Friday, July 25, 2014

An Open Letter to The Music Industry: Quit Robbing Piggy Banks

And of course the open letter to David Lowery was received with diplomacy and serious consideration.  Not.

In his view the world is filled with "scofflaws" who are all stealing from the artists.  He says that rooms where this is not the case are "sasquatch sightings" and that people from "Alabama" are "like that".  He feels "threatened".


In other words the primary campaigner for fairness for artists is afraid to admit that there might be other possibilities.  Or so infatuated with the status that role has brought him he has become yet another anachronism who goes over the top and has yet to realize his credibility as a representative of recording artists is evaporating.

And that is a problem for the campaign to get artist equity in the brave new world of digital distribution.  Yes, there is a lot of ripoff going on.   Yes, copyright is being eviscerated.

Yet there is another story, a story where the same people who are appointed to collect fees are robbing piggy banks.  From the original mistakes made by the recording and publishing industry prosecuting housewives for making wedding videos to now there has been a noticeable reluctance to admit that there need to be changes, that scarcity is impossible and that the technical world will not roll backward.   Some of us have worked hard to find solutions and reconcile the need for payments for copyright material with the near impossible requests to stop piracy.   But these efforts will go on because piracy is wrong and it fuels even worse criminal activity.  In short, I do support those efforts and have even before Lowery became a champion.

But badgering small coffee house open mic nights where it is obvious to even the casual observer that they don't actually have the money to pay three collection agencies every year is bullying.   Should BMI/ASCAP/SESAC be threatening the coffee houses holding open mic nights?

There are at least two extremes and no one is asking an obvious question: what is the threshhold for payments vs money made and covers sung or is it simply 1k a year per collection agency if even one cover is sung? And if so, is that right?

There is an opportunity for the professional artists and publishers to do something smart, gracious and decent.   It is an opportunity to show the world they aren't cold hard greedy self-serving assholes determined only to preserve their own income sources at the cost of everyone else.   If they can't see this or figure out how to do it, then they deserve neither our help or our respect.   And let the pirates have them.   If they can't help the new talent, then they are of no value to music as an art, a craft or an industry.   Working "only with the best", telling others not to vote for "second raters", these are symptomatic of elitism, forgetting that once upon a time it was they who "played real good for free".


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Open Letter To David Lowery at The Trichordist

When ASCAP/BMI/SESAC stops demanding payments from the little coffee shops where kids have to sing all original all night long because 3k a year really is more than they can afford, so they have to take up donations to pay for covers, maybe there will be some semblance of sanity on both ends of the copyright wars.  I went to a brew pub where four songwriters held the stage for two hours for maybe and audience of five and only one of those not a girlfriend of a performer.  All paid up. Then I went to the college coffee shop where it was packed wall to wall with kids with guitars and one gay guy with a ukelele, hot as hell, kids sprawling down the sidewalk, puny PA, no organization but a scribbled sign up list, and they were singing their hearts out.  For free.  No covers.  They can't afford them.

As the twig is bent, David, so grows the tree.   I've spent time fighting for the Bigs because the tech industry of which I've been a part is ripping the artists off.  Yet there is so much frikkin' greed that they can't cut those kids a break.   And maybe that's karma because if those kids keep singing their own songs in one generation they will forget the Moptops, flower power, and grunge.  They will remember Jason Mraz, Isbell, maybe even some Peter Paul and Mary, but they will say to hell with the collection agencies who cannot cut them a break, who force them to beg for tips to pay the vig.  You want their support?  Talk to the Boys and tell them to set a tier for collections.  Quit robbing piggy banks.   If the music matters that much, then let the backyard gardens grow.  That  is where the new music is coming from and they don't need you, they don't need Taplin who calls them second rate and they don't need T-Bone Burnett who only "works with the best".   They are the future and if you can't help them when they need help, then to hell with you.   You don't matter.  You're done.   But if you do, then maybe there is a coming generation that will see to it the right thing happens.   Your choice

Friday, July 18, 2014


The day was cooler than normal and there was an arts event downtown producing foot traffic, so I decided to go a busking.  For those unacquainted with the term, busking is street performing.  Singers, find a spot, open the case, take out the guitar and sing for tips. 

There is an entertainment district with mapped out locations for buskers and times of the week when this is allowed. Before these districts were established busking was considered pandering and a performer could pay a fine or be arrested, To boost foot traffic for the sake of businesses such as restaurants, busking was legitimized. It is Free Entertainment for the businesses who used to pay performers. Oh boy, but ok.   Couldn't be simpler.

Not quite.

1.  Location Location Location.   Where you setup makes a difference.  There are sweet spots and of course, if you need a PA (and you do), you have to plug the electron hose in.   The best spots are near the restaurants where there is a seated crowd.  The next best are the spots away from the entrances.  The why is people entering or leaving are focused on getting somewhere and they usually do not pause.  So even though you will be seen, tips are thin.  Caveat vendor,

2, May Be Hazardous.  If it was all foot traffic, it would be ok but these are streets with cars driving along them slowly.  You are singing and inhaling a not inconsiderable amount of car emissions.  It won't take long for your throat and lungs to notice.  So just as rooms are eliminating cigarette smoke, the cars are there to put the carbon dioxide back.

3.  Trolls.  The "I Have Taste and I Matter" folk are everywhere and like web trolls, they are there to tell you about that.  Smile and nod.  Or ask them if you can come to their job and tell them how to do it.  Your choice.

4.  Crazies. They can get quite physically close and you don't have the slight advantage of a club manager or bouncer,   This is an open carry environment meaning they have had time to down a few brews and if combined with other substances, they can be very dangerous.  Ninety nine percent of the passerbyes are fine folk but there will always be at least one wasted I Just Got Out Of Prison wacko wandering in.  Stay cool, nod, don't engage,  You can be hurt and very fast.   This is the one undeniable risk.

5.  Material.  Some of us are screamers, some of us are whisperers and some are a mix.   You are outside and unless you have a PA, the traffic both auto and human will drown you out.  Choose wisely.  Some acts are not suitable for the street and no one is that interested because they can walk a half block and listen to another act,

Understand the environment and prepare and busking is great fun.  You can try out new material without wounding the business of a club owner, you can meet people, you can do what you love to do.   Unless you pick the event the money won't be that good but if you pay for gas and a meal, you've helped yourself better than practicing alone.  You can check out your brother and sister performers (aka, competitors), see what is working for them, maybe make a few contacts.   Is it begging?  Sort of but that's ok. Name a job of any kind these days that isn't.  Remember if you sell merc you are not busking.  You are a street vendor and you will need a license for that.

Entertainment opportunities change with economies.  I've seen times when singer songwriters could fill stadiums and times when they have to give it away,   These times are more like the latter but these are opportunities to play if the money isn't the main objective.  And remember this isn't just about the solo artists, it is also the problem for the B-list and former A-list bands who are having to play strip malls.  So no matter how good you think it is for others, everyone is scrambling.   It gets competitive and you have to smile, play more and get by with less.   Adapt, innovate and keep at it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Unfollowing: The Real Power of Social Media

Daryl Hannah posted a wonderfully sad, gentle, soft and salving video to her Facebook feed.   How do I know it was herself and not Team Daryl?   I asked and she replied quite quickly:  "There is no Team Daryl Hannah. xo"  Just that.  Sweet and with a kiss.   Perfect.

 Then there is Bette Midler.  She posts to her own page instead of having Team Bette do it. Or if she does, she's fooling me well enough to keep it entertaining or makes me think, And that is why she stays in my feed. The cause posts are ok. Those are passions and shared passions are essential to conversation.  It doesn't matter that she doesn't speak directly to me.  She is an a-lister with limited time and hundreds of thousands of fans.   I get that.   It matters that her posts are her voice, her thoughts,  It matters that she respects us enough not to fool us to advance a cause or sell a t-shirt or even an album.  I don't care that she does that as long as she does that.

I've begun to unfollow the celebrities who have Team Zeds, the professional social media experts who post for them, build their brand, sell their bric a brac and otherwise try to create an illusion of involvement, of engagement, of caring.   I am fatigued by the marketing, the shallow engagements, the little dismissives, the big frauds who consume attention and offer cotton candy comforts.   Enough.

This is a conversational medium. The a-listers who get that know if they don't actually communicate, if they let Team Zed do it, then maybe they don't need fans. And that turns us into consumers. Same as TV. And that turns my feed into a street lamp covered with old band posters. The best hope for changing or healing or offering a bit of comfort in daunting times is smart people having smart conversations because choosing who chooses our choices is the ultimate surrender of our power to another, not quite love because that surrenders our selves, but certainly a choice to be made passionately.

Daryl and Bette stay on my feed.  I am grateful they are offering their unique passionate points of view.   So it's a privilege to share a sweet, sad gentle song in which a genuine person sings backup, Daryl Hannah.   She is a Seyfert: a rare kind galaxy because at it's center instead of a void, there is a glowing heart. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

So You're Playing Songwriter's Open Mic:

So you're playing songwriter's open mic:
  1. WHO ARE YOU? Always tell us your name. No, just because you have recorded two songs locally, we may not know who you are. Tell us your name at the beginning and end of your set.
  2. Tune up BEFORE you get on stage. Really.
  3. Bring your own stuff. We all forget things but best to check your gear before you leave the house. Picks, capo, spare strings, oxycontin, these are things one shouldn't have to borrow. (we all have to do it but try not to).
  4. If you wrote the song yesterday, it's ok to bring the lyrics. Really it is. We all make mistakes. If you blow it and have to start over, smile and do that. Long apologies aren't necessary. Audiences understand.
  5. Warm up at home. Loosens up the muscles and settles the nerves. DO NOT warm up while others are performing and don't play along from the audience.
  6. If there are many performers and each get three songs before the next act, DO ONLY THREE SONGs and skip the long personal introductions to them. You are chewing up other performer's time and THEY KNOW IT. Amy Kurland, who created The Bluebird, would explain the rules for the Bluebird audition thus: "Tell us your name. Tell us the name of the song. Play until I say stop." If you violated any of these rules, you failed the audition. It is a business where following instructions is very important because time is money and she was the gatekeeper. No matter how well you played, sang or how good your song was, if you violated any of the rules you didn't pass. You could come back but...
  7. New strings pre-stretched if possible. OTW, old strings pre-stretched. (IOW, see rule 2.)
  8. Play Sober. Drunk or stoned, it shows. We've all done it.... badly. And COFFEE IS A DRUG. If you are not first, watch out for over caffeinating. Combined with adrenalin, it will make you shake, Water is better. Then when done, have at.
  9. Everyone has a CD or iTunes site. That's cool. You can say that. Sell it later.
  10. Do you have a business card? If you don't that once in a lifetime chance may just pass you by. No one remembers names and phone numbers scribbled on napkins tend to disappear.
It is a privilege to be in front of an audience; not an entitlement. Be the best you can be everytime even if the only person listening is also sweeping the floor. Good luck and enjoy it.

Comment Policy

If you don't sign it, I won't post it. To quote an ancient source: "All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is me."