Saturday, May 16, 2015

Meet Bagpipes

Unsurprisingly, bagpipes – those instruments you rarely hear outside of ceremonial music or Irish folk songs – boast a long and interesting history. While evidence of pre-Roman era bagpipes is shaky, it’s understood that these instruments have been around for a very long time – since perhaps as far back as 1000 BC, in the Middle East.

Prevalent in the Eastern Roman Empire, bagpipes have been depicted in countless paintings, carvings and literary works since. They are mentioned, for example, in The Canterbury Tales – and in John Derrick’s The Image of Irelande, from 1581. And while the first clear reference to Scottish Highland bagpipes appears to be from a French history, today we most often think of the instruments in terms of Irish and Scottish culture.

As cultures have grown in sophistication and technological advances, bagpipes have fallen out of fashion – and they have certainly been on a slow, long decline for quite some time. However, they are still used throughout the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Nations, and especially at formal military ceremonies. Police and fire services in Scotland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the United States have adopted the tradition of fielding pipe bands for special occasions. And from time to time, you’ll see bagpipes enjoy a quick surge of popularity – when the film Braveheart came out, for example, or when Riverdance first hit the scene.

While bagpipe making was once a craft closely tied to heritage and traditional styles, it is now a multi-million-dollar industry largest in (surprisingly enough) Pakistan. In the late 20th century, the first electronic bagpipes were invented – showing just how far the instrument has come.

Today, dozens of types of bagpipes can be found across Europe and the Middle East – but the Great Highland bagpipe is by far the most well known. As with all bagpipes, their traditional purpose is to provide music for dancing – and no matter the style, the basics of construction remain the same: Bagpipes are aerophones, which use enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag. Along with the air supply and bag, bagpipes are comprised of a chanter (a set of finger-holes that allows the player to create a melody) and usually at least one drone (a pipe that, while rarely fingered, produces a constant harmonizing note.)

If you’re looking for bagpipes in modern music, you won’t have to look very far. They may have waned in usage over the past few centuries, but they have definitely not disappeared. Just check out this list of Top 10 Rock ‘n’ RollBagpipe Songs, which include hits like “Come Talk to Me” by Peter Gabriel and “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)” by AC/DC. Who knows ­– the old-fashioned instrument may see a revival after all.

For more information and updates from the American music industry, be sure to keep checking back with us here at HillTop Records.

(Photo courtesy of Reddit.)

Friday, May 1, 2015

More Fun Than May Flowers: This Month's Best Music Festivals

Regardless of what the weather's like near you, spring is here – and with it the 2015 festival season. To celebrate, here are our picks for the best live music events happening in May:

White Lake Guitar Fest (5/15/2015 – 5/16/2015) in Montague, Michigan
Whether you're a guitarist or just an enthusiast, you'll surely find something to love at this event. It offers a full weekend in the scenic White Lake area packed with live performances, workshops, giveaways and vendors selling everything from food and drink to instruments. If you're a beginner, you might like to attend the Beginners Crash Course; otherwise, try a workshop on finger picking strategies and exercises, tango styles, learning to solo in any key, or songwriting for guitar. The list of available topics and activities goes on and on, and tickets are on sale now.

Chet Kingery Memorial Bluegrass Festival (5/16/2015) in Arthur, Illinois
This lively festival returns once again, but to a new location: the Moultrie Douglas County Fairgrounds. Scheduled to perform are Larry Sparks from Indiana, Jeff Brown and Still Lonesome from Virginia, The Spinney Brothers from Nova Scotia, and other headlining acts proudly representing their hometowns. Each band will play a combination of traditional and bluegrass/gospel music, in honor of the local legend who passed away in 1998. Since 2013, this festival has been celebrating his legacy – and each year, it gets bigger and better.

5th Annual Chantilly Farm Bluegrass & BBQ Festival (5/22/2015 – 5/23/2015) in Floyd, Virginia
Since its inception five years ago, this popular event has grown to be one of the largest outdoor bluegrass festivals in the region. Along with plenty of delicious food and excellent live music, it offers arts and crafts vendors, children's activities like kite flying, camping, and other notable highlights – so bring the entire family.

63rd Florida Folk Festival (5/22/2015 – 5/24/2015) in White Springs, Florida
No music festival could last 63 years without being especially great, and this one is no exception. In fact, it's been listed multiple times as a "Top 20 Event" in the Southeast. It has the best of Florida's music, arts and culture – and it promises to offer something for everyone. Attendees may enjoy workshops and jam sessions, tasty food and drink, and wonderful shopping. And with more than 300 performances by the greatest local folk and roots artists, the music never steps. A lively mixture of swing, folk, blues, gospel, country, Latin, jazz, bluegrass, Caribbean and zydeco styles pay homage to Florida's diverse cultural landscape all weekend long.

COSMIC REUNION: Music & Art Festival (5/22/2015 – 5/24/2015) in French Village, Missouri
Enjoy three days of camping in the great outdoors and live music by over 20 bands at this one-of-a-kind festival. Set within over 230 beautiful acres, the surrounding scenery sets a relaxing and festive backdrop while trails and caves are just begging to be explored. Meanwhile, the event offers interactive art exhibits and installations, educational workshops, local handmade crafts and food for sale, and so much more. The lineup includes tribute bands like the Grateful Dead Experience: The Schwag, and The Magic Beans 40 Oz To Freedom.

Ascension Music Festival (5/23/2015) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Here's one for the thrill seekers. Located at Kennywood Park, an historic yet cutting-edge amusement park featuring its own unique blend of antique charm and modern technology, the Ascension Music Festival is unlike any other. The lineup features the best regional bands and local DJs playing on three different stages with what promise to be mind-blowing light shows. This festival must be seen to be believed.

Rock on the Grass (5/23/2015) in Atlanta, Georgia
Free to the public and complete with activities for kids, this music festival is easy and family-friendly. Attendees may enjoy an eclectic mix of local bands playing on an outdoor stage while diving into delicious BBQ and playing games (there will be some for adults as well as children.) Bring your own beer, lawn chair and/or blanket and don't miss out on the free (yes, free!) pulled pork and chicken sandwiches. Also free: T-shirts to guests, for as long as they last – so plan to get there early.

Chicago Gospel Music Festival (5/29/2015 – 5/31/2015) in Chicago, Illinois
Gospel music fans should not miss this event, as it is the single largest gospel festival in the world. Inspirational musicians from across the globe are set to serenade a crowd of 200,000 people over the course of two glorious, emotional days. Since 1983, this festival has grown to attract such names as Tremayne Hawkins and Stephanie Mills – and the crowd is always lively and full of joy.

Healdsburg Jazz Festival (5/29/2015 – 6/7/2015) in Healdsburg, California
Ten days of jazz and the music of Brazil, Argentina, and the Caribbean in the heart of California wine country? This is a festival you won't want to miss – and with musicians playing at local restaurants and tasting rooms throughout the town, it's easy to attend a show or two. The first weekend features a two-day mini festival called "Jazz and the Music of the Americas," while the second highlights hard bop and other genres. Visit the official website for more information and the full lineup.

Haven't found what you're looking for yet? Here are some other great music festivals to look out for this May:

Keeping Tradition Alive Bagpipes & Drums Jam (5/8/2015) in Lewisville, Texas
Willamette Valley Music Festival (5/9/2015) in Eugene, Oregon
Aloha Maui Mixed Plate Music Video Fest (5/15/2015) in Wailuku, Hawaii
Gayla Bluegrass Combined Driving Event (5/15/2015 – 5/17/2015) in Georgetown, Kentucky
Shape Note Sing-a-long (5/16/2015) in Bristol, Virginia
Arbuckle Mt. Spring Bluegrass Jam (5/17/2015 – 5/23/2015) in Davis, Oklahoma
Silver City Blues Festival (5/22/2015 – 5/24/2015) in Silver City, New Mexico
Exit 56 Blues Fest (5/23/2015) in Brownsville, Tennessee
Jubilee in the Breaks (5/23/2015 – 5/25/2015) in Breaks, Virginia
Kentucky Reggae Festival (5/23/2015 – 5/25/2015) in Louisville, Kentucky
SEGAFEST: Southeast Georgia Music Festival (5/30/2015) in Nahunta, Georgia

For more information on upcoming music festivals near you, be sure to check out – and stay tuned to us here at HillTop Records as we bring you the latest updates and news from the American music industry.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

New Music Industry Revenue Figures Show a Step Towards the Future – and a Step Towards the Past

We’ve got some bad news for anyone hoping that streaming music services were just a fad: The industry revenue figures for 2014 have been released and for the first time ever, streaming services made more of a profit than CD sales.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America’s latest report, streaming music services made $1.87 billion in 2014, while CD sales made $1.85 billion. It might not look like much on paper, but that difference indicates a monumental shift in our music industry and culture – albeit one that should not come as much of a surprise. Streaming profits have been steadily on the rise for some time, while CD sales have been on a downward slope.

One fact that may come as a surprise, however, is this: While CD sales are on the decline, physical formats as a whole still make more revenue than streaming services. And no, we’re not counting digital downloads as physical formats.

Just as we see technology pulling the music industry forward, today’s fans appear to be fostering a sense of nostalgia for yesteryear – and that nostalgia is manifesting itself as a bit of a vinyl resurgence. For the first time since 1987, sales of vinyl records reached double-digit percentages in terms of industry profits – and pulled in an impressive $315 million.

We’re entering into a fascinating time when our entertainment culture seems polarized, and people are drawn to both the old and new simultaneously – we have e-readers and hardcover books, state-of-the-art technology and refurbished antiques, MP3s and LPs. And on both sides of debate, fans will passionately defend their preferences.

Meanwhile, the music industry sees some other changes reflected in the new revenue numbers: Ringtones are on their way out, digital radio is up, and digital downloads are still the main breadwinners; however, their profits appear to be decreasing year over year and it likely won’t be long before streaming services surpasses them. Will vinyl continue to rise as well? Only time will tell. In this fast-paced, ever-changing industry, it can be hard to tell what will remain for years to come – and what will prove to be only a passing trend.

For more news and updates from the American music industry, be sure to keep checking back with us right here at HillTop Records.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

No Joke – These Are April 2015's Best Music Festivals

Spring is officially in the air, and we're all itching to spend more time outdoors. Luckily, as the 2015 festival season begins to warm up, we've now got plenty of options for how to spend our weekends filled with live music, great food, and fun under the sun.

Here are our picks:

Easter Gospel Festival (4/5/2015) in Sarasota, Florida
If music is a part of your East Sunday traditions, you will definitely enjoy this timely gospel festival. With live performances by the likes of Shantel Norman and Sheldon Roden, it promises to be a beautiful evening of worship and celebration.

Euphoria Music Festival (4/10/2015 – 4/12/2015) in Austin, Texas
With three full days of live music and camping, this outdoor festival is always a great time – and it's returning once again to Austin's scenic Carson Creek Ranch. No ordinary music festival, Euphoria features stunning visual displays and organized activities like morning yoga and meditation, local concessions, and cutting-edge facilities on the banks of the Colorado River. Attendees may also enjoy this year's unique stage design, improved dance tents, artist workshops and a lineup that includes the Crystal Method, Zeds Dead, and Beats Antique.

Coachella (4/10/2015 – 4/12/2015 and 4/17/2015 – 4/19/2015) in Indio, California
Now so big that it spans two full weekends, Coachella is more than a music festival – it's a major tourist destination. Set in the middle of the desert of California, it attracts crowds of people from all over the country and even the world. Expect to find state-of-the-art installations, unique attractions and activities, incredible food and drink vendors, and unforgettable live music. This year's headliners include AC/DC, Jack White and Drake – and, really, there's something for everyone.

Cloverdale Fiddle Festival (4/11/2015) in Cloverdale, California
Fiddler lovers on the west coast take note: This festival is not to be missed. Located at the Cloverdale Citrus Fairgrounds, the event will pack a full day with fiddle contests, workshops, crafts, and performances by both old time fiddlers and bluegrass bands.

Heavy Seas Island Jam (4/11/2015) in Baltimore, Maryland
"All pirates welcome!" says this festival, set at Rash Field on the Inner Harbor. Join the festivities as local organizers host The Wailers and other great live music acts. There will also be beer, food and activities that will have you dreaming of summer on the high seas.

2015 Austin Reggae Festival (4/17/2015 – 4/19/2015) in Austin, Texas
Headliners of this year's Austin Reggae Festival include Lee Scratch Perry, Yellowman, Alika and New Kingston – and that's just the tip of the iceberg. With three full days of live music at the Auditorium Shores at Town Lake Metropolitan Park, this festival is sure to draw a large crowd – so get there early, and enjoy the show. But first, visit the official website for ticket sales and more information. Three-day wristbands are available for the die-hard fans.

Frogtown Hollow Jam (4/17/2015 – 4/18/2015) in Columbus, Georgia
This two-day music festival, set on the picturesque banks of the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, is a local institution – and one that residents of the area wait all year round for. Gather up the family and get ready to enjoy a full weekend of music, food and fun.

ROUND-UP: A Rockin Country Music Extravaganza (4/18/2015) in Simi Valley, California
True to its name, this festival is a true extravaganza. It's the area's largest one-day charity music event, and it offers something for everyone: There will be a large dance floor and back-to-back live concerts, craft and food vendors, line dancing lessons, a kids' area – and, of course, fantastic country music. The venue is the Hummingbird Nest Ranch and the lineup features Diamond Rio, Neon Circus – a Brooks and Dunn Tribute, and Country Nation.

Spring Jam Music Fest (4/18/2015) in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Now in its third year, this event just keeps getting better and better – and this year, it will take place at The Grove, a stunning 3.5-acre green space at Patriots Point. Come enjoy several bands performing on two stages, side show performances, a special Arts & Goods Village, and delicious local food, beer and wine.

North Platte Country Bluegrass Festival (4/23/2015 – 4/25/2015) in North Platte, Nebraska
Do you love bluegrass? Then this festival's for you. Join the three full days of live bluegrass music by the likes of The Grascals and Larry Efaw, jamming, food and craft vendors, activities (including a tot lot) for children, raffles and prizes, and so much more.

1st Annual Music & Awareness Festival (4/24/2015 – 4/25/2015) in Lakeland, Florida
Be there when it all begins. This inaugural event is being held in recognition of April as Parental Alienation Month, and is designed to help encourage loving relationships between parents and their children, regardless of the relationship between the parents themselves. There will be live music by local bands and DJs, workshops and playshops, organized activities, and fundraising efforts to help those parents in need who can't afford classic or other services.

MOVE Music Festival (4/24/2015 – 4/26/2015) in Albany, New York
This exciting event was created to help regional talent gain more exposure through live performances at select venues throughout Albany. It also offers those artists insight on how to conduct their careers while navigating today's independent music scene. It thereby creates a two-way street, providing something for everyone. As an attendee, you may enjoy live music by about 100 bands performing at 10 different venues, as well as merchandise booths, concessions, and more. Meanwhile, those bands may attend networking events, panels and discussions on everything from digital marketing strategies to honing their craft.

Some Kind of Jam 10 (4/24/2015 – 4/26/2015) in Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania
With over 30 musical acts on four different stages, this weekend-long festival will have something for everyone – and it might even introduce you to something new. There will be great live funk, bluegrass, folk, blues, rock & roll, reggae, world, jazz, progressive and more – as well as late-night indoor jams, camping, light shows, fire performances, parades, and yoga on a 60-acre rustic fairground complete with trout-fishing waters and nature trails. BYO alcohol and dancing shoes.

For more information on upcoming events near you, be sure to visit – and keep following along with us here at HillTop Records as we bring you the latest news and updates from the American music industry.

Monday, March 16, 2015

10 Famous Artists Who Switched Genres Mid-Career

Steven Tyler, American rock legend of Aerosmith fame, recently announced (via Twitter, no less) his intention to record and release a country music album – and much to the surprise of many fans, it appears he wasn’t joking.

Since the initial announcement, which occurred back in October, Tyler has relocated to Nashville and begun collaborating with Brett James, who co-wrote songs for both Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood. He also plans to work with the Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston (who is behind hits by Keith Urban and Tim McGraw) as well as other country songwriters.

While it may seem strange that a man known for wearing heavy eyeliner and writing such iconic rock songs as “Misery” and “Wild Thing” will soon be crooning country, Steven Tyler is not the first to change musical genres mid-career. Here are ten others who famously made the switch:

1. Kid Rock
Like Steven Tyler, Kid Rock changed his sound from rock to country when he began performing with the likes of Hank Williams Jr.

2. Nelly Furtado
This Canadian-born singer-songwriter got her start with catchy pop song “I’m Like a Bird.” However, once she successfully made a name for herself, she recruited industry heavyweight Timbaland to record a hip hop and R&B album.

3. The Go Go’s
Typically remembered for ‘80’s pop jams like “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed,” The Go Go’s actually started off as an all-female punk band.

4. Lady Gaga
She seems to change genres as frequently as she changes outfits. However, the biggest leaps occurred when she went from Broadway to pop, and then (most recently) to jazz.

5. Darius Rucker
Now known for country music, Darius Rucker originally entered the music industry as part of rock band Hootie And The Blowfish.

6. Katy Perry
Not many people know that before pop star Katy Perry began performing in wild, candy-colored outfits, she was actually a Christian music artist.

7. Miley Cyrus
Like other contemporary pop singers, Miley Cyrus experimented with different genres before she found her footing ­– originally following in her father’s footsteps by singing country.

8. Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan is widely known for both folk and rock music, but the folk part actually came first before the singer-songwriter found his own unique way of putting the two together.

9. Fergie
Most commonly known for being the sole female vocalist of hip hop group The Black Eyed Peas, Fergie was first a member of the all-girl pop group Wild Orchid.

10. Snoop Dogg
This list just wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Snoop Dogg. After years of releasing hip hop albums and being a key player on the West Coast rap scene, Snoop took a brief detour and reinvented himself as Snoop Lion, reggae artist.

It just goes to show you that in the world of music, it’s never too late to experiment with other genres or make the switch completely. For more news and updates from the music industry, be sure to keep following us here at HillTop Records – where we record the songs that America writes.