Personal taste and opinion are VERY subjective, but I did notice something watching Adele and Barbra Streisand sing on this year's Academy Awards telecast. I noticed how hype still rules the day in entertainment and fans have very little to choose from
when it comes to music these days.
Adele Adkins is a 25-year-old singer-songwriter, who has won everything under the sun, including an Oscar for "Skyfall." Well done girlfriend. Great song. The recording was well-done also. I like the song.
Is she all that? Not in my opinion.
Her albums "19," "21" and singles "Someone Like You" and "Rolling In The Deep" are fine tracks, but do they hold up with great divas of the past such as Carole King, Dusty Springfield, Streisand, Lena Horne, Peggy Lee, etc? I'm not saying she won't measure up to those great singers. I'm leaving a lot of worthy contenders like Bette Midler, Dianna Ross and the late Amy Winehouse out.
Her performance on this year's Oscar telecast was mediocre at best. Just moments after her pedestrian performance of "Skyfall," Barbra Streisand schooled her with a tearfull rememberance of "The Way We Were," which was dedicated to the late Marvin Hamlish, who composed that Oscar-winning song from 1973. Streisand outsang, outperformed Adele and was pitch-perfect nailing that song at age 71.
Music is subjective. We all have our opinions of what we believe to be great. I am not really a fan of Streisand, but I know greatness when I see it. She is still great. Adele is not great. Not yet.
Who is out there currently performing original new material to be compared with Adele? Maybe Nora Jones, who was brilliant on that same Oscar telecast singing her losing song "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from "Ted." Jones is not quite as high profile as Adele these days, but certainly belongs in the conversation.
In the 1960's/70's there was Lulu, Dusty, Jackie DeShannon, Babs, Petula Clark, Carole King. Linda Ronstadt & Midler. There were more, but I just wanted you to get the idea that the playing field is a lot smaller here. Later we got Madonna. That is another story.
It is like the 1990's when there was Michael Jordan and little or no competition on the basketball court. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas were all on their way out and it was left to Jordan to be a one-man show in the NBA.
Is it Adele's fault? NO. She is a fine singer and songwriter. She just does not yet belong in that class of artist. There is too much hype in this social media age. It took for me to see Streisand absolutely outclass her to have it really hit home.
Let's just see if Adele continues on and puts out CDs that resonate into her late 20's and 30's. I will be listening.
What do Oscar Pistorius and Phil Spector have in common?
Oscar Pistorius has MORE than a public relations problem right now. "Blade Runner" is probably going to go down for premeditated murder
of his 30-year-old late girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
Pistorius's defense team is seriously considering using his steroid use as the reason. "Roid Rage" could be the defense they use. REALLY??? We really don't like our athlete heroes using steroids. We especially don't like them murdering their girlfriends in cold blood.
This story cannot end well for the once-Olympic hero to millions, who is a double amputee. You all know the story by now. I will not bore you with the umpteenth retelling of his story.
Pistorius, in reality, appears to have been a steroid-using, paranoid gun-loving celebrity. He kept a cricket (found with blood on it) bat next to his bed and a loaded 9 millimeter handgun under his pillow.
Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair has now sided with the prosecution and decided to charge Oscar with first degree murder. Pistorius could go away for life and the chances are very good that will happen.
The world needs to take notice of this case all the way through his sentencing. Guns are serious business. In the wrong hands bad stuff happens. How do we know when celebrities like Pistorius and Phil Spector should be monitored and reconsidered for handling guns?
If Pistorius was becoming mentally unstable over time because he was taking steroids, should his community be warned? Should his friends and family have noticed a change in his behavior? Was Oscar Pistorius and Phil Spector (serving in prison for killing Lana Clarkson) too powerful in their celebrity to even approach about having guns around when they were obviously a little off the deep end?
How many more of these cases do we have to see go down before we start questioning people.
In my own personal life, I have known 2 VERY close people who were very depressed and had guns around. I plead with them to get rid of the guns for awhile. I was not alone. We were able to get someone to hold the guns for them and nothing happened.
I highly suggest YOU do the same if you are worried about someone who has guns. Bad break ups, etc. These are always danderous situations. Not everyone is okay celebrity or not after a personal setback. Your government will not step in. You need to take the lead on this one my friends.
(This is an article I wrote a few years back for Music Connection Magazine on Songwriting)
By Marc Platt
As singer/songwriters, we listen to a lot of good, bad and ugly songs by an assortment of writer/artists. Some are by accomplished writers with hit songs on their resumes and some are by newer,
younger and less-polished writers. What can we do as writers to better our material and make it listenable to the audience we are trying to grab?
Bore Us, Get To The Chorus. This is a basic flaw that most pop writers fall into. They go on forever before they get to their hook. Some of the best pop songs ever written, start with the chorus. I'll give you a great example, "Good Day Sunshine"
by our very own Lennon/McCartney slams right into that hooky chorus and never let's up the entire 2-minutes plus. Which brings me to my next point:
Every Song HAS to be "Stairway to Heaven." No one will penalize you as a writer for writing a great song UNDER three minutes, BUT most people will turn your brilliant song off after a couple of minutes if it meanders. You really have about
30 seconds to grab a listener (and I'm being generous). If the listener feels this is going nowhere, it will be on to the next one.
About My Great Production? Have you ever heard the term glossing over crap, or turning a turd into a diamond? It can't be done! If you have a bad song, do not waste your money getting great musicians to turn your "flawed masterpiece"
into a classic. You don't want to be compared to Milli Vanilli, the poster children of non-writing talent of the 1980s. There are hundreds of acts I could name, but we don't have the room.
How to know if your song is cutting the mustard. Play the song out at open mics, or at your live shows before committing it to tape. This is easy to do if you are patient
enough to get an audience reaction. When you play a song to a live audience, you will know almost instantly if it has wings, or if it will need some tweaking. You may want to play a song several times and KEEP working on it, before you record it. The legendary
Bob Dylan has remarked several times that he is still working on the Blood on the Tracks-classic "Tangled Up In Blue." That song came out in 1974 and is regarded as one of Dylan's best songs.
Be Willing to Scrap Songs That Aren't Working. This is a tough one. We all think of our songs as children and we certainly can't get rid of a kid because he/she is
bad. My suggestion is DON'T think of your song as a kid. While it can be a living breathing work of art if it works on all levels, it can also be considered a "bad song" by the rest of us consumers. Take a step back. Be critical to the point where YOU have
to look at the song as a consumer. Ask yourself honestly, "Is this song saying something to the audience?" Do you think people will seriously relate to the message? If the answer is yes to both of these important questions, then continue to work on it until
it is complete.
Trusting People You Respect to Be Honest With You. Another tough one. Look, if great songwriting
was that easy, everyone would be hit writers. You need to find a good sounding board. Someone you can play your songs to who won't always pat you on the back and tell you how great you are. They can be an average listener, or an accomplished writer themselves,
BUT they need to be objective. I was very fortunate in my impressionable 20's to hang out with some amazing artists like Elvis Costello. He once told me that when he was starting out, his peers would never be honest with him. Maybe because they didn't truly
want him to succeed. They may have wanted him to stay with them at their level. You as an artist need to be able to distinguish among other people's agendas and find someone who can objectively tell you if your songs are moving them, or what they may lack.
Be a good listener when they are giving you a reaction. They don't have to be accomplished, but if they say something like "that's a long one," or "I don't get the 2nd verse," pay attention to those comments and re-examine your work.
Make Sure You Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say. You can get to the point in very few words if you are truthful and insightful. Van Morrison wrote "Brown Eyed Girl" at a young age and was brilliant in his economy of words "Hey where did we go/Days when the rains came/Down in the hollow/Playin' a new game." Each of those lines says a lot in 4-5 words per each line of that first verse. You have a unique opportunity to move and entertain people with your songs. Take advantage and say things the best way you can without being too vague. I always like to say "if my grandma can understand it, it's probably pretty good."
I am in my early 50's. When I was 5-years-old, I asked for Rubber Soul for Christmas in December, 1965. That is young. I was a fan at a very young age in real time. It was exciting. Everyone else from that moment on was at least one step below my heroes
When Sgt. Pepper came out, I didn't come out of my room for three months. They were my drug, they were my life.
In November, 1968 I worked a full day in my dad's warehouse to earn a copy of the double-sided White Album. There were pictures and a poster. I had them on my wall. It is still my favorite record of all time. Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys is a close 2nd.
Rolling Stone Magazine has 10 Beatles songs listed in the Top 100 Songs of all time. There are so many different lists that put Lennon-McCartney in their top 10 writers of all time, I can't even list them all.
I believe if you ask most people young and old, they would list this band as one of their favorites even in 2013.
In my opinion it is because of their melody, rhythm and message...In that order.
I have been a songwriter for 35 years and in some way every day I go back to the basics from listening to those Beatles LPs. I still have every one of them on vinyl. I listen to the vinyl versions mostly.
Lennon and McCartney were always ahead of the curve musically in the 1960s. Most acts that followed them, took from them so much so that it became acceptable. McCartney used to believe that songs came out of the air. He looks at the obvious thievery of his work as a compliment. I'm sure that the zillions of dollars he has already made makes it easier to swallow.
The Beatles changed the culture of music and living itself in the 60's. Lennon once remarked how Americans "looked like horses" when the Beatles first arrived in NY in 1964. When they came back in 1965 everyone in America had long hair...That says a lot to me.
Take a look at the beautiful McCartney ballad "She's Leaving Home." Just from a songwriting aspect, it is brilliant. McCartney was 24-years old when he wrote it. Every word, every syllable, every note has a purpose.
"Wednesday morning at five o'clock
As the day begins
Silently closing her bedroom door
Leaving the note that she hoped would say more
She goes downstairs to the kitchen
Clutching her handkerchief
Quietly turning the backdoor key
Stepping outside, she is free
She...(we gave her most of our lives)
Is leaving (sacrified most of our lives)
Home (we gave her everything money could buy)
She's leaving home, after living alone, for so many years (bye bye)..."
Lennon's contribution to the song are the replies in the chorus. They are important and complete the cycle in the song. They are the lines that actually made the commentary of the times of the parent's generation. Brilliant song and it is still covered all the time.
The Beatles remind me of the great athlete we idolize, but don't appreciate as much for their real contributions to their craft. These guys were REAL craftsmen and we really have not seen their likes since. The Beatles first started to strike the British subconscious 50 years ago. Next year will mark their 50-year anniversary of landing on American shores. I truly hope we truly celebrate that occasion.
I certainly will. The Beatles were/are still the most important group I have ever known. They are my friends for life. I still feel that "Beatle Rush" whenever I pick up a guitar or hear a great song on the radio.
(This is a reprint of an article I wrote for The Music Connection Magazine a few years back)
Artists have to persevere through a lot of obstacles on the way to stardom. What if you were to change your expectations? What if you were able to figure out ways to become successful without the trappings of becoming a rock star?
- Lowering Your Expectations. There are many ways to skin a cat and you don't HAVE to be a rock star to survive in the music business. There is plenty of room for writers, producers, engineers, session singers, A & R and other label positions. Your knowledge and work ethic can take you a long way if people in high places are aware of your intentions. In the old days, everyone wanted to be a star. These days the vehicles for stardom such as American Idol have stringent parameters such as age and looks. So let us concentrate on the songwriting aspect.
- You don't have to look great to be great as a songwriter. Okay, no one ever said that the music business isn't shallow and lacking sensitivity when it comes to the way people look and how old they are. This is why it is important to develop skills that will enable you to work in the business for a long time. Great writers can always write for others. There is no 17-to-29 limitation for a great songwriter. You write the song and let the 25-year-old rock star-to-be go out on the road and make it a hit. In other words, you can be the master of your own domain. You have the talent to write a song that connects and the young star-in-waiting has to go out on the road and make that song connect with an audience. Once the song makes it to record, you are a viable entity and the artist has to put their name and reputation on the line to make their career happen.
- Making People Aware of your Talent. It is never easy to make people see what you are capable of when there are so many trying to do the same things you are. How can you stand out? For starters, make sure the quality of your work is top rate. It's not always easy to judge yourself. Most writers like to play the "I can see my song fitting with Justin Timberlake's on the radio" game. It doesn't work that way. Your song HAS to be better and then maybe someone will check it out. You must set the bar higher than the current standard.
- Don't get stuck playing what if. Writers love to play games with themselves like "I can hear Justin Timberlake singing my song," or "This song would be perfect for Hillary Duff." I hate to play devil's advocate, BUT it is very rare you can get your song to these artists based solely on merit. You will run into so many roadblocks going through traditional routes like management, record labels, A & R guys. These people have tons of GREAT songs sitting unopened in boxes. There are services like TAXI out there perusing your material and once in awhile are able to land a song with one of the above-mentioned entities. The only problem is that they are pitching songs the same way other "professionals" are. In other words a company like TAXI may get 1000 songs to pitch to the same project and publishers, producers and top writers are pitching to the same people. So if one-out-of-1000 submissions makes it through the staff at TAXI and it gets to the right person for an album submission, it has to compete against the usual submissions from associates, etc. You are better off meeting the artist at a carwash and handing them a CD.
- What you can do. The best thing to do if you are a promising hit songwriter is to be prepared for your break. Instead of hustling mediocre material around, develop a great arsenal of songs so that when you are at that party and you meet the producer of a record you would like to submit a song for, you will have a huge weapon in your holster when you get the guy's business card. Develop the relationship and don't worry about immediate results. If you befriend an important music business associate, you may have something ready when the need arises. You will be in the loop. That is much more powerful than having someone say "nice song, but not right for this project."
- Don't Spin Your Wheels. Try not to bombard the town with your material. It actually pisses people off to see too many CDs by the same writer all the time. This is one of those occupations when being a pest will NOT help you. A lot of writers send so many songs out these companies will recognize the packaging or the name on so many submissions, they will likely stop listening and stick it in the box. This is why it is good to develop relationships and have people who are expecting your songs receive them and give them the proper attention. I've worked at music business companies and they "HATE" unsolicited stuff. I was the one who had to sift through the packages at Rhino Records in the early 80's. I doubt things have changed much since then when it comes to unsolicited material.
- Who WILL listen? You need to network. You need to get your face out there before these people ever hear a note. Make as many friends on this planet as you can. EVERYONE knows someone who you can eventually hook up with, but if you sit there in your room all alone, you won't make the contacts that will advance your career. Let me ask you one thing. Has your way worked in the past? If not, just try another method of making the music business a worthwhile occupation to pursue.