Music

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release “Death Magnetic” in 2008 (Boy did we not foresee having to wait eight years for another full album from the outdated Bay-area thrashers).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.

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Hassle Fest 8 starts tomorrow

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Hassle Fest 8—the eighth installment of Brain Arts and Boston Hassle’s music and art showcase—will kick off Friday night at Brighton Music Hall with more than 30 scheduled acts over the two-day long fest.

Local Allston groovers Sadha will play the fest for the first time Saturday afternoon. Guitarist Jacob Schwartz said he is excited to be playing, being that he has grown a part of the Boston Hassle community ever since he volunteered tabling and doing sound for Boston Hassle shows a couple of years ago, before he went to college. Schwartz is a freshman studying musicology and music theory at Hampshire College.

“It just feels really nice [to get to play], we are all just a big family and I guess if you put in effort you get nice shit out of it,” he said. “Boston Hassle has put me in touch with a music scene that contains music and art that I care about. I have an incentive to play shows.”

The fest also includes an THRASH LAND—an art environment focused with a theme of recycled items displayed through the work of local artists.

Jilian Medford, singer of Ian Sweet, said that she is looking forward to playing an eclectic collection of songs during the band’s set Friday night.

“Really nice for us to be debuting songs from the new album to people who haven’t heard them live, we play a couple old ones, especially when we are in Boston,” she said. “I wanna dig up some olds […]  just for the sake of messing it up or seeing if it works out. I want it to be a fun set, for sure, it always is, but whenever we play this new record it can be emotional for me so it can be nice to play some of the older ones.”

Ian Sweet is originally is from Boston—Medford met the other bandmates when she moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music—but moved to Los Angeles for a couple of months.

“I am excited to be back in Boston and with all of our friends,” she said.

The Monsieurs have been rocking Boston and Allston for years now, but guitarist Hilken Mancini said she hasn’t lost appreciation for the local scene and events such as Hassle Fest. The Monsieurs will play this year’s installment of the two-day festival on Friday night.

“I am just glad that this continues to happen and I feel lucky to be a part of it as I get older, and as a woman,” she said. “There is so much going on and there is so much support  […] it is good to know that people still give a shit about rock and roll.”     

Tickets are $25 at the door. Music starts at 6 p.m. on Friday and 3 p.m. on Saturday. Tentative set times can be browsed here.

Photo Courtesy DigiBoston, Creative Commons

Rock and roll isn’t dead, Roger Daltrey

“The sadness for me is that rock has reached a dead end […] the only people saying things that matter are the rappers and most pop is meaningless and forgettable.”

Guess who. Kanye West? Drake?  

Nope, it was Roger Daltrey, frontman of The Who, that said rock is dead in a recent interview with The Times magazine.

Now, I am not going to say that Daltrey doesn’t know what he is talking about, he has been around. But saying rock and roll is dead AND that rappers are “the only people saying things that matter” is absurd—ironically, the type of behavior that you would expect from a rockstar.  

I have had the discussion of “is rock dead?” with too many friends over the years, at this point. And I stand by, and will continue to stand by, the notion that it is not. “Name a current day rockstar?” is the most common follow up question. Well for starters, what constitutes a rockstar? Are rock heroes such as Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Tom Petty, Nikki Sixx, Axl Rose, Morrissey, Liam and Noel Gallagher, Eddie Vedder (and so on and so forth) irrelevant because they are old now? What do you expect from a rockstar? On top of that, the discussion is about rock and roll, the genre, not the entities that fulfill badassness.

There is a plethora of bands that are rock and roll—What is Jack White doing? What are the Strokes doing? What is Radiohead doing? What is Tame Impala doing? What are the Alabama Shakes doing?

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Sure these bands don’t all sound exactly the same nor fill a heavy-first template of sound, but they are modern day rock. I would hate if every band in the last 40 or 50 years sounded exactly the same as what came before them. Even back, 40 or 50 years, not every “rock” band sounded the same; they sounded similar. Led Zeppelin was not the Who the same way Pearl Jam wasn’t Guns n’ Roses the same way the Strokes aren’t Tame Impala. The new bands were influenced by older artists. For example glance The Last Shadow Puppets and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner’s “What I’m Listening To” playlist on Spotify—the first track on the playlist is Leonard Cohen’s “Is This What You Wanted?” which The Last Shadow Puppets recently covered in their own way.

The aforementioned bands prove rock isn’t dead because they took a sound that they liked and then molded it into something new, still preserving elements that suit the rock genre, like distorted guitars and powerful vocals. Kind of familiar how the Beatles started out with the music that influenced them into finding their own original sound, and as the Rolling Stones did, too and just like many other bands.

I can see where Daltrey is coming from, as he once said that when the Who was the most creative they tried to avoid outside influences by not listening to anyone else’s music. Times have changed, though, and it is nearly impossible to avoid music. For Daltrey to say that rappers are the only artists that have a meaningful voice and that top stars don’t have a lasting effect is just disrespectful. Ultimately, it is his opinion and things are different for a man who has taken the stage in front of thousands many times—I disrespectfully disagree with Daltrey. Rock is evolving and always will be, perhaps now there are just more sounds accessible to listeners that make it more difficult to categorize one specific sound to “rock.” That is not to say the genre is dead, though.

Photo courtesy Ingrid Richter, Creative Commons

Black Market exhibits local creativity

Signs leading to the entrance on the side of Elks Lodge

Signs leading to the entrance on the side of Elks Lodge

Scores of people browsed hand-made crafts, used and new vinyl, and an assortment of clothing at Ignore Rock and Roll Heroes and Boston Hassle’s Black Market yesterday.

Vendors’ tables hugged each other from wall to wall with narrow aisles for people to gander, both in the lodge’s first floor and basement. Admission was $1 at the door and there was a cash bar (21+) and coffee table in the basement.

There were more than 65 vendors in this installment of the “art/record/flea/artisan” market, according to the event’s Facebook page.

The bimonthly market is held at Cambridge Elks Lodge—down the street from Central Square. There were people of all ages and crafts of all sorts; here are some that caught my eye:

Pun Pantry: A brand at the intersection of food and pop culture, connected through puns, had a table in the basement, right down the entrance. Several people walked by and would look a second time before chuckling at puns like “Taylor Swiss” or “The Grapefruit Dead.”

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Sean Patrick Watroba was selling his art in a variety from poster-sized prints to dollar coin-sized buttons. The “Harambe” button pictured below is one of a few amount, Watroba said. The button next to it is one of Watroba’s illustrations—it reads “I have nothing left to live for.” 

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Joseph Mauro of Providence, R.I. set up camp at a table next to the bar with a collection of music photography he has shot at concerts in the Rhode Island scene, he said.   

Here is part of my live-tweeting coverage from Sunday.