Feb 11 2011

Little Alex Blog #1

Hello folks,

Firstly, just to let you know that calling out from my solo album Mandala is today’s featured free MP3 download on Allaboutjazz.com, so make sure you pop over there and grab yourself some free music if you don’t have the album yet. There’s a great selection of past free tracks archived on the site too so it’s well worth a visit.

Many of you will probably have noticed that over the last few days I have been beavering away setting up a bunch of pages and profiles for my new band Little Alex. This is a collaboration with Steve Alexander in which we combine the live looping of my solo project with live drums and percussion from Steve. I though it was about time I posted something here on the blog to let you know where we’re at right now.

We’ve been on Twitter for quite some time now with both myself and Steve posting. Incidentally, Steve also has his own Twitter account now so do go say Hi when you get a chance (his username is @SteveADrums). Over the last couple of days I have also started up a profile on Reverbnation which is home to our mailing list if you want to keep up to date with progress. We’ve already had a fair few people ‘like’ the Facebook page, which has been great. Last night, and only for the sake of completeness, I gritted my teeth and put together the world’s most half-arsed MySpace page. If you feel the need to visit that one, please bear in mind that I can barely get my head around it’s out-dated and glitchy interface; but at least we have the username 🙂

We’ve been busy writing new material and recording various demos at Little Alex HQ. Unfortunately we have nothing to play you at this stage because we’ve yet to play together in a proper studio with all our gear. So far Steve has been playing sampled drums in the studio due to space and noise (!) restrictions. We’re looking at having our first fully live rehearsal next week…

Now for the geek stuff. You have been warned…

My live looping rig has expended somewhat with the addition of a Pod X3 Pro and FBV shortboard thanks to the lovely folks at Line 6. I’ve hooked this up with the old faithful Lexicon MPX G2 in the effects loop which has given me access to some seriously scary sounds. The Pod feeds directly into the Looperlative LP1 which goes straight into the desk for recording. For live playing I managed to get my hands on Cass Lewis’ old touring Warwick ProTube IX which has a stereo effects loop and dual DI outputs. I’m finding that it’s becoming increasingly important to keep the bass in stereo to get the full effect from some of the more spacier sounds I now have access to.

And Steve has been working on a brand new drum setup for the Little Alex project. It’s a much smaller kit with some more esoteric cymbals so we can have access to some really interesting colours and textures. He’s also looking at adding some toys into the mix too; kalimba and baby glockenspiel should be the next additions. We’re trying to keep electronics and samplers out of the drum rig at this stage to simplify our on stage setup, but we haven’t ruled it out entirely for the future. Here’s a little blurry shot taken by Steve this week to show the kit’s latest incarnation..

Anyway. Didn’t intend for this post to be so long! Hopefully next time I blog about the band we’ll have something to play you. We’re working towards putting together an EP to release later this year. We’re hoping to play a slot at the Limelight Music Festival at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow next month, as we will both be up there for the week working on another project. Watch this space (or one of our other many spaces) for announcements of upcoming dates.

Until then..

Jan 24 2011

Share and Share Alike…

Hello folks,

This last week I have spent quite a lot of time listening to some of the great new music that has been brought to my attention recently, mainly through the joys of Twitter and Facebook. Both regularly prove great sources of shared information, especially in the world of new music. I currently follow 804 people on Twitter, the vast majority of them are musicians and music lovers with whom I have a great deal in common musically. So what better platform to discover new music?

I thought this would be a good opportunity to blog about some of the great new music I’ve been listening to over the last couple of weeks that have been recommended via Twitter and Facebook and give you the opportunity to check out some great independent artists you may not have come across yet. And through the joys of the Bandcamp embeddable  players I can miraculously place little links direct to their music right here on the blog. Sweet…

At the end of last week I received my copy of  Disarm by She Makes War (aka Laura Kidd)

This is a fantastic album of what Laura herself describes as ‘grungey dystopian gloom-pop’. The writing is really interesting and for me brought to mind some of Skin’s solo material on the first couple of listens. I posted my favourite track NIMN from the album in the player above. Well worth checking out and her Bandcamp page offers a plethora of imaginative packages.

My second offering today come from ambient/drone artist Emmalee Crane. I really enjoyed her 2009 album Crux and have been keeping my eyes peeled for news of her latest release Formantine. It seems I entirely missed said news and today discovered the album was released in November..

Emmalee creates some beautiful ambient soundscapes using a combination of acoustic, electronic and found sounds treated with delicate processing. The review at Savaran Music and Sound describes her music as ‘ambient, orchestral drone’. The production is wonderful and helps create some of the most atmospheric and organic ambient music I’ve heard in a long time.

Purely by chance this morning I came across A Lullaby Hum For Tired Streets by Ephemetry, also via the Savaran Music blog. This is the music of Derby based musician Richard ‘Biff’ Birkin. There are only five tracks on his Bandcamp page (two of which are free downloads) and the full album isn’t due for release until later this month, but I really loved what I heard…

The first track After Catalunya (posted in the player above) and track 3 A Lullaby Hum grabbed me straight away. Again we’re in the realms of ambient acoustic music with a few folky vocal acoustic tracks thrown in. I’m really interested to see what the full album sounds like and will be keeping my eye on his Bandcamp page for updates..

Finally it was brought to my attention at a gig last night that Hannah Peel‘s new album The Broken Wave is out now. I don’t have a cunning little player for you this time so I’ll have to trust you to check out the album yourselves. It is available from the usual download sites, including eMusic.

I met Hannah last year whilst touring with Duke Special. Her music is incredibly delicate and honest. She plays a variety of instruments when she performs, most notably a little wind-up music box which she painstakingly prepares the reels for with a hole-punch before the show. Produced by Tunng’s Mike Lindsay and with a couple of tracks orchestrated by Nitin Sawhney, the album is truly stunning. The official launch party will be at The Vortex on Tuesday 8th February. Get yourself along if you’re about…

Well that’s it for now folks. I’ll probably do this again sometime in the near future. There’s so much great new music out there right now, despite what the big record labels would have you believe. You just have to know where to look…

Nov 9 2010

It’s All About Bandcamp…

Well we all knew this blog post was coming…

In the run-up to releasing Mandala I spent a lot of time investigating the various channels I could employ to sell the album online. There are myriad ways to get your music onto iTunes, Amazon MP3, and eMusic etc and equally as many routes to selling physical packages online too. But here’s the catch; they all cost you money to set up and you have no control over pricing, availability or branding. Services like Tunecore will put your music onto a variety of digital stores, as well as streaming services like Spotify for an annual fee of $49.99 per album. Reverb Nation now also offers a variety of digital distribution packages ranging between $35-60 per year, per ‘release’ (ie; single, album, EP), but has no options for selling physical CDs and seems mainly aimed at the US market.

Enter Bandcamp!!

Bandcamp is a website that enables a band/artist to easily distribute their music directly to the public, both digitally and physically. It is well worth reading their excellent blog to keep up to date with all the new features they regularly add to the service. It is one of the best new sites to have sprung up over the last few years to embrace the changes in the music industry and the way artists engage with their audience.

Some benefits for artists/bands:

  • Easy to set up. You can have your album on sale within 30 minutes..
  • Integrates with existing website via custom urls, custom headers, design etc
  • Fans can stream the music in it’s entirety, unlike the dreaded 30 second previews of iTunes etc.
  • Offer high-quality downloads in a variety of formats. Also offers the possibility of including an instant download with physical packages
  • Excellent sharing options to place widgets and links on other sites
  • Various pricing options including ‘pay what you want’, set pricing and everything in between. Plus the facility to generate free download codes for promotion etc
  • Receive payments instantly via PayPal
  • Bandcamp only takes 15% commission on sales and has no annual fees

and some benefits for fans/listeners:

  • Listen to full tracks/albums online, so you can try before you buy
  • Know that you are supporting the artists directly when you buy the music (and not Steve Jobs)
  • Easy to share your discoveries via Facebook, Twitter, embeddable widgets/music players
  • Download music in various high-quality formats (MP3, FLAC etc)

I have been a big supporter of Bandcamp since it first started up. I know as a listener I am far more likely to buy an album download from Bandcamp than any other digital store; mainly due to the superior quality of the downloaded files and because I want to directly support the artist when I buy their music. I know of several people that sell their music on iTunes and see a surprisingly small return from sales. Bandcamp is a great resource for independent music.

Over the last few weeks I have noticed more and more artists turning to Bandcamp to sell their music. I have turned several of my friends onto the site this month. Most recently the fantastic pianist Janette Mason has uploaded both her solo albums for download. I also convinced my good friend Steve Alexander to offer his excellent Isometric album on Bandcamp. Artists like Zoe Keating and Steve Lawson have been selling their music through the site for quite some time now, with great success. Both have made use of the ‘pay what you want’ model to some degree, which allows fans to name their own price and pay what they think the music is worth (with or without a lower limit).

This is the pricing model I have opted for with Mandala. At the moment, the digital version is £5 (or more) and the physical CD is priced at £10 (or more). This enables people to pay a little more if they would like to show some extra support for the project and indeed any future projects. I have found that most people do add a little extra than the minimum price, especially for the download. I know that both Steve and Zoe have had fans pay upwards of $100 for albums downloads as a show of support for their music.

Just saying, you know…

Incidentally, Bandcamp have just added Facebook ‘Like’ buttons to their pages, which is by far the easiest and quickest way to share your favourite albums with your friends right now. Please do take a moment to scoot over to my Bandcamp page and click the ‘Like’ button under the album artwork. Even if you’ve already bought it; every little helps in spreading the word! You may have also noticed that I have added my own little ‘Like’ button to this very site recently (it’s at the top of the sidebar on the right), which will magically add you to the small but perfectly formed gang on my Facebook page if you are that way inclined…

So what have you discovered via Bandcamp recently? I’ve downloaded a few corkers recently. Here’s a few recommendations (in no particular order)

Until next time, here’s one of their lovely widgets so you can stream the solo album whilst having a look around. This is the Grande version, in case you were wondering…