Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gigging for Groats

What's It All About?

You've read the words; now hear me read them to you. Prose or poetry, short story or sonnet sequence, if you've heard me in action at a public reading then you know I can deliver a pretty decent performance, even if I do say so meself. Hell, take a listen to the Sonnets for Orpheus audio downloads and make your own mind up, or catch me in the flesh, at a con or a Word Dogs event. You'd like to, but you can't? Cause you won't make that convention, and you don't stay in Glasgow? Well, OK, why don't I bring the gig to you -- by the power of the mighty mp3? Just tell me what you want to hear me read. Or pick it out from the menu.

What Can I Get?

Well, here's the existing menu:

XS works (around five minutes long, excluding intro/outro)
  • "The Toymaker's Grief" @ GBP £1 or USD $1.65

S works (around ten minutes long, excluding intro/outro)
  • "How a Scruffian Starts Their Story" @ GBP £2 or USD $3.20

M works (around fifteen minutes long, excluding intro/outro)
  • "An Alfabetcha of Scruffian Names" @ GBP £3 or USD $4.75
  • "A Scruffian Christmas" @ GBP £3 or USD $4.75 ** Scruffians Project donors only
  • "A Scruffian Christmas" MP3 & PDF set @ £5 / $7 .90
  • "Scruffians Stamp" @ GBP £3 or USD $4.75

XL works (over thirty minutes long, excluding intro/outro)
  • "Jack Scallywag" @ GBP £7 or USD $11

The Scruffians Package (donors) @ GBP £15 or USD $23.70 ** Scruffians Project donors only
  • "A Scruffian Christmas"
  • "An Alfabetcha of Scruffian Names"
  • "How a Scruffian Starts Their Story"
  • "Jack Scallywag"
  • "Scruffians Stamp"

The Scruffians Package (standard) @ £19 / $30
  • "A Scruffian Christmas"
  • "A Scruffian Christmas" PDF
  • "An Alfabetcha of Scruffian Names"
  • "How a Scruffian Starts Their Story"
  • "Jack Scallywag"
  • "Scruffians Stamp"
[** No, sorry, even if you don't want the PDF, you can't get "A Scruffian Christmas" in MP3 without being or becoming a project donor. The added charge for the PDF -- in the set or the package -- will however count as a donation to the Scruffians story fund, making you eligible for any future offers.]

If you fancy any of what's on the list, to make your order, see "How Does It Work?" If what you're looking for isn't on the menu yet just skip to "What If the Work I want Isn't Listed?"or keep reading and you'll understand how this should populate over time.

Where the Fuck Is Hal?

Hal is in Glasgow right now, and should be ready to take your orders and requests. Bring em on. (If you're wondering why this is at the top, by the way, it's in case I'm not in Glasgow at some point. Keep reading.)

How Does It Work?

Take a look at the "What Can I Get?" section above. If there's a work already listed, that means it's laid down. (Cause if works get laid down, I'll slap em in that section, so the menu builds as we go. Until then... well, again, keep reading.)

If the recording is available, all you have to do is check the price, punt that amount into my Paypal account via the Donate button, and let me know the title of the work you want. To do that email me at: performances AT halduncan DOT com. Orders should be made from the address linked to your own Paypal account, (or include a note of it so I know it's you,) and include the title in the subject line or in the body of the email -- either way is fine for me.

Piece of piss, right? In return, I'll send you either the mp3 of the reading itself, or a link to the fileshare site you can download it from, together with any necessary password. And I'll try and do this in a reasonable timescale -- a day or two, say.

What If the Work I Want Isn't Listed?

No worries! Take a look at the links under Online Fiction and Online Poetry for just a sample of what I'll happily do a reading of. Or are there any Scruffians stories you fancy, cause those play quite well as spoken word? Anything of mine you've read in a magazine or anthology? Check out the bibliography link; I'm happy to take requests. Just email them to me at the same address: performances AT halduncan DOT com. Tell me the title of the work you'd like to hear me read, and I'll give it a run-through to check the timing, (if I don't already know this,) and send you back a quote on the price with an estimate of when I can have it done by. If that's good for you, just place your order as above.

How Much Will It Cost?

However much I price it at, in the "What Can I Get?" menuf section or in a direct quote in response to a request.

If you want a rough idea before making a request, the pricing scheme I'm reckoning on is simple, but not set in stone. I'm working on the basis that a story ain't that far from a song -- where 3-5 minutes is $0.99 on iTunes. For a spoken word performance, something in that region doesn't seem unfair to me. How much would you pay for an alcoholic beverage of your choice, and how long would it take you to drink it on average? A half an hour for a short or a half, forty-five minutes to an hour for a full pint, three or four hours for a proper session? At maybe 2-3 groats for a pint? Well, since the service I'm offering is the quenching of your thirst for narrative, the experience of a story performed for you to savour, I'm going with a similarly stepped scale according to how long the performance lasts.

An initial rule-of-thumb pricing then:

  • XS -- 5 minute work (give or take) = £1-£1.50

  • S -- 10 minute word (give or take) = £1.50-£2.50

  • M -- 15 minute work (give or take) = £2.50-£3.50

Generally speaking a full sonnet sequence comes in at about fifteen minutes. When I've performed redux versions by cutting three of the sonnets to meet time constraints, that usually comes in about ten minutes. A 3000 word short story like "Scruffians Stamp" clocks in about fifteen minutes too, depending. Anything longer and you're going to start pushing twenty/thirty minutes and into "Are you sure you really want this?" territory. At the moment it's hard for me to estimate a reading of something like "The Chiaroscurist" (9000 words) or even "The Behold of The Eye" (11,000 words,) but we could well be talking forty-five minutes to an hour here, if not longer.

Still if you fancy these, ask for a quote; I'll give it a crack and get back to you. Obviously book-length (e.g. Escape from Hell! at 40,000 words) would just be silly, (and audiobook rights would be an issue with published novels anyway,) but if it's practical in terms of running time and file sizes, I'm up for it -- bearing in mind that if it basically lasts as long as a CD, we might be looking at new release CD prices. Anyway, at the end of the day, the above is only a rough rule-of-thumb; ultimately the price is going to be what's set for orders or what's quoted for requests. If there are intros/outros for amything, that won't figure into the time-banding.

What If I Can't Pay By Paypal?

I don't know, but I'm open to suggestions. There's not much point in sending a cheque from somewhere outside the UK that'll cost you more to post and me more to convert than it's actually worth. But if the "What Can I Get?" menu builds up to a sufficient level that you can order a bunch of stuff and have it total to a decent sum -- assuming you'd want to order that much -- feel free to punt any ideas of how to get that to me.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

Shit happens.

There might be times when I'm away somewhere with no access to my email. So before ordering, you should probably check the "Where the Fuck Is Hal?" section, which I'll try and update any time I'm off playing international jetsetter and liable to be offline, or if there's any calamities with my internet connection at home. Feel free to put an order in while I'm away, (unless I say "DON'T ORDER NOW!") but give me a day or two after the return date to catch up.

There might conceivably be fuck-ups or emergencies that delay things. Emails can disappear into the aether. Wastrel wordsmiths can think they've dealt with something when they haven't. International jetsetters can come down with exotic diseases. Hopefully this'll never happen, but if 3 days pass after the estimated dispatch date, and the goods still aren't there, email me and/or post a comment on this post to ask what the fuck is happening. Sweariness is optional. Clarity on what you ordered and when is definitely recommended.

There might be problems with the fileshare site or your ability to access it, or with servers and attachment sizes, or with wastrel writers making cock-ups. If you get a response that says there's an mp3 attached and there isn't; or if you get an mp3 through but it doesn't work; or if you get a response with a link and a password, but you can't get it working: email me as soon as is convenient, and I'll sort it out. If we just can't get it working, a refund or replacement is clearly in order -- your choice. Hell, if you accidentally delete it and have lost the link and password, let me know and I'll provide you with a replacement gratis.

What If I Just Don't Like It?

I will cry. I will sob myself to sleep at night in my abject sorrow that you hated my reading. Still, I always liked the "Suck It And See" policy of my local indie music temple -- I mean record-shop -- Fopp. So, what the fuck; let's do that here. If you really don't like it for whatever reason, well, you can't actually return it like a CD, but I'm going to take you on your word that you deleted it from your hard drive in utter disdain, and allow you to ask for a replacement of equal value. No refunds on the basis of taste, I'm afraid, and it's a one-time only deal per order, but send me an email saying what you want to exchange it for, and I'll sort you out. I don't foresee myself having to stop taking orders from someone taking the piss, but let's face it, gaming the system is going to be a bit bleeding obvious here.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

You tell me. If you have any questions, fire them into the comments and I'll answer them there, and update this if it seems sensible. Other than that, all I can think of that's left is... well, you don't really have to read this, but in case you're interested...

What Am I Paying For?

What you're paying for is not a product. I know, I know -- you're getting this file, this thingy, even if it's a pattern of bits rather than a physical object. You're thinking of this as the purchase of an artifact that you will subsequently own, right? Like you would own any mp3, like you would own a copy of the story if you bought it in a magazine? It's kind of a natural way to think in the (post-)industrial era of mass-manufactured goods, but as far as I'm concerned it's dead wrong.

You are essentially buying an artifact, albeit a digital one, but the artefact itself is only a ticket to a service. A set of symbols stamped on a medium that's worthless in and of itself, no matter its production costs, its value resting in the fact that it allows you entry to an event, an event I provide to you as a service for the cost of the ticket, dig? Does it cost me anything to print an extra ticket? No. But you're not paying for me to print the thing; you're paying for me to give you this pass to the service I have on offer. Is there a thing that you get as a product to own, an artifact you're buying? Yes. But that thing is a ticket. Like with any ticket, it's really the service you're paying for.

That service is the experience of narrative; it's the reading as a process, not a product; it's what happens in your ears and, more importantly, in your mind, as you listen. Think about it this way: that mp3 is worth sod all if you never play it, just as a ticket is worth sod all if you never use it. When you hit the play button, that's you using your ticket; it's the gig kicking off. You can use that ticket as many times as you want, make use of the service over and over again. If you lose your ticket, that's why I'm happy to replace it: because if I know you paid for it, I know you paid to use it as many times as you want. Like a physical ticket, if you weren't actually going to use it after all, hey, I don't mind you selling it on to someone else -- or even just giving it to them. Sure, it would be nicer if they bought their own ticket direct from me, but maybe they'll buy a ticket for another gig on the strength of this one. I'll trust that you passing on that ticket entails deleting it from your hard drive because you're never going to use it again.

Why am I casting it in these terms? Largely because the narrative-as-product paradigm carries all sorts of sneaky connotations that warp our sense of the artist-audience contract. I don't think that way about this, and I don't want you to. The contract is not that I extrude X units-worth of product in medium Y, for Z groats per unit. George R.R. Martin did not contract with his readers to extrude X units-worth of product in medium Y, for Z groats per unit, at a rate of N units per day; and that he has not made this contract with them is why he is, as Neil Gaiman points out, not their bitch for having failed to meet that rate. Similarly, the contract here is not that I blather out X minutes-worth of recording in mp3, for Z groats per minute. It's certainly not that I do so at a rate of N minutes per day. Fuck that.

(It doesn't matter here, but throwing a publisher into the mix doesn't change things. Even with a publisher, the contract is not that I extrude X units-worth of product in medium Y, for a company to multiply N times over, allowing it to offer X units-worth of replicated product, at Z groats per unit. In stark contrast to such work-for-hire arrangements, the contract made with such a company would be a licensing agreement, granting them a limited right to produce as many tickets as they see fit, and to charge however many groats per ticket they consider prudent, where said tickets provide the purchaser access to the service I have to offer. That contract -- granted in exchange for financial compensation and developmental resources, with a limited openness to negotiations regarding the details of the service -- would be entirely distinct from the artist-audience contract; in such situations, that company is essentially a ticketing agency that exists to facilitate the artist-audience contract.)

The key point? The narrative-as-product paradigm is one which obscures the true nature of the contracts involved, predisposes us to think in terms of production-line employment, and thereby represents exploitative and unwarranted demands on artists as obligations.

Fuck that shit.

In the narrative-as-service paradigm, in contrast, the real relationship becomes quite apparent. The artist-audience contract, as represented by the ticket, is that for Z groats you have free access to the service I have developed in medium Y, to use it within the practical limits of the medium itself, except in so far as copyright legislation defines that use as abuse. The two basic forms of abuse are a) unauthorised reuse, beyond what is automatically permitted, and b) unauthorised provision of access to others, beyond what is automatically permitted. The automatic permissions are granted because certain degrees/types of sampling/quotation or lending/resale are the legitimate right of the audience.

And that's exactly what you've got here: with the contract articulated as clearly as I can, with the mp3 as the ticket you're purchasing, for Z groats you have free access to this audio-form narrative-as-service I've developed in the medium of mp3, to use it within the practical limits of the medium itself, except in so far as copyright legislation defines that as abuse. If you're not sure what's automatically permitted, you can probably track it down. But frankly, if you have some crazy scheme for reusing aspects of the service (sampling) or making it available to others, drop me a line; I might well be happy to authorise it. I'm very amenable.

See part of what I hate is the way the notion of intellectual property has become such an obfuscating and incendiary shibboleth. Where the malicious nature of abusive acts is confused in the narrative-as-object paradigm by the notion of intellectual property, in the narrative-as-service paradigm it becomes obvious. It is not that "intellectual property" is "stolen" -- like a plagiarised sentence is somehow removed from the original work when it's spliced into the plagiarising text -- but that the terms of use have been breached. Access to the service is provided on the basis of a guarantee that these types of act will not take place; if they do take place, that means the guarantee was misleading, and access to the service has been acquired under false pretences. These abuses are not "theft", but rather fraud, whether by intent or negligence.

This paradigm is, I think, a vastly more equitable paradigm for an artist, because it underlines the right of a service-provider to provide a service only under terms they have consented to, and only on the basis that such terms are legally binding. The first is a basic liberty required by, well, the prohibition of slavery; the second is just equality under the law; and together they constitute droit d'auteur. And I'm sorry, American Legal System, but I believe in droit d'auteur. But, yeah, the point is, if you pass on your ticket to a passing acquaintance and they mercilessly plagiarise the fiction or stick the mp3 up on the interwebs for anyone to download, it's not that my "intellectual property" has been "stolen" (or "liberated," for that matter); it's just an abuse of the service, a breach of the artist-audience contract.

It makes the lending thing a little gnarly, because lending is cool, one of those automatic permissions. When you share a physical ticket, you're passing it back and forth, so only one person can use the service at a time, and that limitation means there's only ever one ticket-user at a time. Not only am I down with you lending someone a copy of Vellum or Escape from Hell!, I positively encourage you to do so. Hopefully they'll like it enough to buy their own when they give you yours back, or they'll hang on to it for so long you'll go out and buy another. Score! But when you share this sort of digital ticket these days, that almost certainly means creating a copy for a friend and holding on to your own. Which basically means forging a perfect copy that isn't a valid ticket but which works just as well.

Mind you, this is not so much of a dealio on a "mix CD for a mate" level -- so again, go for it, if you think this close friend or that would actually appreciate it, (especially if they don't already know my stuff.) This is not, as far as I understand, one of those automatic permissions, but frankly I'm a firm believer in the mix-CD ethos. Like I would ever have got into The Stooges if a mate hadn't recorded a couple of cassettes full of them, The Sonics, Radio Birdman, and so on. Breaching the artist-audience contract like this is only out-of-order here, far as I'm concerned, if you're making a limitless amount of perfect forgeries freely available to anyone and everyone. Cause that would be sorta like going to a local band's gig in a small venue, tickets on the door, paying once to get that black ink mark on the back of your hand that says you've paid, then standing just outside the venue with your own pen, marking anyone who's vaguely interested, so they don't have to pay to get in. When the band is performing for the door money, you can see the active malice in that, right?

Anyway, I hope that all makes sense to you as it does to me, because the whole narrative-as-service paradigm just seems infinitely preferable to me. You probably didn't really need to have it explicated here like this when I could have waffled on about it in a blog entry, but I suppose this last section is, in essence, an informal "Terms and Conditions," an outlining of the artist-audience contract I'm offering here as regards the spoken word performances. So, yeah, if this all sounds fair, and those spoken word performances pique your interest, start sending in your requests.

I'm at your service, as they say.



Blogger David White-Crain said...

Hey, Hal.

Concerning audiobook rights and the published novels ... What freedom do you have to record sections of the books, or say a complete chapter?

Off the top of my head, I think about how great it would be to have your reading of the chapters "The War Against Romance" and "Endhaven, Evenfall" from VELLUM, or "Sorrow's Prisoners" and "Death's Release" from INK.

3:44 am  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Hi David,

Sorry, I just realised I hadn't responded to this. Sadly, the terms in the contract as regards audiobook rights cover abridged versions of the works as well as unabridged, so I reckon that's ruled out. An excerpt is pretty radically abridged, but it's still, strictly speaking, abridged. At least, that's the presumption I'm working on just now. I'll update if anything transpires that puts the situation in a different light.

7:39 am  
Blogger Chris McLaren said...

Should we use the performances email address to request items as well, or is that strictly for paypal purposes?

I'd gladly purchase readings of the entire Scruffians sequence, for a start...

3:33 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Chris: yep, the performances address is the one I'm looking to use for both orders and requests -- mainly for admin purposes, to keep them separate from other emails.

Someone else asked about placing an order for the Scruffians stories, so if you're keen, drop us a line and I'll send you the same quote.

4:08 pm  

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