ImageIt’s been almost 35 years since Conrad De Souza was taught his first chords on a £20 nylon string classical guitar and learned to play by learning songs from his ‘It’s Easy To Play Beatles’ songbook. For much of that time he has been singing, songwriting and playing in bands and duos. However, his passion lies in recording his own material and although available to stream on the web for some time, he is now digitally distributing songs for sale on major platforms like iTunes and Amazon.

“As a teenager it was about getting a band together, just like your heroes. That seemed the only way you might produce the sound you wanted, win fans and get a record deal. I joined my first band at the age of 13 when I graduated to an electric guitar and started tinkering with writing songs. The idea of properly recording yourself at that age was a pipe dream and probably just as well – we would have sounded awful!”

Conrad found out early that bands come and go and as an independently minded, only child, he sought out ways to take control of his musical output without over-reliance on others.

“Bands are so enjoyable and rewarding when they work. Its like a group of you against the world, but with occasional exception they have a shelf life and you end up having to start all over again with a new group of people. This can sometimes bring originality and invention, but when you were already on the right track it can be disheartening.

TP24 VL toneI had understood the notion of multi-tracking for some time i.e. recording multiple versions of yourself on different instruments (as necessary) to create a larger sound. In 1981 my attention had been caught by a rather authentic Beach Boys medley released by a ‘band’ called ‘Gidea Park’. It transpired that Gidea Park was actually one man – Adrian Baker, who had performed all the music and vocal harmonies himself. It planted the seed in my head that I wouldn’t always need a band…”

The writing desk in Conrad’s bedroom was regularly transformed from homework torture chamber to makeshift studio, having borrowed all the cassette recorders in the house and strung them together with leads and microphones. Add a guitar, amplifier and Casio VL Tone mini-keyboard and the scene was set.

“Well Abbey Road is wasn’t! The quality was pretty dismal, but you could just about hear me through the hiss of the final cassette recording. I spent whatever free time I had experimenting and recording whatever chart hits and covers I could. However, the excitement really began when I started to write my own songs and I was able to bring them to life with the use of crude multi-tracking. “

Conrad’s second but really first ‘proper’ band grew out of this recording arrangement.

TP24 cassette“Like Gidea Park, I wanted to give the semblance of a virtual band which I named ‘4th of July’. Soon, a friend had joined and we were a duo and then after 2 additional band mates arrived it meant we were no longer a ‘virtual’ band at all, but very real! However, in reverence to its humble origins the band’s first ‘album’ (well cassette actually) was recorded ingeniously in two stages. The music was taped in one band member’s living room and the vocals overdubbed in my living room using the rather basic ‘karaoke’ function of our vertical record deck/music centre. I seem to recall we sold around 30-40 copies in school at about £3 a pop – which I’m sure we considered quite a success at the time!”

The problem for Conrad was that as you get older and more experienced, makeshift recording will no longer do. Back in the late eighties, you could lay your hands on a decent 4 or 8 track recorder if you had the funds, but even then, a professional sound was only really attainable in a proper studio and that was big money if you wanted to do it right.

“My first recording studio experience with a band called ‘The Mighty Llamas” (yes, really!) taught me the important lesson that you can’t rush recording. We couldn’t afford much, so we packed 3 songs into a day and had a separate evening session to mix them. We were well rehearsed, but we didn’t really know how to use the studio tools available to us very creatively or have the time to learn. We had a limited, unenthusiastic engineer, who really didn’t do what we had recorded any justice in the mix. Without knowing your recording tools or having a decent producer to help you, studio recording was hit and miss. The most important ingredient is time and given time means money – this was often out of reach for the struggling band and musician”

TP24 Bonafido CoverSubsequently, Conrad was lucky enough to work with and learn from friends who had invested in expensive home studio hardware. In the late nineties, his then band ‘Bark!’ invested around £10,000 in making an album and producing CDs in a professional London studio.

“We had enough experience between us to understand the minimum amount of time needed to get a good result and we had creative engineers/producers to suggest helpful options and ideas. Spreading the cost meant it took us about 2 years to make the album but we got a result we were all happy with. That said, with more time, I’m sure I could have mixed it better, but that’s probably just the perfectionist in me!”

What that experience particularly demonstrated to Conrad was the level of technology now available to recording artists. In addition to its impressive studio rooms, mixing desk and hardware, it was the sophistication of the studio’s software that mesmerized Conrad.

“The potential for the solo recording artist was amazing and as a guitar band, I knew that we had barely scratched the surface of what it could do. My next revelation was how much of this software was available for home computers at an extremely economical price. I had watched friends spend thousands of pounds on studio hardware in the nineties and as a band we had just paid around £10,000 to make a CD. Suddenly, provided you had a decent PC, you could spend less than £500 on software, interfaces and a keyboard controller and you had the basics for a Studio in your spare room”

His band ‘Bark!’ was reaching the end of its natural life, and Conrad’s attention shifted to home recording.

TP24 Strawberry Yoga Cover“I was impressed by the quality of recording I could achieve. I started out with Cakewalk Sonar software and graduated to ‘the king of home recording’ Logic Pro for Macs. Suddenly I had the time to make things sound the way I really wanted. I recorded new songs and re-visited old ones that I had never previously recorded or where I had been unhappy with the results. When friends and acquaintances are listening to your music and not hearing a major difference to the quality they generally enjoy on the radio or on CDs or iPods – you know you’ve cracked it.”

Recording music isn’t the only thing that technology has changed in the last 35 years for the aspiring musician.

“In the past, even if you could make a record or CD yourself, how were you going to get it to people in an effective way without a record deal? The internet changed that forever. Although I was still making music on CDs in the mid-2000s, I had started to upload songs for streaming on My Space (which was still ‘hot’ back then). Now other platforms like SoundCloud have taken over and these are great sites to place your music and share through social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.”

Conrad has taken the next step in digital distribution and released his first single to buy on download platforms like iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby etc.

Image“If no ones going to sign me – I’ll do it myself! The notion of such a thing when I started this journey in the eighties, would have been the stuff of dreams. I’m still like a kid in a sweet shop when it comes to recording my own songs. Starting off with a blank canvas and slowing watching the result emerge. Now I have the tools to do it right and a way to make the fruits of my labour available to the world. The challenge these days is how to market yourself in the vast sea of performers who are all vying for attention. Still, I’m sure technology can help with that too and appearing in a blog on WordPress can’t hurt!”

You can download Conrad’s first digital single ‘The Next James Bond’ from iTunes or Amazon and can stream it on Spotify.

Conrad is currently working on an album for his new virtual band ‘Macrowasp’ for release later this year. You can hear how it’s progressing and other tracks from his back catalogue on SoundCloud.

I think I’ll leave it to Conrad to sum up his musical journey:

“The cassette recorders may have been replaced by an iMac running Logic Pro, but the heart and soul is just the same as it’s always been and long may it continue!”