Archive for the ‘business of indie music’ Category

only a question

Hey, you guys think it’s worth posting new videos of the same songs to the YouTube channel, from different shows? Honest question. I’m leaning towards no but thought I’d ask.

Oh, also, I’ve heard some confusion: I +am not charging the host for playing their house+ for these house concert shows. I need venues and exposure liek woah; guests get asked for the $5-$10 donation, hosts do not. I usually bring a little thank-you trinket, even. Tho’ if you’re far I might need crash space.

Also, I have a show in Portland on the 26th! It’s a semi-private event but I can get you in. Email if you’re in Portlandia!

we didn't talk about indie film

We didn’t talk about indie film this past Monday, even on Livejournal, but Richard Pini over on Facebook pointed out that Ted Hope certainly is. It’s worth a look over, because some of the problems are quite different, as are some of his ideas about approaches, so the compare-and-contrast might generate some ideas.

But the big thing: today is SHOW DAY! I have a nice dark set between Leannan Sidhe’s subtlety – if you haven’t heard her, she’s kind of the opposite of me – and Kräken-Röhl’s frothy steampunk-sing-a-long goodness. Come! And bring a friend – you, too, can be a minion! And who doesn’t want that? B-Side Music, 214 Stewart, Seattle, across from the Bon Marché parking garage, next to where the late and lamented Night Kitchen used to be. Shows start 7pm.

See you there!

indie musicians and indie writers; whose future?

nwcMUSIC is a geekmusic festival that I’m building at the Norwescon Science Fiction Convention. We have chiptunes, nerdcore, geek rock, elfmetal, filk, nightly concerts, daytime workshops, panel programming, late-night open mics, filkcircles, the whole deal.

Our programming includes “business of being an independent artist” panels. Going indie – not wanting a record deal – has become more and more common as the technology to record competently on your own has become more and more accessible. As my mastering engineer for Dick Tracy Must Die said, there used to be a time when you recorded your demo on a four track and recorded your studio album in a professional studio, and demos sounded like demos and label releases sounded like real albums – but now people like me walk in with recordings they made in studios they built at home, and sound real.

It kind of freaks him out.

So now, doing your own album is considered not just valid, but important. It’s a positive. It shows the ability to complete a project and the talent necessary to produce something listenable. Labels now tell bands who want labels to “bring tribe with you.” (And a lot of smarter bands are replying, “if we have our own tribe, why the fuck do we need you?” The RIAA are desperate for good reason.)

Writing isn’t like that, yet; just finish the damned manuscript. Self-pubbing through a vanity press? Folly, reserved for rampaging ego muppets with too much money.

But the technologies are changing, and the economics of book publishing are in flux.

Now, there are cheap eReaders. Companies sensing opportunity have jumped in with distribution models: CD Baby has BookBaby, Amazon has its Kindle-only programme, etc. These all let you not just produce your own eBooks, but make them widely accessible, in a variety of formats. And having done both, the technology of taking a manuscript and laying it out into eBook form is dramatically easier to grasp than that of recording.

So some midlist authors are starting to reissue their out-of-print backlists in eBook form. Some for free, but others are apparently making enough money at it that imprints are trying to claim eBook rights from contacts written before eReaders even existed. And with examples like Amanda Hocking out there, you’re seeing some re-evaluation of self-publication, as well.

So this year, I floated multidisciplinary versions of our business panels, specifically calling out artists and writers. I had one sign up, a well-respected writer/artist of graphic novels. I’m really pleased to have her! But I had no interest from any traditional-book authors.

In part, this shows how a lot of musicians know the recording industry exists substantially to screw you. It also implies that publishing houses do not currently have this reputation. From here, that difference looks legitimate; if you go through a major label and sell 20,000 copies of an album, you’re bankrupted and you won’t even own your recordings; if a writer goes through a major print publisher and sells 2,000 copies of a paperback book, they’re earning royalties.

It’s probably also relevant that record labels haven’t traditionally added much, artistically. They’d bring you people who could and often did, but you’re paying for it, not the label, in the form of advances against earnings. By contrast, book imprints – by which I mean a good editor under the employ of that imprint – historically could add a lot, and they paid that bill.

But cutbacks in publishing have had visible effects. Editors are hugely overworked and understaffed, and it absolutely shows. What if that added value continues to decline?

Do writers need to be looking at us indie musicians, for their own sakes? Do they need to take some notes?

I’m wondering about it both as a future necessity and as a future reasonable – at least, non-embarassing – option.

Hopefully it won’t become a necessity. Me, I’m in this for the music, and the recording part is fun because it gives me opportunities to work with other musicians and play with sound toys. I am not in it for the marketing, management, distribution, product design, advertising, packaging, shipping, and on and on and on. But as an indie musician, I have to do all of that too.

An indie writer would find themselves in the same boat.

I have writers in my audience; what do you think? Are we living in your future? And if so, does that sound cool, or do you look at this whole scene and want to run like hell?

PS: Happy birthday to my favourite writer, Angela Korra’ti. Smoochies! ^_^

just one more thing

While everyone is on SOPA/ProtectIP/PIPA and the just-as-much-fun international-treaty version known as ACTA: when you read this article on how the DMCA is already abusive enough, you might want to also keep this in mind: I’ve had three of my own videos flagged as DMCA violations.

That’s right, my own videos, me, doing my own music, or trad, live, flagged for DMCA, three times. Under SOPA, PIPA, or any variant thereof, I’d’ve had to sue to get back online.

Tell me this won’t be used to smash independent artists. Go ahead, tell me that, while I laugh in your face.

And yes, I had content go offline thanks to the Megauploads takedown, too. Fanac stuff, and of course I have copies, but nonetheless.

There’s talk of Black March: buy no music, books, movies, etc, download no music, books, movies, etc. Guys, I’m not the problem? People like me aren’t the problem? Please try to stay focused. Even with major publishers, I’m divided; I really do see the point, but you’re going to hurt starting authors and midlisters far more than you’re going to hurt any publishing house. At least, in books. (If they’re in music and on a label, they’re already screwed.) I know someone who has a series starting in March. The first book’s March sales will determine whether she gets Book 2.

To with: nngh.

But, of course, I gave my rather extensive opinion about what to do that will work on Wednesday. I know, I know, it’s TL;DR – I wish I’d been able to make it shorter, but I wasn’t.

Show with Leannan Sidhe and Kräken-Röhl next Friday! I’ve been rehearsing my set, looking forward to it. Please grab and print and post posters? Thanks!

Other than that, I’ll be one-daying Rustycon as soon as weather permits, which probably means Saturday. Given the TOTALLY AWESOME snowstorms we’ve had this week (photos at link), I admit I kind of do not envy their transportation department. Good luck, guys! And everyone else, too.

Have a good weekend! Say hi if you see me at Rusty. ^_^

How to Win

It’s Blackout Day. A lot of sites are dark, to protest SOPA and PIPA (a.k.a. PROTECT-IP), the two worst revisions to US copyright law since the original DMCA. They’re irreparably terrible, and should absolutely be discarded, and I say that as a copyright holder who has seen her music pirated in front of her very eyes. I support Blackout Day.

But I am not going dark. I am Solarbird, the Lightbringer, so instead, I will talk about where we are, where such a blatantly unconstituional corporate power grab can be so close to passage, and how we got here.

The US is an authoritarian police state. If you’re not of a sufficiently suspect class, and you keep out of unapproved politics, it’s not a particularly oppressive police state, but it is one nonetheless. No country with torture and extrajudicial imprisonment and execution can be called anything else.

SOPA and PIPA trigger reactions because they expand the suspect class pool. They bring the surveillance state Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have created more obviously closer to home.

Unlike many, I have not been disappointed by Mr. Obama in this. He has lived down to my expectations, which is why I did not and will not vote for him. He is of his class – the American political class – and they are quite united on the need for a police state, with restricted speech, restricted political rights, omnipresent surveillance, and the ability to disappear a few hundred people if it’s necessary for national security, by which one of course means looking bad or having to admit a mistake.

They’re also quite united on doing whatever their corporate donors ask. Where there is disagreement within those donors, or where the donors don’t really care, the popular voice can matter; some of these areas of disagreement are very important to me personally. But where there isn’t disagreement, the popular voice doesn’t matter at all, except insofar as is necessary to keep up the pretence of representation.

There is some disagreement amongst those donors; this is why the SOPA/PIPA fight can be won.

This is where we are; exploiting frissions between corporate and polite-state blocs, trying to keep the last daylight visible. This, in turn, is because when push comes to shove, all that matters is power. This is true in any empire; other things matter only after matters of power have been settled.

This should be obvious, but most Americans pretend it’s not true. That pretence is part of the problem.

Sure, Democrats and Republicans compete for seats – there are matters of prestige, of money, and of individual allocation of power to be settled. All of these are important to any empire’s political class. And there are still elections – highly restricted ones, but elections nonetheless, constrained and limited via money, gatekeeping, and the endless repetition of critical memes such as, “the other side is worse,” “third parties can never win,” “a vote for a loser is a wasted vote,” and “this election is the Most Important Election Ever, you can’t let Them Win.”

All these memes are appeals to tribalism. They all shut down reason and rational thought in preference for the Tribe. They’re needed to keep you playing the game. They’re used to keep you from changing anything.

And as such, their active propagation illustrates the one critical weakness left in this system: that all-but-titular vote. It is exploitable, but not in the way you assume. I will illustrate, with a story from another empire.

Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, the USSR held elections on a regular schedule. The Communist Party always reported getting 98% or 99% of the vote, and everyone outside the Soviet sphere laughed – who else can you vote for? – but they didn’t understand how Soviet elections worked.

The Party would nominate candidates. The Proletariat would go vote “Yes” or “No” on their local candidate. It was very easy to vote “yes” – there was a queue, you got checked off, you got some vodka and snacks. It was more difficult to vote “no” – you had to get out of the queue, go to another table. It took more time. It was visible. I don’t know whether you got snacks.

And most elections, even before the late reforms, some local party unit somewhere would nominate some apparatchik so disliked, so repulsive, so unacceptable that the people would vote no, and that nominee would lose. It was a humiliation. The party would nominate someone else, someone less bad, who would win. And the local party would be shifted, and the loser’s career would be over.

Which brings us to the single most important lesson, and the only lever of influence you have over either major party:

Pick the party closer to you and cost them power and money by costing them elections.

Travesties such as SOPA and PIPA shouldn’t even be politically possible. Neither should most of the major changes in government of the US from the last decade. Any victory against these initiatives are temporary at best, as long as the current framework remains unchallenged.

And to that end, money and power are the only things that really count. Deprive someone you “should” support of either one or the other, in a meaningful and trackable way. Demonstrate your willingness and ability to do that, and you will get a response. It will be angry. But it will be a response.

Don’t do it by voting for the other major party; that’s idiotic, as well as futile. That’s staying in the political class’s game. Similarly, don’t do it by not voting at all; that allows you to be discounted as “apathetic.” And finally, don’t do it by expecting the small party or independent for which you vote to win; the system as it stands is far too rigged against such outliers. Taking that party to victory isn’t even the goal; your goal is to deny victory to your “own team,” and to make sure they know you did it.

If you lack substantial money, it’s the only lever you have. I will illustrate, again, by example:

Mr. Obama was going to let Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell float along until his expected second term. All of the groundwork had been laid; the apologies and excuses had been set up; absolutely no meaningful work on ending DADT had been done; party operatives were all about ‘the midterms are Too Important, we have to wait ’till it’s safe’ line. People were already touting the ‘let’s wait and win in 2012, then repeal’ line.

And queers said NO, FUCK YOU and shut off the money spigot, all at once, major donors included. The Democratic Party machine recoiled and went into full spin mode, trying all of the usual intimidations and arguments, and they, at long last, fell on deaf ears. Even with stooges like the Human Rights Campaign, which is no mean feat.

And when that happened, when the big-money GBLT people said, no, fuck you, we meant it – only then did the administration actually start planning the repeal. Only then.

They also cut back on the vicious fundamentalist-sourced rhetoric and arguments they’d been using in defences of DADT and DOMA in court. That was nice.

It still took losing a court case to make the DADT repeal happen. But the fight got a lot shorter, and the court cases a lot quicker, and also importantly, they were prepared.

This is winning. Cost them money, make not appeasing you risk them their power, and you get a response. It will first be rage, then it may just be accommodation.

A second example, even more relevant:

The American left had a tremendous opportunity in 2000. Mr. Nader won close to three percent of the vote, and absolutely cost Mr. Gore the election. The Democratic party establishment frothed with rage.

The American left could have taken this opportunity. It could have collectively said:

Fuck right we did. We fucking cost you the election. We have that power, and we used it. Now appease us, or we’ll do it again.

And mean it, because that is how you play power politics. The opportunity was right there. Appease us, or die.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, the American left ran screaming back home, flagellating themselves for their sins, piteously crying, ‘We’ll be good! We swear, we’ll never leave and never ever ever be bad ever again!’ It was pathetic. And they were scolded and contritely made their apologies and occasionally get reminded of the “Nader betrayal,” to help keep them in line, and nothing they want matters.

And why all that Party rage? Simple: because the left had created a window of opportunity, and that window had to be closed. They demonstrated power, costing the Democratic wing of the political class both power and money; and that shit had to be put the fuck down.

And it was. They threw it away.

This is called losing.

Variations of this cycle have been on wash-rinse-repeat since the 1980s, with the left somehow thinking it’ll be different this time. It never is.

That’s how we have Members of Congress talking about how the Internet is great, but there’s intellectual property to protect, and corporate IP rights holders need to be able to shut you down just like that – and the Great Firewall of China shows just how it can be done.

That’s how we already have people being extradited from other countries for linking to things, and other people going to jail for making YouTube videos.

That’s how we now we have a Democratic Chief Executive who can order anyone, anywhere, tried in various degrees of show trial with secret evidence to reach a prearranged verdict, or not tried at all.

That’s how the Executive can order anyone jailed forever, or just outright executed, in secret, without so much as a hearing.

That’s how members of the political class have become above the law, answerable to no one.

That’s how losing the right to a trial can have useful idiots of the left dismissing it as a “fringe issue,” as the neoconservative worshippers of power cheer on Mr. Obama’s embrace-and-extend of Mr. Bush’s “unitary executive.”

It’s all part of the same context. It’s all part of the same theme. It’s all how the window of acceptable politics has been shoved this far to the authoritarian right, and become this normalised, with everyone in the Democratic tribe spending another endless election year rationalising it all away, telling themselves – and anyone who dares disagree – that this election is just Too Critical, and It Can Wait, and Other Issues are Just More Important…

…all as the Republic burns.

It’s Blackout Day. Things are pretty damned dark. What’re you gonna do about it?

up with which i shall not put

My principles have cost me a fan. That sucks. I don’t have fans to burn, and if I had more business sense, it wouldn’t’ve happened. But I have principles, even when they cost me; you might notice a parallel here between real life and band conceit. That’s not accidental.

Here’s the story.

Elsewhere, I relayed an article about Gary Johnson. He’s the libertarian-who-means-it candidate, not Ron Paul; he lacks Ron Paul’s history of racism, and other fatal liabilities. A self-described lover-of-my-music popped in to say disagreed with Mr. Johnson about almost everything, particularly marriage rights. “Marriage is between a man and a woman.”

So being a married dyke, I said, “Well, that includes me and Anna! So there you go,” quietly unfriended, and that was as far as I was going to take it.

But then this person sent mail, chiding me for how I “can’t tolerate as a friend, someone who has a different path from [my] own” and going on about how people like me are about hypocritical about tolerance.

I wanted overnight to cool down. Anna said I shouldn’t reply at all, but I realised I wanted to make a public response, because, in the end, they won’t read it, but maybe someone else will. And that way, maybe it will mean something – even if it is all way too personal. In this particular context, there really is no way for it not to be.

I have spent my entire. life. fighting efforts to keep and make me less of a person in the eyes of the law. I have spent, as they say, both blood and treasure in this war. My arms are wrecked for typing; I can’t do software anymore. (I’m terrified it’ll spread to playing; I work hard to prevent that.)

I’ve been assaulted, harassed on the streets, received death and rape threats more times than I can count. I’ve done ground work against religious conservatives working nationally-funded initiative and legislative efforts dedicated to making me various degrees of illegal, be it blocking me from employment, mandating public schools teach that I am “illegal, immoral, and wrong,” keeping me outright illegal in several states (as was still true when Lawence v. Texas (2003) finally tossed out those laws), and on, and on, and on.

I have spent hundreds of hours monitoring social-conservative and fundamentalist radio broadcasts, sitting there transcribing the blood slander they espouse. (It’s akin to blood libel, but instead of killing the children of gentiles to make our bread, we supposedly rape or molest the children of heterosexuals to “turn them homosexual,” and that’s asserted to be “how we reproduce.”) I’ve sat there listening to people like Beverly LaHaye extoll the virtues of bullying and child abuse against queer children to force them to “repent.” This included intentionally making your own children homeless.

I have not enjoyed it. Aside from the soul-searing brutality of it all, I loathe politics, and always have. But, of course, I lack the privilege of ignoring these fights.

And somewhere around the 20 year mark, I ran out of patience with people whose idea of “diversity” is keeping me second-class in the eyes of the law, on any level. That’s a sophistry I no longer have time for in my life. If someone wants to have religious beliefs, that’s their own lookout, and none of my concern; when they cry prosecution and demand legal action against me for it, I am done.

So do I lack tolerance for your intolerance of me? Do I lack tolerance for saying me and my family should be less than and unequal in the face of the law? Yes. Yes, I do. I also have contempt for the assertion that not being okay with your legal stances against me is “intolerant.” I mean, really? “You won’t let me legislate against you! You’re INTOLERANT!” Yeah, fuck that. I have had more than my fair share of that, and I am finished with it.

It’s not like I have enough fans to waste any. I most certainly don’t. Losing even one hurts me. It is damned difficult to get started in this business, and I need every fan I can get. The smart thing, the business thing, would be to ignore you and have not unfriended. My principles, here, are costing me.

And I can live with that. I lost a lot of friends for my stand against the Bush administration’s torture and domestic spying regime, and against Mr. Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s support of it. I can lose a fan over this. Such has been my story before, I guess that can be my story again.

So long.

— Solarbird, the Lightbringer

Because I can

Here, the only mandolin song I have up on YouTube! Yet, anyway.

When You Leave

It needs more plays, so play it. 😀 It also has very very slightly more sophisticated camera work than the other ones, so there.

Also, if you’re looking for last-second stocking stuffers? I have DRM-free downloads and I need listeners more than I need money at this point. Hit the tip jar if you would, but mostly, spread the word through giving! Thank yooooooou! <3

i got it working

I had to upload the last few videos at standard definition instead of HD. I have no idea why, they’re HD resolution on my machine, but the web interface insisted. Still, they’re up!

I’ve got enough videos up there for an entire set at this point. 😀

I’m making a new, nicer pop filter for my studio mic mostly because working with the coathanger one is kind of annoying. So of course I’m making a DIY video of the process. I didn’t start out making a video, but realised after the first round of gluing that I should. That’ll be up in a day or two.

(Assuming I fight off whatever this is. I feel like six kinds of ass today. Blick.)

Boost this musician! Second-disc shipping is free right now on Bandcamp, and multi-disc orders are discounted 30% on CD Baby. Or download Cracksman Betty or Espionage and burn them to CDs as stocking-stuffer gifts!

Okay, yeah, definitely time for more meds. I hope this is just a 24-hour thing, because I feel like I’ve been hit by a car, and having been hit by a car, I know what I’m talking about. G’night!

i may joke about it

Self-promotion is the downside of trying to be an independent musician. I don’t have VH-1, I don’t have VEVO, I don’t have Billboard Magazine, I don’t have radio stations, I don’t have record stores.

I have you guys, and I have my website. And the website is useless without you guys. You who like the album, who think it’s worth hearing, who think its themes are relevant and interesting?

You’re the ones who make this work, or not.

I need ears. Am I in this for the money? That’s hilarious. I want to make a living at this, of course, but I’d make literally orders of magnitude more money consulting part-time. And it’d be less work.

But this is my art. And what I really want is for my music to find its listeners.

So I’m asking you to help.

  • Order a copy, play it for people. Order the studio album as a gift, if you have a copy already. I have free shipping on second/third/fourth CDs on Bandcamp. On CD Baby, second/third/fourth copies are discounted by $3 each.
  • If you like Cracksman Betty or Espionage, the free/pay-what-you-want albums, download and burn them for someone else as a stocking-stuffer.
  • Just tell people. Like the band page on Facebook, point people at Bandcamp, leave a review or just Like the album on on Amazon or iTunes Music Store, or on your own blog or Livejournal or Facebook or Google+ page.

I may joke about buying in to the whole Black Friday/Small Business Saturday/Cyber Monday noise – and I do, believe me – but it really does matter. I care about my art, and I want it to be heard. There are endless numbers of good reasons to slam the record companies – and I do – but what you cannot deny is their ability to promote. They can sell anything, and do.

And then take all your money and leave you bankrupt. That’s the downside. Their way sucks.

Some of us – more and more of us – are trying to find other ways. I’m patterning after people like Marian Call, Leannan Sidhe, SJ Tucker, Ultraklystron, Rai Kamishiro, dozens if not hundreds of others. We’re all indie musicians, doing exactly the opposite of the Big Record Label Model. We’re relying on your ability, and willingness, to share what you like, rather than screwing you down as tightly as possible to their ideas about how they should own everything you hear and see.

It’s their way, vs. your ability to share. I don’t want their way. I want yours. That’s why there’s no DRM on any of my work.

So support your artists – musical, visual, whatever – directly, whoever they are. Not just through money, tho’ that’s good, but through sharing stuff, and through talking about what you like.

Including, I hope, me. Thank you.

PS: I’ve been going through the video and audio from the show on the 18th. I’ll be dropping at least one of those on the YouTube channel by the end of the week. Keep an eye out.

happy small business saturday

Happy Small Business Saturday! Pick a business or artist you would miss if they were gone, and drop a buck or two on them. We rely on you.

(Stolen from Marian Call, over on Twitter, whose music you should check out sometime.)

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