Maintaining Integrity As A Music Blogger and Photographer

Preface: This is of course a very nuanced issue with a lot of considerations that factor into the way you represent yourself online as a member of the music media community, but here are my thoughts on the state of blogging as it pertains to usage of social media and the responsibility to maintain a blog and profile with integrity.

I keep seeing something on Instagram that has continued to bother me in the photography/blog community, and think something needs to be said. Yes, we all hate “the algorithm” (it sucks and none of us get the impressions we should) and want to find ways to see more engagement, and of course want to support our photography colleagues and friends to that end… but shamelessly showering posts with absurd SUPERLATIVE comments and overly hype-y praise every time is nauseating and loathesome 🤢

For instance, writing that every show you go to, each picture that you post, or commenting on some other photographer’s shot that it’s YOUR ALL-TIME FAVORITE/WOWOWOW/WTF/OMG 🔥🔥🔥/AMAZING — diminishes the gravity of capturing shows or shots that are actually special. Don’t get me wrong, comments are awesome and very helpful. This isn’t about being on a high horse, but calling for everyone to be a little less fake, and to be responsible with the way you interact and share on social media, because our role matters. 

For the most part, most music photographers willingly trade our time and effort for the price of a ticket, and for those of us that run blogs or supplemental content, that generally makes us feel like we should give a positive endorsement as well. However, I feel like some in the community have taken that too far and say everything they cover is all-caps INCREDIBLE, which is a slippery slope, especially if you’ve got fans and readers who depend on your content and taste to point them toward things they should spend their time and money experiencing. As media people and active photographers, whether we think so or not, our content has the ability to influence others to purchase a ticket to see a show.

The general population goes to just over two shows a year, and if you’re seeing a few shows a year and paying for it, you probably expect them to be GREAT. Thus, one would hope if it was recommended or endorsed by an outlet or someone with experience and access, that you’re not wasting your time and money. In contrast, as bloggers and photographers, some of us see 50-100+ shows a year, and as media we pay for very few of those tickets. That means the stakes are relatively low if it’s not a great show “this time around.” There will be another. 

I’ve shot 100 shows this year, and seen a total of 128 shows. I’ve paid in some way for all of them in the countless hours of effort editing, writing, posting and sharing, but at the same time, have only paid out of pocket for six of those shows. Generally, I’ve enjoyed most of those 100+ shows I’ve seen this year, though I’m not going to pretend or say each time that those performances were incredible or the best show I’ve seen this year (or ever). However, I do recap what happened and highlight the most compelling parts of each show.

It’s important to me that Early Bird, on the site and on social media, is an active representation of artists and shows that I personally enjoy, back and would recommend you get familiar with. At the end of 2018 I made a pact with myself that in 2019 I’d only go shoot shows of acts whose music I enjoy or that I’d share with friends, or on the blog whether I saw a show or not. I think I’ve only broken that rule 2-3 times this year out of the 100 shows I’ve photo’d (I won’t say which) and I’m proud of that fact. 

As long as it’s running, Early Bird Music will continue to represent emerging musicians with its own unique perspective, honest commentary, and no bullshit. Early Bird is about sharing and spreading awareness of great music with the blog-first mentality – not about racking up Instagram likes/follows – and will always maintain a high standard of quality content. The people who matter that have helped Early Bird get to where it is today already know that.

Accordingly, to each of you 900+ people that follow Early Bird here, Spotify and Instagram, I appreciate your support, your likes, your DMs every day, and look forward to an even bigger 2020. It’s hard to fathom having a better year than this one, but I’m sure it will be: the blog continues to grow, opportunities continue to present themselves, and more supporting photographers continue to contribute each month. When you comment, like and share our content, playlists, and photos with friends, you’re helping Early Bird accomplish its original mission: to honestly and accurately highlight the best up-and-coming musicians on the scene, and the best shows coming through your cities. Thanks for being a part of the journey ✌️

Jim 

Highlights: Hozier @ Hammerstein Ballroom (20 Photos)

 

Focusing mainly on songs from his sophomore album, Hozier effortlessly belted his latest songs for the sold-out crowd at Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Saturday night, including huge songs like “Nina Cried Power,” “Movement,” and “Almost (Sweet Music)” – not coincidentally the first three songs on his latest hit record.

It’s truly impressive to watch Hozier sing on stage, as it seems like he’s barely even trying, yet sounds as good if not better than his records. Hozier doesn’t just sing his songs – he gets creative with their arrangements as well. Unafraid of riffing and playing with the tempo of his songs in a live setting, Hozier’s live style adds both a degree of tension and invokes a sense of awe from the crowd, as he playfully dances away from tempos and perfectly syncopated lines that fans know in his recordings, adding some extra spice to the live show.

During the middle of the set, for instance, playing the popular “From Eden” off of his debut album, Hozier slowed the tempo down to nearly half time so that fans would feel the emotionality of the song, in what was likely the original tempo he wrote it in. While sometimes difficult for fans to keep singing at the slower tempo, it showcased the integrity in his voice and his clever lyricism on which he’s built his acclaim.

Not alone on stage, the show was full of energy propelled by Hozier’s incredible live band, which consisted of at least seven members that I could count, including: himself, drums, percussion, keys, piano, bass, and rhythm/strings. Each member was a talented musician in their own right, displaying their own personalities throughout each song, which made it even more enjoyable to watch Hozier as a band, and not just a solo artist.

On top of Hozier’s singularly recognizable voice and the prowess of his band, clever lyric videos added visual appeal and encouraged the crowd to sing along during songs like “Almost (Sweet Music),” while videos from real protests and social justice moments flashed throughout “Nina Cried Power,” and a recurring wall + window visual set a scene mimicking the bedroom in his Wasteland, Baby! album announcement video.

All of these visual elements combined with the live energy built a story alongside Hozier’s words and created an immersive, and truly connected experience for fans that furthered the depth at which they could experience Hozier’s music all night long.

 

NEW YORK / NOV 23 SETLIST:
Hozier's Wasteland, Baby! setlist from November 23, 2019 at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom.
Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby! setlist // 11-23-2019

Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby! U.S. tour wraps up on Tuesday night with a fifth and final show at Hammerstein Ballroom – resale tickets are still available in limited quantities.

Highlights: Winnetka Bowling League @ Webster Hall (14 Photos)

Matthew Koma – yes, the same Matthew Koma that collabed with Zedd for some of the 2010’s most iconic EDM hits – is now the lead singer of a band. That band is LA-based outfit Winnetka Bowling League, and includes his brother Kris Mazzarisi, singer/instrumentalist Maddie Jay, and keys player Sam Beresford.

The quarter combine to create indie-leaning rock that’s reminiscent of some of the more iconic bands of the past decade. Songs “Kombucha” and “Diane” channel the energy and lyrical versatility of garage-band era Cage the Elephant, and tunes like “On The 5” and “Slow Dances” evoke Contra-esque Vampire Weekend vibes. Not bad company at all.

Check out their latest EP Cloudy With A Chance Of Sun and photo highlights in the gallery below.

Gallery: Elderbrook @ Bowery Ballroom (10 Photos)

On Saturday night, multi-instrumentalisgt and producer Elderbrook brought his one-man show to Bowery Ballroom. Playing on a rig that included a keyboard and electronic drum kit, he rocked the crowd with songs like his grammy-nominated dance collab “Cola” and more recent songs like “Something About You” and “Capricorn.”

Check out photo highlights from Hillary Safadi (@hillasafadi):

Highlights: Conan Gray @ Terminal 5 (17 Photos)

On Tuesday night, fans braved sub-30 degree weather to trek out to Terminal 5 for Conan Gray’s energy-packed show. Gray, a Texas-native, didn’t seem to let the cold change his 110%-all-the-time demeanor, as he flew around the stage in a series of spins, leaps and animated poses.

One thing you notice at any Conan Gray performance is his attachment to the music – the words of these songs are his own. Whether telling stories before each song about close friendships, broken relationships, lust and love, you know that he’s the one who has lived each of these things.

Along with his storytelling both before and through his songs, and his high energy during the set, Gray doesn’t forget to engage his fans, either. He constantly runs up to the edge of the stage, and even sometimes jumping down up against the fan gate to hold his microphone out, urging fans to sing along.

The entire show felt like you were experiencing it alongside Conan and his band, rather than just watching him sing alone up on stage. Without his fans, you can feel that Conan wouldn’t be having fun – so he makes sure they’re in it with him from start to end.

Between all of Conan’s most popular jams, he also threw in a few surprises, including one of Conan’s oldest songs, “I Know A Place,” followed by a brand new yet-to-be-released song “The Story,” (off of his upcoming debut album) and also led into his latest single “Maniac” with a rendition of the Jonas Brothers’ early hit “Burnin’ Up.”

Setlist:
Conan Gray New York City Setlist 11/12/2019 NYC

Highlights: Duke Dumont @ Avant Gardner (19 Photos)

House legend Duke Dumont brought a bass-heavy show to Brooklyn late Saturday night. A no-frills, music-focused set was everything fans could ask for, combining good ambient visuals that added to the set without distracting fans from the reason they were there: to dance their faces off to Duke’s infectious brand of house.

Check out highlights from the set below:
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.
  • Duke Dumont performed at Avant Gardner Great Hall on November 9th.

Review: Logic @ Barclays Center (20 Photos)

On Friday night, Logic returned to New York for the first time since performing at Madison Square Garden in summer of 2018. This time at Barclays Center in Brooklyn amid his Confessions of a Dangerous Mind Tour, the “Homicide” rapper brought YBN Cordae and Dreamville artist J.I.D. along for the ride.

From the very beginning of the show, it was very apparent that Logic had hand-picked YBN and J.I.D. to open on this tour – both artists are extremely lyrical and undeniably talented. Neither used a vocal backtrack, instead rapping only with the instrumental – a sign that they had nothing to hide and that they were capable of handling their own on stage. There was no room for error, and both artists delivered.

A lof of the time with openers on a stadium tour, you find they are given the stage but not the liberty to bring their own setup with them. This wasn’t the case on Friday night. Logic allowed both YBN Cordae and J.I.D. to set the tone during their sets with props and visuals that made it not just feel like a Logic concert with openers, but a fully-conceived concert from each successive act.

For his own set, Logic pulls out all the stops. His energy is unmatched to any act I’ve seen, as he operates at 120% at all times. So much so, in fact, that he performed Homicide and paused/restarted the song three separate times because the crowd wasn’t hype enough. Logic truly cares about each aspect of the show, and his fans’ involvement is clearly number one on the list.

 
Check out photo highlights from the show in the gallery below:

Highlights: Melanie Martinez K-12 Tour @ Hammerstein Ballroom (26 Photos)

 

New York-native and platinum-certified recording artist Melanie Martinez came through Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom on Tuesday night amidst her K-12 Tour. The 24 year-old Martinez, a former contestant on NBC’s The Voice, released her sophomore album K-12 in early September of this year, with an accompanying film of the same name.

Amazon Prime members can stream the full-length K-12 film online via Prime Video.

The full-length film K-12, which has already been viewed over 30 million times on YouTube alone, serves as the visual backbone to Martinez’s live show. To make sense of what’s going during her show, you must truly know the film and Martinez’ music – this isn’t really a concert for casual fans.

Effectively a live re-adaptation of the 92-minute K-12 film, the theatrical show combines a dizzying array of props, a full cast, numerous costume changes and a giant LED screen to set the scene for each song. From start to finish, you feel as if you are living out the 13-song album as a broadway play.

 

Check out photo highlights and a review from the show below, which chronicles a portion of the K-12 storyline (The Principal/Show & Tell/Nurse’s Office).

Review: Ruel @ Bowery Ballroom (17 Photos)

Ruel’s Free Time World Tour stopped at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom for two special shows on October 28, performing back-to-back with early and late shows on the same night, which also happened to be the eve of his 17th birthday.

The mind-blowing part of that statement isn’t even that Ruel has the vocal stamina to perform two separate hour-long sets within three hours. Rather, it’s that the Australian pop singer-songwriter, who has been an active singer since 2017, is only now cracking seventeen years old, yet has two EPs, a world tour, and over 300 million streams to show for it.

The night began at 7PM with Destiny Rogers as the opener, after fans had been waiting for hours in a line that wrapped around the corner of the block, to get into the venue as early as possible. Upon leaving the early show, fans had formed an even larger line for the “late” show, too, proving that Ruel’s young fanbase is among the most dedicated of any young star.

That fan love was echoed inside Bowery Ballroom’s walls, literally, with the crazed screams of lovestruck tweens hoping to get a glimpse of Ruel, who looks like a mashup between Nick Carter with Justin Bieber – he’s a heartthrob, and young fans know it.

Ruel sang all of his fan favorites throughout the night, and each song off of his latest Free Time EP, which includes hits like “Painkiller,” “Face To Face” along with the title track “Free Time.” Rather than exposing a voice that was less than stellar, Ruel’s voice held up incredibly live, sounding as good if not better than the recordings themselves. With no vocal backtrack, live keys and drums, and a trio of backup singers, the music was beautifully replicated and even “bigger” than the recordings proved.

Ruel owns a particularly singular brand of pop: modern ballads. They aren’t slow or down-tempo, but move along enough to never drag. They are soulful and genuine without ever being cheesy. They are fun without being party jams – they are able to put a big smile on your face and infectiously force you to sing along. The music is all of these things, and yet somehow still comes off as if he’s not straining to sing at any point. Ruel’s voice sits in a magical pocket of soul pop that only he could be known for.

Along with a voice that’s mature beyond his years, Ruel was a true professional on stage as well. Throughout the night he was perfectly comfortable moving around on stage, alternating between the free standing mic and his original mic stand based on the mood of the song.

Ruel freely engaged with fans, showed plenty of emotion and got the crowd involved and invested in being not just bystanders, but a part of the experience themselves. Whether it was splitting up the crowd to sing sections of a song’s chorus, or directing them to wave their phones in the air, he was a complete natural playing conductor to a willing crowd.

Overall, Ruel blew me away with his vocal prowess, engaging personality, and a live band that made the show as dynamic as it could be. At just seventeen years old, it’s clear that Ruel is one of the most promising young artists in pop, as he’s paving his own unique path with soulful modern ballads that set his music apart from the crowd.

You’re only going to hear more and more of Ruel as 2019 turns into 2020 and beyond, so get familiar, and make it out to a show here in the US if he’s coming to your town before the end of the Free Time Tour.

Check out photo highlights from the show below:

Music Video Monday: ZHU, Conan Gray, Tyga, ROLE MODEL

ZHU is back with a brand new deep house banger, “Came For The Low.” The video, directed by Jack Murgatroyd, takes place outside of Area 51 and includes striking visuals like flashing strobes, gas masks, and a future-apocalyptica vibe to it. Its dark moodiness combined with the edginess of ZHU’s production make for a video that you won’t look away from. If this is the new ZHU, we’re all in for it.