Posts Tagged ‘music industry’

On Sunday evening I did one of my favourite things. I went to a little pub on the outskirts of York, and I played music to a small but very appreciative audience. They were the best kind of audience – the active listening variety – rarely found in most pubs these days, but this was no ordinary event – this was Vale Radio’s FAB Folk and Blues Club.

FAB gig1

The event is young, it started only a couple of months ago, as a result of the radio studio for Vale Radio being too small to accommodate a full band. At best, on a Monday night, the FAB Folk and Blues show might be able to fit a trio into the studio, but that was all. So the idea was born to have a night in a local pub, in the function room, where larger bands could be recorded live for the show.

It was to one such night I found myself invited, and it was marvellous. The pub in question, the Cottage Inn, has a large and acoustically beautiful function room that they kindly allow Vale Radio to have for no charge on a Sunday night. The audience, briefed on what to expect, are quiet, supportive and attentive. In short, it’s the ideal gig environment for folk/blues/country/singer-songwriter artists. In addition to the main attraction (this time it was Itchy Fingers, a 5 piece from Lincolnshire) a variety of local artists are invited to play acoustic short sets of 3-4 songs a piece. There’s also generally a raffle for the prize of a CD or two donated by the artists.

Here’s the thing. The audience was painfully, pitifully small. Will the night survive? This was the third time the event had run (it runs every other week) and yes, it might get bigger, but to survive, it needs to get bigger at a drastically increased pace. The room is free because the pub uses takings on the bar, but if there are fewer punters, there are less takings.

I have found myself pondering this more and more of late. Local live music is such a brilliant thing, so why does it struggle? I have some theories:

Firstly – and I am guilty of this too – musicians rarely go out to watch other musicians perform. We’ll watch people on at the same gig as us (although in some cases even that doesn’t happen, I have seen bands arrive in time for their slot, play and then leave) but rarely do we go out for an evening for someone else’s gig. It’s the old adage about how a carpenter never has shelves. It’s something I’m trying hard to remedy (I plan to be at the Flora Greysteel album launch later this month for example), but it needs to be part of every musician’s schedule. We learn so much from watching others perform. We see what works, what doesn’t work, what makes us respond as members of the audience. So it’s a win-win; supporting local events and musicians while also helping us to develop our own skills. If you are a musician who doesn’t go out to watch others perform, I highly urge you to fix this.

Secondly, people want to hear stuff they know. Pubs will pay an absolute premium for a band to come and do two hours of covers. Show me a pub that’ll pay anyone for two hours of original material and I’ll dig out my collection of rocking-horse poop for you. People coming out for a drink on a Friday or Saturday night tend to have their interests limited to: drinking, talking, trying to pull, singing along with the jukebox/band, more drinking. If this seems jaded, well, I’ve seen it night after night in pubs around York. Yes, there are audiences for good quality live acts doing originals, but there are bigger (and thus more lucrative) audiences for human jukeboxes.

Lastly, for many people, even people who are passionate about live music, sometimes the allure of a night in with Netflix, a duvet, and those famous brothers Ben and Jerry, is just too much to resist. Yes, you could go to see a live act perform, but it’s raining, you have your slippers on and look, the cat has gone to sleep on your knees, so you couldn’t possibly go anywhere just now.

Here’s the thing. Use it or lose it. Live music is good for the soul. It gives you something to talk about (that anecdote about the folk singer who treated us all to a 25 verse epic about a violinist and his sweetheart,and the subsequent death, calamity, fairy infestation, jealous violence, romance etc that went on until the venue owners flashed the lights and cut the power is still going strong in our household…). You may discover an artist whose work really speaks (sings) to you. Your support in turning up to that gig may be the spur that causes the artist to write their next album, or book their next gig. Because let’s face it, we write and perform for you.

This is our life blood. Help us keep live music alive.

Thanks for reading, I’d love your thoughts on this!

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I’ve been thinking that I’m pretty au fait with it all up til now. With three releases under my belt, I was thinking of myself as rather an expert on ISRC codes, UPC codes, Red Book CDs… Then earlier this week I got an email about music synchronisation. This email was one of those very useful articles about why getting sync deals can be so difficult, and the key point it mentioned was being registered with PPL. If you aren’t, the email helpfully informed me, then you can’t land a sync deal.

Now. I had never bothered to do much with PPL. I registered with them in 2010 for my first release so that I could obtain ISRC codes for the tracks on Beggars and Blues, but I never got round to actually putting individual tracks onto the database. Part of the problem was at that point, PPL had quite a complicated registration process for tracks, and I somehow got lost in the process. Looking back, I wonder what I thought the ISRC codes were for. Did I imagine the ISRC fairy would magically match my tracks up to me with the code? Seriously. Talk about delusional.

And this is my point. The music industry is so far from transparent it’s a wall of solid black. That black that scientists recently found that just absorbs light totally. There’s nothing out there that gives unsigned artists a step by step to making their music as accessible as possible. Certainly Sentric had never, prior to the email I recieved, said that being registered with PPL was ESSENTIAL to being accepted for a sync deal. They must have done what many do, and assumed that musicians know already. Alas, no, I assumed that being a member of PRS was sufficient, and as I’d been a member of PRS almost since I started writing, I wasn’t too worried.

So I’ve spent this week battling the registration process with PPL. It’s not that bad now, thankfully, they’ve streamlined it somewhat compared to the convoluted process I remember, and apparently once I’m accepted as both the performer and the rights holder, it’s just a matter of going online to register the tracks. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a very exciting offer. A lovely chap from Cross Counties Radio contacted me, saying that he’d been passed my CD (Riptides) and he’d like to make me the Artist of the Month on Cross Counties Radio Two for September. Fantastic! So he sends me the info, and I peruse it, and discover that they only accept music that is not registered with PPL, PRS, or any other music collection agency. The reason for this is simple, they are a charitable organisation, and they have deals with unsigned artists so that not only can the radio station broadcast music royalty-free, but small local businesses, who otherwise would struggle to afford PRS licences on top of their normal business rates, can play music by unsigned and up-and-coming artists. It’s an absolutely superb idea which I support wholeheartedly.

It did beg the question for me, almost instantaneously, of: If I own the rights to my own music, why is it so hard for me to use it as I wish? Now, in the case of Cross Counties, I have both signed a consent form and written a specific document listing all of the tracks I am happy for them to use Royalty Free. And if any music collection agencies really want to pick a fight with me about what I’m doing with my own music, well, first off, I doubt they will, and second off, I’ll give them a battle. But it should be easier for artists to dictate when they wish to get paid and when they’re happy to donate their work for charitable causes. After all, we’re the creators, we’re the ones who spend the time, money and energy producing our work, so we should have the final say in what happens to it.

And that is the exciting week I have had. Add in a dollop of nasal distress in the form of a cold, hanging out with cool friends from the US of A, and large quantities of nerve-shredding action in Silent Hill: Downpour, and you have a snapshot of it all. I hope you have all had a superb day, see you next week!


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Good morning lovely readers! It’s a delightful day!

After an evening spent testing the efficacy of cheerleading movies against the common cold, I have concluded that Bring It On: For the Zillionth Time is about as effective as Lemsip or a chocolate teapot, but is at least mildly diverting.

Moving on swiftly, there was a clear poll winner from Monday’s post, so without further ado, I’d like to write about how working in tech has changed the way I see music and the music industry.

In October I started work as a techie/stage hand at a Large Venue In York (henceforth to be known as the LVIY). My first load in/load out was for Ellie Goulding. Two eighteen-wheeler wagons, full to the brim with stuff – largely unfamiliar stuff with strange acronyms and names. Listening to the instructions being barked by the touring crew was like listening to another language, in which maybe two words in a sentence made sense. It was 8am, and I certainly hadn’t had enough coffee.

Remember that up to this point, my sole experience of crewing was limited to small, acoustic set-ups. Not a full on rock/pop concert.

As the morning progressed and I got the hang of what was going on, I started to be able to see the process a little more clearly. The first thing that struck me was how much money was involved. It might sound weird, on an academic level this is something that I should really have known about from studying music business at college, but until you see it, it doesn’t really sink in. There’s the equipment to hire – hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of lights, PA, instrument cables, microphones, speakers, amps… There’s the crew to set up and run the equipment (on a tour it’s rare to use house crew, so the artist brings their own lighting tech, sound tech, stage manager) who need to be paid. There’s the tour drivers. Caterers. Promoter. Merchandise. I’m sure it’s even more complex than my limited description, so let me sum up with: imagine how much money you think it costs, and that’s probably still not enough.

The day progressed with relative smoothness, and myself and a colleague were asked to stay on to sort out the support bands. We caught Ellie’s sound check as a result, and the second thing that struck me was pure, unbridled  jealousy. Here is this young woman, attractive, phenomenally successful, with a great voice, doing the thing I always wanted to do. I’m too old, definitely lack the school-girl sex appeal, and my voice doesn’t have that poppy, peppy, X-Factor that so many female vocalists have these days – it’s definitely not a fashionable type of voice. So at that point, watching her on stage, I felt truly past it.

Key points. Young. Attractive. Talented. The music industry cashes in as much on looks and age and sex appeal as it does on talent. More so in fact. So after I rode the wave of green-eye, I took a second look, and realised that while on one hand I’d have given almost anything for it to be me up there, the sacrifices would not have been worth it.

And this has been the theme since starting work as tech. Second looks. What sparkles on the outside is not necessarily gold, long-lasting, retaining value and made of shiny. Sometimes, many times, it’s an illusion. I’m not saying the artists don’t love what they do. I’m certain that they do. But there has always been a price. The loss of privacy. The lack of time spent at home with family and friends. The lack of security. The risk of having your self esteem fall apart because the pressure is so unrelenting.

The other film I watched last night was Memoirs of a Geisha. I’ve seen it before, but with this yucky head cold, I wanted something where I didn’t have to concentrate too hard on but that looked pretty. Like the geisha in the story, for so many of these artists, their careers, and by extension their lives, are not their own. They’re paying back to the record company and to the dozens of people who put them in that spotlight. They’re commodities, not individuals. Again, I’m not saying this doesn’t work for them – it’s a payoff. But I personally am too stubborn in my individuality, too set in my ways, and too focused on doing my own thing. I could not imagine sacrificing my freedom for success.

It’s easy to see why the mainstream music world ends up becoming so homogenous. With the sums involved, the artists most likely to receive support from or get signed by the major record labels are the safest bets. For the female artists in particular, this means a certain image, the right amount of sex appeal and lastly, actual talent. Since people who can sing are ten a penny, it’s easy to cherry-pick only those in the “right” age range, with the “right” looks.

How has all of this changed my approach?

Well, firstly, leaving aside the fact that the touring lifestyle really wouldn’t suit me, it has been a very vivid reminder of how cynical the music business actually is. Which is helpful. It’s easy to take lack of movement personally, and to forget the sheer amount of hard work and luck that goes into making a successful career. If I’m not better known, there’s a good chance that that is down to a hole in my promotional tactics, and if my songs aren’t syncing yet, then I need to develop my songwriting, and keep aiming for that elusive combination of just the right song for the project and just the right moment. Artists never stop developing, and just because people buy my CDs, that doesn’t mean I’ve “levelled” as a songwriter yet. And even when I do, there’s always the next level, and the next… it’s a continual process.

Also, though, it’s important to define what “success” is as an individual. For some artists, “success” is getting big tours and selling millions of albums, but that’s a limiting definition of success, a current mainstream music model for a career. As I’m seeing in my job daily, there are hundreds of other roles in the music industry, from creating music for games and films (my preferred goal) to becoming a specialist in sound or lighting, to promotion and management. And if I want to make music and gig, actually I’m happiest sticking to smaller venues and being able to go home at the end of the night. My friends and family have always been my priority, I want to stay close to them. This doesn’t mean I lack ambition, just that my ambitions are more about the writing and creation of the music than performing it. I love to perform, but I don’t need a stadium to be happy doing that. A concert grand on stage with a single spotlight would be nice, but a few friends in my living room works just as well.

I don’t want or need to answer to a record company. I certainly don’t want to be managed. I’ve always made it a point to be as knowledgeable as possible about music business, legal issues, and How It All Works so that I can run things myself. I’ve self released two albums, and I plan to release a lot more. I’m not doing this for the money, I’m doing this because I feel driven to do it. It’s part of me, like breathing. And like breathing, I want to keep it simple.

Wow. That was a whopping 1,273 words. To say thanks for reading, have a video about a husky… See you Monday!

Apparently it wasn’t just the husky saying ‘no’, YouTube said ‘no’ and culled the video from YouTube for copyright reasons. So, instead, here is another video of a husky, a very tiny baby husky, which has been around a bit longer and I trust has no copyright issues! Incidentally, I don’t own these videos, I am merely sharing them for your entertainment 🙂 


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