The Kickstarter for Independent Clauses’ 10th birthday compilation album ended yesterday with $1432 donated! This will allow us to stream the album until the end of 2013, and then give away 4300+ free song downloads! I am blown away. Your support has exceeded my wildest dreams. The album will come out May 15, 2013! I am thrilled! I will keep you all posted on the details as they arise.
Also, I will be at SXSW starting tomorrow, so I will be running around Austin like a crazy person. If you’re in austin too, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with the acronym SXSW at the beginning of the subject line. I’d love to meet and say hello!
I will be posting here throughout the week, as well as at the Oklahoma Gazette and on Twitter at @scarradini. Here we go SXSW!
Independent Clauses is all about helping musicians navigate the thorny and confusing world that is independent music, so I was very interested when Brian Penick of The Counter Rhythm Group told me about his plans to make that journey easier for musicians. Brian is running a Kickstarter to fund Musicians’ Desk Reference, a comprehensive guide to making your way in music. He was kind enough to take some time and explain the project to me and IC readers.
IC: What is the Musicians’ Desk Reference?
Brian Penick: Musicians’ Desk Reference is an eBook that establishes a protocol for progression in the modern music industry. That is a mouthful so let me explain. Essentially this is a software driven experience for the user that aims to help a musician or a band receive information and working guides (including templates, instructional guides, examples and video tutorials) on specific areas of the music industry, with a majority of the information being customized around the WHEN, WHY and HOW something is completed in their unique situation. It’s very “hands on” in a digital sense.
What types of things are covered in the book?
We have been helping to introduce musicians to the servicing side of the music industry with The Counter Rhythm Group for about two and a half years now, gaining an understanding of what general areas of interest repeatedly come up. The working model of the book deals with and delves into several areas, ranging from information about starting a band and recording your first record to properly going on tour, promoting your project and building a team. There is a LOT if information in here and it is meant to be used throughout an artist’s progression, expanding on information as the users grow in the industry.
Who is the audience for the book? People with labels? People with agents? Do-it-yourselfers?
One of the most intriguing aspects of this book is that it serves such a wide group of musicians. You can literally work with it while starting your first project (helping to build a strong foundation from the beginning), then using it every time you go on tour to help map out a list of tasks that will help even larger and established musicians focusing on their own promotional practices, while still emphasizing the importance of building a team when the times comes for it. The book was designed to essentially help everyone it could, from new artists to local artists, regional and even up to national recognized musicians. While some of the information may already be known, it is nice to have it complied into one entity that gives the user so much control through customization.
How did you choose Kickstarter? How did you come to the amount that you need for the Kickstarter? As a person who is running a Kickstarter, I’m interested in how people make these decisions.
Kickstarter is such a wonderful platform that allows the some of the wildest imaginations to become tangible aspects of life, and I could not think of another medium to work with. I got a lot of inspiration from other Kickstarters while considering independent sources to fund this idea, and ultimately I felt that this was the perfect one to run with. Regarding the amount, I have sat down and reworked the numbers over several months, and while the amount we’re asking for is not the final amount needed, it is enough that would get us over the initial hump of production and promotions.
We hope that once Musicians’ Desk Reference is released and helping artists, the users will be inspired enough to share their stories with others about its benefits and uses, calling attention to it a personal touch which is how we feel the best products are promoted. I see that you have already killed it with your own Kickstarter, so congratulations, Stephen!
How much will the e-book cost? How did you come to that price?
The price of the final product is ultimately going to be determined by the final amount of funding received. I am really trying to bypass any third party publishers and keeping the number of any outside investors down will also help us battle the costs. Realistically, this book will range anywhere from $50–$100, but that could change depending on MANY variables. It may sound like an expensive product, but for multiple uses throughout a musician’s career we feel it is definitely fair. Think of it how you would look at Quickbooks for your taxes, only that this helps you progress in the music industry. The more you use it, the more valuable of a tool it becomes. We’re promoting the mentality that it is essentially the cost of playing a show, and if you’re not making that amount per show the book is especially designed with you in mind.
What is your goal (or goals) with the book?
Without sounding like I am trying to lead my people through a desert to a new salvation, I am essentially trying to standardize some aspects of the music industry. There are so many artists that I have encountered over 13+ years of being a musician and since I started this company that are desperately seeking help and answers, along with so much information and ideas that seem to be floating out in the ether that I hope to pack it all into one piece of information, helping as many musicians as possible.
I would have loved to have something like this when I was working on my own progression, and I hope users will find it as useful as I would have. There are too many artists out there that are working hard without the recognition they deserve, and I hope that this levels the playing field enough so that those hard workers get as much of a chance of finding success as anyone else could. We’re trying to build a community that promotes positivity and a strong work ethic, with musicians helping each other along the way. Call me crazy, but that is the world I want to live in.
IC fave Kickstarter had a humongous third year, and you can see all their stats and stuff from it here. Cool information design for an even cooler site. They are literally changing the way the world does art.
Super Visas, James Hicken’s ambient folk project, has a new video for “The Hum That Keeps Us Cool.” It’s incredibly disorienting and fascinating:
I am not very often a commentator on “the music industry,” and it is even rarer that I dedicate space to negative trends. However, Spotify is an incredibly dangerous program that has distressing potential impact on not just independent music, but music in general.
For ten bucks a month, you can essentially stream any music, anywhere, anywhen. Spotify has 15 million tracks at its disposal, both new releases and old: it pretty much dumps all the popular music that’s ever existed into one big jukebox. (Remember EMF? Falco? Smalltown Poets? Before Braille?)
But because it’s streaming, it’s a pay-for-play system and not a purchasing system. Bands get paid $0.00029 per track streamed, or approximately 1/34th of a cent (based on 2010′s British information, because they’re hiding the new info). If Before Braille somehow managed to get 34,000 plays, (maybe) they’d get ten bucks. Before Braille’s “Red Tape” is 3:00; to get ten bucks off the song, it would have to be played for 102,000 minutes/1700 hours/70.8 days/10 weeks/2.5 months. I could put a song on repeat and leave it for almost a quarter of a year continuously before the band makes the same amount it can make selling one CD at a show.
Even the 12-second “I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad” from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would have to be played on repeat for 6800 minutes/113.33 hours/4.7 days before gaining $10. It’s not even worth it to game the system.
Record labels have been brought on board as part owners in the company in addition to royalty owners, most likely in an attempt to get them pushing the service too. If Spotify tries hard enough, they may shore up their own finances as well as the record labels’ – all while totally ignoring the finances of the people playing the instruments. And if you think major labels compensate artists fairly, apparently you haven’t been paying attention over the past twenty years.
But even more distressing than the fact that Spotify is very nearly legal piracy is the effect it will have on consumers of music. With Spotify set up to automatically withdraw money from subscribing users and considering how Americans carelessly spend money, people will not even realize they are paying for Spotify, and by extension, music. People will become accustomed to logging in to their computer and getting whatever music they want, guiltlessly, for “free.” I wouldn’t want to buy what’s available for free, either.
Even if Spotify crashes due to its unsustainable business plan, they may have fundamentally changed how people view music. People may have moved from seeing artists as creators that should be fairly compensated for their work to “MUSIC EXISTS EVERYWHERE OH WOW OH WOW IT’S FREE LET’S DAAAAANCE!!!”
So let’s recap. Spotify undermines artists on two levels: first by making sure that they can’t get paid fairly for streams of their music, and second by disinclining listeners to buy physical music instead of streaming. Artists only have two main streams of revenue: selling music and playing shows. If they make no money selling music, then the cost of shows will go up, because the costs associated with touring will be the same and artists will have to bankroll their next album off the tour money, because they can’t make money off their CD sales (ask a member of a low-level touring band how much money they make off the merch that isn’t CDs).
This is already taking into account that most artists have day jobs when they’re not on tour.
So if the cost of shows goes up (say, from $7 to $15, from $15 to $25, all the way up), that’s equals out to a cutting of the number of concerts that the average person can go to almost in half, without changing a budget. Even if a person still wants to support music, they’re going to have to be more stingy with the concerts they see. I shelled out $70 to go see Coldplay and then $10 to go see three local shows in one month; if the Coldplay ticket would have been $100, I would have either not bought the Coldplay ticket or not gone to three local shows. Either way, artists lose that fight.
Then it’s just a race to the finish at that point; as less people go to shows, ticket prices have to increase to keep bands on tour, making even fewer shows a reality for people. And with people listening to more music for free, how will they have a connection with anything enough to want to go to a show? Investing money in something causes a deeper appreciation for it; something that’s free and disposable isn’t treasured or valued as much as something we spend $10 or $20 to purchase.
I know this sounds dire, but how many albums have you listened to this year more than ten times? More than twenty? If people decrease their attachment level to bands because they’re getting the music for free, plus it’s expensive to go to shows, people will be very sparing with the shows on which they spend cash.
It’s already difficult for bands that aren’t huge to tour; this could kill mid-level touring (somewhere, the ghost of Black Flag is cursing loudly and punching things). And if bands can’t go on tour, how will they get discovered? Through the Internet?
If you place even more of a premium on blogs and other tastemaker discovery devices, yet don’t pay people who work them (RIP Paste magazine), you can’t count on good music to be discovered. I can attest that as a blogger, I get around a dozen of e-mails a day from bands seeking coverage. That’s already more than one man can listen to and analyze, and that number would only go up. It would be harder for me to find good music to tell people about because it would take more time to get through everything. Also, my real life would suffer if I committed that much time to a non-money-making entity. Most likely the blog would suffer from the overload, not my social life.
So Spotify has the potential to crush music sales, create even worse slumlords out of record labels, raise ticket prices at concerts, make it even harder to tour, overwork blogs and make it harder to build up a fan base (the modern-day equivalent of ‘getting discovered’). And while the absolutely brilliant Kickstarter (and similar projects Feed the Muse and Fiverr) is the antidote to many of these problems (need to record an album? Run a campaign! Need to go on tour? Run a campaign! Need to buy a van? Run a campaign!), you need a fan base to make those campaigns work.
If Spotify makes it impossible to get a fan base, because no one’s heard of you, because you can’t get covered in blogs, because they’re overworked, because they’re being depended on even more highly to help create a fan base, because no one will spend money on bands they haven’t heard of live, because the cost of attending live music is prohibitive, because the ticket has to be that high to offset the fact that no one buys music anymore, the music world is going to have a really rough time.
And, honestly, it’s not just Spotify’s fault. There are many streaming music services contributing. But Spotify is the Google of them. It’s not going to be easy to avoid this catastrophe, but the answer is really simple:
Buy your music. Don’t stream it.
That’s all there is to it. Yes, it costs more. But the long-range costs are far, far worse than an extra twenty dollar billar to your local record store, iTunes or Amazon.
I’ve never wanted to be in a stadium-booking arena band. I’ve always wanted, had I my dream, to be in a band beloved by an enthusiastic local community, perhaps 150 people. That way they would be able to pack out a small venue and sing along at the top of their lungs. That’s all I really want.
I don’t know if that’s The Seldon Plan‘s goal or not, but they’re the type of band that I’d like to be when I accomplish that dream. They play solid, mature songs that straddle the line between pop-rock and indie-pop; just enough cohesive song structures and production values for the former, just enough wistful moods and slow-building melodies to appropriate the former. This band is full of guys who have tons of experience writing songs (as proven by their previous releases), and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had tons of previous bands to their names as well. They know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it well.
“Fool’s Gold” builds from a kick-snare-kick-kick-snare plod to a whirling, full tune. It’s complex without being complicated, tight without being sterile. The band knows when to let things space out. This discipline gives “Fool’s Gold” and the rest of the tunes here breathing room, which results in a very comfortable listening experience.
The tunes have the kind of cathartic melodies and lyrics that late ’90s “emo” bands like The Promise Ring and Sunny Day Real Estate were trying to capture, but without all the burdensome youthful drama. It has the strong emotive instrumentals that bands like American Football were trying to capture, but without repetitiveness driving the point home. The Seldon Plan trusts its listeners to be like they are: older, well-versed, appreciative of the little things without being told to be so.
That trust makes the background vocals in “Starlette Pendant” great; they appear briefly, quietly, but with meaning. The mix of “Our Time In Rockland County” favors the clanging rhythm guitar over the twinkly lead guitar and ba-ba-ba background vocals, but both hidden elements bring an extra level to the song. Closer “A Letter to Satie” buries a keyboard in the chorus that enhances the mood. Those touches show that these aren’t nice pop/rock tunes; they’re deeply thought-out, planned and organized tunes, which is something much better.
The Seldon Plan’s latest set is easily the best that I’ve heard from them. They’ve grown into a sound and a style that makes the best of their skills and talents. This album is a gem that should not be overlooked by anyone listening for true musicianship and song craftsmanship. I don’t know what their ambitions are, but if they were in my hometown, I’d go see them whenever I could. And I’d sing along.