On the face of things, it would seem that Justin Timberlake and veteran artist Bill Withers, best known for his early ‘70s hits, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Use Me,” wouldn’t seem to have much in common given the 40 + year-age difference. However, they displayed a stirring number of similarities as they discussed their creative processes and record company struggles during a joint session during the April 22-24 ASCAP Expo, a three- day conference organized by the performing rights organization for songwriters and producers in Los Angeles.
“If anyone tells you they know how to sell 60 million records, they don’t,” stated the legendary Quincy Jones during an engaging Q&A conducted by rapper Ludacris at the ASCAP Expo in Los Angeles, April 23.
And he should know. Jones, who is the mastermind producer/arranger/composer behind such projects as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “We are the World,” stressed to the audience of songwriters and producers that the only righteous artistic path is following your heart, not the money. “You do something that gives you goose bumps and you love. It works out or it doesn’t.”
Of course, it’s “worked out” a lot for Jones, who, at 77, is celebrating six decades of making music. Like John Mayer, who was interviewed at the Expo on Thursday, Jones stressed the importance of learning your craft to build upon your talent, not suppress it. “There are only 12 notes,” he said. “I spent 20 to 30 years learning to be a good musician.”
There is simply no substitute for knowledge—or what Jones referred to as “science.” When asked how he deals with pressure, he replied “Learn your science. Science is what provides the [ability] to express your emotion…Your chops get you out of pressure.”
Jones took his innate talent as a musician—he plays at least seven instruments—and then studied orchestration in Paris under the acclaimed Nadia Boulanger, who declared him “corrupted” from his jazz training with such artists like Ray Charles.
Jones’ career has been so vast and spans so many different areas, that he was only able to touch on a few areas. But here are some of the highlights:
**Scoring films is a discipline totally different from writing songs. “The sprockets don’t line. The image is not going to change because you want to add two bars,” he said. Music is the “emotion lotion” for the film, as he said Steven Spielberg calls it.
**His cure for writer’s block: Relax, put up your feet, keep what you’re working on nearby and “know it’s not about you, it’s about your higher power…Have humility in your creativity and grace in your success. Be humble enough to accept God’s whisper.”
**Knowledge extends far beyond traditional schooling. As a young man, Jones traveled the world with Lionel Hampton as his trumpet player and arranger. “When I traveled overseas, I learned eat what they eat, listen to the [local] music and learn 30-40 words in their language.”
**Epic Records did not want Jones to produce “Thriller.” He and Michael had worked together on the Broadway play “The Wiz.” “Back then, Michael was listening. I started watching him at rehearsals. He knew everyone’s moves,” said Jones. When it came time to go into the studio, Epic felt Jones was too “jazzy. They said ‘Get Gamble and Huff.” That’s when I learned the power of being underestimated,” Jones said with a laugh.
**His advice for aspiring singers (although it translates to any instrument) is “take your 10 favorite singers and put them on a disc and learn every note. Walk in the shoes of giants.”
**Use your pain to fuel your art. “I didn’t have a mother. At 7, my mother was taken away in a straight jacket. At 12, I thought, if I don’t have a mother, I don’t need one. My stepmother was a pain in the booty. Music is my mother.”
*8His favorite recording he ever worked on is “Somewhere” with Aretha Franklin from the early ‘70s. “I play it every day at my house,” he said, adding that he’d like to have it played at his funeral.
**During their early days as teens in the Northwest, he and Ray Charles would repeat every day--in part, to counteract the discrimination they faced—“Not one drop of my self-worth depends upon your acceptance of me.”
Gleeks, rejoice: Such is the power of Madonna that she doesn’t even have to open her mouth to land on top of the album charts. The “Glee” cast’s karaoke versions of Madge hits, highlighted in Tuesday’s episode of the popular Fox show, will top the 100,000 mark next week, making it a lock for No. 1, according to Hits Daily Double. The seven-track set, dubbed, appropriately enough, “The Power of Madonna,” includes the show’s take on “Vogue” “Express Yourself,” “4 Minutes,” and “Like a Prayer.”
Also likely to debut in the Billboard 200’s Top 10 next week is AC/DC’s “Iron Man 2” (CD/DVD set, which features 15 classic AC/DC tunes, many of which are featured in the Robert Downey Jr. blockbuster. It may debut as high as No. 3, while the latest from rockers Sevendust chimes in at No. 8.
Last Sunday’s Academy of Country Music awards appears to have boosted sales for two of the big winners: Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” which has been in the top 10 since its January release, bounces back up to No. 2, while Miranda Lambert’s “Revolution,” which was named album of the years, soars back into the top 10.
John Mayer has a sure-fire cure for constipation, although it’s probably not a workable solution for most of us.
“If you’re feeling plugged up from the fruit-and-cheese plate, play a gig at Madison Square Garden,” he advised an audience of songwriters and producers April 22 during his keynote Q&A at the ASCAP Expo, a three-day conference put on in Los Angeles by the performing rights organization. Mayer was responding to interviewer Erik Philbrook’s query about what emotion does selling out Madison Square Garden conjure up. “Is having to poop an emotion?” Mayer asked.
Mayer has kept a pretty low profile since opening his mouth and lodging his foot in it earlier this year during a Playboy interview, but he was back in fine—and mainly gaffe-proof—form at the ASCAP Expo. His one notable “WTF?” moment came when he compared playing at MSG to “banging a really, really hot girl. I hope I can satisfy this girl enough so that I can have a shot at coming back.” After waiting for that comment to sink in with the packed crowd of several hundred, he joked “I just wanted to give my manager something to Google for tomorrow.”
Mayer had plenty of good advice for the aspiring songwriters, but it mainly boiled down to staying true to your muse and trying not to have an “excessive need for external validation” that keeps you from following your own gifts instead of seeking adulation. “That first record has to be the big clown shoe in the door,” he said, but added that subsequent records shouldn’t be about proving yourself to others. He noted that his Grammy-winning tune “Gravity,” was his favorite because “I got out of my own way…Sometimes when you write, you’re trying to let someone else know that you’re a good writer,” instead of focusing on pleasing yourself.
Mayer, who first picked up the guitar when he was 13 in 1991, joked that he was “highly well versed in playing Tesla songs and Warrant… The songs of Trixter and Saigon Kick still flow through my veins.” Though he dropped out of Berklee School of Music, he stressed that instruction always makes a musician better. “If you think by going to vocal lessons, I might lose my natural timbre. Bullshit,” he said.
He advised that artists find other musicians of their same caliber or higher. “Be with other people who want to ascend,” he said, admitting that he didn’t play well with others when he first started and that was okay. “I had so much I wanted to get out. I didn’t feel tremendously like sharing. I didn’t want to teach people to give a shit. You’re not going to get where you’re going if there aren’t a lot of people from high school who think you’re an asshole.”
The 7-time Grammy winner also had a bit of a wake-up call for anyone still believing a record deal is the Holy Grail. “It’s a work contract, not a check,” he said, noting that his Columbia Records deal means they own certain rights to him in perpetuity. “I can’t cut a record with Kanye on Mars,” he joked.
Mayer, who joined Jay Z on stage recently, confessed that he’s a “closet hip-hop freak,” who practices making up beats in his spare time. “I’ve studied the whole J Dilla thing,” he says referencing the late hip hop producer. “Can Bob Dylan and J Dilla meet? Where would that be? They don’t go together yet. I’m trying to have the right mix of Dylan meets Dilla.”
Joni Mitchell is having trouble seeing both sides now when it comes to Bob Dylan. Most music fans consider the twosome among the most influential and seminal artists of the last 50 years, and place Dylan at the absolute pinnacle of the singer/songwriter pantheon. Mitchell does not hold him in such high regard.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times that ran April 22, Mitchell called Dylan a fake. After the reporter, Matt Diehl, commented that both Mitchell and Dylan had altered their given names, Mitchell blasted Dylan with both barrels: “Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist and his name and voice are fake,” she said. But she wasn’t done yet. “Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.”
She further goes on to explain that her name is simply a nickname derived from her given name, Roberta Joan Anderson, combined with her married name, from when she married Chuck Mitchell. Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman.
Mitchell doesn't clarify the plagiarism accusation, but a number of outlets have connected the dots to a New York Times 2006 article that notes the similarities between Dylan's lyrics on "Modern Times" to those of confederate poet Henry Timrod.
Mitchell didn’t reserve her vitriol solely for Zimmy, oops, we mean Dylan. Commenting that Rolling Stone named her “Old Lady of the Year” in the ‘70s for her alleged number of lovers, she added, “Grace [Slick] and Janis Joplin were [sleeping] with their whole bands and falling down drunk and nobody came after them.”
On a side note, at least Mitchell’s affairs of the heart inspired some wonderful music. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s sweet “Our House,” was allegedly written by Graham Nash about his relationship with Mitchell, while her songs “Car on a Hill” and “Help Me” are rumored to be about her affair with the Eagles’ Glenn Frey. “A Free Man in Paris” is about David Geffen.
In the L.A. Times piece, the only person getting away unscathed is Jimi Hendrix, whom Mitchell calls “the sweetest guy.” As far as the rest of us Americans, Mitchell, a Canadian, doesn’t seem to have much use for us for the last 30 years. She says her later work “is set against the stupid, destructive way we live on this planet. Americans have decided to be stupid and shallow since 1980. Madonna is like Nero; she marks the turning point.” Ouch.
According to his representatives, Dylan was unavailable for comment. Mitchell’s rep did not respond to a request for a comment. Perhaps Mitchell’s words speak for themselves.
Although Katy Perry may have been accepting songwriting awards for penning “Hot N Cold” and “Waking Up in Vegas” from her debut album last night at ASCAP’s Pop Music Awards in Los Angeles, her mind is focused squarely on her next album. She and producer Lukasz “Dr.Luke” Gottwald told HitFix all about it.
The new album is “going to be more groove ridden and more making people dance because when I went on tour, as much as I love all the in-between songs, I felt I was missing some of the stuff that made people bounce up and down and I really love that feeling when people are all jumping in unison,” she said. “I want that for this new record, with the songs, especially with the songs with Luke and Max [Martin], but they’re actually all totally different.”
The album, which will likely come out this summer, took some time for all the elements to come together, Perry said: “We worked in Santa Barbara, we worked in L.A. I was telling everybody I had a lot of jewels, but I didn’t have the crown and, then, I finally got the crown so all the jewels made sense. And now I have this thing, this crown that I’m ready to present.”
Dr. Luke, who worked with Perry on her multi-platinum “One of the Boys,” including on “I Kissed a Girl” and “Hot N Cold,” produced six songs on the new set. “[Katy] had made a mix tape of the things that were inspiring her and so I listened to all the kind of stuff and sort of got the vibe of what she was doing and then sort of just tried to made ideas for her and we started writing together.”
Perry said the album was inspired by both Abba and the Cardigans’ “Lovefool.” Dr. Luke tells Hitfix there was also “a lot of ‘90s stuff” on the mix tape.
Perry didn’t perform at last night’s awards, but her shoes were the talk of the evening. The soles of her Jimmy Choo shoes changed colors every few seconds and were the hit of the red carpet.
The beleaguered pop/R&B star raps on Tyga’s “Holla @ Me,” a track from their collaboration, "Fan of a Fan." As in sorry shape as his career seems to be in, this may not be the right path. For one thing, he’s a pretty mediocre rapper in a record that doesn’t have that much going for it to begin with. Tyga, who’s in Cash Money’s stable of acts, runs rings around Brown here, as Brown slowly repeats “Holla at me” lots and lots of times, as well a few other non-sensical turns of phrase.
Brown does display some pretty fly dance moves, but we know already knew he was fast on his feet. (By the way, what’s with leaving the price tag on his Raiders cap? Are times so tough that he’s thinking about returning it?)
Watch for yourself below.
Ciara wants you to know that she can “work it so good.” But this isn’t empty rhetoric, she has the video to prove her mad sex skillz. As she demonstrates in “Ride,” her goodies have special talents, she can pleasure her man in a variety of different ways—up and down or circles-- and she’s not shy about letting him know. She will be the smoothest ride he’s ever had, she declares, perched up against a smooth automobile dressed only in a swimsuit made of the same amount of material as used in a seat belt and a fur coat (“What? There’s a car in the video?,” says the average red-blooded male. Yes, she’s so hot, it’s possible to miss out on the automobile.).
Ciara is in ungodly great shape, whether she’s humping the floor on her stomach and on her knees or as she poses up against the car nearly naked. Don’t get us started with her on the mechanical bull in the see-through white top. Cliches are us. But as s jealous as I am of her remarkable body, her abs and the fact that she has someone whisper “Ciara” at the beginning of her videos, lest we forget her name, there’s also something depressing about the video. First off, it’s a bad song that even Ludacris’s appearance can’t improve (and what’s with his slowed down vocals?), so if this is the best she’s got from her forthcoming album, “Basic Instinct,” we could be in trouble.
Plus, Ciara started off as a fun, sexy singer. This is a crass, crude song that feels like she’s almost selling herself since people aren’t interested in her music anymore. Yes, “Love, Sex, Magic” was a bit hit, but it was the only hit off of last year’s “Fantasy Ride,” and, remember, it had Justin Timberlake on it. The other singles stiffed. Has she reached the stage where she feels like she has to resort to near soft-core porn to get people’s attention? If so, we salute her, because it works.
On the other hand, you can look at the video as a woman owning her sexuality and being damn proud of how she can satisfy her man and how smoking she looks. Plus, as my colleague Katie Hasty noted, her moves are so awesome, this video could be used as a work-out video. If we thought we could look like her by working out like that three times a week, we’d be first in line to buy it.
Sarah McLachlan is in love and she doesn’t care who knows it. In fact, she wants to shout it from the rooftops. On “Loving You is Easy,” the new single from her new album, “The Laws of Illusion,” out June 15.
“The Law of Illusion” is McLachlan’s first full studio album of new material in seven years and if “Loving You Is Easy” is any indication, McLachlan is in a shiny, good place.
The tune is a toe-tapping paean to falling in love again after a fallow period and feeling as if you can leap off buildings in a single bound. It’s that dewy period when it feels like even five minutes apart is four minutes too many.
The song is reminiscent of Sara Bareilles’ breakthrough hit, “Love Song” with its poppy, easy-going lyrics and pounding piano intro, but we certainly know which Sarah came first in this case.
“Loving You is Easy” also features Brian Wilson-type backing vocals at the 2:30 mark that give the song a poppy sheen seldom found in her material. She sounds remarkably relaxed and happy. Judge for yourself below.
While the Beatles catalog remains with EMI, McCartney has inked a licensing deal with independent label, Concord Music Group to reissue his solo and Wings content. The roll-out begins with the August re-release of 1973’s “Band on the Run,” with new packaging and bonus content.
McCartney has been prolific since the Fab Four’s break up in 1970. The Concord deal includes 14 solo sets and eight Wings albums, as well as such one-off projects as The Fireman, his 2008 release with producer Youth.
As a recording artist, McCartney had already cast his lot with Concord. He left EMI in 2007 and released the Grammy-nominated “Memory Almost Full,” as well as 2009’s “Good Evening, New York City” CD/DVD. His regained the rights of his catalog in February, according to the Wall Street Journal. Over the last few years, McCartney had discussed his dismay with EMI and the feeling that EMI treated acts like "furniture."
The Concord deal includes both digital and physical distribution. While the Beatles remain unavailable via digital download, McCartney’s material is available, but will be more widely so as a result of this deal as the individual projects are reissued. For example, today, fans can download Wings’ greatest hits set, “Wingspan” on iTunes, but not all of the individual Wings albums.
As EMI continues to fall apart, the loss of McCartney’s catalog is just the latest blow. Radiohead left the record company as a recording artist, although its catalog remains with EMI, according to the WSJ. EMI’s owner, private equity group Terra Firma Capital Partners, has until June to raise roughly $600 million before it defaults on its Citi loan. EMI has been talking to such competitors as Sony and Universal about licensing the rights to distribute its catalog, but the talks have stalled.