Interview with Chris Tye
Chris Tye is a singer-songwriter, producer and music technology teacher based in Coventry and Birmingham. Over the past 12 years he has supported a number of acts including Amy Winehouse, Fionn Regan and Ben Thomson. Chris also took part in the BBC Music Live In Birmingham Event in 2015, hosted by Jo Whiley. I caught up with him and got chatting about his favourite artists, cutting up magazines for inspiration, music software and his tips on how to make it as a singer-songwriter.
Firstly, what instruments do you play?
I play guitar, sing, play basic piano and I program a lot of stuff too.
How do you go about writing a song – what’s your inspiration?
I always have loads of ideas knocking around, all stored up on pads and voice memos. I just let those little fragments flow out and try and be prepared to capture it somehow. Then, if I want to work on a song, I have to find time to sift through the mountain of snippets. More than half will be rejected straight away either because it’s too similar to another song or because it’s just not as good an idea as I thought it was!
Once I’ve picked my favourite idea I’ll work quickly to finish a draft version. This is usually with gibberish lyrics just so that there’s a framework. Then I’ll refine that version and when I’m happy with the chords and melody I’ll whittle away at the lyrics usually over a fairly long period of time.
Melody or chords first?
Chords usually – I love playing around with chords on alternate guitar tunings to unlock surprising melodies.
Who is your favourite artist and why?
I have so many – I love all the greats – Dylan, The Beatles, Neil Young…I love a good solid song: well-structured, great lyrics and good chords – I love a surprising chord! I’m the world’s biggest Radiohead fan, again, because they make interesting and unique music that can catch you off guard. There’s a new band called Flyte who I’m hooked on – think the Beach Boys meet the Beatles with synths. Because I’m not from a classical background I tend to be late to the party with classical music – I’ve just started listening to John Adams ‘Shaker Loops’ – I’m finding it really inspiring!
More than a dream
Do you write your own lyrics? Any tips for budding songwriters?
Yes I do, and I’ve co-written a few times too, which is really fun.
Here are my top tips:
- write what you enjoy and what means something to you.
- Try and set limitations – write a song that stays very much on the subject – literal story telling. Keep it really clean and straightforward…
- Then do the opposite – be cryptic. Ripping up newspapers and putting the words together in an odd order (Like Bowie used to) can be fun to get the ideas flowing.
- When you’re finishing off your song, rhymezone.com is great for tweaking bits here and there.
My biggest tip is to just make a start – get going and it will come together if you stay with it.
I will be with you
What software do you use, if any, when song writing?
They are all pretty similar nowadays aren’t they? Cubase, Pro-tools, you can even do loads with Garageband. Logic X is my software of choice – it’s so quick and easy to use and you can move an idea really quickly from a demo into a more professional sounding recording.
You also teach BTEC Music technology – what do you enjoy most about teaching studio skills?
I love it, particularly when there are students who are really keen to know everything and are just in love with the subject, like me! Some of my former students have progressed on to do some great things in the field of music technology. This gives me a great sense of pride.
Low on time
How important do you think it is to be able to read music notation if you want to be a songwriter?
Not essential – I was writing before I could read staff notation. I’m still slow at reading music, but being able to communicate your ideas well and swiftly is so important, so all these skills really help.
What advice would you give to any student considering a career in music?
Gain as much experience as you possibly can. Study everything, rule nothing out – experience all types of music, learn the theory (something I wish I was much better at it) but also learn music by ear and learn to improvise. Join every band and become confident using music software. You need to be incredibly diverse to earn any money. Just live it!
You can hear more of Chris’ songs on Spotify and by visiting his website: www.christye.com