Since graduating from G.I.T (London) in 1993, Martin has worked professionally as a guitar player and teacher, joining the faculty of the prestigious Guitar Institute in 1998 where he is currently the course writer and specialist in Higher Diploma/Degree level Modern Rock studies. Martin has worked as a regular monthly columnist for Guitar Techniques (UK) magazine and Guitar World (USA) as well as online magazine The Sound, specialising in advanced Rock/Metal techniques as well as course leader and clinician for the International Guitar Foundation summer schools. Martin has recently joined Live4guitar as an instructor so we got a chance to ask him some questions about his career, interests, passion and stuff....
They say, if you cannot do, teach... well, for those who know you, they surely know you can do both and you do it very well. You have worked as a session musician, you write for major guitar magazines, you teach both privately and at ICMP, you're in a band... Where do you find the time?
There have been times, whole eras of my life where there has been everything at once, cascading multiple deadlines from magazines, full private teaching schedule, degree and diploma ICMP courses running simultaneously, production and mixing work! Every now and then it becomes challenging and you have to work through it allocating time and prioritising, it can be stressful, magazines go to print, clients have deadlines, time management becomes essential! But in the bigger picture, all of those aspects which make up a musicians career don’t always overlap and you may work more in one area than another, session work for example, you may be very busy for a couple of weeks then no sessions for 4 months, or teaching may drop by 75% when everyone takes summer holidays! The only thing more stressful than the pressure of multiple imminent deadlines is not having work and it is well said that a career in music can be feast or famine, the middle ground is the goal, but stability in this field relies on constant work and balance can be difficult to achieve from time to time. That’s why it’s important to gradually build a diverse portfolio of skills within the field of music if you are to turn it into a professional career. Time wise, it’s beyond time, it’s about living it 24/7 as a lifestyle, it’s more than a career at that level, your day never formally starts or finishes! For me it’s been all encompassing for over twenty years, the last ten years particularly so, i wouldn’t have it any other way.
How did you establish yourself as a teacher?
I started teaching when i was nineteen, at around the time i finished studying at G.I.T. Starting with a few beginners and then a few local rock guitarists. After working in a music shop i recruited more students and from there went full time privately teaching 1 on 1 as well as at a local school. After a while i was invited to work at The Guitar Institute by Shaun Baxter who was my teacher at that time and knew that i was teaching, and from there i started taking on more advanced students and specialising more in the rock/metal style. The main focus is doing a good job and letting the students spread the word. In the early years i taught a lot of kids, and i think their friends saw the progress and wanted lessons of their own! Nowadays thanks to The Guitar Institute and my work through the magazines over the years, i am visited by students, many of them also teachers, from all over the U.K. and enjoy a busy teaching career as an aspect of what i do within music.
What were your early influences?
I was always drawn to the sound of the distorted electric guitar! Anywhere it featured, i was interested! So rock based music, blues, hard rock, metal, death metal, progressive, heavy fusion, i’ve always loved 70‘s funk and jazz fusion, bebop, anything really but in my teenage years it was mainly about guitar instrumental rock/metal with players like Yngwie, Tony Macalpine, Vinnie Moore, Van Halen, Satriani, Greg Howe, Ritchie Kotzen or bands that featured good players which was more of the hard rock acts of the day like Ozzy Osbourne, Winger, Dokken, Dream Theater, King Diamond, Megadeth, Death, Cynic, so a lot of Thrash, Death, prog metal and the more bluesy hard rock. Apart from that side of it, i would also listen to mahavishnu orchestra with John Mclaughlin, or Al DI Meola, Tribal Tech, Allan Holdsworth or old school Deep Purple or Yes, Rush anything really. I’ve always been a fairly broad-ranged listener, good playing is good playing.
You've made a guitar app for the iPad. What is it? How did that come about?
I was working my monthly video column for Guitar World magazine, and the style of presentation and detail in the videos was noticed by an app designer here in the UK who runs a venture technology business specialising in educational music apps. He contacted me and we started talking about some possibilities to present my method based around the ipad format, and i’ve just finished building the course content over the last 7 months or so and the designer is now preparing it for release at some point this summer. It’s was a massive undertaking and i couldn’t be happier with it. It’s a whole progressively structured course in developing modern rock techniques, with exercise routines leading to vocabulary and licks along with interactive theoretical tables and scale/mode generators for both 3-notes-per-string and CAGED systems. The whole app is presented with high quality audio, HD video, a set of bespoke rock/metal and neo-classical style backing tracks and over 20,000 words of instructions and guidance it also uses a tab player with all the notes of my ibanez J Custom sampled including proper rock vibrato for the all important finishing notes!. I’ve designed the course content to be accessible from an intermediate level upwards and should appeal to students who want a tried and tested system to follow which will allow them to progress naturally and gradually to the more advanced concepts. Stay tuned for a release date :-)
Do you enjoy everything you do, or is there one thing that you would like to be doing exclusively?
I am pretty happily settled into what i do, the things that i’d prefer to do exclusively may not be possible like full time professional engineering and production work, mixing etc, or playing professionally which again isn’t a full time consistent occupation. So we have to apply our skills across a wider area of the field and as a teacher, that is my main living and other things like magazine work, video work, production and playing happen based around that core. Skills are learnt and broadened over time and it’s great to do a variety of different types of work. I have no favorite aspect so to speak, i do my best work on every job i do.
These days I'm listening to your new Linear Sphere album "Manvantara." I have to say that I am impressed with the concept both lyrically and musically. How did this project come together?
We released our debut album Reality Dysfunction back in 2004, the band initially formed by myself, my good friend Charlie Griffiths and Dutch vocalist Jos Geron, later Nicolas Lowczowski joined on drums and Dave Marks sessioned in on bass. The album gained a cult following with those who are partial to heavy, progressive music and we played some gigs including a London support for Cynic. The band went through turbulence with Charlie leaving on friendly terms and moving on to play in prog-metal band Haken, and then the band re emerged a couple of years later with Steve Woodcock on chapman stick and bass, and with Jamie Brooks on keys, releasing our second album Manvantara in 2012. I recorded all the guitars myself and we’ll continue with a one guitar line-up. The album has received excellent reviews internationally including a couple of “top albums of 2012” by some websites. The album is heavy, complex and sophisticated with influences from progressive rock, jazz-fusion and heavy metal and is based around odd time grooves and never really stays on any one time signature! The music provides the background to the story of mankind’s spiritual journey through the ages, against forces of darkness! I wrote a synopsis of the concept along with the full story of the band here:
- Linear Sphere
- our youtube channel features a promo that i put together
- and a chapman stick playthrough with chapman stick player Steve Woodcock
Do you believe that this kind of music still has a bit of hope to make it in the industry and possibly be the main profession for you?
That kind of dream never really crossed my mind, our music is so off the commercial scale...and we put this music together from the outset knowing that! So this is a purely artistic project with no need to dream of mass acceptance, there is no industry for the cutting edge of progressive music and to my knowledge hasn’t been since the 1970’s era. For commercial mass market progressive metal, yes there was a time and bands like dream theater shone a light in that direction with many bands following, but we as a band are way further outside those parameters, and so it’s not something i’d ever imagine earning a living from. I’ve never been fixated on the industry and any concept of “making it” because to me every success in life is simply a by-product of the process of doing your best at everything you do, i see the whole industry disintegrating and re-structuring in my peripheral vision, but i can’t see how it relates to me because i operate without a need for it, happy to do my best work for those interested, and to make a living so i can approach composition and music without relying on it to provide a roof over my head. But in this era it’s good to be self reliant and self developmental, i’d never place a dream in some big label or company, i’d drive that dream into reality independently, but there again Linear Sphere doesn’t operate in any kind of commercial framework so we prefer the independent approach and just release through our own label, any more success than that will depend on live performance to play this album to people and we will start looking at that at some point soon. I think if i were behind a more commercial project that was looking at high profile touring and mass exposure maybe i’d start to try to understand exactly where the industry is at and ways to get inside it, but for now the playing and composition makes up an aspect of a whole, and is balanced with a range of other guitar related work.
Back to teaching... You see a lot of talented people pass through your classroom and sadly not all of them make it in a music business. What do you do as a teacher to make sure that every student gets the best possible send off into the real world? Career advice? Further mentoring?
I just try to equip my students with the necessary technical skills and theoretical/ musical knowledge to be able to learn for themselves, to understand how to break down a problem step by step, gradually building and progressing. It’s about teaching someone to learn and become self sufficient. Most of my students are advanced and already working in the field or are studying at higher diploma/ degree level so they have an idea of what’s involved in the business or career side, but i do actively support, develop and encourage the professional direction of my students, advising them how to prepare their skills and ultimately present them in the ways in which i’ve learnt work. There is a large percentage of my students and alumni that are well known on the guitar scene and have done very well or play in successful bands, and even though the industry is changing as we were discussing earlier, my experience is that if you put your playing first and are really driven and committed, building your portfolio of skills along the way, getting out on the scene or creating your own scene with consistent good quality work and reaching out to the community and making connections, you maximise your potential for recognition and therefore possible work. The benefit of this modern age is that we can control our destiny as musicians in a more complete way with the technology now available and accessible to learn how to produce your own music or create your own videos professionally with minimal investment, but the downside is that the masses now all have the same access and therefore there is a lot more mediocrity flooding the market, obscuring where all the good stuff is! At that level to have good product is not enough, the trick is how to reach your target audience and that takes a lot more work with long term strategies to get your name into circulation, again simply a by-product of doing your best work at all times and working out how to get people to see it.
Can you explain the procedure when writing for a guitar magazine? Ideas, recording, transcribing... Do you get specific tasks or you have freedom to come up with own lessons/articles?
When I look at those it seems very time consuming. I started working for Guitar Techniques magazine in 2006, i had submitted a portfolio of work a number of years before and as a result had been asked to contribute to a book, along with my experience teaching at The Guitar Institute i was invited to start a monthly column based on my modern rock/metal work and so i had discussions with the editor and we put together a list of post nineties modern metal bands and i did a “style of” column which ran for 15 months covering some of my favorite bands of that time like Cynic, Death, King Diamond, Symphony X, Nevermore etc. I tried to cover bands that didn’t generally get the recognition they deserved in the guitar magazines, bands a little more on the extreme or more technical side of metal. Generally when i write for the magazines, i talk with the editor and then when we’ve established a direction, i take it from there. It is incredibly time consuming and all encompassing, from the writing of the individual lessons which form part of a whole body of work, to the audio engineering, programming and mixing, often with video engineering and editing, it can be brutal and to get it all done to the highest professional level does take time. But it’s always an honour to work for the big magazines that i grew up reading alongside teachers that i learnt from over the years, and it’s been a great experience for me overall.
There is never exhausting interest in learning guitar from one generation to the next. What is in your opinion that magical ingredient that sets guitar apart from other instruments?
Ha! Yes, i think initially it’s down to the shape of the instrument! From here, the next level of seduction is the distorted sound, followed years later by the clean tone! It’s an emotive instrument and with the bending and vibrato nuances, it speaks in a way few other instruments can, it has the appeal of rebellion, of youth, of vigor!
The developments in technology have changed everything in the music industry. It is now possible to produce good quality recording in your bedroom and offer it to the world. Yet it’s getting harder and harder for an average musician to make decent living. Is there any specific advice that you could offer.
Don’t be average! How would your career as a professional sportsman be if you were average!? I think being a professional guitarist, for me is something that happened after many years of practice and listening to music, studying with the best teachers i could find, playing different styles, recording, living and breathing it. Getting comfortable with the guitar and controlling the tone, building the vocabulary so you instinctively know what to go for, developing the technique and feel, the finer details of timing and control. It’s a constantly evolving journey and if you want to market or present yourself professionally it goes beyond the years developing the necessary skills as a guitar player to having a working knowledge of recording software, music notation programmes and editing, video work etc.. in order to actually present your own playing and develop your profile. A lot of music is created and moved around using the internet from tracking to product, so it’s important to have access to the technology if you want to work with others. If you are focussed, you can have a lot of things under your own control and that is the benefit of the modern age. I think it’s also about networking and letting people know you are on the scene, getting involved with the local music scene and the wider online community.
Is the internet good for learning guitar?
I think there’s a lot you can learn from the internet, once the basics are in place. By careful watching and listening and working slowly and thoroughly through material, it can be a great tool for learning. I think ultimately music is about human interaction and for both learning and playing, the experience of sitting and going through material with a teacher is invaluable. The internet will never replace the benefit of directly interacting with a teacher, but as an addition is great. Of course for people with no nearby teacher, the internet can help with connecting people and sharing ideas or as a general guitar and music resource. The danger of the internet is the distraction of too much information and no idea of where to start or what to target, how to organise such an amount of potential data! Students may move randomly through the material going too quickly from one thing to another, whereas when i grew up i would buy an album and a tab book and submerge myself in that for months at a time, or stick to a routine for months and months until i had reached proficiency, then moving onto other techniques as a natural progression. I didn’t start playing fast legato lines before i learnt to bend, vibrato and play good basic blues, good rhythm, holding a groove together, listening to the greats of the 70’s and 80’s and getting my basic rock phrasing in place. Nowadays i think a lot of players may start targeting highly advanced material before they understand the elementary aspects, scales, chords and playing in the pocket with simpler ideas all of which is important when aspiring to a professional level. So i think the internet can give information but the student will need to set short and long term goals with the vast amount of materials, tailored around their individual goals. Learning a few licks can be a short term goal, studying a technique is more of a long term thing. By studying a technique, a lot of licks and vocabulary can be accessed and when you hear the top guys using that technique, you will be able to recognise it, visualise it and emulate it. This in turn leads to your own style, the synthesis of your influences. The best way to use the internet is to pick a couple of well known, well respected guys and stick to their system for a while, as you improve try to learn licks from some of your influences, try to combine the ideas you get from those guys and develop your own unique way of putting it all together.
The instrument itself is undergoing changes. Some years ago 7 string came onto the scene and since we have seen 8, 9 and more string models. Some noted guitarists have made a permanent switch. What are your thoughts on that?
I started using the Ibanez universe when i formed Linear Sphere in 2002 to get the heavier sound, Charlie Griffiths was using 7-string guitars and we started writing together with the 7’s. Charlie is a fan of extended range guitars and nowadays plays 8’s but i’m definitely a 6-stringer at heart, with Linear Sphere being exclusively based around a 7. For me, i’m more into leads and higher register playing than the very low riffage, and with 8s for example, you start to move away from the blues/rock roots of modern metal, string bending starts to become a problem, the guitar doesn’t scream anymore, the low strings are difficult to mute off! I find 8s pretty hostile and too removed from what i do, i prefer music with midrange and the 8s tends to drown out all the nuances of the bass and seem to be good for genting out, but at the expense of everything else. But there are cool players out there that have found innovative ways to explore it, one of my favorite modern albums is the first Animals as Leaders, and Tosin Abasi’s playing and composition on that album really moved me in ways an 8 rarely does!
Thank you very much for finding time for this interview. We wish you a great success.
Thanks for the interview and to all of your readers here at Live4guitar, be sure to check out my first solo study “On the Beach” here in the marketplace: http://marketplace.live4guitar.com/guitar-lesson/on-the-beach-solo-study
and for more information check out my modern rock/metal guitar site and resource http://martingoulding.com