March 1, 2024

Zero monthly listeners - Indiana label Ulyssa celebrates Spotify’s unheard musicians

John Williamson (L), Eric Deines (R)

John Williamson (L), Eric Deines (R)

According to a 2023 report from Luminate, formerly known as Nielsen SoundScan, over 120,000 new tracks are uploaded to the music streaming service Spotify every day. That's over 36,500,000 tracks per year.

And according to that same report, over 45 million of those tracks never received a single play.

That's bad news for musicians, as Spotify recently announced that it would cease making royalty payments for songs with less than 1000 annual streams.

But all hope is not lost. Ulyssa, an Indiana-based record label, is dedicated to discovering and celebrating a vast trove of unheard music on Spotify.

John Williamson: I'm John Williamson.

Eric Deines: I'm Eric Deines, and together we run a label called Ulyssa,

Kyle Long: John and Eric have issued a series of compilation tapes and digital releases compiling obscure music they've discovered on Spotify.

Eric Deines: John had identified a way to subvert the algorithm on Spotify, and do something in the search bar, which is a trade secret that we can't share on air, to subvert the sort of algorithm and what it would give you, and almost go straight to the bottom of the Mariana Trench of these things that have existed there, maybe unbeknownst to even the artist who made them.

It is an obsession, and you know, certainly 90% of the things you find, should remain unfound, maybe, I don't know, that's harsh. But then there's at least 10% of things that we become obsessed over and they become little they become like heroes to us in some way.

John Williamson: Often enough, more often than you think you'll find an artist and you go, Wow, this cover looks cool. We click on it. The first few seconds sound really cool. You click on the artist, and it's like, they've made 30 entire full length albums. And they have this entire universe and up at the top it says zero monthly listeners. You know, ostensibly no one's ever heard them.

Eric Deines: Often we will, when we get into an artist, it will be funny because you'll see that that artist suddenly has two monthly listeners. 

Kyle Long: The music Ulyssa is releasing is beginning to attract serious attention. Most notably, a series of releases featuring the Mississippi musician, David Michael Moore. The online publication Pitchfork, awarded Morris album "Adagio Fishing", an eight point rating.

Eric Deines: We did a compilation of for this Mississippi fellow named David Michael Moore, who we immediately identified as potentially a genius out there making music that has been unrecognized by anybody and his music is truly knock out, it's Zydeco music meets sort of Sufi whirling dervish type music meets J.J. Cale. 

Kyle Long: Ulyssa has also coined a new genre of music. They call it toejazz, a reference to the 1991 Sega Genesis video game "Toejam and Earl".

Eric Deines: You know we started to find similar styles of synth jazz, synth bass, like smooth jazz done slightly wrong. And on a road trip together. I believe I was saying this really reminds me of Miles Davis' "Tutu" which is a record I like that I don't think a lot of Miles' heads like but then also this "Toejam and Earl" soundtrack

Kyle Long: There's a seemingly endless supply of material on Spotify to fuel future Ulyssa releases. Their latest obs ession. Inga McDaniel happens to live right here in Indianapolis. 

Eric Deines: John wrote me one day and said, "I've found a queen of toejazz." And we searched around for her. I kind of realized right away maybe it was like a LinkedIn profile, I was like, "Dude, I think she's from Indianapolis." She lives nine blocks from my front door. An unbelievable twist of fate.

We just said, "Want to meet us at the Pawn Shop Pub?" And she met us at the Pawn Shop Pub. It was totally lovely. We spilled our freaking guts floor and she was all in. You know, I was like, "We're two goofy looking white dudes, but give us a shot." And she's down with it.

Kyle Long: For WFYI, I'm Kyle Long.

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