Back in the day, a single or album chart position could define a band. It would indicate sales, success and serve as a good predictor for how long said act would last. Did your last single scrape into the Top 40 at number 39? Your days are numbered. Nowadays, while chart success might still be the goal for some, we now live in a multi-platform, stat-driven world. Views, hits, likes and streams define bands and while they might not equal cash, they can certainly reap rewards… eventually.
French band Caravan Palace know all about how using social media and the video format can reap rewards. The band began playing rock and more grungy guitar music, but have spent the last decade honing a sound that blends jazz and dance, all the while garnering a following that has helped notch up those numbers in record fashion. Just check out this stream of stats: the band has had 2.1 million video uploads on TikTok (one of the world’s most-used video apps); they enjoy 1.5 million monthly listens on Spotify from a half-million audience which has resulted in no less than half-a-billion Spotify streams.
Then there are the close-to 1.2 million YouTube subscribers and the single Lone Digger, that has notched up 230 million plays on the platform alone (out of nearly half a billion for the band in total across YouTube).
That’s quite a set of stats and back in the ’real’ world, they’ve not done too badly, either. Thanks to high-profile TV appearances, they’ve shifted more than a quarter-of-a-million copies of their third album, 2015’s <I°_°I> (aka Robot Face) and sold out just about every tour since its release.
Ahead of Caravan Palace’s fourth album, Chronologic, out this Friday (30 August), we catch up with the band’s Arnaud Vial to discuss everything from success in the internet age to a mass of gear spread across several of the band’s studios.
Your route to success stretches right back to the early days of MySpace, right?
Yes it’s been 100 per cent via social media, through Facebook and the late MySpace. We had an independent manager/producer called Le Café de la Danse early on and at that time, he really struggled to find a record label. Our style was too weird and no one knew how to sell it! But people were pushing the project on social media and we got a lot of plays and a lot of word-of-mouth.
Then a French label, Wagram, took a risk and signed us. A bunch of TV shows and some radios plays later, and the first album [Caravan Palace in 2008] ended up going Platinum in France. People around the world started to hear about us, and that was so exciting.
What were some of your early experiences with music-production technology back when you started?
I think we learned about [music production] mostly from magazines and online music forums. We were using Pro Tools and Cubase and all the hardware was so buggy. PCs were cheaper and we were skint, so it was a nightmare sometimes with all the soundcard driver issues. Of course, it was easier with the Mac and now we’re all on the MacBook, but I think PCs are safer nowadays.
You certainly have a very distinctive and unique sound that blends very different eras. Tell us about how it came about?
The sound of Caravan Palace is a blend of vintage and modern electronic music. In the beginning, we were specifically into Gypsy jazz and house, then what people called electro-swing and now I think it’s a larger mix. We can be influenced by blues, soul, rhythm ’n’ blues, bossa nova from the 60s, even exotica for the vintage part of our sound. And for the modern side, it’s hip-hop, future bass, deep house and even disco. We just want to make music with no boundaries. I think it’s the best way to be honest with our audience and fans.
“I think people are now totally ready for streaming and, as with Netflix, I hope streaming platforms will become a music standard for everyone”
How does a typical Caravan Palace track come together, from a songwriting perspective?
We don’t start songs together – we all have our own studio. I might compose a one-minute track with a beat and harmony, with some samples and synths. Then I send it to the guys and wait for a response. If it’s a fast one, okay they like the idea! If you receive an answer the day after, okay, they’re not sure, you should definitely give up this idea and go for a new one! I guess the music around us inspires us, or maybe sometimes it’s an old sample, or a chord progression. I think there’s no specific recipe, and that’s the point. If you’re using the same recipe each time, then you just go in circles. Something we really don’t do is start a new track based on lyrics. We should try that. It’s a more ‘poppy’ approach, but why not?
What’s in the caravan?
So each of you works in a separate studio, but how does it work with sharing ideas? Do you have similar setups?
Well, we’re all using Ableton Live 10 with RME UFX and UCX soundcards. Like everybody, I guess, we use the Serum soft synth and Massive, of course. We also the Arturia V Collection for the vintage sound, but we do have a lot of vintage analogue synths between us from Roland, Korg, ARP and more, plus some modern ones from Dave Smith, Arturia and Moog (see kit list below for detail). For monitoring, we mostly use Adam A77X speakers, but also have Focal, Yamaha, Dynaudio, Genelec and Avantone ones to use; it depends which studio.
What is it about the Serum and Massive soft synths that you like so much?
With Serum, it’s definitely because of the endless potential. I think the new Native Instruments Massive X is extremely exciting as well, but so far, the demo version is crashing in Ableton Live. Let’s wait a little, I guess, but it looks like being the synth of the year. We’re also using a lot the new stock Wavetable synth in Ableton Live. That has great potential, too.
Do you tend to produce your own synth sounds or use preset sounds? If so, what is your process in sonic creation?
It depends. When you’re feeling empty, why not dig around in the lists of presets? Most of the time they are a little bit overproduced for us, with a lot of effects and outrageous stereo, but they can trigger ideas. Generally, though, we create sounds, as they’re often designed to complete an acoustic instrument or a sample; to enlarge it or to add a special synthetic flavour.
Moving away from instruments, what effects or outboard do you use?
The Ableton stock plug-ins. They are definitely not the best ones around, but the combinations you can achieve mean you get a great workflow inside the DAW. I’m always trying new VSTs, but then I come back to the Ableton ones afterward.
What do you find most frustrating about using studio hardware or software?
Like everybody, it’s so hard to finish a song. You don’t have studio time limits or other money restrictions. You just buy a DAW and you can do almost everything by yourself with a laptop and some headphones, so you’re always thinking you can do better and it’s a never-ending process. However, on the up side, with good ears, you can do anything! A computer, headphones and a DAW, that’s all. It also means that everyone has the same chance to be successful.
“Do your own thing and always try to create original content. Also it’s worth spending some time reading around the subject and watching the tutorials and following all the good practices”
What’s on your wish-list studio gear-wise?
Massive X! I’m just praying each day that it will finally work on my 2015 MacBook.
What would you like to see developed in studio technology?
A phone/computer-speakers simulator, like a box with a bunch of popular phone, computer, tablet speaker presets on it. You can switch between them and finally check that your mix is okay on each. When you think about it, a lot of people are going to discover your tracks on these shitty systems. It’s a bit sad, but when you receive a notification from your favourite artist, you’re so excited, you just click and listen on anything, right? I have found some plug-ins that try and simulate some of these scenarios, but they’re not quite the same.
From caravan to palace
You’ve been around for well over a decade now. What have been the main changes you have seen in terms of the music industry and gear?
The main change, of course, is streaming. There is streaming everywhere and playlists, too. I’m pretty happy with that, because we’ve been using Spotify for a long time, so it’s totally okay for us. I think people are now totally ready for streaming and, as with Netflix, I hope streaming platforms will become a music standard for everyone. The monthly subscription is pretty cheap for everything that you can have.
In terms of gear, I think it’s the laptop. We’re doing everything on the laptops now and, personally, only with the trackpad, no mouse. No desktop computers, either. I really like the fact you can feel the same anywhere. With your two hands on the great Apple trackpads, the workflow is fantastic.
Full stream ahead
How did you generate those impressive streaming stats for your various singles and videos? Was any of it through playlisting?
It’s hard to tell. Things tend to get viral for us, but it’s not something we ever planned. As an example, the Lone Digger video was released the day before the terrorist attack in Parisian venue Le Bataclan. We felt really bad, because it was the absolute worst time for such a gory video. We stopped pushing it immediately, but then after a couple of quiet weeks, it kind of took off on its own, so there really is no recipe.
Then the success of that video helped us increase our audience quite a lot and now, it’s become some kind of virtuous cycle. The more plays you get, the more your tracks are going to get suggested to new listeners/viewers. So I’d say it’s more to do with algorithmic suggestions than editorial playlists.
What advice would you have for our readers to get increased stats in this regard?
Do your own thing and always try to create original content. Also it’s worth spending some time reading around the subject and watching the tutorials and following all the good practices. It can really make a difference if you fine-tune your channel and video parameters and play the game by the rules.
The new album
Tell us about the new album Chronologic. What can we expect to hear from it?
We tried to go further in our own style. It’s a little less electro-swing specific, with a lot more of other vintage influences. There are also some guest singers like Charles X on the track About You which has already come out. I think that the album is also a bit more song oriented, with more vocal parts and much more work on the lyrics. Some tracks are more serious and some are a lot of fun. As usual, we have just done what came to us naturally; nothing’s calculated, it’s pure musical honesty.
What are your hopes for the new album?
The first hope is, of course, to make the fans happy, to give them new, fresh material. I know we’re pretty slow at making new tracks, so they are definitely patient. Then, if some new people discover our music, that would be fantastic. We would love to extend the Caravan for new people!
What do you have planned for the immediate and long term future?
We’re touring this summer in Europe and playing some very cool festivals. Then we’re going to the USA in the Fall for a 30-gig tour which we’re very excited about. Then it’s back to Europe and we will be in the UK in January 2020 for some gigs all across the country.
Finally, what advice do you have for people who want to make a living making music?
Work, work, work. Musical knowledge is endless. Never stop learning. Be a life student with all the curiosity and the humility that goes with.
Selected kit list
- Computer : Apple MacBook Pro 15
- Preamps: Avalon VT-737, Neve 1073, SPL Goldmike, Summit TPA-200, Warm Audio WA-12
- Microphones: AKG C214 stereo set, Aston Origin, Neumann U 87, TLM 49 and KM 184 stereo set
- Vintage synths: ARP Odyssey and Axxe, Kawai 110F, Korg Polysix, Mono/Poly and MS-20, Memorymoog, Roland Juno-106, TB-303 and Jupiter-6, Teisco 110F
- New synths: Arturia MiniBrute, Dave Smith Prophet ’08, Korg Minilogue, MFB Synth, Moog Little Phatty and Sub 37, Novation Peak
- Software: Ableton Live 10 , Arturia V Collection, FabFilter Pro-L, Xfer Records Serum , Native Instruments Massive, Valhalla Reverbs , Waves Tune
- Monitors: Adam A77X , Adam A5X , Avantone MixCubes, Dynaudio BM5A, Focal SM9, Focal Alpha 65 , Genelec 6010, Yamaha MSP5
- Guitars: Epiphone Sorrento 1962, Fender Jazz Bass, Fernandes Revival Telecaster, Gibson ES-125, Godin Multiac Gypsy, Kay Jazz II, Maurice Dupont MD-50, NS Design CR4M upright bass