Tag Archives: Arts

The Substance of Pop Music

2 Feb

I have always wondered why, when there is so much powerful and artistically driven music in the world, are we left with the pop music we have? No one I talk to listens to top 40, but there continues to be over-saturated music that is shoved down listener’s throats. I am by no means denouncing all popular music or trying to attack certain genres of music. Everything under the sun can be held up to a particular light and shine with some merit . I have just always found it strange that while everyone I know listens to music, no one listens to the top 40. Do children have that much say in what becomes “popular music?” Are the big wigs that poor at learning the demographics of their industry, or am I the crazy one?

Well an interesting development happened to me the other day. I stumbled upon some pretty spectacular music (which isn’t really out of the ordinary at all) and the funny thing was that these were all cover songs by “top 40” artists. The kind of music that just has no connection to the real artistic community of music and is more of what I like to call “corporate-pop/hop” than actual pop music. When I listened to these covers, it brought a whole new light to the melody and the lyrics. It got me wondering: are these artists really not artistic or have we just lost the ability to produce music now that we can do it so cheaply with computers? Was the real magic behind the artists that controlled the charts 25-40 years ago the fact that real musicians had to come into the studios and lay down tracks for the album? Were the producers just that much more vital to the process? Is Quincy Jones just that good? Probably.

Check out a couple videos that I found that completely redefined their originals.

There is just something about the way this music is recaptured with an honest sound instead of a couple poor synth riffs and a drum machine. Maybe there is some hope for the music community, even if the world of popular music is continuing to head in the wrong direction.

Matt Kiefer’s Musical Craft

4 Sep

Matt Kiefer cares about music’s honesty. What is musical honesty? Artists are quick to go into studio and process songs like a frozen McDonald’s hamburger. It is easy. There are little mistakes. But musical honesty occurs when an artist refuses to let the “studio” do work for them. Kiefer, a musician and recording engineer from Pittsburgh, does find himself in an interesting situation because he is a recording engineer. If anyone knows a screw up, he does. He explained to me that he once would record several versions of each piece in meticulous fashion. But now, he thinks authenticity is most important.

“Of course I want the songs to sound perfect for the listener and capture the best possible performances but I also think those live takes and occasional mistakes sometimes add to the beauty or naturalness of the song,” Kiefer explained in an interview with The Music Court. “I used to stress over little things and take 5, 6, 7 or even 10 takes of a track to assure that the performance was spot on..But now I only take 2 or 3 takes at most and just keep the best ones. On the EP you’ll hear some occasional string smudges and stuff like that, but I think it feels more real to the listener…Like im sitting there playing it right in front of you. I’d rather give people something honest and that will translate perfectly live rather than “studio magic” up some polished manufactured piece that falls apart or doesnt translate the same way live. I like my recordings to say:  “I’m not the best musician, I screw up like everyone does…But I mean well!” I really just want to seem human.”

Kiefer’s worldly pieces do feel human and one can feel the love that Kiefer has for melody and quality. In the instrumental “Lucky Vegas,” Kiefer’s fluffy guitar transforms into a more pleading sound with the culmination of the creative drum beat that changes throughout the piece. It is fresh and original. “New York Puppy” provides a similar, but deeper feel. The song moves with the guitar’s efficiency. Kiefer will be releasing a free EP soon, but before that release check out his Reverbnation for songs. Follow Matt on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/realmattkiefer

Like I wrote earlier, I had a chance to do some Q+A with Kiefer. Here are Kiefer’s insightful answers.

1.) When did you first start recording and writing songs?
I first started writing songs when I was about 12 years old when i started playing guitar and really started listening to punk rock. Bands like The Ramones, Rancid, and The Smiths were all I was listening to at the time and all of their songs were just a few chords and really easy to play so I dabbled with their songs a bit and eventually started learning how to pick the chords up by ear and pretty soon I was figuring out and jamming along with all my favorite records and albums. As far as recording music goes, I worked my ass off cutting grass and selling it when I was about 15 and bought a little four track tape recorder from the pawn shop (that I probably paid way too much for, come to think of it now) and started making demo tapes in my bedroom with a crappy pawn shop mic and crappy old cassette tapes I’d find in my dads dirty dank basement. I remember I would sit on my bed all day and record hundreds of ideas that I’d come up with and just listen back to them thinking I had hundreds of songs…when all i actually had were just the same riffs and chord progressions in different keys! (laughs)
2.) What were your big music influences when you were growing up and how did this shape you into the artist you are now?
Growing up I listened to a lot of punk rock and a lot of 80’s soul and RnB. The punk bands were introduced to me by kids Id cut school to skateboard and get stoned with and new bands I’d find out about going to shows around the city. My dad used to play a lot of Journey, Alabama, Prince, The Jacksons, 80s Pop, & Jimi Hendrix records throughout the house so I think naturally I ended up being influenced by the old school stuff hearing it all the time. The focus with all those classic groups was strong melodies, so i think my sense of, or intent of wanting to be super melodic with anything I do probably stems from them.
3.) Okay, give me the rundown of what you have been recording. Just solo tracks? Have an album in the works?
Well, right now im recording an EP that will be for download absolutely FREE in the next couple of weeks on various music sites on the net. Im calling it “The FREE-P” and expecting to have it up for download by the end of September.. So far its just me and a bunch of acoustic tracks layered on top of each other… but I’ve got some great friends who are layering keys and strings on the EP as well as playing drums and various other instruments for me. But the majority of the work is just me in my home studio. So look out for that! After that I’ll be right back in the studio working on a full album slated for release around the end of this year. The album will be a mix of chill melodic acoustic tracks and also a full band feel at times ala Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon. I really want to release a very strong collection of music this year.

5.) I’ve noticed that you put a lot of effort into melody. “Lucky Vegas” is an instrumental and “Be Honest” has a melodious long folk opening. The melodies are fantastic. Talk with me about them?
Thank you! I’m glad people appreciate the melody! I definitely put a lot of focus on making sure the melodies are strong but still accessible to the ears of everyone. I can respect great musicians like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, who are very melodic in their playing, but I cant force myself listen to their music for more than 5 minutes without feeling like their songs are just completely ‘masterbatory!’ (Laughs)
Instrumental music is something that I’ve listened to for many years and is really all I listen to these days besides classic Oldies and 80’s pop. When writing Lucky Vegas I was sitting in my hotel room on the Vegas strip at the Monte Carlo Hotel on the 43rd floor just staring out the window at 3 a.m. trying to write a melody that captured how I felt looking at all the lights and the people and the experiences I had in the city that week and the plane ride there. That song kind of wrote itself actually. That’s usually what happens. I start with a simple melody and it takes off from there and then two hours later I have a 3 or 4 minute piece of music that im in love with and describes a feeling or emotion or memory for me.
Be Honest was kind of the same process. It is a song I wrote a few years back about a failed relationship and the bitterness that comes along with the ending of it. Whenever I use lyrics in a song I always want the melodies of the instruments to be just as strong, if not stand out more. I kind of put my lyrics and voice second to the instruments. In this particular song I layered a bunch of guitars on top of the main guitar in an attempt to really add an atmospheric feel without turning on 15 pedals and making it sound like a My Bloody Valentine tune. I think it worked out the way I wanted it too, doesnt feel too cluttered! (laughs) Originally the intro was about two bars long then the vocals dropped in, but I really was digging the feel of the harmonies & the visuals I got in my head from of all the guitars after I wrote them so I decided to just let it ride a little longer and really build up something in the listeners head to the point where you feel like “Whats coming after all this?” Really wanted an epic intro to the lyrics, especially for first time listeners hearing my music for the first time.
6.) What is your favorite part of recording songs?
I can’t say there is a part of recording songs that i would call my favorite… To me the whole experience is absolutely enjoyable. I like the engineering aspect of miking instruments up, getting good tones, playing around in Pro Tools, breaking the recording “rules,” getting cool sounds and so forth. I also really enjoy the experimentation that comes along after I get the bed or main guitar track and vocal track recorded. Adding harmonies, taking them away, extending and building off of parts, adding new instruments… I also really enjoy listening back to the finished product & figuring out what I could do to change the song and make it better or breathe a little more. The way a song sounds once its recorded, mixed, and mastered usually sounds way different than when I originally wrote it. What I like about that though, is at the heart or core of all those layered melodies and different instruments is really just a very simple song I can play on the acoustic guitar and sing along with all by myself and still have them same impact.
7.) I always ask this, so bear with me, if you had a chance to have record a session with three musicians (alive or dead) who would they be and why?
Hmmmm…thats a tough one! There’s so many great musicians that I would love to collaborate with! I think I’d definitely like to get Prince in the room with me because I know he is gonna write some real crazy sh*t and probably bring the funkiest vibe with him.
Jeff Tweedy from Wilco would be pretty cool too. He seems like he lost his mind long ago and had it replaced with lots of insight and also knows how to make 50 incredible and timeless songs out of the same 6 chords over and over. Last, we would need someone who can throw down on the rhythm section so I’d probably ask Jeff to call his drummer Glenn Kotche. Dude is absolutely nuts on the skins and extremely innovative with some of the different rhythmic instruments he’s invented! I definitely reccommend Googling or youtub’ing him and watching his videos. Im always humbled anytime I get the chance to accompany musicians who are better than I am. Whether they are famous (never), strangers, or just my friends who are great at what they do. I think no matter how good we may believe we are, theres always something big or small we can learn from someone else.
8.) Future plans and aspirations?
Future plans are definitely focused around getting this EP out this month, and getting an Album out before the years end. From then on its gonna be back to touring either solo or with a full band. Whichever makes more financial sense! (laughs)
As we speak, I’m auditioning new members for a full ensemble to play out. We are gonna really bring something diverse to the live shows. Id like to have a set that incorporates a lot of loud, wet, atmospheric and distorted full band sounds and then we switch it up and pick up the acoustics and pianos a few songs later. Lots of ups and downs and something that really takes the audience for a ride for 45-60 minutes. Bring out some crazy lights, Projector screens and visuals and really talented musicians to really help bring these songs to life. The biggest and most attainable goal of it all though is just to keep writing songs that speak to me and keep me inspired and just hope other people can relate as well.
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