Ahead of his headline Albert Sessions performance on Tuesday 22 May, Nick Mulvey spent the afternoon with a group of 19-20 year old students from the British & Irish Modern Music Institute (BIMM), offering songwriting tips, exploring his musical journey and performing intimate renditions of his songs at an insightful workshop.
Nick began the workshop with a simple question for the students: What do YOU want to do?
Most of the musicians simply wanted to see him play his style of guitar, looking to gain insight from his unique rhythmic take on the classic fingerstyle guitar technique. But as the workshop naturally progressed, Nick’s focus on his musicianship, songwriting style and career path as an artist offered thoughtful and practical advice for the aspiring artists.
Check out Mulvey’s songwriting tips for aspiring young musicians:
The importance of rhythm…
Before exploring rhythm and its intrinsic value, not only in his own songwriting process, but in all music, Nick performed Venus from his debut album on “Perez” – the acoustic guitar he bought from a Grenadian music shop at 18 years old – to demonstrate what he described as ‘rhythmical interlocking lines’.
Explaining his rhythmic style as ‘a sort of morse code that is lit from different angles’, Nick explains that as a listener it’s satisfying on the ear to have the rhythm as a constant whilst the melody develops through it – the rhythmic patterns will lead to where your melody will fit.
As a guitarist your right hand underpins everything, he clarifies, ‘…tomorrow my right hand is the centre of the Royal Albert Hall.’
Music is natural, not academic…
‘Music isn’t an intellectual thing, it’s in us from birth. You feel your way there with intuition, all artists have this, he had it [points to a photo of Jimi Hendrick in the Elgar Room], Kendrick Lamar, whoever.’
Nick studied music as a young adult, soaking up as much as possible with experiences from visits to Cuba for tuition in Latin fingerstyle guitar to studying Ethnomusicology (the study of music from the cultural and social aspects of the people who make it) at SOAS.
Although he had spent time studying, Nick explains that his style of interweaving lines and repetition wasn’t from studying African Music, but it was instinctive.
‘…everyone starts with imitation, our cultural knowledge is ours to enjoy” – if it comes from inside, then it’s original.’
Capos are a guitarists best friend…
To get a broad mixture of sounds and alternative tuning without needing to own multiple guitars or re-tune every time, use capos. They will not only help you play in many different keys without breaking the bank, but they’ll also give you the chance to easily write songs with tuning you may not have explored before.
How do you revisit that moment of inspiration once it’s lost?
‘Meditation, hobbies, listen to your friends, family or anyone you love. Life gives you inspiration – when the window is open, make sure you play and record everything because you never know when you’ll get it again. [But] don’t put pressure on yourself to have that moment.’
Mulvey adds that during his time with Portico Quartet, creatively it was ‘effortless and enjoyable’ when they were writing for their Mercury Prize nominated album Knee-Deep in the North Sea, but following on from the nomination it became harder as they were brought under more pressure and became more self-aware.
Sometimes added pressure can hinder your creative processes, but it’s important to find a way to alleviate this, be it a small change such as finding something which relaxes you into a positive frame of mind, or a bigger career change as an artist. Nick left Portico Quartet in 2011 to focus on his songwriting, and found that picking up a guitar and writing gave him that creative spark again.
Know your worth…
“You shouldn’t be overawed when someone in the industry approaches you – even The Rolling Stones will have signed a s*** deal at one point in their life, they just got to a point where they were able to capitalise on this. Not everyone can be this fortunate.”
Whilst it may feel like you are working for the music industry, Nick explains that it’s imperative you realise “you are the industry already”, from the moment you create music, and as a result you should “always know your worth”.
“Just because they put money into you doesn’t mean that you should compromise your music – you never have to compromise.”
Developing your sound…
The final question from the group asks about the use of synthesisers on his new album Wake Up Now, and how this big departure from his previous sound came about.
Nick explains that in Portico Quartet it was explored with drum machines and more electronic equipment and sounds, but this also came from personal musical influences: ‘I love Four Tet and Caribou as much as [Eric] Clapton, it’s always been something that’s been an interest.’
He also shares that his producer Dan Carey helped him explore this sound on the new album, showing that having someone to share ideas with can help your creative process.
Nick ended the workshop with a beautiful rendition of his popular track Fever To The Form which is met with rapturous applause from the young musicians.