You can pitch ANYTHING except quality

Quality matters. Oh, it matters a lot.

Nobody wants to pay money to see a movie that stinks, a book that you can’t get past Chapter 1 or an album where every song hurts your ears.

You want quality. I want quality. Everybody wants it.

But you can’t pitch quality.

And you can’t package it.

So unless you’ve got something else — a quirk, a hook, a unique twist — quality alone won’t get you anywhere.

It won’t get people to look, listen or read in the first place.

So let’s pitch and package random, made-up things. Why? Because it takes practice and because you’re too close to your own stuff to do it right. And because it’s fun.

First up: two different bands.

Band A is a trio: drummer, guitar and bass / lead singer. They’re all recent music school graduates in their late twenties. They’re serious, seriously talented, good-looking and ready to break out. Let’s say they play a lot of punk rock and post-grunge.

Band B looks like a sure-fire loser. They’re all five years old. College degrees in music? Try “Hey, we’re potty trained, and we know our ABC’s.” They don’t know how to read music, write music or understand music theory like the other band. The guitarist knows one trick: crank up the distortion and make it loud. But they know the rough melodies and words to three different Metallica songs, and they do a cover of ENTER SANDMAN that’s close enough to be damned funny.

Here’s a real-life example of this sort of thing. A ton of people — 383,000 plus — have watched this kid sing, DON’T BRUSH MY HAIR IN KNOTS while her brother or neighbor kid banged on the drums.

Alright, here’s your homework: Write a one-sentence pitch for each band. Four words, if you want to ace this. Six words if you feel like a Cheaty McCheaterface.

Do it now. Find a piece of paper or fire up Word and do a pitch for each. Don’t even think about it.

I’ll go find silly videos on YouTube about swamp monsters in Louisiana or whatever.

OK, time’s up. Let’s compare pitches.

My best shot at the music majors: “Nirvana minus flannelly angst.” Four words, and I’m sort of cheating by turning flannelly into a word. Hard, isn’t it? You can’t get anywhere saying any kind of variation on, “This band, they’re really, really good.”

My pitch for the kids: “Kindergarteners cover Metallica.” Three words. Doesn’t have to be poetry here. Are you going to click on a link that says “Nirvana minus flannelly angst” or “this band is amazing?”

No. Not when there’s another link that has five-year-olds playing heavy metal?

Who wins the quality test? The serious music majors, by a mile.

Who wins the pitch and packaging test? The little kids who play bad covers of heavy metal. It’s so much easier. I would have to kidnap reporters to get them to cover our post-grunge band of music majors.

Could I get free ink and airtime with the Heavy Metal Monsters of Hillman Elementary? Absolutely.

Next: two different books

Our quality book is a literary masterpiece that will make you cry while snorting coffee through your nose, then take a fresh look at life and possibly quit your job and join a Tibetan monastery. It’s about a middle-aged man who works in a cubicle farm and lives in surburbia with a wife who’s on industrial amounts of Prozac and a teenage daughter who’s too busy thumbing her iPhone to notice who provides her with food, shelter, clothing and a VW Passat with only 13,000 miles on it. The hero’s life changes when he gets mugged on the way home. Also, a mime is involved, and a janitor who lives in a shack but says witty, wise things before he gets hit by a train.

The other book is a cheesy sci-fi novel with horrible dialogue. The premise: dinosaurs didn’t die off after some asteroid hit. They were smart. Really smart. And they left the planet in a fleet of spaceships to escape Earth long before that asteroid screwed things up for millions of years. Now they’re headed toward earth. And they want their planet back.

Ready? One sentence pitch for each. Four words.

GO.

OK, let’s see what we’ve got. Here’s my instant, no-thinking pitches.

Literary book: “Hell is a cubicle farm.” Five words. More of a title than a pitch. It sings to me, though, in a small, squeaky, off-pitch voice.

Sci-fi nonsense: “Space dinosaurs invade earth.” This is a kissing cousin to “Comet will destroy earth,” which has been the basis for about six different movies, including five by Michael Bay, with the other one starring Morgan Freeman for some reason, despite the fact that Morgan Freeman has ZERO CHANCE of flying up in a space shuttle with Bruce Willis and that dude who is an old college buddy of Matt Damon to blow up the comet,  asteroid or whatever with nuclear bombs.

VERDICT

The bottom line is, quality is one thing. In the end, it’s probably the most important thing.

Yet nobody will read your masterpiece, listen to your amazing album or see you act like no actor has acted in the history of acting-hood if they don’t get hooked by your pitch and packaging. They have to know you exist first.

Quality isn’t a pitch. “You should see that movie — it’s really good” doesn’t work. Your friends and family will ask, “What’s it about?” and if you don’t have four words to explain it, to give them a pitch, then forget it.

The next time to read a book, see a movie or listen to a great new song, think of four words.

How would you package it? What could you possibly say, just to your friends so they could see it, but to a reporter or a TV producer?

Two great music videos that cost zero dollars

These days, you need to put up music videos on the Series of Tubes to make a living as a musician, which is great, except it costs the gross domestic product of Paraguay to do proper music video. Which makes it tough for scrappy bands trying to make it.

So it’s refreshing to see bands do good videos shot on their friend’s iPhone and edited in MS Paint or whatever, all for a total budget of $593.93, most of that budget going for pizza.

What’s even more impressive than a cheap music video?

One that cost absolutely zero dollars.

Here are two short little snippets of music on video that warmed my heart in two completely different ways.

First up is a man playing the Careless Whispers saxophone bit for cows. 

Why do I love this? Because it’s pure joy, on his part and from the cows. He’s just learning the sax and isn’t world class yet. The man won’t be going on tour. But my God, these cows are into it, which gives him, and anyone watching the video, a pure sense of joy and wonder. 

Next up: one minute of pure talent.

She’s using a couch cushion, a baby toy and I don’t know what else for drum equipment and it just doesn’t matter. 

I would pay cash money to watch her live. Right? Moar moar moar.

Also: I wonder what the cows would think of drumming like this. Are they into all music, or just horns?

 

Why BAD GUY by Billie Eilish is so damned good

BAD GUY by Billie Eilish pulls off some neat tricks, doesn’t it?

Here’s my take on why this works so well.

SUBVERSIVE PUNK-POP

Don’t know what category that folks with doctorates in music would put this in. I’m gonna call it punk-pop, because it’s not as dark and industrial as NIN, or as grungy as Nirvana, but it’s got a subversive edge in the images and lyrics.

Yet the melody and beat is radio-friendly pop. And I think that’s brilliant.

UNAFRAID

With most artists, image is everything. Pop divas work hard to look perfect at all times. Rock stars and rappers work hard to look tough. Billie isn’t trying to look tough here.

Billie’s unafraid of coming off as weird and goofy. No pop star would dance like this, or let her eyebrows go off in their own fashion directions. 

She’s not going full on theater-of-the-grotesque like Marilyn Manson, but she’s letting people see her as human, which makes her far more relatable than the stars who try to maintain a perfect, photoshopped image. It’s gritty and real.

LYRICS

The lyrics are clever, interesting and fun.

Most pop songs have terrible boring lyrics.

I mean, I’m not a giant fan of country or rap, but by God, country lyrics tell a story every time and rappers are absolute poets with lyrics you can do dissertations on.

For a popular song all over radio and YouTube, these lyrics are a win.

IMAGERY

It’s perfect. There’s a great intro, with Billie immediately showing she’s a real human by busting through the yellow paper wall, taking out her Invisalign and dancing in a way no boy band or diva would ever be caught dead doing.

Unlike 90 percent of music videos, the only repetition is there for a purpose. You get an echo of the beginning in the end, with reversed footage of her coming through the yellow paper wall. And in between the intro and the end, there’s a nice mix of images that fit the lyrics. It all works.

STINGER ENDING

Marvel movies became famous for putting stingers after the credits. This is the first stinger ending to a music video that I can remember, and it rocks.

You’re not sure how she’s levitating at first, then the words match the video in a nice revelation. Yes! 

VERDICT

Well done, Billie the Eilish, well done. Give us more like this!

MEET ME IN THE LADIES ROOM by Klymaxx

Sometimes, you can’t make this stuff up.

SNL has been working hard lately to do insane music videos, and the latest one seems too absurd to be anything based on reality.

But you’d be wrong.

Here’s the parody:

And here’s the original:

VERDICT:

Well played, SNL — you got all the details right. I’m just sad the original didn’t feature parachute pants.

The sweetness of WHEN I TASTE TEQUILA by Dan + Shay

Most music videos are meh, and I say that as a huge fan of music and music videos who grew up watching this thing we called MTV, back when it played music videos instead of insipid reality shows.

It’s hard to find videos that truly stand out, ones that I remember and want to watch again. Even if I love the song itself.

It’s doubly tough for a country music video to hit me, for I do not speak twang. 

So when I heard this song on the radio, it was a nice surprise. Then I saw the video, which is really a short film. Oh my.

Take a peek.

Haunting, isn’t it?

What stands out are the shots. Just beautiful cinematography, scenes I want to linger over. The acting is spot-on and the musicians make the smart choice of staying in the background.

What makes it truly work is telling an actual story with a beginning, middle and end. 

There are all kinds of music videos that look impressive, paired with good songs. 30 Seconds to Mars is the king of these videos, with Jared Leto having the massive advantage of being a star actor who knows how to stage and shoot film. But you don’t see complete stories very often. You see themes and ideas, but not stories where people are in conflict and make decisions.

This music videos is full of conflict and choices. It’s a sweet love story, and it fills in missing pieces you don’t see in the lyrics (below).

Great job, Dan + Shay–I’m happy to have stumbled onto this.

WHEN I TASTE TEQUILA

I can still shut down a party
I can hang with anybody
I can drink whiskey and red wine
Champagne all night
Little Scotch on the rocks and I’m fine, I’m fine
 
But when I taste tequila, baby I still see ya
Cutting up the floor in a sorority t-shirt
The same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
 
I can kiss somebody brand new 
And not even think about you
I can show up to the same bar
Hear the same songs in my car
Baby, your memory, it only hits me this hard
 
When I taste Tequila, baby I still see ya
Cutting up the floor in a sorority t-shirt
The same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
 
I ain’t even drunk, I ain’t even drunk
And I’m thinking
How I need your love, how I need your love
Yeah, it sinks in
 
When I taste Tequila, baby I still see ya
Sorority t-shirt, the same one you wore when we were
Sky high in Colorado, your lips pressed against the bottle
Swearing on a bible, baby, I’d never leave ya
I remember how bad I need ya, when I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila
When I taste Tequila

The Red Pen of Doom analyzes I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Cheap Trick

As part of my ongoing mission to explore all music, and go where MTV no longer goes anymore, here’s another video: I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Cheap Trick.

Why show this old thing from 1879 or whatever, when they had to plug their guitars into steam engines?

Three reasons why:

IT.

IS.

AWESOME.

This is a case where simple and repetitive works, because there’s a nice little pattern here with the words: “I want you to want me. I need you to need me.” And so forth. Nothing fancy. Nothing complicated. But it is inspired, and it’s the kind of song a moderately talented punk band could learn to play, you know, the kind of band that knows four chords and forgets two of them in the middle of the show after they finish off two bottles of cheap vodka.

So in that way, this thing is genius. You don’t need a degree in music to play it. You don’t need a great voice to sing it. It’s the perfect cover song, which is why so many other bands have covered it.

Also, it’s one of the few songs that sounds good live versus all auto-tuned and cleaned up in the studio. A gritty garage band can play it and fudge notes without ruining the thing.

You — yes, you — could probably do a decent job singing this thing at a karaoke bar, even if you are TOO DRUNK TO SPELL KARAOKE.

Bottom line: a simple, study, lovable song. A punk-rock deal with interesting twists in the lyrics.

I like it, I love it, I want some more of it.

;

Special bonus: my favorite cover of I WANT YOU TO WANT ME by Letters to Cleo. (This cover doesn’t have a music video. Somebody made one with scenes from the show CHUCK, and they did alright. Here you go.)

 

The lyrics are way, way below, just for fun. Straight-forward stuff – no need to dissect or improve these. They’re perfect. 

I WANT YOU TO WANT ME

Written by Rick Nielsen
Performed by Cheap Trick

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.

I’ll shine up my old brown shoes.
I’ll put on a brand new shirt
I’ll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’).
Oh, Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’)
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.
I’ll shine up my old brown shoes.
I’ll put on a brand new shirt
I’ll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’).
Oh, Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin, cryin’)
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).
Feelin’ all alone without a friend
you know you feel like dyin’ (dyin’, dyin’).
Oh, didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I,
see you cryin’ (cryin’, cryin’).

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I’d love you to love me.
I’m beggin’ you to beg me.

The Red Pen of Doom shoots up Train’s DRIVE BY

Here is an interesting song, and I mean “interesting” in a tragic, train-wreck sort of way.

Because it’s a decent melody by a good band with some of the WORST LYRICS EVER.

And the music video itself isn’t horrible at all. It’s fine. The words, though, they hurt me.

And I say this as a fan of Train, a man who has some of their songs and believes MEET VIRGINIA has creative lyrics for a pop song.

First up: the video, which I hope the evil known as VEVO lets you watch.

See? The song isn’t bad. The video is fine.

It’s the stupid lyrics.

Let the red ink flow.

DRIVE BY by Train

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause you moved to west L.A or New York or Santa Fe
Or where or ever to get away from me

(OK, so far, this is alright. Nothing great, nothing horrible. The horribleness is hiding and saving its strength for an ambush.)

Oh but that one night
Was more than just right
I didn’t leave you cause I was all through
Oh I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(I believe the singer — or whoever wrote these lyrics — is trying to say, “This isn’t infatuation, or a one-night stand, but something longer lasting and meaningful, possibly leading up to a white dress, a white picket fence and three years of white Pampers.” This phrase means, “A gang murders that utilizes one driver and one or more shooters, who send a wall of lethal lead at the homicide victim while making a rolling getaway from the crime.” So the message is kinda-sorta mixed. People hear this and don’t think of happy love. They think of Glocks and funerals.)

Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love

(Because the only thing more romantic than a drive-by shooting is the leading national brand of garbage bags.)

When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me

(The bad pop trifecta: a word from the ’60s that needs to be retired, a reference to litigation and a crude reference to sex.)

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
On the upside of a downward spiral

(If he were definitely referring to NINE INCH NAILS, he’d get bonus points, but he’s not, so he doesn’t.)

My love for you went viral

(A tiny bonus point for not completing the cliche by name-dropping Facebook or Twitter.)

And I loved you every mile you drove away
But now here you are again
So let’s skip the “how you been”And 
get down to the “more than friends” at last

(“You didn’t really like me before, and you drove far, far, away, but now that you’re back, please pay attention to me as a boyfriend instead of some man you don’t really care about.” I believe that sums it up.)

Oh but that one night
Is still the highlight
I didn’t need you until I came to
and I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(The songwriter got ALL the bad cliches and phrases of this song into one tidy package right there. Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! Kind of like a emptying the clip during a drive by shooting. No. Just no.)

Please believe that when I leave
There’s nothing up my sleeve but love for you
And a little time to get my head together too

(To woo somebody, it’s not overly bright to hint that you’re not quite right in the head.) 

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(A repeat and recap of all the bad lines from before, in case we hadn’t heard them the first, second or third time.)

Bottom line

A successful band like Train probably hires songwriters for some — or a lot — of their stuff. Which is fine. You need to focus on touring, performing and shooting music videos. None of those are bad things.

The words, though, actually matter. They matter as much as the bass line, the lighting on the set and the type of leather jacket worn by the lead singer.

Spend a little more time and money on the words, because I used to hear “Train” and think of two good songs. Now, the first two things that pop into my head will be “drive-by shootings” and “Hefty bags.” Which is too bad.

A Tour De Force of ’80s Videos

If you were breathing during the ’80s, you will remember these songs and videos. If you weren’t alive, use this chance to learn about the songs coming to Classic Rock stations after they get done with their rotation of ’60s folk and ’70s disco-funk.

You may recognize some tunes from this thing they used to call the radio, which plays random songs and ads you don’t control, no matter how many buttons you push, though you could use these things called telephones to call the DJ to request a song, win prizes or try to get on live air to say something horrible, clever or horribly clever.

This era is actually important, in a musical sense, because ’80s rock and pop stars were the first to deal with music videos and MTV, so they broke a lot of ground in terms of visuals. It’s hard to go from “here’s some live footage of a concert” to “which Hollywood director should we hire for our $3 million shebang that *might* hold a candle to Thriller?”

Check it out:

The clip from Top Gun still cracks me up. How did we ever think that movie was cool?

Violins and cellos gone wild

Classical music can be a wonderful sleep aid, which is unfortunate because NPR switches from news (interesting!) to classical music right at 9 a.m., when I want to stay awake all day. Not helpful, NPR, not helpful at all.

However: These musicians prove you don’t need a guitar loud enough to shatter boulders to make good music. No. All you need is a violin–or a cello, which I’m told is a violin on steroids, but they could be lying to me–plus a whole bunch of talent.

First up is an Alaskan wunderkind, Bryson Andres, who has some kind of magical electric violin.

Second: Lindsey Stirling in an ice castle wearing an outfit that remind you of Peter Pan or an elfin extra from LORD OF THE RINGS, but maybe in a good way.

And finally, our clean-up hitter: Four British women with three electric violins and one super-powered cello, covering Led Zepellin.

Writing insights revealed by country twang

country music

Usually, I take a music video and dissect the lyrics to look for writing insights, which is interesting and fun.

Click with your mousity mouse to see what I did to the music video and lyrics for ELECTRIC AVENUE, because it is not only fun, but educational.

Then go see what I did with Vanilla Ice and ICE, ICE BABY.

OK. Now we get all serious. Because I am using the lyrics to a country song, and I’m not making fun of it, despite my severe twang allergy.

Good music — and good writing — have the same patterns. Songs start slow, build up, bridge to  the chorus, return to the melody and build to a crescendo. They bring the audience on a journey.

The greatest guitarist in the world would bore you into a coma if he repeated the same riffs.

Variety is good.

Repetition can be powerfully boring, or powerfully good, depending on how you use it. If you do use repetition, it must have a purpose.

Country songs like this are great study for writers. Why? Not because they’re all sad songs where your pickup truck died, your wife left you for your best friend and your dog hates you. They’re useful because country songs tell a story in about 200 words, a story you can understand and dissect. I can point out the setups and payoffs. You can see the heroes and villains, the reversals and the climax.

By contrast, most pop songs feature lyrics that don’t have any real structure or story. 

Also, you can hear and understand country lyrics without a cheat sheet.

Three other good examples of country songs with great lyrics and minimal twang, if you are also allergic like me: LOVE STORY by Taylor Swift, Traveling Soldier by the Dixie Chicks and damn near anything by Lady Antebellum, who are flipping brilliant.

No matter what you write–novels or newspaper stories, screenplays or speeches–it’s worth remembering that writing needs to be like music. You need an interesting intro, a melody, a chorus and a crescendo. You need variety AND repetition.

So: watch this cheesy home-made music video. Listen to the lyrics, and read them on your magical screen that shows you words and moving pictures from anywhere on the planet.

See how Bucky the Covington has clear setups and payoff, and how he cleverly, and beautifully, uses repetition with a purpose.

The words in the chorus change slightly each time, yet the meaning is quite different. And while the writing itself is a tad clunky, my God, the structure, it is glorious. My only wish is that I owned a cowboy hat so I could take it off and salute you, Bucky.

I’LL WALK by Bucky Covington

We were 18, it was prom night.

We had our first big fight.

She said, Pull this car over.

I did and then I told her, I don’t know what you are crying for.

I grabbed her hand, as she reached for the door.

She said …

I’ll walk.

Let go of my hand.

Right now I’m hurt, and you don’t understand.

So just be quiet.

And later we will talk.

Just leave, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

It was a dark night, a black dress.

Driver never saw her, around the bend.

I never will forget the call,

or driving to the hospital,

when they told me her legs still wouldn’t move.

I cried, when I walked into her room.

She said …

I’ll walk.

Please come and hold my hand.

Right now I’m hurt, and I don’t understand.

Lets just be quiet, and later we can talk.

Please stay, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

I held her hand through everything.

The weeks and months of therapy.

And I held her hand and asked her to be my bride.

She’s dreamed from a little girl,

to have her daddy bring her down the isle.

So from her wheelchair, she looks up to him and smiles.

And says …

I’ll walk.

Please hold my hand.

I know that this will hurt, I know you understand.

Please daddy don’t cry.

This is already hard.

Let’s go, don’t worry.

I’ll walk.

Clean Bandit makes a clean getaway with SOLO

Here we go: a music video done right.

There’s a story that (a) makes sense and (b) fits the lyrics.

We’ve got funky, Weird Science effects and skateboarding tricks that are actually cool and doable by normal people. And it all works together in a package that fits the song.

I truly like this video. They’re not desperately trying to be deep, awards or boost the ego of band members. This video is meant to be a good time, and it gets that job done.

Great job, Clean Bandit and Demi Levato–I’d love to see more like this.

Battle of the Trippy Music Videos: GOD IS A WOMAN versus MINE

Ariana Grande possesses an illegal amount of talent.

If you’ve seen her on SNL, Jimmy Fallon or at awards shows, you know she can imitate everybody from Whitney Houston to Celine Dion to Britney Spears.

It. Is. Uncanny.

Her music videos tend to be creative, too. Good on her.

GOD IS A WOMAN may be peak Ariana so far.

This video is a spectacle, with trippy visuals and interesting effects. Every time you watch it, you see something new.

Compare that with MINE by Bazzi, an equally trippy music video in an entirely different style.

Note: there are some bad words in Bazzi’s video. Don’t play this at work with your speakers cranked up to 11, though that’s a pretty safe thing to say about just about every pop song today.

I bet Ariana’s video cost a lot more than Bazzi’s, and it’s definitely more ambitious and slicker. You get the sense a giant Hollywood production crew worked for a month on Ariana’s, where this dude you knew in college who’s good with AfterEffects went to town on Bazzi’s video.

However, Bazzi wins this round. With the GOD IS A WOMAN video, I’m fully aware of how slick and perfect everything is, which makes me want to find flaws.

MINE is gritty and raw, which lets you enjoy the details without wondering if they cost more than the Gross Domestic Product of Paraguay.

VERDICT: People rightfully like the message and spectacle of GOD IS A WOMAN, which is genuinely good. But the underdog, Bazzi, does her one better. Give us more like this, Bazzi.

SALUT SALON gives us a musical clinic and a giant dose of joy

Who says classic music is boring?

These four women prove that technical talent can combine with humor. They could’ve played this normally, and nobody but music professors would care about the difference in the quality of the music. This way is just far, far more entertaining for the audience. And for the musicians, too.

I’d bet my house those smiles aren’t fake. Not a bit. These four musicians are clearly having a blast goofing off like this. Their joy is contagious.

Good on you, Salut Salon–thanks for being this creative and having the guts to be silly in a serious business.

Ariana Grande blows up Saturday Night Live

There are stretches of time where Saturday Night Live forgets the funny.

And there are guest stars who fail to shine, or twinkle before they explode like a supernova the moment they attempt to act.

This is not one of those times.

Ariana Grande nails this skit. Just kills it. I can’t think of another singer who can imitate others so well. Later on, she does a killer Jennifer Lawrence impression.

Well played, Ariana the Grande–come back to SNL and give us more.

Bonus content, if you haven’t seen it: Adam Driver on SNL as Kylo Ren, Undercover Boss.

SUNRISE by the Olson Bros, Donald Trump and the power of authenticity

SUNRISE by Olson Bros

Good stuff, right? I’m not a country fan, and I’ve played this song a zillion times.

You probably haven’t heard of the Olson Bros, which is the point of the post: there’s all kinds of buried talent out there, even if they’ve won a national songwriting contest.

I saw the Olson brothers (and they are real-life brothers) at their first show at Savory Faire, and they’ve gotten better every year. Saw them again this weekend at Charlie’s, and they’re great live.

These are local college kids who’ve practiced hard. The giant bull they use as a stands on a field in Mud Bay on the way to Olympia.

Here’s the deal: The great thing about the Series of Tubes is there’s so much stuff out there, you can find whatever you like. The horrible thing about the Series of Tubes is there’s so much stuff out there, it’s crazy hard to separate the brilliant from the banal.

That’s why name ID and PR are so important. It’s why people with zero talent (Snooki, the Situation, the Kardashians) make millions while great musicians, artists and writers toil away, thinking talent is all that matters. If they’re good enough, people will notice.

Except the real formula is Artistic Talent x Publicity Skill Squared.

Donald Trump is proving the effectiveness of great publicity in the presidential race. He doesn’t know a thing about foreign policy or the Federal Reserve and it doesn’t matter right now, because he’s far better at PR than Jeb! and the others running, even after Jeb! wasted $24 million on ads in Iowa and New Hampshire.

This is why real press coverage (earned media) is still hugely important. Trump hasn’t had to respond to the Jeb! advertising assault. Why? Because every day, Trump is getting far more than $24 million in free media coverage by picking fights and saying outrageous things.

HOWEVER: Social media gives me hope.

There’s so much advertising today it’s becoming white noise to people. I thought there couldn’t be more ads on TV than during the 2008 presidential campaign, then 2012 proved me wrong. Billions of dollars will blanket the airwaves in 2016.

My prediction is they’ll run out of ad slots. Karl Rove will have to buy a struggling TV shopping network and split it into three just to find airtime.

Mainstream media and social media are a counterweight this advertising juggernaut. And I think social media’s power is growing. It’s more authentic and powerful to hear your friends and family say, “That band rocks, see them live” or “Buy IMAX tickets to that new movie, don’t wait for Netflix” instead of getting told that from paid announcer on a TV ad.

To get technical, the ethos of journalists and social media is strong, because these are people you know, trust and who don’t have a self-interest in the outcome. The reverse is true for random advertisements: you don’t know them, don’t trust them and they want your money.

So the Olson Bros did the right thing by making a good music video on a shoestring budget. I don’t need a slick music video that cost $850,000 and took a week to shoot on a Nashville set. The music is great and the visuals match. The energy and enthusiasm of the Olson brothers feels real.

There are some things you can’t buy.

CARL POPPA by Bad Lip Reading is a brilliant parody–and you can DANCE to it

How much do I love this?

Here’s how much: I could not adore it more, or find a single serious way to improve the lyrics or the music.

Seriously. Four out of four stars. Perfection.

For a parody of pop culture, it’s edited with style. And for a song, it’s better than 90 percent of what’s out there on the radios. But it’s main job is to be funny, and though I’ve seen it five times, it still makes me laugh.

Verdict: Give us moar moar MOAR.

Here are the lyrics:

Beat

I hurt the Gingerbread Boy,
Cuz he’s pretend-bread boy.
Little cookie man never waved to me,
So he got knocked out.

Man, cuz I flow.
La Jiggy Jar Jar Doo,
Dur Dur Dur Dee Dur.
Man, I just flow.

Shoe Shine,
No one wanted your stinking tiara,
Cuz no one wanted your sticky chair.
And why you always talk about the cool kids who take archery,
Yeah, you’re a shrinky dink.
You’ll get a funeral if you don’t wise up and call me Carl Poppa,
(oh,oh-oh,oh)
La Jiggy Jar Jar Do,
Dur Dur Dur Dee Dur.

I threw a brick in the air,
(what kind of brick?)
That shouldn’t matter cuz a brick is just a brick,
(Word.)

Dark days, darker nights,
Found my way down a hall without a light,
Because I flow,
La Jiggy Jar Jar Doo,
Dur Dur Dur Dee Dur.

This whole thing where random dead people try to kill me’s gotta go.

They keep walking, walking my way. If they’re talking, can’t tell what they say.
They keep falling, over stuff in their way. Dead dudes walking can ruin your day.

(oh,oh-oh,oh)

La Jiggy Jar Jar Doo,
Dur Dur Dur Dee Dur,

Now all the walkers sing!

(oh,oh-oh,oh [x3])

Yeah, I just like to dance.

Carl Poppa

Cellblock wisdom, french braid tabletop,
If you mess with Carl Poppa,
I’m coming at you like, one, two, walkers in the back of the club,
I’m guessing it’s a club where everyone dies,
If they try to dance to the music that doesn’t play,
Cuz we don’t got no electricity.

What we got is bones, bones, bones.
Piles of bones, bones, bones, bones, bones.
If you try to step to me, hit you in the femur,
With another femur that is laying on the ground.

Yeah,
Wordsmith,
Rhymes.

Hama Lama Sima Lama Hama Lama,
Someone had to cut my baby sister out my mama.

They keep walking, walking my way.
If they’re talking, can’t tell what they say.
They keep falling, over stuff in their way.
Dead dudes walking can ruin your day.

They keep walking, (no one wanted your stinking tiara) walking my way.
If they’re talking, (cuz no one wanted your sticky chair) can’t tell what they say.
They keep falling, (why you always talking about the cool kids, who take archery. You’re a shrinky dink) over stuff in their way. Dead dudes walking (If you don’t wise up and call me Carl Poppa) can ruin your day.

La Jiggy Jar Jar Doo,
Dur Dur Dur Dee Dur,
Man, I just flow.

(Carl Poppa [x2])

Man I just flow.

(Carl Poppa [x3])

I can barely remember pre-apocalypse. (Carl Poppa)
I guess nothing rhymes with that, except maybe “taco lips”.

Man, I just flow.
(Carl Poppa [x2])
Man I just flow.

(Carl Poppa)

You cannot handle the flow, son.

Why WATCH ME by Silento is simple and viral

Now, music majors and people with taste around the world will sniff that this song is far too simple and boring. Give us something complex and interesting, a song that’s less repetitive and more complex.

I agree with that criticism. It’s a very simple song and not really meant to crank up on your stereo as you’re driving around.

As a dance song, though, it’s beautifully done.

Here’s why: Continue reading “Why WATCH ME by Silento is simple and viral”

THE SEVENTH ELEMENT by Vitas is inspired crazytown

How do I love this? Let me count the ways.

1) It’s completely and utterly different. Have you ever seen or heard anything like this? No. 

This is what would happen if you took a nightclub scene from THE MATRIX and crossed it with an episode of Teletubbies.

2) It’s completely and utterly ridiculous.

Which is probably the point. The singer knows and embraces the craziness. He’s having a blast.

Why not? You’re on stage. Put on a show. And this is definitely a show.

3) The backup non-dancers slay me. 

Backup dancers who energetically gyrate are fine for Brittney Spears, the Backstreet Boys 7th comeback tour and the bourgeoisie. But dancers who dance do not
surprise and shock you. They are inherently Boring.

So this man gets backup dancers, dressed in rejected costumes for Power Ranger minions, who don’t dance. At all.
Continue reading “THE SEVENTH ELEMENT by Vitas is inspired crazytown”

7 reasons why music videos possess tremendous power

music video meme sound of music

This is about why lectures never work, poetry is powerful, even instrumental music can make you cry and the humble, silly music video can be one of the most devastating weapons of persuasion and change on this little rock orbiting a ginormous burning ball of nuclear fusion and fire.

1) Lectures never work

If you have a toddler, or a teenager, or are married, you are well aware of this fact.

Lectures are basically journalism, writing or speaking to inform. If your purpose is to persuade, journalism and lectures won’t do the job.

It’s common to hear, “If I just had more TIME to explain the facts, they’d understand and agree with me.”

No. The longer you stretch out a lecture or bit of journalism, the more bored and hostile your audience will become. Because structurally, writing and speaking to inform is a horrible format for anything of length and not designed to persuade at all. (Related: Why the Inverted Pyramid must DIE) Continue reading “7 reasons why music videos possess tremendous power”

SAY IT RIGHT by Nelly Furtado is just right

This is how to you do it: simple, elegant, beautifully shot, with quick cuts done right to the beat and nothing insane, like the singer’s best friend’s cousin thought would be great to have fire-breathing monster trucks jump a yellow school bus with cheerleaders on the roof doing acrobatics.

Knew this song but hadn’t seen the video until now. NOT TOO SHABBY.

Nelly Furtado isn’t a huge star, nor is she some unknown talent, waiting tables to pay for her guitar lessons. But she’s got pipes, looks like a supermodel and hasn’t been in the papers of news for 17 zillion stupid things like other pop stars. I give her props. Also, instead of featuring a rapper to growl and act tough while she hit octaves we didn’t know existed, the rapper gets to do high notes while she keeps it low. I like that. Changes things up.

Nelly the Furtado, give us more like this.

YOU SPIN ME ROUND by Dead or Alive is the best of the ’80s worst

spin me right round

When you take a popular song and add an insanely bad video, you get ’80s gold.

I think it was Larry the Clark who spotted this gem. There’s no creativity here, no story, no theme.

This is my theory of what happened: the band showed up and the video’s director said, “Hey, we’ve got a picture frame and five acres of blue fabric. Just do weird stuff and I’ll keep the cameras rolling.”

Is there anything from the ’90s, 2000’s or today that even compares? (Note: videos by Adam Ant do not count, because that’s too easy.)

Why TITANIUM by David Guetta + Sia is a hidden gem

music video meme sound of music

Do you remember this song, maybe on the radio?

A good little song, long before Sia went wild with CHANDELIAR and the little dancing girl who looks like an extra from BLADE RUNNER.

So this music video isn’t famous at all. Yet it should be.

It’s a short film with an actual plot and production values. They don’t do the usual trick of “let’s show the lead singer and the band 16 times, interrupting the thin story.” Not even once.

This little snippet of film could be the hook for an X-Men movie, with a lead character everybody can relate to and an actual plot.

 

Top 3 reasons why YOUR LOVE by The Outfield epitomizes classic ’80s videos

So I’ve been MIA for eons, (a) working hard at the work, (b) injuring myself and going to PT–deadlifts are evil, do not do them–and (c) at home, madly finishing & rewriting a new novel, which is crazy fun. Sometime soon, I’ll need to do laundry. Maybe even the dishes. I AM A DANGEROUS MAN.

Happy to say I can walk again without looking like it’s torture, or being asked by little old ladies if they can carry my stuff.

Today’s music video is a classic I heard on the radio and had to find on the interwebs. Because it’s interesting and a great microcosm of the ’80s, and the entire genre of music videos.

Have a listen and a look, then we’ll talk smack.

 

Reason # 3: Single Dangly Earring

Everybody had one. Punk rockers, lead singers, crooners, country singers.

A single earring sent many messages. On a male rocker, it told the world you were a rebel. Combine it with a tiny cross for irony: rebellious believer.

Single earring on a female singer? Rebellion, sure, but also, “Couldn’t find the other earring and hey, I don’t care.” Not caring, by coincidence, is the essence of cool.

Reason # 2: Sincere Imitation of Sting

For a long time, one rock band stood atop the musical world: The Police.

After they broke up, and Sting went solo, I heard this exact song on the radio and thought, “Huh, that’s cool, The Police got back together. I should see them in concert before they split up again.”

This song is the best imitation of The Police, ever. It’s not even close. Sorry, Bruno Mars.

Also: I saw The Police in concert when they actually did get back together, and it was beautiful. Sting’s son has a band and opened for them. Sounds a lot like his dad. Maybe he could join The Outfield if they ever do a reunion tour. I WOULD LOVE THIS.

Reason # 1: Epic Feathered Hair

Everybody has it: the lead singer, the drummer, even the random set girl who makes goo-goo eyes right back at Flirty McFlirty Pants.

You can’t be an ’80s rock story without feathered hair. If record label executives looking to sign new acts had a checklist, Feathered Hair was the first thing on it.

In fact, I can classify any band from the ’80s simply by the length of their feathered hair:

a) Modest Bleached Feathery Goodness = punk rocker

b) Feathery MacGyver Mullet = pop crooner (Richard Marx!) or mainstream country star

c) Long Feathered Hair + Mall Bangs = pop starlet

d) Bleach Job + Crazy Long Hair + Spandex = metal band.

TAKE ME TO CHURCH by Hozier is film-noir goodness

music video meme sound of music

Here’s the acid test, for me: I drive MANY MILES each day, listening to the radios, and if a song is good, I don’t care who sings it.

Only then do I check out the music video, and maybe blog about it on the WordPress machines.

TAKE ME TO CHURCH rocks on the radio.

However, having watched 4,092 bazillion music videos in my life, including a brief period where MTV actually played music videos, I’ve learned not to expect much from the actual video part, except for (a) boy bands dancing, (b) pop divas dancing in front of backup dancers who are far better at the dancing thing, (c) rock stars trying dance with the microphone stand or (d) hipster bands trying to be artsy and deep while mostly being bizarre.

Good music videos are rare.

I’m not talking “Bigfoot is in my backyard and I shot thirty minutes of film of him playing with my dog” kind of rare.

No. I’m talking about “Snooki is at a philosophy conference at Yale, presenting a paper on Nietzsche” rare.

So here are two music videos, both black-and-white, and both surprises.

First up is Hozier, the one from the headline. Great song on the radio, different and strong. The video makes it ever better, wonderfully shot in true film-noir style, it’s not afraid to have a non-Hollywood ending. Well played, Hozier.

The second song and video is also black-and-white and the same kind of slow burn. Had no idea who sang it when it played on the radio. Good stuff, full of pain and longing, and not your usual “baby baby” bubblegum pop nonsense with a guest rapper to give it some grit and soul. (How many times can pop stars go to that well? Apparently, forever.)

This second video shocked me by being by Selena Gomez, not known for this sort of song. And yes, she looks like every bartender in the world would card her, and the song is about Justin Bieber, who simply needs to go away. Despite those handicaps, which are huge, it works. So let’s give it props. Watch and listen.

 

Pop Danthology 2014 absolutely destroys all music video compilations, forever

Pop Danthology 2014

Making a compilation video is tough enough, even if you own Final Cut Pro Version 11.7, the One That Costs More than Your Car.

Doing one of music videos ups the difficulty even more, since you probably need to be a DJ, or randomly own a sound board and have years of experience using it.

This compilation and mix of 2014 music videos is beyond masterful. Check it out. DO IT NOW.

What say you: is there a better compilation for 2014, or any other year? Offer video evidence. Bring it.

(Note: Going with DJ Earworm in 2009 is a cheat. Sorry. Not allowed).