This is the first post under the ‘new regime’ for this site, all of which is explained here, if you’re interested.
The very short version is that I’ll be writing a monthly blog post to pull together all of the music-related things I come across. It will include the interesting things I’ve read and seen, the things that I’ve been listening to, the records I’ve bought, and the music-related things I’ve done. This is the first one, for January 2015.
I’ll start with a round-up of links and a monthly Spotify playlist. That way you don’t have to trawl through the whole, detailed post to find something that might interest you.
The whole post will be peppered with images I’ve seen online, like the disco quote below. These images are what you might call ‘digital music ephemera’, if you were trying a bit too hard, and they are part of the things and experiences I hoover up over the course of each month. They will normally be things that I’ve seen online, usually on places like Twitter and Facebook, and I’ll do my best to provide original sources. That won’t always be possible, so on the remote off-chance that you stumble across this site, see an image that belongs to you and would like me to remove it, just let me know.
That’s enough blether. Let’s get on with it….
I use Spotify for most of my mobile listening, or for listening at work, and over the last few years I’ve been in the habit of creating monthly playlists. When I read a review, or hear a song on the radio, or see a recommendation from someone online, or want to listen to a new release from an artist I like, I add tracks to the monthly list. I then spend most of the month listening to it as it grows, weeding out the ones I don’t care for, or delving deeper with the ones I like.
Here’s the list for January 2015. There are 48 tunes here, and it’s in no particular order, so for best results you should play on shuffle. The reason for the inclusion of 4 or 5 ‘Bro-Country’ songs will become apparent in a while. You can skip over those if you like. They are pretty turgid, in fairness.
Bro-Country aside, there’s some great stuff in the mix. New releases by two of my favourite artists, Matthew E White and The Phantom Band, new soundtrack stuff from Olafur Arnalds and John Carpenter, and – perhaps most unexpectedly of all – following a recommendation from Geoff Dolman of Static Caravan Recordings, I became quite smitten with Larry Norman, who was the ‘Bad Boy of Christian Rock’, apparently.
Odds and Sods from January 2015
Here are some interesting things I came across this month…
- In my hometown of Birmingham, Aston University held an academic conference about Kraftwerk. I couldn’t get to it, unfortunately, but I did get sent a link to this nice data map of artists influenced by the band.
- In other data-visualisation news, every place mentioned in songs by Half Man Half Biscuit was added to this Google Map.
- A 23-year-old man in Northern Ireland was banned from drinking after he called 999 and claimed to be Nicki Minaj.
- Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues turned 50.
- Mark Ronson’s hit single, Uptown Funk, is remarkably similar to the theme tune from a 1990s kids TV show, The Really Wild Show
- This remix of Big Love by Fleetwood Mac is pretty special. It was briefly available on a limited 12″, but those are long gone, unfortunately.
- 100s of early-90s Hardcore and Rave mix tapes appeared online. I remember selling lots of these when I first worked in a record shop.
- 94% of BBC Radio 1’s most played songs in 2014 were on major labels, and the UK Government didn’t know how much the Music Business was worth
- Amongst the hundreds of videos of people lip-syncing to ‘Love is an Open Door’ from the movie Frozen, this one made me laugh. For some reason.
- Some of these 10 oddball funk rarities from the last 20 years found their way on to my monthly playlist.
- Tom Petty and Sam Smith reached an amicable settlement about the similarity of Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’ to Petty (and Jeff Lynne’s) ‘I Won’t Back Down’. The two songs were meshed together to illustrate their similarity. The result was pretty great. As SentricMusic pointed out, ‘Stick a DONK on that and it’s poppers o’clock”. Indeed.
- Someone attempted to sell their collection of 7″s of every UK number 1 single from 1952 to 1995. No-one matched the starting bid of £1,999 and the collection went unsold.
- Paul McGee is a great writer. He wrote this piece about the Rae Sremmurd LP (which also features on my monthly playlist), but its also an excellent takedown of certain types of music snobbery.
- Joe Muggs found this excellent, preserved-in-aspic 1990s British TV documentary about Ecstasy.
- This 10-CD box set from Philadelphia International Records appeared on sale for £20, which was basically a steal. I ordered one, but it hasn’t shown up yet. Maybe it was too good to be true.
- In other news that will break a few bank balances, Moog relaunched some of their classic synths
- The BBC’s ‘Sound of Song’ series of documentaries are well worth a look if you’re interested in the processes of songwriting and recording.
- Talking of songwriting, this demonstration that 6 modern ‘Bro-Country’ songs follow the exact same formula is very interesting. The songwriter who made this plans to write a song of his own that follows this formula, and then take it to publishers. Incidentally, this is where those turgid Bro-Country songs on the monthly list came from. Morbid curiosity.
- I found out that former Aston Villa defender, Paul McGrath – one of the best players I ever saw in claret and blue – recorded an album of covers back in 2011. If that wasn’t odd enough, it sounds a lot like Julian Cope. He also recorded a version of Handle With Care, which featured the aforementioned Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne on its original version. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence, though.
- NASA posted a collection of Space Sounds to their Soundcloud account. According to Open Culture, these recordings were free to download and use.
- Bournemouth University launched a portal that provides useful, basic information about copyright. If you’ve ever been baffled by the subject, this could be a useful site.
- It has a big whiff of the staged about it, but the American policeman lip-syncing to Shake it Off was a lot of fun
- …and also on the Taylor Swift tip.
- According to Shazam, 10% of global digital music sales originate in Shazam
- The Telegraph launched a rolling ‘Best Country LPs of 2015’ blog, which might be worth keeping an eye on.
- ..and finally, to read the full 1978 New York Times article that the ‘Disco is Great / Rock Sucks’ photo at the top of this post comes from, click here.
Buying Records….and some other things about vinyl
I bought quite a few records (and books) this month. More than normal, anyway. The reason for this was that we had a New Year clear out at home, so I also found myself visiting a fair few charity and junk shops. Whilst there, I pulled out a few nice things.
All in I picked up 33 records. I like taking pictures of the record sleeves I pick up and usually post photos of new purchases, or records I’m listening to, over on the FGTeBay Instagram account. Photos of all of the records purchased this month are in this album on Flickr, but here are a few of my favourites
The interesting thing about some of these purchases, and the Johnny Mathis and Brian Protheroe records in particular, is that songs from many of these records have featured in monthly Spotify playlists previously….and in doing so the albums they come from have automatically been added to the long, long mental list I keep of things that I’d like to pick up one day. So, it was nice to tick a couple off for £1 each.
Also on the subject of vinyl, there were a few interesting nuggets online about that this month. An article in LA Weekly did a good job of providing a counter-narrative to the sometimes very annoying rhetoric about audio quality you get from the vinyl crowd, making a case for the superior sonic quality of CDs.
Meanwhile, this article in The Guardian eventually fell into exactly that kind of annoying ‘It just sounds better’ nonsense, but before it did, it gave a really interesting overview of the state of the vinyl manufacturing landscape. By way of extra detail, this article on Modern Vinyl told of the difficulties involved with the supply chain now that vinyl is experiencing a ‘comeback’. The graphic below offered additional perspective on the scale of that comeback, as did the news that streaming revenue continues to grow. All very interesting stuff, if you like that sort of thing, which I do.
Talking of obsolete formats….
I played with a USB / Tape Doohickey
A colleague at BCU recently purchased a job lot of USB / Tape converters as he’ll be using them to teach his students about digital archiving. He asked a few people in the office to play with them to see how they worked.
I have a huge pile of old tapes at home that I’ve been meaning to digitise for a long time, so I was interested in giving it a go. I though it might be useful to provide a quick overview of my experience with it. So, here goes….
I used it on a Mac, so didn’t bother with the software that it comes bundled with, but the disc and handbook it comes with says it’ll work with Windows. It works with Audacity on a Mac (but can presumably work with other software). You plug it in to a USB port (which also powers the device) and tell Audacity that you want to use it to record. You hit record on the software, and press play on the tape machine, and away you go.
There is a volume control on the unit itself, so you’ll need a few false starts as you mess about getting a decent level, but that’s about it in terms of set up. One thing: Don’t leave your mobile next to the tape player cos if you get a call/txt/whatever, you’ll get interference on the recording. I learned this the hard way.
As you probably know, it’s easy to top and tail the finished file in Audacity, and to then export it in the file format of your choice. Sound-wise it’s ok – as good as the tape itself. Not too much hiss. No idea how durable the machine is as I’ve only done two tapes so far, but I plan to use it a lot more over the coming weeks (if I ever get around to lugging the box of tapes from the loft)
All in all, for £11 and the fact that once you’ve spent a minute or so either side setting/tidying up, you can just leave it running in the background as you work, it’s pretty good.
It’s given me a few ideas of things I’d like to do with the tapes I have, but none of those are going to happen whilst the tapes remain in the loft. Maybe I’ll have more on that next month.
A few records I’ve been involved with are starting to near completion, which is great news. 9 songs from the 3rd Friends of the Stars record are now mixed and sounding really sweet, and the James Summerfield record I played and sang on at Highbury Studios last summer is finally ready for release. That’s coming out in April and I’m really excited by it. It’s an album of songs about Birmingham that James put together with a local poet, Darran Cannan. Here’s a promo video for the record.
I also helped out on the logistical side for a few releases on Static Caravan Recordings. The single ‘Up’ by Victories at Sea came out in January, and we worked on singles by Free School and Stick in the Wheel, which are due next month and are picking up some nice reviews and airplay.
…and finally, the PhD
All of the above I do for fun. The day job is my PhD, which is based around The Harkive Project and is looking at music consumption practices in the digital age. You can read more about the detail of that over on the project website.
I had two reasonably large deadlines this month, with 6,000 words handed in to the University on 9th January and a further 7,000 to the funding body by the end of the month. Alongside that, I read a LOT, and spent a good deal of time trying to get to grips with Theodore Adorno – which is another reason why the ‘Bro-Country’ songs made such an impression on me.
And that’s yer lot. If you’re still with me after all of that, thanks for reading. If any of it was useful, or if you have any questions, please do say hello on Twitter.