~a music nerd's corner of the internet~

I live in South Korea right now, and therefore I am constantly barraged with K-pop.  For those of you who are not familiar with this fun, goofy music, it is truly awesome.  I am a foreigner here, and so I am part of a kind-of foreigner community, and let me tell you, all foreigners hate K-pop.  I actually have no idea why.  I mean I have heard people say that they don’t like pop music, but I’m going to go out on a  limb and say that they’re lying.   Pop music is designed to be easy to listen to, catchy and fun.  Maybe it’s not your favorite, or it doesn’t move you, but you don’t like it?  That’s virtually impossible! And saying you don’t like any “genre” of music is a pretty wild over-generalization.  And K-pop is just like, 80’s pop music.  It’s catchy, its fun, and it’s really easy to listen to.  Yes it can be silly and some is bad, but 95% of anything is crap, and pop music isn’t designed to push boundaries or be extreme.  It’s there for pure visceral enjoyment and aural pleasure.  And it’s actually relatively complex in comparison to a lot of Western pop music.  A lot of snobs or whatever will complain that pop music, especially K-pop is vapid and shallow, and just repetitive.  And while some songs use 2 chords, a 3 note melody repeated over and over again, and a bunch of crazy sound effects, most do not.  We’ve got catchy and inventive melodies, some great harmony a lot of the time, and chord progressions ranging from relatively simple to surprisingly complex.  Modulations, polyphony, polyrhythms, and more!  Even the typical pop song structure takes the occasional creative leap. Sure it’s usually in common time, the subjects have all been done before, and it is all wrapped up in a nice shiny bubbly package. But that doesn’t make it shallow!  (to be quite honest, many pop songs all over the world fit this description too).  And throwing Konglish in there is so cool, and creates such a neat effect.  Having so much that you don’t need to try to understanding is really refreshing (that is, the Korean), and when the English makes a little cameo, you’re like, “hey i know you! awesome, rock on!”.

It makes you really notice that the individual words are not so important as the sounds, the phonemes, and that is a startlingly exciting thing to listen to.  When you don’t worry about the words, you begin to really hear the poetry in the sound, and it is a whole different listening experience.  If you listen to lieder art songs in other languages, you get the same effect, but not really in opera where you can follow along the libretto for the English translation.

Everyone in Korea is encouraged to become good at something, so there are way more people that are brilliant singers, pianists, cellists, guitar players etc. than in Canada anyways.  That creates a huge pool of amazing talent to choose from.  So all of these pop stars are supremely talented, no autotune and dubstep and other distractions.  Yes they are all super hot too, but that doesn’t take away from anything at all, especially if you are just listening to it.  And because music education is an actual thing here, pop musicians are drawing their inspirations from a much wider array of music than say, Justin Bieber is.   So not only are they influenced by Western pop music, Japanese pop music, and European pop music, they also get the benefit of Bach and Mozart and Tchaikovsky (etc…).  And on top of that, Korean traditional music and instruments play a part (albeit a small one).

It’s easy to ignore K-pop as being silly just because it is fun, but it’s really worth listening to.  Here are a few of my faves. 🙂


Everybody loves free music, or rather, free stuff in general.  Paying for stuff kinda sucks, it is true.  And it is soooo easy to steal music today, that it is really difficult to not do it.  It takes a pretty concerted effort to avoid ripping musicians off.  And most people really love it.  It’s exciting to “stick it to the man” or whatever, and hey, free stuff.  We look at the douchecanoes in Metallica and think, “why do they even need more money?”

Maybe because things just aren’t free?  Do you go to Tiffany’s and complain that the company has so much money that they should start leaving their diamonds out for any passers-by? I doubt it.  Metallica doesn’t owe us anything.  If you like someone’s music, why can’t you buy it?

Now that everything is available online, it is a pain in the ass to buy a CD, not to mention relatively expensive.  This sucks if you still want to buy music this way, but all this money is not just going to the artist, in fact very little of it is.   Tons of money goes to the producers, lawyers, accountants, album art designers, songwriters, and of course the record companies.  For those people that think that music being easily accessible to everyone and being widespread is a good thing, this is (or was) super necessary.  There are a lot of bad things about record companies, but if they didn’t exist, music wouldn’t be able to reach more than their underground audiences most of the time.

Of course now that is changing because of musicians marketing themselves on the internet, BUT there has not yet been any musician that has launched a successful career on the internet alone.  So as of right now, record companies and all their entourage are a necessary part of the music business.  Even for selling music on Itunes.  And they need to be paid, you know, to eat and stuff.

There is also a huge faction of people who think that pop music being so widespread is the worst thing to ever happen to music, and I’m sure that the fall of the record company empires would be cause for great celebration.  But in that case, garage bands and independent artists need our money even more so.

Do you know how much it costs to record an album? Well it depends on what genre it is, and what kind of quality you’re going for, but between $1000 and $100,000.  So like, a lot of money.  And not free in any case.  Unless you just want a recording on your cell phone, it will cost something.

But people should just be performing, or writing, or producing for the love of the art, you say.  Well, that’s pure idiocy, I say.  Sure someone can be a good artist without any practice or spending money on it, and it is possible that someone can be financially comfortable and still have time to pursue music, but its not common!

Some people may be born talented and not need lessons or anything, but if nobody learned anything or practiced music then there would not be much progression.  And music instruction is expensive.  Lessons can be 60$ an hour, and you need years of training.  Buying an instrument is not cheap, even ukeleles.   Being a singer is no cheaper.  A good mic can set you back 100 bucks, and you need a mic stand on top of that.  Mixing boards, amps, and so many wires and cords= a lot of money.

Performing anywhere other than your garage? Well gas ain’t cheap!  Especially not if you’re loaded up with heavy equipment.  Trying to do a tour to promote your band and spread your music? As noted, gas ain’t cheap.  And nor is food.  Hotels.  Laundry machines.  The list goes on.

And on top of all this, the most expensive commodity a musician need: time.  You can’t become good at something if you are too busy at your day job.  That’s not saying that a musician can only be good if they don’t have a day job, but obviously the more time you devote to developing a craft, the better you become at it.  There may be lawyers who can play the guitar, and don’t mind doing a free show on the weekend, but I’ve never met one.

If you want music to be good and varied, it can’t be free.  So if a band you love is using kickstarter to raise money to go on tour, I suggest chipping in instead of complaining about how entitled they are.

on the Tritone

I love the tritone.  it’s my favorite interval. 

In western music, which uses 12 chromatic pitches, a tritone is made up of 3 whole tones or 6 semitones.   It’s also called an augmented 4th when the letter names are 4 apart ( ie: from C to F) or a diminished 5th when the letter names are 5 apart.  When played melodically  (one after another) it sounds like  “Maria” from West Side Story, and when played harmonically, it supposedly sounds like the devil or something.

Because the 4th and 5th are considered “perfect”, I guess it was really awful to imagine there was a note in between them.  For that reason,  and because it sounds comparatively awkward, the tritone is often avoided in western music.  Granted,  dominant 7th and 9th chords use a tritone in their construction, but it’s not as obvious.  However, 7th and 9th chords are super dissonant, and that makes them awesome in my book.

As you can imagine, this all started because the church hates satan and things that are reminiscent of him.  So even though it doesn’t really sound like the devil or whatever, once composers started using the tritone, they used it to suggest evil or hell, or other such terrible stuff.

I have always found that associations with words like “evil” or even “happy” or “sad” when applied to intervals is really weird.  There’s nothing inherently happy about consonance, like a perfect 5th, nor sad about a minor 3rd or something.  I think it’s all about the context.  So to me, a tritone really doesn’t sound evil.  It is all about the tension though, and everybody loves a good resolution, right?  But because it’s rarely used, it makes it super cool, something rare but not TOO weird, it definitely gets tossed around as the “devil in music” still.   Although I super-duper love the Beatles, my favorite use of the tritone is YYZ by the ever awesome Rush.  Does anyone really think Rush or the Beatles are evil? Pfft.

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I’m pretty sure that everyone in the known universe agrees that Maria Callas, ‘La Divina’, was pretty much the best singer in the history of time.  Sure, sometimes it is really hard to love her, and she actually had a pretty ugly voice.  But she could sing anything, and make it sound like she was […]

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