I ALMOST KILLED ANBAD, BUT THEN DIDN’T

graveanbad

You’ve possibly noticed that I don’t blog every day any more. (The smart-arses amongst you will note that I never have done.)

It’s not the end, merely a lobotomy. Here’s why: terelinck.com/why-i-almost-killed-my-music-blog

There will still be new bands on here. Just not as many. But that’s the point :)

Here’s to the next six years of ANBAD!

Abraços, Joe x

THE MUSIC BIZ PENDULUM, AND HOW IT MUST KEEP SWINGING IN THE FAVOUR OF INDEPENDENT ARTISTS

pendulum_summary

ANBAD has, as you may well have noticed, been pushing the grammatical-correctness of its moniker in the latter half of last year.

There’s a full post here, but in short, the whittling-down of regular posts has been due to work constraints (boring/inevitable) and the fact that the new music dam has well and truly burst (a wider problem), and sifting through the vast amount of actually new stuff has become more time consuming than ever.

The inevitable thinkpiece on The Future Of ANBAD is to follow shortly – and – SPOILER – it’ll probably be me musing on the creeping feeling that music blogging and/or the music industry needs to change to keep moving forwards.

If the liberating democracy of the internet has open the floodgates, well, great – but the danger is that this vast increase in noise is frightening off bloggers/radio producers/’tastemakers’/etc because the size of the gate-keeping task is so great.

My fear is that this overload means these grass-roots filters find it impossible to resist the temptation of drifting back to the safe simplicity of the old industry; where a quasi-old boy network chooses bands, packages them, informs tastemakers that they are the Next Big Thing, and waits for these apparently independant, ‘new industry’ tastmakers to give them their seal of approval.

This would be bad for a few reasons: it would erase some of the progress of the new independent/DIY music industry model and hand some power back to the old music industry model for one final hurrah; and it would shackle the influence of the people at the new grassroots, who try to highlight new musicians free of external influence.

After all, what is the point of an open and liberated music business model if the people who are writing about new music are effectively just doing as they are told by the old business model?

How does this help showcase artists that are looking to the future, doing it for themselves and ploughing their own furrow? We will all lose – big – if these voices are snuffed out, or restricted to niche coverage.

Maybe now that we’re reaching the inevitable input/output overload of music tastemakers, the Hype Machine is about to cement its position as the only independent, online new-music resource of real use.

Maybe now is the time that the indexing, aggregation and smart sorting of that individual human filtration becomes essential as opposed to merely really useful. (NB: Insert standard ‘I am affiliated with hypem.com disclaimer here.)

My wish for 2014 is that the music business pendulum keeps swinging in the beneficial direction of the independant, the individual and the intruiged. In the meantime – happy new year, pop-pickers.

ANBAD’S TOP 5 BANDS OF 2013

Painted Zeros, possibly celebrating their #1 spot on this list, yesterday

Painted Zeros, possibly celebrating getting the #1 spot on this list, yesterday

Of course, it does look like the cynicism has finally taken over and that I’m making a very pointed gesture by releasing the ANBAD Best-Of-2013 list on the final day of the year.

Actually, like much of the latter half of the year, I was simply too busy to get it online during December’s pre-Christmas LISTAMAGEDDON period. Maybe it makes more sense this way.

Maybe you’re already reading the 2,014 Bands You Have To Listen To In 2014 blog posts, and this is hopelessly late. I dunno.

Either way, this ANBAD End Of Year List is as haphazard as ever, with scant regard given to size of band, influence, buzz, etc. These are just the 10 songs that have got stuck in my head this year, and thus are the Best 5 Bands Of The Year. It’s as good a system as any, right?

There are only five this year. There were 15 last year. This is not because there are ten fewer great bands, but because there is no point in me complaining about the noise outstripping the signal in the new music world if I’m contributing to this unfortunate state of affairs too.

(Last years much more comprehensive lists, featuring the marvellous Seward, Straw Bear and many more, are here, BTW.)

If you’ve been paying attention over the year (and I hope someone has been, because I have been all over the shop), then most of these will not be a surprise. One of them, for the first time, wasn’t even featured on ANBAD. Heady times, friends.

Here’s the top five – please rearrange as you see fit.

5) Champagne Jerry / Business Pony - here’s the inevitable last-minute addition, and it’s the only one that I didn’t get around to writing about on ANBAD.

Many people will blanche at the fact that Champagne Jerry’s ouvre is jokey, throwaway hip-hop-pop, but if a joke is funny, a joke is funny.

And Business Pony is not only good pop music that it makes me smile each time, but the production is, indeed, ‘tight’ (and occasionally by Ad Rock, who performs and collaborates with Champagne Jerry – see below.)

In a world where so much music is po-faced, narcissistic and, frankly, a boooooringggg rehash of guitar music from just over 20 years ago, here’s a reminder that pop music can be light-hearted and inventive, in the way that the songs the Beastie Boys used to bury in the second half of their LPs are. Hate it all you want, because Champagne Jerry is ace.

 

4) Bridie Jackson and The Arbour / Scarecrow / Original ANBAD post - I’ve been banging the drum for Bridie for so long that I was positive this song was reviewed in 2012.

Actually, it came out in the early days of January and it’s testimony to both the song (written by Louis Barabbas of the Bedlam Six) and Bridie & the Arbour’s performance of it that it’s been hovering in my mind like a friendly shadow all year.

 

The song is simply gorgeous.

Bridie Jackson and The Arbour went on to win the Glastonbury festival Emerging Talent Competition, played a brilliant, big gig there, and had this song played all over big BBC radio shows. It feels good to back a winning horse now and then, so please excuse any smugness in the above paragraphs.

3) Pincers / A Sociopath To FameOriginal ANBAD post - This is what I wrote when I first heard Pincers‘ A Sociopath to Fame, and my thoughts and responses haven’t changed at all:

it plays out like a series of dreamy vignettes or a scattering of half-memories, both sonically and lyrically… a gorgeous-sounding song: like all the most immediate recordings, some instruments sound like they’re being played just behind you, and other sounds feel like they’ve been beamed in from another solar system. At one point, I swear the 90s-era internet log-on noise creeps into the mix.

The lyrics – an element that I’ll freely admit to generally ignoring – are a series of remarkably confident statements. (Read them here.)

Sociopath is almost so sparse at times that I worried it would just fall apart, and at that exact moment, it would swell and re-build into a glorious kaleidoscopic flurry of melody… Wonderful.

 

2) Ezra Furman / My Zero / Original ANBAD post - Yes, yes, Ezra is a bit of an old hand.

But he’s technically a new band, kind of, so who gives a shit – especially when My Zero was as good a song as I heard all year. Hell, it even made it’s way onto the BBC 6 Music playlist for a week or two.

 

Maybe I’m getting soft, or maybe I’m less strict than I used to be when it comes to technicalities.

But this song deserves to be at #2 simply because, even today, occasionally a near-perfect guitar pop song comes along, and this is a near-perfect pop song. Brilliant.

1) Painted Zeros / Call Back / Original ANBAD post  - I love that Painted Zeros’ Katie misspelt her own artist name and instead of correcting it, just decided to stick with it, and I simply love Call Back.

 

Yes, it’s gorgeous.

No, it’s not a ground-breaking or bleeding edge song, but it is very now in a more important way: the self-released output of a single artist (and occasional collaborator Andy) that eschews a whole host of tedious, short-termist traits that many of today’s new bands can’t resist.

Thus, in quiet and understated way, Painted Zeros avoids not the lust for buzz-friendliness by dodging flavour-of-the-week drum samples, by not mining whichever bunch of late80s/early-90s bands are de rigueur today (are Pop Will Eat Itself hip again yet?), and by not worrying about production values more than songwriting.

Hence, Call Back is merely a song that is lush, charming, disposable, sweet, lusty, gentle and hooky as hell.

The breathy “Oh well…” chorus has been lodged in my head since I heard it. And, while there’s a hundred more, that’s a good enough reason for me to name it the best new-band song I’ve heard this year.

The follow-up EP, Svalbard was just as good. I hope that Painted Zeros gets the wider attention she/they deserve in 2014, because I have a niggling feeling that there’s a lot more to come.

And that’s it. Hello, 2014!

Catch-33⅓: Too Much New Music To Find Time To Write About Too Much New Music

WARNING: This is a wholly narcissistic post about The State Of This Blog, so if you are faint of heart, skip to the last paragraph, there there is a TL;DR.

Oh, I’ve dropped in some good new music too, as a fish-hook.

ANBAW

A few hardy souls have noticed that, in the last few months, my rate of posting here on ANBAD has deteriorated to the point that the blog’s very title is appearing more ridiculously tenuous than ever before.

What has caused such tardiness?

Did that AIM Award nomination (which coincided with the start of the Blog Post Rot) inflate my prickly ego to the point where I was above writing about new bands? You know, now that I’m a certified tastemaker, and don’t have time for the little people?

Well, no. (OK, a bit). If anything, the generous AIM nod forced me to pull my socks up and keep posting at an artificially-boosted rate until the awards ceremony, simply because I didn’t want to appear there as the editor of a daily music blog that posted only once a week.

Actually, the real reason behind the blogging no-show is, on one hand, far more prosaic, and on the other a Sign O’ The Times.

Five-years-and-a-bit ago, I named the blog A New Band A Day at least partly as a means of forcing myself to overcome creative inertia and write every day; with the hope of becoming passably skilled at something that could help me find a job I enjoyed in the future.

I have thus trodden the literally aeons-old path of: music blogging music PR, and have been very happily working in this capacity since the turn of the year.

So my available time for music blogging has decreased a little bit – ironically, just as I’m being exposed to new music than ever before. (Like this great tune from Backbone, for instance.)

 

And yet, I can still easily find the time needed each day to write the posts.

The writing bit, funnily enough, is a piece of cake, in terms of time. Generally, I try and knock out an article as fast as I can, with sub-20 minutes being a sweet spot that I can regularly hit.

This rapidity is merely the result of writing 250 words, five days a week, for five years.

In that time, the three key things I’ve learnt are: touch-typing, ruthless on-the-hoof editing of hyperbole, and the ability to trust that what I write is going to be passable at worst, and good at best. Ceasing to agonise over every sentence you write is a truly liberating feeling.

Yes, but why am I only writing about a new band about once a week now?

Well, the part that takes the time – the time I just can’t find – is going through all the new music in the first place.

If you are a masochist, read the Twitter feed of any new-music journalist, DJ or blogger, and there will periodically be an OH GOD HELP ME tweet complaining that they have more music to listen to than there are hours in the day.

My inbox has stood at the daunting figure of “999+ unread” for well over a year, and I suspect that most music bloggers experience the same physical pangs of fear that I do every time I peep into my emails.

In desperation, I have developed a miserable ruthlessness for deleting emails, unread, at the merest hint of perceived inappropriateness.

The mention of ‘post-rock’ in the subject line; a first line that begins “Sorry for the mass mail but…”; the word ‘sophomore’: these, and many more harmless traits are a one-way ticket to the email graveyard. (The below new song by ANBAD faves Painted Zeros is one that somehow dodged the inbox slash ‘n’ burn – and good job too, as it’s a fabulous cut.)

I imagine most music bloggers do the same thing. I guess they also feel the same sense of horrible guilt I do every time I mass-delete 200 unread emails: each of which contains music drawn from months of work, hope, ambition, love, fear, dreams, faith, longing, etc. – you know, what makes us human in the first place.

But even if I grab 30 minutes a day, and devote it entirely to sifting through new-band emails, I can evaluate possibly 20 bands at most: and that’s giving one song per band 15 seconds’ listening time – which, frankly, is unusually generous. And out of 20 bands, I only occasionally find one I think is worth writing about.

Here’s the crux of it: even if I can clear 20 bands’ emails a day, I am only making an ever-smaller dent in an ever-bigger pool of unread mail and unheard music. There is too much. (Including this great Bloum track…)

 

Simply put: I do not have enough time to go through the music in my emails and identify the good stuff any more.

I have time to write and post the article, but not the time to find suitable bands to write about. Even if I wrote off the blogging part, and just posted a bulleted list of five good new bands every week, I would still be pushed for the time to find five good new bands. The good artists are still out there, in spades. And quality is the only thing that counts, so I can’t concede ground here. It’s agonisingly frustrating.

With this in mind, I have literally no idea how to solve this problem, besides petitioning Parliament for an 8-day week.

I’m not whinging about my lot – who cares about the problems of another fucking music blogger? Yet: I don’t want to quit the blog, because I love new music and I love writing about it and sharing it and discussing it.

I imagine a lot of music bloggers are in this position too. I’m honest enough to concede that ANBAD can’t continue as it used to until a solution to this most modern of problems is found. I’m a bit stuck.

Suggestions in solving this are (very) welcome: joe@anewbandaday.com

TL;DR: ANBAD’s output has tailed-off because I now receive so much new music that the mere act of trying to find the good music in the pile is so time-consuming that there’s none left to blog about it. Woe is me, etc.

Where Will Your Favourite Artist’s Money Come From If They Get Cancer?; Plus: BLUFRANK

blufrankI’ve stumbled on all sorts of good things online last week, which may account for the absence of posts on ANBAD.

These have been namely: The World’s Greatest Rave Video, The Most In-Depth Prècis of Warren G‘s Regulate Ever, and then – most importantly – the trailer to a documentary called Unsound, which spells out the impact of the new music business model on actual artists.

You know: the people who make the music.

I’m taking the rare step of posting a video on ANBAD, because this trailer contains more thought-provoking sentiments than anything else I have seen, heard or read on this topic, and that anyone who cares about music will intuitively feel too.


Perhaps the most important issue here is that we just don’t know where the music industry is going – and is still making up its own rules.

The kicker is that at the moment the status quo is not just as it ever was (big biz making the $$$, artists getting a rough deal) but now, when we have the opportunity to spread the dough around a bit, the realistic options for an artist to make decent money might be slimmer than ever.

Only making money from gigs is simply not enough, assuming we consumers want to enjoy music as we have done for decades.

Yes, you can make money playing live – but it’s just the old model’s final hurrah: it works on exclusivity alone.

The supply of the product is limited (you have to be in a certain place to experience the gig), just as the supply of recorded music used to be limited (you had to buy a CD to listen to it).

Now there are a zillion technological ways of making/distributing cash, or at least potential ways: micro-transactions, crowd-funding, et al are pretty bog-standard ideas now.

Are there other ways that could help make artists money for the amazing music they make?

Ways that are more direct (i.e fewer slices taken out of the money en route to the artist), less heavy on the purchaser (i.e.: no-one is going to pay £15 for an LP any more – what feels right? £5?) and enabling (i.e. the artist is not compelled to live under the fear of what happens if they cannot play live)

Either we change and start coughing up in new, interesting, this-feels-right ways, or less music gets made. Because when the artist you love can’t, for some reason, perform any more, and thus can’t make money, you can bet your/their bottom dollar that they will choose to put food on the table first.

And their music will fall by the wayside. And that third LP that would have been a true artistic revolution won’t get made. And you won’t hear it. And your life will be poorer. And so on.

Oh, here’s BLUFRANK, by the way, who is buried beneath all this, and is here for two reasons.

 

Firstly: because he is making the kind of trashy disco quirk-pop that is unpretentious, fun and can hold your attention in a way that, say, a song by any number of buzz-bands can’t, and secondly, because he is apparently from Egypt – and I haven’t featured a band from Egypt before.

I guess that BLUFRANK doesn’t perform live all that much. I wonder if he makes much money from music?

MORE: soundcloud.com/blufrank

FANS, The Minx and The Ever-Faster Vortex of Churn

minxfansAs much as it rarely does me (or anyone else) any good to engage the cogs and think, I have been thinking a bit recently about the part cool plays in the emergence of new bands.

It seems to these eyes at least that, as the ‘industry’ has imploded and the artists have become more influential on their own upward trajectory, that – weirdly – cool has become a more important factor than ever before.

Why weirdly? Because I assumed that, when technology set us all free from our record biz slavemasters, we would also be able to cast off the shackles of cool a bit, and that haircuts and scowling photos would count less than before.

Instead, we are witnessing an arms race of cool, with bands endlessly circling one another, eyeballing to makes sure they have the right moody photos, the right Topshop clothing, the correct typeface for their de rigueur bandname.

Bands always copy one another, sure, but now the churn rate is so fast I worry that the songs themselves don’t have time to breathe, grow, and mutate into, you know, good songs.

Here are two bands. They’re both very good young new bands.

I think they’ll both become successes in their own way. In terms of cool, one is really on-point with now, and one isn’t.

There is no wrong approach here, but this difference is worth acknowledging.

First, FANS – a talented bunch from (I think) the north of the UK. They’ve recorded a bunch of ambitious and expansive demos, and All This Time is a great example of their punchy, tuneful, keep-it-simple-stupid ethos.

All This Time has a bunch of surprisingly poppy hooks that will keep the song spinning in your mind. This knack for a chorus is their trump card, and they ought to progress nicely as a result.

So, FANS are prioritising songs over everything else, happily. They also, for want of a better phrase, ‘fit’ the image of a new band right now. Their B&W imagery, their slight anonymity, the kerning of the font used for their bandname, and the aural references are on-trend.

Please note that I’m not saying this is a bad thing in any way, or a cynical ploy, I’m just saying they are very now, and this is fine.

Compare them to The Minx, a band who also have good pop tunes, the right musical ethos and a very specific image.

It’s just that they’re not cool, not now. Which band feel easier to love?

I think Forest Bank is a spot-on pop song with a chorus that bounces like crazy. The band appealed to me because of their songs but also because they are so visually and sonically opposed to the vast majority of their peers.

I also know that some people see the band’s shirts and haircuts and shoes and the fact that they look like they are from a housing estate (they are) and that they smile in their photos, and that these people automatically engage their Cool Filter, and conclude that they’re terrible.

It’s hard to be objective about music – that is clearly not the point – but when I see these opinion being spouted I get a bit furious, because whether you like The Minx‘s songs or not, you can’t avoid the positives: they have a bunch of hooky pop songs, they connect with a real-world audience, they fill good venues with ease, etc.

I hope people are broad-minded enough to listen to FANS and The Minx and judge both accordingly on their individual merits. I hope they will embrace both as good new bands.

I know this won’t happen. I also hope the current slavish addiction to cool dissipates a bit, because if certain bands who don’t fulfil a narrow-minded, middle-class, quasi-bohemian criteria get overlooked through sheer snobbery, we will all lose.

MORE: soundcloud.com/f-a-n-s / soundcloud.com/the-minx

NB – Full disclosure: I also know The Minx via various bits of promo work in one of my real jobs. I think they’re a good band regardless, and I think the above point would stand either way; but feel free to factor this in.

FIVE YEARS; WHAT A SURPRISE

It occurred to me yesterday that I’ve been running ANBAD for exactly five years now.

I’m not sure what to celebrate the most: the fact that I managed to stick to the premise of writing (hyperbole) about a new(-ish) band (almost) every (working) day (except weekends and holidays) or the fact that I haven’t gone clinically insane whilst doing it.

A minor landmark moment like this always induces some soul-searching, or at least simple head-scratching.

And five years is a long time online: Myspace was still the main online music resource, hashtags were a minority interest, and The Hype Machine had only begun to engage its gears in early 2008.

What does blogging about new music for five years mean? What conclusions can one draw?

These, sadly, are the best five things I could come up with:

1) Music blogging is both what you expected (a relentless grind listening to mainly hopeless bands) and what you didn’t (in the music industry, you will meet the nicest, smartest, most interesting people in the world and also the most jaw-droppingly self-interested, conniving, awful people too.)

2) Even though you knew this was true, and secretly hoped that you would be the one to buck the trend, you really will make no money by music blogging. This applies even if you’re really good at writing breathless prose, or are really well connected, or are really good at spotting the next variant of Whatever-Wave.

3) To make the money you didn’t make by blogging, you will end up doing online music PR just like everyone else, even though you secretly hoped that you would be the one to buck the trend.

4) The infinitesimally small number of bloggers that managed to segué into paid music writing careers managed it because they had rich enough parents to pay for their rent whilst they did years of unpaid internships. Get over it,loser, jeeeez.

5) Opportunities come and go; and not really in proportion to how hard you work, so you may as well work less remorselessly hard. The music industry is full of people who fell on their feet and have made a career out of it. Relax and wait until it happens to you. Additionally: forget schmoozing, networking, cock-sucking and brown-nosing. Step out of that particular race, sunshine, cos it’ll not pay off, assuming you value your dwindling sense of self-worth.

(NB: The last point is the only brain-nugget of much use, and as close to homespun wisdom as you’ll ever find on ANBAD.)

Has anything changed in the world of new music blogging since 2008? Not really. Blogging got easier, thanks to the holy trinity of Soundcloud, Bandcamp and numerous WordPress plug-ins.

The number of indelibly average new artists grew exponentially due to the ubiquity of the laptop musician, whose music has never existed outside of the digital domain.

Perhaps the biggest change has been the slow creep towards the new standard blog model: the devastatingly tedious Race-To-Be-First.

Just as the 1990′s UK men’s mags began as irreverent, blokey ephemera and slowly mutated into skin-catalogues of boobs and bums at the expense of words and thoughts, so a large proportion of music blogs now just want to be First.

Check out a post on one of these blogs, and you’ll find a Soundcloud link to the latest release from Buzz Band X and a few slung-out accompanying mind-burps, all rushed online as soon as the writer read about it on whichever cool blog they read.

It’s not that blogging was better in the past, by the way. It’s just that it was less often seen as a necessary stepping stone to a later career writing Listicles for whichever website is copying BuzzFeed that week.

Consider this new status quo as the music blogging equivalent of Reganomics: the precious buzz slowly trickles down from the top, and eventually we all get more buzz-rich – but the people who most vocally praise the system get more buzz more quickly.

Finally, here’s Jerry’s Final Music Blog Thought: (almost) everyone music blogging is scared. (Almost) everyone is motivated by fear that their tiny foot-hold in the music world will crumble and vanish at any moment, and that hard-won social cachet will vanish faster than a Record Store Day limited edition glitter-vinyl EP on Ebay.

So, stop worrying and learn to love the buzz-bomb – at its most vital, music blogging is still the fingers rummaging around the grassroots – and there are more, better blogs than ever, spooling more wonderful, inventive, smart, creative, reactive, wild, obtuse music than ever before. I’m just happy that I had the chance to join in.

Here’s to the next five years! Just imagine the giant steps Chillwave will have taken by 2018!

Record Store Day 2013: Totems, Artifice and Exclusivity

Is Record Store Day about record shops or mainly an opportunity for a load of empty vessels to tell us all how much they love record shops?

My thoughts on Record Store Day are pretty much entirely recorded elsewhere on ANBAD; and as RSD sweeps around again, amongst a flurry of BBC 6 Music ads and a glut of PR emails, my position hasn’t changed too much from the fairly ruthless one I occupied in the above article.

I still don’t want record shops to disappear, but I sure as hell don’t want record shops to become shorthand for “a place that a bunch of entirely tedious musical-bandwagon-hopping loudmouths use to massage their vast, fragile egos.”

New music has always attracted the Firsties! crowd, just as it’s attracted the dickheads, the drug-cretins, the wannabes and the coattail-riders. It’s the flipside to all the beauty and joy of new music, and usually, we’re all happy with that payoff. (Speaking of new music, by the way, here’s Forest - )

 

But now the record shop is in danger of being pigeonholed as a mere seller of anachronistic totems to the nostalgia crowd; a place where tedious people hang out on their yearly excursion from their favourite hipster dirty-street-food establishment.

To extend the bread shop parable from my earlier article: I love music as much as I love bread. It’s a staple in my life. It’s honest-to-god important. But if I ran around telling people how much I love bread, you’d tire of me pretty quickly.

I suspect the behaviour of most loud-mouthed Record Store Day acolytes is similar to their behaviour with regards to bread: they’ll tell everyone how much they love real, fresh, home-baked bread whilst it’s relevant (during the broadcast of The Great British Bake-Off), but come Monday morning, they’ll be popping a slice of pre-sliced, mass-produced Bread Product they bought from the supermarket into the toaster.

And maybe this is my problem: the artifice. It’s not to do with Record Store Day at all.

It’s to do with a culture which has been fostered by mistake; a culture that celebrates not the production of art (the songs themself), or even the beautiful filters that emerge to help us appreciate them (record shops, music blogs); but the act of telling everyone how much they love music, or record shops, or vinyl, or whatever else.

The problem is that, really, in the real world, this saucepan-banging LOOK-AT-ME!-LOOK-AT-ME! approach carries zero social currency outside of the dumb little circle you compete within to see who can shout the loudest.

Worse, the people who ought to be benefitting from all these strenuously vocal pronouncements – the artists – get very little of this noise.

Where is New Artist Day?  Something which celebrates and funds the people who do the hard work, and actually create all this gorgeous music before it’s pressed onto 190g limited edition sparkly vinyl, slipped into a screen-printed sleeve and then placed, unplayed, onto a very visible shelf in a hipster’s hovel?

Record shops are lovely… but the music is lovelier. And musicians need money and recognition, in a more fundamental, legitimate manner; rather than being the unlucky recipients of hot air from the neo-moustachioed crowd.

Record Store Day has – unfortunately – become, in part, a celebration of fetishistic, artificial exclusivity, by people who want to be seen to be part of a clique. The act of associating yourself with something legit has become the most important thing. And it really, really isn’t.

Twelve Months Without The Internet; A Modern Music Consumer’s Horror Story/Fairytale

The last time I lived in a home with an internet connection was 12 months ago. When I tell people this, eyebrows involuntarily rise and the phrase, “but… how do you cope?” often pops out of their slack, incredulous jaws.

Truth is, it’s pretty easy to live a life without the internet at home. And in regards to listening to music, it’s – I feel odd typing this – preferable.

Maybe it’s probably important to point out that I haven’t voluntarily chosen to live without the internet as some sort of tiresome experiment with an eye on a magazine column, or something.

It just happened that way: my girlfriend and I spent a long time on the road, living from place to place; and then when we settled again, I foolishly tasked EE with the terrifically difficult job of connecting my flat to the internet.

And it turned out that EE is too occupied with the complexities of figuring out the difference between its arse and its elbow to actually flick the switch or insert the wire or whatever trivial job it is to hook the internet up to my building.

ANYWAY: as a consequence, I’ve begged, borrowed or stolen wi-fi for twelve months.

During work hours, I plop myself down in a shared office workspace and use the internet. But the evenings are a barren, connection-less void; I can’t get lost down Youtube rabbit-holes, I can’t spool through zillions of tedious holiday snaps taken by vaguely-known ‘friends’.

I’ve had to start reading again. Urgh.

But mainly, what I missed was always-on, always-there, always-endless music.

I say “was”, because during the first few months of cold turkey, I was wide-eyed and furious every time I had the sudden urge to listen to any particular song that popped into my head. I was an addict used to the idea that I could have whatever I wanted, whenever I desired.

It’s hard to describe the cognitive confusion that arose when the need to listen to, I dunno, Young MC‘s Bust A Move or the second disc of Goldie’s Timeless, or whatever – music I love but do not physically own – when I had to come to terms with the reality of not being able to listen to it immediately.

Eventually, I came through this frustration. And much like how the benefits of meditation arise from the act of releasing your mind from the onward rush of life, releasing yourself from instantly-available-everything actually frees you from the agony of unlimited choice.

The result was that I dove back into my record collection – the music I actually ‘owned’, or simply had physical, offline access too. I discovered that I had, without realising, got into the habit of ‘skimming’ – hopping quickly from one song or artist to the next, and never delving deeper.

Now, instead of flickering from one song to another, I was giving albums from which I’d previously cherry-picked, longer, repeated chances. I gave Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left another go – an album that I knew I ‘liked’, but never really listened to at all.

PROTIP: It’s excellent (although not as good as Bryter Layter – but, hey, what is?), and I was as thrilled to ‘discover’ an album I’d owned for years as I was to discover someone as excellent as BC Camplight via the whirlwind of online music discovery:

 

(By the way – BC Camplight is not only the composer of terrifically luxuriant and eerie songs like the above Thieves in Antigua, he has the most remarkable story which is only touched upon in this article, and is performing his first headline show for five years at the Deaf Institute in Manchester on the 6th April)

My life improved measurably. The pace had slowed, but the – yikes! - richness was there in a way it wasn’t before. And this applied across the board for all forms of consumption: my reading became more focussed (I began reading books and magazines again), I began watching DVDs of classic movies rather than Baby Monkey Riding Backwards on a Pig for the nth time on Youtube. I began buying CDs – CDs! – to rip onto my laptop. I’ve put in more listener-hours to BBC 6 Music than ever before.

Obviously, some things were missed: music discovery had to be scheduled during the daytime hours of connection – Hype Machine usage was more structured, and listening to newly emailed tracks from new bands was part of my work routine now. This is a bore.

I still want to be back online. I want an always-on connection, but want to approach it differently. I realised I had accidentally fostered a horrendous sense of entitlement: always-endless music/content/whatever, always available on whatever whim.

This entitlement and its resulting mindset isn’t sustainable for anyone: for me and my mental calm; for the producers of music, whose output becomes just another thing to flit to and from; for the long-term health of any art that you consume at all, in fact.

But the improvements in my life were from the act of unhooking from the stream; from being forced to reject the temptation of everything. Maybe it’s just me. But I guess it might not be.

Imagine how much more music you might buy, re-listen to, invest emotion in, pour time into. Imagine how that would change your feeling towards the music you love, and the music you didn’t realise you loved. Try unplugging.

The True Value Of Totally Free: SXSW 2013

Aside from the meta-irony of a blog called A New Band A Day going to SXSW and not blogging for the entire duration, what else have we gleaned from this year’s visit to a scorching hot Austin, Texas?

Last year, ANBAD emerged from SXSW dazed, confused and slightly scarred for life. And yet, it was all kind-of worth it to catch first glimpses of Mujuice, Mmoths, et al.

This year, SXSW was busier and more ludicrous than ever. There’s not much point me ‘tipping’ any bands that I saw, because there were so many that they all blended onto one large, reverb-laden, angular guitar dream-pop band.

There were also plenty of bands who are not so new – remember, no-one discovers new bands at SXSW any more, durrrr. For new music discovery, you’d do much better to pick a few random blogs and root around for new sounds, frankly; and unless you live in an overcrowded household, you won’t have to queue for the toilet/food/entrance to anything at any point, either.

NB: The best band I saw was The Specials, who preformed a brilliantly happy set that made even the most recalcitrant hipsters smile, and formed in, er 1977. I missed Charlotte Church’s new, ‘indie’ set, but did see the very composed, and buzz-tastic, Chvrches. A tabloid-and-buzz-blog-friendly collaboration, Charlotte Chvrches, awaits.

(As an interesting curio, Andrew WK performed a gig at VICEland sponsored by the post-coital genital wipes product for which he became a spokesperson just in time for SXSW.)

What has occurred to me this year at SXSW though, is another pressing issue directly related to the music industry (and many others) – the societal results of giving so much stuff away for free.

Music is a large, wonderful part of SXSW’s raison d’etre, but is not the whole point by a long stretch. It’s also a mecca for both those who want to get their mitts on as much gratis stuff as possible, and also for those corporations who decide that they simply have to throw out as much of their product, or made-in-China nick-knacks with their logo on, as possible.

If it sounds like this combination of latent entitlement and eagerness to feed that very same monster might combine to form the starting gun of a race all the way to the bottom, you’d probably be right. And to make it sound even more gross, these freebies are referred to, without irony, as Swag. (If you’re an enormous douche, you’ll pronounce it Schwag.)

It’s not that giving stuff away doesn’t work as a marketing tool – it can be incredibly successful – but on this scale, the mindset it fosters begins to be a problem.

SXSW allows for some interesting lifestyle experiments, should you wish to undertake them: as long as you have a place to sleep, you can comfortably eat, drink, clothe yourself and party for free for the duration, such is the freebie-density in Austin for that one week in March.

Of course, this sounds entirely tempting. Everyone loves free. And after a couple of hours at SXSW, you begin to expect it. Free is great! You know, except for the ultimate producers, who are taking the hit in their pocket.

It doesn’t matter how you trace the line – though giant tech corps (or whoever): eventually the bottom line is picked up by someone, and I’ll bet you that it isn’t the giant tech corps (or whoever) that lose out.

The culture of faux-free extends far outside of SXSW, of course – most music consumers expect free now, or at least as cheap as is (in)humanly possible. Who pays this ultimate price when this model is applied to music? Well, the musicians, usually.

They’re the ones who still exist in the real world: a real world where food (during the 51 weeks of the year they’re not wolfing down free soggy breakfast tacos at SXSW) and rent needs to be paid for.

And yet, they’re also the ones who find themselves having to cut corners at every turn. We want as much new music, food and as many shows for free as is apparently possible – and it’s OK, because the giant tech corps (or whoever) are paying for it, yay!

Except – urgh – they’re not. They’re writing the vast expense off as promo at an event that garners huge headlines every year. Which is fine, except the new bands – whose cachet is valued highly – often receive very little, even in terms of exposure.

As always, the question boils down to: does the end justify the means?

I’ll leave you to consider your own answer, but my abiding memory is that, after a few days of free USB drives, free hats, free sunglasses, free fro-yo, free t-shirts, free wristbands, weak but free beer, free spongy tacos, free decals of brand logos, etc, it occurred to me that a lot of things seemed to have lost any sense of value whatsoever.