Happy New Year!

I’ve got off to a bit of a false start to the New Year. Having first got ill between Christmas and New Year, then recovered, I went down properly with whatever nasty virus it was a couple of days after the obligatory late night party with good friends and board games. (I knew something wasn’t quite right when I needed coffee at 11pm to stay awake to see the new year in & get home safely). Apparently there’s a lot of sickness about at the moment – hopefully you’ve avoided it!

False start aside, next week it’s going to be all systems go, with another Sync Songwriting Challenge – this time only 5 days long. If we are producing full tracks in that time, it will be tougher than last time, when we had 8 days, but very rewarding. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in.

The last few weeks have been a time to reflect on the ‘wins’ of 2018, and to consider goals for the new year. Obviously, releasing Survival was a major win – even though it feels like much longer than a year ago, it was only last May. I’ve been pleased with how well some of my songs from the album have been received, and with the feedback for Death Blinked First, the new single I put out in October.

The other big musical win for me has been working on my keyboard playing to try to become more proficient, which will give me more options for live performance. (It should also help with recording). I’m not yet at a stage where I would feel confident playing keys in front of an audience, but that is where I want to get to in the next few months – I’ve been using material I pre-prepared so far. I have wanted to be able to play ‘properly’ since I was about 10 years old, and I haven’t ever really cracked it. Earlier attempts have been with a classical approach, learning each hand separately then trying to make them work together, which is where things usually fell apart. This time, I’m approaching it as the guitarist that I am and making it all about the chords, working two-handed from the start to work on songs I already know. The songbooks are the same ones I used when I was learning guitar chords, which show the chord names over the piano part. There has been definite progress! I don’t have any plans to be able to play classical pieces, though. Just to be able to accompany singing with the right chords and improvise around that when the feeling takes me (without hitting any obviously bum notes) would make me very happy. If this approach helps me get to where I can sight-read some easier pieces, even better.

Before the drive to improve on keyboard got started, I took up playing mandolin in about mid October. I’ve had the instrument several years since a friend was cutting back on their collection and I couldn’t resist increasing mine. I had never quite got my head (fingers?) around it or put much time into learning the chords before. This time there’s been more of a purpose. I played this in public for the first couple of times just before Christmas, supporting my church’s service and some carol-singing outside a local supermarket. Sure, I made plenty of mistakes, especially at the open air event – my excuse is that my fingers and brain got a bit frozen. It was good fun, though, in spite of the chill, and we all warmed up afterwards with hot drinks and soup.

My next big musical win for 2018 was all the collaborations. I still have to complete various projects, but the ones that got finished relatively quickly are already out there and available to listen: my Bean Bag Remix of What Good Are the Stars by Manipulant, and synth work/song development on Durdle Door, by Matt Steady. I have a big ongoing project with some remixes for John Clark and several other smaller projects with other indie artists.

Finally, on the personal side, the big win has been the dramatic improvement in Dad’s health since he got out of hospital in February. It’s been great to see him recovering and his determination to get back to normal as far as possible. The icing on the cake was in mid-December, when the GP said he is happy Dad is fit to drive again. We still have some hurdles to jump over, but that milestone really made me feel happy.

So, that’s where things are up to… I’ll maybe post a bit more about some of my goals for 2019 soon, as it feels like there’s more to say, but this post is already a bit long. (It has been a while, after all…)

Stoneygate Sleepwalker CD

What a Week!

I can’t believe it’s Friday already (yeah, I know I keep saying that, but seriously, they go really lightning-fast at the moment).

So, in place of my cancelled Tune-A-Day June, I went for an 8 Day Sync Songwriting Challenge, organised by one of the agencies that deals directly with the film, TV and advertising industries, Catch the Moon Music, based in Los Angeles. Getting my work placed in visual media has been very much on my radar for a while, and it’s only a few days since I did a very useful seminar by another songwriter who does a lot of this.  8 days sounds so much more doable than 30 days at the moment!

The challenge is led by Cathy Heller, who started the Catch the Moon Music agency; I’ve been following her podcast for over a year already, because I’d heard about her success getting her own songs into sync placements, so when I saw the challenge, I jumped on the opportunity.  Monday was Day 1, so we’re already half way through.

Unlike the 30 day challenge, where I was trying to get one piece of music together every day, the 8 day challenge is all about getting one song written and ready to pitch for licensing in the timeframe, including research, songwriting, arrangements, recording, mixing and mastering. (They will listen to demo quality pieces at the end, but the full scale challenge task is to get something finished that is ready to use).

It’s taken me a few days to really get into the swing of the course and overcome the unexpected niggles that come with being a whole 8 hours ahead of LA, with course instructions for the day arriving based on LA time.* Once the research phase was done, I had a pretty good idea of where I was heading, though, so I had a bit of a catch up day yesterday where I more or less finished the songwriting part and got started on production and arranging. My submission will be a somewhat upbeat song about having been close to death (yes, really!) –  so it’s new territory in a lot of ways for me. I’ve taken a lot of the inspiration for the song from what happened to Dad last year.

One of the really great things about doing the challenge is the Facebook live videos Cathy has been doing, which give an industry insider perspective and are incredibly inspiring.  Sometimes that’s in a very-gentle-kick-up-the-backside kind of way, to challenge us out of any negative mindset we may be hampering ourselves with, because it’s so easy to slip into ‘I’m not good enough’ mode as a perfectionist musician.

In other news this week, Dad & I had a useful meeting with his PhD supervisor to work out how we go forward, as he is coming to the end of his leave of absence, and I’ve been preparing for him to come and stay for a week as soon as the songwriting challenge is finished. Plus, the Sleepwalker CDs I designed a couple of weeks back have arrived (and been checked) along with my first batch of Survival CDs, in time for my gig at Lincoln’s Sonophilia Festival on 14th October.

Next week, when Dad and I aren’t attacking a few of the smaller jobs that need doing around the house, I’ll be getting my Sonophilia gig ready. Plus, I have to finish the 8 day challenge and readjust my body-clock to UK time! But before that, the challenge’s ‘Monday evening’ live feedback session starts 2am on Tuesday for me. That’s the scary and important session where they tell you what they thought of your song, if you’re one of the lucky ones that get feedback, so it’s worth showing up for if I possibly can.

 

What alternatives are there to Soundcloud? (Part 3: Orfium)

This is the third installment in the series, exploring where independent musicians can make their music available to the public.

Orfium platform music discovery

Orfium platform music discovery

Orfium

The concept behind Orfium is the one-stop-shop and they are pitching themselves as the ‘answer to Soundcloud’. They have been around since 2016, and are a social network where you can also sell and monetize your music. The platform is effectively designed to be something like Soundcloud meets CDBaby. (Which would incidentally make a great combination if CDBaby were to get hold of Soundcloud.)

There’s no upfront or hosting cost. Orfium keep 20% of the revenue, if you decide to sell tracks through them rather than offer them for free. That means they are keeping 5% more than Bandcamp and CDBaby Free. On the plus side, Orfium can do more for you, as they can handle publishing, sync licensing, and YouTube monetisation, which aren’t part of the Bandcamp or CDBaby Free services.  (CD Baby can cover this, but you pay a fixed upfront fee to upgrade to either its ‘standard’ or ‘pro’ services, depending on your needs.)

So keen are Orfium to win over Soundcloud users that they have an ‘import from Soundcloud’ feature, however it only works with tracks that you’ve made available for download from Soundcloud.  There are not very many users just yet – charting tracks have a relatively small number of listens, which are currently dominated by a few bands; the ‘popular new music’ list mostly consists of tracks with less than a handful of plays. Electronic music dominates the site currently, possibly because this genre tends to adopt new tech early.

Pros:
-A very well-designed, professional-looking site.
-No upfront fees.
-If you make remixes, they can be featured alongside the originals.
-There’s a playlisting feature; playlists can be set to be public or private.
-They also cover Facebook monetisation.
-If your fans play your tracks on the site, you could gain the attention of other site users simply through being a relatively early adopter of the site.
-You can set external links to another site where you sell a track, instead of via Orfium.

Cons:
-If you want to sell through the site you could end up paying more in the long run than selling via a service with a fixed upfront fee, like CDBaby Standard, if you expect to make a lot of sales.
-There’s no app for it just yet (although they say there is one on the way).
-Downloads sold through the site are currently only available as mp3, not lossless files (although Orfium’s FAQs state that they plan to offer lossless later).
-A 20% charge on sales is a bit on the steep side. You’d have to weigh up whether you stand to gain overall via the additional sources of monetisation available like Facebook. Royalties/sales are also only paid to artists via Paypal or Payoneer, and in USD, so if you’re outside the States, expect additional fees.

Verdict:
This looks like a good site with a lot of potential, but it needs more music fans to use it. I don’t see it as a direct replacement to Soundcloud, as it seems better geared up for fully finished recordings, as it also offers distribution services.  The social side of the service seems more like a nice add-on to its distribution service at the moment, rather than being the core benefit, but that should change as more fans start to use the site. It is currently slightly better suited for electronic musicians, because there appear to be more electronic artists using the site, who will be bringing their fans to visit. Consider selling downloads through your own website, but using Orfium as the shop window, to lower your costs and to offer lossless quality files to listeners.

Dreamwalker Kickstarter

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 21.12.56.pngToday the TrickJazz Mobile App Kickstarter campaign, um, started. There are three games in the chillout series that are part of this Kickstarter campaign, but Dreamwalker is the game that my tune is going to feature in, on the menu screen. All of the games are aimed at being relaxing for the players and feature chilled out hiphop triphop and jazz music with a beat. One game involves popping on-screen bubbles, another is a colour-changing game where you have to change the colour of a ball at the right moment to match the moving ‘glass portals’. Dreamwalker is all about doing parkour (aka ‘freerunning’ – running and jumping your way through an obstacle course) in a dreamy environment.

TrickJazz have already got a simple game out called Chicken!, but that one is really not about relaxation – it’s more likely to wind you up, in fact… But perhaps that’s where the idea for making relaxation games came from!

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 21.13.14.png

If you’re not familiar with this whole Kickstarter-ing business, the idea is that a lot of people get together and pool resources to make something happen, with the people that contribute normally getting some kind of reward in return – aka Crowdfunding. It’s important to note that, with Kickstarter campaigns, unlike some other Crowdfunding initiatives, it’s all or nothing: the fundraisers have to hit their target amount by the deadline, or the project gets nothing and it’s all been in vain.

In this Kickstarter, the goal is the launch of the three initial games in the TrickJazz games series, and they are looking to raise £10k to get these launched. That sounds like quite a lot, but the aim is that this will be made up of lots of very small pledges from a large number of supporters.  The deadline for reaching the £10k target is on 8 June – the same day as the UK General Election.

If you would like to know more about the game series and the Kickstarter, there’s a page with ALL the details on, including a better description of the games and rewards, and you can also have a look at this video which explains what it’s all about.

 

Age Equality Survey

As part of my academic studies, I ran a survey during February concerning perceptions of and attitudes concerning age equality, as it relates to the music industry. It also looked at different ages’ listening habits.

I don’t think it was the most scientific study ever, and I’m sure the Radio 4 More or Less team would be able to pick some holes in it, but I think there is at least some indication of the trends.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.12.19.png

A significant proportion of the responses came through posting requests for responses on Lincolnshire musicians’ facebook sites, but there were also responses from further afield. There may therefore be some regional bias affecting the overall response as a result of the survey’s methodology. All responses were anonymous, though, and the survey did not collect geographical information.  Approximately half of participants were music consumers rather than being involved in the music industry to some extent.

A huge thankyou to everyone who took the time to fill out the form, making this a much more interesting and fulfilling project to undertake.

You can view the original survey and read the results via the link below…. (don’t be put off by the length of the document, it’s mainly charts!)

AgeEqualitySurveyResults