When I first meet Matt Farley it’s over breakfast; poutine and a croissant sandwich, at Manchester, NH’s famous Red Arrow Diner. We were brought together by a mutual friend who had been introducing me to Matt’s music for years and had finally come from Australia to make a documentary about him. A documentary about the guy who had written over 20,000 songs and makes over 60k a year doing so.
“I think there should be daily headlines about me in every newspaper,” Matt explains in the documentary, “[they would say] “Matt Farley continues to exist.” But the headline is always “This jokester spam artist has figured out how to cheat the system and steal money from Spotify.” Is it cheating the system to put your heart and soul into a project for a decade?!”
In a world of artists struggling to finish new songs and make any kind of profit from their craft, I wasn’t the only one fascinated by Matt.
Back in Manchester at the Red Arrow, Matt points to his name on the menu and tells us he wrote a song about the diner, and receives a lifetime discount because of it. “They probably don’t remember me though” he laughs. When the bill comes, the discount is there.
After breakfast, we walk around Manchester as Matt points out all his favorite haunts. The cupcake shop where one of the movies he made, Slingshot Cops, was filmed. The alley that a certain scene took place. The city hall they filmed at on a deserted Sunday morning in the city. When we get back in his car I accidentally sit on a laminated photo he’d had printed from a still of the movie. “You can have that,” he offers. I tuck it away and we drive to get dessert from The Puritan’s ice cream shop. It’s 10am.
All of this to say, Matt is a pretty ordinary guy with an extraordinary amount of passion and perseverance for his craft. It’s that drive that allows him to write and release 100+ songs per week and it’s that volume that’s part of the secret sauce of his success. The more music he releases, the more discoverable he is. Matt says it best: “If you write a song about everything, some of them, even just by accident, will catch on.”
And at 20,000 songs, there’s not a lot Matt hasn’t written about. There are songs about highlighters, songs about different towns, states, and countries. Songs about how hot it is outside (but really it’s the humidity), or how the freezer is broken so you have to eat all the ice cream. There are congratulations songs on everything from getting divorced to learning to juggle to binge-watching a series.
A quick scroll through a few of the titles— “The Greatest Guinea Pig Song Ever Made”, “It’s Ok To Break the Law If You Have Good Intentions”, “Spontaneous Combustion—(What a Wonderful Thing!), and “You Can’t Have a Positive Day With a Negative Attitude”, and it’s clear that one of Farley’s goals is simply to make people smile. He’s even written songs that are clearly for and about himself, like “Congratulations on Being an Unappreciated Musical Genius” and “You’ve Written Your 20,000th Song! Congratulations!”
But this is Matt in a nutshell. He’s silly, and funny, and not at all modest, which adds to his charm. He’s the kind of guy that wears his own t-shirts and plays his own songs and isn’t at all shy about it. He’s the kind of guy you instinctively want to like you and who you admire because you wish you had the courage to be as authentically yourself as he is.
Back to the numbers, Matt says that while iTunes and Spotify used to be where most of his streaming royalties came from, Amazon has been pulling in quite a bit lately. “People are just saying “Alexa play…” and then they’ll just say random things and often times my random song about that random thing will get chosen.”
So how much is he earning from it all?
“I’m making $3,000-$4,000 a month from streaming this year, which is a big jump. It was more like $2,000 until pretty recently. Then $2,000-$2500 a month in personal custom songs for people.”
While this boost in streaming revenue has allowed Matt the freedom to quit his day job and make music creation his full-time gig, he says that he’s been writing and releasing this way long before it was profitable, which just adds to the idea that the end goal of this has always been the same—to have fun, make people laugh, and have a creative task to accomplish.
“In college my friend Tom and I started writing under Moe’s Haven, and every album we made would be 90 minutes long because that’s how long the cassette tapes were. So we quickly fell into this habit of ‘we just want to fill up space’ and we were writing silly novelty songs, because they would just come out and we’d crack ourselves up. But then the next song we wrote might be a serious love song. And our ultimate goal was to reach this middle ground where a song was simultaneously weird, funny, heartbreaking, enlightening, everything all at once. Which I think we achieved a few times but, even the most serious songs can make me laugh. I think everything’s funny.”
While some of his more well-known songs include “The Poop Song”, “Used to Be a Pizza Hut” (which he performed on The Tonight Show), and a variety of birthday, thank you, and congratulations songs with different people’s names subbed in, there’s also a slew of serious, nostalgic, even love songs that Farley has put out, including my favorite, “A Nod to the Gods”, released under the name The Finklestinks.
In fact, all of Farley’s songs are released under different artist names that for the most part correlate with the song themes. For example, Papa Razzi and the Photogs sing about celebrities (he even got Will Ferrell’s attention with this one), The Hungry Food Band does songs about Food, The Guy Who Sings Your Name Over and Over sings first names over and over. You get the idea. For all of his creativity and perseverance he’s seen placement on NPR, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Noisey, and more.
However at the end of the day, Farley says he’d be doing the same thing regardless of if it made him any money—just perhaps on a smaller scale. Because you know, he loves it. It’s fun. And that’s part of what he hopes to leave with anyone who listens to his music. That creating art should be something you enjoy and look forward to. Something that makes you happy regardless of the monetary gains it brings you.
“The general opinion seems to be that creativity is the result of some weird magic conducted by a tortured soul. I think creativity is actually just the result of hard work, and you don’t need to be a dark, tormented soul in order to create. Hard work should be respected more than inspiration is, because inspiration comes from hard work.”