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The Song Remains The Same

I remember making a promise to maintain a weekly blog but so far have managed one and a bit per year. Oh well. It’s not for a lack of things to write about - but… Oh well (part two…). Parked by the woodburner, the cottage wrapped in darkness, I look back over the year but, more importantly, forward to the next.

It’s been challenging. Personally, I was barely into the New Year when my old knee injury flared up and added sciatica to the daily grind. It’s coincided with passing that invisible barrier where you find yourself a member of a different generation. The clothes I like no longer seem quite right and no longer seem to quite fit. I just bought an air fryer. The news turns me into Victor Meldrew. Whilst the injury has largely stopped me getting out and about, events-wise, it’s encouraged me to build up the Sunday Sessions and to develop the studio as a ‘development studio’. My interest lies in publishing and distributing original songs, given the very new structure that the music industry is settling into. New - but maybe its “say hello to the new boss…” Spotify stopping paying royalties for releases failing to get more than 1000 streams (in a 12 month period) is interesting. Predictably, there has been much said about this ‘putting the last nail in the coffin for independent artists’ but, at current rates (and therein the real argument lies) we are talking about $3. If your song is earning at this level ( or rather, now, not earning at all) there would seem to be something lacking in your distribution model and/or something lacking about the song itself. The distributors who feed Spotify (et al) won’t pay out such a small amount - they have a threshold amount that needs to be reached before payments are made. Spotify’s website shows that of 100m streams, just 37.5m tracks have passed the 1000 stream mark. So return to the distributors and its clear that they are potentially withholding $3 or so for 1000s of independent artists. Spotify aim to put that money into the royalty pool for songwriters and musicians who have tracks that are above the 1000 stream level. Technology has made it possible for independent artists to break free of the old recording contract model and get their music ‘out there’ - but often only into a limbo. Two things: I know, personally, three very different artists - all independent - who are consistently earning. Independent to a degree - one has a form of recording contract which underwrote development and recording costs in exchange for a share of royalties, two have their own recording studios and have heavily invested in their art. All too often I meet people with promising original songs who either won’t invest in a professional recording, or try to do it themselves, often with a friend of a friend who has all the Waves plug-ins on a laptop. Investing in studio time is either to develop work - pre-production, or to get music market-ready: you are paying for the room, and for a recording engineer two factors that are to make your music sound as good as possible, and maybe for a producer to put all the details together in a package that will promote your vision. This may well include the hiring of session players, especially if you are a solo performer/writer. I was asked why I was recommending a mastering engineer for a project - surely, the question went, if you have a good DAW and a computer that’s all you need. Mastering engineers originally had the task of translating the mix down tapes onto vinyl, without losing too much quality in the process. Today, vinyl is back, but the mastering engineer also has the task of translating the mix into streaming formats, CD and video formats… it’s a highly specialised technical task demanding very expensive hardware and a specially treated room. Or you can pay a tenth of the fee and get it done by AI online - thus far, ‘you get what you pay for’ is proving correct.

The biz is still the biz after all. Someone, somewhere, will bash out a song in their bedroom, on a laptop, and it will somehow find its way into the ears of someone who can place it in the fast lane - but invariably after rerecording with professional session players in a studio, with an engineer and producer… but most who get into that fast lane will do so by investing in their art - in themselves - at the outset, and by finding someone to take their vision and music on. As it has always been. So, if this finds you on the wrong side of the Spotify cut-off, its time for a rethink.

The Honeysuckle Sunday Session is currently on ‘winter-break’ but returns in the New Year with it’s special ‘Studio Challenge’ feature - bring an original song and you have one run through and two takes to make a demo of it. This last autumn we’ve had a couple of mixes from the Challenge featured on TheVoiceFM. It’s a small nudge along a tough old trail, but a lot of fun.

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