On December 1, 2013, Marian Call released her newest album, titled Sketchbook, which, for many reasons, is a splendid album. I am gifting three copies of this album.
If you are unfamiliar with Marian Call’s music, now may be the perfect time to get to know her music. Call’s music is always filled with a lot of heart and multiple layers, but Sketchbook is something extra-special.
Sketchbook isn’t a studio album. Call recorded the album in the houses of people nice enough to give Marian a venue, and a home, during her crazy touring schedule. She recorded them while sick, while hurried, while tired. They are imperfect recordings, which, for me, makes this album one of the best albums I have heard in some time. The reason being is that the sound of the album is more reflective of the raw emotion contained within the music and the lyrics.
Sketchbook contains music that is dark and vulnerable, yet hopeful, songs with dragons, getting back to basics, racing the clock, rain, Iceland, and so much more. The wonderful thing about Marian Call’s music is that her lyrics not only entertain, but they are bound to speak to a wide range of experiences.
The Gulf Coast of Texas is a blend of beautiful bayou and birding country and industrial wasteland. That was brought home to me as I visited the Baytown Nature Center not too far from my home near Houston. To get there from Highway 146, I drove over the Houston Ship channel (which goes to one of the busier ports in the world) and through a ginormous ExxonMobile chemical refinery (according to Wiki, one of the largest in the United States).
Baytown’s official motto is: “Where Oil and Water Really Do Mix.” It didn’t seem like a promising place to find a children’s playground, frankly.
But once you enter the nature preserve, all of that changes. Through a trick of geography, the children’s area looks bucolic, not industrial at all. There are tons of birds soaring around and it gets a lovely breeze. You can see the impressive San Jacinto Monument from several vantage points. There’s a lot to love about this park, but I’m going to focus on the Music Garden, and specifically how it captures the spirit of Baytown by using recycled industrial welding canisters for many of its instruments.
The Bayer Music Garden (almost every part of the park is sponsored by businesses or local families) has eight different stations, all of them fundamentally percussive. Four of them use brightly painted welding canisters, cut down to different sizes, to provide an array of drums, bells, or chimes. One series is stuck in the ground and topped with durable, flexible plastic, making a set of bongo drums just at kid height. Another four are strung up with the bottoms cut off and wooden clappers added to make bells.
One of my favorites is two rounded domes set low, each with different patterns cut into them. One looks like whale tails, the other has a star. The way the patterns are cut, the different sections make different tones when struck with the attached rubber mallet. Other stations include welding canisters set on posts that can be spun or whacked, two sets of steel chimes, a large wooden xylophone, and a hollow wooden bench with carved out tonal areas. It’s such a creative idea and use of local material! I’m also impressed with the park’s upkeep and maintenance: when I had been there before, many of the rubber mallets and clappers had gone missing. This time they had all been freshly replaced.
Two caveats: one, the reason the park maintenance can be so good is that the park is fee-based. Unlike most of the free parks in the area, this one has a $3 per person charge, although kids under 12 get in free. We loved the center so much we decided to spring for a $40 family membership, and there’s also a $20 individual annual pass available. Another thing to remember is that Houston has the nickname “The Bayou City,” and bayou is just the fancy French word for swamp. So mosquitoes can be a problem. We went on a rare warm day after a string of cold days, and the little buggers were out for blood. Usually the breeze kept them away, but any instant it died down I was brushing them off my son and he still got bitten several times on his legs and neck. Given that mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue are making a resurgence, it’s probably best to consider bug spray.
Those concerns aside, I haven’t even mentioned the built-up hill and tunnel, the kid-sized animal statues for climbing on, the pirate ship, or the rope spider web. This is a park that offers a lot to explore, but I continue to be especially impressed with the way the Music Garden creatively blends the industrial and scenic characteristics of the area using recycled materials. Something that perhaps other parks can emulate!
I’m a college football GeekMom. This past weekend Ohio State hosted Penn State in football and the halftime show was quite memorable.
(I still can’t believe I’m revering Ohio State this way. Penn State and Ohio State have a rivalry, but not as vicious one as University of Michigan and Ohio State…which you’ll see references to in the above video. You’ll also see the Penn State Marching Blue Band coming off the field in the first 15 seconds playing the end of “Penn State Victory.”)
Riding on the coattails and viral video success of their video game tribute show and the previous week’s Michael Jackson tribute, the band that calls themselves “The Best Damned Band in the Land” (or “TBDBITL” for short) has outdone themselves once again with a Hollywood Blockbuster tribute show. Ohio State’s band has mastered some beautiful formation animations. Yes, I am quite impressed.
Enjoy music from—and amazing band formations of—Superman (where you’ll see him change in the phone booth), Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter (watch Harry catch the Golden Snitch!), Jurassic Park (where a T-Rex will devour a Michigan football player), and Pirates of the Caribbean (where Ohio State’s ship will sink the Michigan ship).
Harry on the broomstick was by far my favorite part! Enjoy!
As summer vacations come to an end, join us for our last weekly video playlist. We hope you have enjoyed the videos we have shared with you this summer. As the year goes on, watch for special video playlists.
This week, our video playlist includes a video that should appeal to music and Star Wars geeks. Richard Grayson shares a variation of Darth Vader’s theme done in the style of Beethoven. We hope you enjoy this video and the others in this week’s list.
Watch the video and read the boards. Watch it again to listen to the amazing Doubleclicks. If you listen to it a third time, well… I can’t guarantee that you won’t be humming it for the rest of the day. (My seven-year-old daughter already is.) But you may want to risk the tune getting stuck to spot celebrities like Adam Savage, Paul and Storm, Wil Wheaton, and many more who joined so many other geeks to make this video.
We have nothing to prove. Just because we are girls, moms, women, does not mean we shouldn’t be interested in the things we obsess over.
Thank you, Doubleclicks. You truly are advocates for geeks everywhere.
This week the GeekMom playlist is more of a mix-tape… with a little The Cat in the Hat (or kitten in the ukulele; really you could take your pick) thrown in. Please be careful when viewing the list—the Garfunkel and Oats songs are not entirely child or work appropriate (okay, they are not at all appropriate). But, we hope you will enjoy our list nonetheless.
A year ago I wrote about a pre-school music app called A Jazzy Day. The app became a favorite of my son and featured cute cartoon cats who learned all about the instruments in a jazz orchestra by visiting the big band in New York City. A sequel, Jazzy World Tour, has recently been released and my son has been enjoying playing this new offering for the past few weeks.
Jazzy World Tour moves away from the linear story mode of its predecessor and broadens its educational reach. Rather than learning just about musical instruments, Jazzy World Tour introduces geography and cultural studies as players travel between countries from the main menu (a map of the world) and see each nation’s instruments as part of a wider cultural experience. Seven countries are available to explore: The USA, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, Kenya, and India, and each country has three options to explore with (learn, play and create).
The “learn” tab introduces some basic objects that teach players about the culture of the chosen country. These include a selection of musical instruments, local wildlife, famous buildings, foods, religious deities and more: The India selection includes a lotus flower, the Taj Mahal, a cobra, a sitar and Ganesh. Each of these objects is drawn in a colorful cartoon style. Tapping it brings up a short, simple paragraph explaining what it is with the object’s name spoken aloud, this is very helpful for certain words you may not have encountered before. The “play” tab brings up a single screen in which many of the items found in the “learn” tab are brought together to form a picture of that country along with local music forming a backdrop. Tapping each image animates it. Many of the musical instruments will be represented, so by tapping around the player, can create music from that location. The final tab is “create.” Here players can use animated stickers to create scenes (either still pictures or short animated videos) which can then be added to their “travel book” as they visit the different countries; they can also be instantly shared via social media, emailed or saved to the device. The Travel Book is accessible from the main menu and serves as a sort of scrapbook of the player’s experiences as they travel the world.
Naturally, an app like this cannot go into great depth for each of the countries it includes, however the scenes and items from the different cultures are great for young children only just learning about the way in which places and people differ. The app is bright and engaging, the animations are often funny (my son fell in love with the emu in the Australia section which would run off screen and then slip back on a moment later) and the learning is subtle. In choosing not to have a linear story mode, the app does feel like something is lacking when compared to its narrated predecessor. As it is, the app feels a little disjointed from my perspective. However, my 3-year-old loves jumping from country to country making as much noise as possible.
Jazzy World Tour is a great addition to your app collection and is great for kids beginning at pre-school age and ranging up to middle school as their reading skills increase and they can move from using the app as a musical sticker book to reading the information about different cultures by themselves. I’d love to see more countries opened up on the map and hope that we might see such an expansion one day as there are so many great cultures left to explore.
A copy of Jazzy World Tour was provided free for this review. It is available on the Apple Store costing $4.99/£2.99 for the complete game, or you can download a “free” trial edition featuring just one country, and buy the rest of the map as individual expansions costing 99c each.
The last few weeks I’ve been preparing for and directing a History Through the Creative Arts Camp about America during The Great Depression. Originally history was written down by conquerors who took political power. This legacy continues in history textbooks that think that war and politics are the most important parts of history to study. I disagree. I think history is the whole human experience during a time period. Of course, this makes it tough to design a children’s summer camp that only lasts five days. So I turn to passion.
Passion makes for great teaching. I’m passionate about the creative arts, culture, and social justice. So that’s my focus on history. And when students learn why certain songs were written, when the photographs were taken, how the plays were created, they learn about the power struggles during that time and place. I run the week by having the campers sing, dance, write, eat, sew, and create their way through the time period.
I also asked for help. During the week of camp there were other adults bringing their expertise (geeky excitement) to the campers. Plus, the kids themselves taught each other. My daughter ran the camp newspaper, “Typewriter Talk,” with the campers taking turns being reporters for the day. Another student of mine asked if I was covering Europe during the ’30s. I wasn’t getting into the details of the start of World War II with this camp. She asked if she could do a five minute presentation each day because she thought it was really important for everyone to know this stuff. Sure!
What I wasn’t covering in active learning, I put out on display. In the space I use for camp is a huge wall for push-pins. The other counselors and I fill this wall with all the things we found out, but couldn’t squeeze into the time allotted. Scientific achievements, slang terms, maps about the Dust Bowl (then and what’s happening now!), details on the stock market, the 1936 Olympics, weird advertisements, and lots more. My daughter created a display on photojournalism. My son did one on the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP—he pointed out it sounded like a sound effect). There were puzzles and written activities available during downtime where the answers could be found on The Wall. Whoever completed a sheet got a tiny harmonica (so they could sound like hobos around a campfire…) or candy created during the 1930s.
I’ll write a few more posts about aspects of camp I think you might enjoy: games, comics, movies, and radio plays. If anything, I encourage everyone to do one of the projects during camp: Research your own family history. The campers presented how their families got through the hard times of the 1930s, and there were some great stories. My own grandfather was a newsboy in the lower East side of NYC.
I could write so much more because everything was so cool! I hope I inspire you to get geeked about history! Here’s a video of the swing dancing each day:
I haven’t been serious about earphones since studying broadcast production in college. I haven’t had to. Most of the time, we listen to music or audio books on the computer or in the car and everyone listens. But since tablets and smart phones are commonplace now, even in our house, we have also been looking at earphones that work with all our devices. Within days of my husband wearing out his second pair of earbuds, Moshi Audio provided a review sample of their new Mythro earbuds. The earbuds are a personal headset with a built-in mic that can be used with phones and other devices.
It is difficult for me to find earbuds that work in my ears. Most fall out because my ears are so tiny. For example, the standard iPod buds don’t even fit in my ears at all. I have used my kid’s earbuds in the past because they came with an extra small bud tip, but I can’t use them on a continual basis or he would complain. The Moshi earbuds are the first earbuds I have found that actually stay in my ears.
Size: The sizes of earbud attachment are fairly standard to other earbuds. As usual, I use the smallest size at 11.1 mm. The medium is 12.3 mm and the large is 13.6 mm.
Shape: The shape is what makes these earbuds unique. The back end of the piece that fits in your ear is angled to have a more snug fit in the ear. An added bonus to the angle of the ear pieces is that you don’t have to look at the buds to see which one goes in which ear, you can do it by feel. Because of the shape, this is the first set of earbuds that I can wear while exercising and not have to worry about them falling out.
Mic: I haven’t received any complaints while using it for phone conversations, even in the car.
Durability: I use these all day. They are plugged into my phone in the car in case I get a phone call, and I use them in my phone at night to listen to audio books while going to sleep. I also use them during the day with my computer while I am writing to cut out the outside noise. I have been in this routine for over two months. My last three sets of earbuds under these same conditions broke within the two month time frame, but the Mythro earbuds have held up just fine.
The Moshi Audio Mythro earbuds have been wonderful. I have nothing bad to say about them. They fit, they are comfortable, affordable, sound great, and have a nifty little strip that holds the chord in a bundle when they aren’t being used. If they break I will definitely get another pair. They can be purchased from the Moshi website or Amazon for $30.
Summer vacation is here! Or, it is looming in the not-so-distant future. Either way, kids are getting edgy and are requesting video suggestions to keep them entertained for a few minutes. So, this week’s video playlist features videos the GeekMom writers’ kids enjoy.
This week’s playlist and all of the previous weeks can be found on our YouTube channel. You can also find an up-to-date playlist of all of the GeekMom’s Game of Thrones Season 3 Recap Tea Party episodes.
Ballads, brains, board games, and booze are on the menu this week on our weekly video playlist. As usual, the weekly playlist is brought to you in feature-film length as a gift to you for weekend viewing. Here is a sampling of videos from this week’s playlist.
A Halo medley on violin and piano was somehow not what I was expecting when I found this video, but the production value and musicianship are both excellent.
(This was my very first post on GeekMom waaaay back when. It eventually ended up on Wired as well. I’m still writing and performing all my geeky songs!)
Take, take, take me away.
I’ll drink whatever you put before me.
In this world I can’t stay.
Only the faerie can cure me.
“Mortal Slave” by Camelot’s Destruction
As a singer/songwriter, I’ve been told by other musicians to never share your inspiration. Let the audience decide what the songs are about. I agree for songs about love and life, experiences the listener can put themselves into. But what about a song about the perils of having an evil wizard as an ex-boyfriend? Or one about creating a clone to take over your life while you have outer-space adventures? Those songs need explaining.
Several years ago a friend emailed me his really cool dream. I turned it into the start of an urban fantasy novel. It still languishes on my hard drive. But this isn’t about failure, instead, that never-finished book sparked a whole new facet of my musical life.
In the novel-that-will-never-be, there is a teen girl who I wanted to be wearing a band t-shirt. Considering her character’s love of rebellion, I decided this band should be from the forbidden realm of Dreamtown. But what would the band be called? Something dark, but over the top, like most band names I make fun of. I came up with Camelot’s Destruction.
This post was published on the original GeekMom site, then published again on Wired, and now it’s back here! I can’t get enough of these stories, so please add your own!
Do geeks go to prom? In fiction, it depends on the gender. Geek guys rarely go, unless they are the comic relief. Geek girls can often have the “Cinderella” dream happen and become the belle of the ball.
But that’s fiction. What about in real life?
I recently shared my prom story with the community of geekmoms and a few dared to tell about their own:
I asked the guy I liked to my prom, even though he was a junior, and my friends thought I was weird. However, I was convinced he would ask me to be his girlfriend that night…then hoped it would happen the next day. We went to NYC to see Nine Inch Nails, but couldn’t get in the club because we weren’t 21 (even though we paid for the tickets). I was so disappointed. He didn’t ask me to be his girlfriend at all that weekend, and I found out later that was because he already had a girlfriend, but thought it was fun to lead me on anyway. Damn, younger men! – ME
This week, the GeekMoms were watching record-breaking videos, gaming videos and more. To save you from losing time searching for the geeky videos from this week, these videos and several others (along with the playlist from last week) can be found on the GeekMom YouTube channel. Here are a couple of the featured videos from the playlist.
Kay pointed out this video which holds the Guinness World Records™ record for smallest movie. The pixels are individual atoms. The video annotation includes a link to an explanation of how it was made.
They Might Be Giants are still rocking the science theme with Nanobots, the group’s 16th studio album. It has a total of 25 songs, but only one of them pays homage to the great Nikola Tesla.
“Tesla” is definitely not my favorite TMBG video, but the subject matter and lyrics are fantastic. John Flansburgh and John Linnell run through some of Tesla’s achievements and then ask the burning question, “How can that knowledge be tamed?”
Yeah, don’t expect an answer, but the newly posted video for “Tesla” is certainly worth two minutes of your time. Check it out below.
I suffer daily with anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve tried medication in the past and it just didn’t work for me. So, when I need something to bring me back down to earth, I look to various things to help me. Here’s a list of a few of the things I use to bring me back and get me through the day.
Chubbs the Wampug – I don’t have a dog, so I live vicariously through Chubbs the Wampug. Her posts range from birthday wishes to funny captions on her own photos. On more than one bad day, my first thought has been to head over to see what her latest funny picture is. She hasn’t let me down yet.
Ben 10 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – I keep episodes of both on my iPod, so when I’m at work and have to get away, they are just a click away. My favorite episode so far has been Ben 10 – Generator Rex: Heroes United and TMNT episodes Metal Head and Turtle Temper. Each episode is full of laughs and easily distracts me from whatever is bugging me.
As we wander through the years of life sometimes we collect some pretty magical friends along the way. Paul Guzzone is one of the people on my list. I first told you about him back in 2011. He is a talented musician in his own right and just happens to play bass and do some producing for the Bacon Brothers Band. Yeah, the same Bacon guy who creeps you out on The Following each week and his not so creepy brother.
For years I’ve enjoyed meeting up with Paul at their concerts and hanging out with him after the guitars are packed away. He and his wife, Mary Ellen, are those hidden treasures who live and work in New York, with very little media fanfare. Their company, Triple Z Music does mind blowing musical backgrounds for TV commercials, corporate events, and many other venues.
I was thrilled to find out that Paul was releasing his own album. My son and I dove into it the same afternoon it showed up in my mailbox. It’s called “Chasing the Moon” and the title track is one of our favorites. We were on our way to my son’s weekly drum lessons so of course Sam picked out all the cool rhythms and pounded them out on my poor dashboard. But it was hard not to get sucked into these songs.
Paul describes it as “soundscape meets reggae-infused pop, contemporary gives way to retro and fantasy induces romance”. I think that is a pretty good description. These songs are all about love, the loss of love, and the security of love when it all goes right. How can you not love lyrics like
“And I will carry you, when your legs are weary
I will lift you up when the water’s high
I will hold you close when the wind is howling
When the road is long, I will carry you home.”
The melodies are sometimes sweet and tender, sometimes jumpy and Caribbean Sam actually asked me to play it again on the way home from his drum lesson and I smiled when I saw him moving along to the tunes. He said it was his version of ‘interpretive dance’. I don’t care what he calls it. I love an album I can share and enjoy with my son.
I kept having the feeling that this would be a great album to listen to while I was making dinner, or puttering around the house. It makes great driving music. Some day soon, when the winter season decides to leave Colorado, I will sit on my back porch and soak up the sun with these songs in my ears. It’s relaxing and fun at the same time.
For this month’s Muse of Nerds, I quickly grabbed onto the STEM to STEAM movement (adding ‘arts’ to the technical.) Creativity is the foundation for advancement in all fields. The arts — writing, music, art, theater and dance — paired with science, technology, engineering and math, foster a relationship between both sides of the brain for maximum human innovation potential. Trying to place STEM at the top of the educational plant stifles growth.
In 1858, Friedrich Kekule published a paper that showed, visually, how atoms bond chemically. He continued to play with the design until in 1865, he put carbon as a six-sided ring (hexagon) with chains and links, which gave rise to organic chemistry. Kekule started out as an architect before switching to the new science of chemistry. The visualization of chemical bonding didn’t come out of experiments in the lab, but a daydream while riding the bus. His brain looked at chemistry with an architect’s eye.
Daniel Tammet holds the European world record for reciting pi from memory. Daniel can “sense” if a number is prime. I think it’s important to mention that Daniel has high-functioning autism because many educators tend to steer children on the Autism spectrum towards STEM fields. However, Daniel uses the arts to “see” numbers. He is a lucid writer with his book, Born on a Blue Day. The way he was able to memorize pi was by creating a visual landscape in his mind. Clearly, art and math are tied for him.
Science News had a special issue on August 14, 2010 devoted to our minds on music. It was a fascinating look at how music influences our growth emotionally and mentally. In it there was a quote from Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, “In terms of brain imaging, studies have shown listening to music lights up, or activates, more of the brain than any other stimulus we know.” That’s just listening! As Daniel Levitin, director of the music perception, cognition and expertise laboratory at McGill University in Montreal explained, “Music processing is distributed throughout the brain…and playing an instrument, in particular, is an ensemble activity. It involves paying attention, thinking ahead, remembering, coordinating movement and interpreting constant feedback to the ears, fingers and, in some cases, lips. It is one of the most complicated tasks that we have.”
How could that kind of thinking be considered extracurricula? That’s the saddest part. STEM in education is not just getting the funding for special programming, but amazing mental tasks like music aren’t even in the BASIC CURRICULUM!
This very morning I was teaching a creative writing class to some junior high students. The stories will be used to later design and program robots (based on challenges the writing students come up with). The writing students have to be creative to make their challenges cohesive with their story lines. The robotic students have to be creative in designing and programming robots. Tying the two endeavors together gives the project more weight.
Have you ever been to a science museum? Did you attend any of the fantastic theater shows? Watching a story unfold is basic human communication. Lecturing is not.
My children were taking a botany course and convinced their teacher to demonstrate their plant family identification ability using interpretive dance. Seriously. Their teacher was cool about it and let them try. They took all the information they knew about these plant families (memorizing), decided on what was the most important and distinguishable traits (critical thinking) and then came up with movements to convey the information in a clear way (innovation.) By using their full body to translate the concepts, more parts of their brain were used. Do you think they will remember the information better than if they wrote it out on a test? Can your fingers remember a song on the piano from when you were a child? Muscle memory is a powerful tool.
My husband teaches genetics and is frustrated at the lack of “creative and independent thought” the students portray. Students walk in the classroom lacking good reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. The scientists getting prizes don’t spit out what they were taught. They dream, they doodle, they hum, they dance their way to success.
Earlier this week my local radio started my morning with William Shatner singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I almost crashed the car. I love William Shatner, I think he’s wonderful, and even though the man cannot sing, I love his music. It’s William Shatner! Singing! It doesn’t get to me in the same way that Paul McCartney or Don McLean do, don’t get me wrong, but I love it anyway.
Released this week, Seeking Major Tom is Shatner’s exploration of many spaced-themed popular songs — oh, and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Based on the idea that so many songs stem from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Shatner goes in search of Major Tom. He is aided in this by the likes of Lyle Lovett, Brad Paisley, Peter Frampton and Sheryl Crow. I think we can certainly expect a good deal of variety from this disc. In his Rex Harrison-like manner, Shatner weaves his way through the narrative that “Space Oddity” has embedded in popular culture over the years.
You can even watch Bill talk about the project in a promotional documentary:
Alas, I did not receive a copy of this to review, it’s just currently on my Amazon wish list. My big decision now is formatting. The album is available on iTunes, CDor 12-inch vinyl. Everything in me screams to get the vinyl, but the last new vinyl I bought was “Expecting to Fly” by The Bluetones in 1996, and I exchanged that for a CD. My vinyl collection thus far consists of old musicals and Christmas music; dare I add Shatner to that collection? Regardless, this looks set to be an absolute hoot, and I think fondly on the day we were gifted with the exuberant talent of Mr. William Shatner.
My kids love jazz. We can listen to John Coltrane albums on endless repeat thanks to a single animator, Michal Levy, who explores “the visualization of sound.” When my daughter was a few months old, my husband discovered Levy’s animation for Coltrane’s Giant Steps. She was riveted.
We showed the animation to our 1-year-old and he had the same response. Every time he sees a computer screen he points at it with a “That! That!” until we play him a video, though he’s come to prefer a different Michal Levy animation, One.
I’m a visual person, so I thought that it was primarily the animations that grabbed baby’s attention. But when we listen to albums (Giant Steps in particular), the jazz has a soothing quality that captures their attention in a similar way, even still for my daughter who is now six.
If you like jazz, these animations are a great gateway for your kids.
If you are a musician, or any type of creative for that matter, you want to have your product consumed. In the digital age, an age where people can consume media for free and, as a result, an age with drastically shifting ways to produce and publish your content, sometimes finding the tools and strategies that will work for you can be difficult.
Some people want to publish their content with strict copyrights and old marketing models. However, in this day and age, unless you have a big record label or publisher behind you, getting that ‘big break’ can be difficult if you are unwilling to let go, take a risk and take advantage of some of the wonderful tools at your disposal that will allow you to have control and a lot of freedom over how you distribute and market your content. In my opinion, getting your music heard is the most important thing. It will be easier to make money from it if you make it easier for people to listen to and share your music.
I work with a lot of independent musicians. Most of them use some combination of new marketing tools to publish and distribute their music, plus to reach out to their supporters. Some have yet to find the perfect formula that works for them. Others have been quite successful. All of them do not regret the choices they have made because at least their music is getting heard and those who are listening are not afraid to pass it on.
Yesterday, I wrote about one of these tools: Entering songwriting competitions. As I was preparing for Music Week, I asked a handful of the independent musicians that I work with to tell me what new marketing tools they prefer. A lot of the tools that I use to distribute some of my own materials, such as Bandcamp and making use of Creative Commons, I learned from the musicians and other creatives I’ve worked with over the years.
When I release a new single on Bandcamp, I make it available for free. People only have to sign my mailing list to download the track.
FanBridge is a mailing list server. It does a great job of organizing your mail list into geographic locations, new fans, etc. That way you can send targeted e-mails to certain groups, without annoying your whole list with irrelevant information.
When I put out a new song, I let the people on my mailing list know that they can get it for free, but please let other folks know about it on Twitter, Facebook and their blog. Bandcamp has great tools for spreading that info. This has really helped to grow my mailing list. My mailing list has grown from 300 people to 1000 people in the past six months by doing this.
Fanbridge’s free service gives you 400 messages per month. So if you have less than 400 people on your list, you can send them 1 e-mail a month for free. I had to switch to the first tier of their paid service ($10 a month) once my mailing list went over 400 people, but was happy to pay it.
I like that you can search your list by area. For instance, I’m playing a house concert in Maryland in a few weeks. I can search my mailing list to give me the people that are within an x mile radius of the house zip code. I can then send an e-mail to only those people and not bother anyone else on the list.
Once a month, I make a group of the new people that joined the list. That way I can send them a welcome e-mail and ask them to check out my catalogue of music and to friend me up on the various social networks.
ReverbNation.com makes getting your act together online feel a little like collecting achievements in a video game. There’s so much stuff that needs to be done when you first start out – posting pictures, writing a bio, getting some reviews, posting songs/videos, accumulating a fanbase, linking up the things you need to link to, announcing shows…that it can be a little overwhelming. So they give you a progress bar and tell you what you should do next, and as you do it your “Progress” numbers improve and you “climb the charts” relative to other performers so there’s a competitive aspect too.
I very much like bandcamp.com, but my use of online music distribution is quite limited compared to many other musicians I know. I just need a place to post my music where I can point interested parties—friends, family, Song Fighters and folks from SpinTunes. The integration with Facebook is very nice from Bandcamp: Post the link to the song and it automatically creates a miniplayer in Facebook; I wish G+ had that feature. I like that Bandcamp’s interface is simple but flexible, though the “upload music first and then create an album” process was counter-intuitive for me at first.
Another service I’ve begun to explore is Jamendo.com, which has many more tools and facilitates a wide cross-section of listeners with its built-in “radio” feature.
Also, rockin’ it kind of old-school, I know quite a few Song Fighters who use Spud’s Amazing Website machine: http://www.cybertoys.org/
While we have hundreds of songs and bits up on our Bandcamp, there’s not much up on ReverbNation, MySpace, or the streaming sites because I’m notoriously lazy.
We have a Facebook page that links to our Twitter, YouTube and Bandcamp feeds, as well as the main blog BYD365 project. That blog is a little stalled at the moment, but I think I’ve still averaged a bit a day over the year.
One thing I’m a big fan of is the ‘Touch it once, send it everywhere’ philosophy. The more you can cross link to other platforms, the better your overall reach will be.
So any Twitter posts show up on the Facebook page, and the blogs, and MySpace and other pages. You’d go mad trying to keep up otherwise.
As an aside before I continue, I think you need to be careful how much you cross-post the same content to various platforms, especially if you have the same core group of followers at each place. Otherwise you risk having your posts looking like spam. Even though the people who have ‘Liked’ my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter and have circled me on Google Plus are mostly distinct groups of people, I seldom cross-post. Not only does this prevent the people who do follow me on each platform from becoming weary of my content, it encourages people to follow me on all places so that they don’t miss out on stuff.
Along that same vein, it is also very important to take some time doing the social part of social media and social networking. Take time to talk with those who are following you. Pay attention to the things they are posting. Build some form of relationship with them. If you take the time to care about them, they will care about you and be more willing to consume your products.
I’m another one using Bandcamp and finding it hard to beat at this level. Over on the Lunacy Board website, we’re trying out MusoPress, a WordPress theme that is custom-designed for music sites and integrates with Bandcamp, YouTube and other services. It is still early days, but it is fairly simple and works well for what we’re doing at the moment.
I haven’t investigated FanBridge beyond a cursory glance, but I know a couple of people who do use it and it produces good results.
We did have an album up on Jamendo for a while, but I took it down for two reasons: 1) Because of the quantity of MySpace-like ‘friend’ requests only looking to plug their own albums; and 2) Because we had a review on there that was pretty nasty and contrary to all the other reviews that affected the album’s overall ‘score’. It was particularly annoying because the person who left the review was supposedly not even interested in our genre of music, prompting the question “why review an album that you have no other reason to listen to?”
I’d recommend taking a look at Steve Lawson’s website too. He’s a solo bass player who has embraced the ‘Pay as much as you like” and house concert model, as well as being heavily involved in the ‘New Music Strategies’ group. He has written a lot about engaging with music fans and making a modest career in music.
I don’t know if I can add to the conversation much because I just started our new band a month ago and our first album isn’t even out yet, although the recording is done! HUZZAH!
As someone starting out, however, marketing presses on my mind a lot. And there is so much just to set up!
Getting a website going, finding a theme that fits your site, finding the right plugins to put on your site, finding a good mailing list, setting up a Facebook page, setting up pages on the myriad of music sites, finding all the music sites.
And with the musical landscape cluttered with social media sites like neon lights in Vegas, how does one get others to listen? I get tired talking about myself this much to my friends.
And so I’m trying desperately to think creatively to get new people just to listen. Of course, there is nothing to listen to yet, but hey. We’re almost there, stay on target.
At least I know the demographic that I may appeal to, so I’m trying this and seeing if it works:
A daily webcomic – I think it will be hard to mesh a site to be both a comic and a music site, but hey, may as well try.
A text game – Yes. I want to make video games for our band.
Our “model” of marketing really comes down to a few points:
1) We collaborate with fans and try to keep our fans as involved as we can with our projects.
Actually, I’d much rather call them “friends” than “fans” because “fans” sounds unbalanced and impersonal and creates an “us vs. them” space which doesn’t really fit us. We would rather have a two-way street than throw things at them.
Here are a few ways we have done this with the CD we’re releasing in a few months:
We held a contest asking fans to suggest song titles and then had everyone vote on their favourite, which we then fleshed out into a song that will appear on the CD.
We put out an open call for fans to record clips that we will edit into one of the songs.
A few other ways:
We’ll take their input and turn it into comics (sometimes bringing them on as guest characters).
We’ll take their song suggestions and add to our repertoire.
2) We keep it transparent (aka real!).
People genuinely want to know the ins and outs. When something great happens, we talk about it. When something not so great happens—like, if I’m having a really tough time recording and go a little crazy and Errol comes over and washes my dishes—we’ll talk about that too. It’s human, way more realistic and infinitely more interesting than presenting a one-dimensional cardboard point of view. The comics are a great tool for this, so are blogs, vblogs, tweets, etc.
3) We don’t force it.
Well, we try not to, but like everyone else we’re learning. We have never sat down together and thought “how can we get more people to listen to our music?” We didn’t decide to create a comic because it was a great marketing tool; Errol just thought it would be fun. It just also happens to be a great marketing tool.
Often, marketing just happens alongside what we’re doing anyway. For example, including clips of fans on our CD will make them far more likely to say to their friends, “Look, I’m on this CD, you should check it out!” As part of our fan-funding package, we will do YouTube covers or write songs for fans who donate a certain amount. That means our fans feel special and we add another song into the mix. That also means more videos which will potentially reach more people.
In other words, most of our marketing isn’t done for the sole purpose of marketing. We try our best to market in ways that don’t feel like marketing at all, so it won’t turn people off.
Of course, we’re still a fairly new band. We’ll see if this ends up working, but so far so good!
I am pretty much a complete part-time amateur and although I’ve been playing guitar on and off, mostly off, for quite a few years, it’s only in the last few three or four years that I’ve gotten to the point where I can actually sing a song while accompanying myself. I’ve written five or six original songs to date. It’s a very, very part-time endeavor for me, and I’m mostly someone who spends that limited time with headphones in my home studio recording or mixing rather than performing live. It’s a goal of mine to do more of the latter and especially to find some local folks to collaborate with.
I’ve done approximately zero promotion with the exception of a few tweets and Facebook posts and some podcast chats. I know almost nothing about it. One thing I have learned is that videos seem to be very important. It seems so far to be the case that ten times more people will circulate and share a video than they will an audio track. You can make a video really easily. My cover of Today’s the Day by Inverse T. Clown took me very little time, just an hour or so.
By comparison the Bandcamp page of the song shows about zero plays.
Something else I want to continue with is collaborating with more of you—recording parts for your songs or vice-versa. I haven’t done this yet but the plan is actually to upload all my source tracks for every complete original song. What’s the worst that could happen? No one will do anything with them. So I wasted a little bandwidth and disk space. Those things are becoming vanishingly cheap.
My license of choice is Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, but people might have different opinions about that.
If you are keeping track of the things that come up over and over as good things, then yes, I’m a big fan of Bandcamp and Twitter and also Reverbnation and Steve Lawson’s philosophies. Also Derek Sivers has a great blog and ebooks. So does Bob Baker and Ariel Hyatt.
One thing that seems fairly obvious and yet sometimes still surprisingly underused/poorly used is YouTube. It’s so easy to make, post and share videos these days that I am rather shocked when I come across a musician who doesn’t have even one video! There are definitely the people who really finesse YouTube and have high quality stuff and a great regular “show” and following, but I really believe that if you want to play out and about, you’ve got to have at least one video that you can share with promoters/fans! And include your website address in the video! You never know when or where it’s going to be posted and therefore not shown with any and all of the information you may have put in the description box on YouTube. But please, also fill in the description box with something! And use the tags!! I’ve had more than one musician complain to me that people can’t find their videos on YouTube, or that YouTube is “broken” when people try to search, and when I ask them if the video has their name in the title and/or tags, they don’t. Argh!
http://soundcloud.com/ is a site I haven’t used all that much yet, but it’s rather like Bandcamp, I think, and I know a lot of the musicians I play on my show have used it to send me tracks. It has a feature where listeners can leave comments on specific parts of a song, and their comments pop up as the song is played, at least on the Soundcloud site, because you can also embed a player. Not 100% sure what the difference/advantage it is to Bandcamp, but another good resource.
http://noisetrade.com/ is an interesting one where you can give your music away for free in exchange for an email address, and it encourages people to tell their friends about you and leave tips. There have been times where you were required to suggest an album to 5 friends in order to get the free album; I don’t know if they are still using that model.
http://www.thesixtyone.com/ turns music listening into a game. You get points for listening to songs and giving the songs “hearts”, and they come up with different “quests”, like listening to the newest uploaded songs, or listening between the hours of 1am-3am, etc. The interface is kinda pretty but sometimes a little confusing to me.
If I was touring, I’m sure I would use http://www.artistdata.com/us/ more. It allows you to enter your tour dates in one place and to update on something like 30 sites at once. You can also schedule for it to send out messages/reminders, like “I’m playing a show at this venue tonight. 8pm.”
Speaking of scheduling, I often use http://hootsuite.com/ to schedule tweets for my radio show, so I don’t have to be distracted with tweeting while I’m on the air, and it can also send updates to Facebook at the same time.
http://www.stageit.com/ is an “online concert venue” that intrigues me, though I haven’t tried it out yet, from either a viewer or performers side of things. I guess it’s a lot like Ustream, but people have to actually buy tickets so you have a lot more control over who shows up, way, way less potential for trolls and I am pretty sure, but not entirely sure, that there are no ads.
That’s the top of my head stuff. There is so much out there!
Although I’m optimistic about Google+ use for musicians in the near future, nothing comes close to Twitter as a useful social networking tool. There are different strategies that can work that can use another social network, i.e., Facebook, YouYube, or social music platform, i.e., ReverbNation, but I feel they all need Twitter as the glue to make any of it work. Bottom line: In order for any social networking idea to work, it requires authentic posts, or tweets, to be successful. The best tool for that is still Twitter.
One thing that is missing, just a little bit, from the above conversation is live performances. A lot of people are still trying to be heard in a noisy bar or other ‘traditional’ locations. I suggest making use of house concerts. One musician who is very successful with that is Marian Call. I understand that not every one does music full-time like Marian, however, there is still the opportunity for you to do house concerts in your area. A few months ago, I interviewed Marian and we discussed her new marketing tools, including her crazy house concert schedule. If you are interested in this interview, you can listen to it and download it here.
Something that John Anealio left out was that he has done a couple remix contests. This not only gets your music heard by other musicians, but the musicians who remix your song will be bringing in new listeners. Alternatively, you can invite your supporters to remix any of your songs at any time.
Publishing your content under a Creative Commons license makes this possible, without having to worry about copyright infringement. You still own the copyrights, but depending on which license you attach to your content, your content is free to share and be used for other projects, thus increasing your listening audience. A few years ago, Jonathan Coulton and I had a good discussion about why he chooses to release his music under Creative Commons and what it means to do so. If you are interested in listening to and downloading this interview, you can do so here.
There are still loads more tools for you to use, but I think the above novel is a good starting point. Don’t be afraid to mix things up and try new things. If the first thing doesn’t work, ask your supporters why it isn’t working for them and what you can be doing differently. Get them involved.
If you use any new marketing tools, what are they?
Over the years, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with many wonderful independent musicians and song writers. In the last couple of years, most of my independent music library and the independent music I’ve decided to play during my radio shows has been acquired via the entries of various songwriting competitions.
I believe that entering a songwriting competition is an invaluable tool for any song writer/musician who’s either just beginning, looking to hone their craft, needs inspiration and direction with their music, and/or who wants to have their music heard, wants their music easily distributed and wants free promotion. Unless you are super famous and are already making loads of money, which is not the majority of music makers, this is probably you.
There is a smorgasbord of songwriting competitions out there for you to either participate in or, if you are not a musician but a lover of music, for you to follow and, by following them, support the careers of the people who need it the most: the independent musician.
Song Fight is MC Frontalot’s old stomping grounds. The rules are pretty simple. Once a week, a new challenge, aka fight, goes up. The musician has to write a song using the title of the challenge. As an example, the title of the last fight is You Are the Heartbeat of This Office For Sure. That means, if 20 people enter that challenge, there will be 20 songs with that as their title and they will be each based on that title. Every thing else is basically up to the musician. It is that simple. There is no need to sign-up. You just record the song and submit it whenever you feel like jumping into the competition. After the deadline, songs are made available for the public to listen to and vote on. You can find out more information about Song Fight here.
Nur Ein is an off-shoot of Song Fight. Held in the Spring of each year, it consists of eight rounds. Like Song Fight, each song must be named something specific. Also like Song Fight, to enter the competition, you simply submit a song to Round Zero, once the competition is announced. Unlike Song Fight, you are given an additional mandatory challenge. The timeline is also more rigorous, the submission process is a little bit different, the way the songs are scored and judged are different, there are eliminations, and more. You can find out more information about Nur Ein here.
On the surface, this challenge seems simple: Write 50 songs in 90 days. Held between July 4 – October 1, song writers try to write and record one song, every two days, for nearly three months. Weekly challenges are also given, but they are not compulsory. They are there to help you with ideas if you hit creative wall. You can find out more information about the 50/90 Challenge here.
The RPM Challenge
On the surface, this challenge also looks simple: Write and record an album in 28 days. To be more specific, you need to write 10 songs or 35 minutes worth of music during the month of February. Once you’ve recording your album and have placed it on a CD, you mail it or hand-deliver it by to the RMP HQ. After they receive it, participants will get their own page on the RPM website. You can find out more information about the RPM Challenge here.
As the title of this competition suggests, you are piecing together a song. What… what? After you sign-up for the competition, you are assigned to a team. The team is given a seed track. Whoever goes first, builds on the seed track and then passes it on to the next team member. The second team member builds on the seed track, plus what the first member did and then passes it on to the next member. This is repeated until each team member has finished building upon what’s been created up to the point they receive the track. So far, this competition has only taken place once. Hopefully soon, Frankensong 2 will take place. You can find out more information about Frankensong here.
Out of all the songwriting competitions, this one is my favourite, and not because I was a judge in SpinTunes 1. The reason why this is my favourite competition is because of the wonderful community that surrounds it.
Rising out of the ashes of The Masters of Song Fu, SpinTunes is a mix of Song Fu and Nur Ein. Once the contest is open, any one can register. To consider yourself officially entered, you must submit a song to Round 1. There are four rounds in total. Each round is judged and reviewed by a panel of at least five judges. Those with the lowest scores, or those who fail to submit a song, are eliminated. The number of people eliminated each round depends on how many people successfully complete the first challenge. These challenges can be topical, technical, genre-based, point of view challenges, and more. Last week, I interviewed some of the SpinTunes musicians, past and present. If you want to have a good idea of what you’ll be getting yourself into by entering this, or any, competition, you can listen to and download the interview here. You can find out more information about SpinTunes here.
There is one more songwriting challenge I want to bring your attention to: The Songwriting Cycle. The reason why I haven’t mentioned it above is because it does not have an official website. However, to get an idea of what it is all about, I invite you to read about the results for Songwriting Cycle #1 and Songwriting Cycle #2. If you follow me on Twitter or SpinTunes on Twitter, you’ll find out when the next Songwriting Cycle will begin.
I am sure there are a lot more songwriting competitions for you to sink your creativity into. But I think this is a good place to start, especially if you are needing an extra kick in the pants to create or need a sense of direction.
Also, don’t forget that entering these competitions is free publicity and a way for you to get your music heard, plus gain valuable feedback from other songwriters, gain possible collaborators and/or have your music critiqued by a panel of judges. Entering a songwriting competition is just one of the many new marketing tools at your disposable. Later this week, I’ll give you more tools.
Hello. My name is Cathé, and I’m a music geek. I admit to studying all sorts of instruments including (but not limited to!) piano, flute, bagpipes, and trombone. Three years as a music education major pushed me into broadcast production and ultimately into writing for GeekMom.
With this in mind, you will understand that it is an honor to welcome our readers to Music Week here on GeekMom. Since it’s GeekMom, you can expect more than just your average “here’s some music” articles. We are bringing you personal stories, interviews – with both geek musicians and GeekMom musicians, reviews, and AWARDS!
Put on your fancy gown, or your favorite geek rock shirt, settle down in front of the computer, turn up the tunes and help us celebrate music week!
Around where I come from (New York) the music for when the bride walks down the aisle is always ‘Bridal Chorus’ from Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, and the music when the new couple runs off is Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ (With maybe a dozen of the exact same exceptions including Bach’s Jesu Joy.)
Not my own, however. I picked a favorite classical piece that I wanted for the middle of the mass, and the choir director switched it and played it at the exit. This is a sore point for me because then I didn’t get to hear it since I was outside shaking hands during the whole thing. (I had a full classical choir at my wedding, and it was this gorgeous a capella piece with six part harmony and…nevermind.) However, it also meant that Mendelssohn wasn’t playing. Yay, for bucking tradition!
Don’t get me wrong. I love Felix Mendelssohn. And Wagner is hilariously dramatic. But why does everyone have to have the same music? What can a geeky couple choose for their classical wedding music? Depends on the mood of your wedding.
Let’s say you want dramatic. For your bride’s walk, you could choose a tune that brings to mind warrior maidens:
And for the couple’s happy trip back down the aisle to dominate the world:
If you like noble, let’s try this. You could even ask someone to do a British Accent saying:
Marriage: the final frontier. This is the voyage of the relationship (INSERT NAMES HERE.) Their continuing mission: to explore each other’s strange habits, to create new life without destroying our civilization, to boldly go where many geeks have gone before.
and the couple can go off into the universe with style:
Perhaps you’re more lighthearted. Here’s a good one to dance up the aisle with:
And the couple can usher people to the party with this:
Those are my geeky picks. Imagine a bride and groom reading this right now and needing help. Did you have some alternative wedding music? Do you have suggestions? Post them below!
We had a collision of geek passions in my household last week when the LEGO geek discovered a build that even his brother could appreciate. During his hourly daily check of Brothers Brick,LEGO Junkie thought he might have achieved geek nirvana (at least as described in our household) when he spotted an ‘ukulele crafted entirely from LEGO bricks.
A LEGO builder known as Rosco took it upon himself to emulate the curves and tunes of a real uke with LEGO bricks. I’d say he was pretty successful. The ‘ukulele is tunable (Rosco used a C-F-A-D tuning, though standard ‘ukulele tuning is G-C-E-A) and playable. Click through to hear a short clip of Rosco playing Puff the Magic Dragon on his LEGO uke.