For some artists, stage banter is just a box they check.

“Oh, I’m between songs. I need to say something…”

And so they proceed to yak about whatever. Maybe it’s about what the next song means to them, or something. Who knows. You only get about 10% of it, because they do at least one of the following things:

They might speak very quietly, getting lost in audience chatter or other goings-on.

They might drop the mic down to their chest, or for bonus points, their navel. Their speech sounds very thin and distant as a result. (And even quieter.)

They might mumble.

They might prattle away at high speed.

They might use 50 words to convey a 10 word concept.

Very quickly, they start to lose the crowd. The audience’s attention drifts away, like a canoe filled with restless river otters. Nobody can figure out precisely what’s going on, so the focus on the stage drops away. The energy level craters.

As near as I can tell, the trouble comes from not realizing that the entire time you’re on stage, you’re performing – or rather, that’s what’s expected. If you stop performing, the emotional connection between you and the “folks” starts to get scratchy and intermittent.

The audience wants to be lead on a journey, and they will go where the band takes them…but only for as long as they feel like the leaders know where they’re going. If you seem to be meandering aimlessly, the spectators unconsciously dismiss you from your space at the front of the pack.

The solution?

If you’re going to talk, make the talking actually feel like part of the show. It should be obvious to the crowd that you are still asking for their attention.

1) Make an effort to get your speech to “concert level.” You don’t have to be annoyingly loud, but the overall volume should be comparable to your singing voice. This helps to telegraph that, yes, the performance is still happening.

2) To aid in the above, use the mic as you normally would. Park it in front of your mouth, where the element will receive your voice at the highest relative level possible. This will help your speech to be crisp, intelligible, and also tonally rich – all things that signal that you’re still in the captain’s chair.

3) Form your words deliberately and precisely. Especially in an acoustically challenging environment, talking like you have marbles in your mouth makes you incomprehensible. Incomprehensible people don’t hold the attention of audiences very well.

4) Slow down. Not painfully slow – that’s just as bad – but leave a touch of space between words and sentences. Running everything together is rather like mumbling.

5) Get your message across in as few words as possible. I’m not saying that you can’t go on a five minute monologue if that’s what you want to do, but I am asking that every word in that monologue actually be necessary. Rambling might feel to you like you’re saying a lot, but it’s actually a momentum killer that conveys very little.

If your stage banter actually feels like part of the show, it enhances the experience. If it feels like some weird afterthought, it will get treated in accordance with that perception.

“Should I bring my amp?” the musician asks in the show-planning email thread.

Yes.

Thanks everybody, see you next mon- okay, I’m kidding.

But the answer is yes. If you have some sort of device that you can use to tweak the sound of your instrument, even if that’s just a bit of extra volume, you should definitely have that handy. Here’s why:

1) What if the PA and/ or monitor system can’t quite get the job done?

Of course, if you’re careful about advancing the show, this is much less of an issue. However, it’s still possible that, for any number of reasons, you won’t be able to get what you need. Maybe there won’t be enough mixes, and you’ll have to share with someone who needs monitor-world to sound very different from what you need. Maybe you won’t be able to get enough volume. Maybe something will be tuned very strangely. Maybe you actually need an active DI, but the engineer doesn’t have one on hand. You want to have a fallback option, even if it never becomes necessary. Speaking of which…

2) What if the live-sound setup is adequate, but suffers a failure?

Sometimes, the last direct-box just dies, and that’s it. Sometimes a monitor wedge quits, and there isn’t a spare. Sometimes your in-ears don’t work the right way, or at all. Sometimes a whole mixing console (even an expensive one) just takes a giant dump.

If you’ve got your amp, you can still make some noise and have some kind of show.

3) What if the live-sound engineer is stupid, uncooperative, malicious, or absent?

I hear the horror stories. The person behind the console doesn’t always get what you need, or they may try to make every band – even a Celtic folk ensemble – sound like 1980’s-era Metallica. They may not understand your directions, or be able to carry them out. They may not have time to recreate (from basically scratch) the sound you’ve been dialing up for months in rehearsal.

(You have dialed up your sound in rehearsal, right? When you can hear whether or not it works well with the rest of the band? Please, answer in the affirmative.)

And some engineers are just plain jerkfaces who think they know better than everybody else, or, when you need something, they’ve gone out to take a 45-minute smoke break. When that happens, you will benefit greatly from having some knobs that you can reach over and turn.

You have to have some level of control over what’s happening to you.

4) What if the engineer likes it when you can make your own choices?

I can only speak for myself, but I’m all for letting you get yourself dialed up. It tends to reduce stress for both of us, and I can get a clue regarding what you want without having to start with a purely abstract conversation. Plus, if you have different tonalities that call up for different songs, you can just make that happen naturally while I translate it out front.

Now – what does this not mean?

Well, it does NOT mean that you have to carry around enough audio firepower to be “loud” in the upper bowl of a stadium. Save your time and back. A smallish rig that’s perfect in rehearsal will do the job. (There’s another lesson: Rehearsal volume and blend should be show volume and blend. If your band is going to the gig, and then suddenly adding 10 dB or drowning somebody out, that’s a whole other issue.)

It does NOT mean that you should be obnoxious. The point of having the amp handy is that you have a tool for ensuring that the band continues to sound like a band under different circumstances. It’s not so that you tear people’s heads off, or dial up enough high-mid that your instrument clangs like a steel bar against concrete.

It does NOT mean that you’re prevented from running direct if you want to. If everything’s as smooth as butter, and you love the sound of the PA, and the amp is completely superfluous, no problem! You don’t have to run any audio through it if you don’t want to.

The point is to not leave your backup at home. It’s easy to not use it, and really hard to go back and get it.

A lot of my musician friends are discovering just how viable it is to produce their own material in the spaces available to them regularly. Under the right circumstances, doing so allows for leaner budgeting, and even a much steadier release cycle. (You can work with and release tunes on, say, a monthly basis, rather than wadding everything up into a do-or-die album process that takes years.)

In the DIY-recording realm, a point of confusion tends to be the difference between acoustical treatment and soundproofing. I’ve heard more than one person refer to the placement of acoustical foam on various surfaces as “soundproofing,” and while I understand what’s actually meant, the terminology is still off.

So, what’s the difference?

It’s actually a fairly simple distinction, at least as I’ve come to understand it. Acoustical treatment is modifying the behavior of sound within a space. Soundproofing is preventing the transfer of acoustical events between spaces.

To be fair, acoustical treatment can – technically – aid in some soundproofing. Acoustical absorption means that sound energy is converted to thermal energy. If, through something like acoustical foam, a sonic event is prevented from ever reaching a wall, then you won’t have a problem with that sound causing the wall to vibrate. At the same time, it’s important to note that most building structures are less and less likely to vibrate effectively at higher and higher frequencies anyway, with the losses from acoustic foam quickly becoming essentially irrelevant.

Soundproofing is a much more difficult business, because it requires getting a handle on vibrations that are very strong and difficult to stop. It’s a game of mass and isolation. Very heavy objects are difficult to set into motion. Objects that have less surface-area in contact with other objects transfer vibration poorly. The transfer of vibration from air to solids is highly inefficient; You can easily feel a big thump on your chest from someone’s hand smacking into you, but that same sensation from a subwoofer firing into the air requires a TON of speaker power.

So, with all that, effective soundproofing tends to rely heavily on expensive, permanent (or quasi-permanent) construction. Rooms can be built within other rooms, for instance, with air gaps between the outer and inner walls. “Airlock” systems with multiple, heavy, gasketed doors can be employed. Floors may be floated with absorptive rubber spacers.

A room can be nicely soundproof, but sound terrible inside. Build a concrete bunker inside another concrete bunker, and not much sound will get in or out. The reflectivity of all those hard surfaces will be horrendously bad, though.

Basic treatment, on the other hand, is much easier. Gather up a few thick, fluffy blankets that you can hang, and you’re likely to create a noticeable change in the room’s internal behavior. Reducing the “splatter” of content at or above 1000 Hz isn’t exactly trivial, but the effort required is within reach for almost anybody.

(Please be aware, of course, that really great sounding rooms almost never happen by accident or by way of a few, hasty changes. Full-blown, world-class acoustical spaces require a great deal of thought and preparation. The best ones have effective treatment at low frequencies, which is not a simple thing to do. Big studios with renowned rooms are expensive for reasons that include both soundproofing AND treatment.)

As I said, room treatment and soundproofing aren’t the same thing. In your self-recording adventures you’ll likely encounter some “environmental” problems. Figuring out which of the two concepts applies the most will help you approach the issue in a way that actually has a chance of being effective.

If you’re playing in bars and clubs, there will most likely come a day when you encounter a certain artifact. Some might call this artifact “The Scepter Of Plagues.” Others might name it “The Odiferous Transducer Of Doom.”

The rest of us just call it a mic that’s been beaten half-to death, and which has never been cleaned.

Yuck.

Such awfulness alone is a really decent reason to have your own vocal mic. There are other justifications, of course, like predictable performance (especially if you use your own vocal processor), and knowing that you’ll have a transducer handy which works nicely with your voice.

But there are so many mics out there! How do you figure out which one is the right choice?

1. Forget About What You Liked In The Studio

Some mics used in studio settings work well on stage, it’s true. Some people use “on stage” mics in the studio anyway.

At the same time, though, a LOT of mics that are great for recording are a giant ball of trouble for live audio. Sure, they sound perfect when you’re in a vocal booth with headphones on, but that’s at least one whole universe removed from the brutal world of concert sound. They’re too fragile, too finicky, too heavy, their pickup patterns are too wide, and you can’t get close enough to them to leverage your vocal power.

…and yes, I know that those studio microphones look cool. I also think they look cool. Looking cool is neat, but what’s awesome is actually getting the job done. I personally run into very few “studio” mics that can actually function usefully in the nightmare hellscape that is commonly referred to as “live vocal reproduction.”

2. Don’t Agonize About The Spec Sheet

There are people who spend months looking at all the numbers associated with every mic they might want to purchase. They worry about the sensitivity, and the self-noise, and how low the frequency response goes, and the impedance, and…

Folks, any halfway decent mic that’s actually designed to be on stage will be fine in all those areas.

If you want to spend time looking at something, look at the frequency response graph and polar patterns. Even then, recognize that those plots can be fudged and averaged to look better than they really are.

Mics with flatter response curves will tend to behave better across different systems. Some manufacturers “dial up” a lot of studio-mic-esque high-end into their offerings, which causes them to sound better on systems without a lot going on in the high-frequency area. However, that can also translate into feedback trouble and harshness when you perform on a rig with an extended response.

Mics with tighter polar patterns are generally better at rejecting feedback and picking up less of everything that isn’t you. Tighter patterns mean that you have to be more diligent about staying “on the mic,” though, and may cause you sudden problems if you have a tendency to cup your hands around your microphone.

3. Rent Your Shortlist, And Rehearse With Them

Once you’ve narrowed your possibilities down, try to find a pro-audio rental house that will let you pay to try them. If you can’t find a rental, reach out to your contacts and see if you can get a loaner.

Then, get in a real room, with your real band, and rehearse as hard as you can using a relatively unsophisticated audio setup. (Caveat: If you use your own vocal processor, definitely make sure to rehearse with that, and definitely make sure to use all the presets you call up during a real gig.)

The point of this is to figure out how the mic actually delivers in all the noise and chaos of a show. The microphone that’s the right choice for will “make it easy to sound like you.” The reason for the simple audio rig is to find out how the mic works WITHOUT a lot of toys and whizbangs attached. A good mic won’t need superhuman effort and a rack of processing to get the necessary gain to hear yourself. A good mic won’t need a ton of EQ fiddling to dial up an overall tone that fits in with the rest of the band.

Also, that “rest of the band” bit is very important. It’s nice if a purchase candidate sounds sweet through the wedges when nobody else is making noise…

…but the mic REALLY has to work for you when the drummer gets excited, and the guitarist turns up, and the keys player recalls a patch that occupies the entire audible spectrum, and the bassist is trying to move the stage through sheer force of sound pressure.

The right mic will satisfy the needs set out above, and will also be well constructed, feel decent in your hands, and mate with XLR cables without fuss or flimsiness.

Buying your own mic is an investment in your career. Take your time and find something that actually works for you.

It’s sort of like looking up a very steep hill – there’s a venue you’re hoping to play at, but they have no idea who you are. How do you get their attention?

Having been a venue operator “back in the day,” I’ve received numerous “cold” contacts. Some of them got me to respond positively, and some didn’t. If you condense everything into the most concentrated form, the folks that had a chance of a positive response were the ones who took the time to establish a real, individual relationship. The ones who didn’t make the effort were either politely declined, or ignored completely, depending upon the severity of their conduct.

So…what does all that mean, exactly? Well, speaking for myself:

1) From a marketing standpoint, a cold-contact is you selling me (the booker) a relatively expensive product that I’m not sure I want. The key thing there is “I.” What might sell someone else on your gig is not guaranteed to convince me that it’s a good idea. You need to have some idea of what the individual venue wants. This means that you have to do your homework in some way. If there’s a web resource with booking information, make sure to read through that info, being careful to pay attention to anything that deals with the business side of the show.

2) The initial contact should come from someone who cares intimately about the specific show you’re trying to do. For a lot of independent musicians, this means you, the musician. Lots of emails, social-media messages, and phone calls get ignored. They get ignored even harder when they come from some nameless, faceless person at a booking agency or label. The prime reason for that rejection is because the nameless-faceless doesn’t care enough about your show to do the homework on the venue. They just “shotgun” a whole pile of messages to a whole pile of places after minimal research – and it’s obvious that they’re doing so.

As a booker, I got lots of emails from the nameless-faceless crowd that were clearly all from the same “Los Angeles Pop-Punk-Metal-Crossover Band Generator” template, and that blatantly ignored booking information that was publicly available. For a while, I answered those emails, only to get into crushingly tiresome conversations where the nameless-faceless tried to negotiate on various aspects of the (again) publicly available information. I eventually realized what a waste of time it was, and just deleted the emails.

3) Related to the above, be sure that however you make the initial contact, make clear that the venue’s business needs, as they’ve outlined, are understood by you. Failing to make this clear can cause you to be de-prioritized, especially if the venue does have booking information available You want to avoid creating a request that requires the information to be spoon-fed to you. The entire point of putting those whys and wherefores in a public place was so that it wouldn’t have to be endlessly discussed in a million emails and phone calls.

(Now, of course, if the venue doesn’t have that information available, you’ll probably have to ask them about it during the initial contact. There’s nothing wrong with that – just make sure that you ask BEFORE pitching anything.)

4) When making your pitch, focus intently upon what is truly actionable in terms of creating a profitable event for the venue. This is something of a ruthless process, because a lot of standard sales-pitch elements simply don’t apply. For example:

Who you’ve shared the stage with doesn’t matter. Plenty of bands who had no business being on stage with anyone else have talked their way onto shows with decent acts. I’ve been witness to it. Besides, the general public doesn’t care that you’ve been on deck with [someone they may or may not care about]. They (and the venue) do care about whether they like you, and are willing to come out and see YOU.

Where you’ve played doesn’t matter. It matters even less than who you’ve played with. It’s not a measure of meaningful exposure at all. You might have played a 1000 seat auditorium, but only 50 people were in attendance. And again, the show-going public doesn’t give a hoot. The biggest, hottest promoter in town could run giant ads through all the local media outlets, proclaiming that [Your Band] has played [Somewhere Else], and the reaction from the public will be “Who?” and “So?”

The number of Insta-Face-Twitter-Verbnation followers you have is almost completely irrelevant. How many of those people are local? How many will buy a ticket to your show, on the night in question, at that venue? How many are actually engaged?

An example of what IS actionable is evidence of people clamoring for you to do a show in their town. If you can show a venue some sort of real proof that you have an engaged, dedicated audience in their area that can at least half-fill the room, that’s a powerful tool.

Another example of what’s actionable is you being friends with some local bands that have a track-record of doing well at that venue, or at places similar to it. That leads into the “Zen” approach…

…which is “cold contacting” a venue without cold contacting them at all. Rather, you make friends with a band that has a good relationship with the room. They are the ones who are known as being a money-maker for the place, and as cool people. They get booked, they get you on the bill by leveraging their reputation, and then (very crucially), you come in, treat everybody beautifully, and help increase the size of the crowd. Everybody wins, and the venue gets to know you.

The point is that you have to create a relationship with someone, somehow. It involves time and effort, but the potential payoff can certainly be worth it.

Drums are such fun.

I remember listening to “Enter Sandman” over, and over, and over again (driving everybody bonkers) because I wanted to hear that distinctive “Chunka, Chunka, Chunka, ChunCHUN” at the beginning of the tune. I’ve always wanted to do a gig where we actually got the “honest-to-goodness” Boston “sorta real, sorta synthetic, 1980s to the MAX” drum noise.

And I know that all of you can sing the drum part to “Tom Sawyer” by Rush. Admit it.

As much as I’m against devoting every possible resource in a sound system towards massaging the drums, I am a HUGE fan of great percussion. The unfortunate reality, though, is that audio humans spend a great deal of time listening to not great percussion. Over the years, I think I’ve started to get a handle on what can go wrong, and what can go oh-so-very right.

The Basics

First things first.

If the drums don’t “sound like that,” they probably won’t ever “sound like that.” Especially without a huge PA, unlimited audience volume tolerance, and an anechoic chamber, totally remaking the sound of a real kit in a real room is a truly difficult proposition. If the drum set naturally sounds like a pile of soggy pizza boxes and pie tins, then that’s what you’re going to get. With a lot of effort, we might be able to make it all sound like the nicest recycling-bin dumpout in the history of the world. It might even sound neat and interesting – but it’s not going to sound like a $10,000 shell pack with brand new heads. It doesn’t matter what mics we use, or how much processing is available in the console.

On the flipside, a setup that already sounds beautiful is hard to mess up, and requires fewer resources to translate effectively. An example that I’m fond of citing is that of Dave Murphy, the director of The Wasatch Music Coaching Academy. Dave is a top-shelf percussionist, and the owner of a truly stunning Gretsch kit. That kit, plus his maintenance and tuning, results in a sound that requires basically zero effort of any kind. When Dave steps on his kick pedal, for instance, the result is a truly beautiful blend of perfectly damped “thump” and “click.” Think of the most amazing bass drum, with a great mic in front of it, being run through a lot of PA: That’s what Dave’s kick drum sounds like WITHOUT a mic and a PA, and that basic template carries over to the rest of the set. As an audio tech, I don’t have to struggle with the sounds that Dave makes. Instead, I get to just pass them into the audience.

Along with this is the necessity of getting a shell pack and cymbal loadout that actually complement your band. You might love the tone when you’re playing by yourself, but if your kit is naturally too loud for the ensemble, or consistently steps on someone else’s frequency space, you’ve brought the wrong tools for the job. Tune your set to work with the rest of the group, rather than to compete.

Too Little

I once worked on a show where a drummer was somewhat annoyed with me. He was a bit upset that I wasn’t making his toms “sound big.” I put on my headphones and solo’ed up the drum channels.

Cymbals: “KUSH! KUSH! KUSH! KUSH! BWASH! KUSH!

Snare: “BAM! BAM! BAM! BAMrattle BAM!”

Toms: “blum, bum…bdum…dm…”

The dude was smashing away at everything else, and then sort of lightly touching the toms as he went by. Of course they didn’t “sound big.” He was playing so that, especially compared to everything else, his toms sounded minuscule. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do.

What we’ve come right back to is, if you want your drums to “sound like that,” then they already have to basically “sound like that.” If you want your tom rolls to feel enormous when compared to everything else, you’re going to have to play them in such a way that presents that proportionality. If everything else in the kit is being bashed as hard as is humanly possible, you’ve got nowhere to go for the fills. Think about how you want your accents to “pop,” and then dial back the steady-state (the average intensity) accordingly.

Too Much

It’s also possible to go in the other direction. I’ve heard drummers wailing away on sets that should have sounded great, but didn’t. A lot of those cases appeared to be a case of getting in one’s own way.

The initial transient of a drum hit is where the majority of the high-frequency information resides. This crack/ snap/ click/ thwack is melded in with all the low-frequency content, with the volume control being how much force goes into the strike. A very hard smack on the drum emphasizes the high end to a point where it completely overwhelms the “body” of the tone. At even further extremes, the stick or beater gets “buried” into the head, killing a lot of resonance that might contribute to a more “full” and satisfying sound. Put all this in the hands of a percussionist who has only one volume – maximum, that is – and what comes out is a harsh mountain of overbearing transients. In such a case, dialing back the “smackery” would do wonders for the overall sound of the kit.

So, if you’re trying to get a great drum sound, start without any audio gear. All those fun toys and enhancements will come later. There’s no electrically-powered transient designer that can do a better job than a great player. A good kit that’s been nicely tuned is worth more than a whole rack of Drawmer gates. The right choices of sticks and playing balance are some of the best EQ and compression you’ll ever find.

And I’ve never had any drum mics that were better than a basically decent transducer being pointed at a great drummer who’d done their homework.

“The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”

-Scotty, Star Trek III

My other job is software development. I tell computers what to do, and they do exactly what I’ve told them – which is often upsetting, because exactly what I told them to do tends to not be what I want to happen.

For the projects I work on, a “local environment” for development is very helpful. Instead of having to push my code up to a remote server to see any change I’ve made, all I have to do is reload a local web page. The sticky thing with my current project was that, until a couple of weeks ago, I did NOT have a working environment on my own machine. When the project was set up, we had taken the approach of having a “computer within the computer” handle one set of tasks, with the main computer running a whole different server for the interface.

You might not know what all that means, but if it sounds complicated to you, you’re on the right track.

It was complicated. Too complicated. And it didn’t work properly until I finally decided to back out and de-complicate the setup.

It’s working beautifully now; Even though the setup is still complicated, it’s not any more complicated than it actually has to be.

So what does this have to do with music?

Music production is actually very much like software development. You have a set of things that you want to do, and technologies available to help you do them. From recording a tambourine overdub to mixing 32+ channels of live music in realtime, there are all manner of gadgets and gizmos to get the job done. All the thingamabobs involved are interconnected in a logical way, and perform logical functions.

They do exactly what you tell them to do (assuming that they’re working properly). Just like with software, you can pretty easily dig yourself a hole by making a setup too complex. You think that you’ve put together a signal chain to do “x,” but you’ve really built a setup that does “y.” The gear doesn’t know what you want. It simply “runs the program” it’s able to run. The more unnecessary complexity you add, the more the risk of an unintended result goes up – especially if you exceed the limits of your own understanding.

Years ago, I watched a band chew up a large amount of their set time while fumbling with an FX rack for the guitar player. They had all this studio-grade gear bolted down, with all kinds of patching needed, and they weren’t really sure how to make it all interface with the rest of the guitar rig. They struggled and struggled until they finally got something they could use.

They could have been done in the space of a minute if they had just used a couple of stomboxes, or a multiFX floor processor. Instead of all the weird sorcery they were attempting, they could have plugged in a few, easy to understand cable paths and gone on.

Now, as often happens for me, let me be clear about what I’m NOT saying.

Technical production for music is not always simple, nor should it be. Big shows, for instance, can have a huge number of “moving” parts that interact in ways that are both fragile and bombastic. It’s just the natural state of putting together that kind of production. The thing is, ESPECIALLY with complicated production, the endeavor should not be made any more complicated than it actually has to be.

If it isn’t a problem, don’t solve it.

If you don’t have to constantly take it apart and put it back together again, don’t.

If it can all be wrapped up into one box while staying usable, don’t put it in three. (If it’s more manageable to put it in three boxes, then don’t put it all in one!)

If there’s a setup that will work with two cables, don’t insist on the “solution” that takes 10.

A rig or process that is just complicated enough to get you the desired result is what you want. Anything beyond that, and you may end up having to solve new problems that are sitting on top of the production problems you already have. Why subject yourself to all that stress? Simplify.

By my calculations, the music business should have completely ended at least 10 years ago.

Or, at least, it should have if all the predictions were right about the sky falling.

Every since the first MP3 files were traded by college boys on their .edu networks, the hysterics have been flying. Artistry was going to be completely destroyed. Recordings would stop being made entirely. Nobody would ever make any money at music, ever again. The Earth would fall into the Sun.

I was part of the hysterical crowd, by the way. I couldn’t see the opportunities for what they were. I was used to a world (actually, a fictional one) where the whole point of everything was to get picked. Some record exec would hear a great demo tape, sign you, and your troubles would be over. If the record companies went away, HOW WOULD THAT HAPPEN?

Well, first of all, it didn’t really happen anyway. Any really sizable record company is afflicted by “big corporation” disease, which makes them highly allergic to anything other than a reasonably sure bet. They either grab ahold of someone who already seems to be building something great without their help, or they manufacture something that fits the style of the month.

But the thing is this: The artistry of music. The beauty. The sublime charge of emotion and movement and mathematical relationships…

…it has basically nothing to do with capturing a signal representing sonic events, and then selling that capture to people.

Really.

The Blip

“Phonorecords,” as we’re used to in a conceptual sense, have existed since about 1890 or so. Humans have been making musical noises, on the other hand, for millennia. MILLENNIA, FOLKS.

That is to say, if you reference good ol’ Wikipedia, you’ll find that humans apparently were making flutes 40,000 years ago. So, do the math. The business of recorded music, with all of its arcane wizardry, chicanery of accounting and contracts, dashed hopes and dreams realized beyond all anticipation, is about 0.3% of the history of music.

From the statistical shorthand that “it’s got to be 5% before it’s relevant,” recorded music is completely insignificant when compared to the human experience of music on the whole. I’m not saying that it’s a passing fad; I don’t believe that recording will pass away into the aether – but I am saying that, as a matter of comparison, phonorecords and the selling of them is yet a tiny spark of nothing in the great sea of sounds.

So What?

So, why do I point this out?

I point this out because the “sturm and drang” related to people supposedly not buying/ not valuing/ stealing/ recorded music is, in my mind, a distraction. We fail to see the whole picture of the musical experience, and we pin everything on demanding money for captured sonic events. Before anyone could even begin to think of selling something as antiquated as a physical record, there were centuries upon centuries of successful and unsuccessful musicians.

Piracy is not killing music. Streaming is not killing music. The music business is not killing music. Music is very much alive and well, because the emotional experience of it is what people can not help but crave. Artists who have made the most powerful of those emotional experiences are selling out venues of all sizes, all over the world. If music was actually dying – if the public no longer cared about it – that would most certainly not be the case.

Recorded music is no longer scarce. Our computers have seen to that. That lack of scarcity means that the demandable value of phonorecords is dropping. But that’s okay! Recordings can still be sold for something, and they’re still a valuable tool for you to get your art across to an audience. It’s just that they’re not the only thing, and maybe not the biggest thing.

That’s really fine, because, in my mind, no one has ever, EVER purchased music. What they have always purchased is an emotional experience that was packaged up in some way. For a few years, the king of those packages was the artificially-scarce phonorecord. Just because it WAS king does not mean it will always be, nor should it always be.

And let’s be honest – when you look at the numbers, that king was just a Johnny Come Lately anyway. Let’s all take a few deep breaths.