In Search of...: The (not so) Secret Diary of a Band

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

So this is where we are…

A while ago we got a new flyer done to take to gigs. It said "New album due in 2011". Well that has now turned out to not be possible. Not for lack of trying. It simply hasn't been possible. We finished recording the album in December of last year and then spent the next couple of months back and forth to Wiltshire to mix the record, do the odd spot of re-recording and get a mastered version ready to fulfil our commitments to Bowers and Wilkins.

Steve Osborne making our album sound sexy

Since then, we have been presented with the seemingly impossible question of how best to proceed in getting the album 'out'. By what means, in what format, and with what type of support. We're clearly not the only ones to find this interesting, as it has actually already been the subject of a blog by journalist Emma Hartley. Indeed this question is not ours alone. It could be argued that right now is one of the most difficult times ever for an emerging band to make an impact, or gain the industry support necessary to give yourself even a fighting chance of turning a 'glorified hobby' into a career.

In the last few weeks EMI, one of the oldest and biggest record labels in the world, completed its long and painful disappearance, as it was broken up by its owner (Citibank) and sold off to other members of the big 4; now 3.

Nevertheless, the attached article by pointing out that Adele, the biggest artist in the world in 2011, is signed to an independent record, XL. Now, while it may be true that XL are "a label that has bucked the trend for gloomy music industry stories over the past decade", this doesn't tell the full story. Adele's record contract is with XL, but her publishing is held by Universal Music, and her music is looked after in America by Columbia Records, which is part of Sony Records. Moreover, when The Guardian published their Music Power 100 in May of this year, number 1 was "Team Adele" - containing representatives of her label, her manager, her publisher and her plugger.

While, I don't think Urusen are going to be 2012's Adele, I use this example to give an insight to what we're faced with. We have no label, no manager, a loose affiliation with a publisher that was swallowed by EMI earlier in the year (so where that leaves them now even we don't know!). When we put our single out last month we enlisted the help of a radio plugger, and we are currently in talks with a 'booker'.

Managers, pluggers, bookers…What are they? What do they do? How, when and where do you get one? And in what order?! All questions we've been trying to get our heads round over the last year, whilst making sure we maintained our presence on the gigging and festival circuits. And paid our rent. Bit of honesty for you here, we haven't written 1 new song this year.

But we've still got this amazing record. A record that we know people will love. A record we believe offers something unique and special and that has the potential to, if not sell as many copies as '21', then at least allow us to turn this band into a viable business venture. That's not meant to sound cynical; it's the reality of what we want to achieve.To do this, we have to work out these chicken and egg situations and make some hard and risky 
decisions about where to commit resources (both time and money) and in the right order. Everyone we have spoken to in the industry has stressed how important it is to get people around you who both believe in what you are doing and can help you do it, and then just throw everything you've got at it. In short, that's what 2012 holds for us.

At the moment, the proposal is (this isn't meant to be a 'scoop' and it could change!) to release the album (title and tracklisting almost decided upon) ourselves in spring of next year. In the lead up to this, we will be enlisting the services of a booker to ensure that we are doing what we do best, gigging, in/at the right places and times whilst also paying for pluggers and PR companies to get some "buzz" around the band. We'll be paying for all of this through a variety of methods, one of which will be pre-sales to our lovely fans. There should be more details on all of this as we get/decide them. All of it has to be timed properly as there are required lead-up times and so on so people can do their jobs. After a year with it under our hats, we're not going to rush things now.

So, there's no big cheque from mr. industry man. There's no plans for a nationwide billboard campaign or celebrity endorsements (though we were told that Lenny Henry is a fan of the band after hearing our music in Mr. B's bookshop in Bath!) It's going to be us 5, with some help from some small, dynamic, companies who specialise in offering particular 'label services'. But we'll be doing it on our own terms, in the way that we've always done things. To be honest, that suits us just fine.

On Thursday, we're playing our final gig of the year at the Star of Kings for the London Folk Guild Christmas Party. LFG involves some of our favourite promoters, Continental Drifts and The Magpie's Nest. It should be a really good night, with lots of great music and dancing. Would be lovely to have some friendly faces to see the year out with. Hopefully see you there. x

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Just a quick one...

We're away this weekend doing a couple of gigs in the south west. Today, 3 of us played a little acoustic gig in Warminster at a cracking little record shop called Raves to the Grave. They have a bigger store in Frome too (where a cool band called Ahab played last week - Urusen recommended!). We have never actually done an in-store before but really enjoyed it. There should be some videos and pics of it on the way so we'll post them when they arrive. We were invited by Reuben who works there, who's band Port Erin are playing in Bath tonight at the latest Bath Burp launch party. Ben and his mum are contributors to this wonderful independent monthly arts magazine. Reuben will be doing an interview for the blog in the coming weeks about the store, as well as maybe a bit about his band, who recently were recording in the Wood Room at real World, where we were this time last year! Also in attendance today was Rick Wakeman's granddaughter!

'Raves' does LOTS of vinyl, it's a lovely site to see. I spoke to Reuben about this, and we were discussing an article in this month's Mojo magazine about the resurgence in vinyl sales - encouraging to hear when you've just released your 1st 7 inch! The article is a very interesting read, as are the two below which I spotted recently. I will probably make a habit of posting stuff like this (in a tumblr style) - probably with the odd bit of comment thrown in for free!

From pitchfork: I really hate examples of people just taking money out of the industry with no benefit for musicians or people who listen to it. Always nice to see when, even in small ways, some of this is taken back. It reminds me a bit of the action to try and get back the illegal bank charges for overdraft fees from a couple of years ago. Maybe it would be an idea to legislate to say organisations such as ticketmaster are not allowed to profit from these aspects of their services - rather than simply forcing them to disclose that they are doing this? Just a thought.

Via the guardian: Interesting more general article about the internet age and the 'digitalisation of life', with particular references to the music industry. An area I intend to come back to in the blog is what Simon Jenkins refers to as the "potency of experience", ie what the internet and free downloads can never replicate, the feeling of seeing a band live.

Anyway, bed for me now. For the record Port Erin were great, a bit like a psychadelic Radiohead with Jack Bevan from Foals on drums. We're off to Bristol tomorrow for our debut at Communion in Bristol. The original Communion night was setup in London by Mumford and Sons, so I think we're in good company.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Hold did you record in the 5th best recording studio in the world WITHOUT a record deal?

In the Woodroom at Real World
As I mentioned in the previous entry, we recorded 11 songs last year at Real World Studios. The focus of the band at the moment, and this blog, is finding the best way to release these recordings, as an album, hopefully in the spring of 2012. What I didn't explain is how we got there in the 1st place.

Traditionally, a band would have been "signed" by a record contract, under which the label would have put up the money (possibly in the form of an advance) for the artist to record, produce and ultimately release an album. This album is then the property of the label, who can decide it needs changing or discarding altogether, as well as making most of the decisions regarding the strategy for putting it out.

We currently own pretty much all of our record. Instead of the above model, we funded the project through a mixture of a form of sponsorship and good faith and belief in the band. Oh, and we spent pretty much all the money the band had saved over the previous couple of years!

The sponsorship came from Bowers and Wilkins (the speaker company). They have a long relationship with Real World and Peter Gabriel in particular, and every year they support all sorts of artists in different ways, in return for limited exclusive use of their music for their "Society of Sound" subscribers. For us, this support manifested itself in the form as a generous donation towards our studio costs.

The good faith and belief came predominantly from our producer Steve Osborne. Having been turned on to the band by Real World Publishing (who administrate our publishing), he offered us a deal whereby there was no upfront charges, but instead he would get a greater number of 'points' on the record, or % split of the income it would hopefully generate through sales, use on TV and film etc.

It also came from other, less obvious places though. Because while there were financial costs to the band, the commitment to decamping to Wiltshire for a month had to also get the approval of partners, bosses and others. The fact is that, whilst it's nice to think of a band as a gang, separate from the world, we're in fact 5 guys with lives and dependants and people that rely on us. What was perhaps most affirming about the whole thing, was the support we did get in this department. This band has meant so much to all of us that all the other strands of our lives inevitably get drawn in to it. My boss comes to gigs, Ben's Mum is regularly our hotelier and Oscar is arguably our youngest fan. To know that we had this support was invaluable, but also made us doubly determined to make the most of our time, because it wasn't just us sacrificing things like money and time, but people with nothing material to benefit from any Urusen success were moving big and small mountains to ensure we made it happen.

The next 6 months will in one, ultimately crude way, determine how worthwhile those sacrifices were. Speaking personally, it was one of the best months of my life, and more musically rewarding than anything I've ever done. The band feel pretty much the same. We are all immensely proud of what we achieved, and have a bank of shared memories that we will keep forever. But we never went in to it purely for the experience. In my next entry, I will bring you inside our current head space, getting the music we made into you, the public's, ears, heads and hearts!

As part of our arrangement with B&W, Ben put together a rather splendid short film about our time at Real World for their website, which you can watch it below.

Monday, 28 November 2011


It's probably best to start at the beginning. This is a briefer than brief history of the band. As a band, we are very keen to look forward, but it does seem relevant to tell a little of the Urusen story, if only so that if things come up in the blog about the past, you know what I'm going on about!

Urusen started, a while ago, as two cousins from the South West writing songs together. As it progressed to gigs and tentative moves into recording, they managed to find their way into their old school one summer to record some songs - recordings which ended up being the band's debut album Life Under Seat.

The record showed that this was something worth pursuing and plans were dreamt up for a follow up, but without a proper income external interests and commitments inevitably had an impact on the progress of the band. Pete did a Masters, Ben made his first few trips to Africa to make movies and the 'everyday life' stuff like jobs and relationships meant that Urusen couldn't always stay central and a top priority. Nevertheless, and perhaps as a sign of things to come, they still managed to build their own (tiny!) studio from the proceeds of the first record and set about a more ambitious project that would become their next release 'One Day In June'. More importantly, it saw Urusen become a five piece band.

The addition of extra musicians meant a broader sonic palette but also more lives to fit around. In Jay, the band had found (via gumtree) a full-time musician with real experience of the sharp end of the industry - having toured the world with a multi-platinum selling artist. Nick (via a mutual friend's introduction) came on board with his Cello and years of experience in bands and orchestras. Rob, an old friend, completed the line-up on drums. In addition, having been 'on the scene', the band had contacts within the industry now, as well as musicians and friends to help with the recording of the 2nd record. Recorded in Ben's converted childhood bedroom but mastered by a producer of The Who, the band self released the record on their own label, The Almighty Rooftop Record Company.

Between then and now, a new full-time drummer, Kieran (me) came on board and fittingly, the band got bigger and louder in lots of ways. A new found dynamism, a lot of hard work and the triumphant/serendipitous return of a version of 'folk' music to the mainstream has resulted in 3 consecutive summers of extensive gigging and festivals, our music used on TV and played on radio, as well as a growing, wonderful set of fans. Oh, and Nick became a Dad! A desire to make a 'proper' record after dipping our toes in with demos and twilight sessions in studios culminated in the Winter of 2010 with the band decamping to a cottage in Wiltshire, taking 4 weeks off from their lives, and recording 11 songs at Real World Studios with producer Steve Osborne; without doubt the best musical experience any of us ever had.

Just over a year to the day since we went down there, I sit writing this with the record still only having been heard by a select few people outside of the band. So what's next? A successful self release of a single and a music industry that is increasingly risk averse and development shy has lead to us making the decision to put the record out ourselves; with a little help from a variety of different people who you'll hear more about later in future posts.

So that's where we've been and how we got here. It's not intended as a full biography; I'll leave that to Vh-1. The reason I've started with this is to show that where we are now is undoubtedly at the beginning of an exciting and intriguing journey, but it is also the latest chapter in an already running story. I think this is worth mentioning because, for all bands, there is a huge emphasis on always portraying yourselves as "new", "fresh" and "breakthrough". While we will always be new to some people, and we feel like we are most definitely fresh and bringing something new to the industry, we will not ignore our history. Not only do we think it's interesting, but it's this past, and the memories that have brought us here, and make us so sure that we can make next year the best the band has ever had.

Monday, 19 September 2011

7" Vinyl

Forgot to add a pic of our vinyl - so here's the cover...

Summer Summary

This is way overdue - lots to tell, but not sure there's enough time to tell it - it's been a little hectic since we have our London single launch (first single from the new album) tomorrow 20th Sept at The Lexington and we'll be joined by our good friend Sam Brookes and the fantastic Imaginary String Band. Then on Friday 23rd we have our Bath Single launch where we'll be joined by the wonderful Sarabeth Tucek - both promise to be a crackers.

Since our last post, it's been a busy summer of gigging-surviving-planning-and-driving - we've taken in delights ranging from the awesomeness of The Big Chill and Secret Garden Party, to busking the streets of Cardiff and sharing beds in the Sky Plaza Hotel in Leicester ...can't recommend the latter, but it was cheap.

Mainly we've been building up to the single launch and also trying to plot the release of the album which we hope will be soon. Anyway, we thought long and hard about what to release first and went for the tracks in question as we felt they were a good intro/taster of the album (or one aspect of it - at least the aspect we felt we wanted people should hear first). Plus it seemed right to put out two rather than a single on its ow, not just because this year has gone by wayyyy too fast and we're keen for people to have something, but also cos we think that these two tracks sit really well together as stories, songs, musical journeys... So, the two tracks are 'The Islander' and 'A Once Was Tramp And Tree' and we've decided to put them both out as a free download (yes free with no strings attached) though we would like to add that we do have a rather good looking limited edition double A-Side 7" vinyl version so you can get your hands on a physical copy.

Apart from that here are a few things we've put together recently that you may not have seen yet. Here's a short film about the recording of the album with Steve Osborne down at Real World Studios:

And following up our last post on this year's Glastonbury (to attempt to give our blog some continuity!) here we are performing 50&9 on the Bandstand this year:

Hope you enjoy and we'll try to write again soon.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Mud? Glastonburied...

So, it turned out to be either thick sloppy mud and rain, or scorching sunshine - 2011 was a glastonbury of extremes. Which doesn't make it easy when you're carting musical equipment around the site through the throng, but going up on stage at the Avalon Cafe to play to a rammed 600-strong audience definitely makes it worth it! Of our gigs at Glastonbury 2011 this was definitely our highlight - thanks to Lisa at Avalon for giving us the slot, and I suppose we also need to say thanks to the Huckleberries for cancelling as we weren't expecting to play there this year!

We don't have and footage of us playing, but here's a clip of our crowd!

Our slot at the Avalon Cafe took place on the Thursday afternoon and our next official gig was not until Sunday night at The Bandstand, but we managed to fit in a backstage gig at the Acoustic Stage and also do a radio interview with Worthy FM where Ben, Kieran and Pete performed a couple of tracks live on air. We were also played on BBC Radio Bristol as part of their Glastonbury coverage - apparently our songs make people cry! But, in a good way….we hope! technically it was an exclusive too - the first radio play of any of the new tracks done with Steve Osborne.

So, it was a bit of a working weekend, but there was plenty of time to get involved…Highlights: Elbow - for awesome crowd singing (plus the sun had finally decided to show its face), Paul Simon - a total legend (and yes he did play You can call me Al), the Treetop Flyers (definitely a band to watch out for) on after us at the Avalon Cafe, and seeing our good friend Pete Roe playing with Laura Marling, who was excellent on the Pyramid Stage. Oh and Shangri la and Arcadia…still nuts, and still amazing.

Thanks to everyone who made it along to see us - it was awesome too to see lots of familiar faces. And keep an eye out for us if you're at any other festivals this summer as we'll be doing a few more, including Secret garden Party and The Big Chill.

As for Glasto, next year is a fallow year - probably just as well after most of the site this year been trampled into an unrecognisable lake of mud, it deserves a bit of time to recover…as do we ;o) Even so, roll on 2013...

Monday, 4 April 2011


Sorry for the delay in this blog reaching you all but so much has happened since our last entry we are quite not sure where to begin.

Let's start with this. We have a completed, mixed collection of 11 tracks that we are all amazingly proud of. 4 months after we entered the pre production rehearsals with producer Steve we have finished. I think we can confidently say that the album process is incredibly hard to document. It's a complete roller coster of emotions with some beautiful pure moments of euphoria and joy counter balanced by some equally low moments where you feel like your dwelling in the depths of creative despair, wondering if people will like it or not. Powerful stuff for sure!

Anyway...we did it.

Initially we had some rough mixes from Steve back in late Jan/early Feb. These sounded pretty damn good but they were early mixes and designed for us to listen to thoroughly and make notes on what we felt we would want changed. Needless to say, with five pairs of ears and five opinions to match (we are an odd bunch) there was lots of feedback. Again this is quite difficult to explain. Most people would think you just record an album and then someone mixes it and then it's done. It's definitely not that simple. We all knew that we wanted this record to be a 'sound'. We wanted every song to sit well alongside each other. However anybody who has seen us knows that we have varying songs, even though we have a 'Urusen' sound. Basically every song had to deliver the intended message as such. Therefore we had to go through each track with a fine toothed comb. What do we want the drums and bass to be doing on this track? How should the cello be used? Do we want huge vocals at this point or save them for later etc. It was a lot of work to do.

After a few band meetings and relaying lots of individual feedback to each other we were ready to go and do some mixing with Steve. For the first session Pete, Ben, Nick and Jay went back to Realworld to spend a day with Steve and of course Joe (his trusty assistant and all round top bloke). It had been nearly three months since we had seen Steve and Joe and it was great to be back. We all slipped back into the studio vibe very easily . One of the most enjoyable aspects of the month spent with these two was the constant banter we had. We instantly got back into that! It's always great when your'e working in a high pressured environment and it's accompanied by jokes and laughter. After a cup of tea (joe is officially the best tea (and coffee) maker in the west), it was time to get going.

What was interesting was that immediately Steve listened to something and said 'right I'm not happy with that come back in an hour'! The best thing about Steve O is that he is an absolute perfectionist. This was apparent in the recording process where he worked us very hard. Clearly he keeps to this work ethic when mixing too. We returned to find that he had 'tightened' up the track a lot and it was sounding amazing. We then went through other elements of the track and what we wanted from it until we felt it was complete. In fact the entire mixing process took this approach from start to finish with every track, picking them apart. Some required more work then others. We finished this first day of mixing at 2am! A couple of us arrived back in London at 5am!

The second day with Steve was a few days later. Following the same process. However this day started with Jay re-recording the double bass to a track in Steve's room. This was because we wanted a bigger, tighter bass sound and as we had recorded everything live there had been spill from the drums onto the original bass part. This meant that if we turned the bass up a lot we got more drums than we wanted. These are all part of the pros and cons of recording live as a band. Why would there be drums on the recording on the bass mic you may think? Well for this particular track we wanted a nice roomy sound to the drum kit, so we left the drum room door open. We never wanted every track to sound the same so to get the right timbre for this particular track we took this approach. Jay re-recorded the bass which meant we could whack it up on the mix to get the desired effect. The rest of the day was again spent mixing tracks and trying out different effects, reverbs, compressors etc. On one tune for example we wanted the eq of a particular instrument to be quite bright at the start of the track and then become more 'dull' in sound to blend in the mix better later on. To achieve these sort of effects something called automation needs to be used which is actually 'drawing' in the level of whatever you are changing, then the software 'reads' this and automatically adjusts the levels for you. Things like this can be either really quick or take ages. If you read our last blog you will know we dubbed Steve 'ninja ears'. Well he is also 'ninja editor' as well, so actually it was very speedy.

Jay had to head back to London later that day, and Nick later that evening, leaving Pete and Ben to continue with Steve and Joe into the early hours again. The last day of mixing was the next day, where there was one more track that needed a lot of work to it, involving a bit of impromptu guitar and piano recorded that day in Steve's studio, which seemed to make a big difference. Especially with the use of an old 'space echo' unit Steve owned - totally sorted the end of the track out. With the last track done and dusted, there's was time for one last listen through everything, before another long day was over, Steve went home declaring 'I'm taking tomorrow off!', and Joe, Pete and Ben drove into Bath for a late night celebratory drink!

Right now, we don't want to go into more detail regarding the individual tunes as we really don't want to give anything away! But we can safely say that we're all blown away with the results and that we have at last captured the 'Urusen Sound'. We feel that we have created a body of work that all of us are incredibly proud of and one that we hope will connect with people and take them on a whole sonic journey from sparse landscapes to colossal oceans of sound! There's definitely lots of the textures and sounds present that you might know if you are already familiar with us, but there are also some sounds and approaches that venture into new territories for us, with different instrumentation and effects. The main thing is that we feel have completely encapsulated the sound we have been striving to achieve for some time.

So all that remains to be said is a massive huge thank you to the inspiring and dedicated talents of Steve Osborne as well as the indispensable Joe and all the lovely peoples at Realworld studios. Now we just need to get it out there!

We'll be back soon with more...

Monday, 10 January 2011

Calling all Urusenettes and Urusenaires!

Lots of exciting things coming up in 2011 for Urusen - and we want you to be a part of them. If you'd be interested in helping us out with some exciting little events and ideas we've got, as well as some general promo and exposure things, then read on!

We're looking to put together a crack commando unit of Urusen die-hards to carry out our evil bidding as we embark on our mission of world domina...not quite. Basically, we'd like to have a group of people who love the band who we could call upon when we have things to promote or when we could do with a bit of buzz around the band on certain sites etc. We always appreciate how much people talk about the band already, so this is just us trying to "organise" a bit for maximum efficiency! In return, you can expect (aside from massive kudos!) some exclusive goodies and Urusen-related fare, plus some freebies!

If you would be interested, please send an email to with the words "Promo Team" in the Subject. If you could tell us your name and location that would be great too.

Thanks alot, see you all soon,

Urusen x