Archive for April, 2008

Why Evolving Music Needs Obama

Evolving Music is about change. Evolving Music is about Mixing and Matching the talents and visions of different people – regardless of their age, race, musical background, geographic location, beliefs, or gender. Evolving Music is about working together in the spirit of collaboration, challenging convention, embracing new technologies, promoting transparency, and participating in the free exchange of ideas.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, Barack Obama is a great example of these ideals. I think that Evolving Music could benefit greatly from his leadership. To all those who share the vision of a completely new music industry unencumbered by greedy record labels and a new musical landscape where musicians and music lovers alike have unprecedented opportunities to connect, create and discover music I say: Yes, We Can.

While other politicians inevitably get caught up in mudslinging and hate campaigns, Obama is consistent in his messages of Hope and Change. Not to mention that he handles criticism with dignity and humor (and in this case music):

I think we need someone like Obama to support this (r)evolution. He has a technology plan based on refreshing ideas like open and transparent government (imagine that!), aggressive support of broadband access, etc. The speed with which technology is emerging is mind boggling and we need someone who understands the digital age and its implications to keep encouraging the kind of collaborative and open-minded innovation taking place today. More and more, through social media and access to information online, “the people” (as trite as that phrase sounds, I feel it rings true here) really are becoming empowered and we need someone as young, hip, and savvy as Obama to lead the way down an entirely new path.

Throw Me the Statue at Bottom of the Hill

Found out about this show super last minute. Always good to see Throw Me the Statue coming home, and this time they graced the nicely intimate setting of the Bottom of the Hill, a venue I saw Ratatat play in a few years back. The band continues to evolve, and the sound is coming along quite nicely now. The pieces are all well rehearsed, the band’s chemistry is good and they continue to do interesting live changes, especially when it comes to “Young Sensualists.” The group’s energy on stage is excellent, although in some cases can be a bit over the top. For the most part, Goldman’s back up vocals and instrumentation are excellent, but there are moments where it feels a bit out of hand and in need of a sedative. That aside, Throw Me the Statue continues to grow as a group, and every concert leaves me happy, not just for knowing the band and being happy for their success, but because the music is just plain good. Here’s the setlist…

“Groundswells,” “Take It Or Leave It,” “Boyfriend’s Car,” “Lolita,” “Young Sensualists,” “Written In Heart Signs, Faintly,” Yucatan Gold,” and “About to Walk.”

IFPI – Representing Themselves, Pt. 2

Last week I wrote here about the IFPI including a musician in their lawsuit against Pirate Bay that never wanted to, nor was asked about being included. Well that was pretty bad…but in a further nuisance to the case against file sharers, it turns out that one of the expert witnesses brought on behalf of the IFPI as a prosecutor’s witness to help quash Pirate Bay was actually a former employee. Of course, this conflict of interest wasn’t revealed by the IFPI to the court, nor by the witness himself. Why would they intentionally tell the court something that might hinder their case? In a brilliantly ironic case of Web 2.0 and technology undermining a legal case seeking to stop file sharing and technology, the conflict of interest was discovered on the witness’ LinkedIn account. If this entire case doesn’t get chucked out of court, I’m going to have to assume that something is broken in the Danish legal system…

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 1

How do you organize yourself and your music listening when you add somewhere between 50 and 150 songs, MixMatchMusic style, to your collection every month? That was the issue confronting me at the beginning of this year as I reflected on 2007 and saw that sometimes my iPod updates and music purchases (yes, I still purchase music) were erratic and not organized to the best possible use. With that in mind, I concocted a new system this year. As I add songs throughout a month to the library, they stay there. At the end of the month, I organize several playlists…album specific lists that are titled “A: Artist-Album,” and an overall update titled “A: Month Update” that includes all songs added since the last update. Then, at some point during the month, the new playlists go onto the iPod, and the old ones are retitled “B:” which keeps the newest stuff at the top of the playlist while also retaining the older updates further down the line.

As it isn’t always possible to do an album review for every one I pick up, and I get some amazing music in the course of a month, I’ve decided it might be beneficial and fun for all if I start a monthly post, “What I’m Hearing,” glossing over and talking about some of the music I’ve been listening to that’s good for your ears. With that in mind, here’s some information about the April iPod Update…

First, I should start by saying that the 80s revival that has been bubbling up for a while now is most decidedly here. I’ve noticed, for the past 8 months or so, a steady and heavy influence of 80s synths, drums and instrumentation coming back to the music scene. And in the past 4 months, I’ve heard an increasing number of groups picking up different styles from the 80s and tweaking them just enough to retain that wistful electronic feel of some of the better songs of the era while omitting some of the more foolish and unlistenable aspects of the original genre.

The Beatles, Let It Be: Sure, it’s an old album, and granted most people think of The Beatles now as that quaint collection they have in their library but rarely get into anymore, but delving back into this late album of the most influential band in history (yes, you read that right), offers quite a few gems that have matured over the years. For a while I thought of Let It Be as the weaker younger brother of the other albums, notably Revolver, Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But hearing these original songs again after so many remakes of most of them (see the I Am Sam soundtrack, Pleasantville soundtrack and others) gives them a fresh perspective. The simplicity of the songwriting meshes perfectly with a group obviously quite comfortable with their musical abilities at this point in their careers. Don’t Sleep On: “I Me Mine,” “Dig a Pony,” and “Two of Us.”

The Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead: This group out of Oregon weaves an electronic feel into songs that delve into Indie and singer/songwriter varieties. On their fourth album, following the near destruction of the lead singer’s vocal chords which prompted him to take time off recording and re-teach himself to sing, the group brings a number of simple and melancholy songs in the style of Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan interspersed with slightly heavier sounds that would have been right at home on the FM airwaves of the mid-80s. Don’t Sleep On: “Hallelujah,” “Broken Afternoon,” and “The Captive Mind.”

Groove Armada, Soundboy Rock: Andy Cato and Tom Findlay sure like to keep us waiting. Released last year, Soundboy Rock was the first full album since 2002’s LoveBox. What I find interesting about dance music, especially full out dance records like this one, is the lag time sometimes associated with it. It’s not like a pop, rap or rock album that hits the radio airwaves, goes viral, makes the summer BBQ playlists and then disappears. More often, solo tracks will gradually seep through the cracks, slowly filtering from listener to listener. While I can’t say I’m a fan of this entire album, some of the songs are just pure energy. Don’t Sleep On: “Soundboy Rock,” “The Things That We Could Share,” and “Love Sweet Sound.”

M83, Saturdays=Youth: For M83’s 5th album, the soundscapes and emotionally taxing lyrics are as blunt as ever. Drifting piano melodies reminiscent of NIN’s Fragile album, eerie synth work that could support the Blade Runner or Risky Business soundtracks and sometimes wailing guitars provide the backdrop for the spoken and lightly sung lyrics of this shoegazing style album. While it’s out there enough to sound fresh, the songs are unmistakably M83, which I wouldn’t recommend for long drives after dark. Don’t Sleep On: “Couleurs,” “We Own the Sky,” and “You Appearing.”

American Princes, Other People: Sometimes, fantastic bands don’t always show up when and how you expect. This group managed to get 3 albums out before I heard of them. While that makes it impossible to compare Other People to their previous work, what you can compare it to is the rest of the current musical landscape. American Princes does an almost unbelievable job of mixing sounds and genres from Police to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bravery to U2, Reggae to easy pop, this album covers it all in a spectrum that allows every song to create a different feeling. An incredible album all the way through with a great depth of lyrical emotion and musical intensity. Don’t Sleep On: “Real Love,” “Wasted Year,” “Watch As They Go,” and “Son of California.”

Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours: Australian Cut Copy’s sophomore release is a show-stopper, and in my mind, Other People and In Ghost Colours rule the roost of this particular iPod update. This album has it all, from instrumental wall-of-sound interludes to full out 80s new wave dance songs. The ambient chill sounds of some tracks help to artfully balance the bursting energy of others. This group is an excellent example of what can come of taking the best portions of 80s music and stripping away the garbage. Don’t Sleep On: “Strangers in the Wind,” “Hearts on Fire,” and “Far Away.”

The Magic of Looping: David Ford, One Take, One Camera.

Looping is clearly one of the fundamental aspects of digital music making. From watching friends play with Fruity Loops in college to seeing an ex-roommate perform a live looping concert for New Years last year, I’ve become increasingly interested in the magic of looping.

Thanks to one of my favorite bloggers, Eliot Van Buskirk of the Listening Post, I discovered this video of David Ford, in which he records his song “Go To Hell” – in one take – using looping and household kitchen appliances, in addition to instruments and a microphone. Badass.

A perfect example of the modern multi-instrumental recording artist looking for creative new ways to make music. He would do well as a MixMatchArtist. To compare this rendition to the original, click here. I think I like the homemade one better.

IFPI – Representing Themselves

In an interesting tidbit of musical news today, the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), has been caught with its hand in the same virtual cookie jar as the RIAA found itself a few weeks ago when it turned out none of the legal proceeds from lawsuits was ever actually going to the artist. In an attempt at a lawsuit on the ubiquitous BitTorrent site Pirate Bay, the IFPI attempted to include the Swedish rapper Max Peezay as someone who had been cheated out of his rightful profits. The lawsuit sought financial compensation to Peezay for his “stolen” music. Sounds like a recording industry union going to bat for an artist they represent, right? Wrong.

Turns out, IFPI doesn’t own or have any hold over any the rights to Peezay’s music, and Peezay, whose lyrics often support file sharing, never wanted to be included in a lawsuit targeting a file sharing site. In fact, he was never approached, nor asked about his desire for involvement, and has informed the IFPI of such, effectively eliminating him and their claim for $19,000 in lost revenue for his music from their $2.5M lawsuit. The best questions are these: considering the IFPI never asked Peezay if he wanted to be included, how many other artists are in the lawsuit against their will? If they are involved unknowingly, how can they remove themselves? And finally…the most important question to me…if IFPI claims Peezay lost $19,000 on illegal file sharing, and actually succeeded in recovering this money through the suit, how much of it would Peezay have ever actually seen in his bank account?

Industry execs wonder why the music business is turning to mixmatch methods of distribution and artists are looking at ways to be profitable without the man in the suit sitting in the skyscraper. How can they possibly wonder? They treat their artists like cattle, herding them into slaughter houses of record deals and online distribution lawsuits claiming it’s for the good of their client. Then they pretend to be shocked that the artist is upset when, left with the bloody carcass and grisly remains of their music career, their creativity and earning power is turned into nothing but ground beef for the labels to sell at a profit. The greatest hoax perpetuated by the major labels is that they’re actually paying the cows.

Ultraviolet Sound – Another Great Music 2.0 Band

Recently, I had the pleasure of discovering a band that totally rocked my world from the second they walked on stage. Following the Presidio 10 race, an event put on by The Guardsmen and the Ashlyn Dyer Foundation (two San Francisco-based charity organizations), there was a party for the runners, organizers, supporters etc. Click here for more great pics of the event taken by Guru Khalsa of TheAList. Though I was only able to catch a few of their songs, Ultraviolet Sound secured itself a place on my list of Hot immediately.

Not only do they have that funky, gritty, electro pop punk sound that I love, but they (like more and more bands every day) are challenging convention and embracing the changing music industry. Ultraviolet has teamed up with TrueAnthem, which is an “advertiser supported online music promotion and distribution company” all about connecting the band to the fan. You can listen to and download their songs on TrueAnthem for free, because at the start of each song is a brief “sponsored by” message delivered by the band itself. Howard Stern, anyone? Not sure if he was the first one to read the radio’s commercials himself, but he certainly popularized the concept.

While this model won’t work for everyone, I know I for one will gladly listen to a quick message if I get the song for free. Honestly, I’m surprised more media outlets haven’t embraced the Howard Stern style method of having the person/people/band people are tuning in for deliver the ads. San Francisco’s dance station, Energy 92.7, does this well. With any other radio station (yes, I still listen to traditional radio in the car) I change the station when commercials come on. But when Fernando and Greg are doing their show, I gladly listen to all their ads cause their delivery is priceless – they make going to the dentist or mattress shopping sound fun. Since I have come to trust their recommendations I am more likely to check out the things they advertise than what I hear elsewhere.

We see more and more examples of free music, almost-free music, listen-for-free music and pay-the-band-not-the-label music sources everyday. Those who are still clinging onto traditional models – and can’t pull their heads out of their asses – sit around and bemoan the crumbling of the music industry, stressing over declining CD sales and cursing today’s youth and their sense of entitlement and wanting everything for free. Meanwhile, others are watching with interest as the industry evolves, are adapting to it and celebrating the myriad new opportunities being created.

Last.fm is a great example. They recently demonstrated that giving users access to free streaming music encourages music purchasing. Since their “free, on demand” service launched, they have experienced a 119% increase in their sales through Amazon. Those are some nice stats, people. Even MySpace Music is looking to the stream-for-free model to increase record sales.

Let’s support bands like Ultraviolet Sound, explore the many new ways of discovering, making, and distributing music, and evolve the shit out of this industry, shall we?


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