Monday, December 27, 2010

Mailbag: Context

re: my post "Context"
Hi Jeremiah. I just read your latest post and something didn't sit well with me, and my wife says I shouldn't get too stressed about these things but I really had to say something. You said:

"Even more important, control your presentation. Buskers (street performers) are public music spam. No better than those teenagers paid to shove glossy 5x7 party fliers in your hands."

I'm sorry, but after 20 plus years of playing in public as a street performer, I don't like being called 'public music spam.' No doubt there are plenty of bad perfomers out there to that give us a bad rep, but they don't last long anyway. Give us old badgers a break. We have been in this longer than you've been alive.

--name withheld
Hey Jeramiah! Usually I don't take time to comment, but your post about musicians being public spam was not cool. Even those kids pushing flyers into your hands are signs of a vibrant population. They are part of the arts community just like the artists. What better patronage than your time? I like your blog, but your wrong about that.
--withheld (published without permission)

Monday, December 13, 2010


"But in the Metro, Bell is no one. The context of the Metro fails to authenticate Bell’s music. Everyone can listen, thus hearing offers no distinction at all. And almost no one cares."

I can't say this enough: YOU are your own credibility. If you're trying to book shows in "name" venues with the expectation that an audience comes built-in, get out of this business. Now.

Even more important, control your presentation. Buskers (street performers) are public music spam. No better than those teenagers paid to shove glossy 5x7 party fliers in your hands.

But distinction - that's the secret sauce. Sure, you've got to have songs and performing chops, but even if you've only got basics, you can still create an exclusive experience. And that's what people really want - to be around other people just like them (getting laid doesn't hurt, either.)

And who 'authenticates' you now? Your fans, and nobody else. Not the venue, not a critic, not a radio DJ, not a magazine, not an award, not a TV show. When you're good enough, they'll tell everyone about you.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Last Degree

"Standing on the outside,
Lookin' in." -Cheryl Crow

Imagine standing at a golf tee. The green is not too far away - an "easy up" in golfing lingo. So you make your swing. You connect. The ball arcs gracefully toward the grass, plops just long of the cup, rolls down the green, and stops within inches of a hole-in-one.

What do you change??

NOTHING! The best you can do is make a perfect swing. After that, it's just probabilities: the density of air, humidity, wind. The inclination of the green and the tightness of the turf. One or two things against you, and you come within inches. And inches don't count

In my music life, one of my paralyzing fears is that I'll have done all this work - all the emotional and personal investment, etc - only to be confronted with the reality that I'm not quite good enough; close, but not enough. To use the golf metaphor again, it's (emotionally) easier to never get off the green in the first place.

And it's even harder in this business when you see peers in your 1st degree in The Game. Maybe they're on The Tonight Show, or being quoted in major music publications, or on a major tour.

But you're not. You're sitting at home writing about it. (who is this about again??!?)

Here's another way to look at it: you've been toiling along a trail for God knows how long, and upon finally reaching the castle at the top, the guards turn you away. And here you sit, incredulous as all heck, thinking "Are you kidding me? I walked this whole path, did everything it took just to get here, and now you're telling me I can't get in?"

And the guard just nods. It's not his problem - it's his job.

But here's the rub: if you walked that trail and climbed that mountain to the castle with the expectation you were going to be let in, YOU WERE WRONG! It's not about the castle, because that castle doesn't exist. It's like a mirage...something your brain creates out of the chaos so you don't feel lost.

It's about the PATH, you idiot! It's about the journey and those who make it with you. The castle? FUCK the castle. They're terrible homes, anyway.

If you find yourself relating to the Lone Monk On A Mission story, you've got this all wrong. That's the test.

Because the truth is: YOU DO NOT WALK THIS PATH ALONE. And if you forget/ignore those who walk with you, they'll abandon you, and THEN you'll know what loneliness is.

So here's today's big insight for you: take a moment to stop that narcissistic artistic nonsense and appreciate all those who are making the journey with you. They count more than any mythic castle dweller. They make the journey bearable and ultimately, worthwhile.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What I've been wrong about, Vol 2

A few years ago, I wrote:
Seth Godin's awesome insights can be boiled down to this: musicians need to find new ways to make money, because Seth will be godamned if he's gonna pay a pretty penny more for his mp3's. As with all of these "outsider" perspective screeds about the collapse of the shiny-disc-distribution music business, not a single person volunteers to pay artists *more* for music. Instead, we're lectured about how the wonderful internet has made our "product" ubiquitous Seth.

I'm going to spare my readers and clients the verbal 100-yard hurdle that is Godin's article. Here are the realities facing "independent" (read: non-label affiliated) musicians:

Don't believe the hype: We're told over and over how "the internet changed everything" in the music business. This is a lie. The only thing that was undermined was the physics of distribution (and to a degree, promotion), and all the associated businesses and infrastructure along with it. Beyond that, the music business is essentially unchanged.

Except now, it's easier to sell cheap Chinese plastic crap and sweatshop garments at horrific markups to your fans. Of course, these are called "souvenirs" or "schwag", but it's the same shit we've been peddling since Elvis. Thanks, Col. Tom.

Fuck MySpace: MySpace makes more money in a week from your music than you'll ever make from MySpace. They don't even share ad revenue with their members. Record companies tried for decades to get these kinds of deals signed, didn't they George Michael? This goes the same for practically every other "social" site that allows bands to upload music. People will argue that MySpace's value is not as an economic platform, but as a promotional one, because, inherently, your music has no value.

This is, of course, a hollow argument. Billions of gigabytes of mp3's litter the hard drives of Earth's denizens precisely because music has value.

The larger question is: will musicians be able to make a musical living at all?

As I write this today, my prediction is: generally, no. While there will be a minority class of professional artist/performer/personalities (smaller than today's), the vast majority of musical creatives will straddle multiple career paths and lines of income.

But fans also must realize they cannot have it both ways: you do not get to complain about the vapidity of contemporary music and similarly argue it should be free to acquire and listen to. Fans have a choice: you can remain passive and invisible, or you can engage and participate. And by participate, I mean to become a patron.

And let me be clear about this: patronage is *not* the shallow act of commenting, ranking/voting, or posting trite animated gifs on a MySpace page, nor nauseating promotional gushing on one's own blog: it is direct - a motivation of affinity.
It's an unfinished (and unedited) response to an article by Seth Godin (ala 2007-8?) where he lays out his map of the music business. I cannot find the post I was replying to, but it's almost irrelevant: Seth was right.

You have to understand where my head was at the time. Starving (economically) and hurt. Couldn't see my way through, and didn't want to deal with the realities of how hard the work was going to be. I didn't want to pay those dues. I came of age when the business looked completely solid. So of course my expectations were miscalibrated - my inputs were all wrong.

I saw the future in some ways (broadband), but was dead wrong about how long it was going to take. I knew the day I signed up on (1999???) it was the way of the future. I just didn't think it was going to take 11 years for the internet to scale to a point where it was both relevant and useable.
The only thing that was undermined was the physics of distribution (and to a degree, promotion), and all the associated businesses and infrastructure along with it. Beyond that, the music business is essentially unchanged.
Turns out, distribution *was* the business, and the tours were supplemental to supporting the distribution. Now, it's inverted. And yes, that means the music business is changed. Big time.
MySpace makes more money in a week from your music than you'll ever make from MySpace. They don't even share ad revenue with their members. ... People will argue that MySpace's value is not as an economic platform, but as a promotional one, because, inherently, your music has no value.
Turns out music has incredible value, if it's any good, and ONLY IF YOU CAN PERFORM, TOO! Sure, the social sites are collecting a few pennies, but who cares? That's peanuts compared to what an artist can take in ticket sales. And that's really where the action is: the live show.
But fans also must realize they cannot have it both ways: you do not get to complain about the vapidity of contemporary music and similarly argue it should be free to acquire and listen to. Fans have a choice: you can remain passive and invisible, or you can engage and participate. And by participate, I mean to become a patron.
And my God do they want to participate. They want to engage, evangelize, and patronize. Desperately. A few years ago, before Twitter and Foursquare made the world interesting again, it seriously looked like people just didn't give a shit. Again, my inputs were wrong.

Finding Bob Lefsetz

I had no clue about Lefsetz until this video was linked one day on Reddit:

I'm not comfortable assigning a term to Lefsetz - blogger, critic, etc. In my view, he's none of those things. He's just Bob. He writes passionately. He cares. His blog is addictive (to me.) Subscribers of my GReader feed know I share his posts with annoying frequency. He is, in my world, a star. I had a choice to spend a Friday night on the town with Gene Simmons or Bob Lefsetz, I'll go with Bob in an instant.

The Big Insight

You have to appreciate how significant that statement is, and how much has changed in the world that makes it real. Instead of hanging out with a bonafide Rock Star, I'd rather hang with someone I'm going to feel a connection with. I'd rather have a great conversation about gardening or oceanography or Byzantine architecture than spend an evening ingratiating myself to Gene Simmons.

It's a little deeper than that, because Bob has also been an unwitting mentor. He's kicked open doors to new realities for me. He's helped light a new path. And like a true fan, I'm evangelizing his gospel. Most beautifully, he's done this without asking anything from me other than consideration. He's not behind a paywall - he's just put it all out there. For free.

I hate to keep couching this in religious terms, but let's be honest: it IS religion. Lefsetz put his gospel out there - his truth - for all to see. Take it or leave it. I took it. It changed me. I've seen the light and I want you (artists) to see it, too; I want you to be saved.

I'm out of the darkness now. Not only do I see the path, I know it's navigable. It's almost too easy: play, get paid. And most importantly.... no seriously - most importantly, BE GENUINE.

And why not? Why try to follow Simmons' path - who could?? Sing YOUR songs the way YOU want. If you're trying to mold yourself for the old world, you're totally fucked. Just do what you LOVE TO DO, and like flies to food, they'll come to you. They'll tweet. They'll share photos they take with you on Facebook. They'll record and post your performances on YouTube. Remember all the overhead it used to entail to get that done? Now its fansourced and......

....look at me. I'm so excited I can barely form coherent paragraphs. I keep veering into tangents.

And I owe this not to academia, not to the school of Hard Knocks, nor some random weekend music business seminar or songwriters guild, but to a guy with a blog who wasn't afraid to lay it all out there.

Thank you, Bob.
Pop Quiz: Name two songs by the act Simmons is promoting in this video.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Greyson Chance

We knew him a few months ago as "The Lady Gaga Kid." He popped up as if he were a viral hit, only to be revealed as yet another manufactured spectacle. And here he is again, completely manufactured, coached and oblivious:

I can't imagine this is really a future star here. His plucky demeanor and smile betray a kind of cluelessness - it's cute when you're ten, but he's worn out that welcome mat. Truth is, there's not a kernel of authenticity in him, but he's not mature enough to know that.

I don't know why we tolerate this - it borders on child abuse. We're being presented this individual as if somehow he's arrived - fully realized and ready to take on the world. He isn't. He couldn't be. Does he think he's going to have the respect of others in the music business? Even worse, do his handlers believe this? Sure, he's got some heavy hitters in his corner, but to what end? And who's his audience? Seriously, who's bought a Greyson Chance concert ticket?

Chance was vaulted into the YouTube consciousness on the back of a *very* selectively edited video of what appeared to be a coordinated concert effort (not the "hey some kid plays piano at his school" it was pushed as). It got some attention, including the (desperate herself) Ellen Degeneres, and allegedly, Lady Gaga's management team.

I want Greyson Chance to succeed, I really do, because it would mean the system can indeed be short circuited for the right amount of talent. And that's a lie we all need to believe.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Return of Albini

Steve Albini has a new interview in GQ Magazine. Worth a read. Salient excerpts:

"Everyone said that radio would kill live music and kill the existing music industry because people wouldn't leave their houses because radio would bring the ballroom to them. It had exactly the opposite effect—it made people much more interested in music. The same thing happened with the Internet—people said access to music on the Internet was going to kill the music industry. What it killed was the record industry. The music industry—bands, concerts, things like that are doing great. The live concert experience is a valuable thing now."

"This is a terrific time to be in a band. Every band has access to the entire world by default.
An awful lot of bands that had no audience in their first incarnation were able to revive their careers and have a second lap. It's so exceedingly rare that somebody gets more than one bite at an apple like that. I think it's fantastic."

"There's a perversion of normal ethical standards, indulged and encouraged by a music industry that feels more important the more it is removed from regular life. For those of us in Shellac and the other bands we admire, being in a band is just part of normal, regular life. You don't act like an asshole when you go to the barber. So why act like an asshole when you're in a band?"
I succumb to the occasional "I'm an artist therefore I get to behave differently." Happens to the best of us.

All very salient observations.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Charlie Hopper on songwriting in Nashville

"After class I would drive to the Bluebird, a little bar in Nashville where songwriting successes perform—midway into one of their verses you can usually feel the whole audience sort of slip into realizing they know this song from the radio, sort of like when your car shifts from first to second gear: if you're paying attention, you can feel it.

Especially when you're sitting there alone.

Nobody to talk to.

Many miles from the person you should be there with.

Who would enjoy the show, too." (#3)


"You can always hear what's wrong with other people's songs, even as you're blind to your own song's shortcomings." (#8)


"This particular Roundtable was a lovely affair with a catered dinner and free drinks, hosted by a well-regarded demo service. We gathered in the actual studio, where musicians perform. One by one Hopefuls arrived and mingled awkwardly—none of us had ever met. We were thrown together and had to muster our people skills.

Not all songwriters have people skills.

Still, networking is key to Nashville success. And this was prime networking. Future co-writers might be here tonight. We all made quick, biased, hunch-based, unfair judgments of each other, trying to answer the question, "Whom will I wish I'd buddied up with?" The classic Mingler's Challenge." (#9)


"I have a mental malfunction in which the main way I approach enjoyment of any performance is through the fantasizing eyes of an introverted extrovert, as if I were the one up there performing, or the author of the piece being performed. Why, I could write a musical; I could write a play—I could write a book and read from it!

"Tonight when we get home I'll get started," I secretly plan to myself as I offer my applause."


"As I played these, or the songs I'd make up, I'd imagine a vast, appreciative crowd out to my right, just beyond the edge of the conjured stage the dining room had become.

Basically I am a pathological dreamer, with a vaguely pathetic desire to perform. Or have my stuff performed."


"[my wife] pales at the notion of having someone hand you a guitar with the expectation that you'll sing a song you wrote. "Is everybody paying attention to me? I'm going to sing to you! Something I wrote one day! I'm certain that it's good and you'll enjoy the experience of looking at me while I perform!" The idea makes her a little queasy.

But I was ready." (#10 is a gangbuster.)

I'll leave to you read the entire series. These are just a couple gems - there are many more. Absolutely fantastic series. Inspiring.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Production Music Disasters #2: The Deboner

Serene, meditative piano accompanies industrial chicken de-boning. Commercial food production has never been more calming.

WARNING: Do not watch past 1:00 mark if even remotely squeamish about where chicken "products" like patties, nuggets, etc, come from.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bob Dylan

"And I thought: That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise."
President Obama in Rolling Stone.

Worth a read.

Monday, September 20, 2010

U2: Stages of Grief

Reading today's (ironic) LAT piece about U2's manager bemoaning reality, I'm reminded of the K├╝bler-Ross model of the stages of grieving:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
They don't always go in this order - #'s 2,3, &4 will interchange. Paul McGuinness is bargaining. He wants to go back to 1997-8, right before Napster. He wants a do-over. "If I give you what you wanted twelve years late, will you even care?"

He's got some anger for ISP's, seeing them as beneficiaries of endless TOS violations, and there might be a case to be made. But he won't get them to pay up. Where would that party end? Everybody who was convinced they'd lost money because of "the internet" would want to eat from that trough. And how would it work? A blanket tax? If ISP's are going to start shelling out fees to PRO's or something, they're going to want to enable blanket access for their users. Which is, of course, antithetical to the media companies (they want ala-carte billing, or the ability to ding you for every possible use of their 'property'.)

“Artists cannot get record deals. Revenues are plummeting. Efforts to provide legal and viable ways of making money from muse are being stymied by piracy."

Go and read my post "Panic." Then come back.

The people who continue to produce quality product (music, shows, etc) are just fine. It's everyone else who's in a panic. Maybe McGuinness sees U2 as losing cultural relevance or something. Look how everyone got upstaged by Gaga last week as she activated an army of people in support of the DADT repeal. Talk about the ultimate sleeper cell.

I don't know what acceptance is going to look like. Maybe U2 puts out a few singles complete with individual tracks for the multitudes of remixers out there. Maybe they get behind a good cause and tie up some traffic intersections with impromptu concerts.

U2's paydays of yore are not on the table for future artists. It just isn't in the cards - not as a hierarchy, anyway. There will still be stars, but like an ever expanding universe, they'll be farther and farther apart, gravity be damned.

Friday, September 17, 2010


There's a revival goin' on.

It's kind of a religious thing, in the sense that so many people are seeking transcendence right now.

And why wouldn't they? Read the news lately? A lot is coming unwound right now. If you're under 30, the next few years look like a long swim in Shit River. If you watch FOX News you feel constantly threatened and under assault. If you're even remotely connected to reality, there's a lot to be depressed about in the world.

But people still need to get up every day. They need reasons. They need friends. They need release.

They need to feel connected.

A reasonably good musician can do just that: connect. One hand on the ethereal pulse of the universe, and the other holding the audience. It's a dicey dance, and it takes years of terrifying practice to get it right, but when you do....

...they'll tell everyone about you. They'll evangelize. You'll get a flock. Your songs become your gospel.

But don't forget your place. You're a conduit, not a god.

Into The Valley

We're over the top now, on the way down the slope to the new valley. Forces are beginning to converge. Fog is starting to clear. A new day is dawning in the music business.

I'm not alone in this feeling. There's a new static charge in the air. Things feel possible again. Not because any specific element is in play - it feels more like a case of "Well, why the hell not??"

Oh, there are still people lost in the old world - they've yet to make the journey over the mountain, if they make it at all. You have to see the mountain before you can climb it.

Some nearby acquaintances are still trying to outsmart the old formula. They're trying to goad their fans to call radio stations (do any of their fans listen to radio?) or ballot-stuff web-polls and surveys. What was the last CD you bought because you saw an ad on some website saying it was a #1? Anything long lasting is going to be via word of mouth.

The future is personal evangelists and the Gospel of You.

Evangelists. Gospel. It's really about religion in a way, isn't it? And isn't the time about ripe for a nice revival?

We can't look to the recent past on this one, however. That was an anomaly that isn't going to be repeated. We have to look further back. Remember, Jesus walked with his disciples, not in the VIP section. Bands and artists would do well to remember this.

The future is hyperlocal and personal (a band can play in front of 25k people, stop at a Whole Foods 10 miles away and nobody knows who you are. True story.). I know the usual signals are telling you different: the insipid "Idol" shows still shoveling hopeful after ever hopeful schmucks on stage, modeling the same tricks and moves they've been watching on MTV, and being handed tours and awards, etc.

I can tell you confidently it's all bullshit. It's the system feeding back on itself. The audiences are carefully groomed and prodded. The awards bestowed randomly and are meaningless anyway. Those shows exist solely to "deliver" a targeted demographic to advertisers and marketers, and for the few who are profiting, they are profiting handsomely. So of course they want to keep that feeding frenzy going. Why would an artist get anywhere near something that toxic?

But you've got to get outside that box to see what's really going on - what that system isn't telling you. It's not telling you that people spend more time on Facebook and YouTube than watching television, or listening to terrestrial radio (do cell phones have FM receivers?). If you live in the US, the system hasn't told you about Spotify. It's not telling you there are more consumers of music than ever before, and more genres than ever before, more places to play than ever before.

And musicians should be playing. Every day. There's a place for practically every kind of music now - no excuses.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hired Gun

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Band vs. Promoter

"How much will we be paid?"
" Nothing."


Saturday, September 4, 2010

How The Dave Matthews Band Made It

Summary: They let fans trade their music FOR FREE via cassettes and concert recordings for YEARS before they cut a studio situation.

And they took *every* gig, because they wanted fans. Great story.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Single: Rule The World

Watch the HD version on YouTube if you can - the difference in audio quality is striking.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Top 5: Older Artists and Social Networking

Social networking is something a lot of older (35+) artists are doing poorly. Most of the mistakes are grounded in a fundamental misunderstanding(s) of the technologies at work, and how they're being used by various groups of people. I empathize, though: many people over 35 simply got left behind and are back to trying to figure it out. After a bit of thinking, I'm going to try and distill 5 major points that older artists are missing and what can be done to turn that around. Comments and feedback are greatly appreciated on this.

5. Overposting / spamming = disrespect for fans' time.

Ask yourself: "Why do I log on to Facebook/Twitter?" If you answer has something to do with finding out what your friends are up to or seeking a connection, then you're on the right track. If your answer has something to do with *telling* people something, you might be coming at this from the wrong perspective.

And that's really the difference between a spammer and a sharer, isn't it? The sharer has the best interests of his/her network in mind, while the spammer is busy monitoring clickthroughs and amassing friends'n'followers. It's all about where your head is. If you already think you deserve traffic, you'll be obsessed with those stats, judging the effectiveness of your campaign instead of your art.

Related to this is the tendency to post the same message across multiple platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc), an activity enabled by apps ala Hootsuite. I understand the economics of this, but you need to be incredibly judicious. How many times do I see a Twitter crosspost on Facebook complete with useless hash-tags?

And speaking of Twitter, this is one particular service that the 35's and up simply do not understand. Part of this has to do with the cultural distribution of cellular devices - the most capable ones are in the hands of the young, while the old still struggle with the concepts of an address book and text messaging. So of course Twitter looks like just another billboard with your name on it.

This is wrong, of course. Twitter says so themselves: it's a service for communicating timely and concise information. "Timely" is another way of saying "immediately relevant," whereas most of the 35's think it means "whatever I type right now." Geographic location, new/exclusive product availability, emergency information...these are all great for Twitter. Desperate pleas for attention (i.e., "twittername is feeling meh right now.") are the quickest way to tell your audience you've got little to say of relevance.

4. Inconsistency (voice/purpose/frequency)

Basically, if you're a musician, stick with music and career related postings. There can be exceptions to this, too, but what I want to emphasize is consistency. If you're going to be a hub for all kinds of interesting arts/cultural ephemera, that's OK, too, but pay attention to being consistent about what you post.

Re: politics. I do not advocate musical artists wearing their politics on their sleeves, unless you're specifically doing politically themed work. I am not suggesting civic disengagment, but I think it's important to consider your place in the lives of your fans. This is something each artist will have to balance for themselves. All I can ask is you THINK FIRST.

3. Managing collapsing social networks & differentiating between friends & fans

This one's a real challenge for older generations who have a deep investment in firewalling their social networks. Facebook is changing that, much to our discomfort. But there's one wall that can and should be maintained - friends vs fans. A friend is someone loves you in spite of your music. A fan loves your music in spite of who you are.

In some ways, you have to treat your fans with more respect and delicacy than friends. Fans can be more fickle, and ultimately, they're the ones paying your way. These lessons are tough to learn, and difficult to adapt to. My heart goes out to you, fellow artists.

2. Resistance to new technology / adoption barriers

#3 is excacerbated by #2. I know that iPhones are expensive, and beyond the reach of many musicians, but used models are avail on eBay for a much lower cost. It gets you in the basic game, though. Older people have a mechanistic view of the world, so dealing with complex abstractions like cell networks, etc, is difficult. Most of the things the modern world lives on seem akin to magic to most people (just ask them to describe how a credit card works...).

But I'm not talking about just iPhones, but just about every tech that's coming down the stream, from web browser addons to cloud music services, etc. 35+'s barely have an appropriate conceptual framework for these things much less the understanding on how to leverage them to any advantage.

1. Passive-Aggressive Panhandling

The worst offense.

I get it: we're out here, shouting into the darkness, watching young kids who've paid absolutely no dues being crowned "Idols" and handed nationwide tours. We feel underpaid and overlooked. We don't understand why nobody is listening to us when we feel we've got so much to say (finally). We feel alienated.

So we lash out. We start spamming our Twitter feeds with incessant pleas to retweet our music. We waste so much time trying to craft a clever pickup line or gimmick ("retweet this and get a free thingyblah!") This is the internet equivalent of begging for spare change. Nobody wants to get behind that person. Sure, beggars get pity money, but nobody gives them any real investment.

Our job as artists is to astonish. To create a gravity so undeniable it attracts everything around it. THIS IS NOT EASY, and the pressure and circumstances sometimes involved have destroyed otherwise wholesome people.

Unhappiness is often rooted in a perceived disparity between where one is and where one wishes to be. Recalibrating your wishes and expectations is the easiest way to be happy, and ultimately, that's what attracts people to you.

The alternative is not the easiest way.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Job Titles vs Credits

What's the difference between being a producer and being credited as a producer? Is a recording artist any more or less legitimate than a performing artist? Why the delineations? Can you just be a writer anymore? Is a title assumed or bestowed?

Legitimacy. That's the single ingredient - the secret spice, if you will - that changes the destiny of so many things. That's what all the niche noisemakers, publicists and other assorted toxins are trafficking. At least, that's what they'd have us believe.

It's all artists seem to want to talk about right now. They don't say it directly, but it's the prime topic driving so many conversations. Just look at the average Twitter feed of the current crop of 35+ DIY reborns. How many of them are following and retweeting establishment artists, sending ever-hopeful "@" messages hoping for a gilded tweet that anoints them worthy, setting in motion the wheels of great fortune? I lose count.

The youngest (and by proxy, technologically adept) artists have a massive advantage right now (welcome to the cruel downslope of evolution). They're coming of age with an internet that's scaled to relevance and a peer-group/fanbase that's not only deeply connected socially but motivated to gather (unlike their parents, who prefer to lock down in suburban homes.) A moderately talented artist can conjure a respectable following in weeks, now, where older artists are still struggling to get their fans connected, much less literate.

So we can try to perform for younger audiences, but that is especially risky because....well, here we are again.... the young are particularly finicky about legitimacy, because picking the wrong team to support has social consequences that reverberate further than before.

And who knows for sure if you're really an artist anyway? Sure, this is still the creative free-for-all its always been. You're still free to assert the title artist, or producer, or whatever, and just *be* that. Sooner or later someone will believe you. There's something inherently freeing about that chaos, yet at the same time it seems so formidable.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. On one hand, it seems a renaissance is upon us, but that can also mean a lot of uncertainty. I don't think anybody really knows.

And here's today's takeaway: Genuineness starts inside and shines out. If you're a person who honestly needs external validation, you're going to be very unhappy in this business. But if you can find that spot in yourself where you feel comfortably legitimate in your own eyes, that quality will begin to emerge in your work and performance.

The album is dead. Long live the album!

The album is dead.

It's official - no more "albums." I'm not going to release one, nor will I participate in their production going forward. It's serial-singles from now on.

I feel alone on this - every single one of my peers is diligently working on finishing an album of their own. None of them can write ten hit songs (sorry guys'n'gals), much less two or three. Still, they persist....

I don't know why that model has such a firm grasp on the imaginations of young (and old) musicians. Maybe it's because the album is our only point of reference for identifying (and by proxy, legitimizing) a musical artist. You're not "real" until there are thousands of shiny discs with your name on them. It really is an indulgent exercise, isn't it?

I conducted an informal poll several months ago asking whether or not shiny CD's mattered to people who might be buying mine. At the time, almost everyone over 35 said they wanted a shiny CD. I've recently polled a few of these folks again, and across the board, not a single one of them has bought a CD (of any artist). But every one of them has purchased a single via iTunes.

So here we are, musicians - people telling us one thing and doing another. "I want to buy the CD" they say. But then they buy a single on iTunes. "I want the art and liner notes..." they'll say. But when they can't remember a detail or want to show someone the art, they'll look it up online.

Used to be the single sold the album. Fans tolerated this because there just wasn't any other way to get the songs 'ala carte.' We bought albums knowing it would have songs we didn't like/understand. We even had a common colloquialism for songs that weren't very strong: "B-sides."

Can you imagine putting a product into the market knowing full well it wasn't of the highest quality? Can you imagine that being built-in to your existence as an artist?

Not in 2010. We don't have time for that anymore. We only have time for the best. The term "B-side" now refers to a kind of obscurity or stamp of artistic merit (that something was developed outside the old system.)

Which is why artist development is in the tank. Nobody wants to risk the cost of development except the artist. So we're in a situation where only the artists (and their families) are all-in...who else? How many friends do I have who's CD's are lingering in their garages, ever hopeful for the DIY-heroin hit that is the CDBaby re-stock email? They'll never get that investment back. Why repeat that model? Why is it so prevalent?

I think its because the only history we have is the album history. Every artist that's come before has done an album, for better or worse. It's the first step in establishing credibility and legitimacy, at least for now. But credibility and legitimacy with who?? Are your fans demanding it from you? Are they helping you fund it?

And that's the only album you or I should be concerned about anymore: The one that's demanded and financed directly by the fans.

Long live the album!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mandatory FM

A story burning up the indignant media/tech blogs is an astroturf proposal to mandate (zomg evul gubmints!) FM receivers in many digital devices, including phones. Among the more common refrains are the ad-hominem (RIAA is evil so I am against anything they support) to the TeaBagger (the government shouldn't be issuing tech mandates (ummm, yes it should.))

To be clear, there are plenty of reasons to hate on RIAA (and the Fed Gov't for that matter), but those are so well-tread they don't bear repeating here.

I think this is a wonderful idea for a couple reasons:
  1. Generally speaking, devices that span networks are more useful,
  2. Scaled out, it would give FM a reason to compete with personal playlists. In turn...
  3. ...a revolution in FM broadcasting as a medium. DJ's can become very, very relevant again.
  4. ...which is great for listeners (and music fans) as they can build trust relationships (again) with filters
In its favor:
  • FM already has a MASSIVE installation base and infrastructure. The network is in-place - enabling a bazillion more devices to access this network is a no-brainer.
  • pressure to evolve the medium is a great thing for developing artists
  • great opportunity for local development of talent

Obstacles to overcome:
  • Legacy thinking about advertising, marketing, tracking, etc. The invasive ad-model will change (it will have to to compete with playlists), and something more passive will emerge (think BMW sponsoring a break-new-music show...)
  • It's current sponsors represent a de-facto Den of Thieves1 in the creative arts. They think they're in this for their own interests, but they're so obviously clueless from the onset chances are good this accelerates their demise2.
Summary: FM receivers embedded in media devices (phones) is really a smart, inexpensive, and potentially disruptive (in the good way) to the corporate stranglehold on FM. More listeners means more opportunity for niche talent and programming to develop, leading to (hopefully) the establishment of long-term acts and talent that provide economic longevity to their lives.

1 - I'm speaking to a popular conception as such, not making any direct accusation.
2- The rights-mgmt companies behind this obviously want to beef up royalty returns by getting some percentage of the bazillion media devices out there back into the FM listening situation. Station owners think they'll sell more ads. They're both wrong.

Note: re: AM vs FM. For those wondering why AM is not included, it has to do with the type of metal and shape required to receive AM broadcasts. Short story - that stuff is not compatible with modern equipment because it generates a field just to receive AM. FM antenna design, however, is easily integrated into just about every mobile design.

Followup: Great discussion over at Metafilter.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The First Five Thousand

Ten thousand hours.

That's how long it takes just to get good enough to keep doing it. The first five thousand pass quickly, but you know when you've reached the midway point. When you put forth your best effort - a result of the First Five Thousand - and it falls flat. When you wonder "Why on Earth am I doing this?" When you start doing the mental economic calculus of investment vs. long-term payoff, and its associated probabilities.

And herein lies one of the cruelties of the arts: the closer you get to your ten thousand mark, the more appealing the choice to abandon it altogether will appear. It gets easier to quit. To throw it all away. All obstacles become barriers.

"I need a studio to work in" becomes "I can't work without a studio."
"I need a budget" becomes "I'm so broke I just can't do anything."

The psychological fortitude and vigilance required to keep these Demons of Doubt at bay is one of the skills developed in the First Five Thousand. It's the same tenacity that allows you to migrate from the soft cocoon of your approving friends and family and into the 'real world' where people who don't know you are asking why they should care about what you do.

I wish I could tell you I had answers or knew the secrets. I can only tell you I know there are no secrets, and probably no real answers either. At best, only better questions.

In my heart, I want every artist to find their way - to connect not only with themselves, but the Universe, and by proxy, people around them. But not everyone can, or will, be able to do this. There are too many variables. A successful career in the arts requires a million things to go right - a tilting of odds and probabilities in your favor that's only accomplished by dedicating so much time - tens of thousands of hours - to your craft that you lost sight of all else but your Art.


I want to talk about ploughs, because I think it makes a good metaphor. A plough is built of the hardiest steel, and whether pushed or pulled, will fracture apart whatever is in front of it. While it may be of the toughest alloy in the front, it also takes care to arrange what it leaves behind in the most fertile arrangement possible. By design.

And this is your big insight today: the best thing you can do is keep doing! And no matter how desperate or angry or alienated you feel in that latter five thousand hours, you still need to cultivate everything you pass with the same care and enthusiasm as the First Five Thousand. Learn to reconcile the idea that you can feel like death on the inside and still smile with your fans like you just shit a million dollars.

It will not be easy, and often the decision to persevere will border on insanity. Such is our clarion call.

PHOTO BY Flickr's eflon.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What are we doing here?

What the hell is going on out there? Everything seems on its head. None of the usual inputs are making any sense. They're calling Justin Bieber a prodigy. A prodigy! What can that word even mean anymore? People tell us they want artists they care about, but they don't care about artists at all. People don't want to take the risk of getting attached to artists anymore - just like sports teams. Pick a loser that season and your friends will never let you hear the end of it.

So everybody is playing it safe. No risk taking. Not for patrons and investors, and certainly not for artists. We're all out here trying to outsmart the legacy catalog - "If I craft the song just right...." as we pore over the 2nd verse for the hundredth time.

Audiences have changed. What it means to "attend" an event has changed. Gone are the days of passive, receptive audiences. "Participation" is the new mantra, even though that usually translates to "something to post on my YouTube channel". We're in the new world, where the right cell phone video clip of your show can make as much money as your show!

Maybe this is why massive dance parties are, well...massive. There are no "artists", so to speak. (yes, yes, DJ'ing is artistry, unquestionably, but the DJ is not *the* artist in the same sense as the people's music he's spinning/mixing.) Just a person or two and a few laptops and electro-gizmos. The music is stupifyingly simple in concept, but deeply complex and eloquent in expression. It doesn't demand you to deal with all the things a pop song does (interpreting a narrative theme, style, etc) just creates a space for you.

And maybe that's what the most successful artists will do - create a space for their fans to congregate, rest of the world be damned.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Music Theory: One and Four

The I-IV progression is one of the most powerful in music. How many ways can it be done? Here are just a few. Great lesson.

via IsraelsPrince's YouTube.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Concert Tickets as Commodity

"I don’t line up in advance to buy paper clips. Not milk either. These are commodities, readily available at a cheap price.

That seems to be what concert tickets have become."

My concerts are all $10 or less. Never changes. My concerts run just about an hour. Anything longer, people start thinking about other things they need to be doing. Any shorter, they'll feel ripped off. Artists, like restaurants, should turn a room every 50-70 minutes.

And Lefsetz is right: Tickets are a commodity because time is a commodity.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Music Business: What do I do now?

"These times are so uncertain
There's a yearning undefined
and people filled with rage."
-Don Henley
It's been a tough few years for (some) folks in the music business. As it becomes increasingly clear the paydays of yesteryear were unrelated to reality in any clear way, (what did we expect from an industry predicated on predatory bookkeeping?) a lot of us are having to rescale our expectations, albeit some more dramatic than others.

There's a lot going on out there. The world has serious problems to address (I know, when *hasn't* this been the case!?), and it's more challenging than ever to get someone's attention, much less make them care. There's so much apathy right now - a kind of generalized fatigue - the result of too many bait'n'switch scams that are now the established bedrock of American life, from elections and public services to housing and retail (that thing you just paid a buck for at Dollar Tree? It cost them $0.10 ). It feels like everyone's trying to get one over on us, and unfortunately, there's ample evidence to suggest this actually the case.

So many institutions in which we'd invested so much faith have failed us in dramatic ways. The Catholic Church, once perhaps the world's most present and active faiths, is now synonymous with sexual abuse. The great barge of capital and it's associated trades (banking, home ownership, business investment, insurance, etc) seems to have stalled in the mud of corruption and general untrustworthiness. Our political system seems to be populated with the same incoherent simian swindlers that have plagued its history for as long as we care to remember, and the slow realization that our mythic Three Branches of government have morphed into one massive political protozoan Hell-bent on self preservation have us, to say the least, stressed the fuck out.

And to jokingly attempt to cap this all off, a new reminder in the form of a giant gusher of toxic ooze in the Gulf of Mexico has us confronting daily questions as to what's really important right now, and what's going to be important in the future.

This all boils down to a crisis of faith. Without faith, you can't believe in an artist because you can't inherently trust they're A) genuine, and B) won't short change you down the line. This is what we're up against.

Young artists, in some ways, probably have the best shot at longevity, providing they can earn the faithful. They're coming into the business with their goals and expectations calibrated to current realities, and I think overall, they're less anxious. Middle aged and older artists, however, have really been given the shaft. This is really unfortunate, because I believe these artists have a *lot* to contribute culturally, but couldn't find a way to make it work.

There's another irony, too: the internet empowered younger generations in a way that early-adopters missed out on: scale.

For middle-aged musicians (raises hand) who may have been early adopters of the internet (raises hand), a good portion of our peers are not. People over 40 still use email(!!!) as their primary means of communication, will listen to entire songs, still prefer shiny plastic discs over digital downloads (but most shiny discs are ones their kids burn for them), and will more often than not prefer to leave a show early "to beat the traffic."

The kids, however, do none of these things. They'll stay for the whole show, don't care for CD's, have email accounts for the sole purpose of signing up with social networks and other communication platforms, listen to the best 2 minutes of a song before switching to the next. This is why so many young people listen to repetitive background music like house or ambient: it doesn't demand your engagement the way a vocalist does. Vocals are for the live show, silly rabbit.

These behaviors reflect this crisis of faith. Why should anyone get invested in what you and I are doing? Why should anyone care?

I don't know that I have the answers. I'm not even sure I'm asking the right questions, yet. I write pretty good songs. But if you're someone who's mind is occupied with the status of your mortgage, the food in your pantry, you're not going to care whether or not I wrote a pretty good song this month. You're going to need something more.

You're going to need friends. Family. Associates. A village. A community.

And that's really the trick, isn't it? Building a community of faithful that will flock together in support of each other? Artists make the mistake of thinking that community is about *them*. It's not: it's about the people who need each other. They just happen to be gathering at your show.

These are just some of the realities musicians face right now. But the question stands: What do I do now?

My best answer today: Get out there. No, I don't mean MySpace or Facebook or those toxic time sinks. Get in people's faces. Write music that heals souls, that you care enough about to ask other people to care about, too. Hand out free CD's at a coffee shop. Get OUT THERE. Play at a friend's backyard BBQ. Get OUT THERE! Enter a songwriting competition. GET OUT THERE!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Warcraft: Where's the Bard?

Yes, I play World of Warcraft. This may account for the delinquency in my releasing of singles lately. Maybe.

As all WoW'rs are aware, Blizzard is releasing a new chapter in the saga of Azeroth, titled "Cataclysm." As a multi-year player of the game, I have a couple of ideas for the proverbial Blizzard Idea Box.

Non-Combat Class Characters: Almost everyone who plays the game seriously uses a "mule" or "banker toon." These are often low level toons (5 and under) who function solely as a go-between for the auction house, bank, and other combat toons. It would be neat to have an actual Banker class, featuring class-specific clothing items and mounts. (re: mounts - one idea would be a Livery that's actually a horse-drawn carriage. The player mounts, and then selects a destination within the city and is auto-course (similar to Gryphons) routed to the destination.) Would top-hats be too much awesome? I think not....

One additional benefit might be to allow Banker toons to act as intermediaries between combat toons and questgivers. As an example, if you've completed a Hunter quest in Dustwallow Marsh, but your turn-in is Stormwind, you could mail the quest items to your Banker (bound in this case, to Stormwind1), who could then turn in the quest, and send XP back to the combat toon.

Bring on The Bard: A Pet Class addition

I think it would be neat to include a pet for one of the combat classes called The Bard, who could act as a serious party buff. As an example, perhaps Holy Priests could summon Choir Of Angels ( I just made that up) , which could be a +100 buff to all party member's stats for 60 seconds - that would be awesome in 25-man raids.

1 - It seems obvious that Banker class toons would be bound to major cities and not allowed outside to the combat areas.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Recap: Maker Faire 2010

Bottom Line: 60% Awesome.

As usual, the place is chock-full of interesting, terrifying, thoughtful, creative.... things. One standout this year seemed to be a larger corporate presence, and with that, a new degree of proprietary information that seems to be the antithesis of the Maker culture. Chevy and Ford had large advertising exhibitions that were actively collecting marketing data, as well as the next generation of flavored tapwater marketed to youth by major corporations.

Prices on everything were higher this year, but without any commensurate increase in quality or experience. The Saturday morning parking situation was uncontrolled chaos. One of Saturday's major attractions (Adam Savage of Mythbusters) spent the early portion (up until I left) of his presentation with his back to most of the audience and a malfunctioning(?) sound system.

So that's my complaining. Now for the cool stuff:

I met one of my longtime Flickr contacts, Lane Hartwell. She's very pleasant in person, although probably had no idea what to make of me. I've followed her stream for years, so there's this odd familiarity I have, but she's got NO idea who I am. Welcome to stardom, Lane.

I got to see the famed WETA Legs in action. Definitely a top notch invention. You know who'll make good use of these? Farm laborers that harvest or maintain orchards.

I met David, the artist behind the Wondermark comics. I'm desperately trying to figure out how to get someone like him to do graphic design work for my upcoming CD.

The donuts! Oh god, the donuts! Harvey's gourmet donuts! I'm telling you right now, I'm working every angle I can think of to get this guy at my September concert, because those fresh donuts will SEAL YOUR MEMORY of my show like nothing else. Why? Because Harvey friggin GETS IT: His donuts are delicious - the highest standard is his baseline. He watches his cooker like a hawk. The product is CONSISTENTLY GOOD and he never changes the terms on you. And because of that experience, I will seek out Harvey and his delicious donuts. Note to event producers: This guy has a built-in audience.

The donuts. They call to me.

Old EngineThe Bay Area Horseless Carriage Club had an exhibit of restored antique automobiles, all of which (I believe) were more or less functional. (I even got to honk the horn on the Model T). The engine work was really something, especially the copper plated cylinders and leather fanbelt. Yes, leather.

0522001121.jpg These are interior (or maybe even stage) lamps by Jason Dietz. He calls them "UFO Kinetic Sculptures." They are very nicely done. You've probably seen a hundred variations on this kind of lighting (ala Spencer's Gifts) but his are set apart by the UFO's on the top. His materials are maybe obvious in one sense, but his unique assemblage is a step above. They're gorgeous.

A group called Stay Visible had a kit that allows bicyclists to display readable messages on their spinning wheels with coordinated LED's. Great idea for general visibility, if you ask me....

One last notable highlight was the MAKE marketplace (the bazaar bizarre). Here one could find basic home fuel cell kits (experimental/teaching, not functional), hundreds of components from motors to capacitors, all kinds of hands-on experimental things, arcane game programming kits, etc. (Why does all the cool stuff come from Japan?)

I think it's still on the to-do list for next year, but I'd like to see more Makers sharing and fewer major corps promoting their own wares.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


"What's happening is the people that don't have quality product aren't selling it," Blake says. "So they're the ones that are creating this panic. So it really comes back down to that, just like in every other [...] industry. When you get too many [musicians] and too many [labels] out there, then only the good ones make it."

Ok, so the quote is actually related to a crash in the price of marijuana in California, but it's dead-on about the panic: the people who don't have quality products are creating the panic.

I panicked for a long time. I still panic. That's because my music's not good enough yet. But I know the difference now.

There are too many musicians. Too much music to listen to that's already amazing. I know this. My fans know this. One of my best songs sounds suspiciously close to somebody else's song. It doesn't matter. People will tell their friends about a great plate of spaghetti.

Which brings me to Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. You only need to watch one or two episodes to get the gist (the formula doesn't change on the show.) A restaurateur is in deep trouble. Chef Ramsey swoops in. It always comes back to the kitchen. It always comes back to FRESH ingredients, SIMPLE recipes, OUTSTANDING results, and CONSISTENCY.

Restaurants, like musicians, are based on the same basic ingredients. In the way that every restaurant basically mixes vegetables, fruits, meats, grains and spices, every musician uses the same basic 12 notes, the same comes down to HOW you use it. If you can take the simplest things and consistently make something delicious, satisfying, and memorable, people will flock to you. They will evangelize you.

But don't EVER short change them. Don't ever substitute frozen for fresh, microwaved for pan-seared. If you do, they will leave you, and the only way to get them back is hope for a major star to swoop in and give you a second chance.

I'd like to tell you that just opening the restaurant, or just completing a CD, was enough. That booking a few shows or selling a few plates was the only requirement, and that you're not in denial. You've got to do it every night for a thousand nights. The highest standard has to become the baseline.

Otherwise, you won't have a quality product, you won't sell, and you'll be in a panic.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Where your money goes

The Washington Post has a nice graphic today breaking out ticket fees and where that money goes.

Required reading. From the article:
"I think the fans feel used and abused," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor in chief of Pollstar, a trade publication for the concert industry. "As an industry, it's extremely disingenuous to do what we do. These fees may exist for reasons that business people understand, but when a fan tries to buy a ticket for $60, and they pull out their wallet and it ends up being 80-something? Just tell them it's an $85 ticket, so they don't feel scammed in the process."
This is why I will never buy a ticket from Ticketmaster, nor will I *ever* ask my fans to, either.

I print my own, anyway.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The New Google Interface: I hate it

UPDATE: A friend sent me this link. Apparently bookmark this to use the "classic" Google. I'll keep an eye out for Firefox updates to the search engine field. Thank you Nate!

There are people who use Google, and there are people who type things into the search engine (like URL's) and think they're "using" it, too.

If you're someone that likes the new Google interface, I know instantly you don't know how to use search in the first place, and that's why you don't understand how bad this new design is.

The old layout provided all the search results aligned to the far left of the page. For native English readers, this is the *most* efficient layout because it allows users to quick-scan the results for relevant returns. Adding this left column, however, makes it difficult to do the same quick-scan because A) there's literally MORE shit on the screen to look at, and B) the new crap is shiny, colorful, etc. It's distracting. (Thankfully, Google Scholar's results are still spartan from a "oooh shiny!" standpoint, but who knows? Maybe they'll skin those results for toddlers, too!)

And there are TOO MANY CHOICES! Remember, every choice presented to a user/consumer represents a NET TIMESINK - the fewer front-end choices, the more economic the overall process will be. (my own pet peeve: "Credit or debit?" This is an *enormous* economic time sink, when scaled over our entire economy. Don't get me started....) Another way to think about this is transactional overhead.

The new layout takes far too long to scan for relevant results. I'd rather have alternate search phrases or Boolean refinements suggested, rather than repeating the same search in alternating catalogs of content.

I completely understand the need for multiple interfaces: power searchers vs. market researchers vs. casual browsers....knowledge vs. thrillseeking.

I don't know if Google is willing to provide that interface, but I'm sure the demand is enough that somebody will quickly figure out how.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Concert TicketDo you know what being a (reasonably good) musician means in 2010? It means you've got a license to print money.

I just printed 40 tickets for a show. At $10/ea, I just printed $400 worth of paper and ink. People are actually trading these for cash. Sure, I've still got to affect the trade, but I'm having an easier time than I thought. I only need to sell one today to pay for my lunch.

The software I used was Sun Micro's OpenOffice. The font (ReservoirGrunge) was free, too. The card stock cost me $13.25 and I can print a thousand tickets. My ink refills are $7 at Costco. A couple other little things and some elbow grease, and I can walk around trading these things for money.

All you have to do is book a venue. Some can be rented for as little as a $100. Print tickets. Trade for money. Play your ass off.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Who: Jeremiah Jacobs and pianist Bill Walker
What: LIVE music show
Where: Geery Theater, 2130 "L" St, Sacramento, CA.
When: Sept 11, 2010, 6:00 PM *SHARP*

Tix are $10. Seating is limited. No VIP comps are avail for this show (sorry).

If you want to attend, please contact myself or Bill directly.

Music Placement: HootSuite

HootSuite, an application for heavy Twitter users, chose my composition "The Nostalgic Buffoon" for their most recent promotional.

It appears I've found at least one evangelist. ;) Hat tip, Dave-O!

Lefsetz on Artist Development

Bob Lefsetz pisses me off more often than not, but that's because he's been telling me things I don't want to hear. I'll get over myself.

But as I've been reading him over the last year or so, it seems we're saying the same thing: it's finally coming back to the music.

Lefsetz writes:
It’s back. And its return has nothing to do with a change in record company strategy, no big time thinking on the part of managers or acts, but a change in the marketplace.

It’s just about impossible to be ubiquitous. And the cost of mainstream acceptance is prohibitive, not only in dollars, but career. If you push an act down people’s throats, some might buy it once, but most will walk away, doing their best to get out of the shitstorm.

You can go read the rest (and if you're in this business, you should have his blog in your RSS reader.)

I've spoken about a plethora of evangelists seeking new music to tell people about. This is the change in the market - this is what we never had before. Now we do, and we can finally break free from all the anxiety surrounding self-promotion and just create amazing music. Nothing else matters.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Best News Yet

My previous post seems to have come across as negative and a bit angry - it's not. At least, it wasn't intended to be. I just wanted to put some thoughts out in the most succinct way I could. As an antidote, I'll focus on a number of positive trends.

Freedom - For the first time in probably 15 years, artists are finally free to just create. After nearly ten years of trying to figure out the internet, it's finally scaled to a degree of relevance and general stasis that we can start making serious use of it. When music services and musician sites were just coming online, it seemed like we'd need to adapt a whole new set of skills just to subsist in the business: graphic design, HTML, marketing and PR, promotion, back office, etc.

Over the last decade or so, a number of services have sprung up to handle a lot of these tasks, and I think we're back to a place where artists really have all the tools they need to create/promote/release work into the public sphere.

But this is where a conundrum springs up: with more people than ever producing music, how do we get heard? How do we vault above the noise?


Seriously, the internet is chock full of evangelists seeking a Gospel. Give them Truth and they will tell EVERYBODY for you. The WANT to do this. They NEED to do this as much as you need to create your music.

Conversely, if they're NOT spreading your music, they're telling you something loud and clear: you're just not hearing it. If it's good, and especially if it's REALLY good, you'll have no shortage of help promoting yourself.

And this is why artists are free: you don't have to worry about anything but your music. Make it the best it can be. Make it amazing. A million people are waiting for a good reason to help you. Give 'em one.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Essentials Don't Matter

Photo by Juliana Coutinho.

You need everything, but none of it matters.

On Twitter? You should be. Nobody gives a shit, but that doesn't matter. Just the number of followers.

Got a Facebook fan page? You should. Nobody gives a shit, of course, but that's not the point. Just get as many people to join as possible.

Got a blog? Get one. Nobody will read it. That doesn't matter. It just matters there's something there when the great wandering eye of public spectacle happens to track across you.

Got an CD? You should. Doesn't matter if the music or production quality is good. Nobody cares. The best stuff is free anyway. They just want to remember. We'll smile for any photo. We'll buy any CD.

How about schwag? Do you have T-shirts and mugs and keychains and all that crap? You should. Nobody cares. But they won't believe you without it.

How hot is your website? It doesn't matter - the hottest website is only hot for 2 weeks. Nobody will visit anyway. But you need a top-shelf site otherwise you're a nobody. You're already a nobody.

Do you have any talent? It doesn't matter. Talent's just one more gimmick. As far as modern entertainment goes, the talentless get the same consideration. The stakes are different now. You're up against legacy on a scale nobody had to deal with before. You're competing with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and Elton John before and after meteoric success. The current crop of most-knowns are just clones stuck in a time loop.

Can you write a hit song? Who cares? Twenty million iPods out there are stuffed to the gills with everything BUT the Billboard Top100. The Long Tail of music creators is dominated by DIY troubadours and their relentless promotion.

How about management? It doesn't matter. They don't have a fucking clue right now. Try anything. Try everything. Play in coffee shops. Don't play in coffee shops. Give away your CD's. Sell. Sell. Sell. Play anywhere. Pay to play. Play for free. Play for tips. Don't play at all. Do interviews. Eschew public contact. Beg Apple to feature you on iTunes. Beg someone to put your song in their go-nowhere film. Crash other people's parties and hope that somebody just likes you enough to put your music on their TV show.

Got a record deal? You just signed a mortgage where the bank keeps the house at the end of the loan. It doesn't matter. They're fucked. They're looking for a reason to drop you the day after they sign you. Maybe you got a chance to cash out. Take it. Nothing's for certain.

Maybe Jim Kunstler and John Robb are right: the future is hyperlocal. Start with a ten mile radius. Work for ten thousand hours to make it 100 miles and you might be able to squeak out a living.

But only if you've got the essentials.

And they don't matter.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How It's Done: Bambino

I love so much about this video. Raw joy of the audience. The closeness of the performer and the listeners at one point. Really good performance.

The artist is Nigerian guitarist Bambino.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Big Stuff: Reconciling Artistic Irrationality

I'm going to try and tie together a few "big ideas" for your consideration. This exercise unfortunately requires about 40 minutes of your time, but I think I can guarantee you'll come away with your brain on fire, creatively speaking.

Let's start with Merlin Mann's talk about The Fear of Sucking.
The Sound of Young America

(forward to 4 minutes or so to hear it begin) Merlin mentions an inner voice that is this kind of fatalistic limiter. It tells you, among other things, that whatever you're doing has to be EPIC from the get go, and if you feel that you're sucking at it (inevitable), you have to get used to the idea that you're going to suck at something for a very long time before you're genuinely good at it.

Maybe a really long ten thousand hours (hat tip: Malcolm Gladwell).

Now that we've considered both an irrational fear of sucking or being outed as a fake (internalized doubt/anger) AND the idea that it takes thousands and thousands of hours of work to actually begin to NOT suck at something, let us now consider an alternative viewpoint:

That's Elizabeth Gilbert discussing creativity at TED. There is a moment (around 10:00) when she specifically refers to a poet's relationship with her muse, discussed in some kind of metaphysical language. The concept that an *idea* is a physical force that is seeking a fertile territory is an interesting one, if we now take into consideration this next presentation by Susan Blackmore, who discusses memes from the perspective of biological evolution:

And now, The Big Idea:

Creativity is really a form of reception, and everyone is quite capable. It's the continuing practice, the religion if you will, of connecting and expressing that begins to separate the common and the extraordinary. As creatives, there's little we can do immediately to deal with the cultural frameworks that imbue us with full responsibility for what random inspirations we pull from the universe, but the very act of considering this possibility is a first step at changing it.

If this idea is any good, it will catch like the flu.

I was on teevee!

My first television appearance...well, ever.

New songs. New album.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care and Social Tipping Points

This post is a little off-topic from my normal music-related blogging.

The United States woke up today with an arguably better health care system than the one we went to bed with. While MSM publications are trumpeting this as a "historic" event, I believe they do so for the wrong reasons.

From my perspective, the dimension here that's historic is not the success of the Obama Administration, but the failure of the opposition network (K Street) that had been fully captured by corporate interests.

With the most notable exception of the universal/'single payer' provisions that were removed from earlier drafts, practically everything else in the bill survived despite the lobbying activities on behalf of corporate interests. The single most profitable portion of the insurance business (the expulsion of unprofitable members from the system) is one of the first things the HCR bill sought to remedy. There are a dozen other bullet points, and almost every one of them was on the K-street hit list.

To me, this demonstrates a significant shift in the proverbial winds of political influence, but I'm not sure if this is for better or worse. If the K-street network failed to deliver on its promises to its (corporate) constituents, those interests are going to look to other networks to deliver their goods. This means a new marketplace of influence peddling will open up to fill that need. Will it be better or worse for us than the system that's currently crumbling? I don't know.

But I can tell you it represents a tipping point. Follow me....

The HCR is not just about hospitals, doctors, lawyers or insurers - in fact, those are almost minor players in the larger scheme. From my perspective, the HCR is more like a snowball tossed from the top of a mountain: it's the initial inertia, so to speak. What follows will be fundamental (hopefully) realigning of some national policies, i.e., the Farm Bill. HCR is also connected to the nation's food supply (Farm Bill, FDA), our civic infrastructure (roads & highways & motor vehicles vs. walkable communities), our environmental policies (EPA vs. industry), etc. In short, *everything's* gonna change.

My prediction: the "end game" is not domination of "the conversation" or even policy points: it's going to be about taking credit for the avalanche already in motion.

I know this is a loose conglomeration of thoughts and ideas, probably not the most responsibly presented. Thoughts and reactions welcome in the comments.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Neat Craigslist trick

I've seen this symbol appearing in some Craiglist posts, and wondered what was going on. It's actually quite a simple hack. The title area in CL posts is defined with the (H2) markup. Calling the character # 9117 at the beginning of the title creates this huge symbol that immediately draws the eye. Clever and neat, but probably short lived.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Press and Burn: Do shiny CD's matter?

Do CD's matter?

I've been asking this question of both professionals and fans, and as of right now, it's pretty evenly split.

Just about anyone under 30 seems to prefer digital versions of content, whereas people over 40 seem to exclusively prefer CD's.

From a monetary perspective, most CD's are a net-loss for producers: they're most commonly used as "hooks" to get people to purchase higher-margin schwag. Some artists I'm acquainted with have moved to a pay-what-you-want model for their CD's, a move that recognizes the inherent decline in perceived value on the part of fans.

But here's where it gets interesting and a bit non-intuitive: when asked to name their own price, most fans opt to OVER-pay: they'll sooner volunteer a higher price when given the option. Why?

I think it has to do with the psychology of what marketers call a "value proposition." When we as consumers are confronted with an item and its associated price, our natural instinct is to evaluate the value proposition: is this price too high for what I think I'm getting? Can I obtain it at a better price? Is this price even fair from a market perspective (information asymmetry)? There are probably hundreds more questions that consumers deal with before committing to a purchase.

But a PWYW model obliterates this psychological obstacle. When asked to pay what you want, your value methodology inverts: instead of deciding whether or not a predetermined price is too high/low, a potential customer is faced with a different set of motivators: social pressure to support an artist by paying *something*, a desire to retain the affections of the performer (closer bond between artist & fans), and above all, a sense of having *contributed* to the net worth of the artist, versus feeling exploited by them.

So if you're an artist who's fanbase is in their late thirties onward, chances are you're going to want plenty of shiny discs for that demographic. And with those discs come a new opportunity to create viable income.

Genres of music that appeal to younger fans, however, may find it difficult at first to monetize that fanbase. Downloads as promotional giveaways are one model, provided you've got something else to get fans interested, but I wouldn't look to the download model for reliable income. There are huge psychological factors at play when it comes to product tangibility.

This post opened with the question "Do CD's matter?" For some artists, the answer is a clear "yes." For others, however, CD's may not play a central role in the establishment of an artist's presence.

Addendum: While writing this post, I witnessed a couple at a nearby table downloading something onto a mobile phone (non-iPhone). The frustration level was evident. I'm willing to bet this person would have just sooner plopped down $5 for a CD copy of whatever they were trying to obtain. Again, the value proposition is: the CD is *far* less frustrating than non-intuitive download services with spotty success.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why do social networking sites hide the logout button?

Facebook (and some other sites I use) recently "updated" its user interface. One of the changes was to "hide" the "Logout" button under a new dropdown menu. (A couple other sites have either done the same or relegated the logout button to another page entirely.) This decision is deliberate. Facebook wants as much of your online behavioral data as they can get. And governments want that data, too.

By hiding the logout feature, you're more apt to simply close the browser or tab, but effectively remaining logged into a service. This allows Facebook to openly track your online whereabouts via advertising partnerships that all report back to Facebook (a couple years ago, they called this "BEACON.")

A potential solution is Ipredator, an encrypted proxy from The Pirate Bay. I'm not sure how long this service will remain viable (the U.S. could simply shut off access at whimsy), but for the short term, it's an easy way to remove yourself from the trackable net. This is probably a good thing.