A Year as David Bowie

A Year as David Bowie


Photos: Twitter/PA Images

In an attempt to gain a better understanding of the icon’s mind, cultural studies professor, Will Brooker, is planning to spend a year of his life as David Bowie.

A film and cultural studies expert at Kingston University, Brooker will spend a few months at a time experiencing specific moments of the star’s 40-year career – from Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke.

It’s not just the outfits however. Brooker is adopting Bowie’s eating habits, reading the same books and visiting the same places.

Brooker said: “The idea is to inhabit Bowie’s head space at points in his life and career to understand his work from an original angle, while retaining a critical and objective perspective at the same time – a kind of split persona perhaps”. Continue reading

New Jimi Hendrix documentary

Watch Jimi Hendrix playing Purple Haze in new documentary clip


On 4th July 1970, The Jimi Hendrix Experience took to the stage at the Atlanta International Pop Festival.

Performing to a crowd of 300,000 people, it would tragically turn out to be the largest show of Jimi’s career as the iconic guitarist would pass away just 10 weeks later.

The seminal moment of Jimi’s transient career and crowning jewel of the landmark festival is now being relived in a new documentary – Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church – a comprehensive account of the performance that night. Continue reading

Study: Eminem has largest vocabulary in music

Study: Eminem has largest vocabulary in music

At first glance, it might not be readily apparent, but Detroit rapper Eminem is an erudite logophile whose megagaltastic talent cannot be denied.

Translation: He uses a lot of different words in his lyrics.

That’s the finding of a study by Musixmatch, which has declared that Eminem is Number Uno when it comes to the number of words used in songs by 93 of the best selling artists of all time as listed by Wikipedia.

The study, which compiled the total number of words in each artists’ repertoire, found that Marshall Bruce Mathers II (the rhymer’s real name, moniker, cognomen, nom de guerre, agnomen) has a vocabulary of 8,818 words. Continue reading

Crowdsourcing an entire song in 10 days through your phone!

Crowdsourcing an entire song in 10 days through your phone!

As we become more interconnected, as out mobile technology becomes more sophisticated, its becoming easier and easier to outsource tasks to qualified experts in a variety of fields at the touch of a button.  This is a story about how Alec Wiggs took his guitar riff, using Garage Band on his iPhone as a mobile recording and mixing interface, and fleshed out an entire song for minimal financial investment.

In the span of 10 days with $230, “Hydrangea” was made with five strangers spread out across the United States—all of whom love their craft enough to do it for an affordable price. Continue reading

Stravinsky’s Illegal “Star Spangled Banner” Arrangement

Stravinsky’s Illegal “Star Spangled Banner” Arrangement

6a00d83451c83e69e200e54f1b90738834-800wiDid the Boston Police really arrest Igor Stravinsky in 1943 for adding a dominant seventh chord to the Star Spangled Banner? The unlikely mug shot, above, seems to back up the story…until you look carefully at the date.

The tale is an enticing urban legend of twentieth century music history, rooted in a few grains of truth. The “mug shot” was actually taken for a 1940 visa application. Stravinsky emigrated to the United States in 1939 and became a citizen in 1945, eventually settling in sun-drenched West Hollywood, California. He did arrange the Star Spangled Banner for a series of Boston Symphony concerts, explaining his

desire to do my bit in these grievous times toward fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism in this country.

After the first performance, the audience was apparently shocked by what they considered to be an unconventional harmonization. The Boston Police, misinterpreting a Federal law prohibiting “tampering” with the National Anthem, told Stravinsky that he had to remove his arrangement from the remaining programs. Reluctantly, he conceded.

With the benefit of hindsight, and years of garishly over-embellished ballpark vocal renditions, Stravinsky’s Star Spangled Banner doesn’t sound so bad. This is the National Anthem through the ears of an immigrant. Its bass line and inner voices suggest a hint of “Great Gate of Kiev” Russian weight. There’s some interesting, unorthodox modernist voice leading that might vaguely remind you of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. You’ll hear the shocking seventh chord at the end, at the 1:30 mark.

In celebration of Independence Day, here is Stravinsky’s “illegal” arrangement:

Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz”

Jackson Pollock's Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz”

Recorded in 1960, Ornette Coleman’s paradigm shifting “Free Jazz” broke conventions in recording, improvisation, composition, and the relationship between mainstream and the avant garde.  Groundbreaking use of a double quartet, one in each stereo channel consisted of Coleman’s touring quartet (horns on one side, rhythm on the other), augmented by returning Coleman Quartet drummer Billy Higgins, multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Bassist Scott LaFaro, whom Coleman had worked with the previous two days on sessions for Gunther Schuller, would both appear on this album and replace bassist Charlie Haden in the Quartet for Coleman’s next album, Ornette!.

The rhythm sections play simultaneously, and though there is a succession of solos, they are peppered with freeform commentaries by the other horns that often turn into full-scale collective improvisation. The pre-composed material is a series of brief, dissonant fanfares for the horns which serve as interludes between solos. Not least among the album’s achievements was that it was the first album-length improvisation, nearly forty minutes, which was unheard of at the time.

The original LP package incorporated Jackson Pollock’s 1954 painting The White Light. The cover was a gatefold with a cutout window in the lower left corner, allowing a glimpse of the painting; opening the cover revealed the full artwork, along with liner notes by critic Martin Williams.

Brian Wilson’s gift to Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell

Brian Wilson’s gift to Glen Campbell

In 1964, Glen Campbell joined the Beach Boys to replace Brian Wilson while he recovered from a nervous breakdown. Brian returned the favor with this gorgeous song.

Telling the truth—no matter how hard, how naked and deep—is what every great artist aspires to do. Glen Campbell has been such an American icon for so long, but it’s important not to forget the substance and self-reflection that has driven the bulk of his work. Even his megahit “Rhinestone Cowboy” was about someone small-time dreaming of the big time, and by singing it, Campbell humbled himself to what he used to be: a kid from Arkansas who came to Hollywood to play guitar and sing his songs. He hadn’t forgotten.

And that’s why his great act of bravery of saying his final goodbye to the world in song by way of a video—is exactly in line with who Glen Campbell is. But of course anyone who has loved him as a fan couldn’t help but be devastated by it, and think, “Well, I’ll miss you . . .”

Glen Campbell had the good sense to record Jimmy Webb’s songs like “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston,” giving the world hits that had lyrical beauty and intelligence, but still made us want to head out on the road and into a star-filled night. And early on, he cut this: a song  The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and songwriter Russ Titelman wrote for him. “Guess I’m Dumb” is nothing close to country; it’s a big masterful pop production produced by Wilson and recorded in Hollywood, U.S.A., with lots of horns, some strings, and backup singers. It sounds like a lost Burt Bacharach track, or like it would fit right in on the next year’s Pet Sounds. And he’s right in the middle of it: telling the truth.

Eight Things We Learned About Austin’s Music Industry From the Austin Music Census

Eight Things We Learned About Austin’s Music Industry From the Austin Music Census

Mon June 1, 2015 3:44 pm

Being an Austin musician carries cachet well outside of the city’s borders. In years past, kids with a guitar and a dream have come to the capital from all over—from West Texas, or the Valley, or Fayetteville, Arkansas. Maybe they saw the abundant venues and enthusiastic audiences during a spring-break trip to SXSW and wanted that to be their life. Or perhaps a musically-inclined buddy beckoned them to the big city. But the reality of the much romanticized lifestyle—and whether its economically feasible for most folks—has been difficult to assess since there’s so little hard data.

To that end, the City of Austin Music Office commissioned the Titan Music Group to conduct a survey of the stakeholders in the Austin music industry. They spoke to nearly 4,000 musicians, venue owners and managers, sound engineers, and more to learn what the current reality is like for those in the music industry. The numbers are often depressing—the money in Austin music is garbage, y’all—but also illuminating. Here are eight things we learned after poring through the 228-page document.

1. Musicians Make Way Less Money Than the Rest of Austin

The biggest takeaway from the census is that the dream of the working Austin musician is basically a lie. There are musicians in Austin who work, but the amount of money that music contributes to their income is downright pathetic: Almost 70 percent of musicians who participated reported that they made less than $10,000 a year from music, and based on the sources of income they have available to them, it’s very likely that the “less than $10,000” figure is slanted closer to “0” than to “$10,000.” Sepcifically, the vast majority of Austin musicians report only two sources of significant income of a potential twelve: live performance in Austin, and live performance on the road. All the rest—sales of downloads and CDs, licensing, session fees, etc—get checked as “contributes little” and “contributes none,” and that’s as pieces of a pie that, for the most part, adds up to less than ten grand. Any Austin musician can tell you that making $10,000 from playing live is a tall order.

Which is probably why only 22 percent of Austin musicians are full-timers. The rest either work outside of the music industry (56 percent), work in other roles inside of the industry (15 percent), or are students (2.7 percent) or unemployed (3.5 percent). And even with that in mind, a full 20 percent of Austin musicians with other jobs still make less than $10,000 a year, while 50 percent of Austin musicians with day jobs take home less than $25,000 annually. (Another 2.9 percent say that they “don’t know” their annual income, which suggests that it may have been a while since they filled out a tax return, so we can probably make that “earns less than $25,000” category to 53 percent or so.)

In all, three-quarters of Austin musicians, no matter what their day jobs, make less than the Mean Annual Wage for the Austin metropolitan area. A big part of Austin’s “cool” is tied to its live music industry, and that cool-factor has helped Austin boom over the past decade-plus—but while there’s a lot of prosperity in Austin, the musicians who give the city its identity aren’t seeing it. One of the more staggering statistics is that 87 percent of musicians—that is, even those who make a decent living off their music—note that pay is stagnant.

Rent, obviously, isn’t, which brings Austin musicians to the next big issue.

2. Musicians Aren’t Sure They Can Afford to Live in Austin Anymore

Whether or not musicians love Austin and want to stay, they may not be able to. A KUT study cited by the Census notes that, on the minimum wage, someone in Austin has to work 88 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment. Thirty-two percent of Austin musicians earn less than the minimum wage, which means that some of those folks are gonna have to start thinking about getting out of town.

It also means that the growth in Austin’s population is not a growth fueled by musicians. The dreamers from Harlingen or Odessa or Arkansas who might have moved to Austin in years past have seen what the rent is in the capital and, it seems, moved elsewhere. At the very least, the Census observes that “the number of musicians who say that they have moved to Austin within the last two years is a smaller percentage of the musician population relative to the number of new general population arrivals.” In other words, those newcomers to Austin are more likely to be tech bros than the next Explosions in the Sky or Black Angels.

3. Austin Musicians Are Younger More Ethnically Diverse Than the Rest of the City

It’s probably not a surprise that Austin musicians are young: 49.9 percent of that group is between 25-39 years old, while another 6.5 percent are 24 or younger. That’s a desirable demographic for any city to cultivate, although it’d probably be more exciting to Austin if those young people had money.

Meanwhile, here’s something unexpected: Austin’s population is 79.8 percent white, while its musician population is only 66 percent white. That’s not the image of Austin music that gets commonly represented, but the survey’s findings here are curious. The survey did allow for a “prefer not to say” and “other” option, which together tallied 14.4 percent of respondents—a high percentage—which makes this metric less useful than some of the others, but still counterintuitive.

4. Lots of Dudes, Though

The gender breakdown of Austin musicians is significantly less promising, in terms of a healthy, diverse ecosystem that reflects the larger population. Men make up 80% of Austin musicians, which is perhaps unsurprising, but legitimately disappointing for those who want to see female performers.

Things brighten up, though, when you look at the genders of the people who work in the music industry outside of their role as performers: The industry-only numbers—which includes people who work in studios and recording, venue management, media and music journalism, event production, concert promotion, artist management, and more—are far more evenly split, with women making up nearly 45 percent of those positions.

That is still less than half, of course, and the idea that women work in support roles while men attempt to get famous is a depressing and familiar one to most. There’s a bright side, though.

5. Nobody Is Getting Rich, But People With Venues Do Way Better Than Musicians

Music industry employees and owners make much better money than their guitar-slinging counterparts. While those numbers are still low in a lot of areas—36 percent of those in the industry who are not performers make less than $25,000 a year—they’re a marked improvement from what musicians themselves face. Indeed, a solid middle-class lifestyle is a possibility for people in the industry: 35.8 percent of employees in the industry earn between $25,000 and $75,000 a year from their industry income alone, which dwarfs that same metric for musicians (9.7 percent).

6. They’ve Been in Austin a Long Time

Native-born Austinites are basically treated as unicorns—they’re prized for their horns and their mythical healing properties, but nobody has ever seen one in the flesh. But even well-tenured Austin residents seem scarce in a city whose population has been booming like Austin’s has: Tell people you moved to the city in 2002 and wait for the jaws to drop.

But the majority of Austin musicians have a solid tenure in the city. More than 60 percent of musicians have at least ten years in Austin, and that percentage balloons up to 80 when considering musicians who’ve been in town since at least 2010. All of which is to say that, despite the fact that they might be nervous about the ever-rising rent, and they probably spend a lot of time grumbling about how things have changed, Austin musicians tend to be Austin musicians for life—or at least a really long time.

7. All the Development Downtown Makes Running a Venue Unappealing

Here’s a bummer for musicians and venue owners alike: Cover charges, which are one of the more reliable ways to pay artists and turn a profit, have been shrinking for a while. A focus group conducted as part of the census found that fans who like local live music like it a lot better when it’s free.

A recurring theme from respondents is that a “cover charge” for local Austin musicians has all but evaporated for many venues, despite the high number of quality local artists. In fact, it appears from the Austin Music Census that local residents are less willing to pay a typical $5 to $10 cover charge for a night of local live music than they have been at any time in the past decade. Respondents to the Austin Music Census told us that cover charges have typically stayed the same or declined from ten years ago, or in some cases, disappeared entirely.

This phenomenon has effects on both venues and musicians. While there are exceptions, respondents said that the decline in cover charge has left venues with an annual revenue loss hovering as high as 30%.

That means that musicians often get paid less—or, at best, the same—as they’d make ten years ago. In the tech industry, if wages in 2015 were the same as wages in 2005, it’d be awfully hard to keep coders.

Not only do venue owners have to worry about making up a 30 percent loss in revenue from vanishing cover charges, they also have to figure out how to compete with big developer dollars. Successful downtown venues like Red 7 and Holy Mountain revealed in May that they were in danger of being forced out of their spaces by their landlords, and the problem of short-term leases for venues is a significant issue for their owners.

That’s a unique challenge for music venues, which are judged not merely by the quality of the artists that they’ve booked, but also by the quality of the sound in their rooms—something that can be improved through expensive investments that could vanish if the landlord refuses to renew a lease. Most leases for venues are only 3-7 years, which makes it tough for an investment like a nicer bathroom or a classy patio to pay off, let alone better soundproofing or equipment.

And that could, in many ways, mean the end for a big part of the Austin music culture fans have become accustomed to over the years. There was live music in Austin before the development of the Red River District, of course, and there would be live music in Austin should that district disappear alongside Red 7 and Holy Mountain. But for many visitors to Austin over the past 15 years, Red River is live music in Austin, and the institutional legacy of the venues on that strip of Austin is significant. The loss of Emo’s in its recognizable form in 2011 was a major blow—part of the “cool” that Austin markets is the chance to play the same clubs that, say, Johnny Cash or Ghostland Observatory played. Losing the venues in which visitors and locals built many of their formative concert memories would be a serious risk to the long-term vitality of the music industry in Austin.

8. They Still Love Guitars

Popular music may have moved beyond guitar rock, for the most part—only two of the top ten songs on the Billboard singles chart right now are by rock bands—but Austin still loves it. The top five genres of music respondents claim are “rock,” “Americana,” “alternative,” “folk/acoustic,” and “pop rock.” There’s roughly a dime’s worth of difference between any of those genres, good for 55.5 percent of the music being made in Austin. After that, things diversify a bit—but only a little. Jazz and R&B/soul account for less than 11 percent of the music in Austin, while country, blues, and hip hop combine for another 11 percent or so.

All of which is to say that, when you think “Austin musicians,” you should be thinking “ rock bands,” and not the large variety of genres that people tend to enjoy. It’s possible that this is a part of the challenge that Austin artists face—do people still love rock music enough to sustain an industry built around it?—but regardless, the data shows the stereotype of the Austin musician as a bunch of dudes, the majority (though perhaps not the vast majority) of whom are white, carrying guitars and not making any money playing music, is a roughly accurate one.

A Study Found That The Lyrics Of Many No. 1 Songs Are At A Third-Grade Reading Level

A Study Found That The Lyrics Of Many No. 1 Songs Are At A Third-Grade Reading Level

Andrew Powell-Morse, a staffer at entertainment, sports, and ticket data blogger, just compiled information on pop music lyrics over the past 10 years, and the results are pretty interesting.

Andrew Powell-Morse, a staffer at entertainment, sports, and ticket data blog SeatSmart, just compiled information on pop music lyrics over the past 10 years, and the results are pretty interesting.

Afp / Getty Images

(Though some of his conclusions should be taken with a grain of salt.)

He found that most of the lyrics from popular songs over the last decade average at around a third-grade reading level.

He found that most of the lyrics from popular songs over the last decade average at around a third-grade reading level.

Anirav / Getty Images

Powell-Morse analyzed 225 songs in four different music genres using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, which is used to determine how difficult a passage is to read and understand.

Powell-Morse analyzed 225 songs in four different music genres using the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test, which is used to determine how difficult a passage is to read and understand.

Frederic J. Brown / Getty Images

The Flesch-Kincaid test uses a formula that takes into account the number of words and syllables used in a passage and assigns a number based on a grade so it’s easy to understand. Basically, if a song gets a score of 4.2, that means your average fourth-grader would be able to comprehend it.

Powell-Morse only measured songs that spent at least three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard music charts. For genres, he looked at pop, country, rock, and R&B/hip-hop. After giving the songs punctuation, he plugged them into Readability-Score.com, which analyzes text.

Country music had the highest reading level of the genres, at 3.3 — which means your average third-grader can read and understand the lyrics.

Country music had the highest reading level of the genres, at 3.3 — which means your average third-grader can read and understand the lyrics.

Robyn Beck / Getty Images

Powell-Morse admitted that the study is partially flawed because it’s largely based on the way that artists in different genres write lyrics, with word length playing a big role:

Country is the only genre generally devoid of words like “oh” or “yeah” repeated 20 times in a row. Sorry everyone else, but if you say it in the song, it’s counted as a “lyric.”

But it’s also about the syllables. Country music is full of words like Hallelujah, cigarettes, hillbilly, and tacklebox. Add to that long place names like Cincinnati, Louisville, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and Country has a serious advantage over the competition.

Unfortunately for Pop and R&B/Hip-Hop, places like L.A. and New York just don’t score that many points. But take a song like Dani California, and you’ll see that throwing in the word “California” more than a dozen times can make a real difference.

The other genres’ reading level average was 2.9 for pop and rock, and 2.6 for R&B and hip-hop, all lower than a third-grade reading level.

The other genres' reading level average was 2.9 for pop and rock, and 2.6 for R&B and hip-hop, all lower than a third-grade reading level.

The study also broke down the lyrics based on the artists’ genders.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Valery Hache/ AFP

It showed that on average male artists say more words, but female artists had smarter things to say, with a higher reading level average.

It showed that on average male artists say more words, but female artists had smarter things to say, with a higher reading level average.

Powell-Morse also broke down the lyrics based on the most popular artists, and the hip-hop results might make Beyoncé fans revolt.

Powell-Morse wrote that to get the results, he “picked 7 of the top artists based on their number of hit songs and how long those songs stayed at #1.”

He added:

This is probably a good time to reiterate that these are the numbers, plain and simple, and that all Beyoncé partisans should address their complaints to the people at the Readability Score. We can’t hide the facts: of these 7 top R&B and Hip Hop artists, she has the second smallest average word count and the least sophisticated lyrics.

For pop, Mariah Carey slayed the competition, while Kesha barely made it out of first grade.

For pop, Mariah Carey slayed the competition, while Kesha barely made it out of first grade.

In terms of singles, the top song of the past 10 years was Blake Shelton’s “All About Tonight,” with a reading level of 5.9, and the least intelligent lyrics were from “The Good Life” by Three Days Grace, with a score of 0.8.

In terms of singles, the top song of the past 10 years was Blake Shelton's "All About Tonight," with a reading level of 5.9, and the least intelligent lyrics were from "The Good Life" by Three Days Grace, with a score of 0.8.

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

Other “dumb” songs include Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” and Kesha’s “Tik Tok.”

Overall, he found lyrical intelligence has been declining over the past 10 years.

Overall, he found lyrical intelligence has been declining over the past 10 years.

They may not be complex, but at least the songs are catchy.

A Study Found That The Lyrics Of Many No. 1 Songs Are At A Third-Grade Reading Level