Heard a more than decent song this evening during the ending credits roll of an old TV show I am currently having a mild obsession with, a little something called The Riches starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard. Yes you read that right. Turns out the pair teamed for a one hour drama for the FX network back in ’06 to ’08. Though it only ran 10 episodes per season and only lasted for a season and a half. Seek it out if you’re a fan of either actor. They’re both better great at what they do in it. Minnie really shines. That’s a different story though.
The song started off with the lyrics “the fox… the fox…” I liked it immediately. Wanted to know who sang it. Sitting right there while the credits rolled, I picked up my phone (at this point it doesn’t even matter what phone we use. They all do the same thing give or take…) and Googled “Who sings the song with lyrics the fox … The Riches…” Within less than a minute I discovered the song was by the band Nada Surf, one of the few acts on planet earth I’ve never explored, let alone purchased an album by. With this new found information I then headed to YouTube and ran a search for the song. At least five uploads were available, whether I wanted to hear the original or the band performing it live in concert, there it was. I selected the one that seemed to appear the “most legit” and clicked play, placed my phone in my shirt pocket and went about my business of locking up the house for the evening — all the while this fresh new great song accompanying my every move, the music emanating clearly and cleanly from somewhere within the confines of my clothing. Like a walking jukebox.
When it was over, I hit play again to grab another listen. I also added it to my Favorites Playlist, which not only acts as my own personal music collection now, say goodbye to needing iTunes, but also alerts roughly fifteen-thousand of my closest friends on Facebook and Twitter about the song’s awesomeness and a link where it can easily be found. For free. And again it hit me. Walking around the house to turn off all the lights, the music still blaring out of my pocket, I casually asked my beautiful wife, “Babe we just heard that song on a TV show and had no idea who it was. How long did it take me to find that out?”
“A minute… Less than a minute” she replied as she let Alistair out for the night.
“Exactly. And how long did it take me to find it so we could listen to it?”
“And how much did it cost us?”
“Zero,” said she, letting said dog back in the house.
“Yep. The business has changed, changed forever. For better or worse the glory days as we used to know them are truly over for us in this business.”
“You keep saying that honey. What are you going to do about it?”
“Less than five minutes after hearing a song we like on TV and we’re listening to it. And we’re not paying a dime for it. I know I keep saying it lately. I just can’t fully believe it…”
“Maybe you don’t want to believe it…”
“Maybe… I hadn’t thought about it like that… But if 2012 was about anything, it was all about my denial of how quickly the music business has changed… and how nearly every single one of our income streams has dried up in the last few years. I mean, we worked harder in the last two years at making it than I ever have in my entire life…”
She smiled at me and patted my chest, implying I just might be overstating things a bit.
“Okay perhaps I’m exaggerating… the truth is I’ve been working like this non-stop for the last twenty years is more like it… But we REALLY kicked into high gear this year, and we achieved incredible things! Bigger and better and faster and more than at any other time in my career. And yeah we made great money from it… But it’s not enough. And no wonder. Look how different things are. It’s one thing reading about these changes in Billboard every week. It’s another thing to actually see myself doing it… participating in the exact activities that are tearing apart the whole freaking system.”
“Well it’s become real to you now. You’ve switched roles with the audience and now you are seeing things how they see things.”
“Exactly. And it freaking SUCKS. I don’t want to be doing this. Listen to this!” I exclaimed pointing to the music playing in my pocket. This is insane. These guys aren’t going to to get a fucking dime from my standing here listening to their music. And that sucks for them. And their label. And the producer if he’s getting points on the record. It’s all so wrong…”
“Well you could always stop doing it. But you won’t. No one will. Like you said, the business has changed… So have you as a music fan, just like everybody else. You want it now and if you don’t have to pay for it you won’t argue with anyone about it.”
“Yes. Exactly. That’s the thing. See? I don’t MIND paying for music. God knows. How many songs or albums do I buy each month?”
“More than you should. More than we can afford. Especially if you’re only going to listen to the song a few times and never listen to it again. Which is what you usually do when you find a song you like. You’ll probably never go seek out this song again to listen to it now that you’ve heard it a few times. That’s why people don’t want to buy music anymore. It’s not rocket science.”
“That IS the flipping point, isn’t it? The only difference between now and before is that unless a person wanted to sit around and make mix tapes or burn CDs from their friends, which was a royal pain in the ass, people were forced into buying music if we liked it. Now we don’t have to. And that’s that.”
“Honey I’m tired…”
“I know. Me too. What I’m trying to say is that this my love is why I need to start writing,” I said, giving her a hug before she went upstairs to prepare for bed. “More than ever before I now understand that it’s time for me to seriously become that rockstar turned writer we keep talking about.”
“You already seriously are that rockstar turned writer we keep talking about Baby Joon,” she said, her eyes drooping but still looking into mine. “You just need to finish one of the ten thousand books you have started. No amount of writing in the world, no matter how good it is, is going to help us if you never release any of it.”
“I know honey. I get it. I more than get it. It just keeps hitting me in different ways all of a sudden. I mean here again tonight it just really hit me. I need to shift gears fast and start actively focusing on the writing. Like a job.”
“No different than you already do babe. You already ARE a writer. You write more than most writers. AND you can still do your music. But what I don’t like is we keep talking about it and not doing anything about it. I think you’re afraid that it’s going to affect your music career. But I don’t think it will. If anything it will help….”
“Yeah I get that too actually…. you know what it is babe? I always saw me becoming “the writer” later… Like after the rockstar thing was over… you know, when I was older and married and had kids and all that. more like a retirement thing…”
“Honey you are older. I hate to tell you. And you’re already a writer… What are you waiting for?”
“Nothing I guess. I already told you my plan. The first book, When I Was Twenty-One will be completed and released by the end of January. For sure. And while we continue to work on the We Are the Revolution book, I can easily get the Casanova Diaries finished. That one’s already done. I just need to edit it. It’ll be easy. I can do this honey.”
“I have no doubt you can do it. I just want to see you START. And I’m not talking about making your little notes all over scraps of paper that just pile up all over the house… You have to approach it like any other job. The same way you approach your music when you want to get a new album recorded. You’ve got to actually sit and work at it till you finish. And you can still make time for your music. What do you do all day anyway?”
“Write or work on music….” I smiled. “I know, I know. I know what to do. You want to know what my biggest fear is?… Okay, two biggest fears actually…”
“One, what if I am not meant to stop music right now? What if now is not that time?”
“We aren’t talking about you quitting music honey. We’re talking about you working on only one book at a time instead of twenty and releasing them. And continuing to work at your regular job too. Just stop working on so many things at once and focus on one book and get it out.”
“And what if people don’t buy it? I mean what if people don’t buy me as a writer? What if I’m fooling myself?”
“Well you’re never going to know until you try honey. Talking to me about it isn’t going to get you there…”
“I know. It’s the new year. Plan B is working incredibly so far. You know I haven’t missed one day of studying Farsi in three weeks? You hear how good I’m getting?”
“Honey! I was going to tell you that when I came in this morning. I was laughing so hard! You have to be careful with some of the words you are learning. Some of them aren’t polite if you mispronounce them. This morning you were saying a bad word instead of “bowl” but I didn’t want to interrupt you…”
“No. Babe don’t do that! If you hear me pronouncing a word wrong, tell me. You know how hard it is to try to learn this freaking language? There’s no english alphabet. I have to stare at the pictures of objects and just keep hitting repeat over and over trying to learn and memorize it like that because I can’t read the freaking letters… It’s like music.”
“Well you’re good at it. You’re great at it. You’re doing it honey. I am really impressed.”
“I am getting good huh?”
“Yes my love. I’m proud of you. You have no idea how much it warms my heart seeing you practice so hard everyday…. Thank you honey.”
“No thank you for being so patient. I told you I would learn your native language. It just took me a lot longer than I thought. But it’s working out now with my new plan. I’m actually doing it.”
“So now just apply your plan B to your writing. Schedule a time of day you’re going to do it and do it. You’re good at that.”
“I think I’m actually horrible at it.”
“Not really. Not compared to everyone else. When you set your mind to something you go after it more than anyone I’ve ever seen. You know this. We’ve talked about it. You’re going to be teaching me Farsi soon! You just need to approach completing the books the same way you’re doing with learning Farsi or your music…”
“I know. I will. I am. I don’t have a choice at this point. I know it. I have to…”
“Honey I’m going to go upstairs now. Can you make sure all the doors are locked? I’ll see you upstairs.”
For the next hour it’s all I thought about. While getting ready for bed. I made over $9,000 from my music in the first quarter of this year. Just from radio airplay. It was a good year. But it cost three times that to get a song high enough in the charts to where you’re making that kind of money. That’s the catch 22 of the whole damn thing. This is nothing compared to five years ago. Because sales are now almost entirely out of the picture.
But the thing I keep thinking about is all these new indie bands that come out every month. They get a hit song in a movie or a TV show and then Bam! THEY do get sales. So sales haven’t dried up completely. Not for everyone. Frankly I think the conversation should be more about what leads to sales than how they’ve dried up. Because they’ve clearly not dried up for everyone. And sure I may not be buying as much music as I used to, but I’m still buying a ton of it. And so are others obviously. That’s really the key to it… How to stay in that top bracket of the rare few who actually still sell a ton of songs or albums… Second quarter pay outs are going to come any week. And they should be even bigger than first quarter. Thank God. But it’s the sales we are after. How to compel people to not just want to go on YouTube or Pandora and listen for free or play the songs on the radio…
Don’t get me wrong. There is NOTHING like having a hit song on the radio or in Billboard. But there is a very broadly drawn and large line in the sand between those who actually sell music and those who don’t. And that’s where we are waning now that the industry has changed. And I refuse to believe that it’s because we aren’t good enough. I went down the path a hundred times over the last twenty years. Until I finally realized through just sheer quantity and quality of fan feedback that it’s bullshit. It’s an excuse we tell ourselves because we don’t know what the hell we’re doing wrong. So we start questioning the merit of what we do, regardless of how much we like it or think it’s great.
Frankly I think the missing piece, the thing we’re doing wrong, is not touring regularly. Not that any of the Top 40 artists tour very often. Most of them are singles oriented. They DON’T tour. They do these big shows here and there. Morning TV, late night, festivals. We’re getting close to being able to do that now. But we’re not there yet. We need one more big hit. The other thing is that we’re a band. We’re not a Top 40 artist. And bands notoriously tour their asses off. So that’s something else to think about. What’s the resistance? Okay well we know what the resistance is… We don’t have enough money to tour or better put we don’t make enough money from touring to support a real tour. At least not yet.
But what if while I’m taking the time to finish writing one of these books in order to get more money coming in, we continue to work on the album, promoting and marketing, and if there’s a God in heaven or a sliver of luck anywhere near me with this, something will pop that will lead us into an opportunity to tour as we used to. It only takes one. We already know that from past experience, time and time again. What I’m hearing is that I’m just being impatient. Spoiled by how things used to be. The new album has only been out for less two months. There’s plenty of time for it to continue to rise in the charts AND for a song or two or three to get picked up for something that can lead to enough money to support a tour. And demand one. That’s the other thing. The demand… It ain’t easy. There’s no way around that. But it’s fun. Hell, I don’t even believe it’s fun any more. It’s more scary than fun. But it’s my life. That, really, in the end, is what it’s all about.
Okay, so that’s what we’re going to do. Here it is 2:44 am and I’m writing in the Diaries. So maybe that’s something that needs to change. The Diaries are free. Like the music now is. (insert loud laugh here!) We need to turn our attention and the writing towards other things that are NOT free. Other vehicles. We’ll see. This isn’t going to work. There’s no way I’m going to be able to maintain the Diaries AND make music full time AND finish a few books. It’s impossible. Unless I start writing super short blog posts. Which actually might not be such a bad idea. And with that, let us end. Tomorrow we apply Plan B to the writing too. We will add it to the schedule. And we’ll play it by ear with what happens to the Diaries… Until then.