Archive for July, 2012

Show tonight!

Last call for tonight’s show! Toronto! Leslieville! Show page for details! C’mon out!

Also, a tidbit I didn’t include in Touring, parts one and two: this article on electronica shows. Notice the value here of event.

the long tail of zero is still zero

Over these six articles, we have started to scrape the surface of new music business models in the post-scarcity era. And while we’ve covered quite a bit of ground, don’t expect that this is even the complete first word on the subect, much less the last!

The common themes here have been reinvention and DIY; they’re the hallmarks everyone must show in a period of critical flux. Musicians and artists have long had to reinvent themselves throughout their careers; we’re just in a particularly acute period for it.

This installment is a bit of potpourri; several topics, all of them are important, but none quite substantial enough to merit individual posts.

First, the long-tail theory.

yeah, like that

The long-tail theory of making money, which emphasis the value of holding your own recordings and rights, isn’t nearly as important as when proposed back in 2004. It is still a valueable insight, and you still see people talking about it, and the value of residuals over long periods of time. But, well…

If people don’t buy recorded music, the long tail value of zero is still zero.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about holding your own rights, doing your own recording, and so on. Where it does have value is in liscensing for other commercial works in new productions, such as soundtracks. A song I recorded on Dick Tracy Must Die is going on the Bone Walker soundtrack, in new form; that’s actual value.

There’s also potential value in having more than one thing to sell – and getting a higher percentage of those profits – to new fans. Keep your old stock around. But the primary late-discovery late-sales argument you see bantered around strikes me as already out of date.

The thousand fan theory, the second item I want to hit today, holds up great in this new environment. To elucidate, this theory postulates that if you can build a thousand dedicated fans who are vested in, who buy everything, you’re set.

A smaller number of REALLY big fans might also work

Don’t aim for a mass market that’s coming apart; aim for the sliver most relevant to you. If you can get a thousand people to buy in, well, you have to work to keep them happy, and making new things they want, but that’s a career.

Just remember you always have people falling off the end of that – it’s completely natural – so you can’t just get there and relax.

Finally, I have very little idea what to do about eBooks. eBooks, god. eBooks don’t have shows, eBook writers don’t have tours (and readings don’t count), but on the other hand, they’re often naturals at blogging! And that helps build community. But it’ll still be all about preloading payment if the book publishing industry is dumb enough to follow the RIAA lead.


Right now, publishers still have a nice amount of goodwill, and readers are often more atuned to the idea of supporting their writers, so those are both big advantages. But if the industry doesn’t ditch DRM and device-dependency right now, they’re going to burn all that away.

One potential solution is going back to Dickens’s pay-per-installment model, publishing in chapters. Lawrence Watt-Evans is one midlist F&SF writer doing this already; it seems to be working for him. I’m also pretty sure the thousand-fan theory applies well here. But the hindrance is that most people read most books that they do read exactly once, so you have your one shot, unlike music, where they’ll replay it later and maybe decide to like you enough to pay you then.

If you have any ideas, let me know, because eBook people may need them even more than musicians do!

So that’s it for this week. Next week I’ll wrap this up, and start a new series – you guys interested in the studio buildout series or How Facebook Destroys Everything? I’m thinking studio buildout, some nice DIY to leven all the business noise.

AND! TORONTO! I AM IN YOU! And I have a show tomorrow night, 7pm, house concert north of the Beaches. Email for details or check the show page!

This is Part Six of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, a series of articles about, well, what it says on the tin. There are no barriers to availability now, and copying is free. What’s a musician to do now?

this is not a day to blog coherently

“That’s flowers. That’s become flowers now. Is that a drink?” – me, a few minutes ago, looking in the refrigerator.

Airplanes hurt my brain.

Clearly, I am in no shape this morning to summarise the post-scarcity series, outline or no. I will write that later, instead. Hopefully tomorrow.

all the different songs

First: my condolences to everyone in Colorado affected by the shooting spree early this morning. I don’t have anything to say that anybody else doesn’t, so I won’t, other than to hope that all the injured will recover well.

To business.

Remember the Trad o’ th’ Month project that turned into the album Cracksman Betty? Which, if you haven’t listened to, you should? Well, Leannan Sidhe have started a similar project. Their lead singer and songwriter was up here at Criminal Studios yesterday, for recording. Ta da:

Ain’t modern technology somethin’? Studio approval to online in six hours, and most of that travel time.

That’s me on percussion, by the way. ^_^

Meanwhile, enjoy a poster! It’s the Musicians of Bronycon! I had no idea until recently how many musicians there were in MLP fandom, but look at that thing! And that’s just from one convention!

Finally, I’ve been working on restoring a bit of lost fanac from the 1980s. I got a video ripper a few weeks ago and have been pulling things off old VHS cassettes. One of these is a 1985(?) stage-production musical parody of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan called Wrath Side Story. It’s about 40 minutes long and was performed at a convention called BableCon.

It’s extremely silly, but I think also kind of hilarious.

Not this musical, but…

Through repeated rips and a lot of massaging, I’ve got what I think is a watchable beta release. The tape was at its best a third or fourth generation copy and is badly degraded, and there are still a couple of places where video is lost temporarily right up front. But it’s only a couple, and they’re brief. I still hope to get them back through more rerips and massaging.

I’d like to see what other people think, get suggestions, things like that.

Enjoy: Wrath Side Story (now on youtube).

the post-scarcity model, part five: touring (part two)

I’m not sure what to say when a series intended to be two parts runs over five long and some of those parts have two parts on their own. Probably, it means I must learn to write shorter posts.

To recap: the old touring model became a problem, particularly for bands, which are are expensive. We talked about the instaband/hive band model in response; go here to refresh your memory.

Of course, all that said, you still shouldn’t turn down paying old-school gigs when they pencil out. Take those! Money matters!

I’m rich! I’m wealthy! I’m comfortably well-off!

But building a career that way is much more difficult than it used to be. Concert culture is really kind of at a nadir right now. It’s not that there aren’t standalone concerts in traditional venues – of course there are! I go to some! But it’s not a thing, like it once was, and more importantly, it’s not a way to build fans like it once was.

I don’t know what killed that culture – the reputation for expense, the hassle venues and labels put you through in the 80s and 90s to prevent bootlegging1, cowardice over “terrorism” and crime – despite crime declining steadily for three decades people talk about “how bad it is” out there – or maybe it’s all this woman:

Or maybe it’s the industry again, with their crackdowns on unlicensed venues, and the cost involved in being one. I know venues around here who were shut down over licensing issues.

It could be any or all of the above, or something I haven’t even listed. Regardless, the culture is not what it used to be. I know too many musicians who have seen their incomes drop 50-70%, and too many who have just dropped out entirely, to think otherwise.

So what to do now? Where do you get started?

The first thing to talk about the house concert. These aren’t new; folk musicians have done these for a long time. But in other genres, these used to be mostly college neighbourhood excuses for drinking and party riots – if you haven’t seen the Runaways biopic, you might, there’s a good example of what they used to be in that film. Spoiler: they sucked.

Not just Kentucky

Over time, however, they’ve become civilised. There are house concert circuits, there are house concert providers who host and take care of you, and do this on a regular basis. Terms are all over the place, of course. Most don’t charge, some want a percentage of the suggested donation, but even that’s generally just to cover expenses.

So what do the hosts get out of it? They get an event, and social credit – a key currency in any post-scarcity environment. They get to be part of it; people who do this like music and care about it, and want to be a part. This is one way.

Meanwhile, you’re offering an experience they aren’t going to get in any other venue. You’re offering something that’s close and personal and right there. And at the same time, you are getting a venue and a chance to make fans.

Seriously, a crowd of 6-12 people in a living room gives you your best shot of doing the most important thing you can do starting your career: making that personal connection, becoming meaningful to somebody, and through that, re-establishing the value of purchase that we talked about way back in Part Two of this series.

I mentioned these aren’t new, right?

Start by getting people who’ve heard you on the internet to host. If you’re lucky you can get fans to do it (hi guys! ^_^ ). Even if the turnouts are tiny, you’ll need the experience and the references. Once you’ve done some of those, you might be able to get the attention of people who throw these regularly. And from there, maybe you can get onto the circuits, if that’s where you want to go.

But don’t do them if you hate them. Don’t force yourself. People will know.

Event shows are another break-in point. Anything where there’s already an event that you can join is an opportunity. You gain cred by showing that other people are interested in your art. You get a crowd already there for something; you don’t have to overcome the stay-at-home inertia.

For example, I’m a musician, but I’m also a venue – I run nwcMUSIC, a mini-music-festival under the auspices of the Norwescon science fiction convention. I don’t have a budget; I don’t pay; but like a good house concert venue, we take good care of you. You get to play in a good environment to a lot of people who are already out at an event and therefore a lot more likely to check you out, stay and talk with you later. You end up with four days of meet-and-greet. You get to do panels; hopefully, you impress people.

The Doubleclicks at nwcMUSIC 2012/Norwescon 35

See also: Sakuracon, PAX, any kind of multi-modal event that’ll draw people in on several fronts and also let you get personal with potential fans. Hell, Clallam Bay Comicon, where I was last weekend? Exactly the same thing.

Because that’s what you have to do: build that connection, and through that, re-establish the idea of value in purchase. Maybe it’ll be merch. Maybe it’ll be CDs. No matter how you count it, it’s about getting people invested in you, and therefore caring about what you do.

To do this, you have to be there, not just show up and take off. You have to be on the whole time, not just on stage. You have to be part of the event, because you’re selling not just your music, but an experience, and a bit of glamour.

If you’re doing a convention or a show and only doing the concert? You’re missing opportunities. Get onto some panels. Be lively and entertaining and prepared. No panels you care about? Propose some. Make a god damned impression.

People also like event souvenirs. CDs can be souvenirs. Even download codes can be merch can be souvenirs – this is why my download code slips are shiny gold tickets, and not just pieces of printer paper. People react to that. Yes, I know, you first and foremost want people to care about your music! I’m in this because I want people to hear my stuff, not because I thought, “I know! I’ll GET RICH by MAKING MUSIC!”

Because that trick always works.

But if they don’t get your CD, or your download code, they can’t listen to your downloads or CD. So stop worrying about why they bought it and just hope they do. If they like you, if they liked the experience, they’ll want the token of being there, and once they have the CD or the download code, you’ve improved your odds.

Similarly, doing a house party on a house party, or house concert tour? Don’t just play and leave; go to the party. Then build in some time between house shows where you can hang out after the party with your hosts in a relaxed and fun manner.

preferably sedated

It’s work, being “on” for hours at a time like that. It’s new and unfamiliar to many, including me. But people are doing music this way, and some are building careers, in this post-scarcity environment. It requires a gregariousness that you or someone in your band have to have, or be able to cultivate.

But it can be done. It’s one way forward from where we are now. Not the only way; but one way.

This time next week I’ll be in Toronto! I’ll be practicing some of what I’m preaching here. There will also be a Part Six of this supposedly-two-part series, which I’ll do my best to post from the road. I do want feedback and suggestions; we’re all making this up as we go along, and there is no well-trod path here. If you spot a landmark, give us a yell! Otherwise, I’ll see you on the road.

1: Which is to say, the kind of youtube video you see from phones at shows now? They used to clamp down on that so hard. Even still photos were often prohibited, and gods help you if you had a cassette recorder or microphone. People used to make special concert-taping equipment, like glasses with hidden microphones and wires that ran down your back. So crazy.

This is Part Five of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, a series of articles about, well, what it says on the tin. There are no barriers to availability now, and copying is free. What’s a musician to do now?

donna throws one hell of a house party

Back from Clallam Bay Comicon late last night – I have to say, Donna throws one heck of a house party! It was tiny, as expected, but not as tiny as I’d feared and I had a small but solid and appreciative audience on Saturday. Having it during Fun Days no doubt didn’t hurt. It was also fun to meet Mark Monlux and Kevin Boze, who were in the closest two tables next to me. ^_^

It was a bit of a weekend vacation, really. The beach is lots of fun to hike around on – it’s pebbly in some places, sandy in a few, and has terrific rockeries in other spots, particularly out where the lighthouse was. And Saturday night was beach party and fireworks night.

500 million illegal fireworks launched from this point

And everybody sold stuff! Seriously, everybody had sales, including Anna, who wasn’t even there, courtesy me taking along a few copies of Faerie Blood.

We stayed at the Bay Motel, which I was calling:

The Bay TV Phones Motel

The WiFi is a lie, by the way. Or maybe it was just us being out on the far end of the hotel. Hard to say. On the other hand, it was clean, the room slept four across three beds and a partition wall, it had a kitchentte, and I slept great for a $30 room share. I mean damn.

It’s mostly for sports fishers…

no, really?

…and the guys two doors down for us were smoking salmon they’d caught earlier in the day. There is now, for the record, a place in North America were I will intentionally eat cooked fish. This is unheard of outside Japan, but now? Japan, and Clallam Bay, at the Clallam Bay Inn. Made by Kayla. Fantastically good.

Sekiu, on the far end of the bay, is actually quite pretty too. But watch out for the statuary:

H.P. Lovecraft Memorial Signpost

Anyway, Donna’s already winding up for a second one next year. She has plans, potential hotels and indoor function space, and people are arguing about dates. So if you have opinions on that, jump in over here! And thanks again to everybody, particularly Donna for inviting and taking good care of me. ^_^

Next up: Toronto! That’ll be some amusing culture shock. The only real commonality will be the CBC. See you by Greenwood Park!

clallam bay comiket

I’ve been underestimating Clallam Bay Comiket. There: I admit it. I have. There’re press releases and such now and it’s turning into a real thing even this year zero, and if it flies this year at all, it’ll be bigger next year. I’ll be there Saturday and maybe also Sunday at this point. It’ll be great. ^_^

And it’s also much further away than I thought! So I’m overnighting. I hope not in my car. ADVENTURE!

not that far away

PEOPLE LINKED TO THEIR ART! Here are the links promoted up, as promised!

Fishy has a very few hours left on his fire sculpture Kickstarter, but he’s made goal! AND – barely, as of now – the stretch goal. So this is LAST CALL FOR THE HARMONIC FIRE PENDULA! It’s cool.

Geri called for support for this effort to raise CAN$2,000 for a special-needs child’s bicycle. It sounds like a lot for a bike, but, well, special needs are what they are.

Irfon-Kim Ahmad is a Toronto musician! He records under the band name “Ramp,” and his stuff is all free-download. He’s hoping for comments and opinions! Check out the Ramp website here, or hop directly to the music page here.

Sarah Palmero has an Etsy store! It’s called Creature Comfort Craftworks and she hand-dyes yarn, spins fibre, takes requests, and occasionally makes things herself. Fabric artists, check it out.

And that’s all! Hopefully I’ll see one of you at Clallam Bay!

PS: This week’s instalment of my post-scarcity/post-RIAA music industry series – Part Four: Touring (Part 1 of 2) – went up late on Tuesday. So if you missed it, here it is.

post-scarcity model part four: touring

Over on his Tumblr blog, Mike Doughty lead an article on touring with this paragraph:

Radiohead wouldn’t exist without early major-label funding. The future won’t bring new Radioheads. All I want to say here, truly, is: let’s get used to it.

This far, I agree. Hell, I started with something damn near identical in Part I of this series, which came out before his, so I didn’t steal it. XD

He follows with this:

This means that there will be fewer bands.

I strongly disagree, but not in the obvious way.

A bunch of things I was going to talk about today – the way that old-school touring doesn’t work – he covered, just after I’d finished outlining this article. Go read his, if you’re curious. But to summarise: less money, fewer traditional venues (by which I mean live-music bars and clubs), the dissolution of concert-going culture (and it is mostly gone), much higher travel costs, and more. Lodging’s no picnic either.

Take that as read; they are the facts on the ground.

It’s kind of like this

One of Mike’s answers is: don’t have a band. They’re too expensive, it’s too much money, it’s $6000 a week for bare-bones, you can’t do it. Sound amazing as a soloist or duo.

I disagree strongly with that dollar figure, but leave that aside for now.

“Don’t have a band” is a solution, and it does work. And in fact you’ll have to do that to some degree – or most of you will, there are always exceptions. As part of that, you have to find new kinds of places to play and new ways to book and so forth; we’ll get to that, I swear to you.

But he’s absolutely wrong about fewer bands. Fewer bands is not actually the answer. More bands is the answer.

Here’s how it works:

You want to tour. A lot of musicians don’t want to tour, but do want to play. They’ll have day jobs they like, but they’ll want to play out and put serious work into it.

So you tour around as a solo or duo at first. As you’re doing that, you network the living fuck out of all the good local people you can, and build enough contacts to have a band in every town. Or, at least, have one in the central towns within an area that’s a day-trip away from shows.

This has actually been my game plan with CRIME and the Forces of Evil. A lot of people seem to think I want to be a solo act. Were that the case, I wouldn’t have a band-style name.

This isn’t bad planning; it’s a strategy. And that strategy has been: work my act up, play far above where my few years of experience would indicate (which involves a lot of catch-up in skills), write an assload of songs, get attention, get known…

…and start attracting Forces. An ever-shifting cloud of supervillains musicians, non-travelling or even travelling musicians with whom I get to play in different towns and venues. We meet up, we practice a couple of times together, we do a few shows, it’s awesome, we go our separate ways until we come back together again.

Not entirely unlike this

The best part is, everyone get something out of it. Touring musicians who want bands get bands without the travelling expenses. Limited-touring people get a chance to step up, play with more people, build into however much mobility they want. Non-touring musicians get to be a part of it, for reals, without any of the touring stress.

Alternatively, there are still a fair number of cover bands out there. This can and should be a new lease on life for them. They’re already all about covering other bands; now they can do it with the actual act.

And what makes this workable is the same technology that upended the old system: cheap, easy, reproduction. You make a scratch recording of how you want a song to sound live. Channel left is everything from the song except the musicians you’re meeting up with; channel right is the part they need to learn. Play both, you get the whole song.

When you get into town, you rehearse a couple times as a unit, mostly to practice timing, and then you do your shows.

Everybody wins.

so much win

Now, it’s a skillset, as with everything else. But it’s a skillset people can and will learn. I know they will, because I didn’t invent this. It’s already happening. SJ Tucker was my gateway for this, but it’s all over the place in both filk and nerdcore, two of the big forms of geekmusic.

It even has names. Sometimes it’s called the Instaband concept. I think of it as the Hive, but that’s my Teen Titans fandom showing, or rather, the AU fanon where…

Right. Sorry. Topic drift.

Regardless, I saw this happening and thought, I want that. I’m adapting it to my own needs, and I’m trying to build on it and improve it, of course, and I write about things because I’m one of those people who sees a problem and a possible solution and starts waving their hands wildly about going GUYS GUYS GUYS OVER HERE OMG!

Which I like to hope is a contribution as well.

Also, I recognise the connection to pre-recording-industry town bands and orchestras. If you don’t know; every little town, even really little ones, used to have a little band that played all the events – holidays, parades, whatever. It’d be made up of all the local people who had businesses or farms or whatever, but who liked playing music. Touring musicians would utilise them, too.

St. Pepper reporting for duty, ma’am!

But it was much harder in many ways, because while you could have sheet music, you couldn’t know what it should sound like. So quality was lower, and it was supplemented by touring bands as that became more possible. With large touring bands becoming economically unviable, we’re kind of going back to that system, only this time, with far better tools – and better quality.

In short, all of this can happen, because it is and has done before. Given the correct circumstances, it will again.

And we’re over 1000 words already, so that’s all for today. We’ll talk about where to play out in a post-concert culture, and ways to make money at it, next time.

This is Part 4 of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, an ongoing series of articles about, well, what’s on the tin.

that was so much fun you guys

OMG you guys Westercon was so much fun! Having Leannan Sidhe and Marcos Duran on stage with me for the show? Epic and I so need to do that again. Also, I can’t believe programming tapped me to fill in for Alexander James Adams on stuff – they ran me around like crazy and I damn well earned my attending pro badge, but in a great way. And Greg Bear called me awesome after our panel together on Sunday. AAAAAAAAAAA so much fangirl squee.  O_O /

to wit

Panels went great. I have a few things to add to the Kitting Out Cheap handout (talking of: WESTERCON KITTING OUT CHEAP PARTICIPANTS: This is your digital handout!), the alien music panel was all sorts of fun, and leading the Pirate Parade lets you go around being total jerks but since you’re doing it as pirates everybody loves it. XD I got to listen to the Building a Spaceship panel from back stage while dressing for the parade, I wish I could’ve been there for the whole thing.

Really, I wanted to go to that convention twice, once so I could actually attend it. XD

yeaaaah that webstreaming thing

I’m sorry the concert webstreaming didn’t work! It didn’t work for anybody. The video people had server issues and couldn’t get it fixed until Sunday. They should be able to get me the audio and video, however, and I’ll see how that came out and hopefully get some of it on YouTube. Both tech crews (audio and video) had to struggle mightily against travails this past weekend, and worked their asses off doing it – hats off for grace under fire to all of them.

I bought so much art. You should totally check out Céline Chapus’s work. Also Elizabeth Berrien’s wire sculpture if you can see it in person – photos give you an idea, but don’t do it justice. Also, Torrey’s Prince Zuko costume is really good, she’s nailed that whole accurate-to-the-totally-wrong-scarring-in-the-show thing, the detail work is super-nice.

Also: best convention afterparty I’ve been to in some time, a great way to end the show. Thanks all you guys! I’ll get the next RIAA/business of music post up tomorrow, and see you next weekend at Comic Sans/Clallam Bay Comiket!

see you at westercon?

Had a really good tech runthrough yesterday/last night for Friday’s show, and hung out with Anna and Paul and Jenny and Leannan and K and GlaDOS before fireworks. No time for anything AT ALL right now, though, too busy getting ready for that and the rest of Westercon:

Don’t forget, Friday’s show will be webcast at! Showtime 8pm.

Meanwhile, have some cool links!


(For everyone else: it’s the handout going with a panel on getting equipment for cheap, with resource links. It’s intended to work standalone as well, so give it a look if you’re into that. I’ll also be running this for nwcMUSIC 2013 at Norwescon 36.)

I’ll bring up this article on “evolving” music at the Alien Musicology panel on Saturday.

Credit where credit is due: Texas town turns abandoned Wal*Mart into massive library. POINT TO HOUSE MCALLEN.

And finally: How was the world to end? Pre-World War II apocalypse cinema, courtesy VCON.

See you next week!

Return top

The Music