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Spotify brings deeper appreciation of local acts to streaming

Peter Mongillo, Music Source

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Chris Stephenson, here getting a drink from a fan, and Dikes of Holland can be found on Spotify.

In 2010, Spotify founder Daniel Ek gave a keynote address to the Interactive portion of South by Southwest where he argued that his online music streaming service represented the future of the industry, one where people pay for the right to listen to rather than own music. After the talk he promised that his company, already popular in Europe, would hit U.S. shores within the year. It took a little longer than that for Ek to secure licensing deals with the major music labels, but he finally got it done, and two weeks ago, Spotify launched in America.

There has been a lot of online chatter about how Spotify compares to services like Rdio and Rhapsody, which offer a similar product — access to an iTunes-like catalogue, with subscription options that allow streaming on a mobile device — but one main difference is a deeper catalogue, with 3 million to 6 million more songs. That might or might not be a big deal, depending on how much music a user consumes. If I'm going to pay $5-$10 for a subscription to a music service, I would rather it be for the one with more songs.

What does this mean for bands? Spotify's social networking options make it easy for users to share music; it's another useful tool for independent bands, who can get their music on the service through an online music publisher such as CD Baby. A lot of this music is also available on Rhapsody, but Spotify allows users to share playlists on Twitter or Facebook, and users can send music directly to their Facebook friends. Rhapsody allows users to build playlists and share them with other Rhapsody users, but it's not as integrated with social media and it's not free. Rdio does offer more social elements, but it doesn't include music from independent artists.

It's hard to persuade people to buy your music if they haven't heard it. Independent bands can reach more people by encouraging their fans who are Spotify users to share music within their social networks. Sites like Bandcamp, which provide an easy way for bands to stream music (compared to an increasingly clunky MySpace) have become useful tools, and Spotify has the potential to make it even easier.

Amarah Ulghani, bassist for Austin-based pop rock group the Sour Notes, says that the little bit of money that her band makes selling music through iTunes or Amazon isn't worth as much as getting people to go to a show, where they might buy CDs or other merchandise. A site like Spotify might help bands reach audiences in other places before a tour. "You want to make it easier for them to find out about you." Ulghani says. "That way they won't have to strain so hard to find out what you sound like before you get there."

My Austin Spotify playlist:The Wooden Birds, "Too Pretty to Say Please"; the Zoltars, "Homicide"; Centro-matic, "All the Talkers"; Monarchs, "Business Casual"; John Wesley Coleman III, "Bad Lady Goes to Jail"; English Teeth, "Bloody Knuckles"; White Denim, "Drug"; Dikes of Holland, "Sunrise"; the Sour Notes, "Particularly Shrill"; Leatherbag, "Caroline"; Jesse Woods, "Ugly Dress."

Still rocking. The initial run of band Mission of Burma, which started in 1979, lasted only four years, cut short by guitarist Roger Miller's extreme tinnitus. After working on other projects for 20 years, the group unexpectedly reunited in 2002, playing shows and releasing three albums that are closer to the work of a young indie band than a bunch of middle-aged guys who could just as well be coasting along on the strength of their 30-year-old material. Friday night at Mohawk they unleashed an hour-plus of nonstop, no-time-to-catch-your-breath rock, reinforcing their rep as a lasting power in the music world.

Though Mission of Burma came out of Boston at a time when hardcore bands were getting their footing in the United States, they weren't always delivering the angry, lightning-fast music of many of their contemporaries — sometimes it was fast, but there was enough experimenting going on with sounds from other genres that the band was able to carve out their own influential niche in the world of indie music. Despite their differences, they still have the energy of a hardcore band. Though the night was full of plenty of tempo changes, PA effects (courtesy of soundboard operator Bob Weston, who replaced original sound guy Martin Swope when the band got back together) and other interesting elements, there wasn't much time to think about any of it.

A good chunk of that momentum came courtesy of drummer Peter Prescott. Whether he was playing a mile a minute on "Donna Sumeria," thundering along on "2wice," or even singing, he was consistently impressive, at times an absolute force, for the entire set. The rest of the band seemed to be aware of this, too, as he took the lead at lot of the time as far as stage presence was concerned, even making a political comment about the president at one point.

Another impressive thing about Mission of Burma is how well the three of them play off one another. On both old and new albums, the band is always flirting with chaos, sounding as if they are about to fall apart at any given moment, but never really going all the way. That tension was there throughout the night, with Miller, Prescott and bassist Clint Conley always well aware of what the others were doing. If they weren't, it just wouldn't work. Sure, there were a couple singalongs, particularly "Academy Fight Song," which got by far the biggest crowd reaction (they didn't play "That's When I Reach For My Revolver"), and though those songs were great, they felt secondary to the experience of the entire set.

Briefly: Economic factors forced the owners of the Old Coupland Inn and Dancehall, which was built in 1910, to close its doors last week ... Fun Fun Fun Fest continued to leak the names of artists confirmed to appear at the Nov. 4-6 event. The Murder City Devils, Tune-Yards, Reggie Watts, Ra Ra Riot, Flying Lotus and Kid Dynamite will join Okkervil River, M83, Odd Future, X and Brian Posehn ... Remaining tickets for the rescheduled Adele concert, moved from Stubb's to the Erwin Center on Oct. 19, sold out in minutes last week ... Tickets for Journey, Foreigner and Night Rangerat the Erwin Center on Sept. 22 go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday through the Texas Box Office.