Star Staff: Adam Martin

His career as a musician and the Gilles Peterson album…

Our senior pop lecturer, Dr. Adam Martin, and his band have 'collaborated' with Gilles Peterson, in a way… Nightports have had a beautiful track 'Nowhere In Between' included on the music afficionado's Brownswood Bubblers Eleven compilation.

The band’s ethereal multi-instrumental sound mixes soulful vocals with dark electronica. It’s a perfect reflection of the musicianship which Adam leads on the courses here at Leeds College of Music! Here he tells us how his career as a musician came about, figuring out music, experimenting with instruments and investigating production techniques…


What was your earliest musical experience?

I quite vividly remember seeing musicians perform in recitals at my older sister’s secondary school and always being a bit in awe of what the performers were doing. The idea of performance interested me from then onwards so I went through a range of instruments (piano, double bass, clarinet – all the classics…) to try and get involved with music making before eventually settling on the guitar. My earliest musical experiences then, are learning to play the guitar and having the aim of playing a gig with other musicians and a real audience. I was self taught for the first few years and so I still associate my early experiences with frustration at trying to figure out what guitarists were doing on recordings and how to make the instrument sound something like that. I also remember listening very closely to recordings and trying to work out how these things had been made (the concepts of multi-tracking, overdubs and reverb were surprisingly not a part of my vernacular then!) and I guess this early curiosity eventually led to my PhD topic.

Who/what motivated you to have a career in Popular Music?

A range of people have, very fortunately for me, had a significant influence on my motivation to pursue popular music and music production as a career. The music department at my secondary school was very small and had limited resources but one member of staff in particular was brilliant at making us very enthusiastic about what we were studying and taught me a great deal about music theory, technology and performance. His ethos of ‘if your job involves something that you love, it can’t be that bad’ has stuck with me and in the years of studying and working in the area, I still can’t think of a route I’d have rather taken. Another teacher during my postgraduate study inspired me to consider lecturing and Higher Education as a profession and I’m very thankful for that direction as well – talking to students about music you love and their own music is a great thing to do each day.

My parents, like many musicians’ parents, have been incredibly supportive throughout my musical endeavors from teenage years onwards. My Mom has always wanted me to be an accountant but I think is more recently coming to accept that I wouldn’t be a hugely happy person if I’d taken that route…

How did your career develop?

My musical career has grown out of my background of studying music production and popular music quite intensively for over a decade. After studying so much music and becoming quite experienced at making things sound ‘good’ in the studio I wanted to make something that felt new to me and pushed me a little away from what I knew. I started a project called ‘Nightports’ with a vocalist and another producer/composer and set about creating music that interested us and was influenced by a wide range of things we liked. The project is all about restriction and we ban ourselves from using any sounds other than those that the vocalist can make with her voice and body. We can then do what we want to these sounds in a computer but they all have to start from her. We found this restriction really interesting as it forced to compose very differently and hopefully the music that we come out with reflects some of those challenges. In the past year we’ve been fortunate to have tracks featured on two significant compilation albums: a Mercedez Benz mixtape and a compilation put together by BBC and club DJ Gilles Peterson called ‘Brownswood Bubblers 11’. We’ve talked about our work at some international festivals and have been really pleased at the international radio play and reception we’ve been able to get in the past year.

My academic career began with an MA in music production during which I was inspired to pursue my research area further and apply to do a PhD by thesis with the question of ‘what do music producers do’? I was very generously granted a scholarship by the University of Hull to pursue this research with an inspirational supervisor that pushed me very quickly. I now try and speak regularly at international conferences about new ideas in the area of study and have recently delivered a paper in Oslo at the Art of Record Production conference with a colleague about posthumous production and the recent development of holograms.

What is the best thing to have happened in your career to date?

Taking the decision to study for a PhD was a big moment in my career as it firmly establishes your intentions in Higher Education. It also opens you up to new social networks and ways of thinking that can have a really positive influence on your creative practice. By committing to PhD study, this also marked a significant choice to engage with research and academic work for a few years rather than trying to make roads into commercial industrial production. On reflection this decision, for me, is one that I am still very happy with.

How would you describe your biggest challenge in your role?

I think one of the biggest challenges in my role being able to encourage students to make the important musical and aesthetic jump towards being individuals and creators after they have just spent years acquiring the fundamental technical skills in the subject. Writing a song or producing a track can be fundamentally simple activities yet there is often a trend of overcomplicating things by putting the focus on the technical elements rather than the musical result. A particularly rewarding challenge is getting students to spend the time learning the skills they need to move forward and encouraging them to try new things beyond the basic curriculum. To achieve this, in a lot of my lectures or seminars I’ll try and show students new ways of making music or examples of particularly interesting musicians or theories that might spark their interest on a practical level.

What attracted you to coming to work at LCoM?

Leeds College of Music is such an exciting place to work because of the ethos of the college and the creativity of the students. Being surrounded by so many talented and interested musicians makes everyone engage with the subject both in formal classes but also, more informally, you can hear everyone talking about music in the social areas at college and in the city where they go to each other’s gigs. Walking around the building is always an interesting sonic experience where you get to hear everyone enthusiastically practicing, producing and composing. As a lecturer, I enjoy the emphasis placed on contemporary music making and find this a particularly rewarding part of my lectures and composition sessions. Students are aware of what’s happening in their subject and want to be at the cutting edge of these movements so it’s an exciting place to be.

Who/what would be your dream to work with?

I’d really like to work with St Vincent, James Mercer and Ólafur Arnalds but really there are plenty of people that I would like to work with. In my role as a producer, there are a lot of musicians that I would absolutely love to record and get to listen to throughout their whole creative process. As a musician, there are some music producers that really interest me that I would love to be able to work with such as Matthew Herbert, Rob Ellis and Brian Eno. I think I’m at my creatively happiest when working with a really talented vocalist or a string section so anyone that fulfills those criteria is great by me.

What has been your greatest achievement?

As it’s happened recently, I’d probably have to say that completing my PhD is my biggest achievement. The sheer amount of reading, writing and thinking that it takes to get to the final thesis requires a lot of commitment and energy and so it feels like a big achievement in that sense. Whilst the work itself was often quite hard, I got a lot out of the process and loved interviewing some of my favourite music producers in the name of research. It also feels like an achievement because I wrote a PhD that I’m still quite interested in and don’t detest too much (yet).

On a more creative level, I love being involved with the Nightports project and making music in such an obscure way and so people recognising that work by its inclusion on compilations this year has felt like a really great achievement.

Who is your greatest inspiration and why?

I find the music producer Matthew Herbert to be a particularly inspiring character. The passion with which he speaks about music and its potential power is really engaging and has definitely influenced my own creative practices. I think he addresses some pretty fundamental questions about the nature of music in the twenty-first century in some really interesting ways and, as a result, can really make you question the motivations and aesthetics behind what you’re doing as a creative practitioner.

Where would you like to be in five years?

In five years I would like to be making more music that I feel passionately about and doing more live performances of that music in quite special places across the World. I’d also like to have written a book on my research in music production and popular music focusing on new ways to consider these subjects.

Find out more about Nightports, hear their music, and watch them perform.

And investigate life on the first UK conservatoire Pop Music degree.
 

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Being surrounded by so many talented and interested musicians makes everyone engage with the subject...you can hear everyone talking about music in the social areas at college and in the city where they go to each other’s gigs.

Adam Martin, Senior Lecturer - Musicianship (Pop)

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