Red Bull Studios New York’s Loud Dreams Lecture Visits Collegium

(Photo by Carl Chisolm, courtesy of Red Bull)

Collegium on Wednesday, March 27th, presented by Red Bull Studios, featured a multi-dimensional look into today’s world of hip-hop. Led by respected hip-hop journalist Shaheem Reid of XXL and MTV News, the panelists’ discussion centered on the development of production duo Sean C. & LV’s new album Loud Dreams Vol. 1. Released on Tuesday, the album features hip-hop heavyweights like Pusha T, Bun B, Fabolous, Raekwon and many more. Joining Reid and Sean C. & LV were chief engineer of Red Bull Studios New York Chris Tabron, artist duo CharlieRED, and veteran emcee Styles P. All of the panelists are featured on Loud Dreams Vol. 1.

The panel addressed the evolving role of mixtapes. “The nomenclature needs to be updated, because it’s basically an album,” said Tabron. “To me, growing up, it was a way to hear something exclusive. The difference between a mixtape and an album is in the marketing.” Sean C. added, “People use the term ‘mixtape’ to take pressure off of themselves. They don’t want pressure from the label to have as much success as an ‘album’ even though they’re the same thing.” The once-competitive mixtape circuit has become accessible to anyone. The panelists agreed that success in today’s mixtape circuit lies in one’s connections, networking and social media skills.

Professor Larry Miller introduces the panel (Photo by Carl Chisolm, courtesy of Red Bull)

Given that music creation has become so accessible, Reid asked the panelists to weigh in on the idea of needing the “machine” of a major label. Reid cited Macklemore as a hip-hop artist who achieved success without a label, and in his success, still does not rely on one. Styles P said, “Major labels are machines. But when you’re independent, you become the machine. The majors are now looking at the artist as the type of machine they are. They’ll ask, ‘What’s your Twitter following?’ They want someone who invests in themselves. At the end of the day you’re the machine anyway. It comes down to how much work you’re willing to do.”

But at a time when anyone can make music and use social media, how does an aspiring artist stand out from the crowd and make him or herself valuable? Sean C. stressed the importance of relationships and networking. Tabron added, “Know your audience. And in terms of staying power, you need to be yourself. People respond to sincerity.”

On one end of the table sat Styles P, who has been active in the New York hip-hop scene for over 20 years and offered insightful retrospectives. On the other end were CharlieRED’s Chauncy Sherod and Cobaine Ivory, a young duo who released their first EP in December 2012. The diversity of the panelists offered contrasting points of view, but all of the panelists agreed that New York rap is in a good place, and are optimistic for the future. Tabron justified his optimism with a simple yet thought-provoking argument: “A river is always strongest at the source.”

Industry Pioneer Jac Holzman Presented with Music Business Visionary Award

On Wednesday, March 12, NYU Steinhardt proudly presented industry pioneer Jac Holzman with the third Music Business Program Visionary Award. The award honors a business figure of note for their lasting and positive impact on the music industry through innovative, effective and creative business leadership.

Holzman sat down with Faculty Songwriter-in-Residence and Master Teacher in Songwriting Phil Galdston before an audience of Music Business students, alumni, faculty, and Holzman’s own family, friends and colleagues to discuss Holzman’s unique and extraordinary perspective on the history and future of music and technology. In the course of the conversation, Holzman explained in-depth the creation of Elektra Records in his college dorm room in 1950, and Nonesuch Records in 1964. He also discussed in detail his process of developing bands like Love, The Doors and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Holzman entered the recorded music industry at a time “when independents started in the same place. We didn’t know what to do, so we made it up as we went along and learned how to move to our own internal drummer.” Holzman reminisced about a time, particularly the 1950s, when independent record labels communicated with each other about almost everything. “It was convivial and nobody was trying to push the other person underwater.” Holzman considers these years to be the time in recorded music history that is most essential to the future of the music industry.

To Holzman, working in the music industry is not a job, but a calling. “A calling is something you can’t resist.” After over 60 years in the music business, Holzman spoke with the passion and spirit of someone who has just gotten started. A self-proclaimed autodidact, Holzman built Elektra’s catalog by going to artists’ homes with a tape recorder, and recording them himself. “Autodidacts are so in love with life and so in love with what they do, that they want to wrap themselves in it, and that’s what I wanted to do. I learned more and more, I got better at it, and I got smarter.” Galdston emphasized that Holzman discovered artists, pursued the artists, and engineered and produced the records – something that most executives today cannot do. Perhaps the most understated takeaway from the evening was how Holzman and Galdston’s conversation revolved around the music itself. Holzman maintains that artists are the most important part of a record label, and advised, “if you take care of the music, the music will take care of you.”

In 2013 Holzman launched the Doors app when he concluded that box sets had no place in the digital world. Holzman summarized the app’s 16-month development process as “the most pain and the most fun” he has ever had. With 1600 discrete items, it is the most comprehensive and fully interactive music app ever. Made with help from his family, the app is designed to test new approaches to digital music presentation, production techniques and the economics of pricing, marketing effectiveness, and the optimization and monetization of a product that offers unparalleled value through its ability to upgrade content and navigation.

Holzman left the audience with an invigorating reminder. “I’m not in the music business. I’m in music.” At the end of the conversation, Student Ambassador Board members Julia Pernicone (UG ’15) and Suzanne Rollins (G ’14) presented Holzman with the Visionary Award.

For more music and business wisdom, and secrets of Holzman’s remarkable career, pick up his book Follow the Music.

Student Outlook: The Evolution of the Musical Chameleon – George Barbera and Musical Color

Guest post by Chiara Eskew (G ’15). We encourage feedback and commentary on all Student Outlook contributions. Leave a comment below or tweet us at @NYUMusicBiz.

"Sahara" by George and the Barbarians

Just as new species form, we are beginning to see the new species of artists emerge as they adapt to a new musical environment. They are often viewed as underground artists at first, until they prove their “worth.” In the past, we have had similar artists sporadically spring up and adapt well to a competitive environment. Picasso, for example, defined himself as an artist of disfigured images, but he also had his “Blue Phase” during which he expressed a more realistic interpretation of the world. He was careful to separate his phases though. Such artists are like chameleons of the music world, able to change “colors” — or overall image/sound/style — when necessary, but retaining a certain image long enough to produce a high level of success and survival. One such modern artist is the musician named George Barbera. He is a conglomeration of a music producer, a skilled multi-instrumentalist, a singer and songwriter, and a composer of various genres. George has formed a small community around himself to help with distributing his music which he puts together all in his bedroom studio. He mimics the efforts of Macklemore to get his music out to people without using a major record label which would infringe on his artistic freedom. The one obstacle which he is facing is how to convince consumers that his ability to be varying in musical creations and looks is what distinguishes him and makes his music valuable. The idea is far ahead of its time as people are so programmed to see brands as valuable, and yet at the same time they are exhibiting signs of boredom in the branding and formulating of music. George Barbera, therefore, in recognizing this obstacle is working on phasing his artistic creations and choosing to present to consumer one “color” at a time.

His first “color” is Sahara, a single from his band George and the Barbarian’s debut album which is yet to be completed and released. The song is a metal rock song that mixes with an 80’s rock theme. It is expected to be live on iTunes in three to five weeks, but in the meantime it can be viewed on Soundcloud. Check out this song which represents the sound of his band! All the instrumentals, vocals, the composition, and the production of the song were done by George Barbera showing off his all-compassing musical abilities. If you want to see some of George’s other “colors” check out the other songs on his Soundcloud or visit his Facebook page.

George Barbera’s music encompasses music’s evolutionary growth. Just as with organisms on earth, music has evolved. According to neuroscientist Steven Brown, music may have originated as a ritual’s reward system which worked as a cooperative device that enabled the individual costs of producing music to be outweighed by the group survival benefits. Furthermore, it is believed that polyphony (different harmony lines not carried out in unison) predated monophony (harmony lines carried out in unison) implying that “contagious heterophony” was a precursor to human music and speech. “Contagious heterophony” can be found in the howling of wolves. The howls are sequenced and, therefore, do not occur together. Such blending of voices was used to establish group identity, and group communication to solidify social order and teamwork. Thus, the blending of voices was the first step in vocalization which led to both speech and harmonic constructions for the purpose of making music. As humanity entered the world, the complexity of music increased both in intellectual meaning and actual structure. Unison of voices in time and pitch developed, strengthening the idea of unity amongst community. Cycles of polyphonic and monophonic music were incorporated into human cultures with time. New ideas and combinations of old ideas transformed music even more. But still the main purpose to form community remained intact in the music of humans.

In our world today, however, money has become such a huge focus of music’s purpose. This has taken music away, in some part, from its intrinsic communicative element. In order to market to large masses of people, rather than smaller communities, companies have forced artists to become more like a machine; and songs more like products to be mass produced. The problem with marketing an artist is that you often times must brand that artist, give the artist a look, a genre they excel in, a name that brings to mind a certain image to consumers. But all this labeling and defining of the artist limits the artist’s ability to create and takes away a vital part of the freedom of human communication. The artist must limit what he/she puts into his/her music and cannot express the varying parts of him/herself. If the artist expresses too many different styles, consumers find it hard to distinguish the artist and therefore do not value him/her. While initially distinguishing an artist was important to convey to people that the artist was special, a leader of some sort, the ways artists are distinguished has become so formulated and applied to all artists, that artists are becoming less and less distinguished from each other. Music has become less valued as a result and music companies have been suffering. This has led to heightened competition and a need to adapt.

So where does all this leave artists today? Do they have a future? I predict that the new artist will be what I call the “all-encompassing” artist. This artist is one who is able to do a lot of the work him/herself that major labels have been doing. In having this ability, the artist will be able to escape the formalization and mechanization that music companies have been forcing on artists. Furthermore, the “all-encompassing” artist will have the ability to reflect a variety of human communication, changing up styles, looks, etc; and this will be the new distinguishing factor. However, what is important for such an artist, is that he/she recognize the need for organizing these phases of varying creativity; the artist needs a balance between free creativity and ordered marketing. Perhaps, the artist will also return to methods more in tune with music’s origin and join small groups of like-minded people to form a community that will help with the extra responsibilities formerly executed by major record companies. This is the only way I see music continuing in its healthy evolutionary growth, while still retaining its intrinsic purpose of strengthening community and reflecting the society and species from which it comes. And it just so happens that George Barbera is an “all-encompassing” artist.

Eskew is a first year Music Business graduate student. In undergrad, she double majored in music and math. Her senior thesis analyzed music, the brain, and how they apply to the music industry. Eskew is currently interning in Blue Note Entertainment’s Talent Buying department. She plans to pursue a career in the label sector where she can work intimately with artists, and hopes to continue her own musical endeavors as a flutist, singer and composer.