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It’s Not About Gun Control & Immigration: Why CD Baby Is Refusing To Distribute My Album (and why I’m quitting Facebook)

Preparing music for digital distribution is one long succession of emails and error messages: “your artwork is in the wrong format”, “WAV files must be 16-bit”, “you need to add publisher info.” But you don’t expect to be told “you must change the titles of tracks 1 and 13.” What?

CD Baby are refusing to distribute my new album Fifty Five Stories Down unless I rename John Lennon Blues and Refugee With An iPhone because “digital partners (Spotify, Apple Music etc) won’t accept songs with celebrities or brands in the title.”

That’s heartbreaking news for a songwriter but it sounds plausible. Until you check out those digital partners. Spotify currently has over 120 songs (playlist here) with titles like

  • I Killed John Lennon
  • You Think You’re (John F**king Lennon)
  • iPhone Therefore I Am
  • Got My Mac On With An iPhone 3G

Big Men In Tights, Sex Clark Five and KC Rebell (ft. Moe) all got their songs through somehow. I mean, who the heck put ‘Shaving John Lennon’ on Spotify and Apple Music?

CD Baby did – that’s who.

Am I being singled-out? Most of my songs are personal, humorous or humorously personal. But three are political and two of those were flagged. ‘John Lennon’ is pro-gun control and ‘Refugee’ is pro-immigration. Is CD Baby engaging in right-wing political censorship?

Honestly? I don’t think so. So how should I respond? And what’s Facebook got to do with this?

As an independent musician who promotes his music by telling his story, conflict sells. What would get me the most clicks? “CD Baby refuses to release my gun control song!” But I’m not gonna do it, cos I don’t believe it’s true.

I think the truth is ‘Big Dumb Company refuses to ask other Big Dumb Company to do something in case third Big Dumb Company sues second Big Dumb Company’. Which, as a narrative, has a lot less juice. Especially on Facebook.

Mayor Zuckerberg loves it when all us little zuckers get angry, pick fights and square off into opposing teams. Because Facebook can make lots of money targeting ads, selling red hats to one team and blue hats to the other. It’s much harder to make a sales pitch when interrupting a friendly, nuanced discussion.

In the last year I’ve noticed I’m becoming more angry, more reactive and more intolerant as I spend more time online, to say nothing of how my everyday narcissism is growing fat on likes and shares. I don’t want to be that guy.

So one week after my album launch I’m quitting Facebook completely. As an individual AND an artist. I’m deleting everything, so even if I ‘come to my senses’ I’ll have to start from scratch with a new URL. I wonder if ‘career-suicide music’ is taken?

I love the stories of artists of old –standing up to all-powerful record companies or radio stations, wealthy patrons or the PMRC, refusing to compromise, even though they had so much to lose. When did music stop being something worth fighting for? I’d rather risk no audience and no online presence than be moulded into something I don’t want to be. So I’m leaving Facebook and I’m not going to destroy CD Baby’s reputation for some cheap publicity.

And I’m not going to rename my songs.

Fifty Five Stories Down is out Feb 1st on Bandcamp.

If you’d like to be informed when it’s out everywhere (or just want to stay in touch) sign up to my mailing list right here.

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Behind The Song

New Song: John Lennon Blues


Pray for a man to put the ‘fist’ in ‘pacifist’
The good die young. Or they just die.
Download     mp3 demo

I’ve never really written a 12 bar blues I was happy with but John Lennon Blues is the closest I’ve got so far. At first it may seem like a pro-gun song but it’s anything but. I was trying to explore the paradox that those who promote peace are often the ones who die violent deaths and the resulting dilemma: if they hadn’t have been so committed to non-violence they’d have survived to preach peace another day, but then their message would have lost it’s potency. So would you rather the men (and women) survive at the cost of their message?

Verses 1 and 2 started with leftover lines from my song Guns. “The lone gunman is not alone” and “put the ‘fist’ in ‘pacifist'” came from my random lines folder and verse 4 borrowed a phrase from Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller“Hold our palms against the wound” (p.114).

“That coward Caulfield” is a reference to Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger‘s novel The Catcher In The Rye, a character that John Lennon’s killer Mark Chapman strongly identified with (in fact he read the book outside the Dakota Building whilst waiting for the police to arrest him after the murder). There are biblical references, Jesus refused to “call down fire from heaven” on those who didn’t welcome him (Luke 9:54), promised “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52) and said “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7). I also liked the ambiguity of juxtapositing the blues holler “whoa” with the biblical curse “woe”.

Musically it owes something (maybe an apology?) to The Beatles Yer Blues and Helter Skelter and Jimi Hendrix’s Hey Joe. When I wrote the track during FAWM I had a really heavy cold and knew my voice wouldn’t be up to multiple takes so I decided to record guitar and vocals at the same time. Sure enough by the end of the first take I started to cough uncontrollably (I managed to mute the mic but you can still hear it in places) and the coughing fit lasted another 10 minutes until I tore a muscle in my chest. And that’s why there’s no take 2.

Whoa If John Lennon had a gun
Whoa If John Lennon had a gun
He still be singing “all you need is love”

Oh if he’d given peace a chance
Oh and pulled a piece on each crazy fan
And shot that coward Caulfield in the back

Woe if Gandhi had a knife
Woe if Reverend King took a life
If Jesus Christ had enough and just rained down fire

If you live by the sword you’ll die by it – that’s gospel truth
But the sword of a sinner can pierce a righteous man too
And you’ll die holding innocent hands against the wound

Woe, the lone gunman is not alone
Woe, the lone gunman is not alone
And every man without sin has pockets full of stones

Woe that the world should come to this
Woe that the world should come to this
And pray for a man to put the ‘fist’ in ‘pacifist’

Whoa if John Lennon had a gun
Whoa if John Lennon had a gun
Those Dakota steps would have been stained with another man’s blood