Posts filed under ‘Dance Music Industry’
It’s been 20 years. 20 years.
It was 1993 that saw the founding of the Internet Underground Music Archive, or IUMA, essentially prior to the widespread adoption of the graphical World Wide Web. I discovered IUMA in the late 1990s, after they debuted on the web, but prior to their acquisition by (and later destruction under the watch of) EMusic. This was before the original Napster, AudioGalaxy, and the mass piracy tools; IUMA was only a decade or so before its time as a promotional tool and a vehicle for independent music artists to have a presence online. Today, of course, it’s all de rigueur. But at the time, the ability to download free, fresh independent music was pretty cutting-edge stuff. (Bear in mind that with the Internet speeds of the time, it also took a great deal of patience.)
I discovered a great many artists through IUMA, but as is the case today online, it took then (and takes now) a lot of effort and time to sift through all the crap and get to those little grains of gold hiding in plain sight. There are three particularly memorable acts for me from that period: Anything Box, Alien Bliss (Michael Hodjera), and Darkangeles cum Delphinium Blue cum Arlin Godwin.
Anything Box are a synthpop act whose material represents a virtual soundtrack for that period of my life, and the music feels virtually as current and fresh today as it did then. Best known for Living in Oblivion, released when they were signed to a major label, I think their best material came later when they got out from under their label deal.
Michael Hodjera’s “Alien Bliss” project is a sort of mellow, hard-to-describe pop that frankly doesn’t resonate well for me today, but at the time, was a sort of “endless repeat” delight that fit the emotions of the summer where the cassette tape never left the player in my car. (The specific Alien Bliss album, by the way, was Bandito D’Amore; his other work didn’t appeal to me so much then—and not now either.)
Arlin Godwin, through all his naming iterations, is an artist I’ve come back to time and again, and who has served as more than a little inspiration to me musically. Arlin’s music is difficult to describe, and I think that the fact that it’s somewhat genre-resisting in nature is particularly appealing to me. Broadly speaking, his music is “electronic,” but it’s EDM at one moment, experimental in another, pop the next, soft rock at yet another moment, and downright strange from time to time as well.
From his home in Washington, DC, Godwin started out as Darkangeles—the name under which I discovered him. From the start, he smartly released a limited selection of songs for free download, while still releasing CDs and such for purchase. Somewhere in Chocolate City was the CD where (as Darkangeles) I bought-in, and I devoured its music like I hadn’t had a melodic meal in months. Between the tracks on the CD, and the individual downloadable tracks trickled out by Arlin along the way, I continue to get a warm feeling any time I hear songs like the catchy and dancy Blue, the experimental sounding Baby You’re a Big Star Now and GottaLottaStatic, the artfully written and beautifully-arranged Joy, and especially the slow, emotion-steeped ballad, You Left Me Crying—a stunningly beautiful piece that remains one of my favorite songs of all-time.
He abandoned the Darkangeles name along the way in favor of Delphinium Blue—a name that stuck only a short time before it too was chucked aside in favor of using his own name. At various points, Godwin has practically denied the existence of his earlier incarnations (something he no longer does), always deftly repackaging the same material anew, adding some tracks here and there, but much to my chagrin, not really putting-out much in the way of truly new material in any great quantity.
It frankly hasn’t mattered a great deal. His early tracks, and those added to them along the way, have staying power, replete with their raw emotion and skillful arrangements, and they still deserve to be heard.
When I listen to his music, I can hear specific loops from ACID, or particular Korg synth patches, weaving their way through his tracks, as if a particular sound or pattern grabbed his attention and he proceeded to craft an entire song around it—something I can relate to in my own work.
As I said earlier, Godwin has been an inspiration for years, and I’ve always admired (or frankly envied) what he does: Working alone in a studio, he writes, arranges, sings, records and releases his own music. That’s no big deal these days, but 20 years ago, I’d argue it was pretty forward-thinking at a time when major labels dominated even more strongly, and major label record deals were still the holy grail of any musician serious about their future. (Of course, the age of the original Napster, the iPod, and so forth rather indelibly changed all that—for better or worse.)
In any case, I too have done a lot of composing and recording—but unlike Godwin, I’ve never felt satisfied enough with any of it to let it see the light of day beyond my own headphones. Godwin must somehow relate to that same feeling; in a podcast interview in 2007, he claimed to have recorded hundreds of tracks over the years—and that most of them will never be released. Perhaps it is his own perfectionism—confessed in the same interview—that accounts for the lack of new material. All I can say is: I can relate.
Late last year, somewhat out of the blue, Godwin cranked his self-promotion activities back up once again, hitting his old mailing list (which I’ve been on for an eternity) with updates. Among his most recent is the release of The Vault—as the name suggests, a collection of previously released material, demos and the like—a lot of it heard before, but some previously unreleased. You can audition all the tracks, and download them in exchange for your e-mail address at NoiseTrade, where you can also donate if you’re so inclined. Additional releases are available on iTunes and other digital media stores as well.
Here’s to hoping he finds a way to let some truly new material see the light of day soon, and add to what is still—a decade or two down the road—a truly amazing musical legacy.
With this post, I’m beginning a series to start out the new year. There are so many angles to ponder here, there’s no hope whatever of fitting it into a single article.
To put some context around this, in my recent Top 50 chart, I cited my belief that mainstream dance music is an industry in decline. Now, while I believe that to be the case, I think it’s necessary to dig past the sound bite, because one could make a pretty good case that electronica, as a music meta-genre, is actually more vibrant than it’s ever been. So as I contradict myself left and right, I think it’s important in this first part to define some scope.
Before I do that, I want to make something very clear:
First, let’s define things a bit. What I personally consider “dance music” is both broad and narrow at the same time. What I’m “into” is what I’ve come to call (as I said above) mainstream dance music. It’s not a genre, as much as a genre-crossing classification. How do I define mainstream dance music? It is music that:
- Is melodic. Unless you know a thing or two about music and music theory, this may be meaningless to you, but melodic music has a central theme of some sort… Musical notes, in defined patterns. Typically those patterns are a popular song form (see below), and each one typically represents the pitches associated with each syllable of the lyrics (if in fact there are words, which is not a prerequisite for a melody; see below). The opposite of melodic is free-form, often called experimental. A lot of hip-hop and rap also lacks a defined melodic element. I can’t really describe this any better; consult a book on music theory for a better explanation.
- Has a conventional popular song form. Some experimental types of music have melodic elements without having a melody per se. What makes that different from what I’m talking about is that—in my view—mainstream dance music has a popular song form. Again, consult a music theory book if you want, but by “popular” I don’t necessarily mean pop music, but any popular music form from the 19th century or so, up to today, whether big band or country or jazz or modern pop or whatever. Put in another context, song form is what we’re talking about when you think of a song having verses of a particular melodic pattern, choruses of a particular melodic pattern, and bridges of a particular melodic pattern. It’s what makes a song recognizable structurally.
- Is generally vocal. Vocals are not a prerequisite to a dance track by any means, but it sort of goes hand-in-hand with a melody.
- Has four-on-the-floor percussion. You just don’t have mainstream dance songs with 3/4 (waltz) time, like you do in, say, country or folk. They’re always (always) 4/4, with a heavy, defined, consistent kick (bass) drum with which people on a dance floor can keep time.
- Is electronic. This probably goes without saying. I suppose mainstream dance music wouldn’t have to be constructed with fully electronic instruments, and in fact, large parts often are acoustic. But you won’t ordinarily find a so-called dance track made without at least some sort of drum machine.
- Is listenable. This is the most ethereal of any of these attributes. But mainstream dance music is, in my view, music that can also be listened-to off of a dance floor without sounding harsh or putting someone on edge. There’s an awful lot of dance music that is, in my view, only enjoyable in the context of a night at the clubs, or in conjunction with a drug trip. Obviously that’s quite subjective.
I suppose mainstream dance music is sort of like obscenity; it’s hard to define what’s obscene, you just know it when you see it. Many people associate what I know as mainstream dance music, with pop and pop remixes. A dance remix of Lady Gaga or Beyoncé or whoever is, in fact, usually mainstream dance music.
But my definition of mainstream dance extends beyond mere pop and pop remixes to include a lot of techno, vocal trance, some dubstep, and perhaps many other electronic/dance sub-genres. But it’s all melodic, has conventional song form, is generally vocal, has 4/4 time, is electronic, and is listenable.
Examples of mainstream dance music are everywhere:
- It’s the music you hear on radio stations such as iDanceRadio.fm (which I program), Fusion Radio Chicago, BPM (a channel on Sirius/XM satellite radio), Radio Danz (where my mixshow airs), NRRRadio (where my mixshow also airs).
- It’s the music that results from popular producer/remixers like Dave Audé, Klubjumpers, Cahill, Cutmore, Freemasons, 7th Heaven, and many more.
- It’s the music that’s on the Billboard dance charts.
- It’s the music that DJs get on CD subscriptions like ERG’s Nu Dance Traxx or XMIX.
- It’s the music that’s promoted by long-term industry players like Loren Chidez, Brad LeBeau, Claudia Cuseta, Bobby Shaw, and others.
All of that, and more, is what I call mainstream dance music.
So, to be very specific, my contention is that mainstream dance music is what’s in decline. Electronic music as a whole, and dance music more generally, is probably in roughly the same condition with respect to the music industry as a whole as it ever was (well, except for perhaps the disco era, when it all pretty much started, and at which time dance dominated the greater music scene). The music industry as a whole is in decline too in many respects, according to many people, but like dance music, it’s rather a matter of which part(s) you’re looking at.
In any event, with mainstream dance music now defined to the best of my ability, in the next part, I’ll start to look a little more closely at what I think is going on, and make my case about why I think it’s in decline.
As always, I welcome your feedback. Disagree with me? Tell me why… I’m always willing to change my mind.
UPDATE: 9/15/2011—Added AmazonMP3
Larik, a reader of this blog, e-mailed me yesterday regarding my thoughts on the closure of the online music store Masterbeat, not too long after I’d written to express my frustration at its Flash-only implementation.
I’ve expressed them in the past myself, and Larik sees the same challenges I do for those of us with a love of dance music: Where does one go to (legally) obtain the latest dance music? And why is it so bloody difficult? (more…)
There are all manner of opinions about the state of the music industry, and why things are the way they are. Piracy has decimated it. The Internet has leveled the playing field. The Internet ruined music. Streaming ruined the industry. Spotify is saving the industry. The major labels are ass hats and got what they deserved. The music isn’t that great. There are too many choices. It’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. The wrong people make all the money. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah… Opinions are sort of like a certain sphincter muscle: everybody’s got one.
I suspect that the underlying truth of these myriad opinions is that many of them have a healthy shred of truth to them. The ability to share music en masse via the Internet has indeed led to some general devaluing of music in general. But Internet piracy isn’t the sole problem. Technology has also lowered the bar to being a musician. The ways that people consume music have changed. And all of this has conspired to create narrower genres and smaller pockets of fans. (more…)
Music industry columnist Bob Lefsetz penned an interesting installment of his Letter the other day. Titled, Obscurity is Your Friend, I found it to be his usual strange brew of “WTF” mixed with lots of thought-provoking views. But it was this particular section of his post that truly caught my eye:
It’s no different in music. You may think you’re ready, but you’re not. You think if you just tell enough people, send e-mail blasts, fill up inboxes with unsolicited MP3s, you’ll make it. But this just turns us off, we’re immune to marketing. We only want to find out about products from friends.
But worse, when we finally check you out, we find out you’re just not that good.
I don’t know how it works in the greater music industry, but I can’t think of a truer commentary on music (and music promotion specifically) with regard to the dance music realm. (more…)
Music service Spotify’s long-awaited US launch finally happened in the past week, and courtesy of Bob Lefsetz, I was afforded an invitation to use the service. After spending a few days tinkering with it, I thought I’d record my thoughts.
For those who are blissfully unaware, Spotify is a new streaming music service. They boast of having “all the world’s music” in their catalog* available for listening anytime, anywhere. Want to relive your youth to that Aldo Nova track you’ve not heard since back in the day? Search for “Aldo Nova,” and bathe in the ability to queue-up any of his releases on-demand. With a paid subscription, you gain the ability to load-up your mobile device with a bunch of music, and enjoy it on-the-go without the need for a data connection. It sounds like nirvana for most music lovers, and indeed, the service has been wildly successful in its home country of Europe. (Read more on their web site if you’re still confused.)
So what are the ups and downs? (more…)
Broadly speaking, I applaud any effort to compete with the Apple juggernaut known as iTunes. In fact, only this morning, I tweeted a link to this article in The Guardian (UK), Forget Google—it’s Apple that is turning into the evil empire. I resent Apple’s consumer lock-in in myriad ways, despite being (as the screen shot below will show) a satisfied user of Apple products. (Full disclosure, I also have an HTC phone that uses Android; and the user experience is about 10x better on the iPhone, all other issues—and there are many—aside.)
When the online digital music store Masterbeat launched a few years ago, ostensibly as an alternative to Beatport (whose owners seem to think Apple’s corporate behavior is something to be emulated), I was ecstatic. With a user experience much like that of Beatport, I was rather enamored of the “renegade alternative” that Masterbeat represented.
Unfortunately, Masterbeat launched as—and still is—a Flash-only web site. No Flash? Masterbeat basically says, “F___ you. Store’s closed, loser.”
I was never much of a fan of Flash-only web sites, long before Apple in their “wisdom” barred Flash content from their iOS devices. Flash has a place, but to build Flash content (or whole sites) with no rollback whatever is just plain stupid, and it’s getting stupider by the day. And say what you want about Apple’s Flash decisions vis-à-vis iOS—right, wrong or otherwise—the simple fact is that iOS represents millions upon millions of users, and you can lock each and every one of them out at your own peril.
Beatport is Flash-based too, but they do have a rollback (at least for mobile users) that presents a usable interface for iOS (and other) users. Masterbeat, on the other hand, displays this:
The problem is, what started all of this on this particular morning is that a fan asked me where to get a copy of my remix for You I Need‘s song, Waiting. The track is exclusive to Masterbeat at this time. Here’s how things unfolded in attempting to tell this fan where to buy the track:
- I went to Masterbeat, which will not load on the PC I’m writing from. It hangs on “Loading UI” and won’t go past it. It’s been that way for months, and I have no idea why it doesn’t work. Fail #1. (And yes, I’ve checked the Flash is current on this machine, etc.)
- I used my iOS device to browse to Masterbeat. That resulted in the screen above. Fail #2.
- I went to another PC in my office, and successfully got to Masterbeat. I found my remix. But can you just copy the URL from the address bar of the web browser? Of course not, because the site is Flash-only, the URL only gets you to the home page. Fail #3.
- At the bottom of each Masterbeat page is a rather industry-standard widget to post to social media and whatever else. I don’t want to post the track, I want to link to the track. Is there a way to do that? No. Fail #4.
- I then decided to try and use the share-by-e-mail function and just e-mail myself a freakin’ link to the remix. I entered all the information, and got instead some sort of error message that their system can’t e-mail the link. I tried it twice, and it failed both times, so what the heck? Fail #5 and #6.
In the end I gave-up. I had an artist link from an earlier attempt at this, and I just gave the fan that link, and told them how to find my track.
In any case, it shouldn’t take me half an hour to figure out how to link to a specific release on any digital music store, only to have it fail, and fail, and fail, and fail. It would have made more financial sense for me to just send the guy a free copy of the track instead of burning-up about $50 worth of my time trying to sell him one for a buck and half, and if the rights in the track were solely mine, I would have.
I’m no Apple fanboy, but no wonder iTunes has, and continues to win this battle. Every. Single. Day.
Yeah, I know. It’s been ages since since I’ve written anything in this blog. And now we’re a whole month into 2011, and I’ve still not written anything in this blog. Until today, when I figured, “Hey! Why not blog about something?” So here we go. Anybody listening?
I suspended my dance music blogging for a pretty simple reason, really… I’m a bit disenchanted with the music industry at the moment. There, I said it. It’s not that I don’t like dance music; I listen to it pretty much from the time I wake-up to the time I go to bed. And there’s a lot of it that’s good. Some is quite good. But broadly, I’m not really seeing any innovation. Dance music today sounds pretty much exactly how it did five years ago. And about the same as it did five years before that.
Sure, we have lots of styles. We have lots of variations and sub-genres and everything else. We have largely east coast peeps (like Sirius/XM’s The Beat) spinning crummy cuts of non-melodic looped noise every-other-song, all day long, that used to be the exclusive purview of 2:30AM high-on-E-crowd-filled club sets. We have annoying trash like “Barbra Streisand” from Duck Sauce that sounds like it was made, start-to-finish, over the course of a lunch hour, and the video for it still fetches 35,000,000 views on YouTube.
Quite honestly, if this is the (dance) music people really want, I’m pretty much over it. Maybe I need to switch to country music.
Anyway, mom always told me if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. As a result, I’ve not said much lately. But truly, as a producer and musician myself, it’s really not helpful to hear comments like, “That sucks ass.” Or, “That’s crap, and I don’t listen to (or play) crap.” There’s a real difference between constructive criticism and just being an arrogant prick, and frankly, the world has too much of the latter already. Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s shit, any more than if you don’t like something, it also doesn’t make it shit. (Although this news will surely come as a shock to some people, and honestly, I still think the Duck Sauce track really is crap.)
But when it comes to the arts, it really is subjective. There’s just a whole lot not to like about a lot of the music that comes across my desk, and whether what mom said was right or wrong, if I can’t say something constructive about it, or at least articulate why I dislike something, everyone really is better off with me just keeping my mouth shut. So I have been.
I am still doing my DJ and dance music stuff. You can still hear my mixshows every weekend. I’m still doing the occasional remix, in a way and a style that pleases me, and I’m still picking the music that gets played on iDanceRadio.fm to a worlwide audience who can choose to agree with my choices by tuning-in—or not, by tuning-out.
But I’m more than a little bit ready for someone to come-up with something truly new. Truly innovative. Something that elevates the art of dance music in a new and creative way. Something that’s respectful of music as an art form. Something that’s not just quick-fix fodder that titillates or stimulates or dominates for a few weeks, before fading out and never being thought about or played again. I suspect it’s going to be a long wait.
In the mean time, I’m working on several tracks of my own. Are they innovative in the way I just described? I highly doubt it. But I’ll enjoy creating it, and hopefully if you don’t like it, you’ll be charitable and give me a better critique than, “That’s crap.” If you don’t, I suppose I deserve it after my Duck Sauce comment.
Look for more regular musings here in the coming weeks, and as always, leave a comment with any thoughts you might have.
Last week, I had what I might refer to as an “minor incident” over my most recent music chart. This is not an appropriate place to talk about the situation or the details, but I will say that it distilled down to someone begin frustrated with me that I had not charted their music recently. But in responding to it, I did sort of think through charting… Why I keep one, and why I pick the things I pick. It also made me think a bit about the state of the dance music industry. Following are my thoughts on all of this.
To start with, my ego isn’t anywhere near super-sized enough to believe that my chart is very important in the grand scheme of things. Yeah, I play the occasional club set, although I’ve been far more focused on production in the past year (for a reason). And yeah, I do play parties, and special events, and that sort of thing. And yes, I reliably produce a weekly mixshow that airs on three different Internet radio stations. But none of that makes me a big “name” in this industry, and even if it did, I keep my sense of self-importance well in-check.
So why do I bother making a chart, then? I do it as a service to the industry, and for those fans (and there are some) who look to me for keep them aware of great new dance music.
- For industry, while my chart may or may not mean much by itself, if a song shows-up in my chart and that of 100 other DJs, that might be an indication that the song is gaining traction.
- As for my fans, I sort of see this as the role of a DJ, at least historically. I find out about great new music, perhaps new trends in music, and I turn my listeners onto it. I can’t do that if I don’t prepare and publish playlists (which I do, for my mixshows anyway), and if I don’t prepare and publish a chart that details how I’m seeing music at the moment.
Obviously, if you’re a musician, or a producer, or a remixer, or a record label, or a music promoter, your aim is to see your music get traction. It’s an ego trip to see a song of yours show-up in a playlist or a chart. Promoters, in particular, are paid to help ensure that happens. And when you start talking about things like Billboard charts, a lot of money changes hands to help ensure that songs appear on the chart. But even with DJs of my stature, I get hounded by promoters to listen to (and chart or list) their music. It’s just the way things work.
But what was bothersome for me about this recent “minor incident” is the expectation that I might chart a song because I “owe” someone… Whether they’re a friend, or a colleague, or they did me a favor, or whatever else, that somehow, the relationship warrants my playing-out a song, or putting it on my chart, because of that. I’m sure that’s the way a lot of (perhaps most) DJs work, but I don’t.
This goes back to the question, “What’s the role of a DJ?” Of course, it’s to play music. But if I wanted a DJ to play only the music I know, I wouldn’t need a DJ—I’d need only my iPod. It’s true, some fans just want the stuff they know. But my fans largely want me to tell them about cool new music that they can fall in love with and purchase to put on their iPods to play when I’m not around. (How do I know that? I hear from fans all the time who tell me exactly that.)
And quite frankly, I think that best serves the music industry. Turn me onto your new music, and I’ll spread the word.
However, I don’t do that because you (artist, producer, label, promoter) think I should—I do it because you’ve turned me onto product (music) that I truly believe in, am truly charged-up about, and truly want to turn other onto. And therein lies the rub; I’m not going to pretend to get excited about something, I’m going to get excited if I get excited. And if I don’t, I’m not playing the song, and I’m not charting it. It’s really that simple.
I suppose if that makes me “not a team player,” so be it. But if I don’t like the music, and if I’m not excited by it, I’m not going to pretend just because someone thinks I should.
Now, do promoters and other relationships I have influence me? Somewhat, yes, because if an industry colleague brings me a track, I’ll probably listen to it before I listen to things I get from people I don’t know. (But I’m still not playing it if I don’t like it.)
Do I show a preference in my playlists and charts for tracks I’ve personally remixed? Hell yes I do, and I’d be an idiot not to. I believe in the work that I do, I’m proud of it, and yeah, it goes on my chart in positions that reflect how I feel about my work compared to other stuff I’m playing.
My chart used to be based solely on spin counts—how often I played each track. Unless I played a ton of sets, the numbers were sort of all over the place, and not very meaningful. These days, my chart is based partially on that, but more on my personal impressions of the song relative to other things I’m playing. It’s not very complicated.
So, is my chart all that important? No, probably not. But to the extent anyone’s paying attention, and wonders why “their” stuff is or isn’t on it, or wonders how I put it together, you have your answer. And no, I don’t chart stuff just because someone thinks I should. It’s my chart, in every sense of the word. If you find it useful, great; if you don’t, then unsubscribe from my mailing list, or don’t go to my web site, and don’t bother yourself with it. It’s really quite simple in the end.