Carmen Rasmusen Herbert: What I Love about Owl City

Published: Thursday, Aug. 11 2011 2:57 p.m. MDT

Adam Young, the chief songwriter singer/performer of Owl City.

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Music has evolved so much over the past few years, with computerized and electronically modified songs taking over much of pop radio.

Cher sort of started things off with her vocal auto-tune exploration (now known as the “Cher Effect”) in her smash hit single “Believe,” which remains one of the best-selling singles of all time in selling more than 10 million copies worldwide. Many artists would soon follow in her groundbreaking footsteps by altering their voices and digitally enhancing their songs through computer work.

I sometimes find voices and instruments that are too digitized or auto-tuned to be uninteresting and boring. But that's not the case with Owl City.

Another amazing MySpace discovery like Justin Bieber, Adam Young got his start by fiddling around on his computer in his parent’s basement.

“I started writing electronica music just on a whim,” he told Music Mix. “I hadn’t really delved into the world of programming and sequencing and the endless roads that you can take via electronic music, so I thought it would be fun to take a stab at it. I put that stuff out there on MySpace and didn’t really do much with it, just let people discover it. The response that came in was incredible.”

In January of this year, it was announced that Owl City’s first single, “Fireflies,” was the 20th-most downloaded song of all time in the UK.

I still remember what I was doing when I first heard this beautiful song. I was driving in my car, headed up to Bountiful, Utah, to visit my parents. The second it came on the radio, I was completely blown away by all of the beautiful electronic “ear candy” pops and sounds, the melody, the story and the dream-like lyric.

I thought to myself, “This song sounds like it was written in a dream,” sort of a parallel world with reality where all your senses are enhanced and there are no boundaries or really control of your thoughts.

Which is actually sort of what was going through Young’s head when he came up with the idea for the song.

“'Fireflies’” was inspired by a camping trip I took up to a totally rustic and kind of remote lake in northern Minnesota, where there isn’t really much of anything,” he said. “I can remember sleeping out on a dock on the edge of this lake and looking up at the sky. There was a meteor shower that night. I remember thinking, what a cool idea of shooting stars being fireflies, and trying to translate that into music. That’s what spurred it on. I was also influenced by the lack of sleep that tends to happen.”

With Owl City, it is every bit as much about the tiniest of details in the music as it is about the vocal recording or lyric, and both complement each other brilliantly. In fact, Young's pure, simple voice is the least-altered instrument in his songs.

And you can’t judge his work by what you hear on the radio, either. It takes on a completely different tone when you have it downloaded to your computer or pop it into a really great sound system. It’s like watching TV on a small, black-and-white box and then upgrading to a flat screen 3-D HDTV.

If music had a dimension, Young’s creations would definitely be 3-D.

I don’t think I could pick a favorite song of Owl City’s, although “Fireflies” and “Vanilla Twilight” are definitely up there. It’s so fun to listen to music that is not only totally clean and creative, but completely different and interesting. I’m never bored when I hear one of Young’s songs, and that’s what I love about Owl City.

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former “American Idol” contestant and writes about entertainment for the Deseret News.

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