Paramore at the Palace on November 21st, 2013

I requested the day off at work the moment I heard this show was happening and bought a ticket as soon as they became available – so to say the least – I was very excited about this show. I had often thought about how awesome it would be if Metric and Paramore toured together, and I felt as though I was somehow responsible for this taking place since I invested so much emotional energy into the idea of it happening.

Metric’s latest record, Synthetica, is certainly their best yet and has unprecedented re-listen value. Admittedly, I did not enjoy it on first listen, but it has worked it’s way into my top ten records of all time. With this love of their most recent material and a great amount of respect for the overall care with which Synthetica was produced, I held high hopes for their opening set.

Somewhat surprisingly, Metric chose to play a set of their most popular tunes. Although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I had mistakenly hoped for a more recent collection of songs. When I thought about Emily and Jimmy’s vision for Metric when it was formed, however, their song choices began to make sense.

The energy was certainly there, but Emily looked tired for some reason. She also seemed less comfortable than maybe she could have been. Her stage banter and all didn’t seem staged, which was great, but it was rather awkward at times compared to the confident displays I see in most interviews of hers. To their credit, the crowd was bigger than at most shows they’re used to playing and even Paramore’s lead singer Hayley mentioned how big the venue was. Regardless, perhaps it was the lack of facial expressions they made, but something did not seem right.  Emily’s head-banging, if you will, seemed rather robotic, and come to think of it, Jimmy’s guitar playing seemed rather stiff as well. Don’t get me wrong, their show was well worth experiencing and the only thing I wish was different about it was the length, it was much too short.

When the curtain dropped and the lights went off and Paramore came out I literally had to take a deep breath and try to remember where I was etc because the entire crowd somehow moved up thirty feet and there were people everywhere screaming. Once we all settled into our uncomfortable positions and people finished complaining about how tall I was, Hayley stepped up to the mic.

“DEEEETTOIRRRRTOOOITITTTTTTT!!!!”

For some reason I was feeling particularly disillusioned to the idea of a touring musician loving a certain city on a tour but then Hayley told a story about Papa Smurf watching their van for them outside the Shelter back in the 00’s and I believed her. I wish I’d gone to that show.

“Do you realize how big this place is?” She said, referring to the venue, of course, and then went on about how she missed us and such.

And then they played like 100 minutes of Paramore, including but not limited too their biggest hits. They made sure to include the interludes from their most recent record on Ukelele.

Symbolically, Hayley mistakenly sang the second verse first during “When It Rains.” Paramore has indeed been through a lot and this tiny error served as a reminder that Paramore is much bigger than their past and is stronger than ever, if you couldn’t tell by listening to virtually any of the lyrics in any of their new songs.  It should also be noted that it was in fact raining when this song was performed, and that Hayley played it sitting down in front of a keyboard.

She also told us, before playing “Last Hope” that when they were writing that song, she knew that there was still more left for Paramore.

Jeremy Davis delivered high energy stage presence, including his signature back flip roll thing over Taylor, or whomever happens to be next to him, along with an interesting variety of bass guitars and a cool shirt.

I had known from YouTube videos that Hayley had stage presence, but her performance transcended my conscious thought of such a thing and I was truly able to enjoy myself. As far as her outfit is concerned, (an unignorable part of any Paramore show) she sported a cool jacket during Grow Up that read “Grow Up” on the back, and the rest of the show she wore high wasted black denim shorts, an interesting mid-nineties punk-rock black-on-white eyeball patterned shirt, and fishnet leggings with holes in them, revealing her cross tattoo and whatever the other one’s are. Her hair was short, and red.

Her voice sounded older, because it is. And maybe a little bit tired, but that’s because it was. Taylor wore normal people clothes and had longer than usual curly hair.

Aaron Gillespie played drums, and this was a very awesome to experience as an Underoath fan. He brought his own twist – tastefully and unobtrusively – to many of Paramore’s tunes, old and new.

During Ain’t It Fun, some lucky kids from some high school choir got to sing the “don’t go crying to your momma” part. And during Misery Business, a lucky girl with a strap on camera and short hair got to sing the bridge. I’m pretty sure they muted her mic though because I didn’t hear a thing. She got to keep the mic though, so that’s cool.

Awesomely, they ended with Still Into You, and released butterfly shaped confetti and balloons with their symbol on them.

After Show Happenings: 

I did have the chance to speak with Jimmy after the show. It was strange to see him wearing a camouflage baseball hat instead of a fedora. He told me that Gavin Brown is clinically insane and loses everything (hard drives, files, etc).

“That man has easily wasted at least four years of my life,” he said.

He, not Gavin, did most of the production on Synthetica. He also told me that he saw me in the crowd doing the hand motions I had devised spur of the moment during “Youth Without Youth.” I then recommended the book “To Paint Is To Love Again” by Henry Miller to him.

I saw Emily, but she looked like she was not in the mood to talk, so I did not badger her.

I stayed a long time waiting in the rain for an opportunity to talk to Jeremy, Taylor, and Hayley, but alas, I was told that if I did not leave the police would be summoned, so I complied. And yes, I was the last one there. Perhaps next time I will do as my friend Samuel did at a Trinidad James show and just walk with confidence past security. Or maybe they’ll play a smaller venue.

On an unrelated note, I got lost on the way home and stopped at the Michigan State Police building to ask for directions. It was after hours but an officer came to the door and lead me in the right direction.

Less than two minutes later I got pulled over for speeding and driving with my lights off. I was borrowing my friend Luke’s car, and I had an expired license. I told him that I was lost and that I had stopped at the State Police building for directions, and I think that was my saving grace.

“Technically, I should arrest you for this, but it seems like you’re having a rough night, and you’re lost, (he had radioed the other officer to make sure I wasn’t lying) so I’ll lead you back in the direction you want to go, and don’t go any faster than 65 in this rain, okay?” (Not verbatim.)

THERE ARE NICE COPS OUT THERE

Posted in Concert Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Ann Arbor’s Ever Changing Music Scene

Ann Arbor is number one on Forbes Magazine’s 2010 list of “Top 10 College Towns,” number two on the list of “10 Great Cities For Raising Families (Kiplinger 2010),” the seventh best city in America to find a job (US News 2012), first on the list for “Communities with 100,000+ Residents for Educational Attainment (Business Journals  ‘On Numbers,’ 2011),” number six on American Style Magazine’s 2011 list of “Top Art Destinations,” number two on The Atlantic’s 2012 list of “Most E-Literate Cities in the America,” number 2 on the list of “Most Educated Cities In The U.S.” according to the American Community Survey in 2010 and number four on the Daily Beast’s 2012 list of “Most Creative Cities.” If you’re from Ann Arbor or have ever been here, most of these statistics sound spot on. Interestingly enough though, not one of these rankings have to do with music specifically. Read them again if you must.

Don’t get me wrong – we don’t need any press or rankings to know that what does come out of Ann Arbor’s music scene is top notch, but there is something to be said about the fact that it is, well, a little hidden and underrated perhaps.

One of the first things I learned about music and Ann Arbor was that Madonna went to U of M. Later I learned that Ann Arbor was once the home of both Iggy Pop and Bob Seger. Growing up, I heard about a few local bands that played atTop of The Park, but other than that, nationally touring acts that would come by to play the Blind Pig or the Ark usually got most of my attention. The music scene in Ann Arbor was otherwise very mysterious to me. I’d see posters stapled or taped to lampposts on State Street and partially torn-off stickers on various stop signs, but overall everything seemed very distant and underground. This article is an attempt to familiarize readers with the elusive, ever-growing and perhaps under-appreciated music scene that is so integral to Ann Arbor and its distinct culture.

Mayer Hawthorne – 2012 Sonic Lunch

There are multiple scenes in Ann Arbor, from folk to electronic. Here is an incomplete introduction to what’s been happening musically in Tree Town. Please listen to a variety of artists from Ann Arbor while you read this article! (I hope you like opening tabs.)

Andrew Cohen, better known as Mayer Hawthorne, is an Ann Arbor musician of importance to the world of R&B and soul. Signed to Stones Throw Records, Mayer Hawthorne throws down smooth retro music with a late sixties early seventies feel.

Andrew W.K., known today as the “King of Partying,” grew up on the same street in Ann Arbor as Andrew Cohen, Hawthorne Road. He is well know for a variety of things in the entertainment world and has written tons of hits, including “Party Hard,” which was featured most recently toward the end of the trailer for Pixar’s Monsters University. He also hosted the show Destroy Build Destroy that aired on Cartoon Network and is currently available on Netflix. Many of his songs have been used in movies, including “Old School,” “Freaky Friday” and “American Pie: Band Camp – as well as countless commercials. He has made appearances in many T.V. shows and movies and has even spent time as a self-help motivational speaker.

Meanwhile, in the world of hip-hop and rap, Ann Arborite turned Detroiter Ilana Weaver has become a very prominent female hip hop/rap artists under the name “Invincible.”

Some Ann Arbor natives who have been around longer may remember the hit single “Smokin’ In The Boy’s Room” by the rock band Brownsville Station. The song reached number three on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1974. In their day, Brownsville Station played with the likes of Ted Nugent and Mitch Ryder.  It may surprise you to find that they’re still around and touring, with their most recent release, “Still Smokin’.”

In the world of electronic music, Dabrye, a musician signed to Ghostly International, struck a deal with Motorola to put his song “Hyped-Up Plus Tax” in a commercial for the Razr flip phone. It was also made into a ringtone. Dabrye is well known for collaborating with many hip hop artists including J Dilla.

The son of the man who started Zingerman’s Bakery decided to cook up some electronic tunes under the name Shigeto, and he signed a contract with Ghostly International as well. Much to his surprise, Aphex Twin covered one of his songs in front of 20,000 people during a concert in Singapore.

Saturday Looks Good To Me is an Indie/Pop band that was formed in the 2000s and is still kicking it. They just released their latest album, “One Kiss Ends It All,” just last month.

The Ragbirds are a band from Ann Arbor that plays folk, roots and world fusion music. Their most recent record, “Travelin’ Machine,” has some of my favorite Ragbirds tunes on it – namely “The Bully.”

Now that you’ve picked something to listen to, I’m going to continue attempting to explain why you haven’t heard of as many of these artists as you should have and sneak in a few more names while I’m at it. It has been said that the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan are inseparable, and what kind of a blog post about music and Ann Arbor wouldn’t at least mention it?

One complicating factor regarding the scene and its nebulous quality is the presence of the University of Michigan. While many local bands are formed at the University and continue to immerse themselves in Ann Arbor post-graduation, most student bands remain a part of the student community exclusively and sometimes, if not often, fade out after their four years here. U of M has a music culture of its own going on.

The space between the larger musical community in Ann Arbor and the musical community among students at U of M is shrinking – just not very quickly. The University of Michigan is full of young talent, both in the music school and the other colleges, and student-run organizations provide students with every opportunity to be involved in any aspect of the business that their heart desires. Groups like The East Quad Music Co-Op and New Beat Happening host shows at various venues around campus for student bands and promote the events with fliers and the like. New Beat Happening also puts on a conference annually called Music-Con where student musicians can learn from experienced individuals about all aspects of the music industry. Groups like Music Matters put on large scale charity concerts, bringing in nationally recognized acts, supported by local artists to raise money for charity. This year’s artist was Ben Folds, and the event was a huge success. Big Ticket Productions is another student organization that brings touring artists to Ann Arbor and was responsible for bringing acts such as Lupe Fiasco and J. Cole to Hill Auditorium in the past. For those interested in the production side of things, there is the Audio Engineering Society and the Songwriting Collective – two orgs that foster student collaboration on musical projects. Other musical student groups include the Michigan Electronic Dance Music Association (MEDMA) and the university’s independent radio station, WCBN that frequently plays local music.

It doesn’t stop at student organizations, though. There are countless bands and independent musicians on or near campus. For starters, there’s Motel Model, who recently opened for Ben Folds at Hill, and fthrsn, who opened for Atlas Sound just last year.  Moon RootsRospoemTeenage OctopusThe Finer Things, Coup d’etatas, Doctor Striker, The Organs, Samn Johnson, and Pushbutton might be some of the names you’ll hear people throw around on campus. It would be hard to find a weekend where there isn’t a show going on somewhere, at somebody’s house, with a bill of two or more bands comprised of umich kids. The sheer number of musicians and bands at the University carries huge implications for the larger picture of the music scene in Ann Arbor. If the student body could somehow become more directly involved in shaping it, the potential benefits would be immeasurable. What that might look like isn’t entirely clear, and fostering an environment in which these student groups have the opportunity to achieve greater success in the community is not a science, but the conditions have been just right for many groups in the past.

 One of those groups is Nomo, whose music has been described by Rolling Stone as a combination of “motown, futuristic funk [and] avant-garde jazz.” Nomo signed to Ubiquity Records and went on to play Bonnaroo. In their time together, they released five studio albums and one EP. Today, Nomo is no more, but some of the members went on to form a smaller group called Wild Belle – who is signed to Sony and already enjoying a modest degree of success.

Ella Riot, formerly known as My Dear Disco, was another band that formed at the University of Michigan. They experienced a great deal of success – especially for an independent band – releasing two albums, “DanceThink” and “Love Child.” They eventually earned a spot on the 2009 roster for Wakarusa Festival and 10,000 Lakes festival, where they played with Dave Matthews Band and Wilco, among others. Ella Riot has since disbanded, but singer Michelle Chamuel auditioned for the Voice in 2011 and made all three of the judges press the “I Want You” button. She eventually ended up being one of the final three contestants and even Rolling Stone praised her for her outstanding vocals and live energy.

“The bespectacled, self-proclaimed geek hopped her way through Pink’s ‘Raise Your Glass’ as if she had just ‘won the lottery,’ as Blake put it. It was upbeat and energetic, and you can just tell Chamuel will hold nothing back during the upcoming live rounds.” (Rolling Stone)

While Michelle is winning the hearts of viewers on The Voice, Theo Katzman and Joe Dart, also formerly of Ella Riot, are on tour with Darren Criss. Criss has been a part of the cast on Glee and also happens to be a U of M grad. He recently has set out to pursue a solo career and stopped by Ann Arbor on June 13 this summer to play Sonic Lunch, a free outdoor concert series hosted by the Bank of Ann Arbor in Liberty Plaza. Similarly, Theo Katzman and Tyler Duncan of Ella Riot are also in the midst of pursuing solo careers.

And then there’s Frontier Ruckus. The band is signed to Quite Scientific Records, an Ann Arbor label, and they play a critical role in the folk scene in southeastern Michigan and arguably the nation. They’ve played Bonnaroo, toured across Europe and have been praised by Rolling Stone for being “the perfect recipe for Gothic Americana.”

Also signed to Quite Scientific Records is folk singer/songwriter Chris Bathgate, who has put out an impressive nine releases since 2005’s “Silence Is For Suckers.” His most recent release, “Salt Year,” got great reviews from Indie Shuffle, NPR, Fogged Clarity, Eastern Surf, The AV Club, Metrotimes and Consequence of Sound. Chris has played South By Southwest in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Tally Hall is another group with members who attended the University of Michigan. Each member wears a signature colored tie during their energetic live shows and in music videos.  Tally Hall has played South by Southwest and Bonnaroo and has released three studio albums.

Each one of the aforementioned groups is an example of why fostering the relationship between students and the larger Ann Arbor community is critical to the health of Ann Arbor’s music scene. There are countless other bands and musicians that are born at the University of Michigan, but to name them all would be a rather daunting task. Clearly, the University is one of the biggest strengths the Ann Arbor music scene has. Matthew Altruda, radio show host for Tree Town Sound on Ann Arbor’s 107.1FM put it best when he said, “The best in the world come here for a short time and they fall in love with Ann Arbor.” The city and university themselves serve as a “gravitational pull for great artists,” and as the city and university get bigger, so too will the music scene.

However, the university is a bit of a double-edged sword, and it presents many challenges to keeping the scene “stable.” According to Jeremy Peters, Ghostly International’s Licensing Manager and co-owner of Quite Scientific Records, “Part of what makes the scene so vibrant is what hurts it – being a college town, bands become popular and then decline as incoming classes of students rotate out of town.” When a huge portion of a town’s population is churning over every year, it becomes difficult for local and student bands alike to continue building a following. When a given class graduates, they’re going to be spread out all over the world and virtually no tour could be contrived to reach those folks without it being economically inconceivable.

What has to happen to keep these student bands and musicians around and ensure their success in the greater southeastern Michigan area? How can we market to a huge student population to promote local music and take the money they might otherwise use on food? Why do so many local musicians move out of Ann Arbor when they reach a certain caliber following? How can we get more people to come out and see live music? These are all challenges posed to the music scene in Ann Arbor, but they’re not crippling by any means. The scene has been growing for a while, and it’s only getting bigger every day. According to Altruda, “If it grows at the same rate as it has grown in the last five years, there will be more festivals and great nights of free live music.” He continues to explain that pondering on the details of this growth can get rather trivial and that no one really knows exactly what it will look like, but the important thing to remember is that it is growing and that won’t stop any time soon. According to Altruda, “It will make its rise, and all the right people will rise with it.”

One of the many benefits of being a musician in Ann Arbor is that for the most part, artists here look out for one another and want to see others succeed along with them. “Everyone has really done a good job of raising everyone else up,” says Matt Altruda, host of Tree Town Sound on Ann Arbor’s 107.1FM. It is not uncommon for bands to help other bands book shows, tour with one another and collaborate musically.

 

Tim Adkins, founder and publisher for iSPY Magazine, puts it this way: “[On] any given night at the Blind Pig you’ll run into a ton of artists. It’s kind of like a big family. There are those weird uncles and second cousins you don’t really talk to, but you know they’re there [for you]. We reciprocate/reflect that in iSPY by being a part of that family and helping it grow.” This family attitude is part of the reason why the future for music in Ann Arbor is so bright.

The single most important ingredient for a thriving scene, however, is outstanding music, and with so many people making music, it can be very challenging to make your music stand out.  According to Tim Adkins, “Artists need to know that being in a vibrant scene means you have to be good at your craft. Just playing in a band doesn’t warrant booking a show or that people will just show up and buy your [music] or pay $5 to see you play. You have to be better than good. There are too many ‘good’ musicians around here.”

While there are many better-than-good acts around town, if the scene is to grow further still, so too must the caliber and number of such acts.

Another key ingredient to a thriving scene is marketing. Marketing is critical and can either help build up a scene or stagnate growth. Once a musician does have a top of the line product, the next step is killing the business side of things. “Similar to entrepreneurs, artists need to know how to market themselves, build relationships and engage their audience. There’s not enough of that happening right now,” Adkins says.

Along the same line, one of the reasons it appears hard to get to know the music scene in Ann Arbor is because it is fairly decentralized. There are over ten record labels that call Ann Arbor their home, and, to complicate things, a non-negligible number of bands that are from Ann Arbor choose to sign deals with labels not from Ann Arbor and vice versa. The more inter label and inter-scene collaboration – or at least awareness, the more growth we’ll start to see. In the words of Matt Altruda, ”It just needs a touch of organization.”

All of this, however, is pointless if people in the community don’t support local artists and encourage them to continuously improve. People need to come out to shows. Altruda didn’t have much to say about low live music attendances in Ann Arbor at first. “I don’t know why the Ann Arbor culture doesn’t go out to see live music as much.” He continued to speculate that perhaps free events like Top Of The Park and Sonic Lunch have something to do with it. People may consciously or subconsciously avoid shows because they can get it all for free in the summer. We also must keep in mind that Ann Arbor isn’t exactly the biggest city in the world, either – although it grew two percent just last year. And lastly, some argue that if there were more music venues in Ann Arbor, more people would go out to see live music. Adkins disagrees. “There’s a complaint that there aren’t enough venues, but the fact is that there’s not enough people paying to see live local music.”

Whatever the cause for low attendance, it remains one of the biggest reasons many artists need to find a new home base to continue their careers. In the words of Dan Henig, a rising singer/songwriter from Ann Arbor, “Ann Arbor is a great launching pad. It needs to grow a little more in order to be the great music city it has the potential to be.” Dan plans on relocating to LA sometime in the fall of 2013, and his story isn’t an uncommon one. Theo Katzman has decided to move (back) to New York.

“Detroit [for example] has a lot of space; it’s a huge city. Ann Arbor’s a town. It’s my favorite place in the world, but I think there need to be urban – sort of like metropolis hubs – to sustain large groups of artists. There need to be more people seeing live music,” he said. He made sure to point out that his decision was a personal one and that each artist should consider what is right for their career and that he may move back later on.

“I would consider moving back because I want to prioritize the creation of my product,” he says. “I feel like I could do that easily and cheaply in Ann Arbor while still enjoying life. That’s the kind of thing that people will do more of. I’m a firm believer in ‘if you build it they will come.’”

And according to Jeremy Peters, if one or more of Ann Arbor’s own “makes it big” and decides to keep living here, “it’d do wonders for attention to the scene and [its] over-all health.” In time, there is no doubt in my mind that this will happen.

While big names are clearly important, it is the grassroots that make the biggest difference. Perhaps you’re wondering what it is you can do to contribute. Adkins says he answered that question for himself when he started iSPY magazine.

“I know it sounds cliché, but that old saying of ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ really resonates here in Ann Arbor. There are too many resources and free thinkers here to limit what can and can’t be done.”

So what can you do? Attend a live show – maybe even one that costs money. While you’re there, buy a CD or some merchandise or simply spread the word when you stumble across something cool. Cast your vote with your wallet and ears! What sound do you want to see “succeed” in and outside of Ann Arbor? Know your scene and help shape it.

Posted in Ann Arbor, Music Industry | Leave a comment

Artifice, Authenticity and Auto-Tune

The list of fans that feel betrayed upon the realization of pitch correction’s presence in a given artist’s song or album is growing longer every day. The interesting part is that many of these disappointed fans find out about the role that auto-tune plays in an artist’s career from a third party, not from noticing it in the song initially themselves. It is understandable to feel let down upon the discovery of such news – that perhaps Taylor Swift isn’t as amazing at singing as you thought she was – but it is important to approach this disappointment carefully, as it can get in the way of enjoying the listening experience. I have found it useful to stop investing emotional energy in the topic and to just listen to the music for what it is, not what I think it’s trying to be. In other words, I have carefully separated in my mind what it means to appreciate a good singer versus a good songwriter.

If this poses a challenge for you, perhaps a change in perspective would help. If you were one of those listeners who weren’t aware of the auto-tuning in a certain song or performance until you learned about it from an outside source – rather – if the auto-tune didn’t affect your listening experience the first twenty-some times around, then why would you let it do so now that you’re aware of the pitch correction? Trouble is still just as fun to belt in the car, even if T-Swift had a little help from her computer friends to stay on pitch. If you’re looking for a great pop songwriter who is also an excellent singer or vise versa, although they are out there, you may have set your expectations too high. If you’re having a hard time thinking of auto-tune as just another tool available to songwriters and producers, you may have a long and disappointing relationship with almost every genre of music for years to come.

On the other hand, some people overly glorify pitch correction and can sometimes fail to appreciate the rawness of the untouched human voice. For example, in Jon Caramanica’s article in the New York Times about vocal producer Kuk Harrell titled: “Pitched to Perfection: Pop Star’s Silent Partner,” although it’s an interesting article, Caramanica goes a little too far with his faith in this production tool. “When superstars work with Mr. Harrell, they aren’t running to the machines and away from their own voices. Quite the opposite: they’re trying to ensure that they sound as engaged and alive as possible. Paradoxical as it seems, working with newfangled technology and old-fashioned pep talks Mr. Harrell makes singers sound even more like themselves.”

The opposite of running from machines isn’t “sounding as engaged and alive as possible,” it’s running to machines, and that’s what Harrell and his clients do. And they use them to sound less like themselves and more like who they want to be. I am not making a value statement here – no music is lesser because of its use of pitch correction – I simply think Caramanica gives auto tune too much credit. Immediately after this he quotes Chris Hicks, ex-president of Island Def Jam: “We want to enhance the artist’s authenticity. You buy a Bieber or Rihanna [record] because you believe in them, and this is part of that.” My MacBook’s dictionary seems to disagree with Mr. Hicks on the definition of “authentic.”

authentic |ôˈTHentik|(abbr.: auth. )

adjective – made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original: the restaurant serves authentic Italian meals | every detail of the movie was totally authentic.

Perhaps you could make an argument that pitch corrected sound bytes faithfully resemble the original, but that is like to comparing microwavable Italian dinners to the, well, Italian ones.

Again, pitch correction is not evil, but it certainly shouldn’t be credited with making someone sound more like themselves or more authentic.

It should also be noted that there is a way to use auto-tune “incorrectly,” per say. That is, there is a time a place to use auto-tune, but it only works when used subtly (like Beiber) or bluntly (like T-Pain), and almost nowhere in between. Some producers and artists fail to use auto tune carefully and find themselves at the awkward in-between, where the intention was to make the voice sound humanly perfect, but instead – usually only for an instant – it sounds just robot enough to take away from the listener’s experience. I have found this to be true in many genres, but I have noticed it the most in rock & roll. It is also significantly easier to detect auto tune in live performances. Here are some examples of people doing it “wrong.”

Bolded words are the particularly robotic sounding ones. The links are to specific times in YouTube videos.

Adam Lazzara in Taking Back Sunday’s Error Operator (Live From Bamboozle’09)

“…we can’t go back.

Tom Delonge in Angels & Airwave’s “My Heroine (It’s Not Over)”

“…to make me grin.

Of course, there is practically no way to verify the validity of my accusations, but it’s safe to say that pitch correction was used in these examples, and I could find many more examples if I felt like it.

Posted in Musicology, Song Writing/Writing | Leave a comment

Taking Back Sunday at the Fillmore on October 7th, 2012

I bought a ticket for this show as soon as I knew I could go to it. I bought tickets before and separately from all of my friends, which was a mistake on my part because they weren’t able to get tickets near me, but I suppose I didn’t mind because a seat in the mezzanine at the Fillmore is arguably better than a seat in the balcony. Plus, there were plenty of available seats in the balcony, and there weren’t any staff members checking tickets there, so I figured if I missed them badly enough, I could go up and find a seat with them without difficulty.

Mansions opened the night, and they weren’t entirely well received, but I appreciated their music and their set was an appropriate length. Bayside played second, and although they were better received than Mansions, they played for too long. I overheard others uttering things eerily similar to my thoughts in regards to the length of their set, and I actually found myself yawning at one point, which amazed me. My mind began to wander, and I couldn’t help but notice the little ledge at the end of the mezzanine.  The idea of being on the main floor was very attractive, and so I had to investigate the possibility of dropping down from the ledge to get there.

I walked up to the ledge and sat down on it, my back turned to the stage. I looked down over my shoulder; it was about a 12-15ft drop. “I could do that,” I thought. I swung one leg over, saddling the ledge. Everyone was looking at me now. I made sure security wasn’t. I swung my other leg over. All the security guards below were looking at things on the main floor, not above them, naturally. Some people at the bar below looked my way, and at first discouraged me, but they quickly changed their minds when they considered the potential for entertainment value that was before them. As I positioned myself in the cliff hanging position and looked down, I prepared to drop.

“HEY!” yelled a security guard, “Climb back up there!” I had made a critical mistake. The guards hired by the venue were wearing black, and the people I had identified as what I thought were the only security guards, probably hire-outs, were wearing red. I climbed back up, put up my hood and sat in my seat, nervous as could be. A Fillmore staff member walked up with some questions.

“Do you have a death wish?” She said.

“No ma’am, just wanted to get on the main floor.”

“What? Well don’t do that again or we’ll kick you out.” She said.

“Okay, I won’t.” Are you serious? I didn’t get kicked out for that? I ran up to the balcony to tell my friends about what had just happened. Just as I was finishing my sentence with, “…and I didn’t get kicked out!” a large man in a uniform poked me on my right shoulder, and motioned with one finger for me to follow him. I did. As we walked down stairs into the lobby area, more and more security guards formed a little bubble around me. They escorted me to the front to talk to the boss. He stood 6’5” with a variety of tattoos and a serious face.

“What’d he do?” he asked.

“He tried to drop down to the main floor from the mezzanine.” He explained. Boss man rose one eyebrow, looked me in the face, and said:

“That’s genius, but I can’t let you back in.” He pulled out his walkie-talkie and informed the others of the situation.

“There’s a kid in a blue jacket with brown pants, he’s not allowed back in for the rest of the night.” Taking Back Sunday hadn’t even gotten on yet. I was incredibly disappointed with my situation and I was very motivated to get back in.

“Is there anyway I can make recompense for my actions?” I said, like the son of my father I am. That was the weirdest way I could have asked that.

“What?” He said, with a face.

“You know, is there anyway I could make up for it?”

“No man, sorry.” He replied. I ran to the car and pulled out my phone. I called my friend Steven and as I was unzipping my infamous blue jacket I explained the situation.

“Are you wearing a hoodie?”

“Yeah, where are you?”

“Just, can you meet me in the smoking lounge?” It was half outdoors, half indoors, with a short fence surrounding the outdoor portion.

“Yeah I guess.”

“Cool thanks.” I said and I rolled up my brown pants into shorts. I threw the jacket back in the car and ran over to the fence. Steven handed me the hoodie, and I threw it on and jumped the fence when the time was right. For some reason there were no security guards out there, and no one checked at the door my ticket. I went to the balcony, sat with my friends, and enjoyed the show. I couldn’t have asked for a better story for my first Taking Back Sunday concert.

As far as the actual performance is concerned, Taking Back Sunday destroyed expectations. John Nolan (guitarist, singer) and Shaun Cooper (bassist) had rejoined the band for their latest record (appropriately self titled), and to celebrate their return, TBS set off to do a TYAF ten year anniversary tour, where at every show they played their first album (Tell All Your Friends) in it’s entirety. This was something that many fans never thought they’d see – the original Taking Back Sunday performing their 2002 debut album.

The stage banter was genuine and unprepared, as usual (Adam told off the bar tender at one point for charging him seven dollars for a drink), and every song was played with the spirit of sincerity and honesty that makes TBS so real to so many. Of course, they found room to fit in their non-TYAF hit singles into the set, crammed back to back before playing TYAF, and they finished the concert with Your Own Disaster and The Ballad of Sal Villanueva, a bonus track from the record that was named in honor of one of TAYF’s recording engineers. After the show I had the chance to meet each one of the band members and get my copy of the record signed. All in all, it was a good night.

Here are some tidbits I learned from conversations with the band.

  • Adams favorite TBS song to date is Miami. It’s about a girl he dated at one point who was from Miami, and that’s all she would talk about, apparently. “Miami, Miami, Miami, every hour on the hour.”
  • Head Club isn’t necessarily John’s least favorite TBS song, contrary to what he’s said in many other interviews, but it is his least favorite song from Tell All Your Friends.
  • Nobody from TBS really talks to Matt or Matt or Fred anymore.
  • Adam’s allusion to Jenny in many of his songs is both a real person and a symbol. Apparently he hasn’t seen her in years, but she has come to mean something along the lines of Adam’s perfect idea of a soul mate. You might find this weird (I did) because he’s married, but apparently Misha (Adam’s wife) has a Michael too.
  • Misha has asked TBS to not play the song Catholic knees in concerts anymore.
  • John and Adam share the responsibility of writing melodies and lyrics quite evenly.
  • Mark and Eddie teamed up to make the guitar part for Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team).
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5 Reasons to be Excited for the Future of Alt Rock

1. Spencer Chamberlain

Alas, Underoath is no more. But Spencer certainly hasn’t thrown in the towel. And if you’re not a screamo fan, the good news is that the former Underoath front man is growing tired of screaming himself.

“It’s tough because we wanted to keep going and changing, but we couldn’t. I’d be tracking a song and be like ‘Man, I have to scream because I have to because that’s what Underoath is.’ I would just want to sing the whole song, because I think it would be better and then we’d end up going back and forth and coming off somewhere in between. There was another step to be made with Underoath, but I don’t think the fans would have been happy. That’s always a weird feeling to know you’re getting better, but Underoath have to be a heavy band—you have to be that. That’s what side projects are for; because you have to be that and that was maybe a part of some of the guys not wanting to tour so much—because they can’t do that anymore. You can only play hardcore or heavy metal for so long.”

Obviously there are no guarantees when it comes to the way Spencer’s new music will sound, but one of Underoath’s last two tracks, Unsound, may shed some light on the musical direction Spencer might take with his new project. There is no screaming in the entire track, and it absolutely rocks. He continues in the AP interview:

“In my mind, I’m writing stuff I want to hear and I can’t do anything with. I’m already halfway done recording it. I have 30 songs—it’s different [sounding] and some of the fans will come with me, but some of them will probably be mad at me. I made that decision when I started writing songs. I was like, ‘If I’m writing some style of music and it’s just not as good as my favorite band then I’m doing something wrong.’ So, I took all of the elements from the things that I loved and sat down and decided to make something that I want to listen to. I’ve got a lot of stuff to share with people and a lot of stuff to say. That’s as much detail as I’m going into—I am not stopping. There is another band and I’ll make that announcement when the time is right.”

2. Brand New

Upon first listen, Daisy (Brand New’s latest release) can be very overwhelming.  Jesse Lacey told one source that while he enjoys the album, it makes him anxious. If you haven’t taken the time to check it out, you may be surprised by the nature of what you hear. The band certainly takes a darker, more raw turn in each song, lyrically and musically. If you aren’t a fan of the album, or if you’re just ready for something new, Brand New has something in store for you next time around. According to Lacey, it’s going to take some back-tracking to get there though.

“When you decide to make noise and be chaotic, sometimes you sacrifice things like melody and order, and I think those things have places in our music as well. To get back there, it’s kind of like we can’t move forward, you have to move back and figure out where you left those things out and take a new course.”

The melancholy that has been so characteristic of Brand New will continue into the next record, and although the release date has not been announced, the band has stressed an urgency when the topic arises in interviews and is aiming for sometime this year.

3. Taking Back Sunday

If you don’t follow the band, you probably wouldn’t know that they’ve already released some demos that may or may not wind up on the next album. Mackey Sasser and Steve Balboni Ride Again is probably my favorite track so far. You can find the rest on Youtube and they’re also available for purchase on iTunes.

The record as a whole is still in process, in fact it’s possible that they’re writing new songs as you’re reading this. Mark O’Connell told Long Island Press that

[TBS] are going to start writing a new record in February. We are actually renting a farm in West Virginia, so it is just us five together, with no interruptions. We are all pretty excited about it.”

4. Blink 182

Tom, Mark & Travis came out with an EP called Dogs Eating Dogs in December of last year, and it immediately received positive feedback from Blink lovers all around the world. When Blink got back together in 2009, I was slightly skeptical of their ability to work as a team again after 4 years away from the game, and my doubts were confirmed upon the release of Neighborhoods, their first record in 8 years. That’s not to say that there weren’t any good songs on the album, but something didn’t seem right. Tom Delonge points to their lack of togetherness: “I think we weren’t unified as a band,” he told one source. Anyways, the new EP may very well restore your trust in Blink and the potential for their next record. They started recording in February, but nobody knows when the release date is.

“Ideally, it would be out by the end of 2013, but you never know when you get into the studio how long things are going to take,” says Hoppus. So don’t count on anything. Even when they do announce a release date, it’ll probably be changed two or three times like Neighborhoods’ release date was.

5. Paramore

You’d have to be living in a cave to not know anything about Paramore’s crazy lineup changes and all the drama that went along with them, but it looks like Hayley, Jeremy and Taylor are sticking with it, even though there were days when they wanted “to get a job serving coffee or doing something normal,” Hayley told Rolling Stone.

Their most recent single, “Now,” is available everywhere and will be one of the tracks on  the EP that’s to be released on April 9th. The album will no doubt include powerful, pop-influenced, jump-as-high-as-you-can rock.

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The Distinction Between Ethnomusicology and Musicology Should Not Be Made

As I read through David B. Pruett’s article titled: “When the Tribe Goes Triple Platinum: A Case Study Toward an Ethnomusicology of Mainstream Popular Music in the U.S.,” I couldn’t help but ask if ethnomusicology is a legitimate field of study, or rather a necessary subcategory of musicology. Pruett has a hard time defending its existence.

 “A fieldwork-based approach to scholarship, particularly in popular music studies, is one of many that frequently distinguish ethnographically-based disciplines such as ethnomusicology from other social sciences and from other music-related fields such as musicology and music theory.” (Pruett 5)

He continues by quoting Ellen Koskoff, who claims that the difference between “historical musicology and ethnomusicology is ‘Not the genres they study, where they study them, who studies them, or even the analytic and interpretative models they use, but, rather, their method of data collection – textwork versus fieldwork’ (Koskoff 2005:93)” (Pruett 5).

What? Since when does the method of data collection distinguish one field of work from another? Musicologists are no longer musicologists if they choose to go outside of their office and talk to musicians? Is a biologist no longer a biologist if he goes out into nature to do research, or is he limited to his lab?  I’m not buying it, and it doesn’t help that no one can agree on whether or not ethnomusicologists can study Western music or not.

Later in the article, Pruett admits to the ambiguity of the field distinctions: “…Given the frequent convergence of ethnomusicology, historical musicology, and music theory in the study of American music, the lines that had previously separated these disciplines have blurred somewhat.” (Pruett, 6) They’ve only blurred somewhat? Were the lines ever there? It seems to me that all musicology is ethnomusicology. You can’t study a piece of music without considering its social and cultural context.

Pruett contradicts himself later on in the article when he explains the concept of “’virtual fieldwork’, where data is collected from a distance using a computer, television, or radio” (Pruett, 5). I thought ethnomusicologists were supposed to be “out in the field” doing research, leaving the rest to musicologists. Pruett claims that this “virtual fieldwork” is “a defining aspect of a twenty-first century ethnomusicological canon.”  Are musicologists limited to print sources then, or are they just not allowed to go “out in the field?” It appears that no one really knows the difference between a musicologist and an ethnomusicologist, and the distinction seems needless, as far as I can tell.

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Pop Music

My attempt to understand (perhaps in vain) the definition (if there is one) of pop music began in the same way I would approach understanding other topics of such nature, specifically by typing “define: pop music” into Google. I was rather shocked with the result:

S: (n) pop music, pop (music of general appeal to teenagers; a bland watered-down version of rock’n’roll with more rhythm and harmony and an emphasis on romantic love)

I had to read it two or three times too. But wait! It gets better. Guess where the definition comes from! Princeton University’s “WordNet,” a “lexical database for English.” You can’t blame Google, Princeton is certainly a credible source, but man they dropped the ball on this one.

I was unsuccessful in my quest to uncover the author of this entry, and I was also unable to find out when it was written, but both of these things would probably give us hints as to the uniqueness of this particular definition.

Unsatisfied and humored, I turned to Wikipedia. They took a definitive stance on the difference between popular music and pop music, something that many people hesitate to do. In other words, according to Wikipedia, pop music has its own sound, while popular music could be anything, so long as it’s popular.

I would have to say that I agree with this approach, in so far as I agree with using genres in general. For example, Mumford & Sons is very much popular music, but to call them a pop band would be inaccurate. By the same coin, I would use the word pop to describe some music that has very little popularity.

Wikipedia takes it a step further and describes common pop instrumentation. The first listed “instrument” is vocals. The argument can be made (quite strongly) that all pop songs feature vocals very prominently. The listed instruments are overwhelmingly electronic: drum machines, synthesizers, samplers, keyboards and sequencers. The rest of the page describes pop’s origins, subgenre’s, MVP’s (including a shout outs to MJ and Madonna), and musical characteristics, with a helpful audio clip of Katy Perry’s Part of Me.

As one delves further into exploration of the genre, many questions arise. Where is the line between electronic dance music, other kinds of electronic music and pop? Is there one? I suppose we can only discuss similarities among songs and hope that people know what we mean when we say the word.

By the way, this is my favorite pop song.

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