Monthly Archives: October 2007

Spirit rappings

Spirit Rappings (title page)

August 20, 1852, Wednesday

Page 2 of the New York Times, 695 words

Mr. ORVILLE HATCH, of Franklin, Conn., has become insane, he having devoted considerable attention to the subject of Spirit Rappings. Mr. HATCH is a farmer, and has been instrumental in introducing many important improvements in agriculture into the town in which he resides.

Madame Pamita, whose performances involve both spiritualism and really old American music, sent me a pointer to sheet music for an 1854 tune called “Spirit Rappings”, presumably because it’s a great number for Halloween. This post is my version of it.

Since I did a vocal part for once, the mix has the guitar and vocal parts hard panned to left and right so you can pull out the singing and do karaoke.

This recording is under a Creative Commons ShareAlike-Attribution 2.0 license. See also my boilerplate copyright statement.

Direct links:

Spirit Rappings (mp3)

Spirit Rappings (vorbis)

artist services roundup (#6 in the series)

After post #5 in this series — the comment by Derek Sivers — the conversation in the comments exploded with long, excellent and well thought out dialog. This post is a heavily edited digest form of the comments, with my own replies interspersed and a concluding section at the bottom of the thread.

  1. Jay Fienberg led off the batting:
    October 26th, 2007 at 8:00 pm It’d be interesting to map out the history of the “recorded music business” against recording artist needs.

    Early on, there’s especially a need to access scarce technological resources (the means to record and manufacture physical discs). Then, later, there is especially a need to access scarce distribution channels (be part of a popular record label and/or genre outlet).

    These days, the needs look more and more like “commodity” services, e.g., it’s about as hard to find a way to meet my need for a bookkeeper as it is to find a way to have my CD manufactured and sold (thanks to CD Baby for the latter!).

    However, there are some cultural factors that come into play, as well. IMHO, being a successful musician means [having successful interactions with listeners. To the degree that any of the interactions cross into the realm of business, the musician needs to create (or work for, or buy into) a “successful business.”].

    So, the “label” model has a function in that it provides a “business” for musicians who aren’t into or otherwise ready to create their own business. A lot of the “label” business models out there involve preying on musicians’ lack of business savvy.

    There are also cultural reasons why people think in terms of genres and gravitate towards “trusted” marketing channels, aka the so-called “taste makers.”

    {
    Lucas responds:

    Musicians really *aren’t* businesses. By definition they do what they do for its own sake. Managers are the business half of a musician’s life, and I think that they’ll remain in the new world order.

    }

  2. victor said:
    October 26th, 2007 at 10:52 pm My ideal [“taste-sharing”] situation looks like what my childhood experiences were when a radio DJ’s shift was a *show*, authored by the DJ and reflecting their personalities (and ingested chemicals). They had fan followings for inventive sets with musical themes and soul.

    Everybody appreciates all the good work [CD Baby and Tunecore] have done in enabling artists to simplify a boring part of their day and therefore indirectly cultivate their art. But I could make an argument that open music won’t have it’s break out moment through these massive online catalogs. They will break through taste sharers at which point the only services necessary for the artist are paypal and a remote host. Who is cultivating the taste-sharer? Who is enabling the next Ahmet Ertegün? (I’m aware of the many attempts at podcasting-enabling sites and I suspect many of them fell down for all the typical dot-bomb reasons).

  3. Jay Fienberg said:
    October 27th, 2007 at 1:28 am Victor said: “I could make an argument that open music won’t have it’s break out moment through these massive online catalogs. They will break through taste sharers at which point the only services necessary for the artist are paypal and a remote host. Who is cultivating the taste-sharer? Who is enabling the next Ahmet Ertegün?”

    I think the near-global importance of the Ahmet Ertegüns of the world is an artifact of late-20th century communication media. Before the 1920s, there were lots of people who influenced others’ tastes in music, but there were very rarely break out moments on the national or international scale.

    We’ve always had thousands of “tribal” and regional tastes that had little basis of or need for agreement with each other. During the second half of the 20th century, we also had some shared national and international tastes that allowed for artists to attain large-scale popularity.

    I think we’re returning to a world where tribal tastes are primary over any apparent global tastes. The webs of music online connect across online tribes of interest and taste.

    I put “taste maker” in quotes because it tends to imply that there is some kind of “global” set of specific agreements on taste, and that there are a few people out there who help everyone globally come to these agreements and know the specifics. I think it’s all just a lot more fuzzy and distributed that that.

    {
    Lucas responds:

    Per Bhattacharjee et al., the dominance of acts at the very top of the charts has not been significantly changed by the rise of filesharing. (Which I assume implies lightnet impact as well). You have to go down the charts a bit before you see tribalization of taste.

    }

  4. gurdonark said:
    October 27th, 2007 at 3:05 am I agree that CDbaby offers artists a set of services useful to artists. I appreciate Derek’s post, as I’ve observed that CDbaby has worked for independent artists in just the way he’s described, as a resource for the indie to distribute product. So many times artists need one-click convenience for ministerial but important business things, and that’s what artist services offer. I love hearing things like “this will show up on your credit card as CDbaby” instead of “I can only take cash, and I don’t have any more change”.

    I still think that Victor has a point about taste-makers (personally, I put things in quotes or not in quotes according to the guiding rule of whim). I do think that new taste-makers will arise and are arising. I agree with Victor that nobody much expects/wants/falls for “being told what to listen to”, but I do think that gifted people have always helped find cool stuff in popular music.

    My own feeling is that new taste makers are arising, and will continue to arise. I find the most useful ones to be websites, whether it is biotic’s black sweater white cat or gorilla v. bear or, for my own beloved genre as a listener, ambient music, the forum at www.hypnos.com.

    Victor’s point is a powerful one. When I was a young teen, one listened at midnight to one particular radio station in Chicago to figure out what was cool and new. Did we accept that station’s DJ’s judgment as gospel? No. We took and we discarded. A similar thing happened with Bingenheimer in Los Angeles, on an even larger scale with Peel in the UK. On a recording front, the Stax sound was not sheer serendipity, but a set of choices made not only by musicians but also by record-company-types who believed in them.

    The technology now exists to liberate us from the market dominance of record labels. Yet as Derek and Peter Wells both point out, their companies are to serve artists and not to replace labels. They bundle services to make artists’ lives easier.

    Jay’s point is right in that the construct of how we thought about labels no longer need apply. Among the essential industries that must arise in this era of “commodity services” is effective ways to “get the word out” on signal amid noise. Don’t get me wrong–there is no one signal, and noise (believe me) is delightful. But a community of music lovers benefits from people who help create community through recommendations.

    I don’t read Victor at all as saying that there is One True Global Taste which taste-makers can point to (indeed, Victor would be the absolute last person to say so). Yet the sense of shared commmunity which taste-makers provide is one thing that binds similar-minded listeners together in their musical interests. I still believe that such taste-makers will inevitably arise (and are already arising), but I don’t deny that they’re a good thing. I just think, as Derek suggests, they need not be part of a record label (or, to extend the point, cdbaby or tunecore).

    At the same time, I don’t really disagree with Jay so much as see the “tribal” nature of music spread as inevitably including taste-making on a big scale. The tribes are virtually bigger, so to speak, even as the niches get smaller.

    I have a bit of nostalgia for times when I was 13ish and Lisa Robinson was putting out a teen photo magazine which told me about these incredible unsigned bands called the Ramones, the Talking Heads, and Television (or, now that I think of it, Wayne/Jayne County). Those were heady days, when one could find destiny in a pulp magazine at the local IGA grocery. That kind of taste-maker was an essential and wonderful thing. Finding that kind of taste-making again will be the liberation of artists from the old record label paradigms. The technology makes it every bit as possible and inexpensive for them to arise as using tunecord and cdbaby. It just requires practicality amid the visionary dreams.

    In the communitarian (archive.org) v. Ahmet Ertegun divide, my sympathies are definitely communitarian. I favor free download music, Creative Commons BY licenses, and a conspiracy of user/hobbyist/creator/fans to share culture.

    But I believe that the era of artist services and indie direct releases will benefit as taste-makers arise. We see the first embers, but the burn is inevitably going to come.

    Let’s take a simple example. A few years ago, a weblog friend of mine named CP McDill announced that, having sold only a handful of CDs as an artist, he intended to start a Creative Commons netlabel. He would release his albums for free under his Webbed Hand Records netlabel, and then release other artists as well. Webbed Hand releases were soon rather popular in the way of such things, because the label’s experimental/dark ambient “branding” meant that people knew what they were downloading when they downloaded a Webbed Hand release.

    A free album on Webbed Hand is not directly analogous to a commercial release (being on the communitarian side of the fence). The idea, though, plays on the commercial side of the street, I believe.

    People will arise, whether journalists, website maintainers, label owners for a new type of label, or webloggers, who will help create this kind of “branding” and association. This is not the robotic “look into my eyes, you are getting sleepy” hypnosis theory of forcing style down one’s throat. This is organize style-making. But until those style makers have the sway of late night Chicago rock radio blaring 100,000s of thousands of watts across the midwest and south, then the rocket has not yet launched.

    My optimism, though, is that this rocket will indeed launch. My belief is that the next fame/money/glory will go to the people who figure out how to light the way the way that the talented locators of talent once did. I don’t care who emplys ‘em–I just care that we all connect to the cool music.

    {
    Lucas responds:

    Does web search qualify as lighting the way?

    }

  5. Jay Fienberg said:
    October 27th, 2007 at 6:20 am I don’t know if there can ever be another, say, Ray Charles–because Ray Charles is the combination of a great talent and a no longer existent world boxed in by nascent inter/national media.

    Imagine, in 1955, when “I Got a Woman” went to #1 in the US, how many other R&B artists were out there who never ended up getting a chance to make records, and whom we’ve now never heard of. Or ones who cut a 45 that is now lost to obscurity.

    I don’t know that we’d see Ray Charles as such an amazingly legendary talent if all of those other artists could have made albums, and we could hear them a lot.

    And, looking at it the other way, people don’t know that the Motown girl-group, The Velvelettes are great because The Supremes, etc., were the ones Motown turned into legends, circa 1964-65.

    It’s not that Ray Charles or The Supremes are made less talented by suddenly being seen against more obscure contemporaries. It’s just that there’s less space for them to be legends on a pedestal.

  6. gurdonark said:
    October 27th, 2007 at 9:32 am Jay, at the same time that you make an excellent point about “finding a Ray Charles”, I also believe that the wonderful thing about ‘net culture music is that there is every prospect we will after all learn who is a next Ray Charles—and he may be uploading from Mali, or Greenland, where before he or she would toil in solitude.

    {
    Lucas responds:

    I am certain that fantastic geniuses will be discovered in Mali or Greenland or somewhere else where they wouldn’t have been able to reach the ears of the masses via traditional record labels. We’re living in a milestone time for music.

    }

  7. Jay Fienberg said:
    October 27th, 2007 at 5:31 pm Gurdonark, yes. The more I think about it, too, the more I think we’ll keep seeing the figures behind the music we love as being legends in some way. Probably just more legends, more often.

    p.s. I really like your “Roadrunner” — listening now.

    {
    Lucas responds:

    Roadrunner (from this Negative Sound Institute page) is a really nice tune. I dig it too. I also like Forgotten Fields.

    }

The thread which fired my imagination the most was this exchange between Victor and Derek.

victor (who is a musician and runs the CC Mixter music community where gurdonark is a major star) said:

October 26th, 2007 at 10:52 pm

I don’t want to put anybody on the defensive but I challenge the idea that you really see it as someone else’s job to serve as bridge between consumer and warehouse. CD Baby has ‘editor pick’ and ‘music for your mood’ ‘flavor of the month’ etc. I don’t know of an artist, upon seeing that, who would assume you are truly unbiased and uninterested in their ultimate success.

paypal is unbiased. archive.org is unbiased. you guys want a hit.

Derek Sivers (who is the lead at CD Baby) said:

October 27th, 2007 at 5:37 pm

Yeah. I agree. In a new future version of the site, I could see us not having that editorial aspect at all anymore, but rather finding a way to import/syndicate others’ editorial reviews, instead.

But we do listen to every CD anyway, so that we can make sure the clips are correct, and know which albums to link to which others.

I really would prefer CD Baby to be absolutely neutral with no “Editor’s Picks”. No we’re not looking for a hit. See http://cdbaby.org/equal and http://cdbaby.org/featured

So here’s the really big question: do the business of hit records that they do at the major labels and the business of non-hit records that they do at the artist services companies have to be in competition? What is the economic relationship between record labels and artist services companies?

/me scratches head.

A comparable issue that comes up all the time at Yahoo is that content projects like Live Sets can have good return on investment, but can’t grow as large as generic applications like web mail and search. (This isn’t confidential info, by the way). Content can be a fine line of business, but can never be as big a business as horizontal products like search, because each bit of content has to be hand-made.

The implication for this conversation is that artist services companies are expecting to have lower returns on investment than record labels but be larger businesses overall. They have gained the ability to grow larger by refusing to accept projects which can’t be automated and offered to all of their clients on equal terms.

If you were a venture capitalist, what you would care about is that artist services companies have bigger upside than record labels. The potential payout is lower for a label than an artist services company. Investors looking at Tunecore or CD Baby on one side vs Sony/BMG or Universal Music Group on the other side would treat them very differently.

how is an artist services company different than a record label? (#5)

Derek Sivers’ (of CD Baby) response to Peter Wells and Gurdonark:

Artist services are the opposite of a label

The key point is who’s in control.

A label owns the music and in a way, the musician. When an artist signs to a label, the label is in control.

(Too many horror stories of a label making Billy Squier wear a pink Flashdance suit and learn to dance for a video, or labels making their artists do a Christmas album.)

What I love about artist services is that the musician is in complete control.

The artist knows best. We’re just the tool.

I set up CD Baby just to help my musician friends doing whatever they needed help doing. The benefits of aggregation is that we can help them do things much cheaper and easier than doing it themselves, because we can build a system to do it for many people at once. (Negotiating distribution deals, sending files to iTunes, making artist websites, etc.)

As for arbiters of taste, I prefer the separation of duties :

Let editorial outlets like people’s blogs, WebJay playlists, or webradio (SomaFM) be the arbiters of taste, helping to call your attention to what they think is great.

Let the distributor be unbiased : getting all of their clients’ music to all outlets equally.

Then the promoters can be either paid up-front for their work, or agree to gamble and take a back-end reward, but not confusing paid-promotion with objective tastemakers, and not confusing promotion with distribution.

artist services #4

This is Peter Wells’ (of Tunecore) comment on gurdonark’s comment yesterday.

I’m always happy when thoughtful commentary gets to the heart of the situation

Gurdonark has an excellent point. TuneCore is not an end-stop solution, because digital distribution isn’t the only thing an artist needs: artists need production resources (studios, practice space), time (if you have to hold down three jobs to pay the rent, when can you produce/market your music?) and all the tools for marketing and surfacing your music.

The idea behind TuneCore’s digital distribution is to make one of the most closed-off segments, distribution, at once easy, universally and globally available and so inexpensive and non-constricting that anyone can do it.

But we know artists need more, which is why we also offer physical replication and duplication of CDs, and we offer posters, stickers, buttons, T-shirts, hats, every tool an artist needs to market themselves. TuneCore will BECOME an end-stop solution, because unbundling is great, but bundling in a fair, open way can save bands trouble, time and money, making their success that much more possible. We’re already most of the way there.

The big question is always, “Okay, I’m on iTunes, AmazonMP3, eMusic, all those big stores, but how do I get people to notice me, to find out about my music and thus help me build a fan base who buys it?” This is where traditional labels have staked their claim to 80% of a band’s earnings, because it takes a HUGE investment of effort, contacts, money and more to get music noticed. But the Net is changing the environment, so it’s possible to do a lot of this work without the huge outlay, without impressing a bunch of A&R guys at a major, without having a rolodex with contacts up and down the “old boy’s club” of this industry. In the new Internet world, bands have a better chance at promoting themselves than ever. We provide tips, tools, suggestions and, most importantly, ALL the money your music can earn, so you can pour it back into marketing yourself. With the extra money, put together a good press kit, use our press finding tools and reach out to “taste makers” who will now know about you. Heck, even use the cash to hire an old-school style publicist.

So the plan isn’t so much to unbundle, but to rebundle services under TuneCore as they are feasible and realistic in the new Internet music space, and to redefine, put into the hands of the actual artist, those surfacing opportunities which are now within individual reach. Between that and market forces, only the quality of the music will make for success, which can only improve the entire space.

Thanks for the enlightened discussion!

–Peter
peter@tunecore.com

artist services #3

This post is to elevate gurdonark’s long comment on the previous “artist services” blog entry to a full post, so that people who don’t read the comments will see it. (I wish WordPress had a button on comments to push them up to the front page).

I agree that cdbaby and tunecore are not “labels”. CDbaby is a service which also offers a retail outlet. Tunecore is a service

I also agree that in the long run, arbiters must arise if one is to differentiate between community-based mass participation and the “endorsement” of a “label” which sorts through product.

I don’t see tunecore as a replacement for the label, nor did I read the post to suggest it served that purpose. I see it as one more aspect of the unbundling of label functions. In the past, a label provided a broad range of services, from providing capital for recording (at what amounted to unfortunate lending rates), providing some very gifted “ears” to sift the interesting things from the uninteresting things (and a large number of very non-gifted a & r ears who tried to do so, as one would expect in any field as tricky as creative endeavors), enhanced distribution on radio and in retail outlets (enhanced, sadly, by various forms of payola), and tour and marketing support.

Tunecore is the unbundling of one of the services–the ability to get distribution of mp3s for anyone. A Tunecore listing, though, becomes a vanity process unless either mass acceptance is gained through some form of arbiter of taste or mass acceptance is built by the band through self-marketing.

I agree that one is going to need an Ahmet Ertegum (though I’d have chosen a different arbiter of taste, the idea is the same). But the unbundling process will also extend to the arbiters. The ‘net culture has already begun to create them on its own, and will inevitably accelerate the process of creating new resources to choose good music from bad in the way that label a & r fellows used to do.

It’s fair to say that Tunecore is not the solution, but I see it instead as only one of many different unbundled solutions that will arise. If I understand Lucas’ point, it’s that record labels will arise which can give artists enhanced clout (e.g., through giving them the imprimatur of label approval) as their products are marketed. This purpose for labels, rather than the adhesion market dominance of old, is a good place for a leaner, meaner new label.

I agree with Victor that Tunecore will not *be* the new form of label, but I do believe that Tunecore-type services offer one element of unbundled services that a new kind of label can use to promote its products.

At the same time, the creation of these new arbiters of quality, whether they be labels or journalists, is the next wave–much more than a “next wave” of musicians.

To me, the revolution is in progress, but the ways it will be televised and who will hold the camera is in flux.

artist services #2

gurdonark‘s comment on the previous entry on artist services:

I think it’s really cool that a self-releasing artist can now easily click through to an album release among most of the “usual suspects”. I think this is a creative approach, and I hope it succeeds.

I think that what we have in CD Baby and Tunecore is a template for future record labels. These are more or less self-service agencies for musicians. The model is that musicians direct their own roadmap and pull services from agencies like CD Baby and Tunecore as needed.

The other path for record labels to take is to be something like the game industry, where small shops do the creative work under their own power and then cut deals with the behemoths to get their work distributed.

artist services.

Tunecore Tour

TuneCore is a music delivery and distribution service that gets artists’ original music (even cover versions) and record label releases up for sale on iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon MP3, eMusic, Sony Connect, MusicNet and Napster without asking for your rights or taking any money from the sale or use of your music.

Enter the name of your band, the name of the album, upload your art and songs select which digital stores you want you music in and you’re done!

Providing services to active players is a good part of the music business to be in.

CD Baby is another artist services business, and they’re growing like a beanstalk.

Pasadena gig

Tequila Mockingbird and Lucas Gonze playing at the Pasadena Armory for the 1-Second Film Cabaret

Pasadena Doo Dah Queen Tequila Mockingbird and I played at the Pasadena Armory a couple weeks ago at a cabaret event for the 1-Second Film project.

A funny thing about the Tequila gig is that it’s jazz standards, none of which are public domain. Jazz repertoire is built on a closed set of about 200 songs which are heavily locked down. I have a real problem with this, even though they’re great songs which I love playing, but there doesn’t seem to be any way out short of refusing to play the compositions which are synonymous with the genre.

My philosophical absolutism leads to ridiculous positions sometimes.

(Image linkbacks: DSC_0138. Originally uploaded by the1secondfilm.com)

‘Return of spring’ by The Three Vagrants (and an experimental media metadata microformat)

I ran across this interesting recording from 1928 entitled “Return of spring” by an outfit called The Three Vagrants over at the Cylinder Preservation Project. I like it for the Kurt Weil or Tom Waits-y flavor.

Biographical information on the act from NickLucas.com:

Frank Lucanese was Nick Lucas’ older brother that played accordion in a vaudeville troupe called The Three Vagrants. When he joined The Three Vagrants, around 1915, he composed much of the material they would record for Victor, Edison and Columbia.

The composition was listed as being by somebody named Emil Waldteufel, who is probably the same as the French composer Émile Waldteufel that I found on Wikipedia. I didn’t find a score for the piece.

photo

The Three Vagrants

MP3: Return of Spring (mp3)

This hCard created with the hCard creator.

(image source)


On a technical level what I’m doing in this blog entry is fiddling around with microformats for media metadata. The biographical bits above are in hCard format, which allowed me to express the name of the artist and a link for the artist. The MP3 URL is within that hCard construct with the link ‘title’ attribute set to the song title. That gives a media microformat which can express these bits of data:

  • song URL
  • song title
  • performer name
  • performer URL

parlor guitar



I picked up a parlor guitar dating from the 1890s. It is in completely playable condition, even though it’s on the order of 120 years old.

The price was $750, which is incredible given that an electric from the 1960s goes for a couple thousand.

The plan is to incorporate this into my live set, along with my electric guitar and my 1920s L3. The music for the set ranges from 1800-1900. All together these materials will tell a story about the early development of American music and the prehistory of blues, jazz, country and rock.

See the entire photoset for a detailed look.