Category Archives: music

Vess Ossman playlist on Soup Greens

Over on Soup Greens I have posted a playlist of pre-1923 recordings by a banjo player named Vess Ossman.

The playlist is a standalone page of hand-coded HTML. The design is influenced by Muxtape. The blog post over there is a stub to enable comments and channel blog visitors into the playlist.

The blog post is at http://soupgreens.com/2008/05/14/vess-ossman-playlist/. The playlist is at http://www.soupgreens.com/vessossman/.

My goals in terms of my own music were to provide context and to keep the flow of fresh content up. Context gives notes a back story and cultural kick. Fresh content creates momentum.

My technology goal was to explore playlists as a form of album packaging. I wanted to do such a tight job on the page that it would give the same kind of experience as opening a new CD and listening while you read the liner notes and look at the pictures, so I really sweated the graphics, writing, song selection, outbound links, and usability. I don’t want people to download the MP3s; I do want them to listen with the page open, and ideally to return to the page when they want to hear the music again.

I couldn’t figure out how to give the playlist social liveliness of the kind that Greg Borenstein articulated in his comment on the Jon Udell piece. Ideas are welcome.

looking at Ingrid Michaelson site

Here are observations on the site for Ingrid Michaelson’s music.

I like:

  1. Music autoplays on the home page. That’s what the site is about, let’s not waste time and clicks getting to it.
  2. Navigation within the site never interrupts playback. As I write this I’m been having a continuous enjoyable experience with the music for about fifteen minutes because nothing has yet happened to break the flow.
  3. Front page goes straight to news. There’s a sense of freshness. This approach is in contrast to a Flash splash page or a static explanation of who she is.
  4. Main menu uses standard language for features rather than making up cute words for the same things.
  5. Intimate blog-scale presence rather than larger-than-life arena-scale presence.

I don’t like:

  1. Nothing viral anywhere. This should be front and center. For example, the XSPF player widget in the header should have an “embed this” box next to it.
  2. Framed design prevents linking to sub-pages, including bookmarking. They should have used an AJAX bookmarking library.
  3. No free MP3 download. Huh? C’mon. I mean…
  4. There should be direct links to songs in the news section, so that you have a sense of chronology and freshness in relation to the music.

no singles, please #2

Good bloggers have a warmer and more intimate voice than writers in publications like the New York Times. This applies to musicians as well.

So let’s say that, per yesterday’s post here, we’re moving from a world of albums containing singles to a world where musicians release a series of songs that accumulate like posts in a blog.

You’d expect successful musicians in the new context to have a warmer and more intimate voice. They would let flaws show. They would be avoid grandiose sounds like kettle drums. They would be less physically attractive. They would dress down. They would be quirky.

Old style: Janet Jackson on janetjackson.comJanet Jackson 'Discipline' photo

New style: Port O’brien on Aquarium DrunkardPort O'brien

no singles, please

Leftsetz, who blogs compulsively, says Singles Only:

Don’t make an album. And whatever you do, don’t send it to me! I don’t have time.

Heritage acts. Classic acts. Cut one great single! That you can do your best to work. Shit, give it away for free… As an inspiration to buy a concert ticket, where the true money is. Why spend all that money and time to cut an album that almost no one’s going to hear?

New bands… One track only.

But wait, he doesn’t mean you only get one more song in your career:

you don’t give them ten more tracks… You give them a dribbling of killers. So they end up becoming fans of the act, not the track.

Ok, so what’s another word for dribbling? Blogging. The new format isn’t the *single*, the single is just as inert as the album. Singles are vestigial. The format is the *post*.

A couple real world examples: Jeff Harrington has a new violin sonata out and there’s a new song up on soup greens.

When Liszt transcribed Paganini:

remix culture [was vital] was in the era before recording technology. Remixes back then required transcriptions and new performances of the pieces created, to make new pieces. Transcription/remix culture provides a set of parallels that might help us understand that what we are doing is not some odd form of new piracy, but instead a licensed continuation of a tradition that made sense and great music.

Liszt at 20 heard Paganini, then 50, perform. He was so swept away that he began to convert Pagainin’s violin studies into piano pieces. His remix (technically a transcription) of Paganini’s “A minor caprice (Nr. 24)” for piano both caused him controversy in his time and gives us a sense of his piano genius in our time.

Transcribing a violin piece for piano is like translating a poem. There would be some mechanical conversions, but also there would be spots that required the transcriber to get involved with the music at a qualitative level. The transcriber would need to understand the internal lines and structures, and since structures carry meaning they’re subjective enough that the transcriber would have to exercise their own taste and musicality. It would be a lot like orchestrating, arranging, or remixing.

Portishead packaging

Check out the packaging for the new Portishead release. It feels a lot like an expensive hotel or a spa, and not at all like an MP3.

There’s no CD at all. Instead there is a big-ass 1GB USB key. This contains the music file collection formerly known as an “album” or “CD” or “release”. The remaining free space contains videos of some kind (but what the videos are isn’t said). I love the idea of pre-ripped files, because having to rip my own CD purchases feels like I’m paying for a DIY project, but CD players are still convenient for me sometimes so I want *both* a CD and pre-ripped files.

There is a double vinyl album and, listed separately, an etched 12” vinyl of ‘Machine Gun’. Are these really separate things? Vinyl etching is way cool, anyway. The way it works is that you get the actual wax mold they will pour the vinyl into, then cut a picture out of the wax rather than cutting grooves for a phonograph needle to read. This vinyl etching deal is a way of emphasizing the physicality of what you’re getting for your money. The message is that you’re not buying *bits.” This product is not a crappy way of files onto your iPod, it’s a way of getting close to music you love.

Visuals along the lines of album art in the form of a Limited edition print from Nick Uff. Again, this isn’t a crappy MP3, it’s a whole other thing.

The major economic factor for this release isn’t anything in this listing though; it’s the ten years it took the band to make the music, and the amazing staying power of their prior music. If they only make a release every ten years, the cost of luxuries like vinyl etching is relatively unimportant.

(Thanks to export5000 for the link).

gurdonark manifesto

In a comment on the cut/copy post, gurdonark posted a mini-manifesto on musician’s web presence.

If I were expressing a similar idea, I might try it this way:

  1. music should be hosted and managed on sites controlled by the musicians
  2. sites controlled by musicians need not follow the rigid label/release dynamics of the past
  3. sites controlled by musicians need not be elaborate, but can work like weblogs
  4. in this vision of creative self-expression, the blend of words, images, and music is not a self-conscious form of multi-media, but a natural expression of creativity
  5. the weblogs thus created can be used to market or license music
  6. the weblogs thus created may alternatively succeed if there are listeners/readers, regardless of commercial motive
  7. the ideal net effect is to “get it” about sharing music in ways that traditional media has not “gotten”.

Some of these are already blooming, some are barely germinated. You wouldn’t have a tough time finding music hosted and managed on sites controlled by the musicians, but you’d have a very tough time finding distribution points for those songs, because all the major distribution points require musicians to upload to their servers and won’t distribute music on an external URL.

MILA pattern

Patrick Woodward’s MILA project is an example of how musicians manage their presence on the web.

There is a personal blog post about creating and managing the work at http://www.patwoodward.com/2008/04/mila-album-on-web.html.

There is a page which is a hub for the work itself at http://milamusic.tumblr.com/.

There are a bunch of distribution points for getting the work in front of users and drawing listeners back to the hub, including Myspace and last.fm.

How did he get to this particular setup? He described the basic problem to me like this:

A few weeks ago I played the part, and created a presence on six sites. I was releasing nine songs incrementally and it struck me how inefficient and jumbled this experience was of updating the various presences.

His solution and mine are basically the same. In my case, http://blog.gonze.com/2008/04/15/soup-greens/ is the blog post about the project. http://soupgreens.com/ is the hub site. Spokes being used as distribution points include Myspace and last.fm.

How come there’s a blog post about the making of the music site outside of the music site itself? Because the music is a primary object and talking about the making of it is a distraction.

How come there’s a single hub for the work? Because of how inefficient and jumbled this experience was of updating the various presences.

How come there are multiple distribution points? Because online musicians have to go where the audience is, in the same way that offline musicians perform for different audiences in different venues.

So this seems like a basic pattern that must exist all over the place, and which software for internet musicians can specifically target.

soup greens #2: cut/copy site

One theme of my post about my new musician blog is morphology of musical works. We’re going through a stage where the shape of musical work is changing. There are many new forms competing for attention. For example, there are MP3 review blogs like aurgasm, tightly bound playlist/player combos like Mixwit, loose MP3s stored in the filesystem. Soup Greens‘ position in this landscape has two parts: it suggests that music should be hosted and managed on sites controlled by the musicians, and it suggests that sites controlled by musicians should be a sub-genre of weblogs.

Today I came across a nice variation on the brochure approach at the Cut Copy site. The striking thing about this is the absence of navigational controls. Navigation is limited to scrolling vertically to see what else there is, and most of what you’ll discover by scrolling is in-place within the document. The lack of navigation puts more emphasis on the content and visual design, which is appropriate for a musician site.