PME & McDonalization #apme2018

Popular Music Education as an antidote to McDonaldization

John Kratus, Professor Emeritus of Music Education, Michigan State University.

John begins with an overview of the concept of McDonaldization (Ritter 1993) – defined as a rational process combining efficiency, calculability, predictability and control, starting with McDonalds itself, and then extending the metaphor towards the ‘template’ that he suggests represents typical K-12 music curricula in the USA.

He cites Ritter “people are the greatest threat to predictability” and suggests that McDonaldized curricula need to suppress students’ agency.

[Read more…]

The Art of Listening To Songs #apme2018

Randy Klein, songwriter and SongU coach.

Randy introduces himself and talks briefly about his work in music education, including his publications, talks, and his experience of listening to other songwriters’ work over many years. Today he’s sharing with us the structure of his 16-week songwriting course, and he begins with the philosophy of definition i.e. the question ‘what is a song?’. He suggests that most technical descriptions of a song fall short of the mark of describing its subjective effects on listeners, noting how difficult this intangible would be to achieve. He provides a traditional melody-lyric-harmony definition of a song (i.e. omitting the Sound Recording or arrangement), and then asks the potential student question “If [a song is too intangible to hold], then how can I learn about it?”.

To the great amusement of the audience, Randy now talks us (literally, talks us) through the whole of the lyric to James Brown’s ‘I Got You’, demonstrating that it’s clearly a love song. He now separates the [love] song from the arrangement, describing the horn lick and Brown’s vocal as ‘ear candy’, building on the core lyric’s emotional intent.

[Read more…]

Music Technology, Bandlab and Berklee #apme2018

On the bus to the university this morning I introduced myself to the person sat next to me, who turned out to be John Bigus from my own institution (Berklee’s a great community, but it’s a BIG community, so it’s possible to work there for a long time without knowing everyone’s name). John is responsible for the PULSE free resource, available at pulse.berklee.edu, which is part of Berklee’s initiative to work with K-12 school age music creators and teachers.

John has been working with Bandlab, so there is an introduction from the company’s Lauren Henry Parsons, and our interviewer is Bandlab’s Michael Filson. It’s a cloud-based, free, 12-track DAW app (mobile app or browser-based) with 3.5m users across the world. It’s sponsored by the music instrument industry, which is why the end product is free for musicians – and a walled-garden version for students and teachers. It’s also part of a relaunch of SONAR’s Cakewalk.

[Read more…]

Association for Popular Music Education #apme #songwriting

Conference roomI’m in Nashville, at the #apme conference, hosted by Middle Tennessee State University. Popular Music Education is still a relatively young field, at least in terms of having its own conference (launched ~10 years ago) and journal (launched last year). More about AMPE at popularmusiceducation.org. Conference schedule here.

Coming from Berklee, perhaps I’ve become too comfortable with the idea that everyone talks about popular music pedagogy all the time. A lot of colleagues here are from institutions that have a long history of classical music education, but have only recently launched popular music programs. They are often seen as mavericks in their schools, and are viewed with some suspicion by more traditional teachers and departments. So there’s a palpable sense of community here, and even during this first morning of day 1 I’ve frequently overheard the phrase: “I’ve finally found my people!”.

[Read more…]

Did Lana Del Rey copy Radiohead?

radiohead-pablohoney-albumartThis week, Lana Del Rey stated that she is being sued for copying Radiohead’s 1992 song Creep in her 2017 release, Get Free.

First, some facts…

  • Both songs use the same chord sequence: | I | I |  | III | III |  | IV | IV | iv |  iv |
    • Creep is in G major, so | G | G | B | B | C  | C | Cm | Cm |
    • Get Free is in Bb major, so | Bb | Bb | D | D | Eb | Eb | Ebm | Ebm |
  • They are both mid-tempo (Creep is around 92 BPM; Get Free is around 102BPM).
  • They both have a similar rhythmic feel – straight 8s 4/4 time, in 8-bar sections (this is a similarity but an unremarkable one, given that it applies to a huge number of songs).

…and some history…

  • Creep is part-borrowed from Albert Hammond’s The Air That I Breathe (1972) – later a hit for The Hollies. According to The Guardian, Radiohead gave Hammond and his co-writer Mike Hazlewood a credit in the Pablo Honey album liner notes.

Here are the three songs in reverse order of release: [Read more…]

Musical and Lyric Traits in the UK’s favourite Christmas songs

There’s a news story right now about the ‘Happiest Christmas song’, a commerical research project I was asked to undertake recently to provide statistics about the characteristics of the UK’s favourite Christmas songs (Spotify streams, Christmas 2016). It resulted in the following song, penned by the remarkable Harriet Green and Steve Anderson, two super-talented and mega-credited UK songwriters. The song is below – I think it came out great, but judge for yourself.

Academics who are interested – here’s the analysis paper – a simple list of musical and lyric traits by popularity, with some speculative commentary about cultural trends (complete with extra-Christmassy red and green data charts). There’s also a ‘making of’ video at the bottom of this post.

Bennett, Joe (2017). Musical and Lyric Traits in the UK’s favourite Christmas songs. Boston/online. joebennett.net.

Here’s the behind the scenes video of the recording session, with commentary from songwriter Harriet Green.

Popular song & literary scholarship (Brazil) #iaspm2017

Cláudia Neiva de Matos: Universidade Federal Fluminense

Popular song and literary scholarship: interactions between criticism and artistic creation

[ABSTRACT ONLY]

vm-e-baden

Vinícius de Moraes (right); one of several Brazilian poet/songwriters discussed in Marta’s presentation.

ABSTRACT: Brazilian popular song and literature have long been intertwined. The 19th-century “modinhas” were often created by setting written poems to music and in the radio era romantic songs often had literary style lyrics. Since bossa-nova and tropicalismo, an increasing number of artists, from Vinícius de Moraes to Arnaldo Antunes, have composed poems as well as lyrics. Besides, since the 1980s, as popular music gets more space and relevance as a subject of academic research, a new kind of connection arises, linking scholars and popular songwriting: professors and critics of the literary and linguistic fields, such as José Miguel Wisnik and Luiz Tatit, are also renowned songwriters and singers. They never or seldom write poetry, but they produce important books and articles about popular song. This paper will approach the artistic and critical production of those and other “mastersingers”, in order to discuss the following working hypothesis: when creating and performing songs get together with researching and analysing them, both art and science are affected; art offers new aesthetic proposals and forms; academic and critical work develop new perceptions and perspectives, with remarkable results to the analytical and theoretical approach of popular song.

[no commentary – with apologies to Cláudia, I arrived late to this session, but her discussion of the overlap between Brazilian poets, academics, and songwriters was fascinating and I look forward to reading her work if she writes it up at a future date].