The price you pay for “free music”

In doing interviews for Music for The Head and Heart I’m increasingly finding that artists have a real challenge in generating predictable income and many are asked to play charity events, fundraisers and similar live gigs for no remuneration. I have absolutely no problem with charitable events, but one good friend pointed out that perhaps a charity event to support the working artists might be a good plan? This raises the whole question of the price we pay for “free music”

Here are some thoughts

The value from “trades”

With the advent of Spotify and many other music trends the performing artists are increasingly disadvantaged financially. Hobbyists as opposed to professional performers are often favoured by local pub venues and open mic type situations meaning less financial outlay for business owners. Its all sounds great doesn’t it? Free music for the masses? Well any smart person knows, there is always a cost involved in any relationship and this is no different…

” I’m not a fan of artists paying for “exposure” as often its a means for promoters to get free entertainment and in many cases the artists don’t even receive expenses for their work. Every year I have one promoter asking my 5 piece band to play for a charity gig where the artists don’t even receive the most basic of expenses. I think such expenses should always be on offer and then its up to the artists to accept or refuse on a case by case basis. When entertainment is increasingly presented as being available for no financial cost, then people start to devalue what is on offer.

I set up the Music for The Head and Heart Platform to give especially independent artists a voice and a means to connect to a wider public. Artists are invited to appear on the platform and the “trade” is that they get to be interviewed and play some songs which are then professionally edited and promoted to the wider public. The “trade” is mostly in time and for around an hour’s meet up, and with no financial outlay, many performers can have some really excellent footage produced and in some cases be part of one of the live paid showcases. Trades are not always financial trades, BUT ultimately professional performers need to earn a living and that means figuring out how to balance time and money.

Pricing and expectations

“As for the music business itself, the key things have not changed that much. It operates like any business and money still keeps things moving.”
Tom Jones

I’m a big fan of collaboration and reciprocation. I have built up a business reputation over many years that allows me to fund my love of music. I literally put my money where my mouth is and always ensure that artist’s work is valued. This means funding support acts and shows irrespective of whether I receive any income. The reason for this is that if we fail to value creative work then ultimately the quality of what is on offer will diminish as performers can’t maintain a time/money balance.

I’ve previously blogged about how many performers return to paid salaried work as they can’t earn a reasonable living from music alone. This inevitably means that the quality and diversity of what is available is increasingly reduced and I have often joked that all will remain will be open mics and giant stadium gigs with nothing in between.

So what next?

In my view, the best way forward is for performers of like minds to support each other and to create exceptional entertainment for the wider public. Its down to the artists to entertain and to ensure that they don’t give away their skills without factoring in the bigger picture. This is a tricky balance but many music enthusiasts can unwittingly become complicit in devaluing musical entertainment by being to ready to give away their art. This creates an understandable expectation from the public that music “should be free” and that’s IMO a real problem. Promoters and festivals also have IMO a responsibility to ensure artists receive fair pay for their entertainment skills.

I even recall one festival asking what “contribution” an artist might “need” if they are accepted to play one of the stages. I can’t imagine a top chef being asked such a question and in my view its disrespectful to performing artists. As a lover of music, I want to see more great live music and that means artists need supporting in their creative work. Imagine people then decided that they wouldn’t pay to see films at cinemas, the cinema industry would soon start to deteriorate and ultimately disappear. Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? All feedback welcome as IMO its an important discussion

2 gigs in 48 hours and filming

We just completed the second gig in 48 hours, both of which were filmed. The band were 100% on form and special thanks to Nick Bloomfield for video work and Carl Rosamond for sound production. This was an intense 48 hours but we have a great turn out for these performances. Over the next 6 months, we’ll be releasing some footage. Special thanks also to Evan Rhodri Davies, Nicky Bray and Stacy Mellor who did support slots and for everyone who came out to see us. Its increasingly a challenge for all artists to get live audiences and we appreciate the support.

Live gigs this week

Lights, Cameras, action!

This week The Caravan of Dreams will be playing two gigs in Leeds specifically to video the band. Increasingly its important to get band performances on video and we have some terrific songs to showcase.

This will be a full band affair on Thursday at The Grove Inn and then Friday at The Chemic Tavern in Leeds.

Both of these are “pay as you feel” events with some great support acts.

These are some of the last planned Caravan of Dreams gigs planned for 2019, before we go back into the studio to start recording new material. The new material will include a number of electric tracks and it’s great to dust off some terrific guitars and amps.

Live gig details HERE

Nick Cave Red Hand Files

I just got back from seeing Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files evening in Manchester. The tickets for this sold out immediately, so I was very pleased to be four rows from the front in the stalls.

I have long been a big fan of Nick Cave and his Red Hand files is a new initiative where he engages directly with his audience on a Q and A session where they can ask literally whatever they want. It takes a very brave man to open themselves up to such a scenario as anything is possible. The first few questions were all about bereavement and I began to think this could be the theme for the evening, three hours of talking about death. Fortunately the questions then opened up to a wider range of subjects including his process for writing songs. I have no issues with questions on death, but three hours would for me been a bit of a stretch.

In between Q and A Nick also played a series of stripped down songs on the piano. This was fascinating as I am used t seeing him with The Bad Seeds which is a powerful sonic collective and it was great to hear songs like “Into my arms” “Papa won’t leave you Henry” and “Stagger Lee” in this format. The Bridgewater Hall maintained their perfect record of problematic sound for the first half of the evening, but fortunately this improved as the night went on. I have always been impressed by the quality of Nick Cave’s writing and the sign of a great song is that it works brilliantly on a single instrument.

the red hand files

We learned a great deal about Nick through the course of the evening, including his admiration for Mark Smith from The Fall, Marc Bolan who he rated above Bowie in terms of lyrics and his meeting with Bob Dylan at Glastonbury. The Red Hand Files is a very different type of audience interaction and only a seasoned performer would be able to truly pull this off. Every question, no matter how daft was met with genuine professionalism. When one audience member shouted “Play some music” and the following one said “I’ll be brief” Nick commented “You take as fucking long as you like”. This type of confidence and professionalism is rare in an artist and Nick Cave remains one of the smartest minds and superb entertainers on planet Earth, always developing his craft in music, film and writing.

The Red Hand Files is very different to anything I have seen before and its refreshing to see an artist pushing the boundaries of what is possible in an age where a lot of the time music has become very predictable and dull.

Flying solo at Mill Chapel

I was lucky enough to be invited to perform at a charity event last night at Mill Chapel Leeds. This is very unusual for me as I usually perform with a band or as a duo and this was an entirely different experience. I decided to pick two tracks, one old favorite “There’s only one of you” on ukulele and “All kinds of crazy” which is a brand new song that I have never player before. This was performed on the superb Collings Waterloo guitar. Both instruments were plugged into a Henriksen Blu amp and the Waterloo was amplified via a Schertler bug pickup which works brilliantly in such situations.

nick cody

This was terrific charity event and a showcase for any young singers who on the night contributed to a magical evening. I was pleased with my own performances and it was a great chance to work up an older track in a new way as well as play “All kinds of crazy for the first time”

The Henriksen Blu is a fantastic amp and I have blogged about this many times. I love that it simply replicates the sound of the instrument perfectly without having to change any EQ settings.

This solo outing was a real light bulb moment for me. Firstly it reassured me that the songs stand up really well. It also showed me that many of these older songs can be reworked in a stripped down format. This fits perfectly with the idea for my next project. I’m increasingly interested in “less is more” I’ll continue to play with the full Caravan of Dreams ensemble, but I’ll also explore more solo and duo formats for playing.

nick cody

When often, less is more in musical gear for live gigs

I just got back from seeing John Schofield play a solo gig in Leeds. He had a very simple set up, one guitar, a fender amp a looper and a Stryman pedal. When I saw The Secret Sisters last year, they also had a simple set up, one Collings acoustic guitar and two mics. Then they reduced that set up to one Ear Trumpet mic, which sounded absolutely fantastic. In fact it sounded so great, I started looking into Ear Trumpet mics and am going to purchase one.

The first time I saw Tori Amos, who played a solo gig at Manchester Free Trade Hall in Manchester and played one piano all night. There was no band and she never sounded better than that night.

My point is that often “less is more” and many of the most sublime musical performances have been where artists have opted for this simplicity. There is something truly wonderful about this stripped back approach.

A few months ago I had a series of mishaps and for the first time ever blew not only one amp, but both Henriksen Bud amps just before a debut gig with “The Caravan of Dreams.” Fortunately I still had my Henriksen single channel Blu amp. This was the simplest gear I have ever taken when playing live. I had no boost pedals, effects (I rarely use these anyway) and it was a case of “plug in and go” You know what? This was probably the best sound I have had on stage to date.

Often I’ll see artists post online about getting the cheapest gear and although I appreciate everyone has budgets the old adage “Buy cheap, buy twice” comes to mind. I’ve never regretted buying really good gear and often it either holds its value and/or increases in value. Some niche gear disappears and then becomes really sought after. One example are the excellent Sony MV1 video cameras that I use extensively on the “Music for the Head and Heart project” Often great gear never appears second hand. I have never seen a Henriksen Bud amp or Ear Trumpet mic appear second had anywhere. People who have great gear rarely let it go and often simple set ups revolve around one great instrument.

Yes, often “less is more” and I’m pondering a side project where I”ll scale back gear to the simplest set ups and record with an ear trumpet Myrtle mic making this a very old school way of working.

Henrksen Blu live outing – Less is more

I have blogged a great deal on the excellent Henriksen Bud amps and last week I took the one channel Henriksen Blu out for the first Caravan of Dreams live outing. The venue had a very small stage and with The Caravan of Dreams there are five of us, so space is tight. I decided to take the most stripped down rig I could and that meant only taking the nine pound Henriksen Blu and a Lava Ultramafic cable. We took a DI out from the Henriksen Blu as well as miking it up. Usually, I will also take a preamp/volume booster, but this time I didn’t bother. The challenge with ukuleles and other small bodied instruments is to get great sound. In the world of ukuleles often the sound is far from great and often really horrible. It’s not easy to find a good solution as different ukes respond differently and there is in my experience no one solution for all situations.

The Henriksen Blu has 120 watts and superb EQ, so there’s a huge amount of sonic flexibility. It’s also wonderfully small, but more than loud enough for live situations. In the Caravan of Dreams ensemble, I’m competing with percussion, double bass, piano and violin, so I need an amp that will cut through. The major lesson in taking the Blu out for live gigs is that often “Less is more” and this was probably the best on stage sound I have come across to date, just fantastic. 

I admit to being a sound obsessive, but make no apologies for this. I like to hear the very best sound and have discussed this at length with fellow musicians and my good friend Martin Simpson who wonderfully described the Henriksen Bud (a two-channel version of the Blu) as ‘a tone monster”

Album launch May 11 2019

The album launch for “Tales of Dark & Light”

We are currently working up some of the songs for the live set and it promises to be a great night from The Caravan of Dreams with support. We’ll be doing some warm-up local gigs in forthcoming months. 

Tales of Dark and Light will have 14 tracks and involves 12 musicians, the core members being myself (Nick Cody) Agi on vocals, Fergus Quill on double bass, Jed Bevington on violin with guest musicians. The music is pretty wide-ranging and this is by far my most ambitious project to date!

 

Are you getting great value from live music gigs?

I was thinking recently about what is great value in terms of attending live music gigs. Last night I attended a Martin Simpson charity gig for a local school where he was joined by Nancy Kerr for the second set. In total, the evening was two hours of the most sublime and exquisite music, from some extraordinary musicians. It was a magical evening where the sound was great and we have excellent seats. The ticket price? Just fifteen pounds.

Earlier this year I saw Bill Frissell play The Vanguard in New York on two occasions. Again the sound was fantastic and we had front row seats. It was like having his trio play in my own living room. The capacity for the venue is 125 and the etiquette is that people are there to listen to the music, not to take endless video footage with mobile phones. The ticket price was $25 .

Last month I saw The Secret Sisters play a local folk club. I blogged about this previously and they were just fantastic, smart original music at its very best. They played for two hours and the ticket price was fifteen pounds. These are all great examples of terrific entertainment and great value for money. I have stopped going to arena-sized gigs or festivals where either the setlist time is less than an episode of Eastenders, often with horrible sound as its just not in my view great value for money. 

Over the years I have seen some amazing gigs including Pink Floyd playing Dark Side of the Moon, the original Gong playing a free Hyde Park Concert, Neil Young in 1976 play Hammersmith Odeon two nights in a row, The Allman Brothers with Eric Clapton at The Beacon Theatre in New York among many others. The best concerts were almost all in sensibly sized venues where the artist could really connect with the audience. These days I am pretty picky about how I want to spend my time and who I want to see. I’m a great believer in live music and an active sponsor in making ready good live music available to a wider public.