What Difference Does It Make: A Film About Making Music – Red Bull Music Academy NYC Festival



Red Bull Music Academy – Festival New York

Featuring Brian Eno, Giorgio Moroder, Erykah Badu and more than 70 other artists, What Difference Does It Make? A Film About Making Music marks the 15th anniversary of the Red Bull Music Academy — Red Bull’s longest running cultural program — and captures the energy of the 2013 edition in New York. It gets to the heart of what it takes to be a musician and, in the process, deals with some of the basic questions of life itself.

London Calling: The Export of New York’s Underground

Red Bull Music Academy NYC –  Daily Note Issue 14

Clash in New York  Cab

Clash in New York Cab. . L-R: Paul Simonon, Pete Howard, Joe Strummer, and Mick Jones. Photo by Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The Influence and Impact of New York on the British Electro-Pop Scene shouldn’t be understimated. ~ WD Stubbs

1. Q&A – Tony Viconti

Britain, Bowie, and a Brooklyn producer’s trials by fire.

2. Trans-Atlantic Express

New York and London’s cross-cultural exchange.

Download Daily Note #14  HERE

Red Bull Music Academy is in New York


Photo: Brian Harkin. On the stage Bill Nace and Kim Gordon performing at the Knockdown Center in Queens on Thursday as part of the Red Bull Music Academy.

The Red Bull Music Academy, a traveling music workshop and festival, calls itself “a place that’s equal parts science lab, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Kraftwerk’s home studio.” It’s also a live-event series, and its bookings stretch out over New York City this month.

The events include concerts, installations, D.J. sets, relay-style improvisations and lectures by Flying Lotus, Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Erykah Badu, Giorgio Moroder, KTL, Joe Lovano, Kim Gordon, and a lot more. The festival even has its own daily newspaper, with a new issue available every day through the event.

Sounds good and also utopian; sounds inherently unsustainable. But Ben Sisario, a reporter on the music business for The New York Times, explains and explores with Ben Ratliff, the host and jazz critic for The Times, why and how Red Bull, the Austrian energy-drink corporation, has gotten involved in heavy funding for the intersection of vanguard music and youth culture, and whether their form of corporate branding suggests a genuinely positive innovation.

Ben Sisario for The New York Times – April 25, 2013

In the basement of a Chelsea office building this week, workmen wired a recording studio so new it still smelled of freshly cut wood. In the floors above, vintage instruments lay waiting to be played, and shiny cans of Red Bull energy drink were stacked shoulder-high.

All were part of the preparations for the Red Bull Music Academy, a five-week series of concerts, lectures, art installations and workshops that is one of the biggest musical happenings in New York, as well as perhaps the most elaborate example of the reach of corporate brands into popular culture.

A combination citywide festival and private musical summer camp, the academy has been held in a different international city nearly each year since 1998, when it began in Berlin. The events this year — underwritten by Red Bull, at a cost that is undisclosed but is surely well into the millions — include eyebrow-raisers like Brian Eno presenting his visual art piece “77 Million Paintings”; Ryuichi Sakamoto performing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Giorgio Moroder, the pioneering producer of Donna Summer, offering what he says is his first D.J. set in the United States.

At the center of it all is the academy itself, a mentorship program convened as a kind of Platonic symposium, albeit one whose primary philosophical focus is analog synthesizer sounds and block-rocking beats. The 62 students, chosen from more than 4,000 applicants, are flown to New York, lodged in the boutique Ace Hotel and given two weeks of close contact with their musical heroes — all on Red Bull’s dime.

“We came up with the idea of creating this academy that would speak to musicians of all different genres, learning from each other and sharing knowledge,” said Many Ameri, one of the two German music obsessives who founded the event.

For music fans, it is a cornucopia. The public events begin with a dance party on Sunday, and the opening week also includes Erykah Badu speaking at the Brooklyn Museum; improvisations with jazz, rock and hip-hop figures like James Chance, and Questlove of the Roots; and the opening of Mr. Eno’s digital “Paintings” show. (He will also speak on May 6 at Cooper Union.)

Events were booked in conjunction with local promoters like Adam Shore, whose Blackened Music Series explores the outer limits of heavy metal.

The academy is only one aspect of a shadow music industry built by Red Bull; it also has a record label, online radio and festival stages around the world (not to mention its sponsorship of sports and spectacles like Felix Baumgartner’s 128,000-foot sky dive last year). Red Bull, based in Austria, introduced its drink in 1987, and in its early underdog days pursued this “culture marketing” as an alternative to traditional advertising. But even now, with the company a $6.4 billion giant, its support of pop culture gives it an edge with young consumers.

“Part of being a great brand is conveying what you stand for in an authentic manner so consumers find it believable,” said Nirmalya Kumar, a professor of marketing at the London Business School who has studied the company. “The music academy and the air show have given Red Bull a lot of that.”

Mr. Ameri, 39, and his co-founder, Torsten Schmidt, 38, were active on the German music scene when Red Bull approached them in 1997 to start a music program, and they were skeptical. But they developed the academy around the idea of helping the music world at large, and took the educational bent to heart: the class size — 30 or so for each of the two terms — is based on the head count in a typical German classroom. Lecturers are paid an honorarium of a few hundred dollars.

At the academy’s headquarters in Chelsea are a large recording studio, a lecture hall, a radio booth and eight “bedroom studios,” where participants are free to jam all night. Some of these facilities will remain when Red Bull takes over the space permanently after the academy.

The company logo — a pair of charging bulls — is everywhere, as are coolers stocked with the drink. But Mr. Ameri and Mr. Schmidt say they have tried to preserve an open and trusting environment, free of commercial worries. After absorbing lecturers’ wisdom during the day, the participants gather in ad hoc teams to write and record music. There are no assignments or deadlines, and Red Bull has no ownership over the music made in the program.

“That’s part of the opening speech: there is no catch,” Mr. Schmidt said. “We are going to offer you nothing in the end but inspiration and this chance of being here together.”

Many artists support that view. The electronic musician Flying Lotus (real name, Steven Ellison) is an alumnus of the 2006 academy in Melbourne, and has kept close ties with the organization; now he is a studio tutor and will perform on May 5 and 6 at Terminal 5.

“The people behind the academy, they’re not just suits; they are really special people who are passionate about artists,” he said. “Above them they have some suits to deal with, but I’ve never dealt with any of them.”

Nile Rodgers, the Chic guitarist and veteran record producer, took part two years ago in Madrid and is returning this year for a public discussion about David Bowie on May 5. He said the academy reminded him of his own experience as a youngster with Jazzmobile, the 49-year-old nonprofit group that brings jazz legends to young people in New York.

“I believe that musicians are altruistic by nature,” Mr. Rodgers said, “so when you have the opportunity to share with people just willing to gobble it up, that’s pretty exciting for me.”

Not all musicians are as impressed. Matthew Herbert, whose work opposing corporate and consumer culture has included recording the sounds of a single pig as it is bred for slaughter, lectured at the academy in 2000 and has had occasional involvement since then. But in an e-mail he said that he regretted taking part and viewed Red Bull’s efforts as little more than crass commercialism.

“My overriding impression of any music industry Red Bull tie-in is that the brand is always louder than the art,” Mr. Herbert said. “I don’t think one would come away from any interaction with them thinking that they were interested in anything else other than selling caffeinated sugary drinks.”

In the new-music business, however, corporate involvement is becoming unavoidable. Red Bull was early to the model of bankrolling underground culture, now common among youth-oriented brands. It is also bringing the pop music world closer to the sponsor model on which nonprofit arts groups have long relied.

On May 29 the academy and the Metropolitan Museum will present the United States premiere of “s,” a multimedia piece by Mr. Sakamoto and the artist Alva Noto. Limor Tomer, the museum’s general manager of concerts and lectures, dismissed the idea that there was anything unusual about an institution like the Met working with a corporation.

“I see this as a healthy collaboration to present work that belongs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in the best possible way,” Ms. Tomer said.

Behind the scenes this week, the academy buzzed with the kind of last-minute activity that happens at any big festival. Technicians shouted out details about electrical circuits; workers lugged equipment in and out. Mr. Ameri, who has spent more than a year putting the festival together and just welcomed a newborn to his family, spoke about the logistical demands of running the academy while also keeping an eye on its dozens of events around the world.

When asked how he manages it all, his thanks went not to any corporation.

He smiled and replied, “I have an amazing wife.”

Check the Red Bull Music Academy New York 2013 website for EVENTS


Vive La Ressistance! Philippe Zdar: The Mastermind Producer behind Cassius

From The Creators Project: More than just one half of DJ duo Cassius, french producer and sound engineer Philippe Zdar talks about what it’s like shaping some of the best records of the last 20 years with Phoenix and Kindness weighing in on working with the hi-fi master.

To our readers – We thought we’d share this one. But first, let us introduce Philippe Zdar. Zdar is a well known producer and trained sound engineer from Paris. He’s also a member of the French musical duo Cassius that records and releases music in the house music, indie dance and synthpo  genres.

A Zdar Is Born
Philippe Zdar was born Philippe Cerboneschi, in rural mountain country in the Alps. In the late ’80s, age 17, he moved to Paris, where he became a tea‑boy at Marcadet Studios, and gradually worked his way up to become an engineer. Around the same time, he met Hubert ‘Boom Bass’ Blanc‑Francard, with whom he worked on the first MC Solaar album, Qui Seme le Vent Recolte le Tempo (1991), as well as on subsequent albums by the rapper. During the ’90s, Zdar realized his ambitions to be successful as an engineer/mixer, producer, DJ, and musician, in the groups Motorbass, and, with Blanc‑Francard, Le Funk Mob and most famously and still ongoing, Cassius. His credits as an engineer, mixer and producer include MC Solaar, Phoenix, Daft Punk, the Rapture, Beastie Boys, Kindness, Naked and Famous, Cut Copy and Chromeo.

Zdar: “I started playing drums as a kid, so I play drums the best, but in fact I play everything badly. I’m an electronic musician, so I play guitar badly, bass badly, and drums badly, but I’m quite good at programming. All my activities, studio, DJ, musician, are completely related. When I produce a band, even a rock band, I bring my expertise and sounds from my DJ experience. I DJ maybe three times a month — producing and mixing takes the most of my time. But DJing is very important for me, because it keeps me at the cutting edge. With many producers, their musical references stop at a certain point in time, and they end up always referring to older records. But when I’m DJing I listen to a lot of new records, and that updates my musical skills and outlook, and also gives me a lot of energy.”

So, Zdar definitely knows his stuff. He knows it so well that he no longer listens to engineers who tell him what he should do to play by the rules.  He was also featured on Future Music Mag # 221 for the interview and producer masterclass feature.

Now, when expressing yourself in a foreign language you may come across as arrogant, or may not get your point across really well. But Philippe is not arrogant at all, and he knows his stuff just as good as or better than any other good engineer. In my opinion he’s one of the best French sound engineers, and has a great studio – Motorbass. When I visited his studio in 2010, surprise surprise… Pultec’s, Urei’s, big SSL, AMS, AMT Lexicon, reverbs, AMS delays. Neve preamps, totally cool gears. CS80, OBX, PPG, good stuff. So, for those who criticize harshly Zdar calling him “arrogant”,  and a “rebel” of  “flagrant ignorance”: Can you tell me a little about your philosophy on compression? In French please?

I believe the SP1200 was the weapon of choice of those guys back then before they started using computer sequencers e.g. Logic. I read an interview of Alan Braxe saying how much he loves that particular machine, and that he produced Stardust’s Music Sounds better with  you using only the SP, a small mixer, and some cheap 8 track recorder.

We’re including in this post the text of an excerpt from a lecture/interview given by Zdar in Rome, Italy, and a video of the full lecture/interview, thanks to Red Bull Music Academy. We hope you enjoy! ~ AA

Phillipe Zdar (Phoenix / Daft Punk / The Beastie Boys / Kindness / Naked & Famous…) interview on compressor & french house sound

Interviewer: Torsten Schmidt, Red Bull Music Academy

RBMA: »Were most of the records, that were coming out of Paris at that time, being mixed in the same place, or by the same people?«

Philippe Zdar: »No.«

RBMA: »Because there were certain, well, if there was one common thing it was that ‘whooom’ sound.«

Philippe Zdar: »Yeah, the compression. In France we are really into compression and after it was, for example, Daft Punk, who completely made a beat, a sound that everybody tried to emulate. So that was really funny because they are doing a sound and three months later, everybody was buying the same compressor because everything was to do with the compressor. The basic rule about compressors is to trust your ear, to have some taste, you must have some taste. Me, I don’t even know what a compressor is! I don’t know how many years, like 15 years that I’m doing this and I still don’t know what is a compressor. I know what it’s doing and I’m touching the buttons, but when I like it, I keep it like this. When I started there was some sound engineer coming in the studio and he says: “Are you crazy?” The errr… what do you call it (makes flickering dial motion with his hand)?«

RBMA: »The meters?«

Philippe Zdar: »”The meters are going too high! The meters supposed to be on the left.” And I say: “But when I hear it, I like it.” And he says: “But it’s not possible.” And I’m like: “Leave me alone.” (applause) I think it’s the key for you all, although you don’t need to learn it, you know it already. Everybody’s learning by his own way, so when you’re at home, you’re listening with the ears. I like it when it goes in the red, if it starts to do ‘skkkkskkkk’ (makes grating noise), you notice it and you take it a little bit down, but there’s no theory in music for me. Everybody who comes with a theory, you can keep your theory – probably it works for you, but for me it doesn’t. So the compressor’s secret is to trust the ear and another secret for me is the meter, it has to move a lot. If the meters like this (makes feeble motion with his finger), it’s not good.«

Lecturer: Philippe Zdar
Interviewer: Torsten Schmidt, Red Bull Academy
Lecture: Philippe Zdar (Rome 2009)

Philippe Zdar’s quotes:

I believe that comfort is the cancer of every artistic expression. If there’s an artist whose work you love, and suddenly you don’t care for what they do so much anymore, you’ll find out that they most likely had become too comfortable.

Young artists and producers should really get into the gear and make their own sounds and develop their own ways of working, but that’s not happening enough.

[The Beastie Boys] They’re super‑intelligent, and super‑cultured, and they’re all really into equipment, and really into the sound of analogue.”

A tightrope walker who has a net is not interesting, because there’s no performance. But if there’s no net, it’s fantastic. Mixing in the analogue domain is like that.

The only secret I have about compression is to trust your ear. Have some taste.

When I was a tea‑boy at Marcadet in Paris, I never looked at the way people were working, I always listened to the end result.

The problem with Pro Tools is that it’s easy to forget to take risks. But you have to take risks. I say to the record company and artist: ‘If you work with me, I don’t recall the mix, except if I made a big mistake. So you have to make decisions while I’m working, and you have to take a risk in the moment.’ I love that, and I hate the comfort and the safety net that digital provides.

Digital doesn’t only sound like shit, it also makes everything sound the same.

Mixing is a controlled performance, and digital takes the performance out of mixing. This is why I don’t use it.

The ‘French Touch’ thing happened mainly because, in Paris, we love Chicago.

To make a place for the bass is very easy – you just take out bass from all the rest.