The undiscovered country…

July 25, 2008
Heartless Bastards - Erika WennerstromImage via Wikipedia

I’ve been involved in some amazing discussions about discovering long-tail, under-the-radar bands (who are consequently great) lately.  It’s quite exciting.  I wouldn’t have heard of any of these guys even 8 years ago – the wonder of the internet, I suppose.

We take a two-pronged approach here at Penny – we’re both part of the SF Bay Area, our area of genesis if you will.  On the other hand, we’re Northern Irish, born and raised.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences of both places lately, of the pluses and minuses of both.

But today I realized the best music I’ve heard all month has come from two bands:  one from the Bay and one from Belfast:

I hit on Two Sheds via the (imho) best podcast in the world –  (Seriously, check it out.  If only all local music podcasts were this great!).   A mix of Heartless Bastards, Holly Golightly and Cat Power:- the starkness of the melodies, the little flourishes of spoons, strings or horns just hit all the right spots.

On the home-front, a good friend recommended DuChampions.  Again, a wonderfully lyrical female at the helm, there’re hints of Broken Social Scene (ok, more like signposts) which is never a bad thing and the part-sung, part spoken vocal styles of some of the tracks are wonderful reminders that it’s not just Van Morrison, Belfast’s favorite son, who can get away with such affectations.  More importantly, the band sounds like they’re laying down their lives for the songs – which’ll make me a follower every time.

So, what’ve you discovered lately that’s under the radar but still blowing you away?  Doesn’t have to be local, or even unsigned – just something not a lot of folks have probably heard.

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July 22, 2008
I like Rcrd Lbl. Ever since reading about Peter Rojas collab with Josh Deutsch of Downtown records, I liked their “ready-fire-aim” approach.

So, in the spirit of co-operation, I’ll be pinching some of their widgets and plopping them here – music that you may have missed. Kicking it all off we have Dublin’s Grand Pocket Orchestra, just because they’ve been on my mind lately and they rule and (they’ll be back in Belfast in Sept.)

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How to contact music blogs

July 18, 2008
Pitchfork Media LogoImage via Wikipedia

There’s a general understanding nowadays that music blogs, especially the more influential ones such as Gorilla Vs. Bear, You Ain’t No Picasso (who broke Bon Iver), Aquarium Drunkard, Brooklyn Vegan and many others, can have a profound effect on an artist’s career.

They only cover stuff they like and have track records in turning on large amounts of people to great new music.  But how do you go about getting your name into one, or many, music blogs?

Here’re a few things I’d consider:

  • Do your homework:  You need to find blogs who’re talking to fans who might also like your ban.  Who does your act sound like?  Go to HypeMachine ( and type in the names of similar artists and find out who’s talking about them.  Get the contact info and write them an email.
  • Be relevant and brief –  I’d send along something like:  “Hi, I saw you liked band x.  Great band/album.  I’m in a band that sounds quite like them, here’s my myspace etc.”
  • Try not to annoy – Follow ups every 10 days to 2 weeks is sufficient.
  • Don’t send any attachments or MP3s:  Say what you need to say briefly, with possibly a press release below your message in the body of the email.  It’d help if you had a website set up where bloggers could download the music and info if they were interested, but simply offering a myspace and website URL is usually enough.
  • Record and track your progress:  I’ll use Google Docs to record contact info and notes on a certain bloggers contact.  It’ll sometimes take 3 or 4 emails to get any kind of response so you’ll need to easily track what stage you’re at with each contact.
  • Build relationship:  Remember, you’re not looking for the front page of Pitchfork just yet.  If you get any response from a blogger, even a “Thanks, but no thanks”, use that as an opportuinity to start a conversation – you never know where it might lead later on.

Anyway, that’s my $0.02.  What’s your experience in this brave new world of music journalism?

Update: By coincidence (I’m behind on my feeds 🙂  New Music Strategies and Jeff Pulver have both posted great ideas on this subject.

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On tour…

July 13, 2008

It’s been an interesting few weeks as I followed Escape Act & Tom McShane across the length and breadth of our fair isle, touring in support of their new 7″ release.

It was quite a journey – from rabid fans in Derry (“OMG, are you guys Escape Act?  I heard you on Colin Murray – He’s the new John Peel!), to aloof music-browsers in Tower Records, it was quite the spectrum.  All said, all of the dates were enormously positive, and unique in their own way…

Derry was a raucous environment, and the city has a frenetic energy at the best of times – then, in true summer-time fashion, 50 or so Italian students landed in off of a bus halfway thru Tom’s set and made quite the crowd

Tower Records in Dublin was a chance to see if either act could control it’s sound to play in such a small space – with a liberal use of “jazz hands”, both Tom & Escape act played mezmerizing sets to the ever-changing, vinyl browsing crowd.

The 3 hour, Friday rush-hour trek back from Dublin to Belfast that same day was a marathon for everyone, but it was worth it for the show at Lavery’s that awaited that night.  The crowd was expectant and warm for the show, with only one appearance by the cheap and sleazy Belfast punter (“Why would I pay to get in when I can watch the show from the door?” is an actual quote from one guy.)

Back in Dublin only 1 day later, upstairs at Whelan’s was a wonderful venue.  A sign above the bar reads “Dear Customers:  Whelan’s is a listening venue.  Please respect the artists and remain quiet during the performance”  It’s rare that venues understand simple principles such as this – between trying to make a buck from artists and draw a crowd, sometimes the music is simply lost in the shuffle.

Luckily, the music was at the fore that night – I have to admit to being a bit star struck by the opener, Mumblin’ Deaf Ro.  Ever since Neassa (from The Terribles) sent me his album last year I’ve been besotted by the Dublin song-smith’s lyrical story-telling and mesmerizing guitarwork – I’d highly recommend you check him out –

A week later, Cork’s welcome was a warm one – plenty of radio play and press made for a good, if chatty, turnout.  The nattering masses made getting people’s attention quite difficult, but the lads were up to the challenge:  at one point Chris from Escape Act was rocking so hard he kicked over the half the drumkit.  The move certainly served it’s purpose and turned a few heads.  Jim @ Plugd records was enormously enthusiastic about the 7″ and the store is one of the best I’ve seen – check it out if you’re ever down there!

The swan-song, then, was in Limerick last night – the ever-fabulous Vertigo Smyth, as he had in Cork, played an amazing set augmented by some wonderful double-bass and ukelele work.  The after-party was supposed to be at a place in Limerick called Daphnes – word had it that the bar never closed but rumours abounded that local law-enforcement had started to crack down on the revelry.  So it was, that when we arrived at the venue at 3am there were various crowds of folks milling about hoping to get the signal to enter the aladdin’s cave of late night boozing.  The fact that there were crowds outside what was supposed to be a “secret” shebeen kind of negated any chance of getting in – Limerick’s worst kept secret indeed.  Good thing there was a house party to be had!

So here I am drinking a hair-of-the-dog in Limerick, and I’m still processing all of this – the good, the bad and the smelly.  Once my head is in a place where it’s fully functional, I’m sure I’ll have some insight.  Till then, I’m just gonna marinade in the whole, messy lot.  Yum.

Rough Trade, Sister Ray calling…

July 8, 2008

Why yes, yes it is.

Just some pics today of my recent trip to chat to the nice folks at Rough Trade and Sister Ray about our current and upcoming releases.  The pictures tell the story of love, loss and alcohol better than I ever could –

Our gracious hosts…

Tom’s new fashion accessory – Green Vinyl


Would you like a drink? – No, thanks, I’m not thirsty. – wha??


Virginia Woolf’s Grandfather’s Graveyard


Can’t work all the time…

I ❤ Swingboats

and old tyme-y hockey games

Too big for this 😦

I’m waving! See!

It is, you know.It is, you know.

Gin, Television & The Social Surplus

July 3, 2008
Graphic representation of a minute fraction of...

Image via Wikipedia

Last year’s SF Music Tech Summit raised an interesting concept for me – Blogs, Social Media, Wikipedia etc. are nothing more than “The Tyranny of the Bored”.  The premise being that the new gatekeepers of music and media are those who sit around all day and do nothing but post blogs, review records and generally interact with the web.

The concept never really sat well with me – sure, it seems like just a lot of people with too much time on their hands, but IS it?  Is that what things like Wikipedia are primarily made up of?  Losers without a life?  Somehow, it didn’t add up.

Then I read this article, and the penny dropped.  The basic thesis here is that thoughout any technological or industrial upheaveal, there’s a period of brain-freeze in society at large – the changes are too vast to contemplate, too new to fully grasp, so we mask it.  During the industrial revolution, we used gin.  During the latter half of the 20th Century, it was TV (namely, the sitcom).  “Desperate Housewives essentially functions as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.”  Wild, I know.

But once we emerge from this binge, enormous technological leaps are ready to be made.

What struck me most is about how this relates to the emerging music economy:  “The way you explore complex ecosystems is you just try lots and lots and lots of things, and you hope that everybody who fails fails informatively so that you can at least find a skull on a pikestaff near where you’re going. That’s the phase we’re in now.”

And this was exactly my approach to the presentation I gave at Barcamp, it was exactly the approach Andrew Dubber thought was the right one (he called it “Ready-Fire-Aim”) and it’s exactly what Penny Distribution is shooting for.  With the goal of carving out 1/100th of the cognitive surplus that’s suddenly waking up from it’s stupor.

To me, the best thing you can do (if you’ve any interest at all) is read a lot, think a lot and then try something in the music industry ESPECIALLY if it’s technology related.  Look at the ingredients that will make up the New Music Economy, then fire up the stove and start cooking – a sprinkle of licensing, a dash of subscription, maybe a slice of Co-Marketing.  Someone’s going to make one HELL of a stew.

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