Results tagged “music”

Heaven, Hell, Marvin, Prince and the Party

January 4, 2013

Every great career in rhythm and blues leads only to heaven or hell. The path to hell is obvious: From Sam Cooke gunned down to James Brown leading a multi-state police chase to Sly Stone strung out on crack and living in a van to Whitney Houston's body lying dead as the industry partied a few floors below, our culture's never treated the shining lights of our most soulful genre with kindness. The archetype of this path is Marvin Gaye, facing his demons at the wrong end of a gun aimed by the man who gave him his name and his life.

But heaven doesn't look much better. Whether it's Al Green leading rote singalongs of his greatest hits, or Stevie Wonder's once-essential annual albums slowing down to a trickle of treacle, or Aretha Franklin being used largely as set decoration to signify which events are deemed Worthy Of A Legend. We start to understand why someone like me who loves Lauryn Hill or D'Angelo (or even Dave Chapelle, a comedian who's lived the career of a soul singer) often want to tell them "I've gotten all I ever need from you; Go take care of yourself." Even my beloved Prince has taken to generously sprinkling a still-vital and compelling live show with bowdlerized medleys of greatest hits, interpreting his ever-present religious fixation as a compulsion to undo the ferocity and provocation that earned him his audience three decades ago.

I always thought Michael was going to buy his way to heaven, but held a grim conviction that he might meet his end at the hands of a crazed fan. With the hindsight of a few years, it would appear that, in a way, he did. Those on the heavenly path of an R&B legend are of course faced with the constant temptations of fate and fame; Given enough success, you can just keep paying doctors on retainer until you find the one who's greedy and starstruck enough to not quit in protest when you ask for a lethal dose of anesthetic.

It's no wonder Questlove's most recent quest is to encourage himself and others in the world of soul music to do what it takes to live well past 50. A grim goal made even sadder by the humility of its ambitions.

This is a simple audio essay I put together to go alongside the rest of this essay, explaining some of the ideas.

The father, the son, the lions, the lambs

You don't even have to wait for a soul artist to say "I was raised in the church" when they're interviewed; If they don't recite it themselves, the interviewer will inevitably provide the affirmation without prompting. But R&B legends are also raised by their families, ranging from a litany of "never knew my dad" absences to the all-too-present presence of Joseph Jackson. But as surely as Tito picked up Joseph's guitar, there's a world of difference between preacher dads and player dads.

Marvin's father was a preacher, his last name spelled "Gay" without the "e", the least-fitting name possible. Marvin Sr. was fire and brimstone and an Old Testament-style lack of compromise. Even years before he murdered his son, he'd undermined his musical genius son enough that Marvin Jr. was constantly felt the need to prove his masculinity, whether through adding a vowel to diminish the presumed affront to his heterosexuality that lurked in his own surname, or through outrageously transparent attempts to affirm how virile and conventionally male he truly was.

Hence the Detroit Lions. Marvin Gaye not only befriended the players — he tried out for the team. While he was a competent player, he was nowhere near capable of playing at an NFL level. But as a symbol of hypermasculine strength, what could be more credible than being a professional football player?

Naturally, an obsession (and insecurity) of this magnitude shows up in the music. Though any "party" that appears in a pop song is necessarily artificial, there really were Detroit Lions players in the studio to provide the introductory party vibe that starts "What's Going On". Marvin spoke of sidelining his musical career in favor of athletics, but the seriousness of the threat was undermined by the ferocity with which he fought Berry Gordy for the right to release What's Going On despite Gordy's objections to its brazenly political stance.

Hired Gun Brimstone

Prince's party was carefully constructed, arranged as if it were a string section, to be multiracial and ambiguously gendered.

Prince's dad John Nelson had none of Marvin Gay Sr.'s misgivings about the music; He was in a band called the Prince Rogers Trio, whence came his second son's name. And though they too had a tumultuous relationship, there was at least enough of a rapport between Prince and his father that they collaborated several times during John's life.

But having a dad who was also a musician must have helped shaped Prince's utilitarian view of relationships, where the people in his life were sometimes just instruments to be arranged in the service of a composition.

It shows up in the way that parties appear on Prince's work. From the track "Eye No" that opens up 1988's Lovesexy, we get a party breaking out over the final fade that segues into Alphabet Street, the next track on the record. But a closer listen to the "party" reveals it to be far more scripted than Marvin's "What's Going On"; All of the folks taking part were part of Prince's studio crew or touring band.

More telling than the fact that the party was scripted (because obviously, it's not like Marvin Gaye was spontaneously recording a house party on What's Going On) is the fact that Prince reuses the exact same recording of party sounds a number of times in his work. Before appearing at the end of I No, the party segue showed up at the end of an unreleased track called The Ball, which was a sort of prototype for the song made a few years earlier. That original recording segued into one of Prince's all-time greatest blues guitar tracks, Joy In Repetition. But that song wouldn't be released until 1990's Graffiti Bridge.

That time period also marked the beginning of the first signs of the wild unevenness that would characterize Prince's post-80s work, so some of the reuse of the party sounds may have simply been in-studio laziness on his part. But the fact that the party didn't even have the pretense of being anything but an element of a larger composition offers a glimpse into the intense, nearly obsessive focus Prince had on seeing everything, and everyone, in his world through the lens of how they could be part of his soundtrack.

It's not hard to picture that kind of single-mindedness being grounded in having a father who, in stark contrast to Marvin Gay Sr.'s skepticism, was in fact an accomplished musician himself. Fortunately in Prince's case, that turned into a competitive drive that fueled a nearly-unparalleled burst of pop creativity. The downside was that, rather than seeking out success in a wildly-unfamiliar territory like professional sports, Prince's world retreated to the safe-but-well-known path that leads to being a greatest-hits jukebox.

Ever After

I love this music. It's the soundtrack of my whole world, and usually the way I end the day with my son, listening to these artists and their peers and the echoes of their fathers and their faults. I'm an optimist; I want to believe that it doesn't take extreme and trying circumstances for a talented child to grow up to be a truly profound artist as an adult.

More broadly, I want to think I can be moved by an artist's work without thinking I'm being complicit in their destruction. If they're finding redemption, from the tribulations of their youth or from the challenges of their faith, in creating a work, I don't want my embrace of their celebrity to be an instrument of their undoing.

That soul music is grounded in heaven in hell is the basis of its power. This is why songs that seem like they're incessantly talking about superficial aspects of being in love can tell stories that are profound and timeless. But it seems truly profane that the people most blessed to tell these stories are doomed to follow them to paths that either leave them tormented or robbed of their flame. Maybe the next people who can find salvation in these songs can be those who actually create them.

Related Reading

These themes have been fixations here for a while; Here are some variations on the theme:

Just let me fill your heart with joy and laughter...

June 25, 2009

This was probably the one clip of Michael Jackson I wish everybody had seen.

Video Computer System

April 17, 2009

A lot of folks seemed to like the Little Red Riding Hood video I linked to the other day, so I thought I'd reach way back into the archives (anybody still hanging around who was reading this site in 2000?) and dig out an old favorite.

Behold, "Video Computer System" by Brazil's own Golden Shower. (Don't blame me — I didn't name the band.) One of the first chiptunes tracks to really take off online, the song was pretty good on its own merits, but was bolstered immeasurably by having a flawlessly-executed montage of Atari imagery as its accompanying video.

Delightfully, after nearly a decade, the original video is still online. It seems, though, that the quality of those old quicktimes clips is a little bit lower than what used to be downloadable from the site ages ago, so I've uploaded a higher-resolution copy of the video to YouTube and embedded it here. The original credits for the film are still online, listing Carlos B�la, Guilherme Marcondes, Mateus de Paula Santos and Mario Sader as the creators of the clip, for which they won an MTV Brazil VMA for Best Electronica Video. There's a special credit for Alfredo Hisa, who created the video's signature moment, a Matrix homage that is all the more impressive when you remember that the film that was being referenced was only about a year old at the time.

Golden Shower also offers a pretty interesting behind-the-scenes look at how the video was created. It's worth a look just for the time capsule effect of seeing a bunch of old-school iMacs running OS 9 and now-vintage versions of applications. Most entertaining to me was the still-extant blog that the team kept, listing mentions of the video across the web.

There's something to be said for web content that holds up well, even almost a decade later.

The Dream of Being Discoverable

March 23, 2009

I'm a fan of The-Dream, the producer-turned-singer who was born Terius Nash and is responsible for pop gems ranging from Rihanna's "Umbrella" to Mariah's "Touch My Body". His solo albums have been genuinely entertaining and well-produced, a fact that is particularly fortunate given that nearly all of the catchiest choruses to his songs contain expletives that can't be sung on the radio. The-Dream's excellent debut Love/Hate, in particular, demonstrates this trait. (Listen to the samples to hear for yourself!)

However, a few days ago, I was recommending The-Dream's work to my friend Ben since we share similar musical tastes, and I was surprised to hear that he had been reluctant to listen. Ben was balking because, as he correctly pointed out, the extraneous hyphen in The-Dream's stage name is annoying.

The-Dream: Love vs. Money

Then I realized: The-Dream is one of the first successful pop acts in the world to have deliberately incorporated search engine optimization into his stage name. (If you're fortunate enough to not be familiar with the practice, SEO is the effort that many people put in to making their content easier to discover on the web. It's part necessary evil, part spam-inducing cargo cult.)

You see, without the hyphen, "The Dream" would have been almost impossible to find on Google or iTunes or YouTube before he got famous. In fact, unless you have a fairly distinctive (at least in English-speaking parts of the world) name like I do, this can be a common challenge. But I posit that the hyphenation of his name made him unique enough to be easily discoverable even before he had hit songs. Simply showing up when people are searching for music or videos is a pretty important part of getting your name out there if you want to be a big star.

I used to make predictions on my blog years ago, but one of the ones I forgot to write down was that Google would influence business names just like the Yellow Pages did. Instead of naming yourself "AAA Plumbing" so that you are listed first, you'd make sure you were easy to search for on the web by naming yourself The-Plumber, presumably.


How many quarks in a Zune?

March 17, 2009

My friend Nick is good at answering the questions I didn't even know I wanted to ask. For example, how many electrons per song on an iPod?

At approximately 4 minutes per song (Apple's average), we can play through 150 songs in 10 hours (far less than the 1000 song storage capacity), giving us approximately 1.09�1020 electrons used per song.

That's downright efficient compared to the piggish 160 gig iPod Classic, which weighs in at 850mA�h, 40h: 1.27�1021 e / song.

A Red Flag Before The White Flag

November 26, 2008

Major labels function with the assumption that 90 percent of artists they sign are going to fail — that should have been a red flag for everybody. I mean that’s a bizarre business model in any arena. But particularly in the cultural arena, the idea that the system through which culture is transmitted is dictated entirely by profit should concern us, because that’s going to narrow the types of culture that are transmitted. And then, on top of that, the alternative venues of distribution are stuck in the shadows of these major labels.

That's Dr. Bethany Klein, in an outstanding interview about her research into the commercial licensing of pop music, and its impacts on artists and the music industry as a whole.

The interview is in support of her upcoming book As Heard on TV and you can read her dissertation on the topic as well.

If you're so inclined, a few years ago I'd ranted about Bob Dylan's appearance in a Victoria's Secret ad, which certainly marks a nadir in the realm of musicians licensing popular music for commercials. Not because he was "selling out" (I don't believe in that idea), but because he is so damn unsexy.

Alan Leeds and Who Writes the Web

September 22, 2008

One of the most frequent questions I get when I talk to people who are unfamiliar with social media on the web is, "Who writes all these blogs or Wikipedia? Who has the time?"

The answer, at least in this case, is me.

People who are skeptical about the web never seem to believe that we have a lot of time we could spend writing or collaborating on something original on the web. But they do understand the idea that people might be passionate and excited to write about topics they're passionate about.

So when I remembered a topic that's been an interest of mine for quite a while, I saw an opportunity to create a new Wikipedia page based on wanting to promote the work of someone whom I admire and respect, who inexplicably lacks a Wikipedia profile.

I wrote a simple page about Alan Leeds, whose role as a behind-the-scenes force in the popularization, promotion, and success of funk music truly can't be overstated. I admire his acumen, his taste, and the thoughfulness of his work over the years. But, as is the nature of people who work in music but aren't performers, his achievements thus far don't get enough attention outside of the respect for his work within the industry. I wouldn't argue a Wikipedia page is going to help improve that recognition, but it can help by being a useful resource for those of us who might want to make the case in the future. I have no doubt that I'm missing some of the subtle nuances that Wikipedia's moderators prefer (mostly because I don't really want to learn that much of the details of editing wikis), but the substance of the article is largely correct.

To my mind, that's a perfect motivation for the creation of a resource that people can use as a reference. Better yet, I am fairly confident I can draw the attention of friends and aquaintances who might have much more expertise about Mr. Leeds, and hopefully inspire them to point out resources or information that can improve the quality of the new page.

So, here's the brand new Wikipedia page about Alan Leeds. If you think you've got something to add, revise the article, pass along any relevant source materials, or add your voice in the comments. And if you're unfamiliar with his work, check it out — there's almost nobody else in the music business who's been so right, so many times, about the past, present and future of the funk.

The KLF Burn A Million Quid

July 22, 2008

I've been a fan of The KLF since I was a teenager, and just last week was reminded of one of their most amazing stunts. This is just the first of a five-part video showing the entire "Burn a Million Quid" documentary, and I think you don't get to see the actual torching until part two, but it's well worth the look.

What's interesting to me is how many people respond to this performance by saying it made them feel sick to their stomachs. I am not quite sure what that signifies. See also: Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five.

Auto-Tune Goes Legit

June 6, 2008

Dedicated readers will recall me obsessing over and over-analyzing Auto-Tune in pop music earlier this year. It is, then, my pleasure to report that, thanks to the inestimable Sasha Frere-Jones, Auto-Tune analysis has gone legit. Behold, no less an authority than the New Yorker weighs in on Auto-Tune, especially T-Pain's (ab)use of it:

This, roughly, is what happens: Auto-Tune locates the pitch of a recorded vocal, and moves that recorded information to the nearest "correct" note in a scale, which is selected by the user. With the speed set to zero, unnaturally rapid corrections eliminate portamento, the musical term for the slide between two pitches. Portamento is a natural aspect of speaking and singing, central to making people sound like people. A nonmusical example of portamento would be "up-speak," a verbal tic common in some people under thirty. (Can you imagine the end of every sentence rising in pitch? Like a question?) Processed at zero speed, Auto-Tune turns the lolling curves of the human voice into a zigzag of right-angled steps. These steps may represent "perfect" pitches, but when sung pitches alternate too quickly the result sounds unnatural, a fluttering that is described by some engineers as "the gerbil" and by others as "robotic."

The gerbil.

Update: Now with audio! "Here Frere-Jones talks about how Auto-Tune has become a pop-music phenomenon, and demonstrates how it can transform the human voice, with the help of the music producer Tom Beaujour."

The Creative Environment

April 14, 2008

In the world of business, and especially the world of technology, we have some archetypical stories of entrepreneurs in the garage, working to create new products and new companies. But too many of those stories seem to neglect the creative environment in which great ideas and inventions happen.

This is especially unfortunate because inspiration for this type of work doesn't seem to come from being surrounded by market analysis data, or charts and graphs about return on investment, but instead happens like so much creativity does, with a blaring soundtrack while sitting on a folding chair, inspired by the music, movies, books and art that surround us.

Worse, we hear about things like Celebrity Playlists and the artworks that people appreciate long after they've been successful, after they've already proven they have the ability to achieve, but seldom with a focus on what was playing at the time when they did the first work they were recognized for.


So, some time ago, I began a project to start to document some of these environments, inspired by the entrepreneurs and creative talents that I've had the chance to work with or be inspired by. Among others, I've gotten some great responses from Ray Ozzie of Microsoft (and of course Lotus); Jeff Bezos of Amazon; Pierre Omidyar of eBay; Dan Bricklin, co-creator of VisiCalc, and some more contributors along the way. As I start to share what I've found, I'd like to ask the same questions of you that I've asked of these people already.

  1. What music, books or movies do you remember paying attention to at the time when you did your signature work? (This can be your "best" project, or merely your best-known, or the one you're most proud of.)
  2. What do you remember of your physical workspace -- clutter on the desk, notes on the walls, whiteboards or blackboards, etc.?

The goal is to evoke a sense of what more subtle things may have been influencing the work that's created. There have, of course, been many similar or related efforts over the years, and I'll be trying to share and document of number of fantastic responses to these questions that I've collected.

If you'd like to participate yourself, you can answer the questions here in the comments, or post a reply on your own blog using the tag "createnv" (since it seems that's not taken yet) and/or embed this post on your own site with the code below. I'll be collecting responses from the blogosphere along with my own research and posting it all here in the days to come. (Thanks to Travis Isaacs for the image.)

The Death of Analog, AutoTune Edition

February 5, 2008

One of the things that makes Snoop's "Sensual Seduction" video so compelling is his outstanding use of vocal effects. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

In the video, Snoop makes liberal use of a breath tube on his keytar, an obvious homage to the talkbox made (in)famous by Roger Troutman of Zapp fame. (If you don't know and love the funk, then you at least know Roger from the hook to Tupac's "California Love".) Snoop even even explicitly credits Troutman in an MTV interview, along with the much-more-obvious nods in the video to Prince and Rick James.

The thing is, "Sensual Seduction" doesn't use the talkbox, nor does it use a vocoder, which is a completely different instrument that often gets credit for the talkbox's outbut. The vocoder is an amazing instrument; There's an interesting background on the technology in this survey of milestones in electronic musical instruments, and the good folks at O'Reilly will even tell you how to make your own, if you're so inclined. I've been hoping for the vocoder and talkbox to return to the top of the pop charts for a solid decade now (ever since "California Love", really) and am somewhat chagrined that so much of the recent voice-distortion on pop singles is in the context of rather uninspired songs. But I digress.

Music today isn't made by connecting breathing tubes to home-built contraptions. Instead, commercial music is made in Digidesign's ProTools. ProTools is to commercial audio what Photoshop is to commercial design: Platform, product, and verb. And the first, and signature tool for performing pitch-correction on ProTools was Antares' Auto-Tune. The fun part is, now that we've entered this brave new world of digital distortion of vocals, Auto-Tune isn't just correcting pitch, it's being used to arbitrarily alter them.

You know the rest. Cher's "Believe"? Auto-Tune. Snoop's "Sensual Seduction"? Auto-Tune. And all of T-Pain's career? Auto-Tune. Now, it's possible that some producers are using other software to perform similar pitch-correction/pitch-manipulation duties; There are even free clones of Auto-Tune's functionality. But as often as not, the software that's become synonymous with the effect is the one that's responsible for the sound.

And so, another bit of analog sound-hacking makes way for its digital successor. Even if he's using the latest software, I gotta give props to Snoop for honoring the low-tech inspiration.

I've written a lot more about Auto-Tune: Check out When Auto-Tune Strikes, about the fact that T-Pain can't sing, and Last of the Auto-Tune, which Gawker hailed as the "ultimate analysis" of this phenomenon.

A Last Chance to Donate to Music Education

October 27, 2007

The Donors Choose Bloggers Challenge that I wrote about a few weeks ago is almost over, and that means you only have a few days to help support the Notes for Class Challenge, an effort to help fund music education programs that have been proposed by the teachers who will be overseeing them.

As I mentioned earlier, I'll be personally matching 10% of all donations -- the incredibly generous readers of my site have already contributed over two thousand dollars, supporting music education programs for nearly 1700 kids. It's pretty astounding, but we're not that far away from nearly doubling the number of students we can help. Take a look at efforts like the Music Bingo proposal in North Carolina: If just a few more of you donate, my matching donation for the Challenge will help us sponsor a project that helps 1000 more students.

I've been blogging over 8 years now, and in all that time, I've never personally endorsed a campaign like this or committed to matching donations in this way. So I hope any of you who've found the writing I've done on my blog over the years to be useful or valuable will take a few minutes to make a donation. For reference, the over 6,700 posts on this blog (and my old Daily Links blog), along with the comments that have responded to them, add up to over 1.2 million words. That's the equivalent of 20 or so printed books, so if you wanted to pay just $1 per book-length section of blog inanity, you could easily justify a $20 donation.

And, if four more of you donate to the Notes for Class Challenge before October 31, I'll also create some new sections on my site to make it easier to find the stuff you'd actually want to read. Make me proud, people!

Okay, Fine: Links!

October 15, 2007

Put these in your browser, and shake well.

  • Facebook apps are not a long tail. So says Chris Anderson, who oughtta know. The tougher question is: Since the recent changes to app distribution on Facebook's platform, will there ever be another popular new application on Facebook again. Or is the era of hit F8 apps over already?
  • Prince is Rolling Stone's most underrated guitarist. The article's got a great shot of Prince's most ridiculously entertaining affectation of recent years: His habit of throwing his guitar away in faux-disgust at the end of his solos. His poor guitar tech Takumi is gonna take one of these spiky symbol-shaped guitars to the head one of these days while trying to make the catch.
  • I loved Ian Rogers' post about digital music, "Convenience Wins, Hubris Loses". Choice quote: "Back in 1999 ... We naively and enthusiastically suggested to labels that we’d be a great place to sell MP3s. The response from the labels at the time was universally, 'What’s MP3?' or 'Um, no.' Instead they commenced suing Napster." Working in music promo online back then, I got to see those reactions first hand, and I guess I was equally naive.
  • Rafe points to Jeff Atwood's great post about copyright and YouTube. I have the opposite conclusion than these guys: If YouTube has created something fantastic, and it required copyright violation to do so, then copyright law should be changed to make it legal. Laws are ours, people -- they're not carved on stone tablets.
  • The PlayStation 3 is a complete failure for casual gaming. That's not news, but it's never been articulated as well. Especially damning is that even the fanboys can only dispute minor facts, not the fundamental conclusion.

Almost There!

October 5, 2007

We're really close to funding music education in Cassell Elementary School in Chicago -- you should contribute a couple of bucks! As MetBlogs Chicago kindly mentioned, I am gonna match 10% of whatever you give. I promise I'll get back to blogging about other topics as well next week, but I think there's a really great chance to have a direct impact, and I hope you'll join me.

Of course, if you like any of the other proposals in the Notes for Class challenge, I'm happy to match those donations, too. One that jumped out at me is from right near my wife's hometown: Music Bingo sounds like a great effort, at Salem Elementary School where they're moving to a year-round class schedule and need some help to expand their lessons in the new schedule.

South Side Sounds

October 2, 2007

I've gotten a lot of really good questions (and some fantastically generous donations!) about the Donors Choose blogger challenge I wrote about yesterday, but by far the most common is "what should I do?" There are a lot of options, so let me make it easy: Let's help kids on the South Side of Chicago.

Help Us Listen to the Music is a great example of how you can participate. A teacher at Cassell Elementary school writes:

In the upcoming year I would like to have a music listening center in the classroom where students could go and listen to music of various genres, styles, and composers. Eventually this music listening center will include classical music, Jazz, world music, early childhood music, and electronic music. While at the music listening center, students would analyze and describe music, identify instruments, recognize musical elements in music, and complete other listening activities.

All you've gotta do is chip in a few bucks. Throw in the five bucks you were going to spend at Starbucks today, or chip in $25 bucks to buy a couple of CDs. And as I mentioned yesterday, I'll personally match 10% of whatever you donate -- if ten of you pony up $30, we'll have this proposal covered and kids from kindergarten up to 8th grade will be making their first steps towards learning music appreciation and music theory.

Choosing to Help Kids

October 1, 2007

I've been a big fan of Donors Choose for some time. It's a charity my readers may well have heard of, which helps students in public schools by letting regular folks like us directly fund the requests that teachers make for classroom essentials.

I'm supporting Donors Choose with a campaign called Notes for Class, which is designed to support music initiatives in schools.

There are a lot of elements of that model that appeal to someone like me, who's familiar with technology and more than a little skeptical of the level of accountability in traditional charities. Instead of my money contributing to some nebulous "good deeds", I can choose exactly how I want to have an impact: Which schools, which students, which projects. Donors Choose and its work have been so compelling that I've been eager to help promote and participate in the Blogger Challenge initiative.

But that's not the only reason that I found it easy to support Donors Choose. I've also had the opportunity, a few times now, to meet Charles Best, CEO and Founder of Donors Choose. He's a former school teacher, an incredibly charismatic yet modest guy, and most importantly, he's a true believer. It makes it clear, from the top down, that the entire organization really believes in what they're doing. I didn't realize how much that mattered to me until I saw it.

So, I'm urging all of you to participate. First, go to the Notes for Class page, and pick an effort that you think is worth sponsoring. And then, for every $10 you donate to any of the proposals, I'll add another dollar on top of yours. Donate $100? I'll add $10. Donate $1000? I'll add $100. I'll be matching every donation from my readers, up to $10,000. (That's a $1000 contribution.)

I do have an agenda here, of course. I want to show people what I've seen: That the blogging community I've had the privilege of belonging to is one of the most generous communities anywhere. I believe it, and I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I'm also helping out with promoting this effort at Six Apart, where we've promoted the Blogger Challenge to our communities on LiveJournal, Vox, TypePad and Movable Type. In fact, for a few more hours, you can email us at and request a $30 gift certificate for making a donation to Donors Choose as well.

I'm hoping we can do a great job of showing the world the positive side of what the blogging community can accomplish. And I'm really hoping we can help fund that tenor saxophone or any of the other needs that teachers have listed on the site.

Remembering Bobby Byrd

September 17, 2007

Alan Leeds, one of my heroes and our greatest record of the living history of funk music, offers a warm remembrance of Bobby Byrd after Byrd's passing last week. Well worth a read, especially to understand that every great sidekick had the potential to be the front man.

You might also want to revisit Goodbye, Godfather, from when we lost James Brown last year.

Timbaland, Nine Years On

September 4, 2007

Speaking of Timberlake, that brings us inevitably to Timbaland. After the fawning over Rick Rubin in the New York Times, it's amazing that there hasn't been a similarly high-profile profile of the best producer working in pop music today.

Until then, this piece from The Wire should do nicely, even though it's nine (!) years old. The article comes courtesy of Sasha-Frere Jones, both for blogging its reappearance online and for writing it in the first place.

JT's LoveShow

September 4, 2007

Justin Timberlake - FutureSex/LoveSounds We just finished watching HBO's broadcast of Justin Timberlake's FutureSex tour, which I (unsurprisingly) quite enjoyed. It seems like he's done a good bit since his last tour to incorporate his strong live band and his rapidly improving chops on guitar and keyboards to integrate real musicianship into the show.

Those were the primary things I wanted to see more of four years ago, when I wrote about his live show at the Roseland here in NYC. If you liked that post, you might also enjoy "SexyBack": Pop for indie rock MP3 blogs.

Giving Records 2 U

July 22, 2007

In the New York Times, Jon Pareles gets it exactly right:

Prince's priorities are obvious. The main one is getting his music to an audience, whether it's purchased or not. "Prince's only aim is to get music direct to those that want to hear it," his spokesman said when announcing that The Mail would include the CD. ... Other musicians may think that their best chance at a livelihood is locking away their music -- impossible as that is in the digital era -- and demanding that fans buy everything they want to hear. But Prince is confident that his listeners will support him, if not through CD sales then at shows or through other deals.

Prince's latest album Planet Earth was bundled for free with newspapers in the U.K.; His 2004 album Musicology was given away with all of his concert tickets that year, as he's doing again this year. And in his 1993 track "Pope", Prince said, "Every time u want it, I'll be live -- bring a date, I mean a computer; When it's over, press save." -- I think he meant it. Somehow the record industry thinks that giving music away for free is unsustainable, but I suppose that depends on what you're good at.

The Times story has a bunch of MP3 samples of Prince's biggest hits, too.