Music’s Selling Power

Music’s Selling Power
MUSIC PROVIDES AN INTEGRAL BACKGROUND IN THE SENSORY BRANDING INDUSTRY

July 07, 2011 — 4:41 pm PDT

Nick Krewen / GRAMMY.com

It was once known — and snidely regarded — as “elevator music.”

But 77 years after it was first introduced, Muzak, and other forms of business-applicable music, is considered to be an integral part of the rising sensory branding industry, which engages consumers to improve their retail experience through their five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound.

As a 1982 study by Loyola University marketing professor R.E. Milliman concluded, the introduction of music in a retail environment — and even a change of the music’s tempo — can favorably boost the bottom line, finding that retail outlets that offered slow-paced music increased their average sales by approximately 40 percent.

A 1991 study commissioned by Muzak Holdings LLC also yielded similar results, noting that low arousal music in a retail environment resulted in an 18.9 percent spike in impulse purchases, while audio advertising influenced more than 80 percent of all buying decisions.

Lorne Abony, CEO and chairman of Mood Media Corporation, an in-store media specialist that purchased Muzak Holdings LLC in May for a cool $345 million, says advertisers have taken notice of the impulsive impact music can have on consumers.

“We provide the background or foreground music to 470,000 locations the world over, for some of the most advanced, cool brands, from Nike to Guess,” says Abony, whose Toronto-based company has acquired Somerset Entertainment (home to the nature-driven Solitudes recordings), Muzak competitor Trusonic and Finland’s Pelika Business Music Oy.

“The perception really has changed: music really helps our customers sell more. It creates an environment that is conducive and consistent with their brand.”

The music in retail environments has also changed, transforming from the syrupy, orchestrated instrumental covers of hits — coined as “elevator music” during the skyscraper construction boom in the late ’20s and ’30s to reflect the piped-in melodies that would keep elevator passengers calm as they ascended and descended the building — to a current library of 2.8 million songs, many of them contemporary hits licensed directly from artists and their record companies.

As marketing techniques become more sophisticated, the dismissive derision is now giving way to a newfound respect as Mood Media and numerous corporate players such as the Applied Media Technologies Corporation, InStore Broadcasting Network, DMX, PlayNetwork, and Sirius XM Radio vie for their own slice of the estimated $2 billion sensory branding industry.

The appeal of sensory branding is easy to understand: the customer base covers such diverse markets as retail (food, fashion, cosmetics), hospitality, leisure, financial institutions, telecommunications, and fast food restaurants.

Aside from the bottom line bump, frequent selling points for most vendors include uninterrupted music free of DJ chitchat, commercials and station IDs; minimum-fuss delivery modes (Internet, satellite or on-premise media); more than 100 program choices; screened lyrics; paid music licenses to performing rights societies, and a reasonable subscription fee as low as $25 per month.

And providers claim their services bring other benefits such as customer retention and stress reduction, as well as competitive advantage and increased employee productivity.

Of course, Major General George Owen Squier, who invented the Muzak concept through his Cleveland-based Wired Radio Inc. back in 1934, had an inkling there was a market to be exploited.

Gucci Timepieces & Jewelry recently teamed up with The Recording Academy for a partnership that will entail the GRAMMY Museum analyzing and preserving an archive of more than 20,000 unearthed original Muzak recordings, revealing the company’s — and the industry’s — impressive, historic legacy.

Along the way, Muzak introduced and pioneered such concepts as “stimulus progression” — a system providing people with a psychological “lift” through programming sound in 15-minute blocks, determining stimulus by tempo, rhythm, instrumentation, and orchestra size — and “audio architecture,” which customizes the piped-in or pre-programmed music to reflect individual business needs.

Within the past decade, audio messaging has been added into the mix, with impressive results. A 2004 study conducted by media research firm Arbitron Inc. discovered that 70 percent of shoppers who heard retail audio advertisements found them to be helpful with their shopping experience, with 41 percent of them making an impulse purchase, and 37 percent making an unplannedpurchase of a product from a brand other than what they had in mind.

With this aural ammunition operating so effectively and efficiently when it comes to encouraging consumers to open their wallets, companies such as Mood Media, now working with more than 800 retail chains in more than 30 countries worldwide, predict a bullish future in sensory branding, especially where music is concerned.

“We see this as a very exciting, very rapidly growing market,” says Abony.

Music’s Selling Power | GRAMMY.com

 

Postscript:

As of 2017, Mood Media Corporation is now headquartered out of Austin, Texas.

Lorne Abony is the CEO of FastForward Innovations Ltd. and owns the Orange County Breakers, a World Team Tennis sports franchise.

Singers For Hire

Singers For Hire
ACTS FORGE AHEAD WITH NEW VOCALISTS AND ENJOY NEW SUCCESSES

October 08, 2009 — 12:00 am PDT

Nick Krewen / GRAMMY.com

At the apex of Styx’s popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, many of the Chicago rockers’ Top 10 hits came from a single songwriting source.

Not only did cofounder Dennis DeYoung pen such Styx hits as “Lady,” “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” and “Mr. Roboto,” but his signature vocals played a considerable role in the band obtaining significant radio exposure and amassing catalog album sales of more than 17 million units.

Today, however, those attending a Styx concert won’t be serenaded by DeYoung, who left the band after an acrimonious split in 1999, but by Lawrence Gowan, a Canadian vocalist/songwriter.

Just don’t call Gowan a replacement singer.

“I would definitely balk at the term,” says Gowan. “I’m into my 11th year, and we’ve played over 1,500 shows at this point. I joined this band not under the auspices of replacing anybody, but because they needed a new member. I’ve played more shows with the band than the former lineup.”

In light of Gowan’s addition, Styx has undergone a transformation and although some DeYoung songs are still performed, notably absent from the set list is “Babe.” “Dennis made a very strong point of saying that’s a song he wrote for his wife, so I feel that’s his song and he should sing it,” Gowan explains.

“It’s so much more a true, classic rock band now,” says Gowan of the new lineup, which includes cofounders Chuck Panozzo and James “J.Y.” Young, veteran member Tommy Shaw and relative newcomers Ricky Phillips and Todd Sucherman.

If longtime fans are complaining about DeYoung’s absence, they certainly aren’t showing it at the box office: Styx is in the midst of a 2009 North American tour, playing everything from casinos and theaters to outdoor sheds and festivals. And in 2004, Styx, along with tourmates Journey and REO Speedwagon, grossed more than $17.2 million over 43 concert dates.

Speaking of Journey, the multi-platinum band now features Filipino lead vocalist Arnel Pineda, their third singer since Steve Perry departed in 1996. With Pineda fronting hits such as “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms” and “Any Way You Want It,” Journey emerged as one of Billboard’s Top 20 moneymakers in 2008 raking in $44.8 million, just short of Taylor Swift but ahead of Billy Joel, Mary J. Blige and Kanye West. A new studio album, Revelation, debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 in June 2008.

Interestingly, Pineda says that one of the reasons he was hired was to ghost Perry’s sound.

“We have to make sure the hard-core fans will be satisfied listening to the songs,” said Pineda during an interview with the Marin Independent Journal. “They’re so used to Steve Perry’s voice, so we have to be really close to how Steve Perry has done it. That’s the hardest part.”

A number of bands have flourished in the wake of vocalist departures. After the tragic death of Bon Scott in 1980, Australian rockers AC/DC bounced back with Englishman Brian Johnson and scored the biggest-selling album of its career with Back In Black. British progressive rockers Genesis survived the post-Peter Gabriel doldrums with such platinum sellers as Duke, Abacab, Genesis, and Invisible Touch, thanks to the seamless integration of Phil Collins as lead singer.

And Van Halen lost no momentum when Sammy Hagar replaced the ostentatious David Lee Roth for 1986’s 5150, and continued to sell millions of albums and fill stadiums throughout the world into the 1990s.

Whether the departure of a singer is amicable or acrimonious, vocalists are usually the biggest risk factor in determining whether a group can survive the adjustment.

“It really depends on the individual act,” says Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar magazine. “Some of them are surprisingly successful, especially when you consider that the lead singer may well have been the focal point of the band.”

More recently, ’90s rock act Alice In Chains forged ahead with new co-vocalist/guitarist William DuVall. The group has released its first new album following the death of original lead vocalist Layne Staley in 2002, Black Gives Way To Blue, which debuted this week at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. The re-emergence of Alice In Chains began with a series of concerts in 2006, all with the blessing of Staley’s family. DuVall, a friend and collaborator of founding guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell’s for almost 10 years, was invited to participate and eventually found his place in the band.

“They lost a brother, but they gained a brother…. And I gained a new family,” DuVall told the Associated Press. “I think when people see it and they see the truth in it, it presents a profound metaphor for how all of us can rise above tragedy if we choose to.”

Whether it’s nostalgia or the music that drives the fans’ continued support in the face of these major personnel changes, Bongiovanni says there’s one common element these acts deliver in order to thrive and survive.

“The ability to put on a good live show,” he says. “That’s really key — and provide a satisfying experience for their fans.”

Gowan certainly feels that the live experience is largely responsible for Styx’s continued success. “I think every single audience member has a different agenda, but if they have one thing in common, it would be that they want the concert to take them to a different place then they were when they walked into the door,” says Gowan. “That’s probably my best contribution to the band so far. We are such a live entity, and people are looking for a great concert experience, and we are able to provide them with that. I know we can deliver every night.”

Singers For Hire | GRAMMY.com

Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits

Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits

Scott Bradlee and his rotating cast of singers and musicians redo current songs — from Radiohead to Katy Perry — for a bygone era.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Nov 16 2015

Shaken, not stirred.

No, we’re not talking about James Bond martinis, but the entertaining and imaginatively radical rearrangements of prevailing pop, rock and rap classics by New Jersey-raised pianist Scott Bradlee and musical combo Postmodern Jukebox, appearing at Massey Hall on Monday.

Musically speaking, Bradlee applies the same principle to his renditions of famous tunes that 007 does to his celebrated drink: throws all the ingredients into a metaphorical tumbler, tosses them into a bygone era, and then serves them up with a rotating cast of 60 singers and musicians, ranging from American Idol finalists Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams to Puddles, a six-foot-eight baritone cabaret singer in full clown costume.

Imagine Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” rearranged as a breathless, banjo-infested ragtime-era hoedown, or Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” reworked as a ’50s doo-wop number. Sometimes Bradlee switches up time signatures or inserts a few bars of another tune in the middle of a song, as he did with Wham!’s “Careless Whisper,” speeding up its tempo and briefly detouring into Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and “Message In a Bottle” by the Police.

You can hear and see them — along with 159 other revamped tunes — on Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox YouTube channel, which boasts 1.6 million subscribers and is updated Thursdays.

Bradlee, 34, says he can retrofit practically any song or style. Witness the first five songs PMJ performed at the Great Hall in Toronto in June 2014, their first live show ever: Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop,” Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child,” Kesha’s “Die Young” and the “Gummi Bears Theme Song.”

“Basically, the process involves picking out a song for its lyrics,” Bradlee explains. “I pick apart the lyrics and the structure of the song to see if there’s anything that would suggest it being recorded in an earlier era.
“For instance, ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ everybody knows it from the movie Titanic; it’s a Céline Dion song. But if you look at the lyrics, it’s essentially a ’50s song: it has that flowery language of “my heart will go on” and that’s something you can definitely hear sung by somebody like Jackie Wilson.
“So you’re hearing something familiar in a completely different context and it still works.”

Bradlee admits that some songs have him stymied.

“We never did a cover of ‘Uptown Funk’ because it already has the classic feel of ’70s funk. Mark Ronson is such a brilliant producer and Bruno Mars is a great vocalist; how do you write something new with that? It’s already classic.”

For Massey Hall, the show will feature “four or five vocalists,” a horn section and a tap dancer.

“If you were to go back in time to the Golden Age of Hollywood and you’re going to a New Year’s Eve party, it’s the kind of party that Frank Sinatra would go to,” Bradlee says.

 

Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits | Toronto Star

Postscript: Ironically, Scott Bradlee was the one person missing from the Postmodern Jukebox appearance at Massey Hall that featured Haley Reinhart, Casey Abrams and others. Franchise experimentation, perhaps?

Bryan Adams slips back into the groove

Bryan Adams slips back into the groove

Canadian rock star Bryan Adams says fans who like his music are going to love his new album, Get Up, “especially if you liked the stuff from the past.”

 

Nick Krewen, 

Music, Published on Fri Oct 16 2015

 

Short, sweet and succinct.

Get Up, the newly released 13th studio effort in the 100-million-record-selling Bryan Adams canon, contains 13 rock ’n’ roll songs that run a total of just over 36 minutes.

But four of those songs are acoustic retreads of the electric originals, so if you just count the nine primary numbers, the whole thing clocks in at 25 minutes.
That’s pretty short.

“There’s no frills,” Adams, 55, the rock star and celebrity photographer recently acknowledged in a Shangri-La Hotel suite during a recent visit.
“I think that’s what’s kind of nice about this: it’s very direct, very concise and it’s a very quick record.”

Adams also said, in this age of short attention spans, it’s an album that his record company felt it could handle.

“When I was getting to the point where I had enough songs, I called my record company and said, ‘Look, I think I’ve got an album here,’” he expounds. “One of my questions was, ‘How many songs do I need?’ And they came back and said, ‘Don’t give us a lot of music, because we can’t do anything with that. We wouldn’t be able to do a lot with a lot of songs. But if you give us a really succinct record, we’ll be able to do something.’

“And I said, ‘That’s quite good . . . because that’s what I’ve got!’” he laughs.

Helping Adams realize that artistic vision was Jeff Lynne, who is reviving his own Electric Light Orchestra with a Nov. 13 album called Alone in the Universe.

Lynne, who has produced hit albums for George Harrison, Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, the Traveling Wilburys (of which he was a member) and others, helped Adams craft a catchy, fun, hook-filled album that is full of radio-friendly rock. Most of the songs hover around the two-and-a-half-minute mark.

“He has great understanding about rock music,” said Adams, a Kingston, Ont. native, smartly but casually dressed in a custom-tailored crimson dress shirt and blue jeans.

“When you make a great record, it’s kind of a three-tier process. The first is the writing of the song, the second is the demo and the third is making a record. And you hope with each level of that process that it gets better.

“Whenever I made a demo with (Bob) Clearmountain (producer of Adams’ breakthrough albums Cuts Like a Knife, Reckless and Into the Fire), the level was, ‘That’s where we are now and if it isn’t better than the demo, we’ve got to go back to the demo and figure out what it was.’
“So we’d chase that a bit. And we always made it better, which was good.
“In the case with Jeff, it was exactly that: I would send a demo; Jeff would send it back as a record. I mean, he totally got it on every single level. On my vocal. The placement of my mixes, everything.”

In fact, Adams goes on to say that Get Up is an album he wished he made 25 years ago.

“When I think about the trilogy of You Want It, You Got It, Cuts Like a Knife and Reckless, those records have a real unity to them. These songs could have been on the same record. I feel I could have slotted this album in right after Reckless.”

Contributing to that particular sonic unity is the re-emergence on Get Up of Vancouver-based Jim Vallance as Adams’ chief songwriting partner.

The duo was responsible for such time-honoured Adams classics as “Summer of ’69,” “Run To You,” “Heaven” and “Cuts Like a Knife” before taking a break following 1987’s Into the Fire.

“We’ve been working quite hard over the last five or six years on songs,” Adams notes. “It’s taken us a couple of years to get back up to speed and it feels really natural.”

Adams wasn’t even considering making an album until the duo submitted a track to Lynne.

“When Jeff came along and asked me if I wanted to cut a track, we got it back and I said to Jim, ‘Do you think we’ve got something here?’ He replied, ‘I think we really do.’ We sent another song and, suddenly, everything started to come together. There was a focus: this is where we’re going.”

The 19-time Juno Award winner and Canadian Hall of Fame member says he wanted to hire Lynne as a producer as far back as the 1999 song “The Best of Me.” Currently there no plans to work with him again, but Adams says he’d like to.

For the moment, Adams is enjoying the tail end of a busy two-year period that saw him release his cover songs album Tracks of My Years, the 30th anniversary edition of Reckless — the very first album by a Canadian artist to sell one million records in this country — and an anniversary world tour, as well as a book of portrait photography called Wounded: The Legacy of War (with journalist Caroline Froggatt) that benefited war veterans.

Now he’s planning to follow it up with a world tour to promote Get Up, and figures it should hit North America and Toronto sometime next spring or summer.

“It’s a very cohesive record and I know it’s going to be a lot of fun to play,” he says. “It’s definitely a band album. Fans who like my music are going to love this album a lot . . . especially if you liked the stuff from the past.

“If you like those old songs, you’re going to love this record. It feels modern to me. When you listen to a song like ‘That’s Rock N’ Roll,’ it sounds fresh to me.”

 

Bryan Adams slips back into the groove | Toronto Star

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre

At 73 years old, the Beatles co-founder delivered a set that would leave younger musicians reaching for their water bottles.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sun Oct 18 2015

 

Paul McCartney, 73, churned out an impressive 41 songs during a three-hour marathon at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, with nary a water bottle in sight.

To put this in perspective, most artists play between 18 and 25 songs over an evening concert. Sometimes, for extra-lengthy shows, the number may reach 32 to 34. And these artists often take sips from nearby water bottles, understandably, while performing under hot spotlights.

The co-founder of the Beatles, the most influential group in pop history, needed no refreshments, even after a fireball-laden rendition of the James Bond theme “Live And Let Die,” where there was so much pyrotechnic mayhem during the instrumental chaos that even the audience could easily feel the heat.

Actually, if anything, McCartney — backed by a stellar band that included guitarist Rusty Anderson, guitarist/bass player Brian Ray, keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens and the spectacular Abe Laboriel Jr. on drums — seemed more invigorated as the show progressed.

In a much chattier mood than the last time he was in Toronto, a jovial McCartney told a few interesting and amusing tales between numbers, joking around with the estimated 18,000 in attendance.

Playing his signature Hohner bass and launching with the Beatles classic “Eight Days A Week,” McCartney offered a fine selection of hits from both the Fab Four and the Wings as well as some obscurities and songs from his latest album, the aptly-named New.

Along with the expected favourites like “The Long And Winding Road,” “Lady Madonna” and “Let It Be” — each adhering to the original arrangements loved and cherished by so many — came a few surprises: “Let Me Roll It,” (which included an instrumental coda of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady”) and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five” from the Wings’ watershed Band On The Run, “One After 909,” “Another Girl” and “Helter Skelter” from the Beatles, and he dusted off “Mull of Kintyre” for all the Scots in the house complete with pipes and drums from the Paris-Port Dover pipe band.

If that wasn’t enough, McCartney, who still sings gloriously and is as adept on guitar and piano as he is on bass, performed the first half of George Harrison’s “Something” on a ukulele in tribute to his fallen comrade. He also paid tribute to John Lennon during “Here Today” (after a poignant version of “Blackbird”), calling the number written after Lennon’s assassination “the conversation I wished we had.”

And to show he’s still fresh and vital creatively, McCartney performed his recent Rihanna-Kanye West collaboration “FourFiveSeconds.”
“Here’s a song I wrote with Kanye West,” he announced, adding the slightly sarcastic quip, “That was fun.”

The highlights were many: the tender “My Valentine” he dedicated to his wife Nancy; “Maybe I’m Amazed,” dedicated to his late first wife Linda; the rocking party atmospheres of “Ob La Di, Ob La Da” and “Back In the U.S.S.R,” and even a false start on the newer “Temporary Secretary” were rendered with McCartney charm and precision.

By the time one of the most influential architects of pop music performed the sing-a-long “Hey Jude,” the concert had become an unabashed love-in between performer and audience.

In a week where Toronto is being spoiled by appearances by the two surviving Beatles — Ringo Starr is at Massey Hall on Tuesday — it is McCartney, concluding his show with the words “see you next time,” who will be the one to produce a concert five years from now as potent and as powerful as the spectacle just witnessed.

Nobody else can keep up with him.

 

Paul McCartney delivers marathon concert at the Air Canada Centre | Toronto Star

Madonna in Toronto for most ambitious tour yet: review

 

Charismatic singer, 57, puts on physically intense, highly theatrical two-hour show at Air Canada Centre Monday night that shows age is just a number

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Tue Oct 06 2015

Madonna
AIr Canada Centre. Monday, Oct. 5, 2015.

At 57, Madonna is still wears her Rebel Heart on her sleeve.

The provocative Miss Ciccone, who has made a career out of pushing buttons and boundaries, continued to do so during a physically intense, highly theatrical two-hour-and-15-minute show at the Air Canada Centre Monday night.

For the first of two sell-out concerts in front of an adoring crowd of 14,000, the just-christened nominee for the Songwriters Hall of Fame did what she does best — entertain and titillate, with some stunning visuals and a coterie of 20 dancers who often performed breathtaking moves.

After descending from a cage in a costume that resembled an ancient Samurai master for “Iconic,” one of several new tracks showcased from Rebel Heart, her purest pop album in ages, Madonna ultimately transformed into the sassy chameleon that has charmed music fans and concertgoers for over three decades.

With a stage layout that included a portion of the stage that tilted at a 45-degree angle, and a sword-shaped catwalk that extended three-quarters into the venue, with its “hilt” stretching into the wings, Madonna literally transformed herself from warrior, surrounding herself with armour-clad dancers, to rock star — strumming a guitar during a molten re-working of her very first album’s “Burning Up” — to stripping down to a corset and blurring the lines of sex and religion with “Holy Water.”

As female dancers, dressed in nun’s habits, gyrated around sword-shaped poles — including one that balanced the singer on her back in an incredible feat of strength — and later, transformed the famous Last Supper picture into something of an orgy, you could almost feel Pope Francis looking on with disapproval.

But Madonna has never apologized for being naughty and she wasn’t about to do so in Toronto.

After being groped by a dancer throughout “Body Shop” — on a set that resembled an auto body shop, Madonna brought out her ukulele and strummed out an acoustic version of her chaste pop classic “True Blue.”

At one point, she asked the crowd if they were on anti-depressants.

“I have some anti-depressants for you,” she chimed. “Sing and dance. Dance and sing. There are your anti-depressants.”

Madonna also doesn’t settle for simply serving up the hits in an expected manner. Wearing a matador’s costume for “Living For Love,” she kept the flamenco theme going for “La Isla Bonita” and “Dress You Up” (which incorporated brief forays into “Dress You Up” and “Into The Groove”), turning the party into a fiesta where mini-shots of Jose Cuervo were launched into the crowd.

Her fans, some older, some costumed members of the LGBT community, lapped it all up.

No matter what she did, the charismatic singer, songwriter and dancer constantly proved that she has lost none of her edge — even performing a rendition of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose.”

The show wasn’t perfect: the dance she performed during “Like a Virgin” was a bit goofy and unintentionally comical, and there were moments throughout the show where she sang a little flat.

But considering she bookended the Toronto appearances by another pop queen — Taylor Swift — and staged a performance that physically ran circles around her younger competitors, age ain’t nothing but a number as far as Madonna’s concerned.

This is probably the blonde’s most ambitious tour yet, and maybe even her most rewarding.

Madonna in Toronto for most ambitious tour yet: review | Toronto Star

Postscript:  The special guest that Madonna brought to the stage for their “spanking” was Nelly Furtado.

Taylor Swift delivers flawless performance in Toronto

 

During 1989 tour stop at Rogers Centre Swift gives shout out to the Jays, sings with guest Keith Urban.

 

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Sat Oct 03 2015

When it comes to giving stellar performances, Taylor Swift is in a league of her own.

The 25-year-old singer and songwriter delivered another flawless gem of a concert at Rogers Centre Friday for the first of two sold-out nights, a little more than two years after she gave a flawless gem of a concert at the same venue.

Since 2013, only her musical direction has changed: back then, with the Red tour, Swift was still considered a country music emissary.

For her current 1989 tour, as the opening strains of “Welcome To New York” filled the stadium, Swift declared her new symbolic transformation into pop ingenue by stylishly emerging from the stage in a sparkling jacket, black bustier, short red skirt, a pair of shades and with a dozen male dancers.

For the next two hours, the leggy, willowy blond, who struts down the long catwalk leading to a small stage midway through the stadium like a high-paid model, focused mainly on glittery production numbers from her electronic-driven, multi-million-selling pop album 1989.

These were not mere retreads of the records: “I Knew You Were Trouble” started off slow and sensual, eventually building into a steamy, synth-laden number that bore little resemblance to the uptempo 1989 rendition. On “Blank Space,” she created a vocal loop with the words “Blue Jays” and sang the bridge over it.

There were a few nods to the past — a simply guitar-only accompaniment of “You Belong To Me;” a synth-driven rendition of “Love Story” — both from 2008’s Fearless, and a pair from 2012’s Red, including the catchy “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together.”

Otherwise, it was all 1989 and the bells and whistles you’d expect at a Taylor Swift show: the giant whirling catwalk, surreal Freudian film clips, colourful dance routines, fireworks — and this show’s special guest, Keith Urban, performing his hits “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and “Somebody Like You,” with the hostess chiming in occasionally on vocal.

But what separates Swift from every other performer is her ability to connect with her audience outside the music. She doesn’t talk at her fans, she talks with them, and the lengthy observations about emotions she’s experienced seem to stem from sincerity, bringing people into the Pennsylvania native’s world on a level far more personal than most entertainers manage.

It’s a trait that spills into her music and it may just be Taylor Swift’s greatest talent: the world’s most relatable pop superstar.

If opening act Shawn Mendes was even the slightest bit daunted about playing in front of 45,000 people with his acoustic guitar as his only crutch, the Pickering resident didn’t show it.

Going the Ed Sheeran route seems to agree with him, as the Vine-discovered star quickly cajoled the predominantly female crowd to sing along with him on “Life Of The Party,” “Something Big” and his current radio hit, “Stitches.”

Handling himself with great poise, confidence and humility, Mendes has a long, healthy career in front of him.

 

Taylor Swift delivers flawless performance in Toronto | Toronto Star

Emm Gryner – musical multi-tasker

 

Between her new solo album, her bands Trent Severn and Trapper, and her family, singer stays busy but focused.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Oct 12 2015

 

Emm Gryner has become quite the proficient juggler.

A couple of weeks ago, the Juno-nominated, Sarnia-born singer and songwriter released her 16th studio album, 21st Century Ballads.

On Oct. 9, Trillium — the sophomore effort from Trent Severn, Gryner’s hoser folk collaboration with fellow songwriters Dayna Manning and Laura C. Bates — hit the streets.

Gryner’s hosting a songwriting workshop at Sheridan College in Oakville during the Oct. 17 weekend and concurrently hops over to the annual Folk Music Ontario Conference in Toronto.

Throw in the occasional appearance with astronaut Chris Hadfield (Gryner guested on his space station-recorded cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”); the writing and recording of an album with Trapper, the hard-rock quartet Gryner formed with guitarist Sean Kelly, her brother Frank, bass player Jordan Kern and drummer Tim Timleck; the running of her boutique label Dead Daisy Records and last, but certainly not least, family life (she’s the married mother of two). It makes you wonder: where does Gryner find the time?
“I just started a spreadsheet calendar,” she replied over the phone from Calgary, the day after a Trent Severn show.

“It’s been about the only way I can keep track of stuff. I have a really hard time organizing my time.”

Finding and maintaining a life/art balance has been foremost on Gryner’s mind lately, a theme that permeates “The Race,” the opening track of 21st Century Ballads, and refers to the late 1999-2000 period she spent on the road playing keyboards with Bowie.

But the tune is actually about Lawrence Gowan, the Toronto-based artist whose solo career spawned hits like “A Criminal Mind” and “Moonlight Desires” before he replaced Dennis DeYoung in Styx as lead singer and keyboardist.

“It was the first song I wrote for the album because I joined his (Gowan’s) band for a week last year,” recalls Gryner, a multi-instrumentalist. “It was the most life-changing event for me.

“But what really inspired me is that I’m at a place in my life where I’m just amazed at anyone who’s a successful musician and who has kept their family together. Gowan is a total family man. It was really interesting to see the choices he’s made in his career to keep music and family. That’s what that song is really about.”

At 40, Gryner has been doing quite a bit of reflection herself and the voice-and-piano driven 21st Century Ballads is partially the result.

“Trying to find a balance as a woman in this stage of my life has been a challenge for me,” she admits. “So there are a lot of songs that I wrote to heal myself.

“I really wanted to write lyrics that are not watered down and you water things down when you start censoring yourself. I just tried to make sure that I put on the record what was happening in my life at the time the songs were written. I feel really good about it.”

Not all of the songs are personal.

“‘The Wild Weight of Earth’ was inspired by some of the stories of female teenagers committing suicide, which I think is so heartbreaking,” she explains.

“‘Duped’ is learning about someone you know being accused of criminal activity. The last one, ‘Visiting Hours’ is sort of a tribute to a fan of mine who passed away from cancer.

“They sound like a lot of depressing themes, but I think there’s a beautiful outcome from some of the sadness that we endure. I’m aware that this stuff goes on and I’m trying to focus on the light in the world.”

At the other end of the spectrum is the plaid-adorned Trent Severn, which — with harmony-honed, fiddle-laced folk tunes “Stealin’ Syrup,” “Haliburton High” and “King of the Background,” a tribute to late Band keyboardist Richard Manuel — sound more Canadian than back bacon, a toque and hockey put together.

“We want to highlight our shared experiences,” Gryner says on behalf of the band, booked for a Dec. 3 date at Hugh’s Room for a Trillium CD release party.
“It’s about the things that we all share: we all shovel our driveway . . . we all go to Tim Hortons once in awhile. Without going into novelty territory, which would be easy to do, we just try to think of the things that we love about Canada.”

Again, getting organized — especially after having kids — forced Gryner to sort out her priorities and to start compartmentalizing her sound to a degree.
“Having more projects keeps me focused on each one of them,” Gryner explains.

“With my solo stuff there was always a touch of country in them and a little bit of rock. I considered my previous albums to be stylistically schizophrenic.

“Once I got to put all the roots, country and folk style into Trent Severn, I was really able to focus on the classical element of my pop solo career. And then the Trapper thing, which is more of a fun thing, came along, but I’ve always loved rock music.

“It may seem that I’m really busy, and I guess that I am, but I take fewer gigs now and they seem to be more meaningful. I’m not getting on a plane to go play some little place that’s far, far away . . . I’m keeping it close to home.”

Emm Gryner, musical multi-tasker | Toronto Star

One Direction on the right track at Rogers Centre: review

One Direction sounded as good as four pop singers with a multi-million dollar aural-and-video production values should sound: perfect. Make that nearly perfect.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Thu Aug 20 2015

One Direction
3 stars
At the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Aug. 20

When you consider it, One Direction is the anti-boy-band boy band.

Stack them up against the earlier progenitors of poster pop pablum, whether it’s reaching as far back as the ’60s for the Osmonds and the Jackson 5, or as recently as the late ’90s watermarks Backstreet Boys and ‘NSYNC, and the one thing they don’t do that all the others did is . . . dance.

But the absence of slick, relentless choreography is something the 40,000 mainly female fans who packed Rogers Centre on Thursday night didn’t seem to mind, since they were sharing the same source of oxygen as their singing idols, Harry Styles, soon-to-be-baby-daddy Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne and guitar-strumming Niall Horan.

In its first Toronto appearance since the fifth singer Zayn Malik abandoned ship, One Direction sounded as good as four pop singers with multi-million dollar aural-and-video production values should sound: perfect.

Make that nearly perfect.

There were some flat notes on “No Control” and “Diana” and a few other spots, especially by Tomlinson, but it’s not like the fans noticed or held them accountable for it.

Instead, they cheered their heroes as they sang each song faithfully, beginning with a fireworks-blasting “Clouds” and following it up with a streamer-shooting “Steal My Girl,” both from the group’s latest album, Four, and screamed at the tops of their lungs whenever they were asked to scream.

If there is a formula to pop music, One Direction and its group of management overseers, which includes American Idol’s Simon Cowell, have perfected it: hire a bunch of influential Swedish writers to craft tuneful three-to-four minute ditties about love, love and more love (with the occasional creative input from 1D themselves).

Then ensure that every singer in the band shares the lead and backs the rest of his pals on harmonies when he’s not singing lead and, while performing, have them walk around the stage just being themselves, with no pre-rehearsed banter, save for the occasional positioning onstage to spread the One Direction love.

Oh and the other pièce de résistance? Every time a different One Direction member grabs the microphone, have them thank their audience often and profusely, because, really, what else is there to talk about when you’re entertaining a bunch of screaming fans?

It’s this anti-approach that’s been a stroke of genius since the band first appeared at the ACC four years ago and usurped where-are-they-now headliners Big Time Rush with their humble, wide-eyed charm.

Five years later and brimming with confidence, One Direction hasn’t really refined their act as much as just become more comfortable with their talent

.
Roaming up and down a T-shaped stage that stretched halfway into the venue, the boys spent the better part of two hours concentrating on their past two albums, only dipping into their first for the upbeat “What Makes You Beautiful,” their second for “Little Things” and “Kiss You,” and their new single “Drag You Down” from the inevitable fifth album that will crash the charts in November.

The songs varied in pacing from power pop to ballads, with Styles, who draped himself with the Canadian flag a couple of times during the evening, seemingly taxed with the more challenging vocal motifs.

The spontaneity came mainly from onstage action: water gun fights between Payne and Tomlinson, a happy birthday serenade to 15-year-old blue-haired Jean, a Payne hug to a gobsmacked fan, Styles’ brief wander into the crowd and Horan’s sloppily improvised Riverdance during the playful Celtic romp “Act My Age.”

It all added up to keeping the disciples pretty giddy and somewhat satiated after 25 songs.

It’s inevitable that time and the fickle tastes of the public will eventually catch up and doom One Direction, but judging by the Rogers Centre audience, that moment seems far, far away.

For 40,000 fans, at least, the band is still heading in the right direction.

One Direction on the right track at Rogers Centre: review | Toronto Star

 

The Weeknd proves he’s Toronto’s next superstar: concert review

R&B crooner Abel Tesfaye, aka the Weeknd, treated crowd at Mod Club to a sort of preview of new album Beauty Behind the Madness.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Wed Aug 26 2015

The Weeknd
At the Mod Club, Aug. 25

He’s earned it all right.

The climatic moment in the Weeknd’s recent video for his chart-topping hit “Can’t Feel My Face” occurs when the singer is set on fire by an audience member while performing. He finishes the song “Human Torch” style, his skin unblemished as the flames engulf him.

The metaphor expressed in the video applied to the hottest ticket in town on Tuesday night, when alt R&B crooner Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. the Weeknd, treated a capacity crowd at the Mod Club to a preview of sorts of his new album out Friday, Beauty Behind the Madness.

With a crowd of 620 onlookers that included artists Francesco Yates and Kardinal Offishall, new Bell Media entertainment production president Randy Lennox and his Universal Music Canada replacement Jeffrey Remedios, several hundred Virgin Radio contest winners and those lucky enough to grab $9.99 tickets, Tesfaye and his three-piece band zigzagged from past to present during an exuberant hour-long set that signaled the arrival of Canada’s — nay, Toronto’s — next international superstar.

Yeah, you could argue that the Weeknd, who will kick off his world tour with a Nov. 3 Air Canada Centre date (tickets are on sale Friday), has already reached that pinnacle — especially since he owns two of the five top-selling songs on Billboard this week — but one got the feeling with this concert that Tesfaye is only beginning to come into his own.

Starting with “Losers,” an aggressive new up-tempo Beauty track, the man with the gravity-defying hair and equally buoyant falsetto bounced around the stage like he had something to prove, and spun through a quick succession of three more soon-to-be-R&B classics — “Tell Your Friends,” “Acquainted” and “In the Morning” — before he returned, as he put it, “to 2011” for House of Balloons’ “High for This.”

At that point, the show became more of a communal event, with the crowd serenading Tesfaye with the lyrics from “Often” and “Glass Table Girls” as he echoed their words.

The crowd lost it when he briefly detoured with Drake’s “Crew Love” (which he initially contributed vocals to) and sang along intensely to his hit ballad

“Earned It” from the film Fifty Shades of Grey, Tesfaye’s impressive falsetto effortlessly gliding into stratospheric octaves.

The funky “Can’t Feel My Face” got the whole joint jumping to the point you could feel the floor move under your feet, and Tesfaye cajoled the audience to “go motherf—ing crazy” for “The Hills,” before returning for an acoustic-driven, slightly accelerated version of “Wicked Games” to close out the set.

In a club that hosted the Weeknd’s very first gig and one he keeps coming back to, it was an evening his fans won’t soon forget.

The Weeknd proves he’s Toronto’s next superstar: concert review | Toronto Star