Quality not Quantity: Music Historian’s 7th Year

This photo is by me, Patricia Trutescu

In 2016, I only published two posts on Music Historian. This first was an article in January, of the most read posts in 2015. In October, I published an interview article that happened to come out at the right place and the right time (the election) titled “A Love Shaken by War: Becky Warren returns to music with a solo record that tells a fictional story inspired by real-life events.”

The opportunity to write about Becky Warren’s record War Surplus humbled me. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter was getting ready to promote her album on the road as the opening act for the Indigo Girls. Further, this record is near and dear to the artist’s heart. If you want to know why, please read the article. 

While my blog did not get a lot of love this year – mostly because I was well into my first full-time permanent position and did not have a lot of free time to dedicate to interviewing and writing – I experienced moments of gratitude. I felt grateful as I reminded myself of all the people I had met and all the connections I made throughout the years I managed Music Historian. For me, it is quality, not quantity, that makes a music blog one worth reading. Of course, I understand that not every blogger would agree with my thoughts, but these opinions are mine. Feel free to take what works, and leave the rest behind.  

Remember your Connections: Music Historian’s Sixth Year

This pic is provided by Pixabay
This is a photo provided by Pixabay

Much like starting your career, a professional has an easier time networking after building a foundation for themselves. The same holds for a blog. Years of consistent writing and publishing help create a repository of stories and, hopefully, to some degree, a level of expertise.

In early 2015, I went to a party held by my piano teacher, Isabella. Community members who knew her through Opera Night and took lessons with her stopped by to play music together and to mingle. At this party, I met someone who had a connection to Arlen Roth, the guitar player who has influenced and taught many. That connection led me to an interview with Arlen.

A couple of years prior, I also started to incorporate Question and Answer styled interviews onto Music Historian. The first story which had this format was my interview with Daylle Deanna Schwartz, NYC’s first white-female rapper. Through Daylle’s family, I met Julie Coulter, a seasoned insurance broker and consultant for musicians.

If you had read my post from yesterday about how I got acquainted with Workman Group PR, that professional relationship continued. In 2015, through Workman Group PR, I would be invited to cover the SESAC Pop Music Awards, which celebrated publishers and songwriters who contributed to the hits that year. Later that year, through the same PR firm, I would hear about the opportunity to cover the Northside Festival.

At that moment, I was living—an event such as the Northside Festival was a place to learn and network. Interviewing Femi Kuti, the son of Fela Kuti, for a full-length article on Music Historian, I learned a lot about how the artist used Afrobeat to address some of the unmet needs of African citizens; including more stabilized journalism and reporting by Africans for Africans, and better economic conditions. Talking with Gypsy George for a full-length interview article, I learned about the entrepreneurial mindset and spirit required of a musician to make it in today’s creative business. That article with Gypsy George helped lay the foundation for a professional connection. Years later, I would invite him back to Music Historian to do a video interview.

Each professional will provide their thoughts about how to nurture a network. In my experience, some connections I have kept in touch with much more quickly than others. Most importantly, never forget who you meet because that contact may help you open the door to your next opportunity, whether creative or professional.

Work and play: Music Historian’s Fifth year

Image by Claudia Alejandra Sanchez Vega from Pixabay
Image by Claudia Alejandra Sanchez Vega from Pixabay 

Throughout 2014, my schedule was rigorous. I was in the middle of pursuing my Masters in Marketing at Baruch College full time. For part of the year, I was working 30 to 35 hours a week while attending school. I managed to also include Music Historian in this regimen.

Some of the most-read articles from that year included interviews with Kim Logan, The Blackfoot Gypsies, Yuzima, Juicebox, and The Dirty Gems. Four out of these five subjects I met at the New Music Seminar. This experience introduced me to the idea that a blogger could learn serious business and play.

During my busy Spring semester, Alyson Greenfield sent me an email to ask me whether I would be interested in a press pass to the New Music Seminar. I learned that she was hired by the boutique PR agency, Workman PR, to help promote the event. I said yes to her invitation.

The day came when I had to attend the first day of the three-day conference. I went to Webster Hall in NYC to pick up my badge and see the opening day, where I would have plenty of photo opportunities. When I went to pick up my badge from the stand run by Workman Group PR, I met a representative who asked me for my name. I told him what it was, and he responded, “Music Historian.” In addition to getting the opportunity to pick from a roster of musicians to interview who were invited to perform as part of this conference, I still had to write about some of the business-portions.

I captured several wonderful red carpet moments, including Alyson, along with the Workman Group PR team, the creator of NMS, Tom Silverman, and plenty of the bands, not excluding those who were up for the Artist on the Verge Award in photos. The highlight of the first day involved enjoying Meg Myers performing an electrifying set along with Alyson. The second day mostly consisted of panels to attend, interviews to be held with the artists I chose to write about and visiting the different exhibits on the floor.

I wrote about the following panels, The A&R Movement: Where music is headed, Music XRAY Presents A&R Live – Music Critique and Sound Selector Sessions, and Online Media Music Discovery. My review about these panels and opening day is all in this article, “Dive into the minds of industry players.” These panels provided sound advice to musicians, music publicists, and industry professionals who wanted to understand more about the music business trends.

More importantly, I wrote about the bands which I mentioned earlier in the article. Please don’t wait – read them now, and enjoy the conversations and the images, some of which I personally took. Happy Reading!

The Events Worth Sharing: Music Historian’s 4th Year

In 2013, Music Historian hosted interview articles with musicians from various genres, including the myth rock trio, Apollo Run; the collaborative that blends gangster hip-hop and bluegrass, Gangstagrass; and Christopher Seaman, the classical music conductor, just to name a few. While these subjects differed in genres and styles, they shared one commonality—they brought crowds to their performances.

I realized that it was not just enough to write about skilled instrumentalists, singer-songwriters, rappers, producers, and vocalists who had talent; I had to write about acts people perceived as special. The only metric for “special,” in my mind, would be a sold-out show. Then thought, what if I could have a hand in helping an artist put on a show that brought in a crowd of listeners?

In the summer of 2012, I had learned about the Make Music New York (MMNY) Festival-a city-wide public event which brought outdoor concerts to all five boroughs for free, all on June 21st and December 21st. That year, Avi Wisnia hosted his 6th Annual Brooklyn BBQ Block Party – a series of performances put on by bands he either knew or had met via the MMNY events. He put on a set at a Williamsburg venue called the Cyn Lounge. While it drew a lot of attention, I could not help but notice how the little alcove of a cement-paved space closed off by a tall iron fence placed a noticeable and unsettling barrier between audiences and the musical acts. I asked Avi if he wanted help in planning his next block concert for MMNY Festival 2013. I felt grateful that Avi accepted my help. In early 2013, Avi and I would start planning for the 7th Annual Brooklyn BBQ Block Party*.

Our greatest challenge was finding a venue that provided open space and located in a place where people could easily congregate. By April, Avi found Kinfolk Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I felt happy to see that the area had the type of outdoor space we had hoped for – a storefront with an open sidewalk within a neighborhood where warehouses got converted into businesses and event venues.

After getting the space came the more difficult parts: finding the musical acts, organizing the schedule, scouting volunteers to help with the merchandise table, customers, and signing-in bands who arrived 30 minutes before they went live. Being new to putting together an event of this magnitude next to a musician proved to be an educational and enjoyable experience. The greatest reward that day was watching how the mid-night hour’s closing act brought together the most massive crowd Avi had ever seen at one of his block parties.

This was the moment I decided that Music Historian needed a page called Event Diary. Avi’s block party was the first entry on that page. I had taken plenty of pictures capturing the moment of a riveting series of concerts. As of today, Event Diary has become the most visited page on Music Historian.

*To read about Avi Wisnia’s 7th Annual Brooklyn BBQ Block Party, scroll down to the bottom of the Event Diary page

Finding the talent: Music Historian’s Third Year

Photo made available by Pixabay

By 2012, I found my flow. Now, I had to discover new talent in the independent music scene. I give props to Baeble Music, a video content creator, which showed me the indie music scene’s vastness. By interning at this company for a month in 2011, I learned about the city-wide College Music Journal (CMJ) marathon. After purchasing a CMJ pass to get into all the shows for free, I had researched musical acts like Stephie Coplan and The Pedestrians. I even contacted the talent for an in-person meeting and an interview. 

On the same day, I watched Avi Wisnia perform at The Rockwood Music Hall. When I reviewed his set on my blog later that week, he contacted me. Soon, that led to a meeting for a feature interview article in January. 

After interviewing Avi at The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, I then met Alyson Greenfield (she was also performing at the show that night). Soon, I had another interview opportunity booked with Alyson for February. 

In later years, Alyson would introduce me to musicians she was promoting as part of her publicity agency at the time, Tinderbox Arts. I would also continue meeting other musical acts at shows which either Avi or Alyson headlined. This held true when I met Kamara Thomas of Kamara Thomas and the Ghost Gamblers; her group opened for Avi at The Living Room*.  

I also want to backtrack to March, when I aimed to interview Imagine Dragons. I learned about a show they were doing in the Lower East Side at Pianos. I arrived there early, paid my $10 admissions, bought my $7 Stella Artois, and got ready to watch the show. After the set, my plan was to introduce myself, which I later learned was not as easy as I had anticipated.

After the show, Daniel, the group’s singer, got down to the floor in front of the stage and shook hands with all the journalists and media reps from various press outlets. Feeling outnumbered, especially my prominent news reporters such as NY1, I took a different approach. I went to the band manager, who also happened to be Daniel’s brother. I told him that I was an independent blogger and that I was looking to interview one of the bandmembers for Music Historian. We shared our contact information with each other, and the next day, I sent him an email the next day to see whether the band would still be available and willing to interview. A few back-and-forth exchanges later, I secured an interview with the Imagine Dragon’s bassist, Ben McKee

Later in March, when I published the interview article, the post got only about two dozen views. The key was bringing attention to it again in September when the band released their debut LP, Night Visions. Then, the visits to Music Historian started becoming more frequent. By December 2012, my interview with Imagine Dragon’s Ben became the most read article on my blog.

*The Living Room was a venue on the Lower East Side which shut down many years ago.

Entering the Flow: Music Historian’s Second Year

I needed to find a way to get into a flow[1], or “the zone”[2] with my writing. The routine I sought to establish would enable me to easily exhibit my strengths and talents while also challenging myself to step outside of my comfort zone. 

I thought back to my undergrad years as a Music History student, specifically to a class called music critiquing and writing. Here, I learned how to write critically about music. The one area where I excelled was ethnographic writing, a style that involved interviewing musicians about their backgrounds, their music experiences, and where they wanted to take their music. I transformed those interviews into long prose, and by college standards, that was 4 pages double spaced and submitted the completed paper to my professor. I wanted to apply this to my blogging since I could take something that I truly owned and make it even better. 

My first ethnographically styled interview would be with my piano teacher from childhood, Isabella Eredita-Johnson. The story would be about the 7th anniversary of Opera Night, a.k.a. Opera Night, Long Island. Besides getting a great story for Music Historian, I also discovered that sharing the final draft of the article before publishing with my interview subjects created a sense of trust and confidence between the blogger and the interviewee. I decided to carry this practice throughout every exchange I would have with each person whose story I would share on my blog. 

The year 2011 is when I made a plan to find my flow

  1. contact the subject, invite them to an interview;
  2. Interview the person by phone, Google chat, in-person, whatever channel worked;
  3. take notes from that interview and transform it into an interview article;
  4. edit the story;
  5. have the subject review a final draft for accuracy and fact-checking purposes; and
  6. upon getting the final approval from the interviewee, publish the news on Music Historian.

I fully entered my flow in steps three and four. Five and six really proved to be a hit with some artists. One artist I interviewed that year enjoyed my story of their band and their music so much, they shared it with their network. You will find out who this artist is if you just follow my Music Historian page on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. Most notably, this plan felt full proof for quite a while: I was now publishing one major full-length interview article each month.       

1-2 The definition of flow, or “The Zone,” refers to “The mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement and enjoyment” as described by American-Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Santos, L. (2018). Stuff that really makes us happy. . Retrieved from https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/home/week/5

Works Cited

Santos, L. (2018). Stuff that really makes us happy. . Retrieved from https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/home/week/5

Searching for a voice: Music Historian’s first year

Early in life, finding my own voice proved a challenge. English was not my first language. When I attended school in the early nineties, ESL programs had yet to reach momentum in inner-city schools, especially in the kindergarten where I was enrolled. Then, a few months later, my parents would move my little sister and me out to the suburbs of Long Island. Somewhere here, a seasoned professional with a Ph.D. in education saw my potential. After providing me with a few tests, she evaluated my results decided that I could continue my education with peers in my age group. At this new public elementary school, I attended an ESL program that brought me up to speed. I learned English properly and had fun in the process.

I parallel this life story to learning the language of blogging. While I knew very well what a blog was before starting Music Historian on the WordPress platform, I still searched for my writer’s voice. The only posts I published in 2010 involved a funny but rather superfluous criticism of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner,” and then a critique of choral pieces – something which I could personally relate to. It then became clear that I had a voice, but what exactly held me back from expressing it fully? Reflecting after 10 years of blogging, I can say it was the following: 1) Being an authoritative voice on music in a world saturated with music critics who thought of themselves as experts; 2) Trying to understand my blog’s unique value proposition – what could I bring to the world of music blogging that was different from others; and 3) Uncovering a way to bring readers to the site – getting them genuinely excited.

Just like my language development, I had to reach these three milestones. Of course, this did not happen in a day. It takes nine months to a year and sometimes even longer to bring a successful idea to fruition. The key to doing this was consistency, which I touch upon tomorrow in my reflective journey.

Gypsy’s video interview with Music Historian: New album, Politics and more

Music Historian welcomes back Gypsy George to talk about his new album. This interview is a little different – it is a recorded webinar. Watch, listen, and learn about Gypsy’s new record, Politics, Ex-Girlfriends, and the Ayn Rand Shuffle. Conversations like the one Gypsy and I have in this recorded webinar get deep into his inspirations about releasing an album now, during the pandemic, while also poking some light-heart fun at our own life experiences. Following this conversation, I encourage you to watch Gypsy’s new music video from the new album. The video is for the song “Sailing Away,” and you can watch it here. To see the video recorded interview, click the image below.

A snippet of the webinar recording

Recorded interview with Gypsy George. Technology courtesy of Zoom Communications

I thank Gypsy George for working with me on creating a teaser (an introduction) to this webinar and for his time in answering my questions. I also thank him for sharing his world with me on Music Historian. This new method of interviewing is a way to challenge the status quo I have established for my blog and to express my gratitude to Gypsy’s support of my creative ideas.

As I reflect on this new project, I recall a quote I read by Bob Dylan from his book published in 2004, “Chronicles: Volume One” — “It [folk music] exceeded all human understanding… I felt right at home in this mythical realm made up not with individuals so much as archetypes … each rugged soul filled with natural knowing and inner wisdom. Each demanding a degree of respect. I could believe in the full spectrum of it and sing about it. It was so real, so more true to life than life itself. It was life magnified” (Goodreads.com, Folk Music Quotes, para 14).

I concur with what Dylan says about folk music being “so real, more true to life than life itself.” While I define Gypsy George’s music as alternative rock, I think there are so many elements of folk mixed throughout his songs. Further, this experience explores the music through an artist’s eyes, and I like to believe that I helped guide that exploration. Most importantly, we had fun. I hope you do too in watching this webinar. Enjoy!

Works Cited

Folk Music Quotes. (n.d.) Goodreads.com, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/folk-music

Choir Interrupted: An Op-Ed

Image created by Patricia Trutescu The social isolation brought about by the Coronavirus has changed the course of my day-to-day. Before entering this period, my schedule for the first week of March involved activities, both professional and recreational. On Friday night, I took a long car ride to St. Bartholomew’s Church on the upper east side with a few congregation members of Bethany Presbyterian Church Huntington, to see a New York Choral Society concert. Listening to the choir, I thought that the act of savoring the church’s architecture and massive organ would be available to me indefinitely. Little did I know that the relief I was experiencing within that moment would become temporary.

 

By the second week of March, social interactions and professional meetings continued to unfold online through Zoom Video Communications, private phone calls, and Facetime conversations with friends, family, and prospect hiring managers. The same goes for physical exercise – doing workouts to the instructions of teachers (whom I have never met before) over YouTube videos. Performing in a choir, on the other hand, proved less easy to replicate virtually.

 

On the final Sunday of March 2020, the Bethany Presbyterian Church of Huntington successfully held its first remote church service, which saw an attendance of 50. The pastor, along with a handful of members, volunteered to do a practice run of the service that previous Saturday. In the trial run, we also made sure to try out singing simple hymns. We sang together over the computer audio, but those who called on their mobile and landline phones came in seconds later. The results involved segments of singing around that coagulated into cacophony. By the time of the Easter Sunday service, the protocol of singing hymns had changed. The pastor had muted all members, except for the music director who played the piano accompaniment. Members could easily follow the music and sing to themselves. While I felt confident that other congregation members and I were singing simultaneously, though I could not hear them, I still long for that feeling of connectivity, I have always experienced singing with a choir.

 

Later, I read a message from David Hayes and Patrick Owens, the Directors of the NY Choral Society. A friend of mine who is a member of this chorus forwarded me an email from the directors who felt compelled to share a message that offered support and encouragement, one that can potentially hold us together in spirit and continue looking toward a more positive future.

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“Perhaps a good way to think about the period we are in is what the Tibetan Buddhists call “the Bardo state” – and intermediate state in which we have lost our old reality, and it is no longer available to us, leaving us feeling ungrounded,” write Dave and Pat.

 

“As a chorus, we are particularly ungrounded – the notion of social distancing is profoundly ‘un choral’ as it strikes at the very core of what we do – come together as a community to rehearse, socialize and make music together. For many of us, this has left an eerie emptiness.

 

“We know live music will be an essential healing force for all of us and a critical component of bringing some sense of normalcy. What we don’t know is how and when we will be able to create and share live choral music.

 

“So, notwithstanding all of this uncertainty, we will be working on some projects and long-term planning for the chorus to ensure we are ready to share our voices in song when they will be needed most! (D. Hayes & P. Owens, personal communications, March 14th, 2020).”

 

One of the major projects the directors are working on includes planning to host a ‘virtual gala and online silent auction’ sometime in mid-to-late April. More information on this event will appear on the NY Choral website in the coming weeks. Also, David and Pat decided to publicize video and audio recordings of past concerts to members and their e-newsletter subscribers.

 

Returning to their message, I decided to look up the definition of ‘the Bardo state.’ Researching the Encyclopedia of Britannica Online, ‘Bardo State’ comes from the definition ‘Bardo Thödol,’ Which in Tibetan means “Liberation in the intermediate State Through Hearing.” Further, this phrase is called ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead.’ This funerary text is recited to ease the consciousness of a recently deceased person through death and assist it in a favorable rebirth” (Britannica, n.d.).

 

By using this metaphor, I think the choral experts feel the “Bardo state” of the choir is more a quiet transformation than a slow withering. While many choir leaders hope the tradition of meeting to rehearse in person will resume as soon as it is okay to stop social distancing and isolation, how much longer do we need to stall?

 

Like everyone else I know who is socially isolating or distancing themselves daily, I also watch or read the news. While it is helpful to see how the virus is playing out beyond the performance space, I remember that the experience varies from person to person. On Facebook, I read posts and comments from friends of friends, acquaintances, or colleagues, who know at least one person who has either been infected with COVID-19 or has died. Some of the individuals who passed had no underlying medical conditions and did not even reach the threshold of 60 years of age. I also read posts about emergency tents getting pitched up in Central Park, shortages of workers in make-shift hospitals in the boroughs. On my Twitter feed, I read notices from friends and acquaintances who may face possible layoffs due to the closing of businesses or have been sick with COVID-19.

 

Reversely, social media also bears positive news. Another friend, working in healthcare, says that in the state of New York, Coronavirus recoveries outnumber the deaths. Recently, the New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, had also expressed in a live Coronavirus briefing broadcasted on Twitter by TIME that while cases of infections and deaths are starting to level, the economy is not yet ready to re-open. He says, “How you re-open determines everything” (TIME, 2020). The governor also references missteps taken by foreign countries which re-opened their economies too soon following a decrease in Coronavirus cases and then saw another spike of infections shortly afterward. To prevent NYC and surrounding states from repeating the same mistake, the governor talks about collaborating with the governments across seven states on a public health strategy that will help in re-opening the economies[1] (TIME, 2020).

 

In the spirit of observation that Governor Cuomo had made, “Look at how people have been selfless and put their own agenda aside for the common good” (TIME, 2020). I feel that many New Yorkers and citizens all over the country have contributed to this selflessness this with social isolation and social distancing. Although it may not help with anxiety, continuing this trend seems paramount for the time being, as it has helped halt the spread of the COVID-19 infection.

 

As social isolation continues to interrupt the landscape of choir singing, can live performance and rehearsals transform into something we could not have previously predicted or imagined? To answer this question, I look at what other musical organizations are doing to keep the spirit of singing alive among their communities. Opera Night Long Island (ONLI), a not-for-profit in Northport, NY, is now holding virtual concerts on the first of every month. The Artistic Director of the series, Danielle Davis, reassures that these events will get publicized on the ONLI Facebook page via a video teaser. Viewers can follow a link beneath the teasers to the official ONLI webpage and view the virtual concerts, which will now also include video interviews with the singers. All of this is accessible from the comfort of one’s own living space (D. Davis, personal communications, April 14th, 2020). Larger organizations like the National Chorale, according to its Executive Director, Amy Siegler, are postponing their major concerts until further notice about performance spaces re-opening. As for National Chorale’s educational courses, they will continue their partnership with the Professional Performing Arts High School in remote classrooms, and they are currently in the process of planning their 2020-2021 Lincoln Center Season (A. Siegler, personal communication, March 26th, 2020).

 

For now, if your choir seeks alternative ways to rehearse, I can only encourage you to get creative and look for alternative ways to support real-time practice virtually. I can also offer you two pieces of advice. Firstly, whether you chose to rehearse over computer communications or telecommunications, make sure all players connect on one single channel. Secondly, to have a successful virtual rehearsal, all singers need impeccable internet connection or signal, which we all know is not always possible. One choir in particular which seems to be gaining popularity on YouTube with their “Self-Isolation/Virtual Choir Covers” is Camden Voices (n.d.).

 

If the advice I provide you above does not work or you are skeptical of it, please remember you have a voice! Use it to bring peace to someone who is severely ill yet able to connect with you through virtual communication. If you require more information as to how to better deal with this tough situation or to get some artistic inspiration, Patrick Owens shares a few articles with his readers, and now I am also passing them onto you. To all my readers, and all musicians, please stay safe.

 

—————————————————————————————————————

[1] To understand how a public health strategy would help state governments re-open their economies, please watch the COVID-19 briefing with Andrew Cuomo from 18:40 – 20:09 in the twitter moment, https://twitter.com/TIME/status/1250085119173332999

 

 

Recommended reading from Patrick Owens

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief – A really nice article from (of all places) the Harvard Business Review

https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?fbclid=IwAR0TvULRJ27bPuuLhifRhmnUcmG1b15eoaIYiEVeb2jlxj_q_CiBmVhUm10

“I didn’t know how much I would miss art and culture until it was gone.” Holly Mulcahey is a musician who writes on the Neoclassical blog  https://insidethearts.com/neoclassical/2020/03/missing-art-and-culture/?fbclid=IwAR0o6p29sreZ7wA4ROMfmboUpsY3gGENKrtffDVYn-lENQiMSom56tozv5s

How We Should Reimagine Art’s Mission in the Time of ‘Social Distancing’ – Ben Davis at Artnet is providing some wonderful insights on the current state and future possibilities of the arts

https://news.artnet.com/opinion/social-distancing-art-1810029

 

Works Cited

Bardo Thödol. N.d. Britannica.com. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tibetan-Buddhism

TIME. (2020, April 14). New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers briefing on COVID-19 [Twitter moment].  https://twitter.com/TIME/status/1250085119173332999

Camden Voices (n.d.). Home [YouTube Channel]. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC1EEtXsLimU5kjJPSeIWW3A

 

Nerding out with MC Frontalot about his new record Net Split

MC Frontalot Press photo by Richard Shakespeare In the track “Memes are stupid” the godfather of Nerdcore hip-hop, Mc Frontalot, raps Just another echo of an image that you’ve seen/in another permutation on that same rectangle screen/just a little more obscene or droll, according to your self-expression/ And still it’s dumb, affording you this hellish lesson… (Hess and Martinjack, 2019). This song opens his brand new record Net Split, which officially releases March 8th, 2019. Why should you give this record a listen? Let me explain in my interview with MC Frontalot right here on Music Historian.

What must one do to become the godfather of a style of hip-hop, in this case, one called Nerdcore? According to a Wikipedia.org article about the artist, MC Frontalot first recorded the song “Nerdcore Hiphop” in 2000, which became an immediate hit in the geek and nerd communities (MC Frontalot, n.d.). In my personal interview with Frontalot at a quaint pie shop in Brooklyn, he elaborated on this niche genre.

“Music genres, more formally, should have something unifying them musically and not just in their subject matter. I don’t think Nerdcore is that. Jesse Dangerously, the Nova Scotian rapper, often points out that Nerdcore does not qualify as a genre… but is still a classification that is useful to people. It has certainly been useful to me because everyone is like “oh you made that up, so somehow you are in charge of it.”…

“It was always just hip-hop anyway, with just some nerd kids making it. The only real distinction is that they, or we, were less concerned with appearing cool than rappers were traditionally expected to be. That was always the thing about rap, it was always the newest, the coolest, most interesting kind of music in the United States. I think that might still be true even though rap is like 40 years old… That’s reflected in the traditional and modern hip-hop lyric… staking your claim to how wonderful you are. How much you should be paid attention to and how many trends you’ve set. And if you don’t have any of those feelings, but you still want to dabble in the form, then that’s what Nerdcore would give you… trying to make something within that space without having to present yourself as super cool.”

Returning to the song “Memes are Stupid,” I found myself asking the question, what was famous about memes in the first place and then what made them stupid?

“I think that the term was originally coined to describe a little unit of thought that was communicable and that could gain a mass beyond its individuality through the way people wanted to move around that idea,” Explains Frontalot. “Now, it just means pictures with words on them… the way they are approached and trafficked, they could not be more disposable…

“It is a form of harmless hipness that kids can rejoice in and that’s fine. But as a replacement for forming a complete thought, composing in words and communicating it as an original composition that might have some important meaning? As a substitute for that it… seems to be a very poor [one]… but as I identify in the song, it is like sewing your mouth shut – voluntary muteness.”

The name for the album, Net Split, broadly represents a break-up between the artist and his love for the internet. Another track, “DDoS” opens with Quelle Chris rapping, and he paints an image of a computer and internet junkie who is experiencing the failure of a computer’s ability to connect to the internet, and it sounds like an apocalypse with the heavy-handed lyrics and the ominous tones. The words Frontalot raps in the chorus are: D-D-o-S/ All heads saturated by internets/Get progressively worse and thought/Imagine it the other way around? It’s not/ D-D-o-S/All heads saturated by internets/ Get progressively overwhelmed/ Are you the service or are you the clientele? (Hess and Tennille, 2019) MC Frontalot Press photo*

The building blocks for this song arose as Frontalot and Quelle searched through this laptop and vast catalog of unused beats originally created by Quelle himself. They sought a grim, frightening apocalyptic vibe and found a fitting one, and wrote the lyrics to that feeling. Frontalot then talks more about the motivation behind this song. He provides an anecdote.

“If you remembered five, ten years ago, if a politician had one scandalous [news story] that emerged, it would be in the news for three or four days… and now, there are scandals far overshadowing [those from that period happening] three to four times a week… It is insane, and none of it sticks because the mental space we have reserved for current political scandal is completely overwhelmed… like a buffer overflow… a security flaw in a software program or, as we compare it in the song, like a server-client model where so many client requests come in fraudulently, that legitimate client requests are impossible to handle, and [become] attributed to denial of service. Nobody can use the server, and that is the point of that kind of attack. That is what happens to our brains, the lies, the craziness, and the next wild scandal and utter outrage floods in and washes away the last one. Nothing gains purchase.”

Frontalot parallels how our minds receive information – whether it is true or not – to the way a server processes real and unreal client requests. After a while, it may become difficult for us to distinguish the real from not. Yet I still pondered about the actual challenges Frontalot experienced with the internet, especially given that he fell in love with it in 1992, as a first-year college student. Referencing my attentive ear, I then refer to another song that might allude to a personal challenge with the internet – online sexism and bashing.

The song “IWF” which stands for Internetting While Female addressed online sexism. The rapper, E-Turn, a.k.a. Eliza Azar Javaheri, rhymes to the fictitious unapologetic and obnoxious user, Chad: See you jumping on a thread and steady watching you choke/ Post some politics, you tell me to get back on the boat… Quoting Joe Rogan, posting how you’re #blessed/ the next day online talking trash about your ex/ getting in your feelings ’cause she denied your request/ Blahblahblah bro, bro, bro you’re a mess (Hess, Exum, Liu, Javaheri, 2019). Then Chad, played by Frontalot raps: Well, actually! Not all of us act as you say/ Be exact! You’re sounding irrational. Facts are the way… Simply be us, you’ll have an easier time/ Or log off! Why are you here? I won’t follow you/ I get to be worse than any of you, if not all of you (Hess, Exum, Liu, Javaheri, 2019).

Chad displays proud ignorance in these lyrics. Frontalot admits to writing that from the perspective of the quintessentially terrible online man. This song also includes women decompressing about those types of interactions with Chads in their personal experience. Whether or not men are trying to intentionally push women offline, this is what Frontalot sees on the internet.

“They [the terrible online man] cannot wrap their head around the idea of any space they feel strongly about because it should not belong to anyone else. That’s typical and bad human behavior,” says Frontalot, “but it seems viciously amplified within this particular gender conflict…

“Obviously, sexism is not just something that happens online. It’s been brought, like almost everything we go through, our rich history of treating each other badly in person. There is something about reaching so many other humans directly, without having your name and face attached, or without having any stakes in terms of your reputation… The anonymity brings out all the behaviors we have civilized down in our normal lives. Now we have to worry… is it about boys behaving as badly as ever times 100 because they’re anonymous, or times 1000 because people are actively leading them on towards malice?”

Further, in the interview, I learn that these common occurrences on the internet, such as the one previously described, is not enough to diminish Frontalot’s passion for the online realm.

“Hopefully, the love outweighs the suffering? That’s what you want out of any relationship. No relationship will be ‘suffering-free.’ But you want the joy and comfort to so far exceed the suffering that you are not every so often asking yourself whether it is worth it. I still love so much about the internet more than ever, and it is not like I spend any time away from it.”

The female rapper, E-Turn, is also joined on “IWF” by Miss Eaves, Starr Busby, and Lex the Lexicon Artist. Thanks to the internet that all these artists were able to collaborate. Funny enough, many musicians with whom Frontalot worked, made their acquaintance online before meeting in person. Does the internet facilitate musical collaboration?

MC Frontalot Press Photo* “I was introduced to that possibility with the site “Song Fight” which I was involved with a lot from 2000 all the way to 2005. Much of the early Frontalot stuff that got reworked into the first album was from song fights originally. It is a songwriting and production competition.

“Every week, they present a title, and everyone writes a song which includes that title, i.e., we all write a song with the name “Yellow Lasers” by the end of the week. [Then], we go around and critique each other… and somebody wins. Through the process of that and the community forums for that, we do a lot of collaborating.

“The internet still has so much to offer. I still have stars in my eyes when I think of it. How great the internet seemed, and the limitless possibilities.”

That idea of a community then made me think of how hip-hop started. Parties were occasions where people could listen to hip-hop. I thought of how turntables were used to provide the entertainment for a party as an alternative for having a multi-person band.

“The DJ has something the band does not have – the whole history of recorded music in a crate, at your fingertips, ready to take the party in any direction; to perform at full energy, tirelessly, for hours. You have electricity which is your energy source.

“The art form of turntablism where you are taking different recordings and putting them together live into a new thing… It’s better to look at it as an inventive moment in the pre-existing paradigm of having a party where there is a DJ.”

The turntablist, Kid Koala, appeared on Frontalot’s 2014 record, Question Bedtime in the track “Shudders.” When I asked Frontalot about his previous records, such as Question Bedtime, he admitted “I think I went a little too in the weeds with the last couple of records. With Question Bedtime, when people saw it was about fairytales and folktales, they worried they would not find they had loved before in the “Voltron: The Adventure Games” references. This [Net Split] will be the most accessible record I have ever written.”

Net Split is releasing soon, and for anyone who likes dark humor and satire, this record is for you. There will not be a listening party, but Frontalot is entertaining a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) thread on Monday, March 11th. “Being an old nerd now is funny. ‘Get off my line’ or ‘get off my lawn’ is the vibe of this record.”

On the other hand, Frontalot also insists “That not all hope is lost. It is a record about complaints and pessimism… that’s my writing voice… I’m a little worried that the tone of it will concern potential listeners.”

That may happen. The only people I see this album offending are meme lovers. You have been politely warned.

If you are wondering about a tour, there is one! MC Frontalot plans a tour for 18 days with Schaffer the Darklord, MC Lars and Mega Ran from April 30th through May 16th. On March 16th, he will be at SxSW. Other performances include After PAX in Boston March 31st, and New York April 5th.

*All photos were published with permission of the artist and Baby Robot Media

Works Cited

Hess, D., Martinjack, D. (2019, March 7). Memes are Stupid (Net Split) [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/bmljnlwrk7uqp47/MC%20Frontalot%20-%20Net%20Split%20-%20Credits%20%26%20Lyrics.pdf?dl=0

MC Frontalot. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MC_Frontalot

Hess, D., Tennille, G.C. (2019, March 7). DDoS (Net Split) [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/bmljnlwrk7uqp47/MC%20Frontalot%20-%20Net%20Split%20-%20Credits%20%26%20Lyrics.pdf?dl=0

Hess, D., Exum, S., Liu, A.S., Javaheri, E.A. (2019, March 7). IWF (Net Split) [Lyrics]. Retrieved from https://www.dropbox.com/s/bmljnlwrk7uqp47/MC%20Frontalot%20-%20Net%20Split%20-%20Credits%20%26%20Lyrics.pdf?dl=0