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Does indie music really mean shitty music? 

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I’ve heard it often: Indie music means bad sounding music, in other words, it’s shitty!

First, indie music is often confused with music recorded in a garage by inexperienced musicians with little or no knowledge of recording and mixing, and sometimes less than adequate equipment. 

It’s also confused with a genre that would be some kind of lo-fi punk alternative.
This is why, more often than not, I would use the term “unsigned” rather than “indie” to talk about independent music, recorded by talented musicians and producers all around the globe, in every possible genres you can imagine.

Now, while it’s true that some of it can sound bad, it’s detrimental to think that all of it does, and I would argue that more and more, with the prices and quality of recording gear and digital audio workstations (DAW for short) being so affordable nowadays, and tons of resources on how to record and mix, the end result is getting better and better and more and more unsigned artists are producing quality music.

Still, there are some things that contributes to the myth:

1/ the fact that people are listening on devices that are less than adequate to get a good sound (phones, tablets and laptops speakers are not meant to be hi-fi, and even most bluetooth smart speakers are too often synonym of lo-fi, no bass, mono sound)

2/ streaming platforms and internet radios are using low rates* mp3 quality to air the music, this is because bandwidth has a cost, in terms of speed, and also in terms of prices when it comes to the power of computers able to sustain hundreds or thousands of listeners in a continuous stream. This power cost also translates directly to services costs that radios are subject to.

* streaming rate is measured in kbps, short for kilo bits per second, this is the amount of data that is used to reproduce the sound - the higher the better, up to 320 kbps which is the upper limit and almost lossless.

Now there is a reason why most streaming platforms (like SoundCloud, Spreaker, or even Spotify in their free tier) and most internet radios are streaming at 128 kbps mp3 or more. They have recognized that this is the absolute minimal limit when it comes to listenable quality. Anything under that rate is creating so much artifacts and distortion to the sound that it’s barely recognizable anymore.

Check out this example of a snippet compressed at 128 kbps and the same snippet compressed at 64 kbps. You will hear the enormous difference between the two, check out how muffled the 64 kbps mp3 sounds, how much the cymbals are drowned in a kind of swirling phase artifact, and how horrible this truly is, it’s even worse that cassettes were back in the 80s…
No matter what device you are using I bet you will be able to hear the difference!

You can go back and forth between two snippets in the player below (opens in a new tab/window):

Compression comparison

To me the 64 kbps version is hardly listenable. I wouldn't want my music to sound this bad, I bet most indie artists will agree.

Anyway, when you’ll hear a shitty sound don’t just assume the source music itself has been poorly recorded and mixed, check that the streaming rates you are served are not below the minimum of 128 kbps, I and every unsigned artists striving to produce great sounding records will thank you!

The indie radios dilemma 

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On Facebook today, I read the post of an indie radio owner asking an interesting question, and as much as I wanted to reply directly, I thought there were many aspects to this that couldn’t be summed up in a simple reply to his post.

The question was along the line of “is it fair some play by the rules while others advance by flying under the radar?“ This was referring to the fact that this particular radio was licensed (a laudable move, really, and much appreciated by the artists being played there) and was competing against others who aren’t, and thus are playing music without paying a dime of royalties. This is more common than you would think, whether it’s actual 24/7 radios or simple podcasts.

The thing is that these radios/podcasts are telling artists that they can’t afford paying any royalties, but that this is exposure anyway. That’s right. It’s the good old “exposure bucks” yet again! Now as much as I don’t like the idea of radios using that trick, I believe there are 2 distinct kind of radios that are in this case.

Case 1 / the crooks:

I’ve already written about how artists should pay very close attention to the terms and conditions, and licensing/rights grants that some radios are running under. Whenever you submit your music somewhere, you need to be aware of these terms and conditions, and if you ever read things like “You grant xxx  WORLD-WIDE, ROYALTY FREE, IRREVOCABLE, PERPETUAL license, …  to use, copy, modify, publish, edit, translate, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform …  SUBLICENSE such rights through MULTIPLE TIERS of sublicenses …  without any obligation to you, whether by way of compensation, attribution or otherwise … applies to any form, media, or technology now known or hereafter developed.” (this is taken from real terms of use from a real “platform” in case you’re wondering) then you know 2 things:
1/ these guys actually paid a lawyer to make sure they will own your music and will be able to do anything they want with it,
2/ they will profit from your music and you will not. Sometimes they ask you to click a checkbox saying you agree to these terms which are usually miles long and in fine prints, sometimes they will even send you a PDF to sign and return.
In any case, you know you don’t want to go there.

Case 2 / the little guys

Here is the little guy in his garage, who is passionate about music, and effectively doesn’t have any money to pay royalties, doesn’t have any sponsor and is doing it on his free time for the love of it. He might not have such a reach anyway, and there’s not even any terms or conditions to be found on his site, he might not even know of his obligations. Now, I know it’s not an excuse, but I consider that it’s different from case 1 and that he’s not really a big threat to you. Most likely his reach will not be that big and he will probably not bullshit you about the exposure, he just wants to play some music. In this case, I’d say why not? I mean it’s really up to you to see if you want to support this little guy or not. Because that’s what you will be doing by submitting your music to him, and maybe pointing some fans to his show. Perhaps later if this guy gets bigger, will you poke him gently and tell him that he should do the right thing...

Case 3 / the monsters

Now, as much as I hate the scammers of case 1, and how they will undoubtedly misuse your music and profit from you one way or another, it’s not even close to the biggest crooks of them all, the streaming platforms. The one that actually make billions of profit for their shareholders when artists see pennies, you know the ones… And yet, unsigned artists pay (via distribution platforms) to be featured there, and expect the famous exposure bucks that are really nothing more than a pipe dream, when these platform’s "search and discover" algorithm are bend towards the mainstream and big labels’ music.

So I believe the most immediate threat to indie radios are not the little guys, not even the scammers, although they could be perceived as such, but really these monsters who are hell bent on creating a monopoly and dictate what you should listen.

AM/FM

And BTW there’s another thing to know about internet radios competitors: did you know that in the US, terrestrial broadcasters (AM or FM stations) do not pay performers or sound recording copyright owners; they only pay the songwriters. That’s another unfair advantage that works against indie internet stations.

The MMA

Now will the Music Modernization Act that just passed as law in the US make a difference there?
Not in the slightest.
There are indications that a lot of unclaimed royalties (for songs which are not registered directly with the US Copyright Office) will go to a black box that will later be redistributed based on market share, meaning that the 3 big labels will get the lion share again. They will also have a seat on the non-profit government agency that will create the database related to the owners of the mechanical license of sound recordings, so they will have little incentive to find the authors of these unclaimed royalties, because in the end it will go in their pocket.

The NOIs

It was already the case with millions of address unknown NOIs (Notice Of Intent of usage) filed by streaming services, which are cases where these services claim they didn’t find the owner of a song they use. There is actually a search tool you can use to search this database (you'd have to register there, but it's free to use) You will see that Spotify for example can’t always find Ed Sheeran or Bruno Mars or The Beatles. Doesn’t seem to me they are looking very hard…. Do you think they will put much effort in finding Ghostly Beard??? (Turns out I have a few NOI in there!).

Show me the money!

Finally, one final fact that is troubling about the internet radios licensing. After being played on some of these radio who claim to pay royalties , I have yet to receive one cent from SoundExchange or SOCAN, and this is a year and a half after releasing my first EP which was widely played… So what’s up with that? 

My guess is that although the radios are paying the royalties, these are just going into another giant pot and redistributed based on market share again. If that’s not the case, then I should at least have seen records of what’s been played even if it did earn me portions of a cent…

So where does the money go?

Deconstructed 

Tomorrow, Saturday, October 12, at 3 pm EST, I’ll launch a new series of videos on my YouTube channel called “Deconstructed”. From then on, every Saturday there will be a new video.

The idea is to take very well known songs from very well known bands and artists of many genres and many era and listen to the multi-tracks to discover how this was recorded, what makes them sound good and also talk about a few production/songwriting tips and tricks that anyone recording could use to make their song better. So we’re really going to be deconstructing songs, track by track and listen to what’s been recorded in detail.

This should interest indie artists, producers, engineers, but also any curious music lover, as I intend to let people hear things they might not have noticed in these recordings and point out why this makes a difference, and how it worked within the context of the song.

Now, some might say that it doesn’t go well with my fight against streaming platforms… after all, YouTube is the biggest one of them, and the one who’s paying the less in royalties. But I consider YouTube as a video channel more than anything, and a great platform for learning, and this is what this series is going to be about… whether it’s a fun fact, or a detail in a song you’ve never noticed although you know the song by heart, or about some tips for recording and mixing, it’s a way to share my love of this music that has been part of my life and most likely yours too. 

Anyway, the bands and artists will get any little royalties coming from their “deconstructed” songs, because these videos will most likely be monetized on their behalf (or their label’s). Some videos might be taken down from label’s DMCA, and if so, I’ll possibly put them on a private site, with a password protection, so that people really interested will still be able to access later. We’ll see how it goes.

In any case, I hope you will like this new series, whether you’re just curious about music, or serious about learning of songwriting/production.

So don’t forget to subscribe https://www.youtube.com/c/ghostlybeard and hit that “bell” button to be notified each week when a new video comes up!

Strange discovery at the Louvres 

The Mona Lisa’s smile has always puzzled historians and searchers, who have extrapolated many theories about the identity of the mysterious Gioconda.

This week another piece might have been discovered by a group of engineers who experimented with a new technique called “quantum displacement”. This basically agitate atoms at the quantum level to reveal hidden pattern, a technique that is still relatively new but has already had a few success, revealing for example the silhouette of a a fourteenth character in another famous Leonardo’s painting, “The Supper”…

This time the team has projected their quantum beam on the Mona Lisa, and what has been revealed is now the subject of many new theories… What is this mysterious shape under the painting? Is that a beard? A ghost? A UFO? A mask? An alien? Who knows? Will we ever be able to decipher the riddle?

Another hidden clue seem to have been found (as seen above) with the mysterious “GB WAS HERE” message on the lady’s mantel lapel. Perhaps a message from Giovanni Battista, a famous musician, friend of Leonardo at the time, who’s well know to have opposed the streaming giants of the time, Spotificanti, Gioggli and Appolo.

Hopefully as the historians and scientists are working on more clues we’ll learn more about this soon.

Aurora Borealis reveals strange pattern 

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In an extraordinary turn of event, the site of Giza's pyramids was the center of an incredible weather oddity, but what this lead to is even more astounding and baffles the entire world.

The phenomenon occurred on Saturday, July 14th as everyone was gazing at the stars during that night. A tourist noticed a strange pattern forming on one face of the Great Pyramid and took this amazing picture, which quickly went viral and piqued the curiosity of many in the scientist community, spreading various conspiracy theories, even used by UFO proponents as proof of an imminent invasion.

Witnesses on the spot also spoke about and eerie feeling, some talked about strange distortions of their field of vision and many said that some soothing sounds were emanating from the pattern…

 A team of scientist has been sent to Egypt by the U.N. to study the pattern to try and find its origin.

According to Sarah Talbot, head of the department of Egyptian mysteries at the University of Montreal, the discovery had been made possible by the unusual ionization of the atmosphere during this exceptional aurora, a phenomenon so rare that it might take a few centuries before it appears again in this region… 

“It’s a chance someone took pictures of the phenomenon from that angle, allowing the pattern to be seen for the first time in millennia…”, said the excited scientist, “now it’s up to the scientist community to study this major finding and ponder its significance. For now we are left to conjectures of course, but I would gather that it will shed a new light to the mysteries of the pyramids and lead to new revelations soon!”

No doubt there will be more news to come, so stay tuned!

Article 13, MMA, are we confused yet? 

There’s a lot of talks in the unsigned world, and indeed in the world in general about two proposed pieces of law that could be changing some rules in the music industry. 

Now I’m not a lawyer so I have a hard time, like the majority of us, to understand all the fine prints and hundred pages of articles these proposed law changes are supposed to accomplish, but I’m trying hard to follow these things, because I believe that they are crucial to the future of recorded music in this world which has short changed creators in favor of Silicon Valley mega corporations.

First the Music Modernization Act, or MMA for short, which is a US Bill that comprises several pieces of legislation, mainly the MMA, the AMP act and the CLASSIC act. It has first been unanimously voted by the House of Representatives, and is now under scrutiny by the US Senate (which just released several amendments).

The MMA has been widely acclaimed as a necessary and important step in the right direction to clarify and standardize copyrights licensing of music and the various entities that are involved in managing publishers and mechanical rights. Problem is that this bill, from what I could read, is far from perfect and leaves some big gaps that streaming platforms in particular are going to exploit to further down their influence and wealth at the expense of creators, which is why I believe it’s a first step (although a possibly evil one in some details), and hopefully not the end of it… There is for example a problem with the minority of artists representation, when labels and streaming platforms have double the ranks when taking decisions. Then there is this proposal of a black box, that is going to hold unclaimed copyrights revenue, which will later be distributed based on market share to labels. Problem is that this creates a situation where the holders of this big pot will have no incentive to find the right owners, one could even say they will have every incentive not to find them, thus spoiling further the unsigned artists who are misrepresented and lack the legal power to enforce their rights.

So, as of now, this MMA bill, is both a blessing and a curse for unsigned artists, because it will regulate some of the Wild West situation in the US when it comes to copyrights, but will also create a new situation (that labels and streaming platform will deem ideal, of course) where they might have even less chances to get compensated correctly. If you are outside of the US, you might think this doesn’t affect you, but if you are a modern musician, chances are that you release your music worldwide, so this will affect your royalties anyway.

Now comes the Article 13, which is a EU directive that could affect the way some platforms have been hiding behind a “safe harbor” outdated law to avoid licensing costs or pay a lot less than others. Google/Youtube in particular, which is by far the biggest music platform, has been using this for 20 years to create an empire based on copyrights infringements.

Turns out that not that long ago, an Austrian court found Youtube liable for doing the very thing that they deny doing and that would give them the right to hide behind this safe harbor: they filter, edit, link, transform content every second of every day. They even have in place a system called Content ID that allows them to identify anything you post and monetize it, by putting ads on your videos. They hide behind DMCA rules, which puts the responsibilities of right owners to issue a take down notice when finding an infringement, when they should be held liable for the content they filter, edit, link and transform. Send a take down notice to Youtube and the content will possibly disappear, but will reappear the next day and Youtube will do nothing about it, in fact it will monetize it and make money out of it…

Following this Austrian ruling (which Youtube will most likely appeal), the European Commission has pushed further their Article 13 proposal, which aims to abolish in the EU the safe harbor for platforms that are clearly making editorial decision and are not just “transparent” user platforms. Of course Google/Youtube right now is pushing everyone with its enormous lobbying power (whether openly or under many disguises) to call out their MEP to vote against this directive…

Behind this directive though, many artists defense organizations, and even high profile artists are standing to support what could be a game changer in ending the value gap that YouTube has been exploiting for 20 years now, and has ripped off so many rights holders, among them unsigned artists being the most fragile and endangered of all, as they are being swept out as collateral damage for the good of the Silicon Valley monopoly.

You will read from Google subsidies that Article 13 is a danger to freedom of expression (which is the old claim that pirates have always held dear), or that this will kill internet memes, and other nonsense like that, when the article is including all sorts of provisions to ensure this is not the case. I believe the Google lobbying machine has no shame spreading lies to keep milking their golden goose, and they do so under many disguises.

I advise all songwriters and creators to look closer at the real content of these 2 pieces of law with objectivity and try not be influenced by the lobbying campaigns the various stakeholders are pushing at us. It’s time to open our eyes and fight for our artistic rights!

* In this post, I’ve left the links out because there are too many to choose from, a simple search in your preferred search engine (try something else than Google for a change and you’ll see different results, funnily enough, especially when it comes to Article 13, which menaces to take down their beloved safe harbor).
 

Exposing the exposure 

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If you are into any kind of arts related circles, you’re bound to have encountered the mythic exposure bucks: It’s the kind of money that is offered by promoter/scam artists who want to use your art for no payment at all. Of course, by doing so they will themselves get some money, sometimes even asking you for it! 

Now that’s an offer that is hard to refuse, right? You get “exposure bucks” for a few dollars (or euros, or pounds or whatever your real money is). The rate is always fluctuating, and is set by the “promoters” themselves, it’s almost like crypto currency, and it’s been around even before that crypto scam was invented! And nowhere more than in the unsigned music world is it more prevalent.

It’s hard to navigate the unsigned world, but it gets even harder as soon as you encounter these people who will send you emails and private messages on social media, telling you about their “wonderful” opportunities, when it so happens that they have a promotion for you! (That’s right! They always have a fantastic/brand new promotion just for you!). 

But I would be very wary of anyone contacting you to “promote” your music. Spoiler alert: This is NOT how it works!

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Now of course these con artists are just a little nuisance compared to the more greedy and powerful of them all: the streaming platforms. These platforms who manage to make you believe that they are going to pay more in the future (I actually heard some artists believing and repeating that!), when simple arithmetic will tell you that it’s simply not possible: the rate they pay is primarily based on what the average song value is, which is itself based on the number of songs they have in their catalog divided by the number of paying subscribers they have (minus all the expense they have, which are big, including royal payments to themselves). 

Problem is that EVERY DAY more than 24000 new songs are added to streaming platforms, and although they are adding new subscribers most of them are free listeners or get some kind of discount, so of course these corporations keep hemorrhaging money in every corner. How do you think their rates are going to get higher? Is that magical thinking from desperate artists? No, of course not, because this is where the mighty exposure bucks come to the rescue! Yay!

They will just tell you that you shouldn’t look at the money anyway… 
No, really! You should take into account the exposure they allow you to get. What with their millions of people listening, eh? Now that would be so true if their algorithms were not meant to discard you little ones in favor of the big ones from the big labels that they push on top of every searches. If they didn’t have big ties with labels to push the same artists on all their playlists. That might be true if the vast majority of the listeners weren’t listening to the same decades old catalog.

In the end, it still comes down to this: whether they are little con artists or big crooks, it’s really up to you to say no to exposure bucks, because one thing is for sure, you won’t be able to pay your rent with these.

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