Category - music 3.0

The new era started with Napster. Its arrival heralds a return to the era before Edison.

Y’All Are Gonna Wanna Get Hip
to Bonnie Bishop

"Music Industry Showcase" at The Rutledge in Nashville - December 8, 2009

About 5 years ago, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the annual American Music Conference here in Nashville (little known fact: I was actually on the Founding Council that started the AMA back in like 2000).

After the conference, I sat down with the program guide from all the showcase and went on line (at the time it was LaLa.com) to stream/listen to some of the artists whose showcases I’d missed.  One track stopped me in… well, my tracks.  It was an artist I’d never heard of named Bonnie Bishop and the track was called “Lucky Ones.” Here, listen to it for yourself:

Bonnie has released a couple of records since then; visit her Spotify page to hear more.  What you’re going to hear is one of the gut-wrenching-est voices this side of… well, Janis Joplin comes to mind…

I tracked her down later that year, and she let me photograph a showcase that she performed at one of Nashville’s clubs.  She was still doing her level best to land a fucking record deal…

Over the past decade+, Bonnie Bishop’s career has seen all the vagaries  typical of today’s itinerant, independent singer/songwriters – they who that travel and toil under the radar of the mainstream commercial music industry.  They for whom the life of an “artist” is “mostly driving.”

Two years ago, she was on the threshold of throwing it all in.

That’s all going change with the release of  her new CD, “Ain’t Who I Was” next month.  The title track was released today:

And here’s what you need to know about the pedigree of this new record, which will be officially released on May 27:

  1. It was produced by Nashville’s hottest producer, the Chet Atkins/Owen Bradley of the twenty-teens, Dave Cobb.  Talk about being on a roll: Dave Cobb is responsible for the breakthrough solo releases by Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and  2016 multi- CMA, Grammy and ACM winner Chris Stapleton (all Spotify links).  You just don’t get any hotter a hand than the one Dave Cobb has been playing over the past few years.  And the Atkins/Bradley reference is not an overstatement – he recently took over the keys to Nashville’s fabled Studio A (sometimes referred to as Nashville’s Abbey Road), which was built by Chet and Owen in the 1960s and narrowly escaped  a condo-developer’s wrecking ball in 2014.
  2. The release and distribution of “Ain’t Who I Was” is being handled by Thirty Tigers, a new-paradigm label services and distribution company that is one of the few companies  that has cracked the code on the new digital business – and not coincidentally the same firm that handled the break out releases for Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, among others.

RollingStone.com has got a great account of the kismet that went into the song selection and production of this new record:

The recording sessions were coming to an end when Cobb’s cousin, singer/songwriter Brent Cobb, walked into the studio with a track he’d co-written earlier that afternoon.

“Dave opens a brand new bottle of his favorite tequila,” Bishop remembers, “and we all take shots. Then Adam [Hood] and Brent play us the song they wrote. I have chills. I look over at Dave, who is nodding his head and grinning at me. Then I sing the words back to them while Brent plays the guitar and they sound so natural coming out of my mouth. It’s like I’ve been singing this song all my life.”

The song was “Ain’t Who I Was,” which became the title track to the new CD. When you hear it, you can’t help but think that the spiral has come back around, only at a much higher level, and that Bonnie Bishop is about to become, truly, one of “the lucky ones.”

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

Bonnie Bishop promo photo by Jason Lee Denton

A “Band On The Brink” – An ‘Industry’ On The Edge

Last night, a rogues gallery of characters from Nashville’s business and creative communities assembled at the Belcourt Theater to deliver what could be considered a start-of-the-New-Year self-assessment: 

bannerThere were three parts to the evening that did a surprisingly good job of hitting any number of moving targets.

The first part was a short documentary film describing the origins, history, demise and resurrection of a band called “The New Dylans.”  The film was the final, compiled installment in a year long effort to document the reconstitution of a group that broke up in the mid 1990s – and uses their tale as an object lesson on the State of The Music Industry in Nashville in the Digital Age. Read More

Deep Thoughts on #SaveStudioA / #SaveMusicRow

In which I ponder the endangered Nashville species called ‘Music Row’

(originally posted on July 1; reposted July 8)

“The past went that-a-way. When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to the flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.”
                                                   –Marshall McLuhan – The Medium Is The Massage

Here’s a little-known fact about me:

nashville-trolleyThe first summer I spent in Nashville (1994), I had a ‘job’ as a tour-guide and entertainer on the Nashville Trolley.

For several hours on weekend afternoons, I’d sit with my guitar in an alcove-like space next to the engine housing in the front of one of those tottering, wheeled behemoths as it lumbered along a serpentine course from Riverfront Park, up Broadway to Music Row and back.

My job was to recount the history of the landmarks along the route, and between the landmarks and history lessons I’d play my guitar, sing songs from the Nashville canon – and try to be heard over the roar of the diesel engine beside me.

I don’t remember much about my repertoire now but I’m pretty sure that somewhere along Music Row I’d sing Alan Jackson’s Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow (Spotify):

I made it up to music row
Lordy, don’t the wheels turn slow..

It must have been quite a sight: a by-then middle-aged Jewish kid from New York singing country songs from a perch alongside a whining diesel.

I’d had to pass an audition and some vetting to earn this lofty position, but the job only payed whatever tips I could wheedle out of the tourists as they got off the trolley.  So on the floor in front of me I placed a large jar with a label that read, “Garth Brooks and them play for millions – the rest of us play for tips.”

Little did I know at the time what a prediction that was for the future of the music business.

Needless to say the jar was never very full after a shift… and I didn’t last very long at that particular ‘job.’  I guess my ambitions lay elsewhere… Read More

Why Would Anybody Ever Buy Another Song?

From the Department of No Shit, Sherlock:

Crowded Field

Crowded Field

Derek Thompson points to the elephant in a post at TheAtlantic.com.

Citing the increasing saturation of the streaming music market (where any more than one or two services qualifies as saturation), Thompson points to the elephant that has been in the room since… well, since the first Real Audio player made streaming music a reality in… what, 1996?:

…what isn’t there room for in music?

Buying it.

“Young people today don’t buy music anymore,” said Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst at Wedge Partners. The numbers agree.

I suppose my objection here should be something along the lines of “whatchyou mean ‘young people’, Kimosabee?”

Or maybe I should take it as a compliment that somebody thinks 63 can qualify as ‘young’  – particularly since I just bought tickets for a movie tonight at the reduced fare for ‘seniors.’  But I digress…

I have been arguing for years that the ‘unit purchase’ model for music – whether it’s physical products like CDs (or, yes, even the revered, resurrected vinyl…) or virtual units delivered as purchased downloads – has been on the wings of the dodo for years, and that any assertions to the contrary are an exercise in viewing the future through the rear view mirror  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, I sincerely implore you to click the link and find out).

And no, the fact that I’m engaged in a project that is about to release its third physical product at the same time that I’m predicting the demise physical products is not lost on me. I write these things because I think I’m observant, maybe even a tad prescient.   I never said that made me invulnerable to also being a hypocrite.  Such is the nature of living on a cusp. But there I go again, digressing…

As Thompson reports, the handwriting is on the wall, the die is cast, the nails are in the coffin.  Pick your metaphor, but this is we see when we turn the car around and start steering through the windshield:

“…digital music sales fell last year for the first time ever, by 6 percent, as the music business inches closer to an access-over-ownership model. Overall streaming (which includes digital radio) is up 32 percent to 118 billion song streams in 2013. On-demand streaming (e.g. pick and click a song on Spotify) doubled last year.

Meanwhile, we have Tommy Silverman and others at the annual Austin TX Spring Break Clusterfuck known as “SXSW,” (that’s pronounced “ess-ex-ess-doubleyew)  professing to possess the keys to a $100-billion kingdom with a more colorful metaphor of his own:

This enema that we’re going through is making us realize that our business is much bigger than what we thought it could be,” Silverman said. “We’re in the attention business now.”

And the nominees for the 2014 ‘Masters of the Obvious’ award are….

Silverman etal be right, the entirety of the recorded music business  could certainly be much larger than the rapidly-shrinking single-digit-billion-dollar business it has recently been reduced to.

I’ve done this math for you before: A couple of years ago the NPD group estimated that the average music ‘consumer’ spends a paltry FORTY dollars per year on music purchases (that figure is surely even less now).  That expenditure adds a bountiful 30 or 40 new tracks to their record collection every year.  Now persuade those tight-fisted consumers that for only TEN DOLLARS (per month…) they can have the entire history of recorded music – past-present-and-future – at their disposal, and you can effectively triple or even quadruple your aggregate industry top-line.

Of course, that’s assuming they have any money left after paying for their cell phone, cable teevee, broadband internet and Clover brewed coffees at Starbucks (which I am drinking as I write & post this…)

It may not add up to the $100-billion that Silverman is hallucinating, but it could be considerably more than whatever the current figures are.

But whatever the figures might be, we will never realize the full potential of any future business model until we stop trying to drag the old models long with us.  I don’t care if your fancy new “human-powered” streaming music service is called “beats,”   It does no good to beat an internal combustion engine with a buggy whip.

But there’s another message in all of this that I think has been overlooked, and that’s all this emphasis on recorded music.  That’s the biggest buggy whip that we’re dragging along with us, the biggest thing that looms in that rear view mirror.

As long as we’re focused on how to preserve or grow the recorded music business, we’re going to miss the point of what Silverman inartfully calls “this emema” that the industry is going through.

What we cannot see so long as we’re driving backwards into the future, surveying the landscape in front of us through the rear view mirror (really, try to get that image in your head…), is that the ‘future of music’ is much less about the recorded music than it is about the way that music lived before it became any kind of product – back when music simply did not exist unless there was somebody in the room playing it for you, which person was often yourself and your friends.

The future of music is not any kind of product, physical or virtual, delivered by truck, download, or stream.  It’s much more… organic, and ‘aural’ than that.  But until we’re a little further removed from the product era, it’s going to be hard for most people to appreciate that prospect.

The idea was never more succinctly put than during a conversation I had with Scott Huler, one of the presenters at last year’s TEDx Nashville.

“I tell my kids,” Scott said, “that music is not something you buy.  It’s something you make.”

I don’t care how many billions Tommy Silverman thinks the ‘music industry’ can be, those children are the future.

 

 

 

 

The Failure of Inattention

Monday was a “snow day” in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.  

2014_08_1024x1024Freezing rain had settled in the night before and made the roads pretty much impassable by the time of the morning rush hour, so Monday was canceled city-wide.

Ann and I threw some logs on the fire and settled in to watch about 6 episodes of the new HBO drama True Detective, with Woody Harrelson and newly-minted Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey as diametrically opposed Louisiana homicide investigators.

Harrelson’s character is Detective Marty Hart, who, midway through the series shares this indispensable observation about the “detective’s curse.”

“The solution my whole life was right under my nose … And I was watching everything else … my true failure was inattention.”

Given my propensity for oddball associations (see blog tagline above), I immediately thought of that observation when I read this guest post in Billboard this morning about YouTube -v- The Music Industry:

During a MIDEM panel this year, YouTube vp content Tom Pickett said the company had paid more than $1 billion to music rights holders during the past several years. Well, that’s sweet. Hey, you know who else has done that? Spotify. The difference: Spotify did it with a fraction of YouTube’s audience.

In other words, while musicians and songwriters are are complaining about the paltry payouts from Spotify, Pandora, etc…. Well, you get my point.  Hopefully.

Breaking News! Music Industry Adapts…

… to the most recent technology shift.  Just in time to get clobbered by the next one…

musica-streamingI have to admit I’m getting a big kick out of the two items that landed in my news feed this evening.

First, Billboard has reported that…

For the third time this year — and only the fourth time ever — the year-to-date total sales of digital albums have exceeded those of CDs.

How long did that take, about ten years?

Let’s see, when did iTunes start selling downloads.  April 28, 2003. So, yeah, just a little over ten years.

That’s important, because it tells us how long it takes for something that seems unlikely one day to become “mainstream” the next.  It’s the statistical flip side of “it can’t happen here.”

Which is significant, because of the insights offered in another piece that was published today.  David Ross’s Nekst.biz posted an interview with Billboard’s Glenn Peoples that goes into considerable detail about how music online is already shifting from downloads to streaming:

…half of the country listens to Internet radio on a regular basis (monthly), so that’s mainstream behavior, but there is still room for growth…The streaming model is set to grow for the foreseeable decade.

There is much more to the analysis than that (obviously).  But that might be all you need to know.

The first item tells us how much has changed in the past decade. The second item tells us now much is going to change in the coming decade.

All of the above was written while listening my Bill Frisell channel on Pandora.  Which is now playing Pat Metheny.

The Celestial Jukebox abounds. Along with newsfeed irony.

Life is good.

As I’ve Been Saying All Along…

…The music industry is a $100-billion 21st Century business trapped in a $7-billion 20th Century business model:

That’s according to Marc Geiger, head of William Morris / Endeavor (aka Ari Gold‘s super-agency):

“The recorded music industry can grow to a $100 billion-plus business within the next 15 years – but only if it abandons pushing music ownership and fully embraces the streaming subscription model, said Marc Geiger, WME’s global head of music, during a powerful, deliberately provocative keynote speech on day two of Midem.

“If you still think [the future] is about owning files I will talk to you again in 24 months and you will deny that you ever said it to me,” Geiger stated during a slick 25-minute presentation, which was entitled “20 Years of Pain. No More Fooling Around: The Definitive Future of the Music Business.”

I heard several years ago that the average music “consumer” purchases roughly $40/year of recorded music.  So they’re spending $40 year – less than $3.50/mo – to “purchase” 3 to 4 CDs, maybe 30 to 50 tracks to horde in their own personal private music “library.”

So tell them instead that for a measly $10/mo (your mileage may vary) they can have the entire history of recorded music on a gizmo in their pocket and see what happens.

You know the old expression: “do the math.”

 

 

@PatMetheny, WTF?

Did you really just release HALF a record?

Pat Metheny, 20th Century Man

Pat Metheny, 20th Century Man

I think I have to confess something that a lot of my Vast Legion of readers will take issue with: I get really irritated when fairly major recording artists use manipulative techniques to get me to buy their records.

And I will confess further, likely much to the dismay of anybody who is still trying to make any kind of a living from “selling music,” that I consider the whole concept very “20th century.”

It’s an idea that originated with Edison and Berliner and Johnson in the early 20th Century.

And has been essentially obsolete since the advent of the Internet, MP3s, and Napster.  I live in the era of the Celestial Jukebox now.  I expect it all to be delivered for a single monthly fee.  Kinda like my cable teevee.

But people keep trying to sell me records, and they keep trying to do it with what I regard as onerous promotional methods.

Like releasing only parts of a new CD on Spotify. As Pat Metheny has done with his new album, called Kin.

First of all,  I have been a Pat Metheny fan since early 1980s.  As Falls Witchita, So Falls Witchita Falls (released in 1981 – no Spotify link) is one of my all time album titles, and some of the tracks on Off Ramp (released 1982, also no Spotify link) are repeat-play classics.

And I have been listening to a LOT of Pat Metheny lately, in particular his solo acoustic release from 2003, One Quiet Night (Spotify link)  and 1992’s multi-sonic-dimensional Secret Story (Spotify link). His music offers that rare blend of soothing and soaring, stimulation without distraction, that is ideal for doing other kinds of work like processing photos or, especially, writing (for the most part; some of his music can also be wild and frenetic and “outside” – and that’s OK, too.  That’s what the “skip” buttons are for…)

In fact, I just shelled out something like $150 for two tickets to see Pat Metheny when he plays the Ryman auditorium later this month.  That’s a hell of a lot more money than I’ve paid to almost any artist I can think of in the past year or so (I tend to frequent small, less expensive clubs than the bigger concert halls).

So imagine my perplexion when I went to Spotify and discovered that, yes, like the email said, Kin by Pat Metheny is now available on Spotify… but ONLY 5 OF THE 9 TRACKS ON THE ALBUM.

What the fuck?  C’mon Pat, what’s the fucking point? Do you seriously think that I am going to set aside my 21st Century, stream-it-all model just to hear the other four tracks?  Are you and your management (more likely) so out of touch with how new technology works in the marketplace that you really think that’s going to work on me?

Is the $150 I just put directly into your pocket (apart from whatever onerous “convenience fees” that were part of that sum), not enough to sustain your creative energy? Do you really need the $9 that the full record would cost to download, or, worse, just the $4 to “purchase” the original tracks?

I cannot begin to tell you how antiquated the whole concept sounds to me.  Or how disappointing it is that you’ve attempted to “tease” me with a partial release.

I know that the royalties that streaming services pay are a subject of raging controversy all over the Interwebs.  I know that artists and labels get paid only a fraction of a penny each time a track is streamed over the internet, and that those streams cannibalize the market for potential unit sales.  Or as  friend of mine just put it, “Spotify is great for me and devastating for creators.”

To which I have to respond: if it is great for the user, then the creators will have to adjust, because what works for the customer is always what will prevail in the marketplace (that’s an old law of economics that I just made up).

The advantage of streaming for a creator is, potentially, in the multitude of plays.  When I buy a record, the artist and his label get paid once.  But when I stream a recording over and over again – precisely as I have been doing lately with Pat Metheny – the creators get paid every time.  Yes, the actual numbers may bear some adjusting, but over the long term, and as more people become accustomed to this mode of delivery, the numbers are going to add up.

Because, like Lefsetz keeps saying, the future is streaming.

So please, don’t insult my good intentions and fan-boyhood by withholding half of your new release from the format that I am most inclined to listen to.

Now, all that said, let me hasten to add: there are circumstances when I will purchase CDs, but that is typically when I have gotten excited about some new, emerging artist – somebody who can genuinely benefit from an individual expression of support, both personal and financial. And, as often as not, I will be happy to contribute considerably more than the cost of a single CD to that artist’s crowd-funding campaign if they ask for it.  In the past few years I’ve made a lot more $35 to $50 contributions to such campaigns than I have purchased individual $15 CDs.

Because this is the 21st Century.  Because I want to a “patron,” not a “consumer.”

This new record sounds terrific, what I’ve heard of it, and I will probably listen a lot to those FIVE of the NINE tracks.  And Pat will get a few pennies for the privilege.  And those pennies will add up across the breadth of the considerable following he has amassed over the several decades of his career.

I like Kin so much that I’m going to embed the Spotify player for it right here in this blog post, so you can listen to the tracks that are available now:

But I will NOT go to iTunes and drop even the $4 it would cost me to get the other tracks.  Because iTunes is just not how I listen to (god, how I hate the word “consume”) music any more.

“Selling” discrete units of music – (vinyl, CDs, downloads, whatever the format) is an industrial model, and we don’t live in an industrial economy any more.

If you don’t believe me, then just climb into my time machine, fly about 20 years into the future, and look back on today.

See what I mean?

We Can Gather, and We Can Sing

The "6 Chair Pickin' Party"

The “6 Chair Pickin’ Party”

Three things happened yesterday which, if I can adequately weave the path through them, attest to the current state of music, address the current debate on the subject and,  ultimately, gently, point a way into the future…

FIRST:  I had a moment on that antiquated old medium called “radio.”

As I was getting out of the shower yesterday morning and making the bed, I turned on WPLN (Nashville’s NPR affiliate) and heard a promo bumper for “On Point,” the program out of Boston that follows “Morning Edition.” I heard the show’s host, Tom Ashbrook, announce that he would be discussing the streaming music royalties debate that has taken on new strength in the past week since some guy in a band called “Radiohead” (irony abounds) announced  that he was pulling his music from Spotify and other streaming services, on the pretext that “it doesn’t pay new artists enough…”  or some such nonsense.

As soon as the show came on the air and they announced the call-in number, I dialed in.  Wonder of wonders, I was quick enough to get a ring instead of a busy signal (this might have been the second or third time I tried to call that program, parts of which I hear almost every morning).  A producer picked up the line a few moments later.  I told him what I had in mind to say and he said, “OK, if Tom takes the call, say ‘Hi Tom…’. Don’t say “good morning” because the show is rebroadcast at different times during the day…”

Commence heart pounding.

Then I went about making breakfast, and sat down to eat it, while listening to the discussion on my telephone headset.  And then in between a bite of eggs and grapes I hear, “Paul from Nashville, you’re on the air…”

Gulp.

I then proceeded to verbally fall off my breakfast barstool.  You can hear the whole embarrassing episode here, but since this is digital retrospect, I will repeat it more precisely as I would have said it if my heart had been pumping at something closer to a normal rate:

1) When this guy Tom Yorke says that he’s pulling his stuff off of Spotify because it doesn’t pay new artists enough, that is an “altruistic red herring.”  He’s really not concerned about new artists so much as he is about the apparent decline of revenue inherent in the shift from unit sales (i.e. 99c per download regardless of how many times you listen to a track) to fractions-of-a-penny payments per stream per listener (where you only get paid by how much a song is listened to – and then, not very much).

This professed concern for “new artists” strikes me as  a smokescreen, and actually contrary to what new artists need.  As I did manage to point out on the air, I’m much more likely to become interested in a new artist if I can actually hear their music, which is a lot harder to do if their music is not on a service like Spotify.

Actually, I really don’t know Radiohead all that well… maybe I should go listen to some of their music on Spoti….oh, wait…

2) Behind the smokescreen of his concern for “new artists,” I think that what Mr. Yorke and his ilk are really professing is that the industrial-age model of selling music in discrete units – that bear a high price because of their relative scarcity – should some how be preserved in the digital era – when the quantity of ‘content’ that is now available approaches infinity.  Well, get a clue buddy.  Buy a vowel.  You cannot drag the old model into the new reality.  Let go of the nuts, silly monkey, and you can at least keep your hand…

Anyway, that’s what I meant to say; Instead I made some clunky allusion to buggy whips.  I’m pretty sure the cliche police will be knocking on my door any minute now…

3) If these jokers really want to make an issue of something that is unfair in the music biz, they should join the crusade to get terrestrial radio (i.e. “broadcast” radio – which is actually radio; “internet radio” is just an oxymoron, and destructive one at that, because its use compels us to think that the medium is something that clearly it is not…) to pay royalties for the recordings that they broadcast.

As it stands, broadcast radio pays royalties only for the compositions – the songs – that are broadcast on the public air.  The United States is one of the very few countries in the world that pays nothing to the artists or labels who produce the actual recordings.

if you want parity between analog and digital, if you want more money from the use of your music… start there. Of course that’s assuming you can actually get your music on radio.  Good luck with that…

Anyway, that’s more precisely what I was trying to say in my 15 seconds of fame on the radio yesterday.  Thanks to whoever heard that and is now reading this for the opportunity to indulge in perfect 20/20 verbal hindsight.

SECOND: I direct your attention to a blog post by the erudite and pithy Kidd Redd, a partner at Nashville’s Flo Thinkery – which figures because he is clearly something of an original thinker in his own right.   In his “Stylerant” post yesterday, Mr. Redd addressed the same issue that “On Point” addressed that morning.  Follow the link to read the whole thing; In the meantime here’s the paragraph I thought was pertinent (scroll down to Starving Musicians):

So listeners download, and they stream. It is only natural for artists like Thom Yorke to suddenly stop dancing weirdly and say, wait a minute, I need to do something to make people understand that this making of music really is hard work, it has enormous value, and you can’t have my album for free. Slow clap, Thom. I’ve always thought that artists who don’t like the deal should simply pull their music. Good for you. Only thing is, no one will care. NO ONE, except music biz peeps and your Mama. People have lives in which music is only a part. Maybe a big part, and a part we would all be sad to live without, but then again, we won’t have to. We can gather, and we can sing.

“We can gather and we can sing.”  As anybody who has followed my musings on these subjects over the years will recall, that premise is central to my thesis, my as-yet unwritten “Grand Nebulous Theory of the Future of Everything, Music in Particular.” Which goes something like this:

At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will look back on the era of industrialized music – wherein music became a product, packaged and shipped and sold like soap – as a brief, anomalous period in the annals of human history.

The ultimate, end result of the disinter-mediation of the digital era is going to be a return to something more akin to music as it was before there were recordings:  less as an expression of popular, mass culture, and more a manifestation of community spirit.  We are going to stop expecting that music is something that somebody else – the Tom Yorkes of the word – does for us, and something that we do for ourselves.   Music not as something that you buy, but something that you make.

THIRD: That point was graphically – and aurally – driven home last night at a home in the hilly and leafy West Meade neighborhood of Nashville where a small congregation of hand-made music and song lovers gathered… and sang.

The event was the the revival of a tradition that was very much at the heart of my Nashville experience for the first 8 years that I lived here – Mike Williams “6 Chair Pickin’ Party” – where Mike and his wife Kathy would invite a half-dozen songwriters into their home – along with typically 40-50 guests – to swap songs and stories around a faux electric camp fire.

kateo6chairs

Another view of last night’s “Pickin’ Party” – photo purloined from Kate O’Neill’s Facebook page…

In the late 90s and early aughts, Mike’s Pickin’ Party was a Nashville institution.  Three Wednesdays of almost every month (the exception being when Mike and Kathy spent a month in Kerrville, TX, doing pretty much the same thing in the open late night/early morning air), some of the best singer/songwriters in the world would climb the steep hill to Mike and Kathy’s house, past the sign that said “Park on street… Sing on key…” to play their hits and their personal favorites for an enthusiastic audience tightly huddled in the living room.

The parties were discontinued in 2003 when  Kathy was chosen to serve as CEO of the whole international Girl Scouts organization, and she and Mike took up residence in a loft in lower Manhattan.  They tried to host similar parties there, but that effort was discontinued when the other residents objected to all the traffic in the one small elevator that served their entire building.

On a personal note (as if this whole blog post is not personal notes?) and as I explained to one of the performers last night, the best thing I’ve done since I’ve been in Nashville started at Mike Williams’ pickin’ parties, when I asked a few people I’d met there, “what would you think if I tried to sell some of your CDs on the Internet…?”  That was in the spring of 1995 (yikes!), so of course I had to explain to most of the people I was talking to just what the Internet was (and once they figured it out I sold the business to them…).

Mike and Kathy are back in Nashville now – they had the foresight to hang on their house here for the decade that they were in NYC – and they’re cranking up the Pickin’ Parties again with a series of events every other week in July and August.  They travel a lot in a big ol’ motorhome that was their retirement gift to themselves, but when they’re in town, Mike says, there will be parties.

And if you could have been there last night – as you are welcome to be at the next three parties, on July 31, August 14 and 28 (contact me for info) – then, I believe, you would have seen the real future of music.

If you had been there, you would have been part of room filled with talent and heart and whimsy and laughter, great playin’ pickin’ and singin’, an audience that did not hesitate to sing along and oh…did I mention heart? I heard some of the best songs I’ve ever heard last night.  Songs like Whit Hill’s “Stethoscope”, a song that you would likely never hear on the radio but nevertheless fires a harpoon right into your heart.  Or Laurie McClain’s “My Heaven.”  Here, listen for yourself:

 

So yesterday was an intriguing, unpredictable confluence of events and musings that, taken together, somehow demonstrate the trajectory that we’re somewhere in the still-early or maybe middle stages of: The real future of music is not about downloads, streaming, radio or “American Idol,” or who gets paid how much for what.  The real future of music is like its distant past: people… gathered and singing.