20 September, 2013

THE STATUS OF LIVE MUSIC

I feel uniquely qualified to author this blog entry given that I've invested the better part of 40 years trying to eke out a livelihood in this business.

The music biz wasn't always difficult. When I began my career there were not that many artists in the marketplace and fewer musical styles as well. It was easier to find a commonality with the listener; easier to learn and perform songs that everyone seemed to enjoy. Many of those 'new' artists are still with us today like Santana and James Taylor and Elton John.

I suppose the first blow to live music arose from the popularity of Disco. Most disco songs were not musically interesting apart from a few breakout tunes. The true star of disco was the dancer / listener. It was their style, their moves and their need to be expressive that brought disco to the pop charts. The actual music was largely repetitive but that mattered little.

Then MIDI came along. MIDI is a technology that allows a musician to create mutli-track, digital recordings. It can be an expensive pursuit in that you need a large array of gear ( sequencers, drum computers, synthesizers, sample players etc ). Using MIDI a musician can generate drum, piano, string tracks and much more using only their own skill set. In this way a musician can literally become the only person in the band. Once you assemble enough tracks to fill up a night you're on your way. That is if you can hold your own as a personality.

MIDI reduced music to math; note 32 is a kick drum, note 33 is a rim shot, note 44 is a ride symbol etc. The music produced became ( as my friend Joe would say ) 'stiff'. We can thank disco for this looped repetition. MIDI is actually responsible for two blows to the performance of live music. The first is that we now see generally non-traditional instruments ( brass, woodwinds, percussion ) performing as solo acts. They no longer need a band as long as they have tracks performing the body of a song. And then came Karaoke...

Minus tracks. The entire body of the song is present in a karaoke recording apart from the vocals ( melody ). Again the premise is to feature the dancer / listener as the star. The end singer can sound really professional without even the discipline to learn the words! Lyrics magically appear on the video screen. A talented and prolific studio musician can turn out ( sequence ) two or three karaoke tracks a day at $100 each.

Today the sounds of music have become very complicated indeed. Countless musical genres exist in the marketplace. That's way too many popular tunes for one group or one person to embrace in a repertoise. Prolific artistic diversity. That leads us to yet another impact on live music... the DJ. A DJ requires no musical training and very little expertise. A DJ delivers the recordings of actual musicians rather like a popular event from the fifties... the 'sock hop'. A DJ was once required to haul a great, bulky, crated library of recordings so they could fulfill any request. With the advent of MP3 files all they really need now is a capacious hard drive on their laptop and a big sound system ( even the iconic 'scatching' sound is digitally sampled ). Any required musicianship is present only on the featured  recordings.

Now we have prime time 'talent' shows like 'the Voice' and 'American Idol'. Again the musicians playing live are unseen while the contestant ( read 'singer' ) struggles to impress the judges and to wow the viewer. If the reader believes these shows are popular with working musicians they would be mistaken. It's fair to say that if Bach, Beethoven and Mozart were to appear before Simon Cowell he would help you choose a winner!

And lastly we have to include the recent economic down turn. Live music has always been dependent upon patronage. It was true in the 17th century and it is no less true in the 21st century. Sometimes patrons are local pub / venue owners. Sometimes a patron is a private party or an appreciative listener who tips. Without patronage the performance of live music is extinguished. Most small venues struggle to survive. You might encounter a ( 9 pc ) orchestra these days on a ship at sea or perhaps in a gambling mecca like Vegas or Atlantic City. Symphonic orchestral music lurks sporadically on the cultural fringe.

Even iconic producer Quincy Jones has voiced his misgivings about the future of the music business. You may have noticed that plenty of newly released tunes are built around digital samples of timelessly popular hit songs. This is not an homage, this is theft.

I think we can all agree that there are few things in life better than live music. It is the rhythm of our day. A snapshot in time, a captured moment or sentiment. It gives voice to our feelings and generates an emotion uniquely individual. It's real. It's happening now... and it's very cool!

19 July, 2013

My Ode to Summer

What will you do with your summer? It's a big ol' world out there. 

Swimming, diving, camping, hiking, and don't forget sports. Perhaps it's time to work on that tennis game or try your hand at windsurfing. How about a few weeks at the lake? Snorkeling is good. Maybe you'll finally make that California trip. Branson, Las Vegas...you might even get around to that cruise vacation! Even in the old neighborhood there's plenty of community parks around!

When I was a kid ( seems like last month ) I would go to the playground on Prospect Avenue near my boyhood home... that would be in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. We had a softball team and a couple of patient college aged supervisors who taught macramé and boondoggle when they weren't breaking up some minor altercation! Anyone care for a pot holder?

On the weekends I'd  have a traveling lemonade stand in the bed of a little red wagon pulled by the younger brother. Hardly anyone would venture into my marginal neighborhood so I had to get the product out to them ( I'm actually still doing that ). In later years I had the summer job thing happening... I picked strawberries for ten cents a quart. ( I really hated that job. ) When I was old enough I had a small lawn mowing business and was actually able to buy my first guitar with the proceeds. Of course Dad had to haul me and the mower around which was not high on his happiness list.

Each year the family made it's annual pilgrimage to Roseland Amusement Park in nearby Canandaigua, NY. It was a kind of budgety Six Flags but we always had a ball. I could hardly wait till I was old enough to go on the adult rides. Dad had an old black and white Mercury with a 'merc-o-matic' transmission... the gear shift was mounted on the dashboard and the starter was on the floor. Curiously there were a number of cigarette lighter burns on the front seat... oops!

Occasionally we'd all head out to the 'cottage'. This was a small lake house built by one uncle on the 'high banks' of Seneca lake. A long rickety staircase led down a shear embankment to the shore. The water was nearly always freezing and the bottom was covered with sharp rocky shale... quite the perfect way to slice open your chubby pink toes! It was always exciting when we were permitted to drive my uncles' home made go-cart up and down the dirt access road. For some reason I always associate these days with the spice 'dill weed'. That aroma always rekindles the 'cottage day' experience.
 
Around mid-evening a street vendor would pass by selling ice cream treats. There was one street light near our house. The pavement was red brick, and the neighborhood was integrated. As often as possible we'd all try to stay out late to play 'kick the can' under that streetlight. Generally by 9 pm the sun would set. The folks would tire of that 'can sound' and call us all inside.

One night each year June bugs would hatch out ( kind of an over large ladybug ). We children, being cruel things, would do our best to swat at them with baseball bats. Once in a while we'd all go to nearby Genesee Street park and play 'Red rover, red rover, I dare you come over'! Chestnuts would fall from the trees at the end of summer and be collected just to see who could gather the most. 
 
I was a small town boy. In fact my graduation class had around 64 students. We would not have been so crowded except that our school district merged with another in the last semester thereby doubling the size of the senior class! Those summer nights meant so much to me and are one reason why I love South Florida. Now every night is a summer night! 

The heat, the beach, ( sometimes ) the strawberries... if only there was someone in this neighborhood who played 'kick the can'.

Make a memory this summer. You won't regret it!

05 February, 2013


POLITICS FOR WOMEN

It’s time for our society to realize that men are not good at politics.

We’ve seen arrogant dictators world wide ( all male ) who would rather slaughter the innocent than relinquish power. There is nary a place on the globe where males can be found who succeed as political representatives. Period. Apparently men are not very adept at governance.

Men suck at budgeting. Men can’t get along. They bicker. They posture. They draw a line in the sand. They war. They don’t say what they mean. The ‘good old boy’ mentality has been running Washington D.C. for so very long that America has been driven into the proverbial ‘ditch’.  The US government seems broken at every level. Wars, debt, poverty, cronyism, a crumbling infrastructure, a diminished economy and of course 'catering to the very wealthiest' ... the list goes on and on and on without end.

And what is the legacy? What has been accomplished? How can we Americans move forward?

Every election cycle is the same tired and rather sad story... cycle after cycle without resolution. Immigration reform, women’s reproductive rights, entitlement funding, military funding, health care reform and more and more; nothing is resolved, nothing has changed. Nothing seems to move forward. It’s enough to make you blow red, white and blue chunks as one poseur after another conjures up cheap sentiment regarding faith, mom, and / or the American dream!

The fascinating thing about this is that every male at every level in every office in every civilized location worldwide knows with certainty that it’s women who are in charge.

Women keep the home in order. It's women who manage the household budget and bring meals to the table. Women manage a family’s financial and social obligations, plan for weddings and births and deftly manage the simple niceties of gifting, networking, child rearing and basically living together. These traits are the very root of the political skill set.

A burly guy who can move the sofa is probably a poor choice for political representation. A guy who fares well on the battlefield isn’t necessarily a good legislator. The descendant of some wealthy and familiar political dynasty is not automatically worthy of your vote. Be wise and examine the true reality of a candidate’s circumstance.

A woman has the final word in physical intimacy. Apparently some of the male electorate still do not understand basic biology! And still it’s the woman who must fight for her physical rights or even to march into battle along side her male counterparts. It’s also women who most effectively comfort the afflicted.

This has been such a load of ongoing rubbish! Apparently men fear women to a great extent. And whatever man fears he wants to control. Centuries past ( in the orient ) a woman’s feet were bound and broken and so women were made to hobble. Women have been collected into harems. The Islamic world still forces women to cover themselves head to toe with the ‘burka’. Islamic women are still denied a driver’s license. Even now daughters are bartered or sold or forced into arranged marriages for the good of the family. Women and children have been murdered for only their desire to be educated. Again, this has been such a load of rubbish!

None the less our society has been blessed with male dominance. What a piece of crap this has been for modern society! Peer closely at your world and you’ll see that this is all true.

I think men have had more than a fair chance at governing and they’ve blown it. It’s troubling to say this as a guy but I think it’s time for the long winded and long serving men ( who have manipulated American policy to their great personal benefit ) to vacate the halls of power.

Men excel at the kind of testosterone fueled bravado necessary to build fires, stab prey and sear meat ( let’s call it the slash, burn and barbecue effect ). These skills of conquest, once laudable, are barely appropriate in today's political arena. Women are schooled in subtle perceptions of detail that have yet to be employed in international circles. 

Come on good ole boys, step aside!

Quotation of the Day

Followers