Vulfpeck out-John-Cages John Cage

Composer John Cage flipped the concert-going experience on its head with his DGAF piece 4’33” — which baffled audiences and propelled Cage to fame and infamy in under five minutes.



Los Angeles outfit Vulfpeck crafted a magnum opus entitled “Sleepify,” an album composed entirely of …. silence, in the finest John Cageian tradition. Here’s a promo for it:

Each track of Vulfpeck’s “Sleepify” runs about 30 seconds. The goal here — besides putting you to sleep faster than double-stacking Ambien — is to get as many fans as possible to stream the album on Spotify. Vulfpeck will then fund a tour with the (relatively meager) royalties from all those Spotify streams.

Feeling adventurous, curious or sleepy? Want to help Vulfpeck play a show in your neck of the woods? Go here or here, and to hear what they sound like in their not-so-conceptual incarnation, click here.

The irresistible force of the Lindsey Stirling marketing machine

Violinist and human charisma machine Lindsay Stirling.

So here’s something.

I’m not like a ride-or-die fan when it comes to violinist Lindsey Stirling. Her music is a little lighter than I usually go in for. But the Lindsey Stirling phenomenon itself is irresistible. Stirling has built a following with the Justin Bieber model — recording DIY videos, grinding it out on Youtube, regularly throwing meat to fans and trolls alike.

This week Stirling’s team posted another video to her channel, a joint called Transcendence. (One-sentence summary: period costumes, dancing & violin-playing in busted buildings, Landfill Orchestra accompanying.)

Stirling not only gets a respectable number of hits (almost 700,000 hombre) but TONS of comments. That’s because she mixes it up with fans, asks questions, responds occasionally.

Like this:


User “Lintary” going all in! A fully functional sovereign class explorer. Then there’s this:


I will not lie to you — this is airy stuff. I don’t know if it’s Lindsey Stirling typing this, or some poor schmuck doing “social media outreach” for $11.50 an hour. Regardless, the formula is simple and brilliant: show fans you care, ask (admittedly inane) questions, show (or feign) accessibility, and watch loyalty grow.

If Lindsey Stirling is not your cup of tea that’s okay. The Billboard charts speak for themselves: Lindsey Stirling is queen, and you are now watching the throne.

PS: What would you choose to do if it was impossible to, like …… succeed? … … Uh……… Okay, that was my attempt at #social media ##engagement.

Easiest A&R job ever: Seattle Symphony starts a record label

Seattle Symphony holding it down in Benaroya Hall.
Seattle Symphony holding it down in Benaroya Hall.

The Seattle Symphony announced this week that it’s starting an in-house record label. They’ll start pressing the group’s recordings and selling them both as downloadable tracks and CDs. (Naxos will distribute them.) I sent a few questions about the  venture over to Seattle Symphony press person, Katharine Boone.

Do you have plans to start a subscription music-streaming service as well, sort of like an in-house Spotify?


Do you anticipate digital sales will outpace CD sales?

Maybe eventually. Downloads are very important, but classical is the area of music sales where migration from CD to downloads has been the slowest. CD is still alive and well for classical, but of course it’s changing as every year goes by.

How quick will the turnaround be? For example, if the Symphony performs a Beethoven symphony on a Tuesday night, is it possible you’ll sell it online Thursday or Friday?

No, their plans are to release 4-5 CDs per year, and distributed by Naxos using their usual channels. However, they do have the flexibility to be able to say “hey, that was an amazing performance, let’s release it,” and get it to market within a very few months.

Do you have plans to distribute music online for free?

No, these recordings are offered for sale either as physical CDs or downloads.

The Bad Plus take on riotous ‘Rite of Spring’

Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on Bass, and Dave King on drums.
Ethan Iverson on piano, Reid Anderson on Bass, and Dave King on drums.

The Bad Plus are a piano-bass-drums trio on the outer edges of jazz. They made hay with a very respectable cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” off their first album, “These are the Vistas.”

NPR Music is streaming the new Bad Plus joint, and it’s far out there. It’s a reworking of Stravinsky’s riotous “Rite of Spring.” Hit this link to hear what they’ve been up to.

You may remember like it was yesterday that “Rite of Spring” had a pretty stormy premiere back in 1913. Keyed-up and combative audience-members were unceremoniously ejected when they tried to stir things up. Needless to say, it is perfectly fertile territory for The Bad Plus to mine.

NYT panned Vaslav Nijinsky's dancing in the
NYT panned Vaslav Nijinsky’s dancing in the “Rite of Spring” premiere. Ouch.

Nielsen SoundScan reported that classical sales were up nearly five percent last year. Why was that? Classical crossover sales. The National, Rufus Wainright, Jonny Greenwood and others have been jocking that classical lifestyle like it’s going out of style. (Um.)

The Bad Plus are continuing the crossover tradition with “Rite of Spring.” May it lead to album sales, worldwide tours, and wild monetary success.

‘2 Steps From Hell’ is the Dark Lord’s classical marketing solution

My grand theory on classical music nowadays is that it’s hiding in plain sight. Instead of penning symphonies that academics break down over the course of centuries, composers are whipping up a stream of classical content in stealthy forms.

To illustrate, I present the group 2 Steps From Hell. Well, to say they’re a group isn’t quite right. They’re two gents — Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix — whose combined powers are brought to bear in movie trailers, TV series and video games. Their album “Skyworld” rests at #20 on the Billboard top 25 this week, where it’s resided (at varying positions, on and off) for 50 weeks strong.

Not only do Bergersen and Phoenix whip up made-to-order classical offerings, they also have a very particular of presenting that music.

The album design (that’s a pdf) on the project comes from longtime collaborator Steven R. Gilmore, with super-futuristic illustrations by Sergey Vorontsov. Whatever your feelings about the visuals, they straight-up bury non-efforts like this.

So, have classical music’s giants — Beethoven, Brahms, all the players in the club — morphed into modern-day writing duos, a la Rodgers & Hammerstein? Do smart composers combine like the Mega Powers to multiply their success? Or are Bergersen & Phoenix destined to be remembered as history’s greatest monsters?

Satanists Thomas Bergersen (left) and Nick Phoenix
Satanists Thomas Bergersen (left) and Nick Phoenix

Listen, the proof’s in your earbuds: here’s Heart of CourageArchangel, and Orion by 2 Steps From Hell. (That’s some decision-time, Battle-of-Helm’s-Deep music right there.) You can’t tell the difference between one composer and a whole gaggle of them. The composer-collective cranks out hits at a high rate, plus keeps everybody from getting all lonely and sullen in their composer shacks. (Here’s Mahler’s.) No person is an island unto herself, and musicians and composers shouldn’t be, either. You need the vision — the driving force behind the soaring melodies, the intricate layers of counterpoint, the hair-raising finales — but you need flawless execution, too.

Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei are both known for keeping workshops where many hands produce the work — sometimes with only a drunken nod of assent from the Official Artist. What if clusters of composers tendered new pieces with tailor-made artwork, phone apps, Youtube visuals, and sweet-ass liner notes, all done in-house? I think stock in these classical factories would rise precipitously.

We used to leave all the extra-musical details to record labels and handlers. (Whoops.) Naxos, Sony & Deutsche-Grammophon blew their chance. Is it time to seize the means of production? Are we talking about a radically different approach here? Can I avoid speaking in revolutionary metaphors? (Yes, maybe, and obviously not.)

LoftOpera provides cheap opera, plentiful beer and classical flirtation in NYC

If you balk at the idea of dropping three big bills to see Carmen or La bohème, here’s a concept you can probably get behind.

LoftOpera is a Brooklyn outfit that performs big operatic works for a flat $20 fee, in a loft far from the trappings of stage lights and glitzy opera houses. LoftOpera’s audience will tip back on beers, socialize between sets, and fiddle with their phones to see which fellow concertgoers show up as Tinder matches.


As we see more organizations getting by on a whim and a prayer, start-ups like LoftOpera will swoop in to fill in the gaps. There’s no substitute for the full-company, orchestra-backed Ring Cycle, but for casual fans and spendthrifts LoftOpera might be just the ticket.


Check out this write-up of LoftOpera in Grey Magazine. For more photos and info about upcoming shows ride your surfboardt to the LoftOpera site.

Getty Images just got a lot more generous with its photo-sharing

Getty Images, venerable supplier of photos from all corners of the world, just changed their photo-use policies. Which is to say: before you had to pay to use them, and now you don’t.

Commercial use is still prohibited unless you pay, but your common, run-of-the-mill blogger (ahem) can share and embed to her or his heart’s content. Lots of good music shots here.

Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

Addition by subtraction — the plight of the lowly, high-voiced castrato

Push it to the limit
Walk along the razor’s edge
but don’t look down, just keep your head
and you’ll be finished

Open up the limit
past the point of no return
You’ve reached the top but still you gotta learn
how to keep it
How far are you willing to go to be the best?

I don’t know about you but there’s a solid list of things I’m not willing to do for my job, under any circumstances. If I’m a singer, high on that list would be becoming a castrato. Not willing to go that far to be the best.

The castrati were a class of singers — read: young boys — who had their man-parts excised so as to ensure their voices stayed high post-puberty. Unsettled yet? Okay.

Carlo Scalzi, a famous 18th century castrato.
Carlo Scalzi, a famous 18th century castrato.

The way castrati singers were treated seems to fall somewhere between an OSHA violation and a scene from Saw. Nonetheless, composers were happy writing pieces that featured these anomalous-voiced singers, and audiences were completely effed up for enjoying this appreciative, too.

Definitely crass and a bit inappropriate: acknowledged.
Definitely crass and a bit inappropriate: acknowledged.

Fast-forward to today when lightning strikes and countertenor Philippe Jaroussky realizes, Hey fools, why don’t we just sing falsetto instead?

(Cut to thousands of dumbfounded opera fans, shaking their heads slowly, grimly.)

“Wow, okay, that’s all it took? Woops! Ha ha ha. Our mistake. No hard feelings, right? Right??”

NPR’s Deceptive Cadence interviewed Jaroussky about performing music originally intended for castrati. And yes, he’s a normal, run-of-the-mill, fully-intact singer.


Good times.

Classical charts get THUNDERSTRUCK

It appears a touch of classic rock is all it took to slingshot some cello brahs back into the classical charts.

2CELLOS’s cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” got all of the Youtube hits, and also ginned up sales of their album In2ition, first released in the early days of 2013. They’re now perched at album number eight on Billboard’s top classical albums.

Our beloved Missourians, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, still hold down the pole position (as well as number four). Hipper-than-hip Lindsey Stirling spends her 75th week on the classical charts. Only The Piano Guys have enjoyed a similar tenure.

Here’s the rundown of Billboard’s top 10 classical records for this week. My comments are in italics.

1.) “Lent at Ephesus,” by Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles

2.) “Lindsey Stirling,” self-titled

3.) “The Piano Guys,” self-titled (73 weeks running)

4.) “Angels and Saints at Ephesus,” by Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles (coattail effect from new album)

5.) “The Piano Guys 2,” by The Piano Guys

6.) “Love in Portofino,” by Andrea Bocelli (Bocelli will never not be on the charts)

7.) “A Musical Affair: The Greatest Songs from the World’s Favourite Musicals,” by Il Divo

8.) “In2ition,” by 2CELLOS

9.) “Thinking of Home,” by Paul Byrom

10.) “Bach: Inventions & Sinfonias: BWV 772-801,” Simone Dinnerstein