American Memory

August 30, 2008

Flick, over at blog/label Chasing Lions, has pointed out the amazing American Memory project, run by the US Library of Congress since 1994.  Their aim is to “provide free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.”

A collection of well over 1000 sound recordings is included in the project, from Blues & Gospel to music played during the Civil War.

What I find most fascinating about this music is the cultural echo chamber it represents – A song like “John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man” has been covered by everyone from Robert Johnson, to Huddie Ledbetter, to Peter Seeger right up to Bruce Springsteen.  And the Carter Family’s rendition here is so volitile, so yearning, that it outdoes many of the versions that came afterward.

In other songs, such as the Mountaineer’s Courtship by Earnest and Hattie Stoneman, you can hear the sound of modern artists who’ve found this music so inspiring – Califone, Wilco, Why? and others.

But most striking is the modernity of some of the songs – in a listening test, I doubt many people would be able to recognize that a song as ancient, and as downright distrubing, as The Fatal Flower Garden by Nelstone’s Hawai’ians, wasn’t written in the modern era.

A fascinating treasure trove – University College Dublin’s Folklore Archive, the largest such archive in Europe, could learn a bit about granting access to recorded history from this remarkable public service.

Can you recommend any “old-timey” music that speaks to more than just it’s time, or have you any favourites from the archives?  I’d love to hear them!

In Rainbows, On Torrents

August 23, 2008

A nice, quick digestible read from MCPS-PRS Alliance and torrent tracker BigChampagne, analyzing the “success” of Radiohead’s last release, can be found here.  If you’ve any interest in recorded music sale and experience in a post In Rainbows/NIN era, it’s essential stuff.

A couple of points:

  • Despite being available for free at, the album was downloaded via Torrents a staggering 400,000 times on it’s release day.  The next most downloaded album was only downloaded 157,000 times in a week.
  • The next stage of P2P evolution is well and truly underway – The Pirate Bay is as big (if not bigger) brand than iTunes.  Attention is as scarce as it has ever been, but there is clearly A LOT of attention being paid to sites like MiniNova and TorrentSpy.  The question for music companies is, of course, how do you harness the massive use of files (and attention) for the benefit of artists and businesses?  Is it even possible?

Pinching McDonald’s WiFi, Networking while wearing Slippers and the Glamour of the New Music Industry

August 4, 2008

Broadband – I don’t think there’s another resource more essential to a start-up these days (with the possible exception of Coffee).

I was well aware of this way back in December, when I was still in San Francisco planning the move to Belfast – “Is there anything I can do to help with the move?” asked my sister. “Why yes” I replied, “would you mind making sure there’s wireless broadband set up in the flat?” To me, it was like asking to make sure there was hot water when we arrived.

When we arrived, 2 months later – no broadband. So began the needle-in-a-haystack search through the cafes of Belfast looking for elusive free WiFi.  This was surprisingly frustrating – the folks at Cafe Metro on High St., when asked if they had free WiFi, replied that if I wanted “the internet”, there was a computer supply shop around the corner.

Thankfully, right around that time I found had posted a nifty guide to free wifi in Belfast – thus I spent my days nipping out to these various spots until we finally got broadband in the flat. All was well – until we moved house.

I’ll not name-names, but where we moved to is a little more “colloquial” than the great city of Belfast. And for some sadistic reason Broadband companies require at least 10 days to transfer broadband to a new address. I was right in the middle of a 7″ release, booking an Irish tour, signing on two new acts and working out a licensing partnership, so I couldn’t very well take 2 weeks off.

So, I found myself confronted with the uncomfortable prospect of going to McDonalds to access the internet – being that it was the only free wifi gig in town. After one day of getting pelted by screaming 8 year olds and stepping on day old french fries, I did the only thing I could – I parked outside and stole it.

My car became my office for those 2 weeks: coffee mugs on the dash, sticky notes on the visors for to-dos, in-car bluetooth for phonecalls – and because sometimes I’d work late at night, I got comfortable – possibly too comfortable; some nights I’d leave my house in my slippers and pyjamas and head to the McDonalds parking lot, the staff surely recognizing the black car parked in the “Grill Order Only” waiting area, only the faint blue glow of my macbook visible from their vantage point behind the beige/red vinyl counter.

So why the reminiscence? Two days ago my broadband went out, and it’s still not fixed. So I find myself back in my car, outside McDonalds, in my slippers – writing to you. Do you think the clerks missed me?