Monday, August 15, 2016

Silicon Valley’s Influence on the Music Industry

If you read the news today, you might think that the industries of music and technology are at war with one another. But while the two may have a few differences of opinion, music and tech intersect in many ways – and Silicon Valley loves music just like the rest of the world.

Home to companies like Dolby Laboratories, Pandora and Smule, Silicon Valley is constantly turning out new ways to discover, make and listen to music. They’re even home to a non-profit organization specially designed to help technology professionals (and those who want to be) lend their efforts and expertise to the music industry. Real Industry offers informative courses that teach students how to create new music apps, produce music, and even design new instruments. It and similar programs serve to combat the opinion that Silicon Valley’s corporations are at odds with music and art.

If you live in Silicon Valley, you know that good music isn’t hard to find. The area is home to fantastic live music venues like the TrianonTheatre in downtown San Jose, the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, and Stanford’s Frost Amphitheatre. San Francisco is, meanwhile, a short drive away.

However, what really makes the music scene in Silicon Valley – and, for that matter, around the country – special these days is how it is affected (and even molded) by the area’s main export – and while naysayers may insist that music and tech can’t get along, a new generation of startups is out to prove them wrong.

Here are just a few of the newest, most exciting companies blurring the lines between music, tech, and things in between:

In an industry known for cloud-based innovation and intangible products, Heard Well does the unthinkable: It makes physical products. The company sells compilation albums hand-picked by the company founders and popular YouTubers on iTunes as well as actual things like CDs, vinyl and T-shirts – and it’s doing well, proving that nostalgia still plays a large role in how we buy, listen to and love music.

Headed by a former designer at Nokia, The Sync Project has a lofty mission “to develop music as medicine”. Its website offers “a million songs to unlock the health benefits of music” and its plans are backed by extensive research on the profound cognitive effects that music has on the brain. From pain to fatigue to anxiety, music has been shown to help treat a variety of ailments – but this should come as no surprise to any music lover.

Virtual reality has been getting a lot of press lately (Pokemon Go, anyone?) and this well-funded startup brilliantly sets the technology to music. Its main offering is the unique ability to “experience” a live concert from the comfort of your own home (or, well, anywhere.) Paul McCartney, Jack White and other world-renowned artists have already come on board to produce virtual versions of performances.

In the same vein as WhatsApp and Snapchat, La-La looks to change the way we communicate with one another. Instead of sending written words, however, users message snippets of songs that they like to their friends (and they have the option to include a photo as well.) Consider it a fun, new way to discover fun, new songs.

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Endless Summer: Best Music Festivals of August 2016

Of course, the season will have to end at some point – but until then, we’re enjoying it the only way we know how! Here are our picks for the best music festivals happening this August:

Gulf Coast Ethnic & Heritage Jazz Festival (8/4/2016 – 8/6/2016) in Mobile, Alabama
An interesting musical event that offers more than music, this festival combines Jazz and spoken word poetry (the actual slam takes place the first day.) Other notable highlights include Bicycle Jazz on August 5, and Jazz in the Temple August 6.

Reggae on the River (8/4/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Garberville, California
Now in its 32nd year, this event keeps getting bigger and better as it continues to bring the world’s best reggae artists to California. Along with live shows by world-renowned artists, the festival will offer over 60 food and crafts booths as well as an outrageous Kid-Landia center for the little ones.

Telluride Jazz Festival (8/5/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Telluride, Colorado
While Telluride may be more famous for its ski runs, August brings an entirely different (but equally fantastic) reason to visit. Since 1977, the jazz festival in Telluride has been one of the world’s most celebrated – and it gets better with each year. Come for the breathtaking scenery; stay for the incredible music.

Sunflower River Blues and Gospel (8/12/2016 – 8/14/2016) in Clarksdale, Mississippi
The 29th anniversary of this legendary event promises to be a special celebration for all. The lineup includes Lonnie Shields, Super Chikan Johnson, Vasti Jackson, Toni Green and many other wonderful acts joined together by their love of this country’s rich blues and gospel heritage.

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest (8/12/2016 – 8/14/2016) in San Jose, California
Heralded by The New York Times as “the greatest jazz mélange in Silicon Valley,” San Jose’s premier jazz festival is one to look forward to. This year will feature 10 stages showcasing back-to-back shows, showcasing the best in jazz, blues, Latin, funk, R&B, salsa, and world music.

Long Beach Jazz Festival (8/12/2016 – 8/14/2016) in Long Beach, California
… Meanwhile, in Southern California, jazz lovers will be flocking to Long Beach to enjoy the musical stylings of local, regional, national and international artists. The 2016 lineup for this annual event includes Michael Franks, Jeffrey Osborne, Mindless Groove, Stanley Jordan and other well-known artists from across the globe.

Hawaiian Slack Key Festival – Oahu Style (8/14/2016) in Honolulu, Hawaii
The Oahu stop on the annual Slack Key Festival tour will take place in Kapiolani Park and feature the best in the genre. Visit the festival’s official website to learn all about the genre of slack key guitar, and attend the festival to hear the best in the business.

American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront (8/26/2016 – 8/28/2016) in Bangor, Maine
While the name of this festival hints at its beautiful location, it doesn’t tell us how much live music is really involved. This free three-day festival features four performance stages and over 20 performing groups, ranging from local up-and-comers to national headliners. There will also be a children’s area, craft demonstrations, a unique marketplace and dozens of food vendors.

Didn’t find what you’re looking for yet? Check out one of these great music festivals:

Soulfest (8/4/2016 – 8/6/2016) in Gilford, New Hampshire
Fort Armstrong Folk Festival (8/4/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Kittanning, Pennsylvania
Lansing Jazzfest (8/5/2016 – 8/6/2016) in Lansing, Michigan
Sioux River Folk Festival (8/5/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Canton, South Dakota
Pickathon Roots Music Festival (8/5/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Boring, Oregon
Arise Music Festival (8/5/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Loveland, Colorado
Riverfront Blues Fest (8/5/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Wilmington, Delaware
Petaluma Music Festival (8/6/2016) in Petaluma, California
Litchfield Jazz Festival (8/6/2016 – 6/7/2016) Goshen, Connecticut
Bluegrass and Beer Festival (8/6/2016 – 8/7/2016) Keystone, Colorado
Richmond Jazz Festival (8/11/2016 – 8/14/2016) in Richmond, Virginia
Cincy Blues Fest (8/12/2016 – 8/13/2016) in Cincinnati, Ohio
Bayfront Blues Festival (8/12/2016 – 8/14/2016) in Duluth, Minnesota
San Clemente Fiesta Music Festival (8/14/2016) in San Clemente, California
Lake George Music Festival (8/15/2016 – 8/25/2016) in Lake George, New York
Philadelphia Folk Festival (8/18/2016 – 8/21/2016) in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania
Rocky Mountain Folks Festival (8/19/2016 – 8/21/2016) in Lyons, Colorado
Hot August Music Festival (8/20/2016) in Cockeysville, Maryland
Eastern Bayside Blues and Wine Festival (8/20/2016) in Essex, Maryland
River Roots Live Music Fest & Ribfest (8/26/2016 – 8/27/2016) in Davenport, Iowa
Porcupine Mountains Music Festival (8/26/2016 – 8/28/2016) in Ontonagon, Michigan
Hot August Blues Festival (8/26/2016 – 8/27/2016) in Hardin, Kentucky
Hot Springs Jazzfest (8/31/2016 – 9/4/2016) in Hot Springs, Arkansas

For more information on events near you, check out – and keep following us here at HillTop Records as we continue to bring you the latest news and updates from the world of American music.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Freedom, Fireworks and Fun: The Best Music Festivals in July 2016

Summer’s heating up, and so is the national live music scene! We highly recommend making the most of your July by heading outdoors and enjoying one of these wonderful festivals.

Fillmore Jazz Festival (7/2/2016 – 7/3/2016) in San Francisco, California
Looking for a fun way to spend the long weekend? The theme of this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival is (re) discovery, and it’s sure to make you look at jazz – and the City By The Bay – with fresh eyes. As always, it will welcome more than 100,000 music lovers to the famously curved street for outdoor entertainment.

Bar Harbor Music Festival (7/3/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Bar Harbor, Maine
Founded by violinist Francis Fortier in 1967, the Bar Harbor Music Festival remains a popular summer pastime to this day. Hailed as “A Beacon of Hope for Young Artists,” the month-long celebration serves to connect emerging musicians with potential mentors and patrons. Attendees, meanwhile, delight in a variety of musical genres as performed by both up-and-comers and international icons.

Rocky Mountain Old Time Music Festival (7/6/2016 – 7/10/2016) in Berthoud, Colorado
The annual festival presented by the Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA) is a beloved summer tradition now in its sixth year. It’s also the only old-time music festival in the Central Rockies – and it’s become so popular that the Association added a full day of music to the line-up in order to satisfy demand. If that doesn't pique your interest, we don’t know what will.

New Bedford Folk Festival (7/9/2016 – 7/10/2016) in New Bedford, Massachusetts
Now in its 21st year, the New Bedford Folk Festival continues to grow – and yet, it remains true to its mission to feature the best in contemporary, traditional and Celtic folk music. This year’s headliners include Rory Block, Livingston Taylor, Spuyten Duyvil, Melissa Ferrick and Kate Taylor, with about 70 other performers rounding up the lineup. The event will also have juried arts and crafts vendors throughout the historic district.

Mendocino Music Festival (7/9/2016 – 7/23/2016) in Mendocino, California
This festival features too much “Music on the Edge of the World” to fit into just a couple of days. In a 16,000-square-foot tent that seats 850 overlooking the Pacific Ocean, attendees will enjoy the finest classical, Latin, dance, bluegrass and chamber music along with breathtaking views and delicious picnic-style feasts.

Pitchfork Music Festival (7/15/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Chicago, Illinois
This year’s lineup for the annual Pitchfork Music Festival is a study in today’s hottest independent artists; it features Beach House, Broken Social Scene, Carly Rae Jepsen, Brian Wilson, Digable Planets, Miguel, Neon Indian, and many more. The celebrated event will also have 50 individual vendors selling a wide range of items as well as specialty fairs that work to support local businesses and promote Chicago’s arts community.

Columbia Gorge Bluegrass Festival (7/21/2016 – 7/24/2016) in Stevenson, Washington
Bringing some of the biggest stars in bluegrass to a famous stage, this annual event is always one to remember. Along with nightly dances, instrument contests, a guitar raffle, workshops for all ages and fantastic vendors, the festival will feature a lineup including Peter Rowan, Kathy Kallick, The Special Consensus, and other renowned acts.

W.C. Handy Music Festival (7/22/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Florence, Alabama
A weeklong celebration of Northwest Alabama’s rich musical heritage, this annual event serves as iconic tribute to an iconic figure: W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues.” Come see some of the greatest performers of the Tri-State area as you take in the sights, sounds and culture of the world-famous Muscle Shoals.

Wicker Park Festival (7/23/2016 – 7/24/2016) in Chicago, Illinois
Dubbed “Chicago’s Best Street Festival of the Summer,” this is one fun-filled event the whole family can enjoy. It’s a vibrant celebration of one neighborhood’s rich musical heritage, nightlife and cuisine – and all attendees will be able to sample all three. Of course, we consider the music to be the main highlight – and after seeing over 30 bands perform on three stages, you might just agree.

Underground Music Showcase (7/28/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Denver, Colorado
One of Denver’s biggest summer music events, this festival packs over 400 performance sin 20 venues into just three days. This year’s lineup features Poliça, Thee Oh Sees, Allah Las and other emerging artists from around Denver and the country. There will also be drink specials, food vendors, and other reasons to join in the weekend of fun.

Haven't seen what you’re looking for yet? Well, keep reading…

Mississippi Valley Blues Festival (7/1/2016 – 7/2/2016) in Davenport, Iowa
High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival (7/7/2016 – 7/10/2016) in Westcliffe, Colorado
80/35 Music Festival (7/8/2016 – 7/9/2016) in Des Moines, Iowa
Master Musicians Festival (7/8/2016 – 7/9/2016) in Somerset, Kentucky
Rhythm on the River (7/8/2016 – 7/9/2016) in Longmont, Colorado
Newport Music Festival (7/8/2016 – 7/24/2016) in Newport, Rhode Island
Woody Guthrie Folk Music Festival (7/13/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Okemah, Oklahoma
California Worldfest (7/14/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Grass Valley, California
Pickin’ on the Plains Bluegrass Festival (7/15/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Colby, Kansas
Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Festival Chicago (7/16/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Chicago, Illinois
Moondance Jam Rock Festival (7/21/2016 – 7/23/2016) in Walker, Minnesota
Oregon Coast Music Festival (7/21/2016 – 7/30/2016) in Coos Bay, Oregon
Bear Valley Music Festival (7/22/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Bear Valley, California
Sounds & Sights Summer Festival (7/28/2016 – 7/30/2016) in Chelsea, Michigan
GuitarFish Music Festival (7/28/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Cisco Grove, California
RockyGrass Festival (7/29/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Lyons, Colorado
Evergreen Jazz Festival (7/29/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Evergreen, Colorado
Music in the Vineyards (7/29/2016 – 8/21/2016) in Napa Valley, California

For information on events near you, check out – and for more news and updates from the American music industry, be sure to keep following us here at HillTop Records.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

5 Unusual Songwriting Tips

Even the most seasoned songwriters among us hit a wall from time to time. We might just call it a good, old-fashioned case of writer’s block – or maybe we’re consistently writing, but we feel we’ve hit a plateau as far as creativity and inspiration are concerned.

For whatever reason, the next time you feel the need to mix things up a bit, consider incorporating one of these unusual ideas into your songwriting process.

Write your song in a different order.
When we sit down to write a new song, most of us consistently start with the same component – perhaps an interesting chord progression we’ve stumbled upon, or maybe a new lyric that recently popped into our heads. The next time you write, through, consider changing the process by starting with a component that you don’t usually choose first – whether that be the melody, harmony, lyrics, rhythm or structure.

Try a new (for you) topic.
Yes, of course, we all like to think that each song we write is completely different from the next – but the truth is that most of us stick to the same handful of themes and topics (and almost all of us have written a love song at some point.) If you’re at a loss for what else to write about, try one of these compelling themes: surprise, grief, revenge, fear, peace, or forgiveness.

Co-write with the deceased.
Did you know that music published before 1923 isn’t protected by copyright and is instead considered to be in the public domain? This means that it is free for other artists to use. Someone who definitely knew this was Vera Matson. When stumped for a catchy tune, she borrowed one from an old civil war song, “Aura Lee”; the resulting song was “Love Me Tender” – which became a huge hit after being recorded by Elvis Presley.

Switch up your instrumentation.
Timbre can change drastically from instrument to instrument, altering the overall mood of a song. This is why many songs in the same genre have the same instrumentation; however, no songwriter should necessarily feel restricted by that. Instead, feel free to experiment with different instrumentation. If you usually write for the guitar, consider what the same song would sound like on the piano – or the violin, or the saxophone, etc.

Experiment with structure.
You know the tried-and-true formula by heart: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. But what if you stepped out of that structure and tried something more unusual? Sure, you might wind up with something weird and confusing – but you also might wind up with something surprisingly catchy and beautiful (and if nothing else, entirely yours.) Give it a try.

Want more advice? Check out our older post on Unblocking Writer’s Block – and be sure to keep checking back with us here at HillTop Records as we bring you news, updates and sources of inspiration from the world of American music.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

No Gloom in This June! Best Music Festivals of June, 2016

It might not officially be summer yet, but we’re definitely feeling the season – especially with so many fantastic outdoor music festivals on the horizon. Here are just a few of the many we’ve got our eyes on this month:

Thousand Islands Bluegrass Festival (6/2/2016 – 6/4/2016) in Lafargeville, New York
Brought to you by the Thousand Islands Bluegrass Preservation Society, the North Country’s Oldest Bluegrass Association, the 26th Annual Thousand Islands Bluegrass Festival is a celebration that people wait all year long for. This year’s lineup features Remington Ryde, Spare Change, Washington County Line, and many other legendary performers.

Capital Jazz Fest (6/3/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Centreville, Virginia
Now in its 24th year, this event just keeps getting bigger and better. In fact, it’s currently one of the world’s largest showcases of contemporary jazz music – so if you’re a fan of the genre, you should not miss it. Along with a great lineup of nationally known artists, there will be lots of international foods and juried crafts.

Newport Beach Jazz Festival (6/3/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Newport Beach, California
Now sponsored by Hyatt Regency, this much anticipated annual event promises to be even bigger than before. The star-studded lineup features the best in jazz, R&B and soul – think Michael McDonald, Peter White, Brian Culbertson, Stephanie Mills and many more internationally acclaimed artists.

Burlington Discover Jazz Festival (6/3/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Burlington, Vermont
For ten days the streets of downtown Burlington become so much more as citizens prep for a city-wide celebration. Expect to find a great mix of free and ticketed live music events within walking distance of each other; mix and match to create your own perfect weekend.

Stuart Beach Music Festival (6/9/2016 – 6/11/2016) in Stuart, Virginia
How could a three-day concert that bills itself as “the BEST time you’ll EVER have” be anything but fun? Stuart Beach Music Festival is the oldest continuous beach camping weekend music festival, and this year is its 35th. The lineup features a wonderful mix of genres, and the laidback atmosphere helps to make this weekend one to remember. 

Carolina Country Music Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The beautiful oceanside setting of Myrtle Beach is a lovely place to enjoy live music – and this festival’s got that in spades. From the Thursday night kick-off concert to the great headlining acts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, this fun-filled event will keep you dancing all weekend long. Want specifics? You got them: The line-up features Florida Georgia Line, Cole Swindell, A Thousand Horses, Chase Rice, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and many other country superstars.

Chicago Blues Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Chicago, Illinois
As the largest blues festival in the world, this event has a reputation to uphold – and it does so beautifully, year after year. This year’s events include a special Soul/R&B Night, a Tribute to Otis Rush, and Alligator Records’ 45th Anniversary Celebration featuring Shemekia Copeland, Curtis Salgado, and Tommy Castro & The Painkillers.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Telluride, Colorado
Every June the world-famous ski town of Telluride transforms into the ideal venue for one of the country’s best bluegrass festivals. Four full days of excellent live music, spectacular mountain views and great fun for the whole family make this an unforgettable annual event.

Live Oak Music Festival (6/17/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Santa Barbara, California
A fabulous three-day festival with 16 main stage musical performances, this event always draws a crowd to the Central Coast. Along with fantastic concerts it features music workshops, teen dances, barn dances, a children’s activities area, food and drink vendors, and even a popular talent contest.

Buckeye Blues Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/26/2016) in Thornville, Ohio
With over 100 bands and an equal number of merchandise vendors, this three-day music festival is huge. This year it is welcoming six headlining acts, and also offering attendees a great array of food and beverage options. And as if that weren’t enough, there will also be a car show and lively Kid Zone for the little ones.

Didn’t find the event that you’re looking for? Try one of these:

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival (6/2/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Preston, Connecticut
Great American Brass Band Festival (6/2/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Danville, Kentucky
Tupelo Elvis Festival (6/2/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Tupelo, Mississippi
Hank Williams Festival (6/3/2016 – 6/4/2016) in Georgiana, Alabama
Blue Plum Arts and Music Festival (6/3/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Johnson City, Tennessee
Summer Arts and Music Festival (6/4/2016 – 6/6/2016) in Benbow, California
Hot Springs Music Festival (6/5/2016 – 6/18/2016) in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Kick’n Up Kountry Music Festival (6/8/2016 – 6/11/2016) in Karlstad, Minnesota
American Heritage Music Festival & Fiddle Contest (6/9/2016 – 6/11/2016) in Grove, Oklahoma
Sea Music Festival (6/9/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Mystic, Connecticut
Alexander City Jazz Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/11/2016) in Alexander City, Alabama
Wakarusa Bluegrass Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Wakarusa, Indiana
Golden Music Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Golden, Colorado
Berkeley World Music Festival (6/11/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Berkeley, California
OK Mozart Festival (6/11/2016 – 6/18/2016) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Kauai Music Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/18/2016) in Waimea, Hawaii
Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/18/2016) in Cross Fork, Pennsylvania
4 Peaks Music Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Bend, Oregon
Seldovia Summer Solstice Music Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Seldovia, Alaska
Cape Fear Blues Festival (6/17/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Wilmington, North Carolina
Ziontific Summer Solstice Music Festival (6/17/2016 – 6/20/2016) in Woodford, Vermont
Flagstaff Folk Festival (6/18/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Flagstaff, Arizona
Two Rivers Music Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/25/2016) in Conesville, Iowa
Hampton Jazz Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/25/2016) in Hampton, Virginia
Crazy Horse Campground Bluegrass Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/26/2016) in Ashland, Illinois
Elkhart Jazz Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/26/2016) in Elkhart, Indiana
Black Hills Bluegrass Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/26/2016) in Sturgis, South Dakota

For more information on festivals near you, visit – and for more fun facts, news and updates from the American music industry, keep checking back with us at HillTop Records!