X&HT MUSIC WEEK: The Bandcamp Option

Sorry, couldn't resist.
Sorry, couldn't resist.

Yesterday I touched on how Radiohead had developed their own distribution and marketing after parting ways with their record company. You no longer need to be a big famous rock band to do that. These days, it’s as easy as signing up for Bandcamp.

Bandcamp is a bit of a paradigm shifter. It’s a quick and easy way for musicians to get their work out to an audience, with a good-looking home page featuring your own custom artwork and full previews. For a user like me, browsability and preview options are key, and Bandcamp has all this covered. Most interestingly, the pricing is set so that the minimum the artist is prepared to charge is always the default, but you can pay more if you think the music’s worth it. File options run the gamut from MP3 to massive lossless formats. It’s a great way of discovering new music at a pleasingly affordable price point, and compensating the artists appropriately.

My latest Bandcamp download is from Stepdad, who specialise in sunny, quirky synth-pop. They have the bounce and charm of early Depeche Mode before they discovered rubber leisureware. There’s nothing particularly original or innovative at play, but it’ll make you smile and jig about, and most days that’s all that you need. You can pick up the Ordinaire EP for under a quid. That has to be worth a punt, surely.

It’s not just the little guys that use Bandcamp. Longtime X&HT Crush Amanda Palmer has released her latest album on the platform after leaving her old label Roadrunner in 2008 – a process that she extensively documented on her blog and on stage, pleading to be released from her contract after it became clear that they were simply not interested in promoting her. Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under, a mix of live and studio recordings based around her regular trips to Oz and New Zealand, shows off her punk cabaret stylings beautifully. It contains odes on a mix of subjects, including one on the horror of Vegemite, and the joy and wonder of intimate female hairstyling in the hilarious Map Of Tasmania.

You can pick up the album for 69c, but there are a ton of other options, including vinyl, artwork packages and, for $5000, An Evening With Amanda Palmer where she will come to your gaff and perform. I’m not sure if anyone’s taken her up on the option yet, but I’m sure we’ll hear all about it when it happens.

Readership, I urge you to visit Bandcamp and have a sniff around. There’s a huge range of music to explore. The preview options make it a no-risk endeavour. Who knows, your new favourite band could be waiting there for you.

Kindle, Spotify and the view outside the box

TLC bought me a Kindle for my birthday. It was bound to happen. She swears by the Sony e-reader I got her last year, and both Leading Man Clive and Wetdarkandwild are advocates of Amazon’s sexy new toy.

I have to say, I love it. It’s as skinny as an overweight fashion model, perches in the hand like an attentive bird, and is almost Mac-like in it’s simplicity of use. It’s funny how many people I’ve shown it to that have begun prodding at the e-ink screen as if it’s an iPad. In a lot of ways the dedicated controls are even easier to use than the swipe-to-turn gesture that the iPhone uses on it’s Kindle app.

My one concern was that it would not be able to read the electronic library I’ve accrued over the last couple of years. This was unfounded. It’ll happily read PDFs, .rtf and even .txt files with aplomb, keeping the formatting impeccably. I have a chunk of cash to spend, which will granted mostly be going to the Kindle store, but I am still downloading and reading other formats – most notably Cory Doctorow’s new collection With A Little Help, available in all kinds of free and paid versions. I hadn’t realised just how much I had to read in electronic form. As publishing models begin to inexorably change, and readers begin to embrace new formats as a complement to the existing ones (I, for example, have no interest in reading comics and graphic novels in an e-format. I really don’t like reading things panel-to-panel, and Comixology’s Guided Technology is just infuriating) it’s going to be very interesting to see how things open up. Certainly, as a writer with a vested interest in new markets and opportunities for my work, it feels like exciting times.

With that in mind,  can I point out that this looks great on a Kindle right now?

Meanwhile, my love affair with Spotify continues, getting sloppier and ickier by the second. I have an Unlimited account, which for a fiver a month gives me all the music I can eat with none of the ads. There are some obvious omissions and holdouts on the service, of course. Most annoyingly for me, The Arcade Fire aren’t there. But then I bought The Suburbs on the day it came out so it’s no biggy.

But the point is that The Arcade Fire was one of about five albums I’ve bought this year, down from a figure that was getting up to ten times that five years ago. I have not downloaded anything from a link that does not have the creators stamp of approval, and does not put money into their pockets. I’m using sites like Bandcamp (where I discovered and bought Zoe Keating’s astonishing album Into The Trees) a lot more. Everything else has been streamed. I’ll probably treat myself to the new/old Springsteen. Apart from that, the subscription has me covered. On those rare occasions when the service does go down, I still have a hundred gigs or so of tunes in the drives. Granted, if the service is ever bought or merged (witness the reports earlier in the year that Google wanted it) it could change in ways that would make it a lot less attractive. But for me, for now, streaming this playlist to our surround amp through Airport Express and Airport, the world seems like a very big, very musical place.

For the most part I use Spotify in conjunction with music blogs like The Quietus and No Rock And Roll Fun, which broaden and open up my horizons without having to budge off the sofa. At this time of year, when all the best-of-the-year playlists come up, Spotify comes into it’s own as a way of catching up and finding new things to love.

Looks like 2011 is the year when I don’t just start thinking outside the box, but living outside it too.