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.