Spotify, SpiralFrog & New Bands

April 23, 2009
Image via Wikipedia

A quick comparison between 2 similar music services: Spotify & SpiralFrog.

Ostensibly, they both had the same model – offer music for free, pay with ads. But SpiralFrog didn’t even get out of the gate and is now closing, whereas Spotify is burning up the ‘net and has found some well earned breathing space to experiment with its business model.

The difference? SpiralFrog focused on satisfying content owners (labels) first by ignoring customer needs and creating a clumsy, DRM-laden interface. Spotify, quite clearly, focused on creating the most attractive and useful user experience. And by doing so, people are on their side.

Spotify won people over with it’s simplicity – and with that comes a certain amount of patience with experimentation in their advertising. I heard a Spotify Windows-esque 3tone jingle before an ad recently – a subtle way to inform me that an advertiser was trying to get my attention. And it worked. And it wasn’t particularly intrusive. No, it’s not perfect and Spotify are a long way from being safe. But SpiralFrog weren’t even able to get this far.

And how is this is relevant to bands?

Focus on what your fans want, first and foremost, not what you want. Yeah, you want their email address – but they want to stream that single (or album) before they commit to downloading it, so let ’em. Don’t make them jump though hoops before letting them hear the tunes.

Try this ridiculously simple exercise before you put anything by your band online – If I was a fan, or potential fan, of my band, and not a member, how exactly would I want to hear this music, or watch this video.

Win them over with simplicity – let them hear the whole album on a dedicated page (like Bandcamp allows you to do). Direct them to free video content of the band from the same page – give away stickers.

Once they know you’re aiming to please, then you can start to experiment. But if you’re focused on making sure you, the content owner, get your way (money for that CD, emails, downloads) from day one – well, you’ll go the way of the SpiralFrog.

What I’m Listening To…

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Albums of the Decade: More Deep Cuts by Thee More Shallows

April 14, 2009
Cover of "More Deep Cuts"
Cover of More Deep Cuts

Started in March, my Albums of the Decade series was based on there being 10 months left in the 10th year of the decade. Each month I look at an album that, for me, has been a musical highlight of the last 10 years. See the first entry here.

More Deep Cuts” is a perfect example of how the way I discover and listen to music has been unalterably changed in the 00’s. One of the first music blogs I ever read was – apparently a bunch of verbose Canadians with nothing better to do than write about music (this was in 2003, remember – way before your granny started her music blog. Twas quite novel at the time…) Their review of the album was enough to get me listening (not to mention the discovery of Santa Clara’s Turn Records. I’d no idea Santa Clara even HAD a music scene…)

With obvious touchpoints being Radiohead and Grandaddy, more recently I’ve found Dee Kesler‘s band to be more akin to Why? or Hood. Doubtless if you like any of these artists, you’ll love this album, but as with most of the artists mentioned above, the creeping sense of claustrophobia and tension is palpable in every track.

From the thermin swoon of “Int #1” to the toy piano clang of highlight “2am”, there’s a continued sense of uneasiness throughout the entire album with Dee’s deadpan yet soothing delivery remaining a constant. Their cover of “I Can’t Get Next To You” remains one of the eeriest re-imaginings of any song I’ve ever heard – although it appeared on their 2006 Monkey Vs. Shark EP the track is a testament to their ability to create incredible moods.

What of course helps to maintain this continuity is that the album is without a musical flaw from the first track to the last. Each song melds into each other over the course of the 40-odd minutes, never once jarring the listener out of the flow of the musical narrative creating a seamless Long Player.

As with other “Albums of the Decade”, More Deep Cuts is extraordinarily intricate – as though each and every piece of this enormously complex jigsaw was mulled over until it was placed in exactly the right place – the swelling choral voices on “Ave Grave”. The words in Cloisterphobia “place your hat/cock-eyed upon your balding head/and dance a little dance/to celebrate” are placed absolutely perfectly to set up the song’s thunderous conclusion.

Of course, this kind of intricacy clearly came at a price. It took nearly 3 years for Thee More Shallows to produce their sophomore effort – but instead of an overthought-out and lifeless record that you’d expect from such a long gestation period, More Deep Cuts is easily one of the more re-listenable records of the last ten years.

And the care and attention obviously paid to the creation of this fantastic piece of music is evident in every single note. Despite a rather lack-lustre live performance, when a band creates a record that effects me this deeply, it creates the kind of loyalty that’s not easily swayed.

For more information, check out or listen at their LastFM page.

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Northern Ireland Music Industry Meetup #5

April 10, 2009

It was the middle of last year that we noticed the same thing starting to come up in conversation with people we met, both musicians & music businesses: “we really all need to just get into a room and just TALK to one another.”

So the first NI Music Meetup was held in November, which subsequently led to UnConvention Belfast. Both events had basically the same aim: get musicians and music businesses in the same room together, talking – and watch what happens.

Last Wednesday saw meetup #5 at Belfast’s Spring & Airbrake – easily the most successful meetup yet. 40 musicians, studio owners, managers, promotors and marketers got together to basically talk to strangers.

As a twist, this meetup was hijacked for a half-hour (which was strictly timed to avoid rambling) to discuss “How Best to Book a Tour”.

Input was from David Neely, promotor for Belfast’s 4 best live venues (Auntie Annie’s, Katy Daly’s, The Limelight and the aforementioned S&A) and Rory Friers from the band And So I Watch You From Afar….

ASIWYFA are now on their 14th UK tour and played to nearly 800 fans at their album launch in Belfast’s Mandela Hall last Saturday night. There’s simply no other emerging band from Northern Ireland who could do that. Here are a few nuggets from the chat:

You’ve got to expect empty rooms and work through it As long as you treat anyone who shows any interest in your music like a superstar, you’ll be fine. Talk to them after the show, get their email, remember their name and next time out, send them a personal email. They’ll be the ones lending you a couch on tour #5 & #6.

Tour routing is a luxury you don’t have first time out. You have to be willing to play Glasgow, then drive to London overnight, then play Newcastle the next day.

Merchandising is vital – It’s what will let you eat on the road. Bring t-shirts and hand-copied CD-Rs the first time out if you have to. But make sure you have something to hand over to the 5 random folks who stumble into your show.

The only people who truly matter are your fans – A reminder of my last post here: build email lists, reach out to people in places you’re playing, get them involved and let them know you can’t do any of this without them, and they’ll reward you.

Nothing gets done without a little solidarity… As if to confirm the raison d’etre of the meetup, Rory ended by making sure everyone had his email address – if anyone needed help or touring advice, he’d be happy to hear from them.

Contacts, advice, referrals and camaraderie- these are just a few of my favourite things 😀

After the Q&A was done, everyone hung around for another 2 hours talking about their businesses, their music and how they could help one another.

We’d really like to hear how you thought the evening went, what (if anything) you got out of it and any improvements that could be made. The only thing that’s set in stone is that we’ll be continuing to do these monthly get-togethers for the forseeable future, so get involved!

Join the NI Music Meetup Facebook group to keep up to date on the next event and other news.

Extra thanks to David for the use of the space and provision of coffee, tea and nibbles!

SXSW Wrap – The Fan-Centric Future

April 1, 2009

The good folks at FanMail had a lunch at Threadgills during SXSW and some of the points which came up were a summation of how I and, by extension, Penny Distribution want to approach music marketing.

Here’s what caught my ears from the lunch-meet (all the slides used during the presentation are available here)

J.K. Rohrs – Exact Target:

Traditional physical touchpoints are shrinking. Places where one can directly interact with a potential fan such as Retail, Radio, Print are all losing sway. Mass marketing is no longer massive.
Fans are in control & they know it. They are the gatekeepers, not you. They control who they let into their worlds and also who gets bounced for being spammy or irrelevant.
Old Marketing was like an Orchestra With marketer/pr company as the conductor, instructing fans how and where to buy.
Fan-Centric Marketing is a Drum Circle Someone starts, others take part, some dance, some spectate and people leave and return fluidly but each individual decides how to participate.
Turn Fans into Subscribers by…
Optimizing touchpoints. What are you doing to increase the impact of those touchpoints with fans? Ideally, try to include 3 optimizers per touchpoint e.g. is there a download code on that ticketstub? what about CD giveaways in exchange for email addresses? What about a CD included with that Vinyl LP? How about just asking anyone who buys at your merch table for an email address?

1. Serve Individuals, not Lists
2. Honor their preferences – relevant content (e.g. they like only one band from a label, not the entire roster), frequency, channel (how do they like to receive content?) – put the control of these variables in their hands.
3. Deliver timely, relevant information that enhances their lives. Ask yourself “how am I helping / serving fan’s needs?”

I’ll have more from SXSW industy panels via Topspin’s Ian Rogers & William Morris’ Suzanne Brantner tomorrow…