The Answer is: Hell Yes!

What are you listening to…right now? Music? Ocean Waves? Traffic? Children Laughing? Silence? Our senses process the sounds and sights we take in every day and to a large extent determine how we process that input in our art. Art imitates life (I like think that art is life, but that’s another blog).  Do you listen to and create music that reflects your daily aural intake? I’d bet so. There are 2 kinds of aural intake: what occurs naturally and what you choose to listen to…music, tv, video games, nature, silence, etc.

Envelope: Let’s toss around a few ideas that might get your creative juices flowing in new directions. Your daily soundscape is full of rhythms, tones, dynamic ranges, harmonies, texture and envelope. Yes, envelope – the attack and decay of any given sound.  For example: when striking a symbol, the initial ‘attack’ of sound is loud and abrupt but the decay (ringing of the cymbal) lasts much longer than that of a snare drum. This attack and decay is what’s known as the ‘envelope’ of a sound. The envelopes of various instruments are different. A guitar string when plucked and left to resonate has a very different envelope than a note played on a clarinet. A clarinet has to have air forced through it to sound resonant; a string when plucked resonates on it’s own.
Dynamic Range: Humans have different ‘dynamic ranges’ than animals. A stripped down def of dynamic range is related to volume. Human ears can detect sounds in a very wide dynamic range – from a whisper to the blast of a rocket – that’s a huge range. Imagine if all music were composed in the same dynamic range….it wouldn’t reflect our natural soundscape very well would it? Not to mention it’dbe booooooring! Our ears detect even the most subtle change in dynamic range and we’re accustomed to changes in dynamic range…sounds that fall into the same dynamic range have a more difficult time distinguishing themselves from one another, unless they vary drastically in timbre.
Timbre: Sound textures (timbre) vary wildly. Even with your eyes closed you could tell the difference between a trumpet and an oboe? Why? Because they sound different…that’s the obvious answer but the real answer (and one that will get your creative juices thinking in new directions) is because they each have their own unique timbre…the own unique ‘sound.’ A trumpet and an oboe produce different timbres because they’re made quite differently. A brass instrument blasted through a metal mouthpiece will never sound similar to a wooden vessel whose sound is produced via a slim wooden reed.
Putting it all together: Let’s take these elements of our listening sound scape and concentrate on them this week: dynamic range, timbre and envelope – how do they compare and contrast? What instruments are similar in dynamic range or create a vast dynamic range? What instruments create various timbres? Which instruments/sounds should be used together to create an interesting, stimulating piece of music? How does an instruments’ envelope figure into the equation. As an engineer/producer, these are questions I happily ponder often…and it’s exhilarating when artists gets get the entire equation right. But you gotta be aware of all the elements involved in music to create unique works.
Beck
Artist Example: I have tons of musical heroes but only a few top the list as composers, artists and top-notch producers. Beck is one of those artists. In this example (Earthquake Weather) from his Guero album pay special attention to these 3 elements: dynamic range (the differences in volume of various sounds), timbre (the unique sound of each instrument), and envelope (the attack and decay of an instrument or sound). Note that the song starts very softly and quickly utilizes elements in all three elements to create an original cascade of sound before he introduces a nylon string guitar as the main focus prior to his vocals. The initial cascade of sound is produced (for the most part) elecgtronically and he creates an unnatural envelope for this group of sounds that peak at the highest dynamic range and decreases upon the introduction a nylon string guitar. A nylon string guitar has a very different timbre, envelope and range than the electronica…it contrasts to the electronica – it provides an element of natural, warm tones against the electronica. Note when he introduces the guitar it’s ‘up front’ and obvious in the mix, but not over powering. It’s difficult to get a nylon string guitar to overpower a piece. He also uses a particular technique in many of his compositions. Let’s call it call and answer. He uses a guitar riff throughout the piece (we’ll call it ‘the call’) that is answered frequently by a 5 note response produced by electronic sounds. The call of the guitar leads to the answer of the electronica…very different timbres, envelopes, dynamic ranges…these two distinct groups play off of each other very well and drive the piece forward. His vocals are warm and like the guitar contrast with the electronica to create more dynamic range, varying envelopes, timbres and tonal quality. Beck sometimes sings in falsetto but this songs heavy emphasis on the electronic screams for warmth and he provides it.  A lot of artists tend to use the same dynamic range, the same timbre and never pay attention to envelope. They erroneously believe that similarity is pleasing….it’s boring! We tend to ignore similarity. Think: in your daily, natural soundscape, there are many differences…a dog’s bark, a birds tweet, a man’s voice, a woman’s laughter. These differences may be subtle to you as a casual listener and may not even be able to identify them without instruction but now that you’re aware that our daily soundscape is full of varying sound qualities and they’re reflected in the best of our art…try to incorporate variances in your pieces to help create a unique sound of your own.
Listen, Learn, Enjoy! These qualities are not (by any means) the only considerations for artistic composition. But they may be ones that you’re not accustomed to considering. Today’s a good time to start J
Take a few more secs to listen to “Hell Yes” from the same Cd. Note his brilliant manipulation of envelope in this sparse soundscape…notice his answer and call technique again….the answer is “Hell Yes” the call is everything else. He introduces the call and answer immediately with a harmonica call answered by single note of a bell with a perfectly manipulated envelope. Note the feminine and masculine voicing in this song – reflected by vocals and instruments used in the call and answer. Ignore the commercial at beginning – not Beck. Enjoy!


Artist Know Thyself!

Success starts with…you. Who are you, as an artist? This sounds like an amazingly simple question, but unless you’ve been in biz for a while, you’d be amazed by the head scratching and brain racking this question creates. My music business students can vouch for me on this one: this is one of the toughest assignments they have all year…defining themselves as an artist.
Artistic Success 101: The good news: the web makes it possible for anyone to get their product seen and heard. The not so good news: there’s a genuine lack of unique material and in order to stand out in today’s uber-competitive market, you must be unique. The best news: Everyone is unique in some way! Let’s define your unique contributions as an artist and get you started on the fast-track to success. Socrates would be so proud!
We’ll use Jackee as our example. Jackee is setting her goals as an artist. In order to define her career goal, she must define her career path, in order to define her path, she must define who she is an artist. She will begin by asking:
The Top 3 Questions That Identify Your Artistic Self:
1.      What do you enjoy the most? It’s not up for debate…we’re motivated to do the things we love.  Jackee is lead vocalist for an R&B group, Lush-Us. She composes the majority of the groups’ material and she leads arrangement sessions with other members to create a collective sound that is representative of the entire group. Jackee’s a team player..she’s not a soloist.  So far, Jackee is: a lead vocalist, composer, arranger.
2.      What are your strongpoints? Music is a multi-faceted industry; artists can possess such diverse skills as: live performance (let’s face it…some people suck at it), record production, engineering, composition, arrangement, mastering various instruments, etc. Do you enjoy live performances the most or are you more comfortable in the studio, laying one track at a time, developing a sound that comes from a mastery of the studio recording environment in all its digital glory? Or both? It’s certainly possible to be an audience loving gearhead J Jackee excels in the studio environment, fine tuning her compositions/arrangements before final mixdown – she’s digs being co-producer for Lush-Us. But her real love is the stage. Lush-Us has built a strong reputation as crowd pleasers, and their live shows are almost always sell outs. Their high energy and audience interaction keeps the audience interested and involved throughout an entire show. Now we can add: Live performer and (co)producer to her list.
3.      What do you get when you combine 1 and 2? In this scenario we have a lead vocalist, composer/arranger/ producer who loves to perform live. Jackee’s loves and strongpoints define her unique capabilities and will guide her career path. She will establish goals that are very different from a solo artist who loves electronica and whose sole desire is hole up in the studio for months on end and couldn’t work up an audience unless their seats were wired electrically.
Next I’ll show you how to implement your newly defined self into your career goals. I think you can see how defining yourself is critical when defining your career path. A dynamo live performer will be branded and marketed very differently from a solo harp player…get the picture? Defining yourself is where the BIG picture begins.
Because this crucial step involves so many variables, you may find it more difficult than expected and want to consult with me before you proceed to the next step. Click on the services (tab)  page (or email me) to sign up for a 1 hour consultation – you’ll be off to a great start!

Houston Rapper/Producer, Nikki Makk Pursues Passions: Music and Charity

 
About Nikki Makk:  Nikki grew up in New Orleans and began rapping as a young teen. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his beloved city, he immersed himself in the Miami/Tampa rap scene before settling in Houston in 2008. His work recently topped Billboard’s Greatest Regional Gainer.  His successes include collaboratives with:
Roland & Goldfingers
David “D-Dunk” Faulk (producer/engineer for Mystikal)
Will “Playa Will” Nelson (I Done Came Up, Choppa, No Limit)
Dawn Richard
Sinista
Johnny Juliano
Supastar
DecadeZ
Solo Creep
Supa Dave
Z Fish
The Beat Caterez
A.G. tha Hustler
In a recent conversation with Nikki we discovered we’re both HUGE Stevie Wonder fans – I’m happy to introduce Nikki to you on Stevie’s 61st birthday!
JTMM: Welcome, Nikki and thanks for working me into your super-busy schedule. I know you’re leaving for Haiti again soon, but let’s talk music first, ok? Nikki – I’ve known you for sometime now and I’m impressed with your talent and artistic commitment. When did you first know that music would be your career path?
Nikki: I didn’t know until my freshman year in high school, I would always listen to music but I was really big on sports, I played just about every sport coming up.
JTMM: What happened in high school that changed your focus to music?
Nikki: Around that time I moved from my old neighborhood of Hollygrove/ 17th Ward (New Orleans) to the 7th Ward. I didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood and when I would go out to see if anyone was playing ball I was confronted and would fight because I wasn’t from around there. My sister’s boyfriend had a nephew that lived down the street from me who was also from the 17th ward and in the same situation as me. He had DJ equipment and was looking for a rapper. I’d tried it before but once we met, I took it more seriously…there you have it!
 JTMM: And music worked it’s magic on you… in a very big way. You’re a versatile artist; I’ve heard your rap and recently heard some work that was a fusion of jazz, R&B and pop. Who are your musical influences and how has that evolved since high school?
Nikki: It’s weird because although I’m a rapper….my parents played a lot of Stevie Wonder, Maze, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Isaac Hayes and what have you;  they really inspired me but as a rapper, I was heavily influenced by Scarface, The Geto Boys, Big Mike, (I was cool with one of his younger brothers),OutKast, Snoop, The Dogg Pound, and my favorite all time locals Tim Smooth, Gregory D, and the Ninja Crew( this was the first group Mannie Fresh was in). I still listen to older rappers for inspiration.
JTMM: Your fave now?
Nikki: There are a lot that I follow and am inspired by; it’d be hard to pick one favorite but in my deck is Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Kanye, The Game and a few more…
JTMM: What’s your next step as an artist? Any new releases scheduled?
Nikki: my next step is the D.I.Y. independent route. I have two singles (I Done Came Up, A-ListChic) that are dropping in mid spring and summer. I’ll be releasing my album soon after that.
JTMM: Cool, that’s great you’re dropping I Done Came Up – I saw one of your recent performances – you had the crowd worked up! I felt your connection to that song – glad I was there.
JTMM: now this is a very busy time for you – dropping two singles and an album soon and yet you’re taking the time to travel to Haiti to continue your charitable work with the earthquake victims there, tell us about your work in Haiti and why it’s so important to you…you’ve been several times now, yes?
Nikki: Yes, I have. It is very important to me because I am of Haitian descent, these are still my people. When the earthquake first happened my first thought was: Wow…Haiti needs my help and I’m able help with the rebuilding. I’ll be going over soon to help build roof tops and wire buildings for electrical power.
JTMM: That’s fantastic; we wish you the best of luck…wait a sec… you’re an artist, producer and an electrical engineer?
Nikki: Yes, I am. I also do my own audio engineering, being an electrical engineer gives me a nice edge!
JTMM: Definitely….and speaking of ‘nice’ I wanted to ask you…as I’ve mentioned I’ve known you for a while, I know people you’ve worked with and we all agree: you’re incredibly easy to work with…you’ve alluded to some pretty tough beginnings in your musical path…how have you managed to ‘stay gold’ ….untarnished?
Nikki: Ive learned that you can’t let  negativity get in the way of success. You have to keep it moving; if something is in your way, go around it or over it, if you can’t …go through it. I have been through a lot of heart ache to get where I am but my Pops always told me that the sun comes up everyday, even if you don’t see it….you still know its up there. And the light will hit you at the right time, you will only shine when you’re supposed to.
JTMM: Wow! Those are powerful words – they’ve served you well. Your Pops was a very wise man. Niikki – We’d love to have you back soon – will you visit us again when your single drops and update us on the progress in Haiti?
Nikki: That’s a10-4, you can roger that.
JTMM: Great – that’s a rap. Thanks Nikki.



Houston Music: Welcome to Diversity!

What I love most about Houston: Diversity! As Houstonians, we enjoy a vibrant cultural scene that has become increasingly diverse. Diversity plays a huge role in Houston’s popular food and art culture (we have the best restaurants…period); we’re so incredibly diverse artistically that our art scene defies a singular description.
Some cities are synonymous with a single genre:
Chicago: Blues
Nashville: Country
New Orleans: Jazz
Louisville: Bluegrass
But Houston’s music is reflective of its diverse population and our live music scene is represented by a vast array of genres and ethnicities: Rap, Hip-Hop, Rock, Blues, R&B, Gospel, Soul, Funk, Tejano, Country, Techno, Folk, Punk, Cajun, Zydeco, Jazz, Pop, Flamenco, Middle Eastern, African, Indian, Celtic, Classical, Reggae, Heavy Metal, Bluegrass, Asian, Romany and much, much more. Houston has it’s own Ballet, Symphony, and Opera, Theaters (Alley, T.U.T.S.), world class museums (and niche ones, too…think Art Car), and performance venues to fit any budget and taste… accomplishments not shared by all major U.S. cities.
I’m constantly (pleasantly) surprised by Houston’s cultural offerings. In response to an email I received from a friend in NY last night, I was cruising another blog whose origins are not distinct but has contributors as widespread as Serbia, the UK, the Czech Republic, Canada, Belgrade, France, Romania, Italy, Hel Sinki, Bulgaria, Iraq, Mexico and… Houston! Jumpin’ Jupiter – Houston!
The blog entry that started my heart pounding was about an organization in town called: Divas World 
Don’t be thrown by the word diva. Diva def: one that defines or channels truth. Isn’t that lovely J
Taken directly from Divas World website:
Founded in Houston in 2006, Divas World is a Houston-based, non-profit performing arts organization dedicated to enriching lives through spirited and moving musical performances that touch the mind, heart, and soul. The organization was founded by local philanthropist Marie Bosarge and Mezzo Soprano Sonja Bruzauskas, whose passions for music and intellectual stimulation are now the cornerstone of the Divas World artistic endeavors. Since that time, some of the city’s most talented artists have been hand-selected to join our organization for their beautiful artistry and amazing breadth of talent. Divas World concerts have now extended beyond Houston, and we have had the privilege of performing in some of the most spectacular venues around the U.S. and abroad.
Inspired by our deep passion for music and our desire to recreate the European Salon style of performance, our concerts incorporate other art forms such as philosophy, history, and science in order to achieve a more meaningful musical experience. This inter-disciplinary approach draws our audience into the performance and creates a deeply rewarding experience that mutually engages both artist and audience alike.
Our name Divas World was selected from the term Diva (or Divo), which in the literal sense, means “one that divines – or channels – truth.” This is the core behind our mission and what drives our performances: to channel truth by expanding one’s mind to not only the sound of music, but the meaning behind it as well. Most importantly, we are here to entertain our audiences…we want you to leave our performances feeling inspired, touched, and fulfilled.
I’m ecstatic about this organization. Their Diva Salon series is free to the public. The salon style experience is much more enlightening, edifying and engaging than the standard concert format. For those of us looking for unique musical experiences (and isn’t that why you’re here), check them out. I will be in attendance along with several excited friends and Facebook followers at the event on the Rice University Campus, Tuesday, May 17th, “Who are the Roma”
Professor Ian Hancock from UT will enlighten the audience….did you know UT houses one of the largest collections of Romany artifacts in the world? Do you know who the Roma are? The event features traditional Roma music and Dvorak Gypsy Songs. What? You’ve never heard of Roma music or any of Antonin Dvoraks’ Gypsy Songs? Wow – are you in for a treat :-) It’s a BIG beautiful musical world we live in and you can find most of it in Houston!
In the meantime: Enjoy Romany Music. Dominika Mirgova performing Ciganski Diabli (Gypsy Devils).

Houston Music: Welcome to Diversity!

What I love most about Houston: Diversity! As Houstonians, we enjoy a vibrant cultural scene that has become increasingly diverse. Diversity plays a huge role in Houston’s popular food and art culture (we have the best restaurants…period); we’re so incredibly diverse artistically that our art scene defies a singular description.
Some cities are synonymous with a single genre:
Chicago: Blues
Nashville: Country
New Orleans: Jazz
Louisville: Bluegrass
But Houston’s music is reflective of its diverse population and our live music scene is represented by a vast array of genres and ethnicities: Rap, Hip-Hop, Rock, Blues, R&B, Gospel, Soul, Funk, Tejano, Country, Techno, Folk, Punk, Cajun, Zydeco, Jazz, Pop, Flamenco, Middle Eastern, African, Indian, Celtic, Classical, Reggae, Heavy Metal, Bluegrass, Asian, Romany and much, much more. Houston has it’s own Ballet, Symphony, and Opera, Theaters (Alley, T.U.T.S.), world class museums (and niche ones, too…think Art Car), and performance venues to fit any budget and taste… accomplishments not shared by all major U.S. cities.
I’m constantly (pleasantly) surprised by Houston’s cultural offerings. In response to an email I received from a friend in NY last night, I was cruising another blog whose origins are not distinct but has contributors as widespread as Serbia, the UK, the Czech Republic, Canada, Belgrade, France, Romania, Italy, Hel Sinki, Bulgaria, Iraq, Mexico and… Houston! Jumpin’ Jupiter – Houston!
The blog entry that started my heart pounding was about an organization in town called:  Divas World http://www.divasworld.org/ 
Don’t be thrown by the word ‘diva’. The definition of Diva: one that defines or channels truth. Isn’t that lovely J
Taken directly from Divas World website:
Founded in Houston in 2006, Divas World is a Houston-based, non-profit performing arts organization dedicated to enriching lives through spirited and moving musical performances that touch the mind, heart, and soul. The organization was founded by local philanthropist Marie Bosarge and Mezzo Soprano Sonja Bruzauskas, whose passions for music and intellectual stimulation are now the cornerstone of the Divas World artistic endeavors. Since that time, some of the city’s most talented artists have been hand-selected to join our organization for their beautiful artistry and amazing breadth of talent. Divas World concerts have now extended beyond Houston, and we have had the privilege of performing in some of the most spectacular venues around the U.S. and abroad.
Inspired by our deep passion for music and our desire to recreate the European Salon style of performance, our concerts incorporate other art forms such as philosophy, history, and science in order to achieve a more meaningful musical experience. This inter-disciplinary approach draws our audience into the performance and creates a deeply rewarding experience that mutually engages both artist and audience alike.
Our name Divas World was selected from the term Diva (or Divo), which in the literal sense, means “one that divines – or channels – truth.” This is the core behind our mission and what drives our performances: to channel truth by expanding one’s mind to not only the sound of music, but the meaning behind it as well. Most importantly, we are here to entertain our audiences…we want you to leave our performances feeling inspired, touched, and fulfilled.
 I’m ecstatic about this organization. Their Diva Salon series is free to the public. The salon style experience is much more enlightening, edifying and engaging than the standard concert format. For those of us looking for unique musical experiences (and isn’t that why you’re here with me now), check them out. I will be in attendance along with several excited friends and Facebook followers at the event on the Rice University Campus, Tuesday, May 17th: “Who are the Roma”? http://tinyurl.com/5u7wzge
Professor Ian Hancock from UT will enlighten the audience….did you know UT houses one of the largest collections of Romany artifacts in the world?
The event features traditional Roma music and Dvorak Gypsy Songs. What? You’ve never heard of Roma music or any of Antonin Dvoraks’ Gypsy Songs?! You need to get out more often…it’s a BIG beautiful musical world we live in and you can find most of it in Houston!
In the meantime:
Dominika Mirgova performing Ciganski Diabli (Gypsy Devils). http://tinyurl.com/3uo57vm
Enjoy!

New “Music on Facebook” Allows Musicians To Engage More Effectively With Fans!

Music on Facebook
To Maximize your Musician Page on Facebook: Follow Music on Facebook to get all current info about the new ways Facebook offers to increase fan base and lets artists engage their fans on a more meaningful level. This is a new page launched by Facebook intended for Musician page owners to maximize their Facebook presence.
If you’ve been following Jen the Music Maven on Facebook, you already know that MySpace is for sale. Facebook now has over 600 million users and is determined to capture MySpace’s former audience by making their site the friendliest musician site on the net.
FB is offering more of their own applications dedicated to musicians. One of the newest features that I find most useful is the Facebook “Questions” application. This is a great way to connect directly with fans and find out what they really want.
Other interesting and ongoing developments at Facebook (taken from “Articles” on Music on Facebook).
Radio Station Blazes Trail on Facebook, Manila Bulletin Publishing Company
Be sure to read this enilightening article from Mashable – put it into practice to maximize exposure to FB’s 600 million users!
What do you think? I love it!