Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Week 3 (music success in 9 weeks)

Week 2 was about creating the perfect pitch…we’ve created a pitch. But is it perfect? It’s a work in progress!

Screen shot

This week is about optimising the website: http://www.africantreehouse.com

Some of the concepts suggested in “Music success in 9 Weeks

  • We’ve added our current pitch to the site.
  • It should load in less than 3.5seconds…however with our “broadband” speeds in South Africa, this is rather difficult to ascertain! I think it loads fairly quickly though.
  • I ditched the flash site months ago. It was slow, and not compatible with all browsers.
  • I’ve added free downloads – and as a result have already had new fans sign up to the mailing list!
  • I try to keep the home page current, by regularly adding news & reviews.


Side Note: African Numbers got the most fantastic review from “Portfolio Collection”!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Music Lessons–a new approach

My talented 9 year old "aspie" nephew is nuts about about music. He's been going to piano lessons for a few years, and has perfect pitch as well as great rhythm.

I had an idea to start giving him music lessons in my studio, and approached a friend of mine (an adult with Asperger's) for suggestions on how best to go about it. She gave me some valuable advice:

1. Remove clutter/distractions. Since this was not possible in my studio, which is littered with cables, guitars, sheet music, microphones etc. I turned the keyboard around so that my nephew would be facing a wall when we worked.

2. Don't busk. Have clear goals. I sat my nephew down and explained the process. I told him that the song would take weeks, possibly months to complete. Every week I reinforced this, explaining the day's activity & outcome, and how the lesson fitted into the long term goal of completing the song.


Here's how the first song was put together

I chose a song (“These boots are made for walking”) which I new would be fairly simple to record.

Every week we programmed a bit of the song in my studio. Starting with the kick drum, then adding snare, hi-hat and tambourine. Then the bass intro, followed by the rest of the bass line bar by bar.

I made sure my nephew played everything in himself. We did it over and over until he got it right. (I did quantise the tracks, but since he played them so many times until he got them right, they didn’t require much correction).

I taught him how to copy and paste, so bits that were repeated didn't have to be played in again.

The only part played by me was the guitar part. But he operated the computer when I played the guitar: He armed a track and pushed record and stop. Then I got him to cut the guitar part where I’d made a mistake so that I could drop in and fix it.

His homework every week was to listen to the CD and prepare for the next lesson.

The last thing we recorded was vocals. He learned the lyrics so well that we managed to lay down vocals for whole song in about 30 minutes!


The song took a total of six, one hour sessions to complete.

I've added a bit of compression and some reverb to the vocals, and this is what the end product sounds like:

My nephew’s recording of “These Boots”

Next week we’ll start on another song. If all goes well I’ll post the second song here, once it is complete.


I'm also teaching him reading. We start every lesson with 15 minutes of clapping rhythms. I'm only concentrating on quarter note rhythms for the time being. As we progress I'll add smaller note values and eventually start working with pitch too.

If you'd like to hear the music I compose for kids, please visit: www.africantreehouse.com

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Week 2 (music success in 9 weeks)

The Pitch

The perfect pitch
We’re into week two of Music Success in 9 Weeks (you can read the intro here, and about week 1 here)

This week is all about building the perfect pitch.

This task has been rather difficult, but at the same time quite a valuable exercise. In Music Success in 9 Weeks Ariel Hyatt mentions that writing a good pitch is not unlike writing a song. And like so after much tweaking and many rewrites we ended up with something suitable. I use the phrase “ended up with” rather loosely as we may decide to make further adjustments later!
We needed something that describes our music, concept and outlook in a short, yet enticing way.
Some points that we wanted to convey:
  1. Our music is decidedly African. It’s earthy and authentic.
  2. Its music for kids but…
  3. We try to write music for kids that isn’t condescending
  4. We use good (no make that great!) musicians on the albums.
  5. We try to make kids music that adults will tolerate (and hopefully enjoy) after repeated listens
  6. We are passionate about these albums and put a lot of heart and soul into them.
  7. The music is educational, it has a sense of humour and it grooves!
After much hammering, chiselling, breaking and gluing bits together, we finally came up with:

Real world music for real kids, made with love, from Africa.

No purple dinosaurs were used in the making of this album.

Disclaimer: Adults are not immune to the contagious rhythms

If you'd like to listen to our music please visit: http://www.africantreehouse.com

What are your thoughts?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Week 1 (music success in 9 weeks)

African Treehouse
Week one is about getting mentally prepared and setting goals.
(If you don’t know what this is all about, please read my intro here)

But first a bit about me: I’m one half of a songwriting/production partnership called “African Treehouse”. My songwriting partner (Erika Strydom) and I have just released our 3rd kids CD “African Numbers” and we’re using the book “Music Success in 9 Weeks” to help us spread the word. If all goes well, you can read about our progress here for the next 9 weeks.

Making an album is an enormous task. It’s sometimes frustrating, sometimes challenging. It can be extremely rewarding. It consumes your life (both in a good way and  in a bad way). It’s a journey, a destination & whole bunch of other adjectives and clich├ęs. But it’s an absolute doddle when compared to actually selling the thing! So with all that out the way, here goes week one.


Setting out these goals has been a great learning experience already. We kind-of-sort-of knew where we wanted to go with our series of albums, but writing them down has put everything in perspective.


One week, to one month. (Some are ongoing.)

  • Write a press release, create a solid pitch and unique selling point.
  • Put together 2 press packs (1 for South African market, the other international), consisting of a press release, CD cover artwork, photos, fan comments etc
  • Update website, Facebook with news of new release, links to purchase & links to listen
  • Alert existing customers of the new CD
  • Contact new customers
  • Post lyrics on website
 Notes: Press release & press packs have been created. Relevant web sites have been updated. We have started contacting old customers – CDs are now available from Look & Listen, Kalahari.net and we have found 2 new retail outlets for our CDs (Afro in Norwood, & African Queen in the Parks). Here’s the Press Release

Medium Term

One month to six months
  • Send press packs to (or preferably meet with in person) relevant journalists and bloggers.
  • Contact radio/TV to get interviews
  • Put idea for a contest into action
  • Begin work on CD number 4 (Stories from the Alphabet Tree II)
  • Work on a teacher’s pack to put on the website (with actions & activities for each song)
 Notes: We have started sending out press packs. 2 reviews so far: http://www.harassedmom.co.za/?p=4327 & TimesLive. We have begun work on the teacher’s packs and we’ve also started writing stories for the next album.

Long Term

A year or more
  • Contact ad agencies/brand managers to explore the possibility of linking the CD to a product or brand
  • Step up international P.R. to drive download sales
  • If contest was successful, look into doing another
  • Begin work on the next music CD in the series
  • Take a vacation!!!
  • Design point-of-sale counter display stands

Very Long Term

  • Explore turning the CDs into a TV series and/or a stage show
  • Begin manufacturing merchandise (T-shirts, stickers, posters, books etc)

Any comments or advice would be welcome…we’re learning as we go along!
Tune in next week for more “Music Success in 9 Weeks”!