Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reliable Sound vs Unpredictable Music

Starflyer 59 has a new album that sounds almost exactly like most of their older albums. That's good news for those who prefer a solid standard sound in a band, reliable, expected, "art that seeks to please", as Adorno sneered.

Must your favorite bands really progress, going in new directions that may make them no longer sound anything like their previous recordings? Or should they grind out material, with a small amount of clowning around or slight experimentation, but within strictly enforced boundaries?

Is music production, creating new songs or sonic events, focused on being popular with non-musician fans? Other musicians? Other artists in your specific genre and style?

Or should music be universal? Easy to listen to and understand. Unchallenging. Comfortable. Conformist.

Is music a party or a laboratory?

I suspect that most people like certain bands to keep creating a particular sound, while other artists are enjoyed because you never know what they'll do next, within a genre, or zigzagging in and out of genres, which has become a genre in itself, the trans-genred genre.

When marketing music to fans, how should the music be portrayed? How do you depict the band? In what manner, what tone, what point of view?

Let's take a look at how some bands are promoted via ad copy, the words used in the advertising campaigns.

Here's what Starflyer 59 puts on a landing page announcing the new album "The Changing of the Guard" on Facebook. They quote a review, and use it as the ad copy.

Notice how an evolution in the sound is described by the reviewer, veering dangerously close to disappointing some fans.

Calling the current music "stripped down", back to basics, departing from lush orchestrations -- this simplified sound is not everyone's cut of tea. The band tried this a few times, returning to a raw, driving, hard rock sound, with great success, but quickly abandoned it for their typical reverberating shoe gaze.

Fortunately for the diehard shoegaze fans, this album delivers what's expected, what SF59 is trademarked and branded as: introspection rock, being dreary and sincere because it's fun. As the reviewer below states: "...not thrills, but a warm and welcoming embrace."

Mushy, to some, but does everything need to confront, agitate, and shock?

Who knows? LOL

Starflyer 59 on Myspace

Reviews by real people are far more effective than corporate fluff and hard sell hype.

What's your best product? How many genuine testimonials do you have regarding it? Can you use some quotes from fans and customers in your ad copy?

Marketing strategy must come from the bottom up, not the top down. Go to your customers. Listen to them. Use the very words and phrases that they use when describing the features and benefits of your products.


Since the release of the modern shoegaze classic "Leave Here a Stranger", Jason Martin and Starflyer 59 have been slowing stripping back the layered and processed sound they utilized so perfectly on that album.

Moving to a simpler and more direct sonic approach can cause problems if the songs are weak.

Martin has proven again and again that he’s equal to the challenge of writing memorable, emotional songs that would sound good no matter how they are arranged or recorded.

On "The Changing of the Guard", he delivers another batch of low-key melodic and hooky tunes that will satisfy SF59 fans who are used to the high-quality output that’s been established over the past 17 (!) years.

The changes since 2008’s "Dial M" are subtle, mostly in the sound of Martin’s voice, which is a little deeper and less bathed in reverb than in the past.

It’s a little disconcerting at first to hear him sounding manly and high in the mix, but he can pull it off easily. The voice fits well with the slight country-rock influence heard in songs like “Truckers Son” and the almost boogying rocker “C.M.A.R.," which needs a bit of a sneer to succeed.

While the bulk of the album stays firmly in the midtempo ballad mode, the handful of songs that bump the energy level a little (like the chiming “I Had a Song for the Ages” and the almost jaunty “Kick the Can”) help break up the melancholy some. So does the almost danceable “Time Machine,” which has the album’s best chorus and features Martin crooning like a less worldly Stephin Merritt.

Fans of the band know by now that you don’t come looking to SF59 for thrills, you come looking for a warm and welcoming embrace. "The Changing of the Guard" is exactly the kind of sonic comfort food that the band has been cooking up lately, and even if it doesn’t improve on recent efforts, there are no signs of wear either.

~ Tim Sendra, Rovi


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