Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vocally Speaking - American Idol's Requirements: Make This Song (Cover Tune No Doubts...) Your Own! Or Guess What?

Really... Guess what? Who ever told the contestants how to make the well known tune their own? And what, in any case, did the judges mean by that? I guess it's still somewhat a riddle to the participants and to the audience, for that matter.

Watching American Idol for the last 9 seasons (not to mention Canadian Idol for at least 7 seasons) I couldn't help but notice that those young kids and even more mature adults, are stuggling to turn and twist the well known cover tune into something which is hardly recognizable, as the melody has often been changed, the vocal licks were inserted all over the place (most of the time not corresponding with the style) and that made it just unlistenable and simply left a bad taste in the listener's mouth. My husband and I are big fans of 50s and 60s music and therefore we're very familiar with the songs of that era. Occasionally, while both of us were watching pre-final stages performances (where these types of songs were required to be covered) of the carefully selected participants, we sometimes could not recognize the song until the chorus or even until the very end.

Being for many years a vocal producer in the studio, I have to admit that many times I had to figure out how to convey the originality on a well known cover tune. Lately, I'm recording a lot of them, as I'm scouting the talents for a very well known and prominent UK management. From female artists, they're not requiring the original tunes, they're requiring to hear their voices, performance, interpretation and originality on the cover tunes. However, we cannot record copying the original artist to the T, as for example, there is already one Beyonce and already one Lady Gaga in existence, why would they need the second double bodies? The answer is they won't, they would need a strong singer like them, with the similar vocal and performance quality and yes, originality and interpretation on any given tune (original or not). So, my aim as a vocal producer is to pull out from my performer the same or better quality of voice as of the original artist's performance, but with their own twist and take on the tune. That's what I call "to make the song your own".

I wish judges and mentors of those vocal competitions like American Idol would make it more clear to their contestants and moreover, would mentor them and advise them how to arrive there. Evidently, they do not, at least not just yet. On that note, if they did, I am pretty sure we would have more sound and more original artists on our Earth's roster.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Music Industry Resurrection: Given the present situation ... is it even in the stars?

Being involved in the music industry for over 30 years in Canada, I have a lot of observations watching it from inside and out.

When I first came in March of 1980, there were a lot of things happening, musically speaking and otherwise, as music is always a reflection of what's happening in that present time. There were great artists rising up, like Celine Dion, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and many more. Specializing in vocals, I started my career with the garage bands and pop star wannabes. Those years the immigration from European countries like Russia, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Poland and others was at a very high rate. A lot of people were coming with children and teenagers and being brought up the European way, were willing to work hard to give their youngsters music education and helping them to succeed in the music industry. The children of those times were also very receptive, seeing that the music industry was happening and true to their cause new stars were rising up, minimum to say, on a monthly basis, they too had ambitions, desires, passion and willingness and lovingness to persevere. The music industry in those days was also quite true to their cause, as they were looking for true talents, finding them and taking them for development, i.e. investing their funds into grooming them into a real happening big time artist.

Then came the 90s. The technology started to kick in and a minor recession took place as well and things started to change. Now we started seeing younger and much less talented artists being somewhat fabricated by the music industry, however, not in a full bloom yet. We also started seeing a lot of groups popping out, quite out of the blue. Granted, since the technology was progressing rather rapidly, the in-studio "in-vitro fertilization" was taking a great part in producing somewhat listenable records, with the difference already then, not too many artists could resemble it live.

And now came Y2K. Everybody was scared that the world's end was near. There were a lot of predictions about the computers not being reset properly and therefore, the whole world was supposed to evidently go to pieces. Luckily, that didn't happen and those who were hiding away from their dreams and trying to suppress them came out on the surface in a full bloom. People were bringing me tons of cash, which were hidden away in pillow cases in case the world was actually to end. When they found that it didn't (at least not just yet) they decided to try to enhance their musical abilities and see if they could succeed in this genre.

Came 2001, September 11th, a tragedy in New York. Given to what was happening before, I was 100/100 sure that my world would end this time, as people would be scared and would not come for any vocal lessons, recordings or whatever else my practice consists of. To my and my accountant's biggest surprise, my business skyrocketed four times over. It felt like we were "going out of style" and people were afraid that something drastic might happen to them and this time, they decided to persevere full tilt and realize their dreams before they might be "crushed" by the next terror attacks. It was great, and I was producing a lot of talent, but then came 2004, where I felt that the generation of people who I was accustomed to changed drastically. The new people were coming, but they were much less physical (the computers were taking a huge turn in our lives), much more lazy, much less motivated with much less passion.

Thank God for American and Canadian Idol televisions shows that were thriving at the time, as they were rejuvenating the spirits a little bit and then brought healthy competitiveness between future artists to be. And then, 2 years later, after my client Brian Melo won the competition in 2007, Canadian Idol was canceled. There was a lot of disappointment amongst the young population whose dreams were to become the next Canadian Idol and/or somehow to succeed in the music industry. They then turned to the computer games instead and the music industry turned also to their computers, but this time really in depth. The in studio in-vitro fertilization turned into a "genie in a bottle". Those so called artists who could afford the top producers were "helped" immensely to realize their so called talents. The music was sounding more and more digitized, autotuned and melodined. The concert tickets were not selling as much, as not too many of the artists of those times could resemble anything remotely on stage which would remind of what was "recorded" prior on their record. Some of them were booted out, as they could not even play their record, let alone sing. Meanwhile, the consumer was getting "smarter" by the minute. They stopped going to concerts and started downloading everything on their computers. And then and only then, if they liked what they heard online, they would consider to spend the money and come out to the club or a bigger venue. Needless to say, the electronics began to run our world. The conclusion is that 1% of today's known artists could sing to the point that you don't have to cover your ears (also to protect them from the enormous decibels shooting at you). All the rest of them, sometimes even in the recorded version, were sounding absolutely horrendous.

The question is, where are we going to end up in this world and in the music industry in particular? The young generation is getting used to off key, off tone and off tune singing and a "circus" performance. Would they know the difference if and when the "real deal" will take place? My hope and wish for the world and for the music industry for that matter, is that they would return to their true value, true standards and be true to their cause. Am I confident that it's going to happen? Unfortunately, not quite. I can only hope and pray that finally people will get fed up with all fake endeavors happening in our world on every level and needless to say, in the music industry, as the music industry is is a reflection of what is happening in the world. In my last blog about the Lady Gaga craze, it was really clearly underlined that the world has gone crazy and unfortunately, getting crazier and without any borders or boundaries and now already by the second. How scary is that?

So the question is, will our music in general and music industry for that matter in particular eventually reflect a better or more sane world or is it not even in the stars?

Please refer to the movie of the 90s "Mr. Holland's Opus"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Today's Entertainment Biz... Lady Gaga Craze!!!
Everything in the Same Pot: Fruits, Vegetables, Herring and Jam?

As it appears to be, the latest craze in the entertainment business is "everybody's favourite" Lady Gaga's act...? Is it really though? It no doubts is for the young generation. Sometimes even too young. On July 12th I was cordially invited by one of my artist's mom to attend the newest Lady Gaga tour "The Monster Ball".

Let's first talk about the audience. Needless to say, there were a lot of under legal age kids, who I'm not sure should have necessarily had to hear it with their ears and see it with their eyes. The material of the show was quite explicit and definitely not for all ages. It was a lot of liberation presented by Lady Gaga on every level. You could not understand who was male and who was female in that show and who was seducing whom. She was reciting in between of her "escapades" how liberated she was, how free she was (I presume in her sexual preferences and what have you) and did invite the audience to feel free and also liberated and not to mention to feel free in their sexual choices to boot. Don't get me wrong, I'm also for freedom, but not without boundaries and borders. I'm definitely not underage, much more so overage for this type of show. In fact, the mother of my artist who was sitting right beside me, said with absolute certainty and passion that it is the first and last show of this kind that she would see on her life. Granted, we were pretty old for that and definitely from a different generation, but I'm actually in the music business, for at least the last 47 years of my life, therefore I thought I could stomach it all. Moreover, I was asking myself, was I actually in a singing concert or was I watching Cirque De Soleil in not exactly clear and best interpretation? Yes, there was some singing and it wasn't very bad at all to Lady Gaga's credit, who is no doubts extremely talented musically, vocally and performance wise, but for my taste, I would prefer her to stay straight, sing, dance and play piano (and not with her high heeled boots) and certainly not to perform any circus routines. If I want to go to the circus, then I will attend Cirque Du Soleil or even a Russian circus, which is also considered to be one of the best in the world.

She brought up on stage and to the young audience's undivided attention absolutely everything in her performance: From religion to explicit sex, from devils to angels, from monsters to fairies, from blood on her chest to the fire from her "lower body" and finally magically removed panties, which she was shaking in front of the audience and suggesting she was going to throw it onto somebody's face. Exciting? Extremely!!! Crazy? Evidently!!!

She had one good point there. She was raving for the freedom and free choices. She was exclaiming and calling on the young audience to give up their insecurities and fears. The problem was, in my opinion, that all of it was still coming down to sex and sexual preferences. Yes, I'm very liberal on that topic too, but definitely not to this extent. I don't like to take things out of proportion and on this note, I would have to admit that I'm probably the "old school". Our generation (the old school) had some morals and some class. 20-30 years ago, we thought that Madonna was over the top. In comparison, Madonna was definitely an "angel" and did not belong anywhere near the "Monster Ball", as, if she was, she would be booted out of the stage and thrown out of the music business with the point of no return. But those were the old sweet days. Today the question is, how far are we willing to go and if there is room to go any further. Maybe the predicted end of the world is not such a bad thing. At least the humanity will be able to start everything from scratch and extract the fire from the stones and not from their panties.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Vocally speaking: Why does it appear that people in a medical coma, at times, possess more "vital signs" than today's so-called performers?

Practicing vocal coaching/consulting/producing and whatever else connected to the music business for over 30 years in Toronto, I can testify that people have changed dramatically over last 3 generations. In my opinion, with technology progressing, the mental, physical and emotional state of human beings is dramatically regressing. Obviously there are quite a few factors related to why this is happening. One of them is that people are using technology instead of their brains, not along with the brains. It looks like their brain cells are dying one by one and they are unable to think straight, let alone make some viable decisions or, god forbid, try to put 2 plus 2 together without the computer or calculator. How scary is that?

Taking into account this phenomenon, they are evidently not as physical as well. They spend the majority of their day staring at the computer screen and trying to figure out their whole life via internet. Sometime ago, I asked one of my young male students if he had a girlfriend. He said, "Yeah, I have eight". "Eight?!" I exclaimed, "How so?". He said: "Virtual ones". I was shocked out of my wits. I said to myself, "We are raising the potential "invalids"". This young population is afraid of the real world. They're hiding behind the computer screen and not subjecting themselves to the real life or the real world for that matter.

This boy was 17 at the time. How is he going to deal with real relationships with his real girlfriends or with a real marriage down the road? Let's suppose that this young fellow would also like to become an artist. Everyboy knows that the best artists are those that are writing their own material and performing it. What would this boy (young man) have to write about? He never experienced real feelings, real pain, real passion and perhaps not even real sex! He's been living in an artificial world. In this instance then, what can he offer to society musically and otherwise? This question still remains unanswered.

My program is very intense and contains very tedious syllable-on-syllable instruction and, as Toronto Star newspaper once said, "It's not for the faint of heart". The young population today is simply not fit for that. We already established that they have nothing to offer emotionally, but they also, as it appears to be, have nothing to offer physically. Some of them come into my class literally in a "living coma". They hardly have vital signs. Probably even fewer than the people in the real coma.

Obviously the recession did not help either. Some of them are working to death and, often enough, more than one job. Quite often where there used to be ten people working on a project, now hardly two are embarking on the same deal. To their credit, some of them have mental desires to become an artist, but they cannot support it with their physical, mental and emotional state of being. Therefore, when I try to instill a vocal "chip" in them it's sometimes virtually impossible to do so, given the above description of their present demeanors. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and recently I produced a lead singer, from a soon-to-be-known rock band, who is one of them. This singer and his brothers still possess zest for life, passion and desires -which should be the "norm" for everyone's mid-twenties age. I have to say, it was very refreshing to work with them and record four fun oriented songs that are full of life, desires and love. Unfortunately, these days, this is an exception to the rule. For the last approximately two years my office employees and I have not been able to believe the deterioration and degradation of those young people whose hearts and souls, at least in theory, desire to become well known artists while, unfortunately, the ingredients for that were not present.

I'm certainly hoping for the best and also desire that those days full of vibrant, bright, intelligent and talented people will return in the not very distant future.