Music streaming has never been great for the artist. It wasn’t great for the artist when it first started becoming a thing 20ish years ago and it’s less great now that there’s billions of dollars in it. But, this isn’t going to be another article with another artist bitching about how they’re getting screwed on streaming or making less than a penny per stream; there are already a lot of people telling that story. I just want to give a high-level overview of how streaming and royalties work from my perspective.
Before I even get started, though, I should talk a bit about how streaming pays me. Whenever somebody streams a track of mine, I make a royalty, some arbitrary dollar amount that I didn’t negotiate and have virtually no insight into or any knowledge of whether that rate is consistent, day-to-day, month-to-month. I have to count on the streaming service to report the amount of times a track has been streamed – Spotify is a good whipping boy, so let’s use them.
Spotify sends a report to my distributor saying, Track X was streamed 100 times, and earned five cents, cumulatively, for those streams. My distributor then sends me $.05 via check or wire transfer; actually there’s usually a threshold you have to meet before they pay you $250 is common… Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, money is sent to me. Sweet, except for the part where Spotify is a service built on using my tracks and millions of other tracks like mine to build their business. And, even sweeter (read: not sweet at all), there’s no oversight or regulation on how or even if Spotify is accurately reporting the number of streams played and subsequently what they’re going to pay. So, basically, we’re talking about a multi-billion dollar, multinational corporation that uses the honor system to not just pay their vendors (artists) but also they use a completely opaque model of self-reporting to let folks know how much they should pay them. What could go wrong?
Sure, we could believe that Spotify, in their infinite goodness, is an altruistic, artist-centric entity that wholly exists to publicize and promote artists of the world, but that would be ridiculous. Spotify uses artists like a bakery uses flour and baker’s don’t get unlimited flour and only pay for how many loaves of bread they sell, based on their own super secret accounting. In fact, it’s artists like myself, who are willing to treat music streaming as a loss leader in exchange for greater exposure. At the same time, this model is not only not Capitalist, it’s exploitive bordering on a criminal enterprise, but only mostly because there’s absolutely no regulation on streaming services nor is there any kind of regulatory body to even look into these things. So, yeah, it’s all legal and legit even if it is ethically questionable.
In some cases, old music business legislation provides a modicum of regulation and quasi-oversight, but most of these laws pre-date the Internet and most lawyers can easily navigate these old laws to get music streaming companies a pass. That, however, infers that any real attempt at oversight and/or regulation has ever been undertaken.
The fact is regulation and oversight will come for music streaming. Why? Because there’s just too much money in streaming that could be taxed and is being done so haphazardly, if at all. With taxation comes fiscal accountability and fiscal accountability is what music streaming services don’t want. To be fair, most streaming companies are publicly traded which means that the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) could build in more accountability, but there just hasn’t been a mortgage crisis-like moment for them to be engaged. Music streaming services aren’t alone; many companies and in fact whole industries rely on overworked and underpaid federal employee’s inability to keep up with many scheming grifters that litter our United States. This is why Fox News is bitching about border control and Wal-Mart pays for their advertising with the savings they’ve gained using illegal immigrants to clean their stores… As fellow bard John Mellencamp once sang: “Ain’t that America…”
What’s the answer to addressing music streaming? Regulation and oversight
Why do I bring this up? Well, because I want folks to know how things work. I was fortunate enough to get in at the ground level with music streaming and I’ve watched it go from being niche to being the primary mechanism for the consumption of music, the fruit of this guy’s labors. I’ve grown my audience and there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for the opportunity costs that music streaming has provided. Hell, I’m a Spotify Premium subscriber. I get it. Spotify is easy, convenient, has a solid user experience and is ubiquitous across many platforms, but I haven’t lost sight of the fact that it’s me and about a hundred thousand other unknown artists that have provided Spotify and other services with the content that it has needed to grow.
So, yeah, that’s how music streaming and royalties work in a nutshell. I’ll expand on this in future articles, probably, because I’m always learning new things about how janky these unregulated companies operate in darkness.
In closing, please listen to our music, but don’t forget that these digital services are absolutely taking advantage of the situation. If possible, when possible, purchase music from us at shows, our respective websites, even Bandcamp, where we can keep all or most of the proceeds. It’s a win/win because we’ll promptly spend that money on synthesizers, guitar pedals and other accouterments to keep bringing you music.
As I sit here writing this, there’s a lot of talk on social media and elsewhere about Bandcamp’s impending demise. If you’re not familiar with the situation, Bandcamp was sold by Epic Games, who bought them from the founders about 18 months ago; they were then sold to a start up I’d never heard of called Songtradr, Google: “Songtradr is a B2B music platform that claims to facilitate brands, content creators, and digital platforms in their use of music for licensing purposes. As of 2019, Songtradr was the largest music licensing platform in the world.” As someone who uses Bandcamp quite a lot and has really benefited from it, I was surprised at how little coverage everything was getting and then Songtradr/Bandcamp busted their union; kind of a tone-deaf move in the current climate. This has sounded the current death knell for Bandcamp.
But I don’t think so….
I rely on Bandcamp as an independent artist. It’s a wonderful tool that makes music easy to release, get paid and interact with fans of the work. There have been many such tools through the years, the last, best one, in my opinion was Mp3.com which was a going concern when I first got online in 1999. It was also a great resource for artists and musicians; it was the dawn of the Mp3 and the great DotCom boom; by 2003 it was all but gone. I had moved on to my own website and working with labels and distributors at that point, but I still felt like something significant was lost and grateful for the opportunities it gave me. For years after, I was skeptical about investing time and energy into another platform that could be gone with the wind; that’s why I was such a late adopter of Bandcamp. I believe I joined in 2014 after years of people telling me how great it was; I don’t regret joining.
In my musical life I have two primary release channels, Bandcamp and my digital distro, which includes Apple Music, Spotify, etc. As most of my readers know I haven’t done hard copy releases in over a decade, so digital is my only outlet. Basically, it breaks down like this:
Digital distro means good availability for anybody almost anywhere that wants to listen, but there’s next to no fan engagement and even less $$$ because of the pittance that streaming pays. Might be good for some, at scale, but it’s not a scale that about 95% of indie music artists can/will achieve.
Bandcamp, on the other hand, is an artist-first tool – They have great features for marketing, promotion, distributing/selling your music to fans, selling merch, doing live streams, etc. It’s a wonderful 1:1 tool for artist engagement and with the artists getting a fair share of $$$, it provides a nice subsidy, too, but it’s been lacking in some key areas:
- Digital distro: Bandcamp should be tied into digital distro, like Distrokid, Tunecore, etc. In my mind, this is a significant missed opportunity. Sure, there’d be a lot of work to do and maybe it becomes a premium add-on or something and/or they take a cut of streaming royalties along with a premium fee, but to not have digital distro in-line with everything else Bandcamp does doesn’t make any sense. It’s possible this was on their roadmap before the acquisitions began. Maybe they’ll get to it.
- Listener User Experience – Playlists weren’t an option until 15 years after Bandcamp was founded. Think about that. They had sold billions of dollars of music and probably billions and billions of tracks, but there was no great way to listen to them without organizing them on your own device. That lack of user focus is both the problem and the opportunity – Bandcamp is artist-centric. Spotify & Apple Music are user-centric. Bandcamp needs to evolve to be able to cater to the user/consumer every bit as much as the artist. A happy balance could definitely be struck. Bandcamp has the intellectual and business infrastructure to rule this domain.
And that’s why I think that Bandcamp isn’t going anywhere.
I believe that there’s a significant opportunity with a big payout to anybody that can strike a balance serving both the artists and the consumers. From a product management and experience perspective, if each of these were to get equal attention, now then, you’d really have something. I’m talking about a balanced product roadmap that ensures the users and the artists are being served equally. Bandcamp is the darling of the indie music industry; they’ve made billions of dollars catering to that audience, they can make billions and billions of dollars if they can bridge this gap. The Epic purchase was always a head scratcher, but could Songtradr be the one who decides to move a bold agenda forward. So far, they don’t look great, but maybe they can turn that around? Maybe it’s someone else?
What I wonder, at this point, is if Bandcamp just ends up in the startup sales and acquisition churn where any number johnny-come-latelys come in with big pockets and big ideas, but no ability to execute so it just gets passed around like a joint on a Friday night until it burns down to nothing but ash. Or will somebody come in and make something happen? One thing is for sure, we indie artists are a viable and lucrative audience and we keep demonstrating that, but nobody’s been able to mainstream it. Admittedly, few have tried. I believe that Bandcamp could be on the precipice of that. Will it happen? Let’s wait and see…
I’ve been trying to figure out how to promote my singer/songwriter work for, well, quite a while. I tried a bunch of pseudonyms, but maintaining all the different accounts became quite a challenge I couldn’t really keep up with. I’ve tried intermingling the ‘songs stuff’ as it’s come to be known in my marketing shorthand, with the ‘ambient stuff’, but my problem here is that when you buy something from an artist, most people want to have a sense of what they’re buying. If I bought my favorite bossa nova artist’s new recording and found out they were now doing free jazz, I might be a little bummed. At the same time, I think of artists like Miles Davis and Frank Zappa who’s style was to explore wherever they were at; there was no ‘off brand’ for them. Simpler time, maybe? Maybe.
After much fretting and hand-wringing I just decided things were irreconcilable. I’ve been a singer/songwriter since I was 13, but I made a name for myself making ambient music. I love both. I love electronic music synthesis, but my favorite instrument to play is the steel string acoustic guitar. My situation is full of dichotomies as is the case with most of us, I’d imagine. Finally, or at least this time, as every time I make a proclamation something changes or proves said proclamation moot, I decided to create a Bandcamp page for my singer/songwriter stuff and a Bandcamp page for my ambient stuff.
So that there’s no confusion, the singer/songwriter stuff is simply called: https://MattBorghiSongwriter.bandcamp.com
The other, exclusively for ambient and drones, is:
Yep. Pretty creative stuff. I’m glad I spent the better part of a decade trying to work all this out. (Insert sad face emoji here).
Now, with Spotify, Apple Music, streaming services, et. al.. things aren’t that easy, so you’re still going to have to try before you buy, but fortunately, trying things out is built into the experience.
Here’s are my three singer/songwriter recordings, with a little bit of ambient guitar thrown in for good measure… Also, new songs and recordings are in the works.
I love Dave Liebman, his work, his philosophy, his artistry and his dedication to craft. As a devoted musical improviser, when I learned of his book, The Art of Skill – Establishing the Mindset For Unleashing the Music Inside You, I was super eager to get into Lieb’s brain and see what insights this master could offer. Instead, after thousands of purchases across more than two decades of using Amazon, I was moved to write my first product review. Here tis:
I don’t think that I’ve ever written a review for anything in thousands of Amazon purchases, but I definitely feel obliged to issue a ‘buyer beware’ warning for this unfortunate collection of pages attributed to Dave Liebman, as author. I say attributed because there are references in the text stating that this was a project of a Michael Lake, who I can’t seem to find anything biographics or CV on – He is credited thusly, on the cover: “Edited and Designed by Michael Lake”. No other credentials are included.
When I first heard about this book from Lieb, I went to Amazon and reluctantly swallowed the thirty bucks thinking that this might be a real chance to get an insight in Lieb’s perspectives; that was partially true. However, when I first received this in the mail I was taken aback by the paltry, print-on-demand collection of perfect bound pages that arrived. To call it a book, m’mmm… not quite, only if, say a pharmaceutical insert stuffed in The Times is considered a book or more aptly, a Scholastic Reader, which is what this 50ish pages of wide margins, poorly written and even more poorly proofread text alongside a mish-mash of motivational stock imagery with a few pics of Lieb and friends through the years thrown in for good measure seems to be. A book? That’s a tough proposition by any measure.
I didn’t pick this up for about six months, but when I finally picked up this collection of pages, it was, well, not great. A series of shoddily edited interviews (maybe?). I know now that LIeb almost became an orthopedic surgeon and a lawyer, but that didn’t bear repeating four times in, sort of, tangential asides to other things Lieb was talking about. And that’s the thing here, there’s no editorial throughline and no narrative to speak of. I surely didn’t get any insight into ‘the art of skill’ or really an insight into anything except Lieb’s other potential career directions! Without a doubt, you’d get more, better articulated (and edited) insight if you were to just read the first ten articles in a Google search for “Dave Liebman”. Certainly, this collection was not, is not, worth thirty bucks. And that’s the thing that’s outrageous here: Dave Liebman is known for quality and lifelong dedication to craft; this poorly written, poorly edited, poorly assembled, poorly laid out, cheaply printed and extremely overpriced collection is far beneath Dave Liebman. If anybody ever reads this, I’d say a fair price point for this is about $10 and with the printing costs you should still be making $9.
If it were some rando jazz guy, I’d give ’em a pass, but with lieb, man, I just can’t do that. He’s a teacher, master, musician and founder of the International Association of Schools of Jazz. Was there really nobody in his orbit that he could have shared this with to get an opinion on the writing, the editing, the layout, the presentation, etc. As someone who worked in publishing, I’d wager that a second set of eyes were never laid on this collection. Perhaps, the price tag can be attributed to the astronomical price of college textbooks and somebody was hoping to get this on some syllabi? I really don’t know, but this is an unfortunate and overpriced collection of pages that’s not worthy of having Dave Liebman’s name on it or associated with his amazing legacy of excellence.
As disappointed as I am with this work, I’m being generous with the three star rating. I think there are some, just Ok, insights within these pages, but it never scratches the surface of the promise of the title: The Art of Skill – Establishing the Mindset for Unleashing the Music Inside You, this collection of pages and random images, definitely ain’t that!
Anyway, my work is done. I’m disappointed, but hopefully, other folks can avoid the same disappointment and maybe even the editors/authors will take another look at things in the second printing. Lieb’s an amazing and awe-inspiring artist, a true craftsman, don’t let this dissuade you from his work.
I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what I was trying to achieve. It was one of a hundred experiments at the time and one of hundreds of thousands since. It was 1998; 25 years ago. Then, like now, I had an economy of musical gear. At that time, I hadn’t even moved to recording music with a computer yet, so armed with my old Fender Gemini acoustic guitar, a Woody Seymour Duncan pickup and a brand new Alesis Nanoverb I plugged it all into my Tascam four track recorder and began to experiment with a variety of noisy and hissy experiments.
At some point, after a couple hours of fruitless experimentation, I set it to plate reverb and turned the effect and the mix all the way up. In seconds, I found what I was looking for.
What was I looking for? Hell if I knew, but I could try to explain it in my vocabulary of the time. I wanted to be able make music like Claude Debussy’s solo piano work, utilizing an almost chromatic dream-lime lack of a tonal center that’s just awash, ebbing and flowing, without an attack; like a piano key struck with the sustain pedal down all the way and the stroke of the key removed, or imagining the strings rising and falling as in Ralph Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. The guitar, acoustic, especially, is/was effectively a percussion instrument. What I was imagining simply wasn’t a thing; physics precluded it… at least I thought so until this experiment.
For me, musically and artistically, this was a defining moment. My creative life is divided between before and after this discovery. I called it space guitar, then ambient guitar, but really it was a drone style of playing; a pedal note sustained while other harmonic goodies occur all from the sound hole of my acoustic guitar and into the spaciousness of the reverb. Anything was now possible. A couple years later live looping via Ableton and reliable looping pedals made whole soundworlds possible with just a guitar, imagination and a couple doodads. I went in this new direction hard. I explored sound with many guitars, effects, players, ensembles and pretty much any scenario I could imagine. 25 years later, dozens of recordings and hundreds of gigs all over the continental US came to be and I explored anything and everything that caught my fancy.
In the last few years things have dissipated for me creatively where the guitar is concerned. At a time when there are hundreds, maybe thousands of ambient guitarists with music on Spotify and videos on YouTube there’s a lot of droney, textural and ambient music out there. To be fair, a lot of this stuff sounds the same and “ambient guitar” has gone the way of a million vaporous piano recordings that may or may not be informed by the work of Harold Budd. I have ambient drone music on nearly 24/7, in my various spaces and while I couldn’t name most of the artists I hear from the derivative lack of variance and the ephemeral nature of new music showing up, I’m glad that new voices are putting new spins on guitar and reverb. The more music that comes out, the more likely that future greats will be revealed.
For me, though, it’s becoming harder to put original, thoughtful sound into the perpetual motion machine of streaming and social media. I don’t want to release garbage just to keep momentum, to keep something out there feeding the machine.
With all of this said in what is possibly the longest preface ever, I’m afraid I’ve reached the end of my period of exploring the ambient guitar. I’ve made this pronouncement before and like all pronouncements, no sooner do I make one and inspiration strikes. Honestly, I hope that happens. It’s really hard to look at my guitars and feel nothing but frustration at the lack of ideas for new work; the same objects that I’ve looked at for decades, played all day/night and could barely bring myself to sleep out of an anticipation of what new sounds might come the following morning. To be fair, I’ve been extremely lucky and prolific; I count those blessings. I’m reminded of an interview where Doc Watson talked about getting his first guitar and his father told him “…so that life might be a little better with it.” My life has been better having picked up the guitar and better still when I connected it to an old Alesia Nanoverb all those many years ago.
There are so many situations and aspects of sound that I want to explore and I will, just sans the guitar. The guitar is the instrument I’m most proficient on so it will be my primary instrument in any band or ensemble situations, maybe even some ambient artists will reach out with ideas and ask me to contribute (something that rarely happens) but as for ambient guitar, by myself, that will only show up on droney periods in the various ensembles I play with when I kick on one of the several reverb pedals I have on my effects board.
Ambient guitar has been really good to me.Ambient guitar is dead! Long live ambient guitar!!!
Please enjoy my final ambient guitar longform work: Castles, originally titled “Castles Made of Sand”, an allusion to the beautiful Jimi Hendrix song of the same name that aptly reflected my feelings as I created this final work.
“And so castles made of sand
“Melts into the sea eventually”
– Jimi Hendrix
of Lake Ontario,
Definitely in a
of the country.
I remember it
being very green,
and there were
not with peaks,
but like great
We were driving.
was busy for a Saturday
in what seemed like
the middle of
That was over
twenty years ago,
but I remember
the peace of
looking at the
The white lines
of the road
really stick out
They were newly
on a newly surfaced
stretch of road.
It was smooth, and
it was beautiful.
It felt good.
It looked good.
The cool Canadian
wind in my
makes me think
of listening to
on a day like this…
Low Sun Equinox is a celebration of the spiritually-rich winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Dark has taken over the land with only a few hours of daylight and very little in the way of sunlight for days, weeks at a time. It’s a time for reflection, contemplation and the moving forward into renewal or departure. The low sun, if it emerges, casts beautifully icy hues of orange, yellow and every shade in-between against a dark gray sky and a disappearing horizon. I wrote this poem to try and capture its essence, however impossible that might be:
The emerging light
falls against the dark
dreams of yesterday
holding to tomorrow
in the hope
and the hope
for faith as the cascading light
absorbed into the darkness.
The longest night
we look into ourselves,
conscious of breath
and the power
of an unfolding
The longform ambient tracks that I create serve a couple purposes for me. For one, once these pieces are complete, I use them for my own meditation and yoga practices as well as for sleep. However, when I’m working on them I’m focused on creating the sounds of imaginary worlds. These imaginary worlds take many forms from fantastical landscapes to elusive horizons on the open sea and space journeys where the listener is invited into a world of interstellar travel and discovery. I’m inspired by fiction I’ve read, but also I just like to imagine these worlds and the feeling of what it would be like to inhabit these worlds.
For this release, Fire Mother Descends on Galant Pass, I was imagining a soundscape of a sun-worshiping society that lived in the mountains, somewhere deep in the northern hemisphere, maybe the pacific-northwest meets the Aztec culture. With the second longform work, ‘Seasonal Rains’ I was imaging seasonal rains and the cave dwellers carving pictographs into the cave walls awaiting the Fire Mother’s seasonal return.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include that I had just binge-watched Graham Hancock’s Ancient Apocalypse series when I worked on this recording. I spent time with Graham Hancock in Sedona, Arizona several years ago so I was quite familiar with his work, but the Ancient Apocalypse program brought things to life in a way that I hadn’t envisioned them in his writings or presentations.
Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock is a longform ambient music journey that takes the listener deep into the heart of being. There are two mixes for this recording, the Horizon Mix is more open and spacious as if you’re looking to the horizon, the other, the Ice Caves Mix, with more of a deeper and cavernous resonance, a mix that fans of Steve Roach’s longform works would likely enjoy, particularly his recording A Deeper Silence, a frequent touchstone for me.
When I created Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock I was trying to recreate the still space that exists around large bodies of water, majestic mountainscapes and the otherworldly experience of watching Aurora Borealis. All of these things are natural elements that so few of us get to experience in the natural world in their natural states, instead our experience is relegated to one of simply ‘watching’ on a screen. Having an experience through a screen is something that almost any of us can do now; with Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock – A longform ambient journey, my hope is to bring the listener closer to realizing that space as they meditate, do yoga, drift to sleep or simply listen. Each of these activities require a peaceful and relaxed state of mind; my hope is that Aurora Tidewater at Felwood Rock brings you closer to that inner calm that we all carry with us but sometimes struggle to access.
#mindfulness #meditation #sleep #yoga #relax #relaxation #stressreduction #anxiety #study #concentration #focus #ambientmusic #dronemusic #ambient #innerpeace #calm