Category Archives: Music Business

Mumford & Sons’s Ballsy Career Move

One way bands explode on the music scene and sell millions of records is to spearhead an entire genre at the right time. Take Mumford & Sons–they’ve made countryside rocking bluegrass hot, and themselves a big pile of money.

Then the bandwagon gets heavy, slow, and plodding. The idyllic countryside becomes a chic marketing strategy (looking at you, Lumineers) and the music becomes a little less pure, a little more annoying–almost insulting. If not careful, the spearhead becomes dead weight.

So how do you stop from becoming a punchline? If you’re Mumford & Sons, you plunge the spearhead deep into the shriveling heart of the genre itself. You parody yourselves and every quality people will eventually hate you for–the down-home posture; the banjo shredding; the brotherly harmonies; the emotional orgasm of every song. And you do it with a music video featuring some of the most likable actors of your target demographic.

You might think this would be band suicide. And I guess that’s possible. But a preemptive strike such as this forces you to take a side. It places a decision at your feet–whether you will remain a fan of the music (and the band) for what is, not just when it is. It’s a decision that Mumford & Sons knows damn well you’d make anyway, eventually. Only now, it’s on their terms. They just took control of their own fate.

My decision is made. Long live Mumford.

2011 Grammys Recap

That was the most entertaining Grammy Awards I’ve ever seen. Naturally, controversy will be called — perhaps because Justin Bieber lost Best New Artist to Esperanza Spaliding (who?), or that Lady Antebellum won Song of the Year. But while the actual awards given out at the 2011 Grammys might have been a bit random they were, for the most part, fair. But that’s not the story.

The 2011 Grammy Awards showcased the magic of live music performance. It started with Lady Gaga, who lived up to her zaniness with “Born This Way.” And although she had some sort of mutant/alien thing going on, it was somehow tastefully tame, by her standards.

Cee Lo Green channeled Elton John then out-did him by breezing through the feel-good “Forget You” complete with a Muppet backing band — yes, awesome Muppets — all while wearing a massive peacock-as-gladiator costume. Unfortunately, Gwyneth Paltrow caused an awkward distraction.

But the performance everyone was waiting for would come from Eminem. With a backdrop of raging fire, Shady did “Love the Way You Lie Part 2,” and he killed it. He was sharp, agitated and explosive. Afterward, the Grammy audience was buzzing, literally, during the next award introduction. See video of Eminem’s 2011 Grammy performance, below.

Mumord and Sons did justice to their genre, along with Avett Brothers and a still-alive Bob Dylan. Rhianna sounded great. Incidentally, am I the only one that feels like she’s crossing into skank territory up there? There were other notables, including Justin Bieber and … Barbara Streisand.

Finally, Arcade Fire’s blistering rendition of “Month of May” prefaced the most shocking of all the awards — victory for Album of the Year. It’s a much-needed breath of fresh air for the mainstream music industry. And what better way to close out the awards? As @SPIN put it, “Win Butler just casually placed a Grammy on top of his amp. Then started playing the best song he ever wrote.”

The 2011 Grammy Awards was a huge success for music. Mostly, because such incredible care was put into the music itself, the stages, and the performances. It was fun. Diversity was on display and every performer brought their best to the stage. Except for J. Lo and Marc Anthony. What the hell was that?

List of winners and nominees.

Eminem performs “Love the Way You Lie, Part 2″


The Black Keys and the Evolution of Music Video

We all know the traditional music video is dead — MTV took care of that a long time ago. But there’s always room for innovation. And so it appears with The Black Keys’ latest video for the song, “Howlin’ For You.” Could this be the next evolution of the music video?

The video (below) plays out like a movie trailer — interesting enough — but with the song itself providing just background music. The video is a full narrative and there’s even a full cast; including Corbin Bernsen, former Playboy model Tricia Helfer and “Sir” Todd Bridges of Diff’rent Strokes. The Black Keys’ stuffed dinosaur even makes an appearance.

This is the first time I’ve seen a music video that actually puts the music in the background, instead focusing much more on the narrative. But it’s not the first time The Keys have experimented with video. The aforementioned dinosaur starred in “Next Girl” and an early music video release of “Tighten Up,” both of which took a decidedly less-than-traditional approach to the music video.

It’s an interesting concept and, really, it makes sense. Thanks to YouTube and the Flip handheld video camera, fans can watch countless hours of live footage of their favorite bands. And that’s great. But it also means that the standard music video needs to offer more than just stylized re-creations of a performance (I’m looking at you, Pearl Jam). They need to tell a story. Well, mission accomplished with “Howlin’ For You.”

So, while the music video is no longer a factor on television, it could be that we are entering the next golden era of the music video … online. Are The Black Keys onto something here?

Watch the video, and you tell me.


Sound Citizen Radio 18: Gigmaven Launch Party

This week on Sound Citizen Radio we preview the Gigmaven coming out party with four great Chicago bands. Gigmaven comes to Chicago with a service that helps local bands book shows at various venues in the city – a valuable service to artists of all kinds. Gigmaven, in association with HEAVE Media, is putting on a show January 6 at Subterranean to celebrate their launch. On the lineup are four great Chicago artists. You can hear them all, right now.

Please get out and support your Chicago music scene. This week’s lineup:

Dozens, “Lacuna”

Netherfriends, “I’m Gonna Start”

The Lonliest Monk, “The Ghost and the Silhouette”

Wolf in a Spacesuit, “Bark of a Cedar”

If you have suggestions for future episodes of Sound Citizen Radio, please send an email.

Vote for Sound Citizen as a Chicago Reader “Best”

First, let me thank you all for being supporters of Sound Citizen. I love this website, and I love Chicago and music. But without people such as yourselves, all of it would be meaningless.

You’re waiting for a “catch” aren’t you? Well here it is: Chicago Reader is running their “Best of Chicago 2010″ contest and I would be downright indebted if you would help earn Sound Citizen the title of Best Local Music Blog. There’s no cash reward or anything like that but it would go a long way toward getting more exposure for Sound Citizen and helping fulfill our commitment to promoting the local music scene. In short, the more people know about Sound Citizen, the more we can promote this city’s amazing music scene and all the bands and individuals behind it.

Here’s what to do:

You can go to this Chicago Reader contest page, then type in in the space under “Best local music blog,” about halfway down the page.

Alternatively, you can vote via text message. Text ‘CR42′ to 30364. You will get a message reply asking for your vote for best local music blog. Just type and hit send. That’s it.

Remember, this is Chicago — vote early and often. There’s no limit to the number of submissions.

Thank you for your votes and continued support.


Rolling Stone Opens up the Archives (for a price)

Rolling Stone magazine has a long, rich history. Arguably, it’s the most important publication and resource in the music industry. Now, along with a website redesign comes a new business model, called Rolling Stone All Access. You can access every piece of their 43-year history through their website … if you want to pay for it.

While much of the online content will remain free, to access the archives you can pay $3.95 per month, or $29.95 for one year, which includes a subscription to the print magazine. A regular subscription costs $19.95.

If you’re serious about music and music history, this is a pretty nifty feature. According to the website, you will get, “Every review we ever published, every cover and the deepest, most thoughtful interviews with rock legends, from John Lennon to Lil Wayne, Bob Dylan to Kurt Cobain – and 43 years of journalism that has defined our times, from Hunter S. Thompson to P.J. O’Rourke to Matt Taibbi. Give yourself a few hours, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the stories of our era: the good times and the bad, the culture, the politics and all the ridiculous hairstyles.”

In this day and age, the print industry needs every bit of revenue it can muster. And Rolling Stone is doing it right. Instead of cutting back at the expense of the readers, they are offering more – content that took decades to create and is of the highest quality. While most of the website will remain free, hardcore music fans should have no problem paying for a little extra. And, this fine publication gets a little insurance against a shrinking industry. That’s music to my ears. You can keep your e-readers – I like flipping actual paper when I read.