This is Part 2 of a multi-part blog posting analyzing the way that Reverbnation, the popular artist/dj/rapper/band ranking website, ranks artists.
Since posting that blog, however, some aspect of the Reverbnation rankings approach bothered us, but we couldn’t quite figure out what. Then it hit us. But we’re not going to relay our conclusion – yet. Instead, we wanted to see if we could demonstrate what we think the flaw is (with hopes it can be addressed). That being said, we respect Reverbnation, which – and this is no small statement – we genuinely see as a key player in the future evolution of music worldwide.
What’s the best way to “rank” (and therefore promote) talented artists?
We decided to put together a group of people who are hard-core fans of Electronica – a “focus group,” in marketing language. Our idea was to play tracks by the Electronic Music artists ranked in the top 50 or top 100 on the Reverbnation Charts, but without telling the participants which artist made which song, or the current ranking of each artist, so as not to bias them towards choosing an artist just because that artist happened to be ranked higher in the charts (i.e., to prevent the ‘popularity bias’).
Then we decided we’d also test another theory. Instead of playing music by the Top 100 Electronica Artists, we would instead play 3 tracks by each of the Top 50 artists and mix that with tracks produced by artists ranked from 1001 to 1050 – again, without telling our focus group which artist made what track, etc.
Why do this? We figured there was obviously a connection between an artist’s/producer’s ranking on the Reverbnation Electronica Charts and quality of that artist’s music (certainly more so than what is reflected on more mainstream charts, like Billboard). However, we thought the current rankings might unevenly reward artists who regularly perform in public and/or were better at the administrative aspects of the music business, benefiting them over artists who also produced great work, but were unpolished (e.g., they didn’t know how to master their tracks) and/or simply did not perform publicly and, therefore, had a hard time accumulating fans – perhaps because they were studio producers rather than performers. Just because an artist was out in public promoting itself, we wondered, should that necessarily elevate them in the rankings over an introverted producer? Consider this: exactly 2 years ago, Lady Gaga was ranked #728 in the Electronica category on Reverbnation! She now purportedly has over 10 millions fans on Facebook. Did she just suddenly improve?
The answer, of course, is that Lady Gaga was just as good in October 2009 as she is currently – but 10 million people didn’t know about her – and this got reflected in her Reverbnation ranking. Aside from the obvious marketing benefits, there are, of course, advantages to performing publicly. Having been DJs ourselves, we are aware of the pressure of keeping a crowd moving for hours. Fun? Yes. Easy? No way, and we respect those who do it. But we should also remember that there are advantages to another approach: cloistering oneself, not that the two approaches are mutually exclusive.
Secluding oneself for a time in order to record music has the advantage of giving the artist time to reflect inwardly and perfect their craft. Frankfurt Germany’s electronic genius, Oliver Lieb (a/k/a/ Spicelab, LSG, etc.) is, we hear, one such example. Many of us remember our high school days being surprised to learn that the quiet girl no one knew graduated at the top of the class. It also gives an artist space to develop their own unique sound. There are times when it’s good to hear other artists. The trick is, preserving what it is that makes you, well, you, and not parroting other musicians. It’s our philosophy that what makes an artist great is his/her ability to express their uniqueness through their music. Unlike the conventional thinking of big business, people aren’t looking for a product/service – song, anything, produced for them. Instead, the power of a creation is when it represents an authentic expression of its creator – each of whom is unique. THAT is what we all want to connect with (or, in business parlance, purchase) because, to be candid, we’re all connected. Literally.
And so, after some initial failures, we managed to assemble a focus group. Yes, we actually did.
The Monster Loop Electronic Music “Focus Group”
What were we after in our group? First, because the Electronica category includes many different styles (e.g., Dubstep, Psytrance, House, Progressive, Ambient, etc.), we wanted people who liked many styles of Electronica. Second, we wanted men & women. Third, we wanted people who represented different age groups, but who all liked & actively listened to Electronica. And fourth, we wanted people who were into Electronic Music more than they were into the Electronic Music scene.
The Focus Group – it actually worked
We ended up finding 5 people, each of whom we paid a modest sum, to listen to music. And it wasn’t that hard. Little did they know at the time, they were about to hear A LOT of music. To respect their privacy, we will not reveal their identities. They did, however, give us permission to relay the following:
Participant #1 (“Katja”) is a 24 year old female from Germany studying mathematics at a Chicago-area university. She listens to Electronic Music around 5 hours a week and is “heavy” into the European Electronica scene.
Participant #2 (“Mike”) is a 45 year old man from Chicago who manages a record store. By the end of the weekend, he acquired a nickname – “Rain Man,” (he was cool with this) due to his ability to recall obscure facts about almost any techno artist from the past 30 years. He claims he has over 5,000 vinyl records, most of which are Electronica, though he pointed out that term “is of recent lineage.”
Participant #3 (“Jose”) is a 28 year old man from Hammond, Indiana. He’s a graphic designer in Chicago and said he likes every style of Electronica. His favorite style is Dubstep.
Participant #4 (“Jason”) is a 29 year old unemployed man from Chicago who likes ambient, downbeat, and experimental techno. He thinks Aphex Twin (Richard James) is “the best ever.”
Participant #5 (“Seth”) is a 40 year old man who has been listening to electronic music since 1988. His favorite styles are “Acid House, Progressive, and Psytrance” and “almost any style if it has a good beat.” Like ‘Rain Man,’ he had an impressive knowledge of the genre.
Weaknesses of our Group
The youngest participant in our focus group is 24 years old. There is obviously a huge contingent of fans under age 24 – and we’d love to get their viewpoint. This particular focus group, however, had alcohol. Enough said. Most of the participants are from Chicago; there is only one non-American (a German) and 4 of the 5 participants are men. A more subjective “weakness” (strength?) of the group is that there appeared to be a higher than average IQ level – just a guess and we’re not sure of the impact. Finally, 5 is hardly enough people to draw too many conclusions. From our own experience, however, we have continually been surprised to find that people who have listened to and commented on our music have generally liked the same tracks.
What the Electronic Music Focus Group listened to & liked
Results will be discussed in the following two blogs. For now, we wanted to relay what we had our little group do (bwaa haa ha). After meeting for dinner on Friday evening to make sure no one was Jack the Ripper, each person agreed to show up the following morning at my home outside Chicago (note: Monster Loop is listed as Atlanta on the charts because William lives there and I used to. Note also the photo on the left which was taken while setting up). They were then asked to listen to samples of 260 Electronic Music tracks. Yes, 260. And, yes, it took all day. Probably poor planning on our part. Beer was eventually brought in, and food. People took breaks, etc.
After hearing a track, each person was asked to score it between 1 and “10,” 10 being best. We did not provide any guidance other than that 10 was whatever they liked best, however they defined “best,” whether or not it had the slickest production, etc.
And they did. They actually did. Many funny things happened that day. That is the subject of my next post.
Monster Loop recently stumbled upon what we consider to be an interesting electronic music artifact: A list labelled “100 good techno tracks,” dated April 11, 1995. Unfortunately, one page was torn from the list so it ends with #78. Nevertheless, we felt it was worth reprinting what we have, which included the following introductory language:
100 good techno tracks
The following 100 tracks are, in our opinion, good electronic music tracks. This list is not intended to be complete. We are sure there are many, really good tracks unjustifiably left off the list either because we haven’t heard of the track, or because we have heard of the track but are just too dumb to realize the track is good. On the other hand, there are a thousand tracks we left off the list that are outright BAD. We mean REALLY bad, and the purpose of the list is to let people know that there is actually good electronic music out there, it’s just hard to find in most vinyl & CD bins. The tracks are in no particular order.
|1||Pscilocybin||Oliver Lieb/DJ Jorg|
|2||Das Omen||Mysterious Art|
|3||Carnaval||Signal Aout 42|
|4||Biting my nails||Renegade Soundwaves|
|5||High Energy Protons||Juno Reactor|
|6||I sit on Acid||Lords of Acid|
|7||The Comeback||Love, Inc.|
|8||Word of God||The Subjects|
|9||Mantel Der Nacht||Time Modem|
|10||The definition of taking a step into another dimension||Skydiver (T. Heckman)|
|12||Spice Must Flow||Eon|
|15||Die Zukunft (last minute mix)||Scope|
|16||Age of love||Age of Love|
|17||Bit Stream III||ClockDVA|
|19||Jesus Loves the Acid||Ecstacy Club|
|21||Move your Body||101|
|23||Liquid Empire||Cold Sensation|
|25||No Way Back||Adonis|
|26||Weather Experience||The Prodigy|
|27||Flesh||A Split Second|
|29||Ver Vlads||Crazy Ivan|
|30||Substance Abuse||Fuse (aka Plastikman)|
|32||UT1-DOT||Polygon Window (aka Aphex Twin)|
|34||Clap Me||Jack Frost|
|37||Placebo Mix||Force Staccato (Oliver Lieb)|
|39||Helter Skelter||Meat Beat Manifesto|
|40||Umsturz Jetzt||Robotiko Rejecto|
|41||Schottkey 7th Path||Aphex Twin|
|43||Warsaw Ghetto||Nitzer Ebb|
|44||Acid Rock||Rhythm Device|
|45||Ritual of Life – Tribal Acid Mix||Sven Vath|
|47||Digital Tension Dementia||Front Line Assembly|
|48||Meet Every Situation Head On||Psychic TV|
|49||Welcome to Paradise||Front 242|
|50||Sun||The Ambush (Oliver Lieb)|
|51||Jack to the sound of the underground||Hithouse|
|52||Russian Radio||Red Flag|
|53||Nocturne||Age (T. Heckman)|
|55||Living in a Land||Robert Owens|
|58||Sympathy for the Devil||Laibach|
|59||Alone (It’s Me)||Abfahrt (Torsten Fenslau)|
|62||Time to die||Aircrash Bureau|
|63||Hearts & Minds||Nitzer Ebb|
|65||System||Force Legato (Oliver Lieb)|
|66||Colosseum crash||A Split Second|
|67||Little Fluffy Clouds||The Orb|
|68||Over the Shoulder – ext. remix||Ministry|
|74||Look on this side||X marks the pedwalk|
|75||I’ve lost control||Sleezy D|
|76||I’ll never let you down||William S|
|78||Our Darkness||Anne Clark|
He has been called “the mad genius” due to the extraordinarily diverse, innovative tracks he has produced since 1985. The Guardian Newspaper called him “the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music.” He has been an inspiration to both members of Monster Loop. In honor of him, we’ve selected a few tracks by some contemporary artists which we think evidence the enduring influence of Richard James, aka Aphex Twin.
Artist / Country / Track
- Musical Craft / France / Tum Tum Tu Tu Ta
- Ocoeur / France / Trip hop in the night
- Kay / Hungary / inka
- Jam’s / France / Sentiments eparpilles
- Maelstrom / England / Music Technology
- Monster Loop / USA / Jacked
Bordeaux is the capital of Aquitaine—one of the 26 regions of France in the south-western part of the Republic, along the Atlantic Ocean and Pyrenees mountains that border Spain. Known primarily for its magnificent red wines, we believe Bordeaux may also shortly be known as being the home of one of the world’s most exciting, emerging electronic artists: Ocoeur.
As with any great artist, it is not easy to describe the work of Ocoeur. He (Franck) produces experimental grooves that lie in an otherworldly ethereal realm that exists outside of time and to the extent they are in space, it is a space that has neither night nor day. Tracks such as “Trip hop in the night,” “Sonomie,” “I want,” and “Slenders Seconds,” for example, place one in a hypnogogic state – that condition of mind that is neither awake nor asleep but somewhere in between. It is a world where one remembers those long forgotten dreams of childhood; a place where fantasy exists peacefully alongside a darker reality.
Because the music is wholly original and contains no words, it is particularly difficult to describe, therefore one is handicapped by a vocabulary based upon his/her own limited experience. The sound conjures up great performances of the past: the mystery of life brilliantly captured by ClockDVA in “Buried Dreams;” the creativity of Richard James (aka Aphex Twin aka Polygon Window, etc.) in his ambient and IDM dance-music productions, albeit more subdued, more focused on melody. One is even reminded of the great group “Goblin,” which elevated Italian Horror Meister Dario Argento’s films, such as Suspiria and Phenomenon to cult status with haunting soundtracks (watch the first fifteen minutes of Phenomenon (the one directed by Argento – not the one that stars John Travolta). It is a juxtaposition of nightmares and beautiful dreams; of innocence and innocence taken. Technically, it is the coniunctio oppositorum described by the medieval alchemists and written about by the great psychiatrist Carl Jung—that which unites matter and soul.
Monsterloop gives its highest recommendation to Ocoeur. To stream (free) these, and other, tracks by Ocoeur, see the links below.