Archive for June, 2009

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 14

{for May’s edition of What I’m Hearing, click here}

Summer months are traditionally good ones for mega pop hits to patrol the radio airwaves, washing out last year’s music and replacing it with something fresh to dance to in the warm weather. May saw some of that, with the new Eminem album, Passion Pit and the Kid Cudi mixtapes. But as June comes to an end and we look towards July, it appears that more of that trend will be upon us shortly. While June’s iPod update didn’t match May’s in quantity, it had everything it needed in terms of quality. 67 songs, over 10 artists, multiple genres. Enjoy!

Black Eyed Peas, The E.N.D.: After “Boom Boom Pow” came out, the Black Eyed Peas ran it into the ground on radio stations, talk shows, award shows and clubs. In fact, as new and futuristic as the song sounded originally, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that it has been thoroughly played out at this point, and that was before the album dropped. While the album title stands for “Energy Never Dies,” I’d actually argue that it stands for the end of the Black Eyed Peas as we know them. When they first hit the scene in 1998 with Behind the Front, the Peas were an unheard of group making fresh hip-hop. The songs walked that line with hints and traces of pop, but for the most part stayed true to form until they were joined by Fergie in 2003 for their Elephunk release. This addition drew them further away from hip-hop, and now, on The E.N.D., all traces of the group the Peas were are gone. Hip-Hop now forms one of the most minute sections of their music, with pop, dance and electronic taking center stage. But it’s almost too much. Will.i.Am’s production is amazing, but also fails to bring any sort of coherent thread to the album. He has no problem proving he can do these various genres and mimic them well, but there seems to be no ability to integrate them into an album that makes sense together. For the most part, I wasn’t a fan as the album just tries to do more than it can, but “Meet Me Halfway,” utilizing a fantastic dance beat and actually showcasing Fergie sounding like a vintage Madonna, is a bit of 80s meets 2009 fantastica. Don’t Sleep On: “Rockin’ The Beat,” “One Tribe,” and “Meet Me Halfway.”

Camp Lo, Stone and Rob Caught on Tape: Camp Lo has had a rough time of it. After their 1997 release, Uptown Saturday Night, the possibilities for Camp Lo appeared limitless. Their flow was good, the beats were steady, and the retro 70s feel of their songs put them in a niche market of hip-hop of their own. The popularity was growing on college campuses, and then, nothing. While they’ve had a few releases since, they were sporadic and failed to capture the attention of listeners. They’ve now returned on a new label with Stone and Rob Caught on Tape, and the sound they bring with them is far different from what listeners of Uptown would expect. The beats are more current and the duo takes on a bit of a harder edge in comparison to the milky flow they used to use. While the long hiatus could have killed the style, Camp Lo has come out on this one slightly changed, but not showing the kind of disconnect from previous music that Black Eyed Peas have. Don’t Sleep On: “Diamond Crookz,” “Gotcha,” and “Ticket 4 2.”

k-os, Yes!: When the album begins with “Zambony,” k-os’s intent is clear. A female voice asks, “Do you have any idea of the chaos you have caused around here? Nobody knows what you’re doing!” To which a man responds, “That’s exactly the way I like it!” And if his musical career is any example, the anonymity, chaos and ability to make whatever music he wants is exactly what he wants. There are a lot of great unknown acts out there, but I don’t think there’s a single one with the kind of track record combined with anonymity that k-os has. For those that haven’t heard, k-os is from Trinidad by way of Canada, turned to vegetarianism by age 8 and was raised by parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. More importantly though, he’s released 4 studio albums, all fantastic, spanning numerous genres and styles, and yet he’s still not well known. In fact, he’s not even talked about. Funk, reggae, hip-hop, rock, dance, and R&B all play roles in his music, and Yes! finds him utilizing all of these styles to full and complete advantage. Through Exit, Joyful Rebellion, Atlantis – Hymns for Disco and now Yes! k-os never sells his style short, but doesn’t hesitate to use the things he enjoys. There’s auto-tune here, but not in the over-saturated style of so many artists, merely as a nod and inclusion of a new sound. What’s more is that the album is bundled with remixes of every song by various artists, offering two very distinct musical takes on every track. If you haven’t heard k-os yet, now’s the time. Don’t Sleep On: “Zambony,” “Burning Bridges,” and “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman.”

Mos Def, The Ecstatic: It’s easy to forget, between the television appearances, the movie roles and his hosting duties that Mos Def has more roots in the music industry than anywhere else. However, he has yet to equal the early success he had on this front since he turned more attention to his screen endeavors. The Ecstatic finds Mos back in hip-hop after a nearly 3 year hiatus following his final record under contract for Geffen Records. And the break has seemed to help. This album seems a bit more grounded in the hip-hop that brought Mos Def to the masses, and less hooked on some of the musical diversions he’s entertained himself with lately. However, the distraction of film and television is evident here. The album seeks to do so much musically that it feels as if Mos is trying to make a CD that will fit in every genre of film or theatre he’s participated in. The result is a mish-mash of sounds that detract from his greatest strength: rapper and crafter of words. On the tracks here where Mos stays focused on the genre, the results are excellent, but in too many cases, he’s trying to bite off more than he can chew, making the album sound almost like a disjointed soundtrack to a movie rather than a full length album from a hip-hop artist three years in the making. While it’s a solid outing, and certainly closer to the mark than True Magic and The New Danger, it still fails to hit on all cylinders like Black on Both Sides. While I think it’s great that Mos Def wants to explore acting and other outlets in addition to hip-hop, his music is at its strongest when he leaves the theatrics out and concentrates on the microphone. Don’t Sleep On: “Quiet Dog,” “History (feat. Talib Kweli)” and “Priority.”

Throw Me the Statue, Creaturesque: Well, I can’t talk about this one yet because it’s not out. But I will say that I’ve heard it and I’m excited to tell y’all about it as soon as I’m allowed to review it.

White Rabbits, It’s Frightening: On the second album from this New York based Indie Rock band by way of Missouri, the sounds are crisp in comparison to the rest of the Indie scene, eschewing fuzz and static for cleaner lines and thumping drums. The guitar sounds here are clear, whether being used for gentle picking in “The Salesman (Tramp Life)” or to carry melody on the Badly Drawn Boy reminiscent “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong.” The band sounds tight here, with consistent vocals, solid bass backing and drums that drive the songs from start to finish, all nicely sprinkled with piano. For those that like Indie Rock but are a bit tired of the lo-fi, static saturated recordings that have become the norm in the genre, the White Rabbits should provide a nice change of pace. Don’t Sleep On: “Percussion Gun,” “Rudie Fails,” and “They Done Wrong/We Done Wrong.”

For a notable single this month, check out 9:15’s “Just Above My Head.” Fantastic.

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The Newsletter: a Must for Serious Musicians

Newsletters are an extremely powerful tool for musicians. Communicate with and engage the fans you already have – they deserve your attention and are hungry for information. Grow your fan base by making it easy and appealing to join your community.

If you have a large mailing list you should be using a paid service. You might be familiar with email marketing newsletter services like Constant Contact, Vertical Response, or newcomer Contactology. While some people have great results with these services, people in the music industry should consider using a music oriented service. Some great options to explore include: Fan Mail Marketing, Band Letter, Champion Sound, and Reverb Nation’s FanReach.

Once you’ve chosen which service to use and are staring at a blank template, you might be wondering what to include in your newsletter? How do you make yours stand out? Think carefully about your messaging and your tone. Make your newsletter a reflection of your (or your band’s) identity.

What to include in your newsletter:

– Any relevant news, i.e. tour schedule, album release dates, new music video, link to article mentioning your band etc.

– Something free – and exclusive – like an unreleased song or recording from a live show.

– Invite your fans to interact with you via things like remix competitions, voting on the title for your upcoming album, or submitting art for a band t-shirt.

– Remind fans to add you on MySpace, follow you on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook (and provide the links).

– Multimedia. Use photos and video to make your newsletter more colorful and interesting.

– Unsubscribe link (any good email marketing service will include this).

Ok, so you’ve got a great design, great content and no one to send it to. Now what? How do you find more fans? How do you make them sign up for your mailing list?

How to grow and manage your mailing list:

– At every live show, have a clipboard with a newsletter sign-up list available. Sweeten the deal with a raffle at the end of the night, e.g. winner gets a copy of your CD.

– Make it easy and appealing to sign up for the newsletter online. The first thing a visitor to your website should notice is a place to sign up for the newsletter. Incentivize them by offering a free download, exclusive track etc.

– Include an automatic thank you page that welcomes each new subscriber.

– Include a link to sign up for your mailing list in your email signature.

– Make it easy to share. Include links or buttons to forward to a friend, share on facebook, share on twitter etc.

Other guidelines:

– Don’t send out a newsletter more than once a month. It’s annoying.

– Get personal. You are a band (or musician) not just a brand. Your fans want to know about the intimate details of your day-to-day.

– Keep the design and content clean and basic. You don’t want your newsletter looking like a pimped out MySpace profile from 2005.

– Be consistent and be patient. Send out a concise yet engaging newsletter once a month and watch your community slowly take on a life of its own.

– Analyze your metrics. Learn from them. Make improvements and adjustments as necessary.

Of course, if your mailing list/fan base is not large enough yet to justify spending the money on a paid service, you can send out newsletters as bulk emails instead. Just BE SURE to put email addresses in the bcc field and give readers the option to unsubscribe (this is usually done by asking them to respond with an email with the word “unsubscribe” in the subject line).

Remember that building a mailing list takes time and patience, but it’s worth every minute. Think of every email address as a real live member of your music community. You want to treat them with the respect they deserve (no spamming), keep them entertained and engaged, and turn them into loyal fans.

Soul Majestic: Groovy Eco-Conscious Reggae

Meet Soul Majestic. Part Jamaican style reggae and part Santa Barbara surf culture, this eclectic collection of activist musicians has come together to make the music that moves them and to promote the causes that stir them.

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The band frequently plays benefit shows meant to rally support for groups promoting promoting peace, environmental education, and the compassionate use of medical marijuana. With the release of their most recent album, Better World (available on iTunes now), and the touring (in their 15-passenger Bio-diesel tour van) to follow, their mission is to raise awareness of global interconnectedness and how people’s actions impact one another and the earth. It’s refreshing to see more bands focus on the positive messages they’re spreading rather than trying to please the masses with radio hits.

What began as the collective vision of Eric Iverson, David Lyons and Brian Jarvis when they met near Santa Barbara soon grew to include Oriana Sanders, a powerful young voice from Los Angeles, and later a handful of vibrant roots musicians. They are now part of LoaTree, an eco-lifestyle collective. As treehugger points out, Soul Majestic empowers the green movement with their music. The lyrics off their new album “ask that each of us take a look at the world around us and choose to empower ourselves to turn things around.”

Want to join their growing family? Have a listen to their groovy sound (or buy some tracks) on their myspace page, check out lyrics on their bandcamp page, follow them on Twitter, or become a fan on Facebook.

It’s encouraging to see such steadfast positivity from upbeat and passionate artists, some of whom have been through very turbulent times. Vocalist Sanders battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which we hear more about in “I Rise”. In addition to overcoming struggle, another theme seen in the new album is the importance of family. Lead singer Eric Iverson has a son together with Sanders and several other band-mates have children as well, which they sometimes bring on tour. The Santa Barbara Independent notes that they are friends with Kim and Jack Johnson who “seem to be spearheading the bring-the-kids-on-the-tour-bus movement.”

Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

When you hear the word “cover” what comes to mind? Is it a wedding band singing crowd favorites to fill a dance floor? Is it bad karaoke? One of the more unique ways to cover a song is, of course, to recreate it in a different genre. Think Johnny Cash‘s gorgeous rendition of the NIN classic “Hurt”, the tongue-in-cheek folk-rock cover of “Boyz in da Hood” by Dynamite Hack, or even The Fray‘s cover of Kanye West‘s “Heartless” (or American Idol winner Kris Allen’s version for that matter.) Sometimes, the cover song ends up being better or more popular than the original. Just look at this list of greatest cover songs and you’ll probably be surprised at how many of the covers you thought were the originals!

Well, what if you take not just one song, but rather an entire album and recreate it in a different genre? That is precisely what Easy Star Records has been up to. Take a look:

As mentioned above, in 2003 the Easy Star All-Stars released Dub Side of the Moon, a reggae tribute to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It went on to become one of the most successful reggae albums of the 21st century and spent over 5 years on Billboard’s Top Reggae Chart. As if that wasn’t enough, they then tackled Radiohead’s OK Computer, putting out RadioDread, which spent 18 months on that same chart (and apparently earned some accolades from Radiohead themselves.) Notice anything that those two classic albums have in common? They are both considered (by some) to be concept albums.

Producer Michael Goldwasser, the musical wizard behind much of the All-Star magic says “We’ve focused on re-envisioning concept albums as reggae and it’s really important that the source material works as a whole and is not just a collection of songs. So, what better to take on next than the mother of all concept albums?” He was referring to the one and only Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If it’s been a while, here’s an interesting breakdown of the songs. And for the real fanatics among you, a little album art history.

Obviously it takes balls to cover the Beatles, let alone the album considered to be one of the most influential and greatest albums of all time. And yet, in April of 2009, the All-Star’s put out Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band. The album features a number of reggae and dub greats including Steel Pulse, Matisyahu, Luciano, and Steel Pulse, along with the usual suspects – the usual suspects being a collection of some of the finest reggae musicians in the New York area.

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What immediately stands out about this album, upon first listen, is how accurately they were able to preserve the vibe of each song. Though each song has been deftly crafted into a vibrant new reggae interpretation of its original, you can almost picture the Beatles nodding their heads in approval in the background because the emotion is the same.

Noteworthy tracks:

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – Frankie Paul’s haunting vocals and the psychedelic guitar and effects stand out, deliciously juxtaposed against the mellow dubbed out percussion and keys, giving this track a certain irresistible je ne sais quoi.

She’s Leaving Home – Singer Kirsty Rock’s mellifluous voice soars delicately above the more upbeat ska-infused high hat and brass section. The reggae style keys come and go, a couple of interesting instrumental breakdowns happen unexpectedly and overall the listener is left constantly wondering what’s next.

This album is unique to say the least. Check it out. And while you’re at it, follow the All-Stars on Twitter.

Deep Artist/Fan Connections Critical to Success in Music 2.0

More than nine million musicians are trying to connect with more than 200 million music fans, according to some estimates. The huge numbers alone would suggest the odds are in their favor. Yet the channels musicians have traditionally relied upon to get their music discovered, promoted and sold are increasingly irrelevant and as a result, musicians are increasingly on their own, without labels, record stores or radio to help them.

“The artist’s challenge is to convert casual fans into loyal fans, and loyal fans into paying customers,” said Charles Feinn, CEO and co-founder of music technology innovator MixMatchMusic. “Getting your music discovered just isn’t enough. Musicians have to engage and involve casual listeners in order to build deep and lasting connections with them, and to convert them to loyal fans. These connections are what drive sales of the concert tickets, band merchandise and CDs artists need to pay the rent and put gas in the van.”

According to Feinn and many other music industry observers, record labels play a smaller and smaller role in breaking new bands or even promoting signed bands. Record stores are disappearing and radio is less and less of a factor in promoting new music. And it’s hard for a new band to breakthrough amongst the millions of songs in the iTunes Store. It’s also true that music fans have changed, acclimated to the read/write web and the social interaction that comes with it, and looking for the same experience with music and the artists who create it.

“While the business part of the traditional music business is breaking down, music is alive and well and there is more music than ever,” said Feinn. “We’re on a mission to help keep music alive, and we’re doing so by helping artists forge deeper and more meaningful connections with fans.”

Feinn said a growing number of artists are turning to new Internet-based initiatives, such as the remix promotions pioneered by Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, to help them engage with and connect with music fans.

“Involving fans in the creative process by encouraging them to remix and mash up a new song from the musical building blocks provided by the artist, is catching on as one of the best ways to make the artist – fan connection stronger,” he said.

Feinn said that more than 60 artists have launched remix promotions based on MixMatchMusic’s Remix Wizard, a simple-to-use widget that any fan with a broadband connection can use. Artists including Pepper and Zion I have loaded the building blocks of songs – the guitar, bass, keys, drums and other elements called stems, into customized versions of MixMatchMusic’s widget, and invited fans to remix the stems to create new sounds and songs with them. He said the company’s site has received more than half a million impressions since the beginning of the year, and more than 80 thousand plays of fan-created remixes.

Feinn said the Remix Wizard is a fan-friendly approach to the more complex remix technologies employed by Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead. Bands such as Pepper feature remixes submitted by fans on their sites and MySpace pages, and some artists even promise to incorporate especially imaginative fan-created interpretations of their music in future albums.

Feinn said the Remix Wizard is the first in a series of artist and fan friendly technologies from MixMatchMusic designed to forge even stronger and deeper connections.

“Music has the power to bring people together,” said Feinn. “It’s exciting and also humbling to know we’re playing a small part in making those connections happen, through our technology-based products and services that help musicians convert casual music fans into loyal fans, and loyal fans into paying customers.”

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The Music Tee by Invisible DJ and LnA

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The music industry has become a bustling breeding ground for innovation, a sexy meeting place for creatives and entrepreneurs. Partnerships of any kind and every kind seem possible. Fusing together music, video, fashion, brands, technology, design, you name it… it’s all happening. Fashion and music obviously belong in bed together. (Much like sports and music have always had a flirtatious relationship). Trends in fashion have long been influenced by musicians and vice versa.

In recent years, we’ve seen interesting new models for music sharing, discovery, distribution, and consumption. Instead of relying on CD sales or online purchases, many bands have taken the creative road and explored new baths, e.g. bands giving out USB bracelets at a music festival with the live recording of their performance or Groove Armada’s PAP4 experiment.

Now there is the “Music Tee” by Invisible DJ and designer LnA, (which began as an attempt to create the perfect men’s tee for women but quickly became a celebrity favorite). This creative little project puts album art on the front of the T-shirt and a track list on the back. The shirt comes with a hang tag giving you a URL and a unique code to download all of the tracks listed on the back. Pretty clever, no? Have a listen to the eclectic new artists included in this project.

SanFran MusicTech Summit 4: Singalongs, Video Interviews, and Twitter Gossip

What started out as a seemingly humble local gathering of music and tech geeks has – thanks to its visionary founder, Brian Zisk, gained momentum and recognition and is now the premier event of its kind. For more on speakers/panels from the last three SanFran MusicTech summits, click here. To read my review of any of those three, see below:

SanFran MusicTech Summit 1: Rockstars, Lawyers, Nerds and Me
SanFran MusicTech Summit 2: Guestlist Wish, Artist Activism, and Label Survival
SanFran MusicTech Summit 3: Albums Die, Social Media Kicks Ass, and Songs Find a Home

Now, on to summit #4.

In the second review above, I put in a request for some sort of attendee list (using the Web 2.0 Expo’s use of crowdvine as an example), thinking that this would facilitate more effective networking. Let’s be honest, tech people aren’t always the best networkers. Well thank you Brian for listening to the suggestion! This event saw the introduction of SFMT’s very own crowdvine page! I’m curious to know whether people found it useful?

Speaking of suggestions, musician Chris Stroffolino (also featured in the video below) thinks there is room for a panel on the “fostering of connections between the already established live music scenes in the Bay Area, and the major labels and web-distribution networks.” Perhaps we’ll see this topic discussed further in the future.

Like a nice red wine, this conference is clearly getting better with age. With its shiny new reputation and rapt audience, SFMT attracts a pleasing blend of big names in the music industry, Silicon Valley thought leaders, social media celebrities, and starving musicians. Although, as attendee Kwan Booth points out, the conference overall was noticeably “light skinned and testosterone heavy.” I’m not sure how the demographic breakdown compared to past SFMTs, but it is certainly a good point.

Let’s make a collective effort to change that, shall we? All you minority and female music tech geeks out there: get on it! Next time we want to see you there.

Early in the day, the tone was set when musician Matt Morris, the first artist off of Justin Timberlake’s label, Tennman Records, asked the audience to stop twittering, put down their iPhones and close their laptops. And then proceeded to lead an audience singalong, which he promised to record and post on YouTube. Ah, music 2.0… Here it is:

That whole episode got me thinking about how busy we all are engaging with each other through technology all the time. So much so that we forget to engage with each other in real life. There we were, a room full of music fanatics watching a powerful new voice perform, and some of us were so busy writing witty tweets about the performance or sharing interesting facts about the performer, that we had to be reminded by the performer himself to pay attention!

Matt Morris also got some good face time in the NBC coverage of the event.

Whereas last time I focused on capturing the look and feel of the event through pictures, this time I went with video. All of the following footage was captured using one of those ghetto-fabulous flip minos and edited in iMovie.

Intead of reviewing topics covered, panelist cat fights, and the like, I want to provide a more haphazard organic insight into the experience. Here are a handful of tweets (search #sfmusictech on Twitter Search for more) that tell the story.

donald: Just posted my favorite takeaways from #sfmusictech http://is.gd/BxPF 8:41 PM May 19th

MattMorris: My SanFran trip: met some cool techies (#sfmusictech), ate some good chowder, & had a Twitter name-change (@MattMorrisFeed to @MattMorris). 7:44 AM May 20th

SoulMajestic: Attended #sfmusictech conference in San Francisco. Digital is ruling. Must dig our music into the social networks. 10:46 AM May 20th

hansveld: If you’re in a band or in artist management you really need to check out bandize.com and bandmetrics.com. Very useful services. #sfmusictech 10:24 PM May 18th

KISSmyBLAKarts: Is this why Spears signed to Pepsi @Boothism tip:coke does background checks on every member of every band before they license. #sfmusictech 5:45 PM May 18th

denverdan4life: The gloves are coming out. I hope we see a fist fight over the fact that labels slept at the wheel for almost 10 yrs. #sfmusictech 5:16 PM May 18th

Boothism: true story: preparation H wanted to license “Ring of Fire” for commercial. Fail. #sfmusictech 5:11 PM May 18th

SocialSound1982: “The music industry is the world’s biggest law firm” – Jim Griffin #sfmusictech 4:59 PM May 18th

Thanks to Brian and Shoshana for another great event and I look forward to seeing you all at the next one!


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