Unintentional Hipster

I just like wearing women's jeans, not eating animal products and writing shit nobody cares about. It was an accident, I swear

Archive for the tag “pop”

A Defense of Pop Music-Rhythm

I’m going to warn you all well in advance, this series of blogs is going to be nothing other than purely musical wank. I’m basically going to demonstrate that discrimination against pop music as a result of its (usually) inherent simplicity as a generalisation simply isn’t justified. I’ll be doing a separate blog series on electronic music, but that’s a whole other kettle of hipsters which I’m learning about.

This blog isn’t an attack against those who aren’t well-versed in musical theory and conventions. It’s more of an attempt to educate people against hating on a style of music for what’s going on in it when quite simply don’t know what’s going on. Like I said, it’s gonna be a big blog’o’wank! It’s also gonna be quite a good deal of music theory, but I’ll ‘splain all of it!

First topic: Rhythm! Pop music is often criticized for being too rhythmically simple and as straight-ahead rhythmically to play as punk music. We’re not touching on stuff like Will.i.am. and Rihanna in this section, because they live that stereotype quite comfortably. Instead, we’ll look at John Mayer and Justin Timberlake in this blog. 

A quick side-note for everybody: I am not defending Pop music as a whole. Some pop music is just BAD! Some simply lacks originality, quality production or imagination. It over uses auto-tune to a point where you can no longer tell the difference between one singer or another. I will be seeking to demonstrate that there is pop music that falls outside of these stereotypes and that hating on pop music as a whole isn’t appropriate. Hate the gold-diggers in the industry if you want, but some people out there are making pop music that is wonderfully musical, original and innovative. 

This blog is written for those who aren’t educated in any music theory, so there will be explanations of what concepts I’m talking about throughout the blog. Important words will be written in bold.

First track we’ll check out: Waiting on the World to Change-John Mayer.

When you have three dudes like John Mayer, Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino playing together, you can expect nothing but some pretty intense stuff to be going on. Grab some good quality headphones or plug into some good speakers and really have a good listen to what’s on in this track. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBIxScJ5rlY
I’m going to talk about these three as musicians another time but for now-what’s going on that makes this track rhythmically cool?

The most obvious thing is that there is a late backbeat in every second bar. In traditional rock’n’roll/pop music, the backbeat sits solidly on beats 2&4 (usually marked by a snare hit). Although this is not in itself an example of musical wizardry, I can’t think of another modern pop tune that has a displaced backbeat in the same way, let alone one that has achieved such success. A downbeat is usually the strong beat and is traditionally marked by a bass-drum/bass guitar hit in rock/pop music. These generally occur around the 1&3 beat of each bar.

The next thing is the groove and the way that the subdivisions are broken up. A subdivision is that a bar is broken up rhythmically. For example, if you tap your foot along to a piece in 4/4 on the beat, each tap is called a quarter note (or a crotchet). This is because there are four notes subdivided into the bar. Half of that is an eight (or a quaver) and half that again is a sixteenth (semi-quaver). The two most simple approaches to subdivisions in terms of constructing a groove are called straight or swung 8ths. Straight 8ths are completely even, they are exactly half a beat, whereas if it’s swung, the beat is split into three equal(ish) parts and only the first and third note are played, giving a shuffle feel. Here’s a shuffle played by the glorious Steve Gadd:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4ABE9gcKao
As you can hear, it’s got a triplet feel, you can hear it’s not evenly placed into two exact subdivisions. You’ll hear this stuff going on all the time in Jazz and Blues, but more modernly, it’s very prominent in the Dubstep scene.
And why am I talking about this?

If you listen close to the 16ths (remember a quarter note is a beat, so a fourth of a beat) being played, they’re leaning more towards being swung, although not that heavily-they’re kind of in the middle (although leaning more towards being swung).

Again, even though this isn’t that musically wild and wonderful if you’re familiar with jazz, it is something that a computer will never really be able to simulate. It’s also a very small subdivision to time perfectly, especially when it’s not precise. If there were a numerical value given to what these subdivisions are, they would be called 24th notes. At 60 beats per minute, that would be six notes per second. 100bpm, closer to where this song sits, is ten notes per second. So you would be subdividing each second to one decimal place; and this piece isn’t computer-precise swung. 

The point? When cats like John Mayer are writing and performing Pop music, it isn’t overly-simple anymore. They may not be immediately noticed but every little bit counts in the difference between a song that will be listened to in twenty years time and one that won’t be heard again after it leaves the charts.

The piece feels organic and instrument driven because it is. It’s subject to certain human imperfections. It’s not something a 13 year old could put together on their computer, that’s for sure.

Next piece: Suit & Tie-Justin Timberlake
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsUsVbTj2AY
I really wanted to go through some of his older stuff but I wanted to use something more modern than the last track as an example.

So this piece starts out EXTREMELY slow. When it switches from the intro to the verse (and when it again repeats this at the B section where Jay-Z tears it up) it’s not a tempo change (tempo being the speed of the music)-the tempo never changes. Instead, it’s use of something called half-time. Remember how earlier I was talking about the backbeat being on two and four? In half-time, the backbeat appears on the three instead. Half-time’s meaning is very literal, each subdivision’s (i.e. 8ths) value is treated as half, so the backbeat will appear on the 3, instead of the 2.

This piece switches between half-time and regular time three times (intro-verse, chorus2-rap, chorus-outro), most pop songs will not switch between the two even once! This is an incredibly difficult thing to do in a piece and actually make it work. Although it does stand out very strongly in this piece, the shift between a brisk lounge-jazz feel to a drop-build that never ends (electronic music) is so powerful and leaves the second half of the piece begging to rhythmically resolve (or “drop” if you prefer). It constantly teases at this idea frequently when the drums drop out, leaving an ambiguous feel(i.e. 2:00 not so much, but prevalently at 3:53, where it could comfortably transition back into regular time). Again, this is HARD to do and much harder to do well. The piece is not lacking in rhythmic complexities. 

It is also possible that the B section/intro are actually in quarter-time and the A section is instead a quick half-time, although I doubt that was the intention so I assume it isn’t.

So there you go! Two hugely popular pieces of Pop music-one seven years old and the other not even seven months old-breaking traditional “conventions” (I use that word VERY lightly with Pop) of overly simplistic use of rhythm.

Next blog, I’ll talk about orchestration/instrumentation, that being what the instruments are doing. I’ll be using The Script, Maroon 5 and Daft Punk.

Peace and love, and good happenings and stuff!

❤ Fredkin

Hangover Hatred: Anti-commercial music wankers

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Good afternoon everybody! How we all doing?! Good?! YEAH FUCK YEAH I’M SO HUNGOVER HABAWWWWWW

So like how I seem to have promised myself at 4:30 in the morning…on this blog, to share my absolutely horrendous, god-awful poetry (and if you were ever a girl I was trying to sleep with in high-school or used to follow my blogs back when I was wayyyy younger on myspace, then you’d know…it’s fair shite), I feel like creating a little regular thing to do. I’m going to call this thing Hangover Hatred (nice ring to it ay?). It’s basically the same as Peter Griffin’s, “You Know What Really Grinds My Gears?” thing, except I’m not that funny. See, I could have made a successful joke about how I would grind your gears but no, I didn’t. I’m that guy. That guy who is not that other guy who does thing.

So, the point of this blog is to have a bit of a rant and rave over people who don’t like commercial music and call it utter shite for little other reason than it’s popular. Now, I’m not talking about a classical musician, who doesn’t dig ANY form of contemporary music, even contemporary classical. I’m also not talking about people who just don’t dig Ke$ha cause she’s a power slut, coke-headed out of tune mongrel dog…people like me I suppose…

No, I’m talking about the intentional hipsters who hate everything commercialised simply because it’s successful, and therefore make absolutely heinous assumptions about the artists based upon them being popular. I once heard somebody call Beyoncé a shit singer because they didn’t dig her style. Holy…like…I just…maybe…slap the stupid out of you boy? Or saying only old Kings of Leon tracks are good, before they “sold out”. They didn’t sell out you twit, they got famous. Their music was considered better by a wider audience..more people wanted to listen to it and buy it…I wasn’t aware selling out was a perfect synonym for successful? Weird.

There’s that funny little misconception that because it’s pop music, it’s all really simple and super easy and anybody can do it, anybody can write it or play it or sing it. If that’s true, then why doesn’t that slutty brunette girl I went to high school with who has far from any problem giving it away for nothing let alone if it were to further her career  not famous? Well…because she, although not awful, doesn’t have what it takes. Yeah she was kinda hot and yeah she could sing and she wouldn’t have an issue using her sex appeal to sell but…she didn’t have what it takes.

Or guys like John Mayer. Man, I’ve been playing guitar for eight years with a relatively solid practice regime and if I had a knickel for every solo of his I couldn’t play, well I’d have a shitload of knickels.

The thing that…well, really grinds my gears is when people say “So and so totally sold out!” when talking about music. A great example of this would be the Red Hot Chili Peppers with the album Californication, or if you’re hardcore hipster about it all, Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik. Now, I am an outrageous RHCP fan, I intend on getting at least two tattoos directly related to them in my lifetime and know my way through the majority of their catalogue very, very well. But I’m not a fan in denial, I know that their first big commercial success, which was BSSM, was up to that point th eir best album. In terms of lyrics, song structure, musicality, performance, everything just takes the cake on anything previous. It was also a huge defining point for a hell of a lot of musicians all over the world in what they would or would not do. But, many hipsters, in their infinite wisdom, define everything post Slovak’s death (including Mother’s Milk) as rubbish-people can’t write good music? Crazy. JUST CRAZY

I still haven’t figured out if Nelly Furtado “sold out” or not. She pulls off that promiscuity amazingly so maybe she just always had it in her. I don’t like it, but if you got it flaunt I suppose. And anybody who says Lady Gaga “sold out” after seeing the videos of her performing playing piano and what not, ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FREAKING MIND?! CAN YOU IMAGINE HOW MUCH FUN SHE IS HAVING?!!! SHE’S LIVING THE DREAM! SHE’S A GAY ICON, A SEX ICON, A POP ICON, AN ICON FFS! Don’t be silly. SIlly heads!

Admittedly I started this blog like 6 hours ago when I was hungover and just came back to it now, realizing it has lain here unposted for hours. I feel much better now but this is all still true, just poorly worded. Just remember  the moral of my hangover:

If you don’t like something, it doesn’t mean it’s shit. Vivaldi is far from being a shitty composer, he’s awesome, but he bores me dickless and I really don’t enjoy it.

Sometimes, it’s okay to just write music for other people. Nobody wrote music for themselves to just express themselves before the middle of the 19th century. There’s nothing wrong with making money.

Yes, being talented with a computer does make you a musician too. I mean, you can keep the pitch matched up and set triggers and use auto-tune but realistically, it’s hard to make music that anyone likes and if people can do that using nothing but a computer, then fuck it, I say they’re just as much of a musician as I am.

Simple isn’t bad!

Yeah that’s it. Cool. I feel SOOO much better.

Hope everybody has a smashing weekend (and for y’all back home hope the first night hasn’t munted y’all too badly!) and I loves youze all.

Except Joe. You’re an asshole.

Toby Fredkin

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