What makes a legendary artist? With so many talented musicians around it often comes down to songwriting and performing abilities, and a capacity to be vulnerable.
As a radio DJ who reviews new music all the time, I often ask myself “does this artist sound sincere, unique?” “Is this song memorable?” “Will I be spinning this in ten years time?”
When listening to songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Michael Kiwanuka’s tracks “One More Night” and “Love and Hate,” the answer to all of these questions is “yes”!
The melodies are haunting in a good way. His acoustic textures are sophisticated and raw. These songs on first listen feel familiar. There is an urgency often lacking from modern music. On vinyl, vid or digital file, this English soul artist does not disappoint.
Michael Kiwanuka performs in Seattle at the original Showbox theater on May 22. See you there!
It was a sunny August afternoon in Seattle’s University District when I first found the radio station. I had walked across campus and climbed 3 flights of stairs up to the gray, institutional door. I was a little out-of-breath.
Peeking through the door’s window, I could see a room with white walls full of records, a yellow couch, a couple of office desks.
KCMU Seattle was similar to the radio station I’d started DJing at during college.
KALX in Berkeley was, like this one, college rock and eclectic music, run by a university but had DJs who were from the community, public radio where the disc jockey-hosts could play what they wanted from any style of music.
There were few parameters at these stations. You had to behave (no wall-punching or name-calling), show up on time, and make sure to play a number of songs from the bin of new music. Read more »
It all started with that stack of records that dad left behind in the garage.
It wasn’t easy to live at my house when I was a kid. Seemed like there was either chaos or no one at all. The times when I couldn’t find something outside to do I’d hide in my room or the basement, reading books and listening to music.
I was only 10 years-old when I found my first Aretha Franklin record in the garage. The song was “Natural Woman.”
It was just one one of hundreds of dusty 45s that my dad had left behind after the divorce. The small, black discs were all I really had of my dad. Even on the occasional visits when I stayed with him in California, it was hard to connect.
I pictured my dad, Jay, a handsome young man, listening to these records, singing along. The funny thing was these old-fashioned songs were almost all really good.
Dusting the vinyl off with my t-shirt, I sat down on the rug next to the pink record player.
I put the record carefully on the turntable and shrugged on the huge sweater that I kept in “my studio.” It was freezing in the basement.
Sliding the black disc from the sleeve, fitting it to the turntable, carefully placing the needle. Each act, each song was a new piece of my father. Something we now shared.
Pressing the “record” button of the ancient garage sale reel-to-reel machine, I leaned toward the microphone (a small, patterned square), straightened the words so I could see them on the record label and read.
“Here’s Aretha Franklin with “A Natural Woman.”
There was always a long pause after the song-reading part where I needed to find the right part of the record.
The drop of the needle, then the sound of the vinyl itself (warm, crackly)…
The acoustic piano kicks in with a single note, then four regal chords. Aretha’s quietly powerful voice blossomed in the darkness. The speakers came alive.
Aretha Franklin is my favorite singer of all time.
In all of the music I play there is some influence of African roots, some feel of soul. Even in the punk or rock sets. That element of the singer really laying out their story is what I look for. The personal elements: vulnerability and the natural uniqueness of honesty are irreplaceable in music, and, in my opinion, its most powerful tools.
Ray Charles said: “There are singers, then there is Aretha. She towers above the rest. Others are good, but Aretha is great. She’s my only sure-enough sister.”
My favorite Aretha song “Baby I Love You” was released on her first album Aretha Arrives.
Her first single to hit both the R&B and the pop charts in 1967. “Baby…” would pave the way for other soul musicians.
Aretha would become what the industry called a “crossover artist,” meaning she appealed to audiences of all shapes, sizes and colors.
In this vintage vid, young Ree’s also rocking one of the coolest pairs of pink-striped pants you’ll ever see!
The first song I remember seeing Aretha Franklin perform was in the “Blues Brothers” movie.
I was 15 years-old and had never, ever seen a woman that strong laying down the line. Many of the older women in my life seemed to have a profound lack of boundaries.
Now here was a woman I could look up to.
Her voice was incredible and the song was equal parts: gospel, jazz and soul.
Dressed like a waitress, she sang like a queen.
So many years later, now I’m now a grown woman with my own radio show on one of the world’s finest stations. Every Friday night the first song of my dance party sets is the Krivitz remix of Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” And every week her voice inspires me all over again. What it is…
The Queen of Soul is 73 years-old today. On KEXP tonight, I’ll shine the spotlight on the best of her music. Happy birthday, Aretha!
Hundreds of songs come in every year from musicians who want a chance on the radio.
Since I ended up giving the same advice over and over, I wrote this book!
You can find advice here on how to write strong song hooks, submit your music for radio or find the right professionals who can take your sound to the next level.
Want to improve, not just your music, but the look and substance of your band? This short e-book cuts right to the chase, and presents information in the form of steps you can take to positively effect your career. As a radio DJ and musician, I feel I have a unique view that includes both sides of the industry.
Five-star reviews from readers!
“A must-read for musicians! This book is an excellent guide for any musician starting out or for those returning to the business. It also provides several reminders to keep one’s ego in check when dealing with people. I rated this book 5 stars because it tells you straight up what you need to know.”
“Absolutely great advice! I’ve been listening to MM for years on KEXP and her advice here is every bit as good as her musical taste, which is impeccable. Do yourself a favor and read this book.”
“Five stars. Loved the practical suggestions for the bands/artists from a DJ that knows the music field well.”
Michele Myers is a radio DJ and producer Friday nights at 9pm on KEXP in Seattle. She’s also spun on WNYE in New York City and KALX at University of California, Berkeley. Michele pumps out a bold mix of music: rock, soul, EDM and more.
A party music DJ, Michele’s performed at: Seattle Space Needle on New Year’s Eve, Experience Music Project, Seattle Art Museum, Bumbershoot, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Olympic Sculpture Park, Doe Bay Festival, multiple other venues and select private events.
Michele’s audio creations at KEXP were the subject of a documentary on CWTV. As a music expert she’s been interviewed for The New York Times and Rolling Stone Magazine. With a team of incredibly invested volunteers, Michele was line producer, voice, writer and programmer for over 200 radio stories on musical subjects for KEXP Documentaries.
You can find Michele’s radio stories featured by The University of Washington, The Smithsonian Institute, The Frye Museum, Experience Music Project and National Public Radio.