Monday, February 23, 2009

I Pod. Do You?

There was a time when life was so easy. You sang. People liked you. A&R agents would sign you. You would record. Radio stations played your work. Fame brought you wealth and the opportunity to continue performing. It was not easy to break through the system, but if you had talent and flair you could rise to the top.

This old world has disappeared. Record companies have consolidated into just a few mega-monopolies. Only huge stars are allowed to flourish. Others are not allowed. No wonder American Idol attracts so much attention! The world of American media promotes what they deem as superstar music and they try to make you listen to it ad infinitum. Does this brainwashing work? The current young generation simply doesn't buy it.

Dry rot usually occurs after years of abuse. Finding new artists is time consuming, expensive and requires effort. Lots of money can be spent chasing ghosts which negates profits. Radio and television do little to promote music or the desire to create it. Commercial content and DJ chatter kills all possible airing of radio tunes during most dayparts. Promoting your act using movies only works if you are part of the Disney machine. (It may bring horror to most but repetitious Radio Disney actually airs many acts not heard elsewhere!) It took decades to kill radio. The carcass is now only bones. Even satellite radio has now fallen to greed. Is there no place to go?

My true love, XM Satellite Radio, has lost its soul while being eaten alive. After the merger with Sirius, the deterioration was swift and rampant. The amount of obscene humor channels doubled. Some channels seemed dedicated to discussions of genitalia. There was an onslaught of channels dedicated to single artists. (It became obvious that this was a scam to sell airtime to promote new albums or to bolster sales of standard archive material.) All the Latino channels disappeared except one. The new emphasis was not quality but financial greed.

Most disconcerting was the loss of programmer expertise. All the experienced and knowledgeable people who loved their music and knew how to present it disappeared off XM rapidly after the Sirius takeover. The few channels that did not follow FM sounding pop or single artist formats were dumbed down and homogenized. In simplest terms, the 'good stuff' was gone. Regardless of when you tuned in, there was simply nothing to comfortably spend your time with. The commercial content became more and more inescapable. XM Satellite Radio died consumed by the same mindset that killed FM before it. It was so good while it lasted. Why could it not continue?

For many years, I was a dedicated advocate of XM Satellite Radio. This was the medium that had brought a new non-commercial alternative to FM radio. Shows like 'Artist Confidential' and XM Public Radio made the service worthy of subscription dollars. Call me a music snob, but I simply won't listen to drones of stale pop music. This is now all XM has to offer.

Quick analysis will make obvious why radio music is so unlistenable. Back in the 1960s, rock radio stations would play music from the last few months with an oldie from a few years back tossed in now and then. The music was always fresh. We had no reason to hate it. Progressive FM radio appeared in the late 60s bringing forth a whole new concept in pop music. Disk jockeys were allowed to use their personalities and love of music to build audiences. It was a healthy time to listen.

Perversion of the musicradio art came later in the 70s with the domination of Top 40 radio. Very narrow playlists tried to draw in the most listeners possible who would always hear a hot hit when they tuned in. The repetition of songs and heavier commercial content and clutter removed the joy from listening. Some of the personalities remained but by the advent of 1980, it was done. Radio had lost its zeal to business greed.

Do the math: Most pop music stations rely on a music library of no more than about 5000 songs. You'll hear these songs over and over and over again. You have been listening to the same hits of the 1960s for 50 years! Even the hits of the 90s are ten years old! It is absolutely maddening! It is the same monotonous drivel over and over again! Make it stop!

My frustration is amplified when I think of all the singers, songwriters and musicians who can not get airplay no matter how hard they try. Thank the Lord for new oasis like MySpace Music, Pandora, YouTube, and Amie Street. This is where the latest generation of listeners find their tunes. What a shame that radio was not allowed to flourish.

New technology may be the ultimate savior. My knee-jerk response to the death of XM was the purchase of a Generation 4 Apple iPod. It is quite a sophisticated toy. This tiny, thin rectangle is capable of holding every CD I own (and then some) and also plays back remarkable video content all available at the touch of my finger. My only regret is that it does not have more than 16 GB of memory. Only a few days into this experience, my free space is dwindling rapidly!

Using an iPod is a lesson in do-it-yourself radio. You become your own music director and program producer. I find myself searching and searching for new artists and new Podcasts. There is a lot of trial and error. Being passionate about new music requires a lot of work. Luckily, for those who have true love of music, this is an enjoyable pursuit. Your best resources are links to other artists' web sites and word-of-mouth. You'll find well-developed communities of musicians all looking for attention and fame. This is more fun than any video game!

The results are immediate and satisfying. My tastes lean heavily toward Celtic culture and music. Using an iPod has instantly connected me with Cape Breton, Ireland and Scotland like never before. You can customize your delights unattainable anywhere else. The only thing missing is up-to-the-minute news and sport. Good old AM radio fulfills most of these needs.

Change requires adaptation. I'm trying hard. Yes, this is the world in the year 2009. If radio, in all forms, is obsolete you must move on. I don't mind going down the hill, but sometimes I feel as if I am traveling with the precariousness of someone on a luge sled! How foolish the broadcast industry has been in alienating all its clientele. Sorry, I just can't listen to endless snarky chatter and commercials. There is a beautiful new musical world out there. Have you heard this one?

Also, I congratulate all who have mastered the art of Apple’s iTunes application. This iPod support program and database requires hours of patience, experimentation and adaptation. The most important information about iTunes never makes it into any ‘help’ site. Learning how to fine tune the database using ‘Get Info’ is an honored skill all its own. I’m very pleased with my progress but I have resigned myself to the realization that your quest for iTunes knowledge never ends!

So welcome to the future of media where the Web brings all you ever wanted to your fingertips. Eventually, the entire world will be wired for WiFi and you will discover Web access nearly everywhere. You won’t even need a CAT5 cable to connect. Wait a minute. Isn’t wireless Internet really radio? It sure is.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Alice's Wonderland

Alice Peacock has created a wonderland for herself that every singer-songwriter could enjoy: Imagine a world where you can create outside of everyday commercial formulas. The canvas is yours. Write your songs. Develop your arrangements. Recruit your own support ensemble, public relations firm and distribution company. No outside demands or insistence. It’s your project and you’re in control!

Every note of your CD becomes your choice and responsibility. No big conglomerate will decide your fate. It’s your recording the way you want it to sound! It takes a lot of work but the benefits are worth every second. You also gain the luxury of releasing multiple versions of your work. Would you like it as a lounge ballad or as an upbeat rocker? Suddenly, you are in the driver’s seat.

With endless confidence and independence, Alice has been building her career for over a decade. So far, she’s enjoyed a couple of brushes with fame. Her most famous song to date was adopted as the anthem to promote a line of sinful Hershey’s chocolates. Her song and their candies share the same appropriate name: Bliss. The original CD version features a wild psychedelic intro reminiscent of San Francisco in the summer of 1969. A guy you might have heard of, John Mayer, sings along with her as a duet. Don’t like the psychedelia? Try the House of Blues version with John and Alice available on YouTube: A third version, this time unplugged and acoustic much like her Hershey’s performance, is available free on the website at She covers all bases!

Speaking of covering bases, Alice sung the National Anthem at a White Sox playoff game. Her songs have been featured in several movies and she’s had number one records in far-off places like The Philippines. Every once in a while you’ll hear her work sneak into teenage television dramas. Italian legend Enrico Nascimbeni recorded several tunes in duet with Alice. Her diversity is superceded only by her confidence.

Listening to her work one thing rings true: Alice Peacock takes chances. She goes with her vision of how her work should sound and allows her compositions to develop as if they were living things. Included are musical influences from all over the world of popular music. Alice also wears her heart on her sleeve. Each successive CD has shown new maturity and sophistication. Like proud gardeners, her fans delight in seeing her grow. It’s hard to compare her to other singer-songwriters. Her signature is all her own.

Alice’s is at her best when she sings about the strength and security that love can bring. When all the elements she creates align during a recording session, Alice just sparkles and shines. Her last CD, the remarkable Who I Am, features two songs that are simply stunning. Early on, she primes your ears with a beautifully-penned song, inspired by metaphysics (!), called Time. “I think we're measured by our heart, if we've been kind and done our part. Will anyone remember me?”

Later in the CD, Alice’s search for identity and self-esteem becomes magical with her finest masterpiece to date: I’m Still Here. Here the lyrics are simplistic but the performance is so memorable. I listened to this cut about a thousand times and continued to be amazed. “Baby if your dreams have a hard time coming true, you know just where I'll be - standing there by you. I'll be at your side to help you face your fears. No matter where you go, I'm still here.” It’s not often you’ll hear such innocence and devotion so perfectly portrayed.

Alice Peacock doesn’t limit her skills and ambition to the world of music. With help from her husband, Hugh Haller, Alice founded a wonderful non-profit organization called Rock for Reading ( Year after year they have raised money for providing books and funding literacy programs for children in the Chicago Metroplex. Hugh also works with Northwestern University as their Camping and Education Foundation President presiding over Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe for girls and Camp Kooch-i-ching for boys both based near International Falls in Minnesota.

A new chapter of Alice Peacock’s career begins soon. Her fourth CD, Love Remains, will be released on March 10th. It represents a whole new turn to Alice’s career and a reflection of her current state of life. She’s gone country! Recorded in Nashville, with some of America’s great studio musicians with country chops, Love Remains purveys a down-home feel reminiscent of Alice’s upbringing in White Bear Lake, Minnesota (just outside of the Twin Cities.)

Alice’s life comes alive in Love Remains. Listen carefully and you’ll hear her enjoying her love with her husband and her desire to soon become a mother. She also touches upon spirituality, most notably in ‘If I Could Talk to God.’ Take a visit to her web site and audition them yourself! Only three tracks have been officially released. I can’t wait to hear the rest! In the meantime, Alice will be touring venues all over America this Spring.

Warning: Alice Peacock’s music is a lot like a yummy apple pie. Once you taste it, you’ll want more and more. I discovered Alice’s work less than a year ago and she quickly became one of my very favorite singers. Look for her work on her web site and her MySpace Music page at: Just press ‘play’ and enjoy!

Photo credit: Peter Nash