Recommended Reading on Music Streaming and Data Mining (Robert Prey)

‘Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening’
by Robert Prey

If you know me, you probably find it as no surprise that Knoxville has made me prouder in the last 72 hours than it has in the three years I’ve lived here. I would expect some form of solidarity in uncertain times, but I never imagined it would be quite like this. Not to minimize the efforts of the millions who marched around the country and world today, but I know you didn’t come to this site to read my thoughts on those issues (not directly, anyway… plus, if you are anywhere near a device capable of accessing the internet, you’re probably fairly caught up by this point). I just wanted to include that preface to acknowledge the gravity of the times before changing tracks to sharing a great recent chapter on… [ready?] streaming music.

On one of many great tracks from his latest album, Jeff Rosenstock (ex-Bomb the Music Industry!) sings

Born as a data mine for targeted marketing,
and no one will listen up
until you become a hashtag or a meme
but hate’s not a fad that dies with its virality.
They want you to be a ghost
when they rob you of your hope,
but you’ve got power when they’re not expecting anything.

Rosenstock is (finally) well-known (enough) for his iconoclastic approach to making, marketing and selling music, so him singing about frustration over the squandered potential of social media is nothing surprising. But that first line is particularly biting, especially since few people in the developed world exist outside of that matrix, and the ones who were too old to embrace social media have been dying out. Tell me the idea of being a “data mine” from birth doesn’t make you shiver at least a little bit. But, here we are.

Anyway, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and others have undergone heady analysis from social scientists and independent marketing firms. This chapter by Richard Prey in the new book Networked Music Cultures (link up above, citation down below) presents a new window into the data mining that’s become inextricable from streaming music listening. I’m not too familiar with Prey’s work, but he begins the chapter with an anecdote about Theodor Adorno, whose name you cannot have a single philosophical discussion about music, film, or television without mentioning at some point.

He goes onto pick apart how Spotify and Pandora manicure their profiles on users, which includes both individual listeners and businesses. So many shops, doctors’ offices, and eateries have actually dumped commercial radio in favor of Spotify and Pandora that it’s strange that Clearchannel and other corporate interests that have ruined consolidated radio haven’t mounted a more visible campaign against them (then again, I could be overlooking something).

If I had more time to flesh out my thoughts, I would provide a more comprehensive list of everything I dislike about streaming music. Aside from their tacit devaluing of music, their abject disregard for audio quality, and an even more insidious brainwashing of consumers into guilt-tripping other consumers for actually spending money on music (that sociological “Apple effect” is the worst one for me, honestly), Prey’s chapter provides a great overview of how Spotify, Pandora, and similar services integrate something as enjoyable as listening to (and discovering, on occasion) music into the data mining superstructure. How prescient Adorno’s rantings about “the culture industry” were. Enjoy the chapter and feel free to pass it along when someone looks at you funny and asks you why you don’t use Spotify.

Also, I’m aware of the irony of me posting this on various formats of social media in order to decry it, so don’t bother pointing that out.

Prey, R. (2016). Musica Analytica: The Datafication of Listening.In Nowak, R., & Whelan, A. (Eds.) Networked Music Cultures (pp. 31-48).Palgrave Macmillan UK.

 

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June 16

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Sometimes with people, I fake I’ve seen movies, to round off the edges.
Subset of history, I lose my identity, start bummin’ at parties…
(“Life as a Rehearsal,” 1982)

Happy Bloomsday, aka International Minutemen Day. The former’s a tribute to the 20th century’s greatest epic hero, and the latter is an unofficial tribute to the 20th century’s greatest band.

Here is a spiel I wrote about the Minutemen around this time a couple years ago.

Here is San Pedro, their hometown (and one of my favorite places in the world), in the news very recently.

Here is a book that my friend Mike Fournier wrote about the Minutemen some years back.

Here is an (unsuccessful) attempt my friends and I made to recreate the “Double Nickels on the Dime” cover during a visit to Pedro in April.

photo (6)

And last, here is some validation for you all, in the spirit of the unofficial holiday. Be good to each other, and  just as importantly, let yourselves be heard.

My Week on the Ergs! on OneWeekOneBand.com

You could say I’m a little insane… and you probably will.

– The Ergs! “Books About Miles Davis”

I LOVE YOU MORE THAN I CAN SAY, PROBABLY MORE THAN YOU'D EVER WANT TO HEAR ANYWAY... BUT YOU PROBABLY GET THAT AN AWFUL LOT...

The Ergs! Final Show, 11/15/08 (Marc Gaertner Photo)

A quick note to say that if any of you are interested in my music writing, I’m contributing a week of entries on The Ergs!, a seminal pop-punk trio from middle New Jersey that conquered a tiny slice of the world between 2000 and 2008, to the site One Week, One Band this week. I chose to write about them because, simply, they were a great band (possibly era-defining) and their accomplishments deserve more attention. Mikey, Joey, and Jeffy Erg represented that ideal (hard-working, down-to-earth) type of band that simply were not built for mainstream popularity. Geographically, their strongest following grew and remains on the East Coast. They had fans all over the country and world, but were The Ergs! one of the last touring bands with such a geographically-isolated fanatical following? Only history will tell, but there’s something to be said for that.

I’m updating OneWeekOneBand over the course of this week with insights into the pop-culture references in their songs, politics buried in their lyrics, the musical evolution that alternately delighted and confused their fans, and various pieces of photo and video evidence of their legacy (like that picture above). I hope you take a look and enjoy it.

In other news, I just got my first email about the SEEDAG Meeting this fall. IT BEGINS!

 

“Loro” by Pinback (San Diego)

Video

Pall Jenkins of The Black Heart Procession (a bandmate of Pinback’s Zach Smith in Three Mile Pilot) once told me that 3MP wound up on a Geffen Records (however briefly) due to a major label bidding-tornado that set in on San Diego in the mid-90’s. Their scene nor the greater public saw any major fruit from that, but the bands did have a laugh at the whole thing.

Ronanthenadey.com

I’m not sure whether or how that strange series of events fed into the union of Smith with oft-bearded musical genius/sci-fi geek Rob Crow to birth Pinback, but we can all be glad it happened. I’m also not sure what it is about San Diego per se that influenced the duo’s unique sound, either. The other 3MP spin-off, The Black Heart Procession, don’t sound anything like San Diego looks, but I guess that isn’t the point. Night falls, hearts get broken, and people get wronged everywhere.

Anyway, I’ve been busy with some end-of-semester responsibilities, lit review and writing work, but here’s “Loro,” a highlight from Pinback’s debut album (which they just reissued in a limited run for Record Store Day this year) that will form the best three and a half minutes of your Monday.

I’ve just started a new Vimeo account for this page, and I’ll be sharing a few anticipated choice items in the next few days, so stay tuned.

Alex James on Music (or, why it doesn’t hurt to judge people based on their avocations)

Quote

   The earliest tonal instruments were made from reindeer toe bones. They’re closer to a whistle than a flute to look at, but they are technically flutes because you blow across the hole, rather than down it… It didn’t look like much, I must be honest. It didn’t sound great either but those crusty little bones were where it all started. A primitive musical instrument made by a primitive scientist.
Twenty thousand years later, anyone sitting down at a piano is sitting on top of a huge mountain of accumulated knowledge. When you hold even the cheapest guitar, you’re wielding a very sophisticated tool. The twelve-tone scale is a triumph of scientific understanding. It’s such a perfect structure that it’s rarely questioned or even understood by the people who use it. All musicians know how to tune up their instruments, but very few have any idea what they are actually doing as they tune. Musicians rarely have any more of an inkling of what music is than an electrician knows what electricity is.
All the really tricky business of the evolution of music has taken place, and it’s not important to know everything. It’s just important to know what sounds good. All anyone needs is one little idea. It can even be someone else’s idea. All you’ve got to be able to do is pick the good ones. There are no rules that can’t be broken in music-making. Confidence is all-important. Things that are completely wrong can sound new and interesting if they are done with conviction.

via the artist’s twitter

– Alex James, pp. 158-9 in his autobiography bit of a blur (London: Abacus, 2008). I’ve always been interested in the non-musical passions of musicians, and James is perhaps one of the prime examples of proof that a truly brilliant brain cannot be shut down by mountains of cocaine, booze, and women. Over the course of his towering rock stardom, he became a Visiting Scientist at one of England’s top research facilities, a recreational pilot (following drummer Dave Rowntree down that path and terrifying Damon Albarn in the process), documentary (about cocaine) host, and a devoted maker of fine cheeses. And somehow (probably by not being English), I missed out on this football anthem he ground out in 1998 with comedian Keith Allen (Lily’s dad) and everything-person Damien Hirst. Also, I just did some light googling to find that image, and I discovered via his twitter that he and Jamie Oliver are throwing a three-day food festival at his farm in the Cotswolds. Bizarre.

via the anti-emo empire

It’s no coincidence that the rock stars that history remembers the most kindly are the ones who were never content to be doing solely what their “role” in the public eye commanded. I recently went internet-rolling on the late Dead Milkmen bassist Dave “Blood” Schulthise as this past March 10 was the tenth anniversary of his suicide and my friends/colleagues Scott, Jose and I had a rare opportunity to catch The Dead Milkmen right after the AAG Conference in Tampa. Some say he was the band’s controlling force and secret weapon. I wouldn’t disagree, but either way he was definitely one hell of a bass player. The Dead Milkmen were (and still are) some of the finest satirists of the past three decades, and the more I read about Dave Blood, the more I understand how his way of looking at the world influenced their art. If you have a few minutes, check out this wonderful interview that Mark Prindle did with Blood the year before he died. He finally had the opportunity to explain the deep love he developed for Serbia relatively late in his life, and how it gave his life new meaning after the Dead Milkmen broke up, he had to stop playing, and he no longer had music.

These are the things I think about while I should be focusing on getting all my end-of-semester work off of my plate. That being said, I do apologize for the recent lack of updates. I’ll be back soon to talk about some projects I have coming up for the summer. It’s going to be a busy one.

On the Fight for (Getting INTO) the USA

I write this, regretfully, not in Roanoke, VA at the SEDAAG Meeting. The abstract/registration deadline proved too tight for me after I moved to Tennessee and began working here. Next year! At least I’ve received word from a few of my colleagues who are there and having a great time. Serious respect is due to my colleague Derek Martin, who took home the honors for best PhD paper. I linked that video because he hates it.

Respect is also due to my colleague Matt Cook, who I just discovered drew inspiration from my site to resurrect his. So, I’ll feed the worm of mutual inspiration its tail and use that as inspiration for me to throw a quick update out there. I’ve relayed a number of fun announcements about new books in the works (both involving and not involving my work), but since I’m knee-deep in the end-of-semester crunch time, I don’t have a whole lot of time to contribute a substantial essay to the glut of web content for now. But there are a couple of items you all may enjoy coming in the next few weeks. For now, here are a couple thoughts about Canada.

In case you’re at all interested in underground/punk culture, progressive politics, or just great writing on underrepresented issues, Razorcake is absolutely essential. It’s a non-profit monthly fully dedicated to the universe it covers, and subscriptions are inexpensive and worth every penny. I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to contribute band interviews to the magazine and their (soon to be overhauled, I think) website in the past few years.

For those of you who have access to it, do try to find the latest issue and have a read of their interview with Steve Adamyk of the Steve Adamyk Band. It’s a simple, straightforward conversation about the restrictions that he and his band face in trying to set up shows south of the border (in the United States). Between the months-long application process and expensive equipment rental and management, to simply play three hours south of his hometown of Ottawa (without risking getting banned for years) has become nearly impossible for a musician of his means.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen bands from the Middle East remove all dates from their websites in order to fly under the radar of the State Department, and I’ve heard singers from the Great White North tell crowds “if anyone asks, we’re here for a bachelor party!” Granted, if you knew the latter band I’m talking about (they’re pretty good), you’d probably question their singer’s ability to say anything serious.

Toronto: Exhibit A (source: beatgoeson.com)

Considering what fertile power-pop music scenes Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal have grown over the past decade (or for that matter, have had for decades), it’s incredibly disappointing how our government denies us this goodness by leaning on poorly managed and antiquated border laws. I’ll never understand what the United States accomplishes with roadblocks for visiting artists, forcing musicians to construct elaborate lies just to build their fan bases and bring their music to potentially tens of thousands of fans. Fortunately, countries like Germany have been a boon for Adamyk and bands like his, opening their arms to his music (even releasing records for him). Here’s hoping that the network of American fans will, sometime in the near future, be able to show up and shout along with the solid, hardworking Canadian bands that don’t happen to be filling arenas (and asking their fans to play dress up).

New Steve Propes volume ‘Old School’ now available

I really do have a (long overdue) post coming up about media geographies and the magic of A/V clubs in the 1980s, but I wanted to take a quick moment to plug a new book by Stephen Propes, a longtime Long Beach resident and a very helpful collaborator during my thesis research on vinyl record history. OLD SCHOOL: 77 Years of Southern California R&B & Vocal Group Harmony Records 1934 – 2011 may be the most comprehensive compendium ever written by Steve (or anyone else) on this style of music in Southern California. It is available on Amazon, where I found the following abstract:

A never before published chronological compendium of musicians and/or groups, titles, original record labels, local and select out-of-town radio and record store chart positions…combined with the stories of the records, either from those involved or from original research…and in notable cases, an idea of the value of these discs. Popular music in Southern California has a surprisingly short history prior to World War II. Though a recording scene existed in the early 1920s, for all intents and purposes, the aggressive recording, pressing and marketing of phonograph records in the L.A. area didn’t really take hold until the 1930s, and in fact, many of these 1930s releases were party records with double-entendre themes. However, the post WWII era was a different matter. With the emergence of some L.A.-based pop and race music stars, generally with radio, nightclub or motion picture connections in the early 1940s, the serious business of recording for the mass market began in earnest. The development of rhythm and blues and soul in any major market has never been fully documented in the way this book portrays over 1,400 record releases by over 850 groups or artists described here. Many of the records featured in this work hit either the local or national popularity charts, or both, however not all records made a visit to those lists of best sellers. Some of the artists described within had spectacular multi-decade careers, but many of them were of the one-off or best case, one hit variety. Though the work concentrates on rhythm and blues and soul music, there are other genres, such as novelty, jazz, gospel and pop sprinkled in when the story supports inclusion.