Archive for April, 2009

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Music venues with good food

April 30, 2009

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A recent article in Gourmet, “Eight Great Rock Venues With Great Food,” combines two of my obsessions, food and live music (three if you count travel) The article is written by Mia Clarke, guitarist of Electrelane (who are now on indefinite hiatus), and is gleaned from her years of touring with the band. Cambridge’s own Middle East made the cut for its fare, as did the Bite Cafe at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Nothing made the list from Seattle, sadly (although the Triple Door got a shout-out in the comments). While not on Clarke’s list, the reputation of Stubbs Bar-B-Q in Austin has reached the barbecue-deprived north, and I’m looking forward to checking it out this summer (SXSWers, any feedback?). I’d also add Toronto’s Sneaky Dee’s for its Mexican fare; it frequently appears in the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, and his band, Sex Bob-omb plays there (inevitably, the performance is interrupted by a homicidal robot, which Scott fights off with his bass guitar).

Check out the list, and then tell us what you think it’s missing. Where do you go in your ‘hood for good food and good music?

MP3: Electrelane – To The East [buy]

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Upcoming: The ‘Nac Proudly Presents!

April 29, 2009

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Boston has been blessed with more great shows than usual recently, as this town’s hard-working and -playing music bloggers have been lining up bands to play for our mutual enjoyment. And the big gun is coming out this week – Bradley’s Almanac is hosting a night of bands at TT the Bear’s this Friday, May 1st. Headliners are Minneapolis’ Now, Now Every Children, and they’ll be supported by Boston’s The Hush Now and You Can Be A Wesley, as well as Vermont’s Let’s Whisper. If you haven’t yet, you should go to the ‘Nac and read Brad’s description – it makes me want to get on a plane and fly to Boston for the festivities (admittedly, I already need to buy him a drink and thank him for recording the John Darnielle show). He’s posted MP3s from each of the bands, but I’m using this as an excuse to remind you that The Hush Now‘s entire album is available for free download, so you should check it out before you go.

MP3: The Hush Now – Traditions [download]

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Upcoming: Condo Fucks play WMBR benefit

April 28, 2009

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In celebration of Jon Bernhardt’s quarter-century of DJing, he’s convinced the artists that he’s played the most to do a pair of benefit shows. Bernhardt holds down the Friday morning slot at WMBR, one of my three favourite radio stations. Condo Fucks (a permutation of Yo La Tengo, his second-most-played artist), The Bevis Frond (most-played artist), and Sleepyhead play at TT the Bear’s on Sunday, June 21st. Versus and Rebecca Gates (formerly of The Spinanes) play Church on Saturday, June 27th. Full details on the show are here, and tickets are on sale now. All net proceeds benefit WMBR.

MP3: Condo Fucks – This is Where I Belong (Kinks cover) [buy]

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Music and tech news roundup

April 27, 2009

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Catching up on the miscellany of music and tech happenings around the Interwebs…

‘Pirates’ are the biggest music buyers. A new study out of a business school in Norway suggests that people who downloaded music off P2P services bought ten times more music legally (downloads and CDs) than their non-P2P-using counterparts. This corroborates a 2006 Canadian study that found the same thing. Needless to say, record companies are disputing the findings. [via Ars Technica]

New turntable outputs MP3s directly to USB. Vinyl-lovers, rejoice! Denon’s new DP-200USB turntable (pictured) outputs MP3s directly to a USB thumbdrive, and the included software analyses the first 15 seconds of each song to match against the Gracenote database and automatically get the metadata. [via Cool Hunting]

How to find music on Twitter: If you’re a dedicated Twitter user and music lover, Wired has a terrific roundup of all the different music services that interface with the microblogging service. But I think the single best piece of advice is this, “[O]nce you find a like-minded fan on the network, you can follow their feed.”

Help build better music recommenders by rating playlists! Luke Barrington, a researcher at UCSD, is soliciting the help of people like you to evaluate playlists generating by a variety of means (like artist similarity vs tag similarity). You’re presented with a ‘seed song’ and two short playlists which  you can listen to, and then you can decide which one fits the initial song better. It’s fun and you get help scientists out. Take the survey here. [via Music Machinery]

22 000 words of EULA to put an iTunes song on your iPhone. I saw this in a tweet by Cory Doctorow (“Informed consent my ass.”), and did a bit of digging. Jason Schultz is the director of the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at UC Berkeley, and was at the Federal Trade Commission’s conference on DRM in Seattle last week. A deputy director of the FTC warned the industry that they need to stop hiding restrictions in the unreadable fine print of end-user licensing agreements.

MP3: AC Newman – Take On Me (A-Ha cover)

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Watch: Matt and Kim, “Lessons Learned”

April 23, 2009

Okay, this is a terrific video – funny and compelling, and it goes perfectly with the song. NSFW if pixelated nudity is problematic.

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Online music services and payola

April 23, 2009

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Book editors Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who are involved in educating would-be authors about scammers who who would defraud them by posing as reputable publishers (rather than as the vanity presses they are), frequently quote Yog’s Law: Money should always flow towards the author. The music industry variant seems to have historically been, “Money flows towards the artists, but not if we can help it.”

But that’s no longer true, it seems. Recently, two streaming music services instituted pay-for-play schemes: $30 on Jango, and $200 on last.fm, buys you 1000 plays of your music, slotted between songs by the established artists of your choice. There’s a great overview article here.

I’m all for doing things differently in the brave new world of online distribution for artists, and part of that is thinking of new ways to get your music out to listeners who might like it. But I am fundamentally wary of any business model that puts the best interests of the company (in this case, making money from selling music slots) in opposition to the the best interests of the user (hearing music they like), rather than aligned with them. Maybe I’ve just been hanging around with Paul Lamere too much, but it seems like a more sustainable model would be to get the music recommendation part right first, and try to monetize it afterwards.

I’d be interested in knowing what others think about this. Please share your thoughts!

MP3: M.I.A. – Paper Planes (DFA remix) [buy]

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LEGO Rock Band!

April 22, 2009

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LEGO Rock Band! Warner Interactive announced today that they were teaming with LEGO, game developers Harmonix and TT Games, and MTV Games to create a LEGO version of Rock Band. It’s intended to be more younger-kid-friendly than the original, with songs like “Kung Fu Fighting” and Blur’s “Song 2.” And, of course, you also get to customize your minifig avatars, as well as those of your “band and entourage, including roadie, manager, and crew.” (“Mommy, what’s a groupie?”)

The game is scheduled for release in time for the 2009 holidays. You can check out the press release for more info.

MP3: The White Stripes – Fell in Love With a Girl [check out the video]

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Online music chart: We Are Hunted

April 21, 2009

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Sometimes it’s all in the interface. We Are Hunted scrapes and aggregates a host of online sources – everything from Twitter to torrents – to produce a ‘online chart’ of what the Internet is listening to. But all of that is in the background; the website simply presents a 3×3 grid of songs or artists, that you can just click to play (or click ‘next’ for more). For casual listeners,  it’s one-stop shopping to hear what’s hot and new. Sleek and simple.

[via Underwire]

MP3: Metric – Poster of a Girl [buy]

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Listen (really) local: The Moondoggies

April 20, 2009

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Seattle’s alt-country-garage group The Moondoggies played a free show on the HUB lawn of the University of Washington campus last Friday afternoon. As far as venue locations go, this one was pretty unimpeachable, being just a few hundred metres from my office. The lovely spring day and campus buildings were a perfect backdrop to The Moondoggies’ Southern-rock-style twangy guitar and three-part harmonies.

MP3: The Moondoggies – Changing [buy]

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Boston music bloggers (re)present!

April 19, 2009

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Two great shows early this week, presented by Boston music bloggers. Slightly belated notice for a night of indie electro with Count Rockula and Cassette tonight (Sunday, April 19th) at the Middlesex Lounge, presented by Enough Cowbell. It’s a benefit for Cycle Kids, and you should go.

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On Tuesday night (April 21st), Ryan’s Smashing Life presents a terrific lineup including z=z faves Logan 5 and the Runners, The Lights Out, Fishhawk, and Hundred Years War. It’s at Great Scott in Allston.

MP3: The Lights Out – Miss Fortune [artist site]

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The Motion Sick, Boston’s best local band!

April 17, 2009

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The Motion Sick is Boston’s Best Local Band! We are psyched to congratulate z=z friends and faves The Motion Sick on being the Boston Phoenix Best of ’09 Reader’s Pick – “nerd meets quirk meets Steampunk meets pop meets Kurt Vonnegut.” What more excuse do you need to go check them out?

MP3: The Motion Sick – Winged Bicycle [buy]

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Neophile: Logan Lynn, From Pillar to Post

April 16, 2009

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I’ve been listening to an early copy of Logan Lynn‘s new album, From Pillar to Post, for a few weeks now, and it’s been gradually infiltrating itself into my brain. The Portland-based Lynn describes his music as ‘electro-pop’, but that carries connotations that are a little too saccharine.  The gentle tenor vocals over a background of electronica are like the smooth, reflective surfaces of mirror shards, belying the razor-sharp edges of the complex song structures, syncopation, and bleak lyrics—as his bio puts it, putting the ‘disco’ back into ‘discomfort.’ This album, his third full-length, is on the Dandy Warhols‘ label, Beat the World Records. I don’t know if there’s a release date set for it, but here’s a couple of tracks to whet your appetite in the interim. More on Logan Lynn at his website or on Myspace.

MP3: Logan Lynn – Feed Me to the Wolves

MP3: Logan Lynn – Burning Your Glory

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Trent Reznor on the future of music

April 15, 2009

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Trent Reznor, always a man to call it like he sees it, gives great interview to the Guardian. The NIN iPhone app went live last night, and Reznor uses the occasion of its release to share his thoughts:

People are going to steal your music whether you like it or not; it’s out there, it’s free… You’re never going to make a lot of money selling records like you used to, that’s a fact. It’s over… Record labels do not know how to deal with the new media environment that they’re confronted with. They’ve made their fortunes selling plastic discs and now no one wants to buy plastic discs – they’re just trying to get their fingers in every other pie, but they’re so greedy and ignorant they’re not prepared to do what they have to do… All we’re trying to do is make something cool. Something that as a fan you’d say, ‘Hey, I want to have that’. If we can monetise it, then that’s fine, no problem.

You can read the full Guardian article on iPhone apps here, and the Wired Underwire blog has a great article on what  Reznor has done since leaving his label 18 months ago, including releasing music under Creative Commons licenses to encourage sharing and remixing, as well as harnessing social networking to create a fan community. It’s well worth the read.

MP3: Nine Inch Nails – Discipline [download/buy]

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Pansy Division’s multimedia extravaganza

April 14, 2009

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Seminal* queer pop-punk band Pansy Division is back with a vengeance, debuting a new album, a film, and a memoir.

The album is That’s So Gay, out on Alternative Tentacles. Pansy Division sounds tight, which I imagine is a consequence of their stable lineup, but musically and lyrically, it’s not a departure from their previous work, which is just fine – they’ve never been a band that had pretensions to being anything else. Songs like “Pat Me on the Ass” and “20 Years of Cock” combine catchy songwriting with Pansy Division’s trademark sexual exuberance and fit comfortably with other PD faves. The one exception is “Average Men,” with guest Jello Biafra – its sound is harder (and its humour  considerably more biting) than the rest of the tracks.

The film is Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band, a documentary that started life as a graduation requirement for bassist Chris Freeman’s film degree.  It’s currently out on DVD and is being screened around the country. You can find out more about it or order a copy here.

The memoir is Jon Ginoli’s Deflowered: My Life in Pansy Division, a history of Pansy Division from its inception in 1990 to the present. It draws heavily from tour diaries, including the one kept by Ginoli in 1994 when they were tapped by Green Day to open for their arena tour. The memoir is an inside look at how an indie band deals with the challenges of life on the road, dealing with the record label, trying to get albums out, and trying to keep a drummer (Pansy Division could envy Spinal Tap; over the course of the lifetime of the band, they’ve gone through a dozen drummers, albeit none fatally). Of course, they faced the added challenge of dealing with marginalization and homophobia, on the road and off; Ginoli speaks matter-of-factly of women in the audience forming a human chain to protect the band while they were loading out their gear. Ginoli’s writing voice is frank and sincere, and it’s an engaging read.

Pansy Division has a special place in the heart of z=z, since their last Cambridge show featured in its very first post. And that show seems to have a warm place in Ginoli’s heart too, as he writes, “…we played the larger downstairs room of the Middle East…Combine great stage sound with a slew of crazed, screaming fans up front who knew all the words, and the result was probably the best show of the tour.”

Ginoli’s currently on a book tour, promoting the book and the documentary, with readings at a Boston Barnes and Noble on Tuesday, April 14th and  at the Brookline Booksmith on Wednesday, April 15th, and a screening of  the documentary at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, also on the 15th. As well, a concert tour is lined up for June and July. Dates and details for the readings, screenings and concerts can all be found here.

MP3: Pansy Division – Average Men [buy]

*I couldn’t resist. Sorry.

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Live music apps for the iPhone

April 13, 2009

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I’m a big fan of live music, but I also understand that there is a bit of a barrier. Unlike going to your favourite bar, live music is an ever-changing landscape. Two new iPhone apps for live music are working to make it easier.

Gigotron, which won an award for best mobile app at SXSW Interactive, was originally only available for New York, LA, and San Francisco, but recently rolled out an update that includes Seattle. To be precise, it includes ‘Seattle-Tacoma,’ which I wouldn’t exactly consider one city. The listings are presented as a time-ordered list (based on doors, I presume). The information about the bands is pretty good, but not exhaustive, obviously; a quick check of Saturday night shows resulted in descriptions for The Gaslight Anthem, the Heartless Bastards, and local band The Whore Moans, but not for fellow locals Peter Parker. But the venue information is minimal, at best. Not only does it fail to specify city or neighborhood within Gigatron, but the ‘map this venue’ button seems to only send street address (not city) information to Google Maps, which means I ended up with locations in Skagit and Vancouver. Not good.

Bandloop takes the opposite tack. Rather than focusing on artists, it focuses on your location, using the GPS info in the 3G iPhone to find you. Event information is presented as a map, and you can drill down for venue and artist information. The info page for each event includes the address of the venue, together with its website and the website of the artist. At the moment, it doeen’t seem to include Myspace pages, which means its easier to get information on more established bands. But I’m not really thrilled with having to go to artist websites to get any idea about their music, especially not on my phone.

I much prefer Bandloop’s location-based interface, but would love it if it included in-line capsule descriptions like Gigotron. Both of these apps are solid betas, but I don’t think I’d want to rely on either of them to make my Saturday night plans.

MP3: The Gaslight Anthem – Old White Lincoln [buy]

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Tonight: Head Like a Kite at the Croc

April 10, 2009

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Okay, this sounds pretty fun. Local faves Head Like a Kite are at the Crocodile tonight, and they’ll also be debuting a feature film, described as following “the steamy affair of two impassioned Barbie dolls hell bent on adventure. Sex, fire, Superman, Barbie dolls, and a car chase.” What’s not to like? Especially when it’s projected behind HLaK’s beats.

Wild Orchid Children and Partman Parthorse open, and doors are at 8 pm.

MP3: Head Like a Kite – No Ordinary Caveman [buy]

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Report: MEIEA conference

April 9, 2009

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The Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association 2009 conference was held last weekend at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Roving reporter Joe Kendall filed this report for zed equals zee.

Prior to this past weekend, my last visit to the Berklee Performance Center involved listening to Dave Brubeck play “Blue Rondo à la Turk”, so it felt a bit strange to sit in the same concert hall listening to industry players discuss ways to make money in the music business. I quickly discovered that the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) International Conference was not going to be as focused on music as I thought. (It might have helped if I had paid more attention to the title of the conference: The New Entertainment Economy.) Panels on music in gaming or the worth of a song were considerably more focused on methods of licensing and distributing music than they were on the creation or use of music.

Overall, it’s clear that the industry has accepted that things will be different in the future, and panels focused around music publishing and other licensing opportunities were well attended. These panels and the keynote address each stressed the importance of taking risks and exploring new options for making money with music. A few highlights:

Last October, the Copyright Royalty Board set new rates for the amount songwriters and music publishers are paid for each song use. Putting a song on a CD or downloading it now earns the songwriter or publisher 9.1 cents per use. Downloading a digital ringtone earns songwriters 24 cents per use. [press release]

With the ability to download content to music-centered games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, musicians have a new channel to connect with their fanbase. Less-established musicians are getting more exposure through these games, and more established musicians are using these games to increase marketing opportunities. [previously: Videogames and the music industry]

There was considerable discussion around the role of the Internet but, as Danny Goldberg (pictured; former manager of Nirvana and president of Gold Village Entertainment) said in his keynote address, “the Internet is not magic.” The panelists representing the music industry said they were using the advantages of the Internet, but not relying on them to create new opportunities.

Goldberg also called on President Obama to increase government support for the arts once he had addressed the economic and housing crises. He also asked educators and students to start a national conversation on the devaluation of intellectual property caused by non-monetized distribution of music.

With the diminishing importance of record companies and an economic recession, attendees seemed apprehensive about the survival of the industry. That apprehension didn’t disappear as panelists pointed towards growing live-performance sales and new growth opportunities in video games as signs of health;  the economic nature of the questions exposed the mood in the concert hall to be hopeful but anxious. Goldberg expressed the view that the industry had shifted over the past twenty years from focusing too much on the music side to focusing too much on the business side. It’s a difficult time and a difficult transition, but let’s hope the music industry can balance the two.

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Tiered pricing at iTunes

April 8, 2009

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As of yesterday, iTunes switched to their new model of tiered pricing – $1.29 for in-demand songs, $0.99 for ‘regular’ songs, and $0.69 for the back catalog (and no DRM). This is hardly a new approach – Beatport, the dominant source of electronic and dance music, uses the same type of variable pricing.

On the surface, this is a pretty rational move, straight supply-and-demand. But the economics of Internet distribution are pretty transparent -  the incremental cost of selling the new Britney Spears single is the same as the obscure rarity, and it’s pretty close to nil in both cases. The real pull that Apple has is in the close integration of iTunes with iPhones and iPods, and it’s likely that they are counting on their dominance in the device market to continue to drive sales of MP3s, even at the higher price point.  Consumers are paying for this convenience, not anything else.

But with the rise of streaming services, especially to mobile devices, it’s not clear whether sales of MP3s will be the dominant paradigm in a few years. Long tail notwithstanding, hit singles still constitute the bulk of music sales revenue, this might just be a way for Apple to make hay while the sun shines.

Incidentally, Owen Ashworth (of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone) has an interesting idea that makes use of the long-tail and the zero incremental cost – he suggests that iTunes should curate genre-oriented playlists of 100-200 songs and sell them for $5-$10. The per-song cost is low, it’ll expose listeners to new artists, and it competes directly with the playlist approach of the streaming services. More here.

MP3: Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Man O’ War [buy]

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Tonight: Pretty and Nice, and more

April 6, 2009

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Illius Rock, who facilitate ‘campaigns’ to help artists raise money from fans,  is hosting a show tonight at the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge, with Pretty and Nice (who’ve appeared previously on z=z), Sincerely, the Management,  and The Big Big Bucks. The show is free (as in beer), which means it’ll be a wallet-friendly double bill with (or alternative to) the Rumble, whose second night is happening just up the street.

MP3: Pretty & Nice – Tora Tora Tora

MP3: Sincerely, the Management – Electrified

MP3: The Big Big Bucks – Formal Affair/Casual Dress

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It’s rumbling time!

April 5, 2009

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If you’re in Boston, this is a great week to check out lots of great live music, as it’s the 31st Annual WBCN Rock’n’Roll Rumble, a battle-of-the-bands style competition in which four acts do short sets each night. In typical Boston underdog fashion, there’s said to be a curse on the winners and the losers are celebrated. You can see a full schedule here, or check out the nifty play-along-at-home chart above. It’s from Boston Band Crush, who have pretty comprehensive coverage of the event. And best of luck to z=z friends Logan 5 and the Runners and The Motion Sick.

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