Top 10 Indie Christmas Songs

Every year, from as early as mid-October, we hear the same standard list of Christmas classics; The Pogues, The Darkness, Elton John and Wham!. Christmas basically provides appreciation for artists that the general public happily forget for the rest of the year. A lot of the bands or musicians that people associate with their Christmas hits actually have a whole range of brilliant songs outside of December that tend to get forgotten about. People will look confused when I mention various names until I begrudgingly explain the seasonal number one that they are best known for. On top of this, by the time you reach the age of roughly eighteen, this adds up to eighteen plus solid months of hearing the same ten or twenty songs which really starts to grate.

So this yearly frustration has led me to become the ultimate hipster and put together a list of more obscure Christmas tracks. Some of them may be slightly better known and some might be utterly awful but for anyone looking for something alternative or simply to irritate people at your seasonal events by refusing to play the classic hits, this list may appeal to you.

Zombie Christmas: Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler (2011)

Emmy The Great is an artist I adore to begin with so that definitely gave this track a head start (hence putting it first). Finding out she has an entire Christmas album full of tracks such as ‘Jesus the Reindeer’ and ‘Sleigh Me’ just made me appreciate her even more. The whole album is pretty brilliant both in terms of sarcastic themes and quality music, but ‘Zombie Christmas’ had to be my top pick.

Christmas Wrapping: The Waitresses (1981)

This one is an older track suggested to me by a friend who heard I was looking for alternative Christmas songs and it’s seriously awesome especially for anyone who loves out-dated, punky female vocals!

Merry Christmas I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight: The Ramones (1989)

Another from the 80s – despite the fact that the 70s are more my era music wise any Christmas song by The Ramones had to be included. The Ramones are fantastic anyway; perhaps that’s why so many people wear their T-Shirts? (sarcastic optimism) and this track doesn’t let them down, of all the songs on my list, this is probably the one I’d listen to even if I wasn’t writing about it.

The Christmas Song: The Raveonettes (2004)

Flashing forward again to the twenty first century, this track almost provides a bridge between the low, indie rock tones of The Ramones and the slow ethereal pace of Emmy The Great. In my opinion this is a great combination and I find it reaches the point of relaxing but manages to avoid the point of tediousness which is always a good thing!

Christmas TV: Slow Club (2009)

The first time I listened to this one I did wonder at first whether it would hit the point of tediousness that I mentioned above, however I was pleasantly surprised. I will happily admit that while faster tracks and indie rock are usually my cup of tea, I can cope with slower, more gentle (or cheesy) tracks if they are alternative enough. That is not a conscious decision just an unfortunately hipster observation that I’ve had to learn to live with. This is definitely a Christmas song that brings out that element of my music taste and serves as a guilty pleasure, but I challenge anyone to seriously hate it. Definitely worth a listen and very Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros!

I Want An Alien For Christmas: Fountains of Wayne (2004)

‘He can live in the bathtub’ is perhaps the best line of this song and one you wouldn’t expect from a Christmas song. It might be no ‘Stacy’s Mom’ but it’s damn good, especially if you’re looking for something a little off the beaten track to brighten your December. Classic Fountains of Wayne: top quality lyrics and a beat that makes you tap your feet whether you like it or not.

Santa Claus: Belle & Sebastian (Date unknown)

This has to be the most obscure or at least the most difficult to get hold of on my list, it’s far easier to find covers by The Sonics or James Brown but if you can chase it down it’s definitely worth the hunt. Belle and Sebastian are always fantastic so if we can have a Christmas song by them, the winter months could be vastly improved.

Last Christmas: Jimmy Eat World (2001)

I’m cheating a little bit here by picking not only a cover of one of the Christmas hits but possibly the most hated of all of them! However Jimmy Eat World are one of my favourite bands and they seriously improve this track simply by speeding it up a little and subtly adding their own style.

Everything’s Gonna Be Cool This Chistmas: Eels (2009)

Eels are fabulous and this track is fabulous, it’s definitely one of my top picks, made all the better by the line ‘baby Jesus – born to rock’ as if it needed improvement. Anyone looking for a little bit of rock or indie to inject into their Christmas playlist should start here, this band don’t need imaginative lyrics to bring something appealing and unique to this time of year.

Xmas Time Is Here Again: My Morning Jacket (2000)

Let’s finish in 2000 with something a tad depressing. I think this last track ties up my introductory promise that at least one of my chosen alternative Christmas songs will be vaguely awful. But if you’re looking to spend December hating Christmas whilst nursing a stiff drink this is the song for you!

My First Month As A Spotify Student Brand Manager – What It’s Like To Have The Perfect Student Job.

(For The Founder – Royal Holloway’s student newspaper, as Music Editor)

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Having made it through a three-stage application process over the summer (much to my genuine surprise) I’ve managed to secure myself what many people deem the ultimate student job. The application was intense due to the popularity of the position with 1000s of people applying; an online form followed by a phone interview and then an assessment day including presentations to a group. To break it down, being an SBM allows you both a termly pay package and an incredible series of perks and experiences. Throughout my time in the position I can earn cash bonuses and tickets to festivals, I get to attend amazing events like the Spotify Secret Social and even the assessment and training were brilliant fun with the added bonus of free snacks and a post training party. In addition, I can get special consideration for summer internships and make both great friends and great contacts for graduate job prospects, all while achieving something that will look brilliant on my CV with a big name company. Considering all of the benefits of being an SBM, I should also mention that as part of the job you receive a PS4, a portable Bluetooth amp and various lights, balloons, disposable cameras and general party equipment as well as an ENORMOUS amount of paper cups and then host or support pre-drinks, parties and socials around campus. Considering that I’m a pretty sociable person anyway, this is basically the perfect job for me even without my keen interest in music and spreading music love through my positions at The Founder and Insanity Radio.

Freshers’ week saw the launch of Spotify’s ‘Hello Freshers’ tour, with buses driving around the country to spread the love and give out freshers’ packs for pre-drinks and ice-breaking in new flats. Alongside this was the launch of ‘Spotify Mix Mates’, which allows you to enter your favourite artist and a friend’s and work out how similar your tastes are, whilst creating a bespoke playlist. Overall the campaign was a roaring success and the beginning of term was improved with a little bit of Spotify delight. It was brilliant to start meeting freshers and to get involved in societies starting up for the year. Since term started I was invited to support LGBT+ Society’s first big social and have hosted numerous Spotify themed pre-SU gatherings. Friends and acquaintances alike have been really keen to get involved and help me with the job – from blowing up giant balloons to transporting equipment, which has helped me enormously whilst creating the buzz and sense of community that Spotify aims to achieve.

The company introduced Student Brand Managers not to act as sales associates but simply to help create a love for the brand in an environment where Spotify is particularly appreciated. The successful students are get to ‘enhance student life’ and create ‘incredible music moments’ which is hardly difficult when university life revolves around music so acutely to begin with. Royal Holloway has an incredible musical base with Insanity Radio, musical content in both The Founder and The Orbital, as well as the Red Cup Company events, club nights and a whole host of student bands and artists. These elements allow me even more potential for the role and I definitely hope to incorporate them into my Spotify projects. I am already in love with the position; as it allows me to meet and engage with people, help maintain the sense of community that Royal Holloway is so well known for and promote music (one of my greatest passions) all through creating great playlists and maximising social events. For anyone looking to add something brilliant to their CV, I would definitely recommend the job for next year and that’s after only a month in the role!

The two main events of last year were the Spotify Secret Social and the Spotify Sound Clash, which were run brilliantly by last year’s SBM with Royal Holloway’s Feminist Society being amongst the national winners of the Spotify Sound Clash and receiving £500 sponsorship. This year I will also have the social kit (amp, PS4, disposable cameras, balloons, cups, lights and logo projector) available to support any events, pre-drinks or socials your house or society might be holding. You can follow the ‘Sound of Royal Holloway’ account on Spotify from which I will post Insanity’s weekly playlist as well as the top picks of various societies and lists to hype you up for event nights at Medicine or the SU. So make sure you get in touch if you have any upcoming events you want a little extra Spotify support for or if there’s anything you particularly want to see from the ‘Sound of Royal Holloway’ profile and keep an eye out on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming campaigns!

https://open.spotify.com/user/royalhollowayuniversity

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/

 

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.

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