Podcasting Music Projects

September 29, 2008

While searching for new music on iTunes, I stumbled on a podcast of a songwriting project called Get Help.

The podcast offers a song-in-progress every couple of weeks from the band. The intriguing part of the project is the description that accompanies the song.

Bands are always looking for new ways to get out their music with limited resources. Myspace has been great for indie bands, but I think podcasting can help help make an even deeper connection. with fans.

High-profile bands may want to keep their details secret, but what do up-and-coming bands have to worry about. For bands in search of a fanbase, podcasting can be an essential tactic.

Podcasting unfinished songs with a description of what inspired them and updating them as they progress can make a fan feel included in the process. Devulging little details can help make a stronger connection between band and fan. Building that connection is essential to developping a fanbase.

The one downside is that podcasts are not as easily searchable as Myspace pages. To solve this problem, a band could offer downloads of a podcast from their Web site or Myspace page.  Along with putting their podcast on iTunes, Get Help also hosts the podcast on their Web site.

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Antifolk singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis delivers his stunning lyrics in rapid-fire fashion. Lewis normally accompanies himself on acoustic guitar, but for his self-described “low-budget videos” he reaches into his backpack and pulls out one of his comic books as a visual aid.

Lewis has about 20 of these comic books. His innovative approach may be simple, but it is intriguing.

In the first video, he pulls out a comic book and hands off his guitar to an audience member.

This next is the fourth part of his series on the history of communism. He races through a couple hundred years of Chinese history in a four-minute song.

Are you original?

September 22, 2008

Most artists struggle to find their own unique voice in the landscape of sound that already exists.  Critics laud bands with originality and deride the imitators and rip-off artists.

Antifolk singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis discusses in his New York Times blog his troubling realization that he’s been ripping people off his entire career.  Lewis said he always prided himself on his unique style and looked down on cover artists and traditional folk singers for doing what’s already been done.

Later in his career, he realized that he had been stealing from other artists all his career and was no different than the cover artist.  In the end, he is resigned to call himself a rip-off artist.

I’m inclined to agree with him, but maybe he’s being too hard on himself.  Jonathon Lethem wrote an article in Harper’s Magazine titled “The ecstasy of influence” where he makes an argument for plagirism.  He argues that society benefits if artists are allowed to pick and steal from one another. 

One example he cites is Bob Dylan’s use of the line “When you live outside the line, you have to eliminate dishonesty” from the 1958 film in “The Lineup” in his song “Absolutely Sweet Marie.”  Lethem says that this kind of plagirism is good because without we’d be deprived of a brilliant Dylan song.   

I like Lethem’s argument, but I still think private property rights need to be respected.  If Dylan wants to use that line then he can pay for it.  It’s important to point out the difference between influence and theft.  Obviously, love, death and sex are going to be constantly covered in all art.  The I-IV-V chord progression is always going to be popular in music. 

An immature artist will imitate the works of his predecessors.  As the artist grows the influence will be absorbed, and the artist will be able to produce something new by connecting the previously unconnected or by applying the themes to their own life.

David Fair, one-half of the band Half Japanese, wrote a short essay about how to play guitar.  He says in the essay, “If you ignore the chords, your options are infinite, and you can master guitar playing in just one day.” 

His theory is hard for me to swallow considering I’ve spent hour after hour learning chords and scales, but it’s hard to argue with his results.

David Fair and his brother Jad Fair, the other half of Half Japanese, have always had a unique approach to making music.  

Often ignoring rhythm and melody altogether, their music can be utterly complex or stupidly simple.  Since their first release in 1977, Half Japanese have been the epitome of amateur do-it-yourself music.

A documentary, The Band That Would Be King, features live performances and follows the band’s twisted journey.

Here is an animated clip of David Fair’s essay:

The proliferation of cheap guitars, cheap recording equipment and the spread of the internet give every basement musician the hope they can make it big.

 

Calgary’s Chad Vangaalen spent much of his time recording music and drawing pictures when the indie label Sub Pop discovered and signed him in 2005.  He hasn’t quite hit the big time yet, but he’s making music and performing it for a living.  Needless to say, he is living the basement musician’s dream.

 

He put out two cd’s, filled with backlogged lo-fi home recordings, and released a third, Soft Airplane, on September 9.

 

Vangaalen’s move is not unprecedented.  One of my favorites to make such a move is Daniel Johnston.  Johnston, a true pioneer of do it yourself music, recorded himself with a tape deck in his parent’s basement in West Virginia. 

 

He took his tapes to Austin, Tex., where he distributed them to anyone who would listen.  He snuck his way into an appearance on MTV in the early 1980’s and gained a legion of fans, among them famous musicians such as Kurt Cobain and Sonic Youth.

 

The Devil and Daniel Johnston chronicles his life, music and struggles with manic depression.  His music is achingly beautiful and focuses on his obsession with a girl who doesn’t return his love. Johnston wanted to be John Lennon, but he never made it that big.  Nevertheless, he has thousands of adoring fans and the respect of his musical peers.

 

So keep at it basement musicians.  If you make good music, someone will take notice.

Dead Radio

September 12, 2008

The high-stakes pressure of top 40 radio is enough to squeeze the last bit of life out of music and turn it into the Jonas Brothers, Linkin Park and Miley Cyrus.  What we end up with is a polished, bland, inoffensive, formulaic and altogether useless product.  

 

 

I know I’m not the first to grow bored of the pop hits.  Luckily, hardworking music lovers have put forth the effort to seek out the raw and authentic sounds the radio ignores. 

 

Folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax travelled through the southern United States to capture the sounds of Woody Guthrie, Jelly Roll Morton, Muddy Waters and Lead Belly.

 

These musicians oozed the soul of the countryside and painted an authentic, more eclectic picture of life in the 1930s and 1940s.

 

Like a modern day Lomax, new archivists are taking up the mantle and documenting the current raw sound of lesser-known indie musicians and local acts.  Vincent Moon’s popular Take-away shows presents rising acts like Bon Iver, The National and Francois Virot. 

 

The effort has been beneficial for Moon, the musical acts he profiles and his ever-growing audience. 

 

A recent article on www.newsreview.com highlights the work of three Reno-ians (or whatever you call people from Reno) who document local acts for renolimelight.com, giving a global platform to the area’s talent. 

 

The work of these video archivists, along with Myspace pages, blogs and word-of-mouth buzz across the web, is crucial to unearthing new and exciting music.  These tactics have gone from fringe marketing techniques to standard protocol for unknown bands looking to reach an audience.

 

Thanks to this new technology and those smart enough to take advatage of it the musical atmosphere is richer and more complex.

 

Hopefully, future generations will look back on our time and look past the fluff to see the true musical geniouses of our era.

New research linking personality and musical taste from professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University has popped up in a bunch of articles.  The scope of the study is impressive with 36,000 people surveyed, but the results have little to offer.

 

A sample of the results:

Blues: high self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease 

Jazz: high self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease

Classical: high self-esteem, creative, introvert and at ease

Metal: low self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, not outgoing, gentle and at ease

Indie: low self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, not gentle

Country: hardworking, outgoing

 

Here’s what I don’t like about this study:          

1. Genres do little to describe music.  Much of music is a blend of a variety of genres.  

2. People listen to more than one genre.  Some may say they listen strictly to country or classical or jazz, but I doubt most people still do.  I’d consider myself a fan of  nearly all of the genres listed.

3. It didn’t test how much each person valued music. For some, music is a lifeline.  They can’t start their day without.  They obsess over bands and eagerly await their new records.  Others have only a passing interest.  They may flip on the radio on their way to work, but it is little more than background noise.            

For me, genres are unimportant.  Nashville musician Darrell Brown said in his blog in The New York Times that the key to a great song is the three H’s: honesty, humanity and hooks. 

 

These rules are simple, but they’re all you really need to know to make great music.  With the proliferation of 4-tracks and laptops with audio recording software, it’s easier than ever to grab a guitar, write a song and share it with the world. 

 

This blog is dedicated to discussing and discovering music made by people who may not have a label or fit into any genre, but know how to follow the three H’s.