Music


A great post on the craft of songwriting : Starting Badly, by my friend Max (his band Superchick was Steve Lilywhite’s first signing as head of Columbia Records).

My favorite section is his closing :

I believe it was Gene Simmons who said, that he writes 100 songs, out of those, he likes 10 which he plays for other people. Out of those, they only like 1. So his ratio is 100 to 1. I understand that. Music does not flow from my fingers like lightning from a God, rather music for me is born in the fields of labor where I turn over rocks and rocks and rocks looking for coal that can be forged into diamonds. When you hear one of my songs on TV, it is the product of many creative people and much time and sweat and tears. I write bad music, I really do, but if you write enough bad songs, magic is bound to happen.

Don’t wait to be good, start now. Give yourself permission to make bad art.

Don’t wait to be “good” (whatever that is, anyway)… start now.

Thanks, Max.

mervgriffin_100px.jpgMerv Griffin passed away this week at the age of 82 (nice video obit at CNN). When I review everything he’s accomplished in those eight decades, I wonder how the man ever slept.

In addition to being an actor, singer, and television host, he found a myriad creative ways to be successful in the entertainment world as well as the business world at large.

He not only dreamed up two of the most ridiculously profitable game shows of all time – Jeopardy and Wheel Of Fortune – his vast empire included everything from horse breeding and gambling to real estate and television production.

Music was also in his heart – he composed the theme song for Jeopardy, a little ditty that had earned him “close to 60 or 70 million.”

His story inspires me to stay creative, to keep pushing my boundaries, to keep trying new things.

A man who is still quite alive and relevant, Quincy Jones is someone who hasn’t let his age put a damper on his creative demons.

quincyjones_100px.jpgOne of the masters of music production of all time, Q is still pushing, still engaged in the present, still expanding his influence and reach.

The Man Himself is offering video podcasts… giving us mere mortals a glimpse behind the scenes of some of the most successful albums of all time (check out his myspace page for more, or read more about it at CNet).

He’s even gotten involved in my little niche of the music world, with a production music library of his own.

We’re given such precious few days in this life. All of us watch history passing by – very few of us make history. Take a cue from these extraordinary people and aim a little higher than maybe you have been this week.

Moby press photoSo everyone and their mother has, in the past few years (decade?), wanted to license a piece of Moby’s music for a commercial at some point. Or, if you’re not in the Ad World or the Music Biz, you’ve heard Moby behind a tv commercial or in a mall, guaranteed.

And he’s done something quite cool, on the face of it, by offering his library of music for free use in productions such as student projects, non-profits, indie films, etc. (read about it at the Burst Labs blog).

Only one problem… most of the music he’s giving away ain’t all that. I’d go so far as to say it’s boring and banal and blasĂ© and bland and, well, it kinda sucks.

Now I’m not trying to get into a “my-music-is-legit-and-your-crap-isn’t” debate, because there’s no point – and good music is good music – but even die hard fans of Moby have got to be wondering why the majority of these tracks were ever given the opportunity to see the light of day.

I’m all for giving something away, or trying something new, or attempting to make some noise through punk marketing and alternative means… but when you do, these days, you’d better offer something of quality, something people actually want.

And maybe people do want this stuff. Moby certainly gets the benefit of the doubt by being arguably the most successful licensed musical artist of all time, so many will assume these tracks are gold – or not even critically evaluate them. But can you imagine the impact this idea might have had if he’d offered actual killer new material for licensing? Instead, I’m left with the impression that he had a bunch of demos he wasn’t sure what to do with, so why not offer them on a gratis basis?

I’d rather take the time to build something extraordinary, something worth talking about, something your fans and clients will share with friends for the right reasons and with no provocation.

To have a chance of making it in this business, you have to rise above and be more than unique. You have to be outstanding, even if you’re not going to charge for it.

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For the past 10 years or so, Nick Cave turned his raucous career into quiet, beautiful (albeit dark) ballads. It’s sort of a typical phase of an artist growing old and mellowing out. I followed for awhile, and then drifted away, as I’ve still got a taste for the raucous. During this 10 year phase, I saw him on Letterman a few times, at a grand piano, telling a story I doubted the tens of millions of viewers were likely to get, or be interested in. Nonetheless, his songwriting was inspiring to me, and I trusted everything he did. I just stopped listening.

Then, along comes 2007, Cave grows a fu-manchu moustache, and starts a garage punk band called Grinderman. It is one of the greatest rock and roll albums I’ve heard in a long time, capturing the energy of his early Birthday Party stuff, as well as highlights of The Bad Seeds peak moments of intensity. Pleasantly brutal stuff, and a total surprise for him to whip this out after a decade of winding down. Genius. I’m listening again.

Who of us will have the energy for this level of reinvention when we’re the age of Mr. Cave? Who of us even has it now?

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Some of you might recognize the title of this post as the eighth article of the Punk Marketing Manifesto. It’s an obvious approach in music and business in general. Of course, everyone wants people to want more of what they do. Don’t play too long, don’t play too often, but find the balance where people’s interest remains strong enough to make them come back next time. This also applies to attitude and personal dealings – don’t oversaturate how people perceive you.

When Mark and Richard wrote the manifesto, they likely were thinking this concept through even further. It’s not just about restraint, but also about thinking of things you can do to carry people’s interest. How do you design your music, package, etc.? How do you stay in touch with your audience? How do you deal with dissatisfied ‘customers?’ How do you make people want more of what you do?

This is merely one point of a manifesto that raises questions each of us can apply to our work. Check it out.

If a guitar plays in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, was it actually played?

This quote is from a recent article in Rolling Stone about the major label record industry. It’s key to point out they’re referring to major labels. Not that independents are rising above, but it’s surprising to see they’ve acquired that much market share to put a dent like this in the industry. Daniel’s previous post identifies ways that major labels are trying to get back some of this market share by branching into clothing licensing, soft drinks, etc. Things that musicians like me (and you?) will never likely need to consider.

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