A good deal of effort goes into these Tech Rap articles, so I usually only write one per month. However, since Record Store Day falls on August 29th this year, a second Tech Rap installment for August is in order. In light of the upcoming holiday, we dedicate this issue to Record Store Day, shining a small light on the world’s smallest record player, spotlighting a company that releases new 78 RPM records, reviewing new records by Paris Hilton and Bobbi, and pointing out several Internet radio stations associated with vinyl. Fire up your Como Audio Turntable and take a spin on the vinyl side with this month’s Tech Rap Special Edition!
About Record Store Day
Normality was put on hold when COVID-19 hit like a punch to the gut. Almost nothing escaped the new normal and Record Store Day was no exception. “RSD” as it has affectionately become known was postponed this year from April 20 to June 20, and then again to August 29. Massachusetts residents get an extra bonus because as it so happens, RSD falls on the state’s sales tax holiday. If you live in Mass. you can buy a stack of wax and not pay any tax. Sorry, I could not resist that rhyme. As in the past, special, limited edition vinyl titles will be released in honor of RSD. It is a day for vinyl geeks to rejoice. If you have not gotten your vinyl on yet, it is never too late to get into the groove, and you will have two more opportunities on September 26 and again on October 24, COVID-permitting. It is a holiday so nice it is celebrated thrice. Okay, I will stop with the rhymes.
Links are provided at the end of this article including one for Record Store Day allowing you to punch in your zip code and see a list of record stores near you that participate. According to a survey by Discogs and VinylHub, in2017 there were 1,482 record stores in the USA, more than any other country. Rounding out the remaining top 5 were England, Germany, France, and Canada. With many businesses on life support in this age of the coronavirus, your local record store could use your support now more than ever.
Trivia:Record Store Day is celebrated internationally but originated in the USA in 2008.
When I was a college student in Boston oh so many years ago, I would often walk to the massive Tower Records to have a browse, and then turn the corner onto Newbury Street, to the considerably more compact (but also more reasonably priced) Newbury Comics. In fact, shortly after Tower Records opened in Boston, I vividly recall seeing a sign in the front window of that Newbury Comics store that read “Don’t pay Towering prices!” As a student accumulating tuition debt, I appreciated any bargains I could find. All these years later I still buy music from Newbury Comics (which outlasted Tower Records), and though I am no longer a student, I appreciate a bargain nonetheless. I love that they have limited edition colored vinyl and exclusive autographed titles. I recently pre-ordered an autographed copy of Katy Perry’s Smile and purchased an autographed copy of Norah Jones’ new Pick Me Up Off the Floor, which was named “Recording of the Month” in the September issue of Stereophile Magazine. Stereophile’s Dan Ouellette called it “an 11-tune masterpiece.”
In addition to their website, Newbury Comics has almost thirty brick and mortar locations spread across MA, NH, CT, RI, ME, and NY, a few of which even sell used records.
I connected with Newbury Comics’ Director of Brand Engagement, Carl Mellow, via email:
PS: For anyone not in the know, what is Record Store Day (“RSD”) all about?
CM: Record Store Day Is an annual event that celebrates the culture of Independent Record Stores. Special limited-edition Vinyl releases and promotional products are made exclusively for the day and are sold only at participating stores. Due to COVID, this year’s RSD releases will be spread out over multiple dates, starting on August 29.
PS: Are most of your Newbury Comics stores open following the COVID closure?
CM: Our New York stores finally opened up, so, at the moment, all stores are open.
PS: Are there any RSD releases this month that are particularly noteworthy?
CM: We expect great demand for My Chemical Romance – Life on the Murder Scene, Gorillaz – G-Sides & D-Sides (two separate releases), Tyler, the Creator – Cherry Bomb., The Doors – Soft Parade Stripped, The Replacements – Complete Inconcerated, The Cure – Bloodflowers, The Who – A Quick Live One, Pink Floyd – Arnold Layne (live) 7″, Billie Eilish – Live at Third Man, John Lennon – Instant Karma 7″, Paul McCartney – McCartney (50th Anniversary), Post Malone – Hollywood’s Bleeding, U2 – 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, and Roger Water – The Wall Live in Berlin.
PS: What percentage of your sales does vinyl account for (pre-COVID)?
CM: For the calendar year 2019, vinyl was 12% of our sales.
PS: What is the origin of the Newbury Comics name?
CM: Our first store was on Newbury Street in Boston, and, at the time, we mainly sold comics!
PS: Do you personally own any records? What’s your favorite?
CM: I do. A bunch! My favorite is a Newbury Comics’ exclusive version of the soundtrack to ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’, because it was a thrill for me to put out a release featuring my favorite artist, David Sylvian.
Trivia:Newbury Comics was founded in 1978 by two MIT students.
“According to a survey by Discogs and VinylHub, in 2017 there were 1,482 record stores in the USA, more than any other country.“
Billboard’s Top 10
Here is a look back at the top ten charting vinyl records of 2019 as reported by Billboard. Interestingly, most of the titles are reissues.
The Beatles: Abbey Road
Queen: Greatest Hits
Guardians of The Galaxy: Awesome mix Vol 1 (soundtrack)
Billie Eilish: When We Fall Sleep, Where Do We Go?
Pink Floyd: Dark Side of The Moon
Michael Jackson: Thriller
Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody (soundtrack)
Bob Marley: Legend: The Best of Bob Marley and The Wailers
Fleetwood Mac: Rumors
Prince: Purple Rain (soundtrack)
The World’s Smallest Record Player
Most audiophiles might not want to admit it, but we are all kids at heart when it comes to music. In 1967, Poynter Products came out with the battery-powered Mighty Tiny Record Player, “the world’s smallest record player.” Along with the Mighty Tiny, Don Poynter also invented such novelties as whiskey-flavored toothpaste (containing 3% alcohol!) offered in Bourbon and Scotch variants, the Jayne Mansfield-shaped hot water bottle, and “The Adams Family” mechanical coin box which reportedly sold over 14 million units. I donned my detective’s fedora and hunted down Don Poynter like a bloodhound tracking a scent. This article was posted before I received a response to my snail-mail letter, but much to my delight, a week later I received a hand written reply including Poynter’s phone number. Now 95, hard of hearing, and living in a retirement home, I rang Poynter up with my questions. He was very generous with his time and had many great stories to tell. I have updated this article with a transcription of the Mighty Tiny portion of my interview:
PS: What can you tell me about Mighty Tiny Records?
DP: [Andy Williams’] brother went into producing records and so on. I had him do all the songs. We had three [records] that went with the [Might Tiny] and then we had a total of 36 that went on a card. We had a full orchestra in Dallas. We went there, of course, because there was no union at that time. But at any rate, they thought, ‘My God, at 39 records, we’re going to be here a month’ (laughs). And we did it all in two days. It was so much fun. We had Hawaiian music, cowboy music, you name it.
PS: Did any of the recordings have singers?
DP: No, we had no singers. This [was] strictly music. We had Irish, we had Hawaiian, we had cowboy music, you name it, but it was no voices. It was all orchestra.
PS: This sounds like it was expensive.
DP: No, actually it was pretty good because at that time…all the musicians were on an hourly basis.
PS: What gave you the idea for the Mighty Tiny Record Player?
DP: (laughs) That’s my life! I had to think of new things all the time. Since the Talking Toilet was so popular- we sold those for at least fifteen years, I said, ‘Gee, why don’t we change it so little kids could use it?’ It had to be very simple so when they opened it, they put a record in, they closed it. You already have one so you know what it’s like.
PS: How many models did you invent altogether?
DP: Oh, probably close to one hundred. I’d have to count them up and I’m not about to do that (laughs)!
Despite its talking toilet origins, with its cover closed, the Mighty Tiny looked more like something Dr. McCoy might have produced during an episode of Star Trek before declaring, “He’s dead, Jim.” Offered in at least 4 different colors, this little plastic, belt-driven wonder actually played proprietary, single-sided, 2” Mighty Tiny Records that were made in Japan. There was no space for a label in the center, so each record had a number stamped into the backside of the plastic that corresponded to a particular album cover, which is how each record title was identified. In 1967 a four pack of records would have set you back a whopping thirty-eight cents. Today, these twenty-second, fifty-plus year-old recordings sell used on eBay for $10-15 apiece! Each recording was made exclusively for the Mighty Tiny and the Might Tiny music catalog extended to almost forty diverse titles including Arab Desert Dance, Start to Hula, Square Dance Hootenanny, German Folk Polka, African Drums, Mexican Hat Dance, and Sax in A Hurry (a curious title considering the tender age of the intended audience). Granted, this was not the kind of music that would comprise the average child’s desert island disc list, but I am amazed at the effort put into supporting this little toy. Add-on’s included a table top record holder, a portable record case, and even a pack of replacement steel styli for fifty cents.
The Mighty Tiny was not just small in size…it also was not all that big on sound. The tiny, top-mounted monophonic speaker was about as enjoyable as a Yoko Ono record…played backwards. The original two-page user manual claimed the sound quality improved “after a number of records are played.”
“With its cover closed, the Mighty Tiny looked more like something Dr. McCoy might have produced during an episode of Star Trek before declaring, ‘He’s dead, Jim‘”.
The sound was not the only thing that was bare-boned. There was no on/off button…the Mighty Tiny automatically played whenever the lid was closed and switched off when the lid was opened. There was no volume control, no headphone jack, and its speed was all over the place. But young children did not care about those details.
During our interview, Poynter told me he sold a half million Mighty Tiny’s in the USA and 300,000 in Canada. Give Poynter Products points for trying to get children interested in audio at an early age. In 1983, Poynter did it again by coming out with the world’s smallest Victrola. It also was made in Japan, was battery powered, actually played the six small records it came with (at 78 RPM), and sounded equally bad, but this one had an on/off switch.
Trivia:Many people unknowingly use the terms “record player” and “turntable” interchangeably, but in reality, they are not the same. A record player has a built-in amplifier and speaker(s), whereas a turntable must be connected to something that has an amplifier and speakers to be able to hear it (hint- like a Como Audio music system!).
The Teeny Tiny
From the Might Tiny go to the Teeny Tiny, made by Running Press which makes other miniature miracles like Desktop Bocce Ball, Desktop Surfing, and Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Guy. This delightfully diminutive turntable measures just 2.75” x 3.25” x 1.5” and includes a working tinted dust cover and a tone arm and platter that move. Unlike the Mighty Tiny, this much more conventional looking model does not actually play the three small “records” it comes with. However, it does play music stored in its memory, powered by a tiny battery (included). The Product Manager side of me observed small metal discs recessed in the underside of each record and I was curious how they communicated to the record player which of three thirty second music files to play. I tracked down Frank Sipala, Running Press’ Production Manager, for an explanation: “The discs on the bottom of the records are magnets and they are placed at different locations that correspond to a special type of sensor, called a Hall effect sensor, within the turntable.” The Teeny Tiny does not play recordings of actual songs, presumably so Running Press can avoid having to pay music royalties or licensing fees.
The packaging says the Teeny Tiny is perfect for audiophiles and collectors, but the mono sound is low-fi. To be fair, for less than $13 including shipping, you should not expect Como Audio sound quality. In addition to the three “records” and a sheet of record label stickers, a little (what else?) thirty-two-page booklet is included describing the company’s ten favorite rock albums as well as some interesting music-related trivia.
I got creative and crafted my own miniature Como Audio paper slip mat as shown in my picture. And I connected with a gal on Etsy to have her design a handful of very detailed, custom mini-album covers that look great next to the Teeny Tiny. Now, if only somebody made a miniature wooden record crate…
Trivia:What is the world’s most expensive turntable? AV Designhaus’ Derenville VPM 2010-1 retails for $650,000. It features air suspension feet, a Corian plinth, dual motors, and a record scanner for manual track selection and random track playback.
New 78 RPM Records
Part of the reason I love writing Tech Rap is the ability to bring you new and different sounds like Rivermont Records. This small boutique label out of Lynchburg, VA releases new and reissue vintage jazz recordings, many of which are limited editions with only a few hundred pressings. What is so different about that? Some of their records playback at 78 RPM speed, yet are designed to play on a standard turntable with a normal stylus, not a Victrola or other antique, non-electric, hand-cranked player.
Though other factors are involved, theoretically, the faster the playback speed, the better the sound quality. The big drawback is not much music can fit on a 10” record spinning at 78 RPM. However, Rivermon’ts “microgroove” technology allows up to eight minutes of music per side, more than double the maximum time of original 10” records.
Founded by Bryan Wright in 2003, Rivermont Records (named after a historic neighborhood in Wright’s hometown) specializes in traditional jazz, rag time, and hot dance music (i.e. music of the 1920’s and 30’s). Wright has been collecting 78 RPM records for most of his life, is an instructor at the University of Pittsburg, a pianist, musicologist, recording artist, and has a PhD, so he really knows his onions.
In addition to their hotsy-totsy records (some of which do play at 33 1/3 speed), Rivermont sells MP3 downloads and CDs. In the case of their CDs, most of them time out well over sixty minutes, include up to 40-page booklets packed with extensively researched liner notes, and when it comes to their reissues, are newly restored from original masters. Liner notes for one of their CDs actually earned a Grammy Nomination. In many cases their reissued music appears on CD for the first time. Despite all this, Rivermont’s offerings do not require a lot of mazuma.
I purchased the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra’s hilarious interpretations of the Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive and a-Ha’s Take Me On, both sung by William Edwards and limited to 1,000 pressings. I do not know if the songs on this 45 RPM single were deliberately meant to be a gasser, but to hear these classic 70’s and 80’s hits with such a retro arrangement will blow your wig. The PRS Orchestra, however, is no joke. The Washington Post called them the “premier American ragtime ensemble.” Rivermont says of the Orchestra’s That International Rag/Knockout Drops 78 RPM LP, “The audiophile quality of the recording is a marvel in itself; this record would make an excellent demonstration disc for any high-end system…”
If you are an Oliver Twist considering buying any of Rivermont’s 78 RPM records and you own the Como Audio Turntable, you should know our Turntable includes a separate belt that supports 78 RPM speed. If you prefer some of Rivermont’s excellent CDs, consider playing them back on the equally excellent Como Audio Musica. Better yet, a Musica paired with the Como Audio Turntable makes for a hi-fi system that is the bee’s knees. But since this Tech Rap special edition concerns vinyl, let us return to the topic at hand…
Trivia: Rivermont’s most difficult title to produce was “Live fromBuenos Aires”. All of the microphones and equipment had to be transported from the USA to Argentina. The band was only allowed thirty minutes to setup and one of the boom microphone stands fell into the piano during recording! Needless to say, that track was not included.
Paris Hilton, Paris: Real Gone Music, RGM-0973
From the woman who made small dogs a fashion accessory, pioneered celebrity reality TV, and was famous for being famous, Paris by Paris Hilton was her first and only studio album. This one hit wonder was released on CD in 2006 by Warner Brothers and was never issued on vinyl. It was originally to be titled Screwed and then Paris is Burning, but was finally assigned the over-the-top name, Paris. Though not a RSD release, the music-loving folks at Real Gone Music pressed it on maroon-blonde marbled vinyl with an eye-catching gatefold cover. Urban Outfitters licensed their own limited gold-colored vinyl edition. Personally, I would have pressed it on blonde-colored vinyl with black streaks, as in dirty blonde.
Gordon Anderson, Co-President of Real Gone Music, took time out to respond to my quick queries:
PS: How did this vinyl release come about? Was it difficult to hammer out the licensing agreement?
GA: One of our staff members, Jeremy Sobotor, suggested it. It was not difficult to license but it was expensive. We received more criticism and catcalls from our customers on this release than any other we have done.
PS: Has Paris Hilton herself made any comment about it?
GA: No, but her office has bought some.
PS: Was it newly remastered, and if so, by whom/where?
GA: Lacquer was cut from hi-res two-track album files.
PS: How many copies is Paris limited to?
GA: It’s not but it probably will not be re-pressed.
PS: Can you tell me anything about the Urban Outfitters gold-colored version?
GA: Limited to 2,000 copies. It was selling very well for them until the pandemic.
Regardless of what you may think of Paris Hilton the star, the pop/R&B/Reggae-tinged songs on this record are actually pretty decent. Allmusic called Paris “more fun than anything released by Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson, and a lot fresher, too.” The album peaked at number six on the Billboard charts and it spawned three singles that summer: Stars Are Blind, Turn It Up, and Nothing in This World. Hilton worked with a dozen different music producers and wrote about half of the songs on the eleven-track album. Stars Are Blind is my favorite cut: “I can make it nice and naughty / Be the devil and angel, too / Got a heart and soul and body /Let’s see what this love can do.” The lyrics to Fightin’ Over Me are classic Paris: “Maybe ’cause I’m hot / Hot today / And I’m so, so, so sexy / All the boys / All the silly boys / They want to fight over me.” She closes out her album, appropriately enough, with her own cover version of Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? If you have ever fantasized about Hilton rocking your world, drop your needle on Paris. Now that’s hot!
Trivia:In 2007, Hilton successfully trademarked her catchphrase, “That’s Hot”. Three years later she sued Hallmark Greeting Cards for using her image as a waitress holding a plate of food with the caption “That’s hot!”. Details of the settlement were not made public, but it is generally assumed Hilton walked away with much more than just a tip.
Bobbi, Un Jour: V2 Records, VVNL38011
In May’s Tech Rap: Recommended CDs, Part 1, I recommended a CD by a great Dutch female pop music trio called Zazi. Although Zazi is still together, one the members, Margriet Planting, just released her debut Solo album, Un Jour (“One Day”), under the name of her alter ego, Bobbi. Planting speaks several languages fluently, is a multi-instrumentalist, sings, and models professionally. As with Paris, Un Jour is not a Record Store Day release, but I mention it since it is unique and is certainly RSD-worthy.
The vocals on Un Jour, as the title suggests, are in French, but that should not dissuade you from checking it out. It is available on pink vinyl and as a digital download, but there are no USA resellers so it is not easy to source. I bought my copy from a reseller over in Germany.
Recorded in The Netherlands with authentic musical instruments from the sixties and seventies, Un Jour features Margriet Planting on vocals and Omnichord, Denis Benarrosh on drums, Nicolas Fiszman on guitar, Romain Bly on horns, keyboardist Reyn Ouwehand, and the Quinetique String Quartet. The twelve tracks take their inspiration from Donna Summer, Danger Mouse, and Portishead, among others. With Un Jour, Bobbi gives you a rare, private invitation into her boudoir, singing songs about love, lust, and intimacy. Slice open the shrink wrap and out slides pink-colored virgin vinyl. Prepare to be musically seduced. In light of the theme, the French language is more than appropriate. Alas, I do not speak French (I signed up for it in high school but was assigned Spanish instead), but when it comes to music, language is only a barrier if you make it one.
All of the tracks embody a 1960’s kind of vibe, with some more 60’s spiced than others. My favorite tracks include the first single off of the album, Dons Mon Lit (“In My Bed”), Insecticide, Papillon d Amor (“Butterfly of Love”), Oh (released as the third single at the end of May), and the politically incorrect Baise Moi (sorry, you will have to translate this last title on your own).
Get Un Jour, turn your Como Audio Turntable on, and then let Bobbi turn you on. For my part, I would love to fly away with Bobbi in her vintage flying machine. Volons!
The Como Audio Bluetooth Turntable
In need of a high-quality playback device for all of that glorious vinyl you are going to invest in on RSD on August 26, September 26, and October 24? Keep Como Audio’s Bluetooth Turntable in the front of your mind. Its real wood hickory or walnut veneer or piano high gloss black or white plinth will assimilate nicely with your existing Como Audio music system, comes with a pre-mounted and balanced Ortofon OM10 cartridge, and will connect wirelessly via Bluetooth or with the included quality audio cable if you are of the old school tradition. Its plug and play design make it one of the easiest turntables on the market to use. There is no need to align or balance the cartridge or set the tracking force…just slip the belt over the sub-platter, position the main platter, plug it in, pair and connect the Bluetooth (or connect the audio cable), and away you go. Adding to the ease of use is a 33 1/3 & 45 RPM dedicated electronic speed button (a separate included belt allows for 78 RPM speed). If you have multiple Como Audio music systems grouped, you can stream your records to all of them without any latency and hear them throughout your home. How cool is that?!
The Como Audio Turntable is currently rated 5 out of 5 stars on Amazon and just this month was awarded the VIP Award for Turntables by respected consumer electronics industry magazine TWICE. Mymac.com said our Turntable “provides high-quality build, great fidelity audio, and some other tricks up its sleeve for a fantastic price”, while Forbes said it was “a beauty of a turntable with premium quality components, a sleek and modern design, the ability to stream vinyl tracks wirelessly…” With its wireless Bluetooth, integrated phono pre-amp, and dedicated phono output, it will also play nice with almost any non-Como Audio hi-fi system.
Trivia:The Como Audio Turntable is made in the Czech Republic and is a custom model born out of a collaboration between Como Audio and Pro-ject.
Vinyl vis-à-vis Internet Radio
Let us pivot for a moment to Internet radio as it relates to vinyl. You will find several Internet stations that pay homage to vinyl. Give a listen to SomaFM’s Seven Inch Soul (160 kbps, MP3: San Francisco), playing original soul 45 rpm singles from the extensive collection of DJ Dion “The Watts” Garcia. Non-commercial Vinyl Voyage Radio (64 kbps, AAC: Canada) airs specialty shows dedicated to K-Tel Records, Frank Sinatra, and Mix Tapes. 45 Radio UK (97 kbps, AAC: UK) specializes in oldies and solid gold hits. Also try on Radio Vinyl (99 kbps, AAC) for size. Radio Turntable (128 kbps, MP3: Germany) plays techno/dance music and I assume the station’s name was inspired by professional DJs. Vintage FM (128 kbps, MP3: Australia), “the music you grew up with”, plays music that came out before the 1980’s and only those songs that were originally released on vinyl. To tune any of these stations on your Como Audio music system in Internet radio mode, go to Station list > Stations > Search stations > Enter the name of the station. If you like the station you can save it to a preset or to My Favorites if you have registered on the free portal.
Happy Record Store Day to one and all. If you already subscribe to the virtues of vinyl, why not buy a new record for a friend and let them hear what they have been missing? And while you are at it, let them know about Como Audio’s Tech Rap so they can discover more ways to enjoy the music.
General Manger Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio in 2016. If you have a comment or would like to suggest a topic for a future Tech Rap, Peter can be reached directly at email@example.com
In Part One of Tech Rap: Investing in Music, I described crowdfunding and cited several music-related, reward-based crowdfunding campaigns I have supported. In this second installment I cover three more unique bands including a really cool, retro-vocal sister trio, radical harp music by identical twins, and a UK band creating folk music therapy. I conclude with an update of our Equity crowdfunding campaign as well as links to the artists discussed in Parts One & Two.
According to the Hustle, between 2009 to last year, the music category accounted for 13% of all crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter, the leading crowdfunding platform. That might not seem like an impressive number, but music campaigns actually ranked second overall, with film being the leading category at 16%. Half of all music campaigns are successful, outperforming most other crowdfunding categories. Successful music campaigns have raised $208 million dollars over that ten-year stretch. With those kinds of statistics, it is hard to ignore the important role crowdfunding plays in music.
1. The Hebbe Sisters: Jazz It Up and Move
In Part One I pointed out the fact that not all crowdfunding campaigns are successful. This is one example of a music campaign I backed that, regrettably, failed.
The Hebbe Sisters are three young Swedish singing and swinging (in the musical sense of the word) siblings who are reminiscent of The Andrew Sisters. They are best known in their home country and in certain parts of Europe, but have been working hard to change that. Emelie (29), Josefine (25), and Maria (23) Hebbe have been singing together since they were children. Their broad vocal repertoire includes Jazz, Boogie-Woogie, Pop, Soul, and Classical. As the title indicates, their latest release, Jazz It Up & Move, focuses on jazz and swing covers (plus two original songs), and from the music I have heard so far, I can tell you it is a must-listen.
For their new release, the sisters (and they really are sisters) are ably backed by the Jan Adefelt Swingtime Trio. Their voices coalesce into a sound that conjures up memories of the popular vocal hits of World War II. Stevie Wonder’s Musical Director, Nate Watts, said the sisters “sing clear like white, crystal snow”, and called them “real artists.” In watching their live performances on YouTube, they look like they are having the time of their lives, and so do their audiences. One rarely finds this kind of music being recorded these days, so I was quite pleased to happen upon them and become a backer.
So, it was a big disappointment to me when their Kickstarter campaign expired falling far short its $10,000 fixed goal, but sometimes that is the way the crowdfunding cookie crumbles. Interestingly, most of the successful music crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter are those with a goal below $10k according to the Hustle. The Hebbe Sisters chalked their campaign’s failure up to the coronavirus, which was also responsible for bringing their energetic live performances to an abrupt halt.
Toward the conclusion of the Hebbe sisters’ campaign I received a highly unusual email from them thanking me for my support despite their campaign’s failure, and inviting me to make a payment direct to their PayPal account to receive an autographed copy of their new CD toward year’s end. Having backed many campaigns over the past few years, I had never received such an email. When campaigns fail, Creators usually quietly fade away and lick their wounds, or try again sometime in the future with a revamped campaign. I went ahead and made the payment without hesitation because I believed in them and their music. That is the heart and soul of crowdfunding. Do your ears a favor and check out the songs The Hebbe Sisters have released from their new album so far. The world needs this kind of feel good music now more than ever.
With Josephine Hebbe’s help I managed to pin down all three busy sisters long enough to answer my questions via email. It was a collaborative effort, with all of them contributing to each question (I exercised minimal editing):
PS:Did you take professional dance lessons or are you just naturally good dancers?
HS: We started dancing in a very early age and went to “kids dance classes” with our parents. As we grew older, we danced more frequently and we also had dance classes every week at junior and senior high school years at Stage & Perform in Arvika. During our years in school we’ve been taking part in many shows and musicals where also dance was included. Emelie & Josefine have studied Musical Theatre for three years, where they danced many hours per week. Josefine is regularly taking a lot of professional dance classes in ballet, Jazz dance etc., and have always loved to move and express with her body.
[In] 2008 we discovered the couple dance Lindy Hop and visited the world’s biggest dance camp, Herräng Dance Camp, outside Stockholm. Since then we’ve been hooked to that dance! Lindy Hop and swing dancing have had an important role in our lives since [an] early age. It really opened up many new opportunities for us and thanks to swing dancing we have friends from all over the world.
PS:You exude energy and excitement when you sing live. Where does it come from…what is the source of these emotions?
HS: Thank you so much for saying that! That’s one of our goals – that the audience will feel the same positive energy that we feel on stage. The energy and excitement we experience when we sing really comes from our true inside. We’ve always loved singing, to express ourselves artistically and to touch the audience with our music. To sing and perform music that we genuinely like, in our own three-part vocal arrangements, is something that we really love. Since our parents are musicians, many people might think that they’ve pushed us into working with music. But all they have given us is love, encouragement, and lots of opportunities, which we’re so grateful for! We’ve always found our strong motivation and drive within ourselves.
PS:I’m excited to get my signed CD. Can you provide an update on the progress of your new album, “Jazz It Up & Move”?
HS: In January 2020 we went into the studio to record our album Jazz It Up and Move. Thanks to great people around us and support from our fans we managed to finish the album just in time to our release tour in March. To fund this enormous project, we started a Kickstarter campaign, but during the campaign the coronavirus started to spread around the world which unfortunately made it impossible for us to reach our goal. Luckily many of our backers still wanted to support us and we could fulfill our dream. The album is not released digitally yet, but will be out later this autumn. During the spring we’ve released three singles that are available on all digital platforms so far, and a fourth one, Sincerely, is coming up on Friday the 31st of July. You can buy a signed copy of the album by sending an email to us: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our web shop.
PS:You cover several different musical genres…jazz, classical, etc. Do you have a preference?
HS: As you say, we like to move across genres such as jazz, pop, soul as well as classical music and musical theatre, often in combination with dance or other art forms. It’s so hard to choose only one genre, when there’s so much fantastic music out there! We’re inspired by performing artists who are humble yet confident. Those who are competent, driven, and dedicated. Those who have the courage to express vulnerability which, in turn, gives us strength. We’d like to think we actually have these qualities as a trio and that The Hebbe Sisters is a unique concept that we’re looking to nurture, develop, and share with people around the world.
PS:Does your jazz music appeal to a certain age?
HS: We really want to reach a wide audience with our music. With our latest album “Jazz It Up and Move” we’re hopeful that the album will inspire listeners of all ages to embrace life, enjoy themselves and seize new opportunities. We hope we’ll cheer people up with our music and also appeal to those who are less familiar with jazz and swing. The Hebbe Sisters jazz is both for nostalgic people (like our 92-year old Grandmother), dancers, for jazz lovers (who enjoy listening to crazy trumpet solos), and to “not yet jazz lovers”. If you’re still not convinced that you like jazz, check out our YouTube-channel for other stuff like e.g. Life on Mars – David Bowie, Stop in The Name of Love – The Supremes.
PS: Despite the pandemic you have recently been able to perform a few live, social-distancing shows. How does it feel to get back to performing live again?
HS: We actually performed on a raft in the beginning of July – a totally unique event that was a huge success! It felt so wonderful to meet the audience again, that was cheering from the shore! Even if it was a social distance between us, we could really feel their love and energy. We always do our very best to create a connection to our audience and to make them feel involved, appreciated and energized. Like we’re all one unity. That evening the power of music really brought us together for two hours – a memory for life! We’ve also had some live streamed concerts during the spring that are still available on our YouTube-channel.
Trivia (supplied by The Hebbe Sisters):Of the three sisters, Emelie is the arranger, Josefine tap dances, and Maria is the cook. They currently live together on a farm with their parents and two goats named Billy and Willy.
2. The Harp Twins; Harp Reflections
Camille and Kennerly Kitt, known professionally as “The Harp Twins”, are the world’s only identical twin professional harpists. Thought harps were relegated to cheesy elevator music, stuffy classical works, and ethereal new age music? It turns out, harps rock! The Harp Twins’ Harp Attack Volumes 1-3 CDs cover songs by Iron Maiden, Metallica, Ozzy, Led Zeppelin, Megadeth, and Black Sabbath, as well as the Rolling Stones, Eagles, U2, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, and Journey. Harp Attack will not land you in the ICU, but it might just put a smile on your COVID-masked face.
I know what you are thinking, but rest assured, the Harp Twins are not just a couple of identical pretty faces. They have Bachelor of Music degrees, are “distinguished experts” in rifle marksmanship, and are both former Tae Kwon Do instructors. Do not fret…they have a softer side. The Kitts are volunteer companions for special needs kids and adults and know sign language. They fiercely protect their image/brand and have repeatedly turned down frequent, lucrative reality TV show offers, so do not go searching for Harp to Harp, Harp Twins Gone Wild, House of Harps, Harp Hunters, or Hey, Hey We’re the Harp Twins (I made all those up) on your favorite video streaming service. The twins see themselves, and rightly so, as role models, and take that responsibility very seriously. With over 116 million views on YouTube, 1.6 million social media followers, appearances in movies, TV (The Walking Dead), commercials, theater, representing the USA in two World Harp Festivals, and tours throughout North & South America and the UK, they are clearly world-wide influencers.
Harp Reflections is The Harp Twins’ second Kickstarter crowdfunded CD, having met their $6k funding goal in an astounding 90 seconds, ending with over $54,000. That is a hefty sum indeed, though given their massive following on social media, it is head-scratching why that figure did not finish considerably higher. One effective weapon Creators have in their arsenal to maximize contributions are “Stretch Goals”, a term I have heretofore unintentionally ignored. Stretch Goals are tools Creators use to incentivize additional contributions. In the case of the Harp Twins, as with their very first Kickstarter campaign, they offered multiple unique stretch goals all of which were “unlocked” by their campaign’s conclusion. Some of these goals included an autographed mini-photo for all backers if the campaign reached $9,000, a photo and lyric book included with every CD if the campaign reached $11,000, and an exclusive on-line concert if the campaign accumulated 900 backers (it logged 903 backers by its end).
With this latest title, the Kitts now have seven albums under their Third-Degree Black Belts, so if harp hard rock is not for you, you should be able to find something else to suit your ears. In the case of Harp Reflections, the CD is described as a mix of Celtic, Classical, and Sacred music, including some vocals. As the Harp Twins explained on their crowdfunding campaign page, “We have wanted to create this album for years, and since we currently cannot tour due to COVID-19, this is really the perfect time to create an album of music to bring peace and light to an increasingly dark and uncertain world. We’re thrilled to finally begin bringing Harp Reflections to life!”
As with the other artists in this article, I invited the Harp Twins to participate, but they were unable to get back to me before the article “went live” due to their campaign-related workload. However, they eventually got back to me and I am pleased to update this article with my email interview with them:
PS: How did you first become acquainted with crowdfunding?
KK: We have long known about crowdfunding and the possibilities associated with it. For many years we shied away from it because we have a very strong work ethic and have always wanted to do everything ourselves. However, as time went on and we kept giving away free gifts of our music and art, we began to get an increasing number of audience requests to use crowdfunding sites. We realized that crowdfunding isn’t charity, it’s allowing a community of people to actively support artists and get lots of awesome products in return!
PS: Have either of you personally backed any crowdfunded campaigns, music related or otherwise?
CK: Yes, we have backed quite a few projects that other people have run through crowd-funding sites! It’s fun to show support to friends and artists of all kinds!
PS: What led to your decision to crowdfund “Harp Reflections”?
CK: We tour as a harp duo full time for a living. When the pandemic started, our scheduled shows began to topple like dominos. What everyone thought would be a few weeks, turned into a few months, which has now seemed to turn into at least a year of no touring. However, we love to look on the bright side of things. Not being able to tour became an opportunity to create art in other ways. We began an online home concert series through Patreon, continued to film music videos in beautiful outdoor locations, and decided to create a new album!
KK: Harp Reflections is an album that we have wanted to create for many years, but other projects, performing, and touring always took precedence. The pandemic created the opening needed for us to finally create this album. Crowdfunding the creation of the album seemed like a practical and logical step. It allowed us to have the funds to pay for mastering, album work, physical production, etc., and also allowed our community to be part of the creation process. We’ve always thought it would be fun to crowdfund an album, and that turned out to be true!
PS: Do you find crowdfunding affords you a special connection with your fans?
CK: Most definitely! It has been amazing and humbling to see our community come together to support our projects! It’s incredible to know that there are people around the world who enjoy what we do and want to take an active role in helping us to create more music and art.
PS: What is the hardest part about conducting a crowdfunding campaign?
KK: We think the hardest part is probably managing individual orders, messages, etc. We design the campaign, merch, rewards, Stretch Goals, etc., etc., etc. We do everything ourselves, including packaging and shipping, so with almost 1,000 pre-orders, it’s quite the daunting task.
CK: Plus, we want our community to have the best possible rewards and experience, so we’re those people who are doing things like individually messaging people who we think might need help or have backed the wrong tier. For example, we’ll recognize a supporter who is on a tier that includes all of our albums, and say to each other, “Doesn’t she already have all our previous albums? Maybe we should message her to see if she made a mistake.” Lol. We always manage to somehow create extra work for ourselves. But it’s really because we care about our community so much.
PS: What is the downside to crowdfunding as you see it?
CK: Probably that the host site takes a pretty good chunk of the earnings as a host fee. That’s always a bummer! haha
PS: If you had not crowdfunded “Harp Reflections”, how would you have otherwise released it?
KK: We would have just released it as a 12-track album and sold the physical album through our website and streaming and downloads through the normal platforms. It’s so cool that because of our Kickstarter, Harp Reflections turned into a massive 15-track album with lots of other perks and rewards for backers!
PS: What is the single most important piece of advice would you give a musician/band thinking of starting a crowdfunding campaign?
CK: Our biggest piece of advice would to be practical about what your audience wants and how much work will go into the campaign and creating the actual project. From the outside, crowdfunding looks like it’s an easy way to fund projects, but successful campaigns are a result of a lot of work and planning – before, during, and after the campaign ends.
Based on the latest campaign update, rewards have been delayed by a month since the album required more time than was anticipated. I look forward to receiving Harp Reflections in early October and to seeing the Chicago-based Harp Twins perform live next year in New Hampshire (rescheduled from October of this year due to the coronavirus).
Open your mind (and ears) to something new and give the Harp Twins an audition.
Trivia:The Harp Twins decided to hang up their Black Belts and concentrate on their harps after Kennerly broke two fingers and Camille required stitches in her face while holding a board Kennerly broke with her hand.
I do not mean to harp on the subject (okay, really bad pun), but you can uncover some hidden musical gems like the Harp Twins if you are willing to do some digging through music campaigns like you would through records in a record store (minus the dust and moldy smell). If becoming a crowdfunding backer is not your cup of tea but you love music, you should at least make it a point to have a regular browse through the numerous music campaigns on Indiegogo and Kickstarter, the two platforms that are ground zero for crowdfunding. I have found them an excellent resource for discovering new music and artists I otherwise would never have known about. The UK’s Pasadena Roof Orchestra, NY’s Bandits on the Run, and Chien Chien Lu are a few others. You can even discover silence, such as Light in the Attic Records’ album of total silence. Here is one last example deserving of your attention:
I ran across an Indiegogo campaign for a new CD by British contemporary folk group Faeland, founded by Rebecca Nelson and Jacob Morrison. I had never heard of them and though I did not to support their recent campaign (which raised nearly $14,000), their campaign led me to purchase their All My Swim CD. From the group’s website: “Faeland’s sound and mission pair up well together and create a beautiful vulnerability that is authentic and true. Songs like “We’re Just A Love Song,” “All My Swim,” and “The Wheel” offer listeners a seductive realness that rises above all the pushed product out there and must be heard and experienced to be fully understood. Faeland’s focus on positive impact and ample musical skills have the potential to touch the world if given the chance.”
In a way, I felt like I have helped support them since I bought an autographed copy direct from their website, which was costly since it shipped from the UK to Boston. Frankly, I am not a big folk music fan, but I love the original songs on this CD and Rebecca (“Beccy” to her friends and fans) Nelson’s soothing voice. Nelson has a Commercial Music Degree as well as a Master’s in Music Therapy, which might explain why the group’s music resonates with people. Indeed, they refer to their music as “acoustic song medicine to soothe the mind and spirit.” Besides their voices, the other ingredients in their melodic medicine include guitar, ukulele, banjo, double bass, violin, harp, mandolin, drums, clarinet, organ, and cello. BBC Radio 6 Music, one of the default preset Internet radio stations on our models, championed their music early on. Try Faeland on for size like I did and I think you will be very satisfied with what you hear on a number of different levels. If you are a night owl or a very early riser, take in one of Nelson and Morrison’s live streaming performances every other Wednesday at 8pm UK time on their Facebook page.
I asked Morrison and Nelson to field some questions via email:
PS: What is the story behind Faeland’s name?
Jacob: There’s a village near where we used to live, called Failand. There are often low mists over Failand, even when it’s completely clear everywhere else. We see the mists as the porthole to “Fae Land”. In olde English “Fae” means “other”, and for us music can be a passage to this “otherness”, this magic that you can’t quite put your finger on.
PS: You state your music is like medicine. How do you approach your songs to try to give them that effect?
Beccy: We write music to help us get into a calm, relaxed, feel-good state, so it makes sense that the listeners pick up on that feeling, too. While it’s not something we deliberately set out to do, a lot of fans have told us that our music has had a deeply healing and relaxing effect on them.
PS: Is there a spiritual or religious component to your music?
Beccy: We don’t personally subscribe to any one particular religion, but we were both brought up in households where Christian, Jewish and Buddhist influences were a part of our lives. I’m sure this has impacted our songwriting in some way, and has got us used to reflecting on the deeper themes of humanity and existence. Whatever one’s religion, music seems to connect everyone to something beyond themselves.
PS: Having a Master’s Degree in Music Therapy, can you give me an example of how you’ve seen music (yours or another’s) help someone in emotional or physical pain?
Beccy: During one of my clinical placements I worked with a young man who had suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost the use of his voice. Using a piece of his favourite music, and by playing with the pacing of the song to suit him, he finally had the impetus and structure to produce vocal sounds. The look in his eyes was one of such surprise and happiness! It was incredibly moving. But this is just one example of how music therapy can help people – there have been so many moving moments like this in my work with people living with autism, dementia, trauma recovery, etc.
Trivia (supplied by Faeland): As a young teenager, Morrison’s main music passion was hip hop, which surprises fans of Faeland’s acoustic music. He tried his hand at MCing, DJing, and production before discovering Nick Drake and picking up fingerstyle guitar at the age of 17.
In the way of an update regarding Como Audio’s important Equity crowdfunding campaign, as of this writing, our StartEngine campaign has raised over $135,000 thanks to many generous investors. Late last month our Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto, signed a lease for an 8,000+ square foot facility that is now housing our offices, warehouse, and hopefully, an assembly area. As Tom stated in his press release, “Music is my lifeblood. My entire professional life, in all the companies I’ve founded and sold, I’ve pursued a single goal: creating audio systems that deliver music the way the artist created it and I wish to continue that goal with U.S. manufacturing and workers.” However, we still have a long way to go if we want to develop assembly in the USA, so please seriously consider supporting our campaign (hyper link) before it ends. If you are not in a position to invest, you can still help out by letting as many people as possible know about our campaign. Even before social media, word of mouth was always the most effective advertising.
As for backing music campaigns, it is exciting to discover a new sound, and quite gratifying to know your contribution helped play a role in an artist’s dream, even if it is only $25 or $50 worth of their campaign. If you have a specific music genre or genres you prefer, Kickstarter allows you to narrow down your search by selecting from eighteen different genres like Jazz, Classical, R&B, and World Music. Indiegogo is not quite as organized…you need to type in your genre of interest in the search field. However you go about it, make music crowdfunding part of your quarantine routine. Besides, musicians have been hit hard by the pandemic and really need your support. Just another less-traveled path you may not have been aware of to enjoy the (undiscovered) music.
General Manger Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio in 2016. If you have a comment or would like to suggest a topic for a future Tech Rap, Peter can be reached directly at email@example.com
Discovering and enjoying a new artist’s record, CD, or digital album is great fun, but what if you could enhance your experience with the satisfaction of knowing you helped make their music possible? Crowdfunding can facilitate that. What is crowdfunding? It involves financially backing a Creator’s campaign to help bring his or her project to market, and at the same time, usually earning yourself a “reward” or “perk” in the process. What crowdfunding is not is begging for money with sugar on top. It is a respectable way to earn funds while at the same time building relationships with backers whom, the Creators hope, will continue to follow and support them throughout their journey.
Being a backer does not require coughing up a boat load of money, though you can if you wish. The way it typically works is the Creator launches a campaign on a crowdfunding platform like Indiegogo or Kickstarter, both of which have been around for a decade. The Creator offers different financial tiers to prospective backers that are tied to various rewards. For instance, in the case of a music campaign, for $25 you might get an autographed CD before its official release date. If you back at a $100 level you might get an autographed CD, a digital album down load, and handwritten lyrics to one of the songs. For higher amounts some artists will even go to your house and put on a private live performance for you and your friends.
The “reward/perk” aspect is how crowdfunding differentiates itself from other fundraising platforms like “gofundme“, which does not offer any rewards in return for donations. Although gofundme can be used to raise money for projects like creating a new album, it was designed more for personal causes such as raising money for an operation, college tuition, relief to help re-open a business after the pandemic, etc. Some of gofundme’s top campaigns include the Las Vegas Victim’s Fund, a fund to provide relief for the victims of the 58 people killed and hundreds injured, which has raised almost $12 million, Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which helps victims of sexual abuse and harassment, having raised over $24 million, and the George Floyd Memorial Fund which has amassed nearly $15 million to date.
“What crowdfunding is not is begging for money with sugar on top.”
If you back a music-related crowdfunding campaign, it is quite probable you will pay more than you normally would for a CD or an LP in a store or on line. Unlike a store, when you back a project through crowdfunding you are not actually buying anything. This is a very important distinction that is lost on many a backer. A backer’s financial contribution helps support an artist’s concept at a very early stage, and in return for that early adopter support, one is usually eligible for some type of a reward to be delivered at a future date (which could be weeks, months, or a year or more away). Before you consider backing any campaign regardless of the platform, be sure you understand you are not buying something from a web shop. Once the campaign ends, with few exceptions, you cannot get your money back.
Crowdfunded campaigns can be created around all sorts of things…games, books, films, electronics, watches, clothing, and yes, music, to name just a few. There has also been a plethora of successful oddball (to say the least) campaigns such as the gigantic, inflatable Lionel Richie head that raised over $10,000. Then there was the dude who decided to make his first potato salad. Go ahead and laugh, but the genius raised over $55k for himself. Now that is a lot of salad, the green kind. There was the card game with the weird name “Exploding Kittens” which raised nearly $9 million. Speaking of kittens, you will forgive me for laughing, but how about an album of music made specifically for cats? Pet owners must have wanted their felines to get Jiggy with it because that campaign raised over $240,000. And let us not forget the sandwich press that toasted the image of Jesus’ face on your slice of bread. That campaign miraculously brought in over $25,000. Can I get an Amen?
Whatever the idea, Creators set a financial goal for their campaigns based on how much money they estimate they will need to successfully turn their concept into reality. That goal might be a few hundred dollars or a million or five million. Some Creators take whatever money they raise no matter how small (called “flexible funding”), while others opt not to take any money at all unless they meet or exceed their set goal (called “fixed funding”). In the latter case, if the goal is not met, the Creator gets no money and backers do not get charged for their pledge (nor do they earn any rewards).
Make no mistake, there is some inherent risk as a backer. I regret to report the crowdfunding landscape is littered with bodies. Projects get delayed by months or even years, and sometimes backers never get the rewards they were eligible for. A few companies have even gone out of business before fulfilling rewards to their backers. One of the more spectacular failures was the Coolest Cooler which raised $13 million for a colorful cooler that looked a bit like the cute drones in the sci-fi flick “Silent Running”. The Coolest Cooler was exactly what its name implied…a cooler tricked out with an ice crushing blender, removable, waterproof Bluetooth speaker, cutting board, USB charger, dedicated storage for the included colored plastic plates and straight edge knife, magnetic bottle opener, and LED lights under the lid. Time Magazine listed the Coolest Cooler as one of the Best Inventions of 2104. As George Costanza might exclaim, sign me up, baby! But wait, there is more, unfortunately. The company officially shut its doors last December leaving 1/3 of its backers out in the cold, in a manner of speaking, without getting their coolers (which the company was selling on Amazon before many of their backers received theirs). Frosted backers brought the Coolest Cooler Creator to court and were awarded $20 each (the pledge for one cooler was $185), yet it remains to be seen if any of them will ever see that cold cash.
Turn that frown upside down because crowdfunding is not all doom and gloom. There is no shortage of crowdfunding success stories. Many products would not exist today without crowdfunding. Como Audio conducted two successful crowdfunding campaigns raising a combined 1/2 million dollars which helped launch our company nearly five years ago. The Pebble Time smart watch raised over $20 million. Pebble was eventually snapped up by Fitbit. Rockstar Neil Young created a high-end, portable MP3 player, “Pono”, that raised over $6 million (the company folded three years later, but the players are still usable). The wildly popular PBS children’s TV Series “Reading Rainbow” went off the air, but host LeVar Burton, formerly of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” fame, resurrected it through an app he crowdfunded. He met his $1 million funding goal in just eleven hours. By the time his campaign ended he had accumulated more than five times that amount, including a $1 million contribution from “Family Guy” and “The Orville” creator Seth MacFarlane.
Why would a musician or a band embark on a crowdfunding campaign? One great advantage is it allows the artist(s) to get in front of a ton of people and build a loyal following. But the main reason is if you do not have a record label ponying up the money, making a new record can turn into a very expensive proposition with costs easily running into the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. A recording studio has to be reserved, a producer, mixing, and mastering engineers hired, session musicians must be paid, music videos must be produced, CDs and/or records must be pressed and attractively packaged, all to be followed by an expensive marketing campaign and a live tour to support the new record. For many struggling musicians a crowdfunding campaign is a make or break proposition. Frankly, most of these campaigns are by musicians/singers you have never heard of before, but more recognizable names have also turned to crowdfunding like TLC, De La Soul, Presidents of the United States of America, and Amanda Palmer, who raised over $1 million for her Theatre Is Evil record.
“Many products would not exist today without crowdfunding.”
To date, I have personally (not on behalf of Como Audio) backed almost thirty different campaigns across two different platforms. The following are a few select examples of music-related reward crowdfunding campaigns I have backed.
1. King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, Polygondwanaland
The very first crowdfunded music-related campaign I ever backed was via Kickstarter for a premium edition, colored vinyl release of Australian psychedelic rock band King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard’s Polygondwanaland. The band actually gave away their fourth album as a free download, so if you wanted it in physical form, you had to turn to folks like David Wolfson who started a Kickstarter campaign to make the record, which is reminiscent of Pink Floyd.
As a backer of Wolfson’s campaign, I received two copies of the album along with a couple of test pressings, a custom glow-in-the-dark record mat, got my name etched in the trail off groove of the record, attended the mastering session at Sterling Sound in New York City, and got to witness the Apollo Master lacquer discs being cut. The cost of travel to New York was at my own expense, but since I was coming from Massachusetts, it was not a budget-buster. Face masks and social distancing were not in our vocabulary when I made my trip.
Sterling Sound has been around since the 1960’s, and according to landr.com, 30% of the music on the US charts at any given time is likely to include Sterling masters. Sterling was tucked away in a hidden corner of New York’s Chelsea Market, which was an experience in itself, and I had a difficult time locating the entrance hidden among the myriad of food and curio vendors. The Senior Mastering Engineer for the project was one of the best in the business, Ryan Smith, who had mastered albums for Adele, Coldplay, AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, Beyonce, Keith Richards, Greta Van Fleet, Macy Gray, and James Taylor…exactly the kind of resume you want for your Mastering Engineer.
I recall the tiny clear tube that hoovered up the vinyl shavings as the grooves were cut by the lathe became clogged. Smith had to stop the lathe to manually wash out the tube and start all over again with a new disc. Lacquers (also called master discs) are cut single-sided and are softer than the records consumers buy. Lacquers are not intended to be played since they are too soft, but are used to ultimately create the stampers that press the records sold in record stores. Strict temperature and humidity conditions must be observed with lacquers. Ideally, they should be plated as soon as possible after cutting before the grooves begin to decay.
I asked Wolfson, who is also the founding CEO of Aural Pleasure Records, for his recollections of that day at Sterling Sound: “I was incredibly excited about our session at Sterling, as that was something that always seemed unattainable to me. Having a project mastered at a world class studio, the ones with their names on so many major projects and big releases I’ve bought over the years, having a very skilled and very in-demand engineer with access to top notch gear getting hands-on with an album I had the opportunity to release… It was a nice feeling!
“What I really liked is that Ryan K. Smith shared in that excitement, he was incredibly gracious towards us and seemed genuinely glad to involve an appreciative client in his working process. I was also really impressed with his listening abilities; the way he was able to immediately pick up on elements of the mix and the performance upon first listen. Mastering is equal parts art/science, and he really knows what he’s doing!
“I’ve seen some recent RCA Living Stereo classical reissues put out by Analogue Productions, that Ryan not only mastered but also mixed live while mastering directly from original 3-track tapes. That’s insane! I believe those were done at Sterling’s new facility in Nashville, which they partially relocated to (with another new studio in Edgewater, NJ). There are very few engineers in the world I can think of who’d even be capable of performing something like that. Very cool.”
Since I am a huge Beatles fan, I figured I would maximize my time in NYC by visiting The Dakota apartment building where John Lennon lived (and tragically died) and the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park just across the street. The whole thing was a great experience and one I only would have found through reward-based crowdfunding.
2. Stefania Patane: New Focus, Orange Home Records
I had never heard of Italy’s Stefania Patane before, and I do not speak Italian, but her passion along with the snippet of music from her CD, New Focus, in her Indiegogo campaign’s video was enough to draw me to support her project. In describing her music, Patane stated: “New Focus is a place where Afro-American and Mediterranean sounds and rhythms blend together, generating a crowd of emotions and stories that tell about transformation, truth, resilience, passion and freedom. The lyrics are mainly written in Sicilian language, that is the core of my roots. In some songs, the lyrics are written also in Italian, that is my native language and in English, that is a universal idiom.”
Patane has a degree in medicine and is also a graduate of the Arcangelo Corelli Conservatory. She has performed in many jazz festivals and clubs. She began playing guitar at the age of twelve but within a few years, opted to pursue singing. She hails from a family of classical musicians including orchestral conductors Francesco and Giuseppe Patanè. Currently she is the Voice Department Director at iMusic School Rome where she works as a vocal instructor.
Besides Patane on vocals, New Focus features Seby Burgio on piano, synth bass, and keyboards and Francesco de Rubeis on drums and percussion, along with special guests Kyungmi Lee (cello), Enrico Bracco (guitar), and Javier Girotto (saxophones, flute).
Pantane’s campaign raised just under half of her $4,320 goal, but since it was a flexible goal, she received all of the funds. Not surprisingly, most of her backers are from Italy. Unfortunately, the coronavirus had other plans for her project. As she wrote me last month: “…everything was stopped and postponed in the close future. We are not able to set the new date of release so far because it depends on how the Phase 2 with partial lockdown, that started May 4, will be. Many activities, like printing, are restarting now; others like shipping, are still slower, they currently occur for a daily partial time and they have not completely [gotten] back again.”
Backers will receive their autographed CDs in July. However, a stream of the entire CD via SoundCloud and the digital booklet were just emailed exclusively to all of her backers. The booklet includes track notes, printed lyrics, a plethora of pictures, and like her campaign, has text in both English and Italian. Patane also printed the names of every one of her backers in the booklet, including yours truly. Backers will receive signed copies of the printed booklet when the CD ships. Incidentally, New Focus’ interesting cover art is a painting by Marco Virzi. Of the painting, Patane says it “represents the concept of the album: we can always change [our] point of view, giving life to a new spark of creativity and generating pure love.”
As for the ten tracks on the CD, two are mostly in English while the rest are sung in Patane’s native language. This, along with the music itself, lends New Focus a kind of fresh Italian/Mediterranean/Global vibe, if that makes sense. Her voice is clear and strong without being overpowering…a breath of fresh air without the constraints of a face mask. The band is tight and plays as if they have been performing these songs for years. My favorite track is Grace and Light: “I’m growing with love / I’m growing with all of my might /and even if the space is tight / I’m growing with grace and light.” In the booklet, Patane remarks, ”I see Grace and Light on the shoots of a plant that is growing in a pot that is too small.” New Focus is the kind of upbeat jazz CD you can listen to over and over again without tiring of it. It will re-charge you with every listen.
Patane took some time out to answer my questions from Italy via email:
PS: Why did you decide to crowdfund your CD?
SP: I think that crowdfunding gives a great opportunity to spread your music, getting in touch with new people that could be happy to listen to it, and also sharing the project with people that already appreciate your music.
PS: What was the best part about your campaign (besides getting money!)?
SP: The best part was the campaign itself! All the promotions steps were like an exciting journey. I put all of my love and passion to create teasers, introducing the musicians of the band and the songs, talking about what this album means to me, and I was so grateful to share all of this contents through Indiegogo campaign and the socials. I felt that people have responded with enthusiasm to my joyful posts and updates, giving feedbacks full of interest and curiosity about the new album. Also, the collaboration with Raffaele Abbate (Orange Home Records) during all the process of creation and launching of the campaign was stimulating and positive.
PS: How has COVID-19 impacted your project?
SP: The album release was planned on the end of March, just some days after the deadline of the campaign. We had planned to tour in Rome and in Sicily for the release live concerts. Following the start of lockdown in Italy on March 10, all the live concerts were canceled. Most all the normal activities stopped.
We didn’t have any choice: the release was stopped, waiting for better times. Generally, there was a lot of fear all over Italy and the atmosphere has enormously changed in few days: our “online-home lives” became slower.
As many of us, I had hard days at the beginning. I had to rearrange my personal and professional life and manage some familiar troubleshooting.
About my beloved project New Focus, the first thought was what would have been the best thing for our supporters. I prepared a preview video of the recording for them and then we decided, with Orange Home Records, to prepare a streaming preview of the entire album. I’ve worked on many details of the digital booklet, so that our backers could have a complete guide into the project, with translations of the lyrics and my personal thoughts about all the songs. Now we are arranging the new release date in the next September: we are close to arrange the release day. Then we will organize the shipping of the perks, in preview!
PS: Are you excited about your new music despite the challenges?
SP: Yes. I care about “New Focus” in a very special way. I feel that it strictly is a part of me and my life. I have worked on it for more than three years, writing the songs and the arrangements, putting on the band together, making the music grow in our live concerts and finally arranging everything for the recording. Every single thing was made with love, always believing in the strength of the music. So, despite the challenges, I keep on promoting it, trusting the Universe to create the perfect moment for the music to be spread and heard.
3. TheAwaz Trio: Nocturne
I am musically curious and not afraid to listen to something new if it speaks to me. Aakash Mittal’s description of his trio’s new CD, Nocturne, definitely piqued my interest: “Nocturne is a series of pieces that deconstruct five Hindustani evening and night ragas”, Mittal wrote on his Indiegogo campaign page. “The music paints a unique picture of the night, evoking the meditation of a world at rest, night terrors conjured by the imagination, and the slow cadence of blue light melting into darkness. I composed Nocturne while living in Kolkata, India as part of an American Institute of Indian Studies Performing Arts Fellowship from 2013-2014. This project weaves my experiences of studying evening and night ragas with Prattyush Banerjee with the vibrancy of nighttime festivals, marketplaces, and rituals I experienced in Kolkata. In this work I wanted to explore the intersection of my experiences with jazz and raga music as well as my experiences of physical and sonic density that occur at night in Indian cities.”
As with Patane, I had never heard of this trio before, but something about the music resonated with me. Mittal plays saxophone, Miles Okazaki handles the acoustic guitar, and Rajna Swaminathan plays mridangam- an ancient, two-headed, barrel-shaped drum originating in southern India. Like I said before, I am musically curious. The Denver Post said of Mittal, “…he’s already arrived at his own place in the jazz community…”, while the Minneapolis’ Star Tribune described him as “a fiery alto saxophonist and prolific composer.”
Earlier in this article I mentioned the various types of rewards artists offer their backers, limited only by their imaginations. In Mittal’s case, depending on your contribution level, backers could choose to receive a copy of the scores to all of the songs on the CD ($50), a “pie and cocktails” party in Mittal’s Brooklyn, NY home ($100), dinner at his house ($500), or a private solo concert at your house ($1,000). These creative rewards, in addition to pledging for a copy the CD, allowed his campaign to just surpass its ambitious $10,125 goal.
COVID-19 also impacted this project, along with a personal tragedy. As Mittal wrote me last month: “I am hoping to finish the album and send it out to the Indiegogo campaign supporters in June or July. I was hoping to release it in conjunction with a concert but at this point I think I need to release it to the Indiegogo supporters and do a public release later. I unfortunately cannot give you a specific date at this point. To be transparent there was a tragic death in my family right when the COVID lockdown happened. I ended up being “stuck” in Colorado living with my in-laws as we adjusted to the quarantine and loss of a loved one. That being said I just need to finish the master, write the liner notes, and get the designer to put the layout and everything together.”
The latest news from Mittal is he expects to ship his CDs in October but hopes to offer a digital download of Nocturn before then. His dinners, “pie and cocktails” parties, and house concerts have temporarily been put on hold thanks to the pandemic.
4. Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding with Strings: Last Flight Out; Self-released
The firsts thing that caught my eye about this Chicago-based music project was the bizarre album artwork and the band’s equally strange name, Funeral Bonsai Wedding. Another was Steve Dawson’s description of the music: “a haunting and dreamlike collection of songs centered around loss and longing and aiming for love and kindness.” This seemed to fit right in with what we have all been going through with the virus.
Not that the music is bizarre. At times, Dawson sounds a bit like James Taylor; at other times like Don McLean. My favorite track is It’s Not What You Think, which turns out to be a good descriptive for the record. The music is contemplative. This is not the type of music you are likely to hear whilst social distance-sipping overpriced coffee at your favorite local bistro. I envision this music being performed at museums, art galleries, or historic, old theaters. Not that it is high-brow or complicated, just that it should be showcased in a venue that compliments the music.
Regarding the music on his album and the title track, Dawson wrote on his campaign page: “The phrase was a suggestion from an online songwriting group. I liked the sound of the words and the feeling of being stranded that it evoked. I never imagined that the song would resonate so much with the current pandemic. It was a fever dream, a metaphor, a sci-fi scenario that we now are all living. The song ends with the line, “God bless us, everyone.” and while I am not a religious person, I find myself making this wish every day now. The song begins the album and the album is a progression. Last Flight Out is the moment that the truth sinks in and the enormity of the situation takes hold. The album moves through, Mastodons, a song about slipping in and out of depression and listlessness as a reaction, and then into the centerpiece of the album, However Long It Takes, a song about choosing to see kindness and goodness in the world despite being fully aware of the darkness around us. “I will be filled with love,” is the chant-like refrain.
Dawson’s Indiegogo campaign raised almost $8,600, well surpassing his goal of $5k. He offered numerous perks for his backers at various monetary levels including signed CDs and LPs, original artwork, and a private performance in your home. As a backer, I was able to get the 180-gram vinyl record two months before its official release, and a signed copy at that.
The pandemic has halted live concerts, but for Dawson, it is not just business, it is personal. He lost his brother-in-law to COVID-19 in May after being on a ventilator for two weeks.
To end on a positive note, three months ago, Dawson was awarded a $10,000 grant as a “City of Chicago Esteemed Artist”. The Chicago Tribune said his songs were “reminiscent of “Astral Weeks”-era Van Morrison.” Popmatters.com called Last Flight Out “an achingly gorgeous album” and “a rare and wonderful thing”. The Riverfront Times called Dawson “one of the most underrated songwriters in American music.” Dawson is currently scheduled to perform live at Chicago’s Maurere Hall on September 20, COVID-19 permitting.
5. Dan Mulqueen: Real Life; Future Rust FUTURECD003
Handpans are musical instruments that resemble left-over UFO props from a 1950’s sci-fi B movie. They sound quite a lot like steel drums often used in Caribbean music, but more ethereal, at least to my ear. Musician Dan Mulqueen conducted two successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns raising over $13,000 combined. A good portion of that was a result of a unique “lottery” he held as part of his campaign to win one of three handpans, which are actually quite expensive.
Real Life is his fourth album and was two years in the making. Although handpans are front and center on this album, other instruments are also featured. The original music is soothing and laid back, suitable for meditation or whenever you need to slow down and enjoy a little break. Mulqueen has toured the US, Europe, and Australia, but his current tour has been put on the backburner due to the pandemic.
I backed Mulqueen’s Real Life campaign on Indiegogo and received a copy of his CD and digital album download as my reward. The CD was delivered within a few short weeks of the campaign’s closure and I have been enjoying listening to it on my Como Audio Musica ever since.
Another crowdfunding variant is Equity Crowdfunding, an avenue for private companies to raise capital by selling securities. Equity crowdfunding was born out of the 2012 JOBS Act signed into law by President Obama. According to startups.com, equity crowdfunding has collectively raised over $2.5 billion dollars for businesses. Rather than earning rewards or perks, with equity crowdfunding an investor becomes part owner of the company or companies he invests in. Como Audio launched such a campaign just a few days ago by way of StartEngine. Thought you had to go through a stock broker to invest and needed a suitcase full of money? Think again. If you are 18 or older, believe in Como Audio, and want to help our little audio company, you can become an investor without having to completely empty your piggy bank. Our Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto, is hoping to raise enough money to start assembly right here in Massachusetts, thereby creating new jobs and reducing our dependence on China. This is a lot easier said than done and requires a huge investment in real estate, equipment, and manpower, but this is not Tom’s first rodeo. As co-Founder of Cambridge SoundWorks, many of those audio products Tom designed were made not very far from where Como Audio resides today. With China tariffs and significant coronavirus layoffs, if there was ever a time to bring back manufacturing to the USA, this is it. We invite you to join our exciting new mission by becoming an investor and supporting our campaign. Note: Equity crowdfunding carries risks, so please be sure to read all the information before investing.
In Part Two of Tech Rap: Investing in Music, I will report on a female retro-vocal trio campaign I backed that failed, an unorthodox harp music campaign including an exclusive interview, and a couple of cool new artists I discovered through crowdfunding sites as a browser, not as a backer. You will not want to miss it, so be sure to check back again in a few weeks! Until then, enjoy the music.
General Manger Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio in 2016 as Vice President of Product Development. If you have a comment or would like to suggest a topic for a future Tech Rap, Peter can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org