How Did I End Up Here?
Sometimes I ask myself that question!
I didn't start out trying to break free from the system. Up until the age of 27, I was just a guy looking for a way to make music independently on my own terms. There was no me versus the system attitude. No trying to demolish the music industry or anything. I was quite happy to work alongside it all. I knew instinctively I could never fit in it as an artist but I did do things like submit my songs for publishing deals, try to get song placements, etc... My thinking behind this was if I could get some of my songs recorded by other artists it would be a way for me to get my music out there and being heard while at the same time generating an income for me to afford time and space to develop as an artist in my own right.
Back in those days, my voice was still emerging, I had problems singing live, my voice would get tired easily, which made it difficult for me to sing songs all the way through. I had barely practised guitar since songs came to me very early on, and I had no other instruments around so my skills as a musician were pretty limited. The only thing I had that I knew were already at high quality were my songs. The rest was gonna take time to develop and in an ideal world I'd have been given the time to develop. However, there was a lot of pressure around me to earn money and due to the CFS/ME diagnosis (which I later realised was actually Kundalini Awakening symptoms) I couldn't work in a normal 9 - 5 job. Music suited me. I could create and do stuff in my own time and on my own terms. I just needed a little help to get the ball rolling. So that's why I interacted with the industry in those days, in the hope of landing a publishing deal.
It's funny, back then, my main problem with that intention was all the artists who put out music similar to mine were in bands with songwriters already so they weren't looking outside themselves for original songs. Those artists who were all pretty much existed in the manufactured pop scene, and so they also weren't looking for the kind of music I was making. When I see Liam Gallagher in the last few years with his solo career I sometimes think "If only he'd been in this position back in 2003!..". He would've been exactly the kind of artist who could've made a good fit with my music and maybe some of my songs could've been right for him.
It wasn't to be and now I see why. Had that happened I may have simply ended up as a songwriter and would never have realised I could do these songs myself. As it happened, I had no choice. The industry rejected me back then and I'm glad of that now. When I say rejected, as I say, I never really had my heart in it so I wasn't disturbed by this rejection, but of course, had an opportunity presented itself that I felt was right I would've taken it. All of these experiences have played their part in giving me the conviction to go it independently and do it all myself, with the help of close friends. People who really love what you do and want to be part of it, not just faceless companies and organisations with a team of staff working for a bunch of artists, some who they will naturally prefer over others. I always had it in mind to have people around me who are fans of what I do first and foremost. They aren't already working for a label and get placed with a new artist to work with but people who discover me in a more natural way, as listeners, and then who wish to bring their creativity to what I'm doing. Their enthusiasm overcomes any lack of experience. Those are the people I've always been seeking.
My attitude of carrying on alongside the music industry, not seeing it as an enemy, continued through SoulJahm up until maybe the last 5 years. I began to see for myself just how hard the system makes it if you try to do anything different. If you do not go down the designated routes set out by the industry then life becomes quite tough because you find certain indie paths you attempt to go down get blocked. This is difficult for people who have not experienced it to understand. It happens in lots of subtle ways which all build up to give you an unfair disadvantage on the playing field.
When I busked on the streets of Edinburgh, beginning in the autumn of 2016, I observed how the rigidity of the system more and more encroached on the freedom to play directly to people. Anytime I got a pleasant, peaceful vibe going, with a few people gathered, just sitting listening, enjoying, some character would be sent to disrupt the vibe. A drunk, crazy or homeless guy would appear. It was clear to me that these characters were 'sent' by some other force. They as individuals probably didn't know what they were even doing but I could see something was 'sending' them my way as a response to the peaceful, pleasant vibe I was creating with the audience I had.
Then I'd get other characters who would try to persuade me to play in bars or somehow push me to get off the streets and into the industry. Its like my presence was annoying them or annoying some force. The reason I suspect is that I simply wanted to play for people who enjoyed with no middle-man, no interfering agencies, simply me and the audience becoming one. It's one of the reasons I played on the streets so much. I enjoyed the freedom, directness and spontaneity of it. In a bar, they'd expect covers or a 'show' of some kind. Playing on the streets seemed more directly about Music to me. It's not to say that's where I forever saw myself. I never saw myself as a busker but as a singer/songwriter/musician playing live on the streets. A very old-fashioned and kind of humble thing. Taking Music back to its roots.
As the years went on, these disruptions moved from odd characters here and there to being harassed by more official type people. A few times guys with yellow bib jackets showed up to tell me I wasn't allowed to play here, one time an office worker came out to challenge me, then on other occasions I had the police approach me basically making up rules as they went along. Places I'd played many times with no problem suddenly were getting shut off to me. Everything was becoming more 'official' and I could see what the aim was. The system doesn't want mavericks or rebels or DIY type people. Everything has to be controlled by them. Everything has to be done in a venue established and monitored by them. Can't have musicians playing freely on the streets to people, making their own money, making a life for themselves. Everything needs to be orderly and audited. I could feel that attitude coming at me.
In parallel to this I saw a similar thing taking place online. For many years I played for free, relying on donations or goodwill for anything in return. Some people were good in this sense but far too many took advantage, never giving anything back. So when the Covid scam broke in 2020 it emphasised a need to earn a living in different ways. Luckily, I instinctively knew at the end of December 2019 that I would not busk for a long time or perhaps ever again. It was just a feeling I had, so I knew I was wrapping up that phase. Three months later when the world changed I understood what that feeling had been about. Now livestreaming was the only place left for someone like me so I inhabited that world for a while. When the opportunity to pay-for-play came my way I utilised it. It felt only fair. I wouldn't be able to go into a cafe and sit there and expect a service for free. When all other workplaces were making a fuss about their living it seemed only fair musicians should also be paid fairly for their work and services. What I found was people object to paying for art in these times. Not everyone but certainly a lot of people have devalued art in their minds. Only when they realise what they've lost will it hit them and by then it will be too late.
Aside from the public's resistance to paying for art, it seems more and more dodgy companies have sprung up trying to con artists out of being paid fairly whilst pretending to offer that very fairness! Some even more established companies seem to have turned dark, suddenly ruining their reputations and turning on their customers. I've experienced both in the livestreaming and distribution of my music. After moving away from Street Jelly, which was my main livestreaming hub, because nobody was interested in the pay-for-play model I was using there, I found a new place called Sessions Live. They were offering more fairness to the artist as a viable way to make a living playing live. At first it looked promising but more and more with them I saw something I'd witnessed with some of the other livestreaming platforms... This thing of making it more like a computer game than a genuine music site. Virtual prizes, levels, incentives for playing more and more, etc all giving the illusion of the artist making progress but basically nothing more than useless toys designed to keep artists pedalling away on the hamster wheel, generating viewers and income for the platform but nothing much left for the artist. It's the reason music is generally so bad today. All the established artists are puppets of the agendas the system at large is pushing and all the newcomer artists have nothing to say cos they are scared to say anything, they know fine well that you have to "play the game" to achieve success. A few of them may get that success but how do they sleep at night? No true art can come out of that system because everything is being steered in the direction of the artist fitting themselves to the criteria of these platforms rather than the platforms fitting themselves to the artists needs. In wider society, the same is going on with whatever the fashionable agendas are.
I quickly gave up playing on Sessions Live and lucky I did because at the start of 2023 I discovered they have disappeared with all the artists money! Some artists had a few hundred in their accounts which they lost and so far, doesn't look like they are going to get that money back. Sessions Live have essentially stolen it. I had a small amount, which I couldn't withdraw, because (another trap) most of these services conveniently have a withdrawal limit so you can only get your money once it passes the threshold.
What prompted me to write this post is something that happened today. The distributor I was using to release my songs notified me recently that they were changing their free service to include further limitations, essentially forcing me to upgrade to their Pro service, which I cannot afford. So I had to look for a new distributor. The best and cheapest I could find was Tunecore. I signed up earlier this month, and paid the £12.99 yearly fee, then began uploading some releases for this coming year. Yesterday I got notified that the When She Calls single had been rejected. No reason for this given and no way to get it accepted until I found a reason. Emailing them for help on this they replied:
"Thank you for writing and I apologize for the delay. Unfortunately, we have made an internal decision not to release the content and to protect our review policies and practices, we do not disclose the reasons why releases are blocked."
That means I have paid £12.99 as a yearly fee which was supposed to allow me unlimited releases and they at will, can pick and choose what they will release, without explanation. How do I know in advance they won't reject further releases? I don't! So its a complete con. Theft. All the tracks in question have been released previously through other distribution platforms. In looking into this matter more I saw its quite a common thing with Tunecore and they claim its not personal but won't explain. I have asked for a full refund, since I only joined a couple of weeks ago and nothing has been released through them but I doubt they will do so. They've actually pulled all my other future releases in the last few hours. So Tunecore has effectively stolen £12.99 from me (*update - a week or so after writing this they did eventually refund me this amount as a "one-time courtesy refund" and I've now managed to distribute through CD Baby, where I originally started with One Way Ticket in 2006).
Still, we move on, and they will never stop this Music. I will always find a way to make it and always find a way to release it to the public. I will wrap it up here by saying, it should now be obvious to anyone who doubted me all these years why I was always so insistent and stubborn about not involving myself in the music industry. Like the whole system, its rotten to the core, its an old, crumbling, decaying, stinking piece of shit which was originally built by narcissists and psychopaths to serve a select few and keep everybody else pedalling along, hoping, chasing the carrots they dangle but never arriving where they promise. That is not me saying anything against all of the individuals working for the system, many whom simply want to earn a living in an area they love, but who lack the awareness to see what they are involved in or the courage to get out. Each thing like this which I experience only confirms to me why I'm doing things the way I am and why I have to and why its time for humans to interact in a fairer, more direct, more civilised way based on love, joy and enthusiasm.
This battle is all coming from their end. I am not fighting anyone or anything. Since Truth opened up in me what has been confirmed to me time and again is I am in no conflict with others who take the system route but they are always in conflict with me. I can work alongside them, doing my thing, but they can never accept that because its in their nature to have to control everything. Those who serve the system cannot tolerate people being free, cannot tolerate anything they cannot control. I'm only interested in controlling myself, my world, the things I do and create, which is fair and right. I have no interest in interfering in the lives of others. Yet they are always seeking to control the whole lot, their world, my world, your world but ultimately they cannot and that is what drives them crazy. Freedom always breaks through the cracks, just like nature always finds its way through the concrete.