Category: metablog

(Re)Searching The Cloud:
On Streaming, Bandwidth, Music Apps, and Other Blogger Nuts and Bolts

January 5th, 2011 — 09:14 pm

Confession time, folks: though Sunday’s return to the world of video coverage made for a solid feature, I had an ulterior motive to eschew the usual mp3s. Yes, thanks to a curious combination of both ongoing bandwidth theft and the high demand for cover songs during the holiday season, I’ve been out of bandwidth since Thursday. And my clock doesn’t turn over until the 8th, which means right now, I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to serve the usual demand for coverfolk in ways which best support your needs as fans without costing me a bundle in overage fees.

And though it’s a subject I’ve avoided for a long time, I can’t help but think that maybe – as an experiment of sorts – the best way to balance the books this time around is to tackle the stream head on.

My preferred approach here on Cover Lay Down has always been to provide content in whatever format has the highest potential for you to truly fall in love with the music and artists we feature. And until recently, that has meant a reluctance to utilize streaming technologies, even as most other blogs have long since added those tiny triangular buttons that let you sample before you download. As our Play! page, where you can choose to download a browser-based tool that will let you play our tunes directly from this or any page, notes:

…this preference [for the download-only format] stems from my support for artists first and foremost; these artists work hard to craft songs as entire experiences, and skipping around does their art a grave disservice. As such, rather than encourage folks to make the call based on the first few seconds of a given track, I encourage you to download the music you find here on Cover Lay Down, and let it seep into your consciousness through your preferred listening method.

I recognize that this is an unusual stance. But I know more than most people what I’m talking about when I say that how we listen matters. In my day job, I’m a media and communications teacher, specializing in new literacies, and in the social and personal habits that surround the various modes of communication which different eras of technology have engendered.

My classes spend a full week each semester looking at the rise of the mp3 player and the remix culture, and exploring the broad changes which this has made to everything from how we create music to how we define ourselves through our listening habits. And invariably, year after year, we find that ownership is stronger when we have the most power over where, when, and how we listen.

As a professional, though I still believe that, residually speaking, we are still more likely to think of an mp3 as more “ours” than a mere Soundcloud stream or internet radio station, it’s undeniably true that the margin of experience between streaming and mp3 “ownership” grows smaller every year. Three years ago, when we started this blog, it took downloads to truly make music ours to play with at any moment, but today, streaming on the go is on the rise – and the growing incidence of web-enabled everything-boxes such as the iPhone mean that more and more, we can and do integrate streaming technologies into our daily walkabout experience.

Which is to say: just as the way we use video is changing the audiophilic spectrum, so is the increased ubiquity of the cloud, and our increased access to wireless technology in our hands and ears and pockets, making it possible for us to play music we do not fully own on demand, in the car and in the earbuds. And if we can do that, whether we own the bits and bytes that represent that music or not is increasingly moot when determining how it matters.

To be fair, not posting mp3s did mean a slight drop in readership over the past week – music blog aggregator Hype Machine, which brings us much of our drop-in traffic, doesn’t pick up songs in video format. And it is true that adding play functionality to the blog would raise the demand for bandwidth – studies show that people are much more likely to try everything if they can skim than if they have to download.

But the world of apps seems to be finally catching up with us here. Though I continue to be frustrated about my inability to access Hype Machine on my new iPad, as Duke over at The Late Greats noted earlier this week, the recent appearance of the iTunes app MusicMaven has made it possible for you to take the music posted by your favorite blogs on the go with your portable device – a far better option for those who prefer to surf on the go, too, than having to plan ahead by downloading songs before they leave the house. And MusicMaven lends some pretty nifty functionality to the process of blogsurfing, too: for example, it’s very cool to be able to make playlists directly from your favorite blogs, and play them as you use other apps, without having to use iTunes as a passthrough.

Cover Lay Down is honored to have made the select list which MusicMaven gathers in, though I think you’ll also like the overall set – these guys have great taste in blogs. And as a thank you for all of us, the folks behind the app have given me codes for up to five of you to download the app free of charge – so if you have an iPhone or iTouch, and you’d like to give it a shot, let me know, and I’ll give the first five responders a chance to test it out.

Of course, we’re still left with our little problem of bandwidth limitations – an issue which will only be exacerbated by serving the iPhone community. But I’ve always said that every problem is an opportunity, if approached properly. And today, the challenge provides us an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade twice over.

First and foremost, the daily emails from our wonderful, solar-powered hosting company iMountain remind me that Cover Lay Down depends on the kindness of strangers to cover its costs. And although I dropped the ball a bit on our last pledge drive – yes, folks, I have your names on the right list, and will be sending out this year’s bootleg series as soon as I get the bandwidth back – we’re a bit overdue for our bi-annual reminder that it takes your donations to keep this place going.

So here’s the deal, folks: it’s winter, and there are plenty of families in my area and yours still struggling in the sluggish economy. So from now until the end of the month, I’m opening up the coffers to pay it forward: donate any amount to help keep our faucets running, and I’ll give 20% of all donations to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, a stalwart group of local heroes who are just now watching the cupboards grow bare after the usual holiday rush.

As always, all donors to the cause will also receive a secret link to a homemade live bootleg mix of covers, with songs taken from this past year’s Grey Fox and Falcon Ridge Folk Festivals, and from the numerous house concerts which we have hosted here in rural America. All tracks on these bootlegs were recorded by yours truly, and are available nowhere else. Featured artists on the 2010 bootleg include Sarah Jarosz, Tim O’Brien, Tracy Grammer, Dala, Chuck E Costa, Eliza Gilkyson and Jimmy LaFave, Red Molly, We’re About Nine, and more.

But for whatever the reason – be it in support of the artists, the writing, the food bank – please, give if you can. And thanks in advance for your support, of us, and of the music.

Second, and back to where we started today, our little bandwidth outage has caused me to consider experimenting with other methods of service. There’s several, but my favorite so far is Soundcloud, which hosts music on its own servers; we’ve used it here and there a bit, and though it, too, comes off as a blank space on the ol’ iPad and on Google’s Feedreader, it does show on Hype Machine, and I’ve yet to hear any complaints.

Today, then, we present part two of our little experiment in delivery methods: a set of songs which have been sent to me via Soundcloud within the last few months, most of which, oddly and unintentionally, speak to the larger theme of need and change which runs like a wire through today’s feature. As part of our little test, since the ability to stream and listen “live” online makes it much easier to sample, I’ve decided to let the songs speak for themselves, rather than go on about them textually, though I hope you’ll remember that we only post that which we think you should pursue here on Cover Lay Down, and act accordingly.

Links below the tracks go to artist and label pages for purchase, as always, and we hope you’ll enjoy both the songs and the foray into new posting territory, as much as I have. And although Sunday will bring us back to the usual mp3-based setlist format, I hope you’ll also let me know in the comments how the switch from privately-hosted mp3s to streaming technologies over the last two features has served your listening needs.

Clare Maguire: Hope There’s Someone (orig. Antony & The Johnsons)

Benjamin Francis Leftwich: Rebellion (orig. Arcade Fire)

Clare Burson: We Used To Wait (orig. Arcade Fire)

Terry Edwards: Lulu’s Back in Town (orig. Thelonious Monk)

Nicole Atkins: Vitamin C (orig. Can)

The Good Natured: For The Widows in Paradise (orig. Sufjan Stevens)

That’s a Freight Train: I Can Change (orig. LCD Soundsystem)

Ruth Bewsey: Sal Paradise (orig. Futures)

Love Darling: Closer (orig. Kings of Leon)

Liam Bailey: I’d Rather Go Blind (orig. Etta James)
Liam Bailey: Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want (orig. The Smiths)

Pickingsplinters: Cocaine (trad.)

John Velghe: I Wanna Be Your Dog (orig. The Stooges)

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and song sets twice weekly in a neverending quest to connect artists and fans for the betterment of culture. Wanna help?

1,229 comments » | blogtech, metablog

How to be a Coverblogger, Part 2:
Writers Write, Bloggers Blog

September 29th, 2010 — 10:43 pm

Twice a week, instead of grading papers or putting my children to bed, I hunker down in front of the computer for a 3-4 hour writing session. Sometimes I start from notes, written on scraps of paper up against the steering wheel; other times, I start with the music, perusing artist catalogs, skimming songs collated by theme and subject over the years, willing inspiration to fall out of the sky. And once in a while, it’s just me in the dark, with a song to start with, trying to figure out what sort of framing device would justify posting the hook caught in my ears.

Of course, sometimes the urge strikes at the odd hour. Like life itself, my wordpress archives are littered with half-started drafts, a few sentences to hold an idea in place after it falls from the sky uninvited. But most of the time, I don’t know what I will write until the blank screen opens up before me. For, after all, I am one of those writers that writes first and foremost to find out what I think.

And you know what I think, at least so far. Because, after all, you’re here.

From the outside, this praxis must look like a lonely life – no different from the secret hobbyist who retires to his basement each evening to stuff delicate ships into narrowneck bottles. And certainly, at first, the impetus to write was not a social one, but a personal one: having just been stunned by Richard Shindell’s cover album South of Delia, the honed writer’s urge in me insisted that I write about it, the better to make sense of this all-covers folk album in the context of art and culture.

But if I’ve learned anything at all in my three years as a coverblogger, it’s that blogging is not as solitary an activity as it seems. Quite the contrary, in fact. Your daily comments, the occasional kudos and linkbacks from other bloggers and print sources, continued attention from the labels and musicians themselves, our inclusion on Hype Machine’s list of the 100 most popular music bloggers: these things make of this little project not a journal, but an epistle, a poster, a dialogue, a bi-weekly soapbox, with a crowd everpresent to shape expectations, call out suggestions, correct my misimpressions, and demand the best of me.

Which is to say: in all of this, I am sustained by the community. The artists who I’ve met on my travels who know the blog, and appreciate the approach. The fans who hug me in the audience between sets once the conversation turns to songsources, and who seek me out at my yearly folk festival jaunts. The label reps who write emails and send CDs and personal notes, making it clear that they know who I am, and really think I’ll like what they have to offer. You, the reader, who takes the time to comment, and critique, thus keeping us all honest, and helping make this place as much about you and your love of good music as it is about me and mine.

I’m also humbled by the willingness of otherwise strangers to give what they can do help keep the blog afloat financially. Yes, this blog runs on your donations – it has to, as I’ve no interest in compromising my focus on artists with advertising, and it currently costs just under $1000 a year to host the growing demand for dowloads. And in honor of our fourth year together, this weekend, I’ll be putting up a new year’s worth of bootleg coverage, recorded by yours truly in the 2010 Summer fields, ready to send out to those who give to the cause; this year’s package includes delicious, otherwise-unavailable coversongs from Dala, Chuck E. Costa, Red Molly, Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmy LaFave, Tim O’Brien, The Greencards, Sarah Jarosz, and more, and the quality is surprisingly good.

I’ve no intention to turn this year’s anniversary post into a full-blown pledge drive plea. But if you enjoy what we do here – if you, too, believe that our constant work to connect new fans and artists is worth sustenance – I hope you will consider giving a few bucks to help us continue that good work. As always, all who donate will receive our annual Summer Bootleg Mixtape, a grateful gift to you in thanks for your support. Donate now, and I’ll throw in BOTH this year’s and last year’s bootleg mixes – an offer good only until Sunday, when I’ll start sending them out, so act now if you’d like the set.

But whether you choose to lend your support through readership or participation or donations, the very fact that we are here together sustains me. It keeps me up late into the night, trying to make sense of the folkways inherent in coverage; it keeps me coming back week after week, even as life stacks up on the kitchen counter alongside me, demanding my attention.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I am grateful, humbled even, by the way Cover Lay Down has turned from a solo project into a shared space, a node, a community for all of us. And though there are certainly times when blogging seems onerous, know that as long as this place lifts me up – and it does, oh it does – I’ll be here in the morning.

A soundtrack for our shared journey, then. Nothing so tight as all that, just a few favorite songs that speak, however obliquely, to how we write our life into being together, and to the commitments that we make to the world. Some songs, in other words, about you.

Cover Lay Down is honored to be your favorite coverblog. Y’all come back real soon now, y’hear?

1,198 comments » | cover lay down, metablog

How To Be A Coverblogger, Part 1:
Starting (and Maintaining) a Covers Collection

September 26th, 2010 — 10:01 am

People often ask me how I ended up in this little niche, at the intersection of folk and coversong. Usually, I just shrug, mutter something about liking covers and folk music, note my tendency towards being a somewhat obsessive collector and tracker of songsources in general, and move on.

But there’s more to it than that. And as we near our third anniversary, I thought folks might like a more substantive glance behind the scenes.

This week, then, we’ll offer some reflections on the process of coverblogging: a set of recommendations on how to keep up with the folkworld and the covers it contains today, followed by our traditional subjective look at the blogger’s life on Wednesday, our actual anniversary. If you find this sort of stuff boring, feel free to skim right to the songs.

Interested in the folkways, particularly in how songs move through culture via reclamation and repetition? Want to be a coverblogger, or just know enough to be one? There’s a whole host of evolved nuances involved in doing it well, of course, and I can’t claim to have the only method around. But it seems to me that there’s a finite number of basic practices that are vital to building and maintaining a strong covers collection. Here are three habits I, personally, find most useful as a blogger and audiophile.

1. Gather in good tributes and cover compilations

As I’ve noted often in our ongoing series on new tributes and cover compilations, the cover album is the coverlover’s bread and butter. Not all cover albums are created equal, of course – far too many are sheer tripe, better in concept than implementation; even the ones with promise often turn out to contain but a small handful of worthy tracks among the chaff. And those like myself who prefer to focus on a particular slice of the genre spectrum should be prepared to pick and choose tracks from multi-genre tributes, while skipping over those which truly don’t sound like what you listen to.

But because they offer such concentrated and dense coverage, finding and collecting strong, full albums of coversongs remain the easiest way to satiate the gatherer’s urge. The category includes both multi-artist tributes to single artists, albums, or eras, and single artist tributes to their influences (and, rarely, single artist tributes to single artists; see our early September feature on Mark Kozelek, who has recorded full albums of AC/DC and Modest Mouse songs, or our February feature on Tim O’Brien, which includes a pair of tracks from his mid-nineties Dylan tribute Red On Blonde, for recent examples of this concentrated approach). And taken as a whole, these albums form the foundation of any coverblogger’s collection, providing fodder for blogs such as our own.

We’ve featured many such albums in our ongoing journey here at Cover Lay Down. Their releases find space in our ongoing Tribute Albums and Cover Compilations series; their tracks quite often form the foundation of theme posts and Single Song Sundays. From top favorites A Nod To Bob and Going Driftless: An Artist’s Tribute to Greg Brown, both of which can be found on the wonderful Red House Records label, to the myriad mixed-bag tributes which scatter my shelves, it is these albums which lie at the core of my catalog, the go-to discs which I turn to when I need a full hour of coversong on the road.

And the steady stream of concentrated coverage seems endless, especially in a world where recycling is fast becoming the norm. In our first few years, we were proud to feature new releases such as Cinnamon Girl, a wonderful all-female grunge-to-folk tribute to Neil Young, Splice magazine’s all-digital tradfolk tribute, and last year’s Teach For America tribute to the singer-songwriters of the 60′s and 70′s. We’ve seen excellent tributes to Judee Sill, Kath Bloom, Shel Silverstein, John Prine and more. And I’m really looking forward to the newest addition to the roster, a track-by-track tribute to Dylan’s seminal 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home due to drop on October 5th on Reimagine Music, with Denison Witmer, Ane Brun, William Fitzsimmons, Julie Doiron, and more of our absolute favorite artists from the delicate side of the indiefolk community.

We’ll continue to bring you such celebrated albums as they come, of course. Recently featured tribute albums Be Yourself: a Tribute to Graham Nash’s Songs for Beginners and Riding The Range: A Tribute to Townes Van Zandt remain on my playlist, but those posts are also still “live”, so I won’t repeat them here. And the above-mentioned tributes, while all excellent, have graced our pages in feature form before.

But in the interest of transparency, and of staying true to our mandate to constantly share and promote the best of the world of coverage writ large, here’s a short set of songs from some more of my own personal favorites – at least, the ones which run folk or mostly-folk all the way through.

2. Keep up with the artists

As our mandate suggests, coverage can have a powerful impact on fan familiarity, offering an invitation to those who would otherwise never bother. And in my experience, musicians take advantage of this fact, with both new and established artists often sticking a cover or two – or more – on each album.

Which is to say: some folk artists, especially those who lean closer to traditional styles and influence, mix covers with originals fluidly throughout their career; others tend to hew closer to the latter side of the singer-songwriter label. But eventually, almost every musician records a cover or three – even if it’s under duress, as with some of the artists who we’ve hosted for our still-growing house concert series.

So just because an artist has never recovered a beloved or otherwise-obscure song, or simply hasn’t taken on one that made you hit repeat ad infinitum, doesn’t mean their next album or radio station appearance won’t contain your newest favorite cover. And just because that new debut is one of two dozen arriving simultaneously in the ol’ mailbox doesn’t mean there isn’t a delightful new take on someone else’s song hovering there in the middle of the tracklist, just waiting to tempt you into listening more closely to that artist’s original work.

And the only way to know that is to keep attending festivals and shows, visiting artist webpages and myspaces and YouTube channels and those blogs and websites which specialize in bringing in artists for intimate sessions, and buying and listening to new music from all your favorite musicians and labels, all the time.

My long-term commitment to bi-weekly coverage has shifted my awareness of new original works, I suppose. The urgency of promised output here on Cover Lay Down has had no small effect on what and how I listen to music, and on weeks when my time is especially dear, I often find myself sticking to covers exclusively, even as new works by some of my favorite artists come down the pike alongside the rest of the everflowing river of new sound that streams past my ears.

The big idea here, though, is that not all covers come on compilations. Some of my most favorite coversongs have emerged from the serendipitous moment, when a favorite song appears in the hands and voice of a favorite artist. More significantly, our claim of coversong’s comfort applies to my own habits as well: hearing a familiar song in the hands of someone new has quite often brought me to appreciate that new artist, and make me more willing to consider their own songwriting. And some of the covers we’re shared here over the years arrived in disguise, only proving themselves covers upon reading the label; as we’ve written about here on these pages over the years, uncovering these gems, and realizing that they were covers after all, was how I discovered Buddy and Julie Miller, in fact, and how I came to truly appreciate both Tom Waits and Richard Thompson.

One reason I still prefer CDs to downloads, in fact, is that unless the artist is heavily promoting their newest coverage, downloads often do not come with enough data to know if a given song is a cover at all. To stick to the obvious one-off and the tribute album, then, is to miss the obscure and the unknown, those dark and half-hidden spaces from whence the best of the world can emerge unannounced. Here’s a few favorite covers that first found me as deep cuts, so good that they either turned me on to other artists, kept me listening to their interpreters, or both.

3. Follow the coverblogs

Like all bloggers, I suppose, cover bloggers come and go. When we joined the cacaphony of voices three years ago, the most popular coverblog on the web was Eliza’s Copy, Right?; within months, she decided to close up shop for good. Kurtis has scaled back his Disney cover blog Covering the Mouse, moving from a daily posting model to something more sporadic after a reasonably long period of radio silence. And just this month, Jamie Fong of Fong Songs put his blog on “indefinite hiatus”, going out with a bang by counting down his top 101 cover songs of all time.

But other coverblogs are thriving in the modern environment. Cover Me, for example, which started our around the same time we did, is growing fast and furious, thanks to both a new commitment to much more frequent posting and a new partnership with MTV. Podcaster Brian of Coverville has even gone pro, with advertising and sponsorships supporting a growing spectrum of programming each week. Constant companion Cover Freak remains a steady player, bringing diverse sets to the world each Sunday. And, as our sidebar notes, a number of new coverblogs have arisen in the past few years, and some are quite good indeed.

And Cover Lay Down? To say I’ll be here forever would be hubris, and surely lead to folly. One day, like all things, this, too, shall pass into memory, hopefully on our own terms, with our head held high.

But never fear; I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. Three years in, I’m happy to report that the horizon remains clear and crowded with coverage: there’s still tunes to be shared, artists to celebrate, features to be written, folkway paths to be considered. We’re here, and we’re glad you’ve chosen to join us on our little journey. Happy Birthday to us, indeed.

Here’s Jamie Fong‘s favorite cover; a Disney song interpretation I picked up from new coverblog Torre De Canciones and passed along over at Kurtis’ place; and an exclusive recently found on Cover Me, well worth passing along. To celebrate ourselves, and to keep the torch burning.

Cover Lay Down turns three years old on Wednesday. Come back then for How To Be A Folk Coverblogger, Part 2, wherein we address the blogging life, and run through our annual review of the writing process.

1,310 comments » | cover lay down, covers, metablog

Take It Down: Music Blogging Behind The Scenes

April 11th, 2010 — 09:06 pm

May you live in interesting times, says the old apocryphal proverb and curse, and we do: as I teach my students each December and May, the rise of the digital is in full swing, and even as the window of possibility that digital technologies have wrought begins to close, the power to leverage this new technology and fundamentally wrest society’s power back into the hands of the people still theoretically lurks among us – though the Huxleyan tendency towards passivity, and the wont of those in power to work to stay in power, mean the deck is stacked high against us, indeed.

It is an interesting time to be a musician. DYI is the name of the game, though the profitability remains amorphous, the path unclear, the vocational pursuit of artistry and songcraft providing more hope than promise for almost every player involved. Today’s All Things Considered feature on gleefully grinning, geeky YouTube sensations Pomplamoose is but an anecdote in a sea of anecdote, a feature on a couple who have made it for now despite the odds, yet who have no solid evidence that, come the end of the world in 2012, they will still find themselves able to support even the most simple of lifestyles working in a similar vein.

The lot of the music blogger is equally in flux. Here at Cover Lay Down, our popularity has risen in leaps and bounds over a period of a few short months; among other benefits, the recognition has brought a recent prompt from a major world music label which shall go unnamed, asking me for suggestions for upcoming compilations, and offering both a booklet mention and a finder’s fee for any successes. I’m grateful for the attention, and happy to share – after all, it serves the art and artists we love to be so well positioned, and in the end, I’m in it for their future, and my childrens’, before anything else.

But the other side of the ledger is heavy, too, and getting heavier. With a rise in popularity comes a shift in server costs: last month, visitors downloaded almost 1.5 Terabytes of music from Cover Lay Down, almost 50% over my current bandwidth allotment. Though the fine folks at iMountain were nice enough to cut me a one-time deal, at this rate, I’ll be paying more for the blog by June than our one-salary family of four pays for groceries each month.

Attention begets attention, too. Close statwatching in the aftermath of last month’s overage reveals that roughly 20% of my bandwidth issues are caused by illegal use of my files – mostly, from users in China and Spain playing files hosted at Cover Lay Down’s server through their own pages and search engines and forums. Such “hotlinking”, as it’s called in the techworld, is truly theft – after all, I pay for file hosting in order to connect musicians and fans; taking that bandwidth costs me money, divorcing the songs from the text removes the potential for artists to be discovered, and we all lose out. As such, in the coming weeks, I will be working behind the scenes to ensure, as best I can, that the only places folks will be able to listen to and download the songs we link to will be here, your own feedreader, sister blog Star Maker Machine, and the few aggregators which we trust.

But more global influences take their toll, too. The passage of the “draconian” UK Digital Economy Bill last week, as chronicled by BoingBoing, casts a dark shadow over the future of music blogging and other legal fan-based sharing media. The act, which requires ISPs to cut off Internet access for an entire household, school, or business for an entire year after even the most egregiously unfounded accusations of piracy and copyright violation, makes the DMCA – the US law which continues to wreak havoc on long-established blogs, most recently causing major players Keep The Coffee Coming and My Old Kentucky Blog to disappear from the blogger rolls – look like child’s play.

- music to mourn the digital crackdown to -

What does this all mean for you, the reader? Two things, I think:

First: keeping archived music up forever is a huge driver of our recent bandwidth overage. And – to be fair – my intention here was never to provide a permanent archive for music which, in the end, we want you to buy from the artist, the better to keep them in the studio and on tour. As Heather puts it so well, music blog mp3s are designed to be temporary temptations, surprisingly good tidbits that only work if you go on to buy, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you’ll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log.

As such – in order to stay true to our mission, in order to minimize the possibility for hotlinking and bandwidth theft, and in order to maximize the possibility that we can continue to afford to bring you rich, thorough sets on a bi-weekly basis – all files at Cover Lay Down will henceforth be up no longer than six months. With a twice-weekly publishing rate, that’s about 50 posts live at any given time.

If you’re new here, please note that you have about a week left to peruse the archives with full download capability. After that time, though the written archives will remain forever open, all music files posted before November 2009 will be deleted.

- music to stay honest to -

Second: the recent surge in bandwidth costs have cut recent donations down to the bone, and costs are rising every month. Though donations help defray server costs, it’s still my own wallet which bears the brunt of the cost for this little hobby. Cover Lay Down has faithfully served the public for two and a half years, and we’d like to continue, but we need your help.

If you’ve been reading along for a while, and have been thinking about donating a few bucks – even one dollar – to help us keep the place afloat, now’s the time to put your money where your heart and appreciation are.

You can donate to Cover Lay Down here. We hope you’ll consider it. Heck, we’ll even throw in a free gift.

- music to donate to –

Of course, though we need your donations to stay afloat, we also ask that you remember our mandate, and support the artists we present here as best you can. If you hear songs you like, pursue the artists that perform those songs avidly, with pocketbook and pen, tickets and facebook fandom. Water the music tree, lest it wither and die.

And if you encounter one of “our” songs hosted on another page, please let us know, so we can send a nice note along reminding people to stay honest, and insist that these songs remain forever stuck to the words which tout them, and the musicians who crafted them…at least until they become stuck in your ears, too, and you cannot help but dance.

Thanks, folks. May the music be with you, always.

- music to dance joyously to –

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and song sets each Wednesday and Sunday. And with your help, we aim to keep it that way.

1,192 comments » | metablog

A Coverblog Reborn:
I Could Take The Credit But It’s Thanks To You

November 15th, 2008 — 11:41 pm

Thank You

Welcome to, our new home on the web. Glad you found us. Mind the boxes and the lack of links on the sidebar; we’re still unpacking a few things. Apologies about any broken links in the archives; as noted previously, my old hosting service goes kablooey on Monday, and from here on in, in order to better preserve the sanctity of this blog as a vehicle to promote artists rather than undermine their sales, mp3 links will only remain up for a few weeks before being stricken. If you’re used to dropping in via bookmark, don’t forget to bookmark our new address.

It is my intention to return to normalcy as soon as possible — after all, as many of you made it abundantly clear in the past few weeks, you appreciate what we do here at Cover Lay Down, and we aim to keep doing it. But before we return to our usual model of music- and musician-centered posting, allow me one last self-centered metablog. Because this move would not have been possible without the wonderful outpouring of community support which came my way over the last few weeks, and I would be a poor blogger indeed if I did not take this time to recognize that effort.

First and foremost, then: I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Robbie, host and stellar designer of femmefolk blog Womenfolk. Robbie did the lion’s share of moving this blog to its new wordpress host; he also covered the redesign, donating over two days of his own design expertise and techie time to make this place feel like home, and he was perfectly gracious about doing it all over again when I called him and whined a bit about how it looked different than I imagined.

To fully honor Robbie’s contribution, I’ll be running a coverfolk feature on one of our favorite female cover artists sometime next week. In the meantime, if you get a chance, pop on over and thank him in person by adding Womenfolk to your feedreader. While you’re there, I highly recommend putting in your order for the wonderful Womenfolk: Volume One compilation CD, which is fully sanctioned by the great female artists whose songs appear on that disk.

Thanks, too, to Dean of Snuhthing/Anything for helping me sift through the many possibilities for blog and file hosting, and for ultimately finding me a hosting solution that is right for me. Dean, who is also a fellow collaborator over at Star Maker Machine, has been a stellar conscience and guide throughout the last few months, and it is because of his research and recommendation that I am proud to announce that as of this weekend, this blog is hosted by Iron Mountain, a completely green, solar-powered hosting service out of California that is run by some great and hilarious guys who actually care about us, what we do here, and what we aspire to be.

Iron Mountain hosting isn’t cheap — you’ll notice I’ve moved the donate button to its own page above, and I hope folks will consider the occasional coin in the hat here and there as we move forward. But with these guys, you get what you pay for. And I’m really excited to have found a hosting solution which matches the family-friendly feel and ecological aims of the folk music community.

More generally, but no less significantly: thanks go out to all of you who stepped up to heed the call for patronage through comments, emails, and donations. Never let anyone tell you that the world of social media rests on a faulty optimism. The fact that we are here, now, is proof that even in a world teetering on the edge of recession, people really are willing to open their hearts and minds and wallets, and give time and good cheer and cold hard cash, to support that which they love and appreciate. Words cannot express how grateful I am for the second chance you have given me.

But perhaps song will speak louder than words.

Thanksgiving is coming, and I had been saving this short playlist for the usual holiday coverfolk post, but I’m feeling so thankful these past few weeks, it seems like the holiday’s come a bit early this year. So we’ll close today with a short but broadminded set of thankful coverfolk, from The Waybacks’ post-bluegrass rock and roll to Eilen Jewell’s southern-fried countryfolk to Erin McKeown’s upbeat retro-swing, from the baritone bluesfolk growl of previously-featured Chris Smither to a surprisingly delicate acoustic turn from Soundgarden founder Chris Cornell. Plus an instrumental cover of a song which never actually says the words “thank you”, but always struck me nonetheless as a fundamentally grateful tune, tinged with just the right amount of humility.

Of course, in the end, this blog is about the music we love, and for that to continue, it is as vital as ever to support the artists whose labor brings us together. If you like what you hear, as always, consider following the above links to artist homepages and stores for product purchase and tour tracking.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features on Sundays, Wednesdays, and the occasional Friday or holiday. And we owe it all to you.

1,574 comments » | metablog

Beating a Dead Horse:
On Still Blogging as a Subversive Activity

November 3rd, 2008 — 06:04 pm

Okay, now I’m pissed. And if you want Cover Lay Down to continue, I’m asking for YOUR help. Here’s the deal:

In the last hour, blogger has removed two more posts from this blog.

One of these was the post I put up just this past weekend.

The blogger take-down comes just hours after I received a very nice thank you from the label rep who arranged for me to have those songs available for all of you.

Let me say that again, just to make sure you get it. Here’s what happened, in order:

  1. Label rep contacts me about awesome new covers.
  2. I write to label rep thanking her and asking for permission to share those covers.
  3. Label rep excitedly grants permission to share those covers in a particular way.
  4. I post those covers in exactly the way specified by the label rep.
  5. In the same post, I include two other covers which are all over the blogs, and available for FREE on the MySpace page of the artist, who owns her OWN label.
  6. The label rep writes to thank me for the nice review.
  7. Blogger takes down the post.

Other than making sure that the entire bloggiverse understands that at no time – not once, in all of this mess over the past few weeks — has blogger EVER contacted me about taking down posts, even to let me know that the posts have gone down, I’m pretty much at a loss for words. And those who visit Cover Lay Down regularly know, that’s really saying something.

I wish I had the heart and the focus to rant a bit right now, but I’m not averse to giving others who have come before me the credit for speaking to my heart. And Any Major Dude with Half A Heart describes my own feelings to a T, I think: defiant but cautious, and, more significantly, exhausted enough by the prospect of this as a way of life that I’m seriously considering compromising how I blog. Here’s what he has to say; it goes double for me, too:

I have pledged to continue blogging. I might change platforms – perhaps finding a host in a country where US copyright laws do not have force – or try to double-guess what Blogger will and will not zap. At the same time, I’m feeling a sense of blogging burnout and diminished time. If the rate of my updates decreases, then it will not because I have submitted to The Man, but because I am facing new challenges. Apart from the job which pays me my monthly salary and being engaged in an NGO I helped found*, I have taken on the editorship of a book project, revising another book, and plan to write one myself. And my family would like to remember my face as well. Which means I will not devote as much time to this labour of love as I have previously. But I won’t go.

To me, this is the real blow. Most of us blog with all our heart, and all the time we can give. To suddenly be faced with having to put in a huge amount of work to restart elsewhere is time-consuming, and that time has to come from somewhere, and all I’ve got left to give is the time I have to write this.

The problem is, unlike AMD, I don’t think I have the heart to do this by halves. And right now, it would take a superhuman amount of work and love and energy just to save this place from its looming condemnation.

I’d like to pledge to continue, and have the time to consider options. But unlike Any Major Dude, my host has already notified me that they’re giving me the boot. Clearly, I’m not on the same wavelength as blogger, but even if I thought I could second-guess blogger successfully, I don’t have the luxury of trying. And so, I have thirteen days — no more or less — to find, and fully implement, a solution, lest we become a blog frozen in time, another flying dutchman lost to the ether.

And let’s be honest, folks. I just can’t do it on my own.

I’m writing midterms for my classes, and about to have to grade them; if I want to keep my day job, I need to spend the next two weeks grading papers and crunching grades for my kids, not spending every waking hour rebuilding this blog on a new platform. My kids miss me, too. It’s going to snow any day now, and the wood isn’t stacked, the yard isn’t raked, and I spend every waking hour either at work or cursing this damn computer, and all the stress it is bringing me. I turned to blogging as a vocational hobby, a true amateur’s pursuit, and now it’s just making me tired, mad, and worn out.

I thought about just writing this as a final post, and letting go. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that heart can be borrowed. After all, I’ve lent my own out, when it was warranted. I believe in social media, and this is why:

I could do this if I had patronage.

If someone was willing to step forward to do the bulk of the transfer, making a clean swap of archives and content from blogger to a private domain, maybe help out with the redesign. If some of you were willing to give, maybe just a few bucks each, to the financial cause, via that everpresent and hardly used donate button there on the sidebar, since self-hosting in the way that seems most secure is about ten times more expensive than the model I’ve been using.

What I can offer is love and time, the same as it ever was, and I don’t think that’s nothing.

It’s just that, right now, it clearly isn’t enough.

Look, I love this place. I’ve got music poised to post, more new artists to tout, streamable and ready, with labels waiting for me to give them the nod. But as the deadline for my host gets closer, all I can do is feel the weight of it pushing down on me. It’s time to come forward, and state unequivocally, that I just can’t do this right now.

If it turns out that there isn’t really a bunch of people out there willing to help out, then I’ll crawl back into my hole, and call it a good run. I’ll be sad, for a while. The music world will be that much more commercialized and commodified. We’ll all lose, just a little bit more. And then we’ll move on, and forget, as we always do, and live in that grey world.

But I’m hoping that there are a few folks out there who appreciate what I’ve tried to bring here just enough to want to help out.


UPDATE 11:11 pm: Several folks have written to ask if there are other ways to help, especially for those with no e-cash solution or hosting to offer. The short answer to this question: absolutely. See the comments below for a few more thoughts on the matter.

1,493 comments » | metablog

Metablog, With Music: On Blogging, Bandwidth, and the Unlimited Archives of the Mind

October 20th, 2008 — 09:27 pm

pic courtesy
I’ve tried to keep the metablogging to a minimum here at Cover Lay Down. I appreciate that people like to know about the man behind the curtain, but writing about technical difficulties smacks of navel-gazing narcissism: you come here for the writing and the music, not blogging about blogging. So if you’re coming here for the music, welcome, and feel free to scroll to the end of the post for a few relevant tracks.

But a few of you have asked. And so, in a nutshell: after an incredible month of growth, my habit of keeping the archives eternally open to all comers, combined with a huge influx of new faces (thanks to Boing Boing, and our work with the Denison Witmer Covers Project), bumped me up against the next tier of file hosting cost just as my provider was about to close for the weekend. I regret this weekend’s bandwidth max-out, and feel badly for every curious coverfan and folktracker who found his way here only to go away without the song.

But if this weekend’s file outage was frustrating, it was also healthy. Being unable to blog this weekend, watching instead the sitetracker pick up echoes looking for something no longer there, forced me to confront some hard truths about what I do here, and why. It’s time to pick our battles, folks. And before I do, I feel like I owe my loyal readers some sort of explanation.

You see, like many bloggers, I’ve come to think of the blog as part of something bigger, something more community-minded and interactive, than just me sitting down in the kitchen, late at night when the kids are in bed, and trying to make sense of just one thing at a time. This, of course, is pure egoism: as a regular reader of over fifty music blogs myself, I know that while such a tone of collaboration is sometimes welcoming, it is also a collusive fiction, a consensual construct. But it is nonetheless true that, as a blogger, I am no more or less a part of the ongoing conversation as every fan that wears the T-shirt, every artist that is truly excited about their review, every label rep that reaches out with a handwritten note. From those perspectives, I am part of their circle, just as they are part of mine.

Still, clearly, I can’t be everything to everyone. Though I wish that every new reader could start her journey, if she so desired, by scouring the collection, catching up on what has become over a hundred posts and almost a thousand coversongs, it’s hard to deny the strain this causes on our ability to provide constantly new content.

I could just go the ad route, or have a fund drive for that donate button there on the sidebar. I could dig deep, and upgrade past my current Business-class hosting solution to something called the Enterprise-level account, which sounds just big enough and expensive enough to have its own holodeck. But though I appreciate any and all support for the current cost of file-hosting, I don’t really feel like I want to get bigger. I like thinking of myself as small, of being a hobbyist, an amateur in the proudest sense. I like being awed by musicians who know my name; I like being part of the crowd. If I have to choose, I’d rather walk the walk, and stay small, like folk itself.

So let us let our journey keep its beginning and end, and choose to live more in the present than the past. If we are to truly consider this an ongoing conversation, I think we need to be willing to let some baggage go, so that we can come to each idea fresh. And if that means letting the songs of older posts turn into ghosts, faint memories to accompany long-written text, then perhaps that is only right, given our ghost in the machine existence.

Over the next week or two, then, I’ll be deleting older mp3s from the archives. I’m thinking I’ll leave some posts up — anything linked recently, a good set of the holiday music as the weather grows colder. I might even celebrate by featuring a few old favorites on a sidebar spot, right next to the elseblog posts I continue to crank out faithfully at collaborative theme-blog Star Maker Machine, where this week all song titles consist of an adjective and a noun, in that order. If you’ve got any favorite posts here on Cover Lay Down which you think merit inclusion in a greatest hits collection, to stay live into eternity, let me know.

But the bulk of the files will fade. Because providing two terabytes of bandwidth in one month is not a hobby anymore. It’s not even an obsession. It’s just not cost-effective. Our souls are more important.

All writing will remain, of course. The conversation grows, ever onward, exploring the mysteries of how people share song, and why, and how it changes the world. Through it, the music lives on, in new covers and in old recordings, in the hands of the people, where the folk belongs. Our ghosts echo in the ever-present hypemachine slipstream.

When I started here, I was thinking of words; I still struggle to listen with my heart. But if I had named this blog after a song, it might have been one of these.

  • Tim O’Brien: Lay Down Your Weary Tune (orig. Bob Dylan)

  • Cowboy Junkies: To Lay Me Down (orig. Grateful Dead)
  • The Mammals: Lay Down Yr Mountain (text Allan Ginsburg)
  • Mississippi Fred McDowell: When I Lay My Burden Down(trad.)

Cover Lay Down will return to our regular schedule later this week. Coming soon: new covers from newcomers, and the year’s first Christmas albums begin to hit the market.

897 comments » | Cowboy Junkies, metablog, Mississippi Fred McDowell, The Mammals, Tim O'Brien