Archive for February, 2011

VOCAL Showcase February 2011

-by Matt Manion

Collaboration between VOCAL members was on display February 21, 2011 at February’s VOCAL Showcase at O’Tooles Restaurant. Headliner Steve Nuckolls was joined on stage by fellow VOCAL members John Ellis and Larry Cody. Gary Shaver, who opened the evening, brought up Norman Roscher and friend Alan Cole, and surprised a few songwriters in attendance by performing their songs. Bill Kaffenberger, who was originally scheduled to perform, was unable to make it, but hopefully Bill will join us for a future showcase.

Gary, at his keyboard, opened his set with two of his own love songs. The first contained the refrain “my love is somewhere between her and you”. Gary’s performance caused one member of the audience to comment that Gary sounded like Floyd Cramer, the American Hall of Fame pianist who was one of the architects of the “Nashville Sound”. Gary followed it with a song about lovers who look back on their affair, the only thing left being “words on a page, yellow with age.”

The wood and brick interior of O’Tooles came alive for the next number when Gary invited Norman Roscher up to the keyboard to perform a rollicking Norman song called “Roamin’ Eye”. Gary blew alto sax as Alan Cole added tenor sax, and Norman sang in his distinctive, rich, gravely voice “…can’t put a leash on them dog-gone roamin’ eyes.”

Gary then announced that he was going to play a composition written by his friend Frank Lucas, who was in the audience. Alan added sax over Gary’s keyboards and showed how lovely and complete just two instruments can sound. Frank seemed pleased at the unexpected surprise.

Falling scales and deft fingerwork highlighted Gary’s next song, which he said sat unfinished for 10 years at the end of his piano bench. Expressing the struggle of human communications, he entoned “we’re just lost at sea, if you won’t talk to me.” And later…”let’s not sink too deep, just believe in me.”

Gary had another surprise up his sleeve. This time he honored Jim Uzel, another VOCAL member in the audience, by performing a Uzel composition. A sad, last song to a once lover, the lyrics tell the story: “…now that our love is gone, all that’s left is a sweet, sweet love song.” The song ends with a beautiful chord change.

Gary dedicated his last song, a Shaver original, to Marg, who was enjoying the music at a nearby table. A heartfelt love song, Gary sang “…and I stand amazed by your love”, and “…I thank you, my darling, for lifting me up”.

John Ellis served as MC for the evening and announced that Steve Nuckolls would be up shortly. After a brief interlude, Gary introduced Steve, who introduced his first song: Simunye.

Steve explained that the inspiration for Simunye came from a trip Steve and his wife Janice took to Africa. They had ridden an hour on horseback to a Zulu village which had no water or electricity. A reunification effort was going on at that time after a civil war, and “Simunye” can be translated as “we are one” or “we are one with this land”. John added guitar to this moving song, and member Larry Cody added harmony from the audience during the chorus.

Next was one of Steve’s newer songs, the genesis of which came this past New Year’s Eve as he was out running. “My Prayer of Thanks” is an expression of appreciation of each day, with the recognition that it could be our last. Steve dedicated his next song, “Grayson Lady”, to Ethel. It was an uptempo song with images of forests and hills.

John added guitar, and Larry plucked the bass, for Steve’s next song, “Making My Getaway”. The three musicians fell right in together and their instruments and vocals blended as if they had just come off the road after a long tour. During “When the Flag’s Half-Mast” that followed, a member of the audience commented “That Larry Cody can keep some time. He’s just got a good ear.”

Next up was “Sunrise” featuring Steve’s high, clear tenor sailing over the guitars. John’s lead was perfect, sounding almost like a banjo. A hopeful, gorgeous, song with lyrics “…you know there’s always a sunrise”.

“There’s something about your love that keeps me on the ground…” sang Steve for his next tune, followed by a song he described as a “true story told second hand”.  One audience member commented that Steve hits those high notes like Dan Fogelberg. Coincidentally, Steve joked from the stage “I think I’ll do one with my high voice.”  Steve ended his set with his “At Home on the Back Roads” and “Living Out This Love” rounding out a great set for the appreciative audience.

A fine evening of original music, made finer by the collaboration between our members and friends. Please join us for the next VOCAL showcase April 21 and watch for our newsletter for details.

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Interesting info

I read this writer’s book awhile back and found his analysis of what is required today to get on radio an interesting take on modern music. How quick to get to the hook etc and other “Tricks” of manipulation. This is a blog entry he sent me. /Glen
January 7, 2011 – 1:22 am
2010 has finally wrapped up, which means it’s time to analyze the common threads of the biggest hits of the year. At the mid-year point, I looked at the Top 50. This time, I extended the analysis to the Top 100. Collectively, these 100 songs accounted for 187 million downloads and well over $200 million in revenue. These 100 titles also account for approximately 36% of all new music track sales. This means over one in three new music downloads come from these songs. Many elements that have been brewing for the last few years that are detailed in Futurehit.DNA really started to show their ability to bring success this year. Here are some of the shared traits:

This is slightly less than the figure we analyzed at the midyear point. But that figure was for the Top 50. This figure is the Top 100. If we compare the Top 50, the intro length actually decreased from 7.76 seconds to 6.46 seconds, a 20% decrease. Furthermore, the Top 25 intro length decreased even more, going from 6.6 seconds to 5 seconds, a 33% decrease. This is just in 6 months! The short intros are really driving the sales. Want even more evidence?

-Of the Top 25 selling songs, only 4 have intros of 10 seconds or longer
-8 of the Top 25 and 14 of the Top 50 songs have NO INTRO WHATSOEVER

What does this mean? Of the top 50 songs, more songs have no intros than songs with intros of 10 seconds or more. Remember, shorter intros have gotten more successful just in the last 6 months.

This is slightly longer than the mid-year point, once again pointing to owning listening experiences with longer songs. I would venture to guess that this figure will continue to slowly creep up in the coming years, but not grow dramatically. It’s tough to both shorten the intro and elongate the song credibly. The fact that both are occurring, however, does suggest that this is a trend that will be continuing over the next few years.

At the halfway point, only one ballad was in the Top 50 selling songs. At the end of the year, that had changed to none. The highest charting ballad was at #59 (“If I Die Young” by The Band Perry). In fact, only 5 songs in the Top 100 had a BPM of less than 70. A few of those songs are ones I wouldn’t call a ballad (Wacak Flocka Flame’s “No Hands”, anyone?) But that being said, a few titles at 70 BPM or above are borderline ballads (Jay-Z’s “Young Foever”), and then others kinda feel like ballads, though they are faster than a ballad tempo (Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me”). Even though the exact number of Top 100 songs that are ballads can be debated, you’d just be arguing between a small number and a real small number. Bottom line, they don’t sell.
So what tempos are selling?

120-135 BPM – 35%
85-99 BPM – 27%
70-84 BPM – 17%
100-119 BPM – 12%
Less than 70 – 5%
More than 135 BPM – 4%

In my book, I discuss the return of the “walking beat” and discuss how “Staying Alive” personifies that, as seen in the opening of Saturday Night Fever. Well, that song’s BPM (103) neatly matches up with the average BPM of the Top 100 selling songs (103.8). However, as you can see above, there are very few songs in that exact range. Instead, energetic club songs appear to be the strong drivers of sales. I still feel that, as streaming takes over as a primary method of consumption, that slower songs will make a comeback. That is not happening now, and it appears that it won’t be at least thru next year.

The #1 subject matter in the Top 100 selling songs were variations of “I want to take you back to my place so we can have sex” songs, accounting for 21% of the top titles. This is possibly indicative of the times, with dating thru social networking on the rise, easier access to sexual material and sexual connections, as well as a need to find escapist pleasure in trying economic times. While this topic is not new to pop music, it certainly felt like it had a spike this year.
The more traditional subject matter along the same line is the “I love you” song, which was the 2nd most popular at 17%. These songs just edged out the “Out Of Love” songs, which accounted for 16% of the titles. However, the “In Love” songs on average sold 20% more than the “Out Of Love” songs, again suggesting people wanting positive, fun messaging.
A common theme people picked up in pop music is “Partying”. While possibly more prevalent than in recent years, this was only the 3rd most popular subject at 16% of the titles. However, of all the main themes in pop, party tunes on average sold the most (over 2 Million per song). They also tended to be a theme more likely to occur in multiple songs by the same artist (specifically Ke$ha, Black Eyed Peas, and Trey Songz). Also, I can confirm that indeed the word “club” is used more often in a party song than the word “party” or “dance”. Though, somehow, two party hits (Far East Movement’s “Like A G6″ and Ke$ha’s “Take It Off) managed to be big hits without mentioning any of those words.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Releasing more singles more often will yield you better success. 15 months ago, Ke$ha was just being released and nobody was sure who she was. In 2010, she has 5 of the Top 50 selling songs and sold more tracks than any other artist. Why? Because she released that many singles in that timeframe. Katy Perry, Rihanna, B.O.B. and Bruno Mars each have 3 of the Top 50 selling songs (Mr. Mars was on one of the B.O.B. sellers), reflective of the consistent single release pattern. The rapidfire succession of songs keeps the singer in the public consciousness and sales seem to grow of older songs the sooner new ones get in the marketplace.

Yes, you read that right. The press story is that the top pop songs, especially in the digital track realm, is dominated by the real young. This is often emphasized by pointing to Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, and others. The truth is, averaged out across all tracks, the average age is actually 27. The #2 selling song of the year is sung by the 41-year old frontman of Train, Pat Monahan. So how old do you have to be nowadays?

19-24 – 38%
25-34 – 33%
35 and up – 22%
18 and under – 6%

Yes, the prime age as shown here is 19-24 years old, certainly saying the signing of young pop stars is justified. So to be clear, I’m not saying that this is not a key element of success nowadays. I’m just pointing out that, when the image of pop is so young, seeing 55% of the songs recorded by those 25 years old or greater means this is not solely a young persons’ game. Does a person in their early twenties have an advantage? Yes, but when the #1 selling album of the year is by a 38 year old (Eminem) and the #2 selling download is by a 41 year old (Train), experience still counts.
FYI, for those who are astute enough to catch it, the numbers above do indeed add up to 99%. I was unable to verify the age of Neon Trees to include them in the research. However, if the information I found is any indication, this is likely because they are trying to appear younger than they actually are. Their figures would likely just increase the 25-34 year old figure and raise the average age slightly, but it’s unlikely they would lower it.

I may be doing further analysis in the coming weeks, potentially looking at genre specific findings. Do you have anything you’re curious about with the top selling songs of 2010? Leave a comment and I may answer it in the followup report.

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