Thursday, March 31, 2011

Share and Like

Are the buttons not obvious enough? "Share" and "Like?" These two features are now *basic* staples of social media sites, from Facebook (who's gone so far as to allow web designers the option of "Like" buttons ANYWHERE on the web...) to YouTube.

So why don't people use them? Isn't a mouseclick the most effortless thing someone can do? I mean, if I can't get you to take five seconds to hover your mouse and clicky the little button, how am I going to get you to come out of your house on a Wednesday night to see my live show?

Part of me wants to draw a line: if you can't bring yourself to click the "Share" or "Like" button, you're not a fan. A lurker, maybe, a hanger-on, for sure. But not a fan.

For musicians (and almost nobody else), fans are the only (external) legitimacy we get. (No, this is not the same as personal validation, which is a different problem. I'm talking about market legitimacy, not one's personal view of oneself. Don't even try it.) The fans have to tell people about us, because we can't be trusted to get the story right on our own.

I know why people aren't clicking the "Like" buttons: Because the music's not good enough yet.

But don't think anybody's going to say that. What was .50 Cent's famous quip - people telling you something loud and clear, you're just not hearing it?

But what if you do have a genuine hit and don't know it? How would it break through, and how long should it take? It's so easy to confuse a hit with a train wreck - which is what most people are on YouTube for anyway; the quick fix. YouTube is all about "the moment"- here's the fall, the crash, the explosion, etc. YouTube is not for context or deeper meaning: the comments alone bear this out.

"Nothing had the chance to be good
Nothing ever could."
- Simply Red

It's so hard to disentagle ourselves from the old world. We've got so much invested in it. How many of us were driven by visions of 80's rock videos and 60-70's concert footage? Be honest... How many of us still judge our material by FM radio standards? Be honest... How many of us felt we deserved the attention granted to a 14 year-old Texan girl? Be honest...

I know artists that are still trying to get FM airplay. In 2011? Really?!? Do you think radio has the power to anoint hits and create stars? That's old-world thinking. American Idol tryouts? You'd have to be insane. Or mediocre and desperate.

It used to be a mediocrity could game the system with the right contacts. Public discourse was limited to the biggest players. Not anymore. Now everyone with a blog wants to tell everyone else. Artists need to decide which conversation that's going to be: the evangelizing of your music or the celebration of your unveiling and demise.

Right now, YouTube is our modern online equivalent of the Roman Coliseum. Thumbs up or thumbs down. Every viewer's a Caesar. People want a spectacle. To be astonished.

That doesn't have to mean we have to pander to the most vile and basic impulses. We may live in a post- "2 Girls, One Cup" (Google it on your own) ecosystem, but nobody's really clamoring to follow that act. Further, I believe we are culturally ripe for a Renaissance in music, if someone would just display the bravery to take us there.

Those who do will be rewarded.

And like all great movements, it begins with the true fans who "LIKE" and "SHARE".

Get clicking, people.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

YouTube and iTunes: So Happy Together

I was looking at it all wrong.

I thought it was YouTube vs. iTunes for music distribution. Wrong thinking.

Correct thinking: YouTube AND iTunes.

YouTube is your bait. You should be posting all your music there anyway. In high quality, for free. Add links to iTunes/Amazon for people that are converted. Don't rely on it. If you truly bat one out of the park, you'll be amply rewarded.

But don't get focused on stats. Focus on the art.

Yes, we still have to do some basic legwork, and we can't count on 'social media' to do it for us. It certainly helps maintain momentum, but it can't be the genesis of it. Unless you're in the train wreck business.

Stop releasing CD's and 'albums.'[1] It's indulgent, and nobody has time for filler anyway. Let the singles sink or swim on their own. When you've got ten great singles, THEN release an album.

Record a few covers. Licenses are cheap an it greatly increases your chances of new fans finding you.

In order to post your songs to YT, you'll need some basic video editing software that will create a title card for your tracks. Remember, this is the graphic displayed on one's phone while they're listening to your music.

But don't worry about your stats. Remember this: more people DON'T listen to music online than people who do. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is how many people come out to your show.

[1] The only album you should be producing is one that's financed directly by fans/yourself. is a great place to get funding for such things.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What The Future Holds

I. Don't. Know.

Neither does anybody else.

Full. Stop.

Things happen so fast right now in the music world. It's the future of all arts. Even painters are getting in on the live act. Have you seen David Garibaldi paint his funky portraits live? Sure, he's using other people's music, but he's paying tribute with it, not exploiting. And it's really about the live act right now, anyway. Recorded music is fine - and necessary, too. It's also a bit like sewing - the only risk is error, which can be quickly corrected. Live shows, by contrast, are all about jumping off a cliff and seeing if you can fly.

Which one is more exhilarating? Sewing or cliff diving?

That's the question in my mind when I'm looking at all these live music apps on the iPad, and a few for Android. They're all geared for realtime interaction, but they've also been programmed to remove almost all the risk of sucking. How do you push boundaries that way? Where's the excitement there? Watching guys fiddle with knobs? Can you even create enduring music with these tools?

Well, I think somebody will. Will it stand the test of time like some of today's legacy catalog? Unknown.

It's such a free-for-all right now: so many listeners, so many creators. Why does anyone need to be "on top?" Can we calibrate our expectations in such a way that the simplest rewards are all the fullfillment we need?

I'll confess: I'm not immune to the onset of depression when confronted with one's YouTube play stats. I want to be noticed, too, just like every one of you. I think I deserve it, too. I work hard at my art. Almost everybody does.

The problem seems to originate in an conviction that the only measure of success is public accolades, a point driven home by decades of television programming. I fight with this, too.

We forget sometimes that public attention and opinion are a bit like the lottery. To "win", a high number of probabilities need to align in one's favor. Eighth-grader Rebecca Black took a spin earlier this year and came out a huge winner... in a way.

We Are All Rebecca Black

(Note: This is the last time I want to write about this.)

I don't know about the rest of you, but I had to take a step back and seriously examine some of my expectations. Yes, I got schooled by an eighth-grader. But I'm ok with that now.

I saw that smiling face and heard that horrible song, glanced at the YouTube play count, and went ballistic. Who was this person with the audacity to share my dreams of receiving effortless and unconditional public affinity? How dare she sit in on MY deservedly-earned place being interviewed by The TODAY Show?

Wait a minute...have the last 20 years of my life in this business been driven by an adolescent need to be loved unconditionally? What am I, a fucking puppy? Deep down, are my career's needs on par with a 13 year-old girl??

Truth is, no. My frustration is not rooted in adolescent emotional needs, even though it's an easy target. The truth is, I'm committed now - I'm all-in. That can be terrifying. Especially in a business where everyone's a player now... even eighth graders.

I don't think there's any real lesson for people in the pro music scene, other than realizing that today's youth are far more connected than we are, and because of this, their culture can seem as if its dominate. It's not. Connect your fans, do your thing, and don't worry about the train wrecks.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It All Went So Wrong

I'm not sure how to tell this story.

IMHO, the key to understanding a train wreck is to understand the power of *inertia*, and how, like an avalanche, once set in motion, there's nothing you can do but hold on for dear life.

"If somethin's gonna go wrong, it's gonna go wrong out there." - Captain Ron

I'm playing keyboards for an Artist (who Shall Not Be Mentioned) who's (ostensibly) got some touring experience and (allegedly) audience demand stateside on a very particular festival circuit. We have roughly 3-5 weeks of rehearsals prior to this particular show.

Let me momentarily digress to remind readers the Cardinal Rules of Festival Shows:
1 - To keep the show on -schedule, your first song *is* your soundcheck, and...
2 - they're *always* behind schedule.

There's an abundant 'green room' area behind the stage, but the trick is, performers only get access for the hour prior and following their set. The festival organizers have provided (nice) trailers for use as changing/rest areas, and a well-stocked food & beverage table (performers eat for free! nice, eh?). All in all, this is a well-run festival.

One last detail I think worthy of mention - the FOH mixer is someone who's name has recently appeared in MIX magazine because they'd recently been doing Sting's FOH on his Soul Cages tour. I'd met her prior to the show - great person.

So that's the general list of cars in this train: nice festival, good perks, top-notch tech crew, a bit of a crunch on the clock. Enter The Artist.

The Artist has decided that a mere hour to prepare for the set is not enough. Further, The Artist has deemed it unnecessary for The Band to have access to a changing trailer, too. For us, the public bathrooms in another zip code will suffice. Nor will the band require access to the food service area. Milling about in the early-summer sun (in full black attire, no less) is all the luxury we need.

We seek out The Manager who, upon hearing our dire pleas, retrieves passes for both the retreat area and food. And a changing trailer. The Band is happy. While we are eating, I notice The Artist approach the stage manager and audio engineer, then hand him what appears to be a multi-page list of demands.

The Train grinds to life.

What The Artist doesn't know is the audio guy and I are acquaintances. No sooner does The Artist turn away, the audio guy makes a beeline for me. "What is this??" he asks with a tone of disbelief. It's a prep list, all the way down to the number and placement of spare picks, water bottles, wet and dry towels, etc. The Artist appears to be preparing a base camp on stage. Brief discussion ensues. We only get three songs anyway. The food is good, temperature pleasant, the material within our grasp. The Band is happy.

We seek out The Artist to brief on the changes. The Artist, however, is preparing a SEVEN song set, complete with an ENCORE, and has been angered that we've had the audacity to tell The Artist how to perform said show. We are asked to leave The Artist until just prior to showtime.

The Train is gaining momentum.

Setup. We haul ourselves and instruments to the main stage. During this transition, it is important to note there is another group performing in front of the main stage, and they have audio coming out of the FOH. While they literally are not on stage, they certainly HAVE the stage.

While The Band has been able to setup in near silence, The Artist has deemed it neccessary to tune their guitar at TOP VOLUME while the group before us is finishing their own performance. The monitor engineer RUNS onstage to silence the offending amplifier, only to be met with The Artist's utter contempt and disregard.

The Train is nearing a bend...

The dance troupe in front of us has finished their show, and making their exit. The Artist has already stepped to the mic, and is repeating the opening line with all the volume The Artist can muster, but the FOH and monitor engineer have muted her completely. War has broken out among commonly peaceful tribes.

The mic comes to life mid-line, as does the guitar. The audience offers a response that could be kindly described as "tepid." The Band is prepared for the first song. The Artist turns to me, the "music director" and says: "Let's do a warm up jam.... in G." The Artist addresses The Band: "Warm up jam, in G! One, two......."

Bear in mind, up to this point, this band has never "jammed." We've rehearsed a specific set, at The Artist's insistence. But a sudden 'jam in G?' Not something we'd prepped for...but here goes...

So come ONE, I play a G chord. The Artist, having a slightly different relationship with music theory, plays a Gm7. So the very first sound that escapes the speakers is a piano playing a G MAJ and a guitar strumming a Gm7. Puke.

The Band ambles aimlessly for just over a minute. Sheer torture. Nothing sounds rehearsed because NOTHING WE'VE PLAYED YET WAS!

The audience sits through an unplanned ending. The Artist is making gesticulations and calling commands to the band we've not yet witnessed. We are as lost as lost gets. We launch into the 1st official song of the set. It comes across as not bad. During the next song, The Artist, now frustrated that The Band cannot decipher their new utterances, has cut off all contact with us onstage. With the sheer exception of a looping motion with one hand (telling us to keep something going), we get no direction. The second song, timed at 4-ish minutes during rehearsal, takes a full two minutes of repeating the intro before The Artist sings the opening lines. More looping in the 3rd verse. The Artist is buying time.

The song finishes. The Stage Manager gives us the universal "your set is over" sign. The Band begins to set down instruments. The Artist, defiantly oblivious, shouts into the microphone "Ready for some more [Artist name]??"

Audience is tepid.

Before we know it, The Artist turns to us, having started the next song solo, and via emphasized head-nodding, tells us we should start playing. I look at the Stage Manager (who's been very nice to The Band) and shrug my shoulders. There's nothing we can do. We play. Regretfully.

The song ends, but not really. The Artist, determined to get their allotted time in the sun, medleys into yet another song. The Stage Manager is making the cutoff gesture.

The Wheels Come off the Track

The stage audio dies while The Artist flails valiantly into the silence. Doesn't even get a final "thank you" on the mic. The host runs on stage, quickly ushering The Artist offstage. I am not so lucky.

The host is a regionally known celebrity drag queen. Before I can leave the stage, the host accosts me and says "Oh no, honey, you can't leave the stage just yet!" For the next two torturous minutes, I'm subjected to a comedic interview routine in which the host and audience agree the best part of the previous performance was watching me play.

The Artist hears all of this over the PA.

We've not spoken since.

TL;DR: Lots of prep work for a concert, the actual show is a disaster who's highlight is how well my shirt fit.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

An Apology

Ok, I fucked up.

And I am genuinely both ashamed and humbled.

I don't know why I got so angry.

Well, that's a lie, isn't it? We all know why...

I hate everything about this. I hate that it makes me GRRAAAAAGGEEE!! at the world.

But I don't hate Rebecca Black. I don't even know her. I was reacting to what I thought she was.

"The Jew Comment"

...doesn't bear repeating. I'd incorrectly believed she was the daughter of a Goldman-Sachs scion or something, and had made an *intentionally* offensive comment aimed at what I perceived to be an otherwise insulated population and I'm like Robin Hood and his Merry Band of Metaphors.

But it looks like she's just a regular middle-class 8th grader having a bit of fun. Well, shit, she's having a LOT of fun.

And isn't what this whole thing is supposed to be about, anyway? Just fun? What the hell else is an eighth grader going to sing about? And a lousy $2k for a single? Of *course* it sounds like that.

So to you, my remaining faithful readers, and especially to Ms. Black (who I hope never sees this blogpost), I humbly and genuinely apologize for my vitriol and general shittiness.

Mailbag: Rebecca Black

"I didn't want to email you at first because I know how strong you are with your opinions, and I also don't like how you print peoples personal emails to u, but thats your choice. But if your going to print what i say, then print this in your blog:

Go. Fuck. Yourself. You. Bitter. Old. Asshole.

She's an EIGHTH grader for goddam sakes man! Not even in highs school yet, and you're writing about her like she's the worst thing in the world. Did you even think through the possibility she'll read your blog? Aren't 13 year old girls having enough problems in the world without adults THEY MIGHT VERY POSSIBLY BE LOOKING UP TO TELLING THEM THEY"RE BASICLLY PIECES OF SHIT?!?? Fuck dude.

Oh, adn what the fuck is it with the Jew comment? her parents are Veterinarians or something. Where do you get your information? Oh wait, I know...."
"J - I've only started following your blog in the last few months, but this like the 2nd or 3rd post from you that sounds a little more than angry, and honestly I makes me wonder about your credibility. I'm a musician myself (and a middle-aged one, to boot!) and I certainly felt that same sting for a moment when I read about how much attention this young girl is getting. Then I think about why she's getting the attention, and I realize none of its really good. And right now you're part of that ugly circus, in my opinion.

And what was the Jew thing about?"
"Back up, check your sources, work out a well-worded apology, switch to green tea, and remember how awful *your* songs were at 13.

I know you have strong opinions about things - it's one of the qualities that makes you good at what you do. But the jew comment was **way** out of line."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rebecca Black

The 13 year old 500lb elephant just shit on everything.

I couldn't think of a more appropriate "fuck you" to everything than Rebecca Black. Are you an actually talented musician investing your entire life into your craft? Well, fuck you.

I understand the appeal - there's absolutely no commitment with Black, and in that respect, she's got America perfectly figured out. I have no doubt Ms. Black will go on to attain many further public accolades as her parents continue to finance that charade. [--edit-- sentence removed that was both factually inaccurate and fucked up.]

And that's really what's pissing us off here, isn't it? That she is a clear and present indicator there are absolutely no rules here. That fame can absolutely be bought/sold. Talent's just another gimmick, and a talentless pie-faced hack can buy her way to more YouTube views in a week than you'll see in your lifetime.

Welcome to America. Where privilege rules. And Rebecca Black embodies that perfectly.

Make no mistake - this is the ruling class making fun of us. Reminding us they've got a lock on the system.

And we'll probably continue to defer to them. What was the famous quip - Even poor people think of themselves as millionaires just down on their luck?

The takeaway:

I know the music blogs are abuzz with this stinking excrement (even FuturehitDNA tries to make sense of it...fucking idiot), but they're almost all wrong. There's nothing to learn here. It's a cultural abscess; rich people fucking with us. In that way, Rebecca Black makes an astounding case for raising taxes on the nation's top 10% earners. But I digress.

I'm pissed, though.

EDIT #1: I want to roll out a prediction that in a few weeks we'll learn that Black's 'success' was due to her hiring a hacker's bot-army to game her YouTube stats....

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Attention Deficit

I'm supposed to be writing music right now, not my blog. Why are distractions so compellingly more interesting than the thing I'm ostensibly passionate about? Am I burning out from sheer anxiety?

No, probably not. Most probable reality: I hate sucking at something, so I avoid it until "inspiration" (which is usually code for "shedding of artistic inhibitions") strikes and I can once again feel supremely confident in my work.

Anyone else feel this psychotic?

I have something like nine songs in various states of undress, so to speak. And I keep starting new ones. I'm a great starter - terrible on the follow through. "I want my songs to be good!" I'll keep telling myself. "I want to astonish!"

Set the bar high enough, and it can be perpetually just out of reach. And I can blame someone/something else. "Sigh, I would have if only I'd had this one more thing...."

The truth might simply be I just haven't put in enough time. Not the right time, anyway. I thought if I could just ponder it enough, from just the right perspective, I could outsmart, short-circuit and capture The System, finally claiming what I knew all along to be rightfully mine: adoration.

Or something like that. Crippling insecurity gets the best of anyone in this business. We might be conduits to another world, but we're firmly rooted here.

Was this supposed to be easy?