Musicians: Mind Your Beeswax
Scott G offers a warning to musicians: the world says it wants originality, creativity, boundless imagination, innovation, and new ideas, but it just isn’t so. The fact is that you can go too far. Handcrafting your own CD packaging, for example. Or covering it with wax before sending it to anyone.
I was on one of the panels at this year’s DIY Convention. It was an honor. It was fun. It was a great way to network with artists, performers, songwriters, producers, and new media developers.
But it was also a bit frustrating.
Whenever I agree to speak at one of these events, whether here in town, out of state or out of the country, there is great anticipation on my part that this time we’re going to collectively solve the problems of independent distribution, collaboration across geographical borders, and (most important) monetization in the digital age.
But it never happens.
In fact, it seems that every time we get close to a solution, something happens to drive a wedge between the art of creativity and the art of getting paid for that creativity. This means independent artists must work even harder to realize their dreams of making music for a living.
Creativity vs. Critics
There are some things you can do to maintain your art while getting down to business. For example: control your creativity. Everyone SAYS they’re looking for something new, but I’ll tell you a secret: they aren’t. As it turns out, it doesn’t pay to be so far out and “ahead of the curve” that no one understands what you’re doing.
In 2002, I released my first album, “Grin Groove,” and called attention to it by claiming to have created a new genre of dance/electronic music, also called grin groove. It got me lots of reviews, even if the writer spent half of the article explaining how I hadn’t, in fact, invented a new genre.
I even got an angry e-mail from a jazz critic, Scott Yanow, saying only someone as great as The Beatles could create a new genre of popular music. Since I had known Scott back in the days when he was called “Steamboat” and I had not yet become “The G-Man,” I good-naturedly replied to his message, pointing out that my using PR hype to gain some attention was a tried-and-true formula. Perhaps he was annoyed that he fell into that trap. Whatever the reason, I never heard back from him.
Actually, I rarely hear from any critics who worked with me prior to my releasing my first album. First, they said I’d never do an album. Then they said I’d never do another album. (“Electro Bop” came out in 2003.) Then they said I was an idiot to give my music away for DJs to remix because I’d never get anything out of it. (“Platinum Age of the Remix” came out in 2004.) Then they said this all wouldn’t last. (“Sonic Tonic” 2005; “Motion Potion” 2006; and “Crazed + Dazed” this year.)
Only Go So Far
The point is that there is a very fine line between creating something unique and just dressing up your music in a trendy new outfit. Some “newness” is acceptable to people; some isn’t.
New music format? Fine!
New combination of musical genres? Great!
New packaging of your work? Oops, that might be a problem.
Oh No for OSO
Let me use a great group as an example. They’re called OSO. I have an album of theirs entitled (get ready) “Lonesome Tunnel Hum These Strong Arm Drones.” Flows right off the tongue, doesn’t it. But okay, there have been odd album titles before.
But wait, it gets better. Or worse, from a business standpoint.
The OSO album package is hand-drawn and apparently hand-assembled. So it’s not the same size or configuration as conventional CDs. It also lacks a UPC code.
Oh, did I mention it’s covered in beeswax? A visit to their Web site reveals this explanation:
All albums are hand assembled with individual art work and encased in bee’s wax. We’ve put a lot of energy into our work. Retail cabals are reluctant to sell them because they don’t have bar codes. We don’t have a record label right now so this is streamlined, stripped down economy. Don’t be afraid of the mail. If you order a CD, we will mail it to you!
So okay, they are taking their own road to success. Did their unique approach make me want to play their album? Yes. But not on any of my CD players. Some of the wax inevitably gets onto the disc itself. So I needed to find a player where this would not be a problem.
I went to Art Mastering studio. Art Sayecki is unafraid of anything and immediately selected a deck that he didn’t mind waxing.
We popped in the disc. Considering the brooding, dark, disturbing artwork (and its disquieting stickiness), we were not prepared for the first track on the album.
It seemed to be a children’s song, something kids might chant during recess while playing jump rope. Art and I looked at each other and wondered if the wrong album was put into the custom case.
The second track was more advanced, but still did not match the ferocity of the album art or the complexity of the album title. It seemed like a pleasant Latin-tinged folk song.
On to the third track. Suddenly, the band launched into an outrageous Zappa-esque sonic excursion that takes each listener on an audio rollercoaster ride. Like that soaring song, most of the rest of the album is zooming, complex, weird, ferocious and fun.
“Lonesome Tunnel Hum These Strong Arm Drones” is superb. At least I think it is. I’m afraid to play it again and I don’t enjoy getting my fingers sticky. At least not from beeswax.
Note: OSO is Phil Taylor, Tim Beutler, Nick Coventry and Andrew Fedders. They’re great. Just don’t expect to find their work in any conventional location. Which probably suits them fine. Visit OSO online at: http://www.oso-music.com
[tags]creativity in music, innovation and public acceptance of ideas, ahead of the curve versus behind the eight ball, Grin Groove, gman[/tags]