Today in Nashville it's raining all day, and I'm thinking about George Jones. I wasn't a big fan of his music, but I sure respected the quality, and authenticity of George, Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and Buck Owens. I don't remember hearing George on the radio growing up other than "The Race Is On", since I really didn't listen to traditional country stations, and only heard what crossed over and back then it wasn't much, mostly the novelty songs. Now I feel I missed out not having a lot of that music in my formative years, though now I try to incorporate as much of that rawness and honesty in my songs as I can. Once, long ago, I was in a bar in Portland, Oregon, where I lived for a time after college, and heard a country band do a version of "It's All Over Now"...you know, Rolling Stones...that just knocked me out and showed me what rock, blues and country had in common. By the way I just finished "Mick Jagger", the biography written by Phillip Norman, which filled in some gaps about the history of the band...I skipped a lot of the book, which goes into TMI about MJ's personal life. Anyway, I still remember hearing this band hit the chorus of that song in three part harmony, better than the Stones ever played it, I'll say, and it just soared. I never cease to be amazed at those moments when the band comes together and becomes more than the sum of the parts, so hard to do, even when you try, and yet so very simple, too.
Making a living as a musician and making a living as an artist are two related, but different, things. I have a lot of respect for the musicians out there who have mastered their instrument, can adapt to any situation from a nightclub to a wedding, and make their living playing music. I did that for a while myself during a period when I'd leap at any opportunity to strap on my guitar and stand on a stage. At one point I was in several bands; a bar band, comping jazz chords with a piano player, doing some funky disco with a horn band, and even a stint with latin rock group who mostly played in the Central Valley of California at bars where everyone spoke Spanish but me. I loved it: I was a working musician. After a couple of years I joined a band that didn't work quite as much, but had a mix of originals and covers, and also had their sights set higher. I decided to concentrate on that, and also got a day job. Unknowingly, I had made the shift from musician to artist. It wasn't until many years later that I had this realization of what had happened. Making money playing was no longer my foremost priority, though still a goal. I shifted to developing a personal style that I continue to develop and refine to this day. So a Musican (working) can be an Artist, and and Artist can be a musician, and my hat's off to those who manage to do both.
It's basic economics. A market consists of products and services and the consumers that need or want them. There's a lot of talk about the "free market", that would ideally provide everything at the best price, but in reality there's no such thing. Once a group gains enough control of the resources they begin to exert influences that skew the equation, resulting in monopolies, price fixing, and all the other evils we confront in our present society. So it is with music as well. Technology has enabled the supply of recorded music to exceed the demand. Or has it? Could it be that the corporations, with their enormous resources have cornered the market for recorded music? The internet, sites like this one, should conceivably expand the market to include everyone who has a quality product, but we know that isn't happening. Yes, there's a lot more choice, and a lot of free distribution -by the way I stopped the free downloads here as I realized that it doesn't lead to purchasing, and I have some thoughts on that I'll share in a later entry - but it seems that this abundance of product has not led to more success for more people. By and large the major labels still control the majority of releases that lead to sales.
I've loved music all my life, and it's a love I know I share with millions of others. In a way, music has much in common with religion and politics, with many different sects each having followers of a certain style or genre that helps to define who they are. Like religion and politics, music can inspire, inform and provide a moral framework to guide people through their lives, and historically music has played an important role in every major social change. One difference though, is that music lovers are very tolerant of each other, and have an understanding that just because someone likes a different kind of music than they do it doesn't make them a bad person, and I don't think the same can be said for religion and politics. I'm not a huge fan of pop music, but I do listen to it sometimes and recently I found something I incorporated into a track of mine. Religion and Politics should be more like Music.
If you ask me the CD is pretty much obsolete. Like vinyl and cassettes it's been replaced by online delivery and so the physical object we've long associated with our music consumption is no more. The ramifications of this are profound. First of all it changes how we store and transport our entertainment as it now resides in virtual space, or in an iPod where the idea of "albums" gets a little fragmented as "playlists" take over how we sequence what we hear. It used to be radio who put together songs for us, now we can do it for ourselves. It's changed also how the songs are "consumed". I had a record collection with about 50 albums or 500 tracks, pretty typical, while now an iPod will often have a couple of thousand tracks, or looked at another way...around a week of 24/7 listening. None of this is news, and I initially resisted having CDs made of "Limited Edition"-it just felt old fashioned. But as I thought about it more I came up with the idea, that "Limited Edition" can be seen in another way; in the traditional sense of a short run of a creative piece, that by it's scarcity creates value as well. It's been used in the fine art world and also in luxury objects. The idea of "one of a kind" still holds a particular mystique, so I started working up ideas about how a CD could fit that model for me. So here's what I came up with:
I'm only going to make 200 copies of "Limited Edition", with unique packaging and contents and auction them one at a time on ebay. Each copy will be personalized for the buyer. Copies can be purchased online from the regular outlets and downloaded, but if someone wants the physical copy the starting bid is $100.
I was sent this movie and was very impressed with how the author presented some disturbing facts about income inequality in the US. Here's the link:
There are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from this information and foremost to me is that this situation is the result of politics. This comes to me at a time when politics has been on my mind a lot, and playing a greater role in my song writing. My attitude toward politics was shaped a long time ago, not so much as being on one side or another, but in my understanding that politics is a fundamental part of civilization. It's directly connected to every thing we do as a society, from macroeconomics to our personal relationships. When I was younger I mostly tried to ignore it; politics was something that was mostly just complained about as I was growing up, something "out there" and out of our control. But over time I came to see that we ignore politics to our peril, because there are interests that are working overtime to shape policys that may not be to our benefit. It's a very complicated subject, so I won't go into a lot of explanations here (don't get me started!). In my current EP "Limited Edition" the song "Long Way To Heaven", has a political theme, with moral and spiritual overtones, and I've gotten some great comments about it. Music doesn't have to be political to be good, but I do believe that art is essentially political in the sense that it illuminates the world we live in and helps us to make sense of it.
If you've read some of my other blogs you'll know I've been exploring some ideas about how music has exploded and what it's place is in the culture. Technology has a lot to do with the explosion of people making music and I've come to see it in the context of the industrial revolution. Back before there were factories making everything, if you needed a pair of shoes or a loaf of bread, you went to the village baker or shoemaker and purchased directly from them. Now that we have the internet and home recording it's kind of the same thing. Itunes is the best example of this trend, and has pretty much monopolized the music purchasing on the internet. It would be nice if sites like Reverbnation could capture some of that market, but so far they don't seem all that focused on being a commerce site, other than collecting various "rents" from members for various promotion services. I've just finished an EP. called "Limited Edition" and it's posted on this site, but I don't expect much traffic, because there's a barrier for consumers to purchase downloads here in that every interaction is a separate transaction rather than the iTunes model where one has an account and can easily make multiple purchases. I'll get my work on iTunes eventually, and I'm pretty sure that will be where I will get most of my sales. Anyway, I see all the indie artists much in the same way as the village craftsmen, with the one exception that this village has the equivalent of a million shoemakers!
Now that "Limited Edition" is completed and on it's way to Americana radio, I've found that I'm inspired to write some new material. This is after a pretty long dry spell that was broken by the song "When", which is a track I've demoed and have been playing in my shows and getting a great response. The new material will be put out a track at a time starting in a month or so and it is looking like these will be tracks I will promote as singles. Even so the economics of doing releases still favor doing "albums" so they will join the current release probably in the Fall. I'm thinking it might be fun to have a contest to come up with a title.
My EP "Limited Edition" will be released on Jan 1. These six tracks come from recordings done over the last few years that I've re-mastered and reworked some. They all have one thing in common in that all these songs came about somewhat unconsciously and spontaneously while practicing. Sometimes you will hear a songwriter say a song "wrote itself" as if he or she had nothing to do with it. I don't buy that. What I think is that the creative process is always working behind the scenes trying to make connections with the all the information we get from all our experiences and every once in a while something clicks in there and an idea hooks up with a sound and you become aware of it and go from there. It is a mysterious and magical thing to be sure, but very much a part of being a creative person, and a gift I always am surprised and delighted to receive. You'll notice that these songs are not love songs, with the exception of "See You Tonite", because the theme of the collection is personal, and I hope universal in expressing the inner life we all have; our pain, our joy, our secrets and our fears. We are all limited editions - unique and priceless in this vast and unknowable universe.
As a producer I have worked with a number of acts over the years, mostly back when I worked full time as a recording engineer. It's only natural for me as I build my profile here on RN that I would look to my fellow 'verbers for an opportunity to work together on a project. Specifically, I'm looking for an artist that doesn't have the budget or resources to record a full band track of their music or someone who would like to entrust their music to someone who'd bring another vision to their tracks. With so much music being created it's even more imperative that artists focus on producing tracks that compete technically and also in terms of engaging production value. The first part has become a lot easier with the equipment available today, but it's also made a very crowded environment where one only has a few seconds to impress a listener. In this environment the single has come back as the way someone can get attention, and ultimately sales from downloads. This is what I'd like to do going forward and I'm excited about the possibilities...here's some more info; http://rmillward.com/studio.html