Engaging Teens Through Music

Think back to your own teen years. Maybe it was not long ago. Maybe it was decades ago. What did you love when you were young? Cars? Video games? Movies? Dancing? Sports? Some of you probably liked some of those things but there is one thing pretty much every teen loves and that’s music. Music holds a special place in everyone’s heart and memory. A song from a long ago summer can bring back memories in a way few other things can match. Listening to and loving music is part and parcel of being a teen.

For some kids, music is about more than listening though. They want to play. That’s where there are opportunities for you to engage with teens. Now this might be a little self-serving (but probably not) but here goes.

I have two teenagers. My daughter, whom I’ll call Z, loves playing rock and roll. She listens to a lot of punk rock (classic and modern), hard rock, metal, screamo, emo and more. Finding an opportunity to play was a challenge. A few of her friends are musicians but not into rock, and while there were some kids at school, actually coordinating things was easier said than done. It was a problem.

That changed a few years ago when someone introduced her to PluggedIn, a band program aimed at teens. PluggedIn organizes kids into bands based on the music they’re into, has a building that is chuck full of practice spaces, has adults who mentor the kids and maintains a weekly rehearsal schedule. It’s all pretty turnkey.

Every week my wife or I drive Z to her practice and pick her up when it’s over. Sometimes this is inconvenient. Sometimes there are things she’d rather be doing on a Saturday afternoon. Sometimes, when she recounts her practice sessions, I wonder what they’re actually doing. Any doubts, though, are erased at their concerts.

A few weekends ago was their show. Z played in two bands, one on Saturday night and the other on Sunday afternoon. I’m not going to lie; there was some tragically terrible musicianship on display. But that didn’t matter, because there was plenty of good music too. What was also on display was a whole lot of teens doing something they really loved. When Z went up on stage and sang three songs with one of her bands I was blown away. It literally brought tears to my eyes.

As I looked at the audience and at the kids on stage and at the ones waiting in the wings, I saw people transported by the opportunity to make and enjoy music. There are programs like PluggedIn all over the country. There’s Camp Jam, School of Rock, Girls Rock and Seattle Teen Music to name just a few.

As budgets for the arts in public schools tighten, teens and their parents are turning to these programs as an outlet for expression and community. What I didn’t see at the PluggedIn concert — and here is where there’s an opportunity for marketers — was anyone sponsoring the program. It seemed crazy to me that there could be a group of 200 kids in one program in one community that was demonstrating loud and clear a really strong and specific interest without a business recognizing the opportunity to connect. It seems a shame that more marketers aren’t recognizing the potential of supporting kids in exploring a passion, especially one as strong as rock and roll.

Originally published at www.mediapost.com.

My biggest musical disappointment

A few months ago I started listening to Divided and United, a compilation of songs from the Civil War. It’s a great collection with some songs I’ve really come to love. There’s one song that I like above all others and that I’ve wanted to play with Waiting for Neil. The song is “Listen to the Mockingbird” performed by Stuart Duncan and Dolly Parton. Check it out:

It’s really good. The fiddle is something else, the harmonies are great. I love it. I wasn’t familiar with the song before I heard this recording. At least that’s what I thought. As soon as I started sharing it with people they’d say, “oh, the Three Stooges song” and laugh. How is it that everyone I know has heard this song but me? It’s not just the Three Stooges either – there’s a Barney version, a Flintstone’s version, the list goes on and on.

It doesn’t change my opinion of the song though. And I’m not the only one. The New York Times did a piece when the album came out that tells the story of the song. It also provides links to lots of other versions. Again, how did I not know about this song? Seriously, I love the Three Stooges but my ear didn’t hear the connection between the Stooges and the version on Divided and United.

I’ve resigned myself to the fact I’ll never convince my bandmates to play it. That’s OK. It’s still a great song but I’ll just have to enjoy it on my own.

Face of the Day: 7.18

Today’s face is Zee Avi, one of my favorite musicians.


I was driving to work a few years ago, 2009 I guess, just sitting in traffic on the Mass Pike waiting to go through the Weston tolls. I was listening to WZBC, Boston College’s really great station when I heard this incredibly clear and beautiful voice. It was Zee Ave singing “Is this the end.”

As soon as I got to the office I bought the album on iTunes and listen to it over and over. A few months later she was opening for someone at the House of Blues her in Boston and Wendy and I went. The crowd was small but enthusiastic and the music was fantastic.

I’ve seen her play a few more times and will again. Today’s picture was taken outside Great Scott last summer. Here’s a playlist of a few of her songs. You should go buy her music and see her play if you can. You’ll be glad you did.

Hey Spotify, let us help make Spotify even better

I listen to Spotify every day. I signed up for a premium account as soon as it was available in the US. I totally love it. It’s great to be able to think of a song and listen to it right away. And not only the version I had in mind but often dozens of versions from different artists. I’ve found so much new music.

The ability to build playlists and listen to specific songs makes Spotify my number one music source. Sometimes I’m lazy though and just want the music to take care of itself. Pandora is great for that. Their music genome does a fantastic job of stringing together songs based on whatever I’ve seeded. The only problem is that songs start to repeat really quickly. I guess it’s bound to happen if the catalog is only around a million songs. Meh.

You’d think Spotify Radio would be the solution. They’ve got around 20,000,000 songs so the risk of repeat is low. The problem is that Spotify Radio just isn’t that good. It doesn’t do a very good job of finding similar music. This morning I seeded a station with Edith Piaf. Quickly I found myself listening to Simon and Garfunkel, Nancy Sinatra and The Supremes. Hello? I don’t know if I can figure out what connection exists between those four artists.

(OMG, now it’s playing “I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. How does that have ANY connection to Edith Piaf?)

Spotify has an awesome catalog but there’s no intelligence behind it. Pandora has awesome intelligence but its catalog is tiny. Obviously the two are never going to come together; and there’s not much I can do to help increase the number of songs Pandora can provide . . .

But listen, Spotify, there are a ton of people who’d be happy to help improve your musical tagging and taxonomy. Why not let us help make Spotify even more awesome by giving us the tools and ability to identify the attributes of songs? Like any crowd-sourced model, errors would be caught and corrected and the user experience would be a million times better.

I’d be happy to talk all about it. Seriously.

Here are five songs from my day. None in English. (It makes it too hard to work.)


Daily Dozen – Men with Musical Instruments

It’s a really rainy day here in New York and I’ve been super busy. Lots of walking in the rain. I don’t mind until I sit down somewhere and realize how wet and tired I am. That’s where I’m at now. Wet and tired. I’m having a warm bowl of squash soup though and that’s helping.

But you don’t care about all of that, you want some photos and I have them. I was looking at photos this morning wondering what set to do. What I’ve gone with is men with musical instruments. At first I was thinking about men with any kind of object in their hands but that got too hard given my time constraints. Instruments proved to be way easier and I’m all about the easy!

With the warmth spreading through me, it’s time to post!

Stephen Marley Plays Guitar
Jonathan Richman
Ray Neades Tribute
Tunes Playing Sax
Big Green Eight-String Bass
Matt Searles plays guitar
GregPC (that's me) plays fiddle
Ray Neades Tribute

Daily Dozen – Musicians

Today is a dreary and snowy day here in the Boston area. Driving to work I was thinking what would brighten things up an decided music would be just the ticket. I love music and go out to see performances as often as I can at my advanced age. My wife and I are fortunate to have her sister close by and wonderfully willing to keep an eye on the kids. It means we get to go out more than a lot of people we know.

That’s probably too much information but what can I say? On to the topic at hand: music. Looking through the 1000faces there are a lot of photos of people singing and playing. Many of them are really good but most of them aren’t making their living with music. Today I’ve tried to keep it to people who do music full-time. As was the case yesterday, I’ve added links and info in case you’re interested. And now, it’s on with the show . . .

Jonathan Richman
Here’s Jonathan Richman. He’s a native son of my town Natick. I’ve listened to him for more than 20 years but it wasn’t until 2011 that I finally had a chance to see him play. It was wicked good.

Matisyahu Stage Dive
I was a little torn about adding this photo since you can’t really see Matisyahu’s face; but I really like the picture. He’s jumping into the crowd and his arms look almost like flapping wings.

Beats Antique - hair
I saw Beats Antique a few months ago and was blown away. Their performance was completely mesmerizing.

Stephen Marley sings
Here’s Stephen Marley. Wendy is crazy about reggae and this was a show she really wanted to see. It was totally fun.

Face - Joao Brasil (@joaobrasil) at #FoE5
This is Joao Brasil at MIT. He’s very fun and funny. He does Techno Brega. His song L.O.V.E. Banana is something.

Mighty Mystic
Here’s Mighty Mystic, from here in Boston. Excellent.

This is Nossan Zand out on the streets of Cambridge. I’ve seen him here and there. My pal Adam (Nossan’s brother) turned me on to him.

Sometimes I curse myself for not taking better notes. This is one of those times. This woman was really good. She opened for Mighty Mystic and was fun to watch and listen to. Of course I have no recollection of who she is . . .

Face - Erin McKeown (@erinmckeown) speaking at #FoE5
This is Erin McKeown. I didn’t see her perform but rather speak at MIT’s Futures of Entertainment conference. It was really interesting to hear from an artist who’s taking creative approaches not only to their music but also to how they relate to their fans.

Face - Filastine
Filastine opened for Beats Antique and was really good.

Creek River
This is the Creek River String Band. I play old timey music myself and one of the fellows I play with is brother to the accordion player so I went to see them a few months ago. (That’s pretty convoluted, isn’t it?) They were great and I had a good time taking photos. I photographed them a second time but am making really slow work of processing those photos. 😦

Face - Zee Avi
This is Zee Avi. She is fantastic. One of my most favorite musicians around. I’ve seen her three times and wish I could see her more.

Daily Dozen – People Singing

People can look so different when they sing versus when they do other things. They can look impassioned, silly, angry, happy, hurt – you name it. Today, thanks to a suggestion from Scott Damgaard, I’ve pulled together a dozen faces of people as they sing. I hope you enjoy them. Many of them are from the Bone – a bar in Framingham that I go to every week. It’s where I met Scott actually and a bunch of other people who are now good friends.

I ended up going there kind of by accident. Matt Searles and I were looking for a place to have a beer and I suggested we meet at the Bone. It’s pretty close to both of our houses so it seemed like a good idea. It happened to be a Wednesday night which is pretty critical to what ended up happening. The two of us were sitting at the bar drinking Dogfish. I’d just come back from Austin where I’d taken photographs of strangers in bars. It had been a lot of fun and I was telling him about it and thinking I’d like to keep working on it. (I ended up taking pictures of two women at the bar, Mel and Fallon, whom I still see here and there.)

The music was bar music – stuff everyone knows. I noticed though that while the band stayed the same different people were singing. It turned out that Wednesday night was “Bone-e-okee” a live band karaoke. A lot of people were getting up and singing and everyone was having a pretty good time. I ended up talking to a bunch of people, taking a lot of pictures and deciding it was worth checking out again. I don’t think I went every week at the beginning but I went often enough that I got to know several of the regulars and the next thing I knew I was one myself.

Over the years things have changed. Old faces have disappeared and new ones have shown up. No matter what there are two things I know – first is that there’ll be someone I know and will be glad to see and the second is that people will be taking turns getting up on stage to sing. Sometimes people are better than you’d guess and other times – well, other times they’re not. Whether they’re good or bad people have a good time when they get up there. And it’s not just there – people like to sing. I like to sing (though I’ve never really done it at the Bone). These 12 photos are examples of how people can forget themselves on stage, share something, sing a song that’s special to them, celebrate a friend and just have fun. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

And if you’re near Framingham on a Wednesday night, come to the Bone. Don’t come too early and be prepared to stay late. Find me. You’ll have a good time.

Faces 15
This is Scott Damgaard, the host of Bone-e-oke on the first night I went to the Bone. He is great. There’s not a mean bone in his body and he makes everyone feel welcome on stage.

Faces 878
This is Brendan. His band is Shotgun Wedding. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them play but I’ve seen another band he’s been in Metallaham – a few times. This is an uncharacteristically mellow photograph of him.

Faces 799
This is Pete. His band is The Peasants. He’s awesome and a very wonderful guy. Pete started playing at the Bone a couple of years ago and became a regular band member on Wednesday nights.

Faces 529
This is Karyn. She looks like a nut. She’s someone that went from a face in a bar to being on of my closest friends (even though she’s moved to Nebraska now). Karyn loves singing Tom Petty and does a nice job of it – she also loves being up on stage. Over the years she’s sung less and less but still from time-to-time.

This is Eric Andersen. I did a tweetup at the Bone a few years ago and Eric was one of dozen of so of my social media pals who came and got up on stage to sing. I wish I could recall what he sang but it escapes me.

This is Chuck. Also, as it turns out, a member of Shotgun Wedding. I clearly could have used this photograph in my recent hat or rectangular glasses sets. Chuck is great fun to watch on stage. He throws himself around, dancing and singing and sweating. He’s a maniacal drummer as well.

This is Mel. It took a while for her to get up on stage if I remember correctly – a lot of encouragement. She doesn’t sing very often and is shy up there – but in a very sweet and appealing way.

Jonathan Richman
Not every singing face has to be from the Bone. This is Jonathan Richman. Wendy and I saw him at the Somerville Theater in March ’11. I’ve been a fan for a couple of decades and it was fun to see him on stage. He is very tentative up there and very appealing.

I don’t remember this woman’s name. She took singing very seriously and has a beautiful face.

This is Jen, who also takes singing seriously. For many years she was a regular but moved a bit too far away for the Bone to be her regular. She would often sing “Me and Bobby McGee” or “Angel from Montgomery.” I played fiddle on that a few times with her. She got married this year and asked me to photograph the wedding. It was a lot of fun.

Face - woman singing
Another non-Bone singer. This beautiful woman was a backup singer for Stephen Marley. It was a good show and it was great watching her move and sing. The lighting was really cool – from red to blue to gold – and each color changed her appearance as she sang.

Ray Neades Tribute
Pete up there used to be in a band here in Boston called Beefy DC. A year ago I guess the lead singer died and to help out his family a bunch of friends and local bands did a benefit in Boston. Here’s Chris Cote, a pro singer who is in many, many bands including The Giant Kings w/ Duke Levine and The Upper Crust.

Maybe I haven’t done justice to this set with my personal notes and digressions but what can I say? All I know is that I like watching people sing. I like the ways their faces change and do things they’d never do if you were just talking to them. I like seeing the singing side of someone’s face. It’s different and good and interesting. Check it out next time you watch someone sing.

No Cameras, No Recording Equipment, No Sense

Last night I saw Gorillaz at the Agganis Arena at Boston University. The show was amazing. It’s really easy to find really terrible examples of mixed media performances but when you see one that nails it . . . well, it’s just an amazing thing to see. From the first song – which featured a video of Snoop Dogg on vocals to the last pounding encore Gorillaz wove sound and light and video into an intense narrative.

Even within each media type there were so many elements and styles and tones and textures that it could leave your head spinning. So given this commitment to flexibility and quality and creativity around content it was weird to see that old tag on my ticket “No Cameras, No Recording Equipment.”

Now if that were actually enforced (or enforceable) I *might* be able to understand it. Sure, every artist (or production company or record label or venue) would like to have full creative control of the content they make or produce or distribute or present – but that isn’t possible any more. Here’s a shot of the crowd at Gorillaz:

Every little light is a camera or recording device . . .

There were dozens and dozens of people photographing and recording the show. Guess what though? Photographs/video/audio captured with an iPhone or point-and-click camera aren’t great. Here’s an example that’s actually better than most:

Even though it’s good for the genre, the quality isn’t that good.

Here’s another – this was was made with a proper HD video camera and the difference is evident. It’s still not great but it’s a step in the right direction:

Here’s a third example that shows what can be done with two cameras and editing:

There are big differences in the quality and experience of the content in these three cases. It makes me wonder, “what’s the logic behind the ban on recording?” Is it to protect the original content? to boost record sales? sell merch? fill clubs? Does the ban – or its unintended fallout (poor quality content) accomplish these things? I have no idea but am curious. For me personally, quality fan content makes me want to experience the band and its content for myself.

What about poorly produced fan-generated content? If anything, it may have a cooling effect on someone’s desire to experience a performer. I think of it this way – the low quality content functions as a souvenir. It allows the producer to say “I was there” but rarely conveys much about the quality or experience of a performance. Of course the quality experience is exactly what you want to be conveyed. That’s what builds and excites a fan base.

Encouraging fan-content is nothing new. The Grateful Dead managed to become pretty successful not in spite of fan recordings but in part because of fan recordings of their shows. Artists who include their fans in the process of creating a strong content-based community can and do thrive. The best way to create a strong content-based community is to allow fans to create strong content – NOT to force them to create sub-standard content with outmoded restrictions.

The idea of not just tolerating – but actively encouraging – content creation shouldn’t be limited to artists. Virtually any brand can benefit from strong user-generated content. Some brands do this well, while others try to exercise control. Control is gone and has been for a while. People will say what they will say whether you want them to or not. The only control that can be exercised is how easy you make it for people to make quality content.

Aiding and encouraging content creation (and recognizing quality content) helps connect current fans/customers more tightly to the band/brand/movie/etc. It can also helps attract new fans (how many of you have checked out a band on YouTube based on a friends recommendation or because you’ve heard they’re coming to town?).

By putting content restrictions in place all that happens is that poor quality content is produced. These restrictions squander the opportunity to build an engaged fan base, add additional content to multiple channels and reach new people. It’s time for these types of restrictions to be lifted so more people can participate in a positive content experience.

What do you think? Do limits on content creation help or hurt?

New Music from Zuco 103

MY FAVORITE BAND – Zuco 103 – has some new music out. It’s hard to say it’s a new album exactly since it’s kind of a remix of their latest album Carnaval (which is awesome) – but Retouched is still pretty cool. There’s a 30 minute sample on their site – you should check it out.

If you’re not familiar with Zuco 103 you’re missing out. They’re a Amsterdam-based trio that mixes Brazilian and electronica and rhythm and melodies that keep you smiling. I don’t speak Portuguese so I don’t know what most of the songs are about. But you know what? It really doesn’t matter. The music and Lillian Vieira’s voice speak for themselves.

I listen to Zuco often and share it with people all the time. There’s something infectious and carefree about their music and almost always when people hear it they want to know who it is.

You can hear for yourself at Last.fm.