Black market Spotify playlists? Lobby Boxer tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:49 pm March 12, 2018

by Tim McMahan,

spotifyNot a whole helluva lot going on… With that in mind, spend a few minutes with this story from The Daily Dot called “Inside the booming black market for Spotify playlists.”

This should be of no surprise, in fact people have been pointing to the rise of the importance of Spotify playlists for years. Still, it’s proof that the deck is stacked more than ever in this Spotify era.

The nut graph (from near the end of the piece):

These third-party services have found a backdoor into the valuable world of Spotify playlists, and anyone with some budget to spare can potentially be granted access. That has the potential to dramatically alter the way independent music gets promoted online, and it leaves Spotify in a vulnerable position. After all, there’s no easy way to determine what tracks benefitted from pay-to-play schemes and which ones curators just genuinely liked.

That said, I find that I listen to Sirius XMU now more than ever. How is it that their playlists are so narrow when there’s so much to choose from? Is it any surprise that St. Vincent, Arcade Fire, MGMT and Superorganism are doing well when their songs are on heavy rotation on XMU? It feels like the good old days when you hear a song so many times you think you’re starting to like it…

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Tonight at fabulous O’Leaver’s it’s St. Louis band Lobby Boxer with Jacob James Wilton and Magu. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2018 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Apple Music launches, but is it a game changer? Canada Day at TWR…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:44 pm July 1, 2015

by Tim McMahan,

The Apple Music icon...

The Apple Music icon…

Is Apple Music a game changer?

I think it is. Not because it’s anything special. At best, it’s a knock-off of Spotify. And not because it provides a new way to listen to new music. Apple Music’s Beats 1 is a lesser version of Sirius satellite offerings (specifically XMU).

The reason Apple Music is a game changer is because it’s convenient; it’s easy. If you own an iPhone, Apple Music is a mere touch away after you update your iOS. It’s baked into iTunes, which means it’s right in front of your nose. Just tap the three-month free offer and you’ve opened your listening experience to a global collection of music.

Apple Music became available yesterday at 10 a.m. I updated my iPhone with the new OS during a staff meeting. By the time the meeting ended, the update was installed. After accepting the Apple Music offer, I could search Apple Music’s vast music library in addition to my own. My first search was for Queen’s Live at the Rainbow ’74 album, which I’d been listening to in Spotify. There it was. Tap-tap-tap and Freddie Mercury was blazing “Keep Yourself Alive” through my earbuds.

With immediate access to just about any popular recorded music, why would anyone buy another album from iTunes? There are exceptions. Prince doesn’t exist in Apple Music. Nor does The Beatles. But Taylor Swift is there. So is Metallica. And AC/DC, which Apple is making a big fuss over. Come on, doesn’t everyone already own Back in Black?

The rest of Apple Music’s offerings — the other new features —probably won’t get used. “Connect” — Apple Music’s “social platform” is a hodge-podge oddity that sort of resembles Tumblr with lots of Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails content. Why would anyone look there?

“For You” is a music picker that asks you what kind of music and which artists you like, and then makes recommendations based on your responses, sort of like the “recommended” tab in Netflix. It also creates playlists, such as “Morrissey: Political Songs” and “Inspired by Scott Walker” which includes tracks by Belle & Sebastian, Bowie, Pulp, Tindersticks, etc. This might be worth keeping an eye on.

Then there’s Beats 1, Apple’s so-called radio station that’s “Worldwide. Always on.” There was a bit of a buzz listening to Beats 1 right after the launch, sort of like when MTV first launched in the ’80s and you wondered if music television would really be relevant and/or would anyone listen/watch it. We did, of course. I’m not sure that’ll be the case with Beats 1.

First off, the music isn’t always live. Late last night they replayed their first hours of the broadcast from earlier that morning. It turns out that Apple streams live, though the programming is likely pre-recorded, and includes 12-by-12 reruns — 12 hours new, 12 hours rebroadcast, which sucks. The beauty of live radio was that it was live. These days, only talk radio is truly live. Most music radio stations are run by pre-recorded robots.

Had Beats 1 really been a 24/7 live broadcast, it might have become a sort of global taste-maker touch-point, like MTV was for a few years after its launch. Another problem: The station’s overbearing DJs have a nasty habit of talking during the songs — in fact, right in the middle of  songs. Is talking over songs a “DJ thing” these days? The station also barks out “worldwide, always on” during the middle of songs — i.e., commercials during the music. Consider it an audio watermark, sort of like that network logo that appears in the corner of your TV screen. Awful. Maybe it’s just a temporary thing during launch week? Something tells me it’s not.

Beats 1 played two songs by Bully during the first couple hours of broadcast, making me wonder how bands get added to this rather valuable playlist that’s “aired in 100 countries.” Like KROQ and Sirius XMU, Beats 1 has the power to turn unknowns into mega-stars by simply airing their music. Because in an era when everyone has 10 million albums available at their fingertips, music curation is the candlelight in the wilderness.

In fact, getting your music added to playlists has become the most important thing for bands and record labels. If you can get added to any of these top-100 playlists in Spotify, for example, you immediately get your music heard by millions of people who wouldn’t have heard it otherwise while at the same time scoring valuable “plays” that add to your pocketbook. Getting added  to popular playlists likely will involve spending lots of money, and hiring an agent.

I’ve been a Spotify subscriber for a few years. Will I switch to Apple Music? Probably. Though it doesn’t add any new functions, Apple Music is better integrated with iTunes, which I always have open on my desktop and iPhone. Spotify only has two features I’ll miss: a Running app that matches music to your running tempo (very cool) and a small screen on the desktop that shows what  friends who use Spotify are listening to — believe it or not, your taste matters to me.

But what about the whole “pay the artist” issue? I’ll still buy vinyl versions of music I can’t live without. And a recent discussion with two label reps and a publicist has changed my mind on the value of streaming, at least for mid-level record labels with valuable back catalogs. There’s still no answer for new bands who are getting paid in pennies for streaming. Those bands not repped by a label have a right to keep their music off streaming services. But can they afford to?

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Canada Day is being celebrated tonight at The Waiting Room. The concert, which benefits the Siena/Francis House, features a cadre of local musicians covering Canadian artists. Performers include Michael Campbell, Vago, 24 Hour Cardlock, Sunless Trio, The Electroliners, Tara Vaughan, The Prairie Gators, Kait Berreckman and Castor. $8, 7 p.m., ya hoser!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2015 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Reverb books Sebadoh for September show; Lloyd Cole on the future of ‘niche’ music; Bloodcow tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , , — @ 12:45 pm July 23, 2014

reverblogoby Tim McMahan,

A few weeks ago, the Omaha World-Herald reported that Reverb’s debut concert would be Noah Gundersen Oct. 21, but a few of us knew that wasn’t the real debut for the game-changing music venue being opened by the guys behind One Percent Productions and The Waiting Room in the old Micek building right behind TWR at 6121 Military Ave. (Wow, so that’s what a run-on sentence looks like).

Yesterday One Percent announced Sebadoh will play at Reverb Sept. 28. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. While there may be some test shows or locals before this one, Sebadoh would appear to be the venue’s launch from a notable national act standpoint.

Kevin Coffey of OWH had the scoop on Reverb (here) three months ago. Reverb will be a 100-capacity music venue that not only will focus on naturally smaller-drawing shows (from local bands, for example) but also “intimate” shows by notable national acts. Reverb could charge fans “$100 a ticket to see a band that would normally play for 500 people,” said the article.

That’s the exciting part of Reverb (along with the fact that the venue also will be a first-class bar that serves a variety of beers on tap). Imagine, for example, a band like Rocket From the Crypt, which may be hard-pressed to sell out The Waiting Room, instead playing a $50 show at Reverb. Sweet. But it’s not just those high-dollar shows. Consider Pitchfork-loved bands like Parquet Courts, Perfect Pussy and Titus Andronicus who all played at Sweatshop Gallery — all of those (I think) were all-ages gigs (Sweatshop doesn’t have a liquor license). In the future, these bands could play an all-ages show at Sweatshop and then do a second show at Reverb for us poor drinking sots.

Of course, there’s a chance that those bands may overlook Sweatshop altogether to play at Reverb. Time will tell how Reverb impacts other similar-sized venues such as O’Leaver’s and The Barley Street Tavern, but according to the OWH article, “(Reverb’s) sound system will be top-notch and even nicer than what’s in The Waiting Room” — that’s a feature that may be hard for touring bands to turn down.

Needless to say, if you’re interested in that Sebadoh show, you better get your $20 tickets Friday morning (watch here). This one will sell out. Keep up with Reverb’s construction progress (including some revealing photos of the club’s interior) by following their Facebook page.

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After yesterday’s Matthew Sweet-related mention, here’s more from Lloyd Cole, this time in the form of an hour-long Australian program where Cole and a Hawke Research Institute moderator recap his career in “Inside the Actors Studio” fashion. It’s interesting stuff for Lloyd Cole fans, all four of us here in Nebraska.

But beyond his career, Cole, whose career spans more than 20 years, talks about the age of Spotify and what it means to mid-level under-the-radar “niche” acts.

“...a lot of media have been confusing the record industry with the music industry. It’s not the same thing,” Cole said. “The record industry is part of the music industry and it used to have the lion’s share of income, but live performance now has the lion’s share of income. And if you’re a band starting out and you’re not stupid and you get yourself a following, there’s money to be made, even if you decide you want Spotify to be one of the ways to distribute your music. If that becomes the sole way, than bands just have to tour more. If you don’t want to tour, you’ll have to find alternatives.

Cole said he’s scheming to figure out his “alternatives” that will allow him to make a living playing music. Making traditional records may not be in the cards, even though his latest album, the sublime Standards, is doing fairly well in Europe and still has yet to be released in the U.S.

If (Standards) does well world-wide, it won’t reach 100,000 records,” he said. “Back in the days of Mainstream (his 1987 album released on Polydor) that was abject failure. But if it did reach 100,000 it would be a profitable enterprise. If it sells less than 50,000 world-wide, it’s a loss, and basically me having records in the shop next to Nick Cave and David Bowie is a vanity project and I should look into direct distribution myself.

Cole said since he has a relatively large niche following, he has the option to move to a direct distribution model — i.e., sell his records at — where he’ll no doubt sell fewer copies but make more money per album sale. New bands may not have that option “If you’re a band just starting out, it looks a little grim.”

If Cole’s comments about performance income becoming the be-all-end-all for musicians, it puts organizations like One Percent Productions, with its tie to an array of quality venues, in a similar position that record labels used to be in a decade or so ago, before the Internet and Spotify began eating their lunch.

The Spotify discussion starts at the 45:35 mark.

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A couple shows on this Wednesday night:

At the Hideout on 72nd St. Bloodcow returns. The band is finishing up a new album, of which you’ll likely get a taste. Opening is Wicked Imposition, Megaton and Adam Peterson. 8 p.m., $5 ($7 for minors with permission note).

Also tonight at fabulous O’Leaver’s it’s Relax, It’s Science with Brooklyn duo Jerkagram and Nanahara. $5, 9:30 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2014 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Spotify explains itself and a record store grows in Brooklyn; John Klemmensen, Underwater Dream Machine tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , , — @ 1:47 pm December 4, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 12.44.42 PMYesterday Spotify launched a new section on its website tailored to artists that attempts to explain their royalties/compensation system once and for all. It’s outlined in semi-detail right here under the headline How Is Spotify Contributing to the Music Business?

It’s a long document, but in a nutshell, Spotify declares they’re sticking it to the pirates and offering a way to get paid when “the majority of music consumption today generates little to no money for artists.”

Spotify says its paid out more than $1 billion to date and $500 mil in 2013 alone. There’s a lot of charts and graphs, among them one that shows Spotify’s growth (no surprise), the amount the average music listener spends per year on music (only 45 percent of the population buys music at all), and of course their royalty pay outs.

It starts to get interesting when they go into the royalties breakdown — who gets what, etc. A key sentence: “Once Spotify has paid a rights owner the total royalties due for their accumulated streams, that label or publisher pays each artist according to that artist’s contractual royalty rates.

So I guess it comes down to the deal you made with your label, right? The page goes to great lengths to throw a blanket over the whole “pay per stream” concept. Or as they say “...we personally view ‘per stream’ metrics as a highly flawed indication of our value to artists for several reasons.

That’s where I get lost.

spotifychartBut my favorite part is Specific Payment Figures, where they break down actual pay outs to unnamed artists. In July, something called “Niche Indie Album” was paid $3,300, while “Breakthrough Indie Album” was paid $76,000.

You have to wonder what the “Niche Indie Album” was, because I’ve never heard anyone getting a check that large from Spotify. Maybe they do and they’re just not telling anyone, though there’s a plethora of articles online (such as this one) where sizable indie bands outline the pennies they’ve received for their “niche indie albums.”

And what was that “Breakthrough Indie Album” that came out in July?

Expect an avalanche of responses to Spotify’s explanations, most starting with the phrase, “Show me the money…”

The hard truth is Spotify and streaming services are here to stay, and they’re effectively killing income for small indie bands who have no choice but to make their music available on the service, because as Bob Mould says, “Sometimes you have to sleep with the devil because that’s how you get your music heard.”

Spotify paints a rosy picture of what will happen when they take over the world. It sounds like the basic cable model that Saddle Creek’s Robb Nansel brought up back in 2011. But beyond the royalties issue, streaming services are having an even more insidious impact on artists… more on that later.

In the face of all this comes word that Rough Trade just opened a huge-ass new record store in Williamsburg, NY. Read the Times article here, and a detailed piece from CNET, here (both brought to my attention by Mike Fratt’s Facebook page).

People must still be buying CDs and records or they wouldn’t be laying out that kind of jack on a new store in Brooklyn (Let alone the fact that we have four record stores here in Omaha selling new vinyl)..

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Tonight at The Waiting Room it’s John Klemmensen and The Party with a slew of artists including Underwater Dream Machine, Travelling Mercies and Robo Dojo (no idea who that is). $7, 9 p.m.

And did anyone else notice that One Percent just booked Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks at TWR in March? Sweet!

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Celebrating Worlds of Wayne’s 200th Episode (in the column); Bloodcow tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , , — @ 12:25 pm July 18, 2013
Wayne Brekke in his Tiki Bar studio.

Wayne Brekke in his Tiki Bar studio.

by Tim McMahan,

This week’s column talks about the 200th episode of the Worlds of Wayne podcast, of which host Wayne Brekke asked me to be the special guest, just like I was for episode No. 100. I also talk about the film 20 Feet from Stardom (which is now playing at Film Streams), the state of rock music, Thom Yorke and Spotify. Through it all, Wayne provides the obligatory realistic counter-point. You can read the column in this week’s issue of The Reader or online right here. Go there now and read it. GO!

Speaking of Worlds of Wayne, that 200 episode also went online this morning right here at the Worlds of Wayne website. Take a listen, because I very likely won’t be as I have this crazy phobia about hearing my own recorded voice. I don’t think scientists have come up with a name for that condition (yet). Interestingly, I also don’t like looking at photos of myself. Scientists call that “self-loathing.”

Luckily, Wayne doesn’t suffer from either malady. The Reader column captures what Wayne and I talked about before the “tape” started rolling. After he hit the “record” button, we chatted about why he started Worlds of Wayne, what he gets out of it, and the ups and downs of doing interviews.

Among his favorite WofW moments are talks with Ace Frehley of KISS, psychic Kelli Miller and the many live performances captured in studio. The worst moments center around technical glitches, like his interviews with Billy Ray Cyrus and Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear what happened (but it underscores why I’ve rarely recorded my interviews of the years).

Worlds of Wayne enjoys a healthy 3,000 downloads per month, Wayne said. The production is a labor of love rather than a search for profit (kind of like Lazy-i). I suspect I’ll be in his studio again for Episode 300 and beyond.

“Everyone seems to want to be on the show,” Wayne said. “I’ll do it until no one wants to be on it anymore.”

That’s not going to be anytime soon, especially considering the cavalcade of stars who showed up for his “open call,” which you’ll hear on Pt. 2 of Episode 200, online soon…

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BTW, I ended up not going to Speedy Ortiz last night due to a very early wake-up call this morning and fear of feeling like a total loser walking into West Wing alone. I need to find someone to go to these shows with me.

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I don’t need anyone to go with me to tonight’s show at O’Leaver’s because everyone already will be there. The headliner: Bloodcow. The openers: Minneapolis bands Birthday Suits and Buildings, and Omaha’s own PRO-MAGNUM, $5, 9:30 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


CD Reviews: Bowie, Iceage and Spotify (in the column); Tim Kasher, Brighton MA at O’Leaver’s tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , , — @ 1:17 pm March 21, 2013

by Tim McMahan,

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen a couple of these reviews in one format or another already (though they’ve been slightly altered). Bowie got nudged from the top spot on Billboard by Bon Jovi, which is a shame. Whether you like the new Bowie album or not, it’s hard not to root for him. I didn’t mention the new Low because I only got it yesterday. It’s a return to form for the Duluth trio. I’d love to get them back to Omaha somehow. The surprise among the Honorable Mentions is the Hookworms album, which is real steamroller of a record — grinding psychedelic throb rock, entrancing, Find it.

OTE53: The Quarterly Music Roundup, Brought to You in Spotify

Time for the usual roundup of what I’ve been listening to, this time stretching back to the beginning of the year. And for your information, all of it is available right now via Spotify.

Iím not trying to endorse the service, which is systematically fleecing just about everyone involved in the music industry. I’m just letting you know how I’ve come across the music, and it’s a lot different than it was in “the good old days.”

There was a time about five years ago when I received five or six manila envelopes per week in the mail loaded with promotional CDs. Today, I get about one CD a month (and it almost always sucks).

Instead of CDs, record labels now ìserviceî critics electronically. That means sending us emails with super-secret passwords that allow us to download albums from highly secured ìpress onlyî websites. To be honest, I prefer the downloads to cluttering up my office with CDs, even though I canít trade mp3s for store credit at Homer’s.

But lately even those download codes are drying up. Maybe itís because I’m writing less and less about music in these pages, or because record labels now simply streaming full albums via music websites prior to official street release.

Or maybe itís Spotify, where one can find every new album streamed on its release date. Make that “almost every new album,” because not everything is on Spotify, or even available online. Which explains why there’s no review of the new My Bloody Valentine album, titled m b v, below. Not only is it not in Spotify, it’s not on iTunes or available as a free stream anywhere. If you want to hear the new MBV, youíre gonna have to pay for it, kids, just like we all used to do.

Now, onto the reviews:

David Bowie, The Next Day — Some records take time to “sink in,” but how much time do you give? If itís David Bowie, you give it all the time it needs, I suppose. But after listening to this one off and on for about a week, I’m still struggling to find anything that stands out as being “essential,” or for that matter, memorable. Highlights “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and “(You Will) Set the World on Fire” are as close to straight-up rock as you’re likely to get from the once-Thin White Duke, and are indeed good, if not safe. The foggy, fuzzy, melancholy ballad “Where Are We Now?” is comfortably attractive. The rest of it feels by the numbers, if not slightly dated; functional, but sung well by a voice we all love (and miss). Maybe thatís all weíll ever get from now on, or all we need, or maybe I just haven’t given it enough time.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away — As with most of his recordings, Cave is perversely dramatic in his singing/speaking, as if telling dark lies at midnight, which by the way, is the best time to listen to this record. The centerpiece, “Jubilee Street,” starts with a quiet repeated guitar line and Cave’s weird story about a street hustler named Bea. It builds slowly over six and a half minutes to a massive crescendo reminiscent of the best moments from the Kadane Brothers — the guys behind classic bands Bedhead and The New Year. But instead of Matt Kadaneís droll, monotone vocal delivery you get Cave at his most urgent. The rest of the record is merely sublime. From the dark rumble of “We Real Cool” (with the winning line, “Wikipedia is heaven when you don’t want to know anymore”) to the nearly 8-minute-long rock eulogy “Higgs Boson Blues” that calls out both Hannah Montana and her real-life counterpart: “Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake and youíre the best girl I ever had…” Shades of Robbie Robertson’s spoken-word dramas are conjured (“Somewhere Down the Crazy River” comes to mind), but Cave is never as corny, and never less than sincere.

Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic — One of the most hyped releases so far this year, and worthy of it. Produced by Richard Swift, who worked on the last two Mynabirds albums, track “In the Darkness,” with the line: “Thereís no need to be an asshole / Youíre not in Brooklyn anymore…” is pure ’70s Stones, as Stonesy as you can get without dragging Mick’s saggy old bones into the studio.

Iceage, You’re Nothing — Matador Records may be the only label left (well, along with Sub Pop and Merge, and good ol’ Saddle Creek) where just the announcement of a band’s signing is big news. It means that the label’s brain trust has “discovered” something new, something “breakthrough” that could be as defining as when they signed Liz Phair or Pavement. Unfortunately, the last time that happened at Matador was when they signed Interpol way back in 2002. Still, when word leaked out that Matador signed Iceage it sent people scrambling to the internet to find out what these Danish punks sound like. That answer was only mildly hopeful. Iceage puts a new snarl on post-punk, like a modern version of Husker Du sung by a wasted slacker with a cockney’d scowl and not much to say. Songs like “It Might Hit First” border on hardcore, though there’s something artful beneath the buzz (Maybe itís the guitar solo that cuts in at the 30-second mark?). When they pull back toward the more conventional (“In Haze”) the ice melts revealing something akin to melody, and the road that all good punks head down… eventually.

Honorable Mentions worth seeing out on Spotify, or at your local record store: Suuns, Images du Futur; Foals, Holy Fire; Yo La Tengo, Fade; Big Harp, Chain Letters; Bleeding Rainbow, Yeah Right; Hookworms, Pearl Mystic.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at

First published in The Reader. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

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Tonight is second night of Tim Kasher’s two-night stand at O’Leaver’s. Last night was the solo acoustic gig. Tonight he’ll have a band of familiar faces backing him (so I’m told). Opening is Brighton MA, who according to Omahype is actually a Chicago band who has played with The Walkmen, Okkervil River and Elvis Perkins, among others. Will this one sell out? Don’t chance it. Buy your tickets now. $10, 9:30 p.m.

Hey guys, you better have that tournament going on somewhere…

Also tonight, Dirty River Ramblers play at The Sydney with Brad Hoshaw and In Cahoots. And Celtic-style howlers Great Big Sea are at The Waiting Room ($25, 9 p.m.)

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Spotify enters year 2; new Sebadoh; the nature of evil (in the column); The Eightysevens, Thunder Power tonight…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 12:55 pm July 26, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

Spotify logo


Well, Spotify has been available in the U.S. for over a year now. The Phoenix New Times has put together this “status report” on how well — or not so well — the streaming service is doing. Among those interviewed is Saddle Creek Records exec Robb Nansel, who doesn’t really have anything new to add that he didn’t say in this 2011 Lazy-i interview, other than he doesn’t think Spotify is cannibalizing iTunes sales.

Overall, the concensus remains the same: It’s too early to say if Spotify and other streaming services will be music industry game changers. For the service to become a real revenue generator for lables and artists, it’ll have to scale up to about seven time its current base of 3 million U.S. subscribers (of which I am one).

But even at that size, I’m uncertain how Spotify could become a relevant revenue source for indie bands. I guess I just don’t understand the math. It would have to be the ultimate “long tail” effect, allowing artists to somehow reach a much larger audience than they would on their own. Could Spotify provide the same amount of revenue that an artist could generate selling CDs, vinyl or downloads on their own or through a small indie label? Even with the lack of overhead (other than recording costs) I’m skeptical. But it’s too late to turn back now (right?).

As for the consumer side of things, I continue to use Spotify to “preview” new music that I wouldn’t otherwise listen to. I realize a lot of bands are putting their stuff out on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, but those services simply aren’t that convenient (especially from an iPhone). With Spotify, I can do a search on, say, the new Passion Pit or overly hyped Frank Ocean album — albums that I wouldn’t simply run out and buy — and listen to them on my iPhone either online or offline. There was no way to do that before these streaming services came around. If I dig the music, the assumption is that I’ll buy the CD, download or vinyl. At least that’s (part of) the business model.

But be honest — I’ve buying a whole lot less music than I did before Spotify. The last record I purchased was actually a cassette tape (the new Digital Leather), and the music wasn’t available on Spotify. Bottom line: If I really want something, I’m going to buy it. I won’t wait to preview it on Spotify. If I’m waiting to preview it on Spotify first, it has to be something outrageously good for me to drop down cash and get a hard copy. Was that how it was supposed to work?

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Sebadoh, Secret EP (2012, self release)

Sebadoh, Secret EP (2012, self release)

Actually, I have made one other recent purchase: Sebadoh put out its first new recorded material in 14 years earlier this week. Called Secret EP, the 5-song collection is available as a $5 digital download from here, where you can also preview the tracks. Check out personal fave and future best of 2012 mix CD selection “I dont mind.” Sebadoh says they’re working on a new LP, and none of these five songs will be on it, so it’s definitely worth the price. It’ll be good to see these guys back on the road.

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This week’s column reflects on the horrifying events that have taken place over the past couple of weeks and why there’s no room for the concept of “evil” in the discussion. You can read it in the new issue of The Reader, or online right here.

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A couple shows are going on tonight.

Over at fabulous O’Leaver’s it’s The Eightysevens with Hay Perro and Wet Radio. $5, 9:30 p.m.

Meanwhile over at The Sydney, Thunder Power headlines a show with Underwater Dream Machine. Starts at 9:30 and is absolutely free.

While over at The Barley Street Tavern its Oakland band Swanifant with So. Cal. band Robert Jon and the Wreck and Nebraska’s own Field Club. $5, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Future Tense: 2012 Music Predictions (Pt. 1) — How will musicians survive?; Eric in Outer Space tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , , — @ 1:34 pm January 5, 2012

by Tim McMahan,

And so, as we enter into the year 2012 (the last year of our existence, according to another great seer), it is once again time for me to gaze through the fabric of time to reveal how all of our lives will unfold, music-wise, anyway. Before we get to the little ol’ Omaha music scene, let’s look at The Big Picture. The following will happen, if not next year, then soon:

Digital subscription music streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio, Rhapsody – and eventually iTunes – have only just begun to take their toll on CD sales, which already were in the shitter.

The lone bright spot has been the sales of vinyl records. But unfortunately, we’ve already seen the peak in that nostalgia. The novelty of vinyl will begin to wear off, as people finally come to the realization that paying twice as much for a new release that they’re going to have get up and turn over on their record player, that they can’t play at work or on their smart phone or in their car, is quaint but woefully inconvenient. There always will be the luddites who refuse to acknowledge technology — who will hold on dearly to the ideas of yesteryear — but their numbers will only wane

Meanwhile, the technology behind streaming music will only get better. We’ll see better quality streams and better connectivity to streaming sources. Eventually it’ll get to the point where fans won’t even remember purchasing individual albums or singles. The music they want to hear will just “be there,” as long as they’re within reach of a Wi-Fi or 3G/4G/5G hot spot. Just turn on your device, dial in your favorite artists, and the music appears. What do you mean, “buy your new album”? As a subscriber to Spotify, I already own your music.

The problem, of course, is that only American Idols and huge international pop stars make real money off services like Spotify. The smaller independent artists, who used to be able to scratch together enough cash from CD sales to finance recording another album, will only make a few bucks from streaming (if they’re lucky).

That cold reality will spawn a backlash against these services, but in the end (just like with iTunes) artists will cave – especially after it becomes easy for them to get their music available on these services.

Spotify and the others will adopt iTunes’ seller model. Right now, any band with decent credit can set up an account in the iTunes Store. They don’t have to be associated with a record label or an “aggregator” such as CD Baby or Tunecore. That’s not the case with Spotify, but that will change (especially after iTunes adopts a subscription model). Getting music in Spotify (and the other services) will be as easy as setting up an account, and eventually anyone with access to Spotify (or the other services) will have access to any artist’s music.

(By the way, those “other services” will eventually go away. Just like The Highlander, there can be only one. It’ll be either Spotify or iTunes or one of the others, but only one will survive as the sole online catalog for recorded music, that is until the regulators step in and break up the monopoly.)

If the above model becomes reality – if all music is streamed or downloaded by subscription – than publishing rights, which have helped sustain musicians by paying them for use of their music on television and films, will eventually erode. Artists will begin paying to have their music played in TV and movies if only to widen their exposure.

So with no income from CD sales and publishing rights, how will the independent musicians of old make a living? Three ways: charity, subsidies and performances.

Kickstarter, an online funding platform launched in 2009 to help artists and musicians generate money through pledges, was a first glance at what will become one of the only sustainable models for independent artists to generate income to record new albums. Some bands will blanch at the idea of asking for “charity” from fans, but let’s be honest: most of us buy local artists’ CDs now not because we want the music (which we already have on our computers), but because we want to support their efforts. The only thing missing is the ability to write off those purchases as a charitable donation (at least for now).

Which brings us to the government and private foundations. In Canada and some European countries, governments and private charitable organizations have subsidized artists and musicians for years. Organizations such as Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (FACTOR) are credited with making Canada the third largest producer of musical talent in the world. These private foundations are critical, especially as the global recession takes its toll on budgets.

But these foundations will never be enough. Here in the U.S., federal and local governments have to step up – either in the form of tax breaks or subsidies for musicians – or risk losing our creative class altogether. Look, we’ve subsidized farmers and other industries for years, now we have to do it for artists.

Finally, the last and most important source of income for musicians is live performances. Because no matter how available recorded music becomes, fans will always pay to see a great performance, whether it’s in a club, coffee shop, concert hall or arena. The live experience is something that will never be replicated digitally, thank god.

Next week, the fun stuff: Future Tense: 2012 Music Predictions, Pt. 2, the local edition.

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It’s a night of low-fi rock down at Slowdown Jr. this evening with Built To Spill/Pixies-influenced rockers (at least judging by this Bandcamp track) Eric in Outer Space headlining a show that also includes K.C. band Knot Lazy, Omaha garage noise act The Dads and the mysterious Iron Hug. $5, 9 p.m. Get out in this spring weather, wouldja?

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Lazy-i Best of 2011

Lazy-i Best of 2011

OK, folks, time to remind you yet again to enter the drawing to win a copy of the highly coveted, highly collectable Lazy-i Best of 2011 Sampler CD.  All’s youse gotta do is send me an e-mail (to with your name and mailing address and your name will be dropped into the ol’ shoebox with all the others for a chance to win this once-in-a-lifetime prize. Because, really, who doesn’t need another valuable CD in their collection? Hurry! Deadline is Jan. 15!

Track listing:

1. Eleanor Friedberger, “My Mistake”
2. Peace of Shit, “You Can’t Let Me In”
3. Lykke Li, “Youth Knows No Pain”
4. The Beastie Boys, “Nonstop Disco Powerpack”
5. tUnE-yArDs, “Gangsta”
6. It’s True, “I Don’t Want to Be the One”
7. The Decemberists, “Down By the Water”
8. Big Harp, “Goodbye Crazy City”
9. Kurt Vile, “Jesus Fever”
10. Low, “Try to Sleep”
11. So-So Sailors, “Young Hearts”
12. Destroyer, “Downtown”
13. St. Vincent, “Cruel”
14. Icky Blossoms, “Perfect Vision”
15. Gus & Call, “To the Other Side of Jordan”
16. Lana Del Rey, “Video Games”
17. Digital Leather, “Young Doctors in Love”

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Column 355: Scoring last year’s music predictions; UUVVWWZ, Ladyfinger tonight…

Category: Blog,Column — Tags: , , — @ 1:45 pm December 22, 2011

Column 355 – Final Score: A Look Back at the 2011 Music Predictions

by Tim McMahan,

Because many of you (most of you) center your lives around my annual music predictions (and why wouldn’t you?) I’m starting the process early this year by scoring last year’s predictions. Look, if I haven’t got it right yet, I’m not going to in the next two weeks (Hang in there, Courtney). So with that, let the scoring begin:

2011 Music Prediction: Apple will announce that iTunes now lives “in the cloud.” All your iTunes music will be available on any Mac, PC or iPhone/iPod with 3G/4G or Wi-Fi connectivity.

Reality: It’s called iCloud.

2011 Prediction: Music no longer will be sold in units, but in subscription format — all the music in the world on your speakers or earbuds for just $10 a month.

Reality: Say hello to Spotify.

2011 Prediction: This new music subscription format will mark the end of illegal downloading.

Reality: Too early to say, but one recent report said that in Sweden, the number of Spotify users surpassed the number illegal music downloaders in a mere three months after the service was launched.

2011 Prediction: Artists no longer will be paid based on album or singles’ sales, but on how often online services play their music. Record “labels” will become full-time promotion companies whose goal is to get their artists’ music streamed as much as possible.

Reality: The dream of CD revenues hasn’t lost its luster.

2011 Prediction: Publishing rights fees paid for music used in TV commercials or movies and TV will dry up. Instead, artists will begin to pay producers to get their music used in commercials and movies just to gain exposure.

Reality: It ain’t happening…yet.

2011 Prediction: The death of terrestrial radio as a music promotion tool will mean the rebirth of music videos.

Reality: Despite a lack of television or cable outlets (MTV died as a music channel years ago) more bands are making videos than ever, thanks to grassroots production companies like our own Love Drunk and Ingrained studios providing content to Vimeo and YouTube.

2011 Prediction: Big-league commercial artists will post their playlists online or in Rolling Stone to spotlight new or unknown artists.

Reality: Unfortunately, that ain’t happening.

2011 Prediction: CD prices will drop below $10, resulting in a brief resurgence in record stores. However, the audience for cheap CDs is dying off, literally. And the last kick in the crotch will be when automakers quit offering CD players as standard equipment.

Reality: CDs dropped in price, but not that much; and carmakers continue to offer CD players, though autos are becoming more 3G/4G connected. Watch out.

2011 Prediction: Artists we’ll be talking about this time next year: Bright Eyes, Deathcab for Cutie, Justin Timberlake, U2, Cat Power, Beastie Boys, Madonna, Tilly and the Wall, Decemberists, Commander Venus, Noah’s Ark Was a Spaceship, Dismemberment Plan, Beck, Radiohead, Animal Collective, Conduits and Grasshopper Takeover.

Reality: About 50/50 correct. We’re still waiting for those Commander Venus and Grasshopper Takeover reunions.

2011 Prediction: Artists we won’t be talking about next year: Lady Gaga, Kanye, Eminem, Ke$ha, Susan Boyle, Arcade Fire, The Beatles, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Bruno Mars, M.I.A., Wavves, Best Coast, The National, Sleigh Bells, Vampire Weekend, Sufjan Stevens and The Faint.

Reality: Direct miss.

2011 Prediction: All of Courtney Love’s problems will be solved once and for all.

Reality: She’s still kicking.

2011 Prediction: The Red Sky Music Festival’s ticket sales will fall below their projected target in its first year.

Reality: It’s safe to say that the festival was a financial (and artistic) disappointment, but it’ll be back in 2012.

2011 Prediction: MAHA will take fewer chances for fear of messing up all the good it accomplished in 2010, and ticket sales will suffer.

Reality: Though a solid line-up (headlined by GBV), it wasn’t very risky, and ticket sales were flat compared to 2010.

2011 Prediction: With the surge of local online music news outlets, a couple will fail to catch traction and will quit updating content. One will emerge as the true winner.

Reality:, and are boiling to the top, while old-timer continues to decline.

2011 Prediction: At least one local over-the-air radio station will commit to a CMJ-style indie rock format.

Reality: Uh, no.

2011 Prediction: Another long-time local music venue will be gobbled up by a developer.

Reality: O’Leaver’s will outlive us all.

2011 Prediction: Homer’s Records will have one of its best years in recent memory and will consider opening a new storefront in Benson.

Reality: The Homer’s chain was reduced to a single storefront in ’11.

2011 Prediction: Saddle Creek Records will add another local band to its roster.

Reality: In fact, the Creek passed on two of the city’s hottest acts – So-So Sailors and Conduits.

2011 Prediction: Another band will emerge from Linoma and attract national attention, and it won’t be a Saddle Creek act.

Reality: Can we count Emphatic?

2011 Prediction: An enterprising young local businessperson will launch a new subscription-based vinyl records club, like Grapefruit Records.

Reality: No subscription label, but Rainy Road and Doom Town emerged as new vinyl playas.

2011 Prediction: A new band will emerge consisting of the progeny of members of a classic local ’90s-era band.

Reality: What about Omaha Girls Rock!?

2011 Prediction: A new live music venues will open along Maple Street in Benson. Another will open as the first serious live music venue west of 72nd Street since The Ranch Bowl.

2011 Prediction: The City of Omaha will get behind the return of a “youth concert” in Memorial Park.

2011 Prediction:  Lady Gaga will return to Nebraska, for her wedding.

2011 Prediction:  Bright Eyes will get nominated for a Grammy.

No, no, no and no. So the final count (by my skewed math) is around 11 for 25. Not, uh, good. But check back in three years and see how many come true. And look for my 2012 predictions in a couple weeks.

* * *

Other than maybe the first night, tonight’s episode of Gus & Call’s December residency at Slowdown Jr. may be the best lineup with the biggest draw. Each night of the residency has a theme, and tonight’s is “Light It Up” — make of that what you will. It features a return of two Saddle Creek Records bands that haven’t been on an Omaha stage in a long time. Lincoln act UUVVWWZ sort of disappeared after Creek re-released their debut album (which first appeared on Darren Keen’s It Are Good Records) back in 2009. I’m told that they’ve been writing new material and performing it on Lincoln stages. Now us lowly Omahans will get a chance to hear it.

Also on tonight’s bill is the return of Ladyfinger, who have been kind of dormant since frontman Chris Machmuller began focusing on his other band, So-So Sailors. Who knows what Ladyfinger will unveil tonight. Also on the bill, of course, is Gus & Call, and apparently there will be some comedy as well. With a lot of us having tomorrow off, this one could be huge, folks. $7, 9 p.m. Be there.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


Are labels beginning to turn their backs on Spotify, and why music services could mean the end of the second chance…

Category: Blog — Tags: , — @ 3:43 pm November 22, 2011

by Tim McMahan,


This will be remembered as the year music went to the cloud, with Amazon, Google, Spotify and most recently, iTunes Match presumably changing the landscape in terms of how we listen to new music.

With that in mind, last Friday Wired posted this story with the headline: “200+ Labels Withdraw Their Music From Spotify: Are Its Fortunes Unravelling?” In it, Wired reported that music distributor STHoldings, which represents more than 200 labels, was withdrawing its entire catalog from Spotify, Napster, Simfy and Rdio.

Sayeth STHoldings in the article, “As a distributor we have to do what is best for our labels. The majority of which do not want their music on such services because of the poor revenues and the detrimental affect on sales. Add to that the feeling that their music loses its specialness by its exploitation as a low value/free commodity.

The Wired article pointed to this item in Digital Music News with the headline “Study: Spotify Is Detrimental to Music Purchasing…” that quotes a study from NPD Group and NARM (National Association of Recording Merchandisers) that seems to state that a percentage of consumers were satisfied with merely having access to music, and not owning it. Translated, they listen to their music on Spotify and then don’t buy it.

I saw this exact situation played out right in front of my eyes a month or so ago when Big Harp played at Slowdown. A guy who was a friend of a friend said after Big Harp played, “I love their music. I should probably buy a copy of their CD, but I already have it on Spotify.” I, of course, preceded to call the guy a cheap bastard and tried to guilt him into going to the merch table, to no avail.

Spotify responded to STHoldings in the Wired article by saying artists are receiving “substantial” revenues from Spotify. “Spotify is now the second single largest source of digital music revenue for labels in Europe (IFPI, April 2011) and we’ve driven more than $150 million of revenue to rights holders (ie whoever owns the music, be it artists, publishers or labels) since our launch three years ago.

It should be noted that I didn’t recognize any of the labels that STHoldings represents (read the list here). Just how significant is their withdrawal beyond being a touch point for articles like this one? Who knows…

But let me add this to the mix: Since I began using Spotify (a couple months ago?) it’s been most effective in steering me away from making (what I assume are) bad purchases — i.e., I can now conveniently listen to just about any record that Pitchfork has given a rating of 8 or higher and decide for myself if it’s worth buying or not.

The ultimate downside to all this: I’m now less likely to give a record the second or third “listen” that I would have given it had I purchased it (or received a promo copy). In other words, music no longer is given a chance to “grow on you.” Some of the best records can take weeks and months of listens to sink in. With Spotify and the other services, artists are given one shot to impress the listener before they move onto something else, never to return.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2011 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.