"Way back, when I was a tiny little brat—I can just barely remember being about five years old and driving my dad absolutely insane playing a 78rpm vinyl record of Gene Autry's Frosty The Snowman over and over about a billion times." This is electronica artist Arlin Godwin's first musical memory.
"Yeah, there were a lot of those moments after that because I was obsessed with music, and records, even as a very small child. I distinctly remember that after many hours—actually days—of me playing that song endlessly, my Dad couldn't take it anymore so he grabs the disc and hurls it against a wall and it shatters into pieces. Records were very brittle in those days." This recollection is from a person who has been wearing out turntables, CD players, DAT machines and Hard Drives ever since.
"There was always music in the house when I was growing up because my Mother loved Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart. And so do I. A lot," Arlin says. "But later I discovered The Beatles, Miles Davis, Elton John, Lindsey Buckingham, Prince, and Trent Reznor. They influenced me at least as much as those earlier guys did."
Arlin was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida and never formally studied music. He literally took 4 piano lessons which he hated and then gave it up. By the age of six, he could pick out pretty much anything he heard by ear and play it back on his Mom's upright piano.
"I don't read notes because I never learned how. And I didn't want to learn that stuff because I never wanted to be a musician. I once heard a nasty quote about this topic which was that musicians are to music what bricklayers are to architecture. Both are necessary I suppose but I wanted to be—and always felt that I had the talent to be—the guy composing the music. I couldn't care less about playing the violin until my fingers bleed. I'm not gonna spend my life doing finger exercises. And if I want to play something I didn't write then I can just pick it out by ear. It's not difficult. I started writing my own stuff when I was very young and that is what I wanted to be—an artist, a composer. And I don't write anything down because I don't need to. I have a very very good memory for what I hear—plus composing is what computers are for."
As a teenager, Arlin started reading anything and everything he could find on electronic theory. With oscillators and vacuum tubes weighing on his mind he studied for and received an FCC broadcast license at the age of 14. He then got a job at a local Pensacola FM radio station. Soon enough, however, he realized that what he could do with the equipment was much more interesting than the interior workings of the machines themselves and his engineering-obsession turned into a life-long music obsession.
Flash forward and Arlin ends up working in Lynchburg, Virginia in the recording studio of a very famous televangelist — "Pretending to be a good Christian boy," as he puts it. Arlin explains, "Lynchburg, Virginia was not exactly a swinging town. But I wasn't much into club hopping back then either and there weren't any clubs to hop to. In any case, that little speck of a town is where I first learned to record songs in a studio." Not too much time passed before Arlin saved up $5,000 and bought a multi-track recorder that used half-inch wide tape and was made by a company called Tascam. "The studio manager let me install it in the control room which meant that after work every day I could write and record all night long. I was the only employee who came to work on weekends. This was how I began making demos. For years I recorded every single day and most nights and when you do that non-stop for years you learn and you get better at it."
Arlin explains the process of coming up with original music, "Eventually thinking about music and recording it became almost the same thing. Imagine you're walking along a street in the afternoon and a car makes a squealing sound as it turns through an intersection. You can't get that sound out of your head. The pitch. The timbre of it. And you go home, sit down in front of a keyboard and immediately compose something in that same key. I used to do stuff like that all the time. Go figure. The brain works in mysterious ways."
Later, when tape finally went the way of the dinosaurs Arlin continued to produce on computers. "I learned multi-track tape recording. I learned MIDI. I learned sequencers. And I learned do to it all by myself."
"If I needed a guitar — I played it. Keyboards same thing. Drums? I used to actually use trash cans and office chairs for drums. Basically I did whatever worked. Whatever made the sounds I wanted," he explains.
Time passed. Arlin's family moved away from Lynchburg and he wrote and recorded an enormous amount of music. More than he could ever possibly count or keep track of.
"In the last couple of years I've been slowly going through old tracks. Just under 100 cassettes tapes, I don't know how many DAT tapes, and hundreds of recordable CDs that I did mixes on years ago — and I've compiled and cataloged just over 400 separate pieces of music written and recorded over many, many years. It's my own private 'vault'." As the years went by Arlin also did a lot of work in broadcast television. And he made music videos for some pretty big labels. "I worked in the television business for BET and Discovery and met a lot of very cool people. I did, among other things, music videos for Mercury/Polygram and I made one for Parliament Funkadelic and another for Donna Summer, who was an amazing artist and someone I really enjoyed being around." In 2003 Arlin was signed by CEO Robb McDaniels to San Francisco label INgrooves, at that time home to a diverse roster of acts including Tina Turner, The Crystal Method, Jimmy Buffet, Jody Whatley, Paul Oakenfold and Dolly Parton.
As for playing live Arlin explains, "I've avoided the misery of touring small clubs, instead choosing to perform occasionally at really huge festivals like Washington, DC's Capitol Pride show in front of 225,000 people (on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the U.S. Capitol building) or Baltimore Pride opening for Crystal Waters in front of a crowd of 30,000. That's like the equivalent of two stadium audiences. Why play the bar circuit when you can sing to an audience twice the size of Madonna's when she's in town? The first time I ever performed at a big festival she was in DC where I live. She played for 15,000. I sang for a quarter of a million people. No comparison. Plus, the big shows are a lot more fun!"