How We Listen is an interview series where Byta interviews artists, their teams, and everyone else working in music about how they find and listen to music, new and old.
Who are you?
Where are you based?
Atwater Village, Los Angeles, California
Where do you work? What do you do?
Most recently Warner Music Catalogue, handling global marketing & product development.
What are you listening to?
Lots of vinyl left over from my time in the office, now that I have time to listen! Old Stax Records releases, Blue Note jazz… Plus Jawbreaker vinyl, after seeing them play live recently; The latest from Spiritualized ‘And Nothing Hurts’ is still on high rotation; Primal Scream ‘The Memphis Recordings’ album (2-CD edition with the bonus tracks); Burned CDs of an audience recording of the recent LA Spiritualized live show; pre-release digital of the 2019 Mercury Rev ‘The Delta Sweete’ Bobby Gentry covers album; Terry Callier 2-LP ‘The New Folk Sound’ reissue; Craft Recordings ‘Stax ‘68: A Memphis Story’ CD box; Plus old cratedigging finds by everyone from P.i.L. to Etta James to Billy Holiday to Otis Redding to the Tindersticks.
How do you find new music?
New artists – it used to be primarily from friends talking about new records on Facebook. Though that seems to have died off for the most part now – that was how I discovered Phoebe Bridgers in the last year. A lot of people I trust were talking about Idles, so I tracked them down. Every now & again I will go to Pitchfork to see if a record is worth me investigating, once I have found out about it. I am on the digital servicing list for 1 indie label group, & find out about some newer releases there. Then I am also signed up to email lists for a few other indies (Sub Pop, Merge), so keep on top of at least what is released. Ditto following Domino on Twitter. That involves finding out when a new album is out by an older act (for example, the new Catpower album, on Domino). I do have a few club bookers, & music biz people that may recommend new artists, plus I always find tips from the folk at the Rough Trade Shop in London are good ones. Plus this time of year I go through a lot of the year-end lists to see if there is anything essential or that sounds great!
I also listen to the radio in the car – KCRW in LA and stumble on things there. That is where I am using Shazam most frequently – to find out what is playing on air. More often than not though, the Shazam “what is this? I don’t think this is something I’ll be thinking about buying!” To each his own, as they say! Sometimes listen to the Seattle radio station KEXP online, which I feel I should do more.
I confess though, I am not as interested in that much ‘new’ music now. A lot of what I listen to is just new records by older acts I cut my teeth on (for example the Primal Scream ‘Memphis Recordings’ album). With current music, I am not sure I am interested in hearing just 1 song by a new artist – I still listen to albums for the most part – and find a lot of new acts just not sustainable over a full length, or that interesting (see Shazam comment)!!
Older releases – discovery is via lots of bios & music books, that lead me to tracking down records. James Carr (the greatest soul singer ever!) was a notable discovery that way. I have a stupid list in my head of artists & albums that I need. Sometimes I am in a store, digging through the soul section, & find something that looks interesting, & may look it up on Allmusic for some background, to see if it’s worth buying. I have discovered some great albums that way – like Millie Jackson, & Spencer Wiggins. Also general recommendations from friends. I collect a few label’s catalogs (Stax, Blue Note), & have paper lists printed out, marked up to ID the titles I still need (I’ve bought multiple copies of LPs more than once, thinking I didn’t have them). So I am discovering new (old) music by just buying & listening, based on the weight of the catalog & rep of the label. I’ll always point to the fabulous Candi Staton FAME recordings as something that I tracked down because of the label, & those albums are some of my favorites now.
What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Service and why?
Vinyl is probably the primary medium, in my living room at home. I used to have a turntable in my office too, which was where I’d listen to most music. Being in LA I spend a bit of time on the road, & have a 15 year old Volvo station wagon, which has both a CD player & a cassette deck! So, lots of CDs in the car. I recently cleaned out the majority of my CDs, & was left pretty much with my favorite records, & a ton of greatest hits & boxed sets. Though I was surprised – and kept CDs – of some things that are just not on streaming services in this country (for example, much of the Super Furry Animals catalogue). Online – if it is just 1 song I want to hear or revisit, I will normally Google it & listen on youTube. Full albums I will stream on Spotify. I don’t subscribe to any digital services, & don’t really follow many playlists. I do love streaming though – the fact that a world of music is right at your fingertips & instantaneous is fabulous.
Where do you do most of your music listening?
Right now, at home on the stereo & in the car. From my laptop for digital – sometimes with an external bluetooth speaker. I have an old vintage turntable & receiver in my living room for vinyl. I actually wish I could hook up a CD player, though I’d like it to be a vertical one (which I don’t think exists) so I could just hide it away on the bookshelf underneath. I don’t have a Sonos-style digital set up. I also go on a decent number of roadtrips out of LA, so there are a lot of hours to listen to music. Since my car has just a single CD player (not a multi-disc magazine), it does mean I am more inclined to listen to an album multiple times, as the disc just re-starts, & gives more opportunity to have a deeper dive, instead of possibly dismissing it quickly as it didn’t grab me on first listen. I am very definite in my music listening – usually consciously going to listen to something, with a purpose, rather than having it as background.
How do find and listen to pre-release music?
Mainly digital files I get via email (& DL from Dropbox or similar), from friends. More often than not – if it’s something I really want to hear – I download it into iTunes & burn a CD to listen to in the car. I always have so much music to listen to, I rarely listen to things pre-release unless it’s something I am eagerly anticipating. First listens on radio/NPR if I am really keen. The aforementioned indie label group – I get serviced all their records, but maybe only DL & listen to 10-20% of them. Though honestly now, again I have so much music to listen to, unless it’s top shelf or my favorite artists, I often don’t get around to listening to a lot of new records until *after* release date.
What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?
Well, my iTunes library is a mess. Lack of space on my laptop means much of it is spread over various external hard drives, which are not plugged in constantly. I’d appreciate an easier way to consolidate/find all those songs & files if I do choose to listen to something from back catalog. Promo music services are a bit clunky. But again, it’s DL -> burn CD a lot of the time. I rarely listen in the PlayMPE or Promojukebox players themselves. I do get huge numbers of emails with music in them, & barely click/listen to any.
Other streaming – I do like the convenience in general. I always thought streaming was perfect for ‘less engaged’ listening. I don’t really need to play a lot of back catalogue – I have already shed a lot of those records/CDs from my collection – but if I suddenly feel a need to listen to, say, Depeche Mode – it’s there! I don’t need to go out & buy a release like that. The ads on Spotify I tolerate, though they haven’t hit me hard enough that I am compelled to subscribe to the service yet. There are holes in what is up on Spotify for sure, especially for UK releases in the US, which can be a bummer, especially when you are thinking of listening to something on a whim. I never usually listen to Soundcloud for listening, only for promo purposes (which is just a track or two).
How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?
I don’t! It’s usually just what’s in the stack. My vinyl is all carefully categorized (by genre & labels in some case) & alphabetized though.
Do you tip other people off to new music? How?
Not as much. When I was in the developing/new artist world, I used to do it a lot. Often at the time it was just uploading digital files to Dropbox & sending on the link. Nowadays I sometimes talk about things on Facebook, or mention in conversation. In the end it tends to be a very ‘analog’ process (I don’t make playlists of things to share on Spotify/etc).
Anything you want to “promote”?
I do have a few solid recent favorites – Courtney Marie Andrews I found out about 5 or 6 years ago, very early on, via Damien Jurado. All her recent albums are great, & it is super seeing the job Loose has done & the recognition she is getting, especially in the UK. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever on Sub Pop from Australia are neat – seen them a couple of times live now & enjoyed it immensely (need to listen to the vinyl in my pile!). A reminder of a lot of the bands I grew up with living there, such as The Go-Betweens et al. I worked on some fun releases in my time at Warners – The Replacements ‘Maxwell’s Live’ album is one that stands out – I felt that it all came together so well – the recording, the packaging, the show. People responded with glowing reviews (and then there were those cardboard stand ups too!) The Flaming Lips vinyl reissues turned out nicely, & getting ‘The Mushroom Tapes’ out on LP for RSD was cool. Another band that has been a constant in my work life for 20+ years – Luna – we recently put together a new 2-LP compilation of an expansive set of their cover versions, called ‘Lunafied’ which is fabulous. And it goes without saying that the Spiritualized album was my favorite of 2018. I also highly recommend the biography by Seymour Stein, the founder of Sire Records, called ‘Siren Song’ – a stellar read & a fun reminder of how great it is to be lucky enough to work in the music business.