Matt Farley might be one of the most prolific recording artists of all time. He’s not a household name, but he’s got thousands of songs scattered across digital music services like Spotify and iTunes.
Farley’s music may sound strange, but he’s figured out a formula to success in the era of streaming music.
It usually goes like this. You’re on a streaming service like Spotify. You’re tired of the same old music. So you start typing random things in the search bar. Maybe you search for your hometown, and you find out somebody’s written a song about it.
“Ridgefield, Connecticut, a good city, a nice little town, located in Fairfield County, good stuff, Berkshire Mountains.”
Then you realize there’s thousands of these songs. They’re under different names like the “Very Interesting Nice Singer Man,” or the “Very, Very Awesome Song Band,” but they’re all the same guy. Sometimes he sings about household objects or office supplies.
“Pencil sharpener, sharpening my pencil! When my pencil is very, very dull!”
One of his names is “The guy who sings your name over and over.” And that’s what he does, 1,700 times, to the exact same backing music each time.
“Arnie, Arnie, Arnie…”
This isn’t the work of some obsessive loner. Matt Farley’s a normal suburban dad in Massachusetts. He’s got a wife and kids and works at a group home for teenagers. But go down to his basement, and everything changes.
About three days a week, Farley comes down to his basement, sits in front of a digital keyboard, and pulls out his notebook.
“Generally, I’ll just have a list of topics,” he says.
He used to have a band that played “serious music.” They went the usual route – put their songs on iTunes and wait for someone to buy ‘em.
“We have some amazing songs, and none of them were selling, and I look and “Shut Up Your Monkey” sold three copies last week. Which is a ridiculous song about a monkey who’s making too much noise.”
“Get down, get funky, shut up your monkey…”
That was back in 2004. Sort of on a lark, he spends an afternoon making an album of silly songs, including one about the Boston Red Sox – just before they won the World Series after an 86-year drought.
“That October, whoa, I just got $600 for songs about Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, this is crazy.”
He started thinking, ‘What do people type in that search bar?’
“I notice there’s millions of songs about love, but not a lot of songs about poop. I think that kids type the word poop into search bars. So they could discover me.”
And that’s how he came up with his fictional band the Toilet Bowl Cleaners.
“Oh, poop, poop, poop, poop, poop...”
This is called search engine optimization. Use words people are likely to search for. But Farley takes offense when people call it spam.
“So many articles call me the spammer of Spotify. And gosh darn it, I’m the greatest songwriter of all time. It hurts my feelings. But I can see what they mean. When they see I have 11 albums of poop songs, they tend to write me off.”
Farley’s got a new strategy. He’ll put out hundreds of silly songs, then, out of nowhere – they’ll suddenly get way more serious. Take that band, the Toilet Bowl Cleaners.
“Their 11th album is called “Mature Love Songs.” It’s no poop. It’s just 16 straightforward and, might I say, good songs by a band that previously only did poop songs.”
“You know where you can find me and the juggler and the clown, and the dance floors abound...”
Farley makes about $20,000 a year in royalties from streaming music services. And this year, he made another $20,000 from people who request custom songs. Ryan Corey’s one of them – he discovered Farley’s music on a podcast.
“I realized I had found a sort of a kindred spirit with him.”
“So I requested he make a song for my wife, who is not a fan, and it’s a constant struggle in our house. It was about how she didn’t like his music.”
“Kendra, why don’t you like my music? Kendra, why don’t you get better taste?”
“He’s taking things you don’t normally hear sung about.”
“He’s often putting love into these ideas and topics and things that are generally unloved.”
Farley says there’s a philosophy behind this. He wants to show great music could be about anything – doorknobs, electric razors or earlobes. And it could come from anyone.
“When I’m just hitting one chord on the piano and singing poop over and over again, I know it’s not lofty art. But I also write stuff that I think is better than Bob Dylan. Take that, Bob. I’m better than you and you’ve won a Nobel Peace Prize. No, no, literature prize.”
Farley says he’s not about to quit his day job – but $40,000 a year’s still not bad for a guy with a keyboard in his basement.