Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Sod it.

As I've mentioned on several occasions, I've been recording an album.  Actually, that bit was quick.  It's been sitting on my computer in pieces for weeks, only wanting one evening's work to pull it all together. And I've been avoiding it's insistent nudges and subtle throat-clearings.  My reluctance to finishing it stemmed from several different concerns:

  1. My squeamishness at becoming one of those people who spam friends on forums and social networks in order to monetise personal relationships for a few coppers, in a strange circle-jerk of 'I'll buy yours if you buy mine.'
  2. My sense of the hypocrisy of loudly criticising the fake bonhomie and the cynicism of screwing money out of people for artistic endeavours and vanity projects, only to then come out with "Hey, pals! I'm flogging an album!" (see Point 1)
  3. Having to finally get to grips with the technology required in order to actually sell things on the internet - websites, 'Buy' buttons, iTunes, making CDs, etc.
  4. The reluctance to sink a relatively large amount of money (it's all relative; I'm as poor as a church mouse) into a vanity project that would sit under my bed for the rest of time, unsold and unloved.
  5. A sense, rightly or wrongly, of loyalty towards the band. Being in a duo is very like being in a marriage, and a solo side-project can carry with it the sulphurous whiff of the extra-marital affair.  Although we have the musical equivalent of an open marriage, one can't help feeling a little awkward about these things. Even when the partner is totally cool with it, you worry there'll be speculation among observers, clicking of tongues, folding of arms and whispers of: "Ooh, trouble in Paradise." Announcing a side-project is akin to letting your Mother-in-law examine your internet browsing history.
  6. The knowledge that I'm always a little behind what is exciting me. Half of the songs on the album are songs I've done (and subsequently deleted) half-cocked versions of on YouTube, and even if they're new songs to some people, they're old songs to me. The thing that excites me more is the song I haven't quite finished writing yet. So going back to these songs is like going round to an ex-girlfriend's house to collect the last of your belongings.  For those of you who think that deleting the YouTube versions is a low blow, rest assured I will be putting up some new versions of them, solo uke & vox live performance versions, with access to a free audio of those versions.  Same songs as what's on the album, but they won't sound as good as the proper recordings, which aren't free. 
Well, addressing these concerns one at a time:

  1. I realised I was cutting my nose off to spite my face.  Nobody else gives a flying chuff,and the only loser by not putting stuff out there was me.  I recently saw someone playing and immediately went out and bought her entire back catalogue.  She didn't force me to do it, and I didn't begrudge paying for something I wanted.  
  2. I still feel a little weird about flogging to mates, but actually, mates aren't the main buyers. Yes, there's some crossover, and that's sweet in its own way, but it seems mates want to help you along the way, without necessarily feeling pressured to put their hand in their pocket.  I don't want a single person to buy anything from me out of a sense of duty, friendship, etc.  If they do though, that's their lookout, and certainly not something I demand or expect.  
  3. Technology is still a mystery, but I was pointed to a website that does it all very easily, as long as you're only going digital (more on this in a mo), where they don't charge until you've actually sold, and where buyers have the product as soon as they've parted with the cash - no 'donations' or 'crowdsourcing' - just a straightforward transaction.  
  4. This digital method also means I've had very little initial outlay. If I wanted to create a physical CD, the outlay would increase dramatically.  If the digital version sells enough to cover the cost of producing a very soviet-style basic physical product, I'll do that.  If not, nothing lost.  First, the only costs I have to recoup are for some instruments I bought specifically to record with.  If they don't pay their way, they will be banished to eBay. If certain sales targets are reached, instruments will be allowed to stay and be used on subsequent recordings.
  5. There is no trouble in Paradise. The band is functioning in tickety-boo fashion. For me, songwriting predates the band, and it's something I've always done throughout. The band is massive fun, and we intend to carry on for as long as we want to play and people want to listen.  Only a fool, however, would assume it was a career for life.  New bands jump onto what they perceive to be The Ukulele Covers Gravy Express week upon week, and, like any train, if too many people jump on board, it'll derail, and we'll all end up lying bloodied in a cutting.  Also, I don't think my body or mind would cope well with singing Ace of Spades, week in, week out, for the next 20 years.  Although the end is nowhere in sight for hopefully a good long while, it'll turn up eventually.  One must be prepared.   
  6. The problem of being a little behind is exacerbated by not getting the material out there. The only solution is to release it and keep moving forward.


Release the album as a digital download. See if anyone buys it.

If they don't buy it, sell the instruments I bought specifically for the purpose of making albums. Watch TV.
If they do, keep the instruments and start working on another album; put some money aside to make a small run of a really cheap, soviet-style, 'economy-range' Physical CD.
If sales continue, laugh.

Here's a link to the album:


Thursday, 14 June 2012

I didn't even get the title in the right place

The Geek has inherited the Earth

*before I start, I'm aware of the irony of blogging this.

I think one of the the reasons I rail against those folks who prosper in the arts by starting up a little web page selling their potential and their promises is one of pure jealousy: I lack the basic technological wherewithal to perform even the simplest online tasks, never mind conjuring vast fortunes out of whispers, miasmas and HTML. 

I don't even know how to work FaceBook properly, and my feed is awash with sentimental drivel, unthinkingly regurgitated from websites that do nothing but churn out annoying memes about rainbows, positivity and all that gubbins.  I try to hide those people's posts, but they don't disappear. 

They never disappear.

I'm supposed to be a professional entertainer, and I work fairly hard at it. Entertaining, I mean. I can play a bit, sing a bit, get an audience chuckling, etc.  But I know bugger all about this internet stuff. Java is an island, a coffee; Adobe is what Mexicans skim their breakfast nooks with. A Bing Bar is ... oh, I don't know. Something about crooners and alcoholism. I can't be bothered to formulate the joke. They're weak anyway.

The point is, I don't know much about this stuff, but it's the lingua franca now, and although I can point at the beer and shout, I can't really converse.  And a large part of me doesn't want to.  Rightly or wrongly, I resent having to add web savviness to my skillset.  And 'having to' is the operative word; it's become obligatory. 

I had a website once, but I broke it.  I've spent some time looking at reinstating it or getting another one, but even an hour of research leaves me breathless with despair.  I ended up stabbing a mandolin to death with a screwdriver out of sheer frustration. 

But I'm a 'muso', and I've been writing an album; progress has been slow, and the nearer it gets to completion, the slower it goes. The wife thinks I'm frightened of finishing it in case it bombs.  That's not it: I'm frightened of finishing it, because when I do I'll have to start selling it, and all that entails. Web work.

I had an album before, and I pulled it off sale and gave it away - not because it was rubbish (though it wasn't particularly good), but because I just didn't know what to do with it.  I hated every minute of  ham-fisted attempts at internet marketing, etc.  I really don't know how these self-publicising crowdfunding, spamming nerks deal with the embarassment and shame. I genuinely don't. 

I know it seems odd saying this, bearing in mind I'm in a band that does a fair amount of it. Suffice to say the division of labour is heavily skewed in one particular direction.  If it was down to me we'd have a broken MySpace profile and very little else.  If you are aware of any aspect of the band's workings that doesn't involve standing on stage, playing music or throwing in the odd iffy bon mot, you can be rest assured I had nothing whatsoever to do with it.  Hardly fair, I know, but the plain fact is that if it wasn't organised that way, there'd be no band at all. 

My reluctance to record and sell material doesn't come from laziness or from a fear of rejection, etc. blah blah.  I honestly don't care about whether people like it, or even buy it.  I know too many people who've made CDs, etc. because people have told them they should, only for those same people to stroll off whistling nonchalantly when the thing's actually been made.  If I collected the unsold CDs from under the beds of everyone I know and bought a shitload of tile adhesive, I could turn the whole street into a mirrorball. Anyway, there's something toe-curlingly awkward about selling to your friends, an inevitability in this environment.
Not selling isn't something to fear; it's something to expect, and potentially even get a modicum of relief from.

The reluctance actually comes from a dread of reaching that point where I have to polish up a little corner of the internet, lay out my wares, activate the Paypal buttons and get iTunes on the case, tug on people's sleeves and start dealing with technology and affairs mercantile.  I hate it to the point of phobia.

So yeah, when other people can become millionaires just by spending 15 mins on the right websites, old 'Cockfingers' does get a bit jealous. And frustrated.

Financial issues aside, I've got stuff to share, but can't give everything away or I starve.  But I seem terminally averse to selling. And afraid of computers. And paralysed by options, none of which I have the basic abilities to  get through.

The old 'Patron of the Arts' would come in useful about now. Some way of divorcing the 'product' from the 'sale'. NOT like crowd-funding, which I think brings the two things closer together, where the consumer directs the production (not artistically healthy, though obviously lucrative).  More like the old-fashioned ones who just gave you a stipend and let you produce what you produced, free of interference and quotas.

Half of me wants to get over the block, make big music and sell my little heart out (Mrs E wants a house upgrade), whereas the other half of me wants to get rid of everything but a couple of ukes, forget recording and selling music, sticking to the band and doing occasional freebie little ditties on YouTube, pausing only to eat soil. 

I'm stuck.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Glorious Swan Song

It's Sunday evening and I don't have a song. Another chaotic week, but I did have a few hours on Thursday, which I spent on music.

But not on a weekly song. I decided to work on other stuff, and I ended up finishing two songs that have been buzzing around in some form or other for some time. And I'm much happier with either of them than I would have with a rushed, make-do-and-mend song. I enjoyed the process more too, feeling much more engaged in it, investing more of myself in it. No comparison.

The one thing I found useful about the song-a-week process was the necessity to set some time aside for songwriting at regular intervals. I think I'll keep that element going, but as for the rest, nothing has happened to alter the conclusions I came to last week.

I thought about quicky throwing together another song for the song-a-week, then I just thought: why? If I did that, it would just be another piece of rushed, cobbled-together crap. And I don't have 16,000 reasons to carry on regardless.

So balls to it. Expect another experimental project imminently. In the meantime, I'm going to abandon this method as fundamentally flawed and work on writing some tunes I'm actually happy with.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Rhythm Method

All the songs I've done in this weekly giveaway have so far been fairly rushed affairs, utilising the 'B-Stock' ideas, and designed not to impact too heavily on my life or on my creative stockpile. Any idea I think is pretty decent gets shoved to one side. Only once did I have a borderline case, when I thought a chord progression was 'possibly worth keeping and warranted further work' but I used it anyway ('A Pat on the Back'). For the most part though, I've kept what I consider to be 'the good stuff' as far away from the weekly giveaways as possible.
Sometimes you land lucky and things fall out of your head practically in one piece. For the most part, however, songs I write are a result of several different musical ideas and lyrical ideas, drafted, left alone, redrafted, left alone, redrafted and honed. The hardest bit of writing stuff is deciding that it's finished. It takes quiet; it takes solitude; it takes contemplation; it takes a certain amount of inspiration; it takes time.
And time is in short supply with this project. Odd snatched hours, strict deadlines, no internal editing required. The emphasis is on quantity, not quality. It's a production-line approach. I'm aware that some of the best songs of all time were created that way, in the Brill Building or the rooms above Denmark Street, but a lot of crap came out of those buildings too; it just isn't the way I work.
Add to it the pressure of sidelining anything with any potential to actually be good, and you're left with very little to work with.
Instead of letting ideas gestate in their own precious time, they are jettisoned prematurely into a sort of 'Ideas Withdrawal method'. This method acts as its own creative contraceptive.
It was fine right at the beginning: perhaps the remnants of pre-project ideas were still swimming up the right channels. But within a very short space of time, things have become tough. Musically, the path of least resistance is the cliche, and that's something that is very difficult for an essentially lazy person like me to fight against within the constraints of the project. Lyrically, I just don't have something different and interesting to say, on demand, every week, week-after-week. You pluck ideas from the air; you can't harvest them on an industrial scale.
The only alternative to resorting to hackneyed standard formulae is to start letting the 'good stuff' through too, and I really don't want to give that away to prove a point. There just isn't enough of that to last a year anyway, never mind enough time in a week to knock it into shape. I have come to the conclusion that:
It may initially seem to be creatively stimulating, but I can't see how it can be done on this scale without ending up running on empty and resorting to the banal and the throwaway.
Of course, I'm not saying that a little push doesn't grease the wheels occasionally, and a deadline can sharpen the senses, but this relentless pace is going to sap anyone.
And I mean anyone. Even people who have been paid $16,000 to keep that pace.
It does raise the question: if you were being paid $16,000 to do it, obviously you may spend more time on it, and you could keep the quality higher for longer. But either I don't understand international monetary value well enough, or you'd struggle to actually live on $16,000 without doing anything else. And I don't know if any amount in my wallet would actually stimulate ideas, musical or lyrical. And it's ideas that are drained. You could spend a little more time on dotting is and crossing ts, or getting the production values a little higher, but I'm unconvinced you'd have many more ideas.
Let me ask you this: who can you think of that releases five albums a year, all of which is quality original material?
I'm coming to the conclusion that this way of working can only ever produce 2nd or even 3rd rate results. I haven't written a song under it yet I've been happy to have my name attached to without the context of this blog to justify it's mediocrity. I've started to worry that people will hear the songs out of the context of the project, miss the point and think it's output I'm proud of. There's been a couple of good-ish ideas, but without the room available to develop their potential. I'm starting to worry that I've accidentally condemned myself to a year of producing rubbish, for a reason that will be lost well before the songs.
I find myself repeating the mantra: "It's all about the process, not the product," to myself as well as anyone else within earshot. But the product IS important. It's what will be left over at the end of all this, and it's the most important aspect of the project to some people.
The annoying thing is that I've got a backlog of music I want to record, but I'm stuck matching a banal project, song-for-song. The other annoying thing is that this project is only one of several projects I want to do under the 'No Packet Required' umbrella, and it's the longest commitment of time with the lowest creative return.
I know now that I could knock out a song a week with barely any effort, and without any financial outlay - so far it hasn't cost a penny - but I am starting to wonder if 52 songs I'm not proud of, and an obscure point proven really justifies deliberately spending an entire year prematurely ejaculating dubious material. For me, 'her' and her backers, there are probably more worthwhile avenues to pursue than this over-valued, wrongheaded party trick (unless it's all about the money).
I seriously doubt the validity of this project, both for me or my 'inspiration.' I'm really starting to wonder if it's worth it, or if I would be better served creating music that represents me more fully, free from time constraints and the impositions caused by the financial obligations of someone I've never met.
I don't think this works. But I can walk away whenever I like. She's stuck with it.
So. I'm on the horns of a dilemma. Do I keep on doing this for another 46 weeks, putting in less and less effort, making worse and worse songs, in order to reach conclusions I've already reached, a mere six weeks in? Or do I stop labouring the point, work on stuff I actually want to do and leave the battery-farmed, vapid rubbish to those who are contractually obliged to it?
It's obvious which one I'm leaning towards. I'll give it one more week, just in case this is a temporary blip, and if the song I produce gives me the same feeling the other six have, I'll let it go as an unworkable method for creating anything valuable. Because I can.

What'do you think of the show so far? ...

It started off as a rash decision on the back of a rant. As it's progressed, I've discovered some interesting (to me at least) things. It has made me think a lot more about the songwriting process, what it means to me and what it means to other people. I've tried to get into the head of the person who originally raised $16,000 in order to do an identical thing, and I admit I have occasionally wondered if she was feeling the same as me through the ebb and flow of the process, from the earlier enthusiasm, through the feeling of flexing creative muscles, to the realisation that coming up with something new every single week can be a pain in the arse, and wondering just how little you have to do in order to get away with it, and how much of a difference that sixteen grand has on the tidal level of enthusiasm.

Today I finally got a piece of feedback I've been impatiently waiting for. Someone finally said that the last two songs were very poor. I agree, and have been surprised not to have had a reaction to this earlier. I thought I was going mad. I was starting to think I'd have to fart in a bottle to elicit that response.

I knew last week's was poor, and I said so at the time. However, that may have come across as a 'fishing expedition' for compliments, and I took the compliments I received with a pinch of salt, just in case people were answering the fishing expedition by obliging and humouring me.

This week, I made no attempt whatsoever to make a good song. My target for this week was to create a song in the shortest possible time, with the minimum possible effort and disruption to my week, with no consideration given to any aspect of quality, creativity or precision whatsoever. The resulting song took just over half an hour and was pap.

But it was a song. It counted. No hypothetical refund required.

And when you've already got the money, there's no caveat that says the subscriber has to like the song, or even that the song has to be good.

This week's song is the worst yet, but, because it was done in half an hour on the last day of the week, I considered the week a roaring success.

Having given it some more thought, however, I'm not so sure.

It would be a roaring success if I'd set out to prove that you could just make any old rubbish and fulfil your obligation. But that wasn't what I was trying to do, otherwise I'd have spent five minutes a week thrashing out utter trash, but still complying with the rules.

It was supposed to be a balance, minimising disruption to my week, but still coming up with something of a minimum acceptable quality - multi-tracked, varied, considered, etc. By going below the minimum acceptable level (and I was probably pushing that last week - this week I dipped way below) I've broken the 'crap barrier' and been rightly called out on it.

However, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that the fall in quality was entirely deliberate. Although I was interested in seeing just how little effort a person could get away with and still comply with the funding contract, there were other forces at play.

The first is the short one, so I'll get that out of the way first; the second probably deserves a post of its own.

The short answer is that I've been much busier, in my work and home life. In the first few weeks of January, the household was relaxed, I was enjoying the post-Christmas lull in the work calendar, the missus was back at work after the holidays, and I had loads of time on my hands. In the last few weeks, I've been touring much harder, the wife's work has been more demanding on the household, and my teenage son has been staying, bringing his noise and chaos with him. Writing songs has fallen way down the list of priorities.

If all goes to plan, however, by the second half of the week the Boy will once more be gone (though things rarely go to plan where the Boy is concerned), and after next weekend's gigs, Doleman domestic obligations have left a little hiatus in the tour schedule, so all may quieten again. It will be interesting to see if the quality improves again over the next two weeks. That depends entirely on how important this reason is compared to the deeper implication - you know, the one that deserves a post of its own.

Expect that before too long.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Only one solution

... when you've run out of time, and have to write a song, but have no ideas:
I've had to resort to the blues.
No disrespect to that fine genre, but you don't really have to think round that many corners to knock out a basic blues song, so it's perfect for my purpose, which this week was to get from blank page to MP3 link in the least possible time and fuss.
I decided to do each track as one take, warts-and-all, and not listen back to the whole song until doing the (very rough) mixdown. There are some trememndous clangers in it, but IT ONLY TOOK THIRTY TWO MINUTES TO WRITE AND RECORD. I'm quite proud of how little effort I made. $16,000? Really? (if you don't understand that reference, you haven't been paying attention to what this is all about)
And I've discovered that, although many years ago I was a reasonably tidy guitar player, I can't play for toffee any more. I'm not particularly upset about that though - I'm uke through and through now.
So here is the song, which we'll call, er, 'In Case of Emergency (Break out the Blues)':


Well, nobody has reminded me. I was gigging on Thursday (my usual songwriting time), and I was going to write the song on Friday. I did the blog post, had some lunch, got distracted by something and missed my window. I woke late today, as I'm in Liverpool tonight gigging until late, so today and tonight's out. I'll have to do something tomorrow and sneak it under the wire, despite it being the weekend, meaning no alone time in which to sit and ponder.

Should be interesting. Or that other thing.