The Path Untravelled – thoughts, one year on

A year ago today, Arx Atrata’s 3rd album was released. What have I learned in that time?

The Path Untravelled - CD digipak, open

On the promotional side, I pushed this album more than previous ones, but results have been mixed. When you push up into the bigger leagues people are less afraid to give negative reviews, as you’d expect and hope. But you quickly see from the contradictions across reviews that you don’t really get a better quality of criticism at this level, just a better quality of writing. It’s subjectivity dressed up as objectivity. The same release can get 10/10 from one source and 4/10 somewhere else.

But artists don’t solicit reviews for the purpose of gathering constructive feedback. We wouldn’t change what we write based on a journalist’s opinion anyway. We want the reviews to reach potential new listeners and tell them about us. So, did that work? Well… not especially. The previous album Spiritus In Terra broke even after 3 months, but this one took until last week to claw back its costs. Partly this is just because people buy fewer CDs and downloads. But additionally, streaming numbers are down for Arx Atrata, primarily because success or failure in the narrower subgenres all depends on whether an anonymous editor at Spotify chooses to add you to their official playlists or not. This time around they did not.

Independent bands trying to reach new fans these days are generally given 2 pieces of advice: first, to be constantly posting on social media in the hope that you build and keep a big enough audience, and second, to buy targeted ads on social media to reach new people. Essentially, the bands with lots of time and no money are doing free promotional work for Facebook and Instagram so that the bands with lots of money and no time get enough views on their ads. I won’t play that game – nobody wins except a handful of lucky bands at the top of the pyramid and the social networks themselves.

So what’s next for Arx Atrata? I had hoped to find live musicians and play gigs this year, but that would have hinged on both a more successful release and also the absence of a global pandemic. Maybe next time? For now, it’s back to songwriting, with something to share in the near future. As ever, watch this space.