Say you’re searching Spotify for Lauryn Hill so that you can jam out to The Miseducation of… in the privacy of your own bedroom when you stumble across a song called “Lauryn Hill Is Like Awesome And Great”. You’re curious, so you stick it on. Matt Farley just earned $0.005.
Or maybe you’re bored and decide to stick in “Kurt Vonnegut” to see what comes up. Or "David Beckham" or "Ryan Gosling". Or you’re really in need of a very specific apology song like “I’m Sorry I Forgot Our Anniversary”. Every time your curiosity gets the better of you, Matt Farley gets $0.005. More if you download it off iTunes.
Sure, the margins are so low that it would take an insane number of plays to add up to a substantial amount of money. It would take millions of plays and downloads, and that would require thousands of songs, on a ludicrous breadth of topics. It would take a superhuman amount of effort to make that numbers game work in your favour.
But last year, Matt Farley earned $23,500 (about £14k) from his music. He managed that because in the last six years Farley has written, recorded and released over 14,000 songs. He puts them out under a variety of assumed band names, so it’s not immediately apparent quite how prolific he is. He sells them and streams them on every available site, and all those $0.005s add up. Not to a fortune, admittedly, but enough that he can justify spending half his working week knocking out songs from his home in Danvers, just outside Boston in Massachusetts. I wanted to talk to Matt because although he might dream of being recognised as part of the “best pop/rock duo since Hall & Oates”, his absolute dedication to DIY music is probably the best thing since Lil B created 150 MySpace pages.
Noisey: Why did you decide to start making so much music?
Matt: My friend Tom Scalzo and I started a musical duo called Moes Haven in college (Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, Class of 2000). We wrote hundreds of songs before we even graduated. Most of them were straightforward, Dylan-esque songs. But some were silly novelty songs that we couldn't help but write. By 2004, we learned that we could release songs through www.cdbaby.com. A few years after that, I noticed that the novelty songs like “Pickle Sandwich” and “Shut Up Your Monkey” and “Toilet Troubles” were the only ones selling. And they weren't even selling very well. Just a couple dollars per year. But I'm happiest when I'm spending long hours churning out songs. So I figured I'd focus solely on novelty songs and see what happens!
Is there anybody else out there doing anything like this?
There are definitely people doing personalised birthday songs like me. And there are plenty of novelty acts out there. I just don't think anyone is doing it at this scale. You have to enjoy doing it. Because the money is not very much when you consider the time I've put into it. I don't know anyone else who is spending this much time on this kind of music.
How many Spotify plays did you have last year, and how much did that earn you?
I don't know exactly, but I think it's around 1.3 million streams just on Spotify, which is about $5,000. I also earn a similar rate from other streaming services like Rhapsody.
Do you sell many downloads?
Yes. I still make more of my money from downloads than from streams. But streaming is catching up. It's about 60% from downloads lately.
So how much do you make annually from your music?
I earned $23,500 in 2013 from all my music sales. My music is on every digital music store and people are actually purchasing these songs, not just streaming them.
What's your most popular song?
I think The Toilet Bowl Cleaners is my most popular "band." After music fans have searched all of their favourite artists, it is inevitable that they will type the word "poop" into the search bar. Once they do that, they'll find 9 albums by The Toilet Bowl Cleaners! It's impossible not to listen to these songs once you know they exist.
Do you have a personal favourite?
I put the most work into the Toilet Bowl Cleaners albums. The most recent track is called “You Thought We Ran Out of Poop Song Ideas. You Were Wrong”. If you get beyond the fact that I'm singing about poop, you'll notice that the songs are actually good.
Is part of the idea to attract people to Moes Haven?
It's definitely helped a little bit so far. People will contact me about the novelty songs and I'll inform them that there are 25 albums by Moes Haven that they might enjoy. But, as I've told Tom (the other member of Moes Haven), we are only in year 6 of a 20 year promotional project in which I write around 50,000 songs in order to get some attention which I redirect to Moes Haven. Then Moes Haven will finally be recognised as the best pop/rock duo since Hall & Oates. At this rate, we expect Moes Haven to be touring theaters in 2028. The opening acts will be The Toilet Bowl Cleaners, Papa Razzi and The Photogs, and The Hungry Food Band.
What’s the key to writing a song title people will want to listen to?
I think it's mostly just random luck. My trick is that I've written so many titles that it's inevitable someone will happen upon one of them. It's good to stay away from common words like love, heart, tears, etc. And it's good if the title is funny, which I think lots of mine are.
Some people have described your work as “musical spam”. How do you respond to that?
I definitely don't consider myself a musical spammer. I think that characterisation just makes for a good headline. And - as a writer of wacky song titles - I'm in no position to criticise anyone for coming up with an attention-getting headline!
But some of the responses I've seen imply that anyone can churn out any kind of sounds, slap a catchy title on it, and make some money. I don't think that would work. People aren't going to listen to or purchase songs that don't have some substance behind them. And I honestly feel that there's substance behind the songs. They're genuinely catchy, interesting and funny!
And the fact that people are actually buying the songs is a sign that they actually like the music.
People seem a little unwilling to give me credit for writing songs that are actually good. But I am quite proud of most of the songs. Just because they're written quickly and are about unusual topics doesn't mean that they can't be good quality. Even the occasional bad ones are at least funny in that they inspire listeners to say, "I can't believe this song exists!" But any reaction is good. I've been churning out music for years with hardly anyone taking notice. So I'm entertained by negative responses as much as I am by positive ones!
Cool, thanks Matt.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinEGPerry