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The cutting edge of Progressive Metal
Linear Sphere was formed in 2002, a musical partnership initially consisting of Jos Geron (vocals), Charlie Griffiths and Martin Goulding (guitars). Later on Nicolas Lowczowski (drums) and Steve Woodcock (bass) joined to complete the unit.
Nick and I were in the same class at school from the age of 12 onwards and Charlie was a year below. Nick and I recorded our first demo when we were 13 or 14! Charlie joined us soon after and we spent our lunch hour and after school playing and learning together. When we were 18 or so we formed a rock band and gigged our local scene. Eventually after some line up changes, we split up although obviously remained close friends. It wasn’t the right time and we all went in our own directions developing our playing in a wide range of different bands, sometimes coming together in different situations.
Nick and I have worked in quite a few bands together and also at one point a fusion project that Charlie helped us out on bass! Up until Linear Sphere formed, you could say that we were a kind of collective that would help each other out, recommend each other if you like. For the last 5 or so years, Charlie and I have worked together teaching at the Guitar Institute and spend regular time together.
I met Jos originally at a rock club, then discovered that he lived just over the road! We would get together to listen to music, Jos was eager to introduce me to some music that I hadn’t yet heard and vice versa. I had heard that Jos was a singer and he played me some of his demos and i was impressed. Soon after, I introduced him to Charlie and we would all hang out. After getting to know each other we decided it would be fun to write some music and see what happened. Charlie and I spent a year sketching out a pre-production draft with our guitars programming all the bass, drums and keyboard parts and then presenting them to Jos who would then write and record the lyrics.
About half way through that process we thought that it could be interesting to follow through and present our work to the public. We had always visualised it would be Nick and even when Charlie and i were programming drum parts we always felt that Nicks influence on us was apparent so we invited him to join in 2003. I met Dave Marks on a studio session in 2001 and became friends ending up working together at the Guitar Institute. Later, I played him some of our demos and he agreed to help us recording the bass. It wasn’t known at that stage if he could commit to anything other than the recording, but we were happy to proceed on that basis. At no point have we ever auditioned anyone for their place, our band was formed as an extension of our friendships and really just to have a laugh writing some no-boundaries music!
At the moment, and we’re finishing our second album presently, the initial ideas will come from Charlie and I, and then other members will contribute within their own areas of expertise. By the time the composition is finished everyone has had a part in the process.
No we didn’t. We decided it would be more efficient to have a repertoire actually written and use that as the basis for the band. We use the studio to record our ideas and then the live performance elements follow. These days with computer recording technology, it is easier to fulfill a vision on your own and then take it to the next level within the band. I see the live performance element as a conclusion of the writing process.
I have been dabbling in the dark arts of computer recording for about 10 years, previous to Linear Sphere I was working on recording a guitar instrumental album of my own. and so invested in a computer based studio set-up. Linear Sphere gave me an opportunity to develop my skills and I progressed as we went along. I would read manuals, articles, internet research everything that i needed to know about the technicalities of that process. I learnt the basic principles of compression, eq, signal flow and i went from there by constant practice and listening. I would listen to albums just to listen to the mix! I would learn by listening to how much reverb goes on a snare drum or scanning an instrument to find problem frequencies, that kind of thing. The job of engineering and producing fell to me as a matter of course as we were doing the work on my system. It was almost impossible to conceive of an external engineer and producer due to the highly intricate and artistic nature of the music.
For me engineering and producing are simply an extension of the actual writing process. I have since produced sessions and demos from blues and soul music to jazz-funk but on a basis for my own development rather than something I would claim to be a professional at. I came out of my natural guitar environment in order to gain the basic skills to do the job. At the final mix stages, the other guys in the band were as much responsible for the overall sound. I would prepare a mix and they would critique it, I would then amend and adjust. This process went on for some time, comparing mixes on different hi-fi, in the car, from outside the room!! In the end all of our ears were the production team. All of the drums were recorded last on top of the final guitars, bass and vocals. An unorthodox approach, nevertheless a natural way for us considering that the music for the album was complete before Nick actually joined.
We recorded all guitar, bass and vocals at my home studio. All the drums were recorded at Nutopia Sounds which was a small non-commercial studio owned by a friend of mine. I would take my Mac, Moto 2408 and plug into an analogue mixing desk and engineer in Logic software. It took a Nick a 12 hour day to complete each track and we worked one day a week.
We were happy with the way the first album went for the time. We were all gathering our skills and as we were on a budget we did the best we could. This second time around we are going for a better production especially on the drums by using a proper studio rather than the small room we were working with on the first album. We will be using different approaches for recording the guitar tracks and generally now have a better idea of how to get the sound that we want so the second will be a step up from the first in many ways.
From the start, we were determined to handle all aspects of the band and so formed our own record label Linearsphere Records Ltd. That way we can stay in control of the writing and promotion of the music.
The benefit is artistic control, it is important that the spirit of the music which is a personal thing between the band members in the writing stages is not at all diluted. It is pure from outside influence from the writing stage to the release. We work at our leisure and write music the way we want to hear it. The label also routes the money that we have collectively invested straight back to the band without unnecessary third parties which saves relying on others and costs.
Charlie handles all the artistic direction and designed our logo and put the concepts together for the albums 10 page booklet. This artwork is reflected in the design of our website which is themed around our debut album. Charlie chose the images from a range of sources that compliment the musical and lyrical themes on the album and worked within photoshop software to assemble the imagery. We then worked with a friend who is a graphic designer who helped us master the images ready for manufacture.
In the beginning stages of promotion, after we had funded the manufacture of 1000 units, I began the marketing campaign by collecting website addresses of those that could help us reach our target audience which is mainly in the progressive rock/metal and fusion genres. I prepared an email introducing the band and inviting people on to our website to see what we were doing. We had a lot of good feedback and then started to send those that had shown an interest a promo pack consisting of some flyers/ business cards, a CD, professional letter of introduction.
After a while our name spread quite rapidly as we play a fairly specialised style and amongst others, we were approached by a management agency Hardebaran, based in Belgium. This company now represent us for all matters regarding the promotional aspects of the business and are an employee of our label, working for us in setting up worldwide distribution and marketing. Through them we are advertising in the rock music press and specialised magazines as well as album reviews and interviews.
Through our management company Hardebaran, we have set up distribution networks in U.K (Code 7), Benelux (Bertus), France (Acropole) and Italy (Andromeda) with Germany and Scandinavia to follow and a possible license deal for USA and Japan.
As the band members are directors of our actual record label, we own all rights anyway so a publishing deal is not necessary for our situation.
Well as a label we have no need for a deal in that respect and so we work with only one other company and that is our management agency. The less people in the chain the better. When a unit is sold the management take a cut and the rest goes between the label and the band. As the label is run by the band, the revenue comes straight back to us for re-investment. If you form your own label and then try for a distribution deal, you will be free of any record company involvement. The record labels will take their cut, although they will advertise and promote you. If you form your own label, then you will need a budget for every territory that you release your album in and that can cost a lot of money. With no budget for advertising, it would be unlikely that you would be able to secure a distribution deal. In that scenario a record deal would be a better option possibly as they would take care of that, but I think you have to look at the amount of cut that they would take. The benefit of our management company is that they act as a super label which is comprised of many smaller labels, so they have quite a lot of influence on the advertising side, far more than if as a label we were handling this independently.
At this stage we are in a period of investment, so the revenue that is coming in is re-invested in opening up more territories, more advertising, re-pressing product. We need to be able to fund tours, the recording and promo/presentation of the next album, merchandise etc.. There will come a point where we won’t have to personally invest as the band starts to feed itself. It’s not a priority at this stage, as we are all professional musicians and have stable careers in music anyway. This band primarily is a project for our own artistic expression and that has it’s own rewards. If the band can support us then that would be great, but we do music for the music in the first instance.
In order to manufacture, you need to belong to MCPS, so as a label we are registered with them. Before we were working with Hardebaran we also belonged to Aim (Association of Independent Music) who are an umbrella organisation that represent a lot of smaller labels, arranging deals with the industry and helping labels set up online distribution and acting as a competitor to the major labels.
We are most popular in France and Benelux as that’s where a lot of effort has been made in terms of promotion. The music listeners in Europe seem to appreciate more sophisticated rock music than say here in the UK. I think there is more rock music on the radio over in places like France, Holland, Italy and from my experience more of an open minded approach to music as a whole whereas here it seems to be more based on fashion and categorisation.
We have had a lot of airplay from making contacts with radio stations that support our work. A lot of work has been done to get our tracks on European playlists. Once the album has received good reviews in the press (websites, webzines, magazines etc) then it is also advertised on the catalogues of our distributors and in shops. Also we have posted some free songs from the album on our website,so people can hear what we do.
Yes, this was invaluable tool when I started marketing campaign. I searched for the biggest websites that are interested in the type of music we play and then surfed all their links which took about 3 months solid! I visit some great music websites and keep up with the scene, many have been supportive of what we do.
Most of the reviews that came in were very encouraging, with high scores and that helped us really launch the band. The more attention we got, the more others wanted to know what the fuss was about. If you get good reviews on one website, they are like a secret network that communicate on recommendation to each other. Many journalists for these sites actually write for more than one website, so the word can go around. As a tool, nowadays the internet is invaluable and has opened up possibilities for people that want to take control of their music.
Yes, through our website, we also have a myspace page to hear some tracks. The album isn’t available yet to download entirely, but the wheels are in motion with some companies that will enable that to happen soon. However I think people will always want the proper product with the booklet and artwork, lyrics, the whole presentation is always more appealing to a real fan.
Yes, all our distributors sell on our behalf. Our album can also be purchased through Amazon and other online distributors.
I feel very optimistic that now in our present era we can at last bypass the artistically corrupting areas of the business and take control of our own destinies. We made our music ourselves, learnt the recording processes and then initially through the internet promoted ourselves and set up a label so that we had nothing to do with the world dominating record labels that have watered down musical innovation and outlawed progressive musicians. If you are a musician that writes for the pleasure of it and wants to bring a fresh approach to the scene, then these days there is a real chance that you can find your audience through means other than searching for a deal. You can create your own deal on your own terms. Small high quality labels are emerging all the time and at last we can see that if you want artistic originality and music that is pushing the boundaries then there’s a real alternative to the low quality of music that the major labels churn out.
Well, most probably the ultimate conclusion is that in the end there will be only one! A super world dominating company that buys all the other ones, and then dictates the music scene! I think the music scene and the music industry are very different things. The charts for example are the front end to the major labels. They spend a fortune on advertising and make mediocre musicians into stars. In this way, in order to stay safe and generate revenue they submerge the listeners in the formulas that they know work. Mainly a younger audience, they prey on the fickle and with the marketing they invent the latest fashion. The industry doesn’t seem to want to develop the scene, just make sure the profit margins are maintained. If you want to hear proper music, played by musicians that have spent time developing their craft and are writing from their own individual angle you will have to bypass the majors!
I’m fully in support of developing smaller higher quality labels that are helping the musicians to break some new ground, to show some vision. This in turn will generate the necessary revenue in the end as I believe people are bored of the mainstream factory of manufactured pop stars.
I would say start off small with a grand design! Build the empire slowly and surely, thinking long term. These days it is possible to build yourself a website and use that as your digital business card. Spend time perfecting the product and then introduce it online with some polite emails to the websites that you think may support your music. Live performance will be crucial in tandem with the marketing campaign, and maybe form your own label and invest some money into an advertising budget.