Sunday, August 9, 2015

Streaming Music Services and a payment model proposal

I'm conflicted about Spotify. It's brilliant for the user. It sucks for the artist. The argument that "this is how people discover your band" or "a promoter can hear your band and hire you, that's how you make money" is just absurd. Let's say you're a chef. By the same logic, you would make all your food free to anyone who wants it, maybe put a few street vending carts out there with the hope that they'll love it and come sit in your restaurant. That's unsustainable and everyone knows it. Making quality sound recordings is not cheap and touring barely pays for itself... so let's assume we agree that not paying artists for the music that's streamed is unsustainable. What to do?

Spotify and other services can't be free. They just can't. There's too much overhead, not only for the artist but for Spotify itself to just give that shit away. YouTube shouldn't be free either. Subscription is the name of the game. So Spotify charges $10 a month, which I gladly pay because, frankly, it's a deal at 5x the price. If I ran the world (I run my world, it's awesome. You're not welcome to visit, however, get your own world) that subscription fee would first be split between Spotify and the artists, let's be generous and give Spotify 50% (30% is probably better, but again, I'm feeling generous and I think Spotify has done something wonderful). This leaves $5.00 for the artist (not everyone does math, believe it or not). That $5 should be split between every track that user listens to that month. If I listen to one song, one time, that artist lucks out and gets $5 for it. If I listen to 100 different songs by 100 different artists, they all get $.05. If you have an adventurous fanbase who digests tons of music, you'll make less money. If you have a song that's an absolute earworm and gets 90% of a listeners plays, you make more money. Artist share should be split evenly between the performer and the songwriter. You write and perform/record the song, you get it all. You cover someone's tune and they get half, which is what they deserve because you couldn't have played/recorded it if they/you hadn't brought it into existence.

Simple, elegant, and it guarantees that at least 50% of the money that you pay into Spotify goes to artists. It eliminates any gaming of the system by repeatedly playing your songs or whatever people do to try to increase their own revenue. If you get more plays, you get paid. Turn a fan on to your music and you get a chunk of their $5.

I welcome your critique, but I probably won't read it. I'll be listening to music or outside or doing one of a million things (basically anything) that's a better use of time than reading the comments section of anything.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bluegrass, Beer & Bikes 2015

In October of last year, I was driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway headed for a trailhead, windows down, bike on the roof. The leaves were starting to change, there was no one on the road and there would be no one else on the trail... it was a perfect day. I got to thinking about the Parkway, how it tied the Blue Ridge together and it occurred to me that it would be really amazing if I could take that perfect day and share it. I thought, "I like bikes, and beer, and playing music, and nice drives... maybe other people would get into this sort of thing." A few days later I was playing music in Charlottesville and I got to talking with some friends from Blue Ridge Outdoors about this plan I was hatching: 4 days, 4 breweries, 4 great small towns with world class single track. Is this something that BRO might want to get involved in?

Fast forward a few months and the plan was set, the breweries committed, bike clubs engaged, sponsors acquired and itinerary set. Bluegrass, Beer & Bikes was our working title and the mission was clear; everything all of the time.

I enlisted the help of fellow cyclist, logistical genius, Stringdusters Tour Manager and little sister (we're both only children) Katrina to come along to keep the train on the tracks and keep everyone happy. We left Nelson County on a warm Wednesday night, arriving in Brevard, NC around midnight. It had been raining, as it tends to do in Brevard, and I had doubts about the group ride the next day but the morning dawned with sunny skies and temps in the low 60's. Spring had sprung and we were the beneficiaries as about 15 of us rolled out of Oskar Blues Brewery, onto the greenway and into the legendary Pisgah National Forest.

We started making friends immediately, common experience is the ultimate bonding opportunity and we were in it, stomping the pedals up steady climbs, whooping as we banked down newly tuned trails. After a couple hours we retreated to the brewery, dumped some water over our heads (turns out you can have a shower with just a quart of water) and got down to business. Reps from KEEN and Farm to Feet socks were on hand as well as a contingency from the Asheville BRO offices. I played for about 3 hours, we raffled off some great prize packages, I grabbed a growler to go and headed for the hotel.

The morning dawned cold and we knew it was only going to get colder as we drove north, into the mountains to Boone, NC. There were only 6 hardy souls out for a midday, post-snow group ride at Rocky Knob Bike Park but what we lacked in numbers we more than made up for in enthusiasm. We shot a bunch of footage for a video, lapped a section of kickers/table tops, then retreated to the warmth and safety of the car before catching a quick shower and heading to Appalachian Mountain Brewery. AMB's business model is built around giving back to the community through fundraising, profit sharing, collaborations and just good times. Our Yakima rep, Jonny, arrived after a non-stop drive from Texas and he jumped right in, pitching the raffle, talking shop and, most importantly, helping to drink a few beers.

7am, open the hotel window, 2 inches of snow on the car and piling up. Rapidly. Initially I'd hoped to route from Boone to Roanoke, then on to Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Nelson County, but the way the dates fell, we skipped over Roanoke to DBB, and a noon arrival compounded by North Carolina high country weather conditions made for an early morning and a race to the gig! Temps were in the low 40's but the sun was shining so we stuck to the plan and threw the party outside. I needed hand warmers in my pockets to keep the fingers moving, but the crowd needed no help in raising almost $2000 for CAMBC (Charlottesville Area Mountain Bike Club). They sold CAMBC branded Klean Kanteen pints that included beer... needless to say it was a successful plan!

After the music, about 20 of us got out on the trails at DBB for a couple laps. Over the last 3 years, I've lived on the property at Devils Backbone, (to be known as Devils Backbone Basecamp and Meadows) and in that time I've (almost) single handedly plotted, cleared, cut and maintained the 3 miles of beginner friendly but fun-for-everyone single track. Initially commissioned by the brewery to be used as a 5k XC running course, I designed every section with mountain bikes in mind and it's resulted in a fun and fast trail with some whoops and jumps, twists and turns that leads you on a complete tour of the property. This tour and this event was a Grand Opening of sorts and it made me so happy to see so many riders out on the trails. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the trail and my hope is that as I move on (south to Brevard) that the trails will continue to be used and loved and maintained by local riders.

Post ride we convened in the brewery for beers and dinner. It's rare that a brewery has trails onsite that dump you out at the brewery so we took advantage! Early to bed, early to rise, and straight south to Roanoke, our final stop. I'd had a hunch that Sunday at Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers would be the biggest day of the tour and I was right. We had at least 30 riders at noon for our group ride which consisted of a complete tour of Mill Mountain, accessible from downtown. When I planned the tour I'd assumed we'd ride at Carvins Cove, a soon-to-be legendary riding spot west of town, but I'd inquired about riding from the brewery, Craig from RIMBA (Roanoke chapter of IMBA) had literally pointed out the window of the brewery toward the giant M and said, "we're building trails on Mill Mountain as we speak, why don't we earmark the funding for that project and do a tour of those trails." Perfect.

I'd come to realize that one of the major obstacles or barriers to entry that mountain biking faces is accessibility. When I was growing up, before I had a car, I had a bike and I rode it. Everywhere. 15 miles round trip to school then straight out my backdoor into the Pike National Forest. If I'd had to put a bike in a car and get a ride to and from the trailhead, mountain biking wouldn't have played the pivotal role in my youth that it did. For mountain biking to continue to grow and reach new participants, it needs trails near population centers, like Mill Mountain. It needs trails near landmarks and in multi-use parks like Devils Backbone. It needs parks specifically built and maintained to bring new mountain bikers into the sport and challenge them as they progress, like at Rocky Knob, and it needs entire communities committed to increasing access to the woods and cultivating a cycling culture, like in Brevard, NC.

The ride ended late, the expert group I was in couldn't get enough, so I had about 30 minutes to dump some water over my head, eat a grilled cheese and get to making music. Soaring Ridge has a beautiful tasting room with tall ceilings, floor to ceiling glass, and plenty of room. We wedged at least 200 people in there Sunday afternoon and raised nearly $500, entirely donations, for the ongoing work RIMBA is doing in the community. By 7pm there was nothing left to do but finish my last pint, pack up the banners and the sound system, toss them in the by now completely disorganized rear half of the 4Runner and head for home. As Katrina and I drove north, with the sun setting on our whirlwind tour, content, happy and reflective, we both agreed, next year cannot come fast enough.

Huge thanks to Blue Ridge Outdoors. Without your enthusiasm and support, this tour wouldn't have reached a critical mass. Thanks also to the breweries; Oskar Blues in Brevard, Appalachian Mountain Brewery in Boone, Soaring Ridge Craft Brewers in Roanoke, and Devils Backbone Brewing Company in Roseland. They provided the location and context and put up a substantial part of the sponsorship that made this tour possible. We had 5 great sponsors on board who made product available, sent representatives and helped spread the word. KEEN, Klean Kanteen, Farm to Feet, and Ride Solutions were all fantastic partners. Special thanks to Jonny at Yakima who joined us for 3 dates, took two rides and stayed at my house one night. Finally, everyone who came out to ride, came out to listen, or just helped spread the word about this tour, without you, it's all meaningless.

In 2016, we're putting the bikes first; Bikes, Bluegrass & Beer. Website coming soon!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Festy Experience 2014

Inspired by my bandmate Chris Pandolfi's Insiders Guide to Festy Five, I put together a list of bands I'm stoked to see at The Festy in a few weeks.

New Mastersounds
My favorite band on Jamcruise, I'm thrilled to see the English fellas get funky in Nelson County. On a boat full of funk, this rhythm section rose to the top.

Keller Williams and More Than A Little
This is the best Keller side project, totally kick ass.

David Wax Museum
Played a show on bass with David and Suz last spring, had this song in my head ever since.

Shameless, I know, but I think my new band with my wife, songwriter Sarah Siskind, and our drummer Brian Caputo is absolutely rockin'.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


So far 2014 is off to a roaring start. It started with a legendary New Years Celebration in Richmond at the National. 4 bands a night for two nights, our first time away from Rooster as a couple and some great trail running by the river. Immediately thereafter we headed for Jamcruise, an on-boat celebration that can only be described as epic (that most overused word). Funk for days, beach drinks, legs sore from dancing and success on the blackjack tables. Two nights in Athens at the Georgia Theater followed, the 'Dusters are sounding as good as we've ever sounded, in my opinion. I woke up the next morning at 7:30 for a marathon drive to Nelson County by way of Nashville.

Monday, January 13th my solo record, Alice, arrived. I had a couple hundred envelopes to stuff but no time to stuff them so I wedged in addressing between everything else that was going on that week. Tuesday Peter and I embarked on our first Stageit show, Live from Monkeyclaus, which proved to be a huge success. Wednesday through Friday I was in Monkeyclaus helping my friend Gary Broyles start a record, the first in his long life, with Sons of Bill members Sam Wilson and Todd Wellens. Thursday night I played Staunton then hung out with the Staunton Crew led by Nathan Moore. Friday I made an appearance on WTJU radio, recording an hour long solo show that can still be streamed from their website. Saturday I played Devils Backbone Brewing Company and thus ended one of the busiest music weeks of my life.

Sunday I watched the Broncos go to the Super Bowl. Gigs in Waynesboro and at Fardowners in Crozet followed. Yesterday I got up to Wintergreen to ski for the 4th time this month, the legs are getting stronger but I know I'm going to get crushed on Ski Tour, it happens every time. Today I'm pulling double duty with a 3 hour gig at Blue Mountain Barrel House followed by an opening set with the Farewell Drifters at Kirk Avenue in Roanoke, VA.

I'm thrilled to be playing in the David Wax Museum next Tuesday at The Southern Cafe this Tuesday, January 28. I'll open solo then join David, Suz and Sam Wilson for a set of David's unique music. Finally, I do an afternoon set at Democracy Vineyards the first of February and thus end one of the busiest, most interesting and diverse months of music so far in this life. Thank you life and thank you Virginia!

Monday, December 2, 2013

My Debut Solo Record: Alice

It was 2001, I had only just discovered bluegrass music and Yonder Mountain String Band was my favorite band. I’d heard stories about a songwriter named Benny Galloway, whom everyone called Burle, who had been responsible for helping that band get started and writing some of my favorite songs. Somehow I’d ended up at a picking party in Durango, the first of what was to become the centerpiece of my musical life, and I was hovering around the edge of the jam, watching it unfold. A song ended and the bass player yelled, “anyone else know how to play this thing?” Someone pointed to me and the bass player turned, smiled, and handed me the instrument, the first time I’d ever touched an upright bass. I was face to face with Burle.

Thus began a long, deep friendship and apprenticeship with the single most influencial musician in my life. Writing sessions, rehearsals, gigs, tours and picking parties, whenever Burle was on the scene, he had his guitar, Alice, slung over his shoulder. She became as much a part of my musical education as the man himself. He gave her credit for the songs they wrote, for 20 years the two of them collaborated to create some of the best music I’ve ever heard. A few years ago Burle finally felt that he’d pulled all he could from Alice and put her away. When I heard a rumor that Burle was considering selling her to finance an upright bass, I called him and offered a trade, only temporary, for my old Miesel, the instrument I’d owned and played during that era.

This is how I became caretaker of the most mythical instrument in my world. I’d decided to experiment with playing solo shows and Alice became my guitar of choice. As I played Alice, the songs Burle had taught me and the songs we’d written together kept bubbling to the surface, flowing out of the old Martin D-35 and becoming the centerpiece of my solo repertoire, in so many ways defining my sound. These songs are a part of our shared history, this record a gift for Alice and Burle, a window into my past and a collection of songs that will always remind me of those years with Burle.

Today is the launch of the pre-order campaign, you can purchase a copy here. It'll ship in January prior to the Release Date of January 14th.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Ah Thanksgiving, how I adore your simple mission. Let us all take a day, just one day, to be thankful for what we have, for who we have and for another year of life. Wait, what's this? The consumption machine wants us to go shopping instead? But isn't that the antithesis of what this one day of 365 is about? How could we let this happen?

Thanksgiving, we're sorry. You deserve better. Here, then, is my Thanksgiving prayer, in honor of the greatest Holiday that has ever or ever could be conceived.

Thank you, God, whatever you are. The Great Life Force that moves everything has been good to me this year and I will continue to seek harmony with it. I'm thankful for so much this year, the year of my daughters birth and my fifth anniversary of marriage to the most wonderful woman in the world. I live a privileged life with a beautiful family, a nice home in a perfect spot, meaningful work, a reasonable schedule, and good health. I'm so thankful for the abundance in my life, and to further my sense of abundance, I intend over the next year to continue to simplify and hone in on my personal mission. My possessions will become fewer, but of higher quality and usefulness. More doing, less screen time. I'm thankful that I have skills and I will demonstrate my thankfulness by putting them to good use.

Thanks again, Travis

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Is music an endangered species?

We all know all about the issue with the selling of music. "Music is free" the artists shout, "how can we keep making it if we don't get paid for it?" And they're right, you know.

But there's something bigger and even more ominous than the "freeing" of music. People just don't engage with music like they used to. Music is not near the center of our cultural sphere anymore. Social media and television, iphones and video games have taken center stage. After a long day of meaningless work (I have written and will continue to write at length about this subject) the sheeple head home to plop down in front of their TV to watch Top Chef while they browse Facebook. I know this is what we do because this is, very often, what happens in my house. There was a time, arguably before I was born, before computers got awesome and television really figured out how to get us to watch advertisements, when music was everything to a lot of people. A new record came out and it was THE THING that everyone talked about. There were Black Friday-like lines at record stores for Led Zeppelin II and live music was something that everyone engaged in.

I'm optimistic. In my career, specifically as part of The Stringdusters, I continue to see more people out at the shows and every well run, well intentioned festival continues to grow. I may be wrong about this endangered species thing, actually. But I have a sense that ours may be the last generation that craves music, that needs the kind of experience and community that you get from being a fan.

What is to be done? We need to spread the word, turn our family, friends and co-workers on to what moves us, drag the couch culture out of the house and drop them in the front row of our favorite band and make a habit of going out to see music at local venues. Perhaps more importantly, we need to get our children stoked about music, it should be part of their culture. Let's cultivate music, help it grow and make it better, before it vanishes.