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June 2016
The Art of Classical Music, Pt.2: Defining Classical Music

In part 2 of The Art of Classical music, Roger talks about some of the ways in which classical masters such as Handel, Liszt, and Beethoven,among others, are the basis for much of todays music.

 

I think in modern and contemporary music it’s easily forgotten that pretty much all of the guidelines or rules that are used while putting together something that is sonically pleasing to back up whatever you’re trying to say, is all taken from classical music.  When you break it down, the comparisons are pretty obvious.  A lot of people don’t take the time to listen to classical music because it’s kind of considered an old style that doesn’t really apply anymore, and that’s simply not true.  All the scales, chords, and the theory of circle of fifths – all the theories that are put together for what we consider music - had to be invented at that time and they really had to take the time to do it because let’s face it, they couldn’t throw something down on tape and say “okay that sounds good and that sounds terrible, so let’s cut it out”.  They really had to make it work the first time. 

Some of the more obvious examples I would say  is someone like Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple and Rainbow (now Blackmores Night), kind of getting back to his roots, was very influenced by baroque music – Handel, Vivaldi – and that style of composers.  You can hear the scale tones and arrangements he would use on a guitar that would have been split between a lot more instruments.  When you can play 6 notes at a time in chord form on a guitar, you can then condense that style of music into what became that style of rock and roll.  A really good example of that is a song from the DP ‘Perfect Strangers’ album called ‘Under the Gun’, that has a very baroque style of composition going on there and it is very exciting because it’s on rock and roll instruments. 

It’s kind of funny because when baroque music (taken from a Portuguese word meaning misshapen pearl),came out people were like “That’s not music”, so it kind of broke a lot of the rules and engaged a many more minor keys that weren’t really allowed because of religious doctrine at the time.  After that we get into the romantic era, i.e. Beethoven and Paganini, working on a more tonal base – the ability to jam over the same chord for a longer period of time.  You can really hear those styles and influences in people like Yngwie Malmsteen or Steve Vai, both very heavily influenced by composers of this era.   

Next we get to the classical era with composers such as Mozart & Liszt who, unintentionally, got into the rock and roll side a bit.  These days it’s the same old rule, three chord simplicity sells better than anything.  So, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’, if you cut off some of the fat and boil it down, basically gets you a 3-chord blues song.  The tools - through a lot of years of experimentation, writing music down and deciding what is pleasant to the human ear - really does come from the classical era.   It’s one thing to arrange 4 instruments into a rock and roll song, and another to arrange 60 into a single piece of music.  It’s like we took classical music and put it into a compactor and crushed it down so the verse, chorus and bridge that used to be big, full pieces of music, are now compressed down into ‘x’ amount of bars to get the point across and to get the excitement of the changes. 

It’s actually really exciting to dig down into stuff like that.  You take Mozart’s 25th Symphony in G Minor, definitely one of my favorite pieces, and just listen to the intro you can hear how much technique is going into, say, the violins, being backed by the brass, getting that real big excitement.  It’s not really that different than boiling it all down to a rhythm guitar and guitar solo with a drum and bass, creating a rhythmic backing to it.

Then there’s engineering, they also invented that.  As different time periods went by in classical music, they would move the seating arrangements around between the instruments in order to get more volume from one side than the other.  Sonically, it’s what we do now with things like faders that come out of your stereo system.  Everything that we take for granted in music now from the tools that we use, to the instruments we use them on, and the theory that makes it musical, with a lot of practice can all be seen all the way back to its roots.  Everybody is influenced by everybody else.  In an autobiography by Liszt, he discussed how, as a child, he went to see Paganini perform (Paganini was a virtuoso violin player who has influenced most of the lead guitar players we listen to now).  From that one concert, Liszt decided he wanted to become a high level virtuoso on the piano, so we got a lot of great music from that.   

Now a days in music, and even in film and television, all those arrangements can be traced back to the early music eras.  So when you’re listening to different music, whether it be the horn arrangements in James Brown music, to the string arrangement in the Moody Blues, and right down to the piano and guitar arrangements that Paul and I put together in ‘Mary’ - which I originally wrote as a classical piano piece and was then was turned into an interesting contemporary song.  For every style of music that comes out, you will have a previous generation saying that’s not music, but in the end we’re using the same scales, same notes, same theories – same everything.    

The Art of Classical Music, Pt 1: Mozart Did It First

See why Roger says Mozart was the first pop star and an avid do it yourselfer

To say anybody did anything in music first is kind of funny.  It’s more like whoever was successful first and maintained that success.  This doesn’t mean there wasn’t a bunch of people around somewhere doing it themselves.  In the new generation of d.i.y. artists and people trying to do things on their own, I think Mozart should stand out as a definite icon.  Today, people are trying to step away from major labels and sponsorship, in order to really get their trade out to everyone and try to make a little bit of money.  Understand that Mozart did the same thing.  He was commissioned by the Archbishop of Salzburg to write for parties and other social gatherings, and made a decent living doing it, but he wanted to step away.  You see, classical music at the time was really only for those who were within a certain social status that were allowed in to actually see him perform, whereas, Mozart wanted to get away from these places and go off on his own.  He wanted to bring the music to everyday people, so he would get more and more involved in writing in 4/4 common time and cut time – stuff that people could really enjoy.  He just kind of took off the leash and started writing and taking half the house in ticket sales, and realized that the simplicity and movement of a certain piece of music would get people to come back and see it again.  So he was specifically writing to get people to come to the show, which has grown into quite a large business, as we all know.

Most composers at that time would write a commissioned piece for a certain person, or be commissioned to make their social gatherings more intellectually pleasing as opposed to more fun.  I guess you could say he was the first pop star – he wasn’t under the thumb of any particular royal or religious hierarchy to write great mythology or whatever they would use for basic concepts of material at the time.  He would write a piece of music and perform it in a regular theater that anybody could go see, and he would hope more would come back to see it again.

He was one of the first to really embrace the simplicity of a few chords creating a tonal and then orchestrating around it getting those melodies stuck in people’s heads so they would walk around whistling it, I’m sure, and then come back and see it again and again that way he could continue to write, roam around, and make his own living so he could be more independent. 

It’s no different from people now.  You want to get signed to a label and you know you are going to be giving away a major percentage of any money you might make in order to stand on your own two feet.  Mozart took a chance and decided to play for people, so to say he did it first is kind of a tricky one.  Things have been going on a lot longer than what the history books say, but to say he’s maintained his success with it?  I’d say he did pretty well considering all these years later we are still listening to his stuff.  Let’s give him credit for stepping out and making a living doing it.

 

Reference Links:    The Guardian - What Pop Music Owes to the Classical Masters

                               Richard Nilsen - What Makes Music Classical

                               Bonus Link!  Mental Floss - 10 Really Weird Pieces of Classical Music

Vinyl: The Phoenix of the Recording Industry

Paul draws the line

I remember like it was yesterday, my son told me he finally picked an instrument to play. Me being a musician thought great, drums? bass? keyboards or guitar? And then he hit me with “Turntables” – after I brought my jaw up from the floor I said ok cool, lets check it out, I mean after all when I was young and I told my dad I wanted an electric guitar he pretty much had the same reaction. That was 12 years ago and he’s gotten good at it, playing gigs all around town, but when he started out and I realized he was using my vinyl to scratch on, that’s where I drew the line. “Son I don’t mind you scratching, just GET YOUR OWN RECORDS TO DO IT ON”. I have a boatload of vinyl recordings dating back to when I was in my teens. Still have a great turntable although it’s not set up, but hey one thing at a time. Seems like we’ve moved on through the cassette days to the cd’s and that made it all that more convenient to listen to music. I know a few audiophiles who claim they can hear the difference between vinyl and digital cd’s. my ears aren’t that finely tuned, probably from standing in front of amps all my life but there are those who’s ears are that finely tuned, and for them the resurgence of vinyl is a step in the right direction. But it’s not just them, audiophiles. It seems that there is a youth movement in collecting vinyl.

According to a report from Great Britain vinyl record sales are up 62 in the last three months (see reference link below).  The trend is being fuelled by young music fans that listen to digital tracks through streaming services, but enjoy buying the albums like their parents by flicking through racks stacked with vinyl at record stores.  There’s something to the old format that is enticing to folks, it’s more of a tactile buzz I think.

Geoff Taylor, chief executive BPI and BRIT Awards, said: “Vinyl is no longer the preserve of baby-boomers who grew up with the format. It now also appeals to a new generation of engaged younger fans and millennials.  While digital platforms provide fans instant and unlimited access to an ever-expanding cosmos of music, they can’t quite match the unique experience vinyl gives you - browsing for rare gems in your favorite record store, poring over the cover art and sleeve notes and enjoying the ritual of carefully dropping the stylus onto an LP and savoring its analogue sound.  Younger fans increasingly discover on digital but collect on vinyl.”

And incredibly, for the first time in 23 years, pop legend David Bowie has topped the vinyl album charts with Blackstar.  In Birmingham Alabama there is this stat that blew my mind - sales of vinyl records are trending up for the 10th consecutive year, according to The Nielsen Report.   Nearly 12 million vinyl records were sold in 2015, says Nielsen, making up around five percent of total music album sales.  “When I’m listening to a record, I feel like I have a closer connection to the artist that I’m listening to,” said Daniel Drinkard, owner of Seasick Records in Birmingham (see reference link below).  “And now-a-days, most records come with a digital download, so why would you purchase just a digital download, when you can have a record and a digital download, you know?” he added.   Drinkard started Seasick about three years ago. On Saturday, the store filled with dozens of people celebrating Record Store Day, a national movement to support local independent record stores.

Friends of mine in New Orleans, The New Orleans Suspects, are pressing vinyl of their latest release, and actually the last Little Feat record was released on vinyl as well, but the cost in producing vinyl is way up from back in the daze when that was all there was, therefore they charge more for them. But if you have a great stereo tube amp and a balanced arm turntable, with a couple of rocking speakers, you can get back to the early 70’s and bathe in the warmth. Happy listening!!!

 

Mirror:  Vinyl Breaks Records as  Sales of Retro Albums Rocket

Sun Times:  Vinyl Records Up for 10th Consecutive Year

 

 

 

Getting 'That' Feel

Paul considers facets, and Roger talks phrasing

 

Paul:  Hello blog readers. It’s time for a new blog from Better Daze, namely Roger and me, and today’s topic is finding that feel. Song writing is such a diverse undertaking, there are so many facets to consider, words, music, tempo, genre, but whatever you choose there is the feel to consider. I think it’s one of the most important aspects to a good song. If it doesn’t feel right it will never stick in the mind of the listener. I know its subjective because what feels right to one may feel wrong to another, so the acid test is how does it feel to you the songwriter.

To me it’s that old saying of “it gets your good feeling feeling good” You know that feeling that you just can’t sit still, your foot starts tappin’, your hips start shaking and you just have to get up and rock with it.

That was the impetus behind “Pumping the A” on our first recording Riding the Nova Train. I was sitting in my kitchen listening to my washing machine crank out this rhythm that had a cool shuffle beat to it. I recorded it and took it to the studio and Roger uploaded it and straightened out a few beats and we had a groove going that was magic to my ear. Once we had that feel it was just fun to create around it. There was another song on “Nova Train” that was such a great feel and it was all created by Roger called “One Eyed Jack”. It’s a brilliant piece of editing drums to create a unique feel, about as funky as you can get.

On Musical Schizophrenia there are songs that get their feel from guitar parts Roger came up with, most notably the strumming rhythm “Sail Away” or the beautiful classical finger picking style of “Mary”. These guitar parts had movement, a direction to follow that was unmistakable. The feel was set up by the music.

 

Roger: A lot of times you’ll hear a person play a song, or be trying to figure out a song, and you will get all the notes, timing and tempo, and you’re like “okay, great”, then you’ll play through it and it’s just not right.  It just doesn’t have the right feel.  At the same time, you will be listening to an artist that you enjoy, wondering how they got it to feel like that. 

One of the tricks I find very useful for doing that is instead of just looking at the notes, look at the phrasing.   Within each phrase - say there’s five notes and a line that you really enjoy, and you really want to get it just right – within those five notes there might be two or three different techniques (on any instrument, it doesn’t really matter what it is).  It’s how you phrase the notes and different techniques combined that makes it a musical thing.  You see, that’s a trick.  When you’re writing and you sit there and play a part you think is really cool, you keep trying different phrases and it will inspire a better outcome.  If there is a certain sound that you’re not getting, it might just a technique that you just don’t already possess so that’s another one you can learn and put it in the toolbox for later. 

Another way to make feel come out of a song is phrasing multiple instruments.  You can shift the kick drum or the snare or put a rest on a melodic instrument and it will be huge.  And that’s another thing within a phrase, sometimes it’s the rest and how long the pause is between notes that makes it feel a certain way.  A great example of that is "The Quiet Man" which we find has a very interesting feel.  There is one guitar playing kind of on top of the beat, finger picked multiple strings at a time, then there’s another guitar sliding around on it over the top, and finally the two guitars combine to make it have it’s over all sound and feel.   That is more the phrase than what notes you used.

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up with Streaming

See why Paul says change is hard, and Roger thinks this is just another cycle 

 

Paul:  Over the last month Roger and I have been talking about social media, streaming in particular and its effects on the artists and song writers of today. Needless to say all these platforms have become necessary in today’s music industry, but they are working with an outdated system to properly compensate the artists and song writers causing a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation for the most part. We need social media and streaming to get our music heard, seen and purchased, but the downside is that it seems to be cutting into the bottom line of purchase. I saw recently that it would take 288 million streams of a song to earn the same amount as a Spotify employee, I don’t quote this as fact but it seems to me to fit the bill.  *see source links below

What can we do about it you might ask, well I’m not going to tell you not to use these services, however if you are a musician, song writer, performer that has your work being used by them its time to stand up and speak up to get the system changed. One very good thing about social media is that it can and does call for action sometimes, and people do respond. As we all know the wheels of government roll very slowly, and I think that’s when people disconnect from the movement, but on this subject I believe it needs relentless effort. We’ve seen it work on political campaigns, on social issues, even on the sharing of good ideas that become part of our everyday lives, so why not on royalty and copyright laws? I see more and more of my artist friends taking up the cause and hoisting the flag to start the conversation. Change is hard, but necessary in these ever changing times.

So even if you’re not a songwriter or artist, but a music lover I ask simply that you write your representatives in congress, and share this with your friends to do the same. We can make our voices heard if we keep the conversation going.

 

Roger:  There is this whole thing about streaming all coming to a head and everybody going crazy trying to figure out what to do about the differences between the companies and the artist.  The value that’s placed on things for the artist is actually pretty ridiculously low across the board.  But, if you think about it, it’s really just another cycle of the industry that has happened many times before.  When cassettes came out the whole industry went crazy because sales on regular albums went down because people were able to make their own cassettes and different things, and how much money are we losing, blah, blah, blah…Same thing happened for vhs tapes for the film industry, and happened again when cd’s became burnable – it’s just kind of the next technology to come out. 

Realistically, I think streaming was created with the internet over time, it was kind of just an add on.  It didn’t cost a whole lot of money and was a quick way for people to get the tunes, but everything else, albums, cd’s, etc., were still the same sales factor as far as music goes – but it grew much faster than anybody could have possibly expected.  Every time there is a change in medium the whole cycle goes repeats for a while where people feel they are losing money.  The major companies take a long time to adjust their bottom lines.  There was a time when major labels were showing billion dollar losses, but that’s because their bottom line was still based on the wrong product.  Now that’s it’s outgrown everything else it would be good to try to put some value back into people’s work and make it more realistic for people to support themselves while creating music. 

It’s pretty amazing when you think about it – everybody trying to get their product out into the world and doing all the jobs that are involved in making that happen, are making a lot less off of their own work than people who are doing data entry! I think that eventually streaming will settle into its own place and kind of become a commercial free radio alternative.  It’s great that you can carry all your music everywhere you go, so streaming is not a bad thing – it’s just been a very popular new thing.  Eventually everything will balance out and everyone will be happy.  I am sure that down the road, who knows what it will be - but there will be another medium coming out, and the whole hubbub will start all over again.  So, yeah, catching up with streaming is an industry thing that needs to catch up, they need to start working with the artist   and find a middle ground so people can support themselves while creating and everybody can get the music they love then everyone will be happy.

 

Reference Links:  

-  Music Industry’s Next Battle (outlines the Berkley report into shorter version):  http://n.pr/1dYnZdF

-  The Trichordist:  Artists For An Ethical and Sustainable Internet:  https://thetrichordist.com/