Behind the digital curtain of Daytrotter
Music now streams through the ether, a one-click marvel that pumps bits through the wires and into your ears mere moments after you hit the download button. But that mechanized miracle subtracts the humans from the equation—the artists and the studio technicians who converted sound waves into ones and zeros.
No one represents that forgotten whisper of humanity in the digitized music world than Matt Oliver, who’s been on both sides of the studio console for indie music site Daytrotter—and is now converting his analog experiences working there into a different kind of download.
As a former member of the Austin art-rock band Sound Team and current leader of TV Torso, the wiry guitarist has recorded three sessions with the popular music discovery site, hoping to break through the hype machine of indie rock and connect with a larger audience.
But for the last year, Oliver has been devoted to the opposite end of Daytrotter’s music machine. From his charmingly ramshackle analog studio, Big Orange, he personally produced roughly 1,000 tracks for the site—only half of which have thus far been mastered and released—a staggering feat by any measure.
It’s not a position the struggling musician ever expected himself to be in.
“By complete and utter happenstance, I have found myself recording music to make a living and help support my family and young daughter,” wrote Oliver, 32, on his blog, Big Orange Recording. “At times the journey here has been nearly soul-destroying, filled with vicious anxiety and psychic pain. But I still feel enormously grateful that I get to do what I do.”
In what he describes as a “sort of celebration and investigation” of his work, Oliver has been reflecting on his tenure at Daytrotter, which ended in late September as the site sought to branch out in Austin, by counting down the top 25 tracks he worked on.
The result’s a fascinating look behind Daytrotter’s digital curtain, detailing the level of flesh-and-blood effort and dedication it takes to sustain the music network. On the surface, Daytrotter might seem like a relatively simple operation—for $2/month, users gain access to the site’s trove of exclusive recordings, each coupled with a colorful animation and cofounder Sean Moeller’s hyperbolic prose. The reality revealed is far more complicated: booking arrangements, scheduling and personnel conflicts, and labor-intensive recording sessions.
That’s what makes Oliver’s entries so interesting. It’s a compelling combination of personal memoir and insightful music criticism that should appeal not only to fans of the site, but also contemporary producers, bands, and music fans in general. Plus, there’s an excellent soundtrack to go with it.
Take this excerpt, for example, about his session with Atlanta’s Black Lips, garage-pop pranksters whom Oliver alternately describes as “legitimate fuck-ups” and “some of the hardest working people” he’s ever met.
On the day this session took place in March, Jared Swilley appeared to be on the coming-down end of a harrowing night on LSD; he laid on the piano bench with his arms covering his face and asked no one in particular, ‘Will I ever feel normal again?’ He was wearing shorts, nearly destroyed penny loafers, a pair of Clubmasters, and one of those red-striped French Navy/Picasso shirts. I tried to imagine what normal feels like to Swilley.
Here’s the countdown thus far.
- Los Lobos "Kiko and the Lavender Moon"
- R. Stevie Moore "Sort of Way"
- The Futureheads "Heartbeat Song"
- Robert Ellis "What's In It For Me?"
- Mike Watt "The Glory of Man"
- Black Lips "Time"
- Carl Broemel "All Birds Say/Carried Away"
At this rate, the entries will likely continue to roll in for the next month or so. That should give Oliver plenty of time to plot his next move.
“This experience has … reinstilled my belief that you do the best you can with what you have,” Oliver told the Daily Dot. “And it's taught me a lot of patience.”
That labor and effort, born into every bit recorded in Oliver’s studio and transcoded onto Daytrotter’s servers, may not seem evident as the bits zip down the pipes. But as they reconfigure themselves in the air into thrumming waves of noise, Oliver’s patience resonates.
Illustration by Daytrotter