Karmin Told Us So: From Youtube to Epic Records

They don’t wanna brag, but we already know…Karmin has been dominating pop music lately, and kicking manufactured pop to the curb. With my recent article about women in music and the “song machine”, covering Karmin for a week was eye opening.

The press was still rolling after Rethink Music, and I had the pleasure of phoning into a conference call with Karmin and Epic Records, all while sitting in a coffee shop on the street where they started out: Newbury Street.

While it was exciting to speak to Amy and Nick about their success, blooming from Boston, it was really great to discuss their upcoming album, Hello. I was super pumped to join in on the conversation, and a big thank you goes out to Epic Records for including me! Who would’ve thunk that just a few years after taking classes in this area, the two would be where they are today? I think Amy once used the term, ‘amazeballs’ to describe it. I think I will go with that as well.

Here’s the scoop for all Karmin fans…from Karmin’s songwriting skills, Amy Heidemann’s hair and makeup, how Nick and Amy met, and what the future holds for them!

Please note that this was a conference interview, so items not specified by me may have been asked by others.

Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan of Karmin. Photo courtesy of Epic Records.

Some may be skeptical, seeing that the duo became famous covering other artists. But, fear not, Heidemann and Noonan were fully capable of songwriting on their own.

“It was a challenge, we have to say,” Heidemann said. “We started posting original music on YouTube before the covers became a reality and nobody was really searching for a little duo out of Boston with a wooden box and a piano”. She explains that they wrote songs that could then fit into many genres, and by the time they were signed to Epic Records, many of the songs were ready to go with producers. “There were some songs we composed solely for the purpose of the album when we went into the studio. A lot of them were collaborations with some of these amazing producers and (…) Claude Kelly”. Both she and Noonan worked to maintain their originality and songs, while still fitting into the mainstream world.

This is a very daunting topic to many artists, for fear a record label will change their artistic vision, or at least encroach on it.

“We understand our fans and supporters can’t be with us in the studio when we’re deciding to do things, so we’re being really careful,” said Heidemann.

“This is a good example. Sometimes people will show up to a photo shoot with a rack of clothing and they’ll pull something off the rack and I’ll look at it and I’ll say, ‘That’s second album’. I know where we’re headed so we’re able to hold back to a certain extent, to keep it relevant for this stage in our career”.

Both Noonan and Heidemann agree that they are lucky to be working with L.A. Reid, who understands their background as musicians.

Still, many wonder where the rap influence came from. And we’re not talking a little line of rapping here or there. This girl is an incredibly fast rapper. Just watching her rap sent my mind reeling to keep up. I couldn’t.

“I grew up loving rap music but coming from a conservative Christian household, I wasn’t allowed to listen to a lot of what we would consider legit rap music”.  She adds that Noonan finally convinced her to post a video of herself rapping on Youtube.

Yet, she has only been rapping for about a year. And on top of the work to keep their music heard via Youtube, it was a challenge to stay afloat in Boston as a duo. (Another one of their very early albums can be found here.)

Heidemann explains, “I have to say, I heard New York is a lot more difficult and Los Angeles, but being in Boston it’s a very large student population so we lost our fans every three or four years. They would move away. After opening for a couple of the larger bands in club scenarios, we realized that a wooden box and an acoustic guitar wasn’t really standing up against the metal rock scene in Boston so we started performing on the street”.

Some of you may remember them performing on Newbury Street, with a guitar case and some CDs. They cite that as their most successful performances in Boston, as tourists would constantly be visiting the street. They also performed for community events and opened for other bands they knew.

Speaking of Newbury Street…
One day, Heidemann found herself walking down Newbury Street and saw an ad campaign for Bebe where the model was wearing this hairstyle.

2011 bebe ad campaign, featuring the suicide roll.
Look familiar?

Of course, this is the suicide roll, a 1940s style. A friend at MTV told her it was a suicide roll, so she made a Youtube tutorial. It turned into something larger than she ever thought.

“It’s a fun style. I’m just very inspired by everything vintage!” Heidemann said.

As for makeup, turns out the girls in her high school dance team would ask her to do their makeup. She was active within the community with the musicals, speech contests, and poetry readings. And now? She cites MAC and NARS lipstick, Lancôme art liner, and amazing eyelashes as the key to her beauty routine.

As to how they met, Noonan answers this one. “[We hadn’t] had a conversation until the very end of our freshman year, but we played in a couple of shows together. I was the trombone kid and they asked me to do a bunch of (songs) being the trombone guy in the section. Then they asked Amy to be the singer or the backup singer for a lot of stuff because she was known as being some hotshot singer on campus”. He laughs. “She always hung out with the gospel crowd and everything, and I always just kind of hung out with the weird horn players. I was kind of more like the weird jazzhead”.

The two went away for the summer but hit it off at a party the first week of their sophomore year.  As for the wedding? This has been a whirlwind year for them, after all.

Noonan explains, “Well, we were planning on getting married on 9/10/11. Clearly, it has passed 9/10/11 and we are not married, so…it was just a comedy of errors, dude. It was literally ten days before the wedding. I didn’t have a tux yet. We didn’t even know how anything was going to happen”.

My big question for them was about their song “I Told You So”. I was immediately intrigued when I heard them perform it on SNL.

I enjoyed the feel of the song quite a bit..what was that? Harmonic minor? I was curious as to what the influence for the song was, musically, and the lyrics.

Heidemann jumps in. “Oh, that’s so awesome. I’m glad you like that one. We have a music video for that coming out very soon. ‘I Told You So’ (…) Nick and I wrote it completely by ourselves working with a producer (from) Atlanta. We came into the studio and he was kind of working on this beat and we were like, ‘Wow! That kind of reminds us of ‘Look at Me Now’, which was our big viral video hit.”

“We decided to bring in the acoustic guitar and the trombone, which I think are the two main elements of Karmin, at least in the YouTube era, and we just started messing around with different parts. We wanted it to be aggressive and like you said, the Middle Eastern sound, I’ve always been obsessed with that sound. Studying those progressions at Berklee and stuff we (thought) this would be a really cool musical hip hop homage to ‘Look at Me Now’, so we started doing that. Nick put some trombone down and then obviously, the rhymes just started flowing”.

And what is the message in “Hello”? (This is possibly my second favorite song on the album).

Heidemann answers again. “‘Hello’, we wanted it to kind of tell our story. We had gone through a lot of stuff and we can’t bring our fans and supporters with us every step of the way, so we tried to tell the story in the verses. In the choruses, we kind of wanted to get some of our pride out because we were like, ‘You know what’? We actually could be like the next big thing and we want people to know that'”.

“We used to have a joke where we were like, ‘Hey, we’re you’re new favorite duo’. It’s kind of a cocky thing to say, but we were like, ‘Hey, nice to meet you and we’re awesome and (…) that’s kind of the story it tells(…) We think you’re going to love our music”.

Karmin definitely leaned more into the pop music with their album, Hello, and Noonan adds, “Everything is very rhythmical leaning and, of course, there is a lot of rhyming”.

“We were actually lucky enough that L.A. Reid loves our writing. We wrote and recorded like fifty songs for this release and then the ones he ended up picking were I think…three or four of them we wrote 100% just by ourselves. That’s a pretty amazing feeling”.

As for their first single, ‘Brokenhearted’, they explain that they wrote the song because Claude Kelly said they needed a song about them, but they wanted to write songs about fans and motivating people. He wanted them to write a love song, so they wrote about how they met at a party in college. The next day, neither of them called the other, and Heidemann was pacing, checking her phone every five minutes.

“It’s funny, the word ‘cheerio’ kind of popped out when we were just recording it and Claude was like, ‘Hey, Amy, I need you to do a really good end to the song this time’. I’m the kind of person that will just say something really silly to break the tension in the room,” says Heidemann. “So that’s where that came from”. The album talks a lot about the lessons they’ve learned, comments on their supporters, and drives a strong message.

“I think one of the best lessons is to not listen to the critics or the haters. One of the hardest things to deal with when we started uploading YouTube videos was all the people saying nasty things about us or whatnot. As soon as you get over that and stop listening to it, it’s like the entire world opens up to you. It’s really crazy,” says Heidemann. “And there’s the whole bullying thing going on now. I think that’s just another way of saying you really can’t listen to (them). I know there are so many great efforts going on to prevent that in the future. Yes, it’s an important thing…just not letting that stuff get to you and moving beyond it”.

A great message for kids and aspiring musicians!

So, who do they hope to work with in the future?

Amy chimes in that she would love to work with Kanye West, and that Nick would like to work with Chris Martin.

Karmin’s most memorable moments so far:

1: “When the video blew up, we had a two hour sit down with Kanye!”

2-Performing at the iHeartRadio festival, and meeting many other great musicians.

3-SNL!

You can also check out their new rendition of ‘Brokenhearted‘, where they perform it as more of a ballad.

Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan of Karmin. Photo courtesy of Epic Records.

The album, Hello, drops on May 8, and I will have a full review of the album then!

www.karminmusic.com/

http://www.youtube.com/user/karmincovers

Be sure to check out my other two recent Karmin posts here and here.

What do you think of the ‘Daringest Duo’?

Rethink Music with Karmin and Amanda Palmer

The Rethink Music Conference is where music industry nerds in Boston are flocking to.

The biggest thing I took from Rethink Music was the advice from fellow musicians who had launched their careers from Boston.

As mentioned in my last post, Amy Heidemann from Karmin had discussed guerrilla marketing and promoting ones’ self via the internet. In addition, Amanda Palmer discussed being attainable to an audience and booking gigs when you don’t quite fit in.

    Karmin at Rethink Music. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

When asked about getting started on the Youtube videos, Heidemann mentioned that she and Nick Noonan had posted material before, but were not satisfied with the hits the videos were getting. Citing advice from peers at Berkleemusic.com, where Heidemann was working at the time, they did some research. They found which top singles were trending, learned how to tag videos so that they were more visible, and showed personality in their videos. Eventually, Noonan convinced Heidemann to rap on a video. And a Youtube sensation was born!

Was it the novelty? I am sure that is part of it. But you can’t deny that they can both sing, play their instruments, and have excellent stage presence. Many comments on their videos note their energy, enthusiasm, and…smiling. Because, though it seems obvious, lots of us forget to smile when we sing! In fact, I am guilty of this when I drum. I am often told I look sad, or like I am about to beat up Billy for lunch money. Whoever Billy is.

    Karmin at Rethink Music. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

Karmin at Rethink Music. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

Amanda Palmer discussed the fact that she is so accessible to her fans-no, not fans. She stated that she prefers not to say fans, because it makes it sound as if she is above them. She mentioned being okay with the term ‘audience’, but seemed to favor ‘community’.

When asked if she ever becomes afraid that she will get a stalker, she just laughed. Since she is so open about her life, she joked as to why anyone would want to find skeletons in her closet, when they are all out in the open. She makes a valid point. Where’s the mystery?

Palmer realizes she uses social media to the Nth degree, but she also realizes that it is a huge part of her success. Palmer has utilizes social media to connect with her community and spread her music. She compared it to when she was a street performer in Harvard Square years ago-as a living statue. She said that no matter what, she could always estimate making a certain amount each day. She never walked away empty handed. Likewise, when she gives away her music for free, people often feel compelled to pay. It’s the gesture that makes an impact on the audience; your music being available to them.

Even when recording, Palmer kept on connecting with others to make the music happen. She mentioned that she would be in the studio and need an instrument that they didn’t have. She would tweet about it and, sure enough, a follower on Twitter would get one to her.

Not only does this interaction show her ‘fans’ (can I say that?) that she is responding to them, it shows that it is really her. Palmer noted her dislike for artists that have others pose as them on Twitter just for self promotion, without taking the time to actually interact.

Lastly, I asked her about getting gigs in Boston. I feel that, sometimes, venues stick to certain genres. They want to be sure they get a certain amount of people in for the show. So, how does a musician get a foot in the door if their genre can’t easily be classified as rock or pop or folk?

Amanda Palmer poses at Rethink Music. Photo credit Farah Fard.

Palmer said she used to play galleries and parties, until she had enough of a following to prove she could sell tickets for a show at a local venue.

I know a lot of you do that, so props to you!

Lastly, I’d like to share an email that was forwarded to me from Deer In Headlights, by one of their team members (and SYM band member) Andrew Hall, who attends the boxing club that Nick Noonan had been working before. Since I was reviewing their band history over the past few days and hearing stories from many who saw them when they were performing out on Newbury Street and handing out EPs, I thought I would share!

Guess who knows tonight’s SNL musical guest Karmin? You!

The Ring Boxing Club’s own Nick Noonan and his fiancee Amy Heidemann — will be debuting two songs from their upcoming album on tonight’s show.

Here’s a pic of the duo as seen on Entertainment Weekly:

http://music-mix.ew.com/2012/02/11/karmin-snl-new-album/

For those of you who may not know,
Nick was our front desk guy extraordinaire for two years — working 12-6 every day at The Ring and pumping out YouTube covers from his apartment every night after work. One day this past spring he and Amy posted a video of Chris Brown’s “Look at me Now,” and they were launched to stardom.

Here’s an insider secret for you — a couple of weeks before they were discovered, Nick and Amy wrote the background music for the video on the home page of The Ring’s website.

Thanks, Karmin, and best of luck tonight! We’ll be watching!

Ah! Ferklempt! It is such a great story. Thanks for the note, Andrew!

What do you think of all this? Youtube guerrilla marketing? Being super accessible to fans? Giving your music away for free?

Note: Heads up that I will be chatting with Karmin again this Friday about their album release! Hello is out May 8th!

Karmin! Hello, Boston.

Hooray, for this is the first event I have attended as a member of the press on my own–not for anyone else, but my own blog.

Over the past few days, Boston hosted the Rethink Music Conference. I was very grateful to attend as part of the press, and as a curious member of the music industry. During this time, I had the chance to attend a concert showcase on Sunday night, and an interview with Karmin on Monday. The showcase involved Yoga Girls, Junior Boys, and Karmin. The next day I joined the duo at a table during the Rethink Music Conference, with two other writers.

Karmin at Rethink Music, press/(c)LaParadiddle.com

Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan. Have you heard?

Over a year ago I heard about the duo, who had attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. It didn’t resonate too much with me at the time, since so many peers from Berklee and Emerson were trying to break into the business. I couldn’t recall if I had seen them in the halls or classrooms, and noted that they were doing covers. I liked their style, but wish I had listened to some more of their stuff.

Fast forward to this past June, when I caught wind via my Facebook feed, and some who knew Amy or Nick, that they had signed with a major record label. I was ecstatic and I didn’t even know half of their journey.

Fast forward a few more months, and my handy dandy shower radio was suddenly playing their song, ‘Crash Your Party’. I did a double take between suds–they had done it!

And then, this February, they performed on SNL.  It is so, so, so very neat to see musicians who have run some of the same circles as you, who are your age…make it. And make it without the record label taking too much of their artistic vision. Granted, I was wondering about the SNL performance. Who decided on the outfits? Were they trying to make them seem so very edgy? But mostly, I just wanted to see them playing more instruments, because I didn’t want the audience to dismiss them. They both studied music! However, I understand that performing on SNL must come with some stipulations and-oh yeah-it’s a HUGE deal. Never mind Lana Del Rey’s performance and how she rose through the musical ranks. People can say she did it through Youtube, and I know I don’t know much about Karmin’s background, but I have an inkling that Lana Del Rey did not struggle while trying to break out into the business, and that her connections didn’t hurt. Meanwhile, while trying to make it, Amy sang at weddings and worked for BerkleeMusic.com and Nick worked at a boxing club.

Amy compares the moment when she and Nick heard their covers mentioned on Ryan Seacrest’s show to the moment in That Thing You Do!, when the group first hears their song on the radio. She recollects that they both lost fifteen pounds and she couldn’t sleep.

Karmin at Rethink Music, press/(c)LaParadiddle.com

And how did they end up with Epic Records? Amy elaborates.

Amy Heidemann: There were several labels….but it was basically all the majors, except for one, and then a couple of artists that were interested, like Kanye West, for example. It was a tough month, very stressful.

One writer inquires as to how much their deal was worth, but they can’t say.

Nick Noonan: The whole debate was…whether to be independent…we weren’t just going to sign to a wager for the sake of signing to a wager. Because most of the time, statistically, it will not work out. We were only going to sign if it was the right deal, and it was the right deal.

AH: The crazy thing was, it didn’t even come down to the money as much as the deal points.

Amy cites full control of videos, not letting the label pull old videos. They both wanted to make sure they had full control of their internet ‘stuff’, and to make sure everyone saw where we came from. They also made note of the royalty rates being offered, citing that Epic was very generous, especially for new artists of the current era, and that it was favorable.

I asked about artistic independence. Many artists have expressed weariness toward record labels when they discuss their plans with albums. They feel that the record label wants to change their musical vision.

NN: One of the biggest reasons we signed with Epic was because we actually felt like L.A. Reid got it. He got what we were going for. There are a lot of songs on the album that I don’t think a lot of other people would have put on the album.

AH: Yes, if we had signed to one of the (other) big wigs…(they would have said no).

NN: They’re amazing people…they are…absolutely record gods. It’s just a personal thing. They don’t have to be amazing people…they just have to get it.

AH: Yeah, for the songs we were most proud of, L.A. Reid would get out the air drums, and…he was just so excited!

Another writer asks…’what are you most proud of? What was the ‘get it’?’

NN: The first one was probably the song called ‘I Told You So’.

AH: Yes, the second song that we did on Saturday Night Live…that was very urban. There’s trombone, kind of a very (Middle Eastern) chord progression…and…not very pop. And he texted us, like, ‘this song keeps me up at night, I’m so excited’! And to get that directly from him…

NN: Yeah, he’s a super pop, super smash, kind of guy…

AH: And he’s got great taste.

What’s next?

NN: Right now, everything is focused on the album. We might cover our own songs, actually.

AH: Yeah, we might do Karmin covers of…Karmin! You know, acoustic versions, and stuff like that.

NN: But for now everything is just focused on the album.

AH: We will be doing covers, yeah, maybe bonus material on the second album.

And their business strategies came from…Berklee?

NN: Yes…yes, and no.

AH: Did you take business (classes)?

NN: No.

AH: I took a couple business classes, and we learned, mostly, how to survive just as musicians…taxes and stuff.

FJF: But that’s a big question for a lot of people I know!

AH: I’d have to give a lot of my marketing knowledge credit to Berklee Music Online. BerkleeMusic.com. There’s a guy named Mike King over there, and he’s…a genius. But I learned everything I know about guerilla marketing from him.

NN: Do it yourself.

Another writer asks…’five years down the road, what does the music industry look like?’

NN: Subscription based.

AH: Definitely.

NN: Like your cable bill or something…sort of like a Spotify type thing…where you just get unlimited music, depending on how many downloads you get…per week, per month, whatever. You get different levels of paying rate. You know what I mean?

AH: Definitely, yeah. The internet radio thing is so exciting and I think, as far as new artists…a lot of it is going to be discovered online, direct to fan…people that build audiences. Like they said, A&R is now…people on Youtube…

NN: Which was the case for us, too.

Amy compares this to American Idol, but that you know where all your votes are…your page views!

After a moment and a few laughs, an individual tells us that they must move on, and we say our goodbyes.

Short, but sweet! Overall, I am incredibly glad I had the moment to speak with them. They were humble, friendly, and silly. Not in a bad way, it’s great to be silly! If you have seen some of their videos or tweets, though, you know they can be silly, and that’s one of the reasons why they are so personable.

Before writing this I went back and looked at some of their old videos, shot in an apartment that looked very similar to a building I lived in off of Beacon Street a few years ago. Then I watched a video of when they first hear their song on the radio. And this is why I do what I do! I can’t tell you the smile it brought to my face.

At the end of the interview segment, they shared a story of when they were waiting in the Lowell train station and decided to become a duo, a la Simon & Garfunkel. Though I can’t see Simon & Garfunkel busting out some ‘I Told You So’…but that would be pretty awesome…I do think Karmin has longevity and their story is definitely icing on the cake.

But really. Check out ‘I Told You So’ when the album, Hello, drops on May 8. The Middle Eastern side of me is loving those vocals! But all of me likes it, to be honest.

Karmin at Rethink Music, press/(c)LaParadiddle.com

Sidenote: I may be joining Karmin and Epic Records for another interview THIS Friday, to talk about their album release. Stay tuned!

Andrew Dawson and Kanye West in the Mix

If you want a career as a mix engineer, Kanye West and Beyonce are pretty good artists to have on your resume. I’m sure many would love to observe these recording sessions, let alone be involved with them.

More than a fly on the wall, Andrew Dawson has been mixing and engineering (and more) tracks that have hit the music industry hard.

I was very tempted to title this ‘Sound Advice’ but didn’t want any of my awful puns to deter readers, so hopefully you read past this sentence now! Because, truly, Andrew Dawson has some spot on advice, and is someone with an incredibly admirable work ethic and discography.

Andrew Dawson was involved with mixing and engineering
for Kanye West’s ‘Graduation’

Dawson attended Berklee College of Music and then went on to take a job at Sony in New York City. He has since applied his skills in engineering, mixing, and producing. Remember a little ol’ track called ‘Power’ by Kanye West? Dawson earned a co-production credit for the track, and has worked with West for eight years, earning three Grammy Awards and six nominations. He has worked with artists such as Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kimbra, Common, and, recently, Pet Shop Boys. I am incredibly happy to bring you an interview with Andrew Dawson!

Farah Joan Fard: As a former classical pianist, what made you decide to delve into mixing and engineering?

Andrew Dawson: I was playing piano from the age of five, but I’ve always had a fascination with the technical side of recordings. I remember hearing A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory and just being in awe of the bottom end. I wanted to find out how to achieve that myself, and I began experimenting with 4 track recorders and early MIDI sequencers.  It was creative both from a sonic standpoint and a writing one. Something about the combination of technology and artistry has always seemed to captivate me.

FJF: If I remember correctly, you came to speak at an intro MP&E class I was taking with Stephen Webber, maybe four years ago? You gave a story of how you found your way into a studio by making yourself helpful and useful to others. Correct me if I am wrong…and could you elaborate, in your own words?

AD: Well, a lot of it has to do with anticipating what people need. You should be able to do something without the person having to ask, so that they can focus on what they should be doing and not on you. I think this awareness – in addition to really knowing my way around the studio and Pro Tools – was what put me ahead of the rest. I was working out of Sony Music Studios and Kanye West wasn’t happy with any of the engineers he was working with – he fired about five in a very short period of time. I was next on the list, and I’ve been working with him since.  You really need to pay attention, read people, learn their likes and dislikes, and see how they are reacting to what is going on.

FJF: You prefer to work on projects that have meaning. How is that defined for you?


AD: Someone who really believes in what they are doing. It can be a fun record, it can be a serious record, whatever the intention – so long as they believe in it and are passionate about it! Because I am passionate about making music. Fortunately, I’ve been able to work with many artists and on many projects that have had this kind of meaning.

FJF: West seems to have quite a reputation in the music industry. I’m not sure how much of it is fair. Honestly, I never thought I would like his work until a friend of mine introduced it to me when I was in college, and I enjoyed it. Then, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out, and there are some tracks there that I found to be so great from a musical and production standpoint! How is it to work in a creative environment with him?

AD: Kanye really brings out the best in people, and that is a true sign of a great producer.  When you’re in the studio with Kanye, it’s a one hundred percent creative atmosphere. There is the sense that there are no boundaries, anything is possible, and as a result a lot of ideas come out of those sessions. They are always productive. Definitely, Kanye for makes some crazy good beats, but he’s always very aware of the musical side of the songs as well.

FJF: I get this question a lot so I am wondering what you think…Auto-Tune. Industry standard, necessary evil…?

AD: It’s both. You can use Auto-Tune as an effect, but you can also use it as a proper pitch correction.  There’s the functional and creative part of it, and that’s a choice one makes depending on the production. I love the sonic effect of Auto-Tune when turned to “eleven”, your voice starts to resemble a synthesizer. There is a downside, though, and sadly lots of people are relying on it as a crutch for lazy vocal performances and that’s really not ideal.

FJF: While in school I often heard that “there are button pushers and creative types and a mixture of the two”. This seems awfully black and white, but I did see some who were great engineers, but not so much on the creative side and the opposite as well. Is this a bad stereotype? Is being a sound engineer creative enough in its own right?

AD: The way records are being made today, if you’re a creative type you have to be a ‘button pusher’ to get the sound you want. So much depends on the sonic aspect of it, and the boundaries are becoming more and more blurred. As a result, everyone seems to be a jack of all trades (these days).  It works from both sides too – if you’re an engineer, you have to be aware of how to put together songs to do well in the business nowadays. Often your songwriting or production sensibilities will inform your mix or engineering decisions. There are very few places left for pure “technical guys”.

FJF: A lot of music production students get discouraged–interning and fetching coffee and cleaning to get a job that may pay you minimum wage at first…when, at the same time, your friends are getting paid internships and well paying office jobs can get frustrating. When I was an intern at one place I was told, “they don’t pay because every wants to be here because it’s cool”. I think this is a model seen often in the entertainment industry, but what do you think about it? Any words of encouragement?

AD: Don’t do it simply for having a “cool job” – that soon becomes very transparent and those guys get weeded out fast. I hate to say it, but being a music engineer / producer / musician is a lifestyle – it’s very challenging and something you have to choose knowing there will be sacrifices in other areas of your life you have to make. There are crazy hours, often with no sense of holidays or weekends for little to no money for a while. If you are really smart, passionate, eager and willing you will find yourself getting promoted or favored with time.  I think a common misconception among new interns is the notion: “oh man, if they could only hear how good of an engineer/producer I am!”. To be honest, initially, no one really cares how good you are. We are just looking for the right attitude, personality, and eagerness to learn and help.  Make the person you are assisting/working with life easier, or job less stressful, and they will want you around all the time. Your time will come.
If you really want it, you need to realize that you always have a lot to learn – learn from observing and listening.

FJF: A lot of people express that the music industry is changing, and more power is going back to the artists. Do you agree?


AD: In some aspects yes, while in others no.  Actually, I think that the consumer now has more power than ever. The consumer now expects and gets everything on demand, and with an almost infinite amount of choices.  If you happen to be an artist that a consumer wants then there are more avenues available for you to get music to them. In this way, the consumer is empowering the artist, as are the technical advances of the time. Yet in most cases, artists still need help in reaching that audience – it can be overwhelming, and they need to be allowed to focus on creating and being artists.

FJF: What projects are you working on now and in the near future?


AD: I have just finished up Producing, Engineering and Mixing the Pet Shop Boys new album. In the works are VersaEmerge – who, like fun., are on Fueled By Ramen – P.O.S. and recently POP ETC (formerly known as The Morning Benders).


Check out his website!

Elle Magazine’s ‘Women in Music’ & The New Yorker’s ‘Song Machine’

I have to give a little applause for Elle Magazine pulling together a music issue every year, though it is pretty mainstream. That being said, there are always a few speed bumps in reading the issue that send me pulling over from what I was reading and thinking, ‘what?!’.

I also have to give a hand to John Seabrook on the great article The New Yorker published in its March 26 issue. There were no surprises in there for me, but it served as reinforcement as to what drives some nuts about pop music. I encourage you to read it.

Put these two articles in a blender and there were more reading speed bumps than ever!

Photo taken by Carter Smith for Elle’s Women in Music 2009

In 2009, Elle Magazine featured Gwen Stefani on the cover of their Women in Music issue. In 2010 it was Rihanna. In 2011 it was Gwen Stefani. This year it is…take a wild guess. Following any basic, pattern based word problem from my elementary math classes, I would say Rihanna. Oh, look. It’s Rihanna.

Granted, these two women are very involved in the music industry and have great voices. However, Stefani’s last single was in 2008 (‘Early Winter’) and, as much as I do enjoy her…are there really no other women in music that can be featured? Perhaps a woman who has had a musical breakthrough relevant to this year. Again, I am not saying that Stefani is not relevant. I believe her to have been a major influence on my generation and for female vocalists. I just find it unfortunate that Elle keeps regurgitating the same cover girls, despite the many talented female musicians out there. I understand that Gwen Stefani and Rihanna are both gorgeous and interesting, and putting them on the cover is a sure way to sell magazines, but if we are celebrating women in music, come on!

Photo by Tom Munro for Elle’s Women in Music 2010

Aside from the fact that I feel featuring the same individuals is redundant when the array of musicians is so vast, this is scraping the surface of women in music.

That being said, it’s a HUGE topic to squash into one magazine issue, so I understand that. I’m not trying to undermine Elle Magazine’s efforts in bringing these artists to our attention.

I did say it was scraping the surface, and I guess that means I have to back that fact up! (You’re a fine fact checker when you back that fact up!)

More than once, Elle has featured instruments in these music themed issues. Instruments like…designer guitars. May I ask who, as a musician, cares if a Chanel logo is on their guitar? Does it improve the acoustic quality of the guitar? I don’t think so. My sister wrote Elle a letter about this, and I’m not sure it was well regarded. It certainly was not published. I think it would have been more pertinent to showcase different guitars that some of these female musicians use.

In addition, Seabrook’s article for The New Yorker reinforced how I feel about some aspects of pop music: disheartened. For decades, musicians have performed other people’s songs. Elvis did it. The Beatles did it. It’s nothing new to see songwriters hired to write for specific musicians. What bothers me is the method, if what is written here is true, and the image portrayed to fans.

Ester Dean is showcased in this article as songwriter, and I encourage you to read up about her, as she is the driver behind many of these pop hits. An excerpt from the article, ‘The Song Machine’, declares:

“Dean’s preferred method of working is to delay listening to a producer’s track until she is in the studio, in front of the mike. ‘I go into the booth and I scream and I sing and I yell, and sometimes it’s words but most time its not,’ she told me. ‘And I just see when I get this little chill (…) and then, I’m, like, ‘Yeah, that’s the hook’.’ If she doesn’t feel that chill after five minutes, she moves on to the next track, and tries again”.

Why give up? If I am writing a song, and I get stuck on a part, I don’t give up. I take a break, come back later, save what I have. But the difference may be attachment to the song and care. This is exactly as the article title states: a song machine. Eating up random words, hooks, tracks produced to the point of no return, and crapping out a song that sounds an awful lot like the last pitch corrected, drum machine laden song. Don’t even get me started on the lyrics.

The few beefs I had with this article are with the display of pop music as the newest, creative venture in the world of music. Yes, Dean has to be creative and clever with these hooks. But how are we putting this musical mad libs above those who spend the time to compose the song from the bottom up themselves? I could be wrong, but this whole process sounded very detached. Not listening to the track beforehand, chugging through it if it doesn’t come to you quickly…and shouting out random lines until you get one that sounds catchy enough for Top 40 may work, but it doesn’t seem genuine to me. How much thought went into that line? Though, when the lines are the lyrics to ‘Rude Boy’, I can’t wonder too much about the thought of the song.

This article insinuates that Ester Dean wrote the song, ‘Rude Boy’. Though it is sited that on an episode of ‘Alan Carr: Chatty Man’, Rihanna speaks about the song as if she wrote it herself. When ‘Man Down’ came under fire, Rihanna had to defend the lyrics. Trouble is, did she write them?

Seabrook states that the public’s ‘appetite for hits’ and Top 40 is bigger than ever, which may be the case. I would argue that it’s also taking over a lot of other options in the radio world. When WBCN signed off and 104.1 was taken over by pop, much of the community around me declared their discontent, and many cited that the same was occurring in New York.

Seabrook also questions how mainstream rock became robotic and predictable, while pop music is now creative and experimental.

Speed bump! Ouch.

Are we sure that the rock being referred to here is not mingling, dangerously, with pop? If we are talking rock like Doughtry and Fall Out Boy, I think we are still in Pop Land. Just because it quacks like a duck, doesn’t mean it isn’t a man doing a great duck call. And I’m not about to jump in and declare the current state of pop music as experimental and creative as ever. Let’s not forget the producers, too.

Why do I say that? It is noted in the article that Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic) created some tracks that ended up as different songs. I had already learned this fact and was certainly not surprised. The article claims that nobody cared or noticed. I’ve picked out a Ryan Tedder song from miles away (Ok, sitting on a couch and hearing the song on the TV) and said to myself, ‘That must be a Ryan Tedder song’.  Kelly Clarkson’s ‘Already Gone’ and Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ always sounded suspiciously similar to me. Turns out they were created from the same track. However, One Republic’s ‘Secrets’ also sounds awfully similar, as well as the ‘All I Ever Wanted’ (Faith Hill), which I thought was ‘Secrets’ when I first heard it.

So, yes, I am hesitant to declare ALL pop music the new frontier in creative music when it is being processed through this Song Machine. Chicken McNuggets, move over!

What does this have to do with Elle’s ‘Women In Music’ ?

With the facade of pop music, and the lack of involvement some artists have in the creation of their hits, it seems like a teeny slap in the face to those women who compose, write, and perform, and are not featured as prominently. Yes, Rihanna is very relevant to today’s music, but she is a great performer. She has been described by some as a ‘manufactured artist’. Why are we showcasing her again? Was Florence Welch not available? Janelle Monae?

Hmm. Perhaps I need to do my own 2012 Women in Music post. What do you think?

Brighton Music Gentlemen Hall

I tried to merge the venue with the band. I tried. I couldn’t pass up a possible play on words, so you may cringe and berate me later.

Well, you’re probably here because you are really digging Gentlemen Hall’s tunes, and rightfully so. Everything that is so unique and smart about their music really shines through during a live performance. It gives me hope for many reasons. For one, it defies stereotypes of Boston music, and is refreshing. While I even had the error of comparing them to Passion Pit once…they may run in the same genre, but they have their own dynamics and range. Two, it gives me hope in the world of overly processed, highly produced pop and synth tracks…that a synth rock/synth pop band is so musically tuned and aligned.

Before my camera decided to cry for help (currently searching for a camera doctor), I was able to snap some shots of Gentlemen Hall in action Saturday at the Brighton Music Hall. The band was super friendly and welcoming, really very awesome group of guys!

A big thank you to Plan A Media, Gentlemen Hall, and Josiahs Porter.

Gentlemen Hall. Credit Farah Joan Fard.

Gentlemen Hall. Credit Farah Joan Fard.

Gentlemen Hall. Credit Farah Joan Fard.

Gentlemen Hall. Credit Farah Joan Fard.

More photos at LaParadiddle’s Facebook page.

Capturing My Politic

By capturing the band, My Politic, I mean with a camera. Not in a swashbuckling pirate sort of way. Yes. So.

Friday, March 30, was a joyous night of folk music at the Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge!

A big thank you to everyone involved with putting the party together, and I wish I could have stayed longer. As the evening progressed I was able to see Stephanie Barrak perform, an impromptu performance by Sarah Fard, and then My Politic’s set.

The gallery was PACKED. I think the only individual who could move while My Politic performed was the dog in the room, sneaking in between eager listeners.

I have posted a few photos below, more can be found at Facebook.com/LaParadiddle.

My Politic. Photo by Farah Joan Fard

My Politic. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

My Politic. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

My Politic. Photo credit Farah Joan Fard.

Be on the lookout for a My Politic CD release party sometime in the future!

Bees and Jazz: Bees Deluxe

I think of bees and often think of the Beehive in Boston: jazz and good potatoes, two things I really like.

Launching off of one bee/jazz association, I will jump to another jazzy bee: Bees Deluxe.

The band has a very interesting background, rooted in Boston’s love for jazz and music.

Patrick Sanders performs as the band’s drummer, who attended Berklee College of Music and sharpened his drumming skills with mentors such as Mike Mangini (now with Dream Theater) and Jamey Haddad (who has worked with Paul Simon and Steve Gadd). Sanders has also performed with the lovely, supremely talented Esperanza Spalding, when both were students at Berklee!

Bees Deluxe’s guitarist, Conrad, has performed everywhere from London to CBGB’s in New York City and back to Boston. He cites Wes Montgomery and Jeff Beck as influences. He also mentions having worn the hats of ” guitar-player, band manager, special-effects builder, illustrator, music journalist, as well as record company production manager”. You know what I’ve been told to do in the music industry? Wear as many hats as possible. I’ll take Conrad’s path as confirmation!

Lastly, we have Bruce Mattson, New England Conservatory graduate, and player of the keys. Mattson also scores and arranges for multimedia, and has performed with Charles Neville and Chuck Leavell.

Bees Deluxe, credit Eric Antoniou

Listed as the genre “Vintage Tube Terpsichorian”, I was, of course, curious. Time to peruse some tracks! Their music blends the sounds of classic rock, blues, jazz, and funk, without brimming with pretentiousness, as some jam bands tend to do (in my opinion). Yet the songs are definitely tracks I’d like to jam to. Tracks like “Asleep at the Chelsea” brought me back to rainy days listening to Van Morrison or Hendrix. Not particularly in style, though I hear it, but in ambiance and personality. The track, “The Girl With the Green Hair” brought about an eerie aura in some instances, and a laid back, relaxed one in other measures.

I also love the homage to Billie Holiday with their performance of “God Bless the Child”. Vocals blend into this one, though the instruments do a lot of talking themselves; it brings to mind Sting’s jazz and blues performances.

But really, it bugs me when I start to compare musicians to other musicians, when one should really take a listen on their own, because unique bands always have their own sound, as Bees Deluxe does.

The band is preparing to release a new album, titled, “Space Age Bachelor Pad Blues” and have upcoming shows at the Gardner Ale House on April 9 (Gardner, MA) and at Johnny D’s on May 6 (Somerville, MA).

And, to save you the trip to the dictionary, a terpsichorian is, by another spelling, a dancer or something related to dance. Is this true, Bees Deluxe, that we are in for some funky, vintage style tunes to dance to, grooves and all?

Check out their site!