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New Rock God Or Empty Idol? Adam Lambert Holds the Keys to His Own Success
Is Adam Lambert a great actor whose artistry will fade with memories of his “American Idol” days? Or is he rock’s “New Messiah,” a glam-rock second coming of Elvis himself?
From Hollywood to the Bible Belt, the surefire way to start an argument these days is to be called “Adam Lambert.” One thing’s for sure: whether you’re a die-hard Adam fan or a hater, talking about him and his artistry is sure to elicit a strong, passionate, and mixed response.
Another interesting debate is who will or won’t buy Lambert’s first album. Lambert has one of the greatest voices in the history of the recording industry. He has a great lyrical sense and a great musical touch. Vocally, Lambert can jump from low register to head voice to falsetto — faster and smoother than her vocal coach Ron Anderson’s name. His performance of “Whole Lotta Love” live showed him that he could sing Zeppelin harder than Robert Plant. And Attack of the Idols, his catalog of Aerosmith songs, showed him toe-to-toe with Steven Tyler — vocally, rock god, provocateur. Lambert has the voice, image and delivery to revitalize classic rock as a culturally relevant and commercially viable music genre.
So why the fuss? Yes, the American Music Awards. You know, when Lambert shoved his face into a male musician’s basement and French kissed another guy during his maiden AMA performance. Sex (and sexuality) is nothing new to rock. From Elvis to Jim Morrison to Mick Jagger and Tyler, the sexiness has always been a prerequisite for the rock god. And since the days of Elvis and Little Richard, generations of rockers have become more liberal and sexualized in their stage performances.
So why the upset? The answer seems to be that there is a double standard in rock and pop music. If you’re straight, it’s cool to show off your sexuality. But it’s not very nice, in fact, many people feel upset and uncomfortable when gay actors are sexually active in their chosen gatherings. And Lambert is an openly gay guy. Gay pride aside, Lambert boosted his sexiness with his performance at the AMAs and his career. Most of us straight people don’t care that he’s gay. But we’re disappointed that he didn’t deliver on the AMAs.
So is Adam’s public distaste for sex the reason another reality show contestant, Susan Boyle, is outselling Lambert’s debut album 8-1? Boyle’s debut album sold more than eight million copies. Lambert’s album For Your Entertainment, which was released last November, has sold nearly 600,000 copies in the US by January 2010. This is a respectable sales figure for most new artists. Especially in this day and age of declining record sales, illegal CD downloading and piracy. But Lambert is no ordinary artist. He looks like the androgynous son of Elvis with the voice of a futuristic rock god. He just doesn’t have superstar sales. And many people wonder why.
The answer is two-fold: There was indeed a cultural divide and opposition to Lambert from Bible Belters and the Religious Right. Their treatment of Lambert’s AMAs is not unlike what happened after Elvis twisted his hip on the Ed Sullivan Show. Or how American fans burned their own Beatles records after John Lennon declared that the Beatles were “more famous than Jesus Christ”? As a public figure, you make controversial statements or act with concern and face the consequences.
As a new artist, RCA gave Lambert WAY too much artistic freedom on his debut album. With the exception of “What Ya Want from Me,” the songs aren’t particularly well-crafted or memorable. Most notably, the album includes “hit songs,” ala Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Gonna Do?”; “Physics” by Olivia Newton-John or “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles. Signature songs are songs that immediately make you think of that artist when they come on the radio. Not only do they sell millions of records, but they also create long-lasting careers for recording artists. One simple reason why Susan Boyle’s albums outshine Lambert’s is that Boyle mostly sang standards or played on the power side, with the exception of a weird arrangement of the Stones’ “Wild Horses.” Meanwhile, Lambert, RCA and his management team committed numerous “branding” and artist marketing sins.
Admittedly, Lambert has not made it easy for his gatekeepers to promote and market his image through his artistic versatility and controversial actions. Lambert defies any record label marketing category or radio broadcast executive type playlist in terms of his personality, act, and versatility. It hurt his radio play. This had a negative impact on album sales. Same with his behavior.
These critical flaws—poor branding, lack of “hit songs,” predictable production and production values, and Lambert’s decision to market his sexuality ahead of his talent—created the difficulty of Killing a Child. artist’s career. In doing so, Lambert, RCA and his management team are bucking the long-standing marketing pattern of ALL MAJOR SUCCESSFUL RECORDING ARTISTS.
First, you build a strong fan base in a particular genre. You build on that foundation and expand your range of artists and genres over the course of several albums and years. You will never knowingly disclose personal information that could negatively affect your record sales. If personal conscience, alcohol, or acts of God lead you to make a personal revelation, wait until you’re a platinum artist. There were classic examples for Lambert’s team to follow, but they didn’t.
Elton John has gained a huge fan following thanks to his amazing songwriting, singing and piano playing skills with Bernie Taupin on his Tumbleweed Connection album. That album and the single “Crazy on the Water” were embraced by a wide variety of audiences. It wasn’t until a few years after releasing a few albums that John first came out as bisexual, then transformed himself into a popular gay glam-rock icon. And by then, he’d sold millions of albums to a loyal fan base of gay and straight fans who didn’t care much about his sexuality.
While acts like Queen’s Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger straddled the fence of gay and bisexuality with androgyny in the 1970s and 80s, they ALL gained massive fanbases before their sexuality and passions. made public.
Lambert seems to be a thunderbolt by nature. First, he plays in a variety of musical genres that are traditionally mutually exclusive. Forget Christians vs. non-Christians. Many alt-rockers have a righteous disdain for classic rockers. Many classic rockers shunned alt-rockers, dismissing pop-rock dance artists as “bad salesmen.” And a lot of alt and classic rockers ignore electronic dance-oriented pop-rock like Depeche Mode. You rarely see fans of these different genres at a rock or pop concert. And when you do, it’s rarely peaceful. But Adam inexplicably tries to “bring them all together” through his many musical prophecies, perhaps in the vain attempt to win over Obama Republicans.
But sometimes even dreamers have to face reality. And this is the reality. Adam Lambert deserves some responsibility for his modest sales. He should learn from his past mistakes and not repeat them. And artistically, he needs to choose a lane. Defining an artist’s craft can be more liberating than self-limiting—though immature and unaffiliated artists often struggle with this truth—rather than searching their heart and soul, learning their craft, and ultimately finding their own voice and message.
Another reality is: mass music buying is illusory and fickle, driven more by fashion and popular trends than by taste or appearance. Here’s a plea to Adam and other young recording artists in the A & R Room: Stop making this complicated music business more complicated than it already is!
Be authentic. Choose the path of musical arts. Show us the real you and we’ll accept or reject you on your merits: Whether you’re an alt-rocker, a classic rocker, an electronic dance artist, a Broadway singer or whatever, show off your artistry and be proud of it. . Houdin’s Makeup, another ambiguous musical that music fans won’t need or reward.
Author: Larry Cox (http://theaandrroom.blogspot.com/) © 2010
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