Think of a Loop and Go from There: An Interview with Noel Schneider, aka Schatten

Recording as Schatten, Maryland-based Noel Schneider has been making music for a few years now. While his specialty is drum and bass and ambient music, he has recently begun to branch out into new genres. His music has a haunting, dreamy quality, and though he describes himself as “still learning” in his BandCamp bio, the tracks that he shares sound (to my ears, anyway) polished and professional. But you don’t have to take my word for it. His songs are available as free downloads on Bandcamp, so checking them out won’t cost you a thing!

I’m curious about the name of your project. “Schatten” is German for shadows, is that right?

Yes, that is correct

What does the name mean to you? How is your music shadowy?

Originally I just wanted something cool that separated me from my old youtube alias, now it just represents that there’s so much hidden beauty out there in the world. For a long time, I’ve always wanted to make music that haunted the listener but in a comforting way, kind of like how the feeling of nostalgia does to people.

Also, just out of curiosity, what was the idea behind going with the German word for “shadows” as opposed to going with the English word?

When I was younger I was obsessed with anime and cinematic scores from movies, video games, etc. There was one anime called Tokyo Ghoul and I’ve pretty much been in love with the soundtrack ever since I first listened to it, but the one song that stood out to me the most was a song by Yutaka Yamada called ‘licht und schatten.’ and because I was young and curious I searched up the translation and found that it translated to “light and shadow” and for some reason, I thought that it was really cool. Eventually when I got the chance to start making music and I realized that I needed an alias that wasn’t an abbreviation for my old youtube account, and the first name that came to mind was the word “Schatten.”

How long have you been recording, and how did you get your start?

I’ve been making music since August 2017. I used to be really into film and animation as a kid and I had been making my own stop-motion films for years. However, I felt that my animations were lacking music and i had always wanted to produce music anyway, so after looking I found a beat-making app called music maker jam and went to work. Eventually, I ended up quitting animation due to some personal issues in my life and transitioned to making music on my laptop.

You mention on your BandCamp page that you’re still learning. Do you feel like your more recent recordings are stronger than earlier recordings? What sets them apart?

Absolutely, I know that I have a long way to go, but compared to everything that i have released from 2017-to early 2019 I feel like my newer releases have much more weight to them, I still respect everything that i have made beforehand on behalf of the fact that some of the music was made/released during certain changes in my life, I just feel like now I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve found my “sound” somewhat, and now I have to add more to it in order to solidify that “sound.”

What have you learned over the past few years in terms of music-making techniques?

For me, learning new techniques starts off slow, it’s all about gaining an understanding of what you are working with and then going from there. I’d say the most important thing I have learned these past few years is to not force anything too much. “Be like water” as Bruce Lee once said

What’s your process? How do you go from nothing to a complete song?

I usually just think of a loop and go from there. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, then hopefully I can reuse the idea in a future song or cry about it in my sleep.

Your songs are all fairly short. Most are under two minutes, which I think is interesting because many ambient pieces tend to go on and on. No shade intended on the artists who make them, but seeing an artist produce shorter ambient pieces make me take notice. What’s behind the decision to keep the pieces short?

It was originally the result of learning new software and trying to preserve my SoundCloud hours, and at the time I just didn’t have the creativity to make the songs longer and i didn’t want to let the music drag out more than it needed to. Nowadays it’s just out of tradition, but i also let the process flow and let the song decide how long it wants to be.  Along with that, it also is because i am still a newbie when it comes to song structure.

Your titles have interesting names. One in particular caught my eye: “(outside​)​thinking About the Time I Nearly Drowned In Water Country.” Can you tell me the story behind that one?

When I was younger, I went on vacation to water country with my family, water country is basically this giant waterpark and there was this one waterslide that I and some of my other family members had decided to try. I was a bit uneasy but I decided to go through with it anyway. They had us in these giant floaties that were almost too big for me and I couldn’t swim, so when my trip down the slide ended I got cocky and thought that the pool wasn’t too deep, and the next thing i knew, most of my body was underwater. luckily enough my grandmother got to me in time, I still laugh about it to this day honestly.

You mention in your bio that you’ve recently been working in genres other than drum and bass and ambient. What inspired you to branch out, and what are some of your new compositions sounding like?

I had been experimenting for a while and I just felt that since there’s so much music that I enjoy and so many artists that i am inspired by so why not produce what interests me? For a long time, I’ve mainly been inspired by the works of Zach Hemsey, c418, alicks, and my good friend wolfsanity and their music definitely played a role in why I decided to go headfirst into it as well.  Some of the newer music that I have out/am working on ranges from generic metalcore to post-rock, jungle, synth-wave, drum and bass, and drone/noise music as well. It’s not for everyone but I’m sure you’ll find something you like.

What do you find fulfilling about making music?

The fact that you can do whatever you want. If it makes you feel good then keep at it.

Existential Concerns: An Interview with the MAW Experiment

The MAW Experiment is a Singer, songwriter, electronic music producer from London, with music spanning a wide range of genres including electronica, indie, pop, ambient and soundtrack-like soundscapes. He first appeared on my radar when I was participating as a judge in last year’s Lights and Lines Album Writing Contest. At the time, I was immediately struck by the production value on the tracks I was hearing—incredibly sharp synth pop with strong beats and thoughtful lyrics. It was no wonder, then, that the MAW Experiment was awarded the label’s “One to Watch” prize at the conclusion of the contest for tracks that ultimately became the album titled Idiolect. More recently, the MAW Experiment has released an EP titled Behind Every Silhouette, so I thought it might be a good time to catch up…

I see that the songwriting and production credits on your tracks list “M. Wilkins.” Is it safe to assume that’s the “M” and “W” in “MAW”? 

You assume correctly. 

Are you okay with sharing what the “M” and “A” stand for?

So, MAW is simply my initials. I’d played around with various names and ideas but nothing seemed to stick and I had never wanted to use my own name as an artist. I played around with just MAW for a little while but once it became clear to me what I was going to try and do, the experiment part seemed to fit nicely.

Which leaves us with “Experiment.” I’m curious as to whether it refers solely to your music or if it might speak to existential concerns. Is your life itself the experiment? 

I go through existential concerns almost on a weekly basis. But musically, it has another fairly simple explanation. 

I’d written music on guitar, mostly acoustic, for a number of years and initially that was fun, playing gigs, creating these 2-3 min indie folk songs but the truth is I hadn’t released music in that style of even played live for about 2 years going into that first COVID lockdown. 

I work in healthcare so I knew the pandemic wasn’t going away quickly and I made a decision to just try and fill some of the blank spaces in time with doing something creative. I’d used garage band a few times, but I’d never played keys, never arranged all the layers of a song – drums, bass, lead etc. – never mixed or mastered anything and when I started playing around it was purely for my own curiosity – what MIGHT it sound like – and my set up was a Mac and me so I had no equipment. I

So, the whole thing was an experiment from the very start and in truth it could have very quickly been binned because even though I had a few ideas floating around, they were frankly, a bit shit, and after a few months I had nothing worthy of releasing or even playing loud in my own flat!

And then I randomly suggested to a friend, Joff from Cross Wires that I remix a track from their album. And I had never remixed anything before, but I fancied giving a go and it was actually the best thing I could have done. I turned this 3 min indie punk tune into a sprawling, loud, big beat basted child of the chemical brothers that ebbed and flowed for something like 7 minutes. It got played on a National radio station in the UK and it was really well received – but more importantly for me, it taught me what I needed to know about the process and the approach I needed to start taking and that just took the shackles off. 

In the next 3 weeks I wrote 14 songs, 10 of which would become the first album ‘The Slow Burn’ – but that whole album, and everything since probably doesn’t happen without that remix and the guys at Cross Wires being so accommodating with how I ripped up their song!

Focusing on the music, what makes it an experiment as opposed to a project, for example?

Experimentation is the project. 

There are no rules, it’s an open playing field and whatever happens, happens. 

I know some people like a project and say it’s going to ‘ABC’ – but that’s somewhat restrictive in the way I want to work. I like the idea of throwing the cards up in the air and where they fall is good enough. I never sit down and thing ‘today, today I will write a synth pop song’ or a dance track or whatever it is, on any given day a song might be all of those things and none of those things. 

My influences are so varied, that I want to be able to feel the freedom to not be defined by a genre or sound. I have no preconceptions about what i do is or isn’t . 

Even with the album writing club, I didn’t really have a plan it just took its own shape and form and ended up being something I was pretty pleased with.

During the Lights and Lines album-writing contest, I recall you mentioning that much of the music you had previously written was instrumental but that you wanted to start writing lyrics. How has that element of the experiment been going for you?  

When I started, the idea for me was to not sing on anything, I wanted to just make music, and frankly, I didn’t have a lot to say or maybe it was a case of I didn’t know how to say it. 

But I had written songs with lyrics and vocals previously, and over time as I found my feet sound wise it became more natural to want to sing and add vocals to the tracks even though it also meant learning a new way of singing because the style of music required me to sing differently to when I sang holding a guitar on stage and so that was fun finding my voice in that way again.

‘idiolect’ – the album I made for the Lights and Lines contest – that album title actually means ‘The speech habits peculiar to a particular person’ and because it was the first thing I had put my voice to in years, the title felt appropriate. 

Now that I’m writing ‘songs’ again its working out nicely – it doesn’t mean every track gets lyrics or a vocal but its more options on the table to be creative which can only be a good thing.

One of the songs that really endeared your music to me was “Home,” particularly the line about home-made Star Wars toys. Can you talk a little bit about the memory that inspired that line?

I’m glad that song connected. It’s one of my favourites from that album. 

So, growing up in the 80’s we were a family from a very working-class town and we were lucky that our parents worked so hard to give us everything we could have ever wanted – even though I’d say we had less than a lot of other kids. 

One thing we couldn’t get because they were never available or on sale in this country were certain Star Wars toys; we owned X-Wings and a Millennium Falcon etc but we didn’t have Y-Wing or any of those things and so, my dad just made them.

Out of wood, plastic, mental. painted them. it was just my dad in his element. Using his hands, building something out of the spare materials he had in his shed. So that was the memory that inspired that line. The number 76 is referenced in that song too as it was our front door number. 

How do you think growing up in that era influenced your music?

I’m not sure it’s had a direct influence really, there were some great bands and some great songs in that period, but I wasn’t a teenager until 1990 and so the 90’s really shaped a lot of my musical taste but as you get older I think you realise just how good some of the stuff in the 80’s was – its a decade that seems to get a bit of negativity aimed toward it, but you can’t argue with the likes of Tears For Fears, Talk Talk, The Smiths, REM, New order, The Cure, Eurythmics, Sonic Youth, Prince etc 

I also recall that you talked a bit about adopting “healing” as the theme of Idiolect. Can you talk a little bit about that?

I lost both or my parents to rare cancers in the space of 5 years. 

I’d written one song on an acoustic guitars called ‘Muddy Waters’ after my dad passed – which is about drinking Ales with my dad – but I just never gone to that place in my music and so when I started writing those songs for the album writing club, 3 of the first 4 were all centred on memories connected to that loss and I realised that just putting these words in paper and recording these vocals was an act of healing that it was healing me and allowing me to express feelings and thoughts that I guess I’d kept inside for a long time. 

I wrote ‘I Can’t Lie’ about my sister , the line ‘I can’t lie I will always want to try and call you’ was about how she would talk to my mum on the phone every night and there had been this enormous hole in her world since mum died and I wanted to write something that said  ‘I see that, I hear you, I am here’ and I wanted to share the healing – if at all possible. 

Every track on that album is directly related to a feeling and a memory that i hadn’t truly shared or talked about before. So that record was really therapeutic for me. And those songs could have been depressing as hell but I think sonically they are full of hope and light and that was an important part of that experience. To not get trapped in the darkness. 

What theme or themes are you working with on the new EP?

Honestly, there isn’t really a theme, other than the approach was to make happy sounding songs, they are quite 80’s sounding actually, but I just think it’s an EP of 4 fun tracks. 

Any other projects on the horizon? 

I have another 4 track EP on the way in a few weeks called ‘In The Dead Of Night’ which I think is pretty good – its sonically very different to ‘Behind Every Silhouette’…I’m really pleased with it and I’m also finishing up a new album which will be the follow up proper to ‘Idiolect’ – that will most likely be sometime in May. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! 

Letting Artists Be Artists: An Interview with 122 Music Management

122 Music Management works with a handful of amazing independent acts: Sky Diving Penguins, Broken Bear, and George David. The company is fairly new, but its founders have many years in the music industry between them. The team includes Mark, who led the Indie Music Collective to the Independent Label Market, Pete and Adam, who have over twenty years experience each in the music industry, and Mike, “statistician extraordinaire.” Recently, they’ve launched a blog called Fresh on the Camp, which features newly released albums by indie artists. To find out more about the blog – and the company in general – I dropped them a line…

Your slogan is “Letting Artists Be Artists.” What does that mean to you, and why is it some important? Also, how does it distinguish your management team from other players in the music industry?

First off, thanks for inviting us to do this interview. 

Sure thing!

For us, the idea of “letting artists be artists” is to alleviate the outside noise of what being an artist is now. So, for those we look after, the social media, we can take away some of the social media aspects e.g. the promo side. We can deal with chasing radio and podcast plays, rather than the artist. This allows the artist to focus on what they do; create music.

As for how it distinguishes us from other management teams, I’m not entirely sure. I (Mark) can’t say that I have an in-depth knowledge of what other management teams do. What does matter, is that I regularly see artists lament the fact that they have to put as much energy into self-promotion as they do their music. We want to help out. 

Sky Diving Penguins

Mark led the Indie Music Collective to the Independent Label Market. What are those two organizations, and how did Mark lead one to the other? What was the result?

The Indie Music Collective (IMC) was a group of 14 multi-genre independent acts that were formed to sell their physical products (e.g. vinyl) to the public. The Independent Label Market (ILM) is a marketplace where independent record labels sell their artists’ music and merchandise. 

As many independent artists struggle to place their music in stores, I (Mark) identified the ILM as being an ideal place to sell Sky Diving Penguins’ music. It made sense then to bring together a bunch of artists to act as a quasi-label so that we could all take our music to the wider public. As such, it was a means for us to raise public awareness of who we all are and to extend our reach.

Result? That depends on how you measure it. Financially, it wasn’t as successful as it could have been, but we did all right; at one point we were selling as much as our more illustrious neighbours. On top of that, Broken Bear were asked to play on the same bill as Kristin Hersh, and when she was unable to play, another of our collective, Vernons Future played in her place. 

Also, I think that we altered people’s perceptions a little that day; our next door neighbours were PIAS, and one of their merchandise team bought a Slundarq cassette. I also know of customers who picked up our promotional booklet, and then purchased bands’ albums in the following days.

Overall, we (the IMC) felt positive about the day that we had had.

Can you talk a little bit about what Pete and Adam have done in the music industry?

I’m going to pass this to Pete and Adam.

Pete: I worked at PRS for over two decades specialising in live performance royalties for major live music tours. I’m currently working as a contractor for Universal Music as a Catalogue Cleansing Specialist.

Adam: I have been in the industry for over 20 years. I started out in 1997 as a Talent scout for Food Records (a subsidiary of EMI records ran by ‘Boss’ Andy Ross – (RIP)). I learned my trade there and was promoted to A&R manager in 2001 

I left Food records in 2001 (disbanded by EMI / Parlophone) and set up the independent label ‘Boss Music’ with former Boss Andy Ross.

Gia – Sky Diving Penguins

I’m struck by the fact that Mike, a core member of the team, is a statistician. Why are statistics so important, and how does having a statistician on board help in the effort to let artists be artists?

It makes sense in the streaming era. For example, you have something like Chartmetric which provides acts with data that can help them work out how they need to move to the next level – they can compare and contrast streaming figures to plot an upward trajectory. 

Having someone like Mike onboard, with his analytical eye for numbers and an ability to see the wider statistical picture, takes the pressure off an artist trying to work out what these figures actually mean. 

You’re starting a blog called Fresh on the Camp. What are you envisioning?

Right now, the idea is to help artists promote whatever they have released in Bandcamp. Now that might take the form of tweeting (or other social media shouting out) about an album. We might even like it so much, that we approach an act to see what other support we can offer to help them grow it. 

That’s a bit nebulous, but we have ideas as to how we might do that, but we’re keeping them under wraps for the time being. 

I’m curious as to why it will exclusively feature Bandcamp releases.

I think that Bandcamp is the best platform for independent artists. Not just from a financial perspective, but I think that it is also where you get genuine fans who want to listen to your music. Bandcamp also offers act the opportunity to reach out to fans, and update them with whatever news you have. It makes it a far more personal and personable platform.

Of course, your artists appear on other—some might say “less generous”—platforms as a management company, what’s your take on services like Spotify that pay so little to artists?

Haha, “less generous”… for me, streaming is nothing short of a rip-off for artists. I was going to write that it’s great for music consumers, but I don’t think it is. It’s not allowing fans to take their time to listen and get to know an act, because the algorithm wants you to listen something new, and again moments later, something new, and round and round we go. 

However, streaming is here, and will be here for some time. For me, as an artist, you have to play it to your advantage; for example, I never released the Sky Diving Penguins album to streaming. Only the singles, as adverts (for want of a better term). 

Back to the blog, you’ve laid out some fairly strict rules with respect to submissions. For example, artists are allowed to submit one album per year. Why is it important to maintain – and enforce – such policies?

I didn’t realise we were being strict! I think that one album a year is plenty for an artist to be getting along with. Especially when many are working full-time jobs, with family and lives to live beyond that. 

Even in Bowie’s 1970s heyday, he was only releasing an album a year. They were all quality. And it’s important for artists to take that step back and focus on improving their art (whether that be lyrically, technically or as mixers and producers) to produce the best album they can, and forget the whole “streaming of consciousness” need to get something out now, now, now.

As a side note, can artists submit through sites like SubmitHub or MusoSoup?

Nope. We’re not acting as reviewers. Just conduits to help promote whatever an act has released.

George David

Why is it important for indie artists to work together? What can we achieve? 

Like most things in life, when people collaborate, they have strength in numbers. For indie  artists, this is particularly relevant, as it allows them to share the promotional workload if they don’t have any representation.

As for what indie artists can achieve by working together? There are far too many variables to dare to suggest they they can break through the glass ceiling. But it increases your visibility. So, going back to the Indie Musicians Collective, just by coming together, it allowed all of us to be a part of the ILM which is a known industry event. I

I can’t speak for the other acts, but as the manager of Sky Diving Penguins at the time, I noticed an upturn in our streaming and followers after it. 

Similarly, I’m wondering about how management companies and independent labels might also work together. Any thoughts?

OK…have you been reading my notes? We will be approaching a handful of small indie labels in the near future about an event that we’ve just agreed a date for in London. Hopefully, they will be up for our proposal. Fingers crossed!

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!  

You’re welcome. Before I sign off, and because everyone involved in what you have termed #Tweetcore, is essential to the ecosphere in which we operate, I would really appreciate just giving a few shoutouts to a few of those who have supported Sky Diving Penguins/122MM. 

By all means!

So Radio/DJ-wise: Soph (@MacaronPurpl), Danny (@oldindiekid1), TJ (@IndieCentricCMR), Charles (@CMotorbikeShow), Billy (@BillyBrownSongs), Chris (@chrisredjam), Shaun (@chuckstar85), Kath (@alt_frequencies), Aron (@TheBruthaVoodoo), John (@SpeedOfSoundUK), Oli (@RadioTfsc), Vimal (@MeMyselfI)

Podcasters/Playlisters & more: Lean (@LeanCoolTop20) & (@cooltop20), Kris (@TheVinylCutPod), Paul (@DerringerPod), Tom (@TheABRecords)

Reviewers: Iain (@iainkey), Jeff (@JeffA92234), Hans (@hctf), Julie (@Sonicjules), Dennis (Poprock Record), Brian (@MonolithBlogger), Michael (@Mobytanner), Kate (@KateHSHoare), Fresh On the Net (multiple reviewers) & UpToHear (@UpToHearMusic)

Artists: Joe (@JoeAdhemar), Anthony (@dunkiedemos), Nunny (@nunnyb1), Lyn (@LynMusician), Gary & Joe (@The_Future_Us), Pete (@PostIndustria12), Chris (@LaLettes), Gomrund (@Gomrund_Music), John (@johnmichiemusic), Nick (@TheJoJoManBand), Paul (@3LittleWolves1), Mikey (@mikeyj_music)

Superfans – these people love their music and share widely: Spencer (@spenh01), Steve (@Stevo286), Kristy (@littlefuzzball1), Vicky (@VickyMayArt), Helen (@HelenRobinson67), Simon (@Knitted_Fish)

And of course yourself Marc. Thanks very much for all your efforts.

Sure thing!