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Table of Contents
West Coast Artists Comments on Live Streaming by Tony Becker
Part 1 “Albums & CDs vs. Streaming Singles” by Elise MacGregor Ferrell
Part 2 “CDs versus Streaming” by David Stafford
Part 3 “Traditional Music and Streaming” by Elise MacGregor Ferrell
Part 4 “Can Streaming Help You Find Great Celtic Music” by Elise MacGregor Ferrell
Part 5 “Support your Favorite Band! Spotify Pays Them” by Elise MacGregor Ferrell
Live Streaming – The New Trend in Performance
Seven Regional Celtic Performers perspectives
by Tony Becker – Published 2020-07-23
On Wednesday morning, July 21st, 2020, the New York Times published a series of 6 articles on live streaming, and the main article, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/arts/music/concerts-livestreams.html, was very informative on this exciting new trend. We asked our regional Celtic performers to comment on their experiences with this new way to bring their artistry to you, and here are seven of their responses:
I’m not doing streaming events because I don’t have the hardware / infrastructure to do it. – Shay Black
I actually have not done any streaming as I believe my (our) strengths come with interaction with an audience and I feel live streaming takes from that. I think it is fine if you are an excellent musician/singer like Tim Edey or John Doyle but alas, I can only dream…… – Michael Black
I’ve done a bunch of live streaming shows from my living room. I’ve loved doing them because: 1. It forces me to keep learning and writing new songs and staying ‘in shape’ playing live 2. It’s a way of connecting with people when I’ve been in lockdown 3. It gives me some revenue while live in person gigs are not happening and 4. People are really enjoying them – I try to tell stories, take requests and have a bit of fun with it rather than just playing my songs.
I’ll probably do another one next week. I’ve been alternating times to facilitate people tuning in from Ireland and the U.S. I may also start doing more spontaneous shows – just going live when the mood hits. I was inspired to start doing the streaming thing because I have really enjoyed a lot of the shows that people have been doing. The world needs live music right now. – Eamonn Flynn
Thankfully, through live-streaming tips and selling my discography online I have been able to keep sharing music and justify the time spent on the medium. I’ve live-streamed for hours almost everyday since mid-March and still enjoy it greatly. – Dan Frechette
I’ve done 42 a cappella song sessions so far since the beginning of lock-down / sheltering-in-place began in March, and they were great because: They allow an accessible format for friends while we’re all hungry for live performance to keep us inspired and remembering each other and the music that feeds our spirits best.
They’re hard because… they’re not real-time. And the tools of connection are not the same as in-person musical collaborations due to differences in connection/ lag etc. There’s enough disconnection with the faces/ body-language of the listeners to put a damper on the energy exchange that happens so beautifully in live-audience performances.
I will continue to do live shows of new and experimental a cappella songs Tuesdays at 4:00 PM PT on Facebook live: https://www.facebook.com/ameliaisaverb and on Fridays at 8:00 PM PT I’ll be singing requested favorites.
To join us live, click the little red ‘live’ button on my profile to view while logged into your Facebook account. To replay the shows afterward, even if you don’t have a Facebook account, you can find them archived on my Facebook music page, using the link: https://www.facebook.com/ameliahogansings – Amelia Hogan
During the two years prior to the COVID-19 big-stay-at-home, I was hosting live performances in my home under the name Tree House Concerts. Fans of Celtic music will recognize some of the artists we presented–fiddlers Maeve Donnelly and Frankie Gavin, guitarists John Doyle and Tony McManus among them. Since the last live Tree House show in late February, I’ve done ten live streaming shows, which I call Sunday Serenades. Initially not interested in live-streaming–I was seeing the real-time train wreck of otherwise stellar performers struggling with the technology and playing to an empty room. Gradually I realized it was possible to find connection (though imperfect) between performer and listener in a live-stream setting, which is what Covid had largely taken away. The ability for the performer to reach a global audience without leaving home is a real plus. As are the real-time comments, requests and feedback from listeners while the performance is happening. At its best, a feeling of community is achieved.
My wife is co-pilot for the hour-long, once a week shows. She monitors the comments, and keeps the dialog flowing. Over the ten weeks we’ve had listeners from all over the US, Ireland, the UK, Europe and Japan. As a singer/songwriter who misses live performance, I’ve done most of the Serenades myself, but have presented others as well–singer Rory McNamara, singer/songwriter Robert Powell and fiddler Rebecca Richman. This Sunday July 26 we’re featuring the wonderful Vincy Keehan–San Francisco singer/songwriter originally from Galway. After that we’re taking the month of August off. Sunday Serenades will return in September and beyond.
The early Sunday Serenades were rough. The three in May were fun and well-received, yes, but the technology was new to me and the sound quality pretty poor. After speaking with friends and doing research I’ve come up with a set-up that works very well, with consistently good results. (If you are interested, check out the technical details below).
Live-streaming concerts are not perfect, but so far they are fun and worth doing. I look forward to the weekly performances as a way to keep active as a performing musician, try out new material and connect with friends.
Here’s what I use: Shure SM7 vocal mic and SM57 instrument mic into a Mackie 12-channel mixing board, with Alesis digital reverb side-chain, into a Focusrite Scarlett digital audio interface into a Dell computer (PC) with OBS third-party streaming software. The live-streaming platform is Facebook Live, which marries well to the OBS. So far just using the on-board camera on the Dell–the video quality could be better. Also, connecting the computer directly to the router via an ethernet cable improves quality and reliability.
Boy, I’m really missing performing and teaching harmony singing. Early into the pandemic, I did do a really goofy video on a dare (totally not my usual schtick, but a very entertaining collaboration with my son) but I’m not doing streaming events because I’m in the middle of a protracted house move. I’d like to do one – just to feel like I’m doing something in my musical life that connects with other people.
I think the best streamed shows are the ones like Lark Camp’s two Cabarets (https://youtu.be/98lKPmu6iQw and https://youtu.be/R-Rgi3arc7E) which have used good sound engineering to ‘level the playing field’ when multiple musicians are recording in varied environments with vastly different sound gear. If the sound really ‘pops’, it’s easy to be tolerant of funky video quality!
But I also feel that streamed shows are no replacement for the real deal. There is nothing as satisfying as live performance for the listener; for performers, so much of what energizes performances is the audience. Just being able to hear the audience breathe is valuable feedback. And of course we always yearn for applause! – Celia Ramsay
As for me, I feel no need to stream. It might be different if I had a large career I felt needed to be tended, and if I lived with another musician who loved to perform, but though she is my favorite accompanist on the planet, my wife has no great love of performing live (with the exception of certain intimate jams, and playing for dances, which she loves).
I have been busy, however,putting new videos on the net – of stories and tunes and odds and ends for folks that ask me, like the Portland Revels, the Britt festival KidsKoncert series and the virtual LarkCamp coming up on August 1-7. I’ll also contribute to a project of the Bert Jansch foundation called ‘Around the World in 80 Plays’. https://80plays.bertjanschfoundation.org/
I am quite happy working on my own projects, and doing anything that I am asked. – Kevin Carr
It seems to us that we had all better get used to getting our live music from these streaming performances, because packed theaters and mosh pits are not coming back any time soon. Now we just need a way for the performers to be able to hear their streaming audience’s applause and other reactions!
Editorial: Wherefore Traditional Music?
Albums & CDs vs. Streaming Singles
By Elise MacGregor Ferrell – Published May 25th, 2018
HOW IS MODERN TECHNOLOGY CHANGING CELTIC MUSIC?
How can you get a Millennial to laugh? Just tell them your band is recording a new album, and releasing it on physical CDs. ‘Are you kidding?’ they’ll joke. ‘While you’re at it, why don’t you also buy some new encyclopedias! Give it up, old timer. Everybody streams now.’
Well, call me old-fashioned, but I still think a ‘stream’ is a good place to go fishing. And I still enjoy admiring my CDs’ beautiful covers, shoving them into my van’s CD player, giving the dash a good hard thump to jumpstart its disc changer, and then playing whole albums from start to finish, exactly as their creators meant for me to enjoy them.
If someone waggles an i-gadget toward my input jack, I roar ‘GET that away from me,’ while turning up my CD loud enough to drown out their age-jokes. In fact, if I had been a teenager in the 60’s and early 70’s, every time one of my favorite bands released a new album, I would have done like as those Boomers did, and invited some friends over to listen to the whole album from top to bottom (a suggestion that would shock most people today). However, the buzz among today’s music influencers is that ‘albums’ are becoming moot, and henceforth almost everyone will only listen to single releases.
Be that as it may, my preference for CDs versus i-gadgets partly stems from wanting better sound quality. Although not everyone agrees with me, one expert who does is sound engineer Paul Stubblebine. When bands started asking him for MP3 conversions, he researched how to get the best possible quality, but on his fifth attempt the sound came out so much worse that his client wanted a refund, so that’s when he decided to just let musicians convert to MP3 themselves. Paul points out that converting from CD-format to MP3 somewhat reduces sound quality, but what really degrades the listener’s experience is further conversions (for instance, from CD or WAV format, to Phone MP3 and then to a Car Stereo via an average (328kbps) Bluetooth connection – the reason being that each format change may subtract some of the information from the original format, resulting in poorer a lower quality music experience.
Since you are reading this in a Celtic forum, there is a good chance of you being old enough, to likely agree with at least some of this and resist these changes, but we need to accept that the music industry necessarily has to keep up with the marketplace. CDs are disappearing, and for that reason I recently found myself sitting atop a box of brand new CDs, anxiously thinking ‘Who’s going to buy these?‘
One hour of web-research turned up some disturbing facts: 1. Only a few Bay Area music stores still carry a good selection of Celtic CDs. 2. Most online retailers don’t carry a good selection (unless you are primarily seeking new releases from trending superbands like Celtic Woman). 3. Many online retailer-lists don’t appear to have gotten updated since Hardy Drew and the Nancy Boys released, ‘No One As Irish As Barack Obama.’
Still, as the manager of a Celtic band (Charmas), I need to sell CDs and I don’t give up easily, so I popped some popcorn, hit the ‘locator’ button on my wall-mounted telephone, (more millennial giggles) and did enough more research to find out that…
THERE’S A SURPRISING EXPLANATION FOR THE SCARCITY OF CELTIC CDs IN RETAIL STORES
You might think that a Global Economy would help Americans purchase anything they desire from Ireland and Scotland, but here’s what the Bay Area’s biggest Celtic music retailers told me…
Buyer John of El Cerrito’s Downhome Music (which stocks about 200 Celtic albums, including both rare and popular artists, and vinyl) says it’s getting harder to purchase wholesale music from overseas. ‘We used to get our CD’s from Claddagh…’ he explained, but increased shipping costs have caused most distributors to drop out of the business.
Buyer John of San Francisco’s Amoeba Music (whose inventory of a couple hundred, mostly pre-owned Celtic CDs/vinyl changes constantly), adds that a lot of old Celtic albums have simply gone out of print.
Buyer Eric of Berkeley’s Lark in the Morning (who inherited a couple hundred CDs when he bought the business) is eager to sell off his inventory, because he believes that, even if some people still want CDs, most of them no longer have CD players in their cars.
Buyer Paige of San Jose’s Streetlight Records (which stocks a couple rows of used Celtic CDs), says Streetlight would quickly go out of business if they could not return albums that don’t sell, and for that reason she only purchases new albums from major label distributors.
THEN I SPOKE WITH THE MOTHER OF THEM ALL
Maggie Cadden, previously an agent for many touring Celtic bands, host of grand concerts, and mass-distributor for every kind of recorded Celtic music, says Celtic music’s commercial boom is ‘almost over.’ Her retail sales company, Dara Records, has nearly stopped importing music from Ireland. They have also stopped selling CDs at festivals, because ‘It’s an older crowd now,’ who simply aren’t buying enough CDs to justify her effort. One recent trend Maggie does appreciate is the growing number of House Concerts, which affordably publicize new performers, and foster intimate connections between the musicians and their audiences.
When I asked Maggie how she thinks today’s older Celtic music fans are sampling new Celtic music, her guess was that most of them aren’t! Indeed, it seems plausible that most of today’s new Celtic music is primarily reaching just a fraction of Celtic music fans who are still young enough to be frequenting House Concerts, festivals, and who are also…(I shudder to even say it again)…streaming!
Which brings us to the next obvious question…
HOW IS MODERN TECHNOLOGY CHANGING CELTIC MUSIC?
I can answer this question myself.
Our band’s first album, Songs of the Sea, was a ‘concept album,’ featuring simple folk songs and varying combinations of just a few instruments, which became satisfyingly diverse when we carefully sequenced the songs and enhanced the whole album with artistic transitions.
Upon deciding to record our second album, Stark Raving Celtic, Charmas had streaming in mind, (Here is the link: Charmas Stark Raving Celtic on Spotify), but we still wanted to take a purist approach. So we gave each track enough depth to stand on its own as an individual release, while still giving the whole album cohesion by adding evocative transitions and long-fade endings. And we even took sound engineer Ken Capitanovich‘s advice to transfer the whole album onto analog tape, in order to give it the kind of pleasing, mellow sound that makes LPs pleasurable for extended listening.
Charmas’ next hope is to attract more young people to become interested in Celtic-influenced music, so we plan to record an album of pop-folk songs targeted primarily for streaming. In order to catch the attention of Spotify surfers and pop-music bloggers, we’ll need to cut right to the meat of each song, foregoing any lengthy introductions that might cause them to lose interest, and assuming that most listeners will hear the songs piecemeal, rather than playing the whole album from beginning to end.
In a world like this…
CAN OLD FASHIONED MUSIC FANS STILL GET WHAT WE WANT?
Absolutely! I’ve already listed several Bay Area retail stores which STILL SELL a good selection of Celtic CDs and vinyl. Downhome Music even keeps a CD player handy, for shoppers to conveniently ‘try before they buy,’ and (at least in Santa Cruz) Streetlight Records is generally willing to play any CD you want to hear over their house speakers.
As for streaming, I think it’s a dreadful idea, but I’m embracing it anyway. This is partly because Spotify gave me a free Premium account (one perk of being a record producer), and since then I’ve discovered that I can use Spotify to hear full albums from almost any band I search for (because I have their Premium service), and then buy the band’s CD if I like it enough to want it for my car. (Note that Pandora also gave me a free account, but I haven’t gotten far with Pandora, because I quickly discovered that their music library lacks a lot of my favorite music. On the other hand, IHeart Radio, although seemingly very commercial, has a great selection of folk music, as well as a knack for suggesting new music I might actually enjoy, and I might explore them more in the future. Hillbillies From Mars bandleader Daniel Steinberg says he personally worked on Google Music’s algorithms, and their streaming service is the best for keeping folk music lovers surrounded by rare artists, rather than continually steering them toward best-sellers.
Someone with knowledge that far surpasses mine could write a great article about choosing the best streaming service for Celtic fans, and I hope they will, because I would like to read it!
Additionally, online radio and music bloggers belong to a whole different world that I’m just starting to learn about. Futuristic stuff. Check the AmeriCeltic on-demand webpage, https://www.americeltic.net/on-demand-broadcast, or their AmeriCeltic Group on Facebook, for more on these options for Celtic content.
Great for a cozy evening sitting around the fire while nibbling on plain old vanilla ice cream, without any additions of crushed candy, raw cookie dough, or other new-fangled complications added…
Email author Elise MacGregor Ferrell at email@example.com
Editorial: CDs versus Streaming – Part 2
Community Radio and the Evolving Music Industry
By David Stafford, firstname.lastname@example.org Published 2018-06-08
This article is sort of an addendum to Elise MacGregor Ferrell‘s essay regarding Traditional Music on CD’s from a musician’s viewpoint (Read it Here). As a community radio programmer and a Member of KKUP’s (KKUP Cupertino, 91.5 FM) Board of Directors, I have a little different perspective on a few of the issues that Elise raises, but, in some ways we are in the same boat, as are you the music lover. First of all, KKUP and I have no direct financial interest in record sales or other aspects of the music business. We don’t sell recordings, book concerts or collect any remuneration from music other than direct subscriptions from our listeners. KKUP is noncommercial, we don’t sell ads or get institutional monies (grants and so forth) and we subsist entirely on subscriptions to our little radio station directly from our listeners. Try explaining that business model to a banker sometime. 🙂 We do however, pay thousands of dollars per year to the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) for permission to play any commercial recording and report it to them, allegedly so that artists can be compensated. You will have to ask the artists themselves how that works out for them. Trust me, this is a complicated and detailed legal process that takes a great amount of time, money and effort to which radio stations must comply.
How, you ask, does this impact me, the music listener? It was memorable for me to read Elise’s desire to look at cover pictures and art on CD’s. I am old enough to remember these exact same arguments against CD’s because they are so much smaller than LP’s, and have less room for beautiful Cover Art, liner notes etc. There was and still is the argument for better sound that continues to this day (analog vs. digital etc.). It is important to remember that all forms of recording have technical limitations that limit how close a recording can come to live music. Personally, I have rarely, if ever heard a recording of any kind that truly sounds enough like live music to fool me when listening in the next room, much less listening in the same room. Don’t get me wrong, I love recorded music, it just does not substitute for live music, for me anyway. So, arguments like analog vs. digital, CD quality vs. mp3 quality sound, or even analog tape vs. direct LP recording are secondary to me-it’s results that count. I have heard good sound and bad sound from all of these formats. Much depends on the skill of the recordists involved and the musicians playing the music. However, none of them sound exactly like the real thing to me, namely, live performance. However, any or all of these recording techniques can bring a great deal of joy to the music lover. We can’t carry a band in our pockets or set them up in our living rooms, but we can listen to music in just about any location via recordings. Yay!
Now, for the technical part of this essay. Both FM radio and streaming have inherent limitations above and beyond those mentioned above. By law, Stereo FM radio is frequency limited to 50-15,000 Hz (cycles per second). The range of human hearing for pitch is generally regarded as 20-20,000 Hz, so, stereo FM loses some information right off the bat. Humans can hear sound levels from about 0 to 120 decibels, (dB), but if we exclude the loudest, harmful levels, our safe dynamic range is more like 90 dB. If we account for the background noise level of, say a very quiet listening room, our available dynamic range is more like 70 dB. More importantly, for these various media, signal to noise ratios (hiss mainly) are, at best about 60 dB for stereo FM, 70 dB or so for LPs, 90 dB for digital sources and infinity for live music. FM being by far the worst. Having said that, FM can sound pretty darn good. Digital sources of all kinds tend to be quiet in even the softest music.
Having studied this stuff for most of my life, I believe that different people hear sounds very differently from one another. I have my own biases, and I like to think I know what they are. Hiss generally does not bother me as much as it does some. Inherent distortions from LPs, such as ticks and pops and inner groove distortions, drive me crazy. Back in analog days, I was a fanatic about keeping my records clean and invested over $500 in an expensive, highly regarded record cleaning machine. None of it truly worked. I still remember hearing the slow movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony (very quiet) for the first time at a friend’s house with one of these new-fangled Compact Disc players, and for the first time, enjoying it noise free. I went out and bought a CD player the next day. I tend to not be a sensitive as some to the particular distortions that digital recordings have. Your results will probably vary. The main point that I am trying to make is that no recording technology that humans possess is even close to perfect, and all have significant limitations, so, choose what sounds best to you. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in any musical endeavor, most judgments regarding music is opinion, at least, beyond, is it in tune, is the rhythm regular etc. I believe that whatever is right for you, is right for you. So, what is better Pop or Folk Music, Rock or Classical? See what I mean?
Streaming or FM?
Radio streaming is virtually an all done from mp3 formatted files, usually at 320 Kbps (kilobits per second). That is what the powers that be have determined, and this is the highest quality mp3 compression generally available. It is often thought that 120 Kbps is ‘CD quality’, it is not, and neither is 320, but 120 Kbps is close and 320 Kbps is darn close. I have to directly compare over a very fine stereo system (or superb headphones) to hear the difference, and, even then, usually I can barely tell the difference. Your mileage may vary, of course. Still, streaming is probably the future for radio stations, with FM (and AM) broadcasting becoming more of a niche market. Just as the largest percentage of the recording buying public, young people, are largely turning away from physical recordings of all types, so, fewer and fewer new listeners are turning to broadcast media, and more and more to streamed media (audio and video too, for that matter). From what I understand, that is the opinion of most radio executives, and at KKUP, we see more evidence of this every year.
As a result of this, radio stations are being offered more of our new music as a digital download, whether we like it or not. This is the historical model of audio recording — as technology changes, so do our recording formats. Cylinders gave way to platters, 78 shellac gave way to 33 vinyl, 33 gave way to CD, and CD (the first mass digital format) is giving way to streaming. The market determines the popular format, and today’s market seems to be strongly inclined to the streaming compatible formats. Sadly, Beautiful covers, detailed liner notes, and even the very best quality sound seem to be a secondary consideration, although I should note that recording studios use far higher recording standards than any of the consumer formats. The good news is that recordings can still sound great, and, I believe will improve over the years, and, as long as we have musicians to play live music, we have a standard to which we can compare all recordings.
We are all indebted to musicians like Elise MacGregor Ferrell that spend their lives doing the studying, practicing and playing music that keeps the music alive. We have them to thank for the great art of music, transcending all formats, technologies and cultures.
And of course, there is no point to this without you, the music listener.
If you have comments or questions, please email David Stafford email@example.com.
Editorial: Traditional Music and Streaming Part 3
Streaming Playlists Awaiting Your Contributions
By Elise MacGregor Ferrell
It’s been a few weeks since I last wrote about today’s music listeners stampeding away from buying CDs and toward streaming. During those few weeks, I’ve been exploring Spotify, the current leader among streaming services. I’m writing this follow-up article because apparently many (if not most) Celtic music fans don’t use Spotify (or possibly any streaming service), so some might be curious to learn its upsides and its downsides.
First of all, here are some basic facts that will only be of interest to people who have never streamed before:
• Compared with buying CDs, or downloading any significant volume of music from a vendor like iTunes, streaming is incredibly cheap.
• The music pops up instantly, so you can whimsically flit from song to song (especially if you have a Premium plan, rather than the Free plan which imposes some advertisements).
• Apparently you cannot hear every song you might want to hear in full if you only have Spotify’s Free plan (I don’t know why I have never encountered that problem, but maybe being a recording artist gives me some kind of plan that’s between Free and Premium.)
• Streaming gives you access to so much music from all over the globe that it may seem overwhelming. However, using Spotify doesn’t feel overwhelming in practice, because you automatically choose which music you WANT to hear, just like flipping the dial on a radio (rather than, for instance, sifting through an avalanche of links pushed at you by social media, which can feel very overwhelming). Spotify makes personalized suggestions of selections for you listen to, but if you don’t want to hear these, the suggestions are easy to ignore.
• If you have grown bored with your favorite genre(s), because you’ve heard all your favorite bands ad nauseam, and none of the new music you’re getting offered floats your boat, the huge amount of works available for streaming is a great boon. For such poor dejected thrill-seekers, Spotify is a great medium! Their algorithms are pretty sophisticated, and having a huge library (including lots of niche music and authentic folk music) enables them to make some pretty good guesses about what kinds of music you might enjoy (especially after you’ve used the service enough for them to ‘get to know you.’ Also, you can effortlessly add Google’s search results to Spotify’s to discover playlists created by other Spotify listeners whose musical preferences resemble yours; by doing this during the past couple of weeks, I’ve found some great musical treasures that I never could have found by walking into a record store.
• Podcasts and blogs are another good way to discover new music, but not all of us have the needed equipment or enough free time to enjoy podcasts, so for those who are busy and equipment-impaired, Spotify can be a great resource.
Spotify from a musician’s perspective
The musician’s perspective is important, because it’s probably starting to have a huge impact on modern folk music. Spotify enables you, as a music ‘consumer,’ to influence the music industry with your listening choices (exactly the same way that you can influence the world’s food-industry and clothing-industries with your spending decisions – but in a much more powerful and immediate way). Seriously, I’ll repeat that last thought – you can actually influence the whole world’s perception of a band from Ireland right from your own living room! Here’s why…
• Whether by design or by coincidence, Spotify space is turning folk music into pop music. This is because Spotify only shows Band Profile visitors a band’s 5 most popular tracks (unless they become interested enough to dig deeper), and since most people naturally click on whatever they are shown first, those are the tracks most likely to get played before they move on to something else.
• Each track’s popularity is determined by its number of plays, and plays only count if a visitor listens for more than 30-seconds. Therefore, merely listening to a band’s Top 5 helps keep their Top 5 cemented as the Top 5, even if better music is hidden farther down the list. Also, listening (and thereby adding another play) to the Top 5 increases the odds of other listeners hearing the same 5 tracks. So when you do nothing more than merely flit around checking out different music on Spotify, you are manipulating the whole world’s perception of the bands you are listening to!
• When a band’s music first enters Spotify’s library, it’s up for grabs which tracks will get favored, and natural selection will not always maneuver the best music up to the top. More likely, the first music to reach the top will be whatever gets chosen first by a major playlist curator. In theory, those first choices could end up being the music most listeners will hear from that band forever, especially if additional popular curators choose music from the same Top 5, and so forth. So
• Yikes! So how can a band influence the presentation of its own music on Spotify? Well, they need to pitch the music they want featured to some huge playlist curators right from the get-go. Or else, they can create a playlist of their own, and hope for it to become popular quickly. They can also ask their friends to help, by sharing links with a broader network of friends, and posting tracks on their own playlists. How successful this effort will be depends upon many things, one of which is whether or not the band’s music is well designed for streaming.
• Expert playlist curators want music that will keep their listeners playing the same track for at least 30-seconds, and also they don’t want them to ever get bored and click away to someone else’s playlist. Therefore, they must choose music with instant appeal that can hold peoples’ interest all the way through to the end (or at least until they click to the next track on the playlist). This means no drawn out introductions (unless they are super catchy), no boring interludes, and the shorter the better in most cases.
So you can expect streaming to have a big influence on folk music in the coming months and years, and every time you use a streaming service you can enjoy knowing that you have the power to significantly aid your favorite bands – anywhere in the world – by simply clicking, enjoying and sharing their music!
Spotify Playlists Curated by Elise
Now, for anyone who’s interested, here’s an opportunity to jump right in and flex your muscles as a music influencer!. My own band, Charmas, has been on Spotify for about a year, but we didn’t have much of a streaming audience until just a few weeks ago, when I started interacting with the platform. During those short few weeks, we have gone from about 50 listeners per month up to 417 listeners per month. We are eager to keep that trend going, and we are also eager to help other bands we enjoy get their music noticed – so I’ve created 5 new playlists, both in hopes of sharing my favorite music with you, and in hopes that you will contribute suggestions for my playlists.
Bands, this is a great opportunity for you and us to help each other!
Music fans, if you want to promote any of your favorite bands, just send me a Spotify link for any music you want to suggest and I will listen and decide if it’s right for my themes (note: I have to be choosy, because thematic consistency is what makes a good playlist).
Here are the 5 playlists I have started. If you enjoy them, please add them to your Library on Spotify (more great music will be added to each list soon, and ongoing).
- CELTIC ADRENALINE RUSH Inspiring, melodic, high-energy, optimistic, no punk or metal, emphasis on instrumental music.
- CELTIC ON REPEAT Slower, hypnotic, intoxicating, polyrhythmic music that gets better every time you listen.
- FRESH CELTIC COMEDY Funny songs most Celtic fans have never heard before – not The Sick Note!
- CELTIC MAN CAVE Don’t take this too seriously. And for goodness sakes, don’t tell your guy friends that you’re listening to a list of man music complied by a woman! (I created it because my band is full of men, and I needed a place to put our manliest music.) Note – my definition of ‘Celtic’ is a little loose for this playlist, and can include any songs whose subject matter might interest manly Celtic men.
- WORLD FUSION MUSIC INTERNATIONAL BUFFET Yeah, it’s a heck of a long name. Well, ‘World Music’ was taken, and so was ‘Whirled Music.’ Anyway, this playlist can include modern, polyrhythmic, fusion music from anywhere, and I especially love World Music with Celtic and Indian influences.
Lastly, if you enjoy hearing Charmas’ music on the above playlists (or if you already liked it before you read this article) please Follow Charmas on Spotify. Conversely, if you have a band which needs Followers, please send me a Spotify link for your music to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s how it’s being done now folks. When life gives us waves, we might as well surf them…
Elise MacGregor Ferrell
bandleader, manager, and performer with Charmas
Streaming Apps on an iPhone screen
Spotify Update: Can Streaming Help You Find Great Celtic Music?
Streaming Playlists for All Ages
By Elise MacGregor Ferrell – Published August 3rd, 2018
Most Celtic music fans are old enough to remember when all kinds of music were a popular remedy for boredom, a live-metronome required for dancing, fodder for heated debates (especially about Irish traditional music), and were enjoyed for countless other reasons that might be nearing extinction. Say what? Seriously, if you peruse Spotify’s playlist titles, you’ll notice that today’s young adults (who work long hours, drive their kids all over creation, exercise before or after work, and/or continuously use i-phones) appear to have grown too busy to enjoy music as a dedicated pastime, so nowadays they are mostly playing music in the BACKGROUND while they work, drive, jog, do their school studies, and even sleep. Music appears to have become a tool of choice for staying awake and staying motivated. Furthermore, if you listen to a lot of popular music, you’ll notice that it has become quite percussive and melodramatic, probably because people spending gobs of time working and socializing on computers are getting hungry for tactile stimulation.
So, my take on the whole situation is that: Today’s young adults want music they can feel while they are doing something else!
How are streaming services like Spotify reacting to this trend (or perhaps even creating it)? Technically, Spotify’s subscribers can stream albums in the same manner that they used to listen to CDs. However, based on what I’ve recently observed, it appears that a huge percentage of (if not most) Spotify subscribers are finding new music via Topical playlists, which steer them toward music that matches their daily activities. Take, for example, playlists with names like “Sad Songs For a Rainy Day,” “Stuck At Work For One More Hour,” “Epic Road Trip,” or “Ask Her Again, By Candlelight” (these are made up names, but you get the idea). Go ahead and snicker. Personally, I find it sad that art is getting sacrificed for utilitarian themes. But, on the other hand, successful playlist curators really are experts in their field. Take, for example, one playlist I noticed, called something like “Hipster Dinner For Two,”…which made me think to myself “What on earth would that be?” so I opened the playlist, and it only took me a minute to decide that if I ever hosted dinner for a hipster, that is exactly the playlist I would choose (served with Chinese Chicken Salad made from a Safeway dinner kit.) It not only showed me where to find such music, in case I ever need it, but it also gave me an instant education about the definition of hipster music.
Playlists can help you instantly find new favorite music you could never find on your own, either because you have stopped going to concerts, because you are chronically busy, or because you simply don’t know where to look. Playlists allow you to quickly and easily share new favorites with your friends. They facilitate road-trip radio sharing with your kids, by making it easy to flip-flop back and forth between ‘Dirty Old Town‘ and ‘It’s Raining Tacos.’ And if you ever find yourself feeling sleepy during a long car commute, you might even save a life by listening to my road-tested playlist Celtic Adrenaline Rush (better than stale mini-mart coffee.
Now here’s the big news: Once a playlist guides you to discover a new band, and then you click to the band’s Profile page…before spending any hard-earned cash on a better listening experience via CD or vinyl record, first You can stream the band’s entire album to decide if it’s worth buying Whoa!! Can you feel the earth shaking? How many CDs and LPs have you bought that contained 1-2 great songs but then totally bummed you out after you discovered the rest of the songs were duds! Think how much good whiskey you could have purchased with all that money you’ve wasted!
But here’s some different food for thought: Historically, Celtic music (like all genres of folk music) has derived some of its appeal from nostalgia, cozy settings, human interest, and tradition. Sometimes we love a performer’s music partly because of the wood grain on their old fiddle, or the transcluent worn spot on their hand-me-down banjo. Suddenly, streaming is subtracting all of that ambiance, and music is getting judged solely on its ability to provide auditory/kinesthetic/intellectual satisfaction. Any music that modern people don’t enjoy without such trimmings will fail to reach future generations via streaming, even if it’s Irish Pure Drop, or if the entire band got knighted by the queen.
Elise MacGregor Ferrell
Before you start groaning, consider the flip-side…any music that sounds great to streamers might potentially spread like wildfire all over the world, even to places where people have never enjoyed Celtic music before. If you dread tradition getting watered down, this might you depress you. But if you embrace “progress” and you want Celtic music to expand its reach for decades to come, then you’ll perceive this as being great news. It could also be great news for bands, and for those bands who feel skeptical, please consider a little encouragement from my own experience: Slightly over one month ago, only about 50 people per month were listening to Charmas on Spotify. But now that I’ve put in some time making connections, we’ve got over 900 listeners per month, from all corners the world. These are people we could never reach by any other means (because we are not a touring band), so we are not sacrificing any CD sales by giving them free music). And, most importantly, most of our new fans are between the ages of 18-40! How cool is that? We’re not talking about kids listening to Irish punk and metal. We’ve got hundreds of young adults from the US, Canada, Europe and South America, listening to solo Great Highland bagpiping and traditional Irish dance music!
The worst news is that a lot of great Celtic recording artists are still shying away from streaming, so the whole genre hasn’t yet gotten well established on Spotify, AppleMusic, etc. If this trend keeps up, streaming services will think Celtic Music is only enjoyable one day per year! So how can you help convince Spotify (for instance) that Celtic music is enjoyable year-round? It’s easy (and this a win-win situation for bands and music fans)…
1. First sign-up for a FREE subscription to Spotify or any other streaming service. Then (note that the following are Spotify links, because that’s the only platform I’ve researched so far)…
2. Start adding Celtic playlists to your Library…
- Celtic Adrenaline Rush
- Celtic on Repeat.
- Fresh Celtic Comedy
- Celtic Man Cave
- World Fusion Music International Buffet
- TradConnect’s Top 100 Irish
If you are a recording artist, and you discover some of your music on my playlist, please seize this opportunity to publicize your band by following my playlist!! The more Followers a playlist gets, the more new Spotify listeners will hear it, which helps your music get heard along with mine! (Isn’t that great? When bands book live shows, we have to compete with each other for an audience, but on Spotify everything bands do to promote other bands in our genre helps all of us!) And if you don”t see your band on any of my playlists, please send me a link to anything you think would be a good fit.
3. Follow your favorite/local bands….
The Wicked Tinkers
Michael Mullen’s Trio of One
4. Create playlists of your own and share them via Facebook and the Spotify Community
5. Add local music to your own playlists
Extra Credit: You could also e-mail Tony Becker, asking him to create a playlist! (Then, if he does create one, please reward him by adding it to your Library 🙂
And, by the way, I wasn’t joking about ‘It’s Raining Taco’s.’ If you don’t believe it’s a real song, just find it on Spotify….
Elise MacGregor Ferrell, aka “Celtic Buzz Mama”, is a Great Highland Bagpiper and fiddler, bandleader of Celtic Fusion/American Folk Pop band Charmas, and producer of independent music albums “Songs of the Sea” and “Stark Raving Celtic.” Previously, Elise worked as the house video director for concerts at California’s Concord Pavilion, and nowadays she makes low budget videos for Santa Cruz Music Videos on YouTube. CelticBuzzMama’s Spotify playlists include World Music Fusion, Got the Blues but Lonely Don’t Own Me (I Feel Good!), and Fresh Irish and Celtic Comedy. She is also a Curator on SubmitHub, where bands can submit music for possible addition to her playlists.
For her World Fusion playlist on Spotify, Click Here
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Blog by Elise MacGregor Ferrell
A lot has happened during the short half-year since I last wrote an AmeriCeltic article about Spotify. Apple ‘killed’ i-tunes. GooglePlay shut down their Artist Hub (and now I think they’re sending their subscribers over to YouTube Music). A small minority of Celtic artists finally overcame their outrage about Spotify paying peanuts PER STREAM, reached out to some playlist curators, and started earning very small (or even significant) amounts of money from streaming. Celtic music continued its global downslide as a profitable industry. But at the same time (and this is huge!) Spotify and CDBaby added all kinds of Celtic sub-genres to their submission filters, so now you can tell them, just by pressing buttons, exactly what kind of Celtic music your band records.
But the majority of Celtic artists, fans, and miscellaneous folk musicians still spent the past half-year continuing to boycott Spotify on principle, because everybody knows that all big corporations are evil, their CEO’s earn way too much money, and we just shouldn’t ever support them, period, or waste any time getting cheated by their greed.
Fair enough, but please read the following sentence several times…
If all of the several thousand AmeriCeltic e-mail and Facebook subscribers streamed JUST ONE Spotify playlist just ONCE DURING THEIR LIFETIME, every single artist on that playlist would get paid at least $4 each.
That’s at no cost to any of the listeners, since Spotify is a FREE service (but you can opt to pay $10/mo. for better quality music, no ads, and download ability for listening in your car). Now… Imagine every AmeriCeltic subscriber streaming just one playlist per week for the next 10 years.
What if more Celtic music fans from outside California also joined Spotify? Maybe Celtic musicians wouldn’t start getting paid like pop stars, but they might at least be able to afford grass-fed haggis!
What I’m trying to say is SPOTIFY ENABLES YOU TO SUPPORT YOUR FAVORITE BANDS WITH OTHER PEOPLES’ MONEY!
Of course, it’s reasonable to ask: How long does it take to download an entire Spotify playlist? I-tunes holdouts, who are accustomed to downloading songs one-at-a-time and manually inserting them into playlists, might expect this be a tedious process, but, in fact, you can download a whole Spotify playlist with just two clicks, and it happens extremely fast, even on slow computers, and you never have to update it, because every playlist in your library updates automatically whenever you go online.
BONUS: Did you know that Spotify also offers AUDIOBOOKS? Lots of them! I haven’t found an easy way to Search for them yet; you need to know what you want and type in each title with perfect spelling in order to find them. Also, downloads for your car require creating a personal playlist in which to store all the book’s chapter tracks, which sounds like a long process, but it’s actually extremely quick and easy. My daughter and I downloaded enough audiobooks for our entire cross-country driving trip within about 90-minutes. The audiobooks cost us nothing, because we were already subscribers. The authors of each book got paid. And their works also moved up a notch in terms of being noticed by Spotify’s search engines.
Please keep in mind that I don’t work for Spotify. I’m actually just a Luddite who doesn’t even own a cell phone. I’m telling you all of this because my obscure small town band is currently earning $30-$90 per month from one streaming service. Um-hm, I know, that’s barely enough money for us to buy a round of sandwiches. But then again, we have no publicist, no label, and no advertising budget. We haven’t given any public concerts in over a year. Almost none of our genre’s fans belong to Spotify. And, even so, thousands of new listeners every month are discovering our music. Imagine what will happen when our band gets back onstage, with Spotify announcing upcoming concerts to our online fans.
But what about the bands who are touring regularly and need to sell CD’s? Here I would remind you that the most virtuous way to use Spotify is as a DISCOVERY platform, for finding new albums to PURCHASE ONLINE OR AT LIVE CONCERTS. But if you can’t afford CD’s, or you just hate plastic packaging, at least streaming offers you another beneficial means to support your favorite bands..
If you still need more convincing, please read through this list of Celtic bands who have finally realized that the sooner they jump onboard, the more they will eventually earn from streaming (because it’s always better to ride the front of a trend than to chase it from behind). I don’t have time to list all the Celtic bands on Spotify, or even all the Celtic bands on my Celtic playlists, so I will just list the Celtic, Far Northern European, and Canadian Folk bands on my World Fusion playlist, which is my most successful playlist, because the World Music genre (unlike Celtic) actually has a significant population of Spotify subscribers. Those bands are (in order of my playlist): Treacherous Orchestra, Loreena McKennit, Kathryn Tickell, Lau, Celtic Reggae Revolution, Charmas, LaBottine Souriant, Celtic Crossroads, Frigg, Hillbillies From Mars, Spiro, The Corrs, Hedningarna, Coig, Storm Weather Shanty Choir, Wake The Dead, Wicked Tinkers, Clannad, Adam Hendley, Old Blind Dogs, Braebach, Lennie Gallant, Derek Flechter, Shooglennitty, Flook, Leahy, and anyone else I might have missed while skimming down the list (sorry). Surely many more terrific Celtic Fusion bands could benefit from joining the streaming movement and contacting me at https://www.submithub.com/
Anyway, I’m starting to write CD Reviews for a website called World Music Central. If you have any interest in listening to, performing and/or recording Celtic Fusion (or even if you’re itching to hear something besides Celtic music), you should consider exploring what this website has to offer. https://worldmusiccentral.org/
Here is an introductory blog written to kick off my CD Reviews. https://worldmusiccentral.org/2019/09/25/treacherous-orchestra-brawny-superband I hope you will consider encouraging your most stubborn music loving friends to read what I’ve just told you about Spotify, and maybe give streaming a try….