Education for #62MillionGirls

Somewhere on that stage is Leonardo DiCaprio, talking about our effort to help fight climate change.

Somewhere on that stage is Leonardo DiCaprio, talking about our effort to help fight climate change.

“Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” The voice of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaks to a crowd of 60,000 on the Great Lawn of New York City’s Central Park—women and men of all ages and races gathering for one event: the annual Global Citizen Festival.

Created in 2012, the Global Citizen Festival is an effort to end extreme poverty by 2030. Through activist efforts on their website, Global Citizen requires supporters to tweet, sign petitions, send emails, and leave voice messages to help this cause, and in exchange, they are entered into a lottery to win tickets to the music festival. In past years, the festival has welcomed top artists including Foo Fighters, Stevie Wonder, and Jay-Z, but this year the draw to attend the event was at an all time high because Beyoncé was slated to perform (other headliners included Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, and Pearl Jam).

For me, seeing Beyoncé live was a huge draw to attend the show. Of course, I tried to pay attention to the efforts of Global Citizen while I checked off each required action to join the lottery, but once I had the tickets safely in my hands, my attention to the purpose of this event dwindled. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own lives, that we forget about the bigger picture—this show was the reward for our efforts, but it’s up to us to continue to work to help the cause throughout the year.

Beyoncé’s performance was one for the books. I can’t imagine how any person left that show Saturday night without a full ego boost, but I think that it was the words of the hosts and participating world leaders who took the time to stop by and talk to us that will stick with me. I have to commend the stage manager, or planner, or whoever was in charge of the production of this show. Putting Beyoncé’s performance before the main part of the festival was key—she gave us all that boost of energy and pride for being a woman before introducing First Lady Michelle Obama to the stage, kicking off a chain of celebrity names and speeches before we got to hear Malala Yousafzai speak (a moment that had me in tears).

Malala Yousafzai speaks at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival on September 26, 2015.

Malala Yousafzai speaks at the 2015 Global Citizen Festival on September 26, 2015.

Her message was powerful—the key to creating a more peaceful world is not pushing our money towards military, but to education. In countries where women have access to education, they see more peace and prosperity, she said. But that isn’t the case everywhere—Michelle Obama said that right now, there are 62 million girls out there without access to education. That’s 62 million voices that could contribute to our world, bringing peace and working to end poverty in their own countries, if we can just show our world leaders the importance of providing education to everyone. Malala echoed the importance of educating the youth of today, because they are our future.

So that’s why we need to participate in Michelle Obama’s new campaign, #62MillionGirls, because like she said, “When girls aren’t given the chance to realize their potential, the whole world loses out.” It’s Feminism at its core—these girls are denied education because of their gender, and it is time to work together to get them the same education provided to men. This isn’t a matter of men vs. women, it’s a matter of giving everyone the same chance.

How do we do this? To start, share a selfie with the hashtag #62MillionGirls along with a description of something you learned in school. Together, we can start a movement to help those 62 million girls.

I know for me, I would not be here without my education—it taught me how to be a strong, independent woman, with an awareness of how my talents can help our future. And I am very thankful for that.

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How Stephen Colbert is Changing Late Night

The Ed Sullivan Theater off Times Square lit up following the Septemeber 24 taping of

The Ed Sullivan Theater off Times Square lit up following the September 24 taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

A very lucky, Internet-savvy friend of mine landed three tickets to a taping of ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,’ and out of what I can only imagine is selfless kindness (or maybe he owed me a favor), he offered me one of those coveted spots for Colbert’s September 24 show. I know I’ve written about the show before—it was my most anticipated premier of the year, but seeing it live, well, I’m still riding that high.

Colbert has a few weeks under his belt now, so it seems like he’s picking up on the flow (nine years of ‘The Colbert Report’ probably helped him adjust to that live taping atmosphere too). Watching him on TV, you can get a fairly good idea of how Colbert works, but during the taping, I got to see an up-close view of Colbert’s true talent—working with his writers in between segments, going over each joke, making sure that the crew was on the same page—a real treat for a TV junkie like myself. You forget that as fun as it looks to host a talk show, it’s still work, and requires careful planning to make sure everything runs smoothly.

The theme of the night was Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. (complete with a handwritten cardboard sign welcoming “Frank”). Colbert, who was raised Catholic, wanted to center his show on the Pope, and discuss with his guests about what this historic event means to them, what the role of the Catholic Church is in today’s society, and what it means to be Catholic in a celebrity world. I was pleasantly surprised by the discussion topics—when you get so wrapped up in the extreme views that stem from religion (anti-abortion, planned parenthood, gay-rights, etc. etc.), you tend to forget that religion is still an important aspect of our culture, and that with any religion, there is more good behind it than not. Even the Pope during his address to Congress yesterday urged listeners to not let ideological extremism get in the way of freedom.

Andrew Sullivan, Jim Gaffigan, and Maria Shriver discuss being Catholic with Stephen Colbert on September 24.

Andrew Sullivan, Jim Gaffigan and Maria Shriver discuss being Catholic with Stephen Colbert on September 24.

Instead of keeping the Pope discussion to a few jokes before bringing on an A-List celebrity, Colbert dove into the heart of the day, first talking with a panel of ‘openly-Catholic celebrities’ about why they are proud to be Catholic (Andrew Sullivan was the most poignant of the speakers, telling us that his religion taught him to be confident and open about being gay, two lifestyles that don’t always see eye to eye), followed by a discussion about how the Catholic Church is working to help the environment with Archbishop Thomas Wenski. The panel, which also included comedian Jim Gaffigan and journalist Maria Shriver, left me stunned—not just because of what they said, but that I witnessed an open, educated discussion on a Late Night television show. And that is how Colbert is changing the face of Late Night, by bringing a current, intelligent edge to his nightly line up.

You also have to credit Colbert’s interviewing skills for much of the show’s initial success. His ability to humanize even the most aggressive monsters is something you rarely see in any news form. Earlier this week, Colbert hushed his audience for booing Ted Cruz—he told the audience that even if you disagree with Cruz’s views, he is still a guest on the show and deserves respect. In a world dominated by the Internet, it’s easy to join the crowd mocking public figures we disagree with, but what we forget is that these are still people who are (hopefully) fighting for what they believe in. Colbert’s interview with Vice President Joe Biden last week is another great example—instead of talking about politics, or the presidential race, he talked to Biden about life, about how he maintains such a positive attitude in a world that can bring so much pain (he had me in tears for the whole segment). Colbert’s ability to see each guest in a stripped down form, pulled away from the persona the media has assigned him or her, is a rare quality that needs to be commended.

Comparing him to other Late Night shows, past and present, Colbert is offering a new form of Late Night that I think will appeal more and more to younger generations. During a pre-show Q&A (the only time I’ve ever seen a TV show host interact so intimately with his audience), one man asked Colbert why he chooses to bring on guests that don’t fit that A-list/B-list celebrity demographic. Colbert’s answer was simple: he wanted to bring on guests he thought were ‘interesting.’ And then he asked the audience if they enjoyed the interviews he’s done so far—the CEO of Uber, Elon Musk—people who are changing our world in big ways, but may not always get a chance to sit in the spotlight. Don’t get me wrong, I think Fallon has a great show, but if Colbert continues doing what he’s doing, then there’s little competition for my attention, and I’m sure for the attention of many Americans interested in current events.

You can watch the whole episode from September 24 here.

‘Till It Happens to You: Addressing College Rape Culture

I’ve stressed over the last few days about what to write about for this post. A lot has happened in politics and pop culture—the Republicans tore each other apart at their second debate, and the Emmys rewarded ‘Veep’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ as this year’s top shows (shout out to Amy Poehler and ‘Parks and Recreation’ for their incredible season. You guys may not have won any awards, but you will always be a favorite). But as these timely events passed into ‘yesterday’s news’ territory, I felt everything regarding these events was already said.

And then Lady Gaga dropped the music video for her single “Till It Happens to You,” composed by Diane Warren, and the anthem for the campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground.”

When the song first appeared a few months ago, the message was clear—it captured the raw and emotional process of dealing with the aftermath of rape, trying to keep moving forward despite the trauma that comes with that experience. Even with the support from friends, family, and professionals to help you stay strong, you will always carry that lingering pain, and no one will understand that—unless it happens to them.

This does not, by any means, mean that things will never get better. As victims of rape, sexual, physical or emotional assault, the key is to learn to move forward and to know that what happened to you was not your fault, and that you are still able to live your best life. Rape is a terrifying, brutal trauma that no woman should go through (I am purposely singling out women for this particular discussion, however that does not mean that rape does not happen to men), but there are ways to rebuild.

You don’t really get the second part of that message from the song, but as you watch the haunting video, you realize how important it is to offer help and support to victims of rape. I got angry watching the video, because rape culture should not be something swept under the rug—it is real, and it needs to end.

The video opens to black and white shadows in a hall, then shifts to three story lines—a girl in her dorm room, another in the bathroom, two more dancing at a party, all instances where you should always feel safe, and then the attacker is introduced in the scene. (I don’t think I’ll ever shake the predatory look in the eyes of that curly-haired hipster at the party). And without the screams, we watch as these young girls are stripped of their former self, their lives changing in a matter of seconds.

The second half of the five-minute video deals with the after effects of each rape. The girl in the bathroom refuses to shower, because she is too afraid it will happen again. The two girls at the party, who were drugged and raped, lose their friendship because of the incident, resulting in one moving out of the dorm room they shared. Their lives are shattered, and eventually, with the help of friends, they are able to start taking control of their lives again. But that is a process that does not happen overnight—it’s a lifelong effort to repair yourself from something that took only seconds to crumble your world.

What I find so disturbing from this video is that in each story, these girls are supposed to be protected. They shouldn’t have to worry about someone coming in and harming them in their own home; they shouldn’t have to worry about dancing or drinking at a party; but this is the world we live in. And it is not ok.

When I first entered college, my school’s orientation team gave a presentation of issues you would have to deal with in your freshman year. Some were lighthearted, like choosing studying over a party, overbearing parents, or changing your major, but others were more serious, with rape culture looming over the examples. I remember my school warning us about date rape drugs, encouraging us to always keep an eye on our drinks. Even now as an adult, I fear taking my eyes away from my drink at a bar, even if I just have to pick up something on the floor. We are taught to always assume the worst, that rape culture is part of our world and it is our job to protect ourselves from it. But that doesn’t solve the problem that rape is still happening in our colleges, in fact, it teaches us that rape culture is here to stay, and there is nothing we can do about it. THAT is where we need change.

Gaga’s lyrics are right—you won’t know what it feels like until it happens to you. You won’t understand the fear and anxiety that goes into your everyday life. You won’t know what it feels like to sit in your shower, trying to wash away the bruises that constantly remind you of what happened. And even when the physical signs fade, you will always live with that pain.

I think the point of this video, and of the documentary, is to change our perception of rape. Instead of teaching our girls about ways to prevent themselves from becoming victims, we need to educate society as a whole about ways to end rape culture. I don’t think I will ever understand how the use of a date rape drug is a good idea for an attacker. I see no way that rape could be justified. I see no way how it could be blamed on the victim. And yet, this is the world we live in.

The Wait is Over! Colbert is Back, and Fans Rejoice!

Colbert took over for Late Night with David Letterman on September 8, 2015.

Colbert took over for Late Night with David Letterman on September 8, 2015.

In all my years as an adult, the closest I’ve gotten to returning to that ‘Night Before Christmas’ level of excitement came with the premier of ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.’ Since the announcement that he would take over for Letterman, it’s been an emotional roller coaster for this Colbert super fan. The joy of knowing he will take on a new role in media; the pain of losing his Comedy Central character (not to mention the end of Jon Stewart’s reign as host of ‘The Daily Show,’ where I actually lied face down on my kitchen floor crying at the announcement of his final show)–I’ve felt it all. Whenever a new article on Colbert’s career came out, I’d rush to the news stands to get any taste of what would arrive on September 8.

A reported 6.6 million viewers flocked to their TVs Tuesday night with the same anticipation–we weren’t sure what to expect. For those of us who grew up with ‘The Colbert Report,’ separating the character from the man is a bit of a struggle. Even with his teaser videos sporadically popping on the Internet this summer, you could still see hints of that self aggrandizing wack-a-doodle from Comedy Central. He took over hosting a local cable show in Michigan, interviewing Eminiem as if he had no idea the rapper was famous, and invited science superstar Neil DeGrasse Tyson to his office just to scold him about demoting Pluto from planet status.These were moments that got us ready for the new show, but still didn’t give us a clear picture of what to expect.

Here’s that Pluto Video:

Based on the September 8 premier of ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,’ I’d say many aspects mirrored his previous gig. I doubt Colbert will ever be able to shake the chanting of “Stephen, Stephen” at the start of each show, but what he did shake was the self-centered behaviors of his former character. ‘The Late Show’ has given Colbert a chance to show the more genuine side of his persona–you could see it in his interview with Jeb Bush Tuesday night, where he thanked the presidential candidate over and over for coming onto the show. It wasn’t about his political views, Democrat or republican, but more about the sheer excitement to have a newsworthy, high profile politician joining him on his show.

I’m excited to see how Colbert fares in the late night circuit. He’s only had two shows so far, so finding his flow will take some time. It’s great to see him catering to other fields besides just entertainment (this week he welcomed Jeb Bush, Elon Musk, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick), unlike his predecessors who cater to the more fun and fluffy guests. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m a fan of Fallon, who has reinvented the late night circuit in a way with his fun and quirky games, parodies of popular shows, and musical impersonations. As a late night host, you’re required to play off of your personality. That first segment is just you and the camera, and it’s so important to have fun with it. Fallon plays off his talents as a musician and friend; Meyers has embraced a ‘Weekend Update’ vibe that reflects his strengths from ‘SNL.’ It will take Colbert some time to figure out exactly what works best for him–he’s a talented performer, singer, and comedian, with a knack for political commentary, so as his show evolves, we will surely see more of that.

But in terms of his first week, Colbert rocked it. Now we get to sit back and get to know the new Colbert every night at 11:35 p.m. EST on CBS 😉

Streaming Builds Up Steam, Heats Debate

The article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Pro Sound News.

The article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Pro Sound News.

Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Pro Sound News.

By Kelleigh Welch

Taylor Swift took a big stand against the rising music streaming services recently, when she pulled her entire discography from Spotify just days after the release of her fifth studio album, 1989. Her reasoning was that art should be paid for, and that streaming services are scamming the artists from earning a fair wage for their creativity. However, despite Swift’s popularity, it was estimated in some reports that pulling from Spotify would lose her a cool $6 million, along with a loss of her place in one of the few growing segments of the music industry.

The debatable business models of these online services can arguably be blamed on the record PRO_12_14_Final 33labels and services equally, and Swift’s stand highlights how the services are affecting the industry— both monetarily and technologically. When it comes to online music streaming services, the verdict is still out, but there’s no doubt that their rise in popularity is changing the way consumers listen to music, with some even saying that streaming could pull the music industry out of its downward spiral. Nielsen’s Soundscan reported that during the first six months of 2014, revenue from streaming sites rose by 52 percent, while CD sales fell by 20 percent and digital downloads were down 13 percent. Numerous big media entities are joining the race— YouTube and Amazon each recently announced their own streaming services, while Apple spent $3 billion to buy Beats Electronics and its streaming service which is heavily tipped to be rolled into iTunes early next year, and YouTube’s parent company, Google, recently took control of Songza, another radio-based platform similar to Pandora.

Pandora Media, with more than 77 million users, is a radio-based model, where users can create a station based off of a song, genre, or artist. Spotify is on-demand, where users can create playlists and listen to entire albums. The Pandora paradigm works well for users looking for new music, but its smaller library will guarantee repeats throughout the day. Spotify gives users more control over what they’re listening to, so they’re not skipping over the songs, but with a much larger library, many of the songs Spotify offers won’t get played. Unlike traditional radio, streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify can keep a much more detailed history of every time a song is played— information that dictates the royalties it pays.

David Kelln, a British Columbia-based audio engineer, commented, “I like the idea that what I actually listen to is where the royalty money goes, because each play can be logged.”

Pandora pays about 50 percent of its revenue in royalties, while Spotify is closer to 70 percent, according to Quartz News. How much of that actually goes to the artist depends on the contract between each musician and the label. “The way I would love to see it done is that content is available to any internet streaming broadcaster at a set royalty rate. Then the competition is between those who provide a good service with an interface I can navigate easily,” said Kelln.

The other big question related to streaming services is audio quality, and whether users are willing to pay more for a high-resolution streaming service (if the site provides it). Pandora’s upgraded service, Pandora One, offers a higher resolution of audio with a monthly subscription (compared to its free version), but there are exclusive high-res audio sites, like Tidal (www.tidalhifi.com), which streams hi-res audio files for a subscription fee of roughly $20 a month. “The technology of audio streaming is no big deal at all,” argued Tony Faulkner, owner of London, UK-based Green Room Productions. “Netflix can stream 4K video with surround audio, so audio is a walk in the park. The problem is that the main commercial companies could care less about sound quality—it’s nowhere on their agenda at all. They are only interested in the bottom line of their business model.”

“To me, streaming is just radio reinvented, where music is not presented in a linear way. It just differs on the way you interact with it and the way you get it on your listening device,” said Paulo Mendes, a sound engineer and audio systems consultant in Lisbon, Portugal.

Regardless of the listening device or the quality of the audio, one thing is certain—music streaming is growing, and the industry has to adapt. “Artists are now faced with a dilemma. They can either stop making music, which is obviously absurd, or they need to reinvent the way their work is paid and controlled,” said Mendes. “I don’t have an answer, but if this reinvention fails to see the light, I guess that a recorded song, despite its record media, will become just a lure to live show ticket sales.”

That New York Hiker Life

A rare glimpse of yours truly on the trail.

A rare glimpse of yours truly on the trail.

Have you ever heard of the New York City bubble? Maybe it’s a new term I just invented, or maybe you have a different name for it, but no matter. My point is that at times us New Yorkers can get a little wrapped up in our own world that we forget about everything outside of the five boroughs. It happens far more often than we realize too—I mean, we have so much here that we forget to explore other places. The realization creeps up on you too—I remember one year I didn’t leave Manhattan for three months, and that included crossing the East River into Brooklyn or Queens. It wasn’t until I was traveling back up to Massachusetts to visit family that my Manhattan hermit status revealed itself.

However, even without traveling outside of my home city, I never lost my desire to explore. I’m a wanderer by nature—comfort stresses me out, and when I start to fall back into a routine, the little travel bug in my head starts subtly directing me to Google travel deals (see my future post on Chicago 2015).

New York City also forces you to keep a tight budget, so while the impulsive half of me is ready to book a flight to Europe next week, the practical side is screaming ‘YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO EAT IF YOU DO THIS!’ The practical side always wins. But even on a New York budget, this doesn’t mean you can’t be impulsive. There’s plenty of day trips outside of the city that won’t break the bank, but will still silence that need for adventure for a short period of time. That’s how I stumbled upon my newest obsession: hiking.

Well, my love for hiking isn’t new. I grew up in central Massachusetts, where scaling a mountain is a pretty common recreational activity. It was part of my lifestyle, and I loved it. Moving to New York, you don’t necessarily think of hiking as a common activity—my first year living here helped me coin my own version of ‘Urban Hiking,’ where I pushed myself to trek for miles through the city streets. I traded in cascading waterfalls and pristine mountain views for meandering paths through Central Park and photo opportunities along 5th Ave. I would still get my exercise, just in a different environment. Eventually, however, my love of the great outdoors would resurface, and I’d hear the mountains calling me back home.

The MetroNorth drops you right at the trail head for Breakneck Ridge.

The MetroNorth drops you right at the trail head for Breakneck Ridge.

Lucky for me, even without a car, I can still fulfill my craving on a whim—New York City’s vast network of public transportation can bring me to some of the area’s best hiking destinations in just a few short hours. The popular Breakneck Ridge trail requires just a $28 round trip ticket that drops you right at the trailhead on the weekends (the MetroNorth stops at the Breakneck Ridge stop right after Cold Spring twice a day on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and picks you up again at two times in the afternoon, although the trail does lead right into Cold Spring, offering you a chance to explore the town’s restaurants and antique shops). So, for less than what you probably pay for a night out at the bar, you get an experience of a lifetime with some of the most beautiful views of the Hudson Valley. It’s well worth the trip.

New Jersey’s public transit also offers some breathtaking adventures, and for those on a very limited budget, you can even find places to hike in and around the city (my yearly pilgrimage to the Cloister Museum is still one of my favorite occasions for scenic views).

If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous and you have a car (or Zipcar), there are plenty of trails within an hour or two of the city. It just takes a little exploring on the Web to find exactly what you are looking for, and to head out on the open road.

Once you get to the top of a very steep climb, the view is absolutely worth the effort.

Once you get to the top of a very steep climb, the view is absolutely worth the effort.

How Miley Cyrus Stole My Heart

miley-cyrus-as-vma-host-2015She smokes pot. She loves peace. But don’t call her a hippie. Collaborating with The Flaming Lips front man, Wayne Coyne, Miley Cyrus is back with a very artistic (and trippy) album that you could describe more as a labor of love than a follow up to her 2013 platinum pop album, Bangerz.

Since she surprise dropped Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz Sunday night following her hosting gig at the VMAs, I’ve found myself in this haze of Miley obsession. This album is so different, so weird, and I love it. It’s almost as if Miley melded together music from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Lady Gaga’s darker period, and pretty much all of the 70s together to create a refreshingly original take that is so quintessentially Miley.

While I missed the live performance (stupid migraines) on Sunday night, I’ve realized that Miley’s over-the-top performance of her first single off the new album, “Dooo It,” was the performance I was waiting for. It was reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’ performance of 2009, as like Gaga, it was a defining moment in her music career. I still get chills every time she starts bleeding.

But Miley’s music is maturing–she’s played the game better than most of them. From Disney star, to country singer, to pop superstar, the 22-year-old has finally reached the point in her career where she can work on projects that she wants to do versus what her label tells her to do (Cyrus still holds a contract with RCA and will at some point return to her pop days). With Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, you get a glimpse into Miley’s world, her interests, and her lifestyle. It’s great to see her continuing to branch her talents out into different genres.

Of the 23 songs on Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz, it’s hit or miss. She has some pretty big misses that lyrically go nowhere, but in terms of music composition, the Lips really carry her. However, when Miley gets a hit on this album, you can tell. ‘Bang Me Box’ pulls you in almost immediately with its bass-heavy acoustics, while ‘1 Sun’ has a sick psychedelic beat that makes me want to get up and dance. ‘Dooo It’ was a solid first choice to release, and ‘The Floyd Song’ emanates Coyne’s influence so heavily that I actually returned to old Flaming Lips albums after blazing through Miley’s album a dozen times or so.

It wasn’t until I read The New York Times‘ article on Miley that I was fully on board with her new vibe. Her whole “I don’t give a f*ck” attitude isn’t new, but it is evolving. She’s still music’s wild child, but now with a little more direction and understanding of herself. And let’s not forget to mention her emotional ballad “Pablow the Blowfish,” the only thing that makes me feel bad for eating sushi.