Selected Interviews with Lee Fletcher, (previously published elsewhere)

Jump to specific interviews via the Index list below:

Tribe Magazine interview (March 2013)
Specimen 13 interview (January 2013)

An interview with Lee by Tribe Magazine, originally published online during March 2013.

Reproduced here in-full with kind permission...

Tribe: How did you get started in the music business?

Lee Fletcher: I began making music aged around 15 and had notions of a career - Those ambitions petered out once I realised that I'd have to work hard at it! ;-) Living (as I then did) in West Cornwall in the pre-Internet age everything seemed far away... I continued creating for my own pleasure on and off (though mostly on) for many years, either alone or with a handful of collaborators... During this period I had a spell working in a small film company where I developed my interests in that medium too.

It was about 11 or 12 years ago that I had my first commercially released CD credits for production / mixing, and things progressed from there... After a period of balancing my then day job / career with music-making I took the decision to go professional in order to be truer to myself and have a more fulfilling life. That meant (a) my family and I would initially be poorer, but (b) happier ;-) My wife (Lisa Fletcher) is a frequent musical collaborator of mine, and her support definitely helped. My determination to pursue what was already in my DNA was enough to make the rest happen, and by the time I went 'pro' I'd already amassed a network of global friends and collaborators, plus I had more experience and musical maturity than I did in my teens, so it felt like a continuation rather than a beginning.

Tribe: How is the music business evolving? How much impact has the internet had on music production and distribution? Is it a good or a bad thing?

LF: It's evolving in almost every conceivable way. The 'old model' has crumbled, and the aftershocks have changed everything... Mostly this has been positive, (certainly in terms of creative freedom), though financially things are much tougher for most as there's little up-front funding for projects and we live in particularly risk averse times.

Tribe: Where do you see your working taking you? Where would you like to take things?

LF: It's difficult to predict where my 'career' may go as so much of that is down to chance. Creatively speaking there's no master plan, though I'd like to achieve a slightly more comfortable balance between my work as an artist / writer and that of producer (for external projects). This is beginning to happen - Possibly my next (solo) album will shift the balance further. We'll see... One of the handicaps of working in so many creative fields, as I do, is that folks can struggle to identify what it is that you specifically do. People like to put a label on you, and I don't make that easy, but I've never been one for the easy path ;-)

Tribe: What are the main challenges facing the music industry currently? How do they impact on you as an artist?

LF: The greatest challenge is undoubtedly making enough money to fund worthy projects and be able to live with some security. This is true at almost every level, and few artists (emerging or established) have a guaranteed income. It's possible to make a living, but artists generally have to be more business minded and entrepreneurial that before.

Tribe: What would you like to change about the music industry?

LF: The X-Factor culture. Talent shows in themselves are harmless and have been around forever, but the false expectations and low-level aspirations these current 'reality shows' foster (i.e. instant fame, material riches, hollow celebrity, music as 'product', more-of-the-same art) are hugely damaging, not only for the music world but for the kids they target. For many it's the only accessible impression they get of the music industry despite it really having more to do with TV than music, and essentially being a shop-front / recruitment agency for corporations owned by Cowell and his ilk. I honestly believe what they're doing is pretty macabre.

Tribe: How has audience engagement with your music changed with the rise of the internet? Has the internet empowered you as an independent?

LF: My audience has largely come about as a result of the reach of the Internet. I've been completely empowered by it... My listeners are based in the UK, America and Germany, followed by several EU (and otherwise) countries... How could one achieve that spread nowadays without the Internet? Only with a heck of a lot of money and press power, neither of which I have. Engaging directly with your audience is clearly key to building long-term support, and I mostly enjoy the social aspect of it, but I've manage to keep the balance between social interaction and work on the side of work and creation. There are some folks for whom music is almost a hobby compared to the effort they put into their online presence, but that for me would defeat the objective entirely.

Tribe: Is there too much noise? Is it hard to differentiate yourself from competition? Has the music business become too competitive now that technology to produce and distribute music has become more affordable?

LF: Yes, there is a lot of noise. But that's a necessary side-effect of the freedoms we have acquired via the web. The old gatekeepers (labels, radio, etc) have largely been replaced by bloggers and social networks, but there's still a lot of unsolicited material floating around... The 'noise' makes it harder to rise above the crowd, but if determined it can still be done, at least enough to build a reasonable tribe (see what I did there?) ;-)

Tribe: Where does live music fit in with the way people consume music?

LF: Well there's another bugbear of mine in your question - You ask about people "consuming" music, and you're right, for many music is now viewed as a consumable (and ultimately disposable) 'product' and that saddens me. But back to your main point - Live music is generally more profitable than making records, though only if you sell a lot of merchandise and have a loyal following, otherwise breaking even is often considered a good result. I don't play live myself having chosen years ago to focus on making records. They're different disciplines and I love both, but I'm definitely a recording artist. Nonetheless I personally prefer live to be "live" rather than a perfect facsimile of a recording... One of the biggest challenges for live musicians these days is finding suitable venues as the old network has gone and you're more likely to get gigs playing covers or hosting karaoke nights than performing original material.

Tribe: What are you working on currently? What excites you about that?

LF: As is often the case I'm working on multiple projects at once :-) I've just finished post-producing and mixing an album by a US artist called Troy Jones (produced by my friend and colleague Markus Reuter). It's a really hot instrumental project that features guest performances from the likes of Adrian Belew and Tony Levin... I'm currently in the early stages of producing a new album by Billy Bottle & The Multiple, a wonderful (and relatively local to me) band that meld jazz, folk, and prog with an essence of The Canterbury Scene - That's gonna be a great record I'm sure!

Personally I've just started writing material for my next album (which will follow last year's 'Faith in Worthless Things' and the remix spin-off 'The Cracks Within' from earlier this year). I'm most excited about this, and will be employing a number of new creative approaches during the process. For one thing I opted to write a stack of lyrics before committing to a single note this time. The words are very important to me, and will form the foundation of the entire record. But given my commitments to other projects the album most will most likely appear in late 2013 or early 2014.

And of course I have my ongoing film series OLDER THAN GOD, for which I'm producing new "webisodes" every month or two... And then there are mastering jobs, one-off recording / production gigs, and other things that I can't talk about just yet ;-) I've started to take a real hardline about what I chose to work on, and have consequently turned down several production requests recently either for time-based reasons or simply because they don't feel right. I trust my instincts and they tend to serve me well, even if they don't always take the easy route.

Tribe: Unsung is an affiliation of international producers - how did that come about? How does it work?

LF: Markus (Reuter) and I have been friends and collaborators for many years, and both Fabio (Trentini) and Adrian (Benavides) are part of our close musical 'family'. I guess Unsung Productions existed for longer than we knew - It occurred to us a couple of years back that if we were to clearly define our aims with a collective mission-statement and a hub for team projects we could better connect with the outside world. (The name is a nod to Markus's label Unsung Records which already existed, though the two things are separate...) We're all free agents and don't have to work together, (Fabio is already a very successful musician and producer in Italy), but the Unsung umbrella has undoubtedly been useful in raising awareness of our unconventional approach to music making.

[Many thanks to Tribe Magazine for the interview]

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An interview with Lee by illustrator and musician Denis Rodier (of Specimen 13), originally published in two parts on the S13 site during January 2013.

Reproduced here in-full with kind permission...

Specimen 13: Why Music? What is it about music that makes you forego stability and a regular income?

Lee Fletcher: Well, clearly I didn’t choose a music-based career for reasons of "stability" or indeed a "regular income", nice though that would be. In fact I didn't chose music at all – It chose me, despite my best efforts to shake it off at least twice in my younger years... I've been creating music in one form or another since my early teens, and this creative life ran parallel to a successful-but-unrelated career for a pretty long time.

It was always far more than a hobby though. Music, and to a point the creative arts in general, helped shape who I am; it's wired into my DNA, therefore I never grew out of it. For a long time I had no aspirations to make it a real job though – As a youngster growing up in pre-Internet times tucked away in West Cornwall the music industry seemed very far away, and later on when the world began plugging-in I convinced myself for a time that I couldn’t make a living from it without (what I imagined would be) selling out. Ultimately though I faced-up to the fact that my 'proper' job was a bad fit for me – I was good at it, but only by pulling-on another skin. Music and the creative life was my true calling so eventually I returned the call. It has its challenges like any other work, but I’ve never regretted going 'pro'.

S13: How do you measure the impact of the changes in the music business in the way you express your art?

LF: Creatively speaking, I don’t. The "business" has no impact on how I express myself, either musically or visually (via my film work). However the way I then present that work to the outside world is very much informed by the revolution in social networking, crowd-funding, and direct-to-fan communications... Old media isn't exactly dead, but independent artists / producers (such as I am) have been afforded a wonderful opportunity to find and connect with a potential global audience by engaging creatively and effectively with the Internet's many toys.

From a manufacturing and distribution perspective it's both harder and easier to get work out there. Naturally I would love to be able to focus 100% on the work and have 'people' to handle some of that stuff, but the upside of operating outside the traditional (and near extinct) label structure is complete creative control and copyright ownership, so whilst one undoubtedly has to work harder the balance of power is shifting in the right direction...

S13: With the internet age, music collaboration is becoming truly international. As a process, is the fragmentation of music recording, with collaborators doing their bits from their homes and sending it over email, a compromise? Is direct musician interaction crucial to you?

LF: This way of working (file exchanging) facilitates collaborations and projects that couldn't otherwise exist, so it's undoubtedly a good thing. However direct interaction is also important to me and preferable in certain scenarios. For example I like to work with vocalists in person as I do a lot of one-to-one coaching and on-the-spot arranging, and for that I need to see their face and be able to sing through ideas together in a room. In general my preference is to record performances in person so that I can influence the outcome and we can bounce off each others energy, but file exchanging is a perfectly good alternative when time and budget won’t facilitate this. If I know the player and already have an established relationship with them it's much easier to work at-a-distance.

Part II:

S13: You touch on all those technical and creative aspects of both audio and video. Do you feel the need to do it all to fully express yourself or do you just easily get bored?

LF: It's a little of both! Having a broad range of technical abilities allows me to be more independent and (sometimes) get more work. But there's no master plan – I'm just a naturally curious person who’s interested in a lot of stuff, and yes I have a relatively low boredom threshold (laughs) Besides, most of these skills are good bedfellows that naturally complement one-another, so I don’t tend to separate them out in my mind unless I’m writing a CV or bio. This extends to my video / film work too – I've always been a visually minded guy, even in the way I think about music, so framing and editing shots is a lot like writing, arranging, and recording music...

S13: Any other medium you’d like to explore?

LF: There's no burning desire to delve into anything else, but who knows what's around the corner? As a child I wanted to be a comic book artist, then a graphic designer, but got seduced by music... I still do a little graphic design and photography, though I don’t publish much of it. Lisa (my wife and musical partner) recently began acting and I'm sure this is something I'd enjoy but there's no space in my life for something that demanding. Besides, I'm quite shy really!

S13: You've been quite vocal about the so called "Loudness War" so obviously, you care very much about the sonic quality of recorded music. Do you feel the trend toward the "democratization of music producing" (i.e. the fall of the big studios) will inevitably lead us toward poorer sounding music in general?

LF: Hmm, it's true to say that there are a lot more 'homemade' records out there now, and whilst I embrace the creative freedoms that this signifies many of them do sound pretty bad, (from a technical / audio production perspective). Being a great player or composer, or whatever, doesn't necessarily make one a good producer / engineer. However there are a lot of folks that tick every box. But stepping back from your question slightly I see the "democratization of music producing" (as you put it) as something that is largely good for all, with independent producers / writers like myself potentially having a much larger creative pool in which to work / play. As for the dreaded "loudness war" thing, which – you're quite correct – I've been very vocal about: This largely stemmed from supposed high-budget / big studio / label recordings, and many folks figured this was how records 'should' sound because it's what they were hearing on the radio, TV, etc. A vicious-cycle ensued, but there’s only so far you can go with that approach until you max-out all your options, (and in the process kill the music). Thankfully I do see evidence of the trend slowly but surely turning as people become better educated. Plus there have been some pretty awful remasters in recent years, and I think the (non music making) public are beginning to realise that louder isn't always (or ever?) better. People are inherently smart, and eventually they see through the marketing, even if it takes a little time... (laughs)

S13: How do you fight cynicism? How do you keep your enthusiasm towards your work and the music business?

LF: If I relied upon others to fire me up creatively then I probably wouldn't be doing this. There is cynicism everywhere, more-so perhaps than ever before. I'm not exempt myself, and certainly take a cynical view towards many of the "norms" that are thrust upon us by society-at-large... However the impulse to create is a purer, simpler compulsion, at least it is for me. My enthusiasm comes from a child-like wonder that still burns inside me and a fascination for the 'magic' of music – In this sense I've never quite "grown up", and long may it continue!

[Many thanks to Specimen 13 for the interview]

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