Learning To Sail Cover Art & Other Things I Made

Josienne Clarke just announced her latest record, the second part in her archive collection. It’s called ‘Historical Record vol. 3&4 Learning To Sail’. It features studio demos, some solo & some full band alternative versions of songs that either made it or didn’t onto her last album, ‘In All Weather’. These recordings are insights into how those songs grew. She puts it best over at www.josienneclarke.com where you can read her press release.

I wanted to show you some of the artwork I made for this release. The front & back cover sees the artist at the Port Bannatyne location of the Cat Stevens ‘In All Weather’ album cover shoot, testing light & angles ahead of time. This reccy shoot informed Cat’s work. I’ve used Lightroom here to reduce Josienne to an almost ghost. The light blue an inversion of the eventual album cover. A fitting way to represent the music inside, formative, embryonic, older, more tentative than it eventually became.

Here are two promo shots I made of Josienne. I shot these in a studio in Nottingham and lightly treated them with a hex editor & Lightroom. She seems lighter than air & she kind of was. It was hundreds of degrees in that room, that day. Some shots from that day found their way onto posters but these two were never used and I always thought that was a shame. So, here they are now. Oddly nostalgic, aren’t they? Confrontationally demure, just like the artist herself, I like to think.

The album is out on Corduroy Punk Records on Friday 4th September, only on bandcamp. No pre-orders. Buy it on the day. Thanks!

After The Lights Go Down

WARNING: this page features an extensive gallery of photos, so might take a while to load…

Yesterday, we walked to St. Peters Seminary, a ‘modern building of world architectural significance’ on the world monument funds 100 most endangered important buildings list. It’s easy to see why. This post is a love letter to this magical place.

It began life as a place to teach student Roman Catholic priests in the 60s, & failed when less & less people wanted to do that. It’s been a drug rehabilitation centre & arts venue. All manner of artistic funding fires have plagued this place, it’s remote, has drainage problems & nobody seems to be able to make it make sense but man alive, what a spectacle it is. It does make no sense, a sensual clash of a building, angles that don’t line up, broken things lie side by side with rot in this beautiful vision of a place. It feels neglected & precious all at once. It’s A listed & decrepit, wrenches the minds eye in all directions. Isi Metzstein, who designed it, was sent to Clydebank by his mother after his school was destroyed at Kristallnacht. St. Peter’s Seminary is cognitive dissonance that you can walk around inside, weighty with age & heavy with history, but you can’t help but look every direction at once, open mouthed, afraid to miss anything.

Today, it’s full of beautiful graffiti. An artist was painting while I was there. No pictures yet, because graffiti artists never appreciate that, but I intend to document new works as they appear. You have to be a little careful. It’s not exactly safe. It’s full of folks who maybe aren’t there to take photos and document the stunning architecture & artwork. I came out covered in anti-vandal paint from the fences. Watch your back.

It seems to buzz with potential. A new company, the Kilmahew Education Trust, was handed the keys to the place by the archdiocese in July 2020. I hope they can do something with it, give it the status it deserves, this unique & important place.

The Price of Reckless Candour

So here’s what happened. I made the record. Cost around £5k, all in.

I paid Distrokid $30 to put ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’ on as many digital platforms as they could find. That included Spotify, also, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc.

I had PR help from AtTheHelm PR, he did so much for me & working with him was a joy & pleasure, he sent out physical things, promo / review CDs, press releases, advised on timing, helped make a plan, which worked better than I ever expected.

I had thousands of streams on Spotify in the first week. Then I got an email from a company called www.StreamingFamous.com who said that they were affiliated with Distrokid and if I paid them a small amount, they could get me on playlists.

This is the dream, a spot on Indie Folk or something. That’s how it works. Spotify teach me to want that. I was hungry. So I paid $30 one off for playlist consideration. I figured, that’s what a label would do. Pay a PR company to get their artists exposure. I was no different, apart from I didn’t know where to go, who to ask, how to get that. I wasn’t a label. I don’t have one of those. So I used the thing in front of me. All of a sudden, I got tons of Spotify followers (all fakes, I guess) and some listens but no playlist placement for my money. I asked why. They said they could get me on a genre specific playlist, but I had to pay more. So I paid another $30 and they put me on a non-genre specific playlist next to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Then they charged me $30 again 3 times, weekly. I wrote and asked them to take me off their shitty playlist, that wasn’t what I wanted. They did, after a week, then refunded me the recurring money I paid. Not the original two amounts.

Then yesterday, I got an email from distrokid that said had breached the Spotify streaming terms & my album would be deleted from that platform. They said that I was unable to use distrokid to redistribute it, again, ever. It is unclear if the other platforms they sent it to would still be supported by them.

Spotify replied with a vague ‘we detected suspicious activity’ and yeah, I can see that. It was obviously a stupid thing for me to do.

What is clear is that I won’t get any of that money back & that none of the legitimate streams from Spotify will earn any money, now. Also, all the legitimate stream counts are gone. I’m back to less than zero.

I contacted StreamingFamous who declined to comment. I raised support tickets with Spotify & Distrokid who said, what’s done is done, we won’t supply any details, please go away.

So, I will pay a different digital distributor to put my album back on Spotify like a good little boy. Lots of folks saying lots of sensible things about either not doing, or just giving them a single & stuff. The reason I feel the need to be there is that it’s the only way it feels real. I’m not a musician if my record isn’t there. Thousands of real people really streamed it and that feels worth another $30, even if it isn’t.

So yeah, I’m a little upset. I knew what I was doing, but this is a blow. It felt like I was trying to understand a game much bigger than me, where all the rules are secret and the people that run it have an interest in keeping it that way and I had found a little back door, a tiny leg up over the fence because tickets are too expensive for someone on my salary. But there’s none of those, I was a naive idiot, thinking I could get anywhere as an independent artist, the dice are loaded, the score is rigged, the outcome is already decided and the people who own it don’t want council house scum like me coming along and getting ahead. Labels can buy plays, followers, playlist placement, adverts, etc. But not me. What bullshit.

I’m better than this. I’ve been hit harder and been down for longer. I’m just gonna get back on my feet and try again, resubmit & see how it goes a second time round. Everyone of you, reading this, is a supporter and you know the journey I’ve been on. Your support means the world to me. I notice everything, I’m cursed with a detail eye so I can’t miss any of it.

I’ll share the Spotify link, when it’s back, and you can playlist me again and see if we can’t get back to the same streaming numbers then see what they do about that! That is all I need you to help me with.

Thanks for caring & in the meantime, my record is still here 🙂

One Month Anniversary of Buying Plays

Or, undermining my own digital marketing strategy.

‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’ has been out for nearly a month & I want to overshare some insights with you about what thats been like! Firstly, the murky waters of the streaming marketplace.

I now have 14,000 Spotify listeners! 1.2k Spotify followers! 7,443 plays of Safe Mode, 4,931 of Leaves & 5,560 of A Ditch Worth Dying For! All the other songs are <1,000! What’s that all about? Well…

I bought most of those followers & plays for $50. To start with, I paid $30 to get one song some plays. Ditch went up to 3k really quickly, but I couldn’t see who was listening. Loads of people. I asked by live chat if the people who took my money could show folks the whole album and they said yes, but just Leaves went up. I asked who was listening and they said they couldn’t say, but for $20 a week, they could get me genre specific playlists so I said yes.

There I am, after The Killers & The Red Hot Chili Peppers. 51,000 likes, but a faceless account full of lacklustre genre specific playlists. Lots of listeners though!

So, I have no idea. Is this real? Are there really people listening? Did my $50 go to a clickfarm in South East Asia? I looked up the whois on the website I paid and it’s owned by a guy in London. Mike replied to my messages, quickly, professionally, slightly evasively. So it’s pretty simple, you can pay for listens. The more you pay, the more listens you get. $757 will buy you 500,000 plays, and 50,000 followers. But then I suppose, we all knew they was kind of meaningless numbers. I get the streaming revenue for those plays. They don’t get anywhere near the fifty I paid for them, but folks might think I’m popular and give me gigs! This is how the game is played. Madness but very present.

I got on a few real playlists by real people, too! Chris TT’s New Folk Friday & Vesa Lautamaki’s weekly roundup of new releases always seem to bring actual plays in. I wish I’d never ponyed up the 50 notes for fake ones, but I had to know what it was like. What could be done & how. If I hadn’t I reckon Ditch would be on just over a thousand plays. I feel like I sullied myself, did a dirty thing. But there it is.

Bandcamp has been a different story.

Release day was great, and then, Bandcamp (thanks @modernistwitch!) put my album on their front page & it went a bit mad. Sold lots of copies, digital & physical. To all over the world. In total, to date, I’ve taken just shy of £1.5k through Bandcamp. It cost £1k to manufacture the CDs and then about 5% of that to ship, another % in Paypal fees, but digital sales help offset that a little. So you could say that about broke even, in the first month, and I have a couple of boxes left to sell in the future! Superb. I’m still £3.5k down on the deal, but mainly, the reach of it! Plays & sales all over the world. It peaked early and then fell for sure, but it’s still ~150 real plays from real music fans every day, with someone buying a copy every other day. I can see who, talk to them, see what other music they like, support that if I can, and folks can choose to follow me so I can talk to them & sell things again in the future.

A radically different approach. Transparent. Lower numbers, but real people, listening to real music. I can see where every click came from. 222 folks googled me and went to bandcamp as a result. Etc. They expose & share what they know. Spotify monetise that hidden data and bandcamp share it and let you do what you want with it.

Apple Music / Amazon / Deezer, I don’t really know how those places work, but I know there’s been some plays there because my digital distributor tells me so. I’ll earn money from all those streams. Pennies, but cool.

BBC Introducing & loads of other shows play my tunes. Loads of folks reviewed it and they all said lovely things. Songlines Magazine is gonna review it in print in the issue out June 19th. That will be a big deal. I could’ve taken out a 1/4 page ad in there for £277 but I don’t have £277 so the review will have to be enough. That’s an audience to reach! I don’t know their circulation numbers, but they’re a pretty serious magazine! I wonder if they’ll like it!

Now, I don’t really know what to do with any of this knowledge, but if the aim of the game is to share the music I wrote, then that’s going well. Thanks to Bandcamp, it was worth making CDs and it’s a thrill to see who is listening. Spotify is nothing more than a moment in time, the fast changing face of how business colonises artistic ideas. It always has & always will, and tiny nobodies like me always will blow around the surface of that, trying to keep our heads above the water.

So I’m building up to saying that Bandcamp are doing their revenue share thing again on Friday 5th June, tomorrow, as I write this! I can’t afford to donate what I sell but I’d encourage you to check out some music on Bandcamp by POC.

Here’s a couple of places to start, Daudi Matsiko is a star of the Nottingham scene, and he writes wonderfully tender heartfelt tunes.

Daisy Godfrey has a voice that will stop you in your tracks. Proud fact – Trevor Hamilton (who took my album cover shot) also took that wonderful promo portrait of her.

Fill up my mentions with other great artists & musicians who we can all support tomorrow.

Thanks for reading. See you somewhere down the line.

Pandemic Psychogeography

A few days ago, Josienne & I visited the tree that she is tied to in my video for her song ‘Slender, Sad & Sentimental’. The tree has fallen over & will now gently rot into the field, as must all things. We explored it’s majestic carcass for a while.

Here’s the video, featuring the tree when it was still standing.

Ringing Bells – New Music Video

I made a video for Josienne Clarke’s latest single, ‘bells’ – it’s live on her channel now!

‘bells’ is a home recorded GarageBand demo version of her classic song & live favourite ‘Bells Ring’, from ‘Seedlings All’. This is the song, how it sounded when she wrote it. Isn’t it surprising, what changes when you work with other musicians? How much is lost, how others filter ideas in different ways. How the initial spark of one idea in one woman’s head can become something entirely else in the head of another. I always found this crystal clear, pristine moment on ‘Seedlings All’ austere, shiny & distant. Hidden behind a coat of glossy paint. And then I heard the original demo & it landed like a ton of bombs. It all made sense. What a piece of work. That lyric. It’s a love song, it’s not a love song. If only there was a word for that, feeling happy & sad at the same time.

You can buy Historical Record vol 1&2 from Josienne’s bandcamp.

Josienne described her idea for the metaphor of the video, so all I had to do was bring it to life. I had plans for using a studio near here, rented lights & some other kit, but of course, they’re all closed & we’ve no income. So, fuck it. I made it in a bedroom with whatever we could find, the light was awful but I’m pleased with the results & I hope you enjoy it.

Please enjoy a gallery of stills from the video I made for Josienne Clarke’s ‘bells’ video.

And here’s the video:

Supernatural Photography

I took my camera on our short government-approved exercise today. Rest assured, all social distancing guidelines were adhered to in the taking of these photographs. Here’s what the outside looks like here & now, which is mainly a fallen tree.