Posts in Category: Musing

A Rough Guide to Self Releasing Classical Music (with more detail on playlists)

After my initial slightly ranty post on Classical Music and Streaming I’m going to do a slightly more practical guide to self releasing in the digital age from a composer’s perspective. This is based on the assumption that you are self funding or have received support from an arts council or similar body (for example Creative Scotland, ACE, RVW Trust, NI Arts Council or PRSF). This is an overview of my experience and it might be missing things that I just haven’t learnt yet (I still am!), so it is not meant to be exhaustive. Be warned though self releasing is a lot of work. You have to do all of it (or pay someone to) but it does mean you keep all the financial reward.

  1. Write some interesting music
  2. Book players and studio time
  3. Pay for players and studio time
  4. Mix and edit
  5. Register the recordings
  6. Release music
  7. Market your music
  8. Make playlists!
  9. Wait…

That’s the process in a nutshell but there is a lot more nuance in those points. So below I’m going to try and walk you through.

Though before you go further, follow me on Spotify. You know you want to :).

1. Write some interesting music

Ok this is well out of the scope of this blog. I’m assuming if you’ve found this blog you’ll already be writing interesting music. However what you might not have done is register your music with PRS for Music (or your country’s equivalent like ASCAP in the USA or IMRO in Ireland). If you are writing your own you should register every piece with PRS the moment you finish it. This enables them to collect royalties on your behalf every time the piece is performed in public. ‘Performed’ in this case means in a concert, on radio, streamed, on tv etc.

2. Book players and studio time

This is probably the most straight forward part of the process. You’ve written a piece for string quartet, you book a string quartet and agree a fee. In the UK there is the MU/BPI agreement stipulating minimum fees for various lengths of sessions and how much music can be recorded in that session. In a 3h session you can only record 15 mins of music. If you record more you have to bump up the fee.

So say you’ve written a 20 min string quartet the players will cost you £960 (£120 x 4 players x 2 3h sessions). Though string quartets are classical the ‘classical rates’ are for orchestra rather than chamber music. Even if you get through all 20 mins in one 3h session you are still obliged to pay for the two sessions. You can then do almost whatever you want with the music you recorded (in line with the MU/BPI agreement) however there are some extra things that will come up in point 5 like PPL.

You need to book somewhere to record the music and someone to record it. This is where artistic choice comes into the recording process. What kind of acoustic do you want? What kind of recording style do you want? Are there live electronics, how should they be recorded? Mic choices? And numerous other things will influence your choices on where. As for the who I like to use someone who can read music and is an exceptional engineer. This is because he knows what’s going on and can be a second pair of ears to pick up any mistakes. I wouldn’t suggest you ask Jane from the pub who does live sound every Friday night, you need someone who knows how to mic classical instruments. But find someone you are comfortable working with and is good at what they do. Timothy Cooper has recorded almost everything of mine. A producer might also be useful but I’ve no experience with that.

Finally make sure your parts are clear. So much recording time can be wasted by unclear parts or notation. Get the music to the players well in advance of the recording so they can get back to you with any questions. 3 hours is not a long time when you are in the studio. Make notes constantly do not think you are going to remember take 34b is better than 32d.

3. Pay for players and studio time (plus engineer and producer)

Make sure you pay people and do it promptly! Be someone people want to work for by paying as soon as you can. No excuses!

4. Mix and Edit

This part of the process can take as long as you want it to. I’ve found it food to wait a few weeks from recording session to do this just to come at things with a fresh par of ears. You can do this yourself, if you are proficient in ProTools, or get someone else to do it for you.

Congratulations you have just recorded, edited and mixed your first recording. You are now a master rights owner!

5. Register your Recordings

Now we are coming to a more in-depth part – registering your recordings. If you’ve already registered the composition with PRS then give yourself a pat on the back, if not why not!? But if not you can hold off a little bit because there are other things to do now.

You are now a master rights owner. This means you own the right to the recording and can exploit it however you feel fit. You might decide to give it away or you might want to make a some money from it. Either way you should register yourself with PPL. They are pretty much the PRS for master rights owners and performers. Whenever a recording is broadcast PPL collects money for the rights owners and the performers. So when you register a recording with them it will also ask you about who performed on the recording so the musicians earn some money whenever the piece is performed, in certain circumstances.

PPL will give you a unique ISRC code. It is made up of four letters followed by a series of numbers. The letters are assigned to you and the numbers you choose, though there is a kind of standard format. The ISRC code is a unique identifier for THAT recording. So every recording of a Bach Partita, even by the same performer and record label, has a unique ISRC code. Once you have the ISRC code go and put it on your PRS registration.

You can also mandate PPL to collect international royalties for you however to do this in Germany you need to ask them for a GVL Label Code. More information on this here.

Because you have composed the music and you are about to release it you should register with MCPS. They deal with the mechanical (goes back to player pianos) reproduction of the music.

So you need to:

  • Register your piece with PRS and MCPS
  • Register the recording with PPL (Sound Exchange in the USA)
  • Register with GVL or do it through PPL

6. Release music

Now you have everything recorded and registered you want to release it into the world. You have a few options here for self release the main ones I know of are CD Baby, Tunecore, RouteNote and BandCamp.

CD Baby – This is who I use. They charge an upfront fee, single ($9.95) or an album ($49), and take a 9% cut of all of your digital income but don’t charge a yearly fee.

Tunecore – An upfront fee of $29.99 for albums and $9.99 for singles, they don’t take a cut of your income but they do charge an annual fee of $49.99 for album and $9.99 for singles.

RouteNote – Has two distribution options. The first is completely free where they take 15% of your income or a similar model to Tunecore with $10 single, $20 EP, $30 album and $45 extended album and then $9.99 annually with you keeping all your income. If you use RouteNote use this link and I get a referal bonus. Thanks in advance if you do!

BandCamp – is completely free to put music on but they take 15% of digital sales. They have options where customers can pay more if they want which is nice (I’ve found people do this quite a lot). However BandCamp do not distribute to iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, Google Play etc. etc.

Make your choice of service, it seems there is little difference between CD Baby, Tunecore and RouteNote apart from the price. I would suggest releasing your music on one of the above AND BandCamp.

Some people do still buy physical copies and physical copies are useful to have to send to the press as well. CD Baby can create them for you (though beware of import tax to the UK. I made that mistake…) but there are other UK based services like Discwizards. I’ve only used CD Baby but a friend has used Discwizards and said they were good.

One final point, make sure you get your album artwork done and do the right spec. All the above have how to guides on what they need.

7. Market Your Music

Decide a date to release your music and plan to that. I’d suggest about 2 to 3 months from upload and hitting ‘send’ to actual release. This gives you time (or more precisely your PR person time) to build a decent campaign around the release. I’ve also heard that for pieces to be considered on the editorial playlists of Spotify and Apple Music they need to be in their system at least 1 month before release.

Get a good PR person or company. Talk to them about what you want and they will be able to advise on what needs to be done and how much it will cost. They wont be cheap though. Marketing will be the biggest one off expense of the release. Not just for PR but for buying advertising on Google, Facebook and Twitter. PR will (hopefully, but there no guarantee) get you reviews, editorial inches, radio play and playlist space but it needs to be supported by advertising and your own social media efforts. On that note follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Music marketing is a whole other subject which I’m not going to get into here.

8. Make Playlists

Anyone that follows me on Twitter or Facebook will know I keep banging on about playlists being a force for good because I truly think they are. Yes there are a few issues but I have made more money from my music through playlists than through sales. I’m very open about the amount I’m making and the issues of streaming on my other blog here. So do it!

Once your music is released get yourself registered with Apple Music for Artists and Spotify Artists. This will give you the ability to control your artist page and publish playlists. Though I think you have to be subscribed to Apple Music to do that or you can use Soundsgood who can push your playlists to their Apple Music channel.

There are three ways you can make playlists.

  • Massive catalogue style
  • Niche mood or genre
  • Weekly/Monthly updates

Each of these works differently depending on the service. Cataloguing works well on Apple Music because, as an artist, most of your playlists will be fully indexed. That is if you put a piece by Kajia Saariaho in a playlist and someone searches for Saariaho your playlist will be somewhere in their results. This doesn’t work so well on Spotify, at least for search results, because Spotify doesn’t index their playlists to the same extent as Apple Music. This opens possibilities in Apple Music to create ‘if you like that, you might like this’ style playlists. So put music that people will be searching for that has a similar kind of audience to who you think your audience is.

Niche mood or genre playlists give you the opportunity for click bait headings, these work well for Spotify. Think of how people will search for music it could be ‘calming music’, ‘baroque music’ or ‘modern string quartets’. Spotify seems to only index playlist names (for most playlists) and Apple Music seems to index all playlist names even if it doesn’t index the contents of the whole playlist.  So your new string quartet would be perfect to put in a playlist of ‘modern string quartets’. This could still end up being a massive catalogue playlist put think of the title.

Weekly/Monthly updated playlist. This is something I’ve started to experiment with and is gaining some success. I see it as curating a concert every week with music that I could never programme together. I try and give each week a different feel. With the weekly playlist I always tag the composers, performers and record labels on Twitter. My hope is that they will retweet it and introduce the playlist and music to new people. This kind of playlist is very community driven. The only way you, as the person releasing music, will make money from a playlist is when someone streams your piece. To get to your piece they will be streaming the music of others as well. So if you are tagged in a playlist share it, shout about it and say thanks.

This is very true when you are included in one of the editorial playlists on any of the services. I have been told they check their social media feeds to see if people are sharing the playlist. Getting on to the editorial playlists is a bit of a mystery, the people behind the playlists don’t publish themselves. User generated ones are a little easier to find with a bit of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn sleuthing.

Speaking of sharing, share your playlists wherever you can. There are Reddit communities for Apple Music and Spotify. Websites dedicated to playlists like, and good old social media.

If you don’t know how to share a playlist on both Spotify and Apple Music click the ‘…’ and it gives you sharing options.

As a very brief argument in support of streaming. At Classical:Next last week I sat in on a session ‘The Current State of the Recording Industry‘. There were numerous snippits of info but there were two that were very interesting. 10 years ago the average person bought one or two CDs a year (£10-£20) now they are paying £120 a year for their streaming subscription. The other is that downloads canablise physical sales, but streaming supports downloads.

9. Wait… (for money)

If you have done all the above, released something people want to listen to, had it on the radio, got it on playlists etc you have to wait at least 6 months to see any money, maybe even a year. PPL only pays out once a year, PRS every 3 months based on this schedule and streaming companies pay out every 3 to 6 months. It has taken me a year to build my streaming income to a point where I am getting a reasonable payment every month (about $100 at the moment) so you will have to wait… Though if you sign up for the artist tools above you can get stats on how your music is doing so you can tweak your marketing efforts. Remember, streaming is a micropayment so don’t expect huge swathes of money straight away but it will build up over time if you make the effort.



Rhinos and Culture

Tonight I went to see Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco in the Brian Friel Theatre (Queen’s Film Theatre) because I knew one of the people involved. I had never heard of the work or even the writer but I’m glad I went. The basic outline of the piece is, to quote the QFT website, ‘When a rhinoceros charges across a town square and tramples down an innocent pussy one quiet Sunday afternoon, Berenger is unconcerned. However rhinoceroses start popping up everywhere, putting Berenger’s world, as he knows it, under threat. What will it take for Berenger to stand up to the increasing threat of rhinoceritis?.’
The idea of people turning into rhinos is absolutely absurd but also, as is intended, very symbolic (just change the word rhinoceros into sheep). First one character turns into a rhino then his boss before being followed by his workforce, apart from Berenger, who feel a duty towards the boss and follow his every whim. Eventually rhinoceritis takes hold to such a degree that Berenger picks up his telephone to be confronted by the grunting of a rhino, I didn’t ask how it dialled the number, and turns on the radio to hear the same sound.
The most effective part of the work, for me, was not this scene, but the first scene. The first scene consisted of Berenger sitting in a bar with a friend talking about him, essentially, not conforming to the norm. At some point through the scene a rhino stampedes past with all the characters running in to exclaim ‘look a rhino!’, or something to that effect, with Berenger sitting uninterested at the table. Berenger’s friend, Jean, after the rhino has passed says three or four times ‘well what do you make of that?’ to Berenger before Berenger takes the topic away from the subject of the rhino. The rhino or a different rhino, a subject of a little debate within the play, then returns and tramples on a cat. The owner runs into the bar screaming, mourning her cat, everyone clusters round talks and Jean says, yet again, ‘well what do you make of that?’
The reason I see this section of the play as the most effective and thought provoking part is that, to me, it sums up modern popular culture. You have the outside event (the rhino), people wanting to comment on an essentially unimportant event (‘well what do you make of that?’) and an outside event becoming the topic of conversation for a whole bar, and in the next scene an office, full of people (rhino trampling cat, woman coming into bar mourning and whaling). Scale this event from an absurd play into a real life situation. An outside event, say a cat stuck up the tree, becomes front-page news people talk about it because it is front-page news. Another situation, big brother, x-factor etc reality tv series, when they are on are all people talk about, they even somehow manage to get decent sized articles in respectable newspapers. So far these are two very banal examples but how about changing the example to a murder in a town 100 miles away or even in the same town? People still seem to react in the same way even though it does not directly affect them, though all sympathies go to any family that has been involved in such an event.
The problem is there seems to be no sliding scale of reaction; it’s either all out bitching, indignation or not caring. This is the reason I do not follow popular culture and news bulletins religiously, though I admit I look at a news site once a day to get an idea of what’s happening. I feel you are as likely to find out that the UK is at war as X celebrity has married Y. People seem inclined to follow the crowd, to become a rhino, in order to talk. But what is the point in conversing if what you are conversing about is ultimately pointless? Why not have a debate about which philosophy is better to live your life by, why string theory doesn’t work or which composer or writer is the greatest to have ever lived? These are ultimately as pointless as the banal subjects mentioned earlier but they require more knowledge than a 5 min read in a crappy 99p celeb magazine and they might in fact lead to a great idea or actually learning something new and interesting.
To me popular culture can be summed up as an oversaturation of utterly pointless information. I need to know and learn enough stuff without filling my mind up with useless things about someone who I have never met and who has probably done nothing of real worth or something that doesn’t and will probably never affect me. I sometimes feel like Berenger lost on a sea of rhinos but unlike him at the end of the play I have never debated becoming a rhino, I have always and hopefully will always just be me. Popular culture doesn’t interest me and do you know what? I don’t care.

As for the play and acting it was very good. If you read this, are about Belfast and are free either tomorrow or Friday head to it. Its only £6 and I think it would be worth it.

Consonance and Dissonance

It was Schoenberg that said there is no such thing as consonance or dissonance any more. This seems like a reasonable statement to make but after almost 100 years those terms are still used with regard to music within that time period. Why? Why do these terms stick with such ferocity into the musicological repertoire? These terms make sense when used of music from before 1900 but with music after 1900 they should barely be mentioned in the same paragraph let alone the same essay! With this said they are still mentioned, even used as points of conversation within an analysis but why? Is it because musicologists do not want to be removed from their familiar phrases or is it because from a young age the musician is taught that consonance is nice and dissonance is harsh, major is happy minor is sad?
I completely agree that the young musician should be taught the fundamentals of harmony and the development from plainsong through to today but the teaching seems to concentrate around Bach and Mozart before commenting on Wagner’s chromaticism it doesn’t push forward any more than that. This in turn means that people try and explain contemporary music in out of date terms. Messiaen’s Les Offrands Oubliées is beautiful but in no way consonant, going on the younger musician’s teaching it is dissonant but its not harsh and unpleasant so this makes them question and leaves them confused. This is a fine example of why these terms should not be used but what can replace them? Unfortunately I believe the only words that can replace them are words that belong to feelings, words such as harsh or pleasant. I have been lambasted in essays for writing ‘such and such a passage feels pleasant’ yet I continue to write such terminology because I have not found anything else that will satisfy me. Feelings are the only true way to describe music, trying to distance the emotion from the sound is not right or even possible in the same way that trying to build a house without adequate foundations. Music is art, art is for emotion so is the best way to describe it not in emotional terms? Music today just is. If it has been written by the composer either with a specific idea or emotion in mind, why try and label it constant or dissonant?

If that Music or Just Another Radio

The sound of silence is the sound of nature, but the sound of nature is not silence. Silence will stretch on eternally while each sound no matter how long or short is only a micro-sound in the time scale of nature. Does this mean that it is pointless to produce a sound or that sound itself is unnatural? That is like asking is existence pointless or unnatural. Some will say yes to both, some will say yes to neither yet there are some who will argue both yes and no. It is an unanswerable question but all will agree that if something that exists infringes on something else’s existence then the infringer should be reigned in, but not destroyed. This can apply equally to sound as it can to existence.
The cacophony that is modern life infringes on existence. It infringes on nature’s silence because it is pointless. Modern life has become just another radio, tv, mobile phone ring tone in the middle of the street. It has become so cacophonous that people require these constant stimuli, but why? Why can people not sit back and listen to the sound of nature? The cacophony that is produced is, on the grand scheme of nature, pointless. What is wrong with a whispered conversation over a shouted one? A whispered conversation requires more attention but have people become so used to shouting that a whisper is inaudible? Whisper a person’s name in a crowd of screaming people and you will be heard by that person, yet scream their name and you wont be. This I admit is a slight embellishment of the truth but it has a grain of truth in it. Someone will pick out the nuance of their whispered name in noise because they are attuned to the voice, the whisper and their name yet a shout would just blend in.
The world and all its noise is but a flash in the silence of nature. If we must interrupt it it should have a point, a well-defined reason for the interruption. Would you barge into a wedding, a funeral or a family sitting together eating in their own home without a reason? No, that is common courtesy. So why should we break the silence of nature unless it is with good reason? There is no need for ring tones as long as a phone as a vibrate function, there is no reason to shout at the person you are trying to talk to if everyone else is talking in a whisper.
The point of this short essay is not to preach but for me to lay down my own ideas, ideas that have changed massively over the last year. I originally wanted to write bold loud music but I have gradually been turning away from that and I think today I have come to see why. Silence is what will become and what has always been. We are a brief cacophonous noise in the midst of this silence. If I break this silence it is to create something, something that I find beautiful or pleasurable not harsh and bold but quite and delicate. This idea has not only become apparent in my dynamics but in my pitches, but in hindsight I feel that it has always been within my pitches. A move of a semi-tone makes me shudder yet a tone feels distant, I think it is my desire to create something that only just fractures the silence bleeding into my pitches but then maybe it is the other way round. Maybe it is the pitches bleeding into the silence. A note is nature and a semi-tone, or smaller, is nature but a third is artificial.
People expect the cacophony of the modern world. This expectation has bleed into music in all its forms. Electro-acoustic music takes sounds from this cacophony and re-interprets them, sometimes successfully but rarely, while main-stream music enforces in someone the desire to turn it up, listen to the drums and ignore the subtly. Would a semi-tone change of one note be noticed in a track by Lady Gaga, Stereophonics or Metallica? I think not. There is a place for this music but it is not at the forefront. The nature of these is full of volume but not full of thought. These voluminous sounds are not constrained to mainstream music but are also in many classical works. Again, there is a place for it in some cases, but not in all.
What I believe I am trying to show myself and any who care to read is that nature should not be broken. A sound should come from nothing and go to nothing; that is the natural order. A sound that is there for the sake of itself has no place in the world. Unfortunately modern life seems to be filled with these sounds. Is that music or just another radio?

Music for Musicians

My first blog in a while is more a musing on art and culture than a random babbling on what I have been doing. This was inspired by a conversation on twitter between @jamiebullock and myself from the question “contemporary classical music = university music?” from @laputean.

This is a topic that has concerned and worried me greatly over the past year or two. Is contemporary classical music simply producing music for musicians (a large number of whom don’t respect it anyway) or does it have a wider cultural place?
In the world we live in everything seems to need a price, seems to need an explicit benefit or educational advance but how does contemporary classical music fulfill this? It has nothing tangible to give other than a pleasurable experience, but because of the musical language used people without understanding or even without the desire to learn to appreciate the tonality manage to let this music pass them by. The price of art can be extortionate or less then the cost it was to produce. The rich will pay thousands for an original piece of art by a famous artist but many will squabble over paying £30 or less to attend a concert. When anyone goes to a concert of modern do they go with the tools to understand it or do they just go to say to their friends in a form of one-upmanship? Even those that go with the tools to understand the music still may not because surely the only person who understands the music is the composer. Anyone that listens will take something different or nothing at all away from a piece.
When Feldman rejected the audience in writing his 2nd string quartet (I believe it was the 2nd) he received the best reception of any of his pieces. Does this then mean that the audience wants to be rejected rather than pandered to? That is something I cannot decide the answer to. Maybe a composers thought process changes to when he thinks like this allowing his own experiences to filter in.
The composer is the only one who understands their own work whether accepting or rejecting the audience, though sometimes not even the composer understands. Music as an art that is there to broaden the mind and be the pot in which ideas coincide whether these ideas be it maths, physics, poetry, philosophy or even another piece of music or art. Every piece is the sum of experience of the composer. From this I feel music can be described as a condensed encyclopaedia or even a wiki where different people can add their spin on it but the essential meaning and experience of the composer is still there.

This was just thrown together tonight. Hopefully I will come back and revise it. I know it probably posses more questions than it answers but I felt the need to put this down and have no problem showing it to anyone that might be interested

The Mirror of Art

The arts are the mirror on society. Is this why society can never accept contemporary art? Art that shows the truth that people don’t want to see. When looking back at history the music of each period perfectly fits the period’s image, to a modern viewer. The music of the renaissance and Baroque periods were reserved and followed strict tonal rules, mirroring the reserved nature of the aristocracy and the control exerted on the population. The reserved nature was mostly driven by a desire of the commissioners for music to dance to. The reserved feeling continued into the classical period but by the time of Beethoven the link between commissioner and composer had diminished. There were fewer court composers and so less commissions for music to dance to. This left composers free to do as they pleased but still kept the tonal rules, though stretched quite excessively.
Composers such as Beethoven almost completely threw away the ideas that music had to be small and reserved. During the classical period the French and American Revolutions occurred showing a breakdown of aristocracy’s dominance over the population. This is quite obviously mirrored in the music of the time in things such as the diminishing use of dance rhythms and the larger freer motivic and harmonic development. These ideas though freer than before still have more than a little semblance of tonal structure, implying that the control by the ruling class is still very much there.
Then we get into the romantic period, of long flowing free melodies that seem to wallow in their own art. This art was being imported from all over the world such as Debussy being influenced by oriental oils and carvings. The world was getting smaller, society becoming more homogeneous, different ideas imported and exported and the influence on the music was again obvious. When Debussy started playing with the colour of notes on the piano he was scoffed at by his teacher. Like all other composers before he was criticised for ‘bad’ music simply because it did not conform to previous expectations and the rules used by previous generations. He was showing freeness in composition that was unheard of 50 years ago yet the freeness was a sign of the freer nature of society.
Very swiftly after we get Vaughn Williams who was a massive patriot and used English folk tunes of the time as the basis of his music. This mirrored English society’s longing for older times, as the colonies were definitely gaining freedom at this point. Though at the very same time we have the second Viennese school. A school of thought and composition that encouraged untold of control over music through serialism but also the complete breakdown of tonality. Even though serialism was a massive controlling influence Schoenberg taught that a composer should create the tone row and then compose as before. In other words write what you like within the confines of the tone row. These two completely contrasting ideas again mirror society at the time of their fruition. Vaughn Williams the nationalist, showing the nationalistic feelings of Europe leading up to WW1 and Schoenberg the serialist showing the increased mechanisation of the time. After WW1 the control in serialism and the nationalism of Vaughn Williams can then be combined to show the ideologies’ of the Nazis this time leading up to WW2.
Skip ahead a little and we get into the domain of Boulez and Messiaen. Boulez is experimenting with total serialism and Messiaen is playing with colour in the same way as Debussy. The control has become great with Boulez and the colour more vivid with Messiaen. This again is societies mirror. Messiaen is showing the colour of the 60s while Boulez is showing the control the state is beginning to have.
Listen to the music of today, what does it say about today’s society? Does the music imply stately and reserved, happy, bright, controlled, dark or sad? Has the control that was once serialism bled into music so much that even if society is totally free the music is now unable to express it or is the new harmonic language of this generation generally darker than previous generations? The world seems to be slipping into a state of more control and anguish and this is reflected in the music. Atonal music can be beautiful but it is also almost always angular. Look into the mirror that is music and the arts, what is the world today?

The idea for this came to me earlier when I was reading the first lecture in Orientations by Boulez. I’m sorry if it rambles a bit but it is very much a stream of thought I wanted to get down there may be edits done sometime soon but not tonight. Its almost 3! Any comments are more than welcome I would quite like to get other peoples views on this.