Category: Music

Have a quick read over here at an essay by Dave Winer about podcasting economics. Dave claims, and I wholeheartedly agree that the music and media industries are basically slave labor industries (my words), designed to make corporate executives rich, and leave the artists/writers with nothing, if not in debt.

This has been my personal experience as well. It’s been discussed all over the place by many people including myself, so I won’t dive into the evils of standard record contract economics for now.

But: A commenter named “JoeSmith” left this on Dave’s essay:

“While musicians can’t make money off of records, they can make money touring, producing, merchandising etc… For artists, the records turn out to be promotional fodder for these money-making (for them) endeavors…”

Joe: Your alternative income sources are, for the most part and for most artists, mythical and nonviable. Let me explain…

1. Most bands don’t make money touring. At least in venues where it’s possible to hold enough people, and nice enough an environment for sound, and in general, to charge money — touring is not a money making option for most bands. And it isn’t just because most musicians have to rely on (often crappy) day jobs to pay rent while they’re starting out, and can’t take the time to do the travel that touring requires. Touring is very expensive: Artists need financial backing from venues, record companies and promoters, and cooperation with radio stations and record stores.

A few points of fact: The venues are in the pockets of the big companies, almost to the same extent that the artists are. They rely on radio stations owned by national conglomerates like Clear Channel for promotion. Clear Channel basically only promotes artists that come from the record companies’ hit lists, and if you’re not one of them, then no promotion — and no ticket sales. Venues rely on record company affiliated, national booking agencies to negotiate the shows — these are big companies with their own legal ways of scamming artists (and venues) out of their worth.

The booking agencies, record companies, radio conglomerates, CD distributers and record chains all have to play the politics of their relationships nicely with each other, because the whole house of cards comes down if they don’t. This means that artists, who are not unionized, have almost no negotiating power or voice when it comes to negotiating with any of these companies, or with the music venues.

What’s more: Ticket prices are so high that people generally will only see bands that they are already a fan of. Most likely this is because they heard something on a movie or the radio — again controlled by the record industry.

Even worse, many venues in the United States, and more and more in Europe, do what’s commonly called “pay to play”. Basically they force the band, as part of their contract to perform at the venue, to buy, up-front, x-number of tickets. Usually this is 1/5 to 1/3 of the available tickets for the show. They buy them at full price. It generates enough money for the venue that they break even, regardless of whether a single person comes to the show. But most bands can’t afford it or can’t afford the risk if not enough people come to the show.

The pay-to-play phenomenon does all kinds of destructive things to the economics of touring, besides just putting up the obvious barriers for new (and poor) musicians. For example, since the venue is already break-even, they have little or no vested interest in the success of the event. They have less incentive to do their own advertising and promotion, and they have no reason to pressure the radio stations or the companies that control them, to promote (or accept other promotion) on behalf of the band.

And remember the record company? They were supposed to help promote right? Well, they rely on distributors and chain stores to stock your CD. They won’t promote your show unless they think they’ll make money directly, and they know they can’t do that unless the CD is in the stores. What would be the point? They don’t make any money unless your fans go buy your music.

2. Merchandising is controlled by record companies. Let’s ignore the fact that the primary venue for selling band merchandise is the same venue that nobody will come to because nobody will promote the event. Assume for a moment that I’ve got a full house. Who’s selling the merchandise?

A little known fact: Almost all first time record deals are signed along side of merchandising and publishing deals with partner companies, that are often owned by the same parent company as the record label itself. If you won’t sign the merchandising or publishing deals, the record company won’t sign the record deal. If that didn’t sink in, stop now and read it again.

What does this mean? Well, it means that the record company (for all intents and purposes) has their hand in the merchandising pot as well. They do the same kinds of advances with the same kind of diseconomy for the artists as the record deals themselves. Bands, even if they have a successful merchandising business, often don’t make a cent, or end up owing their merchandising company money.

What’s even worse here is that the contracts invariably are exclusive. The bands aren’t allowed any more to produce their own T-shirts, stickers, beach towels, flash lights, bongs, or anything at all that can be sold for money, at the venues they play or anywhere, the Internet included. The merchandising companies aggressively assert their exclusivity rights. Remember all those shady guys who sell knock-off T-shirts from the trunks of their cars at big concerts? This is who they’re hiding from — not the bands.

So — even if I’ve got a successful band with a sold out venue — which maybe made enough money to get there, pay my crew, and run the logistics of the show — but not much more — even if I’ve got a full house, I can’t make money from merchandising, and more than likely, the merchandising company hasn’t even set up a booth for me because I’m not a big name act yet — so often times, nobody is making money on merchandising.

Mind you, often the merchandising companies will ignore bands selling their own merchandise at shows where the company doesn’t have its own representative, but if you start to get big, expect them to put a quick stop to that, and then ask you to repay their 85% to 90% share of the stuff you already sold.

My advice: Start your own label. Do your own promotion. Do your own merchandise. Never, never, never sign a deal with a major record company unless it’s clear to you, and to your team of lawyers that you’ll never want for money again, at the moment that the deal is signed. Any other deal you’re likely to see is slave labor, and believe me, someone is getting rich off of it, and it’s not you.

Update: Thanks to Dave for the link.

Update: Aaron quotes Hunter S. Thompson on the music biz, in the comments on Dave’s essay:

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

See also: The Problem With Music by Steve Albini.

Music

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The link to Dallas Live Recording has been sitting on the sidebar of this site for some time, but I haven’t really said anything about it yet.

DLR is a mobile recording studio — a little moonlighting project I’ve been working on for some time. While I don’t expect it to pay the bills, it’s been a fun learning experience so far, and has at least paid for itself and the few hours I’ve been able to put into it outside of my day job. The podcast attached to this post is the last mix done by DLR (me) for Dead Man’s Hand, a local Dallas band.

Aside from the music itself, one of the more interesting aspects of this project has been getting a web presence together. Having a site was a first step. Taking out ads on Google AdWords and Overture was another, and one which I may write more about later. I’ve also done ads on some Dallas-local websites, which have been at least as fruitful.

But there’s a cutting-edge feature on the DLR website: It’s got an RSS feed for news, which among other things, is a podcast of recent sample music. As far as I know, it’s the first website of a recording studio that’s doing this. (Please post links to others if I’m wrong about this.)

I have yet to have anyone say that they’ve used DLR’s recording services because they’d found its podcast feed. But I can say that all of the work DLR has had to date has come from its online presence. (That’s basically its only presence aside from business cards I’ve handed out at jams.)

But I think it’s only a matter of time…

Music

Now this is cool as shit!:

Harmony Central: Nine Inch Nails Single Released in GarageBand Format:

This is the actual multi-track audio session in GarageBand format sourced from the Pro Tools session file it was originally recorded into. The intention is to enable anyone to experiment freely with the track in an accessible format. A Read Me file from Trent Reznor is included which further explains this idea and provides technical notes.”

I hope this is only the beginning of a trend of releasing music in multi-track format that people can use to get a better understanding of how the music we hear all the time is put together.

ninPic.jpg: There are lots and lots of subtle things that go into making a radio-worthy song into what it is, and the more that the process gets demystified, the more great music will be produced by independent artists and studios.

The more independents get control over their sound and make quality products, the less dependent we’ll all be as consumers, on major record labels and their money-grubbery for our entertainment. And the more artists will be able to make their living (however meager) on doing their art.

What NiN did here is only a first step though. What’s in the GarageBand project file is tracks that have already had a lot done to them. You don’t get to hear much of what goes into designing the sounds and creating a real mix from scratch. At least you can hear what the puzzle pieces are at the point between the design process and the final mix though, and that’s a great first step… If you’re a Mac user.

More power to you, Trent!!!

PS: If you’re not a Mac user and you want to mess with the audio from this file, send me an email. If I get enough requests (and if their EULA allows it), I’ll try to put up a Tracktion project and a folder of raw audio that you can play with.

Music

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Over the last week or two, I’ve been listening off-and-on to the 752(!) songs that the South By Southwest folks so kindly made available via BitTorrent.

It really is fantastic that they did this. I love hearing new music from new bands. Mind you some of it is crap, but in general I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at how much good stuff there is in there. I’ve also been surprised at how diverse the music is.

One of my favorites so far is For The Kids by The High Speed Scene. Sums up pretty well what I think about the mainstream (i.e. major-label) music industry in general. Have a listen! It’s short — just over two minutes — but possibly not work-safe, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

They’re also on iTunes Music Store — if you like them, go buy some music!

Music

Well, I’ve taken the plunge. I’m now Podcast-capable on this blog. You can see it in action in my last post. (PS: Now in this post too. Couldn’t help myself with the new toys!)

Is it a fad? I don’t think so. The name Podcasting may be a fad, and the predominance of audio files in RSS enclosures may also be a fad, but the idea of sending media files around via a syndication feed in a website is probably here to stay. At least it’ll stay as long as people syndicate their sites with feeds, something I don’t see stopping any time soon.

Surprisingly, I actually had a desire for this feature on my blog, and possibly even a real need for it on the site for my moonlighting business.

See the thing is that I’m hooked on music — more recently music production (in addition to my long love of music performance). And I like to share my work. So stay tuned. You’ll probably see lots of new music featuring yours truly flying through here, and if the other thing takes off, there’ll be music from other people too.

To start it off, this post is a Podcast of some multi-track recording I did just last week with my band. There will be more to come. And if I ever start a Podcast over there?… I’ll be sure to let you guys know.

(Oh, and a little secret: Manila is now the easiest to use Podcasting software. I saw what they’re doing in LiveJournal and Blojsom. They have extra steps. I just pick a file when I’m making a post, and it all goes at once. No need for a separate upload step and then a blog post. It’s all right there. Nice.)

Music

I finished a recording project tonight that was started in October of last year. Aaron Burton is an acoustic blues guitarist/singer here in Dallas, and I had an opportunity to record an hour-long performance last October at a benefit.

I’d already mixed one of the songs down, as part of a compliation CD that I did for the benefit, but hadn’t yet mixed the other 14 songs Aaron performed that night. Tonight I finished the mixing and mastering, and out the other end popped a 15-song, 47 minute CD.

Aaron seemed pretty happy with the results. (I am too.) It was an unexpected bonus for him, since he’d never done any real serious recording before, and had lucked into the fact that I’d recorded the benefit gig last October.

‘Can we hear some?’ you ask. Sure! Here’s a slide guitar track from the new CD. And how would you feel about some ice cream?

Enjoy!

Music

I went to a jam session on Friday here in Dallas, and I thought I’d share a couple of tunes with you that were recorded there…

First is I’ll Play The Blues For You, by Albert King. It’s not the best take I’ve done, but respectable, and includes a short bass solo by yours truly. The other players are Jimmy Jewell on guitar and Bart Angle on drums. This is one of the two groups of guys I’ve been playing with semi-regularly of late. We’re calling ourselves Trouble in Texas.

The other song is a Jonny Lang tune, Cherry Red Wine, played by myself, Kenny Strauther on drums, and two other guys on guitar, harp and vocals, whose names I unfortunately don’t know. The song itself is a slow minor blues, which I always have lots of fun with. I think it was the best of the ten or eleven songs I played.

In case you’re interested in recording details, I tracked in stereo using two Oktava large diaphragm condenser mic’s, to my PowerBook G4 running Tracktion (from Mackie). For pre-amps and microphone power, I used a Spirit Folio mixer — a hand-me-down (or maybe hand-me-across) from my brother, and which I’ve had kicking around forever and a day. Sooner or later I need to get a portable USB-powered portable pre-amp, but for the moment I’ll have to live with the extra setup time. There’s not much to the mix, since it’s only two channels — I used a tiny bit of reverb to recreate the sense of the space in the room, and some light multi-band compression to even out the sound. Very little tweaking overall.

Maybe I’ll have more music for you later in the weekend, depending on how rehearsal goes with the other band.

Music

Cindy and I went to see Jill Scott tonight at the Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie. Man — what a great show. Not only is she an amazingly talented and spirited singer, but her band is one of the tightest around.

Jill’s lyrics are at times funny and uplifting, and at others, brooding and self-conscious. She’s also a story teller as much as a singer, connecting songs together, and pointing out her message of unity, hope and love, rather than just playing her set and looking to impress us with her ability.

I was also especially impressed with the arrangements and the rhythm section’s performance. Tight, tight, tight. Rhythmically and harmonically complex without being over-thought or showy.

Hats off to you all.

(And thanks to Cindy for turning me on to more great music.)

Music

From the picture, it looks like Apple’s new $130 audio I/O has eight inputs, but Todd Maffin says it’s only got two mic inputs. Having only two mic inputs would be a monumental mistake.

To record a real garage band using GarageBand, you need at least four microphone inputs (XLR or otherwise), and ideally you need eight, with the option of using microphone-level sources or line-level sources. Without more microphone inputs, you’re pretty much limited to two accoustic and six electronic instruments at once. To record a drum set reasonably well, you need at least three microphones. Two mic inputs is fine if you’re using drum loops and playing one instrument at a time, but won’t get you a live demo of your band in its proverbial garage. For that you need more than two microphones.

Also, there are already plenty of two-channel microphone-capable I/O devices that work through USB for under $200. These devices already work with GarageBand, and your band can do pretty much all the same things that you can do with an 8-channel I/O that only has two mic inputs. Having additional line inputs is better, but you’d need an external mixer to use those for microphones, and the mixer might cost you another $300-500. Now we’re in the $450-700 range.

Now we might be better off looking at some of the pro-level FireWire I/O options like the Mackie Onyx 1220 12-channel mixer — with the FireWire option it’s about $900. Or the MOTU 896HD 8-channel I/O with 8 XLR or line inputs and outputs, ADAT LightPipe I/O, AES I/O and integrated metering for about $1,150. Both of these boxes have sound that’s likely to be superior to the one Apple is working on.

Here’s the thing: Just about any real garage band I can think of, and even college bands, wouldn’t think twice about paying $300, $350 or even $500, for a portable 8-channel I/O. Along with GarageBand, you’ve got a viable digital multi-track solution for a lot less money than any of the other options currently available. Assuming that it would work with other software besides GarageBand (no reason it shouldn’t in these days of CoreAudio), Apple could really score big with a slightly more expensive box that you can hook 8 microphones to for recording your band, and watch your DVDs with true surround sound to boot.

The same amateur and part-time musicians regularly buy things like ADATs, and hard-disk based multi-tracks for two-to-four times as much money, and many of them may have already bought an mBox from DigiDesign for $500 that only has only two channels of I/O.

I’m pretty sure the $300 price point would be possible, considering that the 8-channel Behringer ADA8000 is only $230. Unfortunately the ADA8000 only has ADAT fiber-optic LightPipe connectivity and no FireWire, but its existence proves that it should be possible for Apple to do this at or near the $300 mark.

BTW: If they added phantom power for powering condenser mic’s, then it’s worth an extra $50 to me.

Talk to some musicians at your local clubs and music stores, and you’ll quickly get an idea of what I’m talking about. Apple would do well to do the same.

Music

Among the more interesting revelations in the Audion story is this bit:

“… if it wasn’t for Audion 2 and the new ‘Speed’ effect plugin, we never would have heard the mind-shattering, ear-haunting experience of what the Chipmunks really sounded like.”

Warning: Don’t click the above link if you ever want to listen to the Chipmunks again without cringing. Ok, you’re already cringing, but if you click the link, you won’t even be able to pretend not to cringe… And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Music