East Coast Rocker

Putting You in the Front Row

On Todd Rundgren’s Les Paul Award: ‘We’ve Been Waiting So Long’

Todd Rundgren in 1981 - Photo courtesy Eric Gardner

Todd Rundgren in 1981 – Photo courtesy Eric Gardner

By DONNA BALANCIA — Todd Rundgren will receive the Les Paul Award at the National Association of Music Merchants Show, and fans say it’s been a long time coming.

Todd will be presented with the award at the 29th annual Technical Excellence & Creativity Awards during NAMM for his several decades performing and writing music, his producing skills, and continued experimentation in electronic music.

The award recognizes outstanding achievement in professional audio technology and production and will be presented Friday, Jan. 24 at the Anaheim Hilton.

Todd’s recordings ranging from “Hello It’s Me,” and “Can We Still be Friends,” to the Boomer vacation theme “Bang The Drum All Day,” are known to the masses.  His consistently interesting and artistic live performances may be known to fewer.

But how is it that this prolific musician and producer of such talents as Rick Derringer, Hall and Oates, Patti Smith, Grand Funk Railroad and Meat Loaf could go all these years without a nod from his colleagues?

Maybe, we’re told, Todd just didn’t clap loud enough at the right times. Or for the right people.

Utopia: Todd Rundgren, Willie Wilcox, Roger Powell and Kasim Sultan

Utopia: Todd Rundgren, Willie Wilcox, Roger Powell and Kasim Sultan

Besides, Todd doesn’t have time to deal with professional politics, because he’s too busy giving back.

Like the time he and his band Utopia performed during the benefit at South Street Seaport in New York City to raise money after Derringer’s instruments had been stolen. Even robotic Roger Powell stiffly glanced up from his keyboard through wrap-around shades to blurt into the microphone in his monotone voice: “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Over the years Todd’s shows have always included some kind of suprise: New wave jumpsuits, a cool new version of a classic like Debussy’s “Bolero,”  or a techie treat.

One year we saw Todd play a San Diego stage all alone with two projection screens on either side that simultaneously broadcast his unplugged session.  It appeared as if he did all the adjustments and fine-tuning himself, and, it sure didn’t sound like he was up on stage by himself.  The audience was enraptured – the guy sitting next to me admitted his admiration and love for Todd, and alternated between swooning and weeping during the show.

Innovative tech sounds can be heard on Todd’s recordings. But technology infrastructure is something that made him a standout. Todd licensed an I-Pad-like slate to Apple years prior to anything similar, and he established a distribution model based on “interactivity” — long  before the word became the mantra of Northern California’s Silicon Valley.

But sometimes, Todd’s adventures in technology are misunderstood.

Todd Rundgren: Trying technology and more.

Todd Rundgren: Trying technology and more.

As Bugs Bunny once remarked, “They laughed at the guy who discovered Penicillin,” and there may have similarly been a giggle when Todd held a press conference for last spring’s release, STATE, via an online Google Hangout session, sporting some fancy glasses.

But it is an evolving era as Todd says, and he’s been happy with his laptop and software.  But now his new music innovation will come through a different type of interactivity.

He and Michele are investing time and efforts into their latest mission: Spirit of Harmony Foundation.

“The purpose is to provide support and funding to school programs and other sorts of organizations who are trying to bring music to people who don’t have it,” said Todd, “Especially in terms of learning how to play instruments, learning how to understand what music is all about and having the opportunity to express yourself through that medium.”

UPDATE:  Check out the newly created website for the Spirit of Harmony Foundation

Music Industry Experts: Network, Network and Network Some More

East Coast Rocker photo

Industry experts tell aspiring musicians to collaborate, know the audience. BALANCIA PHOTO

ANAHEIM — If “It’s not what you know but who you know,” then aspiring songwriters and musicians are in good company, a panel of music industry experts said at NAMM over the weekend.

During a panel discussion entitled 360 Degrees of a Hit Music Track, a room of 250 songwriters and musicians were told to work the event circuit and talk up their work — to each other — and help each other make it to the top.

“Network with everyone,” attorney Neville Johnson of Johnson and Johnson LLP of Beverly Hills said. “Look around you.  The people in this room are your colleagues. Go to the events, industry meetings, groups for writers. It’s a team effort.”

Panelists included singer songwriter Barry Keenan, A and R executive Don Grierson, producer Matt Forger, publisher Robert Case, attorney Johnson and was moderated by Alex Del Zoppo of the renowned band Sweetwater.

Aspiring musicians must know their audience, take stock in their catalogues and pay close attention to the emotional communication they intend, said panelist Grierson, who has worked with many of the most notable artists in music. It all comes down to the message and the appeal of the message, Grierson said.

Musicians told to collaborate with each other, seek out music partners.

Musicians told to collaborate with each other, seek out music partners.

“I guarantee you this: They will never ask if you recorded on one track or two tracks or if it was analogue or digital,” said Grierson. “They only care about ‘Did it resonate here,” he said, pointing to his heart.

Keenan said competition may be tough, but “Never give up on your dream.”  He added that when the time is right to get your CD into the hands of a producer, make sure the product is good.

Johnson added that with continued efforts, it is possible for a new artist to break through.

“Look at Lorde, she came out of nowhere,” he said, referring to the 16-year-old New Zealand-born phenom, nominated in four categories at Sunday’s Grammy Awards. “And Adele, she’s broken all records…”

The Internet has done a lot to help aspiring and established artists get exposure. Keep networking and posting song, it was advised.

“Find a great song,” Johnson said. “I know a guy who had a one-off song that became a hit, then he bought a nice house, got a nice car, nice wife, nice life.”