Hey. Stop Trying To Justify Music Theft, Alright?

grandpa simpson rantI was just reading some stuff over at The Guardian about Robin Thicke’s new album. It turns out The Guardian is mistakenly reporting that Thicke’s new album Paula sold ‘less than 54 copies’ in Australia during its first week. It seems that their assumption is based on the fact that it didn’t appear in the chart of the top 500 albums in Australia, #500 of which was a Blondie compilation which sold 54 copies. But the truth is that Thicke’s album hadn’t even been released in Australia during the week that that chart covered. We’ll get the real results on Saturday at 7pm. But that’s not what this post is about. Nope, this is about a little exchange in the comments that really pissed me off:

Commenter 1: Who buys albums anymore? Doesn’t everyone know that music is free on the Internet?

Commenter 2: Music lover’s who want band’s to be able to exist to carry on making music . What you are is a thief. Music is rarely “free”, just because YOU don’t pay.

Commenter 3: Except it’s music lovers who bother to download and as such are the ones who are more likely to purchase merchandise and concert tickets. Not only that, but many unknown bands gain national and worldwide attention from being illegally downloaded, launching their career with essentially free marketing. Not only that, but when you listen to Spotify be sure to remember that Spotify pays bands next to nothing for us to listen to their songs for free.

Now, you can probably guess where I’m going with this, if you haven’t already slammed your laptop lid or phone down in disgust. Cos I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’re a musician who values music for its own sake, and as a creative endeavour, a creative necessity, an integral part of your being. But I find that third commenter really frustrating. Dear Commenter 3, sweet Commenter 3, nobody is going to invest in music if there’s no return. And when you don’t invest in music, you don’t get music. You certainly don’t get well-executed, well-recorded music. You don’t get music by bands who were given the time to find their sound over the course of a career. We’re seeing so many bands falling apart or band members quitting because they can no longer make ends meet. Not every band has the huge following or commercial appeal to be a big enough live draw to shift thousands of tickets and t-shirts, but that doesn’t make their music any less valid to those who do love it. And by this commenter’s logic, those bands who used to focus all their creative energies into the recording studio rather than the stage, well, I guess they think those artists shouldn’t bother.

Let’s use an extreme example. Remember The Beatles? Bunch of dudes from Liverpool, snappy dressers, had some hits. Those guys stopped playing live in August 1966. After that time they confined their creativity to the studio and gave us Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album (and Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, Abbey Road and Let It Be, for that matter). Is that commenter saying these albums should just have been given away? For what? As free publicity for a tour that would never eventuate? Should they have just stopped, if they weren’t going to tour?

“Oh but you can make an album on a laptop or an iPad, so you can do it for like no money.” Yeah, you can, but you shouldn’t. We’ve already devalued music to the point where most people don’t pay for it, and we’ve devalued the sound of that music by listening to it in a low-resolution format (MP3, streamed audio, shitty YouTube videos). Think of this: unless you’re using a service like the brilliant HD Tracks, the average punter is listening to music in the worst sound quality since the days of mono vinyl. Cassettes sound better. Vinyl records sound better. CDs sound better. Everyone jokes that, hey, it’s 2014, where are our jetpacks? Well y’know what? Fuck the jetpacks. It’s 2014, where is our unprecedented level of audio quality? Why isn’t everyone listening to everything in the highest quality ever experienced by human ears, instead of on laptop speakers or those Apple earbuds that have no high end so you can’t hear the horrible compression artefacts living up there beyond 5kHz?

So yeah, you can make an album on a laptop by yourself, and it’ll probably sound just fine alongside all the other laptop albums out there, especially through a squished, compressed, neutered format like streamed audio. But go sit in the dark, close your eyes and listen to a well-recorded album crafted in a professional studio by musicians and engineers. Go remember what it’s like to be immersed in an album for its own sake, not as a hypothetical free advertisement to a concert you might or might not end up going to because, eh, you just downloaded Season 4 of Game Of Thrones and you’re going to have a binge this weekend.

I understand that people are used to not paying for music. The whole Napster thing was a very long time ago and for most people, music is a free thing that you just go to your computer or phone and listen to. And while I have some anti-Spotify friends who will kill me immediately after reading this sentence, I use Spotify too. I pay for a Spotify Premium account every month because I know that even though Spotify pays very little to artists, at least it pays something and in a very real way I’m contributing to that something. I see no problem with wanting to have the entirety of recorded music right there at your fingertips, but I do have a problem with devaluing it to the point where you don’t feel you need to contribute to the ongoing creation of quality music with quality sounds and presentation. And y’know what else? I buy more music now – on CD, mp3, vinyl and DVD – than I ever did before. Not because Spotify encourages me to go and buy more music (although I have bought a few albums after first hearing them on Spotify) but because I fucking love music. I always have, I always will, and I consider it my duty as a musician and as a music lover to support music as an art form and musicians as a community.

Hey, Lay Off Misha’s Theory Knowledge, Dude.

Misha MansoorOkay, something’s pissing me off and I have to rant about it. Today on Misha Mansoor’s ask.fm page, someone asked, “Serious question, how is one who does not know theory call themselves of musician? You are a guitarist, producer, etc. Not a musician. Not taking any shots, btw.” Misha quite diplomatically replied “Because I play music for a living?” Now, I’m someone who appreciates music theory, knows a lot of it, believes in learning and teaching it, and rather likes it. But there has to come a time where you put music theory aside. When you really get down to it, music theory is not a rule book for how to make music. It’s a catalog of observations of things that sound good. Music existed before music theory was invented to describe it, just as language was around before an external means to document it. If someone can speak but they can’t read or write, does that make their words any less meaningful? Is a nice home cooked meal any less of a meal than one made by Bobby Flay? Read More …

How To Respond To “7 Strings? I Have Enough Trouble With 6!”


As a seven-string guitarist, I come across this situation virtually every day of my waking life. And in dreams nightmares too:

ME: Dude, you should totally check out the new Ibanez seven-strings.

DUDE: Seven strings? Ha! I have enough trouble with six!

We’ve all heard it, right? How do you respond to that? There are several ways, but you have to be careful because almost all of them make you sound like a douche. Here are some suggestions:

* “Well, David Bowie played Space Oddity on a twelve-string, so he’s got a clear five strings on me. And that was in the sixties!”

* “Oh the extra string’s no problem, but painkillers from the surgery to attach the extra finger left me doped out for days.”

* “It’s not that difficult. All you have to do is imagine you’re playing an eight-string with one less string.”

* “Hey, if those dumbasses in [insert favourite 90s Nu Metal punching bag here] could do it, even you can.”

Or my favourite:

* “Actually it’s just like a six-string but you can go five notes lower if you want to. It’s not a big deal.”

The last one is probably the most diplomatic.


Five Gig Cliches That Must Die!

The ‘We Might As Well Start Now’ Start

Nothing rocks more than being drawn into a set from the very beginning by a well-conceived opening. Whether it’s some kind of well-done intro tape (like Metallica using ‘The Ecstasy Of Gold’); an atmospheric, moodily-lit stage beginning to swell with sound; or a curtain drop to a harsh white light as the band leaps into a high-energy punkfest, the way you begin your gig has to make an impact. So why do so many bands at the club level think it’s okay to walk out onto the stage, start to tune their instruments and maybe mess around with their pedals a bit until the singer says ‘Um, we might as well start now… uh… okay. 1… 2… 3… oh wait, what’s our first song? Oh yeah. 1… 2… 3… 4…”? It doesn’t matter if you’re just playing at the local watering hole or if you’re filling Madison Square Garden. Establish a definite beginning to your set.

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Metallica, you’re on notice

Okay, I’ve had enough. Metallica, you’re on notice.

Have you guys heard the Metallica/Lou Reed collaboration? A full song, “The View,” has made it online. And it’s awful.

I’m a Metallica fan. I like Lou Reed. Even saw him live once and it was a great gig. I was looking forward to Lulu. But this song is simply not good enough, and while it’s not fair to judge an entire album on one song, if this is in any way indicative of how the album is mixed it’ll be yet another PR disaster.

Let’s have a look at the last 20 years of Metallica.

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