Category Archives: Music Video

Sia: Going “All in” On Your Performance (Soon We’ll Be Found)

sia-001A musician friend recently brought to my attention the Australian artist Sia (pronounced See’-Ya). What is impressive about her is the creativity that she brings to her performances and videos. I stumbled upon a video of her performance of her song “Soon We’ll Be Found” from an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2008. It’s a beautiful song, and set up against the all white backdrop, with the exception being her colored hands that she uses to convey the lyrics in sign language. It’s both a visually and musically stunning performance. It’s clear that music to her is an emotional experience, and that level of investment in the song is conveyed to the listener.

Perhaps even more impressive was a video of the same song for a radio appearance. On a day when she was clearly battling some sort of throat ailment, and with minimal instrumentation and only serviceable live audio support, Sia gave an equally compelling performance. It was a clear indication of her professionalism. A true artist gives 100% of whatever they have in any given performance – Whatever 100% might be on that day and in that environment.

In other words, no matter the challenges, you don’t just mail it in. The song, the emotion, and the performance are too important. Here are the 2 videos for comparison:

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Jimmy Fallon: The King of Late Night Music

I grew up as David Letterman’s career was ascending. When he began his run as a talk show host, it was a great source of pride for fans like me who had followed his career and connected with his unique brand of humor. It was as though he was poking fun at the genre, with quirky, offbeat guests and bizarre comedy skits. It was like one big inside joke that only Dave and his fans were in on. His irreverence self-deprecating approach to a TV show genre that was built on Vegas-like glitz and celebrity worship truly changed the landscape for those who followed.

THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0187 -- Pictured: (l-r) Singer Harry Connick, Jr. during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on January 5, 2015 -- (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON — Episode 0187 — Pictured: (l-r) Singer Harry Connick, Jr. during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on January 5, 2015 — (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC)

As Dave’s career winded down, Jimmy Fallon was a worthy newcomer to the late night talk show turf, having proven himself and honed his craft at SNL as a performer, writer, and Weekend Update desk jockey. Fallon’s affinity for music was apparent early on at SNL, as he used his guitar to deliver parody songs and impressions.

I recall watching Fallon’s first show in the “Late, Late” time slot when he first transitioned from SNL. He was clearly feeling his way and exploring the space, still looking slightly self-conscious and uneasy, though the elements of future success were clearly there. Like Letterman before him, he used that time slot where expectations are lower and experimentation is acceptable to find his groove.

As he moved into the “Early Late” time slot, taking over at NBC for Jay Leno, he came in as a confident performer with a clear vision of the format and tools he would use to conquer the new challenge.

And the key to his formula for success? MUSIC.

From the outset, Fallon chose a band that was worthy of the late night talk show platform, as Carson (Doc Severinsen Big Band), Letterman (Paul Shaffer), and Leno (Branford Marsalis and later Kevin Eubanks) had done before him. The Roots, led by Ahmir Khalib “Questlove” Thompson, were an astute choice for the times. The band has hip-hop sensitivities, but with jazz undertones and the musicianship to cross genres and back performers of any style. Their versatility is critical in backing the music-based hijinks of a host who amazingly seems to straddle music generations very adeptly.

Fallon migrates seamlessly from spot-on impressions of 60’s and 70’s classic performers like Neil Young, Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust,” and Jim Morrison to a “history of rap” medley with Justin Timberlake. And somehow Fallon seems natural and authentic in both settings, a feat that few performers could pull off. He comes across as fun and hip, with a sparkle in his eye that seems to indicate that he can’t believe he’s getting away with it all.

Like the Rat Pack shows in Vegas in the late 50’s and early 60’s, the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is the coolest, modern-day party that everyone wants to attend. It’s the one that they’ll be talking about the next day.

Fallon recently challenged Ellen DeGeneres to a lip-synch battle judged by Justin Timberlake, another recurring skit on the show. And the fun of music participation lures celebrities who might otherwise foster an aversion to letting their hair down to join in the silliness (see “I Got My Tight Pants On” featuring Jennifer Lopez and Fallon).

But in the context of this blog that espouses the benefits of music education, I’m particularly fond of the skits where Fallon invites a musician with a hit song to join him and his band to create a rendition of the song using only classroom toy musical instruments.

We’ve discussed in this forum the fact that so many music students abandon music when they leave school because excessive marching and drilling associated with band programs leaves them burnt out. We live in an era where the tools for illustrating joy in music have never been greater – loop pedals, vocal harmonizers, multi-track recording software (I have an app with an 8-track digital recorder on my phone) are accessible and inexpensive (or free).

Fallon understands that the importance of music is that it simply provides a universal platform for fun.

And Jimmy Fallon has become the King of late night music.

Lessons Businesses Can Learn From the Pharrell Williams Song “Happy”

Pharrell CoverThe song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams is one of the most remarkable successes in music history by any metrics. It’s easy to be cynical and to criticize something that has been given so much exposure, but the truth is that this song has resonated with people in a way that few songs or artistic works of any kind have.

Here are a few things that businesses can learn from the song’s success:

1. Find the Platform for Your Product and Focus Your Efforts There:

According to Williams himself in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, efforts to get airplay and to promote the song through traditional radio went nowhere. But once the video was released, the song simply exploded. The audio simply didn’t fully convey the effect that the song had on its listeners – primarily the compelling urge to dance and move when people listened to the song.

Lesson:  Businesses often spread their resources too thin by trying to cover all advertising or social media platforms. Or perhaps they stick to the platform most comfortable because of familiarity or because it’s the standard in their industry. Remember that your business and perhaps each product or service has unique qualities. For some, Pinterest is better than Facebook, and pay-per-click is better than television, but in some cases the opposite is true.

Identify your uniqueness and find the right match to deliver the message to your customers.

2. Don’t Fight the Copyright Infringers, Embrace the Opportunity

As a part-time songwriter, I don’t want to trivialize the importance of respecting copyright and intellectual property when it comes to artistic works. But when people around the world began making their own music videos dancing to the song, Pharrell Williams took great pride in his fans taking ownership of his song. There’s a quote attributed to John Lennon: “Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it.”

Lesson:  While record companies were engulfed in lawsuits over people who were ripping and sharing files copied from CDs, Apple was focused on a business model that could capitalize on the public’s appetite for the .mp3, a digital file that would make the customer’s complete music collection portable. In the information age, there will always be people who don’t play by the rules. In most cases, it’s more productive to focus your time and energy on the opportunities than the technical legalities.

3. Your Product or Service Isn’t For Everybody

At last count the official music video of “Happy” had over 400 million YouTube hits. It also has about 95,000 “dislikes” or thumbs down ratings. Everybody has different tastes, and some people are simply contrarians who refuse to embrace a pop culture phenomenon. Pharrell doesn’t seemed phased by the nay-sayers.

Lesson:  Find your audience/customers and understand them. Give them what they want when and where they want it in the delivery platform or distribution channel that makes it convenient for them. And don’t let the critics ruin the experience for those who enjoy what you have to offer.

4. Let Potential Customers See How Much Fun Your Current Customers are Having

We all believe that we have the fortitude to march to our own beat and ignore what others think or say, but the truth is that we are a flock mentality. If it’s successful or popular, most of us are intrigued, and if it’s a failure (or perceived failure), we avoid it like the plague.

Lesson:  Photos, videos, web testimonials – there have never been more ways to conveniently share the message that your customers love your product. Offer incentives and easy ways for your customers to share their story and experience loving your product, service, or company.

Alicia Keys Super Bowl 47 National Anthem – Thoughts & Observations

Jazz singer/songwriter Dave Frishberg once recorded a song entitled “You Would Rather Have the Blues,” a tongue-in-cheek narrative poking fun at people who are always looking for reasons to be unhappy. Though the song was written long before the social media revolution, one might surmise that the tune is aimed directly at the Twitter nation.

Alicia Keys performed the Star Spangled Banner kicking off tonight’s Super Bowl in the New Orleans between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Fancisco 49ers. It’s a role that has come under considerable scrutiny in recent years. Some artists lip-synch the song to a pre-recorded track, some sing live and get criticized for not sounding great, some have forgotten the lyrics. Some are blasted for taking too many liberties with the melody.

The version that Ms. Keys performed this evening was simply spectacular. The combination of her restrained piano accompaniment to her extraordinary vocals, both of which were performed live, was wonderfully simplistic and appropriately poignant. The chordal arrangement was thoughtful and reserved. Many vocalists prefer the safety blanket of a large orchestral backup, yet the honest emotion of piano and voice was consistent with the style of the artist and daunting to pull off in such a setting. And you never had the sense that she believed that she or her performance were bigger or more important than the song itself, a trait becoming rarer and rarer in the day of Megastars and Super Bowl production overkill.

Yet the initial response on the social media outlets focused on the length of the song, a whopping 2 minutes 30 seconds preceding a game that exceeded 4 hours. Amazing. It should be noted that most of the early reviews that focused on the performance itself have been very positive, some concurring with me that it ranked as one of the all time best at this event. If you didn’t care for Alicia’s performance, let me know who has done a better job performing the song LIVE in the history of the Super Bowl – a short list I’m sure.

By the way, Kudos to local New Orleans Piano Showroom, Lafargue Pianos. Technicians from the local Yamaha Piano dealer were summoned to give Ms. Keys’ Grand Piano some prep work, and the look and sound were outstanding.

Here’s a video of tonight’s performance…

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-super-bowl/0ap2000000136099/Alicia-Keys-wows-singing-national-anthem

 

Dave Wish of Little Kids Rock Discusses the Benefits of Music Education

In 2008, I conducted a series of interviews with music educators, professionals, musicians, and advocates articulating the universal benefits of music education and participation. One of the most memorable of those discussions was with Dave Wish, founder and Executive Director of the non-profit, “Little Kids Rock.” LKR provides musical instruments and instruction to at-risk kids and teachers.

Great points made by Dave that should be staples of any music enthusiast’s/advocate’s discussions!

Stunning Musical Flash Mob in Copenhagen

In a previous post we highlighted a YouTube video for the shampoo/hair products company Pantene featured a young deaf girl playing violin in a music competition. This “commercial for the viral video era” illustrated the future of advertising – the ability to engage hearts and minds, tell stories, and associate those popular snippets of media with your product – rather than simply 30 seconds on television telling people how wonderful your product or service might be.

This stunning video of a musical flash mob aboard the Copenhagen Metro in cooperation with Radio Klassik is another wonderful illustration of such an engaging short film, and nothing engages hearts and minds more effectively than music.

What I love most about the video are smiles on the faces of people of diverse ages and ethnicities, and the look of wonder and amazement on the faces of the young children.
Enjoy!

The Movie “Once” and Commitment to your Artistry

null I love movies about music/musicians, and I had heard great things about the movie Once, but didn’t get around to seeing it until recently. It’s about a singer/songwriter who performs on the streets of Ireland while working in a vacuum cleaner repair shop by day. He meets a piano player and they collaborate to bring their musical aspirations to life.

The storyline of artists struggling to develop their God-given talents pursue the dream in a world where the deck is stacked against them never gets old for me. It also brings to mind the reality of how committed one must be to overcome those odds. I once asked vocalist Irma Thomas, known as the “Soul Queen of New Orleans” what she did when times in the music business got tough. She stated simply, ” I went out and got a job.” Sometimes it’s that simple, but it’s never easy.

The movie also avoids so many of the typical movie clichés, making it more real and believable. It’s magical in its understated simplicity.

And the storyline mirrors the career of the musician who co-wrote the soundtrack and who played the lead role in the movie, Glen Hansard, who dropped out of school at age 13 to perform on the streets of Dublin and is now a successful songwriter and Academy award winner.

So you say you love music. That’s great. But when time are tough, you must ask yourself, “How committed am I and what am I willing to do to overcome the obstacles in front of me?

Here’s a performance of the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” at the Sundance Film Festival.

Singin’ in the Rain & Regrets of the Dying

https://i0.wp.com/kellimarshall.net/genekellyfans/wp-content/uploads/Gene-Kelly-Singin_l-300x225.jpgOne of my Dad’s favorite movies was Singing in the Rain, and in particular, the famous scene where Gene Kelly does just that. I was reminded of that movie recently when I read an article by Bonnie Ware a hospice worker. The title of the article is “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying,” and it’s one of those items that stay with you long after you’ve read it.

Here’s an excerpt from the article regarding Regret #5:

“Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”

How many times do we drive down the street and see someone singing or dancing or doing something we think is odd, and we classify them as a nut, goofball, crazy, etc. Maybe they are the most sane individuals in our society.

Life is a choice, and it’s too short to have regrets. Sing in the rain every once in a while.

Hugh Laurie and his Musical Visit to New Orleans – “Let Them Talk”

Actor Hugh Laurie, star of the hit TV show House, is quite an accomplished musician. For years he admired and emulated New Orleans pianists and their sound – Dr. John, Professor Longhair, and Allen Toussaint to name a few. He recently traveled to our great city for the first time to see and hear the sights and sounds of the Crescent City first hand, a pilgrimage that culminated in a PBS special/concert and his first album. Laurie collaborated with Vocalist Irma Thomas (The Soul Queen of New Orleans) and the aforementioned Allen Toussaint).

Here’s a brief excerpt that includes a few kind thoughts regarding New Orleans.   

“I feel like this is a city that doesn’t fear death. It’s looked death in the eye. Los Angeles on the other hand – everybody’s absolutely terrified. Terrified of getting old, terrified of wrinkles, terrified of dying.

“Music fills the streets and clubs of New Orleans like nowhere else. It’s a city that sings itself to sleep at night, and sings itself up in the morning. I’ve never known a place or people who so massively exceeded my expectations. It is more than I hoped it ever could be, and I hoped for quite a lot. This has been my Jerusalem.”

Link to the PBS Special/Concert Let Them Talk

Lost in Music of the 80’s: The Buggles, Madness, and Mood

I have a certain affinity for the music of the early 80’s and the dawn of the music video era. The new wave era on balance will not be remembered for the virtuosity of the musicians nor the sophistication of the music, though it’s noteworthy to mention that The Police, Elvis Costello, Blondie, The Pretenders, and The Tubes were born of that time. Yet there was an energy and excitement that captivated the music world back then.

The disco age was dead. Punk rock had shaken the music world out of its doldrums, but had faded as brilliantly as it had emerged. More importantly, music has the ability to connect us to other times in our lives.

I’ve also had the privilege of speaking to music therapists regarding the connection between music and mood. In the simplest sense, even a non-trained musical ear knows that certain (major) chords or sounds seem “happy,” while others (minor chords) evoke sadness or are more appropriate for horror movies. Of course, their science goes well beyond those basic theories, allowing breakthroughs with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, Down Syndrome, and Autism.

That brings me to yesterday.

I was having a bad day – No particular tragedies, just a series of life’s little aggravations. Then, while strolling through the grocery store, a tune played from the speakers above. The recognizable intro to “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles. It was the 1st video ever played on MTV back in the day, and the video production levels were so primitive that there was an innocence that permeated the music videos of that era. The song “Our House” by Madness followed. From what moment forward, my day and my attitude changed for the better.

What music changes your mood?