Piracy and the Independent Musician

45590_422879321602_4293922_nIt has been pointed out to me that 6 years ago (on the date 09/09/09), I was producing The 9 Album, a project to record an album of 9 songs, starting at 9am, and having it available to buy as a download by 9pm.  This is something I’m still very proud of acheiving, along with the help of Bert, Satch, Ellis (help with recording) and Gary (took 1000 photos and produced the album artwork on the same day [he took 999 and then an extra one because it needed to be square for the artwork to fit]).

This prompted me to see what, if anything, remains of the project online, so off I went to Google where I found the following…

MySpace – It was 2009 after all, so the album was placed on MySpace and is still there

EBay Listing – I saw this and thought “Hmm that’s funny, they’re listing it as Brand New, despite the album never being on general release physically”, but it makes sense when you see…

Pirated CDR copy available to buy – If you follow that link you’ll see the following text… “This product is manufactured on demand using CD-R recordable media.“.  Basically, they’ll burn the CD from the MP3s and sell the CD as “Brand New”, for what works out at around £23! Firstly, that’s far too high a price! Secondly, assuming they sell any, I will receive precisely ZERO royalties for this work. Thirdly, all profits made from sales of this album were donated to charities that supported the 999 emergency services, and for pirates like this to profiteer from it is particularly galling.

To be honest I doubt that many people are interested in paying over the odds for a CD they’ve never heard of, but the wider implication is that many many artists are being totally screwed over in this way.

I doubt there’s a huge amount I can do about it, and whether it’s worth my time trying is debatable, but I guess my point is that I was a little naive to the level of piracy that goes on in this “music business”. The fact is that it’s easy to make illegal copies of any musical work created and the low-life scum that do it don’t care who the artist is. Whether the artist is Paul McCartney, or Paul from Melksham who’s struggling to scrape by on the handful of sales he makes at each gig, I doubt it even crosses their mind. What can be done about it is a tricky question, but we need to stop burying our heads and pretending that internet piracy is only affecting those artists who are big enough that it “doesn’t matter”.


A few of the songs on The 9 Album have been reproduced on Half Live, which you can buy legitimately from iTunes, Amazon and so on, but preferably from Bandcamp (for much less than £23!) where the majority of the sales price is passed on to the artist.

Edinburgh & the Art of Recommendation

I’m writing this the day after returning from my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the hopes that enough of it will still be fresh in my mind.

What always strikes me every year at Edinburgh Fringe is the sheer amount of shows going on. It’s actually really overwhelming, and makes it incredibly difficult to actually work out what to go and see. You could just go and see “famous” comedians (i.e. they’ve done a few stints on Mock the Week or QI), but you’d quickly go bankrupt and besides, where’s the fun in that?

I generally take in one or two bigger names (This year Henning Wehn and Alex Horne – quite possibly the best show I’ve seen), but spend the rest of my time going to stuff pretty much on a whim. But how do I decide whether to watch a show or not.

Of course you can’t move around the city without being handed enough flyers to build a small two-man tent, which vaguely helps with making the decision, but there were more shows I didn’t go to after being flyered, than ones I did.

So why not look at reviews and ratings? Because even if you only look at shows that have 4 stars or more, that only narrows it down to, oh I don’t know, almost every show there!

In the end the decision is usually made by working out what shows are close to me at the time I want to see something, which normally means choosing between a handful of shows. Sometimes this will result in something good, sometimes it won’t.

But there is another way, a better way… a way that I feel is in danger of being lost. I have long held the belief that people don’t recommend things enough anymore.

No wait, maybe they do, but in such a way that it means nothing… generally people (and I’m guilty of this as well) will post generic stuff on social media about how great (a) or (b) is without saying exactly what makes it worth investing some time in.

The art of recommendation is to encourage another person (or other people) to have enough faith in your opinion enough to follow it up. Simply posting “this is great” on Facebook, doesn’t really cut it for me. If you really think something is so good that you want to share it then you must feel strongly enough about it to have reasons.

For example, putting big names aside, the show I would most recommend from Edinburgh this year is Jollyboat. They performed a set of very geeky songs (some parodies but mostly original) which were simultaneously cleverly written and very funny. The songs were catchy, and musically well performed. If you like Flight of the Concords, you’ll love Jollyboat.

Jollyboat – Comedy songs about pirates and computer games

Of course, opinions are like arseholes, but reading that… are you more likely to check them out than if I’d simply written “Everyone should go and see Jollyboat, they’re brilliant”?

When I redesigned this site, I put a Recommendations page to acknowledge people I think are worth at least checking out. I hope I have done the people on the list justice, and I will be adding more as I continue my journey through this life.

Cooper vs Cooper

Every August I enjoy a trip up to Edinburgh to visit my friend MrJohn (who runs an awesome independent record label called Infinite Hive) and to take in some comedy shows at the fringe.

I’m currently just under half way through my visit, and I was going to wait until the end and then blog recommending my favourite shows of the week, and then this happened…

Anyone who has been to Edinburgh Fringe knows that flyering can be considered a competitive sport, with hundreds of comedians (and friends of comedians) competing with the general public to end up with the least amount of flyers by the end of the day. However, on our way to watch a show, John accepted a flyer and upon reading it, excitedly stopped me from walking… this was the flyer.


Now I don’t remember being booked to do a comedy show, and I don’t recognise my face on the flyer at all, but there as clear as day is my name. We decided the only course of action open to us was to head back and talk to the chap who gave us the flyer. It turns out that John accepted the flyer from Steffan Alun (@StAlun on Twitter) so we got chatting and told him that I shared his co-performer’s name.

Upon finding this out, his first question was “Are you a musician?”… “yes”… “did you play at a festival called Calnefest a few months ago”… “yes I did!”.

It turns out comedian Phil (@philcooperino on twitter) also performed at Calnefest. Now I must admit I had forgotten that while I was at this festival, a friend of mine had asked if I was performing in the comedy tent as well, and I had laughed it off, but now it makes perfect sense.

Perhaps if I’d taken time to look at the Calnefest T-Shirt I might have noticed what Phil Cooper noticed… That his name was on there twice! Except that one of his names was bigger than the other, and was actually MY name (musicians obviously being superior to comedians 😉 ).

Anyway, Steffan explained this to us, and when we said we were obviously going to watch the show, he said he was going to do a little bit of material about it at the end, and see how Phil coped with being confronted by his “nemesis”. Steffan did a great half hour set, he’s comfortable and likeable in his manner, and very naturally funny. As promised he ended his set with the Calnefest story, before introducing me and then handing immediately over to his visibly surprised companion.

Phil started his set with a bit of banter with me (how could he do anything else in the circumstances?) and then slipped effortlessly in to his set (with the odd ad-lib referencing the strange situation). Again (and much to my relief) Phil is a naturally funny chap and his set was also brilliant.

We had a chat afterwards, and he’s also a lovely guy, and he lives in Bath, less than half an hour’s drive from me. It’s a small world unless you have to paint it!

Anyway, if you find yourself in Edinburgh this August, please go to Sneaky Pete’s at 7.30 at least once, and watch this show. Both of these fellas deserve every success, even if it means one of them needs to change his name!

Phil Cooper vs Phil Cooper - The  grudge match.
Phil Cooper vs Phil Cooper – The grudge match.

The “Half Live” experiment

Half Live Album Cover
Half Live is available from here now

I love playing live music, there’s electricity in the room and the connection between performer and audience is something I love to explore. For years I’ve wanted to record an album that captured the essence of a live show. To deliver that electricity as best I could, while still presenting something that makes sense when played (for instance) in the car. My idea was to set up a gig where I was entirely unplugged, surround myself with an audience, and mic the whole thing up to capture the gig. In March 2014, I finally got around to actually attempting this ludicrous feat!

I set myself up with two gigs, one at The Lamb in Devizes, one at the Village Pump in Trowbridge, two venues with which I have a strong affinity. The Lamb has been the scene of some of my favourite solo audience/performer episodes, and the Village Pump has music singing from the walls (literally, there are loads of instruments hanging on the walls that can only add to the ambience!).

Of course my utopian idea of turning up and recording a purely unplugged gig proved a step too far, and I had to alter a few things to make the idea practical, but I still played the two shows exactly as if they were a standard concert. I “messed up” a couple of times, but that’s what makes a live show so special, the little differences in each one. I loved playing both of those concerts, and had amazing audiences that brought out what I hope was the best in me.

When I listened back to the recordings I was struck by how quietly respectful the audience at the Village Pump had been, and found that the recordings sounded more like the base of a studio album, except that the performances of the songs themselves had the energy you can only get when you are playing to other people. That’s when the “Half Live” idea struck. What if I took these recordings, and added studio trickery to them? Nothing that would dramatically change them, just a little percussion, some bass, a few backing vocals here and there, enough to enhance the songs without suffocating them.

I still wanted to give people a purely live recording as well, so the second CD contains the recording from the Lamb “as is”, and the impromtu performance of “The News Is: The World Sucks” (which wasn’t initially intended to be part of the album, and which you can hear below) remains my favourite recording of that song!

Over all I’m really pleased with the result, and consider the experiment a success. 2016 will see the release of my next album, which will test me even further (more of which in future blogs!), but for now, I’ll continue to tour “Half Live” in the hopes that even more people can enjoy it.

So begins the same old story…

… or perhaps not.

A lot has changed for me in the last few years, both personally and musically. The Haiku (the band I was previously part of) officially called it a day in 2013, having unofficially done so in 2012. I’d had a whale of a time playing with Bert and Satch and we’d had some amazing times, but all of a sudden it was time to branch out on my own.

I’ve spent the last couple of years testing myself, I finally produced the “live” album I’d wanted to achieve and I’m really happy with the results. I’ve also been testing myself as a performer and purposely doing things that had previously scared me witless.

Having tried a short solo tour back in 2009, I had found it a lonely experience, turning up to venues and sitting on my own, waiting for my turn to play. Despite my stage performances suggesting otherwise, I can be quite shy in unknown company. But these last few years have been different, I’ve grown… come out of my shell a bit and taken it upon myself to talk to people, and you know what? I’ve met some amazing people, people who I now class as good friends, whom I talk to on a regular basis, whom I help with things, and from whom I know I can ask for help.

As with so many things in life, I’ve discovered that with music you get back what you put in. When I considered myself “just one of the acts on tonight”, that’s how I got treated by the audiences and organisers alike. But when I started to think “I deserve to be here and people want to listen to/watch me”, my performance (on and off stage) changed and all of a sudden so did the way I was received. Suddenly I was getting people wanting to talk to me after a gig, keeping in touch afterwards, and most pleasingly, looking out for future gigs and coming to watch me again!

So what I think I’ve learned is that how you project yourself as a person at gigs is equally important to the music you are playing. There are loads of great musicians out there, and they are enjoyed by a vast amount of people every day. But the ones that you remember, the ones that really stand out, are the ones that go beyond just the music. That’s where I want to be, and dammit, I’ll keep working at it!

I’ve got some exciting times ahead of me, and I’m determined it won’t be “the same old story”.

(The title of this blog post is taken from “So Begins” by The Haiku)