Saturday, December 26, 2015

Top Ten Best Songs of 2015

Usually I make a "Best Albums of the Year" list, but in 2015 (and in recent years, in general) I've been more drawn to individual songs. So, here's my TOP TEN BEST SONGS of 2015 list, arranged alphabetically:

BRYAN ADAMS "You Belong To Me"
This song/video is totally my cup of tea. Sweet retro production by Jeff Lynne, beautifully simple arrangement, killer vocal performance, and great economy of composition. What a comeback!

THE DØ "Trustful Hands"
A Finnish woman and French man team up in this super cool Euro electro-pop duo. All their records are great.

ANA EGGE "Divine Mother"
One of the highlights of my year was seeing Ana perform at the Porcupine Mountains Music Festival in Michigan's Upper Peninsula!

BRANDON FLOWERS "Can't Deny My Love"
If I had to pick a BEST ALBUM OF 2015 it would be Brandon Flowers' The Desired Effect. The album is loaded with fabulous songs and sounds, but this one was the single, so it gets to represent the record. Produced by my studio hero Ariel Rechtshaid.

LOVERS ELECTRIC "Dangerous Games"
This married electro-pop duo features pop genius Butterfly Boucher's sister Eden. They made videos for every song on their excellent 2015 album Strangers...this clip is especially beautiful and slightly disturbing.

RAE MORRIS "Closer"
Morris is a British piano pop prodigy, with producer Ariel Rechtshaid making his second appearance on this list! She's been releasing excellent singles, EPs, and videos for a few years, and in 2015 they were finally collected on her debut LP (which I had to import from the UK on CD!). This record really scratches my itch for classic Annie Lennox!

MUTE MATH "Monument"
This band has flirted with U2-inspired arena rock in the past, and electronic noodling of all kinds. Their new album is its most New Wavey and friendly...I'm into it. It's the best Duran Duran album not made by Duran Duran this year!

OH LAND "Flags"
A favorite of mine since 2013, this Danish artist mixes weirdness, joy, and Nordic pop sensibilities. Not unlike Lovers Electric, Rae Morris, and The Dø...female powered neo-Euro-synth-pop!

KEITH RICHARDS "Trouble"
This past June I got to see Keith (and the Stones) with my own eyes, during their tour stop here in Minneapolis. There are some gems on Keith's new solo album, and this, the first single from the album, is one of the best tracks he's ever released.

SLEATER-KINNEY "A New Wave"
Sleater-Kinney has sounded very very good to my ears this past year. I prefer their singles to their albums, and this is a classic. Great video, too!

Friday, March 20, 2015

how to start a podcast

Well, I've started one...Creativity Drill with Jonathan and Dawn Rundman...so the question remains, who will listen, and what might happen in the future? The show has been live on the iTunes store for about 24 hours now, and I'll probably wait until Monday to hype it online, just because in my experience, the weekend has less online action with my audience/readers.

Now that everything is up and working, here's a rundown of howwe started our podcast. As a podcast fan, my prime inspirations were the shows on the Nerdist podcast network, as well as the married-couple-hosted show Totally Laime. Preparing and launching our show was quite complicated and it took a looooong time:

ONE YEAR AGO

My wife Dr. Dawn Rundman and I started talking about hosting a podcast together. We enjoy the rare occasion when we get to perform/present together, so we thought this would be a fun married-couple activity for us to do. Our goals for starting the podcast:

  • have a fun project to work on together as a couple
  • have a reason to get together with talented and inspiring friends
  • create synergy between our own creative work, and the creative work of our awesome guests
  • perhaps generate some yet-unknown opportunities for fun and art in the future

During one of our rare date nights, we went to a Starbucks and brainstormed ideas for show topics, themes, and guests. We came up with a concept and show title that we liked, and I whipped up a podcast cover by drawing a sketch of us and tweaking it in Photoshop. I read a bunch of articles like this to determine how to format the podcast cover image.


10 MONTHS AGO

One of our talented and creative friends was coming to Minneapolis, and we thought it might be an occasion to tape our first episode. The friend was familiar with podcasting, and was an enthusiastic test subject. We used our broken 10-year-old laptop and my elderly ProTools recording software to tape the interview. Dawn and I had fun, and the guest did, too. We knew the interviews were going to work! We wanted to get a few more in the can before launching officially.

5 MONTHS AGO

After a very busy period of family activities and my own musical tours, I was able to refocus on the developing podcast idea. I wanted the show to have hooky theme music, so I wrote a short little song and made a recording using a drum machine and synthesizer, with vocal assistance from my children. I took the tracks to the Library Recording Studio in Minneapolis to have it professionally mixed by studio wiz Matt Patrick. Matt himself appears as the announcer...here's the theme song:

3 MONTHS AGO

We had the raw material in place: a concept, a title, cover artwork, and a theme song. Now we needed more episodes! My goal was to complete three shows before going public with the podcast. We invited over another guest to tape the second episode. This was getting fun!

I did a lot of online research on all the technicalities of prepping a podcast for launch. I found the free videos and articles by Cliff Ravenscraft the Podcast Answer Man very helpful.

ONE WEEK AGO

We invited another guest to tape our third episode, and Dawn and I continued to enjoy the interviewing process. We began to ask other people to consider being guests in the future. I edited together our interviews with our theme music, episode intros, and outro bumper music using Garage Band, and bounced the master MP3s of each episode. Before the official launch I had to learn about and implement these other important steps:

  • tagging the master MP3s...I downloaded ID3 Editor and it worked well, although I found the process to be not-intuitive and kind of complicated 
  • finding an online host for the audio...I chose the $20 per month plan at Libsyn. This was also pretty complicated for me to do, and I had to do a lot of reading, learning, and experimenting to make sure it was working.
  • creating a podcast page at my own pre-existing webpage (via Squarespace) to serve as the home base for the podcast, and figuring out how to tag all the podcast links correctly, etc. This required a couple email requests for help from Squarespace support. Whew!
  • figuring out how to submit the feed to the iTunes store, making the submission, and waiting for approval
  • once approved by iTunes, I had to wait a day or so for the audio to turn up at the iTunes store, and  even longer for it to be searchable. After a couple days, everything seems to be alive.
  • I posted the first two episodes immediately, just to have some content ready for listening
Strangely enough, my Libsyn stats are telling me that we're already getting over 10 downloads per day, and at this point I have not even mentioned the podcast to my Facebook or Twitter or mass email audience. I don't know who these people are, but somebody is finding the show. 

NEXT WEEK

I'm gonna hype the show. This blog post is really the first I've said about the show in public! I've set up some online infrastructure to help get the word out, and to help connect us to listeners. Please check out our social media presence:

We'll continue to post episodes and we hope YOU listen! Please check us out at the iTunes store, subscribe to our show, and leave some nice ratings and reviews!

I'll blog again in the future and let y'all know how this podcast develops! Thanks!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Best albums of 2014

Happy New Year's Day! It's always fun for me to reflect upon my favorite albums of the previous year, so here's my list for 2014. Usually I rank my choices from 1 to 10, but this time I just can't decide how to order them....so I'll list all ten alphabetically instead. The overarching theme: almost all these albums were crafted by an overlapping community of pop genius producers and instrumentalists in Los Angeles. The musical family tree branching out below is incredible!

RYAN ADAMS - RYAN ADAMS
Long ago I enjoyed Adams' "Heartbreaker" album, but since then I've lost track of him despite his always prolific output. However, due to the involvement of some of my favorite musicians like Mike Viola and Benmont Tench, I was very interested in checking out his new self-titled release. This very cohesive collection of songs blends together many of the sounds and vibes that appeal to me...'80s rock influences, Stonesy swagger, and smart melodies and arrangements. Lyrically, it's a bit forgettable, but the rest of the elements are very strong.

BECK - MORNING PHASE
Beck is another artist who I don't really follow. I've got a couple of his albums that I enjoy, but the bulk of his catalog has escaped me. This particular record generated a lot of notable reviews upon its release, and I checked it out. Like the Ryan Adams album above, the session musicians appearing on this new Beck album are some of my all-time faves: Greg Leisz, Jason Falkner, and Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. I liked it upon first listen, and it has sounded better and better over time. Beautiful atmospheric production, mysterious and evocative lyrics, and gorgeous arrangements and melodies.

THE BOTH - THE BOTH
Aimee Mann is one of my musical heroes, and her new duo collaboration with Ted Leo as The Both has obviously energized and inspired her. I love this entire album, but certain songs like "Hummingbird" will hold up with her best work from across her 30-year career. I saw The Both perform here in Minneapolis last Spring, and they're excellent in concert as well. Bravo, Aimee and Ted!

SKY FERREIRA - NIGHT TIME, MY TIME
OK, technically this album came out in October of 2013, but I discovered it in January of 2014, so it goes on this best-of-list. Ferreira's music fits squarely into the kind of female-millennial synth pop that I've been loving lately, like Tegan & Sara, and Haim. Ferreira seems to be positioning herself as some kind of punkier and more dangerous alternative to Katy Perry...or maybe a more commercial version of Lana Del Rey...and I don't really get what's going on with her image. However, the music really appeals to me, thanks to the involvement of brilliant studio musicians like Ariel Rechtshaid (of Haim fame), Jon Brion, and Blake Mills (see below). There's some weird and clunky filler on this record but the pop singles are incredibly good. They're like the lost '80s singles that the world has discovered for the first time.

THE HADEN TRIPLETS - THE HADEN TRIPLETS
I adore everything done by musical adventurer Petra Haden, so I was thrilled to hear she was finally making an album with her talented sisters. These perfectly-curated collection of cover tunes was produced by Americana genius Ry Cooder, and the triplets' pure and natural voices sound glorious, effortless, and refreshing. Their interpretation of Nick Lowe's "Raining" is breathtaking...my favorite moment on an entire album of brilliance. Also worth noting: I have two children in elementary school, and when I play this album in the car, my kids sing along and try to find the harmonies. So cool!

JENNY LEWIS - THE VOYAGER
More than any of the other albums on this list, Jenny Lewis' new album stands out for its lyrics. Sometimes jarring in their confessional nature, and always fresh and surprising, Lewis sings from the oft-unheard perspective of a 40-something woman. Musically and instrumentally, too, this album is a slam dunk, echoing Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, and early-90s Maria McKee. In many ways, this album forms a trilogy with two other entries on this list: Beck appears on the album in a production role, and Ryan Adams (with Mike Viola, again) produces and performs in Lewis' band. Man, there's a cool scene happening down in LA right now with these Gen-X musicians!

LOUD LION - DIE TOUGH
Yup, another Los Angeles team of pop craftspeople at work. Now, bear with me here....the description of this band/album is a bit difficult to describe (or justify!). For the past seven years or more, producer/songwriter Bleu McAuley has been convening a rock super-band (featuring members of The Donnas, Rooney, Extreme, and more) to write and record songs that deliberately sound exactly like Def Leppard. After nearly a decade of movie soundtrack appearances and online leaks, the songs of Loud Lion have finally been released as a real album. The creation of this record accomplishes something very difficult and unusual: it takes a ridiculous idea, and delivers the goods with such confidence, fun, and unabashedness that it stretches beyond absurdity into awesomeness. If you ever loved the Pyromania and Hysteria albums, and if you appreciate rock songwriting and arranging, this album will please you deeply. "they're gonna kill you dead / they're gonna eat your head!"

BLAKE MILLS - HEIGH HO
My Facebook feed started getting filled up with mentions of this album a few months ago. Intrigued, I did some investigating, and I picked it up. I've got weird vibes about this album...it's feels like the kind of thing I should NOT be interested in, for some reason. Like, it's kinda too jazzy for me, and Mills' vocal style is not really my speed. But, it's undeniable...there's something totally original and stone-cold genius about this album. The band is unreal: Jim Kelter, Mike Elizondo, Jon Brion, and Benmont Tench (again on this list!), and Mills' guitar playing is virtuosic, sensitive, weird, and totally cool. The closest thing to this from my record collection is John Hiatt's 1986 album Bring The Family...but even that's not exactly right. Blake Mills has done something incredible and original here, and although I don't quite get it, I can tell that it is a masterpiece. (Also worth mentioning...Blake Mills has played with lots of other artists who I've really enjoyed in recent years, including Sky Ferreira and Haim.)

SIA - 1000 FORMS OF FEAR
My favorite album from 2013 was Tegan And Sara's "Heartthrob," produced by the brilliant Greg Kurstin. When I found out that Kurstin was also behind the board for the 2014 release by Sia, I immediately snapped it up. The single (and video) for "Chandelier" was unavoidable this past year, for good reason, but the rest of the album has brilliant moments as well. Some of the moodier R&B content doesn't work for me, but when Sia turns uptempo, I'm all about it. Her composition skills are singular and sophisticated, and her roof-raising vocal performances are lessons in virtuosic, unhinged caterwauling.

TAYLOR SWIFT - 1989
What else can be written or said about this album? I liked it on first listen, and incredibly it continues to improve with each spin. I really respect Taylor Swift as a human and an artist, and this album is a slam dunk.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pre-order my forthcoming new album LOOK UP!


ANNOUNCING: my new LOOK UP album will be released to the whole wide world on JANUARY 13, 2015!

Until then, you may pre-order:

at Amazon

at iTunes

or direct from my own online store...where you will immediately receive MP3 downloads of the new songs "Prioritize Us" and "Second Shelf Down."

Order now and help me climb the new release charts for the week of January 13th!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Why I chose PledgeMusic over Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, etc.

Badge

Greetings from halfway through my first crowdfunding campaign! The widget above will show you how close I am to my funding goal, and how many days I have left in which to reach that goal. At the beginning of the process I expected to be farther along by the time I reached the halfway point, but I realize that most people wait until the bitter end to make their pledge, so I'm not too concerned.

As I promised in my previous entry, I'll share the reasoning why I chose PledgeMusic.com over other crowdfunding platforms.

After a few years of struggling with the crowdfunding concept itself, I did a lot of reading and YouTube-watching to research which funding platform would be right for me. PledgeMusic appealed to me from the beginning because most of the artists who I helped to fund had used Pledge and I had been a very satisfied customer. The more I learned, the more I knew that PledgeMusic was a platform that synced with my artistic and personal values. For example:
  • less of an obsession with the publicized financial goal: incoming PledgeMusic funds are measured by percentage, so the artist and fan experience is less skewed by that looming monetary figure
  • less of an obsession with time/date deadlines: PledgeMusic campaigns often stretch beyond the traditional Kickstarter model of 30 days, AND better yet, the pledging may continue long after the financial goal and the fundraising deadline have been passed. All the positive financial and communal momentum generated during the campaign is maximized into the future. 
  • PledgeMusic has high expectation for artist-fan interaction. Artists are expected and encouraged to provide lots of exciting and fun exclusive content for their pledgers...video, audio, blog-like content updates, etc. I've enjoyed this from the fan's AND the artist's perspective!
  • PledgeMusic campaigns frequently set aside a portion of their profits to various charities. The platform's system made it very convenient for me to generate funds for my album AND support ELCA World Hunger
  • Artists/projects must be approved by PledgeMusic. Not just anybody will be approved, and I'm very pleased to be associated the quality of the artists (music-related only, by the way!).
  • People may pledge directly using their credit card, and from anywhere in the world. Other platforms have geographic limitations, and some require the pledger to route their money through a middleman (Kickstarter, for example, requires an Amazon account)
  • PledgeMusic has provided me with a living human being to serve as my A&R representative (Hi Matt!). I don't know for sure, but I bet if you used one of the much larger and wider platforms, it's very unlikely that you'd have your own human being to assist you with your campaign.
Here are some good posts from around the blogosphere about the virtues of PledgeMusic.com:




There is even more I could say, but that's a good overview of my preference for PledgeMusic. Now, my task is to reach out in person to the people/fans/friends in my life who have not yet gotten involved in my campaign, and invite them to join me. Earlier today I uploaded a mid-campaign invitation video. Check it out, AND, if you haven't pledged to support my LOOK UP album yet, please consider doing so! Thanks!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

PledgeMusic, Kickstarter and my crowdfunding conversion

I never thought I would say this, but: today I launch a crowdfunding campaign! I'm using PledgeMusic as a platform for funding the recording of my new pop/rock/folk/NewWave/songwriter album LOOK UP. Click here to visit my project's page at PledgeMusic.com where you can watch my introductory video, check out my list of cool exclusives, and heck…pledge to support me if you want! Yow!


A few years ago when crowdfunding first surfaced on my Facebook feed and in media coverage, the concept made me squirm. I've been a full-time freelance touring/recording musician for 20 years, and I was deeply marinated in the old-school DIY rock and roll model: write songs, pay to record them, pay to manufacture an album, and hit the road on tour selling CDs (and tapes!) at shows. That system worked great for me for many years….the sales of each album funded the next one and made a bit of a profit, too. Everything felt logical and righteous. Little did I know back in those early days of the new millennium that the changing economy, technology, and culture would soon radically alter the path of the road-warrior indie musician.

It was probably in 2009 when I first heard about Kickstarter. One of the reasons I was suspicious and nauseated by crowdfunding in its early days was that I witnessed some campaign train wrecks. I saw artists asking for too much money, running foggy and disorganized campaigns, flooding social media with desperate pleas for more funds, and groveling through the dreaded panic-filled countdown to the end of the failed process. You don't reach your (too-high) goal in 30 days, you don't get the money. I seemed to get a new crowdfunding pitch each week. It made me feel depressed and exhausted.

At about this same time, however, the new normal of the media/tech/culture landscape began to settle in. I began to accept the fact that the indie showbiz model had been forever changed. The last time I made a big-production studio record it was 2004 (the Public Library album), and even though lots of folks still bought CDs in those days, it still took me many months of serious touring and selling merch to break even. I knew that if I was to do another serious large-budget studio album in 2014, I might not ever pay it off by selling CDs/downloads/streams. I realized that if I ever wanted to make another relatively pro-quality album, I would need to exercise some financial creativity.

You know what finally caused my conversion experience? Being a FAN. Some of my favorite indie artists launched crowdfunding campaigns, and after my initial wave of suspicion, I agreed to support their projects. And, yes, all that stuff the crowdfunding platforms say about what the fans enjoy and want….I felt it! I was very happy and excited to be a part of my favorite artists' album-making process, and was very eager and pleased to give $20 or $50 of my money to insure I'd get new music from these great musicians. I supported projects by Parthenon Huxley, The Call, BleuButterfly Boucher, and Walter Salas-Humara. I felt very psyched and passionate to be a patron of the arts. I realized that if I felt this way as a fan of certain musicians, then it's likely that I myself have some fans who would feel that way about me. That's pretty nice! (We shall see if my hunch is correct!)

Another epiphany: after my knee-jerk aversion to crowdfunding subsided a bit, I remembered the important fact that IT'S A FREE COUNTRY. If you don't like an artist's crowd funding pitch, then don't support it. If you don't like an artist, don't buy their music/art. If you're annoyed by somebody spamming your Facebook feed with money requests, block them. It's no big deal. This acceptance of reality even solves issues like the infamous Zach Braff and Amanda Palmer Kickstarter conundrums. It's great to be free! Support what you want. Ignore what you don't want. No problem. Just relax, Jonathan.

Eventually, in another blog post, I'll address my reasons for choosing PledgeMusic.com over Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or other platforms. Until then, I shall attend to the launch of my own campaign to fund my forthcoming album LOOK UP. With the support from the fine folks at PledgeMusic I'm confident I'll reach my goal (and beyond), have a lot of fun documenting the creative process, and enjoy connecting to an expanding community of supporters. (Oh yeah, and I still have to go to the studio to track keyboards and vocals for the album…) Here we go!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Best albums of 2013

This year my ears were drawn to melody, technology, high-production values, and women. Years ago I would've been much more inclined towards organic sounds, intimacy in production and attitude, and a lo-fi aesthetic, but those days are gone. Is it because I have young children who cause me to hear music in new, fresh ways? Am I having a midlife crisis? Or am I just burned out on dudes with acoustic guitars? I'm not sure why, but I really loved female pop singers this year, and it sure felt good to me.

1. TEGAN AND SARA - HEARTTHROB
This is hands-down my favorite album of the year. Ten total slam-dunk pop songs with cool, cool sounds and more hooks per song than other artists can generate in a career. An inspiration of songwriting, production, and career re-invention.

2. HAIM - DAYS ARE GONE


Another ultra-consistent album-length home run. These songs and sounds make me happy. The Haim sisters exude gratitude and love of music, and I can feel it as a listener. Being in a rock band should be joyous and fun.

3. OH LAND - WISHBONE


I was clued into this album thanks to a Facebook post by excellent songwriter David Poe, who co-wrote this album's lovely folk tune "Love You Better." After clicking Poe's link to this "Renaissance Girls" video, I was immediately enamored by Danish pop / performance artist Nanna Øland Fabricius. When visiting Denver this Fall I had a chance to catch Oh Land in concert and was happily caught up in her infectious energy, smiles, charisma, gorgeous voice, and brilliant song craft. I bought both of her albums, and continue to rock my Wintertime with this awesome Nordic electro-pop. If you miss the early Cardigans, or you long for the '80s-era Madonnna, Oh Land is for you.  

4. ELLE MACHO - IMPORT
I've been a fan of Butterfly Boucher since her debut 10 years ago and I've been following her musical adventures, but this album was a surprise. A rather grandiose art-punk trio (co-fronted by fellow Nashville-based songwriter David Mead), ELLE MACHO allows Butterfly to explore a louder and more theatrical facet of her musicianship. These tunes took some getting used to, but I'm loving them now. 

5. FALL OUT BOY - SAVE ROCK AND ROLL
Butch Walker's production drew me to this album, and his creative fingerprints are all over it. Bombastic, slick, catchy, and crazy fun, like a Summer blockbuster action movie at the mall megaplex. There are a couple stinkers on Side B, but the killer singles are undeniable. Love it!

6. EELS - WONDERFUL GLORIOUS
Although maybe not quite as timeless as some of their other albums, this new collection from ultra-prolific E is still uplifting, trashy, fun and consistently awesome.

7. AOIFE O'DONOVAN - FOSSILS
As I have hinted in this post's introduction, these days I'm weary of bluegrass music, folk singers, and Americana in general. So, I'm pleased to announce that the debut solo album from bluegrass darling O'Donovan has transcended any genre obligations she might be navigating. This is very smart and dreamy folk/pop music, and O'Donovans slinky and mysterious persona holds everything together.

8. ROBBIE FULKS - GONE AWAY BACKWARD
Again, although I'm having a hard time with bluegrass and twang these days, Robbie's sheer talent wins me over, as usual. Recorded live by Chicago studio legend Steve Albini, this album is mature, expert, and sonically sublime. My favorite track below:


9. PARTHENON HUXLEY - THANK YOU BETHESDA
I got this album after supporting Parthenon's crowd funding campaign, and I was quite pleased at the opportunity to bring about more music from this pop genius. His new tune "Love Is the Greatest Thing" is one of the greatest pop songs of the year, and also one of the best songs of Parthenon's three decades in rock.

10. BRENDAN BENSON - YOU WERE RIGHT
Released just days before the end of 2013, this one comes in under the wire. I've only had a chance to spin it a couple times, but as expected, Benson's music is retro-cool, rocking, surprising, and playful.

HONORABLE MENTIONS FOR 2013:

TAYLOR SWIFT - RED
Technically, it came out in late 2012, but I didn't get it until January of 2013. Good as a whole, but her Swedish-produced radio singles were some of my highlights of the year.

BUTTERFLY BOUCHER - HAPPY BIRTHDAY FLUTTERBY
To reclaim her 2003 debut album Flutterby, Butterfly Boucher re-recorded the entire record, wrestling control away from her initial record label. These re-imagined versions are slightly mellower than the originals, but it's super-cool to hear her approach to these tasty songs one decade removed.

FRIGG - POLKA V
Finland's fiddling wall-of-sound released another great album (their most rock-influenced, to my ears) in late 2012, but I didn't hear it until Summer of 2013. Superb nord-grass for acoustic proggers on any continent.

FRANK SOLIVAN & DIRTY KITCHEN - ON THE EDGE
If you are interested in more straight-up bluegrass, these guys tear it up. Wow…vocals and instruments are so precise it's a bit unreal. Sweet cover of Alex Chilton's "The Letter" too.