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by Rachel Balik

5 Aug 2009

Tom Silverman, founder of Tommy Boy Entertainment and the director of the original New Music Seminar, arranged a redux of the legendary event on July 21st, 2009 to usher in, acknowledge, and anticipate the new forms that the music industry is taking. Silverman’s opening remarks set an implicit tone for the day: The drastic changes that the New Music Seminar would address didn’t just apply to the music business. He did offer many startling statistics about record sales, but he focused not just on comparing 2009 to the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s and ‘90s, but also on the year 2012. Why 2012? Partially, because according to a Mayan prophecy, that’s when the world is ending. Throughout the talk, Silvermen called upon legends, wisdom, and philosophies that seemed to be of much greater global significance than just record sales. Perhaps the heaviness comes from the fact that although things have gotten bad, Silverman’s charts suggested that there’s still room for the business to get worse. That being said, there’s plenty of room for the individual artist to make things better.

Silverman’s goal seemed to be both to instruct and inspire. Just as it wasn’t entirely clear whether citing the Mayan prophecy was mostly in jest, he also added a layer of seriousness by constantly intermittently quoting President Barack Obama. He repeated, “we are the ones we have been waiting for” a few times, with the intent of empowering the artist and encouraging musicians to stop looking to labels for help. Additionally, it was made clear throughout the day that the way the artist gets empowered is by listening to the fans. Of course, that concept is the staple of social media, and it’s a trend that is pervading society as a whole. In fact, it’s the reason why Barack Obama was so successful: He made every person in the country feel like they mattered, and as a result, they rallied behind him in unprecedented numbers.

Musicians need to follow this same trend, because it is the fans who make or break them, and it is the job of music professionals to interpret the data correctly, explained keynote speaker Courtney Holt, president of MySpace. For example, counting the number of times a song gets put on a playlist that a user shares with friends is far more important. The exhibits in the foyer served to affirm this attitude. It’s sharing that matters. It is networks that matters. Fans ultimately decide what other potential fans should hear.

Exhibits at the booths outside the auditorium exemplified this angle. One table was manned by, a site where fans can actually submit requests for artists to do shows. If enough interest generates, the site works with the artist to plan a show. Naturally, it is not a one-sided endeavor: Artists are expected and encouraged to promote themselves through as well, and rally the support they need from fans.

One of the sponsors of the event was, a seemingly more involved version of MySpace, where artists upload music and videos and fans get to rank them. Channels are created based on popularity and when artists get popular, they enter the finals, aiming to win prizes that include money, slots at concerts, and even good publicity from hot media outlets. It is created to be an entirely egalitarian, almost socialist, method of helping bands and artists gain exposure and possibly even fame. In the cases of both sites, fans are competing for popularity and success as much as the artists are. The playing field has truly been leveled in an unprecedented way: Both fans and artists are mutually using each other for different types of credibility and recognition.

And of course, that leads us back to the truth which is that no matter how the industry works, talent gets recognized, and there are more people who wish they had talent than people who actually have it. The audience at this event was largely dominated by hopeful musicians and producers looking to network, or just be recognized. Question and answer sessions after each panel were dominated by those determined to shout their own name, plug their next show, or grasp for exposure of their company. Unfortunately, these questions seemed to deviate from the integrity of the panel, and gently remind everyone, as one speaker pointed out, that you can’t “make” something go viral and there are more musicians trying to make it than ever will. The difference now is that all the music is available and everyone can produce an album. That means that in an already suffering industry, there are more alarming statistics than one can shake a drum stick at. Namely, 80 percent of artists are selling less than 100 albums, but that seems to be because over 400,000 records are being made each year.

There is a silver lining to this dark cloud, and it is that artists who sell less than 10,000 albums have seen much less of a plummet in sales than bigger artists. That means that if the small scale independent artists truly makes use of Web 3.0 tools, there is a still a chance of success. As explained in the “Fourth Movement,” your live show and tour, “you’re not descending from the clouds, you’re on Twitter.” Twitter won’t make you good, but if you’re good and you don’t need to be the next Justin Timberlake, it will give you a chance of growing. Hard work and humility dominate. Or as panelist Martin Atkins explained, “If you know that you’re fucked, you’re not. And if you think that you’re not fucked, you are.” Not only wise, but probably Tweet-worthy as well.

by Steve Horowitz

4 Aug 2009

The Wanderlust music festival began right on time as the musical/performance-art circus troupe The Muytator hit the stage promptly at 9:00 pm. The Muytator include three drummers with full drum kits, a three horn rhythm section, keyboards, guitar, ex-Oingo Boingo bass player John Avila on bass, and assortment of dancers. The act’s loud funk/ska music and showy acrobatics energized the crowd, many of whom had attended the concurrent peaceful yoga festival at the site earlier in the day.

The two most notable aspects of The Muytator’s show were the use of fire and the sexiness of the dancers. These elements frequently combined in exotic and erotic combinations as the performers would twirl lit swords and balls of fire on chains while enacting ritualized love scenes that included plenty of bumps and grinds. Despite the volume of the music, the attention was almost always focused on the sultry, if a bit purposely sleazy, performers.

While the physical use of incendiary objects got things hot, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings showed how the power of soul can get things even hotter. The Dap-Kings began the performance with some tight instrumental numbers while teasing the audience about what was coming up ahead, before finally introducing Jones and turning the flames up a notch.

Jones went through her repertoire of songs from her first two albums, with crowd pleasers like “I’m Not Gonna Cry”, “How Do I Let a Good Man Down”, “My Man is a Mean Man“, and more, all the time strutting and dancing. She and the Dap-Kings were in perfect sync, starting and stopping on a dime, as Jones would go into a tirade about the kind of respect she expected after coming home from work or the behavior she expected from someone to whom she gave her love.

Jones encouraged crowd participation and at times the audience was so loud they drowned out the amplified Jones and her band. She also called up various members of the crowd onstage, as well as the dancers from The Muytator, and had them sing and dance along with her on the steamy love songs. Even with the improvisational nature of performing with others she had not practiced with, Jones never missed a beat or a note. The 53-year-old Brooklyn by way of Georgia singer said she was worried about not being able to keep up because the show was held in the mountains, but Jones’ energy never flagged. Jones and company played until after midnight to a satisfied audience.


by Thomas Hauner

23 Jul 2009

The SummerStage double bill of Matisyahu and Umphrey’s McGee made for a wildly diverse spectrum of fans from hippie to orthodox Jew, both young and old. It’s because listening to jam bands (and the pre-requisite toke) are a definitive rite-of-passage for today’s youth—and an equally enduring nostalgia trip. Studying the counterculture legacy of their parents, they understand that jam bands are the gateway dancing music for white adolescent males. But it takes time. Naturally Umphrey’s McGee played through several numbers, like “Higgins”, which was too enmeshed with dense arpeggiating guitars, before its sound ever loosened and opened up. The same applied to the dancers in the crowd. With two prolific lead guitarists—Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger—carrying the majority of melodies and solos, their finger-twisting riffs required some etude-like passages to get their blood flowing. By “Turn and Run”, however, the group was practically on cruise control, undulating on the same wavelength and improvising with charted efficiency. They ended their set with a cover, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”—which made relative sense being the longest real song the Beatles composed.

After dismantling McGee’s enormous stage set up to clear space for Matisyahu and his gyrating hops and twists, his five-piece backing ensemble sonically slid into a soft jam before the man himself emerged. Perhaps no reputation precedes any other rising artist more than Matisyahu’s: A degenerate Deadhead turned Hasidic Jew turned international reggae and hip-hop success story. Donning a weathered red trucker hat, his vocals also took a few songs before they were entirely aligned with the band. As Matisyahu sang the incredibly catchy “Time of Your Song” he quickly brought out Nosson Zand who dropped a number of exuberant rhymes before ceding the stage to his mentor. Before Matisyahu’s performance I’d never seen a Hasidic Jew dance or spin as much to such heavy cadences. Throughout the night his band kept a precise but flexible groove, and incorporated a phenomenal conga player midway through. Hits like “King Without a Crown” and “Jerusalem” got wild cheers, but nothing compared to the response Matisyahu’s impressively huge stage dive received near the end. Matisyahu himself was equally pleased saying, “My grandpa would be proud.” So were all the young hippies.

by Kirstie Shanley

17 Jul 2009

There are almost two different Richard Swifts. There’s the poetic, melancholy Swift whose swirling songs are dreamy in the same way 1930s black and white films are. On the flipside, there’s the entertainer side more akin to an Elton John. Live, he plays this second side up and there’s more emphasis on performance and having a good time rather than dwelling in the lyrics, which is also more consistent with his newest release.

Swift has technically put out eight releases within his nearly decade long career. 2009 finds him touring on his most recent release, The Atlantic Ocean, with a full four piece backing band. Swift alternated between guitar and electric piano with accompaniment that included trumpet, keyboard, drums, guitar, and bass. Swift also whistled and played harmonica while hammering on the electric piano keys. 

Swift’s vocals were also a little more nasal live and less lush and husky than on some of his albums. Occasionally, as in “Lady Luck” they also took on a bit of soul. Gone was the sense of delicateness inherent within some of his songs and, because of this, the set took on a much different mood than a fan of his past recordings may expect, especially when referring to previous albums such as 2005’s The Novelist and Walking Without Effort. Swift appreciated the applause and came off as rather modest throughout his hour-long set and was treated to the audience clapping for an encore.

by Thomas Hauner

16 Jul 2009

The tenth annual Latin Alternative Music Conference presented a mix of new and old at Central Park’s SummerStage. Rising DJ—and founder of Buenos Aires’ ZZK Records—Él-G performed an interim set that straddled the styles and rhythms of the evenings other two acts, the Brazilian samba-funk and hip-hop artist Curumin and Argentinean Juana Molina. While Él-G even incorporated a remix of Animal Collective’s “My Girls”, much of his set was reserved and inconspicuous, as if waiting to unleash his subtropical mixes. Earlier in the evening Curumin eased into his set with a cover of Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, eventually turning up the tempo. Even though he was mostly static, singing behind his drum kit, his music was dynamic and rhythm perpetual. Both sampled and electronic melodies were woven into samba grooves and the mostly seated crowd grew restless. Near the end of his performance he played the best “Beat It” cover I’d heard in the last two weeks, transforming it into a sensual half-time lament. Juana Molina began with the opening—and title—track to 2008’s Un Dia. Gently singing the words “one day” and then looping them, she layered more vocals and then guitar passages on top before initiating the audience with more adlibbed vocals and musical yelps. Finally her bassist and drummer innocuously entered such that the song itself seemed to sublimate the casual utterances and nuances of everyday words and sounds. Over and over Molina created her signature ethereal blend of vocals, guitars, and electronics—with added bass and rhythms. Near the end of the night she played a solo song, “¿Quién?”. She wrote it after a weeklong trip to NYC years ago ended with her young daughter fearing complete abandonment, and the chorus echoes her daughter’s longing. What made many of her songs so captivating, however, was the scope of vocal textures she was able to produce and layer: Vocables, ombasure manipulation, and rhythmic variations. Paired with her music’s soft undulating cadences, her songs paralleled the night’s gentle breezes.

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