Saturday, February 4, 2012

Top Ten Pop Hooks in Rotation for 2011 / TUN3R still indefinitely suspended

I thought I write this one last "epilogue" post. The last one about TUN3R's indefinite suspension was a bit of a downer to end on. Feel free to read it if you're curious about the history of TUN3r and why we suspended it.

I should have written this post about a month ago. I've started a new job and have been very tight on time these days so I'm going to jump right into the list. It will likely be my last post on the TUN3R blog. But never say never. While the list itself has not been rushed. I'll admit this post is a bit.

Ten: Friday (Rebecca Black): To be sure, this is a horrible song. It's entirely sung in AutoTune and for anyone over the age of 10, is surely one of the most grating sounds to have every reached such a wide audience. But there's something I secretly admire about Friday. Namely, it completely bypassed all the established controls that are normally put in place by the mainstream entertainment complex. It did so using a simple catchy pop hook, which at first was mocked by Daniel Tosh, and later became embraced by millions of pre-tweens around the world. What's most amazing about Friday is that it also features a video showing a bunch of young teenagers with acne. That's right acne. You would think there was a strict law (punishable by death) preventing us from seeing acne anywhere on television. There might as well have been. But no, here we can see it in full display - in the back of a Chrysler Sebring convertible no less. So for this reason I must doff my hat at Rebecca Black, and hope she never releases another song for the rest of her life.

Nine: Buy My Love (Wynter Gordon): I'm kind of surprised this song didn't get more airplay. Whoever wrote it has done an impressive job stitching together various pop hooks into a cohesive song that still sounds fresh to my ears. Yes it's poppy and probably annoying for most music aficionados. But songs like this are a lot rarer than most people realize.

Eight: Price Tag (Jessie J feat. B.o.B.): I read an interview with Jessie J a few months ago which stuck out in my mind, and deserves to be mentioned here. Jessie J revealed what it takes to create a great pop hook. Behind "Price Tag" are about a thousand songs you'll never hear. That's right - Jessie J literally wrote one thousand songs before choosing a handful for her album, of which this is the only one I've heard. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, these pop hooks that float to the surface are the product of highly competitive Darwinian process. What's most interesting for me (another point I bring up) is that all the songs you'll hear this year won't amount to a single Beatles album from the 60s. Still a great mystery of science I suppose.

Seven: More Thank You Know - RAM Radio Edit (Flash Brothers): I've never been a big trance fan. The tempo is always a bit too fast for my liking, there's rarely any vocals, and it all too often sounds like a big wash. But this song, while squarely in the trance genre is oddly...entrancing (horrible pun, I know). There's a kind of anxiety/urgency to the singer's voice which gets my heart rate going. But more impressively, there's something mellifluous to this track that's lacking in most other trance hits.

Six: Someone Like You - Happy HotDog Radio Edit (Adele): Yes she's all the rage still, and I do very much like Adele's voice. But until I'd heard this Happy HotDog mix, I'd never paid much attention to her. There's something about taking a mushy pop hook and sharpening it up, that really appeals to me.

Five: Loca People (Sak Noel): This immediately reminded me of a song (from 1998 I believe) by Touch and Go called "Would You...?". If you remember the song, you'll know what I'm talking about. What I find fascinating about both Loca People and Would You is that they both follow the exact same formula, were both minor hits, and yet there are surprisingly few copycats. But what I find most fascinating about these songs is that they're basically spoken word pop hooks. Sort of reminds me of those extended samples (often from Blade Runner) that would pop up in 90s industrial music. But as simple as Loca People sounds, I suspect it's harder to come up with spoken word pop hooks, than it looks.

Four: Give Me Everything (Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer): I'm a bit reluctant to put this song on this list, and from a pure talent perspective I'm not sure if this should be at number four. But the reason I'm giving this more prominence is that I believe this song answers a question I raised last year. Namely, "How has popular music discernibly changed over the past 2-5 years?" While there are many answers to this question, a pattern that appears to be in plain sight is the convergence of hip hop and dance. If go back to the earlier days of hip hop (or rap if you prefer), its roots were more jazz based. When Snoop first released Doggy Style, he applied a more melody. When P. Diddy first broke onto the seen, he took full blown pop hooks and spliced in his rap - but it always felt like he was pausing the pop hook so we could listen to him rap. Then came Eminem and 50 Cent who began to popularize more melodic rapping - but there was still something disjointed about their music. But if you listen to Flo Rida's "Club Can't Handle Me" and Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" it's become clear that the lines between hip hop and dance no longer exist. That said, I'm sure it's not easy rap melodically - there are a lot of constraints working against you. But constraints are also engines of creativity, so I think this will get better, and I think we have some interesting stuff to look forward to.

Three: Fade Into Darkness (Avicii): There's not a lot to this song. But what makes it noteworthy is how it was shamelessly stolen by Leona Lewis and re-released as Collide. Apparently the two were able to work things out with Lewis crediting Avicii as a co-author. But if anything, what this song points out is the dearth of decent pop hooks to work with. As I've pointed out before, many artists simply rehash theirs and others pop hooks. It's almost like there's a fixed supply of gold and the mining companies are struggling to find new deposits.

Two: Take You Higher - Radio Edit (Goodwill & Hook N Sling): This song is sort of a remix of Big Jet Plane by Angus and Julia Stone (they're brother and sister in case you're wondering). But I think it's more than a remix. It feels a different song. The only way I can describe this song would be if Bob Dylan decided to put out a dance song, without compromising his character. There's something uncharacteristically anti-climactic about this song which whenever I hear it I wonder "What are people in the dance clubs doing when this song comes on? Dancing awkwardly?"

One: Attaboy (Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile): I'm not sure what genre this song fits in. It's kind classical, kind of bluegrass/country/folk. I probably don't listen to enough modern classical music. For whatever reason, it seems to eschew blatant melody. But this song is not only rife with pop hooks, there is an effortless playfulness and to this piece that leaves everything else on this list in the dust from a pop hook perspective. But what's disappointing is that everything other song on The Goat Rodeo Sessions is forgettable. Goes to show how difficult it is to come up with a killer pop hook.

There are times I wonder if pop hooks are discovered or "mined". If so, in the same way the miners are saying we've hit peak gold, is it possible we've hit peak music?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

TUN3R is signing off at the end of 2011

The headline says it all. Peter and I have decided to shut down TUN3R - the web site and the iPhone App will no longer be available by the end of this year.

TUN3R was officially launched in July 2007 with respectable fanfare. In 2006, when Peter showed me a demo of the technology behind TUN3R', it was one of those rare moments that seemed like magic. The ability to move around a mosaic of stations, hearing the sound flip in real time - just like a traditional analog TUN3R - was exhilarating. The Internet has always been a great place to find "long tail" nichey stuff, but I've always found the rigid organization and latency in browsing to be off-putting. Searching has always been a necessary evil, but TUN3R made it fun to find stations on the web. Serendipity was reborn. There were other things that made TUN3R more useful than the average radio aggregator: We we the first to crawl playlists, and allow users to search against them (also the station's web site). Later we added the ability to browse major city's AM/FM dial which we called "City Dials". Finally, we (well, basically Peter) released an iPhone App.

Others were impressed too, and for a while it seemed like TUN3R had a very prosperous future ahead of it. So why didn't things play out this way? I'll be the first to admit that under different, harder nosed, sharper elbowed management it may have done better. Although there were a few major obstacles we encountered along the way which I'll explain...

First, we thought it would be possible to make TUN3R a consumer company driven by business-to-business revenues. The original idea was that stations would pay to appear prominently on TUN3R's Dial. Unfortunately, the stations that most wanted to be on TUN3R's Dial were Internet based stations running on a very limited (if any) budget, and could barely afford their streaming costs, let alone a marketing budget (some stations even ask to be removed from TUN3R for fear of running out of bandwidth for their more loyal listeners). The stations that were well funded (i.e. the big FM stations) were and are as clueless about the impact of the Internet to their business as the music labels were and still are. Most of these stations outsourced their Internet strategy - that is to say their future business strategy - to data streaming and web site building job shops. Sigh.

The underlying problem wasn't so much that we couldn't sell into AM/FM stations - it's that these stations are not very interesting to Internet radio fans (i.e. TUN3R's fanbase). FM stations have too many commercials (most of which are still localized), antiquated restrictions preventing them from being heard outside their country, a looming reputation for accepting Payola bribes, limited playlists, too much empty filler, and inconsistent proprietary streaming formats. At most Internet stations, the DJs are in charge. At most FM stations, there is often no human DJ to speak off.

Internet radio has flourished somewhat in the free market of radio. But sadly, Internet radio is increasingly being seen as synonymous with Custom Radio - that's what Pandora and Last.FM are selling. It's a neat idea with huge appeal. But, it's one of those situations where the idea sounds better than it really is. A great DJ must be heard to be believed: I can talk to you until you're blue in the face about a great Internet radio stations (like the Soma stations or Radio Paradise, or the Swiss BigBeat), but until you listen to these stations you won't know to even look for them. Pandora knows this all too well, and has since launched non-custom pre-programmed genre stations. In the future, I wouldn't be surprised if Pandora had more listeners listening to DJ led stations than its Custom Radio offering - especially given the social direction the web is moving. Custom Radio == Lonely and Isolated Radio.

Therefore, we concluded that for TUN3R to be successful, we would have to focus solely on the listener. That is to say, TUN3R would become a pure Business to Consumer (B2C) business.

B2C is an arena that typically requires a combination of a lot of capital and/or guerrilla marketing. We did get approached by a well heeled VC from the US (it's been a nuclear winter for VC here in Canada since the dotcom bubble burst), but they came to us before we had any revenue to speak of, and since moved on by the time our iPhone App began bringing in cash. As for guerrilla marketing - it's for better or for worse a necessity. There are so many iPhone Apps now available that most App bloggers (and magazines) can and do charge for coverage. Translation: there's very little honest coverage of iPhone Apps out there as most of it is dictated by Payola. Generating grass roots buzz often requires various forms of spamming, something which we never felt was well suited to TUN3R's ethos.

But, word-of-mouth still serves us well.

Speaking more frankly, we both have families to support and bills to pay. Without quitting our jobs and getting funding, there's not a lot of time left in the day to build out the product and brand. There was certainly no shortage of good ideas.

Without trying to sound pedantic, it's not possible to pursue new ideas without freeing up time and money from ongoing projects. And for this simple reason we are putting TUN3R on an indefinite hiatus.

But hey, if you're reading this and disagree, feel free to express your ideas. But I should warn you: At this point we're not short on ideas; just time and money.

What then will become of this blog? Given that it's free to host, I'll probably just leave it up for posterity. Who knows, maybe I'll throw up one more post before the year is out.

A final shout-out to all the great Internet stations and DJs - you know who you are. It's been our pleasure to see you on the TUN3R Dial.

Signing off now.

Monday, September 12, 2011

INTERVIEW: Cornucopia Radio founder, Peter Beeston

One of the simple pleasures of modern life is embarking on a long car trip, turning on the radio to find a meaty engrossing radio show. With all the variety out there, most radio is geared towards what I might describe as snacking: short song sets broken up by news breaks; DJ chatter; and annoying commercials. There are talk radio stations which occasionally can be entertaining, and while a step up from the nachos and cheese of music stations, they're more like burgers and fries: one-dimensional pundits preaching to the choir.

The only exceptions I've been able to find are the liberally sponsored government backed stations. Stations like the BBC, NPR, or CBC. Ironically, in spite of their "socialist" government backing, they succeed quite impressively within our free markets. In fact, here in Canada, the CBC has the third highest overall listenership of any station, and leads in high value demographic groups like seniors, university graduates, Canadians in professional occupations, and skilled sales people. I often wonder why there aren't more stations that attempt to embrace radio dramas, poetry, lectures, spoken word, and sketch comedy.

Well thank goodness for Internet radio, and stations like the Cornucopia Radio Show. CR, based out of Sheffield UK, plays the sort of material I've only hitherto heard on public radio stations like the CBC or BBC. I only learned of it two weeks ago. Since then, I've been periodically tuning into this unique and fascinating station, often lingering for an hour or more. As a sample of what I've heard, I listened to 'Bluff Cove Disaster' a radio play about the Falkland Islands War, a lecture on the philosophy of art "The Creative Act" by Marcel Duchamp, some spoken poetry, spoken word, various sketch comedy, a ghost story radio play called "Ghost of a Chance", and on the music front a syndicated version of Hype Machine Radio, featuring the latest tracks from the very best music blogs around the world. Let me be clear, this is no amateur college/university station. The quality is very much what you would find on a BBC station.

This brings me to the subject of this blog posting. Peter Beeston, one of the key pillars of Cornucopia has graciously agreed to this TUN3R interview.

Q1 Neil: Thanks Peter for taking out some time to respond to these questions. I've poked around the CR web site and can see that you're both involved in running CR as well as contributing to it. Did you also found the station? How did CR get its start?

A1 Peter: Yes, I’ve been involved since the beginning. We started just over 4 years ago, broadcasting for one hour a month on our local community radio station. At that point it was just myself and a few friends creating stupid comedy sketches, but pretty soon we were creating much longer radio-plays and utilising lots of local performers & writers. A few years later and we found ourselves producing several different shows a week; in the process working with various creative groups around the world.

Sadly however, the economic crisis began to affect the community station and the type of output it could support. So instead of giving up we decided to utilise all the material we were currently producing and offer our programs up as syndicated shows and more importantly, use all of our material to create an online radio station, one which was representative of the things we believed in.

Q2 Neil: There's so much variety on Cornucopia. What segments resonate most with your listeners? What's your most popular show?

A2 Peter: The radio drama plays we produce are very popular (both on the station and as podcasts), as this is a genre which has been ignored by most stations over the last 50 years. However I think the term ‘Variety’ is key to everything we do. We’re living in an increasingly commercialised world; one in which broadcasters like to believe that people can easily be pigeon-holed or catalogued; that just because somebody likes ‘X’ they’ll never like ‘Y’. They’re petrified of taking people out of their comfort zone.

I think that’s rubbish. People love to explore and discover new media; finding material they don’t yet know they’ll love. So I hope what people like the most about ‘Cornucopia’ is not any one show, but more the philosophy behind it. The idea being, that we’re going to broadcast a whole load of creative stuff, produced by talented but under represented people from across the world and If you don’t like one show, hold on; the next thing that comes along might be totally different.

Q3 Neil: I really enjoy The Hype Machine - I've actually found some real gems, like some of the remixes of Lisztomania. How did the relationship with Hype begin? What other musical programming do you have?

A3 Peter: As we’re mainly ‘spoken word’ producers, we have to use syndicated music shows to fill that quota on our station. However I’m also very keen on promoting ‘Creative Commons’ work (all our work is released under the same license), so broadcasting the Hype-Machine is a very natural fit (like yourself, I think it’s great way to discover new music). Getting them on board was just a matter of a simple polite email. We’re all in the same boat, and by broadcasting their show we’re helping them get their own message out to the masses.

Q4 Neil: All the material on CR is IMO of a quality on par with the BBC. How many contributors do you have? Where do most of the contributors come from?

A4 Peter: We’re very lucky to be based in Sheffield, which has one of the highest concentrations of people working in the creative industries of anywhere in the UK. So we’re never short of people who want to get involved in what we do. Across the city we have a core team of around 10 local writers and performers who are involved in making a lot of our content (documentaries, drama, comedy ect) plus we have an even bigger pool of actors and actresses who we can call at any given time.

Also we work with a number of audio drama groups from across the world. Helping to broadcast their own work on our station (as well as on our FM radio shows). A lot of these internet relationships have been fostered on and which are excellent resources for people wanting to produce spoken word radio shows; some of the work produced is mind blowing!

Q5 Neil: How is the station managed? How do you decide what material gets accepted and what is rejected, and when it gets aired?

A5 Peter: We have an open door policy for anyone that wants to produce a radio show. Whether that’s somebody who wants to work face-to-face with us in Sheffield, or an individual who wants to create work on the other side of the world. All we ask is that the show is creative and different. That it’s something you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

In terms of scheduling, I like to embrace a quirky randomness to our schedule (as fitting our ‘Cornucopia’ name) A weekly schedule consists of a randomly repeating 8-12 hour running order which gets completely overhauled and updated every weekend with new shows.

Now I appreciate this is a slightly different way to program a radio station. Some people prefer to know that a program is on at the same time each and every week; but that isn’t the type of station I want to create. I want to create a station in which you never know what you’re going to hear next, a station where you’re confident enough in our ability to feel that we’re never going to let you down.

Q6 Neil: Although I didn't hear any, do you have any talk shows (e.g. interviews, discussion forums)?

A6 Peter: Yes, this is often covered by our Mind Labs strand, which is our primary home for shows which focus on ideas, topics and discussions. We also syndicate great talk shows such as Frequencycast which is an amazing technology & gadget discussion program.

One thing which we should try and do in the future (which we’re not doing at the moment) is to have more round table discussions with our writers and performers about the work they create and produce. We should try and illuminate the process of making a radio drama (which I think people at home would find really interesting). So keep an ear open for that!

Q7 Neil: I don't hear any commercials on CR (which I like). Does CR make money? Is there a business model, or is it a labour of love?

A7 Peter: Well, this is a problem for all radio stations, especially in the current climate. Some of the FM stations I’ve worked with are constantly in debt and always on the verge of closing down (the slump in the advertising market has been going on for years). So instead, you have to look at different ways to operate. One of the most important things is to try and keep costs down, but making sure this is done in a way which doesn’t affect quality. You have to think, if you’re spending money on something which isn’t going to help your broadcast, is it really worth it?

I’m also currently up to my neck in writing funding applications to arts organisations, trying to get support for helping local writers and performers. There aren't that many ways for creative people to break into writing for radio in the UK (outside of the BBC), so hopefully somebody will appreciate what we’re trying to do and give us more money to do it better in the future.

Q8 Neil: I'm sure you've crossed paths with many people from many different backgrounds. Is there an interesting story you can tell about running Cornucopia?

A8 Peter: Well, sometimes I have these big crazy ideas which seem fine when talking with friends at a bar, but then turn into these mammoth projects which I have to manage as best I can. The one that stands out is when ‘Cornucopia Radio’ decided to organise a day long live broadcast in a major public space in Sheffield. It featured live bands, sketch comedy and poetry. It lasted seven hours and was running uncontrollably over-schedule. At the height of this madness, I was suddenly interrupted by ‘Doctor Who and the Daleks’, who were in the area to promote a live stage show. They heard we were doing a live radio show and wanted to take to the stage and help us out. So in my frazzled state, I bizarrely found myself trying to conduct an unplanned live interview with a Dalek and wondering where best to stick the microphone.

Yep, radio can be a little weird sometimes...

[Neil: See photo at top]

Q9 Neil: Silly question, but I always ask it. If there was one song that epitomized Cornucopia what would it be?

A9 Peter: Well, it’s a silly answer in return; but we’ve often used “There is Hope” by Misty’s Big Adventure as our theme tune. It’s stupid, random and doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it has an energy and enthusiasm that can win over even the toughest of souls.

I’m using the song as metaphor for what we’re doing at ‘Cornucopia Radio’; just in case you haven’t made the link ;-)

Q10 Neil: Where do you see Cornucopia headed for the future? And in more general terms do you believe that there could be a profitable business model for a higher minded radio station like Cornucopia, outside of the government sponsored model?

A10 Peter: I think there is going to be a massive change in the position of media production and broadcasting over the next few decades. Television, film, publishing and radio have been controlled by large organisations for at least a hundred years; not because they were necessarily the best, but because only they had the money, equipment and broadcasting channels that were needed. But this is all changing before our eyes. A simple iPhone in your pocket already has enough software to broadcast directly to millions of people across the world; all you need is the passion and the creativity!

You can see it all around you right now. Massively successful YouTube videos have audiences that any TV channel would kill for, popular blogs have more readers than Dan Brown could ever (poorly) imagine, and today’s interesting and unique radio stations will be tomorrows market leaders. Granted I think it’ll be less profitable for most people and run more like a successful hobby with a small income (I’m talking about the ‘long-tale business model’ here) but hopefully ‘Cornucopia Radio’ will be part of the revolution. Or maybe I’ll just get tired of the whole thing and give it up.

Either way, I’ll always be able to tell people that I once interviewed a Dalek...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Forbidden Fruit / TUN3R's Top 10 Pop Hooks in Rotation for 2010

There are two themes I have been contemplating over 2010. The first is Internet Radio as "The Forbidden Fruit" of music. The second is not so much about radio but rather how music has changed over the past 10 years.

First, what do I mean by "Forbidden Fruit"? For example, if you listen to a decent Internet radio station with a focus on contemporary music (e.g. pop or techno), you will likely be exposed to songs that aren't yet making the rounds on other music distribution platforms (e.g. FM radio, satellite, Pandora, Last.FM, iTunes, etc.). The reasons for this is are due to the legal logistics required to secure the distribution of remixes as well as international restrictions. Because of the nature of live streaming Internet radio, it's regulated differently. Terrestrial and and satellite radio are more tightly regulated, and custom radio (e.g. Pandora and Last.FM) is entirely driven off of a centrally vetted catalog. Furthermore, it's often the case that I'll hear a cool song or remix I like and it's not even available on iTunes; even niche music retailers like BeatPort and MasterBeat won't have the mix you're looking for or it's not available in your region (and they can't have all the DJ remixes). You'd even be hard pressed to find many of these remixes through illegal download services. So, if you're if your one of those girls or guys that takes pride in "being into it before it was cool" (and who isn't?), live streaming Internet radio stations are the way to go. This is why I steadfastly maintain, Internet radio is the bearer of Forbidden Fruit, and why it holds such a great appeal to me.

The second theme that has been bouncing around my head this year is the question "How has music fundamentally changed since 2000?" If we look back to earlier decades (and I suppose part of the problem is we don't yet have an historical perspective of the present), it is fairly easy to see what has changed. If we compare music from 1960 to 1970 it is easy to point out what changed (Prog rock was born). In the seventies we saw the evolution of Prog Rock, the emergence of Disco, Heavy Metal, and Punk, and even the beginnings of electronic music and post-punk new wave. The eighties saw the maturation of New Wave, the rise of Rap and Hip Hop, and the evolution of Metal into sub-genres like Thrash and Industrial, and the reinvention of Disco as Techno, and in the underground, the nascent beginning of grunge. The first half of the nineties was mostly defined by grunge music, but other genres such as Industrial grew legs. The second half of the decade was dominated by hip hop, but a new alt-pop was growing in popularity. Alternative no longer holds meaning as a genre, and has really just morphed into the default genre for people who collect music (I've only met two persons who meticulously collected Top 40 music). Hip Hop and R&B have more or less converged. Prog Rock seems to have made a comeback, insofar that we're seeing a lot more musical instruments than the standard 3 piece ensemble. And, a focus on celebrity culture and singing competitions has from what I can tell amounted to a large and sapping distraction from anything we would normally associate with creative song writing. Yes, at a macro level, the past 10 years has seen change. However, there are so many songs I hear now where I'm asking myself "Would this song be possible ten years ago?". When the answer is "Maybe, but not quite" this for me is a more interesting way of examining the changes that have occurred over the past 10 years.

Enough rambling. Here are the Top 10 Pop Hooks of 2010 as per TUN3R's opinion:

Ten: We No Speak Americano (Yolanda Be Cool, DCUP).
I consider this to be the "Mambo #5" of 2010. It's immediately catchy and annoying all at the same time. What's most surprising is that it's not yet being used for a television commercial (at least not any I've seen). I could imagine it being put to good use selling the new Fiat 500 in North America.

Nine: Dynamite (Taoi Cruz). I overheard my kids singing this a few times already. I've heard a number of other young children singing this too. A family Pop Hook is a primal Pop Hook. I just wish it didn't have to be so cheezy sounding. This could have been a better song. I imagine there's a better song hidden in a downstream remix.

Eight: Amazing / Hot (Inna). Amazing and Hot both sound like the exact same song to me (I think there's a guy singing in Hot though). It goes to show the challenge of writing a decent Pop Hook. Instead of writing a brand new song, sometimes it makes sense to just tweak the one you've got and re-release it. I actually welcome this in the case of Amazing and/or Hot. I'll be surprised if Inna can top this, but given her, ahem, marketability, perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised.

Seven: Rocket (Goldfrapp).
This is one of the songs that has got me wondering what has changed in the past ten years. Rocket sounds like a song taken right out of the late 70s, early 80s disco period. It reminds me of "Bette Davis Eyes" or "Total Eclipse of the Heart". I wonder, is this a progression of music or a rehash of older music. It's really hard for me to tell with this one.

Six: Feel it in my Bones (Tegan & Sara, Tiesto).
I'm glad to see Tegan and Sara have made peace with techno music. Not only have they collaborated with Tiesto, but they also released a remixed version of Alligator with Morgan Page. I first saw Tegan & Sara during a living recording of Open Mike with Mike Bullard back in 2000. It was immediately apparent that these twins from Calgary had some intense melodic-mind-meld thing going on and everyone in the audience was quite taken aback. Bullard himself, appearing stunned, told the audience off-camera that he'd never seen an act like Tegan & Sara before. I'm not surprised they've resisted techno remixes for so long. Their music comes across as obstinate and angry. Their melodies and lyrics have an intensity that is unique. I doubt Tegan & Sara have peaked and look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Five: Sweet Disposition [Axwell & Dirty South remix] (Temper Trap).
The original version of this song never made any impact on me and is barely recognizable after you've first heard the Axwell & Dirty South remix. The odd thing about this song is I can't find it for sale anywhere. Especially weird given that this remix has spawned a whole bunch of remixes all of its own. This piece of Forbidden Fruit is tasty.

Four: 17 (Aquapura).
This is another song I struggle to understand if it could have been written in 1998. I think it could have, but have my doubts. Could it have been on Daft Punk's Homework, Air's Moon Safari, or Moby's Play? None of those albums could have existed in 1988. If you can answer that question then you've got a good grasp of how music has or hasn't changed over the past 10 years.

Three: Hello (Martin Solveig).
There's something I like about a blasé sounding woman sing. You can really hear the unique imperfections of the voice - personality shines through. Another good song in this same vein that just came out this year is Teenage Crime by Adrian Lux. But you can only get away with this singing style if you've got a killer pop hook to hang your vocals on.

Two: Excuses (Morning Benders).
I saw these guys open for the Black Keys in August and found myself wishing they could play the entire show (no offense Black Keys). There is something very genuine feeling about The Morning Benders that resonates with me. There are elements of Morning Benders' songs that remind me of all the great Pop Hookers: The Beatles; Beach Boys; and The Pixies. They've got talent and will go far.

One: Nothin' on You (B.o.B. feat. Bruno Mars).
My buddy Aaron introduced this song to me and I was immediately blown away. All pistons are firing here: familiar melody; lyrics that grab you; and both technically superior vocals dueling with imperfect and recognizable vocals. I can't imagine ever growing sick of this song.

We look boldly towards the next decade of music.

Stay TUN3D...

Monday, August 9, 2010

INTERVIEW: Legendary DJ and Voice Actor Richard Weirich ("Bob Burton") of Golden Hits Radio

The "Oldies" radio format has been steadily growing in popularity over the past few years (boomers anyone?). Here in Toronto, there are nearly as many Oldies stations as there are Top 40 stations, and you can now find them on the FM dial (they used to be the mainstay of the AM band). The format itself has expanded mainly due to the passage of time; seventies weren't oldies in the eighties - but they are now!

Which brings me to the recently launched Golden Hits Radio (GHR). While you won't hear GHR on any AM/FM tuner (it's a pure Internet radio station), it is in its own way more authentic than your typical Oldies station. What makes GHR such a joy to listen to - apart from excellent audio quality, song selection, DJing, and no commercials - is that it is brought to you by legendary radio personalities "Burt and Kurt". While I didn't grow up listening to "Burt and Kurt", those of you from Florida, Texas, Alabama, or Mississippi will like know who I'm talking about. The duo are famous for such characters as: Uncle Mack; Red Wood; Lonnie "The Beautiful Dude" Bumpus Jones; the Maha Richci Yogo Fogi Nanana Fanna Go Fogi; and many more.

I caught up with Richard Weirich (the "Burt" half of "Burt and Kurt") - an accomplished voice actor for this exclusive TUN3R interview.

Q1 Neil: Richard, thanks very much for taking the time to participate in this interview. On the Golden Hits Radio web site you mention that GHR is very much a "labor of love" and an outlet for your passion of music programming. Can you elaborate on that and describe how GHR got started?

A1 Richard: For nearly 40 years radio was my livelihood as well as being something that I loved dearly. More than a vocation radio is my passion which is why I launched Golden Hits Radio. I love music and the art of radio programming. It is something that I just have to do.

A while back I had a business called the Radio Format Factory in which I developed automation formats for radio stations. The radio company that I worked for took exception to my side business and ordered me to shut it down. Consequently, when I parted ways with terrestrial radio I still had the equipment and the music library which provided the foundation for Golden Hits Radio.

Q2 Neil: I've been listening to your station for the past week, and it's a remarkably well programmed. The song selection, transitions, and overall mix are superb. To my ear GHR is a prime example of how a great DJ can elevate the listening experience. What's your secret? Is there any advice you can pass on to younger DJs?

A2 Richard: You're very kind. Obviously years of experience in radio programming dictates much of my programming philosophy. But I also have a basic belief that radio killed radio. I don't think the demon was satellite radio but the poor choices made by corporate radio. Short playlists and cramming the same music down listeners throats was a recipe for disaster....especially when programming to adults. The basic formula for oldies stations was to play a handful of oldies (usually 200 - 300). The emphasis was not on "what to play" but... "what not to play." There is no wonder that IPods and MP3 players were so successful. Radio drove them away.

Golden Hits Radio is programmed with the expectation that oldies listeners want more variety and less repetition. The art is in assembling so many different kinds of sounds from a massive music library and making it all fit together in an entertaining and enjoyable music mix.

Internet radio is much like radio in the 60s and 70s. Back then you started at a small town radio station, made your mistakes, developed your craft, and moved onto bigger and better radio markets. Your best teacher was the school of hard knocks. The best advice that I know for anyone trying to make it as a DJ is to be your own best self and don't be afraid to take some chances. Learn your craft and always strive to stay relevant.

Q3 Neil: Apart from being a program director, you're also a seasoned voice actor. How did you discover this talent of yours? Was there someone from your youth that inspired you?

A3 Richard: Actually voice talent ( goes back to my childhood. As long as I can remember I liked to read out loud. Oddly, I have always been uncomfortable with my voice and I suppose it comes from being a perfectionist. I still haven't had my best recording session. I suppose that when that day comes it will be time to retire.

Q4 Neil: You have helped create such characters as Uncle Mack and Red Wood? How do you come up with new voices and characters?

A4 Richard: All the voices, except mine, were created by my longtime radio partner, Kurt Kilpatrick. He and I first teamed up in Jackson, Mississippi. He is the most talented individual I have ever encountered in radio. We first teamed up in 1974 and even to this day he still cracks me up. Most of the characters were based on real people. Before Kurt and I teamed up he was a tv news reporter. Uncle Mack was based on an old gentleman that Kurt interviewed. Red Wood was derived from a boss he had in one of his first jobs.

Q5 Neil: Can you tell me about the "Kurt" half of "Kurt and Burt". How did you form your partnership?

A5 Richard: Kurt is a very successful motivational/humorist speaker. We first met in 1974 when Kurt had a record produced featuring his impressions and comedy and brought it by the radio station to see if I would play it. I liked what I heard and invited Kurt to join me on my show as a guest. That morning the phones rang off the wall from listeners who loved what they were hearing. Shortly after I offered him a job....and fortunately for me he accepted.

Q6 Neil: When is the best time to listen to GHR? Are there any shows or sketches where we can hear your voice characters?

A6 Richard: Every hour is consistently the same. There is no dayparting due to an international audience. It's always prime time somewhere. We still have yet to add live talent. That's coming in about a month when we will be joined by Shane Wison, Scott Evans, and Dave Mack. All of them are seasoned radio veterans and share a common love for good radio. As far as the return of Burt and Kurt I am still uncertain how I want to handle that. I don't know how heavy doses of personality will work with the flow of Golden Hits Radio. I am leaning toward offering Burt and Kurt personality breaks in a podcast format. That way listeners can hear us when they want and we won't get in the way of the music. We recently recorded some new material that I will soon make available at our website.

Q7 Neil: You've been on air since 1974. I'm sure you've met some interesting characters and have had some interesting moments. Are there any characters or stories that stand out for you?

A7 Richard: Actually....I first broke into radio in Norfolk, Virginia at WCPK in 1970. '74 was the year that I teamed up with Kurt. Indeed there have been many interesting people and situations encountered along the way. I am reminded of an incident involving a DJ who worked at WSGN in Birmingham about 1973. He did the all night show and would occasionally bring his German Shepherd to work. The station was located in the 21st story penthouse of the City Federal Building. There was a fenced walkway around the penthouse and he would let his dog get some exercise in the late night air. Most often he would clean up the dog's residue and carry it out in a plastic bag. One night....for whatever reason....he decided to heave the mess over the wall. Upon leaving the building he was greeted by a startled paper delivery man who was cursing like a sailor about being hit by droppings from a huge bird.

At WJDX in Jackson, MS....I was listening one night when our station went off the air. I began to call the air talent on the hot-line trying to find out what had happened but there was no answer. Frustrated at not knowing what was going on I drove to the station to get the answer. Prior to arriving we came back on the air but I completed the drive to make certain that everything was OK. The DJ was quick to apologize and told the story of how he had to leave the controls because a naked girl was climbing our station tower and he took it upon himself to rescue her. As it turned out she was the daughter of one of Jackson's most prominent attorneys. I feared repercussions but fortunately there weren't any.

Another story that comes to mind....the program director that hired me at WIST in Charlotte, NC preceded me on the air...which was not a problem....except for the pet boa constrictor that he brought to work with him. The boa rested securely around his neck while he played the hits. I refused to go into the studio until he and his friend left the room.

There are many cherished friendships and memories from my radio past. It all went by so fast.

Q8 Neil: Do you have a favourite song? Or is there a song which you feel exemplifies Golden Hits Radio?

A8 Richard: I have so many favorite songs it would be impossible to single out just one but a song that kind of catches the essence of Golden Hits Radio is Rock and Roll Heaven by the Righteous Brothers.

Q9 Neil: Where do you see Golden Hits Radio going? Is your vision complete, or do you see evolving?

A9 Richard: Golden Hits Radio still has a long way to go. We've been on the air less than three months so there's a lot of growing to do. My vision involves getting GHR played wherever there is a potential audience. That means staying on top of the technology. I also foresee branching into other niche formats. The biggest challenge is generating enough income to keep the project moving forward. I remain committed to commercial and subscription free radio. Radio has given me so much and now I want to give back to the great listeners who have made it all possible.

Monday, April 19, 2010

INTERVIEW: Hamin Mousavi of Radiour talks Crowdsourcing Radio

Radiour came across my inbox a couple weeks ago where I quickly learned that it is based on the collaboration model which I've blogged about before (check out my interview's with Nekkid Radio and Error.FM). Always a fan of the crowd sourced model, my curiosity remains piqued.

Its name is a play on "Our Radio" and if you tune in, you will hear everything from techno to old men yodeling. In the short time I've been listening, I've heard everything from hard dance techno, to death metal, to folk covers, to negativland-esque mashups. It's a bit more hit-or-miss than Error or Nekkid, but occasionally the station finds that elusive groove of being surprising and familiar all at the same time. It's a great station to broaden your horizons, without being overly challenging.

But there's more to Radiour than its stream. It allows you to log in with Facebook and Twitter, and aims to be a place where new artists can get their music heard. I hope to find out more from Hamin Mousavi who has graciously agreed to this TUN3R interview.

Q1 Neil: Thanks so much Hamin for taking part in this interview! How long has Radiour been around for? How was the idea of the station conceived, and what's your role?

A1 Hamin: Radiour started in the summer of 2008 and has been in a closed beta until February 3:rd, 2010. So we're quite new, haha. The idea for Radiour was conceived by Karl Baron, the programmer. I just convinced him to do something with it!

I myself do anything that isn't programming; from bug-testing to icon design, support to translation.

Q2 Neil: Does Radiour have a geographic home base? Where do it's DJs hail from?

A2 Hamin: The awesome thing about Radiour is that it is made for everyone, everywhere. Our DJs are the people who add songs to the playlist, so we're probably the most democratic radio station on the planet. Most of our users are from europe and america, but we also have some asian users, mostly from japan.

Q3: Do you see Radiour primarily as radio station for people like myself to listen to. Or rather as a different kind of social hub on the net?

A3 Hamin: I'd like to think of Radiour as a place for everyone that are looking for something new and different to listen to. It is more than a radio, but it doesn't have to be if you don't want it to. You can just listen to the stream like with any radio station while others might like to vote and comment on the tracks played. Some even upload their own music, create mixtapes and spread them on twitter and facebook.

You can also as a user change pretty much anything, from the album art to the tags on the different tracks. It's a lot of fun to see what other people like and follow. We've noticed for example that listeners look at what others are adding and then search for similar tracks to add to the playlist. Small themes like these are constantly born just by having our users roam free.

Q4: You have mentioned that Radiour is a great place for new artists to spread their music. What does an artist need to do to get their music heard on your station? Can you give any examples of new artists on Radiour?

A4 Hamin: All you have to do is register yourself, upload your music and then add the songs to the playlist. It should take under 5 minutes, especially if you log in with a twitter or facebook account! You are then connected with your Radiour account to the social networks you already use and can easily keep your fans updated about new tracks.

Johan Sveide and Dj Downlow are a couple of pretty sweet artists, but check out the music search for more. Browse by genre and find something that suits your taste.

Q5 Neil: Hamin, how do you see Internet radio evolving over the coming years? Do you see things consolidating around a few big companies like Apple and CBS, or do you think the independent DJ has a future?

A5 Hamin: The big actors on the market with the big money will probably have the big artists. But there are musicians out there that produce music as a hobby or just don't want to be part of the system. And they certainly have a future, especially now when marketing yourself online is so easy!

We at Radiour are focusing a lot on these kind of artists that want to get the word out about their music. We've for example been working together with an indie music association in sweden to make sure that the functions of Radiour fit their needs.

Q6 Neil: What are your own musical tastes? What do you normally spin on Radiour?

A6 Hamin: I really like death metal with the gothenburg sound but also glitch and japanese electropop. Speaking of japan, I love the recent boom of indie artists that uses voice synthesizers for their main vocals. I usually add what I like so you'll hear a lot of metal/electropop if you listen in when I'm around.

Q7 Neil: If Radiour had its own theme song, what would it be?

A7 Hamin: 20 seconds of something that begins as chaos but ends up as a pleasant melody. That's how I envision our listeners experience on Radiour anyway!

Q8 Neil: What's planned for Radiour's future?

A8 Hamin: Other than working on the webpage? Well, we're right now trying to get Radiour into your phones so you'll be able to listen to the station on the go but still have all of the functionality of the web-version. There is still a lot left to do so I can't really say more than.

We'll keep you updated so check out our facebook or twitter page if you have more questions and want to ask us stuff.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Things about the iPad you may not realize

Just yesterday I had the chance to play with the new iPad device. I must thank Peter (the big brain behind TUN3R and Milk Crater) who drove down to Buffalo to get one on Saturday.

So does the iPad live up to the hype? Well, there's no point in answering that question. Everyone who has an iPhone or iPod Touch probably has a preconceived notion of what it's like. Anyone who doesn't have an iPhone or iPod Touch either is unaware of how great it is, or is a contrarian. Plus, everyone who's curious already understands the major capabilities of the iPad and what it can generally do. So, instead of running down that boring stuff, I'll point out the little things that I wasn't expecting:

First off, the weight and dimensions of the iPad were pretty much in line with what I assumed it would look and feel like. It very much is a giant iPhone, but there are some minor departures. For example, the home button at the bottom has a crisper feel to it than on the iPhone. Very subtle, but definitely noticeable. It's a reminder that Apple really takes "meatspace" seriously.

The device also feels more natural oriented in landscape than in portrait, which is opposite to how I prefer to use my iPhone. What's neat is that you can switch between landscape and portrait while on the desktop. Compare this to the iPhone which forces the desktop to always be in portrait mode. Another neat feature is that you can lock your current orientation, which is something I wish I could do on the iPhone.

I'm impressed with the sound quality. It's not a big speaker, but for such a small device it's got surprisingly good fidelity even at high volume. Once I get my own iPad, I'll definitely be using it to listen to Internet Radio (through TUN3R of course) in the kitchen while cleaning up after dinner, or over breakfast in the morning.

The keyboard continues to be a weak spot for Apple. While it is fairly large (and a huge improvement over the iPhone keyboard), I felt I couldn't touch type with it and eventually found hunting-and-pecking to be more natural. Furthermore, because the device has a rounded backside, it doesn't sit flat on a table, making it somewhat awkward as a typewriter. It's perfectly fine for plugging search queries into Google, but until I can touch type, I can't see myself doing much writing on it. Although I could see it as being useful for working with spreadsheets (if Microsoft ever decides to release Excel. OpenOffice: This is your chance!).

The iBook application is one of the biggies. Everyone says that Kindle is the killer app, and that people will use that instead of iBook. Well, I just hope the Kindle App is as good as iBook, cause iBook is very very cool. I had no problems reading off the backlit screen, and enjoyed seeing the colour illustrations in Winnie the Pooh. My dad has a Kindle, and I'll say that the Kindle is a bit smaller and lighter, and might be better for novels. But as a general purpose reading device, it's hard to see how you could make something better than the iPad/iBook (except by making it lighter and thinner). I especially like how you can play with the pages themselves. Once again, it's a wink and a nod to the pleasures of meatspace. Sure it'll never be as good as real pulp, but for fidgety guy like me it's not bad.

As you may already know, the iPad can run pretty much every iPhone App. That said, in my experience, these types of emulators are usually inferior to running the app on their intended platform. Not so with the iPad. The Apps are zippier and look better than on the iPhone. Seriously. I was most impressed with the mode that blows the App up to the full size of the iPad. Yes, it doesn't look as good as a native iPad App, but it does look surprisingly crisp.

As a specific example, we loaded up Milk Crater, and lo and behold it actually runs much better than on the iPhone 3GS. Keep in mind that Milk Crater is pegged to the CPU, so on the iPad you can really fly through your music collection like nobody's business. I know I'm biased, but Milk Crater freakin' rocks on this thing!

As soon as I get the chance (and an extra $500) - I'm treating myself to one of these puppies.