Reverbnation and the Future of Local Music

The Beat is rocking, let’s get rolling.

The local music scene is advancing. Now more than ever, local artists have no time to become noticed, signed and promoted by a large record company (or perhaps they’re just not talented enough), so they take these actions into their own hands in order to make their music dreams come true. In the past, being a local band and trying to make it big looked a lot different. Bands would practice in garages to hone their craft and to look to raise enough money to go to a professional studio with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Their end product was an LP on a cassette tape or CD to shop around town and send to the big record deals in hopes of making it big. According to David Roof of Rooftop Recording, also known as the bass player for the local band Michael May and the Mess Arounds, “When digital technology starting coming into play for recording, you saw bigger and medium sized studios going out of business, but small and organic businesses thriving.”

David has been actively playing in bands since the 1980’s and has witnessed first hand the evolution of his passion with the advent of new technologies. The future of local music is the self-made musician; all production, promotion, and formatting is up to the artist. In the past, artists were dependent on local production studios to record demos, local venues to find a chance to promote themselves, and the shackles of physical music to share their music and create a profit. After talking with David in the depths of MASH, a few things became clear about the future of local music:

1. Reverbnation is essential. David said, “If you don’t have a Reverbnation page you’re not a legitimate artist.”
2. Physical music (i.e. the CD) is dead, and
3. Self-production is the best way to produce music. 

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(Michael May and the Mess Arounds in performing in MASH)

So, what is Reverbnation? And why do all local artists need it? Reverbnation is an online platform that allows musicians and bands to manage all of the facets of their music careers in one streamline location. This site is currently used by more than 3.9 million musicians, fans, venues and even labels, spanning 250 countries. Reverbnation provides a number of different tools for artists and fans to use, including: TuneWidget, Promote It, and Gig Finder. These tools are used by musicians to put content online, promote content through Facebook and other major music websites, and find venues. Reverbnation was founded in 2006 but has gained recent notoriety starting in 2009 with their partnership with Microsoft. Since then, Reverbnation has engaged in other partnerships to further their platform and provide local artists with opportunities to play at major venues, such as Summerfest.

Reverbnation also provides bands with incredible infographics about their presence and how their fans are interacting with them. These graphics can be used by bands to understand who is listening to their music, where their fans are, their band’s popularity compared to other Reverbnation bands, and even allows bands to track their presence over critical social media outlets. David finds these graphics useful and even touched on his premium membership that allows him to track his contacts with potential venues from when the email is sent, opened, and responded to. Reverbnation appears to be a priceless tool nowadays for local artists that want to take charge of their careers, and it certainly was helpful in David Roof’s career.

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The second aforementioned point, physical music is dead, may seem fairly obvious with the use of Soundcloud, Apple Music and Tidal by major artists, but keep in mind a few things here. First, artists around the globe depend on CD sales and touring to generate their revenue due to the low royalties associated with streaming. Second, local musicians and smaller artists have historically depended on selling their CD’s or cassette tapes to further their careers.

David doesn’t release physical music, seeing as a waste of time and resources, while major artists continue putting them out. But the mainstream music scene may be following suit after a few bold claims from one of the most prominent artists of our time. Yep, I’m gonna start talking about Kanye again, and you can’t do anything to stop me. Tough shit.

Yes, Mr. West has declared that he will no longer be releasing CD’s and I venture to say that local artists in Ann Arbor and around the world have set this precedent for the future of music. Local artists have declared the death of CD’s years ago, and I would propose a very safe guess that all mainstream artists will be following suit over the next 5-10 years. The fact that their is still CD sections in stores like Best Buy and Barnes and Noble is pretty incredible if you think about it.

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David runs his own recording studio, and produces his own music using reasonably priced sound equipment he has acquired over the years. This has allowed his small and nimble recording studio to stay relevant despite the trend of local artists making their own music at home. David has similar, professional home equipment that more serious local musicians might have, but he has the knowledge to run his own business and charge a reasonable price for his studio time.

To get further perspective on David’s comments, the impact new technology has had on local music and what effect this will have on the future of this unique scene, I spoke with a millennial artist,  Alex Evangelista, who also starred in my previous photo shoot. These two artists have a few different approaches and perspectives on the use of new technology to create and promote their music and the impact this technology will have in the future of local music.

(Alex Evangelista and his home studio)

Below is an interview I had with Alex in his personal studio. Much like David, Alex has found self-production and the creation of his own small studio to be the most advantageous way to hone his craft, and perhaps this will continue as a trend in the future of local music. Our conversation below was recorded on Logic-Pro, a $200 price tag for professional quality production. Alex also found the physical CD format to be useless as a local artist with Soundcloud and YouTube being useful tools to release music. However, Alex found no use for Reverbnation at this time and he might never use it, but this seems to be out of personal preference and Alex’s desire to curate a perfected sound rather than a large fan base. His insights were invaluable.

David and Alex are local musicians in different stages in their music careers. However, both of them have proclaimed the death of physical music for local artists and self-produce using technology such as Logic-Pro and Garageband. David revealed the relevancy that Reverbnation has today for local music and the impact it could have for the future. I believe Reverbnation has the technology and backing to continue to revolutionize local music. Having the necessary tools for local artists to not only create and distribute their music, but to also run the business end of their life without a manager or label is priceless technology for artists who are taking their potential success into their own hands.

But are local artists freeing themselves from labels and managers using this technology, or are they putting their potential careers at risk? With this DIY form of management, are artists missing out on the opportunity to be discovered and signed? Not according to David. “There are no record deals left. It is all about self production,” the bass player claims. But this does not explain the critical success of artists like The Weeknd or Justin Bieber, who saw their stardom rise through online media sources and music blogs. Perhaps the truth and therefore the future lies somewhere in the middle. Perhaps Reverbnation shouldn’t be viewed as a one-stop-shop to become your own artist, manager, and record label. Perhaps it’s an avenue to gain the notoriety and fame so many artists claim. I guess only time will tell, and I look forward to the first major artist to be discovered through Reverbnation or for the first Reverbnation user to manage their own super-stardom.

 

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Thomas Morton: Ballz Deep in Music

z”Famous music journalist” was not the best thing to Google when trying to blog about someone who is prominent in this field. With The Beat’s focus on local music, it was challenging to think of an individual who has made a prominent impact on reporting on local scenes. Sure, I could have picked out a random New York Times or Chicago Tribune journalist who went to see a local jazz fest and claim they were just God’s gift to music reporting, but frankly that is simply just not true. When I think of a journalist in the world of local music coverage that has done truly meaningful work, I think of Thomas Morton.

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Yep, Thomas Morton, the man who appears next to “hipster” in the dictionary. Morton, who has worked for Vice and the music subsidiary Noisey since 2004, has risen to prominence because of his willingness to immerse himself into any situation. This open-minded attitude and sheer “fuck it” attitude has allowed Morton to create a unique personal brand. Morton, much like other Vice reporters, will do anything to follow a story and to get their news.

Since becoming a field reporter in 2014, Morton has traveled across the globe to follow some of the most interesting and dangerous stories to report, including spending time with a South Korean priest who helped transport defecting North Koreans to safety. Morton is no rugged individual, and just as I mentioned earlier in this paragraph he is quite the opposite. His skinny frame, hip glasses, and upscale clothing choice make are also essential to his brand. Watching what appears to be an incredibly nervous, almost introverted individual take on new challenges is exciting! You are rooting for Morton during his journeys, and watching someone who appears nervous take on new challenges brings a sense that you too can do anything.

Morton’s willingness to truly delve into the lives he is investigating has helped continue to curate Vice’s niche voice and it landed him his own show called Balls Deep in Vice’s upcoming channel VICELAND. “People come from a place of ignorance, if we truly believe people’s bigotries come from ignorance the best way to handle that is to just give them the info.” Morton said regarding his new show. Before this monumental rise into his new role, Morton contributed to two prominent video pieces in the world of local music coverage:

Noisey Chiraq and Noisey Atlanta.

These two documentaries should be the gold-standard in reporting about new music, upcoming artists, and prominent music scenes. In each of these documentaries Morton immersed himself into the dangerous worlds that surround these two cities and their music scenes. In Noisey Chiraq Morton takes to the streets of South Side Chicago, an area that has claimed more lives than the War in Iraq (hence the name) since 2003 to hang out and party with important artists and gang members in the Chicago Drill scene. Being around gang members from the Black Disciples is no laughing matter. In fact Morton was told by prominent artist and gang member Chief Keef that the only reason Morton was not shot in his visit was because he cleared his interview beforehand.

Morton’s ability to access the elusive Chief Keef is a testament to his ability to not act as a formal reporter. Chief Keef has been one of the most difficult drill artists to speak to, and has had a history of abysmal interviews. Morton however managed to get more out of the soft-spoken star than anyone. Rather than performing like a typical journalist and setting up a sit-down interview, Morton is smoking blunts in the back seat of gang member cars listening to how police brutality has affected music style, and this is why Morton has garnered his success. “I was writing articles beforehand that were kind of along the same lines where I was spending time with people and just taking notes. Just being very fly on the wall.” Morton claimed in his 2016 interview with HuffPost. This style is highlighted in Noisey Chiraq and Noisey Atlanta, making these documentaries about local music scenes monumental achievements. Morton and Noisey created a dialogue surrounding Atlanta and Chicago’s music and the violence and drugs that inspire the artists from these cities. This dialogue would not have been possible if the projects were attempted by typical journalists.

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It’s Morton’s ability to ask the right questions, live the lifestyle, and know when to just listen that has made these videos smash hits. Morton’s ability to effectively portray why music sounds the way it sounds is a testament to his abilities as a reporter, and I only wish he would work more in the field of music.

 

 

 

The Living Album: Tidal’s Potential in the World of Music

The Beat is rocking, let’s get rolling.

Most of us know Tidal, the high-fidelity music streaming service launched by JAY-Z in 2014, or the punchline of every music streaming joke that has run through three CEO’s in its short existence. The original concept of Tidal was to provide a music streaming service of the highest listening quality. Combining high-fidelity music streaming, HD music-videos, and unique written content, Tidal is supposed to provide a luxury streaming service worth its $9/month price tag. Tidal, however, has struggled in creating a large audience, with less expensive options available such as Spotify and Apple Music.

While there are several interesting advents in music technology, including several uses of wearable technologies, such as Google Glass, I found that Tidal is not just the average streaming service, and one artist is using the service to change how we might listen to music entirely.

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Enter Kanye West. The outspoken musical genius, who is an original investor in Tidal, has changed how this music service is used and potentially how music could be played forever. West recently “released” his 7th solo-album titled The Life of Pablo in a world-wide streaming event of his live release party in Madison Square Garden. Fans everywhere, including me, attended a viewing and purchased an album download for $10. However, after the release party, no album came. Instead Kanye delayed the release to add further tracks and edit current ones. While fans were frustrated at first, the complaints subsided as new tracks were released. Eventually the album did drop, however exclusively on Tidal…and the album was not finished…

In fact, just three days ago, Kanye edited two tracks, splitting one into two parts and renaming another. This is exhausting. Can I have my album download yet? Apparently not. While Pablo may be a finished piece one day, Tidal has become a source of a living album.

Tidal uniquely allows artists to constantly update their own library, which has let artists like Kanye West continuously update their albums, making them a breathing art form. While this can be viewed as simply an innovation of an artist, I would argue that this is a massive leap on a technical level. Tidal is providing the technology for music to be released in a way that is constantly shifting and never set in stone. The potential for this new and untapped innovation is tremendous. The Guardian points to the Gwilym Gold’s Bronze format that resulted in the release of Tender Metal. Gwilym used an app called Bronze to make hundreds of renditions of his songs and allowed users to hear a different album every time they listen.

TechCrunch has gone on to name this innovation SaaS (software as a service) albums, with the The Life of Pablo being the first of its kind. Software as a service essentially means a software licensed on a subscription basis and is centrally hosted, kind of like an “on-demand software.” What fans are getting from this experience is a chance to see the creative process of artists in real time. Tidal has a chance to capitalize off of this unique idea and provide its subscribers with the unmatched experience of listening to their favorite artist create and edit new albums.

If we take a step back and look to see what Tidal and artists like Kanye West are doing with SaaS albums, it is a new music format entirely and has the potential answer to the question “What comes after streaming?” Just as the CD killed the cassette tape, and the MP3 killed the CD, does Tidal and SaaS albums have the chance to change streaming and music listening forever? Only time will tell, and by the time we have an answer, The Life of Pablo might be finally finished.

 

Data Visualization of Lyrics in Hip-Hop

Data visualization has become a critical form of digital disruption used by journalists to convey messages in a manner more effective than a long article. Since its original inception by John Snow, and his tracking of cholera in the 19th century, data journalism has become an asset in news.  The Data Journalism Handbook states that data visualization and “data journalism can help a journalist tell a complex story through engaging infographics.” In order to get a better idea about how data journalism and visualization can be effective in the realm of journalism, I searched for an example in music industry.

Hip-hop is perhaps the genre that takes lyricism more seriously than any other musical style. Not only do rhyme scheme and flow matter tremendously, but an artist’s vocabulary is also judged by critics and peers. When searching for an interesting article about data visualization in the music industry, I recalled an interesting article I stumbled upon on reddit regarding the vocabulary of hip-hop artists.

The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop by Matt Daniels was produced on the blog Polygraph. In this article, Daniels references the broad vocabulary of Shakespeare and decides to pit the greatest rappers of all time against the literary genius in regards to shear vocabulary. Using each artist’s first 35,000 lyrics, this is the data that Daniels found:

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Based on his work, Daniels discovered many interesting findings. Namely, the old Wu-Tang Clan adage remains true: Wu-Tang Clan Aint Nothin Ta F*ck Wit. The infamous hip hop collective ranks #2 in unique vocabulary and its individual members received rankings ranging from #2 (U-God) to #23 (Method Man), overall ranking far ahead of Shakespeare in regards to unique words used within an artist’s first 35,000 lyrics.

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Other interesting information includes the surprisingly underwhelming vocabularies of hip-hop legends Lil’ Wayne, 2Pac, Snoop Dogg (Lion?), and the infamous Kanye Westdist2

These infographics were surrounded by written analysis to ensure a thorough understanding of the visual data being presented and overall this piece was highly engaging. The first major visual was interactive and painted an easy to understand picture of artist’s unique vocabulary, while subsequent infographics broke down the data further to help garner a further understanding of the data. This included in-depth analysis of each region of the data set, artist breakdowns, and even regional breakdowns of the United States, which showed that the South had the lowest average vocabulary and the East Coast had the highest.

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So, did Matt Daniels effectively drive his message about the Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop using unique visual journalism and data? Simply put, yes. Daniels utilized visual data to his benefit by making several easy-to-process charts and deciding against using motion graphics that might muddle his message. Daniels also goes beyond a simple mapping of data that was used by John Snow, rather adopting a mathematical based chart with clear data points to articulate his message. However, the data could have been more interactive. While clicking on the faces of rappers across his chart, only their names and word-count appear. It would be interesting to see the discography used to get this data or further information on the artist.

Overall, it would be hard to find any hip-hop head, like me, displeased with this form of data journalism. This method of delivering information encapsulates visual learners that might struggle to engage with lengthy written articles and provides enough written analysis to warrant the engagement of a more prolific reader. This healthy balance is something that I believe should be struck in data journalism, just the right amount of words and data to tell a whole story and engage all audiences. I align with The Data Journalism Handbook’s concept that data is simply part of telling a whole journalistic story, and I believe Daniels achieves this with his work on hip hop vocabulary.

A Few Minutes with Austin Terris

The Beat is rocking, let’s get rolling.

The other day I had the pleasure of interviewing one of the leading men in the University of Michigan’s acapella community – Austin Terris. Originally I set out to ask him how media like the movies Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2, and twitter had affected his art, but the interview got rather personal instead. Austin is an interesting and thoughtful friend and simply does not care for discussing the lame acapella applications people have been posting these kinds of videos with:

Listen above as Austin and I briefly discuss digital disruption in acapella, and delve into what his art truly means to him.

A Review of NPR One

I love NPR. My brother inspired my listening to the popular radio station during high school and I have been hooked ever since. While my friends would enjoy the latest pop on local Detroit stations 95.5 and 98.7, I was tuned into 91.1 Michigan Radio, the local NPR affiliate. However, since coming to the University of Michigan I have found it difficult to find time to listen to the radio and hear local news and my favorite national programs like Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! Enter NPR One.

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NPR One, the successful listening app launched by National Public Radio, is an exceptional opportunity to listen to NPR whenever and wherever you want on a smartphone. The application gives users access to search thousands of news stories and archived work by NPR, allowing users to customize their experience. Kelly McBride even compared the platform to the Netflix of listening, and I would agree. I was able to listen to everything from local updates on Flint to critical Iowa Caucus information, and even a unique interview with GOOD Music artist Pusha T.

Stories I listened to today:

Flint Water Crisis Update
How Exactly Do the Iowa Caucuses Work?
South Korea’s Newest TV Stars are North Korean Defectors
Groovy, Baby: The Rise and Fall of the Groove
Clinton Runs as Wonk in Chief, Trying to Win Hearts with Plans
Roundtable: Donald Trump’s Political Tactics
Denmark’s Mixed Messages for Refugees
Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep
Our Obsession with Tax Cuts Has Led to a Crumbling Infrastructure
Book Diagnoses Darwin with Anxiety and Warhol as a Hoarder
Karen Korematsu Asks Michigan to Honor Her Father’s Fight for Civil Liberties
Pusha T: This is What I Like to Make (Microphone check)
National Newscast

Whenever I found a story I thought was profound or to my liking I simply hit the “Interesting” button, and for stories I found mundane I simply skipped. This communication of my taste helped curate my listening experience, telling the application what kinds of stories and programs I enjoy, while filtering out the information I do not care for. The app’s algorithm, as noted by NiemanLab, also helps to present stories with the greatest recency and relevancy to its listeners, which I found to be true in my listening experience. These innovations lead to a perfectly built stream of stories personalized just for me, and being the selfish individual that I tend to be, I loved it.

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These stories were an excellent combination of local and national news stories that interested me and stories that were tailored to my interests in politics and music. The local Ann Arbor station provided updates on the Flint water crisis, as well as an interesting story about the rise and fall of the word “Groovy” which was lead by a University of Michigan English professor. I think this mix of statewide and citywide content makes the local content of this application an interesting and successful tool.

Beyond the plethora of listening opportunities, NPR One, the app itself runs seamlessly and the user experience is fantastic. When first opening the app, you quickly sign in using a Facebook account, a Google account or email and are then welcomed and introduced to how NPR One works and what you can do, all through an NPR One broadcast. Afterwards you simply choose the local NPR station you wish to be associated with based on your location and you are ready to listen.

During your listening experience, you have an array of options to further customize your experience. On the home listening screen users have the opportunity to rewind stories by 15 second increments or skip stories entirely. At the top left of the listening screen lies the share button, allowing listeners to share the current broadcast they are listening to via social media, text or email. Next to it is a search button that allows users to search any number of key words to find the stories they want to listen to.

In addition, there is an option bar on the top left, allowing users to set a sleep timer, send feedback and even donate to NPR. When tapping the explore tab listeners are presented with a Netflix-esque screen, showing listeners their top recommendations, recent and trending stories, and what stories are coming up next on their queue.

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Overall, I found my NPR One experience to be top-notch. Not many other news platforms, especially radio stations, have been able to do what NPR has done with this application. The ability to customize and curate listening experience with ease, along with a successful mix of local and national news, and an excellent user experience this app gets an A+. I look forward to listening with this app for years to come.

Grading:

Customization: A

Local News Content: A+

User Experience: A+

Overall: A+

 

Live Tweets from AA: Matthew Dear

The Times Still Off-Key Online

The Beat is rocking, let’s get rolling!

The New York Times fails to learn from their online troubles by haphazardly posting Hot Sets and Warm Chilly Nights at NYC Winter Jazzfest Marathon. There is no secret that the Times has struggled to adapt to  online journalism, failing to figure out what attracts  modern readers. These struggles are self-detailed in the infamous leaked Innovation Report of 2014. In this report, the Times details that it has fallen behind in “the art and science of getting our journalism to readers.”

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With the problem of reaching readers, as mentioned in the innovation report , the New York Times decided to execute three simple proposals:

  1. Discovery (Getting content to readers rather than getting readers to content.)
  2. Promotion (Getting the most important work read and shared through searches and social media)
  3. Connection (Having journalists connect with readers online and offline)

With these goals, I looked  at the same article in both a physical and online format to explore the structural differences these changes might create in an online article. These three proposals will make up  my grading rubric for the Times online article, with a top grade of an A+ and a bottom grade of a D.

I decided to first read the physical copy  of the New York Times. The cover story of The Arts section was Hot Jazz Sets Heating Cold Nightsand with my blog called The Beat, I simply could not resist. I read through the paragraphs blissfully, enjoying the four pictures of artists between pages, and took in scenery detailed by journalist Ben Ratliff. The only minor disturbance was having to flip a few pages to finish the cover story. It was enjoyable to have my hands on a newspaper again,  I found the story entertaining and informative, and I finished it in minutes; however, all sense of joy was stolen from me as I opened the online version and witnessed an absolute headline atrocity.

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Hot Sets and Warm Chilly Nights at NYC Winter Jazzfest Marathon

What  happened to the carefully crafted headline of the paper I just read in the paper? I knew it was the NYC Winter Jazzfest Marathon because this information is in the first sentence of Ratliff’s story in the physical paper. While the headline disturbed me at first, I found the exact article, written word for word, aside from a few corrections made that were listed at the bottom, as well as a difference in publication date by a day. (The online article came out one day earlier ).

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Screenshot of the online version of the New York TImes

The other critical difference between the presentations of the articles was the photos. The newspaper had photos from the event surrounding the text, while the online edition was executed with a slideshow. I do enjoy that the slideshow had ten more images for me to browse, and the quality of the pictures were much better on screen than on printed paper. However, there was something mundane about reading an entire article with no photos, and then having to open up a slideshow to view the pictures. This switch made my reading experience much longer than anticipated.

 

Grading the Online Version:

Discovery:

It was uncomfortably difficult to access this news story from the New York Times website, even though it was today’s physical cover story.  The New York Times stated that it  wanted its articles to “find their readers.” Scrolling past the latest Oscar news to find the former cover story absent on the Art’s page was frustrating. I understand the need for the website to stay up to date, but I do find it odd that what was once front page news less than 24 hours ago is not even news worthy.

Grade: D

Promotion:

The Innovation Report detailed three critical tools to improve promotion: adding a related article section, adding a form where readers can sign up to receive future articles, and links to share the article via social media. The Times fails to add a signup section, but executed well in adding social media links and showing links to similar articles.

Grade:B+

Connection:

“Connection” was supposed to allow readers to better connect with journalists and vice versa. The activation of this concept would come in three ways: users seeing what stories the journalists are reading, engaging with journalists via message board, and posting user generated stories. Ben Ratliff and this article fail to provide these opportunities to connect, with no engagement with the readers, no information on what Ratliff wrote, and no links to user generated content relating to the article.

Grade: D

The Times has failed to execute on two of their three main goals to better serve their readers online. They will need to continue to improve upon these aspects, as well as their promotion if they want to be able to compete with web based news organizations such as Buzzfeed or Business Insider. For now, I think it will be best for me to engage in music related news elsewhere. 

Overall Grade: D+