Hi-phi, podcasts, mash-ups, and covers

There is a short review of Hi-Phi Nation in today’s Guardian, topped by a nice picture of host Barry Lam.

Cristyn and I were in Poughkeepsie last week to talk with Lam about cover songs. He plans to do a show about musical covers. He called us because he had read the paper we wrote with Christy Mag Uidhir and we’re local.

Walkway over the Hudson
While there, we also took in the Walkway over the Hudson.

I confess that I’m not really into podcasts. My sense is that they’re often unedited long takes of some guy ad-libbing in front of his computer. At least, I’ve heard enough of those to be wary of the genre. So I hadn’t listened to any episodes of Hi-Phi Nation when Lam contacted us and asked for an interview.

I listened to the episode about mash-ups just to get a sense of what we’d agreed to. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s well structured, with material from a wide variety of sources carefully edited together. Each minute of show clearly reflects much more time interviewing, writing, and recording. It’s a professional production by somebody who understands the medium.

Also, I learned a lot from it.

Before, I’d never quite understood mash-ups. I got what’s going on in a broad sense, but listening to one usually made me think I’d rather just listen to the constituent tracks in succession. But there’s more technical and artistic complexity in mashing-up than I’d appeciated before.

There’s also a deep connection to what Cristyn, Christy, and I call referential covers. A referential cover is a performance or recording of a new but derivative song that is about the canonical version of the original song. For example, when the Meatmen cover “How soon is now?”, they change the lyrics so that it is a song about Morrissey, the guy who sang the original. Appreciating and evaluating the Meatmen’s cover requires keeping the original in mind.

A mash-up is made with the expectation that the audience is familiar with the tracks being mashed and can recognize how elements of each thread together. It is also clearly a distinct albeit derivative work, rather than just overlapping instances of the tracks being mashed-up. And evaluating the mash-up requires keeping the originals in mind. So appreciating or evaluating a mash-up has the structure of evaluating a referential cover, except that there are many originals rather than just one.

link: the Hi-Phi Nation homepage

Leave a Reply