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Nate Davenport

Archive for the ‘Music Industry’ Category

The Top Ten Rock Albums Made After Y2K

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

in a time where the fantastic album is being largely forsaken in favor of a string of catchy singles that last a few months on radio and fizzle forever, i want to celebrate the art of making an album. to do that, i’m looking back at my favorite complete works of modern rock music in the last 12 years or so. it’s not just collections of great songs, it’s the greatest albums.

first off, a disclaimer: i like pop music. not because i believe it makes me popular, in fact in most cases it makes me unpopular. most musicians i know are into those edgy indie acts that are on the edge of being big-time, and then stop liking them when they “sell out”, or achieve mainstream success. i’ll acknowledge that sometimes bands/artists sacrifice artistic brilliance to meet the insatiable demands of pop, but in my line of work, i have to believe that the two can coexist symbiotically, especially for people like me who like pop music.

with that said, i don’t want everybody ripping on me for leaving out the beatles or led zepellin, because i honestly just don’t much like listening to the music they made. i believe they are legendary bands who made great music, and there are individual songs i like from their catalogs, but this isn’t a list of the best bands, it’s a list of my top 10 favorite albums of all time. now that i’ve pissed some of you off, i’ll have to objectively qualify how i came to my decisions. what makes a good album, you ask?

SONGWRITING. i believe a good song is the balance of two basic components: (1) i’m going to call it pop factor, it’s the familiar verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure with the million-dollar chord progression (I-V-vi-IV for you theory nerds.. see u2’s with or without you, taylor swift’s love story, linkin park’s shadow of the day, come to think of it, those three songs right there probably make that chord progression worth more than a million bucks each). everybody knows those structures, and honestly everybody knows them for a reason, because it’s a damn good way to write a pop song. too much of it tho, and you’ve got yourself a plain white bread song, which brings us to the second factor. (2) originality, it’s the paprika of songwriting. too much of it, and all you can taste is paprika and you’re saying to yourself, “who’s the asshole who put all this paprika in my mouth!? why can’t you give me a little chicken with my paprika so i can identify with it a little bit?” anyway, the challenge is to make something fresh out of something that has been overdone thousands of times. martin scorcese once said, “there are no new ideas anymore. all a filmmaker can do is make movies that feel fresh.” the same premise holds true for music.

LISTENABILITY. we’re still talking about what makes a good album, for those of you who got lost thinking about paprika. i want to be able to listen to the whole thing, without even the slightest inkling of desire to skip a song. not only do i want to look forward to each song, i want to know that if one of them was unexplainedly removed (say for example, if i had a hard drive error and only certain files were erased . . . harumph), i would be pissed off and the album would seem incomplete.

PRODUCTION. one of the main reasons i don’t like listening to older bands is because i love technology and where it’s taken us in high fidelity audiological ear-bliss. yes, i just coined the term ear-bliss, get over it. and don’t let your mind go there, no! bad mind! now i have a penchant for “big” sounding records, but i’ve included a relatively “small” sounding record in my list just to prove that i’m not discriminating.

VOCALS. so, so, so important. there are very few bands i like that don’t have strong, unique, and heavily-featured vocals. as i’ll illustrate later, they don’t have to be technically perfect, but they do have to be perfectly appropriate.

and now, to the list, in no particular order:


ONE-X: THREE DAYS GRACE | 13 June 2006 | Howard Benson

fave song: “get out alive” – i learned to play drums when i was 14, and can play along with a lot of my favorite stuff, but when i first heard what could have so easily been a pedestrian drumline turned into a tapestry of amazingness, i had to spend an hour or so drumming on my steering wheel until i could wrap my brain around the genius of that part. as an aside, if you ever ride in a car with me, be warned that a song like this may be on repeat indefinitely, and i probably already had it that way for 30 or 40 times before that. BGVs in this song are amazing, that’s really important to me.

CANNONS: PHIL WICKHAM | 2 October 2008 | Peter Kipley

fave song: tough, this whole album is on such an amazing level. i’ll go with “must i wait”. – i warm up my voice with this song, plus it gets me pumped up for a gig and makes me think i’m a vocal badass.

MORE THAN YOU THINK YOU ARE: MATCHBOX TWENTY | 19 November 2002 | Matt Serletic

fave song: while technically i have to say “hand me down” is the best, it’s so unified with it’s neighbor “could i be you” that i tend to think of the songs as a unit. this album is extremely cohesive, a lot of thought was put into arranging the songs and getting them to flow together and complement one another. while this list is in no particular order, this is probably the closest thing to #1.

ABSOLUTION: MUSE | 23 March 2004 | Rich Costey

fave song: “butterflies and hurricanes” – one word: epic. this song makes me want to go kick the world’s ass on the way to climbing a large mountain. what makes this band great is that each musician is extremely well-represented in each song, they always come up with amazing parts for each song, and they’re unselfish enough to know when it’s not their time to shine, which is even more important than nailing your part when it is.

CONTINUUM: JOHN MAYER | 8 September 2006 | John Mayer, Steve Jordan

fave song: again for me this album is more about the album and less about individual songs, but “belief” does everything i want it to do and deals with something so weighty, kudos to john. i don’t necessarily agree with him on everything, but that’s not really the point of the song. if you haven’t seen his live dvd, called “where the light is”, he gets into this song perfectly in a way that at least looked spontaneous with his keys player. nothing to do with the album, but it deserves attention.

THE BLACK PARADE: MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE | 31 October 2006 | Rob Cavallo

fave song: “i don’t love you” – i’ve heard criticism that this album is completely un-mychemicalromance-esque, but that has never bothered me. a band can always reinvent itself, i don’t think the way you entered mainstream success is the way you have to leave it, and actually i think if you do, something went wrong. see john mayer’s career (started out a pop heartthrob and successfully melded that with his blues roots, can’t wait to see where he goes next). this is another album that takes you places, and regardless of whether or not they got help writing the tunes (the album screams that they did), it’s one of the most complete works ever made. has a very diverse feel with multiple styles mixed in, e.g. european-sounding songs like mama, then the classic rock feel of teenagers.

DREAMING OUT LOUD: ONE REPUBLIC | 20 November 2007 | Ryan Tedder

fave song: “prodigal” – this song is like one huge crescendo, and the detail and care in the small moments make it quite emotional. i’m all about emotion in music, that’s pretty much what it’s all about. this album, along with wickham’s, considerably influenced the making of my debut album. subtle, almost feeling guitar tones permeate, rhythm drives the action, vocal melodies are spot on.

DOSAGE: COLLECTIVE SOUL | 9 February 1999 | Ross Childress

fave song: “compliment” – it’s really nice to see a band put out an album this good that far along in their career. normally song quality suffers with age. i love listening to “heavy” with headphones, the guitars are so big and so wide, sometimes i need a cigarette once the song is over. this was good enough to overlook a few months discrepancy in the deadline.

O: DAMIEN RICE | 10 June 2003 | Damien Rice

fave song: “cheers darlin'” – rumor has it damien downs about four glasses of wine just before he performs cheers, and no doubt had a similar tactic for recording. this is the “small” record i mentioned in my introduction, but the intimacy serves it well for the the importance of each song’s lyrics. one of the things i love about damien is that his vocal technique is seldom technically perfect, but it’s always perfectly appropriate for the song. adam duritz (counting crows) has a similar approach in that he doesn’t always hit all the right notes, but it always sounds amazing in spite of that, or maybe because of the way he can pull it off.

AMERICAN IDIOT: GREEN DAY | 21 September 2004 | Green Day

fave song: “boulevard of broken dreams” – of course this is THE song on the album, perfect emotional content and execution. honorable mention: “give me novacaine”. i can’t say anything about this album that hasn’t already been trumpeted by some other critic already, but it’s a spectacular rock opera concept album in the style of the who. it’s just a journey, go ahead and pop it on your ipod again and put it on when you have some time to get through the whole thing. i think you’ll still find it amazing. oh by the way, this album sounds freaking amazing too, a sonic masterpiece.

Honorable Mention:

THRIVING IVORY: THRIVING IVORY | 24 June 2008 | Chris Manning, Howard Benson

fave song: “angels on the moon” – most people get hung up on the vocal style, but thriving ivory has everything i want. when i heard angels come on at a party i knew immediately that i would like their entire album and probably buy anything else they ever made.

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Forget Marketing, Be Selfless

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

“The definition of marketing is looking for creative ways to meet people’s needs.”

This was a quote taken from a conference call interview with Derek Sivers in Summer 2009, which inspired me to write the following. I’m writing it from the perspective of someone who is a) starting a business/building a brand, and b) a musician, but these principles apply to interpersonal relationships in every area of life, even if you have everything you want already. Here goes:

Let’s take a look at that quote again.

“The definition of marketing is looking for creative ways to meet people’s needs.”

Good marketing is not selfish. Many people have goals in mind before bringing a product or service to market, and get disappointed if those goals are not met. The primary goal of any person should be to develop relationships with others around you based on selflessness. I hate to say that it’s as simple as the golden rule, but in this case, as in most, mom was right. In a recent telephone interview, Derek Sivers defined good marketing as “looking for creative ways to meet people’s needs”. Once people see that you genuinely care about them and truly listen, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak, you will earn their trust. Ask any veteran businessperson, trust is the most important factor in any transaction. Don’t try to fake genuine . A person is way too smart to be fooled by a sham of selflessness.

Now you’re saying, “Nate, how am I supposed to see any ROI if I’m constantly meeting others’ needs and not concerning myself with profit?” Very good padawan, I’m glad you asked. When money changes hands (that’s the profit you were asking about, assuming your math was good) it is actually the consumer communicating the value of your product in the most objective way possible. Your selflessness is actually part of your product, so when you are developing relationships (which doesn’t end after money changes hands, because you’ll probably have a second album too), you are actually investing in your own product. When it comes time to buy, people gladly throw money at you because they want to invest in who you are as a person, AND your product.

What does that mean practically? If you’re like me and are still building your brand and taking over your region, it means working your butt off and probably having two jobs (I have four). It means staying late at the show and treating people like friends, even if you barely know them. It means you can’t just play the set and expect people to respect you for just your music. In Music Biz 2.0, the real rock stars aren’t the stuck up ones that don’t talk to fans to create an illusion of importance or fame. The real rock stars are really just socialites that happen to be musically amazing. If you absolutely can’t engage fans by talking to them, you probably know someone who believes in you and has charisma (think Vince Vaughn’s character in Swingers). If they believe in you, then they’ll help you spread the word, and will act as the charismatic one at your shows. If they’re talented, get them in your band! If you don’t know someone like this, hire someone you trust to manage you and help you with the social aspects of gigs.

Go out of your way to help your friends. Pick Jenny up from the airport, help William move, buy Uncle Franklin a beer for no reason. What you’re doing then, is creating an imbalance between the two of you. A normal human being subconsciously senses this imbalance and seeks to rectify it. That could mean showing up to a gig with a carload of friends, it could mean dropping your name all the time, it could mean being your best asset: a superfan. For the layman, that’s a fan who believes in what you do enough to convert others to basic fan status. Again, you can’t fake this. You actually have to care about other people and meeting their needs.

Homework Assignment: Find one person in your non-immediate circle of friends and do something nice for them. Not in a way that creeps them out, but the idea is to surprise them with your unexpected kindness. It’s both sad and amazing how surprising random, unconditional kindness is, we’ve grown accustomed to never expecting it. Important: do this without any expectation of repayment, this is an exercise to make you a kind person and your rewards will find their way to you in due time. Post your experiences in the comments, or anything you’ve done already. Possible side effect: a good feeling inside.

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reznor jesus: yea, he has come not to abolish the industry, but to fulfill it

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

while i can’t honestly say i’m a nine inch nails fan, i’ve got a lot of love for trent reznor like the rest of the indie music community. i could live without the overhype, but he’s got some great things to say. i tap my foot along with “terrible lie” on my scion’s radio, but i’ve never bought a record from him. but i always find a pick-me-up of some sorts when i read one of his interviews, and this article is no different. but one trent reznor is not going to save the music industry, and what’s cooler is, i don’t think he wants to.

reznor is 44 now, and after 20 some-odd years of touring and pushing NIN to the limits, he’s calling it quits (the touring, not making music) as of 10 september after a summer tour with jane’s addiction. trent is far from retiring, however, as he has some interesting things in mind for his future, and more fun planned for his fans (again, not me, wish i was), including more NIN music.

since his music isn’t my favorite thing he does, i’m looking forward to reznor’s other endeavors (a lot of which involve helping the indie music community) in the future.  TR’s been a trendsetter for the post-CD era of music, but like jesus, he’s not going to completely tear down the system and replace it all with something that works, especially not within the time frame we’d like. most people don’t know, but jesus let a lot of people down who tried to put parameters on how they wanted to be saved (physically, from the romans) while JC was working on something bigger that they couldn’t see.  unlike jesus, trent isn’t the way, we have to find our own.  maybe we should call him the post-modern music jesus?

Read the full interview at A.V. Club

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An Ugly Day for Music: Tenebaum Guilty

Friday, July 31st, 2009

July 31, 2009 — Joel Tenebaum was found liable for copyright infringement, for downloading and distributing 30 copywritten pieces of recorded material.

During direct examination, Tenenbaum was asked a simple question by the labels’ counsel: “on the stand now, are you admitting liability for downloading and distributing all 30 sound recordings that are at issue and listed on Exhibits 55 and 56 of the exhibits?” His simple “yes” answer was enough to hand the labels a victory on the question of liability.
Read the Full article on ARStechnica.com

First off, I’m not really siding with either party here.  On the one hand as a musician, I know the logistics of trying to make a commercially-viable product that is appealing to record labels, and I realize that as a commercial enterprise, music has to see profits.  On the other hand, I understand that what the music industry is doing is making an example out of JT, since they cannot hope to track down and prosecute everyone who has pirated music.  From conversations with my friends, it appears working, but could they be biting the hand that feeds them?

I’ve had a few conversations with people who hadn’t heard about the case or didn’t know the magnitude of it, and most of them have been pretty shocked.  The RIAA’s textbook shock-and-awe tactics may be effective, but any fans that consider themselves enemies of or indifferent to the major label system may come away opposing “the man”.

According to a recent study by Ipsos MediaCT, only 19% of US digital music consumers participate in the fee-based market (e.g. iTunes, Rhapsody).  That number is contrasted against 32% who use peer-to-peer networks, and 22% who use free-and-legal Myspace.  When told to imagine a world without P2P, the Myspace figure jumped to 39%, and those who would withdraw themselves from the online music market rose from 27% to 39%.  Read the full article by eMarketer.com.

The RIAA will not come away from the Tenebaum trial looking like anything but the bad guy, but will that reputation be enough to drive potentially-paying customers away from buying music altogether?  Probably not.  People love music and they always will.  If they can get it for free, they always will do that too. They’re not going to beat that with technology, all they can do is hinder it or slow it down.  They’re not going to beat it with fear, although those two things combined could prove more effective.  They’re not going to be able to put a stop to the next Napster, I mean KaZaA, I mean Pirate Bay, I mean Limewire (get my point?).  The American music industry is a little bit like the American auto industry right now.  They got complacent because of a lack of competition and reliance on outdated technology, and by the time they understood their weakness, it was too late to prevent major losses.

But it’s not too late to save either industry, both just have to adapt.  There are certain areas of business where Darwinism applies pretty nicely, and music is one of those for me.  Technology changes, so keep spending more money on R&D than the other guys!  Apple Computers has had this concept figured out for a while now.

Regardless of how long it takes for Music Inc. to catch up with the Wired Generation, Joel is still on the hook today for up to $150k for each instance of copyright infringement.  As I said earlier, I’m not really siding with either camp here.  It’s just an ugly day for music.  There are probably as many different ideas to fix the industry as there are illegally-downloaded songs, but as of yet noone’s cared enough to listen.  I’ll be listening for more rumblings in the world of music and give my thoughts.  And I’ll be listening to you.  What do you think?

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