Sunday, February 9, 2014

Occupy Your Music - Part 2: Lawyers, and all that crap...


The Olympics have started in Sochi, Russia... Watching the opening ceremony I couldn't but feel increased hope for us all. One idea, such as The Olympic Games, can still unite us. Even with all the corruption involved, the Corporatism which is inevitable even in such an event, with politicians involved in mafia or not, all the bad that one might think of surrounding it can not diminish one thing: dream! More than ever we need to dream, we need dreams...

I digress...


I brought all my audio files to the studio, all in 24bit 44.100 Hz resolution (there is no point in having it higher as no CD is recorded in better resolution anyways, at least not yet, so investing in equipment that does it higher is questionable). I've done all the base arrangements myself, with lots of midi files converted to audio, all individual instruments, sometimes in several channels, and several instruments playing the same themes for the fullness of the sound etc. I've done all vocals and back up vocals myself, and NONE of the audio files were pitch corrected! Only the song Good Night we pitch corrected at the studio as it was a bit too much off, but I insisted in not editing anything else, as I was looking for real, raw emotion, as deep as I can get it. For some stupid reason I thought this would be actually appreciated more! Wrong. Technology, and the industry itself, will rather support false representations than the real thing. All in a desperate run after the illusion of perfection, as the real one is impossible to achieve.

I digress again...

I had violin, drums, bass, dobro guitar, solo guitar, bass clarinet, and a double bass done by pro musicians. One of my favorite was the clarinet player I caught at his concert at the CBC Vancouver Studio and asked him if he would do the bass clarinet for my song Katarina. He looked at me sort of like 'who is this guy now?" but to my excitement he accepted. His name is Milan Milosevic, and is the son of the legendary Yugoslavian / Serbian clarinetist Boki Milosevic. Milan has created quite a successful career on his own versatile professional musician path. When I sent him the final product of the CD, he surprised me with how much he loved the song and being a part of the whole project. My heart was full!

So the recording sessions were going well. Kelly was getting everything organized in a highly professional manner. It's crucial to have someone involved in the industry who knows what needs to be done so you can relax and focus on your art. The sound engineer was also extremely supportive and professional, and above all punctual. I didn't think I will encounter that in such a creative environment. But Sheldon Zaharko is deservedly one of the best engineers in Vancouver, if not Canada, for a reason.

At the end of that week I had two master Cd's in my hands and I was ecstatic. During the recording sessions I was also doing my homework finalizing the steps of where to go and what to do with the promotion and planning the whole business side of it. The very first thing was meeting with a prominent lawyer in the local industry, the only one I could find that focuses particularly on music and music business issues. Even more importantly , he was directly involved with the major music association in Vancouver. He was to be the first to listen to a few songs from my CD.

Session 1

Looking back, I have no idea why I was so exited about the whole thing, especially when I had to pay $100 for an hour of his time! The album copy in my hands was so precious and big, I couldn't wait to share it with him. If I was a teenager, that would had been understandable. So I'm there, the receptionist didn't waste time to promote his bosses new CD, even to mention that the author does not perform live. It sounded like: "He is so above it all, he doesn't have to bother...". I smiled and set at the office waiting. The guy came, took the CD and put it in the player. My heart at first inflated,  but the sound was so awful I was left speechless. The sound system was set to a booming bass setup that screamed Rap and Techno style or something like that. Why did I ever expect more attention to something so essential, especially in a major music association in BC I will never know. My expectations definitely dropped under the dust in the carpet! What we were listening through that booming system was so terrible I couldn't wait for those minutes to be over. For the matters to be even worse, there was no time to request anything better, or to adjust the sound. The minutes were clicking, and with them the dollars I've paid. The music was the least important.

In a way this was the main point I got from that session. From this perspective now, the music is really not that important at all. Your album, as much as it looks huge as an achievement in your own eyes, is just a crumb in the loaf of good music out there. Not to mention the mediocre ones. What is important in the industry's eyes is to make your music available to as many huge businesses, real and online, as possible, and for free! And not for your own good. This is what the industry grew to expect.

So, the dollars were clicking as the lawyer gave me a short storyline: "Your music is sort of adult contemporary, but more localized in ethnic character".

- I should focus on my own Serbian community to start, which is good as it defines my niche already.
- I should look into online promotion opportunities.
- I should send the CD to radio stations.
- I should look into online and real store distribution opportunities.
- I need to play live a lot if I want to sell Cd's.
- I need to create a bunch of merch I can sell at the gigs.
- I need to become a member of his association.

Nothing concrete, no contacts, no recommendations, nothing. I already knew all of that. He asked me if it was useful, I smiled. I didn't want to be rude as I can be. I was too eager to start the whole process of promoting my music, I didn't want to care about it. But it did leave me with a deflated feeling.

Another important lesson I've learnt from all of this: there is a lot of work to do, and it's just starting! For some foolish reason I thought creating music is the most important. After that you find people and companies to help you with promotion, distribution, gig finding, merch production and design, street promos, and everything else based on belief in your creation, and you are set. You can focus on creating, and slowly build your business till you are able to make a living out of it. Good I kept my day job all this time!

In fact, very little, or no companies out there will be willing to do the leg work required for you. Everything is expected from you and only you. You need to set everything up yourself to the point where some company will be willing to even consider you for their roster. In a way, it reminds me on the Canadian show "The Dragon's Den" where a group of major investors are approached by people or groups with ideas in various stages. No idea is accepted unless it already makes sales. The bigger sales the better! It hurts to watch those desperate creative individuals go through the begging process, only to sell off their ideas for majority of the investor's interest. In some cases years of establishing the business around an idea are gone in the pockets of the investors, where they put as minimal effort into the whole process as possible! Sure, the investment is helping the creators in many ways, but at the end only the investor is really gaining from the whole deal. You make the cake, they are only happy to sweep the cream off of it!

This is exactly what the music industry is doing to all of us musicians hoping that our music will see the light of day. If you have to do everything yourself why do you need anybody anyways? Do you have time for all of it? Do you want to focus all that time to the other part of the business aside from creating?

For many this is OK, and I'm glad to see there is musicians out there who manage to make a living playing their own music. It usually comes after years of focus, while at the same time managing another business on the side which pays the bills till the music grows.

For me that is not an option, for now at least. With another career on the side, I do expect the industry to offer much more so I can keep the music being the focus, and not the business. However, my hopes that this will actually ever happen are very lean, and I will elaborate on this in the next posts.

The most important thing in all of this: save yourself money for "professional advice". If you are into your music and figuring out the ways to make it work, you probably already know what is best for you and which way to go. There is so much free resources available at your fingertips that you will rarely, or at all need to spend extra dollar to reach the points of your voyage. Your friends are most likely your best advisers.

Session 2

Another contact with lawyers was after several months of my online promotion I was running strong.
I was approached by a company on Twitter. They loved my song Katarina, and they kept sending emails about wanting to include the song into their library. I do believe that song is very good, if not the best on my album, was flattered with the attention from them, but still a bit puzzled with the amount or praise I was getting. So I did a bit of research about the company and it was legit. Nothing too successful, but being in New York and surviving was a good sign. So finally, I responded to their email and agreed to go over the agreement they were about to send.

Got a two page licencing agreement and read it several times very carefully. Several flags were raised in those readings, and the gut feeling was not good at all. There were things cut and pasted, sentences not making sense at all, but the most important thing, typed in very small letters was a clause about giving the company the right to modify, edit, rewrite, rearrange the song in any way they see fit! I knew right there and then I will not sign any of it but still curious about the interest I refused to see what was obvious. I decided to consult a lawyer again.

Another $110 later, one 10min phone conversation, and a couple emails exchanging the files, and I was left with what I knew already. Not to sign.

Sure, I was told, if I want my song to have some more exposure I could sign, but it's not advisable. And this is what I realised every company in the industry is relying on: on our desperation to get our music exposed to the point where some will be willing to give up all the rights.

First lesson from this is: if it doesn't feel and sound right, it is not right. Don't waste your money on advice you already know.

Second lesson: there is predators out there. Even if they genuinely like your music, you have to be extremely careful with considering their offers. Everybody is there to make money off of your music. That does not mean that you will.

Last lesson: stop giving your music away. We need to respect our own creation more, so others respect it as well. When did you last see the big names you see on TV are giving away their albums? Not even individual songs. We should start doing the same.

Occupy your music!

To be continued...