Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rainy Day Parade

I know it's a bit incestuous, but today is the perfect day to listen to my friend & musical mate Vero. I recommend that you Facebook the #@$% out of this.

We're talking about doing another show together (we played Sidewalk Cafe earlier this month) so, you know, stay tuned...

In other news, this happened: beautifully bizarre lesbian reality train wreck. I'm mostly excited to read the clever recaps on Autostraddle.

To conclude, I now end mini-blog and commence consumption of chocolate chocolate chip ice cream while watching The United States of Tara on the couch with the the chihuahuas.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Give & take

Great quote, very applicable to music:

"We're either going to try to do the best we can by our performer, or we're going to try to get the most we can out of our performer."

This is a quip from Seanna Sharpe, a bad-ass, beautiful aerialist who recently performed on the Williamsburg Bridge (and was consequently arrested). Check out a fantastic and really intelligent interview here:

and her Williamsburg Bridge performance here:

I think knowing exactly where you stand is essential - knowing the philosophy of anyone with whom you decide to work. It's all too easy for promoters and bullshitters and agents and bookers to siphon off the energy of artists, especially in NYC. There are just so many people striving to be heard, we'll compromise anything just to have a stage or a chance to get noticed. A comedian friend once said to me he'd do anything to perform - "I'll defile myself, I'll suck dick, I'll slap my own mother, just give me that chance... I'll do anything to get that mic in my hand, because that's the only place I feel good, and I need that chance to perform."

So are they helping you get on that stage, so you can do your thing - or are they profiting off your desperate need to get noticed? Sometimes it's both. My experience with promoters has been pretty alarmingly negative, watching them take massive percentages of the door charge for a show, refusing to pay artists unless they bring 20, 30, 40 heads, thereby making themselves hundreds of dollars per set while the band has to settle for a couple of drink tickets. And for what? Why do these greedy little shits get that money? Because they have become the key holders: they control certain nights at a venue. They're certainly not earning that money by any actual means of "promotion" - sometimes they don't even update the venue calendar or send out a single email with a band link or name. No, they've constructed a very unfair, artist-unfriendly method of maximizing numbers.

And it's hardly ever worth playing these shows. At best you might meet another band in your genre (though my experience has been a mish mash of styles and quality - metal next to rap next to acoustic), maybe earn a fan or two, at worst you spend time, money and energy moving your gear to a venue, playing in front of your own 10 friends, making the promoter $100, and waking up disappointed and hungover.

Monday, October 17, 2011

"The Culture of Mainstream is Bankrupt"

I love me some Lefestz Letter.

"I Think You Can Do Better"

It's always honest, it's inspiring, opinionated & insightful. Lefsetz is doing for writing what he thinks musicians should be doing for music.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Art & Commerce: Part I

I've been thinking about this topic a lot - maybe more than I should, maybe some wasted creativity is being unnecessarily shunted in this direction. I googled "art & commerce," which led me to a pretty interesting discussion about being a sellout and how the definition has radically changed over the last couple of decades, but it didn't settle the debate in my mind.

Ok, let me clarify: what led me down this path of (sometimes) destructive thinking were two separate events.

1. The casual discussion of selling songs to commercials
2. Feeling financially gang raped by NYC promoters in regard to the artist cuts of ticket sales

You make art. In my opinion, the "best" art is something you make for yourself. This isn't a new idea or argument (check out "Letters to a Young Poet"). It implies that once you start writing with someone or something else in mind, the creation loses some of its purity. Once you write a song with the intent of fame, say, using the least common denominators in regard to melody, lyrics, etc., you're just polishing a non-art turd. Examples of this? Commercial jingles. The software that has been developed to write "hits." A lot (certainly not all) of top 40 music. It feels transient and doesn't grab you because it's shallow and made for mass appeal; it's not a personal expression of existence or feeling or pain or joy.

Art is like ...a religion, and the artist is his own high priest. They dig deep inside to find something genuine about who they are and then translate that into the expression called art. This expression doesn't exclude pop melody or catchiness, by any means. It's not always a drone of unlistenable sounds either (though sometimes dissonance is a beautiful expression of isolation). It's just diamond-like purity that comes after a kind of crushing existence and reflects outward the remnants of whatever "soul" is left. Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn:

" doesn't become an artist overnight. First you have to be crushed, annihilated. You have to be wiped out as a human being in order to be born again an individual. You have to be carbonized and mineralized in order to work upwards from the last common denominator of the self. You have to get beyond pity in order to feel from the very roots of your being."

Art is a religion, and the artist crucifies himself a little each day to find that purity of expression. And as a result, we want to be in his congregation. I'm not going to kill this metaphor too much, but if you've ever loved a great song the way I have, you know this feeling. You connect to it. It's comforting. Maybe it's a beautiful distraction. Maybe it expresses your loneliness. Maybe you feel understood or reflected back in the words or the melody or the distortion. You consume everything they put out, the B-sides, the interviews, the liner notes, their heroes and idols and influences. It's the bread at the altar, the sip of kool-aid, and as humans, we crave it. Ah, it's not a perfect analogy, I know, but if religion is a cultural, belief-driven way we feel spiritual and face our condition as mortal humans - well, doesn't music also do that in many ways?

My last note on this ridiculous metaphor: I would liken crappy mass production music to the scamming money-hungry church services on Sunday morning tv. The purity is monetized and desecrated. The comfort and spirituality, all the authenticity is gone. We can immediately see the difference in varying levels of genuine expression.

And then it gets tricky. The lines become a bit blurry when you add money to the equation. I like the idea of money. I like that it is the "tool of exchange" (Ayn Rand). It means that I don't have to barter wheat for blacksmithing or horses for haircuts. By spending money on something, it expresses our valuation of it. By being paid for our work or services, it shows someone else's valuation of what we do.

What does it mean now that the modern value of recorded music is equal to zero?

What does it mean that new venue for getting your music heard is via car commercials and inextricably binding your art to product?

My first analysis of this is to say that society's value of the music-maker has bottomed out. Maybe we are becoming...almost archaic. Maybe we've been replaced, like robots eradicating the need for factory workers on an assembly line. You can scream and cry all you like: your position is becoming extinct. You might have 40 years of training and experience on the line, but the fact is that society's value of that position has changed; do you still expect to be paid for that service? If we still (over)pay that person, we are socialists - a whole tangential argument, but the fact is we live in a capitalist society, with all its faults and flaws, and in this system, we don't pay for things we don't need or want or value. I'm not going to give my money to a horseshoemaker just because he's very good at making horseshoes. I don't need them.

Ok, well maybe we still need music - but maybe it was just overvalued before. Remember when CDs were $20 at the local Tower Records or Virgin Store? And they sucked. I mean, most CDs put out in the late 90s or early 2000s were a couple of decent songs and then filler bullshit. Enter Napster. Music is completely devalued. Not even to $15 or $10 or $5 a record - to ZERO.

We're evening out a bit now. I'll pay for a track, I'll pay for a streaming service - but not much.

So you make music. And you want someone to pay you for it? The only buyers right now are in advertising. They're looking for the new "cool" to add to their product. They mix in indie tracks like high quality dark chocolate ganache on their commercial cakes. And they'll pay well.

I call myself a starving artist, half in fun, the other half dead fucking serious. Starving for your art. It's pure. Its dreams bathe in integrity. It's beholden to no one: no asshole label execs, no weaseling managers, no stylists or critics. But it's not a fun little joyride either. It's painful and gnawing at times, it's frustrating and drives you to the edge of insanity. And then you toe the line: do you "sell" your creations because you're hungry? Or even because you're just hoping to find those few listeners who might actually genuinely enjoy what you do? People say, oh, it's just the way the music world works now, everyone does it; but I can't help but think you somehow undermine your work, even if it's just a little...

Once you sell yourself - are you an artist anymore, or just a jingle maker?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Grumpy distractions

Sometimes in my idleness I like to start future unfinished projects, manifestos, songs, blogs, etc. I guess I do this to procrastinate, mostly, often venting frustrations that my wife is tired of hearing over and over again.

This one still elicits laughter every time I read back over the old posts, and I think I'm going to have a spell of activity and update it regularly, until I forget or become bored with it again.

Other blogs & sites that regularly entertain me! (music business rants)

I have a music rant boiling over in me at the moment which, when combined with a previously explored metaphor about music as religion, may materialize as a blog entry soon(ish).