Compensate Musicians Fairly: We Demand It Now! #FairPay4Music

Musicians, it’s time we started demanding just compensation for our life’s work! Another case of “musicians being asked to play for exposure” has come to my attention. Ex Cop, a punk duo featuring Amalie Bruun and Brian Harding, was asked by the McDonalds corporation to play at their SXSW stage “for the exposure only,” and with no compensation whatsoever. McD’s is a mega corporation with a net worth of $97 billion – that’s billion with a B – and they can’t scrape together just compensation for artists? This arrogance blows my mind. When did it become OK to rip off musicians? ex-cops-300x169 It’s not the first time this has happened. Bruno Mars wasn’t paid a dime when he performed at the 2014 Super Bowl. In fact, the NFL floated the idea of having HIM pay THEM to play in order to cover their cost for the multimillion dollar broadcast extravaganza. They suggested he compensate them in a number of creative and self-serving ways, including taking a percentage of his record sales and/or tour receipts. Musicians, we must unite through social media to call out corporations, bars, club owners and venues who attempt to take advantage of us. We can use the power of social media and the power of the purse to make a difference. Let’s take a page from the LGBTQ community and boycott businesses who treat musicians unfairly. I, for one, will not patronize McDonalds until they make a change. We are not powerless to demand to be treated fairly. The power of the purse will make a difference! Let’s also stop racing to the bottom with streaming services who pay fractions of a cent and rip off artists at every turn. Check out compensation models below in a slide taken from a presentation I recently gave with Anderson Jones PR on marketing your music online. (Click the image to view full presentation). Please use this as a guide to put your music on services that compensate you fairly. how-to-promote-your-music-online-a-social-media-guide-for-the-musician-10-1024 Let’s wise up and claim our power to make a difference! Let’s start a hashtag campaign to call attention to abuses in the industry. Tweet #fairpay4music if you agree.

Is It Still Possible to Make a Living as a Private Guitar Instructor?

As a private guitar instructor with over 20 years experience, I have noticed a disconcerting decline in the number of students who sign up for private lessons, and I was curious to learn whether or not other instructors have experienced the same thing. So, I posted the following question to a number of professional groups on LinkedIn including Classical Guitar and Guitar Instructors. Is It Still Possible to Make a Living as a Private Guitar Instructor?

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Out of 45 comments so far, all respondents acknowledged the decline. Most sighted the availability of free instructional videos on YouTube as a major reason for the decline. Walter Peretiatko wrote, “Yes, YouTube has killed a lot of my guitar students…”

In addition, Eric Symons wrote,

“This is a tough subject for me to publicly discuss, as I see a trend that disturbing in the US and other so called “First World” countries. While living in a world that has kids living with inorganic mediums such as video games and computers, and less of them having exposure to music in the schools than any other generation in our history, we must accept a decline in the classical guitar…”

Others pointed to a less vigorous economy. Zane Zirkle wrote, “In a Hope and Change economy, music lessons are a luxury to the average Joe… “ .

Jack Alves wrote, “I too have noticed a slight decline in the over -all teaching biz. From music that’s not all that motivating, to “School of Rock” programs, to students who are willing to forfeit the basics…”

From these responses, it appears there are a variety of factors leading to a decline in the number of students seeking private guitar lessons. The availability of free online content and resources makes it easy for students to learn to play for free in the convenience of their own homes. The sluggish economy and dwindling disposable economy is a factor too. In addition, guitar is no longer the driving force in popular music. Most music is created “in the box” with programs like Ableton eliminating the need to spend years mastering an instrument. Also, there are so many different instant gratification apps, video games, social media sites and digital sources vying for the public’s entertainment time and money. Can an instrument, which requires tremendous personal sacrifice to master, really compete?

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What does this mean for the future of private guitar lessons? It’s clear that the days of making a living solely as a private instructor are gone for now. Guitarists and musicians in general, must develop multiple income streams and embrace technology as an integral part of their skill set. For the 21st century musician, it will no longer be viable to simply play or teach an instrument. Lessons will always be a piece of the puzzle, but today’s musicians must know how to write for commercials, film, video games, record voice over, distribute and promote themselves online and through social media. If you have the right skill set, technology becomes a tremendous tool to sell your music and skills to a wider public than ever before.

Most schools and universities are developing music and technology degrees to meet the needs of today’s musicians. For example, Gwinnett County Public Schools now offer courses in music technology which focus on recording, composition, film score and video game composition. Private schools such as The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media also offer degrees in music and technology, job placement and industry contacts, so the future is not bleak, just different than the 80s or 90s.

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I agree with Derek Stottlemyer, who wrote, “As a web architect I see a lot of options, and online offers the opportunity to earn passive or residual income in addition to paid lessons – but instructors have to break the mold and be willing to try new things.” Indeed!

Is There a New Minimalism Underway in Popular Music?

Is there a new minimalism underway in popular music? It seems two of the most recent number one songs, “Blurred Lines” and “Royals,” consist of little more than a catchy percussion driven beat with bass and harmony vocals. It is a very effective combination, if the lyrics are strong, because minimal accompaniment focuses the listener’s attention on the words making them more important to the success of the song.

There are a number of artists who have built careers using minimal accompaniment including Bob Dylan, in his early folk period, and Neal Young. Can you name other artists who use minimalism?

Photo courtesy of billboard.com.

Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, How to Write a Hit Song

According to Billboard Magazine, Blurred Lines “has sold 5.8 million downloads in its 26 weeks of release, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It continues its radio dominance with a 10th week atop R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay.” What makes this song popular with everyone from 80-year-old grandmothers to 18-year-old hipsters is how these controversial words are set musically. There are plenty of songs that explore controversial themes, but this particular song has obviously captured a large audience. There must be something about the music that makes it popular.

The instrumentation is very sparse consisting of only bass and percussion, see Example No. 1. The percussion section is just a cowbell, clap, and high hat. There is also a mark tree (chime tree) at the beginning which adds a little color.

The bass part establishes a repetitive rhythmic pattern on scale degrees one and five in the key of G major. There is a descending turnaround in measure 8 that walks down the G major scale from note D to G. This firmly establishes the song in the key of G major, see Example No. 1. The entire chord progression is simply four measures on a G major chord and four measures on a D major chord with a turnaround in measure 8.

Example No. 1

Blurred Lines Example 1aBlurred Lines Example 1b

The most interesting aspect of the accompaniment is its driving rhythmic pattern which is highly syncopated and full of rhythmic interest. For instance, the cowbell starts on the upbeat of count one with an interesting sixteenth-note pattern that ends on the upbeat of count four. This rhythmic motive starts and ends on an upbeat giving the song an irresistible rhythm. The clap occurs on counts two and four creating a straight up, rock and roll back beat which never fails to give any song a bouncing, upbeat rhythmic intensity. The high hat is used sparingly on the upbeat of count four in every other measure.  This creates a nice rhythmic lift in measures 2, 4, 6, and 8.

Basically, the instrumental accompany is as simple as it gets, only two chords, no guitar, no keyboard, just bass. The accompaniment provides a bare bones harmonic structure and a driving rhythmic pattern that propels the song forward allowing the vocals to stand out.

This song relies almost exclusively on its vocal setting. One of the ear marks of a good setting is how closely the rhythm follows the natural rhythm of the words when spoken. For instance, “You’re a good girl, I know you want it,” sounds identical to the way one would naturally say it. Say it a few times then sing the song as comparison. Sounds the same right?

Also, the melodic contour and harmony accentuates important words and phrases throughout. For instance, harmony is only used on “You’re a good girl,” and “I hate these blurred lines.” In the chorus, these words are harmonized in thirds on both the five and one chords respectively. In both cases, the lower voice starts a half step below the third (Bb) and the seventh (F natural) in the G major scale. Then it slides up to the B natural and F#. The initial lowered third and lower seventh create extra harmonic tension making these words really stand out in the song. Most people who hear this song for the first time will remember those particular lines. Who can forget “you’re a good girl, I know you want it.” That is the core of this song.

What’s the lesson for aspiring musicians and song writers in this song? Less is more. The sparse instrumental accompaniment provides a driving rhythmic pattern which allows the words to stand out from the accompaniment. There are no fancy guitar solos or instrumental breaks to distract the listener, and harmony is used sparingly only on the most important words. So if you want a hit song, create a catchy hook and keep it simple baby. See you on the charts!

CDZA’s Journey of Guitar Solo

Screen shot 2013-09-21 at 7.47.35 PMCDZA or Collective Candenza is Joe Sabia, Michael Thurber and Matt McCorkle, a group located in New York that creates musical video experiments. Their most recent offering is Journey of Guitar Solo (THE INSTRUMENTALS – Episode 1), which is currently trending in social media since it was featured on Huffington Post.  The video takes viewers through a brief history of guitar solos in popular music. (full video below)

Many of the comments and much of the discussion revolves around what bands or guitarists the group left out or neglected to mention in their medley. One can definitely argue that David Gilmour deserves a mention. And Slash’s “Sweet Child of Mine “ is labeled the  “Highest Level of Epicness.” What the what? A great solo, but I can think of a dozen solos that are considerably more “epic.”

What I really appreciate is their call to action at the end of the video. Fact Man steps to the center of the frame wearing a sign that reads “Learn an Instrument Because It’s FUN!” I couldn’t agree more.

As a music instructor of guitar, composition and music theory, I have seen a definite decline in the number of young people who are interested in learning an instrument, particularly guitar, an instrument which is definitely fun to play, but requires dedication, focus, and determination, three traits not encouraged in today’s instant gratification, ultra-connected, cyber world.

Learning an instrument is a Zen experience, which requires complete concentration, focus and imagination. Some of the best times of my life involved making music with my friends and being proud of what we did. I hope we are not losing an entire generation of young musicians and guitarists to the ultra slick iPhone experience. It’s fun to bicker about what guitarists and bands were left out of a medley which attempts to do the impossible, encapsulate fifty plus years of music into a single six-minute video experience. I say kudos to CDZA  for encouraging its audience to “Learn an Instrument Because It’s Fun!”