Our noble crusade continues
I didn’t expect this column series to be me writing grievance letters to Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek every month, but the company keep outdoing themselves in terms of uncomfortable business practices. This time around, it’s the announcement of a model worryingly close to pay-for-play. The streaming platform is asking record labels and artists to opt-in to a new service that will give their songs an algorithmic boost in the form of advertisements for new releases. The catch is that this will be in exchange for a reduced “promotional recording royalty rate.”
Spotify has already partnered with a handful of artists on Marquee, which sends notifications to listeners when artists release new songs or albums. Those participating include Justin Bieber and Lil Wayne, and we’re all familiar with seeing Drake albums egregiously plastered over the site. The company’s approach to fostering talent has always taken the form of a billboard more than a democratised platform for art, but the new model will see sponsored songs popping up in user’s playlists, on radio services and autoplay.
Streaming numbers are already tilted in favour of those with more money for extravagant marketing campaigns, but this is uglier. Making artists eat in to their already slim slice of streaming revenue for a greater chance of being heard is a blatant example of Spotify failing to understand their responsibilities to the artists they rely on to exist. It actively closes doors to those who don’t have the money to boost their exposure, those who are the foundation of their whole enterprise.
The aim of this column is to showcase great acts that could use a boost in streaming numbers, and here Spotify make it harder to recommend streaming at all. As Spotify gets greedier, Bandcamp is opening their arms wider, now offering artists on the platform a chance to host ticketed livestream events to keep their income stable through the pandemic. Still, there’s no doubt that Spotify remains the dominant place for music discovery, and if we can make it a valid option for a few acts, it’ll be worth it.
This month, I’m ecstatically recommending Beige Monk (aka Shin Michæla Thmaist), whose giddy approach to psychedelic folk has been a source of comfort over the past few weeks. Her explorative albums take journeys through bizarre and obscured dream worlds, like personal excavations made fit for public consumption. There’s a scrappy demo-ish quality that could well arise from bedroom production techniques, but she fully uses that to her advantage, leaning into on the autobiographical qualities of folk. Even the wild shots of noise and textural experimentation read like journal entries of emotional outpouring.
Their latest release, the wordily titled a recapturing of a dream in which i was thrown into the void where i stayed for an eternity before emerging in my ultimate form to play those who put me there in the game of 200,000 rules (yes really) is the strongest collection so far, balancing sweet earworm melodies with a comforting atmosphere and crisp vocals. There are clear nods to the Microphones, Of Montreal and the current wave of queer internet pop music, but Beige Monk constructs a space wholly their own. ‘Message in a bottle’ harks back to ‘Space Oddity’-era Bowie with its acoustic approach to cosmic storytelling, but Thmaist is a very inward performer compared to her more boisterous influences. Her music feels like being casually welcomed into a dark inner world that’ll only reveal its warmth to those who settle into its oddities.
Beige Monk has released three interconnected dream albums in three years, and the growth over those projects is truly impressive, and suggests even bigger things in the future. The level of ambition and detail present on these songs make them a hidden gem of the highest order.
It’s easy to forget that one thousand is a pretty big number, at least when we’re familiar with seeing play counts stretch casually into the millions. The reality is that some one-thousands are bigger than other one-thousands. A thousand passionate fans does a whole lot more than a thousand half-heard autoplay recommendations. Beige Monk has already been welcomed in by a small but passionate ecosystem of music fans online, the kind that made last month’s Speak and Spell Records happen. They are listeners who place community and outreach far above play counts. Their music tastes were always going to be too weird to chart, but certainly not too weird to love.
Right now, Bandcamp appeals to that demographic far better, by placing the creator firmly at the centre. Listening to Beige Monk in the past few weeks, I’ve realised that part of the reason why a low Spotify playcount stings is that those numbers are the only indication that there’s a real person at the other end of the speaker. It’s our only real metric to engage with other fans and artist themselves through the app. Getting Beige Monk over that first milestone might just convince new listeners to take this outsider art more seriously. The reward of a gorgeously realised dream world should certainly be an enticing one.