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Friday, April 3, 2020

Perfection in music is boring, pandemic brings positive change

Scott Cooley:  Keeping it first-take fresh, and all-acoustic for no apparent reason?

“Perfection has one grave defect: it is apt to be dull.” – W. Somerset Maugham

A great thing is happening with music these days:  because of Coronavirus, musicians are streaming videos of themselves online singing and performing on acoustic guitars live in their homes.  You get to hear what people sound like without their bands, without their sound systems, and without their digital effects you would normally hear them using if you went to one of their shows where they performed on a stage.  You get to hear what the songs sound like in their purest, most naked and real forms as opposed to the artificially-enhanced recorded studio album versions.  It might be one of the greatest things to happen to music ever in our lifetimes!

Things are getting back to a style of music delivery I love as a music fan and consumer, harkening back to the days before electricity.  It’s hopefully making people realize it’s the best way to enjoy music.  It might even make the general public collectively more appreciative of music like the kind I make.  Maybe more will understand all of the good reasons why I prefer to keep it first-take fresh and all-acoustic as a general approach to recording.

It takes guts to write songs, record them, and then offer up those creations for public consumption.  When you do it, you pat yourself on the back that at least you tried, and reassure yourself that trying is better than never starting at all.  You have to start somewhere, and I hereby argue, you have to finish somewhere too. 

By that I mean you need to raise up the babies that are your songs and use a gut instinct to know when to quit trying to perfect them, then send them out into the world to fend for themselves.  Opening your creations up to judgment and criticism is about intentionally being vulnerable without being ashamed.  I’ve done that a lot, and I’m proud.  That said, are there still little things in retrospect I would change here and there?  Yes, a few, but surprisingly, not that many.

My motto is you can’t be great at everything, but you can try, only when you do, it’s better to not try too hard. I have the sweet sound effects and software to make the fake music on my computer.  All the bells and whistles at my disposal.  It doesn’t make sense to most people why I wouldn’t want to use them.  Why try to play all the instruments yourself?  Why not fix your out of tune notes?  Why not do take after take until you finally nail it or at least comp the best parts to a perfect track?

It wouldn’t be a total waste of my time, but it’s not the best use of my time.  I know wrong notes and off-key vocals and off-beat drums can be cringe-worthy.  I’d rather be working on writing more new songs instead of lining everything up to a perfect grid.  Perfection is overrated, and even though I believe that, I’m still one to let people know it’s intentional and I know I’m not great at everything.  It’s important to be able to admit your weaknesses and laugh at your mistakes and be proud of your approach and style, even when it defies common sense.

I am probably a little over-conscious of my imperfections.  I also like to think I have a good sense of humor.  Like most stand-up comedians who quickly like to get it out there what it is about them that makes them different or imperfect, I’m quick to do that about my music as evidenced in this blog.  It’s rare to see a fat comedian not do a fat joke, or a minority comedian to not cover racism in a funny way.

Self-deprecation and being able to laugh about yourself and your flaws is healthy, and arguably, can contribute to people liking you.  In the same way, flaws in music can arguably make that music more enjoyable to listen to.  Mine definitely qualifies as being flawed, but it was the best I could do at the time, and I know from experimentation that endlessly tweaking things in the interest of perfection can reduce the likability.

Quantizing is a thing you can do with music recording software that makes music perfect.  A majority of popular, mainstream music today is artificially perfected in this way.  They use auto-tune for vocals, virtual instruments, drum loops, synthesizers, and then they automatically align everything to be evenly spaced to a certain number of beats per minute.  To me, it’s disappointing and not very interesting or fun to listen to as compared with the old-fashioned ways of making music.  There doesn’t seem to be much room for improvisation anymore. 

“Bands” are increasingly made up of a digital keyboard player, a person with a laptop, and a singer.  It makes me yearn for the days before technology became so prevalent, when live music was a bunch of people playing real instruments.  Bands were recorded live, while all played simultaneously.  Things that would be considered “mistakes” to be corrected today were left in – and they were often happy accidents that were pleasingly imperfect and human and real. 

I personally prefer real drawings and paintings vs. works of visual art created with software.  I like to see real human actors and natural scenery in movies as opposed to computer-generated characters and imagery.  I like human-crafted physical objects vs. those manufactured by robots or 3D printers.  Imperfections are a part of what makes art beautiful.  The more you learn about music, the more you listen to music with a trained ear, and the more likely you are to hear imperfections you may not have noticed when you knew less. 

Great instrumentalists make great mistakes.  There are recorded solos by Jimi Hendrix where you can hear what you might at first think are errors, but it’s how he blends them in as if intentional, how he rebounds from them so brilliantly that you think they were there for a good reason – to send him off into a different, previously-unpredictable direction that is delightful. 

Great singers make great mistakes.  Even the greats like Elvis or Aretha or Robert Plant are able to do the same type of thing – hit some incorrect notes that might at first sound “pitchy” which they can then bend and riff into some unexpected, soaring surprises that are pleasing to the ear while still satisfyingly resolving to the home territory confines of the key the song is in. 

Similarly, great songwriters make great mistakes.  There are recorded songs by Neil Young for example, where at first I detect areas where I think I would’ve done a little editing – rewritten a few lines here and there maybe, but then I realize he did the best he could at the time, and left in things that preserved some spontaneity and freshness and character that over-editing would’ve wrecked.

Imperfections define us as much as our attributes that are closer to perfect, I suspect, and they both contribute to what makes others appreciate us.  A part of what makes me like certain musical artists more than others is their recognizable flaws because it makes them easier to relate to, I think.  We’re all human, we all make mistakes, no one is perfect, and music cannot and should not be perfect.

The greatest live music listening experience I’ve ever had was at Preservation Hall in New Orleans.  That was a real as it gets.  Old building, old music, real instruments, wood floors, close proximity to musicians, no PA system, no amplifiers, no technology, intimate.  Dixieland Jazz at it’s finest and most authentic.  Live and in your face and wonderful. Imperfections?  Yes, but great bands cover for each other, fill in gaps so well, that only musically-trained ears could detect the small flaws – astute listeners could detect them if they wanted to, but it would be hard work – and who wants to listen that intently and critically? 

The more you know about music, the more you’re able to detect flaws in music, but at the same time, the more you appreciate great music, and the more you hear past the flaws to enjoy the whole – it’s the sum of the parts that make for a great listening experience.  It’s the overall listening experience that matters – the atmosphere, the other fans in the audience, the interaction, the give and take, the banter, the reaction, the movement, the spontaneous applause, the backstory, the history.  The weaknesses in addition to the strengths are what makes an artist – and a person for that matter – likeable.

You can come up with some really cool sounds with technology that didn’t exist before nowadays, and that is by definition creative.  You can make great dance music with perfect beats.  You can fix mistakes.  These are arguably good things, but I think when computers and artificial intelligence write and record our music for us, we’ve gone too far and we’re close to that now, which means we’re in trouble.  We’ve come a long way, perhaps too long, from those important traditions of our roots.  I’d like too see the trends head back from where we are now is all.

There’s a part in the studio version of If I Fell by the Beatles – one of the best recordings of one of the best songs ever written – in which Paul McCartney screws up part of a harmony vocal and his voice cracks.  My wife Lenore loves that part of the song, and it’s actually one of her all-time favorite records to listen to as a result.  Enough said.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Big Egos and Grandiose Notions: How Songwriters Act in Times of Crisis

We’ve never seen anything quite like this in our lifetimes.  As songwriters shelter in place, they are no doubt contemplating writing, recording and releasing songs to make people feel better during a sad time for the world.  I’m not an exception. 

Instead of some sort of save the world through song, Live Aid-style thing, I’ll probably want to get out a few more songs from my bedroom here in Michigan somehow.  Maybe another album, maybe a single, maybe just hit record on the computer webcam and upload a solo performance of a new previously-unreleased original to YouTube.

When the lucky, famous, wealthy and privileged people seemingly have advantages to get tested before the rest of us regular folk, you dread the inevitable indulgent all-star jam for a worthy cause, and this cause is different.  Thankfully, you won’t get all those celebs on the same stage together for quite a while.

Don’t die with the music in you.  That’s from a t-shirt I saw a while back in a songwriter magazine.  I’ve got some good ones in progress, and some completed ones I haven’t released yet.  The thought has crossed my mind that I’ve got some risk factors, and when dead and gone, my wife won’t be able to figure out how to get my recordings of my songs off my computer and put them online, so no one will ever hear them.  Not that there’s a big demand in my case, but these are the types of thoughts that can cross our minds lately.

You can bet that the recording artists with a certain level of self-importance like that perhaps misunderstood Bono guy from U2 for example are going to record a video or house concert with a new, uplifting song, and those who were already generally annoyed by him will be more annoyed than ever.  I predict you’ll see a wave of similar popular acts and famous artists hit the internet and YouTube with something similar in the coming months, and the pretention levels will be high.  That said, it’s all good.

Whether we can relate to a sad song about loss, or feel uplifted by a song with a “stay positive, we’ll get through this” sentiment, such new music will be a welcome escape for those of us with internet connections, and for those without, at least for those who still have electricity, we’ll take solace and comfort in our old CDs and records on a home stereo of some kind, or maybe even the now-old-fashioned thing called a radio. 

In an unprecedented time when Amazon has stopped selling CDs and vinyl records, might as well take advantage of the seclusion and alone time to get inspired and “re-kindle” the creative fires.  So when you’re stuck in the house, and your guitar is there, and there’s a computer to type and record on, songwriters are going to do what they do, whether they really think their songs can truly make a difference in the world or not.

I’m no different.  If you have this hobby, you can’t help it.  It’s a way to get your feelings off your chest, and a creative outlet is a good way to spend your time instead of constantly consuming the latest sad news and living in fear.  I’m on a bit of a roll of late, having written and recorded a few new songs this year.  It’s fun, and it takes your mind off worrying about the future. 

You can’t help but wonder if your latest new inspirational song could catch on and make a difference to people by cheering them up or providing a calming influence or temporary escape from the fear.  Few can make money from writing and recording songs these days, but that’s not why you do it anyway – it’s out of pure passion.

When you think you’ve written a good one, and one that would be particularly impactful during tough times, you’re tempted to put it out as a single right away, rather than wait for enough songs to release a whole album.  You’re also tempted to just record a solo video of yourself singing and playing it live because the reality is you might not be around long enough to release that next album.

It occurs to you in times like these that you won’t be around forever, and little will remain, but maybe some of the songs will still be floating around the internet.  That’s the hope.  Long after I’m dead and gone, this little blog nobody knows about or reads might still exist, and if so, its posts will collectively tell some type of larger story about some dead guy who used to write songs and record them while he was alive.

The optimist in me believes I’ll survive, and the songwriter in me thinks it’s one of the reasons I was put on this Earth.  I seriously have this grandiose notion that it’s part of God’s plan for me – to stick around and keep putting new music out into the world.  It may be funny to some to hear that because I realize I’m not famous or even particularly good.  I’m aware I’m not a great singer or musician, but it could be that my ego is telling me I’m a decent songwriter, and that’s a part of my life’s purpose.

Praise is a strong word, but if you’ve interpreted positive feedback from people about your songs, the realist in you might chalk it up as being “kind and polite,” but your ego reassures you that it’s genuine.  If you’re at all like me, you know you have these thoughts from time to time, and that you’ve been spared so far because it’s a contribution you make, and further, that it might even be important in some way. 

When you’re confident enough to call yourself a songwriter, whether you qualify in the minds of experts or not, you keep on with it regardless of your abilities because you can pause for a while, but you can’t ever stop completely, even if all you can do is write in your head.

Indeed, I have had people tell me they enjoyed my songs before, and that fact tells me I’ve already made a small difference in people’s lives.  Just a little of that serves as fuel to keep going.  You can’t help but want to help, and writing and recording a song is a way you can help. 

It comes naturally to people like me, so you can expect that in a much smaller way, sad and pathetic as it may sound, I’ll probably be jumping on the bandwagon and joining the ranks of all these artists you’ll be getting inspirational songs from during this challenging time in the world.  We’re all going to die eventually, but it’s going to be okay.  You keep doing what you do in whatever time you have left.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Why acoustic guitars are so much better for songwriters than electrics


It may be that playing an acoustic guitar instead of an electric is doing it the hard way, or a wimpy way, depending on how you look at.  Electrics are tougher, meaner, wilder and more aggressive sounding, but they’re easier on the fingers to play.  You don’t have to press as hard, the necks are thinner and faster.  Bronze wound acoustic steel strings build up calluses on your fingers and thus kind of get you in better shape for playing.  Higher action and heavier strings on acoustics, lower and lighter on electrics.  Hard rock on an electric is easier to play, soft rock on an acoustic is harder to play, one could argue.

Depending on your preferences, acoustics can perhaps sound harsh and rougher on the ears, whereas electrics have a slick smooth sheen about their sound.  The sustain and effects can hide a lack of good playing technique, whereas acoustics leave you naked and can easily reveal the little mistakes.  On the other hand, acoustics played well can be simply beautiful.  The music they produce may be lighter sounding, and the actual weight of them is physically lighter.  Electrics can be uncomfortably heavy to play and the necessary shoulder straps can hurt your shoulders and give you neck and back problems, especially when you’re older.

To use an all-American baseball analogy, acoustics could be considered like practicing batting swings with several wooden bats in the on deck circle before throwing them on the ground and stepping up to the plate with a light aluminum bat.  Maybe electric guitars are aluminum bats, and maybe amplifiers and effects pedals are like swinging with corked bats.  I have a preference throughout my playing and recording "career" to stick with acoustics, not for practice to get in shape for electric playing, but even when I have electrics available at my disposal, I almost always choose the old dreadnaught.  It’s more handy for writing, and I just prefer the tone they make more when recording.

I’ve stayed true to a signature sound that includes the acoustic guitar as the primary instrument in my music.  It evolved naturally.  I was not a musician until several years into adulthood.  Before that, I was a music fan.  Early on, I was a fan of music my parents liked, which included early 70s folk rock, an example of which was the John Denver records they had in their collection.  His music also featured acoustic guitar, his lyrics were about the beauty of the natural world, he was an environmentalist, he seemed like a nice guy, and he liked skiing – all things I appreciated, even as a young boy.

As I got a little older, I got into the hard rock of the late 70s with my peers, which included musical acts who also had acoustic songs like Neil Young and even Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.  On the radio, I’d hear the soft rock artists like America, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Paul Simon, CSN, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, and Bread.  This is what I grew up on.  The late 70s brought a myriad of changes that lasted through the entire 80s that were not great for acoustic music – with the exception being the Violent Femmes, a huge influence on me.

Disco and punk faded out as new wave, pop and hair metal came and went along with grunge in the early 90s.  Then came the unplugged MTV show and related album releases of the early 90s – it was getting appealing again – with rock bands playing rock music on all acoustic instruments.  From about the turn of the century onward though, acoustic music has been off the beaten path and underground for the most part.  Mainstream country sounds like bad rock music sung with a southern twang accent, which I don’t have a taste for.

There’s always been this undercurrent of serious folk – last popular in the 60s and slowly dying since with the baby boomer crowd – that’s just somehow not cool or fun enough for me.  It should be no surprise the singer-songwriter genre leans more toward rock than folk, and features the acoustic guitar.   Along the way, I somehow discovered the good stuff from before I was born – the early acoustic blues and hillbilly music., the acoustic songs of the Beatles, etc.  Online discovery and recommendation has led me to discover the odd gem I somehow missed along the way like Elliott Smith.

The cheap, used acoustic is a typical first guitar for many, and I’m no exception.  It’s easier to find sheet music or chords online for guitar than other instruments when you’re learning covers of your favorites early on.  Because I was raised on rock, the guitar is a natural choice, because there was at least one in all these bands I liked.  It’s great to learn on, and there’s just something about the immediacy of being able to just pick it up and make sound without the hassle of having to plug anything in.

When the creative urge strikes, you want to capture what you can as soon as you can so you don’t lose the magic.  Over-editing and over-producing can achieve slick perfection, but I like the rough edges.  On the other hand, I have a soft side, I’m a mellow laid-back kind of person, so it’s just a part of what suits my style and personality I guess.

It’s also a lot easier to emulate the songs you like as opposed to playing a bass, drums, or a horn to sing along with, so it’s the ultimate solo instrument.  It’s made of trees, so it’s pretty organic.  They’ve been around a long time.  They’re portable, and you don’t need extra stuff like an amp and a cable to get sound out of it.  You don’t need to be near electricity, so you can hike into the wild and entertain around a campfire.

For all these reasons and more, it’s possibly the best instrument to write songs on as well.  You get a faster idea to recording transfer.  They tend to stay in tune better than electric guitars.  They rest on your leg easily while sitting without the need for a shoulder strap.  You don’t have to turn knobs to dial in a sound first – just grab it and start playing.

I love me some loud electric guitars from time to time so don’t get me wrong – I’m not knocking them.  In early jazz and blues bands, acoustics weren’t loud enough to be heard live, so amplification helped with volume.  It’s arguably cool to get more sustain for certain styles, as it is to add effects like reverb and distortion.  Too much of that can get annoying in a hurry though.  I guess it’s just more pleasing to my ears than electric – that’s the bottom line.

It could be that as people get older their music tastes might tend to mellow a bit, and that would be true with me to some degree, although as already stated, I’ve always been a fan of the mellow stuff.  Another factor is that I don’t want to impair my hearing further, and want to preserve what I have, so I’m cautious about excessive volume as I get older.  I have played electrics in bands, some of which accompanied acoustics, and I like me some crazy digital noises on occasion, but I like the honesty of an acoustic guitar better, and both as a fan of other music as well as my own, I gravitate toward an all-acoustic unplugged overall sound in general.

As a songwriter, I want to put my ideas to music quickly, before I lose the muse, and an acoustic is great for that.  A typical way to record is to lay down a rhythm guitar track first before you add bass, drums, vocals, or keyboards, so my first track is often an acoustic rhythm track.  Due to my tastes, it just so happens that I like to hear my songs in an acoustic style as well, so I don’t replace it with electric.  I also enjoy knowing I’m not using digital, electronic and technological trickery.  It feels more true and real and authentic with an acoustic, like I’m not cheating.  No covering up imperfections with fake sounds or software fixes.

In the back of my mind, I know it’s a little harder to play than an electric, and for some reason, I like knowing I’m doing something that’s a little more difficult.  Some of the primarily electric guitar musicians who went on the unplugged show revealed they weren’t that good on acoustics, and you don’t want to be like them in that way.  I’m not a take the easy way out person.  In several areas of my life, my personality has been such that I’ve intentionally and perhaps even stupidly, done things the hard way as a general approach, but there’s a greater satisfaction in it for me knowing that.

It has been said that if a song is really good, it sounds good with just a single guitar, as if when stripped of additional instrumentation and studio polish, the true quality of the songwriting can really shine.  Some songs are band songs, and don’t sound great when performed solo on one instrument.  So, in this way, a songwriter has a better idea if the song can stand alone that it will possibly be even better when doctored up with accompaniment.

In it’s pure, raw form a good song will sound good on an acoustic guitar, so it’s a good test, and a way to get immediate feedback when playing live or listening back to a demo recording.  For me, I always opt to keep the initial scratch rhythm acoustic track in the mix, and take it from there.  I even prefer to play fills and solos with an acoustic as well, just because my ears like what I hear better.  So it’s through this preference based on many aforementioned good reasons that I’ve evolved into a primarily acoustic solo recording artist, and why I feel strongly that the acoustic guitar is better than an electric for writing songs.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Pennies From Heaven – 2019 Year In Review


As an independent musician, you record at home and upload digital files to the cloud, and then when people buy/listen, you can get micro-fractions of pennies that can add up to actual pennies eventually, trickling down like a soft rain over time from the heavenly skies of the world wide web.

When you write songs, record them, and then distribute them to online music stores, there are ways you can check in with some of them to see if any of your music had sales.  Mine did in 2019.  Again, I earned enough to cover the distribution cost, and so theoretically at that point I’m only out my labor cost.  Since it’s a labor of love, it’s all good.

Sales reporting with these stores/services is a little sketchy, but most of the big ones at least paint a positive picture for you, with some even offering stats and demographic data.  In case you were curious, and because I believe in being somewhat transparent about my humble achievements (or lack thereof), I thought I'd share some of the details about what I consider a small but true success in the music industry.  It may be sad or funny, but for those of you who were customers, I sincerely thank you!  Here’s a summary of what happened with my music last year:

CDs

Amazon Music

It appears that I sold a whopping 4 total CDs on Amazon.  Guess it’s true that hardly anyone buys CDs anymore.  It may be a bit sad, but if you consider 2019 was not a year in which I offered a new album, it may be seen as a positive.  The good news is there were some royalty payments from Japan’s Amazon store, so that’s cool.  Not sure what was sold or bought exactly, or how the yen transfer from Amazon.co.jp, but there were some micro-transactions of some kind.  I can’t really say I’m big in Japan as I’d like to be able to, but I think I can at least safely say I’m small there now.

CD Baby

The total sales here amounted to around $67, which is probably around 5 CDs, although there’s some digital mixed in, and I’m not quite sure about the accounting breakdown.  The biggest selling album continued to be Lakeside Landing (released in 2004, which has the “hit” Mackinac Island on it), followed by “Missing The Boat,” my 2018 album.

Radio

Pandora

I made the astronomical amount of $0.02 – yes that’s two cents – from Pandora Premium, but I was just recently added in late 2019 to this store/service/radio station or whatever it’s called.  I posted a news story about this here:  http://www.scottcooley.com/scott-cooley-web-site/news/thumbsupscottcooleymusicnowonpandora

iHeartRadio

Didn’t really know if this service was going to fade away or not, but it didn’t, and people bought my music on here too.  Or at least they listened to it via “radio” streaming, which somehow actually resulted in a few pennies for me.

Video

YouTube

I uploaded a total of 37 videos and gained 16 subscribers.
My videos had a total of 18 watch hours and 18 likes.
Overall, there were 673 total views.
For me, this was kind of a big deal.  View them all here:  https://www.youtube.com/c/scottcooley

The Big Four Streamers 

YouTube Music

I earned $0.07, seven cents, from this new service, which ain't much, but not bad if you consider this does not include sales from the former Google Play Music, which I had previously directly distributed to.  I can’t say enough good things about this new service though.  It “pulls in” my actual YouTube videos from my official channel, and the service gets you ad-free audio and video for your ten bucks a month.  I highly recommend this as the best way to stream now.  Google really got it right with this one.

Amazon Music Unlimited

I hear these guys will be at the forefront of the hi-res or hi-def audio in the future, so they are one to be on the lookout for.  It’s different than buying my actual CDs on Amazon’s main online store though.  This is an actual streaming service.

This was split into two pools of income called Amazon US Premium and Amazon UK Premium, which I’m happy about.  Being discovered somehow online by people in the United Kingdom is encouraging.  I also got one from Amazon DE, so maybe that’s Denmark or Germany, not sure.
Amazon Prime:
I also had one sale from Amazon Prime IN, which I think means India, not Indonesia or Indiana, so that’s an exotic far-away place that has me excited.  Big and growing online music market over there, so I’ve gathered.  Assuming this was not from the streaming service though.

Apple Music

131 plays
Reached a high of 10 daily plays in Canada!
Other top countries included:
South Africa 5
Germany 3
Russia 2

Top 5 Songs:
  1. Against the Tide
  2. Mackinac Island
  3. In My El Camino
  4. I Did a Bad Thing
  5. Cooley’s Rap


Top Cities:
  1. New York
  2. Toronto
  3. Detroit
  4. Memphis
  5. Grand Rapids


Spotify

My single “Too Late To Turn Back Now” was submitted to Spotify Editors.
My top 4 biggest streams were:
  1. Mackinac island – 53
  2. I Did A Bad Thing – 34
  3. Puttin’ Up A Pole Barn – 30
  4. Shred Betty – 20

Fastest rate was 14 streams per hour on July 3rd.

Upward trends included the following percentage increases:
^33% playlist adds
^44% followers
^14% total listeners

Total stream time for the year: 12 hours
My music was heard in 43 countries from Argentina to Taiwan
My audience grew 84% in Netherlands!

Others

iTunes

Apparently, there’s still an iTunes in both Japan and Canada, or at least it did exist in 2019, as I did have some very minor sales in those countries.  There was also one in Mexico which I’m thrilled about, and some place just named “other territories” in addition to Europe.  There’s also a micro-payment from iTunes Match – Americas on there, whatever that is.

Bandcamp

Someone bought the entire “Cherchez La Femme” album which was a bit unusual for this service, and a bunch of people bought the single download of “Mackinac Island,” as usual.  My top three free stream plays, however, were as follows:
  1. Coney
  2. Used To Be Good Looking
  3. Watchin’ The World Go By 


Napster

Quite a few pennies achieved on this site.  Didn’t know it even existed anymore, let alone actually paid artists, but that’s what happened.

Deezer

Surprisingly, I made quite a bit of micro-fractions of pennies adding up to a few dollars on this one.

Tidal

I actually had a few sales, not just plays, but downloads, from Tidal, which paid me a few pennies as well.

Facebook

I have no idea how the dreaded Facebook sold my music and then paid me a couple pennies for it, but somehow it happened, despite me not ever putting my music on there.

United Media Agency

No idea who these guys are, but they paid me a bunch of times, mostly for less than one penny each time.  OK, just looked them up and they are Russian and own email and social networks there.  UMA, I approve. 



In Conclusion

Overall, not bad (for me)...and not bad for a non-release year.  It's exciting to know that people far from my home base here in Michigan have discovered and purchased my music.  It's also exciting to know the sales have helped offset some of my investment in instruments and recording equipment.  Most of all, it's exciting to know that there is a small and steadily-growing fanbase.  Check in again to learn more about my next album slated for release this coming June.  Thanks again for your support!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Riding the Drought Out


Thanksgiving is a time of abundance ‘round here, a time of overeating and napping and leftovering and bulking up to survive the winter ahead and watching a favorite movie like The Big Lebowski, and yet, it can also be a time of doing without and being hungry.  We reflect on our fortunes, thankful we’re able to contribute to the world in some way.  A big contribution of mine has been the ability to put music out into the world that didn’t exist before, even though I know all art is derivative of other art in small ways.  Having learned a little about writing and plagiarism over the years, I’d like to think if I’m copying, I’m not creating, but I know some can be unconscious.  None of us are immune to influence.

Feeling bad about past mistakes, mostly those of the foot-in-mouth or impatience variety, I’m coming to realize those are normal, and it’s okay that they happen.  I’m at that age where I’m taking notice of the inevitable decline of my parents’ generation, the decline of loved ones, of people’s bodies wearing out, of time being precious.  It’s also a time in which I’ve paid closer attention to advice about aging gracefully, and that includes not stopping what you’re passionate about.  Keep working, they say.  Don’t retire.  Stay active.  Have a purpose.  Do the things that get you excited to be alive.  For me, one of those is writing songs and recording music.  I’m thankful I have this hobby.

It’s been a while since I updated you in this blog on my activities.  I’ve been hanging out, enjoying life, going to the day job every day, boldly trying new things, tolerating, abiding.  Not much going on as far as creative output for a while, blogging or otherwise, but I remain convinced the future holds more.  You may have already become aware of the recent addition of more music videos on my official YouTube channel for your enjoyment.  The good news is there’s at least a couple more new albums on the way, and a lyric/chord songbook project.  As another winter approaches, you can hunker down for the holidays, get out and ski, and be assured that droughts don’t last because they never do.

Writer’s block or not, focusing on other things and waiting works, important things like family and survival, and the tension of expectation and demand can motivate.  I can only assume from the analytics that there are people who want to know about these things, that I have actual readers of this blog, that there are actual fans of my music and that they might be curious to learn more, although I know not who you are.  With all the competition for our free time and all the creative works out there to discover, it’s a wonderful thing.  I’m fortunate to have creative outlets, but as I’ve said before, just knowing there’s the potential for appreciators is an exciting boost to wait around for more inspiration to arrive.

Throughout my pretend “career” as a songwriter and recording artist, I’ve felt the need whether in blogs or real conversations with people to use my self-deprecating style to downplay the quality of my music secretly hoping it will make people pleasantly surprised should they actually make a decision to check it out.  Maybe the wisdom of age has taught me such an approach protects me from negative reaction pain, but at the same time it has taught me that talking about it at all in the first place helps it happen.  Telling people about creative projects you’re thinking about taking on makes them more likely to happen.  The fake-it-‘till-you-make-it approach works.

When you tell someone about a project you might take on, that in itself becomes a seed that can lead to germination.  Similarly, experience has also taught me that it is the ideas for songs that are the most important part.  Have a good enough idea for a song, and it will practically write itself, I’ve found.  The same theory applies to an idea for a blog post, a book, a project of any kind.  Writing this post will probably get me back on track, because I’m admitting to you and myself that if experience is a guide, more will materialize.  The complete opposite approach can work as well.  The prolific Stephen King doesn’t believe in ideas or outlines, and instead just starts typing his way through to completed works.  I guess I’m sort of doing that here in this post, with no concrete point in mind yet.

I am currently experiencing another prolonged period of abnormally low occurrences of songwriting, leading to a shortage of new material to record.  I’ve ridden out many since I wrote my first song back in the winter of ’89-’90, my first living in Vail, Colorado.  Many of the early songs I wrote in my ski bum days have made their way through rounds of revisions to become “release worthy” by my own weird standards, and new recordings of them in their final states will be making appearances on my next two albums – Bluebird Days I and II – which not surprisingly will include several that are either about skiing, mention skiing, or that were inspired by skiing.  If you’re into skiing, Vail is an inspiring place.

Speaking of inspiration and rocky mountain winters, riding out creative droughts for me is usually a microcosm of life in that it’s a temporary low, and like life, it’s full of highs and lows, peaks and valleys, strikes and gutters as the fellow says.  Dudes, and I’m talking about ski bums here, back in the early 90s, like me who were out there at that time and place, skiing, fitting in, takin’ ‘er easy for the rest, were easily inspired to write songs.  I was young, everyone around was young, the mountains were beautiful, the girls were beautiful, the powder and vertical capacity abundant, weed burning, beer flowing, etc.  I was also flat broke and in debt the whole time.  I learned life is about balance:  don’t get too high when things are going your way, don’t get too low when they’re not.

I try to not worry when the hobby of writing/recording is on hiatus.  Just like the weather, the situation is guaranteed to change based on history.  With a couple albums ready to release (one of which got pre-released already due to a distribution snafu beyond my control), it’s even easier to take it easy.  Everyone needs and benefits from time to reflect to get a fresh perspective, just as they need time off from a regular day job.  Time away makes you appreciate it more, as can be the case with love relationships too.  Most of us with a passion this hobby don’t do it for a living, and so we wait for the muse clouds to show up again. 

I feel lucky every time they do, as if it’s an honor and privilege to be chosen, so I am careful about not abusing the power or taking the gift for granted.  I realize that could arguably be construed as a self-deprecating sarcastic or ironic joke to those who don’t like my songs, but I assure you it’s unintentional.  It’s truly a blessing from a higher power to be able to write songs and record music at all.  Sometimes you deserve a break, and sometimes that break really sets you up better than ever to be prolific again.  Weather the dry as you do the stormy, appreciating the upside of both.  Balance.

Some claim you can force it, treat it like a job, schedule regular time for it, which can work.  I’ve tried that here and there, and the ratio of keeper to weeded out material is about the same.  You end up with more recyclable bits and pieces of songs that way, which can be good.  On the other hand, I tend to just wait and go with the flow when the songs rain in again.  It’s not unlike a ski bum waiting for a powder day.  It’s going to happen again whether you pray for it or prepare for it or not, and when it does, you’ll know what to do and be “stoked” which is far from some kind of Eastern parlance.  Here in the lukewarm midwestern swing state of Michigan, there’s a lot of abiding going on.  You’ve got the guitar, the computer with word processor and audio interface, the microphones, etc. all ready to be fired up again.

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then certainly a temporary lack of creativity will make you like it even more when the new songs show up again.  Meantime, you find other free time pursuits, keep busy, try to help make a difference in the world in other ways.  Yes, adding songs to the world that didn’t exist before is a contribution to society, one that is in my humble opinion, a noble pursuit.  It shows you have fine personal qualities and high moral principles and ideals if you want to put new artistic creations into the world for people to potentially enjoy.  Knowing even just a few people out there are entertained by your music is very satisfying, and it’s worth riding out the droughts to be able to do it again.

Good art imitates nature, and it’s natural for seasons to change, and good art imitates good art, and to everything there is a season, mistakes happen, shit happens, dudes abide, all things must pass, and in turn whether it’s a movie or skiing or music, the world will not run out of it, you just might have to wait for a little while is all.  Re-use clich├ęs, be not tired of the trite and contrived, everything is a re-hashing of everything that came before, and whether the art be high and fancy or lowdown and dirty, or not someone’s cup of tea, there’s nothing to worry about or fear – that would be a waste of time.  Live each day like it’s your last, seizing carp, and you might die in a song drought, but overall, you died with many songs because you rode out many a drought.  

I’m not clear on the psychology to explain why I always feel the need to warn people my music likely won’t be their cup of tea.  Lowering their expectations and hoping they’ll be pleasantly surprised is the opposite of tooting your own horn.  The confidence to admit you think your own creative work is pretty good is the same confidence that kicks in when you say you’re going to do something and then end up actually doing it.  Being true to your word aside, sometimes you have to commit yourself to things in life, dive in and start swimming, whether you think you know how to keep yourself from sinking or not.  Go without fear of failing, I say, because failing is not the end of the world.  Don’t freak out about the ideas not materializing, be calm knowing they will eventually, and when they do, run with them.  In times of creative famine, know a feast of excitement will return.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Compilation Contemplation: Inclusion Decisions and Feeling Like The Whole Idea Is Bad and Wrong


A relative asked me a simple question a while back, something along the lines of "what are your best songs?"  Fair enough, but so hard to answer.  I thought hard for longer than the normally expected pause duration, like a full 20 seconds, with some head scratching and "hmmms" along the way to finally buying myself a little more time by saying something like "wow, that's so hard...," until finally blurting out, "Shoreline Miles is a pretty good one I guess."  Then I thought out of courtesy I should tell her which album it was on, and so I did (Lakeside Landing, my 2006 release if you didn't already know and were curious).  One was all I could muster, and I'm not sure at all if that's my best song, and now in retrospect I'm even less sure.

She had been making polite conversation with me at a family gathering, and as one does, asked me about something she knew I was interested in.  You make rounds at family gatherings, try to get to everyone if you can, try to be sincere yet keep it brief in the interest of time.  So, I knew a part of her motivation to ask me was simply that.  Much later on, of course, as I was recapping who said what with my wife on the way home, she asked the inevitable "I saw you talking to so and so (I'll just come out and admit here, in this particular case, it was my cousin Mary) in the other room, what did you two talk about?"  I told her what I've now told you about the encounter, and in doing so, wondered aloud to her if Mary could've actually been asking because she sincerely wanted to later go online and check it out.  "Maybe" my wife and I both agreed, but you never really know for sure unless you directly ask, which I had not done.  So, I have thought it was a mistake ever since.  In case she sought it out and listened to it, it's not reflective of what I'm all about as a songwriter and musical artist.  It is in some ways, but it doesn't necessarily define a signature style.  You don't want people to get the wrong first impression! 

If indeed it was her first experience listening to one of my songs, which she did not indicate one way or another, and if she indeed was genuinely interested in checking it out, I should've provided her with a few more to get a representative sampling or something.  Better yet, I thought I should just give her free CDs next time I see her.  If I did that, however, I'd feel like I'd need to give her a copy of all of them.  If she was just being polite though, that would be bad form on my part.  Personally, when people force something on me unexpectedly like that, I'm even less likely to ever put it in the stereo and hit play.  I gave my sister and my uncle a few of my early CDs years ago, and I highly doubt they ever opened a single one.  It's just like when people give you a book to read, you feel obligated, and that's uncomfortable.  I should point out this cousin is a lot younger than me, so it's highly unlikely any of my music would be her cup of tea anyway.

Then the idea popped into my head:  people want a "best of" album for starters before they dive any deeper, if at all.  As a consumer of movies myself, for example, I do a google search on "best movies of the 1990s" before searching on my cable or Netflix to see if any are available.  People want curation.  Artists typically have a dislike of critics, but they serve a great purpose.  Siskel & Ebert lists, that sort of thing.  It helps you narrow things down and do a little weeding out first before you decide what to watch.  Same is true for music.  When you're young you might like a radio hit, then buy an album, like it, repeat, and back in my day, you'd even make your own "favorites mix tape" by that artist, burn a CD of what you think are their greatest hits, then when the band you like finally comes out with a true greatest hits album, there's always a few songs you love that aren't on there that you would've chosen.  I'm guilty of that scenario, but I've also heard about bands, had them recommended to me, and since they were established in their careers already, I actually started out by buying their greatest hits album first, which sometimes was enough to satisfy my curiosity, in which case I'd never buy a regular studio release by them, but other times, it would prompt me to want more.

In this day and age, everyone pays the ten bucks a month for the online music subscription and then they can cloud stream every song and album ever released by every artist.  The albums don't even matter as much now, it's as if they're all singles.  Unless you're talking about The Dark Side Of The Moon, Tommy, or Sgt. Pepper, and the like, the album experience is only for the old-schoolers or new-schoolers who are into vinyl again after it came back recently from near-extinction, but sadly, they are the minority.  That said, a best-of album is always a good place to start when motivated to try out some music by an artist you're not familiar with that has somehow sparked your interest.  So, if you're like me, you at least think about which songs you'd include on there. 

There is the limitation of the 74 minute playing time duration of a standard compact disc.  You attempt a list of your best, but of course, when you've got 10 albums under your belt already, you can't fit everything on there you would want to include.  Then you figure you should have a Volume I and a Volume II, the former covering your best from your first 5 albums, the latter covering the second 5.  This makes it a lot easier.  Some artists will drop a greatest hits after only 3 or 4 albums, but 5 is a decently reasonable number in my mind.  So, that decision is made, no problem.  Except for the fact that you're going to feel like in the case of my cousin, two whole CDs with 17-19 songs each (maxing out that CD space) will potentially be overwhelming.  A snack-sized EP sampler or two might be a better approach, who knows?

Some artists are on their Volume IV of their greatest hits already.  There are probably a few bands and solo artists out there who have unique record contracts that allow them to never release best-of albums, but not many.  Not many mainstream, major-label acts anyway.  Neil Young, for example, waiting quite a long time (like about 25 studio album releases) before releasing a true Greatest Hits compilation album, which I have respect for.

Another issue I have as a music buyer myself, is that established bands go way overboard with these compilation albums, particularly late in their careers.  You never have one that would match what you'd put on your ultimate mix tape.  They always leave a few off the best-of that are on the greatest-hits, but then that one is missing a couple of your favorites as well.  If that isn't annoying enough (and it's probably the record label companies, not the bands and artists that do this), you get composition album titles like these available for a single artist:
·       The Best Of
·       Greatest Hits
·       The Essential Hits
·       Biggest Hits
·       Golden Hits
·       The Number Ones
·       The Ultimate Collection
·       The Immaculate Collection
·       Anniversary Collection
·       Box Set
·       The Hits
·       The Hits/The B-Sides
·       Gold
·       Archives
·       Anthology
·       Collector's Series
·       Super Hits
·       Greatest Hits Live
·       Chronicles
·       Retrospective
·       The Very Best Of
·       Ultimate Hits

Not to mention the Volumes I-V of each.  You get the idea.  Their ultimate is never quite your ultimate.  But again, in today's landscape, you can stream any/all of it for your $10/mo. and the albums don't really matter.  Release dates don't matter as much anymore either, which is good and bad I guess.  I have the dilemma of deciding I need a Vol. 1 to cover the best of my first 5 albums, and a Vol. 2 to cover the second set of 5 albums, all of which will be previously-released, but the Vol. 1 will be made available after all 10 have already been available.  So, I wish I would've thought this all through after the fifth album was released, which means I should've release the first volume back in 2012, hindsight being 20/20 to throw even more numbers at you.

Another typical thing to do on a compilation is to include a "previously-unreleased" song on the best-of album, an "alternate take" one, a "remix" song, or a "live version,"  but I've decided against all of those options.  I will have enough trouble as it is narrowing down 128 songs to the best 36, or however many will fit.  I don't find those enticing enough to drive me over the edge to buy if I was on the fence about buying a compilation album by an artist.  They're more irrelevant, if not slightly annoying, than they are a major bonus, in my opinion, although some do turn out to include a pretty darned good previously-unreleased track.  I'm fully aware that I'd be basically re-releasing 1/3 of the total released catalog on two best-of CDs that the streaming people already have access to, so it might sound like a pointless endeavor.  People who actually still buy CDs might dig it though, and although I've avoided getting actual vinyl records made due to the cost/benefit ratio, if I was going to offer vinyl, this would be the perfect opportunity to dip my toe in that water of untapped potential.

Back to the curating thing though:  people like the pre-weeding out, the time saving that the careful selection, sifting through and pulling together provides.  So, on the other hand, it will be helpful to people, and maybe even give the appearance of being more established and noteworthy somehow, which could make them more confident in trying out the music and giving it a chance in the first place.  As with songs, it's a "hook" of sorts to possibly sway your decision to check it out for the first time, or to dive deeper into the catalog.  To offer another analogy, when deciding to check out a restaurant when travelling, it's all about reviews and recommendation and best-of lists, isn't it?  It helps.

What to leave in, what to leave out - therein lies your difficulty as an artist contemplating the compilation album.  What to call it too is a decision you have to make.  In my case, I don't have any true "hits" to select, so I can't call it a greatest hits.  Best of will work, but I need to have two of them.  Even so, it won't please everyone.  People are going to be mad if you leave off the popular favorites you get positive comments about and requests for.  There are a couple of mine that I don't think are anywhere close to my best, yet lots of other people love them.  What do you do?  You put them in, but you cringe as you make the decision to do it.  "Can't believe you didn't include Puttin' Up A Pole Barn" is what I can imagine hearing already.

A part of me thinks this whole idea might be bad and wrong though.  It doesn't feel right because it's really up to others to decide what they like the best.  I'm finding it hard to even contemplate myself which are my best.  You create songs, they're like your children, you send them out into the world, and hope they do well, but a part of you wants to not play favorites with them, and instead love them all equally.

Yeah, I'm thinking about it anyway, making those preliminary lists, trying to rate my songs, put them into tiers, etc.  I am guilty of really liking certain songs for certain personal reasons no one else knows about that cloud my objectivity, and I am certain most people would question their inclusion on a compilation, but I might do it anyway, retain and exercise my veto power over the mass appeal.  Not that I actually have any sales charts or any mass appeal at all to speak of.  However, in addition to my personal opinions, and the feedback I've received from actual fans here and there, I also have an online survey going on my web site that has produced some aggregate data.  I also do have analytics from some online music stores, as well as some actual sales data from the singles I've sold downloads of.  The cloud streaming, on the other hand, I have no idea.  All that said, there is some fairly reliable information I will take into consideration if I do decide to release the first two volumes.  I am one of millions of independent nobodies with no real business even having music for sale in online stores to begin with, let alone claim some are hits.  A best-of would be beneficial for the potential fan base out there though, for all the reasons I've stated here, so there's compelling evidence it's not a bad thing for me to decide to do.

I pride myself on variety, and as a music appreciator myself I like variety, but some people are fast-rock only fans who won't want those slow ballads or reggae songs on there, and those with narrow tastes will surely be disappointed.  You can't please all of the people all of the time, it's the nature of the best (notice I intentionally didn't spell that as "beast").  It's premature and unlikely at this point, but I'll let you know when/if, so stay tuned blog readers, and as always thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Average American Open Mic Scene Revisited


When I was in my early 20s, soon after learning a few chords on a guitar and hanging around other amateur musicians, I went to bars with them where they would let anyone get up on stage and play and sing popular songs.  I quickly figured out I was definitely not ever going to be a great singer, and playing covers was not going to be my thing.  What I liked was making up my own songs.

We've all been there - songwriters, that is - to the event at bars known as open microphone nights - or just "open mic" for short.  Mostly frequented either by people who know the performers well, or other performers who have put their names on the sign-up sheet list.

We've all seen that poor soul who has barely learned three chords get up there and do his best and struggle to get through a classic rock cover song.  We may cringe, we may smile, we may think to ourselves we can do better.  Many of us have been that guy ourselves.  We patiently endure his struggle and politely clap until it's our turn. 

Those guys may never show up again, they may keep at it, they may get better, or sometimes, they keep coming back but never really get much better at all.  As more than just supportive friends or family, we who have been there, done that, have respect for those guys. 

If you're not a musician yourself and don't hang around musicians, you've likely never been to an open mic night.  If you have, and you weren't a close friend or family member of a performer, you probably instantly make fun of how bad they are compared to the mainstream famous musicians whose music you own.

Otherwise, we admire their courage and confidence.  We want them to improve.  It can be fun to give them encouragement, because as performers, after the polite applause and we put the guitar back in the case, get a beer, and re-join the crowd, we never forget the random kind comments, deserved or genuine or not.

Let's face it:  the guys who start that way rarely turn out to be performers with paid gigs.  The guys who get paid gigs and maybe even go beyond that to become famous at some level always start out at a young age, often with lessons and experience in bands as teens.  So by the time they are 20-somethings, they already have something more serious and professional happening than an open mic night.

Or so it would seem.  There are all sorts of peaks and valleys for the guys who start young too.  There are one-hit wonder guys who had record deals teaching guitar lessons.  There are a ton of former members of regionally-famous touring bands working at your local Guitar Center.  Some may seem like they have bad attitudes, as if they're frustrated with their lots in life.  We know the types.

Music careers are short.  Few are sustained for longer than five years of legitimate notoriety.  I'm not talking about symphony orchestra types.  Which brings me to a funny phenomenon, speaking of classic rock - people will still buy concert tickets to see a band play their two hits that made it onto mainstream radio in the 70s, even when the band is only made up of one original member.  You have one really old guy who somehow found himself with rights to use the band name, and who fill the vacant positions with young guys.

Sadly, nowadays there are some open mic nights that feature really good singers and musicians, often who previously had some sort of formal professional involvement in music.  In fact, some open mics require you supply to the organizer/host person some sort of credentials in order to be able to sign up - a "places played" or "played with" list.  Not really "open" but they are good for the live music fans with a high entertainment quality to cost ratio.

When I've been to such places recently - secretly scouting them out as a fan before mustering the courage to sign up myself - I am dumbfounded that these guys are not playing at more prominent venues with paid gigs on a Saturday night.  Usually, open mics are on Monday nights or some slow night for the bar owner in an attempt to drum up more business, but in some places, they are the on the busiest nights of the week.

They come and go.  Some of the prominent ones last indefinitely though.  I'm not talking about the kinds where people do comedy or acting skits or poetry.  I'm not talking about the songwriter group get-togethers in some guy's living room.  And I'm not talking about the ones in music hotbed places like Nashville or Austin or NY or LA or even most university towns - totally different ballgame in those scenes.  I'm talking about dive bars outside major metropolitan areas - the only types of open mics I have any significant experience with - where there are normally no songwriters to speak of.  Trying out your own songs in these places is rare - and if you attempt one, it better be funny to go over well with the drunk crowd.

The typical open mic I'm familiar with used to be dominated by baby boomer folkies, but now they are dominated by generation x'ers like me.  Old overweight white guys with beards and day jobs and acoustic guitars wearing jeans.  To stereotype a bit more, at least half of all performers at these places will know how to play "Amie" by Pure Prarie League, for example.  You know the types.

At one such place in the small town of Holly, Michigan recently, I went in to check it out.  I sat at the bar, ordered a burger, and watched an unusually well-organized open mic with a great mixer and PA system.  The kind that is narrow with brick walls and has the stage behind the front window of the place.  Unsurprisingly, it was all cover songs, but surprisingly, it was run by an older, seemingly well-intentioned guy instead of some 20-something guy like I used to be who was never really good enough to get real gigs and this was his big night to also play himself in addition to hosting.  Also surprisingly, it was on a Saturday night and had unusually good singers and players.  Shockingly high-quality for a small town in the Flint area.

When I commented to bartender lady that these guys were so good I couldn't believe they were playing at an open mic on a Sat. night, she said something like "oh, you have to be a pro to play here."  Then I said "usually open mics are for amateurs who aren't very good," to which she replied "no, that would be karaoke night."  Really funny, I thought, but also too bad there must not be much of a live music demand in the area anymore.  I should tell you that I don't drink, and don't get out much, so I've been intentionally absent from the open mic scene for several decades.  I'm in my early 50s now.

In areas that don't have a music scene to speak of, let alone a songwriter community, the few who self-identify as songwriters will inevitably show up and maybe try an original, but they also have to have an Eagles, James Taylor or Bob Seger song ready to throw into the mix.  It's weird, but it's just the way it is.  A lot of them are just amazingly good nowadays though, which is a reflection on the state of the music business I think.  They should be playing paid gigs if not touring, yet here they are in a dive bar on a Saturday night.

Lots of ways to be employed in music, lots of ways to have it be a side gig to the day job.  In recent years, you have guys like me who really have no business calling themselves musical artists, yet have inexpensive home recording equipment and songs for sale in online music stores.  I really was among the first wave of people who did this when such a thing became possible with the internet and inexpensive aggregator distribution services.

The "record" part of the music business has also changed drastically to allow in the average open mic guys like me.  Sort of.  It doesn't mean you can quit the day job.  It's easy to make fun of all the hacks out there with homemade music on the web who seem to think they are really good, but probably don't have many who agree.  I don't make fun of them.  I am one of them.  I have respect for them.  There are probably 50 rappers from Flint with music online, and 25 punk rock bands. 

Those two genres are wildly popular around here for various reasons.  I'm not sure where the rappers start out performing live, and I know of one all-ages punk place a guy I know runs in Flint, but it's classic rock that dominates the open mic scene I'm aware of.  Still, after all these years away, I'm rediscovering it, and there's one big difference - these guys seem exceptionally good now, which makes me feel even less like I am worthy of putting my name on the list than in my 20s when I actually knew how to play a few classic rock songs all the way through.

Aside from the rap genre - where "dissing" is an acceptable thing, you rarely hear famous musical artists saying anything negative about other famous musical artists in the press.  They even go so far as to be careful about saying which artists or types of music they personally like or don't like, I think.  It must be because they have respect for what their contemporaries have gone through to get where they are, even if it's not their cup of tea.  It's the same reason you won't hear doctors telling you some other doctor isn't very good.  It's just not professional.

I should probably be embarrassed to even call myself a songwriter or musician, let alone a "recording artist."  I'm an amateur hobbyist at best, but it's a great feeling to know my music is "out there" in the world and publicly available for people to potentially discover and hopefully appreciate.  I have to admit that.  If it wasn't possible, I would still be happy to make up songs in my man cave, but it's a bonus to know of the discovery or recommendation potential.  A few people have checked it out and even fewer have said they liked it, but a little of that goes a long way for guys like me.

I make a few acquaintances aware of the fact that my music exists, and there's that possibility - a slim chance they'll click the link to the free streaming.  Even slimmer is the chance that strangers all over the world could and can discover it and enjoy it.  It's happened a little bit, and it's just very cool, so it's a part of the motivation.  There's the nagging feeling you're not worthy though, and that maybe you should be ashamed for even trying.  It's weird.

In the same way that famous musicians are often quoted as saying they intentionally disregard reviews and criticism, the average joe songwriter/home recording guy like me benefits from keeping those kinds of self-defeating thoughts at bay.  Yes, they creep in.  Yes, I know I'm not as good as most of the people who have their albums for sale on Amazon or iTunes.  I try to not let it detract me.

I am a realist in knowing taste in music is a very individual thing.  People's preferences are what they are regardless of reviews.  Not many people will ever discover my music, and most who do will not like it.  The one thing I claim to be somewhat good at and proud of - songwriting - is probably not that good in the grand scheme.  But hey, there are people who don't like Bob Dylan's songs, Jimi Hendrix's guitar playing, or Elvis Presley's singing too.

The average joe American open mic night performer is vastly better now than what I remembered.  It must be there just aren't many opportunities in this depressed, poverty-stricken area than there used to be for musical acts and solo artists to get paid to play in bars on Saturday nights anymore, so they are relegated to "premium-level" open mic nights now.  A sad state of affairs.  Anyone can record themselves and put their music on the web now though, so that's an interesting and possibly sad change, too.

I think it's a good thing though, obviously.  The "kind words" about your online recordings go just as far as the kind open mic performance comments at bars.  As rare and minor and insignificant as they might be, they are nonetheless fuel.

Just because you can afford a computer and a microphone and learn a few guitar chords and write a few lyrics doesn't mean you can actually sell the recordings you put online though.  There's the possibility you can though, which is one of the reasons why people do it.  You know if you have the right song and video on YouTube, you can be one of the .00001% who gets lucky and makes some money with the viral social media recommendation thing.

The bottom line for me is I have to sell about three albums to recoup my distribution expenses (not considering my own labor and equipment purchases) for releasing an album online.  Without any promotion, marketing or advertising to speak of, other than posting to social media a simple release announcement, it's possible. 

So, I keep doing it out of a love for writing songs and recording them.  Performing them is another story.  With recording, I can take my time to get it as right as I can - do several takes and use a few software tools to make myself sound as good as possible, and this is probably better than I would sound live, so I'm willing to go for it with releasing the music in the online music stores. 

I'm seriously not good enough to perform live, and even at the old kinds of dive bar amateur open mic nights I used to frequent back in my 20s, I was a notch or two above the newbie who really shouldn't be there yet, and quite far from the guys who people can't believe aren't famous yet.  I'll never be a great singer, and I've never been one to focus on being a great guitar player, let alone the other instruments you hear on my recordings.

Like the average open mic night guys who keep showing up to play classic rock covers and never really get much better, I am kind of that way as a songwriter and recording artist.  I'm not very good, but I keep doing it anyway.

I just like writing songs, and although most of them are terrible, some are not so bad, so I record and release them.  It's a thing you can do nowadays.  While the few who've taken the time to check out my music may not have noticed, I've noticed slight improvements in various areas over the years.  Onward and upward, steady as she goes.  It's a fun hobby.