5 Pivotal Moments of Modern Music

Etched in time are certain moments that struck a chord with the world. Certain moments that were set to change the face of the music industry forever. Chronologically speaking, here is a run-down of these milestones…

#1 The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (1964)

Raucous crowds, swooning fan girls and 73 million viewers are just the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the prominence of this moment in musical history. It is often touted to be one of those ‘Where were you when…?’ moments similar to the moon landing. Shortly following the assassination of JFK, The Beatles landed in New York to begin what the world now refers to as the British Invasion. Riding high on the popularity of “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, the Beatles’ arrival in the United States is exactly what both the band and the crippled superpower needed. A whooping 60% of the TVs turned on were tuned to the show as the streets exploded to the whirlwind choruses of “She Loves You” and “I Saw Her Standing There”.

The Fab Four left no stone unturned

The music industry would never be the same again as the gates were symbolically thrown open for touring bands and musical and cultural exchange between nations peaked. Mop-tops became incredibly fashionable and music sales hit platinum all across the USA. The baby boomer generation picked up their instruments and the Rock and Roll scene of the 70’s and 80’s flourished.

#2 Woodstock (1969)

Overflowing crowds, overflowing passions.

Dubbed as the concert of a lifetime, it witnessed stellar performances from names such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and Neil Young. Held in the outskirts of New York as “3 Days of Peace and Music”, Rolling Stone often refers to it as the moment that changed Rock and Roll history. Close to half a million people attended the concert and an additional 1.5 million people crowded the streets to soak in the atmosphere. In addition, the fence was cut the night before, thereby making the concert free. The 60’s had never seen a rock festival of such proportions and the musical revolution of the 70’s is what followed.

 #3 MTV airs the first music video (1981)

This lethal combination of audio and video only begin its broadcast in 1981 by MTV. And quite ironically, The Buggles’ hit tune “Video Killed The Radio Star” was first to ever be played. That iconic moment shaped the path of the music industry, allowing them to expand their audience and incorporating visual elements into their music. Unfortunately, music channels of today neither recognize nor appreciate talented musicians. Reality shows seem to be all these channels now have time for, thus alienating a generation that rocked their socks off to the TV set.

#4 Auto-tune (1997)

Never hit a wrong note again

After the dawn of the millennia, technology begin to get the better of musicians Andy Hildebrand, an engineer in Exxon, initially used this software to detect oil reserves in the ocean floor. However, he later realized it could be used to correct a singer’s notes and make him sound pitch perfect. It was first commercially used in Cher’s “Believe” and the success of the song carried over as the success of auto-tune. Hip-hop and pop thrived, as talent no longer seemed to bar artists from commercial success. Rappers such as T-Pain and Kanye West rely almost entirely on auto-tune, making one wonder where the beauty of music has gone. On the flipside one could say that as long as the listener enjoys the music, its one giant leap for musicians.

#5 iTunes & Digital Downloads (2001)

The years of the vinyl records were long gone. Cassettes were booted out and it was about time CDs were shown the door too. Enter the era of digital downloads. With Apple’s ingenious marketing ploy and its technological capabilities, listeners gobbled up 99¢ songs in the luxury of their own homes. The proliferation of pirated music was still at its peak amongst the Walkman generation. The introduction of legitimate means to acquire music over the Internet led to its insane popularity. The iTunes Music Store recorded 10 million digital download in its first few months of operation. Albums and bands spread like wildfire across the strata of the Internet.

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The Quintessential December Season experience: A listener’s perspective

Any Chennai-ite worth his salt will know that, come December, there is a buzz in the air. And it is not the unusually cold weather. It is the constant chatter of housewives pouring out of concert halls, the whirring and whining of strained motorcycle engines, their owners frantically moving from one concert to another, instrument in hand and clad head to toe in sparkling white traditional attire, unmindful of the dusty roads that surround them, and the muffled sounds of music, emanating from ‘soundproof’ concert halls throughout the city. It is the onset of the December Season, and the excitement that surrounds it.

One can spend the whole day, immersed in Carnatic music, performed in over 100 concert halls spread throughout the city. If one is comfortable with the age old system of public transport, with it’s rickety buses and dust-laden trains, all that is required for a complete experience are a wallet (with money) and a well adjusted pair of ears.

A typical day would start with an early concert- as early as 7:30 AM- for those who can wake up as the sun rises. These are usually unconventional ones, like lecture demonstrations, where everyone from a new listener to a seasoned performer stands to learn something or the other. This is followed by breakfast at the famed ‘sabha canteen’. These canteens offer a wide variety of south Indian delicacies- each canteen different from the other. From Mountbatten Mani to Nyanambika, there is a vast array of options. This food is as important a part of the December season experience as the music- these is a class of people who go concert hopping just for the food!

Canteen food is a very important part of the experience!

A short bus ride to ponder over the events of the morning is followed by a series of mid-morning and afternoon concerts at the same hall, separated by lunch in a different canteen. These concerts are usually performed by less experienced and budding artists, and are typically pretty short. One can sit through two or three of these after lunch, and also catch up on some much needed sleep in the dark, cozy, air conditioned hall. So far, the money spent only involves travel and food, since most of the morning and afternoon concerts are not ticketed.

Reinvigorated after a nap and strong filter coffee, the next step of the journey takes us to one of many premier concert halls in the city- Music Acadamey, Narada Gana Sabha etc. – to witness the highlight concert of the day, the one with the biggest stars and popular faces in the music sphere- this is the Super Bowl of the music season.

It is here that the December season explodes into life. The huge crowds that throng venues leave you wondering whether this is a concert or a cricket match. Halls fill up beyond capacity, with people even sitting outside to watch on TV screens. It is a sea of colour, followed by the captivating tunes of seasoned experts, followed by the smell of well seasoned canteen dinner. Overall, an assault on the senses.

The last item on the agenda is a final ride on the bus, amidst the constant chatter of people discussing everything from T.M Krishna’s pallavi to Bombay Jayshree’s red saree.

After a good night’s sleep, rinse and repeat!



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Appreciating Carnatic music

I’ll start off by saying that I’m not crazy about music. Music is not my heart and soul. I’m just another guy who plugs in his earphones whenever I’m travelling, bored out of my mind, or can’t get a song out of my head. I can’t even claim to be a Carnatic music buff. The 5000 songs in my iPod would beg to differ. But Being from Chennai, the Carnatic music capital, I was exposed to a lot of Carnatic music from a young age.

Carnatic Singers

I would be dragged to concerts where I would either fall asleep, or watch the funny hand gestures made by the singer. I found it very difficult to understand how people could enjoy music that seemed to have no impact on the listener. My father always used to tell me that it takes time, and a lot of hours of listening, to appreciate Carnatic music. It didn’t make sense to me how effort can help you appreciate a form of music. A few years on, I think I understand.

Carnatic music is one of the most organised and complex forms of music, which is why it is so difficult to appreciate at first. Any song you hear is set to a specific tune or ‘ragam’, and each ragam has a unique set of notes or ‘swaras’. The number of ragams present today is uncountable. Since there are only twelve notes, the number of ragams containing all the notes are limited (72), and this number can be calculated by basic mathematics. All other ragams are based on these 72 ragams.

The beat of the song is characterized by the ‘thalam’. Again, the number of thalams present are many. The 4 basic thalams are in multiples of 3, 4, 5 and 7. The beat of any song, western or classical, from any part of the world, can be classified in this thalam system.

This is just scratching the surface, and there are many more concepts and intricacies in Carnatic music. I’ll leave it to the reader to explore.

Carnatic Music

A concert typically consists of a main performer (a singer), a violin, and a mridangam along with a ghatam or kanjeera (the drum instruments). Concerts cannot be rehearsed as such, and they are an expression of creativity of the singer and the supporting instruments. This is one of the highlights of Carnatic music, where nothing is fixed and all the performers are free to express themselves. It is an uninhibited form of music. Therefore, the rapport between the singer and the supporting performers is important. The duels between different instruments and/or the singer are fun to watch, for the slightly trained ear.

There are many people who appreciate Carnatic music at their first concert, but this requires a high level of temperament for music. For the rest of us, understanding the intricacies of Carnatic music keeps us interested, and eventually, we really start to enjoy it.

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