WHEN chart-topping singer-songwriter Newton Faulkner decided to record a new album, he wasn’t expecting it to turn into a follow-up to the Truman Show.
But, just as in the Jim Carrey film, Newton became the star of his own life, offering the world the chance to watch him 24/7.
Indeed, Newton made history while making the album as he live-streamed the entire recording process for five weeks from his home studio.
Fans could log in online to follow every detail of the ups, downs, dramas and laughs including guest appearances from Ted Dwayne (Mumford & Sons) and X Factor’s Janet Devlin.
“It was terrifying,” says Newton, “especially as nobody has ever done it before. The implications of it were unknown.
“It started out as such a small idea – just one camera and no sound – which would have been very unintrusive and quite easy. Then it snowballed from there.
“I didn’t think the label would like the idea as they might view it as giving away the product before I had finished making it. But, when we took the idea to them, they loved it and said ‘if you are going to do it has to have sound’. So it went to four cameras around the house and from an hour a night to 24 hours a day.
“By the end it was crazy. We had a party on the last day and we had a small Jeep that moved when people tweeted – loads of amazing firsts.”
Many artists might have reacted against the loss of privacy but Newton seems to have thrived in this atmosphere.
“It might have been different if I hadn’t had so much work to do,” he says. “It was very awkward when it first started. It was like ‘Hi, this is my house’. But once I started playing guitar and working, it was fine and we had to do a lot of work in a very short space of time.”
Newton’s last album, Write It On Your Skin, went straight to No 1 in the UK as did his platinum debut Hand Built by Robots. He has sold more than 1.5 million albums and has just finished a sold out world tour. He now thinks the interaction with the fans has helped the creative process to such an extent that Studio Zoo, which is out on Monday, is his best work yet.
He says: “I think it affected things in an incredibly positive way. I have always tried to bridge the gap between my albums and the live show. There has always been too much of a gulf in the past.
“The first album started with a programmed kick drum - it was very produced. Whereas the live show was just me and my guitar. That confused people. For the second album (Rebuilt by Humans) we went bigger, believing that’s what people would want.
“For the third one, I was trying to get back on the radio, which had changed beyond recognition from when I first started. So with this one, I just felt enough is enough – I’m just going to do what I do and record it. I’m pleased to say it has been a successful experiment.”
Newton may well let the fans in on the recording process again.
“It’s not only brought me closer to them, but closer to each other,” he says. “I have created a little community on line. They started talking to me and now they are talking to each other.
“I’m also so intrigued to see who tries it next. It’s essentially letting people know whether you can actually do it or not. They can watch you doing all the individual takes. If they are all rubbish and you release something good, then they know what stage things are really happening. I was trying to get as many whole takes as I possibly could, which kind of proved a point. It speeded up the process, because when you know people are listening, you can’t make as many mistakes. The most vocal takes we did for anything was six, whereas previously I might do hundreds. It’s easy to disappear into your own brain and tweak things endlessly but I couldn’t do that.
“It was fascinating on so many levels, to do a guitar or vocal take and then get feedback from the people who you want to buy it. If they say ‘not sure about that’ then you just take it out.
“With the first three albums I was trying to have success but, with this one, I’m so happy with it that I’m less concerned.
“I feel like I have done the right thing. I feel it is honest and the album I wanted to make. The only real criticism I have ever had is that my recorded stuff is over produced. Now this is so far in the opposite direcion, no-one can say that. You strip it back this far it has to be about the song. This is the album that people have been waiting for me to make.”