Bringing the house down
What’s the next logical step for a musician who has recorded and toured the world with Robert Plant, Lauren Hill, Santana, Yes and his own band? While some spend their lives chasing ever-brighter spotlights, acclaimed solo artist, producer and studio musician Francis Dunnery made a revolutionary move away from the establishment and began courting fans in uniquely intimate venues—their own living rooms. Dunnery’s “house concert” world tour is redefining live performance and connecting with fans in a meaningful new way. What’s more, his direct approach keeps his overhead low and avoids many of the hassles of traditional touring. As a result, Dunnery can focus on inspiring the crowd while performing with a variety of M-Audio gear.
What inspired the house concert concept?
About four years ago, I was looking for something to kick-start my enthusiasm for the music business. After 25 years of recording and touring, I really needed something fresh. I had just finished my psychology degree, so I developed a 90-minute monologue about mid-life crisis. The show also included songs that could be played on acoustic guitar. I didn’t want the hassle of dealing with promoters, sound guys, agents, press, advertising, radio, band members etc., so I came up with the idea of performing for people in their houses. I put a message on my website asking if anyone would like a house concert—and within one week I had 3000 requests, literally from all over the world. So far I’ve been to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain and Portugal. I’ve been all over the United States and even had requests from the Congo in Africa, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Dubai!
What do you think of the house concert model as a means for other independent artists to promote and support themselves?
It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I absolutely love it. I think it’s a great thing for artists who are good storytellers. That’s the key to a good house concert—being a good storyteller. I think some younger artists might not want to perform house concerts because naturally they have images of themselves of being at Madison Square Garden. Fortunately, I have played Madison Square Garden many times, so I’m comfortable with who I am.
What M-Audio gear are you using on the road?
The ProKeys 88 is a brilliant keyboard to take out on the road. It has some really great blending functions that allow you to combine sounds incredibly quickly—exactly the type of thing that a computer doesn’t accommodate.
I also have a little Radium keyboard that I’ve been dragging around the world with me for years. The Radium is a great companion for a laptop because it’s obviously very portable and allows you to play and record music in places you normally wouldn’t be able to. It’s a fantastic little invention. [Editor’s note: the Radium line has been updated and replaced by the Oxygen series of keyboard controllers.]
Tell us about how you record in the studio.
I have a whole bunch of M-Audio gear in my studio—some that I’ve had for ages and some that I’ve just started using in the past year. Right now I have the M-Audio ProjectMix I/O controlling most of my audio and MIDI devices. The ProjectMix is seamless with Mac OS X Leopard, and it’s great to have something that works without having to become a scientist. I’m definitely a faders guy, so I love it!
I also use the ProKeys 88 keyboard in my studio. It’s probably my favorite piece of gear because the internal sounds are exactly what I need. I often produce acoustic music, so I need a good electric piano, grand piano, organ sound, strings and a warm pad. The ProKeys 88 has all of these, so I can’t help feeling M-Audio made this just for me! Instead of filling the memory full of sounds that no one ever uses—like “space warp” or “giant explosion”—M-Audio decided to keep the sounds to a practical minimum and go for quality instead of quantity. ProKeys 88 also feels like a real piano and there’s no latency to deal with.
Sputnik is another very interesting piece of equipment, as it defies a lot of old concepts about what sort of microphone quality you can get for the price. The Sputnik is fantastic and can stand up to any microphone on the market. I’ll be recording John Paul Jones and I will definitely be using the Sputnik.
What do you perceive to be the future of the music industry?
Let’s be honest, the industry as we have always known it is over. Creativity made the business what it was, and it will be creativity that saves it from extinction. I think all artists should start making music for music’s sake and inject a big healthy dose of creativity back into the industry.
The situation right now is very similar to the 1950’s and 1960’s because the old model is dead and the new one is undefined. We can all take part in the redefinition of the new music industry. For example, having the Internet at your disposal gives all artists their own independent label that is accessible worldwide. No one knows how it’s going to end up, but every artist should know that in the future things will be more equal than they have been for the last 50 years. As independent artists, we are in a fantastic position limited only by our own belief and imagination.
Visit francisdunnery.com to request a house concert or to read “The Golden Castle,” an article featuring Dunnery’s thoughts on the music business.