Monday, April 22, 2024

When the Cream Don't Rise, Is it Time to Kill the Cow?

Popularity, Deezer Deletions and New Weird America Preservation

I recently discovered that Deezer removed the following albums from their platform:

  • Cherchez La Femme
  • Used To Be Good Looking
  • Rest Assured
  • Bluebird Days II
  • Lockdown Leftovers

That's almost half my catalogue.  Entire albums of mine, without warning, for no apparent reason, gone.

You would think that as a French streaming company, they would've at least chosen to keep Cherchez La Femme!  They said au revoir.  I've heard it's really hard to find music on their service and that their software est nul.

They recently changed their logo to a purple heart.  To me, this represents me being wounded by them, my music being killed by them, while serving the music community with my music, my battle for popularity lost, my heart broken.  C'est la vie.  When I went to Paris once, little French children pointed at me, laughed, and made pig snorting noises and "moo" cow noises, presumably due to my appearance.  Oui, I was an overweight, loud American tourist, probably wearing cargo shorts and a baseball hat.

My immediate reaction is to never recommend Deezer to anyone, but I'm about to distribute another album to them.  I guess they might choose to keep it around, like maybe for a year, and if it doesn't get streamed enough, they'll just delete it.

It got me thinking about how a part of my motivation to release my music is that I want it to be around after I'm not anymore.  How to leave a legacy so future generations can discover and enjoy it?  That's the next question.  I'm sure great works of art have been destroyed permanently throughout history, many of them by the French.  Get enough attention in your lifetime, and your painting winds up in the Louvre.  Posthumous attention is rare, and I'll admit it:  my music is not museum-quality.

Who is behind this?  Greedy major record labels.  They lost some power and control after independent online music distribution became possible, and they desperately want it back.  A glass-half-full Scott Cooley would say "at least they still offer Bluebird Days, Missing the Boat, Sense of Belonging, Drive Time Companion, Lakeside Landing, and Moon Dreams."  Maybe I should consider myself lucky that those albums met their threshold of 1000 streams per year, or however they make such decisions, and remain on their precious platform.

Consider this:  You're at a funeral for someone you knew well, a friend or family member, and you hear their spouse say they wrote songs their whole life but never recorded them.  The only person who ever heard them was the spouse.  You liked the person and now wish you and everyone else could've heard those songs.  You wish you could've heard the person perform the songs they'd written, but also, you wish you could continue to listen to them.  Even the spouse who heard them wishes they could continue to hear them.  You'd like to hear what their singing voice was like, what their instrument playing sounded like, what the melodies and lyrics of their songs sounded like.

It's the classic "when a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one there to hear it, did it make a sound?" scenario.  Then you can get into physics and talk about measuring observers and observing measurers, and cats.  Did it happen, did it exist?  Time, space, light, lines, particles, etc.

You're happy to hear that they enjoyed the hobby, of course.  You know that creative pursuits give the creators great joy while creating them.  You would have the same interest if you learned they had some other hobby.  If the now-deceased person painted paintings or took photographs or made pottery or clothes, you'd like to see them.  If they wrote poems or novels, you'd like to read them.  You wish you would've known about this personal, private, secret thing they did.

Then you have to consider that they kept it private because they did it solely for the enjoyment they got out of it, and never needed or wanted anyone else to enjoy it.  Maybe they didn't think it was good enough for anyone else to enjoy.

It's easier than ever to make your creative content publicly available for the world to consume because of the world wide web.  Upload your recorded music, your e-book, your art, your photos, your words, and let the world either buy them or enjoy them for free.  Type up your life story, or record a video of yourself explaining your life story.  It's all inexpensive if not free and easy to do, especially for intangible items that can exist as electronic files.

With physical objects like furniture or sculptures, maybe the surviving spouse or other descendants will enjoy/use them, sell them, or simply give them away.

It's wonderful to have in your possession a creative work of someone you were close to.  A reminder of your memories of the person, it can be comforting and inspiring.

I think those two things are the essence of what I hope for with my music.  That people will be able to get comfort from it and be inspired to be creative in their lives.  If they knew me, it might also have the benefit of reminding them of things I did or said when they spent time with me.

The benefits of music include improving memory and improving mood.  It can help reduce stress too.  I want people to get these benefits from being able to enjoy my music.

If I want my music to be available for people to get these benefits from it, I have options, but unfortunately, they cost a little money.  It seems like streaming is the way people are going to enjoy music well into the future, and that turns out to be the least expensive way to make it available.

Therefore, I distribute to the streaming services.  I want people to be able to tell their Siri/Google/Alexa speaker to play some Scott Cooley and have it work.  So I need to be on Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Amazon Music for that to be possible.

I have a website, but it costs a little money to keep it up and running.  Free places to stream music like Bandcamp or Soundcloud are limited, might not remain free, and might not stay around due to lack of profitability.

There are trends of change with the streaming service providers having way too much music available.  There are cost-cutting efforts being made to reduce how much music is available, and the only thing they have to go on is popularity.  Deezer is one such streaming service, and they recently removed several of my albums, without warning, and presumably because they weren't popular enough.

The question I have is what if the music on those albums suddenly saw a surge of popularity elsewhere, would Deezer reinstate or re-enable them?

My guess is the files are gone forever already.  They removed my albums because they had not been listened to enough within the span of a year or something like that.

Just as with Tain Bo Cuailnge, which in Irish mythology was a story about the "driving-off of the cows of Cooley," the streaming services are putting me out to pasture.

Photo of the statue of Donn Cuailnge by Eric Jones

The bottom line is if your song doesn't get streamed enough - up to some predefined threshold such as 1000 streams per year - then no royalty payments will be issued.  This was a recent Spotify decision, and the other services will likely follow suit.

Now, as is the case with Deezer, if your song doesn't get streamed enough, they remove it.  If items don't sell in a store, they go on sale at least in an attempt to liquidate the inventory.  They call this "decluttering" to be a part of their "artist-centric" model, which means increase the market share for artists whose songs are already popular enough.

The writing is on the wall for independent artists like me who don't do anything to promote, publicize, market, or advertise their music.  Unless we spend more time on those things, our music will be removed.  Gone forever.  Preservation is reserved for the popular.  Maybe this is how things have always been in the grand scheme.  I could warn you that if you want to hear my music well into the future, download it now.  I could make it all free and downloadable from, but after I'm dead, no one will want to pay the domain fee.

I don't necessarily want my music to be popular, I mainly just want it to be available and discoverable.  I know it's not the type of music that is likely to ever get really popular anyway.  However, if you think of all the musicians and songwriters in the 60s who were inspired by the Harry Smith Anthology of Folk Music, or whatever that was called, and the great music they created as a result, you're glad someone went to the trouble to preserve those songs.  Even though those songs were varied and strange and not likely to ever be popular.

I'm a part of the New Weird America, if you want to call it that.  I guess we have the Internet Archive as a potentially viable option, but Soundcloud is already doing whatever they can to monetize, and I'm sure Bandcamp will too.  In other words, even the once-free places for independent artists to share their music won't remain free.  Purging and decluttering is inevitable for all the streaming platforms.

The cream shall rise to the top, I guess.  I lived during a time when my music could exist publicly and commercially and be findable and playable.  These times, they are a-changin'.

But when the cream doesn't rise, is it time to kill the cow?  Got milk?  There’s this idiom most of us have heard before – at least I think it’s an idiom – that the cream rises to the top.  Unless you’re in the dairy business, you probably don’t fully understand it, but nonetheless you get the gist that the best at something eventually get recognized.  There’s another saying we’ve all heard some version of before that some who are not the cream “don’t know when to quit.”  There’s a lot to be said for not giving up.  We sometimes admire these people, while at the same time feel sorry for them.  Finally, we’ve heard the phrase “quitters never win,” which also has great merit.

Throughout history, there have been great stories of successful people who failed miserably numerous times on their way to success.  Maybe as a songwriter, I’m one of them, but probably not.  More likely, I’m one of the lower forms of dairy in the world of music.  There are people who pronounce the word “milk” as “melk,” and as my sister likes to point out, those who take it a step lower and pronounce a variation of “melk” as “mewk,” both rhyming with the word “elk”.  My music is more like mewk, if you’re comparing it to categories of word mispronunciation.

People generally tend to be pretty good at things they enjoy, and inversely enjoy things they’re pretty good at, but that’s not always the case.  Someone has to lose, someone has to be bad or mediocre, otherwise we couldn’t have the winners and those among the best.  Not everyone can be great.  Some try hard and improve, find a niche, become supporting role players vital to teams.  The world needs the people who are not very good at something, but are passionate about it and do it anyway.

When it comes to songwriting, playing instruments, singing, and making music, I’m one of them, but I’m not in a band, I’m a self-contained solo artist.  I know I’m probably a little better at the songwriting part, but have never had the guts to move to Nashville and pitch my songs to great artists to record.  There’s a ton of competition out there, as most are somewhat aware of, just like there are lots of people writing movie scripts who have not dared to move to Hollywood.

Places like these are full of people with similar unfulfilled dreams.  People who eventually gave up.  People who maybe found a way to stay connected to the thing they were passionate about, perhaps finding work in the business side of the industry instead of the creative side.  People with day jobs who enjoy being immersed in the scene.  Places like Nashville have seen many come and fail and leave, returning to their less exciting home towns with their tails between their legs.

I come from a place where the people who are really in their element and fit in are people who love playing golf and fixing up old cars.  Punk rockers, rappers, and people who like to run in road races too.  The one guy I idolized most from these parts was Mark Farner, not the best songwriter, singer or guitar player in the world, but a guy who was confident and passionate and in the right place at the right time to live the dream of becoming a rock star in the band Grand Funk Railroad, and people around here like me lived vicariously.

The cream rises to the top naturally, separating from the rest of the milk to form a layer at the top.  It’s considered to be higher quality.  It happens in the music business.  Most people agree that Bob Dylan is a good songwriter, that Elvis, Aretha and Robert Plant were good singers, that the Beatles and Led Zeppelin were good bands, that Jimi Hendrix was a good guitar player, etc.

Homogenization artificially applies intense heat and pressure to make the fat mix into the milk so that it doesn’t separate naturally.  Artists signed to major corporate record companies concerned with profit are subjected to homogenization, which makes all of the music the same.  It can’t be stopped or changed.

Skim milk doesn’t come from skimming it off the top, but rather, letting it drain out the bottom.  You would think unsigned independent artists without being subjected to homogenization would be able to rise naturally, but with all the competition out there, most become skim.  They play a vital role in the music business by making others look better by comparison.

You would think in today’s world in which music is streamed online that cream would occur naturally.  There’s always been marketing, and payola, and now the record companies pay for the appearance of popularity via fake streams, likes, follows, etc. because they know it begets actual popularity.

Consumers of music need tastemakers and curators and marketing for discovery.  If it already appears to be popular, they’re more likely to give it a test listen to see if they might like it or not.  There’s just way too much music already in existence to ever try it all out in a lifetime.  The web offers great recommendation engines and artificial intelligence.

AI is actually creating its own fake music now that sounds a lot like real music.  Gone are the days when you went to see a bunch of bands and decided which you like best, but you can still get recommendations from friends and/or strangers who are like-minded music fans.

Talentless average Joes like me can add their music to the vast ocean of what’s available to find and enjoy, and never make back the amount it took for them to distribute it online.  This is maybe more like powdered milk for people who are really hard up to pour something on their bowl of cereal but have run out of real milk.  You have to make it yourself out of desperation, and you have no AI, no money for playlist marketing or fake streams.  You hope for simple, organic, natural rising to the top.  

When no rising occurs over a long period of time, maybe it’s time to kill the cow and cook the meat to get by.  Stop producing milk no one discovers or likes.  You enjoy the process of writing and recording, and that’s why you do it, but you know it’s not anywhere close to what you choose to listen to as a music consumer yourself.  It’s not that you were completely unaware of your limitations like some of the terrible contestants on the TV talent shows, you’ve known all along you’re not great at any aspect, but you like doing it anyway.

Maybe it was better in the days of old when the gatekeepers at those big record companies would never allow the average joe’s music to be heard in the first place.  Affordable home recording equipment, including computers, plus the world wide web changed all that.  

There’s no shortage of music in the world now, nobody’s ever out of milk for their cereal.  Very little barrier to entry now, but is that better for the consumers of music in the world?  Probably not.  It’s likely we’d be better off with more evaporated milk, condensing out the skim music like mine that waters everything down.

Humor is one way to separate yourself from the rest, and it’s a little easier to get recognition with anything that gets attention like controversy, swearing or humor.  There isn’t much room for humorous music though.  And if you’re like me, you never went all-in with it like Tenacious D or Steel Panther or Spinal Tap or Weird Al Yankovic who all turned it into a cash cow.  

People remember my funny songs the most, so maybe that’s my form of natural cream, but it’s not what I want to be remembered for.  I have too many serious songs I’m proud of in my catalog.  The few people out there who’ve bothered to check out any of my music, however, only seem to remember Horseshit and Fudge (Mackinac Island), unfortunately.

Even though I’ve always been cautious to not appear to be someone who thinks they’re better than they really are, I’ve nonetheless had great audacity in releasing my music on the web alongside the greats.  

What was I thinking?  Did I really think anyone would find it and like and recommend it?  Yeah, sort of, I guess a little part of me did, or I wouldn’t have done it.

Now, with a couple decades of trying and failing under my belt, and another album that I think is one of my best on the way, maybe I'll end on a high note before the inevitable slaughter.  Some of my music is still out there, and more is on the way.  Drink it in while you can.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Home Recording The Scott Cooley Way - My Method in 2024

Things.  I basically do two things:  1)  write songs;  and 2)  record them.  Well, I also 3)  release them publicly.  If anything at all, it's the third thing that makes the content of this blog potentially interesting.  If I just wrote and recorded songs that no one ever heard, it wouldn't make as much sense to write about doing those things.  It was more interesting earlier in my "career" because I was among the first wave of DIY artists to release home-recorded CDs on Amazon and downloads on iTunes back in the days when such things first became possible.  Now, of course, everyone and their brother has things like a computer, a microphone, an audio interface, and a little money to distribute through an aggregator to the streaming services without the need for a record label contract.  Since my last public release of music in 2022, as has been the case for over 20 years now, I've continued to write and record.

I'm getting ready to release another album soon.  The target "drop" date is June 21st - my birthday - as usual, and I'll probably include 13 songs, again as usual.  Every two years I weed out about half the songs I write, record the rest, and I typically record a song in about an hour.  So it's not like it takes me a ton of time to record an album - it could be done in a couple days, but I spread it out as free time allows.  I usually average writing about one song per month, but they come in spurts.

I generally write a song and then record a first take on my phone's audio recorder app with just my voice and acoustic guitar.  Then if after listening back to those first takes I like them, I record them on my computer and add additional parts.

The phone recorder app is easily scrollable and shows the record dates organized by month.  Looking back at my writing/recording productivity since the last album released in June 2022, here's how it broke down:

  • Jul. 2022:  Wrote two, only recorded one of them
  • Aug. 2022:  Wrote two, recorded both
  • Oct. 2022:  Wrote one, recorded it
  • Apr. 2023:  Wrote six, recorded all of them
  • Aug. 2023:  Wrote two, recorded both
  • Oct. 2023:  Wrote two, recorded both

So, this time around, I only weeded out one, and that gave me 12 songs recorded since the last album, within the last two years, but I haven't written any since October of last year.  I have several recorded that were previously weeded out, so I'll be choosing one of them to include...unless I write & record more between now and June.

Evidently, there was no activity in Sept. 2022, then a huge gap of 5 months time between Nov. 2022 to March 2023 with no activity, then another 3 month gap in May/June/July of 2023, another no activity month in September 2023, then nothing in about the last 6 months.

I don't know why I wait 2 years between albums, and I don't know why I choose 13 as the number of songs on my albums, but as you can see, it just sort of works out that way.

I usually have way more to choose from in a 2-year span of time, so I'm a little nervous about that. Also, I usually weed out way more of my first takes on the phone, and never record digital multitrack versions of them.  You might think the song quality will suffer as a result, but one never knows.  I like to keep a low bar for myself, yet it feels like my hurdles have been higher this time around the track.

The writing may take only a few minutes per song, but sometimes I'll recycle old scraps of lyrics, and sometimes I'll sit on musical ideas for a while, so there can be a long span until finalized.  Then I really do crank out the recording part fast once I have a finalized song ready to go.  Obviously, I'm not a perfectionist.  I just like to keep things fresh, get each song recorded close to how I imagine it sounding, get 'er done, then move on to the next.

How do I record my songs so quickly?  How do I get the sound I get when recording in my little home "studio"?  What order do I do things in when recording?  What equipment and software do I use?

The short answer is I have a desk in a spare bedroom now in my house, and on it is a computer, a small midi keyboard, and a small audio interface that allows for software insert effects.  On a shelf above it are two small speakers, a single microphone and a printer.  Next to my desk is an acoustic guitar.  That's it.  I use software for everything else.  Pretty simple and low footprint.

Most people wouldn't want the Scott Cooley sound, but people have asked me how I do it over the years.  I am completely self-taught.  How you record can be thought of by some people as almost being like a proprietary trade secret.

I don't mind sharing my approach, but the overall sound I get is probably well below the level of quality anyone else would want to strive for.  Also, it's important to note that my approach has evolved over the years, and there are always variations depending on the song.

As a home recording person who does everything alone with zero training, I've just figured out through trial and error what works for me.  That, and reading the user guide and/or online help that comes with the DAW software.  I've googled how to do things, watched a couple youtube how-to videos, and learned from a few online forums too.

If curious at all, you might like to know this abbreviated sequential list of steps that I usually follow:

  1. turn on the metronome in the DAW and set it to desired click tempo
  2. while listening to that in one headphone with the other off my ear, record the rhythm guitar track into a microphone clean, angled from neck to soundhole about 6 inches away
  3. record a scratch vocal track into a mic, clean, while listening to the rhythm track with one earphone off, so I can hear my own voice too
  4. record bass track, used to always do a mic'd acoustic, but sometimes a direct electric bass, and more recently, just play a MIDI keyboard, tried a mic'd amp w/ electric, but never got good results, and the DI electric into audio 1/4 input can have bass eq/comp and/or bass amp sim plugin with mixed results, the keyboard way offers the best sonic quality so far, but this one is always a challenge to get a good sound
  5. record kick, then snare, then toms, then hat, then crash each separately, all with midi keyboard and virtual sounds, used to mic a djembe and use a nylon brush on a snare various mics, but virtual on keys is my preferred method now
  6. record percussion - tambourine, shaker, etc. into mic if desired, also mic'd congas/bongos if desired, or cowbell ocasionally (never enough)
  7. mix the drums, muting other tracks, adjusting volume and pan for each, doing the kick centered, each of other panned wider as desired
  8. mix the bass volume to fit in with the drums, panned center
  9. mix the rhythm guitar to fit with the bass while muting rest
  10. record backing vocals, usually 2 takes, then pan L & R
  11. record lead vocal, with large diaphram condenser, usually takes many tries, then I pick the best, I've comped before, but prefer do-overs until I get it as good as I can all the way through in one take
  12. record lead acoustic guitar into mic, doing intros, fills, instrumental break solos, outros, etc. as desired
  13. apply effects processing to each track, and by this I usually mean EQ, but sometimes a little compression, and sometimes reverb.  I have presets and saved scripts for a lot of these, and I usually leave the bass and kick pretty clean.
  14. mix down to stereo wav, listen on speakers, car speakers, etc, take notes, then return to make volume/pan adjustments (pre-mastering)
  15. master the wave with some overall eq/compression - again, I have some saved scripts I run for these
  16. done!

That's generally "how" I do it, but here's "what I use" to do it with:

I used to do all of the above in Adobe Audition v.3.1, then I tried Cakewalk for a while for just the recording part only because it was free and supported the new MIDI keyboard I purchased, and now I use Logic for just the recording part and some of the effects, then bounce and export/import into Adobe Audition for the mixing and mastering still.  I still love Adobe Audition because it has outstanding noise reduction features that just don't exist in other DAWs, and these are necessary when recording everything into microphones from real instruments, and the mastering tools are also on par with out-of-box Logic or even Ozone, which I've also experimented with.

I've purchased and experimented with about 5 or 6 different microphones over the years - dynamics, condensers small and large, but have now replaced them all with a Townsend which has simulation settings to make it sound like any mic, and integrates well with my Universal Audio Apollo interface and Logic.

I've purchased and experimented with about 4 different audio interfaces over the years - a Roland, a Focusrite, a Tascam, but now replaced them all with a UA Apollo Twin lightning bolt.

For years, I used a Dell running Windows 7, and still use it for mastering with the Adobe Audition, but now I use an iMac with Logic for the recording steps.

I've had two MIDI keyboards, but the one I use now is a Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol because it integrates really well with Logic.  It's the smallest one they make, and has software that lets you play a piano or organ chord with a single key, and also to make the keys sound like drums, bass, etc.

The Mac/Logic/Townsend/Apollo/Komplete is the ultimate setup for me, it all plays well with each other and makes things efficient and easy.  If Logic had good noise reduction, it might replace the need for Adobe Audition, but I also have all these batch scripts that run customized effects processing sequences I created in there, so that's a big time-saver.  Spent hours of my life A/B testing them all 'till I found combinations I liked, so I keep the AA for now until my old Dell dies on me, then I'll have to consider other options.  There are so many options in Logic I've never even tried, so might experiment in there further someday, but I like my process the way it is for now.

I have a Fender Jazz bass, which I love playing but hardly ever use anymore for recording, and a bass amp that is totally unnecessary, and a Martin HD-28 acoustic that is too bassy/boomy, but still great.  I have a Takamine non-upright acoustic bass guitar, but hardly ever use it anymore.  I have several electric guitars, a multi-effects pedal board, and an amp.  Similar to the various ways to record electric bass, I never seem to get a good electric sound no matter what I try, and I just prefer the sound of an acoustic.  However, it's fun to crank it up to 11 sometimes and jam.  I have the percussion stuff, the bongos, a set of Hohner special 20 harmonicas, a ukulele, and a hawaiian weissenborn for acoustic slide playing, and still have the old snare drum, the djembe, and cymbal I used to use.  Small JBL monitors and Sony MD headphones.  Oh yeah, I've got my wife's marimba I record with quite a lot too.  I've borrowed my friend's mandolin a couple times, but just can't get into it due to fat fingers.

Now, I've evolved to not needing much to get the sound I get.  I pretty much do songs with the full (acoustic) rock band treatment with only my voice, my Martin acoustic, and my keyboard for the bass, drums, piano, etc., so almost all in-the-box now.  All the other crap is in the basement storage now, awaiting my death after which my nephew will likely take it all to his basement and possibly use and/or sell some of it.

As you can hear with my studio recordings, I don't use many effects at all, just some EQ on most tracks a little reverb on the vocal.  I like to keep it clean, real and acoustic sounding, even though I've embraced virtual instruments.  No racks of hardware, no preamps, nothing like that.  It's all done in the software.  Everyone says I should use a preamp, but the ability to do "on the way in" insert effects on my Apollo interface combined with the virtual microphone simulation and insert channel strip effects on my Townsend mic negate the need for one.

Where the magic happens:  My dusty home studio 

You can see earlier incarnations of it here:  I don't like a cluttered room.  No room treatment either.  I do also have one of those acoustic foam things behind my microphone, but I don't know that it makes any difference or not. I don't really have any desire to add any equipment or software for recording.  As long as nothing breaks, I have everything I need and want already.  Took a long time to arrive here, a lot of trying out different things to see how they sound, a lot of mistake making and learning, and quite a bit of money.

Future Plans Beyond This Year:  My next thing will be to try to get a good electric guitar sound with software only and just directly plugging it into the audio interface.  I'm not much of a fingerstyle player, and realize the types of songs I write would probably lend themselves well to being electric guitar rock songs instead of acoustic.  Also, I can now appreciate the value in releasing singles - so I might try the staggered release of one song at a time approach in the future.  For the few fans out there who enjoy my music, and crave hearing more, they wouldn't have to wait as long to get their fix.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Bob Dylan, Maya Angelou, Stuart Smalley, and Why I Don't Have Imposter Syndrome

The TLDR short answer:  You sort of need "conventional" success first, and I don't have any, so it doesn't apply to me.

Welcome (or welcome back) to the blog where I pretend to be a solo artist and claim to be a songwriter...and blog about it.  

I find myself blogging more about the solo artist part than the songwriter part.  You won't find much in the past posts herein about how I write songs, or advice about how to write better songs - those are personal, mysterious, and difficult to explain.  I write songs in many different ways, with many different approaches and techniques and genres and styles and subject matter.  They just happen sometimes, and I'd rather not dissect how they happen, because it's a sort of magical thing you don't want to question or mess with.  

On the other hand, you will find a lot of content about me grappling with my music being in the same streaming services as really famous artists like Bob Dylan, and my struggles trying to do everything myself as inexpensively as possible to get it there.

No one has ever said to me, "your songs are not very good" or "you need to give this music hobby a rest" or "you're not good enough to have your music be on the major streaming services" or "you need to give up on this solo artist thing" or "you're embarrassing yourself and you should hang it up"...nothing like that, ever.  When it comes to music appreciation, your taste is what it is, and certainly mainstream popularity can be a strong indicator of quality consensus.  

The current charts are filled with music that I seriously cannot understand the wild popularity of.  Fortunately, there seems to be a slowly-rising trend with Millenials starting to appreciate acoustic guitar playing singer-songwriters again, so my style might appeal to them if discovered!  Therein lies the biggest challenge for artists like me these days: how to make more people aware of my music without a budget or desire to self-promote. 

"Not giving up" is easy when you're passionate about transitioning a hobby into being part of a commercial industry.  Since I'm not beholden to a record company and don't need to recoup any expenses, my measure of success is little improvements over time that maybe only I notice.  I'm really only competing with myself, and without promotion of any kind, I don't really care that those improvements may not translate to increased streaming stats.

It could be the cream can't rise to the top when there's over-saturation, and with no one telling me I should stop, I'm part of the problem.  So I blog about these kinds of things to make sense of it all.  My music is streamable in all the usual places like Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, and Amazon Music - 11 full-length albums so far, with a 12th in progress.  Just as with book "publishing," technology and the internet now allow regular guys like me to join the superstars, so I blog about this a lot to understand how I feel about it.

Maya Angelou: "I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out.'"

My daily affirmation:  My songs are real songs.  I am a real songwriter, and I am a real solo artist.  My music is art.  It helps people.  I've been helped by a 12-step program, and I help people.  I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.  (Google Stuart Smalley or Senator Al Franken to understand the humor).  Whether any of my music qualifies as being actual art or not is debatable, and although I include my lovely wife Lenore's accordion playing on about one song per album, the rest of everything you hear I did by myself, so pretty solo.  

I've released around 140 original songs on those 11 albums, and you'll just have to trust me that I've written a few hundred more that I have not chosen to release.  The ones I've released arguably qualify as being actual songs.  So, yeah, you can stream Scott Cooley, then switch over to Bob Dylan, and it's as if we are both offering the same kinds of things in the same places - albums of music featuring songs we've written ourselves and recorded as solo artists.

It's not imposter syndrome that I have, however.  I had to look that definition up:


the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills: people suffering from impostor syndrome may be at increased risk of anxiety.

You need to have success first.  I don't have any (the way most people would define it).  What is success then?  Most people think of fame, wealth, or social status, but there is another definition that I prefer:  the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.  Some of mine have been:

  • Learn To Play Guitar:  As a fan of rock music when I was a kid, I thought it might be cool to learn how to play guitar someday.  I bought a used Yamaha acoustic at a pawn shop in Flint, Michigan over Christmas break during my Senior year at Albion College, then used it when I took Intro To Guitar my last semester.  I learned more from friends than I did from the course, but it was a start.
  • Learn To Write Songs:  After learning covers of popular rock songs I liked, I thought it might be cool to write my own songs someday.  Having also taken Intro To Poetry enroute to my Bachelor of Arts in English degree, I had a bit of a foundation for creative writing.  With a pencil and notebook paper and acoustic guitar, I made an attempt, friends thought it wasn't bad, so I wrote more.
  • Learn To Record Music:  Initially recording on cassette recorders with built-in microphones, then a portable four-track with an external microphone, then continuing multi-tracking on a computer using digital audio workstation software with an audio interface, having multiple tracks available and the ability to overdub brought out some sort of mad scientist in me.  Do a little research, get the equipment, then figure it out through trial and error.
  • Learn Other Instruments:  If you can mix a bunch of tracks together to make your song sound like a band played it, you need other instruments.  Starting with a tambourine and harmonica, I got some drums and a bass guitar, later adding a marimba and a ukulele, and then eventually a MIDI keyboard, which really opened up the possibilities.  The approach was get the instruments first, then teach yourself how to play them.
  • Learn Music Distribution:  The first services I became aware of were TuneCore and CDBaby that offered this ability to get your songs in iTunes.  There was also the burn-CD-on-demand service offered by Amazon.  It was about selling discs and downloads back before the streaming thing caught on.  I read about the services, signed up, and sure enough, they distributed my music after I followed their instructions.
  • Learn Online Presence Establishment:  Initially, I was proud of learning the old-school way of hosting from a computer in my basement that was always running, then got in as an early adopter on Google Sites, which allowed me to move into the cloud absolutely for free for about 10 years.  I taught myself HTML and some of the basics, using my songwriting hobby as website practice.  Blogging and social media would be included here, but anyone can do those.  I've also done some music videos too, which might be part of this.

Somehow along the way, I developed this aim or purpose that I was a songwriter, and that instead of pitching my songs to famous singers to record, I thought I would also try becoming a solo artist myself.  I made it a goal to do as much as I could on my own without spending any money.  I didn't want to pay anyone to help me, didn't want to ask anyone to help me, didn't want to pay for anything I couldn't do myself.  I bought reasonably-priced instruments, recording equipment, and paid for the music distribution service, but that's it.  I did everything else at no cost other than my own labor.

Therefore, I have been successful.  I believe I deserve that success.  I've achieved it legitimately as the result of my own effort and skill.  I've accomplished my goals.  I suppose the next steps would be to play live (memorize my own songs, have a setlist, then somehow get gigs playing in public for money), offer merch (sell t-shirts or whatever), get publicity (solicit music press and bloggers to write about me), and advertise (actually spend money on promotional ads and marketing campaigns for my albums), however, those are not currently goals I have.

I know I'm not the type to ever achieve any sort of popularity or mainstream success as most people define it.  I don't have the singing voice, instrument-playing chops, looks, youth, dance moves, or whatever you'd look for in a new artist if you were a record company seeking profitability.  In a way, my music journey has employed a fake-it-'till-you-make-it approach, but I'm realizing more and more that what I've done is not fraudulent or phony - it's authentic and real.  I feel like I am pretending less as I move forward, thinking I am achieving some sort of legitimacy along the way.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Big Reveal: Coming Clean About Cheating

(With Songwriting and Recording Technology)

There, that catchy blog post title should've gained me more reads than usual, which is borderline deceptive.  I'm not a cheater with songwriting (never stealing melodies or lyrics) or recording (although increasingly, I'm letting software do more of the work for me).  It can almost feel like cheating for someone who used to do both things the hard way, what is now the old way, and what younger people just getting into recording have no clue about.  You get used to the tech available when you start, maybe embrace newer tech as you move forward that makes things easier.  Maybe you learn how hard it was for people way older than you, and appreciate how easy you have it, but probably not.

I don't cheat on my taxes, so let me get those out of the way first, or my wife, for that matter, although pouring my time and attention into a hobby like writing songs and recording music instead of devoting it all to her could be.  Fortunately, I have her full support.  Being a non-performer, at least I'm not on the road and can do it all from home.  Technology is always evolving, and I've used it to cut down on the effort and time it takes to get the songs out to you guys (so I have more time with her), but sometimes using such shortcuts can make what you do feel a little less genuine somehow.

Being somewhat of a loner lends itself well to being a solo artist, so I have that going for me.  Being somewhat of an introvert, however, does not so much.  In the few bands I participated in, I just naturally fell into the lead guitarist role.  I'm not a natural front man or lead singer, being more inclined toward a behind-the-scenes band leader role.  In my day job career as a professional technical writer, I've often been the only person on a team who has that particular role, and I like being a lone wolf.  Although I am happy being a team player, I tend to gravitate toward individual sports.  I'm maybe an overly-independent person, but I have a great deal of self-reliance.  All these traits lend themselves well to being a do-it-all-myself person who writes songs and records myself singing and playing them.

As Mac Davis once said, it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way.  I do the best I can, yet I "humble-brag" from time to time herein.  I'm proud of believing in myself and never quitting with my songwriting/recording hobby and for pretty much totally figuring out how to be a solo artist on my own.  Pride is dangerous though, so I've decided to come clean about not doing absolutely everything 100% from scratch.  I've mostly done it the hard way, without asking anyone for help, but I have taken advantage of free and low-cost things to make it easier, and sometimes, it almost feels like it's cheating.  I'll explain.

A Level Playing Field

The affordability of software tools and how-to information levels the playing field for most, but purchasing power can provide significant advantages for higher quality outputs.  Having a budget for booking time in professional recording studios, using better instruments and equipment, hiring top co-writers, session musicians, producers, engineers, photographers, video directors, and marketers are what the major labels have that people like me do not.  Their artists have a lot of help, and comparatively, it doesn't seem like fair competition, yet my music is in the same marketplace.

Amish Raking Hay - Photo by Joe Schneid, Lousville Kentucky

An Almost-Amish Approach

While it's still possible for mere mortals to have their music available in the same streaming services as the superstars, you've got to make hay while the sun shines.  There's something to be said for taking an almost Amish approach to avoiding technology and working the old-fashioned ways whenever possible, but doing all of that yourself means you must take advantage of modern conveniences, which is not the same as cheating on tests at schools, doping in sports, insider trading in the stock market, gambling with loaded dice, or rigging elections.  Making records is not like making furniture, however.  You can't really do it without electricity.

Playing Covers vs. Writing Originals, Never Co-Writing

I am a completely self-taught songwriter.  I've written hundreds of songs totally by myself.  In places like Nashville, they can't fathom anyone NOT co-writing.  When compared with the many people I've run across in my life who played an instrument, most never write their own songs.  They just learn to play and sing covers of songs other people wrote.  Perhaps surprisingly, the people I know who took formal lessons as children seem to be even less likely to ever write their own songs.  Two things set me apart from the pack a bit - the fact that I write songs at all in the first place, and also that I do it alone.

DIY in Singing, Instrument Playing, Home Studio Recording & More

I am also a self-taught singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, recording/mixing/mastering engineer, music producer, and music video producer.  I do my own album cover art.  I created and maintain my own musician website.  I have my own independent record label and music publishing company.  I handle all my own social media.  I haven't had the advantage of attending a performing arts high school, didn't get a college degree in music, have had no formal training, didn't take lessons as a kid, learning all of this on my own as an adult.  

Free Advice On The Internet

I have, however, searched for and took advantage of free helpful information on the internet for most of the above, and without it, wouldn't be in the position of being a totally self-contained DIY solo artist who has released 11 full-length studio albums of original music over the last 20 years.  I've looked up free songwriting advice on the internet, and also various templates like song forms, tools like chord family chart diagrams and rhyming dictionaries, and instructional advice on recording techniques.  So, I haven't completely done it all on my own!

Liner Notes and Questionable Credits

I have respect for musical artists who write their own songs, without any co-writers.  I also have respect for musical artists who play multiple instruments.  I'm maybe thinking of artists like Paul McCartney or Prince.  The more things they do themselves, the more I'm impressed.  I know it's possible to write a song with your voice, hum, whistle or otherwise tell musicians what to play like Michael Jackson did.  Other types of artists like Beyonce check a lot of crucial boxes with the looks, dancing skills and singing chops, but sometimes need 20+ people to write her a song, and isn't typically seen playing any instruments.  Oddly, she is supported by famous male rappers who seem to get angry she doesn't win more awards, even though she's won tons of them.  

I never care if an artist I like has won any awards or not, I just like their music, but that's just how I am.  I don't care what they look like so much or if they can dance well either, come to think of it.  I'm a liner-note reader due to becoming a music fan in the 1970s when albums ruled, and the more credits an artist has listed, the more I'm impressed.  Taylor Swift's liner notes show that aside from one album, she co-wrote most songs in her catalog with others, even though being a songwriter seems to be a big part of her persona.  I realize there's always been dishonesty in music.  Lobbying for awards happens.  Elvis got publishing rights he didn't deserve.  Payola happened.  Paying for fake streams happens now.

DIY is Rewarding

As an artist myself, I do a lot of things myself because I enjoy knowing the end results are all me.  I would be hesitant to give up the control and enlist others to help even if I could afford to hire them, but I can't.  It's probably obvious I need all the help I can get!  It's really challenging to do it all yourself.  No one can be good at all of it.  It can be fun to try though.  If you like my music, I take all the credit, and if not, I have no one to blame.  Except the songs on which my wife Lenore plays accordion, that is.  She deserves all the accordionist awards!  Otherwise, the results are authentic and (usually) satisfying.

Taking Advantage Of Tech

Aside from getting people to help you, another thing that can be done is to use information technology and software that makes it easier.  My first songs were pen or pencil on notebook paper or legal pad, with my brain as my thesaurus and rhyming dictionary, and only way later did I realize a word processor application on a personal computer made lyric editing way easier, and you could look up rhymes for free online with the internet.  This was amazing and new-school at the time.  Cassette recorders were around in my youth, and then later you could get these 4-track recorders, which opened up a whole new world.  Just about the time I got around to trying one out for a couple years, the ability to record digitally on a comptuer with unlimited tracks happened.  Normal people who couldn't afford time in a real recording studio could actually afford these.  Compare that to paying $100/hr. in a pro studio, and you see how having your own setup for home demos with unlimited free takes was a major time saver.

What used to take a room full of recording hardware, instruments and various physical equipment, you can now accomplish with a few mouse clicks and key presses.  I like to record quickly while the urge strikes after writing a song, and get everything down how I envision it while it's fresh.  Anything that lets me do that more efficiently is cool.  I have used computer-based tools and music recording technology to save space, time, money, and a lot of labor.  Sometimes the use of various software tools can feel like it's cheating, and too much of it can be a bad thing.

Tools Evolve

Before all songwriters, singers and musicians are replaced by artificial intelligence robot bands, I wanted to be honest with you about my use of technology when I record songs I write.  I'm firmly rooted in the rock era, the album era.  The shift to pop and urban music happened along with the digital age, now the streaming age.  We're currently and supposedly in a post-album era, but I still release albums, and I still write rock songs, so that makes me a trend-bucker. Isn't every song on every album sort of a single anyway, now that the way we listen is via streaming?  We've evolved to having compressed, lower quality MP3 audio streamed to our phones from the cloud, and instead of mixtapes, we have playlists.  I just like to wait until I have a bunch of songs and release them together, but I guess that's weird now.  Now AI is making the music for us.

Keeping It Real

First of all, it might not go without saying that unless you're an all-acoustic bluegrass band recording live with real traditional instruments without pickups into a single microphone, or even with each player with their own microphone for that matter, live and simultaneously and in real-time with each other, you're taking advantage of some sort of technology to record with that makes it less authentic.  I have respect for people who get it done the old-fashioned way like that.  Bonus points for doing that direct to vinyl or analog tape, and more bonus points for being a true folkie with the ancient Alan Lomax field-recording style.

Traditional folk, jazz and bluegrass music, and its fans, especially appreciate minimal usage of technology.  Electricity is allowed vs. turning a physical crank on a wax cylinder or something really old-school, and some medium for playback, but as little else as possible preferably.  If you've ever been to a place like Preservation Hall in New Orleans, you see (and hear, of course) the best way for live music to be enjoyed, in my opinion, live in a small great-sounding room with no PA or amplification.  They offer the real thing with no digital trickery to mask imperfections.  

Some Music Tech Becomes Unavoidable

Technology helps musicians sound better than they really are, we all know this.  For example, the Beatles recorded several songs per day, all live with no overdubs, on analog gear to tape early in their career, but later on really embraced the new technologies that became available and pushed the envelope with loops and the whole studio-as-an-instrument concept.  They originally thought overdubbing was cheating!  Digital recording, drum machines, and synthesizers only started being experimented with in the 70s, seeing widespread use starting in the 80s.  This is when it really started getting more fake-sounding with arguably too much pristine sonic perfection.

Too Much Can Be A Bad Thing

Blatantly obvious mistakes and imperfections and undesirable noise in music can irk your very soul, I understand this.  It immediately wrecks the listening experience when the groove you were getting into is interrupted by anything that is noticeably "off".  That said, I have a tolerance for the ebbs and flows of music "breathing" in various ways, and the inclusion of happy accidents and pleasant surprises that may at first sound off but take the music in interesting new directions.  Technology often removes these aspects that can make music less robotic and more human.

Do we really need all of our music to be absolutely perfect?  As a listener and as a recorder of music, I say no.  On the other hand, if you've heard any of my music you likely already know I need all the help I can get.  Today's popular, mainstream, major-label music, especially in the pop genres, is a little too overproduced though, a little too perfect, and mechanical. If that's all you know due to your age and exposure, it's a little sad. 

The Evolution of Popular Preferences

I suppose the music listeners of the world expect and demand that digital perfection now, which might signal the decline of lo-fi/DIY style music like I specialize in, which would be unfortunate.  The younger generations not seeming to have much interest in rock music anymore is scary enough, but the old traditional folk, blues, jazz, hillbilly and bluegrass styles are definitely on the decline it would seem due to the popular present-day preferences for electronic precision.

There are modern hybrid progressive sub-genres of them, but the original styles of those all-acoustic, microphone to analog tape to vinyl records have a great sound.  We lost something with the evolution from records to cassette tapes to digital mediums like CDs to MP3s, sound quality stuff you could hear then that you can't as much now, a degradation of sonic qualities only people like Neil Young can explain well.  

The genres from the early days of commercial recording have definitely lost popularity.  Probably something similar goes for pre-rock big band swing and classical as well.  I don't know for sure, and I claim no expertise in these things.  Just a general observation.  Electronic drum machines and synthesizers dominate the current popular trends.


When any solo artist has a recording that features more than a vocal and a couple of instruments on a single song, they used multi-tracking to record it, meaning other parts were overdubbed onto what was played live to begin with.  The mixing together of multiple, separately-recorded tracks itself is arguably on the verge of cheating.

Click Tracks / Metronome

I do sometimes use a click track in my headphones when laying down my first rhythm guitar track, which is usually how I start recording a song.  I sort of sing along with the song with the lyrics in front of me in my head as I record it.  Because I use an acoustic guitar played into a microphone, I don't sing along with the rhythm guitar track so as not to have bleed, but also so that the lead vocal I record later can be isolated.  I then turn off the metronome click track thing when laying down all other tracks, and make them match the rhythm guitar track.  This works best for me as far as avoiding lag, delay or latency or whatever that is called.

MIDI and Virtual Instruments

Musical Instrument Digital Interface is I think what MIDI means, and although it used to involve some weird-looking port/plug thing, it now somehow works with a USB cable.  Such is the way I plug in my MIDI keyboard to my computer.  I bought one a while back, and it's one of the really small ones where you have to press a button to switch octaves because it's like 1/4th the number of keys of a piano.  Used in conjunction with my digital audio workstation software, I can make it sound like a piano, organ, electric piano, anything really.  Millions of virtual sounds available.

Single-Key Drumming

Including drums.  I previously blogged about my recording process herein, in which I described how I'm not a drum kit guy, but rather a hand-only drummer with a basic 3-instrument setup of djembe, snare, and hi-hat I use one of those nylon brushes with for my drum sound.  I have often recorded each separately.  

So, if it's a 3-minute song, that's 9 minutes of listening to the song all the way through while hitting one of them when I thought appropriate.  This gave me a way to not have bleed, but also to be able to pan each as desired, and to do the EQ/compression/reverb, etc. on each individually with a single microphone.  

For years, it worked.  I also have a set of congas/bongos and various other percussion things.  One at a timing it, I would give each its own track.  I never got a good kick drum sound with that djembe, and the muddiness competition with the bass track, despite trying different microphones and settings, wasting time and money.  

I have tried out full drum kits before with some success, thought I might get one someday, and still might, but probably not.  The coordination with the foot pedals didn't come naturally, but my hands are not bad.  Hence, my decision to go with that setup.  The drawbacks are many, including a room full of drums that take up a lot of space, albeit a "minimalist" kit of sorts.

When I discovered my keyboard could be configured to have the keys make any drum sound in the world practically, I realized it was something that would offer improvement in my sound, ease of use, and take up less studio space.  I now 1-finger tap a key for each drum sound, which still takes the same amount of time.  I've tried using multiple fingers at once and essentially playing a full drum kit with kick, snare, toms, hi hats & crash, but that gets a little more complicated.  

It takes more coordination and timing, precision suffers, and you can't route each to its own track for panning purposes.  I've released some songs where I did it that way, and it was fun, but I just centered the drum track in the mix, and the relative volumes of each were not great in the mix, despite having the velocity-sensitive feature.  So, I went back to the one at a time, single-finger, single-tap technique, which takes the length of the song for each still.  Since I was already familiar with recording this way with actual drums, it came easy.

There are virtual drummer software applications and drum loops out there that I've played around with briefly, but they are a little too perfect and fake sounding.  What I do is still me.  It's still me physically pressing down on keys with my fingers when I think I should while listening to my other tracks.  You don't need headphones for any MIDI keyboard recording either, no mic bleed possible, which is awesome.  I just like speakers better when possible.

Single-Key Chord Playing

Another arguable cheat is I list myself as the keyboard player on many of my songs, which is true for the right-hand melodic and solo stuff, but the left-hand chord stuff is 1-fingering.  My keyboard, in conjunction with some software I have, lets you configure a single key to play a whole chord.  Since I haven't taken the time to learn piano chords - not sure if I ever will or not - it's so easy to lay down a rhythm piano or organ track for a 3 or 4 chord song by hitting 3 or 4 keys, which I usually nail in one take.

I free up space that pianos, organs and drums would take up.  These "virtual instrument" sounds a key on my keyboard can be configured or "patched" as they say to play are seemingly endless.  I can get violin sounds, horn sounds, anything.  Pretty cool.  They are very realistic sounding, and how hard you press on the key affects the sound, if you want it set that way.  

Keyboard Bass

On many of my songs lately, I even use the keyboard for playing bass.  Dial up the sound and walk it with the fingers instead of playing the actual bass guitar.  The sound is more pristine anyway.  Figuring out what notes to play is equally time consuming on a real bass than on a keyboard, and I don't have to pick it up, plug it in, and/or tune it, so less prep time.

Efficiency Enhances Creation

Once I have a song written, ideas of how to arrange it and fill out the sound with instruments immediately occur to me.  The faster I can get it recorded, the better.  I'm all about speed and convenience and keeping the work area uncluttered.  Less instruments, less cables, less hassle setting up microphones or amps or plugging in, etc., and then unplugging after and putting it all away, whatever.  

So, if I can do bass, drums, keyboards, etc. all on a handy little keyboard already attached to my computer and ready to go, the rest is all just selecting the right sounds in the software with a few mouse clicks, and I'm ready to go.  Get it down quickly while the idea is fresh, I say.  Why not?

I always try to nail each track all the way through live, and usually do.  It's a fun challenge to get it right in one take.  Sometimes I've tried splicing in a fix, and although I figured out how to do it with the software, I usually delete a mistake track and totally do-over for the satisfaction.  A weak area is knowing when to place the crash cymbal.  I can get the math right counting in my head, but I never quite know where they should go.  If you determine what you want to do before hitting record, it's usually all pretty easy.  

"Comping Vocals"

Except for lead vocals, that is.  I also try to nail my vocal takes all the way through, and often take the same approach, but I have way more do-overs.  I have tried to "comp" the best parts of multiple takes before, but the selection and bounce mouse clicks involved are cumbersome to the point that it's easier to just start again fresh each time, and it sounds more natural and cohesive if all in one take.

It's Not Really New

I'm talking about all these things as if they're new, but they're not.  Today's young superstars  may not have any idea music used to be made live in studios with giant physical mixing boards with knobs and dials, and real instruments played into microphones, and tons of hardware equipment taking up warehouse-size rooms.  Most people record the way I'm describing here now, and have for a long time.

It's All Good, Except

The following can sound great, but are arguably a little closer to cheating on the spectrum:

  • Quantization:  They also use quantization which matches up everything to a tempo, which I've experimented with, but don't do.  Hard to get the math right with that latency thing happening in a multi-track situation when most tracks are not MIDI. 
  • Auto-Tune:  They also use auto-tune, which again I've experimented with, but don't use.  Sounds too fake, plus you have to actually know what notes you're singing to use it right, and I have no idea.  
  • Auto-Harmony:  This is probably also why I'm completely dumbfounded when attempting harmony vocals - not easy at all.  I know they have software that can create harmonies for you as well, but require music knowledge and math skills probably, so I haven't checked them out yet.  
  • Auto-Drummers & Loops:  Most people probably also use the full virtual drummer and drum loop software, I suspect.  At least keyboard drumming requires timing and precision and physical interaction, and even though it's fake, it sounds real.  I did use a fake drum loop on my rap song once.
  • AI Mastering:  Although I haven't tried it, I might someday.  Machine learning does the mastering automatically to some degree now.  This also seems like cheating, but if it's accurate and you like the results, it's faster than constant tweaks, knob-turning, fader-sliding, patching in racks of hardware equipment and multiple playback testing.  I have however, created my own automation scripts to run for various mastering steps like EQ and compression processing.

"In-The-Box" Recording

Entire songs can be done with a MIDI keyboard and a vocal, especially the mainstream commercial major label pop stuff.  These modern Swedish pop producer/engineer/songwriter dudes like Max Martin likely use 100% virtual everything, taking full advantage of tech to fully produce entire songs for artists where everything is done in-the-box except lead vocals and maybe a guitar, then they just bring in the female pop star to do lead vocals into an actual microphone they later automagically make perfect.  Send them off to do their dance video, and good to go.

Outright Theft

I haven't covered sampling or just straight-up song stealing, but you've all read the copyright lawsuit news involving famous artists.  Seems to be on the upswing.  Sometimes it can be accidental, but as someone who takes great pride in my original creations, I struggle to understand why anyone would want to intentionally rip off someone else.  Yes you might make some money, but you'd feel no satisfaction.  The satisfaction of knowing you did it yourself (and knowing you taught yourself how to do it) is the greatest reward of all.

Summing Up

When you have a day job, a family, a personal life, other interests, etc., you need to maximize your hard-earned free time for your songwriting/recording hobby.  There's something to be said for people who knew how to do something the old way before a new technology made knowing how to do it obsolete.  

As everyone's mom told them, just because everyone else does it, doesn't mean you should, but new tech becomes commonplace, and it's not so much to keep up with the Joneses out of a sense of competition, it's about making things more convenient.  

Few chefs make their own croissants anymore because it's so time consuming.  Google that to verify, then Google the Julia Child show of the from-scratch way - it's fascinating and deserves respect, but no one does it anymore.  Although it's more pure and rewarding to do things from scratch, you can give yourself advantages to save time.

Therefore, I'm "cheating" (leveraging technology) in several ways out of convenience and lack of skill and/or owning instruments.  Using free online advice and tools, software, software instruments, effects processing, automation, etc. are things I've slowly embraced, but sometimes it feels wrong or too easy.  In the near future, if not already, there will be popular songs people pay to listen to that did not involve any human beings at all, which is scary.  That said, I like to be transparent about taking a few shortcuts in my music making.

In your head, you can run through the alphabet to find the right rhyme, but a free online rhyming dictionary is so much faster, so I use one.  I sometimes listen to a click track when recording my first rhythm guitar track instead of going with my natural timing to make it easier to follow when laying down bass, drums & other tracks later.  I not only record in a multi-track environment and do overdubs, I've also spliced in fixes, and have done comping on lead vocal tracks.  I get the sound of a piano or an organ without needing to buy a piano or organ.  I get the sound of chords by pressing a single key without needing to know how to play chords.  I get the sound of drums by pressing a single key without needing to know how to play or own drums.  

It's one of the reasons I prefer being a recording artist only and not a live performer:  I can make myself sound a little better than I really am!  That said, I prefer to keep my studio recordings as real as possible so that if I ever do play them live and solo with just an acoustic guitar, they're not drastically different than how they sound on the record. Attending and remembering live shows is great.  However, the prominent way you enjoy your favorite artists is listening to their studio-recorded music, which is more likely to be available in the future.  As a music fan, some live versions on live albums are great, but it's the studio albums and songs that have the real staying power. 

As you can now understand, I'm all for taking advantage of tech for convenience and efficiency in recording music, and I'm slowly teaching myself to embrace some of it.  I use noise reduction software, for example, just because it really makes stuff sound better to not have as much microphone noise.  On the other hand, I try to not use much reverb or other effects.  I come at this from a perspective the old folk people have in wanting to capture everything as clean and pure and real as possible without cheating.  That's one of the reasons why I intentionally stick with acoustic guitar as opposed to plugging in with an electric and using a bunch of effects.  

There are grey areas with the use of effects and digital processing, and soon if not already, AI is going to be churning out hit songs without human beings.  That is truly scary, and truly cheating if any humans take any credit for it.  What I do now is all about maximizing the efficiency of time spent writing and recording.  I don't go overboard, and what I do is far from actual cheating.  I take advantage of far fewer tech tools than most artists these days, I suspect, so I'm far from cheating on the spectrum.  

Glad I'm not too tempted by these newer technologies and prefer a sound that is as real an organic as possible, while still keeping my hard-earned free time spent of these things as efficient and as easy as I can.  I like to make it sound analog even though it's mostly digital.  Hope you appreciate this.  I do it because of my own style preference, but also because I know my listeners like it that way.  I'm glad you do!  As always, thanks for listening, liking my throwback style, being patient with me as I slowly embrace newer tech, and thanks also for reading this blog.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

How I Became A Songwriter/Recording Artist & My Subsequent Half-Hearted Attempts At Self-Promotion

A Songwriter Is Born

Elsewhere on this blog and in I’ve covered this, but I’ll quickly reiterate my start.  I took Intro To Guitar and Intro To Poetry as “blow off” classes my senior year in college in 1989.  I learned more about guitar from my friends than in the class, but these gave me a foundation.  A year or so later, after learning covers of blues and classic rock songs, I wrote my first song.  

Don’t know why, but I just decided to try writing a song, and I liked doing it.  Friends heard some of my early songs and said they indeed sounded somewhat like real songs.  Hot babes hanging out in the living room at my 20-somethings ski bum parties as I played them were impressed.  It’s possible they liked other things about me and were just humoring me, but it no doubt helped spur me on to continue.

I did solo open mic nights in bars, a few paid gigs as part of an acoustic duo doing covers in an apres-ski setting, getting even more attention from hot babes as a result. Lots of fun acoustic living-room jam band situations with impromptu groups of crazy characters as well.  However, I quickly realized I wasn’t a great singer, didn’t want to just be a lead guitarist in a cover band, so I slowly phased out of live performance situations, decided I wasn’t cut out for it, but kept up with the songwriting hobby.  

My friend’s band got really popular, and they learned and performed a couple of my originals, which people loved, and the lead singer announced me as the songwriter and pointed me out in the audience, and this also got me attention from hot babes.  Hot babes, that’s what it was always about for everyone, wasn’t it?  ☺

So the songwriting has continued, and that hobby evolved into being a recorded songwriter and solo artist with released music you can get on the web.  In between, there was an interesting progression of related things I got into learning about that led to this, and a lot of significant, rapid change in the music industry that all happened at a good time for me.  Since about 2005, when it first became possible for regular people to distribute their independent, home-recorded music online to music streaming services like iTunes, I’ve been one of them.  

The years leading up to that were a fascinating time for someone with a songwriting hobby, when I experienced first-hand what it was like in a perfect storm of the combination of affordable personal computers, home recording software and hardware, and the internet.  Things evolved quickly.  Keep in mind that when I got my college degree in 1989, the world wide web didn’t exist yet, and no one had their own computers. 

How I Started As A Recording Artist 

In the late 90s, I pawned my portastudio 4-track cassette recorder for a USB audio interface to use with my windows 95 laptop. Then I bought an AKG condenser microphone.  Then I bought an acoustic bass guitar and a djembe, a snare drum, and a high-hat cymbal.  I already had an acoustic guitar, a few harmonicas, a tambourine and a shaker.  The audio interface came with a free trial light version of Cubase digital audio workstation software, but I quickly found another software application I liked better called Cool Edit Pro, which was later bought by Adobe and renamed Audition.  I still use Adobe Audition 3.1 today.  Later I added a CD burner – one of the first external ones that was gigantic and heavy.  

With a computer, an audio interface, a microphone, recording software, and a few instruments, it was all relatively affordable.  Over the course of a few years, by the time Y2K came around I could multi-track record rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, drums, percussion, lead vocals and backing vocals, then mix them all down to a stereo song.  It was a lot of fun being able to write a song, and then record it as if a full rock band played it.  

I could also master it and burn it to CD, share with friends & family.  I could also save songs as MP3s and share electronically.  This was all really cool.  This all happened after I taught myself to play guitar a few years earlier in the early 90s, and then for some reason, thought I could make up my own songs.  I found the songwriting part to be a lot of fun, but also the ability to multi-track.  

Just when I started to get fairly good at making my own music this way for a few years, in the mid-2000s, mp3s were a thing, Napster piracy happened, the iPod and iTunes all happened.  Web sites for amateur musicians popped up where you could send your song and make it available for free web streaming.  MySpace was one of them.  I uploaded my MP3s of my original songs to various places online (most of which don’t exist anymore), and some of which I still have links to on my website here:  

This was kind of cool, you could make your songs be available for people to stream for free online.  Then I heard about the idea of a digital “aggregator” serving as a way unknown amateurs could get their music onto iTunes so people could download it on their iPods, and around the same time, make your CDs available on Amazon.  I decided to go for it.  After a while, they would send your albums and songs to a bunch of music download stores, and I signed up for them all.  Some folded, got bought out, got renamed, etc., but I’ve preserved the old links to a lot of them as well here:  

A few years ago, Amazon stopped offering their burn-a-CD-on-demand service, but it was cool while it lasted.  I actually made enough money for several years to cover the cost of the distribution service!  Just having your album available in the same places people go to buy a Led Zeppelin or Beatles album or whomever, was very awesome.  

The downloads thing has slowly been phased out as well, but all this is still possible today with web streaming.  Last year, my royalty check from the distributor CD Baby was about the amount it cost for distributing the last album (which admittedly wasn’t one of my best), so I pretty much broke even (minus my sweat equity, instrument & home studio equipment upgrade costs over the years).  

Albums Available, Now What?

So, now, fast forward to present day, and with a large and growing catalog of studio albums available, how can I make the next one make more money?  If my next batch of songs gets more popular, it would also make the back catalog more popular, and then maybe I could reach some level of profitability someday soon.  

Free Record Industry Expert Advice On The Internet, That’s What

At this point, one looks up advice about what an independent DIY solo artist with no money can do to make their music more well-known.  

Be Better

They tell you – of course – first and foremost, write and practice more, have better songs, be a better player, singer.  Again, voice or instrument lessons are not something I’m willing to pay for.  I know I could get better at guitar if I shelled out for lessons, but there’s probably not much a vocal coach could do to help me improve.  Just guessing, but I know I’m not naturally gifted.  So, those are out.  

Pay For Someone Who Is Better – Session Players, Studio Pros

The next thing would be to get better players to play on your records.  I’m not going to pay session musicians to play on my albums because they cost money I don’t have, but also, it wouldn’t be me, and I wouldn’t be the DIY solo artist I am today.  I love doing it all myself.  The end results of my songwriting and recording are all me, like it or not, and I prefer it that way.  Some artists just sing and dance, and have pros literally do everything else for them.  Then the final thing would be to pay for studio time in a real professional recording studio with a pro engineer, maybe even a producer, and then also pay for pro mixing and mastering.  Once again, these are out due to my nonexistent budget for such things, but also because I don’t have the desire.  

I truly love doing it all myself and enjoying the results that I know were the best I could do at the time.  A part of my appeal is that I’m obviously not an expert in any of these things, with zero formal training in any of them, and yet somehow, I find a way to figure out how to do it all by myself anyway.  I get a big kick out of that, knowing the finished product was all me without any outside assistance from anyone for any of it.  

Play Shows, Duh

Getting that out the way, what else?  If you don’t play live shows like me, that’s automatically ruled out as well.  Experts always advise you to go out and ask venue owners to let you play, then play, then build a following that way – the old-school approach.  Then you make enough to hire a manager to do the asking for you and get you more gigs, take it from there.  The approach I take to a music “career” does not involve any of that.  Not about “getting discovered” by a record label rep at a live performance venue at all.  Recording artist only, no marketing budget – that’s me.  I need my recorded music to get discovered more on streaming services.  What now?  What else can I figure out how to do on my own, that is free, and that I don’t mind doing?  

The Dreaded Self-Promotion Thing

Now you’re talking about self-promotion, having a website, a blog, photos, videos, social media, branding, getting on playlists, getting people to write about you, etc.  Creating a buzz, asking others to help create a buzz, paying others to create a buzz.  I have so far refused to ever pay for anything, have refused to ever ask for anyone’s help, preferring the joy of knowing I did it all myself, and just hoping it somehow magically gets popular through word-of-mouth recommendation alone.  This is obviously not the best strategy.  

The Stuff Record Labels Do For Artists

Marketing, promotion, advertising, publicity, creating buzz.  This is what record labels do for music artists, but now that they let you in the record store without a label, you’re on your own to figure out the rest.  It’s a blessing and a curse that cheap DIY distribution is possible.  Great, your album is available for people to find and stream in Apple Music or Spotify, right there where you can find and stream Bob Dylan.  Now what?  You’ve got to do all these other things to get noticed.  You ask Google what you could be doing, and the results from supposed experts all say the same stuff, and most of it requires a budget for such things.  

Focus On The Free Stuff – My Motto So Far

Some marketing-related things they say solo recording artists should have or do I’ve found can be done yourself at no cost other than your own effort.  I’ve tried some of it, but it doesn’t come naturally to try to get attention and sell yourself, for me anyway.  This blog is free, for example, and my website was free for about 10 years, but now I pay a little bit, but it’s nominal.  Making my own music videos I figured out how to do only because they say you should have some.  They’re not professional, they don’t feature videos of me, but at least they do feature my studio songs, and I used free tools.  I’m not into having a bunch of photos of myself, but there are a few, mostly because I don’t like my overweight, elderly appearance.  I’ve never asked any tastemakers or music journalists to write about my music, probably because I’m scared of negative reviews, not so much because it would not attract new listeners, but mostly because of the anticipated ego bruise.  It also seems like a Soup Nazi situation as far as the hassle goes for following the ultra-strict submission policies of these music bloggers.  Asking friends to spread the word about how awesome my music is goes against my grain.  I don’t have it in me.  Asking for fans, plays, likes, follows, subscribes, shares, etc. is just weird.  It’s hard enough for me to get up the courage to post a simple release announcement on social media when I have a new album available.  There isn’t any free online music advertising I’m aware of, and I’m not willing to pay.

Going Viral Sounds Great To Everyone

There’s always a chance.  You can’t win if you don’t play.  The Great One said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take and I agree.  At least I’ve continuously taken my shots and put the music out there.  You need a perfect storm of stuff happening for something to catch on.  In my case, I’m in it for the long haul.  It actually took years before I built up over a thousand annual streams for my “hit” Mackinac Island, so it was a slow-building appreciation for my most popular song.  Nothing went viral.  Just uploaded the music video for it a few years ago, even though I first released the song in 2006 I think.  

Long-Tail?  Not So Fast

I’m maybe more of a slowly-growing, back-catalog type of artist.  There was this theory I read about a few years ago called The Long Tail – a concept that 80% of all digital music listened to would be from established artist’s existing back catalogs vs. new, current popular artists.  This contributed to a bunch of speculation and investment in music publishing rights.  We all read in recent years about famous artists selling their publishing rights for millions of dollars.  The trend tapered off.  Now they’re realizing most people listen to the hits of the day, and the hits of older artists, but not so much the “deep tracks” of any of them, after all.  Not sure if any of it is true or not.

Fan Engagement and Other Stuff They Say You Should Have

So you have recorded songs, you tell a few people they exist for streaming, and that’s it.  Then you wonder why they didn’t just start getting popular.  Without anyone telling you how bad you are, you just keep doing it because it doesn’t cost much.  A cheap, fun hobby you can do on your own.  You hear music on the radio that is wildly popular and you don’t understand why.  You think your own songs are better than theirs.  What do they have that you don’t?  Way better singing voices, better session musicians, better recording engineers, and a whole lot of marketing dollars.  Supposedly their record labels do a lot for them.  They also make their artists do a lot to get more popular.  Getting in the public eye, having interactions with fans in person and online.  Those types of activities they call “fan engagement” nowadays.

What’s The Deal With Fan Engagement?  Why Is It So Important?

There’s this theory that if you have a fan, and then make some sort of personal contact with that fan, they think it’s so awesome that they tell more people about you, and that gets you even more fans.  Something like that, but I don’t really know.

As a recording artist, I might be described as “emerging” or “developing” or “undiscovered,” although some people have discovered me.  I had one song last year with more than 1,000 streams, the perennial favorite “Mackinac Island”.  

Otherwise, I don’t stand to make much money with my music being available for streaming, particularly the other 143 songs I’ve released on my 11 albums.  There’s a ton of music out there.  Too much probably.  I would love to have more interest in my music, and there’s just so much competition for your attention.

When I first heard there was a way to get my music in iTunes and on Amazon, and decided to try it out, I did have the thought that maybe there was a slight chance some of it would catch on.  “Going viral” was a new thing at the time, and I thought to myself “you never know”.  Now there are 100 billion new songs every day – I’m exaggerating, I know – but I was among the first to go for it.

How to make yourself stand out – without record label support – is a gigantic challenge.  “They” say “fan engagement” is crucial to getting more listeners.  Reaching out, interacting somehow, exchanging messages with people I guess, letting them get involved somehow.  It’s confusing.  I’m a fan of a lot of music and bands and solo artists, but I don’t have some yearning to connect with them in any way or become pen pals.

I had a KISS poster on my wall when I was about 10 years old, but that was 1977.  Otherwise, I’ve not ever been a merch purchaser, never wanted backstage passes, never been to any band convention, let alone join any mailing list or fan club.  I subscribed to someone’s YouTube channel once, then got bombarded with stuff, and then quickly unsubscribed.  Did I mention my channel is  Ha ha.  Wink wink.  So, I understand how the notifications you get from subscribing to anything can be annoying.

I followed the Grateful Dead around for a few shows one summer while in college – 1986 I think – the memories are a bit foggy.  To this day, I still love and listen to their studio albums  Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty, Reckoning, and Almost Acoustic by the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band is one of my top 3 favorite albums of all time.  Yes, I’ve checked out some of the billions of live recordings that are out there, totally understand the appeal, but still like the studio albums more.  The scene was fascinating, but not for me.  I’m not a joiner by nature.

So, you can tell I’m not fanatical about any musical act enough to go beyond enjoying their albums and attending a concert once in a great while.  I’ve bought a concert t-shirt or two over the years, maybe a baseball hat, but I have a huge body and head, and their largest sizes never fit me.  Nothing wrong with showing your favorites with pride, but I’m just not into it myself.  I like a wide variety of different kinds of music.  The point is I’ll never be a super fan of anyone, but I understand it.  I’m not an engager, but I guess if you want to be with me, you can.

I put together some potential “street team” resources on my website once a long time ago, because I read advice that it was something an “aspiring” artist should do.  You can check it out if you want to here:  I’m not going to do much to turn any of you into super fans, and you’re probably like me:  you just like the music part, and not all the other hoopla.  

You don’t hop on a bandwagon and become a cheerleader for your favorite band or solo artist.  Realistically, you might tell some people you know that you’ve found and enjoyed some of my music, tell them it’s on all the streaming platforms, and that’s about it.

It's not a situation where I play in your favorite local bar and you come to watch me play a lot, and you want to help me get famous because you’re 21 years old and having fun and drinking and are excited and passionate about it all.  My fans are older and less enthusiastic, I suspect.  People in general are less likely to volunteer now than back in the late 80s when I was that age.  

Gone are the days of needing to be discovered and signed by a record label to make your music available to people, but “breaking” yourself with zero budget is tough.  You’d like to think the cream rises to the top naturally, but major labels have no doubt always manufactured successful artists through their machinery that might not have risen on their own.

Why should you listen to my music?  I don’t know.  Wish I could entice you somehow.  I’ve tried, but it feels wrong.  I don’t even know how to describe what I do, but “acoustic guitar” needs to be in the description, “quality songwriting” should be in there, with “amateur-quality performance and production” thrown in.  I’m being boastful about the songwriting, and honest about everything else, I guess.  You have to like that kind of thing.  

You either like some of it, or you don’t.  Chances are you won’t like all of it, if any.  I’m in the latter stages of a music journey that has advanced slowly, but I think it’s possible my best is yet to come!  According to my own definition, I consider what I’ve done so far to be successful.  People who have interacted with me socially might think otherwise, but I’m not an outgoing person, and I have some humility.  In lieu of marketing, I blog about how great I am a few times per year.  Not the best strategy, I know, but it’s all I can do besides writing songs, recording songs, and making a few music videos.

Constantly trying to figure out what to do to make it catch on with more people, and then constantly doing whatever those things are, is not something that appeals to me.  I have a mild curiosity, but I’m not a pitch man, and I’m not out to constantly make contact with my existing fans to ask them to help me spread the word about my music.

One could argue if anyone were going to be that passionate about my music, they would’ve shown it by now.  If I were ever going to get popular, it would’ve happened already.  He has not risen, indeed.  Not the cream near the top, highly unlikely to ever rise much more.

I’m embarrassed about marketing myself as a singer-songwriter.  It’s uncomfortable putting on a salesman hat and telling people how great I am and finding publicity and attention to “get my name out there” more.  I don’t try to cultivate an audience.  I just make music, make it available, and hope people find it and like it.

I’m glad when people do find it and like it, but even making people aware it exists is a challenge for me.  I have to muster up the courage to announce an album release.  I know I could and probably should be doing a lot more to get more fans, but I only like the creative part.  As an indie artist, it’s all I have time for.  You can’t be great at everything.

I don’t like asking people to help promote my music.  Asking them to tell their friends about it, etc.  I assume that will just happen naturally.  I don’t like bugging people, and fortunately, I’m not desperate for greater popularity, although I wouldn’t mind it.  Aside from making the music, the only other way I like to offer information is via this blog.  Feel free to comment, by the way, but know I probably won’t reply.

I might have a few superfans out there, but none that I know of, and I like it that way.  Not that I wouldn’t interact with them if they reached out, but it might be weird.  People with excessive or obsessive interest in a particular music artist scare me a little.


Audience engagement seems to be something that music industry experts advise artists to focus on, and they don’t get into specifics, so I struggle to understand it.  Both what it is exactly, and why it's so important.  I'm talking about music makers when I use the word artist here.  I think "engagement" means the artist should communicate with fans in some way, and do it regularly.  Presumably social media is involved, which I don't really get into.

A part of that might be a meet-and-greet situation before/after shows, but I don't play shows.  I'm available for shows, and might be willing to do a more intimate house concert that would offer in-person hand shaking and more banter between songs, but thus far have received no such requests.  I haven't actively pursued live performance opportunities at all, like ever, but I have done a few before, and could and can do more.  However, I prefer being a recording artist only.

You can reach out to me directly via multiple options on my Contact page here any time:  I even have a group forum email list thing you can participate in if you want to here, although no one hardly ever does:  I have a facebook page here that I sign in to and check a couple times a year:, which seems to be best for my audience demographic.  I have profiles on a lot of the other social media sites too, but don’t use them very often.  

I make available a bunch of ways fans can connect and interact with me and get involved and even participate, but no one hardly ever does any of the above.  I wouldn't mind attracting more interest in my music, and I'm willing to communicate, offer the options, but no takers.  I think my fans are like me, they just like the music and don't necessarily want to get to know me better somehow.

Hardly anyone has ever signed up for my mailing list, for example.  Another thing "they" tell you that you should have.  I've had one for years, and even had newsletters ready to send, but people can just read my blog and my website and get the same information I would've sent them.  My fans know that, probably.  They're not the types who would want my autograph or anything, but maybe they'd like to hang out and have a drink sometime, and I could arrange that I suppose.

As a music fan myself, even though I'm of a certain age, I discover several new artists per year.  Sometimes they get recommended to me by friends, sometimes suggested by the streaming service, but mostly from me doing my own web surfing research.  Likely, my fans are not the superfan types who would want to pay extra for some sort of VIP treatment from me, although, hey, I hereby announce it's available.

One thing I could offer if any of you are of the VIP mindset about my music is that I have tons of original songs I've recorded and not released.  They're previously weeded out and unreleased for good reasons, but if you want to pay to hear them, I'll send those over right away.  I admit I've bought a few t-shirts at concerts before, but I'm not ever thinking I'd like to hang out with the band afterward.

I guess I could put the Cherchez La Femme album cover art on a t-shirt and see if anyone would buy one.  I drew it with pen on paper with my wife.  It's my only album art that is actual art I created as opposed to a photograph, and I don't think it's very good art, but I could throw that on a shirt for you if you want one.  Or, you can go ahead and just do it yourself, have it made, wear it with pride, you have my permission.

For artists I really get into, I check out their websites, which are usually underwhelming, and then I check out their wikipedia pages.  That's all I ever do, just find out a little bit more about them if I'm really curious.  That's it.  If I really like an artist a lot, I might buy a ticket to see them go play live once in a great while.  

I never subscribe or comment or follow or like or share or post or join fan clubs or mailing lists for new artists I like.  Or existing artists I already like.  None of that.  Or artists who don't exist anymore that I like.  I'm not the type of person to visit a dead musician's grave.  I tell friends verbally when I see them about new artists I've discovered and liked, but otherwise, I don't ever want to talk about artists online or buy their merch or get exclusive stuff or pre-order anything.  

I'm not that kind of a music fan.  Like all of us, I have my favorites.  I love the Beatles and Led Zeppelin for example, but just their music.  Mostly just their studio albums.  I don't really care much about what kind of people they were/are.  I like the Grateful Dead too, but again, not into the whole tape trading thing.  Not ever going to collect memorabilia or go to fan conventions or anything.

So, yeah, I like Neil Young's music too, and I've liked it since I bought Live Rust when it came out in the late 70s, but I don't want to send him a text or an email or whatever.  I bought several of his albums, tapes, and CDs over the years, seen him in concert several times, but beyond that, I'm not out to interact with him in any way.  I just like streaming his music.

I guess I just like the recorded music, and don't need to engage with artists I like in any way.  I've met a few celebrities in my life, and each time it was a combination of being a little bit excited and then a realization that they're just people too and not a whole lot different than anyone else.  If I got introduced to Neil, although he seems like a cool guy to hang out with and all, I'm sure it would be the same.  

I watch videos on YouTube all the time - some music videos, some live performance videos, but mostly to learn things, and one of my biggest pet peeves is that a lot of them spend the first 5 minutes going on and on about asking you to subscribe and like and follow and share and all that.  You want them to just get to the point.  For a similar reason, most of the time I turn on my TV I'm watching Netflix because there are no commercials.  So much better that way.

I don't like being begged to buy stuff, or to "engage" in any way.  I'm not sure if that makes me a passive type of music fan or not, because I'm a huge fan of certain artists, some of them from recent times, and not just the ones I liked in high school.  I'm passionate about listening to their music, maybe reading a bit more about them online, and then I'm good.  

I don't need automatic notifications when they have something new.  I find out about it eventually anyway when I get around to it.  Sometimes a favorite artist came to do a concert nearby where I live and I find out about it after the fact, and I just think oh well, missed out on that one, no big deal.

I can only imagine how it must be for the artists signed to record labels.  They would constantly have people bugging them to engage, engage, engage with the fans.  All the time.  Never stop.  Sending them messages constantly, checking inboxes constantly.  I don't get it.  

Does it make people feel more special somehow if they make contact with a musician they like?  I guess I can understand it a little.  I imagine they become bigger fans as a result, and they tell their friends, and there's some potential exponential growth in the fanbase.  It's not the kind of music fan I am.

Your music listening preferences are often a personal, private thing.  Whether when home alone, with headphones/earbuds on at work, alone in your car, etc., you probably spend more time enjoying music that way than you do with other people.  You might enjoy certain bands or solo artists that you don’t necessarily want anyone else to know about.  When people ask me what kind of music I like, the less I know them, the more I tend to go with a safe answer.  We all have our guilty pleasures that we’re maybe hesitant to admit we like, knowing it can give people a certain impression.

I appreciate all kinds of music, like a lot of you do.  Everyone has surprises in their record collections (or playlists now).  People know that when my high school friends were getting into Journey and Van Halen, I was leaning toward REM and Tom Petty.  What they didn’t know was that I also liked John Denver.  

Now I’ll readily admit I’ve always loved the Carpenters, but it wasn’t cool back in the day.  I still listen to them fairly regularly, but never around other people.  I assume my Deadhead friends or Headbanger cousins are not going to get into it, if you know what I mean.  So, yep, we have our secrets.  I love more of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin catalogs than other bands, but have obscure favorite songs by lots of artists, whether they were famous or not.

I’ve never loved music by one artist so much that it becomes a big part of my lifestyle.  I’ve never wanted to get involved in any kind of scene.  I guess I understand why people become superfans a little, but assume most people are like me and are fairly private about it.  As a solo artist myself, I know recommendation is how I have fans, particularly since I don’t perform live shows.  

Replying to anyone who comments on my music or reaches out to me in some way sort of freaks me out a little, but I’ve done it.  I’m not really out to converse with strangers, it just feels uncomfortable.  I am sincerely thankful there is interest though, of course.  The more popular someone is, the less feasible it is, and the more ridiculous it would be.  You can’t send a thank you note to everyone who likes your song or your post or whatever.

If you are one of those people who like my songs and want to let me know about it, you can.  Some of you have before, some of you will again.  Know that I appreciate it, even though I haven’t sent you a personal reply.  

We all have limited free time.  As a DIY solo artist, mine is best spent writing and recording more songs for you to enjoy, which I’m sure you understand.  I’m not a natural engager.  I am a loner, an introvert, someone who really has to psych myself up for going to social functions.  I used to be a frequent “partier” and my inhibitions were eased by alcohol, but I don’t drink anymore, so those situations are no longer my cup of tea.  When forced, I drink tea.  Non-Long-Island.

I always appreciate the listener support.  I’m not much of a public thanker or acknowledger either, and am not into social media much at all, so I hope you understand why, but I hereby thank you all and promise to keep at it so there’s more music for you to listen to in the future.

This blog is how I engage, I guess.  They said I should have one, and turns out, I like blogging about myself and my hobby several times per year.  It’s how I keep readers updated on what I’ve been up to and what I think about being a solo artist.  I’d like more of a following, but guess I’m not willing to do a whole lot to get it.  I’m somewhat of a slacker.  It’s the ski bum mentality I haven’t been able to shake since my wild and crazy youth.  

In a good way, that’s probably reflected in my music and my alter ego as a singer-songwriter.  I work hard at the day job to pay the bills, but in my hard-earned free time, I just want to do what I enjoy, like we all do.  I wouldn’t even call this a side hustle really.  It’s good I haven’t pursued music as a way to earn a living.  I’m doing it with no pressure…but limited time (or desire) to self-promote or advertise or do any more of the dreaded “engaging” they say I should do.

Other Stuff They Say You Should Have

As many of you already know, I am just one of millions of other people in the world who like to write and record and release songs.  Most of us are men, I’ve recently learned.  The music world needs more women!  A lot of currently-popular mainstream artists did in fact go the DIY route to start, but then got “discovered” and subsequently “broken” by the big-budget marketing machines of record labels that picked them up after they gained some traction on their own.  This is what I’m trying to do.  Gain traction on my own.

The past 20 years happen to have been a really great time for someone with this hobby (man or woman) because it's relatively inexpensive to get started, record at home and then distribute to streaming services.  Especially great luck for someone like me who would never have had a chance to have my music alongside the superstars before this all became possible.  I do not have their level of talent or skill, but I’ve been allowed to have my creations alongside theirs.

You put your music out there next to Elvis, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Madonna, etc. and obviously don't expect much, but you wish it would at least get a little more popular over time.  You wonder what else you could do to help things along, and predict it will be overwhelming hard work that doesn't sound like much fun. 

So, despite your fears, you Google advice on what else you need.  I’ve made small attempts to “have” some version of most of the other things they say might help the fanbase grow, but I can only handle so much.  The "experts" say you should have things like these: 


Big ones.  Hi-res.  People want to see what you look like.  I don't like how I look.  Embarassed about my appearance, I've let myself go.  If I can admit that in a blog, why not show the proof and own it?  Can't bring myself to go there.  Like the non-famous actors in movies who won't ever be stars, they are necessary.  I'd like to think of myself that way a little bit, only as a music person.  We all want to represent ourselves in the most favorable light, but photoshopping and touch-ups are not going to help me much.  I want people to enjoy the music and that's it.  Unfortunately, I know the experts say you have to have an Instagram account and post pictures of yourself constantly.  Not for me.


I’ve done a whole blog post about my dislike of the word ‘merchandise’ being abbreviated like this, but other than that, I understand the appeal.  You want to show off to passersby who your favorite musical act is, whether via a bumper sticker, shirt, hat, button, patch, whatever.  All those can be cool.  You have to be famous though.  You need some measure of celebrity I would think before you have those t-shirts or coffee mugs with your name on them made up.  

I know that if you have the up-front money for it, which I don’t, you can upload pictures of yourself to these online services and design the items on there, then you can sign up for Shopify or some similar place to sell stuff, even use it as a page on your own website.  I could pull it off if I had the photos of myself I liked to begin with, the money to begin with, and the belief I would sell any in the first place.  I currently have none of these.

Playlist Adds

As far as I knew a few years ago, my music hadn't been added to any people's playlists at all, except my own.  Now, I guess I’m included in some, according to the streaming service dashboard stats some make available.  There are whole branches of music marketing focused on how to get these, but you have to either pay for them, or reach out and pitch yourself.  I won’t be doing either.  Let the people add who they want, if it’s me, great.


One somewhat related cool thing I recently discovered is that people have used my songs in their TikTok videos.  Like 20 people or something, so I doubt that will be financially lucrative in any way, but maybe the exposure will help?  Somehow somewhere I opted in to some license thing to make my songs available to add to their short videos.  I have a TikTok account, and got a notification that I qualified for long-form music videos, but the software doesn't work - I tried unsuccessfully to upload my music videos there and the videos are there, yet the sound won't play.  I then made a video demonstrating my frustrating experience and uploaded that, which didn’t accomplish anything.

Press Coverage

I haven't had any press coverage whatsoever.  I not only don't pay for these, but I don't do anything at all to seek them out.  I guess I could look up how to type some perfectly worded email to music review bloggers to let them know about my new album releases, but it's like ordering soup from the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld - if you do one little thing wrong, they're easily offended and weed you out so I've heard.  They'd probably weed me out anyway.  I'm sure they get gazillions every day.  

Yeah, and the other thing is - I'm a non-performing solo artist - no shows, gigs, tours, etc. ever except the occasional family/friends get-together, so I'm intentionally out of the public eye in that regard.  Songwriter/recording artist only.  This fact wouldn't help bloggers decide to write about my music I suspect.  The other thing is, honestly, I'm sensitive, and don't really want to know what people think of my music unless it's all 100% positive compliments of course.  I'm not into criticism.  I can dish it out, but can't take it.

Website & Blog

I update stuff on my website a couple times a year, and I average about 1 blog post every two months.  I can see that I have visitors to my website every year, from many places (mostly Michigan), and I see that way more people read my blog posts than I ever imagined, like sometimes over 100 readers for a single post.  I have no idea who they are, but it's cool.

Mailing List

As aforementioned, literally no one ever signs up for my Email List at all.  If people would sign up for it, I would send them awesome emails with updates about my songwriting and recording a couple times a year, and it would be similar to what I post on my blog anyway.  Here that is again:  

The Dreaded Social Media

It can be exciting.  I get it.  I posted a “short” video my friend took of me skiing moguls once to the YouTube Shorts area of my channel (which I think is here: ), and it immediately got thousands of views – way more than any of my full song music videos.  I know that’s the rush of TikTok too.  The virality potential is there and enticing.

I'm on Facebook, but my actual family and friends are on there, and I've friended them, and I'm embarrassed to ever post anything promotional about myself.  Plus, my mom will scrutinize anything I post, whether its about my music or not, so I avoid it by not ever using Facebook.  I log in every couple years and thank people for wishing me a happy birthday and that's about it.  

Sometimes people tell me someone else posted some old childhood photo of me or something on my feed or whatever and tell me I should log in and check it out, so I do, but that's only a couple times a year.  I'd say for the last 10 years or so, I sign in about 3 times/year on average and rarely post anything myself.  I used Twitter for a while, sharing my blog posts on there, but that Elon Musk guy really made it way worse in many ways, so I rarely use it anymore.  

I don’t have money to pay someone to manage my socials, but I’m aware there are such services.  Must be nice for the famous artists to not have to deal with any of that.  For now, I’m on my own to announce stuff on Facebook or Twitter, tell you about my new album or whatever.

Feel free to follow me on either of those, or any others I might have a profile on that I've forgotten about.  It can only improve your reputation, I assure you.  I've checked out most of the socials, and don't really like any of them, especially the ones that are all about photos or dance videos.  I don’t like how I look, and I can’t dance, so Instagram and TikTok are out.  I guess my Blogger is social media, and so is my YouTube channel, and I do like those.

Music Videos

Speaking of YouTube, over the last few years I decided to create and upload music videos that feature my studio recordings of my songs mixed with lyrics, photos, and free video footage.  I don't like the way I look, so there's no lip-synching.  I'm not a dancer either.  They've had a few hundred plays or streams, so maybe that has helped awareness a little.  I try to get people to subscribe, but I only have about 30 at last count.  

What's a little disturbing is that it seems like every time I post new music videos on there, someone un-subscribes and the count goes down, which is also hilarious.  I've subscribed to both mailing lists and youtube channels before, and know the overwhelming feeling when people bombard you, so understand wanting to bail out.  But I assure you, I only post about 3 new videos per year on average.  Here's that subscription link again, just in case:  

A Backstory

If you read my last post before this one, you know I’ve tried, exhaustingly.  I like a lot of artists’ music, but I don’t want to know a lot of personal details about their lives.  I just like listening to their songs, and that’s good enough for me, but a lot of people need the background info to really get into an artist.  They say you should offer up some intimate details about your life, and that will make people become more of a fan.

My story isn't that interesting.  For example, I don't have a beard, I don't write an album in some remote cabin up north while snowed in for a whole winter, I don't write a song of anger about rich men in some county in my state, etc.  I am fed up with things in the world, but don't like to get political or controversial in my songs (or in my blog) with the hope of going viral.  

There are a lot of ways you could spin my story, but none would appeal to a pro marketer.  I'm a late bloomer, I'm a slacker, I have a ski bum mentality, I grew up a lawyer's son and country club kid, yet haven't come anywhere close to the standard of living my parents afforded me as an adult on my own.  I've hung around lots of trust fund kids in my life, but I'm not one of them myself.  

If you really want to know more about me, I’ve provided a ton of information on my website and in these blog posts.  Everyone’s favorite topic being themselves, of course.  I don’t mind revealing details, even things most people do not know about me.

For example, my parents' generation had a now-archaic way of describing someone like me who lacks ambition as a "ne'er-do-well" and relatively, I probably am one in a conventional sense.  I didn't get sober until age 50 with the help of a 12-step program.  I'm obese, I'm old, I'm poor.  My teeth are way more yellow in recent years, and my hair is almost all grey.  I'm average in many ways.  I haven't saved for retirement and I have trouble holding down a job for very long because I get frustrated and quit a lot.  I've never found a job I liked, have never known what I wanted to be when I grow up, but now I'm on the brink of senior citizen age.  There, I admitted stuff most people don’t know about me.

What else?  I like skiing and tennis and sailing, but can't afford to do any of them very often.  I don’t play live, don’t use real recording studios, don’t get pros to help me, and am opposed to getting my picture taken.  A marketer's dream, I know.  There's a lot to everyone's backstory, but how to spin that in a way that makes people want to stream your music?  No clue.  I know how to ride a unicycle though, and here's proof:

The self-taught thing started early for me.  Get the unicycle first, then teach yourself how to ride it.  Get the instrument first, then teach yourself how to play it, get the recording equipment, figure it out on your own.  Nerd glasses, cowboy hat, cutoff jorts, high-calf gym socks w/ stripes, riding around your neighborhood, smiling, waving at you.  What would you think of this kid riding down your street?

Mainstream Commercial Appeal or Being Radio-Friendly

Nope, none of those.  Never had them, never will.  I intentionally leave in minor mistakes in my released songs, I have no idea what I'm doing with the arranging/producing/recording/mixing/mastering, let alone the instrument playing or singing.  I'm completely self-taught in all of it, with no formal training in any of it, and you can tell.  I don't use auto-tune or quantization or other digital perfection trickery.  I don't even use reverb very often.  

I have a somewhat clean analog sound using real acoustic instruments played into microphones, and no one tells me what to do, and I like it that way.  I don't follow trends, I don't copy popular artists, I don't even listen to the radio except NPR once in a while.  It's far from major-label, far from perfect, far from what's popular today, and that's all good.

Synch Placements

That's why you'll never hear any of my songs in a movie or tv show.  Maybe if some other artist does a cover, but not mine.  They want pristine quality for those synch licenses, and my music is nowhere close.  I do, however, have a page for that: on which you can access a handy form to request a license to place my songs.  Just in case, you never know.  Someone might want intentionally imperfect sloppy lo-fi amateurish music for their project.

I'll be a home recording guy for life I suspect, so the sound quality, the production quality isn’t what you hear in the background of shows and movies.  I do everything myself, and have never paid for studio time or hired anyone or collaborated with anyone.  Unless someone out there just gives me money that's my paypal for your donation by the way (thanks in advance):

Streaming Stats

I'm not an artist with any “trajectory,” but my streaming stats keep going up a little bit every time I check them over the last few years.  I'm talking in the hundreds of streams, not thousands or millions, across platforms.  That's my reality:  there are some streaming stats, not many, but I'm not going to buy them -to look more popular-in order to get even more popular.  

I want it to be real, not purchased popularity.  Supposedly there are a few people who get enough streams and follows and likes and subscribes, etc. to grab the attention of record company people who then sign them.  You’ve heard of the now-famous Soundcloud rappers who started that way, and like The Accidentals or Prince, some that go the opposite way and ditch the labels and go DIY independent again.

A Fanbase

I'm not building my fanbase in any way that I'm aware of, and I'm not doing anything toward such a goal.  It is a goal, but I just hang out hoping for word-of-mouth recommendation, I guess.  I don't play live, don't advertise, don't market, don't publicize, don't promote my music in any way.  I should, but I don't like doing any of that kind of stuff.  Doesn't sound fun at all, so I just don't do it.  If people want to find out about me, I have a website and a blog, and that's about it.

Being “Emerging” or On The Verge

What does it mean?  Related to what?  I'm not on the verge of anything.  I'm a late bloomer in many ways in my life, getting my first "conventional" day job in my early 30s, getting married and buying my first house in my late 30s, starting my music "career" by not releasing albums publicly until my late 30s (mainly because it wasn't possible yet), not seeing an uptick in my streaming stats until my late 50s when most artist's careers are long over or winding down. 

I notice I'm improving in little ways as an artist over a long period of time all on my own without anyone's help except reading advice online and my own trial and error.  We're talking fractions of pennies per year coming in now, which at this rate won't come anywhere close to offsetting the cost of the equipment or Martin guitar I love but probably don't deserve, so no industry pro would confuse "uptick" at my levels with "emerging".

Is There Room For Me?  Why Not Giving Up Has Served Me Well

There's not room.  Whatever the numbers are is staggering - something like 200 million new songs per week on Spotify - that may be an exaggeration.  I'm not in a great position to compete for listener attention.  The major labels are certainly trying to figure out how to reinstate gatekeepers in the music business to push average joes like me back out as we speak.  

I'm living proof that not giving up is an awesome thing though - not for the public necessarily - but for me.  I've gotten so much enjoyment and satisfaction out of writing and recording songs for a few decades now.  I've got a few I'm quite proud of, and a large catalog of original music.  It was worth buying a bass and drums I didn't need or know how to play, the audio interface(s) - I'm on my 3rd one now, the DAW software, etc.  

The nominal CDBaby distribution costs have been worth it just to know that my music CAN be discovered on Apple Music, Spotify,etc. and listened to and potentially enjoyed by other people in the world.  It's awesome to know that some people have, but at the same time it can be very discouraging, and let's face it:  I have no business in the music business, but things changed and I'm sort of in it now, and there are people out there who do like to actually stream my music.  

My Take on Converting From Outsider to Insider

There’s this guy named Ari Herstand out there who now gives advice about how to navigate this "new" music business I've been talking about if you’re not someone likely to be discovered and broken by a label.  I’ve read and even followed some of it, and I think he’s a good communicator and offers good content.  I suspect he started like me as an early user of the “get-your-songs-in-iTunes” aggregator music distribution services.  

My first impression of him was, who is this guy complaining about his frustrations with becoming successful in the music business as an artist by ripping into these services that “let him in”?  Their relaxed gatekeeping made it possible for me and millions of others to participate in the real music marketplace.  I’m not saying he’s necessarily one of them who would not have been discovered and signed to a major label in a traditional way, but we are all lucky the Average Joes of the world have been permitted to make our music available in the places where everyone gets their music.  

Now the labels are establishing ways to keep us out again.  If you’re fairly young like him, you maybe realize you’re not that awesome to begin with and pivot to carve out a music-adjacent career for yourself as he has.  I’m too old for that now, but he’s done it.  He’s one of the “theys” now, an insider expert giving advice and attracting advertisers.  I'm sure he's a great and deserving artist too, and I admit I haven't heard his music, but he's made a nice career in the music business for himself and helped many others, including me.

Wrapping Things Up

I've said to myself and others way too many times that I know I suck at pretty much every aspect of being a solo artist, but some sort of inner passion made me not want to give up yet.  I’m completely self-taught in every aspect, and I keep learning and make little improvements here and there I can notice.  Arguably and slowly, I’m sucking less.  Hopefully, but we all know our favorite artists had some dud albums, and maybe their careers faded on bad notes.

Overall, it’s been extremely rewarding to have a creative outlet in my life.  It was fun to write my first songs in the early 90s, get my first 4-track cassette recorder, use my first DAW, burn my first CDs of my own recordings, distribute my first album to iTunes, create my first website, post my first blog, upload my first music video to YouTube, etc..  

When I first started teaching myself to play guitar in the late 80s, pre-world-wide-web, none of this was even fathomable.  Super exciting that all this became possible for someone with my hobby when it did.  My engagement with you is this blog, my website, an album announcement every couple years on social media, and a few videos on Youtube.  

If I don’t die between now and then, you can expect at least a couple more albums out of me.  The recording myself part has also become a part of the hobby in addition to the songwriting.  All the other stuff – what little of it I do – is done somewhat begrudgingly.  The stuff record companies with budgets do to break their artists and turn a profit…young artists with real talent, formal training, great voices, good looks, etc. – in other words, not artists like me.

The bottom line is it's been a fun thing to do.  I’d like to say I’ve done all I can (without spending any money), but I’ve done all I wanted to toward gaining an audience.  All I was comfortable with anyway.  I can, and might, do more in the future with self-promotion.  I doubt I’ll ever sink any money into it though.  They way I’ve gone about it, it’s been slow to catch on with the masses, and I’m a “niche” artist at best so far.  

Like I’ve said before, for a person who likes writing songs as a hobby, the world changed to allow someone like me to also become somewhat of a real recording artist too.  I had my hobby at the right time to do such a thing.  If I’d been born in 1957 instead of 1967, it may not have happened.  As I’ve mention previously, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to making music.  Whether I ever made any money at it or not, I was going to do it anyway, so I might as well keep putting it out there while I can.