Synthesizers and auto tune are all too present in music today. Where are the days when music artist would actually sing? Believe it or not they still exist, even if only in the mp3 players of their loyal followers. The radio waves are inundated with the sounds of electronic dance beats, synthesized melodies and auto tune galore. Artist, competing for musical notoriety and sales, perform vocal acrobatics with every note. I miss the days when artist would actually sing, free of all extra backing tracks and heavy duty production. I miss the days when something as simple an acoustic guitar and piano were enough to move the masses. That kind of music rarely gets the kind of radio play it deserves.
Duncan Sheik makes my list as one of music’s most underrated artists. In the 90’s he hit it big when he released “Barely Breathing”, a song that hit the Billboard Hot 100 at number 18. The song won him a BMI award and got him nominated for a Grammy. Since then, he has released 8 more albums. However, much of the work after his self titled first album did not gain the same buzz that his first album did. It wasn’t until 2008, when he worked on the musical Spring Awakening, that he regained some musical notoriety for his work. He earned a Grammy and two Tony’s for his work on the musical. Yet, his music remains largely unheard by many. His first and most popular tune, “Barely Breathing”, seems to be the only song that gets regular radio play; and that is a shame. It is clear when you listen to his music that he has a wide range of musical talent. His lyrics are insightful and thought provoking. He makes music for music’s sake with little regard to what is popular on the radio waves. And for that, he is one of the industry’s truest and most underrated musicians, in my opinion.
Another artist on my list is pianist and singer/songwriter Vienna Teng. I first came across her music when she appeared as the opening act at a concert I attended for Duncan Sheik. I expected to get a great show from Duncan Sheik. Little did I know that I would be getting a wonderful treat with her music as well. Her music is simple yet complex, all at the same time. The lyrics are like poetry put to song. When I finally purchased one of her CD’s, I was happy to hear that the quality of the voice I remembered from the show was just as good as the CD. She has appeared on such shows at Late Night with David Letterman, News Night with Aaron Brown, the CBS Early Show and The Wayne Brady Show. However, despite being featured on these shows, she has yet to receive commercial success on the radio. Unfortunately, her pop/folk style is a rarity and does not get the air play it deserves. I believe her refreshing and individual take on music would be a welcome addition to the popular music that circulates the radio today.
The next group on my list actually achieved success on popular radio back in the 90’s but has since fallen off the radio radar. Hanson hit big in the 90’s with their bubbly hit MMMBop. Since then, both they and their music have greatly matured. Their music has evolved into a brand of pop/rock all their own. Looking for more creative control of their music, Hanson decided to start their own label and is currently recording independently under that label. They have reached success on the independent charts; however, they have yet to reach the commercial success of their first major studio release. One listen and it is clear that these guys have true musical talent beyond their former MMMBop days.
I think these artists deserve a bigger piece of the pie. It would be refreshing to hear more true musicianship on the radio these days. Perhaps it is better we don’t. Because then, we might not appreciate these artist for the true musical talents that they possess. I say, listen outside the radio. You just might be surprised at what you find!