Qtrax – The New Company Trying to Give Music Away for Free.

Illegal downloading of music is somehow mildly taboo in society as a whole, which seems odd to me given that between groups of friends, young people especially, everyone I know is doing it. We are all constantly looking for the easiest and cheapest way to access music, as it’s a huge entertainment factor in our lives that appeals to almost everyone. Itunes used to be the main contender; gradually knocking out programmes like Napster, which The Guardian claims, started the ‘music revolution’ despite being created by two teenage boys. Despite the emergence of illegal sites like LimeWire and Legal ones like Spotify, Itunes is yet to die a solid death, probably down to the fact it’s designed specifically for Ipods and so many people who own one stick with the simplest process. Itunes also allows the user to actually own the file, transfer it to other locations, copy it and send it to others. Spotify is slightly flawed in that when you download tracks you can only play them on that programme and no others. Although it’s highly popular, particularly having recently set up a connection between phones and laptops to play your saved lists anywhere, Spotify remains a product that you have to pay a subscription to in order to download tracks. It has also been criticised frequently by artists complaining that the site reduces the value of music and how much people can earn for their work. But a new company is beginning to get noticed, claiming to ‘give away music for free’ whilst allowing artists to make a satisfying amount from their material. If someone could actually pull off something that difficult, it would be incredibly successful!

Qtrax was actually created in around 2006 but is experiencing a comeback having signed new contracts so is starting to make more of an appearance in the media and has only just been reviewed by The Telegraph. Its manifesto is centred on providing free music and downloads to the consumer but with a huge focus on fair profit for the artist – something that Spotify has experienced problems with. Taylor Swift for example, a hugely recognised artist, recently removed all music from Spotify and publicly announced her refusal to work with them based on the lack of profit being made from music. If Qtrax can actually pull off their claims, they could have an enormous advantage over Spotify and Itunes.

I decided to try out Qtrax for myself in order to review it authentically but before I’d even started downloading it I was faced with the big issue that it’s not yet compatible with OSX meaning only Windows users can download the programme. Already the company are eliminating a massive target audience, although I assume it’s a work in progress, similarly, their website mentioned Apple Store and Play Store apps that are to be released supposedly within the first quarter of 2015. Spotify is already very easy to access, both for listening to and downloading music on your smart phone, so if Qtrax genuinely gets round to following up it’s plans it would instantly become more accessibly to a larger audience.

The website, I have to admit I was seriously impressed by, having recently attended a workshop day on social media and website building in businesses a lot of simple but brilliantly effective elements jumped out at me. The site is a vibrant shade of purple so let’s be honest, grabs the attention straight away, it’s funny that if you go to any of the other pages they’re quite plain, whereas the homepage works really well – it’s obvious they just want to catch the attention and initially draw people in, as most companies would. It’s incredibly clear and well laid out, the font is large and key words are particularly identifiable with no chunks of text – reminding me of tips the careers service gave me on CV writing when I flailed ineptly at them. I’d swear the Qtrax site repeats the word ‘FREE’ about fifty times and the aims that the company prides itself on so much are very obviously highlighted in a little scroll shaped text box like a biblical manuscript. The company’s philosophy is ‘Artists and Songwriters need to be much better compensated for creating the music that millions enjoy’. Which in my opinion sounds great! – Particularly if they can provide free downloadable music whilst doing it. Their plan is to allocate artists an Equity Stake, which technically makes them co-owners of the business and sharers of any profit.

As for the actual programme, which I asked my housemate to download seeing as I have a Macbook, we both agreed the layout is nicer than Spotify, similar to the website, clear and easy to use, bright and attractive, it’s generally just a good experience. Its main downfall was the lack of tracks available; some more obscure artists were on there but it seemed to contain only half of the work of most, which was a disappointment. But if they are in the process of building up it’s efficiency, this could be just a short-term problem. We were sat with another friend whilst exploring it and it was interesting to find each of the three of us had a very different prediction for the future of Qtrax, taking bets on where it would be in six months time. Jack suggested it would be impossible to tell how well it will do until Spotify make some sort of comeback move to bounce back against Qtrax’s claims and reinstate itself as the top contender. Cassie was quite against it, insisting that the business model was flawed and could only make headway if the plans change, as they can’t sustain giving away music for free whilst appeasing artists. Personally, having read so much recently about the flaws beginning to emerge in Spotify, I can’t help feeling it could be on the way out, leaving a prime space for a new company, with careful development and if they can get artists on board and make enough money through advertising, I think it has potential.

It’ll be interesting to see how Qtrax expands over the next six months or so and who’s verdict was closest, but I definitely recommend checking it out even just for a few free tracks! http://www.qtrax.com/

 

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The women behind the history of Rock

Today it is becoming more and more accepted for women to play just as much of a part as men in any musical genre (although I hasten to add it is still a work in progress particularly in areas like rock, dubstep, house, rap etc). However, as with most things, women had to majorly persevere to even begin to come close to this acceptance. One of the most eye opening reads of my life in terms of women and the music industry was the biography of the one and only, Suzi Quatro – a pioneer of female rock music. Quatro described the beginnings of her career, the utter disbelief of an audience faced with a female led rock band and being pelted with tomatoes or similar at various venues as well as being escorted out by three bouncers purely for her own safety at the end of a night.

What struck me most was that despite this (amongst other abuse and slamming she experienced) and bearing in mind she was as young as sixteen when she started out, she never seemed disheartened. Her determination to lead women into a musical revolution in an uptight sixties/seventies era is a fantastic inspiration and a perfect role model for young female artists heading for a more ‘masculine’ genre in our generation. Quatro is just one fine example of a woman who helped shape the music industry, I feel it’s incredibly important to once in a while look back and pay our respects to the greats. These are my top six in no particular order;

Pat Benatar

The first female artist to play on MTV, Benatar won four Grammys and during the eighties achieved two Multi-Platinum albums, five Platinum albums and three Gold albums as well as fifteen top fourty singles. Her most well known track is probably ‘Hit Me with Your Best Shot’ – later covered by Joan Jett. In her 2010 memoir she wrote  “For every day since I was old enough to think, I’ve considered myself a feminist … It’s empowering to watch and to know that, perhaps in some way, I made the hard path [women] have to walk just a little bit easier.”

Chrissie Hynde

Hynde has been the only constant member of ‘The Pretenders’, and collaborated on two number ones including ‘I got you babe’ with UB40. Coming from Ohio Valley, she moved to London during the seventies just in time to partake in the emerging Punk scene. The Pretenders’ hits included ‘Brass in Pocket’ and ‘Back on the Chain Gang’.

Joan Jett

Joan is often seen as the most well known ‘queen of rock’, her band ‘Joan Jett and the Blackhearts’ released a number one ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’ as well as other popular tracks like ‘I Hate Myself for Loving You’ and ‘Crimson and Clover’. She has had three Platinum or Gold albums and has always been depicted as a feminist icon. Jett is particularly inspirational in that she started up ‘The Runaways’ as a teenager, along with Cherie Currie, sharing lead vocals and writing a lot of the material. She was considered the driving force behind the band who had a film released in 2010 following their journey into the industry.

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin initially sang in the band, ‘Big Brother and The Holding Company’, whose album ‘Cheap Thrills’ reached number one on the Billboard Charts in October 1968. However she then began her own band ‘The Kozmic Blues Band’ and then ‘The Full-Tilt Boogie Band’ who performed to large audiences such as the Sports Arena in San Diego. Joplin was posthumously awarded a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by The Grammys in 2005 and in 2014 was put on a postage stamp in the US for being ‘one of the greatest rock singers of all time.’

 Deborah Harry

Best known as the front woman of ‘Blondie’, Harry also had a successful solo career and even appeared many times in film and television. With the ‘music video revolution’ of the era, she quickly became a punk icon, appearing on the front cover of ‘Rolling Stone’. In 1978 the album ‘Parallel Lines’ was a UK number one and a US number six, selling nearly two million copies. ‘One Way or Another’ continued this success for the band reaching number twenty four on ‘Billboard’s Hot 100’. ‘Blondie’ is still incredibly well known even amongst our generation and particularly aspiring young women.

 Stevie Nicks

Possibly the most well known member of ‘Fleetwood Mac’ who enjoyed enormous success, Nicks produced over forty top fifty hits with her combined solo career. Rolling Stone even named her ‘Reigning Queen of Rock and Roll’, plus as part of ‘Fleetwood Mac’ she holds a position in the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’. Their album ‘Rumours’ of 1977 sold 40 million copies worldwide and is therefore the sixth biggest selling studio album of all time. The band also achieved five Grammy nominations. Although Nicks achieved a further eight nominations in her solo career as well as ‘Bella Donna’ reaching platinum status in only three months.

Musical Time Capsules

I’ve always been affectionately teased for being stuck in a generation I never belonged to (music-wise), having never really been into poppy chart tracks growing up, my musical education began and ended with my parents’ tastes. Fortunately, there was plenty they disagreed on so this education was pretty rounded. Musically, my heart really belongs in around the Seventies and Eighties although I also adore everything from Twenties Jazz and Glen Miller to Elvis. Just before Summer, realising my intent to work toward a career in music journalism I decided it was necessary to broaden my horizons.

Slowly but surely I began my journey to enlightenment, but what struck me wasn’t so much that modern chart music isn’t half as bad as expected but more that not all new music is as far from my classic oldies as I realised. To discover that the concept of incorporating elements of older style and sound in new releases exists was both intriguing and ideal to me and I began to delve deeper.

Hudson Taylor are a great example of an emerging band whose sound is very retro, similarities can be drawn to Mumford and Sons, King Charles or even Amber Run. But for me Hudson Taylor have an older feel, perhaps I’d even reference The Beatles as some of their songs like ‘Battles’ or ‘Written in Water’ show links through lower keys, stronger rifts and even their stand out cynical tone in terms of lyrics.

On the other hand ‘Care’ sounds incredibly reminiscent of The Beach Boys, the high pitched, almost Barber-Shop harmonies and light guitar in this track are unmistakable in terms of influence. Noting that both The Beatles and The Beach Boys are Sixties boy bands despite their hugely different styles suggests this era is a major source of inspiration for Hudson Taylor. It’s clear that musical styles of even that far back are being carefully preserved if you only pick and choose the right artists.

Another band I have fallen in love with and who have recently been in the charts is Milky Chance. With a particularly folky tone, they are more in line with old Blues and Country sounds. However unlike Hudson Taylor’s pure, softer acoustic style, Milky Chance go a step further and mix this with electronic elements inspired by German DJs. In interviews they’ve referenced everyone from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers to Bob Marley, which clearly supports this assumption.

In contrast this idea can be applied in a wider sense to an entire genre, being introduced to ‘Electroswing’, (the name given to an emerging musical genre which combines orchestral, upbeat swing sounds of the twenties with very modern electronic elements) was an absolute revelation to me. Great Electroswing artists at the moment include Parov Stelar, ADSS and most importantly, my favourite, Jamie Berry. To my delight I found that Berry in particular expertly crafts tracks that in no way diminish the brilliance of classic swing sounds, incorporating recognisable tunes but also mixing his own but always maintaining that brilliant fun, party feeling behind Swing and Jazz.

It seems that in the music industry it’s becoming fashionable to incorporate backdated elements, almost in the same way that vintage clothing has become such a statement and so sought after. People almost seem bent on outdoing each other or competing, leading to commonly used terms like ‘hipster’ ‘indie’ and so on, as in most cases music seems to follow the same patterns and cycles as fashion. A perfect way to explain these competitive extremes is to point out how common it’s becoming to remix Beethoven and Mozart into club and house tracks, particularly prevalent in European clubs. To find that this common theme is only just emerging leads me to believe it will thrive and develop in the next decade which only makes me more excited and consequentially more keen to pay attention to it’s development and new releases.

The Fun and Games of Creating a Recording Studio from Scratch

Early this summer, my Dad asked me to help him out with some work (vague I know but that’s exactly how it was pitched to me). Bored of an empty Egham and long days working at TKMaxx, I was game for anything so agreed to attend some meetings with him. Meetings, for him, it turned out meant long afternoons in the pub – a steady supply of cider and a pretty magical pine nut salad was enough enticement for me!

Once I’d been introduced to people and had a little explanation I found i’d ended up ina team of people helping a guy in his twenties take his first steps in setting up a recording studio. The whole plan was majorly exciting to sit in on, finding the owner, Tom, had links to producers of bands like Massive Attack, Adam Ant, Newton Faulkner, One Direction, and Katy B to name but a few.

Our first session mostly involved Tom and I having had one too many ciders and close to despair over spreadsheets that made no sense to either of us with our lack of business knowledge. However the following week I was invited to the studio to look around; set in a beautiful garden at the back of Tom’s house with top of the range equipment, ‘Dragonfly Studios’ seemed ideal for any client.

From this point onwards I was sold, the project instantly became a thrilling ride into my first experiences in the industry I aspire to be part of. We talked through mixing and producing in detail – I probably learnt more about making music that day than the rest of my life put together! So far marketing and press is well underway, having been given the task of gathering contacts I’ve had chance to work with some really interesting people and editors of independent music magazines. I’ve also learnt how to conduct myself in the work environment, what to look for in advertising partners (mostly that they aren’t out to grab all your money and actually have a passion for music!) and had a chance to use my semi-creative mind for designing logos, flyers and cards.

Overall it’s been incredibly enlightening to learn the fundamentals of setting up a business in the music industry but most of all working with a team of wonderfully enthusiastic people who have both informed and inspired me. I have gained very relevant contacts who will remain crucially helpful for the rest of my career and have already taught me enormous amounts. Although this is rather a tangent, I found the whole process so inspiring as well as getting a basic feel for working in the music business (albeit from a different angle to the journalistic one I am aiming to graduate to), I felt the need to share it with likeminded people.

For anyone interested to see what I’ve been up to – www.dragonflyrecordingstudios.co.uk