Archive for April, 2010

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The History of Music Media Postscript: The Future

April 8, 2010

 

Behold! The future of music! Um... keytars... I guess...

Senores y senoras: nosotros tenemos mas influencia.

The music industry is dead. After numerous attempts to kill the industry, it has finally happened.

It took turning music into an infinite good to finally do it. And while that may have cut it deeply, it was the self-inflicted wounds that finished it off.

The endless abuse of the very artists it was supposed to cultivate and protect. Locking musicians into expensive, constraining contracts. An intentionally faulty royalty scheme that keeps artists separated from their money. An entire amalgamation of inept management, vindictive legal battles, rent-seeking that serves to keep ASCAP, BMI, the PRS, the RIAA, etc. rolling in money and a perverse (and thoroughly broken) trickle-down effect that only benefits the top 5%.

As much as the record labels and their accompanying dollar-sniffing dogs would like to return to the rapacious days of the $19 CD and its money-printing ability, it’s just never going to happen. So they force it, suing 14-year-old kids and 80-year-old grandmothers. They send out bills to Mom & Pop stores, cop shops, charities, animal shelters, the Girl Scouts, etc. They browbeat or seduce your elected officials into legislating your rights away and otherwise throw all their energy into tipping the playing field back in the direction of their gaping and insatiable maw.

Perhaps it's too subtle...

Take a quick look at the “business plan” of the performance right groups. They send out bill after bill for bogus “public” performance fees (“public” meaning heard by more than one person). This is nothing more than mass mailing. Spam.

Their methodology is no different from the guy at the bar that asks each passing lady if the like anal sex. Yeah, he’ll take a lot of abuse but sooner or later, he’ll get lucky. And to him, it’s worth the damage to his reputation.

Same thing here. They’ll demand money from anybody and everybody, hoping for a 5% return or whatever. If the public can’t shame them in to stopping or the courts refuse to make them stop, they’ll keep hopping from patron to patron, hoping to get lucky.

They waste their time, money and effort on fighting a battle they have already lost, rather than finding new and better ways to help their artists promote themselves or work within the “constraints” of the digital age.

As long as music is an infinite good (and that’s for the rest of forever, folks), it is self-defeating to thrown your energy into clicking your heels and wishing for 1991.

There are thousands of bands giving away thousands of songs every day, having realized that it’s better to get their music in your ears and their name on your tongues than to bemoan every “lost” sale or play penny-ante royalty poker with the major labels and their legal friends.

Thanks Chain Music Store! I never would have found Dinowalrus without your invaluable flaunting of mainstream artists!

Despite what everyone may be hearing from spoiled rotten artists like Garth Brooks and Bono, there has never been a better time than now to be a musician. No matter how small you are, you can get heard.

In the old brick-and-mortar + mainstream radio world, would you or I ever heard of the bands like Dinowalrus, Micro Titanic, Grave Babies, Whitey, Human People, etc.? If they even made their way into the local Musicland, they likely would have been in and out within days, thanks to sales of $0.

Here’s a message for those who still doubt and fear to cast your pearls before thieving swine. A message for every musician out there who thinks that piracy will deprive them of a livelihood. A message for those who think that the only way to self-sufficiency is through the same routes that have been obliterated by a flood of new options.

WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?

You can’t sell your music? Well, maybe your product is no good. Maybe you’re not spending enough time promoting it. Maybe you’ve self-imposed a premium on your time and effort that no small amount of money will satisfy.

How can you NOT get your product out?

Case in fucking point: I bought Whitey’s new album from Amazon at 4 am. It took about 5 minutes from beginning to end. By the time I left for work at 4:15, I had it cued up on my mp3 player. And you want to tell me that we should go back to plastic discs? That I should have to wait to whenever it’s convenient for the local music shoppe to open its doors and then, hopefully, have whatever it is I’m looking for?

Another person forgoes the crapshoot of a 9-to-5 for the steady paycheck of a musician.

Message #2:

LOSE YOUR INFLATED SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT.

Since when did becoming a musician become a path to financial freedom? Did your parents ever sit you down and implore you to form a band? “Drop out of college and form a band, son. You’ll be set for life.”

Don’t look to us for sympathy if doing the thing you love has failed to put steaks in the freezer (or veggieburgers or whatever) and a late-model vehicle in the driveway. Many of us don’t even get the chance to do what we really want to. At least you’ll have a few albums or singles out and some gigs under your belt. You went out, got sweaty and drunk and played music for people. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Whatever artistic line you take, whether it’s music, painting, writing, stand-up, etc. is never guaranteed to repay your time and effort. If it does, you’re one of the truly blessed. If not, well, at least you spent some time doing what you loved.

Don’t go down that path. Don’t follow your predecessors in their jaundiced thinking. Their fever dreams of a few hit singles financing their retirements. That a copyright and 12 minutes of music should allow them to want for nothing. It’s sickening to think that your “art” should be used as leverage, as a weapon, against small businesses, charities, animal shelters, etc. If you’re currently riding this diseased gravy train, please, for everyone’s sake: get the fuck off.

Major Labels: It’s too late to adapt. If you hadn’t been so busy squeezing every cent out of music buyers for the last 40 years, you might still have some goodwill left. And it’s not just the fans you’ve been fucking. It’s also a majority of your artists.

The RIAA: If the only trick you have up your sleeve is “We’ll see you in court,” well… there’s just really no hope for you. You assholes don’t even pretend you want to adapt. Fuck you.

ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, the PRS, etc.: The only thing the digital age has done for you is given you the opportunity to attach yourself like remora to any passing revenue stream. Unfortunately, you tend to kill off every stream with your overenthusiastic sucking. You’re nothing but parasites. Spam generators. Aggressive panhandlers.

Good riddance to you all. Musicians don’t need you. Customers never did. You’re as essential and pleasant as a vestigial tail.

-CLT

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Heavy Rotation Vol. 38 – “Representing Whitey” Edition

April 4, 2010

Welcome back to the Heavy Rotation, now in its 38th edition. This week’s edition will be just like its previous 37 incarnations, with the notable exception of being frontloaded with an album review. In other words, almost completely unlike any other volume. In fact, completely unlike the rest. Except for the music. The music will be excellent. More excellent, perhaps. Certainly no less.

Previous album-review-free versions here:
The Heavy Rotation Archives

As you are already aware, Whitey released his long delayed second album on April 1st. If you haven’t tracked down a copy yet, by all means, finish reading this review and then head right out. (Links will be provided.)

Canned Laughter is a bleak, disillusioned album. Not that Whitey was ever the most cheerful boy in the studio (see also: Made of Night, The Light at the End of the Tunnel is a Train), but his latest bears the marks of someone burnt once too often by life itself.

But as much as Canned Laughter drips with revulsion for those in power and their propensity for fucking everyone and everything for as long as they can, Whitey’s latest speaks (perhaps only to me) volumes about getting old.

Leading off with Dinosaur, which approximates vintage New Order (think Confusion/Blue Monday) and grabs a bit of Shriekback’s punk-funk for color, Whitey fatalistically watches the march of time turn even the greatest men into nothing more than dust.

From this jumping-off point, we lurch into Times Up, whose chaotic drumwork is buried beneath a nightmarish electro-calliope. The circus-from-hell tones meld with what sounds like an actual cello as Whitey points out what we all can’t ignore:

It’s the end of the line
Time’s up
And it’s too late to clean up
And everything’s used up
.

Count Those Freaks opens up with jungle noises, Tusk-like drums and Dixieland horns, all riding an insanely catchy bassline. Once again, the us vs. them motif appears, once again taking the form of “the way we used to be vs. the way people are now.” As a former nightclub DJ, these lines in particular speak to me, as I increasingly feel this way with each passing year:

We tread a careful line
Between the creatures of the night
Because we’re not completely sure
Who goes to nightclubs any more

It goes on from there, one blisteringly beautiful/bleak song at a time. A grown-up look at life and the damage done. The Genius of the Crowd takes aim at incomplete people whose inability to feel completely turns them into weapons of mass destruction. The narrator intones this emotionlessly, turning it into the anti-Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) and replacing the starry-eyed feel-goodisms of Baz Luhrmann’s hit with an incriminating warning.

Liars, Vipers, Jokes and Fakes rides a blissful island rhythm into dark waters, filled with every evil in the world, perpetuated by those who have the power to change things. Everyone else just gets to pay for it. Send Out the Clowns attacks the same subject matter with a different metaphor and even brings along some more tortured calliope tones for good measure.

Whitey slips in a few jokes as well, between all the anger. Check out I Had a Wonderful Night (It Just Wasn’t This One) if only for the title. You’ll find yourself sticking around to sway along to the jaded beauty and the cutting turns of phrase (“You had a wonderful night/But I’ve had better“). Or ride along with an amazing tune and slum it with the “junkies on the corner” while singing along to Whitey’s ode to “gutter aristocracy” The Up Sound for Down People.

Altogether an amazing album, well worth the wait. So. Don’t wait. Click below and follow through. (They’ll open in a new window.)

iTunes
HMV
Amazon

Here’s a taster. (Lyrics here.)
Liars, Vipers, Jokes and Fakes

Shocking Pinks – The Big Cutout.mp3
Travelling stylistically along the same heavily-percussed road as Holy Fuck and the Fuck Buttons, Australia’s Shocking Pinks take the listener for a harrowing ride through a starless night, an unlit drive to escape something unnameable and ominous.

Grave Babies – Gouge Your Eyes Out.mp3
Sounding a lot like Faith-era Cure riding shotgun with the death disco of SALEM, Seattle’s Grave Babies deliver the languidly brutal message that no matter how bad your day was, the night promises to be unimaginably worse. Claustrophobic in the way that all the best goth bands were claustrophobic. (Think Bauhaus’ Bela Lugosi’s Dead or Upside Down by Creaming Jesus.) Still, you could conceivably hum the melody line…

Palermo Disko Machine – Theme of Palermo Disko.mp3
Channelling Giorgio Moroder and Vangelis while borrowing from Plastikman’s 303-noodlings, Italy’s Palermo Disko Machine boldly wear their influences on their impeccably-styled sleeves, cobbling together a dancefloor destroyer that manages, at the very minimum, to be the sum of its impressive parts.

Adam Freeland – We Want Your Soul.mp3
Operating with the same distorted breakbeats as his Marine Parade labelmates, Evil Nine, Adam Freeland takes his punk ethics to the airwaves via a vocodered female proxy, delivering the inarguable message that the world gives you so little and asks so much in return.

Appeals to the anarchist in all of us, dragging us off the walls and onto the dancefloor, where we can shout anti-everything slogans while we seek to change the world by drinking, drugging and fucking.

It’s a blast and way more focused than the MC5. Plus it samples Bill Hicks, so that’s about +10 on the enjoyment scale.

-CLT

[All music posted on Fancy Plans… is kick ass and too awesome to be contained. All music is also posted temporarily and, due to its high level of ass-kicking, should not be distributed without a prescription and care should be taken while operating heavy equipment or dancing around the living room (clothing optional, but do remember that the blinds are open/kids are still awake).
Should you wish to have your brilliant artistic statement forced back into confinement, please email me at 2timegrime@gmail.com. Feel free to leave a comment, as that will probably be noticed sooner.
By all means, if you like what you hear (and you will), please support the totally rocking artist(s) by purchasing some music or heading out to see them live.]
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History of Music Media Vol. 3 – The Digital Age and Beyond!

April 1, 2010

Welcome to the future! A future that contains some of the past, a bit of the present and not much else! Behold, the miraculous wonder that is: The History of Music Media Vol. 3.

Just get here? Brush up with:
Volume 1 – The Formative Years
Volume 2 – The Analog Age

"Like printing money," said the self-satisfied music industry upon the introduction of the CD format. Or so they thought, until everyone started "printing" their own "money" at home...

Compact Discs
If LPs and cassettes were the show ponies of the media race, the “CD” (or “See Dee”) was Manowar, Secretariat and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’s horses rolled into one.

Popular, cheap to produce and yet another format to gouge completists with, the CD had it all. Distribution cost? $0. Paid out of the artists’ royalties. Production costs? Studio time? Blow? Free. All paid for by the artists. Plastic, paper, ink – all cheap. Lots and lots and lots of profit.

The music industry responded to their incredible fortune the way any short-sighted leviathan would: by steadily increasing prices. Soon customers were paying $19 for one good song and 11 shitty ones. On top of that, the new format ran 20-25 minutes longer than the LP, leading many bands to pack their albums with filler.

Now albums that would have been solid at 45 minutes suddenly became 77 minutes of catalog dilution as bands threw in various shit remixes, shit “alternate takes,” or the ever-popular “13-minute hidden track” that was nothing more than 11 minutes of silence climaxing in two minutes of stoner in-jokes or an “ironic” cover. (This bloat carried over to the “CD Single” as well, giving you one good track and four shitty remixes, all for $5-$10.)

Finally, after so many other formats repeatedly “killing the music industry,” they had found a savior in a nice, cheap plastic disc.

But there was trouble on the horizon. The twin spectres of “used CDs” and “blank CDs” soon cast a shadow over all the hookers and blow purchased with their ill-gotten gains.

Garth Brooks deputizes himself and begins house-to-house searches for used cds.

The first, “used CDs,” was decried by artists as disparate and incredibly wealthy as Garth Brooks (68 million albums sold) and Chris Gaines (1.1 million albums traded in at used cd stores). They now demanded to be reimbursed every time the album changed hands, like at the local record store or that time when you lent your Violent Femmes album to a friend of friend and they slowly absorbed it into their CD collection over a matter of weeks, and with each passing day it became less and less likely you’d ever see it again and more and more awkward to attempt to bring it up in everyday conversation.

The other, “blank CDs,” when combined with affordable CD writers, shoved a slightly-battered industry towards the edge of a long flight of stairs. The industry responded with more built-in fees and cries of “Home burning is killing music.” This cry was misinterpreted by various local fire departments and indie-leaning arsonists, who both quickly sprung into counterproductive action.

"Proprietary format and hardware? The public will never fall for that!" - Steve Jobs, 1995.

MiniDisc
Having learned nothing from its “Beta” experiment, Sony forged ahead with a boldly miscalculated attempt to corner a non-existent market with the MiniDisc. Like a CD, only smaller, more easily lost/damaged and handcuffed to Sony hardware, the MiniDisc never had a chance.

Sony once again walked away empty-handed from the R&D roulette table, having shown only that early adopters will buy anything as long as it’s shiny and prohibitively expensive. Its ability to record music onto the midget-sized discs threatened, in an unsteady voice, to destroy the music industry. The music industry responded to this pint-sized miscreant with “Awwww. The little guy’s trying to say something” and slapped it with some punitive fees.

Hey, kids! Remember cassettes? They're back! And more expensive than ever!

DAT
Ostensibly combining the best of both worlds (digital quality; solid state reliability) but in reality combining two non-complementary traits (digital quality; little pieces of metal read by a magnet), the DAT soon escaped its early position as ultra-expensive studio equipment, going on to lead a rich, full life as the backup “band” for thousands of hip hop artists and occasionally graced the stage as a “lead singer” (Ashlee Simpson, Milli Vanilli, Joe Walsh).

"Of course it's better, you Philistine! It's made out of fucking gold!"

SACD (Superior Audio Compact Disc)
A sad attempt to drag audiophiles into the present, mainly utilizing the premise that “expensive=good.” Rolling Stone fell for it, but the number of questionable products, bands and ideas that Rolling Stone has fallen for could fill an entire Internet.

Well, if we're not getting our flying cars any time soon, at least we've got a music format that looks like the future.

mp3
Not content to be merely a threat to the entire music industry, the mp3’s storage-friendly compression rate and ultra-portability did what no other medium had, and actually destroyed the music industry. And not a moment too soon, as rock and roll itself had been declared dead multiple times since the early ’60s by such formidable publications as Rolling Stone, Cat Fancy and Businessweek.

The music industry was now truly “fuckt,” as Mozart had so aptly put it millions of years ago. Its Rasputin-like longevity was threatened as was its Rasputin-like propensity for evil behavior. Now every Tom, Dick and Harry with an eMachine could download and dump hundreds of pirated songs onto jump drives, mp3 players and CDs with absolutely no physical effort. And, thanks to the major labels and their decades of gouging, no one was troubled in the least to see them limping into port, taking on water faster than it could be bailed and covered in pirate wounds.

Soon the good ship “Suddenly Outdated Industry” was leaking money from a million tiny holes. So-called “experts” in the guise of lawyers and yes-men were consulted. They all agreed on two things:

1. Something should be done.
2. Someone should be sued.

Lars Ulrich points out Shawn Fanning to his security team.

They summoned Dark Elf Lars Ulrich to attack the face of international music piracy: a certain Shawn Fanning. Coming off their most successful album to date, Metallica forged ahead in (self) righteous indignation, alienating an entire generation of potential fans. With Napster on the ropes, the recording industry went from barn to barn to verify that all the horses were indeed missing and methodically began slamming shut door after door.

A nation of tweens and octogenarians were summoned to court and threatened with usurious fines for downloading “Happy Birthday” and other such top 40 songs. Kazaa watched in horror as its user base (which numbered in the dozens) was swept into lawsuit after lawsuit. Meanwhile, malware creators watched in horror as their remaining victims lost their internet privileges and a great deal of money, both being very key components of their continued success.

Other high-dollar performers got into the act. Madonna seeded file sharers with mp3s of her asking, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Most pirates found this immensely preferable to her second-rate electronica and occasional British accent. Alicia Silverstone hastened her irrelevance by appearing in magazine ads reminding people that stealing mp3s was exactly like stealing cars, a move that upped the “cool” factor of file sharing to the nth degree. The youth of the world, properly chastened, switched from P2P to torrents, in essence moving from carjacking to Gone in 60 Seconds.

U2's private airliner sits abandoned, unable to refuel because of thieving bastards all over the word.

As the industry bled out, it summoned its archangel, Bono, to appear in the “paper of record” (High New York Times), flatly stating that America needed to follow the lead of Communist China and track every piece of information travelling the internet. This was met with sneers of derision and cries of “Fuck you, Bono! Find some other way to finance your malfunctioning electro-lemons!”

Panicked lawsuits filled countless courtrooms and lined countless corporate lawyers’ pockets. Bills were presented to anyone who acknowledged that “music” existed. Everyone and anyone was asked to “give until or else it hurts” to prop up a sagging multi-billion dollar industry. No one was spared. YouTube, bloggers, Girl Scouts, mom & pop stores, animal shelters, cop shops, hotels, bars and nightclubs all became notches on rent-seeking industry’s bedpost.

Nothing stopped the bleeding. The mighty mp3, victorious over King Music(k), waved its variable bit rate triumphantly, zipped itself into a compacted file and hid itself amongst the overstuffed shelves of Mediafire, RapidShare and Megaupload.

So long, corrupt and bloated industry. Enjoy the bitter fruits of your labor.

Coming up:
A Word* from Our Author
*”Word” may actually equal 1200+ words. Wear comfortable shoes.

-CLT