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Evelyn Glennie

Professional Percussionist Stresses Listening With Resonance

What's Your Music Portfolio Worth?

New game to step your music game up.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Will the Real Pandora Please Stand Up?

Everyone has been discussing the recent backlash of megastars as a result of the royalty cuts made by Pandora Radio.  Just last month, Congress held a hearing with the C.E.O. of Pandora, Joseph Kennedy, and other informed industry representatives (like Jimmy Jam, a representative for the Recording Academy).  This article discusses many negative effects of the failure to determine a fair way to set royalty rates for internet radio music play.  Pandora will pay over half of its revenue in royalties this year and the company’s stock is slowly taking a hit because of the losses.  Just on December 4th, price per share was steady creeping to $9.45, and on December 7th dropped to $7.97 (which is still better than the $7.19 per share on November 16th, when artists like Katy Perry and Rihanna wrote an open letter to the company about their “hurtful” royalty cuts).

     One could say artists making seven figure incomes could not really hurt from these royalty cuts. Jimmy Jam, on the other hand, puts the scenario into perspective for the middle class musicians who make the modest five figure income like the rest of us.  Jam claims that Pandora offers some musicians a tenth of a penny per play, which averages about $4 a year in revenue for the artist.  He also went on to say that most of the time, the artist only gets half of that revenue after the royalty is cut due to other expenses.  There really are starving artists struggling with greedy royalty cuts by such a huge company.  Apparently other large internet radio providers, like Spotify, have witnessed losses in 2011 as well (The New York Times).   

     One big question is how iHeartRadio seems to be just fine during such a testing time in the industry.  One answer might point to its parent company, Clear Channel Broadcasting Inc..  Clear Channel is able to use its massive backing from its other established subsidiaries to use internal funding (while companies like Spotify are invested by other companies like Coca Cola and Fidelity). iHeartRadio appeared much larger and more popular among artists from its inception, but unfortunately, Clear Channel is also losing money, with a net loss in 2011 of $300 million. 

     Maybe it is really time for a change in the industry.  With artists walking around throwing money, while literally everyone else and every other company struggles to make positive income, it’s easy to see where the real cuts should be made.  Entertainment is a necessity, but should it really cost the nation staggering losses in so many sectors of the industry? 


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Profitability of Music, Games, and Film

Many speculate that the mainstream music industry is witnessing an all time low point due to the change in business processes of music creation and distribution.  If one had to compare the three largest entertainment industry sectors (film, video games, and music), how would they rank the three by profitability (by amount of revenue generated)?

             In mid 2011, an article discussed the actual worth of each industry.  CBS reported the video games industry to be a $23 billion industry, while the film and music industries both lagged behind at $10.6 billion and $6.9 billion respectively.   However, this year, retail sales of video games have dropped about 20% in the U.S. according to the New York Times), so we must put this widespread decline in revenue into perspective. claims that record labels are maintaining their spending on new music despite the decline in their industry.  Major labels have consolidated, merged and even disappeared in some cases during this decline. Artists are even protesting services like Pandora that have lowered music royalty rates (read more at . So why are the video games industry and the film industry doing better than the music industry if every industry is experiencing some decline in revenue?

            Video games and films have much more to build on with each project created.  Video games are more interactive with their participants (as they should be).  Games are purchased, content is constantly updated, expansions and additions to the games are sold, websites and online communities are solely dedicated to the games, and festivals are attended (like the one to the right).  In the film industry, sequels and trilogies create loyal viewers (and sometimes critics) and communities are also built around the characters of the movies (with merchandise, video games, etc.). 

            In the music industry, however, the interaction must happen with the band or the artist for the fans to really connect.  The avenues for this type of interaction are fairly limited with mainstream music artists.  Interaction takes place in concerts, television appearances, and in the music itself.  Very rarely will mainstream artists take time to chat or tweet their fans, which creates a disconnect between the “product’s community” and the product itself.  Some artists will release free music or create countdowns for their fans to participate in, but that still does not come close to the interaction created in the film and video games industries. Sources of revenue are physical sales, digital sales, ticket sales, and sales related to artist merchandise (t-shirts, wristbands, etc). A movie and a video game usually cost a bit more than a music album as well.  Music may not ever be as interactive as the video games and film industries, but maybe if the music industry could tap into possibilities of their fan base communities more, major labels could achieve the same success as its fellow entertainment industry cohorts. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Listening With Resonance

Perusing through, I stumbled upon a musician of incredible talent: Evelyn Glennie. Dame Evelyn Glennie is a virtuoso percussionist and the very first full-time percussionist. She performs at least 100 performances a year, owns over 1800 instruments, and has received over 80 international awards, according to Cheryl Sucher of The Listener.  A descendent of Scottish heritage, Evelyn Glennie attended the Royal Academy of Music in London.  Such accomplishments are noteworthy for anyone, but it is Glennie’s “disability” that makes her story much more compelling.

     Dame Evelyn Glennie lost her hearing at the age of 12.  As a result, her percussion instructor focused her “hearing” music and pitches through feeling the sound waves with her body.  She uses her body as a resonance chamber and always performs barefoot as to accurately “hear” the pitches, textures and colors of the music.  Upon deciding to pursue a degree in music, Glennie was rejected by the Royal Academy of Music  on the basis that they could not determine the “future of a 'deaf' musician”.  Her response was if her acceptance was based on something other than ability, that would speak volumes for students that were, in fact, accepted into the academy.  She then auditioned once more, and was accepted.    Now, Glennie is a fellow of the London's Royal Academy of Music.

     Dame Evelyn Glennie’s real purpose in life, she says, is to “teach the world to listen”.  As musicians, we read the music and follow the instructions on the sheet music.  In other words, we translate the music.  But as artistic beings, we must do everything that is not on the sheet music for the piece to come to life. As artists, we do not just translate the piece, we interpret the music. 

     The deeper meaning behind Glennie’s story is that we as people often look at others and make initial ideas and assumptions about them, i.e. we “translate” them.  As people, however, we should be listening to others and taking time with them individually, in order to “interpret” them. We all do not interpret music and people in the same fashion, but as long as we listen to each other, says Glennie, we use our bodies as resonance chambers.

Want to read further about Evelyn Glennie? Read this article by The Listener or visit her website here


Thursday, October 4, 2012

What's Your Music Portfolio Worth?

How are you finding out about new artists these days? Most likely from surfing the web or from your friends.  TastemakerX is a website solely dedicated to bands and their fans. “It is a mobile, social game that enables players to build a portfolio of the artists they love, and the new ones they discover, and publish them to their social graph” according to the TastemakerX blogHere you can create your own “stock” like portfolio of artists  that you listen to, established and new.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Elle Varner's "Perfectly Imperfect"

Elle Varner’s “Perfectly Imperfect” album released on August 3rd, 2012.  She’s no where near “new” to music at all.  Both of her parents are songwriters and she actually often accompanied her parents to recording studios for sessions.  She even divulged that at a young age, her parents would even ask her opinions and suggestions on their music.  Visit her website at  Elle Varner was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the outskirts of the LA.  She attended Amazing Grace Conservatory, Hamilton High School under the Academy of Music and even received a spot in New York University’s Clive Davis Program of Recorded Music.  So understand, there’s no rookie behind “Perfectly Imperfect”, just a pearl gracefully leaving the mollusk to shine.

We all are familiar with “Only Wanna Give it To You”, her first single featuring J. Cole.  She actually started writing the song as a teenager and it’s one of her most loved hits from the album.  The clever lyrics switch from her potential interest in a guy to her obsession with shoes.  Her ability to grasp a concept and take each piece of the concept apart to create something catchy is also exhibited in her second single “Refill”. 

Her newest single release is “I Don’t Care”, paired with the video to the right. Her video shows unlikely couples, their love, and their obvious struggles.  Once again, Varner keeps substance in her music with great lyrics and composition, and reels us in for the kill with awesome melodies in her hooks. 

Her more soul-esque tracks include Not Tonight, Welcome Home, Sound Proof Room which all show off her range and skill.   

The percussion and strings in “Oh What a Night” is sick alone without her skilled vocals, and it definitely has potential to be a radio single. Speaking of strings, “Damn Good Friends” is just Elle and guitars in ¾ time.  She definitely pushes the limits and goes for what is different, yet beautiful.

“Stop the Clock” slows the album back down and utilizes awesome chords throughout the song, and the track “ticks” like a clock during her verses.  What more could you ask for?

The last and my personal favorite is “So Fly”.  This track discusses our society’s idea of outer and inner beauty.  It reminds me of TLC’s “Unpretty”.  The substance of this track overpowers the melody and the background. It’s awesome that she picked such a mellow accompaniment for a song with such a strong message and it will no doubt speak to the hearts of younger girls today. 

“Perfectly Imperfect” is a great album, with “radio” tracks to vibe to, rhythm and blues tracks to relate to, and just plain good music to hold on to. Elle Varner’s album can be purchased for $7.99 on iTunes and $6.99 on Amazon


Elle Varner's Perfectly Imperfect

Elle Varner released her new album "Perfectly Imperfect" on August 7, 2012. Album review coming soon!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Unoriginal or Extremely Limited?

     It seems like every time you turn on your tv, listen to the radio, or even hear your favorite artist’s new album, something in their song sounds strikingly familiar to you. Have you heard the song before? Is your favorite artist unoriginal or is it possible the artist is actually just musically limited?

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – Bert Lance

     We live in a time where instant gratification rules every single aspect of our livelihood. In addition, Western music (the music our culture is accustomed to) is based on seven notes in the diatonic scale. That means we essentially have twelve notes to work with in music. This means possibilities for melodic composition are broad (this does not even consider chords, progression, texture, instrumentation etc.).  But what we do not take into consideration is our tendency to want to listen to the AABA and verse/chorus/bridge song form.  AABA is one of the most common song forms according to, and it is most used in pop, gospel and jazz music.

     If song forms and other traditional processes to create music create great music, why steer away from it (besides to be an innovator or evolutionary artist, which sometimes doesn't create the biggest fan base)? Simply put, we live in a society that wants its artists to push out music now and to do so often (because of instant gratification i.e. the microwave age).  The fans value simple melodies just as much as they value the painstakingly difficult melodies, harmonies and chord progressions. So why would an artist want their music to go unappreciated when they spent so much time on the complex melodies and instrumentation? No artist wants to go on unappreciated. Prince spoke on this issue and gave his honest opinion. He said "I personally can't stand digital music. You're getting sound in bits. It affects a different place in your brain. When you play it back, you can't feel anything. We're analogue people, not digital". Prince has since stopped releasing his recorded music because it will only profit “Apple and Google” in his opinion (from A great example of the “analogue” sound Prince speaks of is Morris Day and The Time (a band Prince worked often with in the 1970s and 1980s). Here's their song “Walk”.  The riffs and intricacies of every instrument truly created a great track and you can hear a very different sound in this music and the music we buy today.


     Sampling is too often said to be unoriginal most often by people who value the music sampled.  Many baby boomers hear songs like “We are the Champions” by the Diplomats, “Otis” by Jay Z and Kanye West, “Music” by Erick Sermon, or “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey and feel as though music artists today have no originality. (These examples include samples from Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Tom Tom Club, and Queen.) In reality, many artists sample because they respect the music/artist sampled or they want to pay homage.  If all a rapper heard blasting in his mom’s house as a kid was Marvin Gaye, those memories are forever imprinted in that rapper's mind.  They hold that music close to their heart.  It reminds them of family, of childhood, and of good times.  Believe it or not, music artists and producers do endure a lengthy process to “clear” a song for creative use according to

     In all honesty, the instances of similarity amongst popular music today are numerous because we collectively have allowed them to be.  If we praise and buy the albums of artists who use a four chord progression in every song, other artists may feel our culture does not want to hear complex music. So they “give the people want they want” so to speak. Maybe it is a never ending cycle. 
Bottom line is music should evoke feelings.  As long as it does, people will listen, regardless of its complexity, its writer, its recording quality, etc.  To end lightheartedly, get lost in the Axis of Awesome’s music video on pop music’s common four chord progression: I V vi IV.

check out Axis of Awesome here!

The Alter Ego of the True Artist

“Hip-hop avoids extinction by reinventing itself and challenging convention”.“Eminem primarily uses his alter-ego Slim Shady to manufacture this aura (a credible and indestructible aura).  Slim Shady is someone inaccessible and elusive, someone highly valued but who is also both deceptive and untouchable” according to this scholarly paper. Marcia Dawkins proceeds to conclude that Eminem has created success for himself by using an alter-ego.  “At times that call for serious and contemplative biographical speech aimed at white males, he refers to himself by his birth name, Marshall Mathers.  At times when he negates or excludes hip-hop Others (e.g., homosexuals, women, himself, and other white men) he invokes humor and horror, often dresses in drag, and always inhabits his alter-ego pop persona of Slim Shady. In battle raps, hip-hop’s traditional rhetorical situations in which he struggles for street credibility and is the Other, he refers to himself as Eminem". This gives Eminem multiple dimensions and maybe even allows for different types of people to relate to him on different levels, therefore creating increased potential for success and record sales.
Many of you might be thinking “this sounds extremely familiar”.  Nicki Minaj seems to have successfully mastered this concept of alter-egos with her rap career as well.  Cookie, Nicki Minaj, Nicki the Harajuku Barbie, and Roman Zolanski, her twin brother, are all alter-egos that the megastar has discussed in countless interviews.  These many alter-egos have allowed for her to reach various audiences in the market from teenage girls (Barbie) to middle-aged men.  What a great way to create a group of people (boy/girl band) without having to share royalty checks with them all and later declare bankruptcy after major label advances need to be repaid.
 Lady Gaga has been said to appear as Jo Calderone as her alter-ego.  Many have guessed Bob Dylan or Bob Geldof, but her true alter-ego is said to be French singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg according to this article. This individual brands himself often with “the cigarette, unkempt hair, stubble, and sideburns”. This performer often pushed the envelope much like Gaga. International Business Times goes on further to describe a life very similar to Gaga’s for Gainsbourg, where he worked at a bar before he recorded his first debut in 1958.  It took 10 years for him to top charts and be recognized for his art.  If anyone has read up on Gaga’s story, they would find out that she too worked in a bar before being discovered. So we can see why Lady Gaga would choose such a fitting alter-ego to portray. 
Let’s not forget the most popular alter-ego of today’s music, Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce.  Sasha Fierce was created by Beyonce and is said to be her persona while on stage, especially after her last World Tour in 2009.  Sasha Fierce was created to protect the “real Beyonce” while at work.  This is much different from Mariah Carey’s emancipation of Mimi, also discussed in this article, which was created to release the “real Mariah Carey”, the fun side of Mariah Carey. 
Whatever the purpose of the alter-ego, it almost always seems to help the career of the individual "temporarily altered".  Spectators can't seem to get enough of entertainers who claim to house an alter-ego, always looking to sneak a peak of it unexpectedly. Even recently, Adele has revealed her Beyonce-inspired alter ego, Sasha Carter. We all know that Adele needs no help in her career at the moment, but one article says she uses hers to psych herself up right before her shows. Maybe in order tap into an incredible artist within you, a transformation must knowingly take place.  Whether or not it is an alter-ego does not matter; Michael Jackson was one of the greatest entertainers on Earth, but he didn’t have to coin himself an alter-ego for people to understand, we just knew that Michael onstage was different from Michael off the stage