Category: 20th Century

Music for Nothing?

musicMusicians the world over (maybe even more than other artistic people like authors or painters) have become outraged that their music be “worth” something. That with all the hard work involved being a songwriter and/or artists, they aren’t earning back enough to pay their bills and make a nice life, and perhaps music just isn’t even worth doing?

The 20th century brought recorded music via the phonograph, album, and CD. These made billions of dollars for musicians and record companies for just over 100 years. But now that the internet has brought music to the world through cheap and free streaming, music folk are screaming that they aren’t getting paid enough.

This is particularly true of those who were part of the insanely profitable music industry of the latter 20th century. But is money the only reason we make music? Is that the determining factor if we even go to the trouble to make it or not?

I just read an article where Roger Daltrey of the Who said they weren’t going to make a new album because it wouldn’t make any money.

“We’ve talked about it, but it’s not going to be easy. There’s no record industry anymore. Why would I make a record? I would have to pay to make a record. There’s no royalties so I can’t see that ever happening. There’s no record business. How do you get the money to make the records? I don’t know. I’m certainly not going to pay money to give my music away free. I can’t afford to do that. I’ve got other things I could waste the money on.” – Roger Daltrey

Then maybe you should indeed waste your money on other things, Roger. I’m sure you have enough. Perhaps your music isn’t important enough if you’re only making it for financial gain.

To me that says, you don’t want people to hear an artistic statement or even go to the trouble of making music if you don’t see good money from it. That’s just sad.

That kind of thinking goes against not just art, but why God gave us our talents in the first place. He didn’t say, “Here are talents to use and share with the world…but only if YouTube and Spotify pay well!”

“Music is the universal language of mankind.” ― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I believe our talents are our voice and our gift to the world. Everyone deserves, maybe even needs, to hear our songs even if they only get to listen once or come across it in a Facebook feed.

Your music may never pay the bills, but it may the music that soothes someone’s soul or pushes someone to pursue music themselves. What’s the cost/benefit ratio there? Is it worth it if you bring happiness, fulfillment, and joy to someone, even if you don’t get paid for it?

“If you can do anything else other than music, do that instead.”  ― Well known music quote.

Those of us who do music consistently (and sometimes for an attempt at a living) do it because we can’t NOT do it. We can’t possibly shut it off, stop the music from coming out, or not want to share it with the world.

For those of us like this, there is no way to wake up every day for the rest of our lives and just not do music. YES, of course we want to be paid well for our efforts, but if it does not, should we quit making it?

What I’d say to Roger is, if you can quit doing music, then maybe you should go do other things. Who are you, indeed!

“There is hardly any money interest in art, and music will be there when money is gone.” – Duke Ellington

Have a great week!

EC

Eric Copeland happens to make a living through music, but not necessarily his own. But he still makes what he feels he must and gets it out to the world. You can find out more at http://www.EricCopelandMusic.com

How Recordings Changed New Music

37924378_m“It’s the latest popular song,” declared the phonograph, speaking in a sulky tone of voice. “A popular song?” “Yes. One that the feeble-minded can remember the words of and those ignorant of music can whistle or sing. That makes a popular song popular, and the time is coming when it will take the place of all other songs.” – L. Frank Baum

Before the late 1800s the only way you heard music was if you went to hear it live, or someone was playing the piano in the home. So you actively went to hear chamber music, or opera, or other live events to hear the newest music. It was very much the same as when a new movie comes out. We are going to consume something new and we hope exciting. (More on that in a minute.)

But with the invention of the phonograph, suddenly you could have a recording of a song you loved and play it over and over. Thus the first century of recorded music was born, and so was an industry. Phonographs, and then the radio brought music to listeners so they could hear their songs all the time and fall in love with tunes.

“As recently as the late nineteenth century, even the most devoted music lover might hear his or her favourite piece just three or four times in his or her whole life. Unless you happened to be a virtuoso musician with access to both sheet music and instruments, it was almost impossible to bring large-scale forms of music into your own home. Not until the dawn of recording and radio technology did our ancestors have any great choice as to what they listened to and when.” – Howard Goodall

With so much recorded music available for people to consume, the tastes changed for what they wanted to hear at live concerts. No longer were they going to hear a concert to hear new music. Now they were going to hear their favorite recorded song.

Audiences began to (and still do) demand these favorites in concert, rather than new, original pieces by artists. This changed the way new music was introduced forever, and still holds today.

Amazing popular composers like Billy Joel, Elton John, and the Eagles aren’t actively writing and recording new songs because they know fans don’t really want to hear new songs when they go to their concerts. It’s not much different for current artists like Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, big bands or cover bands. Modern concert audiences want to hear what they’ve already heard recorded, not the newest thing the artists are working on.

To be honest there is much more money in live performance for artists, especially today. Why spend time writing, recording, and marketing new material that will bring in little in royalties, if you can just hook a tour, repackage, and keep selling the old stuff while making a tidy profit?

This Ain’t the Movies

“There’s no business like show business!” – Irving Berlin

The film industry has worked out a unique strategy that keeps money flowing quite well. It releases its newest movies mainly in stages. They start with a big blowout, large theatrical release, then it goes to smaller screen theaters, then to pay per view, then DVD/Bluray, then Netflix, cable, broadcast, etc). It’s an amazing cycle of marketing opportunities and makes money every step of the way.

New music has been introduced for more than a century as a recorded form that people are inundated with first. Sure there still may be some orchestral works that have live premieres, but popular music by and large is blasted out to ears whether they want it or not. And those that have the deepest pockets get their music heard the most.

Don’t think people haven’t tried to think of ways of doing this “windowing” technique and trying to release music to CD then downloads then streaming. It just hasn’t and won’t work. People now want to stream it the minute it is released. It’s not about convenience for the artist or label, it’s about the wants and needs of the consumer.

The funny part of all this is that recorded music had an unparalleled run through the last century, due in part to technology starting with the phonograph through the CD. But the tech of this century has now put us in a quandary on the future of the whole recording industry.

Will we ever go back to hearing (or wanting) new music live again? Or will we continue to depend on media tastemakers to tell us what the best new music is?

Your thoughts (and best guesses!) are welcome.

“So people will come along and do new things and sometimes return to the spirit of an earlier age.” – Norman McLaren

Have a great week!

EC

John Eric Copeland is not a musicologist, or a fortune teller, but through the writings and community of Music History Matters, he can look back and see the parallels and lessons of the past in music today.

The Story of Music, by Howard Goodall

Story-of-Music_3DA Book Review by John Eric Copeland, MusicHistoryMatters.org

So, it’s not often I read a whole music history book from cover to cover. To be honest, most I start, or skim, or read parts that interest me. But The Story of Music, by Howard Goodall, got my attention from the start and kept it until the very last page.

In fact, I don’t often write book reviews but felt this book would benefit the readers of this blog as well as any folks who may be interested in music history from a sociological point of view like I am.

The subtitle for the book is “From Babylon to the Beatles, How Music has Shaped Civilization.” While this may be a tad hyperbolic, Goodall does a good job making sure this book clings tightly to what’s going on in the world and how each period relates to the people at that time. In fact, the book wastes no time getting to that very thing in its first paragraph.

“You may think that music is a luxury, a plug-in to make human life more enjoyable. That would be a fair supposition in the twenty-first century, but our hunter-gatherer ancestors wouldn’t have agreed. To them, music was much more than mere entertainment.” (pg 6)

And from here we are off. Starting with early civilizations of cavemen, Goodall begins The Story of Music. From there we traverse through time, eventually touching on the first known composer, “a spectacularly clever and imaginative German woman, Hildegard of Bingen, who was born in 1098.”

“Instead of handing on the tried and tested chants, as had been the norm in earlier centuries, Hildegard made up her own chant tunes. This seems to us an obvious thing to do, but in the twelfth century it was both daring and unexpected.” (pg 27)

One of the things I love about this book is how accessible it makes music history to us who are living and working in music now. This is something I think is crucial to keeping the history of music relatable and helpful in ours and students’ future professional music lives. Almost every important point is correlated to how we deal with music today and that makes this book relevant, even though many are stories we already have heard or know well.

“The distance in form, intention, mood and expression between Schubert’s songs for voice and piano and those of, say, Adele is remarkably short, considering they are separated by two hundred years. The only thing that would shock Schubert about ‘Someone like you’ is the fact that a young woman is the song’s creator, not its object.” (pg 221)

One important aspect this book brings up several times is how the advent and subsequent accessibility of recordings brought about something that continues to plague music to this day.

“At a concert in February 1814, for example, Beethoven presented the première of his eighth symphony alongside a performance of his seventh, which itself was only two months old. No one at the time thought this unusual. By the mid-twentieth century, however, the tables had been turned: old favourites became the bread and butter of live concerts, with new works squeezed in between them apologetically.” (pg 313)

Goodall speaks extensively in several different points in the book about the early glut of classical recordings and how audiences began to prefer to hear their old favorites in concert, rather than new music. This isn’t only a classical music problem, as pop music audiences often prefer the songs they know and love to new music at concerts. More on this in a future article.

The books ends with a very optimistic flair and, as is the case with the whole book, Goodall brings the history of music to a close with our current music situation.

“J. S. Bach was probably the cleverest composer who ever lived, but he gave his performers almost no detailed instructions as to how they might play his sublime music. He hastily scribbled down the notes and left them to it. It is as if he is saying, ‘trust me, and play’.

We, more than any previous generation, can readily identify with Bach’s request. We press ‘play’ and a million styles, sounds, aural colours, echoes and voices breeze in towards us as if through an opened window. We are like children with a thousand games at our fingertips. We have, at last, reached a point where there are no wrong or right decisions about what music we may or may not enjoy – just one gratifyingly simple instruction: ‘play’.”

Review by John Eric Copeland, MusicHistoryMatters.org

 

Excerpts From: Goodall, Howard. “The Story of Music.” Open Road Integrated Media, 2013-12-04T16:43-06:00. iBooks.

This material may be protected by copyright.

Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itun.es/us/WI8YU.l

Or at Amazon here.

Mrs. Poynter, Bernstein’s West Side Story, and the First Moments of my Music Maturity

94ff7-west-side-storyGod bless Mrs. Poynter! She was a perky young teacher that I had in ninth grade, and thank goodness she had some amount of artistic leanings.

One day, as part of our assignment on something, she told us we would be watching Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s West Side Story. Now, personally, I feel this is one of the great works of the 20th Century. Growing up, I had the album at home and I had listened to it many times with only the LP album art to clue me in on what the characters looked like.

But Mrs. Poynter changed all that.

The janitor wheeled the TV and VCR into our ninth grade room one afternoon, and the lights were turned out. Everyone was glad we weren’t doing some kind of silly work, even if it was a boring musical. For me however, it was a life-changing experience.

From the first moments of the film, the high whistles and the mysterious percussion bring a sense of mystery. To be honest, we all giggled when the tough guys started ballet dancing, but it was the music that hooked me. Still when I watch or listen to the first numbers before and during “When You’re a Jet” I love the flowing sax and string lines intertwining with larger orchestral melodies. It builds and flows, and carries the performers along like they are in a river.

Then later when an old style march transforms quickly into a tumultuous mambo, Bernstein really gets going. One minute the strings and woodwinds are plodding along in a very honky traditional fashion, then Bernstein somehow devolves into horns blaring the stabbing lines of the Latin number. Everyone yells “Mambo” and it’s off to the races.

But still the defining moment is coming. A moment that makes me realize I may be a little different from my fellow students.

The song “Maria” begins with a very 20th Century and now classic melody. Through the song, kind of like Tony knowing “Something’s Coming” earlier, I was hearing this genius melody (and lyric, “say it loud and there’s music playing, say it soft and it’s almost like praying”. Wow, nice Sondheim.) But towards the end, when the entire key changes for the tag (“The most beautiful sound I ever heard…”), then Bernstein writes the notes that forever changed me. “Mari-a.” Ending back on the third of the original key. Gasp.

A chill went up my spine that day. I might have cried, don’t remember. I hope not because that was the year I finally got that bully off my back.

But I DO remember looking around at all the other kids. They were sleeping, or pulling each other’s hair, or staring off into space bored. They were NOT having chills. They were NOT on the verge of tears. Those notes meant nothing to them. Those notes would not stop them in their tracks anytime they heard them the rest of their life.

That’s when I knew I was different. I wasn’t writing songs yet, or even singing (although I was playing trombone in band), but I knew “something was coming”. I was headed for a life that had to do with notes, chords, and orchestration like Bernstein wrote there.

WHY THIS MATTERS:

We all had a teacher, a parent, or someone that inspired us, or helped make a connection to something that drove us more into music. Mrs. Poynter was certainly not the only music influence, or maybe the most important music teacher in my life, but this incident I will always remember.

Do you have an incident like this? If so, share it below.

EC

John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist, but he does play one on the Internet. For more on his unique twist on Music History and why it matters today, subscribe to this blog or join us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

Dvořák and the Struggle for Success

It’s easy when you’re an artistic person, whether you’re a music composer, author, singer, painter, or anyone creative…sometimes you just feel tired of beating your head against the same wall.

Is it all really worth it? Will anyone ever take note of your hard work?

For the first 20 or so years of his professional career, Antonin Dvořák struggled to find widespread success. He managed to make a living as a musician, but he faced challenges including having an opera spurned as “unperformable”.

But somewhere along the way he caught the ear of Johannes Brahms, who Dvořák himself admired. Through Brahms he found a publisher and began to find a larger audience eventually receiving commissions by the Royal Philharmonic Society of London, and becoming the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City.

In an article he wrote for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in February 1895, Dvořák had this to say about art and “making it”.

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly that art, as such, does not “pay,” to use an American expression – at least, not in the beginning – and that the art that has to pay its own way is apt to become vitiated and cheap.”

Wow, doesn’t that sound familiar? More than anything, Dvořák understood that the real value of being an artist is in mentoring and educating of younger artists, as Dvořák was mentored by Brahms.

“My own duty as a teacher, I conceive, is not so much to interpret Beethoven, Wagner, or other masters of the past, but to give what encouragement I can to the young musicians of America.”

WHY THIS MATTERS:

Perhaps you can find that mentor that can help you to the next level of your artistic success, or perhaps you can BE that mentor to someone you know who is struggling.

We all need it, especially in an age where the master/apprentice model has seemed to be harder to find.

Have a great week!

EC

John Eric Copeland is not a musicologist, but he does play one on the Internet. For more on his unique twist on Music History and why it matters today, subscribe to this blog or join us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

Debussy vs. Atonality

18995-schoenberg-of-borg
Schoenberg of Borg

Subtitle 1: Resistance is Futile
Subtitle 2: Star Trek vs. The Berg

(It will really help if you have some kind of Trek background here.)

I have a theory about almost anything by Debussy. If you put his music behind the original Star Trek shows it works perfectly as the backdrop music when Kirk is spouting off some soliloquy, or when they are on a strange planet (which is much like the one they were on last week).

As I listen to The Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun”, I swear I could see Captain Kirk with some green chick on a planet, where the fake plastic flowers are purple and green. The flute descending and rising with the shimmering strings behind…well it just puts me in the mood to see some bad acting.

See if I’m not right: 

The calm, flowing melodies beautifully paint the picture of an afternoon on a clearing (where alien deer roam perhaps?). Flute gives way to clarinet, as the score gets deeper, and more complex. It would be hard to imagine the composer of this piece moving totally into atonality, and in fact Debussy flirted with and came back from that direction. He was not assimilated by it.

Schoenberg and his drones, Webern and Berg however, were fully seduced by the dark side of atonality and the pure difference of it.

In a similar fashion to how Debussy would have fit so well in the classic, sixties Star Trek score, Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces could be scored behind modern Star Trek’s most feared foe. The horror, the dissonance, the pure mechanical and obtuseness of it fits the evil robot Borg race, as they seek to take from what has been and use what they want for their own devices.

Almost scary as it gets going, with twists and turns chromatically, percussion slamming out of nowhere like a bad acid trip in a haunted house, The Berg come at you from all directions as seems typical with atonal pieces. Shields are not holding! There seems no defense (except to turn it off as one critic in his day stood and demanded.)

I’ve always felt atonal music seemed random, obtuse on purpose, as if the composer was drunk and just wrote whatever notes he fashioned. “Ha, let’s hear this together. That will freak them right out. Resistance is futile, helpless turn of the century earthlings! You will be assimilated to this new music, and like it!”

In the Three Orchestral Pieces third movement, Berg both paid tribute to and mocks Beethoven’s Fifth. You can almost hear Schoenberg, Webern and Berg speaking monotone as one to the previous Viennese School composer. “We take what we want, and will add your musical and technological distinctiveness to our own.”

While you can hear snippets of atonality with Debussy, it’s obvious that melody just won out. Like the malevolent Federation in Star Trek that only seeks to seek out new life and new civilizations in peace, Debussy was willing to explore the unknown. He just made sure he came back to Earth.

But Schoenberg (classical music’s equivalent of the Borg Queen) and his drones were not interested in beauty, peace, and easy harmony. They craved disharmony, all for various reasons probably. And like the Borg, once they got a taste of the power, the complete look of astonishment, and the sheer outrage of those who did not understand what they were doing, they knew they were doing something right.

In the end, they formed a new race of being, a new complete school of music.

And the galaxy of music would never be the same.

Kirk out.

John Eric Copeland loved Star Trek long before music history, but now sees the value in both. KAAAAAAAHN!

Why You Are Like Bach, Mozart, or Schoenberg

I think the really amazing thing about studying music history for me has been the way it has shown the similarities between the masters, and myself and other artists I work with daily. While most musicologists focus on musical forms, genres, and theoretical tendencies, what interests me is how I am like Mozart, or Bach, or Miles.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not compare myself to them technically or musically. They would all laugh at my MIDI accomplishments and “producer” title. Bach would shake his head, Miles would turn his back, and Mozart would just giggle I imagine.
But comparing how they lived and worked, how they loved and dealt with daily life, that is where we can see who we are. Because we, as current artisans, are just reflections of those before us. They dealt with fame, work, and love (or the lack of them) just as we must.

So whom do you resemble? Let’s use a short list here and see if you fit in one of these three types:

1. Maybe you’re Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach was the equivalent of today’s modern church music director. If you have a steady music gig at a church or school, then you and Bach have lived similar lives.

Bach served as “Cantor” or music leader of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany from 1723 until his death in 1750. He was also musical director at the principal churches in town.

As you may know, his output was voluminous, but you would expect him to have written a lot when he had to have music ready for the week’s services for 27 years! Plus he had similar jobs back to 1708. Dude had a resume!

You may work on a lot of songs too every week, getting things ready for Sunday services or for classes. It may seem overwhelming, and it may seem somewhat under-appreciated.

But so was Bach. Although he was highly respected in Europe as an organist during his lifetime, he really didn’t become infamous as “Bach, the composer that defines the Baroque period we all know and love” until a revival of his music in the 19th century.

So take heart, Bach-ites. Maybe somewhere in 2123 is when your genius will be discovered and revered for all time.

(In the meantime, enjoy some Bach and get back to your planning…)

2. Maybe you’re Mozart.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was simply the Michael Jordan of music history. I mean yes, you have Bach, and Beethoven, and many that are masters without doubt. But Mozart was the natural. The prodigy that would never be denied even as a child or on his deathbed. His works are varied, and original, and striking.

But despite the unique and powerful works, his financial life and personal life were kinda iffy. Like many musicians, especially the really crazy gifted ones, he put way more emphasis on creating than he did a steady gig. Especially since that meant having to “be” what princes or other possible benefactors wanted from him. He taught piano to rich ladies, and wrote operas and other things on demand for folks, but truly just wanted to write songs to his own liking, not what others wanted.

You may fall into this kind of thinking sometimes. I know I do. My whole creative life has been about doing things my way. I skipped piano lessons, scoffed at a music degree, and never really embraced traditional music gigs or jobs. Instead I built a music business I could totally do my way.

But at what cost!

This kind of attitude, a decision that you want to live as a creative musician doing art your way has it downsides. And one downside is that money can slow to a trickle fast. It did for Mozart. He liked to live with his wife in a big fancy house with servants and buy pianos, but the truth was he went into debt doing it and was still trying to get out of debt at the time of his death.

Being like Mozart is a two-sided coin. You have a talent for music, but yet demand music fit into life the way you feel it should rather than more traditional means.

(Hide your bills, and enjoy some Mozart, and then write something amazing whether it sells or not…)

3. Maybe you’re Schoenberg.

Arnold Schoenberg probably isn’t as known to you, but he is a very important figure in the history of music, not that you’d probably care for his music. Well, maybe you’d feel comfortable with his early music, which just echoed and continued the tradition of Wagner and Brahms.

But Schoenberg developed the “twelve-tone” technique, which kind of put western music on its ear. The random sounding music can kind of sound a little like a horror movie score on acid. It purposely went away from the harmonics and tonality of the previous two centuries. A whole way of thinking (the Second Viennese School) with other composers following Schoenberg’s evolution came next, and the 20th century started out with a crash. At least that’s kind of what it sounded like.

How could this relate to you? I hear folks all the time declaring how music, or any genre, is stale and the same old, same old. So, they break away from what everyone else is doing, and try something radically different, often breaking the established rules of musical taste of the time. At first people may not like it, but sometimes new music has to cause a revolt before it becomes famous. (See Disco.)

Some of his early concerts of the new atonal stuff actually caused fights in the audience. Schoenberg himself tried to physically escort troublemakers out of the concert hall.

Now hopefully you won’t have to do this, but you may come up against criticism or haters when you are trying to do something different.

(Tune them out and listen to some Schoenberg. Or send it to them for torture…)

WHY THIS MATTERS:

Each of us can read the history of the lives of composer and find traits that reflect us today. That’s the beauty, and real value of studying music history. We learn from the masters, who were just real, frail, vulnerable people, like you.

Have a great week!

EC
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Eric Copeland is a producer, composer, and paid artist nurturer. Whether he’s right or not, he firmly believes the knowledge of music history can help musicians and artsy types in the present. Be part of the fun by joining the Blog, Twitter, Facebook, or…Telegram.