Is this good? Musicians become venture capitalists

How do musicians make money today? Album sales are down 14%, single downloads are down 11%, and only the streaming services are up, 28%. Technology has forced music artists to completely rethink the way they approach their businesses. We’ve all had to adapt.

The most successful artists in this new landscape have begun to look at new business models and new industries to strengthen their existing brands. They’re extending their brand into areas like technology, gaming, fashion, and lifestyle content — essentially becoming entertainment platforms.

What Happened When Linkin Park Asked Harvard for Help with Its Business Model – Kiel Berry, Harvard Business Review (23 June 2015)

It’s a detailed and absorbing read but also a bit depressing. In order to keep going as a band, Linking Park long ago became a business. There’s nothing wrong with artists being business people, it’s even good that this is necessary, yet surely there are limits, right?

Linkin Park even sounds like an industrial estate.

Read the full piece.

Should we do this too? Recently Rejected opens up

There’s a new website called Recently Rejected which has artists displaying the work that, yes, well, you got it. Sometimes very beautiful work tossed aside because the intern down the hall did something for half the price.

Do go take a look: I’m not a fan of all of it and you do always wonder what got chosen instead, but there are some absorbing designs in all manner of fields.

But should we do this as writers too? It has a certain appeal but then so does have an unseen bottom drawer of material that we get to drag out, blow the dust off and pretend to commissioners that it’s brand new and just for them.

Turn your To Do tasks into an art project

There are principles here that I like very much but it’s also heavily paper- and sticker-based and I just can’t handle Post-It Notes and colouring in. So I won’t be following Kelly Maguire’s exact advice but it’s terribly interesting how she turned her life around with a felt-tip pen:

For the past few months I’ve been waking up in a cold sweat freaking out about things I forgot to take care of. A lot of it is little — like forgetting to schedule a hair appointment until after they’ve closed for the day. Some of it is bigger — like the Kickstarter I did a few years ago that fizzled out. And a few things are huge — like the fact that I completely bungled my corporate tax filings for the last three years.

With some nudging from my therapist and support from my husband, I finally managed to get on top of things. My to-do list has gone from “deal with three years of back taxes” to more mundane stuff like “clean up the dried paint in the bathroom.” I used a handful of different strategies to gain control, which I’ll detail in a sec, but the biggest key to staying motivated has been to turn it into something like an art project.

Time management as an art project – Kelly Maguire, Offbeat Home (1 January 2015)

One thing she uses is called a Chronodex and you’ll see why she likes it plus she tells you where to get them for yourself, but that’s not a Chronodex…

…that’s Moonbase Alpha.

Read the full piece.

Constraints and limitations make us creative

Perhaps I mean they make us more creative. The Atlantic has a good three-biscuit read of a feature about Abbey Road studios and – in part, in the part that interests me the most – the Beatles music was made there without anything approaching today’s technology.

limitations of Beatles-era technology were substantial by comparison, and they forced a commitment to creative choices at earlier stages of the recording process. If, for example, an engineer wanted to exceed the number of recorded tracks that their tape machine allowed, two or more tracks had to be mixed together and “bounced” to an open track elsewhere. Cuts were physical, done with razor blades and tape. Mixes were performed by engineers in real time. Big mistakes at any point in the process could force an entire recording to be scrapped.

It was because artists were often stuck with the mistakes they made that they sometimes decided to embrace them. Once while recording a Beatles song called “Glass Onion” Scott accidentally erased a large number of drum parts that had been painstakingly overdubbed. Certain that he’d be fired, he played the tape to John Lennon. To Scott’s surprise, Lennon said that he liked the unexpected effect created by the glitch—and both the track and Scott stayed.

The Technical Constraints That Made Abbey Road So Good – Justin Lancy, Atlantic (23 October 2014)

Read the full piece.

RTFM – but what a beautiful manual to read

I got my start writing computer manuals. Wait. I got my start in BBC local radio. I got a lot of starts. I’m still starting. But one of them was that I was employed writing computer manuals. It’s called being a technical author and I’m afraid there was a big part of me that always heard that as only technically being an author.

There was a woman – sorry, I’ve forgotten her name, this was a very long time ago – who I felt was a kind of technical author groupie. It’s probably good that I’ve forgotten her name, then. But I don’t mean she threw her FiloFax at me, she wasn’t a groupie of mine, she was of the industry. I remember a group of us talking about our writing ambitions and she was really clear about hers: she wanted to be a technical author. Yes, I said, and then? No. Technical Author. That’s it.

I’m afraid I felt that was a pretty severe lack of ambition. But I think I was also wrong. Computer manuals to me were, yes, a way to help people use these preposterously complex tools but there was an element of me feeling they shouldn’t be that preposterously complex. One local government official phoned in to the office to say thanks: finally he understood how a particular key feature worked. Do you feel good when you get that call or not?


Hopefully for this woman and certainly for some technical authors, manuals have turned into something more. Something I think you would say is art.

When you invest seven figures in securing one of the most exotic, exclusive vehicles ever made, perhaps you just expect that the owner’s manual is going to be a work of art. I don’t know, I’ve never been in that position. Every owner’s manual I’ve ever had has ended up stuffed in a glovebox, pages greasy, creased, and torn.

With the McLaren F1, mishandling the owner’s manual would be a crime — doubly so after you hear the amount of thought and effort that went into it. Mark Roberts, the man who hand-sketched the artwork for the manual leading up to the supercar’s release over 20 years ago, describes the process in a video released by McLaren this week. “We were actively encouraged to make it more and more special,” he says.

This is the most beautiful owner’s manual you’ve ever seen – Chris Ziegler, The Verge (18 October 2014)

Read more about the video and the manual in full piece on The Verge.

Turn CDs into LPs – like, a bit like vinyl, like, really

Vinyl records store music in long grooves that a needle bumps its way through. CDs store music in light pits that convey on and off, 0 and 1 to a laser. But now Londoner Aleksander Kolkowski is taking CDs and cutting grooves into them. After he’s done his doings, you can play music off the CD – on a vinyl record player, never again a CD drive.

Not for all that long: this reborn CD doesn’t hold enough music to include a three-minute pop song.

It’s transforming a disposable media storage device made for cloned copying into a one-of-a-kind cult object. In a way, it’s very tongue in cheek. There’s a lot of fetishism about vinyl, but I see this as quite throw-away, really. I do it for free. People bring a CD and I give them one in return. On a few occasions people have asked me to go into commercial production, but that’s not really my intention.

Aleksander Kolkowski speaking to The Atlantic (30 June 2014)

Do read the full article from The Atlantic as it’s got a lot to say about his artistry, his physical technique and about the state of vinyl collection.

David Bowie on creating things and moving on

I’m not sure why it feels like there’s been a spate of talks becoming animated cartoons, but here’s another one. The animation is fine, I think I’d just like to concentrate on the audio as it’s David Bowie being rather interesting about separating audience reaction from one’s own perception of a piece of your work.

Via Nackblog

So JK Rowling writes a book and then she’s a billionaire?

I have no idea whether JK Rowling is a billionaire, I really only know two things about her: she has earned a lot of money – and she earned it. That sounds like one thing but I look at her body of work, I look at the years and the effort and the joy she brought to millions of people, she earned whatever money she has.

But she does get knocked for having apparently gone so very effortlessly from being impoverished to being (is this a word?) poverished. Whatever the opposite of impoverished is. That narks me. I can be sure as onions that she did not go into writing Harry Potter with the idea that it would make her lots of money and thereby feed her kid. Did she dream of it? I hope so: it’s tremendous to achieve one’s dreams. But she wrote that, she did all that gigantic amount of work on top of keeping her family going. I imagine she wrote because she had to. Not in the financial or economic sense but in the artistic one.

I imagine it because I’m a writer too. This is how it is and this is what we do. This is what we do regardless of the results. So long as we can still eat and breathe, we write.

This is the bit where I twist all this into being some kind of life lesson. Actually, I started writing a life lesson and just went off on one about Rowling and how she should be admired more than I think she is. But what started this thought off in me today was this:

One of the most uncomfortable questions customers/clients can throw you is, “how long did it take you to make that?” It’s specific and straight forward enough that not answering or changing the subject would be noticed or come off as rude. It also entirely undermines your work down to just the actual labor part: completely removing the prep, materials, process, and finishing which probably take the most time and energy.

How Long Did that Take you to Make? – 99U

The website 99U was leading in to a story its writers had found on Fine Art Views which grabbed me even more:

Now, right or wrong, here’s what your customers will do. They’ll take the selling price (let’s pick a dollar amount out of thin air – $600) and divide it by the time the artist said it takes to make (three hours). They’ll come up with an hourly rate of $200 an hour.

You may tell people that doesn’t include the cost of acquiring your materials, or prepping, or finishing (frames, framing supplies) or the time schlepping your work to and from shows and exhibitions. It doesn’t include the time and money you spent on educating yourself, nor the time you spent and energy perfecting your craft. It probably doesn’t include the time and energy you spend on applying to shows, marketing, doing paperwork, or cleaning your studio. And if you have gallery representation, you’re actually only netting half that amount.

Nope, they won’t hear that. They may nod their head, but they’re still thinking, “$200 an hour…that’s $400,000 a year!!”

Questions You Don’t Have to Answer – Luanne Udell, Fine Art Views (27 November 2011)

I’m asked how long Doctor Who radio dramas take me, I’m asked that quite a bit. And when I answer, that’s the kind of reckoning you can see going on in the asker’s head. I expect you can see it going on in mine when I ask it about things too.

But you notice the difference in the article names. The 99U one is just the question whereas the Fine Art Views one I lopped off half. The full title of that piece is “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer: How Long Did that Take you to Make?”. But I lopped it for space, because I knew I’d be telling you it in full here, and also because I want to focus on the bit I left. You don’t have to answer the question.

Yes, you do.

No, you don’t.

If you answer it you get into that cycle and nobody’s happy. Not you who spent your life creating something, not the asker who thinks you spent twenty minutes and have no idea what a real job is like, you bastard.

If you don’t answer it, the asker goes straight to the you bastard bit.

But what Udell is saying is that you don’t have to answer it that way. You don’t have to really recognise the question, you just need to respond to it:

Now, ‘not answering’ doesn’t mean you stand in stony silence. It simply means you can start talking about your work, and engaging them, without actually tallying up all the steps it takes to make your work.

I love it. I’m having that.

How long does it take to write a Doctor Who radio drama? I’m so pleased you asked. Take a seat, let’s get the kettle on, I’ve got so much to tell you.