Archive for the 'culture' Category



Concert Sales Thrive Despite Recession

tix

It appears that the recession has not affected concert sales. Just look at the Pollstar 2009 mid year business analysis. People will always need the escape and the experience of live music, and tough economic times aren’t going to stop them apparently. Last year “the average box-office gross was up 18 percent and the average attendance up 6.3 percent, according to Billboard magazine” writes John Gerome of CBS News, who also notes that many musicians, promoters, and distributors are offering discounts and promotions of various kinds to help fans be able to afford their shows. Live Nation, for example, sometimes offers a four-pack deal (four tickets for the price of three) in essence rewarding you for bringing your friends.

Perhaps this trend is similar in a sense to alcohol sales. People certainly don’t stop drinking during tough economic times, but they might go out less and instead buy liquor at the store or choose cheaper drinks when they do go out. As far as concert tickets go, strapped fans will still go see their favorite bands. They’ll just buy crappier tickets.

Artists (well… some of them) are still making a ton of money from ticket sales. “Just ask Bruce Springsteen, Brit-pop singer Lily Allen, musical comedy duo the Flight of the Conchords, or indie-rock darling Neko Case, all of whom put on sold-out concerts in Boston in the last month,” says Sarah Rodman of the Boston Globe. In the era of steadily declining album sales, concerts are the life support that musicians continue to cling to.

MC Lars, who still makes royalties off of his older stuff on iTunes told us, “…for the newer stuff — the only way to get heard is to be out on the road as much as possible and playing clubs and all that because really with the recession and with kids knowing about bit torrent… the answer is to be on tour if you wanna make money as a musician – OR to write songs for commercials and not have any desire to be an independent musician!” He is a shining example of the DIY artist who is not afraid to try new things and get creative, especially when it comes to interacting with his fans.

This article in the Sydney Morning Herald presents some similar views from down under. “A lot of acts are putting out records to promote their tours,” says Michael Gudinski, the managing director of Frontier Touring Company. “In the old days you used to tour to promote your record.” Back then touring gave you the exposure needed to sell albums, which equaled revenue. Of course now the internet has forced the music industry onto its knees and slashed record sales. It has, however, graciously opened a new window of opportunity for the concert industry. “With the advent of the internet, which I regard as the radio of the 21st century, the potential concert-going audience in this country, in my opinion, has quadrupled,” says veteran concert promoter Michael Chugg.

As music 2.0 continues to evolve and present us with surprises, fans are increasingly becoming participants in the industry, rather than just passive observers and consumers. Take posse.com, for example, which “is turning fans into ticket agents. A music lover receives a commission each time someone clicks on a link or ad on their social networking page to buy a ticket to a show.” Pretty slick. Fans are becoming savvier, hungrier, and their expectations have changed.

One strategy being utilized by artists and promoters as a result is offering fans access to exclusive content, merch, and other VIP type goodies. Elliot Fox, the Director of Marketing & Promotions for JDub Records (a nonprofit record and event production company focused on new Jewish music, building community, and cross-cultural dialogue), explained that they are combating unfavorable conditions by developing new incentives and marketing strategies in order to reach their existing fan base while also building new ones. “The key to keeping fans loyal while also attracting new ones is being able to offer added value and additional content to users. For example, we can offer a free album download with purchase of a t-shirt or a free label sampler for fans who follow us on twitter. We are also in the process of launching a membership model where fans can pay a yearly subscription fee and will automatically receive our next 4 releases both physically and digitally. We feel that providing fans with a steady flow of new content allows them to feel connected to what the artists and label are trying to do.” Word.

The smart artists are figuring out ways to thrive in the current economic climate. Some attempt to make their live music experience accessible to a broader audience by offering tickets at a variety of price points. Others attempt to convert casual fans – who perhaps listen to, purchase, or illegally download their music but don’t go to concerts – into loyal fans. It’s the loyal fans who are most likely to go enjoy and support their favorite musicians even in tough times. It’s the loyal fans who might skip the family vacation to Hawaii this year but still splurge on a road trip to a music festival or decent seats at that U2 concert. Deep artist/fan connections are critical to success in music 2.0 and in most cases it’s what both the fans and the artists want – which is another reason why remix culture is still gaining momentum.

Another group diving headfirst into the artist/fan lovefest era is John Brown’s Body. Their manager, Seth Herman, pointed out numerous ways JBB is actively making themselves available to fans. “Basically we went right back to the grassroots level- replying to every email, sending everyone who buys merch at our online store a thank you, and giving away free tickets to a show if there is room on the guest list.” When touring they even take it a step further and reach out to local bands who are willing to pre-sell tickets and they’ll sometimes work with promoters to give the local band discounted tickets so they can bring out their friends. As we recently discussed, JBB is also working with The Hector Fund to pay for their international tour through “artistfunding.” The opportunities afforded fans through that particular collaboration are absurdly cool.

As we stumble blindly through the foggy terrain of this new musical frontier, trying bold new things and getting intimate with the music and its creators in totally new ways, at least we can count on one thing: Live music is here to stay.

Kero One Interview

Kero One

Kero One

When it comes to DIY, it doesn’t get much more do-it-yourself than Bay Area born and bred Kero One. When he dropped his first album, Windmills of the Soul in 2005, he made it completely at home, charged up his credit card, released it on a self-made label, Plug, and became a hit when one of his original 50 copies found its way to Japan. Earlier this year, Kero One released his sophomore album, Early Believers, and I sat down to chat with him about his upbringing, musical history and thoughts on the evolution of the music industry.

AC: So you talk on Early Believers about your parents moving to the Bay Area. Where did they move from and was it a big culture shock for them?

KO: Well they came from Korea originally; and then they came here when I was… zero. Probably in 1978 or so. From what I understand, it’s a little bit different, of course, but you know, they adjusted. What I talk about on “Welcome to the Bay,” it’s just some of the experiences that I witnessed when we were in the South Bay growing up. I talked a little bit about that and also, I guess just a little bit about their adjustment in terms of, they’re used to a whole different lifestyle and obviously like different types of food and things like that. But, yeah, I mean, it was different, but of course they adjusted. And then we grew up in the south bay, and you know, I’ve obviously lived there for pretty much all my life.

AC: Whereabouts down there, San Jose?
KO: San Jose, Los Gatos, Santa Clara
AC: So how has your family played a role in the music that you’ve created?

KO: Well I’d say they made me take classical piano when I was really young, so, in the sense of being forced to take piano lessons, that was a pretty big role because, even though I hated it back then, I’m pretty thankful for it because I use it a lot in my music now. And other than that, not that much because really, they didn’t push me to do music; I mean, they’re kinda traditional Asian parents in the sense that they wanted the more, “education thing is a big deal,” and going to a good college and getting what they understand is a good job, whether it’s an engineer or doctor or something like that. So, they were really pushing for that, and, you know, honestly, when I told them I was rapping, I mean you can guess what their reaction was. Which is understandable, I guess, but now they’re fully supportive.

AC: You talked about learning classical piano. That was maybe the first of many instruments you learned; did you go on to learn any others, or was that the only formal training that you had?
KO: Yeah, that’s the only one I had formal training in, and I did that for 10 years almost. Technically it was probably like five years because the other five, I was kind of not really there. I hated classical music, but, when I was in middle school, I was really into punk, and I got into Primus and a little bit of rock like Red Hot Chili Peppers, and we all know, Flea and Les Claypool, ridiculous bassists. That inspired me to pick up the bass, and I started messing with the bass a little bit. So, other than that, it’s just bass, piano and I play a little bit of percussion; so those are my three things right now.

AC: Do you spin?
KO: Yeah, and I DJ as well. I got into scratching quite a bit when I was in college, so I was into the whole turntables thing, try to beat juggle, flares. I DJ out mostly in the city, one off events and sometimes I go out and DJ internationally, but, yeah, right now I’m just trying to focus on the live stuff.

AC: Do you play your instruments live in concerts?
KO: Well, actually for the last show, what we did was I incorporated a little bit of live keyboard and a little bit of live drumming, but something that I’ve always wanted to do was play some instruments and rap at the same time ’cause I’ve never seen anybody really do that. I’ve seen people sing, but not really rap, so that’s what I’m gonna be doing on my new show; just a little bit of that, and incorporate, I got a guitarist, I got a singer, and so we’re definitely bringing in like the live element to the live show, ’cause a lot of the stuff on my album is actually played out, it’s not samples, so it seems pretty natural to have live instruments.

AC: Out of all those instruments that you’re playing, which one are you enjoying playing the most?
KO: I’d say probably the keys. I’m not stellar player in any of the instruments, but when I do play the keys, it’s definitely fun when you can come up with a nice chord progression or some good solos, I’d say the keyboard.

AC: So you were talking about Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers; what are some of your other musical influences and what are you listening to now?
KO: Man, I pretty much am influenced by everything from Mobb Deep in the early 90’s to John Mayer to Daft Punk, I listen to it all. Probably the only thing I don’t really get influenced by is country — I mean everybody says that, right — country or like folk, or something, or obviously classical music. But yeah, I listen to pretty much everything; like I grew up listening to really being into the early 90’s hip hop stuff, classic stuff.

AC: What was the first rap album you really got into?
KO: I’d say probably LL Cool J, Radio — I think that was the one. And then the BDP (Boogie Down Productions) stuff. So, yeah, BDP By All Means Necessary. And then for me, you know, I listened to that era when that came out, and then I went back to study other artists. Then, you know, from there, just expanded to Rare Groove and Soul and other related genres.

AC: So your initial album kind of made its break in Japan.
KO: Yeah.
AC: I’ve followed a number of hip-hop groups from Japan, but what would you say about the scene and the culture over there in the industry in terms of hip-hop?
KO: Well, definitely the culture plays a large roll, in the scene of hip hop over there because their culture, as you probably know, is very intense in terms of studying and breaking things down. I mean, when I was watching TV, and they were talking about, Indian Curry, I mean I was just watching from the hotel room and they were Japanese chefs, climbing barefoot on trees in India with the Indian guys there, to show this is how they do it, this is where they get it from, this is what it looks like and what it smells like, and they’re like breaking it down. I mean, that whole mentality is just kind of standard to me out there. They do that with hip-hop, and out there I learned more about music than I ever have in that short amount of time, ‘cause they know hella information, I mean, all the good music somehow just gets funneled over there and they have it at stores, the people who sell music are super knowledgeable. I basically discovered all these artists from the UK, from Europe, in other parts of Asia, even the States, out in Japan, you know. It’s really weird. I think because of that, they’re able to push the envelope a little bit. It’s definitely on another level out there, I think, in some ways.

AC: Did you pick up any Japanese hip-hop that you really liked while you were back there?
KO: DJ Mitsu is part of a group and I picked up their albums. I picked up a few instrumental albums out there. When I go out there, usually the labels will give me like a stack of CDs, so there are a couple CDs in there that are pretty dope. But yeah, definitely. I’m always getting new music while I’m out there.

AC: What’s been the most enjoyable part of the transition from web design and tech that you were doing to producing your own albums?
KO: Not having to listen to the boring meetings. I used to fall asleep in those meetings, you know. A lot of times I’d be at work, I’d be thinking about labels, music, I’d be stepping out very frequently to do maybe a press interview in the UK or whatever and since it’s international, you can’t miss that call, and so, you know, I gotta get up and go out and people probably started wondering why I was leaving so frequently. I still actually do a lot of web design now for my own stuff, so I haven’t strayed away from that too much. I hope to soon, but I don’t really miss the technical stuff that I need to learn, you know, just for that company; so now I can do whatever I need to do fix the public website or update the Kero One website or things like that.

AC: Have you retained or used anything from the job in actually getting your music heard?

KO: Well for sure in the sense those skills, I can apply to making websites, making them a little more functional, adding a little bit of interaction with it, like for example a mailing list, or something like that, whereas, you know, if I didn’t learn all that stuff, I’d probably be just a blogger or something, which is fine, but, for me, I’ve been able to take advantage of that. For example, I’ve pretty much configured our whole webstore on the website and now people can purchase things online. So, yeah, in that sense, that’s helped me a lot; so I definitely can’t ignore that.

AC: One of the lines I like from the new album is “wearing so many hats that your hair is concave.” So what’s been the hardest part of the scenario and trying to do it all for your label from rapping and producing your own music to being the label head?
KO: It’s definitely prioritizing your time. I had a PDA phone, which really kept me in check, but prioritizing time and figuring out where things need to be is probably the biggest challenge and now I have employees. Being able to stay on top and make sure that they’re being managed and they’re getting tasks done definitely takes up a lot of energy, but I think it’s definitely part of the grind, It’s a learning experience; I’ve learned a lot about the business. I’d say that another challenge is that I don’t want to take the business side to kind of supersede the creative aspects of my life, like the things I’m trying to do musically, I don’t want them to get pushed out of the picture, so lately with employees and things like that, it’s been helping out a lot, but there’s nothing without challenges.

AC: This whole album is full of really jazzy hip-hop, a lot of jazz influence on it; what was the approach that you used to make these songs and was your intent to go that heavy with the jazz? Was that something you wanted to do?

KO: You know, it’s really weird, I always get that comparison out and get told that it’s very jazzy and I guess I’m not ignorant to that fact, but I don’t actually say I’m gonna try to make it like this. I just usually try to go with what I like and just want to make something I enjoy. For some of the tracks, like “Love and Happiness,” which was produced by King Most, I mean, he just played me a bunch of beats, but when he played that one, that jumped out. I was like “Dude, that beat is ridiculous. I’m gonna have to add that.” So, you know, it wasn’t really a conscious thing to make it like that, but the other approach for this album was that, as opposed to Windmills, I wanted to give a little more diversity in terms of the tempos, the arrangements, I’m bringing in different Soul artists and features and just make it a little bit, I guess, less heavy. Because the first album, Windmills, was very personal and there were a lot of things on there that were very sexual. I mean this one, even though I put that in there, I also wanted to balance it out with something that’s a little fun, tracks like “Keep Pushin’” where you could have people dancing to it. I really wanted to keep it diverse.

AC: Your music sounds pretty complete in terms of the concepts that you have behind it, the musical ideas that you’re trying to bring into it. What are your thoughts, then, on the burgeoning remix and mash-up cultures?

KO: I’m really down with it, actually. As a DJ, I love finding music to remix or mash-up anything because I like to play songs that, even though they may be popular, ’cause they get people dancing, and they get people into the groove, it’s always nice to throw a curve ball at them, you know. I’m all about remixing stuff. I’ve done a few myself; I did a remix of Common’s “The Light.” DJ King Most, whom I worked with, we released some of his remixes for the DJs, and so it’s something that I’m definitely into playing. I don’t do that many in terms of, you know, taking well-known a cappellas and remixing them, but I do like projects here and there that are commissioned, I did a Talib Kweli remix and I’m working on a few Asian artists right now that I’m remixing, this group called Epik High.

AC: What do you think of making your stems available?
KO: Oh, for other people to remix.
Well, I have had a few a cappellas out there for people to remix, and I’ve gotten a few back. As far as stems, as in actual parts, not really, I’m not too into that. I feel like a remix should be like a regenerated or a totally new look at the beat and the project and the vocals. Otherwise, there’s no point to me.
AC: Between the record labels, the MP3s, the file sharing, where do you see music now, and where do you see there being a nice meeting place between consumer happiness and artist revenue?
KO: It always makes me a little, um…I don’t know, it’s like a mix between a chuckle and frustration when I hear people saying, on the blogs or whatnot, that “artists need the exposure and that’s why we’re gonna file share.” I mean, come on, that’s like complete BS. Honestly, for me, I’ll admit, I have downloaded illegally and when I have done that in the past, it’s just ‘cause you want the music, you know, it’s not any of the other stuff. I mean, it’s something that’s gonna be free and it’s gonna be in front of your face and most of the time, people will just take it. So, I don’t think it’s the people’s fault out here who want music; it’s the fault of the government and the regulations that aren’t being pushed appropriately on the internet.
For example, when we released Dream Talk, The Tones album, that released and it was at the top 50 of iTunes downloading, and then, a couple days later, all these blogs started showing up with the illegal download links for the albums and, in the dashboard you could see that the sales just plummeted. Right on that day, they just plummeted. And these kids, they’re hungry, and they’ve got mouths to feed, they’re trying to do music full time, so it really makes it tough. Of course we’ve got a team working on it on the security side, but it would definitely help, if and when these government regulations come into place that it kinda polices the activity out there, because, contrary to popular belief, artists do really get hurt by that. Maybe not a Kanye West, for example, but independent artists definitely don’t get to see that kind of return.
I think in that sense, I guess I could see the other side of the argument that, yeah, people have discovered a lot of great music through that as well. When I went to tour in Poland, I had people come up to me, and was like, “yeah, I’m sorry, we all downloaded your music illegally, but there’s no other way we can get it, we’re poor,” and all this stuff. Whether it’s true or not, they were there at the show and I see both sides. So, I think, back when albums were being sold for 10 dollars at Warehouse or whatever and there was nowhere else you could find that, I think a lot of people found out about those albums. I mean, when Nas or whatever came out in the 90’s to Berkeley, that show was packed, and it’s not because people got free music necessarily, it was just ‘cause they heard it on the radio and then they went and supported it and they got real’ into it, ‘cause really there was no real file sharing then. So, I think even with clamping down on illegal file sharing, things can still be really good, but we’ll have to see. We’ll have to see what happens; I really can’t predict it.
AC: Have you seen more of your revenues and artists from iTunes sales or from hardcopy CDs and shows
KO: I would say, probably from iTunes sales. CD sales have just dropped, like, pretty crazy. Though we still get a lot, you know, but it’s a lot slower.
AC: Have you started working on new songs already?
KO: No, I haven’t. I mean, I’ve been working on some remix projects, like I said, with the Korean group Epik High. I’m also mustering up some ideas on another project, but I haven’t actually started working on anything. I always like to release something and kinda reset and kinda figure out what I wanna do.
AC: So what’s up next for the Plug Label?
KO: Well obviously this album we’re gonna promote. We’re still promoting the Dream Talk album. I got a project comin’ up with this guy Green Tea, he does kinda like hip hop, kinda house beats. And then we got DJ King Most, who’s releasing a hip hop album with a bunch of guests. We’re gonna try to keep busy and really take it to that level of being an established label.
AC: How’d you connect with The Tones?
KO: Well The Tones, I actually heard about them on Myspace a while ago. I forget exactly how it happened, but we started chatting and then they had a couple tracks together, but not a full album. I liked what I heard; I mean, I knew that they had something special in terms of their sound, and so after a few chats, I signed ‘em and they basically simply got a full album together and then we went from there. And then we released that album in December!
AC: Yeah, that album’s good. It’s really good.
KO: Thanks. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll appreciate that. It’s interesting because I knew that, it’s definitely a good sound, I just didn’t know how impactful it would be in the hip hop community, ‘cause I guess a lot of people in the hip hop community really wanted to hear something like that. So, yeah, it’s pretty cool that they’ve been received that way.
AC: I think as pop hip hop goes further south in terms of quality, I think there’s gonna be even more of a backlash going the other way to find quality hip hop. Do you want Plug Label to be your side thing, and you’re doing music? Or do you envision Plug Label getting to a place where it’s up there with Stones Throw or Rhymesayers, or do you want to keep it small?
KO: I’d say I want to keep it small in the sense that everything that we put out is still hand-picked and not just to throw it out there, you know, to have a full release schedule. If we have to wait six months for a good album, then we’ll wait six months before we release it. I just feel like the more and more that we add to a catalogue and the more and more I compromise the vision of it musically, I feel like that’s where I’m gonna start losing interest in the label, and others will probably start losing interest because really, the problem I see right now is there’s too much information out there, you know, too much music, and I really wanna be able to kinda like consolidate that to people. That’s my vision, you know. So we’ll see what happens.

Send John Brown’s Body on Tour (via The Hector Fund)

There are different kinds of music fans out there. There are the casual fans – you know who you are – who regularly download the top 20 songs on itunes to stay current, flip on the radio while driving cause it’s easy, and tap their toes to whatever is playing in the background. They definitely enjoy music and probably have some favorite songs but they don’t, you know, obsess. They don’t memorize the lyrics to an entire album. They don’t spend a month’s salary on good seats at a concert. And they certainly don’t go out of their way to help the musicians themselves.

And then there are the loyal fans. Loyal fans are a unique breed of human. Loyal fans don’t just like, they love their favorite bands. These are the people who will fight a bouncer three times their size in an attempt to get on stage with their idol. They kiss their posters good night when they go to bed. They will follow a band around the country for months on tour. They would give anything to actually meet their favorite musician.

Loyal fans are pretty stoked about the things that are being made possible in this evolving world of music 2.0, where musicians and their fans are starting to interact, to connect. Not only can fans follow the daily lives of their favorite artists through tools like Twitter and Facebook and communicate with them and become part of a community, but now fans can support them financially. We’re not talking about buying CDs (i.e. giving money to record labels) here. We’re talking about giving cold hard cash directly to the artist, and thus enabling them to continue to create great music. There are various services out there that offer this, some of which we’ve covered previously.

hectorfund1

Recently, we learned that a group of rising reggae artists, John Brown’s Body, is raising $50k for an overseas tour using a service called The Hector Fund, which designs and manages “Artistfunding” campaigns. Microfinancing music is not a new idea. President/Founder of The Hector Fund, Jake Brennan, says on music think tank’s blog “We don’t claim Artistfunding as an original idea… We’re simply Artistfunding agents. We offer this as a service to artists. We develop, host and market the campaigns for the artists and administer the fulfillment of purchased tangible goods and merch to their fans.”

The kids over at The Hector Fund facilitate more intimate relationships between musicians and their loyal fans. They have built a platform upon which both parties get something they want (cool perks) or need (money) in a way that is feasible for everyone. And they make it super easy for both sides by handling all the details.

JBB

What sorts of tangible goods and merch is JBB offering in exchange for cash love? Among other things, a weekend on the band’s tour bus, a permanent spot on the guest list, studio production time and much much more. As part of this promotion they are offering a free MP3 download of the previously unreleased song, “Sweeter,” here. Go grab it and have a listen. Then, on that same page you can check out the plethora of contribution levels – from $6 to $50,000 – and all the cool shit you get in return for helping them live their dream and go on tour abroad.

[Sidenote: Did you know you can remix their song “Zion Triad”? You should give it a shot.]

On her St. Pete Music Scene blog, Shannon B. writes “…this Foundation embodies and represents true love for and dedication to music. In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of thinking the music community needs.” Well, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Empowering musicians to work more independently and to connect directly with their fans is a beautiful thing. And we’ll likely see more organizations like The Hector Fund popping up in the near future.

Stay up to date with The Hector Fund by becoming a fan on Facebook.

Remix Slightly Stoopid in the “Blazed and Confused at 2 AM Remix Contest”

BlazedTourBanner

If you haven’t heard yet, there is a phenomenon happening right now that warrants your immediate attention. King of the West Coast, Snoop Dogg, has teamed up with San Diego’s genre-bending Slightly Stoopid for a mind blowing collaboration. They’ve thrown modern reggae great (and son of Bob), Stephen Marley, and seedy pop newcomer, Mickey Avalon, into the mix too. What we have here folks is the Blazed and Confused Tour (don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook). Here’s a little sneak peek:

Rick Florino of Artist Direct notes that at the Irvine show “Snoop closed off a fantastic set chanting ‘Peace and Love.’ There was something very ‘Woodstock’ about the whole set… There’s no segregation at a Snoop Dogg show and he delivers something for everybody. What’s more rock n’ roll than that?”

Each of these artists/groups has a unique sound and message, and yet their vibe and mindset is one and the same. Bob probably summed it up best with “One Love.”

As part of the tour, Slightly Stoopid is hosting a remix contest for their song 2AM, a summertime reggae classic that will sooth your soul! Slightly Stoopid has loaded the stems to 2AM into MixMatchMusic’s Remix Wizard, and now all you pro and amateur musicians (and even nonmusicians) have the chance to create your own kickass remix of the song and share it with the world.

You have two options for making a remix: you can download the stems for free and use any software you want; or you can click on the MixMaker button on the widget to make a remix in MixMatchMusic’s simple online music editor. If you’ve never experienced remixing before, or just want to see how 2AM was made, check out the MixMaker! Either way, make sure to you upload your remix to the widget so that others can listen to, vote on, and share it. The contest starts July 15, 2009 at 2:00 AM and ends August 21, 2009.

There will be ONE winner picked by Slightly Stoopid, who will receive:

A set of the new Slightly Stoopid branded headphones, an autographed Stoopid poster, 2 tickets to the next Slightly Stoopid concert in your area, a limited edition Slightly Stoopid branded glass pipe, CDs of Slightly Stoopid’s entire discography & Chronichitis vinyl, and the Slightly Stoopid Live in San Diego DVD! Also – the winning remix might be posted for streaming on Slightly Stoopid’s Website, MySpace, thesixtyone, and Facebook (subject to Slightly Stoopid’s approval). Not bad, eh?

To get your creative juices flowing, here’s the official video for 2 a.m. Roll yourself a blunt and have a look and a listen. Then, enter the Blazed and Confused at 2AM Remix Contest here.

Happy 30th Birthday Walkman

Happy July, Happy Canada Day, and Happy 30th Birthday to the Sony Walkman. To shed some light on the technological leaps and bounds made since its advent, BBC brilliantly handed one to a 13 year old for a week to review. He (rather eloquently) delineates his experience here.

Luckily, although Sony “initially planned to call the machine ‘Soundabout’ in the United States and ‘Stowaway’ in Britain,” the term Walkman caught on quickly among consumers. In honor of the pesky little device that started it all, lets take a trip down memory road. For those among you who like to delve into model numbers and such minutiae, check out the Classic Walkman Museum.

My personal favorite was always the sporty yellow model. Remember that bad boy?

yellowwalkman

If the Walkman was the iPod’s predecessor, perhaps this commercial planted the seed for all those flashy iPod commercials.

Words can’t convey how rad it was when they came out with a “cassette player as small as a cassette tape!” Want to know more about the how? These guys do a good job explaining how the technology evolved.

Not into collecting vintage electronics or exploring historical perspectives like the young Mr. Campbell? How about using an ancient walkman to disguise an iPod and deter thieves?

Happy Birthday Mr. Walkman. We’ll always love you. Even when Apple puts your maker out of business. You have a very special place in our hearts, right next to Ferris Bueller, Fraggle Rock, and side ponytails.

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.

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.

EasyStarAllStars

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.


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