Here's the understatement of the year: there's a lot of music on the internet. We're living in a time when you could go on to one of three or four nearly-identical streaming services and listen to pretty much any song you think of, seconds from when you think of it.
It sounds crazy to say, but Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and Google Play really only house a tiny sliver of recorded music. Much of it sits in boxes of cassettes in attics, in label warehouses and, sometimes, hiding under our noses in some deep corner of the internet.
So we made it our mission this year to find those corners, digging for music not just on SoundCloud and YouTube, but on Archive.org, Reddit, Bandcamp, email, even Kickstarter. And we found some absolute gems. Here's the best of it.
Mark Davis worked behind the Service Desk at the Naperville, IL Kmart in the late '80s and early '90s. Every month, corporate office issued a cassette to be played over the store speaker system — canned elevator-type music with advertisements seeded every few tracks. He collected this strange discount department store ephemera until 1993, when background music began being piped in via satellite service.
This year, he digitized his whole collection, 56 cassettes in all, and made the recordings available at archive.org. We dug these out this past October and then the archive spread like wildfire. Suddenly, all over the internet, from Twitter to Mashable, people were making Vapourwave jokes, listening to old muzak and giving this collector from Illinois his 15 seconds of viral fame.
Listen to a taste from October 1989 below and head here for the whole strangely fascinating shebang:
Can the wisdom of the crowd write a compelling melody? CrowdSound.net, an experiment by Dominican Republic-based programmer Brendon Ferris, has spent the year generating a song by popular vote, asking users to select the next note in the growing sequence. When we first wrote about it, voters (37,247 people from 141 countries so far) were well into writing the final section. Now it's at 45749 people from 145 countries, and there are only 44 beats remaining.
Listen to the whole song so far at can hear the whole song so far and vote at CrowdSound.net. You'll be impressed by how good a songwriter the internet is.
Various Toronto Artists, A View From Somewhere (1987), from Dyer's john doe recordings.
From 1984 to 1990, Mark Dyer was a volunteer programmer at Ryerson-affiliated Toronto radio station CKLN, where he hosted a show dedicated to underground, DIY noise, punk, industrial and avant-garde recordings as well as other audio oddities — many of them made in tiny batches if not single editions. During that time, he also operated a cassette label, john doe recordings, and found that his catalogue of unique offerings garnered him some leverage in the global tape trading community. As a result, his collection ballooned.
In 2009, after languishing in packing boxes for nearly two decades, Mark Lougheed and Graham Stewart helped digitize and archive Dyer's holdings — roughly 800 tapes with original artwork — at noise-arch.net, which became something of an archeological dig site for noise fans worldwide. Then, when the domain lapsed, the site's contents — 30 GB of otherwise lost material — were uploaded as a single mysterious .tar to Archive.org.
Now, the tracks have been indexed, made streamable, and outfitted with original artwork.
The Macaulay Library at Cornell University, home of the world's largest and oldest collection of nature recordings, uploaded the whole, totally searchable, archive online for free. 9,000 species from across the world are documented in 150,000 audio recordings, totalling 10 terabytes and a run time of 7,513 hours. This represents just a small fraction of the estimated 8.7 million species living on earth, and still, it's far and away the best catalogue detailing what life on earth sounds like.
In the late '80s, just as our national broadcaster introduced us to his Buddy Cole, Kids in the Hall's Scott Thompson along with fellow comedian and writing partner Paul Bellini had an experimental punk band called Mouth Congress — which, as far as band names goes, does not suck (or, I suppose, really does).
This year, Bellini uploaded a trove of Mouth Congress recordings to Bandcamp: 15 albums, with names like The War On Flowers and A Fey Breeze, featuring should-be classics "Paul Jude Bellini" and "How to Strip for Your Husband" alongside live show recordings, sound collages, sketches, and a who's who of cameos from the comic group that the pair were hanging around. It's a time capsule of Canadian punk, comedy and queer culture.
Launched in 1977, the two Voyager spacecrafts were each loaded with a golden phonograph record documenting life on Earth should either probe ever contact aliens. The recordings contain greetings in 55 languages, from Akkadian to Wu, as well as an assortment of sounds representative of life on earth, like a heartbeat, a mother kissing her child and the whistle of a train. Famous space guy Carl Sagan called the project a "bottle in the cosmic ocean."
As a "thank you" for an incredible last few years, Caribou's Dan Snaith assembled a 1000-song mix of songs that have stuck with him since he became obsessed with music as a teenager and shared it at the beginning of the year. Entitled "The Longest Mixtape" (with zero hyperbole), the mix comprises funk, disco, psych pop, hip-hop, experimental music and just about every other ingredient in the Caribou recipe. Listened to on shuffle, it's a great way to discover things like Peter Zummo, for instance, while listening to Led Zeppelin.
The first 200 songs are above. Head here for all 1000 and hit "shuffle."
If you grew up with Nintendo 64, the soundtrack to GoldenEye 007 just lives within you. You might not have heard it since the late '90s, but as soon as it's you hear those pulse-quickening synth stabs, you're right back in the Facility, yelling at Natalya to hurry up and hack the mainframe so you can escape from all those faceless henchmen.
Back in the cartridge era of video games, the music underwent tech and storage limitations and had to be compressed to death, which, through shitty 1998 TV speakers, was suboptimal. Now, thanks to the saintly dweebs over at the YouTube channel Video Game Tracks, you can hear the music as it was meant to be heard: pure and uncompressed.
Beginning Monday, June 1, 2015, with "Slow Motion Hearts" (listen above) and continuing for a calendar year, Justin Small of Do Make Say Think and Lullabye Arkestra has been releasing a new song, fully mixed and mastered and complete with original album art, every Monday for the low price of a buck a week.
In the era of PWYC mixtapes and Patreon, Small's digital singles club represents another experiment in alternative modes of distribution and compensation — another line of exploration into how an artist might reasonably make a living doing what they do (and doing it apart from the major commercial apparatus). It's like Columbia House for Canadian post-rock nerds. You can still sign up here.
Venetian Snares' free "thank you" album for his fans giving him every top-selling album spot on Bandcamp
One night this past August, Winnipeg IDM producer Venetian Snares posted a single sentence to his Facebook page, asking for help. "I am suddenly in very serious financial trouble, if you've ever enjoyed my music, I badly need your help asap. https://t.co/w5Ic9Bs8sv"
The link led to his Bandcamp, where digital files from the storied madness that is Venetian Snares' electronic discography could be gripped for between $2 and $8 USD. Within 24 hours, Venetian Snares — without a new release listed on the site or any discernible PR push — had every top-selling album on Bandcamp, 10 for 10, with March’s acid house-influenced Lost Sleep leading the pack.
Overwhelmed by support, Venetian Snares dropped Thank You For Your Consideration, a fourteen-track collection of brand new tracks and archived unreleased works from Snares’ long lifetime as an artist. Almost immediately it became Bandcamp’s top selling album of the day. Good vibes for good people. The feel good digital-release story of the year.