Tag Archives: Matt Stevens

The Economics of Streaming

Matt Stevens with The Fierce and the Dead

This very perceptive piece on the economics of music streaming by Anil Prasad, The Finger’s on the Self-Destruct Button includes this very illuminating quote from Matt Stevens.

“Streaming makes it very difficult for cult bands who sell 1,000 copies of each release,” the noted British guitarist and composer Matt Stevens told me. “If 1,000 people stream an album 10 times, we probably make a few pennies versus 1,000 download sales which create a model that will pay for modest recording expenses. At present, with downloads, it’s roughly sustainable, but not profitable. If we move to streaming and that income disappears completely, we’re in serious trouble.”

That’s a potentially very bleak prospect for much of the music that features heavily on this blog. Anil Prasad also believes the current streaming model of Spotify et al is unsustainable and will eventually collapse. What will that collapse leave in it’s wake?

It’s easy to be pessimistic, though it’s also important to remember the the old pre-internet music industry wasn’t perfect either; the vast majority of bands never got signed and never got to make a record, and most of those that did had to sign away the rights to their own music in order to be able to record and release it.

In many ways it’s a shame that hybrid streaming and download sites like mFlow failed, and that last.fm was forced to shut down their streaming radio stations. Both sites had great value for music discovery, and both drove actual music purchases. But both ended as internet roadkill under the wheels of Spotify.

Streaming in its present for isn’t going to provide a worthwhile income stream for anything other than the most mass-market and commercial end of the market that can benefit from scale. It’s easy to imagine a world divided into a small nunber of heavily hyped stars and everyone else relying on crowdfunding for much of their revenue.

Quite what the music landscape of a decade’s time might look like is anyone’s guess. All that can be said is that we live in interesting times.

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2014 Albums of the Year – Part Two

Part two of the end-of-year album rundown, here’s the other half of the alphabetically-sorted albums ranked between 11 and 25, going from H to Z.

Halo BlindOccupying Forces

Halo Blind Occupying Forces smHalo Blind is the project that used to be called Parade, led by York-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Chris Johnson, currently part of Mostly Autumn. The long-awaited follow-up to 2009′s The Fabric is a little less eclectically-varied than it’s predecessor, but hangs together far more strongly as a coherent album. The blend of indie-rock guitars and progressive rock textures combined with strong songwriting ought to have a wide crossover appeal.

IQThe Road of Bones

IQ: The Road of BonesThe neo-prog veterans have never been prolific, but never disappoint. This double album sees them not afraid to experiment, with an abrasive industrial-metal edge alongside the more traditional neo-prog sounds. There is still plenty of what ought to be expected from any IQ album; lengthy kaleidoscopic songs, dark and melodramatic vocals and climactic guitar and keyboard solos.

Morpheus RisingEximus Humanus

Eximus HumanusThe York twin-guitar rockers raise their game significantly with their second album. It’s an old-school hard rock album recalling the early days of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, with a focus on songwriting and melody. Si Wright comes into his own as a lead singer with material written to take full advantage of his vocal range.

Robert PlantLullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar

Robert Plant Lullaby and the Ceaseless RoarThe veteran former Led Zeppelin frontman returns with his strongest record for many years. It’s a mix of English rock and folk with African and Middle Eastern sounds, and even the occasional blast of hard rock guitar, but there’s a fire to it that’s been missing from his last few records. It’s still a long way from the swaggering blues-rock of his early career, but like much of his recent output it’s music that suits an artist in his 60s rather than his 20s.

Polar BearIn Each and Every One

Polar Bear In Each and Every OneIt’s jazz, Jim, but not as we know it. Twin saxophones meet electronic soundscapes, with shades of Miles Davis meets Pink Floyd. One moment it’s melodic and atmospheric, the next it’s squawking cacophony. It can be a challenging listen at times; this is a record than imports elements of rock into jazz, but takes things in an altogether different direction from jazz-fusion.

Matt StevensLucid

Matt Stevens - LucidHaving taken his acoustic looping guitar thing as far as could go, Matt has made something far more eclectic, combining his loves of post-punk, progressive rock and extreme metal. While there are some delicate acoustic numbers, much of the album is electric, with a full band and and interesting array of guest performers. Proof that you can make an all-instrumental guitar album without it becoming a vehicle for endless soloing.

When Empires Fall

When Empires FallThe new project from former Breathing Space and Stolen Earth bassist Paul Teasdale is a very interesting blend of progressive rock atmospherics and Britpop-style songwriting. There are strong guest vocal performances by Aleksandra Koziol and Joanne Wallis, but Paul handles the majority of the lead vocals himself, and the soaring melodies prove him to be a fine vocalist as well as a songwriter.

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Matt Stevens asks for help

On Matt Stevens’ Facebook page:

I’m not moaning, but sometimes it’s a challenge making music that doesn’t fit in. Promoters etc want to fit you into easy boxes. If it’s not “traditional prog” or “straight post rock” (as some one described their taste in music to me) or something else that it’s easy to define then it makes it difficult.

I think me and the band are lucky to have an audience at all and in the UK at least through hard gigging and shaking hands it’s kind of worked. But on paper if you’ve not seen us it can be a “hard sell”, no vocals etc

I’ve previously described Matt’s band The Fierce and the Dead as “A punk version of King Crimson”, which I know doesn’t really do them justice, but was the best I could come up with at the time. His own solo material is more varied and touches a lot more bases, especally on his most recent album.

Being difficult to pigeonhole is a double-edged sword. It can be harder for promoters to get a handle on them, but it also gives opportunities to have feet in multiple camps. For example, TFATD’s occasional partners in crime Trojan Horse played a prog festival, and the next week announced they’d be supporting The Fall. A more generic neo-prog or post-punk act would not be able to do that.

The next thing is to get gigs outside the UK, without losing lots of money. That’s the challenge. How hard can it be?

Any suggestion? Matt built up his audience in Britain by doing a lot of supports, where his solo instrumental act was something a bit different from the typical acoustic singer-songwriter, and by tirelessly flyering the queues for just about every prog gig in London. What would work over a wider geographical area?

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Panic Room on tour again

Panic Room are on tour again in June, playing songs from their excellent new album Incarnate. The support for their show at London’s Borderline on June 14th will be the talented Matt Stevens.

The tour also includes shows in Bath, Reading, Liverpool, Bilston, Derby and Preston – full details on their tour page.

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Record Store Day

Today is Record Store Day. You could of course spend the day buying the albums you loved on vinyl but never owned on CD, or fill in the gaps in the 70s Jethro Tull back catalogue. Or even waste your money on cynical cash-in box sets.

Or instead you could buy some exciting new music released in 2014. At least some of these albums have been seen on the shelves of my local HMV.

  • Panic Room, Incarnate – A little more stripped-back, intimate and confessional than the wide-screen rock of its predecessor, their fourth album is a beautiful work which may take a few listens to fully appreciate its subtleties.
  • Gazpatcho, Demon – Dark and sinister folk-prog from Norway. At times it sounds like Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis fronting The Decemberists, at times there are strong echoes of Marillion. This is another of those records that will reward after many listens.
  • Matt Stevens, Lucid – An ambitious and varied instrumental album that defies easy pigeonholing. The London-based guitarist has been one of the more interesting, innovative and genre-busting artists in the contemporary progressive scene for a while now, and this album sees him raise his game to a new level.
  • Halo Blind, Occupying Forces – Combines indie-rock guitars with progressive rock atmospherics. Shimmering summery pop numbers with a hint of darkness and melancholy flow into one another to build into something more than the sum of the parts.
  • Bigelf, Into the Maelstrom – Imagine the melodic ear of The Beatles, the sense of doom of Black Sabbath, the theatricality of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the musical ambition of King Crimson, and the lack of restraint of early Queen. That’s what this album sounds like.
  • Morpheus Rising, Exmimus Humanus – Classic old-school twin-guitar hard rock given a modern makeover.
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Matt Stevens – Lucid

Matt Stevens - LucidGuitarist Matt Stevens is already well-known both with his live looping as a solo artist and as lead guitarist of the instrumental four-piece The Fierce And The Dead. His previous album, 2011′s “Relic” focussed on his looped acoustic guitar, while his band emphasised interlocking electric guitars. His new release “Lucid” has moments of both, but this record sees him move forward into more diverse sonic territories than either.

The album features a strong cast of supporting musicians, including King Crimson’s Pat Mastelotto, Jem Godfrey of Frost* and violinist Chrissie Caulfield alongside a host of others. Matt’s influences range from post-punk through progressive rock to extreme metal, and you can hear all of those on this record.

Like everything he’s done before, this is an album of instrumental songs rather than of guitar chops. It’s not about widdly-woo lead, with the sole exception of the King Crimson-like “Ascent” where he cuts loose with a quite astonishingly fluid and off-the-wall solo. It’s as if Matt is saying he can shred with the best of them if he wants to, but finds instrumental composition more interesting than technical showboating.

The whole thing is immensely varied; there are delicately melodic acoustic pieces alongside denser electric numbers built around heavy distorted riffs. On “Coulrophobia” Jon Hart’s spooky vibraphone adds an extra dimension to the layered tapestry of acoustic guitars. All but one the songs are short, most hovering around the three minute mark. The one exception is “The Bridge”, a kaleidoscopic epic that covers most of the ground of the rest of the album in its eleven-minute length.

The whole thing is an ambitious and varied work that defies easy genre pigeonholing. Matt Stevens has been one of the more interesting, innovative and genre-busting artists in the contemporary progressive scene for a while now, and this album sees him raise his game to a new level.

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The Bridge from Matt Stevens “Lucid”

To quote Matt Stevens himself

This is the longest song on my new album and features Charlie Cawood on bass, Stuart Marshall on Drums and Chrissie Caulfield on the violin. They’re all amazing musicians. It’s a bit It’s A Wonderful Life themed. Spoken word by Nick Wyatt Duke from my so called friends Trojan Horse.

The album is released on Esoteric Records on March 31st.

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Promo for Matt Stevens’ Lucid

A promo for Matt Stevens’ forthcoming album “Lucid”, released on 31st March on Esoteric Antenna.

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Pre-Order for Matt Stevens’ Lucid

Matt Stevens - LucidBurning Shed are now taking pre-orders for Matt Stevens’ new album “Lucid”

As Matt himself says aboug it:

“Lucid took three years as I really wanted to make this one a significant step up from the previous albums. It’s inspired by a bit of a dark time, but hopefully it’s an uplifting record. I’m so proud of the people who played on it, working with people like Pat Mastelotto on drums from King Crimson and Jem Godfrey from Frost* was amazing but all the players really were outstanding. Stuart Marshall (Fierce And The Dead) and Charlie Cawood (Knifeworld) were the rhythm section for a lot of the tracks. And it was great to have Chrissie back who played violin on the previous records. It’s a record that reflects my love of Jesu and Celtic Frost as much as the Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson or even Peter Gabriel and I’m really proud of it. If you’re not going to take risks and try and do something interesting what’s the point?”

The album is released on 31st March

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Trinity Live

Trinity Live 2014

A reminder of the Trinity Live cancer charity show at The Assembly in Leamington Spa on May 18th.

The show was originally part of a triple-headline tour featuring The Reasoning, Touchstone and Magenta, postponed because of Magenta’s Christina Booth’s treatment for breast cancer.

Touchstone and The Reasoning decided to go ahead with a charity show on the original date, and have since added acoustic sets from Alan Reed, Heather Findlay and Matt Stevens to the bill.

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