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November 2011 archive

How to Clean the Fluff Off Your Brain in 7 Easy Steps

Brains are sticky, and unfortunately this means that as you suffer the inevitable rolls in the dust piles of life, fluff sticks to your brain and starts to build up. This is especially true for creative types. I think that this is because the ideas in our brains are inherently stickier, thus attracting more fluff.

Here’s how to clean that up in 7 easy steps…

…actually, I lied.

I don’t have any easy steps – can’t find them for all the fluff – but here’s a bunch of psychobabble that may or may not relate to the title of this blog post.

Last week, I left off with a discussion I was having with my two business mentors. They had dragged my struggling brain kicking and fighting into reality to have a look at what it was I was actually aiming for, what the nature of the success I craved was. Unfortunately (and predictably) we realised there were some flaws in my thinking, namely domestic paradise lost. Obviously this is only a problem if you have domestic paradise in the first place and wish to keep it. This I do – so how to work around it?

The Problem

My goal was simple: “become a successful musician and tour the world playing awesome gigs”.

All very well, but as my mentors rightly pointed out, unless I was prepared to sacrifice my relationship with my significant other and my children, being on the road for 11 months of the year could present logistical problems.

The Solution

Rely less on the gigs as the main avenue of promotion and income. Build an audience and sell them music recordings and other stuff using new technologies. After all, technology now provides these shiny benefits:

  • low overheads
  • don’t need a record company
  • no distribution problem (only a marketing problem … we’ll get back to that)

Then yes, still do gigs (playing live is my favourite part of being a musician, so not going to give that up ever) but do it in a civilised manner, so that I can still know my children and not have to pay alimony.

Pirates Are Only a Problem on the Actual Ocean

All very well, I hear you say, but isn’t the idea of living off selling recordings now an anachronism in the face of rampant piracy?

I feared the same, so I did some research. Turns out the answer is “No, actually”.

It seems the people being “hurt” (and I use the word loosely) by piracy are the record companies and the major players in show biz – the U2s of this world. They all used to clean up majorly from selling the album format in CD but now, while actual transactions are up, most people buy singles now and this means reduced revenue. And of course, people pirate a lot of copies of the Joshua Tree or whatever now. I don’t really approve, but it isn’t going to last long I don’t think. The establishment is marshalling its forces and will increasingly regulate copyright law with an iron fist, mark my words (unless future history proves me wrong, in which case feel free to gleefully unmark them).

Also media consumption has fragmented, we are no longer tuned into the same few radio stations and TV stations that sell us all the same shit. Instead we pick what we like from a much greater pool of choice and we block out the rest. Big Music hates this because they consequently sell less, but they are all still friggin’ rich so, besides them, who cares?

For the rest of us, New Media is mostly upside. Yes, I think there is a down side – a lack of mass shared pop-cultural experience – but essentially, it’s all good.

What this means for Small Music – i.e. independent musicians – is that there is a much greater chance of earning a decent living selling music recordings. OK so most still won’t, but that’s because most are either crap or lazy or both, but more musicians than ever now make money selling music recordings. You haven’t read this in the mainstream media reports because it doesn’t make as cool a headline as…

“Sir Elton-John Forced to Rent Out Rooms to Cover Flower Costs – Blames Pirates”.

… nevertheless it is apparently true (it must be; the Internet said so).

But What About All This Fluff?

OK so the opportunity is there to sell music recordings. Gatekeepers and distribution are now no excuse, but as I hinted earlier, hopeful musicians now have another problem – ok two problems if you are still concerned about the fluff on your brain – the other being The Marketing Problem. How do you get people to give a toss about your music?

I cannot claim to have the answer to this. Regardless, I will prattle on about it in an authoritative tone in the next post, because the Internet says I can.

 Next Gig: Market Noise! Acoustic Music & Arts Festival – Sunday Dec 11th Brunswick (click link for details) I am on at 3pm-ish

A Bear of Very Fluffy Brain

Yesterday I sat in meeting with my two business mentors and realised that despite what I like to tell myself to the contrary, I am a fluffy-brained creative type, not a hard-nose businessman.

Both of these guys are very successful businessmen but in a grounded low-ego kind of way. When I say successful I mean they run multi-million dollar businesses and buy yachts and that kind of thing, but they aren’t, as the poms would say, “flash gits’. Consequently, I respect them.

I was actually with them to discuss business in the context of my day-job but talk soon turned to my music career aspirations, ridiculous as they may be.

My two hard-boiled businessmen friends genially began tearing my thinking apart with the conversational equivalent of pick-axes. With a knowing twinkle in my eye, I confidently leaned back on my chair only to discover that my Magic Difficult Scenario Escape Portal was on the blink yet again.

Bugger.

I scrambled for Plan B, realised I didn’t have one, landed on my back foot and began stuttering and hemming and hawing as they asked me brutal questions like “What do you actually want?” and “How much will you need to turnover each month to achieve that?”

Direct questions like this about specifics tend to leave me flabbergasted. I can see so many potential outcomes that I may or may not be cool with, that to choose one and start making up figures to support it just seems like an exercise in hypothetical nonsense.

And so I would start to answer with statements like “well, I want to build my music brand in a sustainable and profitable-“  only to get cut off with cries of “Waffle!”. The question was repeated:

“What do you actually want?”

I hemmed and hawed and came up with something apparently just as waffly and shoot-to-the-ground-worthy. This lasted a couple of rounds until eventually, in desperation, I threw up my hands up and said: “Look – I just want to tour the world playing music to large crowds of people who totally dig my vibe and I want to get paid enough money never to have to worry about money”.

“OK,” came the reply, “Now we are getting somewhere.”

“Do you want a band to tour with you?”

“Yes, in a perfect world … of course I am prepared to compromise-“

“No, don’t think like that. Focus on what you really want.”

“OK then, yes, I want a band to tour with me.”

And then the maths started. Of course, being a Bear of Very Fluffy Brain, I have no idea what all those numbers they ran through were or meant, but suffice to say they were large and would take a lot of work to achieve. However, I am actually quite cool with that; one thing I have learned (at least) over the years is the skill of remaining unflappable in the face of large numbers. A couple of arduous years in advertising sales eventually cured me of that.

So for a moment I thought, “OK, let’s do this…” and was starting to feel less like a Bear of Fluff and more like the cigar-chomping music-mogul of my delusions.

But then the curve ball…

“Are you prepared to pay the price to make the kind of venture we have just described a reality?”

“Err…” I succinctly replied.

“Are you prepared to hardly ever be home, to always be on the road and to never see your wife and children? This will probably lead to stress and potentially the breakdown of the family unit. Are you willing to risk paying that price?”

“Err…” I reaffirmed.

“Or do you think there might be another way to go about it, a way that doesn’t require you to wind up divorced and with children you barely know?”

By this time, having run out of “Errs”, I defaulted to my other Ninja Conversation trick: complete silence. This is a useful skill that even Bears of Very Fuzzy Brains can (and definitely should) learn – that if you don’t know what to think or say, just say nothing. You look less stupid that way … but you must remember not to gape like a fish out of water – that ruins the effect.

The truth is I have been living with the dream of regularly playing music before large crowds since I was 12 or 13. I even got to do it for a while, before my twenty-something immaturity comprehensively destroyed a Good Thing, at which point I reverted to dreaming and playing in front of small crowds, which is fun but not quite the real thing. (Kind of, dare I say it, like self-gratification as opposed to actually bonking the object of your torrid desires.)

To be continued