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

Its all about guitar today

Today is all about putting down guitar tracks for my first ever cover version. After recording 44 tracks to date, this is new territory. I’m also loving working with the Acme DI box, the Ear Trumpet Myrtle mic and the Arrow UAD unit.

I have blogged a lot about the Acme which was used extensively on Motown albums and it has a very distinctive 60s sound to my ears. I keep thinking about the third Velvet Underground album in terms of sound and that’s in my view no bad thing. This is a total departure from all my acoustic guitar and ukulele work and requires some very different thinking.

I’ve also found myself using the same guitar a Warmoth custom hardtail strat with a graphite Moses neck and a Tom Holmes bridge pickup which is giving a great great sound. I’m using Reaper DAW to put down the central tracks and tomorrow I’ll be hooking up with Agi and adding vocals before connecting with Carl Rosamond in the afternoon to explore mixing.

These as we know are very strange times globally and these recording sessions are totally different to my normal way of working. To start with I’m playing all the parts and doing all the vocals. We are also working really quickly on material and there is something to be said for such concise time effective ways of working.

One big lesson has been in investing in really excellent studio gear and not cutting any corners. This ia all the more important as there’s a run on studio gear in these times as more and more people are looking to beef up their home recording setups.

Projects as opposed to albums?

I was talking to a good friend today about the concept of “albums” as opposed to projects. To date, I’ve always thought of releasing albums, but I’m now inclined to think instead of releasing tracks as part of a project. The latest project “All Kinds of Crazy” will have the title track released with accompanying video on April 20th as part of “Songs of Hope” from www.musicfortheheadandheart.buzz

This is a very stripped down track and I play all the guitar parts on the superb Waterloo acoustic with the excellent Ella Playford guesting on vocals. I’m really pleased with the end result. We just finished the secord track for the project “Your Chosen One is Coming” and Nick Bloomfield is also going to explore video options for this track. A third track “All is fine, until the world goes pop” is also in progress. I playing all parts on this material and using the superb Arrow UAD unit in a studio to studio set up. For the first time, so far everything is played on guitars, not a ukulele in sight!

I have no idea how long the pandemic lockdown will be for, but it looks like there will be no shortage of time for this project.

First impressions of UAD Arrow

I have always been a massive fan of UAD plugins and during this pandemic lockdown I decided to grab an Arrow UAD interface. My initial impressions is that this is really excellent. Crucially it gives me access to my already purchased 31 UAD plugins, but also alsong with the Reaper DAW allows me to work with a seriously high end portable recording unit. The only limitation is that I can only use a few plugins at any one time, but often “less is more” in such situations and my new project is all about working in a stripped down manner.

I’ll report more of my findings in due course, but I’m seriously impressed by the Arrow and the sound is absolutely terrific.

More work on the solo album

Today I laid down all the additional guitar tracks for “Your chosen one is coming” To my ears the guitar parts sound like something from Television’s classic “Marquee Moon” album from 1970s, much to my amazement. The Acme DI unit is earning its money in spades and we are recording studio to studio via Steinberg’s VST Connect performer pro version.


I am also for the first time using only electric guitar, no ukuleles or any other acoustic instruments in sight although the album title track with Ella Playford on vocals was recorded using my excellent waterloo acoustic. I’m used to having a band, so its a new experience to be playing everything and doing all the arranging. During the global pandemic lockdown i do have an unusual amount of extra time.

This process allows us to record high resolution 24 bit files and then mix and master in the Headingly studio. “Your chosen one is coming” is the first track to be recorded this way and its sounding great. We already have a terrific video for “All Kinds of Crazy” and are looking at releasing that sometime in April.

Remote recording progress with Acme DI

This has been a somewhat surreal experience doing the first few tracks, studio to studio. Fortunately Carl Rosamond has a brilliant grasp of how to use the technology as well as how to get the best sonic results.

I recorded the rhythm guitar track for “Your Chosen One is Coming” and then added vocals using the Ear Trumpet mic. The custom Warmoth hard tail strat with a Tom Holmes HB and single coils (info for guitar geeks) sounds absolutely terrific into the Acme DI. I am absolutely loving the simplicity of the Acme and can now appreciate why it was used to great effect on so many Motown tracks.

We then added some additional takes studio to studio using a Pro Version of VST Connect to record additional takes.

This is a really stripped back sound, but I am loving it. In a strange way it reminds me of a cross between The Velvet Underground and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. There’s a stack of songs to record, but hey, I have the time now to do it!