Behind the scenes of The Drum's Can-Do Festival remote industry supergroup

We go behind the scenes of the Can-Do Festival to tell the tale of The Drum's makeshift industry supergroup.

Earlier this month The Drum tasked seven industry experts from around the globe possessing varying degrees of musical experience, alongside best-selling singer Katie Melua, to put together a remote band to perform during the Can-Do Festival.

With lockdown putting live, in-person, events on a firm hold the band collaborated remotely to play a selection of tracks to entertain the industry.

Time was constantly on the group’s mind. It was a tough few days, but in the end the band pulled together remotely recorded renditions of Bohemian Like You, Don’t Stop Now and Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

Ella Kerr-McCutcheon, programmatic strategy consultant at JCDecaux, and the group’s lead vocalist, explained why the process was so different from a typical studio session. “There were plenty of challenges to work through and everyone learned new skills along the way,“ she said.

The combined powers of bassist Lydia Ng, keyboardist Andy Dougan and guitarist James Booth (in their work lives, the owner of Thinktechniq, global business partner at Geometry, founder and chief exec of Scoota, respectively), helped pull the tracks into shape.

“It was enlightening and transformative,” said Dougan. “We all had an expectation of playing live together. But we learned that some things weren’t going to work even though we’re all used to playing with our own bands live in a recording studio. We had to completely reconfigure how we do that. Adding the drums in at the end is something I’ve never heard of before and we had to do quite a bit of post-editing to get that right.”

For Booth and Charles Briens, European field marketing manager at Ogury and the group’s saxophonist, getting the timing of solos just right, when recording themselves playing it back, proved a bugbear. Both had to improvised their solos while juggling work commitments around recording.

Briens said: “When I was recording the video, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to make it. I was listening to myself and playing at the same time, while trying to push the right keys. Until the last day, it was such a rush juggling between work and making music. It was a tough week.”

Booth added: “But once it started to sound right, then it was clear it was going to sound okay.”

When The Drum contacted Melua and her team, they said it was a request unlike any other they’ve had. “It was the guts of it that I liked about it,“ said the songwriter. “Everyone is going through this global issue right now, so this feels like a bit of a restart and a fresh way to look at things. You’ve got to experiment.”

The project ended up very different from the band’s initial, best-laid plans. Originally, the group had hoped to emulate the success of other artists by performing a live session from their homes. But it didn’t pan out.

Latency issues and the quality of audio the team were attempting to simultaneously stream online, made the gig an impossible dream, said Dougan. “Even things like the earphones as you're hearing the tracks, there’s a delay between you playing the music going into it. There are platforms out there, including one called Jam Kazam, but there’s still a latency issue.“

The band quickly realised their original plan wasn‘t going to work, and fell back on the same principles as karaoke, piecing each track together bit by bit to attain the necessary studio quality.

It was essential to make sure that each performer‘s piece matched the rest, and with time being of the essnece, Ng roped in a close friend to mix the tracks.

”The process was crazy. We were throwing tracks at her, she‘s piecing them together and then we have some changes that we wanted to do. We‘re very thankful she doesn't sleep much.”

Each member of the band took lessons for business from the process. Covid-19 has posed massive challenges to marketers, and Booth described how difficult it has been to maintain momentum on projects. ”With a project like the Can-Do band, where there is little time available, you’re coming into it cold and there’s not much information until deadlines are looming. The only way you’re going to make it through is not to see it as a mountain but to tackle it step by step."

He concluded: “You can see a lot of parallels between what we were attempting to do and starting or managing a business through coronavirus.”

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