distributors.
Thursday evening. A cosy mild depression will settle in. Watch Top of
the Pops. Read a music paper. Then let Friday roll by at its own
On Saturday an aeroplane crashes minutes after take-off. When the
black box is found will it reveal that you were to blame? Probably
THE FIFTH WEEK
The fifth week. The fifth week is another action packed week. It’s
back down/up to London. Agreements to sign. The record to cut. Meet
up with club promotion people and sales force people.
Having a record cut means taking your master tape to a cutting room
where a cutting engineer will play your tape, make some bizarre
comments about its quality then using his machinery will equalise the
sounds coming off your tape (this has to be done because only sounds
within a certain range can be committed to vinyl or broadcast by
radio) before recording them on to a new tape of his. There is a
tendency to make the sound more compact. The cutting engineer will
then cut a Lacquer from this tape. A Lacquer is a metal disc, evenly
coated in a black lacquer, that is placed on the most expensive record
deck you will ever have seen.
To be honest, we are totally bored with telling you about cutting.
Cutting records is boring. So are cutting rooms and the bulk of
cutting engineers are boring with opinions totally irrelevant to
what’s going down. If we had our way we would just quit writing the
bulk of the rest of this book now and just tell you how to smuggle
people into the Top of the Pops studios and just call it a day. Just
get the book printed as it is.
We will try and be reasonable and professional about this. But we want
this book finished by the end of the week. We want to get on with what
we are doing next. We have this new gear that is providing us with a
lot of fun. There’s at least a half a dozen LPs and two films to make,
an art exhibition and a ship we want to buy – all by the end of the
year and here we are wasting our time writing a book that will be
completely redundant within twelve months. An obsolete artefact. It’s
only use being a bit of a social history that records the aspirations
of a certain strata in British society in the late eighties. Nothing
that any Sunday supplement advertisement could not already tell them.
It’s obvious that in a very short space of time the Japanese will have
delivered the technology and then brought the price of it down so that
you can do the whole thing at home. Then you will be able to sod off
all that crap about going into studios.
We have been doing all this writing in a county library in an old
English market town. The place is crammed with dirty great books.
Loads of them with more than five hundred pages in. All written
properly. People must have sweated for years to write some of these
books and we can’t be bothered with finishing this skimpy thing
We found a book this morning. “A Dictionary of Similes”. Printed in
1917. Thought there might be something in it to spice up our writing
style. Every page is a winner. We shall let it fall open. It’s page
two hundred and sixty five. MONEY TO MOTIONLESS and what do we read:
Monotonous as the dress of charity children. (Anon).
Moody as a poet. (Thomas Shadwell)
Mope like birds that are changing feather. (Longfellow)
I am as mopish as if I were married and lived in a provincial town. (G.H.
Moral as a peppermint. (Anon)
Moral as a peppermint!
Moral as a peppermint?
Moral as a sodding peppermint???
Obviously the word peppermint had some unusual connotation back in
1917 that has been lost down through the intervening years.
Back in 1917, when peppermint was moral, there were no pluggers or
sales forces helping to hype the week’s hot new releases. You would
be out there in the trenches knee-deep in death, scribbling whatever
feeling you had left into some dog- eared notebook and we would be
“How To Become A Reknowned War Poet – The Easy Way”
“Tommy this and Tommy that
And Tommy feels no pain
For it’s over the top for Tommy
Where Tommy takes the blame
While Fritz the Hun feeds Fritz the cat
And Kaiser sits on throne
Then Fritz chats to Tommy boy
About his Fraulein back at home”
That’s the one that took us to The Top, up there with Owen and
Service, Sassoon and Graves.
“Cut the crap!” we hear you say. Alright.
Your distributors will organise getting the Lacquer to the pressing
plant. A few days later they will get some test pressings (T.P.’s)
back. You have to listen to them and say: “That sounds O.K. by me.”
They can then go ahead pressing up the initial quantities. Check over
the finished artwork before it is sent off to the printers. As with
the T.P., a slick* (*SLEEVE PROOF) of the finished sleeve will be
printed for you to pass judgement on before they go ahead with the
rest of the run.
Club promotion. There are companies that specialise in mailing out
records to clubs. The clubs get the records for nothing and in return
have to fill out reaction sheets, reporting back how each individual
record is going down with their punters out on their dance floor.
Lots of records are initially broken on the dance floor. It’s all a
cliche now, but it still works. A record is mailed out to the
taste-making clubs four weeks before release as a white label or a
fake American import (for DJ elitist credibility). Two weeks before
release it gets mailed to the rest of the clubs and specialist dance
record shops. James Hamilton starts writing about the track in his
Record Mirror column. On the week of release the record bombs into the
national chart. This is how records you have never heard, by artists
you have never heard of, are suddenly appearing in the Top 40.
We used a company called Rush Release and we would recommend them to
anyone. They are based in South London. Find their telephone number in
the Music Week Directory. Make an appointment. Get down there wit~ a
T.P. Play it to them. Listen to their advice – and take it.
These promoters have various lists of clubs and DJs that are
applicable for sending every type of record to. If they think it’s
only worth your while sending out only one hundred and fifty records
they will tell you, even if by sending out three hundred they get
twice as much money. For them to mail out three hundred records is
going to cost you five hundred pounds (1988 rates). That’s the amount
we sent out for “Doctorin’ The Tardis”.
They will demand cash up front. They will tell you of the numerous
times they have been let down by small companies who have gone bust
owing them hundreds. Give them your hard luck story. Ask for a twenty
eight day invoice and let them get on with their job. Inform your
distributor that Rush Release are on your case and they need to have
three hundred stickered, white labels A.S.A.P.
Organise your release schedule with your distributors. Make sure the
plugger and publicist are supplied with white labels. Keep talking
with everybody. Keep the vibe building. Don’t be bullied into taking
out adverts in any of the music papers; waste of time, waste of money.
Keep using other people’s telephones and don’t take taxis. Don’t stop
thinking about videos, photo sessions and Top of the Pops
performances. Hold hands with Heaven and take a tea break because
things are beginning to get out of control again.
Have we told you how our national charts are compiled yet? The ones
that the BBC use. The only ones that Music Week prints. The only
charts in this country that are worth taking seriously. The market
research people, GALLUP, put them together.
There are six hundred record shops sprinkled across the country that
are lucky enough to have little computers in them. Each time somebody
buys a single from any one of these shops, the shop assistant is
supposed to tap into the computer the catalogue number of the record
sold. These are the CHART RETURN SHOPS. After the close of play on
each Saturday evening and before the broadcasting of the new charts on
Radio One on Sunday evening, GALLUP will randomly choose two hundred
or more from these six hundred shops, add up the score on their
computers and with these figures base the chart.
The reason why these six hundred shops are so lucky (even though it is
a bind having to type in catalogue numbers all the time) is because
they become the focal point of all the record companies’ in-store
promotion. The record companies will stop at nothing to get the punter
to buy the initial quantities of any would-be chart-bound releases
from one of these shops. It is for this very reason that fate has
decreed that chart return shops have all the double packs, limited
editions, gatefolds, twelve inch remixes, the shaped and picture
discs, the CD singles and all the other loss leaders desperately
trying to grab your attention from display boxes littered around
counters and dangling from ceilings.
Each sales force is made up of a team of a dozen or more salesmen who
each have their chunk of the kingdom to cover. Within their territory
they have to call on each chart return shop once a week. From Monday
to Friday, 9am to 6pm, armies of these salesmen tear from one chart
return shop to another, giving away goodies, doing one-on-one deals,
asking about the kids, leaving ten singles on the counter: “Well,
we’ll forget about the invoice if it makes Number One.”
These are desperate men. Leading desperate lives. These men are in a
league table and nobody wants to be left in the relegation zone. None
want to be back selling spark plugs. They want the glamour. They want
to meet the stars. They want to be down there in London working in the
record company’s central office surrounded by all the dolly bird
secretaries. “Make more room at the top – I’m on my way!” How can
they fail? Chase that bonus. Make that sale. Crack that joke and
“Please! Just one more number in the computer and we’re almost there!”
Over the Pennines and out across the Fens, winding up the Welsh
valleys are estate cars piled high with boxes of the week’s priority
releases, all searching for the extra panel sale. These men have a job
to do. Fair means or foul. They are the foot soldiers and are out
there week after week in the front line. They spend their lives
waiting for exam results that are published every Sunday. Then there
are the midweeks on Thursdays and predictions on Fridays and on and on
it goes. GALLUP provides the industry with midweek chart positions on
Thursdays and predictions on Friday of what they think the charts will
be like on Sunday. These are not published or broadcast for public
consumption. It is they who get the chop when the whistle is blown and
somebody shouts “Unfair marketing!”. Yes, the record company gets
fined but they loose their job – and it’s back to selling spark plugs.
Without such a team of men no record stands a chance of charting, no
matter how much radio play or club action it’s having. A distributor
can only supply a demand, they don’t go out there and sell, sell,
Each of the major record companies have their sales forces. We
mentioned earlier that until a few years ago nobody outside of the
majors had access to this form of weight. But now we have a number of
independent sales forces that are breaking records from the
independent sector at an almost monotonous rate. We should have made
it clear that these independent sales forces do most of their work for
the majors; they are hired to work on priority releases as a back up,
ensuring each chart return shop gets a visit h~ice a week by a
salesman pushing the same record.
These men are not motivated by any altruistic ideals. They are a
phenomena of the Thatcher years. They are there for you to use and
they will welcome working with you once they hear your record.
There are three heavy weight sales forces you should contact: Impulse,
Bullet and Platinum. They have all had Number One’s in 1988. Phone
them up and see if you can get an appointment. Send them each a white
label. Go witn which ever one shows the most interest. We were in the
lucky position of having all three wanting to work our record. Each of
them use different strategies, each offer different deals. They cost a
lot of money. If they want five grand from you for working the life of
a record, tell them it’s got to be three grand. They will want chart
bonuses just like the plugger. By the time you get to Number One you
will be owing them ten grand. A lot of money, but it is what you have
got to pay. There is no other way around it. The great thing is they
will all, when slightly pushed, let you do a deal where you don’t have
to pay until your money starts coming through from the distributors.
You might be wondering, “Why do we have to pay these sales forces to
sell our records? Why can’t they just take a commission on the amount
of records they sell?”. When we said “sell, sell, sell” earlier, it is
not that straight forward. They are not out there really selling
records, they are out there buying catalogue numbers going into
computers, buying display space and rack visibility. They need tools.
They need your help: they need free records to give away – thousands
if you’ll let them. Favours need to be won. Your real record sales
only start happening once the record is off and running. That’s when
the vast bulk of orders start pouring in direct to the distributors.
Yeah, we know you must be bored hearing about salesmen but we have to
hammer it home. These are the men that make the hits. Without them
there would be nothing. Even if everybody stopped buying singles for a
month there would still be numbers going into GALLUP computers. Still
midweeks on Thursday and predictions on Friday and charts on Sunday.
Nothing would change.
It is only these people who can push, pull or scrape a record from
being at forty one in the predictions on Friday and over the great
divide and into the land of plenty at thirty nine on Sunday evening.
There, safe in the bosom of the Top of the Pops Top 40 chart run down,
the new entry plays on Radio One, the automatic national recognition.
It’s there – a hit for all to see. All because a few extra favours
were pulled in Doncaster on a wet Friday afternoon.
We are not saying these men don’t love music as much as the next man,
they do; their in-car stereos are never left to cool. When they are
working a record it doesn’t matter if it’s Glen Medeiros, Public
Enemy, Fields of the Nephilim or Sabrina, they don’t have the
pretensions of the plugger or the crackable credibility of the
publicist. In the final analysis these are the men. Why should any
shop waste their time pressing catalogue numbers into machines if it
wasn’t for the goodies that these men bring them for doing so? Without
these numbers being tapped in there would be no charts.
The whole charade would not exist.
Do you get the picture?
Bonus or no bonus – that is the question.
Release date is looming. The right clubs are playing your record. The
plugger has already had a meeting with a very close friend up at Radio
One. The publicist keeps telling you he’s got to have some photos and
some sort of biog. You know you need a video.
Those pay-up dates on the invoices are looming larger than the release
date. They were adding up to Â£12,000 at the last count. You need to
get your hands on twenty thousand pounds – fast. No muggable pensioner
is carrying that much cash about with them and it’s not as if
borrowing a fiver from mum is going to make any difference. Enterprise
Allowance Scheme? Why didn’t you think of that before! Because you are
You are going to have to hold tight.
Check in with your solicitor. Check in with your accountant.
Start the countdown.
Sleep becomes erratic.
If you are a dope smoker you will find yourself skinning up before
breakfast. You will almost have a nervous breakdown over the sleeve
when you realise it is completely crap. “Nobody would want to buy a
record that looked like that!” and you will hear yourself sob:
“They’ll just laugh at it and leave it in the racks.”
And: “Why does the world need this record?”
We offer you no answers.
Still no answer.
“The mix is crap. It needs a re-mix. Should I stop everything now,
have all the copies that are already pressed destroyed and re-mix?”
The plugger is screaming at you for a video.
“Let me back in the womb.”
Three. Two. One. Oh no! Here we go – ZERO!
Monday morning. Ten thirty and you are still in bed. There are
record shops all over the country already open with your record in it. Is
there anybody out there who has actually gone out and bought it?
“Why should they?”
You switch on Radio One. You almost explode. They’re playing it –
Simon Bates is playing your record!
“Oh my God! Oh my God why? why? why?” screams a voice inside your
It sounds crap one second and brilliant the next.
You start to shake. The telephone rings. You hide under the covers.
The telephone stops ringing.
Simon Bates starts talking over the fade. “The bastard.”
What does he say?
He likes it. Thinks it could be a chart bound sound and tells a few
million people they will be hearing that one again. The telephone
rings. It’s your plugger asking if you heard it; he thought it sounded
great. He tells you it has been scripted for the Gary Davis Show that
afternoon. He tells you he had been trying to get you over the weekend
to let you know that the record has been put on the C LIST.
Radio One operates a playlist system. All the producers meet on a
Monday, listen to the new releases and discuss which ones should go on
or come off their playlist. The playlist is divided into A, B and C
Lists. Records on the A List are the ones that get played on what
seems like every day time show, but in reality rarely more than twenty
times a week. B listed records are ones that the producers are
recommended to script in the shows; these can end up getting as many
as fourteen plays in a week, more than many A Listed records. A record
on the C List is one that can be considered for scripting; more down
to the individual producer or D.J.
And of course Radio One has its usual quota of Golden Oldies, album
track spots and request slots that take a fair chunk of the day’s
needle time. The fact that your record may not have gone straight on
the A List should not bother you unduly. Our record spent only one
week on the A List – the week we were at Number One. When we entered
at Number 22 we were not even on the C List. Other records can go
straight on the A List, get played to death and still do nothing chart
In the life of most Number One records all this radio play and
playlist stuff would have been off and running at least a week
earlier, but because you are not a name act, a heavy weight record
label (or even a slim trim indie with good track record) nobody up at
Radio One is taking your record that seriously – even though they like
The telephone rings again. It’s some mate or your mother (or cousin)
phoning to tell you they’ve heard the record.
You get dressed and don’t know what to do with yourself.
No milk in the fridge.
For the next few days you will be scared to call anyone and no one
will call you. On Wednesday you will probably be tempted to go down to
the local newsagents to see if any of the music papers are in and, if
so, have they reviewed your record.
Probably only one of them will have a review and that just a couple of
lines lumped in with three other records two thirds down the page;
nothing that positive, but not too negative, just stating that it’s
more of the same and where will it all end. Don’t try and read any
significance into these meagre words. The reviewer will have forgotten
what they said seconds after their hands finished typing it. You,
however, may carry those words around with you in your head for the
rest of your life – don’t let that be a problem.
Wednesday. Late afternoon. Call the sales force. They should have a
fair idea of how it’s going by now. It will be going well, it’s
already starting to fly. They want to know about radio play and have
you made a video yet. Call the distributors. Orders are beginning to
“All the signs are there – it’s going to be a big one!” They were
telling you this last week and the week before and they are telling it
to you again.
Call the plugger’s office. he won’t be there but his assistant will
tell you they have already had five plays this week so far. It’s going
to be on “Singled Out” on Friday. They are expecting about ten to
twelve plays by the end of the week. “It’s going to be a big one!” she
will tell you. The plugger will want to call you back later in the
afternoon. He does.
“We gotta have a video. Look, this record could be huge. Without a
video we’re looking at a record that will peek at twenty eight – if
we’re lucky. And have you sorted out what kind of performance you’ll
be doing for Top of the Pops? All the signs are this record could
enter The Forty on Sunday. If the predictions on Friday confirm it
I’ve got to tell the Pops’ production meeting on Friday what your act
is all about. They’ll need to see there’s a video, know that it’s
He will go on and on. You will have to come clean and tell him you may
have the greatest ideas in the world but no money. Nothing. You can’t
conjure up a video out of thin air.
He won’t like to hear this because you already owe him a thousand
pounds that he should have got before last Monday. He will ask you if
you have asked for any sort of cash advance from the distributors yet.
You answer no. He will advise you to do that. They are bound to let
you have it, sceing as the record is all ready to explode.
Call the distributors before they sod off home. They will know all
about the radio play and the reaction from the sales force. Get
straight to the point: you need money to see this thing through
“Twenty thousand pounds.”
They will understand your situation and ask you to call back in the
morning. You call back the next morning just after 10am. (This, by the
way, is the only [probably] long distance call in the whole exercise
that you need to make during peek rate with you having to pay for it).
They agree to give it to you.
Call your bank manager. Tell him what is happening. Tell him you want
to draw out two hundred pounds now. He will say yes. Go to the bank
and draw out the cash. This money is not needed for any instant
purpose, but if you are going to be given a cheque for twenty thousand
pounds you want to feel some of it there in your pocket – now. Get
down (or up) to London as fast as you can. You have to get that cheque
into a bank before three thirty. If you have time, go to a cafe by
yourself and have a coffee and just look at the noughts on that
After the bank, get round to your plugger’s to talk video with him. It
could already be too late. You should really have had a finished video
over a week ago. You are going to have to have yours done by the
following Thursday. That is shot, edited, dubbed, union cleared – the
lot – and ready for transmission.
Call your accountant. Tell him about the money. Get him to issue
cheques to settle all your outstanding bills.
You will now once again feel like a free man.
We have to take a break here because we hate video. As a medium it
stinks. It is almost totally out of your control and it costs a
fortune. Video production companies are full of the people you never
want to meet. They are leeches. Spending their lives trying to
ingratiate themselves with anyone who they think might have a few
grand to spend.
Videos are the disease of our time; adverts pretending to be art, made
by arseholes pretending to be artists. Of course, the lovers of kitch
in the next century will adore them, social historians dissect them.
Shoot the lot we say.
Other than that, spend no more than ten thousand pounds (and don’t
forget the VAT). Don’t make a prat of yourself and don’t attempt a
pastiche of some movie genre.
For our video we were lucky. We had a mate who had a director’s
ticket. He was not a regular video director. We had a lot of fun
making it. Although it did not look like it, it cost us over eight
thousand pounds, most of which went on hiring the helicopter for the
Listen to what your plugger has to say on the subject. Let his office
be the centre of operations for getting it all together. Make
decisions and get it done. Who knows? You might even enjoy it.
What’s your angle? What’s going to happen on Top of the Pops? What are
you going to say on “Newsbeat”? What are you going to use for photos
for Smash Hits?
Like the video you have left it all too late but there was nothing you
could have done about that because it’s only now that you have got the
In this whole area we went well overboard, spending a lot of money
that we could have saved for other things. We had radically different
concepts each and every new day, each more complicated than the
previous, each just adding to the confusion. We thought we were being
clever. We were being twats.
An after-the-fact fact that became clear to us was that our record
could have been sold in brown paper bags with no wacky “car makes
record” scam and it would still have got to number one. The record was
bigger than all of us. It knew where it had to get to. Us? We just
tried to keep up with it, hoping people would notice our crazy asides
and metaphysical jibes as the whole thing fire-balled itself to The
The “car makes record” thing was all very last minute and we won’t go
into what other ideas we had before and how it all came about. Our
engineer became the car. He was christened Ford Timelord. It could
have been Timmy Timelord or Tyrone Timelord. He did all the
interviews, providing a character that was an extension of his own.
This left us free to just watch and assess. When it came to Top of the
Pops we went through a myriad of mind blowing scenarios for our
performance. When we first came up with our car-as-front-man idea we
just wanted to have the car sitting there in the Top of the Pops
studio, our track playing and nothing else happening – all very Andy
Warhol. “Boring,” we were told. So we got a choreographer and four
dancing girls and put them on a retainer for a month. That cost two
thousand five hundred pounds. Called them the Escorts. Had a stylist
make them costumes. That cost one thousand pounds. Then we did a photo
session with them. That was another one thousand pounds.
The Escorts were like a latter day Pans People, whs: danced around
Ford Timelord’s more laid back cool and somewhat stationary
performance. They provided fast fun and frolicsome sexuality. Tongue
firmly in cheek for all to see; pure Sunday Sport.
We loved it.
Top of the Pops said: “No way! If we want dancers on our show we’ll
It was some time around this point that we became aware of a
resistance to our record and on the whole way we were promoting it.
The tabloids, radio and pop TV. all smelt a rat. They thought we were
attempting to take the piss, that we were trying to hijack their media
for our own ends. That we were not playing the game according to the
We thought we were giving them what they wanted: something inane,
breezy, with a bit of safe, silly sex thrown in.
The Sun and The Mirror took this especially badly. They inferred we
were not only insulting them as journalists if we thought they would
do an interview with a car, we were also told that if they were to run
such an interview they would loose their credibility with their
readers, who in future would begin to doubt all their other pop piffle
stories about “Bananarama Girl Splits With Sting” and “Sultry Sade in
Secret Affair With Bonking Mad Cliff”. Instead, they tried to expose
us, the men behind the record. “Who wants to read about reality?” we
thought. “Bill Drummond. Ageing rocker.” All that kind of stuff.
We thought they would want to do centre spreads with Ford Timelord
with his lovely Escorts draped over his long, dark, sleek body. They
did not. They hated it.
Don’t make the mistakes we did. Save your money.
Mind you, things tend to get completely out of control – so even if
you learn from our mistakes you will create plenty of your own.
Always find the positive angle. Always run the risk.
We originally wanted the record fronted by real Daleks. We could not
get permission. It was after that we came up with our car idea. We
then wanted to smash the car into Stone Henge or have a helicopter
place it on two of the vertical stones whose horizontal was missing.
We thought of dragging it to the top of Silbury Hill, digging a hole
and tipping the car in, nose first, with about four feet stuck in the
ground and the rest stuck in the air, so that it looked like we had
just arrived from outer space.
One of us is sort of related to one of the lesbians that absailed into
the House of Commons in early ’88. They advised us against digging a
hole in Silbury Hill as it is sort of special to them. This gang of
anarchic lesbians said they would help us break into Stone Henge one
night, paint all the stones black and white, knock a few over and
remind the world about evolution. The girls were angry about something
and we were not, so they went off and broke into News At Ten. Us,
being boys, went off and made Daleks in true Blue Peter style. As
these Daleks were so far removed from the original designs they did
not infringe any copyright laws. Bill Butt, who was the director,
attempted to pool together all our various strands of boyish
behaviour, our love of shallow symbolism, heavy mysticism and American
cars and we made our video.
What has all this got to do with you and our supposed concise
instructions on how to make that last leap to pole position?
Because it’s only through mastering the art of having complete control
when you are at the same time totally out of control. You must hold
the reigns tighter than you have ever held them before but let the
chariot head over the cliff top. The abyss is calling.
Clutch at straws. Build castles on clay. Let the quick sand tell you
lies. Take the scenic route. Be there on time. Use two drummers if
need be. Fill out forms. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Midweeks and
predictions. Fall, spin, turn and dive. Sign cheques. Solicitor doing
deals with “Hits” and “Now”. Sleep at night. Black to white. Highest
new entry. Good to bad. Fast forward. Top of the Pops. Re-read this
book, whatever it takes. No, don’t. You already know all there is to
know. Faster. Faster. Faster. Give everything. Just give everything.
This is the beautiful end.
Sunday evening. Five minutes to seven. You are now at Number One. This
is forever. It is now totally out of your hands. Your body still looks
the same but everything inside it is a million miles apart. Sunday
evening. Twenty past seven. Rockman opens another bottle of Champagne.
King Boy watches lapwings fly past the setting Sun.
You do what you need to do. There was nothing behind the green door
but an old piano. So why? What have you learnt? If you can have a
Number One, anything is possible. Don’t forget to sign on.
A couple of people have read through what we have written to check on
the spelling and to see if we should be sticking in any more
punctuation. They were disappointed with the way we ended it. We don’t
know what they expected, or what you expected. We certainly did not
know what we expected. Maybe an attempt at metaphysical wit. “Expect
nothing, accept everything”, something like that.
“It’s all left up in the air. Out of focus. You never even told us how
to smuggle people through the BBC security into Top of the Pops or
about Gary Glitter. We want to know about Gary Glitter.” They said.
To be honest (or at least an attempt at it) we think the reason we
wrote this manual was to try and understand the whole process
ourselves, make sense, unravel the mess of confusing strands. All the
lies and logic, morals and myths and the difference between “yes” and
Empiricals. Forget it.
Nothing ever resolves itself. You must know that by now. We just chose
a cut off point. No point in us telling you how we attempted staying
at Number One for a further week and failed or how Top of the Pops
wouldn’t let us go on with Gary Glitter the week we were at Number
One. Or how we wanted to swap our Number One with Morrisey’s “Everyday
Is Like Sunday” and GALLUP wouldn’t have it. To quote the most heart
shuddering moment in teenage pop, the closing line in “Past Present
and Future” performed by the Shangri Las, written and produced by
Shadow Morton, “It will never never happen again.” If we do have
Empiricals that line is it. We would never be allowed to get away with
it a second time.
I am sure there are dozens more handy hints we could give you. You
will have to give them to yourself instead. It’s all obvious stuff.
“Public Enemy” bring out a record called “Don’t Believe The Hype”. A
white U.K. rock journalist tells us they are the greatest rock band in
the world. A lad on the tube is wearing a Public Enemy bomber jacket
and Def Jam baseball cap. Must have cost him twenty quid. How deep
does the irony have to go before we all drown? Time for tea. We’ve
had enough. Just show us where the door is. The White Room is calling.
The Justified Ancients of MuMu
P.S. GOOD LUCK