Technology : A revolution

For musicians around the world, technology has brought about changes which have facilitated exposure.


Saxophone player Arturo Santillanes, who plays with the band Troker, which is based in Guadalajara, in Mexico, said that technology has completely revolutionalized the music industry.


“Social media has democratizated the music industry,” Santillanes said. “We have examples in all genres, from Justin Bieber to The Pomplamoose, to musicians who have become stars thanks to music they produced at home.”


Santillanes, who is 35, said that technology also allows musicians to make music according to their own tastes. And it has broadened the types of musical genres people can be exposed to.


Technology allows for a real access to musical diversity,” he said. “With services such as Spotify and Groove Shark, music from everywhere can be discovered.”


Panamenian flute player Melvin Lam Zanetti, who has studied with Grammy award winner and UNESCO artist for Peace Danilo Perez, said that social media has made his life much easier: it allows him to play more, and to get known by more people even if they do not meet him in person. He said social media is crucial.


Every young musician should use social media: this is the easiest way to get your material in the feeds, especially today since the record industry is dead,” Zanetti, 29, said.


Zanetti said flute player Maraca Valle produces very effective utube videos, such as the one where he performs the tune entitled “El Guanajo Relleno” with Orlando ‘Maraca’ . That video not only features the music of Valle, but also his work process.


Another musician, Paoli Mejia, uses his Facebook page ( to interact with his fans.


The other day he said that many people knew about him and his music thanks to his jokes on facebook and twitter,” Zanetti said.



Hugh Masekela celebrates his 75th birthday

Hugh Masekela sang his heart out in front of a moved and delighted audience on April 6 at the Victoria Theatre of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The South African singer and political activist was ending a North American tour started on March 22 in honor of his 75th birthday, which he also celebrated at the Lincoln Center on April 4 and 5.

Hearing Masekela is like traveling all the way to South Africa, and to the roots of African music. Masekela does not tire of singing hits like the sad protest song “Stimela” (“Coal Train” in English), for which he literally screamed, on April 6, to imitate the whistle of the train. That train in the song takes African men to the mines of Johannesburg, where they are going to be exploited.<br />

Masekela lived in exile from the early 1960s through the early ’90s, but “his music talked to the will of South Africa’s struggle for independence,” D.C. based jazz writer Giovanni Russonello explained. “Even in what often passed for blithe funk-jazz (“Grazing in the Grass” is the obvious example), there is a bite and an alert, declarative sensibility.” South African bass player Bakithi Kumalo, who has performed with the singer several times, recognized Masekela’s influence. “He was almost like Nelson Mandela, but for our music,” Kumalo said.</p><p>

Hugh Masekela began his career as a teenager in the 1950s, “idolizing American jazz musicians at a time when South Africa’s native majority hungered for what they represented: their convictions, their hoodwinking, truth-to-power intellectualism, their dapper self-regard,” Russonello said. “Along with fellow future-immortals Dollar Brand and Kippie Moeketsi, in 1959 he formed South Africa’s first widely recognized jazz band, the Jazz Epistles.”

Kumalo said that Masekela was a friend of the famous jazz trumpeters Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. “And they loved him because he was bringing South African music to American music,” he said.

Issues: No room for healthy snacks in theaters?

I’ve been a movie-goer my entire life, and I have never seen anyone escorted out of a film. Not even the time I complained about a group of teenagers cursing out a friend and talking over “Paranormal Activity,” though that would have been nice.

This March, a Brooklyn man was escorted out of the Pavilion Theatre for bringing in a healthy snack. Michael Kass, who suffers from Type 2 diabetes, was escorted from the Park Slope theatre by police for bringing in a container of strawberries. Kass brought the snack to control his blood sugar.

“What I am is a 41-year old type II diabetic who loves movies and would like to be able to see them in public and enjoy a healthy snack,” Kass said in a complaint on the theater’s Facebook page. (The page has since been deleted.)

Photo courtesy of New York Post; Paul Martinka and James Messerschmidt
The Pavilion Theatre in Park Slope; Michael Kass holding berries. (Photo courtesy of New York Post; Paul Martinka and James Messerschmidt)

According to 2013 statistics from the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million adults and children in the United States are living with diabetes.

Pavilion’s website doesn’t mention anything about patrons and outside snacks. When I contacted the theatre for comment, I was told multiple times that the general manager had “just stepped out.”  Pavilion’s owner Ben Kafash did tell the Daily News that he wants to start offering more health-conscious options for patrons and wants to involve Kass in the process.

Though Pavilion does offer options like sandwiches and salads, those options still might be a problem for someone struggling with diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, those who struggle with the disease should always carry food with them, and should request meals low in sugars, fats and cholesterols.

Though buttered popcorn and large sodas aren’t tailored to someone struggling with diabetes, they are tailored to theatres’ bottom lines. Concessions are what keeps movie theatres afloat, according to reports from research firms like the Chicago-based Spectrem Group.

Issues – Branding *Edited*

Branding, the practice of artists turning themselves into commodities that they can sell,  is extremely prevalent in the television industry — especially in reality television.

June Deery, author of “Consuming Reality: the Commercialization of Actual Entertainment,” said in an interview that stars tend to go on “celebrity shows to revive their careers” to hopefully launch other business models from it.

She added that the most obvious of example of branding is the Kardashian family, as they were able to turn their reality show into fashion lines for both teens and children, a nail polish line with OPI,  and a book “Kardashian Konfidential.”

Courtesy of Kris Jenner’s Celebuzz

The Kardashian family empire began in 2007 with the premiere of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” The E! reality show has gone on to have nine seasons, and three spin-off series, “Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami” which later became “Kourtney and Kim Take Miami,” “Kourtney and Kim Take New York,” and “Khloe and Lamar.”

Due to the popularity of the show, they have signed contracts with larger brands like Skechersto endorse products in stores and through commercials.  They have had their own clothing line with Sears for years,  and it was announced last month that they have decided to expand the line for babies at Babies ‘R Us.

Kim is also in the midst of a new business venture — her wedding. International Business Times reports that she is expected to make $21 million dollars for her May 24 wedding to Kanye West. She previously made $17.9 million for her wedding to basketball player Kris Humphries.

The Kardashian empire has not always been met with praise. In the past,  the Kardashian Kard was taken off the market after receiving criticism for its high fees. Recently, the shows that have made them household names have been coming under scrutiny for being staged and fake, which has caused a decline in ratings.

Regardless, the Kardashian brand does not seem to be suffering. Celebrity Networth reports that Kim is worth $40 million due to her branding, Kourtney is worth $18 million and Khloe is worth $20 million.

Profile: Tonja Renée Stidhum, Screenwriter.


Tonja Renée Stidhum, screenwriter and director. (Photo: Tonja’s page.)

Tonja Renee Stidhum is a creator and a storyteller with one goal in mind.

“I’ve known I wanted to be a screenwriter from the moment I realized you could get paid for writing films,” Stidhum said.

She’s hoping that goal leads her to become a member of a very small group of women in Hollywood.

The 2014 Hollywood Writers Report conducted by the Writers Guild of America West found that the percentage of employed women writers in film for 2012 was only 15 percent.

Though the film industry has had well-known female screenwriters like Nora Ephron, women writers seem to have better odds working in television, with 27 percent of television writers being female. Regardless, the business is still predominantly male.

Additionally, in 2012 there was an $18,224 pay gap for female screenwriters versus male ones; females made 77 cents for every dollar made by a male. Those statistics don’t specifically account for the difficulty a female screenwriter of color may face.

Stidhum is currently looking for jobs in Los Angeles so she can move from her native Chicago to further pursue her craft. Stidhum has already written five features. She’s currently in post-production of a couple shorts she wrote and directed. One focuses on society’s desire for instant gratification and the other on escaping the 9-to-5 grind.

I ask Stidhum whether reports like this make her wary about an industry where talented female–let alone black–screenwriters can oft go unnoticed.

“I must admit, I am cynical when it comes to this industry,” Stidhum said. “But I do have hope. I have to be familiar with hope to keep going in an industry that has odds stacked against you even as a white male, let alone a black female.”

Social media is not the musicians’ favorite tune

Numerous jazz musicians are reluctant to use social media, and yet, those tools are crucial to their careers. “A lot of the artists I work with are very reticent with this technology. They feel it’s child’s play,” publicist Michael Crowell said.

A lot of musicians think Twitter and Facebook are hard to understand. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who tours with Jeff Beck and Sting, said social media is toxic.

Crowell is based in San Diego and mostly represents jazz musicians such as violinist Regina Carter and saxophonist Dave Liebman. He said social media is essential to musicians’ success because it allows them to build loyal audiences. And social media is very inexpensive.

“To not have that is a wasted opportunity,” he said. He said it is “not too dissimilar from talking to your fans getting out the bandstand.”

Crowell also said these networks allow musicians to reach several thousands people a week – people who may otherwise not have an opportunity to know about the artists.

“If you’re really trying to push the music forward, the music press isn’t going to cover you,” Crowell said. “So how do you reach your audience with what’s available to you? That’s social media and touring. The goal is to be able to perform and to live as a musician, or as a creative artist.”

This year, singer and songwriter Neil Young raised more than $6 million with a crowdsourcing project. New York- based DJ Sid Vaga said he has different Facebook pages which help him get the word around.

“Social media is a new medium that has developed and is not going to go away anytime soon,” Crowell said.

Profile: Comedy in the Park

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 11.37.34 PM

Suzette Simon wants the world to take comedy as serious as any other art form. She’s preparing for the start of 8th season of Laughter in the Park, the outdoor comedy series in New York that she founded in 2007, which has put on over 50 shows to 10,000 New Yorkers. Just as people make it a point to see Shakespeare or Swan’s Lake, she wants standup in the park to be an essential summer offering.

“Everybody thinks they can do comedy,” Simon says. “They don’t understand that the guy that really makes you laugh on a stage has been in basements and alleys and dark theaters and bars for the last five years.”

Simon started doing comedy after working as a producer on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. She would make her friends laughs with stories about trying to track down people to appear on the show. “Once I didn’t realize the guy I was talking to was actually a pimp,” Simon says.

Simon didn’t know how to get started as a comedian so she started doing routines in subway stations. “Cops are the worst critics. They just kept throwing me out.” So in 2007 she decided to form an outdoor comedy series, so she could get some stage time.

The first year didn’t go so well. “It got darker and darker,” Simon said. “By the time the headliner arrived you could hear the crickets and this one bum growling. It was just horrendous.”

But the second year, she learned more about which spaces worked for outdoor comedy, put up posters and people showed up. For some it was their first time seeing live comedy and they liked it so much they hugged her after the show.

That’s when she realized that she was onto something that was about more than just her own stage time. This was a chance for people who might not ever seek out comedy on their own, to see live comedy for the first time and bring all types of New Yorkers together for laughter.

“There are 8 million strangers and we can yell, bark, cuss, and fight. That is our easiest connection with 7.99 million people that are sharing the city with us,” Simon says. “But it is not easy for anyone to smile, to laugh, to connect.”


But the long hours it takes to set up for the summer shows has meant that in the past few years she has been too frazzled to perform herself. And she struggles to convince cultural organizations that comedy is as worthwhile an art form as any other.

Last year she received a grant from the Madison Square Garden that allowed her to put on six shows, pay for all her expenses and pay the performers. But this year she didn’t receive the funding because, she says, the foundation wasn’t convinced that comedy was a serious art form with cultural value.

Because her nonprofit NYLaughs doesn’t have a lot of money, she has to wait until a couple of weeks before the events to confirm that her comedians don’t have any better paying gigs.  Most of them are performing outside for the first time and they can only do clean material. “It’s the first time they’ve ever been able to perform in front of their kids: their kids can’t go to clubs,” Simon says.

The audiences in the park tend to reflect the full diversity of the city. “It’s not just all comedy about white Jewish men,” Simon says. “It’s families, it’s couples, it’s people on dates, it’s people jogging by to see us. We’re a spectacle.”

But that spectacle doesn’t work everywhere. When she tried to do it at Union Square Park, instead of sitting down to escape the frenzied pace of the city, audience members watched standing up and left without staying for the full 90 minutes. So she limits the shows to a few low-key locations in Manhattan, such as Tompkins Square Park, although she hopes that someday, with more funding, she’ll be able to take it to the outer boroughs as well.

Part of her motivation to do philanthropic comedy is to atone for her daytime work as a reality TV producer. She is the person who, after tragedies such as the Boston bombings and Hurricane Sandy, has to call up victims and make them appear on TV.

“When you see a disaster, you think ‘Oh my goodness, I gotta give blood,’” says Simon. “When I see a house falling on a woman, I think ‘I hope she can still reach the phone.’”

She described one time, having to coach a man and his hysterical wife to drive back to the scene of a chaotic disaster, past the police who were telling them to stay away, and find her TV crew. “I’m like the Anne Coulter of black people,” says Simon, who is black. “Black people would hate me if they only knew who I was.”

And partly she just wants to contribute to the city she loves. “I’m from Brooklyn. My heart, my veins pump sewer water,” says Simon. “No matter how many high rises or how many artists get pushed out of the Lower East Side and into Williamsburg, there is just so much possibility. When you love somebody you just do whatever. You know what I mean. So I do whatever.”

Issue: Copycats


No matter the genre, sampling has been a mainstay in popular music, with hip-hop taking lead of the trend, but the trend has been a problem for some.

Rap artist Kanye West is well known for sampling music from musicians to make his own signature style of music and others have followed in his footsteps, but they haven’t taken the proper legal precautions to make sure that it was ok to do.

There are rap artists that make mixtapes – a mix of music not formally released by a record label, but independently by the artist – who outright use music from other artists without giving attribution or asking the artist if they could use their music. However, this is a growing trend in the underground rap/hip-hop scene where rappers take beats from other rappers and try to best them lyrically, to make a remix or to make their own version of the song.

For example rapper Vanilla Ice took David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure” music and used it for his own song “Ice Ice Baby.” He claimed that he didn’t sample the music, but later released a statement saying that he did use their music.

Another recent example is singer/rapper Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas ripped the music for her song “Fergalicious” from J.J. Fad’s “Supersonic.” She didn’t ask permission to use the song and subsequently was sued by one of the creators of the song for not getting any royalties from the song. Fergie and the Black Eyes Peas have been accused of copyright infringement before and they last were sued by a music group Groundation for sampling their music without permission.


News – 21st Century Fox Powerhouse

It was announced earlier today, March 15,  that 21st Century Fox and Apollo Global Management are in the beginning stages of a deal that would make one powerful television production company by taking over three smaller ones.

Courtesy of Pentagram

The negotiations would bring together Apollo’s Endemol and Core Media Group with Fox’s Sunshine Group, according to ft. For those who are not familiar with the media companies, that simply means that “American Idol,” “Deal or No Deal” and “The Biggest Loser” would all be produced by the same company.

This is an extremely important potential merger because of what each side has the ability to bring to the deal.

21st Century Fox is known among its 1.5 billion subscribers for its cable, broadcast, pay TV and film productions on Fox, FX, FXX, Fox (including Business Network, Sports, Sports Network), and National Geographic channels.

In addition, Fox’s Shine Group was started by Elisabeth Murdoch in 2001. It now consists of 30 production companies.

Apollo Global bought Core Media in 2011 for $509 million. At the time it was believed that this was to expand “American Idol.” Endemol is responsible for  popular shows “Big Brother” and “Deal or No Deal.”

The combination of these two companies would “likely reduce costs for all involved,” reports Variety. It would also increase their competitiveness as other television production companies are doing their best to merge and consolidate as well.

The LA Times reports that these negotiations have not been finalized yet. A statement from 21st Century Fox states that “there can be no assurance that the proposed transaction will be completed.”

Representatives from 21st Century Fox were unavailable for comment at the time of this blog post. This story will be updated to reflect their statements upon speaking with them.