The words most used to describe releases at Hard Wax

“Now that’s one fine and classy, atmospheric, big room tool, son.” Here’s the data when you crawl Berlin electronic music shop Hard Wax for descriptive keywords.

Friend of the site (and one-time CDM Web developer) musician-and-hacker Olle Holmberg has crawled Hard Wax’s website. That’ll be the legendary record purveyor opened by Mark Ernestus back in 1989 in Kreuzberg, Berlin, and still a leading destination for vinyl lovers today.

hardwax.com has accordingly accumulated a lot of words about music on their Internet portal, since each time a release like this Drexciya side project comes out, you get a whole bunch of language, too.

Olle collected the most important words, and he’s shared his data set.

I wrote some Processing code to visualize all of this as a word cloud, and here’s what you get (details on how to do this yourself below):

Since the data is available as a CSV, you could probably refine it more. For instance, one flaw is that singular and plural versions of words aren’t combined, so the rankings are slightly off. “Banger” and “bangers” he’s manually combined so that one gets a solid ranking.

The top 25, with number of appearances in a description:

1. tool (1848)
2. atmospheric (974)
3. fine (941)
4. big room (928)
5. classy (904)
6. deep (872)
7. effective (858)
8. killer (858)
9. heavy (851)
10. leftfield (798)
11. minimalist (744)
12. original (734)
13. excellent (720)
14. crafty (647)
15. trips (598)
16. recommended (594)
17. raw (590)
18. spaced (585)
19. rooted (574)
20. hard (567)
21. dark (526)
22. banger/bangers (520)
23. excursions (516)
24. tripping (508)
25. leaning (506)

“It’s atmospheric, yet also a banging big room tool.”

Next challenges: build a random keyword generator, train some machine learning on this, or … try to make music that fits the most popular words?

Oh, and if you’re interested in the code, I’ve got that, too. I worked with free and open source, multiplatform artist-friendly coding tool Processing. (Other Web-based tools exist, too, but then you miss out on the fun and flexibility of coding things yourself.)

Ah, word clouds – remember when we thought those were the bee’s knees? (To misquote Douglas Adams, it harkens to a headier, more innocent time when we were “so amazingly primitive that we still thought word clouds were a pretty neat data visualization.”

Dan Bernier’s free library gives you some tools for free:
http://wordcram.org/

Here’s a simple code template to get you started, loosely inspired by Dan Shiffman and Dan Bernier examples:


import wordcram.*;
import wordcram.text.*;

Table table;
Word[] wordArray;
WordCram wordcram;

void setup () {
size(1280, 1020);
background(255);
table = loadTable("data.csv", "header");
int numRows = table.getRowCount();
wordArray = new Word[numRows];
int rowCount = 0;
for (TableRow row : table.rows()) {
float weight = row.getFloat("count");
String mWord = row.getString("phrase");
wordArray[rowCount] = new Word(mWord, weight);
rowCount++;
}
wordcram = new WordCram(this)
.fromWords(wordArray);
}

void draw() {
wordcram.drawAll();
}

It’s quite slow to run by comparison, but here’s the code that makes the record-shaped visualization:

// image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Disque_Vinyl.svg
// author: Muel, CC-BY-SA
// https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

import wordcram.*;
import wordcram.text.*;
import java.awt.*;

Table table;
Word[] wordArray;
WordCram wordcram;

PFont georgia;

void setup () {
size(1000, 1000);
background(255);
PImage image = loadImage("vinylicon.png");
image.resize(width, height);

Shape imageShape = new ImageShaper().shape(image, #000000);
ShapeBasedPlacer placer = new ShapeBasedPlacer(imageShape);

table = loadTable("data.csv", "header");
georgia = createFont("Georgia", 1);
int numRows = table.getRowCount();
wordArray = new Word[numRows];
int rowCount = 0;
for (TableRow row : table.rows()) {
float weight = row.getFloat("count");
String mWord = row.getString("phrase");
wordArray[rowCount] = new Word(mWord, weight);
rowCount++;
}
wordcram = new WordCram(this)
.fromWords(wordArray)
.withFont(georgia)
.withPlacer(placer)
.withNudger(placer)
.angledAt(0)
.sizedByWeight(10, 90)
;
}

void draw() {
wordcram.drawAll();
save("wordcloud.png");
println("Finished.");
stop();
}

With both code examples, you’ll need to slightly modify the csv file. Open the file in a text editor and add this line to the top:

sep=;

And remember to add the data file, and the image file (if you use the shape variation), to your Processing sketch (Sketch > Add File).

If you want to check out Berlin’s record shops and you happen to make it to town, here’s a good guide. It’s impressively only a little bit dated in terms of locations – Berlin is a weird haven where record shops mostly survive. Hard Wax is a must. Space Hall has become a huge music venue. And digger heaven The Record Loft has recently reopened next to the Sonnenalle S-Bahn stop.

The definitive guide to Berlin’s best record shops [The Vinyl Factory]

If Olle’s name is familiar, it’s because he also crawled Berghain’s site, though we were later informed both by resident DJs and the booking office that the data crawled there wasn’t really representative. (Still, it was a fun project – and we did wind up learning more about Berghain booking data in the end. Science!)

Berghain, by the numbers: data on the relentless Berlin techno club

If you have any time left after tinkering with Processing, of course, go buy up some records!

https://hardwax.com/

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A new hope to reissue lost Discogs records on vinyl

A funny thing happened on the way to supposedly all inclusive on-demand libraries of music. A lot of the music simply disappeared. Well, Qrates wants to bring it back – and in physical form, too.

All of this depends on whether Qrates themselves can deliver on the promise of making small batch vinyl issues easier and quicker. The notion here is that a minimum order would start small (100), get wide distribution (with a built-in network), and do it quick. The speed thing matters – Qrates is promising to reduce turnaround time without diminish quality, just as vinyl labels have been struggling under the weight of delays.

But Discogs integration is interesting for two reasons. One, the catalog. This is a play by Qrates to get loads of content. You can pick any release of yours you want to repress out of the Discogs catalog and launch right away.

Two, Discogs is as much a community as a catalog. So there’s a chance to notify anyone with a release in their wishlist that the reissue is coming, and to take orders directly from the site.

If you’re rich, you’re already sold on the idea. If you’re broke, you might wonder how you’re going to fund this. Qrates claims to have a solution here. They offer crowdfunding or simple preorders that allow you to make sure you’ve got enough orders to justify the run. And there, I think, sites like Kickstarter are really overkill. I don’t need an entire crowd funding campaign just for a 7″ I want to buy – I just want to hand over a few bucks and then get my record later on, and I’m okay with waiting. I suspect I’m not alone.

Qrates is nothing if not tantalizing. The model seems great. The need is unquestionably there. Now we just need the service to deliver. For now, you can sign up to get an email when this launches – I sure will.

http://repress.qrates.com

Thanks to Alan Oldham (a great DJ as well as a great guy) for pointing this out.

The post A new hope to reissue lost Discogs records on vinyl appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Pioneer really want to sell you a turntable, with $350 PLX-500

Pioneer clearly seek to own DJing – and they’ve now got a pretty solid play for every piece of that landscape. The latest piece: a direct drive turntable with USB connection, ready to play, scratch, or work with control vinyl (and Pioneer’s increasingly ubiquitous Rekordbox software). Price: US$350 – affordable enough to appeal to even casual DJs as a set of two.

Vinyl is fast looking less like specialist equipment or niche fad, and more like the last man standing in music sales and an essential part of DJing. So it fits that, even in the home, a turntable is suited both for DJing and playback. And that’s what the PLX-500 promises: it’s advertised as ready to scratch (thanks to direct drive operation) and is even compatible for cueing or scratching digital via Rekordbox and optional control vinyl.

The pricing is aggressive, relative to the other Pioneer decks: suggested retail US$349 or €349 / £269 in Europe.

Intro video:

This is the second turntable from Pioneer. So, that positions the PLX-500 as the “home” model, with the PLX-1000 street at about twice as much. That mirrors the way Pioneer has differentiated its digital players, with the XDJ series a the “home” model and the CDJ nexus for “pros.”

How do you decide which to buy? Well, the 500 is a plug-and-play solution for home users. So you’ve got built in preamps (so line in and line out are built in), built-in USB interface (mainly with an eye toward letting you digitize your vinyl collection), and a lower cost.

The “pro”-focused 1000 assumes that you’ll want to use your own turntable amp and interface – so that’s not so much diminished value as it is a nod to more serious users. You can detach input and output more easily on the 1000, essential for use in the booth and studio and whatnot.

But most crucially, the 1000 has what Pioneer tells CDM is a “durable platter designed for professional DJ-ing.” That’s really everything, because the whole selling point of the PLX-1000 is its unparalleled stability. In fact, I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from DJs using the PLX-1000 everywhere it’s been installed. The verdict: it’s better even than the legendary Technics SL-1200 that had been the gold standard. And just in case you weren’t already seeing enough Pioneer logos in clubs, I’ve noticed the PLX-1000 has increasingly been supplanting Technics decks, especially as they’re retired.

So while I don’t yet know what the platter mechanism is on the PLX-500, it’s clear that’s the main thing you’re buying when you invest in a PLX-1000. On the other hand, home use is generally far less treacherous than a club install.

Ironically, of course, you can get a pair of PLX-500 turntables before you’ve even gotten to the cost of a single XDJ digital player. Tables have turned, so to speak.

PLX-500_black_prm_top_low_0705

More details:

Signal path inherited from the PLX-1000. Pioneer says the 500 should borrow some of the great sound quality of the 1000: “The shortest possible audio routing from the stylus to the outputs reduces distortion, and the phono and line outputs mean you can connect directly to your sound system or powered speakers to enjoy warm sound.” (It’s funny to refer to something as new as the 1000 in this way, but – I’ve already heard a lot of mileage on the 1000’s. Well done, Pioneer.)

PLX-500_black_rear_low_0705

USB for recording. Digitize with the free Pioneer Rekordbox app – which will even detect silences and slice up tracks into different files for you, ready to tag. (Hmm, how long before even the tagging is automated, I wonder?) And of course, this also solves the problem of DJs just dabbling in vinyl – because they can just add their favorite records to their collection easily, with the hardware already on the decks and the software to which they’re accustomed.

PLX-500_setcut_DJM-750_low_0705

Scratching/mixing-ready. High-torque, direct drive – so yes, scratch turntablists can use this. (Will be curious just how it compares to the 1000s here, particularly). And Pioneer also offers a complete solution here – the “rekordbox dvs Plus Pack” which works with Pioneer’s JDM mixer and RB-VS1-K Control Vinyl. That makes the whole bundle a real rival to products like Native Instruments’ Traktor Scratch. (I’ll have to find out if it’ll be compatible with Traktor, too.)

You do have to pay for rekordbox for this use case, though – $/€139 plus a rekordbox dvs license key ($/€129) – or a €9.90/month subscription. (To be frank, Serato and Native Instruments are lucky Pioneer aren’t giving this away, too.)

The whole thing weighs under 11kg and comes with everything you need. There’s a USB and phono/RCA jacks. And you get a bunch of accessories in the box: slip mat, dust cover with jacket stand (cute), adapter for EP record, balance weight, headshell (with cartridge), shell weight, power cord, USB cord, audio conversion cord (Stereo pin plug (female) to stereo mini plug(male)) – all in there.

More:

http://www.pioneerdj.com/en/product/turntable/

All in all, I think this is a pretty powerful offering. With just one product, Pioneer are answering a lot of different users’ needs – from digitizing those records you just collected to being able to DJ with them to an inexpensive turntable that you can scratch on.

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Technics turntables return, but for DJs or aging audiophiles?

technics1

Panasonic, the company that still owns the Technics name, is engineering what it says is an all-new direct drive turntable.

And it certainly looks beautiful. Looks are all we get, as a prototype shown at Berlin’s IFA electronics show is just a futuristic aluminum slab with a platter on it. But as far as aesthetics, the company isn’t messing around: this thing looks like something you’d find in the listening lounge of a flying saucer.

Also interesting: just as Pioneer has done with their (excellent, by the way) new turntables, with the Technics model there’s a whole lot of new engineering. Japan seems to prefer doing that to simply reissuing the legendary Technics 1200 – and in the case of the Pioneer model, at least, the results work.

But, while DJs ears ring the moment they hear Technics (okay, DJs’ ears are generally ringing all the time), that doesn’t necessarily mean this is really DJ news.

Remember, there are essentially two vinyl revivals happening at once: there’s the DJ enthusiasm for the format, but there’s also the consumer side. And by consumer side, it’s not so much the kids picking up reissues at Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters an electronics giant might want to target. Think, rather, high-end audiophile customers. These are the types of people who will be impressed by the repeated references to “analog” turntables in a preview by Wired, whereas the rest of us might note that a phonograph is the very definition of analog, and that’s sort of redundant. (I mean, it’s obviously not a LaserDisc player. Well… although the styling might match.)

Speaking through a translator, a Panasonic representative doesn’t say much, but he is quick to use the phrase “high-end.” And sure enough, the Technics turntable announcement accompanies Technics-branded “premium headphones,” networked amp, and Hi-Fi all in one.

We live in a world where some people increasingly have an awful lot of money, and as with the gold-plated Apple Watch, you can expect electronics makers will start to plot how to separate those Scrooge McDuck-style wads of cash from their owners. (For more evidence this might be Panasonic’s strategy, look no further than the 4G-quality security camera system they’re apparently also hawking at IFA. You know you’re rich when you start filming security on your grounds in IMAX 3D, I suspect.)

In the tried-and-true history of audiophile equipment, then, Technics is targeting that demographic – people willing to spend more for better sound (or certainly the impression of high-end, recognizing those two aren’t always one and the same). Technics’ lineup since last year’s reboot by Panasonic have been squarely in that category, with reference systems running into five-digit price points.

And the video from last year’s IFA neatly sums things up. The whole line is marketed, literally, to people getting older who remember this stuff (that’ll be my Generation X and up). In fact, the marketing, with pounding heartbeat in back and nostalgic references to dust, comes across as music as mid-life crisis, part Viagra ad, part car ad, just with warm and fuzzy record noises:

And I do mean Viagra ad:

“Time has gone by … you’ve grown older. But the passion still lives deep inside of you. Rediscover the passion.”

Yeah, shut up Technics; you’re making me feel $#&*(ing old just because I remember mix tapes. I know I’m not as young as I used to be. I don’t have to rediscover anything, damnit! Wait… what were we talking about again?

Oh yeah. For more nostalgia:

So, that’s the audiophile angle.

The question is whether Panasonic can successfully cater to both at once. After all, DJing is now inseparable from the definition of what a turntable is. And:

  • It’s direct drive.
  • Panasonic does say the legacy of the 1200 series is part of what they hope to reinvigorate.
  • Patrice Bouedibela, the Berlin-based DJ who shot the pic above, is himself a DJ and tells me “more to be announced this winter!” via Twitter.

I’m intrigued. We’ll be watching. The turntable is due some time in 2016.

http://technics.com

And if you want something out now, this is clearly the successor to the 1200s to watch:

Pioneer PLX-1000

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The Joy of Little Boxes, and Lovely Music by Recue x Jolea

recuejam

From small boxes, big sound, and enormous fun…

Something has happened in the evolution of electronic music production. What was once so often a slow process has become a jam, what was carefully orchestrated on screens finds itself embodied in gear. And small and affordable “toys” can often deliver the greatest “switch-on-and-play” satisfaction.

Helsinki’s Recue and Jolea first found their way to their album by playing live, so it’s fitting we start with a live set from them. Their fusion is beat-driven, left-field pop – settling into moody, experimental grooves with effortless hooks over top. It’s melancholy surfaces with sparkling edges.

Recue brings the soundscapes and beats, while Jolea adds her songwriting and vocal talents in really nicely-balanced collaboration. (Jolea also does production and manages the label Audiobaum.) The result is dreamy and evocative, layered song craft with endless production details.

Their aptly-named We’re Not Like the Most LP is out now, but let’s chat about the process of making this hardware jam of the cut “Tempo 17″ – especially as that’s the distinctive, grimy growl of our MeeBlip cutting through the mix. (That’s an SE, but I really appreciate that our engineer James Grahame managed to change the architecture and filter but maintain a particular personality.)

The track is “using various quirky little synths including a Yamaha ”toy” keyboard, an awesome DIY kit synth, a ”hackable digital synthesizer” and a drum machine that looks like a pocket calculator,” they announce. Here’s more:

rxj_skulls

Recue tells us:

The live jam is kind of a byproduct of testing out different live setup options. I wanted to test a small Mackie mixer, out of frame, as I’ve run out of soundcard inputs, plus I just scored the little Yamaha PSS-390 for 60 bucks, which includes a two-operator FM engine and a few sliders for control. “Lately Bass” for kids FTW! The Shruthi is a recent addition as well, and this is actually our first encounter with MeeBlip and it certainly was a positive surprise. All of them a little quirky in their own ways, MeeBlip having weird grunts with extreme env settings and Shruthi occasionally scrambling its display due to bad soldering I guess. But fun stuff nevertheless! Ed.: yes, some of those weird envelope grunts are resolved on MeeBlip anode, actually, along with some other manufacturing improvements that explain why we discontinued SE and replaced it with anode! But we still enjoy playing with an SE now and then.

The jam set itself is just a really simple three scene Ableton setup pushing midi to all the toys. Ramp things up, jam jam jam, bring things down again. The little beat part in the beginning is actually for syncing the beats with the rest as the Volca/Pocket Op are running on Volca’s clock, which annoyingly is 0.45 BPM off an even value so I have to nudge Ableton for exact match.. you can hear a little drift in the end.

A little bit of us. We both produce music on our own as well, and are both actually working on our solo albums at the moment. A while back we started doing live sets together and begun by combining our solo tracks for performing, but eventually ended up with an album worth of completely new material so the collaborative project Recue X Jolea was set up. We just released the material on Audiobaum which is a label run by Jolea herself.

In an interview, they talk about their approach to the record, production, and playing together:

More:

http://www.soundcloud.com/recue
www.recuexjolea.com

tavastia2

And for more live action, here they are with a live session recording for the radio program Sunnuntaikooma:

Recue X Jolea – Knives Are Falling (Studio live for Sunnuntaikooma radio show 10 years special) from recue on Vimeo.

Have a listen to the record:

Studio photos: Henry Söderlund, live photos: Jari Saukkonen.

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Can QRATES Make Vinyl Pressing More Accessible?

vinylize

Talk all you like about the “feeling” of something physical, something tangible, about having a real object, about ownership. There’s a cold reality behind selling physical goods: it’s hard.

Before you can sell something, you need money to buy the physical stuff you want to sell. Digital “solves” that by making the good intangible, but in the material world, you need materials. Before “capitalism” came to mean some complex international system of speculative markets, this, of course, was what we meant: you got some capital to start a business selling stuff.

Then, once you have that stuff, you better hope you got it in the right quantity. Turns out more people want it than you thought? Too bad – they’ll have to wait for another run, and by then, maybe they don’t want it any more. Fewer wanted it? Now you’ve an even bigger problem: you’re out of the cash you spent to get the stuff, and you’ve got extra stuff you can’t sell. You’ve lost your shirt, and gained excess inventory.

Crowd funding could be seen as a way around all of this. It’s no accident that Kickstarter’s roots began in music – the service began as a way to fund performance and recording projects.

But Kickstarter itself isn’t really set up for someone wanting, say, to release an album on vinyl by funding the pressing. In fact, Kickstarter made themselves pretty clear in 2012, for any of you imagining they’re a preorder system:

Kickstarter Is Not a Store [Kickstarter Blog]

In case you had any doubt after that headline, they lead thusly: “It’s hard to know how many people feel like they’re shopping at a store when they’re backing projects on Kickstarter, but we want to make sure that it’s no one.”

Okay, fine, but – if you want someone to put out music on vinyl, then “risks and challenges” shouldn’t factor into the equation.

Enter QRATES.

QRATES could be the link that would give independent artists and labels access to the vinyl record revival.

The just-launched service comes with a number of components. It’s a little like CDBABY and Kickstarter had a love child for vinyl enthusiasts.

It’s a pressing service. QRATES is “partnering” with “world-renowned pressing plants.” Basically, they’ll let you use an online tool to design the label and sleeve, upload your artwork, and then connect you with the companies to do pressing – as well as set costs and even estimate profit.

It’s a funding system. Ah, but you need to have money to pay for the pressing – and you need to figure out demand. So, your preorder is also how you fund the pressing.

It’s a store and promotion tool. Since you’ll rely on fans funding the pressing through preorders, you’ll want to give them more. So QRATES is also an online store, with digital and physical goods. Selling someone a t-shirt or concert ticket or offering a digital download while they wait on the pressing to arrive should then not be a problem.

canttell

Now, there are obviously some questions here. First, of course, it’ll be interesting to learn how long lead times are for production. Fans are going to need some digital goodies to tide them over, because they’ll be presumably waiting something on the order of 12 weeks for stuff to arrive. On the other hand, fans are already buying cassette tapes and other oddities from Bandcamp, and digital downloads mean they get something right away.

QRATES is also promising more than just the store, saying they’re a “platform” for increasing fanbase, but details are a bit sketchy there.

Also, the one element not in the picture: distribution. It seems that this is largely a platform for direct sales of vinyl, not getting records into shops. Then again, maybe there’s some way QRATES could work in conjunction with distribution.

Some other interesting details:

  • You don’t have to be famous. Minimum pressing number is just 100.
  • You don’t have to sell everything as a preorder. If you’ve got some cash, you can buy up your own copies. (“Some” can be funded this way; we’ll have to learn how many.)
  • You can set funding timeframes and minimum thresholds, just like on Kickstarter. Dates go up to 90 days. And if you only have 30 preorders instead of the requisite 100 to press, you can cancel the project. (That adds a secondary bonus: it gives fans added motivation to pay for the preorder, since otherwise the record might not get pressed.)
  • QRATES takes 15%. That’d be easier to swallow if there were distribution – I think you will want to compare self-funding to going through the site, for sure.

For more commonly asked questions, QRATES have just posted this to Facebook:

– Where are the records pressed and sleeves printed?
We currently have two pressing partners in Europe depending of the quantities and selected options. We are also actively working on opening accounts with more pressing partners around the world in order to offer the maximum of pressing options and prices.
– Does QRATES’s price includes vinyl mastering?
The prices appearing in our vinyl simulator include cutting from your mastered files. Once your QRATES project is completed, we will require files ready for vinyl cutting. We are also working on opening our own vinyl mastering center inside QRATES, which will be available in a few weeks.
– How do the shipping costs work? Can QRATES deliver my records to my customers?
Same here, in a few weeks we will be able to ship records to the people who pre-ordered your vinyl directly on your behalf, we are finalizing the prices and process right now, so stay tuned about this! For the time being, the records will be shipped to you, the artist or label, and we will provide you with all customers addresses to ship the records to them as well as the postage money you have set up in the “Settings” tab of the vinyl simulator, in the “Postage” field.
– How long does it take to press my records?
Right now the turnover is about 12 weeks for 100 and 200 copies, 8 weeks from 300 copies and all quantities will be about 8 weeks from september 2015.
– Can I order vinyl pressing without running a funding campaign?
For now, if you wish to order normal vinyl pressing please first build a funding project and self-purchase all of the copies at the pressing cost. A special place at QRATES to order normal pressing without building a campaign at first will be available soon, we are working on it!
– What happens if my campaign does not reach its goal?
Two solutions here: you can cancel your campaign and then your customers will not be charged for their pre-orders, or even better, you can self-purchase the remaining copies at the pressing cost and start pressing the record! You may also need some copies for your own website or to sell at your shows, so you can self-purchase copies of your own project at the pressing cost at any time during the campaign.
– You don’t ship to my country, why?
Our goal is to be able to ship to the maximum of places in the world and some more countries will be added soon, we will announce them here too.
For more details please also visit QRATES Help & FAQ center at http://support.qrates.com/hc/en-us

My friend Zuzana Friday Přikrylová has done an interview with these folks for DJ Broadcast; I’ll add that once it’s up and hope to talk to the founders, as well.

All in all, this looks interesting. I’d be curious to see whether digital fans could use the same platform for other purposes, or whether this sort of preorder model is applied to other stuff. (Perhaps Eurorack, for instance?)

What’s your take – is this something that’s of interest to you, as a fan or as a producer or label? Would this system work for you? Other questions for the folks at QRATES?

Check out the site (there are some projects there already):
https://qrates.com

And play around with this fun design tool:
https://qrates.com/vinylize

Using the design tool, you can also see breakdowns for cost.

Hint: you’ll want more fans. Doing 1000 records costs only a little more than doing 100, and price-per-copy plummets to less than 3€.

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If Record Store Day is Dead, Maybe We Can Celebrate Music

Record Store Day has come and gone over the weekend. But 2015 will surely be remembered as a year in which Record Store Day did less to increase the visibility of vinyl records so much as to increase the visibility of how much everyone has grown to hate Record Store Day. And that seems it’s time for a post mortem – and a call to action.

I watched closely the reports from this weekend, just to see if there was anything positive – and there was. For every Foo Fighters (Grohl was this year’s ambassador, weirdly), I’ve spotted something with more worth to lesser-known music, like a 12″ for Kiasmos on Erased Tapes. And clearly there are some shops that are glad to have an extra excuse to bring people into a store.

But it’s clear that Record Store Day organizers aren’t just setting out to create a fun holiday for vinyl records. (Compare, again on Erased Tapes, Nils Frahm’s more innocent “Piano Day.”)

The Case Against Record Store Day

The entire focus of the “holiday” is on exclusive releases. It’s straight at the top of the official website. The entire focus is exclusive releases on the day and limited runs.

In fact, it’s also clear that Record Store Day is by definition a celebration of inanimate discs and the celebration of spending money. (To quote Douglas Adams, “Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.”)

Yes, in fact, musicians and producers, the people producing the sounds on those inanimate discs, are a side show, a kind of incidental means of drawing your attention to buying some limited 12″.

From there, the litany of complaints continue:

  • It’s just one day, ignoring the rest of the year.
  • It actually trains customers to ignore the rest of the year.
  • Collectibles benefit the after market more than the stores, as those records show up on eBay.
  • It makes it harder to actually acquire and listen to music. (What? Listen? Why would you want to do that?)
  • Big labels and big releases have crowded out the independent music that was supposed to be the point (though, again, Record Store Day are apparently vinyl fetishists, not music lovers, judging by their own site).
  • It increasingly spotlights celebrities and recognizable music.

Basically, it pretends to be Earth Day for independent music, but it’s really just the musical equivalent of the Black Friday sale at your local Wal-Mart, thinly-disguised and complete with long queues.

And the most serious complaint, the one that has made so many independent labels turn recently on the holiday, is that vinyl pressing plants are now clogged for this one holiday – increasingly with top-of-the-charts mainstream music, not indies. That more or less ruins the entire year’s release calendar. It screws over emerging artists, because they have to squeeze into a more-crowded, more-delayed calendar rather than get music out quickly. Sometimes plants don’t even deliver.

Oh, yeah, and even distributors are now clogged and focusing on bigger stores.

More Reading On Why Lots of People Started Hating Record Store Day

There was so much written about it this year that I’ve saved you some time and rounded up the best rants and reporting:

Thinking of Record Store Day as a brand—as a logo and a logic binding together a yearly ritual of music consumption—is the only way to understand how concepts like “independence” and “community” can be served by good old-fashioned exploitative capitalism.

Record Store Day and the Ambivalent Branding of Independence [Eric Harvey for Pitchfork]

Covering the stresses felt by indies, writer Josh Hall collects issues from minimum pressing requirements to clogged pressing and distribution to mysterious “quality” requirements, to name a few (with some balanced comments from all sides):

Record Store Day risks becoming more of a problem than a solution [FACT]

Sonic Cathedral have a blistering open letter:

“We can’t compete so we won’t compete.”

WHY RECORD STORE DAY IS DYING…

And they split their run across 365 days at this site:

http://www.recordstoredayisdying.com/

Completing the Black Friday metaphor, Keith Creighton for Popdose (reprinted on Slate):

With Record Store Day, record collecting became a highly competitive full contact sport and endurance event.

WHY RECORD STORE DAY 2015 SHOULD BE THE LAST [Popdose]

Also, one of my favorite stores – also covering gear – had a nice alternative:
RECORD STORE DAYRUBADUBGlasgow’s Rubadub rejects Record Store Day “havoc”, announces rival event [FACT]

But the best reporting by far came from The Quietus, who visited a pressing plant. It’s worth reading the whole article, as it covers the ups and downs of the project. And it notes something everyone else missed: that the smarter pressing plants used vinyl as a way to make up for the depletion of digital replication sales (DVDs and CDs):

A Pressing Business: tQ Goes Inside A Czech Vinyl Plant [The Quietus]

I’d like to go further, however. Even the criticism of Record Store Day has been more or less monopolized by vinyl collectors. I have nothing against that – I’m looking forward to the first-ever vinyl release of my own music on Friday. The format has done some wonderful things for producers, for labels, and for DJs and DJ technique.

Let’s Get Over This Vinyl Fetish

I think we have to separate the concerns of vinyl from the concerns of music producers.

Many, many, indie labels and artists can’t afford their own vinyl pressings. We shouldn’t make a vinyl release some sort of minimum requirement for the seriousness of music, then, unless we want to make the size of your wallet the measure of your music. That doesn’t mean we can’t aspire to getting music out on vinyl, or love it when it’s there. But it does mean that we should appreciate the other releases.

For instance, speaking of the Czech Republic, Bukko Tapes has chosen digital releases with limited cassette tape runs. They can do cassettes cheaply without the minimum order of pressing. I love Hrtl’s music, for example; now I have to think where my cassette Walkman is living.

They’ve even done a floppy disk release.

hrtl

verbatim

Bukko Tapes @ Bandcamp

I don’t know that we should make vinyl the judge of DJs, either, as it’s also dependent on your budget. Vinyl fetishism is infecting DJing, too. It may misunderstand the real craft of DJing. (I don’t know if this story is actually true, but a friend claims seeing an angry guest at a party in Berlin actually physically slam a DJ’s laptop shut in protest of them playing digital.)

It goes on from there. DJ Tech Tools ran what I think was a reasonably innocuous editorial:

Why New DJs Should Start on Vinyl

Fair enough, even if I might edit the headline’s advice to “should considering starting on vinyl” – there are ways of making digital work. It’s the follow-up that I’d take real issue with, however:

Is DJing With Vinyl Really That Expensive?”

The methodology at DJ Tech Tools is flat misleading.

In order to make vinyl music acquisition seem nearly as cheap as digital, they only look at the cost of an LP/EP – surreal, given that buying singles is what a DJ is most likely to do. (They also assume you’re buying from iTunes, never Bandcamp, and that for some weird reason you never acquire free promos.)

In order to make the assumption the gear costs the same, they assume you don’t already own a laptop.

Then, on top of it, there’s no consideration for what it takes to store or transport records – you know, the reason so many DJs switched to digital in the first place. (And that covers a lot of costs, even including driving versus taking trains, or spending extra on luggage allowances when touring.)

I’m not saying that investing in turntables isn’t worth it. But I’ve seen first-hand musicians who can’t afford any new gear purchases, but can get into digital DJing using stuff they already owned. To say there’s no price difference would really require some degree of insensitivity both to people’s real-life budget challenges and, you know, basic arithmetic.

Think of the things we could do to celebrate actual music listening and not just the format on which that music is distributed.

We could have more events in record stores, thus supporting artists and record stores alike.

We could celebrate digital releases and online labels – those are the places where undiscovered music has a chance, because it’s unbound by the cost of producing a physical object. (This was, as you’ll recall, the whole promise of music on the Internet, once upon a time.)

logo_netlabel_day

Here’s an idea I love, for instance:

Celebrating the mp3 and free culture and the independent netlabels and musicians all around the world.

Save the date: JULY 14

Net Label Day 2015

Net Label Day on Facebook (just a few dozen likes – let’s change that)

And digital opens up lots of new possibilities – why not see more Mixcloud sets with track id’s, for instance, more mixes to help people process the torrent of new music released every week?

It’s clear that musicians and record lovers alike can benefit. Record collectors aren’t any happier than the rest of us that they can’t get their hands on exclusives, or that the release catalog is clogged.

If we refocus on loving music, we can even refocus on the reason we love records.

I think there’s something to be learned from Record Store Day. People are motivated by events, and new ideas can catch on.

So I’d love to hear more new ideas about how to promote actual music – records included. If Record Store Day has become a victim of its own success, at least it was successful. Now we need to bury it and get successful with something else.

The post If Record Store Day is Dead, Maybe We Can Celebrate Music appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Hear Beautiful, Melancholy Christmas Mixes from Nils Frahm

nilsstudio_Alexander Schneider_06

Nils Frahm is a gem in music right now, a sensitive and reflective voice. And infused into everything he does is an unwavering sense of taste.

If you’re feeling the weight of the endless rotation of overplayed saccarine-sweet Christmas tunes, Nils can cure what ails you. For the second year in a row, he’s released an achingly mellow mix of favorites he’s dusted off from his vinyl collection. Curl up under the crackling analog fuzz of those records and settle in.

Each has obvious touchstones of piano inspiration; last year’s he described as “your mobile campfire.”

We have this year’s and last year’s mix here for your listening pleasure, plus the twinkling beauty of Wintermusik, his 2007 release featuring improvised piano, celeste, and reed organ. (Durton Studio, the photo pictured, was the setting. Photo: Alexander Schneider.)

Nils frahm xmas mix 2014 by Nils Frahm on Mixcloud

Nils frahm xmas mix 2013 by Nils Frahm on Mixcloud

The post Hear Beautiful, Melancholy Christmas Mixes from Nils Frahm appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Vinyl’s Resurgence Thanks to Indie Stores, DJs – And It’s Growing

For years, pundits have wondered what physical form would accompany the ephemeral nothingness of digital downloads. Maybe it would be USB sticks, or t-shirts, or big coffee table books, or strange sculptural totems, or USB sticks shaped like cassette tapes.

Funny story. What if it turned out just to be the vinyl record? What if vinyl, reborn, really is what today’s digital music scene looks like in tangible form?

The counter-narrative, domain of the naysaying cynic, is that the vinyl record is an ill-conceived throwback, a punchline to the joke of valueless music. Vinyl as hipster parody, as Portlandia sketch, is perhaps best embodied by Urban Outfitters claiming recently it was the number one outlet for vinyl sales. That’s the record, surely, at its worst – chain-store pastiche, novelty nostalgia. (Adding insult to injury, Hot Topic ranks #2 in brick and mortar.) And it would lump vinyl alongside Lomography cameras, those plastic photographer toys whose fortunes of late have turned south – lovely as their light leaks are, the business model seemed unable to sustain growth.

Not so, says Billboard Magazine. In a more detailed breakdown of sales, Urban Outfitters tops physical outlets, but only because the market is so fragmented. The sales leader in the USA when you add in online retail is Amazon – and maybe no coincidence that the biggest vinyl seller is also one of the biggest music download stores. Amazon looks even bigger globally.

But the biggest winner of all is the independent record store. Musicians and DJs, not Millennial mallrats, are the driver, which could see the biggest growth coming from music stores.

Urban Outfitters Doesn’t Sell the Most Vinyl

And this confirms what seemed obvious to many of us. Vinyl records are an extension of, not a reaction to, today’s musical landscape. The same long tail that has been betrayed by the iTunes store, by U2 exclusives (hello, Bono icon for “Artists”), by Google’s major label favoritism, by lame streaming revenues, is served nicely by your corner record shop or a search for rare vinyl releases.

That is, we knew vinyl was growing – but even though it may represent a sliver of the record market, even though that growth is relative to, well, starting from near-death, it’s the independence of the format that’s encouraging. It’s survival in that niche.

Infographic: The LP is Back! | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

Despite the trend in so many retail channels to consolidation, record stores also fiercely independent. As reported in Billboard

“Independent retailers are still the backbone of vinyl’s growth, and they are still selling tons of it,” says one major label distribution executive. “Indies are driving the format’s growth and everyone else is picking up on what they do.”

Though oddly even Whole Foods is getting in on this (um, organic tomatoes and LPs for dinner?), the Guitar Center push seems the most realistic:

“Our plan is to build on our vinyl strategy in 2015 to really capitalize on the resurgence of vinyl — this is definitely an area of music that consumers are telling us they’re more and more interested in,” says Guitar Center’s vp of corporate affairs Christopher Bennett, who says the chain is also seeing an uptick in vinyl turntables as well.”We’re going to be offering a host of different vinyl record players as well in 2015 for the traditional music audiophile, and also for music producers and DJs.”

This, of course, has big implications for the independent producer. It says that the growth of DJing may well prove necessary to the survival of recording. It values, for better or for worse, those releases that can produce physical pressings. (For better: this may help stop the race-to-the-bottom, valueless tyranny of choice produced by overabundance. For worse: you can buy your way in, and if you can’t afford a pressing, you could be left out.)

It also puts the importance of the online transformation in a different place. In this version of the story, social media and hyper-specialization drive people to their local record shop to thumb through vinyl, rather than making those sales happen online.

It’s impossible to say just how long vinyl’s second run will last, though – these are lagging indicators, not leading indicators, necessarily. What it does seem to suggest, though, is that the enthusiast is increasingly the person on the production side of the equation. Your most dedicated fans may shop the same music stores you do. The “anyone can produce, anyone can be a DJ” phenomenon may produce more music, but is also produces more – and more enthusiastic – music consumers.

It’s painfully easy to overstate the importance of vinyl, too. The best article on the dark side of vinyl’s so-called renaissance recently came from Thomas Cox, for Attack Magazine.

Cox outlines the problems with vinyl. First, the numbers are skewed:

…a large proportion of vinyl sales come from things like audiophile reissues of classic albums, Record Store Day novelties and collectors’ editions, dance music has its own issues to deal with.

– and then there are the over-hyped limited edition runs, which serve largely to artificially inflate prices and distract from the use of vinyl as an actual mechanism for music distribution. This might be reasonable were it not for overabundance of the same music in all these forms. As Cox puts it: “We’re inundated with old music being re-released to make money, while new music is sold to as few people as possible to make the hype machine spin.”

We Need to Talk About Vinyl [Attack]

It’s worth reading Cox’s whole article. But as he argues for a meaningful vinyl market over these “gimmicks,” the latest Billboard findings are encouraging. Part of his thesis is that the gimmicky “rare” market online pulls people away from resellers. But healthy reseller numbers seem to suggest that the more organic market, the one actually listening to music on vinyl, is still not only surviving but growing.

To state the blindingly obvious, there’s no one panacea for musicians trying to make a living. This is doubly ironic in light of the constant industry fascination with the high point of the CD, given those grandest sales went to only a select few, leaving the average musician as financially challenged as ever.

But having some dominant physical form is hugely promising. It means there’s some object that can represent what a record is. It makes the musical album endure as social object, as people gather around those record events – you’ll see this next week in Amsterdam at Amsterdam Dance Event, even as DJing is dominated by Traktor and Serato and iPad and CDJ. They’ll be crate digging shoulder to shoulder; they’ll be attending events in which a label remains meaningful. And even if the future turns out to be those sculptural totems, well, we’ll look back and say the MP3 and streaming didn’t kill the album or annihilate the label. And I think that’s probably going to be a good thing.

The post Vinyl’s Resurgence Thanks to Indie Stores, DJs – And It’s Growing appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Dystopian Bearded Techno: Watch, Listen to Rødhåd Play and Talk Music [Listening]

rodhad

The phenomenon of techno’s growth right now can’t even be confined to one corner of Berlin. Rødhåd and Dystopian Records demonstrate not only the uncontainable nature of their own particular brand of shadowy dance creations, but perhaps this folk quality of electronically-produced music generally.

And if you happen to like that flavor, we have quite a lot of media for you to gobble up. Dubby, dark, and distant, it’s all as always perfectly constructed, reserved in its trajectory as it builds energy. I suppose it’s predictable that getting Berghain’s stamp of approval brought Rødhåd to an international audience, but it’s just as interesting that he and the Dystopian crew were running their own parties for so long.

Before we get to the music, though, here’s the ever-calm man himself talking to INPUT’s Urban Stories, set against spectacularly futuristic architecture of Tbilisi, Georgia. If the talking head thing isn’t doing it for you, there’s some nice music and slow-motion shimmying later on.

Or – listen/watch:

Video from a live set at France’s Nuits Sonores festival:

Podcast for Groove Magazine (download available):
on SoundCloud, Groove 33

Article for Groove 33 [in German]

And another mix/podcast for Token Records:

rodhod

From La Bacchanale Montréal, also live:

La Bacchanale w/ Rødhåd [LIVE] from La Bacchanale on Vimeo.

And the story behind the scenes:

AfterMovie – La Bacchanale w/Rødhåd from La Bacchanale on Vimeo.

dystopian

With a crowd clad in masks and t-shirts, Dystopian Records did a recent takeover of Boiler Room from their usual party headquarters Arena Club. Here’s Rødhåd from that set:


Rødhåd Boiler Room Berlin DJ Set by brtvofficial

I think it’s also worth watching the younger protege Alex.do, also on Dystopian, who played for hours into the night carrying on the gloomy-but-groovy mood:


Alex.Do Boiler Room Berlin DJ Set by brtvofficial

For teshno, he picks out some records for us – from his first to his latest – and no, not just techno (though about that, he says “forget the world, forget the people, just close your eyes”):
on the record ~ rødhåd

You can follow Rødhåd on Facebook, of course.

The post Dystopian Bearded Techno: Watch, Listen to Rødhåd Play and Talk Music [Listening] appeared first on Create Digital Music.