Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category

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Advice on Writing Advice for Writers

July 5, 2011
[This post was kicked into gear thanks to a FB note by JPM, whose Facebook feed is often full of moments like this. This piece has been laying around in my “unfinished” work folder, under the presumption that at some point I would finish the mofo off and send it out to be rejected by various humor sites.
Thus properly motivated by JPM’s note, I took a look at it and decided that it looked pretty finished to me. I also have other “unfinished” posts that tie into this one, so I’ll probably be looking harder at those as well. If nothing else, you’ll get to see (and experience) the immense amount of self-loathing that goes into calling yourself a “writer,” which makes all of us a bit masochistic and probably even more than slightly deranged. (This isn’t some sort of power tripping derangement either. This isn’t a “I suffer for my art” thing. This is a “I hate writing but am internally compelled to do it” sort of thing.){Also, it’s not a real “hate.” Obviously. It’s a special kind of love that manifests itself most frequently as hate and is usually self-directed and has nothing to do with writing as much as it has to do with “not writing”.}]

This is what a blogger looks like. Except, replace the "pipe" with a nicotine patch and the pen with "completely useless box o' electronics/internet."

So, you want to be a writer? Waving aside the fact that this makes you about as unique as a band influenced by the Velvet Underground, and the fact that there’s an entire internet full of writers already, you have to ask yourself, what do I have to offer the written world? What do I bring to the table that hasn’t been brought to the table so often it’s being sent back?

Still drawing a blank? Put down that sketch pad and listen up. (Just a little metaphoric humor there. Feel free to use that when breaking the ice at your next book club meeting or whatever the hell it is you writers do with your spare time.)

What most writers are looking for, despite the fact that they’ll never ask directly, is advice. All writers, especially writers who have never been published, crave writing advice. If nothing else, it allows them to put off writing for at least another 10-15 minutes. Never underestimate a writer’s desire to be doing anything but writing. This element is key to the “writing about writing” business.

Another crucial element is a side-effect of the advice itself. Whether the reading writer agrees or disagrees with the advice is immaterial. The end result is always the same; a refreshing confirmation of the reader’s superiority to other readers/writers/advice authors.

If the writer agrees with the advice, it justifies his or her peculiar habits, no matter how unpleasant or anti-social.

What if the writer disagrees entirely with your slapped together and mostly borrowed (without attribution) advice? Not to worry. Your new adversary will be enjoying a nearly identical sense of superiority, with each point of disagreement becoming a shiny new feather in his or her cap of Writing Knowledge.

My other typewriter morphs into a large beetle. I get more work done on that one.

An added bonus for the reader is the chance to compose an overly long comment expressing (point-by-point) how completely wrong you are about everything from the amount of time you should spend writing each day (2-12 hours) to how much margin is acceptable for submissions in .doc format (2-12 inches). Once again, the aspiring writer is allowed to escape the hellish prison of their current novel/essay/fanfic submission and right (or should I say, “write”?) any and all perceived wrongs with a pure passion borne of vindictiveness and procrastination. (You’re correct. I shouldn’t say “write.” We’ll leave that for the struggling writers to use.)

At this point you’re probably wondering why YOU have to do all this writing while other writers are allowed to duck their chosen profession. Well, I’ve got good news and great news.

The good news is that practically anything you come up with off the top of your head can be considered “advice,” whether it’s a suggestion they read every day (something they already do) or more drastic recommendations like cutting themselves out of important family events (immediate and extended) to ensure they have more time to sullenly glare at their blank pages.

The great news is that other writers have written plenty of advice for writers already. It’s everywhere. A quick internet search should find you a few thousand articles to cherrypick from. If you don’t mind doing a little transcribing (don’t worry, it’s much easier than writing “from scratch”), you should easily have at least 10-15 items on your list. With this pre-paved list in hand, you may now allow the children to return from their basement exile, provided they still communicate using ASL only.

Still need another nudge? Here’s a brief list of sure-fire advice:

Problem solved: My homunculus will be writing all future posts. In second person.

1. Read more.
Reading is a great procrastination technique. Writers reading are “doing research” or “developing technique” or simply doing it because “it’s a dying art. Well, both reading and writing, actually. Turn off that TV. It’s killing your brain.”

2. Write more.
As much as writers hate being reminded that, as writers, it would logically follow that they spend a great deal of time writing, it’s an even bigger faux pas to leave this off the list. Try to give your readers some leeway. Make it sound like a suggestion and utilize the word “try,” which will allow them to excuse their failed attempts and often, their failure to attempt. Avoid specifics as to what kind of writing should be done. This allows your reading writers to justify angry comments, angry Facebook status updates and angry comments on the statuses of others as being part of their “writing 2-12 hours a day.”

3. Be honest.
Basically, this is “write what you know” phrased in a way that allows writers to more highly regard their own confessional pieces involving more unseemly moments in their lives. These moments are often something they’ve often secretly wanted to brag about without having it sound like a rejected Penthouse Letter. Just as every writer believes themselves to be a “unique voice,” they also tend to regard themselves as the “last honest writer.”

4. Write in your own voice.
Yet another form of “write what you know.” Nothing makes writing easier than writing the way you speak. In theory, just typing up whatever rolls through the writer’s head (unless it’s sporting a foreign accent) should get their great American novel or Kim Possible fanfic epic kicked out in no time. Everything should click for a few minutes until they realize how limited their vocabulary actually is. A loss of momentum is to be expected as they spend the next hour or two looking up synonyms for “nice,” “awesome” and “asstacular.”

This should give you the headstart you need to start cranking out post after post of “Advice for Writers.” In fact, you could just copy and paste what’s included here for a quick eHow post. Just make sure to remove all disparaging comments leveled at your potential readers before submitting.

-CLT

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Jay Maisel + Asshole = 11,400 Hits

June 27, 2011

Some of you may be familiar with Jay Maisel. Some of you may know him as a talented photographer. Others may only read architectural magazines or NY Mag and such and know him from his 72-room mansion. Now, thanks to some extraordinarily nasty copyright thuggery, people all over the internet are getting to know Jay Maisel in a whole new way.

Jay Maisel + Asshole
11,400 hits

Here’s what happened. Andy Baio (of waxy.org) decided to compile an album of chiptune Miles Davis covers. He did everything he was supposed to:

I went out of my way to make sure the entire project was above board, licensing all the cover songs from Miles Davis’s publisher and giving the total profits from the Kickstarter fundraiser to the five musicians that participated.

But then he ran into an unexpected problem:

But there was one thing I never thought would be an issue: the cover art.

Before the project launched, I knew exactly what I wanted for the cover — a pixel art recreation of the original album cover, the only thing that made sense for an 8-bit tribute to Kind of Blue. I tried to draw it myself, but if you’ve ever attempted pixel art, you know how demanding it is. After several failed attempts, I asked a talented friend to do it.

You can see the results here:

That’s when Jay Maisel, the original photographer, entered the picture:

In February 2010, I was contacted by attorneys representing famed New York photographer Jay Maisel, the photographer who shot the original photo of Miles Davis used for the cover of Kind of Blue.

In their demand letter, they alleged that I was infringing on Maisel’s copyright by using the illustration on the album and elsewhere, as well as using the original cover in a “thank you” video I made for the album’s release. In compensation, they were seeking “either statutory damages up to $150,000 for each infringement at the jury’s discretion and reasonable attorneys fees or actual damages and all profits attributed to the unlicensed use of his photograph, and $25,000 for Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) violations.

After seven months of legal wrangling, we reached a settlement. Last September, I paid Maisel a sum of $32,500 and I’m unable to use the artwork again. (On the plus side, if you have a copy, it’s now a collector’s item!) I’m not exactly thrilled with this outcome, but I’m relieved it’s over.

$32,500.

For an album that was created from $4,500 in Kickstarter funds, with all money going to the chiptune artists.

Andy Baio, who hired someone to craft an homage to an iconic album cover, who curated an album of covers with permission from Miles Davis’ publisher, who profited nothing from this experience other than the joy of creating something, is out $32,500.

Meanwhile, Jay Maisel, he of the 72-room mansion, is $32,500 richer.

Jay Maisel + Dick
323,000 hits

And for what? Being able to wield copyright like a mafia thug’s baseball bat? For being unwilling to consider the work transformative enough to fall under “fair use”? For being so full of himself that he can’t even accept the hat tip of an homage?

I don’t care how much you may believe that copyright, trademarks, patents, etc. are good and just and fair, but in your mind, if you truly believe that Jay Maisel deserves 7 times the amount the album was created for, then you’ve got problems far beyond being too myopic to recognize a clearly transformative work.

And to argue that this isn’t transformative misses the point entirely. This isn’t some simple PS filter de-rezzing. It takes actual talent to create pixel art. See this for comparison:

And as to all this compressed, very black “art” scattered throughout this post? They’re simple ASCII conversions of iconic Maisel photos (done with this handy tool). These “pictures,” which took me all of 10 minutes to convert and post without using a single ounce of actual talent are transformative enough to avoid a copyright beatdown.

But actual art, created with actual talent? I guess that’s something to throw lawyers at.

Jay Meisel + Greedy
73,200 hits

Jay, I hope whatever you spent Andy’s money on was worth it.

-CLT

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Heavy Rotation 66: Copyright Gangbang Edition

March 13, 2011

This week I’m going to ramble on at length, which is something I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Don’t head for the exits yet, though. I’ll be breaking up my pontificating with plenty of damn fine musicks to help ease the load.

I’ve got mashups on my mind. Bootleg mixes. Bastard pop. It’s all the same thing. Artist A meets Artist B (and sometimes, Artists C-Z) through the matchmaking skills of a mashup artist. In my mind, there’s nothing quite as enjoyable as the sound of two tracks playing off each other in unexpected ways. Where else but in the overactive imagination of a mashup artist could you find Jay-Z rapping over White Album loops? Or the Beastie Boys unleashing their mighty whitey power over the primordial breakbeats of the Prodigy? Or Ludacris calling out haters and hangers-on while riding a reggaeton beat and a chorus of “Role!”?

ABX & The Hood Internet – Bonde Do Rollout (Ludacris vs. Bonde Do Role).mp3

But mashups, despite their ability to create something fresh from something overplayed (exception: anything using Flo Rida’s Low. Never again. Please.), catch all kinds of shit from a variety of people.

First and foremost in their hatred of mashups (and mashup artists) are the record labels. They feel this is “infringement” at best and outright theft at worst. They issue takedown notices and cease-and-desist letters. They have no genuine concern for the artist’s music. After all, they know that mashup artists aren’t cutting into their sales, and even if they are, the bootleggers know that they can’t possibly sell this. It’s not really theirs. The end result is, but the pieces are not.

So, as long as the mashup artists play by the rules, the labels tolerate their existence. DJ Dangermouse caught legal hell when he released The Grey Album, a full-length mashup of Jay-Z’s Black Album and the Beatles’ White Album. Pretty much rule #1 in the music business is Do Not Fuck with the Beatles. Apple Records has all this screwed down tight. Hell, they sued Apple Computer for daring to use the same piece of fruit in their logo. They own the library of the biggest cash cow in the business and retain a very expensive team of lawyers.

DJ Dangermouse – 99 Problems (feat. samples of Helter Skelter by the Beatles).mp3

Their rights holders shut him down. But this is the motherfuckin’ internet so Dangermouse’s album was mirrored everywhere. Everyone agreed to disagree and history was made.

So that’s one angle. The labels are still trying to figure out how to sue them properly, without getting tangled up in the sticky threads of “Fair Use.” It’s also the ugly tendency of major labels to confuse “art” with “product” and see how much cash they can extract from someone who’s doing a ton of free promotion for their artists.

And then you have this attitude, which crops up during discussions of “derivative art”:

I’m more than familiar with mash-ups. It’s a cute novelty. I’ve yet to hear one whose sum is better than its parts.

And considering all the musical hooks in these things were written by other people, shouldn’t those other people be credited as co-writers?

Condescension. Dismissiveness. And of course, a little concern tossed in the general direction of the poor artists, who are apparently getting screwed by the remixers.

Or there’s this take:

For me, it’s the biggest damnation of “current culture” because they have stopped being truly creative and settled for second best recycling. They no longer are impressed by a great painting, but they are impressed with the guy sweeping up the studio once the artist left.

Much like anyone who declares the internet to be full of crap, this casual dismissal of mashups/artists tends to demonstrate the mindset of the dismisser, rather than slander the mashup artists.

Generally, the person making this statement has already drawn a mental line clearly delineating between what is Good Music and what isn’t. It’s usually drawn at a certain point in time (like 1977) but is sometimes deployed along genre boundaries (rap, techno and country get harshed a lot). It is stasis trapped in the eye of the beholder.

An insistence that one form of music is superior to another form is ridiculous.

Girl Talk – Jump on Stage.mp3

Or they just get it completely wrong with a stretched metaphor that fits about as well as a baby doll tee on a “World’s Biggest Loser” contestant:

It doesn’t take away the fact that they’re building on other people’s work. It’s like me building a second story over your house, while you still live there.

But it isn’t. It isn’t like that at all. Only someone with a pre-defined idea of what Music Should Be would confuse Girl Talk’s track with simplistic A+B arithmetic. No. It’s like this (quoting me):

It’s someone borrowing your window and someone else’s door and the front walk from your mutual neighbor and a mailbox from the guy across the street who’s always stealing your newspaper and stealing that newspaper back along with some decent shrubbery and using the same paint color as the corner house and the shingles of the house behind you and the garage doors from two blocks away and the naked cherub fountain from the courthouse and the stern street number font of the cop shop and the spiral staircase from that one movie you saw and the exit signs from the local theater and the car seats from the soccer mom’s minivan and that stoner’s stereo and mom’s couch and grandma’s collector’s plates and Uncle Jim’s junked Olds and the 12th hole green from the nearest golf course and all the ideas of a meth-addled feng shui consultant and some ideas from your local architect as improved on by your 4-year-old’s idea of what a real house looks like viewed through a combination 3-D glasses/kaleidescope.

That’s what it’s like:

(Girl Talk – “Jump on Stage” sample list)

  • 0:00 – 1:08 Portishead – “Sour Times” (portion sampled samples “Danube Incident” by Lalo Schifrin)
  • 0:01 – 0:08 Miley Cyrus – “Party in the U.S.A.”
  • 0:08 – 0:09 Naughty by Nature – “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”
  • 0:09 – 1:23 Big Boi featuring Cutty – “Shutterbugg”
  • 0:10 – 1:08 Amerie – “Why R U”
  • 1:09 – 2:41 Talking Heads – “Take Me to the River”
  • 1:14 – 1:23 Ice Cube – “We Be Clubbin'”
  • 1:14 – 1:27 V.I.C. – “Wobble”
  • 1:15 – 1:25 50 Cent – “Get Up”
  • 1:16 – 1:28 Diddy featuring Christina Aguilera – “Tell Me”
  • 1:18 – 1:33 The Edgar Winter Group – “Frankenstein”
  • 1:31 – 1:33 50 Cent – “Disco Inferno”
  • 1:33 – 2:41 Skee-Lo – “I Wish”
  • 1:34 – 2:17 The Notorious B.I.G. – “Hypnotize”
  • 1:43 – 2:46 T’Pau – “Heart and Soul”
  • 2:46 – 2:46 Janet Jackson – “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”
  • 2:42 – 3:08 Jadakiss featuring Swizz Beatz and OJ Da Juiceman – “Who’s Real”
  • 2:50 – 2:51 New Edition – “If It Isn’t Love”
  • 2:52 – 4:26 Radiohead – “Creep”
  • 3:04 – 4:10 Ol’ Dirty Bastard – “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”
  • 3:09 – 3:11 Public Enemy – “Public Enemy No. 1”
  • 3:51 – 4:08 Cypress Hill – “How I Could Just Kill a Man”
  • 4:20 – 4:30 Busta Rhymes – “Dangerous”
  • 4:25 – 5:03 Prince – “Delirious”
  • 4:30 – 5:13 Master P featuring 5th Ward Weebie and Krazy – “Rock It”
  • 5:08 – 5:08 Prince & the New Power Generation – “Gett Off”
  • 5:09 – 6:22 Iggy Pop – “Lust for Life”
  • 5:09 – 6:17 Beastie Boys – “Hey Ladies”
  • 5:15 – 5:17 White Town – “Your Woman”
  • 5:18 – 6:22 Lady GaGa – “LoveGame”

http://www.illegal-tracklist.net/Tracklists/AllDay

And then this collective asks you to move out because you’re harshing everyone’s mellow with your lack of ideas.

A good mashup is more than the sum of its parts. Those “affected” by it would do well to remember that every new generation of anything builds on the previous one. Art isn’t created in a vacuum. And I guarantee that if you locked McCartney, Starr and Jay-Z into a room they wouldn’t come up with anything nearly as visceral or engaging as The Grey Album. I can see Jay-Z doing something close on his own but the other two are so hampered by their own images that they wouldn’t be able to make the mental leap needed to produce something this bold.

This guy is a musician like cheerleadering is a sport.

Fuck you. You’re like a guy in his mid-20s who still cruises the main drag wearing his letter jacket. Music moved on and you stayed in the same place.

Take, for instance, the last few moments of Girl Talk’s Jump on Stage where Greg Gillis combines the Beastie Boys and Iggy Pop to devastating effect. Separately, the tunes (Hey Ladies, Lust for Life) are familiar crowd-pleasers. I like the two tracks involved but have heard them enough in my lifetime to not go out of my way to hear them again. Together, though, they’re a masterful match, with Iggy Pop’s rhythm section toughening up the nasal rap styling of three Jewish kids from the Bronx.

DJ Moule – Waiting for Temper (Velvet Underground vs. Gorillaz vs. The Prodigy).mp3

It’s like hearing an old favorite for the first time again. It’s that kind of impossibility that makes the perfect mashup one of those rare things that can give you a childlike feeling of amazement. I’m in my mid-30s. Anything that makes me feel like a kid again is welcome. Anything that kicks years of cynicism to the curb for a few minutes is deeply appreciated.

If you can’t see past the obvious addition of the components and enjoy the whole as its own being, then I truly feel for you. You must have no joy in your life. Everything that could be appreciated as something of its own has been broken down and compartmentalized into nothing more than a parts list for product.

If it is your belief that no talent lies in the remixer then why would you check out the culinary talents of various chefs? In the end, they’re just making small variations on meat and vegetables. They might be able to coax out flavors and textures you haven’t had before, but most of the work is still being done by the animal or vegetable itself.

Why watch any sequels or remakes? Why read any books that come in a series or feature the same characters? Why visit an art gallery? Everything in there is based on pre-existing styles and schools. Why would you single out mashups as the nadir of culture?

It can only be one of two things: an absolute belief that the best period of music is already behind us or that mashups are glorified theft and nothing more than punishable infringement. Both views are equally close-minded. Only one is potentially dangerous.

If you want to believe the best days of music are behind us, you’re only robbing yourself of new experiences. The second belief is a particularly vindictive form of projection in which your overreaching entitlement has given you the ability to see villains in every doorway and leaking dollars pouring out of every mp3. Unfortunately, the second belief is entertained all too frequently. If unchecked, it could truly bring about the end of creativity. And as the life ebbs from the art form you claim to love so much you can’t bear to see it hurt by freeloaders and infringers, you’ll be too blinded by your myopia to realize the blood is on your hands.

One for the road:

The Kleptones – Come Again.mp3

Samples:

  • The Beatles – Come Together
  • Dezo – Y’all Know What It Iz
  • Lil Wayne – Best Rapper Alive
  • Beastie Boys – No Sleep till Brooklyn
  • Breakwater – Release The Beast
  • Rare Earth – I Just Want to Celebrate
  • Queen & David Bowie – Under Pressure
  • Cypress Hill – Insane in the Brain
  • John Lennon – Power to the People
  • Boston – More Than a Feeling
  • Freeez – I.O.U.
  • Criminal Element Orchestra – Put The Needle to the Record
  • Art of Noise – Close (to the Edit)
  • S’Express – Theme from S’Express

Download links:

Girl Talk

The Kleptones

Best of Bootie Compilations

The Hood Internet

DJ Moule

DJ Brat

Go Home Productions

Culture Bully

-CLT

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Income Inequality: the Imaginary Powderkeg

February 25, 2011

Mother Jones recently published a set of infographics on income equality in America, which is understandably kicking up some dust around various corners of the internet. The numbers are shocking: the top .01% make an average of $27 million per household. The bottom 90%? Only $31,000.

Looking at this chart, it’s easy to believe that some sort of unfairness exists. That somehow the richest 10% (who control over 70% of the wealth in this country) are undeserving of their income. The knee-jerk response is to start thinking of the nation’s wealth as zero-sum, and for every dollar going into Bill Gates’ pocket, a corresponding dollar is being taken away from the lower 90%.

Obviously, nobody believes this is done directly. But many do believe that this is being done indirectly through layoffs, wage suppression or actions along those lines.

But it’s an illusion.

It’s an illusion created by those who believe there is some sort of caste system, aided by political action, that serves to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

But don’t fall for it. There’s nothing there.

The supposed “problem” of income disparity only exists if you believe it exists. I’m not saying that these charts aren’t accurate or that there is not a large gap between the top 10% and the bottom 90% of earners. I’m saying that this gap is only a problem if you choose to believe it’s a problem.

The thought process as to why you should believe it’s a problem is false. The theory is that the more the top 10% makes, the less you make. Unless the CEO of Goldman Sachs is siphoning money out of your bank account, this simply isn’t true.

“But I don’t work for Goldman Sachs, I work for X company.” Exactly. And every chart like this is intended to make you feel as though the CEO of X company is getting richer by suppressing your wages. People look at infographics such as these, compare that with their paycheck and subjectively apply it to their situation, forgetting that there are several people in the top 10% who don’t (directly or indirectly) have any effect on their paycheck.

Ask yourself this question: what do the super-rich have that I don’t? Multiple houses, luxury vehicles, housekeepers, etc. are not the sort of thing any reasonable person expects out of life. Even in the lower income levels, we still have access to services and consumer goods that used to be the domain of only the rich: decent medical care, a house, multiple vehicles, high-end electronics, computers, appliances, schools, and so on. These all used to be available only to the very well-off. In the past, only the rich could afford qualified doctors and education for their children. Computers used to cost thousands of dollars. The same with high-end electronics. Washers and dryers were luxury items.

As life has gone in the US, the cost of these goods has fallen dramatically. Everyone has a free option for their children’s education. Life expectancy has gone up. As the wages spread further and further apart, life has not gotten collectively worse for everyone outside of the top 10%. Life continues to get better for a majority of the other 90%. There are some outliers in the lowest percentiles but generally speaking, life is better for a majority of Americans despite this perceived inequality.

In fact, as wage disparity has increased, happiness levels in America have risen as well. Income disparity increased over 50% between 1972-2004 and yet a GSS (General Social Service) poll shows happiness levels increasing from 30 to 31 percent.

“If the egalitarians are right, then average happiness levels should be falling. But they aren’t. The GSS shows that in 1972, 30 percent of the population said that they were “very happy” with their lives; in 1982, 31 percent; in 1993, 32 percent; in 2004, 31 percent. In other words, no significant change in reported happiness occurred—even as income inequality increased by nearly half. Happiness levels have certainly shown some fluctuations over the last three decades, but income inequality explains none of them.”

There are a lot of reasons for people to be unhappy now. We’re in the middle of a recession. The housing market has collapsed, dragging down net worth for the bottom 90%. A jobless recovery is slowing progressing. People need a villain to take the blame and the top 10% is better than nothing. The perception that America is run by robber barons is taking hold again.

A lot of this perception stems from the financial industry’s top level compensation. There’s a huge disconnect between what CEOs in this field make and the perceived value of their actions. Resentment has built from the bank bailouts and other special treatment these institutions have received over the years, which when coupled with the current recession tends to bring most people to the conclusion that these same CEOs are extremely overpaid. I’d agree with this conclusion. They are overpaid. But then again, so is most of their rank-and-file. It’s a feeling that those who push imaginary money around shouldn’t be compensated this well, especially when their money-pushing results in hardship for the bottom 90%.

But this isn’t totally the fault of the financial institutions. If you want to blame somebody, blame the government. And keep blaming them because they’re never going to fix it. Goldman Sachs, in particular, is a revolving door that circulates its executives in and out of government positions and vice versa. Even if the government decided to step in and raise taxes appreciably on big business and the incomes of the top 10%, it would have no effect on the bottom 90%.

The ugly truth is that if you tax something more, you get less of it. Just ask New York City, whose latest tax increase (to $6.86 a pack!) resulted in an influx of tax-free bootleg cigarettes and the relocation of tax money to neighboring states with lower prices. Sales dropped 27% between July and November, far exceeding the 8-10% the politicians predicted.

A higher income tax would simply mean that more of the top 10% would relocate to countries with lower tax rates. The same goes for the businesses. They would incorporate in tax havens and dodge the bullet that way. The bottom 90% would pay more for goods and services as any applied tax meant to “punish” the high end would simply be passed along to the low end. It’s always this way and those who yearn for the golden era of 90% marginal tax rates on millionaires are kidding themselves if they think a tax hike will actually result in some sort of windfall for the bottom 90%.

Contrary to the images painted by those with class warfare on their minds, a majority of the rich did not simply “luck” into this money or exploit the hell out of others to get it. Many of them were innovators (Bill Gates, Lawrence Ellison, Sergey Brin) who developed new products and services. Others were savvy investors (Warren Buffet, Carl Icahn, Sheldon Adelson). With the exception of the Wal-Mart inheritance and the Mars family, no one on the Top 20 list of richest Americans simply had money given to them.

It’s at this point that merit comes into play. Do people who hate the income gap really want all people to be rewarded equally? Do they want the top end skewed down or do they want the bottom end to rise? Should this be handled via “redistribution” (in other words, taxes – an impossibility but we’ll let it slide for rhetorical reasons) or wage caps? Do they really want a world where hard work and foresight is punished?

Take Mother Jones, for example. Their ad income is most likely several times that of smaller online commentary sites. Should they be forced to toss their “excess” in a pool for the smaller sites to benefit from and close the “gap” that way? I would imagine they’d disagree with this, stating that they’ve built up their brand and hired talented writers and thus, deserve this additional income.

Is that any different than deciding that Bill Gates should be forced via taxation or salary cap to cough up his “excess” income so that those in the bottom 90% can have more? And how exactly does anyone expect this to happen?

All the ideas I’ve read revolve around raising the tax rate on the top 10%. This is the ever-popular “soaking the rich” tax plan. It plays well with voters but will never be instituted, thanks to the fact that many of our nation’s representatives are wholly beholden to the ultra-rich, if not actually part of the ultra-rich themselves. (Interesting note: Democrats are more prone to painting the Republican party as champions of the ultra-rich, but 7 out 0f 10 of the richest representatives listed below are, in fact, Democrats. And not just any Democrats, but Democrats who crossed party lines to vote FOR Bush’s tax cuts on higher incomes.)

Beyond the fact that there is nobody in Washington willing to do this, a further issue is the fact that the government is quite possibly the worst Robin Hood analogue imaginable. They cannot, despite constant assurances otherwise, redistribute wealth. They cannot take Bill Gates’ money and spread it among a random sampling of the bottom 90%. They can’t even do it indirectly through taxes, as much of that money is already promised to a variety of earmarks, subsidies and entitlements already.

Not only that, but a higher taxation rate wouldn’t close the gap. Gross income is still gross income, no matter what the tax rate. Someone making $20 million will still make $20 million, even if 60% of it is siphoned off in taxes. And the person making $30,000 will still be making $30,000, even if $12 million just rolled into the IRS offices.

They also have no business setting wages. Despite governmental creep into the private sector, there is no way these self-interested players should be allowed to cap wages or set minimums. They already have screwed up with the minimum wage and granting them the power to cap maximums is asking for a quasi-socialist system where even fewer people have a chance to get rich but many, many more will have the chance to be poor.

Beyond that, no one seems to have any idea how to close the income gap. If this were a real problem, rather than just a shoddy platform plank, ideas would flow freely. As it is, it’s just a political haymaker and another reason to get pointlessly angry.

My suggestion? Let it go. It won’t change. It can’t change. And anyone who thinks it can be changed wants to enlist the worse people possible to handle/redistribute other people’s money: the government. That’s not a solution. That’s a farce.

-CLT

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Deadmau5 Presents: How to Kill It in the Digital Age

February 4, 2011

Deadmau5 – Dr. Funkenstein (Danny Jay Remix).mp3

I rant a lot about the music industry. And it never fails to give me plenty to rant about, especially when label execs and major label apologists insist that something must be done to allow them not only continued employment but that their industry be legislated back to its former glory.

However, if there’s one thing the music industry has proven it’s unable to do, it’s connect with its customers. Most major label artists are pretty much silent partners with their label-supplied publicity team. Sure, they may fire up the occasional blog or tweet a thing or two, but these additional avenues are often paved with identical “Buy this!” posts and tour date announcements.

Yes, fans do appreciate this information but this isn’t really a connection so much as it is targeted advertising. And it’s redundant advertising. Music fans usually have accounts at iTunes, Amazon, etc. so diminishing returns on these updates are almost immediate. The live gig announcements are also useful but again, most music fans will have found a better aggregator like tourfilter to alert them when a band they like is coming to their town (and presumably assisting them with partying down).

The problem is that hundreds of smaller artists are running their business the same way. I like (with as capital “L” and an upturned thumb) over 100 bands/artists on Facebook.

First, a quick primer on Facebook for the .004% of readers who are not Facebook members; “Liking” a band adds their stream of status updates and posts to your feed, which allows you (the fan, or “Liker”) to see all of these updates in real time, scattered amongst your friends’ announcements of mood swings and where specifically they need help on their farm.

So, I have a lot of indie artists supplying me updates periodically throughout the day. The problem is most of these feeds are indistinguishable from a publicity feed set up by a major label. I would say that easily 90% of the feeds I subscribe to do nothing more than loop “click to buy” links and announce tour dates.

Because so many of these bands use this connection tool for nothing more than advertising, their information becomes subject to “ad blindness” by regular users. We begin to tune out their posts much in the way we tune out banner and sidebar ads. Pretty soon their “connection” is reaching no one.

There are very few exceptions to this unfortunate misuse/underuse of the biggest platform available to new artists. Whitey’s feed is usually entertaining but he doesn’t have an artist page so you’ll actually have to be his Friend to get it on it. A few others will post videos from other bands they like or single out something that happened on tour, but for the most part it’s always tour/buy/repeat.

And then, just when you figure that the new boss is a lot like the old boss, even when they’re their own boss, you stumble across someone of sheer brilliance who gets what this is all about and revels in the limitless possibilities of a direct line to a few million fans:

D E A D M A U 5

The man lives on Facebook. He posts everything. He uploads videos. He has photos. For everything. He spouts random shit. He gushes about new equipment. He asks questions. He posts notes thanking his fans for being awesome. He’s consistently entertaining.

Basically, Deadmau5 invites you into his life. He knows he’s living the dream and it seems like he’s still as awed by the whole experience as his fans are. So he uses his online existence to allow everyone to live vicariously through his detailed and frequent posts.

There’s never any dismissiveness or jaded attitude. He’s just genuinely thrilled to be in the position he’s in. And as you read the posts and view the massive amount of photos, you catch some of the jittery “holy-shit-can-you-fucking-believe-my-life” vibe that pours out of every post.

Check out Deadmau5 geeking out during a conversation with Jim Carrey!

Look, it’s Deadmau5’s cat, Meowington!

He loves that cat! How do we know? Peep his neck tat!

Check out this hunk of electronics! It makes “pewpewpew” noises apparently!

LOL! Live Windows fail!

How can you not want to support this man? He lives and breathes and loves music. He wants you to be as close to being him as is humanly possible.

But that’s not all. He actually enjoys hanging out with his fans and works hard to repay their loyalty.

Deadmau5 has carved out his own island in the ether of shit-hot indie world-builder Minecraft. While that’s impressive on its own, he also sprung for 20 copies of the game for his fans. How many artists have purchased copies of a game just to get more people to hang out with them? That’s a fucking connection. Tell me that investment won’t pay off.

He also keeps close tabs on his online presence. If something seems a bit “not him,” he’s fixes it, going so far as to remove the label’s publicity team from the Administrators’ list. He has no interest in being pimped into irrelevance by a thousand pushy label-created ads.

This is how to make the digital world work for you. He’s also on Twitter and still maintains a “well, it was already there” Myspace presence, but he has conquered Facebook. And why not? 500 million registered users is a whole lot of potential fans.

Every artist, indie or not, needs to be taking notes from Deadmau5. Once you’ve seen it done right, you’ll wonder why you’re giving your fans and potential customers so little.

Take more pictures. Digital cameras are cheap. Show them what happens away from the stage. Talk to them as people rather than some loosely connected group of open wallets in search of spending suggestions. Find a common interest away from the music and explore that. Just say whatever comes to mind even if it doesn’t seem to be “closing the deal.” Facebook is full of random statements and observations. People know when they’re being treated like the business end of a mass mailing, no matter how “interactive.”

You make music and you have anywhere from a few hundred to a few million people who love you for it. You’ve already won over their ears. Grab their brains and their hearts. Their wallets will have no choice but to follow.

(Hat tip to Techdirt for their recent article on Deadmau5 which allowed me easy access to the label v. mau5 battle. Big, big tip of the oversized novelty mau5 head to Deadmau5 himself for, well, being himself.)

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The Music Industry is Dying. I’ll Get the Shovels and Champagne.

January 28, 2011


Robert Verbruggen over at National Review Online asks “Can We Save the Music Business?” The first obvious question is “Why?”

[This post is nothing more than a reprint of my overly-long comment left at NRO. I’ve emphasized a few things with BOLD and corrected a couple of grammatical errors, but otherwise it’s intact.]

An “effective” plan?

I don’t know how anybody could willingly believe that the music industry legislating itself back into business with the aid of an all too cooperative government will actually save them for eventual implosion. All this would do is stick them on life-support on the taxpayer’s dime.

Equally stupid is the assumption that a graduated response, especially one that aids one industry (recording) while punishing another (ISPs) would be any less troublesome than straight-out “deputizing ISPs.” If both the government and the entertainment industries are involved, there’s is no way that any internet watchdog can ever be considered “independent,” as is dubiously stated in relation to France’s current anti-piracy program.

Speaking of which, you cite a 53% reduction in infringement (at least according those polled) but fail to provide any numbers showing a correlating rise in music sales. My guess is that there will be little change or at best, a short-lived uptick while everybody figures out how to get back into the free music business. This may come as a shock to the record labels, but it won’t surprise anyone who is aware of the fact that a pirated album does not equal a lost sale.

More troubling is the fact that your internet usage information is now in the hands of both the government and some very self-interested parties, both of whom have shown an ugly willingness to abuse the public’s trust.

Every dollar spent (taxpayer/music industry) on combating piracy is a dollar wasted, one which would have gone to better use pretty much anywhere else. Every time a file sharing service or data hosting site gets shut down, another two pop up. The music industry continues to view online piracy as the equivalent of a guy selling burned discs out of his trunk. They cannot seem to understand that this is millions of individuals acting alone, rather than under the control of some overriding directive.

They also don’t seem to understand that these “pirates” aren’t making any money off these “transactions.” What little they do understand of it causes them to scapegoat hosting services and ISPs. They know this isn’t directly their fault but I think they believe that going after services earning money will allow them to show some return on their lawsuit investments.

The more draconian the action, the further underground file sharing goes. New hosting will pop up to replace RapidShare, MegaUpload, et al. Limewire will be succeeded by others. With every step they fall further behind. Hosts will operate under masked IP addresses and innocuous URLs. And when they finally do decide to sue or kick someone off the internet, the only people they can victimize are those who are that many steps behind themselves. This is why they end up dragging clueless grandmothers and 8-year-olds into court.

Once everything is disguised enough, they’ll start booting people off for false positives. The government and the record labels have already proven they’re far from tech savvy and will start harassing citizens who’ve never considered piracy just because of a spike in usage.

They also fail to understand that kicking people off the internet will do nothing to increase their sales. Do they honestly believe that Joe Q. Pirate is going to trot to the nearest store and make up for his infringement by purchasing several shiny plastic discs? He’s not going to be able to buy digitally after all. And trust me, he’ll find another way to get back online. He may be dumb enough to get caught but he’s still smarter and faster that the ad hoc committee pursuing him.

There’s no equivalent for “free.” Just because someone downloaded Lady Gaga’s latest for free is not an indicator that they would have purchased it if there were no alternatives. Lots of people get stuff they don’t particularly want or need just because it’s free. It’s like going to a garage sale and picking up a half dozen drill bits and some Cussler paperbacks from the “free” box. It doesn’t necessarily follow that Black and Decker lost a sale or that I would have grabbed two Cussler books down at Barnes and Noble otherwise. Maybe I just figured you can’t have too many drill bits and I was tired of reading well-written books.

And as for the “poor artists” the labels are constantly using as penniless strawmen in their arguments? Well, he’s got fewer options and potential customers thanks to their actions. Fewer hosting sites. Fewer people online.

The claim that artists somehow deserve to get paid is just plain stupid. That’s a holdout from the good old days of the music industry, where they’d state that as an excuse to levy fees on blank tapes and CDs. But they’ve never been too keen on actually paying their artists. There are hundreds of stories of bands that got screwed by their labels, whose unrecouped amounts never seem to go down and how clever accounting and label finance opacity has allowed them to hide their gains from the prying eyes of their stable of musicians.

Look at the wonderful things Warner Bros. did to Too Much Joy.

Not only that, but if you’re getting into art to get paid, you’re doing it wrong. If you manage to make a living at it, congratulations. You’re part of the 1%. No guidance counselor ever recommended a student drop out of school and buy a guitar. No parent ever breathed a sigh of relief when their offspring told them they were quitting college to form a band. No one owes an artist a living wage. Art is supported, not purchased. The record labels have a hard time differentiating between “product” and “art,” which explains why most of their output is considered lousy.

I’m not saying music should be free or that piracy is ok as long as it’s from a normally unprofitable field. I’m just saying that demanding upfront that your contribution to the music world immediately start showing positive returns is an annoying combination of false entitlement and ignorance.

This sentence is troubling: “...if we want artists — and, by extension, everyone who works with and for artists — to be paid for their creations…” This is part of the music industry’s problem. While piracy is bad for their business, and by extension, artists, ensuring that everyone else on the overextended food chain gets their cut is unsustainable in this day and age.

The only artists that can feed this extended family at this point in time are the top 5-10% of their roster. Everyone else gets to wait for minute amounts of royalties to make their way down from the top, spending years attempting to get recouped and finally start making money on their own.

At some point you, the artist, get a small slice of whatever's left after taking care of everyone else.

With the distribution options available to artists today (bandcamp, Facebook, Myspace, Beatport, Amazon, iTunes, etc.), I see no reason why any of them need a major label to act on their behalf. Some people (mainly record execs) argue that without their assistance they’ll never get heard. They tend to assume radio airplay is still the only game in town. (And it won’t be for much longer, not with all the fees being extracted by ASCAP, BMI, PRS, etc.)

But those people, the “everyone” that “works with or for” artists are the ones doing most of the complaining. They’re swiftly realizing that they could easily lose their non-essential positions. The artists themselves rarely complain about piracy as most of them realize it will only alienate part of their potential audience. (See also: Metallica.) The few artists that do complain are from the stratospheric layer of fully-recouped and highly successful acts. Bono (and U2’s management) spend a lot of time griping about the unavailability of “ivory backscratcher” money. Bono has even gone so far as to ALMOST recommend we follow China’s lead in privacy violation and institute their internet tracking program. (He stops just short of siding with one of the world leaders in human rights violations in his NY Times editorial. He just kind of throws it out there and, I assume, hopes that our overzealous government will run with the ball.)

Now, like many people on the other side of a long-winded rant, you’re probably asking yourself if I have any solutions to this dilemma rather than just reciting a litany of problems. It’s a good question. I don’t see any. The industry gouged customers, screwed their artists and tried to sue their way back into profitability rather than actually deal with the shift to digital. The only option they have is to deal with what’s left of their market. Short of building a time machine, heading back 15 years and trying again, I really don’t see that they’ve got many options left.

But there’s a larger question that rarely gets asked in these sort of editorials: WHY do we need to save the recording industry? Who, beyond those employed by it, really needs them to continue on in any capacity, much less in a legislated pseudo-return to the money-burning days of the CD?

I honestly don’t think that their collapse would do any lasting damage to the economy or society as a whole. The music industry likes to pretend (and are aided in their delusion by pieces like this) that they are the gatekeepers for ALL OF MUSIC and that without their endless generosity over the years, we would be a cultural black hole.

There are thousands of bands waiting to fill the void should they finally collapse and thousands of indie labels, self-producers and hosting services will to handle the distribution. Who knows? Radio could even re-emerge once freed from acrimonious performance rights groups. The only ones feeling the pain would be the former employees and the upper echelon of bands, who without a label-supplied collection of flunkies, would be forced to do some of the heavy lifting themselves.

The last question is for you, Robert. Why this sudden show of support for over-reaching and potentially dangerous legislation? In fact, why bother to stand up for the music industry at all? I can’t see anything else in your archive that would lead me to the conclusion that you’re a major label apologist. I’ve read other pieces of yours that I’ve enjoyed and agreed with but this one just seems to be horribly misguided at best, and incredibly ill-informed at worst.

I’d recommend checking out Techdirt.com where Mike Masnick has been putting together a solid body of work refuting pretty much every point in this piece and others like it. With a couple of quick topic searches, you can probably gain a better understanding of how the music world will continue to function just fine without the major labels.

-CLT

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Salem’s “Black” Magic; or That Razor Works Better When It’s Sharp – Sincerely, Occam

January 27, 2011

About a month back, while reading through the Village Voice’s 20 Worst Songs of 2010 (which you should totally check out — the very thorough dismantling of Train in the #1 spot is a blast), I came across Trapdoor by Salem in the #6 spot.

Now, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of SALEM but my issue with their takedown of this track has nothing to do with their particular critique but with whom they had chosen to link to, Brandon Soderberg over at his blog, No Trivia.

Soderberg’s issue with Salem has to do with Jack Donoghue’s use of pitch-shifting and ebonics (l guess that term will have to do) to make himself “sound black.” More specifically, he feels that Donoghue makes himself sound “black” so that he can get away with misogyny that he would be unable to if he sounded “white.”

“The slowed down vocals do not only have the effect of bringing the vocalist’s voice down to stoned crawl, they make the white performer sound black. This, coupled with lyrics that are content-wise, what my grandmother thinks rap’s about (murder, rape, misogyny, repeat) and the problematic, conscious “hip-hop” pronunciations underneath that vocal effect, makes Salem’s music pretty egregious. This is a group of white kids who’ve screwed their vocals down to “sound black,” and then use that screwing-down of vocals to say things they wouldn’t–and couldn’t–say otherwise. Employing the word “minstrelsy” is controversy-baiting, but it also isn’t that far off.”

Touched on (and dismissed) is Salem’s love for the pitched-down “screwed” sound of Houston rap. (See below.) According to Soderberg, this doesn’t excuse Salem’s “minstrel show” as Donoghue also willfully mispronounces words (“skreets”) when not indulging in full-blown misogyny.

There’s offensiveness on either side of this issue but a lot of it takes some serious digging and extrapolation. Soderberg is additionally perturbed that Donoghue (or John Holland in the NY Times interview) doesn’t just come out and say that he’s  trying to emulate black rappers or even engage in a discussion as to how some people might find this emulation troublesome.

First of all, some context. Check out this video of Salem “performing” at the Fader Fort*:

This “version” of Salem live seems to have its shit together a bit more (although still dangerously low on energy):

Combine that top video with this interview with the NY Times:

“Anyway, the group remains sanguine about its stage future. “I think there’s a lot you can do with having, like, I don’t know, smoke and fog and things,” Mr. Holland said confidently.”

(*Sidebar: As atrocious as the Fader clip is, I think I’d still be tempted to shell out to see them live. No matter which band hits the stage, the spacey trainwreck or the strobelit nightmare, I still think you get your money’s worth.)

Take a good long look in Donoghue’s eyes. If you’re wondering why no one owns up to the arguably troublesome subtext of “sounding black,” those windows to the soul with the “vacant” sign hanging in them would seem to indicate a full disconnect from their immediate surroundings, much less deeper philosophical issues.

Attempting to drag the band into any discussion of underlying themes is like finding a dead zone with your cellphone: you half expect a dialog box to pop up stating “Connection failed.” I don’t see his recalcitrance as intentional but rather as inadvertent. Donoghue seems incapable of subtext and engaging in a discussion about Salem’s “minstrel show” aspects is giving him entirely too much credit.

More disturbing is the fact that when you state that someone is trying to “sound black” simply to get away with bog-standard misogyny, you are also stating that misogyny is ok as long as you’re actually black. This implicit statement is at least as offensive as the original issue.

Now, if it’s misogyny that Soderberg has an issue with, he’s got 90% of rap and 60% of rock to tangle with. If it rubs him the wrong way that Donoghue mangles English without the authenticity of being, you know, black, we’re right back at square one, stating that it’s ok to talk street (or “skreet,” I suppose) as long as you’re the right race.

Ask yourself this: how many white people have you heard spouting off some version of “fo shizzle”? (Too many, I’m sure.) Did each of these mini-minstrel shows get a full blast of your outrage? Or was is just one of those things millions of (white) people do without recrimination thanks to the assumed irony? Is it ok as long as we’re all in on the joke?

I’m not here to defend Salem’s subject matter in this particular track and whether any of us like it or not, it tends to fall into that grey-ish “artistic persona” area where it gets really tough to attach the misogyny to the person saying it, especially when Salem’s members don’t really give a shit what you think. I also tend to give controversial subject matter in artistic endeavors lots of elbow room and have no desire to censor somebody’s work simply because it offends me. I also have no desire to kick out 800 words on how X offended me with their Y. Too much is open to interpretation and if I don’t like it, I don’t have to listen to/read/watch it again.

I’m willing to concede Soderberg’s point that the co-opting of black music that gave birth to rock and roll is not relevant to this discussion. Occasional vocalist and on-stage smoker Heather Marlatt flies this flag briefly in an interview with XLR8R when asked about Salem’s borrowed (via pitch shift) blackness.

“I feel like that’s something a white person would say,” says Marlatt. “In a way to criticize what we’re doing. It’s like, to anyone that thinks that in this era—I don’t know what to tell them. It’s not like we’re Elvis Presley. God. What, are we robbing the music from a different race? Give me a break.”

It’s not a very skillful deflection but then again, the collective members of Salem aren’t really known for their erudite conversation. But her defense doesn’t work. Of course, it doesn’t really need to. This isn’t an attempt to sell black music to white people by attaching a white face to it. This is (supposedly) a co-opting of black music to excuse its transgressive content, a charge that is pretty much going to remain in the eye of the offended beholder.

Problem is: I’m not buyin’ it. I don’t think Donoghue’s pitched-down gangster shit is anything more than a poor attempt to emulate his influences. I don’t think it’s any more racist than the white hip hop fanatic down the block that refers to everyone as “nigga.” It’s an ill-advised affectation that will probably result in his ass getting beaten someday but I don’t think he’s handing out the term with the same intentions as some Klan member or a former Seinfeld star.

As for feeling Salem couldn’t get away with misogynistic fantasies because they’re white? Isn’t this the sort of discussion we should have been having over a decade ago when Eminem first hit the radio? As for “minstrelsy” accusations, I don’t see anything about this that is intended to lampoon or demean the black race.

What Soderberg’s post does read like is a bit of character assassination. This would be fine if that’s how it was presented. (See again VV’s obliteration of Train.) But Soderberg turns his dislike of a band into accusations of racism, which is a bit disingenuous.

If you don’t like Salem there’s plenty to bitch about. Uninspired, repetitive music? Ok, I can see that. Terrible rapping. Agreed. Terrible subject matter. Yeah, but that’s rap for you. Bullshit genre? This too shall pass.

With all those targets available, why does Soderberg feel the need to drag his highly subjective racism claim into the mix and hang his criticism off that framework? It just seems like a long way to go to basically state “I H8 SALEM.” (Even worse, there’s a whole lot of backpedaling on the racism/minstrelsy claims in the comment threads.)

It’s like critiquing Norman Rockwell. While decrying his lack of imagination and overuse of cliche, you grab this painting:

and veer off into speculation on Rockwell’s latent pedophilia. Soderberg is irritated that the members of Salem dodge the racism question in the XLR8R interview, stating something vague about the history of white theft in rock and roll. I guarantee if someone cornered Rockwell about his naked child butt pictures, he probably wouldn’t spend much time entertaining your pedophilia queries. (Although, this might have a lot to do with him having been dead since 1978.)

Soderberg makes it very clear in the comment thread how subjective this attack is when he says, “THIS offends ME.” He should have left it at that. With no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that Donoghue is a racist (intentionally or otherwise), this kind of outrage is a pretty tough sell.

One final question: if Donoghue is truly trying to imitate a black person, what exactly is the harm in that? His pitch-shifted rap doesn’t seem to be demeaning or dismissive. He doesn’t come across as someone who’s interested in playing up a stereotype. If anything, it’s an homage to his Houston-scene influences. Just because it’s badly done and lacking in subtlety does not immediately turn it into a post-death rock Amos and Andy.

As Soderberg states more than once, this is his subjective take. But if that’s all it is, why spend so much time defending that stance? It offends you. So be it. But the other commenters aren’t necessarily wrong, they’re just not finding anything offensive in what’s going on. Obviously the longer the discussion goes on the less likely it is that anyone will change their mind.

But maybe, just maybe, this is exactly what it seems. A white boy doing screwed-vocal rap because he digs screwed-vocal rap. Nothing more. Nothing less.

-CLT

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The Stabbing Knife Vol. 5: Doubleheader Edition

January 15, 2011

Don't sweat it, Roberto. I'm completely made of Tuesday.

If it’s completely true that snitches get stitches then it’s doubly true that self-righteous idiots who attempt to sand down the world’s rough edges through censorship get the business end of Roberto’s stabbing knife. And it’s been awhile, so we’re having a doubleheader. On to the wetwork.

We’ve all heard the phrase “One person can make a difference,” and we’ve all nodded thoughtfully while thinking, “Bullshit.” Just like the eternally optimistic phrase “Every vote counts” allows us to feel like our voice matters in the political arena, the sad truth is that one person has no chance in hell to make significant changes, especially in well-established institutions with years of history behind them.

And then something like this happens.

An anonymous (to us, anyway) complainant has singlehandedly gotten Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing removed from radio airplay in Canada. As many of you are probably thinking, what the fuck for?

This anonymous complainant (hereafter “AC” for the sake of my fingers) was offended by the use of the word “faggot,” which pops up three times as the narrator critiques the hair metal dominating MTV at the time. If you’re not familiar with the lyrics, I’m not going to run them down for you here. Perhaps you can get in touch with AC as you are apparently the only other English-speaking person alive who has not heard this overplayed rock radio staple several hundred times in their life.

A homophobe and his headband rarely part.

Having heard this track 26 years after it was released, AC sprung into action. Assuming the role of spokesperson for the entire gay (or “gey,” as I assume it’s spelled in Canada) community, AC fired off a letter to the offending station demanding they remove the song from airplay.

“A song was aired, “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits, and included the word “faggot” a total of three times.  I am aware of other versions of the song, in which the word was replaced with another, and yet OZ FM chose to play and not censor this particular version that I am complaining about.

I find this extremely offensive as a member of the LGBT community and feel that there is absolutely no valid reason for such discriminatory marks to be played on-air.”

At first, they blew her off, albeit in a very kindly fashion, running down the reasons for keeping it in the rotation and citing precedent.

“In this specific case, the song in question has been played countless times in its original form, from its #1 release in 1984 to the present day, and continues to be aired on stations across the country in this form.  As this selection has been aired continuously for 25+ years, and the original version is regarded by many as an historically successful and essential rock hit in that form with these particular lyrics, management chose in this specific instance to retain the authenticity of this selection.”

“We understand the concerns you have raised regarding this particular selection and do apologize for any undue stress caused to you as a listener by the lyrical content of this selection, but based on the above reasoning, we have operated with the understanding that in this specific case, no editing of the material is warranted.”

That should have been that.

The C stands for "Capitulation."

Not good enough. AC was still perturbed and fired back, using a lot of words but mainly pointing out than anything less than removal or censorship of the track would be unsatisfactory.

“I am highly dissatisfied with the response I have received.  I do not feel the argument in favour of the unabridged version of the song was valid, and it is certainly not strong enough to justify playing such words on the radio.  This word carries an unavoidable connotation of hate.  By airing it unapologetically on the radio, this station is indirectly propagating hate.  Although I can see the value in a timeless classic rock song in its original form, I cannot help but feel that it does not overshadow the importance of ending discrimination.”

The CBSC, not wanting to be seen as “propagating hate” or not being really on board with “ending discrimination” through continued airplay of a 26-year-old song, consulted and decided in her favor, issuing a lengthy missive explaining their reasons for removing the track.

So, apparently, one person can make a difference.

Now, before you get all inspired and head out to start a carpool or become a locavore or write your Congressman in an attempt to rid hotels you don’t even patronize of PPV porn, take a good, long look at what this is.

This isn’t justice. This isn’t David triumphing over Goliath. Hell, this isn’t even the local repertory theater’s production of Pay It Forward.

This is myopic, narcissistic bullshit.

This is saying, “This song offends ME. Change it. Fuck everyone else.”

It’s not that I think Money for Nothing is a classic work of art or that using the word “faggot” is ok in all circumstances. But maybe, just maybe, this instance is alright because FOR FUCK’S SAKE, THE SONG HAS BEEN OUT FOR 26 YEARS AND YOU WANT TO CENSOR IT NOW??

For Christ’s sake (or so they say), the Parents Television Council is always trying to censor this or that offending bit of culture but at least they’ve got some sort of quorum and the signed petitions and email carpet-bombing to back it up. I don’t agree with them ever but at least it’s not just one person wheedling away with a 2-year-old’s sense of entitlement, moaning “I don’t like this! Changeitchangeitchangeitchangeit!!!”

Dr. Alan Gribben is unaware that his moustache is on slightly crooked.

This is no different than Twain scholar Alan Gribben who’s working tirelessly to crank out a version of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, free of the troublesome word “nigger,” which has coyly been replaced with “slave.” (Also on the chopping block: “Injun” and “Half-breed.”) Once again, lots of history but at least in this case he’s not the first person to censor or ban this book.

“The idea of a more politically correct Finn came to the 69-year-old English professor over years of teaching and outreach, during which he habitually replaced the word with “slave” when reading aloud. Gribben grew up without ever hearing the “n” word (“My mother said it’s only useful to identify [those who use it as] the wrong kind of people”) and became increasingly aware of its jarring effect as he moved South and started a family. “My daughter went to a magnet school and one of her best friends was an African-American girl. She loathed the book, could barely read it.”

His main issue seems to be that it makes him “uncomfortable,” especially now that he’s relocated to the South. If he can’t handle using this in its historical context then he probably shouldn’t be teaching. Obviously it’s too much to expect that he might provide his students with the historical background or engage them in a discussion of how hearing/reading this word affects them.

No, I guess it would just be simpler to jack Tom Sawyer’s brush and whitewash the shit out of an American masterpiece. Even worse, he’s teaching a new generation that if something offends you, you should get rid of it no matter its history or context or importance to other people who aren’t you.

In this era of self-victimization thousands of people are running around with a chip on their shoulder and hot tears of self-righteous humiliation in their eyes. Why should something that offends them need to disappear? Are these self-appointed guardians of our culture really that selfish?

If you think that you might be offended by the word “faggot” leaking out of your speakers in the near future, just shut it off or dial away when you hear the very distinctive opening of Money for Nothing. And if you think you might not be able to handle the word “nigger” in print then just fucking read/teach something else, you projecting bastard.

Stabbity-stabbity-stab-stab-stab.

Quick postscript: Reaction to the ban of Money for Nothing has been pretty much completely negative. Here’s a typical take from an actual gay man, Scott Thompson (Kids in the Hall):

“Shakespeare would be rolling over in his g-word,” said Thompson, the 51-year-old actor/comedian best known for his work with the Kids in the Hall troupe.

When you ban a word, you make the word more powerful. All this banning that’s going on just makes (the hate) go deeper and deeper into the soul, where it festers. Let it it out. I want to know what you really think. I can handle it.

“It makes me feel like we’re five years old and need to go potty. The n-word, I guess, is number 1 and the f- word is number 2.”

Check on previous victims here:
ASCAP
Steve Dahl
Garth Brooks
Bono

-CLT

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Tom Silverman Condescends to Save Music Industry from Itself; Crap Internet Artists

July 27, 2010

Tom Silverman for City Councilman: Intensity You Can Rely On

[Thanks to Overconfident Orientalist for pointing me in the direction of this story. Also, thanks (sort of) to Sedate Me, whose made several points in the follow-up comment that I’m sure I’ll be rehashing. A quick note: any emphasis below has been added by yours truly. You know, to emphasize stuff.]

The long and the short of it is this: Tom Silverman, representing Tommy Boy, has come to the conclusion that the normal (read: rapacious) label/victim artist relationship is broken. The upshot is that he has a plan to fix it: a true, transparent 50-50 split with the artist on all income, whether it is online streaming, record sales, merchandise, licensing, etc. 

The interviewer starts things off on the wrong foot shortly into the introduction, when this statement rears its malformed head: 

“The basic recording contract upon which most of the popular music business has been based for the past 50 years is fundamentally broken. 

This is not the sentiment of one of the countless critics who throw stones at the music industry from afar, usually for vague philosophical reasons, but rather the pragmatic opinion of a true insider..” 

Consider briefly those throwing stones. Are the artists who have been complaining about being indentured-servants-for-life via the truly fucked “advance” system just a bunch of stone-throwing whiny-ass philosophers? Are those who run artist-owned labels tinpot soapboxers bitching just to bitch? Are all the millions of people who spent millions of dollars buying overpriced plastic discs and paying outsized service charges for live gigs just a group of misfits whose opinions can be waved away in a few dismissive sentences? 

Apparently so. And Tom Silverman agrees with interviewer Eliot Van Buskirk, when he marginalizes (by proxy) every bedroom indie artist who has ever recorded and self-published without the aid of a major label: 

“Who uses Photobucket and Flickr? Not professional photographers — those are hobbyists, and those are the people who are using TuneCore and iTunes to clutter the music environment with crap, so that the artists who really are pretty good have more trouble breaking through than they ever did before.” 

Well, if you wanted to get the unwashed internet to side with this brave new world of 50-50, you certainly couldn’t have stuck your foot any deeper into your mouth, Tom. Quite the feat of contortionism, as the rest of interview indicates it’s currently located deep within your ass. 

This is old news, though. Old school industries who have been rendered extraneous (at best) by the encroaching internet have pitched this fit for years. Those in the high-minded sphere of print journalism have been insulting their potential audience incessantly. Former DJs and talk-show hosts who have seen their audiences shrink have dismissed Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc. as moronic and its users as even worse. 

However, Tom goes further. Not content to simply bash millions of enthusiastic amateur photographers and musicians, he goes on to take a swing at Twitter and internet marketing in general: 

They’re not tweeting, they don’t give a shit about any of that stuff. They’re out gigging, that’s what they do. The word is spread through the shows — they’re not marketing through the internet.” 

He’s right about one thing: nothing works quite as well as live performance. Most artists (indie-wise) have already come to this conclusion. They’re out gigging incessantly and connecting with their scattered fans in any way possible. 

Ah. Those were the days. Nonsensical fashion. Nonsensical headspins. Nonsensical CD profit margins.

But Tom doesn’t think that works. Without providing any examples as to why it doesn’t, he expects the reader to take that as fact and write off the power of the internet as nothing more than some widely believed urban legend. 

What he’s really saying, though, is this: it doesn’t work for us. He hasn’t seen it improve anything for his major label artists. There are several reasons for this: 

1. The major labels’ inherent distrust of the internet. They already believe it’s composed solely of thieving morons, so why would they put any genuine effort into marketing via the web? 

2. The major labels have no understanding of the internet. See above. Thieves. Morons. It’s the unmovable force of an industry that desperately wants everything to go back to the way it was. To go back to the halcyon days of CD sales, before Wal-Mart, digital distribution and a bunch of pissed-off music buyers sided with the new forces rather than shell out $18 for 70 minutes of music, most of which was crap. 

(If “90% of everything is crap,” then you’re paying $18 for seven minutes of good music.) 

The labels are not unlike the mullet-headed 50-year-old who drives a primer-grey Camaro and rocks out to whatever the hell it is he was listening to back in the glory days of high school, when he was voted 2nd Runner-Up in the Prom King competition and nearly got to second-base with the B-team cheerleading squad co-captain. 

3. They’ve never really tried. Sure, they might see some bumps for the top 5% of their artists, but the top 5% are the only ones they’re willing to go out-of-the-way for. “Recouped” = GOD in major labeldom. And the only benefit of these actions has been to slightly increase sales on platinum records. 

Everyone else on the roster can go fuck themselves. They won’t get any help because “sales are down” and they’re already way in the hole, thanks to thousands of dollars worth of advances. So, the bands that could use the bump the most are being shoved into the cellar and told to behave. “If you had just had a hit song, we might be able to help you out.” 

Not only that, but because of their contracts, they’re prevented from making moves on their own to improve their situation. They can’t pursue independent licensing deals, switch labels or release new music until the label says it’s OK. 

Tom’s not done going after the internet yet, taking a swipe at Chris Anderson’s “Long Tail” theory with this confusing statement: 

“So it’s possible that around 35,000 releases didn’t even sell one copy last year. That means not even the artist or their mother bought a copy, and all those artists are out there gigging, they’re all on social networks, they’re all doing stuff to clutter the marketplace.” 

What is one supposed to gather from this statement? That there’s “too much” product available, producing an unacceptable (to label heads) amount of noise? That there are 35,000 artists out there so unlikable not even their family will spring for a copy? That maybe, just maybe, these 35,000 aren’t really doing any of those things listed, but instead have shoved a slice of recorded music somewhere towards the back of iTunes or the like? 

As for the amount of “noise,” brought on by “too much” product? That’s just a label problem. Anything that isn’t earning them money is just so much noise, pulling people away from their superior craftmanship and amazingly talented roster of artists. 

I would think this is the kind of “noise” music fans have been waiting on for years. Now no one has to sit on the other end of a label-enforced bottleneck, waiting for them to drop new music into their local brick-and-mortar shops or allow it to hit the airwaves of their favorite radio station. 

At this point in time, the cost of entry for artists and fans has never been lower. Bad news for major labels. Great news for artists and fans. Somehow Tom and many others still believe that if it weren’t for them and their Herculean efforts to keep bailing water out of their sinking ships, music fans everywhere would be left with nothing but a vacuum, completely devoid of music. 

I guess we didn't all buy her albums. It just felt that way...

And what do they have to offer? Let’s take a look, as Tom bemoans the fact that this collection of masterpieces was somehow unable to bump CD sales: 

“In America, Michael Jackson died, we re-released all of the Beatles stuff, and we had Susan Boyle, the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga — and we were still down 12.7 percent and 16-something percent physical.” 

Holy shit! Two-shit-demos-tacked-on reissues! And not just any shit re-issues, but re-issues of albums everybody already owns! Tremendous! 

OMG! Susan Boyle! BEP!! LADY MOTHERFUCKIN GAGA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Christ on a bicycle! How did we poor internet morons get so lucky? How could we restrain ourselves from rushing to the store to pick up physical copies of CDs by dead artists with re-issue after re-issue under their corpses already, a reality-show contestant and two over-exposed pop stars? How were we able to resist the lure of this cornucopia of audio delights? How. The. Fuck… 

Good lord. If this is what the majors think should be moving units, they’re more fucked than they could ever imagine. Long tail or no, not every person out there wants the same old shit, endlessly repackaged and cynically hawked. If I want the fucking BEP, I can watch Target’s in-store advertising for 10 minutes or so. If I wanted a Michael Jackson re-issue, I only had to pick one up during the last quarter century. 

So it all comes down to this: Tom and the major labels want music fixed. They don’t want things to necessarily work better for consumers or their roster. They just want what they had before: skyrocketing profits and insane margins. 

You’ll notice that the independents artists aren’t clamoring for some makeover of the distribution system. Many like it the way it is. Some would like a few changes. A few anomalies hum along with the majors. 

I don’t hear anything from the fans. They’ve never had it better. 

If Tom really wants to be bold, he should grandfather his roster in under this new plan and issue back pay. That might help some of the endlessly screwed unrecouped see some daylight. He can stop charging bands for paid-in-full-and-amortized-to-hell-and-back studios. He can stop pushing them into incredibly expensive promos. 

Most importantly, he (and the rest of the labels) can stop trying to push back the clock, via lawsuits, threats and angry, ill-informed statements. They couldn’t stop what was coming and they didn’t even try to make it work for them. They just let file-sharing, etc. erode their business while they wrung their hands and paid massive retainers to lawyers. 

Without a doubt, this is a step in the right direction. But why now? Why not 20, 30, 40 years ago? Are they finally desperate enough to take 50% of something rather than 90-95% of nothing? I think they are. 

I’m sure there are some people who’ll say, “CLT, why don’t you cut him some slack? He’s trying to change things!” 

Don’t bother. There are a lot of people out there who will never earn the right to some slack-cutting (patent lawyers, divorce lawyers, lawyers, the RIAA, ASCAP & etc., career politicians of all stripes…) and “Major Label Executive” is right near the top of that list. 

You never gave anyone on your roster a break. You never cut them a little slack on the endless recoup. You never failed to let them know where they stood when times were tight. You insulted, berated and sued music fans. You bullied retailers and radio stations. You spent as much time as possible being part of the problem. 

Don’t expect me to humour you with your 50%-assed solution. 

-CLT

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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