How Do You Define… PT II

I'm picky AND I'm grumpy.
I’m picky AND I’m grumpy.

So, apparently I over generalized the nature of events (festivals) and event (festival) talent buyers in my previous post How Do You Define …and why does it matter?”  A couple of folks have taken me to task for it, so let me clarify some of my points.

My major point is that labels such as singer-songwriter are inherently vague, overly broad, and should not be used as a means of describing the style of music that an artist does.  The connotation of a “singer-songwriter” is as a SOLO (or duo) performer, often accompanied by a single instrument, and is not indicative of the STYLE of music the artist is performing.

I attempted to defeat that bias by my choice of the videos I ended my past post with.  I specifically selected singers who also write their own material, and are largely known as singer-songwriters – yet they display a diversity of style and lyrical content – and aesthetic quality.  There are (currently) 12 videos …from across Colorado’s history of great music.

The major point I was trying to establish was how differently we define a genre of music, and how those perceptions are applied by those who are listening, and therefore “buying” music – whether a fan, or those who book talent for SOME festival and/or civic events regionally .

lets-party-md

There are numerous types of events (festivals) in Colorado.  By some estimates there are as many as 1250 event days a year, statewide.  Many book a broad diversity of talent – from solo acts to large bands and orchestras – while others are more genre/style specific.

Those who are responsible for putting on many of our regional civic events are (generally) not in the business of music – they typically fill other (more important) roles at their municipal agencies.  In other words, their “business” may be city planning, and they may not be able to articulate genres and styles as those of us “in the business” can and (too often?) do.

Many of these folks only know about music as the average person (also not in the business of music) knows about music – from what they see on tv, remember from their youth (pre-24/25), or hear on their favorite local radio station.  They can tell you what they like, and they can typically paint broad outlines of “style” or “genre.”

More likely than not, they describe what they like or don’t like by referencing what they already know.  It seems to me at least that most people are more likely to say “I like ______________, and I think ____________ “sucks” than to try to describe music with “industry” terminology.

I know one person who works for a city, and is part of the summer downtown festival committee, who can’t name the artist behind a single song she hears on the radio, nor can she name the song.  Yet this person knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and can attribute a fundamental nomenclature to the style she listens to — however broad.  She can name something as country or pop/rock or metal or rap .. but fails to be able to describe music in much more specific terminology.  She calls those who sing solo with a guitar a “folk” artist.

I know another person at a civic agency that puts on a music event, who was unaware of one of the region’s top music publications, and is largely unaware of many of the regions’ top acts, including some our Grammy nominated and/or award winning talents. Still others have a knowledge set limited by other factors.

blue-stick-man-knowledge-mdThere are obviously exceptions, and many music buyers I know are incredibly knowledgeable about the scene and what kinds of music our artists perform.  As a radio dj over the past 35+ years in Colorado, however, I may call something one thing based on my knowledge of radio formats, and yet describe it using different terms if I’m talking to an artist, or someone booking talent for a civic event/festival.

I used the example of singer-songwriter because of an artist consultation, in which the artist asked me how to overcome the apparent bias inherent in the term singer-songwriter.  My point was DO NOT USE THE TERM SINGER-SONGWRITER.  It has no specific meaning – it’s too broad and diluted to use as a descriptive term of the TYPE (style) of music you perform.

confused1Confused?  You’re not alone.  It really is all about the words you use and how you use them – and boy is there a lot of confusion.

Descriptive terminology can be very different from generation to generation, as it is among those involved in the business (or art) of presenting music.  New terms (and the understanding thereof) are introduced with each new generation of musicians, fans, the general public, and those who present music to the public.

Who knew there would be HUNDREDS of styles of “rock” when we were introduced to “rock and roll” in 1955.  Alan Freed, aka Moondog. would be impressed, I’m sure. (or not)

EDIT:  Who knew there would be HUNDRED of styles of “rock” when we were introduced to “rock and roll in 1955 – regardless of who was given credit for coining the term.  

 

Support for the Colorado Sound Courtesy of

CCCLogoPMS300ConvertedColorado Case Company:  Colorado made insulated soft cases, gig bags, case covers and rigid cases for most instruments.  This premium, professional grade, brand is designed, engineered and tested to provide incredible thermal protection for your valuable musical instrument.  We specialize in unusual and hard to fit instruments.  Info at www.coloradocase.comSpokesBuzz Fort Collins logo

SpokesBUZZ, a  Colorado 501C3 with a mission to DEVELOP THE PROFESSIONALISM OF ARTISTS, PROMOTE AND CONNECT PROGRESSIVE CULTURAL DESTINATIONS, AMPLIFY MUSIC SCENES and GROW LOCAL ECONOMIES.  Please visit the website for information on bands that SpokesBUZZ supports, as well as shows and more.  www.spokesbuzz.org.

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The Colorado Sound Presents Head for the Hills with guests Grant Farm & Gipsy Moon, at the Mishawaka on May 17.  Tickets at www.themishawaka.com Check out this performance from H4TH at the Mish in 2012 ….

How Do You Define…. and why does it matter?

…singer-songwriter

puzzled emotoconYou ever stop and think about how you perceive and personally define styles or genres of music?  What does AAA mean?  Americana?  Rock?  Pop?  Can you articulate the difference between Rhythm & Blues and contemporary R&B?  Neither can most people – even those we’d think might or should know …such as event talent buyers.

So, I’m on the phone this week – doing what I do – consulting on matters related to music in Colorado, and I get asked “how do you define singer-songwriter?”  My immediate off the cuff answer was “everyone in music is a singer songwriter if they sing songs they write.”  That’s true.  If you sing songs you write you are in fact a singer-songwriter.  But the definition goes well beyond that.

The question came about because the person I was consulting had gotten push back from event buyers for being a singer-songwriter.  For many people in the scene – event buyers especially – the term brings a less than likable meaning – that of solo (or duo) act that sings soft wimpy ballady acoustic “folk” type songs – the type you hear in coffee shops and many brew pubs regionally today.

folk singerAccording to Allmusic.com,  “…the term Singer/Songwriter refers to the legions of performers that followed Bob Dylan in the late 60s and early 70s. Most of the original singer/songwriters performed alone with an acoustic guitar or a piano but some had small groups for backing. Their lyrics were personal, although they were often veiled by layers of metaphors and obscure imagery. Singer/songwriters drew primarily from folk and country, although certain writers like Randy Newman and Carole King incorporated the song-craft of Tin Pan Alley pop. The main concern for any singer/songwriter was the song itself, not necessarily the performance.”

Examples of singer songwriters also include:  Simon & Garfunkle, Billy Joel, Elton John, John Lennon, Van Morrison, and James Taylor from the 70’s and from the more contemporary listings, Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, and Sara Bareilles to name a few.

This point is worth repeating; The main concern for any singer/songwriter was the song itself, not necessarily the performance.”

So why does it matter?  It is the performance issue that drives many buyers away from so called singer-songwriters.  Many buyers don’t see the singer-songwriter as a performer – as an ENTERTAINER (despite the Billy Joels and Elton Johns, who few think of as singer-songwriters, but rather pop and/or rock acts).

I made a few calls to verify that my thinking was in line with realities on the ground.  I wondered why “singer-songwriters” need not apply in most cases.  The answer was “energy.”  What I took from that was not “energy” but FAMILIARITY.  Bring an Elton John or Bob Dylan tribute band to the party and you’re in.  Bring in Bob Dylan performing solo songs on an acoustic guitar that no one has yet become familiar with and he’s out.  Why?  FAMILIARITY = ENERGY and ENERGY = FAMILIARITY.

It’s not that folks expect to hire cover bands …and tribute bands fall into a different role in the scene – accepted as something more than a cover band.  It’s that folks who put on events desire music that the average attendee can “move along to” (read:  “sing along to”) even if they’ve never heard the song before.

If you avoid using the term singer-songwriter, as an artist what do you say you do musically?  Americana?  What’s that?  What’s different between pop and rock?  Is country “country” if it doesn’t sound like what’s on commercial country radio – or is that even country to begin with and when is it “too country?”  How bout the differences between Rhythm & Blues (R&B) in the classic context, and R&B in the contemporary context?

One event buyer/planner this week asked me to find them “Colorado sounding” acts.  When pressed, I came away with an answer that what was meant was acts in the bluegrass, jam-grass, jamband, reggae. jamband oriented funk and hip-hop, and “Americana” (read: non Nashville sounding country) styles of music.  At no time was I asked for singer-songwriter, folk, rock, pop, blues, soul, jazz, or country.

My best advice?  Leave the genres to those who care (uh … hello?)  and define based on comparatives, on “if you like so and so you’ll like _____________”  … choose “__________ compliments so and so in a mix,”  NOT “_________ sounds like so and so.

And even if you are, don’t call yourself a singer-songwriter … most singer songwriters I know can do solo, duo, trio, quartet, or even orchestra shows – and are not simply a gal or guy with a guitar …or Bob Dylan without a band …a “folk” singer.

When we think of great Colorado singer-songwriters, here are a few I think are definitely worth mentioning …we do love singer-songwriters in Colorado.  Turns out they’re among our most revered treasures.

 

#coloradorocks #coloradovideos #colordaosingersongwriters #leaderofthepack #localmusicmatters

 

The Colorado Sound – Vol 3, EP 46 2011

NEWS & NOTES: John Oates “You Make My Dreams Come True” from Mississippi Mile (2011)
Lionel Young Band “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Rumba” from On Our Way to Memphis (2011)
Petals of Spain “Working 9 to 5” from Late Night Visitor (2011)
The Dirty Lookers “Whiskey, She’s A Liar (Radio Edit)” from Audio Voyeur (2011)
Mosey West “Cold Prediction” from Vaca Money (2011)
(D) Vices I Admire “Hero” from Venom & Pride (2012)My Body Sings Electric “Rings” from Changing Color (2011)
Rachel James “We Don’t Care” from Not Giving Up (2011)
Katey Laurel “Two Birds” from Two Birds (2011)
The Still City “Punk Rock Kids” from Brittle Bones (2011)
Driftwood Fire “Appalachian Hills” from How To Untangle A Heartache (2011)
Halden Wofford & the Hi Beams “Mr. Pain” from Sinners & Saints (2010)
(NT) Signel-Z “Morning Light” from Io Rise (2011)
Peter Sommer “Looks Like This” from Tremolo Canteen (2010)
John Common & Blinding Flashes of Light “Same Scar” from Beautiful Empty (2011)
(NT) Full Belly “Too Blessed to be Stressed” from New Voice (2011)
(D) Giddyup Kitty “Ghost of Angelina” from Tracks (2011) Medic “Grace & Gravity” from Grace & Gravity (2011)
The Fray “Heartbeat” from Heartbeat (2012)
Ian Cooke “Fortitude” from Fortitude (2011)
(NT) Air Dubai “Summer Solstice” from Day Escape (2011)
(NT) Signal Path “Gangsterer Than Me” from The Prosaic Fades (2011)
(D) Demon Funkies “These Strings” from Back on the Monkey (2012)(NT) Bob Rea “Someday’s Gone” from Ragged Choir (2011)
(D) Kathryn Mostow “I’m Still Here” from Rich Girl (2011)The H2 Big Band  “Big Spender” from You’re It! (2011)

MMMM – Monday August 17, 2010

Okay, I have to admit I have been incredibly busy this summer.  I’ve got home remodeling to complete before mid-September, festivals to produce and/or be a part of as emcee (People’s Fair, Carbon Valley Summer Festival, Bohemian Nights) or as a performer (Carbon Valley Summer Festival)… my show to produce weekly … records to listen to … sound gigs to do …. I really needed a day or two or three to just simply relax and listen to music that not only doesn’t shake, rattle, and roll but just sounds somehow refreshing to the soul.  I need that on occasion.  Today (Sunday) is one of those days.  Sun tea anyone?

Selasee and the Fafa Family – African Gate
Genre/Style: World, African, Reggae
Sampled Track: African Gate
Website: http://www.selasee.com
Bio from website: Born and raised in West Africa, Selasee’s pursuit of music eventually led him to Boulder, Colorado, where he currently lives.  Selasee’s music is a unique blend of Reggae, West African Highlife and American Pop music.
Notes: I only recently became aware of Selasee’s music.  This record was enough to convince me to check out his previous release called “Run.”  Most reggae bands rarely ever fully embrace the style or immerse themselves in it authentically.  That’s why those whose soul is tied to the message and the “nation” win out every time … This album is highly recommended if what you’re looking for is the authenticity that lies beneath the pop trappings of most who try to play African and reggae styles.

John McVey – Unpredictable
Genre/Style: Adult Contemporary, singer-songwriter
Sampled Track:  Unpredictable
Website:
http://www.johnmcvey.com
Notes: In today’s world, you just don’t take ten years off between doing records and hope that anyone who heard that “one” will remember you ten years later.  John did just that … took ten years between albums.  The result?  Amazing.  And it’s not that John didn’t have chops to begin with.  He’s an accomplished producer/engineer at Coupe Studios in Boulder who stays so busy that this record actually took two years to record.  The care, professionalism, and attention to detail shows in every imaginable way.  This record is truly as good as it gets …

After Midnight Jazz Band – Midnight in Madison
Genre/Style: jazz, big band, vocal, trad, blues, americana
Sampled Track: Hallelujah I Love Her So
Website: http://www.aftermidnightjazzband.com/
Recommended if You Like (RIYL): Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Lyle Lovett and His Big Band
Notes: I grew up in a house filled with the music of Benny Goodman (The King of Swing), Lionel Hampton, Pete Fountain, and other Swing Era greats.  I am tremendously happy that bands like After Midnight not only keep the style alive, but do with the care and skill they do.  This record represents the best of four sets of music the band did live in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2008.  It is a joyously good listen!

Gabrielle Louise – Mirror the Branches
Genre/Style: Folk
Sampled Track: I’ll Turn Myself in on Monday
Website: http://www.gabriellelouise.com
RIYL: Joni Mitchell, Patty Griffin
Notes: There’s a gypsy in Gabrielle’s soul.  I knew that BEFORE reading this on her website, “The daughter of two gypsy musicians, Gabrielle inherited the genetic predisposition to wanderlust and song.”  On this, her fifth independently released album, Gabrielle follows further out across the trail she’s been traveling the past four years since the release of Journey.  One of the most striking songs on the record is “Strange Summer Snow,” and I do dare to say that it is the equal to some of the best folk songs in anyone’s catalog.  This isn’t simply singer-songwriter fare … Gabrielle, over the course of a few short years, has really and truly become a major force as a folk artist – not just singing love songs, but singing about the heart and soul in ways that MOST singer songwriters can only hope to achieve in their dreams.

Eric Forsyth – (the thin of thick things)
Genre/Style: Folk
Sampled Track: Flannel Shirts and Boat Shoes
Website: http://www.ericforsythmusic.com/
Notes: A solid performance and maturing songwriting are the highlights of this sophomore record from this California transplant who was, “Born of a jazzer father and very accomplished professional organist for a mother, “Er-Bear” Forsyth was homegrown in Northern California in the shadow of his late great grandmother’s baby grand Steinway.”    A multi-instrumentalist, Eric wrote, produced, and recorded this effort with the skillful mandolin work of Dave Willis.  Focus tracks include “Flannel Shirts and Boat Shoes” and “Happenstance.”

Dan Craig Band – Alchemy
Genre/Style: Folk, singer-songwriter
Sampled Track: Enough
Website: http://www.dcraigmusic.com/
Notes: Recommended if you like Josh Ritter and Damien Rice.  Dan Craig’s music has recently been featured on the hit show “One Tree Hill” and has shared the stage with many artists including Gregory Alan Isakov, Mike Doughty (Soul Coughing), Ari Hest and Katie Herzig in the past year.  Recommended tracks include: “Alchemy,” “Solid Ground,” and “Enough.”  There are few voices as self-assured as Dan’s … and fewer still the songwriters whose arrangements are as fresh as those on this record.  It’s solid… and he’s got a new one apparently in the can for a Christmas 2010 release … dude stays busy that’s for sure.