Third year Plymouth student Lucas Banks shares the fascinating story of his project, Tempus; a concept album where each track captures the sound of a decade in 60 seconds.
The final year of study is an interesting time here at dBs Institute. A chance for students to pool several years of knowledge into a selection of ambitious works. It's impossible to predict where inspiration will take them, and that's very true of Lucas Banks with his concept album 'Tempus', who drew inspiration from perhaps the biggest source of ideas today, TikTok.
"We were all in class, feeling a bit down, a bit stressed out about all the work we had ahead of us, and I made this comment about music becoming background noise for viral videos," says Lucas. "I was being a bit bitter, but it struck a thought with me. It's not necessarily a bad thing. The industry is always evolving and you've just got a roll with it. I starting thinking, is music going to go the same way as viral video?
"I wanted to do some research and started digging around and it has definitely affected the way music is made today, you know, especially in the pop world. Songs are having to start big with an opening chorus to hook people in straightaway.
"I challenged myself. Could a whole song be condensed down just into 60 seconds? Is that possible, while still having a pop structure? And I wanted to see how that transcended through the decades, so I figured I'd write a 60 second song in the style of each decade from the 1950s to current day, and put it out there and see how people respond to it."
Are you paying attention?
What's interesting is that in spite of the argument that attention spans have diminished with the throwaway nature of streamed content, popular music has always been controlled by external factors.
Lucas in the hot seat at Real World Studios
"When I first started my research, I noticed song runtimes had a direct correlation with technology. For example, when recorded music became more prevalent with 78 RPM records, that dictated how long a song could be and it just kind of stuck. The average time was around three and a half minutes than 30 seconds and that's been the standard for a long time.
"Then when radio came about, music had to work around advertising and jingles and that very much dictated how much air time a song would get. You could even argue that now it's content creators who could be responsible for how long pop songs will be. I don't think it necessarily spells the end of longer songs, it's just a different way of packaging a product."
Time is of the essence
With the idea firmly rooted, Lucas began to explore each decade and filled his mind with inspiration. There were some decades that came easily to him; the 50s and 60s, being heavily dominated by guitar-based singer-songwriters - which happens to be Lucas' forte - felt like a natural extension of his own style. Challenges began to arise in the more indulgent decades, however…
"As I've been going through this process, I've come to the conclusion that, especially certain genres, it's quite hard to fit into everything into 60 seconds," says Lucas. "The 70s was where I first encountered this - I had to drop my guitar solo [laughs]!"
Establishing the right context for creating each track was paramount and Lucas had to set aside his usual haphazard approach to songwriting to really find his groove.
"I'm usually like a madman with songwriting. There's a million ideas in my head and I'm scrambling to get them all down, but I had to become much more methodical in my approach for 'Tempus'. I created a PDF with buzzwords and key historical moments, as well as a 2-3 track playlist on Spotify for each decade. Keeping it minimal helped to not overload the senses and get me in the right headspace. It gave me a good starting point to build on and re-interpret those elements in my own way. That helped prevent me falling down the rabbit hole with making sure the snare sounded perfect or what have you."
Nailing the sound of each decade wasn't just localised to the style, Lucas had to consider the production techniques of each era, and more importantly, how deep he would go with mimicking those approaches.
"Outside of my own existing knowledge I researched some of the key techniques that producers were using in each decade, for example, that vocal slap back reverb in the 1950s. I look at those things as little illusions or tricks that can automatically make it sound like a specific decade. Once you remove them, my 50s song would just sound like an ordinary country tune. I was definitely more focussed on instrumentation, play style and the lyrical content to carry the sound of each decade, but things like the slap back reverb and big 80s snare couldn't be ignored."
A sign of the times
The finished product is 8 finely polished tracks tracing the evolution of music through the decades, and Lucas' attention to detail is equal parts impressive and nostalgic. Though the creation of 'Tempus' was a solo effort, Lucas is quick to shoutout his peers for their part in the project's development.
"I had so much support in the development of this idea, not just from the tutors but from my fellow students as well. We're a really close network and always offering inspiration and encouragement to experiment with new things. Because we're all from different backgrounds, we've all got our tastes and niches, which is great because we expose each other to things we never would have found.
"There's a mindset on this degree that we're hoping to soak up everything we can and never sneer at a new idea when it's put to us, and because we're all mates, we want to support one another with what we're each making. You're constantly taking inspiration and courage from each other, which is fantastic.
"I'm so glad I started it now and I've learned a lot from it. I've grown as a writer as well. I'm not being too cautious anymore and I'm just throwing myself in the deep end and going for it. A lot of that's come from my peers as well. They're a great set of lads, and they've really helped me come out of my shell."