Turning up the volume for Cambridge’s community of singer/songwriters


What would some of their songs sound like if they had a big band behind them?

I was having a chilled-out chat with Andrea, Jules and George of the Dowsing Sound Collective on a late winter’s Sunday evening in town recently. Amongst the varied topics of conversation were some of the things I touched upon in my last blogpost about concert venues in Cambridge – with the three of them having a far greater knowledge of the challenges our city faces than perhaps I ever will. After all, I’m either just the bloke behind the camera or one of a big chorus. They organise events.

Learning from filming for the Cambridge Buskers Festival 2014

Of all the videos that I made in 2014, this one was the one I had the most fun with and got the most satisfaction from.


The above is the result of what was my first paid commission – which followed shortly after completing Rex Elston’s introduction to digital video evening class in Cambridge. (Linked because he’s running it again in January 2015).

Having learnt lots more about digital video in the four or so months that have passed, I started talking with some of the organisers of the festival – which is back on 12-14 June 2015. (You heard it here first, kids!) The big learning point for me is on how to improve the audio – especially when filming outdoors. Have a listen to some of the performers in the 2014 Cambridge Buskers Festival Album here – in particular Rachel Clark who had to deal with a fair breeze throughout her set. A properly-produced version of Rachel’s above-linked track is here.

Going beyond one person and one instrument

In a sense I’m trying to work out how to encourage the many singer/songwriters to go beyond their normal solo performances – splendid as they are. Some – such as incredibly soothing Melody Causton here, and stupendously talented Grace Sarah here have already demonstrated they can go beyond writing for a single instrument. I’ve not, however, seen them perform live with wider musical/instrumental backing. What would that look like and sound like? What are the things stopping something like this from happening – other than cost? Could we create an event where local singer/songwriters arranged a couple of their favourite tracks for other vocal and instrumental parts for a bigger band to support them?

What sort of track might be suitable for such a big band?

Here’s 15 year old Ellie Dixon at The Junction in autumn 2014

Ellie’s talent, creativity and imagination with music is out of this world – this cover version of ‘I need a dollar’ being one such example. “Going Places” is one track that I think would fit very nicely with a big band and backing vocals behind her.

Essentially, I’d like to see The Junction host such an event. While I can think of a few bands that might be interested, for something like this you’d need a sort of ‘musical director’ who could select suitable backing musicians who could provide both the support and constructive feedback for the main performers. The backing musicians would also need a wide enough repertoire to cover the variety of musicians taking part. For example Dave Holmes here focuses mainly on bossa nova. As the Dowsing Sound Collective demonstrate, it works to have that variety in a line-up, but one that has not just been randomly thrown together. In Dave’s case, what would the track he plays on the video clip sound like if they were commissioned to take that number and ‘give it some attitude’?

And the audio?

In a nutshell, the external mic I got for my camcorder doesn’t cut the mustard. Useful for 1-2-1 interviews but little else. This means getting into some very complicated territory around digital audio – something that I never anticipated would be an issue when I first started out earlier this year. The first time I really noticed this as an issue was with this recording of ‘Car Wash’ performed by Makossa just outside Cambridge. You can hear the bass but you can’t feel it – if that makes sense. A shame because in the room it was thumping.

A problem I have though is I pride myself on being ***mobile***. Ie I can get set up and filming in under 60 seconds, and am able to produce footage that goes beyond what current smartphones can. How do you improve your audio without ending up with a van full of expensive equipment? It’s why I’ve started looking at small pieces of kit like this mini sound desk. But that inevitably means more wires & mics. One of the things I need to learn about local venues is who uses which sound desks, and which ones when in use enable the audio to be recorded separately. That way the audio quality will be a significant step up from what I’m currently able to produce.






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