February 08, 2016

Are you listening to these podcasts?


I discovered podcasts a number of years ago but never really got into them until quite recently. With the iPhone (or Android equivalent) there are podcasting apps that will allow you to curate the best podcasts for your interests

Being a writer and actor I like to deal with things related to scriptwriting. This manifests itself as listening to two main podcasts and a number of smaller ones.

Scriptnotes:
A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Hosted by John August and Craig Mazin. This always has interesting topics which are well handled. Craig takes a bit of time getting used to. He is most certainly of the ‘I am absolutely write and you are absolutely wrong’ brigade. If you don’t like that (or umbrage) don’t listen.

Nerdists writers panel:
Hosted by Ben Blacker (a TV writer himself). He interviews writers in the TV industry. Usually people who have been staffed on, or are show runners for, current TV shows. Born froma  desire to know more about how people got started, how they work and what advice they can give writers. nothing like this existed so he created it.

 


Children of Tendu:
Infrequently updated but always informative. Hosted by two very experienced TV writers: Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina who have over 40 years of industry experience between them.




 Wittertainment:
Film review podcast hosted by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode. The podcast is from the BBC Radio 5 Live show which goes out every Friday (usually) for 2 hours. Prior to the show being broadcast the 2 hosts tend to record some podcast content which is then continued after the show has finished. The best bits of the show are usually at this point.

Wittertainment has its own Witterpedia where you can follow along with a lot of the  in-jokes and references (Mr Flappy Hands, for example).

Film critique and banter that work well together. The podcast is the radio show from BBC Radio 5 live coupled with additional bits recorded before and after the show.

I also listen to certain esoteric items such as the Freakonomics podcast (The podcast that expires the hidden side of everything). This is a really interesting podcast which takes everyday items and looks at them from an economics point of view. For example did you know that Sweden is the largest purchaser of Tesla vehicles outside the US? Want to know any? Listen to the podcast.

Kevin Pollak has a chat show he records (and live streams) from the West Side comedy theatre in LA. He invites guests from the comedy scene (both stand up and film/tv) and they chat for an hour or two about their careers. Variable audio quality on the feed but very, very interesting and amusing. Hearing Dana Carvey do his Lennon/McCartney discussing Kanye West skit is priceless by itself.



In my life podcasts are brilliant for listening two under two circumstances:
1 When I’m trying to clean the house or do chores. A bit of Wittertainment will wile away an hour or two of vacuuming and dusting,
2 When I'm doing an early morning drive to work. Kevin Pollak is very useful for listening to in the car when I’m travelling on an early call (say, 4.30am) from the rural place where I live back into civilisation. I recently did a five day shoot on a production based on an old Len Deighton novel and this involved a 2 hour commute each way. I got through quite a lot of podcasts on that shoot, as you can imagine!

What podcasts do you tend to listen to? Any ones you would advise me to try?




February 02, 2016

I am writing ... a lot.

Photo Credit: hjconti via Compfight cc


I seem to be doing lot of writing these days.

I write for:
  • Two blogs,
  • Two Facebook pages,
  • A web site,
  • Four twitter accounts,
  • And a personal journal.
This is without looking at the screenplays, stage plays, novels and treatments I produce on a yearly basis. A lot of what I write comes from ideas I drop into my Spark File

With so much writing it becomes important to understand the process of writing.

I, basically, centralise all my writing in Scrivener. The is a brilliant tool which is a mix between a brainstorming tool and a word processor. It splits the writing process into a capture part and a formatting part. Each can be done separately. I don’t know how I would be so productive without it. I am writing this blog entry using the tool as we speak.

Using Scrivener

  • Scrivener is ideal for long form writing. Over the last couple of years I have written two novels in it. Between them they amount to over 200,000 words. But each one loads in a fraction of a second and is easily navigable thanks to Scrivener’s “binder” which makes creating, navigating and selecting items simple.
An example of a Scrivener binder
(Thanks to Become a Writer Today for the image)
  • Scrivener is also useful for Blog Posts. Other - more advanced writers than me have written about using Scrivener for blogging here, and here, and here[1].
  • But, by far the majority of the work I do on Scrivener is for script writing. I find that I can quite easily use the various pieces of functionality within Scrivener to assist me in the development of an idea, the creation of characters, the outlining of a story and - when all’s said and done - the actual creation of the script.
The thing I like about Scrivener (other than the ultimate flexibility it has) is the fact that I can do all my organising, formatting, research etc. in Scrivener, but at the end of the day I can write anywhere.

Let me explain:

Scrivener and Fountain

Scrivener is compatible with Fountain which is a markup language based in plain text. All this means is that by writing using a basic text editor (which comes with pretty much every computer tablet or phone), you can write anywhere. All you ned to know is a little bit of syntax relating to what you are trying to do. For example here’s a fountain text file extract:

INT./EXT. BLOOM HOUSE - (PRESENT) DAY  

The front door opens to reveal Will and Josephine on the porch with their bags.
REVERSE to Will’s mother Sandra (53), surprised and a little annoyed.

SANDRA
How did you get here? 

WILL
We swam. The Atlantic, it’s not that big really.
 
For those who know screenplay format you’ll see that there’s not a great deal of difference. What this does do, though, is allow you to just worry about the words on the page rather than the format of those pages. Fountain knows that when you put an ALL CAPS entry on its own line it is (usually) a character name. It knows that the next block of text must, therefore, be dialogue. By using these simple little markup tricks it is a very quick learning curve for Fountain.

But here’s the real icing on the cake. You can write in Fountain and have Scrivener automatically synch your data to a Scrivener file for continued working on your laptop or Mac.

Let me repeat that: You can start on your Mac in Scrivener, synch the screenplay you are working on down to, say, your iPad, then continue working on it in Fountain while you are enjoying your cup of joe at a Seattle-based coffee chain. When you’re fully caffeinated you can come back to your house and resynch the Fountain files back to Scrivener and continue working at home. All you need is something like Dropbox to act as the intermediary file location and you’re done. No further additional software needed.

Once you are happy with whatever you are writing it is then possible to tell Scrivener to export your writing in the appropriate format for the material you are producing.
  • For a blog it would be appropriate to export it in.html format so it can be dropped straight into your blogging software of choice.
  • For a novel it would be good to export it either as an ebook so it can be read using a Kindle or similar
  • For a script it would be good if it could be exported as a formatted PDF using the script settings recognised by the industry
  • For a novel it would also be good if it could be exported to Word for transfer to an editor.
Scrivener can deal with all of these. It can even take the lovely Garamond font you have been writing with and transfer it all to Courier or Times New Roman or Helvetica as you wish.

What is my writing process?

I’m like William Goldman (Screenwriter). I just write the damn thing! I sit down and I work my way through the first draft as quickly as I can. Sometimes I get something that is reasonably respectable. Sometimes I get something which is crap. But in each are I find it easier to do my best work when I have something in front of me that I can review. As an example, the posts on this blog (especially those dating from the beginning of this year ) have all been written in ‘vomit draft’ form to start with. This article, for example, was done in a bing session in January. After that I spent time refining them over the months and creating something with a higher quality. That’s how I work. Screenplays are similar. I write quickly - sometimes up to 30 pages per day. Sure, it’s not always good stuff, but it does allow me the pleasure of having something I can read and critique.

“Writing is re-writing” is a saying that I have heard (and you have probably read) on many occasions. Never has that been truer than with me. Once I have my vomit draft complete I like to let it sit for a short while. For a screenplay it could be a week or two. For a novel it could be month.

I come back and look at it with fresh eyes. These eyes can then see the piece for what it is. They can then review what’s written and see what works and what does. That’s the point when I realise the silly things I’ve done like named the character something different in the latter part of the script than the first part (I may have called him Colin at the start but moved to his last name Smith towards the end). That’s also when I can read through the script or novel with a critical eye checking for things like “Does it flow?” “Do the characters work?”, “Do they have a distinct voice?”.

None of these things can really be seen out when writing something. This has to happen via a suitable period of non-exposure to the material.

Summary

  • Get a software that support your process
  • Write as quickly as possible and get the vomit draft out there
  • Wait a while to let the initial knowledge of the piece die down
  • Go back and start the (re)writing
More on the process later in the year.

  1. For more on blogging and Scrivener I recommend the last of those links.  ↩

Do you have a Spark File? I do.

image
Photo Credit: EpicFireworks via Compfight cc

Do you have a Spark File? I do.

What is a spark file?

A spark file is a list of ideas or thoughts that are gathered together in one place. My spark file currently has almost 10,000 words and has been going for about two years. It, basically, contains everything that comes into my head that might be useful for an idea in future. A quick look at my Spark file brings up things such as “The transience of human endeavour”, and “Death is for other people. Not us. Of course death comes to everyone. But this quite is interesting” Also in and amongst there are a number of reasonably fully formed ideas about specific bits of writing. An example of this is the idea for A30 - a One Act play I wrote, directed and produced last year: ”A middle-aged couple decide to drive down the A30 to see Lands End which is where they had their honeymoon. On the way down there they find that their relationship isn’t as strong as they think it is when he admits to not being completely faithful to her.”

How do you use it?

The idea of Spark File has been around for ages. It has been mentioned on numerous writing forums that one of the best ways to get ideas it to always carry around a notebook and pencil with you. That way whenever something occurs to you it can be noted down and dealt with later. This is the ubiquitous capture method. Pencil and paper has been the standard for many years. In a recent documentary from Woody Allen he noted that eh does exactly the same thing. Only he doesn’t use a notepad he just has bits of paper. He jots down notes and gathers them together in a shoebox under his bed. Once he has completely a movie he pulls the shoebox out, consults the notes and find and idea for his next movie. My Spark File is pretty similar. I maintain it electronically (See below), but the concept is the same. If I am out walking - which I do quite a lot - I can be thinking about numerous things at once. Or I might see something that grabs my attention. Then I make a note of it in my Spark File and forget about it.

They key to creating a good Spark File is to make sure you input everything that comes into your mind. The beauty of gathering everything is that nothing gets missed. The problem of gathering everything is that nothing gets missed. There could be some shocking bits of thought captured in there (See my note above about ’The transience of human endeavour’).

So the second key thing to remember about a spark file is that you need to review it regularly. I already mentioned how Woody Allen reviews his once a year when he starts a new film. The thing that he does - and the thing I would recommend - is to take the ideas that you have in there and see if you can merge them together to create something that might be more useful as an idea for a script or a novel (or a comic book. Whatever).

As an example of this I had an idea once which involved dealing with lots of people in a confined space and what would happen if they were trapped together. A few months later I read an article about Full Saturation diving. This is where divers who spend a lot of time working at depth can live in a compression chamber during the work. They compress to the level they are going to work at (say 1000 feet), work there for two or three weeks breathing air that is fully saturated with gases other than oxygen (nitrogen is the big example). Then they take anything up to a week or 10 days to decompress back to surface level. For the whole of that time they are cooped up in a series of compression chambers on board a chip. These chambers are not in the least bit roomy. All it needs is one person to be in a bad mood and you have an issue. These two idea were mashed together to give me the basis for “Pressure’ - a screenplay about full sat divers who encounter a problem which stresses them to a point where they start to turn on each other.

How do I maintain my Spark File?

I mentioned earlier that spark files can be written in notebooks or on scraps of paper and dropped into a shoebox. Personally I want mine to be a little more high tech. I always have my phone with me - especially when I’m out on walks - so it would make sense that this is the thing I use to capture my Spark file idea. I use Drafts on the iPhone as my data capture tool of choice. With Drafts I open the app and I’m presented with a blank screen. I jot down the idea, thought, comment or saying that is running though my head. I simply click the button to send the entry to me Spark file. This is simply a plain text file on a Dropbox folder. Drafts integrates perfectly with Dropbox (along with many other apps). The entry is added to the top of my Spark file and a dividing line is added below it. That way I can separate it form other entries. I can add as many or as few of these as I like and they will all be waiting for me when I get back to my desk. I simply call up the Spark File and scan through it to see what jumps out at me. As part of my implementation of Scrivener I have also linked the Spark File into a Scrivener project so I can go straight from there to my writing.

Where do ideas come from?

I like to quote John Cleese when he talks about where do his ideas come from. He said something along he lines of  
“I get my ideas from a woman called Mavis who lives in Chipping Norton. She gets them from a man called Eric who lives in Brighton. Eric gets his ideas from a man who sits in an alleyway behind the Wimpy in Swindon High Street. Where he gets them from I have no idea” 
The short answer is that ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. I read a lot of on-line articles (I use Pocket to gather them all together and read them when I get a minute). I also read newspapers (mostly on-line) and long form articles which are sent to my Instapaper account. Between them they are many sources of inspiration for ideas.

As I mentioned earlier I also tend to go for walks every day. There are two reasons for this :

  1. I get to leave the house, get some exercise, and see the countryside near where I live .
  2. The act of taking exercise sparks the brain cells into working better then sitting (or standing) for long periods at a desk .

As I walk I can work through things in my head. Sometimes it’s how to solve a plotting issue in a script I am writing. Sometimes it’s how to get a couple of ideas to merge together to create an idea that isn’t totally pants.

Oftentimes I just go for a walk and ask myself ‘what if’ (“What if all the cars in the country were electric? What would happen to the people who work in petrol stations or oil refineries? What about the petrol tanker drivers? What if one of them saw what was coming and tried to sabotage it?”) With thoughts like this it isn’t difficult to come out with a list of possible ideas to drop into my Spark File. The other beauty of this process is that notes can range from an in-depth idea along with character thoughts and plot to a simple statement.

Nothing is out of bounds.

Does quality matter?

As I mentioned earlier on, there are a lot of entries in my Spark File that don’t make a great deal of sense in isolation. But they are gathered and captured regardless. The beauty comes when you can sit down with them and merge them together to create something that does work. This is certainly a case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

Do you have a Spark File (or similar?). How do you deal with it?

January 13, 2016

The New Look!

The more observant of you will have noticed that I have changed the theme and layout of this blog. The old style has served me well for several years, but with the number of posts I have written recently dropping down to zero I wanted to relaunch the blog with a new focus and a new look.

The theme I am using is ZenZero from Net Blogger Themes. It is simple, sparse and has a nice, clean layout suitable for reading. I am deliberately not putting ads on the site as I think you should be able to view the posts without being bombarded by pop-ups etc. all the time. It may look like there isn’t a lot happening with this layout but if you click the little icon in the bottom left hand corner: the one that looks like an equals sign with an extra horizontal line: Yes, that one. Down there. Can you see it? Click that and a whole magical world of other stuff will appear.

All right, maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But it will reveal the sidebar for the blog. There you will find whatever I decide to put there on any given day. As the muse strikes me (hence the name of the blog).

Keep an eye out for upcoming blogs related to my process, writing, and the odd musing her and there as we move forward through the year.

Welcome back to everyone!

It's water before milk - Making the perfect cup of tea.

Making the perfect cup of tea

Pouring tea [^cf1]
How many of you drink tea?
How many of you drink tea from teabags?
How many of you that drink tea from teabags, put the teabag in the cup, add milk, boil the water then add the water?
Well I am here to tell you you’re doing it all wrong. But first:

History

  • Back in the mists of time travellers used to bring back loose leaf tea from India and Ceylon. This was sold to households who would either put the tea bags in a teapot or they would use something which hung over the edge of the cup and allowed the water to wash over it. Milk was added to the cup either before or afterwards.
  • Somebody then decided that they would put these loose leaves into a bag. People could drop the bag directly into the cup and pour the water on it. Hey Presto! No more loose leaves in the tea disrupting peoples enjoyment of the beverage,

So what?

The problem with this is that the switch from loose leaves to teabags obscured the fundamental principle of making tea:
The flavour of the tea is caused by boiling water scalding the leaves.
If boiling (or almost boiling) water doesn’t come directly into contact with the leaves the flavour of the tea is not produced correctly.
Back in the day when teapots were used, hot water was dropped directly onto the leaves. They were allowed to percolate in the hot water (or ‘mash’) until strong enough. The resultant tea was poured into cups with (or without) milk in the bottom. The flavor of the tea was produced as it was intended
Back when china cups were more delicate than they are now, milk was used to ensure that the boiling water from the tea didn’t crack the delicate crockery.
Nowadays, if you are putting milk in your cup or mug and adding a tea bag you are not getting the full flavour of the tea and, therefore, you are doing it wrong. The milk is acting as a barrier between the leaves and tea. The water which is then playing over the leaves is no longer boiling and the tea cannot be produced in the correct manner.
There’s a reason the best tea companies in the world have their tea served with no milk and no sugar. Nothing should affect the flavour of the leaves.

The correct way

  • Whatever happens, the milk and the teabag should not come into contact. If you are using a teapot all is well. You can put your bag or your leaves into the teapot and add milk to the cup to your heart’s content
  • If you are using a mug or cup then always put the teabag in without the milk. Add the boiling water, stir, remove the bag then add the milk.
Remember this next time somebody asks you ‘milk first or tea first?”
[^cf1]: Photo Credit: Juavenita ♥ via Compfight cc

January 04, 2016

Winchfield Action Group

I am the webmaster and committee member for on organisation called WAG - The Winchfield Action Group. We are fighting against the mass development of 500 houses right on top of a small, rural village of 200 dwellings called Winchfield in Hampshire. I would encourage all my readers to take a glance at the WAG web page or Facebook page and add their comments and thoughts. I am reproducing below a recent post which details why this new settlement is a bad idea not just for Winchfield but for all the nearby towns that believe they will benefit from having development centralised in Winchfield:


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There are groups which would accuse WAG of NIMBYism (“Not In My Back Yard”) and at a superficial level this is understandable.

But WAG’s opinion is not that we don’t think Hart should concrete over Winchfield with 5000 new homes. We believe that Hart should not add 5000 new homes ANYWHERE in Hart as a new settlement. There are a number of reasons for this. Primary amongst these is the fact that the new settlement is not needed, but a key point to remember is that the new settlement will have an adverse impact on large areas of Hart district.

I live in Dogmersfield/Church Crookham. Will this affect me?

Absolutely. Apart from the influx of contractor vehicles for the development as they try to gain access to the land where the new settlement will be built, there are additional transport impacts. 5000 new houses will result in an average of 10,000 new journeys per day. A large majority of these will travel to destinations outside the immediate area and go via either Hartley Wintney, Fleet, Farnham or J5 of the M3. Any journey from Winchfield to, say, Guildford, will travel through Dogmersfield and on to Church Crookham. The additional traffic will affect both quality of life and house prices in the area.

I live in Hartley Wintney. Will this affect me?

Hartley Wintney will suffer from the same problems as Dogmersfield and Church Crookham. Additional traffic will cause problems at places such as the exit from the Odiham Road to eh A30 at Phoenix Green, the A30 junction with Dilly Lane, the A30 roundabout at the bottom of Bracknell Lane and the A30 junction with the Fleet Road. Furthermore the additional people in the area will make parking on the high street more problematic and rapidly fill up the pay-and-display parking behind the One Stop. Veterinary services will be affected as pets from 5000 new houses need to gain access to St Kitts for operations, checkups and vaccines. The dentist and hair salons in the area will become busier making it more difficult to get appointments. All this is on top of the fact that the projected development will, effectively, link Winchfield to Hartley Wintney through coalescence of the St. Mary’s estate and the new settlement.

Commuters to London from both Hartley Wintney and Dogmersfield. Church Crookham will find that parking spaces at the Winchfield Railway Station will be impossible to find. Should they be dropped off there by spouses (thereby increasing the number of daily car journeys) finding a seat or even a standing space in the morning rush will be impossible. There are no plans to increase capacity on the line at the moment.

I live in Hook. Will this affect me.

Hook will suffer from all the problems that Hartley Wintney will suffer from. In additional to that there will be traffic problems at the M3, J5 as more traffic tries to gain access to the motorway heading to either Basingstoke or eastbound towards London. Once again the new settlement will encroach on Hook with 1800+ houses of the new development officially falling in to the Hook Parish. Coalesence is another issue to be wary of as the western edge of the proposed development will connect with the eastern edges of Hook at Murrell Green.

I live in Yateley. Will this affect me?

Yateley is already afflicted with traffic issue as a result of development in the area. Hart’s own figures indicate that most commuters in the area head towards Surrey Heath or Rushmoor. This will increase commuting traffic up the A30 at Blackbushe, Cricket Hill and Frogmore, as well as the Meadows roundabout at Camberley. This will add to the misery of commuters. People working in Reading will also be affected by additional traffic heading up the A327 towards Eversley and further North, which is already a car park on most mornings and evenings.

I live in Fleet. Will this affect me?

Apart from the cut-through traffic from Winchfield which will seek to rat run through Elvetham Heath to the M3 and along Elvetham Road to Fleet Station, the new car park in Fleet will rapidly fill up as people use Fleet car park to let them leave their cars at the station when they commute to London. Obviously finding a seat on the train will be even harder than it is at present.
Car parking in Fleet will become more and more difficult as the population of the area increases. With parking at a premium Hart could, quite easily, increase parking charges as an incentive to not drive into town. The cost of being a Fleet resident will increase.

Doctors and dentists appointments will become harder to get as new settlement residents seek to establish health care facilities for them and their children.

Furthermore the children will need somewhere to go to school. Even though four schools are in the plans for a new development, these will not be built as part of the first wave of development. As a result existing schools will be pushed to capacity and beyond. Even when a new school is opened, it will focus on the children from the new settlement and will not, necessarily, solve any current overcrowding issues at Calthorpe Park.

I live in Hart. Is this good for me?

Apart from increased traffic, increased pollution, decreasing school places and the strain on facilities, a new town in Winchfield will cause significant funding issues in the short term for Hart. They already have a considerable funding shortfall and adding the new settlement will only increase that. One way the council can seek to fill that funding gap is to increase the council tax for everyone in the district.

Hart has been voted as the most desirable place to live in the country for four years running. If a large settlement is built right in the rural heart of Hart it is unlikely that this accolade will be bestowed on us for much longer.

The short answer to the question “Should I worry about a new town if I don’t live in Winchfield” is “Absolutely!” There will be a financial, economic and quality-of-life impact to everyone in the district if this development goes ahead.

August 14, 2013

Bitter Politics - An interview with musician Alec Chapman

As a way of reigniting this blog I wanted to give some publicity to a friend of mine who has followed his dreams and become a musician. Actually, that's not true. Alec Chapman was a musician from an early age when his father bought him a bass guitar and he played along with his other brothers as they learned their craft.

I first met Alec on a film set. We were filming a commercial for a crisp company where we had to spend the whole day at a football stadium doing crowd replication. Long, boring, tedious, but made more enjoyable by the company of Alec who has a dry wit and an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of films. Since then I have followed his progress with interest as he has turned his wit and expertise to film reviewing and - more recently - to producing a film-based podcast.

Earlier this year, though, he started to talk about another undertaking he was involved with: an album release. I followed this with interest as it was obvious this was something he was doing as a serious endeavour. The album was released recently and it’s is called ‘Bitter Politics’. It is available on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and Google Play and it is marketed under the name ‘Oh Hi Mark’. If you want to know the source of that name you'll have to check out the story on Facebook. I spoke with Alec recently to ask him about the challenges of producing his own album.

We started talking about how Alec went from being a member of a “function band playing cover versions” to “singer/songwriter creating an album”

Alec told me “They're more concurrent than that. I've been writing songs forever, even before I learned any instruments. I pretty much had to learn instruments to be able to write songs properly. That start in purely mental writing means I am able to write wherever I am - without relying on an instrument to make the sounds for me. I can have the song in my head first.”

We moved on to talk about the mechanics of making the album. Presumably when Alec started writing it was a lot more difficult to physically make and release an album. Technology has moved on since then. At what point did he think "I could do this now", I wondered?

“Well, there wasn't that thought process exactly. I guess in the first place when I started on the project I was frustrated by the fact I was relying purely on other people's availability to move it forward at all. I struggle with motivation sometimes so it simply wasn't working at any speed - so it was really important that I learned to do digital recording and editing myself.

According to Alec there are a number of distinct steps in the album creation process:

Write
Demo
Guide Track
Record
Mix
Master
Release

“You can join together the demo and guide track, or, if you're working on your own you can go straight to recording. The recording itself is different depending on which instrument everything is hanging off in terms of time. It's trivial to play to a click track to keep tempo for you, but it doesn't help that much if you're playing in swing feel or you have conflicting syncopations.”

I asked Alec what software he uses : “Well, on the first album we ended up using lots of different things. Sonar, Cubase, Logic or even GarageBand in one case. Compatibility isn't really an issue as you can export each track as a .wav file or another form of lossless audio.” In terms of bringing it all together, modern DAW (digital audio workstation) software does this all in one. So as you are recording one you can hear everything else, actually watch the waveforms etc. “But if you're working in various locations, it's trivial to export one recording in, say South London, share it via Google Drive anywhere in the world and have them import it into their DAW. It's not ideal, but it works. I did a lot of bass parts that way.”

I asked Alec for his thoughts on mastering and distribution. “Mastering is a dark art. I have no idea! It was done by a professional. Digital Distribution was surprisingly easy. There's companies that will do it for you - I used tunecore, but others are available. This basically means that an independent artist can kiss goodbye to the questionable joy of needing a record company to get your material released. Marketing becomes the real issue.”

We talked about social media and how it plays more and more into the whole marketing ethos.  My concern was how does he go about getting the word out about a first time album by an artist who goes under the alias Oh Hi Mark?

“Well, it's still in progress, but the important thing to realise is that it's going to be a lot of work. The days where an artist will get lucky and have a dramatically expanding fanbase within weeks are over. There's simply too much music out there to rely on luck. So for me it's about the long game - almost using the first album as a marketing tool for the live shows and then cycling that back around. Making it available on Spotify was motivated by the desire that not being willing to pay £7.99 up front shouldn't stop people being able to hear it, while still trying to maintain some sense of good business.

In a way there’s a catch-22 of music production nowadays. The tools are there relatively cheaply, it's the expertise that's expensive. That's also true for video production. For many years now musicians have used video as a way of promoting their songs. I asked Alec for his thoughts on this and also if he has any plans to use video to promote his album?

“True, but remember some of the greatest music ever recorded was laid onto four or even two track tape in tiny smoke filled rooms. The modern, super polished highly compressed shiny sound people used in records now, doesn't have to be the only aesthetic. Plus there's a temptation when surrounded by modern technology to feel it has to be all used, which can cause major delays. Video, now then, I am still learning that side of it, but to save people having to look at a static picture when listening to the single, I had a little go.... Apparently it causes motion sickness.

I asked Alec if he finds encouragement in the likes of The Arctic Monkeys and Justin Beiber, who were Internet phenomenons before they were ever signed by the big labels?

“Yes, but they are edge cases. Justin Bieber particularly. The Arctic Monkeys had a large live fanbase before they went viral after all. Plus they're actually really good. Bieber I simply don't understand - it seems crazy to me. But I'm not alone in that. Plus, MySpace (where the monkeys broke from) has pretty much died. I enjoy playing live and interacting with an audience, but as for emulating their level of success, I swing back and forth between wanting the recognition and hating the idea of fame. But who wouldn't want to headline Glastonbury? Seriously, I'll do any stage.”

Alec has had to make a fairly major life change to accommodate his ambition. “I made a major lifestyle change to work nights, but it's really a case of wanting the four on/four off pattern rather than the hours. It means that I'm not cramming the music into tiny slices of time and can really get into it. I'm extremely good at losing enthusiasm if it’s constantly stop/starting.”

On the topic of motivation. I was curious how Alec keeps himself motivated, and at what point does he bring in other collaborators? “It's a real challenge for me. The simple answer is that I have learned to be willing to accept that I am not in complete control of my emotions and accept that when it isn't working I need to do something else. Forcing it breeds disillusionment. I know - I've been there before.” So any routines? “Unfortunately I have a very difficult relationship with routines and their resulting pressure. What I've done instead is create a battery of creative outlets that have related skills so that even if I'm not working on one, I am informing it via another.I won't lie, some of my creative process is calculated. But the most satisfying and robust parts are usually products of inspiration.”

Alec told me that Bitter Politics is an album intended to be consumed en masse, rather than in single songs. I asked him if it was written that way or did it evolve? “It was arranged that way, out of ideas that came individually. And actually, the stated intent is that it works best en masse.”

We talked about what things he would do differently on his next album “Sooo many things! But chiefly to spend more time on the vocals in advance and less on fixing problems in the mix. Also to trust my instincts more - and try to have more fun with it.”

As we signed off our time together Alec had one final comment for me “The strongest marketing tool is a good review - if any of your readers listens and enjoys the album, a positive review on iTunes, Google Play or Amazon would be a great way of helping me get this to more ears. Thanks for inviting me to chat to you!”

To listen to Alec’s music try Spotify. To purchase, go to iTunes, Google Play or Amazon and - if you like what you hear - leave a good review..