Collisions at the Corner of Art and Commerce

Yes, but how does that make you *feel*?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

One of the things that I love most about music is how it makes me feel. But besides loving how great music can stir such emotion, I also love trying to understand what it is that makes me feel that emotion.  Sure there’s the obvious big one for transmitting emotion: lyric.  But even more fascinating to me are the nuanced and mysterious effects of chord changes, chord voicing changes, modulations, rhythm, timbre, tone, countermovement of melody etc and their impacts on the ‘feel’ of a song.

This post on BoingBoing.net is an amazing illustration of taking a familiar, broody, moody minor keyed song and processing it into a major key.  It’s pretty mindblowing to me, and I hope you too.



Major Scaled #2 : REM - "Recovering My Religion" from major scaled on Vimeo.




And here’s a cool additional look at a process to do a key shift like this (also from BoingBoing.net)



PS: BoingBoing.net is good for your brain.

updated: 4 years ago

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Steve Wants MoreTuesday, February 25th 2014 8:34PM

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Velocult - or Bikes and Music?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

So I've blathered on about DVDs, movies, Ultimate Frisbee -  a host of topics where one might wonder - "how does this connect to making music  or the music business?"  But then *most* of them eventually did, didn't they?

Well here's another left field topic -  a Bike Shop.... Not bike shops in general, I'm thinking more about a very specific (and very cool) bike shop here in Portland called  Velocult... and yes this *will* come back around to making music, honest, and not just 'cause this shop has a stage and presents music too.

Velo Cult was a well known shop in San Diego CA until earlier this year.  You can get a bit of history on them and their move here  and here

It's got all the stuff you'd find in any bike shop, like new bikes, parts, accessories, apparel, helmets, mechanics etc.  But the reason I'm writing about it is what it also has, like a stage for music, a bar, the mechanic's stations up front and center of the store, with only a low counter separating them from the rest of the shop, showings of bike races on the big screen, art exhibits/showings, beer tastings, you name it.  They even have way cool, web connected photo booth

They moved the whole shop, including most of the employees from San Diego to Portland.  But the story isn't just the move - though that's important - they  wanted to be in a different environment, one that they felt would make them happier.  The owner and all the employees I've encountered seem like great folks.  Sky, the owner,  said that their goal in building the place is to create an environment that they wanted to be in - they like bikes and beer and music and bike racing etc, so they built a place that fits for them - yet welcomes all others.  There are certainly exceptions, but a great number of musicians who have succeeded over the long haul have done the above with their music - they have created art and a career that fits and is true to them and yet is also welcoming others, thus building an audience.

What are you creating? Is it true to you, or is it an approximation of truth, or worse yet, not true to you at all, but simply a thing that you think might work?  This idea holds true not only for the music you create, but the shows you do - what happens if you do some extra work and create the show/event *you* and your friends would want to go to?  *That's* something worth talking about  way beyond your 9th gig at Tipsy McSwagger's with 3 other bands you've never heard of....

Imagine what you want *your* playground to look and work like and then set about building it.  And by playground, I'm not only referring to the physical world of shows and places to perform, but also the rules that govern the art you create... Build your world, and if it's really really good, original, honest, and has some point of welcoming others to come inside, then you've got a chance.  But if the world you build is your idea of what someone else is looking for and not one that *you* want to live and work in, it's probably not going to fly, or if it does, it will probably be short lived and not sustainable.

Ride on...

updated: 5 years ago

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F.A.T.T. - Fitz and the Tantrums

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Short and sweet, if you get the chance, go see Fitz and The Tantrums live.  Great band, fun songs, and an inspired, energetic performance last night at The Roseland here in Portland.   It was fun listening and hearing how well it works that they have no guitarist - it does great things for the musical space around the vocals.   Another thing that stood out to me was a very sincere moment where Fitz and the band thanked the audience for their support and for helping give them the chance to realize their dreams of playing music for a living.  Artists have always relied upon audiences for this kind of support, but this is true more now than ever.  From where I sit, it is a wise artist who never loses sight of this fact and takes opportunities to express their gratitude to their fans.

fitzandthetantrums.com

updated: 5 years ago

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Portland Workshop

Monday, November 14, 2011

Check it out here

You'll be happy you went.

updated: 5 years ago

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Simple as can be....

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

If you perform or simply like music, please watch this:



Done?  Great, now what did you notice?  Brilliant harmonies, well sung, inventive percussion and video work about as simple as it can be, yes?  So how can you tie this to your music?  The first thing I would point out is the masterful performance.  None of these women wrote this song - it was originally recorded by the Swedish dance/pop performer Robyn (co-written by Robyn, along with Alexander Kronlund and Klas Ahlund).  But what this trio has done with and to this song is nothing short of remarkable to me.  They take a reasonably well crafted pop song and turn it into something that lives, breathes and soars so far beyond the manufactured, commercial production of the original. They turn it into a haunting, beautiful song and a much more significant work of art in my opinion.   The lesson I’d invite you to take away from this is that if the *music* is brilliantly conceived and performed, the rest of the trappings are much, much less significant.  Would a recording of your music around a kitchen table work?  And yet in this instance the music and performance is so brilliant, it *does* work.  It is inescapable that your music needs to be brilliant, not simply serviceable. It needs to brilliantly offer something remarkable and unique.  Striving for and achieving excellence is not optional if you wish to build a real and sustainable career.  Kitchen table recordings *are* optional, however....

More on Erato,  the group performing:  they are:  Ebba Lovisa Andersson, Amanda Wikström and Petra Brohäll.

If you read Swedish:  Their Facebook page

updated: 5 years ago

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Tim Minchin

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Tim Minchin

I had the great pleasure to catch a sold out Tim Minchin show recently at the Aladdin Theater here in Portland OR.    To me, he’s about as complete an artist and performer as you can be.  He’s tremendously talented as a pianist. He can sing well and really knows how to make the most of his voice.  His stage performance is so well written and timed - he’s got great comedic performing chops and a fast wit and strong rapport with the crowd.  He’s a gifted, thoughtful, funny as hell writer. He constructs songs, which, if a bit didactic at times, have been thoroughly written to stand tall in the midst of waves of criticism that are often directed at them.  Such waves happen regularly since he’s a noted skeptic and writes about things like religion and the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.   That particular song is indeed shocking if one is easily offended by coarse language - and yet that’s the song’s central point - if one is more offended by words used in a song than offended by the clear evidence of Church’s malfeasance at the highest levels about sex abuse well, that’s even more offensive than any word could ever be.

His work is often shocking, but in a good way.  His humor is, for the most part, not about tearing others down, though he did have a song called Fat Kids that he’s since retired, feeling that he can’t defend it - a stance for which I have great admiration.  I don’t expect artists to be perfect, but I do expect them to grow and evolve, and this is an example of that in my opinion.

timminchin.com


Here’s a piece from this past weekend’s NPR Weekend Edition


Or if you prefer to read the interview, here's a transcription

A song to check out:
Prejudice

updated: 5 years ago

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Get out of the Music Business now....

Thursday, May 26, 2011

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.  There is also a negative side."  -  Variously attributed to Hunter S. Thompson    Please see note below.

Haven't been feeling too bloggy lately, but then I ran across this quote in an email sig line and had to share. I thought I'd use this to invite you to reconsider even thinking of yourself in the music business.  Why be *in* the 'music business', when you can instead get into the business of you/your band?  It will have elements of the music business involved and you'll be banging up against the biz in numerous places, but why make a big fight to get into a dying business?  Why not work your way to something way better and more fun - the business of you.  I know, it's a cliche (and I think even a book title)... but it's true.  And by dying business I don't mean that people aren't going to continue to want to access great new music - they do and will continue to do so, I simply mean that the structures and players of the old business are collapsing around us.  Why race to get on board the Titanic?  But just because the Titanic sank didn't mean that people stopped wanting to get across the ocean between the  US and Europe, they simply chose different, yet better,  shall we say, more 'floaty' ways of getting across the ocean.... more and better ships until jets came along - creating an even bigger change.   It's true that you can still take a ship between New York and Europe, but it's a nostalgia trip, a 'cruise'.   It's not a means of transportation between continents for anyone but those grievously afraid of flying.   Kinda like Vinyl albums.  It looks like it's here to stay.  However, save for die hard audiophiles or collectors, it's no longer a significant means of people accessing and storing music.  Things change - and you should consider changing too.

Conventional wisdom to question:   Let's look at the starting assumption of a need to make a full length CD.  In most instances developing artists (and even many established artists) would be better served by recording in small batches of songs, or individual songs and getting that music out directly and electronically to their fans.  

In my opinion making a full length CD  is a worthwhile endeavor only if one of the following conditions applies:


  1. That there are artistic reasons to do so (such as a concept album or a song cycle or some other factor that cries out for a full length CD production)



2.That the artist simply has always wanted to have the experience of making a full CD and they have the financial wherewithal to record and support the release with touring and other means of building an audience.  The process of holing up and focusing on nothing more than making an album is a wondrous endeavor.  However, few indie artists have the luxury of funding to do a whole recording at once.  

(If you don't have that kind of money laying around and will more likely be making the album in pieces, why not simply release it in pieces too?)

3.You simply have money to burn and want to be able to rant about how you made this great album and nobody is paying attention to you cause 'the business' sucks  (it does, see above) or cause you don't have 'connections' to help you get your music out to the masses or whatever the whine du jour.



I'm not under the illusion that building a following is easy, but the tools of doing so are now more readily available than ever before.  The key is for your music to be really, really good - then you couple that with steady efforts to get your music into the ears of new people.   And as a band trying to build a following in 2011, that probably doesn't involve selling said music at least initially.  Until you've developed a fan base to a degree, the idea of asking people who aren't fans of your music to pay for it doesn't make much sense.  You're competing with free - there are plenty of other places for people to access good music - if I've never heard your music and  you want to hit me up for $.99 you're probably doing yourself some harm in the audience building department, cause barring some other intriguing reason for me to pay attention, I'll probably move on without hitting the 'buy' button.

You need people to hear your really, really good music  (your music *is* really, really good isn't it?  If it's not, fixing that is step 1).   I'm *not* saying that music doesn't have value, and I'm *not* saying that creators shouldn't be compensated, I'm simply pointing out the reality of the marketplace.  I'll also add that I *do* think that there are ways to get fans involved and get them to pay you for your music etc, but that's *after* they've become fans.  If you're still trying to get a toehold of an audience going, in most instances I can imagine, free is the best bet.  I know it's a drag that you've spent all that money to record - but that's probably another piece of the conventional wisdom to try to undo - you shouldn't be spending a bunch of money to record your early music at this point.  Once again, technology has democratized and economized the recording process.  You can and should make great sounding recordings for not a bunch of money at this point.... making it easier to give it away initially.


Note on Thompson 'quote':  A bit of research turns up that he wrote these words in reference to the TV news biz, minus the 'There is also a negative side', which appears to have been added by someone else.   Despite the fact that this has been altered to apply to several different businesses, I think it's highly accurate in reference to the music business, and funny as well.

updated: 6 years ago

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Miscellany

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Some things I wanted to share,  both via Wired.com:

Is Spotify the new savior of the recorded music business?  Maybe, maybe not, too soon to tell, but here’s an interesting bit of info to consider as we look at a vastly changed and still evolving marketplace for recorded music in the 21st century.
Click here


Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

What this doing in this blog?  Well, for one, I really, really like these books, and the radio show, the TV show, and to a lesser extent, the movie,  so there’s that.  But mostly it’s the amazingly insightful take on the music business in ‘So Long and Thanks for All the Fish’.  Not sure exactly what Douglas Adam’s connection to the business was, but he sure hit the nail on the head in that book.  Wish I could find a link to take you directly to the part I'm talking about, but even if I could, that would spoil the fun for you to read the books.

updated: 6 years ago

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Great food for thought - and action

Friday, February 18, 2011

This is tremendously well said by former Gang of Four and Shreikback bassist, digital media, branding guru, and all around swell guy, Dave Allen.

The End of The Recording Album as The Organizing Principle

updated: 6 years ago

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Best New "Artist" or Best New Artist?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I've been a bit under the weather of late. Nothing too serious, but enough to spend a bunch of time on the sofa in front of the TV.  Having exhausted all of the cyclocross races on the DVR, I caught a bit of local news coverage that followed Esperanza Spalding's Best New Artist Grammy win.  She's from Portland OR, where I live, so the news coverage here has had long and (rightfully glowing) features about her.   Most interesting to me was the continuing refrain in interviews with people who knew or taught Esperanza as she was growing and developing as an artist.  And that refrain was essentially,  "Finally, a Best New Artist winner worthy of the title".  I should hasten to add that no one I heard interviewed was bad mouthing Justin Bieber or running him down, nor will I.  He's great if you like that kind of stuff and want to sell a boatload of crap to teenage girls, and he and his people certainly deserve an award for making a bunch of money - oh wait, that's the award they should win... and they apparently have, kudos!  (I wish for him some very savvy and long term minded investment advice, cause this cash spigot isn't likely to continue to flow like it is now).    But it's simple enough to see the differential between someone who rightfully should have been vying for the prize of 'Best New Commercial Sensation'  and someone who very rightfully can be called an Artist.   I don't hate the Grammys. I think there's much to be said for recognizing music, musicians and writers of note. But let's not kid ourselves that the awards are always bestowed in ways that bring credit to the award or the process.   However, in this instance, credit where credit is due for the Grammys, both for this award and for the fact that Mumford and Sons was also a nominee for Best New Artist, and congratulations to Esperanza Spalding

updated: 6 years ago

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Another movie I can't recommend enough.  Do two consecutive posts about movies mean that this is now a movie blog? Not as such, but I think they are both worthy of your time.


Some questions the film raises - What is real?  What is art? What about media and the masses in search of the next, hip thing?  Is grafitti 'art'?  To me very little of it is, but in this movie you can see some that I think actually fits that description, despite it being 'exhibited' on other people's property and in some cases creating an eyesore.

I have no doubt that what is depicted at the end of the movie was a real event, I mean, real people stood in line, there was stuff on the walls, it got written up in the press like an actual art show, but is the whole thing a creation of Banksy?  Is the person purported to be Banksy in the movie even Banksy?  Is there even a sole person who is Banksy? or is it a collective? (probably harder to pull off in todays day and age, but perhaps possible).  As a musician, if you are engaged in anything 'conceptual' this film has much to offer, and even if your music is simply straightforward and from the heart, there's lot's to learn here in terms of how people's perceptions can be influenced by the execution of a concept.

Whatever the whole move is, to me it works on so many levels - poking as much fun at itself and the whole idea of pop art and street art, while still showing that there is art there - many of Banksy's creations ask questions that painfully few in the media actually are willing to ask.

Just see the movie, it's a blast.

Click here for the film website.   For the UK trailer, click here - it's slightly better than the US trailer.


UPDATE:  In case you didn't see or hear about it, here's  Banksy's opening to The Simpsons

updated: 6 years ago

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Passing Strange

Friday, June 18, 2010

Passing Strange
Find this DVD and watch it.  If you make music or are simply a fan, you need to see this beautiful recounting of young man's effort to shape his identity, artistically and otherwise.  I'm decidedly *not* a fan of musicals.  Whether musical theater or movies, the form generally makes me want to shove knitting needles in my eyes - I exaggerate, but only slightly.   However, 'Passing Strange'  is so brilliantly conceived, written, staged, and performed that it's in a whole different universe to me.  It tweaks the conventions of the form in wonderful ways, but is still very much musical theater.

The backstory:   Before the musical there were bands - 'The Negro Problem' and 'Stew'  fronted by a guy named Stew, who along with longtime collaborator, Heidi Rodewald, wrote the musical.  From there I'll let them tell it -  you can learn more at:  stewsongs.com    There's a bunch more about 'Passing Strange' there too.  But don't just visit the site, get the DVD and watch - Netflix has it.

The DVD is a document of closing night for the show,  and the film was directed by Spike Lee.   For me it  tapped into something real and strong and moving about the power of music and creativity.  I hope it does the same for you.

Stew at TED from a few years back here

updated: 6 years ago

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In A Rut....?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

What have you done lately that's different?

How much of what you do is by rote?

What happens if you make a point to different things, or to take familiar things and do them differently?

Be smart about it, of course.  Experimenting with driving on the left side of the road here in the US, isn't wise, and I'm not suggesting that kind of recklessness, even metaphorically.  But I am suggesting that you lead a wholly examined life.  A mindfully chosen path to your creativity, to your business, heck, why not to your whole life?  Not just change for changes sake, but meaningful assessment and a willingness to change if warranted.

It doesn't mean that what you've been doing is wrong, you may find all sorts of ways that you've got it totally dialed and no change is necessary at present, and that's way cool.

But there are probably some areas of your life that you could benefit from a different approach, no?

What those areas  are is not  possible for me to say, I'm just suggesting you look to see where they are - then set about trying incrementally and thoughfully to experiment with change as necessary.  Then see what new vistas or pathways might open up.

Have fun.

updated: 7 years ago

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The Best Music You Ever Heard Live?

Friday, February 05, 2010

What are the best musical performances you've seen and why?

Try writing a list the top 5 performances you've experienced.  Note as much as you can about what made them so memorable that you are able to write about them now.

Are there any common threads that show up in what you wrote about  those shows?  

How close are your performances to being that memorable?

"No fair!", you say, "these were big shows, on good sound systems, not crappy PA's like the clubs I play in", or "these were performers on top of their game with thousands of shows under their belt"  and that could all be true.  But try to think about it like grading on a curve - that is, correct for the differences in scale or experience of the performers - even with those corrections,  there was something special about the communication and intensity of connection that took place or you wouldn't have remembered the performance.  Do people leave your shows with anything similar?  If not, why not?   I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news here, but it really needs to be a part of what happens when you play.

Everybody and their uncle has a home recording rig and is making music and chasing gigs - you need to find how to be as memorable as those performances you listed.  Not by copying them, but by creating music and performance that sets you apart - that is memorable (in a *good way*!) and serves your audience.

That's the only way you're going to rise above all the rest of the folks out there trying to do  the same things as you.

updated: 7 years ago

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Sadly True....

Friday, February 05, 2010

Sadly True....
Don't know anything about Dan Piraro, this cartoonist,  except that I like his stuff... and he obviously knows about much of the current state of recorded music.  Check out more on him here or here and buy your very own shirt with this comic here.

When I saw this I laughed.  And then it struck me that I was having a response like the one  I had years ago when I first saw 'Spinal Tap'.  I had only just scratched the surface of the music biz at that time, but I knew the movie was satire...right?.... you know, satire,  the use of exaggeration and irony to ridicule or expose stupidity... and surely that's there... but as much as it's a 'mock-umentary', after getting deeper into the music biz I learned that it also could play pretty much as a straight documentary too.... it was way more real and much less satire than I imagined.

Same with this cartoon... seems like a bit of exaggerated lampooning of the material and singing skills some 'artists' bring to the recording studio... but how exaggerated is it really?

updated: 7 years ago

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