Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Why Wouldn't You Want To Buy The Next Scott Cooley Album?

I'll answer it for you.  Maybe the "wouldn't" should've been italicized in that title, as if you'd be hard pressed to come up with a legit reason, but preemptive lists are easily brainstormed, so here you go:

• You have no idea who Scott Cooley is
• You didn't even know Scott Cooley made albums in the first place
• You don't buy "albums"
• You haven't bought music since the early 90s
• You've never bought an album by an artist that isn't on the radio
• You've never bought an album by an artist who doesn't have videos on TV
• You don't buy music that isn't already popular and mainstream
• You've never heard of Scott Cooley
• You don't buy albums of music by some guy you know somehow
• You don't believe Scott Cooley really has music for sale
• You'd be secretly scared/embarrassed to have friends discover you own it
• You only like the early Scott Cooley albums
• You have no idea what an album is other than a collection of digital photos
• You thought it was a vinyl record and were disappointed it's only available as a CD
• You only rock out to cassette tapes
• You know it'll never top his live apres-ski gigs at the Sundance Saloon in Vail
• His style of music is just not your cup of tea
• You don't even try music by an artist whose music you haven't heard before yet
• You can't afford it
• You don't have a payment card and only pay in cash
• You don't have anything to listen to it on
• You're in a good mood and don't want to ruin it
• You don't want to be cheered up
• You only like live music
• You don't care for Scott Cooley as a person
• You've heard his music before and think it sucks
• Despite not hearing any of it yet, you just have a feeling it won't be any good
• You never buy music online
• You don't believe in buying anything online
• You have too much music already
• You never like DIY indie stuff
• You don't like anything that is "acoustic"
• You don't like listening to music
• You don't like the album cover artwork
• You don't like the name Scott Cooley
• You've heard it is the devil's music and you don't want to burn in hell
• You tried Scott Cooley music once, and it led to harder stuff
• Any money you have left you're planning to blow at the casino
• Your tux didn't come back from the cleaners
• Your dog ate your homework
• You heard your mom calling you
• You are a player hater from way back
• You ran out of gas and got a flat tire
• An old friend came in from out of town
• You didn't have change for cab fare
• Someone stole your car
• There was an earthquake, a terrible flood
• Locusts!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

What They Don't Tell You: Music Publishing IS Spreadsheets

Not that you care, but it's not about sheet music so much anymore, nor is it about advances on future royalty income.  It's not even that much about finding commercial placements in movies or recording artists for the songwriter's works.  Licensing and royalty collection are administrative tasks artists can do themselves, or they can hire agencies to do it on their behalf so they can avoid the annoyance and focus on writing & recording. 

What these people need more than anything else to do this grunt work for you and take their cut is data and metadata, and the way you provide it is spreadsheets.  There are so many different types of rights and royalties out there to be had, there are specialists and no one-stop-shop for all of your song and music publishing needs.  So, whether you attempt DIY publishing or agree to give a cut to someone else to do it for you, they're going to need you to get the data to them, and like it or not, there's only one good way to do so.

Just as Soylent Green IS people, what "the expert advice-givers" never tell you about music publishing is that it is nothing but spreadsheets and copy/pasting.  Get used to your keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl+C to copy and Ctrl+P to paste) because they're going to come in handy if you have your own music publishing company. 

In this day and age anyway, that's pretty much all music publishing amounts to - in order to have a chance to get any royalty money at all from songs you've written, you submit spreadsheets to organizations who find you that money, most of whom take a cut first, then they give you the rest.  They can't do any of it for you, nor can you do any of it for yourself for that matter, if you don't first have a bunch of data in spreadsheets.

In the digital era, although vinyl records are experiencing a temporary resurgence in popularity, brick and mortar record stores are not.  When you write your own songs, record your own versions of your own songs, and sell those recordings online, you have certain licensing rights.  So, with that in mind, perhaps it shouldn't be too shocking that digital metadata about your songs and recordings needs to be uploaded to databases, and one known, somewhat easy way to do that is via spreadsheets.  Yes, it's true, spreadsheets are therefore the basis of making sure you get paid for all the various licensing rights you have.   

These organizations and agencies who collect your various royalties for you each need slightly different data, so they each have their own spreadsheets, their own templates, their own formatting, their own requirements for submission, etc.  So, get ready to copy certain things like your song titles from one into another.  Some care about ISRC #s, some care about ISWC #s, some care about UPC #s, etc., and some care about the same ones as each other too, but no two ever care about the same exact numbers as each other.
It's a royal pain when you have a 100+ song catalog like me.  Ultimately, these collectors take a cut to do the  even more painful tasks of bugging the online music retail stores, download stores, streaming services, etc. to check their records for your songs and get them to pay fairly.  Unless you have tons of free time and you are a lawyer in addition to being a songwriter/recording artist/publisher, you're generally glad to give them their fee upon collection.

Can't do it without populating and submitting those spreadsheets though, which I suppose you could pay someone to do for you, but this is the part that you must get right from the get-go, so it's better to trust yourself, particularly if you're like me and represent yourself alone.  Some have a web user interface with fields to populate, some even taking advantage of auto-complete, so that helps.  Even so, when you upload one at a time in that manner, they often then allow you to download what you entered as - you guessed it - a spreadsheet.

Who are these organizations who need the spreadsheets, you might be wondering?  All of them, basically.  Even those whom you'd expect would have awesome software to handle this kind of stuff, like Google and their YouTube Content ID RightsFlow Partner program, still have a bunch of dreaded spreadsheet templates!  Other "tracking companies" for lack of a better thing to call them might include some names like Harry Fox, SESAC, Kobalt, AdRev, Re:Sound, SongTrust, Songfile, TuneCore, TuneSat, Rumblefish, etc.  Quite often music-related companies that provide other music-related services such as distribution or cover song clearance also offer publishing administration services like the ones I'm referring to here.

Whether they call it import/export/ingest or some other term, it's all about unique identifiers and codes.  People have to act as liaisons to the number-crunching machines, and one of them in the process is you doing your copy/pasting and attaching those .xls or .csv files to an email.  Other people then have some grunt work ahead of them - which may be as easy as connecting to YouTube's database, performing searches, finding matches, comparing ID#s, doing some accounting, etc. - in other words, all digital computer-based work;  whereas it may be as hard as making actual phone calls to real people, sending emails, or even getting lawyers involved.  Machine automation and artificial intelligence can't read your mind for much of it yet, so human beings are still required.  Now you know what most probably don't about music publishing - in a nutshell, it is mostly spreadsheets.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect

Sometimes a less-than-perfect sound is more appealing when it's fresh.  Over-trying can wreck the excitement for the artist, which can in turn wreck the listening experience for the music fan.  You can hear the excitement in recordings that were made when the song just came together in the artist's mind. 

Particularly with solo songwriting efforts, the point at which you finally realize how the completed song should sound, but not too far beyond that point, is the sweet spot.  For me, that's when there's this fresh "je-ne-sais-quoi"  still in the air, and I like to hear it.  Yes, listening back to some of my completed, released recordings makes me hear a few minor things here and there I wish I'd done a bit differently, but for the most part, I don't mind them too much. 

When I get ready to play any of them live long after the record came out, I'll perhaps fix a couple of phrasing issues, or even slightly rewrite a couple words, but the bottom line is they were close enough to the overall vision at the time to be deemed release-worthy according to my admittedly low standards at the time.  Further, I hereby argue that "almost complete" state can be a better listen, because you hear the potential a future, more professional recording could have, and that's exciting.  Indeed, many a fan who have reviewed my music tell me things along those lines - that they can envision how the song would sound on a famous artist's album done in a pro studio, etc.  I take those as nothing but compliments.

Practice doesn't make perfect for me, with either the songwriting or recording part.  Performing the song all the way through once live with a guitar and vocal is usually necessary to envision how the final recording should sound, but that's all.  The less I rehearse, the more organic it is, and the less likely I am to get bored, which can curb the passion.  I want people to hear the passion, the excitement of the song being newly written and me enjoying playing it for one of the first times all the way through and being psyched that it works and sounds like a keeper song to me.  Even in a multi-track recording environment, I like to limit each track to only 2 takes, maybe 3 for the lead vocal. 

That said, very often I get a kick out of "nailing it" on the first take, whichever instrument or vocal it is, which to me just means no majorly noticeable mistakes.  The vocal should convey the emotion of the singer liking the song and you should be able to hear the satisfaction with the fresh creation coming together into a final arrangement in a style that the singer/songwriter "imagined" or heard in his head.  Same with the instrumental tracks - as long as there are no glaring errors, its always better to not keep doing take after take, or heaven forbid do the splicing or comping techniques to get it all perfect.

If I took advantage of all that modern music equipment and studio technology has to offer, I'd feel like I was cheating too much.  There's something about somewhat handicapping myself and intentionally not having the best tools that keeps things challenging and satisfying for me.  I'm doing it the hard way, yes, and no, I don't want it to sound too good.  That says something about me, and my music, and you might not get it, and you might not like it, and that's okay.  It's not for everyone.

Books and documentaries about famous artists like Dylan or bands like the Beatles will often convey something along the lines of the fact that the early takes in the recording studio are often the ones that make it onto the albums, despite many more being recorded afterward.  So, there is proof I'm not alone with my preference. 

I can imagine the same principle being applied to live performance of music as well.  When a band is learning a new song, and the arrangement is decided on, and the finished product begins to reveal itself, there is magic in the air.  Everyone has just learned their parts, and they're getting "tighter" as they rehearse it, and this is both exciting for the band and the listener.  When a band is at the end of a long tour that used a setlist with many of the same songs every night, you might be able to pick up on their boredom or lack of passion as compared with the first few times they played it in front of an audience.  That said, a band like the Grateful Dead may have been an exception.

So even though trying out songs in front of an audience to get their reaction and feedback before recording in the studio is never a bad idea, if you don't do anything about that feedback, pure repetition alone won't make it any better.  You've got to take into consideration the insanity definition of trying the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result.  Another factor to apply is that it is important to trust your fans. 

If you trust yourself and are true to yourself with the music you choose to record & release, you know your own quality standards are there, and thus, you know your fan base will appreciate it.  Take the guesswork out and trust your gut, which is the same as trusting your fans' good judgment.  If you're an artist like me, you don't want your music to ever sound too perfect anyway, and neither do your fans.

There is a growing spark and a spirit that builds momentum and reaches a creative peak as seeds of songs germinate into complete flowers, but the trick is to capture them near those moments "before the bloom is off the rose."