Today we’re speaking with Joseph Alexander, the man behind Fundamental Changes, the leading publisher of guitar books on Amazon with over 100 titles in their catalogue and over 150,000 copies sold last year.
Joseph’s own backstory is a really interesting one and reveals some great insights about learning effectively in the modern era, whether self-taught or with a teacher. Fundamental Changes has been leveraging the dramatically changing landscape in the world of book publishing to provide exciting new opportunities for students – and potential authors!
In this conversation we talk about:
- The three factors that helped Joseph go from struggling in learning music to really enjoying and improving consistently.
- The specific advantages a modern indie publisher has over traditional book publishers and how that helps authors and students alike.
- What their publishing process looks like when they work with a musician or music educator who has something interesting to say – and how different that is from the status quo in the publishing industry.
If you’ve ever wondered how a music book comes to be, or whether learning from a print book or ebook can really match up against in-person lessons or YouTube videos – you won’t want to miss this one.
Fundamental Changes is currently seeking new authors – if you’re a musician or music educator with something interesting to share, be sure to get in touch via the contact form on the Fundamental Changes website!
Watch the episode:
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Joseph: Hi, this is Joseph Alexander from Fundamental Changes, and this is Musicality Now.
Christopher: Welcome to the show Joseph, thank you for joining us today.
Joseph: Hey, thanks for having me on. It’s a real honor to be here and to be asked to do something like this.
Christopher: I’ve really been enjoying your book The Practical Guide to Modern Music Theory for Guitarists. It made me really curious to know where you came from, in terms of your own background in guitar, in theory, in music in general. Could you tell us the back story to who you are as a musician?
Joseph: Yeah, I’ll try to keep it fairly brief. If started playing electric guitar, I think, when I was about 11, after having played classical for a while. Went through to my A levels, and then went to London College of Music, you know, guitar institute. There was a real emphasis on the technical side and theory and some playing. But what I found there was there were just so many influences on me all the time, and I was constantly trying to chase the next thing. Even at that age, I did really have an awareness that Miles Davis was move different from someone like Allan Holdsworth.
Joseph: I was trying to play all their stuff at the same time at 200 beats per minute over giant steps. Now surprisingly, I sounded pretty terrible, and I couldn’t really figure out why. It led me to be really disillusioned with music, and I ended up having a bit of a break down. I was only 19. I went home for a year, and decided to go to Leeds College of Music. Leeds was just this completely different story for me, where I’d have these amazing one-on-one lessons with a guitarist called Yiannis Pavlavis. What he taught me was that, with all these influences coming at me like that, I really needed to focus on one thing.
Joseph: I just remember there was this one crystallizing moment for me where he said, “Who do you want to sound like? Who are you listening to?” At the moment, I was kind of listening to Pat Martino. He goes, “Well, Pat Martino’s here, and you’re down here. What you’re trying to do is this massive jump all at once. You’re trying to do that with theory and learning the concept but, actually, what you need to be doing is more playing. Instead of doing this jump, you need to do this jump, and you need to do it a thousand times or a hundred times.” He said, “If you’ll trust me, I’d like to show you that. But I want you to stop thinking about everything else. I’ll give you this little task, go away, you’ll learn that, you do your homework, you come back and then we’ll look at it, and we’ll move on.”
Joseph: The conversation massively changed my perspective on music. I realized, instead of trying to incorporate all the theory and everything like that, it was a case of just: keep it simple and have this little tiny seed that gradually grew organically, obviously with a bit of help from a teacher, and stay focused on the thing that you love. I think some musicians, myself in particular, there’s always that “the grass is greener”, kind of thing. If I was playing jazz, I’d be like, “Oh, man. That guy’s got great country chops,” or whatever, and start doing that.
Joseph: You have to find what you love and keep it simple and keep plugging away at that, kind of thing.
Christopher: That’s so interesting. We had a recent guest on the show, Robert Emery, who was talking about the funny things we do as adult learners and the way we sometimes trip ourselves up. He made that point that we often want to know everything all at once, and we want to dive straight into the advanced stuff. We consider we should be able to understand everything. Actually, the trick of it is to just take a more childlike view, trust the teacher, look at the thing that’s put in front of you and not jump ahead and not worry that you don’t yet know what steps two, three, four, five and six are; just focus on step one. It sounds like your teacher gave you that insight that it’s one step at a time, and you don’t need to know the whole entire roadmap of your future to be able to take the next step.
Joseph: Exactly. It was sort of freeing in a way to let somebody else take responsibility for that. That is difficult as an adult because we’re taught that you have to take responsibility for every part of your life. In most respects, that’s true. But that idea of being a child learner and just going, “Okay, man. What’s the next lesson?” Being hungry to learn and enjoying the process, rather than worrying about you don’t sound good because you’re not there yet, yet slowing down and crystallizing the stuff you’re doing. I think that makes you a better player overall anyway because as your skills develop in one area, they actually… it brings up everything else as well. I think there’s a lot of truth in that.
Christopher: I’m curious to know, was it the nature of London versus Leeds as music schools? Or was it the luck of finding a good teacher? Were your contemporaries in London struggling with the same thing? Why was there that difference?
Joseph: I don’t want to say anything bad about London. The teachers there are absolutely astonishingly brilliant. I was having lessons with guy like Shaun Baxter and Ian Scott and these amazing London musicians. Loads of people down there were fantastic. But I think I might not have been good enough to be there at that time. I could see everyone else around me being better than me. I guess I wasn’t really a natural at music. I’d always had to reverse engineer what everybody else was doing. I had to break it down and explain it and figure out why it worked in my own. That’s the only way I could learn it.
Joseph: It’s a terrible analogy, but you know those terrible American movies where it’s like a dance school or something: there’s one guy who’s not quite good enough and there’s all the pressure? That was kind of me. Maybe that’s just part of my personality, or it was at the time, but I felt it was such a competitive environment and, again, all these guys were so far ahead of me and just seemed to get this stuff, they just seemed to have it before they… not before they got there, but they just had a better concept of learning music than I did, or a better map. I think that pressure was detrimental to me.
Joseph: Some people thrive in that environment, but I guess I don’t. It’s partly that, and I think the school isn’t set up to make it a competitive environment, but I think there’s just something where you put 30 guitarists in a room, and it just becomes, as you would say, a measuring competition; who can play the fastest or whatever. So, yeah, I kind of just got caught up in all that, all of that. I was seeing how fast I could run scales or what theory I knew ,or what I knew about playing the guitar, or what I could technically perform, but not actually what I could play.
Joseph: I think that was the thing that was missing for me. We did play quite a lot but we weren’t really… I wasn’t really learning enough songs and music and complete things that… I was very guilty of that somebody says, “Play something.” And I’d just run super-locrian at 300 beats a minute, that kind of thing. I could probably not quite sit down and play Wonderwall all the way through at that time. I think that stuff makes a disconnect with your audience.
Joseph: That’s the way I found myself thinking at London. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily the guitar institute’s fault, but it seems to foster that environment for me. Whereas Leeds was… it just seemed more musical. I had private study instruments, like I said, each week. I had this massive support network. And the first thing they did when you got to Leeds, they put you in a band. You had to go and play. Like, “Right. You’re in this band. You’re in this band.” You’re like, “Oh, my God. I don’t know how to do this stuff.” And sort of hacking your way through it, but everyone’s very patient.
Joseph: I went in not as a competitive person, but assuming it was going to be that environment. But, actually, everyone was really supportive. If you made a mistake, no one scowled at you, it was just like… like I say, everyone was totally there for each other. Being in Leeds, there was other little things. Living in Leeds as opposed to London, I could afford to go out and see music and surround myself in that. I just had a much better time. I was just happier. It just seemed a more musical environment. I think just having those two things to compare when I left – and I started doing a lot of teaching myself – that, hopefully, I try to take the best bits of London, which was just I had a very good theoretical and technical knowledge, but I also had, hopefully, I was still young the wisdom to let my students get access to that at the right times.
Joseph: One of the reasons why the first books happened was that I could see students coming to me at that time, and they had the same issues I was having in London. Instead of being in that environment, they were in their bedroom, and it was YouTube or whatever that was giving them the short attention span of trying to master all these different things at the same time. Then it was my turn to be like, “Listen, man. What do you want to do? Where do you want to go?” And things. I love teaching. I love that. I love being able to, sounds stupid but, give music to people; let them play, let them find their own voice.
Joseph: I was never a teacher that would say, “Right. This week we’re doing this.” First lesson is like, “Well, what do you want to learn? What do you want to play? Let’s design your next 12 lessons, or whatever you’ve signed up for, around you. Where do you want to be?” That simplification of… not saying that the theory couldn’t get complicated or anything, but just focusing on where they were at the time and then giving them that progression on their terms seems to just really work. I almost always really connected with my students and got results out of them.
Joseph: When they came in the room, and they would be… they were better… some of them were better than me before they came in. There was always the annoying 13 year old kid that can just shred you off the planet. But you’d show them something else and try and bring in a new little area into their playing, that’s… some of it’s just making them aware of this stuff, and they’ll go and do their own work; they’re always the greatest students for me. Just trying to give them what they needed when they needed it, and actually listen to their playing and give feedback rather than trying to stamp my personality on it.
Christopher: Interesting. It sounds like it was a real combination effect. There was definitely some kind of community change from London to Leeds and that supporting vibe, rather than competitive, or need to prove yourself. It was also, by the sounds of it, a little bit about technique versus playing real music, as it were, and not getting overwhelmed and scattered across a whole bunch of stuff. It sounds like those three things together transformed how you were thinking about music learning for yourself and then for your students. Is that right?
Joseph: Yeah, that’s absolutely spot on. Yeah.
Christopher: So talk a little bit more about that technique versus repertoire, or playing notes versus playing real music, idea. What did that look like in practice for you?
Joseph: I don’t want to make any enemies, but it does seem to be almost a uniquely guitarist-y thing. You don’t necessarily get jazz clarinet players or orchestral clarinet players trying to absorb as much theory and know as much as possible but not be able to play it, kind of thing. The classical world, and I think to an extent, the jazz world, should really be learning by playing music and things. I think London definitely got my technique together. I was probably sitting in room on bed messing my back up and playing scales and things for eight hours a day. Then, when we started learning jazz, I think… see, this was kind of a big mistake as well for me, that I put on Band-in-a-Box, put on at 251 and then try and find how to solo over it, how to play the right arpeggio over the right chord at the right time.
Joseph: Of course, your playing goes, “Okay, here’s a minor chord: here’s my minor chord stuff. Here’s my dominant chord stuff, here’s my major chord stuff,” and so on; It plays really blocky. If I’d actually bothered to listen to any jazz at the time, I’d have just instantly heard that the musical reality of that is not what’s going on there at all. There is to an extent, but it’s actually… I’m very lucky I get to hang out with guys like Martin Taylor and watch him play. There’s a bit of that but, actually, it’s more about the melodic line.
Joseph: Trying to keep that to a short point, I was obsessed with the idea of that, conceptually, you could play this over the five chord – you could play this, this, this – and there was all these different options to play. But, actually, what you need to go and do is learn the melody of what’s happening over there in the head of the tune and decorate that and explore that and use the tune of the piece to make that more musical. That kind of thinking was completely not on my radar at London.
Joseph: It was just like, “Right, okay. I can use the altered scale or lydian dominant here. Here’s a Lydian-dominant scale thing, and now hrs a major seventh scale thing.” It just didn’t sound jazzy, and I couldn’t figure out why. It was just sort of a case of lots of listening and, again, that more musical approach. So, again, when I went to Leeds, the practice was much more about using the melody of the tune to inform the solo, kind of thing. Yeah, I should point out, I was more of a rock guitarist anyway, so it was always relevant to be playing high scales quite fast and things.
Joseph: It was that lack of melody thing, I think, that was the biggest problem.
Christopher: That’s really fascinating. I think that comes through a lot in your theory book, is that there’s definitely a danger – and as you say, guitarists are maybe particularly prone to it – in general of improv by numbers. “I know the theory, so I know what notes are allowed. And I’ll just play my patterns up and down and hope it sounds okay.” As you say, that misses the whole point, in terms of the musicality of it and making it sound compelling. I think that’s a really perfect example. One this I loved about your theory book was how it’s always bringing the reader back to practical application and to, “Listen to this. Listen to this example.” Not just the abstract, “Listen to the scale being played,” but, “Here are five songs that use the lydian mode for a solo. Go listen to those.”
Joseph: I think that’s something that, as you say, is often really missing from the way people approach theory and approach improv.
Joseph: Yeah. Definitely.
Christopher: You mentioned there you went on to teach in-person. I think people listening or watching can probably understand how you were taking these lessons and using them to help individuals have a better outlook on how to approach their learning. It would be easy, I think, to assume that the solution here is to work one-on-one with people and to give them that step and to be the trusted guide that we’ve just said you need. Like we just said, you need someone to make sure you stay focused and step by step. But, clearly, you went into publishing books for people to teach themselves. Maybe work with a teacher, but I’m sure a lot of people use the books by themselves. So, clearly, it’s not that simple.
Joseph: Could you talk a little bit about how your books help people to get that same benefit without the teacher to hold them by the hand each step of the way?
Joseph: Yeah, I will say that I think you will always progress more quickly with a good teacher, one-on-one. You get more instant feedback, and they’re going to pick you up on the things that you don’t know you’re doing wrong. That’s kind of the problem really with any self-learning, is you don’t know what you don’t know. However, the way I’ve written my books, we’ve got a couple of complete beginners books which are written in a slightly different way. What we try to do is have a very incremental – this, this, this again – kind of approach that can be followed. The problem with… of the challenge with a book, I should say, is that it’s a linear process. You can dive in, but most people are going to go from page one to page 100.
Joseph: If a student comes to me in a guitar lesson, and they have a question for me, that could be a legit digression for weeks to completely different stuff. It’s all really interesting, and it’s fun, and you can do that. But when you’re not there, what you have to provide is: Get this exercise done… here’s the background to the exercise, here’s how you play it, here’s the notation, and then another paragraph. Each exercise really needs to build on the previous ones. You’ve got books like my… So my fingerstyle guitar book, I think is always quite a good example about grabbing your guitar.
Joseph: The first exercise is that, is literally just your thumb playing the sixth string on the guitar; getting that baseline. Then the second exercise is getting the thumb and the ring finger to play the top string. Then, the thumb keeps playing quarter notes and the ring finger starts playing eighth notes. That’s the first three examples because if you’ve not incrementally built up that right hand independence when you’re picking, you’ve got no chance when it comes to doing all the other things.
Joseph: It has to be very guided. Because of that, our books tend to be about 100, 110 pages long, but they will have about 150 examples in standard notation and tab, explanation of every single example, example solos. I think the really important thing is we provide the audio of every single example. When people don’t download the audio, it completely confuses me because you’re learning music, you need to hear what this sounds like, you need some sort of reference to know if you’re doing it right. That’s the responsibility of self-teaching.
Joseph: I think it’s trying to be… to really break it down. The way I write them is I imagine a student who’s got enough technical ability, facility on the instrument, to do what I’m asking them to do, but then they’ve come into my lessons, and they’ve said, “Okay, I want to play fingerstyle blues guitar,” or, “I want to play jazz blues or whatever it happens to be.” I go, “Okay, all right. Well, you’re here. How are we going to… what are going the be the next 10, 20 lesson that incrementally we can do that?” It’s really breaking it down into the smallest possible steps we can.
Christopher: Terrific. I’m always curious to know when I talk to someone like yourself who’s gone through this process of developing real teaching insight, and then doesn’t just continue being a teacher and delivering it one-on-one to students, but creates an enormous project out of nowhere to have a bigger impact out there. You guys dominate the Amazon charts for quitar books at this stage. I think you’ve got over 100 books, is that right?
Christopher: I’m sure our listeners are curious to know, how did that happen? What was it in you that made you decide, “I’m not just going to continue teaching, I’m going to do this whole big project?”
Joseph: Complete accident. I literally gave more thought to my Halloween costume than my career. I think I said in the preamble that I was teaching a lot of students, and I was really… I was writing down the notes that I was giving them, just so instead of me writing it down every lesson, I could print if off for them and give it to them, then they’ve got better value. They’ve got more time talking with me scribbling.
Joseph: I was thinking about the stuff I’d really struggled with. I’d got a student at that time who was really struggling with the same stuff; It was jazz soloing. I think my first book was Fundamental Changes in Jazz Guitar, which is a bit of a mouthful. I wrote that, and it had like three DVDs worth of audio on it, 160-odd examples at two speeds. I sent it to a publishing company in London. They were like, “We like the book. It’s good. But it’s completely non-viable commercially because we can’t put three DVDs on a book. So we’re going to say no.”
Joseph: It’s like, “Okay. Cool. No worries.” I thought about it, and two things happened. First of all, one of my other students said, “You know Amazon do this self-publishing thing?” I was like, “Oh, okay. I’ll throw that up there and try it.” Terrible front cover, probably full of typos, those kind of things and thought, well, what about the audio? Well, it’s the 21st century maybe I can put a WordPress website together and let people download the audio once they’ve got the book via a link. That worked really well.
Joseph: For some reason, that book started selling despite the terrible covers and everything. I thought, well, I’ll write another one because I had so much material from my time at London, my time at Leeds, stuff I was figuring out on my own and the stuff I was working on with my students. I think having a lot of students really helped because the problems that they were coming to me with was… and I was trying to solve for them, was what I was using to inspire these books because I reasoned, “If they’ve got these problems, then a lot of people have.” You’d see the same thing come in over and over again.
Joseph: So I wrote that, and it was selling okay. Then I wrote another one and another one. I ended up… just because I had so much material, and I was really enjoying writing it. I thought, well, I’m not going to be teaching guitar forever, it would be great to have some other things going on. I ended up writing, I think, 14 books in the first year. The first one took eight months, I should say, and then the year after that I wrote another, I think, 13 books.
Joseph: What happened then was I, kind of accidentally, established a brand on Amazon. You recognize the Fundamental Changes… well, not product placing or anything, but one of our books. Not that I ran out of things to write about at that time, I’m like the world’s worst death metal guitar player, right? But my friend’s really good do you know what I mean? I was like, “Well, I’ve got these brand. We’ve got like 15 books, mailing list. I’ve got people I can email about your book when it comes out. Do you want to write it? I’ll edit it, put front covers on, we’ll just split the royalties on it.” He was like, “Yeah.”
Joseph: He comes back a few months later with the book. I did the editing on it. That was the start of the proper publishing side of the company. I thought right, I’ve got to get professional now. Founded a company blah, blah, blah, that kind of stuff. That was it. Then we just tried to keep the quality really, really high. It’s just sort of grown really organically. While I’ve been writing books, we’ve had plenty of other people with great things to say. Like I say, we’re working with guys like Martin Taylor, Mark Lettieri. We’ve got Levi Clay, Chris Brooks, Chris Zoupa, Kristof Neyens one.
Joseph: We’re working with guys who are Instagram influences, or people with 100,000 subscribers on YouTube. They get to published. We’ll talk about royalties and things in a bit because a really big part of our ethos is to pay really well. But, yeah, so they’ve got an audience that helps us reach new people. We can create products for them that are really reflective of them as musicians and the things that their audience love about them, and they get paid for it. There’s something… a book has got authority, I think. And I think that’s who we’re aiming at with… there’s lots of great stuff on YouTube, but you don’t really know where to go next half the time. Stuff isn’t necessarily structure particularly well.
Joseph: With a book, you go, “All right. I want to play… I want to develop my own melodic phrasing,” or whatever. We’ve got a tangible thing that will take you from A to Z on that. So, yeah, I think we sell… sold about 150, 160 thousand books last year. It’s been pretty disruptive, I think, for a lot of people in the music publishing industry as well. We’ve tried to do that with absolute integrity; Make great books, and pay the writers really, really well. Now we’re spreading out with… we’ve got drum books, we’ve got some keyboard books on the way, we’ve got a few bass books. Then we’ve got a singing book coming out with Claire Martin who’s one of the top jazz singers in the world.
Joseph: We’ve done things with Hollywood composers. We’re got some guys I can’t actually name yet as well, coming on board. Pretty big musicians. It’s crazy because now… I’ve gone from this thing where I was writing down what I was teaching my students to actually people approaching us. Our doors are open, you know what I mean? If you’re out there, and you think you’ve got an idea for a book, get in touch because we can help each other. It’d be brilliant.
Christopher: It’s amazing. And congratulations and well done on having such a big impact. I think, as you say, it’s potentially the best of both worlds, or kind of a sweet spot; We’ve got this incredible opportunity ahead of us in terms of online education, but everyone’s still scrambling to figure out the best ways to do it. As you say, the traditional form of a book has an awful lot going for it, and especially if it can be an ebook or if it can have online downloads to bring it all to life. I think there’s such value in, as you say, “I want to learn melodic phrasing. Here’s my book that’s going to take me step by step and lead me through that,” rather than, “Every day I’ll search YouTube for melodic phrasing and hope to find a new five-minute, quick-fix solution.”
Christopher: I’m sure people would be curious to get a insight into that publishing process because part of what you’re doing, I think, is disrupting by acting really quickly. You don’t have a lot of the baggage and assumptions that maybe some of the bigger publishers… With all love and respect for people like Hal Leonard or Wiley or whoever it may be, they are still, for the most part, following the same process they have for decades. Can you give us an idea of what it looks like if you work with one of these other authors, like Marin Taylor of example? What does that look like from beginning to end?
Joseph: I love working with Martin. He’s such a giving guy. We’ve worked in a few ways. The first way we worked was he’d actually got a little online video course that he sent to people who go on his guitar retreats up in Scotland. He’s doing one right now in New York. He said, “Well, I’ve got this course. Do you want to turn it into a book?” I was like, “Yeah. Absolutely brilliant.” I had him on the end of the phone every now and again, or Skype. But I worked through his course, and we turned that into… where are we? That book right there, that’s Beyond Chord Melody, which is his polyphonic approach to playing the guitar. That came out like that.
Joseph: The most recent one we did was loads of fun because we just… me and my business partner, Tim, who’s the co-writer and editor and cover designer, that sort of thing, we literally drove up to Martin’s house near Stirling. We got in his studio, and we just recorded six hours of content. We came back, and we wrote the book from that. It was great. It was just us in a studio just firing questions at him like, “Play. Play that. No, no, like that. What you’re doing.” Kind of thing. That’s sort of the process there.
Joseph: Then there was technical challenges of getting audio off video and things like that. But, basically, from there we… I wrote the book, and Tim edited it. We sent it back to Martin. He made a few changes. I think that will hopefully be out in two, maybe three, weeks. That’s that one. However, most of the time, what we do is we coach writers, because I think musicians… we don’t expect musicians to be great writers. You’re great musicians, and we’re interested in helping share the ideas and music that you have in your head.
Joseph: That process for us looks like, you’ll probably come approach us for a book, or we’ll come and talk to you if we think you’ve got something that we want to share. We’ve tried everything. We’ve got templates in Sibelius or Guitar Pro, all the software. We’ve got writing templates in Word. We’ve got sheets that will help you get your book outline together. We work really closely with the writer, not in a, “We’re-the-big-publishing-house-boss kind of way,” but it’s like, “This is a team.” We’re helping each other. We’ll get the outline done, which is simply chapter headings and maybe a couple of sentences of what’s going to go in each chapter. Of course it’s all flexible, subject to change; We’re not monsters.
Joseph: We’ll say, “Okay. Well, don’t write your intro, because that’s probably the last thing you’ll write, but go and write you’re teaching… the first three or four pages of your first teaching chapter.” At that point, we’ll do a really hard edit; friendly, but hard, where we’re saying, “What about phrasing that like that? We can shorten this by doing this. That notation’s not quite right.” By doing that and working with the author at that really early stage, then they kind of get it. Then we’ll say, “Right. Do the first chapter.” Then that will come back in, and we’ll have a much easier job of doing that first chapter, but there’ll still be changes.
Joseph: By the time we’ve done that, we’re like, “Okay, well, go and write a few more, and then check in with us later.” There’s definitely a collaborative part of that. The hardest thing for us, really, is when somebody’s got a good idea for a book, and they’ve gone and written like 20, 30 thousand words on it and sent it in, and it’s just not quite right, do you know what I mean? That’s a really big editing job. We want musicians to write more than one book for us, together. We feel like investing helping you write from day one, it just makes life a lot easier, so we’ve got a house style thing.
Joseph: After doing 100 books, we figured out the easiest way to do it. That’s really part of the value of what we offer. We do that. Then once we’ve edited the book, and we’re happy with everything, we’ll say, “Go and start recording the audio for it,” because I think audio’s so important. A lot of books don’t have that, and it’s a problem, I think, for students. Then at that point, we’ll be doing the cover designs, we’ll be getting just all the sales pages, all the Amazon stuff together. We’ve got worldwide distribution now, so we’ll be sorting that out, doing all that kind of thing in the background.
Joseph: We’ve start, as a matter of course, now translating all our new titles into German and Portuguese and Spanish. That’s something that coming online now. We’re doing the back catalog at the moment, but that’s coming. We’re doing all this kind of stuff for the author, and making sure that that book’s really hitting every corner of the world. We do a lot. As far as the author is, we’ll help you get that idea out there, and then we’ll pay you for it. I don’t want to do a massive advert or anything but, essentially, if you go to a traditional publishing house, and they sell your book for, say, I don’t know, $20, then the author will normally get about 10% of net. That will probably be around 60 to 90 cents because big publishing houses have got a lot of overhead; However, we’re really small, quick, maneuverable.
Joseph: We’ve got me and Tim that do most of the work. We’ve got a small team of freelancers around the world. We pay 30 to 40 percent of royalty, and we’ve got like no overhead, so you’ll end up getting five or six dollars, or four or five dollars, I guess, for that, for every book we sell. We’ve got an audience of 60,000 people on our mailing listening. Pretty much every, well, certainly guitar book that we release now will go to number one of the Amazon chart and start to get a following, which we back up with social media things as well. The whole thing is we try to remit as much money back to the author as possible. Yeah, we’re trying to do a good thing.
Joseph: Book publishing royalties are tough and song royalties are tough, so we’re trying to do what we do in a cool way, with integrity, and help musicians out as well.
Christopher: Awesome. Yeah. It’s been said to me more than once over the years that nobody goes into music education for the money, but it seems like you guys are in it for the right reasons. I just want to underscore, part of why I wanted to have you share some of this behind the scenes stuff is that I’m sure some people listening heard all that, and they were like, “That sounds sensible. That’s how it should work.” But I know, from befriending various people in the publishing industry over the last however many years, that’s not how it normally works. You might assume that if you go to one of the big publishers, who will not be named, they would hold your hand through it, and they’ve got all their processes, and they make it easy for you to just share your expertise, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Christopher: I’ve heard these horror stories of authors who were brought onboard and given almost zero support and then end up in this royalty situation that means they barely make a dime from it anyway.
Joseph: It’s pretty standard. There’s a couple of points to make on that. I think the industry’s changed. Print-on-demand’s changes all that. This idea that publishers are the arbiter of quality, I think is false. You look back over the years, and publishers are simply the people who’ve got the money together to own a printing press, and then they get to decide. Of course there’s great quality there, but also a lot… The Girl With The Pearl Earrings was released with a typo on the front cover, things like that.
Joseph: Traditional publishing’s going to be right for some people. Here’s a story about someone we’re working with right now, who I absolutely won’t name, for a big music book publishing company, that I also won’t name. He wrote the book, took him a year to write it. They sat on it for a year, and then published it. Then he didn’t get any royalties for, I think it was, nearly 12 months, or at least another 6 months. I think it was two and half years between putting pen to paper and getting paid for that. Whereas, as soon as you submit me your book, depending on our schedule as well, your book will probably be out in a month, and we pay royalties every two months because we can.
Joseph: We don’t have this massive staff of hundreds of people. When I went to a meeting with Hal Leonard talking about distribution, I was almost… I was a bit, “Oh, right.” It was a bit of a wake up moment for me there because they were running these beautiful offices in Central London. It’s like, “That must be costing a fortune.” This is my spare room. We published 36 books last year. We sold 160,000 books. We’re super happy with that. Everyone’s getting paid, we’re giving loads of money back to authors. We can do that. We’re nimble. If we see someone we want to work with, there isn’t this massive hierarchical chain of management, it’s just like, “Yeah, let’s get an email to that person. Let’s go and talk to them.”
Joseph: We can do that because we don’t have that level of accountability to ourselves, to the company. That’s it. It’s just all about doing the best thing that we can. We find that actually, like I was describing, working with the author, it actually makes the books come out more quickly because not only do they write a better product to start with, it reduces our editing time. It reduces so much stuff. We can do an edit of that book in a week or so, and that’s it. It’s out. We can push that really quickly. Within, what, 12 hours, that book can be on sale in every Amazon territory. Then, a week later, through our expanded distribution, that can be ordered in every single book shop in the world.
Joseph: That’s pretty cool. That’s not us, that’s using what’s there. That’s the world we live in. It’s interesting to see how the older publishers are going to cope with that. I think Hal Leonard will be fine because they seem to own every single copyright for every single song in the universe, don’t they? I think they make a lot on licensing. In terms of book publishing, I think more and more people will be doing what we’re doing in different niches and things. It’s interesting time, certainly, for the industry.
Christopher: Absolutely. Tell me, what coming up next for Fundamental Changes because you clearly have this strong brand and real ethos behind it. Is it more book publishing? Is it going into other formats, other instruments? What’s next?
Joseph: Yeah, the translation thing’s pretty big at the moment. Germany is this really up-and…. Germany’s up-and-coming, that’s not what I mean. The German ebook market is really up-and-coming. Of course we sell paperbacks too. So that’s really coming online, so we’re having a lot of translations done. In terms of books that were coming out, we’ve got loads of… we’re trying to do a few Christmas themes books. We’ve got a Martin Taylor Christmas books; There’s going to be arrangements of Christmas songs, which is going to be great
Joseph: The book we’re working on right now is Martin Taylor’s single note jazz guitar solo one. It’s his lead guitar book, which is awesome. It is good. Very happy with the way that’s turned out. We’ve got another book with Chris Zoupa coming out in a couple of weeks, which is like proper shred guitar creativity. We tend to… how can we say? The more mainstream, play-as-fast-as-you-can stuff, we try and stay away from. When there are authors like Chris Brooks and Chris Zoupa who’ve got real insight, real skill and really something to say with that, we have to do that.
Joseph: Chris has done this book about how to actually be creative and improvise and get away from all those set patterns that guitarists play. Other instruments, we’ve got some more drum books coming out, we’ve got the book with Claire Martin, who I mentioned. She’s a world renowned singer, jazz singer. Trying to think… got a meeting with Remi Harris this week, maybe get some gypsy stuff happening as well, a few other people, again, I can’t mention. I think we’ve probably got about 20 books maybe, 10 to 20 books ready to go before Christmas. Just watch this space.
Joseph: You can sign up on our website, which is fundamental-changes.com and get updates and things and go and have a little look around what we’re doing. In terms of bigger direction, I think we are going to start looking more at video. I think the hardest part of the video course is almost the supporting material, getting the notation and things done for it. Well, we’ve already got that, so we’re kind of thinking, let’s get some cameras, let’s send them out, let’s get them in front of our artist and turn everything into video as well.
Joseph: I’m having a think about audio books. That’s going to be tough because, obviously, you need to see the notation so there’d have to be some sort of download. We’re kicking the tires on that at the moment. We’re busy.
Joseph: It’s kind of just me and Tim in a way, so…
Christopher: Tremendous. I really applaud what you’re up to. I think your insights into education and your attitude towards the authors and the students really comes through in everything you do. I think it would be easy, with the success you’ve had, to just cover everything with blindness to what mattered and what didn’t, or what you wanted to focus on; that’s clearly not what you’re doing. You’re building a really clear brand with an ethos behind it. I love that.
Joseph: Thanks. I think the really important thing to say is that, I think the best marketing is to keep doing good stuff. I think you can see that, when company’s become bigger, that they kind of lose sight. They’re like, “We need another X. We need another Y.” And it’s actually, “No, we’ll take each book, and that will be a valuable, meaningful thing for the student. That’s the ethos.” And you think, well, actually, if we can write a good book, then people will buy another one and they’ll tell their friends. I guess it’s old-fashioned, but I like it.
Christopher: Fantastic. Any parting pieces of advice for those in the audience, maybe those who do or don’t play guitar?
Joseph: Yeah, musically, I really think that just go with what resonates with you. Like I say, it’s easy to have that “grass is greener” type thing and go, “I should be doing that. I should be doing that. I should be doing that.” Actually, you know what? Find what it is that you love and be honest about that. For me, I spend all this time doing jazz, man, AC/DC every time. That’s the thing that just gets my heart pounding. I’m like, “You know what? I’m only going to spend by life learning something that I struggle with, or I’m going to really enjoy playing what I’m naturally… I have more natural ability at and be happy about what I’m learning.” Then, once you find that thing, keep it simple.
Joseph: Of course, that can grow into whatever, complicated theory and technique that you like, but it’s going to come from an organic place. It’s not going to be, “Oh, I need that new bit of theory to make me a good player.” Try and have that organic thing. Then, I think, broadly, in terms of what we’re doing, we’re looking for people to work with. Authors, if you’ve got something to say on your instrument, that we’re interested in hearing from you because, yes, while we’re working with some of the greatest musicians, we’re open for working with anyone. So if you’ve got something to say, we’d love to talk to you because what people are finding, apart from making money from the royalties of their books, that actually having the books out does create opportunities. It’s a real thing of authority.
Joseph: Opportunities are coming from… I don’t mean that, “Hey, man. Come play for free and maybe you’ll be able to sell a CD at the gig,” kind of thing. It’s very tangible. People are like, “I bought your book. I really like it. Let’s do this together.” We’re seeing that. I think we’re publishing about 25 or 30 authors at the moment, and almost all of them are getting opportunities because they’re in print. It works really well for the author, and it works really well for the students that you’re trying to get in touch with. So, yeah, if you’ve got something, let’s have a conversation. You can get in touch through the website, and we’d love to hear from you.
Christopher: Fantastic. Well, that’s fundamental-changes.com. We’ll have a direct link in the show notes for this episode. It is such an exciting time, I think, for teachers and students alike to explore what’s possible in music education now. I just want to say a big thank you to you for coming and sharing some of this insight into how the book publishing industry, in particular, is changing at this point. Thank you.
Joseph: Oh, it’s an absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me on. It’s a real privilege.
The post Making Music Books More Musical, with Joseph Alexander (Fundamental Changes) appeared first on Musical U.