What makes music great and how can I get some?
Where would Jaws be without the ‘dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum’ score?
How important was the Marvin Gaye track, ‘I Heard It Through The Grape Vine?’ to the success of the Levis Laundrette commercial?
The answers are pretty obvious, ‘Not nearly as popular and a lot’.
Music and film go hand in hand. Their couplings have produced moving, exciting and involving experiences in movie theatres and on television screens across the world for generations and are now having a huge impact on a myriad of digital platforms.
Both the feature film and advertising industries owe the music business a huge debt. A debt they are more often than not, happy to pay. How much did Microsoft think it was worth to have the Rolling Stones track, ‘Start Me Up’ to launch Windows 95? Rumours at the time put the figure at between $8 and $14 million dollars US. Retired Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold later set the record straight in an interview with the Puget Sound Business Journal posted by TechFlash. He said Mick and the boys were paid about $3 million.
But did the money really go to ‘Mick and the boys’
tunecore.com clearly states (that in a band), if the guitar player and the singer write a song and that song gets used in a TV show for example it will be the guitar player and the singer who receive the income from the synchronization fee (and other associated royalties). The drummer, the bass player and any other member of the band will see none of this money. Zip.
Some bands circumvent the tensions, recriminations and squabbles copyright ownership might cause by having in place an agreement where all band members share royalties equally. Bands that have undertaken this commitment are not surprisingly amongst the most enduring.
But where does great music come from? In the case of popular music the obvious answer is great songwriters, Lennon & McCartney, Adele, Holland Dozier Holland, Kanye West, Sia, and Taylor Swift spring to mind.
Yes, but really?
A lot of very famous and financially successful songwriters will tell you that they are mere conduits for the music they create. It comes from somewhere else.
Leonard Cohen once said, “If I knew where great songs come from, I’d go there more often.”
In the book ‘Songwriters On Song Writing’ by Paul Zolla, legendary singer/song writer Carol King was asked the question, “Was your song ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ written for anyone in particular? She replied, “No that song was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside of myself through me.”
These explanations are not uncommon.
In the same publication Neil Young said of the song writing process, “I mean that I start consciously trying to think of what I’m going to do next. Then I quit. Then when I have an idea out of nowhere, I start up again. When that idea stops, I stop. I don’t force it. If it’s not there, it’s not there and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He was then asked the question, “Do you ever feel that these songs come from a source that is beyond you?” He replied, “Well that’s the theory. I don’t know if there’s a hard and fast rule about that. Some of them I know must be coming directly through me, because they’re more personal. And the other ones …. it’s a subconscious thing. After you’ve written a few songs you start to recognise that when you have an idea for a song and you start hearing a melody over and over again with words in your head, that’s when you should write the song. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try and write a song. You know, go and mow the lawn.” Neil was then asked, “There are a lot of songwriters who don’t hear those ideas?” to which he replied, “Well, there’s a lot of songs that sound like they don’t hear them.”
So where does great music come from? In this, the first of a series of articles on the role music plays in the development of film we thought we’d go right back to basics and look at people who make the instruments that songwriters use to create their masterpieces.
crossing the line first met Stuart Monk owner/designer/maker and player of Fican guitars at an open mic night in a small bar called Kelly’s, King Street, Newtown.
Guitar production in Australia, with the exception of Maton and Cole CLARK, is very much a cottage industry. Inspired and driven craftsmen work horrendous hours in small but perfectly formed workshops to hand make custom instruments. It’s a personal thing. It’s often not about money. It’s about creating something from nothing that might at some stage conceivably make a difference to the way a musician performs and sounds.
Stuart Monk, Founder of Fican Guitars
The Home of Fican is located in a small, unglamorous industrial park at Heathcote on the Southern outskirts of Sydney. There is a small showroom with about 20 guitars on display. Out the back is a workshop where the magic happens. There are no robots here, just hand made custom templates, chisels, and cross saws, all the (hand) tools of the trade. Scattered around the floor and benches are small stacks of beautiful, beautiful wood and any number of guitars in various stages of construction. The first impression a visitor has is that at the heart and soul of every Fican guitar is a solid, hand carved block of the finest quality wood. No veneers, no glue.
Fican Headquarters, Heathcote, NSW, Australia
Fican is in fact, the amalgamation of the ‘fi’ from Fijian Mahogany and the ‘can’ from Canadian Maple. Everything at Fican, Stu explains, revolves around the quality of the wood.
In the beginning there was wood
CROSSINGTHELINE: Stuart, thank you for your time. What inspired you to become a luthier?
STUART MONK: It was a combination of things. A few years back I damaged my left index finger working on a boat. The injury made it difficult for me to play a guitar with a C shaped neck. Then there was Brian May. Brian along with his dad made that famous red guitar, the one he’s played from the very early days of Queen. I thought I could do that. So I made a guitar with a D shaped neck for me to play. It all sort of snowballed from there.
CROSSINGTHELINE: Your guitars could be described as a little different from those made by the established makers?
It’s all in the grain.
STUART MONK: Play the difference is how I explain it. I’m trying to innovate but in a way that is acceptable to players. When you buy from me you get the opportunity to select the wood. It might be Australian Silky Oak or Fijian Mahogany or Australian White Cedar or a piece of African Wenge that I just this minute purchased or any one of a number of other tonal woods I source as they become available. Tracking down and negotiating to buy the best timber is a huge part of what I do. With my guitars you can see how straight the grain is. You can see that its just one piece of wood. And hopefully you get a sense of the love, care, craftsmanship, precision and time that has gone into every one. I’ve recently made a couple of guitars on order for Scotland from 3,000 year-old Tasmanian King Billy so every instrument has to carry a conservation certificate of purchase. The older the wood the tighter the grain and that positively affects the resonance. Ficans sound and look amazing but 500 years from now I hope musicians will still be playing my guitars and thinking wow, a lot of craft and love went into making this thing.
In the showroom.
CROSSINGTHELINE: They must be hard to let go of?
STUART MONK: Every time a guitar goes out the door it takes a little bit of me with it. (Laughs) Hand making guitars produces a lot of sweat and a bit of it invariably seeps into the wood.
CROSSINGTHELINE: How does the custom thing work?
STUART MONK: Well there are basically six different models. The six strings are the Tornado, Eroxa, Cardwell, and TrebleClef plus the Gimba base which is a normal base and then there’s the Gimba 2 octave base. Within those designs you can have just about any combination you want. Colours, wood, electrics, etc, just name it. If you’re a player and you’re looking for a new guitar the best thing you can do is come into the showroom and talk about it. You can select your own piece of wood and we build from there.
At work with wood
CROSSINGTHELINE: How do you tell if a piece of wood is fit for purpose?
STUART MONK: Experience plays a big part. And as I said before I always look for a straight grain and of course the natural patterns in the wood. (Stuart picks up a guitar in the early stages of construction and taps its body.) Hear that? That tells me this has all the right attributes to make a great guitar.
Real hands, real craft
CROSSINGTHELINE: How long does it take to make a Fican guitar?
STUART MONK: It depends but on average 2 to 3 months. There is just me and Jeff Cassato who was originally a master cabinet maker ….. I’ve learnt so much about working with wood from this guy, his skills are legendary, and there’s a young but very enthusiastic apprentice but we put in the hours because making guitars is what we love to do.
Jeff Cassato master craftsman.
CROSSINGTHELINE: Any plans for expansion.
STUART MONK: It’s always tempting and we do have thoughts of increasing production but in a very limited way. Maintaining the craft, handmade thing is the priority. If I had a motto it would be, “Nothing is going out my door that’s shit.”
CROSSINGTHELINE: I think it was Confucius who said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
STUART MONK: (Laughs) Exactly. I just hope people like playing them as much as I like making them.)
So, if you’re watching a piece of film be it a feature, a tv commercial, content or whatever, more likely than not the pictures will be accompanied by a piece or pieces of music. Give a thought not just to the singer, the songwriter or the composer but also to people who put in the hours creating the instruments that make music possible.