Maek’s Pandamonium: The Visual Album Experience

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Last Monday, I was like lucky enough to tune in with WVBU to watch the live stream premiere of the Maek's visual album, Maek Pandamonium, a 17 song collaborative LP from artists Maek and Zaena. So what exactly is a "visual album?" The term, as coined by Animal Collective, describes an album that pairs every song with a video (Beyoncé’s surprise self-titled album might come to mind). Unlike music videos, visual albums have videos that span the entirety of the LP and often the video is as much a part of the album as the music itself. These albums offer a new mode of creative and visual expression for artists, and are often used as a means of promotion for the album. In some ways, they take us back to the way albums used to be; before iTunes and Spotify. Albums used to be thought of as one cohesive work of musical artistry, each song representing a piece of an overall artistic narrative. Today, music is all about the "hit single," and listeners rarely purchase a full album. The visual album brings back the idea of an album being a cohesive work of art.

Maek Pandamonium is the first of its kind in many ways. It is the first independent, the first EDM, and the first free visual album. The innovative project comes from an equally innovative record label. From its start in 2011, Maek has made waves. It is the world's first free music record label. The founders, Jason Sizer (artistically known as Jason Maek) and Tiffany Lee realized that today, despite the music industry's best efforts, there is always a way to get music for free. So why sell people something they don't have to buy? Sizer and Lee decided to stop fighting the battle of free music and instead redesigned the music model. As Sizer explains:

"Our mission is to bridge the relationship between fans and artists by removing the dark cloud of direct music sales. No longer will fans have to illegally download music from their favorite artists. It will always be given to them as a sign of appreciation for their dedication and support. Going against the grain of conventional thinking allows our roster a level if creative freedom not ordinarily given by record companies concerned about chart rankings and album sales."

2014 was the first year that digital music sales went down, and labels everywhere are trying to revamp their model to combat how accessible music has become. Maek is a product of this change in industry and attitude.

On Monday, we were one of the first colleges to tune into the live stream. It was very intimate and interactive. Maek and Zaena were chatting with us, answering questions. They even gave Bucknell a shout-out. Over 45 colleges and websites tuned in from all over the world, including Harvard, Bloomsburg, Lincoln University in New Zealand, and the popular music discovery group goodmusicallday.com. The artists gave a little background on their album and the idea behind it. They explained that the entire visual album was filmed in 15 shootings, with days that were 18 and sometimes 24 hours long. They then wanted to answer any questions viewers had about their label and the album.

Despite some technical issues, the live stream was a really cool way to get to know the artists and producers behind the album. Maek explained that "this is the proudest moment in our lives. I've never done something and been 100% proud of it before. I'm proud of every inch that went into performing this; I'm proud of every sound that went into the album; I'm so proud of every single one of you that is here, because you didn't have to be, but you [are]. And that means the world to me." You could see how proud they were of what they had done and the impact it will have in the industry. And they should be proud. Maek Pandamonium shows that independent labels can pull off the things that major labels do. Past visual albums by artists such as Beyoncé and Coldplay have had seven figure budgets. For an independent, no less free record label to pull off something like this is mind blowing.

It is somewhat surprising that this is the first EDM visual album, as the genre lends itself very well to visual expression. Think about any EDM festival and the amount of money they put into creating huge sets and effects. The genre is all about visual stimuli; its almost as important as the sound. But, for those who don't go to shows or festivals often, the visual expression of the genre is somewhat lost. Maek Pandamonium makes this visual aspect easily available to anyone who wants to experience it. Some of the visual album is quite mesmerizing. The first track, "Bass Come Around", is a jumble of black and white visuals, some soothing, some creepy. And while you can't exactly follow a narrative in the video, it accompanies the track really well. In stark contrast, the second track, "Gasoline", is a bright, comic book style video that feels more like something out of mainstream pop music. The next track, "Fire", has a more comedic style. It’s modeled as a fitness video, with a fake disclaimer and infomercial for "fastfoodfitness." It seems like this visual album has a little bit of everything. It’s trippy, it’s creepy, it’s emotional, it’s ironic, it’s mesmerizing, it’s even nostalgic (the track "Dance is Everywhere" includes a clip of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song). And while the entire visual album is over an hour long, it really does add to the acoustic content on the album and makes it an entirely different experience for the listener.

The buzz that Maek has caused in its short period of existence is impressive to say the least. The label's revamped approach to marketing in the music industry allows it to pull off feats that most labels confined by album sales cannot. And their driving reason behind their free approach, that they believe music is a gift and should be shared, is inspiring. I have a feeling we'll hear much more from these guys in the future, and I'm excited to see where their path takes them next.

You can check out the full visual album on YouTube, and download the entire Maek Pandamonium LP for free using the links below:

Visual Album Video

Image source: https://www.facebook.com/maekmusic

What We ThinkCaroline Carey