Eighty and Rising

"Eighty and Rising" is a new Spotify playlist I created, to keep up with the best-reviewed new music releases. It's called "Eighty and Rising" because all albums on the list have a Metacritic score of 80 or higher (out of 100).* I will periodically update it with new albums, and remove albums that have been on the playlist for a while. 

If you're looking for a way to keep up with new music of varying genres that has caught the ear of music critics, head on over and subscribe to the playlist.

*Metacritic.com is a brilliant website that collects critics' reviews from leading publications and gives an aggregate score on a 100 point scale. If you study pop music (or movies or TV or games), it is a vital tool.

Posted on January 29, 2015 .

The Worst Music of 2014

Now that all of the "best of" lists are out of our systems, what were the worst albums of 2014? I checked Metacritic.com to answer this question. There were five albums whose aggregate critics' score was under 50 points (out of a 100 point scale). There were no albums that scored below a 42. You can access all of Metacritic's info on these songs by going here or clicking on the links below.

III - Take That. Metacritic Score: 42

NOW + 4EVA - Architecture in Helsinki. Metacritic Score: 42

Growing Up in Public - Professor Green. Metacritic Score: 45

PartyNextDoor Two - PartyNextDoor. Metacritic Score: 46

Louder - Lea Michele. Metacritic Score: 48

When I went to put a Spotify playlist together for these songs, I found that only three were carried there. Coincidence? Here is the partial list:

Posted on January 26, 2015 .

A New Sufjan Stevens Album Is Coming in Almost-April

Sufjan Stevens will release his first studio album since The Age of Adz (2010) this March 31st. It's called Carrie and Lowell, and you can catch a sonic glimpse of it in the trailer below. Laura Barton over at The Guardian says that the full album is more llinoise than Adz in its sound. Judging by the fact that his new work Round-Up was about the Pendelton, Oregon rodeo, and there's a track called "Eugene"—the city that was my old stomping grounds—I have a feeling that Oregon scenery will make an appearance. 

Posted on January 23, 2015 .

I Really Want to Know:

What do you think of Sia's recent SNL performance of "Chandelier"? Is it art? Sensationalist? Moving? Over-hyped? Pop at its best/worst? Check it out at the link below and then me know in the comments or on Twitter. 

Watch the video on NBC.com.

Posted on January 19, 2015 .

A New Visualization of Musical Rhythm

John Varney and Ted-Ed teamed up to create this interesting and effective way of visualizing rhythm. The idea of visualizing rhythm as a circle is not new, but this explanation and animation are excellent and useful. A student of mine shared it with me recently, and you might find it interesting as well.

Posted on January 15, 2015 and filed under Teaching, Design.

Greatness in Music: How Is It Achieved?

This post was originally published in the season 2014-15 program book of the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Luxner. While it was written to address Millikin University community specifically, I believe its message applies far more broadly, which is why I decided to post it here.

All musicians want to be great, but how one achieves greatness is still hotly debated. We are better at recognizing greatness once we’ve heard it: the perfectly placed note, in the well-crafted phrase, within a greater artistic vision, combining to move performers and listeners. Nevertheless, Millikin’s young musicians are charged with becoming great, and Millikin’s faculty are charged with guiding them on that path.

Historically, the scientific debate on greatness in any field has revolved around the question: Does greatness come from innate talent or deliberate practice? But a group of scientists go beyond this dualism in The Complexity of Greatness, a new book edited by Scott Barry Kaufman.

Source: Wikipedia. 

Source: Wikipedia

In the book’s chapter on music, Jane Davidson and Robert Faulkner introduce the concept of “syzygies” to explain how a number of important factors must converge for a musician to become great. The concept of syzygy comes from astronomy, and describes the momentary alignment of planets in orbit. When we explain a favorable outcome by saying that “all the planets aligned” to make it possible, we are drawing on the metaphor of syzygy.

Davidson and Faulkner argue that multiple traits influence a student’s training, including: physical characteristics, personality traits, and general intelligence, as well as environmental factors such as teachers, resources, and community support. Furthermore, this constellation of factors does not align by chance, but are drawn together by an almost gravitational pull. For example, if a musician has strong internal motivation (personality trait), she is more likely to attract a great teacher (environmental factor). Conversely, when a student has an excellent teacher, he is more likely to develop strong internal motivation. When all factors come together in a syzygy, Davidson and Faulkner argue, they tend to produce the following traits in a musician: “1) The freedom to play within the domain to develop creative thought, 2) the challenge to develop skills to solve problems, and 3) the social contacts to inspire, model, support, and celebrate change to the musical self.” 

The next time someone asks whether a great musician is born or made, perhaps an honest answer would be: “Both, and….” For the young musicians in the MDSO, and across campus, this means considering everyday factors beyond the practice room: classes, teachers, home life, physical health, social circles, sleep patterns, and fluctuating levels of motivation. All have the potential to contribute or detract from their quest for greatness in music.

For the greater Millikin and Decatur communities, it means that we have the ability to influence a young musician’s journey for the better. We can be planet-movers, perhaps even providing the modicum of gravitational pull that will align into a young musician’s syzygy of greatness.

Posted on December 2, 2014 .

Tech Teaching Tools

I'm attending the Experiential Classroom, a workshop on developing teaching strategies for entrepreneurship. One session is on teaching with technology. Here are the tools they recommend, posted here for attendees, or for teachers to check out on their own.

Teaching Tools:

Bitly: www.bitly.com

Biz model fiddle: www.bmfiddle.com

Jing: www.techsmith.com/jing.html

Mindomo: www.mindomo.com

Murally: www.mural.ly

Piazza: www.piazza.com

Slack: www.slack.com

Soundcloud: www.soundcloud.com

Storify: www.storify.com

Voicethread: www.voicethread.com

Have you used these tools? Tell me about your experience in the comments.

Posted on September 19, 2014 .

New Music From Friends and a Legend

September has been a month of exciting new music releases. Here are a few of my favorites:

My friends Brandon and Anne, better known as My Name Is You, have released their second album, Home Now

A couple of other friends from San Diego are a part of the community of musicians in The Tree Ring. This album marks the likely end of what has been a brilliantly hand-crafted music experience over the last several years and three albums.

And then there is Leonard Cohen, not a friend but a legend nonetheless. Hear his new album a week before it is released, via NPR First Listen (album will be unavailable after the release, so listen now!). 

What is your favorite release of September? Please share in the comments so that we don’t miss it.

Posted on September 17, 2014 and filed under Popular Music.

The Biggest Music Release of All Time?

Technically, when Tim Cook and Apple pushed the new U2 album for free to 500 million iTunes users, it instantly became the biggest music release of all time. But this world record will go down in the history books with a big asterisk. Like other partnerships between artists and tech companies—think Jay-Z and Nokia's Black Phone—this one will lead to a huge payoff for the artist at a time when album sales are no guarantee of revenue. But unlike the Jay-Z partnership, which came preloaded on newly bought phones, U2's album is supposedly just instantly "there" in your library. The truth of this statement will hopefully be tested in the weeks to come.

This move is sure to spark other such partnerships, but those partnerships will be in the minority. The rest of us need to find other ways to deliver amazing music to our listeners, while also making a living doing it. The old ways—make a song; sell it—can only remain insofar as it is one of a series of revenue streams for artists. The answer? Do what we musicians do best:

Be creative.

Posted on September 10, 2014 .