Graham Steel, better known as Steck to Macjammers, is 39 and a native resident of Glasgow, Scotland. He’s been a member for less than a year yet has posted over 55 tracks, mostly from the prolific days of his youth when he was a member of several bands. (See below.)
Graham found MacJams in his search for Internet sites that were dedicated to the Creative Commons revolution in copyrights and shared inspiration. Initially, as a Patient Advocate, he was well aware of how open source research and freely shared information can rapidly change and expand our base of knowledge, as well as our sense of enthusiasm and community. Once he found Macjams, he sent links to all his friends and several key contacts.
Actually, it was Alan Brady who invited him, but Steck was already primed…
“Prior to being alerted to MJ’s,” Graham said, “I was already fairly well clued up about Creative Commons (CC). Until then though, I hadn’t really thought about CC and music. After my first upload was accepted, I then realized that I had the ability to share dozens of previously unreleased material that otherwise would simply remain in a box until I die. When I first started writing/recording, I was very protective of my work. As opposed to traditional copyright, CC licences are very much a breath of fresh air. Here’s a selection of ‘about CC’ related videos. Being part of MJ’s is not only cool, it’s a great place to share ideas/make friends and get creative in a way that was extremely hard to do pre internet. I love it. Creative Commons and entities like MacJams in my view are a match made in heaven.”
What is so special about Creative Commons licensing?
“There are so many restrictions with ‘traditional Copyright’ (dubbed the big C) that do not allow the creative juices to get flowing. Author and historian Siva Vaidhyanathan has written extensively about this and I would recommend this recent audio interview. More recently, I learned about ‘Media Futurist’ Gerd Leonhard and his work. His new e-book ‘Music 2.0′ is available online as a ‘pay (much, little or none) as you want’ download here. I can also highly recommend checking out his website.
“Simply put, without the CC licenses like those that we use at MJ’s, we would have more lawyers than musicians!! In online terms, I’m more attuned to scientific rather than music publishing but the common ground is CC licenses.”
“Yes, Larry Lessig is a genius. What CC does is to allow anyone to share, use and remix legally (emphasis on legally). This was simply not possible in the past - ‘in the past’, we’re talking centuries not years. ”
How will all this affect the future of music and how does MacJams fit in?
“User Generated Content is the wave of the future. A few months ago, I requested and received some feedback from a key contact at an Open Access Publisher about CC and MacJams. At that time, the individual had some constructive criticisms. A short while later, the CC layout when uploading to MJ’s was made simpler and easier to understand. Cool. Since MJ’s has been using CC’s for so long and to great effect, they’ve shown and proven the usefulness of these licences to get creative and share our work for free. Other entities have followed but they were one of the first to do this in our field.
“MJ’s is therefore very well placed to be a strong leader in terms of where we go from here and it’s really exciting to be part of the community. MacJams 2.0 Beta, now we’re talking. This will kick ass. Loads of new stuff (e.g. Collaborator Locator and Open Project etc.) in the pipeline from what I can gather. MJ is THE place for the long-standing, the new and the not here yet.
“But even now, the community is MacJams’. Other places share music. Macjams is a true community that seems to, inherently, understand the soul of CC. Online Forums are fab. Here, whether it be General Discussion, Suggestions, Inspirations, Show your Stuff, etc., etc., everyone can get involved, be involved, and importantly, tell and involve others.
“Watch and learn from this short movie from 2003: Creativity Always Builds On The Past.”
When did you first get into playing music?
“I guess I would have been about 6 when I started drumming. I then went on to do piano lessons around the age of 10 - 12, got to grade 2 and then became interested in synthesizers.”
Any early influential experience that led you to want to make music?
“I was never really into classical music so I asked my tutor to try to find the sheet music for Nightporter by Japan, a song that I really loved and wanted to be able to play it myself. She was unable to find it so I took stock and started to learn how to play by ear. I still have the scars:-) I was a huge fan of David Sylvian, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, etc. Since we had a piano at home, having been to piano lessons for a couple of years, the next logical stage was to ask Santa for a keyboard.”
“Ooh, now you’re asking. At the age of 13/14, a bunch of us used to jam in a friends garage. Myself and a guy called Richard Sneddon used to play once a week for a bunch of OAP’s.”
What’s an “OPA”?
“Old Age Pensioner. I played piano, Richard sang and I did backing vox. We mainly did Beatles/Simon and Garfunkel covers, etc. Whilst I didn’t study music at school, a few of us did manage to spend a lot of spare time in the music department. In the two store cupboards, there was loads of great stuff to play with including a couple of Korg mono synths.
“I used to go to church every Sunday evening for ‘Youth Fellowship’. As a result of that, we were able to stage our first few gigs in the two church halls. Motion and Emotion was the name of our first proper band. I do have a tape of the first gig somewhere. Next up was a gig in school in 1984 as part of Live Aid. With over 600 in attendance, that turned out to be our biggest ever audience. We also did a couple of gigs at Glasgow University and I remember partially murdering ‘Vienna‘ by Ultravox.
“I love doing outdoor gigs. I have fond memories of the few that we did. We recently found a video of one of them and I’m expecting a copy of DVD fairly soon. I’ll upload some of it. Without question, recording about 10 tracks at BBC Scotland’s HQ in Glasgow was another highlight.
Here’s some MJ’s uploads from the BBC:
“I was very tempted to do a part-time course in Sound Engineering but decided to invest instead in a digital workstation in 1998. I chose a Roland VS-880 which with upgraded memory cost me about £1500. This was probably the soundest investment I ever made. We did a series of gigs at King Tut’s in Glasgow in 2001. King Tut’s is still THE venue in Glasgow for unsigned bands. We were called Bluestorm at that time and it was a real tragedy that despite being on a roll, three of the five of us parted company, ye olde ‘musical differences’. Having gigged for 20 years, myself and my guitarist/best bud Dave Fletcher decided to call it a day gigging wise.
How does CATCH fit into the whole King Tut’s time? I’m confused. Can you give years to bracket your bands?
“Very hard to remember the exact years for each band/merger, but in the correct order:
Motion and Emotion
You were a keyboard player in all of them?
“Yes, I played keyboards in all of these bands. I was also on lead vocals for the first three (Catch had two other lead vocalists when I was not on lead) and backing vocals on all of them. I was an ‘average’ keyboard player. Apart from Ghostmaker, I did a heck of a lot of programming for all of these bands and I am more skilled at that than playing live keyboards/solo’s you see.”
Do you recall the first song you wrote?
“I can’t recall specifically the first song I ever wrote but ‘She said She said’ was one of them. It was pretty awful with hindsight, but you have to start somewhere. It probably sounded like a poor man’s Tears for Fears ‘B side‘. ”
Any current band?
“Between 2001 and mid 2007, I didn’t really do much at all music creativity wise.
“Since, a couple of things happened, though. I teamed up with a fab female vocalist (Lynne Todd) and I’ve uploaded:
“I then recorded/produced a couple of tracks for Glasgow based Tribus.
What is “Tribus”? Is that a band? An organization? How’d you get involved?
“Tribus were a 4 piece based in Glasgow. The bass player from XL/Ghostmaker used to work with the Husband of the lead singer of Tribus. I was introduced to Tribus and ended up producing three tracks for them for a knock down price (£50 for 3/4 tracks).”
What else keeps you busy?
“I’ve spent the majority of my spare time very involved in Patient Advocacy work. As per my Artist Profile here, in July 07, APB introduced me to MJ’s. As per APB’s interview, Alan and I played in the band ‘Catch‘ many moons ago. I have limited time at the moment to devote to new collaborations at MacJams, but as soon as I get a chance to do so, I have at least four to get back on the rails again.”
What do you do for a “living”?
“At the moment, not much. I’m between jobs and won’t commit myself to commenting here until I am back in employment.”
What used to be your job?
“Since 1988, it’s been insurance based. As of this week, I hope to enter the field of domestic/commercial loss adjusting and despite this being a departure from the areas of insurance I’ve got loads of experience in, it’s a fresh challenge and I’ve settled in very swiftly into my new environment. My overall experience thus far is way I passed the selection process for this particular job.”
Is there something else the MJ community might not know about you?
“I’ve been closely learning up on/following Neuroscience since 2000. Myself and a handful of others have assisted in the process of developing an effective treatment for a rare, normally fatal neurodegenerative disease. I’ve recently updated this web page to reflect new research published in March. For anyone who’s remotely interested in biology, I’ve posted two items on my personal blog in this regard.
How’d you get involved in Neuroscience? What exactly do you do in this field? Can I call you a scientist?
“I don’t have a degree and ain’t no scientist. In 1999, I lost my brother to a rare fatal neurodegenerative disease and ever since 2000, became rather interested in scientific/medical literature. You can call me a Patient Advocate. Since around 2003, I’ve been making contact with scientists/researchers across the world and enjoy making connections/sharing information between people that, otherwise, may never have established contact with one another. It’s fun and most of them appreciate my efforts.”
You seem really good at networking…
“Since the merciful age of four, ’social networking’ was a skill that I started to engage in. Seem to have been born with this state of affairs. Fairly quickly after I first got internet access (late 2000), world became oyster. I put music on the back burner in 2001 to concentrate on what evolved into Patient Advocacy work. I could write a book about what this led to.
“A few months before I was alerted to MacJams, by then I had discovered what’s known as the Open Access Movement, (now called Open Access Community). As of a few weeks ago, the Open Access Directory (OAD) is where the community builds things to the next level in a wiki type fashion.”
What goals do you have for your music now?
“The best way to answer this one is to refer to a recent interview I gave in January.”
What obstacles have you overcome in your musical endeavors?
“Learning how not to get ripped off when renting your own rehearsal facilities (long torture story). Through no fault of my own, I ended up owing a shed load of dosh to the local Council for ‘Commercial Rates’. About 100 gigs later, we cleared the debt. Lesson for anyone, be very careful when agreeing terms with any such facility.”
What is your recording process?
“In our last rehearsal pad in Dalmarnock, Glasgow, we had a really fantastic set of three rooms in a storage warehouse for a really good price. We carpeted every surface and totally ‘deadened’ the acoustics of the recording room. I would normally record and lay down (real) drum tracks, followed by (DI’d) bass and then mic’d guitars. Keyboards next followed by vocals and backing vocals.”
What are you main instruments?
“Over the years, I became less interested in playing keyboards and much more interested in recording. As such, my main ‘instrument’ is my VS-880, and secondary, my keyboards.”
What other gear do you have?
“98% of my recordings were done before I got my first PC. But, here is what I have now:
“Music Hardware: Roland VS 880 Digital Studio Workstation, Yamaha SY85 Motherboard, Roland SH101, Ensoniq EPS Sampler, Alice 12.28 12 channel mixing desk (for live gigs), Digitech 256XL Effects Processor, dbx MC6 Compression Unit, Shure/AKG/Sennheiser mic’s, Roland TR 626 drum machine, PleXWRITER 12/4/32 CD Writer/Data backup, Creative Computing Rainbow 7 PC, USB 2.0 500 G hard drive (back up).
“Music Software: Reason 2, Protools, Audacity, Sonic Foundry Acid Pro 4.0 & Vegas Video 4.0, large microwave.
“I’ll never forget the day when after a lot of neglected time (doing other stuff), I managed to get my PC, VS-880 Digital Workstation and Motherboard talking to each other via Reason 2.0 for the first time. Due to work and other commitments at that time though, I never really got the chance to make the most of such a home-made hybrid set-up. I then had to give the PC back to its owner (UK Charity) in 2006 so kinda back to square one until I bought my own PC around the same time.
What are some of your new tracks using this new gear?
How do you mix/master?
“Because the likes of the VS-880 allows up to 64 tracks , completing a Track Sheet for each recording is important as it’s very easy to forget the location of virtual tracks. Typically, I end up with:
Track 1 & 2:- all drum parts, real and sequenced bounced down/Bass
Track 3 :- Guitar
Track 4:- Guitar 2
Track 5:- Lead Vocals
Track 6:- Backing Vocals
Track 7:- Keyboards/Misc
Track 8:- Keyboards/Misc
“I suppose I just chisel away until I’m pretty happy with the mix. Obviously, it really helps when your workstation saves all volumes/panning/effects etc. I then pop over to a friend’s house who has a hi-fi set up to die for and spend the weekend mastering about four songs at a time. Francis McDonnell is 10 years older then me and has a brilliant set of ears. I personally find it very useful to have external assistance when mixing down your own work.”
Musically, what is your strength?
“Oh, that has to be mixing. I adore doing it. I also love remixing. From an early age, during the 80’s, I purchased (vinyl) remix after remix after remix. I was and still am a huge fan of many producers. If I had to single one out, it would have to be Trevor Horn. I also greatly admire William Orbit. If you click on ‘orbitmixer’ on his site, you can play around with a number of his tracks - great fun and a great way to learn.”
“Not being a good keyboard player. I’m pretty average and wish I had much more talent in this regard.”
What are you musical aspirations going forward?
“I’m still a relatively ‘new person’ in a well established MacJams Community you see. Only as of within the last seven days, I’ve freed up more of my spare time to devote to my musical roots exclusively at MacJams. If I can repeat even in part what I’ve done elsewhere, I’m now more ready than before to help anywhere that I can to use the connections that I have to be involved from the bottom up and top down to assist in the combined effort to make MacJams a more widely known about GLOBAL community based entity that embraces the latest web 2.0 ideas/philosophies to the max.
“For me personally in musical terms, I’ll do my bit here and there but…. ‘think locally, act globally’ is the keeper when I think of MacJams subjectively.”
How do you come up with a song?
“Pretty much always music first, lyrics later. We always deploy the ‘wee tape recorder’. Essentially, just a cheapy recorder to record pretty much all jam sessions. Melodies usually come from our vocal or guitar department. Once melodies are pretty much set, then lyrics are formed based around them.”
What are some of your more memorable Macjams experiences so far?
“Whilst I have not had the opportunity to finish it, I very much want to work on a mix of this track by Perceptualvortex. The sheer idea of fellow artists allowing you to adapt and remix their work to me is most inspirational.
“When I first joined MJ’s though, Tobin so kindly offered to re-master my first MJ upload. I’m so glad that I accepted this offer (would have been a fool not to) and here is what he managed to do to my/our rather poorly mixed 8 track mix over the web. Amazing. I also really enjoyed reading Tobin’s in depth commentary about what he physically did when he re-mastered the track.”
Tips for fellow Macjammers?
“Practice makes perfect. Learn from you mistakes. Experiment with the unknown. Be yourself.”
Any additional comments, anecdotes, interesting stuff?
“Well, I would have to mention this. Last October, I did an extensive interview with KRUU.fm, a truly Open Source internet radio station in Iowa. Of the sections relevant to music, I edited and uploaded these to MJ’s here. The station have still to broadcast the full interview. Indeed, the show ‘Open Views‘ is currently being resurrected and my hope is that they’ll start including MJ material as part of their playlist.”
Take a walk down memory lane and listen to some of Graham’s life work…
• McBlawg (personal blog)
• Lessig Blog Prof Lessig (the brains behind Creative Commons)
• Creative Commons
• Public Library of Science (PLoS) Open Access Publishing
• Media Futurist Music 2.0
• Open Access News
• Steck’s MacJams Profile