Ben Walker, best known around the internet for his "The Twitter Song" is getting ready for the innovative Ben's Big Gig event, taking place in Oxford, England on May 1, 2009.
I first 'met' Ben on social networking site Twitter, and after reading a few of his 'tweets' and learning about Ben's Big Gig, I was curious to find out more about the humorous singer/songwriter based in Oxford.
Watch The Twitter Song - "You're No One If You're Not On Twitter" video:
Ben Walker exclusive interview with Jenny May:
Jenny May: How and when did you discover Twitter?
Ben Walker: I first tweeted at 6:07 PM Apr 18th, 2007 and apparently I was "up too late". It took a while to get into, to find the good people. I got a real boost when I met a whole room full of interesting Twitter people at the Tuttle Club in London in early 2008. They still meet every
Friday morning at the ICA, and I go along whenever I can.
Which social network are you currently using the most and why are you using that particular one the most?
Twitter, for sure. Because that's where all my people are. I talk to people I know on Twitter every day (and plenty I don't). For video updates, I'm really into 12seconds.tv. I guess there's something about having to create something short and succinct that appeals to me.
Are there people that you've met in person after first meeting on Twitter? If so, can you give one or two examples of how that happened?
Absolutely. When I first went to Tuttle I met a guy called Steve Lawson (@solobasssteve), who is a bass legend and social media enthusiast. He introduced me to dozens of people on Twitter (musicians, techies or both) whom I later met at events like Amplified09 and Twestival. For me Twitter is about finding and engaging with like-minded people, so they are often the people you are likely to meet in real life too.
What is the best pop song written in the last 20 years?
Complicated (Avril Lavigne). Pure cheesy pop. I've been studying pop songwriting for a while, and that's the song I go back to every time for the perfect combination of formula, hooks, production, beat, lyrics and attitude. It's certainly not the best song, but it's the best pop song.
What has the response been like to your song "You're No One If You're Not On Twitter" aka The Twitter Song?
It's been huge. I still get a couple of comments and 10-20 new followers/subscribers on Twitter and YouTube every day who find me through that song. It was written as a bit of a joke, to amuse the people I knew on Twitter, but at the same time it was a bit of a cheeky experiment. I tried to write the ultimate Twitter song: open with a hook, have a funny video, make some in-jokes. Now it's had 300,000 views and I have a lot of nerdy fans.
How would you describe your music?
English, quirky, satirical pop. I try to make all my songs entertaining. They are not always funny, but there's always an undercurrent of humour.
You grew up in Oxford. Have you played/collaborated with many bands/musicians here?
Yes and no. I've been around the Oxford music scene for ten years now, but always on the edges. I've guested on keyboards with A Silent Film. Once. I had a year-long residency at the QI Club, playing with my band every Sunday night, and we jammed with loads of local musos there.
Where is the first place in Oxford that you would want to take someone new in town to?
The Firry Mic. I just discovered the Tuesday night open mic at the Fir Tree (Iffley Road), and it's brilliant. It's just a room packed with positive people, and the friendly atmosphere gives the songs a real boost.
Why did you choose Summertown in Oxford as the location for Ben's Big Gig?
I chose Summertown for a few reasons. First, I wanted to see if it was possible to put on a Big Gig in a theatre as an independent musician, and the North Wall is the perfect venue. Everyone's downsizing and playing house concerts these days. I love a house concert, but I wondered whether we couldn't try upsizing too. Second, Summertown is my spiritual home. All of my songs have a North Oxford vibe (posh, green, jaunty). Third, I needed a venue that could handle my social media requirements. I needed wireless, a projector screen and cabaret tables. Again, the North Wall is perfect for that. And they love to be involved in interesting, experimental and fringe projects.
How have you been planning Ben's Big Gig; what is on the agenda for the day?
I've been Twittering, crowdsourcing, blogging and videoing my heart out for the last couple of months, and it's all starting to come together. The most exciting thing for me is that I have a couple of really talented performers to share the stage with. George Chopping has been touring with John Hegley, and is one of the funniest people I've ever seen. He's compèring the evening. And Tom Greeves is opening the second half with a set of genius stand-up comedy. It's going to be a real variety show. And along with all that, we will be broadcasting the whole show live on the internet and feeding the responses from Twitter, 12seconds, Flickr etc. back into the venue on the giant screen, so the internet audience will be able to interact with the live audience.
Who would you want to spend the day with - someone that you haven't met in person - and what would you do?
Ben Folds. I would get a piano lesson from him. And drink tea and chat in the breaks. I'm a legendary pianist, but I envy the control he has on the keyboard. In the nineties I learned every Ben Folds Five song note for note. I recommend it for anyone who wants to play pop piano.
Do you have any musical influences? If so, who?
Ben Folds. The Band. David Bowie. Ray Davies. Julian Cope. Little Feat. Queen. Avril Lavigne.
How do you prefer to record music? What equipment are you using?
When I'm taking it seriously, I use Pro Tools on my MacBook and an MBox. I rarely need more than two channels, because I'm always recording alone. If I'm recording with the band, I borrow stuff. But these days more and more I'm recording on my phone (the Nokia N95 has great video) or the camera and internal mic on my laptop and uploading it straight to YouTube. My music isn't "sit down with headphones and a candle and appreciate the production" music. It's "check out this link on tinny headphones at work" music. It's not that I don't love well-produced music. It's just not what I'm doing. I need a quicker turnaround.
How often do you write songs?
When I'm writing, I write every day. And I'll usually write, rewrite and record a song in four or five hours over two or three days. Last summer I wrote 50 songs in 90 days as part of an online challenge. Half of them were great. The other half are crap but amusing. I'm not writing much at the moment, but once the Big Gig is over I'll get back on the horse.
Do you really hate mornings?
No. I love mornings. I get up at 6am most days to work on music stuff. But not when I registered the domain five years ago. I'll keep using it, though. It's fun, and it's a name to which a lot of musicians can relate.
How would you like to see the future of music?
I like the way it's going. I want to see musicians weaned off the old record company model and rediscovering the real connections that can be made with music. In my ideal future, musicians would concentrate on making better music and connecting with people. At the moment they tend to do one or the other. I have much more to say on this, but I'll save it for my blog.
For more information about Ben's Big Gig, which takes place on May 1, 2009 in Summertown, Oxford, go to:
Ben's Big Gig Official Website
Ben Walker's blog on ihatemornings.com + music and more
Ben Walker press on Band Weblogs
More music: Jenny May music
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