What’s between your ears? When you throw on a pair of headphones, what are you listening to? Odds are, it might be a podcast, one of the fastest growing information media in America.
It’s estimated that 57 million Americans listen to podcasts monthly, which is up 23 percent over last year. Popular binge-worthy podcasts from NPR like “This American Life,” “Radio Lab,” and “Ted Radio Hour,” as well as entertaining pop culture interview shows from Joe Rogan, Adam Carolla, Alec Baldwin, and Chris Hardwick, have all helped to prop up the podcast industry, both in quality and in ratings. With technology becoming cheaper and more user-friendly, producing and consuming podcasts are now easier than ever.
With nearly a quarter of Americans listening to podcasts on a regular basis, production levels on par with all major media outlets and podcast topics covering nearly all interests, now is time to revisit the medium. Podcasts are easy to create and they are free to download. As long as you have a computer or a smart phone, you can create and consume as much information as you want.
For music fans alone there are thousands of different podcasts featuring artist interviews, songwriting, music reviews and live shows. With so many choices out there, it can be overwhelming to find a podcast you like, so here are four to get you started.
Song Exploder does exactly what the name implies. It takes a single song and blows it apart, examining each element individually through stylish interviews with the key songwriters, taking you through the complete creation process from start to finish. In a recent episode, Academy Award winner Justin Hurwitz talked about how the music from “La La Land” came together, specifically the optimistic and melancholy “Audition,” and how they went through 1,900 piano takes before settling on the final version.
That’s Song Exploder for you — quick hits of interesting tidbits you can’t find anywhere else. Each episode is only 15-20 minutes long and features interviews with everyone from Metallica to Bjork.
Meet the Composer is similar to Song Exploder as it highlights composers, only this podcast focuses almost entirely on classical musicians. Episodes vary in length, with the longest coming in at about 60 minutes, and overlay music compositions with composer interviews. Host Nadia Sirota narrates this beautifully designed podcast, taking you deep into the minds of the best and brightest composers working today.
Soundworks Collection is for both audio and movie nerds. This podcast pairs composers with sound designers and explores how music and sound effects elevate film. Each episode focuses on a particular movie and interviews the key players on how they approached scoring the film and how they created the film’s sound effects. Soundworks interviews are sometimes heavy on technical and insider terminology, so you won’t always know what they are talking about, but this is essential listening for anyone interested in film creation and sound engineering. Listen to the interview with “Moonlight” composer Nicholas Britell.
Britell explains how he used techniques from chopped and screwed hip-hop to manipulate his classical score and underscore the emotional elements of the film.
This spinoff from NPR’s popular “All Songs Considered” features both audio and video podcast episodes. A wide variety of performers huddle around a — get this — tiny desk and perform strippeddown versions of their songs. All the focus is on the bands in these quick, roughly 15-minute long performances.
This podcast is updated frequently and there are about 300 easy-to-digest episodes to comb through.
Cookbooks typically don’t explore the deep connection between art and music and their effect on food. Even though a chef’s surrounding social environment influences every ingredient that makes it onto the plate, cookbooks tend to offer tips on braising temperature, knife care and nutrition, rather than insight into a chef’s psyche.
The Food Network star’s cookbook reads more like creative nonfiction than an encyclopedia of recipes. Samuelsson sets out to show how culture impacts food through the history, sights and sounds of America’s storied neighborhood of Harlem. Through Samuelsson’s personal experiences and his love of jazz comes a thoughtful examination of life that takes you well beyond the confines of your kitchen.
“Right now in Harlem, times are changing. An entire neighborhood awakes and wonders about the new thing coming, about the legends closing, about the who and what, despite it all, still remains.”
Samuelsson writes about the legendary soul food joints and jazz clubs shuttered to make way for Red Lobster and Chase Bank locations. He writes about an entire neighborhood fragrant with spices and smells coming from Southern, Jamaican and African restaurants. He leads you deep into a vibrant community seeking balance between its historic past and a fast-changing present, and before you realize, you’ve been seduced by his world and forgotten completely that you’re reading a cookbook.
The first recipe, a relatively simple ginger beer and vodka cocktail, doesn’t appear until page 46. Before we learn how to mix the speakeasy inspired “Yes, Chef,” though, Samuelsson first offers up a music playlist featuring Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder and The Rolling Stones.
As the cookbook ventures on, the food and music pairings become more prominent and more meaningful than you might imagine.
We learn about poor families working together during the Great Migration, throwing wild parties with local musicians, and serving home-cooked Southern staples like candied yams, collard greens and slow-cooked neck bones to raise rent money.
Samuelsson shows us Harlem’s jazz culture. We dive into late night jazz clubs, the Paris Blues, where the chicken and black-eyed peas are complimentary, and Showmans, a serious club where the real musicians hang out.
We also meet Marjorie Eliot, a local jazz pianist who invites her neighbors into her living room every Sunday afternoon to listen to her and other musicians play. It’s here where Samuelsson sprinkles in ideas for Sunday family dinner: hot gumbo with tripe and rice, spring pea pasta, Brussels sprouts with bacon dip, and roasted turnips dduk (sliced Korean rice cakes).
Samuelsson is a tour guide for our senses, giving us a taste of his melting pot. Whether we are drooling over his recipe for chicken fat challah with cracklings, or listening to his Sunday jazz playlist, Samuelsson generously welcomes us in, giving us unique insight into his creative process and America life.
The colorful history of Harlem told through “The Red Rooster Cookbook” is exceptional, but not all that unusual. Neighborhoods all across America are filled with the lively characters we meet in this book, like Muscle Dan, Fats Waller and John the Revelator.
We could also add Samuelsson to that list. Born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, and inspired by the American South, Samuelsson took all his life experiences, literally combined them in a pot, and became one of America’s great chefs.
“Harlem is a slow seduction. What is ugly keeps bumping into the beautiful.”
Through life we find our creative energy. Samuelsson’s muse are the streets and people of Harlem. “The Red Rooster Cookbook” shows us that community is everything. Your family, friends, and neighbors profoundly affect your life on a daily basis. We all cook, sing and write. We celebrate our achievements together and console each other during times of sadness. This is true in Harlem, just as it is true all across America. It’s food for thought.
The Sundance Film Festival has long been a place of discovery for young independent filmmakers. This year’s festival, taking place now through Jan. 29 in Park City, Utah, will propel unknown actors, directors, and writers, to levels of success only a fortunate few ever see.
For Central High School graduate Lindsay Stephen, Sundance 2017 looks to be one of those fairy tale moments we all dream of. As set decorator on “The Incredible Jessica James,” literally all eyes will be on Stephen’s work. The film starring former “Daily Show” correspondent Jessica Williams and “Bridesmaids” funny man Chris O’Dowd, has the extremely fortunate distinction of closing out the film festival.
“It is incredibly exciting to be a part of a film that is receiving so much praise,” Stephen said. “The entire film crew believed in director Jim Strouse’s vision and trusted him completely. It paid off with a really charming movie that I think people are going to enjoy.”
A set decorator is one of many unheralded but crucially important collaborators in the film-making process. Lost in shadows cast by Hollywood’s biggest stars are the behind-the-scenes workers pouring all their creative energy into a project to bring it life. These inventors and savant designers create the worlds that their infinitely more famous counterparts get to act in, and we get to escape to.
On “Jessica James” Stephen was in charge of set dressing the entire film’s sets. Dressing includes hand selecting all furnishings, drapery, lighting fixtures, artwork and many of the other objects featured in the final filmed image. Everything the audience sees on screen is ruthlessly criticized to the point of insanity. If the world people like Stephen help create is not perfect, then overall visual aesthetic of a film breaks down, ultimately dooming the project.
“The most challenging part (of set decoration) is to create a space that appears to have a history, a place that has been lived in. It is supposed to be a slice of the character’s life, and one of the most important parts of the entire art department is for (the sets) to be seamless. A set is supposed to feel natural and real.”
Stephen fell in love with film at an early age and showed an aptitude for filmmaking almost immediately. Like many young girls she would stay up late, watching the Oscars with her dad, spellbound by the magic of Hollywood. As kids, Stephen and her brothers would hijack the family camcorder and make short films during their family vacations. When her brothers lost interest, Stephen kept filming. She would convince her friends to star in her productions, and if they weren’t available, she’d do it herself.
Eventually, Stephen’s passion for filmmaking led her to Boulder, where she studied film production at the University of Colorado. Her senior project, a production called “Well,” was selected for the short program at the Cannes Film Festival. This led to creative opportunities with National Geographic, the BBC, and her first big break into feature film production. Working in the art department on Sofia Coppola’s movie “Bling Ring,” Stephen immediately fell in love with the work and knew that she had found her calling.
“To be in this industry it takes perseverance, dedication, trust in yourself and a whole lot of gumption,” Stephen said. “I have canceled trips, missed weddings and birthdays and probably haven’t slept more than five hours a night since I started, but every year I am working on more exciting projects in more pivotal roles, making all the sacrifices worth it.”
With the buzz surrounding “Jessica James” and Todd Haynes’ film adaptation of “Wonderstruck” — due out later this year and featuring Stephen as a set decorating assistant — this small-town girl who foolishly dared to pursue a life in showbiz is doing exceptionally well for herself.
Sundance is looking like an early career defining moment, the first of what will surely be many, for this young, driven talent.
You guys remember reading? Top to bottom, left to right, a group of words together is called a sentence? Well, now that it’s officially time to start your holiday shopping, why not give the music fan in your life a new book. A number of new releases across all music genres have hit the shelves, and here are five worth considering:
“Gone ‘Til November: A Journal of Rikers Island” by Lil Wayne
In 2010, southern rap god Lil Wayne began his yearlong sentence at New York’s notorious Rikers Island Prison Complex. Convicted of carrying a loaded .40 calibre semi-automatic gun on his tour bus in 2007, Wayne’s “Gone ‘Til November” details his day-to-day activities and interactions with fellow inmates during his eight-month prison stay (Wayne was released early for good behavior). Just two years removed from the release of one of the biggest rap albums of all time and his magnum opus, “Tha Carter III,” the Cash Money lyricist reflects on a humbling and trying incarceration experience.
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Sixty-five million albums sold. Nine number one albums. Eighteen headlining tours. A Super Bowl halftime show appearance. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. We all know Bruce Springsteen’s major career highlights. Now it’s time to dig deeper into what makes Springsteen the Boss. In “Born to Run” Springsteen writes about growing up in Freehold, New Jersey, the early days playing bars in Asbury Park, and gives fans a behind the scenes look at the massive success of the E Street Band.
Universally acclaimed for its candor and openness, this biography is the perfect companion to Springsteen’s legendary music catalog.
“Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements” by Bob Mehr
Author and journalist Bob Mehr spent a decade researching the story of alternative rock pioneers the Replacements. Mehr tells the band’s story through new interviews with key members, songwriter Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, and the family members of the late guitarist Bob Stinson. Featuring 72 rare photos, “Trouble Boys” tells the story of a rowdy, unpredictable band that was once permanently banned from the Saturday Night Live stage after performing drunk in front of a live television audience.
“The Keys” by DJ Khaled
Human meme DJ Khaled is better known for his Snapchats than his music. Don’t get me wrong, Khaled has done well for himself as a DJ and producer, working his way up from DJing school dances in Orlando to the top of the Miami music scene. He’s released nine albums and has collaborated with a literal who’s-who of the rap world. It’s the daily inspiration he offers to his 2 million Snapchat followers, though, that he’s become best known for.
Sharing jewels of wisdom like “don’t ever play yourself” (don’t do anything foolish to jeopardize your prosperity) and “secure the bag” (financial security), Khaled’s new book “The Keys,” offers the same quick hit advice he gives his followers on Snapchat.
“Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout” by Laura Jane Grace
Florida teen Tom Gabel formed Against Me! in 1997 with an acoustic guitar and notebook full of politically charged lyrics. Over the next 15 years the band would establish themselves as a favorite among fans and critics alike. Against Me! is one of the most influential modern punk bands, yet this is not your typical music biography.
In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Gabel revealed a secret that he had held for 30 years: he was a transsexual. “Tranny” is a groundbreaking story of Gabel’s search for identity and how his life and the band has changed since announcing that he would now live life as a woman named Laura Jane Grace.
Cash Kiser’s laugh had the power to change your day. It was a sort of full-body chuckle, something he summoned deep within his body and generously shared with anyone lucky enough to run into him. No matter how melancholy I would feel, a chance interaction with Cash would always turn my spirits around.
It seemed whenever a wave of anxiety would hit me, perhaps standing alone at a concert, Cash would be the next person through the door. As if he sensed my unease, he would come straight over and we’d hug, share a drink and just talk about what was going on in our lives.
His eyes and cheek-to-cheek smile would radiate so much love that I couldn’t help but let it wash over me and I’d instantly start to feel better. And that chuckle — that’s what I’ll miss the most, I think, about Cash, who took his own life on Saturday.
Cash had this effect on everyone. He gave and gave, and then gave again without any expectations in return.
When I met Cash he was working for KAFM Community Radio as the event and outreach coordinator, promoting shows in the Radio Room and organizing special events for the station. We first got to work together in 2013 on Zombie Prom with event founder Ryan Stringfellow and fellow KAFM employee Alicia Mitchell.
Cash brought so many great ideas to the event that it made me want to work harder and match his enthusiasm. To this day I feel like that was the best Zombie Prom we ever did. We made a lot of money for the radio station and the poster I made for the event is one of my favorite designs.
“You crushed that Zombie Prom poster!” Cash would always tell me. He was so proud to have worked on such a successful event and so flattering in his praise, I’ll forever love him for that.
We continued to collaborate when he went out on his own, forming his production company Skylark. I helped him make logos for his company and posters for his shows because I truly believed in what he was trying to accomplish.
Cash genuinely wanted to elevate the Grand Junction music scene. He saw opportunity here to do something special by booking successful regional bands and pairing them with local openers. His productions created opportunity for bands like mine to play with inspiring and talented musicians. He created openings for local bands to build their reputation and get their name out to regional audiences.
It was invaluable work that didn’t go unnoticed.
If you follow my column you know that Cash was a frequent contributor. I interviewed him at least seven times on a variety of topics. Each and every time Cash was a joy to speak with. His entire face would light up with excitement as we would talk about his upcoming projects.
Cash loved music and he understood on a deeper level the real joy it brings to people. Music is about connecting with loved ones and sharing special moments.
“My favorite thing about Radio Daze is that we get to have all these things at once with our friends,” Cash said in an August 8, 2014, interview about KAFM’s Radio Daze fundraiser.
“Yes, the perks of the 300 Watt Ale, the (car raffle), and the music are great, but what I really enjoy is that we get to share the experience with our friends and have a fun and festive time together.”
Cash loved our local music scene and was such a jovial spirit. He went to every show, supported every band, and would do anything to help it succeed. He was a great advocate for the community, but an even a better friend. Though no longer with us, his overwhelming positivity and support will live on forever.