Please read the Derek Webb stuff below, or at least click through to his tumblr post from today that is linked. It’s good stuff beyond music. That said…
Some great music is out there these days. Thanks to my friend Andy Peterson I’ve picked up the latest from Real Estate, their new album Days. It’s wonderful indie pop stuff, with traces (to me) of The Feelies or even Mojave 3. The guitar lines are crisp and clear, with just enough haziness to create some interesting moods. They are certainly a new buzz band, with the likes of Pitchfork, Stereogum and others singing their praises, deservedly so. There’s a wistfulness to the lyrics that fits the season well. And while many lyrics are extremely specific, “All those wasted miles/All those aimless drives/Through green aisles/Our careless lifestyle/It was not so unwise/No” (“Green Aisles”), they leave space for one’s own memories to populate the feeling beyond the specifics. I’m still getting deeper into the record but it’s been powering the post-Thanksgiving work week thus far.
Switching gears is the latest from Sixpence None The Richer’s singer, Leigh Nash, Hymns & Sacred Songs. I am biased, having worked with Leigh and counted her as a friend, but this new record is a beautiful, sparse collection of hymns and spiritual songs that is perfect for an early morning dose of contemplation. And while it’s not a holiday record (Sixpence has their own wonderful collection of those songs), it does work well with a time of the year when the sun goes down early and there’s desire to build a fire and enjoy a beverage next to it. Songs like “Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing” and “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”, offer beautiful new settings for songs that are somehow familiar even if you’ve never heard them. The track “Isaiah 55″ made USA Today music critic Brian Mansfield’s eclectic recommended playlist this week, and is a standout track on the album. Oh, and Leigh can sing just about anything and make it sound beautiful and inviting.
Finally, I love this post from singer-songwriter-gadfly-entrepreneur Derek Webb:
He teased me into reading it with the headline, “here’s why i prefer piracy to spotify”. He then outlines some of his own relationship to the changes in the music industry and how it has affected him and led him to co-found the wonderful music sharing site NoiseTrade, about which I post regularly. Derek’s emphasis is that while things like iTunes and Spotify are indeed great for music customers, they don’t necessarily serve musicians all that well, as they keep all of the information from sales. For a self-described “blue-collar musician”, Webb posits that he has found far more value in having an active relationship with his fans, and a means to reach them to stay in contact. In fact, a recent Tweet of his read, ” I make more money giving records away on @NoiseTrade (in exchange for info) than selling those same records on iTunes (let alone Spotify).”
Webb is more interested in getting to know you and know how to reach you via email, social media or other channels over which he has control, than to see Apple or Spotify or Amazon or Pandora or other services be the intermediary; he’d like to connect directly. Those services can be great for discovery, but they don’t help musicians and their supporters to stay in touch. Musicians can use that sort of information to plan tours, to float ideas for merchandise, to build networks of friends around the country and support themselves as musicians. In many ways, it’s a manifesto to eschew the seemingly sexy road of the ubiquitous media brands for a well-worn and widening path of knowing just where your supporters are and how they are receiving your work.
To many people this is a “no-duh” road. So many businesses invest great sums to know and relate to their customers. Southwest Airlines famously hasn’t joined services like Expedia because they want the relationship with the customer themselves. Morton’s The Steakhouse has a tremendous customer relationship system that allows them to give world-class service to their customers, and Ikea has created it’s own customer ecosystem. In contrast, many businesses leave that valuable information to retail conglomerates. Publishers don’t know how to reach their customers when they drive people to Amazon or Barnes & Noble. By relying on an intermediary we lose the ability to learn about and from our supporters.
I’ve had this conversation many times, and it really comes down to what your goals are and what you’re willing to give up to achieve those goals. Do you want to be seen by everyone (or think that you’re being seen by everyone) in exchange for making less and knowing almost nothing about those who see you? Or, would you rather build a core community that you can reach, converse with, enlist to help, and then start to work outward in concentric circles? It’s not as if Derek Webb’s music isn’t on iTunes or at Amazon or Spotify, or available in the few retail stores that still sell music. It’s that Derek knows who his core audience is and how to enlist them to tell others. He knows who buys t-shirts, who buys CDs or vinyl, and who just wants files. What’s more, he can meet them when he plays shows. That kind of base is arguably less sexy, but it’s going to allow him to make a living as an artist for far longer than those who want the mythical hit single to carry them along.
He knows what he wants to accomplish, and stays focused on what works, not merely on what’s shiny and new and ultimately empty.