Friday, 20 June 2014

If a Lion Barks in a Forest, Everyone Will Hear it

This article originally appeared on the blog at

It's been just twelve months since the release of their début song 'Two Prongs,' and in that short time Brighton's Lion Bark, true to their namesake, have been making a lot of noise. There's been gushing write-ups in blogs like When The Gramophone Rings and Indie Shuffle, features in the NME Radar, Clash Magazine and The 405, not to mention sessions for BBC Introducing and even Burburry. As the band get ready for the release of their next single 'Come Into My Arms', Barney caught up with Ozzy and the guys to give us the skinny on the recording of their hotly-anticipated debut album, frontman Guy's distinctive voice and what it's like to play a session on a boat.

B. Sorry about the predictability of this question but let’s get it out of the way like pulling off a plaster! You guys are a new band so please give us a brief history of Lion Bark; where you met, who are your influences, what you’ve done until now…

LB. We all have quite different musical histories. Each interesting individually, but they're long tales for other times. These stories merged 3 years ago when we all moved to Brighton and began writing together. We were at music school, being taught how to murder our imaginations when we birthed the band. Shortly after, we left the institute, for obvious reasons. Our career history consists of a lot of writing, a handful of gigs, and half a tea spoon of song releases. As i write this, we're about to release our next song, Come Into My Arms, which we had a great time recording. And, in terms of influences, it's a never ending list, which i shan't bore you with.

B. You don't need me to tell you that you guys have been getting an amazing response to the small amount of material you have out there. There's been a huge amount of plays and views of your 'Longhorn' video and blogs are really building you up. Has the weight of the hype added any pressure or are you taking it all in your stride?
LB. Thank you. It's certainly been enjoyable to watch the materials reception. We've received a few emails from people that the music has really touched and lifted. That's such a joy. I see uploading and sharing a song as akin to smiling at someone in the street. It's a little thing, what with all the music out there, but it can brighten someone's day. If they smile back it just makes us smile more. I'm sure that individually, we feel different levels of "pressure" though. We've said things like, "sounds Two Prongsy. That's good." or "let's just write a happy one.", when we're wondering about how a song will be received. But we've learned so much over these few years that it's hard not to apply it to our music, and so that natural progression or deviation from the old happens by accident. The thought that occurred a few seconds after Two Prongs release, "Oh man, now all our songs have to sound like this or people will hate us." has been well and truly shattered. Our new singles, to us, feel like a whole different ball park and we're excited to share them. So, to answer your question, we're taking it in our stride now. Pressure becomes excitement when you're proud of your work.

B. The most immediate thing about 'Lion Bark' is Guy's vocal style. The way I described it to a mate was ‘grown man’ vocals. Has the croon quality of it been something you’ve attempted to feature in the songwriting or has it just come through naturally? It's distinctive and unique and that takes a real maturity and confidence to put out there. Has there been any vocalist that has particularly influenced the Guy style?

LB. Haha, yeah. I remember when i first heard Guy sing, i thought it was strange but had a lovely tone. It's just one of those "that's how it is" things. It's how he's always sung, and he wasn't going to change that to be in this band. It's probably been the easiest part of our songwriting, it's the constant. We can throw whatever sounds we want underneath it, but that's how Guy sounds so ... that'll be there no matter what.

B. The video for ‘Longhorns’ is remarkable, almost a horror. Ben Pender, the director had a very in-depth explanation for the way it interprets the lyrics. Was this something you collaborated on or was it a case of leaving him to interpret the lyrics as he saw fit and present the resulting idea to you?

LB. Yes, Ben is a friend of ours and he had offered to make the video for us. I was readying ideas for collaboration, we had some storyboards flying around, when all of a sudden this finished idea of his was on the table. He had the know-how, the equipment and the passion - so it sort of steam-rolled from then on. And from "then on", to it being finished, was a very short space of time. The idea accurately represents the lyrics for the most part, as he did converse with Guy on the subject matter. But yeah, we were all proud of the result. Ben and his team did a great job.

B. You played on BBC Introducing live session in the library with a stunning arrangement of 'Longhorns'. The live vocal harmonies really jump out. Did you have to think a lot about the stripped-down arrangement or did you essentially just play the live version without drums? What was the experience of the BBC Introducing session like?

LB. We just played the song in a really simple format! That was it really. Same song, just with less going on. The experience of being in the studio was a fun one, and hopefully not the last.

B. There's a wonderful video of you guys playing 'Two Prong' in a boat on YouTube. You're all very professional and earnest looking in the vid but that must have been an absolute hoot to do right? Was it a memorable experience and is it any harder to play intricate folk guitar on a rocking boat than it is on dry land?

Ha ha. The thing that made playing guitar hard in that boat, was trying to hold the one mic we were recording the sound with, between my knees as i played. Other than that, I'd say it's similar to playing on dry land. I suppose our next challenge would be to do an acoustic session, but just be swimming as we play. That might prove harder. But yeah it was great fun.

Lion Bark 2

B, Brighton is a city known for its music scene, especially the more arty and (does inverted commas sign in the air) hipster indie bands. Have you found being in Brighton a help to your progress or is it harder to stand out with so many other bands vying for attention?

LB. Brighton has a strange and wonderful music scene. The list of inspiring musicians and creative persons here just goes on and on. I would say that being here has helped us, partly because - we wouldn't have met otherwise, and because all the other bands here already sound so good. If it doesn't inspire you and make you up your game then you're at the wrong gigs. The thing that makes a band stand out the most in Brighton, for me, is the level of maturity they have. With so many musicians around, you can tell when a band don't really know what they're doing. I mean that creatively, and technically. It's natural to be at the starting line at some point, we've all been there, but a lot of the acts in Brighton have been going for a long time. And they sound great because of it. As for ourselves, we're one leaf on the musical tree that is Brighton, we're not trying to stand out per se, but we're involved and we're having fun.

B. I've seen the studio photos on your sites and can't wait to hear the result. Let us know where you are with new material. Are you working with the same producer as last time? What can we expect in terms of new material?
LB. The line up of people we're working with has changed around a bit. We had the pleasure of working with Tarek Musa, musician/producer extraordinaire for the first two singles, and since then we've been invited up to work with Barny Barnicott. Last time we were in the studio, taking those pictures you've seen, we were on a confidence high and were just experimenting as much as we could. So, don't expect these next few releases to be tame.

B. Your new year’s resolutions were posted on your Facebook. Nearly halfway through 2014 it’s time to take a look back. Did you…
Learn a new chord? If so, which one?
(Tasteful) Fill a song with cowbell?
Release and sell your own brand of cereal?

LB. Ha ha. I haven't learnt any chords actually, but i've invented a few. "The Glory Chord" has made it's way into our live set. ( But no, we have learnt some chords, some named ones. We're just not sure on their names )

The cowbell waits in the shadows.

The cereal is ready, but we're not sure the public are.

B. What’s the rest of the year got in store for Lion Bark? Throw us your social networks and site and any final info so we can keep up with your ascendancy.

LB. The year has excitement in store. We've got our happy faces on and we're eager to share our creations with you. Best place to check for these, and other updates, would be at From there you can reach our Facebook and other social media where it all goes on.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Let’s Get Engaged (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book)

This is the original version of a music guidance blog that I wrote for US site Music Clout HERE and the UK version for Fresh on The Net HERE.

Facebook Pages. For a musician, they are an increasingly frustrating proposition. Their functionality, features and business model are still developing while over forty-two million users can only observe and react to the changes taking place. Month after month, it seems that your Page’s non-paid reach is less and less. The platform has simply become another advertising avenue for acts and businesses with deep pockets to use. It’s easy to become despondent. Complain about this on Facebook and some bright spark on your timeline will quickly point out you’re moaning about the free resource you’re currently using. But while the platform is free, it seems only fair that fans that have taken the time to 'like' you on Facebook should receive your updates and not have the site’s content generator getting between you. So what can we do about it? The truth of the matter is, and I hate to say it, that your annoying Facebook-defending buddy is actually right; complaining about a free site performs isn't going to get anything changed. At the Music Biz 2014 conference this week in Los Angeles, Facebook representatives were less than forthcoming with answers for an angry artist asking them why he has to pay to reach his fans. With no indication that this trend is going to reverse it means that our perspective, techniques and understanding of Facebook Pages needs to change along with the technology. We might not like this fact but unless we’re going to pay for the service, we have to face it.

I manage a Facebook band Page with nearly 24,000 fans. That may sound like a lot, but between albums and promotional pushes, the Facebook Page can actually be a profoundly lonely place. Photographs struggle to get in double-figures of 'likes'. Unanswered questions bounce around the wall like echoes down a ravine. Every now and then, we'll have an unpredictably viral post, be it a photograph of Flea with his bass guitar unplugged or a funny-looking shot of Beyoncé, heavily shared and seeded from our photo upload. While the reach these successes gave our profile was welcome, they were not without their drawbacks. Many strangers to our band met the posts with direct hostility, often engaging with the content but not bothering to read the neutral accompanying messages and assuming we were attacking the artist. Some of our established fans actually 'unliked' us, accusing us of gossip-mongering. While proving that engagement in a hot topic is a route to Facebook Page traffic, unless I was going to change the site to a Superbowl half-time gossip column, these excursions into hundreds of shares weren't adding much to the page’s overall purpose.


In the face of such emasculation and loneliness I went on the offensive. These are our fans, god-dammit! Why should we have to pay to speak to them Facebook?! As have many bands before me, I sent an image in our mailout asking that fans actively add themselves into the ‘Get Notification’ category for the page. Rather pathetically I also did it on our Facebook and asked fans to share it. It never really occurred to me that for this to have any tangible effect, I’d have to do it at least once a week, cluttering up my feed with more requests for attention and taking up a precious post that could be used for some engaging, original content. I was fed up with Facebook.

It was while I was writing a blog detailing some mistakes that bands make when addressing crowds at gigs (which you can check out on HERE) that it struck me. There I was in my blog, complaining about the bands that stand onstage and tell their fans that they've ‘driven here for hours’ and ‘have no money’ so ‘please buy our CD.’ And yet, there I was doing the same thing on our Facebook page. I was practically telling our fans, ‘you like us’ so please ‘go out of your way to complete this convoluted process’ because ‘Facebook isn’t fair’. I sounded just like one of those whiney bands that always irritated me with their demands on their audience. Looking back, I should think myself lucky that nobody posted a ‘Call the Wambulance’ meme.


We can't change what Facebook’s algorithms are doing to our non-paid reach, but we can change our approach. If we want to use our Facebook Page to boost our exposure, and not simply respond to it, it is no longer viable to simply use the page to pass on information and expect a result. We must actively engage and then use the fallout from the engagement to pass information on. For emerging artists and businesses in quiet periods we need to assert ourselves and deliberately stoke the coals of our user’s reactions. With this home-truth realised, I became inspired to see if I could make something happen on Facebook by grabbing some impressions and extending our reach. I came up with a small branded promotional image to test the theory. Just over a week later, the image has had nearly half a million impressions and is still going strong with no boosting and just a small push from me. It truly is just a case of putting a little thought, creativity and work into our Pages and reaping the rewards.

The idea came to me one afternoon when I happened upon a ‘What’s Your MC Name?’ Facebook post from a radio station and saw the colossal amount of shares it had accrued. It was a simple variant on the old ‘first letter of first name / first letter of last name to denote a new name’ gimmick. It wasn’t anything mind-blowing but here it was with millions of impressions. I considered the post’s success and I realised that this worked on a similar principle to another viral post I’d shared days before. A video which promised that 95% of people, after completing a maths problem, think of ‘red hammer’ when asked to think of a colour and a tool had duped me into sharing it. The amount of people who answer ‘red hammer’ is actually significantly lower than 95%, but it's enough that people like me, who did think of ‘red hammer’, are amazed by the video’s ability to read their minds. And so they share it. The penny dropped that a key to engaging people is providing the user with a post experience where they feel their own result is worthy of discussion. A list of rappers is mundane until you include the user's own name in the process. When the image reveals the distinctive MC name it seems unique, original and worth a share, even when, in reality, the same names come up again and again.

What’s Your MC Name? MINE’S DEADLY MONEY. So is many other people’s.

I went home that night and did a Sonic Boom Six variant on the name generator. After making sure that the idea was original by doing a quick Google search, I threw together my own ska name generator. I added a small band logo and hashtag at the bottom of the image, careful that the branding wouldn't get in the way of the content. The process of devising it was simple enough. I broke down around forty-eight names of old ska singers, making sure to never include a first name and surname that could together result in an actual ska act’s name, i.e. for ‘Prince Buster’ I would only use either Prince or Buster, ultimately meaning that every name was original. I added a few vector graphics of dancing ska men, neatly processed the image using Adobe Illustrator and posted the image on our Facebook. I then messaged a handful of the ska sites around the world just to get the ball rolling. While I did post it on Twitter and Tumblr pages, I was careful to prioritise the Facebook post in my efforts. The image was conceived to promote the Facebook Page and there would be no point cannibalising my audience. After two days the sharing really began to take off exponentially across other act's and promotion's pages.

One thing to remember is that it’s important to stay on top of the shares and track the places where your viral image appears. With any successful image, it is inevitable that some people will re-upload it without sharing it directly from your site but you don’t have to stand by and do nothing. The SB6 Page was deprived of impressions when one of the leading ska bands in the world innocently re-uploaded the image and posted it. Rather than ignore this, I messaged them and politely pointed out what had happened and they were good enough to re-share it direct from the Sonic Boom Six Facebook Page. By the end of the week, in a large part due to the band re-posting it, my page’s reach was over 800% further than the week before with hundreds of thousands of users 'talking about' the band. For days afterwards, my new photos were hitting double the 'likes' than they had previously. My little experiment proved that we don’t have to pay to get our Facebook posts out there, but we do have to work.

What’s Your Ska Name? Daft but half a million people have seen the name of our new album.

It is now over a week ago that I posted the image. Slowly but surely the engagement is creeping back down to the level it was at before posting it. Am I upset about that? Whether I am or not, there doesn’t seem to be a lot I can do about it. This blog isn’t an attempt to justify Facebook’s commercial decisions; it’s an attempt to face up to them. Ultimately, I would never advise that a band puts all its eggs in the basket of another site. I’ve seen bands spend years concentrating solely on building up their Myspace, Facebooks and now Tumblrs only to lose all that equity once those sites outstay their moment of popularity. It’s a hare and the tortoise analogy; bands should maintain their own website and mailing list to have an independent platform protected from the whims and decisions of the ‘hot’ sites of the day. What this exercise did prove is that if you need a boost from your Facebook page you can realise that challenge with a touch of creativity and a little hard work. Every day I’m thinking of different ways to engage and it’s had a knock-on effect on my attention to detail on our own website, improving interaction between us and our fans beyond Facebook. If the silver lining of their campaign to monetise our interaction is that we all have to reconsider how we communicate with fans and give them a better user-experience across the net, that’s something. I’ve proven that something as simple as an engaging image can extend our reach. Now I just have to come up with the next one.

Think of a colour, and a tool…