As part of our ‘Be entertained’ series, I thought whom better to ask about the joy of vinyl (as explored in our previous post) than New Zealand’s most prolific music blogger Simon Sweetman.
Simon, who many of you will know from Blog on the Tracks, has also just become a first-time author. His new book On Song: Stories Behind New Zealand’s Pop Classics is on sale now.
Last week I flicked Simon some questions for the vinyl post and about his book. Exactly 24 minutes later I received so many great, insightful answers (to some mighty generic questions) I thought why not make an extra blog post out of it. Now I know how he manages to write at least five posts a week!
What is your new book about? What inspired you to write it?
I’ve written a book called On Song: Stories Behind New Zealand’s Pop Classics.
The big inspiration was the deadline! It was a commissioned book, I was asked to do it. But it’s something I really enjoyed, very much – as with any music writing – a labour of love.
The book tells the stories behind 30 of NZ’s best known/loved songs. But it’s very much a personal journey too and a personal selection.
There are some obvious chestnuts and some big surprises. It was hard to pick a list that reflected my tastes but would still, hopefully, mean something to anyone reading.
It’s a good book – I honestly feel I can say that. Because it became about so much more than just the music – it’s a cultural history, a social history of NZ. It looks at the politics of the time, our worldview reflected through various songwriters.
It was an amazing experience to be able to hear the stories firsthand and then to translate them, to add something of myself to them. I’m really proud of the book. Of course every NZ home should have a copy!
How did writing a book compare with the demands of writing a daily blog?
The book was very tough – I really experience writer’s block. Something I always thought was a convenient excuse or a myth. But I guess the idea that something was being committed to permanent record was daunting.
The blogs are there for people to look back to but it’s different – it’s very much a case, realistically, of refresh the next day, new topic. Maybe a few of the blog posts stick around because of the debate generated but most are forgotten quickly in much the same way that newspaper stories are.
So the book was a bigger effort in that sense. And I had to tighten up the way I wrote – a blog is very forgiving. You have regular readers that accept your style; it’s meant to be conversational.
I wanted the book to be conversational too but I guess more formal. I’m telling other people’s stories as much as I’m telling my own. With the blog it’s almost always my story.
I was stupid in that I wrote the blog every day while doing the book. I really should have cut down. But it’s done now and I am proud of the fact that I kept the blog going and I like to think that I kept the quality up – as best I could.
You’ll always have good days and bad and some topics you think will fly totally bomb. And often the throwaway ideas you’re a bit iffy about are the ones that take. It’s a guessing game – always. And I like that.
What turntable/AV setup do you use to listen to your records? Do you recommend any equipment or set up in particular?
I have a lovely Rega Planar 3 turntable, gifted to me – on long-term loan – from a very good friend. I think he was somewhat appalled at the very cheap and nasty all-in-one replica record player I was using.
That still sits in my study and I use it to play very old, scratched records. It works fine. But it’s not very good for the new LPs.
My stereo is nothing special – the turntable is nice. The stereo is a very old Denon amp/tape-player/CD player with JBL speakers. It’s from about 1991 I think. It goes well, still. And in a few years I’ll do an upgrade.
I’ve also got some Numark turntables – they will eventually be set up with a mixer for home DJing – and I have a couple of mini-systems around the house. A very dependable Sony 3-CD player in the office for CD reviewing. And a smaller Teac in the kitchen.
We’ve got a couple of iPod docking stations and I’ve set up some Logitech speakers to my computer since I now receive a lot of download codes and streaming albums for reviewing.
I’ve made this sound like I know what I’m talking about – but actually I had to go and check the brand-names of almost everything I’ve listed here. I would love to be a hi-fi snob but I lack the money required.
What, in your view, makes vinyl sound better than CDs and digital?
With vinyl you are hearing the warmth – it’s tactile too. You are hearing the music, rather than a bunch of code.
My main interest in vinyl is the experience – the idea of connecting with the music. It’s strange we now think that getting up to turnover an LP 20 minutes in is a pain in the ass. How easy have our lives become?
If the music just plays as background then you’re not really caring about it. Vinyl allows me to engage with the music – also I’ve enjoyed vinyl as an escape from reviewing.
I listen to a lot of CDs and MP3s for reviewing; it’s been nice to escape off into another room – to process music in a different way. Of course that backfired somewhat as I started a blog called The Vinyl Countdown where I document every album I listen to and the stories behind where I found the record and why I have it.
Are there any albums you would especially recommend listening to on a turntable rather than a CD or digital?
If I like an album – a new one, something I’ve reviewed or something I’m keen on hearing – I will generally seek it out on vinyl.
CDs just feel like work to me now – in that they’re a tool of my job. LPs are my actual collection now.
Your blog has been running for several years now – have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What advice would you give to fellow bloggers and aspiring writers?
There are nights when I take a lot longer to write something – and there are nights when I curse my own stupid rule of writing every weekday. But I don’t really suffer a block because I always find something to say.
It’s a big topic and there’s always something to write about. I enjoy going back to my collection for inspiration.
The block came with writing the book, as I said above. And that was really a case of how to approach it, I knew what to say – it was about finding the right way to say it. Like any first-time book writer my book has been a part of me, in some senses, for my whole life.
As for advice to fellow or potential bloggers – the key is to do it. Whatever it is that Woody Allen said about 80% of success is showing up. And the whole perspiration/inspiration idea.
Writing Blog On The Tracks every day makes me a writer. It gives me a deadline. And I have a platform, a forum. Now some days it even makes me a good writer. And other days it probably makes me a very bad writer – there’s a blessing and a cure behind writing so frequently.
But I had a lot of time off in my 20s. I dropped out and mucked around and talked a good fight. Now I’m very keen on showing up. On having something to say.
And I reckon that’s the best advice I can offer – if it is advice. It’s not curing cancer or changing the world in any way. But it’s helped me find out a lot about myself, and helped keep me happy.
And if it’s meant anything to anyone else in any way then I’m eternally grateful. I’m very lucky to have an audience, there are some very dedicated blog-readers along for the ride. And I thank them dearly.