High Fives: The Soundfly Staff Chooses Our Top 5 Favorite Articles From 2020 – Soundfly

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High Fives: The Soundfly Staff Chooses Our Top 5 Favorite Articles From 2020

This year has been hard on all of us, musicians and humans alike. In fact, it’s been a completely unprecedented shake up in almost all aspects of life and work and creativity all at once. Yet in spite of all this hardship, and with the live music industry all but at a complete standstill, there have certainly still been some standout musical moments this year to inspire us to move forward.

I’m remembering how Bandcamp set a whole new precedent for digital music platforms, as well as independent revenue records, helping thousands of musicians support themselves by waiving their fees on select days of the year. There was also that time the Barcelona Opera reopened for an audience of over 2,000 plants, the time an 83-year old Scottish woman with dementia rose up in the charts with her rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and the time a New Orleans jazz musician started trading handguns for trumpets to quell the city’s violence. And even despite Nashville being ravaged by a tornado amidst a national health crisis, the city’s musicians came together to support one another like never before; prompting Gibson to donate guitars to help even further. And of course, one can’t ignore Fiona Apple’s triumphant return to the limelight with her absolutely flooring Fetch the Bolt Cutters record.

It’s inspiring to look back on what we’ve been able to accomplish this year. And that definitely includes us here at Soundfly as well. For example, we finally launched our much-anticipated all-access subscription. We’re running a massive Holiday Giveaway right now to give away 20 exciting free prizes. We onboarded some incredible new mentors and launched a handful of new courses, and we’re well into production on probably the most exciting course we’ve ever done (due in early 2021)…

And right here on Flypaper this year, we ran over 220 educational articles, which were enjoyed (hopefully) by over 3.5 million of you. So I asked my colleagues here at Soundfly to share their Top Five favorite blog posts from 2020 and what made them special, in such an especially strange year. Enjoy!

~ Jeremy Young
Editor-in-Chief, Flypaper

Mahea Lee (VP of Learning & Curriculum Development)

“On the Importance of Taste”

Brandon Miranda is such a skilled and insightful musician, and we’re very lucky to have him on our team of mentors. His passion for what he does really comes through in this OpEd piece, which I found to be quite inspiring.

“Introducing Soundfly’s Brand New Podcast ‘Themes and Variation'”

For me, finally starting our podcast was a definite highlight of the year, and this is the article that announced its existence to our community. A very exciting moment.

“A Brief History of Synthesizers (Video)”

This article has something to read and something to watch, and those somethings happen to be a very interesting introduction to the world of synthesizers.

“Uncancel the Holidays! It’s Soundfly’s 2020 Musician’s Holiday Gift Guide”

Okay, I know this is a weird choice, but as I’m spending little to no time out in the world this holiday season, so this article’s a nice and much-needed dose of gifting inspiration. Giftspiration?

“Being a Difficult Student Made Me a Better Educator”

This choice is less about the article itself (which was clearly written by a self-indulgent nerd), and more a reaction to some of the responses I received via email and Slack after it was published. I love hearing about our students’ journeys, and since this piece inspired quite a few of them to share theirs with me, I feel it deserves a spot in my Top Five.

Jeremy Young (Head of Growth & Editor-in-Chief, Flypaper)

“Why Leon Bridges’ Powerful New Song “Sweeter” Works on Every… Single… Level”

George Floyd’s murder was a watershed moment that pretty much forced everyone around the world to stop in their tracks and confront some serious issues both out in society and within ourselves. Floyd wasn’t the only unarmed Black person killed by law enforcement this year, by any stretch, but the overly grotesque nature of this incident broke the nation’s emotional levee in a way that somehow turned anger and frustration into extreme communal bonding, hope, and conversation. For a brief moment, the COVID-19 pandemic became less important than something else. In the midst of all of this, one of this American generation’s best songwriters, Leon Bridges, came out with this impossibly resonant song. Our writer Dean Olivet, a Minneapolis native just like George Floyd, wrote possibly the best analytical reflection we’ve ever published.

“Behind the Bars: A Week Dedicated to Music In, About, and From Prisons”

“Behind the Bars” was a full week of content that we ran on Flypaper drawing attention to the plague of mass incarceration here in North America. We used examples from all facets of music to show both the ills of this systemic and infrastructural disaster as well as the shining, inspiring figures out in the world committed to making change. I learned a lot, I met a lot of people, and I had some of the most amazing discussions of the year with total strangers around this content, all because nobody here knew what would happen if we just decided to go with our gut and publish this stuff.

You can click here to see for yourself, but our content includes stories of historical prison performances, contemporary albums recorded in prison, documentaries about hip-hop rehabilitation programs, a string quartet that makes an annual pilgrimage to collaborate with prisoners, and so much more. The subject matter is intense, but this project was one of the most powerful things I’ve ever been a part of, and I want to thank everyone in our community for helping to support this project by reading and engaging, and chiming in when we had open discussions.

“Soundfly’s Guide to Learning Things Online: 1. Common Mistakes”

Another general post that references nearly a week of themed content that we ran this year; for some out there, this one’s even more crucial. Even before the pandemic, so much learning was beginning to move online. And yet one of the biggest hurdles we constantly see with musicians trying to improve by themselves using online classes, is that it’s not actually that easy to take a discipline so creative, collaborative, and performative as music, and learn it on a screen. To address what we find to be the most significant obstacles in your online learning journey, we created this free four-part resource, Soundfly’s “Guide to Learning Things Online.”

“Student Spotlight: Mark Richardson on Music’s Role in His Sobriety”

This year, I had the great pleasure of conducting an interview with musician and Soundfly student artist, Mark Richardson, on our community Slack forum. As a fan of some of the songs and works in progress he had been posting, I simply wanted to learn more about him and his music, but the interview organically crossed into territory when Richardson opened up about his recovery and addiction, and how music has helped him take back control of his life. Very inspiring.

“The Amen Break of Snobbery”

And now for something completely different! Ethan Hein’s obsession with the “Amen Break” knows no bounds. Here he is trying to figure out what, if anything, would be the equivalent of this omnipresent musical motif… in classical music? This article is a joy.

Bonus: “Resilience in Music: Composers in Times of Hardship”

Honestly, there were so many important articles we ran this year that I had a very difficult time choosing just five. So here’s my sixth favorite piece, in case you’d like to reflect on past times in human history where composers and musicians had to make do and find ways to continue to create, despite unbelievable challenges. It’s actually very uplifting.

Ian Temple (CEO & Founder)

“A Harmonic Analysis of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi'”

This theory analysis went deeper than I expected, and I was super into it. Love an article that makes me hear a song in a new way, and Filippo Faustini succeeded in that.

“A Brief History of Synthesizers (Video)”

I spent a heck of a lot of time researching for this video and learned a ton in the process — and then our Advanced Synths course instructor John Hull dabbled his secret sauce all over it and turned it into this video gem. I also really got a kick out of some of the early synths, like the Telharmonium, and how it disrupted naval communications. Rewarding and fun video to make and watch!

“EQing Vocals: What’s Happening in Each Frequency Range in the Human Voice”

Just a super in-depth and well-communicated article about something I previously knew nothing about! This is one of those articles I can bookmark and come back to in future when mixing (which is happening more and more these days!).

“In Celebration of Small Victories”

I love Mahea Lee’s writing in general, and especially her thoughts on learning (as Soundfly’s VP of Learning and Curriculum Development). The celebration of small victories may be the single most important part of a successful learning journey to me, so this post in particular really resonated.

“Student Spotlight: Kiri Sparks on Overcoming Self-Doubt With Aplomb”

I still can’t believe that this was Kiri’s first fully produced track. This song is like a warm hug, and everything I needed this year.

Carter Lee (Community & Mentor Manager)

“Introducing ‘Enough Is Enough: A Black Lives Matter Playlist'” 

Efa Etoroma Jr. went deep here to capture the immense urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement in one very powerful playlist. We’re extremely happy to present the playlist as well as his personal reflections on a bunch of these songs right here on Soundfly.

“How D’Angelo Uses Funky Dominant Sevenths in ‘Sugah Daddy'”

NYU professor and Soundfly instructor, Ethan Hein, is simply a brilliant musician and having him break down a literal favorite track of mine was a win-win.

“Practical Advice From Our Experts: Song Form Basics”

Simple, foundational knowledge every musician needs to know by heart. This is one that you bookmark and come back to over and over again if you’re an aspiring songwriter.

“Speech (Arrested Development) on His Commitment to Recording Artists Behind Bars”

Incredible insight from the most important week on Flypaper I can remember. “Behind the Bars” was so powerful in its full form, but getting to read about Speech’s dedication to the cause up close and personal was very moving. Stay tuned for our upcoming episode of “Themes and Variations” where we invited Speech to sit in on the podcast!

“Your Guide to the Unmissable Highlights of the New Logic Pro X 10.5”

This year was so crazy that I forgot this insane update even happened. Soundfly mentor and avid Logic user Sırma broke down every aspect of the biggest improvements to Logic ever, and I’m still going through all this myself!

John Hull (Head of Production)

“Ableton’s Dennis DeSantis: Learning Music Production and Solving Creative Problems”

I’ve always been a fan of Dennis DeSantis’ pioneering book and how he’s put together the Ableton Live documentation. So I thoroughly enjoyed learning a bit more about who he is and his favorite lessons from his book in this post. Some of his comments on how he separates work and music really resonated with me personally. Plus, we’ve got a brand new course out now, Intro to Music Production in Ableton Live, on the fundamentals of using Ableton Live to create dynamic and powerful music. Check that out!

“The 5 Best Affordable Synthesizers for Producers on a Budget”

In case you didn’t know, I’m kind of obsessed with synths. If you’re someone who makes music with lots of soft synths, nothing is more inspiring than when you start incorporating hardware synths. There’s just something about playing an instrument that you can manipulate with your hands, and there are more capable synths at every budget now than ever before.

“4 Ways to Develop Your Music Idea Into a Full Arrangement”

Things have definitely been pretty crazy this year. I’ve been trying to find time to write short ideas when I can, and this article gives me hope for actually finishing some of those snippets one day. As a Slack community member, it’s been awesome to see mentor Andre Madatian help students finish their own tracks using these same techniques. I might have to sign up for a session with him myself!

“Announcing NYU MusED Lab’s Theory aQWERTRYon”

Ethan Hein has probably already shown up once or twice in this breakdown, but this is secretly about one of my favorite tools that he’s been involved with. NYU’s aQWERTYon is such a cool and innovative idea, and this latest version and its ability to graphically display theory concepts give me all kinds of ideas for how it could be used in our courses. Excited to hear that it sounds like there are more updates in the works, too.

“A Harmonic Analysis of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi'”

This breakdown of the harmonies and the sort of shimmering overlays in Radiohead’s neo-classic “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi” is so fun to read. It’s also really cool to compare the approach in Lianne La Havas’ arrangement… Be right back, I’ve gotta grab my guitar.

Zoe Young (Director of Digital Marketing)

“Student Spotlight: Kiri Sparks on Overcoming Self-Doubt With Aplomb”

This one fills me warm fuzzy feelings. When Kiri Sparks started her session with her mentor Sırma, and working through our Making Music in Logic Pro course, she’d made some music with friends and collaborators, but she’d never written and produced a track start to finish before. When her session ended, Sırma sent the finished track to the team practically in tears, having been so moved by the progress Kiri made and how beautifully the track turned out. So it’s just the icing on the cake to hear from Kiri herself about the learning and creative process she went through in putting together a stunner of a track.

“Our Favorite Podcasts for Musicians”

This article, written by the whole Soundfly team, was a delight to work on because it forced me to catch up on a bunch of music podcasts that had just been sitting in my feed. I found all kinds of inspiring, politics-free content I should have been listening to all along! Plus, the article introduced me to loads of great podcasts I wouldn’t have found on my own, and it got me so excited for our own podcast, which at the time of this article was in its very first week of life!

“Speech (Arrested Development) on His Commitment to Recording Artists Behind Bars”

I had nothing to do with this article, and yet I’m so proud of everything about it. It is so cool that a hip-hop legend wanted to talk to us. It is awesome to have a platform to help share the rehabilitative work that Speech is doing with incarcerated people. And the music they’re making together is, simply, dope.

“Tasting Notes: Crispy Creole Chicken & The Meters’ ‘Down By The River'”

I love the funky Meters, basically anything instructor and author Charles Burchell writes, and chicken thighs with the skin crisped up, so I was naturally delighted to see all three teamed up in a single article.

“Soundfly’s Guide to Learning Things Online”

Technically a cheat, because this is four articles, but at the very start of the pandemic, with schools around the world going suddenly virtual, Soundfly CEO Ian Temple put together an exhaustive, yet super accessible guide to effectively learning online. It’s advice we all need now more than ever!

Happy New Year, dear readers.

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Soundfly Team

Soundfly is a new kind of music school for today's musician. We create creative courses and daily articles for the curious musician. Meet the whole Soundfly Team here.