Sunday, January 23, 2011


I got called out.

It happened a few weeks ago via email (with no permission to quote/attribute), and it's really been bothering me.

A while back, I'd written a couple of posts about a performer (Greyson Chance) who I felt wasn't being responsibly managed; "..borders on child abuse..." is what I wrote. My blog, my opinion. Leave a comment if it really bugs you.

The callout:
"...and I'd take this chance to remind you how small and connected this business really is, especially as you get close to the top. Everybody knows everybody, and if you think you want a career working with any of these people, it would serve you well to keep that in mind."
" probably should do a reality check on yourself. You pass yourself off as someone who's been around and done all that, but why doesn't anybody hire you? Why don't we see your name in our BMI/ASCAP logs? Oh, that's right....."
"...maybe you're making tons of money up north and all that, but nobody who counts is going to want to work with you if you keep writing [blogposts] like that. I know for a fact you're on [name removed]'s shitlist."
These are threats.

To be clear, the person writing this is an acquaintance, and is doing this ostensibly to help me. Which is fine, but let's be honest about the subtext here: "If you don't say nice things about me, I'm not going to hire you."

To recap: I wrote a blogpost in which I expressed my opinion, which, apparently, was not the opinion someone wished I'd held. I didn't even know people read this thing, much less cared what I think about topic A or B. Next, it's asserted that because I'm a 'nobody', my opinions don't matter, unless I want to be Somebody, in which case, I'd best show my unrelenting deference to the power structure.

What's going on here?

The Old World was predicated on a business that had monopolized distribution of its product (there was no other way to maintain 'scarcity'), and had grown inordinately powerful as a trafficker of social ephemera. It had a power structure: names that meant something, all backed up by (fake) sales stats. Legitimacy conferred by random anointing and a herd mentality.

But no more. Fans don't care anymore how many sales you have -they care what their friends say about you. Unless they're personally invested in the success of Greyson Chance, they don't give a shit what I write about.

People in the old world, however, care very much because trafficking in legitimacy (and the perception thereof) is a powerful sport to those beholden to it. If, however, you can honestly live without needing that (and some artists can't - I'm not hatin'!), then they've got no leverage.

I don't need legitimacy conferred.
I don't need their fucking money.
I don't need their approval.
I don't need to work with anyone so desperately I can't maintain an air of honesty...what good would I be as a producer?

So here's where we end up, dear reader(s) - if, as an artist you feel you need these things -external validation, someone else's money, etc - then you're beholden to The System. Old, dying and decrepit, that's what you're aligning with. You're up against all its legacy and establishment. If you think you can get into that maelstrom and retain a foothold, by all means. Godspeed to you.

It's not for me, though. I have a different path. My future fundraising is with a large Mason jar and a Kickstarter account. My fans are my PR. The next five hundred shows I perform will be in the living rooms and art-house theaters within a hundred miles. That's who I am. That's the only legitimacy I care about.

I got off track here somewhere...

Not long ago, I cared very much to be seen as affiliated with "the music business" and its associated accoutrement, cared very much what awards or titles were bestowed upon whom, cared very much about various statistics. Most importantly, I cared very much to be recognized by that system because I felt I deserved it (for reasons I still cannot fathom).

Among the many reasons I cared were people I looked up to in the business cared, too. Or seemed to...

I realize now that was a naive perspective, and honestly, it's been quite freeing to be able to write honestly (and clumsily) without the fear of being alienated from that Old World. I sleep better. I love better. I write better.

Artists: If you feel you need to take on The Big Game, by all means, get into it and ingratiate yourself with the names you see on the music you listen to. Pay attention to who's doing what/where and do your best to work yourself into those situations. Be positive at all times and keep your mouth shut if you know what's good for you. If you can do all that *and* write really good songs, then you can absolutely play in that pond. Go for it.

Everyone else, you've got my email address.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Quiet Crier

Shout! Shout!
Let it all out!
These are the things we can do without
Come on,
I'm talking to you.
-Tears for Fears

I released another single yesterday. Nobody cares.

This is the part of the business I least enjoy. Part of me believes there was a golden yesteryear when the listening public wanted to be engaged with musicians and may have actually cared to listen to what was being produced. But now there's just too much. Too much music, too many other details competing for attention.

In some ways, a hundred negative YouTube comments are almost preferable (almost - I still have a functioning cortex...) to the yawning silence.

A lot of my artistic friends are in a similar position - their talents seemingly unrecognized/unrewarded. When did artists clamoring for attention become the equivalent of email SPAM?

But here's the catch....

...if we're honest with ourselves, the feeling that we're being ignored/spammy is rooted in the perceived disparity between what we think we deserve and what we think we're actually getting.

We've got to keep our expectations in check. And that's inordinately tricky when we've got to believe - and I mean believe with conviction! - that our music/art is worthy of public consideration, and still balance the reality that right now, it's all about the users when we want it to be about us.

Releasing a single means more than just publishing it on YouTube. It also means letting go of unreasonable expectations, and relinquishing our solitary grip on our art. Let our fans evangelize if they feel compelled.

Put simply, let somebody else do the talking.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Single: Mystery In My Mind

A new single, Mystery In My Mind.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Apple's Orchard

This video may indeed have "AP" stamped on it, and these guys are officers of Verizon, but this is an Apple iPhone advertisement. Notice Verizon did not say "We welcome the iPhone into our line of products..." or mention any other brand retailed in their stores. Instead they pitch the iPhone as the flagship of the Verizon network.

You may not be able to afford an iPhone, but you sure know what it is, and chances are you want one. Same with the iPad - you may not be able to afford it, but you know what it is and you want one.

What is Apple doing different? I mean sure, their overall design is better, but it's a little more than that. Even though their app store is a 'walled garden', Apple's users are not clamoring for open alternatives. Relatively few people jailbreak their devices - that speaks volumes to the overall experience.

I think Apple's strength lies in its ability to be invisible. The most popular apps are built around communities, not Apple itself.

Maybe this is our new paradigm as musicians and performers - we're really creating tribes out here, and we'd do best to simply be a part of the experience versus demanding our community to worship us alone.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Oh we're never gonna survive unless,
we are a little crazy.

Geologists call it 'plate tectonics.' Change that is invisible, yet alters destinies. One epoch your relatives are all in walking distance. The next, an ocean divides you.

The thing we forget about change in our modern day is that adoption is logarithmic. Put another way, the future comes slow, then faster, then....avalanche. And you can't negotiate with an avalanche.

Haven't you touched an iPad yet? That's why the Apple store is now the #1 draw in malls. Don't believe me? How long was the wait last time you wanted to play Angry Birds while the Cinnabon wears off? It's as if the Apple store is what the arcade used to be, except now you're not ashamed to be there with your parents. That's how cool Apple is right now.

And all indications are it will be that way for some time to come. Even the current crop of iPad wannabes yowling for attention at this year's CES show are forced to compare themselves to the iPad, if not overtly, then certainly by borrowing design cues (shiny bouncing icons!) For musicians, this means two things:
  1. iPads and tablet computers are here to stay, will only get faster/cheaper/cooler.
  2. the Apple model of 'apps' is firmly ingrained in our culture, so 'apps' are the future: Subscribers are our future.
We used to call them "patrons." Now we call them "subscribers" or "users." Same concept. Someone likes your work, and wants to support it directly. But more importantly, a patron wants to connect with you.

Yes, we'll still have obligatory websites, and some of us will still post content on YouTube, but the best of us will be working with geeks to develop mobile apps that engage our fans. Lucky for us, these days app developers are a bit like weed dealers: even if you think you don't know somebody directly, you've got a friend that "knows a guy!" Ask around - you'll be surprised.

What's an app going to look like and actually do, though? In it's simplest, it's just a content bundle. Maybe we've shot some footage in the studio and want to present it in a magazine style format. Or exclusive backstage footage. Or concert. Or our blog. Can we find a hundred people who'll pay $1 a month to get in our world? A thousand? Can we produce good work consistently, every month, like those winning kitchens on "Kitchen Nightmares?"

Are we willing to put in the time? The thousands of hours of sucking at something? The next thousand getting slightly better? And for what? A few hundred bucks a month?

But what happens if we create something as engaging as Angry Birds? What if we manage that terrific feat of being so compelling - so astonishing - that people can't wait to turn on their iPad/Android and join us while their Cinnabon wears off?

For now, I'm just excited this is even possible, much less that it seems our current destiny. But it means we need to change our ways. For instance:
  • The album is dead. It's indulgent. Nobody has time anyway+. People want ala carte singles. (there are exceptions, if you're doing New Age or some kind of ambient where an hour of time is reasonable to ask a listener.)
  • Music is free now, but concert tickets are not. Apps are a vehicle for getting asses in seats.
  • Mashups are sometimes more popular than the songs being repurposed. Participatory culture means our raw tracks are bundled in the app for remixers. This is antithetical to how many of us musicians were trained to relate to our work. It needs to change.
I'm off to play Angry Birds.