Music doesn't happen in a vacuum -- and not just in the physics sense.
Music comes from "scenes." Scenes arise in cities and other areas due to a unique confluence of people, timing, building blocks from previous scenes, economics, geography, demographics, real estate prices, and countless other X factors.
The main job of eMusic staffers is to know about all of this stuff, specializing in a genre or sub-genre to find the best stuff, license it, and package it for eMusic's paying subscribers. The company recently channeled much of this knowledge into a free app for iPad users.
Scenes by eMusic includes a timeline, original writing, Wikipedia entries, photos, videos, comments, radio stations, song samples, key artist bios, and more for each scene -- much of what you need to acquaint you with what the various scenesters from these music epochs and music geeks already know (or pretend to know).
You get a sampling of songs from each scene as you browse them in the main timeline menu which offers a quick way to find out what a particular scene sounds like before diving in, but that's just the surface. The app rewards musical curiosity with deep resources, all laid out in an attractive, easy-to-use interface.
The app is free. EMusic's paying subscribers -- and any non-paying app users who register within the app for free -- can hear radio stations for each scene from eMusic's large catalog of music (the radio feature is powered in part by The Echo Nest, publisher of Evolver.fm); enter the comment section for each scene; suggest new scenes for eMusic to add (they plan to add many); and access other free-registration-or-payment-only features.
We found this to be an exemplary app for music fans who don't mind doing a little due diligence in the name of fun and understanding. It's so much easier than the old, haphazard ways of learning about these scenes, if you ever even heard about them at all.
As a music fan, you might be familiar with many of the music scenes in the app... but can you really explain Hyphy or Brazilian Pop in detail? Probably, you can't. This app increases your chances.
Here's the full list of scenes as they appear on the timeline, in chronological order:
- Italian Opera
- NYC Bebop
- Chicago Blues
- Memphis Gospel
- Brazilian Pop
- San Francisco Love
- Greenwich Village Folk
- New Orleans Funk
- Detroit Soul
- London Pub Rock
- New York Art
- Minneapolis Rock & Roll
- Athens College Rock
- Amsterdam Avant-Garde
- Atlanta Hip-Hop
- Bay Area Hyphy
- Los Angeles The Smell
- Berlin Techno
After playing around with the Scenes iPad app, here are five interesting things we've learned so far:
1. That great R.E.M. song "Crazy," the one with the great verse-to-chorus transition, is actually by the Athens College Rock band Pylon. The eMusic Scenes app describes Pylon as "nervy and weird," "post-punk," and "a favorite contemporary of R.E.M." You can hear a sample of their version of the song within the app (the whole thing is here).
2. "The tropicalistas' work was inspired by poet Oswald de Andrade's 1920s notion of 'cultural cannibalism' in the aftermath of the 1964 coup that installed a military government in Brazil and therefore had an overt countercultural agenda." That's just for starters in the Brazilian Pop section, and it sure beats my previous understanding of the Tropicalia movement: "they sounded sort of like the Latin American Beatles, Os Mutantes rules, and there were politics and bombs or something."
3. People who write off the Grateful Dead might be embarrassed to find later to change their mind (see their audio sample in the San Francisco Love section of the timeline).
4. Ian Dury of London Pub Rock fame has crazy stage presence, and we forgot he wrote the memorable lyrics quoted by Perry Farrell at the beginning of Jane's Addiction's "Ain't No Right."5. Some truly weird, wonderful music has emerged from Amsterdam (selections include Amsterdam String Trio, Han Bennink Trio, and Misha Mengelberg).