I’m self-releasing my solo album ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’ on May 1st. On May 3rd at 20:00 in the evening, I’m gonna have a listening party, where I hit play on my record and then tweet photos & memories & stuff from it. A few folks have been doing this, supported by Tim Burgess from The Charlatans, who seems to be an all round decent bloke & supporter of grassroots music. The one we did for Josienne’s LP was great fun. I dunno if anyone will join in with mine, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a fun thing to do, regardless. I made what I hope is a funny poster to advertise it. It’s a stupid poster, I know. I like those the best.
So, it’s nearly over the line. This protracted, self-released, self-flagellatingly monumental waste of paint. I feel pretty conflicted about it. I am under no illusions that it will become my job. I make money to pay the rent from photography & videography with some IT work on the side. This is how it is & how I imagine it will stay. For me, and for increasing amounts of musicians, especially now.
There’s this hashtag doing the rounds – #BrokenRecord – and I have some conflicted feelings on it. For me, ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’ is & always was an expensive folly, I would probably be better off to spend the cash it cost to make on therapy. But I’m driven to make things. I am compelled to express myself, against all reasonable & rational odds. The point of the hashtag is that streaming services don’t pay anything near a useful amount of money to even a moderately successful musician. And they don’t. Everyone knows this. It’s what’s happening. Rightly or wrongly. And a hashtag is great – maybe eventually the movement will gather enough momentum to bring about actual change – but nobody owes me a living.
I have no expectations of profit. The record was about £5k to make. I saved that over the last few years. I reckon I took £500 in pre-orders, which was fucking amazing, thank you! And I have a box of them left to sell anytime, so cash might trickle in if I can play shows again. But break even? Even post-pandemic? Not gonna happen & I never thought it would.
You read that right. I paid money to Spotify (an Deezer & Amazon & Google & Apple & every other leach of a streaming service) for the pleasure of them using my music to take a monthly fee and they give me fuck all in return. This is how it works. How it was allowed to work, for reasons documented better elsewhere. The line is – recorded music is an aural business card. It IS cheap, but you’ll get gigs. You’ll sell merch. But now I won’t because I can’t. Neither will anyone else. So #brokenrecord is a call to arms – artists, rise up! Demand change! With the pandemic, everything is crumbled, so let’s take this chance to rebuild it better. And yes! Let’s.
But I don’t feel powerful. I have nothing to give. Down here, in the long grass & weeds, I either pay £50 to streaming services because I’m so grateful that streaming services will have me because it makes me seem proper, or I take a stand and rule myself out of ever being heard. And bigger artists are in just the same boat but with stronger & more powerful industry types taking their cut of their cash It’s a stagnant waterfall with the artist desiccating in the mud at the bottom. Even some venues take a cut of physical sales. There isn’t much left, at the end.
But I don’t wanna keep ranting onto the very people who do support me (twitter followers, for example) about how I get no support. That’s like complaining “only a few people came to my gig!” to the few people who came to your gig. Shut up & play your heart out for them, I say. I don’t deserve a wage or a career. I didn’t dedicate my whole life to this pursuit. I came from nowhere with nothing and got a bit lost. but, of course, I want change. Change would be ace! Despite my folly, I knew what I was doing. I did it anyway, I didn’t have much choice.
My song, ‘Safe Mode’, the only one I have on Spotify at the time of writing, has 220 streams. How much should I get for that? How much is it worth? It’s a tiny number, to some people, but not to me. I’m made up. My great ambition for this record is to get to more than a thousand plays. That would be a result! I’m a Spotify user myself, you see. The hypocrisy! Here’s the table that Tom Grey shared. See, I’ve not even made a quid yet. But I get to find out who put me in a playlist! And see where people listened to me. In Finland! And Canada. I like knowing that. I feel conflicted & powerless. Floundering, like I can’t be all pissed off that I haven’t even made a quid. That seems disingenuous, somehow. Maybe thats how they want me to feel.
So yeah, the record is definitely broken. Always has been & always will be. But home taping didn’t kill music. Streaming won’t stop me. I’ll throw my lightweight behind the hashtag, but the people who cause the problem in the first place, the people who own the music industry, they aren’t gonna listen to me. They never have. Why would they? Answer that, give them a reason, then maybe we’ll see some change. Til then, this is just poor old men shouting at richer ones while the rest of us make things that seem to be invaluable to some people & entirely valueless to others. I hope for change & in the meantime, I’m gonna write music whether it comes or not.
The industry needs to be complex, it will always be pompous, it needs money in it to pay the wages of the folks who sustain the wheels of the machine. It needs rich, connected people with trust funds to have the advantage. That’s how capitalism works. Making the blood of punk into an aesthetic you can sell in Next. It’s all the same. It’s a business. One person makes something other people want, which causes other people with other skills to muscle in and take their cut. It seems naive & damaging to complain, to you, dear reader. But it IS wrong. We all know that. Know what I mean? I didn’t get this record made because my dad was a producer or my grandad left me thousands. I got it made by bleeding onto the paper. But imagine if, when we rebuild the world, post-pandemic, the creative industries could be more of a meritocracy. That somehow, the business fuckers lose their grip, just a tiny bit, and some kid from the arse-end of nowhere manages to get cash from an audience because what they’re making is truly special, not because they grew up in a house with a piano in the drawing room. Yeah, I can get behind that sentiment.
Here’s a link to my #brokenrecord. It cost me £50, this link alone, but it means you can choose the service you prefer to either listen to my album for free, or buy it from me if you like. This is how it’s done in 2020. Let’s see if 2021 can be better.
p.s. after I hit publish, I had two thoughts I wanted to add.
One was – this is all self-satisfied & over-privileged of me. I DO have a voice. A website I can write this on. I imagine there’s hundreds of thousands of people who could make better records if they could scrape five grand together. If I can find a way to help them, I will. And also – internet outrage is fine, we can whip up a twit-storm of crossness about the state of it all & demand change. But, just like twitter thought the labour party might be in with a chance at the last election, it’s vacuous and pointless unless we can take it offline & out into the real world, but in the real world, Spotify is handy, I’m a hypocrite & the suits run the show. But if there is a fix, it might start here. And if it doesn’t then it can’t hurt trying, can it?