Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Is being "verified" for improved notability a bad thing?

I've been verified again.  I'm increasingly verifiable.  I'll explain what that means, and why it might be a stepping stone to increased notability by some measures.  Then, finally, I'll explore the bigger deeper question of whether that's something to be desired in the first place or not!

It's a weird age we live in when a guy like me who likes to make up songs can inexpensively record himself and then sell those recordings online to people who buy music all over the world.  Just because you can do it doesn't mean people are going to buy it (or like it, or even find out it exists in the first place for that matter)!  Supposedly, there are "apps" to help with that now.

This app called Shazam sent me an email I first thought was spam but then realized could be legitimate.  Before I continue much, I'll admit I have no idea what this Shazam app does or is good for, except that I know my friends who have iPhones use it for something music-related.  That really all I know still, even though they've now made me a "verified" artist.  What that means is they put a check mark next to my profile picture on their website.  Somehow they have a picture of me and pictures of my album covers and my music is apparently on there too.  I've got no idea how it got there.  The only other thing I learned about Shazam is when I clicked a few things they prompted me to click on to become verified, I noticed that I had already been Shazamed by people 57 times, mostly for my song American Dream.

A confused kid gets clarification on a few things related to the word
I think when I was a kid I remember this word because it was the name of a super hero on a tv show by the same name played by the guy who was later the 6-million dollar man if I'm not mistaken, and it might've been based on a comic book, and was also somehow associated with a companion or sister show called Almighty Isis that I always confused with the Wonder Woman show starring Linda Carter.  Back then you either asked friends or adults about these things and they either knew the truth, didn't know, or lied, but you that's all you had to go on unless you wanted to try a library, which was a dewey hassle.

Nowadays, however, we've got the almighty and always-reliable internet, so here, let me google that for myself to get clarification I've wanted for so long....back in a second here....OK, apparently, Shazam was the name of the show, but Captain Marvel was the superhero's name, and it wasn't played by any well-known actors, however, both Danny Bonaduce and Jackie Earle Haley were in that show - didn't remember that, but those guys have always been cool.  Further, what I thought was called Almighty Isis was really called The Secrets of ISIS, and she was a goddess who fought evil with powers she summoned by chanting "OH, mighty Isis" not all.  This one had no well-known people in it at all, and neither had Lee Majors or Linda Carter in it.  Now I know, whew, thanks internet, I can rest easy now.

That's literally all I know, except, oh yeah almost forgot, the fact that when I was a kid there was a tv show with a character named Gomer Pyle who had a distictive southern accent I used to be able to imitate and one of his catch phrases was "shazam."  Interestingly enough, Jim Nabors who played that character just happened to be a great singer and recording artist himself, sounding nothing like the voice he used for the character.  Even though I repeated it in that voice along with the drawn-out "golly" and got a few laughs, I didn't know what it meant except I figured it was a synonym for declaring "ureka" or something like that.  Here, I'll look it up real quick...ok, I'm back now and the incredibly annoying and lame user interface of the free Merriam-Webster dictionary site tells me it means "used to indicate an instantaneous transformation or appearance."  Well, I was a little off there, but yeah, that reminds me it's a phrase I've heard magicians use in place of "abracadabra" or "presto" or something similar.

While I'm blogging about it, let's learn what it does, shall we?
Back to the app again, I bothered to scour the interwebs again to learn more.  Apparently, if you're listening to music already on a device like an iPhone through headphones or a speaker that also has a microphone (this is where older tech-unsavvy folks will surely begin to glaze over if not long before now) the microphone will listen to the song being played and then send you the name of the song, the artist name, the name of the album it's on and other stuff.

Scenario:  So, presumably through your Apple Music streaming subscription (that never pays Scott a dime), you hear a Scott Cooley song playing randomly you didn't pay for (why would you?), then you fire up this app to tell you what iTunes should already be displaying for you anyway-that it's Mackinac Island from the Lakeside Landing album or American Dream from the Used To Be Good Looking Album or Coney from the Rest Assured album, etc..So that's all I can gather for now, and thus still don't get why you'd get any use out of it, but now when it tells you Scott Cooley song-related info, it's on a "verified" profile where I can supposedly have some minor amount of control to make sure you get the correct info that is already there somehow anyway (that I never get even a fraction of a cent for anyway).

Not your cup of tea?
Like it or not, people like me release music they make in their homes on computers.  They're going to keep doing it.  It's something you have to get used to - like when people lock their cars now, they beep, parking lots full of beeps that never used to be there...or people's cell phones ringing and people talking on the phone while you are trying to enjoy a quiet meal in a restaurant, or a million other scenarios for that matter.  These things are societal changes that took some getting used to and they're here to stay.  Same for DIY bedroom songwriter/musicians who can't sing or play very well but release music anyway.  There are a lot of us out there, trying not to be discovered like hopeful musicians of the past, but rather to just be "discoverable."

Be careful what you wish for 
In a past post, (From Nobility To Notability), I wrote about what sites like Wikipedia think qualifies you to be "notable" enough to have a page.  It's a catch-22 of sorts, being a songwriter/recording artist, because you want an audience, you want other people to hear your music, with the hope that they'll like it and even buy it.  It would be nice to make some money for the art you make - the songs you write and record - something you love to do for fun anyway.  However, you're old enough and wise enough to know that you would hate the "being famous" part, so at the same time you want popularity, you know it would kind of suck to actually be a celebrity and all the hassles that apparently go along with that.  I don't know about that.

If you're like me and a lot of other people in the world, you hate hearing famous people complain about being famous.  They asked for it, you think to yourselves, and they seem to have amazing lifestyles, and it's really hard to feel sorry for them when they whine about not knowing what they were getting themselves into, am I right?  So, although a part of being an independent musician involves the necessary evils of the seeking of publicity and self-promotion and DIY marketing, it's a part older, wiser creative artists typically dread.

Notta Madonna WannaBe
Not everyone wants to "rule the world" as a young artist like material girl Madonna once told Dick Clark.  She was seemingly unabashedly out for the money and fame more than other aspects of it, and she was no doubt a master marketer.  I've heard of people authoring/submitting their own draft of their own wikipedia page and submitting all these supporting articles and links to demonstrate their notability.

I suppose I could do the same, but then I might think, oh no, I'm hereby losing a big part of my anonymity and although I'd be doing it to have my music reach a larger audience, a part of me would feel unworthy, embarrassed, and uncomfortable about it all.  Putting your music out into the world for judgement is difficult enough.  So, becoming verified as an artist is another such step, small as it may seem, and I'm finding should be approached with caution.

Other verifications 
That said, I was slightly annoyed that Twitter wouldn't verify me as the official Scott Cooley musical artist and put that "coveted check mark" by my name because I wasn't able to provide enough "notability" evidence to meet their criteria I guess.

So far, I'm now "verified" already in these other online places:

Moving forward slowly and unsurely...
As they become available (only for free of course), I'll continue the "vanity" of clicking a few things to say yeah, that's me, I'm that guy.  Some, like Soundcloud, only give you the check (they use a star actually) unless you actually pay them and have a paid account.  I'll never do that!  What a waste.

I like slow, steady organic growth in people finding out about my music, thank you.  I'll never buy likes, follows, shares, friends, etc. either, even though I know that's possible and effective - appearance of popularity is proven to breed actual popularity.

On my social media profiles, you'll see I always follow way more people than the number who follow me.  I've heard it said it should always be the opposite for a true artist, but they can think what they want.  I'm sure if you've got major label backing, they set aside money to make sure you appear as popular as possible!

Proceeding with caution, yet if free opportunities to improve my notability status continue to present themselves, I'll probably continue to go for it, since the end goal is to have my music reach a larger audience.

It's a bit egotistical and vain and thus uncomfortable but I have to remind myself it's for a good cause - me being able to actually make a couple bucks by selling music once in a while.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ramping up to release time, kind of a big deal

Someone accused me of resembling fictional anchorman Ron Burgundy played by Will Ferrell recently when they saw my 70's style haircut parted on the side and wearing a jacket and tie in a photograph - an unusual look for me, but a bit of a stretch comparison-wise since I wasn't even sporting a moustache .  In that movie, among many memorable lines by the lead character, he said something like "I'm kind of a big deal," which was certainly memorable for me because it was funny.  Although I don't have the same ego, I do need to toot my own horn from time to time, particularly when I want my music to reach a larger audience.  You have to tell the world something is available for sale in the first place if you're going to have any chance of making a sale.  The ego I do have makes me selfishly want to sell my creative musical works, rather than just being satisfied with creating art for art's sake, without anyone needing to know it exists.

For the songwriter/recording artist who doesn't play concerts or shows, the event of most importance to both the artist and their fans alike is the almighty new album release.  I'm Scott Cooley, and although I'm not a big deal (yet!), releasing an album is kind of a big deal to me.  When you don't perform live much let alone book regular gigs or tour, your life as a singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist revolves around one major thing only:  Releasing albums of new songs you wrote and recorded.  It makes me both excited and anxious, so much so that I worry I'll die before I get a chance to get the music out there.  That's when you know you care about it a lot.  When the songs are written and recorded already, and the cover art is ready to go, it's a matter of waiting until that date, which like Tom Petty said, is the hardest part.  Don't get the wrong idea - I don't mean to hint that I might die at all.  Despite not being in the best of health, if you hear of my demise, you can be sure it was unintentional!

Everyone likes to hear that a musician they like has new material available, and they need some type of information to let them know what it's like - how it's different from their past records, a description that summarizes what it's all about, and maybe a sample or teaser video to further wet the appetite.  Maybe a trusted review found online will help sway you to want to buy/download/stream or whatever.  Let's face it though - nowadays when your favorite artist comes out with something new, you get a notification from a subscription service, and that same service that resulted from you previously buying or following that artist will also allow you to stream the new songs from the cloud on your home assistant speaker, mobile phone, or computer.  Yes, it's in the low-quality MP3 format, and yes, the streaming from the cloud to your device further degrades the sound quality, and yes, the speaker(s) and/or headphones you're listening on are substandard. 

For this experience, you pay roughly a hundred and twenty bucks a year, or $9.99/month.  Gone are the "audiophile" days of the giant home stereo systems with vinyl record players, an array of surround sound speakers, AM/FM receiver, CD player, etc.  In the modern digital era in which brick & mortar record stores cease to exist, we sacrifice sound quality for the lack of clutter, the portability and convenience of our streaming subscription, phone and earbuds or smart speaker.  You've even recently embraced the whole bluetooth thing, despite its frustrations.  Sadly, the typical Scott Cooley fans are probably Generation X'ers who have finally made this transition.  So, discovery starts with a little information in your feed, and the internet then offers convenient way to get more, and your service allows you to start consuming quickly.  This is likely your reality, even though you may still have that milk crate of albums in the basement and rotate a few CDs in and out of the mix on your car stereo.

I imagine when most artists do anything creative like recording an album of new music, they are proud to share it, and the do-it-all-yourself songwriter / performer / home recording hobbyist who self-produces and self-releases independently like myself is arguably even more so.  This is because everything you hear on the upcoming album, like many of my albums, was made by me.  So, it's my creative vision alone, which is something I would imagine a painter would experience, since you don't often hear of collaborative paintings.  Well-received or otherwise, you're ready for the credit/blame.

The Flint, Michigan area has plenty of rappers and punk rockers, but it's downright rare to find a solo artist who specializes in Acoustic Garage Rock with both Americana and Caribbean flavors.  How often do you hear of someone saying they blend the sound of the Violent Femmes with Jimmy Buffett?  The Police unplugged jamming with James Taylor?  Bob Seger sitting in with Gordon Lightfoot at a Margaritaville Cafe?  Jack Johnson collaborating with Jack White?

It's always hard to describe your music, and likewise, it's always hard to know whether it's any good or not.  A side of me thinks this is my best-ever album.  I know that right when I write a new song, I'm excited about it because it is so fresh, and I have a tendency to overestimate how good it is.  Only after a long cooling-off period of time has passed do I find that I can revisit a song and assess whether I still feel the same way about it.  When I take a break from listening to it and even sort of pretend I don't remember it, I can go back and listen to it again and make a more honest judgment about how it compares to others in the batch of new songs that are candidates to make it onto the released album.

That same "distancing before judging" thing also applies to the entire album as it compares with your other albums you've released.  Your catalog may have some standouts, but the latest, newest one is always the one you're focused on when you've just completed it, and because of that, you have a tendency to maybe think it's better than you will think it is six months later.  It's just the way it goes, for me anyway.  This next new album, however, that I'm planning to release in a couple months, really does feel like it is a strong collection of songs.  A part of the reason may be that is more of a concept album, and has some common threads running through each of the 13 songs.

Describing your sound is always a challenge for any recording artist, but it's easier if the album groups together similar types of song styles.  Therefore, my next album, Missing The Boat, is one that combines various tropical flavors with acoustic rock with a heavy dose of escapism - including that which involves boating.  It's very simple stuff, fairly low art, in the grand scheme of things.  The lyrics aren't going to pass for poetry like Bob Dylan's, and the music isn't going to be respected by classical composers, and if you like ultra-serious folk music it won't be for you, nor will you like it if you're a fan of loud, distorted electric guitar-based music.  'Nuff said for now.  Now you have pretty good idea of what to expect and when.  Stay tuned in to this blog for subsequent posts leading up to the actual album release that will reveal even more!