Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lecture notes on Fan Funding

The Internet has always held lots of promises for musicians. In theory they can communicate directly with the fans, using social media sites like MySpace (a failure), Bandcamp (more successful) or Facebook. The problem though, has been turning likes into bucks. For a long time prescence on the Net was almost synonymous with putting up your music for free, getting virtually nothing back. But now things are changing.

In a lecture for my music history students today, I spent some time talking about so-called fan funding, or crowdfunding for music, and this post is a summary of some of the points from this lecture.

Crowdfunding, a paralell to the crowdsourcing that has given us for instance Wikipedia, has been around for some years, but has mainly had its impact in software development and technology. The arts are slowly coming to grips with the potentials. A great success story which often is told is about Amanda Palmer, one of my favorite artists, who in a kickstarter.com campaign to finance her new album Theatre is Evil asked for $100 000, but got $1,2 million (!!).


Palmer also had huge success with other campaigns.


In Norway the campaign to fund the follow up to the famous computer game Dreamfall is well known.  By the way - this is both a story of a successful funding campaign and the story of a failed product. The two aren'n necessarily the same.


Success rates

This kind of success stories are frequent on the net. What is not so frequent are overviews over actual success rates for these kinds of projects. If we are to believe Kickstraters own stats, the success-rate is rather high, but I've not seen any proper overviews on this matter. Thoughts and perspectives will be highly appreciated!


To compare: In the old days of record business, various sources tell about success rates around 10% (i.e. Frith 2001). This means that 90% of all musical projects were financial failures. The music business survived only because of incredible profit from the top 10%. Today the success rate is even lower. An article I read yesterday claimed that only 1500 songs out of 8 million published generated 40% of the turnover in the American music business. That's incredibly low! Some analysts claim that the relationsip isn't any more 90:10 but rather 90:1.


Our case: Keldian

In the lecture I had invited Chris from the power metal band Keldian to talk about their experience with the fan funding of their third album (to be released in two days!). Keldian might not be a particularly innovative band, but it is firmly placed in the melodic metal tradition. The music is well played, well sung, well produced and any potential criticism for lack of novelty is countered with memorable melodies, good arrangements and lots of energy.



Keldian released their first two album in "the normal way" putting out CDs on an international label (Perris Records) targeting the heavy metal audience. With these albums, especially Journey of Souls from 2008, they built up a fan base and gained recognition in the heavy metal community.

A Keldian pumpkin made by a fan in Illinois, anticipating the release of Outbound on Halloween.

After some years of silence they wanted to put out a third album, Outbound, but by this time the marked had changed. Even among heavy metallers fewer people bought CDs, and it got harder to cover the costs for recording a high quality album. Keldian felt this strongly since they're not a touring band, and thus could not counter the lessened income from recordings with higher concert prices.

In early 2013 the band got introduced to indiegogo.com, another crowdfunding site, and started out a campaign for their third album. They had put up a modest goal ($4200 - in order to cover drum recording and mastering) but were surprised to see that not only did they reach their goal; they surpassed it, earning a total of $6808 on the campaign (minus the 4% fee to indiegogo). These are not astronomical figures but enough to keep a modest metal band from Norway up and running.

Chris told the students about how he got the idea for this funding scheme from seeing it work in the movie business. He also talked about the importance of putting up realistic goals, and trying to keep the project simple. A key element in crowdfunding are so-called perks, little extra things that the more generous funders will get. Chris made a point out of  Keldian using few perks; the main one being a signed special edition CD at $39. Amazingly all of the 150 available sold out quickly. Palmer's list is a bit more adventurous, but keeping it simple in the beginning seems wise.

The last point, which might be the most important, is that for crowdfunding to work you need to already have a following. Keldian's facebook-page had 1000 dedicated followers, but the success in translating likes into bucks only worked because the band had a close relationship with their fans.

Keldian's story correlates well with Mark Thorley's analysis of Artistshare users - a study that I put on the course syllabus. In his article, Thorley notices that most artists on this platform are limited to a rather distinct musical segment (in this case: jazz), and that they already have several previous releases behind them and a regular group of followers that can be mobilized.

Thus the final lession must be: no fan funding without fans.

The future

It will be interesting to see the development of fan funding in the future. Will this become a well-established way to work around the shortcomings of the current net based echonomy? Or is it just a fad that will pass? Any thoughts, experiences or perspectives concerning this will be highly appreciated. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Last words to Lou Reed

One of the most significant voices in the history of popular music died today. Lou Reed proved again and again that music is not about technical brilliance, but about timing and control. Lou Reed's musicality was as present in the silences between the notes as in the notes he sang. His matter of fact, speech like presentation provoked the most enormous emotion. His simple melodies contained the most intense beauty. Rest in peace, Lou Reed.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review of Lera Auerbach - The Blind

A review I've written about Lera Auerbach's opera The Blind (based on Maurice Maeterlink's play) was published today at scenekunst.no, a Norwegian website for performing arts and culture politics. In the review I conclude that Auerbach's work is closer to the music theatre than the opera, especially in this perticular staging of the work where the spectators are blindfolded throughout the performance. This makes the story of the drama explicit, but some times maybe also overshadowing the experience of the music. The review is in Norwegian, and the English translation of the title is "A Sensory Experience"

"A Sensory Experience" - My review of Lera Auerbach and John La Bouchardière's The Blind, Trondheim Chamber Music Festival, September 14th 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

A brief history of popular music #4 (1980s and 90s)

The futuristic 1980s and 90s


A decade of flashy colors, yuppies, bad hairstyle and gated snare drums. The 1980s is also the era of the catchiest of pop tunes. And of course - it is the decade of the music video. The Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star is from 1979, but no song says "welcome to the futuristic 1980s" better. The singer Trevor Horn is also one of the star producers of the decade, being the hand between super hits like Frankie Goes to Hollywoods Relax (1983), Yes' Owner of a Lonley Heart (1984) and Grace Jones' Slave to the Rhythm (1985).



During the first years of the decade, synth pop dominated charts with their melodic danceable futuristic electronic pathos filled beat based music. One among many possible examples: Depche Mode - Shake the Disease from 1985. 


The 1980s is also the decade where the band gradually disappears from the charts, and was replaced by machines. We see it in the Depeche Mode video (3 guys with synthesizers, one finger each, one of the might not be playing anything at all). The uttermost consequence is the total disappearance of the artist. Then there is only music left. In 1982 the Haciencda opened in Manchester. It started out as a concert venue, but gradually became the cradle of rave and DJ culture. This 2 hour "concert" from 1989 doesn't contain a single performer - only DJs playing and mixing records, and people dancing non stop for hours.



Hip hop comes out big apporximately at the same time. Here is an Ice T classic from 1988.



In Detroit the dance floor rocks to techno from 1985 on.



But bands didn't die. One of the unlikely mega stars of the 1980s were the down to earth (though with a big drum kit), folky and country-inspired Dire Straits. They thrived on new media. Money for Nothing enjoyed heavy rotation on MTV, and the album Brothers in Arms from 1985 was one of the first big selling CDs.


Heavy Metal got cartoonish in the 1980s. Here are the cartoon masters - Iron Maiden with Can I Play With Madness from 1988. I grew up listening to this.





In 1990 rap turned pop and white with Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby



In 1991 Nirvana killed hair metal and launch grunge. They even made the cover of Metal Hammer.


In 1992 the girl group sees its rebirth with En Vogue's rockish Free Your Mind (one year before Spice Girls). This time the boobs are almost falling out.



There are off course more things to talk about from the 80s and 90s, but I'm running out of time, and we are so close anyway to the present day, that there are no need to play examples in order to discuss the deeper issues.

--
Update: No popular music history course is complete without a discussion of Milli Vanilli.



A brief history of popular muisc #3 (1970s)

1970s: From arena rock to disco

By the end of 1970 the hippie era is definitely over. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both dies in 1970 only 27 years old, and are followed by Jim Morrison (at the same age!) in 1971. The 1970s are characterized by really big money entering the music business, stadion concerts, flashy costumes, glam, prog, disco, punk, synthesizers and the album as the primary aesthetical unit.



The ultimate album? Pink Floyds The Dark Side of the Moon

It might be a bit stupid to post a youtube-video with an excerpt from an album to use as an example of the album as an aesthetical unit, but there you go - it's the Internet. LPs of between 35 and 45 minutes become the symphony of rock and pop in the 1970s. On an album a band or a singer can demonstrate a more or less coherent unit of songs and musical ideas, as the composers of the 18th and 19th century did in the symphony. It is no coincidence that the length of a symphony and an album is approximately the same. 45 minutes is the maximum limit of what an ordinary listener can tackle in one sitting. The album is also great for dividing the career of a band or musician into coherent and comprehensible chapters, and has thus often been the focus point in popular music histories.



Stadion rock 

Some of the 1960s acts, like Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, turn into stadion rockers. The stadium concert was a sort of follow up to the music festivals of the late 1960s, and got popular with the big event loving Americans.




Prog

20 minute songs, classical music-like arrangement, theatrics, and lyrics rich on mythology and allegory. Love it or hate it, but prog rock were a strong force in rock during the early 1970s. This is one of my favourites - Genesis' 23 minutes Suppers Ready, recorded live in 1974. Prog got severely bashed by punk a bit later in the decade.



1976 - Punk anarchy

Talk about a breath of fresh air - here's the Sex Pistols: 


1977 - Disco revolution

Hated by proggers and punk rockers alike - Disco ruled the charts and dance floors in the late 1970s. The film Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta is as iconic as Bee Gees' classic disco music.



Synthesizers

Synthesizers started emerging already in the 1960, but the minimalistic sound of Kraftwerk and other synth groups redefined music as something that could be programmed bottom up. Strangly enough it made the dance floors rock, and the futuristic sound Kraftwerk pointed into the plastic 1980s. This is a "live performance" from 1978.




Thursday, October 10, 2013

A brief history of popular music #2 (1950s and 1960s)

1940s continued: Frank Sinatra is the first pop idol


Stardom and idols are cruical to pop muisc, and Frank Sinatra was the first. Here he is, young and damn handsome in 1944.



1950s: Rock changes the face of music

Rock'n roll is the first true youth music, and even if there were music rebellions before - street fights and youthful recklessness became integrated in the rock'n roll aesthetic.

The first rock recording is supposedly Jackie Brenston's rockin and for its time sexually explicit Rocket 88 from 1951 (one year before the first recording of Rock Around the Clock!).




In 1955 there were street riots between reckless youths and police in Oslo in front of the ticket office for a Louis Armstrong concert. The same year the film Blackboard Jungle (featuring the now famous Rock Around the Clock) had its premiere in the US, and Armstrong wasn't so much to riot about any more. Next time Norwegian media reported about youth riots were at the Norwegian premiere of the film. Since then rock'n roll and its offshoots has been the music of youth.



Other highlights from the 1950s:

  • 1953: How Much is That Doggie in the Window reaches #1, and the number of members in the American kennel club increases with 8%. 
  • 1953: First Elvis single
  • 1956: Elvis performing Hound Dog on American TV, and becomes Elvis the Pelvis: 


  • 1958: First Phil Spector Wall of Sound in Teddy Bears' To Know Him is to Love Him



  • 1959: Buddy Holly dies, and rock has its first great dead icon. The rock heroes were the new bohemians and as with their turn of the century colleagoues they should die young, so they'll never suffer the disgrace of getting old. But unlike the bohemians suicide you shouldn't kill yourself. Rock stars should die of either excess from the hard life on the road (booze or drugs) or in a car or helicopter accident. 

1960s: Beatles, soul, flower power and birth of heavy metal

Beatles (1960-70)

Beatles were formed in 1960, and one could describe the whole 1960s with examples from their ten year career. Beatles encompass most styles, from beat, pop, rock and blues to psychedelia, soul and orchestrated jazz. 

First Beatles single - Love me Do (1962). Very innocent



Long haired rock'n roll - Help (1965)



Psychedelic overdose - I am the Walrus (1967)




Pokin' fun at the maoist (1968)




And just to put it in - Beatles were always competing with the Rolling Stones. This 1964 TV concert is a gem!




Motown

Nothing says 1960s more than Motown. The first single from the Detroit label to hit #1 was The Marvelettes' Please mr. Postman from 1961. With Motown it doesn't really matter who sings - it is the sound that is iconic.



Bob Dylan plugs in his Fender Stratocaster in 1965

Dylan showing his finger to the dogmas of music at the Newport festival in 1965 is on of the iconic moments in rock history. This marvelous performance is from the following year at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. Even here someone in the audience is yelling "Judas!"



Led Zeppelin is formed and heavy metal is born (1968)

Robert Plant is 20 years old in this video!!






A brief history of popular music #1

In a lecture next week I will give a brief introduction to the history of popular music. I'm considering using the Guardian's "Timeline of modern music - ALL GENRES" as a starting point. In 45 minutes I have no chance what so ever to cover anything else than the very basics, so giving the students this infograph will hopefully inspire them to look further into the layers of history. The Guardian is proving again and again that they are very good on music history.

The Guardian's timeline of modern music. A testimony to that "modern music" means different things for different people. 


In a series of posts I will present the examples that I will discuss in my lecture. 

1910s: Varieté artists as recording stars


The first gramophone star of Norway - Adolf Østbye - made his first recordings in 1904.


Some of the recordings were popular songs, other were jokes or stories that Østbye performed on his variety shows. This marvelous video shows one of Østby's 7'' gramophone records being played on a period record player. 


And of course - I'm going to mention Caruso, the first million seller.

1910s: First jazz and blues recordings


The Original Dixieland Jazzband is normally attributed with the first jazz-recording in 1917.

The first known blues recording is Mamie Smith's Crazy Blues.

1920s: The jazz age

After introducing the microphone in recording, sound quality improves dramatically. Records can be used for dancing, Louis Armstrong is making his first recordings and Hot Jazz is everywhere. This is also the era where many of the jazz standards start emerging.


1930s/40s: Swingin' time 

Swing is dominating the dance floors all over, even in Germany during the dark 1930s and 40s (though in secret). This is an example of orchestrated swing jazz - Duke Ellington playing the awesome It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing in 1943. 

And yes, I almost forgot - the electric guitar emerges in the 1930s. And in 1935 Robert Johnson sells his soul to the devil.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Some videos of Nordheim for solo instruments

Accordeon


Nordheim's "Flashing" is well established in the modern accordion repertory, and virtuoso Ksenija Sidorova's rendering of the piece is just amazing.




Cello

Clamavi - Nordheim's marvellous work for solo cello, played by Brian Carter.


Trombone

There are no versions of the Hunting or the Return of the Snark out in the videosphere, except for this  jazz quartet version of the Hunting of the Snark by the group NYNDK:



Cello, Trombone and MIDI piano

The work Vevnad combines much of Nordheim's ideas for trombone, cello and the piano, and reveals what is probably a fascination for Colon Nancarrow.



Violin

Partita for Paul (1985) in a great version, which also displays Nordheim's often used 15 seconds delay technique the last movement. Emma Steele on violin.



The last movement of Partita for Paul, "Individualisierte Höhenmessung der lagen," played by Peter Herresthal:


Tre voci

This video of the chamber cantata Tre voci also highlights some of Nordheim's writing style, especially the percussion parts.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Arne Nordheim's ballets

Arne Nordheim loved working with dance, and between 1962 and 1979 as many as eight ballets were performed to his music. I say "performed to the music of" because he didn't write all of the pieces specifically for the ballet format. The ballets are:
  • Ivo Cramér: Katharsis, 1962
  • Ivo Cramér: Favola, 1965 
  • Robert Cohan: Stages, 1971, to the music of Coloraizone og Warzawa
  • Glen Tetley: Beaches (Strender), 1974, to the music of Response and Solitaire
  • Jiři Kylián: Stool Game, 1974, to the music of Solitaire
  • Jiři Kylián: Ariadne, 1977. A concert adaptation of the ballet is known as Tempora Nocits (1979)
  • Glen Tetley: Greening, 1975, to the music of the 1973 orchestral work with the same name
  • Glen Tetley: The Tempest, 1979

Cramér's Favola from 1965 is a funny piece. It is a TV-ballet, commissioned by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (the first large scale TV commission that Nordheim got), also featuring voice and electronics. The work is made in the best 1960s experimental style, trying to blend dance, music, scenography, poetry and song into one coherent aesthetical entity fitting the TV format. The funny part is that the singers actually never get screen time, while the dancers are pretending that they are singing. The work is rather experimental, and must have proved difficult to digest for most Norwegian 1965 TV viewers. An excerpt of Favola can be seen on the current Nordheim exhibition at Henie-Onstad Kunstsetner.

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The most famous of Nordheim's ballets is the Tempest from 1979. The ballet has been performed more than 100 times all over the world, first by the Rambert Ballet, and later by the Norwegian Opera Ballet. It has toured the US, has been staged at La Scala, and so on and so on. Only in 1979 the ballet sold out more than 20 shows in Norway, which is quite extraordinary in this small country. An adaptation of the ballet will be performed at Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter in November this year: http://www.hok.no/stormen-2013.5242979-30530.html

Kylián's ballet Stool Game to the music of Solitaire is also still being performed. Here are some stunning videos from a staging of the work in 2011 in the Netherlands. The dancers are Rafal Pierzynski and Martyna Lorenc.





Personally I find Katharsis and Favola as being among Nordheim's most exciting works, and it is a pity that they have never been released on CD or DVD. From my perspective Katharsis is particularly interesting, not just because it is a great piece of music, but also because it was the first time Nordheim brought electronic music up to the concert stage. I've heard excerpts, and can testify to that this is a forgotten Nordheim gem. 

I'm a huge fan of music for ballet. To my ears, composers tend to be freer when working with music for the stage rather than the concert hall. In concert works I often get the nagging feeling that the composer desperately tries to prove something. In stage works, s/he just has to write music. It might also be that the composer benefit from working with directors and choreographers. Getting external input on your work is never a bad thing.