Unbundled, Part III: Democratizing the Future

Why democratization and identity are the future of music.

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This is the final entry in the Unbundled series on music dynamics. Read the previously published pieces here:


unbundled

Power, Gatekeeping, Scarcity, and Democratization

Which brings us back to the last step in the cycle: unbundled once again. Only this time, the unbundled dynamic refers to power and ownership. The new unbundled form of power—referenced above—removes the focus of power from the major labels and fractures it, splintering it to varying degrees among the plethora of new artists and startups now emerging.

This is the best thing that could happen because it leads to a more stabilized version of meritocracy in music. The top-heavy, unbalanced paradigm of major label control over everything that a fan is exposed to is ending, and being replaced with a much murkier—but more expansive—reality. This in turn affects scarcity and gatekeeping on a massive level.

Scarcity is obsolete; democratization wins.

Ownership

Perhaps the most prickly point here is the concept of ownership in the new age. This is a contentious topic even among friends, and no one really knows what the landscape is going to look like in the next few years. What can be surmised, however, is that concepts of ownership of musical material are evolving. Sampling and other trends in electronic and DJ music, along with self-recording and independent releases, have muddied the waters of who owns what and to what extent.

Now the action of covering or remixing someone else’s song and posting it online bristles feathers. But (most) artists who do this also attribute the proper credits to the original artist(s)—many times in the cover or remix’s title—simply because it’s the right thing to do and because it helps them to disseminate their new version.

Asserting that cover songs and remixes hurt the original artist is a cloudy and jaded argument at best.

Yet, the argument can be made that with this new overhaul in ownership orthodoxy, perhaps the right people are now able to own the things they should have been able to all along. Let us not forget the reality of master tapes (where a record label owns the rights to an artist’s original recordings) which so many artists have regretted. Controlling one’s own material, and deciding what to do with it, are the ultimate power plays an artist can make. Appealing to this new sense of power is the best avenue for emerging music startups to make.

Such a concept is fairly reminiscent of a point Daniel Mark Harrison makes in a piece regarding bitcoin, wherein he illustrated that controlling access to material is the ultimate power: “…any major purchaser goes direct to a Bitcoin ‘miner’…and negotiates steep discounts for their volume purchase action.”

In this scenario, the music fan is the purchaser, the artist is the bitcoin miner, and the service that serves as a conduit between the two is better off appealing to and providing value to the artist rather than only the fan. Both are important, but the latter controls the material which the former wants to consume.

Money and Community

One of the loudest major factors that floats around is the argument over money, from streaming, downloading, merch sales, ticket sales, etc. Let’s be clear though: streaming and downloading—the purchase of musical material—is not where the real money is for artists. It never has been. The money has always been in the merchandise and live ticket sales. What does this mean nowadays? Community.

While it is certainly arguable and many times probable that new unbundling dynamics have struck at artists’ ability to make money from the sale of their music, it is equally arguable that it has enabled them to make money from other, more lucrative, avenues.

An artist can only sell a $10 album so many times (unless you’re a major label darling). Their real bread and butter is in their community cultivation: growing their base, getting people to come out, getting people to spread their music and message, and capitalizing on those efforts. Streaming and downloading revenue is at best a holdover until a better stream is tapped.

The dynamics that exist now in this new unbundled world provide new opportunities for artists. Now, they don’t need to make their money off music sales or streams. Enough access to fans and communication/funding tools exist that they can actually give their music away for free and turn a profit somewhere else.

And this is exactly what a growing number of artists are choosing to do.

The dissemination of their material onto a global stage is much more important than a few album sales here or there, and leads to better things on the other side. A more expansive universe brings more shows, more exposure, more true fans, and more branding opportunities. These are the real things that grant artists staying power.

The Expansive Powers of Identity

Lastly, there is identity. I examined in a previous piece how we’re seeing the rise of “identity platforms” in media. Music is no exception to this. In fact, it might be the shining example of it.

Identity gives music—and by extension all art—certain powers that contribute staying power. Identity is so powerful precisely because it exists independently of genre, mainstream recognition, money, or history; it’s unique in it’s own ability to build bridges where previously there were none. Regarding music, identity brings together people on a core level that can almost supersede differences they might otherwise have.

The power identity—especially in relation to art and music—in its potential to create ever-expanding identities—to create communities. Money is certainly a factor in this, but if a shared identity which draws people towards one another, and can shield them—for better or worse—from outside forces seeking to compromise that unique, collective identity. As music is given the ability to disseminate more and more, more communities will arise around newly-minted identities, and art as a whole will become more lush and layered.

In the wake of these trends in art, music, and media, the power will lay with companies and platforms to not only cultivate these newly emerging identities, but to provide fertile ground for even more embryonic ones. Music becomes a vessel for the expansion of art and identity.

The Upswing

Where does this leave us? In unchartered territory to start with. Artists will continue to grow their power as new technologies make the opportunities possible. The companies which see this trend and capitalize on it will be the ones to stick around and do well. The others, however, who are resistant to this new set of events, will find it challenging to court artists and acquire material if they are determined to hold fast to a paradigm that was beneficial mostly to the major record labels.

Independents artists, and consumers of all strata (not merely the mainstream), will not be ignored or marginalized anymore. They will continue to experiment with the bundling/unbundling process until they find the right fit for themselves, and for their careers. There will be less of a set standard that all need to conform to, and more of a flexible set of possibilities and avenues for people to mix and match to reflect their changing personal experiences.

The future of music is three things: freedom, community, and democratization.

***

Find me on Twitter @adammarx13 and let’s talk music, tech, and business!

100 Awesome Independent Album and EP Releases You Probably Missed in 2016

It’s that time of the year again — when all those “Best of…” lists come out telling us the supposed cream-of-the-crop releases in music. And as happens every year, they skate right over the slew of amazing independent releases that dropped into our lives.

Last year, I drew up a list of 100 independent albums you probably missed in 2015. Now it’s time to do the same for 2016.

In the interest of fairness, it’s important to note that most of these releases simply follow my personal taste in music genre-wise; they certainly don’t encompass all the amazing independent albums that came out this year in jazz, EDM, rap, classical, or other styles.

As with last year’s list, these 100 albums and EP’s come from artists all over the world. This year’s list has artists from: Canada, the U.K., France, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, China, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Belarus, Germany, Israel, China, Mexico, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and from 20 different U.S. states. That’s how big the independent universe is, regardless of genre.

So here are just 100 of the albums and EP’s that you probably missed in 2016. All were released during the 2016 calendar year, so this gives you an idea of just how small a window into the music world the mainstream actually cuts. As always, albums are in no particular order. Do yourself a favor and go expand your universe. You’d be shocked at what you discover.

  1. Forget About ItIt’s Butter – Los Angeles, California, USAa1993529676_16
  2. I Talk to StrangersI Talk to Strangers – London, England, UKa0865780043_16-1
  3. The Centauri Conspiracies: Part 1 — The AwakeningSunshine & Bullets — Tampa, Florida, USA
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  4. Colours Chelsea Shag — Atlanta, Georgia, USA600x600bb
  5. Good DaysSkyline — Austin, Texas, USAa0007603069_10
  6. Muster PointJeeps — London, England, UKa3598822201_16
  7. ScarsForever Still — Copenhagen, Denmark12
  8. Body WarsJune Divided — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USAjune-divided-body-wars-ep
  9. Silent ElephantSilent Elephant — Lille, Francea2226111291_16
  10. The Parts We SaveHeel — London, England, UK
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  11. Breaking FreeA Truth Divides — Fall River, Massachusetts, USAa1106324655_10
  12. EmergenceHour 24 — Temperance, Michigan, USA4a92d0_efe37ce2146445358c6a8af10e5ef140.png
  13. Hardly Loaded EPPhantomHead — Lynchburg, Virginia, USAa2643529918_16-1
  14. Tough LoveBloody Diamonds — Toronto, Ontario, Canada13308599_990879211032274_8926664851863017403_o
  15. A Moment of SilenceThe Funeral Portrait — Atlanta, Georgia, USA14563572_1125466497544768_7992703852251309118_n
  16. EpicentreBouquet of Dead Crows — London, England, UKa0429878601_10
  17. She SpeaksShe Speaks — Kildare, Irelanda2252113179_16
  18. WandererRed Handed Denial — Toronto, Ontario, Canada12799213_10153426011084071_1317740590743645433_n
  19. Dark NarrowsLights That Change — Flintshire, Wales, UKa2142808787_16
  20. The ReIntroductionAlmost Kings — Atlanta, Georgia, USA0006541155_10
  21. BlackSuan — Athy, Irelanda0731599391_16
  22. Mean SomethingKinder Than Wolves — Orlando, Florida, USAa3400336724_16
  23. For Your ObliterationThe Dead Deads — Nashville, Tennessee, USAa0316039504_10
  24. No Mirror / Baby StepsBirdeatsbaby — Brighton, England, UKa2859507464_16
  25. Screech BatsScreech Bats — London, England, UK12764898_977824338969132_6112466179685560664_o
  26. Five KitesFive Kites — Uckfield, England, UKa3539413199_16
  27. Pow WowRed Apple — Madrid, Spaina0626135829_16
  28. HoopdriverHoopdriver — London, England, UKa1149210371_16
  29. The Mud Lords EPThe Mud Lords — San Francisco, California, USAa2762874709_16
  30. StonesCherry Water — Wilmington, North Carolina, USAa2364345222_16
  31. Please Welcome Imperial JadeImperial Jade — Barcelona, Spaina4135821107_16
  32. From The CaveFrom The Cave — London, England, UKa0846461208_16
  33. Imminent for Your InterestsPeople Like Us. — Los Angeles, California, USAAlbum Art rough
  34. Otra Vez ISidewatcher — Detroit, Michigan, USAa0310545470_16
  35. EraserheadEraserhead — Aurora, Illinois, USAa0142508800_16
  36. AlterhoodAlterhood — Tel-Aviv, Israela3217298871_16
  37. Eugenia EPDarla and the Blonde — London, England, UKa2573911246_16
  38. Cosmophonie EPCosmophone — Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Canadaa1977159592_16
  39. Hit the AirBasic Land — Monterrey, Mexicoa2682732415_16
  40. Born to DancePürple — Brighton, England, UKa2572290725_16
  41. Double A-SideThe Mis-Made — Sydney, Australiaa0839401698_16
  42. Refuse to Shine EPMr.Mountain — Portsmouth, England, UKa1375774276_16
  43. Gaining PerspectiveGlory Days — Brisbane, Australiaa3697331310_16
  44. The Sky, the Lie, and Who We Are Before We Die — True North — Los Angeles, California, USAa1878484356_10
  45. Luxury EPPatio — New York City, New York, USAa1711486514_16
  46. PhantasmagoriaWhite Claudia — Chicago, Illinois, USAa0392641707_16
  47. Cruise DealMirror Travel — Austin, Texas, USAa0016514373_16
  48. Call Me by NameGood Fiction — Albany, New York, USAa1006386476_16-1.jpg
  49. BipolarKreepy Krush — Minsk, Belarusa3570746258_16
  50. Good HangsLauren Patti — New Jersey, USAa3026102687_16
  51. Copper CrownCopper Crown — Toronto, Ontario, Canadaa0415375489_16
  52. Cuatro —  Tranparentes — Alicante, Spaina0741328815_16
  53. It’s Too Bright InsideLush Vibes — Vallejo, California, USAa1998902662_16
  54. Ropes EndRopes End — New York City, New York, USAa3134658973_16
  55. Only RosesCarissa Johnson — Boston, Massachusetts, USAa2929911764_16
  56. Theories of the UniverseHaunted Ghost Town — Sunnyvale, California, USAa2755326863_16
  57. Soft Grudge — Mulligrub — Winnipeg, Manitoba, CanadaMulligrub-Soft-Grudge--640x640
  58. Dirty LyxxDirty Lyxx — Boston, Massachusetts, USAa2040502891_16
  59. StagesKopacetic — Shreveport, Louisiana, USAa2728269849_16
  60. Much Love — Microwave — Atlanta, Georgia, USAa1730261151_10
  61. MetadonnaMetadonna — Valencia, Spaina0150878033_16
  62. Break Down the WallsBreak Down the Walls — Hawthorne, New York, USAa1176554633_16
  63. Stuff EPMy Cruel Goro — Icelanda2414949285_16
  64. ShadowboxVivienne the Witch — Perugia, Italya3238750359_16
  65. In the Arms of the SunVox Vocis — Phoenix, Arizona, USAa2512338494_16
  66. DiscourseSex With Strangers — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canadaa2127562643_16
  67. Sleep Tight, When You Wake Up We’ll Be GoneThe Few. — St. Louis, Missouri, USAa2511948533_16
  68. Harmony and DisconnectRising Down — Tampa, Florida, USAa2963571272_16
  69. VectorsYeah Sure Whatever — Marin, California, USAa1649515922_16
  70. DEVILTRAINDEVILTRAIN — Bamberg, Germanya1542791299_16
  71. Buried in the SoundLost Frontiers — Pomona, California, USAa3721344826_16
  72. Nosebleed WeekendThe Coathangers — Atlanta, Georgia, USAThe-Coathangers-Nosebleed-Weekend
  73. The Eternal SeaThe Eternal Sea — Tauranga, New Zealanda2466588262_16
  74. Traces EPTraces — Phoenix, Arizona, USAa2543588091_16
  75. Elevation —  We Are The Catalyst — Gothenburg, Swedena2368062794_16
  76. MABON SONGSCrypt Trip — San Marcos, Texas, USAa0313274180_16
  77. Angel — Heroes — Los Angeles, California, USAa4173242852_16
  78. Swan Valley Heights — Swan Valley Heights — Munich, Germanya0676605006_16
  79. Abandoned — Counter Theory — Valparaiso, Indiana, USAa0689683623_16
  80. AntsAnts — Rivergaro, Italya1366200431_16
  81. The Journey (EP)Rusty Joe — Casais, Portugala3938316616_16
  82. SpectraMyrrias — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USAa1053203725_16
  83. Dimensionauts EPRobot Jurassic — Edgewater, Maryland, USAa1323032774_16
  84. BelieverWeird Neighbours — Sarnia, Ontario, Canadaa0850762461_16
  85. Hell Is Not Other People, It’s YouThe Republic of Trees — Scarborough, England, UKa3751139773_16
  86. The LippiesThe Lippies — Grand Rapids, Michigan, USAa0852829300_16
  87. Far Away, As We Fade —  AggronympH — Yichang, Chinaa3169651902_16
  88. The DepartedSummer Drive Home — Weymouth, England, UKa0290939636_16
  89. Mix TapeThe Hang Lows — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USAa0584312114_16
  90. SweetMeatThe BlackLava — Torino, Italya3220774202_16
  91. Singularity — Fight Like Sin — Lafayette, Indiana, USAa3594774885_16
  92. Chasing a PhantomChanging Scene — Bel Aton, Maryland, USAa1533314418_16
  93. Abandoned HomesThe Aesthetic — Seattle, Washington, USAa1922360043_16-1
  94. ConnectorFable Circuit — Shepherdstown, West Virginia, USAa3669455937_16
  95. InburnInburn — Illigan City, Phillipinesa2748366475_16
  96. The Lost Ones (EP)LUNGS — Sacramento, California, USAa2346140061_16
  97. AmbulanceThe Amazing — Stockholm, Swedena0811660077_16
  98. DetoxPyke — Arendal, Norwaya4237766781_16
  99. Start AgainThe Middle Ground — Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USAa3612480243_16
  100. Valley Queen EPValley Queen — Los Angeles, California, USAa2154869007_16

    If you enjoyed this please share, and feel free to Tweet me. Let’s talk music and tech!

    Or follow me on that new Snapchat thing! 😎 🤘

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What Artists Can Learn from Startups, Part 2

Who Do You Promote?

Recently, I wrote a post entitled, “What Artists Can Learn from Startups” in which I began looking at a number of strategies which startup companies (mainly tech) use to generate leads and interest in their products and services.

The more I think about it, the more certain strategies really stick out as things that artists should be considering and implementing. One in particular is something which holds my attention.

In tech (startups, at least), there isn’t the same reticence to publicize and promote someone else’s product or service as there seems to be in music. Among artists, there seems to be this gospel-like belief that if you promote an artist or song you don’t love with all your soul, then you’re somehow being disingenuous. In all forms of art, and music especially, the concept of reputation is taken extremely seriously. Sometimes to a fault.

Whereas I see founders from all over the startup world promoting one another, I see more resignation in the music community to follow suit, and truthfully for no good reason.

I have no qualms about promoting a product or service that I don’t use, or don’t use regularly. Before you come down on me for having a hidden agenda, though, take a moment to think about all the things you can promote someone for that have little to nothing to do with their service or product.

So often, I find myself tweeting and posting about the people behind the product, either because they’re so magnetic, so innovative in their thought process, or so willing to help others. It has so much more to do with their character than anything else. And this is something artists could so easily cash in on and make their own.

When someone helps you set up a show, helps promote your band or music online, or introduces you to someone new, tweeting out a “thank you” and promoting them isn’t being disingenuous at all. Quiet the opposite. It actually solidifies you as someone who returns favors and good karma, and thus builds your own reputation, even if it’s in the service of others (for the moment).

Positive service of others is service to ourselves, if only indirectly. Artists would do well to begin to reexamine their practices in how they promote others, from the decision process to the execution. Starting to have more fluid strategies here could greatly expand their networks in relatively short amounts of time.

More to come on this soon.

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — May 29, 2016

Hey from Israel everyone! So I’m not sure what my wifi situation will look like tomorrow, so I’ll just post this week’s Hit List tonight :D. A lot of great music spinning around again this week, so hit these people up and show them some love. Happy listening!

  1. Break the DistanceThe Alibi – 2014

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2. Music to Forget the FutureKick the Robot – 2015

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3. Dark NarrowsLights That Change – 2016

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4. Pow WowRed Apple – 2016

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5. Like We’re Wild – SingleRoyal Street – 2015

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6. Snakes and SpidersSafe Secrets – 2016

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7. Lion’s MouthLion’s Mouth – 2014

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8. Cruise DealMirror Travel – 2016

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9. No Mirror / Baby Steps – Birdeatsbaby – 2016

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10. I Believe You, OkPost Pink – 2016

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11. Slug Life EPAtomic Walrus – 2014

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12. I Don’t MindThe Horse Traders – 2016

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13. GhostsFallen Edge – 2016

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14. EPSolar Tantrums – 2016

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15. S L U R R S – Slurrs – 2016

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16. Only RosesCarissa Johnson – 2016

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17. The Mud Lords EPThe Mud Lords – 2016

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18. Errata Naturae – Phonocaptors – 2016

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19. RiverlustThe High Divers – 2015

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20. BelieverWeird Neighbours – 2016

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — May 23, 2016

Heading out of town today for a few weeks in Israel, but not before I give you all a new run-down of great music to check out. Creation never sleeps, and neither do I when there’s new material popping up, so give these people a spin. As always, albums are in no particular order. Happy Monday listening!

1. Black – Suan – 2016

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2. WarpaintWicked Faith – 2015

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3. Mean SomethingKinder Than Wolves – 2016

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4. From The CaveFrom The Cave – 2016

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5. Snakes and SpidersSafe Secrets – 2016

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6. Only RosesCarissa Johnson – 2016

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7. Slug Life EPAtomic Walrus – 2014

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8. A Shot in the DarkKiss the Curse – 2015

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9. GhostsFallen Edge – 2016

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10. Acoustics EPYvette Young – 2014

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11. Lion’s MouthLion’s Mouth – 2014

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12. DemoGreat Woods – 2014

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13. CheerleadingThe Sports – 2016

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14. I Believe You, OkPost Pink – 2016

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15. Cake DazeCannibal Kids – 2016

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16. S L U R R S  – Slurrs – 2016

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17. I Don’t MindThe Horse Traders – 2016

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18. Evergreen / Kite Dodging – The Hazy Seas – 2016

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19. EPSolar Tantrums – 2016

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20. The Beautiful Light EPThe Beautiful Light – 2016

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — May 16, 2016

A lot of this week’s list are artists who have rolled over from last week, which should just underscore how infectious their music really is. There are a ton of new artists too, though, and I’m overall super excited that a lot of the albums this time around aren’t from 2016. Sometimes in music, the best thing is to sniff out things that you might have missed before, and this week’s list with a ton of material from 2014 and 2015 certainly fits the bill. As always, albums are in no particular order, so hit them all for a listen and have a great Monday!

1. Of the NightBouquet of Dead Crows – 2015

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2. Supermassive Automatic – SingleKick the Robot – 2016

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3. Like We’re Wild – SingleRoyal Street – 2015

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4. <selftitled> the unending thread </selftitled>The Unending Thread – 2015

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5. Break the DistanceThe Alibi – 2014

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6. Lessons In Moving OnThe Cavalry Is Us – 2015

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7. Depths – Fogscape – 2015

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8. Bottoms Up (EP)Old Pints – 2015

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9. PerceptionsAll Comes Down – 2015

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10. Only RosesCarissa Johnson – 2016

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11. Glow – SingleNew Americana – 2015

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12. Idiot SoulSo Much Light – 2015

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13. Lion’s MouthLion’s Mouth – 2014

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14. Acoustics EPYvette Young – 2014

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15. Electric SymphonyAdam Singer – 2015

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16. SecretsThe Acorn People – 2014

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17. BootleggerBlack Ally – 2015

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18. JustCity Will Shake – 2015

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19. Call Me by NameGood Fiction – 2016

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20. Let’s Get DangerousBackyard Superheroes – 2015

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — May 9, 2016

I’m super excited for this weeks list. I had the good fortune of hearing Kick the Robot’s new single live last week, and it sounds amazing live. The rest of the lists is a mix of new Hit List artists and veterans, and every one of these albums or EP’s is incredible. Today’s goal is simple: listen to all these people, they’re making amazing music you need to hear right now!

1. Supermassive Automatic – SingleKick the Robot – 2016

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2. WandererRed Handed Denial – 2016

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3. ColoursChelsea Shag – 2016

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4. Sore and Sick – SingleFar From Fiction – 2015

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5. The Flood (EP)The Great Lucian – 2016

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6. Like We’re Wild – SingleRoyal Street – 2015

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7. From The CaveFrom The Cave – 2016

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8. Lessons In Moving OnThe Cavalry Is Us – 2015

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9. Break The DistanceThe Alibi – 2014

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10. Cruise DealMirror Travel – 2016

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11. A Shot in the DarkKiss the Curse – 2015

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12. ReflectionsThe New Varsity – 2015

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13. Snakes and SpidersSafe Secrets – 2016

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14. Hoopdriver – Hoopdriver – 2016

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15. The Mud Lords EPThe Mud Lords – 2016

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16. StonesCherry Water – 2016

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17. It’s Too Bright Inside – Lush Vibes – 2016

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18. The Animal Inside EPFear and Wonder – 2014

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19. Surface TensionsHidden Hospitals – 2015

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20. Vulcan – Titans In Time – 2015

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The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — May 2, 2016

So many new entries on the Hit List this week. The best part about the warm months is everyone releases stuff at the same time, so tons of new material to feature! Keep particular watch out for the influx of debut albums and EP’s; it looks like it’s gonna be a busy summer. 😎  If you enjoy these people, give them some love for sure. As always, albums are in no particular order.

If you love independent music, check out what we’re doing at Glipple, and you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter! Or just follow me on Twitter for lots of music posts, plugs, and all kinds of other fun stuff.  \m/ \m/

1. ColoursChelsea Shag – 2016

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2. Sexsmith – Sexsmith – 2015

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3. Music to Fight the FutureKick the Robot – 2015

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4. Black – Suan – 2016

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5. Nosebleed WeekendThe Coathangers – 2016

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6. Warpaint – Wicked Faith – 2015

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7. No Mirror / Baby Steps – Birdeatsbaby – 2016

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8. PhantasmagoriaWhite Claudia – 2016

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9. Medicine EP – Lucille’s Voodoo – 2015

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10. Open Door – Single – We Are The Catalyst – 2016

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11. Bring the A Game – Beneath the Reef – 2015

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12. RiverlustThe High Divers – 2015

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13. From The Cave – From The Cave – 2016

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14. Cruise DealMirror Travel – 2016

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15. BelieverWeird Neighbours – 2016

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16. The Mud Lords EPThe Mud Lords – 2016

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17. So Long Suburbia EPSo Long Suburbia – 2016

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18. Mix TapeThe Hang Lows – 2016

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19. CSRKDA – 2016

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20. LORENew Found Land – 2016

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Playlists Will Not Save Your Music Business

My media business will not be saved by video, bots, newsletters, or Slack integration. That’s what Joshua Topolsky told me yesterday. And he’s right.

A still from High Fidelity (2000); Captures the sentiments pretty will I think

A still from High Fidelity (2000); Captures the sentiments pretty well I think

The New Thing that so often arrives just in time as the savior of the whole machine is many times bullshit. It’s a desired escape from an already challenging (dire?) situation that is causing headaches upon ulcers upon headaches. That’s why it seems so magical in the first place; it seems to appear out of nowhere like some miracle from a higher power. You prayed to the media gods for deliverance, and so they delivered unto you newsletters, bots, and Slack.

But Topolsky is right about the misleading nature of these new things: they have the potential to help, but none has the power to deliver us, to part the seas of stubbornness and ego.

While it appears to me that he sought to write about media in general, Topolsky could easily have been talking about any of the media industries in particular. Music, for example, fits right into his sardonic diatribe in a way that must chafe for the megalithic powers who used to control the industry. In music, it goes: yay for playlists, analytics, offline access, curation, and exclusives—build those in, and then we’ll be saved. No, these won’t save your (music) media business. And that’s painful for a lot of people.

More and more, the posts on changing media dynamics which garner shit-tons of feedback are the ones that are the truest. They are radically brilliant—radically poetic in a way—because of their sheer shunning of “conventional wisdom.” Such is more or less an oxymoron nowadays anyway.

I saw an earlier example of this back in November with Chris Dixon’s post on independent gaming, and was similarly moved to write my response on independent music, something he was also referring to (knowingly or not). Now with Topolsky doubling down on a similar idea, it’s becoming an even starker point.

“Because that [former media] system was built on the concept of scarcity and locality—the limits of what was physically possible—it was very easy to keep the gates and fill the coffers.”

And here we come to the prickly point that so many music businesses have trouble with now: scarcity is obsolete; democratization wins. I underscored this in my Dixon-response piece, but now it seems all the more palpable. What used to serve as a power play by music companies—the scarcity squeeze by the major label—has lost most of its bite, if not its bark as well. Maybe it’ll work if we call it “windowing” and stagger the release on multiple services! Nope, we all know that you simply changed the name of what you were doing instead of trying to actually change the action. And it’ll end up free somewhere anyway. Live with reality.

Wait, I’ve got it! We’ll tell people that we have the best playlist-making feature around! Great, so does everyone else. And, by the way, the people who really matter for your music business don’t care. The general consumer/listener might care (and I stress might), but the artists who actually produce the content you rely on for your lifeblood won’t give a shit. Why? Because it does nothing for them.

Ah, then we will give them the deepest, best set of analytics they can have! Awesome, so will everyone else. You can join the swaths of sites telling them they have a couple hundred streams, have made no money, and then tell them they owe you $4.99/month for that wonderful data. The reality that you don’t want to hear is that the vastly growing demographic of artists—independents—are smart enough to know this already, and all you’re really doing is giving them numbers with no context. You’re giving them the numbers, the locations, the graphs— but with no real way to actually affect change in those numbers.

Offline access and exclusives then! Right! Except not, because exclusivity doesn’t help these artists long-term, it only helps you in the short term. It’s why artists immediately understand the opportunities before them now while other people struggle to see the big picture. Because they have long-term vision, and patience. Because exclusives are not where the long-term strategy is, either for the artists, or the music business.

It’s in the community cultivation and the relationship bridging. Social and messaging then! No, stop, that won’t be an easy save either. The reality that so few people want to hear is that community cultivation is a long-term process. It’s about knowing things about your content producers—in this case the artists you work with—that your competition doesn’t bother taking time to find out. Don’t ask me how many registered users I had yesterday. Ask me how many conversations I had yesterday with ten artists in seven different countries with fanbases numbering in the tens of thousands. Ask me what comes out of that. And then remember that was only ten artists.

Over the last few years, we were asked who we thought would win the streaming wars, because streaming is obviously the future of music. Except that’s too simple a magic potion because it’s going to take a lot more than that to reach the new horizon. It’s not about fixing the faulty component in the engine. They’re all faulty, and have been for near 40 years.

You have to rebuild the engine completely. Bottom up. You need to construct a music company that does everything that will change the reality for a new artist; after all, there are so many more of them than anything else. And they never stop creating and producing. You need to take your time to do all the sexy things—the playlist functionality, the radio, the streaming, downloading, profiles, social, live—and all the un-sexy things you never thought about—the legal stuff, the business stuff (more than just analytics!), the financial, and the marketing. Fixing the broken paradigm is a losing proposition; building a whole new one is (ironically) cheaper, better, and much, much more powerful long-term. That’s the strategy I’m committed to.

Topolsky was dead-on:

We’ll have to learn a thousand hard lessons, most of them centered around the idea that if you want to make something really great, you can’t think about making is great for everyone. You have to make it great for someone. A lot of people, but not every person.

And that’s what’s missing from the music-business discussion right now. The “everyone” that most streaming services are targeting is already saturated with competition, high prices, and a lot of bad press (from artists and artist agencies like ASCAP and BMI). The “someone” that Topolsky refers to, though, is the independent demographic, clear as day. They’re underserved, undervalued, dismissed, marginalized, pissed off, and not tied to any major label contracts—just right to woo and capture with something as easy as a conversation and explanation of a better future.

I’m as shamelessly self-promotional as Topolsky admits he is because these are the people I love. I know they see what I see, and they’ll wait around as long as it takes to make it work. Because they’re not jaded or angry—they’re just waiting.

Waiting for something better to come along for them.

The Hit List: 20 Demos, Albums and EP’s You Need to Hear Right Now — April 25, 2016

I had an awesome time compiling this week’s list. A good number of these albums are from last week, and I’ve found myself simply unable to turn them off (which is a good thing!). Adding to the excitement though were a couple of awesome events that took place simultaneously this weekend. On Friday, L.A. band People Like Us. released the remastered version of their EP Imminent for Your Interests exclusively on Glipple.com for the next few days, and it’s been dominating! Then on Saturday night, Michigan rockers Hour 24 took over the Glipple snapchat channel and did a killer takeover, filming some time on the road and their show for that night. But enough rambling, listen to the new list this week, and start your Monday off right!  \m/ \m/

1. Emergence – Hour 24 – 2016

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2. Imminent for Your Interests (Remastered) – People Like Us. – 2016

Album Art rough

3. Wanderer – Red Handed Denial – 2016

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4. Born to Dance – Pürple – 2016

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5. Of the Night – Bouquet of Dead Crows – 2015

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6. Dark Narrows – Lights That Change – 2016

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7. We Are – Future Kings – 2016

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8. Harmony and Disconnect – Rising Down – 2016

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9. Unbreakable – Kaleido – 2014

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10. Phantasmagoria – White Claudia – 2016

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11. Mean Something – Kinder Than Wolves – 2016

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12. No Mirror / Baby StepsBirdeatsbaby – 2016

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13. Open Door – Single – We Are The Catalyst – 2016

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14. The DepartedSummer Drive Home – 2016

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15. Sore and Sick – Single – Far From Fiction – 2015

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16. Preface – Distances – 2016

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

The Lost [EP]

18. Sick Like This – Beth Blade and the Beautiful Disasters – 2015

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19. Warpaint – Wicked Faith – 2015

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20. 100 Roses – Burglary Years – 2015

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