Category - commentary

Acerbic observations on the state of the world, art, politics, and culture.

Duology – January, 2010

Guitar virtuosos Joseph Brunelle and Barry Coggins – known collectively as “Duology” – record a live performance at Norm’s River Road House on the outskirts of Nashville on January 21, 2010.

Click the image below to launch the player, click the |> button to start the slide show with accompanying sound track, the title track from the Duology CD “Like Water Falls.”

Duology

Joseph Brunelle and Barry Coggins = Duology

Visit Duology at Myspace.com

Bonnie Bishop – December, 2009

I discovered Bonnie Bishop shortly AFTER missing her during the Americana Music Conference in Nashville in October.  I’d gone to see Sarah Siskind in a showcase at the Rutledge, an left when Sarah was done; the next week, I started going through the listings of the showcases I’d missed, and listening to what I could find on Lala.com. I got to Bonnie Bishop, and her album Things I Know pretty much knocked me out, especially the trackLucky Ones. It was another two months before I had a chance to see her live, and here are some photos I shot of the show.

Bonnie Bishop

Bonnie Bishop – Live at The Rutledge – Nashville, TN – Dec. 8, 2009

Click the photo above to open the slide show; click the |> play button to start the show and hear “Lucky Ones” by Bonnie Bishop

Delusions Persist: Nashville ‘s Music Row Chimes in on Google Music

Google-music This morning Nashville’s Tennessean assesses the impact that the new Google music service — revealed yesterday but not to be  officially announced until next week — will have on the crumbling ruins of Music City’s most visible industry:

The news comes as music CD sales have tumbled dramatically over the past decade. Sales of digital downloads have not made up for the revenue loss.

But Nashville area record label executives, along with those in the creative side of the industry, said Google’s initiative could help them reach more listeners — and sell more music

It’s hard to explain to people who’ve built their livelihoods on the concept of “selling music” that their business model is going away completely. It’s hard to drill into their heads the idea that the shift from “ownership” to “access” virtually obsolesces the whole idea of “selling” music.

So Music Row types who are reading the Tennessean this morning are probably reaching for their pitchforks when they read a quote from a certain blogger re: the ultimate future of digital music delivery, in which the Google move is just more step in the inexorable direction:

“I’m worried that we are on the threshold of a time when the
remunerative value of music is zero,” said Nashville writer and
entrepreneur Paul Schatzkin, whose Celestial Jukebox blog focuses on digital music.

“Your browser is becoming your iPod,” Schatzkin said. “There is a behavioral
shift afoot where consumers are getting accustomed to the concept of
access to an infinite universe of music versus ownership of a limited
personal library.”

Elsewhere, the tech blog Ars Technica weighs in, confirming yesterday’s report that the service on Google is only going to offer “snippets,” not the full “first time for free” stream that Lala.com users get:

According to insiders speaking to the Wall Street Journal, the music will come in the form of free, embedded streams from either Lala.com or iLike.com.
Those who are interested in buying the music will be able to do so from
either of those two sites—iLike allows users to buy unprotected MP3s
directly but also provides a link to iTunes, while Lala only sells the
unprotected MP3 with no other direct links….

Some leaked screenshots allegedly of the new service are available at TechCrunch,
showing that users won’t be able to listen to an entire song from
Google’s search results, but rather just a snippet. Realistically, this
makes sense—most searchers want to confirm that they found what they
were searching for, and then click through to buy or browse through
similar music.

Agreed, that is the only reason a 30-second snippet of music ever makes sense — when I’ve already heard something somewhere else, and want to confirm that that’s the track I’m looking for.

Ars Technica tries to make the case that Google Music (or Audio, or whatever its called) is not a “game changer” for music delivery, but I wonder if they’re missing the point.  Maybe “incremental game changer” is an oxymoron, but that’s what this is — another step in the arrival of the Celestial Jukebox.

Granted, I’m not an objective observer on this subject, but I can’t help but think that the big winner in this is not Google — and certainly not the calcified Luddites on Music Row — but Lala.com, and, by extension, the music audience.

The link through Google search will bring more people to Lala.com, where many will discover for the first time the marvel of unrestricted access to an virtually infinite library of music (if it’s more than you can listen to in a lifetime, that might qualify as “infinite”).  Then they’ll start shelling out that dime-a-track to listen to things they like again; once that happens, they’re hooked on the “access” model, and Music Row will never again be able to sell (at least those people) encoded plastic wafers for $15 a pop.

Chris Brogan on Music 3.0: Turn The Chairs Around

Brogan

The big deal in Nashville today was an appearance by social media maven (he says he doesn’t like the word “guru”)  Chris Brogan, author New York Times Bestseller Trust Agents.

Among the many pertinent points that Brogan made about utilizing Web 2.0 tools to “build influence,” etc., there was one point in particular that stands out in the context of the Big Shift in music.

Part of the thesis that underlies this blog is that one facet of what I’m calling “Music 3.0” is a return to the “oral” — todays’ word is actually “tribal” — traditions of Music 1.0 — the era before recording turned music into a product that was manufactured, distributed, and advertised like soap.
In my long essay about “Music 3.0” that launched this blog, I described the ending of the movie Any Day Now, a documentary about the 2008 “10 Out of Tenn” tour.
In this nearly final scene the musicians have finished their last show, but no one wants to leave the venue.  Not the audience, not the musicians.  And so the players come down off the stage, and with unplugged acoustic guitars lead their audience in an enthusiastic sing-along of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

In that moment, the proscenium that separates the troubadours from their audience was erased.  The artists became the audience and the audience became the artists.  And I as I felt the chicken skin bubbling up on my arm I turned to the friend who’d invited me to the screening and said “THAT’s ‘Music three-point-oh.'”

And here is Chris Brogan, New York Times bestselling author, with his take on a similar sentiment, as expressed during his appearance today in Nashville:
“The only difference between an audience and a community is which way you face the chairs.”

My point exactly.

Indeed, there are portions of “Trust Agents” that sound like a field manual for musicians who are trying to find their way in the Music 3.0 world.  More on that when I’ve had a chance to spend more time with the book I picked up today.

Notes from AmericanaFest – 1

I spent most of Wednesday through Saturday of last week at the Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville.

I went to a lot of panels, and I took a lot of notes using an analog device known as “pencil and notebook.”  This antiquated technology works really well, at least until I go back and try to read what I scribbled.  But it was more convenient than trying to find an outlet in every room so that I could type notes on my laptop.

Jedhilly

First, a general observation: “Americana” seems at times like a brand in search of a genre.  Musically, the category covers a broad swath of the musical spectrum. Jed Hilly, the Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, did his best to narrow it down when he defined “Americana” (for the purpose of a new Grammy Awards category) as “contemporary music that honors and derives from American roots music.”

That does, indeed, cover a LOT of territory.  But more important than what the brand or genre represents musically is what the concept embodies as a movement.  Musically, this may be “roots” music, but market-wise, this is music that is coming up from the grassroots.  And, based on what I heard over this past week, it represents in some respects the very best of what the new grassroots paradigm has to offer the listening audience.  I mean, these people are GOOD and deserve the recognition that “mainstream” cultural forces are too often too slow to provide.

With that as a premise, here’s a note from the first panel I attended early on Thursday morning.

I didn’t realize until I got there that a discussion of “Raising The Next Generation of Americana Fans” would turn out to be a discussion about bringing this music to children, which is not generally speaking an area of my own personal interest.

Well… duh.  Music is sorta like cigarettes – if you want them smoking it when they’re adults, you gotta start ’em out as kids.  So (politically incorrect tobacco reference aside), what could be more important than a discussion of bringing “Americana” music to kids?

So once I realized where I was and why it was the right place to be, I started paying attention to Jason Ringenberg (aka “Farmer Jason“) and Miss Melba Toast as they described their experiences bringing music to children.

Khussey

Panelist Kathy Hussey said the one thing I found most encouraging: When she shows up for her songwriting-for-kids workshops, she said, “they start out wanting to write a rap song,” but their interest is very easily redirected.  “Kids are learning that they don’t have to consume what’s on the radio.”

When I was growing up, “what’s on the radio” was all their was, and we all grew up wanting to be The Beatles or The Stones.  But the impact of an infinite variety of cultural choices is beginning to have a diversifying effect on a new generation.

Kids today may show up wanting to replicate what they hear in the media.  They may think for a moment that that’s what’s expected of them  But if Kathy’s experience is any indication, the commitment is shallow.  They wind up wanting something resonates personally on a deeper level.

That’s a consequence of a world of infinite choices instead of just a few dominating channels.  More choice forces us to dig a little deeper to find what matters.  Mark that down as another upside of the new era, Music 3.0.