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Needle in the Haystack: Hannah Miller

This week’s Needle in the Haystack winner writes music that begs to be licensed. It’s easy to hear the emotion behind each song and this clearly speaks to both the general listeners and music licensors. Hannah Miller joined OurStage in 2008 and has been tearing up the OurStage charts ever since. Miller has four independent releases under her belt, the last of which was  produced by Ian Fitchuk and Justin Loucks. She quietly seeks inspiration for her music from her husband, her dogs and the interesting people she meets on a day-to-day basis. In addition to being asked to open for Land Pigg, Patrick Davis, Katie Herzig and Langhorne Slim, Miller was a finalist in the International Song Writing Competition thanks to her track “The City and Salt.” Her song “Keep it Simple” was featured on NBC’s hit show, Mercy. Naturally, it’s an honor to have her as this week’s Needle in the Haystack winner.

We have plenty more  Hannah Miller in store for you as the week goes on. For now, take a listen to her free download “Way About Ya” below.  

Scene & Heard: Memphis, TN

When you think blues, you think of a couple places. We’ve already been through Chicago, so the other obvious choice for blues music is Memphis. Sure, Nashville seems to garner most of the state’s music coverage with its strong grasp on the singers and songwriters of country music. But, heading across the state to Memphis offers you a whole new flavor of southern rock, country and blues.

Proclaiming itself the “Home of the Blues,” we recommend you start your Memphis visit on Beale St. This famous strip is home to some of the best venues and clubs that Memphis has to offer. You’ll find everything from the famous Hard Rock Café to B. B. King’s Blues Club to Alfred’s. The sound of “Memphis Blues” slowly became a staple of the street  in the early 1900s with artists like Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Memphis Minnie and B. B. King. himself. In his earlier years of performance, B. B. King was even dubbed the “Beale Street Blues Boy.”

For a more standard “rock club lineup,” we’ll head over to the Hi Tone Café. Here, you’ll find acts like New Found Glory, Wavves and The Tallest Man On Earth. You’ll also find OurStage folk/country/blues act Star & Micey. These guys serve up a helping of true southern folk/pop with strong blues/soul influence. The band’s music is everything you might hope for in a current indie act coming out of Memphis. Check out their performance on a Memphis trolley bus, supporting the communal qualities and southern hospitality inherent in the city’s music.

“It affects us daily. We are always meeting someone new who, whether they mean to or not, humbles us,” commented guitarist/vocalist Joshua Cosby when asked about the music scene in Memphis. “[It] reminds you that you’re on the right or wrong path.” After watching that video, it’s clear that the southern blues/traditional country feel of Star & Micey fits perfectly with these sorts of interactions.
When we asked Cosby for some advice for acts that would like to play in Memphis, he said, “Play only if you enjoy it first, because the people here (and everywhere) respond to that more than anything. Those are the kind of fans you want to meet.” He also recommended that a visitor go to the Buccaneer Lounge on Monroe Ave. He even specified an artist who does enjoy playing for himself: Dave Cousar who plays at the Buccaneer.
Star & Micey’s southern-influenced, soul-driven acoustic songs hit home in a big way. They perform throughout Tennessee quite regularly and currently have a very extensive upcoming tour schedule. Be sure to check out their OurStage profile in order to keep an eye on where you can see them next. Who knows, you might find yourself on a trolley in Memphis next to Joshua Cosby and the rest of the guys.

Q&A With Bruno Mars

He’s the man providing the bright, soulful hooks of two of this summer’s catchiest songs, Travie McCoy‘s “Billionaire” and B.O.B’s “Nothin’ On You.” Bruno Mars may be 2010′s greatest overnight success story, but he actually got his big break behind the scenes as one of the songwriters behind 2009′s smash “Right Round” by Flo Rida and Ke$ha.

Bruno released his full-length album Doo-Wops and Hooligans this week, and he’s also the musical guest on Saturday Night Live tonight at 11:30 PM EST on NBC! In a few days, he will be performing live on some of Maroon 5 and OneRepublic‘s west coast tour dates this month, followed by some European dates with Travie and some US headlining dates in November. OurStage caught up with Bruno to talk about life leading up to international fame, his new record and his live shows.

OS: Most people know you best from your guest appearances on B.O.B’s “Nothin’ On You” and Travie’s “Billionaire.” They were both huge hits, but they’re very different, musically. Is your new album mostly one style or does it span a few different genres?

BM: No, it spans a few different genres! [laughs] I just write whatever I feel. One day, I felt like writing a love song, and I came up with “Nothin’ On You”… and the other day, it was a reggae song. Not too much thought behind it, I just want to like it, you know, as I’m recording it.

OS: In addition to being a vocalist, you’re also 1/3 of a songwriting team called The Smeezingtons. Following the success of “Billionaire” and Flo Rida’s “Right Round,” do you have plans to continue writing for other artists as well?

BM: Yeah, we’re actually really excited…we had a couple songs that came out. We did a song for Mike Posner, which is “Bom Chicka Wow Wow,” it’s a fun song. But we’re really excited  about the song we wrote with Cee-Lo. “Fuck You,” it’s called.

OS: Yeah, Cee-Lo’s great…he was on your EP.

BM: That’s right, that’s how we got introduced and we ended up working with him again and we came up with that little jam.

OS: So, you grew up in a family full of musicians. How did seeing your family members perform influence your own live show?

BM: A lot of different things. My father was a great drummer and I wanted to learn how to play the drums. My uncle was an incredible guitar player, he made me want to play guitar. He was a great singer, he made me want to sing. I just came from a live performance…that’s more of my background. I’ve been doing that longer than I’ve been songwriting and producing…that’s kind of my comfort zone. I’m a lot more comfortable being on stage than doing interviews [laughs].

OS: You play guitar, piano, drums…do you play all these different instruments during your live show or just stick with one?

BM: Yeah, well…we’re gonna really fine tune our show. If it makes sense, you know…I’m not trying to go up there and look like a “boy wonder.” If it makes sense for me to play drums in said song or piano in said song, we’ll do it…but I don’t want to do it just to self-indulge.

OS: So you’re going to be on tour with Maroon 5 and One Republic, playing at some huge, sold-out venues. Besides the size of the shows themselves, how will this tour be different for you?

BM: It will be different for me because I’ve never done anything like it! [laughs] I’ve done a couple of stadiums with B.O.B…just two, actually…but I finally get to do my own thing, with a band. And I’m in great company. It’s exciting.

OS: So you’re going to be playing all solo material? Will you be adding anything else to your set?

BM: We’ll see…that’s the thing, every time we go on stage, I’m always throwing new things out to keep everyone excited and keep everyone on their toes, so it’s never the same show.

OS: That’s awesome.

BM: But yet, it’s always amazing! [laughs]

OS: Of course! Now, you write music of all different styles, as we talked about before… so you must have a wide range of musical taste. Which three albums would you highly recommend to your fans?

BM: Wow, good question! Off the top of my head, I would say: get Michael Jackson’s Bad album. I’d say get [Prince's] Purple Rain…and I’d say get Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys.

OS: Very nice choices. Have those influenced your writing this time around for Doo-Wops and Hooligans?

BM: Yeah, actually, they have.

OS: You’ve said that your EP was titled It’s Better If You Don’t Understand because you feel that people are constantly trying to fit you into one category. What would you like new fans to know about your music and you as a musician?

BM: I just want them to know how passionate I am about it and I’m really doing it because I believe in these songs…that’s the goal, is to focus on the song and to think about the live show. So when you hear these songs, it’s like…we’re trying to make a movie. We want people to just get involved with this movie and want to come and see the movie.

OS: So before we wrap things up, I wanted to say, “Congratulations”… your song “Just The Way You Are” is Number 5 on iTunes today!

BM: Yeah, I’m just trying to beat that damn Katy Perry! [laughs] That’s another thing that’s just incredible…the people that are in front of me are like, Eminem and Katy Perry…

OS: That must be insane, to see your name on there with those names…

BM: Right, right. But…I’m happy!

Check out Bruno Mars on tour this fall:
10/14 - Save Mart Center, Fresno, CA
10/15 - Arco Arena, Sacramento, CA
10/16 - Viejas Arena, San Diego, CA
11/16 – Slim’s, San Francisco, CA
11/20-  Martini Ranch, Scottsdale, AZ
11/23 – The Loft, Dallas, TX
11/24 – Warehouse Live, Houston, TX
11/26 – Pops, Sauget, IL
11/27  - Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL
11/28 – Grog Shop, Cleveland, OH
11/30 – Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA

New Music Biz 101: Music Reviews

The easiest way to convert someone to become a fan of your music is by receiving a third party recommendation. Just think about how you discover new music? An awesome album review, or a friend’s endorsement of a song typically results in you taking a listen, right? There are ways to make these third party recommendations happen more often so lets take a look at a few of them.

Pay-Per-Review – There are programs that exist out there that allow you to send in your music (with a fat check) and get a professionally written review of an your album. Billboard Discovery is a prime  example. Here is a list of pros and cons for this type of service:

Pros

  • Association with a big brand in music
  • A professionally written review by a respected industry writer
  • An unbiased opinion of your music (in theory)
  • Additional content for your EPK or one sheet

Cons

  • Reviews like this cost almost 400 dollars!
  • Is it really unbiased? Some of the reviews we’ve read seemed a bit fluffy.
  • Will a review that is paid for be respected?

The Fan Re-Direct – There is a quick an easy way to get your fans more involved. It’s important to harness them at the proper time and engage them in an appropriate fashion. One example is when someone emails you or messages you via social media telling you how much they love your album. A great way to respond is by thanking them and asking them to post their comment as a review on Amazon, iTunes or wherever applicable. Now here are the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Over time, this will result in a large number of reviews of your album
  • Improve the conversion process of future sales
  • Makes your fans feel like they’re apart of something

Cons

  • May be difficult to encourage your fans to take the time to actually write the reviews
  • Some fans may feel as though you’re asking a lot of them.

These are just a few strategies to increasing the third party recommendations of your music! Let us know if you have other strategies that have worked for you!

Needle in the Haystack Follow Up: Mitten

Wow, time sure flies by when you’re having fun! We’ve enjoyed a great week of promotion with our Needle in the Haystack winners Mitten. These talented young artists offered a free track on Monday, interviewed with MTV on Tuesday and took part in a Tweet & A session on Wednesday. Now it’s time to wrap things up with yesterday’s fun phoner.  Take a listen and let us know what you think!
Stay tuned next week for more talent to come.

Punk On The Rocks: On The Run

If you’re in the mood for some alt-rock/pop-punk that packs a punch, look no further that East Freedom, PA’s On The Run. On The Run has shared the stage with the likes of Bayside, The Ataris, This Providence, JT Woodruff of Hawthorne Heights, Mark Rose of Spitalfield and Pittsburgh heroes Punchline. Steve Soboslai of Punchline even recorded the band’s 2008 debut EP Keep Me Here.

On The Run

The band’s sound is versatile, ranging from the pure pop-punk sound of “Examine This” to the modern rock build of “Keep Me Here.” In April of this year, the band released the three- song Don’t Flatter Yourself single. This newer material sees them keeping the catchy hooks but exploring a more theatrical rock sound, like Panic At The Disco or Coheed and Cambria. Their growing fanbase seems to dig the new sound as well. On The Run were voted the one of the winners of the Vans Warped Tour Ernie Ball Battle of the Bands this year and performed on the Ernie Ball stage at this year’s Pittsburgh Warped Tour stop. It seems like On The Run will be up and running for a long time to come.

Check out “Lessons Learned” from On The Run’s Don’t Flatter Yourself single in the playlist below! Dig their sound? Catch On The Run live October 9th at Punk’n Fest in Mount Joy, PA.

Rising Outlaw Randy Houser Lets It All Hang Out On “They Call Me Cadillac”

Sometimes it pays to be an outlaw, especially if you’ve got the gutsy, greasy sound and tough, terse songcraft to back up the bad-ass image. On his second album, They Call Me Cadillac, Randy Houser shows he’s bona fide and then some.  By the time the smoke clears and the dust settles, the world at large might finally give the up-and-coming country star his proper due as the Willie Nelson to cohort Jamey Johnson’s Waylon Jennings. Lately, you can’t look anywhere, from CMT to The New York Times, without seeing Jamey Johnson’s hirsute mug, but Houser’s been his partner in crime for a long while. The pair came up together, playing sets full of George Jones and Johnny Paycheck tunes in rowdy bars before breaking through as songwriters—they co-penned Trace Adkins’ monster 2005 hit “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”—and moving on to solo success.

Houser managed a Top 10 country single of his own straight of the gate with the raw, rockin’ “Boots On,” from his ’08 debut album, Anything Goes. But even though he was already showing off the kind of maverick, roughneck spirit that makes sane men climb on top of raging bulls and marry beauty-contest winners without signing a pre-nup, Houser hadn’t quite  reached his full potential yet.

There are no half-measures on Houser’s latest outing—They Call Me Cadillac. It marks his first recording for fellow country rebel Toby Keith’s label Show Dog, which was created expressly to give someone like Houser the opportunity to be his own butt-kicking self without holding anything back. “It’s the first time that I’ve had the most creative control to make the record I want to make,” Houser confesses. You can hear the rush of artistic freedom fueling his no-frills mix of outlaw country edge and classic honky-tonk heart throughout the album.

Houser tasted success from the fruits of his latest labors before Cadillac was even released when the redneck-pride Southern rock stomp “Whistlin’ Dixie” hit the country Top 40 back in February—the record’s first sneak-peek single. Now that the real, raw, uncensored Houser sound has been fully unleashed on the public, the burly, bearded man from Mississippi has been popping up on TV shows from Good Morning America to Jimmy Kimmel Live. Houser looks at his latest effort as “a more traditional country album…something that country folk like my friends and family in Lake, Mississippi—and lots of other places across the country—can relate to.”

He’ll be bringing his outlaw-as-he-wants-to-be sound all across the nation on tour with Gary Allan through late November. As his country-rocking Cadillac makes its way from state to state, he’ll be on a one-man mission to let fans from San Bernadino to Staten Island connect with their own inner rabble-rouser. Don’t be surprised if a pattern of barroom bust-ups happens to develop this fall along a route that seems oddly identical to Houser’s tour itinerary.

UPCOMING TOUR DATES

10/2 – Farmville, VA, Lankford Mall

10/7 – Toledo, OH, Huntington Center

10/8 – Erie, PA, Tullio Arena

10/9 – Detroit, MI, The Fillmore

10/17 – West Des Moines, IA, Val Air Ballroom

10/21 – Corpus Christi, TX, Concrete Street Amphitheatre

10/23 – Dallas, TX, Superpages.com Center

10/24 – Houston, TX, Sam Houston Raceway

10/26 – Laurel, MS, South Mississippi Fair

10/28 – Lincoln, NE, Pershing Center

10/29 – Popular Bluff, MO, Black River Coliseum

11/13 Bloomington, IN, Bluebird Nightclub

11/14 – Lake Elsinore, CA, Wagon Wheel Festival

11/18 – Atlanta, GA, Fox Theater

11/19 – Charlotte, NC, The Fillmore

11/20 – Myrtle Beach, House Of Blues

By Jim Allen

Jim Allen has contributed to a wide range of print and online outlets including RollingStone.com, MOJO, Village Voice, Uncut, VH1.com, iTunes, All Music Guide, CMT.com, The Advocate, Prefix, Blurt and many more.

Soul Searching: Djru da 7th Prez

When searching for soul, we stumbled across a super talented musician who goes by the name of Djru da 7th Prez. Djru puts a unique twist on his music, presenting the listeners with something catchy yet original to latch onto. He uses interesting rhythms and a distinct style of delivery to express his well thought out words. From first listen, it’s clear that hot riffs and tight harmonies are this guy’s thing.

In addition to musical skills, Djru is a talented actor. As many of the best musicians do, Djru relies on his acting skills to bring his overall musical performances to the next level, which only serves to further engage his audience. This rising star was not only a contestant on American Idol, but has preceded performances by Cupid, Mary J. Blige, Musiq Soulchild, Lil Wayne and many fantastic local acts.

“Djru’s music is a complete turnaround from the sex, lies and explicit video footage” that’s found in a lot of R&B music. He focuses on the idea that music transcends all people, and after listening to his music, you tend to believe him.

Take a quick listen to the tracks below and let us know what you think of da 7th Prez!

Tune Up: Alternative Picks

If you play guitar (or know a friend who does), you’re familiar with the age-old question, “Does anyone have a pick”? Undoubtedly, someone always has one in their wallet or pocket. As such, this tiny piece of plastic has become the standard sound of a guitar. I’d like to spend this week, though, giving you some alternatives to this somewhat “overused” sound. There are a bunch of different types of implements that are designed specifically to make a guitar sound that aren’t a standard pick.

E-Bow

The E-Bow, short for “Electronic Bow” ( refers to  resemblance to a bowed orchestral string) has become one of the most intriguing guitar-related devices to me. This small plastic gadget runs on batteries and generates an electro-magnetic filed in front of it. Therefore, when placed in the vicinity of a metal guitar string, the string is set into motion. The result is a very unusual sound, not often heard on an electric guitar. Twisting and shaking the device near the strings alters the electro-magnetic field, which creates some very interesting harmonic overtones, and sonic “warbles”. You can also alter volume based on the distance to the strings (allowing fade ins and outs with more intuitive control). If you can ever get your hands on one of these to try out (at a music store or a friend’s house), I recommend spending some time with it. You’ll probably want one when you’re done.

Jellifish

From the first time I saw a picture of this pick in a magazine, I was curious. I’ll put a picture here, but for all intents and purposes, this is the guitar pick equivalent to brushes for a drum set. What really seals the deal is this product’s versatility. You can hold the pick like a standard guitar pick, so you don’t need to get used to a new feel. However, when you strum like you’re used to strumming, it will sound much like you would expect a pick made of metal wires to sound. You get a very chorusing, echoing sound. The sound has a faint resemblance to a 12-string guitar even if the guitar itself isn’t one.

Beyond this, you can drag the pick across the strings, strum from different angles, and even isolation some of the wires to create a very thin sound. It was a fun pick to play around with. I recorded a session with it once and have since used many of the takes, not only for musical purposes but also for isolated, artistic sound effects. It’s affordable and versatile. What more can you ask for?

Felt Picks

There are some guitar picks made of odd materials and some finger picks that I’ve found useful for isolated techniques. First, on my list is a metal pick. While I don’t use standard metal picks that often, I’ve used metal thumb picks for gritty, claw-hammer applications quite frequently. I get a really full, thick sound and even get some inherent scraping. These are great for steel resonator guitars. Another pick I’d like to recommend is a felt pick. While they don’t last very long, these thick, soft picks are really mellow-sounding, as expected. I’ve gotten great results for acoustic ballads and nylon string guitars. Again, keep in mind that you’ll need to get at least a few of these as they do break and wear much earlier than standard plastic picks.

In the end, your pick of choice (whether it’s your fingers or an object) is entirely contingent upon the application. I do recommend having an arsenal of picks. Keep an eye out for sales at your local music store. I once got about 30 picks (finger, felt and standard) all for a dollar. As I’ve said before, it’s best to be prepared. You don’t want to be at a show or in the studio and be held up because you don’t have right pick.

Behind the Mic: Don’t Ditch Your Website

In a world where bands are constantly spending hours updating their Facebook, Twitter and MySpace pages, it may seem like having an official Web site is a thing of the past. In fact, a large percentage of bands these days have their bandname.com site re-direct to their MySpace.  While this will save you a bit of time and maintenance effort, having an official Web site can actually be better in the long run.

Though technologically hip, Facebook and Twitter are both extremely limited in terms of what bands can do with them. Facebook’s Pages for bands are uniform and do not allow for HTML customization. While this is good news for people sick of MySpace crashing their browser, music is not the focus here. Most bands’ Facebook pages have a separate tab for music, or they have a small music section on the bottom right corner of the page (of course, those with more web experience can make a flashy Facebook page for their band).

Eminem's website is simple, straight-forward and eye-catching.

Twitter is good for up-to-the-minute brief updates (140 characters at a time), posting links to other sites and speaking directly to fans, but you really can’t do much in terms of posting content.

And then there’s MySpace, which many consider to already be “dead.” Though the fans have certainly abandoned MySpace communication, it is still the go-to, one-stop-shop for promoters, booking agents and talent scouts. The problem with MySpace occurs when bands decide to fill their pages with videos, graphics, ads and banners that can make the entire viewing process slow and unenjoyable.

With an official Web site, the power is in your hands. With completely customizable HTML, you have total control over the branding and design of the site. You also have control over how long the site exists. Think about it: If you’re only on Twitter and Facebook and these sites shut down someday, your band will have zero web presence! Your Web site will also be an official place for fans to go to get all the information and content they need, from live videos to song lyrics to blog posts and chat forums.

OurStage artist Danielle Barbe's website, created on BandZoogle

From an internet marketing standpoint, it only makes sense to own yourbandname.com, as fans may assume you have the page and try to go there. You will also be the first result in search engines, instead of another band or a completely unrelated company.

Now, for those of you who think you’re not web-savvy enough to create a Web site from scratch, there are other options. One is using BandZoogle.com, which is basically a platform that helps you create the Web site. BandZoogle will help you create and customize pages, and all you’ll need to do is fill in the blanks.

You can have fun with your Web site by using it as a blog, a fan community page and a news site. Just make sure that it’s clean, easy to navigate and updated consistently!

 


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