11 OF THE BEST TED TALKS BY FAMOUS MUSICIANS

10/16/18
11 Best TED Talks

You should know what TED stands for by now -- TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design. TED has really turned into a bizarre video wikipedia of sorts for just about every topic, idea, and famous person imaginable. From technology to education, to meditation, speech, mathematics, medicine, happiness, to bizarre theories -- there literally is no topic TED hasn't covered. They covered things like the water ape theory -- yes, there is a scientist that claims humans evolved from water apes (this theory doesn’t sound that crazy once you hear it). They’ve even had Snowden in one -- see the above pic.

TED also has great talks about music. They have scientists, musicians and famous artists talking about how music inspires them, how to create music, how to come up with ideas, how to create new sounds and soundscapes. So we decided to find and show the best of the best. Here are the ten best TED talks by famous musicians -- and one composer.

OK GO: HOW TO FIND A WONDERFUL IDEA

OK Go formed in 1998. The band's video for "Here It Goes Again" won a Grammy Award for Best Music Video in 2007; this video blew the band up and made them known for their experimental-rube-goldberg style music videos. In this Ted Talk, singer Damian Kulash talks about what it feels like to have an idea and how to execute it. His process is taking separate parts and making them cohesive. Kulash’s style is all about play and perspective -- something he’s been doing since he was a teenager. To him, making the audience see something and then surprising them with something unexpected is what video narrative is all about. This video gives you a great look into how Kulash creates his music videos. 

 

STING: HOW I STARTED WRITING SONGS AGAIN

Sting, born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, is an English singer, songwriter, and actor. He’s most famous for being part of the band The Police, and he then launched a solo career in 1985. In this Ted Talk, Sting talks about a subject creatives hate to deal with: writer's block. As lyricist, he would mainly focus on himself: he would write autobiographically. However, this ended when he ran out of things to say -- or so it seemed. So he started creating characters and writing about other people instead. By using characters, this gave him a way to access his subconscious -- and even he was writing about other people, he was writing about himself through the characters he created.

 

MARK RONSON: HOW SAMPLING CHANGED MUSIC

Mark Daniel Ronson -- son of famed musician Mick Ronson -- is an English musician, DJ, singer, songwriter, and record producer. He is famous for the song "Uptown Funk," which featured vocals from Bruno Mars. He’s also produced "Cold Shoulder" on Adele's first album, 19; Amy Winehouse's album Back to Black, for which he won the Grammy Awards for Producer of the Year. In this Ted Talk, Ronson passionately talks about his favorite hip hop artists like De La Soul and the Beastie Boys and how they created brilliant soundscapes out of mostly obscure tracks by sampling the Beatles -- and many other bands -- to create something new and fresh; he analogizes how the Beatles and Stones similarly co-opted blues back in their day and gave it a fresh interpretation with the music technology of the time. 

REGGIE WATTS: BEATS DEFY LOGIC

Reggie Watts is a musical oddity. His beats and music defy a category. He doesn’t really talk about what he does or break down anything about his music in this video, but it fascinating to see him do what he does best. Unplug yourself from traditional expectations and watch as he blends spoken word, musical genres, in a oddball experience that will make you question what music should be.

JACKSON BROWNE: A SONG INSPIRED BY THE OCEAN

Jackson Browne, American singer-songwriter and folk singer who’s famous for writing the songs "These Days and "Take It Easy" (made famous by The Eagles). In this Ted Talk video, Browne plays a song about being on the ocean. He wrote the song while on at sea aboard the ship Mission Blue Voyage. Although not a Ted Talk about a big idea, this song is a sweet, folky tune that yearns the listener to change the greedy system that causes us to pollute our earth and our beautiful oceans.

DAVID BYRNE: HOW ARCHITECTURE HELPED MUSIC EVOLVE

David Byrne is a Scottish-American singer, songwriter, musician, record producer, artist, writer, actor, filmmaker and famous for founding the Talking Heads. In this Ted Talk, Byrne poses several questions: Do I write stuff for specific rooms? Do I have a place, a venue, in mind when I write? Is that a kind of model for creativity? Do we all make things with a venue, a context, in mind? The answer is yes. The environment will dictate what style of music you write. Church music has a lot reverb and african rhythmic music does not focus on reverb or amplification: churches are big and spacious (this is why there is more focus on melody) and drum circles are loud enough on their own where they do not need amplification (this is why rhythm is more important than melody). Bryne brilliantly delves into how architecture dictates how music will sound and will continue to dictate it in the future, too.

 

NATALIE MERCHANT: SINGING OLD POEMS TO LIFE

Natalie Merchant sings from her poetry-inspired album "Leave Your Sleep," which pairs lyrics from poets with music. She uses lyrics from Gerard Manley Hopkins to a 10-year-old girl from Brooklyn. Another Ted talk that isn’t about a big idea, but about music. So enjoy!

 

PETER GABRIEL: HOW TO FIGHT INJUSTICE WITH VIDEO

Peter Brian Gabriel is an English singer, songwriter, producer, and humanitarian who rose to fame in the band Genesis. He also had a prestigious solo career getting a top ten hit with the song “Solsbury Hill.” In this Ted talk, Gabriel talks about the power of video and how it can work as a tool for political activists. After the Rodney King incident occurred, he realized if you have a camera in the right place at the right time, you can actually start doing something, and campaigning, be heard, and show people what's going on. To Gabriel, an image is a powerful force that can bestow empathy. The most telling excerpt of the power of video is this statement: “You can say a jury is corrupt. You can say a person is lying. You can say you don't trust newspapers. But you can't say what you just saw never happened.”  

 

BENJAMIN ZANDER: THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF CLASSICAL MUSIC

Benjamin Zander is an English conductor and the current musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. In this Ted Talk, Zander talks about his love of classical music -- and how to understand and appreciate it. He uses Chopin as an example and Hamlet as an analogy to help us understand classical music. Chopin doesn’t want to reach the E chord right away, instead he goes on a musical journey -- which will end at the E chord. With the Hamlet analogy, Act One, scene three, Hamlet finds out his uncle killed his father. He keeps on going up to his uncle and almost killing him, but he backs away only to return and almost kill him. The critics say “Hamlet is a procrastinator" or that "Hamlet has an Oedipus complex." No, if Shakespeare ends it in the first act, the play would be over -- what's the point of doing that! The same with Chopin. The composer goes through all these chords to take you on a journey, a musical adventure and finally hits the E-chord at the end which gives the song a feel of finality. Classical music is about the journey, a journey all the way to the end.

 

AMANDA PALMER: THE ART OF ASKING

Don't force people to pay for music. Amanda Palmer rather lets them pay. In a passionate talk that begins in her days as a street performer, she examines the new relationship between artist and fan in the internet age. She encourages torrenting, downloading, and sharing. She also shares what she learned on the street and turned to crowdfunding for her new project. With her new band Grand Theft Orchestra, she used those thousands of connections that she made when she was in The Dresden Dolls, and let her fans help her. She started with a goal of 100,000 dollars, but ended up with nearly 1.2 million -- the biggest music crowdfunding project to date.

 

JOHN LEGEND: REDEMPTION SONG

John Legend, is an American singer, songwriter and actor who has collaborated with Kanye West, Slum Village, Dilated Peoples, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, and Lauryn Hill. In this Ted Talk, John Legend speaks about America's criminal justice system. He is encouraging rehabilitation and healing for those incarcerated in our prisons, jails, and detention centers -- and giving hope to those who want to create a better life after serving their time. With a spoken-word prelude from James Cavitt, an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, Legend treats us to his version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." Legend makes a plea to the listener to be more compassionate and understanding for those who have served their time and want to become responsible members of society.

Hopefully, since you most likely made it to the end here (I feel sad for those who didn’t), you now feel inspired and ready to make -- or even appreciate -- music. You, yes you, will now see music as a journey, as tapestry of sounds created by the soul, a thing you can use to express yourself -- or an adventure you let a composer or artist take you on.

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