First Contact with Galactaron

Girl meets synth-rock band from Outer Space; animated weirdness ensues. Well, that’s the elevator pitch, anyway. See for yourself:

Galactaron were dreamt up as an art/music project by Owen Dennis, a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation, and are comprised of Singer (centre right), Bass (bottom left), Guitar (centre left), Synth (right), Drums (top left) and their human friend Emily Wong:

Galactaron Album Cover
Album Cover as featured on iTunes

The virtual band have a presence across Twitter, Facebook, Last.fm, SoundCloud and iTunes, with each platform offering new information and imagery to enrich Galactaron’s back story:

Drawn by radio waves, Galactaron focused in on Earth and they traveled a great distance to learn about us. When they finally reached our planet, they landed their massive, red, egg-shaped ship on a frozen lake in the upper Midwest of the America. There they met Emily Wong, a young Chinese-American woman who lives with her father. Emily quickly befriended Galactaron and decided to give them a personalized tour of planet Earth. That’s when they started to discover what earth is, what humans are, and what we have to offer.

A ‘sighting’ of their ship forms one of several on their website.

It’s an admirable project: the band have a truly unique sound, a strong visual identity, a cool backstory, and they’ve even sold a few albums.

Their creator shows real ingenuity, having formed a small yet growing community around snippets of content such as cosmic ring-tones; science-themed status updates; user-contributed artwork; merchandise and not forgetting the music itself.

But despite being an excellent case study in transmedia storytelling, their single ‘First Contact’ has reached a surprisingly low 20,000 plays on YouTube, and far fewer elsewhere. Mission aborted? Or as I suspect, are their thrusters still warming up?

Spotify Star System™

For the last couple of years I’ve been using Spotify as a paid-up subscriber. It’s £10/month in the UK, which is a strong cost:value ratio for the time and various means by which I use it, such as:

  • At home, blasting out tracks on my Sonos S5
  • At work, where social features & discovery apps help me find new stuff
  • On my mobile, where offline playlists provide the backdrop to my travel

And since I no longer play physical CDs, nor use iTunes or other media player (barring web apps such as SoundCloud, Hype Machine, Mixcloud etc.) Spotify has become the main hub and jumping-off point for whatever type of music I’m after.

Spotify leaves it to its users to build, subscribe to and share playlists, their primary organisational schema, however they see fit. But with millions of tracks and carte blanche to curate a personal library of preferences comes a unique challenge: how should one filter, organise and archive their preferences with access to the worlds biggest music collection?

There is no self-populating iTunes-esque ‘smart playlist’ feature, no editorialised ‘recommended playlists’ feature, and until recently there was no way to search playlists without third-party involvement. Users have to come up with their own organisational approach, and I use my patented Star System™. Here’s how it works:

  1. Play whatever music you want
  2. Star the tracks you particularly love
  3. These self-populate a ‘Starred Tracks’ playlist
  4. Set this playlist to ‘Available Offline’ and they’ll download automatically
  5. Carry on jamming, removing stars from any tracks if they get boring
  6. After a period of time, move all starred tracks into playlist of their own
  7. Release this playlist to the public to critical acclaim!
  8. Repeat steps 1-7 with a blank slate

So without further ado, here are my Star Mix Playlists for your listening pleasure, along with some tasting notes.

And finally, my current star mix. Subscribe to this one if you only want my new stuff in your earholes. Happy listening!

Music is the Virus

Airborne, a potentially disruptive start-up in the music sector, hopes to “cure the music industry of its sickness” with their upcoming launch.

Their cloud-based music sharing platform places fans and artists in direct symbiosis. It’s an interesting model, so take a look:

Beyond all the virus metaphors (they even go so far as to call songs ‘strains’)  the core idea is quite simple:

  1. Cut out traditional distributors
  2. Enable artists to monetise via a system of micropayments
  3. Give fans distribution rights instead, and empower them to share as much as possible, thus helping to secure further micropayments

It’s a model that I think could work particularly well for electronic music, whose artists tend to release one track or remix at a time, as opposed to a band who might release one album a year. Airborne will work best when artists can trickle content to their audience to keep them subscribed.

Looking on SoundCloud, my current favourite producer/DJ has 3,934 followers, which would net $3,934 per month on Airborne. Give those early adopting, high-class listeners some viral functionality and the impetus to share with friends and that figure could easily grow to $10,000/month – a healthy supplement to any unsigned musician, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Airborne have an interesting blog, The Music Industry is Sick, which looks at the challenges faced by listeners, musicians and labels today. In an ecology where artists need their stuff streamed four million times just to reach minimum wage, it’s platforms like Airborne that’ll help the system fix itself.

Daft Punk – Pop Oracles?

As you’ll see from my Last.fm profile, I’ve been listening to a lot of Daft Punk lately. For those who haven’t heard their stuff, this track in particular is the one I think best sums them up:

Buy it, use it, break it, fix it,
Trash it, change it, mail, upgrade it,
Charge it, point it, zoom it, press it,
Snap it, work it, quick erase it,
Write it, cut it, paste it, save it,
Load it, check it, quick rewrite it,
Plug it, play it, burn it, rip it,
Drag it, drop it, zip, unzip it,
Lock it, fill it, call it, find it,
View it, code it, jam, unlock it,
Surf it, scroll it, pose it, click it,
Cross it, crack it, switch, update it,
Name it, read it, tune it, print it,
Scan it, send it, fax, rename it,
Touch it, bring it, pay it, watch it,
Turn it, leave it, start, format it,

Sound familiar? Thought so – it’s the soundtrack to our modern lives.
And it begs the question: are we slaves to our media or is the media subject to us?

Digital Media (as referred to in the above) is the most pliable of all forms, possibly all materials. But do we lose anything by acting as their conduit? Do we define their being by the act of using them?

By way of answer, Marshall McLuhan states that:

Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology […] is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology. Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee to the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms.

(Understanding Media, 1967:56)

Punchy stuff indeed, and his point rings truer now than in 1967 when it was first written (for more McLuhanism check out The MemeStream, an older academic blog of mine). The relationship between Man and Machine is blurred in Daft Punk’s own appearance – they are never seen in public without their robot masks.

As I see it, Daft Punk have tapped into the zeitgeist of a world growing ever-reliant on our technologies, without much thought of how these forms may be exploiting us. It’s a beat-heavy warning to the masses to stay human, and not to be  anyone’s “sex organ”.

So what do we think? Are these French electro-popsters oracles for a future world? Answers on a postcard please, or in the comments box below.

Web Discoveries for March 23rd

These are my del.icio.us links for March 23rd

  • Blog Marketing and Blog Ads : SocialSpark
    Very compelling idea – crowdsourced social media advertising where advertisers connect directly with bloggers through a brief. Set wordcounts and offer creative assets, plus a small fee. Will research further.
  • Make Something Cool Every Day 2009 on the Behance Network
    An artist has made these really great images, posted them on Behance & Flickr. Wonder if there’s scope to work something like this into a long-term campaign? Hmm…
  • SoundCloud > Jazzanova Remix
    Very cool competition site that visualises both the waveform of a UGC remix, as well as user annotations along its timeline. Worth a good hour of browsing when I have time.
  • Soft Drink Generator
    Create a new line in soft drinks with this online tool – results look really effective!
  • Twitter ‎(Social Brand Index)‎
    The largest directory of Brands that Tweet that I’ve found so far. Let’s hope it gets encyclopaedic, and saves everyone time. Where’s the Wiki?

SoundCloud

SoundCloud do clever things with music.

SoundCloud: The Tour from SoundCloud on Vimeo.

I found them by accident when searching for remixes of ‘I Can See’, a great song from Jazzanova’s new album – listen to it with Spotify on this link.

Anyway, over at SoundCloud they’ve hosted a remix competition that lets users easily upload their mixes and have them judged by Jazzanova themselves, who had this to say:

“Since so many astonshingly good remixes had been submitted, it was no easy task for us to come to a final decision,” says Jazzanova’s Jürgen von Knoblauch . “We discussed the matter over and over again and finally agreed on three winners who had very different approaches and represented the stylistic variety of all submitted remixes. However, we had to draw the lucky winner of Ableton’s software package and Soundcloud’s premium membership. Once again, we would like to thank all the remixers/producers who participated in our remix contest and submitted their excellent works.”

What’s cool about the contest is it gets users engaged with SoundCloud for one great reason, but entices users to explore their other options (as in my case) such as their free website widgets: a dropbox for users to submit any track to the site owner; a player that shows the track’s waveform and allows users to annotate it at points along it’s timeline. These raise the profile of the service across the social web and drive traffic back to their homepage.

With this competition, SoundCloud and Jazzanova are in perfect symbiosis – both benefit from being associated with the other. I’m very interested in researching their company further, as there has to be elements that larger advertisers can participate in.

The effect on Jazzanova’s album sales will be hard to measure, but I’d love to hear from anyone involved on side-effects/uplift in consideration or other brand metrics.