Monday, February 18, 2013

New Artist to Watch: Elle Ball - "Inferno"

It's not the least bit clear whether the increasing democratization of music industry success is a reaction to the simultaneously growing exclusivity of both the major label system and FM radio as each becomes more and more of an oligarchy, or the other way around, or unrelated coincidence. As with so much else, this advancement is primarily a product of the internet, although Simon Fuller shrewdly anticipated its potential when he created Pop Idol, the television singing competition (based on the New Zealand show Popstars) that aired in the UK in 2001, and which revolutionized the television talent show format - and the music industry - by allowing viewers to vote on the outcome by phone or online. Over a decade later, pop stars championed by the major labels (Ke$ha, Rihanna) mingle with reality television alums (Kelly Clarkson, Girls Aloud) and internet discoveries (Justin Bieber, Lily Allen) - not to mention the ease and minimal startup cost of digital music has allowed vastly more musicians to become players in the arena in which consumers directly affect the charts.

Of course, given the newly enormous playing field, this is where music journalists and especially bloggers come in handy. Because most (or at least many) of us spend a great chunk of our time trolling the web for music content, and, ideally, have developed some sort of reliable sense of musical taste from interest and sheer exposure, we can be useful in helping to point the more casual music fan toward certain acts online we feel worthy of notice. In this vein, the Recording Academy (the ones behind those Grammy Awards we love so) and Hyundai have created a new online competition for amateur musicians called Center Stage, with the prize of a recording session with a "leading Grammy producer," a music video shoot with a "noted producer and/or director" with a $25,000 budget, and a slot as an opening act on a major tour or music festival. The competition ends tomorrow night, but I thought I'd recommend checking out one of the contestants, the pop/R&B singer Elle Ball, and her beautiful new song, "Inferno."

Ball, who has also performed under the stage name Elle B., is a talented performer from Los Angeles who, after graduating from USC with a business degree, decided that her real passion and calling was to be a professional singer. She released her debut The Elle B. EP (which includes the fantastic single "Alibi") in 2009 and toured through Ethiopia before being hired as a backup singer for Katy Perry's Teenage Dream promotional tour by Perry herself. The gig turned into over a year and a half of appearing on nearly every television show known to man (you remember, I'm sure) and traveling across world with Perry's enormously successful California Dreams Tour, which was captured on film in the 2012 documentary Katy Perry: Part of Me. Having known Ball for some time, it was a singular treat to see her blossom from something of a pop skeptic to wearing a neon pink wig and matching dress singing "I wanna see your peacock-cock-cock, your peacock-cock!"

Her Center Stage entry, "Inferno (Acoustic)," is a soaring love song Ball wrote last year while living in London, and in this acoustic recording she performs to simple guitar accompaniment that subtly gets out of the way and lets the singer's impeccable vocal take front and center. Her voice is warm and deceptively powerful, and she hits high notes in full voice without any apparent extra effort, as opposed to singers like Christina Aguilera who make sure you know they're hitting a damn high note and working hard at it. The pre-chorus is especially compelling, but the whole song is skillfully paced and designed, with a musical dramatic arc worthy of the top female singers of the day. Ball wrote the song, as with several others in advance of her first full length, Noire, on guitar, and I asked if the "Acoustic" specification in the title meant it would appear in a different form on the eventual album (Robyn uses that suggestive trick), and she said it most likely would but she prefers producers who work creatively from the song as written (as opposed to those who try to fit songs to their own produced tracks), and is still looking around for the right kind of partner.

You can vote for Elle Ball in the Grammys "Center Stage" competition until Tuesday, February 19 at 9pm PST by listening to "Inferno (Acoustic)" and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, and/or email, each of which you can do once a day. The winning artists will be announced at The The Recording Academy's annual South by Southwest event in March. She is certainly more than worthy of the opportunities that winning this competition would provide, and regardless she is a smart and very talented artist to watch.

*Listen to "Inferno (Acoustic)" by Elle Ball and vote for her at Center Stage Powered by GRAMMY® Amplifier.*

Elle Ball on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud

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