From Africa to Edmonton – Kenya Kondo Had To “Wait” For Emotional Inspiration

‘I got started in music by accident’, confesses Kenya Kondo, who aspired to a career as an astronomer as a teenager in Kenya. His mother bought a second-hand guitar from a local carpenter and Kenya began learning covers ranging from Simon & Garfunkel to Mowtown to Matchbox 20.  As his musical interests grew, so did his fascination with science, leading him to the astronomy program at the University of Alberta.  The harsh weather paired with the challenges of transition became a rich source of lyrical inspiration.

Kenya released his debut album, “Wait,” last week in Edmonton while already garnering international support from his website.  He took some time to share about his process.

Kenya confesses he does not have a disciplined approach to songwriting, however significant turning points in his life have proven an easy source of inspiration.  Moments when the internal editor is overridden and he gets in touch with pure creativity.  These moments produce a strong urge to express an emotion which is what he strongly connects to in other people’s music.

The song “Moses” came from such a moment of emotion.  Kenya had a half hour break between classes.  He was dead tired from working an early morning shift at a fast food restaurant before his first class, and the stress of the academic life, paired with loneliness and loss overwhelmed him.  The song came from this painful moment along with the lyrics, “Moses was in pain, he is my brother.”

After tapping into such raw emotion for inspiration, the rest of the song came easily by writing it for a different voice.  It seemed the song naturally loaned itself to being sung by someone else and writing it from this perspective helped Kenya to connect the lyrics to the emotions he was feeling without the fear of being judged for his vulnerability.  However, when he began pulling material together for live performances, “Moses” seemed to flow into his set and became an important song on his album.  It took him a few scratchy demo versions before he found his own voice to sing the song.

The reaction to the live performance of “Moses,” always surprises Kenya. He does not feel it is a catchy song.  It has a dark subject matter written over a very simple chord progression.  Still, it is one of the songs that seems to connect most with people.  This connection is what Kenya values most, over and above the process of songwriting, for which he is still developing his own love-hate process.

Click Here to find out more about Kenya Kondo.

Monetizing music videos

Once upon a time music videos were the gateway to stardom.  Michael Jackson and Madonna were the frontrunners whose careers were defined by their videos.  Something changed over the past few years as reality TV shows took over and music TV stations reduced the number of videos played.  Also, the viewing habits of youth began to move online.  In the culture of “freemium,”  Youtube videos were seen as promotional but not revenue generating.  At the same time, Youtube videos had replaced music buying altogether for some users.  This has left many artists wondering about their livelihood.

Over the last year, VEVO has been making its mark and changing things in such a way that music videos on Youtube can now be monetized. VEVO is a joint venture between Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Abu Dhabi Media, with EMI licensing its content to the group without taking an ownership stake.  The service was launched officially on December 8, 2009 .  The videos on VEVO are syndicated across the web,  with Google and VEVO sharing the advertising revenue.

Julie Lee, Executive Vice President, Business Development & Business Affairs at VEVO attended CMW to talk about their platform.   When explaining their role in music video broadcasting, she used the analogy that Youtube is like the cable company, while VEVO is the channel.  Their partnership with Youtube allows them to meet consumers where they’re at, rather than trying to change their consumption habits.  The volume of streaming video through VEVO is tremendous with 2.2. billion views per month worldwide and 750 million/month in the US.  Monetizing these views has defined the strategy and success of VEVO.

VEVO currently works with 350 advertisers and depending on the video, sponsorship can cost up to 3 million US dollars for 5 days.  Half of the money made goes to the licensor.  Ads are played approximately every 6 1/2 minutes.  As a side-note, an interesting theory was presented, that 250,000 youtube plays equals 1 radio play on a pop station.

What does this mean for independent artists?  There are some fears in the blogosphere that if large numbers of viewers migrate to the VEVO platform, they might only see signed artists.  Others argue that most people will likely stay with Youtube.   As VEVO continues to develop tailored viewing experiences through their platform and iphone/ipad/android apps, it will be interesting to see how consumer habits evolve.  VEVO has also launched a program to support and highlight emerging artists called, Lift.  (click here to read more about it).  Alternatively, artists have the option of partnering directly with Youtube through the “Musicians Wanted” program (click here for more information).

Having watched several teens and tweens consume music solely via Youtube, it is comforting to know that this consumption can now result in renumeration for artists.  Hopefully this is just the beginning of reclaiming the value of music for creators.

Ryan Field Keeps “Dreaming On”

Ryan Field playing violin on a rooftop.

“Dream On,” is a song off Ryan Field’s most recent album called, “The New Beginning.”The song and the video are the culmination of a dream that has been powered by perseverance and resourcefulness.

Ryan began his musical journey early in his life.  His parents encouraged him to attend a school for the arts.  Ryan began writing music at the age of 15.  As a young teenager, he remembers playing around with melodies on the piano and getting to know his favourite chords, which is where his songwriting began.

In his early twenties Ryan began looking for ways to record his melodies.  He scoured the internet and his personal network to find producers.  There were times it felt as if the pursuit of his dream had hit a brick wall in terms of inspiration and ideas.  However, breakthrough came when “Dream On,” came to him through a piano melody.  The song captured his feelings as an artist with a big dream.  Around the same time, he met Mississauga producer, Dominic “Dot” Okune who produced and co-wrote “Dream On.”

Ryan created the piano and synth melodies and sent them off to Dot. It was clear to Ryan that he’d found the right producer as they had a great synergy and Dot knew exactly the right direction in which to take the song.   The beat was thickened and Dot added an MC/spoken word part to the bridge.   It was clear that the brick wall he had encountered had dissolved as Ryan suddenly found himself in the studio laying down the vocals.

Ryan knew he needed a music video, but also knew he lacked the budget.  He contacted his good friend, Tony Del Rio, a Toronto born director/videographer and editor who happened to need material for his reel.  Tony took on the creative reigns for the video and filming took place throughout Toronto, including the rooftop of Ryan’s old apartment in the fashion district.
Even before it was broadcast, the music video has been a source of inspiration, as a group of inner-city youth took part in the shooting and even appear in the video.

When asked about his personal dream, Ryan shyly admits, his biggest dream is to sing in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  Although the path to stardom has it’s frustrations, Ryan is especially grateful to his parents and especially his brother Jesse, who always encourage Ryan to keep, “Dreaming On!”

Click here to hear more of Ryan’s songs.