It is in the interest of an artist to have access to the audience that is moved by their work.
It is in the interest of a family to have enough food to eat.
It is in the interest of love to be open to the experience of living each day.
It is in the interest of this planet we share that we quit taking and start giving back.
It is in the interest of shareholders to make profit from their fields of endeavor.
It is in the interest to companies to build a sustainable business model that replenishes material resources.
It is in the interest of dictators to silence artists.
It is in the interest of spoiled brats to seek more than the person next to them.
It is in the interest of the accountable to seek visibility for the consequences of action.
It is in the interest of selfish brokers to maintain disconnection.
It is in the interest of our false sense of comfort to deny that things should change.
It is in the interest of tyranny to silence voices of dissent.
It is in the interest of the few to maintain the apathy of the many.
It is in the interest of the artist that she continue to produce art.
It is in the interest of the audience that the artist continue to produce art.
It is in the interest of a balanced, progressive society that the artist continue to produce art.
So, when you hear that you can’t survive as an artist, that it’s pointless to try, ask yourself where that story is coming from, and take time to finish the sentence:
It is in the interest of…
See, as I wrote in Is it time for Tip Jar?, I’m all about looking for solutions in the face of the death throes of the music business. If I really respect music then my challenge today is:
What would it take to make streaming work for those who make the music that’s streamed?
Like any good thought-experiment, we have to limit our scope, and put some variables out of play. So, let’s assume:
- Profit isn’t the motivating factor
- There are listeners who understand what it means to say #IRespectMusic
- The bureaucracy of the music business – rights collection, etc. – are waived (voluntarily)
- When I say musicians, I’m including the producers, song-writers, etc. who contribute to making the music
So, ladies and gentlemen, our aim here is to imagine a streaming service that works for the musician AND for those listening
[we should definitely all try to use many, many more YES... AND... statements instead of NO... BUT...]
In broad terms, there are two potential payment methods:
- Subscription – pay one amount, listen as much or as little as you want – fixed cost to listener [GOOD], non-scaling revenue for musicians [BAD]
- Usage – Per play – variable cost to listener [NOT-SO-GOOD but at least FAIR], scaling revenue for musicians [GOOD]
So, given that this is an AND solution, we’ll go with a Usage model
[one of the few times most musicians will accept a Pay-to-Play approach, methinks]
Because we’re entrepreneurs, let’s give our streaming service a snappy name
[not to be found anywhere in the English language, of course]
[see what I did there? Though I do reserve the right not to consider whether listeners and musicians to Music Fayre would be known as MusicFairies...]
There are some parameters we need to set for the sake of the experiment:
- A song unit is 3 minutes long – 20 songs an hour
- A monthly billing period is 4 weeks long (28 days, without the fast-moving zombies)
- Every stream counts, partial or complete, long or short
[trust me, it gets very complicated very quickly if we try and work an algorithm]
Let’s look at a couple of use cases and see where we end up.
Case 1: Bob
[actually, his name is Robert Paulson, though I'm categorically NOT talking about that]
… anyway… Bob is a pretty hardcore listener. On average, he listens to MusicFayre for 5 hours every day of every week:
- 1 hour = 20 songs
- 5 hours = 100 songs
- 28 days @ 100 songs per day = 2800 songs
So, Bob listens to 2800 songs.
Case 2: Tyler
[still NOT talking about it]
Now Tyler, on the other hand, only grabs an hour’s worth of MusicFayre on an average day:
- 1 hour = 20 songs
- 28 days @ 20 songs per day = 560 songs.
How much might we charge for a song, then?
Well, let’s say that a permanent download at iTunes is 99c – essentially an unlimited single-user license. That’s our upper ceiling, I guess. Though, according to this page
[which is on the internet, so must be true]
an artist gets 9c per song downloaded.
[that's less than 10% for those without calculators]
Let’s call that our floor then.
Now, being a business, even if it’s one that has placed it’s profit motive on hold, let’s say that MusicFayre runs very, very efficiently and only has to take 20% margin to cover operating costs.
[it's a thought experiment, remember!]
If we charge 99c per song:
- Bob pays $2772 per month, Tyler pays $554 per month
Nope – ain’t happening, even if the musicians do make 79c per song.
So, let’s look at the other end of the scale – 9c per song:
- Bob pays $252 per month, Tyler pays $50 per month
That’s high, even for Tyler – and remember, of that 9c, nearly 2c is going to operating MusicFayre, so musicians are making LESS than they would for a downloaded song at iTunes. With traditional radio free to listeners, and streaming services willing to go much cheaper, simply by starving musicians, the barrier-to-entry for MusicFayre seems just too high. There’s altruism, but it’s a big ask to believe our listeners are THAT altruistic. Bob, especially, is likely to raise a sardonic, cynical eyebrow at least…
You know what? I’m going to make this a series of posts, because this is already getting long
[warned you at the start, right? RIGHT?]
but let’s summarize where we’ve got to, because even with some pretty ballsy assumptions, the thought experiment tells me:
A streaming service that works for BOTH listener AND musician is unlikely to succeed based upon a listener usage model
See you in the next post…
Well, that was unexpected…
A couple of weeks back, I wrote about how my Fender Stratocaster seemed to be haunted with the songs I played back in the mid-90s with my then-band, Grope. In the final line of that post I wondered aloud:
Who knows, maybe Monkey68 will be releasing a record called Grope in the not-too-distant future?
Well, despite it being Christmas and everything, somehow in stolen moments, I’ve already recorded complete backing for 9 songs – with just the vocals left to finish off – and another 2 to get done.
It’s surprised me how easily everything has come together, mainly because:
- These are old songs that were played a LOT at the time, so muscle memory is pretty good
- I was blessed to play in Grope with Matt Haines on drums, and Scott Haughie on bass, and the parts they brought to my songs have stuck with me over time – my own renditions are close to their lines on a number of tracks
- These are straightforward alt-rock-pop songs written for, and performed by, a trio – so not much extra instrumentation to fret over – and no new parts to write
- I decided to record these all myself rather than take my live Monkey68 crew into the studio – we’ll do that later this year with newer material, but for this set of songs I’m happy with the DIY approach
- I’m just much better at playing and recording, I guess!
Some other insights into the recording of Grope:
- In addition to the recording, it’s been interesting to revisit these songs from a writing perspective. They definitely reflect the time, capability and concerns of the 20-year younger me, but I haven’t found that I want to tweak anything in the way of structure or lyrics – maybe an odd word here or there, but other than that I’m staying true to the original Grope versions.
- There is one song that calls for a “chorus of voices” approach and, while I’ll be singing several parts myself, I also plan to send out bed tracks to several friends to add their voice – it’s a fun song and I want it BIG!
- As I mentioned in This guitar is haunted, there are many reasons why I’m a better guitarist now than I was then – and I’m definitely feeling that in the recording – no major changes, but just a lot easier to flow in the playing.
- It’s definitely a rock record; though triggered by my Strat, several guitars have made it onto tracks, not least of which my Music Man Reflex and Gibson Les Paul. Though, for those who enjoyed Sparse, I’ll give the heads up right now – there’s not an acoustic guitar anywhere on the record.
Stay tuned, I’ll update as things head towards a release
but first, time to get singing!
I’ve been pinged a number of times in the past couple of weeks over at Facebook with the chain letter “name 10 books that have stuck with you” – and, while the question is interesting for me to answer, I refuse to play the social coercion game
[just as I would with any other form of chain mail]
Instead, I’ll just provide a list here, which will also let me discuss it with them.
So, in no particular order, here are 10 books that have stuck with me:
- Now, Discover Your Strengths – Marcus Buckingham
I can’t quite describe what a relief it was to read this book – finally, I had a language to explain how I work and why I am the way I am, and support for welcoming my own unique form of weirdness
- The Right To Write – Julia Cameron
This arrived via a friend’s suggestion at just the right time in my writing journey – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve since recommended it.
- Do Sparrows Eat Butterflies? – Vincent Tuckwood
Yes, I chose one of my books. No, I won’t apologize. And, if you haven’t read it yet, you won’t know why it’s so close to my heart and soul.
- Mystery Walk – Robert R McCammon
I discovered McCammon via this magical novel, the core of which still haunts me to this day – and strongly influenced the direction of my writing on ASYLUM. I could just as easily have picked his novel SWAN SONG for inclusion here, but it’s kind of bracketed with…
- The Stand – Stephen King
To be honest, there are enough Stephen King novels that could have made this list that they would have filled all the spots. Instead, I’ll bucket them all together in this one listing. If there is one person in this world I’d like to sit and chat with, it’s Stephen King.
- Erebus – Shaun Hutson
This one’s here for one reason only: it was the book that made me declare: “I could write a novel!” and then go ahead and do just that with OF THE TRIBE.
- Holding The Center – Richard Strozzi-Heckler
I have learned much of myself and my place in world under Richard’s teaching – I return often to the meditations in Holding The Center.
- The Drunkard’s Walk – Leonard Mlodinow
Again, this is a placeholder for several books that cover how randomness affects our lives.
- The Future of Management – Gary Hamel
Great insights into the fallacies inherent in management science.
- Espedair Street – Iain Banks
I could easily have listed several of Iain Banks’ books – The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road, Complicity – so consider this another placeholder. I wrote to Iain when I was writing Jeremiah Whispers, seeking advice, and he took the time to write me a very nice, encouraging note back – I subsequently met him at a reading in Canterbury and got to have a wee chat. He was very giving of his time, and I’m still saddened at his death.
So, there you have it, a list of 10 books
[all right, and writers/subjects in some cases]
that have stuck with me over time. Though I fully expect to hit ‘Publish’ only to experience a rush of others that I could/should have included
These past few years, the music I’ve been making has called for higher gain guitar-work so, naturally, I’ve been playing humbucker-equipped guitars – and, every so often, coil-splitting those humbuckers. As a result, I’ve really not been playing my Strat, or Tele very much; the odd part on a recording but otherwise, they’ve sat on the rack.
The Tele is a fairly recent addition
[2007, I think?]
so there’s not so much history, but let me tell you about my Strat.
I bought it new in Canterbury, UK in the early 90′s
[1994, I think?]
and though it was ‘made in Mexico’ , basically that was when Fender shipped all the US-made parts south of the border for assembly
[I'm not sure whether that's still the case?]
and it’s a really solid guitar. It’s a 3-color sunburst
[a nod not so much to SRV's Lenny, but more-so to Mark Knopfler's Strat on Alchemy, with the brass scratch plate]
It was my main squeeze for the rest of the 90′s into the 00′s. I’ve modified it quite a bit over the years:
- Texas Special pick-ups (almost immediately)
- Callaham bridge (with short reach bar – per Dave Gilmour)
- Scratchplate/knob upgrade (ooh, sparkly!)
- Stripped back the neck and gun-oil finish
- Locking tuners
- Replaced 5-way with 3 on-off switches
[that last one a recent mod, again based off seeing it on one of Knopfler's Alchemy Strats]
but essentially, it’s like a pair of comfy old slippers – it fits me, and was there through a big chunk of my formative playing. Actually, to clarify that, it was the guitar of my ‘broken hands’ days. During that period, I played in two bands primarily – Bagpuss, and Grope
[Bagpuss as guitarist and song-writer, though not singing; Grope as guitarist, vocalist and song-writer]
and my Strat was my song-writing and performance guitar.
Fast forward to this morning, I was doing some set-up work on my Strat, and noodling aimlessly and, sure enough, started playing the riff from the Grope song, A Small Release. I tweaked the pick-ups a little and Hollow followed; another Grope song.
I glanced up and, as if for the first time, saw
[rather than just glancing]
the framed Grope set-list I have on the studio wall. It’s been up there for years; for the memories, but also because we never got the chance to record most of those songs
[aside from a day in a studio for a 4-song EP]
and I worry that I’ll forget what we used to play.
All of the Grope songs started tumbling out of my fingers – and I had a very clear sense that
the guitar has been holding all these songs
It really felt like the guitar was possessing my fingers, like the guitar was haunted.
Of course, it’s not… But these songs were written on this guitar, played
on this guitar, and are stored in my head in this guitar’s particular voice, and so it triggered a very specific muscle memory in my fingers
this is what I’m meant to play on this guitar
It was a fascinating sensation, which I can’t say I’ve experienced before when it comes to playing. Maybe the closest I can get to describing it is the comfort of being with old friends after too long apart; a sense of ease and meant-to-be, where old jokes are fresh, long-standing bonds unbroken.
Like putting on a pair of comfy slippers.
And, as I looked at that set-list of 20-some-odd songs, I thought
there’s a record there, just waiting to be made
so, who knows, maybe Monkey68 will be releasing a record called Grope in the not-too-distant future?
I started playing guitar when I was 9 years-old, at Junior School
[Elementary School for those in the US]
learning basic chords during music class and
[a very small amount of]
classical guitar in individual lessons.
At age 11, though, I started playing Trumpet, and subsequently French Horn; after that, I never had a formal guitar lesson again. I never stopped learning though, teaching myself chords and lead over time – my teachers were the records I listened to, the players I respected.
The first book I had was by Mel Bay which got me grounded in chords
[and helped me grow my first calluses]
then I picked up the first position Blues Scale from another book, which I unfortunately can’t find to reference. Then it was the back pages of Guitarist magazine, and a book they brought out in the early-mid 80s of tab for famous solos and riffs
[which I still have downstairs somewhere, and which introduced me to Need Your Love So Bad, by Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac]
Even with those years of attention, and guitar was just one of MANY things i had to pay attention to, I always learned enough to get by, and never pursued learning for excellence, or even over-and-above necessary. I just wasn’t interested. My natural style was to experiment, take risks, improvise and know some of it would fall flat.
Most of my learning came from playing, listening and adapting, not from reading, thinking and repeating
[in my day job, I've come to know that my preferred learning style is that of a Pragmatic-Activist - learning by doing something real/that counts]
By the time I went to university, I had a reasonable grounding in both rhythm and lead work, had been playing in various bands on and off for about 8 years. I knew that the guitar, and song-writing, was very, very important to me. Indeed, in that first year of university, there was a very real chance of my dropping out just to be able to play more.
Then, two things happened which changed my path markedly.
The first, late in my first year of university, was the appearance of a patch of dry skin on the middle finger of my left hand. Misdiagnosed as an allergy
[possibly even to the nickel in guitar strings... Argh!]
and treated with various, and strengthening, courses of steroid creams and moisturizers, within a matter of months, my palms and finger-pads were covered with scaly psoriaritic calluses. Every morning when I woke up, I’d have to crack open the calluses by leaning on the bed frame; my fingers bled every day.Within another year, whole chunks of my outer skin were peeling off to reveal the dermis beneath.
This led to the second turning point. I couldn’t play guitar, so I began to write; finishing my first novel within a year.
My hands stayed that way for over 16 years, and I wrote several books.
Though I played all the time, hands cracked and bleeding every time I did, I never had the capacity to extend my capabilities through structured practice – it was all just play, listen, adapt. I knew I was a slow-hand, I knew that I could only play a limited amount of stuff, and I knew that changing that would mean significant pain. Stylistically, my playing, songwriting and recording adapted – I was an all-rounder more than I was a guitarist. It meant I could pick up any instrument and make a reasonable noise, but always had an inferiority complex about my playing
[which, I think, most artists have?]
Fast Forward to now, a decade after moving to the US – which is when, for several reasons, my hands cleared up
[for the interested, it had been a fungal infection originally, which was exacerbated by the steroids, and which left my hands sensitized to glycerin - the main ingredient in most sensitive-skin treatments, shower gels, moisturizers, shaving creams, etc - as soon as I made that connection and went back to plain soap, my 16 year affliction disappeared in a month!]
and I’ve been playing a LOT more guitar
but feeling less and less fulfilled when doing so
Having written over half-a-million words in fiction and fact, I have command of my art and voice when it comes to writing. More and more, though, while my ‘good enough’ guitar playing is, well, good enough, I’ve been feeling the need/want/wish to extend my practical knowledge a little, increasing my vocabulary as it were.
This came from an interesting observation
[well, interesting to me at least...]
while I was having fun improvising lead on less structured pieces, and my originals, when I was coming into more constrained/structured forms – blues, country, etc. – I was having trouble finding my groove – mostly I’d be playing too many notes, and too many of the wrong notes. And I realized that feeling had been ticking away for a LONG time – in my weaker moments, it made me feel like a fraud, an impostor, though in my stronger moments, I could see it as a function of my musical free spirit. All those crazy arpeggiated licks I’d found by trial-and-error just didn’t seem to fit – and, while I could hear that, I didn’t know why or what to do about it!
In passing, I was reading Guitarist and someone mentioned a desire to learn to solo ‘out of the box’ – which isn’t a reference to the hackneyed cliché about innovation, but instead a reference to the five standard positions of the Pentatonic scale on a guitar neck. I had this epiphany moment
I never learned to solo inside the box!
This started ticking away – as the best, most challenging thoughts often do. I knew that everything I played on lead guitar was a function of that first position Blues Scale and everything else I’d tried since that just seemed to work. But I also knew that my playing was mostly ’1st-position-and-up’ the neck usually ending up on only the high E, B and G strings. So if I was playing a song in B minor, it was generally 7th fret and up, with the odd hit-and-hope further down the neck. When I began to look into theory, I found that I was already doing quite complex stuff (e.g.) using Myxolidian mode notes, without knowing they were from that scale or how they fit with the chords or Pentatonic scale. I was playing weird intervals but just because they were interesting.
None of which is good or bad, right or wrong – it’s just a sign of missing vocabulary – I’m like someone parachuted into a foreign country who has to learn the language live-time. Some words I know, some I haven’t come across.
Watching videos of guitarists I admired for a long time, I realized they were fundamentally playing differently to me
[which is why I often had a hard time playing along with their solos]
I’d got by for so long playing my way, that I’d grown lazy. Or maybe to be charitable, I didn’t know what I didn’t know and didn’t care to find out.
So, as I did surgery on my Les Paul to give me all the options an experienced player could want, I took a decision to take myself back to basics.
For the past week I’ve dived back into those fundamental five boxes of the Pentatonic
[believe me, I didn't even know there were five positions until my decision to re-teach myself]
doing scale runs across and along the board, in multiple keys, as well as improvised solos over typical and a-typical loops.
It’s been fun so far – my left hand aches, particularly the little and ring finger meta-carpals where my hand broke in my 2001 motorbike accident
[forgot to mention that above, didn't I?!!]
but it’s a good ache, because I’m getting the muscle memory going. I’m still choosing to pursue my natural/preferred style of learning – play, listen, adapt – but basing it upon at least a little reading and thinking first! I still don’t have a want to take lessons, though that may change, I guess. Filling in these gaps is a great process of discovery
Oh, so THAT’S why that works!
The joy of this instrument that I love is the learning/discovery never ends, and with it the opportunity for growth and contribution.
Here’s to making our ‘good enough’ just a little bit better every day!