New Site, New Season
It’s been a busy few years. For those of you who know me, you know I’ve been building the worship department at Mars Hill Shoreline where I am the worship pastor. It’s been more than a full-time job of serving, vision casting, writing, arranging, leading, and pouring into up & coming leaders.
Many of you don’t know me in this capacity though. Many of you know my album Grace and the most common question I receive is “When is the next album coming out?” To which I never really have a great answer. I have been very focused on my local church, and have not been writing much. Time is one reason.
Much to my surprise, I have changed. Shouldn’t be a surprise, but when you change in areas you didn’t think you’d change, then it’s surprising. For me, that’s been a growing interest in pastoral leadership and communication. As a result, I’ve focused my energy there, and less on songwriting. I’m sure I’ll pickup songwriting again, but for now you know where I’m at.
So, this new site will be a place I occasionally share things I’m processing through. Hopefully it’s positive and helpful.
Top 10 of 2011
Again, Radiohead tops the chart for me. What can I say? They keep making amazing music, pushing their own boundaries, and improving. That’s a rare thing. King of Limbs is a remarkable album. Well done, boys.
- Radiohead - King of Limbs
- Metronomy - The English Riviera
- Feist - Metals
- Paul Simon - So Beautiful or So What?
- Elbow - Build a Rocket Boys
- The Dodos - No Color
- Wilco - Whole Love
- M83 - Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
- Mastodon - The Hunter
A few notes
Modular is an amazing work by a friend of mine, Dan Phelps. The album has been out since April or May and still is regularly in rotation not becuase Dan is a friend, but because it is a beautiful work of art. Feist’s Metals was ambitious; very different from The Reminder and very interesting. Much more subtle, and yet consistent the whole way through. It’s an album that listens like an album. Not many people are making music this way any more. Paul Simon’s record was good, but it was his SNL performance that sold me on the album. Mastodon’s record is good, but they may have made the list purely for the album art, which is over the top metal.
Making Sense of Streaming vs. Owning
This year was the year that Spotify invaded the US in the latest installment of the British Invasion. Sure, we already had Rdio, and the unfortunately named Grooveshark, but what Spotify brought with it was an established mystique: They’ve had it in Europe for years now, it must be amazing! So, we crowded our social networks pleading for invites from the few who got in early. And then we waited.
Our invites arrived and then two things happened next: the fog of too much choice and questions of fairness and sustainability.
In the first few days I burned through all those albums I hadn’t yet listened to. It was great, and that new Bon Iver was really, really good. A few days later, the fog rolled in. Suddenly, using Spotify was like piloting an airplane through a dense cloud, where all sense of equilibrium vanishes and there’s no way to know which way is up. Unlimited consumption flew me straight into an indecisive fog that seemed to come out of nowhere. Staring at the screen, I had no idea what to listen to. Too. Many. Choices.
Though this isn’t a new problem (especially if you have a large music collection), it presented a new type of the problem: not having a starting point. Plainly put, the Spotify discovery engine is completely useless which means that you need to know what you want to listen to for it to be of any use at all.
Fairness & Sustanability
@innerviews helped me fly out of the fog, not by recommending something to listen to, but by referencing this now famous infographic on what streaming services mean for artists. Ironically, as an artist who had recently released an album, I hadn’t thought of the financial side of streaming. The next time I logged into TuneCore to look at my sales stats, the reality was staring me right in the face: streaming pays next to nothing.
Suddenly the artist was at war with the fan in me. The artist fighting for the ability to sustain making art, the fan fighting…well…not really fighting for anything other than limitless free choice which looks good on the marketing page, but in reality means the fan is flying instrumentless in the fog.
What Is And What Isn’t Freemium
Spotify operates under the banner of the “Freemium” model, which is easily viewed almost everywhere on the web. A freemium is where limited access is granted to a product or service for free, enticing the consumer to upgrade to the paid product or service unlocking the full-feature-set of said product of service. Anybody who’s played Word With Friends or Angry Birds knows has experienced this.
Sean Parker (Napster, Plaxo, Facebook, and now Spotify), maintains that Spotify is going to save the Artist’s world because of this. He says that Spotify will help connect artists to new fans who will eventually need to purchase the music so they can access it offline or on the go.
However, there’s a fatal flaw in Spotify’s argument: it is unlimited. Unlimited free access to most music. Why spend money when you get it for free? Compare Spotify to radio for a moment (which…don’t hear me arguing for the existence of radio, we’re just comparing freemium models here), radio is inherently limiting: someone else programs it, you wade through commercials listening in hope of hearing the song you like. If you want unlimited access to that song, you purchase it. THAT’s a freemium. A freemium model can’t offer unlimited access to the full-feature-set and give anybody any meaningful upgrade decision. Spotify is not a freemium.
To Spotify’s credit, there is evidence that the one thing it does do is reduce illegal downloading. Not only that, it monitizes it. So what if it’s only by the thousanth of a penny per listen? Golf clap!
Putting It All Together
If Spotify is not a freemuim, and if the fan is flying in the fog, then is there a way to make sense of a world with Spotify? How should the fan discover music? How should the artist protect their work while making it widely available?
Advice for Fans and Consumers
Treat streaming services like a freemium. If you discover something you like on Spotify, go buy it on iTunes, Amazon, or BandCamp. If you care where your money goes, then look for ways to get it to the arist. And if you care where your money goes, then owning your music makes much more sense than renting it. Buy the album on iTunes, Amazon, or best of all BandCamp (if it’s there). On BandCamp you get to decide what format you want, from MP3 all the way up to FLAC or ALAC for the audiophiles among us. Own it. Back it up. Keep it.
Secondly, few things are as social as music (this is where the labels have biffed it so hard labeling every type of sharing as “piracy”….golf clap!) so share! Share what you’re discovering. Talk about it. Show it off. Burn a mix for your friends. This is how fans are made and won. Remember the 90’s when labels and artists were making the most money they ever made and digital social networking wasn’t a thing yet? What were we all doing? SHARING MUSIC! So, take the headphones off, and show that song to your friends.
Advice for Artists
This could be an entire post by itself, but for brevity sake, here’s the truth: you can not avoid streaming services, so the best thing to do is learn how to leverage them intelligently. The best way to leverage them is by limiting the content delivered to them, thus creating something closer to a freemium. So, that album you’re releasing? Deliver 3 songs to streaming services and/or NoiseTrade, and put the whole album on BandCamp, iTunes and Amazon. If you use TuneCore, this means you’ll have to create two different releases to customize the distribution options. Yes, this has more up-front cost, but it sets you up to harness more sales.
Lastly, create more ways to engage your fans. Think about experiences here. Exclusive, personal, one-time, had-to-be-there kind of things. Make special products. Arm your rabid fans to share your art with their friends. Invite them to participate in creating some aspect of the project. Whatever you do digitally, have something that corresponds in the real world.
Releasing and consuming music is now far more complex than it ever has been. Spotify isn’t going away. Songwriters will still write. Bands will form. Fans will discover them. The opportunity is for putting all these pieces together in ways that are healthy for artists and fans alike.
I asked @loswhit to be honest. What have I done?
So, tomorrow my friend Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit) is releasing his review of ‘Grace’. I’m excited about this because he’s a famous blogger and a fellow worship leader, but I’m also a bit nervous because Carlos has played his cards close to his chest. Thus far, we haven’t talked about the album in depth. Knowing this, I asked him to be totally honest about what he thinks because the last thing any of us need is more of the “this album is a must-have” when it isn’t (and we’ve all read too many of those). Sometimes Christians are nice to an artificial extreme, especially when it comes to album reviews. But, artificial niceness is dishonest, and how can dishonesty represent Christ?
Yet, for the artist, a negative review can devastating. We all know artists tend to be sensitive, introspective types who pour themselves into their work. When that work is met with disapproval, it can strike at the core of an artist’s identity. That hurts.
I wonder how we Christians can improve at being honest in a graceful way? Hm.
So, as the artist whose work is about to be scrutinized, I ask for honesty with the full knowledge that it may hurt. If it becomes an exercise for Carlos in graceful honesty and an exercise for me in humility, then maybe this is the kind of sanctification that Christ would have for us? Maybe this is the stuff that grows us into maturity? And maybe, just maybe, that is far more valuable than what anybody thinks about an album.
For the Christian, there isn’t anything you can do to impress Jesus. He already loves you. He’s already approved you. Even if your album sucks. Let the reality of his love sink in. That’s how you deal with honest and painful reviews.
As for you, Carlos…bring it, brother.
Pastor Tim Smith & I Talk About Songwriting
Songwriting from MH Bellevue on Vimeo.
My friend Pastor Tim & I have worked together for most of the last decade. For most of the time we’ve known each other we’ve been writing songs for corporate worship. Earlier this month my album Grace was released which features a number of songs that have been introduced to Mars Hill by Pastor Tim through the relationship we’ve had has songwriters.
Here we talk about the specific challenges of songwriting amidst a busy life of family, career, and ministry.
Grace is Here!
It’s getting great reviews! Go pick up your copy at iTunes or Amazon MP3!
"This album is a must-have for any personal worship music collection” - www.iamanoffering.com
"This year, Joe Day’s Grace is the best worship album I’ve heard, hands down!" - www.ourrisingsound.com
"Finally, a worship album without all the usual cliche lines…lyrics are raw, genuine, biblically founded." - www.tamiinprogress.com