Musicians, it’s time we started demanding just compensation for our life’s work! Another case of “musicians being asked to play for exposure” has come to my attention. Ex Cop, a punk duo featuring Amalie Bruun and Brian Harding, was asked by the McDonalds corporation to play at their SXSW stage “for the exposure only,” and with no compensation whatsoever. McD’s is a mega corporation with a net worth of $97 billion – that’s billion with a B – and they can’t scrape together just compensation for artists? This arrogance blows my mind. When did it become OK to rip off musicians? It’s not the first time this has happened. Bruno Mars wasn’t paid a dime when he performed at the 2014 Super Bowl. In fact, the NFL floated the idea of having HIM pay THEM to play in order to cover their cost for the multimillion dollar broadcast extravaganza. They suggested he compensate them in a number of creative and self-serving ways, including taking a percentage of his record sales and/or tour receipts. Musicians, we must unite through social media to call out corporations, bars, club owners and venues who attempt to take advantage of us. We can use the power of social media and the power of the purse to make a difference. Let’s take a page from the LGBTQ community and boycott businesses who treat musicians unfairly. I, for one, will not patronize McDonalds until they make a change. We are not powerless to demand to be treated fairly. The power of the purse will make a difference! Let’s also stop racing to the bottom with streaming services who pay fractions of a cent and rip off artists at every turn. Check out compensation models below in a slide taken from a presentation I recently gave with Anderson Jones PR on marketing your music online. (Click the image to view full presentation). Please use this as a guide to put your music on services that compensate you fairly. Let’s wise up and claim our power to make a difference! Let’s start a hashtag campaign to call attention to abuses in the industry. Tweet #fairpay4music if you agree.
The opening theme for Boardwalk Empire is an excellent example of setting the mood for a television series. The song is “Straight Up and Down” by The Brian Jonestown Massacre, their second album released in 1996, Take It from the Man. According to Wikipedia, this album “is rooted in rhythm and blues and heavily influenced by artists such as The Rolling Stones.”
Click the image below to watch the video in a new window.
This song is anachronistic within the context of the show, but it sets the mood perfectly. From the start, the opening theme song and video draws you in, making you want to watch. It says, “this is hardcore. You’re going to want to stick around and find out what happens next.” It’s also clear that this show is not a sitcom. It’s a serious drama and stuff is about to go down, my friend.
So this theme song does everything a good theme song should do:
- It sets the mood.
- It let’s you know the type of show you are about to watch (sitcom or drama).
- It keeps you in your seat wanting to see more.
- It’s also kind of catchy. You can’t help but nod your head and say “yeah man, rock ‘n roll.”
- It’s also nice and short, just long enough to do what needs to be done without giving the audience time to change the channel or head for the fridge.
What is most interesting is the juxtaposition of a modern rock song with a television series set in the early twentieth century. Both Nucky’s suit, obviously 1920’s fashion, and the old Boardwalk don’t jive, at first blush, with the music. In addition, the series as a whole takes great care to make everything true to the period from clothing, appliances and cars to music,lingo and mannerisms. If you have watched the entire series as I have, you know it’s almost like looking back into the past, a postcard from the early twentieth century. This juxtaposition is curious and compelling.
So why did the producers choose this song over period music? It’s because period music no longer has the same connotations for a modern audience as it used to have for audiences of the early twentieth century. A modern rock song can reach an audience with more familiar music and push the right emotional buttons which have been put in place by years of exposure to popular music. Period music won’t make an audience think “hardcore, yeah man, it’s about to get real.” Period music does a great job of placing the series within the early twentieth century, a job the producers do so well within the episode itself. It won’t necessarily keep you from changing the channel or thinking “this is a show my grandma would like.”
This juxtaposition is also a classic film trick, namely, combining two polar opposite elements to create a more powerful impact, for example, playing children’s songs during a murder scene. It’s so wrong, it’s right.
In addition, the producers did a great job marrying the video to the music. In most cases, the music is written after the film is shot. In this case, the music came first (1996). For example, the highly distorted guitar is matched by the oversaturated video (nice touch). Also, the violence of the waves and the breaking of the whiskey bottle, at approximately 48 seconds into the video, match the raw sound of the grunge guitar solo which begins at that precise moment reflecting the violent, raw nature of the series as a whole. Also, the solo ends with waves hitting Nucky’s feet at approximately 1 minute 15 seconds with a brief reprise as the camera pans up to Nucky’s face ending at approximately 1 minute 20 seconds. This symbolizes the fact that this series begins and ends with Nucky Thompson. It’s all about his world.
I say bravo to the producers of this opening theme song and video. It serves as an excellent example of how to marry video to music and captivate an audience.
As a private guitar instructor with over 20 years experience, I have noticed a disconcerting decline in the number of students who sign up for private lessons, and I was curious to learn whether or not other instructors have experienced the same thing. So, I posted the following question to a number of professional groups on LinkedIn including Classical Guitar and Guitar Instructors. Is It Still Possible to Make a Living as a Private Guitar Instructor?
Out of 45 comments so far, all respondents acknowledged the decline. Most sighted the availability of free instructional videos on YouTube as a major reason for the decline. Walter Peretiatko wrote, “Yes, YouTube has killed a lot of my guitar students…”
In addition, Eric Symons wrote,
“This is a tough subject for me to publicly discuss, as I see a trend that disturbing in the US and other so called “First World” countries. While living in a world that has kids living with inorganic mediums such as video games and computers, and less of them having exposure to music in the schools than any other generation in our history, we must accept a decline in the classical guitar…”
Others pointed to a less vigorous economy. Zane Zirkle wrote, “In a Hope and Change economy, music lessons are a luxury to the average Joe… “ .
Jack Alves wrote, “I too have noticed a slight decline in the over -all teaching biz. From music that’s not all that motivating, to “School of Rock” programs, to students who are willing to forfeit the basics…”
From these responses, it appears there are a variety of factors leading to a decline in the number of students seeking private guitar lessons. The availability of free online content and resources makes it easy for students to learn to play for free in the convenience of their own homes. The sluggish economy and dwindling disposable economy is a factor too. In addition, guitar is no longer the driving force in popular music. Most music is created “in the box” with programs like Ableton eliminating the need to spend years mastering an instrument. Also, there are so many different instant gratification apps, video games, social media sites and digital sources vying for the public’s entertainment time and money. Can an instrument, which requires tremendous personal sacrifice to master, really compete?
What does this mean for the future of private guitar lessons? It’s clear that the days of making a living solely as a private instructor are gone for now. Guitarists and musicians in general, must develop multiple income streams and embrace technology as an integral part of their skill set. For the 21st century musician, it will no longer be viable to simply play or teach an instrument. Lessons will always be a piece of the puzzle, but today’s musicians must know how to write for commercials, film, video games, record voice over, distribute and promote themselves online and through social media. If you have the right skill set, technology becomes a tremendous tool to sell your music and skills to a wider public than ever before.
Most schools and universities are developing music and technology degrees to meet the needs of today’s musicians. For example, Gwinnett County Public Schools now offer courses in music technology which focus on recording, composition, film score and video game composition. Private schools such as The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media also offer degrees in music and technology, job placement and industry contacts, so the future is not bleak, just different than the 80s or 90s.
I agree with Derek Stottlemyer, who wrote, “As a web architect I see a lot of options, and online offers the opportunity to earn passive or residual income in addition to paid lessons – but instructors have to break the mold and be willing to try new things.” Indeed!
The 2014 Society of Composers National Conference took place March 20-22 at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. It featured three days of concerts and paper sessions in Sursa Performance Hall by select composers from across the US. The conference wordpress blog and facebook page contain specific details regarding the concert schedule and events. The overall quality of the concerts and paper sessions was excellent!
Notably, the majority of concerts featured electronic resources and multimedia. To be sure, there were a number of pieces with traditional acoustic instruments and some old school electroacoustic music with outstanding spatialization enhanced by Sursa’s eight-speaker configuration which enveloped the audience. That being said, many, if not a major of pieces on the program featured both acoustic instruments and either prerecorded electronic accompany or manipulation of live sound in real time. Some pieces also contained video projection in which case, a video screen was lowered above the stage.
It is exciting to note that 21st century composers are embracing technology and multimedia. With all of the new resources available to composers, it seems that composers of new music are blurring the lines between electronic and acoustic music. This most assuredly will be an area of research for some musicologist in the not too distance future.
In addition, many of the paper sessions discussed topics related to emerging technologies and live performance. For example, Zachary Boyt discussed MIDI bows, while Orlando Legname presented electronic sensors for conducting which interact with MAX/MSP in real time.
It was a great conference. I’m definitely planning to attend the 2015 conference. I would recommend it to all composers of new music who wish to stay abreast of the latest developments in new music.
By the way, I was a presenter at the first paper session on Friday, March 21. My paper was entitled Metamorphoses Nocturnes a Stepping Stone in the Compositional Development of Gyorgy Ligeti.
Special thanks to Michael Pounds, Keith Kothman and Jim Rhinehart for organizing such a great conference. If I have left anyone out, my apologizes. Please send me your name and a link to your blog and/or website, and I can include it in this blog. Thanks again! See you in 2015.
In the spring of 2007, Simone Fontanelli, a world renowned composer and professor of new music at the University of Mozarteum in Salzberg, gave a series of seminars at the University of Georgia, Dancz Center for New Music. I asked maestro Fontanelli, “are there any composition exercises you would recommend to help beginning composers develop their own voice?” He suggested borrowing harmonic, melodic and/or rhythmic ideas from three great composers, then write a new piece which combines the best elements of all three. For example, combine Stravinsky’s Petrushka chord, Bartok’s rhythmic motives from String Quartet No. 4 and Schoenberg’s concept of developing variation into a single composition. This is challenging to say the least, and it stretches the abilities of most composers. In addition, this exercise gives beginning composers an opportunity “walk in the shoes” of the world’s greatest composers, thereby, discovering what makes them great. It also helps beginning composers get into the historical flow of what has gone before them.
This idea is not new. All great composers have written pieces “in the style of…” For example, Mozart was influenced by Bach, Haydn and many others. Schoenberg considered himself to be an extension of the German tradition and was influenced by Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.
While working on my DMA in music composition at UGA, I read a number of interviews with György Ligeti (1923-2006), one of the most influential composers of the 20th century, in which he discussed the influence of Bartók on his compositional style and technique. Ligeti used Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 as a model when he wrote String Quartet No. 1: Metamorphosis Nocturnes (1954). In fact, in an interview with Friedemann Sallis, Ligeti stated he knew Bartók’s style so well that “he could have gone on to write the seventh, eighth or even twelfth Bartók quartet.”
I decided to analyze both quartets to determine if this statement is true and, if so, discover what elements of Bartók’s quartet and style are present in Metamorphosis Nocturnes. It appears that Ligeti borrowed a motive directly from Bartók’s quartet, see Example No. 1. This motive belongs to set class . Ligeti uses it in the beginning of Metamorphosis Nocturnes, and it becomes the primary harmonic structure throughout the entire quartet, see Example No. 2. It is interesting to note, after writing Metamorphosis Nocturnes, Ligeti continued to use set class  throughout his career, but he added his own twist in the form of microtonality.
Example No. 1
There are a number of parallels between these two quartets, and Bartók’s influence is present throughout to the extent that Ligeti’s quartet sounds more like Bartók than Ligeti. With that being said, Metamorphosis Nocturnes is a model for all aspiring composers. Ligeti wrote his quartet in order to experiment with Bartók’s harmonic and melodic language. He ultimately kept what he liked most from Bartók’s style, eventually making it his own. In the process, he developed his own unique voice. March 20-23, I will present my research at the 2014 Society of Composers Inc. Nation Conference at Ball State University in Indiana.
I would recommend trying the same experiment with your own favorite composer or composers. Borrow a melody/harmony or two. Take it out for a test drive. If you like it, find a way to make it your own!
Is there a new minimalism underway in popular music? It seems two of the most recent number one songs, “Blurred Lines” and “Royals,” consist of little more than a catchy percussion driven beat with bass and harmony vocals. It is a very effective combination, if the lyrics are strong, because minimal accompaniment focuses the listener’s attention on the words making them more important to the success of the song.
There are a number of artists who have built careers using minimal accompaniment including Bob Dylan, in his early folk period, and Neal Young. Can you name other artists who use minimalism?
Photo courtesy of billboard.com.
Fragmentation is an interesting tool which composers can use to generate a plethora of melodic material with very little effort. In my opinion, there are two primary types of fragmentation, subtractive and motivic.
Subtractive fragmentation is easy to do and, if used properly, creates syncopation. All you have to do is substitute rests for notes. Example No. 1 is an original melody which I have used in a number of previous blog posts. Example No. 2 is the same melody with rests replacing some of the notes. Play both examples and listen to the difference. Example No. 2 is clearly the same melodic idea, but it has more rhythmic punch because the rests create accented upbeats in measures 2 and 4. The quarter rest in measure 3 creates additional rhythmic interest.
Example No. 1
Example No. 2
Motivic fragmentation is more common than subtractive. In fact, it is an integral part of classical period repertoire and is common in compositions by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. In general, the primary thematic structures used in classical period music where the sentence and period. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to discuss thematic structures in classical period music, but, in general, a basic idea is introduced (usually two measures), repeated creating a four measure theme, then a fragment of the basic idea is extracted and sequenced three times to create a classic eight-measure sentence structure. In example No. 3, the eighth notes in measure 2 are extracted and sequenced three times to create an ascending melodic line which cadences in measures 7-8. This creates a sense that the melody is accelerating toward a cadential point.
Example No. 3
Comment if you can think of any other types of fragmentation. In the meantime, apply these techniques to your own compositions and listen to the results. Happy composing!