Welcome to the first edition of Drowned in Sound’s monthly Browser’s Digest.
The concept of this digest is simple: I’m going to compile (never "curate") things to read, alongside videos I recommend and podcasts I've enjoyed. It's only going to be things that really resonated with me that I think fellow music fans, musicians and industry insiders will find useful, interesting and hopefully illuminating.
Rather than a pile of links, I’ll add a little bit of commentary, context and/or analysis to some of these stories or just pull out quotes so that it's not too long!
The purpose of this monthly digest is to platform some publications, writers, podcasters, YouTubers, newsletters and the like for you to discover. And to share a few bits that might not bubble up on social media.
Putting together this first digest I've realised that that side-by-side, these pieces reveal something about - lemme switch to PJ Harvey voice - this mess we're in....
As I mentioned in the re-introduction ramble, DiS 2.0 is purpose-driven and this is my way to amplify some journalistic gems in an era of chaos and calamity, where billionaires are either backing far-right free for alls or funding AI algorithms that use "content" like copyrighted music/video/art/writing/etc as source material rather than a destination. Or as one of my favourite tech thinkers Sinéad Bovell put it last week, journalism has become “an assembly line to automate versus an institution to strengthen.”
Feedback welcomed: As this is the first edition, your feedback, ideas and suggestions are very welcome. Subscribers can reply or if you're reading this online, pop your thoughts in the comments below.
The Recommended Read: Everyone’s a sellout now (Vox)
A great read on the birth and tyranny of the “personal brand” that touches on so many interconnected topics that impact everyone from musicians to music journalists and anyone who runs a business in the modern world.
While Big Tech sites like Spotify claim they’re “democratizing” culture, they instead demand artists engage in double the labor to make a fraction of what they would have made under the old model. That labor amounts to constant self-promotion in the form of cheap trend-following, ever-changing posting strategies, and the nagging feeling that what you are really doing with your time is marketing, not art. Under the tyranny of algorithmic media distribution, artists, authors — anyone whose work concerns itself with what it means to be human — now have to be entrepreneurs, too.
New Podcast Pick: Steve Lamacq co-hosts new podcast on music finance (PodPod)
The brilliant music industry reporter Stuart Dredge (MusicAlly, The Guardian, etc) has teamed up with indie music legend Steve Lamacq to host a weekly look at the business of music. The second episode is out and it's all about Universal Music pulling their music catalogue from TikTok.
To listen, search for The Price of Music wherever you get your podcasts.
Before we continue...
It would be remiss of me not to mention that there are two new episodes of the Drowned in Sound podcast out now.
One is with Running Punks’ Jimmy Watkins (formerly of the DiS beloved band Future of the Left) on his insightful and funny YouTube record reviews (as the name suggests, he's running whilst filming them!) and t'other is with the co-founder of The Quietus John Doran following his great piece for The Guardian on what the changes at Pitchfork mean for the future of the music press (we also touch upon John's latest Quietus article with a Syrian emigrant Mohammad Syfkhan).
News: Without grassroots music venues, there’d be no Madonna (The Big Issue)
Laura Kelly, who was a recent guest on the Drowned in Sound podcast and is behind the Big Issue’s Venue Watch campaign (well worth signing up to the newsletter!), writes:
“In the midst of a cost of living crisis that continues to pummel individuals and businesses, the grassroots sector as a whole operated on a profit margin of just 0.5% in 2023. For context – 5% is usually considered a low profit margin, 10% healthy. Less than 1% is undeniably precarious, particularly considering the rents paid by small venues have increased by 37.5% in the last year. Despite an increased demand for tickets, 38% of venues reported a loss in 2023.”
These stats are astounding. Is it any wonder so many venues are closing?
Suggestion: One simple thing you can do is look up your local venue listings and get some gigs in your diary (go on, open the Songkick, Dice Tickets or BandsinTown app, I'll wait...). Or set yourself a challenge to visit at least 10 venues you've never been to this year - one of my favourite things about going on tour is seeing some of the venues I've seen on tour adverts for years and can really recommend this little challenge.
There's a myth that musicians don't need to worry about streaming income being so low because they make all their money from live music. Then there's the myth that grassroots venues are struggling because festivals are thriving.
According to the AIF (Association of Independent Festivals), summer 2023 saw a large number of festival casualties. John Rostron said that “one in six festivals that were around in 2019 were no longer around in 2023″ and they found 36 that had cancelled in advance.
Among the events to have been cancelled last summer were Essex’s Hideaway Festival, No Bounds in Sheffield, Detonate in Nottingham, Chagstock Festival in Devon, Plymouth’s 1 Big Summer, Isle Of Wight’s RhythmTree, Keswick Mountain Festival, and Ulverston’s Coast Road’s festival – all citing spiralling costs and crippling financial issues. Another reason for 2023 cancellations for bad weather – which a large number of events including Eastbourne’s Beach Life festival, Electric Bay in Torquay, and Maidstone’s Revival in The Park put off – but this could still have an impact of the future finances of events.
Three Videos To Watch
Cleo Abrams is one of my favourite YouTubers and her "Huge If True" series covers a lot of ground involving science and technology. I've followed a lot of the Apple Vision Pro discourse, as I have high hopes for VR and spatial computing, once the tech evolves. Cleo's review isn't really a tech review, it's more of an expanded reaction to the potential of the technology for "teleportation". It's a really uplifting and inspiring watch.
Related read: Indie labels cry foul over Apple Music’s enhanced spatial audio royalties (The Verge)
Labels representing Phoebe Bridgers and Vampire Weekend say Apple’s royalty bonus will take money away from anyone who can’t afford the higher production costs.
On "Quitting" YouTube (YouTube)
Marques from the WVFRM podcast has done some brilliant Vision Pro reviews and appears in Cleo's video above, addresses the burnout that comes from building up a YouTube channel and why so many creators are scaling back or pivoting away from serving the algorithm.
Taylor Lorentz on Media Implosion (Instagram)
One of my favourite creators-slash-journalists shares a short analytical video on the recent layoffs across the media. Her new book Extremely Online is a must read (or at least bookmark this hour long chat with Jules Terpak all about it)
A LONGER VIDEO TO BOOKMARK: TikTok Edits (YouTube)
Jules Terpak is one of my favourite YouTubers. Her thoughtful and often philosophical videos about internet culture always teach me something new. This video about (fan)edits (supercuts set to music) is really revealing about bitesize culture, ways big TV shows are marketed, news becomes memes, and how some musicians are using the platform. It’s a 40 min watch so bookmark it for later.
Satire: Our Digital Media Platform Will Revolutionize News And Is Also Shutting Down (McSweeney's)
All your favorite journalists and commentators are hard at work in our Midtown Manhattan offices, getting to the bottom of hot-button issues like “Why don’t our keycards work?” and “What do you mean we’re not getting severance?”
But where is the trickle down? Most artists, songwriters and independent labels are not seeing an equitable share of this income. Be interesting to see how big the major label CEO bonuses are this year, won’t it?
Interview: ‘The Record Label Model Isn’t Created For Artists To Recoup Or Make Money.’ (MusicBizWorldwide)
A new way to run a record label… as a VC fund?
News: Joe Rogan Gets New Spotify Deal Worth Up to $250 Million (Washington Post)
It seems so wrong that Spotify would lay off staff before Christmas, defund tracks that get less than 1000 streams (meaning an artist with 50 tracks who gets 600-900 streams a song would earn nothing), and continue to fund this podcast which normalises and seeds so many things (like climate conspiracies) into the media ecosystem.
If you're enjoying this newsletter, here's a special early birds discount link to upgrade to support the future of Drowned in Sound.
Lucian Grainge, the chairman of UMG, has helped record labels rake in billions of dollars from streaming. Can he do the same with generative artificial intelligence?
How the government captured the BBC (Prospect)
At the moment, the government can turn the BBC’s income streams on or off with barely any public debate. It can slide its own people onto the board or the regulator. It can bully and harass at will. Speak to senior insiders, as I have done over the past month, and they’ll tell you that it’s working. It’s an organisation, a former senior executive told me, “in permanent cringe.”
How Elon Musk’s Twitter Ultimatum Brought Employees to Their Breaking Point: “People Were Emotionally a Wreck” (Vanity Fair)
The billionaire CEO subjected staffers to brutal loyalty and competence tests immediately after taking the helm, as Zoë Schiffer writes in an excerpt of her forthcoming book, Extremely Hardcore. “With Elon,” one engineer recounted, “every day could be your last.”
Klopp’s Left-Wing (Politico)
Not that off topic if you're a regular on our forums but following the news of his departure from Liverpool, I have high hopes that Matt Berninger from The National's doppelgänger might get a bit louder off the pitch. This article is titled "Trump sucks, Brexit is stupid and socialism rules: Jürgen Klopp’s political wisdom."
Thank you for reading.
Please feel free to forward this to that one friend that you think might enjoy this newsletter.
Definitely let me know what you thought of this first digest and how it could be improved in future.
Feels like it's lacking more record reviews and interviews and opinion pieces about music, doesn't it? And was it too long?
p.s. Yes, the title takes inspiration from Reader’s Digest, the compact compilation magazine that my Gran absolutely adored and I used to dip into between episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Speccial shout out to Eva Mackevic who wrote for DiS who is currently editor-in-chief of Reader's Digest!