Music was my first love, and it will be my last. Or it should be, were it not for all the dross that’s drowning out proper, solid music: as the ‘wa-oh’ siren of autotuned Millennial Whoops wails incessantly, it’s all too easy to slip on a dubstep wob and get covered in grime. Although the pointy-headed demographers dub your man Machell a Millennial, this feels very wrong when he’s floored by the insoluble equations of modern acts (‘J2K x A2 vs D Double E’) or the unendurable banality of someone called Sam Smith (!). As every sandwich-shifting cafe conspires to play the same three songs on loop, we’re raising a generation that will hear ‘hit record’ as an order. Would that it were otherwise – but Machell’s Manifesto for Mandated Music, including his controversial ‘Ten-Albums-One-Response’ curriculum, gained zero traction in schools. (The scheme was cancelled on learning that no CD players could be found.) And so the world is acoustically at sea, washed hither and thither amidst the flotsam of mediocrity. Everyone quietly mumbles that they have ‘eclectic’ tastes. Well, indeed: if last year you wandered accidentally into Topshop and had an advert-filled freesheet called The New Musical Express thrust into your palm, you’d have learned about the musical tastes of Jeremy Corbyn MP: ‘I love listening to all the popular music that we have in this country.’ Needless to say, we, as a nation of phonophiles, must up our game. So here’s a quindecimal retuning strategy to make our sounds sound sound again.
- Never end a song with that stultifyingly tedious wave of the white flag – the fade-out. It’s pathetic.
- When naming your band, think of the poor soul who has to mention you in the future. This thought came to The Tolka Pulk Blues Band, The Young Aborigines, and On a Friday, whom we happily call Black Sabbath, The Beastie Boys and Radiohead. But spare a thought for fans of The Butthole Surfers, The Child Molesters, and Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat.
- If your band/‘crew’ has more than six members, three questions arise: (i) do you typically outnumber your audiences? (ii) are you legally obliged to offer a workplace pension? (iii) is someone on the maracas? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, down tools, step back, and vacate the music scene.
- If in a moment of weakness you entertain the idea of releasing a Greatest Hits record, remember three indisputable points: (i) ‘Greatest’ and ‘Hits’ require that you’ve actually had more ‘hits’ than the record contains (‘best of’ is at least relative); (ii) if any song can be deemed skip-worthy by the average fan, you’re not ready for this release; (iii) the suppressed subtitle of the collection will necessarily be ‘Our Collective Juices (Such As They Were) Are Very Much Spent’.
- To access the world of streamed music there shouldn’t be a paywall or advert block, but instead compulsory ‘ear-openers’. Every three songs should be punctuated by a randomly selected but objectively formidable slice of musical excellence, which can allow click-throughs to the record proper, thus offering escape from any algorithmic echo chamber. Ears, like all body parts, need stretching before they can work properly.
- Classic and cult albums should be protected by UNESCO world heritage status to save them from the indiscriminate tyranny of the shuffle function: they should thereupon be issued only as a single, unskippable soundfile, to be digested wholesale or not at all.
- Secret tracks need careful curation. They haven’t been a surprise since, what?, Abbey Road, and yet they continue to wreak havoc upon the impatient listener. If you must append a by-definition-not-album-track-worthy song, don’t inject acres of silence after the last track, or bury it after 77 individual tracks of a few empty seconds (some Second Coming!). In fact, just ditch this cheap charade for any format that isn’t on vinyl.
- Yes, cover versions have their place; some, indeed, are glorious improvements. But, mercy me, let’s observe some decorum. First, leave a song at least a decade before giving it the acoustic-guitar-and-caterwauling-whimpery of a locked-out dachshund puppy. Second, don’t think that halving the original’s speed increases the cover’s depth; it simply doubles the extent of the listener’s pain. Third, keep your clumsy, greedy paws off songs whose first-flush recording still gives everyone a thrill from their opening bars. You are not Bowie. And, no, it doesn’t rhyme with Towie.
- Multi-album artists, tread carefully. Want to turn out a second album but are stuck for material? Break up. Brimming with songs for your fourth record? Proceed only if it sounds meaningfully different from your last three. On the verge of a seventh LP? Don’t play a note until you’ve put two questions to the nation: (i) should we even bother? (ii) or should we instead decommission some of our recent back catalogue? Brace yourselves: the response may be devastating.
- If you’re in one of those genres that likes to riff off a classic(al) sample, so be it. But note that, as a sample, this should merely be a petit soupçon of established musical history: ensure, then, that your own contribution to the record forms the majority of the song, not just the occasional, panicked off-beat cry of ‘yeh baby’ or ‘sing it!’.
- If you value your music, you’ll create a physical instantiation of it. And that will require artwork. The glory days of the gatefold vinyl are (alas!) long gone, but your album still needs a cover image you could defend over the pub table. Stuck for ideas? Follow the basic principle that The Faster The Music, The Less We Want to See of You. Soul (60bpm): facial close-up; hip-hop (80bpm): torso, mid-distance); rock (100bpm): limbs of the band, protruding from behind more interesting objects; house (125bpm): a faintly rendered ankle in the distant fug; trance (140bpm): a kaleidoscope of meaningless colours; faster music: forget it, really no-one’s going to care.
- Streaming is a grim world, where listeners must last 30 seconds to win the performer their subatomic dividend of cash. But, artists, don’t let this determine what your music actually is by deliberately adding half a minute of abject pre-intro that bears no relation to the song itself and keeps your poor listeners waiting. (‘I’m looking at you Kanye.’)
- We live in a world where the video for ‘Despacito’ – in which a brace of Puerto Ricans, ‘Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee’, point and plie – has garnered 5.6 billion views. This is terrifying. What’s become of the mysterious, thought-provoking music video? Directors, return at once to the narrative mini-marvel that plays off the song itself (which should itself have something to tell). Ignore the appeals of vanity, and limit appearances of the singer to 10% of the video; if he/she is wearing a bike-lock chain as a necklace, halve that; if gyrating against a domesticated koala, halve that again; if wearing sunglasses ‘in da club’, just bin the wretched project entirely.
- If you think you’re at the transformative fringes of modern music, fine. But remember that it’s for the people to make sense of your watch-your-fingers-now edginess. So you can’t go christening and copyrighting your newly-birthed ‘genre’. It’s others who will determine that you’re playing ‘crunkcore’, ‘dreamo’, ‘brostep’, ‘shoegaze’ or ‘funeral doom’. And, however much you complain, in English your band name will always be treated as a plural noun.
- Infusing politics with music is all to the good – and often jaw-droppingly arresting. But no gig-goer wants a dose of ranting political patter interspersing otherwise safe and anodyne music. Machell must share the thoughts of most when Morrissey blabs that he’s got little time for Nicola Sturgeon, or Damon Albarn intones that ‘democracy failed us’: ‘pint anyone?’
Machell would like to thank various supporting artists for the assistance he received while rhythmically hammering out this piece (in their particular order):
Television, ‘The Fire’; Mclusky, ‘There ain’t no fool in Ferguson’; Pedro the Lion, ‘I do’; Jawbreaker/Kerouac, ‘Condition Oakland’; Fleetwood Mac, ‘Rhiannon’; Arab Strap, ‘(Afternoon) soaps’; Neil Young, ‘Heart of gold’; RVIVR, ‘Wrong way/One way’; Danger, ‘11h30’; Magnetic Fields, ‘Meaningless’; The Stooges, ‘I wanna be your dog’; Tigers Jaw, ‘Meals on wheels’; Janis Joplin, ‘Maybe’; Aereogramme, ‘Post-tour, pre-judgement’; Vessels, ‘Ornafives’; Desaparecidos, ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’. He received his quotidian fix of Millennial Whoops from the theme tune to Ducktales.