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Music Education

Lester Bangs: Rock Critic

If you’ve seen “Almost Famous,” the name Lester Bangs might ring a bell. Philip Seymore Hoffman, who plays Bangs in the 2000 film, inspires William, the main character, to pursue his interest as a rock critic. I had no idea he was a real person until I found his book, “Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste,” at Reader’s Corner a couple of weeks ago!

I’ve loved reading his work. Lester Bangs was perhaps one of the most influential music journalists to walk this earth. Though he was best known for his work with Creem magazine, Bangs got his start at Rolling Stone. In 1969, The prolific magazine put an ad out for reader reviews and Bangs quickly responded. Entering a scalding review on MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” he was published immediately. He went on to write for Rolling Stone until 1973 when he was fired for “disrespecting musicians.” There’s no secret as to why. His reviews could be scalding, and this is often what he got the most press for.

However, when he started working for Creem magazine in 1971, his love for underground garage music grew. Before he became editor of Creem, he helped define the term “punk rock,” speaking highly of musicians like The Stooges, Lou Reed, and Blondie in pages upon pages of writing.

What makes Bangs especially interesting to me was his unapologetic lack of reverence for rock stars. Though he obviously had a deep love for music, he never hero-worshipped the musicians in interviews. His goal was to get right down to it, right to the music.

He could even be quite radical in this viewpoint at times, going as far as sitting on stage at a J. Geils Band concert with his typewriter on his lap, furiously tapping away a review right in front of the audience. His writing, as well as his humor, were irreverent and even ridiculous at times. Despite this, his words spoke such truth that you just can’t help trusting him.

– DJ Butter

Categories
Music Education

The Issue With Streaming Platforms

It’s rare to see someone walking down the street with a Discman, boombox, or even an iPod nowadays. Subscription services like Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music have taken over the music streaming industry. Their convenience and affordability make any other music-listening method seem archaic. Remember when getting a $10 iTunes gift card was one of the best Christmas presents ever? I have a distinct memory of opening up The Black Eyed Peas’ “The E.N.D.” CD on my 9th birthday and feeling like I struck gold. I can’t even imagine being excited about either of these products now, since today we have access to every song ever made at the tips of our fingers.

Royalties & Inequality

Unfortunately, this convenience comes with a price. Recently, there’s been talk surrounding the inequality involved in the music streaming industry. As artists were forced to cancel their gigs and concerts amidst the pandemic, many realized that the royalties they made off streams were abysmal. While issues with the royalty system have been apparent for years, staying inside has made artists take a long, hard look at where exactly the money from their listeners is going.

On average, streaming services take 30% of profits from subscription fees, while the other 70% goes to record labels, who then decide how much goes to the artists themselves. Included in this “artist” category are the producers, lyricists, composers, and performers. Once this process is all said and done, the actual percentage the artists receive is incredibly low, usually around 10%-15%. Considering that Spotify and Apple Music pay creators less than $0.006 per stream, independent and mid-level artists are failing to receive virtually any profits.

How Artists Are Adapting

Besides the economical issues, there is strong evidence that streaming is also changing the way music is written and appreciated. Before Spotify, Apple Music, or even iTunes existed, the act of listening to music was generally done by sitting through entire albums. Almost all traditional forms of media, like CDs and vinyl, followed this system. This made buying music something to be cherished and deeply acknowledged, as it increased the importance of newly released albums. I’m not saying that new albums from our favorite artists are not appreciated today, but the rise of playlist-based listening has changed the way we consume music.

Now, we listen by mood, era, feeling, genre. Just last week I wrote a blog about my favorite Spotify playlists. Playlists are fantastic and easy, but they take away the element of sitting through a single artist’s LP, as we used to do with CDs and records. Consequentially, artists are making less money and streaming platforms are making more. Songs are getting shorter and choruses are coming in earlier. In other words, pop is slowly becoming the formula for producing music, as there’s less risk involved and a greater likelihood of widespread streaming.

Though it’s unlikely that Spotify is going to go away anytime soon (or that we’re going to stop using it) it’s important to be aware of how musicians are being affected by these platforms. The good news is that there still are lots of alternatives to support your favorite artists. Vinyl is making a huge comeback, and there are websites like Bandcamp and Patreon that allow you to contribute directly to independent musicians.

– DJ Butter

All sources for this blog were found in these articles from NPR and Forbes.

Categories
Classic Album Review Miscellaneous Music Education New Album Review

Whole Lotta Leaks

Well, it finally happened. After years of anticipation, memes, and leaks, the long-awaited album “Whole Lotta Red” finally dropped on Christmas morning. Playboi Carti had declared himself as Santa and donned a red appearance to match the theme of the album. However, and I say this as a true Playboi Carti fan, it turned out to be a whole lotta hype for a whole lotta garbage. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely some good songs in there. “Place” was a classic throwback to the synth-style of Carti’s music and “Go2DaMoon” sent me to Pluto. But for the most part, the album was an evolution to a new style of rap that hasn’t entirely taken hold yet. Instead of sticking to his beloved dream-like style of music found in his first album, Carti is slowly transitioning to a more grunge, pop style of rap found in songs like “Poke It Out” in Die Lit. 

One of the most asked questions from fans concerning “Whole Lotta Red” is why none of the dozens of leaked songs were found on the album. To be honest, I feel like if Carti made an album entirely out of leaks it would have blown up. However, leaks such as “Kid Cudi” and “No Lie,” for as good as they may be, hinder Carti’s ability to actually release the songs. When a song is leaked by a fan it goes against how a rapper’s label may have intended to release the song. If it doesn’t gain enough popularity fast enough or in the right way, it may never release. So while it may be possible that some leaks could have been on WLR, since they were leaked they never made it on the album. 

Although the album wasn’t for everybody, it still had some pretty good songs on there and the new direction of Carti’s music warms up to you after a few listens. Hopefully fans are still willing to stick with him in the future and hopefully we can see less leaks and more legitimate songs. 

-The DJ Formerly Known as Chippypants 

Categories
Band/Artist Profile Miscellaneous Music Education Short Stories

No One is More Cozy Than A$AP Mob

Let me paint you a picture. A group of respected men walk into a New York Corner Store. They have a little chatter with the owner, otherwise known as “Papi,” and ask for a chopped cheese, a staple New York delicacy. It differs from it’s cousin, the Philly Cheese Steak, in the distinction that the steak is chopped up along with the cheese. After a short discourse on the goods of their exchange, the conversation between the men shifts to new and upcoming rappers “acting like they’re cozy.” This facade seems to antagonize the group of men, because the new rappers are not cozy. The group of men have been in the game, working hard for years, and quite frankly it’s offensive to see these new rappers come in, “sweat-suited up,” with their cheap, off brand clothes while concurrently trying to look like the homies. They are not cozy. 

Another unnamed member of the group, who had until now kept quiet, interjects and concurs that he has also taken notice of the recent mockery. However, he goes on to describe how exorbitantly cozy he is. While these new rappers may seem cozy, the man speaking is coming through with the Playboy boxers, with the Playboy fitting, wearing old man socks with the things that hold them up (the sock holsters). He reassures the group that he is cozy and the other men seem to approve. 

While this outfit is undoubtedly cozy, a third speaker, who I can only assume to be Rocky, brings light to the situation. He shows a confidence that leaves the group thinking if they even know the true meaning of “cozy.” He uses his outfit from yesterday as an example. While a seemingly meaningless phrase, the use of the word “yesterday” implies that for Rocky to dress this cozy is nothing to him. It’s something he casually does on a daily basis. As to the outfit he wore, it consisted of the Valentino shorts with white and red pinstripes. Rocky sported a real goose down feather bubble jacket. He described it as “very cozy, warm.” Then he had the durag hanging down with the bow string slinging in the wind. It was a two toned durag, with red on one side and white on the other. Some say he was so cozy that he fell asleep before he left the house. When asked what his inspiration was he told them “global warming.” In short, he was “too cozy.” 

This is an intro to a song called “Yamborghini High,” a tribute to the late A$AP Yams. It’s one of my favorites and I think the intro was just too good not to share. 

Hope you guys enjoy, 
-The DJ formerly known as “Chippypants”

Categories
Band/Artist Profile Miscellaneous Music Education Non-Music News

Artists Who Give Back to Their Community

One thing I’ve always noticed in not only the music industry, but in celebrities in general, is how easy it is to look at them as superhumans. It’s so easy to hold them to such a high standard that we ridicule them for the slightest mistakes and turn our heads when they do something good. I decided to write an article about artists who have given back to their community, but honestly it was hard to find a lot of information about it. More often than not when artists give donations and contributions to charities it’s overlooked or just not even reported on. However, I was able to find a few whose music I thoroughly enjoy and who are actively working to make the world a better place. 

A$AP Mob
The Always Strive and Prosper Foundation was created after A$AP Yams, one of the founders of the original A$AP Mob collective, died of an overdose back in 2015 The foundation is intended to provide children with the best information available about substance use and abuse without judgement or morality to promote healthy lifestyle choices. Their main philanthropic gathering is called Yams Day, which is a music festival dedicated to the foundation. 

Mac DeMarco 
Remember all those wildfires in Australia earlier this year? I know, it seems like forever ago. But ironically enough, Mac DeMarco held a barbeque event in Melbourne which raised $210,000 to go towards Wildlife Victoria and Fire Relief Fund. Cook a pig, save a koala. 

Rihanna
The queen herself is actually one of the biggest philanthropists in the music industry. While she donates to a wide variety of charities, her biggest one is focused on the education of children and women in Malawi, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. Rihanna has helped to fight the huge disparity between the drive of the population to learn and the incredible lack of supplies and schools that are offered for children. 

Mrs. Lauryn Hill 
Lauryn Hill is perhaps the artist who most represents the idea that a community has the capability to love and heal as long as it has the right amount of support. While over her career she has donated to a wide array of charities, her most notable work was her 20 year anniversary tour of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” when she donated every single dollar earned from that tour to the MLH Foundation. This is a charity dedicated to supporting those who are fighting cancer and other serious illnesses. 

While these artists are already very well known, I thought the good work that they were able to do because of their success was something worth mentioning.

-DJ Chippypants 

Categories
Music Education

Music and Our Brains

Ever listen to one of your favorite songs and get chills down your spine? Does hearing an old track ever bring you vividly back to the time when you were obsessed with it? Do you ever find yourself unconsciously tapping, moving, and shaking to music?

The ways that music affects our brains are incredible. We’ve all heard the famous saying “Mozart makes you smarter,” but what if other music could do the same and more? Apart from being a powerful emotional release, performing and listening to music has been proven to have numerous health benefits. After traveling through our eardrums, musical sound waves hit over a dozen different parts of our brains.

Something that fascinates me endlessly is the relationship between music and memory. Music passes through the cerebellum, which is responsible for storing memory and movement. According to neuroscientist Kiminobu Sugaya, an “Alzheimer patient, even if he doesn’t recognize his wife, could still play the piano if he learned it when he was young because playing has become muscle memory. Those memories in the cerebellum never fade out.”

The link between mind, body, and music is amazing. In a study mentioned by the Harvard Health Publishing, patients who listened to music before, during, and after surgery were found to have lower blood pressure and heart rate levels compared to those without music. Even patients that listened to music while unconscious during their surgeries had similar results. Pretty unreal, huh?

Music also has astounding emotional benefits. A study completed in 2006 showed that people who suffered from chronic pain were less likely to experience depression after undergoing music therapy. Due to its ability to activate dopamine production, music can also trigger shivers, pleasure, and your fight-or-flight response.

It’s incredible how much is happening in our brains when we pop on our headphones! If you’re interested in learning more about music and neuroscience, there are tons of books and online resources to look at. To get started, here’s an interactive tool from the University of Central Florida about our brains on music.

– DJ Butter

Categories
Music Education

Women in Jazz

Ya like jazz? Yes? Well who comes to mind when you think about the smooth tones that characterized the 40s and 50s? Is it Louis Armstrong? Or maybe Frank Sinatra and Louis Prima. While all of these men were incredible singers, more often than not they outshined a whole group of female jazz artists that were just as good, if not better.

One of my favorite artists, Billie Holiday, dominated the charts back in the day. She rose to fame in a time following the Great Depression, with a new flavor of music that became known as “swing.” With songs like I’ll Be Seeing You and Easy Living she quickly made a name for herself. Her music also incorporated a strong element of the civil rights movement, with Strange Fruit serving as an emotional depiction of the effects of racism.

Another notable singer from the time was Ella Fitzgerald, who popularized scat singing through songs such as Dream a Little Dream of Me and A-Tisket, A-Tasket. Perhaps one of the biggest women in music at the time, she was also popular on the big screen, with a role in Pete Kelley’s Blues and making guest appearances on TV shows such as The Frank Sinatra and The Ed Sullivan Show.

One last artist I’d like to point out is Dinah Shore. Her melodic voice fits perfectly with the instrumental background and perfectly characterizes the aged feeling that comes from listening to this genre of music.

Each song by these artists tells a story. Some tell stories of injustice, some of hardships, and some of love. But these stories are what helped women gain a foothold in the music industry and will forever be timeless on any jazz playlist. 

Hope you guys enjoy the music, 

-DJ chippypants

Categories
Music Education

The Booms and Baps of Music Production: Getting Started

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The Booms and Baps of Music Production: Getting Started

Now that you have chosen a DAW to create music in (If not, refer to The Booms and Baps of Music Production: DAWs), it’s time to get started creating your own track. However, staring at your computer screen with a new project can be daunting, especially if you are still learning it. Fear not! These guides are meant to help you gather your footing in music production by sharing my own experiences and tips I’ve learned from the pros (aka YouTube). Whenever I look at a new project, I typically already have a genre that has inspired me. It is a good idea to start learning different genres of music and determine which one you would be most interested in. That way, you can learn the key characteristics of the genre and jumpstart your next project. 

First, I start with the chord progression or the drums. You can start with either one and many people prefer one way or another, however it is all up to you on where you would like to start. Now, some may believe that suddenly a lightbulb enters your head and then you begin creating your track as if someone inserted the instructions into your brain, but that is not really true. Most inspiration comes from experimentation. In order to create a chord progression, I have to search for the right sound and come up with an exciting pattern that I enjoy. Honestly, sometimes I am just tapping on my MIDI keyboard and playing something randomly while I’m scrolling through synth presets and end up using that. It’s even more exciting that way because it feels like it is your subconscious creation. You can do the same thing with the drums too, create a drum kit to your liking and play around with beats and rhythms that you like and remember there are no limits. Add two snares here and add four kicks here, as long as it has rhythm you have drums. 

If you’re like me though, inspiration can still be tough to find and even then, creating professional sounding music can be tough. So, services such as Splice or Loopcloud could help give you that extra edge. I personally use Splice and have found much inspiration in their catalog. Splice or Loopcloud are services that for a monthly fee (Splice is $8/month), you can peruse a collection of samples, loops, and individual notes or drum hits and download them or drag it into your DAW directly. It is very helpful for producers looking to add extra elements to their music. If you’re thinking that you’re unoriginal for using samples, then trust me, I understand. However, it is what you do with the sample that makes it yours. Plus, professionals sample audio all the time.

I would also recommend googling free sample packs and see what comes up. People are always giving away free sounds which may be part of your new hit. I hope these tips help new producers learn more about the world of music and remember, create the music that makes you happy.

-Tegan

Categories
Music Education

How to make a podcast

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Let’s Get Psyched about creating a podcast. Making podcasts is rewarding and, thankfully, pretty simple too. If you don’t have everything you need at the start I think it would still be worth it to try and make do with whatever you do have and advance what you have as you go. This way by the time you have your ~preferred~ setup your podcast has matured to the point you want it at.

Step 1: The idea & purpose

If you’re planning to start a podcast you may already have your idea going, but either way it’s worth it to do an ‘purpose’ that you write down or say aloud. This can simply be a written statement you put in the description, on your social media, or even just in your personal writing spaces. This could also be a short first episode setting the premise of what you are doing, which is what I like to do when I start a new project.

This can help both you and your potential audience have an idea of where the podcast is going and why you are doing it. Knowing why you are doing something will help keep the work cohesive, and it’s good for brainstorming. If you ever feel stuck you can go back to this mission statement and remind yourself what you’re in it for. And if you ever feel like you don’t connect with the purpose anymore you can go back and change it. This just gives an easy and trackable way to see how you feel about your content and evaluate what you’ve been doing!

Step 2: Make a sample episode

The best way to learn anything is to try it. Just sitting down and making your first episode will teach you a lot. Do you like free flowing? Does it help to have notes written up? Do you sound natural? Are your ideas coming across the way you hoped? It has always been difficult for me to listen back to old material and watch old videos, but it’s the most helpful thing you can do for yourself. 

I’ve found that scripting does not work well for me at all. I sound very unnatural if I plan my thoughts too much and it’s slightly less exciting to record that way. However, not scripting at all doesn’t work for me either. I like to have bullet points, highlights, something to guide me if I get lost in thought, but I like to keep them brief so I can be more engaged in thought while recording. They really just serve to give an episode direction and cohesiveness, but most of what I say is freehanded and I find that has served my purposes best. But there is no one way to do it and you may find something else works way better for you. The best way to figure it out is to try and learn along the way.

Step 3: Equipment

You know it makes sense this would come before 2… but anyhow the equipment needed for a podcast is simply a microphone (depending on the type you may need an interface), something to record into (laptop, computer, tablet, maybe even phone), a pair of headphones, and software for editing.

There are so many ways to do a podcast and setups can go from ‘simple and affordable’ to ‘complex and studio grade’. I use an Audiotechnica AT2020 microphone, I got it used for $50 and I got my interface (Scarlet red solo) for $70 open box. I used to use audition to edit podcasts, but since I no longer have access to that I use Audacity and reaper for recording and editing. Audacity is a free software so it’s an ideal choice for anyone starting and not looking for something too complex that is also affordable. Reaper is also pretty affordable, a license can be obtained for as little as $60 depending on the use of the software. Lastly, I use a pair of Audiotechnica M50X headphones. They’re studio quality and not too expensive at around $100, but there are definitely cheaper alternatives if you aren’t looking to spend that much. I believe the M20Xs are much cheaper and still a good choice.

Step 4: Putting your stuff out there

Publishing a podcast is also a pretty varying part. This really depends on the purpose of your podcast and who you want it to reach and how much you’re willing to pay. Publishing a podcast can be free if you use something like youtube (there are also other options), but again this is something you’ll have to do further research into because popular streaming services like Spotify and Apple music require payment for publishing. If you’re just starting publishing somewhere like youtube is a great place to start. You can gain an audience while you work on your direction and content. I posted my first episode on a free wix website before I started the ‘Get Psyched’ Podcast through WKNC and it helped me learn a lot about how I wanted to make my podcast before it went on a bigger platform.

I hope this information is useful to anyone looking to start their own podcasts. The best piece of advice I have is to just have fun with it~ Making podcasts has become one of my favorite things and further developing my podcasts mission and topics has been incredibly rewarding. I’ve enjoyed having guests on my podcasts a lot, starting to turn my podcasts into videos, and using the podcast as a way to educate myself more. There’s so much that came out of podcast making I didn’t expect, so good luck on your podcast creating journeys~

Until next time,

Let’s Stay Psyched about Podcasts,

DJ Psyched

Categories
Music Education

Beginner’s Guide to Electronic Genres

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Electronic music is one of those genres where tracks can transcend many different genres or even create a whole new niche sound. One could say that electronic music is on a spectrum where one track may flow between certain classifications but is awesome nevertheless. 

Some of the biggest electronic genres include electro, house, techno, trance, drum & bass, and dubstep. All of which have subgenres typically associated with them. This beginner’s guide is designed to explain these six main genres and fuel your own research into the crazy world of electronic music.

Electro – Inspired by the funky era of music and the 808 drum machine, electro music takes hip-hop and funk and combines it with the tempo of the likes of house music to produce an electronically based funkiness with groovy rhythms. This genre of music has come back into the underground scene as of the early 2000’s and has grown since.

House – House music got its start in the late 70s in Chicago with a focus on 4/4 time (4 beats per measure) and the “untz” sound that many casual listeners may consider as most electronic music. It is one of the most changing genres in this guide and has more subgenres than I have fingers and toes to count. Some sub-genres include progressive house, deep house, and electro-house that all deliver a fresh take on the bass-focused genre.

Techno – A Detroit-born native in the late 80s, techno takes a dystopic approach to the up and coming house music by focusing on darker, faster beats. Some of the inspiration for techno music arises from the automotive industry that was in recession at the time. The term “techno” was coined by the media to describe the new, darker sensation of house music. Techno is another genre with difficult sub-genres to classify, but overall try to stick to a darker, almost mechanical sound focusing on grit and subtle rhythms.

Trance – Trance grew in popularity in the 1990s in the US but was inspired by UK house as well as techno music from the late 80s. Trance is typically described as a focus on melodic synths and builds that seem uplifting with drops that attempt the opposite effect. Most trance music is divided into two categories: uplifting and progressive trance. Uplifting trance focuses on the emotional side of music, creating happy atmospheres that help cheer up listeners. Progressive trance draws from futuristic sounds with long, aggressive builds and slower, milder drops.

Drum & Bass – As the name implies, drum & bass relies heavily on drum rhythms and basslines to deliver a quick and dirty experience. Drum & bass is the type of music that takes after dubstep and breakbeat to create a high octane experience. Most songs in the drum & bass category typically clock in around 175 BPM and will get anyone’s heart pumping at the conclusion of the track.

Dubstep – Dubstep’s birthplace comes from UK Garage and Drum & Bass in the 90s, featuring bass that can only truly be experienced from massive sound systems. Dubstep focuses on the low-end, trying to consume the listener in bass and aggressive rhythms. Across the pond, Americanized dubstep, hailed “Brostep,” focuses on the mid-range with distortion and robotic sounds being the key characteristic. Dubstep also has inspiration from hip-hop and metal.

This is a good starting point into understanding the electronic music world but there are tens, even hundreds of different genres and subgenres that fit into the umbrella term, electronic. Even today, people are creating new sounds and new niche groups that don’t quite fit the norm of conventional genres, but that’s what makes the electronic world of music so incredible; its versatility and ever evolving nature.

-Tegan