I wouldn’t write political songs. Or would I?

Mike Morton, chief jacket wearer of the band The Gift, said on twitbook the other day that he gets loads of reaction when he talks about politics online, but relatively little when he posts about music. This led to a discussion about politics in music, how political people like their music, the sense some have that political music seems to have gone the way of the dodo. A lively discussion was had.

More than one person made the well known argument that everything is political and if you try not to be you’re simply saying the status quo is fine.

My initial reaction to that was to disagree. I write songs that tell silly, horrific, or horrifically silly sci-fi stories. There’s nothing political in them, I’m not writing them to make any kind of point.

Which isn’t to say I’m not political, I am very interested in politics. I’m on holiday this week and one of the things I did was visit the houses of parliament for a guided tour. I listen to relatively nerdy political podcasts, read an awful lot of non fiction and am pretty much addicted to my list of political journalists on twitter. Politics is fascinating and I really, sincerely wish our politicians could be persuaded to get involved in it.

There are two things I don’t do. I don’t talk about politics on twitbook (doing so is pointless and just feeds the online rage farm that they sell to advertisers) and I don’t write about politics in my songs. Politics is complicated and hard to communicate and I am not certain about my opinions on any of it. An eight minute monologue of my political ideas wouldn’t entertain anyone (though Akala’s would).

But if everything is political, then there must be politics in my music, right?

Happy People, my last album, could definitely be said to be political. It’s about a near future dystopia in which individuality is destroyed by the state, where love is regulated and where the population are kept in the dark through propaganda. My intention when writing it was just to tell a story and sketch out that world, but it would be totally reasonable to interpret it as a comment on today’s politics, or see my political views reflected in it. Certainly my attitude to issues of the individual versus the state are similar (I’m not a fan of the state getting in the way of the individual – but please don’t interpret that as a right wing ‘libertarian’ viewpoint).

What about the older steampunk stuff? Any politics there? My Seven Bells John songs are about a criminal who redeems himself after being freed from a prison cell by a policeman. You could definitely find similar anti-establishment sentiments in there, and probably shoe-horn it into a lefty critique of the role of the police if you wanted to.

As I’ve said many a time, meaning in pop music isn’t communicated primarily through the lyrics. So what else is being said with my music?

It’s influences are those you’d expect of a lower-middle class white Londoner born in the 80s: lots of rock, hints of folk, ideas nicked from classical. The business model is decidedly indie and the musical choices speak to that as well. You don’t write twenty minute songs if you’re hoping for commercial success. The steampunk thing elsewhere tends towards nostalgia for an era that was decidedly unpleasant for anyone bar the rich (but then, that’s most eras) but I think I’ve mostly gone for the horrific or weird end rather than the flag waving nostalgia. All of those things could be analysed through a political lens, regardless of whether I had political intentions.

Does intention matter? No. Stuff can be political, even if the person making it doesn’t mean it to be.

In short there are lots of ways you could interpret my music. Even the very fact that I’m suggesting my music exists within a political culture would be considered extreme left wing nonsense by some with a certain kind of right wing view that sees only individuals and discounts the notion of cultural analysis.

I don’t try to write political songs, I’m not going to try to communicate what I think about politics online – ask me in person if you want. But yeah, I guess my songs are political.

Everything is.

 

Murder songs continue…

…we’re up to four of them now. Here’s the second:

The fact is, I have written quite a few songs about murder. Quite a silly amount. Like loads.

So it seemed a good idea to record some performances of them and, as we go, count up the amount of dead people. So far we’ve had 5 murders in 4 songs.

I certainly didn’t plan that by the third video I would accidentally include a picture of ‘fan’ Tony, or mention him again in the fourth video. Look, I don’t bear a grudge and I am certainly not started a feud with Tony. Not at all. not even slightly.

If We Cut All Your Wires (Lyric video)

I’ve just posted a new video over on the ol’ YouTubes. It’s a lyric video for my song ‘If We Cut All Your Wires’.

What’s that all about then?

Well – and stop me if this sounds a little self indulgent (oh no wait, you can’t stop me typing) – but this song is from an EP that happens inside another song.

My last solo album, Happy People, contains an instrumental track called Tracking Signals. The idea with this track is that our protagonist is flicking through radio frequencies, trying to isolate the evil government spy frequencies.

My new EP, Still Happy, is the music he heard while doing so.

If you would like a copy of the whole EP, download or physical, you need to join the band of reprobates known as the Immoral Supporters. You can find out about that here.

Thanks for listening!

 

 

 

Become an Immoral Supporter! – Bandcamp subscriptions now open

I am rather excited to announce that I’ve just opened up subscriptions on bandcamp. I have christened (and was that word ever used more inaccurately?) the group ‘The Immoral Supporters Club‘.

As I blathered on about in my last blog post, “Musicians haven’t done a good enough job of communicating the costs involved and making listeners feel like patrons. I firmly believe it is our job to do that.” And you know what? I really do. This music that I make isn’t a business. Art doesn’t make sense from a business point of view. It doesn’t need customers, it needs patrons.

And that’s just a slightly pretentious way of saying if you like it and would like to hear more, why not bung me a few quid a join a club where you get lots of my silly songs for relatively little money? It means I’m more likely to have the time and resources to make more.

Here’s the link to subscribe!

Here’s my sales pitch from the bandcamp site:

Do you want to provide immoral support to my mad songwriting schemes? Do you think the world needs more songs about death, alien outbreaks, death, replacing one’s own body parts with mechanical alternatives and death?

Well if you do this is the best way to make it happen.

Their are two tiers.

£10 a year:

-A download of the subscriber only EP ‘Still Happy’.

-My digital back catalogue of 5 solo albums, one instrumental album and two eps.

-All the new music I release in digital form, ready to pipe straight into your ears. This will include at a minimum, another 2 EPs this year and the next full length album which will be released in Spring 2019. It will. Honest. On time and everything*.

-Immoral-Supporter-exclusive releases. This will include some obscure back catalogue stuff and live bootlegs of significant gigs, acoustic demos of new songs.

-“Back stage” whitterings. Want to know what evil record label boss David Elephant’s latest threatening missive says? Want to know what I’m planning for the next full length album? Want to hear some of the demos as I work on that.

All this will be yours.

£15 a year:

All of the above, plus the Tom Slatter Indoctrination Kit, which includes:

 

– A physical CD of Still Happy, the Immoral Supporters Exclusive EP
– The Tom Slatter Indoctrination Guide, a booklet full of lies
-A badge and sticker. Cos badges and stickers are cool

Also, no matter which tier you pick, you get a 40% discounts on physical stuff: cds and what have you. Cos you’re only really interested in saving money aren’t you? You materialistic scum.

Sorry, I didn’t type that. I love you really. Thank you for reading so far. It would be great if you subscribed, honest it would. This is the best way to help support my music.

*’On time’ is a relative concept. Can anything really be said to be on time? Is time real, or just an illusion? And anyway, from a geological perspective any time in the next 10,000 years would be ‘one time’.

 

Why Bandcamp is best

As Spotify has been making the news of late, I thought I’d have a look at streaming revenue and my music revenue in general.

Music is not the way I make a living. At present my music pretty much covers costs, which is great. However, that’s with lots of favours being pulled in and mates helping out. I’d rather be able to pay those lovely people who help out, and maybe be able to afford to put more time in than I can at the moment.

Most of the money I have made from music has been via Bandcamp. Bandcamp allows streaming, as well as the sale of downloads and physical merch. The streaming is free – it’s the shop window that gets people in and encourages them to buy – but the paid stuff is right there next to it.

I also have some of my music on Spotify which is just about streaming and nothing else.

How do Bandcamp and Spotify compare?

Spotify pays 0.004 dollars per play.

If I divide the amount of streaming plays I’ve had on bandcamp by the amount of money I’ve made from it, what is the equivalent per stream rate?

0.166 dollars per play.

0.004 dollars compared to 0.166 dollars.

Bandcamp is better financially, by a long, long way.

Bandcamp doesn’t actually pay per stream. The figures are a comparison. What it shows is that the bandcamp model of allowing streams for free right next to the downloads and physical merch is a better bet for an artist like me than Spotify’s micro-payments per stream.

Is this what every musician should do?

I don’t know! I’m not an expert. The musicians I’ve read about doing well out of Spotify are either those with mass appeal or those writing what seems essentially to be library music designed to get on to soundtrack playlists.

If that’s your thing and you think you’re likely to get the sort of figures that make it worthwhile go for it.

But Spotify isn’t for music fans is it? Spotify is the radio. It’s the soundtrack, the background. Spotify is the sound equivalent of wallpaper. You can’t poor over the album art, see the pictures, read the credits, by the merch, make a donation, show your support for your favourite artist.

If you have a Spotify subscription, no matter what you listen to some of your money is going to Ed Sheeran.

My music doesn’t really work that way. You have to pay attention if you want to get the most out of it. And I’d much rather cater to a smaller band of nutters who are properly into it than try and build an audience of hundreds of thousands. I don’t think that’s realistic for me, but Bandcamp has made it so that I don’t need to worry.

Sticking with bandcamp then? 

Yes. In fact I’ll be experimenting with their subscription model soon to see if there are some nutters out there who want to support in that way.

It makes me ponder the wider issues though. I’ve heard some say that people don’t value music as much as they used to. I think the people who say that have mistaken having to pay a certain price for wanting to pay it. As soon as music could be acquired cheaper and more conveniently lots of listeners took advantage of that.

In previous eras people had no choice. They had to buy. They couldn’t choose what value to give your music. As soon as they had the choice they switched.

Musicians haven’t done a good enough job of communicating the costs involved and making listeners feel like patrons. I firmly believe it is our job to do that. People who listen to our music are our allies, the recording industry – as exemplified by Spotify – is at best indifferent to music, and at worst actively hostile.

So for the time being I’ll be sticking to Bandcamp. There isn’t an audience of hundreds of thousands for my music, but there probably are a couple of thousand people out there who might like it, and it looks like Bandcamp is still the best way to share it with the world.

Murder and Parliament Track by Track

I’ve completed my track by track blog series for my instrumental album. Here are the final three parts:

Track 6: Embers

Embers seems to have become the stand-out track. Several reviews have mentioned it as a favourite, and to be honest it’s one of mine too.

Do I say every track is my favourite? I think I do, but you’d expect me to be biased, right?

The score for Embers is half prose, half music…

Read more.

Track 7: Clamour

As with Embers, this track contains a bit I really like because I didn’t play it – Alun’s bass line in the middle is great. One of those instances where you just tell a player ‘put a solo there’ and they provide something perfect.

This track was put here to provide a change from Embers. The early tracks on the album are pretty upbeat, Embers brings us down, so Clamour needs to up the energy so the final two tracks take us out on a high.

Read more.

Track 8: The Broadcast My Birthday On A Numbers Station

Several years ago I wrote a songwriting blog. It no longer exists. But one of the things I created for it was a little melody writing exercise for which I used the lines:

“They broadcast my birthday on a numbers station
I still don’t know what it means”

I thought for years that is was too good a tune (and lyric) to just be an exercise in a songwriting blog…

Read More.

I wrote a review! Mothertongue Mothertongue Mothertongue Mothertongue!

“This is great. A big dollop of proper pop. A slice of singalong hooks, followed by the rest of the cake. The earworms you didn’t know you needed until they wiggled down your eustachian tube and wrapped their little bodies round your cochlea….”

Here’s the review.

Where songs go to die

Recently I was at Jordan’s, recording his bass parts to an ep of Murder Ballads.

It was lots of fun, and very productive. We got bass parts down to three songs that will definitely be on the record. The whole point of the project is that it’s supposed to be a bit rough and ready, a bit weird. Jordan was really up for that and played some creative, odd stuff.

But one of the songs didn’t work.

‘A bloody way to find yourself some peace’ it’s called and lyrically it does fit with the other songs for the EP. It’s all about killing someone as an act of revenge, and how that actually feels quite warm and right (according to the character in the song. I wouldn’t know. Honest.).

But musically, it didn’t quite. The chords are a bit too 80’s ballad, the melody a bit too straightforward, the structure a bit too simple.

It was written several years before the others and I wasn’t entirely confident with the whole thing going in, but thematically it seemed to fit, so I through it into the mix. It was only as Jordan gave it a go that we realised that the double bass didn’t really work – and the reason it didn’t work was that the song doesn’t belong on this EP.

Is the song really dead forever? Maybe, I’m not sure. but for now, this isn’t a song I’m going ahead with.

Is there nothing salvageable from it? Yes. I really like the opening section with the arpeggios and pedal E note, so maybe that section survives in another piece further down the line.

Here’s an MP3 of the guide vocal and guitar lines, plus Jordan’s double bass. Rough and ready, but you get the idea.

I think it’s a perfectly competent song, but not one of my best and not for this murder ballads project. What do you reckon? Did I make the right call?