How much enthusiasm do you have for music streaming and video online?

With the absence of live events globally, understandably many artists are instead running online events. The medium is of course totally different. Instead of a 3D live experience, you have a 2D experience with all the technological changes that are commonplace with attempting such activity. Even major artists are discovering the limitations of technology. Even my favorite live artist Nick Cave had issues with the live streaming of his recent solo event “The Idiot’s Prayer” and it seems that the technology is not really stable enough universally for such events.

Concentration time and cost for watching online?

Personally I’m not a fan of anything online on a PC that is longer than an hour. The experience is fundamentally different to a live event. Yes. there’s no driving, parking and issues with people talking during gigs (a pet hate) but the atmosphere is not the same. Also the sheer volume of material online means that I feel bombarded by the amount of choice. I find myself passing on opportunities to watch artists I would normally jump at.

Many online events are free or pay as you feel, so it seems to me that artists are still adjusting to this new medium. A friend commented yesterday that she was surprised that an artist was charging 20 pounds for an online event and commented “I love her music, but I’m not paying that!” Personally I can’t get enthusiastic about many online viewings and that maybe the volume of material out there or the lack of differentiation.

Songs of Hope and the future of live events

A few of us at Music for the Head and Heart even before covid 19 decided to release video showcasing artists from around the globe. The idea is always to keep shows concise and episode 5 that launches monday is under 20 minutes. I have a suspicion that this is around the best length to keep an audience engaged.

Time will tell what happens to live events, but when longstanding shows like “Phantom of the Opera” close, then that’s a real indication of changing times. Big festivals and tours require planning and I suspect things are still too uncretain even for planning in 2021. Yes, there is talk of socially distanced outside events, but I’m not sure of the demand for such scenarios. Hopefully something great will emerge from this shake up, time will tell

Slow Time with the Supa Trem

I’ve recently rediscovered the superb Fulltone Supa trem. I’ve always like the analogue sound of the original unit and now I am using the mark 2 stereo version in recording. This allows for the guitar sound to really fill out and to my ears allows the guitar to be more like a piano. In recent weeks I’ve written four different tracks using this sound, all of which are way slower that I would normally opt for.

This makes for a very different vocal dynamic as there is literally nowhere to hide! At this rate I may end up with a whole new album of this really laid back more reflective series of songs that are the polar opposite of another sister project I am working on. Maybe its being in lockdown, but this is certainly a really creative curve ball that is quite unexpected but so far has been quite fascinating.

Home studio regime

One of the smartest things I did pre covid lockdown was to review my home studio setup. I’ve blogged previously about using the Arrow UAD, and Acme Motown DI which have become my core tools.

The benefit of having a home studio that it is there 24/7, so I can drop in at anytime to put down sketch ideas or add to existing ideas. This has proved to be a brilliant way to make best use of time and to work in a really spontaneous manner. Many of the new tracks were recorded really quickly and as one of the producers I am working with keeps saying “don’t overthink it”

I’m a big fan of working in this way and its certainly working in terms of producing a really great set of new material that is different to anything I have created to date. I’ve always felt that songs appear in all kinds of unexpected ways and one of the keys to get the best results is to capture them as soon as the idea first appears

What next for artists & music venues?

Today sees the welcome funding for the arts finally from the government, but covid 19 has created a major problem for both theatres and music venues. I’m hearing that one of the key issues is that most venues need 80% capacity to maintain predictable viable income, but with even a reduce 1m social distancing rule, that will be more than halved.

Mark Davyd of the music venue trust commented

“When we eventually emerge from lockdown, Grassroots Music Venues, the absolute bedrock, the foundations, the cornerstone on which our world beating £5.2 billion per year industry has been built, are going to be essential to live music bouncing back. It is therefore economically short sighted and frankly ridiculous to put a £5 billion a year industry at long term risk for lack of a short term £50 million investment.

The generosity shown towards our #saveourvenues campaign since we launched it in April has been staggering. The £2m we have raised to date has saved literally hundreds of venues in the short term, but the situation is still dire and relying on donations simply isn’t sustainable as we move into a recovery phase. With that in mind let’s act now and protect what we have, because what we have is incredible and it is ridiculous to put ourselves in the position where we might permanently lose it for less than 1% of the income it generates for us every single year. £50 million in financial support and a temporary tax cut, that’s all we are asking.

Who loses if this doesn’t happen? Not just the venues, not just the artists, not just the audiences, not just our communities. The government is the biggest loser of all here; billions of pounds of future tax revenues is on the line. Every other serious cultural country in the world is acting to protect its future talent pipeline…. and they don’t even have the incredible talent and the vibrant pipeline we have in the UK. We need our government to step up we need them to do it now.

I’m not sure how much, if any of the government package will reach grassroots venues, but my own observations are that many were already struggling pre covid 19. I’m fairly sure that the big venues will survive, but my concern is for all those 100 – 250 capacity venues which IMO offer the best environment for seeing artists.

My heart goes out to all those artists who reply upon such venues in maintaining an income as its a hammer blow to maintaining any kind of regular income. I also feel sorry for all those music students graduating from university, who suddenly discover that the world will be very different from now on.

Streaming options?

Some venues like The Vanguard in NYC have moved to streaming concerts and this maintains an audience connection. It is of course a very different experience, but one that we may have to accept as a substitute for attending live events. The irony is that for years I have lamented the apathy of people attending live events and the classic Joni Mitchell line comes to mind

“Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone”

The challenge with streaming as I have previously blogged is to maintain good quality sound. For this reason when we run the Music for the Head and Heart shows with artists from all around the globe, we pre record the material. Social media is currently flooded with online performances and I’m not convinced that there is an audience for this volume of material. The danger is that people literally start to switch off from watching and listening.

Promoting new music?

I know of a number of artists who planned to release music in 2020 and who now are having to rethink how to promote their music. Traditional PR companies are IMO similarly stumped as the whole world has changed. One PR company’s strategy was to only focus on promoting artists via Spotify and personally I am unsure that such a narrow approach is commercially viable.

Live music has traditionally been a key ingredient in music promotion and of course this is how artists develop musically. I was reflecting on all the gigs I did with The Caravan of Dreams and treasure those moments and who knows when such opportunities will return? Last year I was lucky enough to see the last Martin Simpson gig of 2019 at Firth Hall in Sheffield that was one of those magical evenings of entertainment, which is never the same when watched on video.

Conclusion

Even if a vaccine appears in the near future (the best guess is around 12 months) I suspect the world of entertainment has fundamentally changed. Major concerts like Glastonbury have indicated that they will not be viable if they cancel in 2021.

Personally I’d like to see a return to smaller venues where people come to watch and listen to artists, but who knows when that may be possible? One thing is for sure, I massively value all those great gigs I have both attended and played at in days gone by.

Into the electric zone

After many years of playing mostly acoustic music I now find myself immersed in writing a whole bunch of material on electric guitar. I have amassed a great collection over the years so there’s a lot of choice but I’m defaulting to my Warmoth hardtail strat and Ransom telecaster both equipped with terrific Tom Holmes paf pickups.

An even greater surprise to me is that I am recording totally by DI instead of by miking up amps. I’m using the excellent Acme Motown DI unit and a Zen Drive 2 pedal into the Arrow UAD interface. I’m using a Tom Holmes bridge pickup on all tracks and these of course sound great. I’m also exclusively using the Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic for all vocals.

After recording three albums of acoustic instruments, its a real surprise to be in a new sonic territory of overdriven guitar sounds. The Zen Drive 2 has been a game changer and I am about to receive a rare Black Magic Zen Drive unit, so I have a back up. The combination of the Zen Drive and the Acme is extraordinary and wonderfully simple to use.

Keeping in simple

There’s a good reason why many classic pop and rock songs are written to a formula, verse, chorus. middle eight. I’m rediscovering the joys of working simply with strong melody lines and sharp lyrics. Of course I’ve always been a fan of these two ingredients but usually I have a full band of up to another five members to work with. Now I’m doing everything myself so I’m working faster in my home studio and during the covid 19 lockdown I have more time than usual.

Many of the new songs start with a riff and develop from there. I learned some great songwriting tips from my good friend Tim Booth from James and am putting his advice to good use. This approach is certainly working and I already have a bunch of new material in the vault.

Working on 2 simultaneous projects

I’m working on two simultaneous projects during the lockdown. One of the projects is not directly linked to “Nick Cody” and is totally different to anything else I have done before. The second project is working with stripped back electric tracks with additional input from some of my trusted musical colleagues who always deliver in spades.

Conclusion

The covid pandamic has sparked a great deal of creativity and everything is geared around electric guitar. Last night I played a uke live on zoom for the first time and it was strange after three solid months of distorted electric guitar. I of course love both styles of instrument, but I am having a blast with this electric work.

What are the future earnings options for musicians?

I am fortunate to know many excellent professional musicians from around the world and all of them have been by Covid 19. This is requiring a massive rethink and live appearances have all been wiped out. Its an extraordinary situation and it is not going to change anytime soon

Local musicians affected

Many local musicians were already struggling pre pandemic and I recall one niche musician saying he was struggling to make ends meet and wondered if he could MOT his car.

With the advent of covid 19 he is one of the many that may have to rethink whether its viable to continue to reply on music as a predictable source of income. I’ve long thought that many artists live literally from one gig to another and of course there is nothing new in that, but covid 19 creates all manner of additional problems

People and venue challenges

There is a current argument raging about the acceptable distance people for people to socially distance during covid 19. At 2 metres most indoor venues are not viable. Theatres generally need 80% capacity to be viable and the 2 metre rule means they can only accommodate 20%, which is not economically viable. Regardless of whether this changes, many smaller clubs and venues will close. As one producer said

“Many artists are gonna have to drop a division when playing live”

The second issue is whether people will even return to attending live events in the same numbers. Most people are creatures of habit and a three month total change of habits is going to have a lasting effect. My guess is that it will be a long time before audiences return to live events in the same numbers.

The Online solution?

As soon as the world went into lockdown many artists immediately and understandably shifted to running online events. There are many challenges with these format including the technical challenges in maintaining good sound and visuals.

My own experience is that the quality is massively variable. Some online efforts have been like watching a car crash, while others have been really excellent.

Jack and the Vox from USA have been putting out pairs of songs on a daily basis and have been terrific entertainment. What both these examples have in common is the attention to detail and really superb performances. They remind me of Daryl’s House, always engaging and unpredictable.

Martin Simpson‘s first live show was exceptional, really terrific sound, a great set and of course a superb performance. Martin is shooting a lot of video from home and as always he is truly engaging and fascinating to watch

The online medium is a different environment, like a TV show but without the high production values. This is totally different to a live experience. I’m personally not a fan of calling pre recorded material “festivals” or “mini festivals” as they are nothing like a festival experience.

Captain of the Lost Waves has done a series of terrific shows that have delighted his growing fanbase as well as connecting to a new audeince

All these artists have a strong work ethic and crucially smart strategic thinking.

The difference that makes the difference

Many people I know feel that social media is swamped by online events and many unfortunately are not that great. I suspect the ones that are more creative and themed will survive whereas the others will disappear.

Artists with strong fan bases will in my opinion do well and as always artists will need to find new ways to capture public attention. This is perhaps not a bad thing as it means there will be more focus on quality as audiences will have less spending power. Smart artists are always moving forward and exploring how to connect to new audeinces. This means focussing on differentiation and avoiding just doing exactly the same thing as everyone else.

Snatching failure from the jaws of success?

Unfortunately having great talent is not in itself enough to generate predictable income for artists, you have to also have some business skills. I’ve known some very good musicians who spectacularly “snatch failure from the jaws of success”

Usually they are too polarised in their ways of thinking and can’t seperate social and business interactions. I set up Music for the Head and Heart and Songs of Hope as a free resource for artists to connect to new audiences. This is one of many initiatives that I fund personally to help musicians.

Smart musicians appreciate that in order to earn a good living rather than just scraping by, you need to embrace a wider audience and that means building new connections all the time. I learned from my non musical persona teaching business skills, that often you have to expand thinking and work with a wide range of people rather than a narrow niche of people who agree 100% with everything you already think!

Conclusion

I predict new and more innovative ways of connecting with audiences will emerge. Many artists that were just scraping by will I suspect disappear if they don’t adapt to the new dynamic. I can’t imagine a world without great music and hopefully the “new normal” will result in some real great new entertainment. Of course its 100% up to the artists what they want to do and whether that want an audience of thousands, millions or just themselves, BUT for most people time needs to be funded in some way and these thoughts are on strategies that help make that happen.

Recording during lockdown

Aside from two very exciting 2 mile round trips to buy milk, I’ve been indoors now for 7 weeks. Fortunately pre lockdown I organised everything I need for the studio for recording . As I have previously blogged we’ve been using VST connect to record studio to studio as well as doing some work here using UAD Arrow interface, the Acme DI into the Reaper DAW.

This simpler stripped down set up brings challenges as well as benefits. The benefits are that less options really focusses the mind. We’ve recorded 4 tracks to date. For “Hold that Thought” and “That gal’s as cool as fuck”, we already had electric bass and percussion down from when we were all in the studio. Similarly I recorded “All kinds of crazy” in the studio with Ella Playford and played all parts on my excellent Waterloo acoustic. This is the only time to date we did didn’t use a DI approach

With “All is fine until the world goes pop” and “Your chosen one” had all parts recorded on electric guitar. I’ve been using the excellent Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic for all vocals. We now have 5 tracks recorded, mixed and mastered. Everything to date had been on guitar. On “Hold that thought” I started using the Zed Drive 2 as favoured by Eric Johnson and this has become one monster of a track which I’m really pleased with.

I currently have 5 more tracks to record, but new ideas are appearing all the time. I’m having to think differently and doing a shout out to a few musician friends for input. One of the next tracks will be “Wild hair and cocaine eyes” which is centred around a guitar riff. I have Adrian Knowles kindly send over a bass part, so next up will be vocals and additional guitar parts. I suspect it will either be great or a total train wreck. I’m also working on a stripped down version of a Caravan of Dreams song that we played live but never recorded, “Sticks and Stones” This will be just guitar and vocals with perhaps violin from my good friend Laurent Zeller. In short I have plenty to do with this project.

The results are a far cry from anything else I have released to date and the plan is to release video for each of these new tracks. I’m also further appreciating the value of having an excellent producer, without whom we’d never get such excellent final results.

Electric guitar explorations with the Zen Drive 2 pedal

To my great surprise, I am currently playing and recording a lot of electric guitar. This is a far cry from the last four years of acoustic work that revolved around guitars, ukuleles and other instruments. This is a great chance to revisit many pedals I have including the excellent Zen Drive 2 pedal.

Zen Drive 2

I have always liked this pedak that to my ears has a very Robben Ford tone. I’ve been using it with the Acme DI straight in a DAW, and it sounds fantastic. The sound is in similar territory to the Dude pedal which I have also used on the latest set of recordings. The Zen Drive 2 is great for rhythm as well as lead work I’ve used all manner of pedals over the years and settled on a few which give the very best tones and keep the character of the instrument.

Here’s a video of the Zen Drive 2 in action

Recording in a DI manner is also very ususual for me. I’m really surprised at how good the overall sound is and of course having an excellent producer and using UAD plugins is an absolute game changer. I’m loving this very stripped down way of working and the material is rockier than anything I have recorded previously.

Musical landscape post Covid 19?

The Covid 19 pandemic has brought massive change on the planet and of course the music industry is hugely affected. These are very uncertain times and I suspect the musical landscape post covid will never be the same again. As soon as ‘South by South West” was cancelled I realised that we had a massive problem.

All my professional artist friends had every single live performance cancelled and that meant zero income. Nobody really knows how the musical landscape will appear lost covid 19. My hope is that live music will return as such events are one of my true loves in life.An “egg in one basket” and the use technology? I have of course blogged in the past about the myth and reality in the music business and covid 19 will in my view create a massive reset for the music industry.

Use of technology during covid 19

Many artists earn a living with income from one gig to another and suddenly that income stream vanished. I have previously blogged about how tough it is for artists to generate a working wage from music and the pandemic has highlighted as one friend said “My egg was in one basket, and now that basket is no more!”

Many performers have started to use technology to stream live appearances with varying results. There are all manner of challenges with the technology and of course the number of people online is at an all time high. This affects bandwidth globally and that affects the quality of what is streamed. With the Music for the Head and Heart platform, we opted for recording artist material for this reason. That way we can ensure the picture and sound quality are at a high level.

Streaming and “festivals online?”

A number of friends have commented that social media and especially Facebook are now full of artists streaming music. The term “festivals” is now being applied to such events. The quality of what appears is variable to say the least and it will be interesting to see if this trend continues over a longer period of time as this is of course a few different form of interaction without mass human gathering. I was surprised to see one niche group of music promote a ticketed event as a “festival” when it was lot a live stream, but a series of artists having recorded in their homes! Personally I think this is a bit of a stretch in calling this “a festival” but that’s just a personal view and I appreciate that many people have to try and scratch a living in whatever way they can.

The biggest challenge for many artists in terms of generating income from online video is that the public to a large extent, expect video to be free. Youtube has a huge amount of free content, including full gigs often in high resolution with great sound. The experience of watching online is of course very different to attending an event, but with all the current uncertainty nobody knows what the future holds in terms of live events.

There’s an even bigger challenge for ukulele and many other niche music events is that in many (but not all cases) the audience are not there primarily to listen to artists but rather to play. As a longstanding ukulele player and teacher commented

“Nick, they don’t want to listen to music, they just want to jam with each other”

My experience is that this is true for some ukulele circles, but there are artists like Victoria Vox who are reaching a much wider audience. Similarly the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain also attract a mainstream audience and are great entertainers. As the uke festival audience enthusiasts are generally older, this poses additional problems for future festivals as covid 19 is more problematic for that age group.

Studio recording during Covid 19

Studio recording in the traditional sense has of course been massively affected. During lockdown artists can’t go to studios to do recording so remote and home recording methods are going to be on the increase. I’ve been blogging on using Steinberg VST Connect Performer. This is probably the most advanced technology for remote recording and we’ve had good results to date. However this is not an easy option for many artists and even a seasoned producer may find that this is a very new way of working and Steinberg would do well to update their instruction videos as many aspects of working this way are not as clear as they could be.

I’ve also been using a UAD Arrow with an Acme DI into Reaper DAW to great effect. This is a simple set up which is producing some great results. I’ll send over files to my producer and we’ll then use VST Connect Performer to add additional tracks. I’m also using the Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic for all vocals and loving the results. I’m lucky to have amassed all this gear just before the pandemic and this allows me to work up new material at an accelerated rate. Its a bit of a baptism of fire, but I suspect that the future of artist recording will involve a lot more home recording than in days gone by.

This is a great time for learning about recording as there are many great low cost resources out there. One superb example is the Reaper DAW which can be used for free during the covid period. Check out Reaper HERE I use this DAW for all recording and it took just five minutes to set up.

Future live music events?

People are mostly creatures of habit and the pandemic has meant that live events have all disappeared. Some festivals and clubs may disappear of course through financial difficulties. One scenario may be that people value music more and flock more to live events. Another scenario is that people become more cautious about group gatherings and stay away.

My instinct is that the musical landscape will be very different and there will be a substantial reduction in live opportunities as even before the pandemic many festivals and clubs were already struggling. I’m a massive fan of live music, although I favour smaller venues these days and the idea of a huge festival is not that attractive. The major festivals in 2020 were all cancelled and I suspect many will be cancelled for 2021 until there is some kind of cure for covid 19. These are very strange times and I feel like I’m in some strange alter universe.

Final thoughts

Nobody knows what will happen post covid 19, but in my opinion the musical landscape will be very different. Adaptability will be crucial and this means thinking in very different ways. One thing is certain, artists will continue to entertain and in my view the world needs as much of that as it can find right now.

That Gal’s as cool as Fuck

We just finished mastering a full band track called “That gal’s as cool as fuck” The song is about Scarlet Rivera who was the violinist on Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Tour. My good friend Kit Bailey on seeing the movie wonderfully commented on social media

“That gal’s as cool as fuck!” and I thought “What a great title for a song!”

I loved Dylan’s work from that period and especially the album “Desire” Scarlet’s violin work really made that album and I wrote this track about her meeting with Dylan. Here are the lyrics

That Gal’s as cool as fuck


There’s a rolling thunder, sweeping through this town,
Marty’ s got his camera, to get the whole thing down
A hard rain is falling, to wash this sad away,
Music from the heavens playing night and day

Chorus
When Bobby sings with scarlet strings, the audience’s in luck
Sweetest sounds are ringing from the gal – that’s cool as fuck

She’s dancing with the twins respectful for the space,
Wild, withdrawn and silent behind this painted face,
Heading down to Brooklyn, for a taste of blue,
This simple twist of fate reveals all that’s true.

Chorus

A desire is forming down he Bitter End,
Isis in the headlights, messages to send
One more cup of coffee, sets aside the shy
A crossing of the stars, no time to wonder why

Chorus

scarlet rivera