Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Lovely Pairs

Lovely Pairs indeed.  Thought I'd shake things up a bit on the ol' playlist this month...

I've found dozens - hundreds almost - of great songs via Spotify Discover.  However, it's been much more disappointing when I've gone to investigate a track I like by looking up the artist - it's pretty rare to find even one other track as good as the one I originally liked.  So this month, it's Lovely Pairs - artists where there are at least two songs I loved.  Namely...

Man Without Country, Bow To Each Other, I Break Horses, Electric Youth, Funkstörung. Prince Rama (bonkers), Tiny Deaths, Christine and the Queens, HÆLOS, Tamaryn, Vök and of course Mew.

But wait, no wait, that's not all.  These are all new discoveries to me this year - not all released this year, but most are pretty recent, so that means for the first time it's an 80's/90's-free month.  Also I couldn't  get down to 20 with these, so there's a whole 24.  And I had to keep Mew in there... always Mew.... one 2016 song, and another new version of the sublime Water Slides.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

August summary sunny playlist



As I look out at a grey August UK sky, and stare hopefully at the 10 day forecast, this is an act of sheer will.  Was particularly fun putting this lot together, all songs that say summer to me in one way or another - sunny, lazy etc.  More guitars than usual this month, but not exclusively of course... and hey, Kylie is in there!  Along with The Naked and Famous, Foster The People, the Manics, La Roux, Bow To Each Other...  A lovely set, if I do say so myself.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

The All Clear

...and here it is, the debut album The All Clear. There's songs about the joys, trials and tribulations of going to the movies (obviously); musical failures (obviously); psychopaths; the entire planet; Sarah Connor; depression in its various guises, gits, cults and time machines. There's ancient and modern, synths and guitars, daftness and sobriety, fish and chips*.
Due to me not understanding exchange rates, the album is also absurdly cheap - FOUR QUID (unless you're daft enough to get it from Apple). This means we'll have to sell WELL into double figures if Lucy is gonna buy a new pair of boots. But as always, I aim high. Come on everyone, let's buy Lucy a new pair of boots!
(*Only available if you also buy fish and chips.)




Here it also is on Spotify:

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Lost Songs - the video

After several abortive attempts, the Lost Songs video is finally a thing.  I made this daftness for anyone who was in a band or was friends with someone in a band. It’s for anyone who ever wrote a song in a bedroom and doubly so if they had the guts and / or foolishness to sing it in front of anyone. Because for every person who ever scraped a living out of this whole music lark, however briefly, there are 110 who never did (DISCLAIMER: I did just make that up. But it sounds plausible, right?)

So we proudly present nearly 4 epilepsy-inducing minutes about everything that is music-making, from cables to kebabs. It’s my celebration of – and my latest contribution to – artistic endeavour twinned with commercial failure.




Friday, 1 July 2016

July July

Actually had my act together for a playlist refresh on the first of the month.  20 tracks include olds from Voice of the Beehive, Siouxsie and the Banshees, A Flock of Seagulls, A-ha and Elsatica. Some truly splendid new(er) tracks from Cellars, Lowly, Tamaryn, Superhumanoids and Christine and the Queens. And, every month just as it should be, Mew.

Love doing these....



Sunday, 12 June 2016

Oh look, it's June

I never seem to get the new playlist out at the start of the month.  20 songs as disparate as ever - the rather splendid new Ladyhawke single kicks it off.  In fact there's quite a pop thing going on this month - Ladyhawke, Sugababes and even Rihanna (coupled with the theme from the excellent Girlhood - Diamonds features centre-stage in the movie and its great).  There's also more 90s than 80s this time, and the first in-playlist appearance of some chancers called After School Video Club.

Do follow the main playlist here if you're a Spotify user, and browse the archives on the right.


Thursday, 2 June 2016

Spotify CONQUERED!

Well that only took three months of my life, after thinking "hmm, that sounds a bit quiet".  Many wrong turns - and a flurry of at-best partially-accurate blog posts later - everything now sounds as it should. Rather than a regular post though, I've created a new permanent web page as a guide for other new bands that find themselves down this particular rabbit hole, and HERE IT IS.

In the meantime, the EP is now effectively re-released on all platforms.  Next, the album!

Friday, 27 May 2016

Meanwhile...



...it may look as if nothing has been happening but au contraire, Rodney.  Approaching the Manhattan Project in scale, the finest minds in audio have - we think - sorted out the issues between Spotify and After School Video Club.  It's still theoretical as it will be a few days til the new versions are live, but if it works as I think it will, I can submit my paper to the Science journal, including the exciting formula that predicts what Spotify will do to any given track.

But that's not all!  Wow!  The album has also been remastered, so that really shouldn't be far behind now.  And I think I've finally cracked the elusive Lost Songs video, along with a redo of the song itself.  So June / July should be a lively time for the Club.

And finally, I forgot to tell anyone about the May Spotify playlist, with all that going on. While June will lean more towards the sunny 90s, this is a moodier and more reflective bunch including 80s contributions from The Cult, Propaganda and Heaven 17, alongside the likes of I Break Horses, PAWWS and Marriages. Dipping the occasional toe into goth waters here.


Monday, 2 May 2016

We did it!

DOUBLE DIGIT SALES!

I'd like to thank my mum etc...

Actually I made sure my mum DIDN'T buy it.  I was adamant only people buy the thing if they actually like it and want it, not because they were blood relatives and morally obliged.  And people did... ten of 'em!  Well, more if include all the tracks on the EP, but exactly 10 people paid actual real cash for the download.  And thank you to all ten, without any one of you, we'd have failed to hit even this most pathetic of targets.

Everything has been rather on ice as a result of all this Spotify shenanigans (see the 8,000 posts below), so I haven't really been trying to get it Out There.  On the final furlong now - which we've been on a number of times, admittedly - then the final, final version of There's Always Someone can be uploaded. The album won't appear til June at the earliest, but it will appear. Promise.

So.  Time to set a new goal.  Ten times more ambitious - TRIPLE DIGIT DOWNLOADS!  Yes 100 or more.  Of course, the devil is in the details, so I'm going to say album and single sales combined, by the end of the year.

Woot!

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Science!

I love science.  I love the scientific method – the best thing we puny humans have ever devised to tell the difference between something that’s real and something that’s homeopathy.

There has long been a dual version of the world, with science in one corner and art, creativity and emotion in the other.  I’ve never thought this was a good idea.  I love both!  I’m equally proud of my rational scientific left brain, and highly irrational, artistic right brain.  I think they’re both just lovely, and all balancey.



Six weeks after first playing There’s Always Someone on Spotify and thinking “hmm, that sounds rather quiet”, I have gone completely insane. But on the plus side, I have also learned a great deal.  I have unfailingly walked into every known and unknown bear trap there is to walk into when it comes to these matters.  I like to think I’ve confounded the experts, revealing whole new ways to screw up that no-one even knew existed.  And I’ve learned an amazing amount of factual information about the whole scary-but-tedious subject of Loudness when it comes to music.  I’m now a veritable gold mine of boring Loudness facts.  I could have it as my specialist subject on Mastermind, if only John Humphries could stay awake long enough to ask the questions.



And yet, after all this time, I find myself finding words like “voodoo”, “dark arts” and the ever popular “black magic” when trying to work out what level a track will actually play at after it is unceremoniously spat out of the Spotify black and green box. In the past 48 hours, I have created two different new versions of There’s Always Someone, almost indistinguishable from each other to anyone except me.  And I’ve found two different ways to measure their Loudness, and predict its imminent change in level as according to Spotify – Dynameter, and Audacity’s ReplayGain plugin.  With Song Version A, both agree that Spotify will LOVE it.  With Version B, one says it will be twice as loud as the other.

TWICE AS LOUD


And here’s the really fun bit – the creators of both measuring devices say that they honestly don’t know which is the more realistic representation of what will actually happen.  Because – snigger - nobody actually knows what Spotify actually does.

Let’s just enjoy that for a moment.  Even the greatest experts in this field, who write the code to measure Loudness, don’t actually know how Spotify determines how loud something is, or how to accurately predict it.  So if you’re an artist or producer or mastering engineer, and want to know with any kind of confidence what something will sound like on the world’s largest streaming platform, then tough. You can't.  Ha!

It’s 2016 for crying out loud.  Has it really come to this?!!!

Look I’m getting all emotional.  That’ll be my right hand brain.  Time to employ the left handed brain instead.  Enough of this whining vaguerey. Science, and its adorable scientific method, to the rescue.

Spotify exists.  The original recordings exist.  We can measure what Spotify does to them.  And we can see what these meters THINK Spotify will do to them.  Well then… that’s all we need, right?  We can propose our hypotheisis – say, “The ReplayGain plugin in Audacity will accurately predict what Spotify will do to any given track”, and test it against real world data.  Well then, it’s just a case of some hardcore data logging and then some analysis.  And as world’s-greatest-TV-show Mythbusters* say, “the only difference between science and screwing around is writing stuff down”.



So I’ve been writing stuff down.  Til 3am.  Measuring, logging, looking for trends and causal relationships (that’s what people do on the internet at night, right?  Or did I mis-type?)  And in what will likely turn out to be my 27th false dawn, I may have found something.  Something to explain all this madness, actual light at the end of the tunnel, not hallucinatory light (damn stupid hallucinatory light).  A magic formula, with which I have successfully used to predict what Spotify actually did to actual tracks.  I rose up brandishing my new power wand like some mighty powerful wizard of opaque loudness.  I can’t possibly tell you what this formula forged at the very coal face of decibels is – it obviously has to be further tested, written up, submitted to a reputable academic journal and gone through peer review before it can be shared with a credulous world.

On second thoughts, I’ll just see what Ian thinks of it.  I’ll let you know.



*Mythbusters was only the greatest TV show ever for between about series 3 and series 5.  Series 1 and 2 have plenty of charm – and I did like Scotti and some of the other earlier build-teamers - but it was only really with the arrival of Kari, Tori and Grant that the series got into it stride, each bringing a ton of personality (and it Tori’s case, taste for spectacular personal injury) to their amazing skill set.  But before long – around series 5 or 6 - the dumb producers started scripting and staging more and more.  While still entertaining, it lacked that sense of eye-popping reality that made it such an essential watch.  They missed real reactions and substituted fake ones, edited round blind alleys and tangents.  It still felt scientifically valid in their bonkers way, but you felt shut out rather than included.  But then for series 10 the producers committed their ultimate sin by getting rid of Kari, Tori and Grant and turned it into a ghastly headache-inducing macho testosterone-fuelled joyless noise-fest.  The writing was very much on the wall and I didn’t mourn its recent passing as it was far from what it was. Besides, word on the street is Kari, Tori and Grant have a new science show in the works… just please don’t edit and script it to death…

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The April Playlist - SPRING!

The April playlist is up, and what better way to kick it off that the quintessentially spring-like and British Bluebell Morning by the fabulous Ooberman.  As befitting the After School Video Club, it's a ridiculously wide-ranging list - guitars, electronica, old and and new, well known and obscure from all four corners of the globe yet - in my head at least - coexisting rather splendidly.

 

Friday, 8 April 2016

There really, really IS always something...

Ha!

Ha ha ha ha!

Ho ho ho ho ha ha ha!

Etc!

The next song I'm going to write will have the lyric "Everything goes great for me it does/I don't have any technical hitches/I understand all technical things/And I've just won a million quid", and see if that has any magic real world properties.

So.

Sooooooooooo....

Well it took nearly 2 weeks for Spotify to actually get the new mastered versions up on their system (as opposed to 1 day for iTunes).  Then was time to measure the all new and improved version.  To discover.... it's almost exactly the same as the old one.

YAY!

I put the measuring devices across it, and it is one whole db louder (which equates to, if you're not so technically inclined, stuff all).  "How could this be", I hear you cry over the voices in my own head which are also screaming "How could this be"?



"But I thought this new version was going to solve this exact problem", you say - and yes, that's what the voices in my own head are cackling too.

I asked Ian Shepherd, the guru who developed Dynameter to take a look, and he came back to check I'd sent him the right version.  Now, never mind what these numbers mean or what the letters stand for, all you need to know is the higher the number, the better it is for Spotify.  High = good, Low = bad. I'd measured PSR 8, PLR 13.  Ian was getting PSR 5 from the same file.  Which - and I'm sure you're ahead of me here by now - is bad.

So I checked.  And guess what?  I was getting PSR 5 PLR 10 too!  Ha ha ha!  Ho ho ho!  So what had I done?  Had I lost my marbles?  I went back to the drawing board and loaded up the unmastered version, going through the identical steps to arrive at, essentially, the same file and measured again, Lo and behold - my magical and illusory readings came back - PSR 8, PLR 13, those figures that - not unreasonably it now seems to me - caused me to deduce that Spotify was just gonna lurve this file.  When in fact, for whatever reason, it just made the figures up.

Which has us up to date.  I've asked Ian to take a look and try to figure out what's going on.  And all this means that, yes, a third version will have to be made and uploaded, and I'll have to figure out how to measure things in the real world, rather than parallel magical one I'd accidentally stumbled into.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

There's Always Something...

The first time I noticed something was wrong was when I listened to There's Always Someone on Spotify.  It seemed... quiet.  Very quiet.  Odd, I thought, I'd carefully mastered it to sound lovely and loud... had I accidentally uploaded the wrong version?  Sounded normal on iTunes and Bandcamp though.  Very odd indeed...

It was time to start Googling and set in motion a chain of events that's taken me a week to get to the bottom of.  As a result, I have to take down the EP from everywhere except Bandcamp for a few days, but then it will reappear and - in theory - then sound the right loudness everywhere.

Now, if you're a normal person then I'd skip the rest of this post if I were you.  If you're either a sucker for punishment, or someone who has themselves Googled to find themselves right here at this post (hello by the way, lovely to see you, how's the family?) then read on....



Once upon a time people made records, mixed them and mastered them to sound as good as possible.  Everyone did things differently, so different records might sound louder than one another.  It became a sought after skill to have your record sound louder than everybody else - after all, as many studies have shown, psychologically we humans tend to equate louder with being better, and that's how we're programmed.  At some point - the 90s? - it started to get out of hand, and escalated to all-out war.  Technology improved where you could make things sound louder and louder than before.  The trade off - the dynamics (broadly the gap between the softest and the loudest sounds in a track) tended to get squished, which made everything sound loud but also have little impact.  All the subtleties got buried in a wave of loud, and thus The Loudness Wars were upon us.

Then about a decade ago, the music industry started to fight back.  They found a new way to measure the perceived loudness of a track, and called it - wait for it - Loudness.  The aim was to level the playing field - if your track was super loud, it would register as such and get turned down.  Now that brief description covers a whole multitude of sins, different standards in different parts of the world applied differently across music, films, TV etc.  In TV, it meant that the expectation was The X Factor sound as a loud as a fly fishing documentary... add in that old and new standards co-exist and thus the whole idea always seemed dubious to me.  However, for now we need only concern ourselves with music streaming in general and in my case Spotify in particular.

What Spotify (and other streaming services) do is apply loudness correction to everything they do, a process called Normalisation.  What confused me though is that After School Video Club really didn't sound especially loud in the first place - carefully mastered not to overdo it, it sounds far from the loudest thing on my iPhone, but broadly in the right ballpark.  Somehow Spotify was convinced There's Always Someone was a terrible sinner though, and punished it by pushing it right back til it sounded like it was playing at the neighbours house.  How did this happen?

The mechanisms used by Spotify are mysterious, but broadly they follow a scale called DR (Dynamic Range).  Each song is analysed, and magic numbers come out the other end, and that's how they determine how much to turn your track up or down.  You can find it out using free download software.  However, it still didn't tell the whole story - while There's Always Someone produced high readings, they weren't as high as, say, Bulletproof by La Roux.  Yet that track sounded fine on Spotify,



Via a kind soul at a forum, I discovered Dynameter.  Click the link and follow the tutorials for the full description, but it can tell you the magic values that Spotify etc work to.  Again, I found The Club's tracks were producing high values but not as high as Bulletproof, but now I had a more accurate way of gauging where to get my stuff.  Dynameter's tag line is 

Stop Worrying About Loudness

...to which I produce a hollow laugh.  Yes, it's dead easy turn it all down to get low readings and make Spotify happy, but then it will sound quiet on everything else.  That's the dilemma - how to make it sound appropriate on both streaming and non-streaming platforms.  You can't really stop worrying about loudness, you have to keep worrying about that AND start worrying about something else, your dynamic range readings.  And you have to keep both happy.

But... I think... I've cracked it.

There are plenty of devices that make your stuff sound louder.   One of my favourites is Sonnox Oxford Inflator - it has this great secret source that as long as you don't go too mad, it makes stuff sound lovely and exciting.  Looking at the waveform of the mix of There's Always Someone before mastering, the choruses were quite a bit louder than everything else (hey, they're choruses, they're allowed, right?)  But what it meant was that Inflator was working harder in the choruses than anywhere else.  It was the choruses that were sending the DR readings through the sky.

So step one was evening that out, so the overall waveform now was more consistent, and apply Inflator at a more moderate level.  Immediately the DR readings dropped massively - Spotify happy.  BUT the choruses fell flat, without Inflator working its full magic.  I then had to remix the track itself, pushing various elements that actually reduced the dynamic range of the mix (counter-intuitively).  In other words, I did manually what I was asking Inflator to do for me at the points where I aesthetically wanted that louder sound.  But now I had the magic result - those DR readings stayed low, but everything sounded as it did before.  Here's the evidence... first the waveform as it was:


and how here's the waveform using all the trickery:


Look very similar, don't they?  Yet here's the magic figures - with low being high, Dyameter was reading PSR 4 PLR 7, and now it's reading PSR 8 PLR 13.  The PLR figure is the one to really look for, getting it 12 or under the aim.

As well as looking similar, they sound similar too.  Funnily enough.

So now the proof will be in the aural pudding, as it were.  The old versions are gone (though at the moment Bandcamp will be the same).  Will the new versions play properly on Spotify and Apple Music?  Tune in next week to find out, pop pickers.


Thursday, 17 March 2016

There's Always Someone

Break out the exclamation mark - it’s here! There’s actually something you can look at, listen to, stream and indeed buy, if not actually hold in your sweaty palms. Which means OF COURSE it’s a digital-only release. I’ve no desire to sleep on a bed of 1000 CDs for the next few years before skipping them thanks very much, that era of history has well and truly passed and good riddance. In 2016 I can fail with efficiency, and be kinder to the environment whilst doing so. Now that’s progress!

So what do we have? Well, since I asked, There’s Always Someone is a 5 track EP that is out now, about a month ahead of the album, The All Clear. The eponymous track and #3, Softly Spoken, will be on the album, the other 2 tracks - #screengrab and Never Really Liked You along with a remix of There’s Always Someone are exclusive to the EP. You can get it / stream it at all the usual places by typing After School Video Club – iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, Apple Music etc – and also get it from Bandcamp (which is both the cheapest way to get the EP or Album, and is also available in the best quality).  You can listen right now using the player on the right hand side (or if you're on mobile, click the drop down arrow at the top of the post, and then select Watch / Listen To The Club).

And oh look there’s a video!



So how many streams and downloads will this generate? As blogged below, the odds are absurd. With over 20 new releases on iTunes every single MINUTE and a) not being part of any PR or viral gimmick and b) not putting in 5 years of playing live legwork, this isn't going to be troubling Rihanna any time soon. But no matter, I’ve set myself sales targets, and dagnammit I’m making them public. By the end of April - I’m shooting for the moon here, brace yourself boys and girls - I’m aiming for DOUBLE DIGIT SALES. Yes, I want at least 10 people in the world to have paid actual money for it (and it will get a 2nd sales shot when the album is released, so… phew). Ker-a-zee! Streams – let’s go equally nuts. 200. By the end of April. And on 1st May, or thereabouts, I’ll tell you exactly how many I actually managed.

If you’re reading this as a well-meaning friend – well, bless you, but please don’t buy it. Well, not unless you actually genuinely like it. It’s 10 actual real not-just-being-nice sales I’m going for here, 10 people who listen to it and go “oh, that’s not that bad, I’d quite like to listen to that again actually whenever I feel like it”, just like in the olden days. Anyone can emotionally blackmail their friends and family, we all know that, but I have loftier aims. We choose to do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard…. 10 honest sales!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Where Was I? Again?

Real work, real life etc etc.  What can you do, eh?

However, the good news is that the insanity is now subsiding, and there is now a plan - first single properly released next month - There's Always Someone.  And an album to follow in April!  For the moment, the Lost Songs video is on ice as I still don't have enough bands.  Hopefully over this year I'll get the extra handful I need.  But There's Always Someone will have its very own video, which is in black and white and all moody.

In the meantime, here's an actual thing - an all-new Spotify After School Video Club playlist.  It's going to be 95% everyone else's music, a glorious mish mash of all the influences and likes that go into the Club.  So it's about 50/50 synths and guitars; 50/50 old (from the 80s onwards) and new; 50/50 familiar and obscure.  20 new songs every month - usually with one song by the Club itself, but not in this first one.  Follow and let me know what you think!