Frank Gutch Jr: Spotify Re-revisited, Research Turtles, Upcoming and New Releases, and Notes….

Before we dive in to that 800 pound gorilla, Spotify, I want to point out that Toronto has two more chances to catch one of the most impressive bands to live within Canada’s borders.  I caught Picture The Ocean‘s set in Portland a week or two ago and I couldn’t have been more impressed.  Impressed enough to keep the new album on heavy rotation, listening-wise.  Impressed enough to relive many of the outstanding moments of the band that night.  Impressed enough to trumpet the band to any and all who will listen.  This band is the real deal, my friends, and they are holding down a “residency” (whatever the hell that is) at The Cameron House the next two Tuesdays and will be playing from 6-8 PM.  Now, I don’t jump up and down for that many artists and/or bands (okay, I do, but it’s only because the bands I love are bands you need to hear), so take my word for it.  If I’m wrong, I’ll give you ten free whacks at the whipping post.  I’m telling you, these guys are good!  An antidote to the musical blahs.  An argument against there being no good music anymore.  You can thank me later.  And now…

There Is Something Rotten In the State of Spotify…..

When it rains it pours and shit is pouring down on Spotify lately and not just from anti-corporate commandos.  If you read this column, you might remember my first attempt at trying to figure out the positives and negatives of Spotify.  I wrote that column because it was premiering in the States and I had no concept of what it might do for or against the independent artists I support.  I referred to them as an 800-pound gorilla and I do not apologize for that.  When any multi-million dollar entity steps in anywhere to the fanfare of the various forms of mainstream media, red flags go up in my head.  Over the years, I have learned that the “present business model” is more than likely a more pleasant way of saying that they’ve found a new way to fuck someone.  After all, they always say, it’s just business.

Well, that is certainly not what musician Jon Gomm thought.

“The return on plays is tiny,” Gomm wrote to me,  “a miniscule fraction of a penny for each play.  People can listen for free, which I am all for, but you’re better off providing that facility on your own website or bandcamp.com so people are in the right place to make a purchase if they choose to. (Note: Spotify does not yet sell downloads through their site in the States)

“The biggest problem for me is that the major corporate labels have, as I understand it, bought up what amounts to a majority stake in Spotify, so they potentially will be paid whether their artists get paid or not.  I, as an independent artist, have made a decision to not be part of the mainstream industry for many reasons— artistic, financial and ethical— and the last thing I would choose to do now is to help fund them or legitimize them.  Indie artists on Spotify lend it a coolness, a cachet and a sense of ‘giving back’ to struggling artists whom sites like CDBaby and bandcamp support.  Spotify does nothing towards deserving that as far as I can see.”

So did that start a stampede toward the exit doors at Spotify?  Not exactly, but many independent musicians are pulling or refusing to place their music on the site.  In an article written by James Holloway and posted here on Nov. 24, 2011, the question was Is Spotify Fair To Artists? The most glaring example that it was not was that Lady Gaga, for a million plays on the site, was paid a mere $167 dollars (Euro).  Unconfirmed, of course.  Spotify stayed strangely silent as that ridiculous figure made the rounds on  the Net.  Was it true?  According to the article, “speculation in the media since has put the actual royalty paid per play between $0.0013 and $0.002, which would mean $1,315 – $1,855” was actually paid.  Is that fair?  Many people look at the amounts paid through licensing for music venues and radio and say hell, yes.  Those do pay less.  What they don’t understand, though, is that there is a difference.  The music at venues and on radio are not recyclable.  You cannot go back to that station or back to that venue and hear the same music on demand.  Does it make a difference?  Of course, it does.

You have, with Spotify, instant access to their entire library of music (and they say, in the future, videos).  You can program your own station, so to speak, and that is what the public is learning to do.  It is not a crapshoot like radio.  It is not controlled by a manager of a bar.  You hold the magic button that brings the music to you.  Pretty cool, huh?

Again, Gomm doesn’t think so.  He likes the idea of listeners choosing his music, but, on Spotify, at what cost?  If he gets the magnificent sum of even $0.002 per listen, what is he gaining?  Or losing?  Obviously, he loses the one thing he treasures most— control.  By keeping his music on the site, he gives all control to Spotify (well, within the boundaries of the agreements made by that company).  All control, as regards that site.  That is something he chose not to do.

Consider that Gomm is relatively new to the music game.  He is not, like Cowboy and Springsteen and Bob Segarini tied to the major label system.  The majors can hand Spotify anything it has.  Will any of those bands or artists see any return beyond mechanical royalties, if that?  Chances are, no.  The majors have hidden behind their “we own you until you pay us back” mantra for decades.  It is the backbone of their continued existence.  Every format change and new digital subscription system needs the majors.  There is an umbilical cord between them.

Of course, The Copyright Act of 1976will change that, right?  No.  The labels are at the present time challenging that act and hope to defeat it and, anyway, it only applies to music from 1976 on.  All of the music recorded before then?  Owned in perpetuity by the labels and their owners.  There does indeed seem to be, beneath the surface, something rotten in the state of Spotify.

Here’s a red flag.  Spotify, like the major labels, have refused to give access to their records.  Contracts with the labels and with the sites which supply the music for them to hock (like CDBaby, etc) are, for all practice and purposes, in absentia.  They toss around numbers, yes, but until outside sources can verify them, are they viable?  Hell, I could tell you that I’m paying you a certain amount, but without verification the numbers mean nothing.  Record labels have kept their books closed for decades.  Musicians have tried to gain access just to find out how much they still owed against chargebacks (fees charged for tours, recording, etc).  They haven’t been given jack shit.  Why should we believe the new gorilla in the room?

It’s not all about royalties, either.  This past weekend, Australia’s Hannah Gillespieposted a question regarding the placement of her songs on Spotify.  She is independent and not major label and was told her songs were available through the site.  She wondered how.  Is there possibly an implied contract within the CDBaby world which allows them to place her music without her knowledge?  Has Spotify been grandfathered in to the usual basic contracts which promise to sell downloads and physical product at an agreed price?  And if so, are musicians and labels notified?  That is a question which should be addressed if it has not been already.  I mean, I absolutely hate Wal-Mart.  I hate the idea of Wal-Mart.  If I do not want my product to be sold by that company, should I not have the right of refusal?  I think Hannah thinks so.  (By the way, Hannah’s latest album, All the Dirt, is a freaking monster of an album.  Do yourself a favor and check it out)

Sigh.  You do not know the anguish I experience over such things.  I have watched musicians get the shaft ever since I started buying records back in the fifties and I hate it.  Without the music, the major labels and the new digital subscription sites would have nothing!  And yet they claim everything.

The latest grumblings from the underbelly comes via down-under’s Bill Jacksonand ex-Seattleite Andrew Davenhall (The Diving Bell).  Jackson struggled with uninstalling Spotify this past week and had to visit Yahoo to find out how.  He wrote (on Facebook):  “It ain’t ever too late!! – after hitting the ‘Deny’ Keychain pop-up a hundred times with no success, I found out it was harder to trash this program than just trashing the Application…so here’s the instructions if you need them to uninstall via the Library Folders in your Mac..” at which time he posted the link to the answer he found on Yahoo Answers.  Now, ol’ Bill is a pretty mellow guy and you can bet that if he’s getting pissed at the way Spotify programmed their application so that you could not uninstall it easily, there is a reason.  Bill’s reaction is pure metaphor for Australia’s head of Spotify finding a kangaroo head in his bed (for those who are movie-challenged, think The Godfather).

Davenhall, main man behind the rock group The Diving Bell, had a similar problem and posted about it not a day later than did Jackson.  His Facebook post looked like this:  “When Spotify elected to open it’self (assuming it was the most important application) on my dock, it took several flushes before I could send it swirling down the Internet.”  When I asked him if I could repost his comments in this column, he replied “Affirmative.  I deleted Spotify.  I thought to myself, ‘How fucking arrogant to not only auto-activate a music app (at whatever volume) before my browser but then make the user scramble to shut it off and put it away so the browser could fly.  Who the FUCK do these door to door SALESMEN think they are??? GOODBYE MR. SPOTIFY!”  Man, remind me to never piss him off.

Here’s the thing.  If Spotify is this golden child we were led to believe, why all the hidden secrets and computer-generated folderol?   Why claim to be the savior and yet embrace the tenets of the devil?

A few of my good friends use Spotify religiously.  It is their equivalent to radio, as I said before, and a downright wonderful thing as far as they are concerned.  The question is, at what cost?  And at whose cost?  When I first began investigating Spotify, I saw positives and negatives.  Since then, the boat has tipped toward the negative.  Part of it is me, I know, and my continued distrust of anything corporate (Corporations are people, my ass!  The Supreme Court can shove that ruling between their cheeks!).  Part of it is the lack of transparency all corporate structures within the music industry share.  Part of it is my unending faith in music and the people who create it.  A lot can be said for doing things for the right reasons.  Musicians will kick the industry’s ass every time on that score.

There is one thing Spotify and outfits like them will never do.  They will never kill the spirit of the music.  The music is in our hearts and our souls, a place they will never be able to reach, as much as they would like to.  Support your musicians, local and otherwise.  And please, support live shows.  Live shows are the backbone of the indies these days and they need your support to keep going.  Know what I found out?  They’re fun!  So much fun that I now have a running list of musicians I want to see and their tour schedules to make sure I don’t miss them if they come through Oregon.  You might consider doing the same.

These thoughts are brought to you by the gallon of coffee I drank this morning.  Caffeine:  My Drug of Choice.

Research Turtles— More than you need to know…..

It’s taken me a long while, but I am ready to post the introduction to my article about Research Turtles.  I did extensive interviews, drank beer, watched TV and burped a lot in preparation for this.  It is a story of massive success foisted upon four lonely waifs living in the swamps of Louisiana who unite the country with their rock ‘n’ roll and, in fact, save the world.  Okay, it’s not, but it is an intriguing look at the pasts of four incredibly talented young guys who live, eat and breathe their music.  Part One will be posted today.  Then, Part Two, and so on.  As of today, only the first section will have been completed.  The other chapters are works in progress.  When you finish reading each chapter, visit the band’s website at http://www.researchturtles.com to hear why I love their music.  Click here to start…..

New Releases to Watch For…..

Chicago’s Braam Brothers are very close to releasing their latest, titled Hail Violet.  What I’ve heard thus far is impressive.  While this page is a collection of demos (click here), it will give you an idea of what to expect…..  Still waiting for tiny WarHen Records in Charlottesville to press the 45 recently recorded by The Fire Tapes.  The band said the sessions went very well and that they are already working on yet another release.  Their last album, Dream Travel, is a collection of outstanding bordering on psychedelic gems that deserve a listen and a half.  It is available as a free download here.  I recommend it highly…..  Just as I was giving up hope, Sweet Talk Radio released their latest, State of the Union.  Basically just Tim Burlingame and Kathrin Schorr, they spend a lot of time in the studio perfecting their musical wares.  The songs are solid, the voices outstanding and the production damn near perfect.  For those who love the beautiful.  Here’s the link…..  Upstate New York’s Hardin Burns just released a new album.  Ithaca is upstate, is it not?  The title is Lounge and should be a solid entry in the Americana Sweepstakes this year.  Jeannie Burns is from The Burns Sisters and Andrew Hardin is from some other place I’m sure is worthy of mention but can’t think of right now.  Musician Tom Mank turned me on to these guys and I give him a big tip o’ the hat for doing so.  It’s nice, nice stuff.  Click here…..  I would assume that not many of you have heard of Providence, Rhode Island’s Knitting By Twilight just because their music is a step outside the norm, but that band’s John Orsi slipped me a copy of his brand new A Room For the Night EP and it knocks me out!  Be forewarned, though!  It is more Harry Partch than it is rock and the percussive rhythms might make your nose bleed.  When I worked in record retail, we called this kind of music “new music” or “experimental.”  Not for the faint of heart.  Check out the album here, Orsi here…..  Caroline Herring has a new one  out and it’s a beaut!  Titled Camilla, it is her best yet, full of beautifully structured roots music which leans toward the folk and backwoods side.  Outstanding production and, as always, a voice to soothe the savage beast (or is it breast?).  Here is her website…..  The Bay Area’s Buxter Hoot’n finally released their Na Na Na EP.  They seem to have cohesed into a rock outfit and have more of a vision now.  There were some great tracks on their earlier releases, but this one is solid.  To hear, click here…..

Notes….. Okay, let me see if I have this right.  Real Women*Real Songs is a  site where a collection of lady musicians write songs like crazy and post them at will?  I’m not sure who came up with the concept, but it is very intriguing, especially for the person who likes looking behind the curtain, if you will— who is fascinated by the songwriting process.  A whole string of musicians have posted their videos at the site thus far and it will evidently go on for some time to come.  “Guests” include Cary Cooper, Rebecca Loebe, Mira Stanley, Amy Speace, Melanie Hersch, Beth Cahill, Rekha Ohal, Carolann Solebello, Chana Rothman, Judith Avers, Emily Henry and others.  There are backstories, music and more.  An interesting concept brought to life by the musicians themselves.  You can check it out through this link…..  Virginia’s Freedom Hawk posted a new video on Youtube a couple of days ago.  I really dig these guys, though their hard-rawkin’ style is usually outside my comfort zone.  Here’s the link to the new video.  Here’s the link to the video which started me on the road to Hawkdom…..  I’ve been getting into Elephant Revivalsince Hymn For Herposted a picture of Revival’s guitarist Dan Rodriguez with them.  The guy traveled to see H4H and that says a lot about him.  Upon visiting ER‘s website, I discovered a group of exceptional musicians and have attached myself to their wagon, so to speak.  They just posted a video which features their music, while it ostensibly is a film by one Anna Cosper.  Very cool.  Watch it here…..  Speaking of videos, you can never have too many videos by Ireland’s The Minnows, at least that’s what my daddy told me, so check this one out.  Gotta love them micks, eh?  That isn’t derogatory, is it?  This is great stuff!  Here you go…..  God, but I love those guys!  Tell you what, here’s a video from about twenty years ago when they were called Tiberius’ MinnowsClick here and be transported….. My friend Gary Heffern just endeared himself to me even more by turning me on to a vocalist whose style is well outside my comfort zone but who has completely stunned me with a song from an upcoming album, Annabel (lee) & Richard E.: By the Sea and Other Solitary Places.  I first heard it through a music video and could not stop watching and listening.  I call her style on this track “musique noir” and when you’ve seen the video, you should know why.  Do me a favor.  Watch the video of Glow here and let me know what you think…. Support live music!  Long live the true Indies!  Time for a nap.

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Spotify Re-revisited, Research Turtles, Upcoming and New Releases, and Notes….”

  1. […] Hopefully, we can dig a little into those questions.  Will Kimbrough has a point (read the blog here).  But so did Jon Gomm when he pulled his music from the bloodsucking leeches at Spotify and spit in Simon Cowell’s eye when given a chance to be a Factor X.  If you don’t know who Gomm is, here is a link to a column which explains the whole Cowell thing (click here).  Anyway, here is what Gomm said when I contacted him about the reason behind pulling his music from Spotify:  “The biggest problem for me is that the major corporate labels have, as I understand it, bought up what amounts to a majority stake in Spotify, so they potentially will be paid whether their artists get paid or not.  I, as an independent artist, have made a decision to not be part of the mainstream industry for many reasons— artistic, financial and ethical— and the last thing I would choose to do now is to help fund them or legitimize them.  Indie artists on Spotify lend it a coolness, a cachet and a sense of ‘giving back’ to struggling artists whom sites like CDBaby and Bandcamp support.  Spotify does nothing towards deserving that as far as I can see.”  That’s a stance I can support.  You can read the whole column here. […]

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