Category Archives: 50 Songs In 50 Weeks

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Mercury Prize Shortlist Coming Soon

Rhonda and The Great Unknown are in the running, along with 234 other bands, for the Mercury Prize 2016. The  album ‘Fifty’ is 50 minutes long and rocks hard.  This blog post comes from the bands website….

The shortlist will be announced on Thursday the 4th of August. Whether the band makes that list or not, it was a huge achievement for them to complete the album entered in the competition and qualify to compete.

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In order to record the album, it took building a recording studio from scratch in an open plan office, mainly with bits and pieces of things found on ebay, in rubbish skips or given away. Things like this  2nd hand window that Jim the bass player and sound engineer for the band installed in the control room.

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It took 5 years to complete the album ‘Fifty’, because the band started out with just one person, its lead singer Rhonda Merrick and most of the songs were written during a song-a-day-for-a-year project in 2011 and in the early months of 2012 after the project ended, but the habit of writing new material took a bit longer to dwindle down significantly.

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After the song-a-day-for-a-year  project, she started playing small music venues and local festivals.  Sometimes, she needed to pull together a scratch band for a gig and would find other musicians to help out by posting notices on Facebook. In July 2012, she needed a bass player to play Brentwood Festival and Ritchie Swann volunteered.

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They started dating, became a couple and eventually began performing as an acoustic-funk duo.

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In 2013, they formed the band, Rhonda and The Great Unknown, together.

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The line-up has changed a couple of times as they struggled to find the caliber of musicians that could handle a large number of original material. Really good musicians are usually really busy. In the end, a line-up of permanent deps who are in a number of bands turned out to be the best solution for a band just starting out that needed top notch musicians.

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The 4 piece line-up of Ritchie, Rhonda with Jim Dawkins or Joe Cox (bass) along with James Plows or Josh Roots on drums, saw the band through most of 2015 and 2016.  

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Ritchie, Rhonda, Jim and James

On rare occasions, neither of the bass players or drummers were available and the band would use fantastic reserve deps  with the talent and experience to jam through a gig of mostly original songs.  All of thes musicians in Rhonda and The Great Unknown line-up, includingRitchie Swann, the bands composer/guitarist and keyboardist, are accomplished multi-instrumentalists. 

 

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Joe Cox
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Josh Roots

 

Jim has a music production company called Humana and Rhonda already had a production and publishing company, called Blue Red Green Media LTD, but the band had no record label and in order to compete for the Mercury, the album had to be commercially released by a label. So, Rhonda set-up a label! It’s called KATFM Records and ‘Fifty’ is its debut release. The band members on the album signed a band agreement, the album was properly registered with the UK Charts Company, PRS, PPL and was made available for sale on iTunes and other commercial online stores through an online service called Loudr.fm and this ensured a neutral 3rd party would manage album sales.

Now, in the last few days before the shortlist is announced, the band has no expectation to win a place on that list, but hope springs eternal and hope is better than disappointment, so for a few more days, let’s hope RATGU has a chance to move forward and reach a wider audience through the Mercury Prize 2016. If it’s not meant to be, perhaps the door will remain closed, but a window of opportunity will open from this experience.

Rock and roll.

 

 

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Rhonda Merrick returns to BBC Radio Kent January 4th 2016

Rhonda Merrick returns to BBC Radio Kent to continue The Conversation with Dominic King and Adam Dowling. The Ashford Musician and Entrepreneur is a regular guest on the chatty show. Tune in for great music, conversation and laughter on the Dominic King Drivetime Show.  Meanwhile, her band,Rhonda and The Great Unknown , are now on Song 8 of their 50 Songs in 50 Weeks Project. The band sent to the song to BBC Radio 3 Jazz team because this song is deceptively mellow with a spicy blend of music in the band and lyrics. It’s a good song to introduce the band to a few more people.

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The band is posting 50 second clips to each of the 50 songs on their Soundcloud page.

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The Benefits and Pitfalls of Visionary Leaders

Several dozen people rely on the decisions I make in order to have a place to go to work, study or rehearse. I am the leaseholder of a building that houses a handful of  music and dance studios. I got the building because I needed access to a recording studio, but couldn’t afford to get one on my own. I figured there would be other people in the same position, so I rented a very large building with a plan for fee-based clients to pay for hourly, weekly or monthly use of some of the studio spaces. Everyone I rented space to has at least a bachelor’s degree in their area of speciality and an established number of clients or students. The idea worked, but there were several problems when my vision of shared studio spaces met the reality of dealing with people only concerned with what they wanted, without regard for the welfare of the entire project.  E utopia and reality seldom work in tandem or maybe the problem is my vision is my vision, not theirs, most people just sort of vaguely follow along for a while.

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We didn’t have a lot of money so the building works are a bit DIY, but we did create small spaces for several small companies to get stuck in. Evenutally, I got in touch with our local council and they’ll help us raise *-standards and solidify the business model.

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Some of the benefits working with a visionary leader

  • Life is never dull
  • You will be taken outside of your comfort zone repeatedly (For some people this is a pitfall)
  • You will have the honour and thrill of a front row seat and if you’re lucky, an active role in transforming something that’s seemingly impossible into practical use.
  • You will work in an environment charged with energy, possibilities
  • You will feel more alive than a ‘normal’ environment.
  • You will be infected by the vision of what could be and will pour your heart, soul, time and talent to make it real.

Some of the pitfalls of working with a visionary leader

  • You will sometimes yearn for dull
  • You will be repeatedly taken outside of your comfort zone.
  • You will have the fear of closely watching and possibly being devastated when whole-heartedly attempting to change the seemingly impossible, temporarily, proves to be impossible.
  • You will work in an environment charged with energy and resource draining possibilities that may or may not work. You may become addicted to this, like a drug or gambling.
  • You will sometimes yearn for normal.
  • Your visionary infection will be cured by a cold dose of reality, advice from uninfected friends or loved ones, or another opportunity will present a new reality that surpasses the possible reality you’re striving to reach.
  • Your heart, soul, ego and talents will be stretched, bruised or exhausted.
  • You will realise a vision of your own that doesn’t coincide with your visionary leader and find yourself left behind.

An Essex artist made a sketch of me once. He captured the ruthless determination balanced by intense sadness, the battle between empathy and clear-eyed vision running through my head at any given moment.  I suppose the best artists are supposed to see beyond the surface in order to capture something real for all to see.  I’ve never been completely comfortable with the truth in this sketch, but hiding from what it reveals,  won’t make it less true.

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The rents coming in weren’t enough to cover the costs of having the building, but I managed to hold onto it by finding part time work and using all my wages and most of my gig money to pay the electrics , phone, internet, insurance and rent.  The stress was affecting not just my health and sleep patterns, but my ability to create and adapt quickly to new opportunities.  This was the stage in the project when ‘vision’ and empathy for the needs of everyone else needed to be looked at with cool headed logic.

I needed to assess what was working and was wasn’t, then I would need the courage and the will to change things so the project would no longer be dependent on me personally. It was time for the building to pay for itself.

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KATFM CIC

At first, I was worried that if I failed, lots of people would be out on the street and it’s hard to find affordable small spaces in the centre of town, But slowly,  my thinking began to shift. I got the building, not just so other people could build their music and dance companies, but for my own projects as well… and if my music and film projects were going to survive and grow, I would need to be physically , emotionally and financially healthy. For that to happen, I would need to be more practical and a bit less visionary for a while.

I write a lot of songs. At the moment, I’m working through a project called 50 Songs in 50 Weeks. There are a few already done and dusted, but there’s one called ‘Hustle’ that seems particularly appropriate for this subject. It’s about hustling everyday just to survive as a musician, but that’s true for most of us, no matter what we do for a living.  If you can spare 50 seconds listen to this and see if you can identify with the message.

For me, life is all about hustling to survive another day.

That’s one of the biggest pitfalls in dealing with a visionary leader. The vision becomes concrete and the cracks start to show so changes are made to deal with the problems by augmenting what’s in place to work and flow better… in theory. The end result should be a far better outcome for all involved. That’s one of the biggest benefits of dealing with a visionary leader, the end product is rarely what anyone expected at the start, but it’s a heck of a journey to get there and there will be laughter, tears, intense competition and a spectacular finish that everyone is closely watching… until the next beginning.

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Self awareness is a valuable commodity in life, relationships and business.

In an effort to stem the potential damage of my visionary leadership style, I looked for problem-solvers and strategists to partner on a leadership committee. Failing in that, I declared all residents are automatically part of the Advisory committee and I made sure they were informed about big and small changes to our shared space because my decisions would have a direct impact on their livelihoods. Instead of meetings that few if any would attend, I went to people individually to get their feedback face to face, by email and newsletters. I actively sought their opinions before making decisions that sometimes would prove unpopular because at the end of the day, I am the leader and I have to make decisions that are hopefully in the best interest of the  project. Consulting the residents of the building turned out to be one of the best leadership decisions I’ve ever made. It provides an in-built spectrum of opinions and insights that might never have occurred to me. The problem with consulting all residents is most people are only concerned with themselves and take deep offence if their opinions aren’t treated as the final and gold-standard word on any issue.  Some people  will fail to realise the decision I’m looking for does not rest with them, but with me.  Luckily, most people are cool with sharing their ideas and as long as they’re not personally affected, they’re happy for me to get on with making up my own mind.

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Some of the benefits working with a visionary leader

  • Life is never dull
  • You will be taken outside of your comfort zone repeatedly (For some people this is a pitfall)
  • You will have the honour and thrill of a front row seat and if you’re lucky, an active role in transforming something that’s seemingly impossible into practical use.
  • You will work in an environment charged with energy, possibilities
  • You will feel more alive than a ‘normal’ environment.
  • You will be infected by the vision of what could be and will pour your heart, soul, time and talent to make it real.

Some of the pitfalls of working with a visionary leader

  • You will sometimes yearn for dull
  • You will be repeatedly taken outside of your comfort zone.
  • You will have the fear of closely watching and possibly being devastated when whole-heartedly attempting to change the seemingly impossible, temporarily, proves to be impossible.
  • You will work in an environment charged with energy and resource draining possibilities that may or may not work. You may become addicted to this, like a drug or gambling.
  • You will sometimes yearn for normal.
  • Your visionary infection will be cured by a cold dose of reality, advice from uninfected friends or loved ones, or another opportunity will present a new reality that surpasses the possible reality you’re striving to reach.
  • Your heart, soul, ego and talents will be stretched, bruised or exhausted.
  • You will realise a vision of your own that doesn’t coincide with your visionary leader and find yourself left behind.

Look at that sketch again

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The one thing a visionary does is move on. Remember that and you’ll be fine while it lasts. No, you will be better than fine. You will surpass any and all of your previous moments of brilliance because a real visionary will only have time for the best they can bring out of the team they’ve got. You will be inspired to see what could be and to dig in and go for it. When you or your visionary leader moves on, it may take a while, but at some point you will know that you were more alive and happier than you had ever been and you will be less afraid to actively and aggressively pursue your own dreams, goals and vision. You might be one of the very few who find a way to achieve their own aims in life or who choose to stay for the love, the intensity of the pursuit of utopia, the pursuit of that perfect balance. You might be one of a very small inner circle who choose to stay and create and create and create and createandcreateandcreateandcreate…..

RhondaandTheGreatUnknown.com

 

 

 

 

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Gig Money Paid For This, Why Independent Music Matters

 

These groceries were paid for with money earned by performing live music in a pub gig. This photo represents the monetary value independent musicians add to our economy. It’s not just groceries.

Gig Money Paid For This

Gig money pays for things like:

  • Diesel or petrol to get to and from the gig
  • Insurance on the vehicle and instruments
  • Fees paid to backing musicians or guests artists
  • Food and drink to and from depending on the distance from the musicians house.
  • Advertising materials (leaflets placed in venues so future customers can find the band…)
  • Website hosting
  • Instruments
  • Replacement parts for instruments
  • Light and sound equipment
  • and more!

Our band recently played a gig for a venue we’d never been to before and the landlord subtracted £1.00 per minute for our 15 minute break between sets. They also subtracted an additional £5 for the 5 minutes we started late, although we were in place waiting for them to dim the lights and turn off the canned music! They didn’t tell us they’d be deducting £20 from our fee until we’d done the last song, said good night and packed up all our stuff. If they’d asked us to keep going a bit longer, we would have complied. Ritchie reckoned they were trying to claw back money any way they could as it wasn’t a particularly busy night. So, it’s not all fun, games and rock & roll. Musicians have to deal with all sorts of fantastic and awful people… just like any other job.  But we do this, despite people like that landlord, because we love music and connecting with audiences that love music too.

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Just remember, the next time you ask musicians to travel to your venue and entertain your guest for free, you’re making it that much harder for yet one more serious band to keep going. You’re taking money out of the economy and making all of us a little bit less well off, not just financially, but musically too.

Those bags of groceries came from money earned from years of training, hours of regular rehearsals in a space that has to be paid for, investment in instruments and other equipment, insurance and travel.

We are fortunate to have the support of local BBC and independent radio stations.

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Radio presenters like Dominic King, Sue Marchant and independent station owners like Paul Golder at Phoenix FM are the lifeblood support system for independent music because they help us connect to new audiences while mainstream and national stations cater to the traditional ‘star’ system and pretty much only play music from major labels.

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When you hear a new band performing live on your local station, take a minute to find out where and how you can support that band when they come to play in your neighbourhood or maybe buy a copy of their new album if you like what you hear. Your purchase might buy another bag of groceries… or put a bit of petrol in the tank to keep that musician going a bit farther down the road on their musical journey.

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In our case, we literally built our own recording studio, walls/windows and all… in an old office building.

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It’s important to be good to your local and touring musicians who don’t have the shelter of a major label or management team. You ARE the community sheltering bands like ours. Take care of us and we will uplift, entertain and inspire all sorts of people in all sorts of places.

Rhonda and The Great Unknown collage

My band, Rhonda and The Great Unknown, is undertaking a project beginning the 24th of October 2015. It’s 50 Songs in 50 Weeks. I launched the project to celebrate my upcoming 50th birthday on October 24th 2016. Join us there, or just sign up for the newsletter on the bands website. You can find snippets and links to the songs and blog posts about the journey there too.

Hope you like what you hear and share it with everyone you know. I’m off now on my own musical journey. ‘No One To Blame But Yourself’ is the first of fifty songs the guys and I will be recording in our handmade studio. This video is a snippet of what we came up with.

If you’re a radio presenter, please consider inviting us to play live and put some of our songs in rotation. If you’re an event organiser or promoter, please add us to your books. If you love live music, come to one of our gigs if you can. If you like buying music, then please buy some of ours. To paraphrase Tesco… Every little helps. But don’t just do this for Rhonda and The Great Unknown. Make a bit of effort to find and support local music, wherever you are because independent music really truly does matter for lots and lots of reasons.  In 2011, I was alone, writing a new song everyday, teaching myself to play guitar and craft songs about everyday events and people. This year, my 49th year on this planet, I am surrounded by musicians, music producers, actors, dancers,  artists, writers and other creative people. I am already living the dream. With your interest and support, that dream might not be quite so heavy to bear.

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RhondaandTheGreatUnknown.com