Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013: The year I discovered Bandcamp

2013 is the year I discovered the joys of being a fan on Bandcamp. 

Back in 2009 I signed up to my Spotify account and was flabbergasted. I was listening for months upon end. Music I hadn't heard in ages, all the holes in my record/CD-collection (some 1500 items), rare recordings that I never had the chance to acquire and so on. At that time I was still buying quite a lot of CDs and occationally files on iTunes (and, I admit, did some illegal downloading as well) but that gradually came to an end. I realized that often I bought a CD, put it in my shelf, and started listening to the album on Spotify instead. A bit later Wimp came along and complemented the few shortages in the Spotify catalogue (mostly obscure Norwegian contemporary music for my case), and then I completely stopped buying music. I happily pay the subscription fee to both companies. Even though I've been ranting quite a bit about the low payouts to artists, I see streaming as mostly a positive thing and I guess this is how music is gonna be in the foreseeable future. When we moved to Austria last year I decided to go all digital and leave my record collection and stereo in Norway.

Gradually I have realized that there are huge differences in my listening habits following what platform I am using. When I use Spotify/Wimp I rarely discover new music, and when I occationally do it is usually highly promoted commercial music. 90 % of the time I'm listening to albums, works or artists I already know. Sometimes I'm making an effort to go outside the box and try to find something new, but somehow the mechanisms of the services lead me back to my own musical past. I tend to get back to music I listened to when I was a teenager, which for me is a bit odd since my music taste constantly evolved during my 20s and early 30s.

For me the main problem with with the streaming services (in addition to the unfair payout models) is that you don't really engage with the artist. The people you really interact with are the streaming companies themselves and the labels. It's like a 1990s megastore: soulless and a bit dull. In addition you don't have the physical objects linking you to the artist. You might see a little picture of the cover, but there is no full screen ability, no linking to artist websites, Facebook site, no liner notes or anything. It's just the music, but the music is just a part of the experience. Sometimes the services provide artist-listener engaging events (heads up to Wimp for really trying to get these things flying!), like radio-like online concerts, special interview editions of the albums and so on. But most of the time streaming services take away an extremely important aspect of music: the one-to-one relationship with the artist you feel when you interact with their product.

Earlier this year I was introduced to Bandcamp by a friend who's selling his music on the site.
My friend's band Keldian put out what's
probably the best metal album of 2013.
Get it here:
 I  immediately got extremely enthusiastic. Finally I found a service that puts me directly in contact with new and emerging artists. Almost over night I changed my listening habits. From listening to artists in their 40s and 50s I found myself following new artists in their 20s. Finding Bandcamp was like finding an obscure but high quality record store in a back alley just next to your house. I love it. (Another analogy: Bandcamp is like a Myspace that actually works!).

After having been depressed for a few years on the state of new music, I realize that there are interesting things going on in the world. I see much more tasteful cover art than what's being promoted on the streaming services. I hear music which feels much more in line with the zeitgeist, than the dull and often over produced stuff the big labels promote. I engage with music which is clearly made by people, not services or labels.

It feels good to buy an album on Bandcamp, even if it is just a file download. You send your money directly to the artist, so I know that they will notice that I bought it. When I buy something, or put something in my wish list, I also tend to look up the web site of the artist, follow her on Facebook, look for upcoming shows in my area (too few come to Austria, sadly) and so on. I prefer to buy the physical copy if there is one, even though I currently don't have a record or CD player at home. Since you have to name your price when you pay, I usually tend to put in an euro or two extra, just because I'm so happy that there still are young and creative people out there making good music.

I really urge all who reads this to go to Bandcamp and support new music by new artists! It's a lot of good stuff in there! You can see what I've bought so far in my "collection" I also have a wish list there if anybody feels like buying me anything for christmas.

Some of my good finds

Dom la Nena, charming french inspired pop, cello and voice. An artist I'll see live if I get the chanche. 

Freschard: more french pop. Just incredibly charming. I'm waiting for the orange vinyl. 

Satanic Royalty. Haunting images of a Blade Runnerish future or past. Here I'm waiting for the 7".

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Being present at a meeting via Skype? Yes it is possible

This fall I've been following a course in digital history at the University of Umeå, learning about text mining, interactive maps, Gephi, 3D models and all sorts of fancy-pancy stuff. I've written about this before here and here. I was supposed to go to Sweden this week to attend the final meeting of the course, but family business forced me to cancel the trip. But I'm still present - via Skype.

If you study this picture closely, you'll see me on the wall there to the left, next to Helena, another participant skyping in from Rome. And while you're at it, also marvel at the hi-tech stuff we're learning about.

I even held a talk, presenting my course project so far (Intellectual property and rights management for the digital historian). It was rather odd to present not being able to see the audience (my screen was all taken up by the presentation slides), but it wen't all right.

I don't know how many that fell asleep during my talk (pretty dry stuff), but this tweet gave me some sort of feedback while I was talking:

So then, it is proved. It is possible to attend meetings, and even present via the Internet. Of course it's not the same as being there in person. Even if I saw all the talks and presentations, I didn't get to participate on the social stuff where the most interesting discussions usually take place. And it is a bit odd and "un-tactile" to stare into the computer the whole day. But it is much better than missing out on the action.

Tapping into the #UMEDH course, Skype window and course Twitter feed via Tweetdeck