Archive for July, 2010

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DJ On A Dime: Michigan Talent Showcase

July 24, 2010

Image from Voxphoto @ Flickr

As my home state of Michigan struggles with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and the restructuring of its biggest city, let it be known that the state’s pedigree of top musical talent shows no signs of slowing down.

Like many Michigan natives in a troublesome economy (including myself), Rai Knight had to leave home and work on the West Coast and Scotland before she could come back and be a dope hot R&B singer on Detroit’s own FrontStreet records. Knight cites Gwen Stefani as an influence and it shows. Imagine if Stefani took a time machine back to 1961 and signed to Motown. Like a true D-Town resident, Knight comes on with the bite of a Cass Corridor buzz band. You can catch her single “Pivotal” for free on On Fire Music.

Staying in Detroit, we have Black Milk, an MC/Producer who has put in some time on the mixtape circuit, worked with the legendary Jay Dee/J Dilla (rest in peace) as well as some Rawkus and G-Unit alumni, has five albums under his belt and a new one, Album of the Year, due in September. Black Milk’s style is pure G-Funk: trippy keyboards and hard-ass drums. Check out a preview track, “Welcome (Gotta Go),” on RCRD LBL.

Finally, let’s head to one of Michigan’s fine cultural capitals, Ann Arbor. This college town produced Bob Seger, and now a new band is bringing the night moves. I first caught My Dear Disco in a dive bar in Birmingham, Alabama on a “Michigan Bailout Tour” with garage superstars The Hard Lessons. MDD’s electronica antics got me hooked! Unlike a lot of the dance-rock bands that are making waves, MDD’s members come from music school backgrounds, plus they are total hippies (they tour in a modified biofuel-burning bus), so their off-kilter rave music really stands out above the pack, plus their singer Michelle Chamuel sings with a richness that you don’t hear much anymore. Their website has some of their bootleg remixes and a mixtape from their DJ Body Rock up for grabs, and you can direct-buy their records from their Bandcamp page.

As a bonus hit, one of the top 5 contestants in MTV’s Twitter Jockey competition is a native Detroiter. Gabi Fresh is the founder of Young, Fat, and Fabulous, and she’s in the running to be MTV’s first jock on Twitter. Head to her page on MTV to get more info, or what the heck, just follow her on Twitter. Support Midwest talent. Support diverse talent. Hell, support TALENT.

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Declaration and Defense

July 21, 2010

Image from zen @ Flickr

What is people’s deal with trying to declare stuff dead? I mean, I understand why a performer like Jay-Z would declare “Death of AutoTune,” to separate himself from the younger, up-and-coming performers who have used the plug-in and establish himself as a more “classic” artist (btw AutoTune is still alive like GLaDOS, Hov). It was basically drawing a line in the authenticity sand, a branding ploy. That’s cool.

But knocking consumer devices? That just serves to push people away from a way of interacting with their stuff in which they are comfortable. Game consoles? Desktops? For your information, I just bought a desktop and I love it: cheap, big screen, not sitting on my legs overheating, etc. Likewise, I don’t and won’t trust cloud computing game services like OnLive until there is a legal guarantee that the server will stay up no matter what, because I want to be able to work digitally or play video games no matter what, even if a server crashes or Comcast decide to be jerks. Plus local gaming means instant gaming with no lag. Until the United States pulls a South Korea-like overhaul of its broadband systems (and it has far more pressing problems that it needs to solve first), reliable media activity service models will not be viable. You know who benefits from that hype? Phone companies.

But today I’m here to defend a music format: the Compact Disc. CNN has an article up called “Is the Death of the CD Looming?” The article cites the declining sales of CDs compared to the increase in digital album sales in the past year. I don’t disagree with this data, and the overall trend with how we consume information and media seems to be all-in-one devices streaming info over the internet. But I would hope that physical media still keeps getting made.

In the mid-2000s when I was a DJ at a radio station, I had to defend the CD format against the other dance music DJs who were often vinyl purists. Now I feel like my format is getting heat from the other side. I feel like I need to defend my choice, so here’s why CDs are a good format.

  1. They are physical without being cumbersome: I like physical media. I like something I can hold in my hands. I like packaging and liner notes. I like looking at a big media collection. I like grabbing a stack of CDs to play in my car. While vinyl has an artier quality to it and carries that air of authenticity, its size and durability make a large stack of them much harder to carry. Their size makes them portable. Vinyl is not portable.
  2. They are physical which can become high quality digital. For straight-up pure audio quality, vinyl is the best format to go, but they are tethered to the record player. CDs can be rocked on boom boxes, DVD players, and car CD players (which seem pretty common). They can also be ripped to a computer as long as it has a CD/DVD drive and you can get mp3s that sound great. Vinyl ripping, while possible, is much more difficult to get really good stuff. Your records can’t be scratched, you need good needles and/or cartridges, and your turntable has to be hooked up to your computer in just the right way. It’s possible, but it’s a hassle if you’re anything short of an audiophile.
  3. Not everything is up on the digital marketplace. Licensing deals, industry politics, and collapsing labels force iTunes and eMusic to take stuff off of their stores all of the time, which is so crummy. If I need to find a busted-up band or a mid-90s film soundtrack, I know I’ll have a much better shot of tracking things down at a good used music store. And I want to own my music, not keep paying some company money until my internet goes down or they go down and I lose everything in the end.
  4. CDs will be your backup discs. In 2008 my hard drive, which held all of the music I acquired from 2002 to 2006, crashed into an irreparable state. The cost to recover the data was too much for me, but luckily I could simply re-rip anything that I originally acquired on CD. Twas not the case for my iTunes purchases (and they make you re-buy anything you want to re-download). If you don’t have a spare hard drive around to be your backup disk, CDs will be there for you.

In short, I liken buying CDs to moving to the suburbs vs. the city or the country. In the country, there is untouched nature, open space, and freedom to move around. However, there’s no people, not a lot of places to go, and not a whole lot of stuff to really do. Plus the only internet you can get is dialup. Vinyl is the country: pure, simple, high quality, niche, and difficult. In the city, there’s a lot to do, places for all kinds of interests, a wide variety of resources at your fingertips, and the feeling that one is on the cutting edge. The clubs and the broadband are in the city. However, sometimes it feels like there are too many people in the streets, there are more thugs and muggers, you rent property, and it feels like no space is truly your own. Digital music is the city: diverse, quick, overpopulated, and dangerous. The suburbs are in between: more amenities than the country via big box stores and malls, more space than the city through neighborhood planning. CDs are the suburbs:  versatile, good quality, there are a lot of them, there’s some risk of damage, and there’s a sense of blandness. They’re in the middle, with all of the comfort and lack of risk that entails. Like the suburbs, CDs get a bad rap, but there’s a reason for how they got to where they are in the first place.

I don’t mean to come across as some luddite or oldster. Every music format has its advantages and disadvantages. I just think that every music consumer should have multiple options to how they buy music and support artists. Don’t hate, don’t exclude, and unless you’re a coroner, don’t declare things dead.

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Internet Roundup: Mixtape Meltdown

July 19, 2010

Image from cassettes @ Flickr

Maybe it’s just my ignorance on the topic, but it seems like there are a lot of neat free mixtapes from high profile artists hitting the internet. The past few weeks I’ve been listening to mixes from Big Boi, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and Cee Lo. Each mix is a free download, so there’s really nothing to complain about for any of them, but each works best in its own setting.

After the jump of course….

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Danger! Low Voltage!

July 14, 2010

Image from Amazon

On paper this seems like a bad idea. One of the most important pop music producers of the past 12-20 years teaming up with like Katy Perry and that guy from Nickelback. No wonder it’s called Shock Value II. Timbaland wants to show off the artists he can pull for collaborations, the variety of the beats he can make, and his versatility as a singer, rapper, and producer. The man has an ego. I mean, the lead single off of the first Shock Value was a four-minute, all-star diss track on rival producer Scott Storch. Then again, an ego is legit if the results back it up….

Full review after the jump….

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