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Taylor Swift and the rise of robot music

WE HAD TO share this article with you, beautifully written by Damon Linker for theweek.com

Perfection is a tricky thing. We need ideals, standards, visions to aspire to. But what happens when the real becomes the ideal? Is anything lost when a work of art doesn’t merely strive for perfection but actually embodies it?

In some ways the question is misleading. It’s impossible to pin down the melody, harmony, rhythm, and lyrics of the perfect pop song. But a performance is different, since it can be judged on technical criteria alone. A vocal performance, for example, can be perfect in the sense of flawless. Nothing flat, nothing sharp. Perfect phrasing, perfect tone.

But is any musical performance ever truly flawless? For all of human history, the answer was very, very rarely, and with a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding it. The absence of recording technology meant that performances had to be judged in the moment, which also meant that they were subject to the imperfect perception of an audience during a single, unreproducible event. And this meant, in turn, that no performance could ever truly be deemed perfect with any certainty.

Technology has changed this. For one thing, recording allows a performance to be preserved and studied in minute detail by an audience potentially as massive as the entire population of the planet, now and on into the future. For another, studio overdubbing permits the “performance” of a piece of music to be synthesized and stacked up from multiple takes on multiple instruments. Finally, pitch-adjusting processors like Auto-Tune allow even these “performances” to be fixed, corrected, perfected after the fact, yielding a final product that can sound utterly flawless.

It’s robot music — music that sounds like it’s been performed by a machine. Not only is the vocal line totally free of wavering pitch, but no instrument is off by even a microtone, no beat off by even a microsecond. Any imperfection in the studio performance of the songs has been aurally buffed, air-brushed, and photoshopped away.

If you want to study what’s distinctive about robot music, all you need to do is turn on the radio, since just about all pop songs these days have been touched by the trend. But if you want to hear it in its most refined form, the best, most concentrated example is probably Taylor Swift’s blockbuster hit album 1989. All 13 of its songs — very much including the album’s five ubiquitous hit singles — are masterpieces of mechanical music.

To read the rest of this piece (of course you HAVE TO now) go to: http://theweek.com/articles/584633/taylor-swift-rise-robot-music

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Stream This – Let The Games Begin!

STREAM THIS – LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

 

Now that the 2015 streaming wars have taken shape with Spotify, Beats and now Tidal squared off and ready to rumble, it seems like the spirit of competition is finally starting to take hold in the world of music streaming. When Apple’s iTunes all but had a monopoly on the retail distribution of digital music files, it seemed that there was no worthy competitor that could challenge the Cupertino giant. Now with Beats Music, Goolge Play, Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify and Jay-Z’s new company Tidal, there at least seems to be some real free market competition brewing in the streaming space. Of course none of these services will fare particularly well without access to the record company’s vast catalogs of music, particularly the newest releases by the most contemporary artists, but that’s a story for another blog post!

 

And in this corner… Apple is a $500+ Billion dollar company that has vast experience with the paid digital distribution of music, in fact they all but created it. Their personal electronic products are highly integrated in everyday life by hundreds of millions of consumers around the globe. Their long time love affair with the music industry is unrivaled with tech companies from their John and Yoko “Think Different” campaign, to their recent purchase of Beats Music and their bringing Jimmy Iovine, one of the music industries most successful and savvy deal makers, into the corporate ranks of Apple.

 

Look for other major players including Microsoft, Sony and Amazon (with their Prime Music Service) to make major plays into the music streaming battle with both subscription and ad based revenue models. It doesn’t quite have the excitement of a Pacquiao vs. Mayweather fight, but it “should” create an a large number of revenue possibilities for creative professionals involved in the music industry from writers and recording artists to musicians, publishers, producers, etc.. Does Jay-Z’s Tidal have a chance against the Cupertino Cash or the Swedish Spotify With more than 40 million monthly active users including 10 million paying subscribers? LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!

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MUSIC+ART = VINYL RECORDS

Is this some long-forgotten quantum algebraic equation that faded into obscurity toward the end of that ancient era we’ve come to know as ‘ The 80’s? Thankfully, the answer to that question is no! Fast forward to our current time of hyper-fast fiber internet connections and hybrid-electric cars and take a stroll through one of the few remaining record stores and you’ll find that not only is there an abundance of legacy vinyl records to be found (some even at reasonable prices) but you’ll also notice quite a number of new releases on this weird plasticky disc!

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A growing number of up and coming bands have embraced the vinyl experience…and for good reason! I think the best way to put it is that vinyl records and albums are an ‘experience’. Not only is their sound very different than digital music files (and quite often more pleasing to the ear!) but they also make artistic imagery a relevant part of music again! Imagine that Music and art together in one package?? It’s revolutionary, right?!?! Yeah, it is kind of revolutionary and the statistics support it.

9 million vinyl records were sold in the U.S. in 2014 – up 50 percent from 2013

more on vinyl album statistics here: http://bit.ly/1F33uTT

OK, that’s it…Before the end of 2015 I’ll be buying a decent turntable and dusting off my small collection of vinyl. Let the analog audio goodness begin!

Later TK

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DRUM-OFF: Human Drummer vs. Drum Machine

There is a great bumper sticker from back in the day that reads “Drum machines have no soul”. I’ve always identified with that statement, however, much of the music we currently listen to is created with some form of electronically driven drum hardware or software. There was a time not that long ago when, outside of electronica and rap music, the rhythms created by these electro-mechanical drummers were generally used by songwriters to provide a steady and sometimes inspirational beat that helped with the writing and arranging process. Basically, the initial drum machines were not much more than fancy metronomes and you would hire a human drummer to come into the studio and record the the ‘real’ drums for the song.

This beautiful short film tells the story of an accomplished drummer who dreamed of Jazz and learned to appreciate the drum machine:

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Then, as often happens with technology, a forward thinker pushes the boundaries and technology begins to take over. One of the forward-thinkers in the realm of electronic drums/drum machines was Roger Linn whose 1980 model LM-1 featured tunable drum sounds and a ‘swing’ feature which helped standard drum patterns feel more ‘human’ by slightly moving the drum beats to play slightly behind the beat…just like a REAL drummer!

The Linn LM1 drum machine and its MANY followers changed the course of our music history…especially so for the many professionals who made their living playing drums! Drum machines became so pervasive in the pop music produced in the 80’s that many drummers were forced to put down their sticks and learn to program their own drum parts or be out of a job! Fast-forward to today and drum machines and ‘software’ drum instruments are still alive and well. As a matter of fact, in the hands of a mildly skilled composer, our current crop of drum tools can sound so lifelike that they can and do fool the ears of seasoned producers.

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THE SCORE: Captain America vs. Spider-Man

In the battle for big screen superhero supremacy, it seems that Spidey has upstaged the Captain in dollars, but despite all the musical big wigs and dream team attached to The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it seems that the lone Henry Jackman has won the battle of pure Hollywood musical awesomeness with his epic score for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Jackman brilliantly blurs the lines between sound design, dark industrial manipulations and old school orchestral grandeur. Previously a protege of the second most successful living film composer Hans Zimmer, Jackman has risen up to outshine the master in the Marvel Superhero battle. Zimmer has the experience, the dream team and the best of the best talent on board for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but Jackman’s savant like harmonic and melodic orchestral explorations combined with his seamless blending of electronic manipulations leave him the clear victor to this listener. Not surprising for someone that started composing his first symphonic piece at age 6.

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Berklee College Of Music Opens New $100 million, 16-story tower

Boston’s Berklee College Of Music has opened their brand new $100 million, 16-story building at 160 Massachusetts Ave. The Building incorporates 369 student beds and over 173 dorm rooms, a 400-seat cafeteria lobby that functions as live showcase space, 23 practice rooms, a fitness facility, and will soon house a 14,000 square-foot, 10-studio music complex that will be on par with the the biggest in the United States.

Berklee’s long standing commitment to music education and maintaining the highest levels of technical sophistication are exemplified in the  Walters-Storyk Design Group designed recording facilities that incorporate three recording studios, a live space for up to 55 artists and a mastering and discriminating listening lab. It has a suite of four music composition studios, a technology lab and a Dolby production stage – probably the only of its kind in higher education that will help al forms of post production exercises like high level mixing, sound design and the production of audio for video games and films.

Berklee now has 37 music production studios, making the College as large as the biggest and most flexible facilities in the United States.

Expect a new flood of intelligent, highly trained, musically proficient musicians, producers, engineers, composers and arrangers to be entering the job market every year!

For the entire story:

http://www.boston.com/yourcampus/news/berklee/2014/02/100-million_16-story_tower_is_berklee_college_of_musics_1st_facility_built_from_ground_up.html

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The 10,000 Hour Rule & Music

I picked up my teenage son’s ukulele the other day and without thinking, busted out some fast pentatonic Southern Rock sounding riff. I put it down and looked up to see him with a huge smile on his face. He asked me, “Will I ever be able to do that?” I laughed and said, “of course you will if you spend the same amount of time with a guitar in your hands as I have.”

 

This brought me to the thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule as it applies to musicians, composers, engineers, producer s and various content creators. My first thought was that when it comes to becoming an extraordinary musician, there is one thing that often separates the good from the great, and that is practice. Practice is often the great differentiator when it comes to instrumental proficiency and the ability to be able to express one’s self emotionally. As a guitarist, one of the most important things I learned early on was about the use of string bending and vibrato. I thought that I was playing like an old bluesman when I first started bending until I REALLY listened to some of the great players. The more I bent and used vibrato, the more I realized that every player had his own approach and style to utilizing these two tools and that many of these techniques were developed over years of practice, gigs, recording sessions and life experiences. 

 

It is estimated that chess masters often spend between 10 and 50,000 hours staring at chess positions and that basketball players that make it to the NBA on average spend a minimum of 10 or more years perfecting their craft. That brings me to the initial thought behind considering Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule as it applies to music. Most of the top composers, recording artists, musicians and “overnight” successes started their training when they were very young. Year after year they slowly gained skill, dexterity, harmonic and rhythmic knowledge and in some cases, discovered a curiosity and ability to express their emotions through music. This is very much true of commercial composers whose sole job is to have the listener amplify whatever emotion it is that the content is embodying. Having a deep enough toolbox as a composer to be able to stimulate the imagination and emotions of listeners is for the most part, a very highly refined art form. Many commercial composers (and I will include film, television, advertising, Production Music and other similar disciplines) have spent far more than 10,000 hours and 10 years to be able to express a multitude of emotions using composition, arrangements and recording and production techniques, etc., to achieve the end outcome of creating an emotionally moving experience. 

The Production Music field offers a unique set of challenges as well as an incredibly broad and freeing artistic palette. The creator often creates without picture and is given only a loose set of parameters to follow and must follow their “muse” and creativity to create deeply moving musical productions as stand alone pieces. Many Production Music composers consider this musical vertical to be one of the most challenging and rewarding as they are free to create, not based on the whims of a recording artist, but based on the needs of content creators and producers to make the most emotionally stimulating and expressive music possible. Music that celebrates joy and achievement, that recognizes sorrow and defeat and that brings out that best and the beast in all of us! Scrolling through a Production Music catalog can be like thumbing through a huge collection of emotions from the most extreme to the most quietly touching to the super sexy to the horrifyingly scary. The 10,000-hour rule isn’t an absolute by any means, but certainly is a milestone for most of those at the top of their respective musically inspired fields.

 

Music DOES Make You Happy

Music Is Good For You

It can be argued that music is a core function in our brains. Our brains are wired from the beginning to process and understand music. Yet music has always been sort of a mystery, especially since it’s not typically considered “necessary” for survival. That is reserved for the trifecta of food, sex, and sleep.

A study came out that adds another important piece of information as we continue to figure out how our brain processes music. When we satisfy our desire to eat, to sleep, or reproduce, our brain releases dopamine–the “feel good” neurochemical involved when we experience pleasure and reward.

Turns out this same chemical is released when listening to music!

Link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-musical-self/201101/why-music-listening-makes-us-feel-good

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Music supervisors for ‘Breaking Bad,’ ‘The Walking Dead’ talk song placement and music licensing

During the four years of HBO’s production of “Treme” in New Orleans, many local musicians learned for the first time just how lucrative the licensing of a song for television could be. The placement of a single recording on the show could earn an artist fees equal to weeks or months’ worth of gigs, not to mention royalties when the program aired in reruns, if the artist was registered with a performers’ rights organization such as ASCAP or BMI.

In recent years, such placements have become increasingly significant, both as exposure and as revenue streams, for independent musicians. (The Chicago-based music critic Jessica Hopper reported a lengthy piece on the subject for Buzzfeed.com that posted Sunday, Nov. 10.)

On Thursday, Nov. 14, and Saturday, Nov. 16, the Lafayette-based Catahoula Music Exchange, which shops songs by Louisiana-based artists to film, television and advertising and consults with producers in regard to licensing, convenes a group of music supervisors for panels in New Orleans and Lafayette discussing the process of selling music to visual media. Included in the group are Thomas Golubic, a Grammy-nominated record producer and music supervisor for the hit shows “Breaking Bad” and “The Walking Dead;” Joe Rudge (“Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Blue Valentine”); Andrea von Foerster (“(500) Days of Summer,” “Bellflower”); Josh Rabinowitz, the senior vice president and director of music for the global advertising agency Grey Worldwide; musician C.C. Adcock, who has composed original music for “Treme” and “True Blood,” and Jay Weigel, the former director of the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center, who has composed scores for films including “Green Lantern,” “I Love You Philip Morris,” and director Tyler Perry’s last six projects. (Adcock appears in Lafayette only; Weigel in New Orleans only.)

The discussions titled “Inside the World of Music Supervision: Placing Music in Visual Media” are free and open to the public. The New Orleans event takes place from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, at Café Istanbul in the New Orleans Healing Center (2372 St. Claude Ave.) The Lafayette panel is Saturday, Nov. 16 from 3-5:45 p.m. at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. Both events are free and open to the public.

Link: http://www.nola.com/music/index.ssf/2013/11/music_supervisors_for_breaking.html

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The Best Video Game Music Of The Last Generation

There may be no one part of a game that connects to our memories as immediately or intensely as music. Of course we remember a game’s music: Those were the melodies that accompanied us on adventures in other worlds, through trials and triumphs, through victory and defeat. A musical score exists outside of visuals and gameplay; it’s the closest thing a video game has to a scent. read more