Here in the U.S. St. Patrick gets parades, green beer, and buttons telling people to kiss you, and everyone becomes Irish for a day. Everyone goes to the “pub” and sings along to “Finnegan’s Wake” even though the song isn’t nearly as hilarious as the book.
But mention St. Andrew and you get looks of “huh?” which, coincidentally, is also the reaction most Americans have to songs in the Scots dialect. Some people know what a caber is. Everyone knows Robert Burns’s “Auld Lang Syne,” or rather, they know a single verse and chorus sung to a different tune than the one Burns wrote, because they sing it around his birthday. (News Years is close enough, right?)
There’s no swilling copious amounts of Scotch that’s been dyed blue or wild haggis hunts. We don’t run around calling each other “Jo” and dancing the fling, except by accident.
We don’t even get to see the St. Andrew’s Day Google Doodle in the U.S.! This year’s is Nessy winkin’ at ye. Look at it. Loooook!
I love that Scotland allegedly invented a lot of its history and culture during the 17th century because everyone was doing it.
I love that possibly their most famous citizen ever, Robert Burns (or at least he was until that Braveheart movie came out — you know, that movie staring the crazy racist Australian living in a America) was not just a writer, but a songwriter, and one who wasn’t afraid to toss off a bawdy verse or two. I love Scottish music and songs, especially the really dark stuff that comes from the ballads throughout Britain — stuff that doesn’t survive as well in other Celtic folk music traditions.
So in honor of St. Andrew’s Day, this year, on a whim, I decided to spend the last week recording an EP of five Scottish songs plus one that’s American but has a connection to one of Robert Burns’s most famous songs, mostly in the original Scots. Silly? Maybe. A peculiar thing to just up and decide to do on a week’s notice? Maybe that, too. But it was fun.
Here are dropbox links to the MP3s if you don’t want to use Bandcamp:
For the third year in a row, I took part in the madness that is February Album Writing Month (FAWM), writing (and/or co-writing) and recording an entire album of 14 songs in 28 days.
As with previous years, the recordings where I collaborated with others were particularly memorable, so big thanks are in order for Dave Benham, Rick Veader, Kate Fleming, Lexa, Joe Scala, and Mosno.
The Writing Process
Typically, I don’t try to dictate what type of music I end up with when writing over such a short span of time, and this year I almost ended up with 14 different genres!
Like last year, I picked two words around which to build the themes for the album, chosen at random in a dictionary (my Arabic dictionary this time … I like to make sure I’m surprised!). They were “drown” and “evidence.” You can’t make this stuff up! Consequently, I ended up with songs about water (“The Brigandine” and “Dry Town”; “Gold Rush” and “Oh Brother” also have connections to water in the lyrics), trust (broken or kept), crime (“Dakota” for a serious song and “Bad Luck, Jack” for a nonserious) , and other related themes. The “evidence” theme also led to a lot of thinking about history and how we record, reconstruct, and examine it. “The Brigandine,” “Gold Rush,” “1851,” “The Field of Agincourt,” and even “The Last of My Kind” came directly out of that take on the theme.
Unlike previous years, I ignored the weekly challenges for the most part and just focused on taking whatever opportunities to create that came along — but I did write a couple things that fit a select few challenges, the biggest being the “epic outro” challenge for “Last of My Kind.”
Here’s the entire playlist, along with some notes about each song.
1. Oh Brother (Ain’t It Hard) — A Welch/Rawlings-style recording of a song made to sound like classic American Apalachian folk.
2. Southeastern Breeze — An instrumental with guitar, mandolin, and banjo. The recording sounds like bluegrass, but the tune itself is closer to Maritime. My favorite part of this was learning the same tune on multiple instruments in the course of a day. Went to Teavolve’s Open Mic in the middle, came back and nailed the mandolin in a couple takes.
3. Dry Town — A completely fuzzed-out rocker (probably the most aggressive song I’ve ever written), but with lyrics inspired by Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads. It is about the current droughts in California and more broadly about our use of natural resources. It was inspired by this famous photo.
4. Dakota — With David Benham on Native American flute. This is story about a woman assaulted on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakoka. Her assailant is a non-native — reservation police had (and still have to some extent) a problem investigating, much less prosecuting, non-natives who commit crimes on reservations and then leave. Many poorer reservations also have problems with higher instances of violence against women (not just sexual violence as here but domestic violence as well). Banjo and native flute are a magical combination, and there is more material from mine and David’s session.
5. The Brigandine — With Rick Veader on pennywhistle. Peter Easton was the most successful pirate that ever lived — yet most people haven’t heard of him. This is a story about someone who joins a crew in Britsol as a fisherman, but the captain of his ship hates Easton for having cut off his hand as punishment for escaping press-ganged service. The captain pays gold as protection money to Easton (a standard bit of racketeering), and when it comes time to pay again, he fires his (no doubt inferior) cannons at Easton’s ships. The pirates make short work of the narrator’s vessel, murder the captain by hanging him from the rigging until he freezes to death and then dump his body in shallow water wrapped in the mainmast, and take the rest of the crew prisoner. Notable: It’s a folk song in 7/4, with one bar of 6/4 in the chorus.
6. (Someone Please) Have Mercy On Me — This one got a lot of comparisons to Gram Parsons’s Flying Burrito Brothers, so I guess that’s what it sounds like. I try not to talk too much about my personal beliefs, but this one’s about where we go when we die, which I believe is “nowhere,” and making the most of your time while here.
7. Bad Luck, Jack — It was Friday 13th, so I started thinking of horrible ways to go. Then I just created a couple guys going around knocking people off, and the body count kept climbing. The really fun thing with this one was the recording process, where I figured out how to make my guitar sound almost exactly like a horn section!
8. Gold Rush — A slow, majestic waltz narrated by the ghost of a California gold miner who lost everything in pursuit of riches. I think this is the first time I’ve played keys (piano and organ) on a public recording.
9. I Thought You Were the Wind — This is a story of an immigrant who loses his friend/role model to a bad situation. I left the lyrics intentionally vague, so it could be about a lover, friend, older sibling, etc., and there are many different kinds of trouble that they could have gotten into. However, I will let you know that while writing it, I actually had the brothers in mind from last year’s “Hold Tight,” but told from another perspective and with a different outcome … characters are as mutable as situations, sometimes. Southwest flavor with guitars and what I think is some of my best mandolin playing.
10. 1851 (Allons Enfants) — France’s 1848 revolution had an incredibly ironic outcome: Not only did it fail to reestablish the republic after deposing the last king of France (who was comparatively reasonable as Monarchs go) but the elections that followed saw a Napoleon elected President and — wouldn’t you know it, just like the last two guys named “Napoleon,” he declared himself emperor after a little bit of time in office pretending he totally wasn’t going to do that. I realized that someone could have been a child at the time of the first revolution (old enough to remember and understand what was happening) and still be young enough to be approached to “do his part” by revolutionaries in 1851. In the song he tells them why he won’t bother supporting them, because he thinks that it will end just as badly as it did before. The arrangement has some intentional resemblance to Knopfler’s “Done With Bonaparte.”
11. This was a collaboration with Kate Fleming, called “One Little Paper.” Kate unfortunately had a cold at the time, so, out of respect for her, so I will keep it private until she gets a chance to do the vocal to her satisfaction.
12. The Field of Agencourt (King Henry) — With Lexa Hartman on bodhran. I was surprised to find that there are a dearth of battle ballads about this very famous king and battle, at least in English. So I decided to write one. I played pennywhistle on this, which was another first for me.
13. The Last of My Kind — Caveman rock! This was written for the “extinct species” challenge given by a member of the FAWM forums. I picked … Homo neanderthalensis. There is a narrated poem backed by a massive amount of percussion and chanting (Lexa helped again), but stick around for a huge musical shift for the epic outro. The song/poem/thing as a whole was inspired by — and constructed somewhat similarly to — Italo Calvino’s “The Dinosaurs” from Cosmicomics (one of my favorite books … it also gave me the title of the second Midway Fair album).
14. We Are Travelling/Compagnie Generale Aeropostale — With Mosno and Joe Scala. This is a cinematic suite of recordings we made based on an idea Joe had: a pilot crashes in the desert and is rescued by Bedouins, who he has to convince to take him back to the city. I wrote the lyrics for the pilot and then wrote the verse in Arabic, which Mosno edited and sang lead on, and then we did a live recording of both songs. Joe created the plane crash (believe it or not, that’s a bass guitar), and we made sound effects, then edited everything together. This was so much fun we’ve made tentative plans to expand it into something larger. One of the best days I’ve ever had recording music!
The Recording Process
In 2013, my first year completing the challenge, everything was done as a one-take video. Last year, I had just gotten my digital home recording setup, which allowed me to do some overdubs to enhance the recordings, which was especially important for songs that needed harmony vocals and two guitars. The recordings sounded more substantial but certainly still had a hand-crafted feeling even when I wanted a fully produced sound. Both years I thought I ended up with a few decent songs that have since appeared in my set lists both solo and with my band, Midway Fair.
This year, I went one step further and decided to create more fully produced tracks and playing a wider array of instruments. In fact, I’m downright proud of the list of instruments I played:
Guitars (of course)
Piano, organ, and synthesized accordion
Pennywhistle (first time!)
Bodhran and some other types of percussion
Lionel’s Cigar Box Guitar (see here)
Drum machine programming
And lots and lots of vocals
For nearly all the tracks, each individual instrument was an overdub. Last year I typically did the vocals and acoustic guitar simultaneously, which led to a lot of doubled vocals because I still wanted to get the lead vocals just right. This year I didn’t really use stacked vocals at all but instead went with a lot of two-part harmony throughout the song (and plenty of three-or-more-part harmony on the choruses), which gives the songs a different feel, more polished maybe. The recordings were definitely cleaner, but they were also easier to mix despite having more tracks, and not just because I’ve gotten much better at the recording aspects in the past year.
I also think the biggest strides I’ve made in recording and writing since last year are improving what parts I play on each instrument. Too often in the past I would overdub a part and either scrap it entirely because it was messy or try to bury it in the mix … leaving a messy part buried in the mix. Recently, I’ve started simply avoiding the EQ for a lot of parts and focusing more on playing the right thing. Granted I don’t always succeed and there are times when I could have stopped playing or one instrument is stepping on another, but I think I’m getting there, and the result is recordings that sound a lot fuller but not as messy.
My mixing skills overall still need a ton of work, but that’s a lifelong pursuit.
I’ll try to keep this brief, but for the gearheads, this is what I used:
1. Interface and DAW: Scarlett 18i8 with Logic Pro X.
2. Plugins: I used no third-party plugins.
Nearly all of the compression is the “Vintage FET” and “Vintage Opto” plugins. These were my primary tone shaping tools in post as well. — I used almost no EQ throughout, except as an effect (such as the vocals on “Bad Luck, Jack”) or to correct shortcomings in an instrument (such as the piano on “Gold Rush”).
I used the rotary cabinet simulator in a couple places, which I find to be a very useful effect, but it was also the “amp” used for the acoustic on “Bad Luck Jack.”
For reverbs, I stuck mainly to the presets for the vocal plate, short ambiance, and large hall with very few exceptions. Most often I would turn on a preset and then delete the EQ and redo the compression settings just to keep the reverb settings, which usually required very little adjustment for my purposes. I do think the reverbs are still the least convincing aspects of Logic, but this is likely user error on my part, as they allow you to shape them in every conceivable way. I was at least much better about it this year than last.
I used the Tape Delay plugin in a few places (especially the vocal on “Last of My Kind”) and also used it as a “tape head” filter in a couple places. It adds a nice compression and distortion when set 100% wet with 0ms of delay and will also do through-zero flanging when needed.
The Spectral Gate plugin got a couple seconds of use in “The Last of My Kind” for the utter insanity at the end. Man, I want to turn that into a pedal, but it would be hyooooooooj.
I used a stereo tremolo plugin on “We Are Travelling” and on some sound effects.
One of the vocal tracks on “Bad Luck, Jack” used the pedal plugin for a treble booster.
3. Amps: Every electric guitar and bass track was recorded using Sakura, the 5W amp me and my dad built. I never felt like I wanted anything else, and despite the low wattage, I thought it worked just find on bass!
4. Acoustic guitars: I used my Crafters of Tennessee mahogany dreadnaught (similar to a D-18) for all of the acoustic parts that used a pick. I did use it on one or two fingerpicked parts when I thought the sound was more appropriate. Most of the fingerpicked acoustic parts were done with my Koa Larrivee D-05.
5. Electric guitars: On “Dry Town” I used my 50th Anniversary Sheraton for the rhythm and lead, and the red tele for the secondary lead. The Sheraton reappears as the “horns” on “Bad Luck, Jack.” The red tele also makes appearances as the lead guitar on “Someone Please” (middle pickup) and “Allons Enfants” (neck and middle). All other electric guitar parts were the DonQuixotecaster, usually on the neck and middle pickups.
6. Bass: Epiphone Viola bass.
7. Keyboard: My Roland FP5 provided the piano, organ, and accordion sounds used on the album. I did have to do a lot of post production for the piano and organ (EQ for the piano and a rotary cabinet sim for the organ), but overall it was more than adequate for my needs.
8. Microphones: I really abused the Sennheiser MK4. It appears on every track, and there were several tracks where it was the only microphone used. I did use a Sennheiser e609 for a couple guitar tracks, an AT2021 when I wanted a darker sound for something, and an AT2020 for the acoustic on “We Are Travelling.”
9. Pedals: For the most part, I didn’t need to deviate from my main pedalboard.
Compressors: Nearly every electric guitar and bass part used my Bearhug Compressor first in line. I also use compressors a lot in post, so there are typically multiple layers of compression.
Delay: I used the El Capistan for the delay on most of the tracks that have it, though I did use some post-processing delay on a few things. The “chorus” pedal on “We Are Travelling” is the other delay pedal on my main board, a Malekko 616.
Distortion: “Winnie the Pooh and Some Bees” fuzz, the one that Luke from Luck Duck pedals built me a long time ago before I started building (and the fuzz that lives on my main pedalboard) is the main dirt pedal (besides the amp itself driven by a MOSFET booster) on the outro to “Last of My Kind.” The Snow Day OD makes an appearance during the solos on “Dry Town.” A couple fuzzes I built appear on other tracks: the Rust Bunny is the primary fuzz sound on “Dry Town,” and the Tea and Crumpets fuzz is part of the “horn” sound on “Bad Luck, Jack.” Lots more clean electric on here!
Volume pedal: Ernie Ball VP for volume swells.
Filters: I don’t use filter effects very often, but when you need ’em, you need ’em! A major part of the “horn” sound on “Bad Luck, Jack” was the Something’s Fishy pedal, an FSH-1 clone, set to a short decay and short attack.
Tremolo: The Tap Tempo Cardinal makes an appearance on “Dry Town” on the Sheraton lead track.
10. Drums: Unfortunately, for the most part, if you hear a drum, it’s programmed. However, there is some improvised hand percussion on “The Last of My Kind” and “Bad Luck, Jack,” and Lexa’s bodhran on “The field of Agincourt” is of course real.
11. Other stuff: No idea what the pennywhistles were. The harmonica on “1851” is a Hohner. The cigar box guitar on “The Last of My Kind” was made by Lionel on the BYOC forum.
I think that’s everything!
Out of the three FAWMs I’ve done, I ended this one feeling much better about the output than previous years. I had a few clear favorites in previous years, and a couple songs each year that I thought were pretty lousy, but I can say pretty confidently that this year I have no regrets. Sure there are a couple places where I wish I’d had more time to really nail a certain part (particularly vocals, which are tough on songs I haven’t internalized), a couple vocals that could have used more practice, and some mixes that could have been improved with more time, or a couple lines that I might revise in the future, but what album isn’t like that?
Now I have to decide what to do with the recordings, if anything. I have considered having the backing vocals replaced with the other people in Midway Fair and overdubbing real drums for some songs to use on future recordings. Of course, then they would need to be remixed, and I’d probably want to redo a few things in a real studio … and, and, and. I’ll just live with it for a while and see what happens!
I also want to link to two people’s albums I was very impressed by.
The first is Gardening Angel from Spokane, WA — this was her first FAWM. To me she sounds like Beth Orton and Tom Waits got together to make an album together. Fantastic heartfelt writing and voice. “Big Blue Jar” is my favorite on here.
Another is Lightning Streak Dave, who wrote a concept about the robot dystopian future, with the opposition led by Donald Duck, told from the perspective of a dozen characters including what must be the last living DJ. “Steamboat Cleanup Crew” in particular is utterly spectacular, some sort of marriage of industrial, blues, and chain gang music. Exceptionally creative and expansive recordings.
Joe Scala of course also completed his 14 songs, taking a different tack from previous years and working on several songs at once. He actually wrote 3 songs on Saturday the 28th and recorded 6 in the same day, so he totally Please Please Me-ed it! It’s a shame the recordings with Chris Durm and Tony Colato had some technical difficulties, because they were cool songs that I am excited to play at Marksmen shows. Also, check it out: Katie Scala has a co-writing credit on “Let Me Your Light”!
I do a lot of stuff. That’s a bug, not a feature.
Grassrootsy ran an article yesterday, discussing whether quality of product or publicity is important. This is a quick excerpt from Joy’s post:
Just to clarify: content is quality. The music has got to be great. Totally agree with you. But just b/c its great doesn’t mean it gets exposure. And just because its great doesnt mean people will listen to it. That’s where solid promotion comes in. Otherwise all the talented independent artists out there, would be famous by now.
I agree with this, just like I agree with Joy on most things she writes. Getting exposure for things is clearly important. But the reason this came up for me is that recently a friend wrote to me asking for press contacts for Baltimore. Three years ago, I might have had something useful to say. I even landed Midway Fair’s second album a few reviews, so obviously I must know something about promoting music to “the press” (even if none of those reviews were by anyone in Baltimore).
But I had to type up an e-mail that explained that, now, I know nahthing. I shared what information I had, but it was a couple years old.
At some point, I realized that there’s really only so much time in the world, and promoting my music is probably my least favorite activity ever. It makes me feel really distasteful, and not just because I’m (apparently) antisocial and don’t want to talk to people. I don’t even like to sell the albums that I’ve spent thousands of dollars recording. When I’m allowed to, I sell the albums for whatever people are willing to pay. That’s pretty inconvenient for making the money back to make more recordings, though.
Instead I just decided to spend the time spent doing halfhearted promoting on things I apparently do enjoy: writing, playing music, and building little electronic boxes (that I barely use at all).
Building little electronic boxes obviously does nothing for promoting my music, except, well, in a way it has, because almost every video on my YouTube channel has more views alone than the entire Midway Fair channel had (back when it had videos, before YouTube inexplicably deleted them all). It’s taught me a lot about the science of sound, about really listening to how sound actually works. When I started doing some home recording recently, I was able to transfer that knowledge to better arrangements. When working in the studio in January on our forthcoming Most Distant Star EP, I had a better sense of what to grab to get the sound I wanted … and when not to grab anything. And when to do nothing at all.
Most of the writing I do these days isn’t the sort of writing I really want to do … I’m not writing fiction, and I certainly don’t write as many songs as I ought to, but instead I spend a lot of time writing about how to build little electronic boxes and helping other people do the same. Is it a waste of time? I don’t know in the long run. But I don’t think it is. It has actually forced me to think harder about whether someone else can understand what I’m writing. Sometimes the target audience is one person. Sometimes it’s several people. But I can say for sure that I didn’t think quite as deeply about how well I was communicating when I was just writing fiction. I think my songwriting has also become more facile simply by staying in practice writing anything instead of only sitting at the keyboard when I had the intention of creating something “great.” (Which does not work and never has for anyone ever, not even for the one person somewhere reading this who thinks it worked for them. I just want to be clear on that.) Maybe I don’t end up making great songs, but at least I make songs when I want to.
I guess my point is that just because something doesn’t accomplish a specific end goal doesn’t mean that it’s not worth pursuing, and even getting good at. I’m doing a lot of things that don’t advance whatever minuscule ambitions I have for my music, and yet somehow those are still useful in making better music.
And you know what? I bet there are also people out there for whom promoting music is a way for them to get better at being a musician.
At some point, I realized that I really only have time for a certain number of things in life, and actively promoting my band takes time and energy, so when it came up on the chopping block, I had to see if it accomplished any of my goals in life. You know, those nonexistent goals. I don’t tour, I’m not trying to get on a label, I don’t play pop music, and I can’t even name a venue in Baltimore I’d like to work toward playing. In fact, the only definable goal I could come up with for my music was that I wanted to be really good. And if I thought about it, that’s the only thing I’ve ever cared about … I just want to be good. When I record an album, I want to be able to listen to it and say, “This is actually good.” When I write something, I just wanted it to be good. Once it comes time to do anything with them, I lose interest quickly. Which is stupid, I know, but I just can’t see the point. What would I do if I worked hard at publishing my writing? Give up playing music and continue writing fiction all the time, so that I build a body of work and eventually enjoy the modest success of having someone, somewhere, download and read my book? I like playing music too much. What if I focused on just music and worked hard at making a living at it? I could spend a lot of time getting good enough at promoting music to live out of my car when I’m 50 (i.e., modest success) and sell out a small venue 200 times a year, but the trouble is I also like doing all this other stuff. I also want to be good at having a house and sleeping in it.
All this is sort of another way of agreeing that quality is of supreme importance, but that you can’t ignore publicity if you want anyone to know your music. If that’s what you want.
But as someone who doesn’t rely on selling CDs to pay for his next meal, I wonder, what would the world would be like if more artists just ditched their ambitions to be famous, important, or even known outside of a handful of friends and instead just tried to be really good at what they do?
Of course, wanting to be good at too many things in general means I’m not really that good at any of them, just good enough to realize how much better a lot of people are at it. But maybe someday I will be, if I don’t get bored and move onto something else.
This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.
This song came out of thinking about the cancellation of the U.S. shuttle program. If that sounds weird, then you don’t know me very well. Really it’s more complicated than just having given up on flying around in space. There are all sorts of implications, but the biggest one is probably “well, this planet is all we get after all, ever.” I have a general interest in space and astronomy, so I consciously know that the chance of terraforming Mars or reaching another star is remote in the extreme, but that doesn’t seem to help. People fight hopeless battles all the time, even knowing that they’re futile, but there’s a big difference between than and actual despair. So I pondered that a bit.
My wife was on vacation for the weekend at a conference, so I had the house to myself and got the song done in a couple days. Continue reading →
This is part of a series I’m doing on the tracks on the new EP, Baltimericana. To read the other parts of this series, simply click on the tag “Song Sources” above.
The song started with a riff that came to me while driving down Calvert Street one morning a few years ago. It got stuck in my head on repeat and eventually the words “Can’t swim in the harbor” came to mind. I think I had read a news story about how for all intents and purposes the Baltimore harbor might never support life during my lifetime due to the pollution levels that have been present for centuries. That or maybe I was just remembering the bilge water and floating trash caught in one of the little nets that run in the miniature canals that abut the streets in Fell’s Point. Sometimes I look at those and think that jumping into the water a mere five feet down is about as dangerous as jumping from the top of the Bromo-Seltzer tower.
I can actually remember the first time I noticed just how polluted the harbor was. I must have been about ten and was coming home with my parents from some function downtown. We were walking near where the Aquarium is and crossed over a small bridge; there was just tons of trash caught in a net there. Continue reading →
There are all these expectations — which usually I can’t meet — about how many people will come see you play at any given show, even if you’ve never played at that venue before. Sometimes I feel like everyone has a certain amount of goodwill they can get from the local live music venues before it’s all used up, and I’ve used up a lot of it with place that I really enjoy playing in Baltimore. Some people might find that a very stupid way of looking at things. They tend to have more successful music careers than I do.
Well, anyway, today I saw this post from Grassrootsy about something I’m going to go ahead and dub “e-concerts” if they haven’t already gotten that name. What is this? It’s a live performance watched over the internet. It’s not simply taping the performance and sticking it up on YouTube. You’re playing live, and the audience is watching live. Ideally there is some interaction between audience and performer.
Stage-It, the company mentioned in the Grassrootsy post, is not the only way to have an e-concert. Artists have used Google+ to host concerts via the “Hangout” feature. Rob Hinkal from the folk rock band ilyAIMY regularly broadcasts — and then archives — the open mics he hosts on a site called Ustream. The archive part is really cool for people who have no media otherwise. A Ustream video is the only thing on my music page on this site right now, in fact.
Stage-It does have some nice advantages over these other methods, and I’m sure there are other hosts for this sort of activity (including Skype, maybe?), but what I’m really interested in right now is the implications of e-concerts.
Joy mentions that people are “lazy” or just “busy” as a big reason live music isn’t as well attended now than 10, 20, or especially 30 years ago. There are many more factors than that, of course. I think the dropoff in the last 10 years has more to do with economics than anything else. Gas is comparatively more expensive. I used to think nothing of driving for an hour to see a show. Now I calculate that it’s $10 in gas and add that to the cost of the ticket. Does that make me cheap? Undoubtedly. But it’s a reality for many people. Obviously this isn’t an economics treatise. There are many reasons people don’t go see live music as much. I’ve seen people blame easy access to recorded material and live video, but that’s absurd (let’s forego the polemy — YouTube is great for artists). But let’s remember that internet technologies are supplanting physical travelling in other spheres: I used to telecommute a couple days a week when I worked as a science editor, and telecommuting is becoming more and more common in all professions. In some ways, it’s weird that despite a decade of fast-enough internet speeds and the bevy of services available to musicians to promote their art that e-concerts are a such a recent development.
E-concerts are still actual “events” worth bugging the press about, or even gimmicks, something that a band doesn’t, you know, plan on repeating, unless of course it’s really successful, and then maybe we’ll think about it and maybe you should try it out because you might like it …
There are certainly some ways in which an e-concert is inferior to a live show. Loud rock bands may or may not benefit; some hardcore or metal fans probably want to feel the bass when they see a band and won’t get that without being in the room. Whereas for a live show you might have a PA provided with a soundman and good speakers, for an e-concert you’re probably pumping whatever you play through a USB mic, through a sound card, then out through someone’s computer (or possibly TV) speakers.
On the other hand, you don’t have to haul gear, and if you know what you’re doing, you might be able to muster better sound than some venues, especially if volume control is an issue or studio wizardry is a core of your sound. My band, Midway Fair, has a perennial problem where we aren’t loud or intense enough to be at home in rock clubs, but we’re often too loud for coffeeshops. There are very few places I’ve played where I felt comfortable and wasn’t worried about the volume levels or intensity of music that the audience was expecting.
E-concerts will become more common. That’s for certain. What does this do for live music overall? I suppose there might be some worries that if people know they can see you on a somewhat regular basis online, then they won’t spend the time and money required to see you in person. Or maybe the opposite is true: They’ll see you more often, and then want to see you in person when they can, because the in-person concerts will be rarer.
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.