Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Friday, 17 July 2015

#26: Music For Dance

At the end of 2001 I was renting a room in South London and had started working on some new music for a new purpose. Rachel, my future wife, prompted the idea of writing music to suit dance education; whereby tracks would be composed, produced and presented to students of contemporary dance tailored to meet their examination criteria. It sounded like a good plan to try out, so I started work on a number of tracks each of which displayed some change of dynamic - be it tempo, time signature, texture, etc. I acquired various sources of reference material and started to build up a library of sampled African, eastern and tribal drum and instrumental sounds, as well as some synth elements. I put together 12 tracks that ranged from electronic synth to experimental sample based works covering a fusion of genres. Added to the album were three tracks I had written and recorded years earlier as S-cape, which had a more electronic ambient vibe. These tracks made up the first release titled ‘DancesoundsVolume One, Choreography’.

We had a twenty pound note and spent it on some stamps, jiffy bags and blank CDs. I burned the CDs on my home computer, printing out the labels and jewel case sleeves, and we put together a flyer with order form promoting the album and sent it out to a number of schools we had addresses of. This was in February 2002 and it wasn't long before we started to have sales. We burned more CDs, printed more labels, sent out more letters and then took more sales. Rachel started building a database, I was building a website and soon we were looking for an accountant. By September of that year, we released a second volume entitled ‘Classwork’, which featured longer tracks structured around a dance class with music for warming up, footwork, travelling and cool down. These were more electronic dance based and more akin to the music I had done as S-cape a few years earlier. We decided to get our CDs burned by a company rather than do them at home, and we started to use printers for the sleeve and promo leaflets. The orders built up and the database grew quite quickly.

Rachel worked on the admin and promotions, including designing the leaflets and putting together guidelines for tracks. I worked on the music composition and production, as well as the website. It was a good team in a modest cottage industry. Volume 3 'Stage Dance' was released in January of 2003 and contained more classical influences with traditional instruments and shorter pieces aimed at use for dance festivals and competitions. I didn't have a strong palette for orchestral and traditional sampled sounds, so I've never been happy with the tracks on this CD; particularly since upgrading my sound library in recent years and listening back for comparison. However, they continued to contribute to incoming sales, and I was soon working on Volume 4 'Solos & Groups', which, like Volume 1, was aimed more at choreography use for dance students. It is probably one of my favourites of all the albums with its wide range of styles and sounds, which was fun to compose and record. 

Volume 5 ‘Dance Drama’ and Volume 6 ‘Percussion’ were released together in 2005. The former contained tracks with narratives depicting street scenes, water, the Wild West, spy drama, communications and machines. These were fun to make as they incorporated a lot of use of my sampler. For the water tracks (stream, river, sea) I recorded the sound of water in the garden using the outdoor tap and a bucket. For the Wild West movie scenes, besides using what sound effects I already had in my sound library such as gunshots, horses galloping and the sound of wind, I took my minidisc recorder to a local pub and recorded the punters and background noise of clinking glasses and chatter. This served as the background for a piece for a Wild West saloon over which I played a honky-tonk piano track. 'Machines' featuring sampled printer noises shifted pitch to depict big factory machines, and communication included my own voice as an answerphone machine and other telephone effects. For ‘On the Street’, I recorded the sounds of traffic on Oxford Street and then cut up the samples around the car horn sounds, which I then played and sequenced as a track.
Great fun to record and put together.

The Percussion album also made use of sampling on a few tracks. All the tracks used percussion sounds and instruments so there were drum tracks, chromatic percussion such as xylophones, marimbas, glockenspiel and use of orchestral percussion sounds only. But I also created my own by recording sounds made by various kitchen utensils and cutlery, as well as hitting pots and pans and shaking containers from the spice rack.

We also started to sell music for dance by other composers on our website. Our promo leaflet had now grown into a catalogue of several pages, more so when we started to incorporate dance education books.

I recorded another choreography album the following year called ‘Composition’, which sits as another of my favourites. Ten tracks blending hip hop influences, with contemporary uses of traditional sounds and some synth effects. Volume 8 ‘Creative Workshop’ featured a mixture of ambient, jazz influenced, and some up-tempo tracks that were structured suitable for different choreographic and class work routines.

Volume 9 ‘Ideas For Dance’ featured more narrative tracks with music depicting space or time travel, pirates discovering treasure, a balloon rising and falling, this time based more on musical themes, harmonies, instruments and styles rather than sound effects.

Volume 10 ‘One Minute Thirty’ provided another challenge as every track had a duration of one-minute-thirty seconds (which served as the title), so each had to maintain some form of structure, and a change of dynamic. This was a mixture of electronic and sampled traditional acoustic sounds across various genres. Volume 11 was titled ‘Musical Cues’ and each employed a compositional device as the basis of each track. That could have been a form such as canon, or a rhythmical device.

We also had started selling digital downloads of the tracks by adding on a digital store to our website. This also meant we could sell music on demand. While we had been providing alternative edits of some tracks on the end of CDs, we started offering a service where I would edit a track to a required length from a customer, and make it available as a download only track. Around the same time, we started providing a music search service where we had dance teachers and students searching for a suitable piece of music for a performance or choreographic task in an examination and on receiving an enquiry, Rachel would select suitable suggestions by referring to a spreadsheet we built containing data pertaining to each bit of music. The customer could then preview the tracks and buy the downloads. This proved to be quite a popular tool and gave us some indication as to what type of music people were after, particularly when we received requests for similar themes or settings. In some cases I would compose and produce new music that might fit some requirements ahead of time, which would then be additions to the catalogue and form the basis of the next album. In 2010, we released Volume 12 ‘Mood and Atmosphere’ which featured more cinematic styles of music with an improved sound palette and some new compositional ideas.

One thing Dancesounds has done over the years is stretch and challenge me a little when it comes to compositional style, sound selection and use of form. Instead of always sticking to 4/4 steady rhythms and standard harmonic structures, I found myself experimenting more with time signatures, polyrhythms, using timbres in different ways and playing around more with sampling and creating new sounds.

In 2012, after ten years, we wound the business down, in part prompted by a house move, a change in circumstances and the quietening down of CD sales. After 12 volumes of work, plus extra albums of edited tracks, extra compositions and commissions, we had built up quite a catalogue of material and a customer base of happy clients.

While a number of CDs are still available through the NRCD(National Resource Centre for Dance), I also put the entire digital catalogue on Bandcamp. I also released Volume 12 through CD Baby which now makes it available across various digital outlets and services such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Google Play, and many many more. The tracks are occasionally played and sold and I recently set about remastering them all with a view to reissuing a selection of the albums, as well as preparing them for availability as music for media by way of a production music library.

This week sees the re-release of albums ‘Composition’, ‘Creative Workshop’ and ‘Solos & Groups’ which are perhaps my favourite three. These, along with ‘Mood & Atmosphere,’ now sit on the other digital services mentioned as well as various others.

Around six years ago, I began editing video footage to a few tracks to give them some life on places like YouTube. I've always been keen to write or edit to visual media, and while I’ve contributed music to a few short films, I never managed to find a foothold in the right place to get any further. So sometimes I just have to make my own and do it myself.

Cracking Codes
Edited video of my trip to Derek Jarman's Garden a few years back. 

 In all the time we were selling the CDs we would occasionally get some feedback from students or teachers who had used our music, but we would never actually see examples of the combined efforts of each art form; except for one time quite early on when we were invited to a local school in Tonbridge, who were putting on their end of year dance performance, using around seven pieces of my music. So it was quite a thrill to see students perform their choreographed routines to tracks from the catalogue. A few years later I began doing a few commissioned arrangements and compositions for stage festivals and competition performances, which were filmed and sent to me. And more recently I stumbled across a few tracks that had been posted to YouTube by dance students showing their choreography routines. So while hearing and seeing evidence of the use of the music has been minimal, it is very rewarding to see.

My competition entry of a short score  to a Wayne McGregor dance video. 
Part of the Royal Opera House Create project competition. 
It didn't win but here it is anyway. 

‘Composition’, ‘Creative Workshop’, ‘Solos & Groups’ and ‘Mood & Atmosphere’ are available in digital stores including ITunes, Amazon, GooglePlay, and Spotify.

And the full catalogue remains available at Bandcamp.