Ramblings | January 27, 2014

Thinking Outside The Album

Being an inveterate devil’s advocate I could hardly write a post on the Art of the Album without commenting from the other side of the fence. Having posted at length about how the album is still a relevant form today, I now want to talk about how it is also an unnecessary straitjacket in the world of digital music.

Going back to my earlier post, a key point in the reasons for the development of albums was to do with commercial realities. There is a great deal of overhead in releasing music. To a large extent, the physical costs are pretty much flat whether you are releasing 1 minute or 1 hour, and even when you start thinking about double albums, the costs only go up marginally for that extra piece of plastic. This means that it makes sense to package several tracks up and release them all in one go, because those expenses get spread further.

In the digital world, the exact opposite is the case, at least as far as sales go. The costs involved are primarily bandwidth for delivering the files, and that is directly proportional to the amount of music you’re buying. A one hour release costs sixty times more to deliver than a one minute release. Of course, distribution is not the only factor and the actual production costs of the music in the first place need considering, but aside from this the main cost is typically marketing in all its forms.


Given all of this, why do we still release music in albums? Despite my previous blog arguing the case for the album, I wouldn’t claim that it’s always the right format for a release and indeed, waiting until you have enough music of similar character to make a cohesive album can be very counter-productive. While I have a strong idea in mind for an album of mostly instrumental prog-rock, I also have a growing collection of songs which I don’t feel need to be packaged up as a whole. They are for the most part stand-alone tracks, but until I have an hour’s worth of similar material, they won’t see general release.

This is exactly the sort of thing that digital distribution should be ideal for but my recent interaction with various online digital distribution channels has shown a surprising focus on releasing music in units of whole albums even if it is being sold most commonly as pick-and-mix singles. Almost everywhere I’ve looked wants you to upload a whole album at once, rather than the free form “as and when their ready” stream of tracks.

I don’t tend to write music 12 songs at a time, I write it here and there as the inspiration strikes me. It seems to me therefore that a much more sensible way for me to be releasing songs would be one by one as I feel they are ready. Not as artificial snapshots of a moment in time when the sufficient-material-ometer reaches the top of the scale, but as an ongoing stream of activity. Rather than needing a big advertising campaign on release of an album to re-engage the fan base (“The long-awaited follow up album to 2009’s hit release, We’ve Got Enough Music Here“) it would be more of an continuous conversation, with more scope for a dialogue with the listener (“The feedback on last month’s Fifty Notes On A Mellotron was really positive so I’ve been exploring the idea a bit more with Fifty Notes On A Fender Rhodes“). It’s also an approach that would work well with micro-payments.

To some extent I suppose the main argument against this approach is that the music industry is simply not set up this way. Record companies, marketing departments, charts and even listeners are used to working a certain way and things which don’t quite fit the norm end up facing a bit of an uphill struggle trying to fit a system not designed to accommodate them.

But the point as a small, independent artist is this: you already don’t fit the system, or more to the point the system doesn’t fit you. Its focus is on the mass appeal money-spinners, not the small independent artist. Why not embrace the fact that you’re different and think about engaging with your listeners in a way that suits you, whatever that is, rather than the just the way it suits the rest of the industry? Personally I will be looking into practical ways of releasing music on a more ongoing basis at some point, but more generally I think we as musicians should be finding ways that work for each us and for our listeners rather than all following the herd.

Ramblings | January 20, 2014

The Art of the Album

The Art of the Album

With the prevalence of play lists, random shuffles and digital “singles” downloads of individual tracks, the album can look more and more like an anachronism. Conceived in an era when putting a single on a record player took almost as long as listening to it, and with a long playing record having a fixed manufacturing cost no matter how much music it contained (up to the limits of medium), the album was a product of convenience. As long as the record companies did a reasonable job of filling enough of those minutes the album seemed like good value, and you could listen to 22 minutes of music without having to intervene between every song.


Ramblings | January 6, 2014

Industrial Music

In a previous blog I finished up with the question:  Are musicians misguided to expect record companies to act in anyone’s interests but their shareholders?

My intention was to try to turn the tables on the usual question of whether the music industry exploits artists and instead to explore whether artists should reevaluate their expectations in a society where music is commonly viewed viewed as an industry rather than an art. To preempt the rest of this article, I believe the problem is at least partly down to our confusing the music industry, with its commoditised view of music, with music more generally.


Ramblings | November 23, 2013

A Misfit’s View of Digital Distribution

Several months after its release on CD, Fusion Orchestra 2’s Casting Shadows is now available for digital download on CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes. While the announcement on the Fusion Orchestra 2 site explains briefly the complications that lead to the delays, this sheds a bit more light and opinion piece on the matter.


Ramblings | Releases | June 27, 2013

You Wait Thirty-Five Years…

In what will probably go down as the worst bit of release timetabling in the history of my musical endeavours, it looks like both Fusion Orchestra 2’s Casting Shadows and Broken Parachute’s Down is the New Up are going to be released on the same day. It seems that you can wait thirty-five years for a release and then two come along at the same time.


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Ramblings | Releases | May 18, 2013

Sketch of a Day, and FO2 updates

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything in this blog, but today I have finally pronounced my instrumental track “Sketch of a Day” finished and so it seems like a good excuse to update things.


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Ramblings | March 19, 2012

Discovering the Mellotron

The Mellotron. The great grand relative of the modern sampler. The backbone of progressive rock keyboard playing. The bane of roadies and keyboard technicians everywhere.


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Ramblings | August 15, 2010

Solo Collaborations

Over the past couple of days I’ve finished off a couple more tracks in the studio. The first is another solo B.O.M.B. song and the second is collaborative work on the Broken Parachute project.

Doing both tracks in close proximity was quite an eye opener. For BOMB, I do everything and I control everything. For Broken Parachute I’m more of a hired hand (and set of lungs). Such a different set up, such a different role in each case, and yet actually the process for the two pieces felt very similar.

I had expected to finish up and find myself thinking either, “I much prefer having full creative control,” or “I much prefer having someone else to share the creative work with,” but really they felt very similar. I was surprised. Of course, in both cases it was still me working on my own a studio so maybe the difference comes when someone else is acting as engineer and I’m just a musician, or when I’m recording live with other musicians. Or perhaps the studio will always feel like this and there’s never really a time when studio work approaches the level of interaction you get when jamming.

Ramblings | May 23, 2010

Back in the Studio

Today was the first time I’ve been in the studio for a while. I had a request from a friend for some keyboard and vocal parts on something he’s recording. I said I’d do the keyboard parts but as I’ve been unable to sing for a while now after a nasty throat infection the vocals were out of the question.

Well… I got the keyboard parts down and found myself humming along. Well… it’s just a fairly straight funk-blues sort of thing. Surely it couldn’t hurt to give it a go? So inevitably I had a quick stab at the vocals too. The first attempt was cautious as I felt my way around, anticipating problems. Then I told myself I’d give it one shot at full tilt and see how it went.

I swear that the worst thing you can do as a singer is believe people when they tell you you’re not going to be able to sing. I’m not saying that if you’ve been warned that you shouldn’t sing for medical reasons you should ignore the advice — that would be stupid. But if you’re simply told “you’re going to find it difficult for a bit” and you believe it then you’ll hold back and you’ll sabotage yourself. As Yoda once should have said, “Sing, or sing not. There is no try.”

I’d almost forgotten how much I enjoyed this…

Ramblings | May 17, 2010

Ronnie James Dio

I could never really pick an all-time favourite singer. One week it might be Freddie Mercury, another it might be Ian Gillan. But no matter what, if you’d asked me for my top three singers at any time, Dio was a permanent fixture in that list, and often at the top.