Anatomy of the UK Charts. Part 5 — King of Gear Shifts

Friday, 26 August 2011
by matthias
filed under Trends and Data
Comments: 12

In a recent interview with the Guardian the young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor voiced his frustration about his brother’s taste in music: “Those modulations at the end of the songs! They've sung it all already, and then to create a greater emotional effect, they put it up a tone.”

By “they” he’s referring to his brother’s favourite band, Westlife, and the modulations he describes are an old trick you can find in many a songwriters’ toolbox: the gear shift!

Hall of Shame

So is Grosvenor an intellectual snob, an arrogant piano kid? Well, he seems to be quite a nice guy, and he certainly isn’t alone in his disdain of gear shifts. There’s even a website which features a Hall of Shame of supposedly abhorrent examples of this phenomenon, eight of which are by Westlife. The book author Wayne Chase, too, dedicates a section of his songwriting manual How Music Really Works to what he calls “Shift Modulation”, and the section’s heading warns the eager reader in large letters: “Don’t Do This!”.

So let’s have a look at the symptoms. The video below demonstrates the 1-semitone gearshift in Westlife's song “I'm Already There”, see if you notice when it happens.

The chroma visualisation at the bottom of the video shows you which notes (from A to G#) are present in the piece at a certain time. You can easily spot the point where all notes move one semitone up, can you also hear it? The video also suggests that there may in fact be a few good reasons why some musicians should find gear shifts hard to bear.

Firstly, gear shifts are easy to compose. If you have a song in the key of Eb major (as in the above example), then all you need to do is play/sing everything one semitone higher from a certain point; in this video, the song shifts from Eb major to E major, and that’s pretty much it. This makes gear shifts a relatively superficial means of creating complexity in a song, much easier to accomplish than, say, a whole new part of a song, or indeed a more complicated key shift. The reasoning is then: if you need such a simple means of making the song more interesting, it can’t have been interesting in the first place.

Secondly, gear shifts actually sound very cheesy. They have a predictably uplifting feel, so they tend to be used in sentimental songs such as “I’m Already There”, or crowd-pleasers like Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer” (check the gear change at 3:24 in this video).

And there’s a third reason, which we will find out about soon with the help of our music processing methods.

Gear Shift Police

Since the last blog post, we’ve filled a few holes in our collection of UK charts recordings, and I have looked a bit more into harmonic descriptors of audio. One of the outcomes is a gear shift detector.

Like our measure of harmonic complexity in an earlier blog post, the gear shift detector is based on the chroma feature that you saw in the video above. By matching the chroma feature of a song section to profiles of musical keys it is possible to estimate which key fits best. The gear shift detector makes use of this technique: it goes through all song positions and matches two kinds of key profile pairs to the data: those that model a gear shift (the key after the song position is one or two semitones higher) and those that don’t (the key stays the same). If the best gear shift model fits better than the respective model without a key change, we have good evidence for a gear shift.

In addition, to filter out tracks which fit both models badly, we use a feature which is sensitive to any large scale modulation, but will remain low if there is no such large scale modulation. We ran the gear shift detector on the whole charts database, and found a strong trend that would please our gear shift haters!

The proportion of songs with gear shifts is substantially declining over the history of the charts, from a staggering 15% in and around 1960 to consistently lower than 4% in the first decade of the current century.

The high frequency of gear-changing songs before 1970 is our best guess for the third reason musicians dislike them: there are just too many of them. Perhaps gear shifts were overused? For the moment it’s mere speculation to attribute the decline of the ratio of gearshifting songs itself to their high frequency in the early days of the charts, but it is quite easy to imagine that they just ceased to be special (if they ever were).

Merry Gear Shift Everyone

I wonder at which point the gear shift turned from a relative novelty to an established songwriting tool, rendering anyone who uses it less ‘cool’? Even The Rolling Stones, definitely one of the coolest bands of their time, could get away with 'shifty' songs, as can be heard in this excerpt:

Rolling Stones - Come On

However, later on, gear shifts seem to have become irreconcilable with artists who consider themselves to be cool. For example, our detector does not find a single U2 hit with a gear shift. And it’s conceivable that consumers, too, started considering themselves as cool and to shun gear shifts. However, there is a time of year where songwriters seem to catch music buyers off guard — at Christmas, as the figure below impressively illustrates.

The graph shows the percentage of gear-shift songs in the months they hit their highest position. It is substantially higher in December than in all other months, and more than twice as high than in September. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that considering only tracks that feature the word “Christmas” in their title even has a gear shift ratio of 31%.

I’m Going To Make A Change For Once In My Song

I personally think we shouldn’t be so harsh as to condemn all gear shifts in the charts (though if you’re interested in doing so here’s the list) — there are some true gems.

Some of you might have recognised the section heading as a (slightly punned-up) line from the song “Man In The Mirror”, famously performed by Michael Jackson. While Jackson was never in danger of out-gearshifting Westlife, he certainly came up with some juicy specimens. “Man In The Mirror” does in fact contain one, nicely placed on the lyric “change!” (see video, gear change at 2:52), but really that’s just a warm-up exercise. Other examples include “Rock With You” (video, 2:31), “Earth Song” (video, 3:46), and the more recent “Cry” (video, 3:11).

During the last decades of his career there was also a tendency to increase the number of gear shifts per song. The songs “You Are Not Alone” (video, 3:31, 4:10) and “Heal The World” (video, 4:33, 4:58) include two each, and “Will You Be There” takes the prize with three (video, 2:06, 2:30, 2:53), making the King of Pop the true King of Gear Shifts. The figure below shows the chroma representation of the first gear shift in Will You Be There, click to see a longer excerpt.

And why not? To be sure, a song has to offer a lot of other goodness to justify gear shifts, but maybe I could even convince Benjamin Grosvenor that without them pop music would be poorer. I quite like the effect it produces, and as long as you don’t overdose...

But tell us what you think! Would you like to be able to exclude gear shift songs from your radio? Or even seek them out?

Anatomy of the UK Charts series so far

Percussiveness and the Disco Diva - on the rise of disco in the mid 70s

Clash of Attitudes - on automatically telling punk from art rock

The Curse of the Drum Machine - on how 120 bpm dominated the 80s

Survival of the Flattest - on the Loudness War and decline of dynamic range

King of Gear Shifts - this post

Further info

If you want to visualise chroma for your songs, check out the free Sonic Visualiser, and get the free NNLS Chroma Vamp plugin. Presents Live Fridays

Thursday, 25 August 2011
by matts
filed under Announcements
Comments: 2

After Ghostpoet’s awesome session at The Big Chill Bar on Monday we’re pleased to announce that more live music from is just around the corner.

In October the Presents team kickstart Live Fridays; a showcase of the hottest bands from our Hype Chart on the first Friday of every month, curated by you*.

Our first three shows will come to you from the Relentless Garage in Islington, and we’re excited to announce that the first headliner will be CocknBullKid on 7th October.

As an exclusive treat for users the first tickets are available now here, before they go on sale to everyone else… If you’re joining us then don’t forget to mark your attendance on the event page.

Art Brut will be our second headliner on November 4th, and tickets for that show are on sale now too.

We’ve got more headliners and support acts to announce over the next few weeks, so stay tuned to the Presents group page for the latest, or follow and Presents on Twitter.

* Because each Live Friday lineup is based on artists appearing in our Hype Chart, the music you play directly influences who’s going to be on the bill.

The festival season continues...

Thursday, 4 August 2011
by katy
filed under Announcements
Comments: 2

Pet Moon photo by Ian Taylor

Truck Festival took place on the 22nd – 24th July and was there to capture all the action.

Another stop on our road trip of festivals this summer (which Helen wrote about back in May), we were gently rocked by the likes of Gruff Rhys, Saint Etienne, Graham Coxon, The Go! Team and Young Knives.

Dead Jerichos photo by Pooneh Ghana

We’ve partnered up before with Truck in the US and UK, and it was great to be back hosting a stage this year down at Hill farm in Steventon.

Mr Shaodow photo by Andrew Kendall

We’re super excited about this weekend as well with Underage Festival taking place on Friday (5th August) swiftly followed by Field Day on Saturday.

If you haven’t checked out the evnts pages for those two yet, then we’ll be bringing Labrinth, Roll Deep and Maverick Sabre to Underage before The Horrors, Mount Kimbie and James Blake all play our very own stage at Field Day. If you’re heading to either of them then be sure to mark your attendance, and do your homework by listening to the festival radio.

We’re not leaving it there though. We’ve got Summer Sundae coming up on the 12th August and SW4 coming up on the bank holiday weekend. Check out the Presents page for more information.

Don’t forget, our lobbyists will be on hand to shower you with goodies, including our tag stickers, plus we might have a few competitions coming up for those of you eager to come along.

We love Festivals! Shame the summer has to end at some point…

ODC Drumline photo by Ian Taylor DJ Team Mix

Wednesday, 3 August 2011
by Stuart
filed under Stuff Other People Made
Comments: 5

As friends of and fellow residents of “Silicon Roundabout”, Mixcloud invited us to get involved in their “Celebration of Curation 2011” series. There’s a wealth of DJ talent at and so rather than picking one person to represent, five of us (Lumberjack, Pellitero, Good_Bone, Baseonmars and myself) decided to create mini-mixes and weave them together into an hour and a half mix, covering everything from post-rock to deep house, dubstep and UK Funky.

Check out the DJ Team page for more mixes and let us know which ones you like.

(And before you ask, we’re hoping to announce a solution for enabling Mixcloud to scrobble in the not too distant future…)

You're all very sweet

Wednesday, 20 July 2011
filed under Announcements
Comments: 14

We had a lovely message of support arrive this morning from one of you thanking staff for their hard work over the last few days. It is was delicious.

We want to take a moment to say a big thank you to all of you for your patience and support earlier this week. It’s meant a lot to us while we’ve been restoring service across

Library and streaming services outage

Monday, 18 July 2011
by cms
filed under Announcements and About Us
Comments: 291

Since 04:00 GMT on Sunday morning, the primary Radb service has been exhibiting intermittent problems meeting acceptable service levels. This means that libraries, scrobble counts and the services associated with them (stats, radio stations etc) appear to be broken when you use

We’re working very hard to fix this as soon as possible, and we’ve had engineers on it throughout yesterday and last night, but we wanted to keep you posted here with what’s happened and what we know so far.

UPDATE (19/07/11 11:29):
We’ve re-enabled access to your library and chart service after analysing this morning’s traffic in a little more depth.

As we continue working on the fixing the underlying faults it may be that we have to switch them off again for short periods of time. In the meantime keep checking the status page for information about the service.

Thanks again for your patience.

All of our services here at Last fm are predicated around keeping track of your accumulated music plays – your scrobbles – and using statistical methods on the historical data to build awesome things.

Because scrobbles power everything dynamic and wonderful on the site, we need fast realtime access to the scrobbles and associated summary data ( library, charts, neighbourhoods, etc. ). And with milions of people scrobbling, and the size of the historical scrobbles set, doing this fast in realtime, while updating the same sets with new plays as fast as can be managed is a significant challenge. We have a custom, in memory database service that we designed and implemented to address these needs. It is called Radb. It is usually pretty awesome at answering these sorts of questions in a predictably constant time.

But since 4am on Sunday Radb has been failing. The reasons for this are unclear. Failing over to the redundant service providers helps a little, but not enough. The reasons for this are also unclear. We have engineers working flat out to diagnose this problem.

To remove as much stress as we can from the database service layer, we have additionally disabled most of our radio, library and recommendation services, temporarily. We have also stopped accepting new scrobbles for the meantime, for a similar reason. Scrobbling clients will detect this state and will cache your scrobbles until the submission service is reactivated, so no need to panic about scrobbles being lost.

Keep an eye on the status page, and the appropriate forum posts. We’ll update with more information and estimates as we have them.

Anatomy of the UK Charts. Part 4 - Survival of the Flattest

Friday, 15 July 2011
filed under Trends and Data
Comments: 15

This week Matthias has let loose his signal processing tools to track the history of loudness in the UK singles charts. He shows in detail how pop music has become louder and flatter, and explains why loud doesn't have to be noisy.

There's no doubt that music keeps changing. The music psychologist Carol Krumhansl recently conducted an experiment in which she played 400 millisecond snippets of pop music to individual participants. Surprisingly, from this tiny amount of information her participants could often predict the decade the music had been created in - even if they did not recognise the track itself.

We assume that changes in musical style are motivated by fashion or social factors, and not due to developments in the recording or post-production process. For example, the rise of punk music (as traced in my second blog post) appears to have been triggered mostly by social factors. Old-school disco bloomed and faded quickly, like a fashionable jeans cut. But when it comes to the 80s things are less clear: we suspect that the introduction of new technology, specifically drum machines, substantially changed dance music styles, and find some evidence for it (third blog post).

So, are music fashions caused by people wanting to listen to some music more than to other? - They like it, buy it, and it gets into the charts? Well, probably, but only until record producers found out that they could make people listen to their music, simply by making it louder, so it stands out from the crowd. And that's exactly what they did, spurred by the advent of the CD in the 1980s. Just as trees evolve to grow higher so they can outgrow other trees in the race for sunlight, music grew louder and louder in the race for attention. At least that's what people have found examining many examples of popular music. There's an excellent Wikipedia article on this phenomenon dubbed the Loudness War. Is the phenomenon really as wide-spread as we think it is? Can we really find increased loudness in the charts, and can we track down loudness's evil brother dynamic range compression?

The Higher Level

An audio engineer's measure of loudness is decibels relative to full scale (dBFS), and it's really just a measure of audio level. Essentially, dBFS is the logarithm of the energy in an audio waveform, minus the value of the loudest sine wave that you can fit on the recording medium (the “full scale”). So a full scale sine wave will have 0 dBFS, which is very loud, and most other sounds will have negative values.

If a music track is well-engineered, then the loudest samples of the waveform are already nearly at maximum level, so you can't make it much louder without changing the shape of the wave form, i.e. without making it sound different. If you still want the track to sound louder, you have to shape the wave form so that more parts of the signal approach maximum level. The route many mastering engineers have therefore taken is to squeeze the waveform peaks down and use the resulting room to blow the whole signal up again - this is dynamic range compression, and it means that the signal gets louder on average.

Below we have plotted the average dBFS value for tracks from the UK singles charts from 1964 to 2009, as a cloud of very light grey dots (the highest 5% and lowest 5% are hidden for better visualisation of the rest). In order not to get fooled by more or less normalised tracks, we subtracted every track's maximum dBFS value. The red curve we plotted on top is a local regression curve, complete with the dashed simultaneous confidence band (at 99% confidence, see Further Reading, below). The tight confidence band shows us that the real underlying curve is unlikely to be far from the one we estimated.

The average dBFS value for a typical 80s charts song was around -18 dBFS, but things have changed since then. Our data shows that the loudness war definitely happened, and it started shortly after the introduction of the CD in 1982. We marked Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms (1985), the first CD album that sold a million copies, in the plot. From there, it just goes up and up, to an average level of about -15 dBFS in 2009, or 3 dB higher than in the mid-80s. You can see that in the 70s, too, the dBFS values were relatively high. We believe that recordings of that time simply never had much dynamic range, due to limits of recording technology. Not everyone will agree with using dBFS as a measure for loudness though because it does not take into account the way humans perceive loudness at different frequencies. Do we have a measure for that, too?

It's Getting Louder all the Time

There are indeed computer algorithms that imitate how humans perceive loudness (see Further Reading). We applied such a measure of loudness to our singles charts tracks. Again, in order to make this measure independent from the maximum value used in the track we corrected for maximum dBFS value (this time by using linear prediction and plotting only the residuals). Measuring loudness this way shows a slightly different curve, an almost uninterrupted rise of loudness from the seventies through to the first decade of the 21st century (find the figure here). A more intuitive way of thinking about it is this: we take a loudness value that's very high at the beginning of our year range (in 1964), the 90% quantile. That means that only 10% of the charts in 1964 are louder than this value. We've then plotted the percentage of the tracks that were louder than the 1964 value for every year of the charts in the figure below.

The percentage of loud tracks has increased from 10% in 1964 (by definition) to over 40% in recent years. So music has got louder. Well, isn't that in the spirit of Rock'n'Roll? Sadly, it isn't, because the increase in loudness has led to worse sound quality. Granted, it's louder, but boy is it flat!

The Death of Dynamic Range

If you fight the loudness war, whoever your competitors are, your victim will be dynamic range - an important part of sound quality. Here's why: I've already described to you the process of making a tracks sound louder by compressing the peaks, then blowing it up again. And the problem is just that: the peaks will sound compressed relative to the average recording. Drums have less punch, song sections intended to sound really loud will be at the same level as softer sections. This is all described very well in the Wikipedia article on the Loudness War. So we wanted to look at the development of dynamic range in the charts. We have actually measured the dynamic range of the music by a measure called crest. On every one-second block of a song, the crest is the difference in dB between the maximum value and the mean dBFS value. As in the figure above, we have plotted all tracks as a cloud of grey points, with the local regression and 99% confidence bands overlaid.


... and what we found exceeded our worst expectations. The charts tracks lost around 2 dB of dynamic range in the 20 years from 1985 to 2005 despite ever-improving technology, in energy terms that's 20% dynamic range lost. The picture is even more depressing when you look at individual artists. Madonna's tracks from the 80s have crest ranges of around 13.5 dB, with many tracks exceeding the average. But she goes with the loudness trend and gradually kills off 3dB of dynamic range, with her later recordings scoring around 10.5 dB. Hard to blame Madonna though, she's not alone! U2 seem to have resisted the trend for a long time, but then they fully embraced it, with their latest hits among the least dynamic of all. Oasis never had much dynamic range to begin with, so they've just kept on doing their thing, one might argue. Take That disbanded in 1996, then re-formed in 2005, but it looks as if they'd been going on all along: they're almost exactly on the loudness trend. Quite refreshingly, Robbie Williams and Moby do not seem to have followed the trend: while not topping the dynamic range chart, their tracks have actually grown more dynamic over time. And Beyoncé must be the queen of dynamics, most of her songs have well above the average dynamic range.

One of the arguments designed to convince artists not to make their music as loud as possible (beside the quality argument), is that modern software music players (including's) adjust the volume so that loudness differences are less of an issue than they used to be. And some artists seem to have learned their lesson. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, for example, were criticised for their incredibly loud, and hence poor-in-dynamics, album Californication. Consider the very low dots with only approximately 9.5 dB dynamic range around the year 2000 in the figure above (with Red Hot Chili Peppers selected), way below even the average pop dynamic range. It's nice to see, however, that they steered back and their later recordings are more dynamic again.

compressed vs. dynamic
 Red Hot Chili Peppers - Give It Away, 1991, very dynamic (15.0 dB crest)
 Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication, 2000, very compressed (9.2 dB crest)
 Red Hot Chili Peppers - Dani California, 2006, quite dynamic again (11.2 dB crest)

“No, no, I mean, are they LOUD?”

You might have noticed that artists whose tracks have a low dynamic range are not necessarily renowned for being loud. Is Madonna louder these days than Beyoncé? The “loud” that we think of when talking about bands is concerned with the volumes involved while making the music, that is, however loud you mix a Take That track, Megadeth will sound louder. Cues for a band being really loud are distortion (distorted guitars in particular) and prominent cymbal sounds. The spectra of such sounds have the characteristic that spectral peaks are not very prominent, and that there's an emphasis on high frequency content. As it happens, we can measure these, too. Our inharmonicity metric measures the prominence of broadband noise relative to peaks in the spectrum, and high-frequency content is detected by a low 1st MFCC coefficient. Normalising these metrics and taking their geometric mean gives us a measure of noisiness. The picture below was compiled by positioning artist names by noisiness versus loudness. The font size and opacity of the names correspond to the number of singles in the UK charts.

So maybe the combination of loudness and noisiness gives you a better indication of the kind of “loud” that you like. Does it?

While today's post has been quite technical, next time we're going to look at the lighter side of things, with a special on songwriting.

Anatomy of the UK Charts series so far

Percussiveness and the Disco Diva - on the rise of disco in the mid 70s

Clash of Attitudes - on automatically telling punk from art rock

The Curse of the Drum Machine - on how 120 bpm dominated the 80s

Survival of the Flattest - this post

Further reading

The Wikipedia article on the loudness war.

The Echonest's Paul Lamere has also written a nice article showing evidence for the loudness war with many great examples.

Carol Krumhansl's article on the musical memory and the 400ms pop snippets: Plink: "Thin Slices" of Music, Carol L. Krumhansl, Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 27, No. 5 (June 2010), pp. 337-354.

If you want to calculate loudness, inharmonicity and crest from a music file, try the libxtract Vamp plugin.

Local regression curves and confidences bands can be calculated using the locfit library, most easily using the interface to the R programming language.

Edit: The technical arm of the European Broadcasting Union EBU has a website with recommendations on the measurement and normalisation of loudness.

Find your friends on

Wednesday, 13 July 2011
by davids
filed under Announcements
Comments: 43

Today we launched a feature to help you find your friends on It makes finding friends from Facebook or contacts from your email address book super easy. We think a more social is a more fun, where you can see what your friends are listening to, send them recommendations, compare tastes and more.

You can find friends from Facebook, Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. We’ve already had lots of feedback from people that would like Twitter and Hotmail added to that list and we’ll be looking at them (and others) in the future. There’s also a new feature that will suggest users you might know, based on the friends of your friends.

(If you’re a long time user then you might remember we had a friend finding tool some years ago. It had a habit of sending a few too many emails, sometimes in the wrong language and was a bit rubbish.)

Managing privacy has been a priority for us with friend finding; during early testing we unearthed a few secret staff accounts (packed with guilty pleasure scrobbling) and I even found one of my parent’s secret test accounts (presumably trying to see what this online music website hoo-hah was all about). In both of these cases the user wasn’t expecting to be found, and that’s the kind of thing we’re hoping to avoid.

It’s difficult to strike a balance between privacy and making a useful friend finder, but we think we’ve found middle ground.

  1. There’s a new privacy setting where you can opt out of appearing in results at all.

  2. By default your account will appear in results and a friend request can be sent, but we won’t show your username or profile; basically other people will only know that you have an account, not what your account is.

If you then choose to become friends after getting a friend request it’s then that they’ll get to see your account. Speaking of friend requests…

We’ve also given friend request emails some lovin’; they’ll tell you a bit more – like your musical compatibility or which friends you have in common – to help you decide if you want to be friends.

I’m also happy we got this new feature in front of some users to get their feedback and incorporate it into our work at an early stage. Your feedback is invaluable to us and helps us build a better for everyone. This is hopefully going to be the start of more regular beta versions of new features, so watch this space.

Announcing Festival Apps!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011
by Michael Horan
filed under Announcements
Comments: 8

UPDATE 09/08/11: The app is now live in stores around the world.

Music lovers have always flocked to festivals. When else would you be willing to travel to the middle of nowhere at the peak of the summer sun to brave mud, dirty toilets and ridiculously expensive drinks?

And while we all know about some of the monsters of Festivals – Coachella, Glastonbury, Roskilde, SXSW and Fuji Rock – there are thousands of others that could be perfect for you.

A little over a year ago, we announced the launch of Festivals, your personalized guide to festivals around the world. This guide allows you to search for the festivals you want to see and discover festivals based on your scrobbling history.

I am pleased to announce we have ported this functionality to new iPhone and Android applications. While there are several applications that use’s APIs to provide you with similar functionality, the official Festivals Application harnesses the full power of our recommendation engine to show you the festivals you should be going to. Drawing from’s database of almost 2 million events, the Festivals App curates this down to approximately 4,500 upcoming festivals worldwide.

The Festivals App also tells you the festivals your friends are attending, and gives you a virtual passport with which you can explore the world in search of more festivals, all with the tap of a finger.

Have friends that aren’t scrobbling? While the App is most useful for active scrobblers, unregistered users can search for festivals by name or artist, find festivals closest to their GPS location, or by date. Everyone can learn more about artists playing at any festival in the world; complete with similar artists and bios.

The initial release is only available to users in the US. Sorry! The app is now live around the world – keep an eye on the App’s group page for more information.

Now download the app and get on the road!

Oops, we got our numbers wrong. I’ve updated the total number of events we have in our database from 130k to 2 million (1,956,870, to be exact). Music Manager powers's library of 1M promotional downloads

Friday, 1 July 2011
by Matthew
filed under Announcements and Stuff Other People Made
Comments: 4

Ok, quick internet history lesson: Way back in 1997, there once was a site called It was famous as one of the first sites to encourage the free flow of music and took its name from what had been an obscure digital music file format, one that we all know and love today. It spread faster than a celebrity sex tape, building an audience that was massive and showed the world that digital files were a fantastic way to discover new music. It was also one of the first big internet music IPOs, raising a stupendous amount of money.

Not surprisingly, that money and audience made it infamous with the big music labels who fought hard to shut it down, creating a familiar yet vicious circle that has continued for more than a decade: technology makes content distribution fast and nearly frictionless; content rights holders throw grit and lawyers at the new products based on it until there is so much slowing it down that it eventually collapses under its own weight. We saw it happen again last week as shut out ex-US users due to licensing constraints.

But sometimes evolution steps in and changes the pattern a little bit.

Right around the same time some of us were packing our Wellies and heading out to Glastonbury, our parent company CBS Interactive Music group relaunched with a snazzy new interface and a whole load of great new content. We’re happy to say that it’s’s Music Manager that powers’s library of music and that’s artist wiki pages power a lot of the information on these new bands. The new is editorially driven, drawing on a small staff of writers and the Music team to comb through our library to introduce you to great tracks from great artists you might not have discovered yet, as well working with the labels to get new tracks from superstars and great indie bands who are already well-known.

But one of my favorite things about is that almost a quarter of the 13M tracks available in our streaming radio system are from unsigned or independent artists who aren’t affiliated with big labels and who own the rights to their music outright. These tracks are uploaded by new bands to’s Music Manager and this puts them into’s radio database. Bands can also choose to make those tracks into full-length promotional tracks that live on their artist pages and/or make them available for free download. This is, by far, the bulk of the music that’s available on and on That’s true to the original spirit of which did more to launch new bands than almost anyone else back in the late 1990s.

The new will have three features that we think are worth paying attention to:

Free MP3 of the Day
This is a daily feature that will offer free downloads of songs from the big name artists and fast rising indies. Most of CBS Radio’s US music stations will be promoting this on-air and so the featured tracks will be divided up into four of the most popular US radio formats: country, pop, rock and urban.

On the Scene
On the Scene is a more international feature, showcasing a city or area with musical significance with free songs from bands who come from that scene. Expect us to highlight both historical and brand-new scenes that catch our attention.

Label of the Week
The name already gives away the concept behind this one. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different: Not all labels are dying dinosaurs. The smart ones are just evolving and we’re here to help you find the fast moving mammals who we think will avoid the tar pits of doomed business models of the old-school music industry.

The last two weekly features above are written by the mighty Music team. Stefan, Nick, and Helen here in the UK want to hear from you. Help us feature your bands, your scenes, your labels. We’re committed to helping people discover vibrant new music and not just hyping the biggest and most popular bands.

We have big plans for Music Manager this summer. We’re adding better rights support for bands who have more complicated rights deals. We’re making it easier for bands to track the downloads and the impact of the tracks they distribute through us and through And we have some secret products and events coming later this year that will expand the promotion opportunities for indie bands coming up fast on our Hype Charts.

We also have some fun partnerships in the works to improve the tools that indie artists want to use to distribute their music to a wider audience. Stay tuned and if you are an indie artist who wants to reach more people, check out Music Manager and visit us on the label forums to talk about what you want from Music Manager.