Rob Chapman

Hello again. It’s been a splendid summer and I haven’t been blogging since, er, before the summer. But now the blog season is upon us so here’s one to get restarted: Rob Chapman’s top tips about everything for new guitarists. If you skip the small amount that’s about blues, rock and metal I think this applies for everyone.

If you haven’t heard of Rob, he’s one of the many, many musicians, artists and writers these days who  don’t do it the old school way. It’s the change I was hoping for when I started my web site in 2002 and it is now well and truly among us.

About Amanda Palmer’s TED

I liked the video a lot but I’ve been rather perplexed by some of the follow-up commentary.

For sure, learning to ask may be important in some situations but it’s not a new religion. You remember when Brian lost his sandal in The Life Of Brian and his followers try to work out what it means? That’s how I feel about a lot of the responses.

I’m pretty sure Amanda doesn’t mean Asking is The New Way for everyone. It’s certainly not a golden rule from here on. She’s describing her experience and a solution for some of the situations she has been in, perhaps even her philosophy at this moment but there are no general rules.

Of course, some people are desperate to find general rules and ready-made templates that enable them to follow in the footsteps of greatness although we know there are none. That is the same flaw in the reasoning of all the haters who said she mustn’t be permitted to use volunteers after her Kickstarter. There are no rules.

Her TED was illuminating and very moving, and the message I take from it is a positive one. We can also see that she is a natural in today’s changing music business and instinctively understands how to develop her career. But this is just one part of what she’s done and why she’s successful, and it isn’t a general principle for everyone in DIY all the time.

Obviously, I don’t think for a moment my readers are searching for a guru—it just baffles me when other people mistake one powerful message for The Complete Answer.

Creative Commons isn’t magic

creative commons

This is a response to a Wired Opinion article by Ryan Singel Dear Facebook: Without the Commons, We Lose the Sharing Web.

Creative Commons isn’t the only way for a layman to license and it’s not particularly flexible. A longish and interesting Twitter conversation with Ryan was inconclusive so here, without the 140 character limit, is what I think and why, and some background.

First, I should say I’m not pro- or anti-Creative Commons, I just don’t see a use for it. For readers who don’t know, this is where I stand, broadly, on copyright. I speak informally for artists and fans (nobody else) and I favour enlightened copyright protection for music and so-called “file-sharing”. I grew up in an age of free music radio and liberal sharing of recordings. I oppose copyright maximalists, anti-copyright lobbyists, Big Content legislation, Big Technology legislation, the DMCA system, DRM and its lovechild subscription streaming, and many other things.

I exploit copyright in this blog and on my web site. I allow public educators, students and certain others to copy and reproduce my work freely—some (normally web businesses who don’t ask) are made to take it down, and that has happened. I do this without Creative Commons or legal professionals. Copyright as it stands is flexible enough. It gives creators a default set of rights but how they enforce them is their choice.

If we imagine copyright as a volume control which comes set at 10, the rights holder can choose their own level anywhere from 10 to zero. On the other hand a CC license comes set at, say, 5 or 3 and is less easy to change.

CC is not an alternative to copyright and it is not anti-copyright, although many people think it is. Creators (authors, writers, composers, performers, etc.) who oppose copyright should simply make their work public domain. Creative Commons is not for them. CC is a set of boilerplate copyright licenses (no different in principle to other blanket copyright licenses) and it does only one thing the rights holder in the street cannot do—it provides legal wording for certain fixed licensing circumstances.

For creators like me, the cottage industry if you like, legalese is something of a shrug. I can read licenses and contracts, and I have successfully advised artists against record labels, but I don’t use any technical wording myself. I have never needed it. Independent artists I know online exploit their copyrights the same way (including sharing) without legalese and without Creative Commons.

Plain English is easy and copyright law is not hard to understand. My “licenses” say: you can use it; you can’t put it on your web site; you must credit the source; and so on. We know nobody ever reads their iTunes terms and conditions, are they more likely to read a CC license? Musicians can and do say: buy one share one; pay what you like; share freely; you can remix it; please give me credit; etc. I can hear the blood draining from lawyers’ wallets as I say that, but hey, it works.

Ryan says:

By creating legal frameworks for licensing content in more flexible ways than traditional copyright laws, Creative Commons became a core part of the original Web 2.0 movement.

Sharing, re-mixing and permission to do it predates Creative Commons. I can see no aspect of CC that is equal to the flexibility and effectiveness of plain language and the imagination of creators.

Of course, from a user’s perspective, rights that curtail free exploitation might be inconvenient.

On Ryan’s broader point, I care less about Facebook and its dwindling relevance to music than about Creative Commons so I happily leave that question to others. But it seems to me anyone publishing content by submitting it to the permanent flux of social network site T&Cs could perhaps seek a simpler solution.

Steve Albini on Amanda Palmer

So, Steve Albini talked about the Amy letter on his forum, and later clarified his remarks in an interview with Stool Pigeon.

I like Steve. He often makes a lot of sense and has a down to earth approach to engineering and production.

He mentioned a range of different music economies and says he favours self-sufficiency and efficiency. Fair enough.

Then he said:

“Given that the typical budget for albums I work on is less than $10,000, you can take your pick of line-items in her budget, divide by ten and still have an order of magnitude worth of waste from my perspective. I haven’t looked at the breakdown since I first saw it so don’t quote me on it (haha, “don’t quote me”, I just said something funny) but I recall that she skimmed a couple of hundred grand off the top for her pleasure prior to beginning to make the record.”

“Don’t quote me” isn’t particularly funny when you’re providing information for people making up their mind on this. Steve is well aware of the shortcomings of the media and I’m sure he also knows the Albini brand carries a lot of weight. Remember AFP is getting hate mail, this is no laughing matter. Here’s what she said originally:

“for the past 8 months or so, i wasn’t touring – and therefore wasn’t making much income – but every step of the way, there were expenses. so, during that time, i borrowed from various friends and family who i’d built up trust with over the years.

i had to pay my staff and crew to get this album ready as well as keep the ship afloat and headed in the right direction. i also needed to come up with the cost of the recording itself (which was pretty whopping), and any other expenses the band racked up in the meanwhile.
to put a number on all of that behind-the-scenes stuff which just got us to DAY ONE of kickstarter: $250,000.”

Steve says she “skimmed a couple of hundred grand off the top for her pleasure” because he works on albums with a $10,000 recording budget. Electrical Audio Studio doesn’t record an album for $10,000 including living expenses for the band and artist’s staff for 8 months.

On the basis of a flawed recollection about recording budgets he happily extrapolates every line-item in her budget. The gigs, the art shows, the downloads, the CDs, mailbox invasion, the vinyl, the book, the world tour, the USB record players, the one-to-ones… He could have done the lot for 10% (specifically $120,000, and that figure will include an “order of magnitude of waste”). Will someone be checking his budget for that in the press? Sadly not.

I think Steve forgets he has a day job. Amanda has one too but this is it, she is just an artist. When Steve goes on tour to Australia with his band—self-sufficiently and efficiently of course—he owns a recording studio and has a job as a producer to go back to.

That doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Maybe Amanda Palmer did pay over the odds for recording the album. I haven’t seen the recording budget and Steve doesn’t claim to have seen it either. We just don’t know. Does it matter? I thought this debate was about paying volunteers. Is everyone now expected to record albums for no more than Steve Albini? How many classical string players does he include in that $10,000?

What started with one disgruntled musician has returned to the question of “Amanda Palmer millionaire”. Well, I grew up loving music. From Eric Burdon and The Animals to Steely Dan, through XTC and The Bevis Frond, to Amanda Palmer. Why do I care whether she got her studio time for a competitive rate? Did Yes get stiffed by Advision? Or maybe Eddie Offord played it straight but Atlantic A&R fiddled the budget? I’m pretty sure Ahmet Ertegun wouldn’t rip-off his artists or their fans, maybe we should look into the Accounts Department? I always suspected Steve Ross was living beyond his means. Hold on a sec, what kind of car does Chis Squire drive?

All these years I’ve been getting artists completely wrong. Instead of loving the music I should have been scrutinising their ledgers for self-sufficiency and efficiency. Now I think about it I’m sure I could’ve got giant polystyrene dinosaurs that worked properly, and for less money.

Should Amanda Palmer pay her musos?

The debate about Amanda Palmer’s money and volunteers

No week would be complete without a music biz storm in a teacup and this week we saw an open letter from Amy Vaillancourt-Sals protesting Amanda’s request for classical musicians to play live for the fun of it.

The media and commentards chipped in copiously of course: On Amanda Palmer’s unpaid orchestra: A DIY-crowd-sourcer’s take

Everyone makes good points but their generalities and over-statements quickly swamped the specific case.

  • Should pro musicians be paid? It is blindingly obvious they should.
  • Will pro musicians be paid every time they play? It is equally obvious they won’t.

I could make 83 points about this too but let’s stick with two or three.

Amy raised the question of Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter $1 million and the media churned out this nonsense: The kickstart millionaire singer who won’t pay her musicians. Most global albums cost well over £2 million these days. Amanda Palmer is not a millionaire—that Kickstarter money has to pay for pledgers’ goodies (see Where All This Kickstarter Money Is Going by Amanda Palmer) and a lot of globetrotting. There is no more $1 million. Trust me, it’s been spent. In fact AFP has raised additional money from investors just to keep going. When she flies her band to Japan, Australia and Europe it costs money.

So how about the full time band? Of course they get paid, and AFP’s inner circle—I don’t pretend to know the details but she has a permanent staff and they too get paid. Forget the social media wankistas, this is DIY. It’s not about doing every last thing yourself on a shoestring, it’s about running your own show and it takes a team to launch a global release with a D2F campaign and world tour. That doesn’t come free.

(There are undoubtedly solitary social media junkies working 24 hours a day in a garret stubbornly in pursuit of their artistic dream with no help from anybody and no funding. When the first example from their ranks sells 1,000 albums let me know.)

Finally there’s the question of AFP’s fans. I did some quick arithmetic on her social media audience, I’m not talking about the headline numbers, just the 1 in 20 who are real fans. The ones who buy her records, attend her gigs, submit artwork, post ideas and feedback—the audience and friends who helped her over the past decade. When she asks for volunteers she’s talking to these people who care enough to chip in and go out of their way for her. It’s preposterous to imagine professional musicians without that commitment would give their time and skills for free.

So it all boils down to this. Should Amy get paid? She’s a pro musician, yes she should be paid for her work. Should everyone who works with Amanda Palmer get paid? Not if they volunteer. Should Amy work with Amanda? Obviously not. Should Amy be offended Amanda even asked? Getting offended by people is not their problem, it’s yours.

August links, articles and news

I’ll be distracted by Logic and music for a while longer, so no time for ‘proper’ blogs at the moment. In the mean time here’s a bunch of links from the first part of August. I have posted some of these—among many other things—on Twitter already. The big news of the month so far is the second part of Hooper’s copyright report with proposals for the Digital Copyright Exchange, now called the Copyright Hub (see below).

GigaOM Freemium has run its course another theme of the month has been the decline of Facebook and the growing flaws in the ad-supported web site economy.

Bandcamp Merch! Bandcamp adds merchandise functionality to its already excellent and rightly popular indie music store.

Ars Technica Apple’s case that Samsung copied the iPhone—in pictures

Wired UK French culture minister thinks HADOPI is a waste of money (that’s 3-strikes in English).

Wired UK How Apple and Amazon security flaws led to an epic hacking is a must read which reveals Apple IDs and Amazon credit card details are very easy to break into. The promised follow-up article did not appear yesterday but I will look out for it.

Hypebot Billy Van went from 2,000 to 100,000 fans (Case Study)—but the metrics exclude anything I would consider meaningful growth. It may be there but I can’t see it. Some of the comments also ask revealing questions.

All Things D TuneIn Creeps Up on Pandora, With 40M Active Listeners

The Atlantic How you turn music into money is another article about the truly spiffing DIY goddess Zoe Keating.

Dangerous Minds A statement by Nadya Tololokonnikova (Pussy Riot)—making our punks look rather tame, Pussy Riot will probably be jailed for calling out Putin as a faux democrat and the Russian Orthodox Church as political poodles.

The Telegraph Musicians getting ‘more than half of royalty income from online streaming’ was probably the hyperbolic story of the week—some musicians may be but the whole thing seems to have been cooked up for PR, there are few hard facts and no overall stats.

Music:)Ally Interview: DIY musician Alex Day talks fans, the irrelevance of radio and why YouTube changes everything

And finally the second part of the Hooper Report analysed by Out-Law.com New UK ‘Copyright Hub’ would help address problems with copyright licensing framework, report says with a link to the pdf of the IPO report itself.

What’s so great about viral?

The only thing more misleading than “likes” is viral view-counts

Sleepless In SeattleThe most popular web sites live on gossip and fleeting excitement, often cut-and-pasted from elsewhere. The Daily Mail gets more visits a day than any other “news” web site and The Huffington Post goes after a similar audience, but long before web news plunged headlong into the world of aggregation, link-bait and keyword spamming, tabloids were doing the same thing in print. Viral media is as old as the sensational headlines of early newspapers and the titillating print titles of the Victorian era.

When Nora Ephron died it was sadly inevitable “news” media would fight each other for the most prominent reprise of That Fake Orgasm Scene. As an example of Ephron’s work it isn’t the best, and the punchline these reports declared “perfect” was suggested by Billy Crystal. But it was a cinema hit the tabloids were happy to wheel out again.

Although Nora Ephron was a great writer and director that story isn’t good enough for mainstream media. Chasing popularity and page views rather than telling the story (even the BBC and The Economist featured the Fake Orgasm) distorts the facts. The Daily Mail is a massive advertising platform not a great source of news.

Viral content and pop media parasites offer empty calories. The public swarms all over them for a few seconds and moves on to the next micro-thrill. There’s no point spinning something deep to get a viral response, people don’t want their pop deep. That’s not what it’s for, they want to be distracted and feel included without doing any work. Music spreads between people who value art rather than artifice and if it’s good enough it builds careers. It doesn’t survive in the fast lane where the audience only has a few seconds to spare.

If the social media exchange rate—which I mentioned the other day—is low, the viral exchange rate is even worse. It might earn some money on YouTube but it won’t attract a lasting audience to match view-counts. Big label acts frequently mistake tabloid popularity for artistic reach. When their obituaries are written they’ll be remembered for that meat dress, their cleavage on Sesame Street or a pierced nipple at Superbowl halftime. Maybe that’s the best they can hope for.

Social media pundits get over-excited about viral content and view counts, as though large numbers validate their theories. Only advertisers really care.

I enjoyed the OK Go videos although they haven’t made me a fan yet. I don’t envy them having to come up with a new Rube Goldberg installation every time but at least they’re in control of the story. It may be best to see inbox sensations as outliers on the promotion curve and leave viral blockbusters to the tabloids.