The business of Bandcamp

Ben Ratliff, for the NYT:

Does streaming from Spotify, Apple Music or Tidal answer your needs in terms of audio quality and how well the artist is paid? Do you have a good record store nearby, and does it sell cassettes and vinyl, too? Do you only buy new records directly from artists, with a cash transaction and a handshake? Do you love spending time on iTunes?

If you answered no to all these questions, you probably know about Bandcamp, the online music site known for its equitable treatment of artists, and one of the greatest underground-culture bazaars of our time.

Spotify’s Release Radar

Release Radar is Spotify’s latest personalised playlist. Whereas Discover Weekly updates on Mondays and takes its pick from all the entire Spotify catalogue, Release Radar updates on Fridays and focuses solely on the past few weeks’ releases.

Ben Popper, for The Verge, quoting Spotify’s Edward Newell:

When a new album drops, we don’t really have much information about it yet, so we don’t have any streaming data or playlisting data, and those are pretty much the two major components that make Discover Weekly work so well. So some of the innovation happening now for the product is around audio research. We have an audio research team in New York that’s been experimenting with a lot of the newer deep learning techniques where we’re not looking at playlisting and collaborative filtering of users, but instead we’re looking at the actual audio itself.

Discover Weekly is easily my favourite thing about any streaming service, and this appears to be just as good, in spite of the data challenges posed by focusing on new releases.

I got tracks by:

  • Favourite artists that I already know have new material out (Dinosaur Jr., Father John Misty)
  • Favourite artists that I didn’t know had new stuff (Wilco! Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?)
  • Long-forgotten artists I would likely otherwise never have heard of again (Cotton Mather)
  • Artist I haven’t heard of but seem up my street

It’s brilliant. My only issue is that these great features sit apart from my iTunes library, so Spotify can’t learn from my broader listening habits, but that’s clearly no fault of the product.

The Living Room: A film about Gavin Clark

The Living Room is Shane Meadows’ 2015 film about Gavin Clark, a musician and long-time collaborator:

I recently watched This Is England and its TV series follow-ups in a single weekend. (I’m unsure whether to recommend you do the same; my emotions remain utterly shot, not yet reverting to their previous state.) Clark’s music appears in all of Meadows’ work: as a solo artist, and as a member of a few short-lived bands.

The film takes us through Clark’s difficulty with solo live performance, struggling even to play a show for friends and family in his own living room. Meadows made it after finding out that his best mate—the most talented musician he’d ever met—was delivering pizza to make ends meet, his back catalogue having been critically lauded but largely ignored by the public. The idea is that Clark appears in several living rooms to build his confidence before tackling a full tour.

His work is instantly identifiable. Fairly sparse, mostly acoustic instrumentation, nods to blues and folk, disarmingly simple guitar playing, and that voice. The best I can describe it is: it carries the lyrics upwards while simultaneously pulling them down with gravitas and life experience. It’s half choirboy, half fags ‘n whisky. These are awful descriptions, so you should listen to him instead.

If you’ve watched This Is England then you might remember this cover of Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want:

I bought the (only?) Sunhouse album in ’98 after a glowing review in MOJO. I’ve gone through stages over the subsequent years of pulling it out and giving it more spins, always pleased at how it aged so well, always wondering why Clark wasn’t much more famous.

He recorded with UNKLE:

It was only when the credits on This Is England ’90 rolled that I saw the dedication to Clark. He sadly died in February last year, a week after The Living Room was uploaded to YouTube (although it was recorded several years earlier).

Clark had battled addiction to drink and drugs at various points in his life. His final work, with Toydrum, is celebrated as among his best. Time for me to give it a good listen.

Quick tip: auditioning albums in Apple Music

For the past few years I’ve had a Spotify account that I used to collect albums to try out based on friends’ recommendations or strong reviews. I’d star them in Spotify, give them a spin or two, decide whether or not to buy them (in the iTunes store), then unstar to get rid of them. iTunes was always my permanent collection, Spotify was my ‘listen later’ service.

I thought about doing the same with Apple Music but I was concerned it might be a bit tricky to remember what I was ‘auditioning’ and what I owned. Sure, there are visual cues, but I’d have to scan my whole library to see everything.

The answer ended up being completely obvious: make a smart playlist. Simply choose ‘iCloud Status’ is ‘Apple Music’ and ensure ‘Live updating’ remains checked.

It’s early days but I like Apple Music and I think I’ll stop using Spotify. For the most part, anyway—a couple of the ‘Spotify Sessions’ releases have been very good. Transferring my large list of starred albums will be time-consuming but I’ve already downgraded my account to the free version for the duration of the 3-month Apple Music trial.