Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Music Maths Monday

I meant to post this yesterday since The Guardian has started doing a Pop Maths feature every Monday. However, things got a bit hectic yesterday and I didn't have time to check the Grauniad or write my blog post. When I finally got around to it tonight, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I won last weeks competition! When I say "pleasantly surprised", read ridiculously pleased. |:-)

If you want to have a go, at time of posting, they are on Pop maths: Week 14. The idea is quite simple - you are presented with a three arithmetic problems involving bands with numbers in their name. For example, one of the ones I got last week (did I mention I won?) was:
(zero x timbuk) - tet =
Now it has to be said that these are not the most well known of bands but I had a guess at Zero 7, Timbuk 3 and Four Tet. That made the calculation 7 x 3 - 4 = 17, so I ventured Heaven 17 as an answer. See how it works? (I'm not sure I should admit this, but Heaven 17 is a guilty pleasure of mine from the 1980s. One day I'll get around to getting the Luxury Gap as CD or download since I can't easily play my vinyl collection any more.)

Let me know if you have a go - especially if you win. (Did I mention that I won last week?)

Friday, 27 March 2009

Free Download Friday #4

Eventually, I would have got around to talking about the Nine Inch Nails site. There's a lot of interesting stuff there - especially the Remix section.

Trent Reznor
Originally uploaded by acidpolly
In the remix section, you don't just download a song, you download a multi-track version which you can then remix and upload back to the NIN site for other people to listen to and comment on. Brilliant! (And putting my education hat on for a moment, if school music departments aren't making use of sites like this, they should be ashamed of themselves.)

However, the main reason for linking to the NIN site today is that from time to time, they (and by they I probably mean him, i.e. Trent Reznor) make a complete CD available as a free download. Currently you can download The Slip and, to coincide with the tour, you can also get a NIN|JA EP with tracks from NIN, Jane's Addiction and Street Sweeper.

I think I like the NIN stuff the best but let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Have you spotted Spotify yet?

One of my earliest posts on this blog was about last.fm. I like the last.fm community, its events notifications and its suggestions for music it thinks I will like. However, unless you subscribe, you cannot chose the music you want to listen to. However, I've argued before, and I'll say it again, this is a strength of last.fm. I've heard all sorts of new music that I would not have encountered if I was choosing what to listen to. However, sometimes more control is good... and that's where Spotify comes in.

Spotify is in some ways similar to last.fm. At a basic level, both let you stream music over the Internet. A major difference is that Spotify is an application that you have to download (for free) and install on your computer. I'll list some of the other similarities and differences below before finishing with a brief overview type review. Note, Spotify is still in Beta and new stuff is being added all the time, so even as you read this, it may have changed for the better!

Spotify doesn't seem to have the sophistication of last.fm in choosing music it thinks you will like but you can listen to a "radio station" of artists that it thinks are similar to one you choose. It doesn't have the powerful community building tools of last.fm but it does have the facility to share playlists, for example here's a list of happy songs I started on Comic Relief day - a list that was extended by additions from other people. Both services are legal sources of Internet streamed music that reward the artists they stream. Both can be listened to free but have subscription options that give extra facilities/options should you want them. Another major difference is that Spotify play occasional (very occasional) adverts before songs and every so often, an advert will pop up in the Spotify player. The subscription options will remove the adverts but to be honest, they are short and infrequent and I have no problem with them - significantly better than commercial radio with the added bonus that you choose all the music.

For me, the most impressive aspect of Spotify is the huge range of music it has on offer. Big record companies as well as many independents are on board and new music is added on a regular basis (for example Spotify Music catalogue updated with 2,850 releases was announced yesterday). They also sometimes offer pre-release listens, for example I was able to listen to the new U2 album before it was on sale. Also it is a great way to listen to new releases (such as The Ballad Of John Henry) while waiting for pay day. :-) I especially like the shared playlist idea although t still lacks a couple of features I'd like to see - specifically, I'd like to know who adds to shared lists and have some way of interacting with them (for example to be able to explain why I've added a particular track).

Spotify is a fantastic service for the music fan and I expect it to get better as they add more music and more features.

Please share your opinions on Spotify and your playlists in the comments.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Free Download Friday #3

I think it's a positive development that some parts of the music industry are (at least) beginning to realise there is a value in giving away music for free. Today's Free Download Friday highlights one music company that is offering some free mp3 files for download.

Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
Universal Music UK is offering the Universal Music Download System. Follow the link to the Download System page and you are presented with a range of links to different artists. It has to be said, not all are to my taste but there's just about something for everyone there. Follow an artist link and, in exchange for your email address, you get a free mp3 download. That seems to me a good exchange. They get an email address so they can send you marketing information about artists you like, and you get free music. Looks to me like a win/win deal.

The download I thought was most interesting is the Chris Cornell link. His latest release has caused a bit of controversy, so here's your chance to try before you buy!

What's your favourite download from the current list? Who should I check out?

Update: Now this is both annoying and bizarre! As I wrote this post I loaded the pages I wanted to link to and copied the URL. Everything worked. I hit the publish button and decided to download a couple more free tracks. I click the Universal Download Music link and I'm automatically re-directed to the Universal Music home page! What? The individual artist download pages seem to be there (at least for the moment) For example the Chris Cornell link still works as do these links to Elbow and Flyleaf but you can't get to the page that listed them all. Bah! A quick Google revealed you can still get to the equivalent page (but with a different roster of artists) in Australia. If I find out what's happened, I'll let you know.

Update 2: Grief! This has go to be the most disastrous post yet. Doesn't bode well for future Free Download Fridays! The Flyleaf link I gave you above still works but takes you to a DRM protected download... and one where the liscence has lapsed, so you can't hear it. However, there were two downloads available and the second still works and leads to an mp3. So, if you want to hear what Flyleaf are like, try this link.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Music Shuffle Game

I was looking for some online gig reviews and I noticed that two different music magazine websites had been playing the music shuffle game.

It is a very simple idea, and this is how you play: put your player on shuffle and note the first five tracks it plays. Key rule is no editing! You are not allowed to skip a track or substitute something "better" to try and make yourself look more cool. If you have the Spice Girls on your iPod then be prepared to suffer the consequences!

Burning Down by The Outskirts of Infinity
Not a band I really know. It's from a free cover disk given away with Classic Rock magazine. It's prog style noisy guitar music, so not too embarrassing as a number 1 out the shuffle.

Charley Patton Songs by Gomez
I like Gomez, especially their first two albums. This one's from How We Operate and it's OK - three stars on my iPod.

Parchman Farm by John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers
I hadn't heard this in ages. This is what makes the shuffle function great - rediscovering forgotten gems. Classic British Blues from a classic British bluesman. I saw him supporting B. B. King at a concert in Glasgow about ten years ago - now that was a great night!

Spanish Bombs by The Clash
The Clash. Nuff said. Although, if I was choosing myself, I would probably have gone for something else - Train In Vain perhaps.

Gone by Logan
A noisy rock band from Glasgow. If you haven't heard them I would recommend you spend some time checking them out. The track name above links to the Amazon download page but three of their albums are available on eMusic. (Warning: A couple of the albums listed by eMusic are clearly a different Logan!) I would recommend Cruel Little World as a good place to start. If you aren't already signed up for eMusic, check out my earlier post and perhaps you could use some of your 50 free songs to download some Logan.

So, there's my five. Perhaps not entirely indicative of my music tastes but not too embarrassing Anyone else want to have a go? Remember, no cheating, editing or skipping. It has to be the first five.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Music that makes you dumb

I suspect this is old news for some people but I was most amused by the Music That Make You Dumb page. :-)

Led Zeppelin seem to do OK although Rush are conspicuous by their absence. (My theory is that they're off the scale to the right somewhere.)

This highlights to me something I've said elsewhere - there is an urgent need for someone to give me a large pile of money so that I can carry out field research during the upcoming AC/DC gig at Hampden Park in Glasgow. :-)

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Winter fun advice

I don't think I'll make a habit of posting Winter fun advice on this blog... but here are some wise words from Geddy Lee:

Free Download Friday #2

I was pleased to discover that Classic Rock magazine has started offering a free Daily Download - a daily review and link to free music. They are mostly linking to up and coming bands, for example today's download was from The Steepwater Band - a band I'd never heard of but one that I'm now tempted to get more of.

So far there's been a bit of a mixture of Blues and Rock for download and I hope they are able to keep it going for good we while.

If you want to follow what they are doing, you could bookmark the page for items tagged Track Of The Day or you could subscibed to their RSS feed. Let me know what your favourite free tracks are by leaving a comment on this post.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Where's the YouTube Rock Band?

I wrote in my Education blog about the YouTube Orchestra. I think this is a great idea and wondered if anyone has ever done anything similar with a Blues or Rock band?

I'd heard of eJamming AUDiiO which apparently lets musicians collaborate in real time over the Internet. However, recording video separately and then mashing it together to create a group video would seem to be a low tech alternative. Clearly, there are timing and tuning issues, not to mention video editing problems, but with a bit of good will and effort from all involved it should be possible. Certainly, this chap has managed to do it:

Are there examples of amateur musicians cooperating to create music together in YouTube or elsewhere?

Monday, 9 March 2009

YouTube and PRS Fall Out

Just the other week I said that it was good to see some record companies seeing the value of offering free mp3 downloads. I was hopeful that the musical powers that be were beginning to understand the Internet and use it to promote music rather than fighting to block things at every turn...

Stop Hammertime.
Originally uploaded by Rich Anderson
Then I read this:
YouTube to block UK music videos
YouTube is blocking all premium music videos to UK users after failing to reach a new licensing agreement with the Performing Right Society (PRS).
Oh dear.It's not clear who is being sillier here, YouTube or the PRS. My gut says its the PRS that are missing the point again and are in danger of killing the goose even as it lays the golden egg. However, it is equally possible that Google/YouTube is throwing its weight about as it tries to work out how it can profit from all this video it now has. (Heard on the radio earlier tonight that Google are struggling to make money from YouTube despite it being the second most popular search engine - after Google of course!)

So while the business people bicker over money, the fans and the bands lose out... I suspect only the lawyers will win financially out of this one.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Free Download Friday #1

It's a Friday and I hope this is the first of a semi-regular series of links to free downloads... so Free Download Friday seems like a good name. (Better the Zero Cost Zursday anyway!) So, lets start with a biggie...

Thank you and goodnight!
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir
I mentioned in my post about last.fm that I am a relatively recent convert to Dream Theater but making a debut on this blog is Airbourne. On the face of it, these groups do not have a lot in common. Dream Theater is an American progressive metal band whereas Airborne is an straight out hard rock band from Australia. What links them is Roadrunner Records. This is a record label that has a number of big names on its roster (including Nickelback and Sammy Hagar) but also has a load of other groups that I didn't know much (or anything) about before I found my way to the Roadrunner site. New discoveries that I'm impressed with include Black Stone Cherry (excellent southern rock), The Parlor Mob and Theory of a Deadman.

The UK Roadrunner site is a great source of information about upcoming tours and releases, and it offers the occasional free download, for example, currently you can download Carnival Of Crows by the Parlor Mob (and I would recommend you do!). However, for the mother lode of free downloads, you have to head to the American site.

When you first arrive you are offered the chance to subscribe and download a free album. In fact you get a choice of two: Annual Assault (thirteen tracks which feature some of their more metal acts) or Between Rock and a Hard Place (eleven tracks which feature some of their more rock oriented acts). I subscribed and went for the rock album and Daughter Number Two joined for the metal one... but both of us liked both. :-)

Even better, many of the artists' pages on the American site offer a free download track. Here are some of my favourites (in alphabetical order):
  • Airbourne - Runnin' Wild
  • BiffyClyro - Mountains {A fine Scottish band.}
  • Black Stone Cherry - Please Come In {A very mellow track compared to other stuff of theirs I've heard.}
  • Dream Theater - Forsaken
  • Opeth - Burden {I don't usualy like band with a "Wooorrraaargh!" approach to vocals but these chaps are growing on me.}
  • The Parlor Mob - Hard Times
  • Sammy Hagar - LOUD
  • Theory Of A Deadman - Hate My Life
These are just a few of the downloads on offer. Go explore and then let me know what your favourites are.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Separated at birth?

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd picked up the Victor CD in a local charity shop.

(Victor was the side project of Rush guitarist, Alex Lifeson.) For some reason, I didn't get this CD when it came out but I heard someone else's copy and at the time I was very unimpressed. Odd! Listening to it now, I find I really like it. Some of the tracks are excellent - for example Start Again and Mr X are now both rated as five stars on my iPod. However, Start Again was driving me nutty. Not surprisingly, some of the riffs sound very Rush-like but I couldn't place the riff in Start Again. It took me ages to realise it wasn't a Rush song it reminded me of - it was Four Sticks from Led Zeppelin!

So what tracks remind you of others? I'm not just talking potential lawsuits (I think Joe's on a hiding to nothing here - at least that's my humble opinion) but it could be a deliberate reference like The Spirit Of Radio and Tom Sawyer in Grade 9. Any suggestions?

Monday, 2 March 2009

Where do I get my music?

I occasionally buy new albums online or in music shops. (I try to avoid supermarkets. I'd rather support shops like Fopp - even though they are no longer independent. I like physically browsing through stacks of CDs - something you don't really get to do online or in supermarkets.) I also pick up a fair few CDs in charity shops. (Latest finds being A Crow Left Of The Murderand Victorat £1.99 each.) However, for the last year and a bit, the place I've bought most of my new music is eMusic.

With eMusic, the focus on independent music rather than the big mainstream labels but there is still a huge range of stuff to choose from and they do have are some big names. (Although, it pays to do a bit of checking first as some of the downloads are obscure live recordings or dodgy "before they were famous" stuff.) A year on and I still have no problem downloading 75 tracks per month and have a backlog of albums that I want to download next.

Here are a few of my favourite finds so far to give you a flavour of what's there:

Rainbow Live in Munich: Pretty much the definitive Rainbow line up as far as I'm concerned and with some extraordinarily long tracks, you get a lot of musical bang for your download buck!

Joe Bonamassa - Sloe Gin: Sorry to keep going on about this... but Joe Bonamassa is currently my most listened to artist.

Chris Whitley - Dirt Floor: Painfully stark, stripped down acoustic Blues. Beautiful!

Motörhead-Motörizer: Loads of Motörhead stuff is available on eMusic including this, their most recent.

If you find yourself stuck for ideas, get back to me and I'll give you some more suggestions such as Thin Lizzy, EndeverafteR and Lethargy. As well as bucket loads of old Blues.

The best thing about eMusic though is that you can sign up, download fifty tracks for free. Then, if you don't like the look of what you see, you can cancel your subscription and keep the fifty tracks you've already downloaded.

With fifty tracks to gain, what have you got to lose?