Friday, July 17, 2015

Born Again

The Bible tells us that we can be born again.  We find this truth in the story of Nicodemus, who came to Jesus by night. Jesus told him, “unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus was as religious as anyone in Jerusalem, but he needed a complete conversion, a new birth.  Being born again is not what we do. Being born again is when we quit trying and begin trusting Jesus.

What jobs do you give newborns? Why don’t we give them jobs? We don’t ask them to work, we love them, feed them, take care of them. We will in time give them jobs to do, but only after we have watched them grow, as we have taught them.  That is what Jesus is talking about when he says that we must be born again.

To become a part of God’s Kingdom you must be born again.  You must receive God’s kingdom as an infant.  Babies don’t have preconceived ideas.  They don’t think that they know it all and can run their own lives.

Our first birth gives us a family name, a genetic inheritance, nationality, ethnicity.  When we are born again, none of this changes. We have the same family of origin. We still take pride in our ethnic or national heritage. These elements of our identity from our birth are treasures. Being born again does not erase them. Being born again puts them in their proper place. All of these identities become subordinate to our supreme identity as children of God.

Because we have been born again we recognize all of the rest of God's children as our brothers and sisters.  They are part of our family. We are part of their family. We see them as the dearly-loved children of God.  We will not do anything to disparage our brothers and sisters.

Being born again imposes obligations. We have joined a new family and this new family has a distinctive culture.  1 Peter 3:8 tells us, "Live in harmony with one another.  Be sympathetic, love each other, have compassion and be humble".

As born again Christians, people adopted into the family of God, we are called to form a new kind of community where people show each another the same grace we have received from God.  "You must be born again", John 3:7.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Little Children

In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, "unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven".

Little children look up to the adults around them, especially their parents. They don’t want to be left alone. They feel secure when they are with their parents. That is the way a Christian should feel about God. We should want to be with God.

In our relationship with God, we adults often behave as if we are running our lives, and that we are in control. We feel capable, and sometimes to such an extent that we feel we don’t really need God.

We need to know, that we are not in control. Like a child, we should always be looking up to someone for security and for help. We need to remind ourselves that we cannot handle life with our own wisdom or capabilities. In Proverbs 3:5,6 the Bible tells us "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

This childlike quality was brought home to me by a story that my daughter told me about my granddaughter. While my granddaughter was attending Vacation Bible School, one of the activities that she was involved in was making a scroll like people used in Bible times. When she finished her scroll she told her teacher,"this is for Jesus. I'll give it to him when he comes to pick me up".

That is the kind of childlike faith that we all need to have. We are just waiting for Jesus to come pick us up so we can go home, and we have no doubts that he will be here soon.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Real Problem With Spotify

A couple of weeks ago the band Smokey and the Mirror had their album Thin Black Line removed from Spotify because too many of their fans were listening to the album too many times. I was one of those fans. I attended the Album Fundraiser Concert for this album and wrote about it here.

This is their story dealing with Spotify.  When Spotify first removed the album I told the story here.  Today's post is an update from the band that I thought my readers would be interested in.

THE REAL PROBLEM WITH SPOTIFY'S MODEL - from the Smokey and the Mirror Facebook page

We thought we were hip to the streaming age, turns out we had much to learn, and we learned it all in the last two weeks. It all started when our music distributor CD Baby notified us (two weeks ago) that Spotify had removed our new album, Thin Black Line, due to "abusive" listening. The new album was released on April 15th. Starting in April we made a concerted effort to market to our fan base that we were releasing it on Spotify. Physical CD pre-sales were solid, but nothing like our previous releases. We saw all the data and read all the articles about declining CD sales. We followed the Taylor Swift spat with Spotify in late 2014. We at first agreed with her, and then disagreed. We looked ourselves in the mirror and decided it was far better to have this album heard than bought. This in fact is THE Great Issue for musical artists, perhaps all artists, working in today's times. The idea to make it FREE and let your audience find you. This is not really the point of this article. We could write another entire article about it. Don't get lead astray here. This is not about the money artists SHOULD make. We hope we can all agree that artists should be paid more and that artists work their butts off for the money they do make. What this article is about is what we learned about the world of streaming.

It turns out that 75% of Spotify's users are free users. 45 Million of the 60 million users don't pay a dime to listen to Spotify. Spotify still pays a small royalty for each listen coming from a free account. They pay more for the listens from a Premium Account. In reality the paid users are subsidizing the free listeners. Spotify believes that they can succeed in converting free listeners to paid listeners all while growing their user base. According to a January 2015 article by Fast Company, Spotify rapidly expanded from 50 million users to 60 million users in the last two months of 2014 but their rate of free users stayed at 75%. This is the key issue. Can Spotify convert these users to paid customers? Spotify says yes. We don't really know the answer to this question. We do know that we have been paying users for over a year. It was our listening experience as users that was a big part of our decision to make a push with our new album on Spotify. After having our album dropped by Spotify we will no longer be users, paid or free.

What we learned about Spotify’s model is that the artist - the ones populating their platform - can be penalized in Spotify's quest to convert all these free listeners to paid listeners. Once again, don't get led astray here. We are not talking about artists being penalized with less pay. The downward spiral of artist pay for recorded music and the record industry is a discussion for another article. We are talking about the entire model of Spotify having a glaring anti-artist flaw. Read on.

The thing you have to realize is that the first couple of months after releasing a new album all you do is talk about the album everywhere. You try to get folks to listen. Convincing folks to tune into 40 minutes worth of music is a herculean endeavor in 2015. We feel that Thin Black Line is some of our best work. We spent April and May shouting about it from every platform we could.

When notified by CD Baby about our album's removal from Spotify we were devastated. It is hard to describe how it felt. The best analogy we can use is what it must feel like to be an author and have the public library ban your book. It is actually maybe even bigger than that, because Spotify is like the worlds largest Public Music Library in a digital platform available to anyone in the world.

We immediately started an email chain with our rep at CD Baby. We were attempting to get more information as to why this decision had been made. Our rep has been very forthcoming and willing to reply to our email inquiries. We will spare you full email chain, but in a paraphrased format it went something like this:

CD Baby: You have been removed from Spotify
Us: This is absurd. How can this be possible?
CD Baby: Spotify deemed that you had too many listens based on data analysis?
Us: We just released this album and are heavily promoting it
CD Baby: Sometimes bands try and get their fans to listen to a new album a lot and Spofity doesn't like this and deems it abusive.
Us: We want to see the data. This is damaging to our music and our career.
Here we will start with the actual emails:

On Tue, Jun 30, 2015 at 11:42 AM, wrote:
Hi Bernice -
I heard back from Spotify earlier this morning actually. I wasn't given a lot of specifics, but the album in question was streamed over 5000 times during the royalty reporting period, and those streams came from a small number of users, which is what led them to removing the album. I wasn't given much more information than that, which is pretty typical in situations like this.
I'm afraid I don't have much else to share with you regarding the removal of the album. Please let me know if you have any additional questions and I'll see what I can do.
- CD Baby
-----Original Message-----
From: Smokey & The Mirror []
Sent: Friday, July 03, 2015 3:42 PM
To: CD Baby
Subject: Re: Spotify response
Thanks for the update.
How many is "a small amount of users"? That is vague. Are we talking 4 people or 50?
And I'd still like to know why we the artists are punished for listener's usage - rather than a user being notified and restricted. If that's their policy, then that policy needs to be changed.
As I've said before, pulling the "abused" music makes no sense and is seriously unfair.
Is it Spotify's policy that our music cannot be uploaded again, or is that a CD Baby policy?

Thanks again,
Smokey & The Mirror
On Mon, Jul 6, 2015 at 12:35 AM,> wrote:
Hi Bernice -
I don't have specific info on the number of users unfortunately.
The policy of pulling the abused music makes sense from the standpoint of a digital music provider - they see streaming abuse as a means by artists to obtain royalty payments that aren't generated by actual legitimate listening, so in order to curb that, they remove the source, which is the music being abused. I believe some music providers have experimented with blocking user accounts that were involved in abusive streaming, but since such accounts are free and can basically be signed up on an unlimited, anonymous basis, it is more practical for them to just remove the content itself. I am not stating any kind of official policy on behalf of any digital music provider, but that is my understanding from dealing with these kinds of takedowns.
Spotify has made the decision not to restore the content, so that is not a CD Baby decision. We also do not make the decision to remove the content either.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
- CD Baby

Back to the article…
First, we are not trying to make a living from streaming royalties. We, like most other artists, make our living from touring and merch sales. Second, as we said previously we resigned ourselves to the fact that the modern music model is to give your music away for free in hopes that your audience will find you. We are paid next to nothing to have our music on streaming services. Why would an artist try to scam Spotify to get next to next to nothing? This doesn’t make any sense.

That being said, we now fully understand the streaming model. Spotify is in an intense dating period with millions of free listeners. They are trying to get them to commit to a long term relationship. They don't want to run off the customer. They also don't want to lose money by having to pay artists for streams from free accounts. So they simply punish the artist. It is the only option in their business model. THIS is the real injustice to artists. Who cares about the pay at this point and if that pay is fair to artists. The real issue is that Spotify feels that artists are expendable. This is the first way that their model is flawed.

Their is a second flaw in their model. Spotify has millions of data regarding listening habits. When a free user signs up for Spotify that free user typically starts off listening to the hits. The listener is trying to find out if this service is worthwhile from a musical standpoint. They are sampling the buffet of musical offerings. When they see a free user sign up and only listen to a handful of artists and or albums, this free user sticks out like a sore thumb. This is another place where Spotify's model is flawed. Their data is from millions of early adopters from the ages of 18-26. What happens when a Folk band encourages our 4000 plus email list and 2600 plus Facebook fans to check out our new album on Spotify. The majority of our fans are not 18-26. Many of our fans let us know that they were signing up for Spotify just to listen to our new album. Well, this looks like abusive listening to Spotify. 4000 listeners is small in the sea of 60 million Spotify users. Shouldn’t Spotify want artists like us to encourage our fans to sign up for Spotify? If they are going to keep growing they are going to have to rely on small and mid-sized artists to convince people to stream their music via Spotify. There exists the flaw. Spotify is not ready for this type of free listener. They are only ready for the free listeners who sign up and have a listening behavior exactly like that of the early adopters. This is further illustrated when you see Ed Sheeran and Passenger having 300+ million listens on their top songs and established artists like John Prine, Emmy Lou Harris, or Jackson Browne having only a couple of million plays on their top songs.

Consider that Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” has just short of 10 million plays, but The Lumineers' Ho Hey has just short of 200 million plays.

Consider that Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” has just over 30 million plays, but Adele's “Rolling in the Deep” has just over 160 million plays.

Consider that Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” has 1.3 million listens, but that Gregory Alan Isakov’s “Big Black Car” has 12.1 Million plays.

The third way their model is flawed is that they have opened artists up to censorship by anyone that can open a free account and start streaming an artist they would like to see kicked off Spotify. Don’t like a specific artist? Start streaming their music on repeat and watch their album disappear with no consequence to you as the listener. We are not encouraging people to take this approach. We are only pointing out that it is possible in Spotify’s model, and if so, then Spotify’s model is flawed.

We could go on longer, but we rest our case. We have a damn good album that has been banned from Spotify. We are heartbroken about it, but we are going to keep sharing it from any platform possible. We also hope that the world of streaming will get its act together and find a place where artists are not expendable.

Stream the album Spotify banned here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Friday Night Date Dress

A friend of mine, Talena Winters, has just published her first book titled The Friday Night Date Dress.  It is an interesting inspirational romance. The story deals with the topic of grief and how the main character deals with it. In spite of the overwhelming grief that paralyzes her life, Melinda copes by using her creativity as an outlet. Although she is dealing with loss in her life, the tone of the book is hopeful not gloomy. The story moves along quickly and draws you into the characters lives. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to read a good story that leaves them feeling hopeful about life.

The blurb promoting the book reads, "Tragic loss has made Melinda Meyers invisible. She hides as a nondescript waitress at an average diner during the day. But each night, she sews runway masterpieces that she wears only once before putting them into a box forever.

Peter Surati, an aspiring Asian Indian photographer, can't help but notice beautiful, sad Melinda. He makes it his mission to help her find her smile again. But can he find a way to mend her damaged heart?

"The Friday Night Date Dress" is an inspirational novella about healing, hope, and love."

You can purchase a paperback or Kindle copy of the book here.  I suggest that you do.

Talena had an indirect hand in my becoming as blogger.   Talena's blog was the first blog that I read, shown to me by her proud mother. In 2008, my friend Laurel was visiting in our home.  She showed me her daughter Talena's blog. Because she lived so far away from her daughter, she kept up with her through the blog. I had heard the word "blog", but really had no idea what it was all about.

As I was reading the blog, I noticed at the top of the page that it had a link that said create blog. I had to see what it was all about, so I clicked it. In a few days I had my own blog, and I enjoyed writing and posting pictures to it. I had written a little before starting the blog, but definitely not regularly. I had occasionally written a column for the religion page of the local newspaper and I had posted a few articles on the writing website Helium, but I had never had a "reason" to write before.  Now almost seven years later, after 575 posts and over 300,000 views from 194 countries,  I can't imagine a life without blogging.

I have had some people ask me about the name of my blog.  I have to admit that very little thought went into it. As I was looking at the "create blog" page in Blogger, just trying to figure out what it was all about, one of the first things that had to be filled in was the title. I spent about thirty seconds thinking, and typed An Arkies Musings. Arkie is slang word for someone who lives in Arkansas.

We used to be officially called Arkansawyers, but now the term is Arkansan. During the Great Depression of the 1930's, Arkansas and Oklahoma were some of the hardest hit states. Many people moved to California trying to get jobs. The terms Arkie and Okie were disparaging terms used by the Californians for people from Oklahoma and Arkansas. Now the term Arkie is most often used to describe a native Arkansan and is often still a bit disparaging. It seems to indicate that someone is unlearned and backward.

I have lived here for over 30 years. Though I'm not a native, I am proud to be an Arkansan or even an Arkie. You have to admit that An Arkansan's Musings just doesn't roll off the tongue.

Please take the time to check out The Friday Night Date Dress.  It has a very reasonable purchase price and I'm sure you will enjoy it.

Friday, June 26, 2015


I like Spotify.  I can listen to nostalgic music and to new music.  I like finding new indie artists that make the kind of music I like.  My tastes are not in the mainstream.  I have often thought that Spotify was probably not artist friendly, but a couple of days ago I became sure of the fact when I learned of a band's issues with Spotify.  I know that the story is true as I know the band.

This week the band Smokey and the Mirror had their album Thin Black Line removed from Spotify because too many of their fans were listening to the album too many times. I was one of those fans. I attended the Album Fundraiser Concert for this album and wrote about it here.

This is their story dealing with Spotify.  The band told the story on their Facebook page.

We are a folk band. We get by on a shoestring. We raised just under $5000 from our fans to help record our last album, Thin Black Line. We put roughly $5000 of our own money into the album as well. It meant the world to us that so many folks cared enough to donate their hard earned money to our artistic endeavors. We went into the studio and made an album that we are proud of and that we felt honored the investment our fans made in us.

We released Thin Black Line on April 15th. We put a lot of time and energy into the decision to load our album onto Spotify. We listened to what other artists like Taylor Swift and Jason Isbell had to say against Spotify. We were with their viewpoint at first, but then we also started to notice fewer and fewer folks buying our CDs at shows. We even called our distributor, CD Baby, to ask a few questions about whether or not we should be on Spotify. We asked our rep, "Why should we have our music on Spotify?" She answered with a question, "Do you want your music to be heard by anyone under 30?" We caved. We made a 180 in our thinking about Spotify and got with the times.
The album came out on April 15th and was released on Spotify around that same time. We made a big push with our fans. 2500+ Facebook fans and roughly 4000 folks on our email list. We asked them to have a listen. Many of our fans were not Spotify members. Some of them wrote to us and told us that they were signing up for Spotify just so they could listen to our album and support our music. Even our favorite local bookstore, Nightbird Books, starting playing our album in the store. We were overwhelmed by the support. We still are overwhelmed. It has been so amazing to hear from folks who have truly enjoyed the album and have listened to it multiple times. Many folks admitted that they wouldn't have bought the CD but that Spotify gave them a way to listen to and fall in love with the album.

Today we were notified by our distributor, CD Baby, that Spotify removed our album because they analyzed the listening data on our album and felt that it was excessive and that the listening was coming from a small group of listeners and/or the listeners were predominantly listening to our album more than other content on Spotify.

We were shocked. We inquired and it turns our that Spotify has removed our album and WILL NOT reinstate it. In our option it seems that Spotify is not working for independent artists.

Here is the explanation from CD Baby:

"Hi Bryan –
Spotify made the decision to pull the album in response to streaming activity that they determine to be abusive. This can happen if fans are encouraged to stream the album on repeat for long periods of time or something along those lines. Most digital music providers are ok with a lot of streams for indie content, but if a handful of users are just playing an album or track on repeat, which does not resemble normal listening behavior, they will remove the content to avoid financial losses. Royalties that are accrued by this kind of streaming will usually not be paid out if they are determined to be abusive.
Please let me know if you have any questions.

As of today we had roughly 79,000 total plays of the songs on Thin Black Line. That is equivalent to the 4000 fans on our email list listening to the record 1.5 times. Does that seem excessive?
Just so you get an idea about the revenue from 79,000 listens it equates to roughly $474. Is this the financial loss that Spotify is worried about?

At this point it sounds like Spotify will not be paying the $474 in royalties from our listens. We can live with this, we will book another gig. But, it got us thinking, why would Spotify care enough to withhold such a small sum from a small time, independent band? It just doesn't feel right.

In the end, we are going to pull our other music from Spotify. They don't deserve it. They won't care, they have already made what they wanted from us. We spent the last 2 months trying to get our entire fan base to get interested in Spotify. Even if 100 of our 4000 fans signed up as new premium subscribers that is $12,000 of revenue (annualized) to Spotify, they are also opting to keep the $474 in royalties they would have had to pay out on our album listens. They WIN. Independent artists lose.

We are not telling this story to complain or to be outwardly negative. There is enough negativity in the world we live in. We are telling it because we support independent musicians. We promote shows, run a festival, and tell our audiences about independent musicians every time take the stage. If you care about independent musicians like we do, find another way to support them other than Spotify. It is hard being a professional musician in 2015. Spotify claims to be the salvation of musicians and declining sales of recorded music. We think our story sheds light on this claim. We will let you decide for yourself.

We have spent the last 9 years touring. We have spent the last 6 running a festival. We have worked hard to earn support from our fans. The problem that we see with the modern music business is that everything is data driven. Facebook likes. Spotify follows. The number of reTweets. It is all nonsense.

We built a list of 4000 fan emails the old fashion way: one person at a time one show at a time. Folks didn't stumble onto our digital songs. Folks came to shows, sometimes small shows. Hell, we once played the best show of our lives to a 4 person audience in Birmingham
The point is that we have a fan base that is not really into Spotify. We decided we would make a big push with this new album on Spotify to try and get our fans to tune in and use the service. This showed up as an anomaly in the Spotify data.

We went all in on Spotify. This is not a publicity stunt. We wouldn't invest our lives, money and time into our art just to have it pulled off the service we had bought into that we thought would help to get our music out to a larger audience.

Someone posted our story to the Spotify Community message board today. Here was the snarky response from one person:

"Re: Indy band album removed because of a too loyal fan base

What do I think, the artist profile page show 30 followers. Something is off? You can not reach 79,000 plays of a single album without at least having a far larger number of followers, the math and common sense does not work out, something is off here. Where did those mysterious 4000 fans come from, and then listen to the album but then mysteriously did not follow the artist? Something is not correct. Spotify has ways to track how albums and tracks are played and where the streams are being played from, be it if something looked fishy they might have made the proper move to the pull the release until further investigation was complete. Fraud is fraud. I would not expect a company to pay for any kind of fraud, businesses would fail everywhere from it. And why did not this mysterious hardcore 4000 fan count not also purchase a CD copy of the same release? Most indie artist are able to pull this off with 4000 in CD sales, this should not be that hard, most bands of any genre are able to pull this off just selling CD's at gigs and small shows? Most indie artists would notice rather quickly a spike in CD sales from such an event, 4000 x $12 bucks a pop is almost 50k in revenue, did this band see a revenue increase of almost $50,000 from this increased interest in their music? There are big gaping holes in this story.

I even checked on this release at Rdio and it only has 54 plays. I truly think something is off with this story and this was all just a publicity stunt. Spotify is in the news allot and ever since Taylor Swift's somewhat narcissistic view on things and her melodrama, other artists are probable thinking, can we create a false narrative to get some media attention on the Spotify Brand?

Also it is smart to also provide sources for stories like this, even if the story might be complete B.S. anything that can not be fact checked or even looked into is fishy enough and gets nothing but scorn from me.

Bryan Hembree of Smokey and the Mirror points out that in the 60's if a DJ started spinning your record nonstop they called it hot wax and you had a hit. That radio is long gone. Now individuals are DJs, they control what appears on their personal "station" playlist. If a modern day DJ decides to spin your record non stop the streaming company calls it abusive and you have a banned record. Weird.

Bryan says, "the bad news is that Spotify banned our album. The good news is that we haven't banned it. You can still stream it at our website.

You can support the band by buying the album here.

Go here for an update on the story

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Daddy's Day

Today is Daddy's 60th Father's Day.  I know because I have been around for every one of them.  I have spent most of my life working along side my Daddy.  Here is proof.  I learned the auto body trade very young.

How Long Have I Been Sanding

Through the years some of the things that I have learned from my Daddy are the importance of having God in your life, and how to work.  Here are some photos of Daddy working through the years.

30 Model A

Happy Daddy's day.  Some people have fathers, but I have always had a Daddy.