Monday, March 28, 2011

Great Singers vs. Mediocre Singers

I must admit, I'm pretty picky when it comes to accepting new artists. Although, I wasn't even alive at the time when motown was popular, I have a total fascination with it. My favorite kind of music, with the exception of Norah Jones and a few others probably doesn't get more recent than the 70s. So why is it that lately I've been listening to a whole lot of Adele?

Because she's freaking fabulous, that's why! Not only is she absolutely adorable as a person (which you can easily see if you read/watch her interviews on TV or in magazines) but damn, does she have talent. She has a mind-blowing voice, not to mention a refreshingly honest songwriting style. Perhaps the reason I like her so much is the old-school tinge to her voice - so soulful and strong, yet beautifully vulnerable at all the right moments. It's nice to see that someone with real talent can still make it in the mainstream music industry, especially as a singer. Take a look at the majority of artists today: most of them are singer/songwriters, with very little focus on the "singer" part of the title. If you read my first blog post, you know that this is something I've set out to change. But it's wonderful artists like Adele who give me a little more faith that it's actually possible.

This does not mean that I think every artist has to be a great singer. Bob Dylan is a perfect example of a singer/songwriter who is such a great storyteller that his voice became secondary. However, I do find that the singer/songwriters who can really sing can sometimes tell an even greater story. First, let's define a great singer: This is not someone who merely sounds "pretty." There are many people in the world with good voices, but being a great singer is a lot more than that. The thing that separates a mediocre singer and a great singer is not just the ability to sound beautiful, but the ability to tell a story with the voice. Considering that the voice is the medium that delivers the lyrics of a song, it really can tell just as much of a story as the lyrics do. When these two things work in harmony, you get a mind-blowing vocal performance.

Adele has a strong voice, but she's also extremely sensitive. She's never sings loudly for the sake of being loud, or even softly for the sake of being soft. While she's a skilled singer, she doesn't constantly need to remind you that she can do all of these things with her voice. The most important point is that she's always genuine when she sings. She doesn't sing the way she does just to impress you, or make you think "look how pretty she sounds!" Forgive me if I sound like a know-it-all, but I really have no interest in singers who simply admire themselves when they sing. If a singer sounds pretty but isn't genuine (as in, they're thinking about how to impress the audience with their next riff, rather than what they're saying), I pretty much stop caring.

This is why Adele is fabulous. She's soulful, she's sensitive, and most importantly, she's real. The video I'm about to leave you with is "Make You Feel My Love," which was written by Bob Dylan and covered by Adele. Even though this is not one of Adele's songs, it's a great example of everything I've been talking about. With lyrics written by Bob Dylan, and heart-wrenching vocals by Adele, there is definitely a story being told here.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Bitter End in NYC: A Piano-Friendly Venue

On Sunday March 20th, I played a gig at the Bitter End, a well-known NYC venue where longing musicians flock with hope that they will be heard. The Bitter End, located in Greenwich Villge, has been a starting venue for many famous musicians, including Billy Joel, Carly Simon, Stevie Wonder, Neil Diamond, Nina Simone, and even my girl, Norah Jones. Needless to say, there's a lot of history there. As a matter of fact, the Bitter End really is an odd window into the history of the entertainment industry, as well as the United States. Just ask Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell how important the Bitter End was to them during the 60s, when they sang their songs of protest against the Vietnam War.

Now let me tell you why I love the Bitter End....

It has a piano. That sounds like a simple and obvious reason, but let me tell you why it's not. 

It is nearly impossible as a singer/songwriter who plays piano to find a venue that actually has a piano, let alone a decent one. If you're lucky, you'll run into a venue like Sidewalk Cafe (the main starting venue of Regina Spektor), which has an old upright piano against the wall of the stage. But who wants to play a show with their back to the audience? I know I don't.

The Bitter End has a cozy cafe atmosphere with dim lighting, cute tables, and a nice bar for all those who like to have a drink while they listen to good music. The walls are a beautiful red brick, and the acoustics are great, but my favorite part is the Yamaha grand piano on the stage. 

Let me tell you, I am usually forced to play in venues that don't have pianos, since these types of venues are usually the most common. If I only played shows at venues that had pianos, I would pretty much be limited to the same two or three spaces. Most venues in the NYC area in general are geared towards people who play guitar. Man, am I jealous of guitar-players whenever I see them strolling around with their guitars on their backs. If I could bring my piano with me everywhere, I totally would. 

The funny thing is, that is pretty much what I have to do whenever I play a show. I brace myself to lug my giant 88-key Yamaha stage piano (that's a fancy-schmancy name for my keyboard) to the venue. Usually I'll recruit a couple of friends to help me with this, and forget about feminism long enough to let one of my guy friends wheel the keyboard so that I can just hold the stand and the bench. It's way too much for one person to carry on their own. That being said, you cannot even imagine how refreshing it was for me to simply show up to my gig, and have a piano ready for me to play. This little convenient thing put me in the most positive mindset to perform. I'm glad to report that it went really well, and I had a blast the entire time. And the audience was awesome!

So thank you, Bitter End. This is why I love you. You look great, you sound great, and you're piano-friendly. 

Love always,

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Next Alicia Keys?

So when you're a girl who happens to play piano and sing at the same time, there are a few questions that people often ask.

"Is it hard to concentrate on playing and singing at the same time?"
"How old were you when you started playing piano?"
All reasonable questions. Here's the one I have the greatest love/hate relationship with:

"Are you the next Alicia Keys?"

Let me get one thing straight. There were many people who sang and played piano long before Alicia Keys came around. Did everyone forget Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Billy Joel, Elton John, and at least 100 other people?

Don't get me wrong, I adore Alicia, and actually went to see her live during her "Diary" tour at Radio City She is a fantastic woman - she's beautiful, talented, and compassionate, (Click here to read Alicia's Blog and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about). There's no doubt that she's been a huge influence in my music, and that she's one of the best talents in the mainstream music industry right now. Aside from being a classically-trained pianist, Alicia Keys has an undeniable raw talent and keen sense of style that sets her apart from a lot of other artists. The reason why I am grateful to her, however, is that she made playing piano look like the coolest thing someone can do. When Alicia Keys hit the charts, everyone admired her for her talent. If a beautiful girl from Harlem could be a classically-trained pianist and still be hip at the same time, then who could say that all pianists are stuffy nerds with wire-framed glasses? I'm not sure how old I was at the time when Alicia Keys hit it big, but I do remember that all of sudden I was proud to say that I played piano. And I wished I had practiced a little more Beethoven...

Sometimes the biggest challenge for me as an artist is trying to be distinguishable from other artists in my genre, while still trying to associate myself with these artists so that people have a clue as to what I sound like. Chances are, if you like Alicia Keys I'm probably girl. Even though my style is not as blatantly R&B, there are a lot of musical qualities that we share. I could say the same for Norah Jones. I've been listening to so much Norah Jones over the past three years, that I'd be lying if I tried to tell you that she didn't impact my music. So maybe that's it: maybe my sound is a happy medium between the classic/urban R&B sound of Alicia Keys and the more mellow, soft jazz/pop quality of Norah Jones. I am perfectly fine with this description. But you know what? Maybe it doesn't matter so much.

I am not the next Alicia Keys. Or the next Norah Jones. And although being known by any one of these titles would probably make me feel flattered, I would still have to say that neither one is accurate. I am the next me - the only me, and my music consists of three things: my thoughts, my voice, and my experiences. And from the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you for listening.

Yours truly,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Negative Inspiration = Creativity x 100

I have to admit, sometimes it is much easier to write a song when bad things happen. I suppose this means I'll be writing a song soon. This week is full of negative inspiration and I'm hoping this negative will spiral into a few great songs in the process. At the end of it all, I try to tell myself one thing: Even if an experience was completely horrible, the best way to make light of it is to write a song about it. If I can do that, then no experience is ever a waste. I'll also know that when I look back at the negative experience I'll always be able to see at least one positive thing about it: that I was creative.

I hope you guys forgive me for this melancholic post of mine, and I'll definitely be posting again later on this week. Hopefully by then, I'll have a new song to tell you about.

Wishing you all a better week than I'm having,


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Monday: Song Stories

 Although it's past midnight and technically Tuesday, it's pretty much still Monday to me. I've been up since seven in the morning, which probably seems like a treat to some of you sleep-deprived workers/students out there. Getting to sleep until 7AM used to be a dream come true, yet now I found myself groaning every time my alarm clock sings to me, whether or it's 7 in the morning or 12 o'clock noon.

Almost exactly two weeks ago, I wrote a song called "Monday." Yes, this song was actually written on a Monday, and it is actually about Mondays (how mysterious). That day, I sat down at the piano with the intention of writing a song, though I didn't know what it would be about. I wasn't directly inspired by anything, and I was completely distracted by the entire mess that had been my day so far. Then I realized that all my distractions and lack of inspiration had just inspired my song topic.

Let's think of everything that Monday means to most people: work, getting up early, stress, the start of a new week, the end of the weekend (i.e. back to reality), and let's face it: leaving the people you love to go do whatever you have to do to pay the bills. Whether that means going to your job or classes, it all pretty much ends up being about the same thing in the end: money. If you're lucky, you love what you do and actually enjoy going to work every day. Regardless, for a lot of us (even musicians, believe it or not) there is a bit more to life than work, and it is these simple life pleasures outside of our careers that keep us going. There is a reason why we look forward to Friday, and it isn't just that the simple fact that the work week is over. For some of us, it is that there is someone we're waiting to see who we've been missing all week.