Where are you based?
I spend as much time as possible at my home in the Catskills, but I’m based out of NYC.
Where do you work? What do you do?
I oversee the sales team at Lyte. Lyte is an overlay to a venue/event’s primary ticketing platform (Ticketmaster, See Tickets, Etix, Eventbrite etc.) that offers features and tools that create a better fan experience around buying/selling tickets. Our classic product is our secondary exchange that gives fans the ability to return tickets and join a waitlist for sold-out tickets they missed out on with real, legit tickets. We have another product that offers a better on sale experience to fans with features like group transactions, payment plans and flexible (returnable) tickets. We’re proud to power events/venues like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Bottlerock Napa, Newport Folk Fest, Bowery Ballroom, 9:30 Club, and Levon Helm Studios.
In this current COVID-19 climate we’re living in, we’re rolling our sleeves up and trying to help as many festivals and venues as possible. We’ve taken pieces of the Lyte platform and created a solution to help with postponement and cancellation while preserving cash flow and giving fans options. You can read more about our solution here. We’ve also doubled down with venues and helped launch NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) with the goal of US government funding for venues. I’m sad that COVID-19 brought us to this situation, but I’m happy that Lyte is able to help.
What are you listening to?
Lately, I’ve been catching up on music released between 2004-2013. During that period, I was producing radio for Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM and listening to music through a very different lens. Our format at Little Steven’s Underground Garage was anything that influenced the Ramones and anything that was influenced by the Ramones. That included early rock n’ roll, doo-wop, girl groups, punk, power pop, folk, etc. I was listening to a lot of new music based on whether it fits in the format or not. Of course, I also listened to music I liked outside of the LSUG format, but I feel like I missed a lot of records from that period. Here are some new (old) finds for me:
- Flotation Toy Warning – Bluffer’s Guide to the Flight Deck
- Caribou – Andorra
- Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours
- Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
And because I’m always listening to new music too, here are some new finds that I’ve found during the pandemic:
- Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology
- Empty Country – S/T
- Jon McKiel – Bobby Joe Hope
- Pictish Trail – Thumb World
- Peel Dream Magazine – Agritpop Alterna
- Juniore – Un Deux Trois
- Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind
How do you discover new music?
There are a number of labels, sites, radio stations, and friends that I rely on for recommendations. I appreciate algorithms but trust my personal sources more. Here are some of my go to’s:
- Blogs: Aquarium Drunkard, Brooklyn Vegan, Line of Best Fit
- Labels: Burger Records, Trouble in Mind, Fire Records, Heavenly, Beyond is Beyond is Beyond Records, and Woodsist.
- Radio: Matt Wilkinson’s show on Apple Beats 1, Underground Garage and SiriusXMU on SiriusXM, various shows on WFMU, KEXP, and KCRW.
What formats do you usually listen to? LP, CD, Cassette, Digital, Streaming Services? Why?
Vinyl and streaming now. Until last week I still listened to cds in my 2006 Subaru with a 6 disc changer. My Subaru died in front of Albert Grossman’s Bearsville studio in Woodstock, NY last week. I had the same 6 cds in the car for about the past 5 years which included the War on Drugs, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, Apples in Stereo, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and the Phil Spector Christmas Album. That was the soundtrack to my 2006 Subaru. I have a massive cd collection boxed up that fills an entire closet. I haven’t opened it in 5-6 years. Not sure when I will.
I like streaming because of the convenience. But lately I’ve been trying to support more artists by purchasing their catalog on Bandcamp. Weirdly, I still stream their music on Spotify after I buy it. Again, out of convenience. But hopefully my fractions of pennies per stream will someday buy my favorite artists a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a kombucha.
I used to have a big vinyl collection but I’ve now slimmed my collection down to a case that holds 200 records. I remember going into one of my favorite bars called Tubby’s in Kingston, NY and noticing their vinyl collection. I remember asking how they curated their collection and the owner said, we picked out our 200 favorite records that fit this room. No matter which record we pick, it feels right. I also had an experience in an Airbnb in Montreal where there was a small vinyl collection. As I looked around the apartment I realized that these 50 records were the perfect collection for this particular place.
These two experiences made me rethink accumulating records. If I buy a new LP, then one needs to leave. That’s my goal with my 200 LPs. They’re the soundtrack of my living room in the Catskills. If I lived in a different house I’d probably need a different set of 200 albums.
Where do you do most of your music listening?
Most of my music consumption happens either in my home or on hikes now. One demand I made from my wife when we purchased our house was to have a Sonos speaker in each room. So we’re constantly flinging music to various rooms of the house. It can be interesting sometimes to walk from one room where I’m listening to jazz to another where my wife is listening to French pop.
When I go for hikes, I tend to download a couple of albums to my iPhone before I leave and bring my AirPods Pro for the hike. It’s a great way to eliminate the paradox of choice and focus on what’s downloaded on my phone.
How do you find and listen to pre-release music?
This used to be my life. I’d get piles upon piles of promo cds sent to me every day when I was producing radio for SiriusXM. I was constantly looking for leaks for other albums so that we could be one of the first plays for a new song. I get less promo emails now and THAT’S OK. Ha!
I also appreciate when a publicist or radio promo company has done their homework and applied a personal touch. They know what I like or when I tell them why an artist wasn’t a fit, they improve their “What Craig Likes” algorithm. Sadly, there aren’t nearly enough industry folks that consider what the person they’re sending music to actually likes. But there are some good ones still and I stay on their email lists for new music recommendations.
I remember a conversation with one of my publicist pals about focus tracks and how that’s often the way you discourage a big name talent from playing the music. You don’t tell Bob Boilen or Little Steven which tracks they’re going to like. You send them the album and ask them what the single should be. That convo has stuck with me.
When a friend sends me pre-release music though, I’m not sure there’s a platform or experience that checks all of the boxes for me. Soundcloud seems to have become the standard. The fact that I can now listen to private links through Soundcloud’s app is an upgrade to me. I don’t mind Bandcamp either, but again it’s not a perfect experience.
DISCO seems to be more the type of interface that I appreciate. I like the integrations with Dropbox and Box. I love the EPK feature and the ability to create my own playlists, notes, etc.
What are your frustrations with listening to music digitally? Any benefits?
I think my biggest frustration with listening to music digitally is the revenue generated for artists. I really think we’ve created inequality as we’ve moved away from physical to ecommerce to subscription. There are fewer artists making enough revenue through streaming platforms and they now need to work even harder to create content, tour, and always be releasing new music.
It’s good and bad. I think the average listener looks at streaming platforms as “they get all of this music for a $9.99/month bargain.” The better fans purchase t-shirts and vinyl to support artists. I’ve worked with artists who have gone on the road and had fans come up to the merch booth looking to support them but they already own every t-shirt and vinyl they’re offering.
“The benefits of digital. Convenience. Price. Shareability. Algorithms delivering recommendations. I think there are a lot of positives outside of the economics.”
We’ve basically turned artists into apparel and record shops. It would be nice if a model like Patreon stuck, but I think most artists look at it as “yet another platform that I need to create more content for an update.”
In this COVID-19 world, we’ve got artists playing for tips again which is pretty wild to think about too. Although some of my friends have done really well with the tip model.
The benefits of digital, I’ve touched on throughout this interview. Convenience. Price. Shareability. Algorithms delivering recommendations. I think there are a lot of positives outside of the economics.
How do you keep track of everything you are listening to?
This is something I struggle with to be honest. Locally downloading to my phone via Spotify is one way. Purchasing music on Bandcamp is another way. I also have a playlist of 30 tracks I’m digging at a given moment on Spotify. Give it a follow if you want to see what’s currently in my ears.
Discover the #HowWeListen Playlist
Listen to the #HowWeListen 2021 Picks playlist. Curated by this year’s interviewees.
Do you tip other people off to new music? How?
I still send friends new music that I think they’d like via text, WhatsApp, email, etc. I’ve also hosted listening parties for friends to experience a new album with me in these COVID-19 times. That’s been pretty fun. I stole the idea from Tim Burgess from the Charlatans UK and his Twitter parties. I used to love listening parties in the city. I feel like that could become a “thing” again.
Anything you want to “promote”?
I’d love it if everyone had a look at Lyte’s COVID-19 relief page. If you’re able to (and I know a lot of us can’t) please support one of the GoFundMe’s for your favorite independent venue. Or buy a t-shirt. Or a gift card. Or seriously consider whether you need a refund for your ticket.
If you’re not able to financially help, please support your favorite independent venue by taking action with NIVA. There’s an easy to use form that will write to your senator and representative. It’s free and will take you under 60 seconds to complete.
Venues are economic centers that drive spending at restaurants and hotels, create jobs, and support your favorite artists. It’s important that we help these venues stay in business. Especially if you want to see music in person at some point in the future.
Here are a few artists/friends that I’ll plug too that I think are doing a fantastic job helping people get through COVID-19.
- Low Cut Connie – tune into their “Tough Cookies” live streams every Thursday and Saturday on FB and IG. I’ve worked with Adam and am so impressed with what he’s doing in his bedroom during the quarantine. Clothing optional.
- Elephant Stone – tune into Rishi’s “Sacred Sound Sessions” on Tuesdays. He was teasing future guests from his MIEN project last night that includes members of the Horrors and Black Angels. *wink wink* Also, Elephant Stone’s new song written during quarantine called “American Dream.” Proceeds go to PLUS1.
- Bird Streets – I’ve known John Brodeur since college and it’s mindblowing how far his music has come. He writes fantastic pop songs that echo Big Star, Jellyfish, Wilco, etc. Check out his self-titled album that he co-wrote and performed with Jason Falkner. And tune into his “Quarantine Blues” live streams.
Ringo Dreams of Lawncare – This is my buddy Michael Donaldson’s weekly newsletter. Michael is better known as Q Burns Abstract Message who was signed to Astralwerks. Each “episode” includes a new song and Michael’s musings about the current times. I come away from each newsletter with creative ideas, books to read, music and podcasts to consume, and music business insights.
"I really think we’ve created inequality as we’ve moved away from physical to ecommerce to subscription. We’ve basically turned artists into apparel and record shops."