Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Verve at Maida Vale

Last night I was lucky enough to get on the guest list for a live radio session by The Verve at the BBC's famous Maida Vale studios in London. It was the latest in a series of sets by important artists who get to perform a 45 minute set live on BBC Radio 1, often on Zane Lowe's show. We were filming it and taking photos, which you can see here. With only about 20 people allowed in to stand on the mezzanine above the performance space, it was a real privilege to witness the band at such close range. My camera phone photos are here.

There's something incredibly powerful about The Verve, and from the first song you could tell they weren't messing about - this was a full on performance not a half-hearted studio session. I have to admit to one of those BBC moments, where I felt genuinely proud to work for an organisation that can pull in bands like The Verve into a studio to play live on the radio.

Because it was invite only - mainly friends, family and record label people - its not like a normal gig. You bump into the band afterwards on the way out with their family or talking to mates. Well, most of the band. Richard Ashcroft didn't hang around afterwards. In fact, he didn't hand around at all, putting his jacket on and walking puroposefully out of the studio the second he had finished his vocals on the last song, whilst the rest of the band played on. Bizarre. There was certainly a lack of eye contact between Richard and most of the band, and the rumours were flying about how they don't talk to each other. How can a band who don't talk to each other write such good material? Maybe that's what gives them the creative spark. Or maybe they just need some money. Who knows. All I do know is that it was an amazing session, and if the new album "Forth" is as good then it could be a decent follow-up to what many including me think was one of the albums of the mid-90's, Urban Hymnes.

And yes, they played Bitter Sweet Symphony. Stunning.

More on The Verve

Monday, 4 August 2008

eMusic vs Napster

Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in paying for music. Partly because I feel that if someone makes great music then they deserve to get paid, and partly because (and I know this is going to sound strange) I value it more if I've paid for it. I also figure that if I pay for it, I'll get a good service which you won't necessarily get from places where its free.

So for most of this year I've been subscribed to both eMusic and Napster. I wanted to do a proper comparison to see which service i valued the most. eMusic costs £11 p/month for 30 permanent MP3 downloads (existing users get a better deal), Napster costs £10 p/month for unlimited streams and DRM tethered downloads. So for eMusic, that works out at 37 pence per track.

So there's a fairly big difference in the offer, with Napster having just about every major artist and release, and eMusic having no major label artists but lots of artists from small independent labels.

Why then, have I just cancelled my Napster subscription but not eMusic? Here's why:

  • Obviously, I can't take my Napster tracks with me as I use an iPod which doesn't support Napster's DRM
  • Some people record their Napster tracks using software like Tunebite or Replay Music, but frankly life's too short to sit correcting the metadata and making sure tracks are split correctly
  • The Napster application stinks. Or rather, it's slow, very slow, and temperamental which means that quite often albums I've downloaded simply won't play when I want them to
  • It recommends me horrible music that I've never downloaded or listened to. In other words, it hasn't learnt what I like and dislike
  • There's no sign of any other users on the site: it's a lonely and isolated place to be
  • It's a bit like going into a bright soul-less record store run by people who don't actually like music
On the other hand, I'm still liking eMusic. Why?
  • It's web based, not desktop based
  • No speed problems
  • I can transfer the music to my iPod or wherever I want
  • I get to keep the music forever, even if I leave eMusic
  • Once i've downloaded music, I can download it again at no cost. So if I want a copy on my work PC as well as my home PC, no problem. Or if I buy a new computer I can re-download everything I've already downloaded, for free
  • Good quality audio - 192kbps VBR
  • There are lots of ways of discovering new music that I haven't heard of: straight forward Amazon style recommendations based on what I've downloaded, artist based recommendations, user ratings, most popular lists, and best of all other eMusic users recommendations/lists, and musical neighbours.
  • It offers me a personalized experience - it's learning from what I listen to
  • Recent improvements now offer better integration with the web with relevant content from YouTube and Wikipedia etc
  • It seems to be run by people who actually love music
  • It feels a reasonably sociable place - you feel the presence of other music fans out there using the service, and that feels good. Every album and artist forms part of someone else's favourites list, and has an eMusic review and user reviews, and is connected to user playlists
So there you have it. eMusic 1, Napster 0.

The main point here, I suppose, is that I'm willing to pay a monthly subscription for music. If eMusic could just get the majors on board I'm pretty sure alot of other people would be too. Going to be very interesting to see what BSkyB do with Universal

Here are some recommendations from me that I've got from eMusic:

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
Yeasayer - All Hour Cymbals
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Elbow - Cast of Thousands
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Little Dragon - Little Dragon
Midlake - The Trials Of Van Occupanther
Portico Quartet - Knee-Deep in the North Sea
Robert Forster - The Evangelist
Bjork - Volta
Killer Shrimp - Sincerely Whatever