Digital sunshine: Amazon Music and their plans for summer
It might seem a little nonsensical - with the biting winds and driving rain outside - but in some quarters, thoughts are already turning towards summer. Hence, here I am in one of Soho's hidden courtyards for Amazon's Summer Wish List, showcasing a variety of wares for the hopefully warmer months. As tempting as the lawnmowers and saddle boxes are, I am here for the music - both live and upcoming.
Andy Lightfoot, the music manager of Amazon's MP3 store, explained what the company has planned for this year. As one of the industry's biggest online outlets, Amazon are in an almost unique position of straddling both the old school physical product world, and this new-fangled digital malarkey. Nevertheless, Andy sees himself less a sales manager and more an editor, able to help steer musical tastes and act as a champion for artists, a prospect that quite obviously excites him.
The advantage Amazon has over print is the capacity to offer listeners the chance to make up their own mind, rather than read the conjecture of a select few. Starting with the Artist Lounge last year, and now expanding to #NewFor2014 to cater for new and emerging artists, Amazon are picking roughly 12 acts every month and giving away free tracks and videos to tie in with upcoming releases - often their first proper release. You can read all the hype and information going, but there is nothing quite as powerful, or dangerous, as instantly being able to listen and then promptly buy the artist's latest single, EP or album, all from one page.
In an industry so short-sighted it sometimes defies belief, this gives smaller acts a chance to make more of an impact. Using Lady Gaga's recent album as an example of how ruthless the top bods can be if a record doesn't meet expectations in just a single week, Andy explains that by working with smaller and independent labels, he hopes the whole month-long approach can provide impact the sometimes meagre marketing budgets can't manage. As an approach, it certainly sounds worthwhile and will surely do nothing but good for the chosen few. Time will tell if Amazon can jump ahead of the curve or merely follow it (*cough* BBC Sounds lists *cough*).
The live segment of the afternoon is a collection of 15 minute sets from a few of the acts being lined up for future months. It is a tough gig today, playing to an audience of beanbags, exercise bikes and those in search of a cup of tea. First up are Mausi and their haunting electro pop, as is all the rage of late. Lead vocalist Daisy has a good voice, fragile but filled with emotion. Each song builds nicely to a fulfilling climax and avoids drifting off into nothingness as many contempories do, but there is a fear they will just be another one of these synth pop bands that fill the background of the scene without ever having enough to stand out.
Singer-songwriters are a dime-a-dozen and universally fail to grab my interest. Nick Mulvey does at least manage to add a twist to the genre, incorporating some impressive Spanish influence into his guitar playing. A smooth and soothing voice, it is his fingers that prove the most mesmerising as they appear to dance over the fretboard, a refined and restrained tango that has flair without being showy.
The third act I catch really are something very different. Again taking on the current trend for dreamy, delicate pop, Thumpers do it with one guitar and five voices. The weaving of all the vocal harmonies is beautiful and uplifting, whilst the odd hint of a darker undercurrent is thrilling. It is rare to see pop music really trying to be unique, and whereas most bands merely harmonise, all five vocalists have their own separate identities and roles, creating their own diversions to fill the space and bring the song to life.
To keep up to date with Amazon's monthly musical highlights, follow Amazon Music UK over on Twitter.