Favorited ex.fm Songs

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rambling thoughts on the music industry and lesser-known musicians

I'm going to admit before I start this post that it probably won't be anywhere near as coherent as I'd like it to be because I'm not sure it is fully coherent in my head. If you'd rather not read about how Spotify may affect lesser known musicians, feel free to just skip down to the music at the bottom, but it's something I've thought about a lot lately so if you can handle my long winded nature, please read on.

I know lots of people complain that music today just isn't what it used to be. I'd argue that anyone who thinks that isn't looking in the right places because we live in such a golden age of opportunity for music discovery. I wrote a post a while back about all of the different ways that I discover new music. Just stopping to think about all of the options available is kind of crazy. I'm not that old (a 26 year old grad student), but I remember when it seemed the only way to find music was to listen to what the radio was playing or to see who was playing concerts with other artists you liked. I wasn't as obsessive about searching for music back then as I am now, but the options were definitely fewer and further between.

With all of that being said, this great freedom of discovery seems a bit dangerous for the music that is out there. If it's so easy to stream every album from Spotify, what is the incentive to go and buy that album (possibly supporting your local record store in the process). I tend to buy albums I find myself listening to over and over because I like being able to put them on my iPod and I enjoy supporting the artist that is bringing me joy (or some other emotion depending on the artist) with their music. However, I know that isn't the case for a lot people. Lots of people solely rely on Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, bit torrents, or any number of other resources. That's all good and well I suppose, and to each their own and whatnot, but what gets lost in this is what the actual effect of this decision is.

This isn't intended to be some lecture against people who don't buy music (and I hope it doesn't come off that way), but I was surprised after reading a blog post by a musician about just how little they make from even a legal service like Spotify. In the linked post, a musician named Bradley James shows a Spotify royalties screen capture that says he had his songs streamed 4,498 times in the past month and made $20.76. Stop to think about that for a minute. That means every time one of his songs was streamed, he made just under half of one cent. That's still a little abstract. Say he had one song that you really liked. You could go buy it from iTunes for $.99 (of which he says the artist gets about $0.64). For the artist to get that much from Spotify, you would have to stream the song 139 times, which is frankly a ton. For a four minute song, that would mean you spent over 9 hours listening to it and the artist made less than a dollar (and you paid nothing).

People may ask, why put your music on a service like Spotify if you aren't happy with how much you make. Well, because of this golden age of music discovery that we the consumer live in, artists need to get their music out there however they can. They need to weigh the benefits of people discovering them but maybe not paying for their music versus people paying for it but fewer people knowing about them. Likely they hope that these free streams will turn into money from CD sales, song downloads, concert tickets, or merchandise.

This discussion has gone on long enough, but I think all of this is something to at least think about when you consume music. Artists like Radiohead, Kanye West, or Lady Gaga can probably afford to have people stream their music instead of buying it, but for lesser known artists I'm sure it can be tough to stay in the game if you're making half a cent per time someone listens to your song. I absolutely love Spotify, and I use it all the time, but I try to make it a tool to try music before deciding if I want to buy it rather than as a substitute. I'm sure most artists don't make music for the money, but that doesn't mean that if they make something that people enjoy, they shouldn't be rewarded in a way that allows them to keep doing it. With that out of the way, I want to highlight a few lesser known musicians that I've enjoyed lately. If you like them maybe you'll want to pay a few bucks for an album, and if you don't hopefully you can find other artists you'd like to support.

Marching Donald

Marching Donald, along with the blog post I linked above, was one of the inspirations for this post. Marching Donald is the stage name of Ryan Davies, a British singer/songwriter. He emailed me a couple weeks ago after I wrote about a friend's band, Suburban Dirts (who put out an awesome rockin' folk/country album a couple months ago). He asked that I check out his recently released album, suggesting that he was influenced by several artists I had written about previously. I happily obliged and was pleasantly surprised. The album was recorded live and can be a little rough around the edges (which isn't a problem with me if you've read recent posts). Influences like The Tallest Man On Earth definitely peek through on tracks like "A Touch of Blue," which I think is my favorite track on the album. On other tracks, there is an exploration of heavier styles with hard strumming on the guitar and louder vocals. The album has really grown on me with a few listens, and even more I look forward to seeing what he can continue to do in the future after a promising debut.

Check out "A Touch of Blue" below along with the lead track on the album (which gives you a little sense of the varying styles). If you like what you hear, you can check out the rest on Spotify (other favorite tracks are "My Book" and "Duvet Day"), and if you really like it might I recommend buying it?

I Build Collapsible Mountains

This is an artist that I've written about before, but he's also one that came to mind several times while listening to Marching Donald. The styles can be similar and neither is very well known, but both have put out really good music that deserves to be heard. I Build Collapsible Mountains has released two full-length albums (although one has since been pulled until a more formal release later this year) and one EP. I've purchased all three and really enjoy them. His EP may be my favorite of the bunch though, and you can currently download it from Bandcamp for only $1. You can stream the EP below, starting with my favorite track "Rails" ("Slowapproacher" is my second favorite):

Ko Ko

With Ko Ko, I'm veering off into a different genre. This band is an incredibly sunny sounding indie pop band from California. I believe they only have a 3-song EP to their name thus far, but "Float" is basically the perfect summer song, and I imagine I'll be listening to it countless times over the next few months.

The Miracals

The Miracals are another band making cheery sounding indie pop out of California. You can buy their EP from last year on Bandcamp for any price you choose (including $0 if you want). However, the real highlight from this band to date is almost certainly the music video they made for "FRNZ". Anyone who has spent as much time playing Mario Kart 64 as I have (or who likes goofy dancing) should enjoy the choice.

Obviously there are thousands upon thousands of little known artists out there in the world, but these are just a few that I have been enjoying lately. I'd love to hear suggestions in the comments of other musicians that people enjoy who may not be known to a large audience.


  1. is there a reason i didn't start reading this until today??
    miss you!

    1. Better late than never! I should be back in the cities sometime next weekend. Hopefully you're around and we can hang out.