If I can’t hear your band on your band’s website, is it really a band website?

There is a new record out by a band that is made up of a former student and sometimes colleague. It is quite good. The record is very well produced slightly quirky pop music. Not my usual space, but I really like it. I was going to write a short review and encourage you all to go listen to it. I prefer to link directly to a band’s website, so they can control how their work is presented, instead of a facebook or youtube page. I finally found this band’s website, even though a search of the band’s name and music did not easily get me there.

When i got to the website, I realized I could not listen to the band. The media page only hosts pictures. There is a link to an Instagram account, but no bandcamp, youtube, spotify, apple music…nothing. The pictures are really good, but I am trying to help people HEAR THE MUSIC!!!! Why is hearing the music not the easiest thing to do on your website?

It is kind of a bummer, because the music is pretty good. Hopefully the next thing that catches my ear will have a website with sounds…

Is the future now? Ok then, when is it?

The last time this blog was REALLY active, Spotify was not yet a thing, Napster was a problem, iTunes only sold downloads, and MySpace was still a real thing. A lot has happened since then, and I wonder, are we better off? I ask this question in two domains: how people hear our music, and how we connect with the people who (may) want to hear our music.

Let’s start with how people hear our music. I probably wrote somewhere on this blog something to the effect of, “once we find a way for cheap easy legal music distribution, piracy will be a thing of the past (or at least we will quit talking about it).” That has become true. It is now way easier for people to hear my music, and I believe more people are hearing my music. I’m probably not making much less money from recorded music now than I was then. Those all sound like wins, but my concern is around the question of control. Since people are getting to my music through Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, or even Bandcamp, I am in a position in which a policy change by any of these companies can effect how I get music to the people who want to hear it. What happened to the internet being democratizing, and removing the middle men (people/entities/bots?)? Why can’t I simply directly interact with my listeners?

Which brings me to how we interact with our listeners (or friendly experiencers to quote a favorite artist). Social media has the same problem streaming services have: when they change policy it thwarts our plans to reach people. I liked email lists…apparently I was the only one. How do we get to a system that lets people get the information they want from the artist/label/venue directly? I don’t want to have to figure out Facebook algorithms (or Instagram or whoever, and yes, I know they are really the same thing) to get to people who already know they want information from me (or my series or whatever). I get playing the social media game to find new listeners, but can we be in control of the relationships we already have? Is text/SMS lists the new thing?

I would love it if you would comment with your thoughts.

Comparing Artists To Start-Ups Lazy, Unhealthy, Beside The Point. – hypebot

The money or art conversation came up in class the other day. This article takes some interesting looks at the topic. Note the articles preference for and use of the word art…

Comparing Artists To Start-Ups Lazy, Unhealthy, Beside The Point. – hypebot:

“Comparing artists to start-ups is a trend that has emerged this last couple of years as music and tech became ever more increasingly tied and the latter churned out its daily dose of spectacular stories and unicorns. When a particular field is successful, it would be a shame not to try to find some key take aways and apply them to an ecosystem like music where everything has been challenged and turned upside down these last 15 years or so.”

How Music Got Free: the end of an industry, the turn of the century, and the patient zero of piracy

I recently finished reading How Music Got Free: the end of an industry, the turn of the century, and the patient zero of piracy by Stephen Witt (Penguin Random House).

It is a compelling account of the end of the era of major label largess told through the concurrent tales of a label executive, technology innovator, and early pirate. It doesn’t offer answers to the industry’s current problems, but it does help explain how we ended up where we are. Witt is a skilled story teller and it is an enjoyable read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the inner workings of the music industry, and related technology.

9780525426615

Newspapers

Yesterday on the radio, I heard an inspiring conversation about local news coverage, journalism, and democracy. Newspapers were a big part of the conversation.

A little backstory: After Hurricane Katrina, our neighborhood lost our curbside recycling service. Not long after that, I cancelled my newspaper subscription. I was not reading it very often, and since we couldn’t recycle it, I had some tree guilt.

The radio show yesterday made me rethink my newspaper situation. We have curbside recycling again, and I feel like I should aim to be a better informed citizen, so I decided to investigate getting a newspaper subscription. In the time since I cancelled my Times-Picayune subscription, the T-P has gone from a daily to publishing a hard copy only three days a week, and The Advocate has come into the New Orleans market.

I went to the T-P site first. Apparently you have to give all of your personal info and start a website account to find out how much a subscription costs. If the information is there otherwise, it was not easy to find. So I went to The Advocate’s website. They had a page with links to “See Prices.” That link opened a popup in which you enter your zip code, and click the “See Prices” button, and…nothing happens.

I possibly would have subscribed to both papers this morning, ended up with neither. Have they given up on this side of their business? Should I give up too and just commit to paying more attention to local web news?

My thoughts on Cutting Louisiana higher education by $300 million

A note to the apparent morons who run the state in which I live: I WILL PAY MORE TAXES TO SUPPORT HIGHER EDUCATION!!!!!!!!!

The nature of Louisiana’s backwards legal system makes much of the state’s budget protected and very hard to adjust, except for higher education, which is easy for the legislature to cut. Our governor, who pays lip service to a religion that is supposed to be based on helping the poor and caring for our fellow humans, refuses to allow taxes to be raised for any productive reason. I think he (and his fellow lawmakers of similar political ideology) does this not out of a sense that it is really the right thing to do, but out of a loyalty to a political party that places money above all else, and even then, really just the money of people who already have a lot of it. The lawmakers of Louisiana, led by our governor, are cowards, who are afraid of the dogmatists of their own party, to the point that they will do nothing to help the people of our state in any way.

I actually voted for Jindal. I thought he was a smart man, and he made me believe that he would use that intelligence to run our state well. I did not realize at the time that his political aspirations would out weigh all other considerations to the point that he would be incapable of straying one millimeter from republican dogma, even if it is the best thing for our state.

I got both of my graduate degrees from state schools (the University of New Orleans for my M.M., and Louisiana State University for my Ph.D.). The system worked well for me. These degrees helped me learn many things, and led to me getting a great teaching job and staying in our state. I can now afford to pay more in taxes, and I would love to do that if that is what is needed to keep our higher education system alive.

One more note to our lawmakers: PLEASE LET GO OF YOUR POLITICAL DOGMA AND USE THE BRAINS THAT GOD GAVE YOU TO MAKE DECISIONS WITH THE WELL-BEING OF YOUR STATE IN MIND!

This nola.com article offers a good perspective on the amount of the cuts that are being envisioned.

Cutting Louisiana higher education by $300 million, putting it into perspective | NOLA.com

$139.00 eBook. Really?

I am on a number of email lists focused on subjects related to music technology. Today a member of one of those lists sent an announcement of her newly published book. The title sounded interesting, so I followed the link to her website, with the idea that I would likely purchase the book, until I saw the prices. The hardcover version is $170 US. The eBook, yes, eBook is $139 US. “How is this rationalized?” was my next thought. Who would pay that?

Then it hit me. Regular people don’t buy these books. Libraries or institutions may buy them. Sometimes students are forced to buy them under the duress of it being a required text for a class. In all of these instances, there is a layer of financial bureaucracy between the user and the book publisher. Even in the case of students, it is often student loan money or some other financial aid that buys their text books, so it doesn’t feel like “real” money.

This is similar in principle to the way healthcare costs have risen because there is a layer of “insurance” companies between the providers and the patients. There are financial transactions between doctors and insurance companies, and between insurance companies and patients, so the cost of each individual transaction gets obfuscated by the layers of financial (insert expletive here) between the doctors and patients. The patients don’t pay directly for the services, so they don’t get outraged at how much it costs.

Similarly, if my university library is paying some outrageous sum of money every year for access to online journal databases, but my colleagues and I are the ones using the databases, no one is in a position to get mad about the cost. The users don’t see the cost, and for the folks who pay the bills, it is just another bill to pay. It’s like financial three card monty. Just keep things confusing enough so that no one notices or thinks about it.

It seems like a very inefficient system for the outsides of the system, and very lucrative one for those who create the layers of obfuscation in the middle.

Why do we let this happen? Is it because we need a super expensive publisher to legitimize our writings to the tenure committee? There has to be a better way.

If that book had been $40, this post wouldn’t have happened, that publisher would have 40 of my dollars, and I would be waiting for what seems to be an interesting book to arrive in my mailbox.

Where does the money come from?

Warning: This post has more questions than answers, because we can’t find the answers until we ask the RIGHT questions.

In recent weeks I have read the complaints of a number of people about the amounts of money that performers are paid in “creative music” situations. I know that I could spend an entire book weeding out meaning from the term “creative music,” so let me just clarify that I mean art music that is outside of the economic mainstream.

One of the people who inspired this post simply thinks that the musicians should “make” the clubs sign a union contract and pay a good wage. If music is part of the club’s business model, in the way that a band on Bourbon St. is there mostly to make the party happen, and making the party happen is how the club makes money, then I agree. The market sets a price for beer, and it should also set a price for the band. Both the beer and the band are part of the formula that the club uses to make money. We should also note, that in these situations, the band plays what the club wants them to play. These are craftsman musicians who are hired to provide a service for an employer. The club takes the risk, the band simply provides a service.

This isn’t really the situation I am thinking about.

What about a situation in which I (the hypothetical artist) have a band and some new music, and we want a place to play this music. This is original music, and it isn’t particularly mainstream. My goal is to find a place to present this music, and in doing so build an audience, and make some money.

Some venues pride themselves on presenting new music. It is part of their business model. Let’s take a “best case scenario” for the artist version of this situation, and assume that our hypothetical venue is dedicated to presenting new music. For our little thought experiment here, the genre of this new music isn’t really important, we just have to stipulate that the new music is made by an artist who is not yet well known.

Where does the money come from?

One version of the “unknown band” plan is to offer free entrance to entice more people in to hear the music. I won’t go into my arguments about why it is a bad idea to present yourself with the implication that your performance has no value. If there is no cover charge, then all of the band’s money must come from the bar. Giving the band 20% of the bar ring is on the generous side of standard. If 50 people come to your gig, and each of them has three drinks, and the drinks average $7 each, then the bar ring is $1,050. 20% of that bar ring is $210.

The cover charge scenario is the other way to go. With a $5 cover that goes entirely to the band (which can be rare), those same 50 people generate $250 for the band. Now, will there still be 50 people there with a $5 cover? Probably a question for another post.

Based on these numbers, when you get to audiences of 200 or so, you get to numbers that can support budget style touring (a van and couches). As cover charges can go up, the numbers change. The math isn’t difficult. The point is that the money for the band either comes directly from the audience (cover charge/ticket sales) or indirectly from the audience (percentage of bar sales). No matter how you look at it, audience size is the determining factor in terms of available money for the artists.

Who is responsible for bringing the audience? That may be another post.

The point is when there are 50 people in the audience to hear my great new music for the first time, and the band makes a total of $300, then we did a pretty good job of converting audience into dollars.

$300 a night for an entire band is not a living wage.

This raises more questions. Am I entitled to a living wage from my art? Do I make art as a financial sustenance or just for psychic sustenance? Do we, as audience members, have a moral obligation to financially support the artists whose work we enjoy? Do we, as artists, have a moral obligation to freely share our art with the world? Are there other places to find money besides the bar and the door? (I consider merchandise sales to be a separate income stream from the performance fee.)

The answers to the above questions can inform our search for answers about how to increase the amount of money performers make for live performances.