[UPDATED] The rise of the Internet significantly changed how we consume music, and many are calling into question if, as we move forward, the album format is really the best way to release music. Here one such musician explains why he is choosing (in lieu of a full album) to release his music as a series of 7" singles.
Guest Post by Matt The Electrician
I have been an independent musician for 25 years, and I have been making my sole living as a musician for 15 of those years. I have self-released 12 records, toured all over the world, and watched the music industry transform and change in more ways than I ever could have imagined when I was buying my first 45rpm vinyl record in 1977.
We are still very much in the “wild west” of the internet age and how it affects the music business, and as such, I believe that it is incumbent upon us independent musicians to be as creative as possible about the ways in which we decide to release our music. So, recently, when preparing to record new material, I decided, for a number of reasons, to try something different, by releasing a series of 7” singles (with digital distribution) in collaboration with friends and artists I admire rather than release a full album or EP. Here’s why:
1. CREATIVE PROCESS
Sometimes I write every day. Sometimes I write 5 songs in one week. Some years I have enough material for 3 new records. But sometimes, it takes me 3 months to finish one song, or maybe even 6 months. And at the appropriate, albeit somewhat arbitrary, time to release a new record (1.5-2 years between projects is average for me) I found myself with only 2 new songs that I liked well enough to record. I didn’t want to wait too long to record these tunes, as I was already playing them at shows, and I didn’t want them to become “old” songs before they were even released. So, not knowing how quickly I would write more songs for a full length CD, I decided to simply record the songs, and use the format of my youth, that coincidentally was making a comeback in popularity, the 45rpm Vinyl Record.
My first paying gig at the age of 16 (I got a free sandwich, coffee and a tip jar) was a 3-hour set. I knew 2 or 3 songs. So I invited every musician and songwriter I knew to play with me, and my weekly Sunday residency quickly turned into a vaudevillian night of both rehearsed and unrehearsed collaboration. Ever since those early coffee shop days, I have always loved collaborating with friends, and other musicians that I love and respect. So when it came time to record the only 2 new songs I had, it was not out of the ordinary at all for me to ask a local Austin band that I was currently loving (Wood & Wire), to join me in the studio. Working with new people in the studio turned out to be so much fun for me, that I decided to turn the one time 7” release into a whole project spanning 6 separate releases with 6 different bands or musicians.
I wish that money didn’t exist, and instead, perhaps, we all traded pieces of bark or seashells for goods and services. Also, that we all had free housing, on the beach, that was also at the foot of a mountain, with trees, and ponies, and magic. However, making and releasing records as an independent musician costs real money, and sometimes, lots of real money. There is much information out there about the monetization of art, the complications, the ins and outs, and plenty of opinions. Some of it is even very well written. I don’t want to repeat most of that. I will say this: If it costs a big pile of money to record, release and promote 12 songs at a time, then it stands to reason that it would cost a smaller pile of money to record, release and promote 2 songs at a time.
When an artist is at a certain level, let’s say for example, generally playing 500 seat venues, everything about that touring experience, from the booking of it to the actual road time involved, looks very different from the tour of an artist who primarily plays venues that hold less than 100 people. I’m one of those second artists mentioned. And I actually like that fact. It makes me happy to play in intimate settings, and feel closer to the audience. Now, to be fair, sometimes I play 500 seat venues, and sometimes I even play to thousands at festivals, but the bulk of my touring is done in listening rooms, small theatres, coffee shops and house concert settings, to less than 100 people at a time. So, on the road, often, when playing to less than 100 people at a time, the money made from the show itself is enough to cover the expenses. Which means, that any profit you might expect as an independent musician on the road, is going to come from the merchandise you sell at the shows. So having something new, say for example, a 7” vinyl record, each time you tour, will hopefully allow you to afford to tour more continuously throughout the year.
Let’s all agree that being an artist is a choice, and that musician is not a hard job, relatively speaking, and that everything requires some level of work, and that no one necessarily deserves anything, no matter how hard they work, or how bad they want something. And that the bottom line for those who have chosen some sort of career in the arts, is that you get to make things up, and that should be fun, so enjoy yourself. Also, work hard. Also also, take breaks and stare into the abyss. And, if you really wanna release your homemade songs that you recorded on your tape deck on your front porch on wax cylinder, and only accept vegetables as payment, then you should do that.
All of this is a grand experiment. It’s throwing dice, and I like to throw dice. I hope this experiment releasing 7” vinyl records, one record at a time, over the course of a year, works. But if it doesn’t, I’m still excited to do something new with my art of choice, and grateful that I get to participate in the experiment at all.
Matt the Electrician is an Austin, TX-based singer and songwriter whose career has spanned the course of two decades, a dozen records, and literally thousands of shows. He makes folk music for a modern age, rooted in lyrics that focus on the realities and challenges of the 21st century as opposed to, say, the old-school thrill of hopping trains.