Music News

Mar 17 2013

Go Ahead & Open It!

Unless you have been living under a gadget-free rock for the past year or so, you would have noticed the infiltration of a new breed of online music offerings. You may have even given one or two of them a test drive. Indeed, there are as many as 20 popular online music services currently vying for our phonic attention. The veritable smorgasbord of musical offerings may be overwhelming for some… What are the differences? What are the costs involved? Which one will satisfy my music cravings? Well, herein is my first recurring post covering Internet Music Services. Over the coming months, I will sporadically review some of the most popular new online services and you can decide for yourself which tickles your music fancy.

I have decided to start with one of my personal favourites- Pandora. I have been using Pandora since it was re-launched here in Australia in late 2012 after finally winning a lengthy legal battle over licencing issues. According to the site overview, this personalised internet radio service has made it their mission “to reward the musically curious among us with a never-ending experience of music discovery.”  The basis of the service revolves around an intricate database of musical details called the Music Genome Project, compiled by musicians and music lovers.

For the average user, the simple explanation of how Pandora works is that you create your own music stations- simply select a favourite artist, genre or composer. From that one choice, Pandora will create your personalised station, drawing from abundant musical ocean swimming with over  900,000 tracks which have been tagged based on attributes such as melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics. As you listen, you can fine-tune your station by giving a song a Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down. The longer you listen, and the more you interact with your stations, the closer you will come to having the perfect random playlist, with each song bringing a smile to your face and a subtle desire to continually turn up the volume. Just like a traditional radio station, there is no option to listen to a favourite track over again, but giving a song a thumbs down will result in that particular tune being skipped and the station advancing to another selection.

A user can create up to 100 personalised stations. I currently have 15 stations, each chosen to appeal to a certain frame of mind, a particular day of the week, or an atmosphere I am wanting to imbibe. For example, my Prodigy Radio station is an efficient virtual defibrillator for me- bring me back to life on many an occasion during my weekly jog; my  St Germain Radio station with its the deliciously dreamy undertones has the ability to counteract the unwanted effects of a slightly over-enthusiastic pour of the cordial bottle in my kids’ afternoon drink; and my Rolling Stones Radio station provides the perfect Friday afternoon springboard from which to dive headfirst into the ensuing weekend.

Pandora offers both free and  paid services. The free service contains ads (albeit extremely few and far between- only playing twice during any one listening session). The very affordable paid service (Pandora One) touts ad-free playback, higher quality audio, a desktop application, custom skins and longer non-interactive playback facilities. For only $36 a year (in Australia) the paid-service seems a bit of a no-brainer. The mobile application (also free) was released in February 2013, and is fully integrated with the web service so you can enjoy your Pandora stations on a mobile phone, tablet or e-reader. There’s also the option to link up with your friends who are using the service and tune in to their radio stations. For me, the current lack of Sonos playback support in Australia- even in the paid version is the one downfall of my favourite online music provider.

If you are after a music service that offers simplicity and variety and one that requires minimal interactivity resulting in maximum listening pleasure, then you should definitely open the musical box of discovery that is Pandora!

Have you tried out Pandora yet? What did you think?

Mar 11 2013

Blood, Sweat & Beers

I have always been a fan of local produce, and I’m not just referring to my fruit and veg. I’m talking Oz Rock, and I’m talking a few beers down at the local on a Friday night rocking out to an up-and-coming band.

Pub rock is an integral part of our Australian heritage and a plethora of talented singers and songwriters were born midst the sticky carpets and shattered pot glasses of many a local tavern.The origins of the pub as a venue emanated during the late 1970s as publicans recognised rock’n’roll as a way to attract a new, younger clientele to their establishments. Their predictions were satisfied in 1978 when over 600 people turned out to see The Angels at a pub a week after the band had supported Meatloaf during an Australian tour. As the pub-rock phenomenon developed, a growing number of  east-coast pubs began supporting live music and a thriving circuit evolved. Throughout the 80s, this pub circuit became an integral part of the local industry, producing names such as Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, The Radiators and The Sunnyboys.

It could be argued that the very venues many of the bands played in (pubs), had a major influence on the evolution of their music and sound. The venues were more often than not small and the crowds — alcohol-fueled — were there for the experience rather than to see a “name band”. Thus, an emphasis on simple, rhythm-based songs grew. With the sound in many of the rooms far from ideal for live music, an emphasis on a very loud snare and kick-drum and driving bass-guitar grew. Guitarists tended to rely on simple, repetitive riffs, rather than more complex solos or counter-melodies.

I am saddened by the fact that many traditional Australian live music venues are now closing their doors as inner-city haunts become increasingly gentrified and local councils succumb to pressure from residents and impose stricter noise regulations in urban locales. The once thriving live music scene that pubs fostered is slowly being replaced by high-rotation elevator music spun by run-of-the-mill DJs and, even worse- poker machines. That is not to say that the scene is totally extinct, with venues such as Ric’s and The Zoo in Brisbane; The Annandale and The Basement in Sydney, and The Prince of Wales and The Corner Hotel in Melbourne continuing the tradition of serving up a perfect blend of booze and bands.

Although the heyday of Pub Rock has passed, there still remains a dominant Australianness linking pubs, music, our country and its people. Let’s embrace this cultural spirit and get out and support our live music industry!

Check out my Spotify playlist for some of my top Pub Rock legends:

If music is the lifeblood of my waking hours, then movies are inspiration for my dreams. And for me, an integral element of an unforgettable movie is a killer soundtrack.

There are many soundtracks that have fused with my identity at certain times in my life- with notable mentions including almost anything from Quentin Tarantino, the Blues Brothers, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Local Hero.

But if I had to pick one soundtrack that has had the most profound impact on my life, from a young age and one that still resonates with me now, it would have to be the rocky horror picture show.

Originally a stage production, it played for almost two years before its overwhelming popularity led it to secure financing to become a feature film. Still in limited release nearly 40 years after its premiere, the movie has enjoyed the longest-running theatrical release in film history. The soundtrack from The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in 1975 and peaked at No. 49 on the Billboard 200 in 1978 and No. 40 on the Australian albums chart.

I’m not sure if there is any other soundtrack that I am able to sing word for word, and possibly compliment with a few well choreographed dance moves. Apart from Bambi, it’s probably one of the first movies I recall watching as a child…. And I loved it! I had absolutely no idea of any of the underlying tones of sexual exploration, of course- that revelation came many, many years later with a somewhat resounding ahhhhhhh, right!! Possibly a catalyst for my tomboyish ways, I idolised the character of Rocky and wanted to be like him…. I even tried drinking a raw egg a few times, much to the amusement and slight squeamishness of onlookers! It could also be held accountable for my early love of a good dress up… I recall with surprising clarity my uncle dressed as Frankenfurter, complete with corset and suspenders and the ends of a French stick bread loaf doubling as his bosoms.

There have been more than 30 cast recordings of the soundtrack, with a slew of notable celebrities contributing their vocal talents. Ironically, thirty-five years after the film release, The Rocky Horror Glee Show debuted at number six on the Billboard 200 on the week of 27 October 2010, with 48,000 copies sold. The music came from an episode of TV show Glee, which recreated several scenes from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, including the opening credits, and featured Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf in cameo roles. For me, it could only be considered no more than a mere flickering candle in comparison to the blazing glory of the original.

How about you? Is there a soundtrack that has made a profound impact in you life? What is it?

Feb 23 2013

Idol Contemplations

One of my guilty weeknight pleasures is idly passing the time enjoying a  reality singing competition currently screening on television.  I like to watch and I like to critique, as though I might have been more capable of singing the selected song than the contestant.

My professional singing career has been somewhat limited…. I played Fagin in my primary school’s production of Oliver Twist, where I performed the memorable classic “You’ve Gotta Pick a Pocket or Two”, and everyone’s favourite “Be Back Soon”. I also had a brief stint with the fame talent agency but was cruelly overlooked in my rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. Like so many of the rejected contestants on the aforementioned talent show, rejection only fanned the flames of  the musical fire burning within, and I continued to not only to increase my worldly knowledge of music, but concurrently develop my repertoire of performance classics.

These days, I tend to save up such lyrical gems for the occasional evening of karaoke, or for a undiscerning and overly adoring audience that consists of my two young children. In any case, as I laugh and cry with the procession of talented young individuals on these shows, I often like to imagine myself up there on the stage, bright lights shining down on my sequined jumpsuit, belting out a number to the frenzied crowd screaming my name. And you know what, if I really could sing, I reckon I might be in with a chance to win something like Idol, or The Voice or whatever other show I might chose to unleash my dazzling vocals upon. Because, my friends, it’s all about song choice, and I’ve gotta say that some of those guys and girls can sing, but good gosh, they do tend to choose some crappy songs!

And I believe that I may have devised the ultimate methodology for picking a winning song…. Since you have chosen to be enlightened by my musical ravings, I am going to share my formula with you here for free!! So here goes….

  1. Choose a song that is going to be known by all ages within the audience…. Nothing too left of center and nothing too lyrically smart
  2. Select a song that starts of quiet and works itself up to a crescendo
  3. Nothing too deep and meaningful…. Snore!
  4. 80s power ballads are a great place to start, and probably finish too

Here are a few examples, helpfully split into musical style categories. This list is by no means definitive, but just serves to guide you on your way to possible musical stardom.

Rock: Run to You- Bryan Adams; Here I Go Again on My Own- Whitesnake

Pop: Don’t Stop Believing – Journey; One Perfect Day- Little Heroes

60s: Piece of My Heart- Janis Joplin; Feelin’ Good- Nina Simone

70s: Alone- Heart; Ziggy Stardust- David Bowie; Your Song- Elton John

80s: Total Eclipse of the Heart- Bonnie Tyler;   All Through the Night- Cyndi Lauper

What song(s) would you chose on your journey to become pop star extraordinaire?


Feb 17 2013

Did ye get healed?

I believe in the strength of music- it can transport me from drowning in a sea of stress to basking in an oasis of calm, and it can take my carefree, sunny disposition and reduce to me a teary mess in a matter of minutes. But as many studies are now revealing, the power of music can extend far beyond the emotional transformations it can induce- for some it can truly heal and mean the difference between life and death.

Although it is still largely ignored in Western medicine, there is no doubt that music’s ability to connect on an emotional, spiritual and metaphysical level with an individual is inexorably linked to its unique healing abilities. From the neonatal ward, where music has assisted with stabilising heart rates and inducing sleep in the most fragile premature babies; to Alzheimer’s units where music has successfully invoked memories and help form neurological connections in elderly patients, it is true that the healing powers of music extend to all ages. Other research has shown that music therapy can reduce anxiety and pain, and improve mood, quality of life, heart rates and blood pressure in cancer patients and others with terminal illnesses.

The Health of the physical body is inextricably tied to our emotional, mental and spiritual health. Music is a powerful catalyst for healing because it touches the very core of humanity- our souls. (Kate Mucci)

My guess is that since a large portion of illnesses are closely linked to stress levels, it could be the ability of music to reduce or absolve stress and invoke relaxation that accounts for its healing properties.

So- what is the most relaxing song ever? According to ‘a scientific study commissioned by Radox’ (?!), it is an eight minute track called Weightless by Mirconi Union. I tend to think it all comes down to individual taste- for me, the songs I feel that resonate through my entire being when I hear them include tracks with bongos and/or didgeridoos, tribal music and gospel music. Here’s a track that incorporates a couple of those categories:

Do you have any stories about the healing power of music that you would like to share?