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.

Behind The Song

NEW SONG: Refugee With An iPhone

Safer to be where the bombs come from than the city on which they’re falling
A short walk in another man’s shoes
Download     mp3 demo     Chords (pdf)     Lyrics (pdf)

I can’t remember who it was (probably just as well) or where it was, but I remember seeing the news reports and someone said to me “if they’re poor refugees, how come they all have iPhones?” I’ve had some contact with refugees so I tried to answer their question. But I think I’ve answered it better here. Verse 3 is true though it’s hard to be totally literal in summing up a life in 8 lines.

Refugee with an iPhone, where are you all coming from?
I’ve a sneaking suspicion you’re pulling some kind of con
Refugee with an iPhone, iPhone that’s newer than mine
Would you jump the queue while I’m stuck here standing in line?

I had a house and a car and a job
Before the secret police, the riots and bombs
But it’s safer to be where the bombs all come from
Than the city on which they are falling
So I gave a man all the money I had
In exchange for a space in the back of a van
And all that I had in a bag on my back
Was my phone and a few bits of clothing

Refugee with an iPhone, where are you all coming from?
I’ve a sneaking suspicion something’s gone horribly wrong
Refugee with an iPhone, they say you have terrorist links
There’s no room on the lifeboats, if we take anymore then we’ll sink

Is it a sign that I’m radicalised
If I don’t want my wife and my daughter to die?
I’ve seen the fear in a little one’s eyes
That her daddy soon will be taken
So I call her now at the end of most days
To tell her I love her, tell her I’m safe
And we both send pictures of our scariest face
And she holds the phone while she’s sleeping

Refugee with an iPhone, exposing uncomfortable truth
We can’t bail out the bankers and afford to look after you too
Cos bankers have friends so high they own the Sun and the Sky
And refugees just like iPhones never take too long to die

In January ’48 Steffie arrived
From the wreckage of Austria to build a new life
Practiced her english late into the night
Reading out loud from the papers
Married a soldier, a practical man
He built a home for them with his own hands
Raised children and chickens and took any job
And one of her children is singing this song

Refugee with an iPhone, how can I deny you the chance,
Deny you the same opportunity my mother had?
Deny you the basic compassion I hope I would find
If the fire that fell on your country was falling on mine
Refugee with an iPhone, a symbol, as two worlds collide
Let’s take a selfie and you can ‘friend’ me if you like…

Here’s another take on the issue from The Independent