Just Keep Spinning – Reflections on Music Collecting

A friend kindly recommended my latest film screening – So Wrong They’re Right, a low-budget indie VHS documentary on offbeat 8-track collector culture and the 8-Track Mind zine. I’ve been exploring UK hauntological music and art lately so the retro subject matter fit right in. It was great to hear Wally Pleasant’s “Rock n’ Roll Yard Sales” on the soundtrack.

And serendipitously, while watching the film a related short appeared in my social media feed – an informational demo film to educate consumers about the upcoming compact disc format produced in 1982.

And WFMU just shared that Atlas Obscura published a feature yesterday called, “Inside the World’s Best Collection of Unintentionally Funny VHS Tapes” with this hilarious short!

Much like the VHS culture documentaries, Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking, the 8-track film made me reflect on my own music collector hobby and how in the past year I’ve really put the breaks on my vinyl habit. Unlike vinyl, most 8-tracks are practically given away and as interviewees of the film profess, they’ve had to plead with Goodwill store managers just to get them to put their 8-track stock on the sales floor. (There are exceptions, of course. Discogs currently offers over 8,000 8-tracks in its marketplace, the second-most-expensive of which is a mint tape of Trout Mask Replica presently priced at $1,500.00.)

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica 8-Track Tape

But conversely, with vinyl, I’ve reached a point in my collecting where all the remaining titles on my wish list command $80-$550 apiece. And the days of scoring elusive original pressings of releases you’re after at your local VoA are long gone after the store’s inventories have been thoroughly picked over by eBayer resellers or by hipster employees who pull all the good stuff before it has a chance to hit the floor. And for my personal tastes, thrift shops have never been a good resource for the kind of content I seek.

Thankfully a lot of the rare early electronic, drone, and import tape music of the last century, and even of the 90s during vinyl’s darkest days, are being remastered and reissued by Dutch, German, and UK specialty labels, but with shipping you’re still looking at $60 minimum per release so I’ve resolved to reel in my habit and to spend more conservatively this past year.

It’s left me to wonder what the future holds for my hobby. I really enjoy the research and the unconventional subcultures surrounding the format, I just don’t know to what degree I can continue to participate in the acquisition and trade of the albums, themselves. And vinyl has been a significant part of my identity for many years, so I question how I’ll continue to occupy myself beyond this bizarre little pastime.

Thankfully, I have more music at present than I could experience in a lifetime, so at the very least I can kick back and enjoy exploring my archives. And I can continue to supplement my web-based research with more contextual studies from books specializing in my favorite genres. My next read will be Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music by David Stubbs and should provide hours of reading enjoyment and hopefully an intimate understanding of a century of electronic sound.

Whether as a collector or just a researcher, this is indeed the finest time to be alive. Sites like Discogs and RYM provide instantaneous access to release data and listener reviews which previously took days or weeks of calls and form submissions to the LoC to obtain, and every day more and more fans upload thousands of hours or rare and exotic content from their collections to YouTube and file-sharing networks. It’s a curious phenomenon because when everything is accessible, nothing is rare. So, arguments for the paradox of choice aside, this is the greatest time in history for the inquiring listener. I plan to keep reading and listening, and maybe one day score a few of my remaining white whales.

Whatever your preferred format, be it 8-track, LP, cylinder, cassette, CD… just keep spinning.

Sonemic: A Powerful New Tool for Music Discovery

Many listeners have voiced a shared concern that the algorithms and predictive technology for music recommendation from services like Spotify and Pandora fail to match the sort of intuitive wisdom held by record shop gurus and librarians predating the digital revolution. What these algorithms lack is the human element – the chaos factor which leads an individual to suggest a recording not quantifiably parallel to one’s previous listening habits, but which still has a quality which would lend itself to the listener’s favor. Engineering that visceral comprehension into a recommendation engine has been one of the most insurmountable challenges of the digital age.

That is precisely what has made communities like RateYourMusic.com an incredible asset to those in search of music beyond the well-tread path of popular song. The community-built database and forum features user-generated lists, listener reviews, and a powerful search function to drill down to impressively nuanced metrics to yield charts based on a wide range of criteria.



RYM launched in December of 2000, and has since outgrown its name and its site design. To enhance the user experience, a new public beta site was launched in the last week of July, 2017 at Sonemic.com boasting a sleeker, more modern design and greater functionality.

The term Sonemic, (rhymes with phonemic), comes from an interview with Brian Eno, in which he suggested that the word “music” was too limited in scope, and suggested the term “sonema” to refer to the broader sense of “sonic immersion and environment”. All RYM user data was migrated to the new network, but the FAQ notes that no new content will be saved to Sonemic until the official launch.


The network seamlessly integrates three separate sites – Sonemic for music, Cinemos (an anagram of Sonemic) for film, and Glitchwave for video games. There will also be a Sonemic+ subscription option with extra features to be announced. Logging in on one site will log you into all three, and site settings, messages, etc will be unified.


The search functions of the site are impressive though results vary as it is still in development. When building a custom chart users are presented with numerous options. Chart type can be best, most popular, esoteric, or worst. Charts can rank by either releases or by individual tracks. Release types include albums, EPs, and singles as well as mixtapes, DJ mixes, video, compilation, and even unauthorized recordings. And the site will generate playlists on the fly.



Further functions permit a user to generate charts by genre, subgenre, influences (secondary genres), languages, and what is perhaps the greatest differentiator – descriptors. Here users can enter incredibly specific properties which unify otherwise disparate recordings based on a theme, such as aleatory, boastful, cinematic, dense, ethereal, hedonistic, introspective, lonely, misanthropic, nocturnal, quirky, raw, ritualistic, surreal, uncommon time signatures, or winter.


By selecting genres, influences, date ranges, and descriptors to include or exclude, Sonemic can return results you might never find from a commercial streaming service. There is even a 5-degree slider to control the influence of popularity on the results. You can also search for recordings based on reviews of a particular community member or of a given geographic area. Together, these functions empower users to discover music far more dimensionally and has the potential to shed light on works which transcend the simplicity of genre labels.


This will definitely be a community to watch in 2018.


The Innerspace Labs Essential Recordings Guide

Another successful project implementation at Innerspace Labs!

For the last year, I’d been keeping a list of music to listen to in a checklist app, but the scope of the project quick outgrew the checklist format, so I reconstructed it as an organic digital music journal that can grow with my listening habits.

The initial process guide built from my notes comprises 76 pages of content, organized into 50+ sections with decimal numbered subsections. The journal also includes genre surveys, links to web resources, articles and reviews, and much, much more.
It will be fun to build and explore, will promote new and rewarding listening experiences, and will serve as a historical document of my musical journey. Perhaps it can even survive me as part of my legacy to help future listeners explore the world of music I leave to them when I’m gone.

That legacy factor developed into a second project which I’ve just completed this evening. While my blog and the journal will outlast me and serve well for any curious future listener looking to discover great music, I felt it would help to have something more digestible and more concise to introduce new readers to my archive.

That’s when I had the idea of generating a user list on RateYourMusic.com to showcase favorite recordings from my library with very brief statements about each work. Tonight, the resulting list is live on RYM.

Check it out here!

Screenshot from 2017-11-21 20-12-46

 

Published in: on November 21, 2017 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Days of the Lords: 1976-1997

Weekend Update: Saturday Afternoon Project

Born in ’81, I was just a few years too young for some of the best music of the 80s. This afternoon I dedicated some time to rectifying that issue.

I collected all of the genre-defining albums of the era from RateYourMusic.com and assembled a 175-hour playlist titled Days of the Lords: 1976-1997 comprising 55 artists from the period’s most prominent genres:

  • Ethereal Wave
  • New Wave
  • Dream Pop
  • Gothic Rock
  • Shoegaze
  • Post-Punk
  • Jangle Pop
  • & Noise Pop

All the major players are here.  Neoclassical darkwave and goth rock mainstays like The Cure, The Church, The Cult, Joy Division, The Smiths, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins.  Plus post-punk artists like The Chameleons, Cabaret Voltaire, Chrome, Einstürzende Neubauten, Jesus & Mary Chain, Swervedriver, and Fad Gadget.

All the shoegaze giants made the list, from My Bloody Valentine to Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, Soda Stereo, The Boo Radleys, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Belly, and The Catherine Wheel.  I’ve really done my best to assemble all of the artistst discographies that defined their generation’s sound from 1976-1997.

Here’s a preview of the completed list in action.  I’ve got a lot of listening to do!

Days of the Lords

Results of the Innerspace Labs’ Music Discovery Survey

The results are in for the Innerspace Labs Music Discovery Survey!  A huge thank-you to all who offered their input.

I created the survey out of a personal curiosity.  Sadly, I have very little contact with the general public outside of the few members of my digital publishing team at the office, and I wanted to know what impact the web has had on the ways listeners discover new sounds.

I suspected listeners utilized multiple media resources in their musical explorations and that certainly proved to be the case.  Contributors cited an average of 6.44 sources for new music data.  The majority of the music sources I offered as options for the survey were widely-used, save for rateyourmusic.com, music subreddits, Gnoosic, and Usenet groups which each accounted for fewer than 3% of users’ musical resources.  I found this particularly interesting as I visit RYM frequently as my primary ratings and review aggregator and find its information invaluable when researching artists and genres.

Survey Tablepsd

As expected, Youtube ranked as users’ most-used resource when sampling new sounds.  I was surprised, however, to find that radio, motion pictures, television, or other forms of mass media were the third-highest ranked information resource, right behind user’s own friends.  While I only see ~3 new films annually, and have no exposure to television or radio, it still appears that mass media is still a significant part of most people’s lives.

Spotify and other streaming services were the next-highest ranked source, accounting for 10% of listeners’ discoveries.  While they are not a viable source for non-commercial or analog-only recordings, they still offer an incredible convenience for quick-and-easy personalized radio stations and there is no shortage of articles proclaiming streaming the new standard for mass media.

Crate digging was another significant source, as were vinyl Facebook communities and private music forums.  I’m curious whether this is representative of the public at large or just for Innerspace readers, but it is exciting nonetheless.

I was similarly please by the results for music lit and other periodicals, which accounted for more than 5% of musical discovery.  While 5% doesn’t sound significant on the surface, bear in mind that users cited an average of 6-7 sources for new music, so I’m considering 5% a threshold for this survey.

Other sources of note are independent music blogs and local music performances, both of which were a delight to see still holding their own in the survey.  After attending the latest concert at my local university, I will certainly be visiting their music library for further research into works by their professors.

I’m also curious to see if torrenting will grow in popularity for general music research in the years ahead.  Personally, torrenting is a critical step in my music purchasing process.  I’ve yet to find a better system, whether for surveying the catalog of an artist or to compare various masters before investing my hard-earned cash.

I consider the survey a success as its certainly given me a better understanding of how users find new music.  Thanks once again to everyone who contributed!

How Innerspace Readers Discover New Music

Highlighting a Classic but Effective Discovery Tool

I’m a tremendous fan of music recommendation systems, and love to put them to the test.

Pandora’s song-characteristic matching system is intriguing, but I wanted to highlight one of the first examples of a music recommendation engine that I can recall. Marek Gibney’s Music-Map was the earliest incarnation of his Gnod (Global Network of Discovery) engine. Enter an artist and it will visually cluster related artists in an animated plain-text cloud.

Music Map

Give it a try!

Gnod.com went on to expand and now includes recommendation systems for art, film, and literature, but where it really shines is its fantastic visual product mapping system for users shopping for smartphones, tablets, and other devices.

Tablet Chart

I’ll be giving the literature engine a try this evening for classic dystopian fiction and for music non-fiction.

While I usually swear by rating aggregation systems like metacritic and rateyourmusic, Marek’s project has a simple yet effective interface and the interactive cell phone and hard drive maps are impressively useful.

Have at it!

Published in: on March 26, 2015 at 9:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Moving to the Cloud

The time has come my friends.  On Jan 13th, 2011 I replaced my text-based Excel record  database with an OrangeCD visual db.  After 3.5 years of extracting data from web-based services, publishing quarterly reports and backing up to an external disk every month, I’ve finally smartened-up and made the move to the cloud.

When I first made the transition from text to a visual db, I thoroughly tested and evaluated each of the prominent softwares of the time.  True to form, I went through the same process with the three biggest online systems this week before setting my catalog free.

FIRST UP – RateYourMusic.com.

Your RYM profile consists of an avatar, a brief profile description, and your top 5-10 favorite composers/artists.  Supported formats are limited to CD, LP, and cassette.  The service does not appear to support official releases of electronic files.

RYM - Collection

RYM – Collection View

RYM permits users to add pressings missing from the db, with a simple preset interface for labels, artists, etc.  The site has a strict upload policy stating that album art images must be from your personal copies, (understandable for reasons of copyright but a frustrating complication just the same.)  Artist pages are accompanied by a profile and a sidebar of related user-generated lists.

RYM - List Browse

RYM – List Browse

RYM - Chart Browse

RYM – Chart Browse

The real power of the site is not collection management, but user-constructed lists and user-sourced album rankings for any search term, artist or genre you enter.  And surprisingly, RYM is not just for music.  The list tools have categories for books, films, games, and more.

User lists are a breeze and are fun to build.  To try this feature out I created a list of films inspired by the writings of Philip K Dick.

https://rateyourmusic.com/list/innerspaceboy/philip_k_dick_inspired_filmography/

At present, RYM includes just under 1 million artists and 2.8 million releases.  Building an RYM collection of my top 300 LPs took 3 evenings (roughly 100 titles per night) plus a handful of manual submissions for rare albums not already in the RYM database.

THE NEXT CONTENDER – MyRecordList.com

MyRecordList recently premiered on the scene boasting that it could provide analytics that discogs.com could not.  I was intrigued so I gave it a try.

After signing up on the site I clicked the link to import a CSV.  I tried exporting raw text from rateyourmusic.com and with a little tweaking (artist columns needed to be merged from FIRSTNAME LASTNAME to a single column), and some quick column re-assignment I successfully constructed  an importable CSV.  The resulting set only contained artist, title, format and year values, so I clicked the big red “DELETE ALL” button and started again – this time from MyRecordList’s preferred import method – Discogs.com.

MyRecordList Collection

MyRecordList Collection

While Discogs lacks support for importing CSVs, its export feature is solid.  MyRecordList wisely incorporated a direct “Import from Discogs” feature so the upload was seamless.  However the result was a clunkily-constructed and sluggish visual interface with a few display variables and absolutely no support for album cover syncing. There is an “automated” lookup tool to find album art, but the process is manual and handles only one album at a time, each prompting the user for input.

But on to the analytics that the site so boldly advertised.  Clicking the large “Your Stats” button I was presented with an over-simplified summary of my test-library, again consisting of my top 300 LPs.

MyRecordList Stats

MyRecordList Stats

None of the tables could be viewed as charts or graphs, and the only infographic the site offered was a pie chart of my library’s formats.

This was thoroughly disappointing, though hardly unexpected.  Any of these metrics are easily determinable from within the discogs.com site, simply by exporting a CSV into Excel or a similar application.

Discogs offers far more information, sorting functions, a community forum, up-to-the-minute sales history, archival organizational standards, and has already established itself as the premier marketplace for used and new vinyl, so there is little reason to look to another site for more, (excepting, of course, contacting labels directly for upcoming releases.)

Simply put, myrecordlist.com is clunky, slow and offers nothing that can’t be achived quicker and more easily on already-established mainstays like discogs.  And I quickly grew tired of seeing their loading screen every time I navigated to another page or view.

MyRecordList Constant Loading Screen

You’ll be seeing a lot of this.

But there was a clear upside to the experiment – rebuilding my database on discogs.com – something I’d been meaning to do for several years.  And building the test library of 300 LPs was easier on Discogs than on the two previous sites.  I completed the task in just 3 hours (three times faster than with the RYM interface.)

 The clear winner – Discogs.com

Discogs contains data for 3.3 million artists – more than three times that of RYM, and has approximately 5 million releases. And unlike the other two sites, Discogs supports 23 languages for worldwide accessibility.

Discogs - Collection - Text w Statistics

Discogs – Collection – Text View w Statistics

For those still clinging to their locally-hosted databases – consider the following advantages of Discogs:

– Eliminates the hassle of local backups to external drives and the paranoia of data loss.

– Offers the same album information you would otherwise have retrieved online for your locally-stored catalog

– Exports easily to a CSV should you require it

– Share your collection with users on the largest and most popular music cataloging site on the web

– Features an active discussion forum

– Discussion groups based on any topic you can imagine (or start your own.)

– High regulatory standards of organization

Discogs - Groups

Discogs – Groups

And lastly, Discogs supports more audio formats that you can dream of.  Sure, they have over 3 million standard 33 1/3 LPs, 1.6 million CDs, and about a million 7” singles, but they also have shellac, flexi-disc, acetate, FLAC, floppy disk, memory stick, Betamax, Edison disc, Ambisonic, Selectavision and one – (count ‘em… ONE) entry for a Bulgarian limited edition 2-track stereo 30 ips RMG Studio Master reel-to-reel.

After 3.5 years of creating extra work for myself, I’ve now embraced the future of music database management.