Butler Save His DIY Soul

9 July 2012 | 9:36 am | Greg Phillips

I am doing all of the promotion myself, it’s pretty much all self-generated. So I am up against it. It’s very hard. I have to try to spread the word in other ways and that’s how I came up with the idea of using the films

Cam Butler's music has always been grand. So too are his plans, which makes it all the more difficult being a self-funded, do-it-yourself musician. As both a creative outlet and also for survival purposes, Butler involves himself in a variety of projects. Since disbanding seminal art-rock instrumental band Silver Ray, Cam has released albums under his own name, with his band The Shadows of Love, as The Coralinas (with Mark Dawson) and as lead guitarist in Ron Peno & The Superstitions. Throughout, one constant has been the the majesty of his music. Butler's most ambitious projects however have been his three symphonic albums. The latest, Save My Soul, was released earlier this year. But how does someone on an independent musician's income create and deliver such a huge symphonic soundscape featuring 23 orchestra members?

Save My Soul began at home with some musical ideas based around strings. For the physical act of documenting those thoughts, Cam turned to his trusted black Les Paul electric to emulate the string sounds, then jotted down notes with ballpoint pen and paper before eventually notating properly in Sibelius. “I can play pretty much everything I compose on the guitar in a stripped-back way,” he explains. “It's like a piano reduction of a score, but then you have to use Sibelius to notate it. I used to write out all the parts myself and there would be so many errors and you waste so much time. Sibelius is incredible for all of that. It's a bit of a seduction though, Sibelius. You can sit in front of the thing and run around and you can chase your tail a bit because the computer brain is different structurally.”

Creating a work such as this, Cam can only go so far before he needs to call in help. “I need people to play it, I don't use electronic stuff. So I pretty much need the musicians from the word go. I composed four of the tracks knowing there was going to be an orchestra on it. I composed the middle track knowing it was going to be my compadres playing on it. Knowing them so well, I composed it first, then gratefully got the government grant, the Vic Rocks grant, and I was able to go to the Iwaki Auditorium to record. The first step I suppose, in getting it out of my house, was giving it to a conductor and the string players.”

Being an independent musician who doesn't come by a lot of media attention is one hurdle in the way of getting his music heard. By choosing to create a symphonic work combining classical instruments with electric guitar, Cam further confuses the press, who tend to like their music familiar and neatly pigeon-holed.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

“I am doing all of the promotion myself, it's pretty much all self-generated. So I am up against it. It's very hard. I have to try to spread the word in other ways and that's how I came up with the idea of using the films,” he says in reference to the four videos by four different directors he commissioned for the album. The videos are a significant part of the Save My Soul live experience. “There is no way I could even perform this live and I figured, with the films, I can travel with it. I couldn't do that with an orchestra. I had to come up with some way to get it live and it turned out to be really good.”

The hardest thing about being a DIY musician, says Butler, is the work you need to do outside of the creative sphere. “I get very demoralised by having to be a business person, to be candid with you. It doesn't suit my nature at all. I'm not a very good self-promoter, so that's the hardest thing. It makes the creative process stop. In order not to be like that I have learned to remove myself from that whole world periodically. It's necessary evil that I have to be like this but you have to do it. I have to get out every couple of months and not do any of it.”

Butler is now writing another symphonic work. “I love it,” Cam happily admits. “It does require a lot of money; well not a huge amount but a lot for someone at my level of the food chain … It's more than I can justify. I am getting better at doing it though I think. I don't feel like I am floundering about like I did in the past. You just get closer to what you really need to do yourself; extraneous influences and other people's ideas don't impact as much. You get closer to what the true thing is.”

Cam Butler performs Save My Soul at Melbourne's ACMI theatre Thursday 30 August.