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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



…for Blue Nile Fans

January 7th, 2008 · 2 Comments

One of the biggest shifts in my music knowledge in the last year has been my now-obsession with The Blue Nile – I’d owned a couple of their albums for years, but never really listened to them much until going through my iPod earlier in the year finding undiscovered gems and fell completely in love with Paul Buchanan’s bleak-yet-optimistic take on the world.

So today, I’ve completed my collection of their album releases, by buying Peace At Last from the Amazon.com download store, but more interestingly, I also managed to find a couple of Paul Buchanan solo tracks on a compilation album called Seasons Of Light on eMusic.com – they are, as expected, beautiful. If you’re a Blue Nile fan and want another 8 or 9 minutes of glorious loveliness to help ease the years til they next put an album out, these two tracks are a great way to do that.

Been having a lot of fun on eMusic today – Lo. and I were going through the site looking at all the industrial, metal, grunge and punk stuff we loved in our teens, from Helmet to The Melvins, Prong to Black Flag, but found that in our advanced years, we were much happier with gentle old lady music, so settled on Tanya Donelly’s achingly beautiful Whiskey Tango Ghosts – and she used to be in the Throwing Muses, so is sort of alternative-ish, right? right?

Sometimes you just gotta embrace becoming an old lady… though the Therapy singles collection, and the first Fudge Tunnel album both sounded pretty damned fine – guess I’ll have to pick them up as part of next month’s 50 tracks, and feel all young and dudeish again…

(oh, and my eMusic tip of the day is to set up your computer so m3u files (the files used to play the previews on the site) open with Quicktime – it handles them SOOO much better than iTunes and doesn’t litter your iTunes playlist with redundant entries… )

Tags: Musing on Music

Future music stats….

December 10th, 2007 · Comments Off on Future music stats….

Sarda just sent me a fab link to zdnet’s blog of digital music industry facts and figures – here are three at random –

1. Top music retailers in Q1 2007: Wal-Mart, Best Buy, iTunes, Amazon, Target
2. 72% of online Americans listen to music on their PCs
3. 10% of all music sold in Europe in 2007 will be digital music

Piecing together anything coherent by way of a response to these will require a lot of reading, extrapolating of trends, and a look at what’s happening outside the mainstream (I doubt that I’ve lost that many sales because people have gone into Walmart or Target hoping to buy my CDs and been disappointed…)

But the blog is well worth a read if you’re interested in the trends and stats in the monetization of music…

Tags: New Music Strategies

Payplay.fm – download sales

December 3rd, 2007 · Comments Off on Payplay.fm – download sales

Thanks to the lovelies at cdbaby.com, my music is on something like 42 digital download stores. The majority of my download sales still come from itunes, my own store and emusic, with some paid plays on napster and rhapsody.

But every now and again, a new one starts up that has some interesting ideas. So it is with payplay.fm, who do sales widgets, as well as free downloads and fun stuff like that for their users. Check them out, and if you want to grab a few tracks from my last album, you can do it here –

Easy..

If you’re a musician with albums out and your music isn’t on Cdbaby, you’re probably missing out on possible revenue, and a whole lot of great ideas… head over to cdbaby.net for more info…

Tags: cool links · Music News · New Music Strategies

'Too much music' – further thoughts on filters.

November 4th, 2007 · 1 Comment

As I’ve said here recently, part of the problem with the notion of limitless downloads is the basic flaw in thinking it to be a good thing.

There’s never been an easier time to record and release music as a band or solo artist – anyone and her mum can get Garage Band or Audacity and record their songs. Then via the wonders of the web, you can even do one CDR, and then get it onto iTunes etc. via the internet miracle that is CD Baby.

This is, obviously, largely a really really good thing. The problem is that of filtering, and the part of that task that both cost and record labels used to play.

See, back in the day, you recorded a demo – it was probably live in a rehearsal room. You sent it, or took it to someone at a label, and asked them to come to your gig. If they bothered to turn up, they then acted as the first filter, but were obviously also influenced by audience reaction – same as it ever was, getting your mates out to a gig can really help…

Anyway, what this meant was that little labels sprang up all over the place, specialising in different kinds of music, and acting as enthusiastic ambasadors and as filters for what was good in that scene.

That’s now gone – the labels are still there, it’s just that a lot of people (like me) don’t even bother to contact them, and lots more contact them, and after endless rejections, they convince themselves they are misunderstood geniuses and release it themselves. And some times they are right.

However, a lot of the time, it’s that the music is substandard. And, back to the point about ‘value’ having a cost, when the recording hasn’t cost you anything to make, you’re automatically going to be less disposed towards making sure that it’s the VERY best you can do before releasing it. If putting a record out was going to cost you 6 months wages, you’d make pretty damned sure that it was the best possible representation of what you can do. You’d probably make sure that some of that spending went on getting an engineer who knows what he’s doing, maybe even a proper producer to oversee the project. You get outside help to make sure that you were fooling yourselves into thinking that you’re legends when in fact you’re substandard MySpace-filling nonsense.

So where does that leave artists. It leaves us needing to be mindful – mindful of the pitfalls, of the potential to overestimate how good we are, mindful of the things that we’ve overlooked because we live in an immediate culture that is all about cheapness masquerading as ‘value’. We need to make sure that the record we’re putting out there is one that we believe can become the soundtrack to people’s lives.

Why? Because if we don’t, we’ve lost. We’ve lost the battle with those who are trying to reduce the place of music in our lives to something that is measured not by its quality, integrity and creativity, but by it’s all encompassing availabilty and usefullness as an advert for some other commercial process – ours or someone else’s. We abandon ourselves to a world where we don’t get the music we want or need.

That’s why I make the music I make – I make it because it’s the music I want to hear, it’s part of a way of making music that I value hugely as a listener. It’s not fundamentally about it being marketable or popular or radio friendly. It’s about me believing that I am my own target market. What kind of music do I love most? How do I go about making that music?

That’s it, that’s what I do, and that’s what the feedback I get suggests is what my audience connects with. They’re a bunch of people who have similar taste to me, and thus click with the music that I’ve made for myself.

Of course once it’s recorded I then market it, promote it, advertise it, hope it gets radio airplay, hope it makes its way onto TV and film and into the iPods and CD players of the world’s music lovers.

And what does it mean for us as fans? It means that we need filters, we need both practical filters and abstract ones. Having to go out and buy a CD is a practical filter that stops us from wasting time on music with no pedigree. It means that we tend to buy things we’ve discovered somehow via a trusted source, be that friend, radio, review, TV, whatever…

But it also limits us to that. The digital realm, at it’s best, allows us to dip in and out of the filtered world – we can listen to a radio show, hear some great new music, then immediately get onto our music buying site of choice and buy the download, if we want to hear more at higher resolution. If we want to gift that music in a nice package, or we just like having physical product, we can order the CD.

Having access to all the music in the world doesn’t help anyone, because there’s too much of it. In the same way that very few people trawl wikipedia for news – it’s almost entirely search driven, so people find info about a subject they are already interested in – but still read random news from trusted sources (I read stories about all kinds of things in The New Statesman, just because they are in there – I don’t go searching for stories on the potential for civil war in far flung places, or the plight of migrant workers in the Caribbean… I read them because the New Statesman is my filter – if they deem it important, so do I) – we need ways of filtering for QUALITY, not just STYLE. you can search on myspace or wherever for funk bands with loads of plays, and that has some kind of popularity-related filter, but that kind of interest is driven by the degree of geekiness of the band and their ability to mobilize a an e-team, not just the quality of the music…

No, we need to be mindful of how valuable our listening time is, what a great addition truly great music can make to our lives. And artists need to think about that as an aspiration – not just putting it out cos it’s cheap and easy, but genuinely writing world-beatingly great music.

It brings me back to one of the many great points in Hugh McLeod’s How To Be Creative post – “The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.” – I want to write music that changes the world. It probably won’t change all of it, but I aim to make music that is significant, of value, and that represents everything I have to say in music, and hopefully becomes part of the soundtrack to the lives of the people who hear it. Whether I’m successful in that or not is almost moot… That’s not really anything I have control over beyond aiming for it.

The important thing is the intention. Be mindful of your intentions.

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

managing copyright in a global environment…

November 3rd, 2007 · Comments Off on managing copyright in a global environment…

One of the big problems for artists distributing music (for free or profit) online is that copyright laws are different the world over. That’s why there are Russian websites selling very cheap downloads of ‘illegally’ ripped CDs. There’s very little law enforcement in most of the former soviet union, and if a site is hosted in a particular country, it’s subject to those hosting laws…

…at least, it seemed to be. Tom from the forum sent me a link to this BBC article about a public domain sheet music site in Canada who had fastidiously made sure that all the music they posted complied with Canadian copyright law, but were then threatened with being sued for copyright infringement when Europeans downloaded the scores! (the salient legal point being that copyright in Europe remains with the estate of a deceased composer for 20 years longer than in Canada).

The interesting thing here from a moral/ethical standpoint is that the point was a) contested by the Europeans, and b) there wasn’t an option to add a disclaimer to the site. Interesting that one of the synonyms for this in the web world would be porn, where the laws related to what you can and can’t look at are hugely different across the globe (I’m not sure if they still do, but the UK used to have MUCH stricter laws about what could be published than in the US…) – I’m sure there’s a hell of a lot of stuff available on sites that are legal in the host country but illegal in other places. In the US, it’s probably true across state lines! But has anyone been prosecuted? I’ve not read about it if they have (but to be fair, I tend to read a lot of news stories about legal issues in the music industry, and not too many about the porn industry…)

So it’s kinda sad that porn goes on unchecked and able to get round localised legality just by hosting off-shore, and a wiki established by a student strictly within the laws of the host country, attempting to provide a great resource for musicians firstly in Canada, but then across the world, is curtailed…

The pernicious onward march of Capitalism, I guess – he who can afford the best lawyers wins…

…though it’s definitely worth comparing the worlds of sheet music and recorded music here – this was, apparently, the largest public domain music score library on the internet, and was being widely used. Is there much of a community for trading public domain recordings? I know there was a bit of a kerfuffle recently when a bunch of still-living crusty old jazz dudes were getting upset that they were about to lose the rights to their own recordings which were now 50 years old (that does seem a bit weird, though not really top of the list when looking at the positive and negative impacts of copyright…) No, copyright infringement in recorded music is now seen as a matter of not getting caught – the RIAA prosecute a bunch of school kids for downloading and think it will frighten everyone else into compliance.

But they screwed it up for everyone by trying to make it an issue of illegal action followed by legally enforced action. They excluded themselves entirely from any dialogue about the impact on creativity, or as I keep saying, and the impact of the music life of the listener when you have no filter. So in a digital world, where community ethics seem to have far more influence on behaviour than any notions of legality, they pushed the discussion into communities that proceeded to laugh at them, use Lars Ulrich as as totem of out-of-touch-millionaire-rock-star-greed and were then able to ‘morally’ justify all the filesharing as a blow against ‘the man’.

Actually, I guess what’s worth throwing in here (damn, this is a disjointed blog post!) is the case of the Real Book – a book of jazz scores written by a load of (I think) Berklee college students, with some pretty heinous chords in them, which was sold by the hundreds of thousands the world over. I’ve no idea who was duplicating it, but it was sold under the counter in shops for YEARS before anyone did a proper legal version – then Chuck Sher came along and published a great book called The New Real Book, which has the proper chords for things in it, neatly printed arrangements, a load of unneccesary pictures of jazz stars (huh?), but is generally a great resource. There are about 5 volumes, as well as Latin versions (that’s Latin music, not jazz scores in Latin) and a ‘Standards Real Book’ which I haven’t got, but is probably the most useful of them.

However, there are digital versions of this kicking around as well – some enterprising young file-sharer has scanned in the New Real Books and uploaded them somewhere. I guess they see themselves somehow in the tradition of the old Real Book, keep the music alive, or whatever… I dunno, it’d be great if Chuck would put out a legal PDF version of all the books for a sensible fee. It’s great to be able to support the people who write these tunes.. There is also now a legal version of the old Real Book – cleaned up, some corrected changes, much cheaper than the Sher books…

Anyway, where did this start? Ah, yes, sheet music, porn, cross-border copyright problems… My last point to note is that there’s already cross border protection for buying digital music – you can only access iTunes in the country you’re a) from and b) in – I can’t buy from UK iTunes while I’m in the US!! That seems completely mad. One central store, in the host country of the company, so occasionally someone else gets a break due to fluctuations in exchange rates. Surely that makes the whole thing easier and more fun? :o) Even my favourite legal download site, emusic has different costs for stuff in different countries. There aren’t many online industries that bother with that – if you’re looking to buy domain names, or web hosting, you just pay the fee for the country where the service is being provided…

Anyway, I hope the music library is able to just stick a disclaimer at the top of certain works saying ‘this music is still illegal to download for free in Europe, please go and buy it’ and get their archive back online…

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Music to your mobile… at a premium price…

October 22nd, 2007 · Comments Off on Music to your mobile… at a premium price…

Sarda just sent me a link to this BBC news story – AT&T are doing a deal with Napster for downloads… sounding like the music 2.0 stuff? Not when you see that they are charging $1.99 a song (about a quid) or $7.49 for 5 songs…

If Gerd is right, and we’re heading to a place where music is licensed ‘like water’ en masse for a flat fee, and possibly even included in the cost of your mobile service, there’s going to have to be a HUGE shift away from the pricing of mobile downloads and web traffic as ‘premium content’. It could happen, it’ll HAVE to happen eventually, but it does give us some leeway to see quite where it will settle – whether the per-track downloads will still exist for mobile devices, just at a lower cost, but people will pay it because of the ease of use.

The new wifi enabled Mac handhelds (ipod touch and iphone) can download straight from the web via wifi – much cheaper to use than any kind of 3G broadband mobile access… maybe that’s the way forward. And it means that the costs are still the same as they are for ‘normal’ net users, they just facilitate impulse buying on the move: think of a track on the bus you want to hear, search it on iTunes, download it, you’re away… I guess within ‘The Cloud’ in central london, that’s doable now via wifi…

all interesting stuffs. Does it mean that we should all now be looking at developing download stores for mobiles to get in ahead of the curve? They’re there already, via the providers, but seem to be mainly used for shitty ringtones…

Tags: New Music Strategies

A false sense of entitlement – the flaw in the new distribution models?

October 17th, 2007 · 1 Comment

In all the thinking that’s going on about new ways of distributing music, one thing is rather bothering me, and that’s the inferred/assumed entitlement of audiences to access to music. There is, built into most of the discussions on how we move forward, the taken-as-red assumption that if musicians don’t provide music in the way that the audience wants it, they’ll just steal it. Fuck you, Mr musician, how dare you think you can limit my access to your work.

If a baker decides that he’s going to make less bread and charge more for it, either he needs to convince his customers that it’s worth the extra money and effort to get it, or he goes out of business (or finds another business to support his baking, if he does it for the love of it). What doesn’t happen is his customers decide that they’ll just go into the kitchen, make bread for themselves and take it home, or help themselves to the bread in the window of the shop, and set up a table outside the door giving it away to passers by because he had no right to do that, and is clearly a selfish bastard who needs to be taught a lesson.

But with music, the option to limit access to your music is assumed to no longer exist. Because everyone feels like they have a right to it. So if Madonna’s new album is too expensive, or only available as a download at low res and with DRM on iTunes, instead of saying ‘well I won’t get it then’ the assumption is that it’s somehow legit to take it. As though access to that music is a right, not a privilege. As though the music I write, and record and make – using my own money and time – is then no longer mine. The recordings aren’t mine, the songs aren’t mine. They’ve become public property without me even being consulted.

Likewise, the whole notion of user-generated content – YouTube videos, live bootlegs, etc. Completely unregulated, and liable to change live music for ever. Jonatha posts a beautifully worded response to the whole question of unsolicited filming at gigs and the effect it has on her in the discussion forum on her site – well worth reading. Basically, it creates a permanent document of something that is essentially of the moment, and filming it turns it into a recording session, losing something of the spontaneity. My response on the forum, when I was asked whether I minded being filmed was ‘normally no’, but I do a) like the be asked and b) like the chance to vet it before it gets uploaded. No-one wants a permanent online record of an off-night (though there is that entire recording of the gig I did with no pedals with Lo. in September!)

So, do you need to have the video of the gig you were at? Do you assume your ticket price also includes some kind of innate recording rights? If a record is too expensive, or not available in the format you want, does that give you the right to download it for free from somewhere else? Clearly, I think that’s a heinous situation, though it’s one that much of the industry seems to have resigned itself to. The biggest own goal seems to have been that the arguments have centered around money, and particularly when someone like Lars Ulrich – a multi-millionaire – complains about it denting his income, most people aren’t really going to give a shit.

However, entitlement isn’t about money, it’s about the right to negotiate with your audience, and your audience then being able to choose to not spend the money by not buying the product, and therefor not owning it! So you cut yourself off from income, but also from your audience. So you negotiate, by way of dropping the price, making it available in other ways or whatever, but it’s your product and you do with it what you like… Just like the baker with the bread.

The video I linked to earlier about media megatrends characterised the shift in slightly more euphamistic a-moral terms by talking about it being a move from scarcity to ubiquity as the driving currency – in an age when you have a physical product, the distribution of which you have control over, the value therein is in it’s scarcity – independent record shops survive because they stock things you can’t get elsewhere. Record labels can do exclusive deals, or even just sell direct. Artists can just sell at gigs, making their product even more desirable by the difficultly of finding it. Even if you sell in mainstream shops, you can set your wholesale price at the point where the price stays up, if that’s what you want, and the the competition is with other recording artists – will people pay £15 for one of my CDs, when they can get someone else’s that they like just as much for £8?

The ubiquity model says that the artist should relinquish control over the proliferation of their work in exchange for a shot at ubiquity – being everwhere, and making money through the exposure, be it profit-sharing on youtube, increased live attendance, sales of premium product (which is what CDs are now becoming, given that the default in a very short time from now will be the download) and radio, tv and film royalties.

I think there are ramifications to this that are anti-creative, and rapacious in their treatment of the creative output of a the artist – especially if you value the mixed-media product that you’ve assembled (be it artwork, sleeve notes, video, collage, pop-up book, whatever…) There’s a hyper-capitalist, spectral Friedman-esque element to the terms of engagement that negate the value of scarcity or the more esoteric value of specific and particular artistic expression, and remove any rights of the artist to negotiate or explore the notion of the work having greater or lesser monetary value in relation to any other work. Instead, it’s about rushing to make your product as ubiquitous as possible in order to turn that ubiquity into cashflow just by being everywhere instead of by being valuable/important/’good’. It’s a pretty unique and depressing scenario… Where next?

My bottom line thesis – you/we don’t need the music. You/we aren’t entitled to the music, it’s not yours/ours to take, it’s the artists to sell, or give away as they see fit. And if you don’t like the terms, you don’t need to buy, and they can starve if they choose to be stubborn. Or sell 30 CDs for $1000 a time.

DRM is a crock of shit, but with its removal comes a social contract between the artist and the audience, one that I think should, if adhered to, help both. The removal of DRM makes it easier for the listener to share tracks as a way of spreading information about an artist around, and also to play the stuff on different systems, copy from computer to mp3 player to phone – being cross-platform is vital, and is why iTunes is now having to change it’s shitty DRM policy (and up its resolution), but it does leave musicians vulnerable… with over 50% of all web traffic being filesharing, the vast majority of it illegal, the idea of the social contract is not getting across. The feeling that somehow it’s fat cat record company execs and multimillionaire rock stars who are losing out seems to absolve the conscience of the file sharers. But the artists still are making art. The judgement call that says ‘this person has sold out already, therefor i can download their stuff with impunity’ isn’t anyone’s to make.

The consequences of all this in creative and artistic terms are things I’ve blogged about a lot recently… it’s a really murky world, and I’m fascinated to see where it goes. I’m going to keep mulling this one over, and see where it leads… your thoughts are much appreciated in the comments, should you wish to share them :o)

Tags: bass ideas · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

more on indie-musicians and the web

October 17th, 2007 · 1 Comment

Spent a lovely couple of hours yesterday with Jonatha Brooke – aside from being one of the finest singer/songwriters ever to pick up a guitar, she’s also been running her own label, Bad Dog Records for most of this millennium thus far… So it was great to get to chat about what works, the frustrations and challenges of file-sharing, user-generated content, download sales, gig booking and web promotion. Apparently, a lot of this stuff is being discussed right now at CMJ, so the list of resources I gave J were all the things her lovely people were finding out in New York (only my version didn’t involve wandering around a convention centre listening to sales pitch, and did involve a particularly delicious glass of wine – must find out what it was…)

Given that myspace is fast becoming a time-vortex – where musicians can spend ages getting nowhere fast, just sending out bulletins and invites to other musicians, who in turn send invites and bulletins back, with no intention whatsoever of ever buying eachother’s CDs or turning up at shows – it’s becoming all the more important to highlight the areas that are working, or at least have the kind of infrastructure that means they should work, and are worth getting in on at ground level.

  • last.fm has a proven track record, 10s of millions of users, and is becoming a reference point in the industry for what music listeners are ACTUALLY listening to… It’s pretty much a must to get your stuff up on there, they have good sales links, and the radio stations are fab.
  • Reverbnation looks like the best of the new breed – lots of ways of getting the information out, and ways of your fan-base proliferating it via their networks etc. It’ll be even better when they support information ‘pushed’ into the site rather than just ‘pulled’ from it – I’ve already emailed about them, and had a ‘thanks, that’s a great idea, we’ll see what happens’ email back…
  • Facebook is an interesting one – important if only because of its size. Reverbnation have a great facebook plugin so you can put your favourite artist’s music on your page, or your own music. The other great use of facebook is that it’s all set up for people who already know eachother, or have a connection, so the social capital of telling your friends about great music is perhaps more valuable on there. There are also facebook groups, which some musicians start for themselves, and others that are fan generated… all good stuff to mull over…
  • Cdbaby – of course, the finest resource for indie musicians anywhere in the webz. Very well implemented, hugely popular, and constantly innovative. Cdbaby acts like an unofficial global trade union for musicians, campaigning and lobbying big business on our behalf, and negotiating deals with the likes of Tower Records and iTunes on behalf of its artists, and still giving a vast proportion of its revenue back to the musicians. Truly wonderful.

on top of that, if my Google analytics stats are to be believed, the social bookmarks at the bottom of each entry on this blog work – I’m getting quite a few visits from stumbleupon and del.icio.us after people have book marked the pages, or ‘stumbled’ on them. Need to check and see how that’s working out on my main site. (and if you get a minute, and you use stumbleupon, digg, reddit, del.icio.us, etc. PLEASE bookmark some of the site, or forward interesting posts to your facebook chums etc…)

There are loads of others – pandora, iSound, Mog, Bebo, friendster, garageband yadda-yadda-yadda… some more worth investigating than others… Damn, this stuff was easy back in the days when all there was mp3.com (where Lobelia racked up over a million plays, was getting paid sensible money for those downloads, and signed all kinds of endorsement deals etc…!)

Staying on top of all this stuff is a full time job, but right now I’ve got to go and tidy up, then practice! Do you think I could convince some kids to do all the webstuff for me as work-experience? :o)

Oh, and while we’re on the topic, this post on the mediafuturist.com is vital viewing – a discussion/presentation about media mega-trends. Gerd’s point about the shift from scarcity to ubiquity is definitely one to spend some quality time considering…

Tags: New Music Strategies

Thoughts on File Sharing…

October 1st, 2007 · 6 Comments

Two things in the last day have got me thinking more about what is euphemistically referred to as ‘File Sharing’. Firstly, I was surfing the sites of musicians I knew to be really web-savvy in order to find what they are up to in the way of pushing information out to their fan-base. the first site I went to was Gary Willis‘ site, knowing Gary to have done web design work in the past. I didn’t really find much out to do with information dissemination (other than him not having an RSS feed for his blog), HOWEVER: the one post on his blog thus far is a brilliant rant about file sharing.

Then, today, the announcement was made that Radiohead’s new album would be released in 10 days time – initially only as a download, for which you can pay whatever you think it’s worth, to be followed by a mega-boxed set in December, which will apparently contain the CD, the vinyl version of the album, an extra CD of other songs, and a hard backed book, for £40.

Starting with the Willis piece, he basically explains why ‘file sharing’ is a stupid term for what he called ‘unpaid downloading’, looks at many of the excuses people give to justify taking music from file-sharing services (which now, apparently, account for 40% of all webtraffic) and pulls them apart from the indie musician’s point of view.

And it’s great, persuasive stuff, hopefully causing file-sharers that read it, and care at all about Gary Willis’ music to see that it’s not quite the victimless crime that it’s portrayed as.

But I’m torn. Torn on whether we need to keep fighting it in such a blunt way as writing blog posts about how we’re being ripped off (we are), whether we need to find other ways of changing the culture, or whether we need to accept the mindset and look for glimpses of light.

The Radiohead release is going to be possibly the most important release in the history of downloading music, for a number of reasons:

One, they aren’t actually giving it away. If you hear anyone saying that ‘Radiohead are giving away their new record’, please correct them. They are allowing the audience to decide what it’s worth. That’s a huge difference. [EDIT – they’re also, crucially, charging a 45p admin fee. Crucial because it covers their costs of hosting and download, and also perhaps even more so because YOU HAVE TO PUT YOUR CARD DETAILS IN… actually I’m going to go and write a new post about this…]

Two, they aren’t releasing the download and CD at the same time. What this stops is people circulating massively high resolution copies of the files via BitTorrent that music snobs can claim they have to download because they can’t get the CD (I have sympathies with people who want higher res. downloads, and am planning on adding .FLAC availability to the store soon, but it doesn’t excuse stealing music… I just hope Radiohead release their album at sensible quality…) It means that the only versions of those tracks in existence should be the ones they have released.

Three, they leave the boxed set til later, add more music an a book and the rarity factor as a hook for fans, and release something that generates a whole load more income from ‘the fans’ and gives people something that isn’t downloadable.

Four, they don’t put a fixed charge on the download, meaning that people can pay them a pound for it if they like, which is a pound more than they’d get from Bittorrent, and also cunningly makes people start thinking and having conversations about the value of music. Today, everyone’s been talking about it. Radiohead are still zeitgeist-y enough to generate the conversation in a way that someone tiny like me never could outside of the gorgeous people who post on my forum.

So what will the outcome be? Who knows. They could end up making nowt. It’s possible that the whole thing will backfire, and they’ll be left paying the bandwidth on a load of downloads that they are grossing 30p each for. I really don’t think that’ll be the case, but it’s possible.

The opposite could also be true; that they end up making a shed load on it because people will rise to the occasion, given enough room to be grown up and ethical, people may choose the right thing. The band will then make another killing on the boxed set, and the industry will be left reeling from a band without a deal making millions on very little hard cash outlay (clearly they’ve spent about a pound on the website, cos it’s horrible in a quirky psuedo-post-modern-trying-too-hard kind of way – surely all that text didn’t need to be graphic files – haven’t they heard of CSS?).

What does this mean for the little people – those of us who really aren’t in the position to order even a thousand units of a limited edition boxed set to accompany a release like that? I’ve been spending time and energy on making the CD packaging to my stuff attractive ever since my first album. I’ve never liked jewell cases, and have avoided them, going for something tactile, pretty and collectible. If you’ve got all 6 of my proper CD releases sat in a row on your shelf, they look pretty damned fine (I really should’ve decided on a uniform font for the spines at the start, but my design skills have definitely developed over the years… just don’t mention the Comic Sans on NDFC, I’m embarrassed enough about it already…)

But I still don’t sell anywhere near as many CDs as you’d expect for someone with my level of exposure etc. I get a fair few emails from people who are very familiar with what I do, who clearly haven’t bought the CDs (given that they have to get them from me, or at least from a source that reports back to me on who’s got it…) I’m sure some of you reading this have got copies of my albums from friends… I’m not going to berate you for it – I certainly can’t complain any more about people making illegal copies of my music that I can of anyone else’s. I own a handful of illegally owned copies of stuff, and a whole load of BitTorrent-acquired digital copies of things I’ve got on vinyl (on the assumption that it’s perfectly legal to own digitized copies of music you have on vinyl, or they wouldn’t be able to see USB turntables, no?)

And then today, I release my first download only album – the self-titled Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson album. Calamateur AKA Andrew and I have jointly put it out, on both of our labels, and are kind of testing the water to see how sales go. It’s been up on iTunes for a couple of weeks, but it takes a couple of months to get any accurate reflection of sales from them. It’s been up on my site for day, but there were a few problems with the code on the site this morning (just cosmetic stuff, to do with the formatting of the text) so if you tried buying it them and got freaked out by the messed up screens, try again.

It’ll be interesting to see how it goes – it’s an album that both Andrew and I are hugely proud of, is clearly rather different from what I normally do, but there’s enough of me in there for it to be familiar to people who listen to what I normally put out. But will people buy the download version instead of a CD? I still sell way more CDs through the shop than I do downloads, though the downloads obviously picked up in popularity when I put the price of the Lessons Learned Cds down from £6 to £2.50 (feel free to go and buy them, they’re really rather fab).

So all eyes are on Radiohead, to see if we have a new model emerging for music sales. What needs to be said over and over again in the course of the dialogue on this stuff between musicians and audience is that

  • making music costs money
  • being really good at your instrument takes time
  • if you want great music, you have to be willing to financially invest in the ability of the musicians to spend the time needed to make great music and invest in the technology and technical help required to realise the great music that’s going on in their heads

Any notion that big record labels are putting up money from a limitless supply of cash for everyone to make records with needs to be nixed at the earliest possible moment. It just doesn’t happen like that, even for the bands on labels. I’ve known friends in bands with proper deals, playing arena shows (as the support act) and who were on prime-time TV shows, but were on a retainer of £700 a month.

Part of the mistake that indie musicians have made is to try and be taken seriously by looking like we’re on majors, like our labels have staff (I know quite a few indie musicians with fictitious staff – you know who you are! :o) ) and like we’re doing better financially than we are. Success breeds success, right? Wrong – these days, it breeds contempt, because success=majors=way too much money already=fine for studenty me to download cos I’ve got far less money than you. And that’s probably not how it is at all.

Your comments please, oh mighty peanut gallery of loveliness.

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies

Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson album now available here…

September 30th, 2007 · Comments Off on Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson album now available here…

Calamateur vs Steve Lawson album cover image

Finally, the actual release date has come round, and you can now get the Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson in the stevelawson.net online shop. I know that quite a few of you have bought it already from either iTunes or CdBaby.com, and that’s great. for those of you that haven’t, or want it as slightly higher res, you can get it Last.fm.

It’s a really lovely album. Pretty strange, and rather more bleak than most of what I do. But, conversely, rather less bleak than most of the Calamateur stuff, thanks to the influence of my general fluffiness. I’m very proud of it, and hope it really takes off so at some point we can afford to do a CD release of it. That’s not the plan at the moment, but if it sells loads as downloads, and develops a huge underground following, then who knows…

For now though, Tags: Music News