Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Robin Lane was, to this Philadelphian's ears, Boston's answer to Robert Hazard. She found her voice as a singer/songwriter but found her success as the leader of a band in the New Wave era. Like Robert Hazard and the Heroes, Robin Lane and the Chartbusters were a huge regional success. For both, the peak of fame was short-lived, but Robert Hazard was never dropped from his label because he was pregnant, unlike Robin Lane.
Her current work is even more noteworthy. Under the name A Woman's Voice, she conducts songwriting workshops with trauma survivors as a form of therapy. Carla's goal in building the event around Robin was to help spread the concept so that others can replicate it elsewhere.
In contemplating the rest of the day's discussion, I realized how much has changed since I regularly attended music industry conferences in the '90s. Back then, the standard goal for musicians was to get signed to a major label and get their songs on the radio to be successful. But with overall sales down, major labels losing their monopolies on distribution and commercial terrestrial radio losing its influence in exposing new music, the path to initial success, let alone career longevity, is no longer obvious.
The recurring theme among those who had found success was the need for reinvention, of creating and seizing new opportunities. Nini Camps built her DIY career into gigging 200 nights a year; she transitioned to the less grueling work of working on soundtracks. She commented that it has forced her to focus on the craft of songwriting, especially when she has strict deadlines. Lizzie Borden has moved on from recording for a major label to DJing on a rock radio station, among other endeavors. Kudisan Kai got a long string of work as a back-up singer for the likes of Anita Baker, Chaka Kahn and Elton John. Despite Elton's backing, she couldn't get a major label deal because the A&R rep couldn't imagine how to market a black female rock singer, but her varied background made her an ideal faculty member in voice at Berklee College.
Some existing institutions in the music industry remain effective, albeit in new ways. Musician Sonya Kitchell described how her A&R rep fills the role of a tough coach, offering outside perspective on her work and egging her on to aim higher. Brooke Primont of Cherry Lane Music Publishing described how publishers create exposure and revenue streams for songwriters through placement in movies, television and commercials.
In looking to the future, June Millington, IMA co-founder and member of the band Fanny, lamented Guitar Hero from the perspective that would-be musicians will become discouraged when they discover that learning to really play the guitar is much harder than playing the toy that is used in the videogame. Beth Tallman, General Manager of Rykodisc, suggested looking to other industries for models for success since so many of the music industry's established practices are now failing.
It is both a scary and exciting time for music. On one hand, technology such as GarageBand, MySpace and iTunes make it much easier for any musician to record and distribute their music. On the other hand, with the means of production now in the hands of so many, it is even harder to stand out in the crowd and find a sufficient audience to make a living. This was an interesting event that raised questions that could have entirely different answers in just a few years' time.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Here's the full description:
It's coming up soon, December 6th is ROCKRGRL DAY at IMA (The Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen, MA).
The day long symposium is a great opportunity for sharing ideas, strategizing and networking - creating ways to help you build a successful career in music despite the economic downturn.
Carla DeSantis, founding editor of Rockrgrl Magazine, has pulled together a fabulous group of women whose careers and expertise range cover all the bases - from music performance, songwriting, radio, recording and production; to running a label, artist promotion management and booking; to music law and publishing.
The event starts at 10:30am with DeSantis interviewing Robin Lane, founder of Robin Lane and the Chartbusters and now A Woman's Voice. Robin has a fascinating history in the music business and is taking her songwriting talents to women who need them most, trauma survivors.
Lunch will be served on the premises from noon to one followed by these panels and panelists:
1-2:30 - Are the Glory Days of the Music Industry Behind Us?
Moderator: Ann Hackler, (IMA Executive Director) - Panelists: Nini Camp (musician), Liz Borden(musician, DJ) and Norma Coates (professor, Media Studies)
2:45-4:15 - How To Make a Living In Tough Economic Times.
Moderator: Emily Lichter, (Public Emily management/promotion) - Panelists: Brooke Primont (Cherry Hill Publishing), Kudisan Kai (vocalist/ teacher Berklee) and Kristin Bredimus (promoter/ NEMO/BMA)
4:30-6:00 - Tomorrow: What Will A Career In Music Look Like?
Moderator: Leah Kunkel (artist/attorney) - Panelists: Beth Tallman (VP Rykodisc), June Millington (musician/producer/IMA cofounder) and Marci Cohen (music journalist)
The event costs $75 for adults and $50 for youth/students. Anyone who has participated in IMA's summer music program for teen aged girls can attend for $25. Scholarships are also available. To register on-line go to:
or you can send a check made payable to IMA to: P.O Box 867, Goshen, MA 01032
Monday, November 10, 2008
Let’s start with the demographics. Trent Reznor is my age. When I went to my first Nine Inch Nails show in 1990, the audience was predominantly around our age. Eighteen years later, neither Reznor nor I were exactly surrounded by our peers. This is both good news and bad news for the band. Clearly this isn’t a nostalgia act coasting on its past glories, only attracting other people in their 40s reliving their own past glories. Nine Inch Nails has continued to make intriguing music but has also cultivated fresh legions of fans, especially through interactive media that is second nature to younger listeners, and has rewarded their loyalty with things like the free download of The Slip.
But while I laud Reznor for remaining relevant with the youths, I’m concerned about his diminishing relevance with his own age group. I’m no longer angry the way I was in my 20s; despondent is now my negative emotion of choice. Reznor displayed great maturity with Year Zero, showing that he was no less angry than in his 20s but that he’d taken a much broader worldview. Rather than a myopic vision of his personal life, he channeled his energy into into a metaphorical indictment of the Bush administration. But if he’s only managing to attract younger fans without holding onto the older ones, I fear that his ongoing accomplishments will be dismissed critically, written off as the equivalent of horror movies whose shock value appeals to mainly to teens. In other words, as little better than Marilyn Manson but with a longer shelf life.
Two factors will likely save the band from that fate. The first is what a potent live show they put on. Reznor has always been a magnetic performer, seething with pent-up aggression but never cartoonish in his presentation. He radiates energy, and it never comes across as over-rehearsed shtick. The rest of the band is perfectly serviceable; they’ll never upstage the frontman, but they don’t limit him the way some of Iggy Pop’s backing bands have. Secondly, he has his undiminished skill as a songwriter and composer. “Discipline” from The Slip conveys the frayed nerves of addiction. Songs from The Fragile have astonishing layers of detail in the arrangements.
After getting the audience riled up, most notably with “March of the Pigs,” the band switched to a calmer interlude featuring several instrumental songs and a lot of mechanical, rather than electronic, percussion. Even without Reznor storming the stage, they put on quite a spectacle, mainly through the use sheer curtains of lights with an imaginative design scheme. The creations worked with the songs and amplified the band’s movements. Taken on their own, they could be a display in a contemporary art museum.
Reznor never spoke to the audience until the encore. He apologized for the show’s postponement and thanked everyone for showing up; it had been scheduled for August but Reznor had a throat ailment. And perhaps meant as a special treat to compensate for the delay, he brought out surprise guest and “old friend” Peter Murphy, for whom NIN had opened in 1990. Murphy was appropriately reptilian for his duet on “Reptile.” I would have been more excited if I actually liked Murphy. I’m fond of plenty of dramatic frontmen, but I’ve never bought his brand of drama.
Opening act Deerhunter had the misfortune of a lead singer who sounds too much like Thom Yorke and looks too much like his dorkier brother, an impressive accomplishment considering how high Mr. Yorke sets the bar.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
They opened with "Kennedy." Considering how literal David Gedge's lyrics are, often dialog-based, it is a puzzle not only trying to figure out what the song is about but also how wrote something so out of character. But the song was so exuberant that it just didn't matter. They blazed through their catalog and highlighted their latest release, El Rey. The most enthralling was "Dalliance," watching Gedge once again try to saw a guitar in half with his bare hands and seething, "I was yours for seven years/Is that what you call a dalliance?"
Although Christopher McConville's guitar playing was in fine form, the guy looked like he hadn't slept in a week. Bed head, stubble and bags under the eyes go beyond an indie rock aesthetic to merely disheveled. Gedge was his usual timeless self, indistinguishable from what he looked like in 1990 when I discovered the band except for slightly shorter hair. In my years in Chicago, I never happened upon him when he was frequently in town recording, so I don't know if he owns anything other than plain black t-shirts or if he just saves them for concerts. Terry de Castro's rumbling bass anchored the proceedings, and she looked quite stylish in a red sheath dress and brown boots.
Someone called out, "Do you know any Coldplay songs?" Gedge acknowledged that he barely knows his own songs and had to repeatedly apologize for not taking requests for songs they hadn't rehearsed until someone who was pressed up against the stage read "My Favourite Dress" off the set list. In this case "set" list also meant "fixed" rather than maleable.
The set list:
It's For You
Don't Take Me Home Until I'm Drunk
You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends
Spider Man on Hollywood
You Turn Me On
My Favourite Dress
Model, Actress, Whatever
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I have recently had reason to reflect on the diminished importance music is playing in my life. I just got back in touch with a friend I made right after college when I was often going to two concerts a week and could have almost had my mail forwarded to the Khyber. We were reminiscing about '80s British post-punk (the Fall, Gang of Four, the Wedding Present, the Mekons), and he commented that the music of his youth resonates with him more than anything current because it is the music of his youth. Then I was completing a survey from nin.com, which was only sent to me because I bought tickets at the last minute for a subsequently postponed Nine Inch Nails show, and many of the questions involved online resources for obtaining and finding out about music. I use them very little, not because I'm opposed to technology or don't like music, but because I just don't have the time to invest in them. Most of the effort I put into discovering new music lately has been for work, keeping up with what's current to purchase it for a library or review it for other librarians.
The music of your youth has two things going for it. When the world is still new to you, emotions are heightened by the lack of experience. To use a parenting example, my kids sobbed when their helium balloon popped, but I've had enough burst balloons in my life, both literal and metaphorical, to not be fazed. And when you are young and have fewer responsibilities, you're left with plenty of time to wallow in your misery or bask in your joy. Music escalate those already-volatile feelings.
Birth, School, Work, Death by the Godfathers made a huge impact on me because it was released when I was going through a tumultuous transition from school to work, about to graduate from college and daunted by the difficult prospect of finding meaningful work, not just earning a paycheck. No one writes songs about the current woes in my life, mainly that my otherwise adorable kids make me nuts at times, and I am daunted by the difficult prospect of finding meaningful work that fits with the demands of parenthood. Even if someone did record a song along those lines, I'd probably be too overwhelmed by the current demands of my day-to-day existence to discover it, let alone have it become a central part of my life the way Birth, School, Work, Death did. I'm still keeping up on music more than the average 42-year-old suburban mom, but I've accepted that I'll never return to the devotion I had as a 22-year-old.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Monday, August 04, 2008
"Can't Stand Losing You," was already quite energetic, but they upped the equation by inserting a portion of "Regatta De Blanc." The pairing of "Voices Inside My Head" with "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around" was another successful marriage. These exemplified the best of the show: incorporating both big hits with lesser-known album tracks, keeping the arrangements tight enough to maintain momentum but unexpected enough to not just offer exact reenactments of their recordings.
Sting is losing his upper register, most obviously on "King of Pain." Where other songs were rearranged for artistic reasons, his avoidance of the high notes became a distraction. "Don't Stand So Close to Me" was another awkward rearrangement, fusing the original tense version with the boring yuppie remake that bore too much of a Sting stamp at the expense of Stewart Copeland and Andy's creative input.
As moving as "Invisible Sun" was, especially accompanied by photos of children from war-torn regions around the globe, I kept thinking of "We're Sending Our Love Down the Well," Sting's parody of sanctimonious benefit songs from The Simpsons. Other songs reminded me of the members' post-Police work. "Can't Stand Losing You" brought to mind Stewart's anecdote from Everyone Stares that Sting wore his flight suit so often on one tour and they played that song so often that the flight suit could have played the song by itself by the tour's end. I had greater appreciation for "Every Breath You Take" based on Andy's description of its genesis from One Train Later. I'd always been somewhat dismissive of their biggest hit because it ironically made the least use of Stewart's unique talents. But Andy explained how the signature guitar line came to him in a flash during a tense period, and while he seemingly pulled it out of the air, it was only as a result of decades of practicing and musical exploration, culminating in a song with enduring cultural impact.
Sting and Stewart are still looking quite fit. Sting showed off his muscles in a semi-sheer close-fitting knit shirt, but his scruffy beard was too Captain Ahab. Stewart one-upped last year's moisture-wicking T-shirt with one emblazened with the Ghost in the Machine logo. But looking at their LED avatars with fresh eyes, I wondered if the dot at the end was meant to resemble a decimal point on a calculator or a goiter. Andy's physique is a bit paunchy, but he's kept his most important muscles in shape: his fingers are as nimble as ever. His South Park guitar strap was a surprising embellishment on someone not known for irreverence.
During Elvis Costello's opening set, it looked like my view of the drum riser was going to be blocked. There are few bands for whom an obstructed view of the drummer would be a massive disappointment, but fortunately, I did ultimately have clear sight lines. Stewart opened the show by hitting the gong on the secondary riser with an extensive collection of percussion instruments and ventured back there again to provide complex embellishments for "Wrapped Around Your Finger," among other songs. His percussion work pulled together so many opposing forces: playful yet intricate, athletic yet precise. He frequently abandoned used drum sticks by flinging them into the air and effortless grabbing new ones without missing a beat.
The set ended with its second encore of "Next To You." Andy returned to the stage alone, taking on a stance of mock impatience until he was joined by a boy of about 12 who came on with a bass and played with the rest of the band. I'm guessing it was Andy's son, and it was a cute gesture as the three elder statemen showed him the ropes in front of 16,000 people.
After seeing Stewart's documentary on the band and reading Andy's autobiography, it's clear that the band lived fast and died young even if the members themselves survived. They made it big through relentless touring, pausing only to crank out their five studio albums. No wonder they're planning to call it quits again at the end of this tour rather than strapping themselves back onto that treadmill.
While recording five timeless albums is no easy feat, opener Elvis Costello has pulled off a bigger challenge. Like the Police, he emerged as part of the late '70s punk scene while quickly establishing greater substance than peers who were more notable for their nihilism and wardrobes than actual talent. The Police broke up at the height of their fame, preserving their legacy, but Elvis kept going, taking the risk of diluting the impact of his initial, groundbreaking work. That he continues to earn critical acclaim and maintains an audience who aren't strictly there for his early hits is a testament to the depths of his talent. While the Police fans reserved their biggest cheers for the songs from his first few albums, he certainly had lots of fun making noise with tracks from Momofuku. My disappointment was that I didn't hear him touch 2002's When I Was Cruel, but I was also disappointed that he took the stage before his scheduled 7:30 start time, so I missed some of his set. On the style front, he earned major points for sporting a jacket in the 110% relative humidity, and he wore his scruffy beard with greater panache than Sting, who joined him for "Allison," perhaps because Sting is new to facial hear but Elvis has scaled back from his unfortunate rabbi look of the early '90s.
Friday, August 01, 2008
Walking on the Moon
Don't Stand So Close to Me
Voices Inside My Head/When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around
Driven to Tears
Hole in My Life
Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
Wrapped Around Your Finger
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
Can't Stand Losing You
King of Pain
Every Breath You Take
Next to You
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Reunited for several years with two new albums under their belt, most of the original line-up is remains intact: Peter Prescott on drums, Roger Miller on guitar and Clint Conley on bass. Volcano Suns alum (and current Shellac bassist and Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me sound engineer) Bob Weston has taken over for Martin Swopes on tape loops offstage. This was the second of a two-night stint. At the previous show, they performed Signals, Calls and Marches in its entirety. On Friday, they trotted out VS, which has recently been reissued. They warmed up with other material before embarking on their main mission, and they even announced the beginning of Side 2. They wrapped up with more songs not from that album.
This is the ideal victory lap for a band to take. While their noisiness will always limit their appeal, they have finally found the audience they deserve, and they earned respect with their spirited set. This was post-punk, not fueled by anger, but nonetheless blistering, and their was joy in their playing. They resembled Pink Flag-era Wire but without the arty affectations.
The question remains: Have they considered changing their name to Mission of Myanmar?
For the first time since moving, I was happy to live in Boston
Monday, May 12, 2008
Sunday, April 06, 2008
Saturday, March 08, 2008
This is just one of the colorful stories from Summers life. I knew he was older than his Police-mates and had achieved middling success prior to the Police, but I was unaware of just how much he had accomplished. Handed his first guitar in his teens, he fell in love with the instrument and worked constantly to improve and expand his technique. He moved to London from Bournemouth and hit the ground running. He lined up his first paid gig within days of his arrival and worked continuously for years, eventually relocating to Los Angeles. He describes the grueling pace, the influence of hallucinogens and the artistic striving for something bigger. He seems unfazed by his ease in finding work, with is own bands or joining existing ones, until it comes to an abrupt halt in the mid '70s. He spends the fallow period woodshedding, working on his craft and scraping by on a meager existence teaching guitar. He marries his second wife and brings her back to England with barely a penny to his name.
He makes a go of it as a touring guitar for hire, which provides a steady income and steady intake of alcohol but little artistic satisfaction. He eventually finds his way to the Police, where he finds his niche in the perfect confluence of factors. The band embraces the spirit and energy of punk but rejects punk's disdain for virtuosity; they struggle to find a pathway between the two extremes, retaining credibility in the punk world while carving a new sound. They tour relentlessly to all corners of the world, earning their fame one tiny audience, one dingy nightclub at a time, succumbing to the wear-and-tear of life on the road, the excesses presented them as their sales ratchet up and the rifts within the band caused by intertwined ego and artistic drive. He takes so much of the blame for his failed marriage that at times it feels that his motivation for writing the book was an extended apology to his wife. Ian Copeland's book had a more colorful description of getting their gear out of customs in Egypt, but Summers otherwise provides plenty of choice anecdotes about touring in exotic locales. His writing is so vivid, especially in the calmer moments of his life when there was less going on worth describing, that I wondered if he had a ghost writer. But I can't imagine anyone who takes such pride in his craft doing so.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
As for openers the Donnas, I wasn't that crazy about Van Halen 25 years ago, so an all-female, less debauched version holds little appeal today.
Monday, February 25, 2008
The Hives play with the Donnas at the Riviera Theater, 4746 N. Racine Ave., Chicago, on Friday, February 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Sound Opinions at the Movies, Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, 773-871-6604 at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 7.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Thursday, January 31, 2008