Author: alejandors

Artists in Boston’s independent music scene deal with changes

Ben Semeta hopped on stage to check his bass guitar rig and then hopped off, almost unnoticeable, as a crowd shuffled into a Cambridge nightclub for a concert on a recent Sunday night.

Semeta and his band, Black Beach, are an anomaly of sorts in Boston’s independent music scene. They’ve been playing together for at least a decade, though it was only three years ago that they started playing as Black Beach.

“I’m kind of blessed none of us went to school at a city,” he said in an interview before Black Beach’s set that night. “We didn’t have peers to support us – we had to break into the scene.”

The trio started playing together back when they were still in high school, with a goal to just have fun playing together.

“It took a while to find the style we are good at writing,” Semeta said. “I like to think that Black Beach is different: we didn’t meet and say ‘hey, let’s start a band.’ We have been jamming our whole lives together.”

Boston’s bound to have garage bands and basement shows – but even so, there are no major record companies to sign them. Black Beach stands out among the numerous short-lived groups that fade in and out of the scene, or move to a bigger city.

It’s partly because, in the digital age, they’re able overcome a lackluster music scene by self-promoting on music discovery platforms like Bandcamp.

“It used to be that you had to tour nonstop, but with such sites and social media you can stay relevant in places you have visited once or twice, just by posting occasionally,” he said.

Other bands started by college students move out of the city as band members graduate or pursue other endeavors – contributing to the short-lived nature of the scene.

Kyle McEvoy started Seagreen Records a few years before Black Beach was started, but 230 miles southwest of Boston, in Watertown, Connecticut. At the time, all he wanted was the ability to physically self-release music from his former band, The Guru, so he focused on cassettes and vinyl records. The Guru shared their music on Bandcamp and would hand out business cards with their Bandcamp link at concerts, McEvoy said.

The Guru was made up of college kids that, like Black Beach, started out jamming, but in 2014 the band tossed the towel after Eddie Golden III, the band’s drummer and lead singer, no longer wanted to continue the band. The Guru had successfully booked tours across the U.S. several times by then, McEvoy, who was one of the two guitarists in the band, said. The Guru frequented Boston, being that McEvoy went to school in the area.

But the splitting of the band left Seagreen Records at a strange crossroads, despite the romantic aspect of ending a band while still somewhat successful that had led to the record labels fruition, McEvoy said. His confusion about how to progress his label partially derived from the temporariness of the music scene in Boston, he said. Now McEvoy lives in New York and is figuring out in which direction to take his label.

“In Boston it is a new music scene like every year,” he said. “For the most part it is college bands that eventually make the move to New York City or L.A.”

The sentiment is not exclusive to McEvoy or Semeta – Dan Shea, founder of Boston-based music blog Boston Hassle and more than 15-year scene veteran, said he has observed several variables, such as increasing cost of living and the short-lived nature of college bands, take a toll on the scene since he started getting involved at the turn of the 20th century.

Shea’s non-profit Boston Hassle and its monthly newspaper the “Boston Compass” have struggled to get an affordable working space in the city and are currently operate out of an illegal warehouse, he said. Part of the reason being that it is an anti-corporate, do-it-yourself, pro-independence consortium.

“It is hard to come from a place where money isn’t the first thing you think [about],” he said. “Existential questions for the organization itself: We are trying to create a situation for freedom to experiment and try to foster all kinds of art in a communal way. But trying to do that in a city in a way that the more bohemian and artistic people, no matter where they are in their life, are going to be here less and less because they are going to be priced out, who will be our audience?”

Social media and new music discovery platforms have made the scene vulnerable to change, but also helped bridge the disconnect in finding new music, according to Shea.

“It really comes down to the people who are looking can more easily find what they are looking for,” Shea said. “Subculture is about people who are looking, most people look at the surface. There are so many options and so many directions where people can go.”

Despite the short-lived nature of the local scene, Semeta remained optimistic before Black Beach’s set that night in Cambridge. This December, Black Beach was nominated for Rock/Indie Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards.

A band must remember why they started in the first place, even with such achievements, Semeta said.

“We are never going to stop,” Semeta said. “At the end of the day we started a band just to jam with each other, with no goal in mind.”

VIDEO: How a couple of local artists promote their music

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How I consume music

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Last night I was talking with a friend and I wanted to show him “Bloodstyle” by Caroline Smith because I had it stuck in my head. Naturally, I busted my phone out of my pocket and opened Spotify. The first thing that came up was a notification telling me that The Rolling Stones “Blue & Lonesome” was officially out and I should listen. It was 2 in the morning.

It is no secret that music streaming services have made music more accessible to the consumer (evident when my ears entertained new music from the Stones really, really early this morning). This year will mark the first year that music streaming revenue surpasses download sales, if the year’s streaming trends continue, Pitchfork recently reported.

With this much access to a broad amount of music, consumers are now faced with a unique problem: What new music should I listen to and why? I remember one of the first physical CD’s I bought was Metallica’s then long-anticipated release “Death Magnetic” in 2008 (Boy did we not foresee having to wait eight years for another full album from the outdated Bay-area thrashers). I went to Best Buy, bought the CD then listened to it, in 2008, over and over. Just last week Metallica released a new album and I heard half of it before I remembered the name of a random song that was stuck in my head, so I put that song on for the sole fact THAT I CAN WITH THE CONVENIENCE OF A CLICK OR SWIPE.

This convenience of music accessibility sheds light on the abundance of music. I feel like a boy who can’t decide what to listen to because there is so much I want to listen to and I can listen to. In other words, I feel like a hungry cow who has been relocated in a field of grass that stretches miles upon miles. So what am I to do to optimize my time upon this grass field?

I don’t know, but I think I am on my way to finding out so I am going to explain how I consume music nowadays.

Spotify playlists are my go to. I make playlists for any task from “this will hit the spot when running at dusk” to “I just got out of the shower and have to get to class in 22 minutes, but don’t want to get ready in silence.” A useful tool that Spotify has is the “related artists” sidebar in an artist’s profile. This comes in handy when I am crafting a playlist and perusing more music to add.

Another useful feature Spotify offers is the different discovery playlists. I had mixed feelings about these options, at first, but they are in fact helpful. Last week I was talking to the manager of a local band, and we started talking about what we each listen to. He told me that he uses the discover playlists often, and that it is helpful for people in the industry because it shows you a glimpse of what is out there and how long you can tolerate a sound – if you like something you don’t skip it and chances are you will now retain the memory of the song or artist because you didn’t skip it. Voila: Finding new music.

Finally, I use Spotify’s radio feature. This is not my favorite feature, but it helps me find new music. Earlier this year I was listening to some random station when this band Whitney kept popping up and I eventually started to recognize them. That led to me to check out Whitney’s debut album which led me to become a fan of Whitney.

Given, Spotify’s radio feature is not that good especially when compared to music radios such as Pandora. My main problem with Spotify’s radio feature is that the collection of songs in a given station doesn’t contain that many curve balls that hit the “wow” factor for me (if you hadn’t noticed you can browse the songs that are part of an artist’s’ radio station by scrolling past the “play” button – that will REALLY ruin the “wow” factor).

Fortunately and unfortunately I don’t solely use Spotify to consume my music. Bandcamp is just as relevant in my music diet, to a lesser extent. The great power I have found in Bandcamp is a) local artists are much easier to find and b) I personally love the roughness of some outtakes and raw cuts that some artists post on Bandcamp, but not on Spotify.

Bandcamp makes local artists easier to find because it doesn’t matter where your locality is, once you start browsing a band’s music you can see upcoming shows and tour history on the sidebar (see below). If this is not found on Bandcamp’s sidebar then you can find it on an artist’s Facebook which would be linked in the same sidebar. Once I start browsing who a band has played with then I start checking those bands out. This works because if an artist is not on a heavily promoted tour with already established artists, that artist may be playing shows with locals. Next thing I know I spend an hour listening to different bands that are connected in some way.

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Back to how Bandcamp can sometimes have rough outtakes, though. This is not a consistent theme for Bandcamp, but some of the bands I listen to do post outtakes every now and then. For example, Porches’ “Scrap and Love Songs Revisited” may be my favorite release from the band.

And if you really like rough demos (as I do) you can find more on Soundcloud – which rounds up my music diet. I have to admit I do not go to Soundcloud that often, but I do seek out the site for the sole reason of demos. I mean, even Kanye West has released demos on Soundcloud; Father John Misty is the king of Soundcloud demos, out of the artists I listen to.

Yes, there are a lot of ways to consume music thanks to streaming services improving over time. And although it may appear as if there is an overwhelming amount of music being shared, the music discovery platforms enable exactly what they offer: The discover of new music.

Whitney’s Bandcamp account screenshot by me. Spotify photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons.

Amazon Tickets may give Ticketmaster needed competition

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A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I devised how to go about buying tickets to a Kanye West concert. The show was scheduled to be in Brooklyn, a day before New Year’s Eve. We knew competition would be abundant to get such tickets, nonetheless we planned it: We analyzed different scenarios and used the prices from the pre-sale tickets available to calculate how much money we would need and how to go about getting good seats. I gave my friend money that he deposited into his bank account to purchase our tickets (I had class so I could not buy my own).

A minute or so after the start of the pre-sale we were going to buy tickets from, I received a text from my friend. Due to some disconnect between Ticketmaster’s previous pricing info and our calculations, tickets were $10 more than we had anticipated—my friend was unsure how much money was in his checking account and he started freaking out that we were about to be a couple dollars short of buying already expensive tickets due to unplanned service fees. Long and dramatic story short, he ended up getting tickets and much to our dismay West cancelled his tour last week (My friend and I are getting refunded, on the bright side).

However, this is a scenario far too common for concert goers and music lovers: Getting tickets to see one of your favorite artists is more difficult than necessary, and in part that is because, more often than not, Ticketmaster is the only ticket marketplace to get tickets from. So if you cannot get tickets via Ticketmaster and the show sells out, your options grow limited to 1) Not going or 2) Second-tier marketplaces such as StubHub.

This may change, soon.

Rumors surfaced early last week that Amazon will be expanding its ticket marketplace—Amazon Tickets—service in Europe and potentially the U.S.

Although no outlet I have read has gotten comment or confirmation from Amazon, yet, if this is true it is a great initiative for concerts and for music lovers. It is unbelievable that Ticketmaster practically holds a monopoly over almost all major tours’ tickets and expanded that power when it merged with Live Nation in 2010 to form Live Nation Entertainment.

Any big company, in this case Amazon, that can water down the market that Ticketmaster holds by increasing competition will be a least a step—not sure if it will be forward or backward—toward making tickets more accessible to fans.

Hopefully the move will make it more difficult for scalpers to buy broad amounts of tickets (That they then capitalize on from die hard fans) and ultimately offer fans more than one option when devising plans to go to a concert, starting with the initial step of acquiring tickets to the concert.

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons

Brooklyn Vegan: Reliable Access

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I don’t remember when precisely I started reading Brooklyn Vegan (BV), but I know why I did and why I still do: Access. I like how on-top of music happenings the three-quarters music blog and one quarter music news site is—be it of the New York area or the national stage. There have been instances where the blog was my main news source for a specific music interest (such as the time it appeared that nobody knew if Governor’s Ball Music Festival was going to cancel the it’s third day last June). I love their Twitter and Instagram feed for the cheer aspect of access. I can’t go to every concert I want to, but I can count on them to have a gallery or at least one picture from the show that gets me closer to the show. On top of galleries and show reviews, BV often posts the setlist after concerts as well, and I am a sucker for analyzing an setlists. I also love when they break news on tour announcements and sometimes even publish ticket presale codes.

The blog’s general Twitter is particularly useful and helpful—just last week I tweeted at them a question and they responded—in trying to keep up with new music coming out and learning about artists that are in the East Coast and may be announcing a tour or pop-up shows. The blog interacts with people by constantly Tweeting already published posts or updates from a concert. Facebook interactivity isn’t high, let alone comment engagement, however. Neither is the blog’s “comments” section underneath posts. One common and interesting facet of posts is the embedding of Tweets or Instagram posts from the general public. This feature increases the aforementioned interaction.

 

I think BV can improve its actual appearance website-wise, because it isn’t as attractive compared to other sites such as Pitchfork. Nonetheless, there is something about the current appearance that sort of fits the aesthetic of a music blog—defining it isn’t a big-name, polished site, but reliable nonetheless. Similar to the Allston Pudding in Boston/Allston, but bigger.

Dave Levine, who is often just referred to as Dave or BV or Brooklyn Vegan, founded the blog in 2004, according to the blog’s about page. The blog is focused in the New York music scene, but has expanded—such as the Austin- and Chicago-based Brooklyn Vegan sites and BV’s acquisition of heavy metal blog Invisible Oranges in 2013. Most recently I have noticed more interaction between BV and Invisible Oranges on Twitter. This may be that I am more attentive or that they are actually interacting more. BV is and has been independently owned since it was started; it is also a member of digital marketing company Townsquare Music, alongside Loudwire.com and JustJared.com.

Web traffic peaked in August, according to a Similar Web analysis, which makes sense due to the amount of festivals that occur in the summer months so there could have been more referrals, galleries or overall coverage of music festival season. Approximately 30 percent of traffic came from a direct search, 21 percent from social media and 42 percent from a search. These numbers sound correct due to the activeness of the blog on social media, and also what appears to be a loyal readership that would seek out information from them specifically.  

https://widget.similarweb.com/traffic/brooklynvegan.com

Nonetheless, BV receives a fraction of the visits that Pitchfork does, according to another Similar Web web traffic analysis. This makes sense, too, because Pitchfork is larger (part of Conde Nast). In a comparison to Allston Pudding, BV is much larger—resembling Pitchfork in relation to BV.

https://widget.similarweb.com/traffic/brooklynvegan.com,pitchfork.com

 

https://widget.similarweb.com/traffic/brooklynvegan.com,allstonpudding.com

 

I can’t really assess what kind of revenue strategy it is pursuing besides the exclusive content that exposes ads.

Photo Courtesy Incase, Creative Commons

Q&A with Daniel Gibson

Last week I got to talk to Daniel Gibson of Streets of Laredo about the band’s sophomore album, how the band has evolved and touring with CRX (Nick Valensi’s side project). The Q&A ran in Tastemakers Magazine this morning:

Daniel Gibson, the singer/guitarist fronting Streets of Laredo, loves developing his band’s music while still preserving their sound. The family-based band is originally from Auckland, New Zealand, but relocated to Brooklyn, New York in 2012. The band released their sophomore album Wild on Oct. 21, but Gibson said being an aspiring band in a big city is no menial task. Tastemakers Magazine recently caught up with Gibson over the phone while the band is on the road supporting CRX—the side project of The Strokes’ guitarist Nick Valensi.

Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): To start off, Wild came out two, three weeks ago, how was working with John Agnello on the album?

Dan Gibson (DG): It was really amazing. He’s got a really amazing history. He has mixed, recorded and produced a bunch of records which we really dig; he mixed a Phosphorescent album, Dinosaur Jr. and stuff. I suppose, you know, he’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and it was really, really, awesome working with him in the studio. But, also, he’s a true artist. He’s always trying to make a song bigger, you know? And whatever the song needs he doesn’t need really any belief to take a risk and go there.

Read the full interview here.

Women not as prevalent as men in tech companies

This is an interactive graph depicting the gender breakdown of four technology companies—Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo—utilizing 2015 data Professor John Wihbey provided verbally in class.

I wanted to make the graph interactive so that the viewer can actually mark a point they wish to note or just to see the actual percentage point because as a consumer of information myself I have found that interaction helpful in retaining information and also in analyzing a data visualization from a macro and micro perspective.

There is a clear difference in the amount of women in technology-related positions at these big tech companies in comparison to men, as depicted by the graph.

Caffé Vittoria serves Italian delicacies in the North End

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Caffé Vittoria rests sandwiched in between shops and the North End’s hustle and bustle on Hanover Street.

The Original Italian Caffé” opened in 1929 and has been serving a variety of coffee drinks, special martinis and “pasticceria tradizionale” – traditional Italian pastries – for almost 100 years.

“The coffee is authentic because we try to be consistent,” said the cafe’s manager Armando Reyes who said he started working at the cafe 30 years ago as a busboy. “When someone comes back they will get the same [consistent cup of] coffee.”

On a rainy Sunday afternoon I found myself trying the cafe’s red velvet cheesecake—something different from my usual choice of cappuccino or “cioccolatto caldo” (hot chocolate) and cannoli go-to combination.

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A chocolate crust molded the cheesecake’s shape that contained layers of plain cheesecake with a red velvet cake center and cream top. The dessert was a little bit on the sweet side, but I liked it and a black cup of coffee would have complimented it nicely (I had already had a cup and a half so I refrained from more caffeine). The texture of the cheesecake was interesting and unlike that of any other I have tried due to the red velvet cake center.

I would recommend the cheesecake to a friend, but would also recommend just the hot chocolate as something more subtle for a first taste of what the cafe has to offer.

The most common dessert pairing is a “cappuccino and cannoli,” according to Reyes. The cafe offers more than a dozen Italian delicacies as well as gelato and three full-liquor bars over four floors of seating, according to the menu.

“I love everything on the menu,” Reyes said. “I used to be skinny when I started working, then I started trying everything.”

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The second page of the menu

Caffé Vittoria is located on 296 Hanover St. and is open Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday from 7 to 12:30 a.m. It is handicap-accessible. The nearest T stops are: Haymarket (Green and Orange Lines), North Station (Green and Orange Lines) and Aquarium (Blue Line).

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All photos by me (Alejandro Serrano)