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Thursday, March 18, 2010

6 Questions For PR Maven Marsha Vdovin

Marsha Vdovin is the founder of MVPR, a full service PR agency that does media relations for music and technology companies like Universal Audio and Cycling 74. She's one of the few people in the business that everyone adores because she's not only so good at what she does, but she's a kind and gentle soul with a heart of gold.

What sets Marsha apart from others that do what she does is that she's really an artist at heart. When you check out Marsha's website, be sure to check out her photography as well (that's one of her pictures on the left). It will knock your socks off, especially the art and the food.

Marsha was kind enough to answer the "6 Questions."

1) How did you break into the business?
I went to art school in the early '80s and started doing PR for my classmates and a professor who was a performance artist. That led to more paying gigs doing Pr for experimental theater. A friend from school started a music software company (Blank Software) and asked me to help him so we started the company in his house. I was employee number one so I did every job and ran the office, eventually he hired more people and then I focused on sales and marketing.

2) What makes you unique?
I think I'm unique because I'm really interested in what makes people tick. I'm really interested in getting to know them as people and seeing how their mind works. I'm not interested in hype. I only work with great companies whose products speak for themselves.

3) Who was your biggest influence?
My biggest influence has been my former art professor who believed in me and encouraged me to trust my instincts and be creative. The great thing about art school is that it teaches you to be resourceful.

4) What's the best thing about your job?
The best thing about my job is the people that I meet and get to know.

5) When and where were you the happiest?
The happiest I've ever been is travelling in the summertime.

6) What's the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best piece of advice that I ever received was from Paul Lego, former CFO at Digidesign. He said that as a consultant it is important to always be genuine and always be yourself.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"It Might Get Loud" And It Does

I got a chance to see the movie "It Might Get Loud" again the other day when I was gifted it as a DVD. For those of you who haven't seen it, it's a movie revolving around guitarists Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White. You find out what makes them tick, their earliest days, and their musical development from each ones own personal perspectives, which is fascinating.

Jack White proves that being a musician is about attitude; knowing down to your core why you're making music and not caring what anyone thinks about it. He's a sloppy player technically, but he's also a real-deal guitar player; a guy that loves the blues and is constantly trying to get to the essence of his feelings and passion, much like Neil Young. I've only met a few players like this, but their vibe is so strong that it transcends any mis-fingered notes or being out of tune. The vibe is so thick you forget all that and just enjoy.

The Edge is an innovator. His technique is limited but you'd never know it because he plays within himself and his limitations so well. That doesn't work for someone playing in a cover band or as a studio musician, but it's the only way to go as an artist. He's developed a whole style around a Memory Man echo unit that is totally his. He's one of the few players in any genre that all you need to hear are a few notes to identify him. How many artists can say that? He also seems like such a nice down to earth guy as well.

Jimmy Page is an icon. He's rock and roll aristocracy. He's on a pedestal and deserves it. He's now influenced several generations of guitarists with his arrangements, choice of notes, and songwriting, and will probably continue to do so way after he's gone. Yet he's a somewhat sloppy player as well, not that that every bothered anyone. Just like Jack White, it's his passion that makes every mis-fingering a joy. His sense of dynamics is a must for any musician to learn, as evidenced in the spot where he plays "Ramble On." If I were a guitar teacher I would insist that every student watch and learn what he's doing dynamically. The notes don't matter, but the dynamic feel is the essence of great music.

Notice a pattern here? None of the three are virtuoso technicians, yet their revered for their playing. They're stylists, they're passionate, and they're masters of their heart. That's what music should be.

But probably the best part of the movie is when the three of them sit down and play together on a soundstage. There's a part in the movie (shown below) where Page begins to play "Whole Lotta Love" and Edge and White are like little kids at their first music lesson. Their jaws are on the floor and their eyes are big. For that brief period of time, they weren't stars, they were us.

Have a look.


The R&R Hall Of Fame Strikes Again

Every year I rant about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame around this time of the year, and it looks like I'll continue to do so. Just the very fact that we even have to discuss why one artist gets in while another doesn't is the best reason why there shouldn't be a hall in the first place.

What's the criteria for entry? Is it the number of hits that an artist had during his lifetime? Is it the influence he had on others follow him? Is both? Or neither?

No I'm afraid it's random, more about the kind of dough they can bring in for the ceremony than anything else, as covered by my post last year.

I don't think that there should be a hall of fame for any of the arts, as if you couldn't tell, but if there was a good reason for a music one, consider this:

Frankie Lyman and The Teenagers are in, KISS is not.
Gene Pitney is in, Chicago (120 million records sold) is not.
The Dells are in, Yes is not.
Bobby Womack is in, Neil Diamond (owner of 37 top 40 hits) is not.
Spooner Oldham is in (you really have to know a lot about the music industry to know who he is), Dire Straits (the biggest band in the world for a couple of years) is not.

Stevie Ray Vaughn, Rush, The Commodores (17 top 40's) not in. But Iggy Pop and The Stooges just got in. Influential, maybe (it's debatable), but never big sellers even in their heyday.

This whole R&R HOF thing is so screwed up it's not even worth bringing up. Sorry for the rant. Until next year.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Feedback And Distortion

Here's a video for the first single off the new SNEW album that I recently produced entitled "Feedback And Distortion" (the name of the album is "We Do What We Want"). It's a pretty fun piece with a lot of people playing air guitar (including your truly and a lot of readers), but it has serious side to it that you can easily overlook.

Curtis DonVito is a great rock lyricist, almost along the lines of Bruce Springsteen in that every word has a purpose and a meaning that goes beyond the obvious. In this case, it's a reaction to the Guitar Hero craze that's thankfully dying down a bit. For a while, gamers thought they were musicians just because they could play the game well, a thought that generally draws the ire of real musicians (especially guitar players).

The good thing about the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games is that they enticed kids into playing a real instrument as evidenced by the entry level guitar package sales that have soared. It's also introduced an entire generation to some of the best classic rock, causing a rebirth of sorts of guitar bands like Aerosmith, The Stones and The Who.

Enjoy the video!


Monday, March 15, 2010

12 Things You Never Knew About Jimi Hendrix

It's hard to believe that this year it will be 40 years since Jimi Hendrix died, because he's still talked about and referred to as much as if he were still here.

The gold standard for guitarists everywhere, Jimi was a virtuoso, but I think more because of his taste rather than his dexterity with his instrument. Regardless, he's still revered even 4 decades after passing.

This is from the "12 Things You Never Knew About Jimi Hendrix" article on Clashmusic.com, but I refined it a bit because I think the author lost the point in places, at least from a musician's point of view.

1.
Jimi Hendrix was born John Allen Hendrix, named by his mother while Jimi's father was away fighting World War II. When Al Hendrix returned from Europe, he renamed him James Marshall. It was The Animals’ bassist Chas Chandler, who became his manager, that suggested he swap James for Jimi.

2.

Jimi dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Army in May 1959, becoming a member of ‘The Screaming Eagles’ 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as a trainee paratrooper. Less than a year later he received a medical discharge after breaking an ankle on his twenty-sixth parachute jump.

3.

Jimi's first electric guitar was a Supro Ozark 1560S, purchased by his dad Al.

4.

Before breaking out as an artist himself, Jimi played with several name R&B acts, including Ike And Tina Turner, Sam Cooke, The Isley Brothers, and Little Richard.

5.

Jimi agreed to follow Chas Chandler to England only if he promised to introduce him to Eric Clapton. Within forty-eight hours of his arrival, he would take to the stage for an unprecedented onstage jam with Clapton and Cream.

6.

Jimi's left-handed playing skills were much to the chagrin of his father, who believed it was a sign of the devil.

7.

Although Jimi was most identified with the  Fender Stratocaster, he also played the Gibson SG, Flying V, Les Paul, and even the Fender Jazzmaster and Duo-Sonic on rare occasions.

8.

He called his music “electric church” because he believed music was his religion.

9.

The Experience Music Project in Seattle that honors Jimi was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry.

10.

Jimi and Miles Davis had agreed to do a project together, with Davis receiving an advance of $50,000. Jimi died before it happened.

11.
In search of a full night’s sleep, Jimi asked his then girlfriend Monika Dannemann for some of her powerful German sedatives called Vesparax. Unaware of the half-tablet dosage, Jimi took nine. His reckless mixing of drugs and alcohol had become so commonplace the previous year that his girlfriends regularly woke up to hear him gasping and had to clear his windpipe. Sort of reminds you of Michael Jackson in a way (except for the girlfriends).

12.

His iconic performance of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock in 1969 was not a symbol of national pride as everyone was led to believe, but rather a symbol of Jimi's  disgust with America’s continued occupation of Vietnam. Seconds before going onstage, Jimi debated whether or not to perform the anthem, as his manager Mike Jeffrey feared it could spark a riot.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Musical Metaphysics With Ornette Coleman



He's a jazz saxophone virtuoso who's style is so far beyond everyone else that not many can understand it, and even many jazz fans can't listen to Ornette Coleman as a result. But someone understands his genius because he won a Pulitzer Prize for music a few years ago (I'd say that's a lot more impressive than a Grammy).

Coleman plays on the fringes of music, thinking so far beyond normal music theory that it just seems like noise to the majority of listeners. But he's so far ahead of everyone else that he sees the nuance of the nuance of the nuance. It's sort of like the average consumer sees an auto tire as just a tire, but the tire engineer sees it for the kind of tread, the kind and number of ply's and the steel built, but then goes further down to the molecular level of each one.

So when it comes to music, Coleman thinks way beyond the notes. Here's part of an interview from 1995:
"In music you have something called sound, you have speed, you have timbre, you have harmonics, and you have, more or less, the resolutions. In most music, people that play what I call mostly standard music, they only use one dimension, which means the note and the time. Say I'm having this conversation with you now. I'm talking, but I'm thinking, feeling, smelling, and moving. Yet I'm concentrating on what you're saying. So that means there's more things going on in the body than just the present thing that the person's got you doing. You're interviewing me, although I'm doing more than just talking to you. And the same with you.
To me, human existence exists on a multiple level, not just on a two-dimensional level, not just having to be identified with what you do and what you say. Those things are the results of what people see and hear that you do. But the human beings themselves are living on multiple levels. That's how I have always wanted musicians to play with me; on multiple levels. I don't want them to follow me. I want them to follow themself, but to be with me."
Coleman invented a musical philosophy called Harmolodics which he defines as an expression of music that goes beyond any of the tonal, rhythmic or harmonic rules that we're used to in order to attain greater expression. Essentially, it's a handbook about going beyond and even breaking the rules of music. The rules that most of us are chained to.

It's unlikely that most of us will listen to, much less enjoy Ornette Coleman's music, so why do I bring him up? He's 80 years old, was always on the fringe of jazz, and has virtually nothing to do with popular music except for some guest appearances with Jerry Garcia and The Plastic Ono Band. Going beyond the acceptable way of doing things is the only way to pave new ground, to start a new trend, and to break free from the mediocre. The music business has been in a creative slump for so long that the entire listening world can't wait for something new and fresh (although many listeners don't even realize it). Instead we get the same, the similar, the comparable, and the equivalent. It's time to break free.

And the innovative and revolutionary is out there somewhere, gestating and biding it's time. We can only hope that it doesn't die on the vine before it gets it's chance.

Coleman asks rhetorically, "Is the leap from A to Bb the same as Bb to A?" To most, it's the same thing, but for anyone who's about to break new musical ground, it makes all the difference in the world.

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