Timing Is Everything With Music

In the previous articles, I’ve given you all the tools you would need to succeed as an artist. All the steps you need to take in order to become a professional musician. I’ve taught you everything I know (and what I’ve learned from professionals, since I am still a struggling musician myself). We’re in this together.

But we’re not done yet. The last thing every artist needs to succeed is timing. The problem is I can’t teach you timing. No one can. I can only guide you in what I hope is the right direction to finding the best way for you to get discovered.

Timing, Timing, Timing

Most artists just happen to be playing at the right place at the right time when they get discovered, which is why I recommend you say yes to anyone who offers you a potential gig. You never know if someone will happen to be in that dive bar the night you happen to be playing some of your original pieces. Be open to any and all venues because you’re in no place to turn your nose up at any establishment that doesn’t seem “respectable” enough. Trust me, those looking for new talent know where undiscovered artists will frequent and they will be there. You just have to be there at the same time as they are. That’s the hard part.

If you’ve been playing anywhere and everywhere for a while now and nothing seems to be happening, there are other ways to be discovered. Back in the day, all artists had to rely on was just good luck and even better timing, but now that we’re living in the digital age there are more ways to access music producers and record label owners.

Justin Bieber was discovered when the right people watched his cover videos on YouTube. Several other artists who began on YouTube have gone on to participate in singing competitions, like The Voice, American Idol, etc. There are some major perks involved with taking this route with your music. You can get your name and music out there without leaving the house (or coffee shop, wherever the Wi-Fi is at). You can create a profile for your music across multiple social media platforms, blogs, and pages. You can upload videos to most (if not all) of these social media outlets and to YouTube. The more social media exposure, the better. Have someone (or more than one person) who attends several of your shows post pics to your page and post reviews to their own page. The wider a web you can cast on the Internet, the higher your chances are of being discovered.

There is also the old-fashioned way that involves simply mailing a demo disc to the record label company of your choice. In any case, don’t relent until they threaten a restraining order (I’m totally kidding, please don’t ever take it that far). No one ever said making it big was easy. It requires you to face constant rejection, 

Recently I had an interesting experience trying to coordinate a gig at a friend of mine’s house. He has an amazing backyard. I’m talking gorgeous landscaping, huge amount of land; AKA a great place to host an outdoor concert. I try to vary my performances and the venues that I perform at. I’ve performed in karaoke bars, dive bars, at block parties, pool parties, and I’ve hosted more intimate get-togethers at coffee shops and small outdoor venues. This was the first time I was organizing a larger-scale outdoor concert with no pool nearby to attract more potential fans to attend. I was going to be the main, and only, act. Everything had to be perfect.

My friend was so proud of his backyard and he has a right to be. He always keeps up with the landscaping. However his focus when it comes to landscaping is the grass, flowers, and bushes. At the time, he had several trees along the perimeter of his house and near the area where the stage would be built. They were vastly overgrown and they drowned out any sound that was produced in the vicinity. They would have to be cut down or seriously trimmed before we could even build the stage. Not to mention, they would have to stay groomed since they were interfering with the acoustics and sound system in the backyard. Like I said before, everything had to be perfect.

My friend hadn’t really ever bothered with the trees before. He claimed it was because it was too expensive and too much of a trouble to mess with. Because there was so many, he had assumed it would be too much work and cost more than he normally paid his landscaping people. I told him not to worry and that I would find someone affordable who would do a great job. He didn’t seem to mind letting me take all the responsibility. Considering it was my concert I think I was way more concerned about the trees than he was. I also tend to be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my performances. So the trees had to go.

After asking around my group of friends in the Houston area I finally came up with a list of nearby businesses that might be able to help. I called around, asked about their prices and how fast they could get the job done.  After considering the prices and reviews, I settled on one company that I felt could do a great job. I called Houston Tree Works to see how soon they could come by my friend’s house. The concert was postponed until the stage could be built, so this whole production was waiting on me to find someone to take care of the trees.

Houston Tree Works assured me they could come in the next few days and it shouldn’t take them longer than a few hours to get the job done (apparently they do this kind of thing all the time). Sure enough, they turned up to my friend’s backyard just a few days later and were done within a few hours. The concert date didn’t have to be moved, I was fully satisfied with my performance space, and I turned my friend into a Houston Tree Works believer. It was a win-win for everyone involved and if you are ever in need of tree services in Houston, do give Houston Tree Works a call!

Music As One or As A Group

So far we’ve covered various genres, finding your creative source, differences between an agent and a manager, and creating an image for yourself as an artist. The topic I’ve chosen for this article is a tricky one, and it’s one that should be addressed earlier instead of later.

Can You Do This Alone?

There have been so many great musical acts throughout the years, from boy bands to pairs to rock bands. Simon & Garfunkel, 98 Degrees, Hall & Oates, The Temptations, Queen, The Beach Boys, U2, The Supremes, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC are just a few of the most famous, chart-topping bands.

Though people often talk about how quickly groups like this can fall apart or disband, there are many examples of groups that have stayed together and remained successful throughout their careers.

Even if some of the groups I’ve listed above haven’t stayed together (I’m looking at you, *NYSNC), reunion tours or performances are a great way to relive the glory days without committing to another five to ten years as a band. It doesn’t have to be a life-long commitment, like marriage, but it should be taken just as seriously.

Just like relationship commitments, you shouldn’t rush into anything you’re not ready for. You should know your bandmates well enough to write, create, and perform with them. They should be people you are comfortable with, since beginning bands have to spend a lot of quality time with one another on the road and in recording studios. 

Two’s (or Three’s) a Crowd

Perhaps you’re not someone who works well with others. Or maybe you just don’t want to spend all your free time sharing the spotlight. You can pull a Beyoncé, split from your group of three (Destiny’s Child) and become 1000 times more successful as a solo artist. Or you can start off by yourself from the very beginning.

However working alone does not mean you will work entirely alone. With musicians, there are producers, co-writers, agents, managers (some of these should look familiar), etc. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: “It takes a village.” The same can be said of musicians, solo artists or group artists.

Of course, there is a happy medium for those of you who work better alone, but enjoy occasional teamwork with other artists. Artists like Macklemore produce a large percentage of their own work, but every so often they’ll release a song where they’ve teamed up with an artist or two to produce a collaboration of sounds.

Collaboration is key to being an artist. Without it, we would not to be encouraged, challenged, or inspired by someone besides our own inner artists. When considering our own work, we artists tend to overthink, overanalyze, and pick apart. We’ll try too hard to come up with new ideas and eventually end up forcing a project for the sake of getting it done. That is why we need other people to encourage us and inspire us, and when we should just take a step back from the task.

Sometimes, you gain the best creative inspiration from someone who is not an artist. Most of the time, you’ll find your inspiration exists in the world around you. Collaboration doesn’t have to be just with other artists or other people. Collaboration means being willing to work with whatever and whoever. Sometimes that means paying attention to our surroundings and finding the art there.

Art is not something that can be forced, or on a time table because that’s just now how art works. A common misconception about art is that a painter will spend hours staring at his canvas until inspiration strikes or a musician will strum the same three chords until the sound inspires him to create a unique combination of his own. In some cases, sure. But that’s not how it works for everyone.

I prefer to go about my daily routine: hang out with my friends, call my mom, clean my room, eat dinner, go for a walk, etc. Inspiration will find me no matter where I am, and it can come from almost any source. A phone call, the local laundromat, the sound of running water, a story my friend told me, 

All of that to say: as an artist, you cannot isolate yourself. When you’re an artist, you’ll notice the extraordinary in the most ordinary circumstances. That is where inspiration will be. You’ll see beauty where others see filth. That is where your inspiration will be. You’ll hear a new tune where people just hear the wind rustling the leaves on a tree. That is where your inspiration will be. If you locked yourself up in your room to stare at your wall until a new idea appeared, you would not grow up and develop as an artist. But most importantly, you would not create. Sure, most of an artist’s creativity comes from their own mind and they are inspired by their own thoughts. But if you’re not feeding or stimulating that source by getting fresh air, meeting with your loved ones, or exposing yourself to other art, then eventually those ideas will stop coming and your resources will have dried up and run out.

That is why we should depend on collaboration as artists. Without, we cannot create, we cannot grow, and we cannot develop as artists and as people.

So surround yourself with people you love, who care about you, and who love you, too. Walk to the local coffee shop, buy a newspaper, smile at someone new, and go to the local art exhibit. Allow yourself to just be, and that’s when the ideas will come and the creativity will flow.

Now that I’ve thoroughly ranted about being an artist and what that means to me, I’ll wrap this up. I’m sure you’re thinking: “What should I take away from this rant?”

Figure out if you’re someone who should be a part of a group or not. If you want to be a part of a group, find those people and learn how to trust them and create with them. If you want to go at it alone, know that you will still have to work with other artists. The last thing to take away from this article is: collaboration is key if you’re an artist.

Artist – Branding Yourself

Last article we covered what a manager is, what a booking agent is, whether or not you need them, and how to determine if you do or not. Chances are once you’ve hired one (or both), they’ll help you out with what we’ll be discussing in this article. However if you happen to be an artist who wants to do this thing totally independent, you need to know how to do this yourself.

That’s right. It’s time to talk about branding.

Some people may immediately think of pushing a piece of hot metal up against an animal’s flesh to mark it as their own when they hear the term “branding.” Or that might just be my Southern heritage showing. In any case, that is not the type of branding we’re going to talk about.

Branding Yourself as an Artist

The first thing to understand before you can begin to brand yourself is that you are a human. You will change over time, like all humans do. Your tastes will change, you will grow, develop, and adapt as life goes on. Your brand should directly mirror and reflect any changes you make to yourself and to your music.

Some artists start out with one brand, and then introduce another as time goes on. This contributes to your longevity as an artist. Being able to accurately identify yourself as an artist and gather a following by staying true to this identity is highly important because once you apply your brand, it will help narrow the audience down to your target audience and demographic. As you get to know this group of people, you can adapt your brand and music to cater to their needs. As an artist, you only exist if someone consumes your work. If the general public has no idea who you are as an artist, then you won’t get very far.

Also, this all traces back to knowing yourself as a person first. Do some soul-searching, find yourself out in a beautiful country far away from, do whatever you need to identify who you want to portray yourself as to your audience. This is probably the most important step you can take when you decide to become a musician.

My “Brand”

My main influence is Chelo, who I’ve mentioned before blends Latin, pop, and urban music to create his own unique sound. One of the significant reasons I feel I can relate to Chelo as a musician is we share the same heritage. Chelo was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I was also born. Unlike Chelo, I moved with my family to Texas shortly after I was born, so I don’t have the same relationship with my homeland as Chelo does who remained in Puerto Rico throughout his formative years. Though I didn’t spend many years in Puerto Rico, I still do all I can to stay connected to my heritage and understand the culture of where I came from. Seeing an artist like Chelo embrace his roots and portray that in his music inspires me to do the same. Because I feel so strongly about that, I know that a large part of my brand, or image, will be my Puerto Rican heritage and how that blends into my music.

That’s how I present myself to people when I share or play my music, and that’s the filter I put all my songs through so I can achieve that Puerto Rican heritage somewhere, whether that’s in a certain beat I use or in a certain lyric that references my homeland.

All of that to say: it’s important to remember where you came from, who you currently are, and who you may be when molding your brand. Don’t let anyone but you dictate your brand. I’ve known several artists who, in order to make it big, have agreed to a brand that they felt no personal connection to and, in the process, have completely lost themselves. They may be successful, make a lot of money, win awards, and gain recognition, but because it’s not rooted in who they really are, they will never feel total satisfaction with their music.

In other words, branding is a marketing technique. You are trying to appeal to as many people as you can reach who might identify with a piece of your brand. If they identify with your brand, they identify with your music. Hence they buy your music, come to your shows, and essentially pay your bills. To recap: branding is important, it should come from an authentic part of you, and it should be flexible enough to change as you change.

When I was first starting out, I was tight on cash and didn’t know enough people yet to secure respectable venues. But I still wanted to perform and get my name out there. So I decided to throw a pool party at one of my friend’s houses. We could serve BBQ, people could swim or lay out, and I would perform throughout to keep the party atmosphere going. Brilliant idea, right? Well, my friend didn’t understand that if a bunch of acquaintances and potential fans were coming to see me at this pool party that we the goal was to make an awesome first impression. Which included serving quality, well-cooked food, using the best sound equipment, placing people in specific spots to keep the crowd entertained in between my sets, and, most importantly, have a clean pool that people would feel comfortable swimming in. Most of those things were already taken care or were in the process of being dealt with. The pool? Not so much.

I had to call the local pool cleaning service to help us remove the mess my friend hadn’t cleaned up after his last get-together. Luckily, Katy Pool Cleaners were available almost immediately and they were very thorough. Pools glisten naturally because they are filled with water, but this pool had an extra layer of shine and sparkle to it when the pool cleaners were done, almost like they took Windex to the surface and polished it well. The party went off without a hitch, the pool functioned perfectly and drew everyone to it like a magnet. It was the perfect way to complement my outdoor performance. 

Music Agent or Music Manager

I like to think of this series of articles as the steps to becoming a musician/performer in today’s society. I’m drawing these steps from my own personal experience and that of my fellow musicians that I admire and respect.

Every good musician has to know the history of the art they’re creating, which is why the first two articles were necessary. Then, as I explained in the previous article, every artist must figure out what their process is. Where it needs to take place, what needs to happen in order for you to focus, what environment you work best in, etc. These are all questions you should consider when thinking about yourself as an artist.

Now we’re going to take a look at the differences between an agent and a manager, if you really need one, and what to do if you do decide to hire one.

Let’s start off by defining manager and agent.

Talent Manager

People commonly mistake managers for agents and vice versa. Some people need one, some people need both, and some don’t need either. It all depends on you and your personal needs. But before you know what you need, you should educate yourself on what each one can do for you. Then you’ll know if you need one, both, or don’t need any at all.

First things first, a manager is someone who can be there for you as much or as little as you need them to be. Think of them as your overbearing helicopter mom or. Managers have been known to do things like provide guidance on a client’s career choices, counsel a client on their personal and professional decisions, and help them out in their day-to-day life.

If you prove to be a more hands-on client, meaning you’re someone who likes to walk on the wild side and spend your days off in rehab or jail, chances are your manager is going to be more hands-on. They may be the one picking you up from rehab or jail, or taking you there. They may be on-call 24/7 for you if you tend to be a flight risk.

Sometimes they don’t play an active role in your personal life at all. If you’re the golden client (AKA golden child), they’ll only get involved in your personal matters when it’s absolutely necessary. If that’s you, your manager will take care of the many jobs and various responsibilities you have to tackle on a daily basis. They’ll be the one to arrange your interviews, be your date to a premiere or release party, play accountant for you when you start making those big bucks, and set up your CD signings.

Booking Agent

Notice that though managers do a whole lot of hand-holding and personal-assisting, they never actually book jobs for their clients. That is the sole purpose of a booking agent.

Their job is to find you jobs, book those jobs, and then help you keep those jobs. If necessary, a booking agent defends, supports and promotes the interest of their clients.

Booking agents deal directly with the promoters of shows at various venues. 

Here’s the catch though: many booking agents will not represent an artist that is not signed to a major record label. They won’t even consider you. Even if you’re able to secure an independent record label contract, more than likely you’ll have to go through an independent booking agency. If you aren’t represented by any record label, an independent booking agency is your best option, too.

Another downfall when it comes to hiring a booking agent is that they will take a cut of your pay depending on how successful you are. Most of the time it’s only 10 percent of your salary, which is why agents are commonly referred to as “10 percenters.”

What’s With All the Confusion?

One of the main reasons for the confusion surrounding these two terms is due to contracts. Managers have been known to take on many roles, such as: press agent, promoter, booking agent, business manager, tour manager, and a personal assistant. As you read that list, you probably noticed the term “booking agent” and are shaking your head at me because I just clearly explained that the two are not the same so they shouldn’t be treated as such.

Well, it turns out managers technically can perform all the duties of a booking agent if you want a two-in-one version, but a booking agent’s various responsibilities cannot be listed in a manager’s contract, meaning a manager is not legally obligated or state regulated while performing these tasks. Which is why you should err on the side of caution when it comes to hiring a do-it-all manager. Booking agents are required to earn state licenses, which ensures them that they are allowed to perform these responsibilities and they will be held to a specific (higher) standard while doing so.

When considering hiring a talent manager and a booking agent, you should consider how far along you are in your career and how much more progress you believe you can realistically make on your own. If you feel like you’ve reached a point where you need professional help, look into hiring a manager or agent. Make sure you trust them. A lot can look too good to be true, and most of the time, that’s exactly the case. Not all of them are con artists or just out to make a pretty penny off of you and your music. Find ones that genuinely want to make you a better artist and look out for you well-being. This may significantly narrow your search down, but it will be worth it in the end.

Next article, we’re going to talk a little about an artist’s image or brand and what that means, how you go about creating one for yourself, etc. I’ll also talk more about my biggest influence in music, Chelo, and why he inspires me so much.

I hope these articles help you in your journey to becoming a better, more established musician. If you’re not out to be a better musician, I hope these articles are entertaining and you feel like you’re learning something.

Music Context

Now you’re fully educated on the history of pop, urban, and Latin music. Well, maybe not fully educated, but the knowledge I’ve presented you with should help you get through trivia night with your friends. You’re welcome.

You’ve got the facts. You know the history. So why does it matter? Context. Context is important when it comes to music. Any time an artist is interviewed, the interviewer is almost always asks the musician who they are inspired or influenced by. If you were interviewing me, I would say one of my biggest inspirations is Chelo. I’ve mentioned before that he is an artist who dabbles in fusing together pop, urban, and Latin genres. In order for you to fully understand what fusing these genres meant, you had to understand their individual histories.

Which means now you get to know my individual history when it comes to music.

Music has always been an outlet for me. I would decompress after a long day by simply lying on my bed and listening to music. At first it was on my Walkman, then on my first generation iPod, and now it’s my iPhone 6. The headphones have improved, the sound quality has improved, but the quality of music has always stayed the same. I grew up in a musical family that appreciated music from every angle: as performers and as listeners.

I didn’t know until I discovered Chelo just how complex music can be, and how different music can sound by simply mixing genres. I think in every young adult’s life there is the songwriting phase. We all have multiple journals packed up in a box somewhere that we hope never see the light of day. God forbid anyone besides you reads what’s written in those journals. Not everyone is cut out for songwriting.

At some point in my life, it became much more than a phase for me. I had to write, and I had to put the words to music. It was rough at first. The first few were terrible. Okay, so the first hundred were terrible. But everyone starts somewhere. I knew from a young age that I was no musical prodigy, so there was no rush for me to perfect my songwriting technique. As an artist, I’ve learned you’ll never reach perfection. Art can always be remodeled, redone, and touched up. Perfection is nearly impossible. Everything is always a work in progress.

Over the years, I’ve perfected the process I use when I want to focus on hammering out a new song or a song that I’ve been working on for a while. First thing you should know: I keep two journals. The first is my song journal (not like the ones I mentioned earlier, I’m quite proud of all the songs in this journal) with verses, lyrics, and tunes written in. The second is simply a writing journal. Sometimes songs don’t just appear in a song form, with the first verse, chorus, second verse, chorus, bridge, etc. Actually, that’s most of the time. Let’s get to the actual process, but keep those journals in mind. They come up again later on in the process.

To prepare, I like to make sure I’ve had a little snack, so my mind won’t drift to thinking about my next meal in the middle of the process. Next, I turn off my TV and silence my cell phone because again: distractions tend to be distracting. If the song I’m working on already has a few bars or verses to it, then I’ll read over what I already have and hum the tune until the wheels in my brain start turning. Sometimes it’s hard to get back to that original source of inspiration and sometimes it doesn’t all come back at first. I never try to force a song though. Don’t get me wrong, writer’s block can be the most frustrating thing, especially if you’re on a deadline or when you rely on these songs as your source of income.

If I’m starting from scratch on a new song, I refer to my writing journal. I keep all forms of writing in this journal, from random thoughts to dreams to poems to stream of consciousness monologues I jot down when I first wake up in the morning. Most of my ideas come from here, especially if I’m dealing with a new song.

I don’t have a preferred position when I’m writing. I can be sitting at my desk, laying in my bed, but most of the time I wind up on the carpet. One thing that can really disrupt the writing process is if anything is not in its place while I’m writing. If my desk is messy, if my bed is not made, if my room is cluttered, or if my carpet is dirty, I can’t write. Lately I’ve had to invest in someone who knows how to deep clean a carpet. Vacuuming just doesn’t cut it for the kind of clean I need.

I saw an ad online for Katy Carpet Cleaners a few weeks ago, and I called them when I felt like my carpet was too dirty to work around. They were able to schedule an appointment within the next week, but the only problem was that I wouldn’t be home when they came. They assured me this wouldn’t be a problem, they’d done it many times before, and they would call when they arrived and when they left. The day arrived when they would be coming to clean, and I received a call earlier than the time they said they’d be there. They finished quickly and called me right when they left. I came home to a deep-cleaned carpet, and I was able to write a song that night. All thanks to Katy Carpet Cleaners.

Everyone has their weird ticks when it comes to figuring out the “process” they need to go through in order to create or get work done. Tina Fey sniffs dryer sheets and I have to be in an immaculately clean environment. So find out what your tick is, and embrace it. Because out of that strange tick comes art. Or whatever it is you do.

Urban and Latin Music Genres

Last article we talked all about pop music and its history, now we’re going to take a look at the urban and Latin music genres.

First up: urban music.

Also referred to as urban contemporary music, this genre originated in the 1980s and 90s as a solution for “advertisers who felt that ‘black radio’ would not reach a wide enough audience” (Encyclopedia Britannica). Its sound is defined by rhythm-and-blues or soul artists with mass crossover appeal.

Today, urban music tends to be a phrase referring to hip-hop, rhythm-and-blues, and soul genres. When urban music first populated American radio, it was mainly black artists. Now, with artists like Justin Timberlake, Nelly, Eminem, and Mariah Carey (all who I previously mentioned as pop/R&B artists) dominating this urban genre, skin color no longer defines this genre. In order to fully understand urban music, you have to understand where it comes from, and in order to accurately understand this we must look at what it encompasses: hip-hop (rap) and R&B.

I know what you’re probably thinking: “Didn’t we just talk about hip-hop and R&B in the previous article? This is old news to us.”

Not necessarily. I discussed R&B and hip-hop as elements blended into today’s pop genre, not as standalone genres.

Hip-hop (Rap)

Hip-hop started in 1973 with by DJ Kool Herc, who is considered to be music’s founding father. He emceed over the instrumental breaks in records and thus, rap was born.

The block party that DJ Kool Herc was hosting was typical of black and Puerto Rican youth in the early 1970s. These groups were denied access to dance clubs, so they created block parties hosted by DJs.

The first commercially successful recording was a group called The Sugar Hill Gang with the tune “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. Two albums that helped bring rap into the mainstream were Raising Hell by DMC and Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys.

From there, artists like Salt-n-Pepa, N.W.A., Public Enemy, Jazzy Jeff, and the Fresh Prince all made a name for themselves in the rap genre and various subgenres.

R&B

The other half of the urban genre began much earlier than its counterpart. Starting in the late 1940s and early 50s, it began with jump blues, which included a mix of gospel, jazz, and blues. This genre would evolve into Soul and Funk, which had a different sound depending on where you were. In Philly, there was a highly orchestrated sound. In Memphis, a gritty Stax sound, and in Detroit the oh-so-infectious Motown sound.

Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard are just a few of the artists who defined R&B’s distinct sound.

The most important moment for both of these genres is when they were fused together in the late 80s by a producer named Teddy Riley from the Bronx. This fusion of hip-hop and R&B was coined “New Jack Swing,” and Riley went on to directly influence artists such as Bobby Brown and Michael Jackson, as well as producers like Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.

Though it’s common now for a rap song to feature an R&B singer or for a rapper to add a few verses in an R&B song and instantly become a hit, it was highly uncommon in the 80s for anything with these characteristics to get any play on mainstream radio. It wasn’t until the 90s that urban music became a mainstay for mainstream American radio.

Now you should understand why urban music is so important to American music history. Not only does it feature the blending of two genres that people once thought should remain pure, urban brands a lifestyle: music, clothes, and a way of life.

Last but certainly not least, we have the history of Latin music. Before I was exposed to Latin music or music inspired by Latin roots, I thought Latin music was kind of like the Latin language: dead. Not just kind of dead, but deader than dead. As in, everyone knows Latin is a dead language, that’s how dead it is. But you’ll be pleasantly surprised, just like I was, by how alive and well Latin music is in today’s culture.

It Takes Two to…

That’s right: tango. We’ve all heard the saying, and we’re all at least a tiny bit familiar with the tango whether we’ve danced it before or not.

Most dances that have become household names in America are also subgenres and types of Latin American music.

Tango was a new rhythm created by the working class in 1890s Argentina. At first, it was just the name given to the drums played by African slaves. The intimate choreography was originally designed to mimic the relationship between the prostitute, her pimp and a male rival. Tango didn’t make its way to the US until the 1910s, but it instantly made an impact. The most popular dances before then were the Viennese waltz and the Polka, neither of those coming close to the intimacy the tango created between two partners. 

Samba

Another genre of Latin American music that you may also recognize as a style of dance is the samba.

The word was first used in 1838 to describe a dance style created by the working-class African-Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro. The rhythm of samba was meant for three things: singing, dancing, and marching in a parade.

The first record to be dubbed “samba” was sung by a black musician by the name of Ernesto “Donga” dos Santos. It wasn’t until 1933, nearly 100 years after the phrase was coined, that samba emerged in the US. This was due to a film by Vincent Youman: Flying Down to Rio. It popularized the samba dance and music styles in America.

Salsa

One other well-known Latin American music subgenre is salsa. While most of us Texans know this as a great dip for chips (and everything else that can be dipped), salsa is a popular dance and music style that has been called by many other names before finally being renamed salsa.

In America, this style was known as “son” for many years until 1973 when it was renamed for a TV special.

I’ve got bad news and I’ve got good news. The bad news is that we’ve finished learning all about music history, so no more Music Appreciation 101. Don’t be disappointed though, because now we get to move on to the fun stuff. Stay tuned to see what exactly the fun stuff is!

Music serves a greater purpose in all our lives

Music serves a greater purpose in all our lives. We listen to it while commuting to and from work, while we work out, while we lounge by the pool, while we clean, while we work, etc. Needless to say, music has carved out a place in our lives and in society. It sets the tone for film and TV shows, serves as the theme songs for our favorite characters, and plays as background music throughout most of our lives.

If you grow up playing instruments or singing, your relationship with music is so much deeper. That’s where I stand. I’ve always had a general appreciation and fondness for music. It started from a very young age.

But before I tell you my history with music, we have to take a look back at music in general.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to teach Music Appreciation 101 because you should have already taken that in college. If you haven’t, now you have something to look forward to. The term “music” is pretty broad. Let’s narrow that down.

Why don’t we take a closer look at, let’s say, the history of pop, urban, and Latin music? That just so happens to be the three styles that Chelo likes to blend and combine to create the unique sounds that inspired me to pursue music. But more on that later. For now, on to history!

Pop Music

The New World Encyclopedia definition of pop music is “contemporary music and a common type of popular music (distinguished from classical or art music and from folk music).” Pop is a culmination of rock, hip hop, reggae, dance, R&B, jazz, electronic, and folk music. Depending on the time and place, pop music can mean different things and there are various subgenres within the term “popular music.”

1890s-1920s

Starting in the 1890s and through the 1920s, the first form of “pop music” was Ragtime, which was popular in the African-American community and featured elements of dance. Ragtime then turned into Swing, which was an early form of jazz.

1930s-1940s

Several styles were introduced in this era that would influence pop music later on. Blues and Country could blend to become Rockabilly. Jump Blues/R&B proved to be an essential ingredient in both Rock ‘n’ Roll and pop music. Elements such as gospel handclaps, boogie woogie, and a greater emphasis on backbeat created Rock ‘n’ Roll which would pop music was heavily influenced by.

With the 1940s came the rise of crying and emotional singers which is a common characteristic of modern pop music.

1950s

The best examples of early Western Pop music artists is a lengthy list, including: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Fats Domino, and Elvis Presley. All across the globe artists are lending their voices to the pop music genre. There was Johnny O’Keefe, Col Joy, and Bobby Darin in Australia, and Mario Lanza represented Italy. Iran had the “Sultan of Pop,” otherwise known as Vigen Derderian, who has been compared to Elvis Presley. Greece had Laïkó, which was a form of music similar to Turkish fantasy music.

1960s

Elvis Presley continued his legacy into the 60s, along with new artists like the Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Who, Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Simon and Garfunkel and Aretha Franklin.

It was also in the 60s that the world received the first appearances of the early version of the boy band, the most famous being The Monkees.

1970s

Also known as the “disco era,” the 70s gave way to The Carpenters, ABBA, Donna Summer, Billy Joel, Elton John, the Eagles, Rod Stewart, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis, Carole King, Carly Simon, and Cher. The list just goes on and on from there.

1980s

This era belongs to Michael Jackson, the King of Pop himself. His second release under the Epic label, Thriller, went on to become the best-selling album of all time, and he was the most successful artist of the decade. Madonna also ruled the charts in the 80s, which led to her well-earned title: Queen of Pop.

Pop in this decade was influenced by an electric sound, and this included using synthesizers, drum machines, and dance-type music. Artists of the decade that reflect this shift in style include: The Go-Gos, Huey Lewis & the News, Kylie Minogue, Tina Turner, Paula Abdul, Whitney Houston, a-Ha, Kenny Loggins, Rick Springfield, and U2.

1990s

The most successful acts of this decade are artists that relied on an R&B influence. These include: Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, Salt N Pepa, MC Hammer, Boyz II Men, and Janet Jackson. Most artists that were successful in the 80s continued to be, still relying heavily on dance-pop elements.

This decade also saw a surge in boy bands and girl groups, like New Kids on the Block (starting in the late 1980s), The Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, 98 Degrees, and the Spice Girls. The term “pop princesses” was coined as a result of the massive success of artists like Britney Spears, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, and Willa Ford.

2000s

Pop stars who reigned in the 90s experienced a drop in sales and were forced to incorporate R&B styles, creating the genre known as Pop/R&B. Several artists came about as a result, such as: Justin Timberlake, Akon, Ciara, Rihanna, and Nelly Furtado.

“Pure” pop continued to become a thing of the past, as even more styles blended to become new ones. Pop/punk introduced artists such as Simple Plan and Fall Out Boy. Pop/rock also became its own genre; Hilary Duff, Avril Lavigne, and Hawthorne Heights are just a few artists who sang to the tune of this genre.

American Idol began to churn out multi-platinum artists, the best example being Kelly Clarkson. This decade also saw a further division in the pop genre. This trend starting with Disney Channel hiring actors who could sing as well as act. This led to one tier dedicated completely to preteens and teenagers.

So there you have it, a pocket-size history of pop music. Stay tuned for the next article, where I’ll cover the history of urban and Latin music.