An Album of Sheet Music: Beck’s Latest Collaboration

“Art begins in imitation and ends in innovation.”- Mason Cooley

Back in the day, people used to buy music.  Waaaay back.  Sheet music.  If I told you that an artist sold 54 million copies of a single song in 1937, would you believe me?  Well, this is a real thing, and it puts the notion of success and popularity into perspective.

There was a time when music was conceived, then notated, then interpreteted, then performed, and if it was really worth it, then recorded.  Bing Crosby wrote a song called “Sweet Leilani” in  ‘37, and everyone heard it.  Because half the nation owned it on paper.  They bought it, they went home and learned it, and when it was ready, they shared it.

The word ‘share’ has a different definition in this century.  It implies a certain dichotomy between autonomy and community; that an individual has made or discovered something that he feels compelled to ‘share’ with the world, or strangers, or his friends.  Back then, it happened in a living room.  Not impulsively, but after consideration, dedication and finally presentation.

Beck has done something pretty cool.  Instead of releasing an album, he went back to the basics.  This summer, his newest music became available.  As sheet music.  No interpretation, no recordings, no cheating.  This summer, it was announced that Beck’s new project Song Reader would be released in December 2012, featuring twenty songs as sheet music only, with full-color art for each song, in a hardcover carrying case.  On www.songreader.net you can find the tunes performed by normal people, real musicians, and Mac Miller.  YouTube is full of them, too.

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The genius here is way more than a gimmicky retro homage to get people to create and be inspired.  He has somehow given birth to a viral situation that will only generate more material and interpretation.  It is a different kind of innovation; he is appealing to the new crop of consumers.  In his ‘Loser’ heyday, people actually bought CDs.  Now, he has still done most of the work, but he has invited the community to record the tunes themselves, which is appealing to this new user generated generation.

On the days of sheet music and it’s purpose of generating performance, Beck said, “That time is long gone, but the idea of it makes one wonder where that impulse went. As for these songs, they’re here to be brought to life—or at least to remind us that, not so long ago, a song was only a piece of paper until it was played by someone. Anyone. Even you.”

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Choose Your Own {Music Video} Adventure!

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Last year, Neilsen reported that music is consumed in the U.S. three times more through YouTube than via legal downloads.  This year, in their survey of a few thousand high school students, they discovered that two thirds of them use videos to initially discover songs.  When you are inclined to investigate new music, and Shazam isn’t the answer, what do you do?  Remember when you heard that iPod nano commercial in 2008 that was all bubbly and made you do a shoulder dance even though you didn’t want to? … ‘I tried to do handstands for you/ but every time I fell for you-oo-oo-oo, oo-ooo-ow-woo-woo?’ If you looked it up, you weren’t alone.  That’s Chairlift.  And every version/cover/video of that song has millions of views.

Since then, this Brooklyn duo has made some some fun music and some seriously innovative videos.  In 2009, their single “Evident Utensil” was nominated for an award in the “Breakthrough Video” category at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. It had the images all pixilated, was beautiful, and the concept was quickly stolen by Kanye.  “Amanaemonesia” shows the singer, the striking Caroline Polachek, dancing in a skintight bodysuit, with some very weird animation in between.  Still another is a creepy mix of a ballerina’s nervous breakdown/three bodies in trash bags that move on the floor like worms, and then ends….. if you watch the black screen for another minute and a half, you are rewarded by one last frame of the dancer, like she came back in the room and turned the light back on.

Polachek has said, “Film is the ultimate medium of our age”; she certainly has an eye for the visual, and Chairlift is now known for their music videos.  It’s been a way for them to get a little extra attention, especially in a genre of hipster music where videos aren’t too prevalent.  Storytelling is a powerful thing; it makes us not only remember, but in turn, recall it again to a friend.  If something is worth repeating, then it not only made an impression on us, but it has stayed with us enough that we feel compelled to share it.

Which brings me to my point: Remember “Choose Your Own Adventure Books”?  These tiny novels began a story, but then based on your choices, you determined the outcome.  With the help of Director Jordan Fish, who worked with MGMT, and the creative-tech company m ss ng p eces, Chairlift made a high-tech interactive video for ‘Met Before’ in which the viewers click the arrow of their choice to determine the next scene. There have been a few attempts at this before (Riot in Paris did one in 2010), but none are as seamless as this.  I haven’t played with it too much, but every time I have, a completely different thing happened.  It makes me wish I had a desk job, it’s so fun.  The song keeps playing without interruption, and you get to look at her beautiful face the whole time, which is a bonus.  (Click below to get your weird personalized adventure on:)

http:///www.chairlifted.com/metbefore/Oak_player_as.swf

So if all the kids are using videos anyway, why not give them something to talk about?  This clever gimmick is not only a way to get a consumer to listen to the entire track, but it will more than likely prompt him or her to tell a friend to check it out.   You can find all of Chairlift’s videos (including other versions of ‘Met Before”) at http://www.chairlifted.com.

 

Dear Mr. Ocean, You’re bi? We hadn’t noticed.

Won’t it be the most predictable, embarrassing thing if the media actually talks about Frank Ocean’s sexuality at the Grammys next year?  Everyone will be over it, right?  I’m writing this on 12.12.12, and it’s my wish to the universe:  Be cool, world.

Let’s face it:  his album, channel ORANGE, would have done just as well this year if he hadn’t “come out” or written that “open love letter” to a dude, or replaced all the pronouns with “she”.  It is an impressive, seamless work written by a truly gifted young man who has no need to prove himself.  His successful songs for others (John Legend, the Biebs) had set the stage for this moment.  However, the publicity around the release of this album made many wonder if his little tumblr coming out party was a stunt.  It was a week before the album dropped.  Was he pressured into it?  Did he feel as though he needed to give his music context?  A compulsion to be honest?  There was a lot of hype coming from a lot of angles, and it catapulted the release and subsequent reviews into a higher profile situation.  It certainly made waves and got a lot of attention from a variety of communities.  But what happened this summer was that the music community supported him and his honesty, even the ones you wouldn’t expect (his colleague Tyler the Creator is allegedly uncomfortable with these things, but he rose to the occasion).  Others (Chris Brown, 50 Cent) may or may not have been so accepting.  But have you listened to this album?  It’s like he’s seeing things from above, telling stories for you to interpret any way you like, neither happy or sad; hopeful or maybe hopeless, full of musical nods and somehow defying genre.

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So the glitter has settled, and he has been nominated for six Grammys.  Everyone always bitches about how the nominations always miss something important, it is too mainstream, blah blah, Of course this is true, get over it.  My hope is that this year, the unpredictable will prevail.  When Frank Ocean takes the stage, as he undoubtedly will, to accept his first Grammy of the night, will it be up to him to bring up his sexuality?  Will it be a non-issue not because of fear, but because of acceptance and love?  The legacy of this album could be one of a breakthrough of tolerance in a resistant musical community that will permeate the industry and perhaps others.  We’ll just have to wait and see what he has to say about it.

Hunx and His Punx Wish you the Gayest of Holidays!!!

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Need a last minute holiday gift for your little nephew? Hunx and his Punx have just the thing! Leader of a queercore band with a small but fervent following, this amazing individual is rolling out his wares for all to enjoy! Well, maybe not all… Anyway, he makes to-die-for music, (check out ‘Private Room’); he has been featured by Pitchfork and his YouTube views are nothing to joke about. More importantly, he is quite the business man: there’s a web series, the self-indulgent Hollywood Nailz; he makes holiday specific songs for purchase (imagine what he did for Halloween- he didn’t want to suck your ‘blood’, let’s just say) and now he is further expressing himself with a store full of paraphernalia including the above magnets, DVD Limited Edition DVD, and his impossible to find “Gay Singles” French CD! It’s easy to take this artist lightly; that’s the point. Regardless, his vision is clear: Upon introduction to this genius, you enter a world of fantasy, sex and egregious nonsense that is impossible to ignore. Now you and yours can have a little piece of it in your home, too. Just visit http://www.clearwackywacko.bigcartel.com to be a part of it all. Help Hunx and all of his Punx have a holiday full of…whatever it is that they do. Cheers!

Jack White Wishes You a Merry Christmas

In honor of Record Store Day (yes, a real thing), Mr. White opened the doors to his shiny new ‘Third Man Records Novelty Lounge’ this Black Friday in an attempt to sell treats to all the little boys and girls in Nashville and beyond.

Further perpetuating an already delightful brand, there are all sorts of knickknacks to be found within…and the best part?  All toys and gadgets can be purchased with newly minted Third Man Records custom tokens!  As the website says, “Why not pick up a bunch and throw ’em in Junior’s stocking this Christmas? Seriously… why not?”  Why not, indeed.

‘Undress for the Opera’

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I recently posted a video of Terry Gilliam explaining the inspiration for a new initiative at the English National Opera.  They call it ‘Undress for the Opera’, and it is an attempt to not only attract a younger audience, but also seduce them once trapped in the Coliseum.  Mr. Gilliam says that he considered the opera to be “art for the rich, the successful and almost dead” when he was young.  He goes on to explain the hopes of ENO to change the perception of the culture by inviting new guests to turn up in anything they fancy, to enjoy cocktails, and to (in his words) “wear headphones” if you don’t like the music.  Mixed messages, much?  Anyway, I still like the idea.  As you know, I stay up at night fretting over what will happen when all the money from the old people stops getting pumped into opera, classical music and ballet.  It is imperative that these disciplines stay invigorated and its heart is pumped full of new blood.  As Baronness Genista McIntosh said in 1997 when she was chief Executive to the Royal Opera House, “We don’t need more audience, so much as a different audience”.  That was, and is, the ongoing struggle.  ENO’s current Artistic Director John Berry states that 30% of their audience is currently under 44 years old and that they aim to raise that to 40% in the next year.   Aggressive.  But does the ENO have the right angle with ‘Undress’?  Mr. Berry exclaimed, “Come in shorts, armour, jeans, pumps, anything!”  Similarly, Damon Albarn, Blur frontman and spokesperson for the project says, “wear jeans and trainers”.    Is there a level of desperation being conveyed from these statements, or should I just relax?  Maybe it is time to rethink all notions of appropriateness and decorum; maybe it’s ok to go to court in a hoodie, or to church in mandals…. (Jesus wore them, right?)

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But I digress.  There are many appealing elements to the program: tickets are only £25, they are some of the best seats in the house, and will include pre-performance lecture, downloadable synopsis, and a meet and greet with the cast post-performance.  A new Philip Glass work is included along with the standard fare of Don Giovanni and La Traviata. ENO is known for beautiful, cutting edge productions; they will undoubtedly be exciting and innovative. Last season, a new take on Faust attracted quite the interest, with 40% of tickets being sold to newcomers.  That alone is extraordinary, and very promising.  As Albarn said, “We are carrying into this century ideas that belonged to a previous generation and really it’s just a case of clarifying what the state of play is now and it’s quite clearly different and the more that word is spread the easier it will be to translate and bring in new ideas”.  ENO claims to be the “Future of Opera”; this season will incorporate 3D media into a show, completely new staging and works.  The success of initiatives such as ‘Undress for the Opera’ could be what we need to keep a thriving community. And that community, like the art itself, will evolve.  Such evolution could lead to a burgeoning, integrative world of possibilities.  So, maybe in the future we’ll wear yoga pants to Aida and drink aviations at intermission.  It could have ended up much worse.

Terry Gilliam Talks About ENO’s New “Undress for the Opera” Initiative

The English National Opera has launched a series of more affordable, relaxed shows in an attempt to capture a younger audience. Here Mr. Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) sells the idea. He goes off the rails towards the end, but you get the point.  Within 18 months, the company aims to increase the under 44 year old constituent of the audience from 30% to 40%.

#Instabuy: the Future of D2F?

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In a week you’ll be able to twitter your Instagram and “retweet” someone’s Facebook link and share your Spotify playlist to your followers on Soundtracking and then use Chirpify to buy something you heard about on Facebook through either your Instagram or Twitter by sending one hashtagged word:  #buy.  You’ll be busy.

To any artist who engages in Direct-to-Fan marketing and commerce, this must come as welcome news.  The massive Facebook/Instagram merger is only one of many integrations currently forming and getting the kinks worked out of them.  By the time they reach you these apps will be so seductive it’ll feel like the stripper is paying you for a lap dance.

But what’s the catch?  Hopefully none.  Chirpify was purchased by Twitter a year ago for 1.7 milllion and has been a way to ‘in-stream’ purchase items, tickets or tracks immediately from the viewing of one post.  In a few days, it will also be scanning Instagram for its prompt, #Instasale, with the next necessary portion, $(amount).  So you want to sell last minute tickets to your show for for $10 tonight?  Post a photo on Instagram, or Tweet it, put those hashtags in, and Chirpify will set up an account for you.  Let the buying begin!  Say you want to rock out at said show?  As a customer, a #buy response will send you to set up a Paypal account, (only this one time, don’t panic), then you can finish up.  The next time you are so inclined, you wont have to do anything to #buy.  You already did it by pressing ‘share’ or ‘tweet’.  As Chirpify CEO Chris Tero explains,  they want it to be “dead simple”.  That’s it.

But I have to ask:  why haven’t direct sales through social sites and apps really taken off?  It hasn’t, right? Am I missing something?  The possibilities here are endless and the work is done for you.  (Did I mention that as the seller, there is literally only one step you must take before you post so they can begin the commerce?)  As fans get more comfortable with the concept, it’s ultimate acceptance could be a game changer for artists.  Hey, this track is ready; let’s sell it.  Now.  There is also a fundraising option.  Just change the magic word to #Instafund.  A band could get the money together, then give the product right back to the fans. 

But you can stick with Facebook if you have a desk job and like to watch your friend’s brats grow up.  Next, I’ll tell you how Soundtracking has make my head explode.  Get  a squeeegie, because my brain matter went everywhere.

Zebra Katz and Azealia Banks: Fashion’s Latest Soundtrack

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Karl Lagerfeld is slick and always wears sunglasses and is synonymous with glamour. When he takes a shine to someone, everyone not only notices, but it gets published.  So is the case with 20 year old young artist from Brooklyn, Azaelia Banks.  The headline story of Fashion Week 2012 was of her, his new fashion darling; that he was so enamored after hearing one track at a different show (he is the genius of Chanel), that he invited her to perform her “212” at his home, not a single phrase of which I could post here. Let’s just say the “c-word” is used egregiously (in a sexual way, not a rude way.  Does it matter? He’s 80).

Music and fashion are growing ever closer, most recently with runway show playlists exploding onto Spotify and such, making many immediately turn on Foster the People and fall in love with Lana del Rey.  But that was so 2011.  More recently, we’ve been introduced to a few new players, including this lovely lady (formerly known as Miss Bank$) who, since her private showcase now has over 12 million views on the aforementioned ditty, a deal with Alexander Wang, a new album, and a huge following.   Her coquettish persona has evolved into a more mainstream look, along with her sound.  She has accomplished much in 2011, besides making a ton of music: she topped NME‘s “Cool List”; the BBC crowned her third for the Sound of 2012, and she had hit singles abroad.

She was, however, not on the road to this kind of quick exposure.  Her manager hired Lady Gaga’s stylist, Nicola Formicetti, and she found not only an ally in him, but a direct in to the exclusive, if not somewhat stodgy, world of high fashion.  Nicola put her song, “Bambi” in the Mugler 2013 Spring/Summer show in Paris this past February, and within that month the aforementioned Lagerfeld was giving her Mickey Mouse sweaters as tribute to her look in the “212” video.  Are you kidding me?  Banks has already recorded a track with Gaga called “Ratchet” that will be on Gaga’s upcoming studio album, ARTPOP. She was at the 2012 Met Ball in a dress that Alexander Wang made FOR her! When a U.S. Vogue is opened, she can found in the pages, giving her the kind of highbrow credibility of which an artist can reap the financial benefits, but more importantly, reaching an entire audience that would have never been tapped otherwise.  Managing to penetrate this world is no easy feat, but Ms. Katz did it all during the most visible and important time of the fashion calendar, Paris Fashion week.

Ojay Morgan has a similar story. This Brooklyn based, openly gay 25 year old rapper, aka Zebra Katz, has been given the same golden ticket   At the Rick Owens Fall/Winter ’13 show just recently, his very bare-boned, mantra like track, “Ima Read” played for twelve straight minutes, with provocative lyrics that seemed aggressive to any one who isn’t intimately acquainted with the underground NYC “ball culture” of the late 80’s (I mean, who isn’t?).  Later review was obviously mixed right off the bat, but by the end of the week, “Ima Read” (see above) was considered the soundtrack to the shows, with the most influential attendees tweeting things like “Best.  Soundtrack.  Ever” –Tommy Ton; Soon after, Derek Blasberg named it “the song of #PFW”.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Katz and Banks have since collaborated in the studio, generated a twitter war/put a twitter war to bed, and are going on tour together next year.  It would seem these examples were thoughtfully conceived marketing strategies, quickly executed, heavily documented.  Regardless, they worked.  Both managed to use this thickly populated platform to break out as an actual artist, gaining major individual recognition, not just as a track on some lame playlist that nobody listens to anymore.  Paris Fashion Week establishes trends for an entire year, regardless of how ridiculous they are.  Now factor in the reality that these are two seriously talented, dynamic players who have been doing the hard work since their teens;  it shows that even old man Lagerfeld’s still got an eye for what we want, what we simply must have. And we, as consumers, will always listen to the voice of a  trusted tastemaker.