Introducing:Fresh On The Net is a radio show devoted to the best new music that listeners can hear legally and for free online. Anyone’s welcome to recommend tunes for the show via a public webpage and if we like a song we play it, end of story. Understandably, most of the suggestions we get are from musicians promoting their own music – usually in glowing terms. “Talented four piece indie band from Wolverhampton with original songs in their own style” and so forth…
Dan Spooner from Middlesbrough took a different approach with DIRTY WEEKEND. “I hate them” he wrote. “I have to sing for them, write their songs, book their gigs, drive their van, buy them strings when they’re skint and also push for radio play when I should be working.” Their song “Men In White Coats” turned out to be powerful, adventurous and quirky – right up my street in fact. And since it can be heard in full on their MySpace page we’ve played it a couple of times now – and told listeners where to find it online.
There’s also an excellent video for this song, made by Andy Douglass and Alex Kay. I’ve always had a soft spot for Teesside – my family moved there in 1966 where I met my longstanding friend and musical collaborator Hereward Kaye, and our band CAFE SOCIETY briefly shared a manager with CHRIS REA. Like Tyne & Wear just up the A19 – the whole area from Darlington to Redcar is positively awash with new talent at the moment. Over the past couple of years we’ve played and enjoyed Lady Godiva’s Horse by HEAD OF LIGHT ENTERTAINMENT, Berwick Hills 90210 by THE HITCHERS, Down by OUR SECRET SINS, Live For Applause by THE TOWN OF 1770, Mint Town by LOKI, One Thing by ANDREW JOHNSON, Cult Stickers by MARCH OF THE UNION, Call The Tribe by RUSSELL+THE WOLVES, David Christ by PELLETHEAD, Sounds by JIMMY AND THE SOUNDS, Peter Sellers by COLD PISTOLS and several songs by the mighty CHAPMAN FAMILY.
We would also have played the latest CHAPMAN FAMILY single Virgin – except that you can only hear a stingy 60 seconds of it on their myspace. “Hey” explains frontman Kingsley on their blog “we gotta pay for the mortgage somehow! We can’t all be Thom Fucking Yorke.” No indeed, but we also can’t really feature it on a radio guide to the best new online tunes. Which brings us back to DIRTY WEEKEND.
“Since the last time you played our music,” writes Dan “the recession has killed two careers within the band and seriously maimed mine. Despite this fiscal misery we decided to spend more money than ever before, recording one song in London. The track is Sirens”. It’s due to come out as a single in February 2010 and – as a result – they too at first only put a one-minute clip up on their MySpace.
It’s easy to understand a band’s fear of letting people hear their precious single without paying, especially when they’ve invested hard-gained cash in recording it. But other artists and record labels we deal with would say that if you’ve got a truly great song then you need as many people as possible to hear it. They see online exposure as the new airplay – and want people hearing, talking and blogging about their music all over MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, Last.fm, Reverbnation and Drowned In Sound. They want Noisetrade and Music Glue spreading it all over the torrents as a free download – as well as making it available for sale via iTunes and CDBaby.
Because even if your single does get played on the radio, the only people who can fall in love it are listeners to that particular programme on that particular station at that particular moment. And even then they’ve got to fall so instantly in love with it that they memorise your name, search for you online, and click on the “buy” button just to hear it a second time in full.
Whereas if someone falls in love with a track on your web page, they can easily email the URL to all their friends – who can listen whenever they want, from anywhere in the world. Those friends may tell their friends. In the greater scheme of things, selling 100 downloads (net income: £58) matters less than thousands of people getting to hear your material. See my earlier post on this subject
If your song’s strong enough to generate (say) 30,000 online plays, you only need 5% of those listeners to love it enough to buy a download for their iPod and you’ll end up with a grand in your pocket. And if it turns out your song isn’t that strong it won’t sell anyway – whether or not you put it on your MySpace.
Still, there are plenty of well-informed people I know and respect (Kingsley Chapman for instance, or The Cynical Musician) who have different and strongly-held opinions about this. In the end every artist and record label has to make the decision that’s right for them. Dan Spooner has made his – and I’ll leave the last word to him:
“For DIRTY WEEKEND, half of the battle will be making a song and a dance about Sirens when it’s released as a single on February 1st. To be fair, it’s going out on a free Music Week compilation in a couple of weeks – yes, more hard earned money spent! So you might as well let the masses (or just our mates and my mum) hear it on your blog…”