From farewell to welfare

Having just returned from the Canadian ‘mini tour’, we (being the various people that depend on Severed Heads for pin money) have fallen into discussion about our future. Usually our decisions are made without much care for business, but we have reached a point where some business must take hold.

Like it or not we are reborn. Having accepted death in 2008 we have been dragged back into life – although it’s a weird recapitulation of the previous one. On tour, we meet people that act like we’ve been stored in a cryogenic chamber since 1986, returning simply to remind them of their more handsome years. That was never the point.


Best before 1986

But we admit that perception has been reinforced by our antique set list, which was designed for world-wide farewells. The farewells are now over. We plan new material but have been reluctant to risk upsetting our audience, losing their support. This problem impacts on all the rest of the thinking, as you will see.

We need to present new material. But I’ve always opposed an excess of albums which frightens off new people, so you end up living off dwindling completists. We must find a way to distribute new material without multiplying albums.

We have given away free material for a long time. This is partly generous, partly calculated – art is only worth what people will pay, and if people will pay nothing then it must be revalued some other way. But it takes time to produce music, and we have no time to waste, we must find a way to pay for this time. Of course, it will be stolen* by people who have no care – we know that. There are always snakes.


We need to think about subscriptions. Musicians are being encouraged to try subscriptions just as newspapers are unable to sustain them. It works for software, which has an upgrade schedule. The problem of albums and new music might be solved this way – a constant flow of new material, paid by a constant flow of support. But I am concerned that unless we have an audience that is forward looking we’re not going to make that work.

We need to restore a coherent presence. This was a SEVCOM web page long before Google, but we have now become fragments on commercial services: Facebook for events, Bandcamp for downloads etc. The brand recognition must be pulled into shape. In any case, online presence seems worthless in real life. We keep meeting people who have heard nothing of us since the Internet was born. A Facebook event is not a real campaign.

So then, TL/DR, farewells are over, new things must come, a new model for distribution, a better effort at putting it in front of new people.

You are welcome to comment.

* people that say music isn’t stolen when it’s duplicated have no understanding of time, which is a non-replaceable resource.

33 thoughts on “From farewell to welfare

  1. All in for a subscription service. Was very happy to see you in Montreal, would love if you came back playing newer material. Also I found a way onto the dazzle ship in snowglobe and it didn’t seem quite ready for me.

    • Updates, sure, but I am not sure you can get away with a software model. That is, people wouldn’t stand for an Adobe style incremental update. Have to be something really new at least every month.

  2. Hi, this is Matthew from Ottawa. I am sorry if I totally bothered you by taping your show with my mini camcorder in Montreal. I have gone over it several times, and am glad I can check out details I probably missed at the time. It was very well done! The most impressive parts I think was the enhanced bassline in First Steps, and the up instrumentation of Dollarex near the end.

  3. Incredibly happy you’re back as “Severed Heads” or whatever keeps the splendid oddities coming. I feel like every release or two, ever since the 80s, something significant has changed in your approach to making new music, and yet something alchemical in the way you make songs has remained familiar—always marvelously weird mind you, but there nonetheless. That’s the ineffable “Severed Heads” to me; I’ve always been excited to hear the experiments, knowing your sensibility as the musician will come through also. I’m eager to continue my support by attending shows (NYC is currently nearest to my location), buying albums (physical or digital), or if need be, paying subscriptions… or receiving shipments on camel back, really ANYthing. Just don’t stop making the music that moves you, please. I have a lot of faith by this point it will also move me.

    • Problem might be coming up with a constant flow of that stuff. I am concerned about quality, others think it must be done for financial reasons :-/

  4. And the dead eyes opened! You should have known about the reanimation of severed heads.

    “Pin money”, haha. I feel for you Tom, with an album called “Publicist” (witheringly, presumably) in the works whilst pondering how to connect the worlds of creativity, integrity and money in 2017. My context: never posted here before, and neither a flaming Clifford nor a newcomer, but I am basically old: your work reached me in 1986, thrilled me for a while, then my tastes and your work diverged sometime after that. It happens. Decades passed, I looked in on Sevcom from time to time, Bandcamp got me listening to various things I’d missed, both in the interim and from the Terse past, I played with HH, followed your blog, and just lately I bought Rhine and am loving it. So there’s some new convergence there. Fans are not lost forever. But fans pushing 50 are maybe not the most reliable income stream.

    Still, I’m not sure I understand your aversion to “multiplying albums”, or even how to avoid that. You want to keep releasing work, but not leave a history behind you? I suppose if I wanted to explore Tangerine Dream (or Nurse With Wound, or Jim O’Rourke etc), I might use a tool like and consult ratings as a starting point, and try Phaedra (or Chance Meeting, or Eureka etc). Would the artists approve of these starting points? Quite probably not. In your case, this plan would land me (guess where) in the mid-80s. But then I’d branch out chronologically, and probably try out what’s new next. Bandcamp seems really useful in this regard, as a way to dip into the past with an easy option to take the next step and pay the piper. Whether it works for you sales-wise is another question, as is whether the new people you seek like to work this way.

    TL/DR: There is a grey area between diehard old fans and freshly-minted ones. I eagerly await your new stuff and would be interested in a subscription scheme, depending on how it worked, but find the current setup meets my needs (the most important needs, after all), though the less Facebook the better, I’m with you there all the way.

  5. Maybe a blended approach. Try a vocalist to stamp new forms, if you retain some dance motifs. Goldfrapp might be an analogy.. The music needs to stand on its own merits, but a vocalist might create profile. The missing head returns… but from where!

  6. I submit might do the trick? Kind of a
    kickstarter for musicians. Signed acts are using it to fund special releases, like box sets, live sets. (Radiohead, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Erasure) And a lot of *ahem* retro acts and bands that no longer have labels use it to sponsor new work. (OMD, Gary Newman) That angle is covered nicely, as artists update pledgers with album progress and news while they work. Some artists offer tiers of commitment, with hard copies and paraphernalia available to higher donors. (again OMD’s and Newman’s projects are a good example.) Not just electronic acts either. It’s actually shocking how many high profile artists are on there. Yet another statement on the shambles of the traditional music industry.

    I only recommend it based on my recent experience as a pledger on just one band’s latest album(*), but it was a pleasantly ‘Heads-like experience, getting regular updates on the physical and artistic challenges. Also included audio and video of work in progress, rehearsals, jam sessions, etc.

    I’d love to see Sevs up there. I suspect the average or even occasional Clifford would gladly contribute to a new album.

    (*) I reserve the right to keep my guilty pleasures to myself, unless absolutely necessary.

    • This is exactly the kind of thing being discussed, but now I’m showing the others how much work is involved they’re starting to catch my caution. It’s like coming up with a magazine each month – not trivial. I might be wrong.

  7. In regards to new material, however long it takes at this stage of your life is understandable, and new material should not be compromised for the sake of financial reasons, as you said. You continue to maintain your aesthetic, always at the forefront of future listening and visual formats. Importantly, you have an incredible back catalog for proper reissues in the future if you desire. Hopefully through your continued endeavors, you will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labors. I know as a fan, I do. Keep on keeping on Mr. Ellard. You will always have my support!

  8. Whoops, missed the Canada tour I’m sad to say.

    Just throwing out a suggestion… it’s from left field and likely requires connections but who knows: Score a horror movie; I think that would be a peanut butter/chocolate combination. There’s enough edge in the music that it makes sense.

  9. A ‘dual allegiance’ model may be worth considering. 30 years on from the Chauvel, I’m in a ‘local nonlocal’ town 600 kms away. I grew up liking your albums very much, and that’s ‘still there, there’, even if I’m not.

    For as long as you (collective or otherwise) are able, can SH please release an album every two years – biannually approximately felt like a good pace for ‘my favourite band’ in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Bandcamp will notify me [I don’t glance here too often].

    Then again, you may wish to release albums more frequently once you’re over 80 & you feel like composing & directing like Clint Eastwood recently. Or in alternating years a Definite SH Album & then something Non-Stop Non-Dancing (with respect to James Last).

    For completists, DJ’s and other remixers, or any newer discoverers of your surround sound, a Subscription Something is something I will support, while I Am Not Destitute.

    Thank you holographically, as always.

  10. Hmm. I vaguely recall proposing you should adopt a subscription model years ago. I see your point about managing expectations though, because the creative urge doesn’t happen on a regular timetable. Well, I guess the urge does, but getting to a releasable state likely doesn’t.

    I also quite like the PledgeMusic model, mentioned above. I think that shouldn’t be conflated with a subscription, though. It strikes me more as project-based. And so it may miss the point, if the goal is a more regular and reliable income stream.

    Patreon (I haven’t tried that) is more subscription based, but I don’t know if anyone can make a living from that.

    I will also be predictably curmudgeonly however and point out that it helps if there were some decent and reliable way of finding out about updates for us digital dinosaurs (that may or may not be your target audience). It’s August and I’ve only just seen these last couple of site updates. I know you have to be moderne and all that for the social set, but still…

  11. oi oi

    Not sure if I could manage the subscription model too well, but (ages ago) coughed up for one of them thar supporter albums that Neubauten did. I’d go for that, as (for me) it’s easier to cough up an amount (scaled, depending on level of support -> amount of extra doodads included with release) and drool expectantly for the thing to occur.

    You could also do the whole “making of” thing as you go along – I mean you used to produce leaflets & stuff for the earlier works, right, so some form of documentation isn’t a totally alien concept as far as Sevs go, and with your experience in the field, it might also help spur new creators to flog themselves mercilessly, etc etc yadda.

    Anyway, just a thought FFTTMTFO etc.

  12. I am pissed that I cannot purchase a copy of Clifford from your Bandcamp page.

    I realize this is completely irrelevant to the conversation at hand here. But I needed to vent over this right now.

    We appreciate your benign tolerance in this matter.

  13. I already Patreon-ize a number of subscriptions, mostly Youtubers who make theory tutorials. Would happily add all of my favorite artists to the list. If you get 1000 people paying $5/month a year, that’s $60k (minus whatever taxes/fees Patreon takes). And you also get a primed list for product discounts available only to Patreons, rewarding Patreons and making it more attractive to fence-sitters. One-shot funding ala Indiegogo can work for special projects, but it also takes more specific time and attention – people have to constantly re-decide how much something is worth with every campaign. My Indiegogo to bring H30 to Texas got exactly 2 funders – and I was one of them. Everyone talked how awesome it would be until they realized what would be required of them as individuals to participate in a 14+ hour performance. Then suddenly it was crickets. People just want to consume, to fit you into their habitual frame. But if they (think they) want your art, a subscription can get your foot in the door leveraging the way they want to consume, and maybe create opportunities for more substantial engagement later.

  14. I would be cool with the subscription model as long as the results aren’t subject to constant rejigging as a final product like Op was (“Okay, I’ve bought and enjoyed it…now you want me to buy it again? Good gawd!”).

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