What now for albums?

Free-EP-cover

Do you see value in a full length, cohesive project vs a shorter collection of tracks?

I love making albums.

Actually, I mostly love making albums, the process totally has its ups and downs. What I mean is; albums are how I like presenting music. I like to try and tell a story, to let ideas flow into each other and for there to be a start, middle and end.

I’ve been debating the point of making another album (my fourth) for some time now. At the end of 2013 I’d all but given up on the idea. But whether it is spring in the air, or life changes (aplenty) I’ve begun feeling the need to once again make something, a longer statement, a soundtrack for this point and place in time. That’s what an album is to me. Something to pour all your thoughts and feelings into. A snapshot.

But does that come across? Do you listen to an album how it is intended? Do you feel or hear the difference between, say, a six-track Forgotten Songs EP and The Hollow?

Giving It Away

I’ve given away a lot of music over the years, many of you who are reading this now are here because of downloading a free EP or track. And I thank you for that, whether you contributed or not. The joy above all is to share music.

While I, personally, have a very real sense of songs I didn’t have the right place for, didn’t think were quite album quality or were simply practice spaces and experiments (Forgotten Songs) or nine to twelve pieces that I poured myself into, revised and re-revised, mixed and remixed (Along came the Devil, The Hollow, Bight); I wonder if it makes any difference to you?

This does also come back to a slight point of survival.

Like many independent musicians, I don’t make enough money off this alone to live from. But like most, I hope to. But making music does cost money. For every forgotten song, stitched together from leftovers, there are the sessions to make the albums they are salvaged from.

The Cost Of Creating

Recording live instruments, working with better skilled players where needed, working in studios from time-to-time. It all adds up. Then there is marketing, manufacturing physical product when it makes sense (maybe not any more), rehearsals for live shows. I aim to be as self sufficient as possible, but some costs cannot be avoided.

And yet, in attempting to lure you into my little world of music with these free collections and track giveaways, I wonder if I’m simultaneously eroding the value of my albums. If you can get six free tracks in an EP, on my website, why would you pay for a ten-track album? Regardless of how much time, energy or money has gone into its production. Well, you tell me?

Some Real Statistics

I’m able to look at a lot of statistics now about album releases and free downloads/pay-what-you-want.

From direct sales alone, the music that you and I communicate about here and in my newsletter (I am not including any iTunes, Juno, Amazon etc. sales in this), the albums barely have an edge over the “free” EPs and only because of minimal full price CD sales adding to their figures.

I would be highly tempted to make my next album release pay-what-you-want to see if it made a real difference. But would it devalue something I worked so hard on? It would feel a little unbalanced, or wrong to me, I know that much. But it could reach more people, and that is key.

Of course, in the process I would completely piss off iTunes, Amazon, Juno and all the other lovely stores out there who support my music and in many cases feature and promote it. And those channels are vital.

But…

On DIRECT sales ALONE:

My last full, twelve-track album Bight received around 86 purchases direct, with 25 of those being CD copies. Adding up to a little over £500.

Forgotten Songs Vol. 2 a six-track EP, offered up for pay-what-you-want, has so far received 1024 downloads, of which 113 people chose to pay something (from as little as 50p to as much as £10) and has turned over just shy of £300. Plus of course I now have 1024 more email addresses to write to each month, of which around 400 of them will open up the email and read it on a good day.

Forgotten Songs Vol. 1 which was initially offered ONLY as free has had nearly 3000 downloads.

So What Now – Would You Support An Album?

Would Bight have made more if I had offered it to people for free/pay-what-you-want? As it stands presently, even with other distribution figures added in, that album is still in the red. And the costs really were quite modest.

But maybe more importantly, after giving away so much music, though the story makes sense to me, how do people feel when prompted to pay full-price for a release? Quite likely no one other than me gets the difference between the two types of releases. Can that ever be established and does it really matter?

I write a lot of music and I like the mechanism of passing along these leftovers in return for an email address and, in theory, the opportunity to tell you about that album one day. But in doing so, have you come to feel that album is not worth the price, regardless of the real cost?

A Response To Your Post About Why Spotify Must Die…

Home_taping_is_killing_music

I need to write a blog about my pro-streaming thoughts so I can just post a link every time I see another “spotify is killing the music industry” facebook status/link to poorly researched article/reactionary rant/genuinely upset, worried artist.

I think it’s important for people to hear the other side because I truly believe in it, but I can’t keep spending as much time as I do replying to every anti-spotify post that I see on facebook. Before we start let me just say, I am a songwriter, someone who plays on other people’s tracks too, a listener (one who buys and streams music) and a label owner, so I do have a few different perspectives on this – right or wrong.

I’ll tell you what I believe has been killing music, major labels throttling innovation that could be working us out of the slump we’ve been experiencing. Labels taking equity and/or advances against catalogue and syphoning it away into their own pockets instead of to the artists who’s content secured the necessity for those deals. It’s little wonder that some of the larger artists on our radars are reacting with contempt towards streaming services, but in many cases I really believe it is outdated recording deals and cruel business practices that are to blame.

Tech companies (not just spotify) behind streaming operations are offering an interesting new solution for current user behaviour, for the present market, not that of 15-20 years ago. A market irreversibly changed by P2P (napster et al). But no service will succeed without those major catalogues making the platform “definitive”. Free or not many users don’t want to subscribe to multiple apps, they want one go-to. So for any streaming platform with ambitions of being the future of music consumption, those major catalogue deals are vital.

I’ve done my own research on this with people who download legally or otherwise. People’s value ideas have changed. Interestingly everyone seems to develop their own kind of “moral guide” to downloading. Some are really quite complex; getting in to percentages of music they’ll pay for amongst all the “free” stuff. Some gauge it by their perception of the commercial size/success of the band or artist as to whether they will “support” or not. Some simply value music by the format (this really upsets me actually), therefore a CD is worth £5, vinyl is worth £10-20 but your digital is valueless – the art contained on it is evidently meaningless.

However, within all this you do start to see conversions from people previously torrenting/downloading music moving to streaming platforms. This combined with “cloud streaming” options like iTunes match, which even registers your torrented tracks and then pays the artist a small rate per subsequent play and you’re already looking at new income streams in your accounting.

I’ve seen figures that suggest 25% of internet users seek copyright infringing content ie. torrents, MP3 blogspot links etc. Around 327 million people (from a 2013 study). With iTunes alone as big as it is now, we can begin to rule out availability as the issue behind many of those downloaders (though buying major label catalogue in lossless quality is still a total nightmare). So lets suggest that a big percentage of those 327 million don’t want to pay money for your digital music.

We need free streaming options to start to convert more of those people. The more we convert, the more valuable this method becomes. More ad revenue for streaming platforms, more 0.007s of a penny going to artists, maybe even an increase in those streaming rates (who knows).

This is, rightly, such an emotional topic for so many people and it is endlessly complex and evolving. There are much deeper conversations, vaguely alluded to here, about the value of music as art, and the straight up value of music as product which is unquestionably broken. Conversations about ad support for “pirate” sites, about levelling the advances and streaming rates playing field for majors and independents, about artist contracts and remuneration. I don’t want to go in to all that now. I just wanted to, for me as much as anything, write down my thoughts right now on 28th July 2014, about why I believe in streaming.

Music is alive and very well. More people are listening to music than ever before. But don’t think for a minute that they all want to buy our music, that’s just the way it is now, I’m sorry, I don’t necessarily like it either. But we need to educate more about the effects of torrenting/copyright infringement. And we need to educate more about the legitimate, free alternatives…

…not try to bury them.

Groovement Mix

Scrimshire Groovement Mix

Another mix from me, this time way more upbeat.

A long time ago Jamie at Groovement asked me to do a guest mix and things kept conspiring to keep me away from making it (in no small part, finishing my album).

But over the last few weeks I’ve been getting back to DJing again and making a few special ones (including my Slumber Sessions mix for i-D Magazine).

But here is my Groovement mix for you. It’s also accompanied by an interview, where we talk about Amiga 500/1200s and OctaMED and music education and all that sort of thing.

Slumber Sessions Mix for i-D Magazine

ShellsAndNemo

I made a very special mix for i-D magazine recently. Took me a few days to put together. The brief was to have a mix entirely dedicated to the sea, music influenced by and written about the sea.

I call it Music For Ocean Explorers though it features in their ‘Slumber Sessions’ series of mixes.

This 62 minute mix includes 33 tracks, excerpts from some of my favourite nautically themed books and some sea themed film fragments too.

Here it is on i-D including a few words from them. http://i-donline.com/2013/06/slumber-sessions-scrimshire/

Here is the complete track list. I hope you enjoy:

J’aimais – Jacques Brel (Barclay)
Clear The Track and Let The Bulgine Roll – Sam Eskin (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)
Anchorsong – Bjork (One Little Indian)
The Mermaid Song – Cab Calloway (unknown)
Song Of The Mermaid – Petula Clark (Coral)
Ode To The Big Sea – Cinematic Orchestra (Ninja Tune)
Waves Within – Santana (Columbia)
Dreams By The Sea – John Martyn (Island Records)
Lifesaver – Emiliana Torrini (Rough Trade)
Rolling On The Sea – Taj Mahal, N. Ravikiran, V.M. Bhatt (Water Lily Acoustics)
On The Lookout – Moscow Symphony Orchestra : Moby Dick (Marco Polo)
+Excerpt from Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Song To The Siren – This Mortal Coil (4AD)
Aqua Worm Hole – Drexciya (Clone Recordings)
Ecco The Dolphin Opening Theme (Sega)
+ Excerpt from 20,000 Leagues Beneath The Sea by Jules Verne
Ping Island/Lightening Strike Rescue Op – Mark Mothersbaugh (EMI Records)
Les Marins Ca Fait Des Voyages – Edith Piaf (Membran Music)
Beyond The Sea – Bobby Darin (Atlantic)
Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (Unknown)
+ Excerpt from Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Aqua Marina – Barry Gray (Silva Screen)
Pescadora – Los Bribones (Sony BMG)
La Pescadora – Mike Laure (Musart)
Mar De Copacabana – Gilberto Gil (Warner Music Brazil)
Lonely Sailor – Sergio Mendez and Brasil 77 (Bell Records)
High Tide – Batteaux (Columbia)
+ Let Me Tell You About My Boat – Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic (Touchstone)
Submarine – Genesis (Virgin)
The Planet Suite. Op. 32: Neptune, The Mystic – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Ambrosia Singers (K-Tel)
+ Excerpt from Moby Dick by Herman Melville
La Petite Fille De La Mer – Vangelis (Universal)
Siren – Scrimshire (Wah Wah 45s)

Drift – the hardest song of all and what perseverance gets you…

Drift strings session

I get to share this now. After it got it’s first airing on the radio at the weekend it’s only fair to make it available for you to have a proper listen.

So I may as well tell you about it too.

This song was the most ridiculously difficult of all to make. On the whole I found making this album quite liberating. I believed in myself and my decisions and things tended to happen quickly and really gratifyingly. Mostly.

But this track, well, it probably took me half of the entire time it took to make the album to make this one track. I always used to give up on tracks like that, but for some reason with this I had the bit between my teeth and I refused to give up. The further in I went the less I wanted to let go.

I would sit with my keys player, Dave Koor, listening to it at various stages and saying, this might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever made. This might be the biggest folly. It’s certainly the most expensive track I’ve ever made. “We’ll laugh about it in years to come” we would say. I was not convinced. Worse than that, its bizarre presence was unsettling all the tracks around it and making the album feel ridiculous. it was an uncomfortable place to be, with more hours an money going into completing it.

It took three, possibly four (I may have blocked one out of my memory) complete rewrites of the vocal and lyrics before I was happy with that part. Considering the music and arrangement was written and mostly recorded (keys, bass guitar, guitar, the original sample based drum beats etc.) in 2 hours one evening only makes it more frustrating.

In the end I think I finally started to believe. It was supposed to be a track that stood out like a sore thumb on the album – it was supposed to be very different from anything else on there – a total break. I wanted to bring out my love of Pink Floyd (the track came into my head one night after watching the Kenny Everett story – which of course features Floyd quite significantly).

I wanted to make something that could absorb you like those great prog records of the seventies. I listened over and over to how they were constructed and tried to learn the techniques. And I did my best to give my own take on that.

Adam on drums for Drift

When I went and played in some live drums that changed things massively. More swagger and swing and feel – it needed it.

I eventually also bit the bullet and called in the help of real strings to supplement the sample based arrangements I had worked on earlier in the process with Lawrence Whitehead.

Thank you so much to the guys who made that part of it happen Andy Hunt and Martin Bettridge who engineered the session, Sarah Telman who helped me put together a gorgeous group of string players including herself, Gemma Louise Rose, Mike Siddell, Iain Wilson, Will Rudge and Amie Boddy. And Cimeon Ellerton who took Lawrence’s original score and arranged it for the live strings.

Drift strings session

Each stage gave me a bit more hope. It goes a bit epic in Part Two which you will hear one day. I had to downplay that a bit, make it a little less dramatic and earnest. It was all very serious. So many weeks of editing and changing and starting mixes again. I can say with some confidence that I have never and probably will never again spend so many, many hours on one single piece.

Anyway, I believe I got it right. I hope you feel it is something special, like I wanted it to be.

There’s a very commonly held belief I think among a lot of creatives that if it doesn’t come easily and quickly then it probably just isn’t the one. But I think sometimes perseverance really pays, and in the process you get to learn infinite amounts about the processes involved, but also about yourself and how to cope with failing, and succeeding and taking the wrong path and having to turn around and try again. Because sometimes you might start something that you aren’t up to scratch to complete. So you need to make the journey and become the person that can.

The album can be pre-ordered here: http://scrimshire.bandcamp.com/album/bight

Album track Drift on Huey Morgan today

Scrimshire - Bight

Big thanks to Huey Morgan today for playing Drift (Part One) on his show. Drift is a slight departure in some ways but then so are a few of the new album tracks. If you enjoyed it please feel free to go and pre-order the new album, your love will be appreciated forever – seriously.

You can hear Drift (Part One) on listen again for the next few days – check it at 1 hour 45 mins: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s9g6s

The album is out on May 27th. CD pre-orders will reach you a couple of days early.

Or you can go to iTunes too. Lovely!

Pre-order Bight direct

Pre-order Bight on iTunes

Finally… Here is a little alternate take and video I made for Drift.