Saturday, December 10, 2016

Rest Assured, There's A New Scott Cooley Album This Year To Put Under Your Tree

Dear Everyone,

Just in time for the holiday season, I've got a great gift idea for you!

Six months ago I released a new album of original songs on CD and digital you can buy from Amazon, Google Play, Apple Music, etc., and forgot to blog about it!  So, here it is Christmas present shopping season and I thought I should do that now while I think of it.  Might as well blog about it, just in case you want to consider it for a stocking stuffer for a music fan in your life.  It's called "Rest Assured" and it's the 7th full-length record I've self-released on the independent Scott Cooley Records label, and it contains 13 songs.

It was made available in stores on the usual release date - my birthday, which is June 21st.  Also as usual, I produced it, arranged it, wrote all the songs, sang all the vocals, played all the instruments, recorded it, mixed it, mastered it, took the cover photo, designed the artwork, wrote the liner notes, etc., lovely wife Lenore was once again a guest studio musician appearing courtesy of herself on two songs as an accordion player.

So, you can get it now in time for Christmas, and here are some handy links:

Here's what it looks like:

Here's a link to the press release:

Here's a link to the album page of that has the full artwork, track listing, liner notes and details:

The person you buy it for will probably love it, and love you even more for giving it to them!

Merry Christmas,


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Human Art and Technology Will Always Need Each Other

You make some art, then you try to sell it, then you realize you need people to find out about it.  It's when you want to grow your audience that artists run into the unnatural-feeling reality that the internet and tech companies are necessary.  They are the system, and the people who are potential consumers of your art are deeply connected to that system.

You don't want to alienate anyone, and your art suffers as a result.  You don't want to piss off the corporations out there, even when the say they aren't evil, because a vast portion of society share the same fear.  You can't put down technology in a song, because your potential fanbase relies on it.  They are married to it.  Try to make fun of technoconsumerism or social media, and you're being anti-audience.

When an independent recording artist/songwriter gets a small audience, there is recognition, and when you are pretending to be someone else when writing songs, you are sympathetic to your small audience that has given you that small amount of recognition, and you don't want to satirize any of them from an angry point of view.

So, if you're angry at the system, you try not to let it come out in your songs.  The system today means fitting a mold that is like a needle in a haystack, or being a do-it-all-yourselfer outside the mainstream the gatekeepers control.  Getting reviews and recommendation seems vital to growing an audience for the indepedent artist, but goes against their inherent grain to a certain extent.  Doing my own promotion and advertising doesn't feel right.

Paying someone to blog about my songs or put them on the radio is something I do not feel comfortable doing, but it seems like an inevitable path when self-promotion for an independent artist who wants to gain a larger audience is the only option.

Physical record stores have been replaced with on-demand music streaming subscription services, and potential fans depend on the music bloggers and internet reviews as their tastemaking recommendation engines to choose which music to listen to and buy.  Social media can't be ignored by songwriters and musicians like me who work hard for little pay because our potential audience want entertainment that is immediate and cheap if not free since they also work hard for little pay.

Word-of-mouth doesn't happen otherwise for people who spend their free time with their heads buried in their smartphones.  It feels like the big record companies/internet companies have the power of music advertising and influence over the reviewers and promoters of music, but people will not want to support those big corporations and all they stand for.

It feels like my potential audience out there are instead the types who prefer to support local mom & pop businesses, if it's not too expensive.  Herein lies the problem:  the local songwriter/musician can't compete with the low cost of music produced by the music/internet corporations, just like the local producers of other consumer products can't compete with the low cost of Walmart products.

The difference is those large record/internet companies contribute to large problems in the world and I don't.  Do they make long-term investments in songwriter/musical artists like me these days?  No, but they provide a low-cost storefront and platform for self-promotion. The only world I know to try to find my place in as a songwriter and solo artist is to distribute my albums to online music stores and find free or low-cost ways to self-promote online.

It's the self-promotion part that doesn't feel right for the artist, and one the record companies of old took care of on our behalf.  The same is likely true for most types of written or visual art - a novelist who self-publishes is dependent on Amazon, a maker of any video medium is probably dependent on Google and YouTube.  They control the platform of delivery, the storefront, the distribution, the advertising, the recommendation engine.

No one can recommend your music to someone else without their smartphones anymore really.  I wrote a song called Show Up that satirizes this to some degree, and I didn't realize it until after releasing it that I was biting the hand that feeds me.  Technology has changed the playing field for those of us who hope to sell music.  It's not an apocalypse as the old-school tech haters in Nashville would have you believe.

Rapid change is constant.  Online newspapers, magazines, e-books, and Netflix are here to stay.  Those that control the delivery mechanisms for art are worthy of our financial support just like independent artists are, because they play a part in discovery.

We're far from the artifical intelligence of computers producing our art for us and rendering human artists obsolete.  I suppose I'm blogging this semi-frustration with the hope that someone might read and agree and be entertained by my perspective.  Writers write about the human experience to entertain, don't they?  That will never go out of style.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Revenge Of The Real

Maybe the biggest alternative to today's popular music is my style of music.  That is, the kind of music that I make, not necessarily the music I listen to that is made by others.  My music I write and record is a blend of the many types that have influenced me, like everyone else.  I tend to think I don't come anywhere close to the greatness of music I've chosen to have in my collection.  We've all got our tastes and opinions, and regarding my own music, my only claim is that I think I can write and record an interesting and pleasing song from time to time.  I consider many of them to be good songs, anyway.  All musicians have influences, even if the music they produce doesn't necessarily sound like those influences.

If that's true, then what in the world are today's mainstream artists listening to?  It's got to be other mainstream artists of this most recent era.  The styles all sound so similar to me, as if they're all copying each other.  I don't seek it out, but it's unavoidable.  When I'm stuck in a traffic jam, or can't find anything to watch on TV, I sometimes out of curiosity tune in to the popular music of the day.  You know - to hear what the kids are listening to.  It's far from what was popular in my day, and by "my day" I'm referring to those peak getting-into-music years from age 10 to age 30. 

So, since 1996, the past 20 years seem to be a big decline and somewhat drastic departure from what was cool in my range from 1977-1997.  I'm almost 49, by the way.  Aside from the obvious:   the auto-tuned vocals, the all-electronic instrumentation, the perfection that technology allows, I hear a lack of daring to be different.  Seems these major label artists are using algorithms to make cookie-cutter music.

It could be this happens in every generation.  I'm at the age where people are complaining about the new NBA not holding a candle to the 20 years that featured Dr. J, Bird, Magic, and Michael.  The quality of play and the passion for the game are waning, they say.  I find myself in partial agreement.  Comparisons to basketball aside, maybe the big-band swing and classical fans never warmed up to rock and roll, and maybe the folk revivalists still don't like the bluegrassy Americana of today.  We know they all hated disco and new wave and hair metal, right?

The pop music is definitely cookie-cutter, and so is country, which wasn't cool back in my day at all, but now despite its popularity and it sounding way different than country used to, is even more cookie-cutter than pop.  The songwriting might be better in modern country than pop, but that ain't sayin' much these days.  Thank god for classic rock, one like me may think, but how about some deep track album cuts once in a while instead of playing the same fifty songs over and over again?  I'm sick of that now, too. 

Maybe each generation experiences the same, that's there's been a steady decline in the overall craft of songwriting since their time.  So, luckily the internet is my only salvation, and discovery of old music that was popular before my golden 20 years is my passion now as a music fan.  Hate to admit it, but YouTube is great for this type of discovery.  No videos per say, but people will snap a photo of the 45 label and throw it in there.  The old standards, the old blues, the old folk, dixieland jazz, the early R&B, that's what I love now, and it's a far cry from today's pop.

It's manufactured, it's formulaic, it's even robotic, this pop and country.  It all sounds the same to me.  Even when you discover these little pocket trends of acoustic music, you know the ones where young people in bands try hard to make mandolins and banjos sound hip, they take it way too seriously.  Most of it seems to lack daring, and despite being different enough, stays within the confines of what radio and TV will allow.  No drawing outside the lines for the crayola-wielders of the current popular music scene.

Again, maybe it's always been like this, and I just didn't really take enough notice along the way.  Record companies and songwriters have always followed trends, and now they have computers to do a lot of the heavy lifting for them.  More than ever, businesses are data-driven, and it seems now more than ever, they're afraid to take risks and dare to be different.  They're polluting the air waves with what they think will sell, but to me, it's mostly garbage.

Maybe that's why not using synthesizers, virtual instruments, hit-song prediction software, click tracks, drum loops, auto-tuned vocals, etc. is truly rebellious in the this music climate.  Maybe by not having a bunch of virtuoso instrumentalists who technically play great but don't have good songs is brave.  Maybe having good songs but not playing them all that well is bold.  Maybe using standard acoustic instruments instead of the trendy ones is being different now.  Maybe releasing music with a few imperfections here and there is gutsy.  Maybe having a poor singing voice and using it anyway is daring.  Maybe by not having dance moves and good looks in the music business is wild and crazy today.  Maybe not ever creating a music video is bucking the system.

So, yeah, guess maybe I'm blatantly referring to myself in this previous paragraph, in case you hadn't already noticed.  I'm the "alternative" to today's popular music.  Anti-mainstream.  Real and honest in a time of fake and insincere.  In a world of polluted music, mine might just be a breath of fresh air.

Friday, May 6, 2016

$12.49 for an Album? In 2016? Are You Kidding Me? For Past Releases as Well? What Gives?

In short, you do.  My fans do, that is.  They give in the form of payment of this album price for a reason.  They give in support of music they really appreciate for a variety of good reasons actually.  They feel good about contributing to the sustainability of an artist putting great music out into the world consistently, in a time when such a thing is a challenge.  Read on, and you'll hear about what those good reasons are.

I can't tell you how good it feels to be in the process of getting another album out into the world of music I made.  Releasing songs you wrote and recorded gives you the feeling of release, as if you didn't want to die with the music unreleased.  Although there's more competition than ever in the music business, there's simultaneously different levels of opportunity nowadays. 

The ability of the average joe musician like me to do this didn't exist a decade ago, and thanks to the evolution of technology, it does.  Inexpensive home recording equipment, plus digital distribution to online web stores has made this possible.  You hear a lot these days about songwriters and music artists not making as much money any more since CDs, MP3s, Napster, and the iPod changed everything, which is absolutely true.  The only advantages are that it is convenient and cheaper for both consumers and home recording hobbyist / independent DIY people like me.  The word "cheaper" being the most important word.

So, when you see I have albums for sale online for $12.49 and single songs for .99 cents, it's arguably shocking and inexplicable at first glance, I'm aware.  Why does an average joe musician like Scott Cooley charge so much, you might wonder, when you can get the new Justin Beiber or Taylor Swift album for $7.00?  That's the big question, and one I fortunately have an answer for!

I see a three-level pricing stucture in place here - Free (Amateurs, DIY'ers),  Mid (Independent labels) and Pro (celebrity musicians), admittedly with some crossover between levels.  When you scour the internet for places where average joe musicians post their music online - at places like YouTube, SoundCloud, or MySpace, etc., you obviously are prone to finding a lower production quality, lower average talent levels, and a more amateur overall experience. 

When you get beyond the free places, you have music that is being offered for sale, and all said factors are higher on average, as you would expect.  I am in the middle here, and although this may be arguable to you, hear me out first.  Then, at the top tier, you have the aforementioned mega-popular major label artists and bands.

Now, I'll quickly explain why I'm firmly in the mid-tier, with some crossover.  I am an amateur do-it-yourselfer, and my sound quality is not bad, particuarly when you consider I don't use virtual instruments or auto-tune trickery.  Although the all-acoustic instruments and recording of them being played live can sound amateur in comparison to fake drums, bass, horns, etc. made with software loops or midi keyboards, it arguably shows more talent that I play all the instruments myself. 

While I don't give much away for free, you're paying for real music recorded live by a person.  I'd like to think fans of my kind of music are willing to pay a little in support of the real thing.  The mid-tier artists signed to established independent labels actually have recording budgets fronted by the record companies, and said money is often spent in real recording studios with session musicians and professional producers and engineers. 

Again, I'd like to think the kind of people my music appeals to would tend to have a higher appreciation for an artist who did not need to hire pro session musicians and engineers to achieve a desired sound because what I do is way more authentic.  Willing to pay a little extra to support that aspect of it as well, I would imagine.  I can arguably come up with fairly well-produced and arranged songs with a fairly good level of sound quality as compared to what the pro facilities and session musicians can deliver.  To toot my horn a bit further, the quality of the songwriting I would argue is up there quite high, and at times, crosses over into the pro realm.  Fans are willing to pay a little for that aspect as well.

Crowdfunding.  You've heard of it, mostly for software startups, or gadget-makers.  The mid-tier musicians who have that top-tier sound these days get it from crowdfunding.  There are a lot of them - PledgeMusic, IndieGoGo, etc.  There's something that doesn't feel right about it...has an Amway multi-level marketing uneasiness to it, and I have no idea if investors get paid back when the goals aren't met or the projects are delayed, or promises not delivered at all. 

Let's face it, we know that if you heard a robot-tuned version of my vocals, with pro Nashville musicians playing the instruments, my albums wouldn't sound like me, and they wouldn't sound like what you like about me as an artist.  I'm not a puppet, not a karaoke guy who will do a dance routine and lip-sync to fake, perfect-sounding backing tracks with my vocals made perfect via technology.  I'm old, and far from being that kind of artist.  Not a looks-first marketing whiz with a lot of videos.  You'll never see that kind of thing from me. 

So, if I emailed all my friends and relatives and asked them to email all their friends and relatives, and social networked my butt off, and basically begged people to donate money to me to pay for my next recording project, you wouldn't want the end result, even if it was possible.  You already like my style and what I produce, so I charge after I've got a product ready to go.  I ask a little more than average, yes, but I don't ask you to ask your parents to fund me first to pay for fake studio stuff.  For 12.49, you get the best I could do - real music from a real person with a real voice playing real instruments.

It could very well be that as technology has contributed to a declining music business, it has at the same time contributed to a decline in music quality.  I'm not talking about the sonic perfection that is achievable with technology, but rather, the fact that it may be a dying art to play the instruments yourself, and write the songs yourself, and record it yourself.  It could also be that the styles and genres my music encompasses is fading from public awareness and appreciation. 

Maybe the type of sound I get and the types of songs I write won't be as prevalent in the future, you never know.  Maybe younger generations won't understand it as compared with the popular music of their day.  Preservation is a part of what you're investing in with that 12.49, from a known quantity who's proven he can continue to deliver.

If you're the type who is willing to pay a little more for something made in Michigan, pay a little more at the local mom & pop business instead of WalMart, buy art from local artists, support your local farmer's market, write a check to NPR, help the homeless, pay a little more for organic, whatever your thing is, you're the type who is prone to support your local songwriter / recording artist. 

If you like the product, why not contribute a little more than what is typical.  Sustainability.  It need not happen via being hounded to fund a recording project before songs are even written.  Better to have that product that exceeds your expectations, be able to try (stream) it for free first, then buy it at 12.49.  It's not for everyone, but that's my rationale behind the price.  By the way, if so desired, almost like a tip for a job well done, at Bandcamp you can actually pay more than 12.49 for my latest album, Rest Assured, if you feel so compelled.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Getting Crafty: Rewriting Never Really A Wasted Effort

My latest experiences with the craft of writing songs have been part of a long, drawn-out process since my last album release in mid-2014.  That process has included starting with the "leftover" songs in my Works In Progress (WIP) folder on my computer, which houses subfolders for lyrics, session files, and individual recorded song tracks.  When you finish an album, there are inevitably some that didn't make the cut, and these are typically left in an uncompleted state. 

So, after taking a break from writing, recording and release-oriented activities, one of the first things to do is clean up the unfinished stuff if you can.  At least, after having time off you revisit and confirm why you weeded them out in the first place, but with a fresh perspective.  So, I did that, and in doing so, added to my notes of what wasn't right. 

Usually in my case, the majority have acceptable music, but the lyrics and/or singing weren't right.  Sometimes it's a tempo thing, in which I'm cramming too many syllables into too little space, and those are easily remedied by re-recording at a slower pace the instrument tracks, which to me always seems like a hassle, but after the break, no problem.  Sometimes it's an issue with the lyrics not being great, so new ones can be written to fit. 

I did that successfully just this year, and it is one of the few times it's worked and not resulted in the music being scrapped.  Other times it's a case of the lyrics, when read aloud without music, naturally calling for a certain type of music, which isn't the kind of music you already had.  These are really tough, because of the do-over hassle psychologically, but again, after a break, not as daunting.  It's usually a situation where sad lyrics are calling for minor chords and a slower tempo, yet you recorded it major and fast, or vice versa. 

I started doing all of the above, and next thing you know, I'm back into the swing of things again and not only have a couple keepers for the next release, but also get the creative juices flowing again and new songs start to happen.  Some get weeded out again, and maybe get rewritten to keeper status two albums later after being left in the WIP folder again (very rare, but yes, it's happened to me), while with others you do indeed conclude they were wasted effort and perhaps delete entirely. 

My whole point here though is that non-keepers are never wasted effort.  You have to fail a lot to have a good keeper ratio.  I'd be willing to bet the same must be true for even the most prolific and celebrated songwriters out there in the world, it must be the case.  When the new songs arrive, It's like magic to me every time. 

The mystery can only be explained by saying that by doing the "hard work" tasks involved in rewriting or rerecording, you're putting yourself in the best state of readiness for creative flow again.  Breaks are important, and just as important is the manual labor part.  Granted, this is coming from someone who would rather just write a new song than perfect an existing one, but the annoying do-over tasks have both the real-yet-rare benefit of actually turning a non-keeper into a keeper, combined with the inevitable influx of new material as a result. 

Worth it, for sure, because new song ideas are what you're ultimately after, and if you can also do some recycling and reduce wasted past effort, it's a major bonus.  From this, I conclude that all songwriters should 1) save their songs that didn't make the cut, 2) revisit them after a break, 3) start attempting to rewrite them, and good things will happen.  It should be a part of any songwriting/recording process. 

I've heard it said that all artists have an arc to their career, and that there is an average number of albums they release.  Some are ground-breakers with a short-lived period of creativity (Chuck Berry comes to mind), others have long careers (Paul McCartney), others shorter but very prolific (Prince), and then of course you have the one-hit wonders.  When you mention well-known artists there are so many other factors that contributed to their output to take into consideration, but I see some truth in this arc concept. 

Some blast out of the gate and never live up to their first album (Violent Femmes), others hit their stride well into their careers (Bob Seger), but generally (and I have no stats to back this up) I've observed that for most there is a noticeable decline in quality and/or quantity at some point.  Perhaps it's inevitable for us all, perhaps some need longer breaks than others, but I think when faced with writer's block, following this simple process can keep the craft alive. 

It's a matter of forcing yourself to get back into it that makes for the steadiness and consistency.  Just when you think that maybe you just can't do it any more, a little focused effort on the mundane aspects can remove your doubts and make the magic return, which is pretty cool.

Did I mention that I now have my next full-length album written and recorded ahead of schedule?  For the related news item, see