Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2014: Matt Farley

By | Published on Monday 15 December 2014

Every weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we’ll be revealing another of our ten favourite artists of the year. See the full list of artists announced so far here. Next up is Matt Farley…

Matt Farley

You may or may not have come across the name Matt Farley, or Motern Media, at some point this year. A lot has been written about how he manages to earn the US minimum wage from his music, despite being almost unknown. The trick, it turns out, is to record and release around 16,000 songs on iTunes and Spotify – something he has managed to do in just six years.

The songs have been released under more than 60 different artist names, including Papa Razzi And The Photogs, The Singing Film Critic, The Extreme Left Wing Liberals, The Hungry Food Band, The Guy Who Sings Songs About Cities & Towns, and numerous ‘bands’ who sing about the sports teams of specific American cities.

Songs cover everything from asking girls to the school prom, to apologising for crashing your friend’s car, to positive critiques of hundreds of celebrities, plus animals, dead animals, eating cookies for breakfast, conspiracy theories, getting a job promotion, quitting smoking, reviews of the work of other musicians, forgetting an anniversary, being blocked on Twitter, cow tipping, drugs, being afraid of mice and, well, obviously I could go on for quite some time more. Basically there are songs about pretty much anything someone might randomly search for online.

It all began in 2008, when Farley realised that songs by his band Moes Haven that contained the names of celebrities or words like ‘monkey’ sold better than others. This sparked an idea in his head to write a song for every possible random keyword or phrase that someone might search for on a digital music service.

When Farley’s work is talked about, the words ‘spam’ and ‘clickbait’ are often used. And perhaps so far I’ve given the impression that those words are justified. So I think I’d better tell you a bit more about this guy, because to write him off with such negative terms is unfair.

Like many people, I often have ideas for creative things I could do. Very rarely do any of those ideas go any further than appearing in my head and getting filed away for later. But imagine what it would be like if you followed up on all of them. Well, wonder no more what that would be like, because you need look no further than Matt Farley.

He’s made several films (you can watch two of them, ‘Local Heroes’ and ‘Freaky Farley’, on YouTube), fronts two regular podcasts, produces a newsletter about long walks (inspired by his hobby of going on long – like, 40 miles long – walks), occasionally dabbles in stand up comedy, spends a portion of his time talking to fans (due to his tendency to sing his phone number in his songs), and much more I’m sure. He also has a ‘proper’ job three days a week, is married and has a child. And, of course, he writes and records anything up to 100 songs a day.

Although his novelty song factory is a one-man operation, he also seems to have an impressive ability to find other people who can come somewhere close to keeping up with him. And that is how Moes Haven first came to be able to analyse which keywords in their song titles sold the best.

In 2005, Farley and his Moes Haven partner Tom Scalzo decided to work on music every day of 2006, releasing an album of their best work at the end of each month, and finally putting out a compilation of the best tracks from each of those twelve albums in 2007.

Why would anyone do this? Who knows? But they did it. Kind of. Working on music every day didn’t quite work out, but they did manage to release an album at the end of each month. And while the quality of each varies wildly – the scope of the challenge clearly getting on top of them during a number of months – the final ‘best of the best’ compilation, ‘Victory Is Ours! (For Now)’, is a good long player that I would recommend giving a listen.

So, by now a prolific songwriter – Moes Haven have a total of 25 released albums available, and many more unreleased – and with him being a man prone to indulging in projects that most people would consider unnecessarily overreaching themselves, it’s not that much of a leap to see how he ended up embarking on a quest to write a song for every possible search term. Maybe not ‘why’, but certainly ‘how’.

Actually, as for why, I can see that you might still think at this point that Farley’s main motivation is to game digital music services for profit. Releasing over 16,000 songs in six years, doesn’t help the case against him being a spammer on the face of it. And then there his albums from The Best Birthday Song Band Ever, each featuring the same song recorded over and over again with a different name or age each time. That does seem a little spammy. “I can get 100 of those recorded in a day”, Farley told BCDWire. “It’s not fun at all”.

And you could point to something like ‘All About That Bass’ by another of Farley’s aliases, The Passionate & Objective Jokerfan, which is a song about his favourite fish. Though good luck finding that one, because if you search for the song title on Spotify it’s buried under the many, many (many) cheap knock off covers of the Meghan Trainor song. So, spammy his work might be, but he’s more creative and less successful than his fellow spam tune competitors.

But if you were really going to call Matt Farley out as a spammer, you’d probably point to the number of songs he’s written involving bodily functions – “poop” apparently being the first thing many uninspired listeners will search for once they find themselves in a moment of boredom. So many such searches occur, in fact, that they require two different pseudonyms from Farley, The Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke, And Pee and Motern Media’s most successful act, The Toilet Bowl Cleaners.

It’s the latter of the two I’m going to now use as an example of Farley’s genius. I mean, you have to admit that it’s not particularly easy to write as many toilet-related songs as he has, which is acknowledged in the title of the 2013 album ‘You Thought We Ran Out Of Poop Song Ideas. You Were Wrong’. That album features one of the real peaks in Farley’s creativity, ‘Poop Into A Wormhole’, a truly inspired piece of music that could only be written by someone several thousand songs into a novelty song writing project.

But all good things must come to an end, and this year The Toilet Bowl Cleaners released ‘Never Gonna Flush Again’ – fifteen songs about poo and one about how the band were leaving the novelty song industry to work on more serious music. A promise the TBCs followed up on later in 2014 with their tenth album, ‘Mature Love Songs’.

It might be a simple joke, but it’s one that has taken six years and many hours of work to complete. And a joke that will mostly only be discovered if someone chooses to look up The Toilet Bowl Cleaners’ entire back catalogue. So not very often at all. Even less likely is that people would notice that the first nine of that band’s albums were released by Motern Media, while the love songs album came out on Singing Animal Lover Music.

The Singing Animal Lover is yet another Farley alias. Not one of the more prolific ones, having only previously released two albums in 2011 (sample song title: ‘My Horse Is A Great Horse!’). Though this year he released Singing Animal Lover Music’s first album, ‘It’s Time For People To Know The Truth’. Across the record’s 33 tracks, The Singing Animal Lover explains that he has left Motern Media after falling out with Farley, accusing him of being a megalomaniacal “spammer” and “con-man” who is “trying to ruin the music industry”.

The final nail in the coffin came, he sings, when The Singing Animal Lover proposed to Farley that he write an album called ‘Animal Poop Songs’, which he felt would be an opportunity to move in a more artistically credible direction. Instead of giving him the green light, the story goes, Farley took the idea and gave it to another of Motern Media’s artists.

Feeling mistreated, The Singing Animal Lover left the company, went to live in a cave and self-released an album explaining the truth about his former label. ‘Animal Poop Songs’ by The Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke, And Pee came out on Motern Media shortly afterwards.

Just to clear up any confusion at this stage – all of these songs are still written and recorded by Matt Farley and Matt Farley alone. He is The Singing Animal Lover. He is The Toilet Bowl Cleaners. He is The Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke, And Pee. He is Motern Media. And he is Singing Animal Lover Music.

None of this seems like the work of someone just out to make money from spamming Spotify. It seems like the work of someone who really enjoys what they do. In fact, everything I’ve described in this article shares in that enjoyment. What person would put themselves through this if they didn’t enjoy it? Sure, Matt Farley makes a living from doing this, but only just about minimum wage. And if you factor in the financial and time costs of such a prolific project, it’s not really that great a return at all.

No, the only conclusion that anyone could come to after learning about Matt Farley is that he is in the midst of a great art project with no apparent end. And it’s a project very much of this moment in musical history. Embarking on a project to write a song about every possible subject is something that is only viable in a world where Spotify exists.

Although a good half of Farley’s income comes from iTunes, it’s being on Spotify that has won him increased attention this year. And while making $12,000 a year (or so) from the streaming of over 16,000 songs might not actually seem that great, when those songs have just been left for people to stumble across by accident, rather than being actively promoted, it does start to seem like quite a success story. Even though, presumably a good portion of those songs have never been heard by anyone other than Matt Farley. So far.

And the more you discover in that catalogue of songs, the more you find to love. I’ve been intrigued by Motern Media since a friend introduced me to The Smoking Hot Babe Lovers (every song: “[insert name] is a smoking hot babe”). More recently I’ve discovered some Farley songs that deal with the nature of artistry, such as his distaste for what he sees as the myth of the tortured artist and thoughts on the career of fellow outsider musician Wesley Willis.

But, hey, I’ve gone on too long (somewhat aptly, given my topic). If you want to hear Matt Farley talking about himself, you could listen to this ten minute TLDR podcast. Or you can listen to the seventeen episodes of Farley’s own Motern Media Infomercial Podcast, which will only take you a day (if you force yourself not to sleep). I would advise doing both, because hearing Matt Farley talk about himself is as joyful an experience as listening to his music.

Speaking of which, if you want a quick crash course, you can listen to the twelve ‘essential’ Motern Media songs in this Spotify playlist. Or you could go for this collection of 515 of the best. Or, perhaps more appropriately, you could just filter your random thoughts into Spotify’s search box and see what comes up.