Every day I receive upwards of twenty promo emails despatched at the click of a mouse to my already heaving "Downloads" folder. Twenty! Sadly, there is absolutely no way to keep on top of this amount of music. After all, I do have a life. There are services that offer to listen to music on your behalf and to filter the tunes to save busy DJs time, but personally I could never trust anyone to do this for me. Choice of music is ultimately subjective and I've always had eclectic tastes. My mood also determines what I listen to and even what I like. Somedays I'm happy to randomly click on a promo from someone I've never heard of and take a chance on what it sounds like and this can lead me to discover something fresh, exciting and different which may end up in my weekly radio show or even in a DJ set or mix. There's no way I could happily rely on anyone else bringing these random and unexpected goodies to my attention.
The main downside to getting this ridiculous amount of promos is that I can't listen to them all and I do wonder sometimes if I'm missing out on some killer track. The other is that I have to subject my ears to a massive amount of uninspired, unoriginal, lowest common denominator nonsense, which can be hard work. But even then I wouldn't be comfortable letting someone else filter these tedious tunes on my behalf. Even in the days before digital downloads and (illegal) filesharing, when you had to visit a record shop to buy your music, I couldn't fully trust the staff at the wonderful Black Market in London preferring instead to take a huge pile of vinyl home to listen to before returning the ones I wasn't keen on (by the way, the staff at Black Market were excellent and I mean no disrespect to them whatsoever and in fact miss those bi-weekly trips to Soho to pick up my tunes and chat to other DJs). We've reached this situation thanks to modern technology. Anyone with just an ounce of sense and talent (and countless more with neither) can make music on their laptop in the morning, play it in a club in the evening and have it uploaded to the internet in between. And for the most part, this is a good thing. It's democratising, it's liberating and it means not relying on record companies. Who needs A&R when you can create your own digital only label and release tunes to your heart's content?But hang on a minute. I'm getting over twenty promos a day. And have you looked at how many new releases turn up on Beatport every week? Maybe A&R isn't such a bad thing after all. Why? Because in the days of vinyl, no independent record label could afford to release a track that wouldn't sell. If I recall correctly, if a label didn't think they could sell 500 copies then they wouldn't release it. When I ran Submission Records in the 1980s, we couldn't afford for a record not to sell a minimum amount of copies. We had to cover our costs which included studio hire, mastering, cutting, pressing, promos, distribution, marketing etc. Of course today the costs in releasing a digital release pale in comparison to the costs of a physical vinyl release which is why there is so much dross out there. I do sometimes wish that digital labels would sometimes stop and think whether or not they'd sell a minimum amount of copies, but then where's the fun in that? Thankfully there are plenty of digital promos around from reliable names and labels that release quality tunes in an overcrowded and overpopulated market and hallelujah for that. I don't want to favour any brands or labels, but regular listeners to my weekly radio show will know who I mean. Bizarrely, this brings me to a new digital only project that won't be released.
Earlier this week I received an email informing me that "after one year in the making the Motown House album is finally here. With support from some of the worlds biggest DJs and producers there will be something of interest to suit all tastes. This will not be on general release and is a DJ Promo Package only NOT FOR RESALE !" As a big fan of Motown, I must admit I was both excited and concerned when I looked at the tracks. Here were some of the greatest vocalists and songs ever in the history of popular music remixed by a variety of current producers some of whom I'm aware of and admire and others who I've never heard of. Here was the magnificent Marvin Gaye with his epic "Let's Get It On" reworked by Knee Deep. The silky smooth and sultry Gladys Knight with her gorgeous "If I Were Your Woman" reworked by The Jinks. The incredible "Next To You" by Temptations reworked by Soul Central. Three of my favourite songs ever! With much trepidation I hit "play" and turned up the volume and ultimately breathed a sigh of relief. Most of the tracks here work well with songs from the likes of Thelma Houston, Lionel Richie, Dennis Edwards & Siedah Garret, The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and more reworked by modern day respected names such as Dennis Ferrer, DJ Spen & The MuthaFunkaz, The Pound Boys, Groove Junkies, 83 West and others. Old meets new and for the most part they all really work (apart from a couple of turkeys, one of which includes a trumpet solo that's not even in the right key). In fact they work really well. But then again, take any of these great vocalists with their beautifully crafted songs and your starting of with some of the highest quality there is and it would be difficult not to come up with something good. And I'm guessing that the producers involved approached this project with the respect and homage it deserves and were suitably inspired to deliver finished mixes to a standard the original artists, songs and label deserve.
And that's a point today's digital labels and producers should maybe stop and think about. Raise the bar. Don't rely on the endless DJ and producer tools that everyone and anybody uses which ultimately lead to the same beats, loops and sounds being used ad infinitum. Try something different! Don't rely on technology as much. Reach out to real musicians and vocalists rather than rely on whatever music production software you use and it's presets and preloaded treats. Yes, there are many, many talented dance music producers out there who make great music which I love, buy and play every week in my show and in a club, but for every great track there must be dozens of insipid, unadventurous, lazy ones too that just exist because it's easy to make them. I can't help thinking that if you care more about the music rather than the tools you use to make it, and care less about what everyone else is doing, then ultimately you'll make better music with more soul. Yes, it would mean more work, but maybe more fun too.
Motown House will not be released, but to hear some of the tracks listen to my weekly radio show. Finally, look out for my forthcoming single with legendary vocalist Byron Stingily. "Shady" by GP Inc. feat. Byron Stingily is a big vocal house tune with mixes from Bah Samba, DeepCitySoul and Michelle Owen and I'm very excited about it too having been an absolutely huge fan of Byron Stingily for over 20 years. For a sneak preview, check out my weekly radio show.
Right, I'm off to South Africa. I'll tell you all about it next month.
To find out what I'm up to, where I'm playing and to listen to my weekly radio show, please visit http://thisisgraemepark.com