There was a sojourn, a Scottish sojourn

Amazement and fascination were what I always felt when I talked to James and Kylie MacHattie about their annual Scottish sojourn, pitching their tent across the Highlands, scrabbling for practice locations and cooking on a wee propane stove. The closest I’ve come to that is sleeping in a car a few times after a contest, and vowing never to have to do that again.

Much like bagpipes, when it comes to camping there are people who really like it and there are those who really dislike it, with not a lot of middle ground. James and Kylie obviously really like camping, so they probably view it as part of their yearly piping vacation. But I find it fascinating to compare their experience with that of neurotic pipers who have to have things just so before they compete: the right B&B, the same breakfast, a hot shower, practice-sessions timed to the second.

I’ve known a few pipers who had the wife carry their pipe-box (in the days before padded cases with shoulder-straps), and had her do the driving to the games so that their hands wouldn’t get tired. Seriously.

Musicians in general tend to be a precious lot. Ego, superstition, anxiety and inferiority abound. We read about it in the worlds of pop, rock and rap, and it’s all over the place in piping and drumming, too. I don’t know about you, but I find the MacHatties’ simple approach to their complex art refreshing.


Can you spare a dime?I’ve always liked Radiohead, and I think have all of their CDs. Their latest album, In Rainbows, has created a bit of stir because people can download it and pay whatever they want, even $0.01. After about 10 days the average amount paid is around $8.50 – pretty close to the $10 that iTunes would charge and a lot more than the potential next-to-nothing that the band risked.

I really like this idea. It’s basically busking, which I have said is the world’s most honourable profession. You pay exactly what you think it’s worth, or the value of the act to you personally within your economic means. If you’re after just one song and really don’t want the rest you can pay what you think the one song is worth.

This is a group with a dedicated fan-base, and such creativity reflects their brand and re-connects with those fans. It’s a smart thing to try and the big-label music industry is watching closely, I’m sure. Our little piping and drumming music industry may want to watch, too.

A solution

Mmmmm . . . chocolate covered profits.My seven-year-old daughter Annabel is in grade school and several clubs. Throughout the year her class has various fund-raising projects. They sell magazine subscriptions (hmm, why isn’t pipes|drums on the list?), sponsored runs, and products that you can purchase, with a cut of the proceeds going to the school or the club. Everyone in North America will be familiar with those boxes of pricey chocolate-covered almonds or giant candy bars that organizations sell to raise money for a trip to the provincial or state competition.

It struck me that this fund-raising model could be applied to the World’s CDs (£15.26 for each volume) and DVDs (£19.74 for each volume). We’re in the thirtieth year of recordings of the top bands being sold by record companies and the RSPBA without a penny going to the artists that made them. Despite every indication that this practice runs contrary to a 2005 legal decision, it still goes on as usual. Whether bands are afraid of political punishment or judging repercussions or both is anyone’s guess, but I continue to be confounded as to why the artists allow the compensation issue to go uncontested, let alone unresolved. Fear and loathing, I suppose.

So here’s a possible solution: the RSPBA and Monarch Recordings (the company that puts out the CDs and DVDs) allow the featured bands to purchase as many copies as they want at a sub-wholesale price. Like my daughter’s clubs and school, the bands can then resell them at a higher price in any way they want, being allowed to pocket the profits.

Why not? Bands in effect can be dealers for their products, and Monarch and the RSPBA can take advantage of those wide networks of fans, friends and family to sell more of their project. Any piping and drumming supplies business or any record retailer can order as many copies of the products as they please, and then make a profit from their sale to consumers. By allowing bands to be retailers, they can then gain at least a few dollars and pounds from their massive investment in the project – which is better than the big fat nothing that they receive now.

It’s sad that the world’s best bands – the universe’s greatest exponents of the pipe band art – would have to succumb to the equivalent of door-to-door peddling of chocolate-covered almonds, but it seems to me that this might be a way to break the three-decade cycle of taking advantage of the artists that make the whole thing possible in the first place.

If you like this idea, or feel that there should be some other form of compensation to the artists that perform on the top-selling World’s products, e-mail the Executive Officer of the RSPBA, Ian Embelton, and Angus MacDonald of Monarch Recordings to let your voice be heard.