Archive for the 'music' Category

17
Dec
09

State of the Music Biz and the Indie Artist

I spent some time today reading about the state of the music biz and it was a bit depressing and demotivating. Musicians and industry people complain and bemoan the fact that folks are downloading and sharing all sorts of music for free. I.e. there is no money in it anymore. The big rant is that the average artist can’t make any money, etc. and no one seems to know who the enemy is. There are equal parts of bashing iTunes to praising it; there is the whole P2P thing (basically if you are just a little tech savvy you can find any movie, music, video game, etc for free on some version of a peer-to-peer networking site), burning CDs, sharing files, etc.

I may be wrong but it all seems to go back to that time vs. money thing. If I want the music quickly and easily and in the format I desire (CD, mp3, iTunes, etc.), I will pay for it. If I have the time to ask my friend for a loaner, or burn a CD off my buddy’s computer, or am willing to invest the effort in some torrents software (avoiding all the viruses), well I can get it for free. People share stuff they like, so burning a CD for a friend is quite normal anymore. When I was a kid we used to make compilation tapes of our favorite songs, theming them based on things like “driving music” or “mellow stuff.” We would title our compilation tapes and then pass them about to friends. Tapes like “in your face,” “burn,” and “closers” were pretty cool stuff; you can imagine the types of songs I put on those tapes. We never felt we were stealing or ripping anyone off. In a way we were paying homage to artists we really liked and the artist got even more popular to our circle of friends. Today it’s even easier; you can make a playlist in iTunes or whatever software you use, and share it around (making a tape would take me an hour or more; making a playlist takes less than 30 seconds if you know what songs you want). Same deal I guess but it removes something crucial from the picture back in the day: relationship.

Which leads me to a thought about the ranters out there who are complaining about the state of the music biz. What’s missing here is relationship. Technology is the thing that has enabled independent and unsigned musicians to easily get their stuff out there for people to hear but now it is what they are bashing. USB drives, flash cards, cell phones, smart phones, digital downloads, etc. have all in one way or another made hard copy music (records, tapes, CDs, reel-to-reels, you name it) near obsolete except to a niche market, the exception being where the medium makes sense (see time vs. money comment above) in communicating a message that would be lost if this specific medium was not employed. So we all can share stuff for free now, which gives us exposure, but free = no money so we cannot get paid for it. Heres the scenario: I drop hard earned cash on studio time, then pay money for artwork and to have the CD replicated, and I’m don’t sell anything. Oops.

I may need to dwell on this one a bit more but for now I will say that indie artists will make money on the relationship end of the spectrum. I.e. at shows, person to person, via their website, etc. I once heard that the best musicians in the world will never be known. So even if a musicians song is the best of its kind, they cannot just toss it out there in internetland and hope they will make money. The internet is not a winning lottery ticket that requires no work. If their song is *really* popular (your goal right?), people will share it (equals free, not your goal right?). This will make that artists popularity increase within certain circles and niches, but that still doesn’t necessarily translate into money. If money is what you are after you have to have a product that people cannot get without paying for it. A product that differentiates from all others on the market. That, my musician friends is you. You, in relationship with that person. This could be face to face, could be via a social networking, could be on the web, but the bottom line is people will only pay for what they do not already have, or if they need more of something expendable, or if the perceived value is high enough. Free is the new black so music is devalued. Yet it is still a necessary part of our cultural fabric (nothing God invented will decrease) and so if you want to make money off of it you will need to add the relationship component. This usually happens at a gig.

Even artists on major labels have this issue. I read an article about someone who sold 2 million units of their song/album and ended up owing the label over $200,000. The only way the label got that many songs sold is through heavy promotion like an expensive video, etc. The only way the artist will pay them back, according to the article, is by touring.

Touring…as in gigs right? Relationship wins every time.

Want to hear some free music? Visit http://www.destinysong.com/worship/Audio.html

For an interesting, and occasionally colorful article on this subject, read this from respected veteran rocker John Mellencamp in the Huffington Post. Linking this does not suggest I agree with his political views, but if you read the article you’ll get a great look into the history of how we got to where we are today. Click here.

13
Nov
09

Switchfoot does Black Sabbath

Okay so I just had to post this cause it is bugging me. The new song “Free” on Switchfoot’s latest album “Hello Hurricane” (released just a few days ago) has exactly the same melody line in the verse as “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath. This is not a stretch to hear. I personally have no, and have never had, any interest in Black Sabbath (not the least of reasons is that the motivation for the band’s music was based in attempting to create the musical equivalent of horror films). But that’s not the point. The point is, “War Pigs” is a very popular song, and Jon Foreman lifted the melody line from it. It may be an error, but that’s not really the point either. As a songwriter myself I experienced a time where we were literally one day away from sending a CD off to be manufactured and we discovered that the melody in our chorus was exactly the same as another popular worship tune. This was an honest mistake and I recall the day I wrote that melody line and know it was original…for me. There are only so many notes, and I have heard so much music in my life, somehow that melody line made it into the tune and we didn’t catch it. But fact is, we did catch it before the CD was made so we did a quick re-write, re-recorded the vocals same day, remastered the CD and sent it off. I just have to wonder how this got missed in the grand scheme of releasing Switchfoot’s latest album. Those guys most certainly have heard the song “War Pigs” being students of the rock genre. And if they didn’t catch it, wouldn’t the producer(s) know? Or how about an agent, or a friend, or their mom, or someone, somewhere at Atlantic records? Recently there was some brouhaha and a lawsuit brought (and recently settled) to mega-band Coldplay by guitarist extraordinaire Joe Satriani who said the band had lifted one of his songs. Fact is, “lack of originality” happens all the time in music. But in the case of “Free” I really wonder who was listening to this song (besides the band) and if someone heard the similarity, why didn’t they say anything? Final possibility: sometimes artists pay homage to other artists and influences in their songs intentionally, and I think that’s cool. I’ve done it myself. Now if *that* is the case it leaves me asking Jon Foreman: why Black Sabbath?

“War Pigs” at 1:04 and “Free” at 0:32 for reference.

19
Oct
09

Delirious? Testimony

Okay, obviously Delirious? is amazing. Read this testimony someone wrote in to the band on their History Makers blog. It will show you how much God really cares for each and every one of us, and also what an act of obedience (on the band’s part and on this friend’s part) can do. It can save a life. Literally:

“A few years ago I went to the delirious? gig in Liverpool on the World Service Tour. During Every Little Thing, Martin asked us to ring a friend and let them listen to the song. A friend of mine had been unable to make the gig, I rung him, let him listen to the chorus a couple of times and hung up – didn’t want to waste my credit! That Sunday at church he gave the following testimony: A couple of months back he had started to slip away from God. He had been having problems at home and these were getting him down. He started to hang around with the wrong crowd and get involved in drink and drugs. Things got so bad that he decided to end his own life. He went into the bathroom and picked up some razor blades ready to slash his wrists and kill himself. Just then his phone rang and it was me saying “Mate,we are at a delirious concert, listen to this …”Every Little things, Gonna Be Alright””. Thesong and more importantly the timing of it, gave him hope for the future. He obviously didn’t take his own life and still alive and well today! When I heard this testimony I just went numb. What I did, as a fun thing at a d: gig, saved someones life.I just want to thank God, for working the whole timing out – it was amazing how they played the song, just at the right time. I also want to honour Martin and delirious for being faithful, for listening to God and for making a difference. – Andrew”

This photo is Martin reading scripture at the show we went to Saturday night. Their last show in America.
Mart Smith at last Delirious? gig in America

19
Oct
09

Julian’s website

Hey, Julian’s website is now live and we’re stoked about that. He’s setup with song samples, photos, videos, etc. Check it out and support his indie release of “Time to Move On.” Album pre-order and such is going to be updated on the site very soon.

www.julianmichaelmusic.com

Yes Ted, the CD will be less than $15. 😉

14
Jul
09

Julian in the Studio – Part 2: We Roll Tonight To The Guitar Bite

Julian and I hit a milestone in that we are now complete with all the electric guitars on the forthcoming album.  We explored a lot of different sounds and textures.  The most successful arrangement for us is seen in this video.  We ran several sounds on this CD for electric including some mono stuff, and the ol’ mic the amp mic the room technique.  But we were most satisfied with true stereo.  With Marshall and Fender amps; Fender, Gibson, and Gretsch guitars to choose from, our sonic palette was quite diverse.

Enjoy more video taken from my iPhone including a little 4th of July bonus.

09
Jul
09

Julian in the Studio

We’ve been working on the inaugural project in the Destinysong studio for the last 6 weeks or so. This is an exciting process where we are testing out every aspect of the recording studio. The project is a full-length CD for my son Julian.  He wrote every tune and is playing and singing everything on the album (the one exception thus far being my guest appearance playing a little mandolin).  He’s been recording drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, keys, and singing.  The project is shaping up to be a balanced rock effort.  For example there are a few heavy riff-based tunes, but also a few delicate acoustic ballads.  I believe it showcases where Julian is at in his musical development.  For me, it is very interesting to hear how this melting pot of experience and influence manifests in an 18-year old.  It’s been a ton of fun.

Here is a short video I took on my iPhone of Julian cutting parts:

We’re creating a full-length album, well…because we can.  Julian has something like 50 songs under his belt so we could draw on a variety of material, plus with the studio at the house, we’re not under time or budget constraints. Here’s a possible running order for the CD.

  1. Perfect Day
  2. These Idols
  3. Here With Me
  4. Between Us
  5. How Long
  6. Where are You?
  7. One Thousand Words
  8. Lost it All
  9. So Long My Friend
  10. Time to Move On

I think that for anyone who knows Julian there will be a few surprises in there.  For example, some may not know how heavy he can get (These Idols and Lost it All).  Others may not realize what a knack he has for pop songwriting (Between Us or Perfect Day).  A few have been surprised at the depth of some of the tunes (Time to Move On or Here With Me).  And finally, it may be a little bit surprising that the CD will not include any straightforward corporate worship tunes even though it is almost entirely made up of faith-based themes rooted in a Christian, Spirit-led worldview (with his dad  producer on this project, it would be hard to get content in that didn’t pass muster on this account – that said, there hasn’t been anything that needed editing as far as I can recall!).

On that note, as we progressed through the material, it made more sense to keep this CD cohesive in content and not divert it into a corporate worship CD when that’s not what was shaping up.  Julian most certainly could cut an album of corporate worship songs, but that is not the focus for this project.  This is a journey birthed out of his life experiences from the past few years, and particularly the last season of our lives.  On this project you’ll hear a response to the world, and all that goes with it, of hope and faith and love.  And that should be in all our lives in one way or another right?

We’re exactly halfway through as best I can estimate so we have a lot of work to do.  But soon we should be entering into the latter stages of recording and earnestly mixing the album.  We’re shooting for a mid-August or early September release and we’re praying about what to do with the songs in terms of promotion, etc.  But that’s for another day.  For now, we’re experiencing the joy of exercising our God-given talents in musical creativity.  More to come!

06
Jun
09

Mando Power

This week we have been experimenting in the studio.  And in the words of Bruce Dickenson, yes the Bruce Dickenson “exploring the studio space.”  In the course of things I found myself with a mandolin in my hands cutting some tracks for a tune of Julian’s.  This one’s for you Ted.

mando power

31
Mar
09

CompassionArt

Okay so is it just me or does anyone else feel the drought in new worship music releases?  The “latest” worship albums I have been spinning are all from last year.  So do yourselves a favor, stop what you are doing right now and go out and get the newly released CD “CompassionArt.”  This CD was totally an unexpected pleasure to acquire.  To give you a framework for it, this project is the vision of Martin and Anna Smith (Martin being of delirious? notoriety).  The idea is to get some of the best worship songwriters in the world together (Martin, Darlene Zschech, Chris Tomlin, Israel Houghton, Matt Redman to name just a few), link people up in two’s and three’s and see if they could whip up some righteous new worship songs (my verdict is they succeeded).  Secondly, get in the studio and have a bunch of these same songwriters and some cool guests (Kirk Franklin, Leeland, Any Grant, etc.) record a full blown album that sounds great (again, my verdict is they succeeded) and have all proceeds go to charity (and yes, this means ALL proceeds including an agreement with CCLI to not bank off of church play).  This album was a pleasant surprise and I recommend it to anyone.  Go get it!

On another note, the aforementioned delirious? just released a live CD/DVD project recorded on their tour stop in Columbia.  Just watching and listening to these guys I always am amazed at their humility and talent and how much they have paved the way for all modern worship over the past 15 years.  If you have never truly experienced d: this is certainly a good starting point.  That said, it’s a bittersweet offering since it’s likely their last.  Martin and Stu have decided to focus their efforts on future CompassionArt projects and so they have announced the band will shut er’ down at the end of this year.  Sniff sniff.

09
Mar
09

U2 “No Line on the Horizon” Album Review

Okay so today I went to R&R Coffee here in the Black Forest and got a cup of Forest Mist Dark Roast (a signature blend…mmm), then I went next door to the Post Office and mailed back a washing machine part we didn’t need, I went to PetCo and bought some fish for my tropical tank, and I went to Target and bought the new album by U2 on CD.  Not a bad set of errands.  PetCo’s doing 5 for $5 tropical fish, R&R Coffee has a self service on drip that is less expensive and better than anyone around, and Target had the CD on sale.  The only thing I didn’t get a deal on was the washer pump (waste of shipping $!).  Can’t win em’ all, but in the process I got the new offering from one of rock’s most enduring bands.

First I will say that listening to Bono sing is worth the price of admission alone no matter the quality of the album.  What is that price you ask?  iTunes carries it for $9.99 album only or $17.99 which includes an hour-long movie featuring the music of the band as a part of the download (by Anton Corbjin who is the band’s favorite photographer).  Not bad.  If you prefer hard copy (and for those who lament the lost pleasure of album artwork who doesn’t?) Target has it on sale this week: album alone is $9.99 as well or you can get a cool deluxe edition for $21.99 which includes the album plus a poster, a mini book, and finally a download of aforementioned movie.  If you really want to go crazy you can get the whole thing bundled with DVD version of the movie for $64.99.  $9.99 seemed like the right choice for me although I will admit I had the deluxe edition in my hand for more than a few minutes.

Okay so with a 30+ year history behind them, who doesn’t like U2?  It used to be if someone said U2 was lame folks would give them the luxury of personal opinion, but today saying U2 is lame is like calling Bob Dylan a two-bit horseshoe farrier. Yeah, you would be called crazy.  Here’s my overarching assessment of their output over the years: they consistently outshine every other alternative band in history but they run out of gas 75% through almost every release.  It’s true.  I mean, you really have to be a major fan of their creative muse to like “Mothers of the Disappeared” for example (from “Joshua Tree”).  But 75% of U2 is 100% better than 99% of the artists in the world so who’s complaining?  If we have to suffer “Please” we still get “Do You Feel Love” (from “Pop”) or if we have to endure “Peace on Earth” we still get to revel in “Kite” (from “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”).  All that to say I always expect to enjoy most of a new U2 album, but plan to be bored or let down by a chunk of it (kind of like a new Hillsong release or the skillets at Village Inn).

For this effort they ran through a series of producers (big names like Rick Rubin) and finally landed with three guys who have consistently delivered for them over the years: Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno and a few by Steve Lillywhite.  So expect the album to have some sounds that hearken your favorite U2 stuff from previous years.

I scanned a review that said something about U2 getting criticism for their last album, “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” because they didn’t risk enough on it and this album was theoretically a response to that critique but I don’t hear it.  It sounds very much like “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” era U2 which is not to say it’s bad, I just don’t get the whole exploring-new-territory thing.  U2 on this album sounds like we would expect U2 to sound.  Anthemic, bluesy, and pulsating (all that’s missing from early U2 is the passion).  That’s why we listen to them over and over right?  U2 is a sonic soundtrack for our lives.  Our lives in the car, in the kitchen, on the bike, at work, on TV, gosh you can place U2 just about anywhere and it plays well.  So expect the familiar and that’s okay, well better than okay, it’s downright good.

“Get on Your Boots” was the first single released (to mixed reviews) and I was excited because it sounded like a band that was in fact looking to reinvent.  But as track #6 it sounds oddly out of character with the album up until that point.  The new fresh sound comes only after familiar territory.  Funny, as I listened the first time as each track came on it sounded like a different U2 album from the past.  I wonder if this was intentional by the band. Almost a retrospective without being retrospective.  I actually spent a little time linking each song to a previous U2 work, but I will spare you the list due to the length of this post.  Try it yourself, it’s fun.

As a leadoff cut “No Line on the Horizon” is a dud.  The title suggests that the band is looking forward with no boundaries which implies uncharted waters.  Can anyone else hear the blatant nod to “Until the End of the World” in the guitar riff?  That’s from 1990 and it’s funny because that song was written for a movie soundtrack where they were supposed to try and write in a style of where music would be 10 years from the writing.  They should have started the album with “Magnificent” which really shines as a classic U2 groove and overarching melodies.  Still, like a good road trip, this album gets better as it travels further and explores more.  That’s a first for U2 with me: I enjoyed the 2nd half more (One exception is “FEZ-being Born” which is out of place and belongs at the end of the album or somewhere else).  “Unknown Caller” has a rare Edge guitar solo, which was very refreshing to hear.  “White as Snow” is hauntingly beautiful (and correct me if I am wrong but isn’t that the melody line to “O Come Emmanuel”?).  Bono is in good form with his wink-of-the-eye one-liner lyrics (“gotta stand up to ego but my ego’s not really the enemy”) and the album just sounds great sonically.

So in summary, if you like U2 you will like this CD; I do and I did.  It doesn’t break new ground but it’s everything we want in U2.  Not bad for $9.99.  I can listen to it over and over again too and probably will (can’t recycle that coffee and get the same bank for the buck now can I?).

On a final, Christian worldview note, I will say that it was refreshing and nice to have Bono singing about his faith so positively on the last album, but unfortunately there’s not a ton of that going on here.  We get that old 90’s style of faith from Mr. Vox.  It’s a sardonic and slightly jaded religiosity that filters though.  I recall seeing him wearing one of those “COEXIST” hats on TV last year at an AIDS rally.  Is Jesus still the only true way to salvation for Bono or does he now espouse the ever so popular one-world religion that prevails these days?  In “Breathe” he sings, “St John Divine on the line, my pulse is fine.”  Seems he hates religion, but then again don’t we? At one time Bono and the Edge wanted to abandon their careers in music and become pastors, but that was over 20 years ago. It’s almost as if when he says “stop helping God across the road like a little old lady” in “Stand up Comedy” he’s singing to himself, the Bono-Christ.  I am happy that my faith remains unshaken.  Why don’t you all pray for Bono when you finish reading this, okay?

07
Mar
09

Coldplay a Guitar Influence?

Okay so I was casually listening to the album “Parachutes” by Coldplay and something jumped out at me that I never really noticed before.  The main riff and guitar solo in “Yellow” seems to be the template for almost every single contemporary worship guitar solo that has happened ever since.  Now when one thinks of guitar influences, most especially in the last 10 years, certainly Coldplay doesn’t jump to mind.  (In fact, I wonder if there has even been a major guitar influence in the last 20 years.  A friend of mine was explaining that Matthew Bellamy from Muse is a big deal but unfortunately, I couldn’t hear the major leap I think that all electric guitarists are secretly hoping for.  But that’s just me.)  Nevertheless in “Yellow” that solo is the style that every electric guitarist in the modern church has had to either a) learn or b) doesn’t know anything else exists.  It’s the 8th note, two tone (think 2 strings), all downstrokes, just north of broken sound, with delay on it.  Yeah you could say that came from the Edge, and it’s pretty obvious that Coldplay’s biggest influence is U2 (by admission from the band, but then again they also claim Delirious? is an influence.  But hey, Delirious? is most influenced by, you guessed it, U2).  I have heard “Yellow” many times and never put 2 and 2 together until this last listen.  It was released in 2000 and became a bona fide hit (#5 in UK) and it broke the band to a worldwide audience that embraced a new fresh sound (that sounded like u2 and Delirious? but that’s a niggling detail for anyone under 18 at the time).  Okay so to wrap up:

1) Most Christian guitarists and Christian artists I know listen to and love Coldplay

2) “Yellow” is one the band’s most popular songs and has this guitar solo/riff in it

3) Since 2000 most modern worship has guitar solos that sound like “Yellow.”  

You listen to the song and tell me what you think.  But prior to 2000 if modern worship even had a guitar solo, it certainly didn’t sound like everything coming out of Hillsong and the Passion guys.  Weigh in!




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