Friday, May 8, 2009

Yeasayer and Indie Labels

Yeasayer, a self-proclaimed (even if jokingly, but a true statement) Brooklyn buzz band (check out episode 75, part 4, 6:30 in), inhabits a spot in pop music somewhere between where melodious Beach Boy vocal harmonies meet ethnic/tribal beats with a pure, groovy, dance rhythm.

Comprised of four members, Chris Keating, Anand Wilder, Ira Wolf Tuton, and Luke Fasano, the band fuses elements from countless different genres to create a genre-less sound (Foster).  They’ve toured across the country, overseas, and have been on the bill for several large festivals, including Lollapalooza, and the upcoming Bonnaroo, all while on a very small independent label known as We Are Free, consisting of only three employees and a recently hired intern (Foster).  Pretty damn impressive for both the band and the label, right?  So, why did Yeasayer decide to do it this way instead of on a larger label?  What is it that indie labels are doing and have been doing for years for the music industry?  What do indie labels provide to bands that major labels do not?  In this post, I’m going to be discussing some possible answers to these questions, and to the larger question of why bands in general would choose an indie record label over a major one.


For the research on this, I took an ethnographic approach by conducting interviews, examining scholarly sources, and finding as many video interviews that I could of Yeasayer on the web.  I was not only able to talk to fans of the music about the idea of indie labels vs. major labels, but I was also able to get in contact with Jason Foster, one of the three employees at We Are Free, which proved to be a great resource.


Since around the 50’s with the explosion of rock and roll, indie labels have served a very important role in the music industry.  They were defined through a set of beliefs about the importance of musical ‘difference’, the declaration of an ‘alternative’ cultural sensibility, the Romantic myth of the artist, and, ultimately, the need to maintain a business and cultural separation from a record industry defined and utterly dominated by the major labels (Lee). 

Peterson and Berger pointed out in their 1975 study that, in the time period from 1956-1959, new competition in the music industry came from a “spate of under-financed independent companies like Atlantic, Chess, Dot, Imperial, Monument, and Sun Records,” not from the big movie industry transfers into like Columbia, MGM, 20th Century Fox, or Paramount.  

These new independent labels increased competition within the music industry and subsequently helped bring more diversity and innovation to the industry.  Indie labels brought new diversity, but the majors still had effective control over the distribution and exposure in the popular music market.  Over four-fifths of all the artists in the annual pop charts in the 80’s were manufactured or distributed by the top four record companies (Lopes).  In an essay published in 1996, Peter Alexander reported that six large international firms accounted for nearly 98 percent of the output.  Thirteen years later though, things are certainly different, due much in part to the evolving technologies of today.

Today, even more so than in the past, indie labels are bringing newer, more experimental, more diverse music to the industry that targets niche audiences, widening the range of sounds available for consumption.  Indie labels’ proximity to their desired audience (they often use grassroots approaches to distribution and publicity), their market specialization, their willingness to experiment with recording technology, and their self-sustaining infrastructure (they also often stay within the indie realm when manufacturing) allow indies to bypass the restrictions of majors and produce a brand new music (Hancox).  Changing technology is also making it easier and easier for smaller labels to compete with majors.  The Internet has made it incredibly easier for a band to get their name out there, and also the creation of digital download services is making distribution on a wide scale much easier.  Jason Foster from We Are Free highlighted this in one of the questions I asked him:


Distribution is shifting as digital downloads are becoming the predominant way to sell records so I put a lot of focus on my relationships with those at iTunes, Emusic, and the like.  Yeasayer sold more through digital distribution then physical in fact, but this number may change now that the stores are more familiar with the band.


So sure, technology is making it easier to get bands out there (on a domestic and international level), but still, why choose a small label instead of a major?  As seen in my first set of fieldnotes, MGMT, a fellow Brooklyn band, that released their album within a month of Yeasayer’s, has about 47 million more plays and 12 million more profile views on their Myspace page than Yeasayer does.  MGMT signed to Columbia, a major label, which could be why they are so more widely known.  Why not sign to a major label when these are the results of it?  I will be trying to answer these questions in the next section.


One reason for choosing an indie label over a major one, that seems to be a shared thought between both bands and fans alike, is authenticity of the music.  Steve, a fan of Yeasayer, and only one of the seven people out of fifty that I asked who knew Yeasayer, touches on this point of authenticity in an interview that I conducted with him:   


Guitarist for Yeasayer, Anand Wilder, also touches on this point in an interview conducted on


With a major label I feel like there’s somewhat of a disadvantage because you’re on a major label, people kind of assume a level of inauthenticity with the product.  I could see more of a backlash if we, if our next album, we went completely pop, and we were on a major label, I could see there being a way bigger backlash than if we put out a super pop album that we made in our basement.  ‘Cause there’s just more of a story with that, like, these guys made shit that sounds exactly like Britney Spears in their basement.


On indie labels, bands are free to flex their creative muscles without the pressure of anyone but themselves deciding how their music is going to sound.  No one but the members of Yeasayer writes their music; they are the mind, We Are Free has others help fulfill their ideas and thoughts (Foster).  On a major label, which is a lot of times concerned with making the most money out of a product, a producer may be chosen by the label and his ideas put upon the music, in the interests of the label, not the band.  Creative freedom is something that could be lost when on a major label, while it is kept in tact on indie labels.

Another reason for choosing an indie label over a major one could be comfort and trust in the people that will be working with the band.  On a major label, a band can be just one of upwards of a hundred (check out the list of bands on Columbia), and if they are a new signing, they could be low man on the totem pole, stuck in the shadows of bigger acts on the same label.  On an indie label, bands are one of a handful, each getting the attention and creative freedom they need.  When asked how We Are Free got Yeasayer to sign to their label, Jason Foster, after sketching out a brief summary of how he got in really early and hit it off well with the band right away had this to say:


The music industry can be a scary place where people make promises they don't keep and say things that are far from true.  So it’s most important to work with people you are comfortable with, share your ideas, and allow you to pursue your vision as an artist.


All in all, it seems that Yeasayer, and indie bands similar to them, choose indie labels over major ones because of creative freedom, authenticity of music, and trust and comfort in the people on the labels that work closely with them.


So where to once an indie band gains a wide range of popularity?  For some, it would be on to a larger indie, just as Yeasayer is doing now, switching over to a larger indie with more manpower, while We Are Free continues to manage them.  But for others, they shift over to larger major labels (a prime example is Death Cab for Cutie’s switch from Barsuk to Atlantic for the release of Plans and Narrow Stairs).  This switch from indie to major after gaining success leads me to question some things that I would like to explore through further research: what do fans think it means to sell out, and also what do bands themselves think it means to sell out?

Word Count: 1,520


Alexander, Peter J. “Entropy and Popular Culture: Product Diversity in the Popular Music Recording Industry.” American Sociological Review Vol. 61, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), p. 171-174. JSTOR.  

First Yeasayer picture:

Hancox, Aaron M., “Under One Roof: Independent Record Labels & the Proliferation of Rock & Roll.” Popular Musicology Online Issue 5, Style & Interpretation, 2005. 
Jason Foster, We Are Free, interview

Lee, Stephen. “Re-examining the concept of the ‘independent’ record company: the case of Wax Trax! Records.” Popular Music Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), p. 13-31. JSTOR.  

Lopes, Paul D. “Innovation and Diversity in the Popular Music Industry, 1969 to 1990.” American Sociological Review Vol. 57, No. 1 (Feb., 1992), p. 56-71. JSTOR.  

Peterson, Richard A., and David G. Berger. “Cycles in Symbol Production: The Case of Popular Music.” American Sociological Review Vol. 40, No.2 (Apr., 1975), p. 158-173. JSTOR.

Second Yeasayer picture:

Steve interview

Sun Records picture: mystery-t.gif


Monday, April 20, 2009

Wald's "Mexican Ballads in the Modern Age," Critical Review

In his article, "Mexican Ballads in the Modern Age," Wald discusses the corrido (the Mexican ballad that the title refers to), and it's newer, more hard-edged version, the narcocorrido, which emerged in the early 1970s.  Both have continuously acted as a sort of newspaper, delivering cultural information to their audiences.  The narcocorrido has received some negative stigmas and has been related to ganster rap because of its tales of drug trafficking, gun fights, and general violence, but even with the shift in subject matter, the music itself has still remained relatively unchanged.  Even though criticism has arisen surrounding the narco trend of the corrido, Wald wants to point out that corridos have still remained extremely popular due to the fact that people actually believe in the songs, and if the artists wanted to, as Enrique Franco is quoted, "they could make a revolution."

Question: Corrido's have become a very popular form of music, has broken into top 10 charts, and is a large money maker for record labels, all the while, holding on to it's roots, and from what I understand from the article, is still solely(?) sung in Spanish.  Why do you think that the corrido has been able to hold such a strong tie to its roots when other music/musicians (I'm thinking Shakira and others that had songs not in English) changed their ways to fit the surrounding culture?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wayne&Wax "We Use So Many Snares" Critical Review

In "we use so many snares," wayne discusses various methods for producing reggaeton, the rise in fans of the music producing their own reggaeton beats, and the 3+3+2 syncopation that's played on the snare (the snare being any one of hundreds of snare sounds).  Fans, and even some bigger producers alike, are using a software programs called FruityLoops to produce these rhythms and beats, and because the software is so easy to use, it's making it easier for more and more so called amateur producers to make good reggaeton beats.  Reggaeton has been spreading around the world from its contested roots (puerto rico or panama), and it's becoming more and more a popular form of music for all kinds of people.  One thing that Wayne makes sure to point out a few times is that reggaeton is internet/digital music par excellence and this fact could be the reason why reggaeton is starting to spread throughout the world.

Question:  Do you think as many fans of other music genres attempt to recreate/make their own rhythms/beats as those of reggaeton do, or do you think it is more accessible and easily done for fans of reggaeton because the syncopation is more standardized?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Field Notes #2

So, I've decided to shift the focus of my project a little bit to what I mentioned in the end of my first field notes post.  I've decided to do a sort of comparison between Brooklyn bands on major labels (MGMT) vs. Brooklyn bands on indie labels (Yeasayer).  I emailed an interview, well interview questions, to Yeasayer a little while ago and am still waiting on their responses, and hopefully I get them before the final topic post's due date.  Some examples of questions that I sent them were: 
"Where are all of you originally from?" 
"Why did you decided to settle in Brooklyn?" 
"What made you ultimately decide on signing with WeAreFree and what's it like to be on a smaller label?" 
"How influential is WeAreFree on the musical creativity process, if they are at all?  With the upcoming album, did they choose a producer for you, or is that your own choice?"

I also found some great videos of interviews with Yeasayer.  Here's one, courtesy of, where they discuss the making of pop music, production values of songs, and feelings about major labels:

Here's another video, courtesy of, that focuses on the Brooklyn scene in general, and Yeasayer and other bands such as Grizzly Bear and A Place to Bury Strangers talk a little bit about the shift of the NYC music scene to Brooklyn:

In this one, courtesy of, Yeasayer performs 2080, a single from their album All Hour Cymbals, for KEXP, then they answer a few interview questions about such things as where they're all from and how they got their name out there.  I guess what I found most interesting about this video, which I just saw for the first time tonight (Monday, April 13) was that new york noise decided to show their Yeasayer segment and their MGMT music video back to back. I'm not sure why they did this, but I like it, and it makes me feel like I've picked two bands that other people maybe are trying to look at together too. Anyway, here's the video:

So, I'm going to be trying to look at why bands choose indie labels over major labels (with the focus being on those that I've chosen from Brooklyn).  I may also be exploring more the idea of selling out, what it means to other people, what it means to bands, etc.  I'm really hoping that Yeasayer gets back to me by the time the final blog post is due.  I also am going to try to get in contact with MGMT, and if I can't do that, I'm hoping I will at least be able to talk to one of Columbia's reps to see what they do in terms of producing their bands, and also how the promotional aspects of their company works.  Along that same idea, I think I'm going to see the same thing with Yeasayer's label We Are Free.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Interview excerpt: Steve

Steve: ...I mean I always consider MGMT like party music, it's kinda like dance-pop, you know...
John: ...right, right, right...
Steve: ...pretty accessible to the masses
John: ...right, right.  What do you, a, how do you, how do you feel about, a, the fact that MGMT has blown up, you know, recently, and maybe it's appealing more to the in crowd than it was when it originated?
S: Um, I mean it happens, you know?  It's, I feel like, there are certain bands that are, have a tendency to blow up just because their music, like I said, is more accessible, and they have that pop sound to them.
J: All right, all right, um, do you think the fact that MGMT signed to Columbia, a major record label, and Yeasayer signed to a very small record label called WeAreFree, they're one of three bands on this label, do you think the fact that MGMT is on Columbia makes it easier for them to get bigger?
S: I mean it definitely makes it easier for them to get bigger, but more so, I feel like the larger influence is Columbia, um, pressuring them to kind of change their sound so that it is more appealing.  Whereas I feel like when you're on a smaller label you don't really have those pressures, so you're, kind of like able to do more with your music, I feel like whereas MGMT, I feel like their music and their sound is kind of like set now.
J: Right, right.  So I mean...
S: On their most recent album, I guess it's their only album.
J: Right, right...
S: It's the only album I've ever heard from them.
J: It's a, that's what I was thinking, it would be interesting to see what their next a, next album sounds like...
S: Yeah.
J: ...if a, I feel like major labels might put producers in there, is that what you're saying?
S: Yeah, definitely producers, who a, I mean whose soul job is to produce music to make money, you know?
J: Right, right, right, sell to the masses.
S: Yeah, so, I don't know, I feel like Yeasayer, Yeasayer definitely, for me, is like the cliche indie band, so there's like, there's tracks on there that maybe a large amount of people would be able to listen to and enjoy, but for the most part it's kind of like a whole piece, you have to listen to the whole album cause the ups and the downs, whereas MGMT I feel like every track on there could be a single almost.

S: Well it's tough, it's tough to sell an album when you don't have like, a single off of it, you know?
J: Right.  Or a single that gets airplay?
S: A single that gets airplay, yeah.  So, I can't really listen to the Yeasayer album and pick one song that's just like, oh this one, I could play this on the radio, because you need to listen to the whole album, and get a feel for it, you know?
J: Right, right.
S: Cause one song evolves into the next, whereas with the MGMT it's just like, oh, this song's, this song could definitely be on the, oh yep, this one's, this one's real good too, oh, this one's really dancy.  And there's like three or four that just, now we're hearing them all the time.

J: ...a company run by two people, like yeah they can get it out on the internet, but as far as airplay and stuff, and like getting the name out there more, it's like, if you have like a big, you know, representative, you know, I mean...
S: No, I definitely felt that way, like there's a lot of, indie bands, I say indie with quotes, that a, you hear songs from, and you're like, oh, wow, this could totally be on the radio, like how could people not love this song, you know like this would appeal to a ton of people...
J: Like stuff from Liars, and like...
S: Yeah, even some Animal Collective, you're like, like their most recent album, it's like, everyone should like this song [laughs], it's a really good beat, it's like, but a, because it, maybe because they're on an indie label they don't have the promotions, so they don't, um, yeah, they don't make it on the airtime, you know?  It's hard to say though, because we're not in the world of music...

(Audio of the whole interview to come, as soon as I work out the kinks with audacity on my computer)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Back's "New Ethnicities and Urban Culture," Part 2, Critical Review

In the second part of Chapter 8 in "New Ethnicities and Urban Culture," Back explores the different amounts of inter-racial happenings that occur in the black musical scene in the UK, the development of a south Asian music culture, and the recent dance-hall culture of the 90's. As boundaries were breached by certain posses and sound systems, such as Soul II Soul, the separation between reggae and soul in the 70's became harder and harder to distinguish.  Social mixing was primarily seen in soul music spaces, but with the breakdown of the separation between soul and reggae, races, as well as different classes and genders, began mixing and intermingling more throughout genres.  MC Apache Indian helped to increase this mixing of too.  After the emergence of bhangra music in Britain, a distinct British Asian culture developed, and Apache Indian helped to spread this music (well, his music was described as bhangramuffin) throughout races, as he was able to play to crowds of blacks, whites, and Asians.  In the 90's, a new fusion of reggae/hip hop/ragga began to emerge, jungle.  Jungle helped to even further bring together different people.  DJ Kenny Ken puts it perfectly when he says, "certain men a few years ago wouldn't have dreamed of talking to a white person and the same the other way around... but now we're under the same roof ravin', laughing and joking together..." (p. 234)  With the development of newer variations on the reggae sound system music, and the breaking down of boundaries between genres, different people more easily and more readily mixed.  The music had the great ability to overshadow wider distinctions such as race, class and gender.

Question:  Reggae had the ability to break class and race barriers in Britain, do you think that Hip-Hop did the same in the U.S.?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Back's "New Ethnicities and Urban Culture," Part 1, Critical Review

In Chapter 8 of "New Ethnicities and Urban Culture," Back discusses the development of black leisure spaces, such as dance-halls, in post-war Britain and the subsequent restructuring of black working-class life.  He identifies the importance of dance-halls, and the sound systems in them, during periods of political strife, as the sound systems "become both a source of alternative news and an arena for black unity and autonomy." (p. 199-200)  The dance-halls are also important, according to Back, because they "provide a microcosm, controlled by black people, in which young black men and women work through in symbolic form the variety of their experiences, conflicts and desires." (p. 202)  The development of dance-halls in the UK was very important for the working-class blacks because it helped give them a place where racism was non-existent, where black was the host, and where history could be rewritten.

Question: Like how the dance-hall music of the UK began, were there any other types of music that started out by simply creating leisure spaces where people didn't have to worry about the struggles of day-to-day life?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Walser's "Running With the Devil" Critical Review

In "Running With the Devil," Walser takes a look at metal music in a way that other scholars have rarely done.  He starts his chapter with a look at the history of heavy metal music, with its roots in such bands as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple.  Walser also identifies when and where the term metal or heavy metal was first used, citing old dictionary definitions of the term, the Steppenwolf song, Born to be Wild, and then a William S. Burroughs book.  What Walser does that other scholars don't do is talk about the music itself, identifying such things as the power chord and the bass heavy and melodic sounds as defining characteristics of heavy metal as a genre.  In writing this chapter in his book, Walser wants readers to "examine [academic's and critic's] views critically in order to clear space for a different sort of account of heavy metal." (25) If their views are looked at this way, maybe some of the stereotypes that have been developed will be overlooked and a more widespread, true appreciation for the virtuosic playing will blossom.

Discussion question:  Do you think it's okay to label bands like Poison and Black Sabbath under the same genre of heavy metal, or should there be a definite distinction?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Schloss's "B-boy Culture" Critical Review

Schloss opens up his B-boy culture article by giving the reader a little background to the activity. He lets us know the roots of B-boying, saying that the dance developed in New York City in the early 1970s, and that it's musical roots are based in rock and funk songs.  He also defines how battles take place in areas such as gymnasiums, clubs, or when it's nice out, basketball courts; anything that has a flat ground.  Battles also have a pretty normal competition layout, with a pre-determined number of rounds, where one competitor is eliminated each round, and eventually a winner is declared.

After giving some history to B-boying, Schloss discussed the canon of it, and the high importance of the canon.  B-boying's canon consists of old school songs such as "Apache," "Just Begun,"and "The Mexican," all songs that to what Schloss discovered, almost every B-boy and B-girl knows. The canon serves as important gateway between the past and the present.  It keeps people in touch with the roots of the activity, and by following these songs, and knowing them by heart, it gives a great deal of respect for the originators of the activity.  Since these are songs that are often played a great deal, knowing them is in every B-boy and B-girl's best interest because when they come on, it can be the perfect time to show off your best moves. This canon also serves as a bridge between the DJ and the breakers.  By having these songs in their repertoire, DJs can bust them out, and let people start breaking, and from this they can gain more respect in the B-boy world.  The canon also serves to create a sense of community. Since virtual all B-boys know, or should know the canon, it's something that everyone who participates in the culture shares.  This shared sense of what the best songs to break to creates the community of B-boying.  The canon brings the B-boy culture together and enables it to live on throughout the decades after its creation.

Question: If it weren't for the B-boy canon, would there still be able to be the shared sense of a community between the culture's participants?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Revived by revivalists: Black Lips in Boston

Sitting with friends in Harvard/Central Square on a nice night, sipping on a strong rum and coke out of a pop cup is a great way to spend a Saturday, until it starts raining.  It came as a few drops at first, but then started coming down pretty steadily.  So what turned out to be a nice little chat to kill some time before the show was going to begin turned into a huddle session in the entrance of a pizza joint.  From my past experience with shows in Boston, the crowds haven't been the best ones I've been a part of, so I was hoping it wouldn't turn out to be that way again.  There was only one way to find out.  We finished up our drinks, and with a nice buzz and an excited attitude, walked into the Middle East for the show.

After having our real ids scrutinized by the door girls (like I would lie about being 20) we stepped into the rather empty downstairs room.  Even though the room looked pretty empty, it was still early, and I heard some people talking about how the show had sold out, so there was certain to be a large crowd.  My friends and I took the opportunity to make our ways to the front of the stage and stake out our spots for when the Black Lips came on.  The front row was already taken up by what seemed to be diehard fans, each one with their cameras in hand, ready for a surprise appearance of a band member before their set.  At one point, the Black Lips bass player, Jared Swilley, walked across the room, trying to make his way towards backstage, and the two diehard fans in front of me proved how much they like the band as they both literally ran over to him to get a picture.  It opened up two spots in the front row, but we were pretty content with there we were standing.  They came back, took their spots, and I said to one of them, "that's awesome, getting a picture with Jared.  I wish I had a camera with me."  He kind of nonchalantly replied, "yeah, I always bring my camera with me."  We started talking about their new album, which had just come out eleven days earlier on February 24, 2009, and we both agreed that after listening to it a couple of times, we really liked it.  Our conversation was cut short though, as the first opening band took the stage.

They introduced themselves as Mean Creek from the Boston area, and broke into a folk-inspired rock sound that started to warm the crowd up, and even got a few people dancing.  They played about a thirty-minute set and then left the stage after getting their equipment together.  They show was off to a good start and my friends and I agreed that they were one of the better opening bands that we had seen.  I glanced behind me now, to the faces of a much bigger crowd than what was behind me before Mean Creek started playing.  The crowd appeared to mostly be in their mid-twenties, and it was nice mix of men and women.  A lot of people looked like they were college students out for a night of run, but there was also a good amount of people who looked like they were out of college.  Everyone seemed to be dressed pretty normally.  That is, there weren't any noticeable punks, goths, or other easily identifiable group, but there were quite a few hipsters interspersed throughout the room (but nowadays, where isn't there).  More and more people were coming in, the bars and floor were getting more tightly packed, and it was all just in time for the next opening band, Gentleman Jesse and His Men.

I had checked out Gentleman Jesse a little bit before the show to see if I liked what I heard, which I did, and they were even better live.  They're from Atlanta, the same place as the Black Lips, and they came with an energy that really started people moving.  Their bluesy punk style seemed to have roots in early punksters like Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran, and once again, it was one of the better opening bands that my friends and I had encountered.  After about what I would say was close to an hour-long set, they announced that the next song was going to be their last one, and they broke into a fast paced tune that turned the front row area into a pit like area, but not a full blown one.  The crowd was really into it, and they actually got an encore song.  Once they finished up their encore, they were off, leaving an empty stage and a high level of anticipation throughout the crowd.

The Black Lips took the stage and immediately began hitting the crowd hard with their self-proclaimed flower punk (though I would personally describe them as garage-rock punksters with a badass attitude).  Not once did the crowd stop moving and there was quite a bit of crowd-band interaction.  Jared, the bass player, even gave one of the guys in the crowd his beer, and he gave another a bottle of water.  The crowd was all there for the same reason, and there weren't any downers among it, which I was very relieved by.  They didn't really take a break at any point, except for when Cole, one of the guitar players, had to tune his guitar, so it was a non-stop barrage of amazing songs and high energy that left me extremely tired.  On their last song, Jared and the other guitar player, Ian, jumped out into the crowd and surfed along the outreached hands.  The show was over, and I reluctantly, but at the same time, relieved, made my way towards the back of the venue, where the exit and the merch tables were.  Already standing back by the Black Lips table was Cole, the guitar player.  He was happily talking to anyone who approached him, but at the moment, he seemed pretty engaged with one guy, talking about who knows what.  Instead of interrupting, I just purchased a vinyl pressing of one of their albums, and my friends and I made our ways into the night.

Walking back to our car, we all jubilantly talked about how amazing the show was, and how it was one of the best ones we had been to in a really long time.  It was just a show full of cathartic energy that proved to be a nice escape from the responsibilities of day-to-day life, which might explain why so many college kids were present.  In the car, on the trip back to Providence, I started thinking about how great it would be to be in a band like the Black Lips.  They've toured in almost every single continent, they travel around with their friends non-stop, they don't have to have what society deems a real job, and they get paid for something that I'm sure they all love to do.  They also bring real music to people.  They are one of the leading bands in the sixties revival sound, and they are not losing touch of the roots of a lot of popular music.  They are a band that likes to party, who isn't necessarily preaching a serious, outright political message, and I think this makes them a very accessible, fun and enjoyable band.  Couple these things with the fact that they are good guys who truly appreciate the crowds of people that come out to see them, and you've got the makings of a great band.

(Word Count: 1290)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Gosling's "Not For Sale" Critical Review

Gosling, in his chapter in Music Scenes, discusses the development of Anarcho-Punk and the differences between the Anarcho-Punk scenes of the U.S. and the U.K.  He makes is clear where this scene got its roots, regardless of whether it was the U.S. or the U.K. scene.  He says that the "development of the underground punk scene was a reaction of disappointment with 'mainstream' punk, (p.168)" and that it was "rooted in a radical break from the capitalist logics of the major record companies. (p.180)"  Even though both the U.S. scene and the U.K. scene were rooted in similar beginnings and ideas, the U.S. scene has managed to outlive the U.K. one and this is for a few reasons.  Because of the U.S. ideology of the land of opportunity, Gosling feels that the members of the U.S. scene "appear to be socialized to expect to be able to exploit opportunities within the commercial world to advance their own distinctive goals. (p. 176)" This ideology is what led to U.S. Anarcho-Punk labels expanding their operations and surviving past the days of the bands they they started the label with.  The U.K. is a land of class distinctions, and business was seen as a bad thing and one of the "cornerstones of the establishment, meaning exploitation and hierarchy. (p. 177)"  This ideology led to many bands becoming embarrassed that they were getting some money from the labels they set up and it led to the eventual demise of these labels once the heyday of the bands that started them was up.  Lastly, Gosling goes on to discuss the differences between the U.S. and U.K. scenes as viewed by fans.  After checking some websites and interviewing people he concludes that for U.K. fans, political matters are a central positive point, whereas U.S. fans think that political matters could actually play a detrimental role and corrupt the authenticity of bands.

Question: How much does band authenticity matter in today's underground music scenes?  The U.S. Anarcho-Punk bands didn't seem to be viewed as sell-outs when they started making money off of their independent record labels.  Would that still be the case today?  Is a band selling out if they are making money off of their own, independent record label?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Field Notes #1

Maybe try to contact Todd Patrick and talk to him about the venues that he gets bands to play at, galleries, warehouses, etc. and how he feels that affects the scene.

Venues in Brooklyn that would be worthwhile to look into: Williamsburg Music Hall, Studio B, The Bell House, Terminal 5, The Knitting Factory and its recent move to Brooklyn, festivals at McCarren Park that showcase indie bands.

Some info on bands myspace's: (Checked everything on Monday, February 23 at about 9:45 p.m.) - MGMT - 48,262,067 plays, 13,997,334 profile views, 195,182 friends; Yeasayer - 1,199,805 plays, 1,891,991 profile views, 19,042 friends.  Does the fact that MGMT is on a major record label, Columbia being that label, make that big of a difference in getting their name out there?  That would appear to be the case when investigating these two bands myspace's.  I saw MGMT last year at Bonnaroo and now this year, they are back again, but Yeasayer is also on the bill this year.  Maybe Yeasayer is just getting larger national and international exposure now. I've been into them for a while, but maybe others have not.

Release dates of albums: MGMT, Oracular Spectacular - US release date, October 2, 2007; says that the UK release date was January 22, 2008; Yeasayer, All Hour Cymbals - Original US release date, October 23, 2007; UK release date, March 24, 2008.  Very close release dates of both albums in the US and in the UK.  Is MGMT selling out because they signed with a major label, even though they had offers from many indie labels?  I personally don't mind when bands sign to major labels...when they were on indie labels first.  I'm not sure how I feel about going straight to a major label.  I feel like for instance, when Death Cab went to Atlantic from Barsuk, it was a great move because they were finally getting recognition for all the hard work and great music they had made (even though I don't like the releases on Atlantic as much as I do the ones on Barsuk).  I really like MGMT's music, but to go straight to a major label may be viewed as selling out by some people.  I could feel either way about it; I'm not too sure yet.  It is good because it's like, great, I like your music, and I've been following you for a while, great that you hit it big from the beginning.  I guess the real testament to how I feel about it will be when they put out their next album and then we can all see how much a major record label has influenced their music.

I think I not only want at look at Brooklyn as a place that all of these great bands and artists have decided to settle and come out of, but also compare Yeasayer and maybe another band, one that I still haven't decided upon, to MGMT because of the fact that MGMT can't really be considered part of the indie scene anymore I guess because they are on Columbia records, even though they got their origins as a rising indie band in Brooklyn.  I'm also hoping to get in contact with the bands, somehow, I'm still not sure how, but if that could be possible, it would be the most ideal situation.  I also plan on talking to people who are into these bands and who are from Brooklyn to see what their thoughts on the whole scene are/if they've been to shows in the area and which ones they were, etc.  I feel that I want to do some sort of comparison between the mainstream and indie bands in Brooklyn and if I could talk to the bands personally and try to get their feelings on the issue, that would be the best possible scenario.  I'll have to see where it goes though.

Miller's "Jacking the Dial" Critical Review Questions

Do you think that because San Andreas paints this back story of CJ, the gamer is more influenced to make certain decisions, especially what radio station to listen to, because this is the decision that CJ would make?  Does this then take away from some of the freedom that players felt they have in other GTAs?  I realize it is ultimately the gamer's decision, but did you find that players were more influenced in San Andreas than in other versions of GTA?

Do you think that the music choices, and especially the location that the game itself plays certain stations in, for instance when you steal a truck in the country a country song is playing, reinforces certain stereotypes that are throughout the real world?  I'm also curious as to how the way the game situates certain genres of music within certain places and events effects players in real life.  Did you find that it made them view things differently because the game viewed them in a certain way?

For the class:
For those that have played, do you find yourselves listening to certain stations when doing say, a drive-by, as opposed to just driving around the city?  Do certain stations make what you are doing in the game seem more realistic and others make it feel like just another part of a game? For those who haven't played and those who have, do you find yourself listening to certain types of music when you want to get into a certain mentality?  Does it seem like a little too much for players to get into a certain mentality by listening to certain radio stations when performing missions and other tasks because of the fact that it is a game and not real life?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Schilt's "Riot Grrl Is..." Critical Review

In her chapter in Music Scenes, Schilt offers a look into the scene known as Riot Grrrl.  Through her research, she identifies its origins as simultaneously emerging from Olympia, Washington and Washington, D.C., but discusses how the scene grew into a translocal one because of fanzines.

As punk began to move more towards hardcore and it became more of a place for men to flaunt their masculinity, women felt more and more pushed out of the scene.  Women began creating fanzines where they expressed their opinions about the punk scene and the role that women played in it.  It was the distribution of these fanzines that brought the development of Riot Grrrl about.  Riot Grrrl is very into the DIY ideology and this was made evident by the amount of fanzines that were out there, the release of small amounts of records on indie labels, and the fact that there was no manifesto and no right way to do things, but rather the autonomy to do things how you wanted to.  Conventions and chapter meetings also spread the Riot Grrrl scenes popularity.

When the scene began expanding and more feminists began becoming involved, lines between politics and music began to blur.  Fans wanted Riot Grrrl associated bands to take up their individual ideas and politics and spread them.  Bands often times did not want to do this.  There were also race issues that began springing up in fanzines and meetings.  Riot Grrrl was criticized for being too white and too exclusive.

Fearing "selling out," bands stuck to indie labels, and would try not to talk to the media.  The media in return began defining Riot Grrrls, and the scene was reduced to one about fashion, rather than about the feminist message.  Things started to fall apart as participants began leaving the scene, and new members were scarce.  The scene, or at least its ideas, do live on though through a series of music festivals known as Ladyfest.

Question: Why did the media's negative coverage of Riot Grrrl have such a strong impact on the scene?  UK Punk's fashion was covered a lot too by the media, and there were probably some articles written that were not accurate, but that didn't halt the scene after only a couple years. Was it also the differing views of participants of Riot Grrrl that led to the dissolving of the scene?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ethnography Project Initial Topic Post

I've been thinking about a lot of different ideas for this project and I've explored those different ideas, but still, I'm having difficulty picking one.  So, my ideas are these: 1) Hyphy in the Bay Area, it's rise towards the mainstream, and subsequent loss of artists identifying with the movement; 2) The indie scene in Brooklyn and it's recent rise towards the mainstream (at least for some of the bands that I would be covering);  3) The electro-indie-pop scene in Montreal and the bands that have managed to crossover to the states; and 4) The 60's garage/punk rock revival movement of recent, led by such bands as the Black Lips and King Khan.

I can foresee some problems that I might encounter with each of these ideas, which is making it all the more difficult to decide on which one to do.  Since Hyphy originated in the 90's, it might be a bit more historically focused and it might be hard to talk to people.  I guess also the fact that the scene took place/is still taking place across the country, it will probably be harder to find people that really identify with the music.  I see this being a problem for the electro-indie-pop scene in Montreal too.  I know that I could talk to the Black Lips, which would serve as a good resource for the 60's rock revival movement, but I'm not too sure how big of a scene that that's going to be to explore.

I'm thinking the indie scene in Brooklyn might be the best choice for this project.  Brooklyn is not that far away if I wanted to go try to interview people in person, I have friends who live there, there are some specific venues that the bands I would focus on play at, and I think I may be able to find some literature on the scene.  If I did do this, I would focus on bands such as Yeasayer, MGMT (who has hit it pretty big), Grizzly Bear, and Battles, but there are a lot more that could be covered too.  I would ask such things as why stay on an indie label?  Is it because the bands can't get signed to majors (except MGMT who did sign to a major)?  Or is it because they don't want to?  What do the venues add to the scene?  Do they influence the music in anyway?  Do they influence the audiences that are attracted to the shows, or is it purely the music?  Why Brooklyn?  Where did everyone in these bands first come from?  Did that add to how the music has developed?  Also, in setting up this research, I would probably cover a little bit of the historical music scene in NY and its shift from Manhattan to Brooklyn recently.  I'm definitely going to have to slim the topic's scope down a bit, but these are my initial thoughts on it.