Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How does a Canadian end up in a recording studio in Somerville?

Rose Cousins grew up in one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is not just my opinion, it's called Canada's Garden Provence for good reason, and in addition to growing the best potatoes (and mussels) on the face of the earth, it is spectacularly beautiful from the White sand beaches of the south to the red sand of beaches in the north. It is also the home of "Anne of Green Gables." (You have at least seen the PBS series haven't you?) Rose actually grew up near the birthplace of Anne's creator Lucy Maud Montgomery and among the places mentioned in the books.

Prince Edward Island has a thriving folk music scene both traditional and contemporary. There is still an abundance of fiddle music, Scottish, Irish and Acadian. There has always, it seems, been a songmaking tradition which has been well documented by Dr. Sandy Ives with his books on Lawrence Doyle, Larry Gorman, Joe Scott and other 19th songwriters who's work has passed into the tradition. This tradition has continued with writers like the late Gene MacLellan (and now his daughter Cathlene,) Alan Rankin, Scott Parsons, Tara MacLean, Lenny Gallant and a seemingly endless stream of others.

As wonderful as the Island is, like so many young people from PEI, Rose took the ferry to the mainland in search of greater opportunity. She moved to Halifax which is not just a hotbed of contemporary music but theater and comedy as well. Once there she went from playing open mics (like the one hosted by folks from the Halifax Folklore Center) to open shows for established "stars" like fellow PEI native Lenny Gallant, and eventually headlining her own shows.

In 2002, her day job necessitated a business trip to Boston and, having heard of the songwriting mecca that is Club Passim, she convinced her boss it would be cheaper for her to stay in the states an extra day. She used that day to pay a visit to the Passim open mic where she really impressed people. One of the people she impressed was Matt Smith who, nine months later, booked for for one of the weekend long Campfire Festivals. This, in turn, led to a friendship with Rose Polenzani and to a mutual love affair with the rest of the local music scene and eventually to her new album.

She recorded previous albums at Ginger's Tavern and the CBC studios in Halifax with some of the cream of the Atlantic Canadian Music scene like Luke Doucet (Whitehorse,) Jamie Gatti (Barra MacNeils) and in demand session guy Ray Leger. For her latest, "We Have Made a Spark," she came to her home away from home, Somerville and Q-Division. The album is produced by Zachariah Hickman (Josh Ritter's band, Barnstar!, etc.) and features 15 other well know artists who call Massachusetts home.

For more about Rose, her new album and some live in studio performances of her songs, tune into "Live at " this Friday.

-Dave Palmater

Sunday, February 26, 2012

WUMB Program Changes

We have a few program changes that will take effect beginning tomorrow morning, which includes the addition of another 5 hours each week of locally produced programming…now starting at each day.

George Knight moves to a new time, hosting The Morning Show, Monday thru Friday, from 5a to 7a. At every weekday, he’ll be presenting a different daily 2 or 3-song special to start your day. For example, tune in 6:00am tomorrow for ‘Mandolin Monday’ to kick-start your week with back-to-back songs by mandolin musicians Tim O’Brien and Chris Thile Then there’s ‘Bluesday Tuesday’ featuring…as you’d expect blues songs and musicians. By mid-week, George figures we’ll all be ready for ‘Slightly Wacky Wednesday’ with fun and crazy songs by folks like Christine Lavin, Cheryl Wheeler (remember her crazy song “Potato” which she sings in the video above?) and Loudon Wainwright III. A song from the past and present by the same artist will give a great comparison of how well some musicians have developed over the years with ‘Then & Now Thursday’. To finish off the week will be ‘Faux Friday’ where George will play musicians "alter egos" like Bright Eyes or Traveling Wilburys. For you Garrison Keiller fans, the show will still include Keiller’s daily Writer’s Almanac thoughts and vignettes feature at .

If you’ve been a fan of shows that have previously been heard weekdays, don’t worry. Both Michael Jonathan’s Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour (now Sundays at 6am) and Tent Show Radio (now Sundays at 7am) will be moving to weekends.

WUMB Music Director, John Laurenti returns to the airways, taking over the 7p-10p segment of our weekday evening programming in place of George.

And, we’re thrilled to announce that a voice familiar to New England public radio listeners, Naomi Arenberg, has joined WUMB as a fill-in announcer. You may remember Naomi as a long-time fill-in, and later as the host of The Folk Show at WGBH. More recently you may have heard Naomi on WCAI/WNAN, Cape Cod. Her first assignment will be to cover for Dick Pleasants as host of Acoustic Sunrise on Sunday mornings for the time being.

Let us know your thoughts about these changes.

- Pat Monteith

Thursday, February 23, 2012

3 Talented Songwriters in 24 hours

In a period of just a little more than 24 hours the WUMB Studios, and airways, will be
visited by three talented songwriters, all of whom defy categorization, and all of whom
have new albums that have just been, or are about to be, released.

Anais Mitchell, the daughter of a former professor and novelist, was raised on a farm in
Vermont. Her writing has always been adventurous but never more so than on "Hadestown"
which has been described as a "folk opera" that sets the story of Orpheus in
Post-Apocalyptic Depression-era America. Developed as a stage presentation in Vermont,
Hadestown has played to rave reviews across the country and a "cast" recording features
artists like Ani Di Franco, Justin Vernon and Greg Brown. According to Anais, her new
album, "Young Man in American" was "inspired by American Manhood, British Ballads and my
father." Anais will be chatting with me at 2 PM on Thursday.

Anne Heaton is equally hard to pin down. A pianist with classical influences that mix
easily with Jazz, Folk and classic pop songs of the "Great American Songbook," Her
lyrics carry the flavors of every thing from Elizabethan Poetry to Free Verse. In
addition to her own creations, she accepts commission for what she calls "Custom Made
Songs" and, inspired by a peace conference in Costa Rica, she has set about telling the
stories of others under the banner of "Life is Alchemy." And that's not even mentioning
the time she spent playing in a Latin Band or singing in a gospel choir in Harlem. Her
new album "Honeycomb" should be available shortly and she's joining me "Live at Noon"
this Friday.

When Barbara Kessler first graced our studios nearly 20 years ago, she had just given up
driving an ice cream truck on Cape Cod to spend more time on her music. She was one of
the centerpieces of the burgeoning songwriter scene that coalesced at the time around the
late lamented Kendell Square Cafe in Cambridge. From 1992 to the year 2000 she recorded
4 full length album and had her performances anthologized on at least a dozen
collections. Her songs have also been featured on TV shows like NCIS, Felicity and even
All My Children! And if that were not enough one of her songs appeared on the sound track
of a PlayStation game. A decade ago, she stopped touring to devote more time to her young
family. Lucky for us, not only is she performing again but she has a new album called
"What You Keep." She'll be visiting with Jay Moberg at 4 this Friday Afternoon.

-Dave Palmater

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Mardi Gras Spirit – New Orleans and Beyond

[Music cue: The Hawkettes, Mardi Gras Mambo:
     “Down in
New Orleans where the Blues was born. . . ”]
February 21st is Fat Tuesday. . . Mardi Gras Day!

Generally speaking, Mardi Gras is the culmination of about two weeks of celebrations ending the day before Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent.  Now, I am no religious scholar, so I could not begin to tell you about the religious aspects of this season.  But I think it means you are supposed to be really regimented and restrained – including a lot of fasting – and Lent lasts about forty days!  So I guess the idea of Mardi Gras is that before this period of solemn restraint. . . you go wild while you can.

And the most famous city in America for Mardi Gras is New Orleans.

I've been to New Orleans once, in August of my last year of college.  Many positive images of the visit are still with me.  Fortunately I was shaded away from the crime and poverty that unfortunately are a part of New Orleans.  The part of New Orleans heritage that would be tragic to lose is that cultural gumbo of the music, the food, the mythology (voodoo spirits, etc). . . and the spirit of celebration New Orleanians embrace so often.  Most of this I embraced in San Luis Obispo, California.

California???  San Luis O-What??  Yes indeed, I learned a lot of New Orleans music while I lived there.  And believe it or not, San Luis Obispo (SLO) had a small but vibrant Cajun scene.  The little town had a couple of excellent Cajun restaurants, a bar that booked a lot of Blues bands, and a community of Krewes that put on an annual Mardi Gras Parade through Downtown SLO every February.  People went all out with goofy costumes, goofy themes. . . and it ain’t Mardi Gras without those beads to toss or catch.  The parade got bigger and a little more unwieldy each year.  Two or three years after my move to Boston, my friend Joe (who was big into the local Krewes organization) told me the sad news: Mardi Gras had been canceled in San Luis.  But we sure had a lot of fun while it was around. 

[Music cue: Ellis Paul, Hurricane Angel]

With this in mind, maybe it won't sound so strange that when Hurricane Katrina hit, I felt pain for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast via San Luis Obispo, California.  Besides the humanitarian concern for the people in the Gulf, there was a connection with my friends in California.  It was almost like my friends there and I took an emotional hit in spirit for New Orleans – feeling the loss of something that was a part of us.  

[Music cue: Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans]

Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. As February '06 approached, I felt a little guilty for wondering, “will there be Mardi Gras in New Orleans?”  Six months after the hurricane, New Orleans' population was still depleted.  What with rebuilding, infrastructure concerns, etc, there were more serious matters than putting on a city parade and celebration.  I called the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce to ask about it.  The woman who answered me said that yes, they were good to go.  Her voice had a friendly yet assured sense that may as well have said, “not have a parade in New Orleans you must be joking!?!

Cambridge, MA musician Shaun “Wolf” Wortis has been staging a local Mardi Gras concert for years to benefit musicians lacking health care (the 19th annual was Feb 18th – for info check  Most recently, proceeds have gone to the New Orleans Musicians Clinic.  In 2006, I asked Shaun if it was strange to have a Mardi Gras “celebration” when the city synonymous with Mardi Gras was in such trouble.  Myself, I had to admit it seemed a tad selfish.  Shaun's response was a tribute to the culture that will have a parade for any reason: paraphrasing, “to not dance, to not make a few toasts (to New Orleans and Mardi Gras, etc). . . is to give up.”

[Music cue: Professor Longhair, Go to the Mardi Gras]

Most of our human nature tends to emphasize grieving over our disappointments or losses. And sometimes you do need to grieve. But New Orleans culture does seem to celebrate the good of something even in the worst of conditions. This Mardi Gras, I wish you well in emphasizing the New Orleans philosophy.  I know I need to.

Whenever and however you can, Laissez Les Bon Temps Roullez (i.e; Let the Good Times Roll)!

Bring on the beads,

- Perry Persoff

Saturday, February 18, 2012

“If I had a dollar”….

Do you ever hear someone saying that expression “if I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say…..”, and then fill in the blank?   Here’s what I hear all the time:  “There is no more good new music out there”.  Well, as I have stated in previous blog posts (as well as something you will hear me say often in the future)…hooey!  If I had a dollar for every time that I have heard someone say that all new music is just terrible, well…I wouldn’t say I’d be rich, but I’d have some extra spending money for sure.  Here is the rule:  There is a ton of great new music out there, sometimes you just have to look for it.  The good news is that I am here to help guide you to some of the best that has crossed our paths here at WUMB. 

The Chieftains Voice of Ages.  The Chieftains are celebrating quite a milestone of 50 years together, and with their new release they gather some extraordinary talent.  Artists like The Decemberists, The Civil Wars, Bon Iver and many more help Paddy Moloney and T Bone Burnett put together this incredible new album.  It’ll be out on February 21st.

Anais Mitchell Young Man In America.  Anais has one of the most unique and gifted voices out there, and she also has a talent for not being formulaic.  Her last album Hadestown was a folk opera and the definition of adventurous.  Her new one is coming out on February 28th and isn’t necessarily as complex a theme as her previous, but it definitely jumps around a lot (and I mean that in a very good way).

Rose Cousins We Have Made a Spark.  Rose was born and raised in Prince Edward Island and is currently based in Halifax, Nova Scotia but she might just as well be a local artist.  Her new album features Billy Beard, Dinty Child, Charlie Rose, Sean Staples, Rose Polenzani, Jennifer Kimball, Laura Cortese, Duke Levine, Mark Erelli and Zack Hickman who also produced.  There’s actually more familiar names on this album, we’re just running out of space here.  It’s out on February 28th.

And finally…

Jay Faraar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker & Yim Yames New Multitudes.  There are lots of new Woody Guthrie projects that have already been released, and there are even more on the way.  It’s another example of Nora Guthrie hand picking artists to introduce unreleased Guthrie lyrics to new ears.  What separates this project from the rest is that these guys actually don’t revolutionize the music.  They basically let the lyrics do the talking with impressive restraint.  This one is out February 28th.

So there you have it.  Just a few examples of great new music out there.  And now, the next time someone says “there’s no good new music out there”, you can steer them to these releases and share the gift of knowing that statement will never be true!

- Jay Moberg

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Which Historical Event Would You Write a Song About?

Let me say this again: James Keelaghan is the best storytelling songwriter working today. Not only is he adept at creating stories out of whole cloth but he has a special talent for writing song based on history, and those are some of the best stories of all. His subjects have ranged from tragic forest fires to heroic rescues, from telling the story of sailors trapped on a sinking ship to the story of a Japanese women interned during WWII.

His appearance Live at this Friday got me thinking about what historic event I might right about if I were a songwriter. Let me see....
  • The "Little Ships" of Dunkirk? No, James wrote The Fires of Calais almost 25 years ago.
  • The Halifax Explosion? David Stone has done an album of songs on that. (Her Own War)
  • The seizure of Native Reservation Land to build Kinzua Dam - Peter LeFarge got there first.  (As Long as the Grass Shall Grow)
  • The Native American who helped raise the flag over Iwo Jima - Peter LeFarge again. (Ira Hayes)
  • Exxon Valdez - Geoff Bartley (Wreck of the Exxon Valdez)
  • Hurricane Katrina - Tom Russell, among others (Mississippi River Running Backwards)
  • The sinking of the Ocean Ranger off Newfoundland - As you might expect Ron Hynes has written that one. (Atlantic Blue)
Well, you can see what the problem is. All of which leads me to ask you, if you were/are a songwriter, what historical event would you want to write about?

Comment below and be sure to be tuned in on Friday when James Keelaghan joins me Live at .

- Dave Palmater

Monday, February 13, 2012

Eric Andersen turns 69!

Eric Andersen and I crossed musical paths relatively late in his career, 1972’s Blue River acting as my introduction to his muse, instigating my seeking out and exploring his previous seven releases. What impressed me from the outset was the fact that his ’65 debut was NOT your typical folkie doing traditional covers but was comprised of all original compositions (well, except for one)!

I also remember anxiously looking forward to a follow-up to Blue River…that never happened! And subsequently hearing about the consequences behind there not being a follow-up (I don’t think Eric had ‘tweeting’ capabilities in ’73-’74), empathizing with his plight (the lost master tapes that didn’t turn up until some 20 years later), but seeing and hearing him rebound nicely and continue to have a productive career to this day.

When Eric graced us with his presence this past year at WUMB, not only did he sound ageless still, but the stories he told about criss-crossing North America were fascinating, especially the legendary Festival Express tour across Canada in 1970 with the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin & the Band among others. Not to mention all the beat writers from the 60’s he used to commingle with as well. Oh, to be the proverbial fly on the wall as they say.

Eric turns a healthy 69 years young this Tuesday the 14th which is especially appropriate considering the romantic nature of most of his songs. Please tune in and join us in celebrating 45+ years of great music throughout the day w/Perry, Marilyn, Dave, Jay & John…on WUMB!

Friday, February 10, 2012

A brief history of the travels of the music known as Zydeco

The story starts in France, the departure point for 17th century emigrants who braved the perilous transatlantic crossing to settle New France in the part of Canada know as Acadie, now divided between New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
During the French and Indian Wars, the British, by now in charge, started to question the loyalty of these French speaking people known, for obvious reasons, as Acadians. In 1755 they began a concentrated and violent program of Acadian expulsion. People were encouraged to emigrate by having their homes and crops burned. Over the next eight years, more than 11,500 people were forced to leave, most taking to leaking ships. Whether you call it ethnic cleansing or merely deportation, the fact remains that over one third of these people perished.
Eventually these ships filled with Acadians found their way to Louisiana where they settled land so poor or swampy that no one else wanted it. There, they became known as Cajuns. Though much of the dance music they brought with them, tracing its origin back to France, was fiddle based, they quickly adopted the small accordions they saw played by German and other Eastern European immigrants in near by areas.
Like most American musical forms there is an African element. Upon arriving in Louisiana the Cajuns were befriended by the folks who were already living in the swamps. Some of these came from the Caribbean, some were freed slaves, but most often they were escaped slaves. They quickly adopted the French language and gave a defiantly African flavor to the tunes and songs the Acadians had carried with them. This music became known as Zydeco.
During WWII many of these Afro-Cajuns left for Texas to work in the oil fields while many more choose to escape the segregated south altogether and moved to California where they could vote and had a better chance at good jobs. During that period the Dance Halls flourished with Western Swing stars like Bob wills and Spade Cooley packing in thousands at competing halls on any given night. The very danceable Zydeco became popular as well, and by the 1950s Clifton Chenier, known as the King of Zydeco, had signed with the same label that had introduced the world to Little Richard and Sam Cooke.
The music has continued to take root on the west coast, and to grow, with artists like Queen Ida, Buckwheat Zydeco and many more winning Grammys and taking the music around the world. For a more in depth, and certainly more tuneful, retelling of this story, tune into Zydeco Nation, this Sunday evening at 6 on WUMB.  
- Dave Palmater

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If I had a voice to sing

Let's get this straight right up front. Debra Cowan is a singer. She is not a songwriter. As a matter of fact, she often jokes that when she has tried to write songs they've been really, really bad. But that's OK because there's plenty of good songs, you just have to find them, and find them she does.

On her blog (which you can find at she describes herself as "A Folksinger singing good songs old and new." This is an apt, if modest, description as her repertoire ranges from ancient ballads, as you might find in the Child Collection, to contemporary songs by everyone from Ralph Stanley to Richard Thompson.

Not only am I not a songwriter, I am not a singer either. Oh, I might catch a low harmony every once in awhile, but that's about it. Debra's upcoming visit, Live at Noon this Friday, got me thinking, if I could sing, what songs might I choose. I'm not going to bore you with the whole list I came up with but I will share one with you.

Could I sing, I would choose the old ballad known as Matty Groves, Little Musgrave, Musgrove and Lady Barnswell, and dozens of other variants. To me it is a quintessential story of love, betrayal, and death. If this sort of ancient soap opera set to music appeals to you too, you can find a couple of sets of lyrics here:

In addition to the story itself which attacks me, I think the ballad is just full of great writing right from the moment that the lady, who in today's parlance might be called a cougar, picks up Matty to the show down when the lord, having found Matty in bed with his wife, not only call for Matty to fight but insists that Matty get in the first lick.

So Matty struck the very first blow and he hurt Lord Barnard sore
Lord Barnard struck the very next blow and Matty struck no more. 

You very seldom see that quality of poetry coupled with such incredible economy of verbiage these days.

Now what about you. Let's assume you could sing. Actually you probably can, so we don't have to assume anything. What song would you, or do you, choose to sing? And why that one? I don't want to leave you blog reading songwriters out either but let's change the game. What song do you wish you'd written? Go to it. That's what that comment box down there is for. And don't forget to tune in at Noon on Friday to hear Debra Cowan live in the studio.

- Dave Palmater

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tom Rush old this week?!

My earliest memories of Tom Rush are of laying in the top army bunk with my closest brother (yes, we were a large family; sometimes four to a room) and listening to his self-titled 1970 LP on our cheap stereo, over…and over…and over… and over…’til one of us mustered up the energy to climb out of bed and turn it over to side 2…repeat process…
That voice…those songs…putting his distinctive stamp on soon to be famous songwriters I’d never heard of…Jackson Browne, Murray McLaughlin, John Estes, and some I HAD experienced…Fred Neil, James Taylor…
Flash forward…it’s 1981, I’m a Boston-ite…what’ya mean the New Year’s Eve concert at Symphony Hall is sold out?!?
Luckily I’ve had a chance to see him perform oft-times since, as recently as the WUMB Gala (see video above) about a year and a half ago, and the Scituate Heritage Festival at about the same time…and STILL! As arresting and entertaining a performer at (almost) 71 as he was 30 years ago and (I gather) almost 50 years ago as well!
Tom Rush does indeed turn 71 this Wednesday the 8th, and across the board (Perry, Marilyn, Dave, Jay & George) we plan on paying tribute to the man who’s music has touched so many in a myriad of ways.
What Tom Rush classic would you like to re-experience this coming Wednesday?
- Albert O

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Chris Smither – 12 minutes to Show Time

Folks ask me, from time to time, what doing the sound for a WUMB Member Concert is like.

This is what I do, and it's like this every time. . . the delicious run-up to a Members' Concert.

This time, it started about 6 weeks ago when I was told the date, the time and the artist, Chris Smither!. As the event approaches, my anticipation mounts as I review Chris' CD releases, and remember the last time I worked with him a decade ago. With a week to go now, it's constantly on my mind; which songs will he do in my “private show” -- the sound check at ?

By the day of the show, I'll be numbed by the excitement, and hardly notice the hard work of gathering all of the equipment, lugging it across the UMass Boston campus to the auditorium, setting it all up and fixing the technical bugs, working shoulder-to-shoulder with my great team of helpers.

Then it will all happen too fast – “Hi, Chris, great to see you again!...guitar sounds a little muddy, OK how's this?...a little less vocal in the monitor, you got it”

12 minutes to show time - audience enters, they're as psyched as me - lights dim, raffle, first song, first Q & A, second & third songs,


What just happened?

Awash in endorphins, we take all the equipment apart, load it up, roll it back to the radio station and put it all away. Handshakes and congratulations all around as my team assures me they won't miss helping out on the next one. Then the drive home, and the first listen to the broadcast recording.

This is what I do. And I can't think of anything better.

- Grady Moates

P.S. The photo above was taken at the Member Concert we did with Red Molly, in the same auditorium that we'll be using for the Chris Smither show this week. The green arrow points to me, and where I typically set up and engineer the sound for these concerts.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Downeast Ceilidh Celebrates 40 Years on the Air

Over the past year, there have been several notable 40th Anniversary celebrations in the broadcast industry: National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and 60 Minutes stands out in my mind, as does Sesame Street and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Eve event.

But we have our own special celebration going on this weekend at WUMB, as Marcia Young Palmater celebrates her 40th anniversary of producing and hosting Downeast Ceilidh.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it features traditional music of Canada’s Atlantic Provinces: New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. It also features news of interest to the Canadian-American community of greater Boston. You can hear the show every Sunday night at 8pm on WUMB.  
The Boston area has long been a popular destination for Eastern Canadians, and Downeast Ceilidh has done a great job helping Atlantic Province Canadians feel like they’ve been transported back to home. Each week, using a foundation of Cape Breton fiddle music, jigs and reels Marcia tells stories of the musicians both living and those who have passed on; some of the music includes songs in Scottish Gaelic and Acadian French. She highlights Canadian celebrations and events such as the Halifax Explosion in 1917, and relays accounts such as the help provided by Bostonians to care for the wounded from that devastating event. To this day, the residents of Nova Scotia give a Christmas tree to the people of Boston each year in thanks.
If you want to find out what’s happening each week at local venues such as the Watertown Canadian American Club or where to find Boston area Cape Breton concerts and dances, there’s no other radio program in the area to find out the information.
Marcia’s deep interest in the music and culture of the Canadian Atlantic Provinces are a result of her visit to the area in 1961. She describes it as a “life-changing” experience. She says, “I wanted to give something back to the Canadian-American community centered around Boston, in gratitude for the wonderful music and culture they have shared with me.”
Downeast Ceilidh was first broadcast from MIT’s radio station (then WTBS, now WMBR) in Cambridge, MA on February 3, 1972. It has been on WUMB for the last ten years, after the show was cancelled by WMBR.
Tune in this Sunday night at 8pm for a special Downeast Ceilidh 40th Anniversary show featuring classic recordings from musicians who were alive when the show first started.
Happy Anniversary, Marcia!
-        Pat Monteith

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Neil Young and the Two Ends of a Donkey

Neil Young thinks the record industry is a donkey: The artist feeds the front end, and what comes out the back is what you get; be it vinyl, compact disc, or mp3.

Recently, Neil Young was interviewed by the people at "D: Dive Into Media" about how he feels about current-day music digital music formats, how they are consumed by the customer, and what he hopes to do about improving it. You can watch the video here.

Young argues that mp3 files provide only 5% of the total audio quality available via current "hi-res" digital file technology. As a result, consumers are losing out on a top-quality listening experience, and artists are being denied the ability to provide it. Both ends of the donkey are affected.

Some may accuse Neil Young of being a stick-in-the-mud, or assume that he expects consumers to revert to a relative stone age of analog music formats. But I don't think that's the case.

That the consumer has for the past decade embraced digital music files is not a problem for Young. What is the problem is that consumers have traded a substantial amount of audio quality, if only for the sake of convenience. Young does not want the consumer to equate high quality with inconvenience. In fact, current technology already allows for digital audio quality that equals that of analog quality, and proper implementation of this technology can provide for a vastly improved listening experience in ways that are familiar to mp3 consumers today. Additionally, he suggests that a re-focused, "hi-res"-centric distribution network could offer better options for how the art is consumed, whether as singles or as part of an album. Young argues that both ends of the donkey can benefit from better utilization of technology: The artist will be able to provide higher quality work and the consumer will hear 100% of what the artist has created.

Motivation to improve the product they sell and distribute doesn't seem to exist within the industry today, and Neil Young wants to change that.
After all, shouldn't we want - and expect - the best, no matter which end of the donkey we're on?

-          Brendan Hogan