All for Social Good

I posted this over on my other blog, and I couldn’t help posting it here too…Love the band, love the video. Spread the love.

Social capital has been our main topic of conversation in my Digital PR and Advertising class at the University of Houston. The notion that an organization can assess communication efforts based on the resources available through social connections (particularly facilitated through digital and social media), is both an intriguing concept and one that should stretch organizational strategy beyond the normal harvesting of customer databases, or even Facebook followers and Twits. The real power of social capital is what is possible by tapping into that social capital, preferably for both organizational and societal benefit.  New England rock banders, Guster, may have discovered this spontaneously, when they harnessed the power of their social capital in a recent contest. The story goes, that they invited fans to produce their own videos for each of their 12 songs on their new EP Easy Wonderful, and one lucky fan video for each song would be chosen and highlighted on their site (Social Capital Recap: Access your followers/fans? CHECK. Get them to do something for you? CHECK. Get them to do something that builds your reputation? keep reading).

The videos produced included the usual cadre of interesting images, abstract stories, and quirky cinematography (including one video that had one poor bloke being pelted by paint-filled balloons). But one video, in particular, gave Guster more than just a quirky video credit. Check it out:

4 strangers, helping more strangers, and the giving goes viral, as the companies involved paid it forward after they heard what the pizza and flowers were for. Rather than social capital for organizational good, this is social capital for  social good, and it’s something that’s infectious, if not serendipitous (in this case).

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Take up the Indie cause – It’s for the children!

We the Indie Music fans of the world have a duty.  The world we’re leaving for our children is in terrible peril! While the media has pumped us full of Save he Whales, Save the O-Zone, and Save the world from the likes of John and Kate, there is a much more threatening evil on our doorstep.

Yes Indie Citizens…I’m talking about carbon copy, teeny-bop, pop.

I’m talking about the Jonas Brothers. I’m talking about Hannah Montana…or Miley Cyrus…or Hannah Montana…oh whatever. I’m talking about The Cheetah Girls! Yes. It’s horrible. And it’s threatening to lead our children down the path of musical starvation, turning them into Star whatever point whatever and KIIS FM  zombies who won’t know the difference between a good song and a radio jingle!

In the same way that my father saved me from Debbie Gibson, Maddonna, Tiffany, Milli Vanilli, and Vanilla Ice with the Beatles…I believe we should all fight the mainstream music maleficence take and introduce our kids to good music. Music that doesn’t feature just 3 power chords. Music that doesn’t feature “jaded” in the lyrics . Yes, music that doesn’t suck.

Let me help get you started. Here are some songs that have gone over like the Berlin Wall on my kids:

  • Mates of State – My Only Offer. My kids love this song. EVERY one of them, ranging from 8 years old to 4, even the 6 month old likes it.
  • Architecture in Helsinki: That Beep: This song has been so requested at our house that I’ve almost had to hide the CD.
  • Of Montreal: Brush, Brush, Brush. Ok, I don’t care that this song is off the soundtrack for the weirdest kids show on TV. Yo Gabba Gabba has the Teletubbies and Poobah beat for psychotic mental trip, and truth be told, I really can’t stomache the show, but this song is cool. And Of Montreal is one of the indie-est Indie bands on the planet.
  • They Might Be Giants. (see video below). You can pick just about anything from John and John. Their music is fun and wacky, and they even do kid music. I’ve actually been listening to their kid stuff for years with my kids, and let me tell you: they sure beat Raffi! In fact, you don’t even have to buy a CD to get your kids started. Go right over to Itunes and subscribe to the Friday Night Family Podcast (or click here to watch it in “syndicate”). Other great TMBG hits your kids will love: “Experimental Film,” “The Mesopotamians,” “Man It’s So Loud in Here,” and even the classic “Birdhouse in Your Soul”. Below is a ditty from their new Kiddie Album.
  • Dan Zane and Friends – Hello. Ok, this guy really IS a kiddie musician, but this song was featured in a recent Coke Ad, and it’s very cool. (sorry, no download link).
  • Dogs Die in Hot Cars – Godhopping. Just a cool song all around. Fast paced, and it talks about children in poor countries…so bonus points for teaching kids social responsibility.
  • 8 1/2 Souvenirs – Happy Feet. This is a great swing outfit. Their stuff is…well…happy.
  • Forro in the Dark – Asa Branca (Featuring David Byrne). Brillian brazilian beats. Used to be a legit free download on music.download.com, I’m sure it still is somewhere.
  • Guster – Amsterdam. Pretty much anything of this album (Let’s Keep it Together), is great. In fact, I think this album is one of the best (if not THE best) indie albums of all time. Yes. I just said that.
  • Oingo Boingo – We Close Our Eyes. Come on, it’s Halloween. I had to include something from Boingo.

What’s In a Voice?

I’ve been thinking about this one for quite some time…music, especially Indie music, is about more than just the music. It’s about the words. It’s about the singer. The genius of Indie is that each band has a distinct personality, that evades the normal “Write about the same thing” nonsense you hear on mainstream radio. For me, good music is about a nice combination of instrumentation AND voice work…In fact, I’ll take a good voice with so-so instrumentation over the opposite. If a song has a boring/horrible singer, I just can’t put up with it, no matter how good the music is. So, here’s my list of my favorite recognizable singing voices, in Letterman-esque descending style:

10. Claude, Anything Box: Raw. Emotional. I love how in one second his voice sounds innocent, the next, wild, untamed, and enraged.

9. Matthew Bellamy, Muse: Does anyone else in music express more emotion when singing? I defy you to find one.

8. Tori Amos: One of my all-time favorite voices. Haunting, simply haunting.

7a. Ryan Miller, Guster: His voice is simple and smooth…and easy to sing-along with, or maybe it’s his songs…

7b. Ben Gibbard, Death Cab For Cutie: Real is the best word I can come up with for Ben’s voice. It’s just plain real. Like you know him. Like he’s talking to you, rather than singing.

6. Harry Connick Jr. : Ok, deservedly, Harry Connick Jr. deserves to be on the top of this list, hands down. But first of all, he’s not Indie, and second of all…well I can’t think of a 2nd of all.

5. Johnny Boyd, Indigo Swing: (see comments for Connick Jr., Harry). Even more so, tragically, Johnny no longer sings for Indigo Swing. Which is odd…how can a band lose a guy commonly referred to as “The Voice”?

4. Rivers Cuomo, Weezer. Don’t know what it is, but I can’t get over the raw clarity and emotion of Rivers’ voice. My favorite example is on a live session their new song Miss Sweeney.

3. Steven Page/Ed Roberts, Barenaked Ladies: Rarely does a band have one good lead singer, let alone two. Ed is the charismatic voice, the accessible voice in a “You could be my best friend” sort of way. Steve is the powerhouse. If you’ve ever been to a BNL concert, you’d know what I’m talking out. He can simply BELT out some powerful melodies.

2. Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo. Yes, I know the Elf Man left singing on the radio for singing…and orchestrating…on the big screen, but his voice is still one of the very best AND most unique in all of music.

1. John Linell, They Might Be Giants: I love John’s voice. It’s raw. It’s even nasally. But it’s unique, and I can’t help but listen everytime I hear it. I love pointing out John Linell’s voice in obscure instances…like the Dunk’n Doughnuts new commercials, and even on PBS Kids in between shows.

Potty Mouth Indie

You know, the longer I listen to Indie music, the more I realize that listening to an Indie album is about the complete experience. You don’t buy an album for one song…you want to put the album in and listen to the whole thing.

But then again, the more I listen to Indie, the more I realize that Indie bands take advantage of their non-mainstream status to take liberty with curious language and the vocabulary that doesn’t exactly make SAT lists. Potty talk. It may not bother most people, but I have to say, it bothers me. While Indie songs parade some of the most interesting and creative lyrics, I find it ironic that so many of these innovative lyrics feature the most un-original language in English. I like to enjoy an album without having to wince while listening to it…

Here’s a few albums that have spawned this tangent:

1. Guster: Ganging up on the Sun. I am a huge Guster fan, but on its latest CD, they drop the F word for no reason whatsoever on one of their best tracks: Manifest Destiny.

2. Bright Eyes: I’m Wide Awake, it’s Morning. So, Bright Eyes isn’t exactly known for clean language, but this album really bugged me. The songs are deep, emotional, powerful, and fantastic. It’s too bad that the language is so profane.

3. Okkervil River: Stage Names: My most recent annoyance. Some of the songs are simply brilliant, especially John Allyn Smith Sails…I just have one question for Okkervil River: Can’t you find something ELSE that rhymes with “class”?

Either way, I know I’m not in the majority on my opinion on this one, but I had to vent.