Hue And Cry in Big Issue Scotland - the story behind the Music Club...

You might be interested to read this piece from Pat, published in the Big Issue Scotland's Opinion slot last week, on how our new album Open Soul, and its supporting websites, are responding to the bigger crisis of the music business. The full text is below, and you can download a PDF from here. Be interested to hear what you all think.

best, h&c





BIG ISSUE IN SCOTLAND - OPINION, JULY 2007


There’s a Glasgow musician who is so freaked by the impact that the internet is having on music that he often threatens to stand at his open tenement window, screaming at passers-by: “Everyone stop it! You’re stealing my art! You're destroying my livelihood!”

Other than a name change to “King Canute”, there’s nothing he can do about it. The meltdown started when music recordings went digital. It's difficult to press your own record: in theory, it’s infinitely easy to copy a chunk of code. Broadband, social networks and powerful PCs put the final bomb under the biz.

As a result, there are some new topics to add to the list of embarrassed confessions you hear at a party: I’ve used private health, I have a share portfolio… and I downloaded your album from LimeWire last week. I can hear King Canute spluttering at his window now. But he does have a point. As we’ve been readying our new Hue And Cry album Open Soul, we’ve been trying to respond.

No one could say that the old record business – a profound rip-off for both artist and consumer – was an admirable model. If you were a bit lucky, as my brother Greg and I were, then your occasional chart hits at least justified the financial carnage. Yet although we can all happily distance ourselves from the bad old, sad old days, there’s still an issue here for musicians.

Er, how is it we get paid, again? Current wisdom says that we make it as easy – or better, easier – for people to buy music, as it is for them to “steal” it. Then (fingers crossed) they won’t steal it. iTunes and the iPod have successfully realised that vision. Yet research shows there’s still a huge trade in free downloads across the internet’s increasing bandwidths, leading some figures in the industry to call for a “music tax” on internet service providers.

The ISPs are benefiting from all this uncontrolled downloading, so they should pay back something to those whose intellectual property rights are being twisted. You gotta laugh. Hunter S. Thompson once called the music business (only slightly unfairly) “a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side”. The idea of funding them like the dear old BBC should have the gun nut combusting in his funeral urn.

But in the meantime, what is a po’ boy – or at least an ‘80s band with a self-made, self-financed album, free of all corporate ties – to do? You realise there's one place left a musician can almost entirely control, both artistically and commercially: playing live. If our music will now appear digitally – some of it free, some of it cheaply available, some of it appearing on mobile devices in strange forms – you use it to drive people to what is truly scarce and unique: seeing a musician perform.

So we’ve built the Hue And Cry Music Club, accessible from www.hueandcry.co.uk, which is a celebration of our music and performance in all its guises – prioritising the audience as much as the artist. When fans join up, they can see high-quality videos of gigs past, present and future; they can even vote on the favourite cover they’d love us to do as a piano-vocal, which we’ll then broadcast. There’s a social networking forum called History City, which gives every gig we’ve ever performed over the last 22 years its own website. We invite fans to upload memories, memorabilia and meet old friends in the process.

For those who want to see “under the hood” of our recorded music, we have the Music Lab and Lyrics Lab, where Greg and I show how we put our tracks together – and provide sound samples from those tracks available for download and remix.

This is all free at the moment, digitally hand crafted by Greg and I. It’s also, frankly, more labour (of love?) than I've ever put into anything. But the sense of control over one’s own destiny is amazing, and the interaction with the fans that are beginning to find us on the web is already rich and rewarding.

Will the cash come in? We’ll give everyone the chance to buy whatever they want, at whatever level. But we know that bands these days can't just pout at the crowds and expect commercial adoration.

To get some, you have to give some. And given that the means whereby we'll do that in the Music Club is through our creativity, it’s hardly an onerous task.

If it all works out, maybe that will persuade King Canute to gently and quietly lower his window. Or put some clothes on, at least.

Pat Kane’s lecture at Glasgow’s Urban Learning Space, Ourselves, Online: A Musician’s Quest for a New Business Model is on June 27 at 10am.

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Tags: 2008, business model, music club, open soul

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Comment by darren on November 12, 2008 at 15:33
i think the hue and cry music club is head of it time and fab, but in the future i would gladly pay a yearly prescription to join, as i dont give my time for nothing and dont expect the lads to either,as long as we continue to get live performances,and regular updates
Comment by Mr Jamie Michael Lister on September 22, 2008 at 12:37
Spot-on Andy, i totally agree with you. I feel sad and sorry for "Generation Next". I always hear people saying "I wish i was twenty years younger...". Well i certainly don't. I think that Hue & Cry are leading the way with this site and it's going to be a model much copied in future me thinks! No substitute for experience!
Comment by Martin on September 19, 2008 at 11:32
It is great that the boys didn't compromise in what music they wanted to produce, so many times you see bands being moulded by music biz money grabbers who have no idea about playing an instrument or the process of song writing. They say can you produce more songs like this one as it moved millions of units, only thinking about the £'s and not about the integrity of the music. I know this is one of the reasons that Phil Gould left Level 42 at the height of their success. Hopefully the internet will give artists greater freedom to push the musical barriers.
Comment by Kati Tierney on September 18, 2008 at 14:37
Is there anyone out there still playing H & C vinyl on their Linn Sondek ?
Comment by DC on July 15, 2008 at 18:44
Pat should pass comment on one of the biggest Internet 'crimes', that of the MP3 format. In an age where everything has become more powerful, more portable and more accessible, it is very odd that consumers readily accept a sound format that is sonically inferior to that of Betamax, circa 1975.

However, the biggest Internet crime of all is that of the use of the letter 'i-'; prefix any old technology, regardless of how pointless or archaic it is, with the letter 'i-', and suddenly you find yourself transported to a world that even Fagen's IGY couldn't have foretold.

Just imagine, a technology that allowed you to watch a programme, that you'd missed, when you were out, at a time that suited you, over and over, thereby enriching your life; Betamax, 1975.
Comment by David on July 14, 2008 at 10:22
Well for what its worth; I think everything moves on and you go with the flow. You make the most out of whats there, no one knows exactly where the music industry will go. And this web site is a great example have you ever known of artists who let the fans vote on covers they want, or share the experience that brought them the songs? (to this extent) It gives a better understanding and brings the artist on the stage or 'pedistal' back to life and closer to the fans, just a few clicks away. Maybe the album or web site should be called 'Open Minded' as it takes leaders like this to carve the way without leaving out the fans and actually asking them the questions and gaining their views on the matter? Keep up the good work. D
Comment by philip welsh on July 8, 2008 at 16:39
totally agree with everything u say,at 40 myself its great to seen people like pat and greg still out there doing what theve always been good at
Comment by Andy P. on July 6, 2008 at 19:36
Yes Being 40+ is cool. God I would hate to young growing up in the times we are living in. I prob sound like a grumpy old man (and prob am) but todays society leaves a lot to be desired.
Comment by Greg on July 6, 2008 at 1:03
Amen Andy ... I'm really enjoying being 40+ ... a good time for us!

G
Comment by Andy P. on July 5, 2008 at 15:17
Lads music died long before the digital era imo. Todays disposable society is getting what they crave, disposable pop. No longer is music made to appeal to the thinker, because todays society does not wanna think for themselves. That would force them to evaluate their lives and that would hurt too much.

No music today is only background noise for the playstation genaration. Gone are the days when the cover of the song was as important as the music it contained. Todays genaration have it all, without even lifting a finger to get it. Mobile phones, i-pod,gameboy.wii, the list goes on. And just as soon as they get the latest fad then another one comes along and they have to have it. Thats the way they treat music. NEXT !

I will always support acts such as yourself because you have me in mind when producing a new cd, you aint gonna be rappin on on it or doing a house track. No you are gonna do what you do best and that appeals to your audience (like me). Yes you do want new fans and yes you will attract them,but on your terms. Thats the difference between Independant music and corporate. The big lads decide what the public want, and the public say Thanks !

My genaration will always want physical copies of your music and we accept Digital when thats all thats available, we treasure music for it has in one way or other helped shape our lives. Todays kids are heading nowhere fast, they will always file share because thats all they know, and when they in many years to come look back over there lives and music collection they will see that they have in both respects got nothing to hold on to.

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