Music At the Speed of Sound by Jeff Price

Not only has technology changed the way music is created, discovered, bought and shared, it also seems to have changed the artistic process. Artists used to write music and spend months touring, mailing demos and promoting the same songs before even getting the chance to have a label distribute their album. Getting distribution could take years and was almost the last thing to happen for an artist, now it’s almost the first.

In 1996, when I was running spinART Records, I went to a gig in New York at the Wetlands to see our band Lotion. Two weeks prior, spinART had released their new album “Full Isaac”. I was back in the green room and overhead the lead guitar player state he was sick of playing the songs off their just released album.

That didn’t make sense to me. “You just started touring on this album, how can you be sick of playing the songs already?”

“Jeff”, he shot back, “the album might have just came out, but we wrote these songs almost two years ago, we have been playing them forever. We’re tired of them, we want to play new stuff”.

I realized how clueless I was for not getting it. Lotion had written these songs years ago. They recorded them as demos and sent them around. They toured and played incessantly to get a label interested. After months of gigs, mailing demo tapes, perfecting their live show, learning how to play the songs live, and coming up with the best set lists, they finally got labels interested. Then came the contract and two months of subsequent negotiations before it got signed. They then went back into the recording studio to re-record the songs they had recorded over a year before. With that done, they needed to make the full CD art, get a band photo shot and write a bio. With the CD art and master, the manufacturing order could be placed, and it wold be another three weeks before the final ready to go CDs would arrive.

Finally, 18 months after first writing and performing the songs, they had their album in their hands with full art, ready to go……but there was yet more waiting.

Magazines like Spin, Option, Magnet, Alternative Press etc needed three months lead time to consider it for review. Off went the mailings to press, college radio, commercial radio, retail stores (for in-store play), each outlet needing several months of lead-time to properly “set up” the album.

Finally, almost two years after Lotion first wrote and played their songs on the album, it was released. To the world the album “Full Isaac” was new; to Lotion it was old. They were itching to move on to new material.

The very process of distribution caused a huge time lag that impacted artistic creativity. In some ways it may have stifled the band from writing and recording more music. In other ways, it might have given them the experience to be a kick-ass touring band teaching them to play and perform better by playing the same songs over and over.

All of this changed when music fans stated buying music online. Currently at TuneCore, most music is live on-line at iTunes around the world waiting to be bought within three to four hours after finishing checkout,. What used to take years for the very select few, now takes hours for anyone that wants it.

And it got me thinking, how does this impact the creative process? I would suspect that more artists make more music more regularly, that many artists no longer need to tour and play the songs from recordings from years ago. Is more music more quickly recorded and released a good thing, a bad thing or neither? How will it impact the creative process? Would the Beatles, Radiohead, Led Zepplin, Queen, U2, or any band, have become better, worse or just plain different in this model?

It all moves so quickly now, almost at the speed of sound….

  • http://www.sabrinavaz.com Sabrina Vaz

    All I can say is that it is not moving at the speed of sound for me, I would love to get a record label to see or hear or pick me up. So if you know of someone in the market for a young artist please let me know!! Thanks
    Sabrina Vaz

  • http://www.Twitter.com/CrisXmusic Cris-X

    For Me, Sometimes The Creative Process Is Very Fast. I Can Sometimes Write A Song In A Few Minutes. Sometimes I Can Spend Weeks Or Months Writing A Song.
    However Long It Takes To Pen, Record & Master I Can’t Deny That The More Experience I Gain Writing Re-Writing & Pushing My Skill Levels Musically The Better The Result.
    CRIS-X

  • http://www.myspace.com/xxxdonchaos DON’ CHAOS

    Just do it yourself Sabrina! It might take some money out of pocket initially… but it will be worth it because everything is on your terms!
    DON’ CHAOS
    myspace.com/xxxdonchaos
    DOWNLOAD MY MIX-TAPE FREE!

  • http://www.tunecore.com/music/uncle-sidney Chris Murphy

    The band has since broken up. One player lives in HI and does music, as a hobby, for the most part. Including touring gigs on the West Coast for traditional Hawaiian music. (He plays ?Ukellele? instead of guitar now)
    The lead player no longer has a shrine to Hendrix to go with his cow skulls, Marshall, and Wah pedal. He’s playing 50s era country, likening to the days he was a fiddle prodigy at county fairs as a nine year old, in his home state.
    The drummer went on to a hardcore band, produced by a metal artist of regional note, and gave up the casino circuit and sessions after that. They got label offers, if they would take cuss words out of the music. He directs theater now in a major music town, knows most of the people in the industry there. He wants me to publish their previous work and it is really strong.
    The bass player works in the tech sector and could probably work alongside Tune Core in your expanding roles, nobody has heard from him in a while.
    We’ve resurrected songs almost twenty years old here. More original material is there I need to make some logisitic arrangments to get it formatted. That would be four originals plus the other finished work from his later band(nine very strongs and a tenth one the major label wanted, provided it changed one chorus phrase).
    Major acts now are afraid to use live gigs for new music, knowing it gets out ahead of official channels and dilutes some of their bargaining leverage. They should realize that great music getting out there makes them a better live draw. This actually makes the kind of improvisation that acts as the Dead, Phish, and Derek Trucks are known for, something to make part of an expanding pallette for fans to choose from.

  • http://www.myspace.com/symbioticmusic Paul W

    Personally I think it is a good thing for the artist & the fans – in terms of whether it aids development in the way the old school model has (in some cases), I think to key to that is regular good quality feedback & reviews being issued in conjunction with each of these ‘speed of light’ releases. Feedback is essential to artist development, comparisons drawn or assumed influences listed by a third party can often open up new avenues of musical exploration for an artist that otherwise may not have existed. For example if hadn’t been Thom Yorke’s obsession he developed with Warp Records back catalouge after OK Computer (no doubt based on third paty feedback) we wouldn’t have the subsequent Radiohead albums, that in my mind have led to their finest hour on ‘In Rainbows’.

  • Louis Loria

    Record labels are not required anymore. Produce good music and publish On the web. If it’s good it will move.

  • http://www.myspace.com/alfanaezomega AOA (ALFA-OMEGA-ANEZ)

    Yeah! It would be great to get sign a record label soon. We all know that our fans can’t wait to see AOA outhere. Thank you very much for loving our music to our loyalty fans and to our family who supported us from the first day… To our manager William Cadiz aka Dj Duv C of Duv C Productions we love you, he’s the reason we’ve come this far. Our song now heard, played and won the UNSIGNED @ 9 contest with ALEXIA on KWIN 97.7FM as well… Everyday we work very hard to maintain our shape, looks and our performance just in case if some awesome record label will like us then we are ready to our next journey… We are young energetic Latino trio, we speak, write songs both English and Spanish as well… Pls if you come across or maybe interested on us we are really appreciate it…
    God bless,
    ~AOA~ (Alfa-Omega-Anez)

  • http://www.Twitter.com/CrisXmusic Cris-X

    It’s Like Sex!
    The More You Do It – The Better You Get At It! X

  • http://www.myspace.com/itsdoublem Double M

    My music is good, but it’s not moving like it should. See?
    http://www.myspace.com/itsdoublem

  • http://www.wolffentertainment.com William Wolff

    On my oppinion is not the creative process that are changing but the order , priority and efforts spent by the musician to fit your own creative process on the production process , making the things more efficient.
    Let me be more specific…
    Recently i published my new brand album entitled Waves of Influence.
    This is my first work, and before start it instead create all the songs and after record them, i made all the songs and the recordings , mixing , Mastering During the development of the album.
    When i finished the last song , all previous songs was ready to be published, the CD Art´s website etc…on the same time.
    ALL The process Since the recordings, mixing , mastering , special effects , website , banners , marketing campaigns , etc…was done in my small home studio and distributed directly to the retail stores to be phisically replicated or distributed by download, radios and etc…BEFORE any Gig or Tour.
    How this is possible?
    Becouse the production process start belong to the musician or Band , more than years ago…when a big recording studio are necessary to create a PROFESSIONAL recording and things like that.
    This is great for me , becouse I can have a response from my fans before plan any live shows and better plan the tour (It´s great know before plan a tour, where you have more fans…dont you think?), on my oppinion i prefer perform a small number of shows where exist people that like my work, instead spend a lot of money making shows for people that never heard my name before…
    Well..there is a lot of things that we can talk about this subject, but one thing is clear to me, the musicians are changing the way they create music taking more responsibility about not only the composition but in the production process itself , market relations , distribution , etc…Finally i think all this is great becouse the musicians are taking control of their careers and being more entrepreneurs than years ago…when the old dream to be signed by a big record label are the only way to have a successfull career…
    All kind of the success for everyone!
    Kind Regards.
    William Wolff
    http://www.myspace.com/williamdwolff

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/TheAntinet Antinet

    My opinion as a slightly older musician is that young musicians need to listen to and know the greats (which I did) and then get brutally honest about what they themselves are doing. I had the weird situation of people liking my first stuff then not liking what came after. I also had vocal issues. The bottom line is that the vocals HAVE to be GREAT, and very, very few are. Don’t keep telling yourself you’re great if others don’t agree or tell you without asking, cuz they will lie, but you can tell.
    The song HAS to be great, and this is tough, since so few songs are hits, and without hits, you’re not going anywhere good. There are techniques to study, however, that can get you past beginner stages, but it’s still a matter of skill, volume, and luck. My biggest mistake was not taking more instruction. THen again, don’t get over instructed into a genre, because you have to be original. Lyrically, remember simplicity is everything. Stupid will be successful before incomprehensible. I’ve found that writing lyrics first works better for some reason. I’ve had serious problems with doing the music first and then laying the vocals on. I’m also a better singer when I sing playing an instrument. It seems to tune the voice and simplify the melody and the writing process.
    Bands are business, they are not friendships. If you can do it with a friend, or a brother, great. If not, don’t wait around for your friends to get it together. They won’t.
    If your town sucks, leave it.
    People that can’t prioritize the band need to go. Most people understand this, but most also tolerate lots of bs for whatever reason.
    You as the creative nucleus don’t have forever.
    Touring and playing live is critical for legitimacy and will make you better, but you have to know the studio or get real help, and that help might cost money, or it might not. Good engineers are rare. GReat recordings are what will break you. Noone really knew Nirvana before Teen Spirit, and then kablamm, they owned it all. A recording did that, but their experience as a band got them in shape for that recording. The producer Butch Vig also made all the difference. Playing live makes you look real to people however, and makes you tough enough to be in the business, because it is tough. Being a dick constantly will only cost you in some way eventually. Listen to advice, but don’t let it stop you.
    The digital era is great because anyone can get access, but it’s so hard to rise above the crowd, even if you’re great. Plus home digital recording is no substitute for the knowledge required to record and mix all the instruments that make up a band. It ain’t that easy, but the results are sure better than old home four-tracks. Better than an old 16-track tape studio with engineer? Maybe, maybe not. The old system had a track that you could get on and get help. It’s hard to say which is better, but there should be more hits by unknowns on the radio than there are, so something’s falling short.
    What hasn’t change is you better have a good song, that’s professionally recorded.

  • http://www.alienpig.co.uk PIG

    As an older creator I love the way the new “biz” is givin’ musicians more control. The bottom line for me is that musicians have tae enjoy what they’re doin’ first and foremost. Havin’ a hit or a career should come further down the list. Music should never be written or played just tae make it cos makin’ it ain’t the point. Write it, play it, gig it and then maybe think about the future. Bein’ a musician ain’t like bein’ an electrician or a plumber.

  • Dream VI

    tunecore/itunes…etc…etc…God bless their vision…4 the little…guys

  • http://www.tunecore.com/music/devonn DeVonn

    If you look at today’s world and yesterday’s world of creating and distributing music. There’s really no comparison. I feel that when new technologies came in by the late 70’s through the 90’s we all new this day was coming. If you’ve lived through the faze out of the phonograph record, to eight track, to cassette, to dat tapes, then cd, now download. As musicians and creators of music it’s just the theory of evolution. And if it’s a situation where everyone can do it, it makes it a fair playing ground to be the artist you wanna be in the industry. You set the boundaries. You set the sales projections, you create your tour, you have input in your career from start to finish. That right there is a vast improvement from the past. There’s no more slavery in the industry! Losing your rights to your music, you have to sell off your entire musical catalog to sign a record deal. Let’s remember, a deal is only good when all the parties involved can benefit from signing. That’s a real contract!

  • http://www.triciaparish.com Tricia Parish

    I have been approached by a manager. Do I really need one? I’ve got tunecore, along with all the offered emusic sites (i.e. Itunes, Amazon, etc.). My CD (Tricia Parish Album) hasn’t gotten any radio play yet. How do I get it in the hands of DJ’s? I have a reporter who wants to do a story on me and the CD. Any advice? http://www.TriciaParish.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/mistymarionband Misty Marion Band

    Honest writing is the first step to do good music. That’s why so many times we find ourselves writing a song that we like so much, in just a few minutes. Of course it takes inspiration too, but the key is not to push yourself into writing something you’re not up to. The rest will come if it is meant to come. Good luck and best wishes to all. (www.facebook.com/mistymarionband)