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Last year I gave you my heart…

December 16, 2012

It’s the last couple of weeks of 2012 and, like many people, I’ve been pondering the achievements (or lack of them) of the passing year and dreaming about the possibilities of the forthcoming year.

Broken Drum Records is my baby – the fruit of my spiritual and emotional loins, the way to express the inexpressible to a largely indifferent world. I am fortunate in that life has led me to some musical companions who either share some of the vision or whose own creative aspirations allow them to travel alongside me for a while.

In 2012, we released a few collections of tunes of which I am very proud. Secret Archives of the Vatican released Panjandrum and War on Terra and Thousand Yard Prayer released World Without End and Nine Ships. As of 16 December, downloads from our Bandcamp pages were as follows:

  • Panjandrum 367
  • War on Terra 264
  • World Without End 94
  • Nine Ships 45

During the last couple of weeks, I’ve been browsing through old copies of the now defunct Straight No Chaser magazine and also making a point of listening to some of the many CDs I’ve acquired over the years that never quite got the attention they deserved. In both cases I was reminded of some of the reasons I wanted to make music and what it was that excited me all those years ago when I decided to start recording and releasing my own music. There are a lot of things: funky grooves, complex rhythms, bowel-loosening bass, squelchy synths, evocative sounds of Middle-Eastern and Asian instruments, world-creating soundscapes, story-telling titles, genre-confounding juxtapositions, wicked cover art, preconception-defying lyrics, music-industry-ignoring distribution models, enthusiastic and uncynical music journalism – and much, much more.

Well, all that thinking, combined with the above download numbers, has left me feeling a little frustrated.

In one sense, the download numbers for Secret Archives aren’t too bad. The Archives are not a well known band and do almost no gigs. (Speaking of which, various “promoters” this year talked to us of gigs then that was the last we heard. That’s frustrating too). Secret Archives releases continue to be downloaded at a steady trickle and eventually reach respectable numbers (2011’s Barbary Lion, for example, has reach 650 downloads). However, I’m particularly frustrated at the low numbers for Thousand Yard Prayer‘s releases, considering that Nine Ships in particular is, IMHO, a masterpiece of the samplist’s art and is almost unique in the world of electronica in having no tunes in standard 4/4 time and in using non-Western tunings on most tunes. It also kicks arse in a basstastic, desert-riddim, 1001 nights fashion.

Nine Ships Cover_300dpi

At the end of the day, we’re left with the question: “What is success?” Is it sales or downloads? If that is the case, we’re pretty unsuccessful. Is it in achieving creative ends? Maybe we’re doing alright. We have consciously eschewed the paradigms of the dying mainstream music industry and I’m certainly not changing my mind on any aspect of that debate. However, I’m led to the inescapable conclusion that success in terms of increased listeners (as the old music industry knows full well) has nothing to do with good music, creativity, originality etc but is purely to do with cold hard cash and cold heartless marketing. If we had the money to advertise in the right places, butter up the appropriate music journalists, create some cool merchandise to help with cash flow, we could probably do much better. This saddens me because we don’t have the cold, hard cash.

We already have some new projects in the pipeline for 2013. I’m genuinely excited by some of the ideas we’re working on. Somehow, though, I need a change in this coming year. I need to recapture some of that buzz I got from new music back in the day and I need to see our releases reaching many more people. We release everything now on a name-your-own-price basis, which can include free, so it’s not about making money. It is about getting the recognition that I believe the music deserves. There’s an old adage that if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll keep getting the same results. We want different results, so we’ll need to do a different thing. I don’t know what it is yet but feel free to join me on the journey.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Patrick Holt permalink
    December 16, 2012 5:07 pm

    I guess part of the problem in terms of exposure and downloading may be your very genre-defying eclecticism. It means you have come up with material which is unique and innovative, as well as quality, but not adhering to established genres means you don’t get picked up on by the mass of fans of specific genres, including radio DJs. It looks from the outside like your underground scene (as it were) is expanding, with the Ethnostep releases, and that may be a worthwhile banner to label yourselves with for a while. It might be worthwhile seeing if an “ethnostep” club night might be worth trying to get off the ground somewhere. An old friend, Toby Frith, runs a club-night as Bleep 43 for euro-disco and his own prog/kraut-rock techno/electronica material. He might be able to help out.

  2. December 16, 2012 5:21 pm


    This time of year forces you to take stock of things, sometimes whether you want to or not. More than likely it’s just because society programs us it’s the “right time” to make resolutions, changes, decisions that we may regret or remember.

    I’m not blessed by being creative as you are with original music. I’m blessed by knowing what good original music is, and have the foresight and the distribution channels to make it known before anyone else. So, in that respect, you surely know that many more people have heard your music than have ever visited your site or downloaded your albums.

    The fact that no-one has “migrated” from my podcasts and done the recent thing in buying a download from bandcamp is sad, but normal in today’s world. I hardly ever buy music these days. Obviously I’m not a “normal” punter, but even normal punters just listen and rarely buy these days.

    Which brings me to the main point of this response. You do what you, because you love it. The same applies for me. Downloads mean f*ck all. I know that sounds strange said by a man who systematically keeps download records, but my longest running podcast is not a download winner. I do it, because it accurately reflects my musical taste, and this is part of what defines me. There are times (many, many times) when I think “that’s it, I’m tired of doing this. Stop!”, and then one person sends me a note telling me they genuinely liked what I do and it makes my day. I’m sure you feel the same.

    2012 has been a year of dramatic change for me. 2013 will be a year of change. Whether it’s my age or my circumstance, but I cannot stop it. I continue to procrastinate about the future of my podcasts. Time marches on regardless.

    I, for one, look forward to what you will do in 2013. You will challenge me. You will enspire me. You will confuse me. Whatever you do, I will support you, even if I may be a little confused or challenged. If I am the small voice that keeps you motivated in 2013 then that’s good, but it’s really up to you to decide if one voice (or 45 voices) is enough.

  3. Linda Sharp permalink
    December 16, 2012 9:11 pm

    What about some sort of ‘introduction to’ / ‘taster of’ type thing for people like me who have absolutely no clue about this style of music or it’s background or context like ‘economics for dummies’! You might even add an online write up or you tube type clip to explain the basics or really good examples of an unusual instrument. Like I’d love to hear oud or however it’s spelt and get some background and then hear it on a track.


  1. Broken Drum Records update | Secret Archives of the Vatican

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