Taking Off With Audio Astronauts

In the Japanese workplace, there’s a philosophy called kaizen.  The word literally means “good change,” but it is essentially the belief that there should be continuous improvement that reduces waste and improves efficiency.  Originally, it was a philosophy that applied to manufacturing and engineering, but over time, other businesses, areas of study, and doctrines have adopted it.  The more you read about kaizen, the more you understand that it is more about tasking workers with the responsibility of examining their own practices in an objective way and finding ways to better their own environments.  As music lovers, why shouldn’t we apply kaizen to the way we select and listen to our music?

While I’ve always been a music analyst, I will freely admit to relating more to lyrics and vocals and not really understanding all the intricacies that go into making the tunes that pump out of my headphones.  That’s why when a musician that I’ve come to really respect announced that he was launching a podcast about audio engineering, producing, and recording, I found myself intrigued.

Two dudes exploring the depths of modern recording – and dedicated to musical kaizen.

Two dudes exploring the depths of modern recording – and dedicated to musical kaizen.

Meet the Audio Astronauts:  Deke Spears and Matt Rowles.  Both fellas are accomplished musicians and studio gurus.  Each Wednesday, these guys spend about an hour (depending on how chatty Deke is feeling) talking about recording equipment, processes, and techniques.  They discuss albums, producers and engineers, playing examples and digging into what makes certain recordings great.

It’s really fascinating to hear them talk about records that I’ve literally been listening to for more than half my life and hear them from a totally different perspective because they steer me into listening to them with a different ear.  Whether it’s hearing a new instrument that I’ve never noticed before, or understanding how individual producers influence styles and sound, I come away each week with a literal earful of new information.  And while I might only really key in or understand two or three things that they talk about, each time I listen to a new piece of music, I’m hearing it through new filters.  And, bonus, I’ve started listening to artists I might otherwise have skipped because it’s not “my type of music.”  Talk about expanding my musical horizons.

The thing I love most (well, other than their rather endearing sound geek senses of humor) is that Deke and Matt are completely dedicated to getting people to not only appreciate, but to demand more, from the music they listen to.  They expect it not only of themselves and others in their craft, but they are giving anyone who listens to music the power to improve their auditory environment.  Musical kaizen.

I’ve embedded my favorite episode below for easy listening (and no, it’s not my favorite just because they give me a shout-out), but you can get to the podcast in any number of ways – by subscribing on iTunes, listening on SoundCloud, or on their webpage.  They also love interacting with people in the community, so if you listen, be sure to touch base with them and let them know what you think.

More Audio Astronauts:  Web | Facebook | Twitter | SoundCloud | iTunes

8 Even Better Ways to Discover Your New Favorite Band Online

Recently, I was reading an article on Mashable when I noticed a teaser to another Mashable article titled “8 Ways to Discover Your New Favorite Band Online.” Given that Mashable is geared toward more technically savvy/Internet-heads like me, and music is pretty much the love of my life, I got super excited.

Talk about clicker’s remorse. What a freaking let down! Lamest article on music discovery I’ve ever read. Of the 8, there were TWO that were worthy of mention. The other six? iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Spotify, Rdio and YouTube. And even worse, it didn’t even really tell people how to use some of the lesser known features of these popular resources that could actually help them FIND new music.

Look, we live in the Internet age. There are literally hundreds of thousands of great music resources out there – blogs, apps, video channels, you name it. I have four or five dozen favorite ways to discover new music. Sorry, Mashable, I love ya, but here are 8 Even Better Ways to Discover Your New Favorite Band Online.

1. Noisetrade.com
Get bands to buy into to giving away their music in exchange for fan email addresses and zip codes? Might sound far-fetched, but Derek Webb and his crew in Nashville have done it. Artists control what they can give away – full albums, samplers, live tracks. Even better, fans can tip artists if they so choose, or easily click to promote their downloads on other social media channels. Hundreds of artists giving away music and thousands upon thousands of fans getting exposure to new artists. Win, win, win. Recent artists to give music away on Noisetrade: The Civil Wars, Radiohead, Jars of Clay, Courrier and The Dirty Guv’nahs.

2. Daytrotter
Daytrotter takes some of the hottest up and coming artists (as well as respected, long-established ones) and records them stripped down in small studios or at intimate live performances. They stream the sessions free for anyone to listen to, and for just $32 a year, you can become a member and download sessions. Combine it with some of the best music writing out there today and unique artwork of each artist, and you’ve got a recipe for million-dollar concert vault. In addition to a full-featured website, can also download the app for your device. Recent featured artists on Daytrotter: Ben Howard, The Maine, Grace Potter, Counting Crows, Half Moon Run and TONS more.

3. Soundcloud
Think of Soundcloud like an audio-only Facebook. Follow artists and friends, repost sounds you like, explore new sounds. In addition to oooooodles of new music that I’ve found there, you can also check out podcasts (for example, the excellent Audio Astronauts), audio books, and just about anything else that people can record. In addition to the Soundcloud website, you can also download an app for your devices (App Store or Google Play).

4. Shazam (App Store or Google Play)
This one might be the best-known on my list, but I use it CONSTANTLY, so I can’t neglect talking about it. How many times have you been somewhere or watching a TV show and heard a song and wish you could find out what it was? Shazam is your answer. Two clicks on your phone or tablet and it does the work for you with surprising accuracy. Hold your device up, let it hear the song and … boom goes the dynamite, within a few seconds, you have the name of that earworm. What’s more, in the iPad version of the app, there’s real-time tagging to let you see what other folks are Shazam-ing. Great way to discover what is catching everyone else’s ear…

5. Bandsintown (iTunes or Google Play)
If you like going to see live music, this app is a MUST have. Best way to find out about artists (or new artists you might like) that are coming to your area. The app scans your music library to track artists, but it also allows you to view concerts your friends have RSVPed to, as well as popular events in your area. I think most of my music friends probably know about this one, but just this week, I had a non-music friend email me and say, “Thanks to you I found the bandsintown app! Going to see Marc Broussard in October! Just letting you know that my soon to be concert addiction will be all YOUR fault (and I love you for it)!”

6. BalconyTV
This is one of my favorites that not many people seem to know. I stumbled across BalconyTV about three years ago when some band or another that I like had a session there. BalconyTV is a global concept where musicians play on “balconies” (sometimes decks, sometimes rooftops, but the general idea of somewhere higher up) in nearly 50 different cities (channels) all over the world. The sessions are short, one or two songs, and often enriched by the sounds of the city and weather – cars, wind, foot traffic, etc. Bands are usually local or regional, but every once in awhile a national or international band will show up on a channel around the world. BalconyTV started more than six years ago, so you can find a lot of old videos of once small, unknown bands that are huge acts now (like The Script in Dublin in 2007). I have discovered so much wonderful new music via BalconyTV, but my favorite find to date is still Mighty Oaks. Recently, BalconyTV became more interactive when it added a “judging” component where you can vote between the stronger of two sessions; rankings are used to score the sessions on a global basis. Check out recent sessions from Passenger, Matt Pond PA, Josh Doyle, Matt Corby, Youngblood Hawke, and The Dunwells.

7. Band of the Day (App Store)
I’ve written previously about Band of the Day, so I am not going to be long winded. This app is based on one really simple idea: push a band out a day to music lovers so that they can discover new music. The app has a pretty broad range of artists, from up and comers to long established bands, pop to rap to funk to electronic. From within the app, you to read bios, listen to songs, post about discoveries to other apps (Facebook, Twitter), listen to “mixtapes” (which select from featured Band of the Day artists), track artists you’ve listened to on the app, and check out the most popular Bands of the Day. Recently featured artists include one of my newest favorites James Bay, The Musgraves, Robert Randolph and more. Unfortunately, this one’s only available for Apple users as an app, but the website offers the same experience.

8. TastemakerX (App Store)
I’ve also written about TastemakerX before, but it’s such a unique concept that I couldn’t leave it out of this list. Self-billed as a “fan-powered game for music discovery,” TastemakerX is a way to strut your ability to know a good artist when you hear one. In short, you buy “records” of bands (with fake dollars, or “notes”). And then, a bit like the stock market, as more people buy records of the same band, the value of your collection goes up. You can “trade” out records if you want (selling off underperforming artists or to “make money” because a record has gone up in value). With great features that allow you to see what bands are hot and trending among other users, or to follow users with similar tastes to yours, you can easily find dozens of new bands to listen to. I love this app. I literally login every day to see how I’m doing and I always find something new. The ONLY complaint I have is that a lot of bands that I listen to just aren’t on the app yet – I’m not sure what store or base the app pulls from. However, you can email them with suggestions. I have in the past and they do listen and add them (Saints of Valory, for example…who, by the way, I own nearly 100,000 records of at this point…I’m driving my own cost up!). Again, only available in app on Apple devices, but you can also play online via the website.

This list certainly is just the tip of the iceberg, just a few of my most used and favorite features. So tell me what I’m missing! What other ways are you finding new music? Let me know, and maybe I’ll post “Even More Better Ways to Discover Your New Favorite Band Online.”