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All Musicians Are Family

I saw the cry for help on their facebook.

One of my favorite progressive metal bands The Ocean had their tour bus break down on the first half of their US tour with Job For A Cowboy and Between the Buried and Me. They didn't have anywhere to stay other than a van and, as always with a tour, cash was tight. (On one of their last European tours, they were even robbed at gunpoint. Now that's bad luck.)

I'm a fan. I had to help.

Within a few hours of texting them, I got a message back from Robin thanking me for a place to stay. Everyone was really humble and seemed incredibly pleased to not be sleeping in a van. With 10 people in their crew, it would have cost a couple hundred dollars for enough hotel rooms to sleep everyone. Losing that much money in one night can destory the profits of a tour, especially when tickets or merch sales are thin.

At times I got the vibe that they thought "I can't believe this guy is letting us just stay with him. Oh well, we'll run with this." 

But I was excited to help! This was a perfect night for a fan! I got in on the guest list, bought them some beers and heard stories of life in the band. Nerd-vana.

We both won.

All musicians are family. We help one another. This is the oil that keeps the music industry's engine running. Not fancy promotions, not top-of-the-line gear, not even kickass merch is more important to keeping the musical world turning that people.

Give that guitarist a fresh set of strings if you have an extra. Share some free pizza you got with the other bands on the tour. If you've got space in your van, offer to help take some of the other band's junk and load out. Help, so that one day when you need it there will be someone there for you. Your reputation is all you have.

Similarly, don't be afraid to ask for help. Your fans love you, and love being able to support your art. It's fun for us!  I'm glad I was able to do my duty to help the band. (Ulterior motive: this makes it more likely that they'll come back to my town, haha).

What an awesome night. Thanks for coming out to Dallas, y'all.

Link: Who Can Make A Hit?

I know I link him a lot, but this article on Kingmakers by Seth Godin perfectly encapsulates the transition from major label dominance to today's fractured marketplace.

From the article:
Years ago, getting our products on the table next to the check out at Target and Lechmere was enough to make the year at the software company where I worked. Two big retailers picked our product and that was enough.

Retailers want to be kings and they want to annoint kings. They want the lever to decide what sells and what doesn't, because it earns them power of pricing and profit (if the retailer can make your product a hit, she can extract better terms. If all she does is sell what sells, then the manufacturer is in charge).

Thanks to the long tail, the digital world ignored this thinking. The iTunes store, and Netflix, for example, take the position that, "We're going to sell everything, and a lot of it. We don't care which thing, because it's all the same to us. Just put everything in the store and the market will sort it out."

As a result, they have far less promotional power. They didn't build a lever. The app store doesn't make a hit, it contains hits. Most long tail retailers are staffed around this idea and have a culture that reflects it. They'll sell everything/anything, because the longer the tail, the better.

As I keep reiterating, don't wait for your "big break" to be handed down from some benevolent entity. A solid music career is made through sustained fan engagement and hard work.

(Not that I would complain if one of our songs became world famous, mind you. But I'm not counting on it.)


There's Nothing New In "The Business"

"The Business" of promoting art isn't remotely new. Artists have always had to hustle to market their art. So it's silly to keep talking about the current music business as if it's a radically new web 2.0, crowdsourced, fan engagement monster.

The goal of engaging people has always been the same. Only the tools have changed.

Check out this New York Times book review for The Sinner's Grand Tour, a book about how famous writers have promoted themselves through the years.
"Crowdsourcing" isn't new:

"Perhaps the most astonishing P.R. stunt — one that must inspire awe among authors today — was plotted in Paris in 1927 by Georges Simenon, the Belgian-born author of the Inspector Maigret novels. For 100,000 francs, the wildly prolific Simenon agreed to write an entire novel while suspended in a glass cage outside the Moulin Rouge nightclub for 72 hours. Members of the public would be invited to choose the novel’s characters, subject matter and title, while Simenon hammered out the pages on a typewriter. A newspaper advertisement promised the result would be “a record novel: record speed, record endurance and, dare we add, record talent!” It was a marketing coup. As Pierre Assouline notes in “Simenon: A Biography,” journalists in Paris “talked of nothing else.”

As it happens, Simenon never went through with the glass-cage stunt, because the newspaper financing it went bankrupt. Still, he achieved huge publicity (and got to pocket 25,000 francs of the advance), and the idea took on a life of its own. It was simply too good a story for Parisians to drop. For decades, French journalists would describe the Moulin Rouge event in elaborate detail, as if they had actually attended it. (The British essayist Alain de Botton matched Simenon’s chutzpah, if not quite his glamour, a few years ago when he set up shop in Heathrow for a week and became the airport’s first “writer in residence.” But then he actually got a book out of it, along with prime placement in Heathrow’s bookshops.) "
Now that's some groovy promotion.

You don't need to be a "Social Media Guru" to understand that No one cares more about your music than you.

There's nothing new in "The Business".


Becoming "Content Providers"

I read this fantastic article by comedian Stewart Lee against the push to turn artists into "content providers".

As much as I enjoy reading all the various music-business blogs, one philosphy that frustrates me is the conviction of "new media" bloggers that an artist must always be available. "Fans won't tolerate a band who isn't always connected. You should always be tweeting, facebooking, and emailing about your music. Perfect your SEO daily. Release across every platform and have a presence on all social networking sites or risk missing fans.”

This is counterproductive. An artist should not serve anything but their art.

Art is the master.

Yes, the business side is vital. That's a given. But the spotlight should be on your music. Period.

Sometimes it's better to choose a medium for your art that forces the viewer to become engrossed in the art instead of being able to easily digest it through tweets and sound bites. Stewart Lee purposefully wrote the book How I Escaped My Certain Fate to require constant cross-referencing of pages so the reader is forced to interact and connect with the book. This doesn't translate to an e-book at all, and that's exactly what he wants. Pink Floyd’s album Animals can’t be turned into a 3 minute radio version, it’s designed to be an extended, introspective experience.

It’s all about the art. Compromising the vision is an insult.

Only by trying to please everyone will we please no one.

If you are sacrificing the integrity of your art for “new media”, STOP IT. Integrity is what we respect about you.

There's enough mediocre songs on the planet. We don't need a live-blogged, ustream video of a song that sucks; we need a album that will stand up for thirty years as a testament of greatness. Sometimes you must ignore the world to concentrate on your art.

Make amazing art.

THEN think about business.


Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. And so on.

File this one under "Learning Experiences."

Recovering from losing our singer back in January, the band was understandably a little shaken up. Each of us responded to the stress in out own way.

My response was to keep pushing hard and working on anything possible to keep up our momentum. New songs, putting up flyers and messages trying to find someone new, managing the album release... anything to keep moving.

You could feel the negativity slinking thick through the air at practice. Progress on new material was frustrating and everything felt sloooooooooooooooooooooooow.

We decided to take a month off from the band.

I spent time talking to everyone to see what we could figure out was the cause. We wanted to get the energy back, but until we knew what was sapping it, we were stuck.

Finally, it came out.

It wasn't fun anymore.

My initial response to the stress of losing a singer was to push hard, and it was this push that drove the fun out everything. Practice was somber because we were "not making enough progress."

You can feel when a song is lifeless. Even though every note was spot on, there wasn't a heartbeat to a single measure.

With all the business advice and focusing on "getting things done", it's easy to get caught up in 'work mode'. But, above all else, music is about Love.

So I tabled my "to do" list, forgot all the grandoise plans, and we started jamming for the sake of jamming.

And all was right again.


You Just Gotta Fight Your Way Through

Courtesy of Reddit user malmc, a stylized wallpaper of this Ira Glass quote:

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through this years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting our or you are still in this phase, you gotta knknow that it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And it took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through." - Ira Glass