Magnetic Fields guitar tablature

Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields publishes guitar tablature with lyrics and chords for his songs.

This kind of thing was almost non-existent in the days when CDs and vinyl records were synonymous with the music business. Back in the old days helping people to play the compositions for themselves was limited to helping aspiring guitar heroes to learn the guitar solos, or aspiring stars to emulate current stars. The stuff you learned was by a larger-than-life player, and you learned in order to become larger than life yourself. It was about career in the sense that a successful learner was one who established a musical career.

For performers to encourage avocational musicians to learn to play the music for themselves is a sea change in publishing. It reflects the move to a participatory and inclusive concept where it’s expected and even intended that covers will show up on YouTube.

Exploring this space is the reason why I created sheet music, guitar tablature, and MIDI for Kristen Hirsh’s song “Elizabeth June.”

5 thoughts on “Magnetic Fields guitar tablature

  1. I don’t want to deflate the importance of what’s happening now, but it’s hard for me not to see this kind of thing as having been not that uncommon since the late-70s. I think, even going back that far, recording musicians (guitarists in particular) have been into getting their work played in the “how to play” learning contexts.

    My view may be skewed, having grown up in LA where a lot of top notch musicians were / are pretty plugged into the lessons scene. Musicians without other day jobs often plug into various instructional contexts as they’re day jobs between tours, etc.

    But, the sophistication of today’s self-published and self-distributed works is a sea change, in the sense that individual musicians are creating a new kind of success in sharing music, e.g., as professionally published as the old publishers, but much cooler, more direct and practically integral to the music experience for those that themselves play.

  2. I dunno, Jay. Selling a book or giving lessons isn’t the same kind of thing as giving away free tablature. The former is an extension of the old sheet music industry. The latter is a way to grow your presence on YouTube and maximize fan’s involvement with your music.

  3. I missed that you were emphasizing the free / give-away aspect of this–I was responding more to what you were saying along the lines of:

    “For performers to encourage avocational musicians to learn to play the music for themselves is a sea change in publishing.”

    But, I would disagree if you’re suggesting that selling (in the past) vs give-away (now) is inherently coupled to a musician not-maximizing vs maximizing their fans involvement with their music.

    I’d just say that it’s a more intricate relationship, in general–and, especially if we are factoring in “cost of goods” in the past (20+ years), when there was real expense in distributing (physical) sheet music or lesson tapes.

    So, as a case: imagine someone who wanted to do exactly what Stephen Merritt is doing now, except that it’s 1981. I think there were people like that in 1981, and I don’t think they were acting like an extension of the sheet music industry, even when there was some $$ exchanged.

    But then again, I was in LA / Hollywood in 1981, and a major DIY revolution in music was happening–so my perspective is skewed!

  4. Hi Lucas, Interesting argument. The only thing is that the stephinsongs website you reference is an unofficial fansite (curated by Ernest Paik) and the guitar tabs are worked out by fans, not handed out by Merritt himself. There are no lyrics or tabs on Merritt’s official site As far as I know stephinsongs operates without permission but with the tacit consent that, well, it’s been around for a decade and I imagine that if Merritt or his manager (Claudia Gonson) had asked for the tabs to be removed, they would have been.

  5. David, I’m bummed to learn that, but thanks for the correction.

    Hope springs eternal, so I’m going to go back to the original thread as if nothing had happened, because the main point is about a trend rather than an example of the trend.

    My thought here is something along the lines that stephensings is an intrinsic part of the value that Merritt is offering his fans. Singing the song for yourself isn’t an act of devotion to the star, it’s an act of self-sufficiency that the star helped provide for.

    In Jay’s terms, it’s “a more intricate relationship” where the star is a leader in shared creative activity.

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