Death To Scrobble

Disclaimer: I wrote this earlier and considered not posting it because it's officially the most banal thing I've ever written. But then I thought fuck it, I'm going to post it anyway. Sorry.

Today it’s time for me to say goodbye to an old friend. To put the nail in a relationship that has lasted two weeks shy of a decade, leaving behind me a trail of tears, recriminations and statistics.

I’ve got a new phone, you see. For reasons too convoluted to go into here, I’ve moved from an iPhone 4s, which has been my faithful and sturdy companion these past two years until Apple killed it with iOS8, to a shiny new Windows Phone. I quite like it, although it has quite a few shortcomings on the app side that are frustrating in the extreme.

Take Podcasts for instance. I know a lot of people who have iPhones think that the podcast app that Apple provide is a dead duck, a lame app that doesn’t service their needs. Well be thankful you don’t have a Windows Phone. From the in-built monstrosity to the variety of inexplicably unworkable offerings in the app store, I spent two hours last night trying to find an app for podcasts that has even half of the functionality of the Apple variant.

In the end I’ve had to settle on two, one which works as a half decent podcast app for new episodes, one that I can keep working through the Self Publishing Podcast on, because the other one doesn’t let you go further than 50 episodes back. If if that sentence was tedious and dull to read, imagine how it was living through it for two hours. But that’s not my biggest gripe.

I’ve spoken before about my love of Spotify’s premium service. I know it screws over artists but there is simply no better music experience for the end user in the digital world (I say digital world to heed off those people who still think vinyl is the only way to go, the hippie weirdos) and as much as I’d love to be able to spend all my money of paying artists their fair share, the truth is I can’t. I can pay for a legal service though, which is what I do. Guilt be damned.

However, as much as I’ve fallen in love with Spotify over the last few years, I’ve had a much longer online relationship with last.fm. If you’re not aware of last.fm, it’s a service that tracks what music you listen to through something called scrobbling, and then makes recommendations based on what you listen to. It’s brilliant too; rather than saying ‘hey you like rock music, have you heard of U2?’ like a lot of recommendation things (and I’m looking at you here Spotify) it has actually introduced me to loads of really cool stuff I would never have heard otherwise. But aside from the discoverability aspect of last.fm, the best thing is the stats.

Now, I’m a music geek. I’m well aware of that. I’m perhaps not like ‘normal’ people. I like stats, and when it comes to something I’m as obsessive about as music, I really really like my stats. I really like being able to see what has been my most listened to band of the last six months, or what album has received most of my time in the last decade. I like to go into a band and see which album I’ve actually listened to the most. I like seeing what has been my favourite song of the year. I like going onto the pages of people whose tastes I respect and seeing what they’ve been listening to.

I like my stats, damn it, and I’ve put a hell of a lot of time into cultivating them. In fact, since I joined on the 12 Nov 2004 I have scrobbled 70,019, tracks, which averages out to 19 songs a day. Not bad when you consider that I didn’t really get going until I got my first smartphone maybe four years into that time. Last.fm allows me to indulge the geekiest extremes of my personality, and has provided me with endless hours of entertainment looking through my charts.

So, I love Spotify, and I love Last.fm. Together they represent the kind of music experience that the younger me could only have dreamt about. Which is why it’s a complete pisser that as of yesterday, I can no longer use the two together. Spotify’s App on Windows Phone has no functionality for scrobbling, and none of the scrobbling apps on Windows Phone talk to the Spotify app. Since Spotify is now really the only way that I listen to music, and most of the time that’s on my phone, that means no more scrobbling, exactly two weeks shy of a decade into my habit.

It’s shitty, really. I’ll still be able to scrobble on my laptop, but I don’t really use it for listening, so the scrobbles wont actually be an accurate reflection of my listening habits. Now I’m well aware that this is possibly the most obvious case of ‘first-world-problems’ know to mankind, but damnit I’m really annoyed, as the previous 700 words can testify to. I’m pissed off. Pissed off enough to start direct messaging members of the Spotify support forums, and to trawl the message boards looking for solutions. But all to no avail.

So goodbye scrobbling. Goodby stats. We nearly made it a decade.

To self-publish or not self-publish?

As I creep ever closer to the finish line of what has been a half-decade slog to finish Blood on the Motorway, I’ve been thinking and more and more about next steps. Well, thinking about them, hiding from them, being terrified of them. There’s still a good chunk of work to be done on the book, but I’m definitely in the end game now, so now it’s time to try and address some of those questions. Those terrifying, daunting questions. What do I want to do with it? Am I going down the self-published road, or trying for traditional publishers? Do I start a different novel straight away? Is that going to be a sequel, or a whole new thing? What can I learn from writing this book that I can do better the next time around? Jesus I feel dizzy just thinking about it.

I’d always thought of myself as going down the traditional route of publishing. I’ve always been slightly sniffy about going down the self-published route because quite frankly I’m a bit of a snob and I’ve never actually bought a self-published book in my life, despite having had a kindle for the best part of two years. Why would I use an avenue I don’t actually use myself? I’ve always had an image of the self-published author as the self-important know it all who either isn’t good enough to get a proper publisher, or too lazy to bother. I’ve always assumed that people who go down that route are the kind of people you run into at parties who will wax lyrical about their 400,000 word tome about wizards and goblins that’s going to completely revolutionise the way we look at fantasy literature, while you stare off at the distance trying to work out how you can get the hell away from them. See, told you I was a snob.

But increasingly I’m becoming aware that this isn’t reflective of the reality of modern publishing. Sure, there’s an awful lot of shit out there, but there’s probably some really great authors out there steadily building a readership and making decent money, on their own terms, without having to get past any of the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ of the literary world. Certainly there seems to be an audience out there. The bestseller charts are all full of self-published works (certainly on the likes of Amazon etc) while at the same time you hear endless stories of traditionally published works getting only a £1k advance and going on to sell only a handful of copies, even with the might of big publishers behind them.

On the flip side of the coin, as a writer, there’s still a kudos there in the traditional route. To be able to say you’ve got past the gatekeepers; that they’ve looked at your book and declared it to be worthy; have sunk their money into it as a matter of faith; and that they’ve worked with you to get your book to be the best it can be. There’s something hugely enticing about that. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that it’s colossally unlikely that it’ll happen to me, even if my book is a masterpiece. I don’t think it’s bad, but I don’t think it’s that, either, so the odds are not in my favour. I’m a lot like Katniss in that regard.

The other day I was reading a post by one of my favourite writing blogs, Do Some Damage, which was singing the praises of a podcast called The Self-Publishing Podcast. Now I love me a podcast, and I love me some free writing advice, so I had an investigate, and ended up consuming the first three hour-long episodes over the course of a single day (it helped that I was making a stew), kick-starting in the process a thousand ideas in my tiny writers brain. It's a good podcast too, funny, informative, and easy to follow.

I could completely bypass all the grief of being rejected, then use means at my disposal to make something I could be completely proud of. I know a proper copy editor, who I could get to really have a look at my book for not a huge amount of money. I could build myself a website to sell the damn thing. Additionally, I know an artist who I could commission to do a cover that would be astounding and different. I could do this, and be completely in control of the whole process, and live and die by my own efforts. It would be hard work, certainly, and require some investment at my end. But it’s do-able.

So now I have some decisions to make, not to mention 130+ episodes of a podcast to make my way through, which is almost as daunting as anything else.