Frank Gutch Jr: I Come Down Off the Fence Regarding Music Subscriptions, Linn Brown— Beyond the Musical Pale, Reminder About Research Turtles’ Free Downloads, and Notes…..

How long ago was it that Spotify tossed their hat into the ring on this now contentious music subscription battle?  A little over a year?  And did I not hold off judgment during that time, awaiting results?  I know!  Wottaguy, huh?  Well, I fell off of the fence the past couple of weeks and landed in a mosh pit full of musicians, most not too happy with the cake that the music industry’s Marie Antoinettes been offering.  A  slice of cake so thin you can see through it.

See, the first payments from Spotify have gone out.  They paid out millions, supposedly, in royalties and yet claim that they have lost millions.  I’m not good with numbers, but there is something telling in those numbers.  In an article posted by C-net (click here), the numbers were simplified (which means that they are slightly less confusing and you only need a Masters Degree in Accounting or Business rather than the Doctorate required to understand the whole damn mess, if anyone does) and declared as follows:  2010:  $97 million in revenue with a $37.5 million loss.  For 2011, the numbers have gone up:  $244 million in revenue with a $59 million loss.  Read the whole article.  They say that Spotify is solid and has had an infusion of funding after they were valued at $4 billion.  $4 billion!  For a company which claimed losses of close to $100 million over the last two years!  That sound you hear is me banging my head on the corner of my desk.

I’m banging my head because those numbers are tossed about with no more concern than tossing a lunch salad.  When money is the bottom line, you think only in terms of money and that always means numbers.  I get that.  That may be the thinking of the idiots sitting on the bench who actually believe that corporations are people (in a convoluted “we say it so it must be so” sense) and that is more than likely the whole basis of Wall Street, but it is not my way of thinking and here’s why:

Music subscription services are a pyramid scheme.  Well, not technically, but let me ask you this— do any of these companies— Spotify and MOG and Pandora and all the rest— own what they are selling?  If what they are selling is the music, they do not.  Let me emphasize that.  They have built a business which should not exist because they do not own what they sell.  Forget the supposed “rights” people are always talking about.  Forget about the “system.”  Think only of the music.  They do not own that.  And yet they are worth millions and billions?  What if they, say, take the music out of that equation.  It could happen.  Imagine a Spotify or MOG or Pandora without The Beatles or Springsteen or Green Pajamas.  That is what it could look like if the idiots who run this country actually allow the Copyright Act of 1976 to take effect.  To put it simply, many artists would then have the rights to their music.  How many do you think would put their musical works on those sites for the pittance they would receive (we’re talking nano-payments here)?  Not too damn many of them if they have half a brain.  How much do they make per play?  A grain of sand on a Southern California beach— and not the ones which keep washing away.

Whenever I start looking at numbers, my head hurts.  The old adage that you can make numbers say anything you want is proven every four years at election time, or every two years if you vote for candidates running for the House.  And the waters are never clear.  The different sides make sure of that.  This year, besides the continuing Spotify financial hemorrhage, we have the SESAC suit, in which an organization representing 10,000+ radio stations are claiming that SESAC, in effect, charges too much for the rights to play music SESAC represents (read more here).  Pandora has asked Congress to reevaluate their payments to artists, claiming that they cannot survive paying what they now do (you would swear that Pandora was hanging on a butcher’s hook, they way they’re whining— and going to Congress?  Yeah, we really want Congress writing more laws, as badly as they have fucked everything up— I’m talking you you, Boner) and asking for part of the artists’ share.  As usual, there are two sides— I back the artists (Here is a page with a link to Congress to make your position known).  The truth is, the industry, like all corporate entities these days, it seems, are going begging, across the board.  They are in turmoil and hoping that they can get laws fashioned to serve their purpose, which is to increase their bottom line.

As much as I try to understand, I can’t.  I keep coming back to the way things could be instead of the way they have become.  Digital music services, to me, scream Ticketmaster, a company which started with nothing except an idea and a computer, which slowly convinced everyone that what they did was good for all (I’ll bet win-win was in their every other sentence in the early days) and proceeded to write their own rules, all to their advantage (except maybe a few small concessions they had to make to stay in business).  They scream major sports organizations which, you would think by listening to their rants, are constantly in danger of failing and dragging the whole country down with them.  They scream pharmaceutical companies, which pretty much have the FDA and a bunch of other government bureaucracies in their corner and let their puppets in Congress (Again, what can I say?  They have earned their bad name) write laws to that industry’s advantage.

I know I sound like a socialist, but whenever I am faced with the music industry and its history, I go bonkers.  Just the fact that lobbyists, the vast majority of which exist only through the generosity of major corporations, have access where the citizen does not makes me incensed.

Look.  I’m not a debater.  I can’t tell you the whys and wherefores of this whole music industry debacle.  What I can tell you is that something is rotten in the state of the digital music services.  I have fought for artists’ rights on all levels except this one and now that I see what is happening here, my conscience will not let me do otherwise.

So I make this statement.  I cannot in good conscience support my or any other person’s involvement in the digital music debacle in any way, shape or form.  I make exceptions for those businesses which do not outrightly rip off the artist— Bandcamp, Reverbnation, Soundcloud and others of that ilk.  How long those exceptions will last possibly depends upon research into their practices, which shall happen.  Eventually.  End of rant.

Boy, I hope I haven’t lost a string of readers with this rant because the next portion of this broadcast highlights all the good in the music industry these days— a look behind an artist whose life in music is not only inspiring but is downright fascinating.  You may not recognize the name,  but you will love her story.  Let us put the DBAWIS Spotlight on…

LINN BROWN…..

It is no wonder Linn Brownbecame a musician.  She was born into a family of them, her father and mother professionals.  Her entire life, in fact, has been choreographed to music.  I suppose you could say that she was born to music and just never left.  It wasn’t that she thought about it as a career all that much in her youth, but it was always in the back of her mind.  It had to be.  By the time she went to college, though, she realized that music was the future— at least, the future that she wanted.

She graduated from high school in 1970 and her parents moved from Upstate New York (the Ithaca area is upstate, is it not?  In my mind, the state has always been broken up into New York City and Upstate and that was it, but I might well be, shall we say, geographically challenged?) to Illinois where her father had found work.  Linn went with them, not really knowing where she wanted to go, and ended up enrolling at the University of Illinois.  It was there that she met Dan Fogelberg.

“The way I met Dan was that I heard him on the radio,” she explained, “and wanted to meet him, so I \decided to find out where he lived.  I called the University’s telephone operator and she gave me his address, which is kind of funny because it would never happen today.  I walked over to his house, knocked on his door and he answered.

“I said, Are you Dan Fogelberg and he said yes, he was, and I said, oh, I thought you would have a beard.  He asked why and I said because on the radio, your voice sounds kind of hairy.  He laughed and I guess he felt safe because he invited me in.  He played me a song he had just written and we hung out a little.  I think I would have liked to have been his boyfriend, but he had a crush on a girl named Donna, so it was not to be.  He liked my voice, though, so we ended up singing together.  He asked me right off to sing backup for him on some of his Red Herring shows.  It wasn’t all that big of a deal, but it was fun.”

And it was a start.  They recorded a live version of Anyway I Love You at the Red Herring Coffeehouse which gained a lot of airplay on the campus radio station (click here).

“It went #1,” admitted Linn, “and that felt like fame.  I would walk into the school cafeteria and hear myself on the college radio station.  It was a feeling I can’t quite describe.  I would get really shy and excited at the same time.  I became known on campus at the time because of The Red Herring.  I became part of a collective of singers and songwriters there and played some concerts on The Quad and a few others places.  It wasn’t like I was only singing with Dan.

“The Red Herring was an amazing place run by conscientious objectors during the Viet Nam War.  This collective consisted of a variety of people who would get together and play one anothers’ songs in a group setting.  Some of us would even go to mental institutions and play for the people there.

“I was a freshman and Dan was a sophomore.  During that year, Dan went off with Irving Azoff to start his musical career and I finished up my Freshman year.  It wasn’t as if when Dan left I wasn’t doing anything, but things weren’t quite the same.  I ended up dropping out the second year..  I mean, I started thinking, well, maybe I should just leave too, so I did.  Mom and Dad had returned to New York, so I went home.

“I don’t know what I thought, exactly.  I think I felt like if it could happen to Dan, maybe it could also happen to me.  I had a lot of friends around that time who were making big deals with record companies.  I almost expected it to happen to me too, somehow.  Of course, I didn’t know the mechanics of how the business actually worked.  I was also very frightened of anyone offering me anything.  When someone tried, I turned them down.  I was afraid because maybe I didn’t know what to do.  Maybe I was a perfectionist or something.  I’m not really sure, but those decisions have haunted me all my life.”

She spent a short amount of time at home and was feeling pressure from her parents, who wanted her to do something, so she weighed her options and settled on the Berklee College of Music.  She headed there and liked the school, but her interest quickly started to wane.  She thought about exploring other options, but could come up with none she liked.  Finally, her decision was made for her.  Her father visited and told her there was not money enough for her to continue.  It didn’t really bother her.  She packed her bags and, once again, moved home.

“I have a slight case of dyslexia,” Linn said, “so that might well have made it a bit tricky for me to be in school.  So when Dad said they didn’t have enough money, it was an easy choice.  I said, okay, I’ll just do something else.

“I went home and started playing out and made a bit of a name for myself in and around Ithaca, which was about twenty miles away from my home.  Ithaca had some really nice venues at the time and these guys called The Dean Brothers— it wasn’t the full Dean Brothers Band but two of the brothers— approached me and asked if I wanted to join with them in a band.  They suggested calling it The Dean Brothers with Linn Brown.  I liked the idea and we played some pretty nice gigs.  But finally we broke up and I went off with a guy who wrote music for television.  He was really good, but the relationship turned out disastrous.  It was a really hard nine years, but I wrote a lot of music for television during that time.”

She tried selling her own songs, but that didn’t work.

“At that time, anyone who was a singer/songwriter did a demo tape.  I did a few and sent them out to people.  Unfortunately, also about that time, many publishing houses and producers and people like that were getting sued because songwriters began claiming that their songs were being stolen, so it all of a sudden became very tough to send anyone songs and actually have them listen.  Basically, no one was listening unless you had an attorney send it for you.  I don’t think anyone ever really listened to any of my songs, but I may have gotten close a couple of times.  The whole situation was heartbreaking, really.

“People would respond with form letters— we’re not looking for this kind of music or we don’t accept unsolicited material.  I had one guy say this isn’t what we’re looking for, but please send more.  From my point of view, that meant they didn’t like it.  I found out later that they usually mean it when they say that, so I should have.  But I didn’t.  There have been a lot of instances like that where I kind of shot myself in the foot.

“Once, a talent scout came to a coffeehouse where I was playing in Boston and he went so far as to call me at home.  He said I would like you to give me some songs to take to Bobby Darin.  That was the year he had his summer replacement program on TV.  And I said no.  I was afraid.  I didn’t know what to say, so I just said no.  He said, well maybe I could contact your manager and I said I would talk with him.  I lied and said it was Irving Azoff because I didn’t know what to do.

“I think he could tell I was bullshitting him, but he said okay, if you change your mind, here’s my number and gave it to me.  Call me collect, he said.

“I remember thinking, I don’t know if I can do this.  There is something wrong here or it’s too crazy or something.  So I never called him.  I ripped up the number and threw it away.

“I think about that a lot.  I think, what if I had gotten at least one song recorded by Bobby Darin.  Then, I would have been recognized as a songwriter.  I would have received income from it.  It makes me sad that I didn’t have someone to turn to to ask for advice.  Instead, it was all just my knee-jerk reaction.  No.  That has always been typical of my response to such things.  No.  They really don’t like my songs.”

When Linn got married, the pair moved to San Francisco.

“Our connection for selling the music to television lived there so my new husband and I moved there too.  San Francisco is such a beautiful city and I just loved it— good musicians and great weather.  So even though we ended up breaking up nine years later, I stayed.

“I didn’t work with anyone who worked directly in television,” she emphasized.  “The jobs would just come.  It was an odd kind of job, actually.  You know when you hear the news, there is this music theme that comes on?  Well, that news theme is written by someone just like this guy and myself.  And a station might have— and this was very popular in the eighties— a song which promotes their new Fall lineup or just their station.  It was very common to write a theme and then syndicate it.  I would re-lyric it for each market.  Like, if a Cleveland station wanted the theme, I would just re-tag the call letters for that station.  It was quite a business, I can tell you.

“It was interesting for me because we sometimes would hire a full orchestra, so I learned how to orchestrate.  I would write the parts for each instrument of the orchestra.  And there were other things.  There were a lot of really fun things that I would not have gotten to do if it weren’t for that job.

“It was a great learning period for me.  Before that, I knew theoretically how to write for violins and cellos and other instruments, but I had never done it and it gave me an opportunity to be thrown into it.  For instance, we would use a song I had already written and then divide up the work because there were usually quite a few parts to be recorded.  I would write, say, string parts and he would some string parts too.  He wrote all of the horn parts.  I was always in charge of the lyrics.  When that part was done, we would hire singers and musicians to record it.”

As for selling, it wasn’t easy, but there was a system.

“They have TV conventions where shows like Jeopardy and Oprah Winfrey would come, but smaller and more local.  People would go to those and try to get stations to buy their programs.  They would also have, though there were very few at the time, people like us who had music.  If someone needed, say, a library of music for their station— for use on the late show or maybe they needed a new theme for the news or segues into sports and weather.  That was big business.  We did pretty well.  I think we had music in just about every state in those days.

“After I broke up with this guy, I took a job stringing beads, which was really fun.  I worked at the owner’s house.  She would take a lunch break and watch the news and I would hear my music in the other room as I was stringing beads.”  She laughed.  “I don’t know.  My life has had ups and downs.”

She only strung beads for a short time and she had a couple of other jobs, but she kept things going with her music.  Finally, with the marriage completely behind her, she met and married the love of her life.

“He works as an educator at a dental school,” she told me, “and he is now in administration.  He’s an extremely kind and sane person.”

She also laughed and made mention of him not having bipolar issues or anything like that, a reference to her own struggle with anxiety.  She is obviously so grateful to have a husband who understands.

“I guess it took me that nine-year relationship with someone who was pretty crazy and pretty talented and pretty competitive with me to appreciate certain things.  Sometimes, musicians don’t get along very well because they compete with each other and— well, it was difficult.  I decided after him that I wasn’t going to date any other musicians.”  And she again laughed.

Linn finally ended up working at the Blue Bear School of Musicin the Bay Area.  She taught piano and songwriting and enjoyed it there, but the world had other plans for her.  She and her husband had moved to the East Bay and the commute wasn’t working, so Linn had to look for something else.  She found a job helping disabled youth for the West Contra Costa Early Intervention Program and branched out from there.

The steps were serendipitous to say the least.  She needed a job and they needed someone to help the kids and at first, everything worked out fine.

“At first, I wasn’t doing any music at all,” she said.  “I was just helping them with the kids and it was fun, but I got a little stressed out as well.  So I told them, you know, my real talent is music.  Could I do something with music with some of these kids?  So they gave me four kids to work with.  Now, this place takes kids from five years old to either nineteen or twenty-one, I forget which, but all ages and all different types of disabilities.  I would tape everything and tell them, that’s your album, like I was recording them specifically for that.

“I sent tapes home with this girl named Nina and that stopped after six weeks because I had to start work with another child.  Nina’s mother called me and said I want to pay you to keep working with Nina.  She loves it.  And that’s how this new career began.

“And Nina’s mother, it turned out— and I had no idea— had a practice which dealt with helping parents deal with their children with disabilities and she recommended me to a few.  Soon, I was teaching all kinds of kids.  It was a perfect match for me.

“I absolutely love it.  Each child comes in with a completely different set of issues and a whole different set of capabilities and I have to be creative and find solutions.  Like how do you play an instrument if you can’t move very well or if you can’t talk, how do we communicate?  It has been wonderful for me.  I am really grateful to the parent of that girl.”

Linn never stopped her songwriting or her playing.  She has recorded a number of albums, some extremely kid-friendly but most just Linn and her musical vision.  There is a Carole King bent to that vision but it goes deeper than that.

After hearing the first of a handful of her recordings, I asked if she ever thought about writing for the musical stage.  Something about a number of her songs cried out theater and I heard more potential in that direction than I had ever heard from an indie artist.  When I mentioned it— specifically drawing a comparison of her song Soul Kissing to the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein— she said “musically, I can’t find any comparison between Soul Kissing and Oklahoma (me:  okay, I might have stretched the bounds this one time), but I understand what you’re saying.  If a record label hired a producer to come in and do Soul Kissing, he or she would more than likely put drums and bass on it and produce it like a rock ballad.  What you’re saying is that because I used only piano and synth and voice, it has more of a bare feeling like you would hear on stage.”

Yeah, that’s part of what I’m saying.  But what I’m really saying is that I can hear potential way beyond what she has yet recorded.  Maybe not anything that much better, musically, for she certainly has a style which needs no perfecting, but just a tad different.  Like a full stage production.  Like a musical.

I should have known.  She had anticipated that reaction and continued, “I would like to write a musical very much.  I don’t know if you’ve heard the childrens musical I did on one album (3-2-1 Rocket Opera from the album 3 and some other catchy little numbers).  When I did that, I didn’t start with an ‘opera’ at all.  I had one song about a rocket ship.  Then I thought, maybe I should write another one because it didn’t feel quite finished.  Well, I ended up writing a story and had my friend Kathy Kennedy narrated it and then I wrote an overture of which I am very proud.  So that was my first play, so to speak.  I’m hoping to do more of those and I am going to call them ‘Little Plays’ because I like the feel of that name.  It’s my new trademark.”  Then, she laughed yet again.  “I am interested in creating music which can create visuals in peoples’ minds but are not necessarily productions for the stage, although they could be.”

I laughed a lot during that interview, too.  Linn is an exceptional person and as viable a musician and composer as I have ever talked with.  She is also an incredibly caring person.  You can hear it in her music.  She has a number of albums available and while she may be reluctant to toot her own horn, I’m not.  You can access her music here and I recommend that you do, unless you’re just looking for some more Beatles or Zeppelin.  I’m kidding, of course.  If you’ve read this far, you know whether you might like her music.  I know I do.

This is a somewhat jumbled and truncated version of what I will write for my own website.  The article I have envisioned is a longer piece with much more information and a real look at the person behind the music.  I supplied some links here.  Follow them.  Linn deserves that at the very least.

Another Lame Research Turtles Reminder…..

I know.  I’m hammering you to death.  But if you don’t download the Research Turtles‘ music now (and for free!), you might miss out.  Hey, you don’t care for them, I understand.  I just don’t understand how anyone could not care for them, is all.  Downloading is easy, too.  Just follow this link, click on the “music” page and click on the album or EP that you want to download.  All are free for a limited time.  Pass the word around.  This won’t last forever.

And now, one of my favorite parts of writing this column….

Notes…..  Lots to look forward to.  Arlon Bennettsees life as a World of Possibility and has recorded a whole album to prove it.  Maxine Dunn, who has been to Soonville and tangled with The Neglected Gambit is readying her album, Edmund & Leo, for February release…..  Talk about serendipity.  After I posted last week’s column (and sent a link to Carleigh Nesbit), she sent me a message saying that she is going into a studio late this year or early next to record that second album I’ve had the hungry for.  She will be starting a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the recordings, which would be a good time for you to pre-order what is sure to be another class album.  I will keep you posted. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt you to check out her music.  Click here…..  Another Aussie musician worth taking time to get to know:  Jen Cloher.  Was it Bill Jackson, Pete Fidler or Hannah Gillespie who posted links to her music.  She has a bit of a Patty Smith edge in her approach on one track, but is all Cloher on the rest.  I dig her.  You can check out her music page here, and if they say you have to ‘like’ the page to have access, don’t worry.  She’s worth it…..  The gods must be watching over me because I just got word that Carla Olive Kuykendallwho plays guitar with Toni Verein Hashmagandy is heading into the studio tomorrow for some intense studio work.  I’m not sure what that means (other than that music will be had), but I’m pretty sure we’re on the verge of a solo album.  My ears are drooling…..  If you’ve ever had an out-of-body experience, music-wise, you know how I felt last Friday night when I heard music I knew but couldn’t place— an eerily beautiful song at the end of Haven, the sci-fi series.  It was Sweet Talk Radio‘s If I Couldn’t Have You, Track 10 of their new and excellent State of the Union LP.  I’m pretty sure I gave it a huge thumbs up in my review, but it completely swept me away again.  You really should be hearing it.  Amazing…..  By the time you read this, the movie My Fool Heartwill have had its first showing in Charlottesville.  The movie features a wide range of musical artists including C-ville’s own Jim Waive, who is one of the few fringe Country & Western artists deserving of the title.  His Why I Hunt is one of the oddest yet most fascinating C&W songs recorded in the past fifty years.  (Click here)  The lineup of those committed to attending opening night (last Sunday) reads like a Who’s Who of Virginia music.  Oh, to have been there.  There will be a soundtrack.  Might already be one.  Stay tuned…..  Seems that more and more artists are using Youtube as an instrument to get their music heard.  Here is one from Steve Katz titled Today I Saw Hope (click here) from his Barricades EP.  One of five outstanding tracks…..  Under the category “I’m Laughing But I’m Not”, music genius Ron Wasserman (Fisher), just released an album titled Power Rangers Redux which is, kid you not, recreations of the tunes he wrote and recorded for the actual Power Rangers series.  He states on his Bandcamp page, “The original recordings were done quickly to keep up with the production schedule.  I wanted to use today’s technology and my additional twenty-plus years of experience as a producer to ‘punch up’ the performances and energy to match today’s sound.”  Did it work, you ask?  I would say yes, indeed, but you can hear it for yourself and make your own decision by clicking here, at which time you will be transported back to the days of, drum roll please, The Power Rangers!…..  The lost Elton Duck album available?  So friend Howie Wahlen says.  He sent me this link which runs down the story of the band, their earlier projects (I knew Andy Robinson down in San Diego when he played with Horsefeathers and, of course, drummer Micki Steele ended up as Michael in The Bangles) and tells you where you might be able to get a copy of the Elton Duck album (click here), the proceeds going to charity.  Like the buried classics such as Glass Harp‘s Live at Carnegie Hall (which was supposed to be lost in a fire), the oil keeps rising to the top…..

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: I Come Down Off the Fence Regarding Music Subscriptions, Linn Brown— Beyond the Musical Pale, Reminder About Research Turtles’ Free Downloads, and Notes…..”

  1. Frank … you make me smile. Curiously enough … many records are in the works right now … even mine … ; ).

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