Category Archives: Music

Imagine

Many years ago, John Lennon was murdered in New York City. I appreciate his message and his music, and after thinking about the lyrics that he wrote, I recorded myself playing one of his songs. I did this yesterday, which was the 30th anniversary of his death.

If you would like, you can download it here.

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Big Band Theory: Part II

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about what happens when a band becomes popular. You can read the full post here, but what I basically said in a long diatribe was that their music suffers when more money becomes involved. I didn’t necessarily blame artists for accepting their ticket to cash city, but I did try to distinguish that ceasing to like a band once they hit the big-time can be initiated for reasons other than trying to be cool. I would like to drive the point home with something I observed recently.

I was browsing Vimeo today and came across a video which I would like to share.

Owl City “To The Sky” from Endeavor Media Group on Vimeo.

At this link you can find Adam Young, or Owl City, singing a song about flight, wings, and adventure while clips from a movie about owls, flight, wings and adventure play. This song is on the soundtrack for said movie. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened behind the scenes, though I am going to spell it out. First, I would like to present a small snippet from my last post:
“Yes, they are still the same band–in a way. When a band gets signed to a big label, they are required to do things that even they may object to. For instance, they may be required to allow their song to be featured on a blockbuster movie, or even write a song specifically for it (see Jack’s Mannequin, Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday). Such a song will usually include lame lyrics contrived to somehow vaguely mention the plot or theme of the movie. When you hear the voice of your memories advertising the latest blockbuster, you can’t help but feel like the memories you created while listening to that music are cheapened a little.”

Sound familiar? Owl City was mentioned in my last post for changing his stage show to make it more marketable and exciting, holding a guitar instead of working a synth. The reason for this post is that I could not help but point out fulfillment of my prophecy as his market presence has grown.
Here is how I imagine the scenario played out; I have written it to be performed on stage:

(Three men sit at a large table in dark suits. A faint skyline is visible behind them out a large ornate window, illustrating their wealth)
Man #1: Well who can we get for the soundtrack? No-one will buy the actual music used in the movie. We need pop and we need it now! (Slams fist on table, takes a large gulp from a whisky glass)
Man #2: How about Owl City? His non-offensive synth-backed crooning is perfect for our target audience, plus the name has ‘owl’ in it. It’s perfect!
(The lights fade stage left, and stage right is illuminated where Adam Young sits, hunched over a table reading a large paper. A man in a suit stands behind him)
Suit: Buzz from last summer’s album is fading, and you need a hit! The fans on your tour with John Mayer weren’t as impressed with ‘Fireflies’ as they used to be!
Adam Young: But do I really have to make it so obvious I wrote the song for the movie? Aren’t all my other songs upbeat enough to include in the soundtrack?
(The lights fade as Owl City song ‘Record Contract Woes’ is played by the orchestra made up of 15 musicians all on Moog synthesizers set to ‘strings’.)

I don’t think that Adam Young is to blame. He has to make a buck just like everyone else. He also has to stay in the public eye because who knows how long his shelf life will be. I will say, however that his new song is not art, meaning not created for the sake of creation and expression. It is not the same as the songs he released before. I do not appreciate his new song. I’m sure he doesn’t mind. However, if he alienates his entire fan base by ceasing to write songs for self-expression, I bet he would start to mind when they stop buying his music.
I use the term ‘art’ loosely here. I bet some would argue that it isn’t real art anyways, so who cares. To these people I reply that it may not be fine or high art, but still fundamentally differentiated from his previous works in quality level. This is sufficient cause for someone to be justified in claiming that they don’t like his new song, while still enjoying previous songs. In addition, future songs may now be compromised, as it has been seen that the songs are now viewed by him as a commodity to be sold. Yes, songs have always sold, but there has always been a difference between those written to that end, and those created as art.

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Big Band Theory

I have been thinking lately on why  I am annoyed when a band or group that I like gets big. Here are a couple reasons why I think the whole experience changes. This is regarding the listener/fan experience after the band is signed to a major label, gets played on the radio, etc.

They change

Yes, they are still the same band–in a way. When a band gets signed to a big label, they are required to do things that even they may object to. For instance, they may be required to allow their song to be featured on a blockbuster movie, or even write a song specifically for it (see Jack’s Mannequin, Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday). Such a song will usually include lame lyrics contrived to somehow vaguely mention the plot or theme of the movie. When you hear the voice of your memories advertising the latest blockbuster, you can’t help but feel like the memories you created while listening to that music are cheapened a little.

When given more cash, the bands change their act. This may include adding more unofficial members to play live (see Green Day), or large theatrical presentations during live shows. Adam Young, who is mainly a drummer, now holds a guitar (despite most of his songs being synth-based) during live shows now because it is more marketable and exciting than him standing (dancing) behind a keyboard like he used to do.

These amplified presentations are not the band, they are the people the band’s label hired to make a stage show. As much as I would like to imagine The Killers sitting down and talking about how the lighting will change during their hit song–it isn’t happening. It did at one time though, and that is why a show of theirs in the early days would’ve been so much neater than now. While their music is great, at a live show now you are seeing 5% Killers and 95% label fluff that has nothing to do with those 4 guys. They are just the monkeys, told to dance by their label.

Their music may change as well. The label will ask for hits, and so the artist (to survive) will write songs which feature pumping beats, repetitive chorus lines, and likely be compressed to high hell to play well on the radio (apparently some people still use this archaic device). Even the Beatles were subjected to performing on command, writing “I Want to Hold your Hand” at the command of their manager because it would appeal to American girls. It was no coincidence that they played this on the Ed Sullivan show in NY. They were even forced to record it in German! The Beatles still rock. But if I saw them in a tavern as the Quarrymen it would be sad to see them doing tricks for their label like singing “Komm, gib mir deine Hand.

But don’t they still make awesome music?

Likely, but there are other problems. I don’t know about you, but when I listen to an album, I latch on to it for about a month. During that time, my memories are fused to that time period. I can listen to any song and tell you exactly what month and year I digested the album. So when I hear a song which is linked with some time period being looped over a UPS commercial (Such Great Heights, Postal Service), I feel like part of my past is being cheapened. With that particular example, yes, I listened to them long before they hit it big. So you imagine my surprise when they exploded in 2004, taking all of those good times with them. It isn’t that it erased my memories, it is that instead of hearing “Such Great Heights” and thinking about driving to band practice  at Tanner’s house during the winter, I think about a bloody UPS commercial and a guy drawing with dry erase markers.

It isn’t about “coolness”

Any band you listen to has many other listeners. Unless your favorite band is a personal artist who comes over to your house and plays music on your couch, you aren’t the only one. It isn’t the amount of listeners but the kind of listeners. If you developed a kinship with a song, album or artist when they were small, you have a special place for them. You went to their shows when they needed your support. You bought a T-shirt at their merch booth because you knew they needed to eat. If you hear about a band after they’ve hit it big, you don’t give duck’s beak about them because they drive around in a giant luxury tour bus, never talking to their fans because they are just faceless money dispensers to them. They become jaded, it isn’t their fault. Their listeners don’t care either. By this point their music is likely written for popular appeal anyways, so it is unlikely that you would latch on to them personally at this point.

Conclusion

These are my reasons for being so protective of artists I love. I’m not trying to be cool. I don’t think I’m the only one listening to them. I am just remembering when I was close enough to the stage to be given the mic by the lead singer to sing a part of the song (with my $8 ticket), or the many times I have talked to bands after their show to tell them how their music has changed my life. If you disagree, I would imagine that it is likely that you have never had an experience like this.

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Be My Escape


I recently discovered a song that everyone in the world probably knows about, but it is acoustic this time around (again, you probably already knew that) but I don’t care. Usually I have steered clear from Relient K since hearing their early stuff, but just like most bands, they have matured (and apparently knew how to play the piano the whole time).
Their song “Be My Escape” was quite the hit when it was released and even made it onto the impressively long-lived compilation of sugary hooks and heavy beats known as the “Now” CD hit mixes. I believe they are on the 210th one…
Well if you need a good echo-romantic acoustic anthem filled with easy metaphors and sweeping melodies, this is for you. We all need that at times don’t we? Oh, you don’t? Well go… be tough somewhere.

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