From Bathrooms to Stadiums

Justin Bieber

YouTube Launches Users From Bathrooms to Stadiums

Three years ago, if you looked up Justin Bieber on the Internet, you would find his YouTube page. Videos of him singing Brian McKnight in his bathroom were endearing, albeit a little embarrassing, and his way of perfectly emulating pop stars had viewers amazed. Despite plenty of interest, the success that now 15-year-old Bieber has is shocking. His YouTube page has been transformed into a teenage girl’s fantasy. Bieber’s photo covers the screen, and the old videos have been pushed back to make room for TV performances and shots of him hanging out with other teenage pop idols. If you look up Bieber now, thousands of fan sites and news reports come up. He was recently signed to Def Jam Records, and had to cancel a show at the Roosevelt Field Mall because the crowd was too aggressive to control.

With success stories from artists like Bieber and others, it becomes clear that a new trend is happening. Ten years ago, this kind of promotion didn’t exist, and now that it does, viewers are constantly provided with new material to enjoy. Something about YouTube puts musicians on the fast track to success with no apparent reason.

When musician Tom Goss first started off as an independent singer-songwriter in Washington D.C, he was not using YouTube. After hearing about the site from a friend, he decided to give it a try to see if it would draw larger crowds at shows. As he started getting positive feedback, he began to upload music videos and live performance footage to the site.

“I have been using YouTube for about 2 years now. In that time I’ve posted 17 videos…my video for ‘Till The End’ was promoted very effectively online,” said Goss. “In fact, I didn’t even bother to get it on TV until months later…when released it was promoted only to online sources—blogs, [Facebook], YouTube.”

The video ended up on MTV’s LOGO channel and was a Number One hit at the beginning of December. But with the increase in online promotion and faster, easier access to music through YouTube, is TV success even worth it?

“[The TV] is ‘old’ in terms of media. TV has been slow to catch up, and always will be from here forward. The boost, attention, sales, and continual revenue that I saw from the first three to seven days online has far surpassed anything that has followed,” said Goss.

Part of the YouTube advantage is the time limit on clips. Now that we have access to millions of forms of media at our fingertips, consumer’s attention spans have come to rival a gnat’s. Being able to click around and watch tons of short, different things at once lets people pick and chose what they like and don’t like. By continually adding material, artists keep the viewers coming back for more. With the rise in Internet came an interest in being interactive with others while being alone, which YouTube does perfectly.

“People’s consumption of media is continually changing…as a rule, people are consuming more media than ever before,” said Goss. “Conversely, the value per video or song continues to drop. People are generally spending less and less per item than ever before. To get someone’s attention you need a product that grabs the consumer and is on a platform that is easily accessible and familiar to the consumer and is low cost—or free. YouTube is a good combination of the two.”

Aside from the fact that YouTube is itself a promotional tool, there are people who use YouTube just to promote others. Users like Michael Buckley have gained international fame just for making videos that showcase interesting things he’s seen on the site. Getting recognition on a show like Buckley’s can end up being pivotal.

One of Buckley’s first fans on YouTube was Los Angeles musician Jake Walden. Walden has gained significant fame in the singer-songwriter genre through his videos on YouTube. On November 27th, his song “Alive and Screaming” was featured on Buckley’s show. Buckley sang Walden’s praises, saying he had a “beautiful voice.” It wasn’t long until Walden’s YouTube and Facebook pages were bursting with comments. Many of them included “sent by [Buckley]” in the subject line.

“It’s really amazing,” said Walden. “It all happens so quickly.”

Of course, YouTube certainly has its downfalls. As people’s attention spans shrink, the need for newer media at a faster rate rises. YouTube artists are forced to crank out tons of material of equal quality in order to stay on top of their game.

Listening to and watching videos does not have a financial benefit for the artist unless they eventually become famous enough to make it themselves. With websites that can rip audio from videos, the need to buy .mp3s disappears.

“Musicians will need to create more and more content, both audio and video, for increasingly lower costs,” said Goss.

YouTube gives artists the chance to compete with each other and vie for the approval of others through creativity. . Artists are expected to provide constant, good material, and the rest is up to the users. It functions like a marketing agency that does all the work for you.  Artists submit material from their own homes and come out famous.

It contributes to careers simply by launching them to their peaks in half the time it normally takes. There’s not another place where artists, promoters, and fans from all over the globe can talk and work together. The hassle of putting together press packets is deemed obsolete as marketing and booking agents just have to click a button. For Goss, he had more listeners and sales when his first music video was on YouTube than when it hit LOGO. In Walden’s case, getting a shout out from one person increased his fan base by the hundreds in less than a week.

This goes to show that acoustic/singer-songwriter and pop music seems to get the most attention. The business is dominated by those genres—YouTube forces those musicians to set themselves apart either by their music or their visuals. One would think that YouTube would put experimental or avant-garde music on an equal playing field to pop music, but that’s not always the case.

In general, acoustic and pop music is still universally accessible and prone to doing better. Michael Ghan, a New York University film student and ambient musician, has not had the same luck as Goss or Bieber.

“I upload [songs/videos] and it does absolutely nothing besides allowing my friends to see them,” said Ghan.

Obviously, not everyone finds success in YouTube. Flaming and low ratings can push a person to the depths of the site. Walden’s success from Buckley’s show shows that, like in the traditional music business, connections are key. Others get shunned despite their talent just because they aren’t interesting or creative enough—there’s a reason most YouTube celebrities have a gimmick or remarkable eccentricity—it sells. The balance between being talented and being quirky is sometimes skewed, and lackluster performers with zany personalities can get noticed before talented, but introverted musicians.

Luckily, this is not always the case. The entertainment industry has found a goldmine in YouTube that’s rich with talent and constantly growing.

YouTube success stories are unique because the people involved were made known because enough viewers thought they deserved it. Art appreciation is handle semi-democratically, and it gives listeners a chance to have a role in the creation of an established musician. A 16-year-old girl with 10 years of piano skills may not make it on American Idol, but she’s given a chance on YouTube.

The site is one of the few places left in the music business that talent and creativity can get rewarded over a big pocketbook. Despite the instances of corruption or misjudgment that comes with a public site, YouTube has taken on a critical role in deciding what art is popular or worth hearing. As long as the consumption of media continues to increase at such a rapid pace, YouTube will continue to launch new artists.

-K

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Bill T. Jones

Bill T. Jones was on the Colbert Report talking about his role in the new musical, “Fela!” “Fela!” is a biographical piece on the life of afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

Watch the video here:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/08/fela-and-bill-t-jones-shake-up-the-colbert-report/

-K

Schubertiad at Wistariahurst

In the middle of Holyoke’s dingy, post-industrial tenements stands the Wistariahurst Museum. A gem hidden in the middle of the city, the museum is lavish and ornate. The music room is full of marble columns, arched ceilings, and tapestries—it’s an atmosphere that begs for culture and sophistication, and on Sunday, December 6th, the Chamber Music at Wistariahurst ensemble provided it.

The group performed their fifth annual Schubertiad on Sunday. The ensemble is comprised of eight performers—four pianists, a cello player, two sopranos, and a baritone—but also featured several guest performers. They performed 11 songs in total, and included both familiar and rare pieces by Schubert. Schubertiads, named after Franz Schubert, date back to when Schubert and his friends would come together to play his pieces.

The opening piece was “Schicksalslenker,” which featured a vocal quartet accompanied by piano. It gave great insight into what to expect from the group—the four voices blended perfectly. No one voice overpowered another, and each vocalist had a quality of seamlessness and fluidity.

The third piece, “Moment Musical,” was a piano solo played by Edward Rosser. His interpretation was visceral and romantic, and there was a level of deliberation in his playing style that seemed to keep the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats. It was a stark contrast from the “Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A-minor,” which was played by cellist Astrid Schween and pianist Estela Olevsky. Olevsky’s playing was more free-flowing, though the piece was full of understated tension that was gripping. The two players had a rapport that created a great dynamic. Moments of call and response and variations between staccato and legato playing made the song rife with emotion. Pianist Monica Jakuc Leverett, who opened the second half of the concert, also had her own style of playing—it was authoritative and bold, but also fluttery and reminiscent of snowfall.

My favorite selection of the program was “Auf dem See,” which translates to “On the Lake” in English. It was a duet between Rosser and baritone David Perkins. The song was inspired by Schubert’s frequent nature walks, and the two musicians made that abundantly clear in their rendition of the piece. The staccato, sprightly piano part was met with Perkins’s booming but controlled voice that together sounded like a rolling river over rocks.

The concert ended with a melodrama (a recitation of a poem over music), performed by Perkins and Olevsky. Though the piece, “Abschied von der Erde,” or “Farewell to the Earth”, was certainly relevant, it didn’t showcase the talents of the group like the other pieces did. It wasn’t as hearty or satisfying as the other pieces and left me wanting more.

It was apparent that each musician involved knew the songs they were working with—dynamics were uniform and expressed the different themes and moods of each piece precisely. They performed with a confidence that was professional and refined without being haughty—they made Schubert relatable and fun. This was also due in part to artistic director Perkins, who introduced and explained several of the songs through casual anecdotes and humor. Not only that, but the repertoire as a whole was a balance between serious selections and more fun ones. Making a classical music performance into something that is accessible and without pretension makes it something a person of any age or background could enjoy, and it was disappointing to see so few young people in attendance. The Chamber Music at Wistariahurst’s Schubertiad was evocative and entertaining, and was a great introduction to the winter months that would have made Schubert proud.

(disclaimer:  all of this is honest, I swear to god I’m not sucking up)

-K

Rust and Dust review

Six dancers pour from the sides, back, and front of the stage in a flurry of movement and color. They twirl, leap, and nearly run into each other before they all fall to the floor in complete silence. Hampshire College’s student written and directed play, Rust and Dust, can be defined by its controlled chaos. Moments of sporadic, almost violent movement are met with periods of calm and stillness that leave most viewers in awe of its beauty and meticulousness, and reminiscing of their childhood and what it means to leave it behind.

Rust and Dust tells the tale of a young girl, Bess, whose active imagination leaves her constantly questioning life’s bigger questions through movement and prose. Co-directors and choreographers Kyle Zamcheck and Cassie Mills based the entire production off of personal experiences and texts—the “script” of the play is composed mainly of old journal entries written by Zamcheck’s sister and mother. After trying to write a script to supplement the texts, they realized that letting the journal speak for itself would allow for open interpretation and a more realistic look into Bess’s life. By taking personal entries that were created with the intention of never being seen–let alone performed to audiences–there is a level of intimacy and inclusiveness that one would be hard-pressed to find in a normal play.

“It’s a show about growing up, losing innocence, and learning how to cope with and learn from your desires and impulses,” said Mills.

Metaphor and symbolism run rampant throughout the play—at some points Bess’s confusion and zeal for life are very apparent, but are quickly met with a stark contrast where she is in pain, or has a distinct sense of reality. The rust aspect of the title relates to keys that litter Bess’s home. The keys, out of Bess’s reach, open doors to different rooms, which seem to symbolize new parts of Bess’s life that she’s not yet ready to enter. Meanwhile, the dust takes the form of five ethereal performers who seem to move in and out of Bess’s life, but always scatter when reality sets in. Each speck of dust represents a piece of Bess’s personality, and each one gets emphasized at certain parts of the play.

Part of the experience comes from the richness of the scenery. Costumes are multilayered, full of sparkle, deep oranges, bright blues, golds, and ranged in textures. At the start of Bess’s journey, she is covered in sparkles and layers of iridescent taffeta. As she begins to experience a loss of beauty and innocence, her costume continues to get more minimal and less fantastical. Bess’s journal was a huge, handmade book with secret pockets that revealed yards of lavish fabrics, mirrors, clippings, and little drawings.

Acting, dance, painting, video, and even baking all played a role in creating scenes. Bess’s mother, an artist, actually paints on stage. Sheets were draped and stretched on canvases that projected videos of the moon, trees, creating windows into an outside world that Bess always seemed to be moving in and out of. At one point, cast members hand out Willy Wonka-esque cupcakes for the audience—as Bess is hitting a low point and is over-indulging herself with food and emotion to the point of making herself ill, the audience is able to share with her.

“Bess’s moments of intensity and pain are also the most humorous without it being a satire, where the audience is mocking [her]…it’s more of a relatable thing,” said Zamcheck.

Burning incense and the cupcakes gave the production distinct tastes and smells. The play even incorporates different languages—it opens with the dust calling out to Bess in Hindi; then, in Spanish, and finally in English. Audience members are not just watching the play happen, they are living it alongside Bess. We feel her pain, we laugh at her jokes, and we feel what she feels.

It’s hard to say what an audience member will take from the piece—something so honest and raw is sure to affect people differently Looking at it as a traditional theatre production will most likely lead to confusion and distaste. Approaching the piece without predisposition, however, can be a very rewarding and emotional experience.

“I want it to be a pleasurable experience,” said Zamcheck. “I think a lot of people could relate to Bess in her journey…I knew I wanted this to be a show that children and adults and anyone of any age could enjoy. Younger kids could go in and see Bess as a princess because of her costume, and adults can go in and see the transient quality of that.”

Make no mistake; this is not your average theatre production. Rooted in experimental technique, the production blurs the lines between dancing, acting, and visual art. It was created with the idea of being a series of short vignettes (oriented in both theatre and dance) that would together create a narrative.

To get in touch with the emotions displayed in the story, the directors, choreographers, cast, and crew all had to be willing to improvise. Each member brought his or her own personal take to the stage, creating an atmosphere that was emotionally gripping. There was a level of collaboration and a strong attachment to the text that was visible through the cast’s bodies and expressions, as well as the costumes, set, and sound.  Rust and Dust is not necessarily about a specific plot but rather about emotions, growing, and learning.

“You really get to see how much of a chance people will take with each other when they’re in a vulnerable position and you can see what type of movement people will actually have in their bodies because they’re not focusing on physicality. They’re actually pouring out shapes and feelings. I think it was really beneficial for us to do something like that because you really get to see an intimate and true part of someone [that] they can’t hide,” said Mills.

“We [achieved] what we wanted. It wasn’t traditional dance as I think of it or traditional theatre as I think of it. It existed in a different place,” said Zamcheck.

-K

Issue Piece: Vinyl Revival

This piece in the New York Times describes the reintroduction of vinyls as a legitimate way of listening to music. Obviously, with the rise in vinyl comes to rise of turntables, and journalist Patrick McGeehan discusses this new interest in a technology that was previously seen as “ancient.”

I found this piece very informative. I thought that it addressed the phenomenon well, and clearly laid out the history of vinyl/turntables as well as the ramifications the revival has.  He engages the reader by mentioning some of the bigger artists that have been issuing records on vinyl and explains why people have been putting out and buying LPS. Interestingly enough, he contributes this interest to games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, which get younger generations interested in older genres of music that were heading the vinyl era decades back.

He also delves into the economic implications–he mentions the decline in CD sales, how much turntables are going for now, and what record labels are doing to handle the new trend.

Perhaps it is my heavy interest in vinyl (which could be called an obsession by some), but I think McGeehan hits the nail on the head in this issue piece. He covers all the bases in a way that is engaging, which makes the length of piece exciting rather than daunting.

Soundscapes of the Pioneer Valley

I’m taking a class at Amherst called PV Soundscapes. Basically, we have been going around the Valley and recording the different keynote sounds of the area, ranging from Puerto Rican jibaro music to church choirs. My partner and I are doing a radio documentary on the Estey pipe organ and their disapperance as they’ve been replaced with electronic organs.

There is some great performance footage in these documentaries and after next week we’ll have a website where you can watch all of them. The link is here. Check it out after next week to watch!

We’re having a presentation of the projects at Amherst College next Thursday, December 10th, at 4h30pm in Pruyne Lecture Hall in Fayerweather Hall. All are welcome!

-K

Classical vs Pop: The Constant Debate

Lady Gaga

Thinking of the debate between classical music and popular music always brings the same person to mind: Theodor Adorno. A musicologist and philosopher of the Frankfurt School, Adorno had a lot to say about which form of music was the serious one and which one wasn’t. To him, classical art was serious, and popular music (which roughly translates to any music you can dance to, including jazz) was not a real form of music. Popular music, according to Adorno, was all standardized and the same, and was mused merely as a way to distract less-intelligent, less-cultured listeners from their work. It’s a means of pacification and it lacks true talent.

Despite the leaps and bounds that music and music studies have made (jazz and/or popular music studies are now respected, scholarly fields), there is definitely still a stigma. Saying you’re a classically trained musician still gets peoples attention and makes them assume you’re more talented than the kid whose lessons entailed playing Beatles songs on his guitar. But the fact is, at least to me, that music is music. It has deep cultural connotations and brings together a community of music-makers and listeners, and as long as those relationships are being expressed, then who cares what the music sounds like?

There are definitely some distinct differences between classical and popular music, though. For one, classical performers simply have more at stake. The classical community has been marginalized and pushed out of the spotlight, and the people that are still playing classical music are not just providing a means to hear it, but are keeping the genre extant. On the other hand, popular musicians are working within a huge system of music and musicians, and their only challenge is to create something we haven’t heard before. I do think there is some truth in Adorno’s belief that pop music is standardized, though I don’t believe it to the extent he would want me to. There is a lot of music on the radio that sounds the same. The structure, the instruments, the voice, etc., are all the same. Popular music is a victim (or perhaps successor) of consumer-centric culture, and the songs that are mass-distributed are more like commodities than art. That’s not to say that all pop music is commodified, though, or that classical music isn’t.

In an over-generalized sense, I think that the classical versus pop debate exists, but it’s not real. We have been told to believe that classically trained means better, or that having to wear a suit to a concert instead of jeans somehow means that the music is more serious. If more classical artists were willing to include popular music themes, and more popular artists were willing to include some classical components, then people wouldn’t be so quick to affirm that there’s a rift. If you’ve ever heard Third Stream jazz, you’d know that this synthesis of genres can work beautifully, but it’s all in vain unless people believe in it. Passion is passion, and as long as that exists, then who cares what the music is called?

-K