Long Tail Blues
by Alex Walsh
When I first started playing gigs in my 20s I did not want to be one of those “50 year old white guys playing the blues in bars.” Well, I turned 50 last month and there I was, onstage in a bar, playing the blues. I have to say I think my younger self was just jealous. Maybe it’s because all those “50 year old white guys playing the blues in bars” always looked like they were having a good time. I was having a blast.
I had been asked to fill in on guitar for my friends Deborah Crooks and Kwame Copeland’s band Bay Station. Bay Station is a West Coast Americana band, but they do play a few bluesy numbers. That night we played a couple bluesy songs that I had co-written with Deborah. And so there I was “a 50 year old white guy…”
Later that night during a break, Farrell Williams song “Happy” came on the jukebox. I remember reading a few years ago that it had 43 million spins on Pandora and he was only paid $3,000 in songwriting royalties. That is crazy!
As a songwriter myself, that made me think of my own songwriting royalties from Pandora (insert crickets chirping here).
Doing a little simple math in my head, I realized that I was making more money playing my two co-written songs that night than all the years of streaming my music on Pandora. This did not seem fair.
Luckily, there is legislation floating through congress called the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act. It was first introduced in 2015, and has recently been re-introduced with bipartisan support. Seems like everyone (technology companies especially) is making all this money off music and the songwriters and musicians aren’t getting their fair share. Content creators getting ripped off? Say it isn’t so!
Write to your congressperson here:
There was a popular idea floating around during the turn of the 2000s called The Long Tail. The idea was that with the internet, everything would always be available online and sales would trickle in over time. I remember people theorizing that musicians would all be taken care of because of this Long Tail. But I don’t see that happening now. The Long Tail idea was invented in the 90s when people bought CDs. Now it’s all about music streaming. I think musicians and songwriters got a bad deal.
Then Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall came on the jukebox. In my head I couldn’t help it and I changed the words:
“All in all you’re just a
‘nother niche in the tail.”
When the night was over I packed up my gear. I was tired and glad. Glad to be alive and able to play music, and glad that I had spent my 40s searching for the smallest and lightest amp I could find.
The next morning I was excited because the SGI Golden Gate Chorus was going to sing one of my songs at a Buddhist meeting. I was able to bring a couple of my songwriter friends as guests, which was very cool. The audience loved it and they even applauded me for writing it! The tail is indeed long.