Something interesting recently went down atop the U.K. singles and album charts. Elton John reigned on the list of best-selling albums with a collection of 40-year-old songs, while Florence + the Machine was No. 1 on the singles chart for the first time ever. The band’s vehicle? A song that was originally produced by Paul Epworth, a regular Adele collaborator (Rolling in the Deep and He Won’t Go, the best song on 21) who had never managed to go that high in the U.K. working with the world’s biggest female pop star.
Alas, he wasn’t exactly scaling that height with Florence either”at least not alone. And therein lies the twist in this chart saga: a good beat. Those Elton John classics had been updated with a danceable 2012 electro sheen by Australian production duo Pnau on the chart-topping Good Morning to the Night, an album featuring dozens of John songs from between 1970 and 1977 crammed into eight tracks and credited to Elton John Vs Pnau, while Florence’s Epworth-produced Ceremonials track “Spectrum” was the leading single via the re-titled and remixed-by-DJ/producer Calvin Harris (for optimal under-the-strobelight consumption) “Spectrum (Say My Name) (Calvin Harris Mix).”
When Bryan Ferry sang, “Don’t stop the dance,” was this what he had in mind? Beat-driven pop where singers share star billing with the producers who boost them to the top? More than ever, the recording arts have become a producer’s medium, in much the same way that film is a director’s medium, with the behind-the-scenes talent dominating both the sound and the vision. (The stage, in singing“when it’s actually live“as in acting, remains the domain of the performer.) With a smaller pool of star producers creating a bigger bulk of the hits, pop music has become as homogenized as Hollywood blockbusters.
According to Ron Fair, a veteran music executive and producer who has worked with Christina Aguilera, Fergie and Lady Gaga, it’s a logical progression from how records are now made. A producer today is a hybrid role of producer, songwriter, and beat maker, he says. What we used to call arranging is now called making beats, so generally, the producer is the guy who walks in with the song. Back in [Beatles producer] George Martin’s and [Linda Ronstadt/James Taylor producer] Peter Asher’s day, they weren’t responsible for making songs.
Dance music, however, has always been more of a producer’s forum than middle-of-the-road pop. But with disco in the ’70s, it didn’t always show. When one remembers Donna Summer’s greatest hits, Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” or Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood,” the spectacular vocals probably come to mind first, then the beat. (more…)
The venerable Austin City Limits Music Festival announced their lineup yesterday. The festival, scheduled for the weekend of October 12th to the 15th, is happening a bit later than usual this year – no doubt to take advantage of the positive effects of global warming. Every year, the people who put on ACL make an effort to offer something for everyone and it looks like 2012 will be no different in that regard. Headliners at the festival, including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, and The Black Keys all promise a hard rockin’ grand old time. The lineup is rounded out with hipster favorites including Florence + The Machine and Oberhofer, hip-hoppers such as Childish Gambino and Big K.R.I.T., ACL regulars like Andrew Bird and Old 97s as well as a plethora of other bands that would just take too long to list here.
There are a few differences between this year’s lineup compared to years past. 2012 marks ACL’s most prominent acknowledgement yet of the electronic music scene, with AVICII, BASSNECTAR, and M83 all taking high-profile spots in their respective lineups. The 2012 installment of the festival also marks the 11th consecutive appearance from country group Asleep at the Wheel.
The full Austin City Limits Music Festival lineup can be seen here. Check out footage from last year’s outing below.
Good music comes from different sources. But when two artists come together in a collaboration, what takes precedence? Who writes the melodies, and who keeps the lyrics fresh? Nowadays, it may seem that mainstream music has grown increasingly diverse, and yet more and more we are hearing from new and unexpected partnerships between genres spanning from funk to opera and beyond. This is why, through Superlatones, we are creating our very own directory”a musical wish-list, if you will”of artists who have yet to join the collaborative bandwagon.
The Dynamic Duo
Florence + The Machine and Calvin Harris
It didn’t take too long for Florence and the Machine to achieve superstar status. While the band is comprised of many members, the star of the show is lead singer Florence Welch, who captivated audiences across the world with her soulful and powerful voice. The band’s 2009 debut, Lungs, was an instant hit in the band’s home country of the UK, debuting at Number 2 on the UK Albums Chart and remaining in the Top 40 for sixty-five consecutive weeks. The certified-Gold album also sold well in the US, having sold over 700,000 copies to date. The band recently released their follow up album Ceremonials, which continued their commercial success by debuting at Number 1 in the UK and Number 6 here in the states. The secret to Florence and the Machine’s success is their unique sound”a blend of indie pop, soul and orchestral music”as well as their use of a wider variety of instruments. This makes the band hard to pin down to one genre. OurStage’s own Strobelight is a similarly hard to classify band that share some sonic similarities with Florence and the Machine.
Like Florence and the Machine, Strobelight have a penchant for crafting slow building indie pop songs that sound truly epic. For a comparison, take a listen to Strobelight’s song “Safe (Piano Killer)” and Florence and the Machine’s song “Howl”. Both songs begin with softly with just piano and some light drum patterns. As both songs progress, more instruments are added to create new textures, and the songs both have huge endings that feature a number of different instruments. Strobelight’s lead singer Rebecca has a voice that is similar in style to Florence’s, but her lack of a British accent gives her voice a distinct timbre and sound. “So Perfect” is another song that shares some similarities with Florence and the Machine, and it really shows Rebecca’s strength as a vocalist. The song is a ballad that is based around an acoustic guitar melody. This melody is backed by piano chords for harmony, as well as drums played with brushes to create a more delicate sound. The vocals on this song are extremely impressive; high notes are hit with ease and the singing always stays in tune without sounding over produced. While most of the song is soft and subdued, the ending of the song takes a drastic change with an abrupt bass riff that leads into a dramatic, upbeat finish.
OK Go team up with Muppets on Muppets Theme Song
This week the Muppet’s The Green Album was released, along with this video to the theme song featuring OK Go. Feast your eyes on a bounty of Technicolor existentialism, wherein the Muppets send the band back to their treadmills and their Rube Goldberg machines and treat them like the puppets they are. It’s not like a kind of torture to have to watch this show.
West Memphis 3 released from prison
In 1994, three teenagers were convicted of the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, largely due to the fact that they listened to heavy metal. And even though DNA evidence emerged in 2007 that linked one of the victim’s stepfather and his friend to the crime, the trio”known as the West Memphis 3”remained imprisoned. The case attracted the attention of many celebrities, most notably Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder, who have both campaigned for the release of the WM3. With news that the trio were finally set free this week after eighteen years in prison, band members from Pearl Jam, Anthrax, and Dixie Chicks took to Twitter to celebrate. You can read all about it here.
Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford pass away
Two legendary songwriters, Jerry Leiber and Nick Ashford, passed away this week. Leiber, who wrote perennial hits like Hound Dog Yakety Yak, and Stand By Me with songwriting partner Mike Stroller, passed away at the age of seventy-eight in Los Angeles. Ashford penned some of the greatest songs of the Motown era with his songwriting partner and wife, Valerie Simpson, including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing Baby. He passed away at the age of seventy in New York. R.I.P.
Pit Bull sued by Lindsay Lohan
Pit Bull probably felt like he was just stating a fact when he said I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan on his song Give Me Everything. Lohan didn’t think it was too funny, and slapped a lawsuit on the rapper, claiming the lyric does irreparable harm to her reputation. We would say this is another one of her megalomaniacal schemes to stay relevant and make some money while remaining unemployed by Hollywood, but we don’t want to get sued. So we will just think it quietly to ourselves.
Mexican teens auction off virginity for Justin Bieber
After some Mexican teens failed to secure tickets to an upcoming Justin Bieber concert, they took a sharp left into Disturbia and offered to trade their virginity for a ticket on Facebook. We once paid money for a ticket to see Vanilla Ice and it has haunted us for years. This seems like slightly more regrettable action.
Miley Cyrus tops Rolling Stone‘s worst covers list
The artist formerly known as Hannah Montana singing Smells Like Teen Spirit sent icy shivers up the spine of Rolling Stone‘s editorial staff, who named Miley Cyrus’ cover the absolute worst in the whole history of the universe, ever, ever. She probably feels pretty stupid (and contagious).
- Amy Winehouse toxicology report reveals no illegal drugs
- Rod Steward becomes a grandfather
- Lady Gaga, Adele, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars to perform at VMAs
- Jay-Z and Kanye hold down the throne on Billboard
- Listen to Ke$ha on Alice Cooper’s What Baby Wants
- Florence + The Machine release new song and video on Web site
- Lady Gaga to guest star on The Simpsons
- Motown label exec Esther Gordy Edwards dies
- Kelly Clarkson robbed by album leak
- Sean Preston gets onstage with mom during Columbus, OH gig
- Eminem and Royce Da 5’9 collab with Bruno Mars on Lighters
- Lil Wayne to release Tha Carter IV after VMAs
- QOTSA’s Josh Homme and Spinerette’s Brody Dalle welcome son
- Liam Gallagher sues brother Noel for libel
- Lil Wayne busts head at skate park, gets nine stitches
The “Big Four” Music Labels”Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and EMI”have been notorious for being behind the curve when it comes to innovation in today’s ever-changing music industry. While fans have been demanding that the old ways of getting music change, the major labels have been digging in their heels, hoping for a return to the past industry roadmap. At least until recently.
Major labels seem to have finally accepted that the old model is no more. Times have already changed and, in order to stay afloat, they must adjust. Lack of development led Warner into close to $2 million of debt, forcing a buyout by Access Industries, a privately-owned industrial group. There has been speculation that EMI will be next, but the company recently stated that they are looking into “strategic alternatives,” and will be restructuring in January.
Shortly after the Warner buyout was finalized, the company (which had been the final major-label holdout) reached an agreement with Spotify ” a music steaming service that gives users access to a huge catalog of music for free. This allowed the program to finally launch in the United States. Spotify’s popularity in Europe made its US release highly anticipated, especially since today people are much less willing to pay for their music. Warner’s new management seems to understand that things must change in order to move forward.
Universal has been just as active. It is investing in new opportunities for the company and experimenting with new projects. Universal just signed a deal with a company called Talenthouse, which pairs unknown talent with big-name stars, through competitions on the site. So far, projects that Talenthouse has worked on successfully include deals like a dress design for Florence and the Machine and a T-shirt for Queen. Universal hopes that through use of this site, their artists’ fan bases will increase and fans will be more loyal and willing to pay for their product.
Major labels are finally trying to adapt to the new music industry, but have they woken up in time? Artists have already become more independent and labels are now less necessary. In order for labels to be relevant, they need to be willing to experiment and take risks. They need to offer new services that are not available to just anyone.
- We just don’t know what to believe about Bob Dylan anymore.
- Gaga, that is not even close to appropriate jogging attire.
- Ghosts and dead relatives? Sign us up!
- Oops. Someone at Apple is in biiiig trouble.
- If you heard cheers coming from the OurStage offices this morning, it’s because Vh1’s Behind the Music is back!
- The Rapture decide to reunite. Interesting timing…
- Russell Brand deported from Japan. Guess they hated Arthur even more than we did.
- Billboard Awards: the only time Eminem and Bieber would have anything in common.
The year seems to be ending as it began: with Susan Boyle practically interchangeable snoozaks ruling Billboard’s Top 200 album chart. Who would have guessed? Well, I did, but enough dwelling on the bad. Let’s focus on the good stuff that happened in the last 12 months, and dream a dream that next year’s gift is a Boyle-free holiday season. And now (in roughly chronological order), the best of the rest…
1) Journey’s trek to the tops of the pops. Glee still makes my ears bleed, but by helping Journey score its first-ever UK hit”the band’s ’80s classic “Don’t Stop Believin'” piggybacked on the smash Glee cover all the way to No. 6 in early 2010”those kids finally earned a round of applause. (We’ll spare you the Glee link. Instead here’s Sam Tsui covering Glee covering Journey)
2) Alicia Keys’ sleepless nights. Sunshine from rain. Pleasure from pain. “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” was the finest of Keys’ string of great 2010 singles. I’m still up all night myself, tossing and turning, trying to figure out how it never climbed higher than No. 27 on the Hot 100.
3) Pink goes up in the air. When I met Pink in 1999, before the release of her debut album, I was impressed, but I never suspected that a newcomer named after the hue of her hair would be a hitmaker a decade later? Topping off her continued chart success in 2010, the now-blonde, now-mom-to-be took the GRAMMYs over the top (in the very best way) with her highwire-acrobat act while performing “Glitter in the Air.”
4) Leon Russell lives! Susan Boyle isn’t the only one who began and ended 2010 on top. Russell kicked off the year wowing us at the GRAMMYs alongside the Zac Brown Band and finished it wowing us again, on the GRAMMY-nominated The Union alongside Elton John. Old Hank Wilson is back”but then he never really went away.
5) Sade returns, with guns blazing. Out of sight, out of mind, yes, but in the case of Sade, absence made the heart grow fonder indeed. Soldier of Love, the band’s first album in nearly a decade, made one of the splashiest debuts of 2010, and” in a rare, welcome twist”was worth the wait. May the long-MIA-from-the-charts Shania Twain follow suit in 2011.
6) Carrie Underwood hooks Ted Mosby. Britney Spears’s How I Met Your Mother guest spot got more hype in 2008, but Underwood, in her acting debut, was just as good in March’s “Hooked” episode, nailing her stunt casting as a pharmaceutical-selling hottie stringing Ted along. Not even that adorable teacup pig could upstage her. More, please.
7) Robbie Williams hearts Gary Barlow in the “Shame” video. Boy meets boy, boy falls for boy, boy and boy live happily ever after in the newly reunited Take That members’ send up of Brokeback Mountain. If only real life were so simple.
8) Vanity projects that rock. Timbaland’s “If We Ever Meet Again” (featuring Katy Perry, from Shock Value II) and Mark Ronson’s “Bang Bang Bang” (with Q-Tip and MNDR’s Amanda Warner, from Record Collection) were pop rarities in 2010: distinctive producer-as-artist singles that matched the behind-the-scenes best of the guys who created them. David Guetta, king of the sound-alike musical tricks, this is how you do it.
9) The British are coming… again! With Coldplay and Amy Winehouse in a holding pattern, La Roux and Florence + the Machine picked up the UK slack. La Roux became the first UK act in forever to reach the US Top 10 with “Bulletproof,” and Florence + the Machine finally became more than hipster darlings as their debut disc, Lungs, burst into the Top 20, while their “Dog Days Are Over” single became a big enough hit to get the Glee treatment.
10) Girls girls girls! Love or loathe them, it was refreshing to see single ladies like Katy Perry, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, Gaga and others continue to transform music from a man’s man’s man’s man’s world into an estrogen-fueled empire. What are you waiting for, Shania? Come on, join the party!
Jeremy Helligar is a former staff writer for People, Teen People, Us Weekly and Entertainment Weekly, who now writes about celebrities and pop culture from his couch in Buenos Aires.