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Elektra Records Catches a Buzz, Breaks on Through

For almost a decade, music business insiders thought Jac Holzman was a nut. A college student at the time he founded independent label Elektra Records in 1950, Holzman released only folk and international music on his imprint, plowing every cent he made from titles like Kentucky Mountain Family by Jean Ritchie and Mexican Folk Songs by Cynthia Gooding into subsequent releases. Ten years and 200 or so releases later Holzman and Elektra were cast in a different light, suddenly making tons of money with the Authentic Sound Effects series, discs packed with short segments featuring the sounds of door buzzers, whip cracks, avalanches, car crashes and just about any other conceivable action sound. The source material came from field recordings made around New York City and elsewhere, and was basically free so Elektra had no royalties or artist fees to pay; with everyone from audiophiles to closet stoners wanting a copy it was like printing money. The story of the stroke of genius that took Elektra from labor of love to budding power player is just one of many recounted in detail in Becoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman’s Visionary Record Label, the latest title from music publicist and rock journalist Mick Houghton. Houghton covers the label’s folk era thoroughly but it’s the period after the sound effects coup that most readers will be more familiar with; that’s when money from the sales of more than a million Authentic Sound Effects records gave Elektra enough cash to sign the Doors and break on through to rock ‘n’ roll. In 1973 Holzman left Elektra, by then a major label affiliated with Warner Bros. and home to seminal groups like the Stooges and Queen, and that’s where the Becoming Elektra story ends. Presented here as a coffee table book and rich with photos, album cover graphics and label documents like  royalty statements (monetarily quaint by today’s standards) and a letter to Iggy Pop, Becoming Elektra will further enlighten those who have the liner notes from their old Harry Chapin and Atomic Rooster albums memorized as well as inspire anyone involved with a fledgling indie label.

Becoming Elektra: The True Story of Jac Holzman’s Visionary Record Label

Jawbone Press

$29.95

304 Pages

By Kevin Wierzbicki

Kevin Wierzbicki is a music and travel writer based in Arizona. His articles about music, travel and music-related travel have been published in the likes of USA Today, The Arizona Republic, Desert Living Magazine, Campus Circle in Los Angeles and Antimusic.com.

Punk On The Rocks: In Memory Of Ari Up

Being an avid music lover is full of a lot of firsts: The first time a song moves you to tears, the first time you meet your favorite band and many more. On October 20th, with the announcement of the passing of Arianna Forster aka Ari Up—lead singer and founding member of The Slits—I experienced another, more unfortunate first: The first time that a musician that I really loved passed away.

I was lucky enough to see Ari and the new incarnation of The Slits in 2006 at CMJ. I had never heard any of their records, but I had heard the name back when I was first getting into punk, and I knew that I couldn’t pass up this chance to see the legendary Ari Up. The showcase they were headlining was at the old Knitting Factory in Manhattan. I arrived at early to guarantee myself a place inside. While waiting for The Slits to come on, I was taken by how many musicians were in the audience. The crowd was full of members of bands that had played earlier in the night who had stuck around to see The Slits. I was standing next to one of the members of Green Milk From The Planet Orange, a progressive/psychadelic rock band from Tokyo. It was amazing to think that a band that had once been almost forgotten by the mainstream had influenced that reached as far as Japan.

Ari and the new Slits lineup on the cover of 2009's "Trapped Animal"

When the Slits did take the stage, it was more like a rehearsal than a concert. The band stopped songs in the middle to restart sections, and the setlist seemed to be whatever Ari felt like singing at the time. Even so, they were unpredictable and wild and it was impossible to look away from them. My first impression of Ari was that she was completely insane. She was totally in the moment, in the music, and doing whatever she felt without a second thought as to whether or not it made sense or was “appropriate.” It was invigorating and inspiring to see someone be so uninhibited onstage.

After the performance, I bought a copy of Cut. I was—and still am—shocked that this record was released in 1979. Even now, songs like “Shoplifting” and “New Town” still sound dangerous, revolutionary and totally unlike anything else. The Slits are the very definition of “ahead of their time.”

After listening to Cut, I was dying to see The Slits on stage again. The possibility of a Slits tour seemed even more likely after the 2009 release of Trapped Animal, their first full length release in 25 years. Sadly, I won’t get another chance to see Ari onstage and neither will future generations of young women. But we can keep Ari alive through her music. Don’t let The Slits be forgotten again. Keep passing around the albums, CDs and tapes to your friends, sisters, daughters—everyone. Let them know that typical girls aren’t that typical after all.

R.I.P. Ari Up

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

Timbaland announces Timbo Thursdays

First Kanye West announced he would release a free download every Friday, dubbing them “G.O.O.D. Fridays.” Then Swizz Beats jumped on board with “Monster Mondays,” wherein HE would ALSO release a free track. Now Timbaland is getting in on the free-for-all with “Timbo Thursdays.” Follow him on Twitter to see if he puts his music where his mouth is.

New album, free track from The Decemberists

The Decemberists have announced the release date and title of their new album. We don’t want to spoil the surprise, so head over to their Web site for all the details, and a free MP3 of “Down By The Water.” Off you go now.

The Bad

Kanye West considered the worst thing about Dubya’s presidency

Of all the many less-than-stellar moments of George W. Bush’s tenure in the Oval Office, it was Kanye West calling him racist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that really stuck in his craw. In his new book, Bush recalls telling his wife it was the worst moment of his presidency. Let’s be clear, that would be worse than 9-11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the actual devastation of Katrina. Words. From a rapper. Were the worst. To quote West himself, “no one man should have all that power.”

John Mayer links malaria to Justin Bieber in PSA

Funny, and a little inappropriate—in other words, your typical John Mayer public speaking engagement. In this PSA for Malaria No More, Mayer urges donors to help African children reach Justin Bieber’s age. “With your help, by buying a malaria net for just $1, we can help, by the end of the year, to get these kids to Bieber. Next year we’ll go Jonas Brothers; after that Twilight kids, but baby steps, baby steps. Let’s get them to Bieber.” See the PSA in its entirety below.

The Ugly

“King” Hammer releases terrible video

Oh boy. OK, so here’s the back story again for those who missed it. In Jay-Z’s track “So Appalled,” he took a swipe at MC Hammer with the lyric, “Unlike Hammer $30 million can’t hurt me.” Hammer wasn’t having that, and went straight to work crafting a bush league rebuttal called “Better Run Run.” The cringe-worthy video is below. Watch a dude who is supposed to be Jay-Z get chased through the woods by a devil, and then get baptized by Hammer. Which part is scarier? You tell us.

Demi Lovato throws down in airport

When Disney stars go bad, they go real bad. Teen sweetheart Demi Lovato dropped off the Jonas Brothers tour after a physical altercation with a backup dancer in an airport in Peru this week. Lovato, who is reported to have battled bulimia, promptly checked herself into a treatment facility.

Miscellany

Ernie Ball Sponsors The Punk Channel In November

In October, Ernie Ball sponsored OurStage’s Metal Channel, giving the fastest up-and-coming shredders online a shot at winning a year’s supply of free strings. This November, the legendary string makers are sponsoring the Converse rocking, Clash-tattoo sporting, spiked-belt wearing artists in the Punk Channel. Once again, Ernie Ball will award one lucky winner, plucked from the Top 20 artists in the channel at the end of the month, with 52 sets of guitar strings, 12 sets of bass strings and Ernie Ball swag. If you want to be considered for this awesome prize, and the OurStage Punk Channel is your home away from home, make sure to submit your best original song by November 21, 2010.  For official rules and competition information click HERE. Be sure to stay tuned to the OurStage blog to find out the October winner from the Metal Channel.

Soul Searching: ML the Truth

Love is one of those strong emotions that just naturally inspires great soul songs. This week’s Soul Searching artist takes that emotion and runs with it! ML The Truth is another OurStage artist on the rise in the R&B world thanks to his smooth vocals and tight harmonies.  ML recently won the OurStage “Here I Am” talent search with Monica and Coca-Cola. In September, ML was the winner of the Cellular South’s Listener’s choice award for his song “Missing You”. He’s also opened for Trey Songs, Lenny Williams, LeToya and Anthony Hamilton just to name a few. It’s hard to believe he started out writing hooks for local underground hip hop artists. Lucky for us, he was encouraged to start singing  and producing his own music as an artist.

We asked ML a few questions to see what was going on now, and what he had up his sleeve for the future. Check them out below:

OS: What are you currently working on now?

ML: I am gearing up for the release of my first independent album entitled The Truth. It will be released under my company 100 Drums Productions LLC. I am shooting for November 13th as a release date because it falls on my birthday. This album will feature a great spoken word artist before each song that I allowed to listen to my music before its release. They meditated on the creations and were allowed to express how they felt after the connection in their own art form.  I wanted that unconventional element added to my first project.  Because I am independent it has allowed me to have that creative control. I just finished a video shoot for my song “First Time” with Dreka Shevon of Primestone Media and Johnny Coleman of Crescent Creations.   It’s a song about the beauty of asking your significant other if you can make love for the first time.  The first shoot was good but the feedback was that it was too safe.  I was trying to make it family friendly but I think I went overboard Beaver the Cleaver clean.  This one should be spicy enough to get the message across without being a shock value soft porn video.

I just purchased my first billboard sign in the area I grew up (in my hometown of Jackson, MS). The ad agency suggested a more non-urban market, but my neighborhood needed to see something other than bails bondsman, tobacco and liquor signs. Hopefully, it will give inspiration to the youth to let them know they can achieve dreams.   It was kind of a blow to the wallet but my prize winnings from the OurStage Monica “Here I am” Talent Search Competition softened the blow.  In between that and viral marketing myself on the Internet, I am also producing local artist in the Mississippi area to keep my lights on.

Lou Writer just won the Black Entertainment Television (BET) 106 & Park W.O.W. Male R&B Grand Championship title in August 2010 performing two songs I produced entitled “Aftermath” and “Touch.”  “Aftermath” was the Number 1 downloaded ring tone for BET during the month of July.  Another group I produce called LAVAGE will be competing on BET’s 106 & Park Wednesday, November 10, 2010. So look out for them doing a dance they created called the “Hula Hoop.””

OS: Where do you want to be as an artist in 2 years?

ML: The sky is the limit now after winning on OurStage because I was working on a shoe string budget.  Prayer, the OurStage voters and R&B artist Monica gave me the rest of the shoe so to speak to finish my project. When Monica validated my music, it was awesome! In two years, I see sponsorship, my songs in movies and my videos on MTV, VH1 & BET.  I hope to have major placement with several well-known artists.  I have a great team of individuals around me who are supportive and help to foster my creativity, so it will happen.  My mind set will stay competitive and I will continue to enter my songs in contests. Some days when the planets are in alignment I feel like I can win a GRAMMY.  I recently won the Emerge Artist Cellular South Listener’s choice contest for my song “Missing You” in September.  I think that will be my next video. That song seems to have a crossover appeal that I eventually want to have for all my songs.  I don’t want to be shoved in a genre box all my career.  In two years when you ask “Who is ML?” People will say I know him. He is the guy that makes great music.

Most importantly in two years, I want to be able to take care of my family financially and those that have supported me from the beginning.

Check out ML’s track “First Time” in the player below and tell us what you think in the comments. Just make sure it’s the truth.

Crazy Girl Will Lead: Eli Young’s New Offering

The time has almost arrived for Eli Young fans. The song “Crazy Girl”—yes, the fan favorite that for months has brought audiences to their feet—will be released in the new year.

“The reaction to that song has been incredible. This has been a real whirlwind for us,” said band co-founder and front man Mike Eli, noting the Country Throwdown Tour the band joined was a high point for them. “We were playing these huge amphitheaters…and being around all the artists like Jamey Johnson and Eric Church and Jack Ingram and Heather Morgan on the Throwdown Tour, you can’t help but soak up their energy.”

The Eli Young Band has been on a career high since the 2008 release of its third studio album Jet Black & Jealous that spawned Billboard country hits including “Always the Love Songs.” Now the band is gearing up to go even higher with its next album. The reaction to “Crazy Girl” makes many think the album’s success is almost a given. Although Eli is a bit more cautious about placing his bets, he said this year’s tour schedule brought the band plenty of good vibes.”I don’t know how or why it happened, but I kind of imagine it was like church camp,” said Eli of the fellowship that developed among the bands and their crews. ”We came away with music we wrote with other artists. It was a great experience.”

For now, though, Eli and his band mates are concentrating on the upcoming 2011 release. “We are really excited about this record. I know it sounds cliché, but we have made a few records and this is going to be my favorite,” he said. “We have come into our own and been able to take chances without sacrificing sound.”

Although the songs on the album are a combination of those written by band members and other songwriters, Eli said they’re all pure Eli Young.

Thank the band’s maturation, the circumstances of the recording or even just the jazzed feeling of coming off popular and critically acclaimed tours, but the stars aligned for band’s sound when they put the record together.

“We recorded in a cabin in Franklin (Tennessee), in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “It was one of those things, we were making this record and there wasn’t pressure on us to do things one way or another. Our producer said ‘Let’s make something that’s special to you. Let’s not worry about what will work commercially,’ although we feel the songs will be incredible on radio…We just wanted to make a great record.”

In this case, that means plenty of steel guitar on the songs. So does that mean the music is purely country?

“Obviously our sound comes from many directions,” he said. “I grew up on country music and consider our music incredibly country. There are people out there that don’t consider us country. I don’t know if there is a right answer. ”

What Eli does know is that the band practiced and recorded the song in an old-school way, sitting in a circle on the floor of that log cabin and jamming.

“With this record, we wanted it to sound the way do always have live,” he said. “It’s old school but I happen to romanticize that.”

Eli Young Band Performing \”Crazy Girl\” at WGAR (Cleveland)

By Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham writes about music for Country Weekly, AOL Music’s site The Boot, The Washington Post, Relix and other publications.

Tune Up: Software Sampling

The term “sampling” is tossed around in the hip hop world quite frequently. The use of samples in pop, hip hop and R&B music is, in fact, the thing most people associate with the term “sampling”. Unfortunately, the term is often construed negatively due to the long history of copyright infringement lawsuits.  However, when you get back to what the term actually means, it is simply taking a small sample of audio and utilizing it for either an instrument or as a small “building block” in a song or musical work. For this article, we’re going to try to get down to what sampling is best used for—creating collections of sounds or instrument tones to be used for your own melodies.

Everyone is familiar with electronic pianos or keyboards. What you may not be familiar with is how the sound sets actually get into these products. You probably also didn’t know that you can actually create these sets yourself. If you recall our post about the Hollywood Edge Sound Effects library, those collections of effects are often referred to as sample libraries. So it seems natural to want to create a set of musical samples. For this post, we’ll describe the best ways to record your own set of instrument tones so that you can map them to a software sampler and play them using a MIDI controller anywhere you want.

Recording

The first step is to create a library of sounds (much like a library of sound effects). Let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, that you’d like to create your own sampled piano using the acoustic piano in your living room. This sounds great, but what if you’d like to bring it to another place (or even another room) for your projects? Our first step is to capture the piano’s full spectrum of possible sounds. First we’ll need the piano’s notes. There are 88 keys, so that means there are 88 possible notes. However, 88 high-quality wave samples takes up quite a lot of space. So, a good rule to follow is to simply record every third note (we’ll explain why later). It’s best to use a high quality set of stereo microphones and record a good room sound (it’s simple and realistic). There’s an added degree of complication here, though. If you notice when you play a note at different volumes, it has a different timbre as well as intensity. Therefore, we will probably need a few different variations on each pitch (loud, normal, soft). In short, you want to make sure you have all the sounds your piano might make.

Mapping

Now that you’ve got your library of piano notes, it’s time to set them up with your sampler so they can be performed on your MIDI keyboard. As mentioned before, this is something that is often done at the factory before an electric piano gets shipped, or in the development stage of a piano plugin. However, mapping your own samplers gives them a unique sound and allows you flexibility to make the piano sound the way you want it. There are many different software samplers and plugins to use, so we’ll just show you what it looks like for one. In order to understand how a software sampler works and how the audio files actually live in the sampler, check out the screenshot below.

You’ll notice there is a keyboard below a grid of “zones” to place your audio samples. This sampler actually contains a set of already existing sampled instruments (in this case, a Yamaha Grand Piano). You will see that you can place upwards of 6 or 7 samples for each note. The vertical axis in this case represents the volume of the note (and the variety of samples you recorded associated with the gradients of volume). So, if you recall our recorded samples, you can then place your samples on their given notes vertically in order of their volumes. Seems easy enough, right? For the sake of data storage, we recorded only every third note. You can place each sample three different times (it’s the actual note and then the next two notes moving up). Most samplers are set to default and transpose the pitch of your sample to match that of the position on the keyboard. Therefore, if you placed middle C on it’s appropriate position and also on the ascending D and E, the system will transpose that note to match that D and E accordingly. It won’t alter the C at all. You may be wondering why we didn’t just record one pitch and map it throughout the whole keyboard. Well, the further you transpose a note beyond its actual pitch, the less realistic it sounds. So, recording every third pitch minimizes your storage needs but also maintains the integrity of the sample.

Keep in mind that you can customize the different functions of the sampler. You can set it up so that the harder you strike your keyboard, it activates different types of samples (say perhaps even combining multiple samples to add intensity). You can also map non-musical recordings (a musically-pitched car motor for example) to your sampler to play them musically. The value here lies in the versatility you have by creating your own sampler. Something that sounds complicated and unattainable at first is actually quite easy with a sampler plugin. What’s more is that they come with DAW’s as a standard plugin included with the package. So, next time you go to record a new track or tackle a new project, we encourage you to try your hand and making your own playable instrument.

Artists And Fans Can Win Big In The Guitar Center Your Next Record With Keith Urban Competition

Guitar Center’s “Your Next Record with Keith Urban” launched in October, giving pop, rock and country artists a chance to win  career-launching prizes. One lucky artist will receive an incredible prize package including the chance to record a 3 song EP with a top-notch producer,  a single featuring Keith Urban, a chance to open for Urban on an upcoming tour stop and over $20,000 of gear from Gibson, Guitar Center, D’addario, Planet Waves and more! By judging in the competition and helping the best artists rise to the top, fans get a weekly shot at snagging a $50 gift card to Guitar Center. The competition is open to artist submissions until November 30th, so make sure to enter your best original track today! For fans, judging continues until December 15th, which means you’ve got six more chances to snag a gift card to Guitar Center! Click HERE for official rules and competition information for artists, and HERE for fans.

Jason Aldean Wants You To Check Out ‘My Kinda Party’

Jason Aldean knows what his fans like.

Any doubters need only tune into the buzz around the just-released album My Kinda Party. Not only does the sound follow Aldean’s country-meets-aggressive-edgy guitars voice, but the November 2nd release includes his first duet—with Kelly Clarkson who he handpicked to join him on the song “Don’t You Want To Stay.” Choosing Clarkson, who’s well known for pop, is just another way Aldean shows he isn’t afraid to expand his country sound into areas fans will enjoy. The two will sing a duet on the 44th Annual CMA Awards airing live from 8 to 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Nov. 10th.

“I constantly listen to all different kinds of music but I never am listening to someone’s record and thinking I should [copy] part of it,” said Aldean of his influence. “I know exactly what I want stuff to sound like in the studio. The sound I want, the way I sing and phrase words, that evolved from what I listened to when I was growing up.”

Ever since his self-titled debut album was released in 2005, followed by Relentless in 2007 and Wide Open in 2009, Aldean has stayed with the “sound that brought me to the party.” That sound is based in country with roots extending back to George Strait, Conway Twitty and Ronnie Milsap.

After learning to play guitar when he was a teen, Aldean seemingly shot into the on-ramp for the big time very quickly with a publishing deal and recording contract  in his early 20s. Although his career stalled for a time—and Aldean said he thought about leaving Nashville to return to Georgia—his first album was akin to a stone thrown in a pond. His particular ripple effects were chart topping singles including “Big Green Tractor,” “She’s Country” and “Johnny Cash.”

“I think it’s one of those things you have to stick with what you do,” said Aldean. “Lucky for me, I hung around long enough that [radio DJs] realized I wasn’t going anywhere so thought they’d better start playing my song. Really, the more you go out and play shows the more people start to hear what is you do…and it all comes together.”

Not that Aldean is resting on any laurels. Consider this latest album. Every day he had off touring was spent in the studio sifting through songs that he thought would work on the album. Although he is a prolific songwriter himself, he said he didn’t have any qualms about not having self-penned tunes on the album.

“I just want the best songs for the album,” he said. “Even though I consider my music country, I try to make the guitars a little more aggressive [than some] people might expect. I like to have the songs have a little more of an edge to them.”

Pulling extra edge into his music is one reason he chose Kelly Clarkson as his duet partner.

“Kelly is somebody to me who was a little different. She wasn’t a safe choice or predictable,” said Aldean noting her soulful, blues-tinged singing style. “Plus, I am a fan. I love her voice and her vocal style. I felt like she would add a cool part to the record.”

So committed was Aldean to ensuring his album would reflect his dedication to his fans, that he included 15 tracks.

“I’ve never recorded 15 tracks for an album before,” he said. “We worked harder on this album than we’ve ever worked on any other. In this economy, I want fans to know that I want to give them as much as possible for their money. ”

By Nancy Dunham

Nancy Dunham writes about music for Country Weekly, AOL Music’s site The Boot, The Washington Post, Relix and other publications.

Behind the Mic: What’s The Deal With Record Deals?

There’s no question that the music industry has changed drastically in the past few years. As the power has shifted from the major labels to nearly anyone with Internet access, it’s hard to tell what artists really need to do to get their careers off the ground. After all, it could take years of constant touring, promoting, spending money you don’t have  and sleeping in a van to finally get your big break…or you could become a celebrity overnight thanks to YouTube, MySpace and Twitter.

So, what’s the deal with record deals, anyway? Should you try to get signed on an independent (“indie”) label or a major label? Do you even need one at all?

Indie label Epitaph Records is home to acts such as Weezer and Every Time I Die

In general, indie labels tend to be like small businesses. They typically sign a small number of semi-established acts and have much less funding than a major. Examples of indie labels include Epitaph, Victory, Saddle Creek and Fueled By Ramen. On the other hand, major labels have big budgets and are similar to corporations. They are fast to sign acts with huge followings and many marketable qualities, and can put much more money into their artists’ careers. Examples of major labels include Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, Sony BMG and EMI.

EMI artist Snoop Dogg

Essentially, in order to know what kind of label you want to be on, you need to figure out who you are as an artist. Try to compile a written plan for your career. What is your genre? Target audience? What are other acts your target audience likes and why? What have those acts done that helped them succeed? Do some shopping and start a list of labels you like that will help you realize your goals. Once you have the list narrowed down, you’ll need to learn how to effectively and appropriately get the attention of A&R executives.

If the idea of being on a record label doesn’t appeal to you, fear not: it is possible to have a successful career as a musician without a label. Let’s not forget that when Radiohead released In Rainbows without a record label and at any price the customer chose, they saw 1.2 million downloads before it was even physically in stores! With so many free outlets available (including OurStage, of course!), more unsigned musicians are able to be discovered without having to send out demos and press kits to add to the growing pile at an A&R’s desk.

Do you need a label? Not necessarily. Ultimately, the choice is up to you. But whether you choose to stay unsigned or try to get signed by a label, always keep your ideal goals in mind and stay true to what makes you unique!

 


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