The waning days of summer can mean only one thing: The Airborne Toxic Event’s fall tour is almost upon us! While you wait for that, we present some ruminations on Airborne’s place in today’s music scene, and all the latest news from The Bulls.
TATE, Shazam, and the State of the Music Industry
Last week, The Airborne Toxic Event announced a contest in which they asked fans in Buffalo and Philadelphia to regularly Shazam new single “One Time Thing,” dangling a chance to hang with them backstage as enticement. That announcement came hot on the heels of the launch of our own Shazam contest, in which we’re giving away a copy of Dope Machines on vinyl. (And yes, there’s still time to enter both contests, so we’ll forgive you if you pause your reading now to quickly Shazam the song.)
Why all the sudden fuss about Shazam, you ask? Well, as we explained briefly in our contest post, Shazam has very quickly become a key – perhaps the key – to success in the popular music scene. My TIN cohort Julie has been doing extensive research on the subject and educating me along the way, and what we’ve learned has been eye opening.
For the user (Joe Music Fan), Shazam is a music discovery tool. The app allows you to instantly identify any song you hear, anywhere… on radio or television, in a store or on a crowded street or in your friend’s living room, in your car or bleeding through the wall of your apartment. No more waiting for the song to end in hopes that the DJ mentions the title or artist; now you need simply hold up your phone and hit ‘Shazam,’ and you get not just the name and artist, but lyrics and links to purchase the track. Beautiful, right?
Music industry insiders use Shazam in an entirely different way. The data collected from millions of Shazammers around the world allows them to predict with pinpoint precision which songs are going to hit, and which are not. This then allows them to focus their efforts around music that has ready made hit potential. Radio stations use this information to form their playlists, and concert promoters use it to choose which acts to bring to town.
So, it’s easy to understand why The Airborne Toxic Event wants fans to Shazam up a storm. They’ve never bought into the classic indie rock line of thinking that sees success as dirty. They’re not going to sacrifice their integrity as artists to achieve it, but neither are they going to shy away from using the tools available to them to get their music heard. And no one should begrudge them this.
What pisses me off is that the system seems rigged against Airborne and other bands of their ilk. A comment from TIN reader Susan on our contest illustrates the problem: “I’m used to using the app to ID songs I don’t know… not ones I play continually!”
I’m with her. Frankly, it never occurred to me to Shazam TATE. There’s no need to identify songs I could sing in my sleep. I would guess that most established fans of this (and any other) band are in the same boat.
And therein lies the problem: if Airborne fans aren’t Shazamming the band, who is? It’s a vicious cycle: the fans don’t Shazam, so radio stations don’t pick up the song, so new listeners who might be given to Shazamming it never hear it, so promoters don’t think anyone cares about the band, so fewer shows get booked.
The problem is compounded by the fact that Airborne audience demographics likely skew a little older than the typical Shazam user, and by the fact that Mikel Jollett does not go out of his way to write radio/Shazam friendly material (a factor which is a major positive in my book). Consider his comments when Darren Rose asked him last year if he cares about radio singles:
No. I mean, yes and no. Here’s my thoughts on that: No, because you can’t write a radio single… I can’t do that. We’ve never been that kind of band. Our songs that made it on the radio were never really intended that way… You just have to write a lot of music, and sometimes you write something that’s really great. And if something’s really great, people will play it because it’s great… I don’t want to be known for something that’s kind of superfluous. There’s bands now, and I won’t mention them, who are on the radio, and I wouldn’t want to play their songs… It’s not my thing, and I wouldn’t want to be a musician if it meant I’d have to sing their songs… I really believe that great music rises to the top.
It’s an admirable stance to be sure, and I don’t think many Airborne fans would have it any other way. But it does put the band behind the eight ball given the current industry landscape. In a time when a song is made or broken in its first ten seconds (after which very few people will Shazam it), it becomes very difficult for artists of depth to get noticed. And that just sucks.
Nevertheless, it’s the way the game is played now. Many have commented on the sparseness of The Airborne Toxic Event’s tour schedule this fall, compared to previous album cycles. The truth is, we’ve been terribly spoiled by the band’s relentless touring in the past, and we can’t expect it to continue forever. So, if you want TATE to come to a venue near you… SHAZAM! Otherwise, they’ll forever find themselves on lists like this one: Gigwise’s 24 Brilliant Artists Who Deserve to Be So Much Bigger.
Enough of that nonsense; on to happier subjects, like the fall tour. The opening acts have been set for most of the non-festival dates. In Buffalo, Boston, New York City and Philadelphia, it will be Dreamers. In Los Angeles, it will be Australian folk duo The Falls. They seem pretty excited.
— FALLS (@The_Falls) August 19, 2015
While the rest of her Airborne bandmates have seemingly enjoyed a quiet summer, Anna Bulbrook has been devoting every spare moment to her band The Bulls. Their debut EP Small Problems drops a week from today, but we’ve already reviewed it. Spoiler: it’s brilliant.
Meanwhile, the band has been generating an impressive amount of press of late. Here’s a roundup:
DOA reviews “Rumors,” saying, “‘Rumors’ is as equally strong as the previous two singles and rides on the wave of a driving bass line that propels the song forward. Sharp, New Wave guitar riffs slice through the dreaminess of Anna’s cool-tone, but sweet vocals. A restless rhythm builds up from the flexible bass line and addition of bright synth note plinks and shaken percussion as Anna questioningly posits ‘Is the rumor true?'”
Glacially Musical gives thumbs up to the EP. “The songs sound absolutely phenomenal. The guitar tones are brittle and gritty. The bass guitar has a strong, dirty grit to it, and the drums fit in the to the tracks like they should. This album is upbeat, peppy, and poppy. Here and there, twinges of sadness rear their heads, but only as if they’re being shouted down by laughter.”
Grimy Goods spared few superlatives in their coverage of The Bulls’ #GIRLSCHOOL residency. “Bulbrook’s vocals are pitch-perfect to the point they almost sound auto-tuned. Bulbrook was a triple threat, alternating from guitar to violin, all while slicing up the crowd with her voice.”
Finally, and most significantly, the LA Times ran a full-length feature and interview with Anna yesterday. The biggest revelation is that she and partner Marc Sallis will be headed back to the studio in September and October to continue work on their first full-length album. This would seem to suggest that the large gap in Airborne’s touring schedule during the early fall will not be filled with shows, or at least not entirely.
The article also reveals a great deal about how Anna got her start in songwriting, the genesis of The Bulls, and the sense of purpose she feels as a female artist: “Once we committed to doing the #GIRLSCHOOL angle, it really started to feel important to me in a deep way,” Bulbrook said. “It wasn’t just a chance for the Bulls to grow. I thought of the mission quickly, and then I realized afterward how much it meant to me.”
With The Airborne Toxic Event hitting the stage at Riot Fest Denver in a week’s time, here’s a look book at their last appearance at that festival, back in 2013. This is “Safe.”
Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.