My Hopes for Apple Music

Let me start this by saying that I want Apple Music to work. I really, really do. A streaming service built by a company that essentially owes it's standing as #1 in the world to music fans feels like it should be something to get excited about. Apple saved us from the dark and scary depths of illegal downloading, and made a "single" more than something you heard on the radio, and it didn't have to be seven inches wide. Apple re-imagined the world of mobile listening, and created the first line of products that made mobile listening, let alone music streaming feasible to begin with. Apple got us to the point where we can argue about streaming services and their pay rates and what's the best for us all, and at the end of the day, I'm hoping that Apple Music can be the thing that makes these debates a non-issue. I want them to be the good guys. But there are certain things that I feel need to happen in order for that to come true. 

1) Don't be Beats Music with an Apple logo slapped on top

In case you missed my review of Beats Music here on my blog when it first launched, there were plenty of thins about the service I wasn't loving. The curation felt entirely robotic, and the playlists offered up to you were felt basic. I told Beats Music that I was a massive fan of Jimmy Eat World, so their app continuously offered me the "Jimmy Eat World hits" playlist on my "Just For You" page, not even "Deep Cuts" - an obviously unnecessary listen for anyone who took the time to tell the app that they were one of your top artists. Although Beats Music allowed you to "follow" fellow users, you weren't able to see what they were listening to, rather you were only granted access to view their profile and any playlists they took the time to make. Even taking the time to "like" a Beats "Genre Channel" or artist didn't seem to generate much additional curated content. Yes, Beats allowed you to stream music, and sure, they had a decent selection upon launch, but what makes me choose to use a streaming service over my own library is not necessarily the access to unlimited music, but rather, how it's presented to me. 

2) Successful, Deep, Personal Content Curation

Like I said, my choice in using a streaming service is not necessarily all about my easy access to an unlimited music. Sure - that's the initial draw. You can listen to anything you want? No more buying albums? Incredible! But many users have said that after their initial dive into a streaming community, they become "overwhelmed" by the sheer volume of choices (something now referred to as "Choice Paralysis"), and actually tend to stick with the same albums they're already familiar with rather than continuing to explore new media. That is why successful and personalized content curation is so necessary for a streaming service to succeed. Like I said, Beats tried to curate content for me, but their content - although it was promised to be curated by thought leaders in the musical community - still felt too broad and impersonal for me to feel any benefit from their offerings.
Spotify easily has won me over in this category, and maybe not for the reasons you'd think. Do I want more generic, top-hit playlists for things like New Years Eve celebrations with friends, or backyard parties? Yes. Yes I do. I need those generic, all-appealing Top-40 hit riddled playlists for those moments in my life, and Spotify's team does an excellent job of making those easily accessible....but so did Beats, and so will Apple Music. The thing many folks who don't frequent Spotify tend to miss is the incredible wealth of both staff-made and user-made playlists that are tracked by a well executed algorithm, not produced by them. The difference really does lie in that personal touch.
Do I need to see an acoustic set from Alabama Shakes? Or watch Dan from Bastille talk about this 10 second riff they just finished in the studio? Nah, not really. I have Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, and 1 million other apps/sites to show me that. That is not the kind of content that I want in my music listening app. Sure, it's neat, but it's not why I'm there. What could be neat would be knowing what that band listens to when they're on the road so I could listen to what inspires them, or being able to have public playlists where fans of the same groups can share their other interests and grow each other's musical library. These are things being whispered about on Apple's "Apple Music" page of their website, but we won't really know Connect's full benefits until Music launches on June 30. Above all else, Apple needs musical content that will draw in their users, not random bits of everything else that already exists....where's the excitement in that?

3) A Strong, Influential Community

I mainly work from home now-a-days, which means that I have had more time than ever before in the last six months to listen to music. Even though I have moments where I know exactly what album or playlist I want to listen to in that moment, I still have 6+ other hours of work or driving in my day which my brain will require music for...and even my favorites started feeling a little stale after just one month. Spotify's playlists and personal interaction between users truly allows you to deliver the most personal experience currently available from any music service. Users are able to go through hundreds of millions of playlists based on genre, mood, title, or user, and their introduction of the "Top 50 Vial Tracks" chart is a revolutionary way to track music that's breaking on the internet before it breaks in the mainstream. If that isn't enough for you, the list of songs that my friends are currently listening to scrolling down the side is always a place for me to easily seek listening inspiration, or be reminded of an album someone recently told me "I have to listen to".
Does that sound familiar? Maybe it reminds of you the old days of Grooveshark? Those social features were some of Grooveshark users' favorites, and one of the reasons they fought so hard to keep the service alive. My little brother's biggest complaint about the sudden shutdown of the company was the loss of the playlists he'd collected and created, not the loss of his ability to stream, which seems to be a shared sentiment from the entire Grooveshark community. Spotify has created a legal (albeit poorly paying) system that mirrors these features, and I see that as one of the many reasons so many chose to adopt their platform so early on. I firmly believe that the ability to keep users listening to more music, and more new music will be what defines the success of any streaming service from here onwards, and Beats Music didn't seem to understand that...so will Apple? 

4) Fair Streaming Pay Rates for Artists

The thing that will sell this for me, along with the hundreds of thousands of people working in the music industry as artists or otherwise will hopefully be the pay rates artists see per each stream. The average pay per stream between all streaming services sits somewhere between $.0013 - $.04. That's less that a half a cent per each song play. This is why streaming service rates, and streaming pay structures are so highly debated at the moment. Although Beats Music was allegedly paying out much higher than Spotify when they initially started, we can assume that pay structure is to be long forgotten with the arrival of Apple Music. Will Apple truly help pay back the industry that essentially re-booted their entire company? Or will we see similar, shockingly low pay-rates compared to their competitors? This will weigh heavy in my decision about which streaming service to financially support, but this conversation is for another day, another time, and honestly doesn't matter much until the Government is finally ready to do something about the long neglected laws in place allowing such poor pay rates to exist in the first place. 

I want AppleMusic to work, I really do, but can they really be the first step in fixing an all-to broken system? Can one streaming service truly rule them all? 
 

Maddie's Top of 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR CYBER-PALS!!!! I can't believe it it 2015. To be honest, odd numbers aren't my favorite, but I always find that odd-numbered years bring me good times, and good adventures, so i'm very curious to see what the next 365 days hold in store for me. Before we get too focused on the future though, I'd like to take a minute to look back on all the fun I had in 2014. SXSW, Graduation, Warped Tour, Red Rocks and Riot Fest. It's been an amazing 12 months that led to new discoveries, new challenges, and plenty of funny stories. I've been lucky to share those with you all here, but thought we should re-cap just for good measure. Below you'll find my top 5 shows, top 5 albums, and top 6 (cause I can't decide) photographs of 2014. 

TOP FIVE SHOWS

1) Jimmy Eat World's Futures 10yr Anniversary Tour, The Ogden Theatre, October 7, 2014.
This should be pretty obvious why it's my number one. My favorite band touring and playing my favorite album in it's entirety? I literally cried through the entire thing. Not kidding. It also was the first time i'd ever seen them live with one of my closest friends, who is also a super huge mega fan of theirs. It was such a special night for so many reasons. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. This is a show that will never be topped for me. I waited a decade of my life for one night, and it was certainly worth it. (Check out my review of the show for Ultra5280 here.)

2) twenty|one|pilots at The Ogden Theatre, May 16th 2014.
This was the first time Laurel and I had been able to see our clique leaders live since our obsession began. We first saw the band at The Bluebird back in November of 2013, but had never even heard their music before that night. That show is what sparked our addiction, and so finally seeing them live, and being a part of the fan base that inspired my original curiousity? That was amazing. (here's my review for Ultra5280)

3) Riot Fest Denver, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, September 19-21st, 2014 
In one weekend, I saw The Cure, Weezer play their "Blue Album" in its entirety, In The Whale take their pants off on stage for the Broncos (in front of Mile High Stadium), and Wu Tang Clan. I don't think there need be more explanation. (Ultra5280's weekend recap)

4) Phantogram's rooftop set at SXSW, March 12, 2014
This one is a little different because it wasn't even a proper concert, but this set was definitely my highlight of SXSW 2014. We were on a rooftop in the middle of downtown Austin, watching a band who I'd never really given the proper time of day before, and I fell in love with their music then and there. It's one of those moments that's hard to believe is real.

5) Lorde, The FirstBank Center, September 28, 2014
This show was probably the one that surprised me the most the entire year. I like Lorde's music plenty, but I usually really hate big pop production shows. When I was approved to cover this show for Ultra5280, I went in not fully prepared for what I would see, and found myself impressed with the young performer's poise in ways I couldn't have imagined. (read my Ultra5280 review for it here).

TOP FIVE ALBUMS

1) Hozier, Hozier
I told you all in my New Music Tuesday post about this album that i'd picked it as my top record of the year, and I've come through as promised. Check out my post about how much I love this record, and then give it a listen. I doubt you'll find yourself able to disagree. 

2) Alt-J, This Is All Yours
My undying love for Alt-J has only been progressed by the release of their new album. Weird, quirkly, melodically unique, and musically daring, this quartet is the front of new music. I might not be able to understand 75% of their lyrics (and the other 25% don't make sense), but I don't care. I love it. 

3) Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
This record speaks for itself. One of the most well-respected punk rock groups of the modern era releasing an album that their lead singer ends up using as her coming out letter as transgendered? How much more punk can you get? The album is catchy, endearing, and a real statement of the times. I love it.

4) Broods, Evergreen
I got to spend an afternoon interviewing Broods' lead vocalist Georgia Knott, and after speaking with her, I felt like I could connect to this album on an ever deeper level. This young band is making promising music for being brand spanking new. The songs are catchy, the lyrics are honest, and the radio play it got this year is ridiculous. No way i couldn't pick it.

5) Manchester Orhestra, COPE. 
Although I haven't been a Manchester Orchestra fan for very long, seeing them perform live this past April was like finally eating a food I had no idea i'd been craving for months. A wondrous mix of alternative rock, melodic chorus', and heartfelt lyrics, the album COPE really feels like the bands most progressive album yet. 

TOP SIX PHOTOS

I genuinely couldn't decide which one of these six to knock out for submission for Ultra5280's end of year recap, so I submitted them all, and I'm sticking to that for my own post here. I really didn't photograph as much in 2014 as i did in 2013, but I still really love this top six. I feel like they perfectly capture my year in music. Here they are in order of when they were taken throughout the year. 

Cee Lo Green at Rachel Ray's Backyard BBQ | SXSW | Austin, TX, March 2014

Tyler Joseph of twenty|one|pilots, The Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO,  May 2014

Dua Boakye of Bad Rabbits at the Vans Warped Tour, Montréal, QC, July 2014.

Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World. The Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO. October 2014.

David Boyd, lead singer of New Politics. The Gothic Theatre, Denver, CO. November 2014.

Dan Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons. The Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO. December 2014.

 

please note that ALL photos are copyrighted by Maddie Casey, and cannot be used without her permission.

New Music Tuesday | Hozier and PVRIS

Buckle your seatbelts and startup your Spotify, kids, it's time for New Music Tuesday! I know I said I am working hard to be better at this, and I'm getting there slowly but surely. I think it'll take ages before I get to a place where I can really do this weekly, so for now monthly will have to do. This week I write to you about two of my favorite new finds: the most amazing Blues player I've heard in ages, and one of my favorite new bands I discovered while out on Warped Tour 2014. 

 

HOZIER - Hozier

Andrew Hozier-Bryne, better known these days by his surname Hozier, is the Irish singer-songwriter credited with the Top 40 smash hit "Take Me To Church". If you thought you liked the one song you've heard, be prepared to have your brain melt. It sounds silly, but the man's radio hit does his full length album zero credit, and you can't just take my word for it. Filled with catchy beats, beautiful melodies, impressive guitar work, and even more impressive lyrics, Hozier's album takes you on a beautiful ride through love, doubt, faith, and imagery. This album has become a staple of my musical library in the short month I've known of its existence. My personal recommendation is to start the album with track number two, "Angel of Death and the Codeine Scene" since track one is the only song you already know. Let the rest of the music speak for itself, and by the album's end you'll hardly believe "Take Me To Church" and the rest of his album come from the same artist. Trying to pick my favorite songs off of this album is impossible, and spoiler alert: I have already decided that for Ultra5280's 2014 roundup, I will be naming this my top album of the year. Feel free to hop over to Ultra5280 and read my review of Hozier's show in Boulder last month, but if you want to just cut to the chase, set an hour aside and listen to this record the whole way through. If I had to pick, my 3 favorite songs are "Jackie and Wilson", "From Eden", and "Work Song". Trust me on this though, you want to hear all of it. Sweet Andrew Hozier, you have solidified yourself as one of my favorite artists... I pray God your next album blows my mind as much as this one does. 

 

PVRIS - White Noise

When I was growing up, Warped Tour was the place to discover new music and slowly watch it rise to fame. Somehow in the late 2000's, that all changed and legacy bands began to rule the roster traveling coast to coast. It started to feel like the only way to discover new stuff at Warped was to lurk around the Kevin Says Stage for a few years in a row, and see who stuck around. This past summer was one of the first times in ages that I feel like new talent truly got to shine through at Warped, and one of the bands that succeeded the most is PVRIS. A band of youngsters from Boston, they played a quick two-week stint of shows across the east coast on the Ernie Ball Stage. In that time they managed to draw the attention of bands from every single stage on the tour, photographers, and even the production staff. Lead singer Lyndsey Gunnulfsen draws you in with her fiery yet seductive tone, a growl encroaching on her her smooth voice with every chorus. Her lyrics take the listener from a place of wonder and curiosity to a place of uproar with killer hooks like "It's my house / and I think it's time you get out/ it's my soul / it isn't yours anymore / it's my house / and i think it's time you get out". Iridescent synth tracks in the background lead you weaving through each song's melody, escorted by driving guitars and sharp drums. The ferocity of the vocals in songs like "St. Patrick" and "My House" give Gunnulfsen credibility as a vocalist in ways most females are written off in this genre. She can sing, but damn the girl can mean it too. The entire album front-to-back is a quick 40minutes, but it might just be the most successful blend of pop-punk, rock, and electronica that i've ever heard. 

Jimmy Eat World - FUTURES 10yr Anniversary Tour

You'll probably never ever catch me writing a blog like this again, but I needed to take a minute to share with you guys the amazingness that was a show I went to earlier this month. Some of you may have picked up on this by now if you follow all my social media channels (i'm @maddielion364 everywhere on the web), but Jimmy Eat World is my favorite band of favorite bands. I remember hearing the song "Work" on the radio in the car when I was twelve years old, and it made me feel something i'd never felt before. They were the first concert I ever chose to go to, and since then, it's been a decade of me thoroughly investigating their discography, driving thousands of miles to see them live in their hometown of Tempe, AZ, and waiting outside The Ogden Theatre here in Denver for hours just to be front row at one of their shows. This is probably the only band I've ever properly "fan-girled" over, so when they finally announced an anniversary tour for my favorite album of theirs, Futures, it felt like the best day of my life. October 7, 2014, that tour hit Denver, and I experienced something I will never experience again - a feeling of pure, unadulterated bliss. The feeling of a decade-long dream coming to fruition, and being able to share that with a band who I fully credit as the reason I have a career that I so truly love. 

I am literally so excited about this show that I just need to get it off my chest, so here's a little explanation, and photo review capturing the moments leading up to the show, and some of my favorite shots from that night (because yes, i got to photograph them for Ultra5280!). I'd reviewed some of their shows before for the blog, but nothing ever like this. This was the show of shows. The thing i'd been waiting for. I knew that my opinion was going to be biased, so I just let the night slide, caring less for my editorial, and more about just living in the moment. In the weeks before the show, I'd received three of the bands records on vinyl. As part of the 10yr celebration, the boys decided to re-release Clarity, and release Static Prevails and Futures on vinyl for the first time in beautiful colored 180-gram wax. I bought all three (obviously), but the highlight was getting my hands on Futures

 
 

Laurel and I actually pitched in together and bought Tyler (our dear friend who went to SXSW with us, and who is also a mage die-hard Jimmy fan) all three new vinyls as well for his birthday, and he got to open them just before he and I headed off to the show that night. (Look at how stoked we are about our vinyl haul!) We met up with some other friends for dinner before the show that night, and were mocked for our heavy debate on exactly how that night's set list would go. I was praying to the gods that they'd include some tracks off the band's Stay On My Side Tonight EP, which is more or less a collection of Futures B-sides the band wrote with producer Mark Trombino before he left the project, and none of them made the final album cut. We talked about what other rarities we might hear, but couldn't have cared less about what actually happened as long as they played the album front to back. 

Sure enough, as promised, when the lights when dark after a quick set from the tour opener, the room filled with a medley of melodies from the album. Jim Adkins approached his mic in pitch black, and as the opening chords to "Futures" filled the room, I completely lost my shit. I was in the pit photographing for the blog, but I had tears streaming down my face. I won't deny it - It felt surreal. Listening to this show finally happen was making me lose my mind. I couldn't believe that the moment had finally come. I left the pit quickly after my favorite song, "Work" ended, an stood without moving, singing every line for the rest of the set. I won't bore you with the rest of the details, and if you want a good synopsis of the rest of the night, you should check out my review for Ultr5280

To say it was a dream come true is the understatement of the century - that night filled me with more joy than anything else I've ever experienced. I had been having legit nightmares in the weeks leading up to the show that it wouldn't be all I'd dreamed, all I'd imagined. I couldn't have been more relieved to leave that night, knowing all my worries were in vain, and that my favorite band was just as amazing live as they always had been. Plenty of people in this world have favorite bands, but so many people really don't take the time (or get the chance) to really fully grasp that idea. Favorite bands, and fans like myself are the basic principles that the music and touring industry is built around. Having a deep connection to certain music and to a certain band is what keeps artists going, and what keeps music alive today. The fact that I have been lucky enough to experience the full spectrum of this relationship from both sides makes me appreciate it even more, and makes me really appreciate the boys of Jimmy Eat World for continuing to do what they do for fans like me. It seems absurd to have just wasted so much time recapping this for you all, I hope it reminds folks that even people working in music have favorite bands...hell, they are why we work in music. We all have reasons to do what we do, and knowing that I can help others feel the way I felt at a show like this is what drives my passion to keep the touring industry alive. If you ever get the chance to celebrate your favorite music like this, do whatever it takes to make it happen. There are few better medicines in this world than feeling the joy you get by having an experience like this.