Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Future of the Mix Tape

I just posted a poll at about the future of the mix tape.  I don't know what that future is, but I recently placed a small bet on it being jump drives.  I still don't really understand podcasts and haven't really comprehended their staying power.

From 1998 to 2013, I made 51 mix CDs (Nothing But Good Things #1 through Nothing But Good Things #50 with a special Nothing But Good Things 33 1/3 thrown in) which I shared with a small group of friends and fellow music lovers. I considered in 2013 switching to a spotify playlist, but decided instead to keep up the spotify playlist in parallel with making the occasional physical Nothing But Good Things mix.  Nothing But Good Things #52 was a mix CD, but it may have been my last. Nothing But Good Things #53 and #54 were mixes I put on a jump drive. I included two notes with the mixes.

Note #1 on paper in the envelope:

There is a readme file on the jump drive.  You should read it. As an aside, without being redundant with what it says in the readme file, I'd like to say just a bit about the early 50s. I don't mean the early 50s of the NBGT series. I mean the early 1950s, but perhaps you'll pick up some foreshadowing or see the intended analogy to the NBGT series. Prior to the 50s, the 78rpm 10" was the dominant format, but then Columbia introduced their long-play 33-1/3 rpm and RCA countered with an "unbreakable" 45 rpm 7-inch. Columbia, in turn, came out with a 33-1/3 rpm 7-inch. There were many formats. Some won.Some lost. The format wars were pretty well settled by the mid-50s. Maybe the same will hold true for NBGT.

Note #2 in the readme file:

Whoaaaa!  What in the world?  NBGT on a jump drive?  On a flash drive?  On a memory stick?  I don't even know what you call these thingamajiggies, but I know it isn't a CD.  Yep, that's right.  In the 1990s NBGT pioneered the next step beyond the cassette mix tape, and now we're ready to say goodbye to the CD.  It could be the beginning of a new era, or it could just be a passing fad, but we've jumped (pun intended) on board with full-on NBGT branding.

So how does this work?  The idea here is that now you've got more choices.  Do you want to just load the songs into an iTunes playlist?  Do it.  Do you want to burn a CD?  Go ahead.  There are two folders, each with a set of songs the same length as a standard CD.  Do you have a new car with a USB port?  Just pop this in and the songs will play in the order intended (in theory anyway - I do not have a new car and could no test this).  NBGT 53 will play first followed by NBGT54.  Are you completely tired of new music but in need of a new jump drive?  Well, this will work for that too.  It's just a regular jump drive, so erase it if you like and start over, but spare my feelings and don't tell me that's what you did.

Note #3 (I'm back to the blog now)

I've said this before, but I think it's worth saying again.  I buy all the music I share, and I encourage those with whom I share it to buy things or support artists in other ways if they don't want more physical stuff.  The greatest appeal of the jump drive for me is the potential that it's the plug-and-play music listening option of the future.  I may be very wrong about that.  I'll be interested to revisit this post in about 3 years.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Best Discography Sites - Part 5 of 5

This is the 5th installment in a series.  Click here for parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.  For today's test artist, The War on Drugs, it's important to say what today is.  Today is Sunday, January 19th, 2014.  The reason that's important is because The War on Drugs is releasing a new record in March, which is the future...  future....  future...  future (that's supposed to be a futuristic echo effect, by the way).

As of today at 10:16 am PST, wikipedia says this about the band:

The War on Drugs is an American indie rock band from PhiladelphiaPennsylvania, formed in 2005. The band consists of Adam Granduciel (vocals, guitar), David Hartley (bass, guitar), Robbie Bennett (keyboards, guitar) and Patrick Berkery (drums).
Founded by close collaborators, Granduciel and Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs released their debut studio album, Wagonwheel Blues, in 2008. Vile departed shortly after its release to focus on his solo career.
The band's second studio album Slave Ambient, was released, in 2011, to critical acclaim and extensive touring, with a third, Lost in the Dream, due for release in March, 2014.

I don't know what it says at the moment you're reading this, but you can check for yourself if you want.  As of two minutes later, allmusic lists the new album, Lost in the Dream, in its discography, but it does not give a date or list the tracks, so it's impossible to tell from allmusic alone that this is really a new record and not an old one.  I was surprised by that.  Allmusic is usually a step ahead of the rest on this sort of thing.

As of 3 minutes later, discogs does not list the new album at all.  Discogs lists the same other 5 releases as allmusic, but discogs considers one of them (2010's Future Weather) to be an EP, and allmusic considers it to be an album.  Wikipedia sides with discogs on the 8-song release, also calling it an EP.

Only 10 minutes later, RYM not only lists Lost in the Dream, but it even includes the track listing.  To be fair, given that we're looking at the future and all that, let's just double-check that nothing new has happened at discogs or allmusic in the last 10 minutes.  We're nothing but fair here at nothing but good things.  Every minute counts.  Nope.  Nothing new at the other sites.  RYM wins the race.  I should also note that discogs allows members to see pending submissions, and I just looked there and there's nothing about Lost in the Dream.

I don't anticipate much from 45cat with The War on Drugs, since they really aren't a singles band, but 45cat does deliver on the one true single.  Musicbrainz covers the same territory as allmusic and discogs and agrees with everyone but allmusic about what's an album and what's an EP.

So today's winner is definitely RYM.  A purist may argue that the record doesn't belong on a discography until it's actually released, and I do have to give one RYM rater a thumbs down for giving the record a rating before it's actually released.  Perhaps they rated it on the strength of the pre-release video of Red Eyes.
To conclude the series, let's consider whether a final ranking is possible of the sites considered.

#1) RYM was the flat-out winner twice, tied for first once, and was the named second place contender once.
#2) Discogs was the flat-out winner once, tied for first twice, and was the named second place contender once.
#3) 45cat tied for first twice.
#4) Wikipedia tied for first once.
#5) Allmusic came in second or third or got an honorable mention 3 times.
#6) Musicbrainz didn't win any rounds, but there were a bit more competitive than I'd guessed they would be, and I like their simple interface that makes it easy to find what you're looking for.

Now, you might conclude from this that RYM should be your go-to site.  Actually, I think the key finding is that you probably need to go to 3 to 4 sites if you want comprehensive information for any artist that's slightly outside the mainstream.  Nobody else does 45s like 45cat does, and wikipedia is impressively competitive for older artists, but surprisingly weak for obscure indie rock.  Allmusic is very impressive in its exhaustive list of compilations, and RYM and Discogs are so competitive as to be nearly redundant, but there are often small differences between the two with no really clear and consistent winner.

And, now that the series is concluding, I realize I meant to do one obscure 80s band.  I could be back with a part 6 of 5, just to show off my weak counting skills.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Best Discography Sites - Part 4 of 5

See part 1 for an explanation of this series.  Today's test artist is 60s soul singer Joe Tex.  As a general rule, I find that 60s discographies are reliable for artists on Motown, Stax, or Atlantic, and spotty for anyone who recorded for other labels.  Joe Tex's career spanned multiple decades, but he definitely peaked artistically in the 60s.  I first encountered Joe Tex when I bought a record called "Ain't I a Mess" from Sam's Jam in Ferndale, Michigan.  Sam's Jams is long gone, but I did happen upon an interesting site with short blurbs about many different long-gone Michigan stores of all types.

"Ain't I a Mess" was released by Chess in 1984 and is totally lacking any useful information about the original source material.  I later determined that my favorite track on that record, "Sit Your Self Down", was from a 1964 album and single, but, if you look at his discography on Allmusic, it looks like he didn't get started until 1965.  Allmusic lists 16 60s and 70s original albums, an incredible 80+ collections, and 6 singles and EPs.  Really, why does allmusic both with the singles and EPs category if they aren't going to attend to it?

At 45cat, we start to get a real feel for Joe Tex's history.  He released over 100 singles from 1955 to 1981 on many different labels, including King, Dial, Ace, Anna, and Checker, including "Sit Yourself Down" in 1964.  Discogs also list more than 100 singles, and, while they don't include Sit Yourself Down, they do include the 1964 album on which it's featured, and their list of 21 60s and 70s albums suggests allmusic didn't really miss too many of the actual albums, and discogs list of compilations is about half the length of allmusic's.

Rateyourmusic has a nearly identical original album listing compared to discogs.  They list about 10 times as many singles as allmusic and about half as many as 45cat or discogs, and a few more collections than discogs.  Musicbrainz isn't very competitive here, listing only about half of the original albums and only 2 singles as well as a small selection of the collections.

Wikipedia has a special discography page for Joe Tex, as they do with more and more artists, as a companion to the main Joe Tex entry.  It's annoying that the album list doesn't distinguish original releases from collections, but they do include "Ain't I A Mess" from 1984 and "Hold On" from 1964, and the layout of the singles list with the chart positions is quite nice.

The winners of this round are 45cat, discogs, and wikipedia, but allmusic gets a special mention for exhaustive listings of collections.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Best Discography Sites - Part 3 of 5

Previously, this series was introduced with a 90s indie band and then followed up by a 50s rockabilly queen.  Today, for the third installment, we'll go to the late 70s with The Shapes.  As we can see from, The Shapes released a 4-song 7-inch in 1979 featuring "Wot's for lunch Mum? (Not B*****s again)" and "(I Saw) Batman (In The Launderette)" and also a 2-sing 7-inch in 1980.  As always, 45cat excels at providing high quality pictures of the original records, the sleeves as well as the insides.

Both Wikipedia and Discogs have the same two releases along with the 1998 collection which first brought The Shapes to my attention.  Discogs also includes 5 appearances on various compilations, including their appearance on the excellent Messthetics series.  Importantly, they are findable as a UK band via wikipedia's well-known, but too-infrequently-imitated disambiguation feature.  They're a tad harder to find on Discogs.  If you enter "The Shapes" into the search tool on Discogs, nothing that comes up initially is close to what you want, but if you click on "Artist" at the top, you quickly get to a set of links for various bands called "The Shapes" from which you can find the right one. is relatively incautious about disambiguation.  I don't know if bots are too blame or if it's due to their minimal use of crowdsourcing corrections.  The bio at Allmusic appears to be accurate, or at least consistent with other reliable sources, but the discography includes not only the collection that is truly theirs but also two other releases that are almost certainly some other band's or bands'.  For instance, this record can also be found at bandcamp, and I really don't think the original The Shapes became a mathrock band called Shapes.  Mind the "The". does an impressive job of listing the different options for The Shapes.  You can find the band that miscategorized at under "Shapes (Birmingham, UK Rock Band)" and you can find The Shapes for whom we are looking today easily identifiable as "The Shapes (UK Punk Band)" second on the list.  Musicbrainz only lists 4 compilation tracks, not the 1998 collection or the original singles, but it feels like musicbrainz has at least built a framework that will allow for continuous improvement.

Rateyourmusic, on one nice single page, list the 4-song 7-inch (the EP), the 2-song 7-inch, the collection, and 5 appearances on various compilations.  I can't tell for sure if the 5 compilations included by rateyourmusic are the same as the 5 listed by discogs.  They have slightly different titles and dates, but only rateyourmusic has cover photos for all 5.

This round goes to Rateyourmusic, but Discogs a very close second.  Allmusic, to my surprise, comes in dead last.  I knew they were facing tougher competition these days, but I'm starting to wonder why I keep putting up with the aggressive pop-up ads for what is increasingly looking like an inferior site.  I hope they make a comeback, because they're a site I've valued as a resource for many years.

And now I think it might be time for lunch.  I don't think I'll have beans, just to disimbiguate myself from The Shapes.