Trying to Make This a No-Brainer: An Interview with Chuck Blake of GetMusic.FM

It’s funny how the universe works. A few days ago, a band I like posted some codes for a free download of their latest EP on Bandcamp. As I worked my way through the list only to be told that each code was no longer valid, I kept thinking that there had to be a better way to share free downloads on Bandcamp. At the same time, Chuck Blake, the creator of a website called, stumbled upon this very blog after seeing that I’d liked a review of an album by his former band, Garlands, that Darrin Lee had posted on Janglepop Hub. He followed me on Twitter, and I looked into his website only to find that it offers exactly the “better way” I was looking for.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Chuck! What is, and how does it work?

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Marc.

GetMusic helps independent musicians promote their music. We primarily do that by making it easier for artists to grow their following by distributing Bandcamp codes. 

For those who don’t know, Bandcamp provides artists with codes to distribute to fans, allowing them to download music for free. It’s a great tool, but there are no great ways to get them in the hands of fans, and that’s where GetMusic comes in.

We are also in the process of building other tools and services to help independent artists promote themselves.

I mentioned in my introduction that you were a member of the band Garlands, which made music from 1993-2003. Is there a short version of how the music industry has changed since then? How does GetMusic fit into that story? 

The most significant change is how easy it is not to be able to get music to fans. Anyone can write and record music on their laptop and upload it to all the streaming services. It’s unbelievable how much power that puts in the hands of artists. The problem is that DIY and self-promotion take a lot of effort, and many musicians prefer working on their music vs. the business side.

Are you still making music yourself? 

Yes. About a year ago, I started writing music under the name Corvoco. It’s a solo effort and primarily electronic. It’s very different than the indie-pop that Garlands made, and there are no more rehearsal spaces or setting up drums and amps. Now it’s all DAW, laptop, and headphones. I needed to develop a setup and process with zero friction and a way to be creative and productive when I only have 30 minutes to dedicate to making music.

What was involved in creating the site? Specifically, did you have to work anything out with Bandcamp, or is everything done on your end? 

Everything is done on the GetMusic with no formal interaction with Bandcamp. 

How long has it been around?

I built and launched the initial version of the site in November 2022. I created a minimal site in a week to test some ideas I wanted to explore. When I started seeing folks using the site and sending many positive comments, I doubled down on the site, incorporated feedback from the artists and fans using the service, and added more functionality.

How have people responded to it? What’s the reaction?

Connecting with artists and hearing about their success using the site has been one of the most rewarding aspects of working on this. I get positive notes on social or in my email daily. Honestly, it’s been fantastic. One of the most incredible experiences I have had building and operating startups, and I have been involved in a number of them.

How can an artist get started with GetMusic, and what kind of results should they expect?

I’m trying to make it as easy as possible. An artist needs to sign up at our site, give us some information about their release and upload some codes and we take it from there and set everything up. We are also very active across social networks, and we have a variety of activities that we do to promote releases.

To help artists get started, we give the first release promotion for free and charge $10 for subsequent releases.

Using GetMusic, $10 can get you 100 new followers on Bandcamp. You can notify those followers of future releases or any other communication you send from Bandcamp. One CD sale can offset the GetMusic cost and drive much more value to the artist than trying to promote to get streams.

I’m trying to make this a “no-brainer” add to an indie artist’s promotion budget.

Full disclosure: I immediately signed up to make my latest EP available for free through GetMusic, but I imagine some artists might resist giving away their music. What’s your response to skeptics?

Artists already using Bandcamp codes to distribute their music “get” GetMusic immediately. There is a learning curve for folks that aren’t using codes, but I have been busy enough working with artists on GetMusic to overthink that.  

I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of ambient and electronic music available through GetMusic. Any thoughts on why artists in those genres have been particularly drawn to your service?

The first user of GetMusic was an independent label, Stargazing at Blank Skies, which focuses on electronic, ambient, synth-wave etc. My project, Corvoco, put out a release with them, and when I had the idea for GetMusic, they signed up right away and began promoting their artists on GetMusic.

That said, artists from a wide range of categories are also represented on GetMusic.

Do you envision GetMusic as a site where artists of all genres can share their music, or are you going for more of a niche audience?

I listen to the music on the platform as much as I can, and I honestly enjoy it all. Hearing all the different ideas that people come up with is great fun. GetMusic welcomes all styles; I am really interested in helping promote independent music.

Do you have any thoughts on where GetMusic might go or how it might change and grow over time? What’s your dream for the service? 

I want GetMusic to be a community for independent music artists and fans. Artists put so much of themselves into their music; a little appreciation and acknowledgment from fans for their work goes a long way. I want to help foster those relationships.

One specific thing that I have been talking to artists about is music discovery. Music discovery is a complex problem that the major players haven’t solved. An indie artist might only need 1,000 true fans, but how do you find them? How can GetMusic help build and maintain those relationships?

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Chuck!


Surprising, Unexpected Singularity: An Interview with gimbal.lock

Thanks, once again, to Jeff Archuleta’s Eclectic Music Lover Blog—this time for alerting me to the music of gimbal.lock! When I played their song, “Fantasy,” on the #Tweetcore Radio Hour recently, I tried my best to explain what the term “gimbal lock” means, but since, as Jeff reports in his review, lead singer Ralph Bayer is a mechanical engineer working in the field of space robotics, I thought it best to let him explain. And while he was at it, I figured I’d ask a few more questions about his band and his music.

What does the term “gimbal lock” mean, and how does it apply to space systems or robotics?

Good question! First, let’s talk about gimbals for a second. A gimbal is a swiveling joint, kind of like a hinge, that allows an object placed in it to freely rotate. If we connect three gimbals together, we can move the object inside in all three rotational directions.

You might have seen a camera gimbal that a photographer or cinematographer uses to keep their camera steady while they move around.

Now, a gimbal lock is a phenomenon that occurs when two of the gimbals are aligned so that they lose the ability to rotate the object in a particular axis, causing a “lock” to occur. It is not a lock in a mechanical sense.

This is a singularity situation. Flight controls that use gimbal-based sensor systems are not as intelligent as humans. So, they start doing crazy things like shaking wildly or going in directions we don’t want. One well-known case occurred during the Apollo 11 mission, when a gimbal lock unexpectedly froze the spacecraft’s computer.

In robotics, gimbal lock can also occur, where the robot controller does unexpected things, such as suddenly accelerating their movements or repositioning itself in strange ways in the workspace. One must be aware of this when working with a robot and take appropriate precautions.

Along similar lines, how might the term relate to your music? I notice that the band’s logo depicts a guitar inside a system of gimbals.

The analogy here is that we want to make music that is surprising, unexpected, and a singularity. Timeless music that is accessible but does not conform to the so-called mainstream. A band one should be aware of.

Our logo shows a simplistic gimbal lock case (first and third gimbals are aligned), and we placed the e-guitar in the center because for us it symbolizes solid handmade rock music. That is what we do and our genre domain.

Also, we know that the name is already quite an unknown term for many people. Something special that once you hear it, you will not forget it so quickly.

More broadly, how does being a mechanical engineer inform your approach to music? Do you feel like it gives you a particular perspective on music-making?

My training as an engineer helps me with the technical aspects of making music. I produce all of our music myself, which means I have to have a certain level of technical understanding to know how to record and mix it well.

My music, which is more emotion-based, and my profession, which is more mind-based, are often at odds with each other, but that’s exactly why it’s a perfect balance in my life. Important things I bring from my profession to making music are the perseverance to get through difficult and exhausting things, and to always motivate myself to keep going at 100% and see the big picture. These are skills that you should have as a scientist and that help you immensely as a musician.

How did gimbal.lock come together, and who’s in the band?

gimbal.lock was something that I had been thinking about for quite a while. The initial concept was to realize it as a project band and invite guest musicians for the individual songs. When things became more serious, Tom (the drummer of gimbal.lock) and I happened to be in a hard rock cover band together. I asked him if he would like to play drums for one of my songs. The collaboration was so much fun that we decided to continue together.

Shortly after that Zsolt (electric guitar and background vocals) joined us. It was just the right moment, I guess. He had left his former band for some time and was hungry for something new. After we sat together and talked about gimbal.lock, it was quickly becoming clear that he would join us as a band member.

gimbal.lock therefore is now a band with a core line-up. However, we will keep a part of the original idea and ask musicians to collaborate with us from time to time. I really enjoy doing that.

Your first single, “Fantasy,” offers a meditation on the escapist value of imagination. What inspired it?

My songs usually develop during a longer process. Often when I’m jamming, I get stuck on a cool riff, a chord or a melody that triggers something inside me. There’s something meditative about that, and during that times images, scenes or thoughts emerge from my mind that form a symbiotic relationship with the melody. From this, in turn, the theme of the song and finally the lyrics develop.

‘Fantasy’ was special to me. The things in my head that came to the tune were very different each time, and they were often just beautiful, extraordinary places. One time, for example, I had an untamed Irish coastal landscape in my mind. Or I thought of journeys to the faraway, wonderful places in our galaxy or into the deep unknowns of our oceans. Every time I played it, something new and interesting would pop up.

As I found myself enjoying these short escapes from reality, where I just let my mind run wild, I got the idea to dedicate it to the root cause: Fantasy. I hope the song will spark the imagination of our listeners as well.

Why is imagination important?

I think that imagination is a crucial ability of us humans which facilitated inventions, literature, artwork, and music. But it also enables us to escape the mundanity of our daily routines or can even provide us with solace or distraction when we are just struggling. It gives us the opportunity to do things we can’t do in real life or relive our fondest memories. Rather than resorting to harmful drugs, we already have this gift in us, ready to use it at any time we want to, if we are open for it.

Along similar lines, why is it sometimes necessary to remind people of the value of imagination?

Fantasizing is something that nowadays tends to be negatively associated with childishness and mistakenly with unproductivity. Today’s society is all about optimizing one’s time in all areas of life – even free time – with maximum results. Where would we be in cultural or scientific terms without the people using its imagination? Or without the fantastic stories of science fiction writers who inspired others? Star Trek is a modern example of this. Many people were encouraged by it to become engineers or scientists in the first place (myself included).

Moreover, in our fully digitized world, almost nothing is left to one’s imagination. We are currently seeing artificial intelligence with its ever-increasing capabilities being used in more and more fields, especially in the arts.

The tragedy is that the ability to fantasize seems to atrophy more and more when it is not used anymore. We are already seeing some of these effects in our children, who should be masters at it, but now often don’t even know what to do with themselves without a smartphone or tablet.

However, the song is not meant to be a lecture, but simply a reminder and encouragement to just allow yourself to daydream once in a while. That’s a beautiful thing.

You employ some interesting instrumentation on the track. Jeff’s review of the song mentions “the use of exotic instruments like the buzuq, a long-necked Arabic fretted lute, and the santoor, a trapezoid-shaped Indian hammered dulcimer.” I’m curious as to whether you’re playing actual instruments on the track—or are we hearing samples? It’s a cool sound either way!

During the transition from the demo version to the official studio recording, I had the idea to express the world of fantasy musically, with something that is rather rare in Western music. I decided to use orient-like melodies and to use authentic instruments for that.

The bouzouk is an instrument in my possession that I played myself in the first chorus. I bought it many years ago during a vacation in Athens, Greece. I just love the sound if it.

For the santoor in the second chorus, we used a virtual instrument whose melodies I programmed. We tried very different instruments, like flutes, harps, bells, etc., but the santoor had the right feel right away. It immediately draws you in.

Like a lot of the musicians who appear on this blog (myself included!), you play music, but you also work full time. What does making music add to your life?

I would like to quote something beautiful from John Miles: “Music was my first love and will be my last …To life without my music would be impossible to do. In this world full of troubles my music pulls me through”

It enriches my life on many levels. It gives me comfort, joy, energy, and balance.

What’s next for gimbal.lock?

The next few months are going to be very exciting for gimbal.lock!

We are currently working on the release of our next songs. All these self-written tunes are part of our first album titled ‘Scattered Pieces’.

As far as releases are concerned, we have adapted to today’s time and will release them gradually over the next months. It’s just great that we can constantly offer our listeners something new.

At the same time, we will work hard on our live performance. We are very excited that we were able to catch our rehearsal space a few weeks past. It is very hard to find such spots near Munich.

Another thing we’re going to do again this year (it’s a tradition Tom and I have been doing for a few years now) is a Christmas special. We’ll see, maybe even a Christmas-EP might be possible. It might be fun rocking the Christmas songs in the studio in August with t-shirt and shorts!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thanks for having me, I had a blast!

We Just Have Fun: An Interview with Matt Derda

I’ve been meaning to interview Matt Derda for a while. Along with his band the High Watts, Matt delivers catchy rock tunes with a country lilt. Personally I’m reminded of the late, great Tom Petty in that his songs tell stories, and the stories come from the heart. One of my favorite tunes by Matt is called “Life You Didn’t Know.” Described by the band as their poppiest tune yet, it imagines the secret life of a TV star – a life unknown even to the star herself, at least if my interpretation of the lyrics is correct!

Recently, Matt shared a blog post in which he aired some concerns about the practice of using “stream teams” to increase play-counts on platforms like Spotify. It’s an incredibly thoughtful piece, so I decided to reach out to him to find out more. But first, I had a few questions about his music…

Before we get into your concerns about stream teams, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your music. Who are some of your influences—both as a musician and as a songwriter?

Thank you for having me and appreciating my music! I appreciate you and Brian Lambert a ton. I mean, we’re aligned at the hip with our ‘listeners also like’ section on Spotify.

My favorite songwriter of all time is definitely Paul Westerberg, which I’ll talk about later. Jeff Tweedy is also a huge influence on me, especially Uncle Tupelo. Pretty much any band from Minneapolis I love: Soul Asylum, High on Stress, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, Golden Smog, etc. Gary Louris from the Jayhawks is another one of my favorite songwriters. Just to name a few more I love Pearl Jam, Cat Power, Brandi Carlile, Drive-by Truckers, Jason Isbell, Old 97s, the Ramones, Social Distortion, Lindi Ortega, the Temptations…I could go on forever.

Hopefully a lot of those influences come out in my music.

I know you’re a fan of the Replacements. What draws you to their music?

Pretty much everything about the Replacements resonates with me. I have a tendency to dislike anything that is cliché or overdone. The Replacements were unique. They didn’t do what was supposed to be done and didn’t care that they weren’t perfect. I liked that people went to their shows not knowing what was going to happen. There is comfort in the unknown for me. Aside from that, I just loved the sound and the lyrics. I don’t know any other lyricist who resonates with me as much as Westerberg. Hearing Bastards of Young was like reading Catcher in the Rye for the first time.

You mention in your Bandcamp bio that although you live in Chicago, your music is rooted in Eastern Kentucky. How did life take you from Kentucky to Chicago, and how do the two places you call home influence your music?

It’s funny, I never actually lived in Kentucky. I’ve lived all over the place, Connecticut, Ohio, California, West Virginia, but I have consistently gone to Kentucky every year for my entire life. I spent the summers there as a kid and still travel from Chicago multiple times a year to visit family and just be there because I love it. I was always around Bluegrass and Country music there growing up. I didn’t really care for it much back then though. When I was in high school I got my first guitar and started getting into alternative and punk music. I played in some bands in high school, but my true passion was improv comedy.

Improv is what brought me to Chicago. While I lived in Ohio I started doing improv with a group called Smarty Pants. This guy, Joey Greene ran the company and he got me into all of the music I listen to now, especially The Replacements. After shows, we would stick around the theater and he would use the sound system to just play me CD after CD. He’s the one who turned me onto Uncle Tupelo. We were on tour one summer, and he played them and it blew my mind. Alt Rock + Country, like it was meant for me.

After I graduated from college, Joey moved to Michigan and I moved to Chicago to study at Second City, Improv Olympic and the Annoyance Theater. I wanted to be on SNL, but Joey and I ended up started a band called The Disappointments instead. Then,I started a career in Marketing and met my wife. Now I’m in Chicago permanently…and we changed the name of the band to Matt Derda & the High Watts (Joey also came up with the High Watts).

Who are the High Watts, and what do you like about working with them?

The High Watts are a rotating cast of characters, but it is mainly Jason Benefield on guitar, lap steel and harmonica, Michael “MJ” Johnson on bass and Steve Ramsey on drums. We have other people pop in and out. Joey Greene from my Smarty Pants days will hop in on bass sometimes.

The best thing about the High Watts is we just have fun. There’s no drama and we’re super low maintenance. We just like playing and hanging out with each other. They also like to play my songs, which I’ll never get over.

I’m also wondering what it’s like working with a band, particularly in the “Person’s Name and the…” format as opposed to, say, “The Bandname.” Do you view yourself as a bandleader? And, perhaps from a different angle, how much of a say do the High Watts have in how the songs evolve as they’re coming together?

Steve, MJ and I were in The Disappointments together. It wasn’t too far from the music we do now, but it was definitely harder and a little more punk. We wanted to move to a more Folk Rock sound and change the name. We got tired of people saying to us after shows, “I wasn’t disappointed.”

We mostly picked my name because so many band names were already taken, it was just easier. I do primarily write all of the songs, but the band does help round them out and experiment to find what works. Actually, last week I had two new tunes I was working on and both Jason and MJ helped me figure out a couple of parts that made the songs pretty much finished and much better.

You recently shared a blog post about “stream teams.” For anyone who might not know, what does that term mean?

Stream teams are when indie artists put each other on a playlists and constantly stream it to drive up their play counts and earn more revenue. A lot of times they aren’t even listening to the music, they are just putting the playlists on repeat and streaming over night or something like that.

And why are they problematic?

There are a lot of reasons why they are problematic, but some of the main reasons are that it hurts your profile more than it helps and it can have a negative impact on your discoverability. One issue is that these playlist only consists of other Indie Artists and are a mishmash of different genres, styles and recording quality. The problem then becomes that the only people who listen to the playlists are the artists that are on it. Then, on your Listeners Also Like section on platforms such as Spotify, you are lumped together with artists you may not be similar to at all other than you are both Indie artists.

Also, Spotify and other streaming services have figured out this trick and their algorithms can tell these aren’t real streams. There have been bands that tried to fund tours using this tactic. People who enjoy music as fans have a much different streaming pattern.

I’ve noticed through data and testing that our fans like artists like The Replacements, Bottlecap Mountain, Drive-by Truckers, the Vandoliers, etc. We want to try to get discovered by people who are listening to those artists because it’s more than likely they will like us too. If they come to our page and see we are similar to other artists they like and already listen to, they might try us out.

It’s great to support our Indie friends, but it’s important to find people who aren’t musicians themselves that will listen to you on a regular rotation. Sorry to be blunt about this, but none of us are known. If we’re all on each other’s similar artists sections, it’s just a listing of artists nobody has ever heard of and doesn’t help you understand what your sound is before they even hear you.

It’s already an uphill battle to try to get discovered, get plays and be put on playlists, let’s not make it any harder than it needs to be with vanity plays.

I love the phrase “indie loop.” It really captures the place where a lot of indie artists find themselves. It’s a little like the idea of the “artist’s artist,” where an artist’s fan base consists only – or at least mainly – of other artists. How do you keep from falling into the indie loop yourself?

The indie loop is like deja vu for me. It’s almost exactly like what I experienced as an improviser in Chicago. Almost all the shows you end up doing are just for other improvisers, not people who are there to enjoy comedy. The people who pay for tickets to a mainstage show at Second City or iO are going because they’ve heard of those places and they have a well known reputation. They don’t know who’s going to be on the stage that night, but they know who has been on that stage before.

However, only a handful of people get picked for the mainstage shows. Most improvisers are performing in the basement of a bar to an audience of the other improvisers who are performing that night. You wonder, are we any good at improv or are our friends just laughing because they are our friends? It’s the same as being on a stream team playlist. Is our music any good or are people just listening to it because they’ve committed to listening twice a week to this playlist?

If you can find an audience that is going to be fans of your music that aren’t artists themselves or your family, it’s a crazy good confidence builder. I also found when I have real fans, my friends and family were more inclined to listen to my music because I wasn’t bugging them all of the time haha.

In your blog post, you talk a little bit about the algorithms behind Spotify recommendations. How were you able to find information about how those algorithms work?

I’ve gotten information from a lot of places. I’ve talked to some PR agencies with knowledge on how the algorithms work (it’s weighted towards who your followers are following right now), I’ve spoken to other artists and managers who have had success with streaming platforms, and I work in an industry where I have to keep up with how social media and streaming platforms trends and best practices. They are constantly changing too. Which means your strategy has to constantly change.

A lot of the stuff I’m talking about is the same concept as product market fit for any product. You want to place yourself in a category that has a good search volume, but has reasonable amounts of competition. I don’t need to be compared to the Rolling Stones, but I might get noticed more from being lumped in with the Drive-by Truckers.

I got the sense that you were being somewhat cautious when you shared the post. A lot indie artists do participate in stream teams and work through their playlists religiously. Have you gotten any pushback in response to the blog post? What has the response been like in general?

I didn’t get any pushback and actually not a lot of response at all from a lot of the Indie artists on Twitter. I wanted to be careful no to make anyone feel bad. It’s not like they are doing anything wrong. I think the lack of response also says a lot about what is the real objective of some of the Indie artists on Twitter. It’s mostly about follow for follow and plays for plays and that’s fine, but I prefer to grow relationships with people and engage more often on deeper topics or having more fun. Not just endless follow lists and what not.

Now, I have to say, participating in a lot of that stuff helped me at least get started. After a while though, you look at your stats and it’s not sustainable. You’re getting the same plays from the same users on the same playlists. You’ve got to reach more people. For us, it’s critical because we play live. We need to generate buzz to get people to come out to shows and we’ve seen an uptick in audience over the last couple of years, which has been a huge motivator.

Before I let you go, do you have any projects on the horizon?

We’re currently trying to put some shows together for the summer and fall, but the big thing we are working on is a new EP. We’ve recorded bass and drummers so far and I’m scheduling the rest of the sessions right now. Hoping to have something out very soon! Also, we are planning to release and acoustic version of our song “Only Have Lies for You” in the next couple of weeks.

Definitely something to look forward to!