I’ve had pleasant interview with David Scott from The Pearlfishers last week. He has a career over 32 years in the music industry with different titles; a musician, a record producer, a songwriter and in last ten years he holds a degree in Creative Industries Practice as a music lecturer. Maybe you know him from the music documentaries that he writes and presents on BBC Radio Scotland. We’ve discussed about the future of recorded music, differences between writing a jingle and writing a song, sustainability in the music industry, Glasgow’s music scene and many more. I’m very happy to introduce you David Scott!
Hello David, can you tell us about yourself a little bit, what you’ve done and what you are doing now?
David: Ok. I’ve been a professional musician since 1984 which is 33 years. In that time I’ve worked with major record labels and major publishers. I produced records for major labels as well and also for indie labels, my band is called The Pearlfishers. We’ve made 8 albums and currently making a 9th and a 10th at the same time. We released those records on an independent label based in Hamburg but I’ve also released records in Japan, in America and over Europe. I’m a broadcaster I make programs about music for BBC. I’m a community music practitioner at the same time. For the last 10 years I’ve been an academic, I’m teaching songwriting and composition in university.
Thank you! So can you tell us more about the The Pearlfishers and I know you are the main song writer and the vocalist and at the same time the producer. How did the group come together?
David: The Pearlfishers grew from a band that existed named Hearts & Minds and I had a deal with CBS Records between 1986 and 1988 with Hearts & Minds. We had a difficult spell when we were at that label. We only managed to release one single before we lost the deal but the band stayed together. The band was based in Glasgow, it was musicians I knew from other bands and from other contexts we just came together and worked in that grouping. We lost a couple of members. But then we settled on a core group, which was Brian McAlpine, Jim Gash, Mil Stricevic, Robert McGinlay and myself. The five of us DELETE WE’VE became the core of Hearts & Minds. At one point we decided to change the name of the band because there was an American group made a record called Hearts & Minds.
Why did you chose the name Pearlfishers?
David: In my music I’m really focused on aesthetic beauty and it’s one of the things that’s really driven me in my life to make beautiful things. The idea of pearl fishing is that thing of finding something wonderful, unexpected and shiny. It felt like the right conception name for my music. The first Pearlfishers album came out in 1993 which was 9 years actually after I start making music. So it took me a long time to make an album.
You have a significant past as a band, is it 23 years? 26?
David: Something like that.
And many albums! What is the secret of sustainability in music as a group?
David: It’s really difficult…our group only sustains because of me. As an artist I need to have an outlet for my heart, which is a music-art, really. I mean you know this thing is really important to me. So when I need that outlet when I need to make a statement of some kind, I put it out under the title “Pearlfishers.” That’s the title or brand of my work. So the reason why, the band has sustained for so long is because I kept that name as the brand of my music. And also because I’ve tended to rely on other things for my primary income, producing other records or being a session musician or teaching which frees me just to do The Pearlfishers when I feel like doing it. We don’t need to sell half a million records you know.
I really want to know what’s the difference between writing a song for your own album and writing a jingle?
David: If you say to me “write a song”, I’m immediately in a vacuum and there is nothing there. But if you say to me “I want you to write a song for a character in a kid’s TV program -which I’ve done- and this is who the our character is and this is the context for the song”; in some ways 10% of the song is already finished. Because you know what the context is and then you have to fill in the rest in a way. It is one of the reasons why writing a brief is so good.
Is it easier?
David: I find it much easier, yeah! I tend to store ideas most song writers do this so I store titles, lyric ideas, my phone is full of, you know 10 second core sequences or melodies or whatever and when I’m ready to do some serious writing I can go back to those bits and it’s almost like I’m having a brief.
So which comes first the lyrics or the melody?
David: Usually, to me: the melody. At some times it can be a combination of a title or a lyric idea and a little chord or melody thing. For me it’s usually maybe 10 seconds of something that has almost got everything lyrics, melody, chords all together. And then I write the song from that. You know what I mean, it’s a harmonic idea or something but it is usually some little part of the song that arrives.
What do you think about the future of the Music Industry? People are not buying albums anymore…streaming incomes are not enough to support musicians. Is the sector shrinking?
David: I think from my experience it’s pretty clear that the recorded music sector is shrinking. Certainly, in terms of the amount of money, not necessarily in terms of amount of music that is being consumed. There are some statistics about Ed Sheeran, the amount of downloads and streams…
Yeah, the 10% of all the streams on Spotify was his when he released his latest album!
David: Yeah, something like that. So, as many people who ever stream music or who ever listen to music are listening to music but it just not making as much money so far. Now there are arguments that when streaming sites become even more prevalent and everybody is using that then the financial model will somehow magically improve and artists will make more money from the music. I hope that’s true. At some point in the future it has to work as an economy that actually supports artists below that top rung because in a way what happened was people thought that the whole download streaming stuff would democratize music. If we want music to continue and if we want interest in music to keep coming through then something has to change there. I don’t know what it is though.
We’ve already talked about the musician’s part what about the record labels? What changed for them? Do you think that they will still exist in the future?
David: Ok well, to be honest I’m not sure but you know the really amazing thing to me is that even though there is much less money in the music now or a lower level it hasn’t stop people make wanting to make music.
It can’t. It’s an instinct!
David: I know. And it hasn’t stopped people wanting to, as you say produce music, to help finance and help release music because people are interested in as you see they have instinct to make and engage with music. But also people have instinct to curate music and to present it to the world. So if you hear something that you really really love… I’ll give you an example Chris Blackwell in the early 70s or whatever, he is in Jamaica and here is Bob Marley… and “whatever happens here I need to introduce this artist to the world!” that’s what he told himself.
Was he the one who discovered Bob Marley?
David: Well he signed Bob Marley to Island Records and he also had the overview that encouraged Bob Marley to work with American and British musicians and to slightly translate the very raw sound that Marley had in the very early days for a broader audience. It was definitely formulated for a different audience so that’s back in early 70s when you could make millions from one album. But these old time figures still exist. People who hear music get excited about it and they want to present that music to other people. You see people sharing music all the time on Facebook, on Twitter or whatever. People have always wanted to do that because people are interested in communicating. The zoologist Desmond Morris called human beings the compulsive communicators. We have to communicate! That is not just about what I think or what you think or what we think together but what I love and I need you to love.
Yes, you are right, I believe that the sharing culture, it all started with music. We started to share with Napster, which was the first brick of our social wall. I can talk about this subject for hours, let me change the question. 🙂 Glasgow known as a music city. I’m sure it’s very important for your music life too. Why they are calling Glasgow as a music city?
David: There are lots of music cities, as you know, London is a music city so is Manchester, so is Liverpool. I think it’s obviously the amount of music activity that takes place there. For example, if you look in Glasgow comparing it with Edinburgh, which is similar in the size, far more rehearsal rooms, generally more gigs, the economy is slightly different, is far more focused towards popular music. I should be careful because I don’t have the figures to hand here but I’m pretty confident and I’m seeing that. For me I think is more to do with an approach so if you look at my own era which is the very start of my era -mid 80s- what was happening in Glasgow was not just the major record companies were interested in the city in the music. But there was a DIY (Do It Yourself) effect that was existed in Glasgow. If you see at any commentaries on the punk era in Britain you’ll see that this is a concept that comes very very strongly, as this idea DIY. People were making a scene for themselves. The clubs in Glasgow like Splash One, groups like The Pastels who were never going to be major label’s superstars but who were really…
David: Well kind of local heroes but also like local taste-setters. So if The Pastels like something then other bands would like it. There was a real scene of likeminded people in Glasgow. And I think it persists today. It is different bands now and different people but there is the sense that is enough of a critical mass of people who are independent minded. And entrepreneurial – Glasgow is a very entrepreneurial city. If you look at its history, ship building, the tobacco, trade and all the rest of it… Glasgow has a very outward looking scene. It’s also a port, there is a sense of openness. Hamburg is another one in Europe; fantastic music scene in Hamburg it is very famous. I think it’s more of this combination of entrepreneurial spirit that exists within the culture married to an independence of spirit, and also the sense of community. So if nobody is going to listen to my music or come and see my show well I’ll just put out myself.
Thank you, do you have any recommendations to the new musicians, to the newcomers?
David: Yeah! Write great songs! All the rest is bullshit you know. You need really great songs. And it helps also if you got a great singer and a brilliant band and all the rest of it. And also it helps if you look good (he laughs) but it can’t always guarantee that. One of the dangers of the democratized internet society is that as soon as you have got access to Garage Band or Logic on your devices, you can record it and release it. That is good but there are lots and lots of bands that they put every single thing they ever record on Soundcloud or whatever. And you know 80% of it is completely shit, there is no curation. One of the great things that existed in the old days the gate keeper thing was a record company would have a look at you. Though I’m not sure that I’d love that more either. However what that means is one of the things that the music of the 60s and 70s had was that there was such strong editing in that music. I think bands need to really think: lets make something really great before we put it out.