An Ode to the Fallen Headphone Jack

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Dearest Jack,

You’ve fallen from grace this day

And tumbled low to the grave below.

You brought this on yourself (some say),

Your steely joint rigid and analog

In a wirelessly digital world.

 

Or were you killed?

Ripped from your 3.5mm womb

When you were breathing so steadily—

Confused by your newfound obsolescence.

 

I will miss your tangle

(Or will I?)

The cute frustration that I endured

All those years I got to know you.

 

I’m sorry, Jack—I truly am;

I would have loved to keep you on—

Provided you with utility into your old age

(Although some might say that 138 is old enough)

But I have no recourse here—

The game is set and I’ll have to accept fate eventually.

 

You will always be a fond memory

(For a few months at least).

And we shall write fine obituaries about you

(Until the next round of metaphorical beepers

Make their way to the front firing line).

 

The curtain’s pulled and the lights are dimming,

I suppose it’s time for a new beginning.

That’s a wrap, Jack.

Independent Music Is Big. Really, Really Big.

PC Gaming Is Just Like Independent Music

Chris Dixon’s article yesterday discussed the trends that media is experiencing in the digital age. While his article focuses mostly on the gaming industry, it also heavily references the music industry, drawing numerous parallels and comparisons throughout the piece. Since I’m not much of a gamer, the music-related aspects of the post fascinate me because:

  1. They so closely mirror those in the gaming industry, which I find intriguing and even somewhat surprising, and
  2. Because Dixon is exactly on-point in his dissection of them.

Regarding the first point, it’s almost eerie how broad Dixon’s thesis could have been, were one to read the piece out of context. Of particular note are subtitles like “PC games are way bigger than you think[,]” which could easily say “independent music” instead of “PC games.” And it is way bigger. Way, way bigger.

Independent Music Is Way, Way Bigger Than You Think

Independent music, like PC gaming (it seems), is substantially bigger than many people initially realize, particularly if they’re only considering one part of “the music industry.” The “music industry” is a misnomer itself since it lends credence to the thought that there is a singular music industry in which to exist and do business. This is incorrect because there are in fact multiple paradigms that exist within the music universe, all of which operate according to very different rules. Independent music is a whole different world than major label music, and thus the opportunities that lie there do not necessarily mirror the opportunities that lie in the latter.

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Growth of independent music between 2003-2012; image courtesy of Techdirt

The stark reality is that independent music cannot be measured according to the traditional metrics. Unlike major label material, independent music cannot be measured and calculated metrically based on chart success, album copies sold (physical or digital), or video hits. Independent music extends to places major label music never touches: to the garage of the punk band in Chicago, the coffee house performance of the singer in London, the bedroom demo of the multi-instrumentalist in Melbourne, and the piano jazz bar in Amsterdam. As a result, the sheer number of artists that exist (and are popping up every day) is staggering.

The Problem with the “Walled-Garden”

As Dixon pointed out, where gaming wins is in providing endless choices for users, and relying on the dynamic of attention instead of scarcity. This is directly at odds with the current approach in most of the traditional music industry (in streaming especially) where the “walled-garden” approach is used as a means of obtaining exclusive rights to material on one service, and thus making it scarce or unavailable on all the other services. The notion here is that if you can garner enough scarce material, you’ll have something your competitors simply can’t lay their hands on.

The problem with this line of thinking is twofold:

  1. It doesn’t actually work, since material (major label or independent) inevitably finds it way off of solely one system and onto multiple systems; and
  2. It’s against the nature of music. Music is art, and the nature of art is to be seen, shared, engaged with, and shared again.

Music is freedom and expression, and to try and stifle that on one system is simultaneously useless and misguided. It’s misguided precisely because music is inherently social. Unlike movies or books, music has a unique live element which can be leveraged to the benefit of both the artists and their fans (both current and prospective). One of the fastest growing trends in independent music is for artists to alter their perspective of their own music: rather than looking at it solely as an end commodity for sale, now it’s becoming a mechanism for free marketing and advertising. It’s a means to an end, a way to get people to come out to shows, connect on a personal level in the live paradigm, and walk away feeling a direct identification with that artist.

What the major label industry really looks like; The Big Three

What the major label industry really looks like; The Big Three

Unfortunately, major labels have been less enthusiastic about this approach. As Dixon notes, they rely heavily on litigation and have effectively stayed focused on protecting their back catalog, looking backwards at the past with forlorn eyes rather than tasting the future.

Royalties Are the Emperor’s Clothes

The royalty system is a whole other monster, which I’ve tackled a number of times, and which I think is simply a chain to the past and nothing more. It doesn’t help artists the way they need to be helped, doesn’t make fans feel good about how artists are compensated, and just remains a massive headache for any music company, streaming or otherwise.

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Royalty Rates, Minimum Wage, and Reality; image courtesy of informationisbeautiful.net

Simply put, the royalty system is arguably the best example in media of the Emperor’s clothes: everyone keeps saying that we just need to find a way to make it work in the new age, when in reality there is no way to make it work in the new age. Arguably, it didn’t even work in previous decades; but it was the only real, scalable revenue system around, and thus became the industry standard.

In the post, Dixon quoted the post-mortem statement of Turntable.fm, which states that the Turntable team spent tons of cash on lawyers, tons of time trying to secure label deals, and ultimately that they didn’t heed the lessons of so many failed music startups. I’ll go so far as to argue that one of these mistakes (which founders continue to make) is buying into the old royalty-based system, and thus undercutting their own feet before even beginning the race.

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The music pipeline

The diagram above paints this picture, and if you look closely, you see that there are really only two entities who hold any significant amount of consistent power: the major labels and independent artists.

  • The former group essentially controls the lifeblood of dependent streaming services (like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and more recently SoundCloud), the payment to artists from the royalties collected, and the gatekeeping authority over the music to which the mainstream is exposed.
Major Label Percentage Ownerships of (some) Streaming Services

Major Label Percentage Ownerships of (some) Streaming Services; *(Beats has since been purchased and rolled into Apple Music)

  • Independent artists, however, control their own distribution, exposure, and revenues models. Because they’re not beholden to any one paradigm or other entity, they are free to explore a wide range of possibilities, and mix-and-match those that work best for them. In many cases, this is highly individualized; what works well for one artist doesn’t work at all for another, and vice versa.

Community. It’s All About Community.

Dixon nails it home in the latter paragraph on books, when he states:

From a legal perspective, some fanfiction could be seen as copyright or trademark infringement. From a business perspective, the book industry would be smart to learn from the PC gaming business. Instead of fighting over pieces of a shrinking pie, try to grow the pie by getting more people to read and write books.

This is exactly true for the music business too. Instead of looking to block remixes and free distribution models, music companies would be better off learning how to leverage those models for improved community building and engagement, particularly as music is so heavily impacted by live continuous interaction. Build the community around the artists, and fans will follow. From those core fans, new and more flexible revenue models arise. The future of music is democratization and community.

If you look at many of the companies that are winning in media/tech right now—companies like Medium, Twitch, Product Hunt (with Games, Books, and Podcasts), and BuzzFeed—you see that they have invested a substantial amount of time and energy in creating communities around their products and/or services. The Medium community writes about anything and everything, and communities on Product Hunt and Twitch are super sticky. And all of this is to say nothing of the Dixon’s crowdfunding point, which certainly has massive and positive implications for the music business moving forward.

Scarcity Is Obsolete, Democratization Wins

Dixon’s closing statement gives me chills:

The internet renders business models focused on scarcity and litigation obsolete. But as the PC gaming market shows, it also unlocks lucrative new business models, and lets creators connect with consumers in new and exciting ways.

It gives me chills because it’s so on-point with what’s happening in music. Dixon set out to write a post on gaming, but in the process he laid out precisely the dynamic that’s bubbling to the surface in the music universe. I can’t believe this is a coincidence. Art is art, its essence is sharing and engagement. Music and games are forms of art, and draw their life-force from the communal engagement that occurs between the creators and the consumers. It all comes back to community. Every time.

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — November 2, 2015

Amazing new Hit List this week to go along with the dreary November weather outside. Like the clouds hanging low overhead, the indie-rock vibe is strong this time around, with a good mix of sub-genres and some adrenaline punches here and there. One of the thing I’m loving about this slew of artists is their experimentation with a variety of instruments (beyond the simple guitar/bass/drums setup), so listen for the instruments you don’t normally hear mixed in ;D As always, albums are in no particular order, so give all these people some love!  \m/

1. Love Songs for the Love-Impaired – Vices I Admire – 2014

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2. Perfect Little Princess – SingleFlying Kangaroo Alliance – 2015

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3. PerceptionsAll Comes Down – 2015

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4. Dollmination – The Inferno Doll – 2015

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5. Summer Suicide EPIt’s The Lipstick On Your Teeth – 2015

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6. VagabondA Reluctant Arrow – 2015

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7. OmensThe Furies – 2015

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8. Centaurus EPCentaurus – 2015

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9. In Bloom – yougetthewordswrong – 2015

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10. BurstVenus In Aries – 2015

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11. Tottie & the Wanderers – Tottie & the Wanderers – 2015

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12. Serene Calmidity – Royal Lips – 2015

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13. EPDriven Astray – 2015

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14. Horse – Animals in Suits – 2015

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15. EscapePaper Clips – 2015

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16. Falling Satellites – Dinky – 2015

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17. The Deaf KingMorrowville – 2015

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18. FootstepsThe Stereotypes – 2015

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19. Starcoast – Starcoast – 2015

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20. Populi EPPopuli -2015

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Real Music Journalists Are Biased Little Punks

A couple months ago I wrote a post entitled Why Music Journalism Bias Works—this is the deeper philosophy behind that notion.


Music Journalism Is a Messy Business

Music journalism is a messy business—it’s dirty, glamless, mostly thankless, and at times will make you tear your hair out. It’s a struggle every day, just like writing a novel or painting a masterwork. Only this novel forces you to deal with real people in real time in dingy little clubs for (most times) no money and little attention thereafter. Many times those people remember your name just long enough to ask you to write up a review of them, or to ask you to promote their newest EP. Sometimes, if you’re extremely lucky, you’ll find yourself crossing paths with people who you truly connect with—people who remember your name because they recognize that, like them, you’re an artist too. The deeper you get into this crazy world, the better you get at discerning these people from the ones who will only break your heart.

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Email from an artist

If you want to be “the enemy journalist” like the boy you saw in Almost Famous, go work for Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair and write about intra-band politics or drug problems. That’s not real music journalism—that’s pretentious drivel the mainstream sucks down with a straw when they want to feel raw and grungy for a moment on the subway. Real music journalism takes place in the dark hours after show-sets as you sip a warm, flat beer waiting for the band to finish loading their gear into the van and hoping they remember to come chat with you before taking off for the next gig. The artists who remember are the golden ones to keep close to your vest.

Being a music journalist is not the same as being a music critic. A critic is inherently critical, and most times that’s in a negative, non-constructive way. There isn’t a desire to see an artist rise above the noise and reach their greatest heights—most times it’s just about tearing apart their latest release. Journalists, however, are freer. They retain the criticism-arrow in their quiver, but use it to augment an argument for why the artist deserves some amount of attention. It’s not about the power trip—it’s about expressing the same artistic voice as the artist, simply in journalism form. Sometimes that voice even connects with other writers, and you find yourself on the other end of the interview!

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Email I got from another music blogger when I was writing back in 2011

I’ve never been seated in a cushy booth with a comped drink, and I’ve only been guest-listed once (and even that was for a minor $10 ticket). I’ve been plagiarized and at times conveniently “forgotten” once an artist feels they’ve reached an “adequate level” of popularity. You learn to shake it off and focus on the real mission: get that next piece written and out to the world.

You Better Have a Late-Night Preference and Pair of Comfortable Shoes

If you want to be a music journalist—a real music journalist—you better have a late-night preference and a pair of comfortable shoes. Most times, the most intriguing things happen at the end of the night, when the show is over, and the other fans stream out to go home and sleep. And you’re still there with that warm beer in your hand, the bottle empty except for the little bit at the bottom, waiting to catch the merch person as they pack up the table. “I’m a music journalist/radio DJ, and I’d love to grab the band for a quick minute if that’s cool,” you say, hoping that the extra hour of waiting in the dive bar wasn’t for nothing.

Me with: Those Mockingbirds (top left), Bloody Diamonds (top right), The Steppin Stones (bottom left), Sunshine & Bullets (bottom left)

Me with: Those Mockingbirds (top left), Bloody Diamonds (top right), The Steppin Stones (bottom left), Sunshine & Bullets (bottom left)

In fact, the most rewarding, productive nights are when the band is real enough where their merch person isn’t an employee, but just a friend who agreed to do a  favor for a night. Those are usually the bands (artists) who you can catch as they move offstage and then sit behind their tables, happily selling $10 shirts and $1 stickers. Those are the singers, guitarists, drummers who you can grab. “Hey, I loved your set. I’d love to do a quick interview for my music blog if you’re down with that.” Hold your breath, but on the outside act nonchalant, like it’s whatever to you anyway. Then that awesome sentence: “Sure, let me grab the members and we’ll meet you outside in a minute.” Success!

Twenty minutes later you’re on your way home, your iPhone camera roll richer for the funny, quirky little interview that it now holds. You’re already thinking about when you can upload it to your blog and YouTube channel, and have promised to tag the band on Twitter and Facebook so they can promote it on their end.

Those are the nights you feel badass, the nights you let your creative self breathe.

As the Relationships Grow, So Does a Mutual Loyalty

The upshot of it all is that many of the artists you have brushes with move in and out of your life without much of a blip. But there are also those who seem to latch onto your attention, and as your fascination with them grows, so does your loyalty to them, and so does their loyalty to you. You’re not “the enemy” who they want to stay away from; you’re the valued source who they tap for advice about their new direction, the recipient of unmastered mixes and singles before they’re ready for anyone else, and of the album’s first copies when it finally drops. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you might find yourself mentioned in the liner notes (one of the biggest rushes of my life to this day).

Mastered copy of an artist's new EP I received yesterday, 2 months before official release

Mastered copy of an artist’s new EP I received a couple weeks ago, 2 months before official release

If you want to write unbiased pieces, write about politics, economics, or world affairs, not music and not art. The very bias they tell you to do away with in journalism school and college writing classes is the very thing you should never lose. It’s your unique, creative voice that separates you from the professional critic whose “unbiased” approach is so cold and metallic it lacks any sense of joy in the music. It’s critical for the sake of mere criticism; real music journalists know this is a cop-out. Real music journalists are biased little punks who live and die by the artists they swear loyalty to. Their fealty is palpable and brusque, and immune to irrelevant blurbs written for soundbite effect and nothing else.

If you want to be lauded, go write a bestseller. This is not for the faint of heart. It’s for the fans who are so fanatical that music consumption for them is an addiction to be nurtured and enabled. It’s for the artists, the creatives, the music die-hards who simply strum better with a pen than with a guitar pick.

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — August 10, 2015

One of the best things about doing the Hit List is the ever expanding scope it lets me have on the music scene. This time around, some amazing, pop, blues, electronic, and acoustic artists made the list, along with some more awesome garage punk and hard rock bands. As always, albums are in no particular order. Check these artists out, they’re absolutely killin it!

1. IntentionsA Life Set Apart – 2015

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2. Beaux Zone Session – Hot Sauce Sandwich – 2015

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3. HAALHAAL – 2015

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4. Chasing SkylinesWho Saves The Hero? – 2015

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5. En L’airDark Furs – 2014

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6. LegsLegs – 2015

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7. The Groovebox Messiah SessionsThe Stir Fry Pop Star – 2015

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8. Sleeping/Dreaming EPThe Abstract – 2015

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9. SynemotionOH. – 2015

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10. Ghosts – SinglePaintbox Fires – 2015

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11. In My HeadHillary Hand – 2015

In My Head

12. Big Road BluesThe Paul Garner Band – 2015

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13. To be Called HappyLisa Rono – 2015

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14. Wildfire EPHunter & The Bear – 2015

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15. Vacant YouthThe Path Less Traveled – 2015

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16. Spirit of FreedomPerseids – 2014

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17. Daze Inn EPThe Ultrasounds – 2015

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18. Means of PleasureAllergic – 2015

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19. Bareknuckle LoveFreya Wilcox & The Howl – 2015

Bareknuckle Love

20. Embellish EPThe Jellyrox – 2013

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — August 3, 2015

I think the best part about doing the Hit List every week is showing just how many amazing artists are out there. Check out these 20, a few featured again, and a bunch featured for the first time. As always, albums are in no particular order. These artists are absolutely sick!

1. LegsLegs – 2015

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2. The Artist – SingleEternal Mortality – 2014

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3. I Was Born EPGhost Lit Kingdom – 2015

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4. My Cruel Goro EPMy Cruel Goro – 2015

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5. Feast of AshesInviolate – 2012

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6. HorseAnimals in Suits – 2015

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7. On the Rebound EPSet It Right – 2015

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8. March in the Dark: Chapter TwoAnyone’s Guess – 2015

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9. Nine Scythes – SingleOtherWorld – 2015

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10. DetoursDamn Mondays – 2015

Detours

11. Jellyfish EPBlaine the Mono – 2015

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12. Whole Other KindDear Stalker – 2012

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13. Forgotten Realms of WondersShaylon – 2015

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14. AvantéAvanté – 2015

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15. Sara – SingleAltessa – 2015

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16. Tide of MindTide of Mind – 2015

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17. Do It YourselfCount Me Out – 2015

Do It Yourself

18. Francis Duffy & The Kingpins EPFrancis Duffy & The Kingpins – 2015

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19. Back to YouDimitri’s Rail – 2013

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20. Ghosts Have My NumberOur Way Out – 2015

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — July 20, 2015

Week three into the resurrected Hit List and there’s no sign of slowing down. A new slew of amazing artists you need to hear, as well as new releases from some of my favorite independent artists from around the world! Albums are in the no particular order. Check these people out, they’re sick!

1. For Machines EPLimb to Limb – 2015

For Machines EP

2. The Black Swan TheoryImber – 2015

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3. Worth the Weight Guidelines – 2015

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4. Take Control EP – Free Sergio – 2015

Take Control EP

5. Kissing Boys – SingleThe Swear – 2013

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6. Skin and Bones – SingleBloody Diamonds – 2015

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7. In My HeadHillary Hand – 2015

In My Head

8. Paint the SkyTigerface – 2015

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9. One Step At a Time – Hour 24 – 2013

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10. Change EP – Derange – 2014

Change

11. 1974 & the Death of the Herald1974 – 2013

1974 & The Death of the Herald

12. Rise to Fall EPAltermind – 2015

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13. Bareknuckle Love – Freya Wilcox & The Howl – 2015

Bareknuckle Love

14. My Heroin – Single – Nussy – 2015

The NUSSY Experience

15. FoxhollowFoxhollow – 2015

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16. Invisible TonightThe Nearly Deads – 2014

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17. For the Dearly DepartedThe Funeral Portrait – 2014

For the Dearly Departed

18. SUBSPACEGASH – 2013

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19. HOMEOn Call Heroes – 2015

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20. DemoThird Season – 2015

Demo

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — July 13, 2015

Another week, another 20 demos, albums and EP’s from the international underground you need to hear this minute. Check these artists out. In no particular order:

1. The Lost [EP]The Beautiful Monument – 2015

The Lost [EP]

2. Save Me EPForever Still – 2015

Save Me EP

3. DreamersMonster Eats Manhattan – 2015

Dreamers

4. Penny The DreadfulThose Mockingbirds – 2014

Penny The Dreadful 2

5. Mad Dog EPTen Dead Crows – 2015

Mad Dog - EP

6. DetoursDamn Mondays – 2015

Detours

7. Stranger Just the SameHeel – 2014

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8. Uncontrollable – SingleThe Nixon Rodeo – 2014

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9. Passengers EPThe Fallen Prodigy – 2015

Passengers - EP

10. Dais EPDais – 2015

Dais EP

11. EgressorThe Body Politic – 2014

Egressor

12. NocturnalIsobel Trigger – 2014

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13. AnchorsThe Wonderlife – 2015

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14. Time and PlaceThe Playbook – 2013

Time and Place

15. Do It Yourself!Count Me Out – 2015

Do It Yourself

16. Change EPBranded Bandits – 2014

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17. LungeLunge – 2013

Lunge

18. Give It Away EPFelice LaZae – 2014

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19. ContendersContenders – 2015

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20. The Drake Equation EPHelion Prime – 2015

The Drake Equation EP

The Resurrection of The Hit List — July 6, 2015

When I was running my radio show Underground Takeover, one of the best things I did was run a feature called The Hit List: 10 Demos, Albums, and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now. Every couple of months I would compile a list of the albums, EP’s and singles that I found myself listening to ad infinitum, and that I figured everyone needed to be aware of and listening to.

When my show ended (it was a college show, after all), The Hit List ended with it. Lately though, so much amazing material has been coming out, these artists really need to be highlighted. So, we’ll resurrect The Hit List for a little while and see how it goes!

Some new details though, to reflect a new incarnation of The Hit List:

  1. Lists will be lengthened from 10 entries to 20.
  2. List items (demos, albums, EP’s, single) appear in no specific order; i.e.: there is no “top” or “bottom” of the list.
  3. I will do my best to attach relevant details to each item, including title, artist, artwork, and year.
  4. I will do my best to keep the list running, and publish a new list as often as possible.
  5. These albums and singles are spread across a variety of platforms, and thus making a straight playlist is currently too time-consuming. However, I’ll reexamine this point over the next few months.
  6. To help distinguish: demo, Single, Album, and EP titles occur in italics, artist names in bold, and years of release in regular font.
  7. Artist names will be linked to either their Facebook, Twitter, home site, or other pages.
  8. This is all for fun, so let’s keep it that way.

So with that, let’s get to it. Here’s my Hit List for July 6, 2015:

  1. Take Me – Single — Pneumatic — 2015

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  2. Ephemeral   Remedy X — 2013Ephemeral
  3. The Devil Never Comes — Molly Rhythm — 2015The Devil Never Comes
  4. Passengers EP — The Fallen Prodigy — 2015Passengers - EP
  5. The Steppin Stones — The Steppin Stones — 20154pan1t-1
  6. Fourstory EPA Black Eye Affair — 2015Fourstory EP
  7. Prophet — Florence & Normandie — 2015Prophet
  8. Triangulum Mechanism — Sunshine & Bullets — 2014Triangulum Mechanism 1
  9. Half Blue — Half Blue — 2015a4155327433_16
  10. Sweet Disillusion – Single — Elie & the Engine — 2015Sweet Disillusion - Single
  11. Just the Tip — Big Red Dog — 2015Just the Tip
  12. Girls of the Yukon — The Head — 2013Girls of the Yukon
  13. Demo — Third Season — 2015Demo
  14. Faces of the Sea — Party Asylum — 2014Faces of the Sea
  15. Blur of Our Souls — Heavy Gloom — 2015cover
  16. Distance Between Us — Eat Your Heart Out — 2015Distance Between Us
  17. Miles Away — My Monthly Date — 2015Miles Away
  18. The Drake Equation EP — Helion Prime — 2015The Drake Equation EP
  19. Dais EP — Dais — 2015Dais EP
  20. Unable to Function EP — Vanilla Function — 2015Unable to Function EP

20 Jobs That Would Be Better As Hackers

Because I had 5 minutes of free time today, my mind began to wander. This is the result:

20 Jobs That Would Be Better As Hackers

  1. Lawyer – Argument Hacker
  2. Doctor/Nurse – Body Hacker
  3. Accountant – Tax Hacker
  4. Teacher/Professor – Student Hacker
  5. Mechanic – Car Hacker
  6. Farmer – Garden Hacker
  7. Cher – Food Hacker
  8. Journalist – News Hacker
  9. Personal Trainer – Workout Hacker
  10. Musician – Instrument Hacker
  11. Painter/Visual Artist – Arts & Crafts Hacker
  12. Writer – Word Hacker
  13. Plumber – Pipe Hacker
  14. Real Estate Agent – House Hacker
  15. Veterinarian – Animal Hacker
  16. Actor – Movie Hacker
  17. Pilot/Astronaut – Sky Hacker
  18. Soldier – Battle Hacker
  19. Construction Worker – Scaffold Hacker
  20. Standup Comedian – Laugh Hacker