FourPlay String Quartet have been wowing audiences around the world for over 20 years with both their radical stringed reinventions of pop songs and their wildly eclectic original material. For example their latest single, ‘Wish‘ – a powerful ballad about living in a climate-changed world – which they’ve just wrapped up a national tour for.
The band has supported a wide range of acts including The Whitlams, Savage Garden, and The Screaming Jets, and they’ve played at some of the world’s most famous venues and festivals. With so much experience under their belt, it’s no surprise they’ve provided some excellent music industry inside advice for this week’s Savvy Seven.
1) Who was your first musical inspiration? Why? Who inspires you now?
Peter: When I was a toddler being left at daycare by my Mum, I would usually be found inside at the end of the day sitting next to the stereo rocking back and forth to the music. No idea what that toddler music was mind you! Like all of us, my musical inspirations run far and wide. Many of my strongest influences come from 90’s rave, drum’n’bass, IDM and so on, translated back into string ideas, but equally John Zorn’s radical re-imagining of Jewish music through the prism of post-bop jazz, the industrial metal of Godflesh and the doom of Sunn O))).
2) What advice do you have for someone who is about to set off on their first tour?
Lara: Enjoy the journey! I would say that soundcheck rarely runs on time, so call the sound guy and see how they are tracking, and make contact with them a couple of days before to see if they have your tech specs! Try not to worry about numbers, the magic of walk-ups is a mystery one can’t control, but go hard with promo and put lots of energy into that part of things so that you’ve done everything you can. Beyond that, there’s not much more to do than enjoy the music.
3) What has been one of the most defining moments in your career?
Lara: For me it was performing with FourPlay at Carnegie Hall (NYC) with author Neil Gaiman performing our soundtrack to his live narration of The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains. Nothing will ever beat the thrill of that moment of playing in one of the most distinguished halls in the world, I would say. Playing our own original music to a full house and a standing ovation with Neil was just a pinnacle of my musical career. Things before and after have remained joyous and amazing, but that was a cherry on the ice cream that I will keep forever.
4) How has your music practice changed over time?
Peter: In the dark ages when we started, we were learning how to play & make rock music, and this still at times involved writing down parts on the page to play. Even then, we jammed our arrangements together in the band room. These days, our entire practice centres around improvising and jamming together, even when a band member brings a partially written song to the group. We have an instinct for who plays what role, and we have triggers for coming up with structural points for changes to happen, etc. It’s ever-evolving and very democratic, and we love it that way!
In terms of the sounds we make, we incorporate effects pedals in a fairly variable way, not at all systematic. It’s probably an area for improvement, but also quite like the challenges of reproducing sounds using instrumental techniques. People would be surprised, but it’s all pretty improvised for us!
5) My top business tip for new artists is…
Lara: Try to have low expectations but high hopes. Enjoy the process and you have to love it for the music, not for some fame or financial gain. The music is the guarantee, not the outcome.
6) My biggest career mistake has been… What would you do differently now?
Peter: Nobody likes answering this question! Personally – and this applies to Tim as well – music is a part-time job for me. My day job (IT) is also part-time, and I actually probably wouldn’t change this. But it presents certain challenges, and I’m well aware that dedicating yourself 100% (heck, 150%) to the music industry and your art is going to give you the best visibility and best chances of building an audience, growing yourself as an artist, and so on. Let’s be honest, I’m 80% in my day job and 80% in music. Maths ain’t maths. Do what you enjoy, put everything you can into it, and manage your expectations.
7) In my opinion, the most important issue facing the music industry is… What do you think can change that?
Peter: Financial issues are probably going to be the biggest challenge for all new and existing artists these days. Streaming and ubiquitous availability has meant that the value of recorded music is much reduced for the middle-of-the-road fan (not denying that there are still CD & vinyl collectors out there!), so we have to fall back to gig income, or sync if we’re lucky. But then, touring requires putting up capital and increasingly not having guarantees – there’s a lot of risk there. I feel like when the fee structures for services like Spotify were developed, the music industry (perhaps in fear of pirating/torrenting) preemptively gave in to a cultural sea change in terms of the value of music and creativity which has had serious repercussions. On top of which gentrification and changes in how people consume entertainment have meant that the value of live music is also more precarious. In cities like Sydney, gentrification also impacts the availability of mid-sized performance spaces, and the online environment makes it much harder to promote shows (Facebook being almost the only option other than a handful of community-run online spaces). It’s hard to know how to fix it, but I feel part of it is a waiting game. There’s a lot of passion coming from younger people and we need to follow their lead in a way. They still find ways of playing music and getting into music, and always will.
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Check out the video for ‘Wish’ by FourPlay String Quartet