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Saturday
May232009

Chris Singleton music - for just a quid

As you may have noticed I've been experimenting a lot with how I get my music out to new audiences; in the past I've given away a lot of free music, and operated honesty box policies on downloads.

I'm currently trialling a system where you can choose what to pay for my last record, 'Twisted City', with prices starting from £1. It's a bit different from my previous honesty box payment system, because the more you pay, the more content you get (there are bonus tracks, e-books, downloadable videos and more on offer).

If you're curious, just hop on over to http://www.singletonmusic.com/buyalbum/choose/ where you can find out what it's all about. The bottom line though is that if you want to, you can download my entire last album for just a quid!

I hope you enjoy. If you have yet to sample my music, you can do so at http://www.singletonmusic.com/, where a free 3-track EP is available.

In other news, I'm nearly there with the new record - I hope to have it all done and dusted by the end of the month. Will keep you posted on that.

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Thursday
May212009

We're closing in...

At the end of my road there is a bus stop. For ages it had a poster slapped on the side of it which featured a rather rotund woman on it. Accompanying this image were the words 'We're closing in' and an encouragement for members of the public to dob in benefit cheats. Helpfully a hotline was provided for said dobbing-in purposes.

Now, forgive me if I'm wrong but it looked suspiciously like the woman on the poster in question was yes, poor, and dear me, coming out of a house on a council estate. Ah, I get it now - the people who are ripping off the system are without exception poor and they live in council estates.

I never liked this campaign, because at the same time that I was encountering these posters, I seemed to be reading more and more about this little thing called the credit crunch, caused by insanely wealthy bankers, who flagrantly abused the system to the point where it collapsed and had to be bailed out by the taxpayer - and there was a distinct lack of posters critical of them.

It all seemed pretty hypocritical to me then, but it seems incredibly hypocritical now. The expenses scandal has highlighted that the political class which organised this campaign and paid for it with, yes, taxpayers' money were, dear me, benefit thieves themselves.
(Incidentally I don't know why I'm saying 'dear me' a lot - perhaps I have had a pint too many and I'm overdoing the incredulity. Apologies.)

Right, so now that it has become clear that the money that I thought I was paying in tax to fund, you know, things like schools and hospitals is also bankrolling duck islands, moat-cleaning, property 'flipping', taxi-rides to Celtic games, capital gains tax avoidance, gardening costs, porno films, porticos, helipads, nappies and plasma TVs, I fully expect my bus shelter to feature a publicly-funded poster of my local MP looking shifty and being closed in on. And I don't want them to forget the hotline either.

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Wednesday
May062009

The charts they are a-changing

Traditionally, music charts have been all about music sales. You sell records, you get in the charts; you don't, and you spin yourself as an serious, tortured act with a cult following who wouldn't be seen dead on a hit parade. Frankly, I know which camp I'd rather be in.

The UK (and other) charts have undergone a number of changes over the past few years. As physical cd sales declined, the chart rules were modified so that MP3 sales on iTunes and other digital retailers were taken into account. This led to some interesting effects: popular album tracks started entering the single charts; and obscure songs that had not been released as physical singles started to make surprise appearances, due to positive word of mouth and "grassroots" followings of underground acts.

The charts may be about to undergo another profound change. This is because I think that conventional sales - upon which charts are built - are on the way out. It seems increasingly likely (thanks to services such as Spotify) that people soon won't buy MP3s or cds any more, but will stream whatever songs they like over the internet (either on a subscription basis or by agreeing to hear adverts between tracks).

If this happens, the focus of charts is inevitably going to switch away from sales to the number of plays of particular songs. To a certain extent, this is already happening. The music social network Last FM currently tracks what its users are playing (see http://www.last.fm/charts for what's currently hot) and Spotify also shows you how popular tracks are as you play them.

In many ways, this emphasis on how many times songs are played is a more accurate reflection of the popularity of music than music sales. After all, a lot of people may buy a track - say, a novelty or charity single like Mr Blobby - only to rarely play it. Equally, a great album, released by an independent artist, may not sell many copies but get repeated plays by a dedicated, small following.

Interestingly, what all this raises is the possibility that some sort of 'song quality' indicator may emerge - something that goes beyond telling us how many people own a song, and lets us know how many people actually like a song. We could arrive at this indicator by dividing the number of plays of a track by the number of people playing it; for example, if 10 unique Spotify users play a song 100 times, you could give the song a popularity rating of 10 (100 divided by 10). But if the same 10 users played another song 1000 times, that track would have a popularity rating of 100 (1000 divided by 10).

Listening to music has traditionally been viewed as an intensely subjective experience, but what examples like the above point to is that maybe beauty does not entirely lie in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps certain songs have intrinsically good qualities that charts have not, hitherto, been able to highlight accurately. Online data could change all that, and start to highlight the fact that some songs have inherent and enduring appeal.

As with so many other things right now, the internet is allowing us to measure our behaviour in entirely new ways - and leading us to make remarkable conclusions about things. I wasn't really expecting the net to tell me how well-written a song is; but it's now looking like a distinct possibility. To conclude, the internet will become a rock critic.

Crikey.

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Tuesday
Apr282009

Spotify

A while ago I wrote about the future of rock and roll. The future, in my view, was that that rather than being bought, music would either be swapped for data (email addresses), or would be provided through an on-demand streaming service where listeners stream tracks for free so long as they listen to ads.

The 'music for data' half of that future arrived a while ago, with Radiohead's 'honesty box' release, In Rainbows; the second half has now arrived too, with the release of Spotify.

Spotify is a program which, once installed on your computer, allows you to legally stream pretty much any song you want (using an iTunes-style interface). But every three songs or so, you have to listen to an advert before you can play another track. Alternatively, you can pay £9.99 a month to listen to as much ad-free music as you like (about the cost of a newly-released chart cd).

Spotify represents a revolution in how we consume music - and if this way of listening to music becomes the norm (which I'm pretty confident it will), the implications for the music industry are enormous. There are three areas which I think will be particularly affected.

First, I've got a feeling that Spotify will slowly spell the end of the line for iTunes and other digital download services. Ok, so you can't currently download anything from Spotify on to an MP3 player - you have to play tracks through a computer that's connected to the internet. But that scenario is likely to change quite quickly, thanks to mobile broadband connections. If people can start streaming music from the internet onto their mobile phones using Spotify and 3G connections, then the need for MP3s becomes redundant (indeed, a Spotify application for the iPhone is already being discussed).

The second big impact is going to be on radio stations that primarily broadcast music. If a mobile phone version of Spotify comes along, you can pretty much take any music with you, anywhere. I'd be amazed if this didn't have an impact on the likes of Radio 1 and Radio 2. They might have to change their content somewhat to attract new listeners - I can imagine a lot more chat or documentaries about particular artists becoming a part of their schedules, to compensate for the fact that people are getting their music on the go elsewhere.

Finally, it's going to impact artists. If Spotify or a similar service becomes the de facto way to listen to music, then the whole idea of physical album sales is finally dead. Musicians will generate income from each play on Spotify - the PRS will make sure of that - but I doubt it will be as much as the income that physical cds used to bring in. Also, if the number of people who listen to radio stations falls, then so will royalties, so it will be hard for us rock and rollers to make money that way too.

Ultimately what all this spells for artists is that in future, the real money is going to be in gigging. Instead of record deals, we'll be looking for promoters to put us on a tour - in fact, I think the record companies are slowly morphing into promoters.

That's because a live performance by your favourite band in a real venue is one thing that the internet can't yet provide...but watch this space.

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Monday
Apr062009

The 3-D internet

There's been a lot of talk about Google Streetview of late (the UK version of which launched recently). Most of it has been about privacy issues. The press focussed on the fact that people were likely to get caught out (or perhaps burgled) as a result of that black car with the Googlecam on top doing the rounds. Love affairs blown. Joints cased. Dudes walking into sex shops in Soho being highly embarrassed.

Well, perhaps that may be so. But the real story is far more interesting.

What Streetview does is give us a hint of the way that the internet is going: 3-D. With Streetview, you can walk down a street, take a left turn, swing around, cross the road, have a look at something that catches your eye - all rendered beautifully. It's extraordinary.

If I may be so bold as to make a prediction, I reckon what will happen next is that certain businesses will allow users to 'go into' buildings - to click on them and be taken inside. At the moment, using Streetview, you can just 'stand' outside say, WH Smiths at Kings Cross. But in time I reckon you'll be able to click on it, go in, stroll down an aisle and order some books. Or click on a Domino's Pizza, have a bit of a stroll around and order, well, a pizza. Go into a HMV and buy a record. Walk sheepishly into the aforementioned shop in Soho and order something for the weekend. Or perhaps you might do something slightly more cultural and explore the exhibits of the Tate Modern - yes, you might one day be able to look at a urinal and a pile of bricks in an entirely new way altogether, and from the comfort of your own home.

If this comes to pass, we're going to be looking at a 3-D internet, where sites are no longer flat pages but virtual places to be explored (and most likely, shopped in). In fact, some of this has already been happening to a degree: the Second Life community is a 3-D online world which can be explored in the manner I'm describing. And people spend millions in its virtual shops. But so far, its userbase is still only a small percentage of internet users.

A more 'general' shift to 3-D seems like the logical next step for the net - where the 3-D, virtual world becomes the default browsing experience. Websites are still, generally speaking, flat pages with text and images on them, but the creation of Streetview gives us a glimpse of an internet which is really more of a virtual world; where websites could be housed within virtual buildings; where a chatroom is a virtual bar.

And technology being what it is, all this could get very sophisticated, and fast. Virtual reality isn't just about a visual experience; there are a host of devices - from headphones to helmets to 'wired' gloves - which all serve to make the virtual experience more physical. If the internet goes 3-D, computers get very fast, and physical devices are made available that let everybody 'touch' the virtual world, we are suddenly in the realm of science fiction: the holodeck from Star Trek's Next Generation.

Captain Picard aside, in the not too distant future, the internet could well morph into a virtual world that is indistinguishable from our own. It sounds far fetched, but so did the motor car, electricity and a mouse that grew a human ear on its back.

So bizarrely Google Streetview raises an existential question. If the internet goes down this route, it will become a man-made universe, perhaps one day turning into a digital dimension running in parallel to - and feeling just as 'real' as - our own. This points to the obvious: is 'real' life actually just a digital, virtual experience? After all, pretty much all life in our 'real' universe works like a computer program, built by a set of coded instructions in our DNA. And (okay, paraphrasing a bit here) physics is basically all about electricity and numbers - just like the internet.

Damn, it's The Matrix. A Keanu Reeves film explaining the meaning of life. What an annoying conclusion to have to come to. But believe me, not as weird as you might think.

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