Music Inside The Beltway

Angela and I drove up to Alexan­dria to check out Dave play­ing with Jes­si Alexan­der, who was open­ing for Von­da Shep­ard.

So Dave calls me Mon­day morn­ing to tell me that he is in West Vir­ginia and on his way up to Alexan­dria to play a gig with Jes­si Alexan­der that evening. He want­ed to know if Angela and I could make it up to the show. Well, of course we get cut off before he tells me where (there are a few hills in West Vir­ginia and only one cell tow­er). I call Angela, and she’s all for it. Final­ly we get back in touch and he tells me it’s at the Birch­mere and that Jes­si is open­ing for Von­da Shep­ard. Even bet­ter.

Now, it’s a hun­dred miles one way from Rich­mond to Alexan­dria, but well worth the trip to see Dave, Jes­si Alexan­der, and Von­da Shep­ard. We got there in time to see the sec­ond half of Jes­si’s set, which was real­ly great. It just made me wish we could have made it to see the whole thing. Jes­si is a great song­writer and per­former, and I can see why Dave enjoys get­ting to tour around with her. Fur­ther, after meet­ing her in per­son, she’s a real class-act. She was fun to talk to about music, trav­el, and what­ev­er else the four of us all talked about. I have to admit that since I absolute­ly nev­er lis­ten to com­mer­cial radio or watch music videos, I’d nev­er heard her music until Mon­day. I bought her album and I’m glad I did. I’d rec­om­mend it to any­one as what real­ly good coun­try music can be when some­one writes songs and not “hits.”

The Birch­mere is more like din­ner the­ater than your typ­i­cal honky-tonk. I know Dave and Jes­si noticed the crowd was a lit­tle sub­dued. I think Dave took it as lack of inter­est or even dis­ap­proval. I think these peo­ple are way too used to watch­ing music on A&E, and don’t know to clap, whis­tle, and yell after gui­tar solos, piano rolls, and wail­ing vocals. There was no short­age of any of that between these two ladies, and the crowd had the pulse-rate of a nar­colep­tic golf cad­dy on the seniors tour. As far as Von­da Shep­ard goes, she’s prob­a­bly not used to crowd’s not respond­ing. She is a great enter­tain­er, singer and song­writer. I hate peo­ple who do this, which is weird because I do it more than any­one, but here goes: she’s like a cross between Ben Folds and Car­ly Simon. I did­n’t real­ly expect to enjoy her set half as much as I did, and now I’m telling Angela to go down­load some songs from iTunes Music Store. Next thing, you know, I’ll be sit­ting in my PJ’s watch­ing the DVD sets of Ally McBeal. Okay, that’s not very like­ly.

Towards the end of Von­da’s set, Dave, Angela and I went back to the dress­ing rooms to hang out. Dave showed off his high-end tam­bourine and his flashy new lap­top. He let us lis­ten to a cou­ple of songs off of the forth­com­ing Coal Men EP. Damn, it sounds ter­rif­ic. I was kick­ing myself for not bring­ing my USB flash dri­ve to grab some copies. I was also just proud that Dave was let­ting his inner geek shine for a while. Rock on, man. \w/

Any­way, Angela and I real­ly enjoyed the whole evening. Get­ting to hang out some with Dave alone would have been worth the trip, but two real­ly great per­form­ers real­ly made it a great trip. I hope Dave and Jes­si enjoy their time up in Philly and Detroit, and I real­ly look for­ward to see­ing Jes­si per­form again.

In oth­er music/geek news: Green Rode Shot­gun’s web site is back! Jason’s been a busy man, and the site looks great. He’s indeed a man of many tal­en­t’s, includ­ing occa­sion­al­ly threat­en­ing to post com­ments on this site. Glad to see you back on the web, my friend.

Live From Key West

Dave and com­pa­ny play­ing live down in Key West, FL.

Live from Key West

If you tune in right now, you can catch Dave Cole­man, along with Paul Deakin, Robert Reynolds (both of the Mav­er­icks), and Scot­ty Huff play­ing at the Hog’s Breath Saloon in Key West, FL. They’re doing pret­ty much exclu­sive­ly cov­ers, and some damn good ones, too. Quick, click here and check ’em out.

Dave called me yes­ter­day to let me know he had run a 5k, in which he set a per­son­al best, and was then hav­ing cof­fee at a small place accross the street from the Earnest Hem­ing­way house. This after play­ing with the guys until 2:00 am the night before. What a guy.

The Coal Men On The Web

Talk about Cool. The Coal Men have four videos of songs from an accoustic set for a CMT show of up-and-com­ing coun­try artists. I don’t reg­u­lar­ly watch CMT, but it’s great they have stuff like this.

Talk about Cool. The Coal Men have four videos of songs (Win­dows Media) from an acoustic set for a CMT show of up-and-com­ing coun­try artists. I don’t reg­u­lar­ly watch CMT, but it’s great they have stuff like this. I hon­est­ly had no idea. I just hap­pened to fol­low a link from The Coal Men’s home page, and there they have it. The CMT series is call New Voic­es No Cov­er, and it actu­al­ly seems like a pret­ty cool idea. It’s nice that some­one down in Nashville is push­ing stuff oth­er than Top 40 crud.

Any­way, check out these videos. They prob­a­bly won’t win any cin­e­matog­ra­phy awards this year, but they’re pret­ty good qual­i­ty. It’s like get­ting to watch a con­cert of Dave and the guys. Now, if only my old­er broth­er Stephen would post some video’s online. It’d be like a lit­tle tele-reunion.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Not much going on today, oth­er than tons of work and still under the sick spell. I did want to point out a very short, but glow­ing review of the The Coal Men on the Ten­nessean web site post­ed yes­ter­day. Just in case you’re too lazy to click:

You won’t find a short­age of skilled roots-rock bands slin­gin’ chords around on any giv­en night in Nashville, sure, but real­ly, real­ly good ones still stand out.
And The Coal Men — singer Dave Cole­man and cohorts Dave Ray and Jason Hitch­cock — are real­ly, real­ly good, bash­ing out a col­lec­tion of expert­ly craft­ed songs that have as much bite as they do twang. Cole­man’s got a heck of a bari­tone and Ray and Hitch­cock­’s rhythms are spot-on, but their sets are still loose enough to feel lived in.

That’s about typ­i­cal for the Ten­nessean’s reviews of the band. They love the local guys, and they real­ly love The Coal Men. Oh yeah, about locals: If you read (in the Ten­nessean or else­where) last week about the 27 year old female school teacher who was bust­ed for mul­ti­ple counts of rape of a 13 year old boy, then you may have read on to learn that she’s from my home coun­ty. It’s always great to see some­one from a small town strik­ing it big in the news. I did­n’t know the woman back then, although I’m sure I saw her play some bas­ket­ball and rec­og­nized her maid­en name: Pamela Rogers.

Last­ly, on the sub­ject of famous peo­ple, be sure and read Wired’s arti­cle on celebri­ties that come into the Apple Store at The Grove Mall in Los Ange­les. Fun­ny stuff.

iPod Shuffle And The Bigger Question

I think that we should con­sid­er how we real­ly lis­ten to our music, and not just what we think we’ll be miss­ing. It’s role in the iPod fam­i­ly is not to be your entire music library on the go, it is just a ran­dom snap­shot of it.

Photo by pt courtesy of Flickr

So it would seem that Apple’s lat­est hot prod­uct, the iPod Shuf­fle, might as well be called the iPod Ruf­fle, as in feath­ers. Just to men­tion a cou­ple of posts I came across today from poe­ple whose opin­ions I val­ue. Chris Ander­son of The Long Tail fame writes that it suf­fers from the same prob­lem as com­mer­cial radio in that the user gives up the abil­i­ty to hear the songs they real­ly like, or in his words, “the sig­nal-to-noise ratio in your own col­lec­tion can be near­ly as vari­able as that in any com­mer­cial music ser­vice.” Ander­son ends his arti­cle by stat­ing that he does­n’t think the Shuf­fle will have the same impact on the mar­ket that the now near­ly ubiq­ui­tous iPod had. Irman Ali seems to like the Shuf­fle okay, but finds inter­est in the fact that Apple mar­kets what he writes is the prod­ucts great­est weak­ness, the ran­dom­ness, as it’s strength.

First, I know that I can’t speak for every­one who lis­tens to music (that’d be about every­one with hear­ing, right?). I have some purist friends that pre­fer to lis­ten to only entire albums from start to fin­ish. They’re not big fans of the shuf­fle (or ran­dom, if you don’t use Apple prod­ucts). How­ev­er, I almost exclu­sive­ly lis­ten to iTunes or my iPod using that fea­ture. I am my own radio sta­tion, so to speak. Sure I like some songs more than oth­ers, but I am con­stant­ly com­ing back across songs I had­n’t heard in quite a while and had near­ly for­got­ten about. I see this as the oppo­site of Ander­son, in that I am look­ing down into the long tail of my own col­lec­tion. Rather than using the rec­om­men­da­tion mechan­ics of Ama­zon or iTunes Store, I am using “chance,” to quote Apple’s Ad. Hon­est­ly, I find this an eco­nom­i­cal way of keep­ing myself enter­tained, as it keeps me from buy­ing new music as much. Instead, I’m redis­cov­er­ing music I already had.

Sure, I’ve got some duds (name­ly, that Best of James album I bought for the song Laid), but I could just as well take those songs out of my col­lec­tion. I’d nev­er miss them. But so what if I did­n’t and occa­sion­al­ly they got loaded onto the Shuf­fle. There’s a skip but­ton for just such emer­gen­cies, which I sup­pose works in shuf­fle mode. Also, aut­ofill has the option to choose high­er rat­ed songs more often. This is about as ide­al as shuf­fle gets, and although I don’t much use the rat­ings fea­ture of iTunes or my iPod, I imag­ine that’d become of your rou­tine with the Shuf­fle. My only com­plaint there not hav­ing the abil­i­ty to export that infor­ma­tion (maybe as xml like one of Ander­son­’s com­men­tors sug­gests).

I don’t think any­one could have pre­dict­ed the iPod would have the dra­mat­ic mar­ket explo­sion that we’ve wit­nessed. It was­n’t the first portable dig­i­tal music play­er (remem­ber when we just called them all mp3 play­ers?) and it has nev­er been the cheap­est. How­ev­er, it had a great design, both in style and inter­face so it sold mil­lions. Fur­ther, iTunes is real­ly a great piece of soft­ware. If for no oth­er rea­son, it’s a nice and free rip­per. It’s also got great library man­age­ment fea­tures. Is Apple’s moti­va­tion to have an online music store to sell iPods or is it to sell iPods just to make a killing off of song down­loads? I don’t know. I’m sure they’ve got some pret­ty good mar­gins on both fronts. I do think, though, that hav­ing an entry lev­el, USB dri­ve based mp3 play­er labled as an iPod is only going to help the brand. I fall on the oth­er side of the fence from Ander­son on this one as well. I say the iPod Shuf­fle is going to solid­i­fy the mar­ket as Apple’s.

One oth­er point that a lot of peo­ple seem to rip­ping the Shuf­fle on is it’s lack of screen. Seri­ous­ly, stop with the jokes about putting a sticky note over the iPod screen. It’s stale now. So what if it does­n’t have a screen? Do peo­ple hon­est­ly look at the screen dur­ing every song? I bought all most of those songs, and I know pret­ty much what I’m lis­ten­ing to.

Final­ly, what I’m say­ing here is that it’s not fair to com­pare the Shuf­fle to the good old iPod. One costs $99 and the oth­er costs $249 (the Mini). No one thinks it’s fair to com­pare a Toy­ota Cor­rol­la to a Lexus ES330, so why is this apples:apples? So that’s the big­ger ques­tion, here. My answer is to give the Shuf­fle a chance. It’s role in the iPod fam­i­ly is not to be your entire music library on the go, it is just a ran­dom snap­shot of it and that’s also got some inter­est. I think that we should con­sid­er how we real­ly lis­ten to our music, and not just what we think we’ll be miss­ing.

Music Industry

I thought I might post some of my thoughts on the music indus­try, where it’s at and where it might be going. How­ev­er, if you aren’t famil­iar with The Long Tail, you have to read the arti­cle which appeared in the Octo­ber issue of Wired Mag­a­zine. Go read it here now.

I thought I might post some of my thoughts on the music indus­try, where it’s at and where it might be going. How­ev­er, if you aren’t famil­iar with The Long Tail, you have to read the arti­cle which appeared in the Octo­ber issue of Wired Mag­a­zine. Go read it here now in a new Fire­fox tab and then come back here. Lat­er, you can read all the argu­ments for and against the arti­cle at the web site for The Long Tail book.

Okay, so I have to admit that oth­er than a broth­er and a good friend which most would con­sid­er indie musi­cians, I have absolute­ly no affil­i­a­tion with the music indus­try oth­er than the most com­mon: con­sumer. That’s not to say it’s not an impor­tant role, though. I’m the guy who along with my mil­lions of peers either buys or does­n’t buy the music. It does take me for this whole mod­el to work. I do believe that it starts with the artist, though. The song­writ­ers and per­form­ers are both the chick­en and the egg here. That being said, I also believe that the mid­dle men per­form the most mean­ing­less task in the process. I was recent­ly remind­ed that cough­ing up the cash for mar­ket­ing and mass-pro­duc­tion could be seen as the most cru­cial part, and I’m sure that record exec­u­tives feel that way about it, too. How­ev­er, after read­ing this arti­cle, see­ing how free jour­nal­ism (read: blogs) can influ­ence the entire coun­try, and my own per­son­al expe­ri­ence in meet­ing peo­ple from around the globe through my web­site; I’ve decid­ed that this sim­ply isn’t the case any­more.

Here’s my new improved mod­el: instant access to the tip of the long tail. I put my music in dig­i­tal for­mat (this goes for books, etc, as well). I’ll pay for host­ing the files on iTunes, Ama­zon, Tow­er, where ever I want I think I can find some toe-hold of a mar­ket. Then, I use word-of-mouth, play­ing shows, and blogs to find an audi­ence. With sweat and luck, a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions start point­ing to me. As long as these rec­om­men­da­tions are gen­uine, and not like pay-for-play on some Clear Chan­nel sta­tion, then they will work. Peo­ple can lis­ten before they buy and, assum­ing price is right, they will buy. So, I start to move up the tail some. Best part for all you Down­hill Bat­tle geeks, no record label. Peri­od. If I want help with my mar­ket­ing, etc. I join a musi­cian & song­writer col­lec­tive. This gains buy­ing pow­er and larg­er influ­ence. This already works for inde­pen­dent gro­cery stores, phar­ma­cies, and on and on; why not for musi­cians? The mod­el for the music busi­ness is the most com­plex I’ve ever heard of. It does­n’t have to be this way. The tech­nol­o­gy avail­able for com­mu­ni­ca­tion between humans (which is pret­ty much what both mar­ket­ing and music boil down to) is to a point that this mod­el is now obso­lete.

Now, I real­ize that being out on the skin­ny end of this long tail isn’t going to make sta­di­um-play­ing-rock-gods out of my friends and fam­i­ly. It will, at best, pay the rent; and that’s going to be about as good as one can hope. But isn’t that much dif­fer­ent than the way it is now? I’ve got as good a chance as play­ing start­ing for­ward for the Wiz­ards as I’ve got going plat­inum, so what’s to loose? If you’re not U2, then not too much. How­ev­er, the fact that the music indus­try pro­tects itself does­n’t help some­one on the verge of get­ting in. You start sell­ing your songs on your own, and you’ll nev­er get signed on to a major label. That’s a risk that would be tough if you feel like a deal with a label (major or indie) is just around the cor­ner. How­ev­er, for all but the best sell­ing musi­cians these days, that’s not too big of a risk. Unless you’re in the top 10%(or so) of artists in terms of sales, you’re prob­a­bly not get­ting much air­time or sup­port.

As an aside, go read up on some great ideas on file shar­ing net­works at the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion as well. Also, check out some of the links above. You’ll see that I’m pret­ty much just regur­gi­tat­ing some great ideas that are already out there, but you’ll also see I’m not alone in my frus­tra­tion as both a lis­ten­er of music and some­one who gives a damn about artists try­ing to make a liv­ing. Last­ly, if you like a song, buy the damn music!