New mini-documentary about Twisted City

I've gone all 'Behind The Music' and put together a little video about the making of Twisted City. This is maybe a little self-indulgent, as I can't say Q or Mojo regularly include it in their top 100 albums of all time, but I know that there is a little band of Twisted-City lovers out there, and this video is for them. It's got commentary about the recording of the album, tracks, and photos that I haven't put online before. Plus a truckload of bad haircuts.

The video can be watched at http://www.youtube.com/embed/1l8n9RLLcdg

Mastering the album at Abbey Road

Well the album is finally done now.

The final bit of the recording process involved a trip to Abbey Road to master the record. Mastering basically means putting the album through a very fancy equaliser, then compressing and limiting the record to beef up the sound.

The mastering equaliser we used at Abbey Road was an old EMI-designed piece of kit from the 70s; despite advances in recording equipment, these EMI mastering consoles remain incredibly popular with artists and producers (due to the way that they give records a more warm, 'analogue' sound) - so Abbey Road haven't got rid of them.

I was very lucky to have a chap called Steve Rooke master the album. He's done a lot of very impressive stuff in the past, but his recent big project was doing the Beatles remasters. I had great fun during our lunchbreak hearing how he went about it. Steve's a really nice chap - not to mention an extremely experienced mastering engineer - and working with him was both a pleasure and a privilege.

I took some shots on the day which I thought I'd post up here - a photo diary of sorts. Hope they're of interest.

The tube station at St John's Wood, the nearest station to Abbey Road. It's got a very funky staircase and lamps.


As I walked down from the tube to Abbey Road, I encountered something very odd, and which looked like it could have come straight out of a Sgt. Pepper-era promo film: a bunch of impressive-looking dudes on horses.

In Abbey Road they have tape machines like this just lying around the place in the corridors. I was drooling over this one. I'm surprised they don't get nicked more often.

This was the mastering equipment that the record went through. It dates from the 70s but people love the 'warm' sound it produces so much that they continue to use it in Abbey Road to this day...albeit hooked up to computers. You can "see" two of my new songs on the computer screen.

And here's yours truly in the mastering suite. I look like death, due to having been up all night putting the final touches to the mixes. A lot of coffee was needed during the session. Excuse my dishevelled appearance.

More Chris Singleton content:


The Charlatans miss a trick - or do they?

The Charlatans are the latest in the line of well-known acts (including Radiohead and the Nine Inch Nails) to release their album for free on the internet. It's downloading on my PC as I type. Following on from my recent post about 'the future of rock and roll', it seems as though that future - where musicians do not make money from recorded music but use it as a stepping stone to sell other stuff - is moving a step closer.

What confuses me about the Charlatans' move is that they seem to be ignoring the 'sell other stuff' bit of the free album approach, because they are not capturing data during the exercise. In other words, they haven't asked fans to submit an email address in order to access the download. You just click the link and it starts downloading.

This means the band have lost the opportunity to email tour dates or merchandise offers to the people who have downloaded the album for free. They haven't even done an honesty box thing, so that they can generate income from people who want to donate what they think the album is "worth".

Either the Charlatans are being very clever or very stupid - and I'm trying to work out which. There is a big upside to making the album available without any strings attached: they'll definitely get far more downloads of it. I know from looking at the statistics from my own free album offer that of the people who go to www.singletonmusic.com/freealbum/, one third download the album; I'm fairly sure that my asking for an email address is putting the other two-thirds off.

If more people download The Charlatans' album, there's more scope for a big "word-of-mouth" effect about the band. I can see why this could be extremely useful in attempts to increase awareness of up-and-coming acts...but the Charlatans are, if not necessarily a household name, a well-known band who have had several number one albums.

The best explanation I can think of for their approach to this free release is that the band are aiming to get the largest number of people possible downloading the album, generating as much positive word of mouth about it, before doing away with the free download and making only a paid-for release available. The hope being that the bigger word of mouth effect generated by the 'no strings' free release will boost sales of the paid-for copy. The wished-for scenario being something like:

Mr A: "Oh have you heard The Charlatans' new album, it's great."
Mr B: "Cool - must go and grab the free download."

Mr A: "Actually it's not available for free anymore - you have to get it in the shops or on iTunes."
Mr B: "Ok I'll do that."

This is fine, assuming the album is very good; if not, the band risk bad word-of-mouth publicity which could actually impact negatively on sales: if it's crap, and it's free, why on earth would you pay for it? There is also the possibility of their core fanbase, who typically propel The Charlatans to the top of the charts every time they put an album out, not being quite so energised to go out and buy the cd if they already have the free download. And the thing most likely to happen during Mr A and Mr B's exchange is that Mr A will offer to send or burn Mr B the album for free anyway.

Another interesting aspect of this free release is that it is being done conjunction with the popular indie station XFM - you have to go to their XFM website to download it. This makes me wonder if XFM paid the band to release the album "catch-free" on their site. I'm puzzled though as to why this would be the case - if I was an XFM marketeer I would have viewed this as an opportunity to capture email addresses not only for the Charlatans but the radio station too.

There is one final possibility: that The Charlatans are simply being altruistic. After all, they must have a bob or two after all these years, and they may honestly be interested in giving their music away for free (although I doubt it). That's fine for established bands, but this approach poses problems for up-and-coming acts.

I still feel that new bands need to get something when they release their music: if not income, then the possibility of future income, via an agreement between the act and the downloader to swap the music for the opportunity to communicate about live performances, merchandise and so on. Speaking as a musician, when you attempt to forge a career out of it, music is simply too time, energy and money consuming to be given away for absolutely nothing. If recorded music is good, then it does have a value, and even if that's no longer going to be measured in immediate financial terms, we've got to remember - particularly in the dawn of this free-album era - that this value does exist.

Right. Moralising done - now go get my album for free at www.singletonmusic.com/freealbum/. The Charlatans' record is available at http://www.xfm.co.uk/news/2008/download-charlatans-new-album-for-free?&DCMP=EMC-EMR2007 //

Green Friday. Or, synesthesia.

I never used to think that believing Monday was orange, that Wednesdays were yellow or that the number 2 was a female was particularly unusual, until my girlfriend brought home a copy of a paper with a big feature about 'synesthesia' in it. Or, as Wikipedia, the font of all dubious knowledge, puts it, "a neurological condition in which two or more bodily senses are coupled."

Synesthesia is an odd condition, and manifests itself in lots of ways. For synesthesia 'sufferers', letters or numbers can be associated with colours; days of the week or months can take on personalities; musical notes can have a gender.

Here's some more examples of how I interpret the world:

Friday is dark green.
The number two is a strong-willed female.
The chord of E is also a strong-willed female.
The number seven is a bit of a fey man.
The month of May is white in colour, and female.
The letter Z is female.

It happens with songs too. For example, even though it's sung by a man, I perceive 'Yesterday' by the Beatles as being a female song, whereas their 'Don't Let Me Down' is a male song. I perceive the first song as a grey-ish green; the latter as browny-red.

The more I write these associations down, the more odd this all seems. The links seem completely arbitrary, but you could ask me a question about any letter, number, day or month and I could tell you what colour it is, what sex it is, and what kind of personality it has (and these descriptions wouldn't change, even if you asked me the same question a year later).

The Wikipedia explanations of synesthesia make the mind boggle a bit - particularly at this hour of the night - but regardless of why I have it, I have to say I like having it. It's a nice feeling, and I like being able to assign little personalities and colours to everyday things that quite frankly don't "really" have them.

Besides which, famous synesthisiacs include Beethoven, John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix - so I'm in good company. And the number seven IS a fey man.

A World Turned Up - Hyperacusis

The below post details my experience of hyperacusis and the treatment I received to deal with it.  Please note however that I am not a medical professional; information given on this page is not medical advice; before acting on any of the information on this page you should discuss the matter with your GP or other qualified medical professional; and I can't take any responsibility for any problems you may experience as a result of acting on any information provided on this page.


It was when going to the toilet became difficult that I knew I really had to do something about it. The sound of a flush was, for me, as loud as standing beside somebody drilling a hole in concrete, and extremely painful.

Other pain-inducing noises included showers, telephone ringtones, espresso machines, badly-oiled car brakes, the beeps before tube doors shut, and a certain friend of mine who has a rather high-pitched voice. These sounds might irritate most people; for me they hurt. This was my world turned up: for nearly two years, I heard everyday sounds at incredibly loud volumes. And, being a musician and songwriter, this nearly put an end to all hopes of career in music.

The problems all started when I started to feel a strange 'fullness' in my left ear. It felt a bit like when you get water in your ear in a swimming pool. At first I didn't think much of it, attributing to an infection, but then I started to notice that the fullness seemed to get worse every time I heard a 'loud' noise. In my case, the loud noise was usually the sound of my own voice, coming out of a pair of speakers in a studio. Most musicians love the sound of their own voices; mine was starting to cause me distress.

The first port of call was my local GP. He had a look at my left ear and said I had a small hole in my eardrum, and gave me some antibiotics to treat it. A couple of weeks later I returned, and apparently it had healed. But by now something else was happening: I was starting to find certain noises, particularly high-pitched ones, painful – and not just in my left ear; my right ear was behaving strangely too.

This started to have a subtle effect on my behaviour. When getting on a train, I would always look for the loudspeakers which announced the station names, and find a seat as far from them as possible; when going to a café I would distance myself from the coffee machines. Needless to say, social situations started to become really difficult. Bars and clubs became a no-go area without the aid of earplugs, and wearing them drew unwanted comments about foam fashion accessories. Gradually I became more and more dependent on earplugs, and wore them not only in bars and clubs, but in just about every situation.

And of all the noises that caused me difficulties, music was the worst. I was in the middle of recording "Twisted City" and was spending a lot of time in the studio, trying to mix it, a lot of the time in considerable pain. This problem was having a disastrous effect on the album. I would turn the volume down and try to mix at daftly low levels, or I would mix with foam earplugs in. Both approaches to mixing the album had predictable results: it sounded rotten. With repeated trips to my GP (each at 50 Euros – £40 – we don't have free GP visits in Ireland) came reassurances that nothing was wrong with my ears, and that my hearing was fine. Eventually, I was referred to a specialist – the first of several.

I walked out of the consultant's office 150 Euros worse off, and no wiser. The rather stern chap, who wore a dickie bow (this was the only redeeming feature of the appointment), gave me a hearing test and told me I was fine. He referred me to another clinic where I could get a more in-depth one 'just to put my mind at ease,' which I did. Another 60 Euros; no answers.

By now two things were happening: first, I was moving to London to pursue a rock career and a relationship – and second, my ear condition was getting worse. What had started out as weird was really starting to affect me; I became very depressed about how this allergy to sound was affecting my attempts to 'make it' as a musician.

It's hard enough plugging your musical wares around London without having the additional worry of your music causing you physical distress. I also became extremely irritable, and a complete nightmare to live with; my relationship with my girlfriend suffered considerably as a result of me being on constant edge around any everyday sound. It got so bad that she started worrying about sounds herself, and was reduced to tiptoeing around the house whenever I was around. It lead to a series of rows where both of us had to whisper at each other – shouting was entirely out of the question.

Hitherto the health profession hadn't explained what on earth was going on – so, reluctantly, I turned to the internet. I finally found a description of a condition which, based on the symptoms I had, seemed to be what I was suffering from: hyperacusis, "an increased sensitivity to the sounds that most people are able to tolerate".

The problem was that all these websites on which I'd found references to hyperacusis seemed to differ in their approach to what it was, how it was treated, and whether it was something permanent. It was time to reapproach the health professionals; this time I thought, with a diagnosis of sorts, maybe I can get some treatment. I went to an NHS doctor, who was helpful, and put me on a waiting list to see a consultant.

By this point, and faced with a reasonably long wait, I was really panicking, and I decided (against my pinko-liberal instincts) to see a private consultant.

£250 later I walked out of the consultant's room. He had spent five unfriendly minutes with me, told me I had got the diagnosis right, and had given me a prescription.

I was elated about the prospect of taking a pill to remove the pain, until I googled the name of the drug prescribed, Clonazepam. It was an anti-anxietal drug, with strong side effects, some of which apparently could actually cause hyperacusis. More googling led me to the Tinnitus and Hyperacusis Centre in London; I rang them up and they informed me that you couldn't cure hyperacusis with a tablet, and that in fact they had told that very consultant in a recent seminar that prescribing Clonazepam was a bad idea! The centre offered treatment by desensitisation (where hyperacusis sufferers are played white/pink noise at gradually increasing volumes to readjust their ears to everyday volumes), but it was very expensive and, not having health insurance (or even a job) at this point I couldn't really afford any more private treatment. I gradually got more and more stressed about it all, and the more I got stressed, the worse the hyperacusis got, and the more I wore my earplugs to block out the sounds around me. Which, unbeknownst to me, was part of the problem.

The last resort was the NHS appointment. I waited the four months before it came round, and to be honest I wasn't expecting much from it, as at this point nobody seemed to have been able to help. But I was surprised. Instead of giving me hearing tests, prescribing dodgy drugs, or charging me thousands of pounds to go through a desensitisation programme, they gave me "hearing therapy". I was skeptical at first, because I didn't equate an ear problem with a need for a hearing shrink. Fortunately though I wasn't subjected to hearing psychobabble, but practical and (no pun intended) sound advice.

First, I had to stop using earplugs in everyday scenarios. I was told that this is one of the worst things a hyperacusis sufferer can do, as when the earplugs are taken out, the brain perceives everyday noises as far louder than they actually are. It reinforces the hypersensitivity to sound.

Earplugs – but special, expensive ones (they cost about £170) – were still to be used in loud musical contexts where noise levels would damage anybody's hearing - but they were to be taken out at regular intervals.

Secondly, I was told I had to try my best to stop worrying about sound, and to stop being 'afraid' of it. The more I worried about sound, the more I had been focussing on it, and the more I tried to avoid it. A reassurance from the hearing therapist that I had not permanently damaged my ears really helped in this regard, as did some simple suggestions on how to relax. Eventually, I learnt to go out and about without earplugs, and experience noise the way everybody else did again. And thankfully I was able to remix "Twisted City" at a reasonable level.

By the time I felt my hearing was back to normal I had spent approximately £760, and seen three GPs, three consultants, three nurses, two trainee hearing therapists and a hearing therapist. The emotional cost had been huge too: I had nearly given up on my music and my girlfriend.

Eventually I got very good help from the medical profession, but if there was more knowledge within it about hyperacusis I am sure I could have recovered more quickly and avoided those whispered fights with my girlfriend. But ultimately I think the whole thing was good for me; I'm extremely careful these days when it comes to mixing music at high volumes – the cause of the problem, I'm sure – and I don't do things which are effectively bad for my ears (or fashionista reputation) like wear earplugs in restaurants. 

For more information about hyperacusis and my experience of it, along with useful resources about the condition, please see my hyperacusis FAQs section.