treats for the ears

Nile Rodgers – Making it in the Music Industry Part 1

For anyone wanting to be a musician, these 3 programmes by the BBC are full of 40 years of experience and advice from Nile Rodgers, who has been at the forefront of popular musicianship for so long, he’s practically the figurehead on its prow.

His CV (the 2 minute version)

Basically, as I hear about the famous singers he worked with, over and again I find myself saying “Oh THAT song, I loved that song they did”….. and lo and behold, it was Nile behind the studio screen or in front, making it sound irresistible.

Here’s what his tips are:

1. Begin with soaking up musical/arts influences

He was born in the Bronx to young teenage parents, into an environment of beatniks, heroin and, more importantly music.  Everyone made music around him, his life was an uncertainty of living where he was considered unusual and bullied or living where there weren’t other kids.  Music was his constant.  He created his own world in it, soaking himself in film, art and music.  (Great combo).

2. The preparation: study music

He always wanted to be a musician; his father was a percussionist and got him interested in different rhythms, a national musical programme got him playing different instruments.

Whether you want to sing, write songs or play an instrument, you’re gonna spend most of your life practicing, practicing, practicing.

He took classes in classical guitar and studied music theory and harmony and learn to read music.  “A lot of rock musicians don’t but for me it really paid off.”

3. Play variety of styles – be professional

I took every opportunity to play different styles of music.

As he comments, the discipline is to give the person who’s paying you exactly the performance they want “and make it really good.”

4. The Apprenticeship – play with the best

He eventually got to play with the world-famous Apollo house band (R&B) – and as house band, they had to play with a wide variety of singers and songs.  This was his apprenticeship.

“I’ve probably learned the most by playing with musicians that were far above my level and me not really hanging in there – and making them like it.”


5. Develop a unique sound

To be a success in the music business, you shouldn’t follow the pack, but bring a uniqueness to the music projects.  Play things a little bit different.  Add your own spin.

Those who copy their heroes have short careers.


6. Form a band/get writing partner

Find your writing partner.  Nile immediately hit it off with bassist Bernard – they went on to found Chic.


7. Be willing to change to get Your Sound

Bernard persuaded Nile to swop his much-loved jazz guitar for a solid body Fender electric guitar – which he did and got a guitar described by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran as a “mongrel” – the neck of one guitar, the body of another and a bit of mirror stuck on.

Screen shot 2017-10-15 at 03.31.01

The guitar “is as much part of my sound as these are” (his hands)

Immediately, his sound changed and he was on the way to developing his unique playing style.

The beatup guitar is now called “The Hitmaker”.

These are my personal notes on a BBC documentary series, currently on air, called “Nile Rodgers: Making it in the Music Business”



8.  Write/record/release the first song with no budget

Bernard and Nile formed Chic the group, aimed to break into the new disco music world and wrote “Everybody dance”.  With no money to record, they managed to get a friend to let them pop into a music studio to record, between their performance sets.  Total cost $10 (to bribe the lift attendant not to tell the studio boss that they were in there).  Unknown to Nile, the studio engineer, a friend, made his own copy of the song and began playing it at the disco where he was dj.  Next time Nile was in, his friend put it on, and Nile was electrified to see the whole room respond with joy and recognition, singing his song.  “At this point, it no longer belongs to me, it’s theirs”.

And I realised I connected spiritually to an audience – a hit record speaks to the soul of a million strangers.

9.  Get a personal Look

Get a distinctive look that defines who you are.

See something you are blown away by, which will be attractive to your audience – Nile saw and loved the dressed up style of Roxie Music, so Chic developed their own take on this, with sharp suits.  Suited to their aspirational audience.

Screen shot 2017-10-15 at 04.01.00

10.  Always be aware of new audience/opportunities in social change

Chic identified their target audience as the new black upwardly mobile, urban professional young black people – a movement happening in America. (Called Buppies)

It was the right concept at the right time – the music fit, the look fit the music – it was us acting out this whole new way of portraying ourselves as artists.

This helped the band land a contract with record giants Atlantic.

BBC 13 October 2017

Today’s favourite quote…. Success is:

Nile Rogers said it:

Success is a by-product of hard work, consistency and luck.

Nile has 4 decades of success as innovative bassist and record producer/music arranger.

If you want to hear more of his insights – and music – then there is a new documentary series (3 programmes) by the BBC.  If you live in the UK and are a licence-player, it’s on BBC i-player here.

If you live outside the UK, keep an eye on your national TV channel, because this programme has such high quality footage on an international music performer, that it’s bound to feature on stations across the world, in due course.


creative pledge

Screenwriting Masterclass: Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Phil Lord and Chris Miller, screenwriters or producers on such diverse projects as “The Lego Movie”, “21 Jump Street”, “Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs”, TV’s “How I met your Mother” (3 episodes), “The Lego Batman movie“…. give a masterclass on screenwriting and producing.  They break it up really well.  So although they speak for 53 minutes, they’re worth hearing.

They have a relaxed way of presenting together, bring in some crazy fun but over and over again repeat that they’re obsessive about making every tiny part of their projects absolutely brilliant – refusing to settle for merely excellent.  As the presentation continues, and this is repeated, you realise that they are speaking truly.

Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 02.26.15They speak for under an hour – and then there is a further 30 minutes of questions and answers – which are good – so worth setting aside the full one hour and a half to watch in its entirety.  They are amusing, honest about early failures and difficulties and how they won through was – no surprise, folks – lots of hard work.  They write and rewrite and rewrite and tweak and rewrite, show to friends, rewrite.



Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 02.33.25

One tip which came across clearly was to show your script to other people – no matter who they are in the studio pecking order or whether they’re friends/family – they’re a person with an honest opinion – and as writer you should listen up, because you are too close to the project to see its flaws.  It’s humility – but it’s also good sense.

The two voices give variety to what is said, and there are plenty of illustrations and clips from their projects:

Along the way, they present their maths of working as a partnership:

half the money, twice the effort, twice the time = an output which is 1.3 times better!

They also lead the audience in a pledge to make work, and are adamant that all humans are creative, anyone can do the work they do but it is hard work, done repetitively.

What they’ve also learned along the way are, like all important learning, found through failure and near failure.  One vital lesson was learning to listen to other people’s feedback and recognise that making a film is a hugely collaborative venture.  Also, to recognise that even at the end, the film is actually ‘made’ in the imagination of the viewers.  And this is one reason given for really listening to someone/anyone who has an opinion on the work – because if they don’t get the story clearly, then likely the final paying punters will find it puzzling in the same way.

A film is about RELATIONSHIP not just CHARACTER.

This is a great insight – at one point, “Cloudy with Meatballs” was about a main character and a situation – it was funny but there wasn’t a real sense of involvement, until they made one of the characters the father of the hero – and the hero wanted to get his taciturn father’s approval.

Screen shot 2017-09-25 at 03.31.32If you want to be a screen writer, then watching this interview is a good thing to do – yes, it is long, but that gives enough time to talk pleasantly and with humour through the whole career process.

In fact, the whole series of “Genius” strand of masterclasses by BAFTA looks worth a checkout.  See them here.

birds on the wires, TedX

Creative Prompt: Sound: Birds on a wire

Today’s creative prompt is “Sound” – today, I came across and am now curating a true story on how picture became sound…. A composer, Jarbas Agnelli, saw a newspaper photo of birds sitting on telegraph wires, and decided to make music from their placement, like notes on musical notation paper.


“I think Modern art lacks affection”

What an astounding observation by Ian Hamilton Finlay: “I think modern art lacks affection”.

It was made during lunch with an artist with whom he maintained an exchange of letters and pictures – Graham Rich.  I know this from the 34 minute video talk in which Graham talks about the shared love of boats with Ian Hamilton Finlay – and their little jokes in the correspondence.

This is one of those rare things: charming.  The younger artist obviously had respect for (more…)

Sound Sculpture – Janet Cardiff

Janet Cardiff heard a musical piece and immediately saw it as a sculpture. “Our ears are designed for 3-dimensional sound… the soundwaves hitting your body from 40 separate speakers in such a pure way, really affects you emotionally.  If it’s the right space, it really reverberates within your body”


Umbrellas of Edinburgh – podcast

click on me to hear
The Umbrellas of Edinburgh is a book of new poems, covering a wide range of city scapes.  The Scottish Poetry Library has taken some of these, read by their creators, and made them into a podcast which lasts about 43 minutes.

Each brief poem is written specifically about a different place, ranging from well known central landmarks to deprived outer city estates.  The voices in your ears will take you to a variety of places and times – including the resident who remembers catching his first glimpse of Rolls Royces in his street, during Festival time.

A delight to hear, and it will give a flavour (if ears can have tastebuds) of various parts of the city.  A great addendum or introduction to a visit.