Musical Space

Musical Space: Hip Hop

Jun 25, 2013

Sampling in Hip-Hop reached its height in the late 80s and early 90s. The legality of using samples from someone else’s song was vague; a lot of djs risked being sued, and ended up doing amazing things by putting together quotations of wildly different familiar music.

Four examples of samples that ended up being used by the band De La Soul:

Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

Street music has probably been around as long as there have been streets.

Igor Stravinsky’s revolutionary ballet The Rite of Spring was premiered 100 years ago this May.

Wikimedia Commons

You might not have heard of John Hammond, but in terms of cultural significance he was arguably the world’s most influential record producer.

At the beginning of his career in the 1930s, largely because of his deep convictions about racial equality and civil rights, Hammond helped shape the the jazz scene.

Makers of pop music have always engineered their songs to sound big and loud. Motown records, for instance, have a legendary, huge sound. Sometimes, though, loudness can be overdone, and this problem seems to be getting worse.

The technology behind this is a device called a compressor. Its job is to keep a volume level consistent. This is great when you want, say, a vocalist to remain audible above the other instruments.

For two decades now, Beck Hansen has been keeping his music fresh and compelling by never letting it be defined by genre or convention. He gets his listeners to rethink pop formulas by deconstructing, combining and transcending them. Every release by Beck is different from the last one; previous albums have merged and reexamined rock, hip-hop, latin and folk styles. With his latest release, Song Reader, Beck has outdone himself.

freakgirl / flickr

“Happy Birthday to You” is one of the best known songs in the world, but one rarely hears it in a movie or on TV.

There is a monetary reason for this: “Happy Birthday To You” is copyright protected, and to use it can cost a producer as much as $30,000.

It is incredible to me that the song is not in the public domain, but this is one of those strange stories born at the intersection of popular music and copyright law.


The tune was written for a song "Good Morning to All" in 1893 by Louisville kindergarten teachers Patty and Mildred Hill.

Musical Space: Merch

Feb 5, 2013
Split Lip Rayfield

Now that CDs aren’t making money, more of a musician's income is from selling "merch" - merchandise: T-shirts, stickers, guitar picks, etc.

Merch might not be the main part of a band’s revenue stream, but I think it has become a bigger part of the musical experience since the beginning of the digital age.

Merch is essential for the true fan. An MP3 is a transitory and abstract thing; a concert T-shirt on the other hand is tangible and enduring.

John Cage, one of the most influential and revolutionary composers of the 20th Century, was born almost exactly 100 years ago. He was very well schooled as a composer, but it seems as though his mission was to reject nearly every compositional technique he was taught, and instead push the boundaries, even the very definition of music. His results were, to say the least, interesting.

American musician Raymond Scott was one of the most important composers of the Twentieth Century because had a knack for constant innovation and writing music for emerging media. I can’t think of any other composer who was so ahead of his time while also being so recognizable.

In the 1930s the Raymond Scott Quintette played original novelty pop tunes that combined experimental textures, frenetic tempos and appropriated jazz riffs. He played regularly on radio and film; selling a lot of records in the process.

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