Recently, the kind folks at the Willamette Weekly invited Harmony Central to attend their annual MusicFestNW in Portland, OR. While we rarely take a break from industry and gear coverage, the reputation MusicFestNW has garnered as one of the edgier, more innovative approaches to music events convinced us to check out the state of the current music scene at the ground floor.
Over four days, MusicFestNW brought over 150 touring bands to Portland, spread among 18 different venues under a single festival banner. Big acts like Band of Horses, Iron & Wine, Explosions in the Sky, and Butthole Surfers shared space with up-and-comers such as White Arrows, Morning Teleportation, and Heavy Cream for a balanced measure of crowd-pleasing familiarity and the opportunity to discover the next big band (Hint: It’s Portland, so you better find your new favorites before they're passé).
Not only did the multiple-venue setup expand food and beverage options for festival goers as they crawled across the city, it allowed the musically diverse array of performances to happen with a bit more context: bands were booked to places that best fit their vibe, as opposed to playing the typical homogenous festival stages. The result? More intimate performances that felt self contained. A particular standout was the second year of headliner concerts held at Pioneer Courthouse Square, where audiences were treated to the surreal experience of enjoying live acts surrounded by skyscrapers on all four sides.
If anyone appeared to be having more fun than the audiences, it was the performers. A recurring theme with the musicians we spoke to was the ever-growing need to be social and stay in touch with their fans in a post-big record label world. The DIY ethos continue to grow as social media sites like Facebook and Twitter allow bands to maintain a personal relationship with the growing audience (more than 90% of Millennials are now regular social media users), and every band emphasized the role this had in accumulating fans and nurturing their enthusiasm. As always, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of professional touring bands who use Harmony Central on a daily basis to read user reviews and keep up with industry news; we feel honored to help these guys live the dream and make better music.
Being Harmony Central, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk gear. Even with acoustic singer-songwriter acts, all the artists praised technology as the enabler to turn their ideas into reality. From the pure acoustic performance of Marketa Irglova (The Swell Season) to the noise-doom of Thrones, continued advances in gear let them perform their music live in ways not possible years ago—or that at least would have been cost prohibitive. Says Mickey Schiff, front man of the trippy electro-pop band White Arrows:
“White Arrows is a product of technology. The ability to try anything, cheaply and quickly, means our songs are true collaborations and spontaneous events.”
While many decry the death of popular music and the impossibility to “make it big,” it's refreshing to see an entire generation of self-sufficient professionals adapting to—and thriving in—the brave new world of taking their futures (and their music) into their own hands. There weren’t managers or producers to tell them what they should or could do, and their music (and performance) was all the stronger and more personal for it.
— Chris Loeffler
|This Week on HC|
User Reviews: They just keep growing and growing . . .
Been to our User Reviews lately? This is one of Harmony Central’s hallmark features (along with our world-famous forums!), and it just keeps growing and growing. There are two ways User Reviews can be helpful: 1) on the “front end,” as you’re researching gear, and 2) on the "back end,” when you’ve had the gear in your possession for a while and would like to share your insights. Think of it as Yelp for all your music and audio needs! Whether your gear is brand-new or just new to you, you’re invited to chime in and let us know your impressions. If it’s a popular piece of gear, you may want to read through others’ reactions first, as you can cite or quote posts you either agree with or take exception to.Our User Review page offers two fields, Brand and Model Name. But you don’t have to fill in the model name. So if you’re looking for, say, a Blackstar combo amp, but you’re not sure which model, (30W or 100W), you can just type in “Blackstar” in the field titled “Enter Brand Name Here” and hit Go.
The Care and Feeding of Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) Batteries
More and more pieces of gear, from laptops to even active guitars, use rechargeable Li-Ion batteries. Here are some guidelines on how to get the most life out of your batteries.
Avoid full discharges. It’s better to discharge Li-Ion batteries partway, then charge them up again. After they’re charged, unplug the AC adapter—chargers can’t really overcharge the battery, but it does waste electricity. Besides, a little bit of discharging/charging helps improve battery performance.
If you won’t be using an Li-Ion-powered device for extended periods of time, don't store the battery either fully charged or fully discharged—discharge the battery about halfway before storing it in a cool environment (heat shortens Li-Ion battery life—not that any gear likes heat much anyway). After removing the battery from storage, charge it to full capacity before using it again.
Finally, remember that no battery lasts forever. After a while the battery’s internal resistance builds up to the point where it can’t hold a charge anymore; at that point, dispose of the battery in accordance with local environmental regulations.— Craig Anderton
|Featured Industry News|
This week's pick hits from our News section
A few of this week's top discussions from our Forums
Is the StudioLive as cool as it looks? Given the price, what can you really expect from the Zoom R8? How about some audio clips and movies covering Universal Audio’s latest plug-ins? And is Geist the answer to an electronic musician’s dreams? Only Harmony Central puts this kind of gear under the microscope in our unique, interactive, in-depth Pro Review format.
While many guitarists have more than one guitar, it seems everyone has a “main squeeze”—find out what the Electric Guitar forumites prefer and why . . . then check out the cool pictures.
There are lots of great low-wattage amp heads on the market these days, but are any voiced to sound great with metal? The Amps forum knows their stuff, and makes their recommendations.
A guitarist wants to get into playing keyboards onstage, but doesn’t know where to start. Fortunately the Keys, Synths, and Samplers forumites know exactly where to start and have some great advice.
You’re not getting any younger . . . but you’re not about to give up playing live either. What can you do to extend your gigging years? The Solo and Duo Act forum alternates between solid advice and humor in this helpful thread.
Want to take a tour of the MOOG factory in Asheville North Carolina? Of course you do . . . and although many of us will never get that opportunity, HC member mhuxtable recently did—and luckily for us, took lots of pictures.
Of the three types of picks—flatpicks, thumbpicks, and fingerpicks—the contraptions that fit over your fingers get the least attention. But in this thread, forumites put fingerpicks front and center, weigh-in with their favorite brands and types, and even offer tricks and tips for shaping and customizing picks to suit your anatomy and style.
Let's face it, overall fidelity of music playback systems has not improved over the last few years—but has decreased due to earbuds, data compressed formats, cheapo D/A converters in consumer gear, etc. Is this trend irreversible, or will high-fidelity make a comeback?
Wood or nylon? Longevity or tone? Can you have it all in one stick? Which wooden sticks hold up longest? The best place to ask is the Drums & Percussion forum.
Hard to believe, but this month marks 20 years since the release of Smells Like Teen Spirit and the album Nevermind. Where were you when you first heard it, and what impact has it had on you and on music in general? The Effects forum discusses this landmark release.
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Editorial Craig Anderton, Editor in Chief • Jon Chappell, Senior Editor • Phil O’Keefe, Associate Editor • Chris Loeffler, Reviews Editor
Production Editor • Carrie Brown
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