I’ve never made a bucket list, maybe a few minor ones in my mind but never a proper list that I had written down, typed, or whatever. But one thing I’ve always wanted to do was to become an executive producer for an artist on their album. Everyone seems to do cover versions, that’s part of the norm. I review a lot of jazz here on my website because I’m a fan of the music. When it comes to vocal jazz, it seems singers base their repertoire on the same songbook. I wish more artists would break out of the norm to cover something outside of the jazz songbook, as that songbook is limited to jazz and pop standards. I understand: you don’t want to stray out of the norm as a means of being accessible to old and new fans, but there’s life in all forms of music and I wish artists who cover songs and artists on a regular basis would be more adventurous. It shouldn’t come as a shock that artists outside of the US and UK seem to be more adventurous, like Susana Baca, who did an incredible version of Björk‘s “Anchor Song” ten years ago:
Björk… we know she can be kooky:
I think in the last ten years, as the recording industry has crumbled and televised talent shows have taken over, fans are not aware that there is truly a vast world of music to explore that’s not based on what major labels offer, or the same 1000 songs that are in rotation in any given day. I’m not saying Bjork is different, but she’s different compared to what’s mainstream. Yet, artists seem to want to limit their success solely on the hits, as if everything is a risk, everything is a cause for concern. There’s a part of me that wishes mainstream music had more balls, but when it constantly banks on formula, maybe artists are not willing to take risks. These days, Cee-Lo recording and releasing “Fuck You” is a major risk, and of course everyone has to follow with their own “fuck” song. I’m a huge fan of Cee-Lo, but no one ever talked about some of the other songs on his album that are arguably better. “Fuck You” is the hook, the money-maker, but there’s “Bodies” and the incredible “Fool For You”. In a different era, we would hear these songs on the radio and TV, and not just “Fuck You”/”Forget You”. Saying “fuck” in a mainstream manner gets attention, and Cee-Lo has never feared attention, and he has it. He’s now a judge on the NBC show The Voice, and he will continue to be an influence in the years to come but why hasn’t everyone else taken risks? I like formula, but you’re more daring and bold when it feels as if you’re doing things on your own terms. I love a good song by a celebrated artist, but how about covering something else? Artists have a catalog, and yet new artists prefer to be known by covering the obvious moneymaker. When it comes to a group like Loggins & Messina, most people will say “aaah, I love “Your Mama Don’t Dance”” but this is a group who have great songs like “Angry Eyes”, “Vahevala”, “My Pretty Princess”, “Sweet Marie”, and “Pathway To Glory”. Why aren’t new artists exploiting these songs? Is it because that covering the obvious is an obvious way to get the audience’s attention?
In hip-hop, it was always about offering something new. Sure, you could rely on interpolating an old R&B/soul track, but what makes it great is the freshness, the newness of the music. Look at a group like Odd Future, where no one knows what’s going to come from that camp. It’s young blood ready to explore and exploit, they’re heated, they’re rugged, and the music is good.
There’s a vast world of music that is being slowly forgotten. I’ve always been passionate about reviving music that’s dead or long forgotten, something hip-hop DJ’s and producers have done for years. It’s about bringing life back to music that has become dormant, or reusing it so that it has a life it didn’t have before. The moment you hear Tom Scott play his solo in his cover of Jefferson Airplane‘s “Today”, one immediately thinks of youth and people long gone, as it was intended when Pete Rock used it in “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)”. Hip-hop rarely has those moments anymore, it’s almost expected to have the expected. The same can be said for a lot of today’s music, that you have to obey the formula or risk becoming indie and/or unsigned. In the last ten years, artists have said “hey, there’s nothing wrong with being indie, we love not having to obey the rules.” By keeping to those guidelines, artists are sampling a wide range of music and covering songs that aren’t part of the Top 1000 songs you’ll hear on the radio today, tomorrow, and right now.
I’d love to be the executive producer for a project where someone is willing to try something different. Look at a group like Earth, Wind & Fire, one of my all time favorite groups. Everyone will want to sing “Fantasy”, “Serpentine Fire”, and “Shining Star”, but how about “Be Ever Wonderful”, “Build A Nest”, and “Feelin’ Blue”? Give these songs a new life in a new era, there’s no reason these old songs should be dormant in the mental reserves of those who experienced it before. Why is it that artists of the past were willing to preserve these songs as classic pieces in a songbook, and that modern artists aren’t willing to sing and work a song for the sake of singing and working it? Yes, I completely understand the risks involved in being an artist on a major label in 2011, or any label, but how about taking risks? I wish it was possible to work with someone who said “you know what John? I like how you think? Let’s talk, select some songs that you think would suit me, and we’ll bounce back and forth some ideas.” Give me that opportunity and I would do everything I could to not only make that project a reality for you, but to make it Grammy worthy.
I’m not saying that music has to be Grammy-worthy in order to be worthy at all, but if you want to take it to the top, let’s do that. But I’ll also work with anyone who is willing to work with someone who has some ideas. I don’t care if you’re indie or if you self-release your music: I want to be put to work.
If you wish to contact me directly, BooksMusica [at] gmail [dot] com is my address.