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About TheBenevolentSiren

Hi! I’m The Benevolent Siren. I’m a connoisseur of fine vegetarian cuisine, a TV fanatic, an organization enthusiast, and most importantly, I’m in the throes of a passionate love affair with music. There are some songs that play in your bones, veins and guts, not just your ears; those are the ones that keep me going. I guess you could say my heart beats to an 808 drum. A side effect of my musical preoccupation is that most of my posts will probably relate to music in some respect—you can expect album reviews, playlist creation advice, and concert stories, among other things. Of course, I’ll deviate from music every now and then, but I’ll come back to it time and again.
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How to get stuff done

  1. Go to a public place, preferably where caffeinated hot beverages are served.
  2. Drink a hot beverage.
  3. Play John Mayer’s album Battle Studies (or music of equivalent mellowness) through noise-reducing headphones, thereby creating for yourself a private world of focused concentration.
  4. Start.

The rest will take care of itself. Take it from someone who knows.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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It may be September, but I’m listening to Christmas music anyway.

Why? Because Christmas music is lovely, and it’s finally starting to get cool in Massachusetts (from whence I am now blogging). As I haven’t lived through an East Coast winter in a decade, the cool seasons are a single unit in my sense memory; cool weather simultaneously means Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. And since Halloween music is goofy and the soundtrack to Thanksgiving is usually just a chorus of killjoys reminding me that the pilgrims were actually jerks to the native people, Christmas music is my go-to source for cool-weather jams.

 

This kitten in a Santa hat doesn't stop being cute just because it isn't December.

 

Here are 5 beautiful Christmas-y songs that are good enough to listen to all year long.

  1. River, cover by Sarah McLachlan
  2. All That I Want by The Weepies
  3. O Holy Night as performed, a capella, by ‘NSYNC
  4. Better Days by The Goo Goo Dolls
  5. Where Are You Christmas by Faith Hill (from Dr. Seuss’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas)

 

Who else out there is bucking society’s oppressive rules regarding seasonal song selection? Can I get an amen?

 

-Benevolent Siren

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How to work through the pain of a breakup…

…A band breakup, that is. When your favorite musical group parts ways or retires, a very real grieving process starts to take place. And darn it, you should grieve. You know who isn’t sad when their favorite band goes away? Robots, and no one else.

 

Anyway, here are the 5 stages of grief seen through the lens of a band breakup.

  1. Denial.  Do you find yourself saying, “REMluvr67 must be misinformed. What does the moderator of an R.E.M. fan message board know about R.E.M. breaking up??” If so, you’re in denial. Don’t worry, this won’t last; the band frontperson will confirm the rumors soon enough. All you have to do at this stage is go about your day until the official news sources start reporting the band’s demise.
  2. Anger. How dare the artist in question do this to you? Doesn’t he/she/they know that you NEED THEIR MUSIC TO SURVIVE? They clearly must not have considered the consequences to you personally. Jerks. You should boycott the fan message boards and temporarily stop listening to their music in protest.
  3. Bargaining. Incessantly inundate the band’s official Twitter feed with requests for one last show. Inform the Internet ether that you’ll donate your kidney if they’ll just do one last studio album. Yell at the Internet about it all you want. You’re going through something here, and if your friends care about you, they’ll listen. (Or ignore you. You’ll never know–it’s the Internet.) After your 50th tweet or 8th status update (whichever comes first), let yourself fall into step 4:
  4. Depression. Make a playlist of the band’s saddest songs. Title it “END OF THE WORLD” and listen on repeat. Curl up on your bed clutching one of their albums, sobbing “whyyy??” over and over. Feel sorry for yourself. Wallow. Wear sweatpants. Eat ice cream. Don’t shower. Maybe take a mental health day. Make sure to put a cap on how long you allow yourself to do this, though; maybe make it a long weekend.
  5. Acceptance. This one takes some doing, and it’s the hardest, but it’s also the most gratifying. After you’ve handled your depression, set aside a block of time to hold a vigil. Collect all your band memorabilia in one comfortable and private place, invest in a killer pair of headphones, and make sure everyone knows you’re not to be interrupted. (Also, if you’re inclined to wear eye makeup usually, maybe don’t during the vigil. You’ll want to be sob-proof.) Listen to their entire discography in order, taking time to remember all the times in your life that each song/album got you through. Remember the first time you saw them live. Remember the bad breakup that had you crying onto their metaphorical shoulder as you listened to that one song on repeat. Remember the happiest they’ve ever made you. Bring up the memories methodically, allow them to take you back to each moment in succession, and live briefly in the emotion of those moments. Smile. Cry. Breathe deeply. Write, if you’re so inclined. And then remind yourself that you’ll always have those memories, and the music that scored them.

And if that fails, tell yourself they weren’t that great anyway. Sniff.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind

It’s practically against the law to be in a bad mood during the summer. The sun aggressively blocks out negativity in favor of pool parties, BBQs, and boardwalk rides. Even if you’re dealing with some Issues, the mandatory joie de vivre that accompanies July and August will sweep them under the rug–at least until September rolls around.

 

That’s why Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind is the perfect summer anthem. As I explained in an earlier post, this song is so catchy and upbeat that you’d never guess it’s about crippling drug addiction. An overwhelmingly cheerful chorus of “doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo” coats the tragic lyrics in an impenetrable layer of joyful mania, and it’s impossible to be anything but happy when you sing along. Whether or not your summertime smiles are masking a darker truth, this song is a choice accompaniment for all your picnics, beach days, and volleyball tournaments. (That’s what people do in the summer, right?)

 

 

 

-Benevolent Siren

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5 situations that are WAY better with headphones

  1. Doing the dishes. My internal monologue without headphones: “God, how long have these dishes been sitting here? That food globule doesn’t look like anything I ate recently.” My internal monologue with headphones: “LA LA LA everything is awesome I’m a rock star! Oh look, the dishes are done.”
  2. Exercise. Cardio can be a long, cruel exercise in misery if you have nothing but your thoughts to sustain you. With the right pump-up playlist and a killer pair of earbuds, on the other hand, you might even look forward to feeling like a rockstar on your daily run.
  3. Air travel. Inexplicable delays, intolerable seatmates and long stretches of time away from the internet conspire to make air travel a wretched experience. On the other hand, the right pair of headphones can drown out the crying babies and chatty neighbors with the sweet tones of your favorite soothing songs. Alternatively, a fascinating podcast (such as Radiolab or This American Life) makes a long flight fly by.
  4. Working on menial tasks or busy work. Endless spreadsheets weighing you down? If you’re allowed to listen to music or other audio media at work, just pop in a pair of headphones and let your mind escape to a better place—like a dance floor.
  5. Falling asleep. If you’re like me, falling asleep without any external stimulation feels like a chore. My brain just won’t shut up; trains of thought refuse to be derailed unless I listen to podcasts or TV show dialogue.

 

How do headphones make your life better?

 

-Benevolent Siren

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What should be done about illegal music downloading?

Recently, David Lowery of The Trichordist penned a thoughtful, impassioned and well-reasoned response to NPR’s All Things Considered intern Emily White, who stated on her employer’s blog that she engaged in illegal downloading and filesharing. Lowery laid out the anti-torrenting argument as well as I’ve seen anyone do it, highlighting its negative impact on the future of the music industry and the devastating effects it has on the >99% of music artists that aren’t dominating the radio waves. That said, I’m not sure any quantity of cogent arguments will be enough to fix this problem. Here’s why:

Simply put, people are motivated by incentives and disincentives. The incentives to download illegally are obvious; it’s free, easy and fast. The disincentives, which include a (very remote) chance of legal ramifications, poor audio quality and a moral tangle, are not always strong enough to overcome the incentives. In order to affect behavior on a large scale, one must manipulate incentives and disincentives.

This brings me to the practical side of this debate: assuming the goal is the elimination of illegal downloading, which disincentives should be magnified, and which incentives tempered? Just as crucially, whose job is it to do this? Looking at the dis/incentives laid out above, those who are losing money due to illegal downloading (i.e. the entire music industry) have a few options. It’s like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, but without all the cool dragons and stuff:

Option A: Reduce the incentive to download illegally by making it harder. In other words, take away the widespread availability of illegal mp3s by targeting filesharing sites. This option has been explored by the government as well as the music industry; Metallica (followed by large record companies and other industry leaders) famously sued filesharing platform Napster in 2000, while the US Justice Department brought Megaupload to its knees in January of this year. Alas, this hasn’t stopped illegal downloading, and new sites will continue to crop up as long as filesharing continues to be profitable (i.e. forever).

Option B: Increase the legal risk of illegal downloading. This has been tried too; according to the New York Times, the industry sued thousands between 2003 and 2008, but ended up losing money due to litigation fees despite collecting handsome fines. Plus, making an example out of a few did nothing to stop the many; illegal downloads continued, and the industry gave up this approach in 2009.

Option C: Bring morality to the forefront. This is what David Lowery does masterfully in his article, and it’s what ads such as the one below attempt to do. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the message hasn’t really hit home on a wide enough scale to make a difference. I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples of money trumping morals, and the reality is it would take, at the very least, a much more well-funded campaign of these ads to make anyone feel genuine remorse for their torrenting transgressions.

Option D: Add a new disincentive. Surprise: the industry’s trying this one too. As of July 2011, internet service providers such as Time Warner, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have joined the fight by threatening noncompliant customers with numerous warning notices and slower service (info via NYT). I personally know someone who’s been on the receiving end of one of these warnings, and so far it does appear to have made an impact on her. Still, it remains to be seen whether this will be effective enough to save the bottom line of the music industry. I’m personally not very optimistic. Unless these warnings are consistently backed by more concrete consequences, which they aren’t as far as I can tell, my guess is they won’t have enough clout to overcome the allure of unlimited free music.

 

The moral of the story is this: the industry has explored a wide variety of avenues in its attempts to eliminate illegal downloading, with largely discouraging results. Maybe the next step is to look for a new revenue model. This would be a dramatic and painful paradigm shift in the music industry, but those happen all the time in response to new technology and consumer activities. Instead of fighting the tide of illegal downloading, the music industry might do well to evolve new ways of monetizing its product. For instance, artists can preempt illegal downloads by offering name-your-own-price high-quality MP3s on their own sites, generating a high volume of site traffic (which can be monetized with ad revenues). Also, while Kickstarter success stories aren’t the norm, the site can still be a powerful way to get projects off the ground. Finally, while touring revenues for smaller artists aren’t very profitable in their current form (as David Lowery explains), live music in some form might prove to be a better source of income if the model is reexamined.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m inclined to think the onus of change will ultimately fall on the shoulders of those who stand to lose the most money. And the sooner the music industry embraces the tides of change, the better its chances of remaining relevant–and therefore, profitable.

 

Benevolent Siren

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4 ways American Idol is like the Hunger Games

Full disclosure: I love televised singing competitions, and American Idol is a regular feature on my DVR. Despite the overly-maudlin backstories and ubiquitous product placement, it’s hard to forgo the delicious pleasure of ruthlessly judging people from the comfort of my own home–especially since it lets me live their dreams vicariously and forget that I could never do what any of those kids do. The show creators have hit on an endless vein of drama centered around lifting up and then crushing very young, very vulnerable and very talented people, and I tune in every week to see who gets stomped on and who gets a stay of execution.

This description could apply to many shows on TV right now–the compelling nature of competition is that someone wins and someone loses. But the manner in which the kids on American Idol compete is evocative of a recent literary and cinematic phenomenon called the Hunger Games. You may have heard of the series, considering the book’s been lighting up bestseller lists for the last 140+ weeks and the movie grossed $600 million internationally so far. Just in case you haven’t, the series centers around 16-year-old Katniss, a resourceful and rebellious citizen of Panem who is forced into a cruel competition that pits 24 children (called “tributes”) against each other in a highly-publicized (and televised) fight to the death. Of course it’s fictional, but it features strong parallels to the cultural TV phenomenon that is American Idol. Quick disclaimer: I don’t mean to make light of children murdering each other, nor do I wish to accuse American Idol of crimes against humanity. I do understand the difference between a voluntarily-entered singing competition and a government-mandated, homicidal tragedy. I’ve just noticed some structural similarities between the US super-hit and the most popular show in Panem. Here are some elements the two share:

Left: Ryan Seacrest; Right: Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci)

1. Charmingly benevolent celebrity host. Caesar Flickerman, played by Stanley Tucci in the “Hunger Games” film, is charismatic, fashionably dressed, and charged with putting the contestants at ease while sussing out their stories to win them sympathy from the audience. Sound like anyone on American Idol? Ryan Seacrest has been a fixture of American Idol since its first season, and is a natural as the harmless and popular master of ceremonies. It’s his job to root for everyone, even though almost all of them will fall prey to the whims of the nation. It’s also his job to encourage audience investment in the contestants, telling viewers that they “must vote for [their] favorites.” (As a personal aside, I’d love to see the site traffic analytics for AmericanIdol.com on voting night.)

2. Elaborate strategies for winning over hearts and minds. In the Hunger Games arena, as on the Idol stage, the support of the public is vital to the success of the contestants. Gifts from sponsors often mean the difference between life and death for Katniss and the other tributes, while votes determine Idol contestants’ fates. And to win gifts or votes, contestants need to develop careful strategies for garnering favor. Your fashion choices, your touching backstory, your strategy in the competition–all of it matters, both in Panem and in the world of televised singing competitions. From song choice (Idol) to fabricated love stories (Games), moves are calculated. The thing is, it works; even though I know I’m being manipulated, I’m regularly moved to tears by the performances, just as the citizens of the Capitol wail and swoon watching the romance blossom between Peeta and Katniss. I vote for contestants who make me feel something.

Top: Eben Franckewitz, 15-year-old American Idol contestant; Bottom: Rue, 12-year old Hunger Games tribute (played by Amandla Stenberg)

3. Young and innocent contestants. The rules of the Hunger Games dictate that the tributes must be between twelve and eighteen years old, ensuring that they inspire maximal sympathy and emotional involvement from the citizens of Panem. The innocence of the contestants also contributes to the horrific cruelty of the Games, of course. The Idol rules allow for contestants between the ages of 15 and 28 (it used to be 16-24). The four remaining contestants this season are 16 (Jessica Sanchez), 18 (Hollie Cavanagh), 19 (Joshua Ledet), and 21 (Phillip Phillips). This gets to heart of the parallels I see; there’s a reason child actors are so often traumatized by the early vulnerability of the spotlight, and I feel for the youngest kids as they’re told they aren’t good enough. The guilt doesn’t stop me from tearing apart their performances or voting against them, though. Who do you think I am, a saint?

4. Cultural saturation. The Hunger Games are mandatory viewing in Panem, and much of the citizens’ lives are dominated by the ramifications of the event. Each of the twelve Districts sends two of its youthful citizens as tributes, and each District is consumed by the desire for one of their tributes to prevail. This fervor has a very different tone in the Idol contestants’ hometowns than in the fictional Districts; instead of dread, the Idol competitors’ neighbors look on with excitement as one of their own achieves fame. T-shirts, lawn signs and storefront displays are splashed with contestants’ faces; some town even have billboards made in honor of their finalist. And while Idol ratings have dropped off somewhat, the show still draws millions of viewers nationwide each week and is a regular source of water cooler discussion. Even after the show ends, many finalists achieve very real commercial success, dominating not only TV ratings but also radio waves and the iTunes charts. Idol is a cultural phenomenon 11 seasons strong, with no end in sight.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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Getting your groove on…during your lunch break? Swedish “lunch discos” keep the work day fun

She may have to go back to work in an hour, but right now it's party time!

How do you stay motivated and keep your energy up during the work day? Do you listen to pump-up music through a pair of headphones? Take frequent short breaks? Sneak in a nap when the boss isn’t looking?

 

How does a midday dance party sound?

 

If your answer is “pretty freaking awesome,” you’re not alone. A new Swedish craze called “Lunch Beat” is another European trend that puts a spin on traditional dance club practices (see last week’s post by AudiOdysseus on the “silent disco”). It combines the best thing about the work week–lunch breaks–with the best thing about the weekend: getting your dance on. The concept was created in 2010 in Sweden, and has since spread to other European countries. The gatherings are not-for-profit affairs, though a small entrance fee is required to cover the cost of the venue and provided lunch.

The idea behind the lunchtime discos is to encourage “playfulness, participation & community,” according to the movement’s official website. An hour to let loose and get your blood moving has positive effects on the workday as well, giving workers a burst of energy and helping them avoid a mid-afternoon slump. Plus, in my humble opinion, dancing is its own reward. Who doesn’t need a little joy in the middle of their day?

If you’re inspired to organize your own lunch disco, check out the organization’s guidelines. If we start throwing these at Velodyne headquarters (and possibly give some DD-18+ subs a workout), you can bet offices in a 5-mile radius will want to join in on the party. Keep an eye on our YouTube channel just in case we start to get some blackmail-worthy videos of dancing Velodyne employees…

 

-Benevolent Siren

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye (ft. Kimbra)

“Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye (ft. Kimbra) is, in the words of American Idol judge Steven Tyler, “changing music.” This #1 hit stands in stark musical contrast to most other contemporary radio fare, featuring a xylophone solo and haunting vocals evocative of Peter Gabriel. This earworm has surfaced across many television platforms in multiple interpretations, from the Glee version dripping with brotherly angst to “The Voice” contestant Lindsey Pavao’s dubstep-influenced arrangement to the duet from “American Idol” semifinalists Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips. Which version catches your fancy?

Original (Warning: This video contains some nudity, but nothing graphic or explicit.)

Glee (Darren Criss and Matt Bomer)

 

The Voice (Lindsey Pavao)

American Idol (Elise Testone and Phillip Phillips)

 

Which version(s) do you think do this song justice?

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