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.

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:

‘I Used To Be Sad And Then I Forgot’ Listening Party Replay

The #SADLP listening party was a great success, thank you to everyone who joined in. = I was surprised at how well the format worked when we did one for Josienne’s LP and this was no different. It’s kind of quickfire. I had prepared some text and folks asked questions along the way. I don’t know that I always gave good answers, but I tried and it was a really gratifying community experience. What I’ll try to do here is copy & paste the whole thing into a post, because a few folks missed it at the time and they can read it through, relive it at their leisure! Maybe will work? So I’ll put it in order, JC tweets signed JC, mine unsigned. If I miss anything or anyone, sorry, this is a copy & paste nightmare and I’m already confused, but I’ll do my best 🙂

Hello & welcome to the beginning. I’ll hit play at 20:00. That fat baby is me & that’s my grandad, a flower grower & driver in WWII, who the record is dedicated to. I remember his quiet strength. He played church organ & helped me understand music.

He used to help put on organ concerts in village halls & I used to play. My favourite was always getting to do chariots of fire on the weird string machine. Felt like the future, then & it still does now.

Then ‘Alex Bowman’ had this hairy rockathon phase, but at least my charity work made the local news. It’s all vain narcissists like me need, eh?

Here’s an early iteration of the album cover, made especially for twitter when the title wasn’t quite fully formed. Yes, I am wearing a charcoal facemask. No, I do not know why.

For the album cover, Josienne, @TrevorHphoto & I went to Chatsworth House for the day because I wanted a soft, sunny image of me immersed in flowers. I was quite prescriptive & Trevor nailed it. Here’s the shots we didn’t use…

And there’s the cover. I’m glad so many of you like the image. It seems to have gone down really well. So now, let’s hit play – go!

I wrote ‘Physics & Form’ on a hundred flights, thousands of feet up in the air. That was my happy place, for a while. I had a strange relationship with arrivals & departures. Nobody to say hello or goodbye to at the gate.

‘Physics & Form’ always started with something other than the guitar & Josienne’s half-a-pitch sharp harmonium part was just right. Wheezing, barely able to make a note at all, in tune with nothing but itself. It was always how the record would start.

It’s a pretty shocking start but the title says ‘he used to be sad’, and he really did, really sad, right through to his bones. (JC)

I finished writing ‘Physics & Form’ in a frozen rented shipping container in some godforsaken backwater shithole in London, feeling like a part-time pretender with nothing to say. The last line took a long time to get right.

Rarely has a song about wishing for a plane crash been so moving and so scientific, so scientifically moving! The Harmonium is a bit wonky and stuttering and a bit infirm like his resolve. (JC)

‘A Ditch Worth Dying For’ is one of my favourite lyrics. That first verse. It rhymes so oddly. I hope it’s clear what I mean. The Gm chord, I didn’t know, I discovered it in my living room & found this song there waiting for me.

It’s a quiet, bitter lyric, but I can’t claim it’s honest music if I don’t try to articulate my experience. Can you hear the subtle saxophone drone in the verse? Understated, subtle, powerful production from JC.

That last track now seems light in comparison doesn’t it! I knew this song had to be dirge-y and dirty sounding. So I came up with saxophone drones fairly early on it makes a nice shitty spittle-y bed for the rest of the song to sit in. (JC)

The sax drone sits round his voice like he’s singing in three part harmony accompanied by two wheezing bags, the world’s grimiest barbershop trio. (JC)

The electric breaks it up now with some mid-range pitch, with a delay that rings round your head like an alarm. The bowed cymbal literally cuts through setting ya teeth on edge (JC)

I had the title ‘Safe Mode’ long before I had the song. It took an age to work it into words I could live with. I managed it, I think. A testament to effort. It wasn’t easy. But I didn’t fail. Proud of this one.

We used a bow on electric bass to make the low booming creek that starts us off, I wanted everything other than Alec’s voice and guitar to sound far away and muffled. (JC)

The piano was recorded and treated to have all the attack taken out and just leave the reverb tail. The distant vocal tones is me screaming into a piano and then drowning it in reverb. (JC)

‘Leaves’ used to have a chorus but I let it go. Josienne’s performance & production on this is a highlight of the album. All the reviews love it. I’d like to explore it more with her in the future recordings. Go further down that road.

You know how you know when you need to leave the party but other people need you to not do? How do you know what to do? Whose need is more important? Is it ok to ever ask someone to not leave? And then be angry when they do? I’ve no idea.

This was one of my favourite ones to do! Recording all the different woodwind instruments, they sound uncharacteristically chirpy perhaps, but to me they are the euphoric sound of fucking off when all you want to do is fuck off. (JC)

“but what else can I do? I’m not leaving AT you” is one of my favourite lines, for you owe no proximity!! May you merrily fuck off to the sound of a million recorders…(JC)

‘Long Goodbyes’ came to life in a fancy London rehearsal room. My friends in a proper band were playing in one room, and Suede were rehearsing next door. Strange pressures. Paul Mosley played the piano, he gave it such life. I just play it on guitar.

there’s me in that fancy room. well, it’s not so much fancy as expensive & full of proper musicians, all side-eyeing each other to check nobodys more proper than they are

I guess I’m questioning the value of communication in ‘Long Goodbyes’. Sometimes, you just can’t get your message to land, however hard you try, so you can stop. It offers no excuses. It’s a bit of a tirade. Frustration to the fore.

That title suggests a touching love song, but Alec would never call a love song something like that, no this is a ‘learn to shut your mouth’ song. I have my own history with those. (JC)

Here @paulmosley ‘s Rhodes is subtle and touching and perfect. This is the calm that comes after all the storms, let it go, don’t waste another breath on it. They’ll say whatever they say, but we carry our own truth with us. (JC)

INTERMISSION – The Old Rugged Cross. My Grandads favourite. I never really liked it but it has a special magic now. Paul Mosley played it beautifully, despite Josienne’s repeated requests to play it worse 🙂

We recorded incidental bits of us talking in the studio, doors slamming chairs scraping, the sounds of endeavour. @paulmosley had to be directed to play shitter than he normally would, still sounds lovely because he has a limit! (JC)

Half time break, starting again at 20:30!

‘Patience’ was a tough one to record. I nearly didn’t manage it. It’s the one that sounded like a defiant Frank Turner singalong chorus in my head when I wrote it, and then it sounds so tiny, barely there, broken on tape.

The microscope glare, laser-sight focus of the recording studio vocal booth does strange things to a person. You better really know yourself before you start or you’ll learn in the most brutal way. I wrote ‘Patience’ in that same frozen shipping container in London.

This is my favourite track, Alec almost couldn’t sing it, he was smaller & scared-er & more broken in this one than he perhaps realised. It’s a heartbreaking listen but that’s what’s good about it. It’s falling so far, hitting the floor & then getting up again. (JC)

“when you’re next to nothing with nothing to lose you get carried away patience, the truth” is my favourite line of the album I think. The truth always comes out in the end, you’ll get yours, they’ll get theirs, it’ll be alright someday. (JC)

‘Hand In Hand’ has been strangely popular, I wrote this in about 3 passes, the chords & lyrical idea all just appeared in my kitchen, real quick. Yes, that’s a reference to Scott Hutchison, RIP. The laughter is real, the sound of me wondering what on earth I am doing.

This song is both ridiculous and sweet, what kind of person sings a love song about all the ways they might die?… Alec is! We couldn’t even sing it without laughing. In terms of production it needed nothing but a jangly guitar and his wonky vocal. (JC)

This sigh, at the start of ‘Event Horizon of You’, is probably my favourite sigh on the whole album. You can’t have a great album without a cough or a sigh or something. This one, I meant it & I’m glad we left it in. @jonwilksmusic said it was ominous & he’s right.

Now that’s the kind of title Alec would give a love song, it’s a space love song. The sigh at the beginning always annoyed me and I’d never have let it stay but it’s not my album so… (JC)

‘Event Horizon of You’ is the first full song I had ready, but the middle verse took forever to get right. @paulKblabber described as ‘an odd combination of physics & Lewis Carroll’ which I love. I choke the metaphor a bit & I’m not certain of the science.

“shifted to blue and then brown” is the lyric – I imagined an approaching object moving toward our hero, reflected by the light in her eyes. I don’t care, really, if that’s how it works or not, I reckon it’s just right how it is. Physicists, holla!

i love yelling I’M A SNOWFLAKE at rooms

Alec and I both played an elec guitar part for this he did the arpeggio and I’m doing the strummed chords, which was lovely cooperation at the time but now we forget who did what and argue about who played electric on this track (it’s me at the end for deffers!) (JC)

‘My Kind Of Chaos’ started as a title & I knew exactly the kind of song that went with it. Nobody knows what the second verse means & I’m ok with that. I love Josienne’s recorder orchestra. We’ll do that again.

‘My Kind Of Chaos’ is one of those guitar parts I can barely play. challenging my own skills, being better at coming up with ideas than executing them, this is the way around I like it.

Another of my favourites, those are 4 recorder parts sounding like a weird steam engine there! Trying to sound as sweet as this little song, soft and gentle, like a dream. (JC)

Every great LP has a cough somewhere on it, right?

The cough he does before the vocal here is bang wrong in every rule book but he doesn’t care for rules so he kept it in! This is a lovely way to end the story and it isn’t ever the end of the world. Stay here and find out x (JC)

‘Never The End Of The World’ was the last thing I wrote. Capo on 7 like ‘Lua’ by Bright Eyes & the whole thing came in one go, crashed landed out of nowhere, a real surprise. I knew the sentiment, the ending, before I started, I wanted hope & hope appeared.

Not wishy washy platitudes, though. I wanted realism. Underneath everything, at the end of it all, does anything worth knowing remain? This was my attempt at drawing a conclusion, finding catharsis, best I could. It feels like I did it, to me. Good enough.

it clocks in under 29 minutes and that means the bastard beats me on brevity, my own accolade! I only realised the other day and I’m furious. (JC)

So, there, that’s it, it’s done. The dust settled, the words spoke, I put it best I could. Thanks for listening. I want to try & play them live, one day. Would you want to come see that? Ax

A load of people said because of course they did, it was a bit of a mean twatty ending on my behalf. But I do want to play live. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I am able to do it, hah.

Anyway, there it was! Thanks for reading!

Sharing Bandcamp Links From Friends

Here’s some recommendations for great music you can get from Bandcamp. so following on from my post earlier, I took everyone who replied & wrote a sentence about their stuff and linked to it below. Enjoy!

I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot by Mr. Alec Bowman. This is my album. It’s out Friday 1st May. Of course, it was going to be here.

Historical Record vol. 1&2 by Josienne Clarke. I made that cover. Also, it’s a great & important record.

Subvert Central have a back catalogue well worth exploring, including this album which includes ‘Catastrophe In Blue’, perhaps my favourite Formication piece.

Smoke From A Future Fire by The Howard Hughes Suite. Wonderfully subtle leftfield acoustic music, kind of like The Shadows if they were my backing band instead of Cliff Richards. Calls to mind some of Warren Ellis’ soundtrack work, in feel if not exactly in sound.

Burd Ellen take traditional folk and bend it through a haunting, broken, modern lens. Progressive musicians writing their own rules & drawing the map for how it should be done. Watch them carefully, for they will continue to do excellent things.

Water Is Wet by Theo Hakola, long lost brother in misery, on Microcultures Records. For fans of Mark Lanegan or Nick Cave.

Corrie Shelley has a few sweet acoustic English folk albums of original songs here, and they’re all worth checking out, but start with ‘The Leaf & The Cane’.

Lucy Kitchen’s Sun to My Moon is a favourite of mine; beautifully produced, eerie modern English folk. This gets played a lot, here.

Me Lost Me is making brave & futuristic explorations into what folksong can be. New to me, but interesting & I shall be checking out more.

Philippe Bronchtein’s Isolation Music – he used to be called Hip Hatchet. His name associated with a project means it’s gonna be beautiful. He’s one of those musicians, and this solo EP is a particular favourite of mine.

Frank Birtwistle’s Ashes – Frank is a prolific musician, really making the most of the bandcamp platform. I like his solo acoustic guitar more than pretty much any others. I dunno why. He’s just better at it. I like listening to it where I don’t usually.

Now, My Girl The River are really making waves with their country stuff, and it’s easy to see why. It’s classic American music, big, sweeping, with a lovely soulful edge. Excited to share a release date with these good people!

I’m a huge fan of Settling Houses unusual take on American indie folk & I’m delighted to share a release date with their new one. Intimate vocals that call to mind John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, a band that can do anything, coming off like a grown up Front Bottoms, but importantly, the lyrics! Man, this fella can write. I find myself noticing words, phrases, rhymes in the thing and pausing for thought, second guessing myself. A wonderful artist.

Here’s Thunderhead, 90’s techno survivor! Odder & more atmospheric than the description would have you believe.

Peter James you might know from his best in class photography which he shares on Twitter. He also makes incredibly classy austere atmospheric ambient music. Check it out.

Dont’ know where to start talking about my friends Lawrence County. They’ve been there through it all, great people doing grassroots work, taking what they find and documenting their lives, which are by all accounts, fascinating! Check out their latest album, The Frailty Of Humans.

Tribes Of Europe make “inner & outer space music for the good children of earth & other planets” and I can’t add anything to that other than to say if you like your psychedelia strident & swirling & swung then you’ll enjoy their tunes!

I’m so glad that Lukas Drinkwater replied to my thread! Lukas is the real thing, everything he says he is and probably more besides. He runs Polyphonic Recording with Emily Barker, makes music with & for other folks, does it by himself and is the personification of a straight up sharer, a supporter, a facilitator. I’d recommend starting with his Jacob & Drinkwater stuff if you don’t know his music but it’s all great stuff.

I met Robert Lane when he interviewed Josienne for his podcast – here’s a link to his bandcamp where you can grab his music – he’s a community minded sharer, a supporter of the arts & i don’t know his output as well as I should so I shall be taking this opportunity to change that.

Justin Capps & The Cavaliers – a great bunch of folks with a big indie rock sound and a voice that I’ll never not be jealous of. Go check out their music and show them your support if you like. They’re worth it.

There’s this cassette label that do crazy wonky weird electronic stuff called Sharted Jeggings, a name so mesmerisingly difficult to like I can hardly bare to type it, but they support, they engage, they got an ear for a melody and you can go listen to them now!

Here’s Afterwise, acoustic music for the discerning modern listener & all round supporter of good things!

Zygmunt makes wonky electronic dance music and owns a truly great pair of shades. He shouldn’t do what he does, but he does it, and I don’t think anyone could put it better.

And that will do for now – I have got some guitars to record for another project I’m working on. Go get involved in some Bandcamp action. Friday 1st May or anytime, really! Thanks, friends, for supporting each other.

ps. adding three more latecomers but I wanted this to be complete – everyone who replied to me on twitter to ask got a share in this post,

Including Ben Morgan-Brown, Malcolm McWatt & Matt Blick

How To Be Grown Up In The #BrokenRecord Industry

Look, I get it. It’s competitive around here. Other people having nice things makes it seem like the consequence is that you can’t.

I’m here to tell you that isn’t correct. You are thinking about it wrong. It’s hurting you and it’s hurting your friends.

Appreciation of art, music, film, books, pictures, like love, is not a finite resource. Yes, the consumers of art have finite resources, but there are 7 billion people in the world and one person getting a review, a gig, their picture in a paper or some radio play is not an affront to you.

Check your reaction – try it now – do you feel incensed when a person you know gets some success in their life? Are you able to say ‘hey, nice one!’ when a friend gets their shit together and releases an album against all the odds and mean it? Do you share news that celebrates their success without a tightening fist in your chest that says it should be you?

Be honest with yourself. Don’t say it out loud.

Consider this. Do you feel jealousy when a friend succeeds? You do? Well, that’s normal! They got a dream job? Something good happens to someone else & you feel jealous? Of course. Everyone does. What does a grown-up do about that? They congratulate their friend. They say, oh shit, I feel so jealous, what a horrible feeling! I’m sorry, I don’t mean for that to take away from your success! I wish I had a review / job / car / baby / lover / object – and then makes a plan to get a piece of that thing they want for themselves. Asks their friend how they did it and takes advice. Treats them as an equal and trusts that they will want to help. If their friend is a cunt about it or fucks them over, well, off you fuck, mate! Nothing lost, no drama, move on. That’s what an adult does.

What happens in the creative industries is that when a colleague, someone striving for the same ends as you, the same goals, someone like you, with the same challenges, in the same circle, in the same world, when they succeed, people close ranks. They issue the smallest possible amount of peripheral support, usually with a tiny veiled insult baked into the miserable centre of the shit-cake, designed to minimise the achievement, throw meagre grains of endorsement sand onto the filthy floor of the mouldy shared bedsit, through a clenched fist & a tight-tooth smile. They only share or celebrate the bare minimum they need to to keep having proximity to the other person, who is really just a commodity, access to the gigs and reviews and radio play that they can get. A friend reduced to a swipe card to a head office that promises the world and you’ll buy it because WHAT IF YOU MISS YOUR ONE CHANCE? You know the rules – you only get a tiny percentage of the profit from your music so you have to fight! You have to fuck everyone else over! You can’t give unconditional, open-handed support to anyone! Even to people who give it to you.

Now, none of this is really that person’s fault. It’s how the industry requires people to behave. The people that own the rights to the music, the BMGs, the Spotifys, the Googles, they need artists to think that other artists are the enemy. That way, the enemy can’t be them. And it works – a musician has to work in a bar to pay the rent because their 1,500 Spotify plays don’t earn enough for a coffee let alone the rent. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING! they scream, so they look around and see a far away & faceless power, suited people in offices with a salary, who once met, who signed, who played a show with, who recorded with, who knows someone who was on a record with, who went on tour with, who joined a band with someone who has the thing you want – a career in music. The people that hold the rights to your creative output own a house in Notting Hill, they’re untouchable and so you can shout at them and tweet hashtags and be outspoken and swear & sweat til you’re blue in the face and it will do you precisely no good because your ideas, precious and rare and magical as they are, are nothing more than tiny money seeds that only pay your bills when you get so big it’s meaningless and you cant even be described as an artist anymore. Those distant targets, those industry types are so distant that they aren’t feasible targets at all. If any of them came to you and offered you a deal, you’d still take it, knowing it was shit. Because WHAT IF? and because THEY HAVE SOMETHING I WANT.

So where do you look? You look in the room next door, you look at your band mate, who has one more than you. Who once had, who nearly had, who might have a thing, and you throw your simmering, confused emotional ire at them, imperceptible knives, and feel confused when it hurts but at least you got a reaction. Those distant salaried folks who actually could give you enough money for your art but won’t because why would they when they don’t have to, and they DON’T have to, nobody does, well, they don’t even notice you, you’re a pathetic dog straining at the lead so you bite what you can reach and the nearest thing is someone who you should be celebrating.

Because guess fucking what, if you thought about it for just one second, then you’d realise that your colleagues are not your enemy. Other musicians are your community. Together, you would be stronger than on your own.

You’ve been divided so you can be conquered and it’s heartbreaking and cruel and nobody wins apart from the straight white bloke with no songs who owns his notting hill house because that’s how this whole shit-show works – if you own the rights to a hundred singers with a thousand plays each THATS ENOUGH TO BUY A HOUSE. Think about that for a second! Direct your ire at them. When your friend releases music or self publishes a book of poetry, what you should do, if you want to think of yourself as a functioning adult, is tell everyone you know, my friend made a book of poetry! Check it out! Someone will like it and they will tell someone else. And if you want to release a book of poetry, too, then you fucking should. Then that poet will tell their friends about their poet friend, like you did with them. You can’t get a license. You won’t get permission or a certificate and you’ll be lucky to even get encouragement, but don’t forget why – it’s because the creative industry can only thrive for the people who own it when ideas are not worth as much as the paper they’re written on and that’s always a lie – they are worth much, much more.

So, go ahead and have those ideas. Do your best with them, celebrate them when you find them and expect your adult friends to do the same.

LET’S BE A COMMUNITY OF GROWN UPS:

What I’d like you to do is reply to me, however you like, tweet, email, DM, anything, with your Bandcamp links. I’ll compile a list and write a post later today. I can’t afford to buy a note, myself, I’m afraid. My financial circumstances aren’t going to support that, right now. It’ll change, though, and I have a long memory.

So please, what would you like me to share? Send me your bandcamp links and I’ll share them here soon!

Making Art With Historical Records

So you probably saw on Folk Radio UK that Josienne Clarke has a new album out, available exclusively on Bandcamp right here, right now. The press release puts it best it can be put:

This is the artist alone in her bedroom-studio-office, it’s where the magic lives, the bits you don’t normally get to hear, that first spark of an idea as it appears, complete with missteps and mistakes and the frisson with which such creativity is charged. It hisses and crackles with pure, imperfect, creative endeavour, the nearest you’ll get to seeing how it’s really done. Take a peak over the fourth wall, behind the stage curtain, way beyond the dressing room and into her home to take a seat with a view over her shoulder as she pens some of the finest songs in her catalogue, a catalogue which is among the finest original song-writing this country has to offer...’

I made that cover & I’m pretty proud of it. That’s an old photograph of Josienne. I’ve tried to get in touch with Ondine Goldswain, who Josienne thinks took the photo, but I can’t contact her to confirm. If Ondine or anyone connected to her reads this, let us know so we can give you credit.

Here’s a section from the press release, explaining my work on the cover:

The cover of Historical Record Vol 1 & 2 was designed by photographer & videographer Alec Bowman, using a photograph taken of Josienne in 2009 during a shoot for her first album ‘One Light Is Gone’. Alec explains “Josienne is almost lost in a fog of digital degradation, but not quite; she’s standing, still, defiant in the face of all the noise. I used a hex editor to violate the integrity of the file & create the impression of a slow data collapse out of which Josienne appears, a quiet ghost in a static roar.’

A fancy way of saying it, but such are press releases. There are hundreds of iterations of that cover design. I knew exactly what I wanted the outcome to be and achieving it was very satisfying but took a while to get just right. There’s an element of chance, working with a hex editor. You break the thing, then look to see if the damage is the right kind. It’s a beautiful & time consuming way of working.

I made this one using the same technique. This one is based on an image I took myself during a shoot last year. We did it to make posters with and you will have seen some of these images out in the world in various forms, like this Slovakia tour poster.

Here’s a few others that haven’t seen the light of day yet, including the one I broke to make the AVI that JC is using now.

I made the video for ‘throwing love’, too. Well, sort of. Again, I’ll let the press release explain:

The accompanying video for ‘throwing love’ was made using footage shot by Josienne on her phone during her travels over the last ten years in music, then edited by Alec Bowman. We join Josienne on her endless travels, always coming & going, never arriving, no direction home or away. The only conclusion appears to be a moments quiet repose from some familiar window in a snowy street and the birds in the sky.

It was a satisfying video to edit. There was reams of footage, all unrelated and usually with her messing around, singing along, eating haribo or whatever on her way to or back from a show. Harrowing to sift through, in some ways. Satisfying in others. As with the cover, I knew what I was aiming at with the video. The story I wanted to tell. I just had to find the parts that told it. This is recovered footage, digital archeology. I edited it into the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, gave it a bit of drama. It doesn’t always scale well on youtube but it does sometimes & I think it’s worth it, what do you reckon?

More from the press release:

Historical Record vol. 1 & 2′ will be released on Corduroy Punk Records on 15th May 2020. It will only be available as a digital download & only on Bandcamp. “It will not be available on any streaming services, I’m sick of other people making more money from my creative endeavour than I do…”

Aside from the statement on the state of the #BrokenRecord music industry, documented elsewhere, the other thing you might notice is mention of a thing called Corduroy Punk Records.

If you visit that website, you won’t find much other than this statement:

I made those graphics. I’m not going to say more than that, here, now, or maybe, anywhere, ever. It is what it is & that’s all it can be.

“(Historical Record 1&2) is a candid and exhausted documentation of a whole life spent in song and how utterly, beautifully pointless that is.” says Josienne.

Buy Historical Record vol. 1 & 2 now.

My Album Is Nearly Out ~ What Can You Do To Prepare?

I started work on the sad song cycle that became ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’ a long, long time ago. It all comes to a quietly shuddering anticlimax on Friday May 1st at midnight in this perfect world. I shall be released. What can you do about it?

Plenty! Thing is, for me, however good it is, it’s gonna feel horrible. It’s the moment its truly taken from my hands. A wild animal, a raptor or something, lovingly tended, rehabilitated, hand fed by me for a while, reared to not only not mind but thrive in my human company. We’ve become dependent. That’s how you know, we’re done. I have to let it go. So, eventually, I drive the thing, caged in the back of my car, to a wild place, open the door and watch it leave. Confused, at first, unable to really believe or understand whats happening, finally, it spreads it’s wings & disappears off into the great beyond, never to be seen again. I dare to hope I did the right thing, taking it, injured, from it’s natural habitat in the first place, and that it will be better off, now, with the lessons I taught it, the strength & nutrition I gave it, but will I ever know? I will not. It is a wild animal with a life of it’s own. I have to let it fly. All that euphoria & loss. It’s terrifying. What if you hate it? What if you don’t? This post is the instructions you leave mother nature herself for how she can feed that bird, now it doesn’t live in your sanctuary anymore. A waste of time, really. But such is human nature. We are compelled by forces I doubt any of us really understand to fight for unknown things because of confusing compulsions. I’m just another of one those stupid humans. This album is my greatest wisdom & it’s really no wisdom at all.

SO WHAT CAN I DO, I HEAR YOU SCREAM INTO SPACE?

Follow me on Twitter & Instagram. Engage with me. I’ll engage back. Every click an endorsement. I will support you & I appreciate it when you support me. I notice when you don’t. You can hurt me, there. I hope you know when you do and it gives you what you need. Those platforms work differently for different people, but for me, I enjoy the discourse & likes, comments & retweets all help my broken bird to spread her injured wings.

Follow my wordpress website – I try to keep it up to date with the various projects I get involved in and share insights into the process, a backstage look into the operating theatre of the creative industries. Lots of photos & words. I suppose you know this, because you are here right now!

Follow me on Bandcamp – Bandcamp is the best of them. A real sanctuary. It’s been around forever and it was designed to work for everyone. They take a cut of sales but they provide a platform that is equitable. It’s growth is hugely encouraging. Your support here means more financially than anywhere else. I try to use it as a fan, but my funds are limited, so please do excuse me if I can’t buy everything I want to. I’m sure the day will come. There’s a CD available & you can also buy it as a digital album.

Follow my YouTube channel – they say once you get to a thousand subscribers and have four thousand hours of watch time, you can get money for the thing you made! This is a distant dream, and I need more content, but I am making more content, and a follow here counts for quite a bit 🙂

Follow me on Spotify or your preferred streaming service. Add my songs to your playlists! I’ve written about this in other places. Spread the word! Streaming is great! I get told what playlists I’m on & where you’re listening & I love knowing that. There’s only one song there right now, but not for long…

Come to my listening party on Twitter! It’ll be a lot of fun, I’ll share photos & thoughts & insights about the making of the record and what it all means. Here’s the poster. Just use the hashtag #SADLP to read & please do ask me anything!

Write about my album. Lots of folks have & it means a lot. Review it. Tell me what you like about it and what you don’t. Discourse is good. Honesty is good. I’ll share & shout about it, help to promote your platform as much as I can.

Play a song on the radio. I hope I’ve set up PPL & PRS right so when Dean Jackson plays my tune, I get a quid or so. I might not have I’m working it all out alone and it’s deliberately confusing and maze-like. I’ve done my best. Tell me you’re going to play my song, so I can promote your show, which I’ll do as best I can.

You can not mind that I keep going on about it! It can feel stupid, to keep sharing the same post, photo, radio play, blog, review. But it all helps. I’ll keep making new stuff & yelling about it. That’s all I know, really. You hold your end of the bargain & we’re all good 🙂

There are probably other things. What have I missed?

It’s nearly out of my hands. There is time to stop it, but I won’t. I could keep it in a cage at my house, deny it the open sky, for all my own reasons, but I shall let it go. It’s all yours now. I’m all in. Committed. Money where my mouth is. Please be gentle, if you see it out in the wild. It took a while to make it strong enough to fly on it’s own. Tell it I said hello.

How It’s Going? What Am I Doing? #brokenrecords and #listeningparties

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.

https://ffm.to/iusedtobesad

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?