more on filtering out 'junk-music' in a digital age…

In this post from a couple of days ago, commenting on the need to find ways to filter for quality at a time when it seems financial constraints may end up providing less of an incentive to seek out great music to buy, I finished by saying,

“Which only goes to say that we need filters. It doesn’t prove the monetary filters are the only ones, or even the best ones, but it does suggest that we need a way of making sure we doing overdose on junk-music.

And of course, those filters are already there, and I use them. The two i use are Last.Fm and Emusic. Last.fm offers a few different services that can help you discover new music, as well as the option to listen before spending money… firstly, there’s the radio stations, stations that are digitally programmed according to your taste, the tastes of people who like similar things to you, or by the taste of people who happen to also be fans of a particular band, or use a particular tag, so the level of randomness in relation to your own recorded playlists is affected by which of those radio options you choose, and how much listening time you’ve logged. Still, it’s an amazing site, which provides purchasing links with all the artists, data for tracking live music details, tools for blogging about music, forums for connecting with music fans connected by musical or extra-musical interests and a host of other things to make researching music fun.

Emusic is a very different formula, in that it is primarily a shop. The difference being that you ‘subscribe’ for a certain amount per month, and get a certain number of fairly high quality DRM free downloads for your fee. In my case, I get 50 tracks a month for £11.99 – which is about the standard price of a single CD in a specialist music shop. If you happen to like styles of music where the artists record long songs, you can get a heck of a lot of mileage for your money (for example, you could get almost all of the Jonas Hellborg back catalogue with 50 downloads, as few of his albums feature more than 5 or 6 tracks).

This month, I’ve just downloaded John Patitucci’s latest album, ‘Line By Line‘ (which is playing as I write, and is excellent), Gary Willis’ newest project, ‘Slaughterhouse 3‘ (marvellous heavy avant-fusion), and a glorious Kenny Wheeler record called ‘It Takes Two!‘, which I can already tell is going to be become a huge favourite. 3 amazing albums I would have been unlikely to buy on CD, but which I found on emusic via review and recommendation. You see, every artist and album has links next to it to things listened to by people who like that. You also get recommendations via friends and again via digitally compiled lists of users with similar data to your own. The option is there to listen (though the M3U playlist system used to preview music is clumsy and a pain in the arse), or you can just download a couple of tracks and see how you get on.

Both great filters, highly recommended. if you want to find me on either of them, at last.fm my listener page is here and my artist page is here. For emusic, my listener page is here and the place for downloading my music is here.

I really like the emusic model for downloading and paying for music – you’re paying a fraction of the cost of what you would for a CD, but you’re also committing to a certain level of investment each month in the ongoing success of recorded music. Everybody Wins!

"this is grate!! I'v Never herd enyting this good!!"

The title of this blog post (and the idiosyncratic spelling therein) is taken from a note that was given to me at the end of my gig in Hounslow on Friday night by a young kid – a girl of about 7 or 8, I guess. It’s pretty remarkable for a girl of that age (or boy) to think, even fleetingly, that a solo bass gig is the best thing she’s ever heard. Her mother’s a very creative musician, but it’s still pretty remarkable, and delighted me.

As I’ve said before, impressing bass players is pretty simple in the moment. Youtube is full of videos of bassists who can impress other bassists with their speedy circus tricks but who aren’t selling any records because watching a low res vid online is all you need to take all there is from that kind of thing. It’s telling that two of the three videos of mine on there that have got the most views (here and here) are the ones that are ‘funky’, instant, poppy… Youtube isn’t much of a medium for moody introspective ambient stuff (for one thing, the file quality is so low that the lushness of big ambient stuff really doesn’t come across). This isn’t to dis bassists as an audience, (or indeed to dis technically difficult high energy music just because it has those qualities) just that impressing bassists with solo bass stuff is definitely going to be easier than a non-bass audience.

But anyway, I digress… The point was, it’s great to have kids connecting with what I do. I remember receiving an email years ago from a guy who said that mine was the only one of his CDs that his kids would let him play in the car… again, rather nice validation. I’ve had a week of playing to non-bass-playing audiences, and it’s been really nice. Sharing the bill with mainly acoustic acts of varying quality from the very good to the very poor indeed (particularly the one guy in Reading trying desperately to be funny by just swearing loads and writing hideously tasteless pastiche pieces about Diana’s death… total shit.) And getting a mixture of reactions from ‘wow, love what you do, will you come and open for my band?’ to people for whom it just really wasn’t their kind of thing, which is also fine (like I could change it even if I thought it wasn’t?)

Where does this tie in with the current stuff on file-sharing/musician’s revenue etc? Well, tonight’s gig was a jazz trio gig, with Luca Sirianni on guitar and Davide Giovannini on drums. Davide is a really really great drummer, such a joy to play with, and very generous in his playing. There were certain things I would go for in some of the tunes that I’d miss, and Davide was always there to make my screwing up sound intentional. We got into some really lovely grooves and ideas, but it was half way through the second set that I really hit my stride. Which got me thinking about two things – practice and the value of full time musicians. One of the possible outcomes of the file-sharing/free downloads etc. scenario is that a lot of musicians who currently make enough to live on through the recorded music sales combined with live stuff etc. are going to have to get day gigs because that revenue stream will be cut. If that happens, the world will be a poorer place, because there are some musical skills – and certain musical minds that require full time dedication to come to fruition. I’d be a much more accurate groove player if I was doing it every day, if I was in a place to practice it and gig that stuff every day. As it is, I’m good at it anyway, but that extra 5 or 10% that most of the audience wouldn’t know is missing, would make the different between me being a very good groove player and a great groove player.

As a side point – one of the things I was scared of when I started playing solo bass was that it would ruin my ability to play in bands, that somehow my normal bass playing would fall apart, when actually, quite the opposite is true. My relationship with sound is so much more advanced now than it was before I started playing solo, my appreciation for simple lines doing their job, the nuance with which I can hear and employ tiny variations in technique to make a line head in the direction I want it to go in… all of those things are better because I’ve spent years focusing on playing the best music I can possibly play on bass. The things above aren’t things that are spoiled by solo bass, they’re just dexterity things that it takes one a few songs to fall into comfortably…

But anyway, the point was, there are a lot of musicians on the edge of being able to pay the bills right now, for whom the time and head-space they have to devote to music making as full time musicians is vital to their music making process. It’s not that anyone has the right to make money through music – the selling of music is a commercial business after all, and subject to the same degree of liberalisation as any other sales business – but it’s just another factor that’s worth considering when thinking about where music and musicians go from here.

For me personally, I’ve never made enough from just gigging to live on. Never made enough from just teaching to live on. Never made enough from just writing to live on. Never made enough from just CDs/Downloads to live on. All of those combined have meant that thus far I’ve been able to pay my way, keep a roof over my head, and stay fed and clothed. If the recorded music revenue vanishes, I’d have to think where else that short-fall might be made up… It’s quite possible that the increased exposure one would receive from giving music away would result in an increase in gigs (and quite possibly an increase in teaching work, given that I do occasionally get people who’ve heard the records first and then come for lessons…) I’ve yet to see any evidence that that’s true, but I’m open to the possibility…

Whatever, these are all just musings and ponderings in uncertain times. Potentially exciting times – I likes me some progress, I do – but I’m just not convinced that that discussion is currently factoring in much other than ‘people are already downloading music for free, deal with it’, which just seems a bit clumsy to me…

File sharing and the musical diet…

Been doing lots of gigs that I’ll blog about in later on this evening – just running out the door to another gig – but a couple of thoughts first on the relationship between file sharing and musical diet. Specifically in relation to the value we place on things that cost us money.

Back when I had very little money (ooh, that’ll be, um, about an hour ago?) – no, VERY little money, when I was living in Lincoln and earning student-grant-level wages (oh yes, young peoples, there was a time when the government actually GAVE you money to go and study… not a huge amount of money, but it was a grant not a loan, so when you left university, you were free to head off and do idealistic things like VSO or working in a community art project for a year, instead of taking the highest paid job you possibly can just to pay off your £30,000 debt. Oh, how times have changed.) – back then, I had an odd mixture of fearless abandon and meticulous selection when it came to choosing the music I parted with cash for. I was pretty fearless as to the style of what I was buying – might be prog, might be free jazz, might be electropop, orchestral, metal, punk, indie, acoustic – whatever. But because i had limited funds, it had to be great. it had to be the best of its kind. I learnt pretty quick that the recommendations of magazines like Q and the NME were pretty much worthless as they tended to relate to the current coolness factor of a band or project, rather than its status against the canon of work with its field. There were a couple of Q reviewers whose opinion intrigued me, but most of the time when I was swayed by a review, I ended up being disappointed. So I stopped doing that. But it meant that I had a hugely varied record collection, but also one where I had top notch stuff in each category, much of which I carry with me to today, both in terms of affection and influence.

I suspect, had I had much more money, I would have bought in a much less considered way – I’m sure being a Child Of Peel, I would still have had the eclecticism, but I’d have gone out and bought everything. I loved music. I still do. I adore the process of making it, listening to it, thinking about it, imagining what it can be… Without the constraints of availability and cost, I may have ended up with a much bigger collection that less filtered in terms of quality, and where I was less familiar with much of the material. Having recently started listening to much of my vinyl collection again via the magic of the digital realm, I’ve been really surprised at how much of my record collection I know pretty much word for word. Most of the Smiths, The Cure, Lloyd Cole, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, The Pixies, The The… even Yes and Genesis records, I can sing along to with a level of memory much higher than almost anything that’s been released in the last 8 or 9 years. What happened 8 or 9 years ago? I started making more money, and – crucially – started being sent LOADS of Cds for review, or just because bassists wanted me to have their CD, wanted my endorsement. So my listening got far less precious, and it took me quite a while to start to filter out the wasted time.

It’s not that I don’t listen to unknown quantities any more, it’s just that I’m much more choosy again about what I spend my listening time on. Thanks to the miracle of the iPod, I have way more listening time now that I’ve had for about a decade, so I’m getting back into a routine of four-square-musical-meals-a-day. Digesting music, mulling it over, repeat listening, listening to two or three albums by the same artist back to back. Making sure that I get from it what I need, what I want, what is there to be had.

In the last couple of days I’ve listened to a lot of Kelly Joe Phelps and a lot of John Coltrane. And I’m thinking about my own music in the light of how their music makes me feel. And it’s exciting to think where it’ll go as a result. And being excited about music is vital. Excitement is the life-blood of the process. Getting worked up about the joy of making music, being inspired by great music, being in awe of great musicians and writers and wordsmiths and storytellers. It’s all good, very good. And it’d be a tragedy to see it disappear into a world where total access to any music meant that those filters weren’t there.

Which only goes to say that we need filters. It doesn’t prove the monetary filters are the only ones, or even the best ones, but it does suggest that we need a way of making sure we doing overdose on junk-music.

John Patitucci interview from Jan. '99

In my time at Bassist, I interviewed John Patitucci twice – once was the one below, backstage at the Barbican, and once was for a jazz tutorial piece, downstairs at Pizza Express on Dean Street. He was a player that was talked of in such revered tones when I was at college – the pinnacle of wikkid bass skillz, and, I think, the first person I ever noticed playing a 6 string bass (when he was interviewed in Guitarist mag in the late 80s) – The bass line and solo on ‘Got A Match?’ from the first Electrik Band album was pretty much the gold standard. He was a nice guy to interview, friendly and full of great answers, and clearly someone who thinks in a very deep way about his playing. This interview followed his second really great record – ‘Now’. The first, ‘One More Angel’ is one of the finest acoustic jazz records of the last 35 years, IMHO, and came after years of impressive but relatively hollow electric fusion records.


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