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Song For Today

The guy I refer to as my first Spotify artist, I heard a song of his on satellite radio a number of years ago, then went home and pulled him up on Spotify. I absolutely loved his music, but haven’t listened to him as much over recently. I was fortunate to see him live at a concert in Berkeley a couple of years ago, and would love to see him again some day when concerts become a thing. He puts on a great show.

I decided to listen to him today and pulled up a playlist on Spotify that purports to be his complete discography. This was the first song. It’s magical.

If it’s true we’re all just one
Who do we turn to when the day is done?
Will there be people in the bar? Or should I sleep?


But For The Sad Songs

I’ve written about The Tallest Man on Earth before.  Mostly as the best example there is about how Spotify should be embraced by musicians rather than shunned.  Briefly stated, if it wasn’t for hearing one of his songs on satellite radio a couple of years ago and then going home that last night and exploring his music catalog on Spotify, I would have never heard of him, never listened to his songs thousands of times.  And most definitely would not have bought a couple of $50 tickets to see him at the Greek Theater in Berkeley last night.

(Side note:  The man’s name is Kristian Matsson and he is from Sweden.  Look him up on Wikipedia.  He’s a bit of a character.  And a talented songwriter and musician.)

I enjoyed the show but there was something missing for me.  Most of Matsson’s recorded music has the sound to me of a singer and his guitar or a singer and his piano and not much more.  This is the kind of music that appeals to me these days.  It’s the kind of show I wanted to see and I didn’t get it.  For all but a couple of his songs last night, Matsson had the full band behind him — drummer, a couple of guitars, a keyboard, a violin.


He alluded to this a couple of times and I could tell he would have preferred a more intimate kind of show.  Matsson is one of these singer/guitar players who uses a different guitar for each song.  At one point, as he strapped a different guitar around his neck, he commented that when you are the opening act, you’re not supposed to bring your quietest guitar.  In other words, his job opening for The Head and the Heart was to get the audience revved up.

Then, as he announced he had two songs left to play, he said that he’d like to come back some day and play his sad songs.  And that’s what I knew was missing.  He really didn’t play the songs I like the most.  And, yes, they’re the sad ones.  The are the quiet ones.  The intimate ones.  The ones you don’t play before a sellout crowd of 8,000 if you want to rev the crowd up.

So, he proceeded to do his job with the next song.  It was this …

Obviously, that video isn’t from last night, and it’s much more subdued then what he and his band did last night.  He just absolutely went off with this song.  And it was good.

But for the sad songs, it was well worth it.  I just hope he does get to come back to Northern California one day and play his own kind of set.

The good news is that he closed with one of those sad songs.  Performed in much the way it is in this video.  His band put their instruments down and provided the background harmonies as he finished his set with Like the Wheel.

* * * * *

A couple of side notes…

  • As I mentioned, he opened for The Head and the Heart — a band I’m heard enough of to know many of their popular songs and a few others thanks to Spotify.  They aren’t necessarily high on my list of favored groups though.  They put on a good show as well, but about half way through I leaned over to my wife and said “the songs are good, but every single one sounds the same.”  They have a very consistent sound and style of presenting their songs that got a bit boring for me.
  • I want to know how the proceeds of ticket sales and everything else gets broken up between the venue and the performers.  The tickets were $45 each.  The venue seats 8,000 and it was full.  That means $360,000 was generated from about 2 1/2 hours of music.  Plus the food and drink sales of unknown amount.  What’s the cut for the opening act?  What’s the cut for the headliner?  For the venue?  No matter the cut it seems a pretty good living for the acts that can pull in crowds like that.
  • Another peek into how my brain works.  About 2/3 of the way through The Head and the Heart’s set, my wife leaned over to me.  “The guy sitting next to me looks like he hates this music.”  I leaned forward and looked over.  Sitting next to her was a man sitting absolutely rock solid still.  Not moving a muscle.  And his face was the same.  Just solid.  And not happy.  He had a dark complexion.  … He’s a terrorist and he’s about to set off a bomb and obliterate us all.  I looked back.  There was a young woman with her head on his shoulder and enjoying the music.  She was happy.  I tried to let it go.  The rational side of my brain knew I was being ridiculous.  But still … he looked so angry sitting there.  When they left just before the last song of the encore, I looked over to confirm they didn’t leave anything behind.  Sometimes I hate the way my brain works.
  • Our first attempt at using Uber … a complete and total failure!

One of the Dead Horses I Must Continue to Beat

Earlier this summer, Thom Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead (a band that I have never listened to, by the way), pulled a bunch of his work off of Spotify as a protest to how the music streaming service works.  In the words of Radiohead’s producer, Nigel Godrich:

“The reason is that new artists get paid fuck all with this model,” Godrich tweeted. “It’s an equation that just doesn’t work.”

You’d think as an artist working in a different medium who is struggling to figure out how to make money in a system that is evolving to low cost and free, I’d be supportive of Mr. Yorke and Mr. Godrich’s efforts.  “Yes,” I should be saying.  “Go forth and demand more for artists, both big and small.  Spotify is a great evil that is depriving musicians.  Battle on, good sirs!”

Well, no.  I think they are missing the incredible benefit Spotify brings to musicians, particularly the smaller ones.  As my long-time readers will know, for a long time I thought the IPod was the greatest invention since sliced bread.  When I discovered Spotify, I realized the error of my ways.  I love music.  If I have a choice, it is always on.  At work, except when I’m on the phone or have a meeting.  In my car.  At home, when I write, when I cook, when I do just about anything.  Music is there.  What Spotify gives me for $10 a month is access to virtually anything I could possibly want to listen to.  I no longer pay for music downloads or for CDs.  i don’t need to.

But, that’s not the point here.  This post isn’t about how great Spotify is for music consumers.  This post is about whether it is a good opportunity, a good service, a revenue producer for musicians.  Through the power of Google, I learned that the royalty rate most music publishers pay musicians is 10-20%.  So, on that $9.99 download, the artist makes $1 to $2.  On the .99 single download, the artist gets a dime or two.  And, then their revenue stops.  The artist doesn’t get paid each time I listen to what I’ve paid to download.  That is the end all and be all of what they will make from my listening to their music.

That’s assuming I ever hear about the artist, listen to their music, and decide to spend my limited discretionary cash on their music.  I’m the type of person who prefers buying the entire album, not just a single.  So, typically, when I was buying music, my decision was a $10 decision, not a $1.

Now, I have Spotify.  That’s not an issue for me anymore.  I’ll give you an example of what this means.  Spotify has a “Discover” feature.  It works like this.  You’ve listened to Musician X, you may like Musician Y.  Today, I was listening to Spotify on my iPhone and the Discover feature suggested Colin Hay.  “Who is Colin Hay?” you might ask.  He is the brains and talent behind Men at Work, the 1980’s “Australian” rock/pop band that wasn’t much more than a one hit wonder.  I put Australian in quotes because Mr. Hay is Scottish.  So, here you have a guy who was a part of a rock/pop band over thirty years ago still producing music and it sounds like this (something I never would have thought to hear from the brain child behind Men at Work).

And I only learned of this because of Spotify.  I added him to my Spotify starred list.  What follows is a partial list of new artists I’ve discovered since I started using Spotify.  Not all of these were discoveries entirely attributable to Spotify.  Some I learned of from other bloggers or friends.  But what Spotify did was make it possible for me to listen to them and fall in love with them.  And then listen to them over and over and over again.

Colin Hay

Mick Flannery

Vicci Martinez

Serena Ryder

ZZ Ward

Schuyler Fisk

Matthew Perryman Jones

The Band of Heathens (a killer group)

Ari Hest

Jeffrey Foucault

Good Old War


Antje Duvekot

The Gabe Dixon Band

Griffin House

Robert Earl Keen

Middle Brother

Pete Francis

Steel Wheels

Ray Wylie Hubbard

Trampled by Turtles

Damien Rice

Iron & Wine

Bleu Edmondson


Band of Horses

Laura Marling

Marcus Foster

Chris Knight

Matthew and the Atlas

Pegasus Bridge

Kristina Train

Nathaniel Rateliff

The Bonfire Band

Fionn Regan

Treetop Flyers

Bobby Long

Mumford & Sons (yes, I heard these guys on the radio first, but Spotify gave me the ability to get into their catalog and put a ton of their songs on my starred list.)

The Cat Empire

What Made Milwaukee Famous

The Weeks

Krista Polvere  (love her, absolutely love her)

Of Monsters and Men (yes, before they hit commercial radio)

Tristan Prettyman

The Shouting Matches

Holly Williams (Hank Williams granddaughter, Jr.’s daughter)

The Postelles

The Avett Brothers

The Oh Hello’s

Jamie N. Commons (an incredibly bluesy, powerful English singer with a voice and a rhythm you’ve got to listen to)

The Middle East

The Tallest Man on Earth

Youth Lagoon  (this one absolutely incredible song called Posters and I don’t even know how to describe why I love the song)

Ryan Adams

Tyrone Wells

Imagine Dragons (yes, before they hit commercial radio)

The Lumineers (yes, before they hit commercial radio)

Joe Ely

Ed Harcourt (some beautiful, piano based ballads)

Night Beds

Wade Bowen

Slaid Cleaves (a storyteller who sings)

Ryan Bingham (a great voice)

Charlie Robison

Ray LaMontagne

The Fleet Foxes

Xavier Rudd

Sam Kills Two

Exit Calm

Young the Giant

Phoenix Foundation

Nick Howard

Delta Spirit

Deer Tick

Heartless Bastards

The Apache Relay

The Shins

Walk the Moon



Dry the River

Kings of Convenience

The National

Chris Smither

Said the Whale

Nick Waterhouse


All of these artists have songs on my starred list, the thing that provides the background music for my daily existence.  Some of these artists have a lot of songs on my starred list.  Without Spotify I never would have gone there.  I slowed down a lot on music purchases in recent years because of the other demands on my financial resources.  But now …

The Tallest Man on the Earth is the best example of what Spotify has done.  Never heard of him.  Probably never would have listened to him.  I know this.  I have never, ever heard him on commercial radio, so the chance of my picking up on him before Spotify was not slim, it was none.  Then I heard a song (I wish I could remember which one it was) and I went to Spotify and was blown away.  There isn’t a song he does that I don’t enjoy.  A dozen of his songs are on the starred list.  Plus I frequently listen just to him — his entire catalog is available on Spotify.  I have absolutely no doubt that Mr. Tallest has made far more money off of me as a result of Spotify then he ever would have if Spotify didn’t exist.  And the same can be said for many of the artists on that list.  And if I ever find out that Mr. Tallest is playing anywhere near Sacramento, I’m there.  I’m buying a ticket.  I’m buying a shirt.  I’m gushing over him like a school girl.  Same goes for a number of artists on the above list — I want to see them live if I have the chance.

And that’s where Mr. Yorke has it exactly wrong.  Spotify doesn’t hurt new artists.  It doesn’t hurt the lesser known artists.  It is a tremendous boon to them.  What Spotify actually does is hurt the larger artists.  The ones with built in fan bases who buy their CDs without a second thought.  You no longer have to do that if you have Spotify.  Makes me wonder if he’s not doing this for more selfish reasons than he purports.

Yes, the royalty rate Spotify pays is a fraction of a penny for each play of a song.  But Spotify claims to have 24 million subscribers.  I’m pretty positive many of them are people who listen to music.  A lot.  Spotify estimates it will pay out $1 Billion in royalties in 2013.  I’m pretty positive that in a lot of ways a lot of that revenue probably wouldn’t have found its way into the pockets of the musicians if Spotify didn’t exist.


P.S.  A lot of the articles about Mr. Yorke’s protest provide examples of artists who complain about the royalties they are paid.  It typically goes something like this:  During the last six months, my songs were streamed 4,472 times and I only got paid $73.

That sounds horrible.  Right?  But there seems to be this assumption built in to the “horribleness” that the number of listens represents individual listeners.  As in, if my songs were streamed 4,472 times, that must be 4,472 potential listeners.  Um, no, that 4,472 listens probably represents a small fraction of that number in potential listeners.  Because people who find songs they like listen to them over and over and over again.  I’m convinced, particularly with smaller artists who can’t crack commercial radio that the revenue they get from Spotify they would never see if it weren’t for Spotify.

A Moment

Without a picture.

I went for my Saturday morning bike ride.  22.5 miles.  About five miles into it, along a lonely two-lane country road, I came upon an older gentlemen peddling along.  As I passed, I wished him a good morning.  He responded in kind and added, “I could do that thirty years ago,” in reference to my pace compared to his.

I yelled over my shoulder, “It’s not so easy for me now.”   I peddled on for a few more seconds and then slowed down.  As he caught up to me, I commended him, “It’s great that you’re out here.”

His reply, “Not bad for 75.”

We exchanged a few more words and he asked me where I was headed.  “Just a loop.  About 20 miles.”

“I’m going 12,” he commented.

We wished each other well and that we should ride safe.  I peddled on and reflected on why I ride.

It’s my dad’s fault.  And my brother’s.

As far back as I can remember, my dad rode his bike.  Which means he started somewhere in the late ’60’s.  To work when weather permitted, along the bike trail and in the foothills on weekends.  He rode centuries and took Bicycle Adventures throughout the Northwest.  He took solo bicycling trips to the Southwest.  For something close to 40 years, my dad bicycled.  Age and physical ailments finally stopped him a few years ago.  But, he set an example.

My brother was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes when he was eighteen.  From that point forward he became a physical fitness nut.  He’ll turn 54 this summer.  I’m willing to put him up against any other 54-year-old diabetic.  I’m pretty certain there isn’t another one as fit and healthy as my brother.  Actually, I’m willing to put him up against just about any other 54-year-old, diabetic or not.  Working out, bicycling, hiking, backpacking, cross-country skiing.  He works to exercise.  He set an example, as well.

I see these two men in my family and recognize the need for health and fitness.  My father, at an age when most people are sitting in a recliner watching television and griping about the weather, was getting off his butt and exercising as long and as far as his body would take him.  Just like the man on the country road this morning.  My brother, faced with an illness that would cut his life short if he didn’t take care of himself, chose to challenge it and beat it.

I’ve struggled with making the commitment they both have.  For years, I hated running and didn’t even try it.  I went back and forth with bicycling.  Then, a few years ago, I got seriously into running.  For the first time in about twenty years, I was exercising regularly, running hundreds of miles a year for several years in a row.  Completing four half marathons and being in better physical shape than I had been in years.  Then I tried to play soccer.  I can’t run anymore.

It’s back to the bicycle.  It’s something I must do.  I have to do.  I have no choice.  I want to be like my dad, still bicycling into his 70’s.  I want to be that man on the country road … happy to be on his bike on a cool Saturday morning, going 12 miles, even if he couldn’t do what he did 30 years ago.  I don’t want to be the old guy griping about the weather and needing help to get out of a chair.

There’s another reason.  It’s not just about physical health and physical fitness.  It’s about mental health.  My long-lost twin sister, Olivia, separated not just at birth but by twenty years in age, is a huge fan of yoga.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve engaged in a dialogue about what yoga really could be.  It’s not just the physical practice of yoga itself.  What it really can be is those times when you are doing for yourself.  Where you want to be doing the thing you want to be.  That thing where you pull inside and be.  Where you are most at peace.  Where you are content.  (Hopefully, I got that right, sister o’ mine.)

Bicycling is that for me as well.  It is my yoga.

An interesting happened as I pulled away from the gentleman this morning.  This song came on my IPhone.  Yes, I have no doubt the songwriter had a different meaning, but as I peddled on and thought about these things, I thought it was perfect.



A Sunday Walk/Random Music Thoughts

There’s this thing I do most Sunday mornings that drives me crazy.  It’s called … absolutely nothing.  There was a time when my Sunday mornings were built around a run, particularly when I was working towards a half marathon.  Sundays were for those long runs.  I had intricately mapped out runs through the neighborhood that could be expanded or shrunk depending on the needed length — up to ten or eleven miles.

Then  my groin intervened and Sundays became a whole lot of nothing.  Yes, I start to get laundry done.  But, ultimately … here’s what Sunday mornings have been like for far too long.  Get up, read the newspaper, surf the internet … for far too long, while telling myself to shut it down and just write for an hour or two.  Write.  Not blog.  Write.   (Yes, Beaver, there is a difference.)

At some point, I shower and get dressed and make the drive to the neighborhood grocery store to get what I need for the day’s dinner.  Drive back.  And wonder why I don’t walk instead.  It’s just short of two miles from my kingdom to the grocery store.  Typically, I’m not buying a week’s worth of groceries.  Why not walk?  Why walk?

The last few weeks have seen a renewed level of energy.  I’ve started walking every afternoon during the week, even when the ol’ groin was tight — for all of the wrong reasons.  With it staying lighter later, I’m committed to starting short evening bike rides during the week and longer rides on weekends.  But, is that enough?  No.

I walked to the grocery store today to get what I needed for pizza tonight.  Here’s the proof:


I live in this odd place.  Tract home after tract home.  All, so blah.  But scattered randomly are these little patches of green.  Yeah, this is the community’s commitment to green, to the environment, to “sustainable growth.”  No, not really, but every once in a while I’ll take it.  This beautiful tree in the middle of suburban sprawl.

I learned a lesson on my walk … next time take a backpack for my groceries.  Lugging two plastic bags full of meats and cheeses, bananas and other odds and ends can make the ol’ shoulders tired.

[Edited to Add:  I forgot the most important part of this little experiment.  It was about finding a way to avoid using gas.  It was about finding a way to put a little more effort into what I needed.  It was about resisting the urge to do what so many of us do — there’s the car, let’s drive to a place we can walk to.  Because, well, if I plan on living minimally at some point in the future, better get started now.]

While I walked I had my IPhone and was listening to my Spotify starred list.  About halfway back, this song came on and I hit rewind as it finished so I could hear it over and over until I got home.  Yes, I’ve posted a few videos of this guy already, but I have one more today.  The Tallest Man on Earth is one of those artists who never disappoints.  With Spotify, I have access to his whole catalog.  Every song is as good as the last.  There isn’t a one that disappoints.  And, this song, just sounds … so … damn … incredible.

Which leads to my other Spotify lesson for the day.  Like Pandora, you can do “radio stations” on Spotify, built around particular artists … type in Queen and you get a radio station that plays songs by artists similar to Queen.  Plus, when you pay $10 a month, you are able to create playlists.  “Star” a song and it goes on your playlist.  What I learned today was that I could listen to a “radio station” built around my starred playlist, meaning all of the artists I like, not just one.  Wow.  Whoda thunk it possible?

Wait a sec, what’s that?  A Rolling Stone song coming through on Spotify?  Gotta get rid of that.  What?  Another one?  AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!  The most over-rated band in the history of music is on my Spotify.  Get gone!!

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