The isolation of headphones and our unexpected return to shared listening.

I’m thinking a lot about how listening creates spaces, both shared and solitary. In the Strange Times, with no concerts and shuttered venues, you might think isolated listening is the only game in town. But, unexpectedly, live-streaming is opening up new opportunities for a shared listening experience, and I’m not talking about the facsimile of hanging out with distant Zoom-mates.

If there’s one thing live-streaming is bringing back, it’s shared listening in our homes. I thought about this last Thursday when I caught Rishi from Elephant Stone live-streaming from his basement. As I listened, I scrolled through the top bar…

Washing hands, discovering bands.

At the beginning of ‘Corona-Time,’ I was re-introduced to Daniel Bremmer, who I first met around 1999 at a coffeehouse in Orange County, CA. I was on tour with the band GusGus, and he invited me to do an impromptu off-the-beaten-path DJ set at the café before the Los Angeles show.

Time goes by, and we all move on to different things and careers. I’m doing … well, this. And Daniel is a creative director working with the likes of National Geographic, No Kid Hungry, and Barack Obama’s youth voter registration campaign Vote For Change. …

No matter where you are, you’re invited.

I arrived in Miami in the early afternoon and met DJ Much-More-Famous-Than-Me at the hotel. That night we had a gig together. Until then, we decided to wander South Beach to pass the time. The DJ remembered that a promoter friend was throwing an oceanside outdoor party. We went to check it out.

Arriving on the beach, we quickly found the event by following the thump of a mobile sound system. The promoter had set up a large circle of folding chairs — the space inside could fit a small bungalow — and connected the chairs with a long rope…

Once upon a time, zines were our weird little windows to the outside world.

In the late ’80s, I was heavily into zine culture. Isolated in Central Louisiana, I was an outcast kid into weird stuff, craving connections to an outside world of strangers. I can’t remember how I initially discovered zines and the related mail art community. I’m sure my love of DIY punk rock played a part.

Eventually, I obtained an issue of Factsheet Five. The mag inspired me to open a secret post office box, so all this unusual mail wouldn’t arrive at my parents’ house. After sending off several envelopes containing a few quarters, or postage compensation, or an enthusiastic…

Harnessing the calming effect of music to help get us through challenging times.

I haven’t quite settled into the writing rhythm, and putting last week’s newsletter together was a struggle. The working-at-home aspect isn’t a big deal as that’s where I’ve worked for most of my (sorta-)professional life. But the background hum of uncertainty, concern, and — let’s face it — fear throws new challenges into the mix.

I’m not alone in walking a tightrope between ‘now’s the time to get stuff done’ and ‘take it easy for your mental health.’ It’s an unusual juggling act, at least for me. I miss the days — they seem so long ago — when I…

It’s reasonable to imagine a few different songwriters coming up with similar melodies. But should we consider that plagiarism?

In the mid-70s, a music scholar, maybe a professor, definitely someone we’d now call a ‘musicologist,’ wrote an alarming letter to Rolling Stone magazine. He stated that, by his estimation, within a few years the notes would run out. That is, musicians were about to exhaust all available music notes in every possible timing and context. He warned that soon there would be no more original songs.

Beneath this letter was a response from John and Yoko. They were apparently enlisted by Rolling Stone to address this crisis. Their two-word reaction to song-pocalyspe: “ Lighten up.

I should point…

Erik Satie inspires a fascinating exercise in experimental ambiance.

Long before Brian Eno dreamed-up the term ambient music, there was “Furniture Music.” Coined by composer Erik Satie in 1917, “Furniture Music” intends to “make a contribution to life in the same way as a private conversation, a painting in a gallery, or the chair in which you may or may not be seated” (Satie’s words).

There’s a story of the debut of “Furniture Music” (or more correctly “Furnishing Music” — ‘ musique d’ameublement’). Satie performed it during the intermission of a play, and the audience was encouraged to mill about…

Marketers are branding coziness and ambient music as an antidote for a hectic life.

In the article Why Are So Many Brands Pivoting To Coziness?, Vox’s Rebecca Jennings reveals a curious marketing trend: brands displaying promises of comfort to attract Millennials and Gen Z’ers. In youth-oriented magazine advertisements, we’re used to photos of adventurous consumers climbing mountains or traversing an exotic, unfamiliar city. Now you’re as likely to see a picture of someone sitting at home seated on a couch or maybe even — gasp! — reading a book. Combined with emerging products like weighted blankets and CBD shampoo, it’s evident that chill is ‘in.’

Media theorists point out that horror movies are popular…

Andrew Weatherall’s ‘Dub Symphony’ helped me — and many others — approach the act of remixing as almost mystical, a long-distance collaboration.

At the beginning of last week, I ran across The Perfumed Garden, a blog collecting recordings and playlists from episodes of John Peel’s celebrated long-running radio show. The tracklists are fascinating on their own. They serve as trapped-in-amber snapshots of what was musically ‘cool’ that particular week of that specific year. Also, the shows from the late ’70s and early ’80s inspired listeners who later formed more than a few beloved UK bands. John Peel was who they were listening to. This influence remains enormous, and it’s fun to examine these roots.

Where will we look in thirty years to…

A factory fire in California has us asking broad questions about vinyl records — why do we love it, what are its alternatives, and do we really need it?

This month doom and gloom descended on the record industry. And by the ‘record industry,’ I mean the industry that manufactures, releases, and loves vinyl records. The fragility of the vinyl revival was dramatically revealed by a tragic fire at a factory in California. People are freaking out. And, as I wrote about the story for my newsletter, I started thinking about vinyl in a broader sense — why do we love it, what are its alternatives, and do we really need it?

Before we go down the rabbit hole, you might want to watch an informative video that shows…

Michael Donaldson

I think and write about music’s place in the 21st century. Music industry mentor and blogger at

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