I've recently stumbled across a couple of blogs that have, as well as make me feel hideously under-productive, also inspired ideas and motivated me, as well as reassure a few inklings of my own.
The first site is New Music Strategies, run by Andrew Dubber, who provides a list of twenty tidbits of information regarding how to present and promote yourself as an online musician. Admittedly it's not rocket science -- most of the posts are pretty much common sense and should be reflexive for any musician with their head screwed on. But it's great to see all these ideas bundled up in a neat list, though not complete or at all definitive -- Andrew has already begun to expand upon the initial ideas present in greater detail, and also presented them in an essential free pdf.
The second site that has caught my eye and made it on to my newly-created blogroll, is Hometracked, a site dedicated to, as the name suggests, all things DIY music production, from production hints and tips to industry news and commentary. Quite a lot of material already exists on the site, but for now I'll continue the theme and link to a follow-up interview with Andrew Dubber, discussing some of the points put forward in his '20 things...' list.
It's nice to see Andrew reflect my personal irk of 30 second track snippets -- it does nobody any favours, and in my experience makes the listener feel short-changed when the full track doesn't live up to the potential suggested by the snippet. (iTunes take note, and congratulations Bleep for showing how it should be done.) Also, it's nice to read about the value of giving away music for free, provided in addition to that for sale.
Both sites are a goldmine for indie musicians. Feel free to discuss below or in the forum.
I've kindly been featured in the second volume of the Contemporary Music Production series of DVDs, alongside Bookashade, DJ Vadim, Max Richter and Trentemoller, all giving away our production techniques, tips and tricks, offering insight into our respective approach to the music we create. Here's a snippet.
Spending the last five years nurturing the music community website has paid off handsomely for three London-based entrepreneurs, after striking a deal with US-based radio conglomerate CBS. I'm still finding it difficult understanding how exactly a website becomes worth $280m, but I suppose attracting 15 million users is something not to be sniffed at. The deal is apparently part of a plan by CBS to attract a younger demographic, presumably to re-divert music and video previously snubbed by younger music lovers tuning-out of mainstream radio, in favour of their own custom online playlists. But enough of my wildly speculative conjecture.
This remix medley of mine, based on various themes taken from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda game franchise, seems to pop up now and then on the radar of various blogs, so I thought it might be useful to offer a few notes about the circumstances under which it was written. Although I'm a huge fan of the franchise, with many happy memories playing Zelda: A Link to the Past on my SNES, the remix didn't come about purely as a celebration of the game and its music; it was written for a 2003 competition (I think it was 2003 anyway -- my memory's pretty hazy) hosted by UK games mag Computer and Video Games, and sponsored by Nintendo and Turnkey (a chain of UK music stores). The possibility of winning a Gamecube bundled with Zelda: Wind Waker, plus an Access Virus Indigo 2 VA synth, was too good to pass up. So over the course of one weekend I set about writing a little remix medley homage to the music of Hyrule.
As luck would have it, after completely forgetting about the competition, I got a phone call a few months later, from one of the competition organisers notifying me of my win, and a couple of days later I received the Gamecube and Access Virus, feeling like an excited kid on Christmas morning. Somewhat regretfully, I then sold the Virus a month or so after, as at the time I was wholly convinced VSTi synths were all I'd ever need (oops), and that the proceeds of the synth would be better spent purchasing another UAD-1 DSP card, as they were a just couple of hundred quid short of a grand at the time. Ah well, at least I still have the Gamecube (mostly used for Mario Kart!).
The keen of eye will have already noted the addition of a couple of new links in the menu bar, one of which leads to my shiny new mastering service page. After mastering my own material for a while, and lending a hand in the mastering of the odd label release, I thought I'd extend the offer.
For those unfamiliar with the term, mastering is the final process a piece of music undergoes either prior to or as part of CD track compiling (i.e. preparing the final CD 'master'), and typically consists of compression, EQ and limiting, plus level-matching (for an album, or anything that consists of more than one track!).
So what can I do that you can't already handle yourself? Well, I can offer a fresh pair of ears, listening on a different system, in a different room, for starters. It can sometimes be difficult to retain perspective when working on tracks, as it's easy to become consumed with all the small tweaks and adjustments that come as part of music production, replaying a piece of music so many times as to lose sight of the bigger picture.
Mastering has perhaps been perceived as somewhat of a dark art in the past, but there is a wealth of information out on the web, should you wish to learn how to master your own music. Here are a few of the links I've found most useful over the past few years (please chime in and comment with your own useful links):
Gearslutz - A fantastic music production community, with a dedicated mastering forum full of useful information provided by knowledgeable, seasoned enthusiasts and engineers alike. Sound On Sound - As well as offering a forum dedicated to mastering, there are plenty of related articles waiting to be found on the site's article search engine. Digital Domain - A superb mastering resource, and home to Bob Katz, the author of Mastering Audio, a weighty tome dedicated to audio mastering and processing. The site's FAQ is particularly useful.
But should you prefer I handle the job for you, please wander over to the mastering page, and drop me a line. Feel free to comment here too if you have any queries.
"The whole of economic theory is the theory of scarce resources. If milk is scarce, the price is up: this is economic theory. But it doesn't work for music; it doesn't work for information as a whole. If I have a pot of milk and give it to you, I don't have it any more. But if I give you a piece of information I still have it, I keep it. Which means that if I give something to you I create something new: abundance. And this means that economic theory doesn't work for information, when that information can be separated from its material support -- a CD, or whatever is the case today." (Jacques Attali: 2001)
Quoted from a speech by Jacques Attali, the author of Noise: The Political Economy of Music, given at a Cybersalon Net.Music conference at the ICA, London, May 2001.
Given we accept mp3s as information rather than treating them as material commodities, existing outside traditional economic theory, how do we go about selling them? Using traditional models of scarcity, supply and demand, clearly won't help us price music downloads, being freely copyable and distributable (despite music industry attempts to model mp3s as physical products by implementing DRM copy protection etc.). We can't price them according to the time and energy that went into them (is an album that took three years to create more expensive than one that took six months to create?) or rely on manufacturing costs to set a base price. So instead the likes of iTunes and other stores price mp3s how they see fit, in comparison to good old CDs. Is that fair? Isn't paying almost a quid a track a bit steep, seeing as though you're paying for something that doesn't exist? We can buy the proper CD for just a couple of quid more. Should we be paying much less for mp3s, or do we pay for the privilege and convenience of near instant delivery? After all, it's not as though we can sell them on once we're no longer interested in listening to them, as we can with our old CDs, tapes, vinyl etc., is it?
What do you think? I'd hope that we all still see it fit that we remunerate artists for their hard work in putting together an album, but as I see it, selling mp3s short-changes both the artist and listener. Surely the music industry wins once again if we accept the purchase of mp3s as just another media format (except a more disposable, ephemeral , lower quality format at that). I'd personally rather not create music that only exists in the fragile state as data on somebody's hard disk, but would want to produce a physical document of my music. Isn't selling mp3s simply a stopgap 'fight fire with fire' measure by the music industry to force a habit of purchasing mp3s onto consumers, clawing back mp3 sales to make up for the deficit in single sales, or is it the way all music will be sold in the future? I kind of feel as though illegal music file-trading has forced us down this avenue, and rather than celebrate mp3s as a novel, liberating future music format, it's managed to turn music into something meaningless, like sand falling between our fingers while we scratch our heads and try and put a price on it.
Perhaps in the future we'll enjoy 'free' music subscribed to as part of our internet connection service price, with a small fee trickling back to labels and artists (though this approach could be very dangerous, negating the need of innovation within the industry as labels continue to rely on the big names to rake it in). We might conclude that music downloads should be free and legal, and artists rely on performances alone to make money, relying on the scarcity and uniqueness of a live performance spectacle to create value. Or do we simply need to make mp3s a lot cheaper, and hope that listeners will find it just as convenient to buy music downloads as to head to the nearest torrent site?
The latest instalment in Benbecula's Music series, Music Volume Four, is now out, featuring a track of mine entitled 'The Everywhere Air'. The compilation also features some fantastic tracks by Christ. and Prhizzm, and is quite frankly a steal at a fiver. Head over to Benbecula to buy a copy.
Benbecula are currently selling much of their stock at a heavily discounted price - just £1.99 for selected releases, throughout March. Why not pick up some bargains and plug the holes in your Benbecula back-catalogue?
Apart from residual stock floating about in the odd retailer's inventory, Lemodie has now completely sold out. If you can track down a copy, and have yet to secure one, then act quickly! I'd like to thank everyone who bought a physical copy, reaffirming my faith in music lovers and quelling my fears about the humble CD format. Obviously, if you'd happily make do with an mp3 edition, then there is still plenty of mp3 stock available. ;) On the other hand, if you're at a complete loss and unable to track down any more physical copies, then sit tight and cross your fingers for a repress.