My 2018 Year in Music: Data Analysis and Insights

This past year has been pretty eventful in music for me. I’ve attended a couple new festivals, seen shows while traveling, and discovered plenty of new bands. I want to examine the data available to me and contrast it with my memories of the past year.

I’ve been using Splunk to analyze my music data for the past couple years. You can learn more about what I’ve learned from that in the past in my other posts, see Reflecting on a Decade of Quantified Music Listening and Best of 2017: Newly-Discovered Music. I also wrote a blog post for the Splunk blog (I work there) about this too: 10 Years of Listens: Analyzing My Music Data with Splunk.

Comparing Spotify’s Data with Mine

Spotify released its #2018wrapped campaign recently, sharing highlights from the year of my listening data with me (and in an ad campaign, aggregate data from all the users). As someone that uses Spotify but not as my exclusive source of music listening, I was curious to compare the results with my holistic dataset that I’ve compiled in Splunk. 

Top Artists are Poolside, The Blaze, Justice, Born Ruffians, and Bob Moses. Top Songs are Beautiful Rain, For the Birds, Miss You, Faces, and Heaven. I listened for 30.473 minutes, and my top genre was Indie.

Spotify’s top artists for me were somewhat different from the results that I found from the data I gather from Last.fm and analyze with Splunk software.  Spotify and my holistic listening data agree that I listened to Poolside more than anyone else, and was also a big fan of Born Ruffians, but beyond that they differ. This is probably due to the fact that I bought music and when I’m mobile I switch my primary listening out of Spotify to song files stored on my phone. 

Table showing my top artists and their listens, Poolside with 162 listens, The Vaccines with 136, Young Fathers with 124, Born Ruffians with 102 and Mumford and Sons with 99 listens.

In addition, my top 5 songs of the year were completely different from those listed in Spotify. My holistic top 5 songs of the year were all songs that I purchased. I don’t listen to music exclusively in Spotify, and my favorites go beyond what the service can recognize.

Table showing top songs and the corresponding artist and listen count for the song. Border Girl by Young Fathers with 35 was first, followed by Era by Hubert Kirchner with 32, Naive by the xx with 29, Sun (Viceroy Remix) by Two Door Cinema Club with 27 and There Will Be Time by Mumford & Sons with Baaba Maal also with 27 listens.

Spotify identified that I’ve listened to 30,473 minutes of music, but I can’t make a similarly reliable calculation with my existing data because I don’t have track length data for all the music that I’ve listened to. I can calculate the number of track listens so far this year, and based on that, make an approximation based on the track length data that I do have from my iTunes library. The minute calculation I can make indicates that I’ve so far spent 21,577 minutes listening to 3,878 of the 10,301 total listens I’ve accumulated so far this year (Numbers to change literally as this post is being written).

Screen capture showing total listens of 10,301 and total minutes listened to itunes library songs as 21,577 minutes.

I’m similarly lacking data allowing me to determine my top genre of the year, but Indie is a pretty reliable genre for my taste. 

Other Insights from 2018

I was able to calculate my Top 10 artists, songs, and albums of the year, and drill down on the top 10 artists to see additional data about them (if it existed) in my iTunes library, like other tracks, the date it was added, as well as the kind of file (helping me identify if it was purchased or not), and the length of the track.

Screen capture displaying top 10 artists, top 10 songs, top 10 albums of the year, with the artist Hubert Kirchner selected in the top 10 song list, with additional metadata about songs by Hubert Kirchner listed in a table below the top 10 lists, showing 3 songs by Hubert Kirchner along with the album, genre, rating, date_added, Kind, and track_length for the songs. Other highlights described in text.

There are quite a few common threads across the top 10 artists, songs, and albums, with Poolside, Young Fathers, Gilligan Moss, The Vaccines, and Justice making consistent appearances. The top 10 songs display obsessions with particular songs that outweigh an aggregate popularity for the entire album, leading other songs to be the top albums of the year.

Interestingly, the Polo & Pan album makes my top 10 albums while they don’t make it to my top 10 artist or song lists. This is also true for the album Dancehall by The Blaze. I’m not much of an album listener usually, but I know I listened to those albums several times.

The top 10 song list is more dominated by specific songs that caught my attention, and the top 10 artists neatly reflect both lists. The artists that have a bit more of a back catalog also reveal themselves, given that Born Ruffians managed to crack the top 10 despite not having any songs or albums make the top 10 lists, and Hey Rosetta! makes the top artist and album lists, despite having no top songs.

Screen capture that says Songs Purchased in 2018. 285 songs.

I purchased 285 songs this year, an increase of 157 compared to the year before. I think I just bought songs more quickly after first hearing them this year, and there are even some songs missing from this list that I bought on Beatport or Bandcamp because they weren’t available in the iTunes Store. While I caved in to Spotify premium this year, I still kept up an old promise to myself to buy music (rather than acquire it without paying for it, from a library or questionable download mechanisms) now that I can afford it. 

A Year of Concerts

Screen capture of 4 single value data points, followed by 2 bar charts. Single value data points are total spent on concerts attended in 2018 ($1835.04), total concerts in 2018 (48), artists seen in concert in 2018 (116 artists), and total spent on concert tickets in 2018 ($2109). The first bar chart shows the number of concerts attended per month, 2 in January, 3 in February, 2 in March, 6 in April, 4 in May, 2 in June, 3 in July, 8 in August, 4 in September, 6 in October, 5 in November, and 3 so far in December. The last bar chart is the number of artists seen by month: 5 in Jan, 10 in Feb, 3 in March, 14 in April, 8 in May, 3 in June, 8 in July, 18 in August, 9 in Sep, 22 in Oct, 10 in Nov, 6 in December.

I’ve been to a lot of concerts so far this year. 48, to be exact. I spent a lot of money on concert tickets, both for the shows I attended this year and for shows that went on sale during 2018 (but at this point, might be happening in 2019). I often will buy tickets for multiple people, so this number isn’t very precise for my own personal ticket usage.

I managed to go to at least 2 concerts every month. By the time the year is over, I’m on track to go to 51 different shows. Based on the statistics, there are some months where I went to many more than 1 show per week, and others where I didn’t. Especially apparent are the months with festivals—February, August, and October all included festivals that I attended. 

Many of those festivals brought me to new-to-me locations, with the Noise Pop Block Party and Golden Gate Park giving me new perspectives on familiar places, and Lollapalooza after shows bringing me out to Schubas Tavern for the first time in Chicago.  

Screen capture listing venues visited for the first time in 2018, with venue, city, state, and date listed. Notable ones mentioned in text, full list of venue names: Audio, The New Parish, San Francisco Belle, Schubas Tavern, Golden Gate Park, August Hall, Noise Pop Block Party, Bergerac, Great American Music Hall, Cafe du Nord, Swedish American Hall.

If you’re reading this wondering what San Francisco Belle is, it’s a boat. That’s one of several new venues that electronic music brought me to—DJ sets on that boat as part of Goldroom and Gigamesh’s tour, plus a day party in Bergerac and a nighttime set at Audio other times throughout the year.

Some of those new venue locations brought newly-discovered music to me as well.

Screen capture showing top 20 artists discovered in 2018, sorted by count of listens, featuring a sparkline to show how frequently I listened to the artist throughout the year, and a first_discovered date. List: Gilligan Moss, The Blaze, Polo & Pan, Hubert Kirchner, Keita Sano, Jude Woodhead, Ben Böhmer, Karizma, Luxxury, SuperParka, Chris Malinchak, Mumford & Sons and Baaba Maal, Jon Hopkins, Yon Yonson,  Brandyn Burnette and dwilly, Asgeir, The Heritage Orchestra Jules Buckley and Pete Tong, Confidence Man, Bomba Estereo, and Jenn Champion.

The 20th-most-popular artist I discovered this year was Jenn Champion, who opened for We Were Promised Jetpacks at their show at the Great American Music Hall. I started writing this assuming that I hadn’t heard Jenn Champion before that night, but apparently I first discovered them on July 9, but the show wasn’t until October 9. 

As it turns out, I listened to what is now my favorite song by Jenn Champion that day in July, likely as part of a Spotify algorithm-driven playlist (judging by the listening neighbors around the same time) but it didn’t stick until I saw them play live months later. The vagaries of playlists that refresh once a week can mean fleeting discoveries that you don’t really absorb.

Screen capture showing Splunk search results of artist, track_name, and time from July 9th. Songs near Jenn Champion's song in time include Mcbaise - Le Paradis Du Cuir, Wolf Alice - Don't Delete the Kisses (Tourist Remix) and Champyons - Roaming in Paris.
Other songs I listened to that day in July

Because of how I can search for things in Splunk, I was also curious to see what others songs I heard when I first discovered Hubert Kirchner, a great house artist.

Songs listened to around the same time as I first heard Hubert Kirchner's song Era.... I listened to Dion's song Dream Lover, Deradoorian's song You Carry the Dead (Hidden Cat Remix) followed by Hubert Kirchner, then listened to Miguel's song Sure Thing, How to Dress Well with What You Wanted, then listen to Rihanna, Love on the Brain, Selena Gomez with Bad Liar, and Descendents with I'm the One. I have no idea how I got into this mix of songs.

I have really no idea what playlist I was listening to that might have led to me making jumps from Sofi Tukker, to Tanlines, to Dion, to Deradoorian, then to Hubert Kirchner, Miguel, How to Dress Well, Rihanna, Selena Gomez, and Descendents. Given that August 24th was a Friday, my best guess is perhaps that it was a Release Radar playlist, or perhaps an epic shuffle session. 

Repeat of earlier screen capture showing top 20 artists discovered in 2018. Sorted by count of listens, featuring a sparkline to show how frequently I listened to the artist throughout the year, and a first_discovered date. List: Gilligan Moss, The Blaze, Polo & Pan, Hubert Kirchner, Keita Sano, Jude Woodhead, Ben Böhmer, Karizma, Luxxury, SuperParka, Chris Malinchak, Mumford & Sons and Baaba Maal, Jon Hopkins, Yon Yonson,  Brandyn Burnette and dwilly, Asgeir, The Heritage Orchestra Jules Buckley and Pete Tong, Confidence Man, Bomba Estereo, and Jenn Champion

For the top 20 bands I discovered in 2018, many of them I started listening to on Spotify, but not necessarily because of Spotify. Gilligan Moss was a discovery from a collaborative playlist shared with those that are also in a Facebook group about concert-going. I later saw them at one of the festivals I went to this year, and it even turned out that a friend knew one of the band members! Their status as my most-listened-to discovery of this year is very accurate.

 Polo & Pan was a discovery from a friend, fully brought to life with a playlist built by Polo & Pan themselves and shared on Spotify. Spent some quality time sitting in a park listening to that playlist and just enjoying life. They were at the same festival as Gilligan Moss, playing the same day, making that day a standout of my concerts this year.

Karizma was a discovery from Jamie xx’s set at Outside Lands. I tracked down the song from the set with the help of several other people on the internet (not necessarily anyone I knew) and then the song that was from the set itself wasn’t even on Spotify itself (Spotify, however, did help me discover more of the artist’s back catalog, like my other favorite song ‘Nuffin Else) Apparently I was far behind the curve hearing the song from the set, since it came out in 2017 and was featured in a Chromebook ad, but Work It Out still made me lose my mind at that set. (For the record, so did Take Me Higher, a song I did not manage to track down at all, and have so much thanks for the person that messaged me on Facebook ages later to send me the link!)

Similarly, Luxxury was a DJ I first spotted on a cruise that I went on because it featured other DJs I had heard of from college, Goldroom and Gigamesh, whom I’d discovered through remixes of songs I downloaded from mp3 blogs like The Burning Ear.

~ Finding Meaning in the Platforms ~

Many of these discoveries were deepened by Spotify, or had Spotify as a vector—through a collaborative playlist, algorithmically-generated one, or the quick back-catalog access for a new artist—but don’t rely on Spotify as a platform. I prefer to keep my music listening habits platform-adjacent. 

Spotify, SoundCloud, iTunes, Beatport and other music platforms I use help make my music experiences possible. But the artists making the music, performing live in venues that I have the privilege to live near and afford to visit, they are creating what keep my mind alive and energized.

The social platforms too, mediate the music-related experiences I’ve had, whether it’s with the people I share music and concert experiences with in a Facebook group, the people I exchange tracks and banter with in Slack channels, or those of you reading this on yet another platform. 

I like to listen to music that moves me, physically, or that arrests my mind and takes me somewhere. More now than ever I realize that musical enjoyment for me is an intense instantiation of the continuous tension-and-release pattern that exists in so many human art forms. The waves of neatness that clash and collide in a house music track, or the soaring crescendos of harmonies. 

It’s become clear to me over the years that I can’t separate my enjoyment of music from the platforms that bring me closer to it. Perhaps supporting the platforms in addition to the musical artists, performers, and venues, is just another element of contributing to a thriving music scene.

Best of 2017: Newly-Discovered Music

I used my music data to look up my favorite artists that I discovered in 2017. These are the ones that are the memorable favorites, beyond the statistical favorites.

Pional

This one is a surprise but a good reminder that small obsessions can make a big difference in overall statistics. I have The Burning Ear to thank for this discovery, and Spotify for entertaining it.

Song recommendation:

R.Lum.R

I discovered this artist because they’re touring as the headliner with Gibbz, who I was already familiar with. The groovy vibe of this artist took those tickets from a probable insta-purchase to an actual insta-purchase.

Song recommendation:

Jason Gaffner

A discovery thanks to The Burning Ear, I discovered Jason Gaffner’s nu-disco grooves around the same time that I got obsessed with some songs by Gibbz (who I must’ve discovered in 2016). I bought this song soon after and am keeping an eye out for new releases.

Song recommendation:

Alex Cruz

I heard Alex Cruz for the first time when I was in Greece, listening to a set that my friend started playing. It took me three tries to figure out who she was talking about, and then I discovered a few of his sets that he puts out as the Deep and Sexy Podcast.

Song recommendation:

Perfume Genius

I can’t remember if I started listening to Perfume Genius because of Discover Weekly or the Song Exploder podcast, but damn they’re good. My only regret is that I discovered them too late to get tickets to their sold out show.

Song recommendation:

Super Duper

I don’t remember how I discovered this artist. I think it was an autoplay on SoundCloud after listening to some tracks The Burning Ear had posted? Either way, I fell in love with this remix.

Song recommendation:

Shallou

I came across this band on The Burning Ear too. I think they’ll be around for Noise Pop next year so I’ll have to decide if I want to go see them. I’m mostly in love with this song.

Song recommendation:

Sampha

He opened for the xx, so I checked out his Spotify page after I found out he was opening for them. Sweet, sweet grooves.

Song recommendation:

James Barrett

This guy showed up in my Discover Weekly playlist. I really like this song, but didn’t get as into the rest of his songs. Still a damn good song tho.

Song recommendation:

Ella Vos

I enjoyed her song Little Brother so much that I got tickets to see her next year. I’ll be keeping an eye out for new releases from her as well.

Song recommendation:

Less notable discoveries:

Jane

I came across this band on SoundCloud through The Burning Ear again. This song was an easy purchase because it’s so catchy.

Song recommendation:

Bjéar

This artist showed up on my Discover Weekly playlist. Great for fans of Bon Iver.

Song recommendation:

Imad Royal

This was another The Burning Ear discovery, and an easy purchase!

Song recommendation:

The Full List

The full list of 35 artists that had more than 10 listens each, first listened to in 2017:

Artist Listens Tracks
Pional 42
A New Dawn
As Time Was Passing By
Casualty
In Another Room
Invisible / Amenaza
It’s All Over
It’s All Over – John Talabot’s Stripped Refix
Of My Mind
The Way That You Like
Alex Vargas 41
7 Sins
Ashes
Follow You
Giving Up The Ghost
Higher Love
Inclosure
Indivisible
Oh Love, How You Break Me Up
Renegade
Shackled Up
Solid Ground
Sweet Abandon
Warnings
Wear Your Demons Out
Jason Gaffner 34
Feel Something
Feel Something (Garruda Remix)
Losing My Mind
Losing My Mind (3 Monkeyzz Remix)
Murder In The First Degree
Murder In The First Degree (Aristo G Remix)
Phantom
Phantom (Keljet Remix)
When The Sun Goes Down
Sampha 30
(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano
Beneath The Tree
Blood On Me
Happens
Incomplete Kisses
Kora Sings
Plastic 100°C
Reverse Faults
Take Me Inside
Timmy’s Prayer
Too Much
Under
What Shouldn’t I Be?
Kyko 28
Animals
Dive In
Drive
Headlights
Hideaway
Horizon
Mexico
Native
Nature
Pull Me Up
R.Lum.R 25
Be Honest
Be Honest (Attom Remix)
Bleed Into The Water
Close Enough
Frustrated
Frustrated – Russ Macklin Remix
Learn
Love Less
Nothing New
Show Me
Suddenly
Tell Me
Utah 25
02:12
Hail the Underdog
In Slow Motion
Lights Out
Mirrors
No Coast
On the Mountain by the Sea
One Million
People of the Future
SFSG
Still Good
Watercolor
When People Come Together
Young Summer 25
Alright
Alright (Karl Kling Remix)
Blood Love
Echo
Fallout
Old Chunk of Coal
Sons Of Lightning (Super Duper Remix)
Taken
Waves That Rolled You Under (backstroke. Remix)
Ralph 23
Busy Man
Cold to the Touch
Cold to the Touch – Nicolaas Remix
Screenplay
Something More
Tease
This Is Funky
Alex Cruz 21
Haunting – Original Mix
Haunting – Radio Edit
Haunting – Sebastien Radio Edit
Haunting – Sebastien Remix
Haunting [ANR063] – Sebastien Remix
Rubberband – Radio Edit
Shoreline – Extended Mix
Sweet Child
Sweet Child – Club Mix
Sweet Child – Extended
Sweet Child – Original Mix
National Parks 21
Backwards Centaur
Five Hour Winnipeg
Julia
Long Winter
The Plural of Moose Is Moose
Bien 20
Confetti
Crowd Goes Wild
Electric Dream
Flashback
Last Man Standing
Must Be Dreaming
Spinning on Blue
Stars Across the Sky
The Best Part
Perfume Genius 20
Body’s In Trouble – Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC
Choir
Die 4 You
Every Night
Go Ahead
Just Like Love
Otherside
Sides
Slip Away
Slip Away – Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC
Valley
Wreath
Wreath (Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith Remix)
Super Duper 20
Angela
Angela [Thissongissick.com Premiere]
Don’t Worry
Finale (feat. Ruelle)
Finale Ft. Ruelle
Hollow (feat. Quinn Lewis)
Innocence (feat. REMMI)
Innocence (feat. REMMI) (LUCA LUSH Remix) [NEST HQ Premiere]
Innocence (feat. REMMI) (Madeaux Remix) [NEST HQ Premiere]
Innocence Ft. Remmi
Makes The Wind Ft. Remmi & Jung Youth
Makes the Wind (feat. REMMI & Yung Youth)
Never Gets Old (feat. Remmi)
Revival
Second Chances (feat. Louis Johnson)
Undercover Ft. Patrick Baker
Emerson Jay 18
Fake It Slow
Feel Like Gold
LZY Me
Light Out
Move
Perspective
Secret City
Smok
Take Take Take
Tru
War
When It’s Night
Ruby Empress 17
Danseuse De Delphes
Deluca
Escapism Deluxe
Kimono House
Lovelight (JV-30)
Strung Out
The Empress
Ella Vos 16
00000 Million – Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC
Little Brother
White Noise
Majik 16
27
Closer
High
How It Is
It’s Alright
Paralysed
Real – Skeleton Mix
Save Me
Talk to Me
à la mer 16
Abroad ~ Say That You Want It
Abroad ~ Time
Imad Royal 15
Bad 4 U
Bad 4 U – Light House Remix
Down For Whatever (feat. Pell)
Losing It All
Smile
Troubles
Mr Sanka 15
Be Easy
Flight Mode
Flight Mode (Jengi Beats Remix)
Flight Mode (Lauer Remix)
Forever and a Day
Gallon
Gallon (Cassian Remix)
Midnight Air
Midnight Air (JAQ Remix)
Midnight Air – JAQ Remix
Crooked Colours 14
Another Way
Capricious (Benson Remix)
Capricious (Paces Remix)
Come Down
Come Down [Alison Wonderland Remix]
Flow
Flow – Extended Re-Rub
In Your Bones
In Your Bones (Chiefs Remix)
Step
Rex Orange County 14
A Song About Being Sad
BEST FRIEND
Corduroy Dreams
Edition
Green Eyes, Pt. II
Loving Is Easy
Paradise
Uno
Shallou 14
. . . Love
Begin (feat. Wales)
Begin – Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC
Fictions
Friends – Recorded at Spotify Studios NYC
Heights
Heights – Extended Mix
Motion Picture Soundtrack
Slow
You and Me
James Barrett 13
College
Marrow
Rodger
The Metamorphosis
You Used to Remind Me of the Sky
Klyne 13
Break Away (FaltyDL Remix)
Closer
Don’t Stop
Don’t Stop – Boston Bun Remix
Entropy
Lend Me Another Name
Sure Thing – Lxury Remix
Waiting
Wit U
Liv Dawson 13
Hush
Last Time – Live At RAK
Open Your Eyes
Painkiller
Painkiller – Acoustic
Reflection
Searching
Still
Tapestry
bjéar 13
Big Sky
Cold
Firefall
Firefall – Radio Edit
Going to the Sun
Hymn
Nell
Nevada
Tuolumne
Jane 12
Sister
We Don’t Wanna Dance
Sean McVerry 12
Kerosene
Marcy and the Apparition
Motion Picture Films
Natalie
Strangers
Tiger Lily
Charles Fauna 11
Abandon
Hypnosis
Hypnosis – Brothertiger Remix
Liaison
Myth
Restless Child
Ed Tullett 11
Faux
In Cure
Kadabre
Malignant
Posturer
Silver Dive
Maggie Rogers 11
Alaska
Alaska – Sofi Tukker Remix
Alaska – Toby Green Remix
Dog Years
On + Off
Polish Club 11
Able
Beeping
Did Somebody Tell Me
Don’t Fuck Me Over
My House
Shy Girls 11
Arrest Me (Noah Breakfast Remix) [feat. Tei Shi]
Out of Touch (feat. Rome Fortune)
Say You Will
Time After Time
Trivial Motion
Watercolor Dreams
Why I Love

Best of 2017: Live Shows

My favorite shows of 2017. Here’s to more great ones in 2018!

October 27, 2017: DJ Aaron Axelson, Lewis Ofman, Yelle

Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco CA

Popscene became my favorite concert sponsor this year, in no large part because of the skills of their DJs. This show surpassed my low expectations to be a great time of dancing and grooving and new music discoveries.

February 23, 2017: Rad Dad, Gibbz

The Hotel Utah Saloon, San Francisco CA

A local band opened for an undersung nu-disco artist, Gibbz. A great way to open p Noise Pop week 2017, and unexpectedly great sound quality for such a small space. Excited to see Gibbz play again next year.

September 19, 2017: NVDES, RAC

The Independent, San Francisco CA

RAC has put on a spectactularly dance-able show every time I’ve seen them. This most recent adventure did not disappoint.

April 16, 2017: Sampha, The XX

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco CA

I would pay Jamie XX to DJ my life, but I can’t afford it. I could afford this show, though. It was incredible. Sampha was great too. Highlight: a mirror that appeared partway through the set that gave the audience a view of Jamie XX’s DJing and his dorky dance moves.

September 13, 2017: The Dirty Nil, Bleached, Against Me!

Regency Ballroom, San Francisco CA

Just as good as they were 10 years ago when I saw them in Chicago, if not better. A restorative and energetic show.

February 4 2017: Wheatus, Mike Doughty

The Independent, San Francisco CA

Wheatus played old hits and new jams, and Mike Doughty pulled them out to back him as he played a bunch of Soul Coughing songs. I was there more for his solo songs, but the artistry and adventure of his live conducting of the band behind him made for an incredible show that was supremely groove-able.

Sofar Sounds: So far from DIY

I attended my first Sofar Sounds show on Friday night. It was a great night, attending a show with a friend and making a few new friends with those that we were sharing a couch with. Sofar Sounds hosts shows in secret locations, from people’s houses, apartments, or even offices, that their community offers up.

As someone who went to a lot of DIY shows in college, the show was a bit surreal. The Sofar show had all the trappings of a DIY show: a crowd of people who care about music, who’ve all traveled there to see a show, a show organized by someone they know or another friend knows. Except in this case, the someone they know is instead a company that they’ve paid money to, and they don’t know the artists or the promoters or even the location until the day of the show.

The DIY shows I’ve been to were characterized by familiar faces, familiar locations, but also hardworking dedicated musicians and music lovers doing the promotion, organization, and crowd-wrangling. Shows in living rooms, basements, kitchens, and garages. Realizing years later that you should’ve worn earplugs. A network of people that once you break into, you can start going to even more shows in more and more places over the years as people move in or away.

The crux of it being, of course, breaking into the network. How do you find a community of like-minded people who have the resources to host and promote house shows, and are doing just that? Sofar Sounds takes people who have the resources to host house shows and connects them with bands and a predefined, curated audience. Sofar shows are like the Lyft of DIY shows, and the commercialization feels somewhat awkward. Sofar Sounds takes the DIY show model and tries to “solve” it with a business model.

Emma Silvers covers that business model in depth in her article A New Guest at Your House Show: The Middleman for KQED Arts. No longer do the musicians and music lovers have to do the promotion, organization, and crowd-wrangling on their own. Instead, they operate as volunteer “ambassadors” for Sofar Sounds, but don’t get paid and still have to do crowd-wrangling. The musicians, on the other hand, might not get paid anything at all. The audience is largely formed of strangers, selected based on applications for tickets by Sofar Sounds.

Perhaps because of all this, the community at the Sofar show felt constructed. Our “ambassador” made me feel like I was alternately at a sporting event or at a team-building exercise with his efforts to pump up the crowd and get us to bond with each other at the same time. Thankfully no one tried to fist bump me. We were all united in our love of music and our willingness to obey the rules about when we were supposed to leave or when we were supposed to talk. Overall, it felt distinctly constructed, rather than a true community of repeated faces like the DIY experimental/punk scene I’d known before.

At the show, I met some people that I enjoyed talking to and would want to see again. Therein lies another problem with the constructed community—it’s building a network behind Sofar Sounds, not behind the bands themselves. I may never see the people I met at the show again, because the network and the community of people attending the show is so far removed from those promoting and organizing it.

Nevertheless, the DIY network has limited reach, and Sofar might help bands break out of that network. If your DIY shows are always performed for your friends and your family, how do you attract new people? Building an organic community takes time, dedication, commitment, but doesn’t exactly pay you quickly. Sofar might act as a kind of shortcut to getting your music in front of new people that might not otherwise stumble into your community. Even if it also doesn’t pay you quickly, and even if they hear your one show and you never see them again.

What does this business model mean for local bars that host music? How many of the artists actually make money from the $15 cover that we’re willing to commit to this ~experience~? Perhaps next time I’ll spend my money at Hotel Utah Saloon or another local venue without the secrecy or the middleman. Maybe the next Sofar show should take you by surprise by happening at an existing venue, with local bands that get a full cut of the ticket cost. Of course, then we’re back at venues full of people that ostensibly don’t care about the music but rather the night they’re trying to have despite it.

As another alternate to Sofar Sounds, Group Muse also operates on the more commercialized house show model, but hearkens back to an even earlier method of hosting house shows—the era of chamber music. Capitalizing on the goodwill of hosts, the shows happen in the same sorts of venues as Sofar Sounds shows, and feature classical chamber music instead of more mainstream singer songwriter type music. However, musicians are paid by the audience, so the platform operates more realistically as a platform rather than a true middleman.

I’ve similarly been to one Group Muse event, and found it a great exposure to a type of music I wouldn’t have sought out otherwise. And that seems to be the real fun behind the secret show atmosphere. Someone has brought you to a place, you have already paid, and you have pretty low expectations of what you might be listening to. The openness that makes any sort of house show a success is already there. So overall, I can’t really complain too much.

The music industry has been disrupted a lot by technological advances, but artists continue to not get paid enough for what they do for us. So go to secret shows. Find house shows, find DIY shows, go to Sofar shows, go to Group Muses, and check out the acts playing at your local bar. Go out, dance hard, and pay up. It’s worth it.

 

Physical technology and inherited meeting places

Digital technology is central in our social and personal lives. Laptops, smartphones, and the apps installed on them allow us to communicate more frequently & at greater distances than ever before. This capability is reshaping those communications. This centrality of the role of tech mirrors the importance that churches once had in peoples’ lives. The Internet Archive could be aiming to bring this back, in a more physical manner.

Continue reading

Kill Legacy Apple Software


Benedict Evans pointed out in a recent newsletter, “there’s a story to be written about Apple feeling its way from a piecemeal legacy technology stack for services, evolved bit by bit from the old iPod music store of a decade ago, to an actual new unified platform, something that it is apparently building.”

I’d argue for a focused set of decoupled applications, rather than a new unified platform. iTunes has bloated beyond practicality. The App store doesn’t work well for users or developers. Here’s where I think the future of these applications lies.

Continue reading

Autobiography through (Musical) Devices (Part Rogue)

Inspired in part by Cyborgology’s Autobiography through Devices series

Autobiography Through Devices (Part 1)

Autobiography Through Devices (Part 2)

I grew up surrounded by music. Dancing wildly in the living room to REM’s Don’t Go Back to Rockville and Rusted Root’s Ecstasy with my siblings as we were toddlers remain fond childhood memories of mine. As I grew older I kept listening to my parents’ music, including an entrenched eighties phase, and as I left Junior High, I owned a Train tape, a Cat Stevens Classics CD, and Motion City Soundtrack’s first album, I Am The Movie, among others. I shied away from the popular music of my peers in Junior High, and avoided Alkaline Trio, System of a Down, and Blink 182 (this was a mistake, I might add).

Continue reading