CoreTalks: Julie Bartley – Having Personal Goals in the Music Business
There‘s something about the music business – perhaps about the arts generally – that has an irresistible attraction. How else to explain the fact that so many talented people try to make it in this highly competitive and insecure sector of the economy, where the glamour and high rewards are shared by few, where great effort and sacrifice pays off only for the lucky? There are many safer bets, career-wise, so it must be some kind of calling.
It was definitely that for Julie Bartley, sound engineer and founder of Rolling Audio (www.rollingaudio.co.uk) but one that was tempered by her own view of what defines success. “If you measure success by what my profits are, I’d be a failure,” she says. “But if you measure success by how happy I am and how canny life is, then I’m very successful.”
Taking the first step
Julie was progressing up the career ladder as a nurse in Newcastle when she gave up employment to care full-time for her son. The decision gave her an opportunity to re-evaluate what she wanted from life and, when her son was better, she decided to do a foundation course in music production at Newcastle College then added a year to convert it to a BA(Hons) in Music Enterprise.
It was recognition of a lifetime dabbling with technology. At an early age, Julie had taught herself how to bounce tracks on a tape recorder and later she’d be the one who recorded jam sessions at home on a 4-track (because she was the only one who’d read the instruction manual). She explains how this was an outlet for her creativity: “I never had music tuition apart from learning recorder at school but I seem to have this ability to understand music. I have all these ideas in my head – how do I express them? If I know about the technology, I can do that.”
The course took a holistic approach, combining technology with teaching on networking and commercial skills, so what was originally planned as a hobby turned into a business. Julie worked hard on a business plan. “But I hesitated to start,” she recalls. “I realised after talking to my business advisor that the only thing stopping me was my courage.” She took full advantage of the training on offer from Business Link (now North East Business Support Fund, nbsl.org.uk) and the North East music support agency Generator (generator.org.uk). This meant a lot of hours and a lot of networking.
Being a sound engineer
It was initially difficult. Work was hard to come by but Julie was helped out by her former tutors at College, who lent her equipment, and early contact with Mike Coleman at Core Music, who referred any local enquiries about recording to Julie. Recognising that professional musicians were increasingly likely to have their own studios, she focused on rural Northumberland’s strengths: classical and folk music. Her first big job was recording a concert given by the Hexham Orpheus Choir, using high-end microphones she’d been loaned.
Rolling Audio works with grassroots musicians who might be starting out on their music journey and with experienced professionals – she contributed vocal recording and fiddle overdubs on the first album by the unique Wall folk duo the Brothers Gillespie. One-to-one advice on recording is also an option and Julie runs training courses at Core Music from time to time. She is developing spoken word recording, which requires a different approach, and is now working on this with a London company. She also records wildlife and has been known to rise at ungodly hours to lurk in the undergrowth to capture the dawn chorus. “It’s a lovely experience sitting in the woods at 4 am, watching the sun rise,” she says. There are examples of Julie’s recording and audio productions on the Rolling Audio website.
Women in the music industry
One of the most exciting of Rolling Audio’s current projects is an all-women initiative led by the talented singer–songwriter Beccy Owen (Facebook). Beccy has several albums to her name (find her on Bandcamp: beccyowen.bandcamp.com) and she had the idea after becoming disillusioned with the way the male-dominated industry treats women artists. Beccy put together a band with an unusual line-up – two drummers, percussion, vibes, piano, electric guitar, viola and violin, bass and double bass – and a former Newcastle College tutor suggested Julie as an engineer and co-producer. The band sounds great live and initial recordings have gone well. How does the all-woman experience compare to having men in the room? “The studio environment can be very masculine and the technology looks like a spaceship,” Julie says. “Even in practice sessions, this band works more collaboratively. It’s a different vibe. Women are kind and supportive, there are no egos.” A single is planned for June 2019 with live dates to follow.
Misogyny is not, of course, confined to the music industry but it is prevalent and the problem has now been acknowledged. Julie was one of only three women on her college course but there is now a drive to increase the proportion of women engineers and producers. The Music Producers’ Guild has recognised the achievements of women in its annual awards and initiatives to promote gender equality now include Both Sides Now (www.brightersound.com/bothsidesnow), Women Make Music and KeyChange (prsfoundation.com). Julie is now considering how to help women in the North East who want to get involved with recording and production, with workshops a likely option.
Less is more
And there’s no need to go all space-shippy with gadgets for recording. Julie records direct to an Apple Mac and uses Logic Pro as a digital audio workstation. She has a Focusrite Sapphire, two Octopre multi-preamps plus quality microphones (she ended up buying those mics she borrowed). That’s the kind of lean setup that won’t appeal to gadget nerds but, thanks to the power and flexibility of digital technology, it’s all she needs to deliver the goods.
“Technical possibilities can stifle creativity,” she adds. “Lately, I’ve got into GarageBand – it’s really accessible and fun. Because it’s a very stripped-down version of Logic Pro, there are many things you can’t do but fewer choices means you get on with making music. It has opened up the fun side of creativity again.”
Julie recently released her first solo recording: Earth Mother is a mantra for all the earth mothers and protectors. It’s available on Bandcamp at julieb.bandcamp.com/track/earth-mother-mantra.