Tag Archives: Music

The Day A Visionary Died

When visionaries come along, they are usually not always thought to be so when they hit the scene. Many times, once they do reach a certain level of stature or praise, they lose their vision.  We’ve seen it time and again in history. When the Beastie Boys came on the scene in a big way in 1986, most people didn’t know what to make of them as white guys in a rap world where most artists were not. People didn’t know whether to write them off as jokes or pay attention to them as real things – the fact that before their transition to rap, they were not doing to well on the punk scene. What ultimately helped them sustain, was the punk attitudes that they intertwined with their rap and hip-hop leanings. Over the course of the nearly 30 years since, they were masters at blazing new trails in music, art and video – and their creator and ringleader on the video and arts front was Adam Yauch (also known as MCA).  Sadly, he died today of Cancer. Luckily, Yauch was appreciated in his lifetime as a visionary and we are all the beneficiaries of his .

While the music the Beastie Boys created continued to evolve, it always maintained a consistent style.  Whether it was three rappers (Yauch, Adam Horovitz/Adrock, Michael Diamond/Mike D) with a turntablist, instrumentalist with a layer of quick staccato MCs on top or a multi-layered mix of original music, samples and thoughtful rhymes – you always knew you were listening to the Beastie Boys. While the styles might have shifted slightly, the core remained the same.

Their play within the art and video worlds ran along the same lines as their music – using styles that everyone knew and felt comfortable with and then adding their own layers on top to make their products as great as your uncles old cardigan that you used to snuggle with. Their spirit and attitude remained consistent and what may have first led you to ask, “are they for real?”, ultimately made you think that everyone other than them were just posing. And Yauch had a lot to do with that.

Though Yauch always seemed like the most subdued of the three to me, his work directing a large number of their videos (under his pseudonym, Nathaniel Hörnblowér) always seemed to push the boundaries of what was acceptable, but still seemed as right as a chill afternoon hanging with your best friends. The Beastie’s collection of music videos is the only music video set that has actually been released as part of The Criterion Collection.

Yauch used his position to do numerous things for the benefit of society and seemed to have no shortage of friends to help him pull these off.  Whether it was the organizing of benefit concerts to Free Tibet or end violence in New York City, he made the best use of his connections. Though I took some pride that he (and the rest of the boys) spent some quality time in one of my old neighborhoods (Atwater Village, Silver Lake, Los Feliz) it was clear what sway the five boroughs held on him and his cohorts. They’re love was greatly shown in their last few releases.

When someone has a vision like Yauch had when he first put the band together and then expanded with the creation of Oscilloscope Laboratories, the recording and film studio he started a decade ago, its hard not to want to be a part of it. Whether watching with envy the people selected for the crowdsourced Beastie Boys concert video he directed (Awesome: I F—in’ Shot That!) or the wonderment when watching all of the stars (i.e. Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood, Will Arnett, Ted Danson, Alicia Silverstone, Steve Buscemi, Mary Steenburgen, Kirsten Dunst, Jack Black, Will Ferrell, and on and on) he got to take roles in his long form video return to Fight For Your Right: Revisited (below), his presence, power and influence was clear and we can now only image what could have been.  At the end of Revisited (which clearly illustrates the consistency of the Beastie Boys brand – cool, irreverent, sense of humor), there’s a “To Be Continued: Check back in 25” years. I only wish we could.

RIP MCA, I’m sorry and Saddened that you left so soon…


Culturally Crossed Fingers Surrounding Olympics Streaming

Last Wednesday marked the 100th day mark until the opening of the 2012 Olympics in London. The news was filled with announcements about the coverage on NBC in the US as well as other coverage announcements by other sports news outlets. Suffice it to say, there will be more opportunities to keep track of what’s going on that ever before. With NBC’s promise to stream 3500 hours of coverage live over the internet, access (and data usage) will be wide open. Hopefully, the excitement and engagement will equal the level of access.  It’s success in both content presentation and quality could provide key insights into the streaming possibilities for future events that are not as big as the Olympics. With that being said, I am still crossing my fingers for something connected to the Olympics but often overlooked – the Olympic Cultural Festival. I have tickets for the Olympics but I will not be able to attend any of the cultural events surrounding it – and that is what my fingers are crossed for, in terms of streaming.

Alongside every Olympics, the hosting nations present a large and varied cultural arts festival. These festivals not only present the opportunity to experience the arts in new ways – they provide a platform for artists to reach an audience in ways like never before. Perhaps even more than the actual Olympics, they give a clearer view into what the hosting country is all about.  As such, I want to see more. I’ve checked out the many of the 364 events that are promoted on the London 2012 Festival site with shows ranging from Art to books, to music, to food, to fashion dance and theatre with a bunch of other things sprinkled in.

Beyond the presenters and participants, larger organizations and companies are getting involved. Eurostar – one of the larger European train companies – is sponsoring a stage in Granary Square. Panasonic is sponsoring a program to bring young people into the art of filmmaking through “Film Nation: Shorts”. BP is causing a bit of a row with their participation due to concerns of gas/petrol and environmental issues, but I applaud them for their sponsorship of programs with the Royal Shakespeare Company, The National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Museum – mostly to engage younger audiences. And, BT is sponsoring a number of arts events with a series of music events at its core.

So, here’s where the rub is. If BT is the communications partner for both the Gamesandthe Festival. And, if they profess that they are “responsible for providing the communications services and infrastructure to make London 2012 the most connected Games ever, but it’s not just about the sporting action – we’re enabling people to have a fantastic London 2012 experience through music and art too.” Then, shouldn’t we be seeing some major announcements about their streaming of many cultural events on the internet and through mobile?

Perhaps its unfair to call out BT on this, but they seem to be most primed to make this happen and I guess this is now a plea for them (or anyone) to do so.  After seeing the artists at Coachella agree to have their performances streamed live, it seems a no-brainer for artists and organizations to do the same from the London 2012 Festival. Why not share something that is seemingly so fantastic?

Again, the Olympic Games themselves have some minor differences based on where they are hosted, but the Cultural Festivals that run alongside act as a true emblem of what the host country has to offer.  I’m fortunate because I am able to be in London often and get to experience this first-hand, but I know I’m part of the relative few who are able to. And I’m saddened that I can’t be there to experience one of the great by-products of the games.

Yes, I will enjoy the Olympics whether I am there or in Los Angeles watching, but the Festival makes it so much fuller. Wouldn’t this also set the ball rolling for future Festivals when technology is even stronger?  If the Gymnastics competition will be providing users the opportunity to view from a number of angles based on their choice, why can’t we take in some of the cultural events before and after?

I would say that somebody now has 93 days (til the Opening Ceremonies) to figure this out, but the official start date is actually June 21st (with many events already beginning.) Until the streaming cultural event announcements start coming, I don’t think I can risk holding my breath. But I can certainly cross my fingers.

Through a Haze, Sometimes The Most Lame Things Seem Brilliant

I’m sort of sad that I missed the announcement on April 20th about an online game celebrating the Grateful Dead.  The timing of the announcement and the official launch was the only thing that really makes sense to me. Though it is a little too “spot on” with a release on that date for a jam band that was as much known for its relationship to drugs as it was for the actual music, the annual date celebrating marijuana (4/20) is perfect for them. Sadly, by my missing that date, it sheds a light on everything that is not right with the product itself. But as I’ve maintained a lot over the years, staying true to the story is the most important thing. This one really makes me question whether it is really brilliant in being lame…

Adam Blumenthal, a representative of the game’s creator (Curious Sense) seemed to echo Rhino’s aims of staying away from the drug references and going after a younger demographic:

“There’s nothing explicit,” said Blumenthal, who was bound to keep the game family friendly. “The visuals are psychedelic, they’re fantastical, they’re colorful, they’re whimsical but no drug references.”

That’s fine if the primary goal weren’t to collect “seed” to be able to deal with obstacles and get to the next level. In Blumenthal’s defense, he didn’t say that there was nothing implicit. Beyond that, the gameplay is somewhat old-school and I don’t know that it would actually draw in a younger audience that the gatekeepers are looking for.

But, you could argue that the game, the music, the release date and much more work perfectly as extensions of the band.  The game creators even declined to have an end to the game specifically because it didn’t make sense to – in relation to the band and its music. The band and its followers (Dead Heads) were always thought of as being salt of the earth-type people, so the simplicity of the game might have something to do with it. In reality, the music was something that you could just drop into and stay within for days. It wasn’t about the long jams alone – it was about the type of music and the people who followed it. The game makes use of music from ten concerts that are thought to be some of their greatest.  As you travel through the levels, players are treated to huge amounts of those jams.

It wasn’t unusual to run into Dead Heads who followed the group around for tens of shows or more in a row. The scene surrounding the shows were almost as entertaining as the shows  themselves. Were they the best band ever? Doubtful.  But the vibe they presented was something else that brought a type of fan that is rare.

So, if the game makers and the gatekeepers of the Dead were looking to extend the essence of what the Grateful Dead was all about for a new audience (and even re-invigorating the old audience) – where you can lose yourself for a number of hours – they seem to have pulled it off brilliantly.

Coachella Fix Served by YouTube and State Farm

There is the saying that nothing beats the real thing, but sometimes what you have to settle for ain’t to shabby. This was the case with the Coachella Live site on YouTube. For those who were not lucky enough to get tickets nor able enough to take off for a weekend of all the crazy things that happen over the course of the weekend on a Polo field, this presentation sponsored by State Farm insurance was fantastic.  Sporting three live streams on a dashboard that included thumbnails of what you’re not watching, Facebook/Twitter/Google+ and a schedule of what’s to come, there was no lack of exploration and enjoyment possible. YouTube really showcased a phenomenal product and Coachella was able to serve the fix of a much larger audience to celebrate the music exploration and wonder that is Coachella.

There were a number of elements that really made this content great:

  • The interface was simple, clean and clear;
  • The production quality was strong throughout. The on-site direction and coverage was comprehensive and, in some instances, rivaled that of a well produced concert video.
  • The streaming quality was better than I had expected. In most cases, both the small and full screen versions were very clear. Sometimes, the images were getting pixellated, but there was no rhyme or reason that I could make out. When the image quality was good, it was great and when it wasn’t, it wasn’t that bad.
  • The sound quality was clear and consistent throughout – even when the picture was not.
  • The Chat was extremely active with very little delay.  Unlike previous versions of this type of thing that I’ve seen, you could see songs, comments or lyrics presented on stage referenced almost immediately in the feed. The fact that three major social networks were incorporated  for ease of entry and use seems like a no-brainer. It’s surprising how many feeds choose not to use more than Facebook and Twitter…
  • State Farm’s sponsorship was persistent, tasteful and refined while not interfering with the content.  Meaning, they didn’t pause sets to show a graphic in-stream – or some other annoying ad mechanic.

Though there was mention of the live streaming on YouTube and the Coachella site, I didn’t see any wide mentions or promotion for the feature.  Perhaps I missed it and imagine there could have been some artist relationship elements to consider.  Ultimately, the people who were most interested were able to find it – either by searching it out or finding it organically through friends’ social activity.

Talking about artists relations, I was impressed that the artists allowed it – and even more impressed about some of the artists that participated. With the point of the weekend(s) being music and the exploration of new music, the site makes perfect sense.  I was able to check out a solid mix of acts I knew and had even seen live before with a healthy dose of new acts.  I know that the experience is not the same as being there, but I am sure that Coachella Live viewers were able to jump from stage to stage much more quickly and easily than anyone who was physically there. The fact that I could jump from a great view of Miike Snow to the pit of Radiohead without leaving my chair was awesome.

On a personal note, My commute home after Radiohead’s late set on Saturday and Dr. Dre/Snoop Dogg’s star-studded show to close it all on Sunday night was much more comfortable than driving home from Indio.  And, the fact that I already have State Farm insurance made me feel that I wasn’t just being a freeloader – I might even feel a little bit more loyalty to them because of it.

Hopefully, this becomes a trend for more live events as it really extends the community and the technology has come about to enable that like never before. The technology upgrades has made the experience drastically different from when I spent hours in front of the television watching Live Aid as a kid.  Who would have thought then that we could control what we were watching without having to suffer through commercials and annoying MTV VJ commentary?

Props to Coachella and its partners for taking the festival to the next level by making the experience extend beyond the 180,000 people who actually get to go to the two weekends in the desert.  The fact that YouTube is now hosting some of the full sets, it really extends beyond the desert. And, you get a chance to see some freaky cool things like the holographic Tupac performing. Thanks for providing the opportunity for many more people in many countries to get their fix…

Home-Grown Content Makes The Internet Dance

I am smitten. I am moved. I am excited to see an example of great content begetting more great content. And, it wouldn’t have been possible without the internet.  Granted, it took me a while to find it and it’s just in time for the show to come to Los Angeles tomorrow night.  The show I’m talking about is GIRL WALK //ALL DAY.  It’s a piece of long-form dance music video that is based on the music in Girl Talk’s 71 minute mash-up release ALL DAY.  One of the great things about it is that it builds upon the creativity that Girl Talk’s Greg Gillis put into his music mash-up piece that he released for free last year and put a story-telling spin on it that is exhilarating.  On the GIRL WALK site, it is explained as a tale about finding community and vitality in shared public spaces – and where can that be accomplished if not on the internet?

Granted, part of the joy in the film – which is divided into twelve parts on the site – is seeing the interaction with people and places in the real world of New York City, but its been a very long time since I have seen a dance film this good online or on the big screen.  Usually, there are so many cameras that you lose the dance entirely.  Or, there’s not enough movement – leaving the viewer to feel as if they are an outsider and not part of it. One of my favorite chapters is, #3 “It Goes Like This,” where the lead teaches random people the dance and they all perform back-up for her.

Some other points of interest were:
– When there was an entire dance party on the subway and you can clearly see who is part of the cast and who was not by the mere fact that those who were not all had the mobile phones out to capture video – then riders entering the train at a stop were treated to a male pole dancer in the doorway.
– When they seized the opportunity to visit the Occupy rally at Zuccotti Park during the “Shopping Spree” section to get nice footage and convey the societal ends of the spectrum.
– When theprotagonist – who often comes across as an Audrey Hepburn/Holly Golightly for this millenium –  gets kicked out of Yankee Stadium for standing on the outfield wall (timed perfectly with the lyrics, of course.)

I have listened to the ALL DAY piece since downloading it last March and had not even thought to overlay a narrative.  Director and Cinematographer, Jacob Krupnick, and his cast were able to weave an eloquent and even moving story into  the narrative Krupnik derived from the music. So, the introduction of that emotionality beyond the music is what blew me away.  Additionally, the potagonist, Anne Marsen, seems to be a force in dance and perhaps even more (see the Audrey Hepburn note above.)  Her improvisational style is refreshing and intense with expressions of full emotion.

To me, this provides a strong sense of what’s possible in digital – either as a creative outlet or a marketing element. The filmmaker and cast’s path to making this real is chronicled briefly in a NY Times Magazine piece by Bill Trough a year ago after they had only created a proof of concept. Their original goal was to post on kickstarter.com and raise $5,000.  They ultimately raised $25,000 and shot from April through October of 2011.  With a range of cast members, volunteers and “innocent” bystanders throughout Manhattan, the piece goes beyond being a love letter to the city.

In the past, something like this would have been hard to pull off – let alone distribute.  They are currently on a tour of social events and screenings that hits Los Angeles tomorrow night at Space 1520 in Hollywood on Cahuenga and it has been accepted to the SXSW Film Festival. My hope is that they are able to release it as a DVD, EST or whatever as one long piece, though I imagine there may be a considerable amount of legal restraints to doing so.

The Filmmaker and promoters have been able to generate coverage across the board. They have moved off of the internet and into the real world with inclusion into festivals and tour events and the hope is that the movement will continue. To think that it all basically started with experimentation and passion enabled by technology, the future possibilities are quite exciting. Hopefully, this will open more doors for this form of entertainment, trigger ideas for others and extend the power of Content across the digital realm.

Can Beautiful Commercials Get You Nowhere?

It seemed unlikely that Toyota would release yet another artsy commercial for their Prius models in the same month as their buzzing People Person spot, but they have just released two more artistic endeavors in support of the Prius V specifically. All handled by the same agency, Saatchi LA, it is great to see such a creative and organic approach to these ads – but at what cost?  Oddly, they mostly share the same quirky omission that might not mean much with their target audience: with the exception of the last few seconds of the People Person :60, there are actually no moving cars!

Beyond the fact that it is so rare to see an auto commercial without cars moving, these ads all look to evoke emotional response or an optimistic mood rather than detail the car’s specs or features.  They assume that the target audience already knows about that stuff – and in the case of the Prius, they probably already do.

The whimsy of these low-CGI executions are fun to watch over and over again – it seems like the creators even placed Easter Eggs in there to entice viewers to watch again and again.

First, there’s MORE EFFICIENT which is all seemingly done on a turntable with stage theatrics to emphasize how the Prius V can be used well in different types of environments.

For MORE CONNECTED, the same type of staged design enables the camera to move in and out of objects to convey the true emotional dynamics of the car.  This one does have a VO that delves a little more into the features, but there is not a standard presentation of features – which is nice. 

The People Person spot was just released earlier in September and it focused on more models with the conveyance of how there’s many models to fit the needs of many different types of people – perhaps even going so far as to insinuate that one person might want multiple models depending on which part of them is in control. Multiple Personality Disorder anyone?

So, it all comes down to whether these commercials will be effective or not in sales conversions.  As we know that there are so many opportunities for the consumer to NOT watch these, are they enough to grab the attention and then convert to interest or intent?  It is refreshing to see something other than a car on a track, dusty desert or wet, clear streets of downtown Los Angeles – so, for that alone, it could be worth it.  The music selection for each is also different and seems to fit their target nicely. That change could also be attention grabbing to the consumer as we are used to the harder driving music of auto ads (or most everything else for that matter.)

Will these types of ads induce users to actually stop-motion forward on their DVRs (like my daughter and I did on the Hershey’s Kiss spot that is running) and actually enable longer dwell or interaction time with a commercial?  Hopefully they will and if Nielsen is smart, they will incorporate that tracking into their analysis offerings since those bits of information could be huge in determining success or just cool creative.

Hopefully, these types of ads will prove to be successful on all levels and not just in bolstering an agency’s portfolio with pretty things.  If done for the right target, “Artsy” is perfect.  If not, then its sort of like playing with yourself.  Commercials and Music Videos tease at becoming the next perfect haven for visionary directors and filmmakers – but it is not just about execution but connecting with the target.  We’ll see if Prius drives that consumer excitement.