tenuto sempre

Music Matters
by Aka Hige

One URL to Draw Them Together

So, this is the problem.

I want to tweet a single URL to a song I’m listening to at the moment. I feed it into something like a musical bit.ly, which tells me what platforms (YouTube, Spotify etc) the song is available on, and gives me a new URL to tweet out.

When you click the URL, it opens up in your preferred platform, as the musical bit.ly thing allows us to do a quick and basic sign in to set a priority for playback platforms.

One URL, plenty of integration…

What will it take to make this happen?


Harkive 2014, and What I Learned

Yesterday was #harkive 2014, a day for sharing what we listened to, and how we listened to it. I’d seen Steve Lawson take part last year, and thanks to his reminder about this year’s event I decided to take part too. Being part of the conversation, learning by doing, is a strategy I have much more belief in than commenting (or, as is too often the case, grumbling) from the sidelines or mere observation.

So what did I learn?

1) Nearly all of the music I listened to yesterday was played from my phone.
2) Most of the music I listened to yesterday was streamed from Spotify (80%), with streamed internet radio, terrestrial FM radio following (15%) and then music I own last (5%).

As an artist with an album independently released and another on the way, I’m struck by the incongruous division between how I distribute music (although it’s on SoundCloud, YouTube and Bandcamp for streaming, I’ve mindfully avoided making it available streaming services like Spotify), and how I listen to it.
It’s clear that on an average day I prefer convenience and access over quality. In my defence, all of the music listening that occurred yesterday was incidental - background music while I worked, took care of chores, and travelled in the car. I choose ‘high quality’ streams (320kbps) where I can, and I listen via airplay connected speakers I quite like the sound of (H&K sound sticks in the kitchen), or my much higher quality Klipsch IEMs, but it’s still a regression from 10-20 years ago when all of my listening (at home) was to records or CDs through a hi-fi.

What I’ve learned is that I really ought to address my music distribution strategy. It’s a little ridiculous that I listen through Spotify so much, yet don’t make my music available for discovery or playback on that platform. Even though I’ve made moves to reinstate a hi-fi system in the house (thankfully when I upgraded my studio monitors the past two times I didn’t get rid of my Mackie HR824s MK1), I feel pained that I so rarely set aside time to really listen to music on a system of decent quality - one that can play back the full frequency range. Once in a while I take a break in the studio, and listen to someone else’s music in my acoustically treated space, with superb 2.2 speaker system, but I seldom make the opportunity for even mid level quality listening outside of those infrequent occurrences.
Music, and rather more focused, purposeful listening, was a massive feature in my life as a child, teenager, and young adult. I used to go to friends houses to listen to new music. They used to come to mine. Because music was a physical thing back then, it naturally lead to physical activity in order to enjoy it. I really miss those days of hanging out with people with similar, or wildly different tastes, and enjoying music in each other’s company. If there’s only one good thing that comes of taking part in harkive this year, it’ll be that I’ll work on becoming a better listener, and make the social, high quality enjoyment of music an important, regular feature in my life again.

I’ll take part again next year, if only to see how things have changed, and I’d urge you to do the same. Until then, happy listening…


Making Waves (part 1)

I’m a few tracks into working on my next album release and it feels great to be getting some new material together, even if it’s not clear whether this is a follow up to Opening or another stand alone body of work. Whist I feel that I strive for cohesion in one sense, by writing from my heart, and allowing my work to take me where I need to go, I don’t compose with a theme or overall end result in mind. It may be a little indulgent of me to enjoy the journey instead of directing my mind to a particular outcome (working in a specific genre, and developing an output that has an instantly recognisable thread running through it), but it has been the process of free creation and composition that has captivated and entertained me all these years. Still, I wonder what sort of waves I’m making.

Am I creating a series of waves that laps up on the shore, as one could witness at a coastline, or am I simply creating a random disturbance in a body of water? I think if I was working with a particular aural aesthetic in mind I could confidently say the former, but given that within each one of my compositions lies many influences, styles and textures, I think I’d honestly have to say I currently feel more like I’m moving freely about rather than in a consistent direction (or am I too far away from land to tell at this point). To take my metaphor further, this is probably just how it feels to be ‘emerging’ or ‘early career’. Some distance out at sea, with enough depth, the gusts of wind that encourage the formation of waves only ever manage to agitate the surface of the water in a seemingly random fashion. Nearer the shore, the energies that pushed and pulled in all directions combine, prevailing winds and currents take over, and waves form in lines, making their way to the beach. Is a wave that is free to roam the ocean, interacting with other waves spontaneously a happier wave than one destined only to lap the shore and fade away? Both are just manifestations of energy in water, subjected to different conditions.

I have always found it difficult to conform within my musical work. I used to write a lot of looped beats around 88bpm around the turn of the millennium with the intention that friends I had at the time (that were making their way in the UK hip hop scene) would pick one up for their next release. But my work was always too synthetic, or too futuristic, or just not enough like the hip hop they were used to hearing. After some years of unsatisfactorily trying to be that wave lapping at someone else’s shore, I guess I just took off in my own direction.

There isn’t a shoreline in sight, but I’ve never suffered for very long from a shortage of useful ideas. I have the odd studio session here and there where I am unsatisfied with my efforts enough to not explore an idea any further, but I don’t believe I’ve had more than two of those back to back in over ten years. There’s always a new piece waiting to form itself. I have hundreds of pieces in my compositional library. Old friends have commented on that body of work as if it’s still work in progress, needing to be finished and released, but I increasingly see each piece of work as a manifestation of the deeper work in progress - allowing the free flow of my creative energy, and striving for constant refinement. That I’ve hundreds of unreleased pieces of music doesn’t pain me at all. Even if all those pieces remain nothing other than useful experiments, or stepping stones that revealed another harmonic form, or production technique for me to utilise elsewhere I’m satisfied.

Making waves way out in the middle of nowhere, as it feels when you aren’t working within the comforts of a scene or movement that’s nearer the shore (audience), is sometimes a pretty scary and lonely affair, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way for now. Even if I turn around completely, I’m always moving forwards.

music production

A Meaningless Milestone

After 1278 days and somewhere in the order of 29,300 tweets (resulting in an average of 23 tweets per day) I am approaching 1000 followers on Twitter. That’s milestone to be celebrated right? Well, if I was entirely driven by numbers, I’d be most keen to adopt another path, one where I devoted my tweets and thoughts about them to a calculated, pruned and refined output aimed at finding what people would find most interesting and share worthy, and focus as much as possible on that.

My social media strategy is pretty simple:
1) Be myself at all times. Yes I’ve deleted the odd drunken, crude, or misspelled tweet over the years, but I always maintain that if your objective is simply to be yourself you never need to remember how to act. There’s no projected me to call to centre stage when I meet people offline.
2) Just see how it goes. There’s no need to plan a strategy. Search around for how to go viral, how to grab people’s attention or any other such nonsense and you’ll only waste your time and find nothing but contrary advice. I don’t necessarily mean contrary between one set of advice and another, although that conflict clearly exists, but contrary to my first point. If you feel you must engage with a strategy, at some point you are sacrificing being yourself in order to do that. I’d advocate getting stuck in and trying things out. Sometimes the feedback loop is a long one, and only after weeks or months will you figure out something does or doesn’t fit with you (or it could be that you’ve just grown and changed).
3) Do think about it a bit. Without disregarding points 1 and 2 at all, take a look once in a while at what other people are doing, and how it works out for them. I could make an example of a few twitter accounts here that I think exemplify different strategies or styles quite thoroughly, but to be honest, it’s a warm day and I’m itching to get my weekend chores done so I can enjoy some of it.

So given that all I’m doing is just being myself (as much as one can in an open forum that at some level might exist for decades to come), shouldn’t I be happy to reach 1000 followers, 1000 people that like to keep up with what I’m interested in, and have to say? I really think not. See, if I was to weed out all the bots (I do block them as soon as I see one, but I don’t always investigate my follower’s streams so closely, usually just a glance at their bio and their output to decide if it’s worth giving them a shot for a while), the businesses and accounts that seem to have followed me just so that I’ll follow back (yuck), and then the incredible amount of people from whom I never seem to communicate with, how many followers would I be left with?

So follower numbers, whether large or small, aren’t important to me. Yes, the bigger the readership, the bigger the chance of growing the readership (follower numbers can be viewed as endorsements to some people, a measure of how interesting you may be), and obviously has some effect on immediate reach, but far more important to me is that the people I maintain connection to online are people with whom I actually communicate.

Share your interesting, useful thoughts, interests (as many or as few of them, there aren’t rules, only different personalities) and observations, and very much be yourself, but lose no precious moments to meaningless follow numbers.

Social Media

A Bad Review

When I first saw that tweet I was worried that I’d click through to read someone slating a release by Steve Lawson. Surely not?! While I couldn’t class myself as being Steve’s most loyal or longest standing fan, a fan of his I most certainly am. Combine his musical independence, work and collaboration ethic, compositional sensibilities, and career enriching advice on living as a self releasing, self promoting musician in the digital age, and there’s quite the body of work, both played and written to get behind.

In any case, a relief of sorts followed as I read Marlbank’s dismissal of Jon Mapp’s debut release. I found the review so discouraging that I felt compelled to see what I could find of it online to preview. The first piece I heard was this one, accompanied by a mysterious, computer game captured video:

Next I listened to Fanfare for the Owls:

Two tracks in and I was curious and keen to hear more. As structurally tiring as I find some live loop constructed music (there’s a post brewing on that), I can say that I have no bias whatsoever against it as a format of music creation that really can’t be said to be any better or worse than writing music with a pencil and paper, eradicating musical sensibilities entirely in favour of random, mathematically derived compositions, hiring session musicians to realise your composition in a studio or using a computer sequencer to work along a timeline with electronic and virtual instruments (my preferred method), holding onto the freedom to tweak almost any element of the composition or production until right before bouncing down the final audio for mastering. All of these methods of music creation employ taste, compositional techniques, arrangement skills, discipline, craft and practice.

Jon Mapp reached out to me on twitter, extending a kind offer to furnish me with a preview of the rest of the album. Ladies and gentleman, that’s up to the minute, good customer service. I gratefully took him up on his offer and am now sat typing this post listening through to the album as a whole for the first time, and it’s beautiful.

At times the presence of technology, in the form of audio manipulation, audio processing, and looping is at the forefront of the production. The album’s first track starts with sounds that remind me of the earth hum, pops and clicks you get when handling a live, amplified instrument cable, before progressing by layering a meandering, melancholic bass line below a more curious, searching line that weaves over the top. By the time you journey through a range of delicate through to dense and experimental technology use to the last piece, ‘The Bang’, it becomes clear that this is an album, rich in Jon’s warm bass tone, and confident, adept playing, that is most certainly not going round in circles, no matter how many loops it employs.

A single bad review can feel like it’s powerful enough to eradicate hundreds of positive reviews, as the uncertainty and self criticism that’s an integral part of the creative process rears its dismissive head. But as I tweeted to Jon, early reviews in particular are a guide as to how big your marketplace is likely to be, and not a guide on the validity of your art.

The World Will End With A Bang showcases what I can hear as Jon Mapp’s eclectic, electronic music influences, spoken in a modern Jazz dialect. He is a musician, producer, and bassist to keep your eye out for. I’ll most certainly look forward to seeing him perform in Manchester as soon as he can get up here to play.

Jon Mapp
music technology
album review

Cycling Round The Internet On A Dutch Bicycle

I had a great time cycling in Amsterdam recently. The landscape is mostly flat, the bike I rented was built like a tank and only needed three gears, and the cycle infrastructure, much of it off road, low traffic, clearly signed, and running alongside beautiful canals, was superb in comparison to anything else I’ve experienced. A day and a half later I was cycling around London on a Boris bike, an experience I’ve had many times before. Even with a quiet road here and there, and a few strips of joined up cycle lanes, the change in atmosphere was palpable. London is an aggressive city to cycle in. In fact, it’s an aggressive city to move about in.

There’s a speed based hierarchy in London (and in England as a whole). The faster you are (or could or want to be) moving, the more important you are. The trickle down effect from vehicle and car users, as they throttle down, changing lanes as soon as vacant spaces open up, jostling for position, and at times virtually racing round busy city streets, is that other road users have to toughen up, embrace the risk and fit into these dynamics as they travel between one place and another. It felt absurd, not to mention dangerous.

Not having to battle for space against cars, vans, lorries and trucks in Amsterdam means that cyclists are protected from more than just collisions - they are protected from a culture that is at odds with cycling as a people friendly, enjoyable, practical solution to moving between two points.

As I scroll through my timeline on Twitter today, and then flick tabs to see what’s happening over on Facebook, I started to feel a lot more like a cyclist in London, than a cyclist in Amsterdam. Attention grabbing, adjective rich tweets and posts are crafted to lure me in. “The best _____ you’ll see today.” followed closely by “Don’t miss _____!” and “Wow: http://__________”. Increasingly, I’m finding my brainpower zapped or derailed by someone else’s train of thought or objectives. From sponsored posts in our timelines to side bars full of flashing adverts, our small scale interactions are taking place across a room that’s growing in size, and getting noisier and louder. I’m troubled because I can’t see how I can get some peace and quiet without leaving the room, and yet the room is my news source, my social network, and sometimes my marketplace. I seem to have less and less choice as to what jumps out in front of me, whether it’s the sponsored posts on Twitter, the share this or it means you love cancer posts on Facebook, or the pop up, flashing adverts on too many aggregator sites.

All the while I see some of the people I choose to keep up with online respond to the increase in volume by getting louder themselves. As news agencies and businesses compete with independent artists and individuals we really must keep track of our individual culture and the quality of our conversation. I’m afraid that if all we do is to try and compete (for attention) online then we’ll go the way of the London cyclist - fighting a battle every day against bigger, more powerful voices that are quite often at least a little annoyed that we’re in their way. I’m pained to admit that I don’t know how to create the environment online that could feel more like being a cyclist in Amsterdam, where people in cars have to deal with car stuff (like aggression, road rage, parking, high journey costs hidden in annual and infrequent maintenance and insurance, the inherent inconvenience of what’s sold as the most convenient transport method, etc), and the rest of the population is free to move about without as much of the feeling of being in someone’s way. I don’t want to feel like I have to have something amazing to say every sentence just so that I can catch anyone’s attention in the first place, let alone hold a conversation.

This isn’t the best blog you’ve read all day, nor am I going to amp it up when I post it shortly onto my Facebook page and Twitter account. It’s just a few thoughts on how I’m feeling at the moment about being online, and how I think I’d like it to be. I’d love to hear your ideas. Is there a place for straight talking, plain English, or, because we’re all in print now, are we slowly being absorbed into a world of micro journalism, branding and advertising, where every post has to be today’s next big thing?


Eating A Cheeseburger With Silver Cutlery

No one in their right mind does that. It’d spoil the thrill of avoiding beef juices running down the ticklish inside of your arm towards your dry clean only vintage knitwear. If you want to enjoy a cheeseburger, eat one in the company of friends, over a craft or root beer, and most definitely use your hands.
Similarly, it becomes absurd to think of presenting Kyoto’s finest Kaiseki, a tradition of micro seasonality, precision and simplicity, on a styrofoam tray with a chip fork on it, swimming in industrially produced ketchup (I can’t use tomato before that word, because I’m pretty sure the primary ingredient is sugar) and malt vinegar.

A 192kbps mp3 is just fine when all you want to do is email a friend with a low bandwidth internet connection a work in progress snippet from a new composition. 320kbps AAC is completely passable when the need to replace ambient noise around you with music of your choice arises. A scratchy vinyl record, like an old friend that has naturally acquired smile lines and wrinkles, is no second rate choice because vinyl lovers adore the visceral, physical ritual of listening to music this way as part of the enjoyment of music itself.

Let me illustrate my point with this fine looking graph.
Perhaps I should find a one with higher resolution you say? Ah, well, then you can’t dismiss the pursuit of higher definition.

A, for the purposes of drawing a line somewhere, is where you’ll find someone listening to iTunes downloads on laptop speakers. B is a record on a home stereo in the living room. C is a full range (yes, that does mean that if you don’t have a full range system, complete with at least 10” subwoofers, you are most definitely missing out on some of the frequency spectrum your stereo can’t possibly reproduce) system, playing back 192kHz 24bit audio files in an acoustically treated room. None of those listening experiences are inherently wrong, but some are more commonly found, and more easily attained than others. It all depends on what you want from music, and what sort of listening experience you are after. I’ve previously suggested that once we’ve had a few full range listening experiences, such as being at a well amplified gig, or at a concert in an acoustician designed concert hall, or having listened to music on a decent hifi, we channel that experience as we listen to music on low grade, partial range systems. That’s why you can find someone bobbing their head to a baseline and kick drum they can’t feel, let alone hear, as they play music back through a phone speaker. They might not hear it, but they can sure imagine it, and that’s half the experience. Listening is an activity in the present that references, and can even transform the past (and in many cases also transforms the future too). If you are studying the intricacies of your favourite recording, listening intently to the full range, depth and width of a recording, mp3s on a phone speaker just won’t do.

Not all music is recorded with utmost attention to detail and audio quality, as evidenced by grungy garage or punk recordings, and the hiss of tape running over folk singers captured by simple field recorders. Audio fidelity is like a timestamp, placing music in a particular era. You’ve only got to listen to Neil Young’s Greatest Hits to hear the development of recording technology and production standards, and the effect it has on the overall sound. In fact, I prefer the sound of his older material, it’s much more rounded and warm, and easier to listen to, over the more recent higher fidelity recordings.

If we were all still watching TV on 14” CRTs from the 80s, and trying out the latest DVD, Blue Ray and filmed for IMAX 4K video playback systems, we may well be dismissive, and insist that VHS is perfectly fine, thank you. Here I believe lies a currently problem with the general public, and even music making artists, postulating that we don’t need anything more than 44.1kHz and 16 bit audio (the limits of a CD, which became a norm because it made life easier in the 90s when there needed to be a single format to rerelease yesterday’s vinyl on), in their ridicule of Neil Young’s recent, and rather successfully Kickstarted Pono.

Aside from my studio, which I’m grateful to say does indeed have a full range playback system (two 3 way monitors and two 12” subwoofers), in an acoustically treated room (because otherwise, I’d feel like a complete fool for trying to master records without being able to hear in such detail), my listening options at home have mindfully given away quality for convenience, and I’m not alone. The digital audio revolution has made my entire CD collection available on a single device that fits into my pocket, or streamable from one end of the house to another, but in our fascination with convenience and availability of music a lot of us no longer have the hi-fis that adorned many living rooms in the 70s and 80s. I’m not romanticising, yesteryear’s hi- fis weren’t all great, but at least a lot of them were pretty good for the time.

Whilst the focus is still on the playback device (and getting music onto that device from the internet), making that device capable of high fidelity playback could be a great start to reinvigorating a desire for higher fidelity playback systems. If you’ve got good enough earbuds you can hear the audio interface in your iPhone output noise as you scroll through a website whilst listening to music (so long as it wasn’t mastered at a punishingly loud DR4). I’ve longed for a high resolution, portable playback device for years, so I’m happy that there’ll soon be one available, and I’m confident that even my own music, mastered down to 44.1kHz 16bit will sound better on it than with my other portable options.

Let’s not narrow discussion of playback quality by suggesting that there’s one definitive way, and that all others are without their merits. Listening to music has as many playback options today as reasons for existing in the first place, so celebrate that efforts are being made at the top end of the today’s quality spectrum, and hope that every bit of qualitative improvement will help the entire recording, audio technology and playback device industries move way beyond the point we’ve slipped back to since the internet became an ever more important music distribution channel.

Neil Young
audio mastering
digital audio

10 Digital Green Bottles

A rhyme about the absurdity of pre digital age copyright laws being applied to digital media as if it was physical media.

Ten digital green bottles hanging on a wall,
Ten digital green bottles hanging on a wall,
And if one digital green bottle should accidentally fall¹,
There will be ten digital green bottles hanging on a wall².

¹ Or get downloaded, or copied and shared with a friend.
² Repeat ad infinitum.

Inspired by @julianlives

Copyright DigitalAge DigitalFiles DigitalMedia

The Temporary

The Temporary 01
Curated by Rachel Marsden

This double CD brings together artists, musicians and composers from an eclectic array of genres, fields of musical explorations, and countries, to create a broad, modern impression of West meets East meets West transcultural sonic imagery, blending yesterday’s ideas with dreams of tomorrow. Each piece, an individual, personal commentary, adds its own vital perspective, and enriches the whole to create a compilation of extraordinary breadth and clarity. I’m humbled to be included in this project, alongside so many fantastic people and their inspirational, thought provoking creations.

1. Dead J (Shao Yangpeng) - Time Cue (Remix)
Spiritual vocals, laced with longing, suspended over looped guitars, deep round bass and a solid four to the floor beat.
2. Eyebrow - Under The Overpass
Improvised drums paint a rich picture of a city night scene, reminiscent of classic American 70s crime thriller scores.
3. hong qile (Loga) - Glitch File
A ghost in the machine, glitches, hums, and electrical hits distort and encircle the listener. A menacing, yet enchanting and deeply captivating exploration of electronic sounds.
4. Yuri Suzuki - Oriental Disco
A joyous, smile inducing disco track, infused with oriental cliches, playful melodies, samples and a post 70s electro sound palette.
5. Ma Haiping - Sunlight
Sunlight, as a drone, as glimmering solitary piano notes, and as a rich, warm synth pad, drift over dense and distant field recordings.
6. Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides - Resident Goldbeater
Mysterious, experimental percussive improvisation meets shakuhachi/gagaku like flute melodies, echoing ancient Buddhist music from the east.
7. Paul Manasseh - Stan Cullis
Sitting in the stands at a football match with field recordings from sound worlds near and far, layered to create a rich soundscape, as an aggressive, drunken football fan rants nearby.
8. Roberto Paci Dalo - YE SHANGHAI Transfigurated
Minimalist patterns weave and evolve in-between orientalist vocal samples and timeless low drone pads.
9. thruoutin - 嘉峪关 (Fine Valley Pass)
Time drifts between the present and the past as field recordings from China, guitars and ambient electronic elements combine to create a beautifully faded sonic postcard.
10. Wei Wei & Li Jianhong - The Dawn of Yachaban
Experimental sound manipulation, field recordings and guitar, over a nature filled drone recording. It’s like sitting next to a beautiful lake watching the sun rise, as the affect of a sleepless night punctuates your experience with sensory uncertainty.
11. WordySoulspeak - Let The Rhythm Hit
An uplifting dance track with fuzzed out organ hits, throaty vocal samples, and cheerful synth chords and melodies.
12. Yan Jun - Micro Feedback on Train to SH (take6)
High pitched feedback modulates over conversation, feeling like both a massage and a workout for the shorter receptors in your organ of Corti.
13. Aka Hige - This Unrepeatable
Layered recordings from Xi’an and Beijing fused together with a simple electronic track that’s like walking around China with your ears half tuned into your headphones, and half tuned into the sounds all around you.

Please check here for details about the exhibitions and other events associated with this project, and come along to the exhibition if you’re anywhere near Birmingham or Manchester.

field recordings
electronic music

I Just Don’t Get It

That’s ok. In fact I take it as a compliment. Part of my process is being around things long enough that they make sense to me, and that I can appreciate something with the same degree of newness as experience. I spend a lot of time with my work before I share it around, so I’ve been through the early stages where I don’t quite know what it means, and have got to the point where I think there’s really something there.

Musicians can often obsess over what people think when they hear our work for the first time. Anyone who’s been to my studio and heard pre-release work probably wouldn’t know just how closely I’ve watched their facial expression (albeit subtly enough so that it’s not obvious that I’ve got my eyes fixed on their face). I long for approval. But I’d rather spend my lifetime being misunderstood than end up where the most joy you’ll from my music is the first time you hear it, only to feel less and less excited and interested every time you play it again. I get that with food and drink quite a bit. You can have a single mouthful of a lot of foods or drinks and find them ‘Amazing’! At the end of the meal or at the bottom of the glass, that’s where you can tell where the finesse is, where the skills and craft come into play.

My wife is incredibly patient and supportive, and will listen to every new piece I ask her to listen to. But she is the first to admit that it takes up to five listens to really get into my work. I think that’s one of the greatest compliments I could hope to receive, and a sure sign that while my work may not grab your attention all in one go on the very first listen, it will reward your investment, your close listening with the fruits of the time and depth of experience that has gone into making it. I’ve been involved in music for 27 years, and composing in one shape or form for 19 years, and I don’t always instantly get my own work myself, but I place trust in it enough to expose myself to it time and again until it’s essence becomes clear, and until the clarity becomes meaningful.

work in progress
electronic music

FMC13 Day 1

That I live in an age in which I can virtually (and for no extra cost than the network connection I already pay for) attend a Future Music Conference in Washington DC, from my home in Manchester UK pleases me no end. I may have missed out on the richer and deeper experiences of face to face networking, seminars, and evening events, but watching as much of the webcast as I could has provided me with an invaluable reading list and a head full of new thoughts about the music business in the digital age.

Day 1

I’m going to list the various tabs I ended up with on my browser, with a brief summation, so that you too can delve into these rich resources.

Future of Music
The site organisers of the festival, filled with research and information for a wide variety of musicians.
Conference Schedule
A list of all the talks, panels, and presentations, listing all the speakers and presenters.
42 Revenue Streams/Case Studies
A research project that surveyed more than 5000 musicians on income and revenue streams.
Music + Money Quizes
Additional resources (digital distribution infographic etc) from the Music + Money quiz.
a href=http://www.copyright.gov>US Government Copyright site
Filled with information about copyright and copyright law in the US.
Copyright Alliance
Non profit representing artists and creators and aiming to assist with understanding copyright.
Copyright Green Paper
The Department of Commerce Internet Policy Taskforce’s copyright green paper that looks into how to update copyright law in light of new digital age realities.
Unsound (the movie)
A documentary looking at the collapse of the old music industry and the internet revolution.
Content Creators Coalition
A new organisation aiming to bring together creators to speak out with a unified voice about shaping our creative industries.
The 360 Deal
Andrew Dubber’s 360 Deal (pay what you want ebook) authored by independent, successful musicians sharing tips and advice on how to succeed in the music business.
Jill’s Next Record
Jill Sobule’s crowdfunding site from 2007 (way before Kickstarter).
Hypebot’s Day 1 summary
Zac Shaw’s Live Blog of Day 1
Zac did a great job of adding to the conversation on twitter, but also live blogged what he heard and thought - his fingers must have been burning!
My Storified Day 1 tweets
My tweets (and retweets from other people) from Day 1 laid out in a timeline with Storify.

Phew! There’s a lot to read into and think about just in the links from day 1 alone. I’m going to write up the links from day 2 in a separate post. Unfortunately I missed a fair amount of the afternoon session of day 2, so I’m hoping to catch up on that later today (if I can manage to tune into the repeating webcast at just the right time).

future music

Bandcamp and Saying Thanks

I became so busy before the launch installation for my album late last month that even though I had set up Bandcamp (customised the page a bit, uploaded all the album tracks and filled in all the text blanks) I ran out of time to upload details of the response sets. As soon as I finished clearing up the installation space at Piccadilly Place I photographed the sets, touched them up in photoshop and wrote descriptions for Bandcamp.

In the week and a half since having both the music, in CD and multiple format download, and the response sets on Bandcamp I’ve made several sales. I’m not only encouraged by the fact that people are showing me support so early, but that no one thus far has chose to download the album for free – it’s a fine feeling to have both financial and emotional support together.

One of the reasons I like Bandcamp so much as a tool to distribute and sell my music is that I can set minimum sale prices (as I have with the physical copies), or I can leave the purchase price entirely to the individual. That way there’s no set financial barrier between any long or short term income or economic situation someone finds themselves in, and being able to download my music in hi-fideilty richness. If I’d set a minimum price on the download I’d be risking missing out on people enjoying my music. Say it’s Saturday afternoon and you’re finally getting round to checking out the music blogs you like to read such as A Closer Listen, or Drowned In Sound, and you read about an album that sounds like it’s just the sort of thing you’d like to listen to. You click through to Bandcamp and, damn, there’s a minimum price of £7 for the download. Bummer. You’ve got to go food shopping later and you need that £7 for weekly supplies. Heck, even if that £7 is destined for Manchester’s best Old Fashioned the choice should be yours, in this day in age, to get hold of music and check it out, live with it, and decide what it means to you once you know it. It’s not like giving away spoonfuls of jam at a farmers market - with this album in particular, pretty much every spoonful is different - I’d be giving away the whole jar anyhow! So if you’re curious about my music, and want to listen to it without cloth over your ears (Bandcamp and SoundCloud, which powers the streams on my website, stream at a lowly 128kbps, whereas the uncompressed download is 1411kbps – compression is clever, but in the end it’s fidelity loss whatever way you look at it), download it for free, live with it for a while, and if it’s worth something to you, if it makes you feel good, or hear the world in a different way, you are free to stop back and pay me what you think it’s worth.

Being able to set the prices for my own ‘goods’ is fantastic, but the feature that I like the most about Bandcamp is that I get to find out who the wonderful people are that chose to support my work – especially vital in its formative stages. I get an email address, but more than that, I get the chance to drop everyone an email and say thank you for supporting me. Even the first person to eventually download my music for free will deserve thanks – I couldn’t ever know how many people they’d recommend my music to, or what a difference it might make to their lives. Nor could I be remiss and fail to recognise the encouragement that comes from someone even just deciding that my music is worth downloading and listening to. In this busy age, it all counts.

So if you are hesitant about downloading mine, or anyone else’s music from Bandcamp for free, don’t be. Having read many other blogs discussing Bandcamp and removing paywalls from digital files, I’d be confident enough to say that everyone that lets you pay-what-you-want for their music would much rather you enjoyed it than not. Life is complicated, and money is complicated too, but enjoying hi-fidelity music has been made about as simple as it can get.

Most music worth its salt is far more like a swimming pool than a paddling pool, so if you haven’t already, dive in, listen to the full album, and explore a new world of synthesized soundscapes and electronic environments:

electronic music

Go Away and Come Back

Jane Samuels is an artist with a broad and varied practice, but a central, unifying theme to her work is the exploration of abandoned and often forbidden buildings and spaces. Her latest commission, to compile work for 'Go Away And Come Back', took her to Costa Rica to explore a long abandoned site. She returned with several audio recordings of her exploration and the sounds of the local environment.

I try to not make any decisions before starting to work on a new project, but I’d already decided that I’d try to avoid adding anything ‘external’, instead allowing the listener to immerse themselves in the raw presentation of the recordings.
I laid the recordings out, and arranged them on a timeline, after experimenting with order and emotional flow. Suddenly, and unexpectedly, I reached for a synthesizer patch and found myself improvising a very simple, yet foreboding accompaniment to the first section of her journey. Hours later I’d also added low level, background, improvised accompaniments to later sections too.

When I listen back to how I’ve treated her recordings I feel that I have drawn out a narrative, and (hopefully you’ll agree) emphasised the emotion I found inherent, or suggested, in the recordings. For the most immersive experience, wear a pair of headphones and sink into the soundscape of Jane’s exploration.

Jane Samuels
field recordings
costa rica

Go! Gogo Penguin!

Gogo Penguin just played the best set I’ve heard them play since first seeing them perform to a talkative pub crowd in Chorlton a few years ago. Since then Nick Blacka has replaced Grant Russell on bass, and Gogo Penguin have gone on to play a Radio 3 session at Maida Vale, play Ronny Scott’s, record a fantastic album, Fanfares, and now join Roller Trio on a UK tour. What a treat you are in for if you are lucky enough to have a ticket to one of their shows.
Playing off every single one of their influences and musical loves (I’d be selling them short by only mentioning the way they come across like the ultimate nod to E.S.T), you’ll find yourself pumped up off explosive drum and bass beats, driving 90s style house through to the most delicate and responsive references to Chris’s classical piano upbringing.
Gogo Penguin could slow down and tighten up, but who on earth would want that?! The energy they play with is immense, spilling over and uplifting the biggest crowd I’ve seen at Band On The Wall since Pharoah Sanders last came to town.
Roller Trio just started. My word they’ve got a mountain to climb to top that ‘warm up’.

gig review
Gogo Penguin
Band on the Wall
Live Music

Album Launch, Radio and Promotion

Big update here on what’s been going on these past few weeks starting with an exciting announcement that I’ve booked a space for the album launch event. I’ve started working with a fantastic, multi disciplined artist Aliyah Hussain to put together a shared music experience that’s a little different to the usual electronic music gig. I don’t want to give too much away just now, but keep the last weekend in September free if you want to come down and check it out. There’ll be plenty of updates about the event over the coming weeks.

Next, some equally exciting news. Tomorrow evening I’ll be getting my first radio play on Amazing Beats, a show that highlights new electronic and urban music by Mark Ryan. Here’s a list of the ways you can listen (with links):
- In London or Dublin with DAB radio tuned into Amazing Radio
- Online by clicking listen live at Amazing Radio
- Online by streaming mp3(for iTunes), Windows Media or the direct stream link.
- With Amazing Radio’s iOS or Android apps.
- Via the TuneIn radio app.

Lastly, not really an announcement as such, but more of an update on some what I’m working on day to day, besides prepping for the album launch event. I’ve spent weeks researching folk (bloggers, DJs, reviewers, critics etc) who I think will respond well to my work and am putting in the hours reaching out, introducing myself, and getting the word out about the album. I’m not sure there’s an art to promotion, but there are certainly things that seem to make a lot more sense and they are (in no particular order):
- Reaching out to people who actually write, talk about or play music that’s similar to yours. Don’t waste everyone’s time in sending out emails to folk who aren’t anything to do with your field. You wouldn’t go looking for the best Cheung Fun (教做蒸腸粉) in an American burger joint, so don’t face south if you are heading north.
- Not sending out (lazy) bulk emails when you are asking specific people for help (in promoting your work). Of course in some sense bloggers, DJs, reviewers and the like need new music, and like to be made aware of new music (some even seem to gain superhuman organisational skills to fit in new music work as well as full time jobs from whispers of exclusive first plays), but it’s not like there’s a shortage of it. At least say hello, and spend some time seeing what they do. It’s like walking into a busy room full of busy strangers and shouting versus talking to each person individually.
- Remember what you are doing. You are looking for people, through other people. It’s The goal, the point of putting in the work, is to find even just one more person who’s life is improved because your art is a part of it. Let that sustain you as you go through the lows of feeling like you’ve got your spammer hat on, and remember that the folk you are pitching your work to are used to getting a load of stuff, but that, just like you, it’s always better when everyone is nice, and courteous, and considerate.
- Promo is less boring than nobody knowing about your work.
- Everyone has different sense of timing. Some folk want to hear from you once, a month before a release or focus date. Some folk, just a fortnight before, and others a whopping two months notice. Basically, there’s a lot of variation, so if you are letting someone really important know about your work, make sure you’ve had a look at any submission guidance they’ve written.
- Scale it right/Pyramid effect. This is my debut release. Highly unlikely that Pitchfork, NPR’s All Songs Considered, or any number of massive reader/viewer blogs, shows or the like will want to feature what they may see as risky work. Get in touch with people that are really into what they are doing, but, importantly, actually want to hear from artists that are at the stage you are at. Some specialise in debuting new artists, some only talk about stadium filling bands. There’s something of a tier of bloggers that catch new artists. Above them is another tier, often of people with a bigger reach that watch what the smaller (but more fluid, finger on the cutting edge pulse) lot are up to, and so on and so forth. Trying to skip ahead looks like a waste of time. In a sense I guess it’s kind of like any other job - you’ve got to work your way up by proving that you can satisfy the cutting edge folk, then the local radio/mag folk, before you’ve got much of a chance with national and international promotions.
- Some artists have very good pluggers, managers, marketing departments to help them out. If you don’t then do yourself a favour and don’t expect overnight success (which is sometimes months and months of under the radar, or at least out of the limelight work). Prepare for years of work to build up your reputation.
- People are really busy. Sometimes that means you really need to send a follow up (or a text, or a DM on twitter, or message in Facebook), because the original didn’t just get lost in the mass of new emails/tweets/CDs through the post (etc), it got lost because there’s often a lot going on in general. The best tip I’ve heard yet (from Luke in FTKOSQ) is to send the follow up like a forward of your original email so that you save the recipient having to trawl or search through their inbox for the original (that has all the details). It also saves you essentially having to send a duplicate message.
- Not everyone is completely internet or promo savvy. This doesn’t apply to industry folk necessarily, but I think it’s worth noting that sometimes it’s helpful to bear in mind some people might not know that ‘liking’ something is great, ‘sharing’ is brilliant, but that endorsing (by sharing with a compelling reason for their friends/connection to engage) is even better.
- Momentum builds momentum. Some folk will only really get behind you once there’s a good few other folk, and that’s ok. No one want’s to back a project they are really unsure about, so be sure to share any media/industry endorsements in case it helps those folk that want to support you, but need to do that when a lot of other folk have already. This seems especially relevant when you are dealing with friends or contacts that have a reputation to uphold. Even if they really want to help out, they can’t go endorsing every single musician they know right from the start, and risk losing some of their ‘taste maker’/good taste status. So don’t be surprised if your buddy with 10,000 links on Facebook doesn’t share your first home recording, but gets right behind you once you get national radio play.

Sorry for lumping all this stuff together, but I guess it gives a fair impression of what it’s like to run a small art business. There’s lots of different jobs to be done, all at the same time!

I hope you can tune into Mark’s show tomorrow (and support someone that supports new music - it all matters), and I’d really love to see you at the album launch at the end of September.

album launch
amazing radio