Digital Audio Insider -- the economics of music and other digital content

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Digital Audio Insider is David Harrell's blog about the economics of music and other digital content. I write from the perspective of a musican who has self-released four albums with the indie rock band the Layaways.

My personal website has links to my LinkedIn and Google+ pages and you can send e-mail to david [at] thelayaways [dot] com.

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April 07, 2006

Interview with Shake Your Fist
by David Harrell
Interview with Amy from Shake Your Fist
I'll start with a quick disclosure: I've known Amy for nearly a decade now and she also included my own band in a blog post last year. That said, I think Shake Your Fist is definitely one of the best music blogs out there. The writing is consistently good, insightful, and relevant. And -- unlike many music/mp3 blogs -- SYF isn't about hopping on the latest bandwagon. So I thought Amy would be a great subject for the first Digital Audio Insider interview and she kindly agreed to a series of e-mail questions.

You've always been an evangelist for good music. (I still have a great mix tape you made for me years ago.) What prompted you to start the music blog?

Shake Your Fist didn't start as a music blog, actually. A small group of us intended to talk about books, film, music, television, technology, politics, etc. I was primarily interested in writing about music and had the time and obsessive tendencies to do most of the posting. So SYF pretty much evolved into an mp3 blog in its first few weeks. I suppose it's an extension of what I've always done -- recommending music I love to friends. Now I'm recommending music to strangers, too. Besides providing me with a soapbox, it gives me a chance to write on something I'm passionate about. I've done a lot of professional writing, but not really about subjects that interest me personally.

Has your music listening experience changed over the past decade (due to the iPod, mp3s, and individual song downloads)? That is, single songs vs. full albums, headphones vs. stereo speakers, etc?

I've always been more of a song than album person -- there are very few albums I can listen to all the way through without reaching for the skip button. So, from my perspective, mp3s and mp3 players are a very happy development. You mentioned a mix tape I once made you. I think anyone who has ever known me reasonably well has one or two or ten of these things lying around. I've long been interested in sequencing, or controlling my listening experience. ITunes and similar software make it easy. Too easy, probably.

What digital music has altered more than anything is my consumption patterns. I download music off blogs, record label sites and iTunes almost every day and often feel like I'm drowning in new sounds. Used to be I'd buy a CD (and going back, a tape or record) and listen to just that album for weeks on end. I still buy a lot of CDs, though. I'm very attached to the object-ness of music, like to have something in my hand while I listen.

continue reading "Interview with Shake Your Fist..."

So it's safe to assume that CDs still represent the majority of your music purchases, from a total $ standpoint?

Oh yeah, definitely. I spend a lot of money on CDs. As an mp3 blogger, I get some sent to me, obviously. But I'm sometimes a little queasy about writing on them. I'm afraid I'm being unduly influenced or something. So I prefer to pursue my own "leads" and buy my own music.

And your iTunes purchases -- single tracks or full albums?

I mostly use iTunes to download single tracks and EPs. If I know I want a full album, I'll buy the CD, because I want the art and liner notes. That's worth the extra couple of bucks.

How are you discovering new artists and how does that contrast to the days before music/mp3 blogs?

I used to learn about new music from friends, music magazines and going to shows and falling in love with opening bands. Not surprisingly, I now find most new music online. I read the major Web music publications -- Pitchfork, Stylus, Pop Matters --pretty much every day and check in with a bunch of smaller zines on a weekly basis. I visit dozens of other mp3 blogs, cruise record label and artist sites and (reluctantly) MySpace. That said, I love magazines and still read print pubs like Magnet and The Big Takeover. And I still get really good tips from friends and, increasingly, SYF readers.

So what's your total music consumption -- that is, listening hours per day or week?

Writing a music blog means spending enormous amounts of time listening to music -- 6 to 8 hours of day (and that's a minimum). Fortunately, my iPod makes that pretty easy. I create new playlists a couple nights a week, then listen to them on my commute or at work when I'm not doing something that requires a lot of concentration. A year ago, pre-blog, I was listening to new music, but without the same kind of urgency or pressure, and certainly fewer hours each day.

Wow -- I'm amazed at your listening habits. Are most of those listening hours spent exploring new (or new to you) bands or is a sizable portion still devoted to long-time favorites?

Does that sound like a lot? Keep in mind I do a good portion of that at work and during my commute... I wish I had more time to spend with old favorites, but these days it's a lot of new stuff. SYF is my second job, and a big part of that job is looking for interesting new music. Not that I don't write about music I have a history with -- I do a lot. But I also don't think music stopped being interesting in 1990 or 2000 or at some other arbitrary point.

Here's a three-part question: On your site, you have a disclaimer that says you'll remove links upon request -- has a band or label ever actually asked you to do that? On the flip side, do you get many requests from labels or publicists asking you to feature acts? And, do you have any advice or thoughts for bands seeking coverage in a blog?

No one's ever asked us to remove anything. If requested, we would take a file down in a heartbeat -- we definitely don't want legal trouble! We try to be responsible about what we post, which means we don't post leaked tracks, full albums or more than two tracks from any album that's readily available for purchase. Our goal is to turn people on to the music we're featuring and that means giving them incentives (sample tracks) to buy the records or tickets to the shows.

We get a steady stream of requests to cover music. I administer the blog's mailbox and receive the mailed CDs but don't write about much of the music sent our way. This is for a couple reasons: 1) A lot of it's not very good and/or not the kind of thing I (or my blogmates) like, 2) I'm not interested in talking about something 50 other bloggers are also hyping because they received the same e-mail/CD and 3) It eliminates the "thrill of the hunt" -- one of the things that keeps me interested in writing this blog.

I'm sure I'm not the only blogger who dislikes getting mass e-mails from bands that obviously pulled your name off a list. If you want to get a blog's attention, send a personalized e-mail to the blogs you actually read and whose taste you know. Provide links to at least two mp3s (not streams!) and to a Web site or MySpace page that contains biographical and other pertinent info such as discography and record label name, if any. Those are the e-mails that are most likely to work with me, anyway.

Last question -- any thoughts on music blogs vs. college radio these days? I'll say this carefully, as I don't want to offend any college music directors who might potentially play our band, but it seems like an mp3 post on a well-read blog probably gets a band more exposure these days than a few spins on any single college radio station. (Aside from the really big ones like KEXP, etc.) Agree, disagree...?

I don't know a whole lot about college radio...I pick up WNUR sometimes when I'm in my car and used to listen to WHPK regularly when I lived in Hyde Park. I'm not sure they're competing mediums -- probably complementary more than anything. Listening to the radio is easier and more passive than reading and downloading and hearing some great song on the radio that you might never have bothered to download can be a powerful and persuasive experience. This may seem like an odd and unpopular stance for an mp3 blogger to take, but I think the influence of mp3 blogs -- even the really popular ones -- is probably overstated.

Thanks Amy!


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    Out Now -- "Maybe Next Year" -- The New Holiday Album:

    <a href="">Joy To The World by The Layaways</a>

    "This is a sweet treat, deliciously musical without being overbaked for mass media consumption." -- Hyperbolium

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    Where The Conversation Ends - free mp3
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    "The Layaways make fine indie pop. Hushed vocals interweave with understated buzzing guitars. The whole LP is a revelation from the start." -- Lost Music

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