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The Price

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Someone complimented me on my music the other day. After saying thank you, they proceeded to ask me why I haven’t “tried to get a record deal??” and blah blah blah. I’ve heard that question so many times now that I’ve developed the pat answer of, “because my wife and kids are worth more than any fame or fortune I’d have sacrificed them to obtain”.

Okay, I’m not trying to sound all doomsday. So what does that mean exactly?

Well, Day 150 - 05-29-2012I’ve had many occasions to “get a record deal” (which doesn’t mean what it used to). That isn’t meant to sound boastful. I just want you to know that it hasn’t been due to lack of opportunity. But once I started a family, they became my priority. It was my choice to do so. And no amount of money or notoriety was worth the very real possibility of giving them up. Which is what I was being asked to do in nearly every single circumstance.

See, I already knew what it’s like to spend countless hours in the studio. I’d paid my dues as an artist performing multiple shows a day, multiple days a week. So while it’s true that I would have done anything for my wife and kids, I had to draw the line at depriving them of a husband and father who loves them.

My decision was based on my personal experience and firsthand knowledge that the music industry (and the entertainment industry as a whole) is not very nice. The industry machine and the people who operate it don’t really care about you. Labels, publishers and some producers only care about how you will benefit them first and yourself second, if at all. Most will be expected to act selfishly, and you could very well be asked at some point in your career to compromise everything you believe.

I’m not saying this is the case for everyone. And I would never discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams. It’s just that with my circumstances, for me it was very clear what the end of the road looked like had I chosen differently. I have acquaintances who are both lonely and full of regret. I have other friends who are very fulfilled in their industry careers. It wasn’t until years later that they become acutely aware of the cost of  the road they chose. I just implore you to make an informed decision about these kinds of things. Because the price you pay isn’t always obvious.

NEW MUSIC: Justin Timberlake “Suit & Tie” feat. Jay-Z

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So it’s been about 7 years since Justin Timberlake revised pop culture vernacular by declaring he would be the one to bring Sexy Back. Since then we’ve seen J.T. eschewing time spent behind a microphone and replacing it with considerable time spent in front of a camera. Now, while my beloved Bennie and many others like her have feasted on the eye candy J.T. presents on screen, those of us less concerned with the appeal of his 5 o’clock shadow have waited patiently for the release of some new audio addiction.justin-timberlake-in-suit

We have found our fix in J.T.’s lead single “Suit & Tie” from his upcoming album “The 20/20 Experience”.

The track, produced by Timbaland, combines equal parts baby-making, half-time back beats with a bouncing bass line, harp flourishes and lush synth strings. Over this J.T. offers to “show you a good thang” while alternating between cool natural vocals and a crisp falsetto reminiscent of Marvin Gaye on his classic “After The Dance“. As with most trendsetters, my prediction is that just as Jay-Z intones in his rap verse “This is trouble season/time for tuxedos for no reason”, we will most likely see an increase in faux-tuxedo based fashion cropping up over the next year. Be afraid.

Nevertheless, the release of this single, along with a statement regarding “newfound muses” in the Open Letter on his website, has caused us to eagerly anticipate hearing what he will present for our listening pleasure on the full album.

Take a listen below and let us know YOUR thoughts on J.T.’s newest release.

I Didn’t Get The Sports Gene

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In many respects, I am a stereotypical man and I do what many typical men do… no, not THAT I mean like fix and build things. (I made this! )  However, there is one particular area where I am very different from many of my male friends: Sports.  Yep, baseball, football, hockey… You can keep ’em.

This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy playing sports. Prior to a car accident at age 12, I had a very promising career on the school track team.  Yeah, don’t hate on the runners. Some of the best runners I knew became football players. Others became managers at Footlocker. But that’s another story. To this day, I love to work out and stay physically fit (P90X!).  And sure, I love a good pick up game of basketball with my sons, or playing street football with the neighborhood kids (who apparently don’t know the meaning of “TAG” football). But anything beyond that and my attention fades to nothing. Really.  I mean, I don’t even watch professional sports unless it’s the NBA Finals or occasionally the Super Bowl, and then mostly to see the commercials (which are far more entertaining to me). I’m not glued to the big screen HDTV for Monday Night Football surrounded by my buddies with beer, chips and hot dogs. I’ve never even participated in any Fantasy Sports leagues.  Call me crazy, but there’s no excitement in that for me.

I’m not the guy who’s so consumed with which player is being traded to what team that I can’t focus at work. I’m not the husband who can’t be approached while the game is on, and gets grouchy when my team loses.  Guys at work will come in the next day and spend hours discussing last nights game and arguing over bad calls and inflated stats.  Me?  I could care less. Who got injured? Some team is 12-0? I guess I never got that gene.

It was replaced by the MUSIC gene. Ask me who won the Grammy for Best New Artist back in 2004 and I can run off a list of the songs from their album.  I could talk for hours about the rise of Country Pop and the degrading of R&B production quality. I could give you a year-by-year history of Hip Hop and provide details of pioneers like the Sugar Hill Gang, Just Ice and Grand Master Flash, or innovators like ATCQ or the Fu Schnickens, as well as contemporaries like Drake, Rick Ross and T.I.  I can tell you what High School Josh Groban attended, or about the girl who originally recorded and released “Don’t Cha” before the Pussycat Dolls (trust me, it was NO BUENO).

I guess the parts of my mind that were originally reserved to care about sports were usurped by the arts, musicality and the pursuit of sonic nirvana.  As a writer, producer, arranger, artist and musician, it infiltrates every part of my life.  I guess I got it from my parents who used to tour Chicago and the surrounding areas, traveling with an ensemble vocal group with my uncle who played the piano.  And it’s been passed on… my wife sings and plays the guitar.  My oldest son is an actor, singer and dancer. And my middle son is already an exceptional writer at the age of 16.

So while you’re watching the Super Bowl, remember me and people like me who compose the music for the broadcast introduction, replay transitions and commercial jingles that have become just as much a part of American culture as apple pie.

Marketing Ignorance

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First let me say that I’m a fan of hip hop. I mean, my interaction goes way back to the days of, well… never mind, I don’t want to date myself. 😉  In spite of the depth of my affections for this genre however, I simple can not tolerate someone advocating ignorance and trying to call it art!  I believe there has to be more than a modicum of intelligence in all art, whether it be painting, music, theater or dance.

What do I mean by this? Well, I was listening to a rapper (who shall remain mercifully unnamed) spouting off what he considered to be a battle rap which made absolutely no sense.  He used words out of context simply because… wait for it…  they rhymed!  Example:  “Back up quick before I cap ya dome/beatin’ freakniks with wheat sticks like a motor home…”  I’m sorry… what?!? o_O

Then you have rap crews with names that have no real meaning other than the people in the group thinking it must be good because it’s different.  This one crew is called “Gangsta Island” and their coming out with an album called “Gangsta Psalms”  I mean, come on… Gangsta Psalms?!?!

And then there’s this one guy I know who titled his album, MISCELLANEOUS because he says he’s mysterious and unique.  I’m like… “Bro, have you looked up the definition of Miscellaneous lately??” Now I know all hip hop artists are not ignorant, but I wonder if I should even say something to these people. The one time I tried to reason with a guy, he told me I just couldn’t understand his “vibe”  I was like… “Look, I gotta be honest… your vibe is sad… as a matter of fact, there is no vibe, it’s just sad all by itself.”  Maybe that’s a little harsh, but for someone like me who considers music and poetry to be an art form, these people really bring shame to the entire industry.

Anyway, here’s the soapbox back in case someone was looking for it.


Lyrical Doubletake

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I listen to a lot of music. I mean… A LOT. A 1TB iPod (a Terabyte is one thousand gigabytes or one million megabytes, if they made them that large… hint hint Apple) wouldn’t be able to contain my vast library of curious, crazy, craptastic and compelling music. From French rapper Akhenaton (@AkhenatonIAM) to CCM and pop artist Amy Grant (@amygrant) to chiptune indie-rock band Anamanaguchi (@anamanaguchi). It would take me nearly 2 weeks straight to listen to the A section alone.

That being said, I’m sad that a lot of new music to me isn’t even real music. I mean, they are a collection of notes and sounds. But they have no real lyrical content. No real melodic structure. Just cookie cutter, pop culture references set to music and served to the masses through commercials, movie soundtracks and lame radio “I caught you sleepin’ wit my (wo)man!” dedications.

Every now and then, I’ll go back and listen to an “oldie”. You know, back during the time when it wasn’t about who produced your album or if you won a Grammy (yeah, way WAY back), but about musicianship, talent, who wrote the song and why.  At least, that was my theory.  But this theory was shot to pieces today while I was listening to a few throwback songs and realized that the lyrics to one of my favorites was… how should I say… disturbing?

The Beatles “Run For Your Life”

Well I’d rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won’t know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end, little girl

Wait, come again?? They’re basically telling this woman that “I’m so jealous, that I would kill you before I’d let you be with another man!” The rest of the song continues the theme of warning her about his intent to kill her. Yeah, that’s some hit material right there. I mean, I know that things like that happen, but why are songs like this still so popular?

I’ve noticed that more than a few of today’s artists have capitalized on the disgruntled love interest theme. At any given hour I can turn on the radio (wait, do people still do that?) or browse YouTube and hear a few dozen songs about getting caught cheating, lying about cheating, being hurt by someone who cheated, making money by being selfish, relationships built on being selfish, money being the primary focus of life, sex being the primary goal of relationships, etc, etc. Well… you get my point.

It makes me wonder if society should hold artists to a higher standard for the content of their songs, or is it simply that these songs accurately reflect what most people are thinking, but just are afraid to say. I would hope it’s the former.

TLM: Riis

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Music is my passion. I dream music. When I hear music I can literally see the movement of the notes, the syncopation and the various instruments used play out in my head like an old silent film with a custom score. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a type of synesthesia. Music literally conjures imaged in my head. It is as much a part of me and as natural as breathing.

I began playing the piano at age 7. It wasn’t that my parents felt that all of their kids should learn an instrument. No, that story wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as the truth.  It all started because the brand new upright piano my parents bought for my older brother to practice on, sat in our living room untouched because he grew bored with the lessons he previously begged for.  I, on the other hand, was fascinated by this monstrous noise maker with the clangy black and white keys, and decided that since no one else was using it, I might as well teach myself to play.

And I did.

Slowly but surely I went from finger pecks to two-hand quad-chords. Pretty soon I was playing songs from the radio by ear. While I have never had a formal lesson,  I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a studio session musician, I’ve played in a few bands, and on good days I can play circles around as well as some of my friends who are trained musicians. I have also taught myself to play the drums, guitar and a little trumpet. Although little trumpets can be far more difficult to hold. 😉

Riis Playing Guitar

RECOMMENDATION: Daniel Merriweather’s “Love & War”

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I first got turned on to him after my wife saw the music video for “Stop Me” by Mark Ronson (who I think is probably one of the most original ultra-talented producers around today). His debut album came out a few summers ago, but once I got my hands on a copy, I couldn’t get enough of it. He’s been called the “cleaner, male version of Amy Winehouse”. But I think he brings a different vibe to the music. Definitely soulful. Definitely a good listen and worth the price for those who like this kind of music like I do.

Track Recommendations: “For Your Money”, “Change”, “Chainsaw”, and “Water and a Flame feat. Adele”

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