Ramblings of a metal vocalist
Well, hello again, everyone! :D! I am back bringing you a post I have been itching to write. :P!
gurdistThis time, you guys, I bringing up the journey of being a hurdy gurdist. I will be listing the pros as well as the cons and answer the questions that some dedicated musicians have been asking. SHOULD YOU GET A HURDY GURDY? WHY ARE THEY SO EXPENSIVE (This is one for another blog because there are MANY reasons a Gurdy is expensive AF.)?! WHY IS THIS EVEN A THING?!?!?!?!?!
There will also be a short lil assessment at the end as well to determine if this is the instrument for you.
Before I go into the Top 10 problems, I first would like to mention how it is the hurdy gurdy came about and how it became widely known today. Just a few short lil timeline points. Because I will say that the story of this instrument is LOOOONG. So this is gonna be the short, juicy details about the origins and how it is used now :P. BADABING BADA BOOM!
WHAT IN THE HELL IS A HURDY GURDY?
A hurdy gurdy is basically a fiddle with a mechanical structure. To play it, you rosin the wheel of the instrument and turn a crank, thus either creating beautiful music or sounds of a dying cat. depending on if the instrument is in tune and rosined/ cottoned properly. These guys are often compared to Bagpipes or Accordians because of the fact that they have drones as well. They are widely used (often along with bagpipes, mandolins, flutes, etc) in folk music of the Hungarian, Galician, Cajun French, Asturian, etc. Folk and contemporary music. It really is a very interesting instrument. :D
SO. Where the HELL did this instrument come from?! Here's a short history for you!
However, because of both the size and the difficulty of pulling the keys, only slow tunes could be played on it... YAWN... This organistrum was later made into a smaller version to be played by 1 player so that the player can both turn the crank AND work the keys. This model was later replaced by the French symphonia, which was a smaller box shaped version of our now hurdy gurdy. The symphonia was the first to have the keys pushable from beneath, WHICH WAS SOOOO MUCH EASIER! Around the Renaissance era, the hurdy became more widely known and so was the bagpipe. This was around the time that the buzzing bridges were added in! This gives the gurdy its spice :P. haha! It was also around this time that the design of the hurdy gurdy changed dramatically, making the body guitar shaped again and having more modifications. After the 17th century, musical tastes became more demanding, so the hurdy gurdy was pushed away as a "peasant's lyre", though a few composer actually wrote music for the gurdy. One who is really famous for his gurdy compositions is Nicolas Chedeville. During this time as well, the gurdy became more wide spread and was seen in Central Europe. Musicians (who were often blind) known as the Lirniky played this or similar instruments around the Baroque period. They were categorized as beggars and were often mistreated TERRIBLY for playing in the streets (until 1902 when someone finally put a stop to the persecution). in 1968, the hurdy gurdy came about in a new way in a song called The Hurdy Gurdy Man which was sung by Donavan. The song did not use one, but made references to it. Today, it is wideley used in folk music and also to create PIRATE AND FOLK METAL. Which are 2 of my favorite genres ;). BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THE HISTORY. I WANNA TELL YOU ALL ABOUT MY BABY!!!
I AM A PROUD MOTHER OF A HURDY GURDY. :P
So I have played this thang for a year now and I was inspired to do so by the lovely Anna Murphy, who used to play the hurdy gurdy for Eluveitie and now plays for Cellar Darling. But As I went on the journey to learn what the hell this instrument is about, I experienced many things. Like with a child, raising your gurdy can be a labor. But it is a labor of love. You WILL experience a lot. You'll mostly get mad at it. BUT. IT IT WORTH IT.
The Top 10 Gurdist Problems:
1. THERE WILL BE COTTON. EVERYWHERE.
There will be SO. MUCH. COTTON. So much that it is gonna look like a snowstorm hit your work area. It will also stick to you. Which will make people question what you are doing to get so much shit on you. It is a bummer and can flare up your allergies sometimes. But if you don't have cotton LITERALLY EVERYWHERE, it means you're not changing it out correctly. XD
2. FUCK THE TANGENTS.
All players know this one. when one of the tangents on your melody strings is off, your notes will sound warbly. The sound is indescribable, really, but when you hear it, YOU FUCKING KNOW. And you instantly wanna flip a table because once you adjust one tangent, you have to check on the welfare of the others because if one tangent is even a centimeter from the right position, you will get a flat or sharp note. It is a MESS.
3. ROSIN DUST. DON'T SNORT IT.
PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO NOT SNORT ROSIN DUST. This shit is not made of materials you should be snorting and doing so can either lead to burning or to being sick. I cannot say this enough. I say this because I ACCIDENTALLY (I promise) inhaled it and the experience WAS NOT FUN.
4. TOOLS WEAR OFF TOO FAST. GOD DAMMIT.
You need to get yourself special tools to handle the small parts. This includes a small magnetic screwdriver. Thing is about those is that they also break easily, which can be dangerous. It can also strip your tangent screws clean so you cannot make adjustments. This is why I has 2 months of not playing my gurdy. TT3TT...
5. Having sausage fingers can be a downfall.
If you have giant hands, repairs can be a challenge. Like changing your strings or fixing your tangents. You have to go about literally EVERYTHING very carefully! Working with tools with large hands and a very delicate process is never easy.
6. There is no room for error.
There isn't and if you think there is, quit telling yourself that. EVERYTHING about the hurdy gurdy is precise. From the make of it down to how hard you can press a key. Each gurdy has a different personality. Some gurdies require harder key presses to make the notes more crisp while others you barely touch.
7. HURDY GURDIES HATE THE WEATHER.
That's right. Even down to the weather. Weather changes make the gurdy swell, as most are made with wood to create the right resonant sound of a gurdy. This can be tricky when you travel for a tour or you live in a area like California where the weather cannot make up its fucking mind. This also causes the hurdy gurdy to not be able to make up its mind and it may sound like dying whales until it settles.
8. Traveling is hard.
This instrument is very high maintenance and sometimes even how you carry it while traveling can affect the quality of the sound (combined with the weather changes above). So on a journey with it, you always have to come with a separate bag JUST FOR THE TOOLS and also request you carry it as a carry on ON YOUR LAP because airlines are NOT merciful to instruments. I always hear sad stories of the horrors of traveling with instruments and how poorly people treat them in airports.
9. PEOPLE WILL QUESTION YOU. ALL. THE. TIME.
What is that thing? Why is it so loud? Can you lower the volume on that thing? It is a hurdy gurdy. It is loud because it is a noise making apparatus. And NO, YOU CANNOT LOWER THE VOLUME ON THE THING (You can adjust the string pressure, which does slightly lower the volume, but this feature should only be used by advanced players. and even then, it only SLIGHTLY works). You will instantly wanna become anti social because people will NOT leave you alone about this. You will then have to explain like 15 times how the thing works then tell them no they cannot touch it and also NO YOU CANNOT LOWER THE VOLUME ON IT (unless you can take the wheel pressure off. some models do that.) After awhile IT GETS OLD.
10. YES THEY ARE EXPENSIVE EVEN AFTER THE EXPENSE OF PAYING FOR IT.
You do have to set money aside for the hurdy gurdy. This is a hand made instrument and sometimes, as with ALL things, things break. So you have to buy tools to fix it or pay for shipping costs to be sure to get it repaired. I personally have shipped mine out once and it was expensive so I learned how to fix it myself. The instrument can start of at 1200 bucks depending on the maker, the features of your instrument, and how you get it shipped. My model was about 3700 something bucks and about another 200 to ship. If you want something with all the bells and whistles, it can REALLY add up. Makers also charge different prices depending on the materials used. Check out my vlog below about mine!
Is this instrument for you?
There are only 5 questions you need to ask yourself before you get one of these.
Well guys, I'm going to bed before I fall asleep on my keyboard again. Hoping this post doesnt scare you from the gurdy. Like I said, It is a wonderful instrument. Just frustrating. But it is worth every minute of the time you spend on it!
Most likely if you're solo, you'll be broke a lot of the time unless you already have a lot of money, a huge amount of listeners/ audience, or a supportive family/ friend group.
- Lessons (If you're even able to fit it into your schedule)
-Rent for the Venue a gig is held in
-Fees for studio musicians/ band members (For solo artists, this is a must. Because as much as one can be a jack of all trades, it does not mean they have mastered EVERYTHING.)
-Distribution fees (both physical and digital)
-Making Merch (YES. MAKING MERCH COSTS MONEY!)
-Booking a performance/ gig (booking agents. nuff said.)
-Instruments/ Instrument Maintenance (If your instrument breaks or needs a repair, you gotta pay for it)
-Music Production (Recording, Mixing, Mastering. ALL ARE SEPERATE FACTORS IN THIS CATEGORY)
-Photo/ Video Shoots AND EDITING THAT COMES WITH IT.
-Equipment for Performance and backup equipment in case that equipment breaks.
-Promotion Costs (Radio Spins, Facebook Ads, Youtube Ads, Google Ads in general)
-Running a Website (Pro domain costs 12/ year and also has fees added to whichever site you choose to make your website.)
-Clothes (to look the part)
-Bills for living
-Management (If you somehow manage to get someone to talk to you. This is a long shot most of the time because to even get a hold of someone you need to network a LOT)
-Networking (This means going to shows and meeting others who do the same thing you do.)
This ALL comes down to how you manage your money and what you do to save. Journaling/ planning your expenses can make a HUGE difference! And hopefully by reading the text above you get an idea as to why bands and solo artists ask for money. IT IS BECAUSE MOST OF US ARE STRUGGLING TO MAKE END'S MEET AND WE WANNA GET OUR ASSES OFF THE GROUND.
Experience 4- Practicing
The reality of the matter is that making time to practice gets to be a DESPERATE endeavor.
Experience 5- Time Management
Experience 6- When you finally sleep
There is a reason why a lot of solo artists say "SLEEP IS FOR THE WEAK"
Experience 7- The Business Aspect
Not every artist is a business expert... Not every business expert is an artist.
Experience 8- TECH ISSUES ARE THE FUCKING WORST!
Being tech savvy is NOT an easy endeavor.
There is a lot more to explain away, but these are the most essential ones I have.
Hopefully you all get a clear understanding of some of the struggles a solo musician can face. As someone of the metal genre AND as a female, it is twice as hard. And I don't plan on stopping any time soon. Stay metal, my friends. I'll see you on the next one! ;).
ArwenStarsong is a singer, songwriter, lyricist, Youtuber, and multi- instrumentalist from Fresno, California. She is an enthusiast of the metal genre, and a lover of poetry, art, and writing. She also livestreams video games for fun sometimes. She is an artist of the Symphonic/ Power metal genre that is beginning to bud in the community. She recently helped found a new Symphonic Power Metal band called Sun Lay Silent.