Posts Tagged 'Zion I'

SXSW Spotlights Artist-Fan Collaboration in New Film About Music 2.0

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Over the last several months, MixMatchMusic has been busy working on a short film for South By Southwest, titled “Remix…A New Way to Engage Fans”. Well, we’re happy to announce that the film is now live and you are invited to see how artists and fans are turning to remixing to connect and interact with fans in a music 2.0 world.

Emerging hip hop artists, the Bayliens, are poster children for a music 2.0 world that is nearly as much about connecting with fans off stage as it is entertaining them onstage.  This film shows how they’re connecting with fans at an almost molecular level, by offering them the musical building blocks of their songs and encouraging them to remix them into new sounds and new songs. The film also features insights from AmpLive (of Zion I) and Trifonic on the power of artist-fan collaboration.

Musicians are navigating a dramatically changed music business landscape.  More than ever, they have to engage and involve casual listeners in order to build deep and lasting relationships with them.  The group behind the video, MixMatchMusic (aka, the dudes writing this post), is focused on helping musicians make those connections and deepening the bonds that link them with fans.

The Bayliens

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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Best of the Live Acts

While fans will listen to CDs, turn on talk shows and read reviews to get to know more about their band, one of the most important facets of the music industry for any group is the live concert. Not only is it one of the largest revenue streams for artists, above the music royalties (although, if you think about it, this is about as twisted as paying 16M a year to Barry Bonds while a teacher or fire fighter makes under 100k), but it’s one of the most seminal ways for an artist to grow their reputation and fan base. Of course, what you hear on a CD that has been produced, mixed, mastered and tweaked by any number of sound professionals isn’t necessarily what the group will be able to present during a live performance, so it makes the judging criteria even tougher for listeners.

Take Hip-Hop for example. 75% of all hip-hop shows I have seen are garbage. Rather than fully rehearsing songs, artists will perform the first verse, maybe two of a song before launching into the next radio single. More often than not, the back-up singers are there because the rappers constantly forget lines and need someone to fill in the gaps for them. Furthermore, rather than put on a show that gets the crowd moving and dancing through sheer enjoyment of the music, most artists will constantly fall back on crowd gimmicks, “Put your hands in the air, wave them back and forth,” and other involvement tools of that nature, forgetting that if they rip the microphone, the audience will do what it feels, which is way more important than having them wave one finger in the air.

But Hip-Hop isn’t the only genre where live performances come up flat. Wide is the range of artists who just can’t translate themselves in a live setting in any way that resembles the studio work that they’ve patched together with the help of numerous technicians and producers. Songs come out unrehearsed, or the band is incapable of reproducing the sound. Even worse is when artists, dealing with personal excess or some sort of stage fright, get completely obliterated with substances on stage and turn into a mess by the end of their set. But who puts on the greatest live act? Is it the group that can seamlessly reproduce their album note for note, or the group that can take something stationary and make it into something much more on stage?

Take for example the Rolling Stones. They’ve been touring for around 40 years now, and I’ve seen them in concert twice. While the crowd is into it simply from a historical and pop standpoint, and I think the energy these guys give, even past their prime and middle age is solid, it doesn’t come off as anything I couldn’t hear by listening to an old recording of theirs. On the far extreme are groups like The String Cheese Incident and Phish, which jam and improv so much in their concerts that one is left to wonder if they even have a CD with tracks on it. But let’s not forget consistency. If you go see three shows by a group, a great group will give you three different shows that were all excellent. But some of the best artists happen to be inconsistent on stage. Take Del the Funky Homosapien for example. He might be one of the most talented lyricists and freestylers in rap, but all the times I’ve seen him, he’s hit or miss. Either he’s on that night and no one on the stage can come close, or he’s not and he fades into the background.

So what makes an incredible live band? In my mind, it needs to be a group that brings energy and presence to the stage. Anyone could get up and sing karaoke on a track, but can you bring that true sense of musician and celebrity to the set? Beyond energy and presence, the group needs to be well-rehearsed. A concert that ends up coming off as un-prepared as an elementary school talent show isn’t giving the fans what they paid to see. There needs to be set diversity (unless someone is doing a full album, but I’ll get to that later.) And finally, they need to be able to present their material in both studio form and a live, extended format.

And all of those things are a lot to live up to. When you consider the fact that these groups go on two month or more tours where they need to pull out all of those factors night in and night out, the type of money made touring starts to make sense. With these things in mind, here’s a list of some of my favorite groups to see live, what makes them great and what could make them better.

GZA: A member of the Wu-Tang Clan, GZA a.k.a. Genius is most known for his solo album Liquid Swords. Knowing this, GZA will, on occasion, do tours where he performs the entire album from start to finish. This is an example of an exception to the set diversity rule in that most people have come to see that entire album. When I saw GZA do this at the Independent and the sound glitched 5 seconds into the second track, he was so intent on giving the audience the full version performance that he had the DJ start over from track one. While his delivery and stage presence isn’t the greatest in this bunch of performers, his preparation and ability to go through an entire album in order is nothing short of impressive for a performer in a genre where most live acts shrink and cut their music as much as possible.

Blue Scholars: This rap duo out of Seattle performed at the same show as GZA and offered a stark contrast in what hip-hop performances can be without lowering the bar. Focusing on a diverse set list derived from their two albums, Blue Scholars brought more stage presence and energy to their set, getting the crowd involved through good music and verbatim vocals. Many rappers seem to forget this when in concert, but most fans know the words to their songs. If they don’t, or they try to change the words, the fans inevitably lose interest and focus. While GZA was flawless through the album, he lacked the same energy that the Scholars brought. This enthusiasm, combined with faithful representations of their work made them an excellent hip-hop show.

Zion I: Hands down the best performers I’ve seen in the hip-hop genre. What’s even better about this rap duo is that they’ve slowly progressed their stage presence. When I first saw them, they were a two man gig, beats and raps. However, as they’ve evolved their sound, they’ve evolved their show and now feature a live drummer, vocalist and keyboard player. They’ve been creating music for the last 10 years, and show incredible set diversity. They use material off their newest album to form the backbone of the show, while sprinkling in old favorites that keep the long-time fans happy. Their energy on set is supreme, with Zumbi rapping with every part of his body and Amp creating every imaginable sound. But more than other hip-hop acts, Zion I isn’t afraid to improvise. Both on beats and lyrics, every show has at least a portion of freestyle, and it doesn’t come out weak. While every hip-hop group I’ve seen has one or two of the characteristics of a good set, only Zion I brings them all together in a hip-hop show that feels more complete than the competition.

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones: This group is a wonder to see in concert. Between their wacky instrumentation (Banjo and Drumitar) and their incredible improv skills, no two concerts are ever the same, and every one is always amazing. But with the range of material they have, it can be hard for the new fan to get involved without knowing some of the songs. The group often does a good job of getting around this by introducing songs and making them accessible, but it can be a bit daunting. More importantly though, these four (Béla Fleck, Futureman, Vic Wooten and Jeff Coffin) are incredibly tight on their instruments, and unbelievably well rehearsed. They can feel the music as they play it, and the result is a palpable energy in the audience.

Dave Matthews Band: If there was ever a band that showed the power of concert revenue and touring in order to engage fans and enlarge a fan base, it’s this one. There’s a lot of back and forth on DMB. For starters, their live shows always pack an energetic crowd, and they always play longer set lists than most live acts (always over 2 hours.) Furthermore, there’s a great mix of songs that are played straight up as they appear on the album, and the improv songs that end up extending upwards of 20 minutes. This not only shows their ability to reproduce the album sound, but also the talent of the musicians that is sometimes constrained in studio recordings. But if there’s one drawback to this group live, it’s that the studio recordings have lost some of their luster in recent years, and the set lists are becoming slowly more filled with new material that is honestly a bit weak. The band doesn’t seem to know this though, putting new songs that sound like shadows of their former creators next to amazing catalog songs that show the band as they were in their prime. It is this drawback, the inclusion of too much new music, that remains this group’s one fault live. It should also be noted that the group tours more than almost any other, and has consistently set records for concert revenue.

Radiohead: Where the Flecktones might improv too much, and Dave Matthews Band relies on old material too little, it is my firm opinion that Radiohead does their shows just right. Old material and new material all find their home in a Radiohead set, and pieces of studio coexist with pieces of improv, demonstrating a remarkably well-rounded band. Radiohead routinely employs some of the most advanced lighting systems in their stage show, bringing both visual and aural entertainment with the price of admission. The Flecktones let their chops do the talking for them, Dave Matthews Band likes to let the Dave speak for them, but Thom Yorke and Radiohead prefer the method of pure, unadulterated energy. Every member of the band is fully engaged, and their energy comes out in their instruments. Old cuts sound re-booted and the new songs rip with electricity, and the preparation of it all oozes through the crowd. In short, when it comes to all of the factors that make a live performance, Radiohead manages to find and balance the important parts of all of them.

In the end though, every fan has a different moment of enjoyment in a live set, and a different set of standards that they hold their bands up to. Some will be happy as long as they play every radio single, while others won’t be happy unless they hear that one song from an album five years ago. Some fans don’t want to know what’s coming next, while others are bored if an improv goes on too long. One thing is certain: it’s only when musical ability, preparation, energy and presence come together on stage that a performance transcends the idea of “concert” and fully realizes the ideal of “live act.”

New Trend Connecting Artists & Fans: 50+ Bands Engaging Fans with the Remix Wizard

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Today, we’re happy to announce that MixMatchMusic has achieved an important milestone in the adoption of its Remix Wizard with more than 50 bands hosting fan engagement promotions since October! Artists including Pepper, Zion I, Camp Lo, and Julien-K are among the bands using the MixMatchMusic Remix Wizard to power remix contests for their fans. Each of the bands have loaded guitar, bass, keys, drums and/or other music stems into personalized versions of the Remix Wizard, and invited their fans to remix, mash up and create new sounds with them.

Pepper and Zion I recently wrapped up contests for fans to remix popular tracks from their respective newly released albums. The response was tremendous, with Pepper receiving 50 remixes, 2,000 votes and 22,000 plays of Freeze. Zion I’s contest around its track “DJ DJ” received 35 remixes, 1,900 votes and close to 11,000 plays.

“The response way exceeded our expectations and it was super gratifying seeing all these fans putting their own flavor on our song… one guy even paid to ‘liven’ a sample from another band and use it in his version,” said drummist/ vocalist Yesod Williams of the band, Pepper. “Getting the fans as involved as possible was the goal and we accomplished that tenfold with MixMatchMusic!”

MixMatchMusic’s Remix Wizard is a solution for the masses. By comparison the remix promotions pioneered by seminal bands, Radiohead and NIN, were limited to the relative handful of fans with Digital Audio Workstation software. The Remix Wizard is available to every band with a song and every fan with a browser and broadband connection.

“The chance to remix Zion I’s track ‘DJ DJ’ was an opportunity for me to show off my producing chops to the Zion I crew, Amplive and Zumbi, and to my own fans,” said artist/producer Stinj-e. “Remixing tracks from bands I admire gives me a different level of interaction with their music than if I’m catching Zion I at one of their live shows. It lets me tap into my creativity.”

To get your remix on, or to listen to all the remixes that have been made, check out the Remix Wizard gallery.

Zion I Remix Contest Winners Announced

61rslzn4apl_ss400_2After carefully listening to the 35 remixes that fans made for the “DJ DJ” Remix Contest, Zumbi and AmpLive have made their decision. Congratulations to Hoyo, Orby Spectre, and Indecent the Slapmaster for winning the contest!

Hoyo was awarded the grand prize for his remix, which showcased a dirty electro twist to the song. Check it out here. The first runner up was Orby Spectre, who brought the funk with his remix. And, Indecent the Slapmaster was awarded the 2nd runner up prize, and gets Evolving Music’s nod for the most creative name for a remix: “DJ DJ Slapped and Slumped“.

All in all, Zion I fans had the best remixing chops that we’ve seen so far! You can listen to all the remixes, whenever you please, on Zion I’s Remix Wizard.

Kero One – Early Believers Review

Early Believers

When Kero One released his debut album Windmills of the Soul, he had no backing and no name recognition to speak of. The album’s success came about through his persistent work to get it heard which resulted in it becoming a hit in Japan first, a humorous twist for a Korean DIY hip-hopper born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through this success, he has managed to remain independent, starting Plug Label, releasing The Tones’ debut album and doing end-to-end production on his sophomore release Early Believers.

It is this spirit and energy that infuses Early Believers with an unfettered sense of optimism and musical joy. From the instrumentation to the lyrics, the album is unmistakably a complete work by a focused artist. The music is consistent and full, utilizing both hip-hop and jazz influences, while the lyrics are often personal and focused on a specific story. The marriage between Kero’s thoughts and his beats serve to offer an album that never feels forced or out of place. Unlike some current hip-hop albums that feel like the goal is musical shock for shock’s sake, Kero One never tries to do too much or move too far out of his range. On the opening track “Welcome to the Bay,” Kero raps about the pros and cons of the area where he grew up over an easy synth and fresh beat produced by King Most. Jacqueline Marie provides the chorus about the mentality of never leaving the bay for a piece that is heartfelt and unmistakably San Francisco.

“When the Sunshine Comes” is an easy, sunny day melody. The pace and mood of this song seem to be the best fit for Kero’s vocals, letting him sit back and rap without tempo pressure. The smooth delivery of tongue twisters is unhurried enough that it doesn’t make the listener feel stressed that the words won’t come out. This track gives way to “Keep Pushin’,” a much more up-tempo track that lyrically resembles something Kanye might have produced, with a little more pop to it. The fusion of jazz and a glitchy stop-and-go guitar/handclap back and forth brought to mind edIT’s “Crunk de Gaulle” off Certified Air Raid material. On his “I’m better off single” track, “Let’s Just Be Friends,” Kero brings a sing-along melody to the chorus (performed by Tuomo) and manages to make his desire to stay single sound happy and upbeat. The album then moves into Latin Jazz influences on “Bossa Soundcheck,” where Kero displays the keyboard and piano education he was brought up on. Sounding like it would be best heard in a dimly lit lounge atmosphere, Kero manages to make a hip-hop song that would fool non-hip-hop fans into listening and enjoying.

A solid feature of Kero One’s music is that he doesn’t sacrifice his choruses like most contemporary hip-hop and rap acts have done to get radio air-play. There’s no, “she made us drinks to drink, we drunk them, got drunk” fillers here. The choruses are integral parts of the overall whole, demonstrated again through Tuomo’s easy delivery on “Love and Happiness,” bringing to mind some of the better work done with Codany Holiday on Zion I’s latest album. This is the second King Most produced track on the album, and together they make the only two not produced by Kero himself. In “Stay on the Grind” Kero raps about the difficulties and rewards of choosing the DIY route, and just when you thought the whole album would be hip-hop, “A Song for Sabrina” shows off the instrumental prowess in a hip-hop/jazz/funk fusion track that includes Vince Czekus on bass and electric guitar.

In the most poignant and introspective track on the album, “This Life Ain’t Mine,” Kero uses an easy and straight-forward hip-hop track to back an autobiographical story about his life and entry into the hip-hop career, looking at his choices in friends and religion. The easy keys sprinkle melodies over “I Never Thought That We” as Kero looks at his unlikely and unpredictable path from his parents’ wishes to his chosen career. And, without missing a step, the album ends on a Kero One exclusive instrumental, “On and On,” which lets the album fade out in a jazzy way, reminding the listener of the progression of the album as a whole, and that it wasn’t just rap or hip-hop you were listening to.

An easy listen, Kero One’s Early Believers takes chill to the next level at every step. Gone from this album are the stereotypes that you need raps about money and women, pop-induced repetitive hooks and coarse language to produce a solid hip-hop outing. Instead, Kero relies on excellent production, live instrumentation and honest lyrics from his point of view to make an album that flows from start to finish and will most likely end the year in more than a few top ten lists. While it isn’t edgy or controversial, and some listeners will harp on a lack of perceived street credibility, Early Believers reminds us that hip-hop doesn’t need to be any of those things to be fun. Early Believers will be available from Plug Label on April 7th. Check back here for our exclusive interview with Kero One.

Zion I Remix Round-Up

Last week marked the end of the Zion I remix contest for the song off their new release The Take Over, “DJ DJ.” The contest was phenomenal, bringing out 35 quality new remixes of the track by fans and artists. At the beginning of the contest we explained the process and rules, and now it’s time for a quick glance at what some of the contributors produced.

The best part of this contest is the incredible range of sounds and styles that were brought to the re-envisioning of the track. Hiright came with a remix that brought in 808s and a drastic slow down on the tempo of the verse for his “808 Remix” while keeping the backing music uptempo. RockG went the opposite direction on his “Parents R Out of Town” remix, opting for a techno heavy delivery. Also on the electronic side of the spectrum, MixMatchMusic’s Gavroche decided on a “drumglitch” remix, subduing the source material under a pervasive layer of drum tricks. If those two don’t tend enough towards house music for you, DJ STINJ-E’s remix turns Zion I out into a serious rave sound. Inflect took the remix into serious video game sound territory, layering it with blips and beeps throughout before going heavy with the scratching.

While most of the remixes chose to slow down the tempo of the song, SliPro went the other way, upping the tempo behind an ascension of a grimy drum and synth march that sounds like a war march. Mike Ponticello stripped down the chorus over funky bass, and then built the chorus up around melodic synth parts and some haunting and airy backgrounds. Then you have the crunchy sound of the chopped up remix from Autobots.

My two favorite remixes were completely different, as one might hope from a remix contest. Hiright’s second offering is deep, relying on an eerie piano melody, descending space keys and a steady head nodding beat, even adding a dense verse of his own regarding his history with the music. This was the only use of an original verse that I heard in the remixes, which made it stand out. The NeoMob’s remix is the most club-ready in my mind, with great ascension and digitized voice samples.

To check out these remixes, you can visit the site here. And with the results not being announced until after March 25th, your votes still matter!


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