100 Awesome Independent Album and EP Releases You Probably Missed in 2017

Here we are, back in December, and everyone knows what that means: more “Best of…” lists trumpeting the best new music on the scene. And as always, so much of the independent world flies completely under the radar.

For the last two years, I’ve drawn up lists of “100 independent albums and EP’s you probably missed” during the year. Here they are:

Now it’s time for list number three, and I am so excited partly because of how the map is expanding to include places which weren’t touched in the first two lists.

As with the first two lists, these 100 albums and EP’s come from artists all over the world. This year’s list includes artists from: Canada, the U.K. (England, Scotland, and Wales), Australia, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Belarus, Romania, Slovakia, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Greece, Myanmar, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Serbia, Austria, Argentina, Ukraine, Indonesia, Poland, and 28 different U.S. states. The independent world is very, very big.

I’m also pleased to see an evolution of my own tastes and appreciation; this year’s list includes more pop, electronic, R&B, and jazz influences, obviously mixed in with a healthy helping of alternative, rock, and metal.

So here are 100 of the albums and EP’s that you probably missed in 2017. All were released during the 2017 calendar year; imagine if the mainstream paid attention to all the artists out there, and not only the handful we hear about.

As always, albums are in no particular order.

Go expand your universe. You’d be shocked at what you discover.

1. Why Am I Swimming Around Like This? — Fishtank — London, England, UK

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2. Tube One — Okto Vulgaris — Chur, Switzerland

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3. Space — The Head — Atlanta, Georgia, USA

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4. It’s Butter – EP — It’s Butter — Los Angeles, California, USA

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5. Grace Blue — Grace Blue — Los Angeles, California, USA

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6. Machine — Hello, Mountain — Denver, Colorado, USA

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7. The Hurricane EP — Morganway — Norwich, England, UK

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8. Tooth & Nail — Freya Wilcox & The Howl — Brooklyn, New York, USA

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9. Orphan Planet — Orphan Planet — Portland, Maine, USA

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10. The Truth & The Lie — Skies Collide — Brisbane, Australia

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11. Commitment Issues — Anyone’s Guess — Orlando, Florida USA

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12. Dark Matter EP — Auditory Armory — Altamonte Springs, Florida, USA

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13. Golden — The Talking Hours — Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

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14. Animals — Blue Eyed Sons — Helsinki, Finland

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15. Dark Swallows — Dark Swallows — Boise, Idaho, USA

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16. Everything You Ever Wanted — Street Pieces — Brisbane, Australia

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17. The Trouble With Teeth — Little Coyote — Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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18. A Flood — Twin Strike — Brooklyn, New York, USA

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19. Bad Habit — Beth Blade and The Beautiful Disasters — Cardiff, Wales, UK

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20. Skiddish — The Fallaways — Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

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21. Flux — Form Constant — Birmingham, Alabama, USA

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22. Background Noise — Treading Water — Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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23. Breaking the Line [EP] — The Strikes — Souchez, France

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24. Wide Open — Weaves — Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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25. Eclipse Of The Sun — Liquid Sunshine — Zurich, Switzerland

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26. Worn Out Heart — Hollow Sidewalks — Portland, Oregon, USA

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27. Start a Fire — The Burn Ins — Elkford, British Columbia, Canada

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28. Coyote Gunfight — Dynamite Thunderpunch — Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

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29. Monuments EP — Stereo Honey — London, England, UK

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30. The Gang — The Gang — Bratislava, Slovakia

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31. Drive — Sidewatcher — Detroit, Michigan, USA

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32. End Times — Brother Sister Hex — Denver, Colorado, USA

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33. Speak — Honey & the 45s — Chicago, Illinois, USA

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34. With – EP — Fencer — Los Angeles, California, USA

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35. Soul Sickness — The Versa Contrast — Revere, Massachusetts, USA

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36. A Sign of the Times — Cold California — Aberdeen, Scotland, UK

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37. Auto Racing EP 2 — Auto Racing — Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

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38. Note to Self – EP — Ready The Prince — Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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39. Decade — Fighting Jacks — San Jose, California, USA

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40. Gates Of Expression — Wildchild — Sibiu, Romania

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41. virus. — Novembervägen — Stockholm, Sweden

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42. Hypnotic Illusions EP — Living Still Life — Sydney, Australia

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43. A Show For No One — Just Noise — Des Plaines, Illinois, USA

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44. All Systems Go — CODED — Cape Town, South Africa

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45. Wasted EP — Kreepy Krush — Minsk, Belarus

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46. Better Days — The Clock Tower — Fukuoka, Japan

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47. Tales of Betrayal and Deceit — The McMiners — Belo Horizonte, Brazil

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48. Black and Blue EP — Little Raven — Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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49. Hydra Plane — Hydra Plane — Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA

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50. Arcadia Feliz — Attikus Finch — Pamplona, Spain

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51. Sublimation — Gravelarks — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

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52. The Words We’ll Never Say — In Good Nature — Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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53. Polaroids — A Fire With Friends — Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA

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54. Plan Of Action — The Kingpins — Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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55. No Time to Die — Daeodon — Louisville, Kentucky, USA

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56. Relics & Cycles — Before And After Science — Oporto, Portugal

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57. In Arcadia — Field Of Giants — Oxford, England, UK

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58. REM — SIAN — Tokyo, Japan

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59. Aura — Set Fire — Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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60. Karate Break EP — Karate Break — Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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61. Starla — Starla — Tacoma, Washington, USA

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62. Fine Motor — Fine Motor — Reno, Nevada, USA

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63. Clones — Naked Shark — Ann Arbor, Michigan USA

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64. Salting — Keeper — Washington, D.C., USA

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65. Radio Silence — Paranoir — Thessaloniki, Greece

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66. Secret Demo — Shadow Party — Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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67. Flying High — Laneslide — Petrovsk, Russia

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68. Weight — Old State — St. Louis, Missouri, USA

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69. Playground — Paranoid — Lille, France

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70. Crash The Gate — Cab Ride Home — Manassas, Virginia, USA

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71. Space and Grit — Domestic Blend — Omaha, Nebraska, USA

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72. Attic Salt — Attic Salt — Springfield, Illinois, USA

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73. Demo — Piines — Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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74. Heavy Dreaming — Painted Shut — Garden Grove, California, USA

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75. MUTT E.P. — Whorehound — Terre Haute, Indiana, USA

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76. Cinder Box — Cinder Box — London, England, UK

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77. Heavy High — Bruiser Queen — St. Louis, Missouri, USA

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78. The Endless and Unseen — Like The Ocean — San Francisco, California, USA

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79. In Plain Sight — Elastic Blur — Downingtown, Pennsylvania, USA

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80. As Far As The Stars — Nine Year Sister — Queensland, Australia

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81. Fever Dreamin’ — Billy King & The Bad Bad Bad — Austin, Texas, USA

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82. Sleep — Fawner — Cheltenham, England, UK

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83. The Forge Sessions — Hot Raisin — Norwich, England, UK

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84. Primeval — Iron Heade — Rancagua, Chile

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85. Escapade — Pandelic — Yangon, Myanmar

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86. Patterns — Longclaw — Portland, Oregon, USA

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87. Defector — HEAVYCRAFT — Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA

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88. Change — Traces — Tamworth, Australia

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89. Thomas — The Shaftons — Vienna, Austria

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90. Parasite — The Coathangers — Atlanta, Georgia, USA

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91. Widower — Widower — Sydney, Australia

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92. Rock for Life — Early Grey — Moscow, Russia

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93. First Attack EP — Snappy Strokes — Krakow, Poland

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94. The Story — Oceantides — Kiev, Ukraine

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95. Forgiver EP — Shoplifters — Novi Sad, Serbia

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96. Skoll — Astro Diver — Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

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97. Alter Ego — Replica — Buenos Aires, Argentina

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98. The Best Things — Beat Off! — Kediri, Indonesia

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99. Kings – EP — August Tides — Cleethorpes, England, UK

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100. Demos 2017 — Goodnight Cairo — Seattle, Washington, USA

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***

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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

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Why Product Hunt’s Sophomore Effort Could Be Its Greatest Triumph

In an insightful post yesterday, David Berkowitz postulated that Product Hunt might be suffering from startup fatigue as 2015 draws to a close. His presented graphs and statistics are all on point, and the analysis of said metrics is fairly fleshed out, and I’d say quite accurate.

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However, though I agree with Berkowitz on a number of points, I stand apart in questioning whether Product Hunt has fallen victim to ennui and achieved the “Mad Men” effect. While the metrics point to a decrease in overall activity (which you can see in Berkowitz’s original post), I’m not so sure that the postulation of trouble for Product Hunt is exactly right. Let me tell you why.

The Debut Album

Product Hunt debuted halfway through 2014, and I came to it late in that summer, somewhere between July and August. I had just enough time to familiarize myself with the site (and app) before the windfall from the 6+ million a16z-led A round really enabled them to start expanding rapidly on their product and offerings. This summer alone PH has released 3 betas (that I’m aware of), Games, Books, and Podcasts, along with its LIVE feature (which I quite enjoy). I’ve heard murmurs that some people think PH is throwing anything at a wall and seeing what sticks, rather than focusing on one specific vision. Not only is this a fairly correct observation, but it’s exactly the right thing for Product Hunt to do.

As I discussed in this twitter thread, I think that from ~June 2014 till now (~October 2015), we’ve seen Product Hunt’s first act; its debut album as it were. That’s the album that is either overlooked except by the core fans (Nirvana’s 1989 album, Bleach) or gets all the attention (Pearl Jam’s 1991 debut, Ten).

The data implies that Product Hunt is of the latter, and that the coming months will most likely continue to be somewhat challenging for the company. The fact that PH might well be a necessary utility for some (as Berkowitz now identified it as for himself) as opposed to a quirky, fun new thing is arguably irrelevant. The fanaticism that Product Hunt enjoyed over the last year may not last in its current form, but it does signal something greater, I think.

The Sophomore Effort

Continuing the music analogy, Product Hunt now finds itself in the studio after its debut success. The tour’s been completed, and as such, self-avowed PH fans wait for the next release, many hoping to see a redo of the initial popular effort. But PH has outgrown its debut skin, and is looking for something to keep its creative juices fresh. What the metrics really tell us is that PH is going through growing pains, trying to figure out just how many new instruments and styles it wants to try on its new album. Product Hunt’s sophomore effort will do two things: 1) it will likely alienate a demographic of general users who “like the old stuff, but not the new vibe,” and 2) solidify those of us who want to see PH keep growing and cultivating its community.

I discussed Product Hunt’s winning in community earlier this summer, and since then have only furthered my beliefs in such. This signifies one of the main distinctions that I think will come to play out over Product Hunt’s ecosystem: certain users will use it mainly as a necessary utility, while others aren’t exactly sure what to use it as, but are drawn to the intriguing dynamic nonetheless. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being either kind of user; different strokes for different folks. But to be equally as clear, Product Hunt continues to succeed brilliantly because it attracts people like me; people who were not (are not) self-avowed die-hard tech product enthusiasts, but find it enticing anyway. I was never as much into new tech products and beta testing until I started using Product Hunt, and that’s exactly why it wins: it turns outsiders into insiders.

Some have begun to criticize PH for its commenting invites, and the exclusivity factor which they arguably perpetuate. But I think the minor exclusivity factor actually distracts from a much bigger inclusive factor. Product Hunt has succeeded in building the backbone of a community that is magnetic; it’s engaged, positive, and exciting for people who are open to new things.

Points of Discussion

In all this, Berkowitz makes a number of statements which I agree with, but analyze differently.

  1. Upvotes may not be the best measure of activity: This may in fact be true, but I’m not sure it matters as much as one might think. I see Product Hunt’s upvotes as proof of concept; people did want to see new products and share their impressions of them. But the upvote (and downvote, additionally) is a fairly one-dimensional interaction, and one I can see becoming less important to Product Hunt in the grand scheme. I don’t necessarily think they’ll get rid of it, but now that the PH team has planted the seeds of a truly interested and engaging community, those seeds are now germinating, and thus simple upvote metrics might not even be enough to truly capture the meaning behind those interactions.
  2. There could be a long tail effect: The prospect that lesser known products are doing better is possibly the best thing that could happen to PH in my opinion. What we could be seeing is the beginning of a democratization in the PH community, one where you don’t necessarily have to know someone influential to get your product some real traction. If I were part of the PH team, I would try to capitalize on this and figure out how to focus this dynamic; keep pushing the democratization without losing the high standard of quality.
  3. Perhaps Product Hunt is too slow in letting new people participate: I can see the validity of this point, and can see how it plays right into the “Product Hunt is about exclusivity” argument. There’s no quick and easy fix here, and I don’t think there should be. PH needs to retain its values and vision, even if that means it remains partially closed to prospective new users for a time.

    Notice, however, that I said partially closed; my best thought would be to let new users trickle in by giving them some access, a little at a time. Give them perhaps 5 comments every month until they gain full access. This could hopefully encourage them to use their comments wisely, and thus dissuade them from posting drivel or offensive material, while simultaneously allowing PH team members the necessary control to guide these new users.   
  4. Product Hunt is expanding into new categories such as games, books, and podcasts: This I don’t think is a problem at all; I think it’s an opportunity. Not every sub-category will be gold, but that doesn’t make it lead either. I quite like Books, and use it way more than Games (I’m not much a gamer). And though I’ve never been huge into podcasts, the new channel is making me rethink that. People will get different things from different channels, and there will be no way to see what’s really a success until a few more months pass.

    I do, however, think that PH has enough new things to keep its hands full (especially with the addition of the LIVE channel as well), and think it should focus on the irons it already has in the fire rather than continuing to add new ones.        

Berkowitz’s focus on the overall trends present in the graphs, though, is just one part of the story I think. Metrics are necessary things, but they can sometimes distract from possibilities on the horizon otherwise overshadowed by more dour trends. I think that’s the case here, where PH’s recent trends forecast a much more problematic stance than is actually there.

Cultivate the Community, Ignore the Noise

In the coming months, I can see Product Hunt becoming one of the popular contemporary examples of a company that arguably lost its “special sauce” after a great first year and successful Series A round. I anticipate articles to follow on TechCrunch, Re/Code, and to pop up all over Medium, as PH gets picked apart over its somewhat plateauing (if not declining) metrics. However, I caution against counting out PH too soon, and not focusing thoroughly on where they have situated themselves over the past year. Observers would do well to remember that PH is much more than metrics and trends; in fact, it’s mostly more than that. It’s community.

Keep throwing things at the wall, and experimenting with new instruments on the next album, and see what works. PH has already succeeded because their core fanbase is coalescing. Now they just need to nurture that base. Cultivate the community that any band or startup would kill for; that’s where the real power rests. When you leverage the power of your fanbase, the trends can go any way you want them to. All the rest is just noise. 

As for the Product Hunt team, my best advice to them were I to be asked would be to keep their heads down and just work. Acknowledge that this is the sophomore effort, and thus may irritate some of its debut supporters. However, this is the nature of the sophomore album, and could signal Product Hunt’s move towards the release of something even bigger than before. Whereas 2014-15 was Bleach, 2016 could be Nevermind. 

You Better Be a Punk

I just finished reading Jason Calacanis’s post “You don’t have what it takes” with regard to starting a company. How hard it is to start a company, and how hard it is to keep a company going. And how it is to keep your team breathing financially, and make your company successful. And not just any company; a startup.

I was pointed to the post when Charles Jo tagged me on Twitter (though I would have read it eventually, as I follow Jason’s blog), and posed a thought process to me: “[S]eems similar to what I imagine musicians go through.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 7.44.29 PM

I let that postulation play through my head as I read Jason’s article, and tried to see if any of the advice and realities in it applied to new (most times) independent artists too. I reflected on my ~10 years of experiences in the music universeas an artist, a journalist, a DJand of all the artists I know and speak to. And the finding of my thought experiment regarding those realities, is yes, they do. A lot.

Jason talks very bluntly about the pain that startups cause founders, and what kind of spine you need to have to soldier on through it. Startups are a bloodsport, and not nearly as easy, romantic, or chic as people might think after watching an episode of Shark Tank.

So in an effort to not simply reiterate Jason’s already well-made points, I’ll instead pose a different line of thinking. Before deciding that you have the spine to lead a startup company, take a moment and ask yourself a different question: Do I have what it takes to be in a band?

Do You Have What It Takes to Be in a Band?

Bands are fucking hard. And just like startups, they are way less glamorous than people think. Do you have visions of yourself playing Madison Square Garden, or accepting a Grammy as your song rockets up the charts? If so, you probably don’t have what it takes. Do you look forward to touring and watching as packed clubs mouth the words to your songs? You’re living in a dream.

Chances are most all the clubs you’ll play for the first year (or more) will be near dead empty, and no one will know (or care about) your songs. You’re more than super likely not going to have a “hit song,” and you pretty much for damn sure aren’t ever going to get anywhere near Madison Square Garden except when you’re buying tickets to see KISS play live.

You’re going to have a day job for the foreseeable future (forever?) and when you “go on tour,” you’re going to be sleeping in your crappy van, eating overpriced bar food (which you can’t afford), playing to people who mostly don’t care, and trying to raise a Kickstarter campaign for your next EP release, which again, no one cares about. You’re going to have to deal with being stiffed on your pay many nights, and your van will get broken in to and your gear stolen at least once.

This is just the reflection of the tip of the iceberg, and if any of this bothers you, then pack up, go home, and don’t even think about doing it. In fact, if this doesn’t excite you and make you hungry for more, then you don’t have the spine to be in any part of the music business other than as a fan and consumer.

You Need to Be Somewhat Masochistic

I’m convinced that you need to be severely masochistic on some level to want to be an independent artist, the same as if you want to lead (or be part of) a startup company. There are no breaks, and you shouldn’t want any, other than to eat, and call your parents and friends to tell them you still have a pulse. You should want to be thinking about work all the time because your work should excite you that much.

The real independent artists out therethe ones who you will probably go through your whole life never hearing aboutknow you won’t ever hear them, care about them, or help them. They do it anyway. They don’t wait for someone to hand them a great contract to get started, and they for damn sure don’t let hardships slow them down.

You Better Know How to DIY It Like a Punk

Just like being in a startup, how do you know if you have the spine to be in a band?

Here’s how: You know you’re going to do it, no matter what anyone else says, or tries to convince you of. You’re going to be a punk about it; you’ll DIY it the whole way through if you need to, but you’re going to do it. You’ll get down and dirty in the muck of all the things that could and will go wrong, and make your home in the palace of adversity. You’ll relish the challenge and ask for permission from no one to take on that next challenge that gives you chills.  And that’s it.   

Some may say that being too focused on your startup is living too closely to your passion, and can create large blindspots. In general, that can be very true. But you also can’t do a startup without that diehard passion. If you don’t want to tattoo your startup’s logo on your armif you figure you can just pivot to something elseyou don’t have the drive and spine for either a band or a startup.

But if you can honestly think to yourself, “yeah, I’d definitely go on tour in a shitty van (which will break down), play shows to empty rooms, not get paid, and then spend money I don’t have on recording my next album” then maybe you can do the band thing. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play; bring out your inner punk and see how stupidly masochistic that punk is, and just how badly that punk wants it.

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

Heel-Stranger-Just-The-Same-cover-1

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

YouTube Plays Out of Key

Originally published on Marx Rand on June 11, 2015.

Since being embarrassed after some of the more litigious contracts it makes with independent artists using its platform were made public recently, YouTube is in damage-control mode. The media platform provider has  understandably taken a lot of heat as a result. Right now especially the video streaming service, which was purchased by Google nearly a decade ago for $1.65 billion, is in the process of trying to make nice with the artist community as it braces itself for the onslaught of Apple’s new music service release, Apple Music.

YouTube Has Music, But Isn’t About Music

It’s easy to see why YouTube is concerned about Apple Music. After all, the very same (music) community that in significant measure helped YouTube top $1 billion in revenue last year is just as likely, if not more so, to gravitate towards Apple’s serving of the pie as it is to hang out lapping up mainstream internet TV dinners.

For artists– and especially independent artists – YouTube could be quite a useful tool. At least, what the service is capable of offering should be something that sets YouTube apart from its competitors in the music arena, certainly.

But YouTube is still going to struggle to win in the artist arena for one reason: while YouTube has music, it isn’t about music. For YouTube, despite its cool analytics and humongous user base, is still not a music-centered service. This matters because, at the end of the day, artists are a focus, but not the focus.

With the online music landscape heating up, the services that are able to pay more attention to artists as a principle priority will be able to carve out a significant niche for themselves. In the face of such competition, no one else stands a chance. It’s that simple.

The Percentage Points

A big part of YouTube’s problem when it comes to appealing to independent artists is that it’s a victim of its own success. At the end of the day, YouTube has an overwhelming user-base of consumers (and not just of music, but of all sorts of media) that it needs to keep on satisfying – at last count, there were 23 million subscribers to all the various channels on the service. And that’s only the regular users.

Naturally, it makes sense for YouTube to see that its existing customers are well-catered for, but the reality is that such an approach falls far short of what’s acceptable when it comes to satisfying independent music makers and promoters. They can increasingly afford to be much more selective about what they desire and require from the digital distribution channels that they work with.

To compound YouTube’s difficulties with attracting the independents, YouTube still has in place the same tenuous clauses in the contract that upset the artists just recently. The fact that there are a large portion of artists who are currently unaware of this fact only makes the problem worse over the long run too, for the risk that another public embarrassment for YouTube looms large over the shiny brand image that parent Google has cultivated over the years.

There’s a more fundamental problem than any of this, however, and that’s the following: unlike the teenage makeup artists and tween clothing models that have made gazillions from leading their fans to new cosmetics brands eager to pay top dollar for all the eyeballs, the realistic revenue generated from YouTube for music artists is pretty much zilch when you do the math.

Information Is Beautiful, an analytics service based in the United Kingdom, recently published a breakdown of online revenues obtained by artists across a series of music platforms, namely Bandcamp, CDBaby, iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, and—you guessed it—YouTube. The analytics provider concluded that the percentage of independents able to eek out a minimum wage living on YouTube revenue streams was just 0.07%. Here are the screenshots of the YouTube portion:

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

Here are the pathetic revenue stream earnings for the signed major label artists:

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

And now, the revenue stream earnings for the independent artists:

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

Image courtesy of InformationIsBeautiful.com; with edits

That’s amazing – it’s a seventh of a basis point! In other words, it’s even lower than the cheapest commission charged on an online stock trading platform.

And remember, this is not 0.07% of all one billion dollars of YouTube users, or even 0.07% of all 20-something million YouTube subscribers we are talking about here; it is 0.07% of just all the unsigned artists who receive revenue from YouTube streams! It’s likely you can count that number on the fingers of your left hand while clicking over to the next song with your right.

The Discovery Dynamic

The overriding concern here is that the audience consuming the music of these independent artists is incredibly small. But before you leap to your feet and splutter out the old argument that this is because the music created by independents artists simply “isn’t good enough” or “needs to be curated,” step back and think about the fact that these independents are trying to compete on a platform which is essentially not constructed for them.

Though the dynamic of discovery is big on YouTube, it’s not specified to discovery of new independent artists at all (though it’s great for makeup and clothing brands, which adopts an entirely different sort of discovery process through media). As a result, artists end up competing with an amalgamation of other media – most of which is not music-related – and the poor comparative result they are left with ultimately diminishes any chance that there might have been left over of being properly appreciated or even recognized.

All of this adds up to one very simple reality: inasmuch as YouTube is trying to repair its relationships with artists (and independents among them), it is, at the end of the day, very far from being the be-all, end-all for independent artists that the platform is for other genres of media and entertainment. The fact that less than a tenth of a basis point of artists can eek out a minimum wage using the damn thing – while many other professionals in different walks of life make a lot more than that from five minutes of video stream – attests to this fact.

Thus, for all the potential scale and analytical sophistication that YouTube’s platform offers artists, it is still an ecosystem that is fundamentally unsuitable for them and for displaying what they create. And many of them know it now, too.

Independent Music Is Still  Wild West

The independent music market is very much a wild west, and the introduction of a new tool or a new feature isn’t going to win anyone over. To do that, you need to win the trust and confidence of the independent artists, the way Etsy did with hand-crafters, or even the way that Amazon has managed to do with its dominant share of literary readers and authors alike.

This process is not one in which you can achieve ubiquity by striking a deal with a major corporation which fundamentally only offers enhanced distribution such as a major record label. It’s one in which you need to go straight to the product source – in this case, the artists and their fans – and persuade each of them that what you are providing is somewhere they can interact on a creative level and where the music uncompromisingly always comes first. It should not and cannot be a place where their product looks and feels like an afterthought in the ravenous race to profitability.

The upshot – and the sad irony – of all this is that it’s yet another example of a situation in which one of the very same companies that is so adept at spinning creative mainstream entertainment out into the marketplace proves hopeless in creating a fresh and appealing approach to the rising independent music scene.

As Queen so eloquently put it, “another one gone, and another one gone … and another one bites the dust.”

Spotify’s Sony Contract: What It Means for Everyone

With the leak of Spotify’s contract with Sony last week, there’s a lot of attention on the streaming service right now. I’ll be taking a closer look at that contract over the next week, but for now I’ll focus on the fallout over the last week. In particular there seems to be a lot of renewed interest on the music space, more so than I’ve seen in a while. I think, though, that this has to do with a lot more than simply one contract between two companies; for the first time perhaps, the general public (including music producers, artists, and general music listeners) is aware of the kind of deals being struck behind the scenes.

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Even as Spotify soars in newer valuations that have the company somewhere in the $8B range, yesterday’s leak shows that such a valuation may in fact be misleading—Spotify has to cough up around $43M just for licensing from Sony alone. How much do you think they need to cough up for the other two majors, Warner and Universal? Even if we snip off the extra $3-4M, and assume an upfront licensing fee of $40M from Sony—and then simply assume similar prices for Warner and Universal—then Spotify has already spent $120M of investor money. And that’s just for the privilege of having access to the major labels’ stable of artists.

Also, don’t forget that’s before royalties and any other metrics that Spotify has to hit. Therefore it’s more like $43M upfront for the privilege to pay more later on; it’s not a one-and-done purchase. And most unfortunate for Spotify, this latter number is also predicated on how an artist performs in popularity, something they have essentially no control over.

I’m not going to rewrite Micah Singleton‘s article, but I will draw on a number of points he highlighted and what they mean in reality. There are numerous points of importance, but these are the ones I think the general public really needs to be apprised of. Though the contract has since been removed, we got the basic gist:

  1. Written by Sony—First let’s just take a moment to note that the contract was written by Sony. Of course this is their prerogative, but when considering the fact that Sony holds the rights to much of the content that Spotify wants to license, it clearly illustrates who is subject to whom. Frankly, since Sony holds the content rights, they (and the other major labels) essentially hold Spotify’s lifeblood in their hands—that’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Realistically Spotify is not built around an independent and free model, so they need to play ball with Sony and the other labels, or they won’t play at all. Period.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 8.01.23 AM
  2. Advances—Spotify paid Sony $42.5M just for the right to license the music. That’s an upfront fee just to get in the door. This means that anyone looking to compete head to head with Spotify or Rdio needs to magically have about $130M lying around or in funding before they even get their feet wet (projecting the combined upfront licensing fees of the Big Three major labels). One of the reasons that Spotify has to raise such massive funding rounds is because these advances are somewhat annual, and thus need to be renegotiated all the time. And as the major labels continue to get squeezed in their wallets, these numbers are only going to rise for services looking to use major label content.
  3. Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.36.33 PMDivided How and Among Whom?—As Singleton points out, Sony can essentially do whatever they want with that money; there’s no stipulation that it has to be divided in any particular way, or that any of it has to go to artists or songwriters. According to multiple sources, that money usually stays with the label and is generally not shared with artists. This particular point has raised such criticism that its prompted both a response from the EU, which is now looking into Spotify’s contracts, and virtually obliged Sony to come out with a public statement on the matter. Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.36.56 PM
  4. Most Favored Nation Clause—Essentially a clause that guarantees that Spotify’s balls remain in Sony’s vicegrip. The clause guarantees Sony the right to amend  any portion of the contract if it perceives that any other label has a better deal than it does. This means that Sony is essentially never bound to Spotify in any way; it can decide—based on its own perception—that another label has a better deal (which it may or may not) and rework the entire deal for its own benefit. And Spotify has to swallow everything.
    Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.41.24 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.42.20 PMWhere this really kills Spotify is when used in conjunction with the clause dictating payment based on market share. Thus, if another label has a better deal in that regard—perhaps double what Sony is getting monetarily—then Spotify has to cough up and pay Sony the difference.
  5. Spotify’s 15%—Basically exactly what it sounds like. Spotify takes 15% of the revenues from third-party advertising right off the top. What they do with this money is unknown, though it’s quite plausible that they’re not redistributing it to the artists, and are probably giving third-party advertisers a raw-ish deal. Next time Spotify releases a statement saying that they don’t have the funds to pay the artists more money, let’s all remember this little financial tidbit.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.47.16 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.48.28 PM
  6. Sony’s Ad Spots—This one’s pretty easy to understand: essentially Spotify is obligated to give Sony a certain amount of free ad space on its service. The ad space—which is clearly worth a fair amount of money—is given to Sony at a massive discount.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.53.33 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.54.09 PMBut that’s not all; Sony retains the right to sell the credited ad space to whomever they want, whenever they want. Again, Spotify gets squeezed.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 2.54.41 PM
  7. User Metrics—Spotify essentially has goals it needs to hit in terms of its user metrics (on both payment tiers), and if it misses those, it could be penalized. Conversely, if it exceeds expectations in either of the tier metrics, it recalculates that number so that Sony gets paid more. In English, what this means is that the better Spotify does, the more money Sony is entitled to, but doesn’t necessarily mean that it all works out for the streaming service.Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 3.07.40 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 3.07.51 PMIt’s important to remember that Sony isn’t in the business of making sure that it backs up Spotify. It—like the other major labels—is licensing its music to numerous services, so its only real loyalty is to its bottom line. How that affects Spotify is essentially irrelevant to the major label.
  8. The Royalty Distribution (Forget About the Artists)—Without going too deeply into it (Singleton’s initial analysis and infographics are worth consulting), it basically boils down to this: the royalties per stream are so miniscule that you need to be getting millions of streams in order to make any real money (and by real, I mean anything more than $10.00). We all know that independent artists are never going to get to that level trying to compete on an unfair playing field, so let’s just put that point to bed right now. One thing that is worth noting now, though, is that not even every artist has a contract entitling them to royalties. So for all the bluster about royalty payments, many of the artists signed to major labels aren’t even entitled to fair cuts from the streaming.Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 6.33.02 PMBut even more so, the way in which streaming royalties are calculated is so incredibly convoluted you almost need a degree in economics just to understand it. That’s not how it should be. For independent artists—and even mainstream artists who simply want to understand the financial dynamics—this is yet another way of keeping them in the dark. No one in any other industry would accept some sort of voodoo economics principle when it came to calculating their earnings, so why should music artists—mainstream or independent—have to settle for that? That’s the point, they shouldn’t.

There are numerous other points worth discussing, but these are some of the major ones that discussions of the music industry revolve around. Though arguably a major embarrassment for Sony and Spotify, the leaking of the contract between the two really shines a bright light on what goes on behind the scenes. It clarifies that what happens behind the curtain affects every type of artist, and underscores why more transparency and reform is needed in the music industry. And it highlights something else: the music industry is not dead and foregone. We’re now right on the precipice of a whole new type of music industry that’s taking shape every day. Those who accept and embrace the new dynamics will be the ones who benefit most from them when they inevitably come.

 

Thanks to Shelley Marx for reading early drafts of this.

Tidal Is Losing More Lifeboats by the Day

Yesterday, TechCrunch ran a piece from Kelli Richards postulating the viability of Tidal as a service, and its likely outcome in the streaming wars. The article was essentially an overview of what’s been going on with Tidal lately, with Richards doing a good job of zeroing in on a couple of things I’ve discussed and underscored in my own mind as the real deal-breakers.

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Before getting into the two main things of her article, I think it’s important to note a very shortbut important—sentence in Richards’ piece: “…the prospects of Tidal upending Spotify in the near future are slim…” This falls right in line with something that I wrote earlier concerning SoundCloud, namely that trying to out-Spotify Spotify is a losing battle and a very poor battle-plan. Going head-to-head with Spotify and playing their game their way (that is, general popular music streaming) is such a poor decision because it means you’re starting way behind the starting line. And in Tidal’s case, this goes double for any sort of exclusive content which might be your main attraction.

Now, Richards’ two main points, and my takeaway from each:

1. Premium/Exclusive Content—Firstly, I’ll be the one to say it: “exclusive content” as one’s main gameplay is a very tough sell. It’s a tough sell because it’s a drastically diminished niche of a larger market, which is basically popular music. That means you’re trying to play on two different levels with two completely different mindsets.

The “exclusive content” play is difficult because it requires your customer base to desire those exclusives almost as much as (or more than) the original content. This isn’t anywhere near the same thing as looking at an independent market, since those content producers are increasingly giving away their material for free (including “exclusives” like remixes, acoustic sets, etc.), and making money elsewhere. For a service like Tidal though, they need to first out-Spotify Spotify to gain the market share of the original popular music demographic, then they need to persuade those people to convert to “exclusive” consumers and pay a whole lot more for something they could just as easily get on YouTube if they wait a couple weeks or a month. This is one of the major flaws in Tidal’s plan in my eyes.

Also under the first point is a small comment included by Richards made by Tidal’s CEO Peter Tonstad, which basically asserts that the industry is moving away from the freemium model, and that “it’s going to be the content richness” which listeners begin to look and pay for. This is bold, but false.

First, the sorts of audiences which Tidal is looking to court—general consumers of popular music—are not about to leave the freemium paradigm anytime soon. Secondly—and funnily enough in my opinion—the rabid, content-rich focus which Tonstad identifies as Tidal’s silver bullet doesn’t really apply to popular consumer audiences on a general level anyway. Ask anyone listening to Spotify if they’d pay double (or anything) for higher quality which they can’t even discern anyway, and I’d be surprised if large numbers converted over. Ironically enough, the rabid thought process which Tonstad is alluding to is alive and well—in the independent music industry—where free plays a much bigger part than it clearly does with Tidal.

2. Celebrity Backers—This point made by Richards is a lot easy to wrap one’s head around; people simply don’t feel so bad when Jay-Z and Kanye West start lecturing about needing more money because, well, they’re rich. And not like “we perceive them as rich but they’re really not;” they actually are rich. Being lectured about money from people like that, then, is not only not welcomed, but it’s really irritating. There’s really no way you can look at that celebrity-backed list of Tidal promoters and take them seriously.

Even more so, though, it really alienates artists who are not rich—you know, like everyone else. For the singer-songwriter playing in dingy clubs, or the band on the road and sleeping in their van, Jay-Z might as well be speaking an alien language. Their thought process is almost indignant (and why shouldn’t it be?); they’re thinking “dude, you have all this money and influence, why the hell do you need any more?” And frankly, if I was still an artist, I’d be thinking the exact same thing. Celebrity-backed things like this are rarely ever a good idea, especially when it alienates others within the same industry.

Richards notes that Tidal has someone who Spotify doesn’t—Taylor Swift—but as I explained here months ago, here’s why Taylor Swift is on the same level as Jay-Z in terms of “not getting it.” She’s so engrossed in the major label paradigm and its trappings that she doesn’t see what life is like for normal artists anymore. And, just like Jay-Z, her disparaging remarks about artists “devaluing their music” strikes a sour and indignant chord in a lot of musicians who think she takes her good fortune for granted.

But if one needs any more convincing of why it’s going to be a very tough road ahead for Tidal, you can read about:

  1. Jay-Z’s hissy-fit onstage
  2. Their firing of their previous CEO, Andy Chen
  3. Criticism from producer Steve Albini
  4. Criticism from other mainstream artists
  5. Their highly criticized and misleading relaunch

The storm isn’t about to end anytime soon, and it seems the lifeboats have left the ship.

SoundCloud’s Failed Highwire Balancing Act: The Sony-SoundCloud Breakup

Trying (and Failing) to Balance Two Completely Different Paradigms

The SoundCloud-Sony Breakup

The Sony-SoundCloud Breakup

It’s been a tough week for Sony between its leaked contract with Spotify and criticism over its moves with SoundCloud. And yet, inasmuch as the former is embarrassing and will certainly come back to bite the two companies, the latter is arguably more problematic because it’s not simply between Sony and SoundCloud; it’s between Sony, SoundCloud and the independent artists and fans. That last little caveat is something that Sony can afford to ignore—but it’s going to become an increasingly difficult reality for SoundCloud.

SoundCloud, now a platform for major labels and advertisers

SoundCloud, now a platform for major labels and advertisers

News broke over the last couple of weeks that Sony has started pulling their artists’ music from SoundCloud—regardless of what the artists want. To Sony, SoundCloud isn’t a viable option since it doesn’t presently have a strong monetization plan (as if services like Spotify and Rdio do), and until the label and streaming service can come to terms, it seems that any and all Sony-controlled material will be stripped from SoundCloud.

This has put SoundCloud in quite a precarious position. On the one hand, it doesn’t want to alienate its initial die-hard independent fanbase, but on the other it’s been actively seeking out a deal with Sony, as well as with the other two major labels, Warner and Universal (already having one in place with Warner). SoundCloud is trying to balance two completely different bases and paradigms that are moving in opposite directions: 1) the major label paradigm which is still predicated on an obsolete business model, and 2) the independent paradigm which is increasingly embracing “free” as a big part of the future.

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

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

What I Said a Month Ago

On April 9th, SoundCloud signed a deal with Zefr—that same day, I wrote a post on why independents should very soon kiss SoundCloud goodbye; why the Zefr deal was essentially irrelevant for them. It seems I wasn’t the only one who’d identified SoundCloud’s prospective problems, as a day later on April 10th, PandoDaily writer David Holmes came to the same conclusion and published a piece with a similar premise. Holmes’ post validated many of my points, and cleverly brought up a few others, all to conclude, as I had, that the Zefr deal was a band-aid for a bullet wound. And now the bullet wounds are really beginning to gush blood.

This week, electronic artist Madeon released a heavily critical statement regarding he Sony-SoundCloud breakup, noting: “Thank you SoundCloud for being such a great discovery platform over the past five years. Well done Sony for holding your own artists hostage.”

Ouch. Snap. Burn.

Clearly Madeon (along with droves of other EDM artists who’ve gained significant followings on SoundCloud) isn’t pleased with Sony’s “money first” thought process and strategy. And while Sony has the legal right to pull music which it holds the rights to, in the grand scheme, it’s not exactly a play which will endear it either to the fans it seeks, or the artists it works with. Actually, it has the complete opposite effect.

Who’s the First Priority?

But what lies beneath the surface of this very public breakup is not simply an issue for Sony, but a major issue for SoundCloud. People expect Sony to act like a major label—because that’s what it is. But increasingly, SoundCloud has been chasing the major label content which it thinks could help it become more competitive with Spotify, Rdio and Apple. In the process, it’s spitting in the faces of the people who loved SoundCloud for what it was before: free discovery.

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 3.55.46 PM

Excerpt from my original April 9th article

And as SoundCloud moves closer to the major label paradigm, it becomes increasingly irrelevant for independent artists, regardless of genre. Independents are where SoundCloud cut its teeth, so now, moving away from the free-model will leave them somewhat toothless. Case in point: SoundCloud’s new NMPA deal, which, again, is irrelevant for independent artists.

The thing about the independents is that, unlike major label artists who are tied to the major label business model, they’re not tied to anybody. Their loyalty can and will be to whoever gives them the best service as a first priority, not an afterthought. This means the best service for the independents, not the best they can do after the major labels have had their fill. SoundCloud is trying to perform a balancing act on a razor-thin highwire and it’s 600lbs overweight. It’s trying to straddle two completely different business paradigms, and managing to piss everyone off in the process.

Free Is Here to Stay—Live With It

The free paradigm which the labels are beginning to get fed up with isn’t going away—something which Peter Kafka seized on in his article on Spotify. Free is a way of life now, and as independent artists continue to explore the benefits that free affords them, they will increasingly detach themselves from the obligations of the major label paradigm. Services like SoundCloud will eventually have to choose a side—something that’s going to be exceedingly difficult for SoundCloud now that they already have a deal with Warner and are chasing deals with the other two major labels.

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 3.56.48 PM

Excerpt from my original April 9th article

It seems that they’ve already made their choice, and it won’t be too long before droves of independents notice. They don’t have to and won’t settle for being second-tier priorities, and will look for alternative options. In the meantime, Sony and SoundCloud will duke it out until the former signs the latter to a major label-style contract.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: if you’re an independent, kiss SoundCloud goodbye.