Phil’s textual meanderings

Music Venue Trust – Emergency Fightback

14264932_571517113055680_2605055092100506403_nI’ve been following the social media accounts of the Music Venue Trust for a while now, because they seemed to be about something more than just moaning about the state of the music industry. They proved that to be the case this morning with the launch of a fantastic initiative to offer practical advice to music venues struggling due to the costs involved in legal advice and expert opinion on planning, development, noise and licensing issues.

Research performed by the Trust has has found that these costs are the number one threat facing music venues today, and as I mentioned in this blog post, we need art and venues now more than ever!

To launch the initiative they are hosting a gig with a difference at The Roundhouse, London on 18th October. At the moment, they have no musicians booked, no sound crew, no lighting crew, no backline equipment. They are asking for volunteers from across the music industry to help them out, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they ended up with some pretty heavyweight headliners!

At the moment tickets for the gig are £10 with that cost expected to increase as they book acts. So if you’re interested, book now before the price goes up!

Remember folks, without you, and your support… this industry is nothing!

Independent alliance – working together makes us all stronger

(This blog talks about a collaborative spotify playlist which you can find here)

stop collaborate and listenI’ve long been an advocate of musicians working together for mutual benefit. At a grass roots level it just makes sense as everyone has a limited sphere of experience and influence, and by sharing those things with others you never lose them, but you do stand to gain an awful lot.

When I was in my early 20s, I set up a local music alliance called MUSCIT (MUsic SCene In Trowbridge – Trowbridge being my town of birth). This started life as a free print magazine, with a cover CD featuring bands from the area. Trowbridge was a small town but there WAS talent there, and a fair amount of it given the population.

That first magazine was a huge success (mainly due to the popularity of the cover CD) and all of a sudden, bands that didn’t really know each other before started working together. They were arranging shared gigs (and even booking shared UK tours!), and this lead to a massive swell in interest in the “local scene”. Friends of bands became aware of other bands and saw that *shock horror* they actually really enjoyed them.

While I’m enjoying this moment of reminiscence, the point of bringing this up is that the need for collaboration of this kind is as pressing today as it has ever been.

The internet has been both a blessing and a curse to the independent/unsigned musician.

On the one hand it puts you firmly in charge and allows you to communicate quickly and easily with fans and venues, as well as the multitude of bloggers/magazines that provide such a valuable service to bands and fans alike.

On the other hand, it has become increasingly hard to stand out from the vast crowd of bands, all vying for attention.

And yet, if those hands came together, it could benefit everyone. Each musical act out there has an audience of friends/fans that are already aware of them, and thanks to the world wide web, it’s really easy to find similar acts to yourself. So what I’m suggesting is that similar musicians come together, and share each other’s music with their own fans, and everyone stands to win.

  1. You will gain fans who would otherwise have never heard of you.
  2. You won’t lose your fans by doing this, in fact, some will be grateful that you have shared something you like with them, and will become a stronger fan because of it
  3. The fans win because they get to discover even more music to love.

So what have I done about this? As well as working closely with local musicians (such as After Aura and Jamie R Hawkins) I have set up a collaborative spotify playlist (and soundcloud group), that allows musicians to add their music, play it regularly, and share it with their fans.

This has dual benefits of increasing your spotify play count and the revenue it generates (although spotify revenue is another topic entirely!), as well as introducing you to new people and potential new fans.

You don’t need to use my playlist if you don’t want, in fact, why not start one up yourself with bands you meet on the road and enjoy gigging with (a sort of spotify address book of contacts)?

The important thing is to share, since word of mouth is the only way to resuscitate a scene which is in many ways suffering at the moment.

Get sharing people, and start today!


Find my spotify playlist here

If spotify isn’t your thing, there’s a soundcloud group for the same purpose here

Talk to me on twitter about your own playlists, and I’ll give them a shout out

All I Need For A Good Time

UPDATE: please read this

Some exciting news to start my journey. I’ve been asking to provided a song for a compilation album of “unheard” artists. The album is called (album title removed) and is being released internationally in February.

The album contains 60 brand new artists and I’m delighted to have a track featured. I’ve recorded this song especially for the project and I’ve got no plans to include “All I Need For A Good Time” on any other release (Note: my plans changed after this compilation album came to nothing).

The song has a bit more of a chilled vibe than my normal recordings, but I like it, and I hope you do too.

5 small ways you can help

I’ve been very touched by the amount of support I’ve received since announcing my plans for the future, although in many ways it didn’t surprise me because I know what an amazing bunch of people I have supporting me. I had a feeling that people would want to know how they could support me, so I’ve been thinking about ways people can help me that are simple and free. I will come on to ways that are not so free (although still simple) somewhen else.

I’ve kept these simple because they are things you can do, little and often.

 

1) Keep up to date

I use various different platforms on the internet to keep people up to date, but with the fast pace of todays social media it’s really easy to miss information you want to see. In amongst the hoardes of cat pictures, shared news stories, casual biogoty etc – all of which have their place, apart from bigotry – are little nuggets from people like me, that you’ve taken the time to like/follow/subscribe/etc.

By making sure you connect with me on all the social media you use, you decrease the chance of missing something you’d rather know about, such as new songs/videos or when I’m playing a gig near you. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and you can subscribe to my email mailinglist here.

By the way, you can now tell facebook you want to see my posts by hovering over the word “Liked” and then clicking “See First” (or if you’re really keen, “Get Notifications”)

facebook-notifications

2) Be friendly and talk to me regularly

Tied in to the first point, but deserving of it’s own explanation, simply communicating with me on a regular basis lets me know you’re interested in what I do, which (a) inspires me to keep at it and (b) helps me know who to tell about certain things.

It can be a real minefield keeping people informed, whilst not boring people with incessant updates, and it’s something that in my opinion most musicians get wrong one way or another. I’d much rather know I’m talking to people who are genuinely interested, and post things that people people actually want, which I’ll be able to find out from what you comment on and conversations we have.

Another reason to communicate regularly is that I’ve become acutely aware that everyone has a talent, but that most people are loathed to shout about it, and some people don’t even know about it. When I talk to people about their talent it inspires me, and sometimes I end up working with that person on something or other!

3) Listen to my music often

This seems a pretty obvious one, but by listening to my songs, you can really help. Of course the ideal for me is that you buy my music, but even if you use spotify (here’s a handy link to Half Live), or YouTube I’ll get a little bit of money in royalties (emphasis on “little”, but that’s a whole other blog post). If you use a service that shares what you’re listening to with your friends on facebook/twitter etc, I’ll get some much appreciated exposure. without you doing anything other than enjoying the music!

4) Be enthusiastic and share me with your friends

I’ve mentioned in the past about how a recommendation from a friend is the best way to discover new things, and nowhere is that more evident than in the world of music. Without the opinions of my friends I would never have discovered many of the bands I absolutely love now. I appreciate it every time anyone shares anything I do, but those times when someone adds their own bit of enthusiasm to the recommendation are the BEST! Unexpected “out of the blue” recommendations are also most welcome indeed!

5) Do my bidding!

OK so that sounds a bit sinister, but I’ve set up a facebook group called Phil’s Social Media Team – the idea being that whenever I want something given an extra push, I post in the group and you get a notification which you can either act on or ignore, but at least you’ll get notified, which is half the problem with Facebook these days! If that sounds like something you could do, please join the group.

 

And there we have it, 5 completely painless ways that you can help. Next time I’ll blog about some more in depth ways you can help, but in the mean time, thank you for even being interested enough to read this.

Phil vs The Future

12109192_10153224516002507_5048657569294981297_nFriends, I have some exciting and terrifying news.  When 2016 starts there will be one more professional musician in the world.

Yep, I’ve decided to take the plunge, remove myself from the day to day office-job world and concentrate solely on bringing my musical offerings to the nation (and then the world!).

The last 18 months, since releasing “Half Live” have been incredible, I’ve had more fun than you can shake an egg at, and I’ve learned so much about myself and this business we call music.

The future starts with a new album, which is currently being recorded. After that there will be touring aplenty, but I have plans for my time to include making exclusive content for “fans”. The content will be things like videos, exclusive recordings, web-streamed concerts and things like that. There will be more info coming soon on how that will work, but make sure you’re on my mailing list for a start!

I know a lot of you will be keen to help me out (because I only associate with amazing and lovely people), and I will be following this blog up with 5 simple ways you can help (edit: this blog is now here). However, you all have your unique talents, so please speak to me if you want to help support me, even if you don’t yet know how you could do it (I’m sure I’ll have some ideas!).

I’ll also be pimping out my mixing/production skills, so if you’re a musician yourself, get in touch.

It’s better to regret taking a chance at something than to regret things you wanted to do, but didn’t.

The time has come, the Walrus said…

It’s been just over a year since I released “Half Live”, and in that time I’ve gigged aplenty, but I’ve also been writing a whole load of new songs (you’ve heard some of them such as “Sweetness No More” and “To The Unknown Loves of My Life“).  Tonight I’ll begin to record these for a new album, for release early 2016.

I absolutely love everything about the recording process. There’s something about piecing together the elements of a song that ticks every “happiness” box in my head and heart. I’ve long said that I can always hear more going on in my head than I can play live, and this time I’m going all out. I’m lucky enough to have a whole host of talented friends who can add so much to my songs, so I’m going to get them involved and make this album the biggest sounding record I’ve ever made.

I’m not going to put too many spoilers here, but you will hear a lot more than just the Slight Band line up (although of course, Ellis and Jack will be heavily involved). That’s not to say I’m moving away completely from the “singer-songwriter” genre (whatever that means), and there will of course be some songs that are more “intimate”, but the album as a whole will be bigger and sound epic.

Basically, I have plans and I’m excited 🙂

 


 

Here’s one of the new album songs being performed in “the caravan” at the Village Pump Folk Festival.

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.

11892131_596107677197450_9015673622617812743_n

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.

https://soundcloud.com/philcoopermusic/the-news-is-the-world-sucks