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Newzik Talks: Thierry Fanfant

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Wednesday August 27th we received Thierry Fanfant in our office. He is a bass and double bass player but also a composer, arranger, director, producer… He is an extremely complete artist who has recorded more than a thousand albums in many different styles. We can find him on stage with French trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf in 2021.

A long-time Newzik fan, he switched to digital scores a few years ago and was kind enough to discuss tihs with us, as well as his relationship to music, sheet music and music software.

How did you become a musician?

I am a self-taught musician. I learned to play the bass in my parents' orchestra: at the age of 12 I started playing live on stage. I learned to read music with a copyist friend with whom I had gone during the season (he took me under his wing, we shared the same room!). He taught me how to write music really well. However with some scores I still have a hard time reading music because I’m used to things being notated in a clear and simple way. That’s why I prefer digital music: I can easily find my way around.

For the record, I’m part of a family of musicians, we all play music. In the beginning I didn’t really choose to play music, but when I was five or six years old, in the morning when I got up to go and drink my little Nesquik, I would cross a corridor in which there were always drums, a xylophone, a conga… So I always had instruments at hand.

I have a hard time reading scores sometimes because I’m used to things being notated in a clear and simple way. That’s why I prefer digital sheet music: I can easily find my way around.

And then one day I had a little bit of money and I said to my father, “Daddy, I’d like to buy a bass or a moped”. He said, “Buy yourself a bass, so you can get on stage to earn money and then you can buy a moped. In the end, I got a lot of basses, but no moped!

How do you approach music making?

You should never forget that we always make music for pleasure. We’ve all seen someone making music, playing an instrument, and we’ve all said “I want to do that”. We must never lose sight of that: what dictated our choice was pleasure.

However, we don’t choose to make music to play alone, but to play it together and share it. That’s why the notion of pleasure is important because we have to share this pleasure with other musicians and then share it with the audience that comes to listen.

That’s what I love about Newzik: we lay the emphasis on this “sharing” idea since we can share parts and markings with a single click and work on music together without having to be in the same room.

How did you continue to make music during lockdown?

During lockdown we were very much connected as musicians. We did a lot of projects together. With Newzik, we were able to continue making music together by sending each other files, projects - in short, by sharing. Each of us was confined at home, but we tried to keep the link in particular by equipping ourselves with microphones, sound cards and various software.

What is your opinion about modern music apps and software?

I come from a generation where we had paper agendas, landlines and we worked a lot. I’ve recorded over a thousand albums, I’ve had days where I sometimes had three or four sessions! And all that was done by phone or on paper.

Today, everything is digital: the diaries are synchronized, we send each other digital scores… But we work in the same way actually. Today we have incredible tools to slow down mp3s, we have Youtube, we can learn to play an instrument from home by watching tutorials… There are a lot of possibilities.

During lockdown we were very much connected as musicians. We did a lot of projects together. With Newzik, we were able to continue making music together by sending each other files, projects - in short, by sharing.

However this will never replace an accompaniment: a meeting, advice, training. This is what creates the greatest bond: to be able to share and accompany each other.

What is your relationship to music scores?

As a self-taught musician (I started with the guitar) I became a genius very quickly: I invented the C Major on Monday, then the C7 on Thursday… In fact for years I didn’t know where the notes were on my neck.

Then I met someone who explained modes, harmonies, improvisation, then people who taught me how to write,… At one point I realized that scores and writing were something important if I wanted to improve.

There are a lot of exceptional musicians who can’t read music at all! But it’s true that as I’m in the studio, playing many different styles, I need music notation to move forward. You can write a novel very well by dictating it on a dictaphone, but it’s true that when you can read and write it’s a little simpler.

And above all, I started making arrangements, projects, and being a regular music director, so you need to have some knowledge. With paper I had a hard time working faster than I already did, but now with digital parts I must say that I am much more efficient.

By the way, when did you start using digital sheet music?

When I moved house, I packed my boxes and I realized that I had been keeping all my scores since I was 20 years old! Today I’m a little older (twice as much) and when I saw that I had to carry all these boxes I thought to myself that it was impossible, I couldn’t keep all this! So I kept a few scores from people who are no longer here, from artists I worked with who have left us and who had annotated things. It was more in a sentimental way.

But I scanned all the usual stuff. And then I started working with music programs and it makes life easier because you can transpose, change a part, everything is faster. Besides, with the cloud I always have access to everything, whether I’m at home or not. I’m always connected, like everyone else.

How do you see the democratization of tools such as Newzik?

They are complex tools but they allow us to write and annotate quickly. To be able to spread a tool such as Newzik, we simply need to overcome the “fear” of its complexity.

What I love about Newzik is that we can share parts and markings with a single click and work on music together without having to be in the same room.

I often invite musicians to follow training courses, because when you don’t know the software it can be complicated and boring. But once you’ve been trained, you realize that you go much faster, so you can really devote yourself to music without worrying about machines. Musicians just need to take the time to learn a little bit and they will surely see all the advantages of such a tool.

Team Paper or Team Digital?

I used to have paper diaries and my schedule changed all the time, so I wrote everything down in pencil to be able to erase it. In some weeks it became a scribble that was impossible to doodle! Exactly paper scores that we damage by annotating them too much.

Now with smartphones we’re all used to carrying a camera, an agenda, something to write, send, listen… That is what digital is about. With tools like Newizk, we get a paper score, we scan it right away, we import it, we share it, we annotate it, we say “Careful, I’m going to change this or that”, I put the lyrics for the chorus, and voila: in one click it’s sent and everyone has it.

It’s actually very geeky and very technical but it’s an incredible time saver. I even realize that now I’m faster at typing a score than I am at writing it! Instead of having to write verse 1, verse 2,… I just have to copy-paste and voilà, I write much faster!

So Team Digital, obviously!

Where can we see you live or listen to you?

Like most musicians, I can be found at the bar on the corner of the street!

I’m resuming Ibrahim Maalouf’s tour next year, because it was supposed to start on March 27th (by the way, it’s my birthday if you want to give me a little present) but it has been postponed for a year.

The concerts are slowly resuming rather in small and medium-sized venues: clubs, small theaters. I work a lot at home and I’ve found myself doing a lot more livestream concerts recently. This allows me to spend more time with my family too.

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