I’m in the middle of a project which involves 15 other artists from across the globe and it’s been quite enlightening. When we send over files we deliberately allow the artists to use their best judgement and avoid any kind of micro management. This is producing some terrific and often unexpected results and I am absolutely loving working in this way.
I recently had a track where I continued to think “its just not quite right” for some reason, and then I finally figured that my original vocal take was far “too polite” in reflecting the subject matter. I’m super pleased with the lyrics, but it needed something new, if the track was to really work in the way I originally intended.
I sent it over to an excellent songwriter who is part of this project who rather politely made the same observation, which was quite gratifying and perfectly illustrates the power and usefulness of working in a collaborative manner. “Fantastic”, I said, “I 100% agree. Just go for it and add what feels right.”
I’ve blogged before about the unhelpful excessive use of superlatives in describing work and how a lack of critical thinking is not helpful to the creative process. When everything is described as “awesome” there’s no need to reflect on how to improve existing work. The most talented artists are always pushing forward, seeking out new sonic territory and further developing their own unique creative voice. The material from “All kinds of crazy” is more musically diverse and different to anything I have been involved with to date. Its an absolute joy to bring together some exceptional talent across the globe. I am grateful to everyone involved in this project either as an artist, or in sound or video production. This material will start to appear later in 2021 both in audio and video formats.
One of the joys of working with so many talented musicians is that the results are quite fascinating and nothing I might have originally envisaged. There is also a parallel remix project Code-E1 which is also turning out to be excellent and I suspect will surprise many folks.
I have always been a fan of high end recording gear in terms of amps and have to date been a big fan of Ear Trumpet mics, so I was interested to hear what all the fuss was about in the recording sector about this Austrian audio OC818 mic
For those interested in the technical aspects, check the link above.
I’ve used a number of microphones in studios and never really paid a great amount of attention to makes in the same way that I have done to audio interfaces, guitars and amps. Within the first hour of using the Austrian audio OC818, its crystal clear to me that this unit is very different to anything else to date. The responsiveness is quite extraordinary and the initial recordings sound so good that I’m going to re do some parts I had already recorded. To my ears everything sounds like a perfect representation of the vocal take. Many reviewers had made this exact same point and commented on the lack of a need for any post production. I’ve yet to try it out on instruments, but I suspect it will also impress in the same way.
I recently had to figure out a new name for a music project and it occurred to me that there are several music branding considerations always worth checking before you decide to action any project.
What is “Branding” and how is it useful?
Effective branding sending a message about your music, making it memorable for the public. It communicates to the wider public about who you are as an artist. It maintains consistent message about your own creative voice. It helps develop and maintain a connection with your chosen audience. It helps audience members connect with each other and celebrate your music.
What image/impression do you want to create? Does the name of the band or musical project reflect the intention you have in mind? A golden rule of marketing is if you must explain the term you have chosen, then its probably not the best fit for what you want to do. Is somebody already using the same term? With bands and musical projects, its easy to come up with what you think is a great name, start building the musical image and then find somebody got there first. I used to know the original bass player for the UK band “Embrace” who were going to call themselves “Curious Orange” until The Fall used it in a title for an album.
Is the domain name available?
I am amazed that some artists go to the trouble of selecting a musical identity without checking that they can obtain the domain name. I always check I can get the .com and well as the.co.uk for brand protection. Amazingly some artists just grab the.co.uk or worse still don’t check at all. There is nothing worse than going to all the trouble to choose a musical identity to then find it’s a domain for a strip joint in Vegas or another venture that is not helpful to your own efforts. I’m surprised that many artists don’t both to create their own websites and instead reply totally on social media. All social media platforms are 3rd party businesses, and most people are users and not customers. These platforms exist to generate income for their shareholders not to give free marketing for artists. As the old saying goes “You get what you pay for”. Yes, social media can be useful, but its smart to have a web presence you control 100% that is your interface to the wider world. Is the artist/project term you use memorable for the public? In one of my consultancy sessions for business I could not (despite being told many times) remember the company name. One of my recommendations was to change and simplify the brand name and once they did their marketing went from strength to strength. Invest in a good visual image and/or logo and use professional photographs. There is an old saying – “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I continue to be amazed that many artists do not invest in good visual images.
One of the challenges in being an independent artist is to get your music to a wider audience beyond colleagues and friends and many music PR companies advertise services to help make this possible.
I come from a business background and in 1980s and 1990s set up and ran a number of successful companies, which meant having to pay attention to marketing and advertising. Of course, there was no internet during this period, and most of the promotional work was done through newspapers. Back then I would spend at least 40,000 pounds on old school newspaper advertising alone, (that would be 80K plus now) so I am well versed in the whole concept of “risk v reward” when it comes to advertising and marketing. I do not however regard myself as a “Professional marketing expert” In 2000 – 2006 I wrote and recorded a series of spoken word and ambient CDs. I did all the marketing myself, but did have a distributer. This was pre streaming and I was earning between 600% and 160% net margin per CD, so tens of thousands of pounds. I also had one clip use on a film short played on national TV. In exploring music PR in 2021 I was interested to see how I could get my music to a wider audience and if any of these previous strategies would still work.
Since 2015 I have written and recorded 70 songs, released three albums and an EP and currently have three albums of very different material “in the vault” for future release. I’m very happy with the creative content to date, and especially happy with the three new projects. The challenge has always been to reach a wider audience. This article is about my experiences to date of music PR companies, including using paid services, as well as numerous discussions with industry professionals. My instinct is that the music industry is changing at some rate, and the old model of music promotion will need a radical update, but that’s just my gut instinct for now, I’m still trying to figure it out!
Music PR Company experienceswith my first band
I have previously blogged about the excessive use of superlatives in ad copy, and how in my view this is lazy writing. One of the first companies I used for music PR back in 2015 with The Small Change Diaries offered a 50% discount on their services, so the usual campaign fee of £750 was significantly less. For this they promised at least two online/magazine reviews and to write and send a press release to “music insiders”
The ad copy was
“Ready to take your music career to the next level?
Our ultimate promo package has been specifically designed to help grow your fanbase worldwide. Our industry experts will work with you to optimise your online presence, land essential press coverage and make sure your music reaches new fans.”
I am realistic to know that in business you get what you pay for and with new artists with very little actual track record, there is not a great deal to market as they are just starting out. This means “convincers” (what people say about you) are essential and one of the aims of music PR companies is to get the artist more convincers in the form of blogs and articles that will then create more perceived credibility to a wider audience. The first campaign resulted in a couple of respectable online reviews but didn’t really make a noticeable difference to our popularity. With the following album I used the same company again who continued to offer half price options and this time the service was significantly worse. It became clear to me very early on that the contact I had for the PR was clueless about writing even a basic press release.
I gave her two great music industry quotes which she didn’t even include in the first press release. Ultimately I rewrote the release myself and vowed to not use them in the future. Yes it’s great to be referenced in online articles and blogs, but to date none of this publicity has brought any direct creative or financial benefits. That said, all publicity is welcome and its a case of figuring out if its cost effective.
PR music company promises of “articles”
One of the promises from PR music companies is to give artists “published articles” online. This sounds great of course and when most people think in terms of “articles” they usually think of this in the context of magazines. On the two instances I used a PR service I wrote what was extensively a press release on the band, with photos, and this was essentially packaged as “an article” Nothing wrong with that of course, but in every instance the copy is favourable and I’ve personally never previously come across any of these extensive blog sites for such online copy. Some of those who mentioned the band included Indie Buddie and Essentially pop magazine. Online research suggests that many Music PR companies deliver these “articles” which are always positive and rarely probing in terms of any actual interview. This seems to be one of the main promises from some PR companies to get artists to sign up for packages. That said with some digging any artist can directly get such articles published without paying the PR company. You may ask yourself “Do the music PR companies have a budget to essentially pay for such appearances?” That’s not to say these are not useful in creating a positive image, but rather to look at the true value of investing in this medium. One way to measure the success is to track if there is a direct increase in social media subscribers once these articles appear. As a Nashville producer once commented to me a few years back
“Its all about reach and engagement”
Here are a list of online publications where from $125 I can get “an article” published without buying a “music PR package”
Article Spotlight On 99.9 Jamz Tampa (www.99JAMZFM.com) Spotlight On HOT 98.7 Detroit (www.HOT987FM.com) Article Spotlight On WiLD 103.5 (WiLD103FM.com) Article Spotlight On HOT 99.3 WQIS (www.HOT99FM.com) Article Spotlight On POWER 103.1 (POWER103ATL.com) Article Spotlight On 107.5 The Beat (107TheBeat.com) Article Spotlight On HITS 102.5 Phoenix (HITS1025FM.com) Article Spotlight On Awkward (www.AwkwardMagazine.com) Article Spotlight On Vault (www.VaultWeekly.com) Article Spotlight On Authentic (www.KnowAuthentic.com) Article Spotlight On POWER 107.9 LA (POWER1079.com) Article Spotlight On Revolver (www.Revolver-Mag.com) Article Spotlight On GRIND Magazine (GRINDWEEKLY.com)
You may notice that all these music/lifestyle/fashion sites look very similar.
There is an argument to say that “all publicity is good” but I’ve never had anybody reference any of these online magazine/blog pages other than Music PR companies looking to sell publicity packages. It’s flattering to see the band copy and photos online, but the best press and radio plays have to date always come from my own efforts. I also recently found a company that for a fee (as suggested above) will let you choose which magazine you feature in. All you need to do is to write 600 words of copy, add photos and they will get the magazine to publish it.
Essentially you are paying for your own advert. I’d be interested in any feedback on this issue from anyone who has found such positioning useful in generating any new kinds of music opportunities.
The video that was too controversial to promote
The strangest reply I had in recent times was having a video refused “on faith grounds” by a music promotion company. Here is the video brilliantly put together by Nick Bloomfield and the reply refusing to action any promotion.
Thanks for sending your song in. We appreciate you choosing us for your promotion needs; however, we would not be able to promote this song/video due to our faith-based views.
We would still love to promote a different song from you in order to fulfill the promotion credit if you’d like.
Please respond with your song link to this email and we will review promptly.”
I was surprised by the reply, but appreciate that at least they have some filtering process for accepting clients!
Alwaysdo your research
In recent times I’ve started to look at this issue of promotion again and adopted a two-fold strategy. One is to contact established PR companies and quiz them on what they offer and the second is to pay established industry professionals for their time and ask targeted questions. More than ever it’s essential for artists to do your research in such matters and appreciate that its useful to have realistic expectations of what any company can do.
I contacted a UK company and we scheduled a call. Before taking the exploratory call, I checked out their record with companies house online and also did a full online search to see what others were saying about them. The companies house info showed a very low turnover figure, and I couldn’t help but notice that despite a very glossy website over a period of months online and on social media, they always had the following positions available;
Director of Operations
Head of Services
Marketing & Events Intern
I come from a recruitment background, so I know all about what is required to fill positions and this seemed like a lot of open positions which never seemed to be filled.
I checked out my initial contact with the company on LinkedIn and found she had only been with the company for 6 month, which in itself is not an issue, but in our discussion, she constantly tried to impress me by stating that they were soon to have an office in New York. Of course “an office in New York” can mean just about anything and I thought it strange that they would be expanding to the USA when they couldn’t fill the UK positions.
My key question for any music PR promotion company is
“What can you do, that I can’t?
So far, from my own experience I have been unconvinced that any low cost PR music company can do anything that I can’t do myself, but I am open to persuasion, hence the current research in talking to such concerns. I have a background in business which helps a great deal as well as a number of good friends who are longstanding professional artists. These are usually the best source of down to earth useful information and such advice is a very long way from what is presented in a great deal of Music PR ad copy. I’m also 100% happy to invest in good advice, but many such companies, in my view, hugely hype what they are promising and I’ve yet to find a single artist who wholly endorses any company.
What’s the PR strategy and the best fit for your music?
In the introductory call with one advertising agent from a UK PR company, I asked her what her company’s strategy would be in promoting my forthcoming album. To my amazement she responded that they only focus on promoting via Spotify and by contacting “magazines” which brings us back to the whole “articles” sell, which I’ve already mentioned in this article.
I passed on this company as there were too many alarm bells ringing and I was wholly unconvinced that they could offer me any useful assistance. Their starting package was around a thousand pounds for a campaign. Interestingly I recently saw an artist place a 2 star review on Google, complaining that they received very minimal results and the communication was not great as she had to deal with many different people.
Two days later the review had vanished and 6 other glowing five-star reviews appeared in its place. Make of that what you will… I fully appreciate that marketers and record companies are looking at “packaging artists” to get fans and developing an image is a big part of that. However, in my view the emphasis on image is so great that often the music is a secondary factor. A lot of artist promotions increasingly look like fashion shoot as point reinforced by a friend of mine in the USA who tours stadiums internationally signing off one e-mail with the wonderful comment
“Nick I’ve got to go now to the dreaded photo shoot”
Anelephant in the room?
In one of my conversations recently with an experienced music industry head she mentioned
“We need to talk about the elephant in the room” I said “Ok, what does that mean?” She replied “Its more than a bit odd for a sixty year old guy to be playing with musicians in their 20s” (Rich Ferdi, I’m sure you will feel flattered to be classed as a 20 year old)
“Yes great isn’t it?’
There was a subsequent silence as we both concluded that we’d not be a great fit when it came to any music promotion, especially as I didn’t have the enthusiasm to play 100 gigs a year to “pay my dues”. As someone who runs eight websites, including two music platforms, I respectfully think there is a far better way in 2021 to reach an audience without driving up and down the M1 in the UK, with or without COVID lockdown restrictions.
The general exchange was very frank and I thanked her for some useful observations.
My next meeting with a PR specialist is this week. Here is part of the recent communication before the phone meeting
“Everybody’s situation IS different… but you’re still smart enough and ambitious enough to put new ideas into practice and jump into things you’re not 100% sure about.
That’s the REAL secret to progress – listening to the experts and implementing their advice, even if it’s something different or scary.
You got this – so let’s make beautiful music together. [Insert fist bump here]
We look forward to speaking with you soon!”
So far the style of the communications have been framed in a stereotypical USA motivation speak which sets my alarm bells ringing.
Following the previous e-mail, the day came for my break through session.
I’m not a fan of the term “break through” as it’s massively overused in my other non music profession and my usual experience is that those using this term tend to work in a very generalized manner. In the 7 days before the call I received five reminders of the appointment and I politely pointed out that I didn’t need 5 reminders. I also wondered why they didn’t use Skype or Zoom as with these mediums you have the chance to see a person’s responses rather than talking on the phone. I started with my question “What can you do for me, that I can’t do myself?” Immediately the caller started talking about saving money by teaching me to do my own production. I pointed out that I had already confirmed that that was not what I was interested in. After 27 minutes he admitted there was nothing he could do to help me and was perfectly polite and respectful.
What this reconfirms to me is that many such companies are working to a very strict template that may work for some people, but in my opinion they are not problem solvers and the general level of communication skills are pretty poor. They don’t ask targetted questions, so they fail to really determine what possible opportunities might be worth exploring. I’m surprised at how basic a lot of the advice is. I’ll continue to explore and keep an open mind but I am reminded by a comment from one of my producers who said
“Nick, they have no idea what they are doing especially since covid 19”
I would love to prove him wrong, by so far he’s bang on the money.
Music PR companies site errors and payment issues
I’m increasingly finding that many Music PR companies and promotional music services have major problems with their sites and online payment systems. I alerted one company that half their website links to their artist pages didn’t work at all. Yes, they fixed it, but it took almost 3 days to sort out what should be done in an hour by any reputable business. Another promotional service that was recommended looked like a good bet, so I decided to buy one of their services and test their claims. I press the “add funds” button and I get the following error message
Got Http response code 401 when accessing https://api.paypal.com/v1/oauth2/token.
Yes, when I raised a support message, they did offer to process payment manually, but 5 days on I have no replies on how to make this happen. It’s not a great advert for a business that claims to be in the world of communication/marketing is it?
The more I look into such concerns, I am finding a pattern of a lack of attention to basic business practice. Of course there will be exceptions to the rule, but this is my experience to date… Of course there must be many PR companies that do an excellent job for artists, but as I say “caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware.
Some tips I have found useful
If you are still reading and not descended into total despair by reading this, then there is some good news…
There has never been a better time to use existing mediums to get your work to a wider audience (when I say “wider” I mean beyond friends, family and colleagues. The caveat is that you need to be prepared to put in the time and also you will need to invest money into marketing. Below are some tips that have worked well for creating musical opportunities for my bands to date. They may not work for everybody of course as there is no magic wand despite what companies promise online. I always remind myself of the old saying in marketing
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”
Any marketing strategy means careful consideration of what you present to the wider public and crucially the timing of how you present it. Effective marketing campaigns are all about well paced promotions and ensuring that the message fits with the product or service. An effective campaign, means paying absolute attention to how the message is delivered to create maximum impact. If there is a target date for a release, everything needs to come into play on that target date, or the message gets diluted. Also another big mistake is for an artist to release promo material before their material is actually finished, This often happens when there is a lack of realistic planning.
“The music industry” is no exception and of course many record companies like to style artists, to reach a very specific audience. I confess to not being a massive fan of this style of cookie cutter packaging because the packaging often becomes more important than the actual music. As with all business, its about finding the right partnership for success. This is exactly the same with music production. There are scores of people selling solutions, its finding the right person for you.
1. Have your own website that you own and can shape to communicate your own creative voice. There has never been an easier time to do this and companies like Bandzoogle where you can set up a bespoke site really easily. Developing a professional site landed my first band an opportunity to play at an international music festival in Europe.
2. Set up and more importantly maintain your own social media platforms, including FB, YouTube and Instagram, remembering that these are all companies in their own right and exist to generate income for shareholders, hence the need to drive traffic to a site you own, YouTube is especially crucial as it really helps with search engines finding you online. It’s also very helpful to get good viewing stats. Ideally it shouldn’t make any difference what the stats are, BUT if people see 30 views, it creates a very different impression than 1000+ views. It shouldn’t matter, but perception is everything.
3. Remember to use the power of the word of mouth to spread the news about your work. Often this gets forgotten as people search for “the magic wand solution”
4. Pay attention to making your presence to the wider world as professional as possible, using good photos and paying attention to online copy. Many artists don’t invest in good photos and forget the internet is a visual medium. Well constructed video is also essential. Enthusiastic hand held footage can be off putting. You don’t need to be the next James Cameraon, but I’ve seen footage where the sound is so bad the footage is unlistenable
This is a platform from music lovers, for music lovers and to date all the live events have been sold out.
6. Do your research – talk to others about music promotion including companies that offer services, but ask the question “What can you do for me and who can I talk to who you have worked with to date?” Some companies will send written testimonials, but its far better to talk to artists to form a view of what to do next. Books like “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug offer great advice on how to present online. YouTube channels like Rick Beato can be a great source of information from people who have experience in the music business. Yes Rick is opinionated, but I’ve learned a lot from listening to his experiences in the industry and he seems very grounded.
7. Be prepared to put in the time and keep all online presences up to date. I’ve lost track of the number of artists who start off in a blaze of enthusiasm and then abandon updating their social media. Any form of marketing requires constant attention and focus and the music industry is no exception to this rule.
8. Beware people wanting “to manage you” who may have more enthusiasm than much needed skills to properly do the work needed. I’ve known artists who have well meaning colleagues with no actual business/marketing experience essential to professionally manage artists. Just because you may be a fan of the music, doesn’t mean you have the objectivity and business skills to help promote the artist in an effective manner. I don’t consider myself as a marketing professional, but I’ve advised many artists on what I consider to be basic marketing elements. A key question for any promotion and or ad copy is to ask the question “What’s its purpose?” If you are not clear on that, then its best to think again. Also get feedback from others who fit your audience demographic. This is why smart companies use focus groups, before running full campaigns.
9. Make good connections with radio stations and all other music delivery mediums that resonate with your creative work. This is more of part of a long term strategy in my experience. Years ago I was delighted when BBC Introducing played 7 of The Small Change Diaries tracks, but it made zero difference to our public standing and I later realised few listen to that show. Far better is to get plays on radio stations where you are in a mix of similar music or even better fully established artists which are known to the public. That is in my view much better positioning
10. Enjoy the ride. I would never want to rely on an income from music and certainly never sign a record contract and be beholden to a record company. That said I’m keen to reach a wider audience regardless of what then follows. In my view this is all about “playing the long game” and not hoping for instant results.
Firstly I have a massive respect for any artist creating their own music and wanting to share it to a wider audience.
My observations to date are that it’s possible to spend a huge amount of time and money with music promotion companies with no real benefits, hence the term caveat emptor. That said, of course it would be foolish to dismiss all music promotion and music promotion companies, but rather do your own proper research. All forms of promotion requires good strategic thinking and focus. Many “music promotion companies” from what I see talk about “magic wand solutions” which don’t translate into any real benefits for artists.
I appreciate not every artist has the inclination, time or skills to do this marketing work themselves as it’s a lot of work. As someone who teaches communication skills globally and advises on branding, I have yet to figure an effective strategy for all the music I have “in the vault” at present, hence this exploration. Ultimately it’s about seeing the actual results that ensue and these can be measured in many ways including increased social media interest online, music sales and of course bookings for gigs. As an artist its a real buzz to see yourself in print online and to see social media applause, BUT what next? Once the whooping has died down, the question is how does all this attention translate into any real verifiable benefits? That’s the million dollar question and to date I have yet to be convinced by any such promotional platforms. I’d love to be proved wrong and welcome any evidence showing this to be true.
My instinct is that the best way forward is with artist collaboration and building a new artist led platform rather than rely totally on many historical delivery mechanisms. What is clear to me is that all such promotions take time, planning and this all reminds me of the classic music business saying
“It takes ten years to become an overnight success”
“These are my thoughts and opinions, if you don’t like them, I have others” (apologies to Groucho)
I just had a 90 min conversation with the head of a distribution company that made total sense, so rare these days. I will report findings…
This is a short rant about one of my pet hates which I started to notice during the invasion of music talent shows, is where music and artists are described as “awesome” “amazing” and in other superlative terms. I appreciate that many promoters, PR agencies and artists want to write copy to get attention, but the overuse of superlatives in my view is self defeating as it ultimately kills any sensible critical evaluation. Terms like “awesome” “genius” brilliant” “ground breaking” should in my view be reserved for the very best of the best and not trotted out without any real consideration.
One of the main culprits are “talent shows” Talent show judges often would feedback to aspiring artists after a 90 second performance comments like “you are a real star” and “that was awesome” Yes, its probably well meaning and encouraging, but I would respectfully suggest that these are well meaning optimistic statements at best. Such shows are mostly about packaging an artist to a specific image and sonic template and unfortunately in my opinion this makes for never endling bland production line music that all sounds very similar to my ears.
I should at this point declare that in my non musical persona I teach communication skills internationally in Asia, USA and Europe so that background will make me far more aware of these patterns than the average person. One of the problems I have with the excessive overuse of superlatives is that they make everything very black and white or as we say in the communication world create “digital thinking” where we are left with adjectives that only express thinking in extreme terms.
Superlatives on social media and ad copy
Social media is full of superlatives where posters get carried away in their praise and lose any kind of objectivity in how they are describing what they hear and see. Lazy advertising copy also tends to default to the overuse of superlatives and ultimately this is in my view not a great strategy if you want to engage and maintain customer interest.
At this point you may respond “Don’t be so negative, you miserable git!’ but my central point is that the over use of superlatives means that all descriptions become essentially meaningless and lazy writing when everything is “awesome” and “brilliant”
Its like describing all food as Michelin star level cuisine, and makes any critical evaluation totally meaningless.
I totally admit that this is a personal view and the trend is likely to continue and probably get much worse in future times as more people scrabble to become stars, especially with the absence of live opportunities in the last 12 months.
Downturn in music sales = more hyped marketing copy?
I have been aware for a while that the music industry is in decline, but even I was surprised by this recent news
This week’s No1 album is set to be one of the lowest-selling ever, with Mogwai’s As The Love Continues expected to top the chart with sales of just 7,379.
Two decades ago, sales would often top 100,000.
Meanwhile last week’s No1, Slow-Thai’s Tyron, has tumbled to No22, behind greatest hits records from Sir Elton John and Fleetwood Mac.
Chart figures are based on sales from physical formats including vinyl and CD, plus downloads and streams.
This week’s Top 40 albums combined have sold just 11 per cent of what Adele’s last album, 25, managed during just its first week in 2015.
Even new artists like Celeste — winner of the Rising Star award at last year’s Brits, who had millions put behind her debut album Not Your Muse — have achieved underwhelming sales.
In my view this trend is part of the reason for more hyped ad copy which inevitably means the increased use of superlatives in marketing. Another set of culprit are many music colleges also are complicit in selling “the musical dream” where artists don’t get the best advice and are given quite delusional expectations about what is possible in “the music business” Yes, its useful to encourage artists, but the over use of superlatives actually kills creative aspirations as once you start to believe you are “brilliant” or “a genius” there really is nowhere else to go.
Some music examples (in my biased opinion) that actually are “brilliant”
I would decribe the following artists and albums as “awesome” but then what do I know, I’m a ranting old blogger and music lover that laments the lack of great songrwiting where songs were usually written by one or two people, not a team of writers seeking to fulfill the record company’s sonic brief for Spotify positioning
Albums that I would describe as “brilliant”
Tapestry by Carol King – a superb pop album brilliantly written
Sign of the times by Prince – hugely diverse album bursting with creativity
Remain in Light by The Talking Heads – great work by the band with Eno, terrific african grooves
Hoodoo man blues by Junior Wells – 60s album brilliantly played and recorded, stripped down superb songs
Miss America by Mary Margaret O Hara – great album of unpredictable provocative songs, one album and she disappeared
Blood on the tracks by Bob Dylan – superb well written songs after a break up
Of course these are just my opinion, everyone will have their own preferences
Many people will think ‘So what, its all subjective anyway!” but when we engage in the excessive use of superlatives, we run the risk of dumbing down how we evaluate music. I’ve know promoters who endlessley use the term “awesome” in almost every conversational exchange. In my world few artists, songs or experiences “fill me with awe” and I think that’s only a good thing. Many will of course disagree and I leave it up to you as to whether you find this article “awesome” “life changing” or just plain “old guy ranting” All such views are fine by me as we all collectively learn and develop skills through critical evaluation and discussion.
“These are my thoughts, if you don’t like them, I have others” (apologies to Groucho)
Work on the “All kinds of crazy” collaborations album is going really well. In total twelve tracks are planned with guest artists across the globe, including Towse from the USA, Emily Mercer from the UK, Laurent Zeller from France and Captain of the Lost Waves, Sharon Cannings and Ella Playford from the UK. There will be black and white videos for each track created by Nick Bloomfield, with four videos already “in the vault”
This a very different album, very stripped back and unlike anything else I have done to date. Its a very reflective piece of work and I’m extremely pleased with how its turning out. The instrumentation is also very different with a lot more piano than has appeared in the other albums to date.
The combination of artists is quite fascinating and I am truly grateful to be working with so many talented artists across the globe. Each of them bring something really special to this project. Carl Rosamond is doing sound production and the release date is planned for the end of the year.
The second album “All kinds of crazy” with be an album of collaborations with guest artists across the globe and will be very different to anything I have done to date. The third album with be under the name “Nick Cody and the heartache” and will be an all electric album. The band will include Rich Ferdi and Fergus Quill who have played in previous ensembles.
I have been doing a ton of recording over the last 10 months, for three different projects, the code-e1 electronic project with Black Star Liner, material for “Nick Cody and the Heartache” which is all electric guitar based music and a collaborations/duet album with some amazing musicians from all over the globe. I’m working with my long time producer Carl Rosamond and Black Star Liner for remixes on the Code E1 project.
The Recording process
The recording process has been very different from what I have previously been used to in laying down tracks from my first three albums. Firstly I am doing all the recording in my home studio in the UK and unusually using DI’s into the excellent UAD Arrow and then into the Reaper DAW. Seeing as I have a stack of terrific amps and preamps from Soldano, Two Rock, Fender and Mashall, this may seem to be a strange way to go, but its working brilliantly. The UAD is superb sonically and crucially allows me to use their unique unison preamp options.
The other difference with the recording process is that I’m using all electric guitars, the Collings I25 Deluxe, Moses necked/ Warmoth strat and the Ranson Tom Holmes equipped Telecaster. This allows for a terrific range of guitar tones. I’m also using a number of different pedals including the Zen Drive 2 as favoured by Eric Johnson and in recent times a number of Supro pedals.
Once I get basic guitar parts down, Carl will lock these into a template and then I can start on doing vocal takes with my good friend Agi, who also does BVs on tracks. Agi and I have worked on over 34 tracks to date including most of the new songs across these three projects. She is an outstanding singer and the best harmony singer I have ever come across. Carl will send the projects we record in Reaper to her as Logic files and she will add BVs. The versions that come back then go to Black Star Liner for the Code E1 project as well as being kept for the other two projects.
I’m super pleased with the results to date and its become clear to me that one of the keys to creating great music is to have a really good team of people involved in the project, who all bring something special to the table. We are fast approaching 30 finished tracks for Code E1 and a similar number for the other two projects. This material will be released throughout 2021 and 2022
I am increasingly convinced that the best hope for the future of great music is through artist collaboration. With setting up Music for the Head and Heart I have been fortunate to meet and interview many extraordinary artists from all over the globe. I’ve previously blobbed about how streaming has essentially killed online earning opportunities for many artists and of course covid 19 has also killed live gigs.
On a brighter note its given me the opportunity to focus on music creation at a whole new level and 2021 and 2022 will see the release of at least three new albums, very different in style, with some crossover material. One of the albums will centre around collaborations with some really extraordinary artists from USA and Europe as well as the UK. These will be revealed in due course and I am honoured and flattered with their enthusiasm for being involved in what will be titled the “All kinds of crazy” album.
The process of artist involvement
Since March 2020, I have written 30 new songs and 27 of these have already been recorded for one of the three projects. There will be alternative versions of some of these songs and I have approached a number of artists to take vocal parts and/or to add new musical contributions. To date the best results have come from simply giving the artists total free reign in their contributions instead of micro managing them. I’m blown away by the material we have received that is going to make for some excellent album releases. Special thanks to all those who have made contributions to date and the two producers who have done a brilliant job in mastering and remixing the material.
I’m a big fan of physical products and long ago abandoned ITunes when Apple started telling me which devices I could listen to purchased tunes on and it became clear that their position was that you are essentially ‘borrowing the music” like a lending library and you don’t own it. The Bruce Willis case highlighted this difference. I’ve been aware of Spotify for some time and recently see a lot of social media buzz about Spotify for artists, with artists complaining about the lack of financial return from the platform. Tunecore describes Spotify in this way
“Spotify has over 40 million users worldwide with 10 million of those users paying a monthly subscription fee. Over 3 million of those paying subscribers are in the U.S. alone. Spotify launched in Sweden and Norway in October of 2008, but didn’t launch in the U.S. in July 2011. The population in Sweden is about 10 million people, Norway is 5.1 million, and in the U.S. about 319 million people! Just imagine the amount of money Spotify and other streaming services will generate for artists and labels once streaming becomes the norm in the U.S. and other highly populated countries around the world. We are talking billions of dollars folks! And Spotify is still a relatively small service when compared to YouTube who have 1B users and iTunes who now have about 800 million accounts. As Spotify and other streaming services continue to grow so will its artist payouts.”
Call me naive, but Spotify can only function and prosper with artist support, without content, nobody is going to visit the platform. Artists who sign up for the platform and then complain about the poor financial return, remind me of those people complaining that Facebook ‘should support their music” not appreciating that FB is a business and most artists are “users” and not customers as they are not paying for the service in the first place. Both platforms give the artist “reach” in terms of a potentially bigger audience, but from what I see no real direct financial benefit.
Artists who left or refuse to be on spotify
There are a number of very sucessful artists who refuse to be on Spotify. In 2014, Taylor Swift pulled all of her music off Spotify. “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for,” In 2015 Prince removed all his music from Spotify and Neil Young pulled his music off Spotify and other streaming services because he found the sound quality to be sub-standard.
“I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution,”
I don’t feel right allowing this to be sold to my fans. It’s bad for my music.”
Neil has championed high resolution audio and is steadily releasing his back catalogue in this way. Personally I’m a fan of high resolution audio that is superior to the quality found on CDs and vastly better than mp3 quality.
Pete Townshend didn’t hold back on his thoughts regarding Spotify for artists
In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Pete Townshend said, “I’m a user of Spotify, so I feel like a complete hypocrite when I say: I think the guy that runs it is probably a f*cking crook.“
In a Guardian article David Byrne commented
“In future, if artists have to rely almost exclusively on the income from these services, they’ll be out of work within a year. Some of us have other sources of income, such as live concerts, and some of us have reached the point where we can play to decent numbers of people because a record label believed in us at some point in the past. I can’t deny that label-support gave me a leg up – though not every successful artist needs it. So, yes, I could conceivably survive, as I don’t rely on the pittance that comes my way from music streaming, as could Yorke and some of the others. But up-and-coming artists don’t have that advantage – some haven’t got to the point where they can make a living on live performances and licensing, so what do they think of these services?“
In researching this article I’m increasingly discovering that many of my favourate artists are not fans of Spotify including Jason Isbell
who in 2014 commented that “streaming services don’t add to my income in any way.”
Since writing this, it seems that Taylor Swift , Pete Townesend and Prince are now on Spotify! I’m note sure why they changed their minds but its 1 for big tech 0 for creative artists, in my humble opinion of course
Backlash against Spotify for artists?
I recently read an interesting article in Wired magazine about this very subject, citing Tom Gray
“During lockdown Tom Gray started tweeting with the hashtag #BrokenRecord. A lot. As a working musician (and 1998 Mercury Prize winner with his band, Gomez) and a director at music royalties collection society PRS, he found himself uniquely placed to advocate for change.
The subject of Gray’s ire was the apparent discrepancy between major labels banking upwards of $1 million every hour from streaming, and middle-tier or smaller artists who receive tiny amounts in comparison for their millions of streams. Concert violinist Tasmin Little was paid £12.34 for millions of streams over six months, for example, and anonymous tipsters report similarly meagre payouts. Now, Gray is part of a growing number in the industry advocating for a change to the way payouts from streaming platforms are handled.“
The Wired article points out
T”he biggest beneficiaries of the pro rata model are the major labels, who own the vast majority of recorded music in existence via deals favourable to them. Currently, if you sign with a major label, taking home 30 per cent of the streaming royalties earned by your music is considered about as good as it gets. And streaming, by narrowing how music is consumed, essentially exaggerates and exacerbates the age-old imbalance between the majors and the rest of the industry. For these reasons, Gray’s campaign is ultimately aimed at root-and-branch reform of how the music industry serves musicians – streaming is simply the most visible way into the issue.“
Other non financial benefits for artists on Spotify or head to pastures new?
The argument for non financial benefits for appearing on Spotify remind me of the “pay to play” argument and “playing for exposure” arguments presented to artists. It reminds me of some niche music festivals that promote the idea of ” Remuneration for playing” rather than a fee for playing. This in my view can be the slippery slope where the artist is always disadvantaged in favour of the business owner. Yes, there is a case for artists starting out to seek new opportunities and seek out new opportunities, but the danger is that there is an increasing perception that music/entertainment has not value and/or should be free.
My own thoughts are that the platform works well for the company, but devalues the artist’s creative content. One artist did have one solution which rather amused me (see below)
Another view on spotify for artists
Here is another view from a professional artist. He also makes some very valid observations about how tough it is for musicians to make music professionally. Two take aways from this excellent clip are that the artist needed to stream 7 miliion streams to make $25,000 and that Spotify is a tech business.