'The Next Big Thing' in Music

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Talk of the Nation kicks off a weeklong series, "The Next Big Thing," with a look at the music world. Bob Boilen, host of NPR's All Songs Considered, talks about artists to listen for in the coming year, and highlights new trends in the music industry.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And today, we kick off that weeklong series on what's coming up in 2008. We'll talk about movies, about ideas and, yes, of course, about baseball, but begin with music.

And we do want to hear from you about the next great artist, but we also want to know about trends in music and the music business. What's going to be hot? Our number is 800-989-8255. You can also send us e-mail, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Bob Boilen joins us here in Studio 3A. He's the host of NPR's online music program ALL SONGS CONSIDERED.

And, Bob, nice to have you back on the program.

BOB BOILEN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And happy New Year.

BOILEN: Happy New Year to you.

CONAN: Now recently, your band - you're a member of a band in addition to a radio host - performed at the 9:30 Club, which is here at Washington, D.C. And your guitar player joined the band from California. Tell us about that.

BOILEN: Well, I had been, all year long, playing with somebody I hadn't played music for, for 17 years, a friend of mine, Michael Barren(ph). And we got together, there was a - now, the way we did this, we did it with a piece of software called eJamming. And we - he could be in his bedroom in his home studio in California and I could be in my room in Maryland, and sometime around midnight, my time, and 9 o'clock his time, we'd get together and we'd jam.

And we could do this in real time through the Internet and make - and create music. And it was quite amazing. And so there was a benefit for a friend who is ill of cancer to try to raise money for them. And it was going to be just a 10-minute set. There were going to 30 bands that night. We got over 10 minutes to fly Michael all the way from California and it's expensive…

CONAN: Yeah. Really far.

BOILEN: Let's fly the tight - the high-wire act and try to fly Michael in, so to speak, via the Internet and play music online in front of a crowd.

CONAN: Now, we've all seen, you know, there was that Frank Sinatra duets, where he recorded in one studio - and there are these virtual, but never in real time.

BOILEN: That - well, that's the thing. To overcome the - it's just law of physics where you will have delays, so playing music, when one person is slightly behind the other, makes for a, you know, well, interesting music to some and pretty lousy music to others.

CONAN: Hey, he just seems to be playing at half a beat late.

BOILEN: Right.

CONAN: And so how do they - I don't know, the miracle of electronics - but is this going to be a next big thing in music, do you think?

BOILEN: Well, here's what I've seen over and over again. I've had at home studios since the 1980s, and more and more music comes out by people making music alone in their rooms, in their kitchens, in their bedrooms, wherever it might be. And now that this company - and there are probably a couple others - this one called eJamming AUDiiO - have licked the problem of that time delay, I imagine that more and more people will call up their friend they hadn't played with since college or call up that, you know, that music star that they'd love to play with, and he might just be sitting home…

CONAN: Who knows, yeah.

BOILEN: …and get together. And I'm hoping that…

CONAN: Louie, Louie, in B flat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BOILEN: I've got my bassoon. I'm ready.

CONAN: I'm ready, yeah. So, now, how is this different from Rock Band, which is sort of a video game that a bunch of people around the country can get together and play music at the same time?

BOILEN: I think this is actually really creating art as opposed to making and playing a game. I mean, there's been online gaming; that's real time. But making art online in real time is - the prospects are fascinating for me.

CONAN: And does this cost a lost of money to do that?

BOILEN: Well, right now, they're in Beta. This company, eJamming AUDiiO is in Beta. It's free. I bet that they'll charge and I don't know, but they'll charge 10 bucks a month if you join it. And you can do it and you can meet up with people in some lobby who are sitting somewhere in Kansas or wherever, and say, hey, let's try jamming, let's try playing. So you'll play with all new people that you never thought to play with before. And I think - I love that.

CONAN: Hmm. We're talking with Bob Boilen about The Next Big Thing. It's going to be a weeklong series on a variety of subjects. Today, we're talking about music.

If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

And let's talk with Bill(ph), and Bill's on the line with us from St. Louis, Missouri.

BILL (Caller): Hi, guys. Great to talk to both of you guys. Neal, I listen to the show every day and, Bob, I get your podcast.

BOILEN: Thanks.

CONAN: And thank you.

BILL: So the reason I'm calling is just to mention two of the trends I noticed this year. First is - I don't buy as much music as I used to but that being said, I spend more money. I go to a lot of concerts now. Not as many as I would like, but there's been a lot of (unintelligible) concerts, bands like the Arcade Fire and Interpol, who is actually on a major label. But I like to go and see shows whenever I get a chance. The sound seems to have changed a little bit. I guess the influence of bands like the White Stripes has kind of brought the industry to, I guess, a less mainstream sound.

But the second thing I want to mention is the competition with different types of entertainment has really forced the consumers and the industry as well to change their approach to music. You see, kids are, like, downloading music, but I don't necessarily think that's the reason that the music industry is changing so much. I think, you know, I spend a lot more money on DVDs than I do on CDs.

CONAN: Hmm. Interesting the way you said major label with the contempt drooling out of his mouth. Go ahead.

BOILEN: Well, first of all, there wouldn't be so many great bands if it weren't for major labels in the old days nurturing lots and lots of talent, so that, you know, there are still good acts. Interpol you mentioned, maybe not their best record this year, but it's on a major label. But there's a great, little niche world. If you go out to - in many, many cities all over the country, you can go to clubs of a thousand people and under, we, webcast music from the 9:30 Club in Washington, that's about a thousand people, and see remarkable, new, vibrant bands making interesting music.

And, you know, it had gotten to a point where, if you wanted to see somebody you love, you had to go with, you know, 20,000 other people. And it really wasn't a great experience. And now, to your hometown, there's probably maybe, I don't know. Where you live, are there three clubs, four clubs where you can go to?

CONAN: In St. Louis?

BILL: In St. Louis, there's one major venue called The Pageant, although there are a handful of other smaller venues around here.

I'll also interject and say probably the two best shows I have ever seen live were not the type of radio names that you hear. They were the Magnetic Fields and Belle and Sebastian. Those were, without a doubt, two of the best concerts I've ever been to. And I saw them here in St. Louis. So…

BOILEN: And, you know, the…

BILL: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BOILEN: I was just going to say and those are two remarkable - Magnetic Fields do intriguing music reminiscent of pop music with Gershwin, the Ira, and George kind of cleverness to the music they make though it's, you know, it's edgy and it's weird and wonderful.

CONAN: Great…

BILL: And if your listeners haven't heard your segment with Stephin Merritt, writing the song in a day; that was probably my favorite radio clip that I've heard this year.

CONAN: I'm actually looking to be what's going to be the great clip for next year. But that's okay, Bill. Thanks very much for the call.

BOILEN: Thank you.

BILL: Sure.

CONAN: All right. Bye-bye. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line.

Our guest, by the way, Bob Boilen, host of ALL SONGS CONSIDERED.

And this is Joanne(ph), Joanne with us from Kansas in Missouri.

JOANNE (caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi.

JOANNE: Yes, and that Kansas lobby, how does a 45-year-old mom of six - very techno savvy kids learn and even begin to understand what you're talking about? It sounds wonderful.

BOILEN: Well, look, you - years ago, when I directed ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I get e-mail after e-mail. And before that, letter after letter on postcard from people who said, god, I've always loved music. I just love it, I love it, I love it. I grew up - I'm a baby boomer. And I've lost the thread, that thread that you keep and know, well, this artist is good and the sound like this. So eight years ago, I started a show, self-promotion here, but - a show called ALL SONGS CONSIDERED, and tried to find six or eight artists every week online at NPR that you would fall in love with at least a small handful or one of them each week. And so, because there is the generation I am from that you're from. Music was so important to us.

JOANNE: Yep.

BOILEN: And for many people, in many cities, unless you're lucky, there's not a great music radio station. So, one way…

JOANNE: No.

CONAN: But I think she's actually talking about how is that e-music, the jamming.

JOANNE: Yeah. Because, like, I'm a singer, but I don't know anyone to go jam with. And you said meet up in a lobby and go jamming.

BOILEN: I see.

JOANNE: I mean, you know, this would actually enable (unintelligible). I took my 13-year-old can probably…

BOILEN: So as an artist, as a creator of music, not just a consumer.

CONAN: Consumer.

BOILEN: Well, you know, this, you need to buy, for 100 bucks, you can get a USB microphone, plug it into your computer, and one of your children will help you do that.

JOANNE: Yes.

CONAN: It's a regular microphone with a USB plug on the cord.

BOILEN: So plug it in, and then on this e-Jamming site, there's video tutorials that will tell you how this software works. And basically…

CONAN: But does it take - you can sign up, I'm a singer, I'm looking for a band?

BOILEN: Exactly. And when you go on and let's say that all the kids are out of the house and it's 9 o'clock, you type, you go online, you log-in, you see, oh, Sam, a guitar player, loves blues, he's in the lobby, he's waiting for a session, and you start a session together.

JOANNE: Oh, my god.

BOILEN: Yes, exactly. I mean, it really is, you know, you have to be - you have to get over the shyness factor, but then again, you may never have to worry about it and see this person again if you…

CONAN: Let me ask you a question. Will then all of these performances exist somewhere in the - online somewhere for the rest of time?

JOANNE: The YouTube realm.

BOILEN: You can hit the record button or not.

CONAN: I see.

BOILEN: So that's up to you.

CONAN: Okay.

JOANNE: And so I can listen to this program later and find out what programs you're talking about buying?

BOILEN: Yeah, although this isn't buying. And it just…

CONAN: It's in beta so far, which means they're still testing it. And it's eJamming.

BOILEN: ejamming.com. E-J-A-M-M-I-N-G.

JOANNE: Thank you. I appreciate it.

BOILEN: Okay.

CONAN: All right. Good luck with it.

BOILEN: Maybe we'll see you in the lobby some night.

JOANNE: Okay.

CONAN: Let's have a bassoon player.

JOANNE: Okay.

CONAN: We're talking with Bob Boilen on The Next Big Thing. Our focus today is on music, not only the next great artist, but trends in the music business.

800-989-8255; e-mail is Talk@NPR.org.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we should get to some artist who you think are really going to break through this next year or ought to anyway.

BOILEN: Well, and I'll do that by having heard snippets of some of their music - some are in advance, some put out little bits. One of them is a group we highlighted on ALL SONGS CONSIDERED called Vampire Weekend. This is a band from Brooklyn. And I'd like to just play this for you, Neal, and just see if you catch any reference points.

CONAN: All right. This is the Vampire Weekend.

(Soundbite of song, "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa")

Mr. EZRA KOENIG (Vocalist, Vampire Weekend): As a young girl, Louis Vuitton, with your mother on a sandy lawn. As a sophomore…

CONAN: That band is Vampire Weekend. Do they all have diamonds on the soles of their shoes?

BOILEN: Isn't it amazing? I mean, here are folks that are in their 20s with reference points really for them, it's probably Paul Simon's "Graceland." And their reference point is to something that probably came out, which did come out in 1986, probably the year they were born. They're all Columbia University students. And I always - it makes me fascinated to think of, when I was 21, to listen to music that was 20 years my - in my past, never would have done it.

CONAN: Sure.

BOILEN: I mean, I didn't, I mean, my dad played some big band stuff from the '40s, but truth be told, I was looking forward. And what's really quite remarkable, because of the Internet, is that the intern I had this summer who was fascinated by this kind of music, it's all out there. And it's easier to get. And you can listen to lots of things and build up a music history and get really excited about stuff. And then in this case, for these folks from Columbia, formed a band with reference points that point to Paul Simon and "Graceland" and more than that, when you listen to the record, that - they have an album that comes out the end of January of 2008 - but quite remarkable and wonderful.

CONAN: Vampire Weekend.

Here's an e-mail from Daniel(ph) in Louisville. I don't think it's possible for the existence of a new craze in music. With so many bands and so many acts and artists, I think it's possible for everyone to find their niche and fear crossing genres to create the next big thing. Making another movement such as grunge, which was, in my opinion, the last true movement in the music business, is looking like a bleaker task every day from a musician standpoint.

BOILEN: Well, I mean, there are, you know, hundreds and hundreds of little subgenres in music, you know, be it two-step or dubbed two-step or methrock or — well, you - and they're just all there to be had. And I think it is, in terms of it being front cover, "Time" magazine type genre, that doesn't come so often, but there's plenty of it.

And this next band that I'd like to play is called, they're called Yeasayer. What's interesting about — what we've seen all year was lots of music with great hooks, verse-chorus, verse-chorus, but then there's this ground swell of bands that are coming out, and this speaks to his e-mail that have less and less of that.

It's much more model music, it's music that builds over time, but it doesn't have a, you know, that chorus hook that we look for. And it's fascinating.

CONAN: Yeasayer.

(Soundbite of music)

YEASAYER (Band): (Unintelligible) and I get old and I get hopeful. The stone is cracked in million ways making me blind (unintelligible) and the fish begin to fly (unintelligible).

CONAN: Not looking necessarily to have something to dance to, are they?

BOILEN: Right. And it's kind of a very hippier sound. If you took 60s music and moved it forward 40 years, a lot of this electronica, this organic electronica, I'd to think of it as, is coming around. And Yeasayer is - falls into that.

CONAN: Well, speaking of things coming around, vinyl is making another comeback?

BOILEN: I was at this show and this fellow John Vanderslice, he's an artist. And I went up to his merch table, this is the table they sell the merchandise.

CONAN: Merchandises.

BOILEN: Right. Right. And he says to me, do you want a CD? And I said, you know, I have them, thanks. He said, well, that's true of just about everyone, in fact, now with so many CDs. And he gave me his - a record album of his. I said, Wow, do you do well with this? He says, Yeah, I do great with this because it's tangible, people like it, and I also sell pillow cases with my name or logos or whatever on. There's nothing important about having a digital sound file or CD.

CONAN: Because it's so common.

BOILEN: It's so common.

CONAN: You can either get it at the store or download it from iTunes or wherever.

BOILEN: There's not much hard work in it other than the music, which is a piece of art, but the actual…

CONAN: But the covers of L.P.'s, in the old days is what we call them, those are still worth something.

BOILEN: They are, and I've looked at cover art for CDs I had, and I never realized what was on the front cover frame.

CONAN: Because it was so small.

BOILEN: It was so small. I've got an album here in my hand unopened that I'm going to give to you. You can get the feeling of what it's like…

CONAN: Oh, gosh.

BOILEN: …to take a piece of vinyl and hold it, which you may not have done for how long?

CONAN: Been a while. It's been a while though I got a digital turntable for Christmas this year, so I'll break into the old vinyl and transfer it to the computer.

BOILEN: Why don't you take this one?

CONAN: Oh, it's, oh, it's just lovely to smell it.

Bob Boilen, thanks very much.

BOILEN: My pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: Bob Boilen is the host of NPR's online music show ALL SONGS CONSIDERED. He joins us from studio 3A.

Tomorrow, The Next Big Thing in baseball. Allan Schwartz(ph) joins.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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