The difference between BitTorrent and 'home taping'.

Back in the 80s there was an ad campaign run by the RIAA or someone that said ‘Home Taping Is Killing Music’ – there were even moves to levy a royalty on blank cassettes… A lot of people are now drawing comparisons with the way that people now download music off the web, ‘we’ve always had copied music, I used to tape stuff off my friends when I was a kid. Bit Torrent is no different’, goes the argument.

Here’s where it differs – and why I believe home-taping, and the real equivalent now which is duping a CD from a friend, aren’t killing music – lending music to your friends so they could copy them carried a lot of social capital. In general, people only lent CDs to their friends, and there was a reciprochal loaning taking place, if you had cool music to lend to your friends, it carried with it a cache that could put you in strong social stead at school, and it meant that in a functional peer group, everyone bought music with their pocket money, and everybody had a slightly bigger music collection than that which they could afford. Still, you were copying stuff from people with whom you would then discuss it, and the likelihood was that as a group you may well build an affinty with a particular band, scene or genre, and as your disposable income increased, so did the desire and means to own more than just the one album that you bought. I know that when I was at school I had a couple of copies of Cure albums before I bought them, and felt a great sense of pride when I replaced those tapes on vinyl – now i was a real fan.

It was an entirely different relationship to that of the downloader who installs BitTorrent and then proceeds to download 60 albums worth of Bob Dylan, and a 12gig Torrent of Joni Mitchell, or whatever… where the ‘ubiquity/scarcity’ dichotomy that Gerd talks about is enacted on your iPod or harddrive in a way that actually wrecks your relationship with music. So instead of developing a unique soundtrack within a peer group, one that requires a degree of financial investment, a fair amount of time (copying stuff onto cassette took a lot longer than downloading!) and the building up of a whole load of social capital, now you have a music collection bigger than most record shops, and absolutely nothing defined about it that makes it YOUR soundtrack. No filter. And our relationship with music is ALL about the filters.

So, again, the question is not just ‘how do we get paid for this?’. It’s bigger than that. It’s about how we re-engage with the process of becoming the soundtrack, how do we provide those filters, how do we connect with our audience both in an iconic way (where our music and the associated ‘brand’ speaks to them in some way) and also connecting personally.

The web is such an amazing tool for breaking down the barriers between artist and audience. It’s magic that I can write this stuff, and people can comment, or post on my forum. It’s great that I can email many of my favourite artists direct from their myspace page. It’s also great that I can then buy their latest album directly from them, investing in their career, connecting with them directly (or at least from my paypal account to theirs) and often get a ‘thankyou’ email back from them… That’s a good thing, and I don’t think the same is going to happen with free downloads. It just doesn’t carry the same transactional currency (even without the financial consideration) – it’s an uneven exchange, as the artist has provided music (that – let’s not forget – didn’t take weeks or even months to make, it took YEARS of playing to get to the place where the music is any good) but the downloader has just provided attention. Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful when people take the time to listen to my music, but I’m not a charity case – I hope that people who listen to it again after that do so because it’s GOOD. It’s of value, and it offers them something of substance. Best case scenario it becomes part of their soundtrack to the world, along with all the other music that means something to them. And if it means something, it’s worth something, more than just a fraction of a penny from their ISP collected download tax, that Google then forward onto Sting and Madonna on my behalf – hey, don’t mention it, my financial situation will hardly be altered by the few meagre pounds that come my way each year, whereas your uber-wealth needs feeding. ;o) etc.

Does that make sense? (not the bit about Sting and Madonna, the stuff about bittorrent and home taping)

more on filtering out 'junk-music' in a digital age…

In this post from a couple of days ago, commenting on the need to find ways to filter for quality at a time when it seems financial constraints may end up providing less of an incentive to seek out great music to buy, I finished by saying,

“Which only goes to say that we need filters. It doesn’t prove the monetary filters are the only ones, or even the best ones, but it does suggest that we need a way of making sure we doing overdose on junk-music.

And of course, those filters are already there, and I use them. The two i use are Last.Fm and Emusic. offers a few different services that can help you discover new music, as well as the option to listen before spending money… firstly, there’s the radio stations, stations that are digitally programmed according to your taste, the tastes of people who like similar things to you, or by the taste of people who happen to also be fans of a particular band, or use a particular tag, so the level of randomness in relation to your own recorded playlists is affected by which of those radio options you choose, and how much listening time you’ve logged. Still, it’s an amazing site, which provides purchasing links with all the artists, data for tracking live music details, tools for blogging about music, forums for connecting with music fans connected by musical or extra-musical interests and a host of other things to make researching music fun.

Emusic is a very different formula, in that it is primarily a shop. The difference being that you ‘subscribe’ for a certain amount per month, and get a certain number of fairly high quality DRM free downloads for your fee. In my case, I get 50 tracks a month for £11.99 – which is about the standard price of a single CD in a specialist music shop. If you happen to like styles of music where the artists record long songs, you can get a heck of a lot of mileage for your money (for example, you could get almost all of the Jonas Hellborg back catalogue with 50 downloads, as few of his albums feature more than 5 or 6 tracks).

This month, I’ve just downloaded John Patitucci’s latest album, ‘Line By Line‘ (which is playing as I write, and is excellent), Gary Willis’ newest project, ‘Slaughterhouse 3‘ (marvellous heavy avant-fusion), and a glorious Kenny Wheeler record called ‘It Takes Two!‘, which I can already tell is going to be become a huge favourite. 3 amazing albums I would have been unlikely to buy on CD, but which I found on emusic via review and recommendation. You see, every artist and album has links next to it to things listened to by people who like that. You also get recommendations via friends and again via digitally compiled lists of users with similar data to your own. The option is there to listen (though the M3U playlist system used to preview music is clumsy and a pain in the arse), or you can just download a couple of tracks and see how you get on.

Both great filters, highly recommended. if you want to find me on either of them, at my listener page is here and my artist page is here. For emusic, my listener page is here and the place for downloading my music is here.

I really like the emusic model for downloading and paying for music – you’re paying a fraction of the cost of what you would for a CD, but you’re also committing to a certain level of investment each month in the ongoing success of recorded music. Everybody Wins!

"this is grate!! I'v Never herd enyting this good!!"

The title of this blog post (and the idiosyncratic spelling therein) is taken from a note that was given to me at the end of my gig in Hounslow on Friday night by a young kid – a girl of about 7 or 8, I guess. It’s pretty remarkable for a girl of that age (or boy) to think, even fleetingly, that a solo bass gig is the best thing she’s ever heard. Her mother’s a very creative musician, but it’s still pretty remarkable, and delighted me.

As I’ve said before, impressing bass players is pretty simple in the moment. Youtube is full of videos of bassists who can impress other bassists with their speedy circus tricks but who aren’t selling any records because watching a low res vid online is all you need to take all there is from that kind of thing. It’s telling that two of the three videos of mine on there that have got the most views (here and here) are the ones that are ‘funky’, instant, poppy… Youtube isn’t much of a medium for moody introspective ambient stuff (for one thing, the file quality is so low that the lushness of big ambient stuff really doesn’t come across). This isn’t to dis bassists as an audience, (or indeed to dis technically difficult high energy music just because it has those qualities) just that impressing bassists with solo bass stuff is definitely going to be easier than a non-bass audience.

But anyway, I digress… The point was, it’s great to have kids connecting with what I do. I remember receiving an email years ago from a guy who said that mine was the only one of his CDs that his kids would let him play in the car… again, rather nice validation. I’ve had a week of playing to non-bass-playing audiences, and it’s been really nice. Sharing the bill with mainly acoustic acts of varying quality from the very good to the very poor indeed (particularly the one guy in Reading trying desperately to be funny by just swearing loads and writing hideously tasteless pastiche pieces about Diana’s death… total shit.) And getting a mixture of reactions from ‘wow, love what you do, will you come and open for my band?’ to people for whom it just really wasn’t their kind of thing, which is also fine (like I could change it even if I thought it wasn’t?)

Where does this tie in with the current stuff on file-sharing/musician’s revenue etc? Well, tonight’s gig was a jazz trio gig, with Luca Sirianni on guitar and Davide Giovannini on drums. Davide is a really really great drummer, such a joy to play with, and very generous in his playing. There were certain things I would go for in some of the tunes that I’d miss, and Davide was always there to make my screwing up sound intentional. We got into some really lovely grooves and ideas, but it was half way through the second set that I really hit my stride. Which got me thinking about two things – practice and the value of full time musicians. One of the possible outcomes of the file-sharing/free downloads etc. scenario is that a lot of musicians who currently make enough to live on through the recorded music sales combined with live stuff etc. are going to have to get day gigs because that revenue stream will be cut. If that happens, the world will be a poorer place, because there are some musical skills – and certain musical minds that require full time dedication to come to fruition. I’d be a much more accurate groove player if I was doing it every day, if I was in a place to practice it and gig that stuff every day. As it is, I’m good at it anyway, but that extra 5 or 10% that most of the audience wouldn’t know is missing, would make the different between me being a very good groove player and a great groove player.

As a side point – one of the things I was scared of when I started playing solo bass was that it would ruin my ability to play in bands, that somehow my normal bass playing would fall apart, when actually, quite the opposite is true. My relationship with sound is so much more advanced now than it was before I started playing solo, my appreciation for simple lines doing their job, the nuance with which I can hear and employ tiny variations in technique to make a line head in the direction I want it to go in… all of those things are better because I’ve spent years focusing on playing the best music I can possibly play on bass. The things above aren’t things that are spoiled by solo bass, they’re just dexterity things that it takes one a few songs to fall into comfortably…

But anyway, the point was, there are a lot of musicians on the edge of being able to pay the bills right now, for whom the time and head-space they have to devote to music making as full time musicians is vital to their music making process. It’s not that anyone has the right to make money through music – the selling of music is a commercial business after all, and subject to the same degree of liberalisation as any other sales business – but it’s just another factor that’s worth considering when thinking about where music and musicians go from here.

For me personally, I’ve never made enough from just gigging to live on. Never made enough from just teaching to live on. Never made enough from just writing to live on. Never made enough from just CDs/Downloads to live on. All of those combined have meant that thus far I’ve been able to pay my way, keep a roof over my head, and stay fed and clothed. If the recorded music revenue vanishes, I’d have to think where else that short-fall might be made up… It’s quite possible that the increased exposure one would receive from giving music away would result in an increase in gigs (and quite possibly an increase in teaching work, given that I do occasionally get people who’ve heard the records first and then come for lessons…) I’ve yet to see any evidence that that’s true, but I’m open to the possibility…

Whatever, these are all just musings and ponderings in uncertain times. Potentially exciting times – I likes me some progress, I do – but I’m just not convinced that that discussion is currently factoring in much other than ‘people are already downloading music for free, deal with it’, which just seems a bit clumsy to me…

Free music training software

I’ve not tried this out, as it’s PC/Linux only, and I’m on the Mac at the moment, but I found a link on a bass forum to – a free downloadable music ear training package. Looks pretty good, well worth a ‘free’.

CDs are here! CDs are here!

Yay! Just as I was teaching this morning, a TNT delivery lorry pulls up outside and a man with a palette and a hand truck thing arrives at the door, bearing CDs by the shit-load. Loads of copies of ‘Behind Every Word’.

the first load of orders have been posted already (you’ll have received an email if yours has been sent – if it hasn’t it’ll go first thing tomorrow), and because the ‘release date’ is the 20th, it means that if you order the CD now, not only will it go out in the next day’s post, but you’ll still get the free download album. How great is that? Go on, you know you want to… :o)

It’s been a busy couple of days – I’ve been booked to play at Greenbelt at the end of August, and have a gig or two in Italy the second weekend in July. Now the CD’s here, I need to get sending that out to press peoples, along with the press release for the Edinburgh festival gigs… I’m going to be sick of jiffy bags before too long…

Anyway, off you go and order the new CD, fair blogling.

cats and websites

Sorry for big absence from blog-world – two big things have been going on. Firstly, and most tragically, the ginger fairly aged feline has been very unwell. You know about the cancer, which at the moment isn’t showing up the way it was, but he’s now got very serious kidney failure, (creatin level of over 800, which is off the chart), and there’s pretty much nothing they can do. We’ve been trying to get his blood levels settled, but he’s not enjoying the renal food and isn’t really improving anyway, so we’re now pretty much resigned to giving him whatever he wants to eat so he can enjoy his last week or two on earth. It’s a horrible horrible moment to reach – it feels like condemning someone to death, even though there’s no way he’s going to suddenly get better. The will is there to keep fighting for him, but he’s got nothing left to fight with. It’s a dark time in Stevie-Towers.

The second hugely time consuming thing of late is moving my website over to a new server. Copying the stuff over was no problem at all – the Captain took care of that in his usual uber-geek cleverness way – but once there, it became clear that OSCommerce wasn’t going to run on a server running the latest versions of PHP and MySQL (like I know what I’m talking about). So, ’twas time to find a new shopping cart – this time I’ve gone with Zen Cart – it looks quite similar to OSC, but I’m assured by geeks who know that it’s more secure, and much tidier code-wise. I’m almost there, almost completely up to date with the shop – it’ll hopefully go live over the weekend, with advanced order on ‘Behind Every Word’ available, which will include the free download album ‘Lessons Learned From The Fairly Aged Felines (Lessons Learned Pt III)’ – I just need to finish mixing that, zip it up into a zip file with some artwork, and maybe a couple of tracks from ‘Behind Every Word’, and it’ll all be on sale then. I’ll then over the next week or so get Lessons Learned Pt I, Conversations, Open Spaces and It’s Not Gonna Happen up for sale, and hopefully replenish the Street Team Stash with all manner of goodies. Busy time for a bassist cum web designer. :o)

Also, just in, I’ve been booked for an open-air gig in Portsmouth (at least, I’m assuming it’s open air, as it’s for a boat race of some kind, and they generally don’t happen in doors) – I’ll posted the deets as soon as I can.

A plea to all musicians with websites…


It’s a total pain in the arse if you’re trying to do anything else at the same time, takes ages to load, can mess up people’s media players if they’ve got them running at the same time… JUST STOP IT!

Have a button where people can CHOOSE to listen to you. If you embed music into your site to launch immediately, I will just close the window and not bother reading any further, OK? I’ve usually got something that I’ve chosen to listen to playing on iTunes and I don’t need your low res samples messing that up! Just gimme the option to download it, then convince me with text and style and panache why I should want to.

on the front page of my site, I have a link to a streaming MP3 selection from all my solo albums – which people can choose to click on or not. Or they can go to the MP3s page or the CD shop and listen to samples there. In their own time. When they aren’t trying to listen to anything else.


SoundtrackCalamateur, ‘Tiny Pushes Vol II’ – a free download album, far to good to be free, get it from the website.

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