Seventy thousand badgers, badgers, badgers... (Klub Kakofanney Lockdown Letter)

Seventy thousand badgers, badgers, badgers...

Some people get obsessed about getting Facebook clicks and YouTube views, and will even buy themselves thousands of fake clicks and fake thumbs-ups, believing this is the key to becoming famous. A quote I like is "Don't strive to be famous, strive to be talented". I just can't remember who said it though. I guess that means they were not famous enough.

Live it for today

Lockdown has made life difficult for performing musicians. Over the past 18 months, Phil and Sue's band, The Mighty Redox, has been putting together a new album, "Fiesta d'Amor", and the cost of the studio time and CD production was covered by the amazingly generous donations of friends and fans who chipped in to the crowdfunding appeal. A couple of weekends ago they held a launch gig at The Tree in Iffley, and it was great to see so many of you there. The sun was out, people were dancing, living in the moment and enjoying themselves. Wonderful! Here is a video which I hope captures the spirit of the day, and is a thank you to everyone who made the album possible.

I'm always telling bands that you can do more things with a set of photos than just putting them in a gallery on Facebook, so hopefully that video has given you some inspiration into creative ways you could use your own pics and clips. Your music can make your photos more engaging, and your photos can keep people listening to your music. They work well together. Synergy, and all that.

Look for new opportunities

I'd also encourage artists and bands to look at things like crowd-funding as a way of furthering their music, and you can do it without needing the permission of a record label. It certainly isn't a magic money tree, and it needs a lot of hard work and a commitment to your fans, but it can be a way for talented people to fund their art. It can also be a lot more rewarding, both financially and emotionally, than the advertising-driven routes which funnels only a tiny part of the income back to the artists, and provides even less human feedback. You will be surprised how much people are willing to help you directly, and who want to support grass-roots talent, if you just give them the chance. If any of you ever want to bounce ideas off me about how to go about crowd funding yourselves, please feel free to get in touch.

More than ever

Rihanna is now worth one billion dollars and is officially the richest of the rich pop stars. There is a lot of money in the music business. It is a shame more of it doesn't trickle down to supporting the grass roots of the industry. This is a cover of Rihanna's first single, "Umbrella", performed in 2008 by Amanda Palmer and The Danger Ensemble. They were performing on the streets of Dublin as a way of promoting their upcoming gig at the city's theatre, although later in the day they were asked to stop busking because they hadn't asked anyone for permission. It is a good reminder that successful independent artists and bands look beyond Facebook to find other ways to publicise their gigs and promote themselves.

With more people at home and listening to music during lockdown, top pop stars, record labels and streaming companies all made a lot of money, whilst small venues and upcoming bands struggled to make ends meet. Support your local musicians. Now they need you more than ever.

One billion views

Do you remember Four Non Blondes? You must have heard their great song "What's up?" The video of that song was uploaded to YouTube in 2011 and since then it has racked up over a billion views. If my calculator is to be believed, that's about 200 views a minute, every minute of every day for the last ten years. Not bad for a band which disbanded in 1994. Do you want to know what a billion view video looks and sounds like?

Back in 1992 when this video was recorded, the vast majority of people hadn't heard of the world wide web, and YouTube was still more than a decade away.

Anyone try the fish?

Just a few years later, Microsoft released Windows95 to huge fanfare and set us all on the road to using mice. Windows95 was supplied on a CD, which had so much spare space that Microsoft included some extra goodies. There was a four minute extract from the then-popular TV series, "Happy Days", (yes, the one with The Fonz). The clip on the CD features the band semi-fictitious band Weezer from Winsconsin (who are actually the real Weezer from Los Angeles), playing the song "Buddy Holly" at a fictitious DIY gig in a diner.

The music still sounds surprisingly fresh and modern. Not so sure about the band's fashion though. Beige cardigans at a gig? Somehow that doesn't feel very rock'n'roll.

Good times, bad times

The other bonus item on the Windows95 CD was a video of Edie Brickell singing "Good Times, Bad Times" and in this case both the music and the fashion sense has stood the test of time, and the way the video is edited together still looks totally modern.

Back then, August 1995, these videos were probably the first time that most people had ever seen a PC playing TV-like quality images. Sure we'd all seen blocky video games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders, but this was real video and good quality music in stereo. Ten years later, YouTube uploaded its first ever online video and within a couple of years after that, long before YouTube was bought up by Google, people were making and publishing their own music videos. YouTube allowed independent artists to bypass the stranglehold that MTV had on music videos. You no longer needed someone's approval to publish. Michael Alex, one of MTV's Producers, said: "Once YouTube came to be, it was all over. YouTube was MTV on steroids".

How we begin to remember

I think Edie Brickell was unknown to most people outside the USA, and possibly inside as well. Have you ever heard of her? She was, and still is, married to Paul Simon. Paul Simon had already been a successful musician for a quarter of a century when he released "Graceland", in 1986, which is surely one of the greatest albums ever. Here is one of the tracks from it, "Under African Skies", performed another quarter century after that, at the Hyde Park concert in 2012. This version includes some Xihosa lyrics and is a great example of how music can transcend cultural divides.

Simon and Garfunkel first performed together as "Tom and Jerry" back in the late 1950s, and wrote a hit single called "Schoolgirl" which sold 100,000 copies and for which they received just 2% of the royalties. Some things never change. Their first album as Simon and Garfunkel was "Wednesday morning 3am" released in 1964 which initially sold just 3,000 copies, proving we all have to start somewhere.

It is said that Warner Bros were very reluctant to publish Graceland, thinking it would be a flop. The album went on to sell around 13 million copies. It also caused controversy because Simon recruited black South African musicians for the album and paid them at three times the normal rate, but in doing so broke the cultural and sporting boycott of South Africa. Simon said he hadn't asked the ANC for permission, or the Pretoria government for permission. He asked the musicians and artists. Jerry Dammers, the writer of "Free Nelson Mandela" and later founder of Two Tone Records asked: "Who does he think he is?"

Back to the roots

These days, YouTube lets us share images from across the world far more easily, and let's us discover things overlooked by the mainstream media. This video is a song by Sona Jobarteh, who was born in London but is of Gambian heritage. Gambia is a tiny impoverished country of two million people split across ten ethnic groups located on the coast of West Africa. Jobarteh's music explores traditional African roots and this beautiful song, sung in Mandinka, was written for the celebrations in 2015 of Gambia's 50th anniversary of independence.

The more we know about people in other countries and cultures, the more we understand that we are all one human race and we share the same hopes and dreams, the same needs for kindness and laughter, the same passions for music and dance. Music and video is such an effective way of speaking in a universal language and breaking down those artificial barriers. Surely communication and education works better than cultural boycotts.

Have you logged in to your band's YouTube channel recently?

Over the last year, Google has been introducing requirements for stronger passwords and confirmation codes sent to mobiles. From the start of November, much of this will become mandatory for many accounts. Some YouTubers have already received messages when they logged in which say they need to turn on Two Step Verification (2SV) by 1st November or they will lose access to their account. With music in the doldrums for the last 18 months, it has been very easy for bands to neglect their YouTube channels.

This is really important. If you have a neglected YouTube channel, make sure you log into YouTube studio and check you are still getting back in okay. Check that you know the password, that the email address linked to the account is still correct, and the phone number you signed up with is your current one. You do not want to lose control of your band's identity on YouTube, and it will be much easier for you to fix these problems now than it will be from November onwards.

Heading back to the real world

Coronavirus and lockdown meant many musicians turned to the online world and tried out things they'd never have dared attempt previously. They were shaken out of their comfort zone, and that's never a bad thing for an artist. Now though, gigs are slowly but surely resuming. The pure music venues are rushing headlong back to events, and who can blame them because they need the money to survive. The venues which are embedded within a pub are a bit slower to risk returning to gigging, but gradually they are coming back online too.

Venue availability in Oxford is the outstanding issue right now. With a suitable venue, we do think we can run gigs safely. We still haven't got any confirmed dates for the return of Klub Kakofanney, but we are working on it and I am very hopeful we can bring you some good news in the near future. We are approaching the 30th anniversary of the establishment of Klub Kakofanney, and that is definitely worth celebrating with a gig. As soon as we know anything for sure, we will, of course, let you know.

Putting away the pen

When I started writing these letters, early last year, my intention was to try to keep you in touch with what was happening with our gig plans, to try to give you some inspiration on ways you could approach music, but most of all to remind you that you are part of a musical family and you are not alone.

I planned to do about half a dozen letters before we could get back towards normality again, but it turns out this is letter number 72. Over this period I've introduced you to about 20 videos which were recorded specially for us during lockdown including a series of video blogs by Phil and Sue. There were also 36 videos which I compiled from archive footage I've shot at past Klub Kakofanney events. Added to that, I've suggested an eclectic mix of over 200 videos I like from bands and artists across the UK and around the world. I reckon if you've watched everything I've linked to, that would be two or three days of your life that you wouldn't be getting back. A huge thanks to all the bands who made videos for us, and a huge thank you to the bands that let me use the videos of them. Your support over this really difficult period has been greatly appreciated.

A final thought

Now that the world is getting back to reality, it is time for me to draw this to a close, and focus on real world gigs again. So here is a final thought for you. Believe in yourself. As a musician, you are already talented and you have the power to influence people in good ways. Don't strive to be famous, strive to be good.

25th September 2021
The Lockdown Letters
Klub Kakofanney