Every year, Remix picks up its high-powered binoculars and looks out on the horizon to discover what's going to go down in the year ahead. This time, we bring you 27 of the most exciting developments in this crazy, Wild West of a music industry we're living in. From futuristic tracks and mouth-watering gear to bold new marketing schemes and industry trends, the focus of 2008 is sharpening, and it's quite the interesting view.
Ranting and raving music analyst Bob Lefsetz (you might know his blog, The Lefsetz Letter) brings a glimpse into the future of the music business. Meanwhile, female MCs storm the stage, artist-run studios take over, the music scene goes green, product merchandising gets crafty, parties roam the Earth, torches are passed on, gear gets extra touchy-feely and the digital age forges ahead. Hold on tight. It's going to be a bumpy, exciting ride.
PRODUCER ON THE RISE: ERIC LEE HUDSON
Even with a bevy of big-name producers at their disposal, proven hit-makers like Kanye West, 50 Cent, Usher, Mary J. Blige and Whitney Houston have turned to this virtually unknown producer for their high-stakes releases (such as West's awesomely futuristic and catchy track, “Flashing Lights”). From the looks of things, he won't be unknown for long.
Eric Lee Hudson, the 20-year-old wunderkind from New Jersey, is working so often with so many big names these days, it's even making his head spin. The roster of artists that Hudson has produced is as diverse as music itself and, he says, he tries to embrace their individuality when he works with them. “I don't really have a signature sound,” he notes. “I play four or five different instruments, so I can give you a live sound or I can give you that 808. I just try to get in there and vibe with the artist and whatever the artist is looking for. I just try to capture their style.”
Of the songs he's produced lately, Hudson says there are some that he's especially excited about. Among them is Usher's “Make It Rain,” from his upcoming album due in March. “The song is really exciting,” Hudson says. “It has an Earth, Wind & Fire feel; it has live horns and live drum overdubs. It's really different from everything that's on the radio.” And Hudson says he's keeping his fingers crossed for a possible first single from Whitney Houston's new album. He admits that working with the R&B superstar was a little daunting. “It was hard, but she was really nice and she wanted me to vocal produce her,” he says enthusiastically.
Houston clearly isn't the only one who has confidence in Hudson's work. “Everybody from Usher to John Legend to Whitney to Mary have all been like, ‘Whatever you do, I'm following your direction’. Everyone's been real cool.”
— Rhonda Baraka
ONE SMALL STEP: A GREENER MUSIC SCENE
To say that musicians use a lot of consumable energy — music gear, CD packaging, gas for tour vans, etc. — is an understatement, so it makes sense that the music community is poised to make big environmental strides in 2008.
Many labels have already planned green changes for the New Year. WEA and EMI Canada are both aiming at recycled materials, Nashville's Circle Back Music is going carbon-free, and Sub Pop has committed to offsetting 100 percent of its energy use. Musicians are getting more involved, too, from using vintage guitars to choosing how their CDs are packaged.
Musicians unsure of how to best make sustainable contributions can hook up with companies like Reverb who provide “Greening” services for touring bands. “We arrange biodiesel for tour buses and trucks, and biodegradable products for buses and backstage,” Reverb's Brian Allenby says. “And we'll educate fans by bringing our Eco-Villages to tour stops throughout 2008.” The Fray, Stars, the Beastie Boys and Aimee Mann are among those using Reverb's services.
Festivals, media stores and nightclubs are even getting into the act. Chicago's Lollapalooza fest is set to bring back an expanded version of its popular Green Street area for 2008; California's Amoeba Music is implementing The Big Green Box for electronics recycling; and San Francisco's Green nightclub, Temple, has even bigger plans. “We recycle and compost 71 percent of our waste,” owner Paul Hemming explains. “In 2008, we'll add vertical gardens and solar power and give away plantable trees. I'm also working with a physicist on our dancefloor, which will use piezoelectric crystals; when people dance, the crystals will be pressured, emitting a charge to a circuit, and that will power our LED lights.” Hemming also plans to open a sustainable Temple nightclub in China. “It's not just nightclubs or bands that should do this,” Hemming says, “I think humanity as a whole should do this.”
— Kristi Kates
NEW-FANGLED DELIVERY: FROM CDs to USBs
Are CDs as cool as they used to be? The recent actions of Radiohead, Trent Reznor and plenty of indie bands say, eh, not so much. A combo backlash of too-hard-to-crack record labels, environmental concerns, overpricing and the plethora of easily accessible music networking sites are causing musicians to turn to other methods of releasing their albums, among them digital downloads, pay-as-you-please, and, lately, releases on USB drives, which seems especially destined for the mainstream in 2008.
In 2007, The White Stripes dropped Icky Thump on supercool-looking flash-drive representations of Jack n' Meg in their London Pearly garments; Keane, The Fratellis, ultramodern grime-popsters Hadouken! and M.I.A. sent USB singles out on memory sticks; and even Matchbox 20 offered up its latest set in uncharacteristically edgy fashion — on a rubber USB bracelet. And those were only a sign of things to come.
2008 looks like it's going to be a year of firsts in this department. The coming months will see albums being released on various forms of USB by the likes of the Rolling Stones (first album to be released on memory card in the UK), Mike Oldfield (first classical recording released on USB) and Finnish electro-rock band Desert Planet (first USB release in Finland). You get the idea.
So, what's the draw? Universal UK's Brian Rose is aiming USBs at the younger market, who are reportedly becoming apathetic about CDs, even “special-edition” ones, but the consensus in general is that people do still like to own a physical product, hence USBs potentially evolving where CDs have stagnated. Other appeals include the fact that USB drives leave room for the addition of plenty of videos and other multimedia components, allowing musicians to push the envelope regarding bonus content. As far as whether or not the CD will go the way of cassettes and 8-track tapes — only your wallet will tell.
— Kristi Kates
PREDICTION: APPLE RULES THE WORLD
Apple stock will go up. With the introduction of ever-increasing iPod penetration, a slim laptop and resultant Mac sales, Apple will be akin to record labels in the '70s — a revered entity whose followers will give the company all their money. iTunes' share might go down, but Universal will never beat the company. Apple has won the war. Buy stock!
— Bob Lefsetz
GENRE ON THE MOVE: DANCEFLOOR HIP-HOP
It's no longer acceptable to stand around at the show nodding your head to the beat. These days, hip-hop is returning to the dancefloor. Once again, emphatic beats, gratuitous raps and unexpected influences abound as the new vanguard brings back the party.
This crop of DJs and MCs, led by the likes of Spank Rock, A-Trak and Diplo, focus their efforts on getting things moving. The dancefloor beats and provocateur rhymes revive old tricks that never stopped working, and plenty of new sounds make their way into the mix to create a scene set to explode.
It was Spank Rock's Miami Bass-inspired YoYoYoYoYo that kicked the door open for this scene two years ago, and for its follow up, the Philly troublemakers headed up to New York and worked with regular contributors Amanda Blank and Santogold. With this crew, it's pretty much guaranteed that shenanigans will ensue.
Meanwhile, after gaining exposure as Kanye West's DJ, A-Trak built ties to the French party instigators from Ed Banger records, and his sound rides this nexus between hip-hop and dance music. The former DMC champion has a solo album in the works, and his Fool's Gold label is jumpstarting the careers of Kid Sister and the Cool Kids. That Chicago duo of Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks start a big year of their own with the January release of the Bake Sale EP. While they rarely bring things at a hip-house tempo, their throwback style is all about having a good time. Watch for their debut LP on Chocolate Industries before the year's out.
Finally, the manic DJ/producer known as Diplo continues to promote Bal-timore Club beats and other sounds he discovers on his travels through his Mad Decent label and his Heap Decent charity.
— Noah Levine
BEYOND THE MPC: LINNDRUM II
Dave Smith (founder of Sequential Circuits) and Roger Linn (creator of the MPC sampler) previewed the “BoomChik” drum machine last year. Now the design has taken on a smart new look and has been renamed LinnDrum II after the classic precursor to the MPC.
“I wanted to create a whole new performance instrument,” says Linn, explaining that it's meant to be a drum machine, not an MPC-killer. “I wanted it to do anything from sensitive, very human drum parts to huge, powerful walls of electronic percussion, and do it intuitively without getting in your way.”
The techno-savvy face-lift includes brightly backlit control buttons and Velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads — assignable to sounds, tunings, beats, pad mutes or sequence steps — making it poised for dark nightclub action. LinnDrum II lets you drop in and out of recording on different beats, play multiple beats simultaneously, switch in and out of song mode and more, all without stopping play.
A bright graphic LCD joins dedicated buttons for touch sensitivity, sound restart, real-time erase and pressure-sensitive note repeat. Programmable sliders and On/Off buttons control delay/reverb, filter, amp sim/compressor and resonator; a 16 MB internal flash memory stores sounds. “Expanding memory is accomplished merely by inserting a Compact Flash card,” reports Linn.
Roger Linn Design (www.rogerlinndesign.com) will sell the sampling-only version, and Dave Smith Instruments (www.davesmithinstruments.com) will offer the LinnDrum II Analog, which adds four true-analog voices and Curtis filters, analog feedback resonator paths and 27 dual-function voicing knobs. An exact release date isn't yet available; prices are tentatively slated at $1,000 (LinnDrum II) and $1,500 (LinnDrum II Analog).
“Roger is the king of drum machines,” says Smith. “This has been a great opportunity for us to put our heads together to design an exciting, flexible, easy-to-use drum box.”
— Jason Scott Alexander
RETURN TO VIDEO: WATCH YOUR BACK, MTV
Waaaay back in the dark ages, MTV — otherwise known as Music Television — actually played music videos. No, really, it's true. But with today's MTV being all about reality shows and dating debacles, where will we go in 2008 for actual vids from our favorite musicians? Ilovevideo, that's where.
Ilovevideo, at www.ilovevideo.com, offers pay-per-download high-quality music videos that are legally transferable, indefinitely, to as many media devices as you want (including Macs, PCs and handheld devices), making them the first DRM-free music video retail store. (Files are available in either WMV or M4V format.)
The site has already snagged agreements with Beggars Banquet, XL, Domino and Ministry of Sound, with more labels under negotiations for 2008. And these aren't Hey-That's-My-Friend-Ralph's-Band-on-YouTube type vids; they're top-notch clips from the likes of UNKLE, The Go! Team, Badly Drawn Boy, White Stripes, Fatboy Slim, the Pigeon Detectives and many more. Plus, ilovevideo's partnership with EMI Music will allow the site to make a plethora of videos from the EMI catalog available, including ones from the Chemical Brothers, John Lennon, Coldplay and Gorillaz.
You can check out videos in 30-second previews before you buy, with most videos starting at $3.95, and you can pay for 'em by debit card, credit card, ilovevideo gift vouchers or text message (and yes, royalties are paid to the labels and artists involved). For 2008, the site plans to entice music lovers even more, with an ever-widening range of exclusive content, including director's cut videos, behind-the-scenes footage, artist interviews and live gigs. It's “music to your eyes,” as the ilovevideo folks say. Between ilovevideo and iTunes' videos, we say…MTV who?
— Kristi Kates
PREDICTION: PROMOTERS GET GREEDIER
Concert tickets will continue to go up in price, as greedy agents and promoters test the limits of what the market will bear. The acts will go along — after all, they're musicians; they don't know any better; their expertise is in music. However, those with lower prices will gain all the fan attention and bond most with their customers, ensuring longevity. For instruction, see Garth Brooks and the Dave Matthews Band.
— Bob Lefsetz
LADIES FIRST: FEMALE MCs
With an underground superstar taking that next step, a pair of major-label players making their returns and a trio of hotly anticipated debut LPs, female MCs are set to make a major impact this year.
At the head of the line in both lyrical dexterity and sheer volume of scheduled releases is Jean Grae. Now on Talib Kweli's Blacksmith Records, the sharp-tongued Grae is bringing her hilariously cold-blooded rhymes to a trio of projects that promise to take her to a wider audience. In January it starts with the Prom Night LP, to be followed by the Phoenix mixtape project and the overdue release of Jeanius, her terrific studio excursion with 9th Wonder that was shelved for years after being leaked online.
Eve's Here I Am, which was also delayed, is finally expected to drop, and while the singles haven't quite caught fire, the major-label effort boasts production from Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, Scott Storch and Timbaland, so it's bound to have a few cuts. Even more intriguing is the next release from the consistently extraordinary Missy Elliott, who once again teams up with Timbo for her seventh album.
For new directions and uptempo beats, check out debuts from a trio of notorious party starters set to make themselves known this year. Chicago's effervescent Kid Sister scored a Kanye West guest spot on her “Pro Nails” remix, and now she's grabbed beats from Armani XXXchange, A-Trak and juke hero Gantman for her Koko B. Ware album dropping on Fool's Gold records. Also scoring studio time with XXXchange is Philly vixen and Spank Rock foil Amanda Blank, whose debut also includes work with Diplo. Finally, merciless Tampa electro-temptresses Yo Majesty bring plenty of excitement of their own. MCs Shunda K & Jwl. B signed onto the eclectic roster at Domino for their debut as well.
— Noah Levine
HITCH A RIDE: THE THUMMER
One of the most original ideas in a long time is the Thummer, a unique handheld multi-input musical device. Not meant to be just another controller, the Thummer is part of what Thumtronics (www.thummer.com) designer Jim Plamondon calls “a focused effort to grow the market by increasing the success rate of music education.” Essentially, it tries to help those new to music stay on the path longer by offering an instrument that is less daunting to master. The Thummer offers extensive expressiveness while being intrinsically intuitive and easy to learn. Each of its palm-size halves is operated by Touch-, Aftertouch- and Velocity-sensitive buttons that are organized into a repetitive geometric layout that makes melodic transposition simple and harmony easier to understand (see videos on the Thummer site). Small thumb-operated controllers on each wing offer muting/muffling, expression, portamento, modulation and pitch control on the fly without removing your fingers from the keys.
The eMotion Thummer adds an internal motion sensor for another layer of control — extreme expressive potential. Even on a good keyboard, you need one hand to play keys and another to turn knobs; on the Thummer, you can control notes and effects with a single hand, meaning you can easily play two separate sounds — each with deep, expressive control — simultaneously. And DJ/VJ/performance potential is endless for assigning the buttons to MIDI controls. Once manufacturing begins, expect retail prices around $375 and $575 (eMotion). Here's hoping Thumtronics finds a suitable investor soon, before we see Chinese-made knockoffs.
— Asher Fulero
PREDICTION: MAJOR LABELS' PLAN B
Major labels will offer a lot of product for not so much money. The iTunes model won't die, but expect the majors to experiment with either licensed P2P and/or the bucket of tracks for one flat price model, à la eMusic. With CD sales tanking, major labels will be forced to try new ways of selling music.
— Bob Lefsetz
ARTIST-RUN STUDIOS: NE-YO
Creating state-of-the art studios has become the norm not only for producers but for artists, as well. How do these artist-run studios stack up against commercial labs? Singer/songwriter Ne-Yo, who opened his Carrington House Studio in Atlanta earlier this year, says he designed the studio to suit his personal needs. “I was very selfish when I was thinking about what I wanted the studio to be,” he says. “It wasn't even a thought of renting the space out every now and then. I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time here, and I wanted it to be as comfortable as possible.” Ne-Yo says he wanted a one-stop shop. “I needed a studio that is completely self-contained, where mixing, mastering, recording, everything could be done right there in that spot.”
Carrington House has three floors that house the studio and business offices. The A Room is for recording, the B Room is for making beats and the Live Room is for rehearsing. The facility also has a kitchen — complete with a 24-hour chef — and a lounge. “You honestly wouldn't even know that it was a studio until you went upstairs and saw the equipment,” says Ne-Yo. Speaking of equipment, Ne-Yo says he had only one preference when it came to the tools of his trade: “It's just gotta work,” he says. “When I push the button, it needs to work.” And engineer Jaymz Hardy-Martin III is there to make sure it does. From preamps to MIDI gear, Hardy-Martin has taken special care to outfit Carrington House with top-of-the-line recording equipment, including a Pro Tools|HD3 system; Avalon, Universal Audio and Focusrite preamps; Neumann U 87 mics; and a Tascam DM-4800 console.
Ne-Yo says he hopes to expand the facility someday. “There's a studio in Miami called Circle House that I record at when I'm down there, and I love the whole setup of that place,” he says. “It's kind of like a huge compound. We might wind up doing something like that in the next couple of years, but as of right now, Carrington House is fully functional, and it suits us just fine.”
— Rhonda Baraka
DEAFENING BUZZ: GUNS 'N' BOMBS
Given this country's fickle appreciation for dance sounds, it's fitting that America's best bet for dancefloor supremacy comes from a foreign-born duo (via Italy and Denmark) that has adopted L.A. as a home base. But Johnny Love, who teams up with Filip Turbotito to make rugged beats as Guns 'n' Bombs, thinks the timing is right for a breakthrough.
“America is getting a little better,” Love says. “Maybe people are getting more open to dance music, and if they do, it'll be great.”
Remix work for Chromeo, The Gossip and Klaxons, along with a lone release on France's Kitsuné, have labels of all sizes calling about G'n'B's grinding club beats. But the duo is blocking out the buzz to focus on recording.
Working in a relatively simple digital studio based around Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase and Propellerhead Reason, Love and Turbotito are aiming to take things beyond their buzz-saw beats to explore more melodic sounds. As for vocal co-conspirators, Love proudly asserts, “All the people we wanted to work with are already dead.” But Turbotito freely rattles off an impressive list of possible collaborators, including Peaches, DJ Funk, his former group Junior Senior and legendary L.A. band Sparks.
With plans to complete a full-length album by spring, G'n'B hopes to then hit the road with an analog-based live show, including “some crazy guitar pedals and effects,” Turbotito says. Recorded or live, G'n'B will be bringing the combustible beats.
— Noah Levine
FAIR TRADE: SSL PRO-CONVERT V5
In late 2007, Solid State Logic (SSL; www.solid-state-logic.com) acquired the Universal DAW Project Translator technology that Cui Bono Soft had been working on for seven years. Now released by SSL as Pro-Convert V5, this leveler of playing fields helps computer-based audio projects from disparate DAWs become easily sharable. No more bouncing files separately and rebuilding automation on a new DAW when you change studios midstream; simply use Pro-Convert to translate the session into a destination format, and off you go. Pro-Convert is compatible with Pro Tools, Soundscape, Cubase, Nuendo, Vegas, Sonic Studio, SADiE, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Audition, OMF, AES31, Sequoia, Open TL and Tascam BU. Although some very popular platforms are absent (Logic, Digital Performer, Ableton, Traktion, Sonar), the idea of opening a PC Cubase session with Pro Tools on a Mac — complete with files, automation, fades and everything else — is almost too good to be true. Pro-Convert V5 represents a major upgrade from Cui Bono Soft's previous version, including up-to-date compatibility with the newest versions of each format.
— Asher Fulero
FIELD TRIP: TRAVELING ART AND MUSIC
From art galleries to basketball courts, parties hitting the road this year are pushing the limits to educate and stimulate. And there's nothing like a good pair of shoes to get you there. With more than 1,500 vintage, limited-edition and rare runners, Sneaker Pimps have a kicks collection to covet. Showcasing hip-hop, skateboarding, basketball, fashion and photography, founder Peter Fahey started stacking shoes on display six years ago with local DJs spinning in his hometown, Sydney, Australia. Now the largest touring show of its kind, featuring heavyweight performers like Kanye West, Common, Nas and Public Enemy, as well as street artists like Tokidoki, Cartoon and Futura, it's a circus to run away with.
Meanwhile, New York's iStandard Producers are looking out for tomorrow's music. The creative mentoring and professional feedback workshops for burgeoning producers are going global with fully interactive online access to industry insiders. Now a monthly study-hard-play-hard session in New York and Philadelphia, with road stops in Chicago, L.A., Atlanta and Phoenix, music makers can get one-on-one attention they need to take their thing to the next level. Next up, after the WMC whirlwind settles, is iStandard's first-ever three-day “Beats on the Beach” in Miami this April.
Coming up in the roaming party/traveling competition realm, Montreal DJ Kid Koala's beats will resonate inside museums and galleries across Canada and the U.S. To promote his latest graphic novel (an untitled work in progress) composed entirely of photographs of Muppet-inspired 3-D miniatures on tiny intricate Dixieland movielike sets, Kid Koala will be touring his jazz-infused scratch sets for book, music and two-step lovers alike. Also, stay tuned as Koala is planning a suburban roller-skating rink tour in the future. Hell yeah!
Also clocking in air miles from the Euro city, cutting-edge fest Mutek takes on Manhattan, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Barcelona with more experimental music and art from Japan, Latin America, Spain and Germany. Now in its ninth year, Mutek remains compact and intimate while breaking acts like Chicago's Detalles and San Fran's Pigeon Funk. With its still-strong label, Mutek_Rec — delivering the long-awaited follow-up to Montreal artist Akufen's full-length My Way this year — and its minimutations only growing in size, the fest is a testament to the flourishing techno talent colonizing this side of the Atlantic.
— Elizabeth Mitkos
NEW-MEDIA MOGULS: TRIGGERHAPPY
Seven years ago, Aahmek Richards predicted the proliferation of Internet-based media outlets. Today, as president of the two-year-old New York-based production company Triggerhappy, he and his partners are at the forefront of creating top-quality content for the digital age. “We are first and foremost a content production company,” says Richards, who worked in new media divisions at Arista and Def Jam. “I realized six or seven years ago that all forms of media were ultimately going to be served on the Internet, and the Internet was going to become this new broadcast medium that was going to sooner rather than later overpower television and theaters.” With that in mind, he and his partners, Derek Ferguson and Kareem Johnson, focused on creating content specifically for the Internet that could also be used for other formats.
“What seems to be working well online is short-form content,” he says. “People don't want to watch a 30-minute-long program.” Richards' crew shoots videos with the Panasonic HDX; edits in Apple Final Cut Pro; and completes all sound design, mixing and mastering with an Pro Tools|HD system.
Currently, Triggerhappy provides content for Pepsi DJ Division (pepsidjdivision.com) and Flow TV, an on-demand cable channel featuring hip-hop interviews and videos.
So what is Richards' prediction for the next seven years? “Everything is just going to be a digital download,” he contends. “All the traditional formats are going to go away.”
— Rhonda Baraka
This screen setting on the Universal Interface Panel prototype shows that mixing to picture while watching the picture is just one innovation of the NBOR system
THE MAGIC SCREEN: NBOR & DENNY JAEGER
With the chief designer of the breakthrough '80s workstation the Synclavier II at the helm, upstart company NBOR (No Boundaries or Rules; www.nbor.com) is looking to change audio mixing as we know it. Acclaimed composer for films and commercials, Denny Jaeger is the man who envisions a seamless fusion of the best of both the hardware and software worlds.
Still in the prototype stage, the system begins with the Universal Interface Panel, a hardware box with a display screen on top (that will likely be touch-sensitive) that can plug into any computer. Through laborious research that has spanned four countries and spawned more than 30 patents, NBOR designed custom-made, touch-sensitive faders that move across the top of the screen itself, using NBOR's Blackspace software. Made with many original parts designed from scratch, the faders have a maximum resolution of 6,000 points per inch and use unique magnetic coupling to make precise automated movements. The system also includes stand-alone knobs that can be placed anywhere on the screen (or on other surfaces as many as six knobs at a time) to control any software function with a response time of less than 1 ms. “There's nothing else on planet Earth that can do this,” Jaeger says.
NBOR's new tactile and software environment strips limitations from users. Any object down to a single pixel can be customized and moved anywhere on screen. Sessions use a context messaging system, so multiple people can contribute to the same session seamlessly and remotely with negligible delay. Blackspace sits on top of an operating system, so it's not constrained by the menus, windows, etc. of a Mac or Windows OS. “Everyone should have tools that are as creative as they want them to be,” Jaeger says. There's no news yet about a release of NBOR's products, but many developments should be popping up this year.
— Markkus Rovito
PASSING THE TORCH: ILLA J
There's no escaping Illa J's musical pedigree, but rather than live in the shadows, the Detroit-born producer embraced it. Illa J, whose given name is John Yancey, is the younger brother of the late J Dilla. After Dilla's death in 2006, Illa focused on music full-time, dropping out of college in Michigan, moving to California and setting up a recording studio, determined to carry on the Yancey legacy. Using Dilla's Yamaha Motif XS, Moog Voyager and 32-channel Digidesign ProControl board, he set about the task of recording a full-length album.
“My brother was known for hip-hop, but he could make all types of music, and he was also a great MC,” Illa J says. “I want to show that we're versatile, and this is a musical legacy to be dealt with.” An accomplished bassist, Illa compiled his own tracks with other tracks from Battlecat (which he calls “feel-good funk”), Karriem Riggins, Notz, Focus and Dilla. “When I write to my brother's tracks, there's a certain connection to it,” Illa says.
MCs Frank (from Dilla's group Frank n' Dank) and Guilty Simpson also appear on several tracks. “One thing I got from my brother is to keep it off time,” he says. “That's what makes you bob your head, where the beat is actually pulling the bass line. I try to stay away from hi-hats unless I need them. What I do is put the bass line in the right pockets to make the whole beat move. It's the little things like that that keep it funky.”
Illa is on his way to making his own name on the mic and behind the board. He proudly recalls a vocal recording session with Bishop Lamont, attended by Busta Rhymes. “Busta gave me a compliment; he said, ‘I know you make the beats, but that was hot, son.''”
— Tamara Warren
PREDICTION: BANDS DITCH LABELS
More acts will follow Radiohead and go it alone, but most won't allow the consumer to set the price. The music might be free, sponsored by a corporation or news outlet, or sold via iTunes or other distribution entities. But what's most important is that more and more acts will be doing it themselves, not only capturing the lion's share of the revenue but free to follow their own muse. After all, who knows more about music, the people who make it or the businessmen who sell it?
— Bob Lefsetz
WAVE 'EM LIKE YOU JUST DON'T CARE: MULTITOUCH CONTROL
Many technophiles have seen the YouTube videos demonstrating the amazing Multi-Touch Interaction Research of Jeff Han and associates (http://cd.nyu.edu/~jhan/ftirtouch). Even though the idea had been around for quite a while when they hit the Net in 2006, those videos really opened up the dialog about the future of computer interaction and how we visualize our digital workspace. After different types of multitouch technology appeared in 2007, we think 2008 will be The Year of Multitouch. Significantly more interactive, intuitive and fun than the single-touch interfaces we're used to (think video poker or Wacom tablets), basic multitouch is already in action on Apple's hugely popular iPhone and iPod Touch. JazzMutant's killer DAW controllers Lemur and Dexter offer powerful and creative multitouch musical interaction, and the creative possibilities continue to inspire tech fans dreaming of the not-so-distant future when a cheap, dual multitouch-screen laptop helps them do everything from make art and music to software design.
But while rumors of all sorts of Apple multitouch MacBooks, Newtons and other devices abound, Microsoft has quietly started promoting its coffee-table-size multitouch home base for the “average” person (they will cost $5,000 to $10,000) called Surface (www.microsoft.com/surface), which, among other things, lets you simply set your wireless-enabled digital camera onto its touch-screen tabletop to automatically import and share your photos, with übercool-looking results. Several other groups have begun making their own versions, usually table-size and running custom-made software. With nearly every major designer out there salivating at the chance to incorporate this once-futuristic idea, the flowing computer-wall aesthetics that geeks used to ogle on Star Trek: The Next Generation can't be too far away from reality.
— Asher Fulero
LAND OF THE RISING FUN: JAPANESE DJ GEAR
Just as it is with many of the latest and coolest consumer electronics, Japan hosts many music- and DJ-gear product launches well ahead of their release to the United States and the rest of the world. Several enticing new DJ products have already been announced in Japan and should see the light of day stateside in 2008. Vestax (www.vestax.jp) has the VCM-100, a compact USB MIDI controller aimed at DJ applications that follows up 2007's popular VCI-100. The small-format VCM-100 has the same professional build quality as the VCI-100, with two large channel level knobs in the tradition of club installation rackmounted mixers. Also from Vestax, the PMC-580 Pro is a 4-channel, 24-bit digital performance mixer with six effects per channel. It also has a USB connection, although it is not clear yet exactly what that is for.
Korg (www.korg.co.jp) has already introduced the Kaossilator portable phrase synthesizer in Japan. The handheld, battery-operated synth is the same size as Korg's 2007 Mini-KP Kaoss Pad and uses the same touch-sensitive pad to layer loops of arpeggiated synth sounds on top of each other. It's sure to be a live-performance favorite.
No doubt Japan will continue to get the jump on new product releases all year, but lastly for now comes the Pioneer CDJ-400 (http://pioneer.jp), a professional DJ CD turntable that also plays MP3s from CD or from attached USB storage devices. What's more, virtually all of its controls send MIDI to control software such as Pioneer DJS, Serato Scratch Live and others.
— Markkus Rovito
FUTURE MARKETING: G-UNIT
Rubbing the crystal ball is customary at the New Year, so we asked Dre McKenzie, head of A&R at G-Unit Records, to gaze deeply and channel us the hell out of hip-hop's hard times. With overinflated recording budgets and advances for the urban artist long gone, McKenzie thinks opportunistic rappers should return to the early roots of rock and build careers onstage rather than through video. Get out and gig!
“Early rock artists were urban artists,” says McKenzie. “People like Little Richard and Professor Longhair — who many rightfully argue was the real king of rock 'n' roll, influencing Elvis. Urban artists have to see the power of going to primary, secondary and tertiary markets and winning over fans through live performance.”
Radio play has been a key indicator of potential album sales and fan bases, but not anymore. This past summer's top-spinning singles set records at radio but spawned dismal album sales and mediocre download numbers.
“With more and more radio stations being shut down, the industry needs a real focused study on where people experience their music,” says McKenzie. “Consumers do want ‘experiences,'' not just music. G-Unit tries to provide enough value in the purchase where the consumer feels they have to have it; it's something that reflects a part of them and encompasses a feeling they want to experience over and over.”
With CD prices scattered and download prices duking it out with each other, “the revenue model for music sales has no standard, currently,” says McKenzie. “This is a formative time. So much is changing, and when it will even out, I don't know.”
As the face of urban music changes — embracing styles from reggae and rock to dance and country — demographic studies can't always keep up with its image.
“Kids in the streets of ‘urban'' America are dressing like rock stars with chains hanging from their not-so-baggy jeans,” says McKenzie. “They're wearing brands like Diesel, Rock & Republic and fashion outside of ‘traditional'' hip-hop. In the next few years, I see real music companies with heavy emphasis on new media and strategic branding. I see brands like Macy's or General Mills establishing music departments. I see traditional labels creating music specifically to sell to brands, providing added value for their customers — for example, American Eagle giving free content along with a clothing purchase. I see more and more indie labels partnering with firms and independent financiers to fund projects, rather than pursuing major labels. This is all made possible by digi-distribution and the increasing ease with which artists can create, mix and master quality music.”
— Jason Scott Alexander
THIN IS IN: OLED TELEVISIONS
Most people would agree that plasma and LCD HDTVs already kick plenty of ass, but if something better came along, you'd dig it, right? Well, something better has come along. In late 2007, Sony introduced the XEL-1, the first OLED (organic light-emitting diodes) TV, an 11-inch beauty that is now selling in Japan for roughly $1,740. The 1080p (full HD) screen is only 3 mm thick and is actually flexible. OLEDs are capable of the highest contrast ratios currently available and are also more energy efficient than plasma and LCD screens, which Sony is hoping to pass by on the road to making OLED the display technology of choice. The company already has a prototype of a 27-inch OLED TV. Toshiba has attempted to one-up Sony by announcing plans for a 30-inch OLED display in 2009. Dang, you know Propellerhead Reason would look fine on that!
— Markkus Rovito
F-F-FRESH INNOVATION: DJ MUSICIANS
“I feel like Serato and Final Scratch should be a reward for DJs who've carried equipment — for a DJ who's never done that, it's like dues to be paid,” says DJ Dez, who has shared the stage with ?uestlove, Slum Village and Erykah Badu. Times have changed, but Final Scratch and Serato haven't killed the art of DJing.
Dez applies the spirit of a jazz musician to his sets. “I'm not the play-it-safe guy,” he says. “I have clave in my blood. That is my metronome, beyond 4/4 simple measures. I'm always thinking when I go into my indigenous mode on some rumba shit.” The master drummer incorporates turntable tricks into danceable scat sessions of rare funk records, hip-hop loops and house-music chords. “I can scratch on a house record, let the hip-hop overlap and go even more out there.”
In another realm, DJ Nu-Mark has taken innovation to the playground. He collects kids' musical toys and rewires them for mixing capabilities. His latest creation is a DJ setup using Music Blocks, a product geared for 2-year-olds. “Basically, each block has different shapes on it,” says the former Jurassic 5 DJ. “The circles are bass lines, the triangles are pianos, and they each play a bar of music. I'm beat juggling beats back and forth.” Nu-Mark began experimenting with kalimba onstage with J5, which led to endless tricks. “I take a thick rubber band, and I wrap it around the part of the needle used to pick up the record. I take a guitar pick and I turn the bass up, and it sounds like an upright bass. The toys were the next logical progression.”
And then there's DJ Enferno, who is bridging the gap between his weekly DJ gigs and live remix project. “The whole live project is an extension of the battling background,” he says. He uses a Toshiba laptop running Ableton Live, a MacBook Pro running Serato Scratch Live and a Korg KP3 Kaoss Pad to remix songs in his sets. “For any one song, I start out with four different drum loops that I can trigger with my finger. Everything else will be empty, and I'll use one of the drum loops to mix out of the sound. I didn't have anybody to teach me, I cracked open a manual and went on discussion forums.”
— Tamara Warren
REJUVENATING TURNTABLISM: ILL INSANITY
In a packed room at Brooklyn's Galapagos last November, decorated DJs Rob Swift, Precision and Total Eclipse fired off group routines and separate, provocative solos on five Technics SL-1200MK2s under their new Ill Insanity moniker. Former X-ecutioners Swift and Eclipse reunited earlier in 2007 when they and Precision performed at Swift's As the Tables Turn DVD release party. The newly formed team brings vibrancy to a genre that 2007 DMC U.S. National Finals Champion DJ Precision says needs help. “As DJs and straight-up fans of turntablism, we want to keep it alive,” Precision says. “Turnouts at battles just haven't been the same.”
At Galapagos, Eclipse and Swift warmed up the crowd with missile-guided cuts over jazz breaks and chunky hip-hop beats, including Gang Starr and Public Enemy instrumentals. Meanwhile, Precision whizzed through the night's first scratch solo, showcasing veteran control of a Rane TTM 57SL mixer, which Total Eclipse calls “the greatest on the market, allowing Serato users to trigger hot cues on the mixer board.”
In addition to the group's decks, three Mac laptops run Serato Scratch Live at shows. “The experience of scratching on CD turntables never matched up to the feel of using an actual turntable, so we couldn't replicate a lot of the scratch sounds we were used to executing on turntables,” Swift says. “With the invention of [Scratch Live], we power up our laptops and import any sound we choose straight into the software. With Rane's Control Records, we can still use the turntable to perform our scratches while maintaining the exact feel of scratching regular vinyl. This makes it possible for us to experiment more than we ever have.”
Ill Insanity's bold turntable workouts will be packaged as Ground Xero (The Ablist Productions), the trio's debut LP, dropping next month.
— Dominic Umile
GET IN THE GAME: MINIVIRTUAL INSTRUMENTS
It might come as a surprise to find out that, in addition to a slowly growing roster of legitimate software, there is a large contingent of underground home-brew rebels creating music programs for the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP. It's a given that the musical video-game niche is growing: Guitar Hero is being played by just about everyone, and Nintendo's Wii Music will be out in 2008, putting you in control of an entire band or orchestra. But the New Year is likely to find you using your portable game systems to do more than just play. With much of this software, sanctioned or not, you'll be able to jot down, demo and record new songs — and more.
Got a sudden song idea on the subway or plane? No problem. Nintendo's brand new Jam Sessions for the DS, with its touch-screen strum function, lets you take a “guitar” just about anywhere, while Rhythm n' Notes teaches chords, patterns and beats. In the home-brew department, you can download DScratch, which allows you to digitally downsample, scratch and MIDI-transfer; Piano Rigolo, which places two octaves of piano on your DS touch-screen; or NitroTracker, a tiny composer/editor.
Meanwhile, over on the PSP tip, Rockstar games has teamed up with Timbaland for 2008's much-anticipated Beaterator, a powerful beatmaker/music mixer. Meanwhile, home-brews PSPRhythm and PSPKick are already out; Eidos' Traxxpad turns the PSP into a keyboard, drums and sequencer; and Ubisoft is prepping to release the tutorial tool Guitar Hits, complete with tuner and metronome.
Will other software designers hop on the — ahem — bandwagon for 2008 to give us more of these mini-virtual instruments for portable platforms? We can only hope.
— Kristi Kates
PREDICTION: OUT WITH MAINSTREAM MEDIA
Mainstream media will be proven to be out of touch. It's not important what the New York Times says; music lives on the Web, and people find out about and discuss music on the Web. It doesn't matter what the old kingpins say, rather what your friends say. And this friend network is ever expanding and built on trust. Will 2008 be the year of the Web filter, the one place where everybody goes to find out about new music online? Eventually, there will be a terrestrial radio/MTV/Rolling Stone of the Web. And it won't be any of the foregoing entities, rather a whole new site built and controlled by the Internet generation, with its ear to the ground and in bed with its viewers, as opposed to Madison Avenue.
— Bob Lefsetz