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.

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!”.

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:

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].

Blame It on the Boogie – criteria for good pop music? #iaspm2017

Presenter: Dirk Stederoth – Universität Kassel, Institut für Philosophie

Mick Jackson
Mick Jackson, who wrote and released the original version of Blame It On The Boogie in 1978.

ABSTRACT: The presentation focuses on the question of whether there are criteria for measuring the quality of a pop song that go beyond the scope of a mere musical structural analysis. As many examples demonstrate, such structural analysis, which, according the criteria thereof, is derived from the aesthetic study of classical art music, offers rather unsatisfactory results when applied to pop music. In addition, it is questionable whether harmonic or rhythmic complexity, for example, is even a suitable criterion for the analysis of pop music. Against the background of this problematic situation, the presentation proposes an approach based on musical aesthetics, which assumes a fundamental tension between ideational musical structures and their categories (tonality, rhythmicity/the study of meter and composition) as well as the realization of music. The thesis of this approach proposes that pop music can not so much be considered from the structural perspective of this debate but instead from the perspective of realization. However, studying pop music for the perspective of realization requires comparable categories. These categories in the presentation at hand are sound, groove and performance. After this approach has been presented, I will also apply these categories of realization by means of a comparative analysis of the two versions of the pop song “Blame It on the Boogie” by Mick Jackson and The Jackson Five in order to establish the heuristic value of these categories.

Dirk opens his presentation with these historically concurrent versions of ‘Blame It On The Boogie’. We hear The Jacksons’ more famous version, then the earlier German version by original songwriter ‘Mick Jackson’ (no relation). Dirk tells the apocryphal story of how the song was discovered at the MIDEM show in the 1970s, and then immediately debunks this legend, stating that it was actually a more straightforward publishing deal because The Jacksons needed a more successful hit than their previous one.

Wayfair, you’ve got just the soundalikes I need

Friends, musicians and soundmen (and women) – lend me your ears. Here are some Wayfair TV commercials in a playlist – let me know (Twitter @joebennettmusic) what songs you think they’re using as a template for the music. Disclosure – this is for academic research, not copyright/client work.

[Health warning – these ads have a level of cheesy catchiness that may be difficult to cure once acquired.]